Summary: Buffy travels to LA to help Angel and finds herself in the midst of something she would never have imagined. AU Btvs/Dollhouse Crossover.
Buffy leaned back into the seat, tilting her head back and closing her eyes for a moment. Thinking back, she really should have known it was never as easy as just saying 'no'. Even at that, she had to admit she was surprised by how exactly she'd ended up here- sitting in the company jet, touching down in LA with a small bump. She sighed and stood, stretching her legs and making her way to the opening door. Despite the situation, she took the moment to enjoy the first breath of US air- as much as Scotland had become home, there was nothing quite like coming back. A quick glance over the terrain revealed an expensive-looking black car parked alongside a small hangar, a casual but smart Wesley waiting by the passenger door, wearing a smile and giving a wave. Once more, she grumbled inwardly at the way things had played out. The phone call really hadn't been an issue, it was easy to throw up walls to someone on the other end of a phone line, half way across the world, especially considering recent events. No, it was the aftermath that had shocked her, and brought her to where she was now; striding purposefully across the tarmac, bag slung over one shoulder.
(Three days ago)
Wrenching the shrill phone off the receiver- and almost crushing it in an angry grip- she threw a glare over her shoulder at Dawn; a silent promise that this wasn't over.
Her eyebrows rose in surprise at the voice on the other end of the phone, before she settled back into was Xander called her 'business face'. Of all the people in the world who she had thought would merit that expression, until recently this caller would have never been one of them.
"Angel, what can I do for you?"
She shooed Dawn with her free hand and settled into the seat at her desk, leaning back heavily into the leather of the chair and massaging the bridge of her nose.
"What the hell do you mean? And what did you call me for? Nothing to do with me Angel. Hasn't been for years."
Her eyebrows rose involuntarily again, rolling her eyes and remaining genuinely unsure of why he had thought that she was the right person to contact for this.
"Look don't you have the entire Evil Inc of LA at your beck and call? I'm quite sure you have the resources for this. We, on the other hand, are stretched thin-I've had to cut the size of nearly half my squads over the past 6 months. Say, you've probably had lunch with the demons that killed them, mind asking them to stop?"
Gripping the phone tightly, she knew her temper was bubbling out of control and she had to admit, she wasn't sure quite why it was so intense-they'd had this out already and come to a stalemate; she hated what he was doing and he maintained that he was 'bringing down the beast from the inside', no matter how difficult that may be. She still didn't fully understand his reasoning, but at the very least she'd agreed to leave it be and trust his judgement. For now.
"The hell do you mean? You know how I feel about what your doing, you know how I feel about her, and yet you call me for help on this because you can't trust the evil demonic corporation that you've thrown yourself in to? What do you want me to say?"
Satsu's head and shoulders peeked through the gap that Dawn had left in a the door, drawn by the angered tone of her leader, and Buffy raised her hand in a 'back-off' gesture, ignoring the slightly affronted look she received for it.
"I'm still not seeing what this has to do with me in the least."
Ok so she knew that was a tiny lie, she knew that this was something she was always a little involved in, whether she wanted to be or not. And she definitely did not.
"Think about what, Angel? There's nothing to think about. I said no and that's not about to change. Look I have to go, I'm busy. I'll talk to you soon."
She crashed the phone back into the receiver, barely giving Angel the time to say goodbye, and let her head fall forward onto the desk with a thud, her elbows on either side and fingers laced behind her neck. Groaning a little she took a deep breath before making her way to the training room, slamming the door behind her.
Angel paced the floor in front of the wide window, watching the sunset that he still wasn't quite used to seeing again, and wondering whether or not he had indeed done the right thing. Buffy's reaction hadn't surprised him at all, quite the opposite, now he knew it was all down to hoping two things; that Buffy was still the girl who would always do the 'right thing' and that Cordelia's 'feeling' was as right as the others she had had.
(Three days ago)
Angel lifted the phone and, once again, replaced it without dialling; oh yes, he knew this was a bad idea. He was considering himself mildly insane for even thinking about it.
"Y'know, its cruel to tease it like that."
His head snapped up to face the voice, finding Cordelia standing in the doorway, leaning on the frame with her arms crossed across her chest.
"What?" he frowned.
"The phone." She rolled her eyes at him and sighed in exasperation. "Would you just call her already? So what if she yells at you, this is important. More important than Buffy and her opinion."
Angel raised his eyebrows in surprise, questioning her.
"Opinions change, Angel. Mine included. I'm not saying Buffy's will have, in fact I'm damn sure it won't. But I guess I'd be the same in her incredibly unfashionable shoes. The fact is, she has more history with Buffy than with anyone, Buffy needs to be involved in this...I can just feel it."
"I know. If nothing else I know well enough by now to trust your judgement...I just wish I didn't have to get her involved. It isn't a good thing. In any way."
"Yeah well, she'll get over it. Besides, you know Buffy, she's all about doing the right thing."
He nodded again and dialled the direct line to Buffy's office, leaving the phone on speaker and bracing himself for the conversation that was coming.
Moments later, her voice echoed through the room, an irritated tone already discernible.
"Buffy, its me."
Her voice skimmed gracefully over irritated, briefly into surprised, and finally settled on business-like; a tone that Angel would have, once upon a time, never imagined he would incur. But this wasn't about Angel himself, or even about Buffy, really.
"Buffy, it's Faith. She's gone missing."
Buffy reclined into the cool leather of the chair facing Angel's desk, pleased with herself at having made it through the building without compulsively slaughtering any of his employees. Angel himself paced behind his desk for a few more moments, hands in the pockets of his suit pants, before pulling out his own chair and facing Buffy sombrely.
"I'm glad you came, Buffy."
"Yeah, I'm thrilled myself" she sighed, breathing deeply. "So care to fill me in on what's going on then?"
"Faith, she's missing."
"I think I got that bit already. Not hard to do in LA, and I have to admit Angel, I'm struggling to see the bad in the situation."
She heard the door behind her swing open, closing behind the newcomer with a click, and turned to see Cordelia stride in to the room, a stack of files under one arm and looking every bit the lawyer in a black, well-fitted suit.
Perfect. I've travelled half-way across the world for 'an audience with Cordelia Chase'. Just perfect.
"Hey Buffy," she greeted, with a smile that took the blond somewhat by surprise, before continuing to place the stack of folders on Angels desk.
"Anyway." Drawing Buffy's attention, Angel continued, eyes moving away from Cordelia to meet hers. " She's dropped of the radar completely."
"Like I said" Buffy sighed, meeting Angels eyes with a cold expression "I don't see how that's a bad thing." So she knew she was being a little bit unreasonable. Quite aside from anything, there was no way it was ok that a crazed Slayer was running around LA, or possibly further afield. But still, with talk of Faith came Buffy's attitude, an attitude she'd tried more than once to shake off, only to have it thrown back at her by the actions of her 'sister Slayer'.
Cordelia's voice cut through the silence, threatening to escalate. "Do you think you could quit with your attitude long enough to hear the rest? This runs way deeper than you issues with Faith. Believe it or not we can deal with a missing person on our own, you're not that important."
Buffy pursed her lips, giving a half-nod as she made the conscious effort to try harder to drop the attitude. Just a little.
"Okay, so explain. How long has she been gone?" She paused before adding a final word. "And I do not have issues."
Cordelia's perfectly-shaped eyebrows rose almost to her hairline as she smirked slightly. Fortunately for the conversation, Angel interjected the oncoming comment, reaching for the top file on the stack as he spoke.
"She's been gone nearly 6 months, although we haven't been able to pinpoint the exact date yet and no-one has been particularly forthcoming at the prison."
"Which means that beyond the 'when', they probably don't know anything." Added Cordelia, pulling a chair to the side of Angel's desk.
Angel inclined his head in her direction in agreement.
Buffy raised a sceptical eyebrow. "They don't know? I would have thought that a smashed up cell and dead guards would have given something away."
"That's part of our problem, Buffy. According to everyone there, there was no struggle, nothing. Faith was there one day and gone the next. There's absolutely no way she broke out."
Angel let out a sigh and held up a placating hand to stop the anticipated flood of questioning. "And up to about there is where it would be simple. As good as Faith is, there's no way she could have left jail, got out of this city and into 'nowhere' before we had something on her. You have to understand why this is so important Buffy, there had to be someone-or something-else involved in this."
Buffy let out another sigh, getting tired of how often she'd done that today and begging to feel sleep creeping up on her. "Okay well at least tell me you have a lead on who or what that might be?"
"Actually, yes. They're known as the Dollhouse."
"The what now?"
"Dollhouse. The name's been dropping a lot recently.."
"So you're investigating them? And what the hell is a 'Dollhouse' anyway?"
"In all honesty, we weren't paying them much attention. Not at first. On the surface they just seemed to be...well. They uh..." He cleared his throat and Buffy frowned questioningly. "Well I mean, their general area of business-"
Cordelia rolled her eyes and leaned back in her chair, crossing her slender legs and waving her hand in dismissal. "Oh for God sake Angel." She turned to Buffy, "we thought they were a brothel. An upmarket one, but a brothel just the same."
Buffy's eyebrows shot up in surprise as Angel glanced down at the table. Had he been able to, Buffy was pretty sure he would have blushed. It probably would have been funny if she wasn't so riled.
"OK, I'm totally not going to ask how you heard about them. Just tell me the rest."
"Well the more we heard about them, the more we began to realize that their business ran deeper than we'd seen. Being in the position we're in now, it wasn't exactly difficult to find out more once we started looking."
Cordelia slid a file across the desk towards Buffy, who opened it and let her eyes scan over the first page as the sound of Cordelia's voice continued to drift around the office.
"We discovered that they cater to a much wider range of needs than we'd thought. From what we can tell they've had a hand in, to name a few, missing persons, hostage situations, theft..."
"So, evil? I mean, if they can even be called that. What I'm seeing here, well it all seems pretty...human, to me." She considered her words for a second, and thought back to some of the things she'd borne witness to during her time in Sunnydale, recoiling from some of the recollections. "Not that humans aren't capable of evil."
For a second time, her mind flashed back and she found an uninvited brunette in her thoughts, saw the plunge of a stake into human flesh, the pouring forth of crimson guilt, and its washing away in a dingy motel sink. She shook her head to clear the unsettling image, blinking several times and refocusing on the matter at hand.
Angel sighed, finding his voice again and rising from his chair to pace behind his desk, his hands once again thrust into his pockets as his feet thudded rhythmically on the carpet.
"Exactly what we thought. But just over a week ago one of our representatives was at a reception for a big software firm and swore blind he'd seen Faith on the arm of one of the C.O's. It was at that point I realized how long it had been since any of us had had any contact with her. I went up to the prison the day after, found what had happened and got on it as soon as got back here. The C.O. gave us nothing, claimed she was just a girl he'd met through work, and you don't force answers from someone as high up the food chain as he is."
The blond gave him a small nod to continue, and flicked through the pages of the file still in her hands.
"If that wasn't enough, we got a report in a day later about a body that had been found in an alley behind the hosting hotel. The only witness was one man who'd heard something while he was outside smoking, his statement's in there." He gestured to the file she was holding and she flipped through the pages, stopping on an official-looking police statement, a few words jumping out at her.
"'Ripped off'? Like, 'with it's bear hands' kind of off?" Her empty stomach jolted as her eyes fell on the police picture of the decapitated victim, stone cold on the cold stone of the alley. "That would definitely be venturing into the realms of 'not human'."
Angel nodded in agreement. "Precisely. We launched a full investigation into it."
Cordelia leant forward in her chair, interjecting once again and making Buffy wonder whether she and Angel had choreographed this tag-team explanation beforehand.
"And...nothing. The witness was never spoken to again, the case went dead. We couldn't find out any more, which puts serious implications on there being outside influence. Heavy outside influence"
"I guess it would be too much to put the sighting and death on the same night down to coincidence?"
"Buffy, you can't honestly believe in coincidences any more" Cordelia questioned sceptically.
"No" she conceded, sighing, "I was just hanging on to that one last thread of hope. So what's the next step?"
"We need to get inside. We would have done it already, but the situation...well, it's delicate. We can hardly send in Angel, and myself, Gunn and Wes aren't best suited to dealing with things if they get too out of hand, and well, I wouldn't think sending in some of our 'other' employees would be the best course either."
"Oh let me guess where this is going."
"Buffy, there's no-one better suited to deal with this. We wouldn't have pulled you into this if we didn't feel that we had to."
"Let me just get things absolutely straight. You want me to go in to an organization you know very little about but which is more than likely highly dangerous, to try to help out Faith-the insane Slayer who tried to kill me?" She looked questioningly at Angel, before adding as an afterthought, "oh, and you too."
Angel nodded, leaning back in his chair with a hopeful, questioning look.
"See, who ever said you're a dumb blond?"
Buffy glared at Cordelia's teasing before giving a long sigh. "At least let me think about this tonight."
The vampire across from her gave an understanding nod and stood, walking around his desk to stand beside her. "It's getting late. I understand if you'd rather go elsewhere, but you're welcome to stay in one of the rooms here."
She sighed, realizing too late that she hadn't bothered to make plans for accommodation before she'd left. "I'll stay here tonight, thanks." She stood and followed Angel to the door, turning back at the sound of Cordelia's voice.
"Buffy. All teasing aside, thanks for coming."
The blond shrugged in reply. "It's what I do."
As she lay in bed trying to ignore the perpetual buzz she was feeling from the less-than-human life still milling around the building, Buffy wondered to herself again just how she'd ever agreed to come here. Granted, the situation sounded Slayer-worthy, but she could have sent any of the more capable girls. Was it boredom? She chuckled to herself, wondering how many people fly across the world to infiltrate a high-profile and dangerous organization that may or may not know something about a delinquent Slayer...just because they're bored.
But even as she thought it through, she knew there were more reasons than that.
"Damn Willow" she muttered into the dark room.
(Two days ago)
"Ok guys, that was great. I suggest you go work on what I pointed out, Ill see you all again tomorrow."
The Slayers filtered out of the gym amidst a buzz of conversation, Willow weaving her way through the throng to enter the hall.
"Hey Will" Buffy grinned, taping up her hands for a round with the punch-bag.
"How're the children Miss Summers?"
Buffy scowled as Willow smiled playfully at her and took a seat on the nearby bench, her back resting against the wall. She missed this interaction with Buffy, they rarely had any time to spend together since they'd opened 'Slayer HQ'.
"So um..." she ventured, unsure how to broach the issue, "Dawnie told me Angel called last night. Anything important?"
Buffy's smile rapidly dissolved into a deep frown as she took her first swing. "Oh, that."
"That bad?" Willow asked, concern marring her voice.
"Ugh, not 'bad' bad just...I've been meaning to catch you guys today actually. Faith's gone missing, I figured we should be prepared for what might be coming."
"Missing? Missing like disappeared? Isn't she kinda, y'know, in jail?"
"Good point, I never asked about that" she shrugged nonchalantly, before mercilessly pounding the punch bag with a series of blows.
"Um, Buffy...as much as I don't want to fight with you, don't you think you're being a little...dismissive? Of the situation, I mean."
She halted her assault on the bag and stopped it swinging with her hands, taking in a deep breath. "I'm being a lot dismissive, I know that. But you know what Will, I don't want to get involved. I mean there's this place for one, what am I mean to do, just hop on a plane and go over to find her? I'm needed here."
The witch's raised eyebrow said exactly what she thought of the blondes hurried explanation. "You know as well as I do that this place would continue to run just fine without you. Don't try and bluff me Buff, I've known you too long." Her series expression cracked for a second and she giggled, "heh, bluff Buff."
The Slayer shook her head with an amused grin and sat next to her old friend, slumping back against the wall.
"Faith and I just...well we don't go well together. All we do around each other is cause tension and arguments, I don't see how me going looking for her would ever be a good thing."
Willow looked pensive for a moment."Why do you think you cause so much tension?"
Buffy shrugged, "I guess because we're not meant to exist together." She speculated on the words the moment she had said them, thinking back to a time when another Slayer had existed alongside her. Sure there was tension with Kendra, but it was born out of rivalry, a desire to prove herself, to show that she was just as good as the perfect textbook Slayer. But she knew all that, was painfully aware of why her and Kendra had taken so long to get along. With her and Faith it had always been...different.
"Mmm," the witch mumbled thoughtfully, "I remember a time when you existed together just fine. So fine I was jealous as hell, scared that I was losing my best friend."
"Yeah well, that was before she went crazy and started killing people." Buffy's temper flared at the memory of how wrong it had all gone, "the calm before the Faith-storm."
"Don't blow up on me, but we can't condemn her forever for the things she did. I'm living proof that sometimes there are...factors. They don't make it OK, but they're still there and they do matter."
"What 'factors' were there with her, Will? I understood after the accident with Finch, I tried so hard to-" she stopped herself, taking a calming breath and closing her eyes for a moment, her head resting against the cool stone of the wall behind her. "Besides, I wouldn't have pegged you of all people as a Faith supporter."
"Things have changed in my life Buffy. I've gone through things, seen things, done things. I'm in no position to condemn her, and I think I actually understand her. There were things I didn't see then that I think I get now."
"You were grieving, you didn't know-"
"I knew exactly what I was doing Buffy, don't forget that. I didn't care."
"And she did? I mean come on Willow. The only reason things changed enough for her to get out of trouble and into prison was because of Angel."
"The only reason I didn't destroy the world was because of Xander," she shrugged.
Buffy sighed again, something she'd been doing a lot of over the past 24 hours. "And what 'things'?"
"The things you said you see now, what things?"
"Just things," she smiled, "I think it would be better if you could to see them yourself."
"What's that meant to mean?"
"I think you should go."
Taken aback and wondering what the hell she'd said to upset her best friend, Buffy jumped to apologetic."What,? I didn't mean to upset you if that's-"
"No you idiot, I mean go to LA, help Angel."
The comment threw Buffy, who gaped at the redhead.
"I know you don't want to, but for one thing, you know it's the right thing to do."
"I know, I know, it's just..."
"It's 'just' Faith. Come on Buffy, maybe things'll have changed."
Buffy sighed, totally unable to argue with her best friend, not least because she knew she was right- she'd have to give it a chance.
"Why do you have to be right?" One more sigh settled the matter and Buffy rolled her eyes in defeat. "Get Xander to book me a flight,, I'll go call Angel."
Willow nodded and stood, holding out a hand to help Buffy to her feet. "Besides, you know as well as I do you're bored as hell."
Turning over to face the wall with the memory in mind, Buffy's stubborn resolve gave way and she knew fine that she'd be telling Angel and Co. in the morning that she'd do what they were asking. As she let herself be claimed by sleep, she reminded the still-doubtful part of her mind that being here really was the best thing. For everyone concerned.
Freshly showered and with a clearer, less jet-lagged mind than she'd been in possession of the previous day, Buffy knocked on Angels office, strolling in at his invite.
Once again he was standing by the large window, hands behind his back, while Cordelia sat at his desk, the phone balanced between her cheek and shoulder as she rummaged through a stack of papers.
"Mhm, well thank you for your time Miss DeWitt, I'll be in touch soon." She breathed in deeply as she hung up the phone, rolling her eyes. "God, it's like talking to a she-Giles!"
Buffy smirked and took up position in the previous days seat.
Angel ventured over from the window, perching on the edge of the desk and staring at her questioningly. "So did you think about what we said?"
Buffy mimicked Cordelia's earlier actions and rolled her eyes, cocking her head to the side slightly. "Come on Angel, don't pretend you don't know me well enough to know what I'll say. I thought about it, and I wont feign concern about what happens to Faith, but I do know that its not good to have a rogue Slayer running around unchecked."
"Well I thought...I mean I was pretty sure, but you know, with it being Faith and everything..." he trailed of, deciding against words and settling on a warm smile. "Thank you, I know you don't want to do this."
"There are very few things I want to be doing less than this. In the world. But I am, so lets get on with it."
Cordelia leaned into the conversation, pushing a sheet of paper towards Buffy. "You've got a meeting with Adelle DeWitt in..." she checked her watch and her smile gave way to a slight frown, "just under four hours. I dropped a lot of names and paid a lot of money to get you in on such short notice so we can't afford to waste this chance."
"You made the arnagments without knowing if I would agree, can't be that big of a deal."
"Buffy, like you said, we knew find what you'd say. It's you, its the riht thing to do..." she trailed of, pondering her next words, "and its Faith."
"Mhm, Faith, who I hate, really not grounds for assuming I'll stay."
"Right, because people so frequently make intercontinental flights to help someone they hate" Cordelia challenged, leaning forward on the desk.
Cordelia's words threw her a little- they were true...she blinked a few times and cleared the confusion from her brain, telling herself again the real reason she was here- morality and maybe just a hint of boredom."So who's DeWitt?"
"Head of the Dollhouse and in charge of dealing with its clients." As hard as she was obviously trying, Cordelia could do nothing to hide the grin that was breaking out on her face, "you're hiring a date."
"You're kidding?! So not only am I on a highly secret, possibly highly dangerous, covert operation, I'm also a sad twenty-something who has to hire men to go out with her?" She slumped into the seat , frowning, "I'm never talking to Willow again."
"Oh relax, you Slayer types are so volatile. Just enjoy the evening, you can't break your cover so you may as well enjoy the job."
She slouched in defeat and let it drop, deciding instead to bring up her other concerns. "So this 'deep cover', how's that going to work exactly? If this place is as well-connected as you say, not to mention the possible involvement in the supernatural, aren't they likely to recognize me?"
"Ego much?" Cordelia teased, "gee Buffy, how'd you fit through the door with that head?"
Buffy opened her mouth to argue, but thought better of bickering with the brunette and settled for waiting on the answer to her question.
Angels voice re-entered the conversation, most likely to intercept the impending bitch-fest. "As things are, half the demon world think you're dead and if anyone attempts the more 'human' kind of snooping, they'll most likely find you living it up in Italy with that Immortal guy. We do want to take some precautions though-" His explanation was cut off by Cordelia, who's grin was growing steadily as the conversation went on.
"Oh that's the best part" she declared, her glee highly unsettling to Buffy. "I'm giving you a makeover."
Oh God. She turned the possibilities over in her mind, not enjoying any of them, it just got worse.
Buffy took a deep breath in the back of the Mercedes as Cordelia slowed to a stop in what looked like an underground parking lot.
"Ok Buffy, the most important thing in there is to stay in cover. Don't come out of it unless the world is ending," she paused, thinking, "in fact even then make sure you call us first. Remember everything we talked about and it'll be fine, all you have to do is remember how to have a little fun."
Rolling her eyes at the fact that Cordelia was still taking jabs at her even now, Buffy gave a nod and opened her mouth to say something, stopping when she realized her her throat was feeling too dry to form words. As she was musing to herself how stupid it was that she could battle Hell Gods from other dimensions but was afraid of going undercover in some big-shot human company, the door to the car swung open and a friendly-looking female in a smart suit greeted her.
Buffy took a moment to respond to the unfamiliar name, eventually forcing a smile and stepping out onto the concrete.
"Hi there" she managed, leaning her head down towards the open door. "Thanks" she mumbled, although she wasn't entirely sure what she was thanking Cordelia for; the whole situation was making her head hurt.
Slamming the door a little too hard, Buffy winced and watched the car pull away, catching her reflection in the dark windows. She wouldn't ever admit it, but Cordy had been right; she suited the dark hair and despite the business suit being not exactly her usual attire, that looked damn good as well.
She followed her guide on auto-pilot as she ran through the facts and names of her new identity, barely noticing where she was being led until her company knocked sharply on a large door and motioned her inside.
"Miss Harris, lovely to have you, I'm Adelle DeWitt." the prim Brit greeted from behind her desk, raising from the chair and holding out her hand. "Please, take a seat," she added and gestured to the brown leather sofa to her left.
She Shook the offered hand, before making her way over to perch on the edge of the aforementioned sofa, Buffy did her best to look natural and vaguely noted that the woman approaching really was quite a she-Giles, in fact she was more British than he was.
"Tea? Something else?"
"A glass of water would be great."
Adelle complied, pouring a glass and adding some ice, which Buffy took gratefully and took a calming breath. Sipping on the cool water, she felt her throat ease up a little as she did her best to relax.
"Now, since we're running rather short on time I'll keep this brief. I believe from the information Miss Chase provided us we'll be able to suit your needs wonderfully, I think we have just the woman for you."
Before she could stop herself, the now-Brunette Slayer choked on the water she was still gently sipping, giving her chest a thud with the palm of her hand to stop the onslaught of coughing.
Way to screw up, Buffy. She reprimanded, cringing inwardly at how obvious it was that this was news to her.
The woman behind the desk gave a small smile at the reaction, clasping her hands in front of her as the coughing subsided.
"Miss DeWitt, I um, I think there may have been a mix up in communications somewhere..."
"I assure you that what happens within this organization stays within this organization. I was warned that you would most likely try to," she paused for a moment, the look on her face amused as she quoted an earlier conversation, "'convince me that you would rather have some hunk of man'. Miss Chase was under the impression you wouldn't be particularly forthcoming but was certain, as a close associate, that it would not be a male companion you're seeking for this evening."
Oh I'm going to kill her.
Remembering back to the earlier conversation, Buffy gritted her teeth and made a mental note to deal with Cordelia later, but nonetheless nodded and attempted a small smile.
"She knows me better than anyone I guess" she lied, the untruth of it almost painful to her ears.
"Wonderful, that's settled. I'm sure you can understand that we don't usually work at such short notice, but with the additional fee that you've paid, I believe everything will be suitable. If you'll excuse me for one moment, I'll check with my team how arrangements are progressing."
Adelle glided from the room, swinging the door closed behind her, and made her way to Topher, who she could see already was lingering by the door to his office, bouncing a little on the balls of his feet nervously.
"Topher, how long will it take for you to modify tonight's imprint?"
Looking slightly confused he blew out a breath as he thought. "Um, maybe half an hour, depending on what you want me to do." Still frowning, he remembered the reason he was looking quite so anxious. "Was that Echo's 'date' that just came in?"
"Yes, it was." Adelle raised her eyebrows questioningly, as if daring him to enquire further.
Topher laughed nervously. "Do you know who that is?! How bad an idea this is?!"
"Yes Topher, I'm acutely aware of the implications of the situation. And yet, since I'm in charge, I suggest you get on to your computer and make some modifications to tonight's imprint."
Sighing defeatedly, Topher turned and led the way to the imprint room, firing up the computer with the imprint. "So what do you want me to do?"
"Just make it a little more..."she pondered her words for a moment, thinking how best to explain, "a little more...her."
"Do I look like I'm joking, Topher?"
Pulling up a second imprint, Topher began to work. "Well how much do yo want?"
"Not too much, just enough to give it the right feel. I want to see how this plays out."
Buffy was growing increasingly nervous as the minutes ticked by, her foot tapping against the wood of the floor anxiously. At the sound of the door opening her heart catapulted somewhere in the region of her throat, and as pathetic as she felt, she had to admit she was glad to see it was only Adelle.
"There's been a slight delay in the proceedings Miss Harris, it shouldn't be more than 30 minutes. Can I get you anything?"
"No, thanks, I'm fine. Although if someone could show me outside, I have a few phone calls to make, I could get a breath of air while I'm at it." As far as she was concerned, the longer it was before everything was prepared, the better things were for her. She could calm her nerves a little with some air, give Angel a call and yell at Cordelia. Not to mention, she considered, that every minute that passed was another minute she didn't have to be out on a doomed-from-the-start date trying to act like she'd asked for it.
"Certainly." The Brit lifted the receiver of her desk phone, dialing and pausing for a moment for her reply. "Mr Langton, could you come to my office, please."
The door opened moments later, a tall, strong-looking man in a smart suit strolling in. "You called."
"Would you be so kind as to escort Miss Harris outside for a few moments please?"
He gave Buffy a kind smile and a nod, gesturing to the open door with a wave of his arm.
"Topher is dealing with the final preparations for tonight, Echo should be ready for the evening in approximately," she glanced down at her watch, "20 minutes, I would say."
Buffy watched him nod again to DeWitt before following her from the room, walking alongside her as he guided them to the corridors that led out of the building.
"So, Mr Langton," she ventured, an attempt at breaking the stifling silence that was only serving to make her even less at ease.
He turned to her, still wearing the kind smile he had given her in the office, "Boyd, please."
Feeling far more at ease with this gentle, seemingly good-hearted man than the stern, albeit friendly, Brit in the office above, put Buffy far more at ease than she had been so far that afternoon. She felt the almost-painful tension in her shoulders give a little as they walked.
"I'll be here when you're finished" he informed her as they exited the elevator into the underground lot, clasping his hands behind his back.
"I wont be long" she ensured, giving him a smile and making her way up the driveway to the sun for a breath of air, her hand finding the phone in her pocket as she walked.
She pressed the speed-dial to Angel as the frown she'd been restraining crept across her face, her posture relaxed fully now that she was away from the suffocating subterranean car park.
"Buffy, how's it going?"
"Angel, this is ridiculous, I cannot do the undercover thing."
"Of course you can."
She sagged under his certainty, running her hand through her hair. "No, Angel, demons I can do, the First Evil I can do...this? This is over my head. How am I supposed to go out and look natural, enjoy myself? Oh, and tell Cordelia I'm going to kill her, please." Finishing the rant, she caught her breath. "Not to mention that I'm going to be so weirded out knowing you're watching."
"It's all for the best, if anything happens we can be mobilized and with you in less than five minutes," he paused for a second, speaking again before Buffy started on another ramble, "and why are you going to kill Cordy?"
"Don't act like you don't know" she huffed, flushing a little, "I mean who even told her anyway about...about Satsu."
"Oh!" he exclaimed, in sudden realization, stumbling over the words a little in awkwardness "that. I think it was Willow."
Of course it was. Oh you're dead, witch.
Catching sight of her watch, Buffy decided to get quickly back on topic. "I'm just not sure about this Angel, I mean what am I even finding out?"
"Well so far I'd say you've found a way in, a way out, not to mention a basic layout of the interior. But we need to know exactly what goes on, who works there, how do they track their...employees. Don't forget you'll most likely be under some sort of surveillance by them tonight, as part of their policy."
"Great, so everyone gets to watch my awkward date" she grumbled. "I better get back."
"Buffy, you can do this, you'll be fine. I wouldn't have asked you if I wasn't totally certain of your abilities."
"Yeah yeah, flattery will get you nowhere. I'll see you later."
"Buffy" he caught her attention quickly, "remember what we've said, you cannot break cover for anything short of an apocalypse. If they are involved in something, we need to have a way in,and if they're not, we cant get involved just yet. Whatever happens, don't let them know you're not who they think you are. Good luck, I'll see you later on tonight."
She flipped the phone closed after his goodbye and made her way back to the waiting escort, who gave her a welcoming smile. She really had to admit, there were no bad vibes from this guy, he seemed like a perfectly good man.
"All done" she smiled, following him back into the elevator and through the increasingly familiar corridors to the main building.
Boyd knocked on the door and held it open as Adelle's firm voice called for entry.
"It was lovely to meet you Miss Harris."
"Likewise" she concurred genuinely, strolling into the office slightly more confidently than she had earlier that day.
"Feel free to take a seat, someone will be escorting Echo up shortly."
"Your companion for the evening. Of course you'll be getting to know her as Hope." As if on cue, Adelle's words were rounded off by another knock to the office door. "Come in, Boyd."
Turning to greet the familiar face, Buffy flashed Boyd a smile
"She's waiting in the car" he explained.
"Well, if you'd be so kind as to escort Miss Harris down that would be lovely."
Standing and flattening out her pants, Buffy addressed Adelle. "It was lovely meeting with you Miss DeWitt, thank you."
"Likewise, I hope to do business with you again some time. Enjoy your evening."
Boyd led the way from the room, neither one noticing the glint of a smile in DeWitts eye as she watched them leave from behind her desk.
Finally in the outside air again, the elevator doors gliding to a close behind them, the Slayer followed Boyd to a waiting dark Porsche.
They really pull out all the stops now don't they.
As they drew near, the passenger door swung open and a figure stepped out. A figure who made Buffy's jaw fall open and her heart simultaneously catapult into her throat and speed up to the point where it seemed it might explode. Her vision tunnelled to the person before her, everything around blurring to insignificance and all noise dimming to a dull thud next to the incessant hammering of her heart, the sight of someone she had avoided seeing for four years making her head swim. She'd never admit it, but this moment was something she'd pondered over for all the years she refused to go to the prison, to make a call, to write a letter. She'd wondered how she'd feel, what she'd do, what the hell she would say after everything that had happened between them. There had been a lot of options to choose from, and yet she'd never been able to pinpoint how exactly she would react, and truth be told, even now she wasn't quite sure what was going through her head. Her initial amazement was still the overwhelming emotion, but not it was evolving, flowing into something different. There was a little bit of anger, always was, but strangely not quite as much as she'd expected; there was fear, of what though, she wasn't quite certain; there was even something that, at first glance, she would have said was happiness at seeing the brunette...but even as that thought occurred, she frowned inwardly and did her best to remember her resentment and anger.
But this Faith, Buffy barely recognized as the explosive and reckless teenager she'd known years ago. She was dressed in a plain white shirt, buttoned low with a pair of dark sunglasses hooked at the dip, and smart black jeans with not a trace of leather in sight. Her previously black-rimmed eyes were lighter now, the eye-liner applied with less vigour. Her hair, although still with the same wave and softness, was longer and slightly lighter in colour - as if from a lot of sunlight – and fell about her shoulders. Her posture was entirely different as well, the tenseness and readiness for the fight replaced by a calmer stance as she stood with one arm resting along the top of the car door.
She held her breath and waited for the lot to explode with the volatility of the situation, but several moments passed and the first sound to break the deafening quiet of the room was not the sound of a fist hitting her face, but the gentle tone of Boyd's voice.
"Miss Harris, this is Hope. Hope, miss Harris."
Faith smiled a smile Buffy had never seen from her before and Buffy felt her stomach give yet another involuntary jolt, although she wasn't particularly sure what had brought on that one.
Still in stunned silence, processing the fact that Faith, for whatever reason, clearly had no idea who she was, or was at least pretending not to, Buffy turned to the man alongside her. Unable to keep the look of astonishment from her face she prayed, for the sake of her cover, that present company would put it down to appreciation of Faiths appearance, which Buffy had not entirely failed to notice through her turbulent emotions. At that another explosive thought caught her: the immediate realization that she was actually going to have to not only go on this date, but go on this date with 'Faith'.
Even as she drew breath to say something, anything that would get her out of the situation she'd managed to get in to, the many warnings of Angel and Cordelia swam about her head. Against all her instincts that told her this was a phenomenally bad idea, she quickly reformed her words before speaking.
"Thanks Boyd, its been lovely meeting you."
"Likewise. Enjoy your evening both of you."
Gulping nervously at the thought, Buffy could only manage a nod as she took a tentative step towards her fellow Slayer. As she moved nearer, she felt a tingle run through her body, a small shiver running up her spine at the feeling that was still familiar and unique, four years and thousands of Slayers later, and wondered how she hadn't felt it before now. Maybe she could have saved herself this ordeal.
Taking a deep breath as she moved, Buffy did her utmost best to shake off her nerves once again.
Come on, don't be ridiculous, you've dealt with Faith before.
Within a few feet of her counterpart, Buffy gave what she was surprised to find was an almost genuine smile and held out her hand, lost in the surreality of the moment and finding herself totally unable to look Faith in the eye. As the woman in front of her took her hand, she felt her skin tingle at the point of contact and another shiver shot up her spine.
"Hey" the new Faith greeted, still flashing her dimpled smile. Buffy noted to herself that at the very least the other Slayers voice hadn't changed; it still bore that same sexy huskiness. At that sentiment, Buffy quickly amended her mental note, removing any trace of 'sexy'.
Her throat still dry from the shock, Buffy barely managed to rasp out a "hi" before swallowing and recomposing herself.
Beside her, Boyd gave 'Faith' a nod and made his way to a nearby black van, which Buffy vaguely wondered about, before turning her attention to the slightly more pressing event and moving to the opposite door of the car, which was now being held open for her.
Sliding in to the passenger seat, she quickly began to formulate a course of action for the night. They were going out, she didn't have much of an option there, and she'd have to get changed. That, and she had to talk to Angel as soon as possible. The driver's door opened and Buffy watched Faith from the corner of her eye, sliding behind the wheel and turning to face her.
"You can relax you know," she husked, "I realize it's all stuffy and tense up in there, but you look like if you don't de-tense something's gonna pop."
Shifting a little on the warm leather of the seat as they pulled out of the lot and into the sun, Buffy chastised herself for her lack of emotional control. "Mm, long day, I'm sorry. Look I know it's off plan, but would you mind running me back to the hotel? I need to change, I hadn't really thought ahead."
"Sure, where you staying?"
"Nice choice. So, um" she paused, choosing her words, "am I going to have to call you 'Miss Harris' all night?"
"Hmm?" Buffy mumbled, still deep in thought as she peered out of the side window and did her utmost to look like she didn't want to run in the opposite direction. "Oh. Elizabeth." She dragged herself back into the moment and cringed at the lie; the prospect of going by the wrong name for the rest of the evening wasn't doing a lot to lift her ever-increasing tension. Despite the warnings of the day, she added some truth as an afterthought. "Call me Buffy."
Faith turned slightly from the road, glancing at her companion. "Can I call you B?" she asked, flashing Buffy a grin.
Buffy's eyes widened as she was hauled forcefully back to reality. "Faith?" she asked, her stomach squirming.
"Hope, B," she replied, with an amused smile. "But it's easy to get confused, happened a lot when I was a kid."
"Yeah, Hope, sorry, my bad," Buffy apologised, feeling her heart resume a semi-normal rhythm, if not sinking slightly.
Oh hell this is going to be some night.
She kicked the door of her room shut behind her with perhaps more force than was necessary, her thoughts still with the brunette who was waiting in the car. Pacing in front of the large window, she dug her cell out once again and speed-dialled Angel.
"Buffy? This is..."
Much to eager to vent, she cut him off. "You're getting this, right? I'm not just insane? Cause I feel kinda insane if I'm honest."
"You're not insane, " he answered calmly.
"Well?" she demanded, his tone making her impatient. "What are we going to do about it? You can't expect me to go through with tonight, no way."
"Buffy I've already said, they're most likely watching, or at least tracing you. If we do anything other than what's planned it's going to drawn too much attention."
"And?! I'm all for some attention, we're going to have to do something eventually."
"We don't know enough yet. You saw for yourself, that's not the Faith we know. She didn't even recognize you, of all people..."
"Well maybe she's pretending. Maybe she's going to try to kill me again, ever think of that?"
She heard Angel sigh on the other end of the phone and pouted a little, even through her annoyance. "Buffy, I understand your concern but there was nothing from her. Whatever's going on, she doesn't know you."
The brunette heard footsteps from the other end of the receiver, presumably from Cordelia as it was her voice which came next.
"She's actually never tried to kill you. Everyone else, but not you. Funny, huh?"
Buffy frowned, hearing mumbling down the line that she couldn't quite make out.
"Yeah so um, there's no need to worry." Angel added.
She heard Cordelia snort with laughter and wondered vaguely what she was finding so funny.
"Sure Buffy, that's exactly what I mean," she added, barely concealing the sarcasm lacing her voice.
She sighed inwardly, still not really understanding Cordy's cryptic speech. She shook her head and spoke slowly, as if talking to someone very stupid which, she was beginning to think, Angel and Cordelia were.
"Ok, guys, even without the killing factor you're still asking me to go out on a date with Faith. A very weird, possibly amnesiac Faith, but still Faith. Faith and I do not date. We fight, we yell, we once upon a time got on ok, but we don't date."
"Yeah well maybe you should. Now shut up and get back to your hottie."
The whole sentence caught Buffy totally off-guard. Firstly, Cordelia was calling Faith a hottie, which was bizarre enough. Then again, she mused, neither Cordelia or Buffy was blind and there really was no denying that Faith was more than easy on the eye. But the dating thing...
She must have been joking, there was no way anyone could...I mean it was only ever a really tiny...
Buffy let her thought tail off and frowned at the cell before drawing a breath to speak, getting cut off by Angel before she had the chance.
"Angel is Cordelia possessed?" It was, she thought, probably the best explanation.
"No" he sighed, "she's not possessed. Buffy we don't have time to discus this any more. You have to go and there's really nothing we can do about it. Just...just try to enjoy yourself. We'll be there to back you up if anything goes wrong."
The Slayer gave a defeated sigh and slumped her shoulders. "Fine. But I'm not happy about it. And you owe me a really really huge favour. I guess I'll talk to you later on tonight."
"Or in the morning," she heard Cordelia yell from a distance, once again furrowing her brow at the woman's implications and snapping the cell shut.
Flopping back onto the huge bed, Buffy rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands, giving herself the mental pep-talk she needed to get going and to calm the butterflies that had, annoyingly, taken up residence in her stomach. She eyed the small camera sitting on the table, and the earpiece along with it, hesitating for just a moment before shoving them into the drawer of the nightstand- there was no way she could do this with them watching.
The hell am I going to wear...
…why do you care? Wear whatever, its just Faith..
....yeah but I don't want to look bad, not when she looks so...
...so nothing, its just work and its not like you're really going out with her...
Cutting off the argument with herself, she finally made her way to the closet, peering it at the various items Cordelia had stocked it with and, grudgingly, approving of most of them. She grabbed a few of the more eye-catching items from the rail and laid them on the bed, surveying the assortment like a battle-strategy and pondering again why she was still making an effort when she certainly didn't care...
Buffy adjusted the thin black strap of her dress as she handed the menu to the waiter the with a smile and turned her attention back to the woman across from her. Although her unease had lessened a little on the drive over, she couldn't help but remain aware of the little things; the way she sat, her smile- it all seemed so familiar. However instead of hurtful memories of their violent past filling the Slayers mind, she was instead reminded of a time before all of that had began. Perhaps it was her mind acting up due to the surreal events of the day or maybe it was the pure look of innocence in the inquisitive brunette's eyes that stared back at her over the restaurant table.
"So" The younger Slayer smiled. "You here on business?"
The words broke Buffy from her musing as she quickly thought of how to best word her answer.
"Of sorts. My ex called and asked for some help with something...in my line of work."
"So where are you usually from?"
"Scotland for just now, but I used to live not too far from L.A," she paused for a moment, wondering if she was making a mistake by saying too much. Her curiosity got the better of her, and she focused on the brunette, ready to determine a reaction, "a small town called Sunnydale."
There was no wide eyes and gasp, but the younger girl creased her forehead in a small frown. Buffy sat up a little in her chair, her shoulders tensed and body ready for whatever might come.
"I think..." Faith's words were cut off by the return of the waiter, who held out the bottle of wine for approval. The brunette nodded, the contemplative look replaced by an easy smile as he proceeded to pour their selection. "Mm, never really done 'small town' myself, always been a city girl. Grew up in Boston."
Buffy raised her eyebrows questioningly, her head beginning to hurt a little with processing all the conflicting possibilities. A moment passed before she realized the waiter had retreated again, leaving the two women in a silence that was slowly escalating.
That's it? That's the very best you could come up with?
Buffy watched as Faith shoulders slumped a little- not entirely surprising considering the Slayer's contribution to their evening so far. Buffy glanced down, a stab of guild threatening to break her hardened resolve.
Lifting her eyes once more to her 'date', she watched with another pang as Faith crossed her arms across her chest, her gaze flickering around the floor before raising and meeting Buffy's. She leant forward, one arm resting on the tabletop while her hand fidgeted nervously with her napkin.
"So um, ever been to Boston?"
Buffy couldn't recall ever seeing the other girl ever look so awkward and anxious- she couldn't help but find it just a little bit cute.
God help me- 'Faith' and 'cute' in the same sentence?
"I knew girl from Boston a few years ago."
She mentally scolded herself, thinking franticly of a way to steer the conversation in any direction that wasn't about her. She'd always been a bad liar.
Confidence restored, the brunette's posture relaxed again and her smile returned as she leant forward, arms resting on the table edge. "Really? Did you date or..?"
Buffy couldn't quite stifle the small laugh that the question invoked. "Honestly, we didn't even get on most of the time. Things kind of," she faltered, wondering both how exactly to proceed and why in the world she was actually doing this. "Things just kind of went bad between us."
"How do you mean?"
Um, well you went psycho and started killing people.
"You- she went a little...crazy."
"Crazy how? C'mon you've got me interested in this chick. Hey, you never know, maybe I've met her."
The irony was overwhelming, and Buffy gave a small smile before continuing.
"Well...something kind of happened while we were out one night. Something that shouldn't have happened. She didn't really deal with it well."
"Something between the two of you?"
The question made Buffy's mind seek out a place she hadn't visited in quite some time: loud music pumping its beat through a busy club; bodies moving against each other, skin against skin, caught in the heat of the moment.
Something between the two of us?
"Not exactly. Well, kind of, a little, but it was more than that."
The arrival of dinner broke off her explanation for a while, neither of them speaking again until the waiter had, once again, retreated to another customer.
"Sounds like you two had an interesting time..."
By the time the were finishing desert, Buffy was pretty sure that 'Hope' knew everything about her mysterious girl from Boston that there was to know, her telling of the story flowing more and more easily as the wine's heady effect took further hold. The Slayer couldn't help but admire the way her company had listened patiently as she lost herself to telling their story, her attention never wavering.
"Sounds like you cared a lot about this girl, at least before all the shit," Faith suggested.
"Well I...I mean she...we were friends, at one point."
"Yeah...B, you've talked about her for like an hour solid."
"I guess something about you brings it out in me then."
Faith smiled and laid down her cutlery, leaning back a little in her chair. "You wanna know what I think? I think she felt more for you than you knew."
The comment made Buffy's stomach give a jolt, and she immediately didn't like the direction the conversation was taking. Whatever history she and Faith may have had, she'd tried her hardest not to think about it- she certainly wasn't ready to open up those wounds to none other than the woman herself. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well come on. You and her are getting all close- by the sounds of things so close that even your friends can see something's goin' on- and then some shit happens, she doesn't know how to deal and you go cold on her."
Buffy frowned and crossed her arms. Really, she should have known that this would happen. Even in this situation, whatever it was, Faith was still trying to defend her past. Typical. Even Willow had started to soften up, had everyone just forgotten? And what was Faith trying to say anyway?
Faith held up her hands in a placating gesture. "Hey don't look at me like that, I'm jus' saying. Look no-one goes that far off the rails for no reason. Maybe you should try lookin' at things a little differently. Stop thinkin' about how much she hurt you, look at it from her point of view for a second. She shows up, gets herself all into you even though you have a boyfriend, does her damn hardest to fit in with you and yours and just when she's really getting somewhere with you she makes one mistake, just one, that she can't deal with and you-"
Buffy sat forward, immediately jumping to defend herself, "I nothing. For one thing, be it one mistake it was a pretty huge one. For another, it didn't stop at just that one mistake. And it's not like I didn't try. You- she didn't want my help. Or anyone else's." But even as she spoke, the little voice that had surfaced whenever her sister Slayer was the topic of conversation, began to murmer words she didn't want to hear.
She kinda has a point you know...and it wasn't like things didn't happen after the night with Finch...oh and on that note, you did kind of throw him down in front of her... Buffy scowled inwardly at the fact her inner voice had turned traitor again, and watched Faith bite her full bottom lip thoughtfully, drawing her attention to it.
Hmm, nice lips- Buffy broke off the thought sharply and scowled at her wine glass, which was, in her opinion, clearly conspiring with the voice.
"Anyway, I just think you didn't really try to look too hard beyond what it seemed to be on the surface. Maybe you didn't want to? I don't know, maybe it scared you."
The comment caused another unnerving jolt in Buffy's stomach and she let her fork fall onto her plate, the resulting small clink seeming to reverberate through her head. She took a small sip of water, trying to calm the thudding in her head which was matching perfectly the pace of her heart.
I can't believe I got into this...with her, of all people. This is just insane.
"You don't know what you're talking about," she breathed out. "I was never...I would have done whatever I could if you'd just asked. I cared about y-her. I...she drove me away." She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, opening them again to see Faith, leaning towards her with a worried frown.
"Hey, ok lets just leave it at that, yeah? I didn't mean...I'm sorry, obviously I wasn't there, I don't know what I'm talking about. Lets just enjoy the rest of the night."
The younger girl reached out and laid her hand comfortingly across the one resting on table, and Buffy nearly shot out of her chair at the shock she felt run between their hands. With wide eyes she stared down at them resting on the table, the reaction far more intense than the tingle she had had back at the Dollhouse. One glance at her companion told Buffy that she was not the only one who had felt it. Faith's darker features mirrored her own- her eyes wide and forehead creased in confusion. Whatever was going on, the touch had decimated any lingering doubt in Buffy's mind that this girl was Faith- there was no-one else in the world who's touch gave her that. The 'Slayer-tingle' as Buffy had dubbed it, was something she had never understood. She'd pondered over it, many years ago when it first made itself known, and had eventually settled on the obvious- it was just a Slayer thing, the way they caused practically tangible sparks when they touched, the way they could sense each other coming a mile away. After settling on the believe that it just was, Buffy had rarely thought about it, save for the days following her magical return to the world when she had wondered briefly if Faith had known about her death. But in the day leading up to her flight to LA, she'd found her thoughts drifting back to their time in Sunnydale, and the very Slayer bond that was making itself so apparent now. It was in that time that she'd realized, with some confusion, that she'd never felt it with any of the other, newer, Slayers. Not in training, not in day-to-day life, not even with Satsu when they...not with Satsu.
"So," Faith's words snapped the Slayer out of her thoughts, and she gently pulled her hand away, making a mental note to phone Willow and ask her about it later. "Do you want to go somewhere else? There's a great club near here, I thought maybe we could..."
"Sounds great," she agreed quickly and instinctively, ignoring the nagging feeling that she was getting in too deep as the prospect of reliving some of their better days guided her words and actions.
Faith smiled and signalled the waiter for the bill, settling it and leading Buffy out of the restaurant before hailing a cab.
"The car..?" Buffy bean to question, wondering just what was prompting Faith to leave her new ride behind.
Faith gave a cheeky grin, flashing her dimples once again to her fellow Slayer. "I'll pick it up tomorrow. Don't wanna be breaking any laws now, do I?"
Buffy couldn't quite suppress her laughter, pulling herself quickly back together. "No, course not," she conceded, sliding into the back seat of the cab as her counterpart held open the door. Her breath caught in her throat for what seemed like the millionth time that evening as she felt Faiths thigh brush against her own, moving slightly away from the confusing brunette as she directed the driver to somewhere Buffy had never heard of.
Buffy hadn't been quite sure what to expect from a Faith-chosen nightclub, her speculations could only come from Faith's previous taste in night-time haunts, so she was pleasantly surprised when she was lead along a small hallway and down a spiral stair into a large, smart-looking room. After instinctively scoping out all the exits, Buffy began to take in the interior of the club more fully. A marble-topped bar extended along the wall to her left, the dance floor to her right with small booths separating it from the raised area at the back, doors leading off the far wall.
Buffy felt Faith take her hand and let herself be led to the bar, bodies pressing against her from every angle, urging her ever-closer to her date.
"What're you drinking?" she called over the noise of the DJ.
Faith gave a sly grin, grabbing the attention of the girl behind the bar faster than was possible by any mere mortal and ordering their drinks, passing something tall and fruity-looking to Buffy while somehow balancing four shots and her own beer in her hands and steering them towards a booth just off the dance floor.
"What are they" Buffy asked, nodding towards the 4 shots lined up on the wooden table.
Faith grinned playfully, and it struck Buffy again how long it had been since she had seen Faith smile with anything but malice and hate behind it."Tequila."
The Slayer let out an audible groan and slumped further back into the booth. "We don't go well, tequila and I, you should know that-"
The younger girl gave a throaty chuckle, pushing two of the shot glasses in Buffy's direction and leaning in close to talk to her, the former-blond also leaning in to close the gap further. "Everyone says that, don't worry about it."
Buffy shivered and felt her skin break out in goosebumps as Faith's breath tickled the side of her neck, her eyes fluttering half-closed for a moment before she realized what had happened and pulled back, distracting herself by downing both of her shots.
"Geez B," Faith couldn't quite keep the laugh out of her voice, and Buffy had to shake herself mentally at the use of that nickname, just to remind herself once more that the woman she was out with was not Faith. "Better slow down and let me catch up. And that ain't how you do tequila shots." Buffy caught another mischievous grin from her date as she glanced over, watching her retrieve the salt shaker from the centre of the table and lick the back of her hand.
Faith sprinkled the salt on the moist patch of skin before licking it off, downing her shot, and placing the lime from her beer between her lips all in one fluid motion. She smiled around the slice still resting between her full lips and Buffy couldn't help but feel just a little jealous pang towards the lime. In a very unFaith-like gesture, the younger Slayer slid the remaining shot across the table to Buffy, raising an eyebrow in question. Buffy's grip was loose on the glass, and had it not been still sat on the table, she most likely would have dropped it at the what she was watching. Faith gently licked the inside of her wrist, sprinkling on salt as she had done previously, and held her arm out to Buffy, a sexy smile on her lips and her eyes never leaving the Slayers.
Suddenly aware that her mouth was hanging open, Buffy glanced first at the shot, then at the offered wrist, and finally at Faith's sexy and challenging smile.
"Just livening up the evening a little. Relax, you might just enjoy yourself," she teased, her voice taking the familiar husky tone that Buffy remembered all too well as she scooting a little closer to Buffy in the booth.
What are you doing?
Before she let her thoughts spiral out of control, Buffy decided to take some advice that she'd given someone many years ago...she seized the moment, leaning down and letting her tongue sweep over the soft curve of Faith's wrist, feeling both of their bodies practically hum from the contact, an entirely pleasant warmth seeming to seep through her body as she tasted the younger Slayers skin against her tongue.
"See? Much better." Faith's voice had dropped to a level of huskiness that was, Buffy felt, on a level of sexiness that was quite ridiculous. The combination of all the 'Faith' elements and the Tequila now coursing its way through her veins was serving to make Buffy one very disoriented Slayer.
Way to go Buff. So drunk and...whatever from this...this thing with 'Faith' that you probably couldn't even find the Dollhouse, let alone get inside...
"You got a look that tells me you're thinking too much," Faith observed, her tone light but serious. "Bet you work way too hard."
You have no idea.
"Just try and forget about all that, yeah? For a night? This isn't about work or any of that."
But before Buffy had time to argue, or even mildly protest, the barmaid from earlier was laying another round of shots and beer on the table for them, adding a couple of extra lime slices.
A little to Buffy's disappointment, they cleared up that round without any more 'close encounters', and sipped on their beers for a few moments before Faith stood quickly, offering her hand to.
"Wanna dance?" she asked, her voice low and husky once again, and getting Buffy more worked up than any of the evenings drinks so far. The Slayer gave a smile and grasped the outstretched hand, pulling herself to her feet and taking some control, leading Faith out onto the dance floor behind her.
The pair immediately began moving in time to the quick beat of the song, bodies swaying and flowing as if they themselves were part of the music. Buffy's eyes closed as she raised her arms above her head, remembering vividly the last time the Chosen Two had danced like this, the way she had felt so free and alive and close to the other girl.
The way she had wanted her.
Her eyes shot open at that thought, taking in the woman dancing in front of her, head tilted back slightly in total abandon and features free of all the signs of a shattered life that had been etched there on their last encounter. She looked exactly as she had all those years ago, albeit a little older, more mature, and Buffy was reacting exactly as she had then- her mind following where her body led as she drew them closer together, her hands resting gently on Faith's swaying hips.
She let her eyes slide closed again and felt Faith's arms sneak around her waist as her thigh slid gently between hers, their bodies locked close and grinding softly against each other in time to the beat- every inch of Buffy's body felt scorched where it met that of the other woman.
She had no idea how long they'd danced like that- a while judging by the group she saw disperse from around them at the start of a newer, slower song. The heat and spontaneity that had been carried by the rhythm was dissipating into the lull of the slower song, and the Slayer found herself torn between the appeal of Faith and her uncertainty. The passion and heat of the quick tempo was one thing, the intensity of the slower beat was a much scarier beast. As they often had, her uncertainties won out, and she gently disengaged herself from the other Slayers arms, not failing to catch the slightly put-out look in the younger woman's eyes as she followed her back to the bar.
"Actually, do you think you could take me back to the hotel? I know it's still kind of early, but..." she trailed of, trying not to feel so guilty about bailing early, and silently reprimanding herself for getting so involved in the evening.
"Yeah of course, don't worry about it, I'll go grab us a cab." If there was any residual bitterness about leaving the dance floor it wasn't showing in her smile as she motioned for Buffy to go before her, leading them out into the slight chill of the night.
Buffy fumbled around her purse for the key to her hotel room, slipping the tiny tracer into the palm of her hand as she did so as Faith leaned casually against the wall with an amused smile.
"So how long are you in town for?"
Buffy fiddled with the key, her alcohol-fogged mind not quite fitting it in the keyhole as she vaguely answered the question. "Um I'm not too sure really. Till I'm done I guess."
"Will I see you again?"
"Yeah," she replied softly,"count on it."
Faith grinned before hooking her hand behind Buffy's head and pulling her gently forward in one fluid motion, capturing her lips in a kiss that caught the older Slayer totally off-guard. Buffy stepped back, her mind and balance thrown off, and watched Faith back away, an awkward silence falling over the pair.
At that, Buffy seized control, moving towards the younger Slayer confidently, snaking her arms around her waist and tugging her closer. Her breath caught slightly in the back of her throat as the older Slayer leant into the brunette and allowed their lips to touch again. The younger Slayer at first gently kissed Buffy, before growing fiercer and effortlessly pushing her against the door. Buffy whimpered softly from the shock, knocked slightly back to her senses that had been captured within the intoxicating Slayer kiss. Her hands that had been wrapped securely around Faith's waist now began to move lower. The younger Slayer moaned quietly into Buffy's mouth as her hands slipped into the back pockets of Faith's tight jeans, silently releasing the tracer she had been concealing. Objective accomplished, Buffy considered that now was probably the time to retreat to her room...and yet her body refused to co-operate, still wrapped up in the other woman. Her Slayer strength seemed to fail as she found herself totally unable to push Faith away, managing only to press herself closer.
The shrill tones of Buffy's ringing cell tore through the haze surrounding them, and Buffy broke away, digging frantically in her purse as Faith caught her breath, running a hand through her dark hair.
"Hello," she answered, trying her best to not sound as breathless as she was.
"Buffy, what's going on? We left things as long as we could but..."
"Nothing Angel, it's fine, I just um...we just got back, I'm just heading back to the room now." She closed her eyes, leaning her head back against the door and trying to steady herself.
"Everything's fine. Look I'll call you in a while ok?"
She hung up before he had the chance to answer her, noting the slight frown on her companions face.
"Yeah, he's the guy that I'm here helping out."
"I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were..."
Buffy quickly realized what it looked like- a call at this time of the night from a man she was addressing as 'Angel'- and hurried to rectify the situation.
"Oh! No, no it's not like that at all. We're over. Way over."
Despite trying to look nonchalant, giving a small shrug, Buffy caught the flash of relief in the younger woman's eyes. It was a stark reminder to her that this woman was not the Faith she'd known, who wouldn't have given a second thought to making moves on someone else's girlfriend. The thought snapped her back to the reality of the situation, and she glanced down, her head swimming with a mix of emotions.
"I should probably get to bed, it's getting late and..."
"Yeah, of course. You know where to get me, give me a call."
Her heart twisted guiltily at the sincerity of the woman talking to her, and all she could do was give a strained smile and a nod as she turned away and entered the room, listening to the retreating footsteps of the other Slayer as she left.
She shook her head in an attempt to clear some of the fog and flopped down on her bed, retrieving her cell and dialling Angel.
"Buffy, what happened? Why didn't you call earlier?"
"Didn't have time I guess."
"what's wrong, you sound..."
She did her best to rid herself of the dull monotone and sighed, standing and moving over to peer out of the window.
"Nothing, it was just...it was a weird night."
She heard mumbling and a thud before Cordelia's voice broke through the phone.
"Did you trace her or what?"
Or what. Buffy mused, as her mind drifted back to the events in the hallway.
"Good. So" Cordelia began, her voice changing from assertive to interested, "how was your evening."
Buffy frowned, both at the question and the black van that had caught her attention in the parking lot.
"Um, hang on."
She unlatched the window, pulling it open for a better view, and as expected saw Faith strolling casually towards it.
"Cordy, tell Angel I'll call him later."
She clicked the phone off on Cordelia's protests, and changed quickly into black jeans and a t-shirt, grabbing the tracker from the table and racing out of the room.
The red blip on the screen came to a stop for a moment as Buffy rounded the corner, recognizing the exterior of the building and creeping her way down the driveway in time to see the elevator closing on Faith and Boyd.
She pause for a moment before realizing it was most likely the only way into the building, and pressed the button before retreating to the shadows, preying that it came back empty. When it did, she descended to the subterranean corridors she had walked through earlier that day, navigating her way to the main building from memory.
As she crept cautiously around the corner and on to an elevated walkway, her attention was caught by a noise and the flashing of lights from a room a little ahead of and above her. Her view was obstructed, limited to Faith's head and shoulders as she lay in a large computerized chair but her stomach clenched horribly as she watched the scene in shock. Her fellow Slayer's face contorted in an expression of pain that Buffy had never seen from her before, her body jerking violently as lights flashed about her head. The newly-brunette Slayer raised her hand to cover her mouth, closing her eyes for a moment against the vision, breathing in deeply. Eyes still closed, Buffy's heart skipped a beat as she felt the solid press of a gun in the small of her back, lids opening slowly to see Adelle standing by her side and smiling triumphantly, Boyd behind her holding the gun and flanked by two more security guards.
"Miss Summers," the Brit spoke, her voice taking on a decidedly menacing tone in the situation and Buffy's heart racing at the implications of those two words. "I think you and I should have a chat."
Buffy shifted awkwardly, perched on the edge of the chair and silently berating herself for being quite so impulsive about following Faith. She thought briefly of Angel and the earpiece sitting uselessly in her hotel room, before realizing that it undoubtedly would have been removed by now. The alcohol induced haze that had been shrouding her brain had cleared, and she was now drowning in the implications of the situation. Vampires, demons and ancient prophecies were old news to her; but powerful human corporations and gun-wielding security officers not so much. Two of the guards flanked the door, while Boyd stood behind DeWitt's desk, the prim English woman sitting on the edge, hands clasped in her lap.
"Well Miss Summers, I assume you're rather curious right now."
Buffy's gut squirmed horribly, and she mused that curiosity certainly wasn't her overwhelming emotion. She shifted a little again, managing a nod and swallowing, her throat dry.
"I do suggest that you relax, I don't intend to shoot you," Adelle said with an amused little smile, nodding to the two men at the door, who disappeared, the door clicking shut behind them. "Don't be mistaken, if you so much as attempt to 'slay' your way out of here you will be dealt with. But I would really rather avoid that unnecessary hassle."
Buffy nodded once again, both comforted by the diminished number of firearms in the room and disconcerted by Adelle's knowledge. Still, she sat back into the chair, letting some of the tension release from her shoulders.
Adelle pursed her lips, studying Buffy's face for a moment before continuing on. "I shall assume given your status, and the position of some of your known acquaintances, that there is great deal you are already aware of in relation to this company. Allow me to fill in some blanks. However, the first thing I must urge is that when you leave here, you take your newly acquired information and return to Scotland to leave well enough alone. This is not a matter to be meddled in, Miss Summers."
Her tension eased, Buffy's agitation was swiftly being replaced by irritation. How dare she sit there and tell her what to do. "Are you going to tell me what the hell is going on here?"
"Ah, and there's the attitude I've been waiting for. I must say, I was beginning to be disappointed."
Buffy raised an eyebrow in question. How much did this woman know? She had to admit, she was unnerved again.
"Do you really assume that with someone like Faith I have not looked into every aspect of her past and personality? Come now. I could paint a detailed picture of Faith's entire time in Sunnydale with you until the day she was brought in, as well as the times preceding even her calling."
At that, Buffy's anger flared up. What right did this woman have to delve into Faith's past. To violate her. To know Faith better than- "And I don't suppose you just stumbled across all this information."
"Come now, 'll assume that by now you have some grasp of what it is we do here, Miss Summers?"
"We deal in a range of needs,from hostage negotiations to evening dates. Our clients come to us, they tell us what they want, what they need and we provide it for them, for a fee."
"You just rent people out like..."
"Our volunteers are here on a 5 year program. They're wiped when they arrived, and on hiatus between missions they have no knowledge of the outside world, of their previous life or of any of the missions they have undertaken. They live a perfectly happy and simplistic life, and at the end of their program leave entirely restored and with enough money to tide them over for quite some time."
"Our subjects have their own personality removed from their mind, effectively becoming a blank slate, with which we can work. Their thoughts and memories, their mental 'self', if you will, is stored in our database."
Buffy couldn't quite believe what she was hearing, couldn't entirely comprehend how these people were playing God with the lives and minds of others.
"And does Faith know you've been poking around in her mind?" she asked, crossing her arms defiantly over her chest.
"Doubtful, I haven't had the pleasure of speaking to Faith since the night she arrived. Although I must say, I highly doubt she's so naive as to think otherwise."
Buffy frowned, looking down into her lap and feeling an irrational a pang of hurt that Faith would- even unknowingly- leave herself so open to these strangers.
Adelle caught Buffy's look, standing from her position and moving to the chair behind her desk, leaving forward with her arms reset on the dark wood. "Oh I wont assume that she'd approve. Merely that she's not foolish enough to think it wouldn't be done."
"And that begs the question, Miss DeWitt- Faith was one of your volunteers, was she? Tell me, how exactly did she volunteer from a prison cell?"
"Oh Miss Summers, I don't claim to be a saint. There are things that happen within this organization that are born of necessity over morality, and furthermore there are things which extend beyond even my control."
DeWitt gave an impatient sigh, her stare piercing Buffy as she spoke.
"Meaning, that the buck does not stop here, Miss Summers. I work for a higher power, who in turn answers to many other sources. Faith's arrival here was instigated by one of these outside sources. Now don't misunderstand me, I may not agree entirely with the methods by which we acquired Faith's abilities, but I cannot pretend I have not relished the opportunity to make use of them. Nor will I suggest for a moment that my personal opinion would have had any impact on the outcome of Faith's introduction to our organization." Adelle paused on her way out of the room, turning back to throw a final revelation in Buffy's direction. "I believe you have your Watcher's Council to thank for that."
Buffy was still reeling from the information when Adelle re-entered the office, carrying a thick file, her heels clicking loudly on the wooden floor. She'd always known the Council were misled in their actions, but after Giles had helped to rebuild it...well she'd thought maybe they'd learned something. Really, she surmised, she should have known nothing was different the day they had managed to force him back out. But to hand someone over to have their mind erased, for them to be hired out to the highest paying client for whatever they wanted... She fought back a bout of nausea as she mulled it over, wondering how low the Council could stoop and feeling a bitter sting of regret as she wondered what she could have changed had she stepped in sooner.
The sound of the file thudding onto the desk broke Buffy from her thoughts, and she looked back up into the hard stare of DeWitt.
"Faith's?" she asked with surprise, not entirely sure why the woman was being so forthcoming with her.
As if reading her mind, Adelle raised her eyebrows. "Miss Summers, as I've already told you, I am merely filling in the blanks for you, saving you the time and effort, if you will. I'm trusting that you undoubtedly would have gotten to it eventually, and with a lot more bother to both of us. But I also trust that you have the sense to take what I give you and leave. There's nothing you can do here."
But even as she spoke, Buffy thought she could see something in the intense stare of the Brit, something she wouldn't vocalise, but that was undoubtedly present. Something defiant reflected in the small smile she was giving the Slayer.
Buffy glanced back down at the file in front of her, her fingertips resting inches from it, and yet not finding the force to move themselves closer, not finding the will to delve into Faith's past without her consent. Perhaps a little scared of what she might find. She couldn't quite place when she'd started to care so much?
"I see you're a little reluctant to take your answers. From what I understand, there's little loyalty between the two of you Miss Summer's, in fact it seems to me there's been nothing but bad blood in the time you've known each other."
Buffy felt the corners of her eyes prick with tears, and she clenched her fist, her nails digging in to her palm.
"You don't have a clue what happened between Faith and I." Buffy's reaction startled even her. Of all the people who would ever question the...intensity of what had gone on between the two Slayers, Buffy would never have pegged herself as one of them.
"Quite the contrary, I know every detail. However, it's quite irrelevant, I don't expect to see you again after this evening. It would be in the best interest of all involved. There's one more thing I think would be worth your attention before you leave however." She turned to the man behind the desk, giving him a small nod. "Boyd, if you'd be so kind."
He seemed to understand, and gave Buffy a quick glance before leaving her alone in the room with Adelle, who stood and strolled calmly to the drinks cabinet.
"Can I get you something?"
Buffy stared in disbelief, wondering how long she had left before the Brit snapped to her senses and had her escorted from the building at gunpoint. Or worse. However, as ominous as her worries were, she was still very curious.
"No, thanks." She turned in the chair to face the woman, frowning. "So you knew who I was when I came here this afternoon?"
"And you said nothing? Knowing who I was and most likely why I'm here."
"Don't be so foolish as to think you weren't being followed. We could have intercepted at a moments notice. I was merely curious as to how the evening would play out."
"Play out? What's that supposed to mean?"
But Adelle's explanation died on her lips as she turned to greet the opening door, through which Boyd was now entering, a very familiar brunette following in his wake.
"Hope?" Buffy asked tentatively. But even as the words left her lips, she could see her answer in the eyes of the other Slayer, in the stare which was boring into her from across the room.
"B? The fuck are you doing here?"
"I..." but Buffy's brain wasn't cooperating, rather it was swimming around in the evening's events and driving into Buffy something that should have been the least of her worries- this Faith had no idea. The entire evening may as well have never happened. Despite how her feelings had softened over the course of the day, even she was surprised by just how much it hurt as she swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat.
All part of the mission, Buffy. You don't care.
"Well?" Faith challenged once more, her arms crossed defiantly, shielding her. Everything about her was starkly in contrast to the woman Buffy had met earlier that day, and she was in no position to deny the pain that it was invoking. Even as Buffy stared into her eyes she could see that there was no openness in this Faith; the walls were there as solid as they ever had been.
Buffy glanced to the side, finding Adelle observing the exchange with an interested gaze. "I believe Miss Summer's is looking for you, Faith."
"Looking for me? Been in the same place for four years and now you come looking?" She took a few steps forward, standing no more than a floor from Buffy and leaning forward into her space. Her crossed arms fell to her sides and Buffy did not fail to catch the instinctive fists she formed, or the way her body was shaking with anger she was fighting to hold back. "What's up, B? Thought I might be causing trouble?"
"I thought..." Buffy's voice cracked and she chastised herself for being so emotional, so involved in something that she should have been so removed from. She cleared her throat, starting again. "I thought you were in trouble, Angel thought..."
She caught the quick flash of something in Faith's eyes as she backed away, heaving a huge sigh as she turned away. "Angel worries too much."
In keeping with the turbulent emotions she'd been subject to over the day, her angst gave way to anger at Faith's attitude. Here she was, putting her life in danger after flying halfway across the world, and Faith was telling her that they shouldn't have worried so much? "You disappeared, no-one knew where you were or what had happened. What do you expect?"
Faith gave a small shrug and made her way to the large leather sofa, flopping down and leaning back, rolling her shoulders and serving to only irritate the other Slayer, who stormed over and paced the floor in front of her.
Adelle's voice startled Buffy out of her anger. "Buffy, Faith, I'm going to give the two of you a few moments to talk." She headed for the door, turning back for a final word. "Please, do try not to break anything."
Buffy ran a hand through her newly-dyed hair and fell into the sofa opposite Faith, leaning back and closing her eyes for a moment. "So are you going to tell me what happened?"
"Doesn't matter. You need to go," she answered abruptly.
"I'm going nowhere until I find out what the hell is going on. I flew from Scotland, Faith, there's no way I'm leaving here empty-handed."
Faith stood so abruptly that Buffy felt herself recoil a little, immediately admonishing herself for the reaction. "Yes you are. Fucking drop this." She pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes, before turning back to face Buffy, avoiding her eyes.
"How the hell did they get you here?" Buffy sighed, keeping her voice calm and doing her utmost to distance this Faith, the Faith she knew, from the woman she had let herself get close to earlier in the day.
Faith shook her head, giving a short laugh as she collapsed defeated back onto the leather of the sofa. "You're not gonna give it up, are you?"
Buffy's only answer was a raised eyebrow as Faith sighed and leant forward, her elbows resting on her knees.
"Woke up one day a few months back with this...just this feelin' that somethin' was up. So not too surprised when I get called up to the Warden. I'm busy wonderin' what the fuck I've done wrong when two suits and a couple guys in black come through the door behind me- last thing I see is this wicked huge needle and I wake up chained in the back of some fuckin' van with one of the suits. Anyway, fancy suit, English accent, shit attitude- didn't take a genius to figure out they were from the Council. Tried to break out but I guess I was still feelin' kinda funky from the tranq cause I couldn't even make a dent in the damn restraints" she stopped for a moment, frowning to herself thoughtfully, "probably had some magic shit on em. So anyway, I black out again and wake up in this very lovely office right here, with the she-Giles and the Council guys."
Faith sighed deeply and lifted her eyes to the face of the other Slayer, catching her eyes for a moment as they studied her. There was something there that she couldn't quite place, something she wasn't used to seeing from her previously-blonde counterpart.
"So, DeWitt explains the shit to me, how the Council have decided that they're puttin' me into 'rehab'. Guess they thought I was wasted on prison, huh?" She paused. "So, that's you all caught up. Now get the hell away from here."
Buffy closed her eyes for a moment, absorbing the story and realizing that Faith had, so far, told her tale surprisingly calmly.
"God," she sighed, "this is just insane. They can't just go around erasing people."
"Not even people like me?"
Buffy felt her stomach twist at the other girls words, and found herself unable to meet the Slayer's eyes. "You're not...," she mumbled, voice so quiet that only a Slayer could have picked it up.
Faith's head snapped up, studying Buffy's features intensely, entirely unsure of how to read her. Once again, Buffy's eyes lifted and the two found themselves with their gazed locked across the small space, both unable to place the look in the stare of the other.
Faith frowned and blinked, her counterpart still in her sights, before feeling herself falling backwards into the leather sofa as a series of images flashed across her mind.
Leaning on the door of a gorgeous black Porshe; Buffy smiling at her over a restaurant table; tongue against soft skin; Buffy, pressed against her- dancing the way they had before...
She shot forward, palms pressing into her temples as the images stopped and she focused back in on Buffy, kneeling in front of her with a concerned frown.
"I um...guess I was having a flashback. Or somethin'. You were there."
Buffy felt her heart launch itself into her throat as she stood and turned away, walking to the large window and studying the world outside.
"Gonna tell me what the hell that was then?"
Wow, there's a loaded question right there.
"I don't...I mean...I'm not really sure, obviously."
She could see Faith's raised eyebrow without turning to face her, and wasn't surprised by the scepticism in the other Slayer's voice as she spoke.
"Uh huh. Ok, well I'm guessing it coulda only been an assignment. And you don't know why you were there?"
Eye's still glued to the dark vista, her mind not producing any plausible explanation or way out of the discussion, the hairs on the back of her neck prickled slightly as she felt Faith stalk closer.
"Goddamn it B turn around and look at me!"
The sudden outburst caught her off guard and she spun to find herself inches away from an angry-looking Faith.
Her eyes skittered around Faith's features, not daring to rest anywhere for too long,"I.."
"You what? What's been going on."
Buffy could feel the other girl's breath tickling across her skin, she could smell the mixture of perfume and shampoo reminiscent of both 'Hope' and Faith, and she felt her eyes drift closed for a moment as it washed over her, letting herself get lost if just for a moment.
The sound of the door opening broke the atmosphere and Buffy felt her eyes shoot open, taking a step away from her Slayer counterpart and blinking away any remnants of whatever had overcome her.
Adelle strolled into view, Boyd following just behind her. "Miss Summers, Faith, I hate to interrupt but time's getting on."
Faith nodded and took a step away, towards the door, before Buffy's hand rushed out and grabbed her round the wrist. She heard the other girl inhale sharply, turning her head just as fast.
"We need to get out of here," she muttered.
"No, we don't need anything. God, I..." she broke off, running her hand through her hair as Buffy relinquished her hold on her wrist. "B, I actually get to do somethin' here, helluva lot more good than being shut up in the pokey."
"You don't need to be here to do that."
"I want to be here."
The question seemed to finally snap the other Slayer who, Buffy had noted, had kept her cool surprisingly well. "Fuck sake B can't you just drop it already? Just get the hell out and you can go back to Scotland knowing that you did your duty and tried to keep me in check, a'ight?"
"Faith, I didn't mean..."
Buffy felt the corners of her eyes prick with the other girl's words, and chastised herself for getting so involved in this thing, whatever it may be. She saw Faith's shoulder's sag a little as if unable to maintain the tenseness.
The Chosen One watched as Faith gave her head a small shake, eyes downwards, and turned away, walking towards the door with Boyd following behind. She paused at the opening, turning her head a little before shaking it again and leaving.
Buffy felt a tear streak down her cheek, and brushed it away furiously as her eyes fell back onto Adelle.
"Miss Summers," she approached, and Buffy noticed her voice seemed softer than usual, "I hope that today's events have answered some questions for you. I can arrange for a car to take you wherever you need to go."
The tiredness slowly seeping into her body drained the words of refusal from her tongue, and Buffy merely nodded, allowing Adelle to lift the phone and dial.
"Mr Langton, all wrapped up? Very well, if you could come to my office now, I'd be much obliged if you could escort Miss Summer's home."
Buffy turned back to the world outside, watching the lights of the traffic travel through the darkness before turning her gaze to the sky, clearing her mind of her surroundings and trying desperately to make sense of the way she was feeling.
Finding no answers in the LA skyline, she halted the search and turned to the noise of Boyd's return, giving Adelle one last glance and a small nod before following him out.
Pulling up outside the hotel entrance after a silent journey, Buffy reached for the door, eager to be away from the stifling quiet, stopping as she felt a hand on her arm.
"Miss Summer's," Boyd began, pausing as if to choose his words. "I know that the situation is probably very difficult..."
Buffy opened her mouth to interrupt -to argue against the point despite its truth- and was quieted by a gesture from her companion.
"No, the methods and practises of the Dollhouse aren't ideal, I've known that since the day I signed up, but I also know that the people in charge..." he trailed off again, frowning and taking a breath. "If DeWitt is that adamant that you should leave, I really would suggest that it's the best thing to do." Another pause. "I promise you, she's safe."
Buffy nodded, coughing to clear the small lump in her throat. "It was lovely meeting you" she told him honestly.
He smiled. "And you. Goodnight."
She stepped out into the warm night air, taking a breath before making her way back to her room, closing her eyes to the memory in the hallway and locking the door at her back.
Retrieving her cell, she quickly sent a message to Angel, assuring him that all was well, before lying back on the bed and checking the time. Satisfied that her grasp of the time difference was enough to tell her it wasn't too obscene a time, she flipped open the phone again and dialled.
The Slayer closed her eyes, overwhelmed with the events of the day and the comfort in the familiar voice, and felt tears begin to fall that she couldn't bring herself to stop.
"Will, I really need to talk to you."
Ever the dutiful friend, Willow had teleported over from Scotland moments after Buffy had called, and after regaining her shaky footing had taken up position cross-legged on the bed to listen to the story. A nervous Buffy had begun to explain, as best she could, the events of the day, although had decided it easier to cut out a few of the harder to explain details, including the kiss in the hallway.
"So," she sighed, finishing her tale and leaning back against the head of the bed, "what do you think?"
The redhead looked thoughtful for a moment, her head tilted slightly to the side and eyes boring into Buffy in a way that made the Slayer feel just a little bit vulnerable. "I think that there's something you're not telling me" she concluded, raising an eyebrow at her friend questioningly.
Feeling more than a little nervous, Buffy found herself unable to hold the witches stare for long, her eyes shifting downwards to study the, suddenly very interesting, bedspread. "No, I uh..." she mumbled, tailing off when she realized she really didn't have a clue what to say- she'd never been very good at lying to Willow.
"Buffy Summer's don't you dare be all avoid-y with me. Come on, it's me, you can tell me anything."
Buffy glanced back up, and couldn't help but feel more at ease in the face of Willow's open smile. She was right, of course.
"There um, there may have been a couple more things that happened."
"Well?" Willow asked, pressing the matter with excitement in her voice.
"Cordelia, when she called up DeWitt, well she kind of-" Buffy sighed, wondering how best to word it and eventually decided just to plough right ahead and get it out. "God..she'd 'hired' Faith as my date."
Whatever Buffy had been expecting from her best friend, it certainly wasn't the quiet giggle that she heard a moment later.
"Anyway," she continued, trying to cut across the laughter, "we went out, we talked, we danced, we came back here and um..."
Willow's gasp cut her off, and she looked back up to see the redhead giving her a shocked smile. "You didn't? Buffy Summer's you little hussy! You slept with her!"
"What?! No!" Buffy exclaimed, waving her hands frantically in front of her in denial. "I kissed her," she blurted out, raising her hand to her mouth as she gasped a little at her own revelation.
"Is that all? Buffy you had sex with Satsu, I'm really not seeing the big deal here."
"The big deal? Are we talking about the same Faith here?"
Willow sighed at her friend, rolling her eyes."I already told you, the things that happened were a long time ago, and if your account is anything to go by, she's obviously changed."
Buffy opened her mouth to protest again, but found that there really was no arguing- whoever Faith was now, it certainly wasn't the same misled and confused teen that she had been all those years previously.
"Anyway," she continued as if suddenly remembering her motives, "I only did it to put the tracer on her. No big deal, right?"
The Wiccan raised an eyebrow in question, not saying a word but fixing Buffy once again with a penetrating stare.
And again, as if by magic, the former Blond caved. "Alright," she conceded, throwing her hands up in defeat, "I might have stuck with it for a little longer than necessary."
Willow's face broke into a grin and she bounced a slightly on the bed excitedly. "And?"
"And what?" Buffy laughed, relaxing with the easy conversion.
"Don't play coy with me, Slayer, how was it?"
"Willow Rosenberg that is none of your business!"
"Buffy," she whined, "it's been forever since we had a girlie chat."
Buffy laughed again, leaning forward and feeling a coy smile creep onto her lips. "Ok, so it was good." She paused for a moment, contemplating. "Really good," she grinned.
The redhead gave a very girlie squeal, her grin getting impossibly bigger. "I knew it! So what else happened?"
"Nothing," the Slayer sighed, not attempting to disguise the underlying disappointment in her tone, nor trying to deny its presence. "I snuck the tracer into her pocket, got changed, followed her."
"Which pocket?" Willow teased, wiggling her eyebrows.
Buffy blushed at the question and smiled shyly. "Um..."
The witch giggled loudly again, giving her blushing friend a playful shove. "God I was joking," she laughed.
"Anyway, I wont ask how that was," she continued, "and at the Dollhouse?"
"Exactly what I told you. Honestly," she added, off Willow's sceptical gaze.
"So how do you feel about it all?"
She thought back to earlier in the day, the way her skin had buzzed when they were together, how she had felt burned with the intensity of their touches, the way they'd talked. "That's the thing," she sighed. "I'm so confused. About everything."
Willow's teasing smile of moments before was now replaced with a concerned frown at hearing the strain in Buffy's voice, the sincerity of her emotion.
"I mean...I know things have changed now, that she's changed now, but it's still Faith. And having these...these feelings for her, whatever they are, it's just strange."
"Is it?" Willow questioned, drawing a confused frown from her best friend. "I just mean...well it's not really anything new between you two."
Buffy opened her mouth to disagree, and was silenced by a raise of Willow's hand.
"No, I know about all the things that happened, I was there...I mean before that."
Swallowing the lump in her throat, Buffy found her eyes drawn to the bed again as she tried to form her swirling thoughts into something resembling coherence.
"I...I don't know, Will. Everything was so confusing back then, there was just too much going on, everything went by so fast."
"Yeah, I get that, and honestly I think that's probably the only reason things never went beyond...whatever they were. But there was something Buffy, there's no denying that."
Buffy thought back to the memories that had been stirred up that evening- the times they'd spent together and the way it had made her feel all those years ago. "I know," she sighed, surprising herself with how readily she admitted to it, and wondering vaguely when her frustration and anger towards the other girl had dissipated. "I've spent so long being angry at her though, and there's so much behind us...I don't understand why things feel so different now."
"Maybe you've started to realize that the person you've been so angry with really doesn't exist any more. I mean, and don't hit me, but from what you told me you didn't give her much of a chance when you saw her last," she took a breath, rushing ahead at the look on Buffy's face, "which is to be expected, totally, she did a lot of bad things. But maybe your time out showed you...I don't know, how things could be with her, how she could be, if it hadn't all gone so wrong."
"I guess," Buffy agreed, running her hand through her hair in exasperation.
"So, "Willow continued, "after you'd gone through all that emotion at dinner and the club, her reaction to you back at the Dollhouse...hurt like a bitch?"
Buffy's gave a humourless laugh and nodded. "To put it mildly. She was just so...she'd seemed so open to me, and even though the sensible part of me knew it wasn't her, I'd enjoyed it- it hurt so much to see her right back behind her walls again."
The witch nodded sympathetically, upset to see her friend so sad and mixed-up. "I wouldn't have expected anything less, if I'm honest. It's always been obvious that she has a hard time letting people in and trusting them. And you and her...well we've established that you don't have a great history. I guess the big question now is what you're going to do about it all."
"What can I do? Faith and the Dollhouse have made it pretty clear that I should leave it alone."
"And since when have you done as you're told?"
Willow's words brought a smile back to Buffy's face- she couldn't deny their veracity. "Ok, but what am I supposed to do? I mean, she wants to stay."
Willow pondered the question for a moment, "tell me more about Adelle. She seems...I don't know. It seems like there's things she's hiding."
"I dunno Will, she was pretty forthcoming."
"That's kind of what bothers me. This Dollhouse seems pretty cagey in its dealings, it's strange that she was so open with you."
Buffy contemplated her friends words. "Maybe...or maybe she meant what she said, and was just saving me the time- I was bound to find most of it out eventually, it's not like they had much to hide."
"Even still, it seems strange to me. And the fact that she specifically sent Faith out with you," Willow raised a hand to stop another explanation, "regardless of how interested she was, that was dangerous for her, knowing who you were. I just...it feels to me like there's something more behind what she's doing. You said that she told you she didn't agree with everything that goes on there, maybe she wants your help?"
"I don't buy it, Adelle DeWitt doesn't seem like the kind of person who asks for help readily or often."
Willow frowned in concentration. "Well, she told you she knew all about you and Faith, your past?"
"Well maybe...maybe she wants you to pursue it, to pursue her," Willow exclaimed triumphantly. "Maybe the whole 'stay away' act was just a ploy. I mean if she really knows you, and noticed things between you two, then she knows that staying away is the last thing you're going to do." She paused, a little uncertainty entering her as she regarded her friend "Isn't it?"
"I think I need to talk to Angel and Cordy, find out if they know anything else."
"Good idea, want me to come with?"
"While Angel may not mind a very early morning visit, I think Cordelia might well kill me if I interrupt her beauty sleep."
Willow glanced at the clock on the bedside, and then back to her friend, only now noticing the dark circles around her eyes. "Goddess, you haven't even slept! Buffy Summers you get to bed this instant. I'll be back home if you need me again, all you have to do is call and I'm here."
Buffy smiled appreciatively at her best friend, watching her stand and make her way to a clear space on the floor.
"Thanks for coming Will, it was good to just...get it out a bit."
"Any time," she smiled, her body beginning to emanate a soft white glow. "And Buffy?" she added, the roots of her hair also shimmering slightly, "it'll be ok."
Willow's form gave one last surge of light before disappearing, leaving only some falling dust in its wake.
Yanking off her jeans, Buffy slid under the covers of the bed and drifted off, Willow's words of reassurance lingering in her mind.
By the time her cab pulled up outside Wolfram and Hart the following morning, Buffy had settled on her decision. It had been far from easy to make, all things considered, but after a sleep and a hot shower, her mind had cleared enough to allow her a more focussed perspective on the whole thing. Her next problem, she thought as the lift ascended the floors to Angel's office, was how she was going to explain it all to Angel.
Entering his office, she found him anxiously pacing the floor in front of the wide window, her phone call to him that morning having done little to dim his worry.
"Hey," she greeted, her voice far lighter than it had been the night before.
He stopped pacing, taking a seat behind his desk, leaning forward on his arms and looking somewhat nervous.
"So," he began, interrupted by the opening door and entry of Cordelia.
"Nice of you to finally grace us with your presence Buffy," she greeted, though without quite her usual level of sarcasm.
"Busy day," she replied, smiling slightly.
Cordelia gave a small smile of her own, a look of understanding.
"Well, anyway, I pretty much explained everything to you on the phone this morning."
Angel opened his mouth to speak, silenced again by Buffy's raised hand.
"And I've thought about it a bit, and come to a decision that I think is best for everyone involved...in the long run."
The vampire sat up and squared his shoulders, bracing himself for the argument, before ploughing ahead. "Buffy, I know what Faith said, what the Dollhouse said, but I...I really think you should stay."
"Good," she replied, Angel's determined expression swiftly changing to shocked, "so do I."
His face told her immediately that her agreement had been the last thing he was expecting, and for several moments the room was silent, Slayer and Vampire regarding each other while Cordelia's eyes flicked between the two as if watching a tennis match.
"So..." Buffy started, not entirely sure where to go with the conversation, but not eager to sit in silence for any longer.
"Sorry," Angel interjected, shaking his head a little, "you just...took me by surprise, we thought-" he broke off at Cordelia's none-too-light kick to the shin, amending his words "I thought you'd be trying to catch the first flight home."
Cordelia nodded, unable to keep the hint of an 'I told you so' from her face, causing a surprised raise of Buffy's eyebrow.
"I'm not stupid as stupid as him, obviously," she answered, not bothering to elaborate. Not that she needed to- the look she was giving Buffy, eyes piercing her, told her exactly what she needed to know.
A little unnerved, Buffy pulled her focus away and back to Angel, not keen to expound on Cordelia's words. "So where do I go from here? Its not like I can even talk to her, there's no way I'm getting back into that place." [Not without doing some serious damage, to them and me.]
"Well," Angel considered, leaning back into his chair, "we have to decide how to approach things. Namely Faith. If she doesn't want to leave, we're in no position to force her- but I for one am not happy leaving her in there so..." he faltered, "vulnerable."
Buffy gave a mirthless laugh, considering the situation. "Vulnerable...not a word I've associated with Faith much."
"I think maybe you've underestimated what she went through."
Her eyes dropped to her lap as she considered his words, fully aware that what he was saying was true. "I know, Angel, I know. Can we please...can we just not do that just now?" She lifted her gaze, eyes pleading, "please?"
He gave her a half nod, returning to the issue at hand. "I think we need to establish a few things- the kind of thing Faith's being used for, what the limits are, how well she could handle herself in a...'situation'."
"I think," Cordelia threw in, "that the sky is pretty much the limit where they're concerned." Turning to Buffy, she continued, "Adelle DeWitt may not be entirely without morals, but she is far from the final say. From what I've been able to dig up, they're headed by a drug company- Rossum. By the looks of some very well buried police files, the bulk of their discovery came after they began human experimentation, with some fairly nasty consequences." She slid a file across the desk to Buffy, taking a breath before starting up again. "As for the possibilities, their 'tech guy' is a programmer- Topher Brink- and seriously, this guy makes Willow look like," a pause, a teasing smile, "well, like you."
"We haven't been able to come up with any more on the details on their technology, but I can tell you for definite that this guy is off the chart smart, I doubt there's much he can't do, given the facilities."
Buffy cast her mind back, trying to pull up any missed details from her time in the Dollhouse. "Oh!" She exclaimed, "the chair."
Angel sat forward again, interest piqued."Chair?"
"Yeah, just before they found me last night, I saw..." she recalled the scene again, playing out in vivid detail in her mind; the look of pain on Faith's face. "Faith, she was in this chair, it lit up around her head and she...God, she looked like she was in so much pain, I've never seen her like that before, " she finished, voice cracking a little as she failed to shake the image.
"Buffy," Cordelia's voice broke her painful musing, surprisingly soft, "she probably doesn't even remember."
Buffy blinked several times, shaking off the feeling as best she could and regaining her focus. "So, we assume that they can and will do just about anything with her." Even saying it, she felt fearful, a little nauseous.
"It seems so. And the thing is," Angel admitted, "I don't honestly know how we can fix this."
Buffy couldn't help the hopeless feeling that was overwhelming her. So much had changed with the events of the past day, and it now seemed that the energy she had put into protesting the trip here, she had now invested in wanted to produce a result.
Cordelia piped up again, the self-appointed saviour of the dying conversation. "Buffy, I think the best thing you can do is keeps tabs on Faith." She continued, off Buffy's look, "as best you can. At least while she's out on mission...assignment...whatever."
"We've managed to get a tap into their computer network, we'll have a complete knowledge of Faith's scheduled assignments...but for how long I don't know, I cant imagine we'll go undetected in a place like that for more than a few days. After that...well we'll have to find another option."
"Well-" Buffy stopped, clearing the lump in her throat. "I'm going to head back to the hotel, maybe get some more sleep? Can you just...can you call me if you find out anything else?"
"Absolutely. You know where we are if you need anything."
Nodding she stood, heading for the door.
At the sound of Angel's voice, she turned back, looking tired and worn.
"We'll figure this out." He assured, his words failing to comfort her as they once would have, despite his intentions.
With a hopeful half smile, she inclined her head in a small nod, and left for the hotel.
Adelle turned away from the window with a smile, greeting Boyd and his companion as they entered the office.
"Ah, Miss Reese, I presume?"
"That's me," the other woman replied with a nod.
She hardly looked the part of their 'normal' clientèle, Adelle mused, taking in her slightly faded jeans, heavy boots and a plan grey tank, a leather jacket hanging loosely from her shoulders.
Adelle gestured to the settee, making her way to her drinks cabinet, "do have a seat. Can I get you anything? Tea, perhaps?"
There was something off about the woman that Adelle couldn't quite place, something more than just the casual, worn clothes. Then again, she mused, perhaps she was merely on edge from the previous night- events with the Slayers were, after all, requiring a great deal of her time and energy. Filing the feeling away for the time being, she took up position opposite the woman, still wearing a smile.
"So Miss Reese, you told me you were interested in hiring one of our actives this evening. May I enquire as to the nature of the engagement? Business? Social?"
The other woman was quite clearly not wholly invested in the conversation, her eyes scanning the room with a sense of purpose that Adelle was not entirely at ease with.
Her attention snapped back to the Brit, as if suddenly realizing she was being spoken to, "social."
"Hmm." Adelle raised an eyebrow, contemplating. "Well Echo, our most popular active, is available this evening. Although I should point out that at such short notice, she wont be cheap."
"All fine," the woman shrugged, "money's no issue."
"Very well, in that case you can detail your requirements to me and I can pass them along to Topher to prepare Echo."
It seemed that the conversation had taken a more worthwhile turn for the woman, who now focused her attention fully on the Brit. "That's the one thing I'm not so sure about. You can 'make' a person, any person you want, with pure technology?"
"I'd hardly call it 'pure technology' Miss Reese, our technician Topher is essentially the brains behind the machinery. The technology merely does as he wishes."
The woman across from her raised an eyebrow, before muttering something that Adelle couldn't quite catch and returning her attention to the conversation.
"Well that's...that's truly impressive," she conceded with a slight incline of her head. She paused, looking considerate. "I don't suppose there's any possibility of me seeing your tech? I'm willing to pay extra for the evening, I'm just...well, just curious."
Adelle weighed the situation in her mind, pondering the unease the woman was evoking. Then again, she considered, there was really no possibility of this one lone woman being able to cause disruption within the house, and as for outside...well there were was of dealing with that situation.
"Yes," she finally concurred, "yes I believe that could be arranged." She smiled tightly, already visualizing Topher's reaction to the request.
Buffy glanced at the clock by the bedside before rolling onto her back, her arm resting across her eyes. In the hours since she'd arrived back, she'd changed twice, done stretches, eaten all the peanuts from the mini bar and almost called angel more times that she cared to remember. She'd done everything but find the sleep she'd been hoping for. So when her cell finally rang, moments later, she snatched it up and eagerly answered within seconds.
"It's me, me just got intel in that Faith's out tonight on a last minute engagement. She'll be picked up at 7, that's all we know."
"Ok, I'm on it. Thanks Angel."
"Buffy, be careful. And please consider actually wearing the earpiece we gave you?"
"Fine," she huffed, still not comfortable with them listening in on any of her interactions with Faith just yet. Not that she was planning on any tonight.
"Stay out of site, out of trouble and definitely out of the Dollhouse. Recon only."
"Angel, I get it ok. I'm on my very best behaviour."
"I'll talk to you later then. Good luck."
Impatient to get moving, she silently thanked the fact that he had finished up there, clicking the cell shut and dropping it back onto the bed. Yanking open the chest of drawers with a little too much force, she took a moment to carefully replace the drawer, before changing in record time. She grudgingly fished the earpiece from the bedside table and pushed it into her ear, feeling a lot like she was back in Scotland, although without Xander's comforting voice to guide her, and pushed her cell and keys into her pocket before hastily making her way outside.
Her mind was on overdrive as she began to pound the streets. She absolutely couldn't see what they were going to gain from this, could see even less clearly how they might overcome the problem of the Dollhouse, and of Faith. But in the midst of those worries, she had to acknowledge what was, for now, the most pressing concern- why on earth could she not shake these feelings?
(Earlier that day)
Her heels clicked on the wooden floor as Adelle made her way into the imprint area, finding Topher tapping madly away at various keyboards, chair swivelling between the multiple computer screens.
He jumped, startled out of his focus, and spun around to face the voice. "Don't sneak up on people like that, I could've been doing something...important."
"And here I was under the impression that everything you did was important," she remarked, eyebrow raised and sarcasm lacing her voice.
"Well..." he nodded, drawing out the word in emphasis. "Oh," he reached for one of the machines to his right, pulling out an imprint. "Echo's, for tonight," he explained, waving it slightly. "I have to say, I was a little disappointed, it was just so...dull. Such a waste of my talents," he sighed, shrugging.
Eyebrow still raised, her arms crossed and a small smirk in place, Adelle continued. "In that case I'm sure you'll be thrilled with what I'm about to ask."
"Really?" He sounded sceptical.
"I've been doing a little research, it seems there's more to our Miss Reese than she'd have us believe."
"It seems 'Reese' is in fact a frequent alias of a Miss Sarah Connor who has, to say the least, a somewhat murky past."
Topher gave her a questioning look, "so you want me to...send out 'spy-echo'?"
"No no, lets not assume the worst so quickly- after all who are we if not open-minded?"
"Well then what-"
"I think, as a precaution, you should implement a trigger within Echo's imprint." She paused for a moment, raising an eyebrow to Topher, conveying more to him than just her words, "I'm quite certain a Slayer could handle any unforeseen circumstances."
"Uh huh," he mumbled again, "are you sure? I mean with the anomalies in her neural activity recently? Her sleep patterns? I just-"
"I'm quite certain that Echo is in possession of adequate mental strength to manage these...anomalies. It is in the best interests of both her and the company that she be prepared for any unexpected outcome of this evening."
"Ok, well that shouldn't be too difficult, all I'll need to do is intersperse her own imprint with what I've put together for-" he stopped short, catching the look on Adelle's face. "Yeah..." Standing, he pulled out another monitor, sliding various data across the screen. "Do you have a specific trigger in mind?"
"Right" he muttered, placing himself back in front of the original screen, fingers moving rapidly over the keys. "This," he began proudly, "is really kinda brilliant. You see, the entire imprint database is essentially digitally coded brainwaves. With this," he tapped the screen, indicating the program that was now running, "I can pull up any imprint, or even combination of imprints, and just...search it, like Google. The program, fundamentally, runs the keyword through the imprint, and displays the psychological reaction it provokes, as well as coding- Hey, this is interesting stuff y'know. "
"Fascinating," Adelle remarked with sarcasm.
"I'm so under-appreciated."
"Ok," he exclaimed, leaning back in his chair and allowing Adelle a clearer view of the monitor. "So this is Faith. Now ideally we want a trigger that's of strong relevance to her...makes it a little more effective. So, say we want to call up data on," he paused, thinking and giving a shrug, "Christmas? I just," he tapped away, muttering under his breath, until a further box appeared, full of charts and graphs, the occasional accompanying line of text.
"Huh" he uttered with interest, "apparently not the greatest choice."
Adelle sighed, growing impatient and eager to get on with other pressing matters.
"Ok so lets try..." he continued his quiet mumbling as his fingers worked their magic again, bringing up further windows of information moments later. "Better."
"And that is?"
"That, is all her psychological 'data' on Buffy Summers."
"Ah yes, quite the collection."
"I'd quite happily say-"
Adelle interjected, halting that train of thought. "No."
"Topher, I give you exceptionally free reign in the things you do, but you will not use Buffy Summers, or indeed anything relating to her, as Echo's trigger- I suspect we haven't seen the last of the Slayer."
Switching deftly into Slayer mode, Buffy took to the shadows outside the Dollhouse's underground lot, checking her watch; if Angel's intell was right, Faith should be leaving within the next five minutes. Sure enough, the sleek black hummer that emerged from the drive moments later held three people, one of them Faith. The driver was a woman a few years older than herself, and the passenger in the back a girl maybe two years younger, who silently regarded Faith, an inquisitive look etched across her features.
Buffy took off jogging after the car, thanking the Powers for the shadowy pavement and slow-moving traffic of the evening, wondering exactly where they might be headed. Her question didn't go unanswered for long, as the hummer swung around a final corner and slowed to a stop a few feet from the entrance to 'Sky'- an average looking bar with a few stray patrons milling around by the door.
Edging closer to the car, body tucked safely into the shadow being cast along the wall, Buffy could just make out the words being spoken from inside the vehicle.
The older woman turned in the drivers seat, leaning around the chair to address Faith- or whomever she happened to be tonight. "Hey um, Dani?"
'Dani' smiled brightly, face open and interested, acknowledging the question.
"You want to head inside? I'll be in in a minute."
"Sure thing," she answered, and Buffy noticed that her usual Bostonian drawl had been replaced by a softer lilt, the region of which Buffy couldn't identify.
From her position, Buffy took in the other woman's appearance as she strolled towards the bar looking so very unlike the Faith she knew in a knee-length black dress and black heels, her hair hanging over her shoulders in waves. Chewing slightly on her lip, Buffy gave her own appearance a quick once over, and after deciding she was probably just acceptable, made her way towards the door, slowing her steps as she passed the car.
"She's female" the younger girl remarked, evoking a sigh from her companion.
"And so are you."
"Well done Cam, what's your point?"
Buffy watched the exchange out of the corner of her eye, noticing once again how the younger woman's head tilted to the side curiously as she regarded her companion.
"I wasn't aware," she finished simply, a look flashing across her inquisitive face that Buffy could read only as disappointment, or perhaps something similar.
"Can you just take the car, go a couple blocks from here, and call me in twenty minutes?"
"Yes. What what would you like me to do for twenty minutes?" the girl enquired, causing Buffy to wonder just exactly what the situation was between the two.
She listened to the older woman groan in exasperation, before exiting the car and making her way to the door of the bar, leaving the the question unanswered. The younger passenger watched her leave with another unreadable expression on her face, once again leaving Buffy puzzled. Shaking it off, she reminded herself that whatever she needed right now, it was not to waste time dwelling on someone else's problems. Unless of course that someone was Faith.
The interior of the bar was very much like the exterior- on the whole it was clean, well presented, and reasonably safe and normal looking. Buffy couldn't say the same for some of its patrons, nor would she care to hazard a guess as to what it may look like with a little more light.
She took up position in one of the enclosed booths around the side, eyes easily locking on to Faith sitting at the bar, turning to warmly greet her arriving companion and causing a sharp stab of jealousy that Buffy angrily ignored.
The Slayer jumped, smacking her knee painfully against the underside of the table in surprise as Angel's voice filtered into her ear.
"Yeah, I'm here," she mumbled, rubbing the sore spot on her knee and trying not to look too much like she was muttering away to thin air.
"What's your progress?"
"Not a lot- Angel could you call my cell? I feel like the crazy drunk in the corner talking to myself."
A moment later, she flipped open the top of the vibrating cell, leaning back into the chair and observing the two women with a frown.
"Where are you? We've got you in-"
"Just some bar, she's out with some woman" Buffy explained, the tone of her voice betraying her. "I mean, does she ever do anything...y'know, serious?"
"Buffy..." Angel warned, "don't underestimate this- we have no idea what she does, that's our problem."
She sighed, pouting a little, "yeah yeah. So, any update on anything?"
"Actually yes...well, sort of. Something came through on our computer link, but honestly, we're not sure what it means."
"Well, what was it?"
Buffy could practically hear Angel's frown as he continued, "lines of a poem. Byron."
"What?" She queried, utterly perplexed."Well...what lines?"
"In secret we met— in silence I grieve; that thy heart could forget, thy spirit deceive."
"Well that makes perfect sense," she remarked with sarcasm. She could feel herself becoming more irritated, tapping her fingers against the table in agitation at the most recent speck of useless information, eyes narrowing as she watched Faith inch closer to her 'friend' at the bar. "How the hell are we supposed to figure anything out if that's all the info we're coming up with? God."
"We'll come up with something, it's just going to take a little time."
"Doesn't it always?"
"I know you're frustrated, just...just keep close watch on her while we work this out."
Buffy heaved a heavy sigh, closing her eyes for just a moment, "yeah, the closest."
The line went dead and Buffy sat forward, arms resting on her table and hearing zoning in on the two women talking.
"So," Faith began easily, smiling widely, "that your daughter that was in the car?"
Buffy watched as the other woman's head snapped around to face the question. "No," she replied emphatically, "most definitely no."
"Oh...not a fan of children then?"
A sad look crossed her features as she glanced down into the glass she held cupped in one hand, as if the answer to Faith's question lay at the bottom of the liquid. "I had a son," she answered finally, "but he died, a year ago."
Faith stuttered a little, her bubbly personality faltering in the face of such a revelation. "God...I'm so sorry. That must have felt like the end of the world."
A wry, mirthless smile appeared on the woman's lips inexplicably as her eyes rose once more to meet Faith's dark brown orbs. "You could say that."
Buffy cocked her head, questioning the meaning behind the words as the pair continued to chat about nothing in particular for a while longer, until on cue the older brunette flipped open her ringing cell, moulding her features into a mask of concern and pushing back her chair as she stood.
"Look I'm really sorry, something's come up at home...its an emergency, I really have to go."
The genuine concern etched on Faith's face tugged a little at Buffy's heart and she felt her hostility to the other woman growing with the lie. "Oh yeah, sure. I hope things are ok."
"Thanks. Maybe we could do this some other time?"
"Of course," Faith smiled, also standing.
With a final look, she turned and hurried purposefully for the door, leaving Faith to glance around the bar, looking suddenly lost. Buffy's hard glare softened a little at the look, wishing she could break her cover and go to her. Before she had time to lose the internal battle, however, Buffy found Faith's eyes on her from across the room, and her heart hammered anxiously. They remained like that for several moments, until eventually with a small, almost sad smile, Faith turned away and Buffy could breath easily again. The Slayer at the bar swallowed the remainder of her drink and headed for a back door, retrieving a packet of cigarettes from her purse as she walked. Buffy rolled her eyes and followed a few steps behind, passing the bar and watching Faith disappear through a door quite distinctly marked as 'staff only'. Weighing the situation, she lingered inside, attempting not to look too surreptitious as she loitered by the doorway.
"Angel," she breathed, "she's gone out the back."
"What? Well where's her date?" A pause. "Oh, they're not..."
"What? No! She left."
"Oh good...well not good, but...wait, why did she go out the back? Surely she'd be recalled."
"I guess they haven't realized she's alone yet."
"Wait shh," she cut him off, hearing a noise from outside.
Silencing the vampire, Buffy took a quick look around before pushing through the door and into a back alley, keeping out of sight behind a dumpster. She heard a muffled protest, and feet scuffling against the concrete, and peered out from her position to see a group of three scruffy men surrounding Faith, one holding her from behind with a hand clamped over her mouth. Without a pause, she emerged from her spot and launched a swift kick to the side of the man holding the other girl, foot colliding solidly with his ribs and sending him flying into the opposite wall. A quick glance over told her he was still breathing as she turned to his friends and raised an eyebrow.
"I suggest you collect your friend and leave," she told them threateningly. "Now."
They took a look at the man struggling to his feet, hand clutching the back of his bruised head, before turning on their heels and running from the scene, leaving him to stumble after them as fast as his shaking legs would carry him.
"Oh my god," the female voice from behind her broke her from her angry glaring, and she turned to see 'Dani' gazing at her with gratitude, hand rubbing against an angry looking bruise on her upper arm.
Oh hell she thought, eager to get out of the situation.
"I dunno what to say, you totally just saved my ass."
"Buffy what's going on?" Angel enquired, agitation apparent in his voice.
Ignoring him, her mind raced as she tried to form words. "Um...yeah, it was nothing."
"Nothing? That was...amazing." The other woman's eyes were wide in awe, and Buffy found a blush creeping onto her cheeks at the praise, finding the whole thing utterly surreal. As she stood pondering the situation, she found herself nearly toppling over as the brunette threw herself at the Slayer, enveloping her in a tight hug, arms slung around her neck.
Buffy stood bemused for a moment, arms hanging uselessly at her sides as her body absorbed the feeling of being so close to the other girl. As she'd grown accustom to over the course of the last day or so, her body was in a battle with her head, as her logic told her to back off from the woman, who may look just like 'her' Faith, but who -for now anyway- wasn't. However, she found herself unable to stop as her arms wrapped themselves around Faith's waist. Buffy's eyes drifted closed as she let herself soak up the feeling, the warmth coming from her body and the smell of unfamiliar perfume, her chin resting lightly on the other girls shoulder.
She wasn't entirely sure how long they'd stood like that, but eventually the other brunette pulled away, eyes tipping downwards to fix on the pavement for a moment, before she glanced back up with a warm, slightly shy smile.
"Uh, there must be something I can do for you," she remarked. "Can I get you a drink or..?" She let the question tail off, hanging in the air between them.
Buffy wanted nothing more than to say yes, to go back inside and to spend some time just enjoying the feel of being around the other girl, just pretending. This time however, she caught herself before her impulses won out.
"I really can't I'm sorry, I have to get home."
The disappointment was plain on the face of the other brunette, and Buffy couldn't help but feel guilty for the reaction, reprimanding herself silently for being so weak as to buy into the lie.
"Actually," she began, a thought striking her suddenly, "this might seem really strange to you, but I was wondering if this meant anything to you." She cast her mind back to the conversation with Angel, recalling the lines of poetry.
"Buffy no," she heard, Angel's voice coming firmly over the connection, intuitively following her train of thought. Naturally, she ignored him and went ahead with her question.
"In secret we met— in silence I grieve; that thy heart could forget, thy spirit deceive."
Topher sat bolt upright in his chair, squinting at the sudden spike that had appeared on the screen. He glanced out of his office, his fears confirmed when he saw Adelle making her way along the walkway to the lift. Scrambling out of the seat so fast he almost ended up on the floor, he rushed out of his workspace, catching up to Adelle who turned to meet him as he held himself up on the railing, breathing heavily.
"You've got to see this."
The Brit raised a sculpted eyebrow and followed him back into the room, taking position beside him as he leaned in towards a monitor bearing a small picture of Echo in the top left corner,.
"What am I looking at exactly?"
"There," he gestured emphatically, stabbing at one of the charts, "her neurotransmitter levels just started doing the tango."
"Meaning that something is wrong, very wrong. If I had to guess, I'd say she'd been triggered, but since you're here, I'm here and Boyd couldn't do it without clearance..." he trailed off, the implications clear.
"Someone else is responsible," she finished, a tiny smirk pulling at the corners of her mouth. "Get Mr Langton on the phone."
Her reaction was instantaneous. Faith's arms dropped to her side, her eyes staring straight ahead emptily and for those few seconds it seemed that even the noise of the city stopped, as Buffy took in the circumstance curiously. As quickly as the stillness had come about, it was replaced by an entirely different reaction. Faith took a step back, raising her fists instinctively, her eyes darting around to take in her setting.
"Ummm..." Buffy began, still unsure of what had happened, but quite certain it wasn't anything good.
"Buffy, what happened?" Angel's voice asked frantically.
Faith's confused scowl quickly morphed to angry as she surveyed the woman before her.
"The fuck are you doing here?" she asked, pausing for a moment and glancing around again. "The fuck am I doing here?"
Buffy's mouth went dry and her heart struck up a heavy rhythm again as she realized what was happening, unable to do anything but stare at the other Slayer helplessly.
Faith's anger seemed to subside a little, and she dropped her fists, taking a moment to look over her own appearance.
"Huh, well I'mout on assignment...and unless you- Wait, there's no way they let you have me."
"No," Buffy managed to choke out, finally finding her voice.
Well not this time.
Faith raised an eyebrow challengingly, crossing her arms defensively across her chest. "So?"
"I um..." Realizing she really had no good explanation, or at least not one that would meet with Faith's approval, she chewed her lip nervously, not keen on repeating their confrontation at the Dollhouse.
Faith rolled her shoulder, frowning at the unexplained pain and looking down to notice the purple bruise marring her skin.
"Were we..did you hit me?" she asked, her voice full of accusation. "God B," she continued, advancing on the still quiet Slayer, "talk about taking advantage."
"What?" Buffy finally managed, startled out of her silence by the allegation. "of course I didn't hit you" she answered, hurt evident in her voice, "I came out and found you trying to fight off three guys, they gave you the bruise."
Faith's expression softened a little, although she was clearly still uncertain. "Doesn't explain what you're doin' here."
Buffy let out a sigh of defeat. "I was following you."
"Uh huh...an' why is that? I think I made things pretty clear last time we talked."
"Yep," she conceded "you did. Absolutely crystal. But..." she trailed off, unsure of how to continue without revealing too much to the other Slayer. She looked down, unable to meet Faith's eye, and spoke under her breath. "I just couldn't leave...I couldn't leave you."
Chancing a glance back up, she saw Faith regarding her with a far softer expression, a little sadness in her eyes.
"B, I get that you're all about the good things, but-"
"It's not like that. I-"
"Echo!" Boyd's voice came drifting down the alley, abruptly ending the conversation. "Faith!"
"Think that's your cue to get outta here."
Buffy gave a small defeated nod, taking a last look into Faith's eyes, not seeing the hardness that had been so prominent, before sprinting away and vaulting gracefully over the wire fence, disappearing from view as Boyd rounded the corner.
"So you're saying she just...flipped?"
"Yes, Angel, how many times?" She was being unfairly short, she knew it, but in truth all she wanted to do was go back to the hotel, take a hot shower and collapse into the bed to be alone with her jumbled thoughts.
"A trigger," Cordelia announced, breezing into the office. "Well, that's as much as the science department came up with."
"Apparently. Ever heard of a," she checked the notepad in her hand before continuing, "trauma trigger?"
Buffy gave her a blank look, shrugging her shoulders.
"Didn't think so. Well, people who've suffered certain trauma can develop this thing, this trigger. It's like," she waved her hands a little, searching for the correct words, "well its a thing" she concluded. "A certain whateverthat triggers specific memories or feelings in the affected person. So they reckon that the Dollhouse have worked something similar into what they do somehow, and can trigger an entirely different personality within the 'active'" she finished, complete with air quotes.
"Makes sense" Buffy agreed. "Well, not so much sense, but it explains it," she corrected.
Cordelia nodded and Buffy noticed her take in her appearance, frowning, before turning to Angel.
"Y'know Angel, we can probably finish up for the day soon," Cordelia said pointedly, raising an eyebrow in a look that Buffy supposed was mean to be subtle.
"Mhm" he mumbled, before obviously catching the meaning. "Oh! Yeah, er, Buffy why don't you go back to the hotel, get some sleep?"
Buffy fought down a smile, instead opting to give Cordelia a grateful nod. She stopped to give Angel a quick hug before beginning her trip back and wondering just what else was going to happen before the end.
"So" Adelle began, pouring a drink before making her way to the waiting Slayer, "what exactly happened today?"
"Beats me," Faith shrugged, "kinda hoping you could tell me. Last thing I remember I'm sat in the chair, next thing I'm freezin' my ass off out back of some shitty bar in a dress that I wouldn't be caught dead in."
Adelle couldn't help the smile that played at her lips- there was a certain something about the girl she had liked from the first time they had met.
"I had Topher implement a trigger in your imprint this evening. We had reason to believe the client who hired you wasn't everything she appeared to be."
"Trigger? What's that like a...personality switch?"
"For want of a better phrase, yes. Precisely."
"What we don't know however, is how the switch took place. Perhaps you can shed some light on that, hmm?"
Adelle watched something play out behind Faith's eyes, and could safely assume what her answer was going to be, quite regardless of what had actually happened.
"'Fraid I can't help you there, I'm as clueless as you."
"Indeed." Adelle paused for a moment, before standing and gesturing to Boyd, who stood waiting by the door. "Well in that case you may go. Topher will be waiting for you."
"Great" Faith remarked, her voice hollow in a way that did not at all put Adelle at ease.
"One more thing," the Brit asked, causing Faith to turn at the door to face her, "did you by chance see Buffy Summers tonight?"
Faith's face stayed tellingly blank as she met Adelle's eye. The Slayer didn't know what instinct it was that forced her answer; she shook her head, "no."