Sorry about the lack of a story part yesterday. I had to work late yesterday. RL can be such a pain.
All previous parts can be found here.
Buffy stumbled into her apartment with Andrew in tow just as the sun peeked over the horizon. She dispiritedly looked around while Andrew bustled past her to the kitchen. She wasn’t sure what disappointed her more: the fact that Kennedy wasn’t here waiting for her with her bad attitude or that Xander wasn’t awake and demanding more information about Michael.
What I do with my life isn’t any of your business.
It used to be.
Buffy hugged herself. Xander had apparently taken their argument over her involvement with pre-soul Spike to heart. Right about now, she’d give anything to have Xander butting into her business. It would at least prove he still cared.
She wondered when he stopped.
“Contradiction, thy name is Buffy,” she whispered.
Right on cue, a bedroom door opened and Xander emerged wearing the plain t-shirt and sweats Andrew had scrounged for him. He stopped when he saw Buffy standing in the middle of the living room.
“Hey,” she said quietly.
Xander looked away and nodded.
Andrew’s head popped out of the kitchen. “You want eggs?”
“Sure,” Xander and Buffy chorused.
“I thought you’d still be sleeping,” Andrew said with forced cheer.
“You find Kennedy?” Xander asked. Buffy noticed he was looking at Andrew instead of her.
“N-n-n-no,” Andrew sounded surprised that Xander had asked him. “We need to refuel before we go back out and look for her some more. I thought I’d make a quick breakfast and espresso.”
“No one came in last night. At least I didn’t hear anyone,” Xander volunteered to Andrew. “No one called, either.”
“I don’t have a phone line, just the cell.” Buffy hated that she felt like she was butting into a private conversation between Xander and Andrew. “At least, not one she’d know about. I have a secure line to Giles and a secure computer line, but only me and Andrew know about either one.”
Xander stared at his bare feet.
“A-a-a-a-and you. Now,” Buffy lamely amended.
“So, you’re going to help us look for Kennedy?” Andrew asked with his too hearty fake happiness.
“No,” Xander said quietly as he shot Buffy a quick look. “I don’t know the city well enough to be much help. Besides, I have to prepare. You know. For the Thorn so I can trigger it when the sun sets. I’ll be leaving right after that.”
Buffy’s heart sank. “You’re leaving today? I thought we agreed—”
“I think it’s best,” Xander interrupted. He was now looking at a spot on the wall over Buffy’s left shoulder. “The last person you want around right now is me.”
“That’s not true,” she quietly protested.
Xander looked at her then. The expression in his one eye cut Buffy to the bone. “Yeah, it really is.”
“So, what does the Thorn do?” Andrew asked.
Buffy jumped. She thought sure Andrew had retreated back into the kitchen.
“Oh, it’s a powerful protection thing,” Xander said. “It protects you from all attacks on your home turf, you know? Once it’s up, no hostile magic can break through the shield or be cast inside it. If guest tries to poison you, the poison will be rendered harmless. If you need to poison a guest though, that guest will get double the full brunt. Also, no guest can physically attack you, although you can attack them and they’ll suffer twice the damage than they would normally. If they try to destroy the building around you, the attacks will have no effect. So they can’t smoke you out, and even if they get in, they can’t do anything more than just get in. It’s the ultimate in home security. You’ll be safe as houses if you ever need to retreat back here for whatever reason. It’ll definitely hold off any magical or physical attack from within or without until the cavalry arrives if you ever need to call them in.”
“Wow. So we’re talking two rolls on a D20 and an Enterprise-strong shield.” Andrew sounded awed.
“Yeah. Enterprise-strong,” Xander repeated as he scrubbed a hand through his hair in a way that was achingly familiar. “I’d have one of you do it so I can get out of your way sooner, but you’re going to be tied up with Kennedy-findage. Besides, the Monks drilled how to do it into my head. And the preparation requires a lot of oooming and communing with whatever higher power is listening and purification rituals. Plus, there’s stinky herbs. I swear there’s always stinky herbs involved. I’ve already got everything I need for the purification ritual part, so that’s covered. Anyway, we’re talking a few hours of preparation, at least. And if I get a step wrong, I’m going to have to start all over on the first step. Oh, and you can only trigger the Thorn on a Saturday after sunset, something about it being the Sabbath, the Ethiopian Coptic one and not the Jewish one. So, if I don’t do it today, I’d have to stay another week, or at least until one of you learn the ritual.”
“That wouldn’t be so bad,” Andrew protested. He then smacked his forehead. “Oh, wait. You have to get to England right away.”
Xander’s head shot up and his eye narrowed suspiciously. Buffy cringed. Andrew wasn’t supposed to know about that.
“Or-or-or you have to get back to Africa right away,” Andrew lamely tried to cover.
Xander once more glanced at Buffy and looked down. “Typical,” he muttered. “What else does he know?”
“Just that you have to report to Giles about something. I didn’t tell him why,” Buffy said a little too brightly. “And then that you’re going to be heading back to Africa after that.”
Xander just shook his head and said nothing.
Buffy thought she heard Andrew retreat back into the kitchen behind her. After a beat she moved a step closer and asked lowly, “About last night—”
Xander waved a dismissive hand. “Forget it. It’s all good.”
Xander’s gaze met her eyes. “Buffy. Please. Don’t tell me anything. It’s probably a good thing I don’t know.”
“Yeah. I guess it is.” Buffy kicked at the carpet.
“The curse? Remember? Sooner or later it’ll catch up with me and—I just don’t want anything I know to fall in the wrong hands between here and Giles, okay?” Xander’s voice sounded so earnest that Buffy looked up at him. His answering smile was too small, in her opinion. “I mean, what if one of the bad guys catch me? I can’t tell them what I don’t know.”
Buffy wished she could believe him. So much for a few days of unbridled honesty with someone she cared about. “I guess that’s smart,” she agreed.
Andrew popped back into the living room. “We don’t have enough espresso. I can run to the plaza and get some if you want.”
Buffy looked over her shoulder. “Okay,” she agreed.
Andrew’s eyes moved between her and Xander. Buffy knew their body language told Andrew that all was not good between the two of them. “I-I-I’ll be right back. I’ve got the money in my wallet,” he said.
“I’ll pay you back,” Buffy offered.
“My treat,” Andrew said as he reached the apartment door. “Be right back.”
Silence reigned after the door closed behind Andrew.
Xander uncomfortably cleared his throat. “I’m, unh, I’m going to take a shower. I’ve got that man-in-the-morning smell.”
“Man-in-the-morning smell,” Buffy repeated.
“Anya called it that.” Xander’s smile was so uncomfortable that it caused Buffy pain. “I don’t get a hot shower in the field sometimes. Might as well take advantage while I’m here.”
“Sure. You do that. My shower is your shower,” Buffy said.
Xander shuffled uncomfortably. “Do you have a bathrobe? I don’t want to walk around naked in front of—well, you know.”
“Oh! Right! Yeah! I got one. Not a fluffy girly one. A—well, it belonged to a guy, which—ummm, never mind. I’ll get it!” Buffy leapt for her bedroom, relieved that she was escaping Xander’s presence.
When she reached her bedroom, she jiggled the mouse on her laptop to get it out of sleep mode out of habit on her way to the closet. As she walked back, she spotted on the screen that Dawn had sent her an email. Going by the time stamp, it was sent in the middle of the night, Dawn’s time. Her heart picked up a worried beat as she paused to click on the message.
Dawn’s email was encoded, which meant the “no-read” spell was on it, effectively blocking its presence from anyone but Buffy. She glanced at her bedroom door and decided that Xander could wait 30 seconds. Whatever Dawn had to say was important and obviously couldn’t wait. She quickly ran it through the decoder program and mumbled the one-line magical incantation to unlock the no-read spell.
When the email’s real message cleared, what Dawn had to say was straight to the point:
Look what I found!!!!!!
Constantius Suetonius Florens.
Not it, but one of them.
Iudea, 67 CE, First Roman-Jewish War.
Tax collector, spy for both sides.
Don’t know before that. Still looking. Maybe all roads lead to Rome. Let you know.
This message will self-destruct…yadayada.
Buffy tossed another quick glance at the door, before sending the message through an encoder program and muttering the incantation that would make the email unseeable again. When she straightened up, she almost felt like smiling.
Something was going right somewhere.
Kennedy despairingly watched the office get lighter. It had been a long, long night.
Untraceable Accent had spent most of the night speaking on the phone and taking visitors. Even though she couldn’t understand any of the non-English languages used—and Kennedy’s admittedly tin ear could tell there were several different languages spoken—the tone of the voices indicated that none of the conversations were social ones.
In a way she was relieved she didn’t understand everything that was said. The bits that were in English were disheartening enough.
Once they knew to look for their Alexander in Sunnydale, they very quickly got Xander’s last name and photographic confirmation that Alexander Harris was their African Alexander. Once they had that, they were able to find his social security number, which meant they could track his employment history. They were also able to connect him to a Red Cross intake form. The intake form told them that one Alexander Harris was on the last bus out of Sunnydale, the same bus that carried one Buffy Summers out of Sunnydale, the same bus that carried one Rupert Giles out of Sunnydale.
Untraceable Accent’s people, now armed with this information, were now fanning out across the U.S. and looking for people that knew Buffy and Xander back in the day. Kennedy knew that all it would take was a few questions about “Buffy Summers: The High School Years” to yield all kinds of information that Untraceable Accent couldn’t get from the paperwork piling up in front of him.
This meant that they were now taking a much, much closer look at Buffy. Well, not Buffy specifically, because she had covered her tracks well enough that it would take some time before Untraceable Accent’s people would be able to completely untangle her mysteries. However, they were looking into her past friends and associates, starting with everyone that was on the last bus out of Sunnydale.
It was a matter of time before they found out that Alexander Harris’s human rights observer position was bought and paid for by the Council, Kennedy figured. When that happened, the shit would really hit the fan.
Her heart dropped as each rare, precious English word dropped from Untraceable Accent’s lips and the lips of his few English-speaking associates. The only good news was that Untraceable Accent wasn’t inclined to move quickly. He wanted to be very, very sure that they had all the mysteries solved before he moved.
If Buffy was attempting to build her own Slayer army, he wanted to know why and her intentions before moving against her. He wanted to know who was helping her, and who her allies were. He wanted to know everything about her support network and what it provided.
But mostly, he wanted to find out if her ties to the Council were as severed as everyone in Rome had been led to believe. If she were still active with the Council, he would have to move cautiously. He didn’t want to unnecessarily draw the Council’s attention to himself or his operations. He figured that if he moved openly against a Council operative, he’d have a lot of angry Slayers gunning for him. Kennedy thought it strange that he was more worried about his business interests than his physical safety if that happened.
Either way, Kennedy picked up that Untraceable Accent thought that he couldn’t afford to jump the gun and take Buffy out right away. But, they would do it soon enough. Buffy had a week, two at the outside, before one of Untraceable Accent’s plots against her became reality.
I so owe Buffy an apology, Kennedy thought.
The more she learned, the more she knew she couldn’t leave until Untraceable Accent and his people took a powder. However, as the sunlight in the room strengthened, she became increasingly impatient to get out and get a warning to Buffy.
She was so intent on watching Untraceable Accent as he barked a harsh-sounding language into the phone that she was taken completely by surprise when the closet door opened wider. Kennedy barely bit back a yell as she silently leapt to her feet into a fighting stance. She found herself staring eyeball to eyeball with a 40-something, heavy-set woman.
The woman immediately put a finger in front of her lips and narrowed the door opening until it was only big enough to let her reach inside the closet. She grabbed a few cleaning supplies and, with a final finger in front of her lips as some sort of silent warning, she closed the closet door, once more leaving a narrow crack that was wide enough to allow air into the closet.
Kennedy forced herself to keep still. Going by how the woman had reacted, it seemed like she could stay put without fear of being betrayed. She swallowed in an effort to wet her dry throat and willed her breathing and heartbeat to slow. She remained on her feet, however, just in case she guessed wrong about the older woman’s intentions.
She wasn’t sure how much time passed after that. She was pretty sure that Untraceable Accent had switched languages twice before someone came into the room. A woman said something to him in what Kennedy guessed with either Spanish or Italian. He answered her and then left.
Kennedy stood frozen in the closet, terrified to check and see if the coast was clear.
The door suddenly opened, revealing the 40-something woman again. “Signorina?” she asked, as if the question should mean something.
“Unh,” Kennedy intelligently answered.
“Summers?” the woman asked in a lower voice.
“Yes, si, si, oui, or whatever,” Kennedy nodded enthusiastically.
The woman again tapped her finger to her lips as a silent warning and looked over her shoulder. She then made a “come, come” motion with her hands and directed Kennedy to a window. As Kennedy crossed the office, she saw that a vacuum cleaner was standing at attention in the middle of the room and understood just how her unexpected guardian angel took things into her dishpan hands.
The woman pointed out the window to a drainpipe. Kennedy eyed it critically a few moments. It was awkwardly placed at the corner of the building, and it was facing into a courtyard instead of toward the street. That could be a good or bad thing. However, it did appear sturdy enough to hold her weight as she shimmied down. It was probably the best she could hope for.
“Thanks, gracias, or, yeah, just thanks,” Kennedy said.
The older woman gave her a secret smile and a little wave good-bye as Kennedy perched herself on the windowsill. Then the woman turned away and began running the vacuum cleaner in earnest, probably to help cover the sound of Kennedy’s escape.
Getting to the drainpipe and climbing down was awkward, but went better than Kennedy had dared dream. The moment her feet hit the ground, she scurried out of the courtyard and onto the sidewalk in front of the building. She remembered to turn left in front of the apartment building, since that would take her back to the plaza where she picked up her date. Once she got to the plaza, she was reasonably sure she could find Buffy’s apartment.
She didn’t stop running until she was two blocks away from Untraceable Accent’s place. She slowed down and forced herself to keep to a brisk walk. Although her mind was a tumult, she allowed herself a grin.
In some strange way, she was relieved that she was dead wrong about Buffy. If anyone had told her that would be the case yesterday, she would’ve never believed them. Yet, it was true and she couldn’t deny it.
And in another strange way, she was actually looking forward to seeing Xander again. Sure, he was her ex’s best friend, but he saved her from Caleb back in the day. The way she saw it, that trumped everything else.
The only thing that didn’t fit into the picture Untraceable Accent painted was the presence of Andrew. She had no idea why Buffy had him around, especially since he seemed so clueless back when he was a gofer for Giles. Plus, she still didn’t trust the little creep. The memory of his sniveling, whiny ways, his tall tales, and the fact he murdered his best friend because the First promised him the power of a god was too clear in her mind.
Well, the Andrew mystery could wait for another day. Right now, she had an apology and news to deliver.
Her grin got wider. Looked like her trip to Rome was going to be a hell of a lot more interesting than she expected.
Things were finally looking up.