"Being a Slayer is not the same as being a killer!"
--Buffy Summers, "BtVS"
When she awoke, she was in a glaringly sterile room. Whiteness. . .from the circular walls and the lights. Her tongue felt thick and she remembered the needle jab in the jail cell. Drugged. And brought where?
As she moved around slowly and became aware of her position on a bed, she realized, with horror, that her prison blues had been changed. . .to sweatpants and a white wife-beater. But investigation revealed that she still had her own bra and undies. Small comfort. Her skin crawled. Vampires? Demons? Who would do this to her? Was she even in Sunnydale anymore? She struggled to sit up on the narrow mattress and her eyes fell on the door. White. But metal. Some sort of 'Star Trek' door because there was a keypad beside it and no knob.
Suddenly, it whooshed open. She scooted back on the bed, half expecting a reptile boy. . .or a giant praying mantis. . .or maybe Drusilla. But it wasn't. Just a mortal woman, dressed in a black tailored suit. Her long blond hair was like a pure halo. . .and she had the saddest, bluest eyes. Buffy couldn't help but wonder if she'd died and there were only 2 colors allowed in purgatory. . .and this was an angel come to tell her which way she was headed.
"Hello, Buffy." Her voice had a husky near-Australian accent. . .almost like Spike's. "My name is Nikita. Welcome to Section One." It sounded more like a death sentence than a 'welcome' of any kind.
"Section One?" she repeated, furrowing her brows. She swung her legs over the side of the bed. . .noting inanely that her shoes were gone. And that she needed a pedicure. "Ooookay. I don't know what's going on here, but I've got a life to get back to," she pointed out hurriedly. "This getting drugged and dragged thing has been surreal. . .but I've got a murder charge to beat and I don't need some bizarre vacation."
"This isn't a vacation." Oddly enough, Nikita seemed to grow even sadder. She leaned against the door, hands in the pockets of her baggy slacks. "You are no longer in California. You've been brought to the most covert anti-terrorist agency in the world. You're Section One's newest recruit."
"No, I'm not! I'm the--I'm a high school student!" 'I'm the Slayer,' she'd almost said. Her hackles rose. This was waaay too wiggy.
"Ex-high school student," corrected the woman. "You were expelled after murdering and assaulting fellow students in the school library."
"I did not kill Kendra!" she denied automatically, tears springing to her eyes. "And I didn't assault my friends! The cops are morons. I'm going to get acquitted."
"You can't be acquitted." Nikita was smiling in a ghastly, ironic way. "You killed yourself in your cell three days ago. . .torn with guilt."
The world was spinning. Buffy felt her stomach lurch. "No. . .no, this can't be happening." She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. Once. Twice.
And when she reopened them, Nikita was kneeling at her bedside, holding two black and white photographs. "The funeral was yesterday."
Buffy stared down. A fresh grave in what was obviously her old hunting grounds. . .a headstone that said 'Buffy Anne Summers, 1980-1998. Beloved Daughter, Cherished Friend.' A sob lodged in her throat as she made out a tiny inscription lower on the stone, almost obscured by flowers. 'Once in every generation.'
"All your friends were there. And your parents. Even your school librarian. You're dead to the world," Nikita said simply.
Her eyes flashed over the second photo. Will. . .so pale in Oz's arms. Xander, leaning on Cordy, face covered with one hand. Giles, kneeling. .. looking utterly broken. And Mom and Dad. . .crying in each other's arms. She tore her gaze away, feeling the tears leak out and spill. And the info. processed again. Dead. I'm dead. But I'm not. Her head whipped up. If I'm not dead. . .a new Slayer can't be called. Without a new Slayer activation. . .Giles has to assume I'm still alive! That I'm just missing! Her eyes hardened. "And what if I don't want to join your party?" she asked, hope springing up.
Nikita tucked the pictures back into her coat pocket, dragging a hand through her long hair. "Then you die. For real." When Buffy flinched, her efficient script seemed to get thrown out the window. "You look like a strong girl, Buffy. Section does what it does for the greater good. At least that's what we're supposed to believe. And we need people who can handle it. I think you can. You can survive this," she urged, eyes wide and pleading.
Buffy closed her eyes again, feeling her shoulders shake as she dropped her head into her hands. Join or die. Vamps and humans evidently had more in common than she'd thought. "What if I don't *want* to survive?" she mumbled through her fingers. Faces flashed by on her eyelids. Jenny. . .Kendra. . .Angel. Oh, God. Angel with his loving, confused face. Sucked into Hell just like she deserved to be. If she died for real. . .it wasn't like the world would be Slayer-less. Another would be called. . .and everyone would move on. She *could* just die.
"Why don't you want to live?" Nikita's voice broke into her agony.
"Because I don't deserve it. . .I got my friends killed. . .I ruined so much."
"Buffy." A firm order. "Buffy, look at me."
And she did as she was told, scrubbing tears from her cheeks. "What?" she demanded.
Nikita looked deadly serious now. More like an angel than even before. "If you want to punish yourself, there is no greater Hell than Section. If you want penance, this is it." Her lips twisted into another sad smile. "Just ask anyone in the 5% club."
Buffy couldn't think. Maybe it was the trace of drugs in her system, maybe all the stress, death, and guilt. But she blurted out, "Fine. Okay, I'll give it a go."
Her recruiter stood and backed up, and looked somewhat relieved yet somehow disappointed. "Training will begin at 5 a.m. You'll be moved to your quarters and familiarized with our organization." And she moved gracefully towards the door.
"Nikita?" Buffy wondered then, hollow and throbbing. "What's the 5% club?'
Nikita stopped at the keypad, half-turning. And the first genuine smile of the day lit up her face. "You'll find out," she assured.
"She's an innocent!" Nikita cried, throwing her hands up in the air and pacing around the briefing room.
Operations just stared at her from across the table with his patented cold ice glare. He arched an eyebrow. "You saw her file, Nikita. Summers has been involved in arson, various assaults, and most recently murder."
"She didn't commit that crime!" Nikita assured. "And she's just a kid, for Chrissakes! Not even 18 yet!"
"Are you recommending cancelation?" he queried smugly. "This recruit was supposed to be your material. . ."
The unspoken threat. She was used to it. Shades of Karen. "No," she said quickly, stopping her pacing. "I think Buffy will an asset to Section. I just don't think its fair." She grimaced. "I should be used to that by now. Tests. Manipulation. This is payback for Adrian," she accused. "For trying to destroy you. A teenager shouldn't have to get caught in the crossfire."
Operations didn't blink. "Where is Summers right now?" he asked, smoothly ignoring her opinions.
"Madaleine should be done with her psych profile. She's having her skills evaluation next." Nikita crossed her arms over her chest, glowering at her gray-haired boss.
"Well, why don't we go take a look?" he offered pleasantly, standing up. An order, not an invite.
She waited for him to come around and move towards the door. Moving behind him, Nikita couldn't help making a childish face and muttering "Fascist."
"I heard that." His tone didn't change one iota.
The combatives area was on the other side of the underground compound, not near the offices, but with their efficiency, they reached it quickly and without exchanging anything more than frosty silence.
Fighting sounds came from the larger workout room and they stopped in front of the observation window. Michael--who had been given the task of evaluating her--and a few green ops, were all focused on the only female in their midst. Buffy's blondish-brown hair was pulled up in a ponytail, she still wore the clothes from last night. And her body glistened with sweat as she blocked shots from Bob, one of the head trainers. He drove her back time and time again with punches and jabs but she fought back double. She was tiny compared to the huge, wall-like black man but that didn't seem to matter.
Nikita watched with rapt fascination as Buffy grabbed him by the t-shirt collar and kneed him in the groin. While he was momentarily stunned, she hit him with a high kick to the head. . .dropping him like a sandbag.
"What, no witty repartee?" she laughed, big, innocent brown eyes dancing.
Michael almost smiled. . .Nikita was familiar with that look of faint amusement. But then he waved forward the ops who'd been staring with a combination of awe and fright. Four of them. Not as big as Bob, but enough of a threat for any Section op.
Buffy let them surround her. . .and it was almost like a tenuous ballet dance. For about 2 seconds. Then, she grabbed the nearest opponent, a red-haired Level 3, and tossed him over her shoulder. Effortlessly.
"Aw, c'mon," she breathed, her amusement coming loud and clear through the glass. "This is a test? I've had so much worse! And so much better looking. . .and believe me, I've seen some uglies in my time."
The other three victims--because Nikita accepted that they were going to lose--rushed her, male pride wounded. It was over in minutes. Punches. A few more well-placed kicks. A back-flip. And there were now five groaning men on the mats.
"Amazing," she murmured, going towards the door to confront her new material. . .almost forgetting that Operations was still beside her.
"She appears to have quite a background in kickboxing and handfighting. Her attitude may be a problem, though," he judged, coming with her into the room. "She's very. . ."
"Funny," Nikita finished wryly. She tucked her hands into the pockets of her short red leather jacket.
Buffy was breathing hard now. . .looking sullenly at Michael. "Do you want some, too?" she asked sarcastically. " 'Cause I can feel the love in this room. . .really I can."
Michael, as was his nature, didn't respond. Instead, he walked over to their side of the room. Nikita felt his green eyes flit over her. She hadn't seen him in a few nights. . .he hadn't come over since the night when Ops and Maddy had been deciding her fate. Tenderness in his arms. . .that she knew would stop the moment she was back on duty. It was the way things worked. He looked undisturbed, utterly professional in his dark suit, as he turned to Operations.
"She's an excellent fighter," he whispered in that glorious low voice. "Has little training in firearms, but that can be easily remedied. I recommend that her training be limited to weapons and poise."
"Hello?" Buffy waved her hand at them, obviously not afraid of her situation anymore. "I'm still in the room, Spyboy." She loped up, wiping at her face and neck with a towel.
Operations gave a small sound of disapproval and Nikita couldn't hide a smile. And they'd thought *she* was bad? *Spyboy*? "This is the head of Section One, Buffy. Operations," she introduced, hoping that her new charge would realize the gravity.
Buffy cocked her head, a cynical grin playing on her lips. " 'Operations'. . .huh? Does everyone around here only have one name? Like Cher?" She took in his black suit, and Michael's, and then turned to Nikita. Her eyes brightened as she obviously admired the jungle print mini skirt, white schoolgirl blouse and the red jacket. "Hey, Nikita. . .glad to see that this place isn't fashion Hell after all. *Someone* likes colors!"
This time, even Michael chuckled, hiding it behind a cough. Operations, however, was less than amused. He cleared his throat. "Ahem. Summers, we don't condone this kind of attitude here."
"Humor isn't allowed?" she wondered, rosy mouth agape, dark brows quirking.
"Humor is allowed." Operations sounded like he was grinding his teeth. "However, you are bordering on insubordination right now."
"Insubordination?" Buffy draped her towel around her neck, looking suddenly angry. "Listen, Mr. Operations...I've had a bad six months, okay? And to top it off, I get recruited into some spy squad without any choice but death...this isn't something that gives any seventeen year old a happy."
"She's got a point," Nikita agreed...noting that Michael was, wisely, staying out of the argument.
Operations growled, rolling his eyes. "Fine," he muttered through clenched teeth. "Nikita, she's all yours. Let's hope I don't have to see you until your two years of training are up, Miss Summers." And with that, he turned to go.
"I love you, too, Boss man." Buffy said quietly to his back.
"I heard that," he said.
It was after he left that Nikita let out the breath she'd been holding. . . watching Buffy do the same. "He needs to meet my ex-principal," she said, making a face. "Maybe they're fraternal twins or something."
Michael let them laugh for a few moments and then he gave Nikita a look. "I should go as well. I need to turn in her official report."
"All right. I'll see you later," she murmured.
His eyes lingered on her lips...as if to say 'you certainly will, 'Kita.' With a curt nod to her new recruit, he, too, left the combatives room.
"He's your honey, isn't he?" Buffy asked after a moment's pause, making sure that the fallen operatives were still out of commission before she spoke.
"What??" Nikita looked down at her...looking at the suddenly sad young face. "What are you talking about?"
"Spyboy...the hottie. You have a thing." Buffy sounded pained...and almost envious.
"He was my trainer," she said, not confirming anything. "And I'm yours. For the next two years. So we've got a lot to do."
"What happens after two years?" Her recruit seemed even more uncomfortable. Like something weighed heavily on her mind.
"Another set of evaluations. We see if you're good enough to go on missions. With operative status, you can attain permission to live outside Section." Nikita tried to keep from snorting. Some life it was. She didn't even believe her own line of b.s.
"Ooh, yay." Buffy looked less than excited, but a more calm light had appeared in her eyes. "Living outside is good. Doable."
Nikita sighed, shaking her head. "C'mon, Buffy...hit the showers...then I'll take you around. Get you acquainted."
The teenager gave her a smile packed with irony then. "Is Michael in the 5% club?" she wondered.
She winced, remembering back when she and Walter'd had this conversation. Buffy Summers was good. Very good. "The 5% club is the percentage of people in Section One who still have their souls."
And once again, she didn't answer the younger woman's question. Because, this time, she didn't really know the answer.
She followed Nikita through a series of narrow corridors that looked like mini tunnels. And the cheerful tour guide spiel about their surroundings gave her time to think. Two years. Two years without contacting Giles or anyone else. Two years and maybe the rest of her life hiding her secrets from people who seemed to know everything.
Obviously her 'trainer' had her own secrets. Anyone with half a brain could look at her and Michael--the eerie dark-haired guy who really did have a sexy vibe--and know that they had something going. Was that allowed? Buffy didn't think so. She rubbed her hands up and down her bare arms, not wanting to think about where clothes perfectly her size, and her style, had come from. Were there other girls in Section her height, with a penchant for slip dresses?
And when would everybody start wondering just *why* she'd been able to kick so much ass today? Mumbling 'karate lessons' wasn't going to explain her instincts or the fact that she could throw a normal human across a room. She'd been as restrained as possible, but how long could that last?
"You saw Madaleine this morning?"
"What?" Buffy jerked out of her thoughts, realizing that they'd stopped moving, and that Nikita had asked a question.
Nikita just smiled at her, leaning against a wall that bordered what looked like Spy Central. . .glass panes. . .work floor. . .too many computers and gadgets to count. . ."I asked if you'd seen Madaleine. . .our 'mommy' this morning," she repeated wryly, figuring out that Buffy probably hadn't been listening this entire time.
She blushed and nodded, remembering the icy cool woman who'd come and escorted her out of the holding room. Dressed in black. Typical of this place. Madaleine had been a beautiful dark-haired woman with a pretty good fashion sense and a kinda spartan sense of interior decoration. . .but dead inside. Her dark eyes had been hollow. Smile creepy. If it weren't for her utter calmness, she would've been Drusilla. "She took me to her office. . .asked me questions. . .gave me the wiggins," she admitted with a shudder.
At this, Nikita burst out into a laugh. "She gives everybody a weird feeling," she assured. "You'll get used to her." She cocked her head, giving Buffy the latest in a hundred once-overs. "I like you, Summers. I think you're just what Section needs."
They need a vampire slayer? She doubted that. "I like you, too, Nikita," she replied honestly. And she looked around them, changing the subject. "So, is this where everyone does their stuff?"
"Uh-huh." Somewhere along the line, the older operative had popped in some gum and she cracked it. "This is the floor. You'll get computer training here but you really won't be doing much until you gain operative status."
Gaining operative status. That's what it came down to. Buffy felt her mind start to jump again. Computer training. . .Willow was a hacker. If she learned quickly, she could probably get some sort of signal to Will that wouldn't give her location away but would tell her that she was alive. "So...it takes the average recruit 2 years..." she mused aloud. "Has anyone ever gotten through faster?"
"Some." Nikita arched an eyebrow. "Why, you planning to graduate early?" she quizzed, using the high school terminology.
"I'm not the average recruit," she explained simply. From what she'd learned just today...a recruit went through psychological training, poise and manipulation training, fighting, firearms, and technology. She had most of that covered all ready. Giles had been a good teacher. Life had been a good teacher.
"Well..." Nikita took her arm and led her towards the floor. "Let me introduce you to another non-average recruit."
They walked companionably to a computer station where a guy was sitting. He had closely cropped brown hair and orange tinted granny glasses. Looked young. His eyes were fixed on the screen in front of him...which, Buffy noted with amusement, had Doom on it. He was playing with distinct concentration and didn't even notice them standing behind him.
"Seymour Birkhoff," Nikita said loudly, making him jump and drop his joystick. "My favorite overachiever."
"Nikita!" He dropped his controller and whirled around in his chair, turning a cute shade of pink. His dark eyes moved over and stalled on her, and Buffy was shocked to realize that he was kind of attractive. A very serious but sweet face. And he dressed like Xander. The skater alternative look.
"Birkhoff, this is Buffy. She's my material." Nikita didn't miss a beat, still wearing a fond grin. "Buffy, this is the man in charge of everything computer-related in Section One. International security depends on him-- when he's not playing video games." And she reached over and rubbed his head.
"How comforting." Buffy giggled for the first time in a long time. Birkhoff blushed even harder. "Hi," she greeted.
"Hi," he replied, shyly ducking his head and shrugging Nikita's hand off.
"He's closer to your age than most of us old fogies around here," she confided, unperturbed. "21, isn't it, Seymour?"
"Up yours," he scowled, and Buffy got the impression that these two were like brother and sister. For such an anal workplace, that was a pretty close bond.
"Anytime, Birky, my number's in the book," Nikita shot back, amused.
A private joke of some sort, because the two operatives cracked up. And Buffy felt the ache in her chest come back. She and Xander had goofed around like this. And she and Willow.
"Are you all right, Buffy?" Birkhoff wondered, as the screen behind him began to spiral with fractals due to unuse.
"F-fine," she stammered out, blinking. "I'm just a little overwhelmed by everything, I guess." No lie. The last 24 hours had been unbelievable. . .more unbelievable than the last seventeen years of her life.
"Why don't I take you down to your room?" Nikita offered. "You can get settled in and catch a breath before the next series of tests."
"That would be good." She nodded, rubbing the back of her neck with one hand. Sobs were starting to work their way up her throat...and the last thing she wanted was to show weakness in front of people who obviously weren't allowed any. Especially since the glass deck up above them had an occupant. Operations. Watching...was that what he always did? "I-I think this is starting to sink in," she whispered, looking at Nikita with desperation.
Birkhoff just nodded, turning tactfully back to his game and letting them leave. Buffy barely saw the rest of Section...barely noticed the living quarters. ..and didn't even register the door that Nikita led her to. Her sitch was catching up to her...and she sank against the glaringly white door as it shut behind her...and lost it.
Stuck here...in a white room all her own...with people who killed for a living...worse than a cell...worse than being a Slayer...worse than seeing Angel's face as he died? No. Nothing was worse than that. And the newest recruit to Section One sobbed like the child she was for the child she would no longer be.