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03 November 2011 @ 11:35 am
Fic: Out of the Dark (5/13)  
Summary, Notes, and Warnings are located in the Table of Contents.

Chapter 5
 
Buffy took a deep breath, steeling herself for a trial of patience and grace.  She walked over and said, "Hi, Harmony.  Angel told me you could give me a guest pass to use the gym."
 
"Oh, Buffy!!  It's so great to see you!"  Harmony tottered around the desk in her bright pink sundress to give her a hug.  Buffy resisted the urge to shade her eyes.  "We just have to catch up, do the girl thing, you know, now that we're on the same side."
 
"Same side?" Buffy repeated. 
 
"Oh, you know, back in Sunnydale, when I used to be your archenemy?  But now I work for Angel and I fight for the side of good!  Yay Good!" she chattered, punching her arm skyward.  Buffy inwardly grimaced as she remembered what a horrible cheerleader Harmony had been.  She still sucked.
 
Pasting as much of a smile on her face as was possible, Buffy repeated, "The guest pass, Harmony?"
 
"Oh, yeah!"  She circled back around to the other side of desk and rummaged through a drawer.  "Here it is," she said, pulling out a plastic card on a lanyard dotted with Wolfram & Hart's logo.  Handing it across the desk, she continued, "This is not a regular guest card, it's for Angel's special guests; you get access to just about anything here with that.  Make sure you give that back to me before you leave.  For some reason, Security gets really annoyed when I lose it."
 
"Gotcha.  Total access."  Buffy wondered if maybe she could do some snooping and find out how 'not evil' Wolfram & Hart really was these days.  "By the way, is there somewhere to eat around here?"
 
"Oh yeah, the cafeteria is really good.  It's on the second floor near the gym.  Just give them the card at the register and it'll be covered.  Or you could order in.  There's lots of places nearby.  Just tell them it's on Angel's tab."
 
"Generous of him."
 
"Well, you know…  Just for his special guests, though.  Like Connor stayed here a few times, Fred's parents when they come to visit, Nina when she was first…" Harmony trailed off.
 
Buffy almost laughed.  "Has Harmony Kendal begun to learn tact?  I know about Nina."
 
"Fine then," Harmony huffed.  "When Nina started spending the night with Angel."
 
Buffy nodded and held up the keycard as she began to turn away.  "Can't tell you how much I've missed ya, Harm."  She started toward the elevator. 
 
"Oh and Buffy?" Harmony called.  Buffy turned.  "I'm really sorry that Willow and Xander and that librarian guy all got killed like, right in front of you." 
 
Buffy stared stonefaced at her for a minute then resumed her path to the elevator.
 
Harmony sat back down with a huff.  Why did people always react like that when she was trying to be nice?  It's not like she said what she really thought; that ever since she had bitten Willow all those years ago, she really hoped that she would be the one to finish her off.  That girl was yummy! 
 
~)O(~
 
Arriving at the second floor, Buffy decided that after that conversation with Harmony, what she really needed was to beat something up; even though she couldn't remember the last time she had eaten.  Passing the cafeteria up for later, she proceeded to the state of the art Employee's Workout Center, which encompassed several large rooms, each with various types of equipment in them.   
 
Finding a room with an assortment of standing and hanging punching bags, she set to work pounding out her frustration.  After a couple of minutes of this, she admitted to herself that her rhythm was way off.  Taking a deep breath, she decided that maybe she needed to refocus.  Finding an empty room, devoid of anything but mats, she centered herself and began her Tai Chi forms, concentrating on her breath and her body.
 
She wasn't sure how long she had been practicing when she began aware of someone watching her.  Slowly, she looked around, and saw it was the kid, Connor.  He smiled at her. 
 
"You and Angel have the same style," he said.
 
"Not surprising," she replied, "considering he taught me."  She walked over to Connor.  "So, you're Angel's miracle son?"
 
He looked kind of uncomfortable.  "I guess," he said.  "It's a long story."
 
"The memory erasure, yeah I know."  He looked surprised.  "I knew about you.  So, when the spell ended, I re-knew about you.  Andrew talked to Wesley and found out the story."  Connor looked embarrassed.  He was still not comfortable thinking about the things he had done, the pain he had felt.  As often as he could, he pushed those hazy memories to the back of his mind.
 
"Sorry, it must be a painful subject," Buffy apologized. 
 
Connor nodded.  “A bit.”  Searching for a change of subject, he asked, “So, did Angel teach you to fight also?”
 
Buffy shrugged.  “I'd been a Slayer for a while before I met him.  But I guess I picked up a few things from him, yeah.”  She noticed Connor sizing her up.
 
He grinned mischievously.  “You wanna show me?  There's a lack of real training competition around here for someone like me.”
 
Buffy thought that a good fight might be exactly what she needed to keep herself from getting too complacent.  From what she had heard from Faith, the kid was a decent fighter; she might be able to really put some of herself into it. 
 
Buffy's stomach rumbled.  He continued, "But I think we should eat first.  You look half-starved, and I'm not about to let you have any excuses when I wipe the floor with you."  He grinned.
 
"Oh yeah?  Well, if it will put your mind at ease."
 
"This way to the cafeteria."
~)O(~
 
As they sat eating, Connor with his college boy overflowing tray and Buffy with a small green salad and a roll, they talked for a bit.  Buffy began to think that this kid was pretty all right.  He had a wry sense of humor and a gift for insight into situations.
 
"So why are you so anxious to fight a Slayer?  You've fought Faith before.  She's a Slayer."
 
"Yeah, but one, I don't really remember that… life… too well unless I really focus, and two, I was a little too busy getting my ass kicked to really appreciate the experience."  He grinned a little.  "It was exhilarating though.  I remember that.  And I've heard that you're the best there is."
 
Buffy looked down at her half-eaten salad, avoiding Connor's eyes.  "Not really."
 
"No, really.  I mean, you even beat Faith."
 
"Where'd you hear about that?" she said sharply.
 
He searched his memory.  "Cordelia told me, I think," he said slowly.  "I was kinda raving about her and I think she was trying to imply that Faith wasn't all that."  He blushed a bit about his ears as he revealed this.
 
"Faith is good.  Really good. 
 
"Well, yeah.  But you're 'The' Slayer.  You've beaten everyone out there," he gushed.  "Faith, Angelus, some giant snake thing…"
 
Buffy cut him off.  "Cordy told you all this?  I didn't think she was paying that much attention."  Pushing her half-eaten plate to the side, she grinned and looked at Connor, "So you ready?"
 
~)O(~
 
After a few minutes of stretching, they began, each slow and easy as they felt out the other's strengths and weaknesses.  After realizing that Connor was far more skilled and trained than she had initially thought, Buffy stepped up the pace and Connor responded in kind.  It wasn't long before they began drawing a crowd of spectators. 
 
At first, Connor tried to grab quick glimpses to see if any of the girls his age that worked in the building were there, but Buffy, who seemed to be oblivious to the gathering crowd, kept stepping up the intensity as she became more confident in his abilities.  Soon his mind was only on the fight, looking for patterns or weaknesses in her attacks.  Her fighting style held a lot of characteristics reminiscent of Angel's but she had taken his style and added elements that made it uniquely hers, creating quite a challenge for Connor.  It had been a while since he'd been challenged.
 
Buffy was also thrilled with the joined 'battle.'  As much as she hated to admit it, it seemed that the sleep earlier had helped.  She felt physically better than she had in a long time.  Her energy was back up, her reaction times were improved.  And Connor was much, much better than she had anticipated.  It flashed through her mind that he had the strength and dexterity of a Slayer, except he was male.
 
Buffy was so caught up in adrenaline rush of the fight that she hadn't noticed the spectators, but it threw her when she felt him watching.  Connor rushed in to take advantage of the momentary lapse but had underestimated how quickly she could recover her balance.  She shifted her attention back to her opponent in a split second and took him down with an efficient leg sweep, followed by a quick strike with a mimed stake.
 
Startled by the applause, Buffy looked around, seeing their audience for the first time.  Most were dispersing now that the show was over, but she hunted through to find him.  There he was, coming over toward them.  She offered Connor a hand up as Angel approached.
 
Connor grinned sheepishly.  "I thought I had you there for a minute."
 
"Making that mistake when fighting Buffy usually means you don't get up again," Angel commented.  Buffy busied herself toweling off and drinking some water from the bottle she had picked up in the cafeteria.  Angel looked at Connor.
 
"Gunn's been looking for you," he said.  "He needs some company / back up for a client visit."
 
"Cool," Connor replied.  "I'll clean up and get up there."  And with that, he hurried out to the showers.
 
Buffy was attempting to sneak out without having to speak with Angel but he called out to her before she got to the door.  She turned and waited.
 
"Just wanted to give you an update," he said as he neared her.  She looked at him expectantly.  Brilliant tactic, Angel, he thought. It's only been a few hours.  "Well, we really haven't found anything new yet, but we've got people working around the clock on this.  We'll find you an answer."
 
"Sure," Buffy nodded.  She started walking toward the gym exit again, and Angel fell into step with her.
 
"Are you hungry?" Angel asked when he couldn't bear the silence anymore, which by Buffy's count was about 15 seconds.
 
"No, I ate earlier with Connor.  He's nice, Angel.  And a fantastic fighter.  There were a couple of times there where he really made things tough for me." 
 
"Great." Angel nodded.  They reached the lobby and waited for the elevator.
 
"So," Buffy began as they boarded the elevator car.  "To avoid any unnecessary killing of your clients, can you point me to a good place to patrol tonight?"
 
"You're going to patrol?"
 
"Well, being the Slayer, I thought…"
 
"I thought you were trying to stay out of sight these days," Angel interrupted.
 
"Well, out of sight is one thing.  Ignoring Slayer instincts is another.  As much as I hate to admit it, Faith had some things right.  Being a Slayer is part of me.  It's a Need as much as a Calling.  Basic, primal; food, fighting, and…" Buffy cut herself off at this point. 
 
Angel, trying to cover his astonishment at how like Faith she was acting, said, "No need to censor yourself.  I've had enough talks with Faith to know how that one ends."
 
"So, either point me to an area I can patrol without damaging your business, or I pick and you take your chances."
 
"I'll meet you in the lobby at sundown."
 
"Angel, I wasn't looking for an extra stake.  You can just tell me."
 
The elevator doors opened to the lobby of Angel's office.  He stepped out quickly, saying, "I've got a meeting right now.  We can talk about this later."  The doors closed on Buffy's infuriated face.
 
~)O(~

Buffy's anger had settled to annoyance by the time she returned to her room.  Really, had she expected anything different of Angel? Rolling her eyes, she unlocked the door and entered the suite.  As she typically did when returning to whatever residence she inhabited, she made a thorough inspection of her possessions, quickly deducing that someone had been snooping through her things.  She had been prepared for this between Wolfram & Hart's need for omniscience and Angel's constant meddling.  She shook her head and began gathering together weapons for that night's patrol.
 
~)O(~
 
Angel sat back in his chair as he listened to Steven, a relatively low-level operative from Wesley's field research team.  "Weapons that show extensive use and wear.  A knapsack, a change of clothes, basically identical to what she's wearing now.  No bugs, no tracking devices.  Nothing to identify the owner of the items.  Very Spartan, if I may say so."
 
Angel furrowed his brow.  "What about personal mementos?  Photographs, diary?"
 
"Nothing sir.  Nothing at all of a personal nature."
 
"Not even Mr. Gordo?" Angel asked.
 
His employee frowned in consternation.  "Sir?"
 
Angel stammered, feeling a little foolish.  "A, um, a … a stuffed pig."
 
"No, sir.  No animals of any sort."
 
"And you looked everywhere?"
 
"Yes sir."  Deciding to take some initiative, Steven volunteered his view of the situation.  "Sir, she has the basic pick-up-and-go kit; the same as you'd find with any spy, assassin, mercenary.  No unnecessary objects, nothing to link her to anyone of a personal relationship.  Eventually, that becomes the person's life.  No extraneous relationships, no reminders of previous friends.  No matter how hard we look, I don't think we'll find whatever you're looking for."
 
Angel nodded and dismissed him.  What am I looking for? Angel wondered.  Some proof that she's not as detached as she seems.  Proof that she feels something about their deaths?  Some way he could bring her back from whatever dark place she had locked her heart away in?  She had always believed that her family and friends were what gave her strength.  Where did she find that strength now that they were gone?
 
After a few moments, he looked over at Lorne, who had been sitting on the couch during the meeting.  "Well?" he asked.
 
"Well, what, gumdrop?  I can't do a reading on a person who's not even in the room, much less singing her tormented little heart out."
 
"I know," Angel grumbled.  "But will you?"

"Will I what?" Lorne asked.  "Will I read her, the very dangerous, best-ever, super-Slayer that could rip my horns off with her pinky?  Who also happens to be under the influence of very powerful magics, with which we've had such success in the past…"


"Okay Lorne, I get the point.  It's not a no-risk situation.  But, if she agrees to it, will you?"
 
"With grave misgivings, peach pie… I will."
 
~)O(~
 
Buffy paced restlessly in the lobby, looking out at the dusk deepened.  One more minute, she thought, and I go without him.  She almost hoped he didn't show.  Slaying had not been a social event for her for a long time.  Besides what were they supposed to talk about?
 
"So Angel, how's the sun-filled, parent kinda lifestyle that you told me you could never have?"   or
"Let me tell you all my deepest, darkest secrets; how painful losing everyone was."
 
Didn't seem likely.
 
Screw this, she thought and started for the door, just as Angel emerged from the elevator. Damn.
 
She waited sullenly by the door for Angel to cross the lobby.
 
"You're late," she snapped.
 
"We said sundown, which is pretty much now," he replied evenly.
 
"Shadows were long enough, we could've left 15 minutes ago.  Spike did that all the time."
 
Angel bristled.  He knew she was deliberately trying to bait him, hoping he would not come along.  But there was no way he was letting her go alone.  She had been alone for entirely too long.  She had to start connecting with people again.
 
"Well, I’m here now.  So let's go."
 
Angel led her to a part of town where there was a lot of run-of-the-mill vampire activity on a regular basis and then stood back and watched.  Really, there was nothing else for him to do.  She was a one-woman death machine.
 
The first genuine smile he'd seen on her face appeared as she drove her stake into the chest of the first unlucky vamp looking for a quick snack.  When they spotted a cadre of vamp toughs, she rushed them immediately; she fought as if she didn't care if she lived or died.  She fought like Faith.
 
Angel was frozen by the comparison, and its potential implications.  He had thought the earlier conversation in the elevator had been bravado or an attempt to get a rise out of him.  But what he was seeing now indicated that she had indeed adopted most, or all, of Faith's lifestyle and attitude from Sunnydale.
 
They had all failed Faith back then.  And though, ultimately, she had regained her path, he didn't want to repeat the same pattern here with Buffy.  But how?  She was even more guarded than Faith had been.  Any bit of connection and she instantly pulled back.  Angel marveled at how their roles had reversed over the years.  When he had first met her in Sunnydale, she had been his savior, his link to humanity.  After a century of hiding from people for decades at a time, he could not establish effective communication with anyone else.  Now, she was lost, alone, and without ties, and he was the one surrounded by friends and laughter.
 
She jogged back over to him after finishing the last of the vamps, eyes bright, breath quick.  "Okay, I think I'm good for now," she said.  "We can head back."
 
When Buffy returned to her room, she delightedly realized that she could take a real shower without threat of discovery for the first time in a very long time.  As she entered the bathroom, she realized that she didn't have any toiletries with her.  Just before she turned to go see if she could find someone to dig some up, she noticed that the bathroom came fully stocked.  And with the good stuff, she thought.   She picked up a bottle of body lotion on the counter and looked at it; it was the same type she had used back in Sunnydale.  Could Angel have remembered?