DISCLAIMER: The characters of BtVS belong to Joss Whedon, M.E. Production & other suit types I don't know. The original characters in this piece do belong to me. Also, we'll put this at an R rating for language and violence…maybe some sex between Buffy and Willow too…
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I had this thought moons ago about what happened after Sunnydale (this was before the comics). About who Buffy was and the way the Scoobs were left at the end of Season 7; how I really didn't like it. This is a story about reconnection and forming new bonds. Hopefully, it worked. As an FYI…given the canonical comics, this so A.U., but truthfully, I prefer this world as opposed to the one that Joss is painting for us. I at least let the Scoobs find a small amount of peace. This will eventually be part of a series. The second portion of this story arc is completed and will be a crossover with Dexter. The third and final portion is currently being worked on and is not even half way done. I hope that you'll get to read it all. This story was originally published back in '07. Due to some encouragement it has been worked over, steam rolled, red inked and re-edited to bring it up to a livable standard. When I first started writing, I didn't have a beta or a clue as to what the hell I was supposed to be doing. I've learned. I've grown. And I've gotten LOTS of help. I'm also still learning. So… =0) That being said, any mistakes are all my fault. Yell in my direction. Thank You's: Dirk for being my wonderful primary beta. Dennis for the moral support and the humor. Thumper for allowing her minion some alone time. Howard Russell for his spit and polish on the final touches. Lastly, Valyssia, who when this is all said and done, should probably get writing credit on it as well.
FEEDBACKGood, bad, I usually take it all…leave it here or drop me a line: whedonistic.tendencies@gmail.com
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

One Last Shot
By Whedonist


Chapter 13 – Ground Zero

In search of her missing lover, Buffy had stepped into the room in time to witness the intimate exchange. She saw the kiss. She saw Willow stop it, but grew more surprised when neither acknowledged her presence.

Deciding she'd seen enough, Buffy cleared her throat. Her hands went around her waist as she said, "Explain to me why I'm not ripping the new girl's lips off and feeding them to her?"

Both women sprang from the bed and gapped at the blonde. Willow's face burned bright and she stammered, "Buff," her voice squeaky, she cleared her throat trying again, "Buffy, you, uh…how long have you been standing there?"

"Long enough. 'Splain Will. Make it quick. I'm not feeling very patient right now."

Aradia ran her fingers through her hair and dipped her head. Great. Nice work. Aradia you need to figure out a way to kick yourself when you leave here. Looking back up, she locked eyes with Buffy and stammered, "It was – Willow didn't. It was a goodbye kiss. Give me a moment to explain." She held up her hand asking for patience. "Willow and I were lovers at one point. I just wanted to wish you two good luck." She shrank back at Buffy's expression.

"Willow?" The slayer said her lover's name. Her jaw clenched trying to remain cool, calm and collected. Buffy was quickly losing the battle suppressing the urge to throw Aradia through the wall. She had, up until this point, opted not to trash her bedroom to wait on more of an explanation.

"Not intentional and bad bad lips?" Willow hopped the joking smile would work. She stopped when Buffy's eyes welled up. Turning to Aradia, she motioned to the door.

Aradia nodded and left the room. She took as much room as possible to move past Buffy and felt the girl's eyes on her as she retreated to a safe distance around the corner.

Willow moved up next to Buffy. "Baby, Buffy, it wasn't anything really. A sayonara smooch is all. Aradia – she wasn't thinking and then well, it – the uhm, kiss – it kinda caught me off guard."

"So you two were involved?" Buffy's hands dropped to her sides as she moved further into the room. Opting to avoid the bed, she leaned against her dresser.

"Yeah, on and off over the past few years." Willow was going to follow Buffy and take her to sit on the bed, but thought better of it when she saw Buffy look at her.

Buffy bit the inside of her cheek and spat, "What about Kennedy?"

Willow looked down at her feet and tried to figure out how to answer that question.

"You cheated on Ken." It was statement.

"It's complicated Buff." Willow shifted nervously, her eyes glued to the floor.

"Is?" Buffy's disbelief and anger voiced in the one word.

"Was complicated," Willow corrected. She hazarded a glance at Buffy then returned to staring at a stain on the floor. "I, yes okay, I was involved with Aradia while I was seeing Ken, but she and I never, it wasn't serious, just some comfort sex and understanding."

"So sex is like food?" Buffy placed her hands on her hips and waited.

"Putting words in my mouth isn't helping." Willow's eyes snapped up and she caught Buffy's stare. Instantly regretting placing the pain visible in her lover's eyes, she stammered, "Besides this – that isn't even an issue. It's a big, fat non-issue."

"My ass it's a non-issue." She pushed off the dresser knocking it back into the wall. Moving right in front of Willow, she grabbed her girlfriend's shoulders and forced Willow to look at her. "Willow, you slept with her while involved with a girl you supposedly loved. She just kissed you and I know I'm like a zillion in slayer years, but my eye sights not that bad."

Willow blushed and pleaded, "There is no more her and I. There's an 'us' though and I intend to keep it that way. Please don't be upset? Buffy, I love her, yes. She's a great friend, but she isn't you. I'm in love with you." Willow grabbed Buffy's hands and placed them on her chest. "You can feel it. I know you can. If you can't trust my words than trust what you feel."

Buffy pulled her hands free and folded her arms across her chest unsure of what to say. Willow felt a small spark of hope as Buffy asked, "You guys are seriously over?"

"So over that when we were contacted about a comeback tour I didn't even take the call." She smiled tightening her grip on Buffy's hands.

Buffy nodded and warned, "She gets one more shot. She touches you or looks at you sideways; I show her the business end of Mr. Pointy."

Willow bit her lip and asked quietly, "Are we ok?"

"Yes…I don't know. There aren't going to be any more of your old flames arriving?"

Willow shook her head no and placed her arms around Buffy's shoulders drawing her close. "No. I didn't think Althenea would actually send someone. Her showing up was as much as a surprise to me as it was to you."

Willow leaned in and placed a light kiss on her slayer's lips. "Buffy, I'm serious. Aradia and I, over. Done. Of the past type tense. I want to make sure that you're okay. That we're okay."

"We, I guess we're fine. It's just with the shock." Buffy pulled back searching her lover's face. "Will, you and…I mean I never thought you would cheat. Then when you talk about it, you're all with the cavalier and it's worrisome."

Willow nodded and tried to explain, "Aradia's, she's different, I guess is the only way to explain it. Her views on relationships aren't conventional to say the least."

"Not helping," snipped the slayer.

Willow huffed and tried again, "You know you and Spike?"

Buffy's eyes narrowed, but she tipped her chin to signal her witch to continue.

"I'm not saying it was the same, not nearly, but Aradia was what I needed at the time. She helped chase away some of my darkness," the last part was hushed and Willow's voice dipped lower in admission, "I needed that. I don't need it now. Does that make any sense?"

Buffy shrugged causing Willow to ask, "Are you okay?"

Buffy sighed and rested her forehead against Willow's. "I'm tired. This- all of this – I could so do without. I'm retired. No longer involved in the night life. Can we just go on vacation somewhere, far away, like the moon far?"

Willow smiled softly and pecked Buffy's lips before answering, "We could but we'd just come back here and have to deal with it then. I say we kick some bad guy butt and then kick everyone out of the apartment. Settle back into that routine we had gotten used to before the poop hit the fan."

Buffy leaned back in Willow's arms and asked, "So you're saying the sooner we kick ass the sooner we kick everyone out?"

"That'd be the plan," the witch assured running a hand up Buffy's back.

Suppressing the shiver, Buffy's face scrunched asking, "We are standing here for what reason?"

Willow smiled sheepishly. "I was getting in trouble and you were forgiving me."

"We'll work on it." Buffy turned to leave and was stopped by Willow's hand still gripping her own.

Willow pulled Buffy to her and placed a molten kiss on the blonde's lips. "Just so we're clear."

Buffy pulled away slightly breathless. "Clear as crystal. Just scared."

"Me too sometimes, but fear is healthy."

"You keep telling me that." Buffy's lips pursed as she concluded, "But I've yet to feel the healthy side effects."

Willow moved her mouth to Buffy's pulse point and started a slow set of kisses towards the blonde's mouth. "I'm sure I can show some to you."

They came back out into the living room 15 minutes later flushed and calmer.

"So Dawnie, how do I find and kill it?" Buffy asked with a bit more bounce in her step.

"Hey, don't look at me. I just got the why and how not the when or the who. Willow?" Dawn questioned from her seat on Kennedy's lap.

Aradia spoke up from the kitchen table, "Willow we might be able to track back the magical signature from the warehouse."

Willow shook her head leaning in as Buffy wrapped an arm round her waist. "Can't. Tried. Too much interference, between my teleportation spell and the shield I had up. My signature is too pervasive. Any other ideas?"

Aradia sighed and shook her head no. Willow's phone vibrated in her pocket and she answered, "Hello…Really that's great….I'll let everyone know…Thanks…You too."

She smiled at Buffy and explained, "Jimmy's being released and he's on his way over. Apparently he and Suzie had a nice blow out at the hospital." Willow looked pointedly at Buffy and smirked, "I knew your little display was gonna cause problems."

"She deserved it. Jimmy'll deal and Susan can – well, she can just jump off the Brooklyn Bridge." Buffy removed her arm to sit on the arm of the couch pulling Willow with her.

Willow rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Buffy…"

"I'm serious. She's not a fave right now," Buffy whined into the nape of Willow's neck.

Turning to eye the blonde, Willow raised an eyebrow questioning, "And if Jimmy wants to tell her about all of this?"

"Fuck. Like I need that headache," griped the blonde.

Dawn, Xander and Giles looked over shocked.

"Yes, I know, I've been around surly cops for too long," Buffy giggled, rolling her eyes.

"Hey, B. I'm thinking we should do some canvassing," Faith said coming out of the kitchen. Biting into the sandwich she held in her hands, she continued around a mouthful of food, "I could go with you, Red and Redder could go together, Dawn with Ken and G-man and X here. We could cover some serious ground."

"Solid idea, but Will and you are together, Redder is with me," Buffy amended.

Aradia slunk down in her chair blushing crimson. Willow poked Buffy in the ribs, but received a soundless "Mr. Pointy" causing Willow's mouth to turn up in a smile.

"Will, when did Jimmy say he was coming?" Xander asked coming up behind Faith and steering them both to the last chair at the table.

"Now, pretty much. He can go with me and Faith."

"If I could get a say in what I'd like to do," Dawn huffed, "I would like to stay here and try to work on this text some more. I'm nearly there. A few more hours and I should be good."

"Dawn's right, Buffy. I feel it would…" Giles stopped when Buffy glared.

"Fine, you two bookworms have fun," Buffy conceded.

Willow, Faith and Jimmy had taken the bars in West and Greenwich Village along with Union Square. Buffy and Aradia had decided to take the Lower East Side, Bowery and Chinatown while Kennedy and Xander took the remaining upper parts of Manhattan. The agreed upon plan was to meet back at the apartment by midnight and report their findings, if any.

Aradia and Buffy had just finished up at one bar and were working their way towards a demon night club that someone had told them about. Buffy had been quiet throughout their journey. She didn't really know how to talk to the girl. She was Willow's other woman in a weird way. She had touched her Willow and Buffy couldn't seem to get past the scene in her bedroom.

How crazy is this? I'm jealous that I wasn't the other woman. I would have done it. Would have given me the chance to let Willow know. I can't believe she cheated…on Kennedy. She sighed involuntarily and hunched her shoulders. She kicked herself for having Willow go with Faith. She wanted the redhead close by.

"Penny for your thoughts," Aradia's voice interrupted Buffy's sulking.

"Huh?" Buffy looked up sharply from the sidewalk and met Aradia's pensive gaze. "Oh, nothing just irritated that this, to use a phrase from my partner, it's just that some mook wants to end the slayer line. I gave up everything to protect it. To allow it to carry on and it's just flat out pissing me off. Where do they get off?"

Aradia let a small smile play over her lips and shrugged. "Seems to me that someone, somewhere is always trying to undo good work. I'm not saying the way the slayer line was started was good, but it had to be done. It's saved the world a couple hundred times so hey, can't really argue why, but maybe how."

"I guess, kinda." Buffy's shoulders slumped as she half heartedly joked, "Can't the forces of darkness take the rest of the millennium off though? Is it really asking too much?"

"Probably," Aradia said. She had let Buffy brood for an hour now and she really wanted to try and get to know the girl. She had heard a few stories from the coven and some of the slayers she had come across, but the best stories had come from Willow.

Willow knew the blonde in ways no one else did and Aradia wanted to see just a piece of that. Buffy Summers was a living legend to most of the people involved in this secret war, but then again so were the entire Sunnydale gang. Willow's story was known globally, Xander Harris although human in every way, shape and form was one of the top watcher's in the world and then there was Faith Lehane and Dawn Summers, whose lives to date were nearly as interesting as the other three.

"Buffy, I just wanted to apologize for earlier." She met Buffy's gaze earnestly and amended, "It was a foolish thing for me to do. I was sent to help and nothing more."

Buffy looked sideways at the girl asking, "So you didn't come voluntarily?"

"I did, but it was to assist you guys, not to make a dumb pass at the slayer's girlfriend." They stopped at a cross walk and Aradia kicked a pebble out onto the street. "I'm assuming Willow told you about our relationship?"

Buffy nodded as the light changed and they started across the busy intersection. "She did and I'll tell you what I told her, you touch her or look at her funny and I introduce you to the business end of my lucky stake."

"Ookkaayyy." She pointed left and motioned Buffy in the direction as she agreed, "I can adhere to that. Given the circumstances, it's quite generous."

Buffy looked sideways gauging the sincerity of the words. Satisfied Aradia was serious, she asked, "Did you know that she was seeing someone when you were with her?"

"I did, does that bother you?" Aradia smirked.

Buffy shot the redhead a look of disbelief. "Of course, doesn't it bother you?"

"No, why would it? Willow's a big girl and can make her own decisions. We were upfront with each other when we first got involved." Turning right, they walked under some scaffolding and weaved in and out of foot traffic. Once through, Aradia laughed and shouldered up to the blonde. "See this is what gets me. Convention states that you are to find one person with whom you can spend the rest of your life with, but it's unrealistic to think that one person will meet every need that you have. Your partner will either lack something you need or crave something you lack and it's okay to be honest about that."

She waved her hand dismissively in front of her and queried, "Why must everything be so black and white when it comes to romantic entanglements? Life certainly isn't." The look she received for her question caused her to go further with her thoughts, "If you go into a relationship with unrealistic expectations you are setting yourself up for failure, but if you go in with the knowledge that you are insufficient and so is your partner then it tends to clear up the confusing bits of the partnership."

"Huh?" Buffy gapped. Shaking her head, she wondered, "How does that make sense?"

"Okay, let's take you and Willow for example. You love her and she loves you or at least I'm to assume. Now, in order for you to understand, you are going to have to be honest with yourself, does she meet ALL of your needs? And for that matter are you secure in the knowledge that you meet all of hers?"

When no reply came from her companion, she continued, "Let's go with the idea that you don't and neither does she. Is it such a bad thing? No, it's not, but if you both know that certain needs are being unfulfilled then why not seek them out elsewhere in a mutually agreed upon fashion?"

"Where are you from?" Buffy asked. Indicating that they were close to the next spot she stopped their progress.

Aradia nodded, turning to fully face the slayer and said "London, but that doesn't change the fact that what I say makes sense." She grinned hoping that this train of thought was coming off light.

"No, it doesn't." Buffy gripped her elbow and steered her to the edge of the sidewalk against the building. "Willow meets all of my needs. Hell, she meets needs I didn't know I had and I know that she's satisfied. She would tell me otherwise."

Sensing the distress, Aradia back peddled, "Buffy, please, I didn't mean to upset you. The fact that you two are – as close as you are - seems to be a contributing factor, but for the rest of us, it's a fact that most don't want to face. If Willow hits too close to home, what about your past relationships. Were they as fulfilling as you needed them to be?"

"No, but…" Buffy fidgeted in place at the admission.

"It's not a bad thing to admit, Buffy." Feeling brave, Aradia placed a comforting hand on Buffy's upper arm. "I understand that you and Willow are special. The bond you two have is extraordinary. When I first met Willow, the only thing that even came close to making her smile were stories about you."

"When did you meet her?" Buffy queried.

Aradia chewed her lip, deciding on an answer. Going with the most honest one, she answered, "When she came back for the cleansing after she had tried to end the world."

"Oh, when did you get involved?" Buffy pushed, needing to know how long they had carried on together.

Dipping her head, she looked at the blonde through her bangs and softly replied, "About a month later. She was vulnerable and needed someone to help carry her burden. I took on that role."

Buffy just stared at the girl. The revelation not what she had expected.

Aradia searched Buffy's face for understanding. Finding none, she tried to explain, "She was shattered and I just couldn't not do anything. She needed to feel something again and I thought I could help her with that. I think I did, but I was a small piece in the puzzle. I was merely providing a service."

Buffy's jaw clenched and she growled, "Was that all it was to you?"

"No, not even close." Aradia shook her head denying the accusation. Shifting on her feet, she hoped her next words would help, "Willow is a singularly unique person and even when she was facing her own personal abyss, I sort of fell in love with her." Aradia held up her hand and stopped the tongue lashing she saw begin on the blonde's lips.

Slightly more forceful, she admitted, "I love her and am mildly in love with her. To know the bloody woman is to love her. It just can't be helped, but I am under no illusion that she is in love with me. We care for each other and have helped each other chase away the darkness." She raised a finger and pressed it into to Buffy's chest. "She belongs to you and I will do nothing to jeopardize that, save my small indiscretion today. You make her happy and that is all that a friend can ask for."

Buffy snapped her mouth shut and tried to wrap her head around the woman before her. Unsure of what to make of the confession, she turned heel and made her way to the next demon bar, Aradia quietly following.

"So Red, you feel like tellin' me about our visitor?" Faith asked swinging her arms back and forth as they walked through Greenwich Village.

"Nothing to tell. She's a friend from the coven." Willow smiled tightly.

"Sure and I'm Mary Queen of Scots. You guys bumped naughties didn't you?"

Willow's face burned bright red and she shook her head no.

"C'mon, you can tell me. Does Buffy know? Is that why you guys were in the bedroom for so long?"

"Did I miss something while I was laid up in the hospital?" Jimmy asked looking back and forth between both girls.

"Yeah, that Aradia chick and Red got a history. I think maybe Buff found out and had some words."

"Faith," Willow warned, "Enough. The only version you get is Aradia and I are close. That's it. End of story."

Faith just shot Willow a look and shrugged.

Jimmy looked between the two girls and sighed. I wonder which one of 'em's gonna swing first. Kinda gonna hafta go with Willow. She looks ready to strangle Faith. Trying to switch the topic, he asked, "So that warlock what'zamit guy said that we need to hang a right at Redford and then look for a black and red door with some type of sign?"

"Yep. Hopefully this guy knows what he's talking about. My feet are going to revolt soon and quit working." Willow whined. I can't believe Buffy… or Aradia for that matter. Sure, there was a kiss. One stinkin' lousy kiss. Goddess, Buffy looked broken after Aradia left the room.

I get it. I cheated on Kennedy. I'm not the good there. But there was stuff. Stuff I can't explain to Buffy. She wouldn't understand and to try and tell her that Aradia was my saving grace after Tara died. What would she say? She wasn't there. She didn't see.

She puffed out her cheeks and let Faith take the lead allowing her thoughts more attention than where her feet were going. This isn't going to end well. Well, not like it usually ends well. This happened when the rules of the cosmic game have changed. Buffy's not been sleeping. Her handling all of this would be factual if handling was actually happening. It's more like shoving and boxing and festering. It seems the harder I push, the more she closes up.

Her doing what she's been doing was the theme of Sunnydale's last two years and let's all take a moment to recognize how well that ended. If I can get us through this, Buffy's gonna have to see someone. She can't live like that.

Willow's swiped at a tear that had started to make its way down her cheek. Frustrated she sighed and trailed the other two in her group.

They had followed the directions and ended up looking at the door described by the warlock they had met in West Village. Willow looked at Faith and saw the brunette shrug. Squaring her shoulders, the witch pushed the door open expecting the other two to follow her in.

The bar was dark and lush. The booths were lined with velvet and deep in color. There were only a few people seated throughout the place and Willow let her senses stretch out and felt more demon activity below. Not bothering to say anything, she went straight to the door at the back. The trio went through the door and down a flight of stairs.

On the landing, before a heavy wooden door, stood a six and a half feet tall demon, Willow knew she had seen the species before, but couldn't recall the name. She didn't even smile as she attempted to brush past the thing. It stopped her with a firm hand on her shoulder. She let some energy play through her body and into the demon stopping her. He withdrew his hand quickly and granted them access.

They walked in together and Willow scanned the area before her. It was the most luxurious demon bar she had been to and she had been to a few in her travels. A few of the demons looked up at the three and some of the few that had looked made to leave. She stepped up to the bartender and waived him over.

He approached her with a jovial smile and then faltered as he saw the color of her eye's and the two people behind her. Nervously he asked, "What can I get you three?"

Willow placed her hand over his and leaned close, "Information. I'm looking for a guy that may have come into town a few months ago. Strong with the magic and talking about the slayer."

He removed his hand and stepped back. "No one like that's been in here. 'Sides there is no "The Slayer" anymore. Way I here it is there are lots of slayers."

Willow read his face and growled. "Let's try this again buster, you know who I'm talking about when I say The Slayer." I'm really not in the mood to deal with playing 20 questions. He's got 10 seconds then it's going to be painful. She let a tendril of power out and pulled the guy close. She had him bent forward over the bar and grabbed a handful of hair. "Are you really going to make me ask twice?" She raked a fingernail down his cheek and left a trail of broken skin and blood. "Has the man I'm looking for been in here?"

She felt him nod his head yes and Willow relaxed her grip slightly, but still had him pinned to the bar. "Does he come here regularly?" Again she felt him nod his head yes. "Do you know when he will be back?" She felt a tremor go through the bartender and then a slight shake of his head no.

"Red," Faith warned.

"Does anyone here know where I might find this man?" She pulled up on his hair in emphasis and followed his shaking hand pointing to a booth in the back.

Buffy and Aradia had finished up the last of their interrogations and were headed back to the apartment when Buffy's phone rang. Answering on the second buzz, she said, "This is Buffy."

"Heya Cupcake, we need you and your buddy over to the corner of West and Jane Street. We may have got a location on our bad guy. Your girl, she uh, nevermind I'll talk about it when you get here. Just haul ass."

"Be there in," Buffy looked at the street they were on, "Ten minutes if I can find the right cabbie."

"Roger that, Cupcake. Hurry up, your girl's looking to tango and I don't think Faith or myself's cut out for the job."

"'Kay. Put her on," Buffy waited half a beat when she heard Willow take the phone, "Willow?"


"Yeah, Aradia and I are on our way. The old man sounds kinda scared Will. What's the what?"

"Nothing. I'm nearly a hundred percent sure this is where that creep's been staying. I got a handy tip from a demon, told us where we could find him. So here we are."

Willow had completely missed her point. Deciding it wasn't something she wanted to get to on the phone, she said, "Ok, don't move until we get there. Won't be long."

"Take all my fun away," Willow pouted and then disconnected.

Jimmy took his phone back and cast a surreptitious glance at his friend. She looked normal except the eyes. They were blending together with an electric blue color, black, and milky white. He'd never seen anything like it and sure, he'd never seen a bunch a stuff until Willow came into town, but this was way beyond his realm of experience.

"So Red," Faith leaned in, "you got a game plan or are we playing this by ear?"

"I'm working on it," Willow said, continuing to stare at the building. She could feel the man in there. He wasn't nearly as strong as she was, but she still had to be careful. On top of his energy, she felt two people in there and while she felt they had no magical potential, she still wasn't taking any stupid risks. Willow reached out and felt Buffy close by.

"Buff, where are you?"

"Two blocks away. What's wrong?"

"Me, you, kicking some warlock ass. You up for it?"

"You sound plany, baby. You do have a plan?"

"I've got something in mind."

Buffy smiled. "Want to fill me in?"

Willow let the grin stretch on her face and filled Buffy in on what she had in mind. By the time she had finished, Buffy was pulling Aradia from the cab and looking around the area.

"Hey you guys. It looks li…" Buffy let the sentence trail off as she saw her girlfriend's eyes. "Will, you ok?"

"Never better, why?" Willow cocked her head to the side.

"You're," Buffy stopped and looked at the two she was with, "No one told her?"

Faith and Jimmy shook their heads no.

"Willow, your eyes are multi colored in an unnatural way. Blue, white, black. It's kinda wiggin' me out."

"Sorry, but I can't do anything about it right now. I may have over done it at the bar. Now, I'm too pissed to want to control it. Let's just get this over with."

"Are you going to be okay, Willow?" Aradia stepped in.

Buffy let out a low growl which caused the other witch to step back. Buffy took her redhead by the arm and led her down the street and out of earshot.

"Willow, please come back to me," pleaded the blonde.

Willow raised her right hand and caressed the side of her lover's face. "I'm here Buffy. I'm just kinda juiced and not in the bad, want to destroy the world way. I'm ok."

Buffy sighed and took the girl in her arms. She felt the okayness and nodded. "Fine, but I don't have a nifty yellow crayon story to stop you. Anything goes wrong; well it won't much matter will it?"

"Just kiss me if I go all evil. I don't think that's gonna happen. I've got loads more control now, but ya never know if the guy gets me all pissy," the witched joked winking at her lover in hopes of trying to calm her down.

Buffy laughed and let a tear slip down her cheek. She swiped the tear away and smiled. "Sorry. No time to get all weepy. It's just the past few weeks? Kinda a lot after doing so little. No wonder we are all so fucked up. I forgot how intense this gets."

Willow nodded. Fighting to keep control and reassure Buffy, she said, "Well just think, pretty soon we can go back into retirement." Swinging their joined hands together, she stated, "And come hell, or well, the saying's high water, but for some reason considering we've faced the legions of a hell dimension, high water just doesn't seem that big of a deal. So come hell and the legions of demons residing there, I'm not taking you back out of retirement. You're staying there."

Buffy relaxed slightly at the playfulness Willow showed and agreed, "Yes, mistress."

Willow looked up sharply at the blonde, "Darn tootin'. Let's go get this over with." She pulled Buffy along marching back to the rest of the group.

Taking the lead, Buffy's gaze swept over her assembled team and directed, "Faith, Aradia search the area and see if there are any civilians around. If there are, get them out quick." She turned her gaze to Jimmy and continued, "You're with us. Stay behind me." Right so, I should amend. "Well, behind me as much as possible. You ever think about being smaller?"

Jimmy cracked a smile and winked.

Faith halted their progress and asked, "B, what's the plan?"

"Go in there kick some ass and get out. It seems to be the best and most direct approach."

"Shouldn't we, I dunno call Xander and Ken, then maybe clue Dawnie and Giles in?" Not minding the current plan, Faith had over the years grown accustomed to not leaving people out of the loop.

"Rather not have them here to get hurt. We can do this ourselves," Buffy said, waiting on Faith to challenge her. When no challenge came, she let her arms drop and took Willow's hand. "Jimmy, you holding?"

He nodded. "Hospitals are kinda considerate. They locked my piece up for me until they released me. I'm good."

"'Kay. Hey does anybody have any idea what they want to do when this is all done?" Buffy asked.

"I'm thinking a weekend in bed," Willow offered.

"What, no shopping?" Buffy asked incredulously.

"Well, maybe a little shopping. I know you've been eyeing up a few of those boutiques on Fifth."

"Cupcake, I just want to clean up the paperwork that we'll have then maybe go fishing for a few days. Hey, maybe you and I could take the vacation time together. I can take the kids on a trip."

"I just wanna go back to Cleveland." Faith stopped and realized what she just said. "Well ya know home. To my bed, where I can relax. No offense B, but your place is too small."

Buffy shot Faith a glare. "My place is the perfect size for two people."

"I need to go back to Devon," Aradia said thoughtfully. Crossing the street with the four others, she amended, "Perhaps burn those books."

"Embracing fascism Aradia?" Willow teased.

"Not really, but for some reason having those around doesn't seem like such a good idea." She smiled over at Willow and followed Buffy down a small side alley.

"We can keep them here. Don't worry about it."

"I may take you up on that offer."

They reached the side of the building and were trying to figure out how to get in. After moving towards the back of the building, they found a set of side doors that Buffy pried opened. Entering the structure, Faith and Aradia moved away to take the left side of the warehouse, leaving the other three to the right.

Willow watched as the other two disappeared around a corner and turned to face Buffy and Jimmy. Buffy cocked her head to the left and allowed the other two to follow her. Unsurprisingly, the area opened up into a factory floor. It wasn't nearly as big as the other one, but the designs on the floor were the same.

"Will, take Jimmy and see if you can find this guy. I'll go right, you two take left."

"Uh, no. Not separating. That always ends with being chased by some monster."

"You've been watching cartoons again?" Buffy smirked.

"I may have caught a few episodes of Scooby Doo. Besides, I know where he's at and I don't think he knows we are here."

"Oh, surprises. I like surprises."

Buffy stepped back and let Willow take the lead. She weaved her way through a few hallways and found a door that opened up to a set of steps.

"Why are there always steps?" Buffy huffed, "I swear if I had a nickel for every bady that lived subterranean, I'd be so rich."

Buffy stepped forward and started the decent first with Willow in the middle and Jimmy bringing up the rear. Buffy glanced back and saw that Jimmy had un-snapped his gun and had it at the ready. Crouching down to check out the basement area, she saw a guy towards the back of the room. She tried to suppress a chuckle at the sight of him reclining on the couch completely oblivious while watching TV.

Buffy shook her head at the absurdity and turned back to her group to make the international be quiet gesture. She motioned for the two to stay behind her and with the grace that she was used to exhibiting while patrolling, silently made her way to the couch.

She wasn't sure what happened after that. She'd reached out and grabbed hold of the guys neck with a satisfied smirk. She watched him twist around and noticed the terror that crossed his face. The next thing she registered was the lack of oxygen in her lungs and that she was curled up on the factory floor above.

She glanced around and saw Jimmy and Willow near her. Groaning, she made to sit up and was stopped by foot in her chest.

"I wouldn't do that slayer," the man warned.

Not taking the time to blink, Buffy grabbed his foot, twisted, and shoved causing him to go sprawling across the floor some ten feet away. She was on her feet and moving towards him, but was too late to see the pole come whistling through the air and connecting with her right temple.

Stars burst in front of her as she struggled to stay upright. As nausea rolled in her stomach, she heard the familiar crack of a gun going off not once, but twice. Buffy let go of the paper thin control she had on her legs and fell to her knees.

She looked over at the guy and saw him sprawled on his back, one bullet hole marring his forehead and the other in a well placed estimation of where his heart was. She turned to Jimmy who was sitting up and still had his gun trained on the body.

He glanced over to Buffy querying, "You okay Cupcake?" He sent the most worried expression he could muster over to the blonde. The pole had connected solidly and the gash was causing blood to run down the side of her face.

"I," Buffy coughed trying to make her voice come back, "I've taken worse." She tenderly touched the side of her temple and winced before it made contact with flesh. She pulled her hand away and saw the bright red liquid glistening on her fingers. "Or ya know maybe I should sit down."

Willow had just started to come to and shook her head as she sat up. "What in the name of Zeus happened?" Willow looked to Jimmy, then to the body and then finally came to rest on the blonde. Her eyes grew wide and she struggled to her feet. "Buffy, are you okay?" Willow crouched next to her lover and tried to inspect her injuries.

"Will, there are like five of you right now. It's pretty nifty." Buffy let a goofy smile come over her and continued, "Hmmm, five Willow's. Imagine all the naughty fun I could have with five of you." Her brow scrunched and she whined, "Wait, wait, Willows don't go." Buffy's eye's rolled back and she passed out.

The witch caught her before her head hit the concrete. She lowered her lover down gently and was unsuccessful in reviving her. Willow turned to Jimmy who already had his phone out calling for back up.


Chapter 14 – Fabulous Disaster

"Giles…?" Dawn's voice carried a note of worry as she called out for her surrogate father.

"Yes?" He glanced up from the text he was working on and peered over his glasses at the young woman.

"I think I may have made a boo-boo." Her eyes shifted nervously to the paper in front of her and she mumbled, "Remember when I said the spell talked about grazing the vessel? I think I misinterpreted that bit."

Worried, Giles sat up straighter and urged Dawn to continue.

"Well, you know I said that it went from Latin, to French, to English? The French verb to graze, when conjugated properly is pais. Pais in Latin…means child. They didn't change that word. It's still child." She glanced down at the newer draft of the text and the now completed translation of the prophecy before remarking, "I think I've got a decent translation of this prophecy. We need to get a hold of everyone."

"What does it say?"

Dawn rolled her eyes and acceded to his request, "Following the swell in the wyrd of the keepers. From the source and by the hands of the flagitious, the child shall be sanctified in the abpartum. The River and source will wither and the Old shall roam."

Giles pinched the bridge of his nose and asked, "Any thoughts as to what it's referencing?"

Dawn looked up at him annoyed. "Not so much." Sighing she pushed her chair back and rolled her shoulders. Giving it some thought, she relented and offered, "I may have one or two things to start with, but what's helpful is that the text following the prophecy looks to be heavy in cluage."

Giles offered a supportive smile, saying "Then I suggest, before we bring everyone back," he looked at the clock and amended, "They should be back within the hour. Let's see if we can decode that blasted thing before they get here."

The E.M.T.'s on scene stitched Buffy's temple up and despite strongly urging her to go to the hospital; the blonde refused the ride. She hopped off the back of the ambulance, gingerly making her way over to where her partner was standing. Still feel like crap, but it's better. Being able to move, total bonus in my book. Let's hope Jimmy got some more info.

She looked over to Willow and Jimmy standing side by side and offered a small smile. Looking around the scene, she tried to locate Faith or Aradia, but didn't see them around. Hopefully they motored once they heard the sirens. Wasn't real sure how I was gonna explain them being here anyhow. I still have to give a statement that's moderately believable for our report.

That's gonna be loads of not fun.

"Cupcake, come 'ere." Jimmy motioned his partner over. Once Buffy was close enough to whisper, he said, "I had them…"

"Detectives! They need you outside. There's a body in the alley," a scene tech called out waving them in the direction he had just come from.

Buffy, Jimmy and Willow perked up and took off towards the left side of the warehouse, to the alley entrance. Willow saw only a foot and knew who it was. Rushing over, she began calling out Aradia's name. She stopped and checked for a pulse. Not finding one, she opened her mind and felt for any signs of life from her ex-lover.

She heaved a sigh of relief when she felt that her heart was still beating. Slow and thready but there's hope. "She's alive. Buffy, medics!"

"On it!" Buffy rushed off to find one of the E.M.T.'s.

Gingerly, Willow rolled Aradia on to her back and pressed her ear against the other woman's chest. She reached down to feed some energy to her friend. Hoping that it would be enough to sustain the small grasp of life the witch clung too.

Her mind's eye sought out the damage and pulled back once she saw the crushed skull. I can't touch that. I could…oh goddess. She felt strong arms wrap around her, pulling her away. She knew it was Jimmy and stopped struggling. The E.M.T.'s came through as soon as Willow was removed from the body.

"Will. Willow!" Buffy grabbed her girlfriend's shoulders and shook.

Regaining focus, Willow peered blearily at her slayer.

"Go with her. We're good here." Buffy gently shoved her in the direction of the retreating gurney and turned back to Jimmy. "Where's Faith?" If Aradia's like that…Faith is…?

"It wouldn't be the first time we missed something "Duh" worthy Giles," Dawn fumed at the watcher.

"While that may be true, it does not explain what this git is trying to accomplish." Giles glared back. If she bloody well wants to get into a row over this, I've dealt with her sister and three others in the prime of their unreasonability. She will lose. Bloody women. Bloody Americans. Bloody American women! They'll be the death of me. I'm sure of it.

Their heads snapped towards the entrance of the apartment as the front door swung open and Xander and Kennedy walked in.

"Joo no nuhting. He would have been singing if you hadn't enforced the force, my over-zealous partner in crime." Xander said as he followed Kennedy into the apartment. He looked around expecting to find everyone, but was disappointed when only Dawn and Giles were there. "And here I was worried we were gonna be late."

"Nah, it's Buffy, she'd keep Father Time from running punctually," Kennedy snarked.

Xander nodded and grabbed one of the chairs at the kitchen table. He looked between Giles and Dawn and raised an eyebrow. We either just came in as they were about ready to duel or they found out I ate the last of the cereal this morning.

Kennedy noticed her partner's tense posture and moved to place a kiss on her cheek. "Hi, baby."

Dawn stiffly accepted the kiss then relaxed as Kennedy pulled her from her feet and forced her to sit on the slayer's lap.

Resting her head on Dawn's shoulder, Ken asked, "No word from the others yet?"

"Not as such. I suspect they'll be back shortly," Giles answered. "Were you able to find anything out?"

"Nah," Xander answered. "Dawn, we need to do some theorizing." Xander leaned back in the chair and stretched his legs in front of him. Crossing his arms, his left hand reached up to rub the stubble at his chin as he asked, "The need for unnecessary violence – Is it a slayer thing or just something that exists in the women we surround ourselves with?"

Dawn raised her eyebrow and looked back at a sheepish Kennedy. "What'd she do?" she asked turning back to Xander, her right eyebrow nearly in her hairline.

"Nothing really and by nothing, I mean she didn't throw three vamps and another demon of unknown species through the back wall of a bar."

"Hey, they asked for it. I told that - whatever that was - to not touch me. The vamps just had it coming," pouted the slayer.

Xander rolled his eye and decided to let it drop. Slayers and violence. A combination as tried and true as peanut butter and jelly.

Heads turned as Jimmy came barreling through the front door and more eyebrows were raised when no one followed him in.

"Jimmy, you're missing people. Where's the mother of my child? And Buffy and Willow and that other one…Ara…the witch from England?" Xander asked concerned. He looks like crap. Something's up. Maybe they found somethin' and he's come to get the cavalry

Jimmy smiled tightly and held up his hand to stop the questions. He looked around the room and noticed Faith's absense. Knew I couldn't get that lucky. Between my headache, Cupcake takin' off as soon as the scene techs had it under control and now I gotta tell this guy his girl and unborn kid are missin', it all adds up to me havin' one of the worst fuckin' days of my life. The tellin's gonna be worse than dealing with Irene during our divorce. Fact: I'd proly do that all over again if I didn't hafta do this.

Mopping his face with his hands, he looked up at the group and cringed. "Alright, so we actually found the guy. There was a big to do. The facts: the geeks dead. I've C.S.U. processing the scene right now. As for everyone else, Aradia got hurt and was taken to St. Vincent's. Willow rode with her and Buffy and I separated ways as soon as C.S.U. was straight on what to do. Buffy went over to the hospital to be with Red."

"And still no mention of Faith?" Xander's voice climbed as the knot of fear twisted his stomach.

The detective shifted his feet and rubbed the back of his neck. "She, uh, well, her and Aradia went together while Buffy, Willow and me went another direction. After the hullabaloo, we couldn't find her. Aradia was pretty smashed up when we got to her and your girl wasn't – couldn't be found."

"WHAT!?" Xander launched himself from the chair.

"Hey, just…I've got a team workin' on it. I made sure before I left they had an A.P.B. on her. And more than two precincts are lookin' for her. We're doin' what we can."

"Oh, my. We should all get to the hospital then," Giles said.

"Uhm, Giles, we should – they should know. Faith's in – Xander, uh, there's some things. Stuff we found that we, that I didn't interpret right," Dawn's voice heavy with guilt. She walked over to her friend and grabbed his hand. Why does he gotta give me the sad puppy eye? I hate it when he does that. Steeling herself, she made Xander sit back down while she paced the length of the kitchen.

"The spell was…I was sitting there, mistranslating it. The text is a mashing of languages. There were some words I thought were French that were Latin. Then, finally, I got a good grip on the prophecy. Giles and I think that maybe it wasn't about undoing the slayer line. It was more about ending it. Abruptly."

She winced as the two people that understood what that meant gapped at her. Straightening her back she continued, "The specific piece of text we're concentrating on sketches a time line for us and offers a prophecy. The non-prophecy stuff talks of the spell Willow did to make everyone with potential, a slayer. Then it goes on further. It mentions the source, which indicates the beginning and the child." Looking pointedly at Xander, she griped his hand and said, "The source's Faith. She was the one that the slayer line ran through when we did the spell and the source is carrying the baby Not saying that your girlfriend is in the Rosemary's baby kinda way."

Xander's hand went slack and he paled. Poor Xander. Sighing, Dawn decided to get the rest out, "Your baby isn't the Anti-Christ. What it's indicating is the last of the slayers. Your baby will be born, prematurely. Someone, the flagitious–"

"Flagi what?" Xander asked.

"The flagitious, in this case it would be the corruptor. They or he or it would, they want to force the baby to be born – prematurely. If that happens, the magic holding the slayer line together will unravel." Do I really need to explain what will happen after that happens?

She looked around the room and slumped into her chair. Didn't think so.

Scratching his chin, Jimmy interrupted, "But it still doesn't explain Faith's Houdini. Prophecies and all that mumbo jumbo are nice, but I gotta missing pregnant lady to find. I'd prefer if we can focus on that."

Perking up from the chair at the table, Kennedy said, "Who's to say the guy was working alone. Maybe he has a sidekick."

Jimmy blanched at the implications then hit his forehead with the palm of his hand. I'm a fuckin' idiot. Jesus H. Christ I need to be examined for stupidity. Three bodies, five blood types, and two unaccounted for. Fuckin' Loe. Goddamn Sonuvabitch. No time to deal with this shit. Gotta keep focused on finding Faith. We find Faith none of this happens. Right so…At some point I'm gonna hafta figure out how I went from keepin' punks off the street to trying to save the world…"Come on, let's move."

Jimmy was stopped short by Xander's hand on his arm. "We aren't going anywhere until…"

Jimmy shrugged the man's hand of his arm. "Until what Xander? We find your old lady, none of this happens." He looked to Dawn for confirmation. Seeing the slight nod, he pressed, "Let's keep our eye on the prize. We find Faith and we'll stop whatever it is that's gonna happen.

Nodding, Xander motioned for the rest of the gang to follow Jimmy out of the apartment.

Half way down the hall, Jimmy barked into his cell phone, "Loe, when you guys are tearing the place apart, see if you can find anything about him having a partner. Anyone. Anything. I got some new information."

"Will do," Andre said. "Everything ok?"

"Dunno yet. Don't think so. Buffy and I'll be back at the warehouse within the hour. Gotta go."

Thank the gods for other cops. And who would've ever thought I'd be brain damaged enough to think that? Of course Sunnydale cops, – not the best or the brightest. Buffy sat in the back of the squad car as it took her the short distance to St. Vincent's. Her right leg bounced up and down in agitation. I hope Will's okay. She didn't…Aradia'll be fine. Sure of it. At least this nightmare's over. Don't know where Faith took off to. Maybe back to the apartment. She'll be fine.

The car took a hard right turn south and she grabbed the handle above the window. She glared at the young uniform driving and he glanced in the rearview mirror with apologetic eyes.

"Sorry detective, but my super said to get you there as fast as possible."

"Did he mention in one piece?"

She watched him duck his head ashamed. "Sorry."

"One piece. It's okay as long as I get there whole."

He nodded and dropped his speed a bit. Buffy huffed relieved as the hospital came in to view. An eight block ride that had me hanging on for dear life. Think he drives worse than I ever did. Poor kid.

She waited impatiently as he threw the car in park and scrambled out to open the door. As Buffy sprang from the car, he tipped his hat to her and asked, "They said to wait on you if you needed. What do you want me to do?"

Buffy rolled her eyes and smiled, "Get going. Maybe you can help at the scene. I'll call my partner to come get me if needed. Thanks, uh?"

"Officer Ryan Mejorado," he offered kindly.

"Thanks Ryan. See you around." Buffy didn't bother waiting on a response and began moving towards the Emergency Entrance. She looked up at the old brick building and let the heaviness of the day register. Stupid, great, big, brick buildings of doom. Wouldn't be a Scooby mystery if someone wasn't in the hospital though. So much for tradition. Wonder if I could request a change of tradition. Like instead of someone in the hospital. Someone gets 15 minutes at Niemen Marcus to carry out as much stuff as possible for free. That'd be the it. Yep, checkin' with the Union tomorrow.

She moved to the receiving area and flashed her badge at the security guard on duty. He sat up straighter as he recognized the shield and nodded her through. I know Iook prety. Pretty crappy. My head feels like a bowling ball. And these clothes…I'll never get the blood out of this jacket. I finally get a job with a clothing allowance and I blow it on one jacket that now has blood all down the right shoulder.

She was nearly to the register nurse, when she looked right and saw Nekko waving his arms in the air to get her attention.

"Buffy!" Nekko jogged over to the blonde and grabbed her shoulders.

She smiled and let him hug her. Wincing as the stitches pulled on Nekko's shirt, she squeezed and stepped back looking at him questioningly.

"I live not too far away and I had my scanner on at home. I heard your's and Jimmy's name and then the description of the girl being brought in. Thought it was Willow, but she's not a registered patient."

"It's not – it's her friend. She's here though."

He looked relieved and started guiding Buffy towards the elevators. "If it's emergency triage, she should be towards the back."

"How do…?"

"I do clinic work once a month here."

"Ah." Buffy allowed herself to be led towards the back of the hospital. Bypassing the nurses' station, waiting area and loading bay, Buffy stopped when it looked like they were heading towards an exit. "Nekko, I think we missed our…"

A small pinch in her arm registered as Nekko said, "That pole musta fuckin' smarted when Greg smashed you in the head. Worth seeing though."

Rounding on the man, she glanced quickly at the needle sticking out of her arm. It was then that she staggered. A second later her knees buckled and darkness claimed her.

Willow winced as the hot, bitter liquid ran down her throat. Two hours spent in the waiting room of the surgery wing had yielded three bad cups of coffee and a half eaten package of stale donuts. Willow's head dropped to her hands as she bent forward and replayed the events of this evening in her mind.

Pacing's not helpful. Nothing's helpful. Not right now. I don't know why I'm still shocked that she…We - Jimmy shot the guy. She should have been safe.

She looked up and studied the room. It was a Catholic hospital and each wall there held at least one picture of Jesus or a saint. On what she assumed to be the main wall of the room, the left side held a three foot crucifix and the right side had a similar sized painting of Saint Vincent.

Figures we get taken here. Not only did I get the pleasure of seeing my lover hurt, a guy shot dead, Aradia nearly dead, but I also get the nifty sights of a guy nailed to a cross. How they think that a crucified idol is comforting is way way beyond me.

She looked up as footfalls sounded outside the entrance and she recognized Xander's voice.

"Will?" the watcher called from the doorway. He looked over at his oldest friend and smiled sadly.

She rushed up and hugged him allowing the others to come through.

As they separated, he asked, "Have you heard anything?"

Willow shook her head no and swiped at the few tears that had escaped.

Jimmy came through, lokking around. "Hey, Cupcake go and grab something to drink?"

The redhead cocked her head to the side and shook her head. "Buffy hasn't been here. I've been sitting here waiting on the doctors to update me on Aradia."

Jimmy's face fell as he said, "I had a newbie from the Six drive her over here as I was leaving."

Willow had her cell in her hand and the phone ringing before he finished. She let it ring until she heard Buffy's voicemail pick up and snapped her phone shut. She looked at the group and Faith's absence registered. "Where's Faith?"

Xander started to fidget at his partner's name and he said, "She's missing or at least she hasn't come home."

Willow covered her mouth with one hand and reached for Xander's hand with the other. She looked up at him and saw the concern crease his usually animated features.

"I'm gonna call Jared. He's the one that assigned Buffy the driver. See if they did what I told 'em."

They watched their friend's partner depart and Willow turned to the rest of the group. Goddess, I really don't have the time to play a twisted version of "Where in the World are the Slayers?" Where're those obnoxious singing guys with the clues when you need them?

While Jimmy was gone, Giles took the reins and filled Willow in on the new information. He watched as the news sunk in and she began to fidget in her seat. As he was finishing up, Jimmy came back in looking worse for the wear.

Giles looked hoepful as he asked, "I don't suppose you were able to garner any information on Buffy's whereabouts?"

The detective walked over to one of the chairs and sat down. Yanking at his tie, he drew it over his head and jammed it in the pocket of his sports jacket. Nodding, he said, "I had 'em track down the uniform that brought her over. Ryan Mejorado. Kid said that he dropped her off and watched her go in through the Emergency Entrance." He ran his fingers through his graying hair and gnawed his lower lip. Don't need Cupcake gettin' lost. Something's happened. I can take a good goddamn guess as to what and by the looks of the faces on this group, they can guess too. So what now?

He looked around the room and saw it. Hot damn! Jumping up from the chair he headed for the door and called over his shoulder, "You guys wait here! I'll be back in a few."

He sprinted down the hall and to the steps. His foot falls echoed in the empty space as he jumped the final flight's landing. He landed with a thud next to the entrance to the lower level and yanked the door open. Looking at the map, Jimmy traced the path to the security offices and took off towards his destination.

Waves of consciousness gently lapped at Faith's drugged mind. The first sense to return was her hearing and that was more due to the subway train barreling by. The next sense to filter through her bleary mind was smell. She half heartedly thought that she was back in South Boston by the docks. As soon as the two began playing together, the rest seemed to register.

Shoulda proly stayed asleep or drugged or whatever the fuck I was or am. I know right now I ain't opening my eyes. That'll hurt way too much way too soon. Best to just get a feel for what the fuck is going on.

She tried to adjust her position and stopped when she felt the tugs on various parts of her body. Alright, let's take stock. I can't move, and I feel like I've been hit by a subway train. All in, I'm thinkin' this all adds up to me waking up in hell and there ain't shit I can do about it. I've got an IV in me and the Powers only know what's getting pumped into my system.

Un-fuckin' believable. One minute I'm following Aradia down a corridor in that warehouse, next I'm here. She gingerly opened up her right eye and was surprised when the sharp pain wasn't as bad as anticipated. All in. Not a whole fuck lot to see. Four walls. I'm roped down to a hospital bed and I think there's someone here with me.

Faith weakly pushed against the restraints holding her down. Her ankles and hands were held down with heavy restraints. As she looked at them, she recognized the restraints as the kind they used in the hospital when she would get frisky. Soft fur grated against her wrist and ankles while the leather held firm to the bed frame. Two over the body restraints cut her into thirds. One cut right over her stomach while the other was secure over her knees.

Faith stopped struggling and tried to focus on something else. Who's over there? She craned her neck up and peered into the dark room. Oh fuck…

Buffy hung from a set of shackles bolted into the wall. Faith noticed that an IV had also been stuck into her friend's left arm with the bag hanging limply from one of the hooks jutting out from the wall. Her arms were stretched over her head pulling her up and keeping her slightly off balance. The only support her legs could provide were if she were conscious and she used her tip toes to hold some of her weight. As it was, she hung with her head resting on her chest while her arms took the burden of her weight.

Jimmy sat in the cramped security offices peering at the time stamps on the videos. He stopped the camera as he saw his partner walk though the entrance to the Emergency Room. Allowing the video to play through, he watched her walk towards the register desk, but stop short and turn to her right. Nekko came into view and they exited the frame together.

What the fuck? Removing his cell, he dialed into dispatch and asked them to find the contact information for Nekko Agryos. He was put on hold and a few minutes later informed that the only information on file was for a cell phone that the city paid for. He scribbled down the number and thanked the officer on the line.

Dialing Nekko's number, he waited until it clicked to voicemail. Leaving a message, Jimmy stood and nodded to the night security guard. Alright back to the waiting room. This gives me something to go on. Why in the hell was he here?

Sad fuckin' thing? And Lord I hope I'm wrong, but I ain't - I know I ain't. Stupid fuckin' instinct. It knows and then tells you so that it's believed with every fiber of your being, that somehow Nekko's got my partner. And I swear by the Saints and God himself, he fuckin' touches one goddamn hair on her head. I'll kill the weasely mother fucker.

He shuffled along the corridor weary from the day's events. Jabbing the button to summon the elevator, the doors slid open a moment later and he stepped inside. How am I gonna tell Red? Xander? 'Cuz if he's got Buffy, means he proly got the pregnant one too. How did this get so fucked? How did I miss it?

He thought back to the time spent in the M.E.'s presence and nothing stood out. No quirk; no internal shitbag alarm was tripped. 'Kay so he kinda laid it on thick with Cupcake, but I just figured he had a hard on for her. Not this. Not whatever the fuck he was planning.


Chapter 15 – Saving Grace

Don't know how much more of this I can actually take. I think that I can deal with pretty much everything. Alien invasions, I scoff at the little green men. Hell Beasts bent on world destruction. I would, and have, laughed mightily in their slimy, snarly faces. Anya, while it was painful, like the biggest pain I've had, I still dealt. It took time and there was that whole lost phase, but I turned it around. But. I. Can't. Handle. This.

Xander stood against the wall of the hallway in Buffy and Willow's apartment, watching his friend move with icy determination. He wasn't sure what Willow was doing. And that was the problem. At first, she had grabbed what he recognized as locator spell ingredients. It failed, so she went to her computer. That was two hours ago.

After Jimmy had come back, Willow crumpled under the news he had. To make matters worse, one of the doctors working on Aradia had informed them she hadn't made it through surgery. Aradia had hemorrhaged out on the operating table.

It was then that Willow had stood and walked out of the waiting room. I don't know what's worse: my pregnant girlfriend missing and potentially hurt. Buffy missing and potentially hurt or watching the woman that's known me forever completely shut herself down. Like no one's home - go away - gone.

I've never seen Willow like this. Mad? Sure. Happy, too. Hell, I've faced off with her all veiny and black. He pushed off the wall and moved to the kitchen table keeping a weary and watchful eye on his best friend. The point. I've seen Will lots of ways. This. What I'm seeing now, is all sorts of new. And it's of the bad. Like really really bad. Hence the following.

He ran a hand through his hair and rubbed under his bad eye. The nervous habit started after he had gotten into a fight at a bar in Cleveland. It persisted and now as he stroked the skin at the edge of the patch, he found it comforting. You'd think she would cry, be angry, be something other than what she is now. It's cold and very un-Willow like.

Jimmy looked over to the remaining people in his partner's family and sighed. He had been at the precinct with Giles, Dawn and Kennedy in tow since the hospital. He had seen the look Willow had left with and knew he had to find Nekko and the two missing women before Willow.

To try and get a jump on the witch, he had everyone follow him to the precinct and began searching every last criminal database system that he could think of. He had enlisted the help of a few of the newbie detectives to search the Social Security and Bank records while he took VICAP, NCIC and the New York state employee register.

The civilians were working on combing through print outs and trying to find a match, a link, a thread somewhere in the real estate records for New York and the surrounding counties. He let out a grunt of frustration when the search on VICAP came back empty.

He sipped at the cold bitter coffee and closed out of the program. Running his hands through his hair, he moved to the F.B.I's records. Time's runnin' out. It's damn near palpable. Hang on Cupcake, just hang the fuck on.

Whistling a random tune, Nekko entered the back room where Buffy and Faith were. The room was only lit by a single fixture in the middle of the ceiling. He barely glanced at the body on the hospital bed and moved straight to the detective hanging on the wall. He met her cloudy, unfocused hazel eyes and grinned.

"Well, look who's awake. Ya know Blondie, your constitution is the stuff of medical miracles," he chirped. Walking over to the bound slayer, he tapped the IV bag and shook his head. "I would run out if I were to keep you around longer than what I've planned. Lucky for me, you'll be dead before that happens." He moved right in front of her and tipped up her drooping head.

"I gotta say you've been a bit troublesome. I mean you guys killed Gregy. I needed him. Kinda spoiled my plans. Guess it's true what that adage says about the best laid plans. Nice though when you have a backup." He wiggled his eyebrows, leering at the woman before him.

Buffy's head lolled to the side when he removed his finger from under her chin. She watched him step back, following his progression to the far wall to scan a dresser top. She had been in and out of consciousness for a while now. How long, she couldn't tell, but every time he had come in, he had given her more of whatever tranquilizer was being used. The drugs raging through her system had left her numb to pretty much everything. She even half heartedly attempted to feel out her link to Faith to see if she was okay. It was dead.

Nekko tapped his chin with his left index finger as he peered at his toys. Let's see I've got the scalpels, Stryker saw and the other bone saw. What to use, what to use? I mean shit; it wouldn't even be a fuckin' thought if the stupid bitch had just did what I wanted her to. Still can't figure out how in the fuck they found Greg's place.


Plan went to shit. It happens. Good to have back-ups. Contingency plans are a solid in my book. I may not get to have the swell abilities that these bitches do, but I still get to have fun.

Get to kill'em. Should be fun.

Too bad Greggy couldn't be here for this. Still not sure where we went wrong with that damn translation. He'd have enjoyed this part. He was especially lookin' forward to cutting up Buffy. Nekko shook his head in agitation as his hands ran over the blades on the table top. Now I'm just gonna hafta carve the bitch up all by my lonesome. Whatever. She'll get what she deserves one way or the other.

Dr. Walsh would have…she would have had us take the mongrel down in Sunnydale, but no, Finn, Mr. Too Fuckin' Good, Mr. Please Let Me Fuck That, fell in love and Walsh had too much of a soft spot. Serves 'em right I guess. Hell, I guess it worked out. Riley gave in at the end. The stupid prick. He bled nice at least.

Picking up the prepared hypodermic and the scalpel, he turned towards the blonde. Stopping at the I.V., he breathed deep and rolled his neck relaxing as it popped. He stuck the needle in the feeding valve and depressed the plunger watching the clear adrenal mix flow into the saline solution. Give that a few minutes to work. She'll be coherent enough.

Taking her chin in his hand, he made sure that the small dose had begun to take effect. Satisfied a few moments later as the glassy look began to recede from her eyes. He dropped her head and began cutting away her clothes.

"Now Buffy, I don't want you to get too feisty. The boost I gave you's only gonna take away the numbness and make you aware of what's going on. Besides which, your arms, they're pretty much useless right now. No funny ideas there, Supergirl." He cut the last seam on her pants leg and threw the ruined garment over his shoulder.

He took in the small form. She is awful nice to look at. Totally see why Finn had such a hard-on. Leaving her underwear and bra intact, he placed the tip of the blade between Buffy's 8th and 9th rib. Pressing gently, he was satisfied when the blade sliced into the delicate flesh.

A small grin formed as the blade made its first incision and Buffy flinched at the pain. Good. She can feel it. She's responsive. Now onto some fun. Blood flowed from the cut and began to drip down Buffy's side. He tapped his chin deciding on the next place to slice into.

Willow's fingers flew over the keys on her laptop and as she accessed every public and private record for real estate holdings in the New York metropolitan area. Scrolling through her search, she hissed as the information she needed came up. The guys name was Gregory Brandenburg. That's who Jimmy killed. That's where I should have been looking. Goddess I'm so stupid sometimes. It's okay though. I have the starting point. And when this is all said and done Nekko is going to beg me for mercy I don't have.

It makes you wonder, how someone like me gets to a point like this. How hard does someone have to be pushed to just not care? When Tara died, I cared. I felt. Pain. There was so much of it that I didn't know what to do. This is – nothing.

This is worse, maybe.

Willow discreetly glanced up at Xander and then quickly looked away. He's scared. That's smart. It's okay, Xander. I'll get Faith back for you. I don't know if she'll be alive, but I'll find her. And I'll find Buffy. This will all be over soon. The only other movement coming from the witch was the agitated bounce of her left leg. Silently, it moved up and down; a reflection of the impatience at the servers on the other end of her computer.

Jimmy rubbed at his eyes and peered up from the screen to look at his friends. They had been looking at print outs non-stop for the past three hours. Jimmy had nearly every precinct in Manhattan and a few off-island scouring for his partner and the missing slayer. The updates came in every half hour and so far, nothing. It's 4 a.m. and the way I figure, Faith's been missin' 6 hours and Buffy's been missin' 4. It all spells no good. In fact, it spells nothing but fuckin' heartache.

"Hey, hey…I think I've got something," Kennedy's excited voice broke the tense silence and had Jimmy on his feet in record time. She pointed to the information she found and said, "He's leasing a place over off of…129th street and Broadway."

"That's it? Nothing else listed?" Jimmy asked.

"Nope. Where's that at?"

"Up near Harlem. Alright. You three sit tight. I'm gonna take a squad and see what we can find. Good work there, uh…"

"Kennedy's fine." She peered up at him and waited for a remark.

He just nodded grimly and said, "Good work, Kennedy. I'll call you when I get word." He grabbed the page with the address on it and took off.

Dawn turned worriedly to Giles. "You think it'll be okay and should we have gone?"

Giles removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes before answering. "I think perhaps that it will be what it will be. As for going, there is something about the way he said he'd call that makes me suspect that going there is the last thing we would want to do. He'll take care of her and Faith. It's the captor that I might have to feel for," replied Giles honestly. I think that whoever this Nekko is, will be dead before the sun rises and I can't say that I feel terrible about. Good bloody riddance.

Buffy shivered as a tremor ran through her body. The shot had done what the doctor had intended and brought her to consciousness just enough to make sure she felt every slice he gave her. She had lost count after the twentieth.

The sad part: I've lost count of the number of times I've found myself chained to a wall. The non sad: this is the first time I know I'm not gonna get out of it. That thing called fear has finally settled in. Think maybe it's at the base of my spine and snaking its way up. Could be that it's just me being cold.

Could be that the blood that's pooled below me is making me cold too. I've given up trying to reach out to Faith. She hasn't come to and I don't know what that means. At least he shut up. Going on about him and his dead partner trying to use those girls to give them slayer power was starting to get annoying.

The fact that they sought out Sunnydale residents was just to let me know. To let me know it's my fault. Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes and she cursed herself for showing the weakness that she was. Once again, people are dead because of me. I'll add it to the death toll my birthright has racked up. I've lost count by now – the people that's died because of me.

She let out a shuddery breath and watched Nekko stand in front of the dresser deciding on which blade to try on her next. I'm sorry Will. I'm so so sorry. Xander's not going to be able to handle Faith. And their baby. Oh God, their baby. Can this get worse?

Nekko turned to Buffy and made sure that she saw the cordless Stryker saw in his hand. Her eyes widened a bit and she saw the pleasure he took from her reaction. Ya know, if I could kick myself for asking such a retarded question, I so totally would. Smooth Buffy, just tempt fate a bit more. Maybe I should ask if Angelus is around. He'd appreciate the use of power tools for torture.

The blade Nekko selected was doubled for maximum cutting and the Sabo saw was his favorite to use during autopsies. The blade he was getting ready to use could saw a body in half in under a minute. Even though he wasn't going to chop her in half, cutting into bone was definitely part of the plan.

"Buffy," he sang, stepping right in front of the blonde. Bitch ain't even paying attention. "Buffy!" He grabbed her jaw and shook her head. Her eyes fluttered open and he smiled. "Pay attention," he snapped as he flicked the saw on.

The whirring of the blade caught the blonde's attention and her eyes grew wide as it drew closer. Fuck this is gonna hurt! How un-fucking-believab…

Buffy went from fear to abject terror in less time than it took for her brain to register that Nekko was slumped against the door, struggling to get up. She watched wide eyed as her Willow pulled the man up by his shirt and slammed him against the wall. The chair by the dresser went careening across the room and slammed right next to where her lover and Nekko were standing.

Will? Is that Will? How? Uh?

Willow shoved the dazed man into the chair and smiled. She waved a hand over his slumped formed and bound him to the chair. Surprisingly, enough I don't feel much of anything here. No hate. No anger. Just indifference and a smidge happy that this garbage will be removed from the human existence.

Eh, how far the mighty have fallen. Maybe I fell a while ago. Who knows? Can't seem to care enough to figure it out.

"Wil…" Buffy rasped out quietly. Damnit. She cleared her throat and tried again. The effect was much the same except she was able to say her lover's full name. I need to stop her. She can't. I won't let her. Buffy tore at the restraints. She stretched and pulled at her arms. Due to her position, every part of her shoulders and arms were numb. It was difficult to gage the amount of force she was using as she writhed in her bindings.

She twisted her left arm hard and felt an intense, sharp pain tear through her shoulder. Knowing she had probably torn some ligaments, she clenched her jaw against the pain and continued to try and work free of the cuffs. Her movements caused the shackles around her wrist to cut into her skin. She worked the blood from the new wounds around her wrist to lubricate the skin.

Feeling her wrist bone snap, her left hand popped free. Sweat and tears dripped from her chin as she twisted her right wrist 90 degrees and felt her hand slip through the metal ring.

She fell to the floor as her legs gave out and she slipped in the blood at her feet. The stitched side of her face slammed into the hard floor and she felt her cheekbone crack from the impact. She scrambled forward ignoring the pain and the fact that she was crawling through her own blood and tried to launch herself at Willow.

Her hand wouldn't close around the witch's skirt so she used her shoulders and slammed into the back of Willow's knee causing the redhead to fall backwards over the prone slayer. Buffy shifted and covered Willow with her body making sure that Willow saw her as she tried to wrap her arms around her lover. God Will don't hurt me. I can't... Come back to me baby, please, please, come back.

Willow looked at the woman on top of her. Buffy was covered in blood and tears rained down on Willow's face as the internal wall she had erected shattered. She cried Buffy's name, grabbed for her and wrapped her arms around the small form.

They didn't hear the sirens outside, the doors busting down or the shots fired. Neither felt Jimmy wrap his arms around them as he carried both of them out of the room whispering reassurances to the women. He gave Buffy to the medics and carried Willow the rest of the way out into the predawn morning.

Allowing the medics to load Buffy in first, he stepped into the ambulance, still cradling Willow. He settled on to the bench, exhausted and numb. Nodding to the EMT that he was ready, he watched as the doors closed and felt the ambulance lurch forward taking off. He held the shaking, sobbing witch in his arms and smoothed her blood matted hair down. He gently kissed the top of her head before slumping back against the wall, sure that everything would work itself out.

Crisp, fall air glided over Buffy's exposed shoulders and arms. Her knees drew up to her chest as she looked out over her neighborhood and into the backyard's of some of the residences. Her cheek ached slightly from the temperature in Brooklyn in mid-September. She absently rubbed at the faded scar mumbling her displeasure.

You'd think a bit over a year later I wouldn't be as annoyed. Right. That'll happen. And really has it been a year? So much craziness. And Brooklyn? How in the hell did I end up off island?

Oh, right. Will, post-orgasmy goodness and the want to buy a house. Next to Jimmy no less. Figures. She's lucky she sprang it on me when she did. Of course I guess there are worse places to be. I can name like six right now. All of them with a peachy nickname of Boca De Inferno. Let's not.

But boy does time fly. One of Will's passing phrases, 'tempus fugit,' totally right. Over a year since Will got here. Since Nekko and the fallout from. Death. Lots of it. Maybe not as much as there could have been. Still enough that I get to see my precinct shrink twice a month. Better than the twice a week for the first six months after everything though. A shiver passed through her and she pulled her knees in closer resting her chin.

Can't really say it's all bad though. Fact is it's been really really good. It's sort of laughable. Buffy Summers has grown up. Practically married, mortgage, steady job that I actually like. A destiny fulfilled.

And that's more funny. I mean for so long my destiny was a burden. All of it. The slaying, the world saveage and more than anything the people in my life. All of it so heavy and so impossible to me that the word 'resent' seems to only graze what I thought it was.

I was wrong.

Or maybe, like Jo said, I got a different perspective on everything. She may not know the whole truth about my past. She usually thinks I'm talking about being a cop when I discuss my responsibility levels. Maybe one day I'll tell her. I see that going well.

My shrink will need a shrink by the time I'm done. Good job, Buffy.

Nah, maybe I'll just keep that to myself.

It's just that…she's right. It doesn't matter what you're given. It's how you chose to respond to it that matters. You think I would have clued into it sooner. Maybe I really am blonde.

Sure, sometimes the choices aren't the best, but at some point you gotta own up to it. I've owned. I've accepted. My calling, not so much a burden. I tend to leans towards the gifty side. 'Cause really, where would I be if I hadn't been?

In L.A. a trophy wife, washed up cheerleader with about as much depth as a puddle in a side walk. With, well, there's been bad. Emotional trauma. P.T.S.D. is the official diagnosis. They still think it's from Nekko. They're wrong. Although as an upside, I don't get nightmares anymore.

I'm growing and even in the healthy direction no less. Changes of the major variety. I no longer feel like I'm a walking death sentence to the people around me. Death is no longer my gift; if it ever was. Willow says that maybe I misunderstood the first slayer's attempt to explain to me why I'm here.

Of course that's all just me. I mean the Council's changed. Will's changed. Xander, Faith, Dawn…all of them are different. Better then what they were. Parental responsibility has kinda changed Faith and Xander.

To be honest, it's changed me too. Little Isabella and Faith survived. I'm an aunt. Oh boy. But she's sweet and beautiful and her eyes…they look like they know the secrets to life. Maybe she does. Guess we'll see.

"Heya Cupcake, whatcha doing all the way up there?" Jimmy asked from his back porch.

Buffy was brought out of her rambling's by the sound of her partner's voice. She smiled down at him and couldn't help but show off a little. She stood and took a leap off the edge of the house and somersaulted into her partner's back yard. Landing on her feet, she grinned mischievously up at the older man.

"Not much. Just thinking." She shrugged.

"Didn't mean to interrupt," he said, kicking his feet.

"Nah, no big. If I think too much bad things happen anyhow." Buffy gave him her best smile. "So where's that witch of mine?"

"Finishing diner. I came to collect you." Jimmy slung his arm over the girl's shoulder and then whispered in her ear, "You do know she's kinda bossy?"

Buffy laughed and nodded in agreement. "Yeah, but don't call her on it. Makes her cranky and pouty."

To Be Continued

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