"You saw this master vampire, and you did not even attempt to kill him?" Noor muttered.
"Hello, did I not mention firing the longbow at him? Master vamps are faster than your average projectile," Buffy replied in the same low tone.
"This is true," Noor said. "We will say we were separated for a few moments -- during a fight -- and this is when you saw him."
"That sounds plausible," Buffy agreed. "How many did you get?"
"Four," Noor said, lifting her chin.
"Five," Buffy said with a little smile.
Noor's look of envy kept that smile on Buffy's face until they all reported in to Frances and a sulky Sky revealed that Sumiko had slain a total of eight. Frances was still happy enough with Noor and Buffy's combined total to assign them as permanent partners.
"That's very troubling about Kean," Frances said. "You must take great pains not to be separated again. Or perhaps I could accompany you as well --"
"No," Buffy said. "We're good."
Buffy awoke slowly, drifting slowly up through layers of consciousness. She felt rested, relaxed -- weird.
She doubled over her pillow to prop up her head a bit and tried to analyze why the situation felt so odd. After all, she'd gone out, she'd slayed vamps and demons, she'd gone to bed. That was it.
Then Buffy thought, That's what's strange. I didn't get woken up by my alarm clock or my kid sister's Backstreet Boys CD. I don't have dishes to wash or homework to do. I came, I slew, I napped. That's all anyone expects of me. I don't know if I like it or not.
Except the sleeping late, she decided. I know I like that.
She kept lounging around, wishing vaguely that they still had cable in the 24th century, until a loud ringing sound made her sit upright in her bed and look around her apartment. The ring sounded again -- funny, it sounded just like a telephone --
Buffy got up and went into the front room of her quarters to find what was ringing -- and then started to laugh. There, on the plain white desk, was an old-fashioned telephone, dial and all. Giggling, she picked up the receiver. "Edna Mae, get me Floyd's barbershop," she said.
"Beg pardon?" Frances said. "Is this Buffy?"
"Yeah, sorry," Buffy said. "I didn't realize you had a sense of humor, Frances. This is pretty good."
"What do you mean?" Frances sounded almost glad to hear Buffy's approval.
"The telephone!" Buffy said. "I mean, you had to do some research to dig up something from my time like this. How did you get a phone line hooked up, though?"
"Buffy -- the telephone isn't a joke. It's how we speak to one another. We installed one for you last night. They did use telephones in your time, you said --"
"Well, yeah," Buffy said, bemused. "But even by my time, we had cellular and digital and stuff. Don't you guys have, like, Star Trek communicators by now?"
"Technology became less of a priority 150 years ago," Frances said, a little more coolly. "We don't really have the resources to develop anything new. We use what's simplest to repair and maintain from what went before. Telephone technology can be built. But most wireless technology -- we still know how it works, but we don't have the resources."
"You're still using the old stuff. Makes sense." Buffy said. "Now I am slightly less scared that the computers still use Windows."
"The computer parts are the most difficult to replace," Frances said. "We still have parts in storage. When those run out -- well, we'll think of something. I wanted to tell you that the Council have decided to hold a trial today. The people are in high spirits after yesterday's announcement; they need to let off a little steam."
"A trial?" Buffy said. "How's that going to be fun for the whole family? Are talking about some O.J.-style craziness? Because that's just going to get people even more wacky."
Frances was quiet for a moment, then continued on as if Buffy had not spoken. "This is a vampire trial, Buffy. The people very much rely upon them. And our Slayer frequently officiates. Markwith suggested that you girls should get used to sharing in the duties."
"Vampire trial? Officiate?" Buffy had a vague image of herself yelling, Hear ye, hear ye. "Do I get a gavel?"
"We'll give you what you need. The trial begins in two hours, so, be there on time."
"Okey-doke," Buffy said. "Where do you keep these vamps locked up, anyway?"
The Tower of London looked every bit as imposing as it had 350 years ago, Buffy decided, and no doubt as imposing as it had looked for the centuries beforehand. The last time she'd been here, she'd been pretending to be really excited about queuing up with her mother to see the Crown Jewels.
"Wonder who made off with the Star of India," Buffy muttered as she walked through the throng of Watchers crowding inside.
"Wouldn't much matter." Buffy whirled about, then relaxed as she saw Angel at her side. He continued, "In a society where people struggle for food and survival, jewels are just rocks."
"You have lost none of your sneakiness," Buffy said. "How did you get inside? Sunny day out there. Did you take the Tube?"
Angel's face actually looked more pale, which for him was remarkable. "Buffy, vampires have been swarming to London for 150 years, all looking for nests with no threat of sunlight. The Underground isn't exactly open for business anymore."
"Good point," Buffy frowned. "So how did you get here?"
"Came here last night," he said simply. "I figured they'd bring you here to watch."
"What's with the idea of a vampire trial?" she said, falling into step by his side. "Is this more of same stuff as yesterday? Just, you know, showing off so people can cheer?"
"That's not how I'd put it, but you're exactly right. You've caught onto the game pretty quickly, Buffy. Most people here never do. But you're smarter than that."
"Does the word 'duh' come to mind?" She gave him a sideways smile. "You really thought all that show would get to me, yesterday."
"It's heady," Angel said. "I've seen it get to people before."
"Not me." Buffy tossed her hair as they walked into a larger common area, one filled with regular people. "I don't get caught up in --"
"Slayer!" a man cried, pointing to her. "Another of the Slayers who has returned!"
A woman nearby cried out. Within moments, she was surrounded by smiling people who kept calling, "Slayer!" "Buffy!" "Slayer!" Buffy looked around wildly, trying to get a glimpse of Angel amid the throng; she caught sight of him slowly moving away through a crowd that parted to avoid him.
"Slayer, will you hold this child?" a woman said, holding out her infant.
"You want me to baby sit?" Buffy said with a worried frown.
The people all laughed. "I want her to be able to say that she was held by a Slayer," the mother said. "One of the great Slayers of all time."
"She's probably going to be able to say she was dropped on her head by a Slayer," Buffy muttered as she took the infant in her hands. The baby, perhaps sensing Buffy's profound unease, began screeching the moment her mother let go. This prompted the woman to fetch her back after only a moment, to the vast relief of everyone involved.
An older man held out an arthritic, twisted hand. "Can you not pray for my healing, Slayer?"
"I -- I can pray," Buffy said. "But I don't heal anything. Honestly. I so don't."
He didn't seem to believe her, just kept holding out his hand. After a moment, Buffy reached out and touched it, feeling creepier than she ever had in her life. "My prayer's no better than yours," she warned him.
"You are the Slayer," he said, content.
Buffy pushed her way out of the crowd and toward the center of the common area. A few hundred people were circling an area marked off by low wooden benches. One corner, instead of being closed, opened onto a path that led to a heavy door in one of the walls. The energy in the room was -- strange, Buffy thought. Half exhilaration, half -- something darker. At the edge created by the benches were the other Slayers. Xiaoting and Agatha seemed delighted by the attention they were getting. Sky seemed as though she would be happier with her attention if she didn't have to share. Sumiko looked more confused than ever. "This place is a madhouse," Buffy said. "How come we're not back in the Chamber?"
"If they've got a real bastard, one it took 'em a while to catch, they'll do the trials there," Sky said. "That's only when they know they can draw the full crowd. Small fry like these three? Scarcely even worth the Tower. Wouldn't even be this crowded if we weren't here."
A voice called out, "Silence!" Buffy looked to see Markwith standing atop one of the wooden benches. The hundreds of people gathered there fell quiet at his word, and Buffy shivered again. "Bring forth the first prisoner."
Two guards dragged forth a female vampire, in full vamp face; she was struggling against the manacles that bound her wrists together. But from her slow step and reflexes, Buffy realized that the female vamp was either exhausted, injured, or drugged.
"The vampire Moreen has, for three hundred years, savaged the people of Ireland and Great Britain," Markwith began. "Her murders have included the young, the innocent, the elderly --"
As he droned on, Sky stepped forward slightly. Buffy realized that Sky had a good old-fashioned stake in her hand. "Watch and learn, girls," Sky whispered.
When Markwith had finished his spiel, he drew himself up to his full height. Sky pulled her arm back. "The vampire is guilty of crimes beyond number. But this court has witnesses and proof of the following seven crimes: the death of Michael Campbell --"
Sky plunged the stake into Moreen's gut. The vampire shrieked in pain, and the crowd began to cheer.
"The death of Jane Campbell --"
Sky stabbed Moreen with the stake again, this time in the shoulder. More screaming. More cheering. People were yelling themselves hoarse, their eyes lit up with a feverish glare. And Buffy -- who had once beheaded a vampire with an Exacto knife -- felt her stomach turn.
"The maiming of Arthur Corby --"
The stake slammed into the vampire's thigh. Moreen shrieked, the sound coming out of her mouth inhuman in more ways than one. Vamps bled slowly, but blood was pooling on the ground now. Buffy looked away, caught a glimpse of Agatha, who was beginning to seem green.
This isn't slaying, Buffy thought. This is torture.
A little voice inside her head said, Don't get so proud. You've beaten the truth out of vamps before. You held a crucifix inside a vampire's mouth one time and listened to her scream, didn't you?
I did that to save Willow and Giles and Cordy, Buffy thought. I did what I had to do.
This -- this is for people to enjoy.
"And last -- for the murder of Catherine Baker -- this court sentences you to death."
As Markwith said the word "death," Sky finally staked Moreen the vampire through the heart. She cried out one last time and exploded into dust. The crowd cheered its loudest yet. Sky sauntered back to the Slayers and held out the stake. "So, who wants to go next?"
To Buffy's surprise, Sumiko took the stake and stepped forward. The guards were already bringing out the next vamp.
Sumiko apparently didn't get the whole "wound for each crime" idea, and so Sky forcibly took the stake from her after the second victim was too speedily dispatched. Sumiko didn't look at all happy about Noor taking her place in the center. "Bloodthirsty creature, isn't she?" Xiaoting whispered.
Buffy wanted to agree. But she couldn't quite ignore the memory of Sumiko stroking Buffy's hair and singing while Buffy wept.
Maybe, Buffy thought desperately, maybe she's just like me. She -- she just hated it, and wanted to end it --
But Sumiko's placid face showed no sign of the nauseated disgust Buffy knew showed on her own.
When the third victim was dust -- after a ghastly eleven strikes -- the crowds, apparently sated, began filtering outside, laughing and talking as though they'd been to a play. Markwith came to the Slayers, smiling benevolently. "Well done. You've caught on quickly. Perhaps next time we can get the other three involved too, hmm?"
"I'll pass," Buffy said quickly.
"I -- I think I need to lie down," Agatha said. Xiaoting quickly took her arm for support.
Markwith said nothing about their reluctance, but he patted Sumiko approvingly on the shoulder. She seemed to understand the gesture and actually gave him a small smile. "You've got another few hours before sundown," he said. "Training? Or would you prefer to rest for a bit in the gardens?"
"Gardens," Agatha said faintly. "Yes."
"I'm -- I'm gonna stay here for a bit," Buffy said.
"Of course you are," Markwith said. "Come."
With that, he drew the other Slayers outside with him. Buffy was now all alone in the execution block, save for one other.
"You hated it," Angel said from his place across the room.
"You thought I wouldn't?" Buffy asked. She lowered herself to sit on the floor; she felt as though she'd been slaying for hours, or running -- worn out and miserable.
"I hoped you would," Angel said. He walked toward her. "They started these up about a century ago. To improve morale, they said. I don't think teaching people to applaud torture improves anything."
"Why didn't you stop them?" Buffy said. "You're on the Council --"
"I'm one man," Angel said. "Back then, I had more influence than I do now. But not enough to override an impassioned majority. I actually lost a lot of ground arguing that we should show mercy to vampires. Strangely enough, they saw it as self-interest."
"I kept asking myself why I cared," Buffy said. "I mean, I've killed hundreds of vamps. Thousands, probably. I'm just making the dead act their age, you know? But this isn't the same."
"No, it's not." Angel knelt by her side. "It frightens me, that we do this. At first, I thought it might lead to mistreatment of human prisoners, eventually. That once it became all right to torture anyone, it might be all right to torture anyone."
"Has that happened?"
"Not yet," Angel said. He was studying her face, and Buffy wondered what he was trying to see. Then he said, carefully, "This is how Spike died."
Strange, that it could hurt. That it could hurt that much. "Spike? They did this -- to Spike?"
"Only about forty or fifty years ago," Angel said.
Spike. Arrogant, obnoxious, funny Spike, dragged into this room drugged and humble. Denied a chance to do the one thing she knew he wanted most -- go out fighting. "You didn't save him?"
Angel didn't ask her why he should want to do such a thing. Instead, he shrugged and sighed. "How? They captured him and charged him with the murders of two Slayers; he was guilty. Hell, he was proud of it. That thing in his head that kept him from hurting people -- that had shorted out about two centuries before. He was a killer again. I couldn't have helped him, and it would have been wrong to try." More softly, he said, "But I wanted to."
"Why? Why didn't you want him dead?"
"He was -- a part of my history," Angel said. After a pause, he added, "He was the last person who remembered you."
Buffy hesitated, then said, "He loved me."
"I know. He told me."
"You guys talked about this?" She laughed, a broken sound that rang hollow in her own ears. "That could not have gone well."
"Not the first time. We were both sick with grief, and furious with each other. We had some battles royal about you. But as time went on -- sometimes he just wanted to talk about you. Sometimes I did too. We'd call truce, meet up, get drunk and sentimental about your smile. We were pathetic, and we knew it. Didn't stop us." Angel laughed ruefully. "Of course, after he became a danger again, there was no more of that. Until the night before he died. They wouldn't let me in to see him, but they let us speak."
"Over the phone," Buffy said quietly.
"Right. And we talked about you then. I don't know what else was in Spike's twisted heart, Buffy, but you were still a part of him, all that time later. We talked about you that one last time. We argued about the color of your eyes."
"Who was right?"
"Neither of us, actually," Angel said. "Sorry."
"That's okay," Buffy said automatically. She sat there for a moment longer, trying to take it in. "I hate that they did this to him. I hate it so much. And I don't know why."
"I hate it too," Angel said. "And your guess is as good as mine."
"We kill vampires," Noor said that evening as she and Buffy, again armed to the nines, walked down a long corridor toward the exits. "We kill them however we can. Why do you think this one way is a bad way?"
"It's different," Buffy insisted as she tightened the drawstring of the pouch containing her holy water. "You know it's different."
"Yes," Noor said. "It is different in that I can kill the vampire, and the vampire cannot kill me. I like this difference."
"Killing them is one thing," Buffy said. "Torturing them so other people can have fun? That's another. And I don't like it."
"I do not care for that part of it," Noor said. "But after I have sworn to kill a creature, what does the method matter?"
"I think it does matter," Buffy said quietly. The exit doors slid open before them; patrol had begun later tonight, so the people who had thronged outside last time had long since fled to home and safety. "We get the west this time. Same drill as last night?"
Noor nodded, and the two of them walked on together in silence until they were a few blocks from the Keep. Buffy glanced up and noted an old, crumbling sign. "Okay. We meet up back here at Grosvenor Square in four hours. Got it?"
"Four hours," Noor said, before running off eagerly into the night.
Buffy strolled down the street more slowly, considering what Noor had said before.
Vampire Slayers slay vampires, she thought. Hence the job description. I'm not called Buffy the Vampire Rehabilitator. Though maybe, what with Angel and Spike going all mushy, I could be.
Spike. Her stomach still clenched with disgust every time she thought about him dying like that -- humiliated and broken and captive. It was the last thing he would ever have wanted.
Like any of us get what we want, Buffy thought with a piercing pang of bitterness. Giles didn't want to end up wasting away because his irresponsible Slayer went off and got herself killed. Dawn didn't want to be a Key some creepy bitch goddess needed to unleash Hell. Mom didn't want to fight so hard for her life -- just to -- to die there on the sofa --
Buffy dropped her head as her eyes began to fill with tears.
The pain smacked her hard across her whole back, knocking her breath out and her balance off. Buffy turned her fall into a roll and managed to come up on her feet in a fighting stance. An orangey, scaly demon hissed at her, the ridges around his neck bristling. The claws on his hands were glistening with blood, and she realized she could feel stripes of bright heat across her back.
The demon pounced forward, and Buffy somersaulted back, putting some power into it. A couple of good handsprings and she was 15 feet out, in firing range. She shouldered her longbow and fired; the arrow struck Orangey Demon in the side. He hissed again, but kept slowly moving toward her.
Buffy fired once more; this time the arrow hit him squarely in the forehead. Orangey Demon stumbled back -- then righted himself and jumped forward again.
Skittering away from him, Buffy frowned. "Okay," she said. "Guess that's not where you keep your brain. Assuming you have one."
She tried the blaster, firing off a couple of quick rounds. The bolts hit him, singing his orangey scales black and making him roar with outrage, but he just leapt toward her again. Buffy jumped over him, far enough to get some distance.
This has got to work sooner or later, Buffy told herself. Just keep at it --
Then she gasped as she saw the shape of a woman coming around the corner -- and saw Orangey Demon see her too.
Orangey Demon sprang toward the woman in the shadows, and Buffy ran after him. New methods be damned, she thought; she needed to kill that thing now and to do it the way she knew best.
As Orangey Demon tackled the now-screaming woman, Buffy tackled him; she could only have weighed a fraction of what he did, but she managed to knock him off his intended victim. The demon slashed at her, and Buffy put up her hands to block him. As his claws made contact with her palms, she cried out -- and grabbed on.
With one swift jerk, she snapped off one of his claws.
Orangey Demon shrieked with outrage. Buffy stuck out her lip. "Ooooh, bummer," she said. "You broke a nail."
She tightened her grip around the claw -- and stabbed the demon in the eye.
Howling piteously, the demon stumbled backward, clutching feebly at the claw in its face until it fell over backwards, either dead or unconscious. Buffy took her blaster and fired at him several times until finally he caught on fire.
"That thing would not die," she said. "That was like a Rasputin demon or something."
"For your information, it was a Gryra demon," said the woman behind her.
Buffy recognized the voice, winced and turned around.
Standing behind her, uninjured but furious, was Frances.
I am so busted, Buffy thought.