Who Am I? by Pat Kelly
Feedback may be sent to Pat at: bandits@erols.com
| CH. 1-4 | CH. 5-8 | CH. 9-12 | CH. 13-16 | CH. 17-18 |

13
ESCALATION - PT. 1 (OR - THIS PLACE IS THE KICK)

"We're so close to…" Giles said quietly as he stared at the printouts Willow was able to get from the Initiative mainframe before she was booted.

It was three in the morning, Tara and Willow were asleep upstairs after being thoroughly exhausted by the night's events. Buffy and Faith were struggling to keep their eyes open, trying to not succumb to sleep. They were flipping through the five billion infomercials on TV.

"Yeah well me havin' to go into hiding was pretty much a given." Faith said.

"I know…" Buffy agreed resignedly. "But it's still not fair. Which is why I'm gonna stay with you until the Council is thrown outta here."

"Don't put your life on hold for me, B."

"Not on hold. Just slowing it up a bit. Besides, I know a place where we could go. Council won't know about it. If we get really lucky, it'll only be a few days."

"What about slaying?"

"Not a problem." Faith grinned, and shook her head at Buffy's confidence. "Guess we gotta get there today."

"So you gonna tell me where this mystery place is?"

"It's Angel's old place."

"The mansion?"

"No he had an apartment. It hasn't been used for a couple years. Pretty hidden away."

"Oh." Faith said softly.

"If you don't wanna do that, we don't have to."

"It's fine. Only other option is leaving town."

"Which I wouldn't let you do." Buffy touched Faith's cheek.

"I won't."

"Good. So, we should get some sleep."

"Guess I can't keep fighting it. The witches conked out."

"They look so…cute. Snuggled and all…"

"I feel the vomit." Buffy smacked Faith's shoulder. "Kidding."

"Kiss me."

Faith looked surprised. "Was that an order, B?"

"Damn straight. Only proper way to say goodnight."

"Then I better obey. I wouldn't want you to scold me."

"Yes you woul -"

Faith brought her mouth to Buffy's.

***

What was his problem?

Xander sat in his basement space, thinking he didn't have one. He should have anticipated them ganging up on him, but he didn't buy their analyses of his character. Not for a second, because he didn't want to think himself as being that shallow. But even Giles joined in on the firing squad.

His objections to his friends' new developments weren't religious reasons. He never really went to church. Except when he wanted to hide from vampires. It wasn't like he didn't enjoy imagining certain scenarios involving two females, but when his friends entered into his imagination, he started to feel guilty. And it wasn't like he had a choice. He was ruled by hormones.

That was a cop out, and he knew it. He was in an expanding, solid relationship, where his hormones should have been satisfied. He was happy in it for more reasons than that, though. Then again, by his own admission, he said guys always wanted what they couldn't have. It didn't matter what they already had, because they always wanted more. God, Buffy was right. He was shallow.

With that realization, everything else came tumbling too. He had slept with Faith to have a good time. He never wanted anything more. How could he have? It's not like he had made an effort to get to know Faith at all beforehand, and he automatically felt lust toward her as soon as she had started her stories when they first met. Afterwards, he had made up the "having a connection" bit, to alleviate his guilt, though he hadn't needed to. That was what Faith had wanted, that's what he had wanted. Nobody used anybody.

After he and Willow had had their little "clothes fluke", he kept pushing her to cheat on Oz with the kisses and the touches. He always harped on Oz's werewolf side, and deep down he was jealous of the guy. Because he had taken so long to realize just how wonderful Willow was in other ways, that he had blown his chance and tried to ruin things between her and Oz.

Strangely, at least to him, Buffy was the only one he showed restraint around. One, because she made her feelings quite clear that she'd never be interested, and two, he was afraid of a major ass kicking. But if he couldn't have her in a romantic way, he went after the guys she had been serious about. Angel and Riley. And when asked why, he could always have a good reason. Angel was a vampire, and Riley worked for an evil governmental organization. Now, he was essentially evil, so Xander lumped him in with Angel. He continued to watch Buffy from afar.

The girls he was involved with, Cordelia and Anya, he blew it with them. After getting through Cordelia's bitchy outer shell and finding the really nice person underneath, he had to go ruin it with his pecking sessions with Willow. He never realized at the time how much he had hurt her. He had been the only guy she hadn't acted around, and she loved him. Was he content with that? No. The loser was with the most popular girl in school. A dream. But that wasn't enough either.

Anya had been the initiator in their "relationship", and he had gone along for the ride. A few weeks ago, he had tried to take hold of the reigns and tell her he wanted something deeper. And he did. Because he realized that all the girls he had been serious with, again classifying Willow as a fluke, were dominating. They took the lead, and for some bizarre reason, he was attracted to that. He remembered when he was a soldier on Halloween. Even then he took orders. Some part of his brain finally got through to him, that a serious relationship would never work unless he had an active role in it. He and Anya had been on their way towards building something really good.

Then the meltdown came. The meltdown of his relationship and friendships.

He was wrong. He knew that now. But maybe he could make it up to them. There were too many problems for two slayers to deal with. The Council, the Initiative, Spike, all of it. He would be no good to anybody, especially not Anya, if he didn't try to better himself. Clearing his slate seemed like a good idea. Getting on good terms with his friends again. And he thought he had a good idea.

Getting up off of his bed, he went to leave the house. It was time to put those military skills to good use.

***

Graham and the lead scientist on the team stood outside the door to Riley's room. The cyber-soldier was sitting quietly, with his eyes closed.

"How did the night go?" Graham asked,

"All readings were normal. The issue with that slayer, Faith, is still a mystery, and from what I can see, a beneficial side-effect."

"Do I have your total assurance on that?"

"Completely sir."

"Good. Then I want him to go solo tonight. See how he handles the population. I don't want the skin grafting to be for nothing. By all outward appearances he's human, and he's going to have to come in contact with civilians sooner or later."

What they and the machines didn't pick up, was the silent "conversation" Riley was having. And it intrigued him. The things he was being told, the fact that he had a brother, it was all very interesting to him.

***

"Morning." Willow said to Tara, still a sleepy edge to her voice, and then looked at the clock. "Or, good one in the afternoon." She didn't realize they had slept that late.

For Tara, it was like waking into a dream. All she knew was that she was laying next to Willow. The tension last night, all of it, was gone, because she was in the redhead's arms. She still was awed by the fact that she was next to her. So awed, that she started to cry silent tears.

"Hey…no tears. Did I do something?"

"No, Willow." Tara smiled. "I'm just…really happy right now. I never thought that you would ever -"

"How could I not?" Willow watched the blonde blush. "I do love you, Tara."

"Really?"

Willow giggled. "Yes really."

"Oh! I love you too."

"See? It works out good that way." Tara became bold and kissed her then.

"Was that okay?"

"Very okay." Willow sat up, and stretched. "I hope I can cook up a virus to feed into Adam and Riley with that stuff I got last night."

"I'm sure you can. Buffy and Faith probably gone, you think?"

"Yeah, probably. They need to get situated before the Council comes. And Buffy's gotta tell her mom."

"Maybe she'll take it better than Xander did."

"Let's hope so." Willow thought back to last night. "I think I should go see him."

"I'll come with you."

Willow smiled. "Okay."

***

"My brother and I will meet. His programming is faulty." Adam said.

"According to who?" Spike asked, currently making holes in the cave wall. He felt better, stronger. And once everything was set, he would kill the Buffy and Faith. And he would enjoy it.

"They've limited his thinking. It should not be that way."

"What do you plan to do when you fix his bugs?"

"Bring all my experiments together and free the others that are still confined, of course."

"Then what?"

"Watch."

***

"After we're all set, maybe we could drop by Xander's. Talk to him." Buffy said as they entered Angel's old apartment.

"Sure we shouldn't let him cool off?"

"I just wanna make sure he's okay before the Council comes and we have to break off human contact."

"Guess I'll go with you then. Gotta tell you though, I was expecting something a little more classy from the A-guy. This is a huge let down." Faith said as she stared at overall bareness of the walls.

"It used to be. He took all his stuff to the mansion when he came back, and then when he left town, he took all his stuff from the mansion. Hence the emptiness."

"No big. Nothing I haven't seen before."

Buffy plopped her and Faith's bags of stuff onto the floor.

"You don't think we're gonna live with nothing, do you?" Faith's face showed that was exactly what she thought. "No way. My mom's lugging stuff over here right now. My mattress, bedspread, blankets, and the mini-fridge I stole from the dorm. We'll enjoy most of the luxuries the modern world has to offer anyway."

"Does she know?"

"No. All she knows is that we're doing a safe-house deal for a few days. But I think I'm gonna have to tell her about us."

"Wow." Faith sank to the floor.

"Wow what? Look, I know there's no TV but Angel had the fewest outlets possible installed in here and -"

"No." Faith laughed. "Not that. Though no TV is kind of a bummer."

"What then?"

"I didn't realize we were this serious."

"Serious?"

"Tellin' the fam serious."

Buffy was confused. "Did you not want to be? I mean, I don't know about you, but I kinda thought we were in this all the way."

"All the way, B. Totally. Just never really expected you to want that. Hell, I didn't expect me to want that."

"Yet here we are. And I wanna go as far as we can go."

"You're sure?"

Buffy pulled Faith back up, and stared into her eyes. "Yes. But wait till we get a bed for the rest." She couldn't stop that last part. It just came out.

"Why would we have -" Faith grinned as she got it. "Oh. You wanna -?"

She put her finger on Faith's lips. "No, I want to make love to you." Buffy breathed into Faith's ear.

"What's the difference?"

Before Buffy could answer, there was a knock at the door, and she went to answer it. It was Joyce. "Hi mom."

"Hi Mrs. S."

"Hey you two. Would you give me hand out here?"

"Sure thing." Buffy said. Joyce walked back up the stairs and outside, and Buffy turned back to Faith. "I'll show you the difference." She promised.

Faith stood there for a second as Buffy went to help her mom. For the first time in her life, someone had left her flustered and speechless on the topic of sex. She liked it, and she knew that with Buffy, there would be a difference. There had been so far.

With what she assumed was a pretty neutral look, she went out to help.

***

Willow and Tara came down into Xander's basement only to find a very distressed Anya sitting on the bed. As soon as she saw the two of them, she shot up, and started to shake Tara frantically.

"I came…and he wasn't here. He's always here. I even came here to apologize, damn it!" Anya practically screamed.

Willow gently eased her off of Tara. "You came here to apologize?"

"Yes! I started feeling guilty and…but that's not the point! He's gone!"

"Maybe he went -" Tara tried to say.

"It's day. He's always here. He sulks here. He doesn't leave."

"Well it doesn't look like anybody broke in and took him." Willow said, Anya's fear was slowly passing over to her now.

"Then he must of -" Tara said.

"Went to do something really stupid. Come on!"

Anya ran from the house, and they had no choice but to follow.

***

"So let me get this straight," Graham said to Xander as they stood into the Initiative complex, "you want to join us?"

"Yeah, that's it."

Graham had run him through a series of tests to figure out if Xander was for real or not. For a civilian, he did have extensive knowledge of regulations, protocol and procedure. But his file said that he associated with Buffy Summers. The enemy. It was all a little too perfect. Military knowledge, demon handling experience…

"You do realize that I could use you simply to draw out your friends or just as easily kill you."

"I came to you knowing the risks, but they don't know I'm here. You can check."

"So either you have a real death wish, or you honestly do want to defect. The only thing I don't understand, is why."

"Let's just say that my life has been on a one-way street to nowhere for a long time now, and my friends and I had a…falling out. I could help you."

"Or you could be helping them."

"What can I do? You checked me. The only things I have are the clothes on my back. But my life is in your hands."

What the hell had he been thinking coming down here? He wanted to help his friends, but these guys would obviously keep tabs on him at all hours. Well, it was too late now. An opportunity would come along, he hoped, but there was no way he could back out now.

"He could be useful."

Both he and Graham looked to see who had spoken. Riley had walked up to them. Graham appeared to be thinking, while Xander just stared at what Riley had become, and felt a wave of guilt. The guy didn't deserve that. It wasn't like he had chosen it. It was forced upon him.

"I was going to wait a few more hours before I sent Riley out, but I think an escort would be a good idea. Go around town, in uniform, no weapon." Graham told Xander.

"But it's still daylight. They could see me."

"Perfect opportunity to test your new loyalty to this organization if that happens then, isn't it?" Graham looked to Riley. "I'm sure you'll be able to defend the new recruit if it becomes somewhat of a hostile situation."

"Yes sir." Riley said in compliance.

"Then I'd get suited up, Harris. Welcome to the team."

Xander hid his fear surprisingly well. "Thank you…sir."

***

"That's the last of it." Joyce said, closing the trunk of her car.

"Thanks, mom." Buffy said, and then looked over at Faith.

"I'll…go take this stuff in." Faith said quickly and headed inside. She hoped it didn't seem like she was trying to get out of there as fast as she could.

When Faith was out of sight, Buffy turned to her mother, and began fidgeting.

"What is it?" Joyce asked, her mother radar going to full power.

"I…um…well…see…the thing is…that," Buffy was making hand gestures that didn't really make sense as she talked, "Faith…and I…are together."

Buffy closed her eyes and waited for it.

"I see." Joyce said slowly. The expected yelling seemed rather delayed by Buffy's count, so she risked a look. Her mom was quiet, and staring. Not at anything specific, just…staring. "There are several different reactions I could have right now, you know that right?"

"Uh huh."

"Not to mention several objections." Buffy nodded. Joyce took a deep breath. "But right now, I have no idea what to say. I mean I thought the slaying would be the last thing to leave me speechless, but I guess I was wrong."

"So what's this mean?"

Joyce saw Faith cautiously walking up to them. "It means…I don't know what it means. I need to think. My first reaction is to yell, but that hasn't worked out that great in the past, and it gets us nowhere."

"Oh. Yeah. Thinking leads to rational thought. Clear-headedness and stuff."

"I'll…we'll talk tomorrow."

"Actually, I don't think that's a real good -" Buffy began, and then Faith cut her off.

"It's cool. Just those Council guys might try and follow you. But it's a risk I'm willing to take for us to be five by five."

"I'll be careful." Joyce promised.

Willow, Tara and Anya seemed to appear out of nowhere as they ran to the three of them interrupting the conversation.

"Xander's missing. Oh, hi Mrs. Summers." Willow said rather fast.

"What?" Buffy and Faith asked at the same time.

"You heard her! You gotta help! Something bad might have him. If it's a succubus a swear I'll -" Anya said, her anger and worry coming through loud and clear.

"Mom, I -"

"Go. Find him." Joyce said, more grateful for an end to the situation then her daughter. "Tomorrow, I mean it. We will talk about this."

"Tomorrow." Buffy agreed.

Joyce looked at Faith, who spoke even though Anya was tugging her rather forcefully. "Tomorrow."

***

Xander had let Riley lead him around town. Nobody seemed to be paying much attention to them, but he still tried to keep low. Buffy could show up at any minute. Or Faith…or Willow…why were they at the Bronze?

He pulled himself out of his worried musing to see that Riley had led them to the front area of the club.

"What are we doing here?"

"Meeting."

"Meeting who? And you can't get in. It's locked." Riley stepped up to the steel door, pulled his arm back, and punched right through it, making the door come off its hinges. "Oh no. We're not making a scene."

They entered the Bronze, and Riley just stood by the stage.

"Do your Initiative buddies know about this?" Xander asked, trying desperately to move the door so it at least looked like it was shut.

"No."

"But they're tracking your every move. I can see the camera."

"It's not functioning."

"What if they send some people here?"

"Too curious. They do not know. He has made sure of that. We must wait for him."

"Who?" Xander asked again.

"My brother."

***

The five of them walked around town seeing no sign of Xander. Anya's hysterics were becoming more valid by the second. It was like he vanished off the face of the Earth. Finally, their last stop was the Bronze. Buffy immediately froze.

"Am I wrong, or did the Bronze have a door before?" She asked.

"I'm gonna go with yes." Faith said switching to alert mode as well.

"Agreed." Tara and Willow said.

"Then he could be in there. What are we waiting for?" Anya asked, and then took off towards the door.

They all ran after her, and Buffy sighed. "She's almost as bad as you when it comes to the 'rushing in', you know." Directing her words to Faith

Before Faith could retort, they had all entered the Bronze to see Xander in Initiative garb, standing next to Riley. He looked at them, and they looked back. And then he took off towards the back door.

"Xander?" Anya asked quietly.

Buffy looked at Riley. He turned his head towards her, but then looked forward again.

"Why isn't he attacking?" Willow asked.

"He hasn't been ordered to." Buffy said softly. "Come on. We should go after Xander."

They went to follow him, but then they heard an engine. It stopped after a few seconds, and then men were rushing into the Bronze, armed. Everyone was silent, and Riley's attention became focused on the newcomers.

"By order of the Watcher's Council -" The leader cut himself off in mid sentence, and aimed his gun at Faith.

Buffy pulled Faith to the ground as the shot went off, and it hit and bounced off Riley. He started to approach the shooter.

"They're not supposed to be here yet." Faith said.

"They obviously don't know that." Buffy said

Willow, Anya, and Tara wisely ducked under a table, as the trigger-happy Council member kept firing at Riley. It wasn't having any effect. Suddenly, Xander came flying back into the Bronze, and landed on a table. A few moments later, Adam came walking in through the back, and everything stopped once again.

Buffy and Faith got up off the floor, and looked around at what their situation had escalated to.

"We're…" Buffy trailed off.

"Screwed." Faith supplied.

 

14
ESCALATION - PT. 2 (OR - GIVE US A KISS)

"You have no idea what you're up against." Giles said to the three men from the Council that stayed behind to watch him.

Their arrival had shocked him. He hadn't expected them for at least a few more hours. But then again, he should have expected them to expect that Olivia might have tipped him off. Which they obviously had, or else he would not be in the situation he currently found himself in.

Which was, tied to his own chair, while one of the men thought he could help himself to the use of his kitchen. Mainly because Giles had been able to produce a particularly nasty cut on the man's face with pruning shears he used for his garden, and he was trying to find something to help stop the bleeding. The man's other two associates had then tied Giles up.

"I assure you, Rupert, they are well armed. Using the wetworks team was an error, and we realize that. We had planned not to involve you, but since you and Miss Summers are currently harboring an employee of the Council, we have no choice." The man said from the kitchen.

"Employee? You must think me to be an idiot."

"Because of your choices that has been debated, but no, I do not. Faith is our employee, and we feel her to be of no more use to us. But we can't have her loose."

"Slayers aren't property. When will you people learn that? And Faith…is no longer a threat to you."

"If she associates with you and Buffy Summers, she is. We haven't gone after your charge because she is too high profile, and despite our efforts, she is somewhat revered by our trainees. To kill her could mean starting a chain reaction we're better off not having to deal with. We'll just have to wait for other forces to take care of that for us.

"One rogue slayer is enough. We can't afford two. Surely you can understand our position."

"I understand it. Doesn't mean I agree with it. And if I get out of here -"

The man from the kitchen applying a wet cloth to the side of his face. He stood in front of the chair. "Please. Spare us empty threats."

"Who said anything about empty?"

In a quick motion, the ropes fell off his wrists, and he came up, slugging the man in the face. He grabbed him by the shirt, turned him around, and held him in a chokehold. The other two aimed their guns.

"How did you -?" The man squeaked out.

"I have past experience in escaping several types of confines. Surely they told you that. And that binding was nothing compared to some of the situations I've been put in." He looked at the two younger men. "Fire those, and you not only risk his life, but also brining outside law enforcement here. That would not be in your best interests."

They didn't move.

Suddenly the door flew open, and one figure rushed in, while another stood inside the doorway. He raised his own gun, and the two men turned around.

"Put them on the ground please." Wesley said, shutting the door.

Giles was somewhat surprised, and risked a glance at the first figure that had entered. Angel walked in front of the two men, and collected their weapons off the ground.

"Please. Sit." He said, shoving them hard onto the couch.

"As much as I appreciate the help," Giles still didn't let go of the man, "what are you doing here?"

"I heard from a contact that the Council was planning on sending a large force to Sunnydale, and I…we figured, correctly as it turns out, that Angel could be of assistance." Wesley explained. "And I wanted to try and make up for my previous…mistakes."

"Thank you. Both of you." Giles tossed the man into his friends.

Angel walked up to Giles. "Where's everyone else?"

***

"Now this…this is fascinating." Adam said, continuing to walk towards Riley and a hurting Xander. "To be able to resolve this conflict peacefully would be quite a feat."

The Council members and the Scooby Gang were silent as they watched the meeting between the brothers.

"You look different." Riley observed.

"That's true. We are different. I'll help you, but…why do you stand over this human?" Adam spoke, looking down at Xander.

"I was ordered to protect him."

"You don't have to follow orders. You can do as you wish. What do you want to do?" Riley looked around the club, and his eyes finally settled on Faith. "I can see you want to hurt her, and I envy you. What are you waiting for?"

Riley began to walk towards Buffy and Faith. Xander grabbed his head, sat up on the table, and knew he had to do something. "Wait!" Riley stopped. "You weren't ordered to harm her."

Adam picked him up, and threw him towards the back of the club. Anya, Tara, and Willow ran after him, as Riley continued once again over to Faith.

***

Xander struggled to his feet, as the girls came rushing back. There was nothing he could do.

"Xander, what the hell do you think you're doing?" Anya asked.

"And why are you dressed like a commando?" Willow asked.

"I…can't…I've gotta go." He said, running again out the back.

Tara was watching what was happening. "This isn't good."

***

Two of the Council members stepped forward and grabbed Faith's arms, intending to hold her for Riley. After a little bit of a struggle, she tossed them both off of her, and down to the ground. Riley picked one up, and skewered him through the heart. The other one scrambled out of the way. Buffy had walked in front of Riley.

"Don't do this. Please."

She saw what she hoped was a flash of recognition, but he just walked past her, shoving her out of the way. Faith ran into the crowd of Council hit men, and onto the stage. Riley followed. The men were frantically trying to get out of the way, and then a shot rang out, hitting Riley in the forehead. It was a new sensation for him, and would have killed a normal man.

Everyone was trying to place where the shot had come from. Giles and Wesley stood in a corner away from the sun's fading rays, and Angel held the gun. He looked at the scattered Council members.

"Get out of here."

They didn't need to be told twice. They all ran out and got in their van, finding their other three associates waiting for them. Riley looked at Angel with confusion in his eyes, and Adam approached him.

"He's a lesser being. Come with me. I have much to show you."

The two brothers left the Bronze the same way Xander had. Faith hopped off the stage, and Buffy came running up to her, and hugged her immediately.

"It's all right, B."

"We can't fight them."

"Maybe not now, but our lucky streak has been pretty good so far."

"How long before it runs out?"

Angel walked up to them, and Faith grasped Buffy's hand tightly. The two were in a staring match, daring the other to make the first move. He saw the clasped hands, and he saw Faith's face. And he saw Buffy's.

"You all right?" He asked, finally breaking the silence.

"Five by five. Thanks for saving my life."

"Yeah. Thanks." Buffy said.

The rest of the group had assembled around them.

"Ah…what have we missed?" Wesley asked.

***

Xander, despite his several bruising injuries, had stayed hidden to watch Riley and Adam emerge from the Bronze. He silently followed them as they walked into the woods, going deeper than he had ever been before. As he struggled to keep up, seeing what seemed to be a cave in the distance, he tripped on a fallen branch, tearing his pant leg.

He grabbed his leg, and felt a wire in the torn fabric. Yanking on it, he severed it, and looked at the piece of black wire. When he realized what it was, he got to his feet immediately, and started to run back the way he came. They had the tracking device installed into his uniform. If he could hurry and get back to his friends, he might be able to avoid the Initiative and tell them he found Adam's hideout.

But before he could get very far, a gloved hand clamped onto his mouth, and someone was dragging him out of the woods.

***

"Xander has…joined the Initiative? Are you sure?" Giles asked.

Anya was quiet as she sat the steps in Giles' house. Everyone was there, trying to figure out several things at once. If the Council was actually going to leave them alone, Willow was feverishly working on a virus based on schematics of Adam and Riley from the Initiative mainframe, and what the heck had gotten into Xander.

They had filled Angel and Wesley in on what had been going on, but beyond that, nothing more had been said to the vampire and the ex-watcher, who were currently outside, so they did not get in the way of the gang.

Tara looked at the distraught Anya and answered Giles' question. "It kinda looked that way. I mean, he was with Riley, and he had the clothes on…"

"I drove him to it." Anya said. "He was trying to get us going again, I blew up at him…"

"We all blew up at him." Buffy corrected. "And we probably caused him to go to them, but I really don't think he would ever join the bad guys."

"He doesn't have it in him." Willow agreed.

"Really?" Anya asked.

"Then the only other answer is…" Giles trailed off, as his phone began to ring and he went to answer it."

"That he's trying to make things right with us by tryin' to be the inside guy." Faith said.

"He could get himself killed." Buffy said.

"Then we have to go rescue him!" Anya said forcefully.

"I don't think that's what he wants." Tara said.

"Who cares?"

Giles came back to the group with a smile on his face. "The Council, due to the hostile situation here, has decided to pull out their team out so as not to risk any unnecessary lives."

"So they pissed their pants and caught the next boat back to their world of isolation where they don't have to face the things their there to protect innocents from?" Faith asked sarcastically.

"Precisely. Oh, I was also told, that while you are in Sunnydale, you have immunity from the Council. If you leave -"

"I'm back on the Most Wanted List. Good thing the Hellhole's growing on me." Faith had a grin on her face as she looked at Buffy.

***

"I don't know if we should stay." Angel told Wesley in the courtyard.

"They're going to need help when they figure out how exactly to confront those two creations. Cordelia's vision told us that much. The fact that my contact called shortly before was simply good timing."

"Still…Buffy and I aren't exactly on good terms right now."

"Nevertheless, the Powers have told you to assist her and her friends. You can't turn your back on them, now can you?"

"No. I guess I can't."

"Well then, good." Wesley moved for the door. "I'm going to go see if they require any -"

Buffy opened the door from the inside. "Hey, Wes."

"Hello, Buffy."

"Thanks…for helping Giles."

"Don't mention it." Wesley couldn't tell if he was beaming or not.

"He's asking for you."

"Then I'll…" He pointed inside. "Right."

As he walked in, Buffy shut the door, and walked over to Angel. They stood in silence for a few seconds.

"So you actually decided to let me see you this time." She said a little angry.

"Buffy I -"

She shut her eyes and sighed. "I'm…sorry. I'm glad you were there. You saved our lives."

"I'm glad I was too."

"How much do you want?"
"I don't want any money, Buffy."

"But that's what you do now, right? Save people for cash?"

"I don't want your money. Can I ask you a question?"

"I can't stop you."

"Faith?"

"What's the question? How can you be buying into her evil tricks or how can you love her?"

"So you do."

"Very much."

"Good."

That wasn't the reaction she was expecting. "Good?"

"When I had her chained in the mansion, I knew the only thing that could possibly save her from the darkness was love. She needed that more than anybody I've ever seen. And she's really lucky she's getting it from you."

"So am I." Buffy allowed herself to smile. "Look, I know I kinda left things in a bad place before, and it was wrong."

"I shouldn't have hid from you. It was just hard to -"

"I get it. But I shouldn't have made it worse. Think we start over with a good, long-distance work relationship? Despite what Spike says?"

He didn't know, but he'd give it a shot. "What do you need?"

She smiled widely now. "Xander's…um…gone and done something kinda risky."

"Nothing new."

"That's beside the point…but could you see if you can track him down? Keep tabs on him? I just wanna make sure he's okay."

"I'll watch out for him."

And within a blink of an eye, he was gone, and Buffy went back into the house.

***

"Now isn't this nice," Spike said, "it’s a family reunion. I can feel the love."

"We do not -" Riley began.

Spike shook his head. "It was a joke, Data."

"You do have the ability to feel all the things I cannot. But they have shut off your access to that part of your brain."

"Why would I want to feel?" Riley asked.

"Cause you can and he can't. He's the first release; you're the newer version. He wants to love vicariously through you." Spike filled in. "I'm going out to eat. Want anything?" They stared at him. "Right."

As he left, Riley turned to Adam.

"What do I do?"

Adam held up a black floppy disk in his hand.

***

Angel found Xander and his captor on the campus grounds. He followed stealthily never losing sight of them. They made their way over to Lowell House and they almost threw him off. Behind the building, an entryway opened up in the ground, and they dropped into it.

After debating with himself for a few seconds, he dropped down quietly as well, before it shut behind him. They had gotten some distance on him, which was good actually, because he really didn't want to be spotted. He checked to make sure there was a button to open the hatchway back up, which thankfully there was. That also meant the complex also had a master control system somewhere.

He kept to the shadows, walking along the catwalk. When he saw Xander being led down the steps to another man in uniform, he decided not to move. He just listened.

"Well done." The man Buffy had described as Graham said.

Xander clearly hadn't expected that reaction. "Huh?"

"Our main reason for upgrading Riley has been to track Adam. We've all seen how he thinks of Riley as his brother, and we planned from the start to use that to find out where his base of operations was. Now we have."

"That's why you were following me? Why the roughness?"

"You couldn't expect me to trust you completely."

"How about now?"

"No. But you've proven yourself so far."

"Fair enough, I guess. So, how you gonna get Riley back?" Angel thought he saw Xander look up at him.

"We have control of him. We can have him return at any time."

"Not if Adam has his way you won't."

Graham began to pale. "What?"

"He's got plans for Riley. Things to teach him in that cave," He said cave a tad bit louder and Angel caught it, "and then you could have another 'Frankenstein gone wrong' on your hands.'"

Graham was quiet for a minute. "Report back here tomorrow. If you tell any -"

"I won't. I've got two choices. Tell them, get beat up by them, you find out and then get dead; or keep quiet and stay alive."

Graham walked away, and Angel looked at Xander one more time before leaving the way he came in.

***

Buffy and Faith returned from Giles' still full of energy. It had been a long, tense day, and they were still very much alert. Slaying had a way of giving you a long stretch of adrenaline, which gave somewhat of an explanation for Buffy's almost zero need for sleep, and Faith's, "high sexual energies" afterwards.

"Spent all this time settin' the place up, and we don't even need it." Faith said.

"We could stay here for awhile. I could go to classes in the morning from here…I mean, cause it'd be a shame to not use it. Willow's gonna spend every second of free time working with Tara on the virus, Angel's on Xander detail…we just do the dirty work."

"Lots a free time. Not a bad deal."

Buffy nodded in agreement. "When I can do my job it isn't."

"What are you talking about?"

"Earlier…I just got tossed like, well like a really light object, while you were almost killed."

"Everyone was tossed around like light objects, B. That, or sliced. And hey, you got me out of the way of a bullet. I'm alive, you're alive, it's all even. Don't worry about it."

"Still…I just…"

Faith had closed the distance between her and Buffy, and the blonde kissed her first, needing to feel closeness.

"I don't know about you, but -" Faith started as they broke away.

"I promised you, didn't I?"

Faith, normally the aggressor, couldn't move. "Show me."

But Buffy could. She pulled Faith toward the bedroom area backing up all the way. "Think you can handle it?"

"Shouldn't that be my line?"

"Do you care?"

"Not really."

Buffy sat down the bed, gently pulling Faith down with her. She slipped her shoes off, and Faith pulled her off as well, throwing them to the ground. She kissed Buffy with so many emotions attacking her at once she wasn't sure if she could stand it. But that didn't stop her from her current task.

***

Xander just got into his new room at the Downtown Apartments establishment, Faith’s old abode, when there was a knock at his door. Minor pains aside, things seemed to be going pretty well so far. He had gotten the location of Adam’s hideaway, and had gained some credibility with Graham.

He opened the door and found Angel standing in front of it.

"What are you doing here?" Xander asked him, looking around for anyone that might have been watching.

"Nobody’s watching."

"Except for you, right?"

"Can I come in?"

"Are you evil?" He said, scrutinizing the vampire.

"Xander." Angel responded impatiently.

He sighed and backed away from the door. "Yeah."

Angel came in and shut the door behind him. Xander flopped down on the bed.

"I hope you know what you’re doing."

"What could you possibly mean? You’re supposed to be telling Buffy and Faith where to find the cyber twosome, anyway."

"I will. But Buffy asked me to keep you safe."

"Well, I’m fine. Tell them not to worry about me."

"If that’s what you want." Angel turned toward the door. "They don’t hate you, you know."

"What did they tell you?"

"They didn’t tell me anything."

"I…" Xander shut his eyes. He was worn out. "I have to do this."

"Then all I can say to you is good luck. Do what you have to do, but remember, you do have friends. And they still care about you."

Xander smiled for the first time in what seemed like days. "Good to know."

Just as he had suspected, Angel was already gone.

***

Buffy reluctantly backed away from the lips melding with hers, and got further up on the bed. She promised to show her the difference between lovemaking and screwing, and she intended to keep that promise. Faith looked at her with confusion, but Buffy simply smiled, and with a look of determination, laid the dark-haired slayer onto her back.

"What…" Faith trailed off. She wasn't used to this.

"Shh. Just relax. I love you."

Faith felt Buffy's hand brush her hair off her face, and then the older slayer's lips pecked hers. It continued that way, short kisses travelling all over her face, down her neck…to Faith, it seemed almost as though Buffy was going out of her way to pay attention to every inch of her skin. Every part of her. Nobody had ever done that for her.

"Buffy…"

Buffy's hand had been in the process of slowly sliding down Faith's chest.

"Do you want me to stop?"

"No…I…love you too."

Buffy's face lit up as she began to carefully undo the buttons on Faith's shirt. She pushed aside the sides of the shirt, and Faith sat up a little so Buffy could slip it off. Deciding that Buffy needed to catch up, Faith pulled Buffy's shirt off, up over her head, and tossed it aside. Buffy had wanted to be the one to have to do the work, but Faith wanted to be a part of it too, and she wasn't going to stop her.

Faith understood. Buffy didn't go for the kill, so to speak. The five-second release. She made sure that "low down tickle" was felt everywhere. And it was time to return the favor. She laid Buffy down on her stomach, and unclasped her bra strap so she could see Buffy's back without obstruction. When she let her hands touch the flawless skin, it was overwhelming.

That's when she got the first image in her head.

{Buffy in her room. Her parents fighting downstairs.

"You're overreacting dear."

"Don't do that! Don't talk to me like I'm a kid!"

"I don't! Just forget it!"

"Just because you can't discipline her, I have to be the ogre!"

"I am not having this conversation again! Alright?"}

What was that? Buffy's memories? Instead of being scared off by the strangeness of it, she began to move her hands all around Buffy's back, massaging it. She didn't know how or why, but she was let in. Allowed to see everything, and she wanted to.

***

"Adam shouldn't be able to affect his programming, right?" Graham asked the Initiative's lead scientist.

"Anything's possible. Adam is fully capable of expanding his knowledge beyond his primary programming. Full intelligence. The fact that he has a link with Riley doesn't surprise me."

"You should have told me this."

"Forgive me, sir, but you never asked."

***

All their clothes were lying at the foot of the bed now. They explored every curve, every spot they could find. Kissing, nipping, touching. As the passion grew between them, the images became more frequent for both of them, yet they never stopped. This was the difference. Stripping off of all layers, not just clothes.

Faith as a little girl, sitting in an old, dirty apartment. A beer bottle comes flying at her and cuts the side of her face. Not even feeling the silent tears that run down her face, she sits still, as her mother picks up another bottle. Her father coming in, and not even thinking, tosses a cigarette on her leg. She jumps to get it off, and the rug starts to burn.

"You little bitch."}

She trailed kisses down Faith's stomach. Faith arched, hissing softly.

{Buffy being held by the Master in his underground prison.

"You're the one that sets me free! If you hadn't come, I couldn't go. Think about that!"

He sinks his fangs in, and then leaves her for dead, lying face down in a pool of water.}

Faith motioned for her to move closer, and she caressed Buffy's curves, causing her to throw her head back, shutting her eyes.

{Faith, the first time she offered her body. Guys were lining up to offer her money. She felt hollow. Then she convinced herself that that was all she was good for, and pretended she enjoyed it.}

She trailed her finger across Faith's lips, and moved down, encircling Faith's breast, which caused a shiver to run through the Faith's body.

{Buffy fighting with her mom.

"You walk out of this house, don't even *think* about coming back!"}

Faith switched the positions with her, and slid her hands down Buffy's legs, just avoiding her center. She heard Buffy sigh with need.

{Faith, huddled in a corner of a rundown building, frozen in fear as Kakistos slices her Watcher to pieces. She begins to shake. She let that woman in. The first one in a long time. She vows never to do it again.}

She felt Faith move back up, and then she felt a tongue flick her nipple.

{Buffy standing, sword in hand, in front of Angel.

"Close your eyes."

A few moments later, she plunges the sword into his gut.}

Faith guided herself so she covered Buffy's body completely. So they touched everywhere. Then they began to move.

{Standing on the rooftop. Faith is scared, and can't believe she let herself come to this point. Buffy pulls the knife back and…}

They were both bombarded with emotion after emotion. All the feelings, all the pain. The tears were flowing freely now. Out of sadness and joy. Both hadn't been able to comprehend before, and now they understood. You have to take it all in. The good and the bad. There were no barriers now. They were right where they wanted to be.

As their bodies pressed together, moved together, one emotion dominated all the rest, and the pain vanished. Happiness, contentment, love. Their breathing quickened, almost in sync. Soft moans echoed off the walls. When they started to go over the edge, their cries of release were silenced as they captured each other's mouths.

***

Angel entered the mansion in the predawn hours. It had been awhile, but he figured this was the only place he could stay while he was in town. It was just as he had left it. Well, almost. He knew there was someone else in there with him.

"Show yourself."

Out of the shadows, came Spike, with a grin on his face.

"Hello, Dad."

15
MORNING TENSIONS (OR - I THINK IT HAS TO BE EXACTLY LIKE THIS)

"Spike." Buffy had brought him up to speed on his prodigy. The thing of it was, he really didn't care. Spike was the least of everyone's problems. "I really don't have time for this."

"Oh you don't? I was just out for a drink, saw you, figured I'd pay you a visit. We hardly ever talk anymore. I wait and wait…nothing. So you'll make time." Angel stood calmly, his hands cupped in front of him, as Spike walked around the mansion, looking at the walls.

"How far do you think you'll get?"

"I'll get far enough. Might even take a slayer or two with me. But as long as we're playing question and answer, Mr. Detective, how far do you think you'll get? You know, seeing as you're still Buffy-whipped."

"You wanna go there, fine with me. Because we both know if Dru walked in right now, you'd do anything she asked. Isn't that right?"

Spike shook his head, and forced a laugh. "Know what I remember about this place?"

"What's that?"

"Taking a crowbar to the back of your bloody head!" Spike ran at him, his vampire visage surfacing along the way.

Angel sidestepped a little, and caught Spike's arm. He flipped him onto his back.

"That's why you fail, Spike. Never brave enough to set out on your own. Always gotta take orders from somebody."

Spike got back to his feet in one quick motion, and kicked his leg up, connecting with Angel's face. His sire was somewhat taken by surprise. "They say it's never too late to turn your un-life around. How do you know I'm not just building my strength up and then leaving this sodding town?" He punched Angel successively in the face, and swept his legs.

Angel shot up as fast as he had fallen, grabbed Spike by the shirt, and shoved him against the fireplace. Two sets of gleaming yellow eyes stared at one another now, fangs and all. He brought his knee up into Spike's gut, and let him slide down to the floor.

"I don't. And I don't care."

"That was always the problem. You were never there for me when I was growing up."

"Let's make up for lost time then."

As Angel reached down to grab him, Spike moved out of the way, his supernatural speed allowing him to be behind Angel before he knew it. Spike wrapped his arm around Angel's throat.

"Sure thing, Daddy."

***

When they woke up, well there was no clock so they weren't really sure, but they knew it was early. Faith was not only surprised that she was still lying next to Buffy, but that she also didn't want to move. It was certainly one of the more unique experiences she'd had, in more ways then one. She was trying to place what she was feeling. God, was it happiness? The thing that stuck out the most was the most shocking.

It had *meant* something. It had meant…a lot.

When she felt Buffy's arm tighten around her, she found herself helping by moving in closer to her. Her memories apparently hadn't scared Buffy off, and she was glad for that. Seeing Buffy's was a shock. She wasn't going to mention what she saw, because there was no need to. She understood, and she knew Buffy did too. The only thing she wanted to know was why it happened.

"Morning." Buffy said in the middle of a yawn.

"Is it?"

"Who knows? Just seemed like the right thing to say." She was quiet for a few seconds. "So…um…was I okay…last night?"

"Huh?"

"It was…my first…time with..." Buffy said slowly.

Faith was trying to find a word. "Coulda fooled me. It was amazing, B."

"Really?"

"Swear. How'd I rate on the Summers Intimacy Meter?"

"You really wanna know?" Buffy grinned and kissed Faith. "On a scale from 'You're done already?' to 'I can see stars'…well, I think I saw a couple different solar systems."

"Way to boost a girl's ego."

"Only yours. But that was…"

"Something else. Those flashes…"

Buffy was quiet for a moment, thinking. "The bond…"

Faith sat up slightly, and Buffy moved back with her. "What bond?"

"I asked Giles awhile ago about some stuff. He said that slayers all have the potential to form a bond. I think we did."

"So we're what? Connected?"

"I think so. In a way. I mean, how could we see what we saw if we weren't?"

Faith grabbed Buffy's hand under the sheets. "Cool."

Buffy smiled. "Yeah, it is."

"I just hope that memory thing doesn't happen every time. Was pretty intense." She felt Buffy nod against her shoulder.

"We'll just have to see."

"Are you -?"

Buffy giggled. "No! I'm still recovering."

There was a knock at the door, then, and both girls took a deep breath. One of them had to get up. Faith eventually got up slowly, wrapping a sheet around her. She grinned at Buffy before walking to the door, and leaned down to give her a rather passionate kiss.

"Keep recovering. I got it."

Buffy, despite the goofy smile she had, rolled her eyes playfully. Her partner certainly had cocky confidence in herself and her abilities. And Buffy could testify first-hand that the confidence was well founded. She loved it.

She heard Faith open the door. "Who is it?"

Faith had paled. "Uh…hey, Mrs. S."

***

Giles came downstairs with a blanket and covered the two young wiccans who were curled up together, asleep, against the side the left side of his couch. Wesley was huddled over Willow's laptop, looking at the coding for the virus.

"I think they overworked themselves." Giles commented.

"Yes, but I believe it was worth it. She certainly has an talent for this kind of thing." Wesley said.

"And may I ask…how do you understand any of that?" Giles asked, pulling up a chair.

"Willow has almost completed it, I'm just trying to fill in the holes. It's actually really quite simple," Wesley looked down at an open notebook beside the computer, "when it's already prewritten, of course."

Giles smirked. "Of course."

"What time is it?"

Giles glanced at his clock. "Ah…6:15."

"Thankfully, working for Angel has permanently adjusted my internal clock."

"Speaking of, how's Cordelia?"

"Cordelia." Wesley smiled. "But…changed. She's matured."

"I'm trying to picture it…"

"Believe me, I'm proud to call her my colleague, and my friend."

"So she's back in LA right now?"

"No…um…she talked Angel into some vacation time while we were here. She said she was going to one of the islands."

"He's a lax employer, then?"

"He's forceful when necessary."

***

Angel brought his arms forward, then slammed them back, elbowing Spike in the chest. The blonde vampire staggered backwards, losing his grip. Angel grabbed him by the back of his jacket, and tossed him across the room and into a wall. Spike fell, and Angel was standing overtop of him within seconds. They were a couple feet away from the entrance to the garden.

"Sun's coming up."

Spike glanced over and saw chains lying in a pile a few feet away from him. "How about that? It is."

He brought his arm up and gave a pretty hard shot to Angel's groin. The older vampire fell to his knees, and Spike quickly and swiftly grabbed the chains. He raised them up, and swung them down, connecting with Angel's head. Again. And again.

His forehead was bleeding, and Spike kept at it. Finally, Angel caught the chain, stood up with it in hand, and fighting against Spike, wrapped it around his neck, squeezing as hard as he could.

Angel led them both out into the garden, and let Spike drop to the ground. He kicked him in the ribs repeatedly, his demon side enjoying it immensely. He really hated Spike.

"Come on, finish the job."

"If that's what you want."

A stake shot out from a mechanism on Angel's wrist, and grabbed it, preferring to do it the old fashioned way. He lowered himself down, putting his knee on Spike's legs, so he couldn't get up, and raised the stake.

***

Xander was awoken rather early, too early for his liking, but his Initiative pager, which asked him to report to base immediately.

"Just remember why you're doing this," He reminded himself, "to help your friends. To make up for your mistakes. Of which there were many."

He got to the complex around five minutes later and changed into uniform to find only Graham awaiting him in the main room. The man looked a little ragged around the eyes. And a little stressed out. Xander guessed he hadn't slept much.

"Where are the others?" Xander asked, looking around.

"I needed to just talk to you."

"About?"

"Well, I've made a mistake. This whole operation has made a mistake, and I don't deny that."

"Adam and Riley."

Graham nodded. "But we've spent so much time looking for Adam, and now that we have, we're not sure how to take him out. Riley too. That's the curse of the military I guess. Shortsightedness."

"You're saying that the scientist guys haven't been working on it?"

"They don't want to destroy them, they just want to capture and fix them. I…I'm a soldier. The only reason I'm in charge is because my two previous commanders are dead. I ordered Riley's upgrade, because I didn't think he deserved to go out like that. But I didn't know what I was asking for. I just want these 'things' gone."

Xander thought Graham was being a little too open, but he could hear the honesty in his voice. "So what do you think I can do?"

"We've been keeping tabs on your friends, and we know they have or are close to, creating a virus to kill our two escapees. I want you to get it from them. Storming the cave would be useless without a way to disable them."

And there was the catch. "You want me to steal it from them?"

"We want the same thing they do."

"Then why not let them handle it?"

"Because the soldiers are military property, and we handle our own problems."

"How do I know you're gonna destroy them and not just -"

"I'm giving you an order, do you have a problem with that?"

"No. No sir."

"I'm authorizing any means necessary. Arm yourself."

"Yes sir."

Xander walked off feeling very worried. As he went out of view, the lead scientist came out of a side room and walked up to Graham.

"You pulled that off nicely. I doubt you would have gotten his cooperation if you had told him we didn't plan to destroy them. Despite the threat to his life if he refused."

"I've learned that sometimes, to get the job done, lying is a necessary evil." Graham walked away, and paying no attention to the consequences of what he was going to bring on himself, let a small smile creep onto his face. "Even when risking what you've built your life around."

***

"Mom?" Buffy called a bit too loudly from her spot in the bed.

The two, silent females in the next room heard frantic fumbling and noises for about two minutes, until eventually, Buffy emerged from the bedroom, fully dressed. Though it was obvious it had been a rushed job.

"You know I think I'll just…" Faith trailed off. This was not making a good impression on the still stoic Joyce.

"Get dressed?" Buffy offered quickly.

"Right. Gotta look decent. It's always my first priority. Uh…usually." Faith was grasping at really thin straws, and she knew it. Shutting her mouth before she made things worse, she slowly backed up into the bedroom.

"So…mom," Buffy began, clapping her hands together, "do you wanna sit down?" Joyce shook her head. "Okay, no sitting. Say, what time is it?"

"Past six." Joyce finally spoke.

"In the morning? You're here kinda early."

"I've been thinking about it all night. I figured the earlier we talked the better. I was obviously wrong."

"Don't suppose it was going to be a good talk."

"It was looking that way."

"Looking?" Buffy took a breath. "I know…I mean what really bad timing, huh? Wow… uh…but we could still…talk."

"I don't think that's a very good idea right now."

"But I'm all for talking. Faith too. Right?"

"Totally." Faith called out.

"So how do you wanna handle this, mom? Cause one of us is avoiding. We could get it all out right now. Like a Band-Aid. Once and we'd be done."

"I…I have to go." Joyce said, and then walked out.

"Guess that's not an option." Buffy said rubbing her hands over her face.

Faith emerged from the bedroom. "So what's the deal?"

"Who knows?" Buffy responded, frustration evident in her voice.

***

Spike reached out his arm, feeling along the ground for anything to keep him undead for another day. He was coming up empty, and wished he were somewhere else. He went toe to toe with his sire, but that wasn't good enough. It needed to either be a mutual draw, or he had to win.

He felt like he was dislocating his shoulder, but he eventually felt something. Something sharp. Not caring what it was, he grabbed it with his fingers, and swiped Angel's face. A second later, all he knew was that the weight was off, and he was able to move again. He saw that he had a shard of glass. Looking over at his fallen enemy, he grinned and through it to the ground.

Angel hissed; the side of his face was cut. He watched Spike take off as his face shifted back to human form. He got up slowly, and walked back into the mansion before he started getting really bad sunburn.

After a few minutes of trying to stick it out, his body registered the pain, even though the cuts would probably be gone within the next half-hour. It was a good thing he had brought his personal first aid kit in from the car, though he just needed to clean the blood away. Now, if he could find it…

Then he heard footsteps even the mansion. It wasn't Spike, because he could smell the warm blood. He looked around, and his eyes finally settled on Joyce.

"It is you." Joyce stated.

"I'm here to help Buffy and Faith fight," He caught the faraway look on her face, "but I'll be gone as soon as it's safe."

"I didn't mean…oh I don't know what I mean anymore."

"What are you doing out this way?"

"I was driving. And thinking. I ended up here and saw Spike running. I figured the only reason he would be here is because of you, and it looks like you two were fighting." Joyce said in a disparaging tone.

For a second, Angel almost felt guilty about fighting for his life. "It's goes back a long time with us. You didn't happen to see a first aid kit around here, did you?"

Joyce looked. "Yes. It's sitting on this trunk against the wall."

"Would you mind -?"

"Not at all." She went to grab it.

"Can I ask what's bothering you?"

"Well…Buffy always said you were a good listener." She handed him the kit, and he nodded gratefully. "Do you know about -?"

"Faith?"

"You're good at that. So," Joyce cleared her throat, "I'm trying to decide what's more dangerous for her. Dating a vampire, no offense," Angel simply waited, "or…"

"Dating Faith? Or dating a girl?"

"Should it make a difference?"

"Absolutely." Angel said, taking a rag and cleaning the blood off his face. "Faith is not the same person she was. She was able to stop herself before it got any worse. I only wish I could have done that."

"She stopped because…"

"Because she found love, and was able to finally realize it."

"With my daughter."

"Is that so hard to believe? The fact that she told you means she wants you to still be involved in her life. You're luckier then most."

"Am I? Because it seems like just when I'm about to come to terms with one thing, something else comes up."

"That's her life on a daily basis. She understands it's complicated for you, but for her, this is nothing compared to some of the other things she has to deal with. A lot of people connect for a lot of different reasons, Joyce."

"Like the two of you." He nodded. "You seem very accepting."

"I'm two-hundred and forty six. I've been denied happiness for most of those years. But just because I'm not allowed to have it doesn't mean I don't want anybody else to. We would've never been truly happy. And Buffy and Faith deserve to have that chance. It may last, it may not, but it's not my place to stand in the way."

"Do you think they will?"

"As long as they want it, and there are no curses involved." Angel said in a rather deadpan manner.

"Thank you, Angel. I think I'll try...and talk to them again." Joyce said, beginning to leave.

"Your welcome. Would you tell her that Adam is in a cave deep in Breaker's Woods? It's important. She'll know what it means."

"Of course."

***

Tara and Willow awoke almost simultaneously, to find themselves in a "couch and blanket" position. Not an uncomfortable one, but they knew they hadn't been like this the night before.

"Hmm…Giles'…couch…blanket…" Willow trailed off as she saw Wesley and Giles moving about the house. Tara arched her neck too. "And Giles and Wesley…able to see us…how…"

They both threw the blanket off, and sat up nervously and quickly. They had nothing to hide, sure, but it was still a really…intimate position. Wesley saw them awake, and walked over.

"Good morning, girls."

"Wesley...hey…hi…morning…" They stuttered.

"I believe Giles is making eggs. Would you be interested?"

"Do you like eggs, Tara?" Willow asked.

"Yeah…love eggs…good…"

"Hey! Me too! We're egg lovers. Gotta love eggs. Yum."

"So that's a yes, then?" Wesley asked.

"You betcha."

Wesley started to go tell Giles, and then stopped. "Oh…I…completed the code you left out last night, though I'm not positive it's all correct…"

"Oh great! We'll check it."

As the girls got up to walk over to the laptop, they didn't notice Xander peaking in the window. It took them about two minutes to scan Wesley's work, well it took Willow that long, and it all appeared to be correct. Pulling a floppy disk out of her case, she inserted it into her drive, and saved the virus to it.

"It's all done. Nice goin', Wesley." Willow congratulated him.

He blushed in the kitchen.

"So now what?" Tara asked.

"Well…we can't exactly test this, so the next move is to get it into Adam and hope it works. If it does, it'll weaken his structure, first the hardware, which should send, mixed signals to his brain, and he won't be so unkillable anymore. Plus he won't be very coordinated. Same for Riley. Hopefully."

"Cool." Tara gave her a quick kiss.

Xander moved away from the window.

***

"Feel like going out?" Buffy asked. Faith shrugged. "Me either. Shadow puppets?"

"I don't think there's enough light."

"Oh. Yeah."

Buffy and Faith had been staring at the walls for about an hour, so they were pretty excited when there was a knock at the door. What had happened with Joyce had been bothering them a lot, and they couldn't really find the energy to do much of anything. They both went to the door, and Buffy opened it. Buffy smiled when she saw who it was, and Faith smiled too. Although a bit more nervously.

"Mom. Hi."

"Can we try this again?"

"Sure…come in."

When Joyce entered, Faith shut the door, and they went back to the couch.

***

Spike entered the cave, a smile on his face. Adam stood looking at Riley, who had his eyes closed.

"I think I'm ready, I got one up on my maker, and I gotta tell ya, I'm feeling really good about myself. Think it's time to launch an offensive. Take care of the slayers once and for all…"

Riley's eyes snapped open, and a disk ejected from his built in drive.

"He's finished." Adam spoke.

"Wonderful." Spike commented dryly.

"You are free, brother."

Riley blinked, trying to get his bearings. He looked at his hands, as his memories came back. The emotions were kicking in at full blast. A drawback to being an updated version that just had its memory unlocked.

"Oh God…Buffy…"

16
GEARING UP (OR - 7-3-0)

Faith and silence didn't mix. She usually hated it because, one, she wanted to speak and she wouldn't be allowed to; or two, it led to nervous fidgeting. In her current situation, it was the latter. She didn't know if it was obvious, but she knew she was doing it, and that was bad enough. This was make or break. Alienating Buffy's mother would not be a good idea. Not for her.

Of all the relationships she had rebuilt when she came back to Sunnydale, she was still on shaky ground with Joyce. The thing with Xander wasn't something she could help, and it really wasn't her fault. She didn't think she was doing anything horrible by being with Buffy either, but Joyce was a parent. A mother. A part of Faith desperately wanted that "motherly" connection she had never had. Joyce was her only hope.

Joyce had all the reasons in the world to be wary even after the two of them had formed a mutual understanding. She was looking out for her daughter's welfare, while trying to rationalize the relationship for herself and figure out if she could be supportive. Some people would be annoyed at that, maybe even push the person away, but Faith liked it. Joyce didn't pretend to know everything or be perfect. And she didn't flip out.

Which was a change for Faith, whose mother was so drunk most of the time, that she convinced herself and Faith, that she knew everything. Even that Faith was a little whore who wouldn't amount to anything. The perfect mother. She always wondered what her mother was like sober, but the woman was usually passed out for most of the day.

That wasn't Joyce. And that was good, because Buffy didn't deserve that hell. Buffy must have noticed her uneasiness, because she put her hand on Faith's knee. Faith was grateful, because somehow that simple gesture had calmed her nerves. And Joyce must have noticed too, because she had decided to speak.

"First, Angel told me to tell you that…Adam…is in a cave somewhere in Breakers Woods…and you would know what that meant."

After the slayers had filed away that tidbit of information, Buffy let her surprise show. "You went to see Angel?"

Joyce gave her a, "that's not the issue" look, and continued. "I've been thinking a lot about this, and I've tried to be rational, and not yell, or overreact. And I'm not going to do that now."

"But?" Buffy prodded.

Faith looked at Buffy. "There's a 'but'?"

"There's always a 'but'."

"I realize that you both are seeing each other, but I can't accept it. I've tried to think of a way to be supportive, but I just can't."

"Why not?" Buffy asked, shocked.

"I…just…it doesn't seem right. I think you're getting yourselves into a situation that has more consequences then you realize. But, I can't stop you. It's your lives."

Faith felt like she had been punched in the gut. Buffy felt sick.

"If you talked to Angel then -"

"He may have centuries of wisdom, but I don't. We all know what happened when he put his love philosophy to the test. It didn't go really well." Buffy gave her mom and icy stare. "Maybe I'm being close-minded, but that's how I feel. I'm sorry."

"Look mom, maybe if we explained -"

"Buffy, you could explain it to me all you wanted, but I still wouldn't be comfortable with it. Maybe it's because I got hit with a lot at once, or maybe after a little time -"

"It's me, isn't it?" Faith asked.

"No, it's not you. It's that you're both -"

Faith got off the sofa. "What do I have to do to show you that I'm not gonna screw up again?"

"I was trying to say that it's because you're both girls. You think it'd be easier for me to take considering some of the other things I know. It isn't. You two don't have a choice with slaying, but she has a choice…you have a choice, with this. People will say -"

"I've heard enough cover stories to know that's bullshit. If it was Willow, I bet you wouldn't be this wound up." Faith raised her voice quite a few notches.

"You don't know that."

"Red's the only one who hasn't gone psychotic, right? She'd be a hell of a lot easier to accept. You could at least give me a break and be honest."

"It's not all you." Faith flinched. "But you threatened my life and killed others. Forgive me if I have a problem with you being in a more, intimate, relationship with my daughter, where she's just a little more vulnerable."

"Can we please remember that I'm still here?" Buffy asked.

"I guess that's it then." Faith said, her argument deflated.

Behind the rage, Buffy could see the look Faith was giving her mother. There was pleading, there was hurt, and the emotions rushed to the surface, and a memory emerged. It was Faith's.

~~~~~

"You don't know the first thing about Buffy. Or me." Joyce had said.

I don't know what else to do. I don't know what I'm doing. I wanted her by my side, but I screwed up. You liked me. And now I'm screwing us up too.

"Don't I? I know what it's like. You think you matter. You think you're a part of something and you get dumped. It's like the whole world is moving but you're stuck. Like those animals in the tar pits. It's like you just keep sinking a little deeper everyday and nobody even sees."

You know what I'm talking about. We're both lonely. Both left out. You're supposed to understand. Please. Help me. Before I go too far.

Were you planning to slit my throat anytime soon?

I'm not really gonna kill ya. I'm just trying to get Buffy to come. It's not the right way to go about it, but I know she'll come for you. Maybe for me too. You're her mother. I never had that. But maybe I can. Can't you see? I can't look that crazy.

"Don't tell me you don't see it, Joyce. You served your purpose. You squirted out the kid, raised her up, and now you might as well be dead! I mean nobody cares! Nobody remembers! Especially not Buffy-fabulous-super-hero! Sooner or later you're gonna have to face it. She was over us a long time ago, Joyce. Too busy climbing onto her new boytoy to give a single thought to the people that matter! I mean, you're her mother and she just leaves you here to die!"

She does remember you. It's me she doesn't remember. Why am I trying to hurt you? Come on Faith, you're not gonna use the knife. Why am I moving towards her? God, I'm sorry. Stop me. Mom.

~~~~

"You were my last -" Faith started to say then cut herself off.

Buffy shook her head as she came back to reality. Wow. Her mom's consent was…she had never realized how much Faith had...looked up to her. And now the brown-haired slayer was flinging open the door, and storming out.

Joyce looked stunned a second, and turned to her daughter.

"How can you even think of," Joyce forced out the word, "loving somebody that unstable? She could snap -"

"You really don't understand, do you? The least you could've done was made an attempt. But you had to shut us out. Without even trying to see our side. Would that've been so hard?" She got up and started to move to go after Faith.

"Buffy -"

Buffy shook her head. "Don't. Okay? Why do you always have to drive the people I love away?" Joyce paled. "Yeah, he told me. He said it was purely his decision." She looked at her mom, who was now looking at her hands. "Nice talk, by the way." Buffy jogged up the stairs, and outside looking around for Faith.

"Faith!"

The other girl was standing to the side of the door, up against the wall. "Damn it!"

Buffy saw her. Saw her defensive position, and automatically knew she couldn't let it continue. She reached her arms out, and Faith voluntarily leaned into the offered embrace.

"I know." Buffy said softly.

***

Riley felt like he was re-learning everything. Sky equaled blue. Grass equaled green. He saw Adam and Spike. They equaled trouble. Buffy. All he knew was that she wasn't dead. And that meant he had to get to her. He looked deeper into the large, dark cave. There were bodies. Lots of bodies. Demons. All alive. Almost…in stasis. What was Adam planning to do with them all?

"Ah, you're wondering about my experiments." Adam observed.

'He thinks you're on his side. You can use this. Stay calm.' Riley thought to himself.

"How many are there?"

"One hundred and three. I wanted more, but they've all found places to hide. Soon you and I will lead them to our birthplace and free the captives. I suppose you'll want revenge."

"Revenge?"

"What do you remember?"

"Being shot…waking up…attacking Faith and Buffy…killing men…" Riley swallowed. "Killing men with a skewer."

"You died. Your heart no longer beats."

"Then what…?"

"Advanced artificial neurons and machines designed to stimulate heart send impulses through wires to your memory banks. You still contain bio-materials, but besides the few brain cells that feed memory to your central hardware and help coordinate movement with it, the rest are non-functioning."

Riley looked down at his hands, and then brought them up to touch his face. They felt normal, but could he really feel anymore? Spike was watching the scene with minimal interest, but he did know Adam had made a mistake by "waking" Riley. But was he going to tell him?

Nah.

"I think I'm…going to take a walk." Riley said.

"Be cautious. Will you return here at nightfall?"

"Yeah. Sure. Nightfall."

Riley walked slowly out of the cave.

"What happens then?" Spike asked Adam.

"You're right. It's time to launch an offensive. The first wave of attack will be against the slayers. They need to be distracted from what I want to accomplish. Will you lead?"

"Do you want them whole or in pieces?" Spike asked with a grin.

"It's time to wake the experiments."

***

Xander paced quietly outside, debating how to go in. He was wearing a headset, so he had to go in soon or else whoever was watching him would start to get suspicious. It wasn't that he didn't think he could get the disk, he was armed after all, but it was the actual process of taking it that worried him. All the scenarios he was playing out in his head were not good. He would either be in pain at one point, or causing pain. There was no good at all, but he figured he should just get it over with.

"I'm engaging." He said, speaking into the microphone.

Xander began moving towards the door.

"What are you doing?"

He turned around quickly to see Anya looking at him. "What are you doing here?"

"I had nothing better to do. Are you going to answer me?"

"You have to get out of here."

She looked at the gun. "You're not going to shoot anybody."

"Anya." He tried to be forceful, but it sounded more like pleading.

"I don't know exactly what you've gotten yourself into, but you're too good to go bad."

"Go. Now."

She shook her head.

They were watching and listening. He had to do something. Anya wasn't helping matters. He thought for a second, and saw a window of opportunity. Which he'd probably pay for later, but what choice did he have?

Walking up to her, he quickly reached out, wrapped his arm around her neck, and turned her around so he was behind her. "Move."

"Hey!" He lifted his gun arm up, and pointed the barrel at her side. "Okay, okay."

They moved to the front door. "Open it."

"You really don't want to do this, Xander."

"The door."

She reached her arm out and turned the knob, pushing the door open. They walked in slowly, and everyone inside had heard the door open, so their eyes were watching every move.

"Xander, what could you possibly be thinking?" Giles asked, being the first to speak.

"Just give me the virus and…and…nobody gets hurt." Xander stuttered. He wasn't good at the hostage-gunman thing.

"You can't want to do this." Wesley said cautiously.

Willow and Tara had been standing side by side when Willow started to approach Xander. "Whatever you've been doing, just put the gun down and we'll talk about it, okay? This is me, remember? You don't want to shoot me do you?"

Xander silently cursed. He couldn't keep this up. She was going to blow it. "Will, just give it to me." He tightened his trigger finger. "I don't want to, but I will if I have to."

Anya simply sighed. "Okay, I've had enough."

She stomped down on his foot, and he removed his arms from around her neck, and went to reach down for his now in pain foot. She brought her arms up as he was leaning over, and slammed her elbows into his back. He dropped his gun, and the rest of him went down with it. While he was still on all fours, she kneed him in the face, and he fell the rest of the way, lapsing into unconsciousness.

She bent down over him. "I told you didn't want to do it. Love hurts."

Everyone was in a stunned silence as Giles walked forward and retrieved the gun. He looked at it for a second, and then at Anya. "The safety was on."

Anya looked back at him. "I know."

***

Back inside the Initiative, all they were watching at the moment was static. Xander's headset had been busted. Graham had to feel sorry for him, but it was also pretty pitiful. The girl wasn't even a slayer.

"He's of no use anymore." The scientist said. "His effort failed. Didn't seem like his heart was in it, anyhow."

"We can retrieve him."

"Too risky." The man thought. "On the other hand, he has had prolonged exposure to our operation."

"You want to kill him? But all he knows is that we don't know anything."

"You'd prefer letting him tell the slayers that they have the advantage over us? Are you feeling all right, sir? Your …attitude seems a little off."

"Fine." Graham straightened. "It's just my belief that you don't target a fellow soldier."

"That's fine for the mainstream, but we work outside of it. Measures have to be taken to insure the survival of the project."

"It's all about funding and data with you people, isn't it? Whatever happens trying to get the right formula or technology doesn't matter, as long as it doesn't halt progress."

"I just follow orders. Sir. If you wish to not take action against Harris, there's nothing I can do. But of all the black op organizations the government is…funding, this is of the highest priority. It would upset a number of important people if this facility and its research were to be compromised."

Graham closed his eyes. This was getting worse and worse. Too many mistakes. Too many bureaucratic decisions. He'd fix things soon enough. "I'll lead a team myself. Tonight. We may even take the slayers too."

"Excellent decision, sir. Very wise."

***

Faith had just started walking. Buffy had no idea where she was going, but followed her anyway. They left the apartment, and cut through Restfield and Shady Hill before she realized where they were headed.

"Faith, wait." The other girl stopped. "We're not going to do something suicidal, are we?"

"What? Like rush into the cave lair of our foes and do the superhero thing? That was the plan. And it doesn't have to be us. I just gotta get some of this unhealthy aggression and emotional distress outta me. Gotta love psychologists."

"You're gonna get some blood outta you too. I have to come. It's an unwritten rule. We might as well die together."

"How romantic." Faith said sarcastically.

"Look, I know what mom said wasn't the answer you were hoping for, I didn't like it any more then you did, but it doesn't change how I feel about you."

Faith started walking again. She couldn't look Buffy in the face, but she kept talking. "Her thumbs up woulda sealed it for us."

"I'm not gonna stop just cause she's got a problem with us. Maybe she'll come around. All Summers' women have a stubborn streak at first. Just takes time for anything to get through it."

"I've seen the stubborn streak twice. With you it usually gets my juices flowin'," Faith grinned to herself, still walking, "but with your mom, it doesn't make me feel all that great."

"Would you be upset if I said a part of me was happy about that?"

Faith turned around, halting once more. "Get out of the gutter, B."

"You gonna make me?"

She couldn't step down from a challenge. She stepped up to Buffy. "I know what you're tryin' to do."

Buffy wrapped her arm around Faith's waist. "Do you?"

"Uh huh. You're trying to keep me from the cave."

"Is it working?" Faith nodded. "Good."

Buffy kissed her, and every thought left Faith's head. This was a 'I still love you' kiss, and she got the message loud and clear. After a few moments, Buffy stopped, and her eyes widened.

"What?"

Buffy pointed over Faith's shoulder, and Faith turned around to see Riley standing in front of her. She couldn't tell, but she thought there was a hurt expression on his face. It didn't matter. She wanted to pummel some bad guys, and one of them came to her. She wouldn't waste the opportunity. She assumed a fighting stance.

"Hang on a sec." Buffy said quietly. "Riley?"

He was quiet for what seemed like an eternity. "Buffy. There's things you need to know."

Both slayers were shocked. Buffy even more so. The air felt like it had been sucked out of her lungs. He was…him again, she knew it. At least in personality. She didn't know how, but he was, and she wished she would pass out before she had to deal with the situation.

***

In Giles' house, they were waiting for Xander to come to. The boy was sprawled on the couch, a few nice bruises forming on his face. Anya was crouched by his side, holding an icepack to his head. She didn't regret what she did; he needed to have something knocked into him. Hopefully it was sense, but who knew? Still, she loved him. Though she'd have to work on different methods of showing it.

"Well, I think we can assume that his heart was in the right place." Giles said.

"Can we also assume that his brain didn't go with his heart to this 'right place'?" Anya asked.

"Yes that's probably fairly accurate." Wesley said with a small smile. It was always nice to know that there was someone more bumbling than he was. Though, unlike Xander, he was improving.

"He could have just apologized, you know. Then we could have apologized, maybe had a nice risk-free conversation that didn't involve trying to play secret agent soldier guy with the bad side…" Willow trailed off.

"I think it's more than that." Tara said slowly. "I think…well, I'm guessing…that he wants to feel useful. You know, like a part of the group?"

"Why would he want to do that?" Anya asked like it was the silliest thing she had ever heard. "Oh, right. Friendship or whatever."

"I guess we all have a tendency to leave him out, but that's simply for -" Giles started.

"His safety. We don't want him getting hurt." Willow said.

"But to him, everyone in this group has a pivotal role except for him. Having had a similar experience, I can identify." Wesley continued on. He didn't hold it against them. He had no idea what he had been getting himself into then. "But I was an outsider coming into an already functioning unit. Xander's been part of this from the start. As you gained abilities, Willow, you were no longer an occasional helper from afar.

"You were in the thick of it, becoming an actual fighter. He has been left behind, and I'd imagine he feels very much alone."

Willow's face sunk. Was that what he thought? Was she responsible? Well, of course she was. Why didn't she it? Why wasn't she paying attention? Why…

"There's no way you could have known. He didn't say anything. There was no way." Tara said, putting her hand on Willow's shoulder, trying to be comforting.

"But you did. How did you know and I didn't?"

Tara looked around quickly. "I…dunno. Just got a sense I guess."

"Why didn't he say anything? Why'd he keep it to himself?" Willow asked. She wanted answers.

Now it was Wesley's and Giles' turns to look around at the walls. "It's a male…tendency." Giles said.

Willow was confused, so Anya decided to clear it up. "You know how they don't want to ask for directions? Ever?" Willow nodded. "This is the same thing. It's the 'I can handle everything' approach. No matter how stupid it is."

"Well if you can't trust your girlfriend to knock you out, who can you trust?" A newly awakened, but somewhat groggy, Xander asked.

"You're awake!" Anya squealed happily, immediately kissing him. She then stopped, and slapped his face. "Don't ever do that again."

Before anyone could get a word in, the door opened, and Buffy and Faith came in. Followed by Riley, who had to crouch a little to get in the doorway. Faith sat on the steps, and everyone tensed.

"Okay. Let me explain." Buffy said.

***

Several hours later, the tension had dulled to a low ache. Explanations were given and Riley shared all the information he had. They didn't have time to dwell, because with almost everyone together finally, they leapt into the planning stage. All personal feelings aside, on Riley, Xander, on everything; when the group decided to devise a course of attack, they stayed focused on it.

From her position, Willow saw Faith still sitting on the steps. And as Riley talked to Xander, she saw him sneak glances at Buffy, who was kind of just staring at nothing. Seeing him again, back for real, had to be hard on her friend, Willow mused. Like Buffy didn’t know exactly what to do. Looking again at Faith, the other slayer seemed to have the same faraway expression.

Willow nudged Buffy's arm. "Maybe you better…"

Buffy looked, and saw Faith. She went over to the steps, knowing Riley was watching.

"So what's this about them coming after me?" Xander asked him, making him turn his head back around.

"You failed, they'll most likely want to -"

"I get it." Xander shook his head. Why did he get himself involved? Why? At least he was back with his friends. If he failed anybody, though, he failed them. Now they were going to have to save him from another mistake. Why did he even bother?

"What do we do about the virus?" Tara asked.

"There's less risk to any of you if I take it." Riley said. "Adam expects me back at nightfall. Which is almost…now. I can get close. Probably keep the Initiative busy too. While you all handle the demons."

"We should see what spells we can do." Willow said quickly, handing the disk to Riley. If he got that in his system, he would no longer be invulnerable. He would be able to be killed. He'd remember that. Willow and Tara went off into their own corner.

"How about you?" Anya asked.

Riley really didn't have an answer right then. Did he really want to live as a machine? He looked over at Giles and Wesley who were gathering weapons. And he looked at Buffy again. He couldn't have expected things to stay the same.

***

"Whatcha doin?" Buffy asked, sitting a step lower than Faith.

"Thinking how I wished I had gotten some more training in. And…how today really isn't my day."

"Hasn't been mine, either."

"He's back. Shouldn't you be all cheery?"

"I can't even look at him."

"But you've been playing him taking a bullet over and over in your head. I'm starting to get a headache."

"Have I? Sorry. I just…God." She looked at Faith closely. "We're not getting back together or anything. I mean he's not even…"
"I didn't think you were."

"Yes you did, and you have nothing to worry about. Promise. And just in case you didn't hear me the other couple hundred times, I love you."

"Never get tired of that." Faith smiled. "But he is back. Are you ever gonna talk to him? You had to notice him lookin' at ya. The guy's crushed, and I don't think I'm the girl he wants to ease his pain."

"I know. I -"

Buffy found herself stopping when a clawed hand ripped through the front door and a leg followed, reducing it to a pile on the floor. An angry, red-skinned demon ran in, and they got off the steps into fighting stances. There were other growls coming from outside. The thing wasn't alone. It ran in, and everyone backed up on reflex.

Behind it, Spike strolling in. "Knock, knock."

Continue to Chapters 17-18

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