Title: Secondary Insurance Policy

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.

Rating: T/PG-13

Summary: See, the thing is, the Powers like to play with loaded dice; they never put all their eggs in one basket. 1900 words.

Spoilers: BtVS post-"Chosen"; no comics; "Hancock" (2008); Sanctuary (Season 1)

Notes: For the August Fic-a-Day Challenge. The Sanctuary cross is secondary, and vague; you don't need to know much about it, just that Dr. Helen Magnus (who herself isn't normal) uses science to investigate people who aren't normal human beings.

"So how's New York, B?" a cheerful voice asked in Buffy's ear.

"Not as fun as Cleveland, it sounds like," she replied wryly, listening to the background sounds of a club in full swing over the phone. "Happy hunting tonight?"

"So far so good," Faith replied. "Vi and I are staking out the latest popular hangout, if you know what I mean; I've been out to the alley three times already."

Buffy could practically hear the other Slayer's eyebrows waggle suggestively over the air. "Sounds like old times at the Bronze," she said, smiling nostalgically. "God, I miss those days. You sure you don't want to come do these speech-and-greets for me, let me trade places with you for awhile?"

"Not a chance in hell," Faith laughed. "You're the one who said we ought to play nice with all the other crazies coming out of the woodwork these days, so suck it up and deal. Who's up next? You met with the team in that creepy old castle yet?"

Buffy's smile faded a bit at that; the discussion on just what was defined as an 'abnormal' and how the Slayers fit into the Sanctuary's worldview had been the kind of fun that really, really wasn't. Necessary and education-y and a whole lot of other -y words, yes-- they'd helped confirm a recently proposed theory that promised to revolutionize everything the Council thought they knew about their charges-- but nice? Not so much. Not that she wanted to get into all of that over the phone.

"You'll have to be more specific," she said, lightly. "There's more than one creepy castle on my list. What's with these centenarians and all their same-y d├ęcor, anyway?"

Faith snorted. "Don't think I'm not going to get it out of you later," she said. "But okay. You want to talk old guys, what about Hancock? He as fine up close as he looks on TV?"

"I wouldn't know," Buffy replied, leaning against the railing of the hotel room's balcony with a sigh. "I went to the address Mary gave us this morning, but no one was home, so I left him a calling card."

"Calling card?" Faith echoed. "That's a new one on me. What did you do, leave a stake on his doorstep with your room number carved into it?"

"Something like that," Buffy said, then looked up as a faint whooshing sound carried through the night air. "Hey, I'll call you back later, okay? I think I'm about to have a guest."

"You know where I'll be," Faith replied, then hung up, leaving Buffy alone with the cityscape and the distant Moon.

Well. Almost alone. He was a lot quieter about it than he used to be, now that his publicist friend had got him to start landing more carefully, but it took a much stealthier person than John Hancock to sneak up on a wary Slayer.

"I take it you got my present?" she said calmly, glancing over at the tall man in the eagle-marked leather jacket that had suddenly appeared beside her.

"Yeah, about that," he said, wrinkling up his nose as he held out the twisted-up metal post she'd ripped from his fence and reformed into a message for him. She couldn't see his eyes behind the sunglasses he wore, but the arch of his eyebrow above them spoke volumes. "What the hell's it supposed to be, a no smoking sign? I hate to break it to you, but smoking's never been one of my vices."

"A what?" Buffy objected, distracted into checking out her handiwork again. How did he get no-smoking sign out of-- well, okay, so the bottom point had got kind of squished, and the top curves weren't very pronounced, and the bit she'd jabbed back toward the middle to symbolize the stake did kind of go all the way across the lopsided, roundish shape she'd intended as a heart, but-- "Nevermind," she shook her head. "The shape isn't the point."

"No, the key was the point, wasn't it?" Hancock parried, before she could continue. He dropped the metal knot to the ground, then opened his other hand to reveal the hotel keycard she'd trapped in the middle of the impromptu sculpture. "And the suggestion that you bent it yourself. Gotta say, that's the most creative way anyone's ever tried to scam me. Who are you supposed to be, my long lost daughter or niece or something? 'Cause I think Mary would have told me about that sometime in the last few months."

"Not really, no," Buffy replied, unruffled by his belligerence-- she'd kind of been expecting it. Then she thought again, and wrinkled her nose. "Except, kind of? It really depends on your definition of 'niece'."

"Isn't there only one?" he snorted. "Daughter of my sister or brother? Mary tried that 'sister' thing on me once already, you know. I didn't believe her then, and I won't believe it now."

"What, you think I'm hers just because I'm blonde?" Buffy smirked at him.

"You saying you're not?" he prompted. "'Cause I kind of thought all the others like us died out centuries ago, and I can see that Bandaid on your arm from here; superstrong or not, I know you're not immortal. So either you're faking, or she had a kid with someone who wasn't me sometime in the last thirty years."

"Twenty-eight, thank you very much," she objected, and turned her arm over to inspect the adhesive bandage she'd forgotten was there. She'd told Dr. Magnus she wouldn't need one after the 157-year-old woman had drawn her blood, but she'd insisted on it, slapping on a child-size decorated Bandaid with little Cupid hearts all over it. Buffy picked it off, irritably, and showed him the unmarred skin underneath it. "And you're kind of jumping to conclusions. There's a few more generations between me and the brother and sister in question, I think-- like, several hundred-- and all we know for sure is I'm not immortal yet."

He took the sunglasses off then, scanning her up and down with dark, assessing eyes. "Want to run that by me again?" he prompted her, skeptically.

"There used to be a lot of you guys, once upon a time," she told him. "We're not sure how many, and even Mary didn't remember when we met her; a lot of other powerful beings borrowed your names, too, or else you borrowed from them, no one's sure which. We just know that once upon a time one of your names was Horus, and you had a whole bunch of kinda-siblings who flew around playing god and goddess and falling in love with each other." Willow, predictably, had thought the whole thing was kind of romantic; Buffy had been reminded of loving Angel so much she felt like she wanted to die, and thought whoever up there had designed an entire race prone to suicide by obsessive love was either mentally ill, or paranoid, or both.

"By the time the rest of the world population was advanced enough to stop worshiping you," she continued, "there weren't very many of you guys left. That's why the Powers that Be made sure you and Mary could never stay together, she said; they wanted to keep at least one of your kind around as an insurance policy, so they had to keep you both."

Hancock nodded slowly to himself. "All right, so you've at least talked to her. Your chances of making it out of the city without your head going up someone else's ass have just gone up."

"I so did not need that mental image," Buffy shook her head at him. "And don't even; she told us you promised not to do that kind of thing anymore."

"If you're fucking around with me? I might make an exception," he scowled. "Keep talking."

"Don't get your panties in a bunch," she sighed. "I'm getting there. See, the thing is, the Powers like to play with loaded dice; they never put all their eggs in one basket. We think they took one of the other pairs like you and Mary-- a pair that had settled down, lost their powers, and made it to old age-- and trapped their spirits here somehow after their bodies died. Then they used that energy as a well of power, tied into the couple's entire genetic line, so a tiny piece of their spirits would always inhabit each and every one of their female descendants. Then, under certain circumstances a bigger piece would flow into one chosen girl to make her stronger, faster, and deadlier than the others-- a secondary insurance policy, to be where you couldn't."

"Hence pretzel," Hancock muttered, nudging the metalwork heart with one boot-clad toe.

"Right," Buffy nodded. "The Powers figured that there were enough descendants of that couple that their overall strength would always be diluted; no one Slayer-- which is what they called us-- would ever be as potentially dangerous as the originals, just in case we ever stopped worshiping them like the people did to you-- to us. Then they made extra sure to muddy the waters by telling lies about the source of the Slayers' power."

"That's kind of a cynical view of things," Hancock snorted. "Can you prove it?"

"Give me a few decades." Buffy sighed, then knelt and picked up the sculpture, unbending it as she continued. "I did something they didn't expect a few years ago; they actually tried to give me a little bit more of the power when there was a big threat coming on, but instead I had a friend short-cut their whole system, choosing all of the potential Slayers instead of just one. It worked-- kind of. None of us can have kids anymore, in this in-between state-- but when one of us dies, her strength goes to all the other Slayers instead of back to the Powers. We think there'll eventually be just two of us left, like there were before."

And she'd be really surprised if those Two weren't she and Faith. It would explain a lot of things she didn't really want to look at too closely just yet.

"So why contact me now?" he frowned at her.

"'Cause Mary just figured it out now," Buffy shrugged, handing him the straightened-out metal post. "It's the first time there's ever been more than one Slayer at a time for her to sense. And she thought you might like to know that she was wrong-- you're not alone."

He took the post, staring wordlessly at it for a moment, something like hope in his expression. "Good to know," he said gruffly. Then he turned his face up to the Moon. "You going to be in town for a few more days?"

"At least 'til Saturday," she confirmed.

"Got something I gotta do tonight, but I should be back tomorrow," he said. "You mind answering a few more questions then?"

Without all the skepticism weighing down his features, he looked a lot younger, and a lot more appealing. Buffy nodded. "Sure. I've got a few for you, too; things Mary didn't stick around to tell us."

"Don't know how much help I'll be without my memories," he shrugged nonchalantly. "But, sure." Then he crouched down and launched himself into the sky.

Buffy watched him go, smiling wryly, then fished out her phone and hit redial.