Story: Sophomore Slump (chapter 7)

Authors: Pat Kelly

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Chapter 7

Title: Seven


‘Are Mexican stand-offs supposed to be this crowded?' Veronica thought, her dad's gun still trained on Ben/Glory, as Willow objected out of uninformed, moral principle.

"He's the human vessel, Willow," the blonde finally enlightened everyone else, hoping it would stem other interruptions before her hands *did* shake. "Glory's jail cell for the past, twenty-five years? Bells ringing yet?"

To paint the scene, Willow, Faith and Dawn, going from left to right, had formed a half-circle behind Veronica, a mini-border around the action. Ben had backed up as far as he could go, without literally having his back against the wall. One shot, that's all it would take. No portals opening, no big battle, no chance of anyone else dying but him.

"Ooh. Ding dong." The redhead got it--kill the mortal, kill the immortal--but believing was another story. "Wait, *Ben* is Glory? Him ‘Ben'? You're sure? Sure ‘sure'?"

"I'd show you the evidence, but, so much time, so little to do," Veronica told her, confidently sarcastic. "And even if I hadn't collected any...his choice of evening wear? Clue."

Ben's shoulders just slumped. "If you're going to, just do it."

Hearing it said aloud--twenty-five-years--made him feel so tired. How could he keep pretending?

Faith was still trying to catch up. "What, he's the bottle, she's the genie?"

Veronica looked apologetically at Ben again, the multitude of Christina jokes that she would've usually had, unavailable.

"Woulda been nice to know," slayer glared at hacker.

"I didn't know! Not that it was Ben!" Willow reacted guiltily, though she knew she had no reason to. "But if he's her and she's her too, only, uh, when-when he isn't him, then you *really* can't. Super really."

She told Veronica this quickly, not having time to be confused by her sentence's logic. Or lack thereof.

Veronica bit her lip to contain the frustration that wanted to escape. "It's not like I'm doing cartwheels over it--"

"We need Glory. For Tara."

Frak. Veronica looked over at the lost witch, and felt her arm start to lower. She could mention the greater good, sacrifice, but it would be a lie. She was only doing this for a girl. Same as Willow.

"She's...she's..." Ben's eyes were panicked.

Before he could get anything else out, and before they could react, he'd morphed into his feminine side. It was happening quicker now. There was barely any warning.

There was absolutely *no* warning before Glory grabbed Veronica's wrist and broke it, sending the gun clattering to the ground. Veronica's cry of pain couldn't be stopped.

"A girl loves to hear she's needed," spoke the god.




Meanwhile, in Xander's car, they'd retrieved what they'd set out to at the Magic Box, and so tires burned rubber. There were butterflies, anvils of nervousness, fear of the uncertain, of what the night might bring, but he knew something that wasn't uncertain. At least, at that particular moment, he thought he did.

"Marry me," he blurted.

"*What*?!" Anya in the passenger seat, and Buffy in the backseat, exclaimed in tandem.

When they realized who he'd been looking at as he'd said it, for different reasons, the tandem-ness continued.





"You've probably been braggin' it around, haven't you? Letting everyone know how you got off Glory's hook with all your pieces not in bloody, yummy, bite-size bits." Glory pulled Veronica eye-to-eye with her, so she could see the fear. "Baby, you don't get away from me--I'm a god. Who has time to kill. But that's no fun...hey, can I kill you?"

As fast as she'd grabbed her, she let Veronica go so her hand could hold her head, instead. She shouted, "No! You're not..."

And Glory became Ben again. "...killing any more people!"

Faith pulled Veronica over next to the rest of them, and out of the way of the "multiple-personality-on-steroids" freak show. Or, Dr. Jeckyll and Ms. Hyde, as it were.

"Take Dawn, and frigging haul ass," whispered the slayer, as Veronica cradled her wrist. "It was a smart call, but the wrist puts you outta the game. You wanna keep B in? Get the girl movin', Tink. Go."

Crap. Faith was right. Even though Veronica wasn't one to take orders, there wasn't time to argue. Buffy's sister and girlfriend started to run to the alley's exit.

"She wanted to put a bullet in your squishy, little brain! Moron!" Glory was back.

But not for long.

"You get what you want, I'm dead anyway. And if I'd had the guts to do it myself..." Ben saw the gun and picked it up, pointing it under his chin. "I still can."

He struggled to keep his own arm right where it was, but like it'd been forcefully yanked, it flung away in a wide arc.

Glory kept hold of the gun as she regained form and control. "No! *No*. Little late in the game to start growing a backbone, Benjamin. Now be good and stay quiet."

Faith and Willow could see her physically fighting to prevent him from emerging.

"'t! Get over yourself, Ben! This is the way things are! I'm strong, you're weak, this is reality. Stop trying to infect me with your..."

Ben returned. "Do you ever stop talking? I don't know which is worse, waking up in a dress not knowing where I've been, or having to hear all your self-involved ranting."

Then Glory. "Animal..."

"Wrong, Glory." Her host again. "I'm no animal. This is humanity you're feeling. Welcome to the world."

"Stupid, pointless *meatworm*!" She yelled in anger, and then her unstable emotions went turning on a dime. "You're the one who's got it wrong, Benji. But if somebody up there likes you, you might just ascend beyond pointless. I get home, I could like you like a lot. So shut up and give big sister room to work. Nothing's ruining her day."

Raising the gun in the air, she fired a shot over her head that seemed to echo everywhere. Then she turned it on Tara, figuring she had the most leverage by threatening the helpless one.

"Bring back my Key or the witch gets a hole in the head."




Forget tracking. Everyone in the car could hear the sound of a bullet being fired. They were close, and possibly too late.

"Xander..." That was all Buffy had to say.

"There already."

He made a sharp turn.




In the alley, Veronica and Dawn had frozen at the shot.

"Come get it yourself!" That challenge came from the Key, impressing her blonde companion.

It also impressed the crazy one enough to allow Willow to grab a heavy, metal chain undetected, from atop the dumpster to her left. Letting go of Tara, she used both hands and all her strength to whip it down on Glory's gun-hand, making the weapon fall again. Nobody saw it land.

They were too busy watching the slayer use momentary advantage to tackle Glory to the ground. Then the escapees used Faith's buying of precious seconds to continue their retreat, when a car appeared where freedom was, cutting it off. The rear door could open just enough, to let somebody out.

That somebody being Buffy, who effortlessly wielded troll hammer in one hand, and Dagon--Beast-repelling doohickey--Sphere, in the other.

"Get in," she urged her sister.


" gonna hurt you if she finds out you had a chance to get away and didn't."

Buffy didn't plan this. Wished she could say she had, however. She was simply seizing the moment as her philosophy advised. Hearing the shot, she'd just wanted to put another obstacle in Glory's path in case the god was walking down it. Which yes, would've been bad for Xander's car.

"In," ordered Buffy, and as soon as Dawn listened for once, she shut the door behind her. "Drive!"

Its wheelman didn't hesitate. She knew Xander wanted to be here, but he had to know she was trusting him with the most important person in her life. Well, next to the one who was trying for a relieved smile through the pain of a broken wrist.

"Forget it," Veronica said before her girlfriend could rewind and repeat.

While elated inside to see Buffy live and animate, she kind of didn't want to see her. Not here.

Sister gaining distance, hazel eyes could and did zero in on her damaged appendage. Veronica wondered whose livid features she was seeing, when she heard,

"That's it...Glory's done. There's only one tiny, blonde woman who isn't me I can put up with--nobody touches my McFartsy." Buffy's tone betrayed no humor. "Unless *I'm* doing, and naked."

That was your basic "given." But the wondering stopped right there.




"Shouldn't there only be one of you Mighty Mouses?" Glory asked, having gotten the upper hand and held Faith off the ground by her tank top. "Who the hell are you?"

"Her name's Faith," supplied Buffy, announcing her presence to the god, having joined the action.

"Who cares." Glory casually slammed Faith into the dumpster lid, hard enough for the slayer's body to leave an indentation before rolling off.

"Us," Willow answered the question that hadn't really been asked.

The god didn't spare her a glance. "Where've you been, Buffy? If I'd noticed you weren't here, I could've missed you."

She couldn't see her ticket home anymore. "Wouldn't know where Miss Muffet scampered her sassy self to, wouldja?"

"Really not your biggest problem right now," Buffy advised, throwing something in Glory's direction. "Catch."

Glory did on reflex, not realizing what it was. She figured it was some human weapon they still stupidly thought would have an effect on her. In her hands, she felt what it was before seeing it.

The Dagon Sphere caused a full body migraine from the inside out, and kept causing it even as she let the doohickey drop to the ground. Didn't break. Until she smashed it with her foot.

Willow had seen her window as Buffy threw the Sphere. It was almost good that she didn't have time to think, or she might not have done it. She got Tara next to Glory, and then got herself between them.

When Glory's foot came down, the redhead's fingers jammed into the blondes' heads. White light emanated from Glory's, and Willow, acting as a conduit, passed it through into Tara's. Both human women succumbed to unconsciousness.

Not Glory though, who looked woozy, feverish. How could she have noticed the troll hammer in time for her face to dodge it? She couldn't have.

Buffy channeled pent up anger and aggression, all her grief, into every swing. Again and again and again. Wasn't a slayer doing this; an emotionally and physically exhausted older sister and girlfriend had been waiting for this moment.  No quips, no taunting, no hero-like declarations.

Just THOMP. And THOMP. And THOMP. An immortal head being thwacked back and forth.

"Stop." Was that a beg from the all powerful bitch?

"You're a god," Buffy reminded, "make it stop."

Fine. *One* taunt.


Letting up, it was to catch her breath, which was heavy. She didn't think she'd ever seen Glory bleed. Amazingly her enemy hadn't collap...ah, there went those godly knees.

As they began to buckle, Ben morphed back. He looked as thrashed as his evil half; the veil separating them had completely broken down. Before he could fall, and before Buffy had time to decide whether she could take his life (because a beat down wasn't ending anything)--


After he crumbled lifelessly to the alley floor, Faith was standing there, her arms still positioned like they'd been around his neck. When she snapped it.




Alley. Lifeless eyes. Staring at nothing. Again.

Faith was white as a sheet as she stared at Ben, taking her back to that other night. Returning to the dumpster with those images in her head, she threw open the lid and emptied her stomach. She closed it a few seconds later, placed her hands there for support, and just stared. Had her answer. Didn't she?

Veronica walked up next to Buffy and looked down at the dead body. The last person's she saw was Lilly's (unless she counted the iced hand of Abel Koontz's daughter), and this was different. She hadn't almost been the one to make it dead. She told herself she would've, but she never thought about what it would be like afterwards.

She turned her gaze to Faith and couldn't imagine. "I'll...get Willow and Tara. Talk to her."

"Your wrist," Buffy pointed out.

"Pain's all mental--it'll wait," said Veronica, holding back a grimace that wanted to sell her out, and again cradling her arm. "Go."

While she bent down to try to rouse the witches, doing her best to avoid contact with Ben, Buffy went to the brunette.

"You came back."

"You too," Faith said after it seemed she wouldn't.

"Know Dawn's glad. So am I," Buffy told her, and then got to what she really wanted to say. "Thank you."

Faith met her eyes. "Couldn't let ya, B."

"Why, ‘cause I'm the hero, and you're not?" The blonde's sarcasm had a dark edge to it. "I don't even know what that means."

"Means it ain't in you. Shouldn't be." Faith tossed her thumb backwards in the direction of Ben. "Came close to findin' out about Veronica, though."

"Or it means doing what nobody else has the guts to," offered Buffy alternatively, trying to keep her reaction to the part about Veronica internalized. "You saved the world tonight, Faith; you saved my sister."

"Don't feel like I did," responded the brunette with a small shake of the head.

Felt like she'd broke a guy's neck.

"Can't pretend this is anywhere *close* to the same situation, but," Buffy was walking on sympathetic eggshells, "never does. Feels like just surviving. It isn't about the world. Ever. The world stinks. But it has people who matter to us, so, s'personal. Also selfish. Superman's the only one that saves the world for reasons unselfish.

"Might have super-strength, but not a building-leaper. I'm Buffy. I live in Sunnydale. I have friends. And I help make sure they'll keep living here too, ‘cause I can. Like you did." Beat. "Besides, costumes would be itchy."

The corner of Faith's mouth twitched, but it was brief. "He had to die." Her voice pleaded for reassurance.

Buffy nodded. "And I wouldn't have been able. Then what happens? Glory rehabs, and wraths the town to death. Did I mention ‘thank you'?" She could see a storm brewing behind those brown eyes. "Was it easy?"

Faith slumped down, back against the dumpster. "Hell no."

Buffy crouched, because she wouldn't let her sister slayer be lower than her. "I'm thinking no vomit if it had been. You're a good person. A good person that had to do a sad, necessary thing."

"Yeah? That what I am?"

{"Then who the fuck are you, huh?"}

"Says me," smiled Buffy. "You need to start believing, and stop comparing. I'm barely recouped from my sister's kidnapping, and an army massacre. See? I lose. Not saintly, not better. Sometimes we're responsible for ‘heroic,' but majority? I'm just Buffy, you're just Faith. Pedestal-free people with flaws."

Being herself was what Faith was afraid of. She liked Buffy's answer better, but it still meant she was a good guy operating in the gray. What happened in the event gray went black?

The expression on the blonde's face said it wouldn't.

"We're here." She stood, and offered the brunette her hand. "Don't forget okay? You don't hafta disappear."

She pulled Faith up when her offer was accepted. "Unless it's to Boston for the summer. To make out with an old best friend. *That* I'd totally understand."




The gun--there it was. Veronica reached for it with her good hand, and on the way back up, she saw an awake Tara leaning against an awake, bloody-nosed Willow. Head resting on shoulder, hands clasped at their sides, they walked slowly from the scene. It was nice that something sweet could emerge out of this alley.

"That's your dad's," Buffy said behind her, catching Veronica unaware, who slowly turned around.

What was she going to say now? Nothing. She simply held her girlfriend's bag open so the gun could be dropped in. Then both she and Veronica watched Faith close Ben's eyes, running her hand over his face. Like a soldier in war.

"Giles made a call," Veronica now answered the question that was in Buffy's eyes after viewing that.

She knew not to plan a murder without a "clean up" plan. She didn't get an A on that paper for nothing.

"Once we aren't here, he won't be either, was the gist."

The slayer was shocked to learn that her hospital-confined Watcher knew. "The Council?"

"Didn't ask." This was killing Veronica; she was waiting for a reaction.

"C'mon, you need a doctor." Buffy carefully slipped an arm around the detective's waist, and they went the way of Willow and Tara.

"Hey, there's an idea. Because, and sorry if this blows your mind...whatever the hell I said before? About that pain I'm in? All a lie. One of my more subtle and underplayed, but still."

Buffy turned her head back. "Faith, can you call Xander? He can take us...if he's not in Mexico already."

"Yeah..." Faith agreed distractedly, her own head turned back to look at her victim. "Yeah. No problem."




The doctor who'd seen to Veronica's wrist and outfitted it with a splint, left to make the rest of his rounds in the ER as Buffy came past the curtain. They knew her here; she'd brought in many a vamp victim. They didn't deny her access.

"Hey," greeted Veronica softly, sitting over the side of the hospital table. "How's Giles?"

"Signing himself out. He's almost as grouchy a patient as me. Wouldn't believe how hard he cleaned his glasses," Buffy smirked. "How're you?"

Veronica showed off the splint. "I wanted something...more in a bionic, but our insurance isn't as comprehensive as Dad likes to think."

"Oh, I stopped to get the camera back. Whole lair is uber-tacky. Scooch," requested Buffy, and hopped up next to the injured.

Sanitary paper crinkled under her butt.

"Were you actually...?"

"To keep you from dying? In any and all senses of the word? Yes," Veronica told her, not shying from it. "I thought there'd be more surprise, how much I n--"

Buffy's lips cut her off. Tenderly, for a fully-realized, uninterrupted minute. There wasn't a thing to tell, that showing couldn't get more effectively across. What Veronica sacrificed, what she was willing to...score one for Lilly again. Bitch.

"I'm back. For good now."

Veronica saw and felt as much. She was just counting her lucky stars that she hadn't scared her girlfriend away. When she smiled, it was teeth and all.

"Had me worried."

"*I* had me worried," admitted Buffy. "But I'm gonna show Mom I can deal, and be her daughter, and not go anywhere. Gonna show you, too."

The detective's free arm went under the slayer's. "What brought you out of it?"

"Uh, know how you were haunted? Dream-wise?"

Veronica couldn't be called "slow." Her jaw slacked. "*Lilly*?"

Unfortunately for her vice-like curiosity, Keith Mars made his appearance through the curtain. He *couldn't* be denied access.

"Who's your daddy?"

Somehow she managed to tear her attention away, and looked at him, penitent. "Depends. Still wanna claim me as your own?"

"From age ten on, your resale value's only been decreasing. I'd have to pay someone to take you now. That ship has sailed, honey."

Buffy pushed off the table as father enveloped daughter, and quietly let them have their enviable moment. Yet she had a family too, still. Dawn was probably going crazy back in the waiting room. She was going to head there, but as she breached the curtain, Veronica's voice rooted feet to their spot.

"So you'll never guess what was left just, lying around in the back of Xander's car. It *looked* like some sort of device used to track."

Buffy Summers loved Veronica Mars, but, *beep*.

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