Groaning, Buffy closed the door behind her, dropped the bloodstained axe and limped into the kitchen to drag out her extensive first aid kit and start repairs. With practiced efficiency she shrugged out of her ruined jacket, tossing it onto the floor before examining the scores running down her left arm. Satisfied that they only needed cleaning and a dressing, she briskly set about doing just that. Five minutes later Buffy opened the refrigerator door and pulled out a random convenience meal from the stack inside and popped it into the microwave before snagging a carton of juice. She gulped down the first glass before refilling it and putting the carton back in the fridge.
Moments later the microwave pinged and the exhausted Slayer pulled out the container of whatever, placing it on a tray with the glass after tearing the film off, and wandered into the dimly lit sitting room. Sinking into the couch, Buffy picked up the remote and flicked through a few stations, settling on a nature documentary about dolphins before tackling her food. ‘Might as well look at something pretty for a change.’
Buffy made short work of the bland pasta bake on the tray. She neither liked nor disliked it; it was just convenient, a bit like her life. Sighing, she returned the tray to the kitchen, rinsed her glass and put the empty food container in the bin, then grabbed a diet soda before returning to curl up on the couch and go over that night’s patrol in her head.
Once upon a time this would have been related to her Watcher, Giles, but those days were long gone. It seemed like forever since she’d been surrounded by others, all helping her in the fight against evil. Her mom had been alive then and there had been comfort and happiness to be had. Dawn, her not so real sister, had died saving the world and Oz, who’d disappeared into the Initiative, was never to be seen again
Not all were dead. Willow and her partner, Tara, now ran the Magic Box as part of their partnership with Giles. Buffy saw them once a week, but that barely kept her loneliness at bay. Xander had married his ex-demon girlfriend and moved off to Cleveland. He now had a successful career in construction, the inherent dangers of living on the Hellmouth left far behind. Her last boyfriend, Riley, had been turned whilst visiting a vamp brothel and it had fallen to Buffy to take him out.
So much had changed since the Initiative had set up operations in Sunnydale. The vamp and demon population had gradually fallen to levels that made sightings a rarity, and contact a red letter day. Only after they’d relocated their base to a secret centre just outside LA had the numbers gradually crept up again, as the Hellmouth had sent out its siren call once more. Buffy still had to cope with the usual yearly apocalypse; had taken out Adam - the driving factor in the Initiative’s relocation - lost her sister in her efforts to defeat Glory, almost come to grief when Willow had gone off the rails with her overuse of magic during the Trio’s brief reign of stupidity. But all of that had come at a price.
The Initiative had changed everything. They’d taken vamps off the streets, well, normally from cemeteries and dark alleys, chipped them and put them to use for the good of humanity. They’d been trained in a variety of skills and sold to the highest bidders – as long as the government approved. A grey world existed, in between light and dark, where humans supposedly utilised their pet vamps for the betterment of all. In reality, those with power became more powerful due to their new acquisitions, and the public seemed to be able to turn its normal blind eye and behave as though the chipped undead they encountered were no more out of the ordinary than a pet dog would have been.
When Giles had taken over as head of the new Watchers Council after Quentin Travers’ unexpected demise – some might say suspicious - he had investigated what benefits these new chipped vampires could offer. Since then he had been trying, intermittently, to persuade Buffy to procure one for her own use. Many had been trained to be bodyguards against demonic threats and Giles felt that one of these would be ideal for Buffy to use in her mission. For the last three years Buffy had been adamantly against the idea, but after tonight’s events, she wasn’t so sure.
It had been a routine patrol of the caves that had led to her latest trouble. Buffy was finding it difficult to concentrate lately; she was tired, lonely and feeling increasingly disconnected from those she was chosen to protect. Her senses had failed to register the presence of three Maruka demons before they were upon her. It was more luck than anything else that she’d managed to kill them, the wound she’d received from one of their claws letting her off more lightly than she perhaps deserved.
Having a vampire, even a chipped one, living in her home was not something that Buffy particularly wanted. It would give her something else to think about though. As far as she could tell, from the scanty details that she’d paid attention to, it would need to be trained and cared for. And, perhaps, even a vampire for company would be better than no company at all. Plus, vampire senses were acute and should be able to warn her of approaching nasties. Buffy decided to call Giles in the morning to discuss it with him. Picking up the remote, she turned off the TV and headed up to a shower.
Stepping under the hot water Buffy continued to think about vampires or, more accurately, the differences that age and experience made. Fledges tended to be all grrr and arrrgh, finding it difficult to contain the bloodlust of their demon, acting on innate impulses. She’d met a few newbies that had a bit more grip on their unlife but not many. Then there were the more experienced vamps, those with more knowledge of who and what they were, more cunning and fighting ability. And, of course, then there were the master vampires.
Lothos, The Master, Kakistos, Darla – they had all been difficult opponents, strong and wily. Angel when he’d lost his soul had proved how a vampire could plan to make the kill as agonising and drawn out as possible. Drusilla had been, well, mad. And, in that madness, totally unpredictable. Dracula was out there somewhere, no doubt doing his thrall thing on some unsuspecting victim. ‘Makes note to self not to get a vamp with thrall!’
That was about it. Buffy turned off the water and stepped from the bath as she contemplated the only other master vampire of her acquaintance.
Now there was an enigma if ever there was one. The only vampire that talked of love. The only unsouled vampire to have entered into an alliance with her, to save the world no less, even though he was evil through and through. The one vampire her mom had liked. The one she’d enjoyed fighting the most. ‘Wonder what happened to him?’
Pulling on her favourite black satin pyjamas, so much her favourite that she had three identical sets, Buffy settled herself into the comfort of her large bed and snuggled down for the night. Definitely didn’t want to get a fledge, that would be too much like having a chained rabid dog in her home. Maybe one with some experience, but not too much; enough to exert some control over its demon even if the chip wasn’t present. A master vampire? The Slayer doubted that any of those would be chipped, and even if they were, well, who wanted someone that devious to worry about? Satisfied that she at least had some idea of what she’d be looking for, Buffy succumbed to the pull of slumber.
Giles smiled broadly into the phone. “You have no idea how relieved this has made me, Buffy. I’ll send you an email with the details for the next auction. It should take place in the next couple of weeks, if memory serves. Once you confirm that you’re going I’ll arrange an open line of credit, make sure that you can get the right one to help you.”
Back in Sunnydale, Buffy smirked slightly at her absent Watcher’s enthusiasm. “Yeah, well, I hear that all the cool people have one now.”
“Buffy,” Giles blustered indignantly over the very clear connection. “I do hope you are treating this with the seriousness it deserves. You are not choosing an accessory here but a potential partner in your fight against evil.”
Buffy’s grin grew. “Calm down, Giles. I know, but it still seems kinda funny to be thinking about having an evil vamp help in that fight. Are you sure these chips won’t go all kablooey on me?”
A clear huff sounded in England. “I’ve seen the test results and there have been no failures over the last four years. And anyway, I would imagine that you’ll get one of the newer models.”
Buffy restrained a giggle. “Trying not to be ageist here, Giles. If, and I repeat if, I do get a vamp, it’ll be the one I think can help most.”
Slightly mollified, Giles didn’t try to repress his pleasure any more. “I’m so pleased that you’ve made this choice, Buffy. I know things have been difficult, and I wish I could be there for you more. The offer of sending another Watcher still stands, you know.”
“No thanks, Giles,” Buffy grimaced. “It took me long enough to train you, I don’t think I could go through it again with anybody else.”
For once, Giles took this in the spirit it was intended and chuckled slightly before replying, “Quite, quite. I’ll send you the information. Let me know. Goodbye, Buffy.”
“Bye, Giles.” Buffy heard the click at the other end and replaced the handset. Time to visit the Magic Box.
Tara smiled at the departing customer and then beamed happily when she saw Buffy approaching the counter. A quick delve into Buffy’s aura showed an increase in the optimism that had been slowly disappearing over the time Tara had known her. “Something’s happened, Buffy. What is it?”
Buffy smiled at the gentle Wiccan who’d come to be her dearest friend and closest confidante. “Yep, sure has, Tara. I’ve decided to take Giles up on his offer and get me one of those chipped vamps.”
“Are you sure that’s wise, Buffy? Couldn’t it be dangerous?” Tara didn’t want to voice her real objection; this was slavery, even if they were demons. Tara still recalled how she’d felt when she believed herself to be a demon too.
Buffy looked Tara squarely in the eyes, trying to let her friend see that, whatever her misgivings, this course of action was not being taken lightly. Her current need outweighed her deep reservations and, now that Buffy has made the decision, she was determined to follow it through.
The Wiccan had read Buffy’s aura on a number of occasions now, and they’d had several conversations about elements that had caused Tara concern. Most of it centred on Buffy’s growing feeling of distance from the innocents she was charged to protect. Buffy had even put forward an interesting concept about why Slayers normally died so young; once they understood the evil that was in mankind, it became more difficult to condemn only those without a soul.
As the innocence and naiveté of the Slayer became lost with maturity and experience, it proved increasingly chafing to be unable to tackle the evil in man. There seemed to be something in the Slayer psyche that demanded she fight evil, all evil, not just that easily justified retribution she dished out to demons. Buffy thought that they just gave up one day when they realised the futility of the task and became too disillusioned to continue. Buffy had confessed to Tara that, without her family and her Watcher, she sometimes felt like letting it all go and giving some big bad its one good day.
“You know I wouldn’t choose this path if I didn’t feel I had to,” Buffy spoke softly. “I know I’m well past my sell by date, Tara. Sometimes, on a bad night, I can feel myself hesitating and wondering why the hell I’m doing this. Who am I doing it for?”
“You’re doing it for all of us, Buffy. The world needs you.” Tara knew it was partly the weight of this responsibility that had worn Buffy down gradually over the years. The Buffy in front of her was so very different from the more innocent Buffy she had first met almost four years earlier. The Slayer’s run in with the Initiative had taken a lot out of her.
The death of her mother, followed by the need to kill her newly turned boyfriend, had knocked Buffy hard. Then to be presented with a sister that didn’t exactly exist except as energy, only to lose her in a battle to save the world from an insane hell god – it had driven Buffy into a deep depression, and a chasm between her and the Scoobies had developed. Losing Dawn had almost been the end.
During that dark time, when the dynamics of the group had fallen apart, Willow had dabbled overmuch with magic; her desire to make everything right by using her powers was as addictive as heroin. At the last possible moment Willow had had an epiphany and rejoined the Scoobies in their fight against the Trio, helping to stop them before the idiots had gone too far. The reunion had proved temporary. Giles, making a rare appearance, had only stayed briefly before returning to England, taking Willow and Tara with him for much needed training with a coven. Xander and Anya, after a whirlwind wedding, had left Sunnydale when Xander was offered a lucrative contract in Cleveland.
For several months Buffy was alone. No family, no friends, no Watcher. The strain of working all hours at a burger joint to pay for the upkeep of the house and stave off mounting debts, slaying at night with a few hours sleep, only to start all over again – it was slowly killing her. At her lowest ebb Buffy called Giles. She told him that unless he could help her he’d better tell the Council to be on the lookout for the next Slayer any day now.
A horrified and suitably chastened Giles used every influence at his disposal, called in every favour he was even vaguely owed, and managed to browbeat the Council into awarding Buffy a significant lump sum, together with a generous remuneration. In the space of eight hours, Buffy’s bank account held enough to pay off all outstanding debts and leave a sizeable amount of capital besides.
Buffy quit her job that day, stocked up with food, took herself to the best beauty salon in town and treated herself to everything. When Buffy left late in the afternoon she had been massaged and manicured, pedicured and wrapped. Her hair had been shaped into a fetching shaggy bob and dyed a light ash colour. Buffy wasn’t sure that it suited her but, what the hell, she could always change it.
After sleeping almost around the clock, Buffy took herself shopping and made a few changes to her wardrobe. A few sets of serviceable and practical clothes for patrolling were at the top of her list. Since she no longer had any reason to get dressed up, with not having a social life, there was no reason to worry about what she wore on patrol. It wasn’t like she wanted the vamps to think she was trying to get into their pants. Instead, she chose gear that would offer a modicum of protection, was easy to move in and could still be, in a pinch, something she wouldn’t be ashamed to wear if she ever did get a sort of social life again. Leather and denim played a large part in her new look.
When Willow and Tara had returned from England, it had been a while before the friendships had been rekindled. For some reason it was Tara that Buffy turned to now with her troubles, not entirely able to forget what Willow’s actions had put her through in the past, or that it was Willow who had been instrumental in taking away from her a friend and her Watcher. Still friendly, they were no longer the intimates of happier times.
Tara had noticed the change in Buffy’s aura then. The weight of worry and despair had fallen a little from her shoulders, no doubt the result of the financial aid she’d received, but a new hardness had settled on her. Everything seemed sharp, brittle, strangely strong yet oddly fragile. Over the last couple of years it had changed further. Tara had watched the yearning towards romantic love almost disappear, now only a small ember that was in danger of dying completely. Buffy’s levels of contentment were also steadily diminishing, compensated for by a rise in her perceptions of honour and duty. Buffy was a honed warrior standing on the brink of a glorious death, or finding a reason to fight, a reason to live.
Buffy touched Tara lightly on the shoulder. “Not enough anymore, Tara. That’s why I need a vampire – I need a bodyguard, someone, to be there in the fight, to back me up if I slip, give me a chance to fight back if that’s what I want.” Her hand dropped back to her side. “And, the real reason I’m here, I’d like you to go with me to the auction, read some auras for me. Could you do that?”
“If…if you want me to, I’ll go with you. Willow can watch the shop for a few hours by herself.” Tara just hoped she wouldn’t have to look at too many. She’d need to gather a cleansing spell together before they went; she had a feeling they’d both need it after.
Five days later the two young women entered a secure complex on the outskirts of LA.
A/N: Feedback and criticism welcome, but please don't make me cry! First attempt at fic.