Author: Tim Knight

Title: The Slayer Gig

Copyright: January 2003
Rating: PG-13 (Language, Fight Scenes)
Keywords: Buffy/ Highlander.

Spoilers:
Buffy: Season 2 until Phases. Specific Episodes: Becoming Parts 1 & 2, anything involving Faith.
Highlander: Season 5 until Season finale. Richie Ryan lives and Season 6 does not take place.
Chronicles of Wanderer: Calling Out The Clan, Libyan Assault/War of the Sections, Faith's Story, Scooby Snacks: Au Natural and Heir Apparent.

Summary: In the aftermath of events in Los Angeles, a Slayer dies and another is Chosen. But not in the usual way it happens.

Legalese: All characters except those noted below with their respective rights, properties and copyrights are the property of their respective creators, authors, owners, producers and agencies. These characters are used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended or meant, and no money will be made from this story. This story may be copied in its entirety, and may be distributed as long as all copyright information remains.

The character Marion Pryce is mine. Anyone wishing to use them may contact me at doobytim@aol.com.
The character of Linda Pryce is property of Steve Pantovich, as is the universe in which this story takes place. Steve can be contacted at steve711@concentric.net.
The character of Edwin Giles is property of NorJC. He may be contacted at NorJC@aol.com.

Author's Notes: This story takes place in July of 1998, just after Calling Out the Clan and during the first half of Libyan Assault/War of the Sections.

Dedications:
First, to Steve, who lets us have our fun in his universe.
Second, to Jack "Super Editor" Caynon, who will make this story even better than it was once he gets done mojo-ing the heck out of it <G>.
Third, to Mike and Anne who liked this idea and told me to ask Steve for okays to do it.

Here are the changes from your normal shows that may play a part in this story:
Buffy:
1. Due to her drowning death in Prophecy Girl, Buffy is a Highlander type Immortal.
2. The Wandererverse splits off after the episode Phases, so Jenny and Kendra are still alive. Jenny is engaged to Giles, they live together, and Jenny is continuing to teach at Sunnydale High School. Kendra was injured during the after battle mop ups in Calling Out The Clan and temporarily died before being resuscitated.
3. Xander and Cordelia are still together and show no signs of breaking up. They are getting ready to begin their senior years at Sunnydale High.
4. Willow and Oz are in the same situation as Xander and Cordy. Oz can control his werewolf changes except during the nights of the full moon. Willow is more powerful with her witchcraft than she was at the beginning of Season 4 of Buffy but shows no signs of becoming Darth Rosenberg.
5. Amy joined the team in February of 1998 and until Part 33 of LAWS, is the only team member not getting any smoochies. She has thus far managed to keep herself from turning into a rat and keeps her blonde hair.
6. Jenny, Willow, Cordelia, and Amy are Amazons, given the blessing of the Goddess Artemis. Jenny acts as the senior stateswoman amongst the Amazons and teaches Amy and Willow witchcraft.
7. Despite no official confirmation in the Buffyverse, in the Wandererverse Giles' father is alive and semi-retired from the Council.


The Slayer Gig
(Or, How The Big Guy Uses That Working In Mysterious Ways Thing To Give A Street Girl A Real Life)

Pryce Residence
Boston, Massachusetts
11 July 1998

"Oh God…" Linda moaned, tossing around under her covers in the slim hopes of reaching the phone before it stopped ringing. <This better be worth waking me up early…>

The affluent young woman grasped the phone and to her surprise, didn't fumble it before pulling to it her ear. "Hello?" she sighed tiredly.

"There is a Chosen One in your vicinity. She has just been Called," a cultured British voice reported to her. "You are the one who must find her."

All traces of fatigue and irritation vanished from Linda Pryce's body. She bolted upright and felt shivers running up and down her spine. She swallowed and with more certainty than she felt on the inside, the thirty-one year old scion of a prominent Boston family said, "You're sure."

Rather than sound irritated, the woman's voice on the opposite end of the connection chuckled. "We are."

"Do you have her location narrowed down at all? Do you have somewhere for me to start looking?" Linda asked rapid-fire.

"Your teacher told you of our divining abilities. It is good to see you learned those lessons." The voice sounded pleased with her.

Linda smiled despite the strong gravity of the situation. "I hope I learned them well enough." <For both our sakes.> "I'll get right on it."

"Good. Here is where you must go…"

*****

Irishtown
Boston, Massachusetts
15 July 1998

<There she is… is that the one?>

Linda watched the scraggly, dark-haired teenager weaving her way in and out of the people walking around this section of her city. She again wondered how a street urchin could possibly have been Chosen to be the next champion of humanity.

Just as quickly, the scholar scolded herself by once again reciting the words her mentor, a dear friend from "across the Pond," had drilled into her as one of her first lessons.

"No one knows who will be the next Slayer, at least not exactly. All that we do know," she repeated under her breath, "is that of the potential Slayers, they are all marked by a birthmark on their left shoulder. Beyond that, the Chosen One can be of any race, of any creed."

She thought about some of the Slayers she had read about; Thessily Thessalonica, who had survived a dozen years as the Slayer and been instrumental in the Athenian's defense at Marathon; Kishi Minomoto, daughter of a samurai clan who'd killed her Watcher when he was found to be a vampire traitor threatening Japan's royal family; Robin Whitby, a Slayer who'd sacrificed her right arm past the elbow to save a ship's crew from a kraken; Marie-Christine du Lac, the Slayer at the time of the French Revolution, who'd done her duty rather than save the Royal Family; Betty Winters, the Slayer who'd been active during World War II; and Buffy Summers, the one who'd violated "tradition" by surviving her death and somehow activating a second Slayer.

The half-dozen names ran through her mind as she put her learning about Mythology to good use. <A Greek slave, a samurai noblewoman, a British pirate captain sacking Spanish galleons between Slayings, an aristocrat lied to by the Council about her heritage, a private eye who did work for Frank Nitte while her husband was a captain in Patton's Third Army, and a girl from LA. That's on top of the Magyar princess, the Chinese prostitute, the Spanish witch, and all the other occupations Slayers have held through the generations. So why not a girl from the streets of Boston?>

Still, there was the matter that this street girl, if she was the nascent Slayer, was one of those who "slipped through the cracks." One of those missed by the Council. "And those," she said, quoting her mentor again, "are the ones we must serve beyond all others. Because they do not know they have become targets."

<Well, here goes. Let's hope my car's still here when I come back out,> she wryly thought. She got out of the car, knowing that she was drawing stares from the people around her. <Rephrase. When I hopefully come back with the Slayer. >

*****

She heard the footsteps coming an entire hallway away. What set her on edge was that these weren't the steps you usually heard.

Sure, the squeak of sneakers, the clomp of boots, and occasionally, the patter of bare feet when someone was taking a bath. But this wasn't any of those. These were heels.

Faith Reilly's first thought was that some detective or social worker had finally tracked her down. As the fight or flight response started to form, she just as promptly dismissed the possibility; the cops wouldn't waste a plainclothes on her, and the social workers wouldn't come without uniforms. The sixteen-year-old runaway also dismissed that it was another working girl coming to try and convince her to join their group for safety.

<Sorry, gals. Much as I enjoy a good lay because it at least lets me know I'm not alone for one night, the last thing I need's some pimp forcing me into it. I have my limits.> Faith still got a Wiggy feeling about whoever was coming after her; she just knew she was the target. <Sorry, lady, but I'm not for sale.>

The Boston native scampered off the ratty mattress she'd lugged to the third floor of the abandoned tenement after stealing it from a trash heap. She threw on her old, worn leather jacket, her scuffed, off-brand sneakers, and threw on the cheap, silver plated locket that she just couldn't part with.

After all, it was the only thing she had left of Mom. Didn't matter how shitty their relationship had been, she was still Mom.

She glanced around the bare room, looking to see if there was anything she could salvage. Despite her love of the radio she'd stolen from a pawnshop, she couldn't carry it without slowing herself down. And more than anything, speed mattered when you were a runaway and on the lam.

She was trying to get the window unstuck so she could jump onto the fire escape when the last thing she'd ever expected happened. Someone knocked at her door. Reilly froze and stared at the door, which was in serious need of a paint job. <Please tell me someone didn't just knock like this is a social call.>

The "lady" on the opposite side of the door did tell her that by respectfully knocking again. <Okay, this is major weird. > Faith wondered why she was going bonkers and slowly closed the window again. She walked over to the door and took a deep breath. "What do you want?"

Whoever was on the other side answered, "I need to talk to you."

The first thing crossing Faith's mind was that the voice belonged to a blue blood, or maybe one of those professional corporate types. The second was, <What idiot broad comes down here, and at night?!?> She stood away from the door in a spot where it wouldn't hit her if the lady bashed it in. "What do you want to talk about, lady?" she snapped.

There was a sigh, and Faith could have sworn the woman was antsy. "I need to talk to you somewhere private, young lady."

<Oh, like talking to me like a foster prick did is going to work,> Faith drawled inside. She wished she'd been brave enough to steal something bigger than the itty-bitty switchblade she had in her right pocket. "Depends on what you mean by ‘private.'"

The voice didn't hesitate. "Somewhere away from here but in public if you wish."

Faith blinked, twice. Okay, this was just too weird. She wondered if she should tell one of the other kids staying here about this, at least one of the few she felt wouldn't stab her in the back given half a chance. She decided she could do that on the way down. She put her right hand in her pocket and gently fingered her switchblade.

"I'm opening the door. Don't try anything stupid."

She quickly turned the knob and pulled her door open, hoping this rich bitch wouldn't realize it didn't have a strong lock. <Strong as in working…> she sighed to herself.

She got her first sight of the woman and figured her idea was on the spot. <Rich bitch looking for a piece of ass and doesn't want her girlfriends at work to know about it.>

The woman was a little taller than she, probably about 5'8". The Irish girl looked past the well-done chestnut hair, deep brown eyes, and the corporate type outfit. Faith's caution shot up ten notches as she saw the woman was just as on the ball as she was, when it came to knowing what kind of turf she was on.

<Or so that little gun type bulge under your coat tells me, lady,> But despite knowing she had a piece, Faith's instincts weren't screaming "Fuzz." They weren't screaming at all. For some reason, she felt like she could trust Rich Bitch here. <Yeah sure. Trusting people's what got me in this sitch in the first place.>

Faith let her left hand slide into her pocket and glared at the Jane with her green-brown eyes. She hoped the girl figured the street idea that having hands in pockets meant she could be hiding a weapon in there. "What do you want, lady?"

"I want to talk to you," she said with that blue blood voice. It made Faith angry; here was a lucky bitch with tons of money that got all the breaks she'd never get. "I'll even let you choose where we go, as long as we can talk. It's important that we discuss things."

<Yeah, I bet getting some orgasms is really important to you.> Still, she wasn't making an offer yet; she was even letting Faith choose the spot. Her stomach grumbled in protest and she decided right there where they were going. "Okay, I'll go, but I'm letting people know where we're going and they're gonna take your plate number. Got a problem with that?"

"Not at all," the woman said with a smile.

<What? You don't mind people knowing you've been in this part of town?> Either this chick was real confident about herself or didn't think Faith was a threat. If it was the latter, Faith had a thing or two to show her, just like she'd shown Foster Daddy. If it was the first thing, well…

<Rich girls need to be knocked on their asses once in a while.>

*****

Eliza's Diner
Irishtown
Boston, Massachusetts
15 July 1998

Faith suspiciously slid into a booth, Rich Girl doing the same on the opposite side of the table. She waited until she was sure that the pretty woman was well and truly situated before snidely asking, "So just what's so important that you're willing to let me choose the place?"

She watched her look around and decided that maybe she needed a name. <Wouldn't hurt if I actually have to go to the cops. > "Suppose you give me a name, lady?"

"That's no problem," she said with a shrug. Like she didn't care if people knew who she was. "My name's Linda Pryce. With a ‘y.'"

Faith took a second to chew over why she'd said "with a y." She got it when she remembered reading those society pages in the Globe and wishing she were well off and living in a mansion. "Wait a minute. You're one of them?"

"If you mean from the old family, yes I am. But that's not why I'm here, Miss…"

<Okay, now that's blatant. But what the Heck?> Faith folded her arms on the table and leaned forward. "Faith. That's all you need to know for now."

*****

Linda felt like screaming on the inside. <THIS is the Slayer? God help me…> She leaned back so she wouldn't appear to be threatening to this "Faith." <Is that even her real name?> "Faith, is it? All right. My reasons for needing to talk to you are simple, but the explanation isn't."

"Uh huh. Try me. You see a lot of stuff on the streets," the dark-haired girl muttered. She sat back and slouched on her seat. "So explain away, rich girl. I don't have all night."

<You and me both.> She nodded and started to speak, but stopped when she heard Faith's stomach growl. She stared the girl in the eyes and asked, "How long has it been since you've eaten?"

She caught the flash in the young woman's brown-green eyes before her emotions went into a tight lockdown. "I get by," she finally answered.

She raised an arm for a waitress, who brought two menus over to the table. She set one down in front of Faith and said, "Take your pick. It's my treat."

She was more impressed than she cared to admit that the street girl didn't take her offer at face value. "Just like that? Whatever I want, I can order?" Linda nodded, hoping if it would speed things along, it was worth it. She also felt sorry for the girl. <Whatever she's thinking about me, I don't just ignore things going on in Boston.> "Whatever you want, Faith." She saw the glimmer of suspicion and realized how the girl could construe that. "Short of treating everyone in here, that is."

*****

Faith smirked. <Okay, points for being on the ball. But let's cut to the chase, Moneybags.> Faith opened the menu and looked through it. Deciding to pick one of the bargain meals that would still fill her up yet leave her something to save for the next night, she told her what she wanted.

Linda nodded and Faith watched her look through her menu. She turned to the waiting waitress and ordered a double cheeseburger, a whopping order of fries, and a Coke. As DeeDee, one of Faith's few actual friends, moved off, Faith snickered, "You like real food and not tofu or sushi?"

"Please. McDonald's and Little Caesar's made up half my diet in college," Rich Girl scoffed. She smiled and shrugged. "Of course, at that time I didn't worry about it putting weight on my hips."

<Lucky you,> the runaway grumbled, not hiding her irritation at Rich Girl's flaunting of her money. "Yeah, well, some of us can afford that."

The lady froze and her eyes dropped to the table. Faith reveled in her shot hitting home until Rich Girl's head came back up, her eyes intense.

"Let me tell you something about myself, Faith." Now she leaned over the table and got in Faith's face. "I worked my way through college. I worked as an intern at the family business and then as a Teacher's Aide for a professor. I've avoided every single attempt my parents have made at finding me a husband. And just for your information, my degrees are in Mythology and Education. I could have been a teacher if there were slots open for Mythology teachers or if I wanted to leave Boston." She sat back with a thump. "I don't live in a mansion like my parents do. Hell, I have a nice little three-bedroom house in an upper middle class neighborhood. But it hardly has a spa or stable. It has a small library, a modest dining room, and I use one of the bedrooms for my computer. Nuff said."

"But you could get something better if you wanted to," Faith said, not giving up so easily.

"If. Yes, if I wanted to. Never mind that doing it would make my parents happier."

Much as she hated to admit it, Faith found herself agreeing there. She hesitated saying anything else while DeeDee brought their food. Double Dee gave her a glance and Faith nodded; everything was cool. As DeeDee left, Faith took a deep breath. "So just what do you want to talk about? You got until I finish chowing down to talk."

*****

Linda took the double meaning; she couldn't finish that food and would be scarfing it down as quickly as she could. "All right. I won't tell you that it'll be easy to believe, but I swear by God it's true."

"Gu heed," Faith mumbled through a mouthful of mashed potatoes. "Tie me."

<All right, kid. You asked for it…> "Do you believe in God?" she asked.

She girl stopped in mid-chew, as if she'd heard wrong. She swallowed and said, "Uh, yeah. I'm not Mother Theresa but I'll send up a shout out to the Big Guy."

"Then you believe in angels and Heaven." She took the rolling of the homeless girl's eyes as confirmation. "How about demons?"

Faith cocked her eyebrow and asked, "Is this some kind of, ‘Repent or you're going to Hell' kind of thing?"

"No, Faith," Linda sighed. She used an old relaxation technique her teacher had showed her; she rubbed the bridge of her nose with her thumb and forefinger. <Since he had to use it with his son so often…> "Faith, demons exist. They're out there, as are other things that you used to think of as fairy tales. There are also those who fight them, those who keep the things that go bump in the night from sending us back into the Dark Ages."

"Like you?" the girl understandably snapped.

Linda stared her in the eyes. "Like you." She reached out and gently gripped Faith's hand, not heeding that it gripped a sharp fork. "Faith, you've been Chosen for great things and I'm here to help you achieve them."

She waited for Faith to laugh at her or call her a nutcase. <I'm told that's the usual reaction.> Instead, Faith just set her fork down.

"Lemme get this straight. Demons are real, there's good guys who fight them, and I'm one of them?"

"You're supposed to be, Faith. But sometimes, those who are destined for this slip through the cracks and we don't find them in time." She squeezed the girl's hand. "And now that your destiny's arrived, you've become a target."

Faith glanced down at her hand, so she took it away. Faith shrugged uncaringly. "Yeah well, look what happened to me ‘slipping through the cracks.' And I'm a target anyway; I'm homeless, a minor, and I got a hot body. I got enough problems dodging cops, chicken hawks, and social workers who wanna throw me in with a raping motherfucker for a foster daddy. Your ‘demons' are just another name on the list, Rich Girl."

She didn't believe her. She started to talk again but Faith took a big chunk of chicken and started chewing. She stood up and Linda barely made out what she was saying.

"Look, thanks for the food, but I got more important things than to listen to fairy tales that have me as the reincarnation of Joan of Arc saving the world. See ya."

*****

Faith hadn't even turned around before the Pryce chick said, "How many vampires have you killed in your dreams so far?"

Faith froze. She shivered and recalled the dreams that had started before Foster Daddy had finally given up on being subtle about getting in her pants. D had been helping her cope by waking her up but she'd had to run when she…

She turned and snarled a bit. "What dreams?"

"You haven't been having vampire dreams? Okay. Let's try another question. How strong are you?"

Faith nearly gagged. <How the Hell…> Before she could stop herself, the Irish descended teen stormed forward and grabbed Rich Girl by the coat. "How do you know about that?!?" she hissed.

She didn't think about how attacking one of Beantown's snobby types could get her into even more trouble than kicking the shit out of someone trying to rape her. But she still had the presence of mind to see how calm Pryce Girl was, even though she knew what had been happening to her the last two weeks.

"I know because it happens to every girl who's come before you." She waited for Faith to let go of her and sit back down. As soon as her keister hit the seat, the old lady said, "Like I said, there are people who fight the dark things out there, Faith. Things that you have been Chosen to fight."

"Except that I slipped through the cracks," she bitterly joked. "Gee, thanks for looking for me."

She stopped feeling so snide when she saw the look of compassion in the woman's face. "The methods aren't perfect, Faith. And unlike many of my colleagues, I've only been doing this for a couple of years. Please believe me, if we had known about you, we would have come so much sooner. But now, you're no longer a Potential. You've been Chosen. To put it in BoSox terms, you're at bat. Right here. Right now."

"And I'm supposed to do what? Fight vampires and demons?" she asked, rolling her eyes. It contrasted with the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.

"Yes, Faith. That's exactly what you're supposed to do."

Faith wasn't ready to give in on this. Her every instinct told her to bolt but the lady had info she needed, to figure out what the Hell had let her fight off someone twice her weight a week ago. She gave Pryce a wicked look, trying to scare her into giving up that she was lying to her. She wasn't reassured by the look of honest concern and sympathy that she saw in Rich Girl's brown eyes. Her entire body sagged as she asked, "What the Hell is going on?"

"I'll explain everything," Linda promised her.

*****

Linda wondered what the girl had gone through; she'd just gone from the usual "missed Slayer in Training" disbelief to utter defeat. She knew what had happened, to an extent; the dreams and the strength had come, but not the weapons skills or fighting ability. A sneaking suspicion from earlier things the new Slayer had said raised itself in her mind. <What's happened in the last few days to you, child?>

"Faith, what happened?" The scruffy teen's head came up and Linda watched her eyes go dark. "How did you discover who strong you are?"

The anger became mixed with a trapped look, one that Linda had seen before. The look of someone running for his or her life. It faded and Faith looked around before staring her down. "I ran away from my latest foster folks."

"Why?" Linda asked, knowing there must be a reason.

Faith swallowed as if she were afraid of telling anyone, like she was guilty of something. Finally, the need to trust someone who knew what was happening to her won out and Faith leaned in, an evil curl on her lips. "I beat the living shit out of Foster Daddy after he tried to bang me, that's what! I hurt him so bad I had to leave the only friend I had at the time with him and Mommy Dearest!"

Linda felt the blood draining from her face, the implications clear. If she'd run away rather than report the man for his attempted rape, then she had to have hurt him bad. That meant… <FUCK!> Linda started gathering her things together, wondering what her charge-to-be would think if she'd heard such a curse from a "society snob."

Faith glared at her and started picking at her food. "Yeah, don't wanna be caught with a wanted girl, huh?"

Linda gripped her arm and started pulling up the newest Chosen One. "No, I don't want you getting caught and sent back to that son of a bitch. We're getting you off the streets, now."

"W-what?!?" Faith stammered, not resisting with her greater strength. "Where do you think you're taking me, Rich Girl?!?"

"Somewhere that bastard won't ever think of looking for you," she promised. She felt a jerk and let go of Faith. She turned around and prayed the girl would see how worried she was. "Faith, I know you don't know anything about me, but I'm asking you to trust me. I can explain everything to you in detail. People know you're with me, and you can call them when we get to my place. Please, Faith, I need you to trust me. If you want to stay out of jail, please, give me a chance."

*****

Faith couldn't believe she was hearing this rich ass lady beg her to trust her. The conflict between hating someone because they had money and a home warred and the fact this lady knew what was happening to her lately fought for the balance of her mental scales.

The thing was, she somehow knew that if there was something that could explain why she was running from the law after she'd been the one who almost got raped, then it would be the moneybags in front of her who had the answers.

Gritting her teeth against the only choice she thought might make sense of her last week and a half, Faith Reilly did something she never thought she'd do in this lifetime.

Trust someone.

"You give DeeDee your license," she said, laying down her terms. "She doesn't hear from me in four hours, she calls the cops on your high society ass."

This Linda lady went so far as to reach into her purse and pull the DL out and hand it to her. "Agreed."

Faith wondered what she was getting herself into, but nodded. "Fine."

*****

Pryce Residence
Boston, Massachusetts
15 July 1998

Faith followed the other woman into the house and wondered if she should be disappointed. <Then again, she told me she didn't live like most rich people.> She glanced around, her eyes trying to pick up what lied where and for possible avenues of escape. "So this is your place, huh? Where you stay in between shindigs with your blue blood buddies?"

"More like in between research and occasional trips to Europe or Asia to write papers on various legends," her ride told her. The Pryce lady pulled off her jacket and Faith saw the little .38 snub nose she carried. Faith tensed, waiting to see what the rich one was gonna do.

"Do you want something to drink?" she asked, oblivious to Faith's tense body. She pulled off her belt and emptied the gun. Only then did Faith relax. Faith saw her look in her direction. "Faith? Are you all right?"

"Yeah, peachy," she drawled emotionlessly. She decided to play along for a minute and pulled off her beaten up jacket, but not before pulling out her switchblade and putting it in her pants pocket. "So just what's going on here? How did you know about my dreams and…"

"You being stronger than you used to be? That's simple, at least in my case." Faith started to snap at her, but the Money Grubber held her hands up. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't act mysterious, it's not fair to you."

"No shit."

*****

Linda again found herself doubting whether or not this girl was up to the task of fulfilling the duties of the Slayer. But she did her best to at least try to give the girl the benefit of the doubt. "If you'll come this way, I'll show you my library. Then you can see some of the things you'll be fighting."

"Don't count on it," came the taciturn response.

Linda started toward the library, sensing the shock coming from the street child's body. <Because I turned my back on you? If you only knew how much time I've spent in Europe amongst so-called slums working for the Council, you'd know that pickpockets are the least of my worries…> She heard boots on the tiled floor following her and she opened the door to her library.

She walked in rather than hold the door open, so that Faith wouldn't get the impression that she was trying to trap her. Faith walked in, hands clenched into fists that Linda knew were capable of breaking her bones with little trouble. Linda reached for the volume that almost every Watcher had a copy of.

Vampyr.

She decided to take a chance and opened the book near the middle of the massive volume. "Faith," she said, making the suspicious teen glance at her, "tell me about one of your dreams."

"Why? You seem to know more than I do." The Slayer shrugged. "Vampires, me, killing, waking up in cold sweats. What else is there to tell?"

"Tell me who you are in the dreams. You feel like you've lived other lives. Tell me who you see when you dream about fighting the vampires. Describe what you look like in them."

"Fine," she grumbled. Linda saw a distant look form in her eyes and that was another hint that this was the girl she was looking for. <She actually has to think about the dreams and pick someone out. At least I haven't had to test her strength yet.> "Okay, let's go a wee bit out there. I got one where I'm a black girl on a subway, I'm thinking New York, which is way out there for me ‘cause I'm a Sox fan."

"That's one thing we have in common," Linda dryly noted. "But go on."

"Okay. There's this Billy Idol wannabe coming at me and… well, I don't win this fight," Faith said, smirking at her. "Course, what do you expect from someone who likes disco?" The girl seemed to pause and note the look Linda had on her face from the blood draining from it. "What?" She started shaking her head. "Oh no. Don't even tell me you know who I'm talking about!"

Linda turned and reached up for the proper volume of the Watcher's Diaries she had in her possession. <There has to be something at work here; coincidence doesn't exist where Slayers are concerned.> She flipped through the pages until she found a couple pictures sketched into the Diary. She turned around and slid the book onto her desk. "Is this them, Faith? The Slayer and the vampire who killed her?"

Faith came forward, one eye cautiously directed at her. She peeked at the page and suddenly her face was the one that had gone white. She grabbed the book and stared at the pictures.

Linda felt some sympathy for her, but was giddy with delight; this girl had to be the one! Only a Slayer would recognize a former Slayer so easily. But she held the delight in her voice to a minimum, instead talking like a scholar. "Her name was Nikki. She was from New York and she was a Slayer in the 1970's. The vampire is William the Bloody, alias Spike. He's British, turned around 1880. He's killed two Slayers in his short time as a vampire."

"I-I…" She threw the book down and Linda grimaced at the loud impact it caused to her desk. Faith's eyes bored into hers, flashing with a dangerous green tint. "Who the Hell are you?!? WHAT the Hell are you?!?"

She'd been expecting this question and nodded. <It's only fair that she hear the truth.> "I'm a Watcher." She didn't feel insulted by Faith's blank look. "In simplest terms, for every Slayer there is a Watcher. The Watcher, at least usually, finds a Potential and trains her for the day she might be Chosen, as you already have been. Individual Watchers, like myself, report to the Council of Watchers, which is located in England. They've existed for millennia, guiding almost every Slayer who's been Chosen."

"Almost meaning those they knew about," Faith guessed, still sounding extremely suspicious.

"In any of your dreams, have you had any where the Slayer was training or had a companion? Someone who seemed like…" She tried to come up with a viable example. "Oh, let's say, a mix of Van Helsing and Mister Miyagi from Karate Kid?"

"You watched Karate Kid?"

"Hell, I was younger than you were when the first one came out!" Linda protested. She shook her head and mumbled, "I can't believe I'm going from trying to explain your destiny to you to talking about movies."

"I dunno. Maybe it shows me you have a life outside of social events and doing whatever it is you… Watchers do," the girl said with a tiny smirk.

Linda wished she could wipe it off her face. Not because she was angry, but more for the fact that the girl didn't believe her and was just humoring her until she could get away. <All right, next test.> "Faith, there are things about the Slayers that only Watchers know, and I can prove it. If you don't mind, that is."

"Sure, I got a couple hours left before they take your pic to the cops. Shoot."

*****

<This should be good,> Faith thought with humor shining through her eyes.

Linda pointed over her left shoulder and tilted her head. "All potential Slayers have a specific birthmark on their left shoulder."

The teenager lost the battle against her reflexes; she started to reach up. <How did she know that?!?> The lady nodded and she growled. "If you've been tailing me, you could've seen it."

Linda blinked, like she hadn't thought of that. But she couldn't disagree. "True. I can't deny that, although it took me a few days to actually find you." She glanced past her and out the door. "There's another way to prove this to you. If you're not afraid."

Faith smirked and folded her arms across her bust. "That kind of thing don't work on me, Moneybags. I care more about surviving than I do about looking brave."

She couldn't dig why Linda smiled. "That's a good thing. After all, the first rule of Slaying is ‘don't die.' Come on." Linda turned and walked past her. Seeing nothing else to do, Faith turned around and followed her.

After all, spending time in libraries was for geeks with nothing better to do.

*****

Linda led the way into the small room where she kept her hidden cache of weapons. Once upon a time, the room had served as an entertainment room but Linda had moved everything out in anticipation of eventually moving her library and computer gear in so that she could have all of her research materials in one spot. <But now it looks like I'm going to use it for a training room…> she mused. <I hope.>

She heard Faith following her in and started digging through the big closet that had once held boxes of stuff she'd brought home from Europe. She heard Faith's gasp at the weapons in there.

"What the Hell is that stuff for?" the homeless girl asked her.

Not wanting to frighten the new champion any more than necessary (and not wanting to get herself skewered by an inexperienced Slayer with a sharp sword), Linda pulled out a pair of staffs. She turned around and smiled at Faith while kicking her heels off. "Do you have any experience with hand to hand weapons, Faith?"

"Oh yeah," she said sarcastically, "like I spend my days playing Little John."

She didn't respond to the crack. Instead she tossed one of the two staves to Faith, who caught it without a problem for someone who claimed no experience. She twirled her staff around professionally and grinned. "Well then, I should be able to beat you fairly easily, no?"

Faith looked down at the weapon doubtfully. "You expect me to throw down with you." She started to throw the thing back at her. "Sorry, but no thanks."

"Consider this a test like my knowing about your dreams and power," Linda hastily argued. "One of the gifts a Slayer has is an instinctual knowledge of hand to hand weaponry; swords, bows, or the staff. Most potential Slayers have years of training. But like I said, you're the one who's been Chosen. That's why I tracked you down."

The girl frowned at her. "Tell me something then. If I wasn't this ‘Slayer' of yours, you wouldn't have tracked me down?" Now she threw the weapon down. "Thanks a lot. You almost had me going there."

*****

Faith turned and started to leave, cussing herself out for being such an idiot. As she reached the door, she heard a shout that almost made her jump out of her skin.

She turned around and saw the crazy woman swinging that broomstick at her. Without thinking, Faith acted on instinct.

She caught the wood in her hands and growled at the attack. She kicked out with her right foot and her boot caught Moneybags in her stomach. She then ripped the Robin Hood prop out of her hands and hit her with the stick right between the eyes. Swinging her stolen weapon down and around, Faith took the bitch's legs out from under her and sent her flying onto her back.

Faith's temper almost made her shout at the bitch for wasting her time and screwing with her mind, but she suddenly realized what she'd just done.

The girl stood there, watching the rich girl who'd gone through so much just to talk to her, lying on the floor and moaning in pain. "Oh shit," she mumbled, wondering whether she should check on the lady or run like Hell.

Something made her stay though, and she just knew she was going to regret this. She knelt down and gulped. "Uhm, uh… you okay?" She winced at the stupid question. <Good one, Reilly.>

Rich Girl reached up and felt her forehead. "Aside from the blow to my self-confidence, I'll heal," she moaned. The lady stood up and shook her head a bit before staring at her again. "So much for having no experience, eh Faith?"

Faith started to protest that she'd been lucky but a little something in the back of her mind told her that wasn't true. She'd known how to react. And having learned just how fast she was in the past (from running from people wanting to hurt her), she knew that she'd moved even faster than she had ever been capable of.

It was time for her to accept that something had happened to her, once and for all. But not before she got the answer to the question that had made her almost leave.

"I want an answer, lady." Faith tossed the staff back to the Watcher and she caught it easily. Her eyes bored into Rich Girl's. "If I wasn't this… whatever the Hell I'm turning into, would you have come looking for me?"

The woman seemed surprised by the question. Faith, in turn, was surprised by the sudden fire in her brown eyes as she stepped forward. Faith actually took a step back before finding her backbone.

"Of course I would have!" She settled herself down but secretly, the teen liked that the woman had a temper; it showed she was human after all. "You have the birthmark, Faith. You would still have been a potential Slayer. Like I said, you're…" She stopped, turned around, and bent over to pick up the other dead branch. She sighed and said, "You're just one of the ones we couldn't find when we should have."

Faith watched her put the weapons away, trying to accept Pryce girl's answer. <You would have come for me before? Even if I…> She found it hard to believe, but the inescapable fact was, she did believe it. Too much had happened over the last week or so for her to deny it.

She knew how to read people and so far, this Linda chick had been on the up and up with her. Much as she hated to admit it, that was more than most people ever gave her. She wondered just what this whole Slayer thing was all about, but she didn't have the answers. It seemed Linda did.

"So I'm this ‘Slayer' of yours, okay, I get it. Too much crazy shit going on in my life lately to say nothing's happening." <I can't believe I'm doing this. Gawd, I know I don't go to church and stuff but I still think you're a good Guy overall. Don't fail me now, Big Guy.>

Faith took a deep breath and said, "So you know I'm strong, fast, having whacked out dreams, got a hairy mole thing, and I just kicked your ass playing Robin Hood, and you seem to have all the answers. Can you explain it to me in terms I can handle, what's going on here?"

*****

Linda turned around and saw the conflicting emotions in the girl's eyes. Faith didn't exactly trust her, but she wanted the answers as much as Linda needed to give them to her.

The woman believed she could read the novice Slayer's thoughts. <She's asking herself, ‘What am I getting myself into?' Well, kiddo, I'm asking myself the same thing.>

"I'll explain it in American terms, since that's how I asked them to explain it to me a few years ago." Linda stooped over to pick her shoes up and started to leave the room. "But first, I'm taking some aspirin for these aches I have, thanks to you."

She saw Faith tense until the perceptive teen saw the twitch of her lips. Faith smirked at her and folded her arms. "You came after me."

"True. Now let's get that aspirin and some sodas. You like Pepsi?"

*****

"So lemme get this straight," Faith said, waving her hands around as they sat in Linda's living room. "The Bible was wrong, everything started out real shitty, and then these so-called Powers That Be helped make it so we took this rock from the demons. Then some demon has the idea to play sucky face and make vampires, which the PTB's countered by making some girl to fight the vamps for them."

"That's the way it's been passed down for thousands of years, yes. The way the ancients believed," Linda answered. Faith could tell that it didn't exactly match up with their ideas of God, Adam, etcetera, but she left that alone.

Linda had her legs curled under her and was sitting on the couch, while Faith had her legs propped up on the coffee table. <Still wondering when she's gonna tell me to get my feet off her pretty table…>

"Okay, that's how they record it, using your words." Faith looked around and then back at Linda, trying to figure out how to say it. "What do you think?"

"Honestly? I don't know." Faith knew she was hedging a bit. "If I had to say what I think on the matter, I would say that the PTB's might have been what we consider the Old Gods, the ones worshipped by the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Vikings. You know, Zeus, Thor, those Gods."

Faith shrugged; that kind of crap wasn't something she'd had free time to study in her life. "What about the Big Guy?"

"I think he's running everything, like it says in the Bible, but I like to think we have free will."

The girl thought about it and couldn't argue it. <Maybe because my life consists of surviving from day to day, trying to avoid getting raped.> "And I'm the latest contestant in ‘Pick the Slayer?' God just told me to ‘Come on down?'"

"I wouldn't put it that way," Pryce Chick told her, getting just a little harsh. "Faith, one thing I do know; the process for Choosing a Slayer has never been random. There is a method to the ‘madness,' but no one knows what it is. No one knows who will be picked, only that there's a reason why they're picked."

"And assuming you're right, that I'm the new Slayer," she went on, finally allowing this stuff to sink in, <Although I need to see a vamp to really be convinced beyond all reasonable doubt and stuff…> "then there was a reason for it."

"Yes, Faith," Linda said, sounding relieved that Faith finally understood that she was Supergirl against the boogeyman.

Faith wasn't so sure about that. <Then if you're right, then it was the Big Guy who decided to do this to me…> She shivered and shook her head. <No, he CHOSE me. But why me? Why would he pick someone like me to save the world or whatever… > She wondered if Linda had any ideas or tests she needed to take to prove this thing.

"You say there's more tests?" she asked, looking past Linda and wondering what more she'd have to do.

"A few, but they're completely harmless. But like I said, Faith…"

She felt her eyes flashing as Linda stood up and walked over to her. The rich girl knelt beside her and said, "Even if you weren't already Chosen, I would have come to find you no matter what. I'm new to this too, I admit it. I know you're finding this all hard to believe, and I admit, it's a lot to take in. But I'm asking you to trust me. I can prove everything, given time. But you have this duty now and when the bad guys find out, they will come after you."

"And you can protect me," Faith said dubiously. <Hell, I don't even know what I can do and I trashed you earlier.>

"I can train you, help you, and…" She took a deep breath. "If you want, I can be your friend. You need training before you can start performing your duties, Faith. And I can't just let you go out and not have any knowledge of what's out there. I…" She stood up and reached out, running a hand through Faith's hair. "I was told that I had to find you, Faith. That means I'm your Watcher. And even though I've only been one for a few years, I'll do my best by you. If you'll let me."

Faith thought about the rich girl's speech and what she'd said earlier. She knew too much not to know something, but as always, Faith tried to find the angle to it. There had to be other motives; there always were.

She knew that she'd be letting herself in for another letdown if she let the old lady run things. But then again, she'd been up front about everything, even how most Slayers, if that's what she was, didn't last too long.

That didn't bother her. <Hell, I'm lucky I lasted this long. And if I can last five years off and on, mostly on, on the streets…>

"So how do we do this training thing?" she asked, wondering what the Hell she was going to be learning. "Assuming I let you do it. What do I do? Meet you somewhere and we go to some karate school or something?"

Linda shook her head. "God, no. The first thing we do is set up a room for you here. I won't let you go back on the streets."

"Ex-CUSE me?!?" Faith shouted, standing up and clenching her fists.

"Faith, I won't let you live like that!" she said, waving an arm at the door. "I will not let you go back out there, especially if it means you might get shipped back to that hellhole!"

Faith's anger faded a bit. <Oh. Yeah. Foster prick.> She came up with a quick idea and decided to test the waters, to see just how much this thing mattered to her Wannabe-Watcher. "So I have to move in here?"

"It's not the only way, but it's the best." Linda seemed real suspicious. "Why? Did you have some other plan?"

"No, it's just… well, all I really have is the clothes on my back."

Yep, Pryce was real quick on the ball. "You want new clothes."

"I'm not talking high fashion stuff like you've probably got stuffed in your closet! I'm talking stuff you think I'll need for Slaying, Slayering, the Slayer Gig, or whatever you call it."

*****

Linda realized that she had a point. And she did feel some sympathy for the Slayer, but she wasn't going to let her run roughshod over her. "You have a point, but let's set some ground rules first."

"What kind of ground rules?" Faith asked her, looking at her evenly. "Don't tell me you're gonna make me go back to school."

"I can teach you here. But that's not what I was going to start with." Linda walked up to her and said, "Faith, just as you're going to be learning how to be the Slayer, I'm going to be learning how to be a Field Watcher on the fly. This isn't the way things are usually done. But we can't start until we reach an understanding."

"Meaning I do what you say," the skeptical runaway grumbled.

"Meaning we try to get along. Meaning that we respect each other's beliefs. Meaning that when I'm teaching you, it's with the understanding that I'm trying to do whatever I can to help you survive longer."

"Okay, I get the point," Faith said with a sigh. "But you know, living a long time's not something I'm really concerned about."

"What?"

The girl shrugged. "My Dad split soon as he heard Mom was pregnant. Mom was a boozer, died when I was eleven. I've spent most of the last five years on the streets because my so-called foster parents didn't give a shit about me. So getting to old age is something I really haven't thought I was in for."

"Faith…" Linda couldn't find an answer to that. But she did say, "I hope that I can change that attitude."

Faith cocked an eyebrow. "Who knows? Maybe you can, maybe you can't." She looked down and Linda saw her reach a hand out. "But you've been straight with me, so far's I can tell. I'm willin' to give you a shot. You gonna do the same with a street girl like me?"

Linda frowned. "You aren't a ‘street girl,' Faith. You're the Slayer."

She reached out and shook the Slayer's hand.

"But I'm willing to give it a shot too."

*****

Faith watched Linda disappear into the hallway, wondering what the next few days were going to hold.

Linda knew what was going on, and didn't hold back from her. Despite her continuing suspicions, she liked the feeling. But as she rolled over on the couch, she couldn't help but wonder…

<What am I getting myself into?>

*****

Linda closed the door behind her and crossed over to her bed, wondering what the next few days were going to hold.

Faith didn't trust her that much, but Linda could see a few things in her; the need to have someone she could trust at all, a need for something more than a life on the streets, and she was willing to trust her this far.

Linda knew that it was going to be anything but easy; she was inexperienced, Faith was not the typical, Council-raised Slayer. The girl was too independent by Council standards, but then again she'd been told she didn't fit the standard of the Council's idea of a Watcher.

She would be Faith's Watcher, because the girl needed someone who was willing to be open with her, and Linda had never been dishonest in her life. But as she climbed under her covers, she couldn't help but wonder…

<What am I getting myself into?>

*****

Pryce Residence
Boston, Massachusetts
20 July 1998

Linda stared at the phone on her desk. <There's no going back now,> she thought. The Watcher felt a weight on her shoulders that had never been there. <Is this how you felt, Old Man? Now I understand that look in your eyes so much better. >

The last five days had been filled with three things; getting Faith the things she'd need to make a new life in her home (like clothing and teenager stuff, which Linda just couldn't argue with), talking with a contact in the Boston PD to have him make things more difficult for the authorities to find Faith for the assault with which she'd been charged, and confirming that she was indeed the new Slayer.

She'd made sure that Faith knew that even if she did not pass all the tests, she was still going to have a place here as a Potential. Faith had seemed very cautious these past few days, like something would happen to make her getting off the streets come crashing down around her.

<Not if I can do anything about it,> she vowed. Not putting her duties off any longer, Linda picked up the phone and dialed an important number. She waited for a few seconds until she heard someone on the other end pick up.

She quickly punched the speaker option and set the receiver back down. "Hello," a stuffy voice greeted her.

"The password is Tea Party," she said with a grin. "Hello, Smithers."

"Linda Pryce?" the confused voice asked before coughing and becoming serious. "My apologies, Ms. Pryce, it's been a while."

"I know. So how's Mr. Burns?" she asked with a smirk.

A long-suffering sigh came over the line. "Ms. Pryce, beyond the fact that that joke is very old and that I never liked American television, I do resent the image of a sycophant that it projects about my character."

"All right, I'll stop then," she lied. <I'm trying to get you to stop being a tightwad, Smithers. God, you make Wesley look like a party animal.> Her smile vanished as she came to the purpose for her call. "Smithers, this is important. I…" She took a deep breath. "I have a Slayer."

"What?!?" Smithers' voice breathed hoarsely over the phone. "Are-are you sure?"

"It took me some time to track her down, but it's confirmed. She even dreamed of Nikki and William the Bloody in New York." Linda folded her fingers together. "I received the call on the ninth but had problems tracking her down. And we have potential problems."

"Is she like the Summers child?" Smithers' voice asked snidely.

She rolled her eyes at the attitude he held for the American Slayer. "That depends, Smithers. You know more about Summers' history than I do. Tell me, did she get put in a foster home that led to the foster father trying to rape her, only to have her charged with attempted murder when her Slayer strength allowed her to stop the rape attempt?"

"I-I…" She took grim satisfaction in his hesitation. She took her duties very seriously, but she still liked to think she was more down to earth than some of her fellow Watchers in London. Finally, Smithers timidly asked, "Is she alright, Ms. Pryce?"

"She wasn't harmed. But things are touchy here. I've already made contact with our agents in the Boston Police Department to make changes to the evidence. The last thing we need is her getting arrested for defending herself."

"Good show, Linda!" he exclaimed. She raised an eyebrow; he'd NEVER called her Linda. <Of course, he always considered me to be someone from the outside, without the family tradition. It was only my good luck that someone had heard about Auntie and told him of her friends in certain circles.> "I'll inform the Council immediately. Do you think you can serve as her Watcher until a permanent one is given to the girl?"

Any fuzzy feelings about Smithers finally calling her by her given name vanished with that comment. "Smithers, the girl barely trusts me as it is. She's not going to like it if they try to pawn her on someone else."

"Ms… Linda, if I may be frank…"

"I'm female, American, and inexperienced. Which one were you going to use?"

Smithers' voice became irritated. "Well, it's just…"

"Smith--- Roger, I'll be blunt." She sighed and prayed she was doing the right thing. "There have been female Watchers before, many times. American ones, I don't know. And you're right, I do only have a few years under my belt. I've said as much to Faith. I know it's irregular to have someone with little experience as a Field Watcher, but… Roger, one thing we have in common is common sense. The girl was almost raped less than two weeks ago. What's going to happen if they assign her a male Watcher?"

She waited a few seconds for the young man, really a secretary at the current time because of his relative newness to the Council, to answer. "I know you're right, Linda. Things are just hectic here lately with… recent events. I'll pass the news onto Sir William immediately."

"Thank you, Roger," she said with a sweet voice. It never hurt to compliment someone in this line of work; you never knew when they might get killed. "But I would like to ask you a favor. As I said, I am new to this. While I know for certain that Faith won't accept a male Watcher, if the Council has anyone available, I will not turn down any backup they might wish to send."

"I'll pass your message on. Good luck, Linda."

She waited for the phone to click, counted off thirty seconds to make sure that the line had indeed disconnected, and dialed another number. This time, the phone was picked up at the very instant it buzzed.

"May I help you?" a cultured voice asked.

Linda smiled at the picture the voice brought to her memory. "Hello, Richard. This is Linda Pryce. Is the Old Man in?"

"Linda," the voice said with warmth, laced with a bit of irritation, "why must you persist in calling the Lord Giles by that name?"

"Because it gets even for him calling me ‘Rookie'" all the time," she joked. <God I miss you people.> She forced her fond feelings to the back burner and brought up her reason for calling. "Richard, is he there? I really need to talk to him."

"I-I j-just talked with the Council," she stammered, the full impact of what she had to tell him getting to her. <Will he think I'm ready?> "I-I…" She flushed with shame; this was someone who'd helped her when she'd first joined the Council!

"Linda, the last time I heard someone talking like this, it was when Mistress Lill…" He apparently made the connection and whispered, "Linda, do you…"

"Have a Lillian of my very own? Her name is Faith." She felt her doubts surfacing and she asked, "Can I please talk to him? I… I need advice."

"Of course, my dear! One moment."

She was put on hold and thanked God that Edwin had never put Muzak in to fill the blanks. <Although he'd do it to irritate some people if he ever realized how much it irritated them…> She smiled even wider when the line clicked again. "My God, Linda. Is it true?"

"No, I'm calling to play a late April Fool's joke on you," she muttered without much enthusiasm. She broke down the events of the last eleven days, from the initial call to finding Faith and her own feelings throughout the timeframe. "I never thought of myself as an elitist, Edwin, but my first reaction…"

"How do you feel now?" he asked her, firmly but gently.

"I… as far as her life goes, I feel sorry for her. I want to help her." She leaned back and the chair squeaked in protest. "But I… I don't know if I can help her, Edwin. Not as her Watcher."

"You care about her fortunes, Linda," Edwin's voice told her. She still wondered why it always brought to mind the actor Peter Graves. "I'd say you're off to a very, very good start. You have more skill at arms than some Watchers ever learn. Granted, you're not going to be much help with her over the crossbow, but…"

"She's already displaying a greater affinity for the longbow. But she's undisciplined, rash…"

"She's a young woman, Linda. I've often found that even with years of training, teenagers will be teenagers, no matter what their upbringing was. Like a former student of mine who followed in her aunt's footsteps over her parents' vehement objections; take her for example."

Linda laughed in remembrance of their first meeting and it soothed her nerves. "Oh yes, I think I remember that one. If I remember correctly, you used to describe her as well-bred yet spunky, educated and refined, but very down-to-earth. I don't think she ever expected to have such a big responsibility thrust upon her, though."

"Funny. I saw things in her that made me want to ensure that a Slayer down the road would have someone like her," the Earl of Leicester countered. "Do you remember how me met, my dear?"

"Oh yes," she laughed gaily, thinking back to the day her life had changed forever, in a cold, rainy day across the Atlantic…

*****

MacLeod's Tavern
Glenfillen, Scotland
13 April 1993

Linda smiled as the old man finished his story and set down to taking notes again. Sometimes, one had to just let go of research and just sit back and enjoy the tales as they were told. One thing she knew about the Highlands though; they told their ghost stories from the heart.

She set her pen down and took a sip of her drink. The liquid was smoother than some brews she'd partaken over the last year and a half, and she relished the lifestyle she'd lived since graduating from Harvard. <Of course, Mother and Father are hoping this is a phase and that I'll settle into a career. I'm sorry, but I like doing research and writing papers on mythology. The education degree will come in handy if I decide to take a private teaching position.>

Of course, that would gall them even more. The thought of her, a scion of one of Massachusetts' oldest families, working for someone else? <Dammnit, I want to live my life free of the stigma of being a Pryce. That's why you never understood why I was so close to Aunt Marion. She blazed her own path but you never complained about her…>

She shook off the thoughts and focused on the ghost story she'd just heard. She was here to enjoy herself, not think about what her parents thought about her life.

"Now I know that it's cold and rainy outside," a female Highland voice said amusedly, "but I also know that it's nice and warm in here."

Linda looked up and saw the fiery owner of the tavern watching her. She smiled and nodded toward one of the empty seats at her table. "Hello, Rachel," she said warmly. Rachel MacLeod had tolerated her staying here for nearly three weeks as she traveled around the local Highlands, collecting their history and legends of the Clans. "I didn't mean to ‘insult' the sturdiness of your walls. I was thinking about my parents and what they think of my travels."

Rachel nodded as if she understood, but she declined to sit down. "So what do you think of our little tale spinner, Linda?"

"At the risk of insulting you by bringing up the British," she joked while saluting the inn owner with her mug, "I truly think that the story of Duncan MacLeod is worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy."

"Do you?" Rachel asked, quirking an eyebrow.

Linda nodded intently, waving a hand at the old man who'd told the story of one of the legendary sons of the Clan MacLeod. "The son of a chieftain who loves the woman arranged to marry his cousin and is forced to kill him in a fight, only to have his love commit suicide rather than cause friction between the clans? That's pure Romeo and Juliet. Then he falls in battle or so the legends say, only to come back from the dead and disregard his father's banishment to come back and use the family sword to avenge his father's death? Hamlet couldn't have done any better." She felt her eyes actually becoming misty. "And the fact that it's backed up by your own Clan's history, from his parents to the birth records, to the family Claymore sitting right there…"

She pointed at the large, deadly looking blade perched in a place of honor, sitting against a square of MacLeod tartan colors. "Whoever he was, Duncan MacLeod couldn't let his father's death go unavenged, yet he returned his father's sword and vanished into the mists of time."

"The mists of time? You're spinning the tale yourself there, lassie. Are you sure you're not one of us?" Rachel joked, although Linda knew she was impressed by her knowledge of MacLeod history.

"No, my family is British with a sprinkling of Irish and Welsh thrown in." She shrugged but tilted her head, regarding the clanswoman. "Tell me though, Rachel. What do you think happened to him?"

"To whom?" she asked.

Linda fixed her host with a glare. "Duncan. Who else?"

"Far as I can tell, no one knows. Maybe he left the Highlands, found himself a wife, and went from there." She shrugged and folded her arms over her chest. "We might have some lost kin out there, but I dinna know. Four hundred years is a long time."

"My family line goes back three hundred in America alone, Rachel," she said kindly. She scribbled down Rachel's thoughts in addition to her own and shrugged. "You never know. Maybe…" She grinned and let mischief flash through her eyes. "Maybe the ghost of Duncan MacLeod will visit you for a Scotch someday."

She got her objective; Rachel laughed. She liked it here; the atmosphere was quite different than the quiet libraries of Oxford and Cambridge. But although she'd always felt so comfortable in libraries, the tightness of Glenfillen's community made her wish she could be a part of it.

"So how much longer are you staying?" Rachel asked, sounding a little less businesslike than Linda thought she should be. "I haven't been too busy lately, the seasonal rush hasn't started yet."

<That's as close an offer to stay longer than I'll ever get,> she thought happily. "I don't know, Rachel. I still have some research to do, but for tonight I think, it's less research and more enjoying life and a few ghost stories courtesy of the Clan."

Rachel nodded in agreement and left her alone to her drink and notes. Linda liked the woman, who'd spent several years in America getting an education but had come back to run the family inn after her father passed on. <We're much alike, yet she's connected to this land.> She made a mental and written note to include Rachel in the credits when she did her paper on legends of the Highlands.

She finally finished copying the tale of Duncan MacLeod and clicked her pen closed. She sat back and listened to the conversations about local happenings, hoping for another piece of legend to sink her proverbial teeth into. So absorbed was she in the discussions that the door opening broke her concentration in an instant.

On reflex, she turned toward the sound and watched the elder gentleman enter the tavern. Linda wondered what it meant when her first thought was the one likely running through the locals' minds.

<Outsider.>

She ruefully remembered that this was the same look she'd gotten from the people of Glenfillen when she'd entered town, but they knew her by now. She might not be one of them, but they accepted (and perhaps appreciated) that she loved the history and stories they had to tell. <Although I suspect that Rachel warned them I wanted only the genuine stories of their past, and not tales spun up on the spur of the moment.>

The first thing she noticed about the new arrival was that unlike some who'd come to the Highlands, the man didn't try to "fit in." He was sensibly bundled up against the rain, but he wasn't looking at them like long lost relatives. She noticed the intelligence in his intense green eyes and wondered what his purpose here was. She admitted to some curiosity, as she was the only other non-Scot staying at the inn.

Rachel walked over and in the same businesslike tone she'd used three weeks ago, asked, "Good evening, sir. What can I do for you?"

Linda smiled; if Rachel didn't like the stranger and made that dislike noticeable, the regulars would band up to support her, up to and including dragging him out by his heels if necessary.

She strained her ears so that she could hear their conversation, but the sudden silence made that unnecessary. The old gentleman plainly said, "I'm looking for a young woman, an American. I was told she was passing through Glenfillen and I was hoping to talk with her."

"Sorry. No Yanks in my tavern. She arrived a couple weeks ago, listened to a few ghost stories, and moved on to find more ghost stories." While the answer was "technically" the truth, Linda brought up her drink to keep her smile from showing. She might not be one of them, but she was a guest of Rachel MacLeod, who took her duties as hostess quite seriously. With a discernible trace of amusement, Rachel asked, "If you wish, I can take a message for you in case she comes through here on her way back."

Rather than make a scene about being insulted, the gentleman looked rather grateful, yet resigned. "Thank you. I would appreciate that." He took out a pen and paper and started writing. "If she does indeed come through here, would you be so kind as to let her know that Edwin Giles wished to meet her?"

Linda almost spat up her drink at the name. <Giles? The Giles?> She couldn't believe it! The noble family of Leicester had a history going back fifteen centuries. Local legend stated that they'd had an ancestor who had been a member of King Arthur's Round Table. She wondered if she'd covered herself and was reasonably assured of her success. She did have her suspicions, though; why would the Earl of Leicester come himself, all the way to Glenfillen, to search her out? She hadn't made any inquiries into their history, like she'd done with some noble families during her sojourn through the Isles.

But still, she knew from one glance that this man wouldn't give up so easily. He'd try to find her, even though he was showing a great deal of respect for the locals' feelings.

He finished writing down his note and handed it to Rachel. "Thank you, Miss. I appreciate your help." He dipped his head in what Linda read as genuine respect. "Good night."

He turned and walked out, heading back into the steadily increasing rain. Rachel turned back to look at her, a smile of secrecy on her face. <She just defended me.> Still, Linda wondered about the look of slight defeat in the man's eyes when he walked out. She stood up and walked over to Rachel as the conversations started back up again. <Of course, the unaccepted outsider's gone, the excitement's over.> It so reminded her of that little place in Boston she went to, the one with the Italian waitress who was always sniping at her just on principle.

"Why would a blue-blood be looking for you?" Rachel asked curiously.

Linda shook her head. "I don't know. I haven't stepped on any toes that I know of, and I've been here nearly two years." She sighed in sadness. "I'm sorry if it causes any trouble. I honestly don't know what this is about. I'm nobody, at least here."

"You know who he is, though. I can see it in your eyes."

"Unless I'm very wrong, you just had a visit from the reigning Earl of Leicester," Linda shrugged. "I know a member of the family works at the British Museum, but I never expected the Earl himself to come looking for me. I'm just as confused as you are, Rachel." Rachel nodded, reassured that she'd made the right choice in defending her guest. She handed Linda the note and she opened it. Her eyes narrowed as she read the short, precise handwriting.

Miss Pryce,

I have been trying to find you to ask things about you and your research. You have looked into things that might be best left alone. However, I would like to meet you to discuss things and hopefully come to an understanding that might benefit both my comrades and your own sense of curiosity and love of history.
I am a member of the Council that you have found hints of in your travels throughout your ancestral homeland. Please consider meeting with me, so that we might discuss matters that are very sensitive in nature, much like secrets kept by our respective governments.

Sincerely,
Edwin Giles
Earl of Leicester and Member of the Council

Linda reread the letter a few times and wondered just what it was the old man wanted to discuss. She decided that perhaps she should track him down and meet with him and talk about this mysterious Council she'd read about. She folded the letter up and walked over to Rachel, who was serving a drink to a local.

"Rachel, can I ask you something?" she asked, hating to impose on someone she liked to think of as a friend.

"What do I think of him?" Linda nodded in resignation; Rachel could read anyone like a book. <That's what I'm hoping she did with our dear Earl.> "Seems honest enough and I read that he was as honest as someone with a secret can be. I feel he has a ruthless side, but also something deep down and old. My guess would be he lost someone, a loved one. I know that look, I've seen it all too often."

Linda nodded and decided that perhaps she needed to get in contact with Edwin Giles herself. "I don't suppose you'd be willing to let me meet him here, would you?"

"Better here than anywhere else," Rachel reluctantly said, giving her an even look. "Although I wonder how you're going to catch him."

"Never fear," Linda said with a chuckle, pulling out her cell phone, "I'll just call information."

*****

Even Linda kissed her lucky stars an hour and a half later when the Earl walked back into the tavern. She decided not to make a joke about his being even more soaked by the rain than before.

<Because, Linda dear, it means he's that determined to talk to you.> She sat up straight and let Rachel intercept him, probably to tell him what would happen if he tried anything. She did see the man sigh and offer some kind of assurances, if she didn't miss her guess.

They separated and the man looked around before spying her. A tight smile formed on his face and he began walking over to her. She just sat tight until he reached her table in the corner, pulled out a chair, and sat down. He pulled himself closer with the grind of wood against the floor.

"Miss Linda Pryce, I presume," he asked with a refined air befitting one of his station.

She saw no reason to play games, so she nodded. "I am, Lord Giles." His eyebrows rose and she grinned. "I studied many subjects when I came here, Lord Giles. The legends behind noble families was but one of them. You gave yourself away when you introduced yourself to Rachel."

"Yes," he said dryly. Linda could sense his irritation. "She told me that you had moved on."

"I had, only to return and move on again." She decided to get his anger out of the way now. "She didn't lie to you, Lord Giles, she only kept part of the truth from you. After all, she has a reason to defend me; I pay my rent on time."

To her surprise, the nobleman chuckled at her answer. "Very well, neatly dodged." He looked her over and she wondered why. He placed his hands on the table and folded his fingers together. "I suppose I should cut to the chase and not take up any more of your time, my dear. You know why I sought you out, yes?"

"You're a member of this ‘Council' I found references to in the libraries at Oxford and Cambridge." She leaned back in her chair and folded her arms together, carefully watching the man with her brown eyes. "And apparently, people have not taken it well."

"I don't know if I would put it in such black and white terms," the Lord stated, shaking his head. He sighed. "Perhaps if I could explain in entirety, it will show you our concerns and positions to your satisfaction."

Linda considered that and nodded. "All right, Lord Giles. Go ahead."

*****

The woman was quick, he had to give her that. <Then again, if what those who looked into her background as well as that Aunt of hers are half as honest as they pretend to be, I shouldn't be surprised.> Edwin Giles, Earl of Leicester and member of the House of Lords, gave her a gentle smile.

"Please, call me Edwin." One corner of her lips quirked but he didn't take it as a flat out denial. "I'll be brief and honest, Miss Pryce, you have my word. But first, perhaps you would indulge me by giving me your opinion of the Council? What do you think our organization does?"

She seemed surprised by his wanting her opinion, but she nodded and he could see the look of a scholar, one he long missed in his own wife and son, come to her eyes. "From what I was able to find out by digging through the records across England, I'd say you were some form of occult group." She straightened up and said, "I read about your expertise in demonology and some things about magic and training young girls to fight demons in secret."

She paused and Edwin could sense that she was categorizing the information she had into what was important or not important. She summed up her opinion by saying, "I found some very vague references to a group going back thousands of years, but I can't be sure they were your Council. In short, I thought the Council might be the descendants of druidic orders or perhaps alchemist groups, perhaps even a militant order focusing on the fighting of demons, perhaps like a knightly order."

Her guess was understandable and, in some cases, not too far from the mark. He was impressed with her ability to theorize on multiple fronts, but still… "And you decided to look further into our activities, perhaps to find a way to contact the Council to further your research?"

She seemed startled by his question. The young woman blinked twice and shook her head. "No, I didn't. I assumed your group was a legend like the others. I was on a slow period of my research and found the references quite by accident. They piqued my interest, so I dug into them on my off time."

Edwin slumped back in his chair, dumbfounded by her blunt statement. "Miss Pryce, am I to understand that you found references to the Council, researched them and found more information that attracted our attention and prompted me to search you out, on a lark?!?"

She seemed far too pleased with his reaction to her answers. "I need something to do between research papers."

The Watcher started shaking his head in embarrassment. Of all the things that would attract the Council's attention. <I don't know whether they'll be relieved that she's not trying to find out our secrets or offended that it was her way of relaxing! > But now, by sending him here, the Council had let the metaphorical genie out of the bottle.

"I take it you weren't expecting me to admit that," she said, sounding far too amused for her own good.

God, it reminded him of himself. He settled down and he tried to think of a way to prevent her from digging further into things the Council didn't want known to outsiders. The ways of doing that were limited at best, and the young woman seemed like such an intelligent, yet down to earth person. Of course, there weren't many of those in the Council, male or female.

He blinked and suddenly came up with an idea. One that he was sure the Council would disapprove of. "Miss Pryce," he said, wondering if he was a fool or a genius, "what if I told you that I could tell you the truth about the Council?"

"Somehow, I don't think it'd be the truth," she reasoned. Her eyes held a gleam of curiosity and caution that he found very endearing. "After all, you came all this way to ask me not to dig any further, didn't you?"

Edwin sighed. He didn't want the meeting to degenerate into threats and anger. He thought about the briefing he'd been given by Tanner and William concerning the girl's background. Of course, he wished he'd been given a briefer form, say without the girl's family tree attached. But he still remembered one thing notated there and wondered if it might play a part in the damage control he had to engage in.

"I do know some things about you, Miss Pryce. Daughter of the Pryce line that goes back before the French and Indian War, very wealthy by American standards of this century. And you in particular; Graduate of Harvard, Class of 1989 and 1991 with degrees in Mythology and Education. Followed in your Aunt's Marion's footsteps."

"That's easily found out by looking into my background," she shrugged. She was a tough nut to crack, and Edwin found he enjoyed that idea about her. "Now how about we get to the business of why you're here. If what I hear is satisfactory and I think you're being honest with me, I'll play fair with you. That's all I can promise."

<Because if it turned out to be a worthy project, you'd put it into a research paper,> he guessed. Still, she was up front about it. <Very well.>

Edwin gave her a small smile and nodded in respect for a fellow academia. "Very well, my dear. I'll be honest with you." He leaned forward and lowered his voice. "In your studies throughout your academic career, have you ever come across references to the Slayer?"

"Of course," she said with a resolute nod. "It's one of the few legends spread across the world, like creation myths or the Flood." She shrugged, not impressed. "One girl in all the world, given special abilities by the Gods to fight the forces of darkness. The theme is fairly consistent across the spectrum of ancient mythologies, which in reality is a rarity amongst ancient legends in that no one religion sought to claim it for themselves."

<By God, she is a good one,> he admitted with admiration. "Yes, exactly. The Slayer is the girl charged with fighting supernatural evils, particularly vampires and demons. The Council, Miss Pryce, is composed of the Watchers from those legends."

The understanding in her eyes flared as she put the connection together. The spunky American woman who'd spent the last two years doing nothing more than traveling across the United Kingdom for pure pleasure, and in doing so stumbled across links to the Watchers, realized just what it was she'd found out.

"For every Slayer there is a Watcher," she mumbled, quoting another common phrase regarding the Slayer histories.

"I was the Watcher for a Slayer from East Germany, barely two decades ago," he confessed before he could stop himself. When she seemed dubious yet very interested, Edwin closed his eyes and plowed on. "She took a crossbow bolt for me and died of her wounds."

*****

Linda couldn't believe what this old gentleman was telling her! <The Slayers and Watchers are real?!?> But that would mean…

She slowly brought herself under control and considered the man before her. He couldn't be lying, because the pain in his voice was too pure. No one was that good an actor. "Vampires and demons really exist," she said, not asking a question.

"Oh yes, Miss Pryce," he said with old regrets lacing his answer, "they exist. Much to the eternal sorrow of many."

The impact of that statement wasn't as crushing as Linda thought it should be. "You cared about her, didn't you?" she asked. Why did she feel so sorry for this old man, who was involved with something she only knew of as a myth?

He looked into her face and she could see the pain, undimmed by however much time had passed. "Yes, young lady," he said, a single tear rolling down his cheek despite his incredible self-control. "She was the daughter my wife and I could never have."

"No parent should ever have to bury their child," Linda said softly, remembering the pain in Marion's voice when she talked about how she'd lost the only child she'd been expecting to a miscarriage.

He nodded once and regained control of his emotions. The Earl of Leicester let out a soul-weary sigh. "She was one of the lights of my life, Miss Pryce. One that I can never re-ignite."

Linda didn't say anything, because she knew she could offer nothing to erase such pain. However, she did offer him something. "I'll stop looking into the Council, Lord Giles. You have my word on that."

He smiled sadly and she tried to give him one in return. He cocked his head as if considering something. "What if I could make you a better offer, Linda?" he asked.

She felt some confusion tainting her sympathy for this man. "What's that… Edwin?"

*****

Pryce Residence
Boston, Massachusetts
20 July 1998

"You know that part of the reason I jumped at your offer was because of you telling me about Lillian," Linda said over the line connecting her to a man three thousand miles away.

"I know, Linda," Edwin said and the Bostonian could hear the sadness even through the speaker. "But you gave me a reason to truly live again. Teaching you was one of the few things that brought light back into my existence. And I cannot thank you enough for that."

"I should be thanking you, Edwin." She missed the Old Fart; he and the family had given her such a welcome, and even introduced her to one of her British cousins, another trainee in the Council. The nostalgia faded as she tentatively asked her mentor, "Edwin, be honest with me. Am I ready for this?"

"No one's ever ready for this, my dear," he said, gently yet with authority she always respected. "All we can do is our best. When the time comes, both the Slayer and her Watcher can only do their best. Although it helps if Slayer and Watcher truly care for each other."

She started to speak, but his voice cut her off before she could convert thoughts to words. "And I think you've cracked the ice. At least on your end. Give it time, Linda. Just give it time and it can happen."

She felt herself choking up. "Thanks, Old Man."

His chuckle brought a wan smile to her face. "Take care, Linda. Take care of yourself and her."

She broke the connection and let out a deep breath. Linda leaned back in her chair and looked at the closed door, one that led to her living room with a couch currently occupied by her new charge.

"Take care of yourself, too, Edwin."

*****

Irishtown
Boston, Massachusetts
29 July 1998

The three boys laughed at the cowering hookers. The street walkers had fallen into their trap and the guys were discussing whether or not they were going to have some "fun" before having dinner.

She ended that quick enough.

She burst out of her hiding space before Linda could stop her. She got up a full head of steam and when her instincts screamed, "NOW!" she leaped into the air and hit the middle guy with a flying kick you'd expect from some Hong Kong kung fu actor.

The kick sent Fang Boy Number One stumbling forward and she used the recoil to give herself a landing that would've had even Russian judges giving her a perfect 10 in the Olympics. Taking quick stock of the situation, Faith admitted it was okay. She was between the girls and the bad guys, and she was raring to kick undead ass.

"Okay boys," she drawled with a faked voice of boredom, "if you wanna have some fun, try me on for size."

Before the vamps could react, the Slayer flipped the stake in her left hand and tossed it at the vamp on her left. It impacted against his chest and his eyes bulged out before he went the way of dust bunnies.

"Sorry, did I forget to mention I don't do foursomes? Three, sure, but…"

"Who the Hell ARE you?!?" the vamp now on her left demanded.

Faith's eyes flashed and she brought her other stake into position, cocking her body to throw down with the undead boys.

"I'm the Slayer, asshole."

Faith charged the vamp on her right since she saw someone sneaking up behind the other one. The vamp tried to turn and run, but she caught him by the scruff of his neck. "Nuh uh, buddy boy. You're not going anywhere!"

Faith turned him around and tossed him up against a chain link fence, which clattered with the impact. With nowhere to go, the vampire was easy pickings for her three-punch combo; hook to the gut, roundhouse, and an uppercut that had fangs cracking under the impact. She then grabbed him by the shirt and kneed him in the nuts. As he doubled over, the Slayer grabbed him by the hair and pulled backward, sending him sprawling onto his back. Faith straddled his prone body and reared back, sending a brutal right cross thudding into his nose.

She was pulling back for a second punch when a voice shouted, "FAITH!"

She jerked and looked at Linda, who was glaring at her in disapproval. Faith looked at the way she held her quarterstaff, one end being really, really pointed.

"What?" she asked. "I'm kinda busy here."

Watcher Girl took a quick glance at the pile of dust at her feet and firmly said, "You should've taken him already. Finish it."

"Oh…" She didn't like being criticized; she was kicking his ass. Still, she sighed and staked the bastard. She stood up as his body became smelly ashes. She hid her stake and looked at her. "Better?"

"Much," Pryce Girl muttered. Before Faith could ask what had her money clip in a bunch, she turned to the girls and asked, "Are you two all right? You needn't worry, they won't be bothering you again."

The girls perked up but still seemed frightened, sharing nervous glances. Faith understood. The taller hooker, a leggy redhead whose rack rivaled her own, glanced between them and said, "Well, now that you mention it…"

Faith didn't give her the chance to finish whatever she was gonna say. One impact and the sudden appearance of a jagged piece of wood between her cleavage later, she went poof too.

Linda tensed as the other woman vamped out like she'd seen in the pictures in those old books she'd been reading for the last week. Faith ran between them and growled, "Looking for love in all the wrong places, huh Dead Girl?"

The girl didn't waste time on threats or begging for her life. She ran forward and tried to take Faith out. That was so not happening. The Boston Bad Girl stepped to the side and clotheslined the bitch right off her feet. As she thudded to the sidewalk, Faith crouched without hesitation and drove the stake into the woman's chest with authority.

"That's for trying to take out my Watcher!" she snapped, watching the prostitute gasp before dusting. She spat at the ground and stood back up. She looked at her Watcher and asked, "Sorry, but…"

"Vampire prostitutes," Linda said, shaking her head in disgust. "Only in America."

"Yeah, no kidding." She glanced around the alley and started to speak. "So…"

"How did you know?" Linda asked her. "How'd you know they were vampires too?"

Faith shot her a grin as she realized another part of her Slayer Gig had kicked in for her. "I know the time when my period comes and goes," she said with a shrug. "This ain't it."

Linda nodded in approval and Faith felt a little giddy. She knew more about the Slayer thing than she did. Of course, the part Faith was concerned with involved dusting vamps. Nuff said.

"Well, that's five more vamps gone. Let's find some more."

*****

Linda hesitated to go any further tonight. It seemed to her that Faith was a little too eager to Slay. "No, that's enough for tonight." She didn't want Faith to get careless. "We need to take it slow, Faith."

She couldn't believe how disappointed the girl looked. "But…"

"Faith, no." She wasn't going to risk the girl now that she finally had something other than the streets to look forward to. <You're going to get a real life if I have anything to say about it!> "Faith, we've been going for four hours. That's enough for your first patrol."

Her Slayer wouldn't give up. She looked absolutely crestfallen. "But isn't this why the Big Guy gave me this gig? To…" Linda's heart ached at that question and the real reason Faith wanted to keep going. "Aren't I supposed to take these things out so people don't die?"

"And you've already saved some lives, Faith." She waved a hand around the alley. "For every vampire we just killed, we saved at least one life. It's a good start, but you have more to learn before we pick up the pace."

"Okay," she muttered, nodding in resignation. Linda liked that about her; she wouldn't respect you if you let her walk over you, but she had truly embraced the duty once she'd accepted it.

Linda wondered if she saw a tear in Faith's eye and said, "Faith? Are you all right? What's wrong?"

"Nothin'," she said with a shrug. The Slayer smiled at her bravely. "Just got a little vamp in my eye."

Linda rolled her eyes. <Teenagers.>

*****

Pryce Residence
Boston, Massachusetts
29 July 1998

Linda started when she saw the late model sedan sitting in front of her house when she and Faith pulled up. She glanced at the girl in her passenger seat.

"Stakes. Got ‘em." Faith emphasized that by reaching into the new leather jacket Linda had picked up for her. "You want me to take ‘em all or should I save one for you?"

"We'll take them together, Faith," she chuckled. <But thank you for caring,> she thought to herself. When the doors opened and the passenger stepped out into the light cast by the streetlight, the researcher relaxed immensely. "They're alive, Faith. They're Watchers."

"Like you or the stuffy types you warned me about?" Faith snickered, which earned her a glare. She sheepishly said, "Geez. Sorry."

"Don't worry about it," she sighed with impatience for her charge. <Kid's going to drive me insane before six months are out.> She was surprised to find she might enjoy parts of the ride, though. She got out and left Faith to follow if she wanted to.

She recognized the passenger and driver and smiled warmly. She briskly strode over and gave Wesley Wyndham-Pryce a warm hug. "Wes! What are you doing here!" She backed up and stifled a chuckle at his look of discomfort. She glanced at his partner and was rewarded with a friendly grin. "Hello, Trent. Good to see you again."

"It's good to see you as well, Linda." His head shifted towards Faith. "And this must be Miss Reilly," he noted with a nod.

Linda's smile faded when she saw the cool looks her Slayer was giving the backup sent by the Council. "Faith," she asked, a frown coming to her lips, "is something wrong?"

Faith was very tense and Linda thought she understood why. "This the backup you were talking about?" she asked quietly.

<Great. Faith, please don't make this go badly…> Linda nodded in a way that she hoped would show Faith it wasn't her choice who had been sent. "Wesley and Trent are friends of mine from when I was training to become a Watcher. They're both good men. Wesley's a distant cousin of mine through the portions of my family that stayed in England, and I think you'll find a lot in common with Trent. He grew up on the docks of Liverpool."

"Uh, you realize the only thing I know about Liverpool is that's where the Beatles came from?" Faith asked, looking quite dubious.

Linda didn't know if she was being sarcastic or serious. <God help me…> She felt some mollification from Trent's laughs in response to the girl's observation, so she let it go.

She turned to Wesley, who seemed as uptight as ever. "Sorry, Wes. Tonight was her first patrol."

"Oh. Well." He glanced between the two and took up a stiffer position. "How did it go?"

Linda just knew she was blushing as Faith sniggered behind her. "We took out five vamps. She got four and I took one."

Wesley nodded and seemed impressed with the report. "You can give me details inside. Do you mind if we come in?"

She felt Faith stirring next to her and held a hand up. "Faith, if they were vampires they wouldn't be so obvious about asking for an invitation." She turned to her friends and joked, "So no, you can not come in." She winked and knew they got the joke at their expense.

She smiled at Faith and started heading toward the door, ignoring the dark, suspicious looks she was giving her fellow Watchers. She cheerfully said, "Faith, don't worry about it. They're nice guys once you get to know them. Especially Trent."

"If you say so," she said, unconvincingly. "But it's just that I think this Wesley guy has the hots for you. It's so obvious."

Linda stumbled a bit and shot a glare at her charge. "This isn't the time for jokes, Faith. I want to make a good impression on them. They are here to help us."

"I'm serious, Linda! And he's your cousin!" Faith shivered and looked a little green around the gills. "I mean, like, ewwwwww! That's so West Virginia!"

Linda moaned at that imagery and vowed to make her little Slayer pay for it tomorrow. <I'm going to make you do FOUR hours of reading, Faith Reilly!> "Well, if it helps any, the relationship is by marriage and from four hundred years ago. So I think it's safe."

"Whatever," she said, still trying to shake off the image of her and Wesley dating. <Why do I not mind it that much?> "Anyway, you need me for debriefing Mister Tea and Mister Crumpets?"

Linda giggled at the names. "No," she replied, knowing her Slayer was losing the adrenaline rush that often accompanied Slayers into battle. "I can handle Wesley and Trent alone. After all, they're only men."

"Coolness." Faith jogged up and pulled the door open, being careful not to pull it off the hinges again. She vanished into the house, shouting over her shoulder, "Night, Boss Lady!"

Linda stopped and heard her fellow Council members stop behind her, having heard what she'd been called! Her shoulders sagged and she turned around, sending sizzling eye beams at the grinning Trent and mortified Wesley.

"Not. A. Word." She growled.

Wesley ignored her. Instead, her uptight distant cousin winced and asked, "Boss Lady?"

<Oh well, if you can't beat the Slayer…> She shrugged and then turned and walked in, making a mental note to make it SIX hours of reading she inflicted on Faith. "I prefer that to being called Watcher Girl. It makes me feel like a sidekick."

*****

From her newly furnished bedroom, Faith was starting to climb into bed but hesitated. She looked back at the door, where she could hear mumbled, but happy, voices coming from the living room. She considered going back out to join the friendly conversation but decided against it.

<They're old buds from the Watcher thing,> she thought, citing her first reason. <And if you get too close, something'll happen. It always does…>

She shook her head. No, that wasn't the way to think anymore. Maybe, just once in her life, things might actually work out. She still wanted to be out there, Slaying, but she was the rookie and Boss Lady was the one who called "most" of the shots. <She lets me do my thing, but she had my back tonight.>

That was the really Wiggy feeling. Someone being there to watch over her while she was taking down the bad guys.

On impulse, the Slayer knelt on the floor, her bare knees feeling the hard wood of the floor grinding into them. Still, she went through with something she hadn't gone through in a long time.

"You know, you and me haven't exactly been on speaking terms since you took Mom up there," she started, a tear falling down her otherwise stony exterior. "But maybe now I'm starting to see things from Your POV. Maybe I had to get this hard ass edge I got so I'd be ready for this Slayer Gig when you handed it down to me, I dunno. But I'm sitting here asking myself, is this why I'm here? Is this why you stuck me here or let me go my own way most of my life? So I'd be ready for this job that'll probably end up killing me soon?"

She paused, thinking that perhaps that this wasn't the way to say what she had to say. So she started over. "Look, all I'm sayin' is, I didn't grow up knowin' this stuff like most Slayers do. I get that. But Linda, she's new to the Watcher thing, or so she says. All I'm asking is, help me so she doesn't pay for my screw-ups, huh? She's been straight with me so far, which is more than I can say for anyone else. So look out for her, okay? I'm not saying to help me out so much, I got the stuff that makes me the person to do the job. But Linda…" She stopped and felt like such a goof. So she just sighed and spelled out what she wanted. "Just take care of her, okay? If I screw up, I'll deal, alive or up there. But don't let her get caught up in something I screw up. I'm learning on the fly here, and she shouldn't have to pay for my being stupid. And by the way, look after D, huh? Find some way to get her out of that shi… er, situation. I can't go back for her, don't let Zuckerman get her too. Please." She paused. "Thanks."

She got up and climbed into bed, hoping that tomorrow night would let her do what she saw as her reason for living.

Slaying and looking good doing it.

End

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