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Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Game of Love

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  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Game of Love

    Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Game of Love
    Rating
    : PG-13
    Spoilers: Through Season 8.03
    Disclaimer: Joss owns all of these characters whose names you recognize, and I probably only barely own any of the ones I made up since I’m using them in his house.
    Notes: This story is set about a year after Season 8’s first story arc, “The Long Way Home”, and is therefore about 2.5 years since “Chosen”. No open canon-breaking, but the story assumes (without details) that whatever caused Dawn’s problems at the start of Season 8 has been resolved.



    Prologue

    Rupert Giles parked his rented car on the rain-soaked street. No matter how innocent this slice of German countryside looked, he dare not park close enough to his destination to risk being seen. Casting a wary look in each direction, Giles discreetly slipped off the sidewalk between two small shops in the town square and found the path he was looking for. He pulled his overcoat tighter to ward off the rain and cold, abandoning any idea of an umbrella so he could have a better chance to spot anyone following him.

    Coming out of the alley onto the next street over, Giles turned to his left and walked briskly out of the small town to the first residential cottage on the block. With one last look over his shoulder, and a word of silent thanks to the unreasonable riches of the Council he’d inherited by default, he placed his eye up to the hidden retina scanner in the doorway and slipped inside.

    “Oh, at last,” he sighed with relief, taking his overcoat off and hanging it by the door of the Slayer safehouse. Tugging his sweater back down, and taking a deep breath, he turned back to the people waiting for him in the cottage’s fire-lit living room. “I came as quickly as I could without being spotted.”

    Already seated, he saw, Xander Harris and Willow Rosenberg were quietly sipping on tea. Every time he saw them, he was at first struck by their maturity. They’d been only 16 when he’d met them, and, along with Buffy, had become surrogate children. Now they were all adults, and all powerful in their way, and the two sharing the room with him looked patient and pleased to see him. He could see on the coffee table a cup of tea was already brewing for him.

    “I could tell you were coming, so I thought we’d go ahead and have tea on for you,” Willow said by way of explanation. She particularly had come so far from the babbling young girl she’d been. It’s as if the more she’d grown as a magical woman, the less she felt she had to explain or justify in speech.

    “I remember you explaining the whole ‘tea is soothing’ thing to me, and I knew you’d be showing up pretty anxious,” Xander added. The young man was dressed much like Giles himself, except for the patch that marked his missing eye. His growth had been even more noticeable than Willow’s or Buffy’s in recent years. He had become a de facto general and commandant to the world wide army of Slayers they’d created, center of their communications and tactical network. In this role he had defied even the most optimistic opinion of his potential that Giles had held for him as a boy.

    It was because of the new man he saw in Xander that Giles had come running in response to his call.

    “Xander, Willow, I’m glad you both made it safely. Whatever the crisis is, I’m sure we’ll be able to overcome it.”

    Willow nodded gratefully and turned her gaze to Xander. Giles did the same. It was, after all, his meeting. Xander, however, didn’t seem nearly as concerned. In fact, he finally broke into a smile.

    “Guys, I’m sorry if you got too worried. I just needed to make sure I could get you both here at the same time,” Xander began apologetically, “with you in St. Petersburg, Giles, and Willow –“ he looked at her with a helpless gesture, a reminder to Giles of how hard it was to account for Willow’s whereabouts at any given time. Giles saw him start and stop from continuing again and was finally so confused he couldn’t wait for the young man to get it out.

    “Xander, you said Buffy was in trouble...” Giles began, cautiously.

    “Well, I suppose that was true, depending on your point of view,” Xander cut in. He made pausing gestures in the air, like he was trying to grasp the right way to begin out of the air.

    “Xan, if she’s in trouble, we’re here to help. You don’t have to deal with this alone. Just say ‘Avengers assemble’ and it’s yours,” Willow encouraged. Giles saw Xander shaking his head now, as if embarrassed.

    “Man, I didn’t realize this would be so awkward. Look, guys, the reason I called, and the reason I needed you both here, is that there is something you need to know about what’s going on at the castle,” he tried again.

    Giles, feeling exasperated now, just gestured with open-handed impatience. Willow stared pensively over to Xander from her seat.

    “I had this whole thing planned in my head, and that’s worthless – it rolled right out of my eyehole.” This was an expression Giles knew Xander meant for forgetfulness, but it never failed to disgust him.

    “Xander, stop babbling and tell us what’s going on,” Giles commanded, keeping his voice just in check of anger, “You can’t just call –“

    “I’m going to ask Buffy to marry me,” Xander broke in, letting the sentence out like a long, slow breath. Willow’s eyes went wide in surprise, and Giles felt his words catch in his throat. He mentally stumbled for words a few times and failed. His train of thought lost completely, he finally walked over to the sofa next to Willow on wooden legs. Speechless, he flopped onto the couch cushions and reached for his tea.

    “I’m asking Buffy to marry me,” Xander repeated, more confidently this time, “and I want to make sure that I have both of your blessings before I do.”

    Chapter 1

    A wise beyond her years Italian bartender had once described the life of American girls in Rome to a couple of visitors very succinctly: “Many blond American coeducationals. Spring break? The girls, they go wild.”

    The blond American coeducational currently slipping through the crowd inside the Roman nightclub may not have heard those specific words, but she clearly expressed the sentiment: long, blonde hair, blue eyes, and dressed to kill in a black minidress and obscenely high heels. Like many others, she was looking for a good time at a popular club. But this one was different than the others for many reasons. Not the least of which was that she could care less about the men on the dance floor. She was only interested in the wrinkled, dour man standing in a small crowd next to an unassuming curtain entrance off the main club. Her interest was simple: he had the list.

    The woman slid gracefully past some club-goers, and rudely through others, on her way to her goal. When she arrived, she took a moment to tease her hair a little. She sauntered up to the man with the list, ready to entice her way behind the curtain.

    Signorina, please do not even ask,” The wrinkled man cut her off in an almost cartoonish Italian accent, “the list is full tonight, and even if it wasn’t, he has no need of a woman of your particular, ah, gifts.”

    The blond woman was not deterred by the simpering tone of the bouncer. “He hasn’t seen my gifts, buster, so don’t try to tell me –“

    “He already has a blond. She is lovely beyond words, she is powerful, and, unlike you, she is invited.”

    “I don’t care how powerful you think his little… little ‘bint’ is, but I’m powerful-er!” No matter how much time she had spent around British slang, it still sounded stupid when she tried to use it.

    “I do not think so, lady vampire. The Immortal’s ragazza is the Slayer amongst Slayers, the lady Buffy Summers,” the demonic bouncer declared, bragging on behalf of his master. Daring just a bit more ego and vicarious pride, he pulled the curtain back from the Immortal’s VIP lounge, allowing the woman to peek inside to see the Immortal and his prize reclining. He was prepared to watch this interloping vampire’s face crumble in embarrassment for having bothered at all. What he was stunned to see was the woman’s face light up in a knowing, delighted grin.

    “You are the worst bouncer ever, then, because I happen to be Buffy Summers’ arch-nemesisisis…” Harmony Kendall trailed off as she struggled with the word. Shaking her head, she continued: “That isn’t Buffy Summers.”



    The bouncer winced in shame as he stepped into the Immortal’s VIP lounge. If the vampire was telling the truth, the Immortal was going to be embarrassed beyond the telling, and angry. But it couldn’t be true! This woman must be the Slayer, Buffy Summers. They had done locating spells, they had tested articles of her clothing while she and His Benevolence had been in flagrante – all had confirmed beyond question that his new paramour was the legendary Slayer.

    But if it wasn’t…

    If it wasn’t, there is no question who is responsible, he knew. The Immortal may be taken in – he’d never seen it, but, si, it could be done as such things were done. But he, Alfonso, was responsible for who did and did not receive an audience with his master. Whether that audience was in the club, in battle, or in his bed chamber, the Immortal had trusted him for 500 years to preserve his privacy and his pride.

    Alfonso decided would not compound the possible error by sneaking around the situation for more tests. He would trust his master’s judgment and mercy and bring the concern directly to his attention. For was not the Immortal called His Benevolence even by those that did not serve him? Still, it was daunting – Alfonso found himself struggling to form any words or action to draw the Immortal’s attention away from the young woman whose thigh he currently caressed in the dark and quiet ambience of his lounge.

    “Alfonso, why are you troubled?” The Immortal’s voice pierced through all of Alfonso’s hesitation. The tone sounded the gentle and concerned, but after centuries, Alfonso felt the metal beneath it quiver as if struck. With a glance to see that the young woman who was supposed to be Buffy Summers was paying no attention, Alfonso leaned in to whisper his concern to His Benevolence. Surely that nickname would be deserved today.

    “Master, there is a young woman, a vampire, who insisted upon an audience. I confess that in turning her away I erred in arrogance to show her a glimpse of you as you entertain here. When I did, she caused great alarm by insisting that la ragazza is not who she has claimed to be.”

    The Immortal’s face was hard to see, at times, and that was a relief. Alfonso could see flashes of alarm and anger in his master’s eyes before the normal imperturbable expression returned. He appeared as a human man of as many as 40 years, or as few as 20. Black hair that swept loosely back and down to his shoulder, Alfonso knew that he was concerned extraordinarily handsome in every age of history. That didn’t change the fact that sometimes, you still couldn’t quite get your eyes to grip the man’s features.

    “Alfonso, you don’t mean to be so rude as to suggest that Miss Summers is something other than who I know her to be,” the Immortal spoke with neither question nor threat, but just as casually as if he’d asked for a new bottle of wine to be opened.

    “Master, I would never question your own judgment and I assure you I did all that is required to assure her identity. This vampire, however, claims to have been a classmate of Miss Summers before her own change, and challenged her identity without having even seen her straight on.”

    Alfonso took a deep breath as he watched the Immortal’s face consider the idea. He was slow to anger at most times, but it was also not often that he was facing such a monumental public insult as to be deceived by a lover. A lover who had been favored with his company for more than two years, no less.

    “Show her in, Alfonso. You did very well to bring this to me immediately,” the Immortal declared. “Bring her in, but do not announce her. We shall let Miss Summers introduce us.”

    With a nod, Alfonso returned to the curtain and the list he’d left. He greatly admired his master’s desire to deal directly with any embarrassment, no matter who might see. The vampire tart who’d ruined the evening was waiting for him, hands on her hips. Mustering what regality he could, Alfonso silently gestured for her to enter the lounge, falling in behind her as she briskly marched up to the Immortal.

    Or, trying to march up to the Immortal. Alfonso, only a few steps behind, felt his pride of employment refresh as the vampire, this Harmony, came up short when the Immortal turned to look at her. The Immortal’s gaze held a hypnotic sway which was part of what allowed him to maintain the civility and compliance of so many. This whorish intruder clearly had felt an urge to stand and just admire the Immortal, rather than intrude on him.

    “Good evening, signorina,” The Immortal offered, standing from his preferred seat and gesturing for Buffy – it must be Buffy, Alfonso insisted – to rise and join him as hostess to their new guest. The Immortal turned to his lover expectantly, “I’m given to understand that you are old friends. Please do me the pleasure of an introduction.”

    Alfonso knew the game was over when the Slayer’s expression flickered – any recovery she tried to make now was meaningless. More frustrating than his own professional embarrassment and his master’s personal embarrassment was seeing, standing next to him, this Harmony’s graceless expression turn into a satisfied grin.



    Kristy had been trained for weeks in being Buffy Summers. She’d seen the fact that she became a Slayer as fulfillment of a lifelong feeling that she could do and be something more special than anyone could imagine. Spells had been cast, hair had been styled, mannerisms had been coached by her “Watcher” Andrew, and a mission had been given to her. She was the Secret Service of the supernatural. She would pretend, very publicly, to be Buffy Summers so that a world of dangerous people and demons would try to kill her instead.

    It was insane to volunteer for, but it was definitely an envied position. And it wasn’t without perks. She never thought she could fall in love with someone who was basically just a cover story, but in two years Kristy was worried she might have. So it was that when Alfonso had whispered into the Immortal’s ear, when the Immortal’s grip had tightened on her thigh ever so slightly, love might have blinded her to the kind of signs that should have had her ready to protect her identity. You’ve got to pick your battles, little girl, she remembered Andrew blustering, If you want to be Princess Leia and not the poor Twi’lek slave girl eaten by the Rancor, you can’t let Mr. Immortal know you aren’t the really real Buffy.

    And then the Immortal was standing, asking her to introduce a total stranger, and she had been too busy enjoying his touch and the status the “relationship” gave her in Rome’s human and non-human social circles to have found a way to prevent it. Worst, the woman was grinning at her. A vampire no less, Kristy hissed inside, a damn Vampire Slayer outed because nobody briefed me on all the stupid damn vampires that Buffy socialized with!

    Now training and emotion were at odds. Every impulse inside her wanted to stay, beg the Immortal’s forgiveness, tell him the whole thing wasn’t her fault. But her training screamed from behind that fog that this was not her love or a social attachment. It was her job, it was her very dangerous job, and her cover had been blown, and she had to leave right now and tell Andrew to get the word out before the Immortal’s people had a chance to expose the secret that Buffy Summers was not, in fact, retired and happily draping herself on the Immortal’s arm.

    But his eyes…her mind slipped. Without question, Kristy was seconds away from giving in to her feelings and going to the Immortal. But the trance was broken instantly when she saw one of his ubiquitous bodyguards shift his coat, exposing the butt of a semi-automatic pistol. Aware of herself again, Kristy leapt into action.

    I’m glad I slipped off those shoes, Kristy had time to think. The slacks and halter were one thing in a fight, but she was never as good as Buffy herself was supposed to be in running and fighting in high heels. Still holding the Immortal’s gaze, she snapped the bell of her wine glass off and fired the stem like a knife. It struck the bodyguard in the back of his hand as he was inching it for his gun. Leaping over the back of the couch, Kristy bolted toward the curtain entrance to the VIP lounge. Neither the Immortal nor Alfonso made a move to stop her, but she could already see other bodyguards closing in from the edges of the room. She desperately wished she could have stopped to stake that blasted blond vampire, but Andrew had probably told her to ‘pick her battles’ with exactly that in mind.

    Almost home free, Kristy thought. She knew that if she could just make the street, she’d be clear. His Benevolence – that’s not his name! – wouldn’t make the kind of scene in his own club necessary to capture her out in the open. A bodyguard, clearly not human, stepped across the entrance with a velvet rope. More worried about appearances than capturing her, as Kristy had hoped. With an extra step, she slid into a perfect baseball slide under the rope. Springing back to her feet and quickly assessing that the guards had not left the VIP room, Kristy burst through the door and into the autumn Italian evening.



    The two pairs of eyes staring back at him were not full of the sort of joy and exuberance Xander had counted on. Did Giles just throw up in his mouth? He wondered briefly. Willow’s eyes were still as wide as he’d seen them when she had figured out what ‘Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” had been about.

    “Guys?” Xander prodded. “I know that the breathing and staring is the proudest, happiest stunned silence ever, but could you spare just a little verbiage?”

    “Ah, yes, well,” Giles began. Xander was not at all surprised when the former librarian began the ritual cleaning of his glasses. “Yes. You’re asking Buffy to, well, to marry…” he trailed off.

    Willow was still just sitting there, staring, but she did at least work her jaw a couple of times, Xander noticed.

    “Xander, it’s all just a bit much to catch up to, I’m afraid,” Giles continued, putting his glasses back on, “I think I’ve become a bit confused on you and Buffy having become involved at all.”

    “I’m sure glad I’m not the only one being held down by that detail,” Willow finally offered.

    Xander let out a sigh. He moved around to the back of the easy chair facing his friends on the sofa across from him and gripped the chairback. As many times as he’d rehearsed this, it wasn’t any easier when he did it for real.

    “Buffy and I started… dating, I guess you could say, about ten months ago,” Xander confessed, “we’ve just spent so much time together. We were all over the world setting up the Slayer teams, and honestly we were closer than we’d felt in years. After that thing with Amy…”

    Willow’s face lit up with realization and she pointed at Xander so suddenly he stopped talking. “I knew. I knew and I said, I said ‘everyone close your eyes, someone’s in love with Buffy, la la la!’”

    “Yeah, Will, I was there. I kissed her. I honestly was terrified to kiss her, because I was terrified of believing that I could really still be in love with her.”

    Xander saw Giles chuckle softly and look aside with a slight smile, but he still couldn’t read any real reaction from him yet. Giles had known Xander had been infatuated with his Slayer from all the way back in school, Xander knew. Xander had always hoped that was a big part of why the G-man had come down on him so hard compared to Buffy and Willow – out of protectiveness.

    “After a mission, we had a moment. I don’t know what it was. Just too much time in each other’s heads and working side by side. Not just fighting or patrolling, but planning, and making tough decisions for so many people. She tried to tell me something, I tried to tell her, and it almost fell apart completely. But then I went back and kissed her.” Xander couldn’t help but smile when he told that part. Zombie terrorists, the Master’s lair, nope. That was the bravest thing I’ve ever done.

    Willow’s face went through a cycle of concern, and relief, and confusion, and disappointment before appearing to settle on happiness. That was the smile Xander had known would tell him this was going to work when he’d put out the fact emergency meeting.

    “We have been careful around the castle. PDA at a minimum, dates off the grounds only when there was a legitimate official purpose we could claim. But it’s time to do this for real. You’re my family. You’re her family. So I had to come to you first.”

    “Xander… I won’t lie to you and say I don’t have concerns,” Giles began, “You and Buffy have done an excellent job running this operation, better than any of us could have dreamed, and I’d be loathe to see it endangered now by a relationship between you, let alone a marriage.”

    “Giles, you know me. I haven’t been able to do this work for a decade now without superpowers, without supersmarts, by thinking of it as a mission. This has always been about you guys for me.”

    Willow got up jumped forward to hug Xander at this. From what Xander could tell, she had heard enough to just be happy for her two best friends. “Xan,” she whispered, “I think this has always been about her, for you.”

    Xander drew back slightly to meet her eyes, but they weren’t upset at all. In fact, Willow was tearing up. She kissed him on the cheek and he pulled her back in to a tight embrace.

    “Will, I love you so much. I’m scared out of my wits. Thank you.”

    If Giles heard any of this whispered exchange, he didn’t let on.

    “Xander, I know you mean well, and I have no doubt your feelings for Buffy are utterly sincere, but if you’ve brought me here to give you some sort of paternal blessing, I… I’m afraid I can’t give it.”

    Xander was so suddenly, utterly wounded by this announcement that he wasn’t sure he’d heard it or imagined it. A glance to Willow’s similar stunned expression confirmed that it had been no hallucination. Xander suddenly felt very young again, he was just seventeen and Giles was telling him to ‘get out of his sight’ after his idiotic love spell.

    “Giles, how can you say that? What the heck is so wrong about it?” Willow was coming to his defense, Xander realized, even as he slowly took enough steps to allow him to drop into the chair he had been holding for support.

    “Willow, I needn’t explain it to you. He asked us both for our opinions, and this is mine. It’s not the right time in any of your lives to make the kind of commitment that Xander is going to ask of Buffy. Not with the work they do, the people they command, and the enemies we all still face.”

    “If not now, when?” Willow challenged.

    For a long moment, the question hung in the air unanswered. Giles had stood toward the door to the safehouse, obviously prepared to leave. Willow held Xander’s shoulders supportively as she stared back across the room at her old mentor.

    Mercifully, a shrill beep broke into the quiet room. Xander realized it was his forgotten Bluetooth headset. Buffy calls it my best weapon, Xander thought, trying to think of her to stave off the bitter hurt he felt from Giles’ unexpected rejection. He pulled it out of his pocket and fixed it to his ear, pressing to answer.

    As he listened to the urgent, rambling voice on the other end, he saw Giles and Willow relax, ready to ask him what was going on.

    “Relax,” Xander said to the panicked young man on the other end of the call, “just begin a sweep with all your available Slayers. No team smaller than three, and get ‘em in their fighting pants. It’s not time for the fall catalog’s best. Check in with me in two hours. No, Giles and Willow are both here with me now. No, I’ll call Buffy myself. Andrew, relax. You’re Admiral Ackbar. Be stoic and insightful.”

    With a sigh, Xander closed the line. He had begun pacing as he talked to his counterpart in Rome. He was at least relieved that being ‘on the job’ like this restored almost all the confidence Giles had just shaken.

    Turning back to his uncomfortable housemates, Xander answered the question in their eyes. “That was Andrew. You know Kristy, the Slayer that’s been posing as Buffy in Italy? She’s missing. She hasn’t checked in for two days. He wants us to get to Rome right away.”
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  • #2
    Chapter 2

    “The point is, watching out for you means everything to me. I wouldn’t be the same person if anything happened to you. You’re the same as I am at the most basic level, and I love you.”

    Buffy Summers paced as she spoke, looking straight ahead to where her sister Dawn sat on the stairs at the entrance of their primary training room. Turning back to face the group of Slayers in front of her, she continued her lecture.

    “And that is why you don’t, ever, ever, go into a house that’s been taken over by Skilosh demons without first at least checking the perimeter for any signs of an ambush waiting. Growing a third eye in the back of your head would not improve any of your night lives, and can any of you really imagine Leah with a pixie cut?”

    Buffy’s “Alpha Team” of Leah, Rowena, and Satsu had grown to be her lieutenants in the Slayer army she’d been leading for more than three years. She always liked to use them as examples for the other Slayers, though, because she didn’t want to be shown as having favorites. All these girls were her family, as far as she concerned, and they deserved her close attention and guidance.

    All around the world, they’d found 2,500 Slayers, and more than 700 of those were part of “Slayer, Inc”, as Xander called it. Buffy didn’t care for the name, but as long as he smiled when he said it, she supposed it was okay. Well, it was pretty cool when he made me that little stack of CEO business cards, she conceded. The point was, she had a pretty big family now, and while she was glad to be out of the speech-making phase of her life, she still had a compulsive need to give these little lectures to keep her people safe.

    “Vhatever you say, Buffy,” Rowena broke the silence, “Ve were vurkink together, and I thought dat was ta most important tink?”

    Buffy narrowed her eyes dubiously while parsing out Rowena’s thick accent. It made it hard to tell if Rowena was just being sarcastic and as gung-ho as always, or really didn’t get it.

    “Aye, that, and yeh really d’nae find many o’the skilosh planning an ambush aroun’ ten Slayers,” Leah added in.

    “Yeah, it’s always ‘more must rise’ until you shove a stake through their mouths,” Satsu finished in their typical rapid-fire, Three Stooges worthy rhythm.

    Buffy sighed a little. Well, at least they can make it in Vegas when I boot them for contradicting me in front of 30 other Slayers, Buffy thought. She knew she wasn’t kidding herself though. The best thing these girls had going for them was their natural chemistry and trust.

    “The stake is not the power.”

    Buffy shot a glance over toward the stairs in surprise to hear Dawn’s voice. She had been sitting there just casually sketching in her notebook before speaking up. She had barely bothered trying to talk to Buffy for the past few days, as she finished a week of waiting for her “Semester Abroad” program in Rome to start. It was very unusual for her to jump into anything to do with Slayer training.

    “No, Dawn, it’s not. Thank you. And Satsu,” Buffy turned back toward her Slayer, arms crossed, “you’ve been here long enough to know that without having to be told.”

    Buffy saw several of the Slayers glancing disapprovingly over at Dawn. Buffy figured they must have thought she was pretending to be an expert or something.

    “You’re all dismissed. Don’t skip your sparring sessions if you signed up, please. Last time we tried optional sparring, we had to bail half of you out of jail for burning down a Glasgow nightclub.”

    Buffy watched as her Slayer family filed out of the room. After they had all left, she relaxed her posture a bit and walked over to face her sister on the steps. Dawn drew up expectantly, pulling her sketchbook closed on her lap.

    “Look at you being all Yoda-ish from the sideline,” Buffy opened evenly. She felt equal portions of pride and annoyance, that Dawn remembered that lesson from so long ago, but would also jump into the middle of Buffy’s training session.

    “Well, you made it seem so vitally important at the time,” Dawn sighed in response, barely looking up at her sister’s eyes.

    “And you seemed so vitally disinterested at the time,” Buffy smiled. When Dawn failed to notice her attempt at good humor, Buffy nervously brushed her hair behind her ear and sat down next to her. “But, it looks like you’ve got all kinds of better uses for wood these days.”

    Now Dawn did look up, clearly confused and offended. Buffy, realizing the fault in her word choice, hustled to correct herself.

    “I mean with school. You know, class. Architectury things.”

    Dawn nodded slowly in relief before answering. “Well, there’s not as much stabbing involved in architecture. At least not for underclassmen.”

    Buffy looked for a way to fill the silence that returned. Suddenly her sweater felt baggy and awkward around her. “I’ll give this you, Dawnie, when you interrupt, you bring the wisdom. Sometimes I’m not sure they believe me. About the stake and the power.”

    “Don’t forget about their inevitable martial arts skills,” Dawn said. Buffy heard a tinge of sadness.

    “So, we’ve barely talked since you’ve gotten back here. Tell me about some of your classes?” Buffy shifted the subject. I will reach out to my sister. It’s not going to be like this between us.

    “Well, since I decided on the double major with art, I’ve really been enjoying this upper-level seminar on impressionism –“

    “Is that the boxy stuff?” Buffy asked, sitting down sideways below her sister on the narrow stone steps.

    “Uh, no. It’s like the pictures in that late 19th century book on humanoid demon species that Willow got me for Christmas?”

    “Oh.” Buffy nodded, feigning comprehension. She appreciated the sudden burst of enthusiasm from Dawn, and made a mental note to find out what the hell ‘impressionism’ was.

    “Maybe while I’m here, I can show you some of my favorites,” Dawn began, finally smiling at her older sister, “I have this idea on using impressionist landscapes as a way of opening up the space in this design I started last semester –“

    Buffy honestly felt transported, not by any understanding of the topic, but just seeing Dawn come to life talking about it. Unfortunately, it was just as Dawn was getting worked up, that Satsu burst back into the training room from the opposite entrance.

    “Ma’am, Mr. Harris is on the phone asking for you,” Satsu said. She was breathless, probably from running in, but still smiling, Buffy noticed. She thought it was a little hysterical that so many of the Slayers here still lapsed into addressing Buffy and Xander so formally when they were on the job.

    Buffy regarded the younger Slayer for a moment, and then turned back to Dawn. She didn’t want to leave. Damn, Xander, you have no idea what you’re interrupting.

    “Satsu, you are allowed to take messages, no matter how fun it is to sprint here from the comm center.”

    Satsu’s relaxed a little and arched an eyebrow in annoyance. “He said it was an emergency. Who runs across this castle for fun?”

    Buffy drew in a breath and stared at her lap. From the corner of her eye, she could see Dawn drawing right back up, knowing that Buffy would have to take the call. “Dawnie, I’m sorry. I’ll figure out what’s the big with Xander and I’m sure he’ll get a dozen Slayers to kill it extra for you, and then maybe we can get some dinner?”

    But Dawn was already tuning out again, Buffy could see. The younger woman nodded with a faint smile. Seeing no further good to be done, Buffy forced a smile in return and got up to follow Satsu out of the room.

    Satsu fell in stride beside Buffy as they wound through the corridors of the castle’s lower levels. Eventually, they reached the northern wing which housed their “command center”. Buffy remembered Xander had called the setup their “combat information center”, like on an aircraft carrier. She also remembered she’d have to call him a dork for knowing that at some point.

    As they climbed the last flight of steps, Buffy drew in a breath. She was glad this room helped them organize and made Xander’s job easier, but she never would really enjoy it. Her mission had always been made of wood, and blood. As she opened the door, she saw dozens of computer monitors and workstations around the edge of the room. The raised platform in the center was where she or Xander would command missions remotely if necessary. Off to the far side, there was an alcove where on-site mystics and witches-in-training could assist with spells.

    At least nobody snapped to attention, Buffy thought with relief. She may be the captain of the USS Slayerprise, but she would absolutely not tolerate the Slayers jumping to attention around her. It wasn’t much of an issue, she saw, since Satsu and Renee were the only two Slayers on duty in here at the moment.

    “The call is standing by right over here, ma’am,” Renee gestured toward her console as she backed a respectful distance away and began finding something to work on while Buffy had the phone. Thanking her, Buffy adjusted a headset around her ponytail and signed into the line.

    “Xander, what’s going on?”

    “Buffy, hey,” Xander began through the phone, “we’ve got a possible situation in Rome. Kristy has been missing for two days and Andrew is flipping out.”

    “How could she go missing? I thought she was in the highest profile club down there every night?”

    She heard Xander sigh wearily before he answered. “Andrew doesn’t know. There are reports that she ran out of the club. He called me last night and told me that he’d be following up with that local bigshot she’s been dating to see if he has any information on what happened to, uh, ‘you’”.

    “So we’re keeping the cover in place?”

    “That’s the goal. We’re renting a car right now, and we should be at Andrew’s villa in about an hour.”

    “Good. Keep me informed on what’s going on. If I have to I’ll come down there myself,” Buffy said, processing this news. Then she realized something. “Xander, who’s ‘we’?”

    The line was silent for a second, and Buffy found herself gesturing impatiently into the air.
    “Giles and Willow are with me. We’ll talk to Andrew, and even to this Immortal guy if we have to.”

    What the hell? “Why are Giles and Willow with you?”

    Xander’s voice dropped into a low, conspiratorial whisper. “C’mon, Buff. People like to talk about things like birthday presents in person sometimes.”

    Buffy laughed a bit. Her birthday was still a few weeks away, but she liked that her closest friends would travel from different corners of the world to plan something. “Just don’t get me a demon. I get that every year.”

    “You know we’re too cheap for that,” Xander laughed in response.

    Buffy looked around quickly and saw Satsu and Renee far off studying a different console. She dropped into her own whisper. “Make sure to say ‘hi’ for me. What ever happens, be careful out there ‘Nighthawk’,” Buffy smiled. She loved to tease Xander with that ridiculous codename. Now more of an endearment.

    “Miss you.”

    “Miss you, too.” Buffy answered, and clicked off the line. Her smile held for a couple moments, and then faded. Kristy was risking her life on a project that Buffy wasn’t sure she had ever believed in – pretending to be her. The idea that it actually got her in trouble was frightening in a way that Buffy had never expected.

    Relax, Buffy. Kristy is a tough one, she’s a Slayer, and all our best people are looking for her, Buffy reassured herself. But, then again, the whole point of Kristy’s job was to draw the fire of the worst and most dangerous human and demon minds in the world. And the simple fact was that Kristy wasn’t Buffy, didn’t have that experience against the types of monsters that might want to hurt her.

    Buffy realized that it really wasn’t reassuring at all.



    “Shhh… there’s nothing to be afraid of, my dear.”

    Kristy shivered in fear at the words. His Benev – the Immortal’s silky voice held every bit of the warmth that it had when they’d made love. But now, instead of feeling him and belonging to him – as you still want to! she scolded herself in horror – she was bound to a chair in his bedroom suite watching him pace in front of her with his arms crossed and a finger poised thoughtfully on his chin.

    “That’s easy for you to say, you’re not in the chair,” Kristy said. She wanted so badly to sound defiant, but she was more confused. After the Immortal’s henchmen had run her down, she’d been led back to his home and not the club. Instead of beaten for information, she’d been dressed in a red satin nightgown he had been planning on giving her as a gift. So, while she still twisted her wrists against the rope bonds and thought of escape, she also vaguely wondered if her lover was just playing an elaborate game.

    “But you’re not being harmed, are you, Buffy?” the Immortal asked. Kristy thought he was so sincere. “It’s all just a game, my love. You know I would never lie to you. I trust you too much to lie to you.”

    Kristy felt pangs of guilt, wanting to scream out her real name and apologize to him. Simultaneously, she cringed from that urge. She knew the Immortal had to be doing something to her, but couldn’t even manage to be outraged. Just vaguely aware of it. If she could just free herself of these bonds, she could get to help and things might make sense again.

    “I understand what you’re feeling, Buffy. You feel insecure, off-balance. I regret that it must be the case. But I feel like you might have been dishonest with me, and that wounds me deeply. I’ve been so generous with you, so…” and he leaned in close to Kristy’s face, causing her to shiver, ‘… loving. But I can forgive you if you’ve misled me, dear, because I care so much for you.”

    Kristy felt a surge of hope – terror! – at the Immortal’s words. She couldn’t stop mindlessly grinding her fists in an effort to defeat her bonds, it was the only thing that held her mind in place. Part of her knew so obviously that the Immortal had compromised her, had some kind of mojo working on her feelings, but the rest just felt this sighing, weeping hope that he might still love her, still want her.

    “But before that can happen, I need to understand a few things,” the Immortal’s voice lilted on. The room was dark, but she could see him in a soft light everywhere he moved. “I need to know who you are, darling.”

    Kristy worked madly against the ropes as she repeated her alias to herself over and over in her mind. This was the moment she had been trained against and had avoided for two years.

    “Kr…uh Buf… Kristy,” she struggled. To her complete shame, she felt a wave of pleasure wash over her as she gave up her most treasured secret. Please help me get out of these ropes! Kristy screamed to herself. The ropes suddenly slipped. Only a couple more minutes, just needed a couple more minutes.

    “Kristy,” the Immortal unrolled her name like he was savoring it, “I should have known that was more fitting a name for you. ‘Buffy’ is so bourgeois. Hardly worthy of a woman of your refinement. I almost couldn’t care that you aren’t her. I doubt she could ever have appreciated our life the way you do, my Kristy.”

    Kristy shut her eyes tightly, as if by not seeing the Immortal she could keep from believing the loving words and the lies within them. The Immortal’s voice continued, ignoring her fight.

    “But if we’re to continue this life together, Kristy, don’t you think I should know more about you? You must have been living such a compelling life outside of our time together. I wish you would tell me more about it. Who you talk to. What your purpose is here.”

    Kristy opened her eyes to see the Immortal staring into them. He was crouched write in front of her, his lips just inches from hers. She felt sweat breaking on her face. The ropes were loosening, but she needed more time. Maybe by telling him what he wanted to know, she could stall for time enough to escape.

    And so she began. She told the Immortal that her contact was a man named Andrew Wells. That her apartment was actually just part of her cover and that Andrew lived outside Rome in a villa that housed dozens of other Slayers. She told the Immortal that Andrew had decided to hide her in plain sight, to use the Immortal’s high profile in the demon and human social elite to create the image of Buffy as inactive, as a socialite and not a Slayer.

    As she spoke, her eyes searched the Immortal’s for forgiveness and gratitude. Her wrists began to bleed as the other part of her mind continued to work the ropes that held her.

    “Thank you, Kristy. I think we can be so much closer now that you’ve told me the truth. In fact, I’m going to give you a gift.” The Immortal whispered to her. He kissed her, then, and Kristy could do nothing but return it with her full passion.

    He’s going to forgive me! He’s going to reward me! She realized. The lower parts of her mind ignored this, and finally, her right hand slipped from the knot.

    “I’m going to make you more special that Buffy, more special than any other Slayer in the world,” The Immortal continued after breaking their kiss, “if you want me to, Kristy.”

    “Oh, baby, I’m so lucky. Thank you,” Kristy breathed glowingly. Even as she did, her lower mind surged up and fought for escape. With a burst of Slayer strength, she pulled both arms free of the wooden chair. The back of it exploded into splinters as she launched herself out of her seat, shoving the Immortal aside as she broke for the door. This time, she’d kill anything in her way of escaping. They had underestimated this man, and it could get a lot of people killed if they couldn’t –

    “Stop.”

    The command wasn’t forceful. The Immortal sounded more like she was tickling him or teasing him. Like the very idea of her escape was the funniest thing he could imagine. It was an awful sound to Kristy. To her horror, she realized she had stopped. She was barely ten feet from where she started. She was sweating now, and the nightgown clung to her. She realized there was no escaping. The fog of infatuation lifted from her and she turned to fight.

    “I didn’t want to do this, but I’m getting out of here, past you or through you,” Kristy felt stronger just saying it, facing her captor. She balled her fists and charged.

    The Immortal was fast, so much faster that she was expecting. He sidestepped Kristy’s leading punch and grabbed her arm. Together, they spun three times until he had her pinned against the bedroom wall. Dumb idea. You may be immortal, but you aren’t strong enough for this, Kristy reveled, pulling back to shove him across the room. But an instant later, his fingers were in front of her eyes. Pointing into her eyes.

    “Be in me.” His voice was low, hypnotic. He gestured with the same two fingers in front of his own eyes. “Be in my eyes.”

    They are so deep… so old, she thought. Her arms fell loosely to her side and she felt the Immortal relax his grip. She rocked on her feet helplessly, but no longer worried about this feeling. Everything was in his eyes, and nothing was anywhere else.

    “There, that’s better.” The Immortal smiled, satisfied. “That is a handy little gift I have, isn’t it? So helpful in the rare event that someone doesn’t see my point of view. It’s very special to me.”

    Kristy smiled dully. Her lower mind was silent.

    “I’ve only taught that to one other person in all my years, did you know that? I wish you could have met her, but, alas, she’s not available on such short notice. But we don’t need her for this. She’s not the only one who could give you the gift I have planned. I told you I’d make you special, Kristy, and I would never lie to you.”

    Kristy was oblivious to most of this, still rocking side to side, staring at the Immortal as he began pacing again. She was aware of him gesturing toward the bedroom door, and aware of it opening. The blonde woman that walked into the room was familiar. It was the one from the club! The one that caused all this trouble! Kristy could dimly imagine feeling angry at her.

    “Harmony, I appreciate you taking the time to join me in this experiment,” the Immortal told the blonde woman gratefully. “You understand what I need from you?”

    “Of course, boss,” Harmony answered with a coo in her voice, “I’ll do all kinds of things for you.”

    “Of course, darling, but this first.”

    Kristy couldn’t believe it. He had called this vampire darling?

    And then Harmony turned toward her and took her hand. Harmony was wearing a fancy evening gown, far different from what she had arrived at the club wearing.

    Harmony took Kristy by the hand and walked her slowly toward the Immortal’s bed. The vampire massaged Kristy’s arms and shoulders appraisingly, smiling the whole time. Reaching a hand up, she ran her fingers over Kristy’s cheek. The Slayer responded slightly, but was otherwise impassive.

    The Immortal nodded to Harmony and the vampire smiled coyly in return. And, in an instant, her face shifted from human mask to vampire, and she sank her fangs deep in Kristy’s neck.

    The burst of pain awoke Kristy from the Immortal’s control, but she could not fight off the attack. She could feel herself weakening and the light dimming around her. Perversely, she felt a tingle in her loins, arousal at being ravaged so completely as in a vampire’s bite. She grasped at Harmony’s arms, wishing she could pull free and knowing it wouldn’t happen. The vampire laid her on the bed as she drank. Kristy could not feel anything else when the fangs finally let her free.

    Harmony smiled at the prone Slayer, and then furrowed her brow in confusion. She had only done this once before, and she had been a little drunk at the time. But that blood was everything that her Blondie-Bear had bragged about and more, so she felt bold enough to try. She saw the Immortal standing at the foot of the bed waiting for her to continue. Clumsily, she tried to pick open her wrist with her manicured fingernails.

    The Immortal quickly stepped behind where Harmony had sat up on the bed. He placed his chin on her shoulder and Harmony rolled her head back in delight that he was so close. “My dear, I think Kristy deserves something far more… intimate for this special moment.”

    Harmony felt the Immortal’s fingers pulling the skirt of her dress open from the slit up the side. His fingers slide up her inner thigh and understood what he had in mind. With a lusty whisper, she answered “I understand completely.”

    Harmony pulled the hem of her dress up around her waist, and with a quick, savage motion, slashed into her own leg with her fingernails. A trail of blood welled up on her thigh, inches away from her panty-line. This guy is kinky in all the right ways, she thought. She pulled the still faintly breathing Kristy off her back, and with a satisfied smile, forced her lips down to the blood now running in her lap. She felt the Slayer begin to drink.

    The Immortal began kissing Harmony’s neck as she fed herself to Kristy. “I told you I’d make you more special than Buffy, my dear. And you will be.”
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