In every generation there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.
That was the very motif that Buffy Summers found herself wishing would hold just a little more true at that moment in time. One Slayer, some vampires, stakes; occasionally a crossbow. Everything had been so much simpler back then, she told herself. Though she knew her life had really been far from that ideal for several years now, she didn't let that minor fact get in the way of her resentful musings. She had made one tiny mistake, and drowned for just a few minutes, but apparently death had not been punishment enough for her mishap. Now there she was, an apocalypse or two later, and Miss Mentally Unstable had blown into town ready to steal her boyfriend – OK, so ex-boyfriend, she begrudgingly corrected – and peel her skin off. First of all, ick, and secondly-
She vaguely heard the sound of her name push against her thoughts, but it wasn't enough to pull her from the internal rant. Like Angel would ever want Faith, even without his soul, she continued. There was only so much crazy a guy could take, and she was sure Faith had strolled way past that particular line.
This time the voice had been louder, more insistent, and her head shot up. "I'm listening!" She gave Giles what she considered to be her best wide-eyed, attentive look.
He was stood across the table from her, supporting himself with a hand either side of a weighty looking tome as he leaned forward. Buffy's eyes flicked from him to the book. The binding of the text was worn around the rim, but the paper itself looked surprisingly youthful from where she was sat. The pages were filled with symbols rather than words, and she was pretty sure Giles would be the only person in a good few hundred miles who would have any chance of understanding them. He had spent the last few hours digging through the book in search of – well, something. Buffy didn't really know what he was searching for, and she knew he didn't either. That was pretty much the problem.
It didn't take an ancient prophecy to know that Mayor Wilkins was up to something bad, but they were otherwise stuck in the dark. Buffy's suggestion that they wait for the mayor to make a revealing public service announcement had not gone down too well, but Giles' counter offer of a day of research wasn't exactly faring a whole lot better. So far it had been slow going, and that had given Buffy plenty of time to slip into her own world.
Giles stared at her through his circular lenses as if trying to read her thoughts. "Are you feeling all right?" he asked with a hint of concern in his voice.
"Huh?" she offered back. Her mind took a few more seconds before it was able to fully rejoin her in the real world. "I'm fine."
"You were shuddering-"
"No I wasn't," Buffy interrupted. She paused for just a beat as she searched quickly for an alternative explanation. "It was a shiver. Cold. Brrr." She wrapped her arms around herself to demonstrate the claim. It was only then that she noticed her thin, rose-coloured tank-top; an item picked out due to the warm rays that had greeted her when she had awoken that morning. OK, so not the most believable thing she'd ever come out with, she thought to herself. She watched Giles' brow furrow as he opened his mouth to speak, but he found himself cut off before any words could make it out.
"Cold? Cold?" Xander questioned, his disbelief made obvious by the quickly rising octave of his voice. Sat to Buffy's right, and sprawled haphazardly across a chair, he looked as if merely lifting his head to meet her eyes was about all the energy he could muster. He was dressed in a baggy t-shirt and a pair of khaki cargo trousers that were unfashionably rolled up to his knees. "If it were any less cold then I'd have no choice but to strip off right here, right now, no matter what shame would most certainly follow."
Buffy raised an eyebrow at the quasi-serious expression on Xander's face before turning to share a look with Willow. Her best friend was sat to her left, busy staring across the table at Xander's chest area. Her mouth was open in what could best be described as a hopeful grin. When Willow's eyes finally caught Buffy's, her mouth went slack, and she promptly found something interesting on the table to study.
"Maybe if Giles here invested in some air-con," Xander continued, "then we wouldn't be risking our lives just by being locked away in this sauna." He pointed a finger accusingly at Giles. "Students have rights you know."
Giles offered him a weary look in return. "I think you'll find that this is not my school. Do feel free to bring up the issue with Principal Snyder though. Perhaps when he next catches you skipping your classes."
"It may not be your school, but this place is like your home away from home. Or maybe just your actual home." His pointed finger bobbed back and forth as he spoke, punctuating his words.
Willow, having seemingly regained her composure, looked up as she joined the affront. "It's true Giles. You're in here more than me, and apart from my bedroom ceiling I barely remember what my house looks like." A frown spread across her face as she finished her contribution.
Buffy wasn't eager to join in, and so she kept quiet, glad that the conversation had turned elsewhere. It wasn't as if she wanted to keep anything from them; she just wasn't in the mood to talk about it right then. Truth be told, last night's activities had left her feeling a little – OK, a lot wigged. She had known Faith was keeping something from her – more so than usual – but she was still having trouble believing that Faith was working for the mayor. And if that wasn't bad enough, Faith had also tried to turn Angel, and seemed far too eager to get in a few rounds of Buffy dissection.
Buffy knew that they hadn't been best-est buds, but after a rocky start she had thought they were getting along fine. Faith only turned up at school for the occasional sparring session, so they didn't hang out much during the day. At night they'd patrolled together though. Slew vampires, vanquished evil; that should count for something. So, she wondered, why the sudden anti-Buffy blow-out?
The raised voices in the room snapped her back from her thoughts. What had started as playful banter between her friends seemed to have elevated into loud bickering as the three of them talked feverishly over one another. She couldn't make out what they were arguing about, but nor did she have any real desire to know. "Guys!" Her raised voice was enough to gather their attentions. "Chill?"
The commotion died down almost instantly, and for a moment the library felt equal parts quiet and awkward.
"Err, sorry," Giles said, breaking the uncomfortable silence. For their parts, Willow and Xander opted to remain quiet, instead offering up sheepish looks in apology. Giles removed his glasses with one hand and ran the other back through his hair. "Buffy's right. I know this heatwave has everybody on edge, but we mustn't take it out on each other. Right now we need to maintain our focus on the mayor. Buffy?" He replaced his glasses and looked over at her. "We're getting nowhere fast with these books. Without some sort of direction we could be here all week and still end up none the wiser. Can you think of anything else Faith said which might allude as to what the mayor is planning?"
Buffy gave a half-hearted shrug. "I don't think so."
She had already given the guys the 4-1-1, hence the current library research session taking priority over Dr. Mills' Chemistry double. Sure, she had skipped over one or two parts, but there were some things that they just didn't need to know. Like how Faith had stuck her tongue down Angel's throat, or about her plans to play surgeon.
Trying to piece through the night's events was proving to be a challenge. In the beginning, as Buffy had played the part of the helpless victim, time had shifted unbearably slow as she and Angel waited for Faith to spill her dark secrets. Faith had been in no hurry though, more than happy to take the time to show her satisfaction over her apparent victory. Buffy tried to shake the image of a gloating Faith from the front of her mind so she could focus on what else had happened that night.
The ringing of Faith's phone – likely a new toy from the mayor – had prompted her to leave Buffy alone with Angel, and she briefly considered what a relief that had been. It didn't take long though before a previously lost detail tugged at her thoughts. Angel had used the opportunity to loosen the bonds on her arms, but her ears had stayed focused on Faith; go-go Slayer hearing. The phone call had been mostly one-sided, with Faith offering short answers to unheard questions. But there was one thing, she thought suddenly, her concentration deepening as she tried to persuade her mouth to form the word she was still searching out.
"Demkim!" she exclaimed with more excitement than was perhaps necessary. The outburst drew all eyes her way.
"You want to order Chinese?" Xander asked, earning himself a glare from Buffy. "I'll be shutting up now."
Giles was looking off to one side with an unfocused gaze, and his slightly parted lips formed a loose O shape.
It was a look that suggested the word may have rang a bell, but Buffy started to explain when there was no immediate response from her watcher. "Faith brought it up when she was on the phone. I'm pretty sure to the mayor. She asked how it – Demkim – was going. That mean anything to you?"
He looked down to her, back from his thoughts. "I'm not sure," he said slowly, taking a moment before he continued. "There was a brotherhood of demons back in the seventeen hundreds. They called themselves the Zhegia Demkim. They were a relatively peaceful tribe, at least as far as humanity was concerned, and few people ever had direct dealings with them. Their tenacious hoarding nature eventually earned them the title of 'The Keepers', by both humans and demons alike."
"Nobody likes a non-sharer," Xander said, shaking his head in mock disgust.
"What did they keep?" Willow asked. "Was it an impressive variety of fluffy bunnies?" she added with a hopeful, wide-eyed smile.
Giles frowned slightly in response to their light hearted remarks. "I'm not aware of the exact details – magical artefacts of some sorts. There are numerous rumours, but I dare say anybody who laid eyes on their wares didn't survive long enough to compose a complete inventory." The lines on his forehead seemed to crinkle further. "The thing is, despite their individual strengths they were quite meagre in number, and a bloody war with a more prominent demonic faction resulted in their demise before the turn of the nineteenth century. Everything I've read on the matter indicates that, realizing the battle was lost, a trio escaped for long enough to destroy everything in their possession."
"I'm guessing not everything," Buffy said. "I mean if the mayor is looking into them then something's got to be up right?"
"Yes, I would imagine so. I'll cross reference everything I have on them and see if any particular objects keep cropping up. Hopefully that will point us toward what the mayor is after, and, with any luck, provide some much needed insight into how to stop him." He didn't waste any time. Taking the book from the table, he carried it underarm as he took the stairs toward the stacks. Before he vanished from sight he turned to face the three drained teenagers.
Buffy felt his eyes on her, but pretended not to notice, instead letting her loose gaze stare at the carpet. She was aware that she'd been acting a little weird that morning, but hoped Giles would just overlook it as teenager stuff. Or Angel stuff; something she knew he had no genuine desire to discuss. He had never told her as much, but she saw the sorrow in his eyes when he came across any reminder of Ms. Calender. She knew he blamed Angel. Maybe even blamed her.
"Buffy?" he asked.
"Yeah?" she replied, only then raising her eyes to meet his.
"Perhaps you should take tonight off? Rest up after yesterday. I suspect even the undead are unlikely to be too anxious to rise from their graves if the weather remains this insufferable."
"Sure." She offered him a small smile which he returned before moving away between the bookshelves.
The lunch bell rang out, but neither Xander nor Willow looked to be making any kind of immediate move. Xander was slouched back in his chair once more, while Willow's head rested peacefully on crossed arms, the two of them showing minimal signs of life.
The offer of a graveyard-free night should have called for a get-together at The Bronze, but instead Buffy was confronted with the urge to curl up in a dark corner. Unlike Xander and Willow, the heat didn't have her down for the count. Her only concerns revolved around the previous night.
They had outed Faith, gotten a potential lead on the mayor's plans, and nobody had died. That should have been a victory for the good guys, but the unease in her stomach left her in no mood for celebration. She knew she'd been in this situation before, less than a year ago, and last time it had not gone well for any of them. Faith may not have lost her soul to a moment of happiness, but Buffy had somehow managed to make a dangerous enemy of her none the less.
Just like she hadn't seen it coming, she also had no idea what would happen next. But a deep-seated feeling of dread told her it wouldn't end well.