Connor Reilly scanned his security pass at the after-hours door to the building housing the Wolfram & Hart LA Branch and let himself in. He headed to the elevator and punched in the number for Angel's floor. Impatiently, he waited as the elevator slowly made its way up the mostly deserted building. He was through the double doors as soon as they slid open wide enough for his lithe body to slip through. Seconds later, he was knocking on the double doors of Wolfram & Hart's CEO's office.
Although it was past 11 PM, Connor was relatively certain that the CEO, Angel, would still be awake, although possibly not in the office, or even in the building.
"Come in," boomed Angel's voice jovially. As Connor opened the door, he saw several members of Angel's 'core' group of demon-fighters: Wesley, Gunn, Fred, and Lorne. Scattered Chinese food containers and half-filled tumblers attested to the fact that they were in a celebratory mood.
"Connor!" came a chorus of voices.
He smiled and walked into the room, grabbing a chow mein as he sat down. Before he could say anything, though, Angel interjected. "What brings you here at this time of the night? Shouldn't you be studying?" Connor was completing his senior year at UCLA, while doing his internship at Wolfram & Hart.
"I was out and saw something I thought you should know about…"
Angel cut him off. "You were 'out?' Doing what?" he asked sternly.
Connor gave him a look. "Okay, so I was patrolling. There's only so much I can get it out of my system at the gym, okay?" Angel looked disgruntled, but resigned. While he had confidence in Connor's ability to protect himself, he still felt that he was too young to out there alone. "Anyway, there were a lot of vamps hanging around this one block and I heard someone fighting. When I went to try to help, well, she didn't need any. So, I just figured you might want to know that there's a Slayer in town."
Wesley looked interested. "How do you know she's a Slayer? Can you sense it the same way Angel does?"
"No, I didn't inherit that bit of vampbility. I just made an educated guess. She was a girl, not really that young, I'd guess she is in her 30s, but she moved like nothing I've ever seen. Better even than what I remember of Faith. She moved like Angel." He shrugged. "Slayer or not, there's another fighter in town. I thought we might want to find out whose side she's on."
Angel was disconcerted. It had been years since they'd heard from anyone on the Slayer team. They had mutually agreed that the Slayers would stay out of LA and that had been that. But who could this be?
Wesley shook his head. "Buffy would be the oldest surviving Slayer and she's, what? 24?"
"25," Angel interjected, without hesitation.
"Still nowhere near 30 plus," Gunn commented. "Maybe it's not a Slayer. I vote with the kid, let's go find out who and/or what she is."
It didn't take them long to pick up her trail. Little piles of vampire dust led them as clearly as breadcrumbs until they were near enough to pick up the sounds of fighting. They rounded the corner into an alleyway and saw her battling a young vampire, who was clearly outmatched.
Angel stopped short. Silent and intent, the only betrayal of emotion a grim smile, she barely resembled the Buffy that he had last seen, in the days before the destruction of Sunnydale. Even facing the greatest challenge she'd ever known, she had projected an innocent belief that she would win the day. That good would triumph in the end. There was no remnant of that hope left in her visage. Angel had seen that look before; there was only the kill.
A second vampire was approaching stealthily from the other end of the alley. Gunn moved forward to intercept, but Wesley stopped him with a hand on his arm. He shook his head, "It's not smart to interfere with a Slayer in battle."
"Wait a minute," Gunn said. "That is a Slayer? Is that… Buffy?"
Wesley looked to Angel for confirmation. At his nod, Wesley said, "Yes, that is Buffy Summers. Although rather drastically changed from my last contact with her."
She finished off both vampires with quick, businesslike thrusts (no puns, Angel noted), looked around, pocketed her stake, and brushed her hands off. She stood motionless for a few seconds, staring at Angel and then slowly walked over to where the group stood waiting.
As she approached, it seemed to Angel that moments from their history were playing out with each step.
…Buffy towering over him with her foot on his chest, when they first met
…The expression of utter trust and love as she gave herself to him on her seventeenth birthday
…The grief and despair on her face as she slowly backed away as he was pulled within Acathla's realm
…Buffy running and jumping into his arms, covered in a fine sheen of sweat after dancing with Faith and a cadre of hormonal boys
…Her face partially obscured by the smoke from the remains of the high school at graduation
…Her face warmed by the sunlight on a day that never was
…"How's forever? Does forever work for you?"
…Their brief and unfulfilling meeting after her return from the dead
…"I'm cookie dough. I'm not done baking."
The nearer she got to him, the more Angel realized that all belonged to another time. Another person. Her face was hard and cold, her clothes basic, easy to move in, and her hair and nails devoid of artificial color or any indication of more than the most basic care.
She was all Slayer now. There was no remnant of Buffy Summers.
As she walked closer, Buffy felt the faintest stirrings of emotion, the same tumultuous feelings that Angel always seemed to evoke. With resolve built over years, she blocked them out. There was no good to come of entertaining those sentiments. Instead she focused on evaluating Angel and his friends.
Was that Wesley? He certainly seemed to have come into his own. He held himself with confidence, and seemed to have a physical self-awareness that is common to good fighters. As did the black man by his side. He was physical but also had a bit of the suave going for him. He had been to the edge and looked death in the eye and laughed, she would bet.
And the boy (young man?)… Her senses indicated that he was something more than human, but he seemed to be like any other young, preppy collegiate type. However, she could see something lurking underneath, a wellspring of strength and natural abilities that he was still developing. When he came into his own, he would be a force to be reckoned with.
And then there was Angel. As always, he exuded a sense of authority. His physical being seemed to be in top form as ever, but there was a relaxed sense to his posture, a sense of comfort and camaraderie. His team was his family.
She tensed. "I shouldn't be here," she thought frantically to herself. "Too much danger, too many innocents."
Angel watched as her eyes widened. She stopped and stared at all of them. Slowly, she took a step backwards, then another. Then she turned and began to run down the alley.
But the LA natives had the advantage of familiarity with the area and before she had reached the other end of the alley, Connor and Gunn had cut through a nearby building and come around in front of her. Angel and Wesley pressed in from behind. She stopped.
"Hi," she said.
"Hi," Angel repeated. He waited for a follow-up, but none came. "Hi? That's all you have to say?" She stood there mutely. "No word from you or yours for years. Then you show up in my town and just start slaying." Now that he was closer, he could see why Connor thought Buffy was older; she looked like she had been doing some hard living over the last few years, though of the fun or not-so-fun kind, Angel wasn't sure. "You run from us, and when we corner you, all you have to say is 'Hi'?"
She shrugged. "How about, I'd like to leave now? How does that suit you?"
Angel's jaw tensed. "Not very well. Why don't we all head back to my office and talk about why you're here. I can't imagine that there isn't some reason behind this visit, whether you want to share or not."
Buffy looked carefully up and down the alley as she considered her answer. Scanning the surrounding rooftops and the doorways, she relaxed very slightly. Taking a deep breath, she nodded. "How far is it? And how much of the trip is out in the open?"
Angel and Wesley exchanged glances. "Buffy," Wesley said quietly. "There's no Big Bad here in LA."
"Yet." She smiled grimly.