There was a sharp rap her doorframe, and then Giles stuck his head in her room. "Are you ready to train now?"
"Sure thing! Be there in a jiff," Buffy said, holding her chipper smile until he nodded and left.
Once she was sure she was alone again, she let out a sigh and slumped back onto her bed. Training was the last thing she wanted to do – being here at all, in this crumbling, damp old British dormitory, with all these strangers, was the last thing she wanted, period.
Training, they called it. Hardly. Buffy knew what training was – it was fighting Giles for her life, down and dirty and doing whatever it took to keep her edge. It was wild, and exhilarating, and real. It was preparation for taking on Angelus.
God, she missed Giles.
No. Not Giles. Lindsey McDonald. Or so the vampires had said. Buffy wasn't sure she believed them, but it seemed too vast a conspiracy for everybody in the world to be pretending this stuffy old English guy was the real Rupert Giles if he wasn't. What would be the point, other than to drive her even more crazy?
Either way, Lindsey-as-Giles had been able to keep up with her, and this Giles couldn't. If only he'd let her train against the other Slayers… Every time she suggested it, he hemmed and hawed and said to wait a little, until she'd acclimated to being here.
She might be missing her memories, but she wasn't stupid. She had ears. She'd heard them talking. They didn't trust her. Didn't know if she was the really real Buffy.
Well, that was fine by her. She didn't trust them.
Or herself, either.
With another sigh, she got to her feet and headed down the long, dim corridor, past all the funny little symbols that the redhead – Willow – had been painting on the floor when she'd arrived. Wards, she had decided in the days since then. Against her. At first, she'd thought it nice of them to give her a floor to herself, far from the hustle and bustle of all the teens.
Now she knew better.
She probably should have figured it out sooner, what with her less-than-comfortable seating arrangements on the flight from LA to England. Not to mention the welcome she'd received from Giles and the others once the plane had landed. Buffy shuddered, same as she had then, and then did her best to shrug it off, same as she had then. They had good reason to be so careful with her. She understood, not that it made it any less painful.
If only she could remember her friends. Remember why she should trust them. Remember – anything.
Her loss of memories hadn't seemed like such a big deal when she was with Lindsey. Sure, it had wigged her, not inconsiderably. But every time Buffy had worried over it, he'd reminded her she'd survived near-death, and some lingering trauma was to be expected. She was safe, he'd said, with somebody who knew her. He'd filled her in on her life, and it had been… not okay. And yet okay all the same.
Here, in this place, she wasn't okay anymore. Her loss of memories was a much bigger deal. Without them, who was to say whether she was Buffy or… who knows what? She'd overheard clone, robot, and shape-shifter as possibilities, and who could prove she wasn't? Certainly not her.
She reached the doors of the gym, empty now that all the other Slayers had gone off to bed for the evening.
Finding out there were other Slayers in the world – that she wasn't the only Chosen One – had put the first dent in her unwavering trust in the man who'd called himself her Watcher. If he'd lied about her status as the world's only Slayer…
Buffy's fists clenched, but there was nobody to hit. Nobody to take her frustrations out on, besides poor, stuffy English Giles, and he wasn't the one she wanted to pummel. To say Lindsey was due a major ass kicking if she ever saw him again would be the understatement of her life, or at least what she remembered of it. How could she have been so trusting? So naïve?
She'd been fooled once already, and realizing it hadn't done much for her inclination to put her faith in these other people. Were they really any more trustworthy? Buffy didn't know. She wasn't on the best of terms with her gut instincts these days. Her tentative decision to give her alleged friends the benefit of the doubt had come back to the conspiracy theory. As in: too vast to be one. Besides, her luck couldn't really be that bad, could it?
Put on your happy face, she reminded herself as she dithered outside the doors, working up the will to push them open. These guys are your friends. Maybe. If not yours, then Buffy's, and that's who you are for now.
Andrew had shared the 'good news' with her that her DNA was a match for Buffy Summers, so there was that at least. It meant she probably really was Buffy, with a side of nothing worse than permanent memory loss. The others had seemed to take it as good news, or at any rate, they weren't shadowing her every move quite as much as before.
Buffy wasn't as relieved as her friends seemed to be. If her DNA was a match, why did she smell off, according to the vampires? And what did that even mean? And how gross was it that they'd been talking about the way she smelled? Like she was a dinner entrée gone bad.
Vampires. Duh. She was dinner to them.
She sensed Giles coming towards her on the other side of the doors, and realized he was probably coming to see what was taking her so long.
Smile plastered on, Buffy pushed open the doors.
Another weekend, and Buffy found herself hiding in her room.
The sister was home from boarding school for the long weekend, and Buffy had dutifully done the fake cheery greeting when she'd arrived, but she could see in the kid's eyes that her efforts weren't quite cutting it. Her hearty sisterly greetings weren't real, and Dawn knew it, but the hope in those big blue eyes every time she saw Buffy made Buffy feel guilty enough to keep up the pretense.
As soon as she could, Buffy had retreated to her room on the pretext of a headache. With the never-ending amnesia they'd decided was the result of the head injuries from her fall, nobody questioned her frequent headaches. It was a handy excuse she took advantage of every chance she got.
Alone in her room, she found herself thinking about Giles. Not Giles. Lindsey. Whatever. He'd been Giles to her for months; it was a hard habit to break. Despite the lies he'd told her, she missed him. Missed the way he'd trained her, missed the way he'd made her feel like she had a purpose. He hadn't expected anything of her other than for her to be a weapon against evil. These people expected her to be a friend, a sister, the person they used to know and no longer was.
She'd tried. Lord, had she tried. But Buffy felt nothing for them, other than faint gratitude, no matter how hard she tried. She didn't remember them. Didn't remember the things they told her about herself, didn't remember her great and heroic deeds, didn't remember caring for any of them. They wanted her to remember them, so much, and when she couldn't, she felt as though she'd failed them all.
Hearing about how they'd searched for her for days following the collapse of Sunnydale (and how it hadn't been Angelus' fault), and how they'd mourned for her… God. Couldn't they see what pressure it put on her? To be grateful they cared, when she felt nothing for them? And meanwhile, while they'd been searching, she'd been with Lindsey, who'd told her he was the only one looking for her.
He'd saved her. He was the one she was grateful to.
She was grateful to a liar, instead of to the people she was supposed to consider friends and family, and it made her feel like the worst person on earth.
It was hard to reconcile the two different histories she'd been given, too. Though she'd had to accept most everything Lindsey had told her was either a lie or a not-quite truth, she'd heard his version first, and lived with it for months. It seemed far more believable to her than their stories.
Dying twice. Sisters who weren't real. An army of Chosen Ones. Vampires with souls.
If Giles called her for another training tonight, or debriefing, she just wouldn't go. That was all there was to it. Who knew what falsehoods that she'd accepted as truth would be shattered this time?
Buffy rolled over, Lindsey's lies echoing in her head.
Are you going to lay there and let me kick your ass? A Watcher is strong. Fast. Hard. But you're the Slayer. You should be stronger. Faster. Harder. Let's go again. Come on, Buffy. You've got to push yourself. Reach deeper. It's you against the evil out there, and trust me, evil doesn't give a shit how tired you are.
Vampires are always evil. Always. Angelus – he destroyed the entire town of Sunnydale. And Spike helped.
Where's your fire? Your outrage? Your hatred? Your strength comes from your hatred. Think of what Angelus has done to those you love. Feel the hatred? Good. Own it. Use it. Or Angelus will wipe the floor with you.
It's you and me against the world, princess. It's your destiny. One girl in all the world. You alone. And that's all we need.
It sure as hell was how she felt. One girl. Alone.
With nobody to give her the answers she needed. Who was she? What was wrong with her? And what was her purpose, if not to kill Angelus?
Angel. As they kept reminding her.
Buffy stared at the ceiling, tired of feeling guilty and obligated, and lost and confused.
She sat up. Maybe it was her destiny to kill Angelus, maybe it wasn't. But she definitely had skills that were going to waste. No matter what Lindsey had or hadn't done, he'd trained her to eradicate evil, and the slaying of vampires had felt right.
Working quietly, she lifted the sash of the window and stuck her head outside, evaluating the distance to the ground. It was three stories down, but she felt confident she could make the jump.
Buffy knew they didn't want her going off on her own. They worried, and probably for good reason. But hey, they'd told her she wasn't their prisoner. Repeatedly. She grabbed her jacket and a fistful of stakes and eased out of the window, butt on the ledge. Then she jumped to the ground, landing lightly on her feet.
Away from the dormitory, she took a deep breath of the night air. Of freedom.
Oh yeah, Buffy thought. That's what I needed.
She took off into the darkness.
"So… Harry is it?" Buffy said, twirling a strand of hair around her finger and leaning back into the brick wall of the alley behind the pub. Harry nodded and pressed closer. "Tell me, Harry. What do I smell like to you?"
He furrowed his brow, obviously surprised by her question, but he took a deep sniff of the air between them and answered. "Like a girl. A pretty little girl, all alone with me, eh? You smell delicious." He stepped closer and, when she smiled up at him, grew bold enough to rest his hands on her hips. "Good enough to eat," he said, and laughed at his own wit.
"You don't notice anything… off?"
"What, like you're sick or something?" He dragged his nose up the column of her neck, taking his time to inhale her fully. Buffy felt him fang out right before he whispered in her ear, "You smell perfect."
"Why, thank you, Harry. I think that's the nicest thing anybody's said to me for a long time."
Harry blinked, shocked, as she plunged her stake into his back, then drifted away on the breeze. Buffy brushed the dust from her clothes, and set off in search of her next victim.
She found him the next street over, holding court in a thumping, pulsating club, tucked into a semi-quiet alcove with a minion on either side of him and a bevy of girls surrounding them. Not wanting to waste time, she pushed her way through the crowd and onto his leather-clad lap. "Hey there, handsome," Buffy said, arching her body against his. "Wanna get out of here?"
Handsome blinked at her with dark, heavy lidded-eyes, an amused smile playing about his perfect lips. "I am no fledgling, little Slayer, so easily led to my doom. But perhaps we can play later, ma cherie. If you insist."
"Darn. Figured you for an older vamp, what with the lace ruffles and all." She made a face. "That, or another Lestat groupie."
He laughed, amused rather than insulted. "Non, my sweet. I am Roland, at your service." He took her hand and brushed a kiss over her knuckles.
Buffy almost liked Roland, what with his courtly manners and straightforward self-confidence. He was plenty easy on the eyes, too. "So tell me, Roland, how'd you know I was a Slayer?"
"Only a Slayer would carry herself with such confidence. So much power, oui?"
"Oh," she said, disappointed. "There's no, like, special smell that comes with being a Slayer, or something?"
Roland laughed. "Are you so new to this, you seek answers from me? Where is your Watcher?"
"Good question," Buffy muttered, thinking of Lindsey. "I'm just doing my own independent research," she added more loudly. "I'm betting a man of your… experience… would know more than some stuffy old Watcher." She gave him her most winning smile.
"I believe you and I are destined to become good friends, ma cherie." Roland nodded to each of his minions, and soon they had the small alcove to themselves. He slid her off of his lap and onto the chair across from him, so close their knees were still touching, then offered her a full glass of something from the tray on the small table beside them. "A truce, yes? We will drink, and talk like old friends."
Buffy accepted the glass, though she didn't intend to drink anything he gave her. Never, ever trust a vampire, Lindsey's voice reminded her. Toasting her companion, Buffy warned, "Just as long as I'm not on the drinks menu."
Roland's low, rich, dark laughter bubbled out. "Little Slayer. I did not live so long by rushing headlong into my death. I enjoy life, oui? I have no wish to end it." He gestured expansively at the club. "I enjoy humans. Their frantic, hurried little lives are so fleeting. I have no wish to cut theirs short either."
"You saying you don't kill," Buffy said, eyebrow raised.
He shrugged. "I am a vampire. Sometimes, oui. It happens. I get carried away, perhaps. But I do not kill to live, not for many, many years. I have, how you say? Many willing donors. Perhaps you would enjoy it yourself? I hear the blood of a Slayer is especially fine nectar, and I would make it most satisfactory for you, cherie."
His low, seductive words made Buffy shiver. "I think I'll pass." She'd been a vamp chew toy often enough, from what she'd been told. And willingly consorting with a vampire? Not going to happen.
"As you wish. But come, what is your name?"
Annoyed the vampire wasn't behaving the way she'd expected, Buffy reached for her stake, ready to end the ridiculous exchange. However old he was, however civilized he appeared to be, Roland was nothing more than an evil thing.
But the lure of talking, equal to equal, with somebody who didn't hold any expectations – somebody who might be able to answer her questions – was too strong to resist. "Buffy," she said, leaving her stake tucked into her pocket. "Buffy Summers, Vampire Slayer."
Roland tipped his head. "Ah. The great Buffy Summers. You have vanquished many foes, and tamed others, from what I hear. Had I known you were in my little corner of the world, I would have come to pay my respects sooner." He took her hand, brushing his cool lips over her knuckles once more. "It is an honor."
"You – you've heard of me?"
"Dracula himself sought the honor of your favor, is it not so? Oui, I have heard of you." He smiled at her, dark eyes dancing. "And you have done me a great favor, though perhaps not intentionally."
Okay. She'd bite. "And what's that?"
"You have tamed the Scourge of Europe, Buffy Summers. With the great Angelus and William the Bloody no longer terrorizing the continent, I am once again free to live comfortably, without the worry an angry mob will hunt me down to pay for their trespasses."
"Oh. Well I didn't… I mean the gypsies did that…"
"Angelus, oui. So the story is. But the Slayer of Slayers… Is it true he sought a soul? To be worthy of you?"
Buffy blushed under Roland's intense gaze. "I don't… So they tell me…" she stammered out.
Damn. He knew her own history better than she did. "Why would a vampire do that?" she blurted before she could stop herself, thinking of what they'd told her Spike had done. Not just the getting of a soul, but sacrificing himself. To save the world. According to Dawn, he'd even helped out, tried to good, before the soul. Out of love for her.
Love. A soulless, evil vampire. There was no way in hell.
"Aren't you vampires all with the grrr, evil, must destroy the world?"
Roland shifted, rolling his shoulders backwards to drape his arms over the back of his booth, lace cuffs draping downwards over the brocade fabric of the bench back. "Evil is the imperative of the vampire, oui. It is our language we are born with. But humans, some they are more evil than others. You have seen this. So it is with the vampire." His gaze roamed the teeming mass of bodies in the club, taking on a predatory edge that made Buffy sit up a little straighter. "To wish to be good, it is an aberration, but for a vampire who is following son coeur, his heart… who is to say what is possible?"
"You think an evil, mass-murdering creature could fall in love?"
His gaze snapped back to her. "With you, ma cherie? Mais oui." He leaned forward, eyeing her hungrily. "Perhaps I am a little bit in love myself. Shall we see if you can tame me too?"
Heart thumping, Buffy scrambled out of her chair, stake at the ready. Roland flashed her a toothy, amused grin, and she lifted her stake a little higher, ignoring the way her stomach flip-flopped and her breath caught. Stupid, arrogant European vampires.
God, what would Lindsey think of her? Hanging out, conversing with a vampire, like he was a man. An attractive – no.
Not. At. All. Attractive.
What was wrong with her? Dawn had suggested Buffy had had feelings for Angelus and Spike, and she'd laughed in the kid's face. Feelings? For a vampire?
The way she was reacting to this one, Buffy wasn't laughing at all. Amnesia and identity crisis aside, something was definitely wrong with her. Vampires – evil. Evil and disgusting and why was she trusting anything this one said?
"Relax, mon amour. I do not wish to fight with you, no matter enjoyable it might be for the both of us."
"Give me one good reason not to kill you right now."
"Because." Roland's casual shrug conveyed supreme confidence. "The great Buffy Summers, she is fair and honorable, I am told. Is this not true?"
Buffy had no idea. Not according to Lindsey: according to him she was lethal. Hard. Efficient.
Vampires evil. Destroy them before they destroy you. Black and white. One girl alone.
It was an easy way to live.
Which Buffy Summers was she? A ruthless killing machine?
Or a woman beloved by friends and family, and even by vampires?
When she stumbled through the front door just before sunrise, exhausted and covered in vamp dust, they were all there in the lobby – Xander, Willow, Dawn, Giles, Faith, and even Andrew. They turned their combined gazes on her, a mixture of relief, worry, disappointment, and distrust.
Dawn broke from the group first. "Buffy! You're okay!" she said, throwing her arms around her.
Buffy tolerated the hug with as much grace as she could. "Just felt the need to get my slay on. Guess you guys missed me?"
"We were – worried. You were gone, and we didn't know…"
"You tripped the wards," Willow said, eyes fixed on something to the left of Buffy's shoulder.
"Guys. I was only killing vampires."
Giles sighed. "You didn't inform us you were leaving, Buffy. I must say –"
"Hey now. You said I wasn't a prisoner. Nobody else needs a permission slip before they leave the building."
"Nobody else is quite in the same circumstances as you, Buffy," Giles snapped. "We had no idea where you were, or what happened to you. You told no one, left no note, and when we attempted to locate you –" He broke off so abruptly, his teeth clacked together and he jerked backwards.
Buffy narrowed her eyes. "When you attempted to locate me, what?" Six pairs of eyes stared back at her with various degrees of guilt.
When the silence remained unbroken for far too long to be comfortable, Faith looked around at the others, then shook her head. "You ain't doing her any favors keeping it from her. Look, B," she said to Buffy, one hand on her hip. "Locator spells don't work on you. Didn't when you were in the crater, don't now. And it freaks everybody the hell out."
"Oh," Buffy said. She really didn't know what else to say. She wasn't too thrilled they'd tried to track her, like some kind of fugitive, but she could see why there were so upset. Locator spells didn't work on her? Yeah, she was upset too. Voice small, she said, "I just needed to clear my head."
Xander hurried to her side and wrapped her in a one-armed hug. "You have – used to have – this habit of running off when things get heavy. We kinda thought you might have gone AWOL. And it – I just got my best friend back. I didn't want to lose you again."
Buffy pulled out of his embrace and stepped away. "No fair holding me responsible for bad habits I don't remember. It's not like I knew you were expecting me to pull a runner, you know."
She turned so she could face all of them at once. "Look, I know this is hard on all of us. But I've let you sedate me, and wave your stinky herbs at me, and take my blood, and whatever else you needed to do. I get you're worried I'm going to go all Manchurian Candidate, or evil clone, or whatever. Heck, I'm worried too. Considering it's me, my body and my head, that we're worrying about, I'd guess I'm worried enough for all of us. I have no idea if I'm Buffy Summers, Vampire Slayer, but I do know one thing. I know how to kill vamps. So that's what I did – I took a break and did what I know. For one night." Buffy crossed her arms. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you first. I won't do it again."
"We're only trying to help you," Giles said stiffly.
"And I get that. That's why I'm here, because I know you're my friends – or Buffy's friends, whoever she is – and I know you're trying to help. I'm grateful. Really." She dropped her arms. "Even if it doesn't seem like it."
Willow rushed forward. "Oh, Buffy, we know. Well, we don't know – but we know it has to be hard for you. Harder even than it is for us. And we just – we love you so much."
Again with the hugging. These people sure did like to hug. Xander joined in, and then Dawn, and even Giles patted her on the shoulder.
Buffy hugged them back.
And wished she could mean it.