DISCLAIMER: This is an unlicensed work of femslash fanfiction. What that means is twofold. The first is that it uses elements that are under copyright by another party and are used without that parties permission or consent. They are not however being used for any financial gain. Any new creations that result are however property of the author. The second point is that femslash fanfiction includes romantic and sexual of a same sex nature between women. So if you have objections to such things, no matter what the source you have been warned both of their presence and the nature as indicated by the story's rating. The author takes no more responsibility.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: A long time ago Pat Kelly and I kicked around an idea for a collaborative fic in which Faith would pull a La Femme Nikita, but with actual good guys. Of course it was a long time ago and it never got past a few trial chapters. So I resurrecting it here and mixing it with a series of books I still love and used to collect fanatically. If I turn out to be a bit rusty I'll just ask your patience as I stretch those unused creative muscles.
SPOILERS: I've fallen a good couple years behind in my Stonyman Farm reading so I don't think I'll give anything away there, but anything Buffy through season seven or Angel to season four is fair game.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Life on the farm
By Dark Wyldchilde
The two women were talking about what they were going to do next. The relationship facade would allow them to get a safe house without too many expectations, and unless the Farm came up with a better explanation their plan was to say that the money came from something left over from the reign of Mayor Wilkins.
With a loose plan ready they thought they would start coordinating with the Farm, and had booted up Faith's lap top to do so.
The Slayer had a message waiting for her. "Ah crap!"
Tara looked over her shoulder. "Faith?"
Faith rolled her head on her shoulders. "Looks like Richard has some competition, Buffy's ex is back in town."
"You mean Riley?"
"The one you...?"
Then she watched a change come over Faith. She had seen hints of it in the conference call with Striker, but Tara realized that it wasn't the Vampire Slayer speaking, but "Slayer," the soldier who now spoke.
"The good thing is that I have recognition codes, but that means the Farm has cleared me to break some cover with him."
Tara bit her bottom lip. "Some?"
"Almost like you when I first told you, I was a government agent. By using these codes I will be showing myself as someone who has the clearance to have them. While the tools I showed you were a sign, they were a deniable one. These codes will identify me as a ranking agent in the United States Military/Intelligence network. It also means that I am supposed to make some kind of contact."
"You mean he needs your help?"
Faith met her eyes. "It means that his mission is worth risking my cover."
Tara's eye grew troubled. "You mean telling them that we aren't together?"
Faith smiled. "No Tara. The relationship was not about my cover here. My cover is just the sprung Slayer. We are doing this for you. I want to do this for you."
Their eyes met again, and for a moment the soldier's inner steel melted. Faith then looked away, and when she looked back, the steel had returned.
Faith quietly got up and moved to the cabinet where she had stored her military gear and started pulling the lethal devices out. She inspected each piece with practiced hands and then concealed the weapons on her person. When she was done she put on her leather jacket, and if Tara hadn't watched her conceal everything she would have never known they were there.
"Where do we start?"
Faith met Tara's eye at the question, but Tara knew what the Slayer was about to say and simply met her look with determination.
Faith sighed. "Riley will make a beeline for B. He wouldn't bother operating in her town without letting her know and her help would be too valuable to NOT contact her."
"Okay Tara, get ready for your first briefing. The first point is that Riley won't actually be here for Buffy. He's got his own back up, that he's engaged to..."
The report had been as accurate as Faith's prediction and the two women were able to intercept an obviously combat-ready Riley Finn as he was about to enter the Double Meat Palace.
"How the hell did you learn that?"
Faith met his eyes. "My superiors."
He was about to argue, but instead kept Faith's gaze a second longer. "Would I know them?"
Tara could see Faith weigh her decision. "No, we started counter terror but expanded to demons when we learned about them in the fall of your old bosses."
He nodded slowly. "I'm betting that's where you enter the picture. Carrot or stick?"
She smiled at that statement. "Carrot, but I need to keep it on the QT. Right now I am just an ex-con and until they pass muster I don't want to clue them in."
Both women nodded and his eyes widened. "So what's your mission here?"
Faith's expression still seemed professional, but there was also a bizarre calm to her. "The Hellmouth is prime real estate. So we are looking to deny them the asset. I was sent to weigh the locals both friendly and hostile. You?"
"Suvolte demon eggs. They are relentless eating machines, and when there first born that first feeding could take out cities."
Faith took that in. "Ready-made WMD. Structures are left standing and decontamination is just a matter of finding the critters and laying in with some ordinance."
Finn nodded. "That's why they are here. There's a mother we're tracking to her clutch. That's why I was going to contact Buffy. I could use the back up."
"You have it."
He smiled. "Where's Willow?"
Tara's face dropped and Riley noticed.
Faith was the one to answer. "Willow went to the edge on the magic and hurt Tara in the process. We're together now."
His eyes widened once more. "I didn't realize that you..."
Faith nodded until he ended his sentence. "Yeah, yeah... point being Tara and I are together. Tara knows I'm an op but no one else does. Clear?"
Walking into the fast food restaurant they saw Buffy working the counter. She actually managed a smile as she spotted the two women. "Hey Tara, hi Faith, who's... Riley?"
The man in question stepped up to the counter. "Hey."
The continuing conversation between Buffy and Riley wasn't much clearer but it had the desired result and Buffy slid under the counter to join the other three people. The four of them quickly left the Double Meat Palace and Riley brought Buffy up to speed.
He answered her main questions about Riley, but as they started tracking the demon Buffy had one for the two women with them. "So why are you guys here?"
Tara was the one to answer as she shrugged. "We were hungry?"
The seemed to satisfy Buffy, but that turned out to be the only satisfaction Buffy was to have for the moment as the Suvolte demon managed to escape their first encounter.
The only big change in the situation was Buffy changing from work clothing that looked like, as Riley put it, a "pylon", to dressing in a combat style like his own black clothing with kelvar armor.
While she called most of his combat gear "cute" the black SUV he used to drive them around was far more impressive.
When they drove back after their second encounter, their minds were not on the SUV. Riley was thinking about the Suvolte. While it was dead its eggs were still in play. Riley's wife had joined them and was thinking about the same thing, and Buffy was thinking about his wife.
Faith's fears were similar to those of Mr. & Mrs. Finn, but Tara's were at Summer's residence, at the plan what to do next.
While she knew that Faith would be there it would be different from Buffy's birthday because Faith would have to be focused on finding the eggs, and while Tara desperately wanted to hide behind her Slayer she couldn't put her own fears over monsters that could wipe out this city and so many others.
Thankfully Faith realized the same thing and did her best to keep Tara involved, but the witch's helpful nature turned out to be her downfall.
When Willow wasn't able to perform tracking magic to help them find the eggs, Tara volunteered her talent and they quickly accepted. Tara began writing down the ingredients she would need for the spell she had chosen to try to find the eggs and that left her alone enough for Willow to approach her.
Tara's breath caught. "Willow?"
"Yeah, hi. I was hoping we could talk?"
Tara's head hung down so that her hair hung over her eyes. "I don't know what there is to say."
Willow took a step closer, bordering the woman's personal space. "Not about that. I..." There was a pause as Willow took a deep breath. "Not about us, about you and Faith."
Tara looked up at that but Willow kept going. "I mean I hope she's taking care of you, making you happy?"
Tara's nod hurt Willow, but she kept speaking. "I just need to know how. I mean, why Faith?"
A tremble shot through Tara's frame, but before she was forced to summon up an answer the other woman in question found them, and Faith quickly took in the scene, putting herself as in front of Tara as she could.
While it was obvious she was addressing Tara, Faith kept facing Willow and settled for putting her hand behind her on Tara's hip. "Hey Babe, you ready to go? We managed to put a plan together. Riley and I will team up as will Buffy and the Misses. You will cast the spell at our place, and call then this number. You then text message the address here." As she said that she held up a piece of paper. "That will ring both Riley and the wife. In the meanwhile we'll try legwork."
Willow interjected. "She could do it here. I mean safety in numbers and all."
Faith looked back and while her eyes still seemed wary they also seemed weary. "Xander's got that covered. With you on the wagon we figured it for the best."
Willow bit her lip and looked away. "Yeah, I guess that's right."
Faith took Tara's hand and led her away.
Tara looked doubtfully at her reflection in the full-length mirror. It didn't help that Faith was not having much success hiding her giggles at the bridesmaid dress Tara had just put on.
Tara's voice was not angry and so instead of quieting Faith it made her louder and she started laughing in earnest.
Arms wrapped in green frills set on hips clad in the same shade as Tara tried to give Faith a frustrated look that came out as more of a pout then anything.
That quieted Faith's laughing, but it didn't make things any better. "Awwwww my poor baby. Don't you like the former demon's taste?"
Tara scowled. "It looks like I'm WEARING a former demon."
The laughter had quieted to a soft snickering. "It's all part of being in a wedding, Babe."
The scowl focused on Faith again. "Have YOU ever had to dress like this?"
Faith seemed to have several false starts in forming a reply. "No."
"Well! At our wedding your dress is going to be worse."
She suddenly blushed bright red. "I-I mean, I'm not..."
Fath's smile suddenly vanished. Moving right up to Tara, the blonde had hung her head in shame, her hair draping over her face.
The tenderness Faith acted on was entirely alien but all too right as she reached out and cupped Tara's cheeks. Leaning in she pressed their lips together, and when she pulled back Tara's eyes were wide.
Faith's voice was a soft, soothing tone. "I think the Scoobies weren't the only ones being fooled."
The smile on Tara's face grew as the realization sunk in, but she still wasn't able to speak.
"You need to reapply your lipstick. How about I go get ready for our first date?"
Tara hadn't thought her smile couldn't grow any further, but it actually hurt as she looked down again. This time however it was a shy look on her face as she darted her eyes back up. All she could manage was a nod.
Faith had appeared calm as she walked out to her "guest" room where her preparations had already been set up to be done after Tara's more extensive preparation to be a bridesmaid. Once inside she had calmly started putting on the simple, yet elegant dress and doing her hair but she found her hands weren't very steady. Her dress went on easily enough, but she went to the bathroom to look at herself in the mirror to help her do her hair up and off her neck as she had planned.
Looking at herself in the mirror her hands still hadn't steadied and Faith had to think it had something to do with the radiant smile staring back at her.
While her happiness was apparent, her hands still weren't ready to cooperate and the smile was starting to flicker with frustration. It was enough to keep Faith distracted as the door opened behind her. Only after a second set of hands started working on her hair did she realize that she was not alone.
Faith's eyes met Tara's in the mirror, but then the slayer's eyes looked demurely away and she let Tara set her hair as the girls had discussed. Her voice when it as done little more then a whisper. "Thanks."
Tara's voice was quiet, but sure. "You're welcome." There was a long silence in which Tara studied Faith. "I'm not the only one who needed this, am I?"
She didn't bother to let Faith reply as she leaned their foreheads together, her lips bridging the gap between them in a soft series of motions.
Time didn't exist, and Faith figured that was why the normally aggressive way she handled her lovers didn't come forward, but none of her former lovers ever made her feel this way. Tara Maclay brought out a side of Faith that hadn't... ever been before.
That realization first manifested in the tears rolling down her face but they quickly turned into sobs. Faith tried to explain why she was crying so, but looking in Tara's face she could tell Tara already knew. Tara showed how she knew by pulling Faith into her arms and to her chest.
She complimented the move with a soft rocking motion and even sang a small, nonsense song that was almost a lullaby. While she didn't run her fingers through Faith's hair one hand gently caressed the smooth skin of the neck that the hairstyle left exposed.
Faith's actions weren't as tender, but neither woman expected them to be. Instead she gripped the other woman desperately, the only restraint being to keep from using her full, superhuman strength. There was no thinking for Faith, only feeling, feeling the support, the tenderness... the love that Tara was offering to her.
The doorbell rang but it was ignored until they were ready, and by that point it was up to a half-dozen chimes. Tara reluctantly broke away, but when Faith looked up she could see that Tara didn't want to move. Faith shook her head. "Go. I'm ok."
The witch still looked at her fondly, but there was some admonishment in the expression. Instead of saying it however Tara settled for leaning in and pressing her lips to Faith's forehead. When she pulled back, she touched her lips and then grinned. "How's my lipstick?"
Faith found herself starting to grin as well, but her voice shook slightly. "You tell me." She wrinkled her forehead deliberately and pointed to the kiss done in Tara's shade of lipstick. "Go ahead. I'll fix myself up."
Tara nodded and slipped from the bathroom. When she got to the front door, she cut off the knocking that had begun by opening the door.
Dawn Summers was there in a dress all too like Tara's, and she jumped slightly at the sudden intrusion. "TARA? Are you ok? You didn't answer."
Tara's face scrunched. "I just did."
Dawn looked confused for a moment. "Well, yeah."
Tara's face softened into a welcoming smile and she moved back to let Dawn into the house. "Come on in, Dawnie."
Dawn did as she said but she was timid as she did so. "You know, You probably shouldn't invite people In so quickly."
Tara smiled again. "Then I probably shouldn't say you are always welcome here."
Dawn looked pleased, but she also looked shy. "I am?"
"But what about Faith? I mean will she mind?"
Tara shook her head quickly and firmly. "Not at all. All she wants is for you to be okay with her, for all of you."
Dawn squared her shoulders. "Are you happy?"
The question made her mind leap back to the tender scene she had just shared with Faith. "Oh yes."
Dawn took a breath and let it out. "Then I'm okay with her."
The look Dawn was given was appreciative. "Thank you Dawn."
"It's... well. It's kind why I'm here... Buffy thought, with Willow and you and then Xander still not liking Faith... Buffy's out in the jeep."
Faith's voice suddenly broke into the conversation. "Then we shouldn't keep her waiting... YOU look nice Dawn."
That got a smile from the younger woman. "But the dress doesn't. I know."
Tara looked relieved at the sudden banter between the two brunettes. She then joined them as the headed out to Buffy and the jeep, and beyond that the wedding.
"I didn't like pistol-whipping B, Baby." The Vampire Slayer's face twisted as her alliteration struck her. "I'm getting these Geeks. From what Bear has put together they are escalating."
Faith was pacing the living room in their safe house as Tara sat uncomfortably on the couch. While she and Tara had to take care of the initial moving in both of the Summers girls had started coming around and had been helpful with setting up their household.
There had been some things that Faith alone had the training to handle, brought by special couriers that from the Farm that also took back choice pieces of Tara's tomes for scanning into the Farm's library. While Faith was still sleeping in the "guest" room the couple had been taking shape and had already been out on several dates and had shared numerous kisses and embraces, though they had yet to be intimate.
Intimacy was far from either woman's mind though as Faith explained her point. "Okay according to B they started out with a bank robbery and then moved onto a museum heist, but now with this Katrina chick they've gotten violent."
Tara's face wrinkled with worry. "Does that mean you'll have to k-k-kill them?'
The emotion in her girlfriend's voice suddenly broke through Faith's anger and stopped her flat. She slowly sat down with one leg tucked up next to her body so she could be facing Tara who took up a similar position on the couch. They held hands as Faith replied. "I'm not going be hunting them... but they've shown themselves capable of taking human life. I'll do what it takes to make sure they don't take mine."
While it didn't necessarily settle Tara to hear that, there was something calming about knowing Faith would do what it took to come back to her. Then a thought snuck into her head. "Could you a-arrest them?" Faith laughed. "I suppose I could. I mean the Farm could cook me up something nice like FBI or NSA, but that would wreck my cover... though yours could stay intact."
What Tara found perverse was that the only shock came from not being shocked about her immersion into the intelligence world. Admittedly, it was in an advisory capacity, but she was still a member of a covert military force. She had even spoke to several members of the Farm team over the satellite link enough times that she could do so without stuttering anymore.
Faith pulled her from the thought by continuing with the thought. "But what I'm thinking is that I will make sure that they get bagged by the local authorities and then the Farm can make sure they are dealt with."
Tara squinted in thought. "Will THEY kill them?"
Tara knew what the question meant. "Faith, I know what your job requires." Tara sighed. "I know it's necessary, but I don't think I will ever be 'okay' with it."
Faith shook her head fondly. "I wouldn't want you to be. *I* don't want to be ok with it. Still, it depends on the potential threat. The big problem is that they are a threat that most run-of-the-mill prisons couldn't handle. I mean I could have walked away long before the Farm ever found me. While these guys aren't Slayer's they've shown that they're dangerous."
As she got an affirmative nod, Faith kept on. "Warren might be a simple matter of keeping him away from technology, but even in a regular prison inmates are supposed to have rights. The other two seem to be more magically inclined and they would probably need to be put away in a mental institution or the like to explain why they would have to be kept away from occult objects, BUT that's AFTER I catch em."
Tara scooted to the side where she could put her head on Faith's shoulder. "Promise me you'll be careful."
Faith reached up to rub Tara's head. "I always am. There is a long line of people at the Farm who would kick my ass if I wasn't, and you'd be at the head of it."
Tara nodded without removing her head from Faith's shoulder. "Right now I'm worried about Anya. Have YOU heard from her?"
Faith shook her head and leaned in to kiss Tara's brow. "Well there was the whole bizarre episode where she talked to us about hating men..." While the silence seemed comfortable Faith was mulling a point over. "Babe? I gotta ask you a question, and it's business. At least for me it is, for you it might be personal. So I'm figuring you probably won't be able to tell me everything, but the fact I'm asking means I need to know. Ok?"
Tara was confused by the lead up, and so she simply nodded.
"I know something's up with B, and I think it's more then just the aftereffect of being resurrected. I also think it involves Spike."
The guilty look on Tara's face said a great deal, but Faith put an arm around her and gave a squeeze. "Like I said Sweets, you don't need to tell me everything, I just need to know if it may come up in the field, and remember Spike was the "Doctor," and selling those eggs."
Tara's voice was quiet. "I don't think it's an issue anymore. Things seemed different between Buffy and Spike at the wedding."
She gave Tara a look. "Like he brought a date?"
Tara looked away again and Faith sighed. "Damn, girl's got a thing for corpses. Still, at least Angel had a soul, but then again I doubt she loves Spike."
Tara still hadn't looked up so Faith leaned in and guided her chin up to she could give Tara a peck on the lips. "I'm guessing she needed someone to talk to about it and she picked you? I understand Sweets, I figured it out, you didn't betray any thing."
She caressed Tara's neck and kissed right beneath her right ear. "I gotta get going love. We have a list of potential hide-outs for the Geeks and B's probably already running down her half."
Faith got up and secured her weapons; a combat knife, several stakes, her Colt .45 and an H&K machine pistol chambered in the same caliber as well as silencers for both firearms.
Tara left the house right after her but the only equipment she had were the contents of her purse which hadn't changed much in many years.
But it was still with her when she went to the Summers household to be there when Buffy and Faith brought back whatever they might find. While Faith was worried about Willow being there, Tara wasn't worried anymore. Before her relationship with Faith was a shield she hid behind but now it was something inside her, a confidence, a strength.
She tried to find something different between what she shared with Willow and what she shared with Faith, but she couldn't find anything. Of course there was a difference, but it was really more professional then anything and Tara then realized what it was... Faith respected her. While Willow loved her, she really did think of Tara as "hers." Faith on the other hand just wanted to be with her and showed it, showed that she valued whenever Tara wanted to be with her. Even now that they were in a relationship Tara still felt like an individual who chose to be there.
So when the door was opened to reveal Willow Rosenberg she was able to mutter a greeting before slipping inside to join Dawn and a mournful Alexander Harris. Each of them gave their respective greetings before sitting down to a waiting silence. While both Dawn and Tara were content to wait, Xander was too upset to rest.
Willow was also uncomfortable but instead of it being over the loss of Tara, or even withdrawal, it looked more like guilt than anything else. When she started speaking, it didn't do anything to assure them.
"It was nice of you to stop by, Tara."
While Willow was standing and swaying her arms Tara was sitting in one of the living room chairs and calmly smoothed out a wrinkle in her skirt. "Buffy asked me to. She thought it would be best so we could make plans for the Geeks."
Willow nodded a little too enthusiastically and everyone else in the room started to feel nervous. "I just meant that you haven't been seeing much of your friends since you started seeing Faith."
Tara met her eyes. "Faith's been helping me make new friends."
That didn't seem to satisfy Willow. "But that shouldn't keep you from seeing your old friends, should it?"
Before Tara could reply ,one of the minor changes to Tara's purse, a cell phone rang. Taking it out she flipped it open and put it to her ear. "Hello?"
The voice was the strong, familiar tone of Striker. "Tara, where's Faith? This is Striker. You have hostiles en route."
His words were proven all too correct as an English accent spoke up in the room. "I think you better tell them you'll call them back." While the accent was familiar, as was the voice, the source was entirely unexpected, Quentin Travers; the head of the Watcher's Council.
Another refined English voice spoke in and it was also a familiar voice, Rupert Giles. "Please do as he says, Tara."
The two men were accompanied by four more and they were all dressed in a similar conservative fashion. Three were holding handguns that all had silencers affixed, while the fourth was looking at Tara in a way that told her he was there for her. Most likely to counter any spells she might try.
Her hands froze as her blood ran cold, but that was fortunate as it allowed her to leave the cell phone on and open and just set it aside.
Willow had stepped in front of her. "You said you wouldn't hurt them."
Giles stepped close. "And we won't. We just need to keep them here until the situation is resolved."
Tara's look was both accusing and brimming with tears as she turned to Willow. "Faith?"
Giles tried to explain. "Tara, I won't expect you to understand..."
Quentin Travers was not as gentle. "Your feelings about the rogue Slayer are irrelevant. She was already dangerous before and with her expanding her murderous skills to more modern weaponry she is even more so."
Tara felt Faith's cover story for the guns leap to her mouth even while she realized there was some truth to it. "So you can use guns but she can't? Have to keep her controllable, don't you?"
Quentin Travers flashed a bit of annoyance before schooling his face to a hostile neutrality.
To his own surprise Xander found himself defending Faith. "She used those murderous skills to save us! More then you ever did Travers!"
Giles tried to defuse the situation. "Yes she did Xander, but how long will that last?"
He looked like he was about to say more but Tara interrupted him, and her voice was anything but calm. Her voice was a mixture of panic and hate. "It's not about that... is it Willow? It was all you, wasn't it? You called the Council and the location you gave Faith sent her into a trap?"
Willow stepped toward Tara, her voice almost desperate. Tara however staggered from her chair and away from Willow. "No Tara, no baby. Faith's dangerous, she'll hurt you, she'll kill you."
The emotion in Tara's voice deepened. "Don't you call me that, don't you EVER call me that!"
Dawn ran to Tara and moved to support her, both physically and emotionally. "Willow? What did you do?"
While Willow was getting frantic, it was Travers who answered the teen. "She did the right thing and told the Council about its rogue asset, and assisted us in containing her."
So far Faith had only had one bit of luck, and that was that the attackers seemed to be expecting a simple Slayer. Perhaps with a handgun and not "Slayer" so when she stepped back inside the house they weren't surprised but when the H&K assault weapon stuck back out the door it came as a shock. A shock that cut two down with a brief sweep of automatic fire, and drove the rest to ground. She wasn't going to plan on that keeping them down for long. Even if they were playing this on the fly, they would have the house surrounded.
If they had this planned then the house would be surrounded with all ways out covered and more ways in then she could plan for. The only advantage was that they should not be expecting her additional training.
Her natural abilities saved the moment this time as she heard a sickeningly familiar sound, a pin being pulled from a grenade and the spoon dropping free. That sound was being followed by the breaking of glass as it was hurled through a window.
Thankfully they weren't as well trained as her, and had thrown the grenade right away rather then letting it "cook." All grenades have a fuse on them to give the user a chance to get the explosive device away from them. The problem is that all fuses are long enough that there is a real danger of the grenade being picked up and thrown back. That made it into Faith's weapon as she picked it up and hurled it back along its path.
The boom went off almost as soon as it broke the glass on its way out. The fact she had dropped behind the windowsill was the only thing that saved her from the shards of glass that had been driven back into the house by the blast.
As it was the team covering the front of the house had not fared as well under the shards of twisted metal that the grenade sent sailing.
The attackers at the front of the house were all shredded by the metal and fire unleashed by their own lethal little egg, and were shown alive by their agonized screams. Faith knew that it was an opportunity she would not get again and she used it to charge out the front door, and instead of trying to vary her path, she went right up the middle.
The shock of the blast combined with the brazenness of the move left the three in her path flat footed, but instead of stopping to engage she ducked between two of them which cut the third off from any potential shot. She then danced around the third on and the team mate blocking his shot.
They were bringing their guns to bear as Faith ran into the night and would have cut her down. They were so focused on their target they didn't see their own grenade spoon that had fallen to the ground on their feet where Faith had collided with one of them. The guns were still aiming as the grenade went off.
Her luck then bit back as she managed to hit the first street out of the trap. The hostile team showed that the trap expanded well beyond what she had planned for as a black sedan surged out of an alley right into her path and kept going. Bouncing the Slayer up over the hood. They had developed a decent head of speed that drove Faith further rolling her over the roof and off the back until she hit the pavement behind. The car squealed into reverse but Faith was able to turn herself so that she was going between the wheels rather then under them. As the vehicle passed over head she brought up the stutter gun and fired a tri-burst into the right front wheel.
The rubber shredded under the assault and rounds clanged against the rim as Faith forced herself to her feet so she could run to the right of the vehicle. The fact she was able to shoot and now could run told her that her limbs had made it through all right, but there was a fuzziness to her head that didn't want to clear, and as she took a breath to run there was the unmistakable sensation of one or more broken ribs, as well as a small burn on her cheek from the hot muffler.
She still seemed in better condition then the car chasing her but it too was not willing to quit as it ground on its tire rim to try to run her down. Yet over the sparks that were already starting to fly Faith picked out the sounds of other vehicles converging as well as the shouts and footfalls of people joining the chase.
Realizing her luck against vehicles had already been sketchy at best she took to the alleys that were too small for cars to pass. At least she took to the entry way, at which point she took to the top of a dumpster and then leapt to the top of one of the lower buildings.
As a team of pursuers entered into the alleyway Faith was given her first real opportunity to assess her attackers. "Watchers" was the first fact she could ascertain, and while they were probably the best of the Watchers' covert personnel, they were a private army. All they had was training from people who had little more then training. While Faith had just over two full years at the Farm she knew that she had already clocked more field time then the entire party sent after her.
She had a dreadful focus as she screwed the silencer onto the barrel of her .45 pistol. The words of David Mc Carter, formerly of the British Special Air Service and current leader of Stonyman Farm's Phoenix Force came to her: "They never look up." And the Watchers didn't.
They didn't as Faith targeted the first of four and they only started to as she drilled a around right between the man's eyes. Another went down before they even realized they were under attack.
The third seemed to be saved as his training kicked in and he dropped prone, but he didn't follow through on the move and Faith simply adjusted her aim to open up his throat with another silenced slug.
The fourth and final came up firing in a maneuver that would have been textbook if he fired in a controlled manner. Instead he was firing madly as fear guided his weapon. It didn't guide his bullets as they plowed into the building she had taken cover on. Her shot was more accurate and he was hurled backward with what was left of his head leading his path to the ground.
Faith had hoped to search her attackers and recover a radio, but with the Watcher's unsilenced auto-fire tearing up the night she knew that their teammates would be heading for their position and there was a more then likely chance that Sunnydale's finest were also on the way to where the grenade went off, and that would leave them right near the spot where the sounds of battle continued to rage.
With few other options Faith chose the rooftops as a helicopter would attract attention in Sunnydale, putting the sound suppressor on her assault piece as she started moving upward
At least she had intended to go to the rooftops, but a voice hailed to her from just below ground level. "Psst, Slayer!"
The voice was a whisper, but it also held an English accent, so Faith didn't pull the trigger but she still led with her gun.
The British vampire Spike held up his hands, and kept speaking in a whisper. "Hey! Trying to help here."
Faith replied in a similar tone but her focus kept shifting between the undead Englishman in front of her and the living ones blazing up her backside. "Why?"
Spike gave as much of a snort as their whispered conversation allowed. "Because I've been chased by those poncy bastards and any enemy of theirs..."
Faith gave him a long, sizing look. "I won't even bother with a warning if this is some sort of set-up."
Spike gave a single laugh. "Not like I'd listen anyway."
Striker already had a floor plan of the Summers household that he had been able to study but it had no way to account for the living factors- friendly, hostile, or somewhere in between.
The only confirmed friendly would be Tara Maclay, occult advisor to the Farm and now actual romantic interest to his protege "Slayer."
He still had the earpiece that was allowing him to monitor the signal coming from Tara's cell phone, but the battery would be running low. In fact he was surprised that it had not died already. Luckily the Farm made sure its people had the best.
Tara had left the phone on for him and was still using it to help him plan what was looking like an assault.
One of the things she had done was identify everyone by name if possible and that helped him to map out the variables.
Besides his single friendly, there were two who were not confirmed friendly but would be likely allies. Even if they would not help, he would leave it to Tara to keep them under control.
Dawn Summers would be the easiest for Tara to keep in line as the young woman looked up to Tara as a sort of surrogate mother. The only concern Striker had for the teen was if she would get in the way in a misguided attempt to protect Tara.
Alexander Harris was closer to the line because he was already listed by Faith as a nuisance grade threat because of his antagonism towards her. If it weren't because of recent events he would be inclined to put Xander closer to the hostile camp but he seemed to be suffering from a change of heart.
The other two Scoobies present were definitely in the hostile camp. Rupert Giles was the first and a danger in his own way, a man who was convinced he was doing the "right thing." While conviction has been there to carry a person in spite of all odds, when the conviction was held in spite of all facts it created some of the worlds most hideous atrocities.
Willow Rosenberg on the other hand likely knew she was in the wrong but had accepted her place out of a misguided devotion. Misguided conviction may be a source of atrocity but misguided love was perhaps the world's greatest source of tragedies.
From what he knew history was repeating itself with the only difference being that instead of it being put into motion by an accident it was created by past slights.
The impending tragedy was made complete by the inclusion of the final player who was both hostile and confirmed dangerous, Quentin Travers. While Rupert Giles may THINK himself correct Quentin Travers considered himself infallible and his actions were right because they were his actions.
There were four more hostiles, but they were an enemy that was all too familiar to the veteran warrior. They were killers, while skill and equipment may vary, at the heart they were prized for the simple virtue of a willingness to hurt their fellow human beings.
While Tara had indicated the three had silenced pistols the fourth stuck out in his mind because from Tara's questions to the man she had let it be known that he possessed abilities like her own, and while he hoped they were specific to countering spells like those Tara might employ he intended to make the opening volley solve that question for him.
With the players counted he was physically assessing the site for a daylight assault when yet another variable presented itself and she was perhaps the most variable of them all. Buffy Summers, the original Slayer with a list of issues almost as long as her list of accomplishments. While Slayer's reports tended to say that Buffy Summers was a good person at heart her ego made her a potential threat.
It was with that in mind that he moved into position to intercept her. His training with Slayer gave him an actual chance at subduing her he chose to deal straight, or as straight as possible in the shadow worlds they both moved in.
She looked up at her name and he flashed a badge that he carried around for just such an occasion. "I'm Detective Mike Belasco." Faith's reports on her past action in Sunnydale had been supplemented by Tara's recollections and he brought up that mental file as he put together the story he hoped would get her somewhere they could talk.
She was unsure but she still replied. "Yes, I'm Buffy Summers. Is something wrong?"
"I just need to know what you know about a recent death. The woman's name was Katrina and her boyfriend's name was Warren."
That made the petite blonde smile. "So you guys are finally getting a clue?"
Striker played along with the jovial nature of the conversation with an arched brow and a smile. "Excuse me?"
Buffy smiled and looked shyly away. "I'm sorry, it's just good to see that someone will finally give Warren what he deserves."
"Does this mean you're willing to answer my questions?"
Buffy nodded and followed him away from the house, but as soon as they got a suitable distance away he pulled her to an alleyway and Buffy's smile evaporated.
"This doesn't look like a police station."
He shook his head and his voice dropped back to it's normal register. "While Warren is going to get what he deserves I need your help with a hostage situation on Rovello Drive."
"And yes, you know the house, you also know the hostage takers. Or at least their leader, Quentin Travers."
Her voice inched to a suspicious tone. "And how do you know Quentin?"
He knew he had to lay out a few more cards. "He is leading a team that has come here to American soil to kill an American citizen."
"Faith." It wasn't a question.
He still gave an answer. "Quentin Travers has occupied your house with the help of four members of the Watcher's Council... and both Rupert Giles and Willow Rosenberg."
"Willow? But she was already there."
Striker nodded curtly. "Yes, and she admitted to sending Faith into a trap."
Buffy was confused, and agitated and she didn't bother hiding either. "You spoke to her?"
He shook his head in a similar curt manner. "I learned that the Council had managed to get a team stateside and had tried calling Faith to warn her. When I couldn't reach her I called Tara's cell phone, but they had been taken hostage by that point. Tara however had the presence of mind to leave her cell phone on so I could listen in to the situation."
"How do you know Faith and Tara?"
He held up a hand to still her. "The team that's trying to kill Faith is already in the field and that means that Faith is being hunted. That means that I cannot contact her, but will have to wait for her to contact me. Tara on the other hand has other resources to find Faith that I do not."
Buffy hesitated a moment. "You mean spells right?"
The soldier acknowledged with a nod before continuing his plan of attack. "On top of that she IS being held hostage along with your younger sister and your friend Alexander Harris."
"Yeah, but Willow wouldn't let them get hurt."
"I know at least four of the Watchers have guns. So I'm not confident that she could stop them even if she wanted to."
"That's not who she is."
He gave her a long look, and she broke. "You have to understand, Willow is not in her right mind right now, she's messed up, but she's getting better."
His look hardened. "In the meanwhile she has sent one woman to her death and taken another hostage. I'm going to resolve this situation."
Her eyes first widened, and then narrowed. "Were not talking a SWAT team are we?"
"Besides Tara, one of the Watchers is believed to possess mystic power. That is not something your average police officer is equipped to deal with."
"But you are right? So I either help you or Willow and Giles go down in the crossfire?"
He shook his head. "Miss Summers, not everyone is a friend or an enemy. I am not out to ruin you or make your life miserable. One of my friends is fighting for her life as we speak while the other is being held hostage by two friends of yours and WITH two friends of yours. I felt that we might have a cause in common."
She exhaled. "I'm sorry, you're right. I just don't know what Willow and Giles are thinking."
He looked her square in the eye. "I think you have a general idea, but I don't care what they are thinking. I only care about releasing the hostages and saving Faith."
She nodded. "I can respect that."
"Good. Now I need you to tell me ways into the house. There are the front and back doors, windows for the living room and kitchen. Then there are windows to the second floor bedrooms and second floor hallway, correct?" When she nodded he finished the thought. "Can you give me anything else?"
"The basement! There a way in from the basement through the sewers!"
That got an appreciative nod. "Very good."
The sewer entrance turned out to be a popular place.
Not surprisingly Spike was the first to comment. "Well now. Look's like we've got ourselves a party brewing."
The biggest reply came from Striker as he looked at Faith and arched his eyebrow.
She shook her head. "Don't ask."
Her next comment was directed to both him and Buffy. "I know why I'm down here... Watchers are in town by the way, but what about you guys?"
Buffy sighed. "They took everyone hostage at the house."
Faith's eyes widened and her nostrils flared. "Tara?"
Buffy just nodded and Faith's eyes narrowed. "There's more."
Striker answered the non-question. "Rupert Giles and Willow Rosenberg are part of the opposition."
Spike whistled. "Not too shocked about Red, but didn't think Rupert had it in him."
Faith didn't bother to question further as she checked the magazine on her submachine gun. "What's the plan?"
He shook his head at her and pulled out his Beretta 93R and attached its silencer. "Three gunman with pistols, one who can nullify magic and maybe cast his own, then there's Travers who is armed, Giles and Rosenberg."
Buffy stepped between the two gunmen as Faith pulled out her own sidearm with the silencer already attached. "I told you that they aren't a threat!"
He looked her right in the eye. "That's your job. Take them out of consideration. I will not risk Tara, Faith or myself on the strength of your word. So it's up to you to make sure that they do not try to pose a threat."
Spike laughed as put a cigarette to his mouth. "Now here's a scary one."
Before he could light it Striker pulled it from his mouth and dropped it on the ground. "All this talk is already threatening to give away our position."
Spike gave a mocking salute as Striker turned back to the Slayers.
"Faith, Tara's going to be your responsibility. Take out the counter so Tara can bring magic into play on our side. After that take shooters as they come with the focus on any pointed at the hostages. Buffy, you make SURE that your two friends do NOT come into play. I will make Travers my priority target and take any gunman pointing at the team. We'll be entering in from a single entry point. I will go first followed by Faith and then Buffy. Get in quick and scatter as to not present a single target."
Spike straightened. "What about me?"
Before answering Striker threw a gaze to Faith and she gave a nod before he replied. "Okay, I know about your chip. So your priority will be getting the hostages out of the line of fire. Since you aren't alive I'll be expecting you to shield them with your body if necessary."
Spike seemed to see something in the soldier and gave a serious nod.
Without another word the man gripped the pistol firmly in his right hand and pushed the door open with his left. He eased it open slowly to avoid any noise and let it stay open while he stayed back inside the sewer passage. When no one was present he eased into the room, his pistol still up and tracking.
The others followed behind him, his actions conveying even more then his words their need for stealth. He had already questioned Buffy about the sewer entrance and was given the key. He scanned around the doorjamb looking for any signs of tampering, but it seemed to pass his inspection as he reached out for the knob.
For their part the tension was getting to Buffy and Spike who were far too used to charging into a combat situation. Then again, they rarely had hostages to rescue and had no trouble following the strange man's obvious expertise.
What caught them though was that Faith did not share their apprehension. Even more then that she was mirroring his movements, everything from how she placed her feet, to where she put her eyes and how she held her pistol.
The doorway into the house proper underwent a similar scrutiny but the knob was turned even more carefully as he wanted to make sure that there was no sound to alert the Watchers. It worked as he was able to ease into the dining room without notice.
Guns seemed to move in unison was they targeted their divergent targets. Faith's weapon tracked on the man who had no visible weapon but still stood guard over Tara. Striker's weapon aimed right at the heart of the Watcher team by targeting the head of the head of their team, Quentin Travers.
For their part Buffy and Spike found themselves reviewing their roles as the foreign firearms left them feeling in over their heads. While it was not the first time they had ever been shot at it was the first time they were working with the shooters, and it drove home the lethality of the world they had entered. They may have had the confidence of being superhuman, but there were four people in there that weren't superhuman, but still had to face the Watchers weapons. Weapons that could kill or maim at the touch of a finger.
The three gunman had distributed themselves at three of the walls with the hostages sitting in front of the windows in the living room, facing into the center of the room where Travers stood with his spell-casting companion as well as Rupert Giles who was slightly off to the side with Willow sitting even farther to the side as close as she could to the hostages. Though Tara's angry gaze left Willow keeping her distance.
Buffy and Spike were still taking the scene in as it descended into chaos. The head of the Watcher's council exploded in a grisly shower of blood, bone and gray matter as a 9mm tumbler burrowed through one side of his head and continued towards the ceiling as Striker entered the hallway. Rupert Giles was acknowledging the grisly shower as Faith's .45 sent a jet of blood streaming out of the neck of the caster.
That left Striker at point blank range with the Watcher who was in the hallway they had stormed into. As the Watcher turned to deal with the threat he was thrown off by Spike darting across the line of fire to protect the hostages. Buffy made a similar darting path, but she was dodging the bodies of the Watcher spell caster and the Council head as their corpses bounced off each other as they fell.
Rupert Giles had just started to try to mop the blood out of his eyes as Buffy swept his legs and sent him tumbling to the same carpet that was now beginning to soak up the lifeblood of the two already slain. A bullet sizzled across Buffy's ribs as she tackled the chair Willow was sitting in and sent it sprawling over backwards.
There was no follow up shot from the Watcher as Faith followed with her own round that shattered the bone at the top of the man's nose before exiting out the back of his head. Two were left as the first one managed to get his weapon clear of Spike's disruption, but Striker had been expecting the maneuver so he was quicker and managed to drill a double punch that burrowed into his collar and chin in succession.
The final Watcher against the back wall suffered a moment of confusion and his weapon wavered, trying to pick which shooter was the greater threat, but the shooters wiped the look of confusion from his face with a round from each of their own weapons.
The pair swept the room with their weapons, but not even the hostages were moving and the only Watcher still drawing breath was held down by his Slayer, Buffy Summers.
He tried to get up and after Buffy looked around and saw the situation had been resolved she got off both him and Willow.
As this happened Faith kept her weapon in hand but let it drop to her side. She dashed across the room to Tara and fell to her knees next to where the witch was sitting. Her free hand was frantically searching for any sign of injury.
Tara looked into Faith's eyes and saw that panic was fighting to get out from under the woman's training, and that made her own eyes soften. She reached out with her own hand and touched Faith's cheek. "I'm okay, sweetie."
The soft words, the gentle way they were spoken and the tender look given sunk into Faith. When she saw Tara's eyes looking her over for wounds she cracked and her bottom lip began trembling. Tara simply pulled Faith to her chest and left her there. Faith followed the move and when she head was tucked to Tara the sounds of relieved breathing escaped.
They were accompanied by Rupert Giles trying to sound indignant. "Who the hell are you?"
Striker looked the Englishman straight in the eye. "I'm the man with the gun."
Buffy was the one to speak next when she turned to Giles. "Who is HE? Who are you? Taking hostages?"
Giles was trying to straighten out his appearance. "We did not take hostages. All we did was keep them here so we could do what needed to be done."
Tara's face rose and Faith's came right behind and both were growing darker and darker in anger.
Giles however focused on Faith and showed no signs of fear. "Now I suppose you will show your true colors Faith?"
Faith's anger suddenly vanished and she calmly pulled the silencer from her weapon and holstered it. She then turned to a surprised Tara and held out her hand to help Tara to her feet. Just as calmly she addressed Spike. "Can you get rid of the bodies?"
He looked surprised. "Why would I want to do that?"
She shrugged and made a display of looking at each of the rapidly cooling corpses. "I figure there's at least six pints left apiece."
His eyes widened and he even grinned as he then started to work.
Faith then turned to Striker and nodded for the man to follow. As they were about to leave though Buffy shouted out to them. "Hey! Is there something you want to tell us?"
Faith signed, but stepped into the role as a leader of the little trio. "Later, B." Buffy looked ready to protest, but Faith's eyes carried a weariness that made Buffy pause and then nod. As they reached the door Faith then looked back at Giles. "My true colors have changed, and while I suppose I can't keep you from coming after me, if you EVER threaten Tara again in ANY way... I was the Council's Slayer and I know who leads it up. I can find them Giles, and if I have to I will. I will calmly, and rationally find them and kill them."
Back at their safe house sitting in their living room Striker addressed the women. "They're going to have questions. What are you planning for the answers?"
Faith snarled. "The hell with them and with their questions."
Tara took Faith's hand between her own, but before she could speak Faith yanked her hand free. "DON'T! Do NOT tell me how they made a mistake, or try to tell me to forgive them. They took you hostage, and they tried to kill me!"
Tara's voice took on a steel it didn't casually show. "Willow and Giles tried to kill you, and I will NEVER forgive them for that, but Buffy didn't, Dawn didn't, and Xander didn't- even Spike didn't. Spike helped you."
Faith locked angry eyes with her girlfriend, and then dropped them away, nodding. "You're right. I'm sorry Babe."
Tara pulled Faith into a hug. "Don't be. I'm angry, too."
Tara and Striker met eyes and the two shared a nod as the man addressed the women again. "That's the question you have to answer. Can you separate them? If so how and who? For now though I'll tell you they can NOT be told about the Farm."
Faith grinned ruefully and shook her head. "Don't worry. Fact is Striker there is something to be salvaged, but I want to set up something external that they can then join."
That got an appreciative nod. "What do you have in mind?"
Faith stood up as she started expressing her thoughts as they formed. "Something like the Farm, but on a scale that can hide inside Sunnydale."
He didn't seem convinced. "Do you think you could hide a covert agency inside Sunnydale?"
Tara was the one to answer and she had her trademark crooked grin. "It wouldn't be the first."
The warrior from Stonyman Farm gave a small laugh. "True enough. So what will you need?"
Faith shrugged. "I don't know. Planning's never been my strong suit."
When both the warriors turned almost in unison to Tara the witch's eyes got wide. "I-I don't , I m-mean, I-I c-c-couldn't, I..."
Faith sat down next to her. "You're not a soldier. I know that, we know that, but this isn't going to be a typical military base. One of the functions we have at the Farm is training forces from friendly governments and part of the training is going to be training in occult matters. That is something you do know, and something we will need you for."
Tara bit her bottom lip, but Striker saved her. "It's going to be a long time in the planning, and here you will not handle the bulk of the training. You will train the teachers for the Farm. Right now you need to think in the short term. What are the immediate concerns?"
Tara gave the first one. "The Scoobies and what they've seen."
Faith sat down and looked over at the other two. "Those three geeky guys. They might not be that big of a threat, but they are one, and I just don't like the idea of leaving them in play."
Striker took a breath before speaking. "You could probably work those two together and deflect questions by working against a common enemy."
Faith sighed. "Still got to have a story."
Tara furrowed her brow as she answered, and without realizing it Faith had a beaming smile watching her. "Okay, Mr. Striker..."
She looked over at the man in surprise. "Mack?"
He smiled at her. "Mack."
She nodded. "Okay, Mack, you presented yourself to her as a federal agent?"
He nodded. "Yeah, but it was a fake id."
"Still, we can use it. A federal agency could get Faith out of jail. Willow actually told me about some agent-type guys who once took away an invisible girl who was terrorizing the school."
Both agents looked over in unison. "Really?"
Tara looked between the two. "Well, yeah. A girl named Marcie turned invisible because no body noticed her." When they both gave her a look she shrugged as she continued. "She blamed Cordelia and her friends for it so she started attacking them. Buffy finally managed to defeat her by hearing where she was. When Marcy was defeated two agent-type guys who had been hanging around the school took her away, and Buffy thought that it had happened before, you know other kids in other schools."
Striker considered that. "Likely, most agencies wouldn't have picked up on a one-off event."
Faith met his eyes. "Could mean another player."
He nodded again. "I'll get the Farm digging. About when did this happen, Tara?"
Considering it Tara replied. "About five years ago, when Buffy first came to Sunnydale."
"Okay, I want you to make a full account of everything you can think of and I want you to make a second report on the invisibility itself. Work with Faith on this because she's aware of the detection technology we have available, include possible countermeasures."
Tara's brow furrowed again. "There are a lot of ways for a person to become invisible."
Faith gave her girlfriend a grin. "Then it'll be a big report."
Tara returned the smile and even Striker added his own. "But that's not a priority. What it does is give you operating room; between this unknown and the Initiative the Scoobies will be open to the idea of the government knowing about the supernatural. I think you have enough credibility that you can give us a positive spin."
The two women bobbed their heads in understanding.
He finished his thought. "While you can not mention the Farm you can label us as 'federal resources,' bring us in to help track down the current threat. With the activity the questions should be kept down."
Faith then had to comment. "Rules of engagement?"
Tara looked between the two, confused by the term while Striker answered. "I've trained you well Faith. I trust you to deal with the Geeks as you see fit. Just keep the Scoobies reactions in mind."
Tara then shook off what she heard and took the topic elsewhere. "Willow and Giles?" Faith gave a look, but Tara returned it and silently reassured Faith with her eyes.
Striker allowed them their moment. "They have proven themselves a threat. As it is, the Farm will be increasing our surveillance of the Council and considering expanding into active operations. These two have acted with the Council as part of a murder conspiracy. While we may not be ready to move on them we can't ignore them. Play on that to keep a hook into the Scoobies." He then changed directions. "We've been seen. Fact is with this new front it was considered. We still won't be opening up operations, but we have to take this into account. The upside is that this whole world is widely considered myth. So I will leave it to your discretion, just keep us informed."
Faith nodded with her eyes straight forward, and then looked him in the eye. "So you heading back in?"
He met eyes with Faith. "You want me here?"
She sighed. "Nope, I got it."
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