Disclaimer: Not Mine!

AN: This fic is a surprise for my bestest friend and collaborator, Illyria13. Think of it was a thank you for the present you gave me.

AN: This is set post season 2 of Buffy and sometime during season 2 of CSI: New York.

Solid Ground:

She had been young once. There was a time when she was all sunshine and sparkles. She had a mother and a father, lived in a big house, and had no real concerns in the world. It was a perfect life. With time, some of that had changed. She had a new big house in a new town, a mother, and friends. But she had traded childhood for a Calling. Not a choice she had willingly made, and one she would have abandoned if given a chance. Maybe that was where she had gone wrong. If she had only taken her Calling more seriously or focused more on the evil or trained a little harder…

It was a game she used to play with herself, after. At some point, she stopped. Because she realized it was a game she'd never win. And one unending battle in her life was enough. That's what her life was now, a battle. Before, she would have called herself a fighter, despite her given title. Fighters could live outside battle, they pick and choose when to engage in battle or not. But she wasn't a fighter. She was a warrior. Her entire life was the fight now. The battlefield was inside her now, inside her head, heart, and soul. It was inside her blood. Every moment, every breath was a challenge. Kill me if you can. Stop me if you dare.


Before: Winter 1996

Buffy Summers was pretty. Buffy Summers was pretty and popular. She was also a cheerleader, rich, and royalty at the spring dance. Buffy Summers was a California Princess. Her father adored her and showered her with gifts. Her mother was kind of strict but still clueless enough to let Buffy get away with almost anything. At Hemery High, she ruled with a lollypop in one hand and Gucci purse in the other. It was great to be her.

Until the day all that changed. The day Buffy got a destiny instead of a new credit card to shop with. The day Buffy's dreams of becoming a trophy wife to a rich actor or athlete died in a poof of dust. The day her first Watcher, Merrick, told her she was a Slayer.

Before Merrick, Buffy had never thought about things like death and darkness. When she used to hang out with friends and shop, now she trained with weapons and fought demons. Fashion, make-up, and boy thoughts had been replaced with tactics, demonology, and monsters. From the top of the social hierarchy to the lowest dregs of freakyville, Buffy fell from her old life. Dreams of lollypops and candycanes were now nightmares of blood and evisceration. The future that she had always taken for granted was traded for an early grave.

At first, Buffy had run from her Calling. She didn't want to die before she graduated high school. She didn't want to die at all! She didn't want to spend night after night battling the forces of darkness. Eventually, it caught her. And it cost her. Her foolishness had cost her the life of her Watcher and several friends. So, she took it up, that Calling, that Burden of the Slayer.

Her actions of revenge and protections expelled her from school. The late nights and missed appointments drove away her friends. The unexplained missing periods and fights separated her parents. She tried to be both, normal Buffy and the Slayer. It just wasn't possible.

When her mother announced they were moving to a new town, Buffy thought this was her chance. She could leave the Slayer behind her in LA and start over. How wrong she was. Destiny and the past don't let go. But she found new friends, better friends, a new Watcher, and love. It wasn't so bad. Maybe she could be both. Fortune favors the brave, after all.


Then: May 1998

Angelus: Now that's everything, huh? No weapons… no friends… no hope. Take all that away and what's left?

Buffy: Me.

~ Becoming Part II

Whistler: Bottom line is, even if you see'em coming, you're not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can't help that. It's what you do afterwards that counts. That's when you find out who you are. You'll see what I mean.

~ Becoming Part I

I can't breath. I can't move. I don't know why it had to be like this. Why I had to lose everything. My mom, my friends, my Angel. The cruelest of life jokes, that I got to see him one last time before I killed him. Is it worth it? Is this world really worth all the sacrifices we make for it? I don't know. That's a bad place for a Slayer to be.

Damn them! Damn Whistler, damn the world. Damn the Powers that Fucking Be! I don't care. This isn't what I wanted. This isn't my life. How can this be anyone's life, so full of pain and misery?

I'm crying now, great, loud gasps and slowly descending tears. I leave traces of my rage and sorrow on the floor as I fall. The memories of Angel, good and bad, are spilling out of me. Time passes, I think. I don't know how little or much. It just does.

The sun rises. I had almost convinced myself it wouldn't. Maybe it's a good thing it did. The universe wouldn't stop moving, even for a Slayer. I stood there, in the garden of the mansion and watched the sun begin its journey. I used to love the sun. The sun meant beaches, pools, and fun times with friends. When I was Called, it become a barrier that separated the Slayer and Buffy. At night, when demons roamed free, so did the Slayer. When morning came and the demons retreated, the Slayer slumbered. I didn't believe it anymore. Not when I stand here in the rays of the sun and I don't feel a damn thing.

There are things I need to do. I won't be staying here any longer. My mother doesn't want me, and it will be safer for her if I go. My friends… they won't give up. They'll keep fighting. I can't stop them, but they are going to need help, someone who can make them a family again. Giles will never stop searching for me, unless I give him a reason not to. I won't do that to them, leave them wondering if I'm alive or dead. I've got things to do before I can start my own journey.

The first thing I do is go home. Climbing up the tree by my window, I easily sneak into the house like so many times before. I got to my closest and open the doors. There is a bag on the floor that makes its way onto my bed. Staring at my clothes, I grab the ones that will serve me best. Black, grey, and other dull colors will help me blend into the crowd. I do take one color though, red. Red that will make my hair glow and eyes shine. Red that will bring the demons right to me and it will declare me a predator, for those who see such things. Weapons are next. I pull a cross from my drawer, holy water from on top my dresser, and knives and stakes from my trunk. There is one last weapon that comes with me, a sword. Angelus' sword that he pulled from Acathla, I brought it with me when I left the mansion. I don't know what its name was before, but I have named it Caliga.

One final thing I must do before I leave: the letter. It is a coward's way, but I don't want to just disappear on my mother. Mom will be up soon, so I have to hurry. As I put my pen to paper, the words flow freely. Faster than I had imagined, I am done and gone, the only reminders that I had been here a messy room and a goodbye letter on the bed. I didn't look back as I walked away from what was left of my childhood behind for my sorrowful and upset mother to pick up.

If I had thought leaving my mother was the hardest thing I would do today, I was very wrong. Watching my friends gather outside school, battered and, in some cases, broken, was worse. Their faces, despite the cuts and bruises, were filled with hope that I would soon join them. I wasn't. As I had failed them before by not killing Angelus when I should have, I would fail them again now. They turned and made their way into school, and I walked the opposite direction. I had to break into Giles' home, one last mission for Buffy Summers the Vampire Slayer.

It was as easy as I expected. A little application of Slayer strength and I was in. I glanced around the room, remembering the last time I had been here. But there was no Whistler this time. I was the one making this decision, not the Powers. Shaking my head, I moved to the desk by the door. Riffling through the drawers, I found what I was looking for. It was a book with the names and contact numbers for members of the Council. In the few minutes of sleep I had gotten since Kendra died, I dreamed. The new Slayer was a young, fiery brunette with some control issues. She needed a reason, and I needed help. I knew she lived in Boston and her Watcher's name was Linda.

Almost an hour had passed before I found the right entry. There was a Linda Sampson listed and her number had recently changed to one in the U.S. Taking a deep breath, I picked up the phone and dialed. I didn't know what the time difference was, but I was pretty sure it was morning. Finally someone picked up.

"Hello?" I could recognize that crispy British accent that Watchers are so fond of anywhere. A quick smile flashed across my lips before it was gone. I quickly explained who I was and what had happened in Sunnydale. Then I asked if she and her Slayer, whose name was Faith – go figure, would be able to move and handle the Hellmouth. I could tell she wasn't happy and didn't understand why I was asking, but I convinced her that Faith and she would find friends and back up here. In the end, Linda caved simply because the Hellmouth couldn't remain unprotected. Before I hung up the phone, she asked me one final question.

"Why are you running?"

I wanted to tell her I wasn't running, that it was for the best, but it would have been a lie. So, I told her the truth. "I'm not her. I'm not that girl anymore. I will kill them if I stay. Maybe not their bodies, but I'll poison the world for them. I won't do that."

There was nothing to do after that but go. I returned Giles' things to there proper spot and carefully shut his door. In less than 40 minutes, I was on a bus to LA. I would stay there a week, guilt some money from Hank, then I would be gone. As the bus rattled past the Sunnydale sign, I thought about what I had left behind me. My mother, friends, Watcher, my love, I was leaving my family. Then I thought about what I had left them, a chance, a future, a world, and nestled in between the phone and a pen holder on Giles' desk was Mr. Gordo.


After: June 1998

It had taken her a little longer in LA than she expected. Convincing Hank not to call her mom was a challenge. They reached an agreement. He would give her five thousand dollars and not tell Joyce. In return, she would never contact him again and not tell her mother about Hank's affair with his secretary. Walking away from him for the last time, she wondered how he had ever meant so much to her.

About a week after she left Sunnydale, Linda and Faith showed up. It was rough at first, but both groups had settled in with each other nicely. That was one worry off her back. Giles had really stepped up and taken care of Joyce. They acted like surrogate parents to the gang. She hoped Giles and her mom would be happy together.

While patrolling one night, she came across a demon club called Caritas. Going in, she expected it to be another sleaze joint like Willy's. But it wasn't. The owner, a demon named Lorne, ran a karaoke bar. He was they prettiest shade of green and could read the auras of people when they sang. And there was no violence allowed inside. Lorne had explained it to her when she asked how he kept all the different kinds of demons in line. Not only was Lorne a great listener and advice giver, but he had a lot of contacts in the demon world that were very useful.

Lorne helped her adjust to the new path she was making for herself. He taught her about peaceful demons and shades of grey. Wouldn't the Council get a kick out of the Slayer helping a bunch of demons flee from overzealous hunters? She stayed in LA for three weeks, learning how to live by and with herself and the things she'd done. A fighter no longer, she had pushed aside the barriers between Buffy and the Slayer and let them become one person, she was a warrior against evil. A creature of the shadows, she still fought for those who needed her, be they human or demon.

Her last week in LA, Lorne threw her a surprise party. A few of her demon friends came, and they partied. She couldn't forget her sorrow for Angel or rage at the Powers or shame for failing her Calling, but she was trying, trying to do better, for herself, her Calling and the world. Lorne pulled her aside when the party was over and gave her three things. First was a fake i.d. for twenty one year old Isabel Nix. Second was a cell phone that only he and several other underground demon leaders had the number to. If they or she needed help, they could contact each other. Finally, Lorne stepped forward and pulled her into a hug. Surprised and nervous, she didn't move at first. Then, she grabbed him with all the strength available to her and whispered a thank you in his ear.

Isabel Nix left LA on June 22, 1998 to begin a new destiny.

Whistler: In the end, you're always by yourself. You're all you've got. That's the point.

~ Becoming Part II


Now: November 2005

In the six years since Buffy had left Sunnydale, a lot had changed. She was 22 years old, quite a feat for a Slayer. In 2000, she had gotten her GED. Mostly wandering from east coast to west, slaying the bad guys and helping the good had shown her a new world, one where slaying wasn't a chore but a choice to help those who needed it. Leaders of towns and cities kept in touch with her and when they required her help for big problems she gave it. After the five thou her father gave her ran out, Buffy started taking money from the demons he killed. It wasn't pretty, but war rarely is. The spoils go to the victor.

Occasionally, she checked in on her Sunnydale family. Joyce and Giles were married and had adopted a young girl named Dawn after her parents were killed by vampires. Xander was in a committed relationship with an ex-vengeance demon named Anya. That still made her laugh to this day. Willow had found her soul mate in a sweet witch called Tara. Oz and Faith were openly dating other people but secretly they only had eyes for each other. All of them still fought the good fight, but Sunnydale had calmed down enough for them to have lives away from slaying.

Buffy had faced some tough challenges since her departure from LA, not all of them external. During her stay in Reno, she had heard rumors of a master vampire that was heading to Sunnydale to take care of the Slayer that had cut his face. Kakistos, they said his name was, old enough to have cloven feet and horns. In an attempt to protect her family, she tracked him to Las Vegas. It wasn't too hard to find him after that. Their first encounter was where the last of Buffy's run-in-and-slay-with-out-forethought mentality died and she almost went with it. After ditching the hospital staff, police, and some really pushy people called CSIs, she went to the hotel room she was staying in and found as much information about the vampire as she could. Their next fight cost Kakistos more than half his minions and a lieutenant who called himself Trick. The last fight Buffy skewered the vampire with a spear she'd had made for her. She left the burning warehouse with a new scar that ran from underneath her right ear to her collarbone.

What had shocked her most the most was the police. They were actually good at their job. Instead of ignoring the strange and unusual, they were all gun-ho to solve cases and catch bad guys. This was a good thing when the cases involved humans, but it was a bitch to deal with when the supernatural was present. More than once, she had saved unsuspecting policemen from poking their noses into vampire crimes. Fairly easy to prevent, dust the vamps and the police eventually had to close the case. What was difficult were magic users. They looked human and could be caught by human means. How do you explain to the cops that the person they are about to arrest can kill them with just a thought or disappear into thin air? Worse was that it was impossible to bind every witch or mage before the people could catch them. Sometimes the person was too strong or hid themselves from traditional ways hunters could catch them. Buffy had been forced to kill several of them because of this. It was hard, taking a human life, but when the choice was between someone like her, who protected the innocent, and a murderer, she did what she had to. That's what she told herself, anyway. It let her sleep during the day. Sometimes that's all you can ask for.

Six years had brought here to this point. Standing on the roof of a building in Manhattan, watching the city from the shadows, Buffy was in her element. Seth, a Bracken demon, had called her five days ago about a clan of demons that had recently moved in. He wasn't sure how many there were, but he did know their species, Kungai. Brackens were peaceful demons, and they were a small tribe with little or no fighters. She agreed to come to New York and take care of the problem.

After finding somewhere to crash for the next few weeks, Buffy began her hunt. Kungai demons were almost seven feet tall, including their horn. The horn was what she had to be wary of. It could drain the life from a person if stabbed. Luckily, the demons also left a yellow slime trail that made it easy to tell where they had been. On the downside, after a few hours the goop dried, leaving no trace. From what she had determined, they had killed four people already and several more demons. To narrow down her search area, Buffy realized they always killed within the same fifteen city blocks, probably because those streets had easy sewer access. All she had to do now was wait for another attack and follow the Kungai back to its nest.

Hearing a commotion from a few buildings over, Buffy sprinted from shadow to shadow to find the source. It was a Kungai attacking a bum in an alley. She jumped over a pile of garage and kicked the demon away from the man who ran terrified out the alley and around the corner. As much as she would have liked to kill the thing now, Buffy let the Kungai escape. After a few seconds, she followed. The demon led her down the sewers and about a mile away was the nest. There were four others she could see.

The injured Kungai began clicking away in its language, telling the others what had happened. As the demons clicked to each other, Buffy settled down to wait for more demons to appear. Within the next forty minutes, two more demons appeared. Taking a deep breath, she withdrew a stake from the small of her back and threw. As intended, the stake landed in the eye socket of one of the demons and killed it. Spinning around, frantically trying to find the source of the attack, the Kungai panicked. Another stake made its way into the chest of a demon. Two down and the injured one ran into another tunnel. Moving into the room to face the three demons, Buffy drew a sword from a sheath on her back.

Time had whittled her fighting style down to an art, and as she stood looking over her prey, she told them what the future held. "I am the Warrior of Shadows, the once Golden Slayer, and wielder of Caliga. But you may call me death."

Had anyone been in there to witness the fight, they would have seen glints of metal in the dark sewers as Caliga reflected what little light there was. Thuds of skin smacking together, grunts as bodies flew, and the whistle of blade through flesh was all that could be heard. If the person watching had extremely good eyesight, they might have seen a young blonde woman covered in dark yellow blood of three Kungai demons. But there was no one. Just as no one saw the figures head snap up and focus on the direction the injured demon had fled. And no one heard the laughter that echoed as the figure chased after her prey.

Mac Taylor was not a simple man. He was a Marine, a widow, and a CSI. The Marines had taught him a lot and showed him much more. Then, upon being discharged Mac became a cop. He wanted to caught the bad guys and make them pay for what they did. Despite all his years and experience he'd never had a case like this. Four bodies had turned up, all different ages, genders, and races, completely disintegrated. Only the clothes remained behind covered in ashes of skin and small pieces of bone. They couldn't figure out how it was possible. One of the victims had been seen less than four hours before the remains were discovered. Besides the cause of death, all the victims had turned up in roughly the same area. He didn't know why. He didn't know when. And definitely didn't know how.

Sighing, Mac stood up from his desk and the papers on it. The D.A. was pressing him to find out anything at all about this case. The public and media were going nuts. He didn't have anything for them. All he could do was process the evidence. Which was the problem, the evidence was destroyed with the bodies. Mac grabbed his jacket and walked out of his office. Stella passed him as he walked towards the elevator. "Hey, Mac. You going somewhere?"

"Yea, the last crime scene, I think we're missing something." With that comment, Mac got in the elevator and descended to the parking level.

The yellow crime scene tape was still there swaying in the breeze. Mac set his case on the ground, got out his flashlight and looked around. He wondered how it was possible that no one saw the attacker. All the victims were killed where they were found. Thinking, Mac slowing considered the scene. When the beam of his flashlight fell on the sewer access tunnel, he knew. That was how the murderer was getting around the city, the sewer system. He began to consider who would have access to the plans or know the sewers that well. Walking to his case, Mac pulled on a pair of gloves and got out fingerprint powder, a brush, and lift. Just as he started to dust the man hole cover, it was pushed up with great force, and he was sent backwards, spilling powder everywhere.

Mac quickly shook his head and sat up from where he'd fallen. He drew his gun and willed his eyes to focus on what he saw seeing, a seven foot, made-for-tv monster. The thought quickly crossed his mind that he had a severe concussion and just as quickly dismissed it. The clicking, slimy thing was all too real. He wasn't a Marine for nothing; he knew danger when it was standing right in front of him. Pulling the trigger, Mac discharged three rounds into the monster before it was close enough to knock his gun away and lift him up by his throat. The thing lowered his horn to Mac's chest and was about to impale him when a growl came from the tunnel. Opening its hand, the beast dropped Mac and turned towards the sound. He couldn't see what it was before the fight began. It was too fast for him to see. All he could see was the monster was trying to attack a small, black-clad figure.

As suddenly as it began, the battle was over. The head of the monster rolled away from the body. Shocked by the sight, it took Mac a second to turn his attention to his rescuer. And there was more shock with a helping of disbelief. The fighter that had killed the monster was a girl. A young girl, a young, blonde girl who was covered in a yellow substance, not knowing what to say, he stared for a minute before speaking. "You shouldn't be here."

Buffy couldn't help but smile at the irony of that statement. "You, I really should. I belong here. You are the one out of place."

The policeman looked like he was going to argue with her for a moment, but he just slowly nodded. "Maybe, given how you dispatched that… thing, I guess this is your territory."

While he was speaking, the body of the demon had melted, leaving only more goop behind. She watched as the policeman thought over what he'd seen. This had happened to her before. It was just a question of whether or not he would repress what happened or become crazily obsessed. "You should be more careful, never know what might be waiting in the dark."

Looking straight into his eyes, she could see a kindred spirit there. He, like she had, dedicated his life to the war, the enemies might be different but both of them fought evil. There was confusion and strangely, acceptance in his gaze. For a moment, she was tempted. Tempted to stay and bond. To learn his story and his body like she knew her own, but she didn't. She couldn't; this was not her only fight. As she turned to walk away, he spoke again. "Are there more?"

"More?" She softly returned without looking at him.

"Others like it?"

"No, no more like it."

He seemed to contemplate that for a moment. "Are there other things?"

She knew what he was asking. "Yes."

Taking a deep breathe, he moved forward a step. "Can I have your number?"

When she just looked at him, he clarified. "I don't know what that was. I don't really want to know. This isn't my place, as you said. But if there's more, if I think another one of my cases is like this, I want someone to take care of it."

It was hard for him to do. He didn't like not knowing things. She could tell how much it bothered him to trust the care of the people he protect to someone else. Her instincts demanded he not fail this trust. Facing him once more, she pulled a card out of her pocket and handed it to him. "Ask Isabel to get a message to Buffy."

Taking the card, Mac got one of his own out of his wallet. Glancing up, he held the card out to empty air. "I didn't tell her my name."

The shadows in the alley whispered back to him. "Does it matter? She knows who you are. Names mean little in a war like hers. You'd better hurry; the sun will be up soon. Wouldn't want to miss that."