Words: 3,800 (5 of 10)

"Are you going to be here tomorrow?" Velma asked, looked up at her owlishly from her cot in the bare bedroom.

"Unless there's an emergency somewhere they need me to deal with," Buffy told her. "Are you going to be alright like this? We can always go find a hotel with real beds."

"It's only for one night," Velma said. "Besides, the city had hard floors. This is heavenly."

"Okay," Buffy said, reaching down to squeezed her hand, resisting the sudden impulse to tuck her in. "Get some sleep."

"Goodnight, Buffy," she said, pulling her blanket up to her chin.

"Night." Stopping at the door, Buffy turned off the light before stepping out into the hall, gently closing the door behind her.

Going back to her own room, Buffy pulled her favorite slaying outfit out of her suitcase. Quickly stripping off her travel clothes, Buffy started putting it on, one piece of reinforced leather and kevlar at a time. Early in her career, a slaying outfit had been whatever she was wearing at the time. She'd gone through a lot of clothes that way. When she'd started traveling, leather had been the most durable thing she could wear.

Seeing what modern materials could do when worn by the military units she increasingly worked with, and after one too many close calls, she'd found someone to design clothes for her that looked like her favorite leather and denim outfits. They provided better protection from the claws and teeth of most of the demons she ran into and lasted much longer.

Colorado Springs wasn't known for its demonic nightlife but she needed to burn off some energy and putting it to use exploring the neighborhood seemed like a good idea. And if she did run into something unexpected, she wanted all of the advantages she could get.

"Are you going to tell her the truth about Groupe Seven?" Rupert asked, having joined her out on the porch. He'd watched her loosening up before patrol almost as long as he'd known her. Even in his more introspective moments, he wasn't sure if he knew what the attraction was, but she'd never objected to his presence.

"I was hoping you could do that?" Buffy said. "I think she'll take it better from you. You understand the science type, like her, better than I do."

Rupert nodded, not completely surprised. Over the years, he'd noticed that she preferred to be the silent partner in their relationship. "Before you head out I have something to show you," he said nervously.

"Where?" she asked, flipping to her feet in a move that made his joints ache.

"The garage," he said, stepping off of the porch. The Slayer joined him as he headed to the garage's side door. Unlocking it, he reached in and flipped on the light.

"It's big," Buffy said, her voice echoing in the large space.

"If you want to use it for your own vehicle there's plenty of room," Rupert told her, waving at the empty space next to his car.

"I should return that rental before the accountants start whinging," she said, frowning. "I still have that truck we used in Vancouver in storage. I'm sure there's someone who can drive it down here for me. Just needs local registration."

"You kept that?" Rupert looked at her in surprise. She'd been extremely vocal about the black Rover with tinted windows being too obvious at the time, making it hard for her to keep a low profile.

"I keep a lot of the things I get from the Council," Buffy told him. "You never know when Travers will get stingy with the fundage. I just have to keep it in Council storage since I don't have a permanent residence."

"Oh, I see," Rupert said, nodding. He wondered once more what had happened to change the flighty Californian teenager described in her early Council records into someone who thought long term. "Very practical."

"That's me," Buffy said, with a slightly mocking tone that made Rupert wince. "The Practical Slayer. So what was so important that it couldn't wait until tomorrow?"

"There's a large loft up above. The door is over there," Rupert told her, pointing towards the back. "I thought you could make use of it for a training room."

"I'd planned on using the basement," Buffy said, "But options are nice."

"It has a separate lock," he said, pulling out his keys. "It's the key on your key ring with the orange label." Unlocking the door, he led the way up the flight of stairs. Reaching the top, he stepped to the side to give her an uninterrupted view of the space. He was rather proud of what he'd had done to it in the week since he'd moved in.

"Wow! This is so much better than the basement," Buffy said, looking around the large room. "Though those large windows don't provide much privacy."

"They're tinted," he told her, glad he'd anticipated her. "No one can see through them out past the fence."

"Cool," she said, wandering around the room. "It's like the perfect training room," she told him, waving at the mirrored wall, punching bag hanging in one corner, gymnastic equipment, and floor mats stacked in another corner. "All it needs is a radio and a shower for after."

"There's a small shower and locker room through that door," he told her pointing at a door in the far wall next to a small kitchenette. "Also," he said, stepping to the right. Reaching up, he pressed on a hidden latch. The wall split open, revealing a large vertical weapons storage cabinet, several of the mounts already containing weapons.

"Ooh... shiny. Are these yours?" Buffy asked, lightly running a finger along the edge of a long knife.

"Yes. There should be plenty of room here for your training weapons," he said.

"And then some. How did you open it?" She looked at the doors to the cabinet. "I didn't even see it until you did that."

"There's a pressure switch at the bottom," he told her.

"So anyone can just come in and take something?"

"No, the entire building is warded, just like the house," he said.

"I've been meaning to talk with you about that," Buffy said. "Velma noticed the lack of a security system. Yes, I know you don't think we need one with all of the wards you have in place, but she doesn't know about them yet."

"They should keep out anything that doesn't belong," he told her.

"Anything sensitive to magic," she said. "But anyone or anything that is magic free is going to be able to walk right past them once they get through the locks."

"Yes, but there is no such thing as a magic free demon," Rupert said. "Even most humans have some magical presence."

"No buts," Buffy told him, in that tone of voice that always reminded him that she was still the Slayer. While she might be half his age, only Quentin Travers could successfully argue with her. And that had more to do with his position as the head of the Council than the man himself. "Who knows what else is going to come through that ring of yours. And besides, Velma will feel a lot better in a house protected by a security system she can actually see and control."

"And who do you recommend install it?" Rupert asked, with a rare touch of condescension.

"Beats me. You're the big brain around here," Buffy said, shrugging and continuing to explore the room. "I really like it up here," she told him, poking the practice dummy sitting in a corner. "Definitely much better than the basement."

"Thanks," he said, her bright smile bringing one to his own face.

"O'Neill!" she blurted out, jumping up on the pommel horse.

"O'Neill what?" Rupert asked.

"I bet he knows all about security systems," Buffy said, "Isn't that part of his job? And if he doesn't he has all sorts of people who work for him. I'm sure one of them knows how to set up a security system."

"I'll talk with him this morning," Rupert said.

"Great!" Buffy said before pushing herself up into a handstand on the pommel horse.

"Good morning," Velma said, the smell of bacon drawing her into the kitchen.

"You're up early, my dear," Rupert said, looking over at her from his position in front of the stove. "What would you like for breakfast?"

"Coffee? And that bacon smells wonderful," she said, spying a coffee maker.

Nodding, he reached over and opened the cupboard above it. "The coffee and filters are here. If you or Buffy prefer a different kind of coffee let me know."

Velma nodded, grabbing the coffee pot. "I'll ask her. Where is she?"

"She's in the training room," he said.

"Training room?" She couldn't remember anything resembling what she thought of as a training room when he'd shown them around the house the night before.

"It's above the garage," he said, sitting down after placing a plate of bacon, a bowl of scrambled eggs, and toast in the center of the kitchen table. "Help yourself."

"Thanks," Velma said, sitting down across from him.

Her senses operating at the high level that seemed to occur only in near death experiences and when she'd reached the end of an intense training session, Buffy sensed Velma's hesitant steps on the stairs long before she spoke.

"Jinkies," Velma exclaimed, her voice bouncing off the walls. "That's amazing."

Buffy continued for several minutes, moving from the offensive moves she preferred to the more sedate Tai'Chi movements she used to cool off with.

"What's up?" she asked, keeping her expression as neutral as she could in the face of Velma's preferred clothing color scheme. Somehow, during their shopping expedition the previous day, she'd managed to pick out clothes in various shades of orange and red. Considering what Velma had been wearing when they met, Buffy was just thankful that neon orange was not a common color.

"You move like someone in a kung-fu movie," Velma said, gazing around the room. "Daphne can do some really fancy moves herself, but I don't think she's even close to that level."

Buffy just shrugged. She didn't think there was anything special about her abilities. They were just part of being the Slayer. Training helped give her better control of the fighting skills all slayers had, and better control meant living longer.

"Rupert said you were some kind of mystical warrior," Velma said, standing in front of her. "If everything else he said is true, I can see why you can move like that."

"Most of those fancy moves are only useful when I'm training," Buffy said dismissively. "Speed and strength are more important for survival than finesse in the field."

"Oh," Velma mumbled. "I still think the way you were moving was amazing."

"I've never had a groupie before," Buffy said teasingly.

"Sorry," Velma said, blushing.

"So, you believe what Rupert told you?"

"He seems to believe it," Velma said. "And he leant me several books. Watching you do that stuff helped..." her voice trailed off.

"But you still aren't sure?" Buffy asked, not too surprised.

"Rocket scientist," Velma reminded her, pointing at herself. "And, back when I was a detective, we'd occasionally run into criminals who wore costumes and used supernatural fakery to hide their crimes. So, yes, I need real proof."

"Not a problem," Buffy said. "Didn't believe it myself at first. I'm sure we can find you the proof you need at some point."

"Okay," Velma said. "What are your plans for the rest of the morning?"

"I'm expecting some new toys to arrive today," Buffy said, grabbing her water bottle.


"Toys," Buffy repeated, after taking a drink. "And we might get a visit from someone from the Mountain to take a look at our security system for the house. Other than that, just some more light training. I'm taking it easy today."

"Internet?" Velma asked hopefully.

"Rupert says it was installed last week," Buffy said. "I'm not a tech person so - No idea how to get to it if it isn't wireless."

"Okay," Velma said, nodding. "I can figure it out."

"You wanted to see me, sir?" Graham asked, standing in Colonel O'Neill's office doorway.

"You've met Dr. Giles?" O'Neill asked him.

"Yes, sir," Graham said, stepping completely in. He didn't add that Dr. Giles seemed to know more than he should about his past.

"Good." Standing up he shoved a few things into a pocket and grabbed his cover. "Let's go."

"Sir?" Graham asked, falling into step next to him.

"We have a house to see," he said cryptically.

"Sir? Is there anything I should know about this house?" Graham asked finally, as they pulled up in front of a garage next to a large, solidly built house. Colonel O'Neill had been quiet for the thirty minute trip down from the mountain.

"Dr. Giles' house," O'Neill told him, pointing at the house before getting out of his truck. "No real security system." He waved at the house and garage. Pointing at Graham he said, "security expert."

"Does he just want an opinion or for us to set one up for him," Graham asked, joining him in the driveway.

"Treat it like it's an off-base facility that your team is responsible for. Assume that it needs the works," O'Neill told him, "when you write up your report for me tomorrow."

"Yes, sir," Graham said, pulling out the small computer he carried everywhere. It'd started life out as an experimental hardened iPhone. It was one of a number his platoon had field tested during their last assignment, at the request of some unnamed Californian senator. The hardware had survived. The original custom software had proved so buggy and unreliable that the field test had been canceled. Sparky had been able to fix the most glaring issues and was slowly turning them into useful tools.

"Does it play games?" O'Neill asked curiously.

"No sir," Graham said, after running a basic RF scan of the area and sending it and a deep scan request off to Sparky.

"Come along then," O'Neill said.

"Ms. Dinkley," a voice said. Looking up from her laptop, Velma looked towards the fence that separated the back yard from the garage. A vaguely familiar older man stood next to another one, both dressed in fatigues.

"Yes?" she said, joining them at the fence.

"Captain Miller and I need to speak with Miss Summers," the older man said.

"Okay," Velma said. Leaving them, she hurried over to the far end of the yard, where Buffy had set up a few targets and was testing her new toys.

"What does O'Neill want?" Buffy asked.


"O'Neill? The old guy?"

"Oh," Velma said. "He didn't introduce himself. He wants to talk with you."

"Okay," Buffy told her. "Give me a couple minutes to clean up here. Wouldn't want him to think he's really special by rushing right over."

"Is he?" Velma asked, curious. "Special?"

Buffy's shrug wasn't very helpful, Velma decided, as she headed back to the two men. "She'll be over as soon as she finishes," Velma said.

"What's she doing?" he asked.

"Testing some new equipment," Velma said. "I think. They came this morning."

"Dart guns?" O'Neill frowned.

"I can think of a few things those would be useful for," Graham said quietly.

Ignoring her audience, Buffy removed the magazine from the dart gun and ejected the round in the chamber. Disassembling the gun, she put it away in its case before joining them at the fence.


"O'Neill," Buffy said with the same tone.

"Interesting device," he said. "Darts?"

"It's experimental," Buffy said. "I'm testing it for a friend."

"Ah," O'Neill said. "Captain Miller here is going to take a look at your security system," he added, "and then we'll get you all fixed up."

"Miller?" Buffy gazed at him intently. She'd seen his records because of his Sunnydale connection but never expected to meet him.

"Ma'am," Miller said.

"He's in charge of the security teams for our little chunk of the mountain," O'Neill said.

"What do you need to see?" Buffy asked.

"The physical layout," he said. "Where utilities come into the house. Anything you have set up already."

"How long will it take?" she asked.

"An hour or so," Miller said.

"You have all afternoon," O'Neill told him, "but I have to head back up to the mountain for a meeting."

"Yes, sir," Miller said.

"Ladies," O'Neill said, nodding at them before heading back to his car.

He didn't seem surprised at being abandoned by O'Neill, Buffy thought.

"Are you going to need a ride back?" she asked once O'Neill had driven off.

"No, ma'am," Miller said. "That won't be a problem."

"So, what do you think?" Buffy asked an hour later, when he finished arranging for a ride back to the mountain. She'd gone back to tinkering with her new toys while he explored the house and grounds with Velma in tow. That he'd been very patient with Velma's geeky questions had been a welcome surprise. She might have to revise her opinion of him.

"It's not a castle but securing it won't take much effort," he said. "But do you really need it? Someone seems to have heavily warded it."

"You noticed?" Buffy asked.

"Warded?" Velma asked.

"Yes, ma'am," Miller said. "I recognized the signs."

"Something you learned in Sunnydale?" Buffy asked. There'd been nothing in the reports she'd seen about the Initiative having any trained magic users on staff. They'd been overloaded with scientists and soldiers. But no witches or shamen.

"You know about Sunnydale?" Miller asked, clearly surprised.

"Been there, have the souvenirs," Buffy said, rubbing the scar on her throat for emphasis. He didn't need to know that she and Rupert had been briefed on the Initiative because of his presence at the Mountain.

"What's Sunnydale?" Velma asked.

"A boring story," Buffy said. "Involving all of those things you don't quite believe yet."

"Captain Miller's ride won't be here for a little while," Velma said, her expression hopeful.

Buffy sighed. "Okay, as long as the Captain explains where he learned how to detect that a building's been warded. I don't think that's something they teach officers in the Marines."

"You first," Miller said, winking at Velma.

Buffy sat down on the top step. "How much do you know about Groupe Seven?" she asked him.

"Nothing much," he said, puzzled. "Scuttlebutt has it that you're some super secret British organization funding the project up at the mountain."

"That's reasonably accurate for a rumor," Buffy said. "We are British. Some more than others. And we are involved in the project, though mostly in an oversight kind of way. But that isn't what we're really about."

"Which is?"

"Something like your project in Sunnydale but we've been doing it a lot longer, without the mad scientist bit," Buffy said. "By centuries."

"Oh," Miller said. "So, Sunnydale?"

"Well, I'm not sure you are aware of this, but there is a portal, a hellmouth, in Sunnydale. No, nothing like the ring," she said, looking at Velma. "It is literally a portal to Hell, or someplace like it, and during its' active phases it attracts the more ambitious evil. They seem to think they can control it.

Back then, Groupe Seven tried to have an observer or two on all such mystical hotspots. I was in Cleveland, another inactive hellmouth, at the time. Rupert was in Sunnydale keeping an eye on things. He'd been asking for real help for a long time. There was a particularly nasty vampire that had been terrorizing the town for years. Called himself 'The Master'." Buffy wiggled her fingers in vague 'air quote' fashion. Velma snorted when Buffy winked at her.

"When someone finally listened to Rupert and let me know, I headed there as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the vampire was quite a bit more powerful that I was told. It'd managed to open the Hellmouth long enough to take over the town. My first encounter wasn't very successful." She gestured at the scars on her neck. "Once I'd recovered, Rupert and I took care of it. Which is a story for another time," she said.

"Apparently, a couple years later, someone noticed all of the different kinds of creatures attracted to Sunnydale and decided to set up shop there," she added.

"The Initiative," Miller said.

"Yup," Buffy said. "It didn't end well, from what I've heard."

"No," Miller said, grimacing. "It was a follow-up to an earlier program run during the Cold War. We were there to study ways to control HSTs, but the head of the project had her own plans."

"HSTs?" Velma asked.

"Hostile Sub-Terrestrials," Miller said.

"We call them demons," Buffy told her. "Vampires, that kind of thing."

"We suffered ninety percent casualties," he said, leaning against the banister.

"What happened?"

"It's classified," Miller said.

Buffy shook her head, not seeing the point of keeping that disaster a secret. "The head of the program built her own Frankenstein," she said. "Demon, human, and machine parts. And it blew up in her face. She shouldn't have mixed science and demonic magic. Bad things can happen."

"That's one way to put it," he said, sighing. "They debriefed us at a base outside New Orleans. And then we sat around for 4 months while they decided what to do with us."

"You seem to be doing well," Buffy said.

"I'm a soldier. It runs in the family. The Marines were willing to give me a chance when the Army wanted to pretend the Initiative never happened," Miller said.

"So, how'd you recognize the wards?" she asked.

"My platoon medic is Wiccan," he said. "She's paranoid about certain things. She insists on warding her quarters. I was curious so she leant me a book on the subject. Not sure if it works but if it keeps her happy..."

"You don't have a problem with something like that?" Velma asked, giving him a piercing look. "Magic?"

"She's earned it," he said, but didn't elaborate.

Hearing the distinct sound of an approaching Humvee, Graham stood up.

"What happens next?" Velma asked, looking up at him from the bottom step.

"I'll give my recommendation to Colonel O'Neill and he'll discuss it with Dr. Giles. I'd prefer that my specialists set up the system but it'll be up to them," he told her. "Have a good evening, ladies."

Nodding at them, Graham walked over and climbed into the idling Humvee. "Something wrong Doc?" he asked, noticing how pale she looked, watching the two women walk into the house.

"Uh, no sir," she said, pulling herself together. "Just thought I saw a ghost."

End Notes: Welcome to the middle of the fic!

Important Note: The 2nd half of this fic is currently under construction but it will be a number of months before I start posting the remain chapters (probably not before Christmas, 2010). Your patience until then is appreciated.