Delicate Cruelty
by Erin
Author's Warning: Contains some character death, character undeath, and torture. Reader discretion is advised.
Chapter 1
"After many months of successful hunting, there is the very real danger of your Slayer exhibiting hazardous complacency. The most common type of vampire, and thus the one that your Slayer is most likely to encounter, is the fledgling. A weak vampire, these newly-turned beasts are often brutal and stupid, attacking singly or in very small groups with little plan or purpose. It is easy, after having faced hundreds of these demi-vampires, to forget that there are more powerful fiends skulking in the shadows which are capable of brilliant depravities and delicate cruelty..."
    --Senior Watcher Jonathan Wilkes, Advice to a Young Watcher

"Father. We're here." The young woman kept her bright blue eyes downcast, unwilling to intrude upon the Father's thoughts by meeting his eyes with hers, unasked. She stood with grave patience in the aisle of the private jet, her body seemingly motionless despite the gentle swaying of the plane taxiing into position at the tiny Sunnydale airport.

To look at her, one would think that she was nothing more than a slip of a girl, around twenty years of age and just shy of true adulthood. Indeed, she couldn't have been more than a few inches over five feet tall; but though she was small and slender, she carried herself with an air of powerful confidence. Her hair was as deep and black as a raven's wings, and fell in soft, thick waves to just past her shoulders. The young woman's pale skin and delicate facial features indicated strong Celtic blood.

The man made no affirmation, no indication that he had heard her, but she knew he had. Little escaped the Father's notice. A book, an examination of 15th century Italian art, lay open on his lap, a picture of Bellini's Madonna and Child adorning the page. The faces of the holy mother and son glowed with an ethereal luminescence, even in the poorly printed reproduction.

Eventually, the Father turned his dark eyes on the young woman. He closed the book, the picture of Bellini's opus disappearing from view. The man stood and straightened his clothing, even though his black jacket and trousers were as crisp and orderly as ever. He reached toward the girl with a delicate, manicured hand, cupping her chin and bringing her eyes in view of his.

"Trinity." His rich tenor resonated through the small cabin of the chartered plane. "Has all been made ready?"

The young woman nodded, her expressive eyes meeting his in adoration. "It has, Father."

Thin, cruel lips became a smile which could, somehow, only be described as beatific.

The teenaged girl known as Buffy Summers flopped down on her bed with a groan. "Can't we just set it all on fire?" She asked plaintively. "It really would solve all our problems."

"Yep, and create a whole host of brand spankin' new ones, like jail time and arson charges. Not to mention losing all our stuff," Willow answered, without batting an eye. The redhead was standing on her side of the room, carefully wrapping and packing her various little crystals and ceramic knick-knacks, some of which she used for spellcasting and some just for quirky decoration. The Slayer, on the other hand, was staring off into space, wondering with some distress exactly how she had collected so much stuff over the course of nine months.

Their dorm room was in a state of tragic disarray; boxes, newspapers, and packing materials were strewn about in the center, while the two girls worked to wrestle their belongings into some kind of movable shape. Their success was apparently very limited, as only two boxes had been filled, taped, and stacked by the door. This was despite the fact that finals had come and gone the week before, giving the girls theoretically plenty of time to move out of the dorm.

"When's your mother getting here?" Willow asked.

Buffy gazed at the ceiling, still unwilling to move. "Ten o'clock tomorrow morning."

"Is Riley going to help you move?"

Buffy looked over and caught the smile that Willow was trying to hide. "I know what you're thinking, but it's not like we're moving in together. He's got his own stuff to move into his new apartment, and I'm going to be staying at mom's. It's all completely innocent."

"Oh, of course," the redhead responded, nodding vigorously. "I totally believe that, really I do..."

"Will." Buffy interrupted her friend, wanting to head-off the babbling before it got a chance to start. "There is such a thing as laying it on too thick. Besides, what's up with you and Tara?" The Slayer had had some difficulty getting over the initial shock of Willow's 'unconventional relationship', but having seen how happy Tara made her best friend, she was actually very grateful to the blonde witch.

Willow ducked her head, blushing a little. "Tara is, uh...staying with me for the summer."

"Really?" Buffy cocked an eyebrow and a smile, bounding off the bed to give her best friend a poke in the ribs. "And you were teasing me because Riley is staying in the same town! You and Tara are living together?"

"No," Willow answered quickly, holding up her hands in apparent protest. "Not really living together. It's just...with my parents gone most of the time, it gets pretty lonely there all by myself, and since Tara said she really doesn't have any family to go back to..."

"So, your parents know about you?"

Willow blushed again. "Not really, no. They just know that Tara's a friend of mine, and needs a place to stay over the summer. It's not like we'll be living in the same room..." She paused for a moment, in thought. "At least, I don't think so."

The blonde Slayer grinned knowingly and turned back to her own packing. "Well, as long as the vamps and beasties stay away, this should be a pretty fun- and all around good-times-filled summer. Adam's been dealt with and the Initiative is gone, so we don't even have to think about any of the bad stuff that happened this past year."

"You know, normally someone in your position would be a lot more excited than you seem to be." The lawyer looked across the table at his client, a young brunette woman who seemed unaccountably distressed by the news he had just delivered.

The lawyer, a court-appointed public defender to be specific, was a young man with a healthy measure of ambition. His family hadn't been wealthy or influential enough to support him in a good criminal law firm after he had passed his bar exams, so he had decided to begin his career by going into the Public Defender's office. Little had he known how remote the chance really was that a lowly PD would get noticed by a top law firm; but so far he had a reasonably good record. He wasn't about to let this young girl mar that record with her desire for self-flagellation.

"I don't understand," the girl, whom the lawyer knew only as Faith Wilkins, said quietly, almost despairingly. "My confession..."

"A confession doesn't mean anything if there isn't any evidence to back it up," the lawyer said, with ill-disguised impatience. "The murder charges you were up for in Sunnydale had to be dismissed, due to lack of evidence." Which was true; for some reason, the Sunnydale PD had been unable to produce any of the evidence they'd claimed to have had originally to pin Faith Wilkins as a suspect. The lawyer wasn't positive, but he assumed that it had something to do with this girl Faith sharing the same last name as Sunnydale's late Mayor.

"What about all the other stuff?" she asked dully.

"The assault charges here in L.A. won't be pressed. It seems that the man you allegedly put into the hospital didn't want the police asking too many questions about why he was hanging around a bus terminal talking to newly-arrived teenage girls. Considering that two girls in the last three weeks have disappeared from that same bus terminal, I'm pretty inclined to think that you did the police a favor, and apparently the D.A. agrees with me. He was willing to drop all the other charges, too, as soon as I mentioned the press." The lawyer closed his briefcase with a snap and stood up.

"Oh, and the young girl you allegedly assaulted in Sunnydale won't be pressing charges either. The police can't find her; apparently she's joined Sunnydale's list of Missing Persons." He shrugged, unwilling to spend valuable mind-share on a case that now meant very little to him, other than a tick in the 'Win' column. "You've just been given a 'Get out of Jail Free' card, Miss Wilkins; I suggest you make the most of it. Apparently somebody up there likes you." The lawyer strode out the door of the visiting room, whistling softly.

"Somebody up there likes me," Faith mumbled, still staring blankly at the table in front of her.

The taxi pulled up outside the Sunnydale Plaza Hotel, nearly clipping a slow-moving valet parking attendant in its rush to its destination. A bellboy stepped forward and opened the rear, passenger-side door, from which stepped a tall, older man, and a young, very beautiful woman. It was difficult to tell exactly how old the man was; as far as the bellboy was concerned, he was at that indeterminate age somewhere between thirty five and fifty. His black, wavy hair and olive skin marked him as Mediterranean, though the thing that the bellboy noticed the most was that the man was dressed in the black suit of a Catholic priest.

The woman got the lion's share of the bellboy's attention; she appeared to be about his age, late teens to early twenties. He jumped to help her with her only luggage, a large black gym-bag which she withheld from him and insisted on carrying herself.

The young woman paid the taxi driver and the pair entered the hotel, leaving behind one heartbroken young bellboy and one angry cab driver who took off with a squealing of tires and a loud string of curses about the cheapness of the two travellers whom he had just brought from the airport.

Trinity followed the priest closely as he strode up to the check-in desk, his shoes echoing loudly on the marble floor. He flashed a bright smile at the young, african-american woman behind the desk. "Hello, Miss. I believe I have a reservation under the name Frank Pallazo." Trinity had always found his voice quite pleasant, a rich tenor that held just a hint of an Italian accent.

The young woman behind the desk, Lydia if her name tag was to be believed, returned the smile. "Certainly, Mister--"

"Father," Trinity interjected smoothly.

"Father Pallazo," Lydia finished with an apologetic air. She printed up the registration form and set it out for the priest to sign. "A penthouse suite of rooms. Do you need help with your luggage?" Her eyes scanned the floor around their feet, reflecting momentary confusion at the obvious lack of suitcases.

The priest signed the form and handed it back to the hotel clerk. "No, just the keys will be sufficient," he said with another smile. Trinity saw his smile falter a bit, but Lydia, looking as if she had already embarrassed herself enough for one customer, didn't seem to look closely enough at the Father to notice.

The two travellers made their way up to their suite and let themselves in. The common area was spacious and well-furnished; large, heavy curtains covered the east-facing window, which pleased both of them greatly.

After a brief period of settling in, a period which was made much shorter by the fact that they had little luggage, Trinity dropped heavily onto the suite's couch. "It disturbs me, Father," she said quietly, "that you are unable to use your own name around these cattle."

The priest chuckled, setting himself on the arm of the couch, and stroking Trinity's hair with one gentle hand. "Soon, my child, soon. There are some here who may recognize the name of Father Francisco Sedona. There is no need to tip our hand." He stood, walking over to the window and throwing back the curtains to reveal the city of Sunnydale by night.

"What to do next, Father?" Trinity asked.

Father Sedona appeared to study the view through the window as thoroughly as he had meditated on Bellini's Madonna and Child earlier. "We bring the kin of this city under our control. It should prove to be tragically simple."

He turned toward Trinity and smiled, his canine teeth elongating into sharpened points. "But first, we eat."

Daniel Corbensen drove his patrol car quickly down the darkened street. He was a security guard, but not just any security guard; when pressed with large amounts of alcohol, he would proudly proclaim to anyone within earshot, whether they were interested or not, that he was "the best damn security guard in Sunnydale."

He was probably the smartest, too; because while some other security guards would walk their nightly patrols of darkened mini-malls and schoolyards, Daniel never set foot outside his locked patrol car. He reasoned that most everyone who didn't belong there could be frightened off by his spotlight, and those that weren't he didn't want to tangle with anyway.

Like anyone who had lived in Sunnydale for a few years and managed to survive, Daniel was certain that there were some things which stalked the night that he didn't want any part of. After his third co-worker disappeared under mysterious circumstances, Daniel decided that no job was worth whatever happened to them; but fitting with his philosophy of life, Daniel didn't quit, he just started doing his job in a thoroughly half-assed fashion.

So when he spotted a lone, crying girl by the side of the street, he was torn. His survival instincts, finely honed after years of Sunnydale residency, told him not to get involved, to keep moving. At the same time, his conscience, rusty from disuse and too often ignored, told him that it was his job to help people, and that girl certainly looked like she desperately needed help. Besides, he thought to himself as he slowed his car to a stop, she won't last the night out there all alone.

Daniel stepped out of the car, sliding his baton into its ring on his belt. "Excuse me miss," he said, slipping easily into the role of savior, "but it's very dangerous out here at night. Can I take you somewhere?" He slowly approached the girl who appeared to be sobbing piteously.

"Oh, officer, thank God," the girl said brokenly, practically falling into his arms. "I was so scared!"

"Now, now," Daniel said, patting her on the back awkwardly, "I'm not police, but I can help. What seems to be the problem?"

"The problem," she replied in a stronger voice now, "is that I'm hungry." With a strength that belied her slender form, the young woman pulled his neck down to her mouth, sliding her sharp canines into his yielding skin.

It took a moment for Daniel to realize what was happening; the sickening feeling of blood being tugged out of his veins by an eager mouth was really the only input his body seemed able to process. His vision swam and he felt, more than saw, a man -- a priest -- standing a few feet away watching the spectacle. As a deadly lethargy began to overtake Daniel, he heard the man speak.

"Ah, a good Samaritan. It should console you to know that the Lord has a special place in Heaven for those who help the less fortunate. You should have just enough time to get there and settle in...before I arrive and throw Him from His throne."

Chapter 2

It hadn't taken as long as Buffy had feared to move everything over from her dorm room to her mother's house. Only a couple of hours work and all the boxes, suitcases, trunks and cartons containing most of the Slayer's worldly possessions lay in a disorganized mess on her bedroom floor. As soon as the last box had been carried up to her old room, Buffy had rushed out of the house with a shouted, "Bye, Mom! Be back later!"

Her mother, Joyce, was in the kitchen when she heard Buffy's quick, noisy exit. She looked down at the counter where she had been busy making sandwiches for their lunch, and with a resigned expression began putting the cold cuts and other foodstuffs back in the refrigerator.

Buffy walked down the bright, busy street humming to herself cheerfully while keeping a sharp eye out for street addresses. She occasionally consulted a piece of paper she held, upon which was printed in a strong, steady hand:

    314 Wilson Street, #8

Buffy found the address without much difficulty; it was an older apartment complex, probably built during the late 60's or early 70's in the Spanish style that was so popular in Southern California. Huge palm trees flanked the shaded walkway leading into the middle of the complex, which was a large common area with a pool and several tables and chairs. A strong, cool breeze ruffled both the large fronds of the trees and the blue waters of the deep, inviting pool. Buffy smiled at this, and after a few minutes of looking around, finally spotted apartment number eight on the second floor.

The Slayer jogged easily up the stairs and knocked on the front door. After a moment the door opened, and Buffy's face lit up as soon as Riley appeared at the entryway.

"Buffy! Hi, c'mon in." He stepped back and waved his arm, proudly presenting his new home. "What do you think?"

"Wow, this is a great place you've got here," Buffy said, looking around the disorderly apartment, packed boxes still laying strewn about the floor. "Kinda like living in Melrose Place, without all the husband and boyfriend stealing...You don't have boyfriend stealing around here, do you?" she asked, her face suddenly drawn with mock concern.

Riley grinned at Buffy and wrapped her in a big hug, kissing her enthusiastically. "Nope, not so far, at least."

"Good thing." Buffy nodded emphatically. "So, do I get the nickel tour?"

"You're my girlfriend, I'll give you the quarter tour," Riley replied, taking Buffy's hand and leading her around. "Over here's the kitchen--"

"And just why did you show me that first, hmm?" Buffy asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Uh, well, I thought it was in better taste than showing you the bedroom first. But since you asked, here's the bedroom," he pointed to a large bedroom with an adjoining bathroom, "and here's the extra room that I kinda converted into a workout room." This room was across the short hallway from the bedroom and already held some small training mats and a Nautilus machine.

"Very nice," Buffy said, impressed by Riley's new apartment, and feeling just a bit jealous. "And just how are you able to afford all this?"

"Well, for a secret, evil, government organization, the Initiative paid pretty well. It probably had something to do with the nightly putting your life on the line thing."

"Must be nice to get paid for that," Buffy said, wistfully.

Riley smiled down at the young blonde and hugged her close. "Hey, if you want I can pop some microwave popcorn and we can watch videos. Just give me a minute to get the TV set up." Buffy watched as he walked over to the makeshift entertainment center -- in reality some pine boards and cinderblocks -- and began setting up the VCR.

She sat down on the couch with a contented sigh. A boyfriend who wasn't a vampire, videos to watch, and microwave popcorn. Her life was starting to really look good, and best of all, it was starting to look blissfully normal.

Faith stumbled along hot, stinking L.A. streets, not knowing or caring where she was headed. She had been walking, just walking, ever since the police released her the previous night.

Her only chance for peace, her only hope for restitution had been denied. Jail -- the word had been like a beacon to Faith ever since Buffy had spoken it with such insistence in Angel's apartment. Finally there was something she could do, something clear-cut and simple that would enable her to pay for her crimes and move on. Only thing was, she wasn't allowed to do even that.

Way to go, Faith, she thought with disgust. Can't even get sent to prison without fucking it all up.

Maybe it was fate. The public defender had said that someone "up there" liked her, but what if it was someone "down there" instead? Maybe she really was meant to be evil, heart and soul, and this was just someone's way of telling her, "Hey, wake up, dumbass. You used to have a good thing going."

Faith swallowed hard, wanting to believe it, willing herself to believe it. She still felt the deeply buried pain twisting her gut; it flared up relentlessly whenever she thought of any of the things she had done in the past. She was sick to death of the torment, sick of the fact that it hurt so much and she couldn't get it to stop. Her brow ached, and she realized with dull surprise that it was because her face reflected a perpetual wince that had nothing to do with the bright sunlight.

She took shelter in a shadowed alleyway, sinking down against the cool brick wall and holding her head with trembling hands. Faith didn't know how long she sat there, she was just trying desperately to shut out everything -- the memories, the denials, the wrong decisions, the missed opportunities.

Finally, the empty gnawing of her stomach could no longer be ignored. This is just perfect, she thought with despair. It's bad enough I'm miserable, do I have to be broke and starving too?

She had almost forgotten what it was like to be hungry and not have any money to buy food. When Faith worked for the Mayor, he always made sure she had plenty of both; and after he was gone she just took what she needed. She'd wait in a dark corner somewhere until an easy mark came by, and then she'd jump him. Faith figured the world owed her that much at least; after all, she didn't have any money and they always had more than enough. If she got a little carried away and sent someone to the hospital, or the morgue, well, at least she always got what she wanted.

At least she was never hungry.

Faith clenched her jaw, forcing herself to stand up. I'll be damned, she thought, if I let myself starve because of a few regrets. I've got to do it. I got no choice. It's just the way I am.

Faith waited there in the alley, the shadows lengthening with each passing minute. She felt that never-ending remorse flare up in her gut like a black wave, but the dark Slayer clamped down on it hard, willing herself to ignore it with the iron discipline that came from years of hard-earned survival. Finally, she saw him: the perfect mark. He was some young Yuppie type, walking around in a full suit even though the temperature couldn't have been less than 85 degrees. He was chatting breezily on a cell phone about some hi-tech stock deal, not even noticing that his route took him a little too close to that shadowed alley.

Okay, Faith, she thought to herself. No problem. You've done this dozens of times before. Her hands clenched and unclenched as she heard his footsteps getting closer and closer.

Faith hauled the man into the alley with strong hands and threw him against a brick wall with brutal force, causing his cell phone to fly out of his grasp. She held him against the wall with a grip of iron, solid and immovable. The man struggled briefly, and Faith could see shock written on his face, an incomprehension that such a young, strong man was unable to budge a single inch from a girl whose strength was clearly something other than natural and who looked at him with desperate eyes which seemed to chill him to the bone.

She cocked a fist back, ready to slam it into his face and silence any possible cries for help. "P-please," he begged, looking at her wildly, sweat standing out on his forehead. "I've got money. Take the money, just don't hurt me!"

Faith looked up into his eyes and stopped short. She saw fear -- no, terror -- appear in those wildly darting eyes and the Slayer knew she was the one who had put it there. Faith knew that look all too well; she'd used to love seeing it, she thought it was her way of striking back at the world, of telling it, "Fuck you, you can't beat me."

She had seen the same look of terror in the eyes of the Deputy Mayor, the professor, and countless other victims. Her victims, carefully cultivated with blood and sweat and razor-sharp steel, and savagely reaped as a sacrifice to the god of her hate.

Something occurred to her then, as she looked into the eyes of her prey; it slid into Faith's mind like quicksilver inspiration.

She didn't hurt people to strike back against the world, against the lousy hand that fate had dealt her. She hurt people because she liked it. It was power. It was control. It was pain, and it was murder.

And she needed it.

Faith fell back with a sob, dropping the man to the ground. All the agony and suffering threatened to overwhelm her; the faces of her victims lodged firmly in her mind, staring at her with shocked, terrified eyes, each look an accusation, a condemnation. She turned and ran; she didn't even see where. She didn't care.

Faith didn't know how long she had been running, it was all just a huge blur. People, cars, street signs, it all became one large, indistinguishable mass as the dark Slayer sprinted through the city at speeds of which mere humans could only dream. When she was finally forced to stop, her mind barely registered that it was nighttime; the sodium vapor streetlight she was leaning on cast a sickly yellow pall on the surrounding area.

Exhaustion and nausea both fought to overwhelm her; nausea won, and Faith doubled over, one hand on her stomach, the other wrapped around the lamppost, clutching at it to try to stay on her feet. Over and over again she vomited up the only thing in her stomach, dark bile, until that was eventually exhausted too. She crouched there for almost a full minute, dry-heaving and gasping for breath, fresh tears springing to her eyes.

Finally the nausea subsided, and Faith wiped an unsteady hand across her face. She looked around, and with bleary eyes took notice of exactly where her feet had carried her.

It was Angel's place, but the windows had been boarded up, and the scorch marks and huge pieces of missing concrete gave mute testimony that no one was working or living there anymore.

That realization barely had a chance to sink in when Faith heard a low, soft voice behind her.


She turned around slowly, one arm still wrapped around the lamppost in a feeble attempt at stability. "Angel."

The vampire stepped out of the shadows near the building where his black clothing had rendered him nearly invisible. He looked at Faith, his eyes regarding her sweat-stained clothing and generally filthy appearance. His face softened in sympathy. "I heard you got out. I've been waiting here, last night and tonight, hoping you'd show up."

Faith laughed weakly. "Yeah, well, coming here wasn't exactly the plan." What had brought her to Angel's? Coincidence, or maybe instinct? Do Slayers home, like pigeons, Faith wondered irrationally. She glanced up at the burned-out building. "What happened?"

Angel followed her glance with his eyes. "Wolfram and Hart. Wesley was hurt, but he's better now." He took a step toward the Slayer, and Faith felt herself flinch away when he did so.

She looked up at him, unable to meet his gaze for more than a second. "Angel, I..." She stopped and licked dry lips, feeling her tenuous self-control slipping away. "I-I tried, Angel, I really did..." Her vision blurred with tears and she let go of the light pole, feeling her knees finally give way.

The vampire stepped forward, gathering the crying girl into his arms before she could slump to the ground. "I know you did," he said, smoothing the young girl's hair while great sobs racked her slender frame. "I know."

In life, John Coleman had been a bully. He had skated through High School and junior college primarily on his twin abilities to intimidate others and destroy quarterbacks. He had encountered very few problems that couldn't be solved by the judicious application of either one or the other. Little had he known that once he had tried to find an actual job neither one of those skills would help him in the least, and he had been stuck flipping burgers for ten cents above minimum wage.

So it was with great happiness last year that he had found himself turned into a vampire by one of the Mayor's henchmen who was on a recruiting kick and liked John's attitude. After the Slayer was done at Graduation, of course, the Mayor had been turned into popcorn shrimp and most of the vamps had been dusted by Sunnydale High's Class of '99. But not John.

He was one of the few vamps who bothered to step into the power vacuum left by the Mayor's untimely incineration. John had gathered a few vampires that he felt could be distrusted a little less than the others, chosen a new name for himself that he considered immensely cool -- but most everyone else thought was lame and pretentious -- and Diablo's Nighthunters were born.

"Diablo" did pretty well for himself and his gang; mainly because he avoided any area that he thought would be patrolled by the Slayer. When asked, he huffily explained that it wasn't because he was scared of the little blonde Slayer, it was because he didn't feel the need to prove anything. Then he would promptly stake the questioner. Diablo didn't like being challenged.

So when he and his "Nighthunters", all six of them, returned to their home crypt that evening, they were a little surprised to see two people already there, a young brunette woman and a middle-aged priest, sitting around like they owned the place.

"Just who the fuck are you?" Diablo snarled, stepping toward the couple with fists clenched. He always thought it was good policy to start any conversation with a show of force, if only to bring things into the arena where he was strongest -- physical violence.

The priest just shook his head with mock regret. "Such language does not befit a civilized man. I suggest you apologize to the lady." He inclined his head toward the young brunette.

"Apologize my ass," Diablo growled, and leaped forward, aiming a punch right for the priest's face.

A punch which, surprisingly enough, never landed. His fist was halted in mid-air as the young woman, her movements a blur, reached up and grabbed Diablo's heavily muscled forearm in a solid grip, stopping it dead just inches from the priest's face. Before the vampire realized what was happening, the girl wrenched his arm behind his back and shoved him face-down onto a nearby stone slab.

Diablo struggled, flexing his muscles to try to break the girl's grip, but without success. They had never failed him before, either on or off the football field, but they failed him now. In desperation, he shot a glance at his Nighthunters, none of whom would meet his gaze.

The priest never lost his smile, never blinked during the whole confrontation. "I believe I asked you to apologize."

"Fuck you!"

The priest shook his head sadly. "You don't seem to realize that you no longer hold the power here." He glanced over at the Nighthunters, all of whom were staring at the priest in fear. "I trust this is a lesson I will not have to teach anyone else."

He reached into his coat pocket and withdrew a pair of pliers and a slim-bladed stiletto. Diablo's eyes widened at the sight, and for the first time he felt real, honest-to-God terror. Handing the pliers to the young woman, the priest intoned, "And the Lord God said, 'If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes be thrown into Hell.'"

The young girl forced Diablo's mouth open, catching his tongue painfully in the grip of the pliers. The priest advanced with the stiletto and admonished, "Trinity, make sure you pull the tongue far enough out this time. You know how I detest needing to make more than one cut."

Chapter 3

"I know I told you 'mi casa es su casa,' but I didn't think that meant you'd invite over Miss Teen Psycho USA."

Angel pulled Cordelia into the kitchen with an apologetic glance at Faith. The Slayer was sitting in the living room busily polishing off the second of four cheeseburgers that Angel had picked up for her on their way to Cordelia's apartment, and didn't let on that she had heard. She did, though, every word.

What can I say, she's right, Faith thought to herself. I am a psycho. I shouldn't have let Angel drag me here.

What did he think he was going to change, anyway? Her pain? Angel would see that as 'useful,' something to remind her of the past. Her instincts? Faith's instinct to kill was what made her a Slayer; you couldn't just beat the vampires up and tell them they had to be good from now on. Or maybe it was the sheer joy it brought her...

Faith flushed with embarrassment and ducked her head, despite the fact that she was alone in the room. She killed. She killed and she liked it. No, that wasn't quite right, she killed and she loved it.

Her stomach twisted into knots and she set down her half-eaten hamburger. It was like a curse; Faith remembered every single moment when she, with almost child-like enthusiasm, went out on some hit job for the mayor. She hadn't cared why, or who; all the Slayer had cared about was that she got to kill. At those moments, Faith had ultimate control over that person's life, control which she executed with vicious efficiency.

Faith's head sank into her hands, and she sat there for a moment, overwhelmed. She caught a word from the conversation in the other room, "Buffy," and listened closely, bringing a small amount of her enhanced hearing to bear.

"I'm not going to tell her. This doesn't have anything to do with her," Angel said. The strain in his voice was obvious.

"Your funeral," Cordelia replied, her shrug audible. "From what I heard about the last time, her royal highness wasn't too pleased to be kept out of the loop."

Angel seemed to pause, considering. "I don't want a repeat of last time. I think a phone call out of the blue will upset her more than anything. As long as we can keep all of this quiet, there will be no reason for Buffy to get involved."

Yep, Faith thought, just call me the dirty little secret.

Angel walked back into the room, and Faith noticed that Cordelia didn't follow him. He glanced down at Faith's dinner, and said, "You done already?"

Faith gave the vampire a half-smile. "I suddenly got not hungry."

Angel sat down next to the Slayer, giving her that concerned, sympathetic look that he was so good at.

Of course he's good at it, Faith thought, he's had a hell of a lot of practice.

"Anything you want to talk about?" he asked.

Faith immediately got up and took a few steps away, distancing herself both physically and emotionally. "Not really."

Angel didn't move. "I can't help you if you won't talk to me."

"You can't help me anyway," Faith said, laughing at herself weakly. "What are you gonna do, huh? Make it all go away? Make it so the past doesn't matter? Make it so I don't see their faces every time I close my eyes?" Faith stared, unfocused, at the wall. "They all had names, didn't they." It wasn't a question.


"My--the people who died. They all had names. Like Allan and Lester. It's easier with vamps and demons, you know, cuz you never know their names. It's almost like they're not real, just targets for you to shoot down. But Lester had a name. Professor Lester Wirth." Faith passed an unsteady hand over her eyes. "Probably had a family, too. Not a wife and kids, but a mom and dad. Maybe brothers and sisters. People to miss him."

She took a deep, shuddering breath. "Sometimes I wonder what he was like as a kid. Probably kind of a geek, must've got teased a lot. Collected rocks maybe. Sometimes...I wonder what his life would have been like if I had never been born."

Trinity watched Father Sedona patiently, waiting for him to turn from the hotel room window and acknowledge her presence. It had been four days since they arrived in Sunnydale, and every night it was the same thing: find more of the weak, pathetic vampires that made this place their home and bring them under the Father's dominion. So far they had operated in secret, and all had gone according to the priest's plan.

No, it hadn't taken much to convince the kin of this town that they were better off coming into the fold. That large man, his friends said he went by the name of Diablo -- he would prove an adequate enforcer, now that his loyalties had been made clear.

Diablo... Trinity shook her head. What a name. The Father had chuckled at the blasphemy of it.

The phone rang, and Father Sedona walked over to pick it up.

"Yes?...Yes, it is. I would. Is she, now? I know of him. Thank you, it is useful. No, just keep me apprised. Goodbye."

The Father placed the phone back on the hook, and stared at it for a moment in a speculative manner. "That was one of my contacts in Los Angeles."

The young woman raised an eyebrow. "Those jackleg lawyers that you employ?" The scorn in her voice was clear; she harbored no love for those who hid behind petty threats and manipulation, preferring instead serious threats and physical encouragement. "What news did they bring?"

"It seems that the other Slayer has been placed back on the chessboard. She is out of jail and staying with a vampire named Angel."

"Angelus..." Trinity whispered. It had been a long time. There were a few memories attached to that name, and most of them unpleasant.

"I remember him," the Father responded, tapping his clean-shaven chin thoughtfully with a delicate finger. "A young one. One of your countrymen, if I remember correctly. Rash, unfocused, and ineffectual. But this other Slayer, now she shows promise. Should the first Slayer prove difficult, perhaps the new one would be more...accommodating." A crooked smile emerged on his patrician features. "Her name is Faith. Quite auspicious, don't you think?"

Trinity leaned forward intently. "What is your plan, Father?"

"All in good time, my child," Father Sedona chuckled. "All in good time. For now, our strategy remains the same. The next step requires the book."

Trinity smiled, eager to be accomplishing something useful. "You wish me to retrieve the book now?"

The priest stepped forward and ran a gentle hand down her face, cold fingertips brushing cold skin. "Ah, Trinity. So eager, so helpful. Yes, I wish for you to retrieve it. And do be careful not to get carried away. I know how you so love your work."

Giles took a sip of tea and glanced up from the book he was reading, a second edition Tale of Two Cities, to the clock for what seemed like the third time in fifteen minutes. The tea was peppermint -- it wouldn't do to drink caffeine at such a late hour -- but it still did nothing to soothe his nerves.

Something, some instinct was making him feel disquieted; occasionally, in his more frivolous moments, he thought of it as Watcher's Intuition. But regardless, he had the distinct feeling that something bad was happening, or going to happen shortly. And his thoughts, as they often did when danger was involved, shifted to concern about Buffy.

It had been easier on the Watcher when Buffy was in High School, he realized; every morning she would give an accounting of her previous night's patrol, and he would try to divine if there were a more sinister evil brewing. Every afternoon the two of them would dedicate an hour or two to training and weapons practice. The routine worked well, and forged them into quite a formidable team.

That was then.

Now, he'd be lucky to get a daily phone call, or perhaps a short visit; and never after a routine patrol. No, only something unusual would cause Buffy to enlist his help with research. And the two of them never trained together anymore.

Giles sighed and removed his glasses, pinching the bridge of his nose in a futile attempt to ward off an oncoming headache. Finally, he decided not to ignore his intuition any longer. Picking up the phone, he consulted a list of telephone numbers and dialed.

"You have reached the Summers' residence. No one can come to the phone right now. Please leave a message--"

Giles hung up the phone, consulted his list again, and dialed.

After the third ring, he heard Willow answer on the other end. "Hello?"

"Hello, Willow, sorry to disturb you."

"Giles! Hi." Willow's voice faded a little as she spoke to someone else in the room. "It's Giles, Giles is on the phone."

He could almost hear her blushing furiously, and decided he was better off not knowing. "Yes, Willow, I called because--"

"Hi Mr. Giles." A faint voice could be heard in the background. Was that Tara? He shook his head, and decided he was really better off not knowing.

"Tara says hi," Willow said, and with a small gasp, cut herself off abruptly.

Giles winced. "Yes, well say hello to Tara for me. The reason why I called--"

Willow began to babble nervously. "Not that Tara's staying in my room. I mean, she's in my room now. But we weren't doing anything. I mean we were, but nothing bad--"

"Willow, please," Giles interrupted, massaging his temple now. "I would really rather not know. I'm trying to get ahold of Buffy, do you know where she is?" Not with you two, I assume, Giles added silently.

"Oh, Buffy." Willow coughed apologetically. "I think she's spending most of her time over at Riley's lately."

"I was rather surprised to get her answering machine this late at night, actually," Giles responded.

"Yeah, I think Buffy's mom is working until after midnight most nights at the Gallery. She told me when I called that she's getting caught up with some shipment, and since Buffy is spending all her free time with Riley..."

Giles nodded in understanding. "Do you have his telephone number?" Another glance at the clock suggested that it was probably too late to call, but it would be useful to have a contact number for her nonetheless.

"Um, I don't think so. I've been trying to get ahold of Buffy for a couple days now, but we've been playing phone tag."

"I see. Well, thank you anyway, Willow. I'm sorry for calling at such a late hour."

"Oh, no problem, Giles! You really weren't interrupting--"

As Willow appeared to be well on her way to another nervous babble, Giles cut her off. "Goodnight Willow," he said, hanging up the phone with a smile.

The Watcher stood, and took another sip of tea. The feeling of foreboding had lessened somewhat, now that, he assumed, Buffy was safe. If not, he probably would have heard from Riley by now. And yet...

A sharp knocking on his front door startled him, causing him to set down his tea with shaking hands. "Ah, yes, coming," he called out, and taking a moment to steady himself, opened the door, half expecting to see the worst.

What he saw instead was a distraught young black-haired woman with mud-caked shoes and splattered jeans, looking like she was very much in need of help.

She smiled at him, apparently relieved. "Um, hello sir. I'm really sorry to bother you this late, but I saw the light in your windows. My car broke down not too far away, and I didn't realize my cell phone's battery was dead," she held up said phone, "so I really need to use someone's telephone.

"Can I come in?"

Chapter 4

Willow placed the phone receiver back on the hook and chewed her bottom lip thoughtfully. It wasn't like Giles to be so urgent, she thought, not when there was no great evil out there for them to be wary of. Since Adam had been taken care of, they were definitely in between great evils at the moment. Maybe Giles was getting lonely again?

She was forced to admit that although the Scooby gang was together again, the core problems that had led to the big split a couple of weeks ago had not been dealt with. Xander was still holed up in his basement, Giles was still lonely and unemployed, Buffy was still spending every waking -- and non-waking -- moment with Riley, and Willow...

The hacker felt a small tug at the sleeve of her robe, and she looked down toward the source. Tara was giving her a sweet smile from where she lay, covers pulled up to the blonde girl's shoulders, her fingers abandoning the terrycloth to gently brush the exposed skin of Willow's arm.

"I don't know why you jumped up to put on that robe when you found out it was Giles on the phone," Tara said quietly, her eyes shining as she teased her girlfriend.

Willow captured Tara's hand in her own and gave the knuckles a brief kiss. "That's just it, it was Giles. He's like a father, o-or one of those strict, disapproving British uncles that you see on PBS shows. I can't talk to him naked. Not when I'm naked, I mean, although I really wouldn't want to talk to him when he was naked either, geez, you don't think he was naked, do you?" The image was strangely attractive and disturbing at the same time.

Tara giggled at Willow's discomfiture. "Probably not." Her expression turned serious. "Is everything ok?"

The hacker nodded. "I think so. I think Giles might be feeling a little out of place again, though. Think we could go over there tomorrow morning and talk to him for awhile?" Maybe I could pry Buffy away long enough to go with us, Willow thought to herself.

"Of course," Tara agreed immediately. "First thing tomorrow morning." The blonde reached out and grasped the front of Willow's robe, pulling the hacker down towards her with a smile.

"Tomorrow morning is soon enough," Willow concurred, meeting Tara's lips with her own in a gentle kiss.

Trinity watched the Englishman closely, careful to keep her hopeful, vulnerable expression in place. Jesu, but she hated acting this way! Since her childhood she had despised weakness; it had been obvious even then that the strong were the ones who drove this world, and those who lacked strength were little better than slaves, however much they might pretend otherwise. Regardless of her personal feelings, however, she had to admit that playing the part of the weak, helpless female often enabled her to easily manipulate otherwise cautious men.

She also knew that this Englishman -- a Mr. Rupert Giles, if the information the Father had was correct -- would probably prove more cautious than most.

Sure enough, his survival instincts seemed to be well-honed. "I have a cordless telephone," he replied in his smooth accent, "I'll let you borrow that." He gave her a perfunctory smile, undoubtedly meant to reassure, and turned to fetch the phone.

Fine, she thought with a glare at his retreating back, we do this the hard way. And by that, I mean hard on you.

Digging the fingernails of her left hand into her palm, she felt the skin break and red blood welled up between her fingers. She squeezed her hand shut, and felt a few drops fall to the ground. With her right hand, she signaled to the vampire that she knew was hiding in the bushes, several feet away.

The Englishman returned with the telephone. "Here you go, Miss...?" He held out the phone to her, and she watched as his eyes followed her injured hand. "Oh! Ah, you've hurt yourself," he said, his calm British exterior slightly ruffled now.

She pushed him even farther. "Oh yes, I was trying to change the tire by myself, and my hand slipped. I cut myself on the tire iron. That'll teach me." She chuckled weakly, all the while allowing her eyes to dart around the small courtyard nervously. "Um, that's really why I'm here right now, you see, I think someone's following me," she finished, her voice dropping to a stage whisper.

The vampire took that as his cue, and began rustling the bushes and emitting low growls. It was all Trinity could do not to roll her eyes in exasperation.

Giles's raised his eyebrows in alarm. "Yes, there are very dangerous things out here at night," he said, grabbing ahold of a crucifix and crossbow that were conveniently placed next to the door. Stepping outside, he held the crucifix up in front of Trinity's face.

The vampire swallowed hard and crossed herself, trying to maintain the illusion of casualness. Crosses, though they made her uncomfortable, did not incapacitate her as they did other vampires; one of the advantages of having a priest as a sire and mentor, she assumed. Father Sedona enjoyed collecting ornate crosses and crucifixes, and he was never without his Rosary.

It appeared to work; the Englishman nodded to himself, and turned toward the bushes. Behind him, Trinity gestured at the hiding vampire.

The fiend jumped out of the bushes, hands held before him as if they were claws. He was a minor lackey, very young and inexperienced, but competent enough to follow the simple instructions that Trinity had given him. "Ha!" he exclaimed, very melodramatically. "I have you now!"

Trinity rolled her eyes for real this time, but collected herself quickly. Giving a small shriek, she grabbed on to Giles's right arm, holding on for dear life. "Oh no! What is that thing? It's going to kill me!"

The mortal tried his best to shrug her off, while still holding the vampire at bay with his crucifix. "Please, miss! I need you to stay calm!"

The lesser vampire laughed cruelly, causing Trinity to shriek even louder and grab on even tighter. Finally, the Englishman pushed her behind him, saying, "Get in the house! I'll take care of this!"

Gladly, Trinity thought with a small smile, and turned and entered the mortal's home. A moment later she heard the thrumming of a crossbow string, and she looked to see her lackey turning to dust, a wooden bolt sticking out of his chest.

Pity. Well, plenty more where that came from, she thought with a mental shrug.

Giles came back into the house, and Trinity beamed at him, playing the part of the rescued princess. "Oh, thank you sir! I don't know how I can repay you!" She mentally chastised herself for such stilted speech, undoubtedly due to the Father's great love of old Errol Flynn movies.

"I don't think that will be necessary, miss," the man said to her, in all likelihood made uncomfortable by her display. He set down his crossbow and crucifix. "Now, let's see to your injured hand, shall we?"

Trinity clenched her hand, feeling that the shallow cut she made earlier had already healed. "Yes, thank you sir, and something for the pain if you have it?" she lied smoothly.

He nodded and jogged upstairs, probably searching for a first aid kit.

As soon as he was out of sight, Trinity looked quickly around the living room, spotting the large bookshelves against the far wall. She rushed over and started scanning the titles, looking for one book in particular.

"_A Devil's Bestiary_; _Demons, Demons, Demons_; _Blood Rituals of Pazuzu_; and, oh, a first edition copy of _Sense and Sensibility_," Trinity muttered to herself softly, shaking her head. "The Father was right, these mortals are hardly deserving of the gift of life."

Giles's voice floated down from the loft. "Will aspirin be sufficient for the pain, or do you need something stronger?"

"Aspirin will be fine, thank you, Mr. Giles," Trinity replied distractedly. She continued scanning the spines of the books, until she came across one that matched the title that Father Sedona had given her. Reaching out, the vampire was about to pick up the book when she heard a small 'click' behind her, in the direction of the front door.

She immediately identified it as the sound of a crossbow being loaded.

Straightening slowly, Trinity carefully turned to face the Englishman, whose crossbow was held in a steady hand, pointed straight at her heart.

She gave him a wry smile. "Is there something wrong?"

Giles's eyes narrowed as he regarded her closely. "Who are you, and how did you know my name?"

"Oh, you are quite well-known from whence I come," Trinity replied smoothly. She smiled sweetly, just the picture of beatific innocence -- until her canine teeth began to sharpen, her features shifting into those of her true nature.

The crossbow string thrummed as Giles shot a bolt straight for her heart; a missile which she easily snatched from the air, mere inches from her chest. Holding it up, she examined the bolt thoughtfully. "We could have done this the easy way, but no. Now we do things the hard way. My way."

As soon as that fiend in girl's clothing grabbed the crossbow bolt out of mid-air, Giles knew he was in trouble. "Why are you here?" he asked warily, edging closer to the door. "Let me guess, you're a vampire with an interest in rare and unusual books, a-and all the used bookstores were closed?"

The vampire laughed easily. "Do you think me some villain in a penny dreadful that I would so easily reveal our plans?" Her voice was low, smooth, and terribly hypnotic. "No, you will discover them soon enough...but not until it's too late."

"At least tell me your name before you kill me," Giles said, with the barest of glances toward the door. Almost there...

"I'm not going to kill you," the girl responded. "But..." Faster than Giles could react, the vampire placed a solid foot on his coffee table and launched herself over the couch, right for him. She shoved him against the door with bone-jarring force, capturing his wrists in one strong hand. Leaning forward, she whispered into his ear, "Neither can I allow you to leave."

Giles's mind raced with the possibilities that were laden in such a statement. "What are you going to do?" he asked, calling upon all his famed British detachment and cool-headedness to keep his voice steady.

A grudging respect shone in the girl's -- the demon's -- eyes when she regarded him. Tracing his jawline with one delicate finger, the vampire forcibly turned his head to the side, baring his neck.

"What comes naturally," she answered.

Willow knocked on the door a second time, and shot her girlfriend a concerned look. They were standing outside Giles's home; the day was bright and sunny, and it appeared that Sunnydale was once more in the grip of one of its famed heat waves, it being already eighty degrees at only nine o'clock in the morning.

It was entirely unlike Giles not to be up at this hour, Willow thought with concern. Even when he was hung-over that one time, he was still up by eight, latest. She knocked again, hoping to hear a British-accented reproach from inside.


"M-maybe we should go in," Tara said softly, returning Willow's worried look. Willow could tell that her girlfriend was bothered by this as well; she almost never stuttered unless she was embarrassed, or under stress.

The hacker nodded at Tara, and prepared her mind to cast an unlocking spell on the door. Thinking the better of it, she reached forward and tried the knob first, expecting it to be locked. When the knob turned easily in her hand, she shot another alarmed look at the blonde.

Pushing the door open slowly, Willow peeked inside, her eyes adjusting to the dimness of the living room. All the curtains were drawn, as if it were still night out; Willow stepped into the room, her foot kicking something which clattered across the floor. She jumped, taking a quick step backward and almost running into Tara in the process.

"W-what? What is it?" Tara asked, with a timid look over the hacker's shoulder. "What's that?"

"It's a crossbow," Willow said softly, glancing around the room and then stooping to pick up the object in question. "This isn't like Giles at all, to leave weapons lying around like this."

"You mean it doesn't belong to Giles?"

The hacker gave her girlfriend a wry smile. "No, I mean it isn't like him not to put something away." The worried feeling came back, and she held the crossbow in front of her, like a talisman. "C'mon, we've got to find him."

That proved not to be difficult at all, as a second later Tara grabbed Willow's arm and pointed to the couch. "Willow, look!"

Willow followed the blonde's gaze, and what she saw chilled her. Giles was laying on the couch, his body perfectly still, his face so pale that he almost appeared to glow in the dim light. His arms were arranged so they were crossed over his chest, in a classic death repose.

"Oh no, Giles," Willow whispered, and rushed to the man's side. She reached out and touched his neck gingerly, feeling for a pulse. She felt one, it was faint, but it was there, and she noticed with relief that his skin was warm to the touch. "He's alive," she breathed, looking up at her girlfriend, her body awash with relief. "We need some smelling salts, he's got some in a first aid kit upstairs."

Tara nodded and rushed upstairs, returning a minute later with the first aid kit. Willow took the smelling salts from her, and waved them briefly underneath Giles's nose.

The ex-Watcher inhaled sharply and immediately started coughing, tears springing to his eyes. "What...Willow..." He sat up, or tried to anyway, before dizziness appeared to overtake him and he laid back down again.

"Stay down," Willow admonished. She noticed the bite mark on the right side of his neck, red and ugly. "What the...were you bitten, Giles?"

The Watcher instinctively reached for his neck, only to have his hand held back by a disapproving Willow. She immediately began slathering the wounds in antibacterial ointment; once she was done, she placed a bandage securely on the side of his neck.

"Well, yes," he said weakly, "it appears I was."

Father Sedona sat in the darkened hotel room, admiring the book that Trinity had placed on the table in front of him. He had been sitting there for hours, running his fingertips over the delicate leatherwork and thick parchment, losing himself in the musty scent of old knowledge. And reading. Oh yes, he was reading.

"You are pleased, then?" Trinity asked from her spot on the couch where she sat, regarding him.

The priest smiled. "I am very pleased." Trinity seemed to swell under his praise, and he made sure to give it often; she was a valuable thrall, and in his way he loved her as the pinnacle of his creations. His Magnum Opus. "Did you run into any resistance?"

"Minor," she waved her hand disdainfully. "A pity, though, that you did not want our Mr. Giles killed. It would have made the mission faster and easier."

Father Sedona chuckled at her enthusiasm. "Time enough for that. We don't want a head-strong Slayer hunting us with vengeance on her mind. At least, not yet." The priest looked down again at his book. "I know we've made great strides in gathering followers over the past few days. Tell me, Trinity, how many have you chosen to be among my Disciples?"

Trinity paused and thought for a moment. "Eleven," she said slowly. "Including me. Why?"

The Father leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. "Because I think it's about time for us to find our Judas."

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