Table of Contents
Previous Chapter: Devotion
Next Chapter: Isolation

They’d returned to find the Initiative in a complete systems failure. No power, no communications, no security measures. Nothing. No people. Well, that wasn’t completely true. There were plenty of bodies, scattered all over the place. Literally. Riley had no idea what Buffy’s friends had unleashed on that place, but one thing was certain: 

Even if he hadn’t cleared out their best operatives, it wouldn’t have made a difference in anything but the human body count.

He had been a soldier for seven years, since the age of eighteen. He’d seen a lot in that time, but this…. Staring at the carnage, he felt numb. Disconnected. Like there was wool stuffed in his brain, muffling everything around him. He heard his men, understood what they were saying, but it all came to him through that layer of wool.

How did this happen?

He didn’t know what to tell his men. That he was the one responsible for the deaths of all their coworkers and the end of their operation? That he’d led them away so that a captive had a better chance of escape? That he was the proverbial spanner in the works? No. He couldn’t tell them that. They’d find the closest brig to throw him in, call a court martial, and have him stripped of all his military credentials by the end of the week. He’d be labeled as a traitor, and he’d live out the rest of his days locked away; in disgrace. 

He couldn’t tell them the truth without giving up everything in his life that meant something. But he could skirt the truth. They needed leadership. They needed… More than he could give at that moment, but he could at least try to give them some closure. Some guidance. Some idea of where to go next, what to do. And try to work that out for himself in the process.

Somebody, or something, saw an opportunity and took it. A full on assault. Maybe the demons and mystics had finally had enough, decided to band together and fight back in force. They could have put a tracker on him before he escaped the cave. Maybe that was the only reason he’d made it out alive. The reason there’d been no demons there when they’d arrived.

We were only gone for an hour!

If the number of demons in that town decided to descend all at once, it wouldn’t have taken them any time to clear the place. Not when there weren’t soldiers stationed there. Not when the security systems were offline. Something had knocked them out before the attack. There’d been no distress signal sent out, no call for reinforcements. It was likely that their communication abilities had been taken down first, then security. 

Everybody is dead!

Maybe not everybody. They needed to do a thorough sweep of the entire compound. Look for any survivors. If they found anybody wounded, they needed to get them medical attention immediately. Their first stop would need to be the medical bay, to grab supplies. They couldn’t afford to split up. They needed to put out a distress call as well. Get some back up on the way.

All the demons have escaped! How are we supposed to round them all back up?

They weren’t going to round them all back up. If there were any still there, they’d be eliminated, no questions asked. There was no point now in bothering with live captures. They didn’t have time to waste on it, and the more demons they killed, the less would be back on the streets. The Initiative as they knew it was gone. No more scientists. No more studies. Kill it, move on to the next. Simple. The way it used to be, back when he first signed on.

They gathered up the weapons and supplies they could carry with them and mobilized, moving in formation and clearing the halls one room at a time. A few straggling demons remained, wandering and looking for a way out. They didn’t stand a chance against Riley and his platoon, and were dispatched with ease.

They cleared the containment wing, moved on to the secured labs, then came Buffy’s specialized experiment area. The demons down in the pit were easy to snipe off. It was almost impressive to see how many of them had already been taken out before they’d arrived. By Buffy. Then one of his men came across Maggie…

Riley had never expected it to hurt as much as it did to see her like that. Yes, she’d lost her way. Got so caught up in the science aspect of it and lost the part where they were eliminating threats. But still… She’d been like a mother to him, for years. She’d helped guide him, shaped the way he saw the world, for better or for worse. She was always dedicated to expanding her knowledge. She wanted to change the world.Her work came before everything else in her life, and nobody could say otherwise. She was a brilliant woman, and she didn’t deserve…

Her throat had been ripped out, savagely. Viciously. And they all knew exactly who did it. 

We need to avenge Professor Walsh. That Slayer bitch is gonna pay for this. Her and her vampire boyfriend.

I’m with Forrest on that. They can’t have gotten far. We’ll get a bead on them, track ‘em down. Take ‘em out.

Riley had no words. Everything he’d worked toward was gone. Maggie was gone. His men’s faith in him was shaky. He didn’t know where his loyalties were, or what was right and wrong anymore. All he knew was that Sunnydale was a distant reflection in his rearview mirror, and tomorrow would only bring more uncertainty.

Riley wasn’t so sure revenge was the right course of action to take though, and the little prawn in his head painfully reminded him of what would happen if he didn’t deter others from trying. The only thing they really could do, to honor Walsh’s memory, was to carry on her work of helping humanity in the fight against evil. They’d pack up whatever personal effects they felt like taking with them and disappear. They’d go to HQ, get a new assignment. New orders. And Riley would have to explain everything that had happened, to the best of his ability.

And maybe, hopefully, the thing would get out of his brain, and he could try to move on.

 

***

 

Two days had passed already. They’d floated a feather from a down pillow, and turned the dust into glitter, and done all kinds of neat little tricks together to work on getting their energies in sync and honing their focus. There’d been magic and sparks a plenty. But not the kind that Willow had been hoping for. The kind that manifested butterflies in your stomach in a very non-hex-y kind of way. The kind that made you see stars in a room during the daytime. The kind of magic that made you believe in magic in the first place.

It was kind of a letdown for her, and she was trying hard not to show her disappointment, but she could feel it starting to affect how she was being with Tara. And how her mood in turn was affecting how Tara was being with her. A sort of miffed distance was forming between them. A rift filled with all the words that neither of them could say to the other. Which only made Willow feel worse.

Tara had taken to silence, her shy submissive demeanor amplified by the fact that there was nothing else there to occupy their minds. No television, no books, no board games. Not even a deck of cards so that they could sullenly play go fish. The only thing that broke the silence were occasional sighs. Little huffs of breath that were meant to convey something, but that something was an unknown.

Willow had hoped that by now… She and Tara could have been snuggled together on one of the tiny beds, making magic of their own. Whispering sweet nothings to each other while basking in the sunshine. Enjoying each other’s company in a new and exciting way. Not sending dejected looks at each other from across the room.

Instead of laughing together, they were doing nothing… Separately.

And it was eating her up inside. She wanted so badly to put her feelings into words, to make them roll off her tongue and out of her mouth. She wanted Tara to know how loved she was. How amazing. How she’d picked Willow up out of a deep depression, held her hand, and led her into the light. How everything between them felt so right and so natural. She didn’t want Tara to feel like she needed to hide how she felt. She didn’t want her to be shutting down at the first sign that something might not be all hunky dory. She wanted Tara to feel safe with her. Secure.

On the third day, she decided she’d at least try to lighten the mood.

“You think Giles will contact us soon? It would be nice to, you know, go do something,” she tried over breakfast.

“Oh, uh… Yeah? I-I was thinking m-maybe we could get s-some coffee, or-or a shake.”

Willow didn’t miss that Tara’s stutter had returned, or that she wouldn’t make direct eye contact. It hurt, to see her so unsure of herself. All because Willow couldn’t just… Be content to be close friends. She’d let her own wants and desires change how she treated Tara, and now… 

She let out a soft sigh and reached out, placing her hand on Tara’s forearm. 

“Hey… are you alright? I didn’t mean… I don’t want to upset you. I know my mood hasn’t been the greatest. I’m just all…” she waved a hand in the air. “I’m just really worried about them, is all. And the not knowing if everybody is okay? Not so great for my brain.”

Tara gave her a soft smile, mixed with immense relief. “Willow… That spell we did… not even bullets could hurt Buffy. Not really. I’m sure they’re just fine.”

“Yeah, I guess so… It’s just- why is it taking so long for Giles to contact us then, you know? If everything is fine, couldn’t he let us know?”

Tara shrugged. “Waiting for the dust to settle? Or for the Initiative to decide to close up? Maybe Buffy just needed some time to adjust before getting all the hugs from friends and family? She’s been through a really traumatic thing.”

“Yeah… you’re right,” Willow thought about it for a minute, then perked up. “You’re right! They’re probably all just fine.” 

“If you wanted to, later today, we could… do a spell to check in on everybody? There’s this one I know. Normally you’d need a picture of the person, but I think we can work it without that.”

Willow nodded with enthusiasm. “I’d really like that. Kind of, put the worry aside and know for sure that everybody got out alright.”

She wanted to suggest a spell to see how many people were left at the Initiative base as well, to see how many needed to clear out still, but she didn’t want to push it. At least she and Tara were talking again, even if it wasn’t exactly what Willow had wanted to say.

Any words were better than no words. And even if it turned out that Tara wasn’t interested in her romantically, Willow still really valued her friendship. She didn’t want her own emotions to ruin what they had. So she could wait a while longer.

 

***

 

As interesting a life as he’d lived, babysitting Ethan day in and day out had already lost its shiny newness. They’d swapped stories about vengeance and mysticism, run-ins with demons and the law, grandiose escapes which were almost certainly embellished. Much to Xander’s dismay, of course. God forbid anybody encourage her to take pride in her many, many years as a demon and the vast knowledge that came with them.

As much as she loved him, he could certainly take notes on how to interact without being judgmental. And how to not be blatantly jealous over a man who was clearly no competition. Ethan was past his prime, and while he was fun to chat with… sex with him? No thank you.

Besides, he had that whole thing going on with Giles, and she’d scorned more than a few hundred cheaters in her life. She knew better than to go down that road.

No, the sex she actually wanted to be having, she couldn’t. Xander flat out refused, on account of Ethan being there, and also him sleeping in the only actual bed. Giles really needed some better safe houses. The bed wasn’t being used during the day, though! Ethan was only handcuffed to it at night so he couldn’t try to run away or murder them in their sleep. Very valid points she tried to make.

Ethan might hear them, or Ethan could walk in on them. Ethan could blah blah blah. It was just sex, what was the big freaking deal?

And now she was in such a bad mood from the whole situation that she was snappy and grumpy and she just wanted to leave already. And they still had no word from Giles. It was just waiting, trying to fill the time in between sleeping, and more waiting. The whole thing sucked, and she hoped she never had to put up with anything like it again.

A few days cooped up in a danky old house with nothing to do was enough to drive her stir crazy. She couldn’t even imagine what Buffy had gone through, what with the actual torture and everything. And the weeks upon weeks. No windows. Nothing to do.

Well, maybe not nothing. She did have Spike there with her after all, and Anya wasn’t stupid, as much as people wanted to think she was. Military boy had told Giles they’d been getting close to each other, and you didn’t have to be a mind reader to figure out exactly what he meant by it. Or at least, she didn’t need to be.

The others, though… well, they willingly pulled the wool over their eyes and then added more wool on top of it, and when the obvious tried to scream at them, they stuffed even more wool into their ears. She could already hear Xander when he realized the implications. More of the ‘What? How? What?’ was to come, that much was for sure. And probably a lot of disgusted faces, a few more hours of listening to his bigoted views about how all demons were bad, despite the fact that he was dating one.

Spike was, what, a little over a century old? How high could his body count really be? She’d been alive for over eleven hundred years. But nobody was condemning her for all the people she’d brutally murdered over the centuries. And they had been brutal. She was the best vengeance demon alive, and everybody knew it. Until Xander came along, anyway.

Willow got all kissy-faced with him when he had a concussion, leading to that wish from Cordelia. And that disaster led to her power source being destroyed. Being human really sucked. She couldn’t teleport, she could barely lift heavy stuff on her own, and always had to rely on Xander for things like that. And establishing an actual identity? Not that easy.

At least Xander was… Mostly good to her. He tried. And he wanted to be helpful and understanding to her. She was sure he didn’t actually realize how it might bother her when he talked badly about all demons. Sure, a lot of them loved the violence and the fight and things like that. She certainly had, and she’d been damn good at it, too. But that wasn’t all there was to them.

They had their little quirks, the things that made them stand out as unique to their kind. Whether it be a hobby, or an interest, or what have you. Hallie, for example. Loved children, and not as food. That was something of a rarity among demons. There were lots of things that looked at infants and children as something of a delicacy.

When Anya thought about it, Spike was… Well, kind of like Xander. Good boyfriend material, for the right kind of person. For a Slayer kind of person. Super strength, speed, stamina. Awake at night to help her with patrols. And he’d actually be able to help, unlike pretty much any living human. And after a century alive, he probably wasn’t a slouch in bed, and orgasms were really great for unwinding.

That wasn’t even taking into account his personality. His entire unlife committed wholly to a sickly insane vampire. The care and devotion that took? Nothing to scoff at. And if that kind of devotion were directed at Buffy… Well, Anya could only hope that it was sincere. Enough men had walked out of her life already. Buffy deserved somebody who would be good to her. 

Anya was sprawled across the easy chair, bored out of her mind with the lack of things to do when she heard it. A soft kind of cough, like somebody clearing their throat in a church in the middle of services.

She tilted her head back, searching for the source of the noise, and nearly fell off her chair.

“Giles!”

He was finally there! Well, not there there, but… The top half of him was reflected in the mirror that was hanging on the back of the front door. A bit out of focus, like he was under water, but he was there. 

“Basem Datorum.” He spoke clearly, then sighed. “The Initiative is no more. Kindly gather up your things and convene at my flat as soon as you can.”

“You don’t have to tell me twice. Xander! We can leave now!”

“Anya… Before you go, Ethan… Do keep an eye on him. We can’t afford for him to slip away now. Not with Loki’s trinket.”

She rolled her eyes, but nodded. “Can I break his knees if he tries to run?” She asked, but Giles was already gone. Just like that. 

Oh well. She was just glad to finally be able to get out of there. 

 


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Table of Contents
Previous Chapter: Devotion
Next Chapter: Isolation

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