"Change of Scenery"
Damage: Chapter Six
by indie



Buffy stared at the large metal box sitting on the table in Lorne's office.  It was a slow night, things wouldn't pick up until later in the evening.  To entertain herself in the interim, she was escorting a young man up to Angel's office rather than having one of Lorne's flunkies do it.  The box set her Slayer senses to tingling, though she didn't know why.  She gave it a wide berth as she headed towards the elevator.

Before she could flip the controls, the elevator descended and Angel, Lorne and Willow exited.  Lorne was frowning as he made a beeline for his desk, but Angel and Willow were engrossed in some terribly serious conversation.

Buffy cleared her throat loudly and Angel glanced at her, letting her know that he'd been aware of her presence the entire time.  Buffy frowned, crossing her arms over her chest.  "He says he has an appointment with you," she said dryly, nodding to the young man at her side.

"Oz," Angel said in greeting.

"Roarke," Oz replied evenly.  He turned his attention to the box.  "This it?" he asked.

Angel smiled, stepping closer to the box.  Willow hung back, watching her mentor.  "One magickally crafted Trojan Horse Box of Gavrok at your service," Angel said.

Oz walked up to the box, solemnly putting his hands on it.  He took a deep breath before turning to look at Angel once more.  "You sure this is gonna work?" he asked, his face set in hard lines.

"You mean are the fake bugs going to be enough to cramp Wilkins' plans?" Angel asked with a smirk.

Straightening up, Oz turned to face him, his posture absolutely rigid.  "I mean is your little magick trick really going to be enough to thwart an ascension," he ground out.

Buffy didn't know who Oz was, but she could see the strain on his features.  Stress seemed to seep out of his pores.  Oz was a desperate man.

"This will stop him," Angel said seriously, his perfectly black eyes glittering.

Oz took a deep breath, looking once again at the box.  "This doesn't and everyone's gonna be in a world of hurt, not just Sunnydale," he said.

"It will work," Angel bit out.

Oz finally nodded, picking up the box with an ease that was more than human.  "You'll get your tribute next week," Oz said, "provided we're still around."

"I'll look forward to receiving it," Angel replied evenly.

Buffy watched Oz leave and turned to face Angel. "Sunnydale?" she said.  It being her former hometown, she was understandably curious.

Angel nodded.  "Mayor Wilkins is planning to turn himself into a demon," Angel said with a smirk.  "How very amateur.  Anyway, the Sunnydale White Hats came to me for help."

"And will your gravel box do the job?"

Frowning at her obvious disregard for the proper names of mystical relics, Angel said, "It's more than sufficient to take care of one annoying immortal.  My latest masterpiece would be able to take Wilkins out of the game even if he had already transfigured.  They don't have anything to worry about."

*****

"Sir?"  Wesley's voice was slightly higher than usual, betraying his unease with the situation.  Angel growled low in his throat and turned to face Wesley.  The Watcher was slightly pale, sweat beaded on his upper lip.  The hammer in his hands shook with the force of his trembling.  "Sir, what should we do with him?"

Angel looked at the boy bound to the chair.  The same boy who had groped Buffy in Caritas her first night on the job.  Parker wasn't strictly evil - but he had trespassed on forbidden territory.  Angel wanted to kill him, wanted to beat him to a bloody pulp with that hammer Wesley kept dropping.  Of course, if Buffy found out ... Angel didn't finish the thought.  While she had been annoyed with Parker's advances, Angel knew she wouldn't take kindly to him defending her honor with lethal force.  But still, the idea appealed.  The darkness inside of him yearned for the death, yearned to hear Parker's tortured screams.  With every day that passed, the bloodlust within him grew stronger.

He pushed the thought away, shaking his head roughly.  Angel's nose scrunched up as he looked at the puddle of urine under the boy's chair.  "Let him go," he said to Wesley.  "But if he's in Caritas again ... I won't be so forgiving."
 

*****

Buffy stood nervously inside the elevator, staring out into Angel's office.  In the last three weeks she had been working at Caritas, she'd managed to avoid Angel as much as possible.  But she needed to see him again.  She needed to have her schedule changed again and Lorne assured her for the billionth time that the only way for that to happen was by speaking directly to Angel.  For the record, Buffy found it intensely annoying that the club's manager, Lorne, couldn't handle employee scheduling.  When she mentioned that to Lorne, he had just smiled at her and then muttered something under his breath about Roarke.

"Yes," Angel said dryly, looking at her over the edge of his fax.

Buffy frowned before throwing back the elevator's gate and stepping into his office.  She walked over to his desk and took a seat in one of the chairs, holding up the roster.  "I need to talk to you about my schedule," she said.

Angel watched her for several drawn out moments.  "What about it?"

Perching on the edge of the seat, Buffy bit down on her bottom lip as she looked at Angel.  He watched her passively, waiting for her to speak.  She took a deep breath.  "I need you to change my schedule," she said.

Angel's eyes narrowed slightly in irritation.  "You were in here last week telling me you wanted more hours," he said.  "Or have you forgotten about the money you're supposed to be repaying me."

Buffy's cheeks burned in embarrassment.  "Of course I haven't forgotten," she snipped.  "You'll get your damn money.  And I'm not asking you to change my hours, just the venue."

Steepling his fingers, Angel shook his head.  "You're at Temple Flesh next week," he said with finality.

Grinding her teeth together, Buffy forced back her reply.  She needed this job.  "I can't work at Temple Flesh," she replied emphatically.

"You can," he said, "and you will."

She hated herself for putting up with his attitude, but she needed him to relent.  What little social status she had left was dependent upon not being seen working as a bouncer at Temple Flesh.  Angel's new club was bound to attract a lot of attention, and Buffy knew that Sunday and Cordelia would most certainly be there.  She would never live down the humiliation of being spotted by them.  "Please, Angel," she said quietly in ShadowTongue.

He scowled at her gentle request.  If she had fought with him, he would have fought back, but her submission gave him pause.  "What's in it for me?" he snapped.

Buffy was careful not to smile.  Angel was decidedly a pain in the ass, but he was also a consummate businessman.  As long as she could reason with him, she might just get her way.  "A good Slayer," she said.  Angel was quiet for a very long time, obviously waiting for her to elaborate.  She did so with more than a little hesitation.  "I know that you police the local demon world," she took a deep breath.  "You're short handed around your clubs because Groo and Gun have been filling in for Faith, who can't seem to manage two consecutive days of patrolling a week.  If you take me off the Temple Flesh rotation, I can pick up Faith's slack and you have your two bouncers back."

Angel shrugged.  "A trained Slayer would definitely be a bonus, but you are not a trained Slayer, Buffy.  You've never had a Watcher.  You've never had any formal Council education at all."

Squaring her shoulders, Buffy replied, "Willow told me that Wesley is a Watcher.  I can't imagine that he's so busy with Faith that he couldn't give me a few pointers."

Angel watched her through slitted eyes.  "You would honestly be willing to train as a Slayer?" he asked.

Buffy nodded.  "Yes."

He kept himself from smiling.  This was exactly what he had wanted all along, but he never dared dream that Buffy would come to this conclusion without significant coercion.  Apparently there was a great deal more natural instinct buried within her than her earlier actions seemed to indicate.  "Fine," he said blandly, "I'll have Wesley contact you to set up a training schedule.  As of today, you're no longer a bouncer.  Getting you into shape as a Slayer will be a full time job."

*****

Buffy groaned and slowly opened one eye to see Wesley standing over her, quarterstaff in hand.  "Ow!" she said with a glare.

"Ms. Summers," he said haughtily, "if you would stop dropping your shoulder, you would likely stop landing on the floor."

With a growl, Buffy swept her quarterstaff in an arc, causing Wesley to land solidly on his behind on the practice mat next to her.  She smiled as he grunted in discomfort.  "That was entirely uncalled for," he huffed.

Buffy grinned unrepentantly as she hopped to her feet.  She did, however, offer him a hand up.  He accepted with a frown and they resumed their fighting stances.  Wesley was covered in protective padding while Buffy wore a pair of black yoga pants and a dark gray sports bra.  She had spent twelve hours a day for the last ten days practicing with Wesley, and even with her remarkable healing ability, she had the bumps and bruises to prove it.  Despite his prudish English nature, Wesley was a decent fighter.  She spent the first couple of days getting bruised by a variety of weaponry.

But she wasn't a Slayer for nothing.  Her learning curve for martial arts and weapons training was great.  For the last several days, she had been seriously putting Wesley through his paces.  With any luck she would be able to start patrolling soon.

As she had learned, Angel's base of operations for his preternatural connections was a former hotel called the Hyperion.  The large basement had been converted entirely to training space and it was where she spent the majority of her time.  When they weren't training, Wesley made her take calls and file leads and tips.  Buffy wasn't too excited about the secretary gig, but Wesley assured her that there was no way she was going to be allowed to patrol without a working knowledge of basic detective skills.

Wesley broke stance and experimentally prodded his wounded posterior.  "I think perhaps we should call it a day," he said with a frown.

"Fine by me," Buffy said, hurrying to return her quarterstaff to the weapons cabinet.

"Not so fast," Wesley called after her, "you're on phones until midnight."

Buffy rolled her eyes and sighed.  She arrived at the Hyperion at nine in the morning and it was shortly after five in the evening.  Surely there had to be some law against having to spend fifteen hours at work on a Saturday.  She turned and looked at Wesley, but his expression let her know that there was no point in trying to get out of it.  Maybe knocking him on his butt hadn't been such a bright idea.

*****

A quick shower later, Buffy sat at a stool by the front desk, legs swinging impatiently.  Her elbows rested on the battered countertop and her chin was cradled in her upturned palms.  Bo-ring.  Gunn and Groo were both out on calls thanks to Faith being MIA yet again.  In the week and a half at the Hyperion, Buffy had still not managed to catch a glimpse of her sister Slayer.

Buffy had read through Faith's file several times trying to find any sort of common bond that would explain how they both came to be Called.  Her efforts were largely fruitless.  There was nothing in their backgrounds that overlapped.  Faith was born to a homeless teen mother in a rough Boston neighborhood.  She was taken into state custody at the age of five and shuffled around from foster home to foster home until she ran away for good at fifteen.  She was a high school dropout and her police record was longer than Buffy's arm.

Physically it was the same story.  Faith was brunette, of average height and possessed a body built for sin.  The "built for sin" part was actually in the notes of her file.  Buffy wasn't good enough with the Angel Investigations staff's handwriting to know who had penned that particular phrase, but she intended to find out.  For some reason she cared not to examine too closely, she hoped it was one of the guys and not Angel.  The ironic part was that it was most likely Angel.  It was totally his style, bawdy, visceral and unapologetic.  It took no great stretch of the imagination to theorize that Faith was given a long leash because she had something going on with the boss.  But Buffy didn't want to mull over that possibility.  Simply thinking about it made her grouchy.

The long and the short of it was that Angel Investigations was hopelessly overworked and understaffed.  No one seemed to know Faith's whereabouts.  Buffy wasn't Kreskin, but she could read between these lines.  Willow wasn't embellishing when she said Faith was a mess.  For the staff to be willing to pull double duty to cover her absences - and not even bitch about it - she had to be a lot of trouble.  Even if she was sleeping with Angel, you would think that someone would bother trying to track her down.  Of course, if ol' Wes was as charming to Faith as he was to her, Buffy could understand the ducking out of work.

Not that Buffy could afford to duck out of work.  She still owed Angel several hundred dollars.  And as much as she was loath to admit, she liked training.  Well, okay, she didn't like sitting at the front desk waiting for the phone to ring, but every now and then she got to kick Wesley's ass and that was decidedly enjoyable.  It made her feel ... right - like she was finally doing what she was meant to be doing.  Buffy had never realized how much was missing from her life until she started training as a Slayer.

The door opened and Buffy automatically grabbed a pen and paper before looking up.  Her "polite" face disappeared into a wry grin as she saw who had entered.  "My, my," she said, "I didn't know that you slummed down here."

Angel's grin was positively wicked as he replied, "Ionuin, I would never consider you slumming."

Buffy's cheeks flamed in embarrassment and she wondered what had caused her to bait him with her initial statement.  It wasn't like her to play with Angel.  Of course, their relationship had gone through several major changes recently.  She still wasn't entirely sure what their dynamic was at the moment.  They weren't Buttercup and Westley, but they weren't mortal enemies either.

"The guys are out on calls and Wes is getting friendly with the BenGay," Buffy noted blandly, choosing to ignore his cheeky comment.

Angel nodded and walked behind the desk to study the large wipe board where all current cases were cataloged.  Gunn and Groo definitely had their hands full.  It would be a real help once Buffy was up to speed.  "Quiet as usual, I see," he said sardonically.

Buffy frowned.  The backlog went on for weeks and showed no signs of tapering off.  Of course, if they weren't so woefully understaffed it wouldn't be such an issue.  Angel most definitely was not a pushover.  He was one of the most relentless taskmasters in the entire history of pain-in-the-ass bosses.  Buffy couldn't help but entertain her earlier uncomfortable thoughts.  "Why do you keep Faith around?" she blurted out.

Turning slowly, Angel looked Buffy up and down, his expression guarded.  Buffy fidgeted nervously on the chair.  Why did she have to ask him that?  She wanted to pound her forehead onto the counter, but she forced herself to meet his gaze.

"The schedule of your fellow employees is not your concern," he said with finality.

"Evasive much?" she snarked before she could stop herself.

In spite of himself, Angel let the barest hint of a smile slip as he looked at her grumpy countenance.  "Why do you want to know?" he asked, stepping closer.

Buffy sputtered incoherently for a few moments before finding a convincing argument.  "Because I'm sick of sitting here babysitting the phones," she said.  "It's Saturday night.  I have a life, you know."

"Oh really?" he drawled unpleasantly.  "Is there a hot date that you're missing?"

His snide statement did everything possible to rile her and Buffy nearly growled.  "Not that it's any of your business, but yes," she snapped.  It wasn't true, of course.  She did have a social engagement, but the word hot didn't really figure into it.  Buffy was so busy with work and training and starting her new life that she most certainly didn't have time for a budding romance.

Angel's face shuttered, but Buffy had the definite impression that he was very unhappy.  The realization only irritated her further.  He had yet to make any sort of explanation about Faith.  He didn't have any right to be worried about her personal life.  "You never answered me," Buffy said, sticking her chin out defiantly.  "Why do you keep Faith around?  It doesn't really seem your style to retain dead weight."

"A Slayer," he drawled, "even an insufficiently motivated one, is never dead weight."  His expression softened and the barest hint of a grin curved his lips.  He took several steps, so they were less than a foot apart.  Leaning in conspiratorially, he added softly, "And don't worry, Ionuin, you're the only Slayer on the A.I. payroll with me wrapped around her little finger."  He winked lasciviously before turning on his heel and walking away.

Buffy stared blankly at his back as he headed for the door.  Her mind tried to make sense of what he said.  Wrapped around her finger?  Angel?  She wasn't sure if she should be insulted.  Had he been making fun of her?  There was no way he was serious.  But his mood hadn't been teasing either, at least not the caustic way he usually teased.  It was more akin to I-like-you teasing.  Like little boys pulling little girls' hair on the playground.

Buffy swallowed audibly as she dropped her vision to the countertop and tried to doodle on her notepad.  She was so confused it was beginning to make her head hurt.  And she still had to see Ford later tonight.  She groaned aloud.

[End Chapter 6]

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