BFebruary 2007/B

Booth stepped into the warehouse. The smell of sweat, blood, and urine permeated the air. He'd smelled enough of all of them to know each one intimately. From military trained sniper to FBI agent working with Temperance "Bones" Brennan on crime scenes he'd seen just about everything there was to see.

"You must be the new guy."

"Yeah, Tony Scallion," he said using his best Philly accent. It wasn't too hard to do. He was an East Coast guy, he could do Philly. "You know, rhymes with stallion. It's easy to remember that way."

"Cute," the guy said, giving Booth the once over. "You come recommended so we can bypass the usual. Manager's in back."

Booth walked in the direction that had been pointed out. Things would be heating up soon. He just hoped he could close this case quickly. He had no desire to get his ass kicked night after night any longer than he had to.

He wished now he'd never done the stint as a boxer in Vegas. That's what led to this latest undercover assignment. The one good thing, he was in LA and not out east during the winter. There was something to be said for that at least. He'd spent his afternoon jogging on the beach. The view was stupendous. A tall redhead had even slipped him her phone number. Not that he'd call. He wasn't here for that and redhead's weren't really his type. Too temperamental.

He rapped on the closed door with his knuckles. He wondered when his quarry would show up. He knew she was supposed to. The sooner he could determine that she wasn't doing anything illegal he could go home.

"Come in," the muffled command came from the other side of the door and he entered the room. There wasn't much as far as ambience went. He supposed when you ran an underground boxing ring there wasn't much need for flowers, paintings on the walls, or other niceties that most offices had. Especially since they had to move often to keep ahead of the police. There were two others besides the manager. They didn't look like muscle, so he could only assume they were part of the team.

"I was told to come back here. I'm Tony Scallion."

"Ah, new blood. I was told you were a little older."

"I'm not that old."

"No, you'll do. I don't make a habit of taking Vegas' cast offs."

"I'm not a cast off, I just needed a change of scenery."

"Yeah, I heard that."

"Then you know. Why are you asking me to explain myself?"

"You've got spirit, a temper. I like that in my fighters. You watch tonight. Tomorrow we'll find you a place on the card."

"All right."

"We're done here. Go, get out." Booth knew when he was being dismissed. He left the office. Already people were starting to arrive for the night's festivities.

He nodded at the doorman. No doubt he was packing, though he hid it well. Booth saw no tell-tale bulges to indicate where the piece was.

"Where do I go tomorrow?"

"They'll call you with instructions."

"All right."

Not overly chatty. That was all right. He wasn't here to make friends. He spotted the brunette and her one-eyed boyfriend from the beach earlier. He decided the best way to get an in to his subject was to weasel in on her friends.

"I remember you," he said as he approached them.

"Oh, yeah, hi," the brunette said. Her name was Dawn. "I didn't realize you knew about this place."

"I'll be working tomorrow."

"Oh," she said.

"Tony, right?" The guy with the patch extended his hand in greeting. He supposed he'd gotten in on the guy's good side by taking his side of an argument he'd overheard them having. Well, it wasn't a real argument.

Tony took the offered hand. "Right. Dawn and Xander, isn't it? What are you doing here?"

"My sister is working tonight."

"Your sister? Here?" He'd known that. He had been jogging past the couple arguing over a sandcastle and how it should be built. He wouldn't have paid them any attention, except he'd heard them speak of Buffy. How many Buffy's could there be? This was Southern California, for all he knew Buffy could be like Britney but he didn't think so.

"Yeah."

"She holds up the cards or something in between rounds? I didn't know they did that for this type of fight."

Dawn laughed at that. "No, silly. She fights."

"Get out," he said, putting on his best street-wise surprise face. "They let chicks fight here, too?"

He felt the sister's assessment of him. "She's good."

"Yeah, well, how tough can the competition be? What are there two other women?"

"You'd be surprised."

"Why does she fight?"

"Dawn," Xander said, draping an arm around her. He whispered something in her ear. The crowd was loud enough that it might not have been to prevent Booth from hearing what he said. He didn't think that was the case, though. He sensed somehow the conversation about Buffy and her fighting had come to a close.

"So, did you get your sandcastle finished?"

"Nah, we gave up after a while. I don't think we've finished one yet. How many have we started?"

"Dozens at least," Dawn said and shrugged. "We get bored easily."

It made sense to him. How much time could adults spend playing in the sand? He would have gotten bored after about five minutes. Unless he had Parker with him he didn't have time for sandcastles. He wondered what this couple did that gave them that opportunity. Often it sounded like.

The announcer stepped onto the makeshift ring space and Booth settled in to enjoy the show. There was something about this type of fighting that was exciting to watch. Booth kept Dawn and Xander in his sights but tried not to seem overly obvious about it. The fights were good, above par as far as street brawling went. There were actually some skilled fighters here. The next Mike Tyson or de la Hoya? No, but he could see some of them moving up to legitimate fights if the right person came to one of these bouts and saw them fight.

He was surprised as the night went on and the fights got more involved, the fighters more skilled that Buffy hadn't fought yet. He was tempted to ask Dawn if she was sure her sister was fighting tonight when the last fight for the night was announced.

What type of place pits two women boxers as their main fight of the night? At the crowd's reaction, the management knew what they were doing because the air sizzled with excitement, anticipation. He heard people all around him whispering, wondering if she would get defeated tonight. So she had some sort of cult following. That still didn't mean she was good.

She was a stranger to him yet she wasn't. He'd never seen a picture of her and she was about as different as you could get from her brunette sister. He knew nothing about her except what information a bare bones dossier had provided. No one knew anything about her. She'd come out of nowhere, which was why the Bureau wanted him to investigate. Fighters just didn't spring up like weeds and go undefeated again and again. They were concerned there was some sort of new drug on the market that was able to fly under the radar of current tests.

She stepped into the makeshift ring with confidence. She looked relaxed and loose, but ready. He saw no outward signs of nervousness. In fact, he noticed an almost casual wave in the direction of her sister. Maybe she had ice water coursing through her veins to walk into a ring with seemingly no care in the world. Even the best in the ring were subjected to beatings once in a while.

She was good. Better than good. She was exceptional. Skilled and obviously experienced. She moved around the ring as if she owned it. She knew where she was at all times, though he never saw her look at anything but her opponent. Her footwork was good, experienced. She might not have made a splash until now but she hadn't just come out of nowhere. She'd been fighting for quite some time if he had to guess.

"Where are you guys from?" He asked the question as casually as he could once he'd sidled up alongside Dawn and Xander again.

"Sunnydale. Well, actually, LA and Sunnydale."

That didn't tell him much and she didn't seem too willing to say much more.

"You were right. She's good."

"I told you!" He noticed her nudging Xander. "He thinks she's good."

"That's the Buffster. She's the best."

Her competition was not that great, but her skill was still obvious. She pranced around the floor that made up the ring area as if she'd done the dance a thousand times before. She didn't toy with her opponent, but he sensed that she prolonged the inevitable. He wondered if she got paid more if her fights lasted longer. If she was the draw, the headliner, bringing people in each night she'd almost have to purposely slack off.

The casual look he'd noticed when she first entered the ring had disappeared when the bell to signal the start of the fight rang. Her eyes were stone cold serious. Killer's eyes. He'd seen it before, looking down the barrel of a gun at one of his targets. And looking in the mirror, finally tired of the blood on his hands, even if it was just figuratively. She was smooth, her movements fluid and easy. He could tell by her eyes, though, that she never let her guard down.

Booth couldn't help but think his old man would get a kick out of watching this woman fight. He'd spent a good amount of his childhood huddled in front of the TV with his dad watching fights. As an adult he wasn't much of a boxing fan, but the things his father had pointed out and commented on while watching those fights growing up had stuck with him.

When the last round started, he could tell she dialed things up a notch. Finally getting serious. And that's exactly what she was doing. It was almost as if before this point she had just been toying with her opponent. Dawn and Xander beside him were busy cheering her on. Booth couldn't help but do it, too. He could understand why a crowd could get behind this, cheer and follow someone who personified why boxing was considered an art form to some.

It was over too soon. She'd won again and done it relatively unscathed. He saw a couple of bruises on her face, but nothing too bad. He'd seen a lot worse here tonight in some earlier bouts.

"So you were right. I stand corrected. Chicks can fight."

"I told you."

"You never answered my question, though."

"What's that?"

"Why does she fight?"

Dawn shrugged. "Why does anyone do anything? Why do you fight? That's why you're here. Right?"

She had him there. "It's just, surely her boyfriend doesn't take too kindly." That sounded like an appropriately sexist comment.

"I suppose if she had one he might, but she makes good money. It's not like anyone's making her do this."

He let Dawn and Xander drift away from him a little, but kept tabs on them. They were his in to talking to her and maybe establishing a personal connection. The sooner this case was done with the better as far as he was concerned. From what he saw tonight, there was nothing at work here beyond a woman who knew how to finesse, bob, and weave her way around a ring.

"That was some good fighting," he said once she made her appearance after the fight. She'd no doubt gotten her cut for the night. If she was smart she'd know not to wait too long to do that. Money had a way of disappearing into pockets in places like this if you weren't on top of things.

"Uh, thanks. Hi Dawn, Xander," she said, taking the offered water bottle from her sister.

"Hey, Buff, good job. Not that, you know, we thought you'd lose."

"This is Tony," Dawn said. "We met him on the beach earlier."

"And he's here tonight?" Buffy gave him a once over. It was a bit more of an assessing gaze than the doorman had given him earlier.

"Right place, right time, coincidence. I'll be joining in the fray tomorrow."

"Oh," she said and he thought he saw relief flash in her eyes. "A fighter. Good. They could use some fresh blood. No offense."

"None taken."

"What do you do after the fights?"

"Everyone pretty much scatters," Buffy said with a shrug, obviously thinking he was just asking in general.

"And you?"

"Go home. Shower. Study."

"Study?"

She smirked at that. "Yes, study. I'm going to college. You think I box for my health?"

She had a point, and it explained the need for good money.

"Can I buy you a drink? Your sister and friend, too?"

"Uh," her eyes darted to the couple in question. Her sister shrugged with a glance at Booth. "Sure, why not. I really do need to shower, though. You have a car?"

"Yes."

"You can follow us then and just wait while I do that. I won't take long."

Xander snorted.

"I won't, I promise."

"Famous last words. Be ready to be camped out on the couch all night, my friend."

"I'll take my chances. Anyone who fights that well deserves a reward."

"I don't get many of those, and I doubt you'll feel so generous tomorrow."

"Why's that?"

"No offense, but you're a little older than the other guys."

"Again with the age. I'm just seasoned."

"I bet," she said, taking another sip of water, splashing a little on her face and blotting it off. "Let's go, then." She started to walk away and then stopped. "Actually, how about I just ride with you?"

"All right," he said, surprised by the suggestion. "Do you have everything you need?"

"What do you think we get lockers and space to put a bag? Get real. I bring a sweatshirt along to cover up with when I'm done. If I'm lucky when Dawn or Xander aren't here to hold onto it for me, it's still there at the end of the night."

He held his hands up in a surrender pose. "Wow, all right, I was just asking."

"Sorry. That was uncalled for. I get a little wound up after the fights."

"No problem. So, I suppose I should introduce myself. I'm Tony Scallion."

"Buffy Summers, but I guess you already know that."

"Yeah."

"And just so you know, buddying up to me won't get you any better spots on the card."

"Wow, you are a cynic."

She shrugged casually. "That's me."

"You're too young to be so cynical."

"Age is just a number. Look at you getting into the ring tomorrow despite everyone around here thinking you won't last a round."

"Really?"

"Really."

"Huh, I guess I have something to prove then."

He noticed a slight smirk on her part. "Let's go before it gets too late."

"Class in the morning?"

"No, but I have some things to do later."

So, she wanted a drink but she wasn't planning on staying wherever they went long. He should take offense to that. He was a good looking guy. Not that he was conceited, but he'd never had problems turning a woman's head when he wanted to. Even when he didn't want to sometimes. So, he wasn't used to the old brush off routine. And he knew it well, from doing it himself.

"All right."

She had mentioned studying a little bit ago. Maybe that's what she had to do later, and he couldn't really fault her for that. Especially if she was a night owl and studied better at night. Some people were like that.

CENTER
/CENTER

They'd had their drink. Her poison was iced tea, Booth's was a beer. Her sister and her boyfriend had declined to go with them. They probably enjoyed the concept of some privacy at home, not that the relationship between the three didn't seem friendly. If he was a lesser man √ and if the two women involved weren't sisters √ he'd wonder just what the relationship was between the trio.

"Wow, you're right on the beach," she said, admiring his view from his balcony.

"Yeah. I couldn't believe it was available."

"No kidding. How'd that happen?"

"I don't know. Someone couldn't pay their rent or something. I offered to take it over. Here I am. I didn't bother asking too many questions when I saw it."

"Cool. We're walking distance, but there's something about walking out here like this and seeing the water."

"Well, you can come here anytime."

She glanced at him then, trying to gauge if he was coming onto her he wagered. The night was pretty still, but there was a slight breeze coming from being right by the water. It took hold of a few strands of her hair, blowing them messily around. It looked nice on her. He wasn't much for the windswept look. The women he'd been involved with were always together. He would never have seen them publicly in a sweatshirt and jeans. Yet here he was with one wearing just that.

She'd showered when they got back to her place, but she didn't seem to have put any great effort into her appearance. A light shade of lipstick, some eyeliner and mascara maybe, but that was it. He wasn't sure whether he should be offended she was treating him so casually. Then again, he didn't know her so maybe she just wasn't that type of girl. He hadn't gotten that impression from the various photographs in the house, though.

"I'll remember that."

"So, do you always come home with strange men you've just met?"

She smiled then, leaning back against the balcony railing. She crossed her arms in front of her. "You saw me fight tonight. Do you think I'm really worried about someone trying anything on me?"

"You were fighting a woman, though, Buffy, that's different."

She cocked an eyebrow. "I've fought guys. And won." She sounded entirely too sure of herself. He didn't doubt her, but there was more than just the physical she had to worry about.

"I don't doubt you, but still. One of these days, your brawn isn't going to be enough. There are drugs out there."

"Are you going to drug me, Tony?"

"Well, no, of course not, but we're not talking about me."

"But, it's you I'm here with. I don't do this every night. Believe me. Since moving back here a couple of years ago, I haven't done much socializing. I work, I go to class, and I sleep. Spend time with Dawn, of course."

"Right. You two seem pretty close."

"We're all we have."

"Both of your parents?"

"Mom died six years ago this month. She had a tumor and after months of thinking she'd be okay, I came home one day to find her dead on our couch. She'd just had a date with a nice guy, he seemed nice anyway. He sent her flowers the next day. That type of nice guy, you know?"

"It's not enough, I know, but I am sorry." Warning bells were going off in his head. He was sincere in telling her he was sorry. That was not good. Getting personally involved with a subject was bad news. FBI 101, don't let the subject get you to let your guard down. He knew better. It clouded an agent's judgment.

Yet talking with her tonight, seeing how she held herself. She wasn't involved with drugs or anything seedy. He really didn't need to investigate. Hell, he wouldn't be surprised if a promoter's scout or a promoter himself saw her one day and offered her a chance at a real bout. Hell, Ali's daughter made a living doing it. He should take a step back. He should drive her home. He should do a lot of things, but found himself asking the next logical question instead.

"Your dad?"

She shrugged, turning to face the water again. She clutched the balcony rail. "I don't know. Last I heard he was in Spain with his admin. I haven't heard from him in years."

"That's rough," he said. "No help with your sister?"

"No, none," she said with a scoff. "So, maybe you see why this boxing gig is important to me. I can't make the kind of money I make there working part-time at Trader Joe's or some place like that. Not and go to school."

"I get it," he said softly. And, he did. He had to admire her in a way. Some people would find what she did repulsive, barbaric. But he had to admire someone who was creative about finding a way to earn decent money. "Have you been doing this long then?"

She chuckled then. "No. I just started school. Dawn got a scholarship, but I still had social services breathing down my neck until she turned twenty-one. She'll be twenty-one this fall, and she's doing outstanding in school. So, I think I can risk doing something a bit more unconventional. And my friend has a business. He's willing to cover for me if it gets to that."

"Generous friend."

He could probably turn her in. If she was hurting anybody he probably would. She was just a young woman, struggling to feed not just herself but her sister, too. He'd like to have a word with her old man. What kind of man walked out on his daughters like that? He knew they were out there, but it was an issue near and dear to his heart. Things may not have worked out with Rebecca, but he could never have left her holding the bag.

Buffy was surviving, though, and Dawn obviously was, too. Their house while a rental and pretty meagerly furnished was clean and well cared for. There was probably something to be said for her letting her sister's boyfriend live with them, but her sister was legally an adult even if she was still under the umbrella of Buffy's care for a few more months.

"Well, I do work for him, just more consulting than full-time."

"What type of work?"

She turned around to face him again. "Does it matter?"

"No, I suppose not."

"Good, because I was beginning to wonder if you were from social services."

He chuckled. "No, not social services."

"Good. So. Tell me about you."

"Not much to tell. I'll be looking for something to do during the day. I'm a writer, so I don't want anything that will infringe on my time. And you know I'm a boxer by night. I move around a lot, last stop was Vegas. That's how I heard about this circuit. Originally from Steel City."

"Where?"

"Pittsburgh."

"Ah. Married? Divorced? Girlfriend?"

"A son, but never married and just out of a relationship with someone recently." He shouldn't have admitted that. But he did have a picture of Parker in his wallet. Undercover or not, he couldn't bring himself to take it out.

"How nice."

"Yeah. His mom and I, we're on okay terms. It was just one of those things."

"I see."

Being Catholic, it was hard for him to admit that. He had been taught, of course, that he and Rebecca shouldn't have even been in the position to make a child unless they were married. There were some of the strict teachings of his religion he had strayed from.

"Yourself?"

"No on all counts, haven't really been in a relationship for a while either. Including children. Unless you count Dawn."

"She's a young woman."

"Yes, she is."

"That guy. He's okay?"

"Yes, he is," Buffy said. "I've known Xander for ten years. He's a great guy. If he was my type I would have gone for him myself."

"Ah. One of those."

"Yes." She smiled widely then, seeming to recognize he knew what she was talking about. He'd had one or two of those himself in high school. Girls who he was just hot for who thought of him as a buddy. It was frustrating as hell, and very humbling.

"How'd he lose his eye?"

"An accident. It was a few years ago. It's over with."

"Right, sorry. I just couldn't help but wonder."

"Sure, of course."

He heard the low growl first. It sounded like a dog about to attack and it put him on alert. People let their dogs roam free along the beach all of the time, especially at night when there weren't so many people out. Buffy must have heard it, too, because they both looked to the beach. Then he heard a scream. Scream didn't cover it. It was the sound he'd heard from someone who knew they were about to die. Terror, horror, fear. He reached instinctively for his gun, only to find it wasn't there. Of course it wasn't. It was in his room, locked away.

Before he could react, Buffy had vaulted off his balcony with the finesse and stealth of a jungle cat. He'd seen experienced and well military personnel trained in the art of repelling move with less finesse than she just demonstrated. He saw them now, they were by the water's edge just off his place. What looked like a man based on the height and bulkiness of the shadowy form and a woman. He figured the scream had belonged to a female. Booth wasn't about to try jumping off his balcony like Buffy did. He'd never clear it, not without killing himself.

There were steps leading down to the beach, evidently she hadn't realized they were there. Hell, she obviously hadn't needed them. He did, though, and he took them as quickly as he could. He broke into a run.

"Run," he heard Buffy yell at the woman in question. She'd somehow managed to get the guy off the woman and focusing his attention on Buffy instead. He cursed himself for not stopping to get his gun before coming out.

"Can't you guys let me have one night off?"

She knew the guy? Well, that was more than a little odd.

"Can you find me a stick? A piece of wood? Anything? Break a branch off a tree if you have to."

"What?" Surely he hadn't heard her right. She wanted to continue to fight the guy while he went after some wood?

"Just do it." Her eyes darted to his briefly. The moon was full enough, it reflected off the water bright enough, that he could see that. The guy got a punch in then to her solar plexus. He expected her to go down, but while he heard her gasp from the wind being knocked out of her she remained on her feet.

It was in him to question her, to tell her to go after the wood and take her place, but he'd already distracted her once. And the guy had gotten a good shot in. He wasn't sure how she stayed upright let alone conscious. He'd seen bigger men go down from a blow like she'd just taken.

The woman Buffy had saved from being attacked was long gone. He doubted she'd come to the beach for a moonlight stroll alone anytime soon. Or were they together and he'd turned on her? It wouldn't be unheard of. He shelved these thoughts when he found a tree branch. It was small enough for him to lift and carry with ease.

"You can throw it to me any time now." He did as she asked. Now that he was paying attention, he noticed that the guy didn't even look human. His face was deformed and he had fangs. Like a vampire. He dismissed his thoughts as being crazy, there was no such thing. Was there?

She caught the branch without even glancing at him. He couldn't be sure she was aware he'd thrown it. That instinct and awareness of her surroundings he saw her display in the ring was nothing compared to the vibes he was getting off her tonight.

In a matter of seconds, she'd stabbed the sharper end of the branch into the guy's chest cavity. He heard a sucking sound followed by a curdling scream, and then the guy was gone. Evaporated into what looked like dust particles. They drifted to the beach almost peacefully, deceptively, adding to the sand. He wasn't sure he'd be able to tell the difference in the morning.

"What the?"

She was clutching her abdomen now, the branch that had somehow made the guy disintegrate on the sand at her feet. Care for the here and now, the tangible thing came to the forefront and he rushed to her side. He'd forgotten for a minute about the brutal blow she'd taken only a few minutes ago.

"Are you all right?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'll be fine. Just can we go before another one comes along?"

"There are more?"

"There are always more. They'll know I'm out tonight and come out to play."

He placed an arm around her waist, offering her his support. She took it, begrudgingly he noticed. She was a woman accustomed to doing things on her own. He didn't need to know her very well or her life story to realize that was the way she was. But she had to be in pain.

"You do this often then?"

"Every night for the past eleven years, give or take."

"And the guy you just dusted?"

"Listen to you, hip with the phraseology."

"Well, I didn't know how else to describe it."

"You know what he was."

"You can't be serious."

"You saw him. I know you did."

He was trying to wrap his mind around that. She was right, he had seen. Did he arrest her for murder? There was no body, no proof, and she wasn't acting like she had just done something illegal. If he was to believe her, she'd been doing what he'd seen her do for over a decade. She hardly seemed old enough. She couldn't be more than twenty-five, twenty-six. He couldn't remember now what DOB the dossier gave for her.

He led her to the other side of the house, thinking ascending the slight incline of a hill that led to his front door was better than the steps leading to the balcony for her. He helped her to the couch. He decided to focus on something he did know, at least a little bit about. He'd been hurt enough on the job.

"Let me have a look."

"No, I'm fine. I just need to rest a minute, then I'll get out of your way."

"You're not in my way, Buffy."

His cell phone chirped, faintly because he'd stashed it in the drawer with his socks. It was his Bureau issued phone. He thought he'd turned it off, but evidently he'd forgotten.

"Go ahead and get that."

"You sure?"

"Yeah, I just need to collect myself. I heal pretty quickly."

Now that she mentioned it, he'd noticed that the bruises from her bout earlier were almost gone. He'd just assumed she'd done something with makeup to lessen their hideousness. Evidently, that wasn't the case, because this close to her he could tell she wasn't wearing that type of coverup. It would have taken a lot to work well.

"I'll be right back. If you need something just holler."

"Will do."

"Not that I have much to offer you beyond TLC."

She smirked at that. "Mm, that is tempting I haven't gotten any of that in years, but go, answer your phone I'll be here when you get back."

Years? He went to his bedroom with that thought in mind and flipped open his phone.

"Yo," he said, hoping whoever was calling would realize why he was answering that way.

"Hey, how are the sights?"

"What in the hell are you doing calling me, Hodgins?"

"Is that any way to greet a friend?"

"Friend, my ass, you aren't supposed to be calling me. Come to think of it, how'd you get this number?"

"Mm, Dr."

"Don't."

"All right, well, anyway, I ran across your number and I just wanted to call. You know I have some vacation coming up. If you need help out there."

"Help? Why would I need your help?"

"It was just an offer. The sights have got to be better than they are here. It's February and it's cold."

"I'll remember to tell your girlfriend you said that the next time I see her."

He laughed at that and Seeley couldn't help but smile. As much as he tried to deny it, he liked the Squints. Each and every one of them. "Oh, come on, a man can look. My eyes are still in very good working order. Rumor has it you're right on the beach."

"I've got to run."

"You're killing me here."

"I appreciate the offer, but no." He lowered his voice to barely a whisper, even going so far as to step deeper into his bedroom. She was still his primary target after all. Even if he didn't believe she was on drugs or part of some ring to distribute said drug into the sporting world there was still some weird shit going on with her. "Don't call again. I thought this was off to be honest."

"It's fate, I tell you."

"Uh huh. Hanging up now."

"She must be hot."

"What?"

"If you were alone you wouldn't be so quick to blow me off. You'd talk to me, tell me about the pretty redhead you saw on the beach earlier. Something."

Seeley couldn't help but smile, Hodgins had a point. And there had been a pretty redhead earlier. "That's not true. When do we ever talk?"

"Well, you have a point, but I still lay odds on you having a beach bunny with you right now."

"She's no beach bunny."

"Ha!"

"Good bye."

"Since you don't need my help I'll see you when you get back. Keep me in mind if that changes, though. I'm always up for some fun in the sun."

Seeley disconnected, this time ensuring he did indeed shut it off before returning it to its place nestled in among his socks. His other phone was out in the open. It never rang, but that would change tomorrow when they called to give him the location for tomorrow's fight.

"Everything all right?"

"Yeah. Just a friend from out east. Somehow word got to him that I'm out here and he wanted to know if I needed a manager."

Her lips quivered for a moment and then she gave him a full-on smile. "I just bet."

"Yeah, your mind is about where his was I think."

She laughed then.

"Are you all right? What can I do for you?"

"I should be asking you that. You saw something tonight you can't dismiss and you're not talking about it."

"Because if I don't talk about it."

"It won't go away, Tony."

God, he hated hearing her calling him by the wrong name. "I just. He just disintegrated," he took a seat in the chair by the couch. He hadn't been expecting to bring back any company, but the mish mash of furniture went with the drifter image.

"I don't know why they do that."

"Do they all?"

"I've seen a couple that haven't. I'm not sure why some do and some don't."

"How long have you been doing this? And how do you know?"

"I told you, eleven or so years. And how do I know what? Who's a vampire and who's not?" She shrugged, wincing slightly so he knew she was still in some pain. "I just know. Some people claim to have gaydar, I have vampdar."

"Cute."

"Yeah. I'm not sure how to explain it. I just know. It's a part of me."

"What are you?"

"Interesting phrasing. Not who, but what."

"I didn't mean it like that. It's just you heal quickly. The bruises from tonight's fight are almost gone." He slid out of the chair and crouched near her. His hand went to her face, brushing back some of her hair. Her eyes shifted from his hand to his eyes, holding his gaze evenly. "In fact, I can't even tell you were in a fight anymore."

"Part of the package."

He had to remind himself this wasn't a date, she wasn't a prospective girlfriend, she was the lead in his investigation. As tempting as it was to comment on the package √ and it was a fine one - he went the safer route. "Is that why you were able to stay standing after that blow I saw you take out there?"

"Yes. I can sustain heavy damage. Kinda like the Energizer Bunny, but for me it's fighting. Whatever they can dish out, I can take. Except death, but even that hasn't stopped me yet."

"Huh?"

She waved him off, lowering her gaze undoing some of the intimacy of being this close to one another even though he was still touching her.

"Don't ask. Long story. My whole life is a long story. To sum it up, I'm a vampire slayer. That's my specialty, vamps, but there are other baddies out there I take care of, too, to ensure the good citizens of LA are safe in their beds one more night."

"You can't be serious."

"Look it up on the Internet. There's a good amount of mythical nonsense, but it's all rooted in truth. Do I look crazy to you, Tony? Are you crazy? Because you saw it with your own eyes. I know you saw his face, that's why you took longer to get me the branch."

"How did you?"

"I've been around the uninitiated a time or two, I recognize the signs when someone realizes they're seeing something they shouldn't be. Or that they can't explain. Or that they thought was just the stuff horror book plots were made of."

"You're serious."

"As serious as I can be."

He lowered his hand. "Let's look at your abdomen."

She crossed her arms over her stomach, preventing him from looking. "Excuse me?"

"I need to see for myself you're all right, Buffy."

She uncrossed her arms and lifted her sweatshirt up enough for him to see the damage.

"That's got to hurt," he said, noticing she didn't even look at it herself. There was a good sized bruise there.

"It's better now."

"You're not just saying that? Do you want some Ibuprofen or something?" He wasn't even sure he had any, but it seemed logical to offer.

"No, I don't take stuff like that. It doesn't really work anyway."

"No?"

"No. I admit, I'm not good with the technical stuff on how anything works, including me. I just go where I'm told, point the stake or sword at the bad guy."

"Huh."

She placed a hand at his forehead. "You okay?" She smiled then and he couldn't help but smile back. "I know it's a shock. My friend Xander, he was sixteen when he first learned. He learned the hard way, I couldn't save his friend."

"Xander knows?"

"Yes, he's one of the reasons I'm still here today."

Her hand felt nice, warm, comforting, even if the gesture was initially meant to tease him. He knew he wasn't delirious, but it was a difficult pill to swallow.

"Are you tired?"

"It's still early. For me, anyway."

"Late nights?"

"Yes, vampires not much with the sunlight."

"I suppose not. Do you really go to school?"

"Yes, I take enough credits to keep my financial aid. I have a full year already under my belt from UC Sunnydale, so it'll take me a while but I'll get there."

"And the boxing?"

She snickered. "You sure ask a lot of questions."

"It's a habit. Sorry."

"It's okay. If you want to know the truth. There's a pretty high up vampire somewhere in the network. I'm trying to find him."

"Wouldn't he know who you were? I mean, don't they know your name and stuff?"

"Well, not all of them. You'd be surprised. I've come across some who thought I was just a myth. Some who had no idea what or who I was. I doubt he's one of them, but it was the only way we could think of. Xander and Dawn kind of spy for me."

He thought back to the whispered conversation, albeit brief, that Xander and Dawn engaged in during that night's bouts. It made sense. They had been exchanging secrets, just not about the things Seeley had speculated. Like drugs or something. Had they seen someone they deemed suspicious?

Tony saw recognition in Buffy's eyes as the denial on his part began to fade. Cold hard facts based on what he'd witnessed with his own eyes were taking its place. She'd probably seen it before. He wondered how many times. Lives had to be forever altered once the realization that what they'd seen was real was made. A monster.

He had to report in tomorrow morning, get off this case. There was nothing to investigate here. He'd known it earlier, felt it with every fiber of his being. Now that he thought about it, he'd known the moment he'd seen her. She had a job to do, and she'd do whatever it took to do it. Even subject herself to regular beatings. Granted, the beatings were minimal and she got paid well. He had to admire it, though. And he recognized it as something similar he'd do to get the job done.

"I should get you home."

"Are you tired?"

"No, but it's late and you'd said you had things to do."

"Well, I kind of already did them. I have to patrol every night, at least every other night if I skip one for whatever reason."

"Oh."

"There's nothing to say you have to take me home you know."

His eyes widened and she laughed lightly.

"Wow. Okay. I see that thought hadn't occurred to you."

"No, it's just." He leaned back, so he was now seated on the floor. "It's complicated. I wasn't expecting."

"You said you aren't involved."

"Well, no."

Could he do it? Take what she was offering, knowing he was going to leave within the next day or two at the most. He might be told to stay and do the fight just to maintain the investigation's integrity in case they needed to come back. As far as he was concerned it was a closed case. His work was done. She was no longer a lead, a suspect, a witness. She was just Buffy.

"It's complicated, I can't. If you want to stay, you're welcome to. I won't deny it'd be nice to sleep with someone. I just can't offer you more than that."

"Oh." She nipped at her lower lip, a gesture that made him sorely tempted to give in.

"You don't have to stay. I mean, if you don't want to. I assure you it's not from lack of attraction. Just like you have secrets, so do I. I'm just not in a position to share them with you. And I can't do that to you. There was a time, a former life, I would have jumped at the chance. I'm just not that man anymore."

"I understand, and thank you. I," she shrugged. "It's not usually my style anyway."

"Well, if it'll make you feel better about staying, someone should keep an eye on you to be sure, you know, you're all right. No side effects."

She smirked then. "Side effects, huh?"

"Blows like that can be nasty. You could have internal bleeding."

"And you sleeping beside me would put you in a position to monitor that?"

"You bet."

She laughed then, a nice one, suggesting she was not mad. That was good, women were strange. Their egos were odd, even if she maintained coming on to someone she'd just met was out of the ordinary. He believed her. She didn't come across as a slut. He'd run across his fair share of those in the military.

She stood slowly from the couch, whether it was from a twinge of pain he couldn't tell. She offered him a hand, which he took and let her help him from the floor.

"Well, you're the best looking treating physician I've ever seen, so I'd better take advantage of your generous, and timely, offer."

"All right. Let me button up."

"I'll just use your bathroom if that's okay. And a phone if you have it."

"Sure," he pointed down the hall that led to his room. "Bathroom's right through there. I'll see you in a minute with the phone."

And Hodgins wondered why he'd cut their call short? Seeley snorted at the very idea of choosing Hodgins over a woman like Buffy as he locked up for the night. Last night, he'd slept on the couch with the doors leading to the balcony open. The sound of the sea had helped calm him and ease him into a light but decent sleep. He never slept well in new places. His years in the military had made him crave stability, one place and bed that were his. Tonight, though, he'd have company and didn't think he'd have difficulty sleeping in this unfamiliar bed.

As attractive as she was, he knew he'd made the right decision a minute ago. His mind and body seemed to be in agreement, which was good. There was nothing more embarrassing than going to bed after claiming a lack of desire to close the deal and have parts prone to having minds of their own prove him a liar.

The End