Title: Heart's Filthy Lessons

Disclaimer: All characters are the property of Joss Whedon, 20th Century Fox, et al.

Rating:
T, but with some breathing room for later.

Author's Notes: This story is set during Season Eight, immediately following "The Long Way Home." This is my first ever Buffy story so, please review.

Part One: Lost Girls

Sunnydale, 2002

During all five of the consistently busy years of operation in Sunnydale, amazingly few of the people to walk through Rack's door were thinking at the time "wow, my life is going exactly where I want it to go right now."

Maybe one of two, but since they invariably left a corpse or two in their wake, they aren't really worth mentioning.

Still, if you asked any one of those thousands of lost souls to drift in and out of Rack's enchanted lobby to assess the state of any breathing organism turning to Rack for help with any problem more relevant than getting stupendously high faster than modern science would allow, every last one of them would declare that sorry individual "royally boned."

"I know I'm royally boned!" Warren Mears admitted. "But there's got to be something that will get that stupid bitch off my ass!"

"I have given you what you've asked for," Rack replied with characteristic lack of emotion.

"You've given my cheap tricks," Warren snorted back. "Magic jelly, a silver snitch... I'm not fighting Hermione Granger, this bitch is going to kill me!"

"If you don't want what I have to offer..." Rack reached out to back the bag.

"No, n-no, I do!" Warren recoiled, clutching the bag to his chest like a security blanket. "It's just... I think we need something bigger. Something that will really take everyone by surprise."

The door swung open and Warren instinctively jumped for his bag, but Rack held him back with an arm. "It's just one of my regulars."

A girl about Warren's own age (if he could accurately measure such things without looking at her face), ambled into the room. "Hey Rack, I know you're with someone right now, but..."

Rack silenced her with a finger. "Amy, there are some customers I can always make time for."

Warren cleared his throat (or attempted to clear his throat, it ended up getting caught halfway) loudly in Rack's ear. Eminent destruction or not, he felt this was definitely someone he should be introduced to.

"This," Rack spat with undisguised disgust, "is Warren."

Amy shot Rack a look that spoke several dozen volumes of "why should I care and how does that help me get stoned?"

"He's having some... trouble... with your friend Strawberry," Rack explained.

Then Amy's expression changed. She cocked her head to the side and looked him up and down.

Rack smiled. "He might even have to kill her."

"Really?" she asked. Warren wasn't sure how he'd name the look she was giving him, but he knew that only one woman had ever given it to him before without being pre-programmed to do so.

Warren cracked a nervous smile, trying to exude confidence while simultaneously struggling to restrain his bowels. "Yeah, it's looking that way, baby."

Amy smiled slyly at him. "Well, I'll have to keep my eye on you, then..."

Rack shook off a laugh. He was always amazed by the ability of sociopathic losers to attract intelligent, capable women.

---

Scotland, Now

For time immemorial Kardash the Unkillable had walked the earth, brutally humbling all who might stand in his way, feasting on their flesh and drinking deep of their life's blood. Most would rather set themselves ablaze than face him in battle and the few had dared to challenge him, Warrior of Darkness and Soldier of Light alike, had given him little more than a moment's pause.

Which made the puny human female in smiling front of him all the more puzzling.

"Do you remember that one episode of 'the Simpsons' where Bart decides he's going to take down Nelson Muntz and Nelson says 'you and what army?'"

Kardash merely snorted in contempt.

"That's too bad," the human said as more of her kind, each of them armed for battle, poured into the dank cavern. "It was a classic."

"Think you that I fear your pathetic resistance?" Kardash roared. "I am Kardash the Unkillable! When man was but a insect crawling onto the land, I walked and I killed. I am a thousand times older than your line and night-walkers you are trained to battle! I have been worshiped, feared, and honored for longer than your kind could use fire or walk upright!"

"And yet you end up being a field test." The first female made an expression he had no word to describe. "That's kinda sad."

Releasing a powerful growl, Kardash threw himself at her.

"Now," the lead female lectured while somehow dodging the heavy blows of his war-axe, "what do you notice about CarMax here?"

"He looks like he was drawn by Jack Kirby," another small female offered.

"Very good, Renee, Xander would be proud," the first female replied as another heavy blow narrowly missed her head. "But what can you tell me about the way he attacks?"

"He's slow," a third female volunteered.

At this point Kardash was beside himself with rage, swinging his axe hard enough to bring down mountains, but still the lead female evaded every strike while the other, weaker specimens stood a distance away.

"Exactly, gold star for Satsu," the leader chirped annoyingly. "See, he's putting all of his strength behind a single strike, which gets you more power, but costs you speed. It's worked well for him for centuries, but when you're fighting someone that's got the agility and speed of a slayer... it's just not going to hack it."

At this point Kardash was understandably pissed at having his status as warrior questioned by a pack of creatures he could devour whole by the dozen. "If it be speed you desire, she-wench, then you could ask for none greater than Kardash the Unkillable," he roared as he launched into his whirling Death Dance, determined to end every last one of them.

"Okay, he's going into a desperation strike," the leader explained, "which means he's losing focus. I don't want all of you to make mistakes like this when we go into a real battle," she commanded calmly. "Now, everybody watch yourselves and watch each other... nobody get too close."

The Dance had been taught to him in the time of the Old Ones; it was as beautiful as it was deadly and none that had witnessed it had ever escaped to tell of it. Kardash himself was so spent after a performance that he could only engage in the dance once a cycle. That was enough.

The winds whipped, the earth shook, the very trees themselves screamed out their deathcries, and the skies wept. Time had no meaning, ages past in the space of seconds... all while frozen in the moment. This was the power of the Dance.

When the Dance finally came to a close, he was certain his victory had been total.

"Now, this is another thing a lot of these older demons do a lot," that same horrible voice rang out. "They'll put all this effort into some kind of big showy special moves when they should have spent more time thinking about the basics, like knowing when to lie low."

Kardash surveyed the army of females in disbelief. All injuries were minor and, while they had been strewn about somewhat, it appeared to be more the result of an effective evasive strategy than his previously legendary assault.

Angered, shocked, and spent, Kardash the Unkillable found himself running for the first time in countless epochs...

...Only to find himself facing a second army of female humans.

"Looks like you weren't expecting Xander Harris and his Fabulous Fighting Female Furies," a male human with a single eye somehow managed to say completely straight-faced. "Bring him down, girls."

----

"I just don't get is how he did it," Dawn announced.

"Well, a thricewise is..." Willow started to remind her gently.

"Not that," Dawn interrupted, clearly tired of having this pointed out to her again and again. "I meant Warren."

Willow could understand a lot of what Warren could do, having been him and all. She would never admit that, though. "What do you mean, Dawnie?"

"I mean, how could he have been alive and been The First?" Dawn asked, understandably confused. "I mean, The First could only take the form of dead people and Warren wasn't really dead, right?"

"Well... it's not always that concrete," Willow admitted, taking it slowly, not for Dawn's sake so much as her own. "I mean, The First could appear as Spike or Buffy..." Willow tried her best to look Dawn in the eyes, something made all the more complicated by the radically difference in scale that had recently asserted itself. "It's like... he's dead enough."

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence before Dawn finally said what she'd been dancing around all along. "So... you still killed him."

"Yeah," Willow replied with quiet remorse. "I'll always have killed him."

And then things went all silenty.

----

"You know, I'm really jealous of the way you handle those girls," Buffy admitted.

"Shen... mue?" Xander replied, his mind too full of utter bafflement to come up with a more coherent response.

"Your team always works so well together," Buffy said, entering 'splainy mode. "I keep telling my girls 'use team work! Go team all the way!' But every time they get out on the field, it's every girl for herself."

"The exercise went well enough," Xander pointed out. "I mean, I wasn't dancing my happy dance when I found out we were going to have to bury old Big Ugly, but... hey, they can't all turn to dust... or melt... or implode..." he mused. "And was it just me or did this guy look like he was drawn by Jack Kirby?"

"It was fine this time," Buffy replied shaking her head in disgust. "But what about the next time? I can't let any more girls fall through the cracks, Xander."

Xander adopted a more serious stance. "What happened with Amy and Warren wasn't your fault, Buf."

"Just like it wasn't my fault when The First killed all those potentials or when Angel killed Ms. Calendar or when Tara..." she replied bitterly. "Xander, somewhere along the line I'm going to have to take responsibility."

Xander cracked a goofy half-smile.

"What?" Buffy asked, irritated.

"Ask me again why your girls are having such a hard time learning about teamwork," he quipped.

Buffy could help but go a little smiley; somehow Xander always knew what she needed to hear, whether she wanted to hear it or not.

"I mean, you've got to stop trying to play Mother SuperiSlay," he continued, "you can't be responsible for what happens to every slayer everywhere."

----

Daniella was hunched over in the corner, weeping and shivering.

"Can you imagine being that one Beach Boy?" Sleeper asked, his tone twisted and philosophical. "Which one was it?"

Daniella was too busy choking and trying not to vomit again to answer him properly.

"Dennis, I think," Sleeper finally decided. "Imagine being Dennis Wilson."

Daniella tried not to think about what had happened, where she was or what she had done... but there was always the smell.

The smell made it real.

"Imagine taking Charles Manson and all his girls into your home," Sleeper continued. "Imagine seeing all the terrible things they'd done to all those people you knew..."

She could look away, she could close his eyes, she could even pretend none of it was her fault... but she could never fully escape the smell of the rotting corpses in the room.

"...Then, after all that, imagine having to go on stage and play 'Surfing Safari,'" Sleeper finished with a slight thoughtful chuckle.

It was the worst smell in the whole world... the world smell ever. "I can't..." Daniella wept.

Sleeper perked up an ear. "'Can't' what?"

"I can't do this any more," she sobbed.

Sleeper stroked his chin thoughtfully. "Are you sure?"

Daniella nodded weakly.

"Fine," Sleeper shrugged.

He gestured towards one of the other girls, he was fairly certain her name was Megan, but they all bleed together after a while. She closed the distance between herself and Daniella silently from behind. The other girl looked expectantly at Sleeper and, never one to disappoint, he waved a hand. In the blink of an eye, Megan had snapped Daniella's neck so hard her face ended up pointing in directions never intended by nature.

Sleeper looked down at the broken young slayer. Daniella had been the smartest of the girls, the most loyal and most dedicated. The violence had never suited her.

"Oh well," he shrugged, "plenty more where she came from."