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The Devil's Gift

Chapter Text

Chloe looked up at the lightening sky, where the pale purples and pinks were turning into light blue. The trail was eerily empty at this hour… most people were either still sleeping, or already headed to work. Parents with young children weren’t usually out just as the sun was rising, all of which made it easier for her to keep an eye on her newest roommate.

“All right, ladies,” she said after a few preliminary stretches. “Let’s see what you’ve got,” she threw a glance over her shoulder as she started to run along the trail. Buffy’s eyes were bright, and her smile wide, but it seemed unreal – as if she were faking interest, rather than the genuine happiness that Ella beamed with at the sight of a fresh corpse. And Maze was... well Maze.

Chloe couldn’t help feeling a little bit fake, as well. She was the only one wearing genuine workout gear, while Buffy was dressed in a pair of her jeans that had shrunk in the wash, along with a baggy sweat shirt, and Maze wore something slinky and tight fitting – more appropriate for a club than the trail.

Ah well, she shrugged. They were here to run, not catwalk on a runway.

She could hear their footfalls behind her, and sped up her pace. Chloe ran well enough, and wasn’t sure if Buffy could keep up. She knew Maze was fit, but wasn’t sure how that translated into running, as opposed to fighting. Time would tell, however.

For ten minutes, it was easy enough. Chloe focused on keeping her breathing steady, as she tried to set a good tempo. It was harder, however, to hold in her annoyance as her two companions chattered back and forth - something that would be a lot funnier if there was even the slightest hint the other two were getting out of breath from the strain.

But instead, the only one even slightly bothered by the effort, was herself.

“Come on, you guys,” she huffed, turning around to castigate her companions. “Running now, yakking later. Put some effort into it.”

She could swear she heard Buffy snort with barely controlled laughter, which ticked her off even more. Maze just grinned.

Chloe resumed her steady pace, but this time, she heard footfalls coming up on her left side. Within seconds, Buffy had passed her, swiftly followed by Maze on her right side. Her competitive streak showing, Chloe put on a burst of speed herself, and once more took the lead in their trio.

Unfortunately for her, it didn’t last nearly long enough. Maze pushed past her with ease, giggling a little after sticking out her tongue. Buffy took the lead not more than five seconds later. In fact, she moved out of their sight.

“C’mon there, slow poke,” Maze challenged. “We gonna let that little girl show us up like that?”

Chloe could only stare at the empty trail as Maze rocketed out of sight. "What in the hell is going on," she murmured. She’d begun her run again, but after a while, she realized both Buffy and Maze were long gone, so she slowed to a leisurely pace and headed towards the parking lot.

Sure enough, Maze and Buffy were sunning themselves on the hood of the car and enjoying lattes.

“Hey, slowpoke,” Maze called, holding a drink out to her. “We didn't forget you.”

It was cold, but the caffeine goodness was still appreciated.

Chloe made a show of patting each woman on the back and looked perplexed.

“What was that for,” asked Buffy.

“Just looking for the rocket pack you guys must have been wearing to be so fast,” Chloe replied.

“I told you, Chloe,” Maze laughed. “…this one here is a bona fide superhero.”

“And how does that explain you being able to keep up with her?”

Maze just smirked.

“And, please… don't give me the 'you're a demon' crap. That stuff is hard enough to take from Lucifer. I haven't heard so many metaphors since my English lit classes in college.”

Maze looked like she really, really wanted to confess something - it was a look Chloe had seen often enough in her line of work... but somehow, she managed to keep quiet, and Chloe didn’t push her.

“She really doesn't believe, does she?” Buffy seemed oddly amused. “I haven't seen Sunnydale Syndrome so strong since my high school graduation.”

“Sunnydale Syndrome?" That piqued Chloe’s interest.

“It's kind of a defense mechanism.” Buffy tried to explain. “A way of looking at anything that seems out of the ordinary.”

Buffy hopped off the car’s hood, unable to sit still any longer. “Like all the ‘death by barbecue fork’ incidents we had in town. Or how the Mayor turning into a giant snake during graduation, was explained away as ‘a gas explosion’.”

“Oh, god," Chloe backed up a few feet from the young woman, wondering if she should call Linda. Seemed like Buffy was back to being delusional.

And still Buffy continued with her strange tale. “Sunnydale was a one Starbucks town, yet there were like five, maybe even seven cemeteries. Too many for me to patrol on a nightly basis, anyway. Not to mention at least a dozen churches. And a couple of mortuaries. And none of them worried about competition. Plenty of death to go around for everyone. Hell, our high school paper had a weekly obituary column.”

“Please stop looking at me like that. I'm not crazy, I swear,” Buffy insisted. “It's just that well… Sunnydale was the Hellmouth.”

“And it's back to the metaphors,” Chloe sighed.” Hellmouth, huh? Living there was so bad?”

“Well if you bear in mind that before I arrived in Sunnydale, schools were used to losing over half the student population each year due to mortality, or parents taking their kids out of school before graduation.” Buffy gave a funny little half-smile that most certainly did not reach her eyes. “My graduating class give me a Class Protector Award at Prom, because our year had the lowest mortality rate in the history of the school. We still lost too many. I couldn’t save everyone.”

Buffy looked up at Chloe with tears in her eyes. “Not the catchiest slogan in the history of High School, I’ll admit, but it was ours.”

Chloe felt the urge to hug the girl silly, but she refrained. “Gangs?” was all she said.

“Would you believe me if I said vampires? But I guess you'd prefer to say they were on PCP. That was the Sunnydale Police Force’s favorite excuse.”

Now drugs and gangs were something Chloe could wrap her mind around. Still, she couldn't even begin to imagine anyone with children willing to stay in a town like that.

“So why didn't more people move?” she asked, as Buffy surreptitiously swiped the tears from her eyes.

“Low property rates?” Buffy quipped.

“Like I said, Sunnydale Syndrome. People would come up with any number of explanations to pretend that things were ‘normal’.”

Chloe just shook her head. If she took Buffy's words at face value, she'd have to have her committed for her own good. Better to just table this for now, and she'd talk to Linda sometime later.

Either that or involve the FBI in finding out where the girl actually came from.