Chapters 7 & 8
Chapter 9 & 10
Chapters 11 & 12
Thirteen: The Revelations
Hardison was freaking out. “There is no way. I mean — tell me, Eliot, what did this girl look like?”
It wasn’t Eliot that answered, it was Parker. “Hard. Veteran. She’s used to killing and she doesn’t like civilians getting in her way. Like Eliot.”
“What?!” Eliot stopped in his angry stomp across the parking lot to stare at Parker. “She can’t be more than five feet tall and she’s a kid. A teenager. She talks like a mallrat. Her fighting style is all over the place. Like she picked it off the buffet at the local Golden Palace… what?”
“Pretend she didn’t talk like a mallrat,” Parker offered. Her voice was angry enough that Eliot took a step back. “Pretend she didn’t look like a teenager. How old were you when you made your first kill?”
“What? In the army. Eighteen.”
“Some of us didn’t get to be kids, remember?”
“Parker?” Nate’s voice over the comms was quiet. “Tell Eliot what you saw.”
“She’s young, which means she hasn’t figured out where her lines are yet. She has friends — good sign, or a bad one, depending on what they’re doing. But they’re friends, or at least the guy is, not minions or pack members.”
Eliot started to scoff, but something in Parker’s expression held him back. “The boy’s in love with her.”
“He’s in awe of her. But we’re in awe of each other all the time. THe way Nate plans, the way Hardison hacks, the way you hit people… she wasn’t in awe of the way you hit people. What about her style?”
“What style? It had no discipline, no plan; she stopped in the middle to check her shoes…”
“And her killing?” Parker pressed.
“…her killing was efficient,” Elliot admitted. “She hits at least as hard as I do. She moves more quickly — she’s younger,” he added defensively. “Less injuries.”
“When she stopped to check her shoe, she distracted one fo the attackers. It made it easier for her to stick that piece of wood through its chest.”
“Stake,” Tara offered. She sounded subdued. “She staked the vampires.”
“Damnit, vampires,” Eliot complained. “Nate, you didn’t tell me this job had vampires.”
There was a pause. In the hotel room, Nate looked at Sophie, who was looking worried and befuddled. He looked at Hardison, who was busily googling vampires. His gaze settled on Tara.
“Eliot,” he asked slowly, “are you telling me that this isn’t the first time you’ve encountered ‘vampires’?”
“Don’t say it like that.” Eliot pushed his hair out of his eyes. “Come on, Parker, we’re getting out of here. Yeah, Nate.” He stalked down the nearly-empty halls of the mall. “Vampires. They’re some sort of demonic entity. We ran into a nest in Fallujah, another one in Panama.”
“Panama?” Sophie asked. “Really?”
“What, vampires don’t like Central America? Did you know vampires even existed an hour ago?” Eliot was stomping, paying only enough attention to Parker to pull her away from window displays. “No, Parker, we’re not stealing… hockey pads. Why would you even want hockey pads?”
“Oh, that—” Hardison fell quiet at a glare from everyone in the room.
“She’s a thief, Eliot, she likes to steal things.” Sophie’s answer came over soothing. “I wasn’t questioning the vampires’ presence in Panama, I was questioning yours.”
“Oh.” He slowed down enough to extricate Parker more gently from the top of what was probably supposed to be a statue and not a jungle gym. “It was a — a thing. Tara, what do you know?”
“I know you don’t wear heels you can’t run in and you always carry two mirrors and a hold-out weapon.”
“Tara!” Eliot snarled the complaint at the mall in general.
“Relax, relax. All right. Have you heard of a Hellmouth?” Tara leaned back in her chair and regarded those members of the team near her.
“Oh, yeah, that’s when a… no.” Hardison fell quiet at Nate’s glare. “No.”
“A Hellmouth.” Eliot frowned. “No. Heard of ‘em, but nobody would ever tell me exactly what they were.”
“Well, you’re on one. And what it is…” Tara paused dramatically. “…well, exactly what it says. It’s a mouth to a hell dimension, possibly to several. It’s a demon magnet, attracting all sorts of evils and some things that aren’t evil, just misunderstood.” She studied her fingernails. “It’s a power source. And the supernatural feeds off it.”
“Great. Just great.” Eliot threw up his hands. “We’re coming back. Nate, the kids knew something. The brunette. But the blonde made me. We’re gonna need someone else to talk to her.”
“Vampires, man,” Hardison complained. “Vampires.”
Fourteen: the Assessment.
“Well,” Xander offered awkwardly, “they were certainly friendly. Or something.”
“Chipper,” Buffy complained. “They were chipper.”
“Do you think maybe that’s the next, mmm, you know?” Xander offered unhelpfully, hands flailing.
“I’ve never seen a Watcher fight like that,” Buffy answered flatly. “I mean, Giles tries, and he still doesn’t…” She shifted into a combat stance and moved through Dave-Palmer-Elliot’s fighting moves thoughtfully. “He’s good. If they had been humans, they’d have been injured or dead. But he was either putting on a show, or he didn’t know he was fighting vampires.”
“And the girl?”
Buffy’s frown deepened. She thought about the way Kendra had spoken of her Watcher, and the way this girl — Alicia? Parker? — looked at her handler. Devoted. She twisted her lips.
“I don’t know, but I don’t like it.”
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