"Yes," Nikita said without hesitation, ignoring the triumphant look on Operations' face. "Her performance levels are off the charts. Her sims come back with no margin for error. She wields her beauty like an additional weapon." She smiled, remembering Birkhoff's reaction shortly after meeting the girl less than a year ago. 'My God, she's hot,' he'd gasped. And Buffy knew it now. She'd successfully wounded quite a few men in Section with that sad smile and air of mystery. "I think she's ready to become an operative."
"Has she shown any reservation towards killing?" Operations wondered, leaning against the wall of Madaleine's office. He arched a silver brow, mocking.
She tried not to make a face, instead crossing her arms over the chest of her double-breasted blue suit. "Buffy doesn't appear to have the same weakness that I do," she assured sarcastically. "We've talked on many occasions and she's accepted that she must take life to serve Section."
"How are her weapons scores?" Madaleine asked, not getting into the petty argument.
"Flawless. She's become quite adept at shooting and has shown amazing innovation with throwing blades. In addition, she seems to have experience with crossbows and staffs." Nikita didn't blink an eyelash, gave her report with the utmost professionalism. This was her evaluation, too. If Buffy did not pass...she didn't pass.
Operations seemed to be thinking along the same lines."And her emotional status?" he quizzed smugly.
She winced. "She continues to have nightmares every night, but she functions perfectly during the day. She hasn't made too many connections. Just me, Walter, and Birkhoff and even then, she keeps us at a distance. She seems to enjoy fighting with Michael quite a bit. They spar at least once a week because he's the only opponent who seems to match her. But they don't talk. She keeps to herself."
She could almost see the wheels turning in her superiors' heads. Little neon signs flashing 'Super Operative'. Buffy was virtually a female version of Michael...well, work-Michael. He just barely showed the other side these days. In secret. Whenever they could manage a moment alone...a caress...a whisper...laughs when they watched "The Princess Bride" on Buffy's 18th birthday in her room with Birky.
"Where is she right now?" Madaleine folded her hands, leaning back in her chair.
Hackles were rising on the back of Nikita's neck. "I believe she and Michael are having a session," she murmured. And memories of the past eight months seized her...Buffy's blank eyes while they simulated a valentine mission with Russell...she'd looked so beautiful and so empty. The viciousness with which she fought. The times the girl's eyes would go far away as she whispered a friend's name. Pulling tricks on Birkhoff. And the time they'd broken into Operations' office in the middle of the night and fixed his chair so it would collapse the minute he sat in it--he still hadn't figured out how that had happened. Buffy had become more like a little sister than simply 'material'.
"After the session, we'll begin the process." The look on Operations' face became even more disturbing.
Nikita suddenly wanted to find Buffy and smuggle her out of Section much like Michael had done with her two years ago. "Whatever you say," she said hollowly...turning to leave.
"Yes, Nikita. Whatever we say," reminded Madaleine softly, no doubt wearing that impossible Mona Lisa smile.
"Oh, Spyboy...tired? Last night's mission wear you out?"
Buffy's eyes twinkled as she executed a perfect sweep and Michael went down on the mats with a thump. He glowered at her, green eyes smoldering. "Don't worry, I won't tell," she assured, standing over him and fighting back giggles. He looked so *wounded* there in his white workout clothes.
He was up in seconds. Jab. Jab. Block. Block. His eyes were calm and focused but his skill was unchecked...she'd never enjoyed fighting so much. Well, except with Spike. The thought of the blond vampire lost her in memory for an instant. And an instant was all Michael needed. While the image of Spike beating Angelus with a poker reverberated through her head, she found herself flat on the ground.
"Tired?" he repeated smugly, rubbing a bruised knuckle across his full lower lip.
She sat up slowly, making a face, damning her own weakness. Don't think about the past. Not yet. Not until there are less eyes and ears. There is no Spike...no vampires...no Sunnydale. That was what had got her through the last eight months. "I get my eight hours," she lied, getting back into stance.
"Who's Angel?" he asked suddenly, green eyes cool and calculating.
It didn't work this time. She knew that Section monitored her room. . . knew they heard her screams at night. Michael and Nikita had both used the weapon before to make her stronger. "Bite me, Spyboy," she said calmly, backing up and kicking high.
He sidestepped it, a small grin quirking on his impassive face. "Good. Very good, Buffy."
"I'm better than good," she assured. And she tried a new tactic. She visualized a stake in her hand...visualized a vamp face instead of that of Nikita's secret lover. This time she was ready for him. When he came at her with a left...she grabbed his wrist, blocked his leg with her foot...'staked' him in the stomach with her other hand...and finally tossed him over her shoulder like a judo expert.
He hit the mat again...winded and chagrined. "Are we done now?" she asked cheerfully. "I'm meeting Birkhoff for another hacking tutorial."
Michael opened his mouth to reply...but then she noted his eyes move past her...and turn to ice. He stood, brushing himself off. She felt her 'Slayer sense' tingle, understanding that something just wasn't right.
And it was confirmed when the cool voice behind her spoke.
"Well done, Summers. It appears you're ready for your final exam."
She turned around...and was treated to Operation's face. Not annoyed as he had been the last time they'd officially spoken. Instead...there was an expression that scared the Hell out of her. Admiration. "Newsflash, Ops," she drawled, hoping her voice wasn't trembling with nerves. "I'm no good at finals."
He smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "You'll pass this one," he assured. "Or we'd have canceled you long ago."
"Ooh, yay." She didn't let her bravado slip an inch. Kept the bored look on her face. The beads of sweat on her skin felt like icicles...and a knot began to form in her stomach. "What does this mean?"
It was Michael who answered. "It means that by tomorrow, you'll be a Level Five operative, like me." He didn't blink. Didn't raise his voice. And still sounded like he was cursing her.
"Level Five???" she repeated. That was the highest level! What was about to happen, an AP course in anti-terrorism? And she would test out of the lower levels? Was that what Spyboy had done some 15 years ago?
"You've impressed the Agency, Buffy," Operations said smoothly. "They feel that you will be of the utmost value to us. We've been monitoring your progress and you've surpassed all our expectations."
She was shivering. No prophecy she'd ever heard had creeped her out as much as this. "And?" she mumbled, arching an eyebrow.
"A team will be assembling in the briefing room in two hours. You will be there." Not a suggestion. "Your test will be unlike any other we've ever given a recruit--a full blown mission. You will not fail. Is that clear?" Her boss handed down his pronouncement.
"Is that wise?" Michael finally intervened. "Her only field experience has been through sims. She hasn't been outside."
Operations ignored him. "Two hours," he said simply...and left the workout room.
Buffy felt her knees weaken. She sank to the mats. When she looked up, her sparring partner had let emotion back on his face. Empathy. "Is this going to be Hell?" she wondered as her insides clenched.
He cocked his head, looking at her with conviction. "Something tells me you've been to Hell all ready. You will pass this."
It was as close to reassurance as she was going to get. And Buffy held onto it. This was what she had been waiting for. To get out. To be back in the sun. To send some sort of sign to the people she loved. "You passed it." She didn't break eye contact. Watched green fight with gray for dominance. "You made it. But what did it cost you?" she wondered.
Michael reached out a hand, pulled her up. His smile was utterly haunting. . .and she knew it was yet another thing that would forever burn into her memory. "The 5% club," he said simply.
As they walked towards the showers, Buffy realized exactly what horror she was in for today. What the Section wanted out of her. She would become what she'd fought for so long as the Slayer. One of the living dead.
"You can do this, Buffy."
Birkhoff's voice on 'B' channel, reassuring in her ear as she took point, running along the roof of the high rise hotel in the darkness. She felt like a spy, dressed all in black, with the weight of a grappling hook and a firearm at her waist. It almost didn't feel real. Except for the briefing. Michael and Nikita had been there with the rest of the team. The target's profile had sprung up onscreen. . .the tacticals had been distributed. They were both inside the hotel, in the large ballroom, masquerading as a dancing couple.
Her job? She swallowed hard as Birkhoff gave orders to a few other operatives on the same channel. "You should be coming up on the skylight now," he directed at her from his position somewhere down below in a gray Section van.
"I see it," she said curtly, coming up on the wide panes of lighted glass a half level below her. She was supposed to crash through...and shoot, unflinchingly, a man who would be on the ballroom stage in a matter of minutes. Nikolai Korsikov, noted ex-KGB informant and current dealer of arms to several militant groups in the former Yugoslavia. After disposing of the target, it was up to her to escape in the ensuing panic and get back to the van. Michael and Nikita were just there to evaluate and clean up any extra hostiles. It was a purposely risky, wiggy mission. The ultimate of tests. Putting innocents in danger. Putting herself and her fellow operatives in danger. Operations was a sadistic bastard.
She didn't want to do this...knew she wasn't James Bond...kept telling herself that this was no different than dusting vampires. She moved to the edge of the overhang, securing the grappling hook to a iron grate in the cement and then checking to make sure that the harness covering her chest was tight. She hefted the weight of the semi-automatic in her right hand, closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
"Korsikov's in." Michael's whisper. "Twenty-five seconds before he gets into range." Nikita.
And finally Birky. "Go!"
It all happened at once...before she could even exhale...her legs propelled her down, and her hand squeezed on the trigger. Glass shattered... she plummeted into brightness...into screams...and saw a flash of dark hair on the small stage, in front of the orchestra...his face blurred as she pumped off several rounds. He fell...and she unhooked her harness, falling to the floor at the same exact time.
More shots rang out as Section operatives took out guards. Feet... chaos. Silk swishing past her as she crawled on the smooth marble floor. "Get out of there, Buffy. You're done. Target eliminated." Birkhoff burst through the buzzing in her head with an explosion of static.
She was up in seconds, shouldering past people, knocking blindly with the butt of her rifle. "Maintenance exit to the south," he reminded.
"I know," she assured, throat clogging up as her eyes flickered over the the length of the room...finding the small door tucked behind a set of buffet tables. She vaguely noticed Nikita in her long silver sheath...but didn't pause. Ran swiftly for the exit. *Get out...have to get out.* And she plowed into some someone right by the door...skidding to a stop.
She stumbled, hands caught her shoulders and she wrenched out of them instinctively, only to find herself staring into familiar dark eyes. Pale skin. Bleached hair.
"You..." he gasped, dragging her through the door and the narrow hallway.
"Buffy? Buffy, what is it? Have you been compromised?"
"No," she assured Birkhoff, not taking her eyes off of Spike for one instant. "I'm fine...just gotta run. I'll be at the van by egress." And she whipped off her comm set with one hand, stuffing it into a pocket in her tight black Kevlar just as she found herself shoved up against the wall.
"Slayer?" he breathed, eyes running over her face again and again. "This can't be..."
"Yes it can," she said before she could think properly, taking in his black tuxedo, complete with white silk handkerchief in the pocket. How unlike her enemy he looked. So classy. So handsome. Handsome? Her brain was still addled from gunfire. "What the Hell are you doing here?" she demanded, regaining some semblance of sanity.
"Hunting, obviously!" He continued to stare at her and one hand came up to touch her face, scrubbed clean of make-up for the mission. "What are you doing falling through skylights and shooting people? I saw them bury you. Watched the life get sucked out of that town and your friends. You're dead, Slayer."
She closed her eyes against the absurdly gentle fingers, swallowing hard. The van. She had to get to the van. "Spike, I can't explain. I can't." She looked at her enemy...remembering their tense alliance before all the shit had hit the fan. "Get out of here before I stake you."
"You don't have a stake, Pet. Just that bloody huge machine gun." He gestured to the weapon that was crushed between their bodies. "And its not gonna hurt me."
Suddenly, came the sound of footsteps from further up the hall. Shouts. Guards? Security? Korsikov's men? Buffy didn't know. With the one hand that was free, she whipped off the black cap that had been hiding all her hair and let it fall down past her shoulders. She stuffed the cap in with her comm set and just as men began to spill into the hallway, she leaned forward, and kissed Spike on the mouth.
No time to think or to regret. Just time to cover her ass. For just a split second, he was stiff and shocked...but as the guards voices grew louder, he got the message. He pulled her close, twining his fingers in her golden brown hair, kissing her back with his cool lips and tongue. They cradled the gun that could damn her between them like a child. Buffy had kissed a few guys in Section for valentine mission sims...but it had meant nothing. Had been impersonal. The job. But this? She felt the ice that had grown up around her soul start to crack. Her insides were beginning to simmer. He tasted like cold water...with a hint of coppery blood and something primal. She hadn't felt like this in a very long time...she wrapped her hand around the back of his head, caressing the shaved base of his hair as the kiss just went on and on.
Guards passed them, ignoring an obviously impassioned young couple. Too stupid to realize that they were the most dangerous people in the building. When the hall was once again filled with silence, Buffy pulled away. Efficient. The perfect cover. Except for her racing pulse and her breathless gasps.
She felt the blood drain from her face. Not only had she compromised her Section identity. She'd just kissed a vampire. A vampire she was supposed to hate.
"I won't ask," he said hoarsely, stepping back. He checked the corridor for any further guests and urged her up the way the intruders had come. "I don't want to know what you're involved in." His eyes grew even darker. . . more cynical. "And I certainly won't ask what just happened."
"Good." Buffy the operative took control over Buffy the girl and Buffy the Slayer. She moved with him. "Because I'd have to kill you." She knew Birkhoff was tracking her position...she had to get going. "I've got to jet, Spike."
They were by the service elevator. He cocked his head, stared at her so intently that it reminded her of Operations. "Do you want me to tell your Watcher you're still kicking?" he asked softly.
A lump rose in her throat and she nodded. "Please." She punched the 'down' button, knowing she would climb in, hit the emergency stop, unscrew the panel at the top and just rapel down the shaft. The doors opened as if on command.
"Slayer?" He arched a sardonic brow as she stepped into the lift.
"Yeah, Spike?" she wondered, dragging a hand through her hair.
The smile he gave her was bitter, knowing. "Give my love to Madaleine."
"Wha--?" The doors began to close and she blocked them with one arm. "What?"
Spike just shook his head. "I'll see you around." And he gently moved her arm...letting the elevator swallow her up.
The last thing she saw was that smile...that creepy smile. Madaleine? She thought, dumbstruck? Madaleine? How does Spike know about Section One? Why did I kiss him? What is he doing here anyway? And then she had to complete egress...and put the past behind her once again.
In the van, Birky, Michael and Nikita all clapped her on the back. . . hugs were passed around. But Spike's eyes were still there...mocking her. She'd succeeded. She'd gained operative status. And lost something besides her soul. Her mind.
"Buffy's still in debrief."
Nikita couldn't hide her relief as she slipped into Michael's office. As usual, he sat as his desk, laptop open, fingers flying across the keys. At the sound of her voice, he reached into a drawer, activating the security feed disrupter. His green eyes quirked with a silent Mae West invitation.
She climbed into his lap, chuckling at the thought of this stoic Frenchman drawling "why don't'cha come up and see me sometime?", and their mouths met for just enough time to make fire spring up. By the time the cameras were back on-line, she was sitting on his desktop, companionably swinging her legs.
"She made it!" she continued, grinning. "She really made it all the way through training!"
Michael just kept his face calm and blank. "We knew she would. She had incredible promise." He was typing again. Business as usual.
"Promise is one thing, Michael. Buffy just sailed to the top of the class! I'm told she's a Level Five." She thought of the shattering skylight...Korsikov falling. For a recruit's test, it had been eerily perfect. "How's that possible?" "You trained her well," he offered with that infuriating simplicity that she still hadn't gotten used to even after all these years.
She recognized the secret, shuttered look in his eyes. "Michael?" she questioned, not believing his explanation for a minute. "You know something, don't you?"
A millisecond's pause and the barest of blinks were the only sign that he was lying. "There's nothing to know," he assured in his husky whisper. "Buffy has been recruited expressly for Class Five because Section knew her potential. That's all there is."
And finally, something in his face began to scare her. Over the last few months, Michael and Buffy had formed a bizarre bond. Finding some sort of comfort in each other's silences and skills. It had never made her jealous...it had done the opposite actually. She'd been overjoyed. Although they spent most of their time sparring, it had seemed like Michael, too, had found a little sister in Buffy. They were so much alike. So full of pain and history. So tensed and full of violence. And then socially, Nikita and Birkhoff had rounded off the group of semi-siblings to a nice four.
But even so...it was obvious that Michael knew more about her material than he was willing to tell her. Reminding her that they weren't a nice foursome of friends. This was Section. And everyone had an agenda. "Does she talk to you?" Nikita wondered suddenly.
"Talk?" he repeated, tearing his eyes away from the display on the screen to look up at her.
"You know-- tell you things?" she elaborated, trying to hide her fear.
No blinks. No pauses. "No." Michael ever so carefully shut his laptop. "Nikita..." he sighed. "Leave it alone."
"She's my material!" Nikita pointed out hotly, furrowing her brows. "And she's my friend! I worry about her!"
"You shouldn't." Short and to the point. And then he was reaching into the drawer...shutting off the cameras once again...standing swiftly, he pulled her into his arms. "Worry about me instead," he breathed.
Lips trailing across her throat...hands tangling with hers in that feather-light erotic dance. It was an obvious ploy to distract her. But Nikita was human...and she loved him. She gave in to the kisses...resolving to definitely pursue the Buffy issue later.
"You turned off your comm set during egress. Why?" Madaleine was doing 'the stare' again. She looked like a calm, lovely, psychiatrist.
Buffy slouched in her chair, glad to be out of the constricting Kevlar and back in jeans and an old gray sweatshirt of Birkhoff's. Outside, she never would've dressed this way...but here--it was a great way to tick off Operations. "I was running...and the static on the channel was bothering me," she lied easily, hating the tedious process of debrief. She remembered skidding into a hard body...caught by Spike. Shock. Absurd happiness because he was someone familiar...someone from her other life. "It broke my concentration and I had to get to the van ASAP."
"I see." The Section's 'mommy' had the tiniest of smiles as she looked over the mission summary. "And how did you feel during execution?"
Which part? She had a sudden flash of cool kisses...her head swimming. "A little nervous at first," she said aloud. "But once I got started, I didn't feel anything. I just followed the mission profile," she admitted with a careless shrug. *Spike wasn't part of the mission profile*, nagged a little voice inside her head.
"Good." Madaleine set down her PDA, folding her hands on her desktop. "Congratulations, Buffy. You've passed with flying colors. You're now a full fledged operative."
"Let me guess, I'm not getting $10, 000 and a trip to Tahiti." She sat up a bit straighter, trying to hang onto humor as the dread set in. This was it. What Michael had meant yesterday before the mission. What were they going to do? Hand her a gun and a promotion?
Madaleine's smile just grew and Buffy resisted the urge to yank her head down into her shirt like a turtle going into its shell. "No, not exactly. You will be installed into your new living arrangements outside Section. Nikita will help you adjust. You will come into Section every morning as if you are coming into a normal work environment. Here, your simulations and fight training will continue as will subsequently more difficult mission work."
Buffy swallowed hard. A normal work environment? Like normal life as a Slayer? "Am I allowed to make friends? To have a life?" she asked, remembering the reason she hadn't chosen death eight months ago. Her responsibility. The Hellmouth. Slayage. Once outside...all that would come back.
"We advise against forming attachments outside Section, but it can be done." Madaleine was the one with the bitter look now. "Attachments inside Section have their risks as well. But we are aware that a girl your age needs people. Needs to date. You will do so with utmost discretion. Your identity must never be compromised," she warned.
"Or what?" Buffy knew the answer all ready. Death for whoever knew. Death. Death. Death. It was everywhere.
Madaleine looked down at her well-manicured nails...dark eyes full of secrets. "Whose voice was that just before your switched off the channel?" she asked abruptly. "A man's...it sounded like recognition."
Her throat dried up. Blood froze. And the perpetual hole in her chest seemed to widen. "I wasn't compromised," she said, standing up quickly and shoving her hands into the pockets of her jeans. "It must have been background noise."
Spike's image resurfaced on her eyelids. 'Give my love to Madaleine', he'd said. Could she really know him? Could she have recognized his voice? God...what kind of sick, twisted world was this?
"Perhaps you're right. I'm sure it was nothing." The older woman gave up easily. Too easily. "Go on, Buffy. The briefing is complete."
She numbly left the sparse, chilling office...trying to shake the sense that Madaleine wasn't finished with her. Sooner or later, her two lives were going to cross. And she didn't want her only contact to Sunnydale to get killed in the process.
Buffy made her way through the halls of Section One...towards an exit. Trackers and cameras be damned...she had to make a date with a vampire.
He hadn't been hard to find. Tracking him down had been considerably easier than sneaking out of Section, she reflected as she stared at the door to his apartment. She'd slipped out of the HQ while a team came in from a mission. . .Birkhoff had spotted her, but said nothing after she'd winked at him. She'd be back. Even Madaleine knew that. Because no one had converged on her at the doors...no alarm had gone off. Then, just to be safe, she'd had to stop in an alley and search for any tracking devices on the surface of her skin. Two. under her shirt. Barely bigger than the tips of her fingernails.
There was probably something implanted in her that monitored her, too, but Buffy really couldn't do anything about that. Her first priority was Sunnydale. And Spike was her only link.
Noise from below filtered up through the floorboards and she had to stifle a grin as she leaned against the wall. Leave it to Spike to move in above a punk/ska club. A nightly supply of blood...and his favorite music to boot. Of course, the fact that she'd found a matchbook shoved into her Kevlar pocket had helped with this revelation. Her enemy really did have quick hands...slipping the matches with 'Ode to Oy!' printed on them in neon green into her mission gear while they'd kissed.
She flinched and forced the image away, moving towards the door. Room 4. Although there were only 3 doors up here. A bit of tampering and it unlocked with a barely audible click. She slipped inside. And didn't have time to look around or even to breathe.
He shoved her back against the wall of the apartment and this time there was no machine gun between them. Just her clothes and the terrycloth towel around his lean hips.
"Come to cancel me, have you?" he hissed, and his skin was still damp from the shower she must have interrupted. "The good little Section Slayer." He morphed into his game face...looking unyielding in the room's dim lighting.
His body was aligned perfectly with hers. Cold. Smooth. She could feel parts of him she'd never quite felt before...and she tensed. "N-no. Y-you gave me the addy, remember?" she gasped, trying to ignore the feeling of him so hard, grinding into her. "I'm not here to kill you," she assured, meeting his accusatory eyes.
"Then why?" His fingers dug into the thin material of her sweatshirt. "If you're not here to do Madaleine's bidding or your Slayer duties...why?" His fangs were inches from her neck.--waiting.
Buffy swallowed, taking in the horrific lines of his vampire visage and noting, oddly, that his hair needed another dye job. Dark roots were threading the peroxide blond. "I'm homesick," she admitted suddenly. "Okay, Spike? I'm homesick and you're a part of home and I guess that means I missed you in some really sick twisted way."
His game face shifted back to its almost choirboy-like mortal form. "Y-you missed me?" he repeated. No sarcasm. Just wonder. The scarred eyebrow dancing. "Why, Slayer...I do believe you're blushing." He drew back just a little, lips quirking in a grin.
Was she? Her cheeks felt warm as she was suddenly remembering that kiss from the Korsikov mission again. "Will you let me go now?" she demanded, hands coming up to push him away. Big mistake. The moment her palms came into contact with his bare chest, they both froze. Fire meeting ice and neutralizing. Gasps. Her fingers curling inwards, clenching on his taut, chilled flesh. They were caught in the slow burn of something they couldn't name. Something that had snuck up on them. "Spike?" she murmured, soft question hanging in the silence of the rented room.
A sigh tore from his airless throat. He released her shoulders and his hands came up to cup her face. So tentative. So artfully light. "Buffy?"
And they leaned in, driven by instinct. Mouths hovering millimeters apart, her breath warming his lips. Eyes fluttering shut. His thumbs stroked the length of her cheekbones while they finally took the next step and kissed. Not the raging fury of yesterday...but slow and strangely tender.
Buffy shivered and her arms slid around his neck. And all her fears were steadily disappearing. Yes, this was a vampire. Yes, this was Spike. Her worthiest foe. Worthy for battle. Worthy for the occasional cease fire. And maybe even worthy enough to make her feel again. Section couldn't touch her here, tonight. Only he could.
He broke away first...maybe to give her time to breathe, and he lightly kissed her forehead, tucking her head gently beneath his chin. She pressed her cheek to his skin, listening to the silence where his heartbeat should've been. They stayed like that for a long stretch of time. Their latest alliance? She closed her eyes again and this time the memory of Angel and the vortex didn't hurt so much. Neither did the flash of awakening in that room in Section One. It was only fitting--a killer finding solace in the arms of a demon.
"Pet?" he wondered, smoothing her hair like he would a little girl's. "You didn't come here for that, did you? You came for business."
"I don't know," she admitted.
"You're really homesick enough to play tonsil tennis with a vampire you hate?" Faint cynicism as his lips moved along her hairline.
"You're lonely enough to play it with a Slayer," she countered, opening her eyes and staring at the pale column of his throat. No pulse there...just the tensed veins that held someone else's blood.
"Damn it all if you aren't right." The admission came with his hoarse, violent laugh.
When he swept her up into his arms, Buffy knew it was to take her to bed. His towel...her(well, Birkhoff's)shirt...her jeans...anything keeping them apart hit the floor as he lay her down on the black satin coverlet. They were necking like teenagers at a drive-in...clumsy and hurried. Touching places they'd punched and kicked and scratched, in another life, with wonder and hunger. Again and again their mouths met...and then out of the blue, reality came crashing down.
Buffy closed her eyes...seeing Operations' smug smirk. And shattering glass. Blood blooming from Korsikov's chest. People screaming and running. Madaleine's cryptic smile as she wondered about the man's voice over the comm. *It sounded like recognition.* She felt her arms grow limp around Spike's neck...and she broke the kiss, muffling a gasp against his neck.
"What? What is it, Pet?" he murmured softly, hands caressing up and down her bare back.
"Section," she choked out. And automatically, his hands froze.
"Ah, yes...Section One." His voice was ragged even though he had no breath. He rolled off of her, onto his side...and the sudden lack of contact was like an Arctic breeze.
She swallowed insecurity and the urge to curl up into a ball...instead, reaching deliberately for his hand and bringing it back to rest on her chest. Her eyes fixed on the plastery ceiling above her head. "Wh-what do you know about them, Spike?" she demanded as the need for information outweighed the need for passion or regret.
His voice was distant...as if coming through a tunnel or clouds of smoke. "Prague."
And the one word made her meet his emotionless eyes. Prague. Where Drusilla had been attacked and nearly killed by a mob. He looked as dispassionate as he'd sounded. As if it was almost inconsequential. "Dru?" she prompted, bringing part of the satin coverlet with her as she rolled to face him completely.
He nodded. And he touched her face again with his free fingers. Soothing as the story came out. "We were ambushed. But not by a mob. It was by operatives. They were after one of our mates...a demon. Jacob Heller. Dru and I hadn't realized he was dealing weapons to mortals. Most of our kind stays out of that sort of thing," he informed as casually as if he was telling a fairy tale. "Gas...fire...you name it, these bloody people in black had the artillery that night. Swarmed out of nowhere. One of 'em had a crossbow with metal bolts. And I swear he'd tipped 'em with holy water. That they *knew* about us. I fought them off as best I could...but the bloke was too good a shot. He got Drusilla two inches from the kill spot. And they bagged Heller to boot."
So that was how it had happened...why they'd fled to the Hellmouth. Buffy shuddered. Six degrees of separation. "How'd you know it was Section One?" she wondered. "Did Heller make it back...report to you?"
Spike chuckled, and he pulled her body close to his once more. Companionable, not sexual. "No, Slayer. I think they sent his arse back to Hell. We never saw him again."
"Then how?" She pillowed her head on his arm, watching his face like she was Cordy looking in a mirror. "How'd you know?"
There was silence in the room again. And all she could hear was her own pulse. Spike's face contracted with secrets and his eyes just barely blinked.
"I saw my son."
She didn't have time to react. To gasp or ask or flinch. Because suddenly he was the desperate one...the one who needed to drown. His lips came down on hers...flooding her senses with a plea for *something*. And she couldn't deny him that.
"Do you have a lock on Buffy's location?"
Birkhoff found it amazing that Madaleine could maintain a monotone while ordering someone around. Even Operations bellowed occasionally. He brought up the screen that had been keeping track of Buffy's homing device. A small bleep on a grid of the city's streets. "She's stationary," he murmured, looking up into calm dark eyes. "She's been at the corner of 5th and Tremaine for the last hour."
Madaleine arched an eyebrow. A patented 'And--?' used here at Section. He wheeled his chair around to face her fully. "Its a dance club called Ode to Oy," he murmured, knowing the name sounded just as silly out loud as he thought it would. And he found himself jumping automatically to Buffy's defense as Madaleine continued to stare at him. "She's from California. Its highly unlikely that she knows anyone here. Her file says she spent a lot of time at the local club in her hometown...she's probably just dancing."
He was babbling. They both knew it. But his superior just smiled. "Very likely," she agreed softly and he couldn't tell if she believed him or not. Probably the latter. At Section...you had to assume *everyone* was a liar. It was the only way to survive. "When she returns to Section, notify me."
He nodded, breathing a sigh of relief. "Will do."
And Madaleine brushed her hand over the back of his head before she walked away like a runway model for Chanel business suits. As usual, he couldn't decide between feeling loved...and feeling very, very, afraid. He'd been here nearly his whole life...Maddy was the closest thing to a mother he'd ever had. How twisted did that make him?
The gentle beeping of Buffy's tracker was a welcome distraction. She was on the move. On her way home. He relaxed in his chair...and allowed his eyes to wander. Section's floor was buzzing with activity. Operatives at their terminals. Madaleine was now talking to Michael in the corridor. Their dark heads together. Those cool eyes full of secrets. They were so alike...and he'd only seen them act human around a select group of people. He cared about them...but they still managed to give him the creeps. Would he ever understand anyone in this place?
They walked hand in hand down the darkened street, looking like young lovers and feeling paradoxically old and dead. After the feverish make out session, they'd dressed without words. Instinctively knowing that time was up. That she had to go back. Birky's sweatshirt wasn't enough to ward off the chill that was settling into her bones. She was staggering under the weight of unanswered questions. Questions that Spike had deliberately silenced with kisses.
Lights were blinking out all over the city. The clubbers had poured out of Ode to Oy just minutes before them. A son. Spike had a son. One more anomaly in her bizarre life. She hadn't known vampires could have kids.
"Only a select few, I'm told."
His quiet answer echoed in the night, clueing her in to the fact that she'd spoken out loud. She moved her eyes up from the cracks in the sidewalk to meet his. "I'm a good listener," she offered, threading her fingers tightly through his.
"Since when?" A quip. A hint of that smile. A good sign, she hoped. And then he shook his head. A steady growl, like a cat's purr, rose from his throat.
"I don't want to discuss it Slayer," he sighed as his game face flashed on and then off. His demon warring with his sense. "Things are too complex all ready."
"Understate much," she snorted, trying to jar him back into a non-threatening-to-people-around-them mood.
They walked along in silence for a bit, navigating one block closer to Section HQ. His thumb idly stroked the center of her palm. He was still keyed up--violence just below the surface. She decided to try a different topic. *'Give my love to Madaleine'.* *...'it sounded like recognition'...* "Madaleine," she murmured, looking at him sideways. "Can you tell me about her? How you met her? If it was before Section?" she urged, sidling away from the night's other revelation.
She didn't pressure him to reply. He would. In his own time. And he did with a fond catch in his voice. "She was sixteen when I met her." He laughed and looked at her. "Same age as you were, but so different. Cool. Focused. Sophisticated. She could've been President."
"Gee, thanks." She stuck her tongue out at him. "Here's the beginning of my inferiority complex."
"Shut the Hell up," he said, not unkindly, pulling her closer to his side, into the folds of his trench coat. He kissed the top of her head before continuing with the story. "Dru and I were in the D.C. circle. Hobnobbing with stuck-up politicals who were too self-absorbed to notice a few missing mates now and then. A charming little shrink got all obsessed with her so Dru was busy... enjoying the cat-and-mouse. I was free. And Madaleine Dupres got me hook, line, and sinker."
"Her father was the head of a Louisiana weapons technology company, in town lobbying for a government bid. Her mum was plum loony, so she always came with him to Washington. All big dark eyes and secrets. Like a walking, breathing Mona Lisa. I had to have her," he said simply.
"Did you feed off her? Do the whammy?" Buffy asked, furrowing her brows.
"She wouldn't let me," he admitted sheepishly. "Somehow, she knew what Drusilla and I were and she would not let me touch her. Creole intuition, I bet. God, I admired her brass! She's one of the few mortals who's both scared me and fascinated me."
" Madaleine makes man and vampire alike quake in their shoes," she assured with a half smile. And as she watched the changing expressions on his face...the lightbulb went on. She stopped in her tracks, nearly smacking herself right then and there for her abject stupidity. *Of course!* A son in Section...an old lover in Section...it was so obvious! Spike + Maddy=child.
"Slayer?" he quizzed. "Is something wrong?"
"N-no!" she lied quickly, shaking her head even as the thought of the Ice Queen and her favorite enemy doing *that* made her queasy. He wasn't ready to talk about it...she wouldn't bring it up. She rehooked her arm around his and started moving again. "Everything's okay. I'm just thinking about how amazing it is that we're here...that we're not trying to kill each other."
His jaw clenched as he sized her up. "You're lying," he accused, voice not rising one iota. Before she could protest, he barreled on. "You regret trusting me, don't you? That's what it is. You're thinking 'the monkey business was fun but sorry, Mate, I'm still a Slayer and you're still a fang.'?"
"What?!?" Buffy gaped at him, furrowing her brows in confusion. "Where did *that* come from?" It was so way off the mark she almost laughed. "That's not it at all...this has nothing to do with slayage," she assured.
Spike...killer of two Slayers...William the Bloody...looked so vulnerable suddenly that her heart turned over. "Are you sure?" His hand tightened around hers. "I've done some hideous things, Pet...and you're lonely...you miss your old life...one night of liplock can't erase who I am."
"Shut the Hell up," she said instantly, echoing his earlier tone. She stared up into his eyes, saw herself mirrored in them. "We have what we have. All I care about is that we exist apart from Section One."
And she reached up and kissed him...preventing any more discussion of any kind.
"Retrieve Buffy," Madaleine had ordered them without batting an eyelash. "Birkhoff has pinpointed her location as just a few blocks from Section. We want her back here without any further disruptions."
"Will she be punished?" Michael had asked in that smooth, not-batting-an-eyelash way of his.
"Of course not." Their superior has actually looked at him like he was suggesting something totally unheard of. "Everything will continue as planned. Nikita will help her move into her apartment in the morning."
So, here they were. In the shadow of a high rise, leaning against the wall like would-be muggers.
"I don't like this," she muttered, pulling her jacket tighter around herself.
"It has to be done." Michael kept an arm around her shoulders as he lounged against her side like a tensed cat.
"Michael..." she couldn't keep a slight whine out of her tone. "Buffy knows better than to compromise herself. Why couldn't we just let her walk in on her own? Birkhoff said she was coming back."
"We have to make sure." He looked sideways at her...taking his eyes off the lamplit sidewalks. "She has to learn the protocol, Nikita. Or she won't survive."
The bleakness in his face made her shiver...reach out and lay a palm against his cheek. It suddenly occurred to her what had happened to them all over the last year. What had changed Michael. And her. "I care about her, too," she assured gently.
He nuzzled against her hand...just for a moment forgetting their mission as he sighed. "*Je ne sais pas*...'Kita...I wish it could be different."
She did, too. Someone like Buffy didn't belong here. *They* didn't belong here. Suddenly, she caught movement out of the corner of her eye...someone coming up the sidewalk. Michael jerked to attention and she focused, taking her hand from his face. And Nikita felt the blood drain from her knees and leave them weak. She watched the scene before her in utter shock as Michael's fingers slipped down around her waist and dug in to keep her from saying anything.
Buffy. Walking towards Section. But not alone. A tall, slim man with obviously bleached hair had her tucked inside the folds of his black leather trenchcoat. They were speaking to each other in low tones...he was a handsome guy. An angular face and high cheekbones. Dark eyes. And Buffy...Nikita had never seen her look so relaxed...happy, even. Her young face was glowing. And suddenly, they stopped in the middle of the street...the expressions on their faces became intense...heated. She couldn't make out the words but it looked damn close to a fight...and then in an instant came the second biggest shock of the evening. Her material...who hated even caressing a Valentine op...reached up and kissed the blond.
"Michael!" she heard herself gasp softly.
"Shh." He shook his head just barely.
And they watched in rapt silence as the two people sank into an embrace so tight there was no room for air. Hands roaming...clutching. She knew she was blushing...and yet she couldn't look away. It was like watching some beautifully choreographed love scene in a movie. She could feel Michael's breath on her neck...knew he, too, was utterly hypnotized.
Buffy and the stranger slowly drew apart...until only their hands were linked. It was a tender gesture. . .one that spoke of familiarity. And the night wind finally carried Buffy's words towards them.
"Spike...I-I'm really glad you're here."
The man's voice was smooth...British...with obvious fondness for her. "Anytime you need me, Pet...anytime."
And then he was gone. Melting into the shadows as efficiently as any Section op while the mask they were so used to fell back over Buffy's face. Just a little sad. Wistful. And somehow...incomplete. She looked small...cold...alone wrapped in that baggy sweatshirt.
Nikita turned to lock eyes with Michael. And the message passed between them. *Not a single word to anyone about this.* "Now?" she asked aloud, sighing.
He nodded curtly. "Lets retrieve."
And they moved out of the darkness, adding one more secret to their private archive.
*Thank God.* Michael and Nikita had swooped out of the shadows like vampires...except more unexpected. And they'd missed him. By just a minute or two. Buffy was thankful for small favors. Not thankful for getting whisked back into Section like some sort of felon...not thankful for the "not-lecture-but stare" that she'd received from Madaleine in the White Room...which had reminded her of Giles. But she was definitely thankful that Section didn't know about Spike. Or if they did...if Nikita and Michael had seen something...they weren't talking.
Buffy curled up against her room's wall, pulling her knees up under her chin. Michael was a rock. Unreadable. But Nikita...there had been something in her eyes...something weird. There was no way she wanted this to get out. Madaleine...finding out that her identity had been compromised. And that it had been compromised by a vampire who'd fathered her child. It would screw up everything. And she knew that it would get her canceled. Killed. Permanently.
She closed her eyes...and the picture that Nikita had shown her so long ago was tattooed there, on her eyelids. She saw it every night. Every moment when her mind wasn't on weapons or computers or now, Spike. Everyone clustered around her grave...full of horror. Surely by now they knew she was alive...surely by now, they were wondering where the Hell she was. What she wouldn't give to just pick up a phone and call...to get lectured by her mom...to hear Giles stammer and demand an explanation. To tell Willow about tonight...about smoochies and cute vampires and how she'd learned to hack into the Defense Department mainframe. But it couldn't happen. Not yet. Or that picture would come true.
Buffy shuddered...and the cold seemed to be sinking into her bones all over again. Spike. Babies. Section. Home. For once, her eyes remained dry. And, like every day, she felt herself get just a little stronger.