Chapter 6 pt. 3


"Hello? Is anyone about?"

Buffy was startled out of her Tai Chi exercises by the voice from the living room. She gratefully ended what had been a poor workout due to her lack of concentration. She left the courtyard to find Wesley Windham Price and a girl of about sixteen in her living room. "Well, I know you aren't vampires since you weren't invited in," laughed Buffy, attracting their attention.

Wesley spun to face her, a smile on his face in response to her teasing, but the girl behind him scowled, unamused. Buffy sighed and decided to ignore it for now, turning to greet Wesley instead. "Heya Wes," she said, shaking his hand. "What took you? I expected you hours ago."

"Yes, well, it took a bit longer than anticipated. And, I did knock, but no one answered and the bell didn't work," Wesley said, retrieving his hand to adjust his glasses and his tie. A movement from the other Slayer caught Buffy's eye, and she looked pointedly from her to Wesley. "Oh, of course," he murmured, straightening his spine. "Buffy, this is Aria Mandela; the most recent Slayer called against the darkness. Aria, this is Buffy Summers, Slayer since 1996 and our hostess for the next few weeks."

Buffy offered her hand in greeting, an action that was ignored by the younger girl. Buffy dropped her hand and studied Aria, well aware of the fact that she was being scrutinized in return.

Aria was several inches taller, and very lean. She remembered Wesley mentioning that she had been on her old school's swim team before destiny stepped into her life, and it showed in her sleek body and muscled arms. What distracted Buffy from her perusal was her appearance. Aria's hair had been dyed a red so dark it was almost maroon, and she had cut it brutally short and pulled it into small, spiky peaks all over her head. And while Buffy herself had multiple holes pierced in each ear, she had never seen the attraction of piercing eyebrow's or noses as Aria had. Or tongues, Buffy added silently, something she discovered when Aria spoke for the first time.

"I would have thought you could tell we weren't vamps," were the first confrontational words out of the other Slayer's mouth.

Buffy sighed, trying to remind herself how much she'd hated having her eyes opened to what *really* goes bump in the night, and tried to answer civilly. "I *could* tell you weren't vamps," she managed softly. "You don't set off my alarms, and you could actually get into the house." Buffy reached to pick up one of the bags piled in the foyer as she finished speaking, but Aria grabbed it and glared. Buffy shrugged and reached for one of Wesley's boxes of books instead "Speaking of the house, let me show you to the rooms you'll be staying in." The older Slayer turned to her former Watcher and nodded towards the box in her arms. "Did you want these in your room, or in the library?" she asked as she led the way to the stairs.

"Leave them in my room for now," Wesley replied from behind her, his suitcase clattering against the railing of the stairs. "I'm reluctant to interfere in Mr. Giles' haven without speaking to him. The last thing we need is any additional tension between us. Besides, my journals are still private." Buffy nodded, remembering the competitive relationship between the two Watchers during her senior year in high school. "I say, that was very impressive warding on the front door," Wesley ventured after a few moments of stair climbing.

The silence was getting a bit oppressive, so Buffy jumped at the opening he provided her; even mindless chatter was better than pretending that Aria wasn't glaring daggers at her back. "Yeah, Willow really went all out. She had a Catholic Priest, a Rabbi, and a Wiccan priestess out here to bless the place, and Willow, Amy, and Anya all worked together to ward off evil spirits and promote peace and harmony here. After everything that's happened here, we need all the good luck we can get," Buffy finished grimly, thinking of past pain and tragedy.

Buffy reached the upstairs hall and led the way to a door at one end. It turned out that they were actually at the juncture of two hallways, one side with three doors and the other with only the one Buffy was standing before. "This door leads to a large private apartment," she explained, unlocking the door. "It used to be two small apartments and were used as servants quarters, rentals, or in-law apartments. We remodeled it into one, large, four bedroom apartment. It's got an outside entrance on the backside of the house and is accessible from the loop that goes around the garage. It can be a completely separate living quarters," Buffy continued, turning to Aria, "and your family will be staying here until they find jobs, or a home of their own." Buffy handed her a ring of keys before cautioning, "There are two doors, this one and one downstairs, that connect it to the main house. We are looking into double sided deadlocks for privacy, but until we work out emergency escape planning with your family, it's only these latches that are fairly easy to break."

Aria accepted the keys, a grudging look of surprise and appreciation on her face. Buffy breathed a sigh of relief; she'd known that the idea of living with Wesley twenty-four hours a day would disturb Aria. She would want time away from Slaying where she could pretend to be a normal girl, just as Buffy had when she was younger. "Thanks," the other girl mumbled, her voice barely audible, but at least she *did* say it.

"You're welcome," Buffy answered simply, then turned to Wesley. "Wes, take your pick of one of the guest rooms," she invited, waving down the hallway. "Giles has pretty much staked out his room, but you can have any of the others. Go ahead and put your stuff down and freshen up for a few minutes while I show Aria the apartment, then we'll do the grand tour."

Buffy forced a smile and cheer into her voice. She opened to door to what would be Aria's temporary home, only to pause briefly at the portal. "Wesley, please bring most of your weapons, unless they're still in your car. You can keep some under lock and key in your room, but most will need to be locked up downstairs." When Wesley nodded and headed down the hall, Buffy turned to Aria. "I can be a little more flexible with you because you will be living with your family in a separate area. But, I will caution you, Aria. The Council says you have younger brothers and sisters. I can guarantee that if there are weapons left around, they will find them. You are welcome to keep your weapons in our locker in the basement, or, if you wish, I have some trunks with locks that you are welcome to use if you want to keep them in your room."

"I've got one already," Aria said as she followed Buffy into her new home. "I'd only been active a week when my little sister found my crossbow and shot her teddy bear. That's kind of how my parents found out what was going on."

"Ouch," winced Buffy sympathetically. "I'm not sure weather to envy you or commiserate," she said as she showed the teen the apartment. "It's got to be better than lying to them for years and feeling like they'll never trust you again, but I know from experience that parents really don't like the idea of their 'little girl' growing up to be a Slayer, and a cross bow bolt can be a pretty graphic wake up call."

Finished with the tour, and out of things to say, Buffy watched silently as Aria stowed her things in the bedroom closest to the stairs. She'd caught the other Slayer casting curious glances in her direction, unsure of what to make of the situation, but she could also tell that the less experienced girl was at least listening, even when she was trying to act nonchalant and uninterested.

The pair returned to the upper hallway, and Buffy stopped Aria from locking the doors behind them. "I'm sorry Aria, but until your parents get here, and I get to know you, you can't lock the door between us. We need to be able to get to you and vice versa in case of an emergency. It's not personal. I just don't know you well enough to know how you'd react in a crisis yet." Aria glowered at Buffy, who simply said, "I can ask your parents what they would allow for future reference," at which point Aria went back to her nonchalant attitude.

After another moment of awkward silence, Buffy once more ventured a comment. "Aria, before Wesley rejoins us, I have just a few words of advice. You don't have to follow them, but consider that I'm still around after 8 years in the biz. First, if Wesley gives you the Slayer's Handbook, take it with a grain of salt. I've never even seen one, and I'm still fighting. Second, emotions are my strength. Granted they can be a weakness as well, but when it's about protecting people I care about, there's very little I can't do. Maybe that'll work for you, maybe not, but you do need to find out what gives you the most strength. And finally, seize the moment. Life is short, especially for Slayers, so grab what you can, while you can. Just be careful what you're reaching for, because the consequences of being uninformed can be unbelievable. Think on that while you're getting to know everyone, and how Sunnydale works. Wesley will want to brief you on the typical activity here before you get a regular patrol set, though you may get a tour of the cemeteries and various safe havens tomorrow evening. I'm having a few guests for dinner, and Wesley may want you out to the way while we all hash out old problems, but you and I will definitely patrol together the night after."

"Whatever," muttered Aria, not looking at Buffy at all, just gazing over the shorter woman's shoulder as they waited on her watcher.

Wesley soon joined them with a bag slung over his shoulder that clanked familiarly. "OK, here's the deal," Buffy said as she started showing them around. "Wesley knows nearly everyone who's likely to show up here Aria, but the rules I'm going to go over will apply to him too, even if I end up speaking mostly to you. There are a lot of unusual people and beings that are likely to be here at any given time, so the first rule is - do not assume."

Buffy continued to talk, briefly showing them where everyone was currently sleeping though not adding any personal information than necessary, or description to her narrative. They moved downstairs, and the rules were explained, covering everything to treatment of the books, proper shelving of them, storage of weapons, respecting privacy, and extending invitations for friends to enter the house. The final destination was the basement where Buffy showed them one of the escape routes she'd planned, reluctantly realizing that while she trusted Wesley, and wanted to trust Aria, she couldn't risk her family on a Slayer the Council had concerns about until she'd learned how dangerous Aria might be. Buffy was aware that the Watcher's Council could have overreacted, but she couldn't risk Erin's life on that likelihood.

The group locked up Wesley's weapons and stopped at the final destinations of the tour. "These are holding cells," Buffy said quietly, nodding to one finished and two unfinished doors. We're working on adding camera and motion sensitive surveillance equipment as well as finishing up the last two cells, but the main reason you're here is this." Buffy took a deep breath and looked Aria straight in the eye. "One of my friends, Oz, is a werewolf. He gets locked up in this room the three nights a month that he's furry. Do *not* come down here out of curiosity or because you think that, as a Slayer, you can take him in a fight. Maybe you could, if you're not worried about hurting him, and because you can think rationally when he can't. But, Oz is a human being that comes here voluntarily to keep others safe, and because he knows that he's safe here, as well. You will probably have the opportunity to wolf-sit once he and Willow get to know you, and if you have any questions or are curious they'll do what they can to help you understand them, but this is just as serious a rule as inviting vampires into the house. And don't doubt for one minute that you *will* pay for endangering my family and friends."

Aria's face flushed, and she was about to defend herself, or attack in return, when Buffy cut her off. "I don't know you Aria; I just know that the council is concerned about how you handle things, your emotional reactions. I have had past experience with a rogue Slayer, and it is one of the most dangerous things I've ever had to face. Faith was my friend, and she turned on us, and I don't want you to feel as alone, or ignored, or as unwanted as she did. I don't trust the council's opinions on anything at face value, despite our reconciliation, but if someone warns me about a possible threat to my family, I have to consider the possibilities. And again, this does not leave Wesley out of the hot seat. We have a rocky past, and while I'm learning to trust him again, Wes didn't help someone I loved when he needed it. Wesley's earned that man's trust since then, and his actions to help me later got him fired, which also helps, but I have serious trust issues right now, with everyone." Buffy suddenly turned to Wesley and frowned apologetically. "Sorry Wes, but I can't help how I feel."

"I know Buffy," he murmured. "I don't blame you." They stood there in an awkward silence for a few moments until Buffy heard the door open upstairs, and she led the small party up to face everyone else.