Part VII

"What's it going to be." Trick was feeling smug: he hadn't even bothered to assume his game face as he offered the Slayers and their friends that nasty choice. He was taken aback when Buffy moved almost faster than the eye could follow, throwing something. Trick cringed, only to hear a scream to his left. He sighed and yelled "Attack!" As the remaining fourteen vampires moved forward, Trick turned to his left and saw a pile of dust. Poor Doug. At least the Mayor wouldn't be bugging him any more about getting more roughage in his diet.

Trick watched as his crew split up just as he had ordered them to. Three engaged Buffy, who assumed a defensive posture, using the nearby trees to prevent being surrounded. Three went after Faith: the younger Slayer attacked with an abandon that impressed Trick. . .still, she was taking return shots that would wear on her. Three went after Angel, whom he knew to be a serious badass. Two went after MacLeod (Trick didn't know who he was, but he could see the dude was carrying a sword), one went after Giles (for a guy who spent his days with his nose in a book, he could kick ass pretty well: he had intended to send two after him, but Doug was no longer available for duty), and one after Buffy's other three friends (the two boys were decent fighters, but the girl was no factor). Lastly, he assigned Andrew, who was strong but not too bright, to grabbing the incapacitated Slayer and taking her to the Mayor. He watched for about twenty seconds and saw that his boys were gradually wearing down the White Hats. His sense of smugness was rapidly returning when he heard the dying scream of a vampire. Where had that come from? He turned and saw. . .uh oh.

Alyssa the Immortal Slayer stood over the dissipating dust that had been Andrew. Her sword was out and incandescent anger blossomed in her eyes. With the speed and ferocity of a whirlwind, she began attacking the other vampires, starting with the ones attacking Buffy's less capable friends. Trick looked back at the rifle lying on the ground one hundred yards away and began calculating odds. It took but a moment for him to realize he didn't like the answer. He quietly slipped away, already beginning to compose the excuse he would make for the failure. The Mayor would not be happy at all.

With Alyssa's help, the vampires began to die rapidly. When the survivors found themselves outnumbered, they decided en masse to flee. Eyes blazing, Alyssa started to follow, only to be restrained by Buffy: "Alyssa, wait. You could run right into a trap, and the whole point of this was to keep you alive and out of their hands." Buffy looked at the fleeing vampires and chuckled, "Besides, I think they'll be off the streets for a while." Buffy looked up at the older Slayer and said simply, "Thank you. You probably saved all of our lives just now, and I don't forget something like that."

Buffy could see tears in Alyssa's eyes as she looked back at her younger counterpart. "No, thank you. After so long, to have hope again is a gift beyond all others." She looked at the others and asked, "Can we go to holy ground now? I gather there is a plan to discuss."

Giles cleared his throat and offered, "The library is built over holy ground, so it should serve." He turned to Buffy and asked, "Do you have a plan, Buffy?"

Buffy sighed and looked annoyed, staring at her feet as she kicked at the ground. "Yeah, I do. But I'm not going to like what it takes, and neither will Faith." Faith's eyebrows quirked up at Buffy's comment, but she remained silent. Giles frowned and asked, "What do you have in mind that could be so unpleasant?"

Buffy sighed again and explained, "Faith and I will be making a long-distance phone call to England."

SUNNYDALE HIGH LIBRARY, ONE HOUR LATER

". . .all right, so the two tickets will be at Sunnydale Airport for the noon flight tomorrow. Good. All right. Ba-bye." Buffy slammed down the receiver with sufficient force to make Giles fear for its survival. He walked over to her and put his hand supportively on her shoulder. Buffy looked up at him and smiled wistfully. "That was hard." She looked up at her mentor and commented, "It couldn't have been easy for you either, after what they did to you."
Giles frowned and replied, "No, it wasn't. But ultimately my status with the Council will be for me to resolve, not you. They did great harm to you, Buffy. I'm very proud of you for your willingness to set it aside for Alyssa's sake."
Buffy nodded and responded, "I owed it to her." She looked at him and remembered something. "I told them that they better learn to be responsive to requests from Sunnydale for help, or they could damn well sit on their hands until the next Slayer came along. Faith told them the same thing, using rather choicer language. They said that in a few days, it would no longer be a problem. What do you figure they meant?"

Giles frowned and replied, "I don't know," though he had his suspicions. The two of them walked out of Giles' office and saw their friends eagerly waiting for the news. Alyssa stood uncomfortably next to the checkout counter and waited patiently for Buffy to reveal the news.

Buffy smiled at Alyssa and revealed what they had all been waiting for: "The Council wants to take you to England to put you under their protection. They want to know what you have learned in your 'many years in the field', as the stuffy guy Faith and I spoke to on the phone put it. They also might want you to help train future Slayers. . .you probably have picked up a few tricks that we could use. Most importantly, they have places to stay that are on holy ground. . .you would be safe and comfortable while you helped us try to save the world. Not a bad gig, wouldn't you say?"

Alyssa was silent for a moment, and Buffy feared that she would reject the offer. Abruptly, Alyssa threw her arms around the startled Slayer and hugged her so tight that breathing became an issue. Realizing the problem, Alyssa let go and looked at Buffy with tear filled eyes. "Oh, Buffy. . ." , then turned to the nearby Faith, ". . .Faith, thank you so much. You can't imagine. . ."

Buffy smiled grimly and replied, "Yes, I can." She looked over at Faith and saw that she was feeling exactly the same way.

OUTSIDE DUNCAN'S MOTEL: 4:30 AM

Duncan was starting to feel tired, it had been a long day, and he would need to be up early to serve as Alyssa's escort on the noon flight to England. The Council had requested a chance to interview him for historical interest reasons, and he had agreed on the condition that he be allowed to examine some of their historical records on Immortals. . .they might have something that Joe couldn't get for him.

Only five of them were left. Alyssa was to spend the night at Giles' apartment, on the grounds that vampires were a bigger threat to her than Immortals right now. Willow and Oz had retired for the night, after good-byes for Alyssa and Duncan. Duncan, Faith, Xander, and Buffy stood in the parking lot of Duncan's motel, with Angel standing off at some distance in deference to Duncan's feelings. Xander was about to say something when he noticed Buffy had a certain expression on her face, the one that meant she was about to unburden herself about something. He had a hunch that it didn't involve him, so he turned to Faith and suggested, "Why don't I walk you home, Faith?"

Faith raised an eyebrow and turned to Xander. "Since when do I need an escort, Xa-". She stopped as she noticed the expression on Buffy's face too, and sighed, "All right, maybe it would be safer. . ." She took his arm and called out to the older Slayer, "'nite, B." She looked at Duncan and purred, "If you're ever around here again, call me." Xander followed Faith after nodding to Buffy and Duncan and calling over to the brooding figure "'nite, Dead Boy." They walked off, and Buffy thought she heard Faith commenting, "What's making you so assertive all of a sudden. . .?"

Buffy turned to Duncan, only to see him watching the departing pair quizzically. "What was that all about?"

Buffy shook her head ruefully and replied, "I don't know and I don't want to know." She looked at Duncan carefully, and he could see pain in her eyes as she said, "Duncan, there's something I need to tell you. . .something I held back when I was telling you about Angel." Duncan saw the waiting vampire tense up, then look down in abject shame. He listened Buffy tell the story of how Angelus had returned, including what had caused it, and the months of horror that had followed. When she had finished, tears stood in her eyes, and Duncan could see that Angel's emotional state was similar. He felt no anger, only sadness for what this wonderful young woman and, yes, what Angel had gone through. Buffy finished by saying, "I just thought you had a right to know. . .I'm sorry I held back, but we needed to stick together as a group, and I thought that this might keep us from being able to work together."

Duncan took a deep breath and turned to the figure waiting in the darkness. "Angel, come over here." The vampire, looking puzzled, walked up to the Immortal. Duncan looked at him and stated flatly, "Angel, you fought well tonight, and for the right side. Where I come from, that meant something. Also, anyone that this very special young woman is in love with obviously is worth having as a friend." He offered his hand, and Angel clasped it firmly. Duncan released his grip after a moment, then his face turned stern: "Keep custody of your soul, Angel. If I hear that Angelus walks the earth again, he will die by my hand." Angel nodded at that and turned to Buffy, "I'd better get inside, the sun will be up in a while." He nodded to Duncan and vanished into the darkness.

Duncan turned back to Buffy, who was smiling and shaking her head. "Where did you get your sense of perspective, anyway?"

He smiled and replied, "Easy. Just live three or four centuries and it comes naturally." He yawned and apologized, "If I'm going to play escort to Alyssa, I'm going to need some sleep. It's been interesting, Buffy. Perhaps our paths will cross again."

Buffy smiled and said, "That would be fine by me. . . but would you do me a favor? Give me a call to let me know you're coming, so that I don't have to fight any more hopped-up vampires, okay?" They both laughed at this, then Buffy offered her hand to Duncan. Instead, he leaned down, brushed the hair from her forehead, and kissed her there as a father might when he tucked his daughter in for the night. He looked at her one more time and whispered, "Be careful, Buffy." Without another word, he turned away and entered his room, closing the door.

The Slayer stood in the parking lot for a long moment, moved by the gesture the Immortal had made. After a moment, she shook her head at the weirdness of things and began the long walk home.


Epilogue

WATCHERS' COUNCIL COMPOUND: LONDON, ENGLAND

The Watcher listened as the commotion surrounding the arrival of the Immortal Slayer echoed about the complex of buildings maintained by the Council. He knew she was staying in a small cottage erected on holy ground more than three centuries before. The cottage was two hundred yards away, well out the range of her ability to detect him. He would have to be careful and patient, but five centuries of life had taught him both. Sooner or later, her guard would drop, and he would have the opportunity to surprise her, with wonderful results for him. In the end. . .there could be only one. . .and taking the Quickening of the Immortal Slayer would be a promising means of making sure that the one was him.



As before, comments are welcome and desired.


I am not as of now planning a follow-up story, but if I receive sufficient requests from readers who enjoyed this, I may give it a shot, perhaps in the setting of the fourth season once we see the shape that it is taking.


M. Scott Eiland