"I hardly believe you have the future's best interests at heart. And I have an even harder time believing you want to make sure that no harm comes to the people of this world."
"There was a time when that was indeed true," Spike admitted, giving the young woman a casual glance. Despite what she had done to him before and what she and her friends had done since then, it was difficult to maintain the feelings of hatred he felt towards her in the wake of Faith's hold on him becoming as shaken as it had. She was a capable warrior and, at least in one way, had the same goals. That was why he had chosen to risk seeking her out. Of the four remaining Soldiers, she was the only one who could possibly understand the necessity of what needed to be done. "But let's just say that since our last encounter, I've had a...change of heart."
Anya frowned in puzzlement before she picked up on the clue in his words, realization flooding into her as their meaning hit home. "You...you were manipulated into serving the one we're sworn to defeat. And the Crystal...when its power was unleashed, it loosened the hold she had on you."
Anya nodded in understanding, the memory of Luna and Artemis' own machinations against her and the others still fresh in her mind. She understood why they had done so, but that didn't mean that she found their behaviour acceptable. And if the enemy had been likewise manipulating her own troops, then perhaps there was a way they could attack her. "And now you seek to atone for your past mistake by ensuring that the transgressions of the past life do not happen again?"
"I seek nothing but to ensure the continuation of the Mistress' life," Spike replied.
"Who are you...?" Anya asked, before her mind caught up with the rest of her and she realized who it was that Spike was talking about. "Tara."
"Yes. You know as well as I do that she and the Princess were responsible for what happened in the past, and we have an opportunity to make sure that it does not happen again." Spike turned to Anya. "You realize the necessity of this, don't you?"
"And you know what we must do in order to ensure that happens?"
"I do, but..."
Anya fell silent once again, shivering slightly in her reluctance to admit to herself the truth of what she was hearing. Even though she truly believed that was the only course of action available to her, she had begun to doubt whether or not she would be strong enough to carry out what must be done. Putting aside for the moment the unmistakable truth of her medical condition, there was the unavoidable fact that she couldn't convince either Buffy or Cordelia that keeping Willow and Tara apart was necessary for the success of their mission.
But now that she knew there was someone out there who believed as she did, could she blithely ignore his help for the sake of her friendship with Willow and the others, especially since he was supposedly on the opposite side? Regardless of what may have happened to change his viewpoint, the fact of the matter was that this wasn't someone she would trust her own life to, let alone those who, despite her best efforts, most likely still looked at her with concern.
Realizing that there was only one thing she could say, she asked, "How can I be assured of your sincerity?"
"You can't," Spike replied flatly as he looked out the window at the mid afternoon hustle and bustle outside the hospital. "The longer they're allowed to continue being together, the more likely the Earth's destruction is assured. And we may not have much time. Our leader has learned from past mistakes and has implemented a plan that, while taking more time to carry out than she would like, will all but certainly result in all of our deaths. I'm offering you my help in ensuring that doesn't happen." He turned to look at Anya one last time. "Don't take too long to make your choice."
Bringing his arm up, he flourished his cape and disappeared. Anya looked at the spot where he had been for several more moments before she laid back down on the bed and let out a sigh. Willow had told her to relax, but after that conversation, that was the last thing she would be able to do.
Willow walked down the street, at a loss as to what to do. She didn't really want to go back to school; thanks to Cordelia, she had been given a free pass to spend the rest of the day however she wanted. And though she wouldn't normally have taken advantage of that opportunity (being as very seldom naughty as she was), it was understandable that, having to pretend to be normal for the last few months, she very much wanted to not do that right now.
"Guess that rules out going home," she thought. "If Mom were to find out I had skipped class, she'd probably go off on a tangent and try to lump my behavior into some kind of classification of teenage rebellion and justify my behaviour that way." She sighed. "I guess I could go to the bookstore for a while. Or maybe I could wait until school gets out and give Amy a call. She's been doing well since the attack...No. If I do that, Harmony will find a way to get involved."
Though Willow held no ill will towards her, she had come to learn that Harmony wasn't exactly the sort of person that fit in anywhere, and that it wouldn't do her all that good to be seen with her in public. For a moment, Willow wondered why she had thought that, since Harmony hadn't exactly done anything to her that warranted that sort of classification.
"Must be because of how I feel about Anya," Willow reasoned. "I'm so worked up over her that I'm starting to see things that don't exist. Harmony's...well, she may be strange, but she's a nice girl. She doesn't deserve my hatred. Still, I don't exactly want to do anything with her...or Amy, for that matter..."
Willow's train of thought came to a halt as she realized that the only thing she really wanted to do at that moment was to go see Tara. If she was really as worked up over nothing as she believed she was, then maybe spending time with her girlfriend would make things better.
After all, in one way or another, Tara always looked out for her whenever things went wrong.
A sudden impact against her back caused her snap out of her internal ruminations and turn on her heel to find out what had happened. Standing several feet down the street was a young girl of about fourteen years old wearing a purple top trimmed at the arms with yellow, a matching yellow skirt and white boots. The girl shook her head in disappointment. "That's no good. If I had been an enemy, you'd be begging for your life right about now."
Willow stood dumbfounded, at a loss to produce an adequate response. After several more moments of silence, the girl made her way forward. "It doesn't matter. Now's not the time for sadness. I've got good news. The spell the enemy placed on Fred is weakening. She'll be back to normal in a few days."
Willow's concern and surprise soon gave way to a torrent of happy thoughts. The thought of Fred being one of them again was enough to shake her out of her bad mood. Still, the fact that the news was coming from a stranger gave her cause to be concerned. "That's good and all, but how do you know that?"
The girl placed her hands on her hips and smiled broadly. "I'm sure you'll be surprised to find this out, but..."
A noise from behind her startled Willow, and she turned to find an older man with a dog standing nearby. The dog was barking and trying to chase after something, the man struggling in vain to keep his grip on the leash. "Bad Sparky! That's enough!"
Another noise brought Willow around, where she was surprised to find the girl screaming at the top of her lungs and tearing a path down the opposite end of the street. Willow watched her go in silence, wondering what exactly had just happened.
Cordelia had only made it two blocks from the hospital before she broke down and started to cry, much to the surprise of everyone who came by her. She had managed to keep herself under control while Willow and Buffy were around, but without their presence, the need for her to keep her emotions under control lessened, and she found herself completely overwhelmed .by the grief she felt over Anya's condition and her stubborn refusal to take the chance to save her life. She hadn't felt this much in pain since she had fallen onto a rebar when she was five while playing around near the pool her father had hired a construction team to put together for her sixth birthday.
She still bore the scars from the accident, and at the time, she had thought that there wasn't anything more painful she could go through, but the past few hours had certainly gone out of their way to prove her wrong. She never really admitted it to the others, but she had come to be quite fond of Anya, despite the rather bristly attitude that she had towards them all in the early days. But once the truth of her illness had come out, there was a marked change in the way that they had responded around her.
But it had been different for her. Anya had from the first moment singled her out, especially since her departure from the group. And ever since she had come back, the two of them had their relationship go from the simple working partnership required by their mission to a deeper and more emotionally invested one. This was what made Cordelia wonder why Anya wouldn't take the option to save her life. Even if what she had said was true, and the chances of success were low to nonexistent, it was still a better thing to do than sitting around waiting to die.
A sudden headache brought her head around to look behind her, blinking away the tears that clouded her eyes. Ever since her memories of the past had been fully awakened, she hadn't had the visions that had plagued her throughout childhood that much, only getting the occasional flash of pain whenever something was out of the ordinary. Looking around, she soon found what could be the only source of her distress: a young girl hiding among the bushes of the nearby park. Getting out of her hiding place, she made her way towards Cordelia, a bright smile on her face.
"Very good, Sailor Mars. I'm glad to see that you've still got a strong sense of telling whether or not something is wrong."
Cordelia immediately went on the defensive, wondering how this girl could have figured out her secret identity. "What the...Who are you?"
The girl's smile widened. "Well, since you asked, I guess I have to tell you. Actually, you might find this a little hard to believe, but my true identity is..."
Just then, a noise erupted from a nearby tree. Both Cordelia and the girl turned their attention to it to find a bird perched on the branch of a nearby tree. Cordelia dismissed it almost immediately and looked back at the girl, only to find her attention riveted to the bird. After a moment, she brought her head back to look at Cordelia, though Cordelia could plainly see that she was making an effort to do so.
"My...my identity is..."
Cordelia watched as the girl struggled to maintain her attention, but watched as she looked back at the bird and began hopping on her feet. And then, without any warning, sped off in a dash towards the tree and began to climb it, obviously intent on going to capture the bird. Cordelia stood dumbfounded as the bird flew off, the girl adamantly pursuing it down the street.
Buffy stood over the oven, hands desperately moving across it in an attempt to turn the disaster before her into some sort of semblance of a meal. She had never been all that great a cook, and Lord only knew what had possessed her to tell Riley that she would make dinner for him on the one month anniversary of their first date.
And it also bothered her why she was going to all this trouble in the first place. Her relationship with Parker had been a disaster on all fronts; no matter what she had done, she had always felt as if there was nothing she could do to please him. And then to find out that he was using her as a means to get back at his former girlfriend...
It had been too much for her to deal with, and she had spent the time since then telling herself that she would always be alone. It certainly didn't help that she actually was alone in life, her parents having been killed in a plane crash when she was younger, an incident that had been brought back to her thanks to Cordelia reminding her about it, something that really rubbed her the wrong way.
Since her parent's death, Buffy had travelled from place to place, living off a small trust her parents had set up for her in case she had needed the money, and taking the odd job wherever she could in order to cover the rest. It hadn't been until coming to Sunnydale that she had begun to feel as if she had belonged somewhere. Even with her duty as a Sailor Soldier, she had managed to find friends, a stable home life, and even a potential boyfriend. It was that last thing that made Buffy worry the most. She knew that because of her life as a Soldier and the duty she had towards the past life, she could never allow herself to get close to anyone.
"So why am I allowing myself to continue this relationship?" Buffy asked, shaking her head. "I can't let myself hurt anyone else. Nothing in this world is worth that."
Keeping her eye on the pots and pans before her, she reached out with one hand to try and grab the pepper. "Come on, where is it?"
"Here you go." The pepper was placed into her hand.
"Thanks," Buffy said, moving to apply a small dab of the seasoning to the sauce she was preparing, only to suddenly realize that there was nobody here but herself. Turning quickly, she saw a young girl with straight dark hair wearing a purple top leaning against the counter, her round face showing her approval of what she was witnessing.
"Very good, Buffy. I'm glad to see you're learning a new skill. That's a true trait of a Sailor Soldier."
Buffy's eyes widened in surprise. Very few things frightened her, but this rattled her nerves in such a way that she couldn't help but show fear. "A...a ghost?"
The girl let out an exasperated groan. "No! I'm..."
Before the girl could continue, Buffy felt the pepper shaker slip from her grip and shatter on the ground below, scattering pepper everywhere. She waved her hand in an attempt to clear the air as she heard the girl speak again.
"Oh, no! No! No! No! Ah...CHOO!"
The air cleared several seconds later, and Buffy looked around the room, finding no sign of the intruder. She didn't know who that girl was, but something was definitely wrong, that was for sure. She had to let the others know.
"You saw her too?" Cordelia asked into her cell phone.
"Yeah," Buffy replied. "And I've got to tell you, it's one of the weirdest things I've ever seen."
"Tell me about it," Cordelia responded, the memory of the girl's antics she had witnessed still fresh in her mind. "I doubt she's an enemy, though. They wouldn't be dumb enough to send anyone that obvious after us."
"Yeah," Buffy said. "But it's definitely something we should get together to discuss."
"I agree," Cordelia nodded. "Tomorrow at the Bronze?"
"Yeah. I'll stop by the hospital and pick up Anya..."
"No," Cordelia said with a bit more force than she meant to. "I mean, no. I'll be in a far better position to do that, given that I don't go to school with you guys."
"If you say so."
"What about Willow? Do you think she ran into this girl, too?"
"I don't know. I tried to call her, but she didn't pick up."
Cordelia sighed. "I have a bad feeling about this. I hope she's all right."
Fred entered the throne room and made her way up towards Faith, kneeling once she was halfway up out of respect for her Queen. She was greatly troubled by her encounter with the strange Sailor Soldier, and the strange visions and dreams she had been getting since then, and if there was anyone who could help her make sense of things, it was her.
"Rise, Mercury," Faith said. "I trust you have good news?"
"Yes, my Queen," Fred answered, best to get that out of the way first. "I have successfully integrated myself into a position whereby the Soldiers are becoming unnerved at seeing me interact with their friends. I do believe I have allowed your shadow to successfully work her way into Sailor Moon's confidence and destroy her."
Faith smiled at that, glad that, with everything going to pieces around her, something was going right. Her jovial mood, however, was soon broken as Mercury spoke once more.
"However, I must state that I have...concerns."
Faith's eyebrow quirked slightly. "How so?"
Fred struggled to find the right words. "I find myself...remembering things. Things about...about my former life. They haunt me in my waking moments and plague me when I close my eyes. And I find myself...concerned for the safety of my former friends. I...I think...I think that I do not wish them to come to harm..."
Fred flinched as Faith got to her feet, a snarl on her face. "I have heard enough! Do not concern yourself with the past! The only thing important now is the future. And your place in that future is by my side, working against your friends to bring about the return of Queen Metallia. Now be gone from my sight before I consider your continued presence superfluous to those plans."
Fred bowed slightly to Faith and turned to leave, very much concerned about what had just taken place. Clearly Faith had been upset enough by her revelation to threaten her life, not exactly a smart thing for her to do given her lack of allies at this time. But she was loyal to the cause, not at all worthy of being treated that way.
But Fred realized one thing rather quickly: she was only loyal to Faith and her cause because she had made her that way. And unlike the others who served her, she was not overtly crucial to the success of her goals. If Faith were to decide that it was not in her best interests to keep her around...
Fred shook her head. She would find a way to banish these thoughts from her mind, if for no other reason than to see her former friends fall by her hand. If she and Faith had one thing in common, it was the wish to see the existence of the other Soldiers come to an end.
"There must be something you can do. My hold on her is weakening. Given the right motivation, she will be lost to us."
"There is nothing that can be done to undo the powers of the Mystical Silver Crystal. You know this well, Faith. She is a liability to us. You must take her life."
Faith did not like the idea of sacrificing Mercury at this point in time. True, in the long run, she was as much a danger to her as Metallia said she was. But at present, when her own warriors' loyalty was in question, Mercury was the one person she could count on to ensure the death of the Soldiers. "I cannot do this now. She must remain mine for some time more."
"Then so be it, Faith. But be warned. I sense that unless she is dealt with soon, she will return to her former self."
"Then I must make sure that she falls before then," Faith thought to herself. And there was only one way she could do this without making it obvious. Mercury very much wanted to face Sailor Moon in one on one combat, and from what Mercury had told her, Sailor Moon would not be so willing to sacrifice her former friend if there was a hope of rescuing her.
Thus was an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. She would order Mercury to fight Sailor Moon to the death. If she succeeded, the spell would no doubt be broken and she would be so overcome with grief at the act that she would no doubt take her life. If, on the other hand, she were left with no other choice but to kill her friend, Sailor Moon would be so overcome with grief herself that she would end up taking her life, or at the very least, ceasing to cause any problems for her any longer. And with her incapacitated, the other Soldiers would fall as well.
Faith smiled. Once again, she had snatched a victory from certain defeat. There was but one question to consider: which of those scenarios she would enjoy the most.