Title: Skin

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: T

Category: B:tVS/Firefly

Summary: Saffron's past catches up to her. 1700 words.

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not. I claim nothing but the plot.

Spoilers: B:tVS post-"Chosen"; Firefly esp. "Our Mrs. Reynolds" and "Trash".

Notes: For TtH100 prompt #76 Deceit, TTH FFA #2377, and twistedshorts challenge #41, Supernatural Title (Skin).

"It's only skin," Saffron said, batting her eyelashes at the mirror to test the layer of mascara she'd just applied. "They can touch it, but they can't touch me, not where it matters. That's one of the first lessons the Companion trainers taught me, and one of the few that actually means anything out here-- your body's just a tool. The purpose of a tool is to be used."

Buffy made a murmur of agreement. She knew how true that was, better than most; she'd been the Slayer for more than five hundred years, a weapon created by a bunch of old men to hunt the things that went bump in the night. Her job hadn't been quite the same since Earth had been overrun and abandoned-- there were far fewer demons now, for one thing-- but her nature had never changed. She'd retired from time to time, taking her face out of the Cortex for a few decades on a series of backwater planets, but the darkness in her blood had never stopped its siren call.

The problem with Saffron's application of the theory was that for every tool, there must be a wielder; a knife may slip and cut its owner's hand, but that hand must still exist. For Buffy, the 'Powers that Be' filled that role; for the blonde ex-Companion... well, she was about to be reminded.

"Almost done," Saffron said, leaning back a little, finally satisfied with her make-up. She applied a final coat of lip color, then folded up the cosmetics case and stored it away. "Earrings?" she prompted, brushing carefully at the fabric of her dress to remove any accidentally spilled powder.

Buffy retrieved the jewelry box from the cabin's tiny chest of drawers and presented it, lid opened, to her temporary employer.

It had been surprisingly easy to resurrect the old air-headed persona she'd outgrown centuries ago, presenting herself as a Rim-city girl who fancied herself a sophisticate. Saffron's next-to-last client, in reality a long-time friend of Buffy's, had arranged things so that Saffron had need of another pair of hands for her plan, and Buffy had been the most convenient choice available. Afterward, Saffron had been impressed enough by Buffy's talents and apparent awe of her to take the Slayer on as an apprentice with very little nudging.

Saffron stood, then turned to face the cabin's main luxury, a full-length mirror. From the sculpted heights of her coppery golden coiffure to the dainty jeweled slippers on her feet, she looked the very image of an expensive export from Sihnon's best schools. She scowled prettily at her reflection, careful not to curve her lips far enough to threaten future wrinkles, then reached out for the jewelry box and rummaged through it for something sufficiently flashy, yet subtle, to match her jade-and-gold silk dress.

Buffy had seen Cortex footage of her only living son's latest conquest, and the difference between the two women was like the difference between sunlight and starlight. It was no wonder he'd been drawn to Saffron, especially if she'd been all gingham and shy smiles as Buffy's contacts had reported; she would have reminded him strongly of his planet-bound, Rim-ranch childhood. Inara, on the other hand, was a perfect fit for his darker, conflicted, Black-bound present, something Buffy had never seemed to manage to prepare her children well enough for.

How could she have, though? She'd technically never lived to adulthood herself, and the everlasting twenty-something existence she'd been stuck with ever since the collapse of Sunnydale hadn't exactly lent itself to maturity. Why should she learn to cope with her issues when she could just outrun them and indulge herself in another fantasy of normality for as long as she pleased? In fact, if Gideon Reynolds hadn't been thrown from his horse when Mal was four, she probably wouldn't even have stuck around on Shadow as long as she did; it was always easier to leave children behind her when they were too young to be scarred by her disappearance.

Saffron finished picking through the jewelry box and came up with a set of necklace and earrings that drew attention to the exposed upper curves of her breasts and accented her face without overpowering her features. Buffy closed the box again, storing it back in its drawer, then brought out the glass tube containing Saffron's favorite perfumed oil. Saffron flashed her a quick, approving smile in the mirror, then dabbed the oil at wrists and throat.

"What do you think, sweetheart?" Saffron asked, striking a final pose before the mirror.

"You look like one of those jeweled display swords," Buffy said brightly, then hurriedly continued as Saffron's expression darkened. "You know. Pretty enough to be hung on some rich guy's wall, but still sharp enough to part him from his money. Um. I guess I was kind of stuck on the tool theme? I've actually seen goddesses that were uglier than you."

Saffron smirked at that and patted Buffy on the cheek. "Oh, you do know how to make a girl feel special," she purred. "Now, you remember your part of the plan?"

Buffy nodded. "I'm to sneak in the servant's entrance, use the security code to open the door to the main part of the house, find the loot you're going to stash in the alcove there, then get the heck out of Dodge before they catch me."

"Out of Verulamium, you mean," Saffron snorted. "Dodge is over on Ezra; I was there once, five years ago, and didn't care for the experience."

Buffy rolled her eyes, then pulled a pair of black gloves from her utility belt and slipped them on. She still never carried a gun, but she had an Alliance stunner and a collection of chemical weaponry that could drop a Fyral in its tracks. Or anything else big and stubborn. Or small and stubborn, even. Once the perfumed oil had a chance to disperse its payload in Saffron's bloodstream...

Don't count your chickens before they've hatched, she thought to herself. Or your Hatches before they've won the million dollar prize. She followed Saffron out of the cabin, watching her for any sign that the drug was taking effect, and locked each door carefully behind her as they left the small ship. Thanks to the key-chip in her right glove, each one was rescrambled to her own security code as she passed it. The ship wasn't much, but she was going to need some kind of transportation off the rock when the deal was done, and this was better than trying to hitch a ride on the kinds of ships that came and went at Mr. Zabuto's place. The last thing she needed was to get her image on Alliance-monitored security footage again while her Elizabeth Reynolds identity was still red-flagged in the system. Legally dead or not, they'd just assume she'd escaped Shadow somehow before the Alliance bombardment before they ever gave her the benefit of the doubt.

She parted from Saffron as agreed just outside the main airlock, strolling around the side of the ship as if inspecting it for micrometeorite damage while Saffron glided gracefully toward the main entrance. Like many rich men's estates, the Zabuto compound had its own private landing pads, electrified outer fence, and a host of security functions designed for the sole purpose of stopping intrepid thieves. Fortunately for Buffy, she had a host of codes stripped from a local security programmer by Saffron's eager tongue, a specially constructed jamming device that would blur her image on any camera linked into the estate's systems, and one more very, very important thing: the full approval of Mr. Zabuto himself, one of the few living descendants of the ancient Watcher's Council.

Once Saffron had disappeared inside, Buffy made her way as planned to the servant's entrance. She didn't bother to subdue the guards, however, or find the back passageways noted on Saffron's carefully stolen schematics; she strolled directly to the connecting door, nodding at familiar personnel as she passed them, and let herself into the main house.

She approached the foyer just in time to hear Saffron's angry shriek of recognition, and the deeper tones of Buffy's true client this time out.

"Yolanda, my dear. It's so good to see you again."

"You set me-- set up-- set esh--" Saffron's voice slurred, and there was a solid thud as of a body falling to the floor. Buffy stepped through the nearest door just in time to see Saffron's painted eyelids flutter in her direction, and smirked at the expression on the faux courtesan's face. She'd been exaggerating her symptoms, looking for a way out, and into the opening her apprentice had stepped forth...

"You!" Saffron growled, clawing at the carpet with jade-painted nails.

"You never should have looked twice at Malcolm Reynolds," Buffy said, and smirked as Saffron's face flushed with rage. "Think of it this way," she continued. "So what if Durran here wants to brand your cheek with a scarlet A and shut you up in his tower? At least you have a jailor who loves you, and maybe even a connection to the Cortex if you're a good girl for the next ten years."

"I'm not... his..." Saffron hissed, fighting the weakening, drowsy-making effect of the Cruciamentum drugs as hard as she could. As she had never been more than a Potential, however, the drugs were winning the battle.

"No, you belong to the Council," Mr. Zabuto interrupted, wearing an impressive frown. "We gave you the best educational opportunities available, projected a bright future for you in any career you might have desired, but you chose to break your contract and flee before repaying our services. You then repeated the process at the Companion Academy, breaking a second contract, which we were forced to redeem. The combined debt more than gives us the right to dispose of you as we choose-- and we choose to return you to your primary husband."

"It's only skin," Buffy said lightly, smirking as the spark flared one last time in Saffron's eyes before fading into drugged sleep.

Sometimes, vengeance really was as sweet as Anya had made it out to be.