disclaimer in first part

Lesser Evils
By Matt


It took Buffy a week to find the vampire that had killed Sung. Originally, she had thought that doing so would be impossible, even if the vampire hadn’t left town or been dusted in her rampage after Sung’s death. Vampires remembered individual victims the way people remembered individual meals, so trying to find the right vampire in Sunnydale wasn’t like trying to find a needle in a haystack so much as it was like trying to find a piece of hay that was the exact right shade of yellow.

Fortunately for Buffy’s search, Sung had been rather distinctive-looking.


"Yeah, yeah, sure," the vampire said, cutting a quick glance at the picture Buffy held in one hand, while he swatting contemptuously at her other arm, which was holding him pinned against the wall of Willy's Bar. "That’s the little Chinee girl I ate."

"She was Vietnamese," Buffy gritted out, twisting her hand in his shirt and pushing him against the wall even harder. This vamp apparently thought of himself as some kind of badass. He was certainly dressed like one—from the nineteen-forties. Bomber jacket and all. That also meant that she was dealing with her grandfather’s racial sensitivities here. At best. Well, she wasn’t interested in humoring either of his delusions.

"She had slanted eyes and a yellow streak in her hair—it was the chicky in the picture. What else do you want?" He demanded. He tried to pull away, but Buffy slammed him against the wall this time.

"Now I want answers to the rest of my questions," she answered.

Captain Bomber Jacket reached out and pushed her away. "I’m about done answering questions, you little bi—" He screamed as Buffy buried a stake in his gut. Then she tore it out, grabbed him by the shirt again, slammed him against the wall hard enough to rattle the boards, and laid the point against his chest.

"I think I’ve been called a bitch just about enough these past few weeks," Buffy whispered in his face, leaning in until their noses were nearly touching.

"Okay!" The vampire sobbed. "Okay, okay! Ask your questions! Ask your questions!"

"Uh, hey, Slayer, uh—" Willy began diffidently. He’d come out from behind the bar, but stopped well outside Buffy’s reach. "Do you think you could—"

"Willy," Buffy said in the same deadly calm she’d been using to address the vampire, "I’m working on a case right now. A case that I take very personally. If you interfere with this investigation, I will cripple you."

Willy blinked, then returned to the bar without another word.

"Since everyone else in this bar is a demon," Buffy continued, raising her voice but not changing her tone. "I will simply kill you if you interfere."

A group of vampires that had been standing to help their buddy quietly returned to their seats.

Buffy turned her attention back to Captain Bomber Jacket. "You see how it is," she said casually.

"What is this chi…this girl to you?" Captain Bomber Jacket asked.

"I’m the one asking the questions," Buffy said. "And the first is: do you know a guy named Darren Edwards?"


Buffy released his shirt and pulled a picture of Darren—a surveillance photo from the Initiative—out of her pocket. "Him."

The vampire shook his head. "Never seen him before."

"Careful. Whatever he’s paying you won’t do much good if you’re dust," Buffy warned, pressing just a little harder on the stake.

"He’s not paying me anything! How could he be paying me anything if I’ve never met the man in my entire—if I’ve never met him?"

Buffy returned the picture to her pocket. "Better be sure," she said. "You see, Mr. Edwards has been preying on women at UC Sunnydale for a long time, in his own way. Not as long as you have, of course. Now, his problem is that his way leaves survivors behind. For three years, he’s been lucky. None of them have fought back. But now, one finally has. He may be in real trouble for the first time. Know who that one was?"

"The girl in the picture?" The vampire suggested tremulously.

"Right," Buffy nodded. "Her name is Sung. She fought back, and she was in a position to get him in a lot of trouble, no matter how good his family’s lawyers are. So suddenly, one night, she dies. It doesn’t really look like suicide, but the Sunnydale Coverup Machine calls it that, and she’s buried. Case closed and our boy’s in the clear because oops, no plaintiff."

"Oops," the vampire said weakly.

"Right. Now, that’s all bad enough. But as the weeks pass, Darren’s other victims start disappearing, too. And they all look like suicide. Do you know what that looks like to me?"

The vampire shook his head.

"It looks to me like his close call scared him pretty good, and now he’s covering his tracks. The same way he did before."

"Sounds good," the vampire agreed, nodding frantically. "Just one problem."

"Which is?"

"If I was supposed to make sure that this, uh, Sung kept her mouth shut, then why did I sire her?"

Buffy froze. "You what?"

"It can be hard not to, when you’ve just drank somebody dry and you’re completely fueled up—it’s like when you’re alive and you’ve promised to pull out, but—"

"Okay, enough, I get the idea," Buffy interrupted, her face wrinkling in disgust.

"But I wouldn’t have done it if I was getting paid to shut someone’s mouth," Captain Bomber Jacket babbled on. "It’d kinda defeat the point, wouldn’t it?"

"Yes, it would," Buffy said, her eyes far away, thinking furiously. Then she refocused her attention on Captain Bomber Jacket. "If you’re lying, I’ll find you," she promised.

He held up his hands. "I’m squaring with you. On my mother’s grave."

She gave him one last suspicious glare, then she released him with one last shove and ran out the door.

Captain Bomber Jacket took a moment to dust himself off, straighten his jacket, and gather his dignity about him. He looked around the room, but everyone was still studiously Looking Away.

"Crazy bitch," he muttered.

A stake flew in through the door and dusted him.

Willy shook his head. "She told him she was sick of being called that."


"Hello. This is Willow."

"Willow, this is Buffy. Is—"

"Oh, hi Buffy. What’s going on? Did you find something, or is this just, you know, social. Because—"

"Will! Is there a party at Phi Kap tonight?"

"Is it a day between Wednesday and Monday?"

"Right. Dumb question. Will, I’ve figured out what’s going on, and I promise I’ll explain later, but I have to go now. I have to stop it."

"Wait, Buffy. Just give me a minute to get some stuff and I’ll help—"


Willow stared at the dial-toning phone.



Open. The grave had been open. And empty. Not a grave-robbing or exhumation with shovels or backhoes, but the familiar hand-dug burrow.

Buffy had told Riley that her idea about Darren’s hired assassin was a hunch before she’d called it a hypothesis. Now she realized it was neither. It had been a conclusion she’d jumped to, based on one connection and her hatred of Darren Edwards.

But upon seeing that empty grave, she’d remembered that there were other people who hated Darren Edwards, some even more than she did. And she knew what had been happening.

Then came the hunch. And a hunch was nothing so weak as a hypothesis or a guess or a jumped conclusion. Perhaps it was even a prophecy, like her dreams. But whatever it was, she knew what was happening. And where. And she knew that it was happening right now, and that she needed to stop it.

Buffy hung up the phone and started to run.


Buffy raced through the woods, her boots hardly seeming to touch the trail. She hurdled a fallen tree and once again thought about how UC Sunnydale seemed set up perfectly, not as a place for humans to live but as a place for demons to feed. Wild forest surrounded the campus, even snaking a few tendrils in among the lawns and quads and heavily-shrubbed pathways. Night-things could come and go without being seen by any but their victims.

But then, Buffy was a night-thing herself.

Fraternity Row was set particularly far back in the woods, and Buffy had to wonder whether Richard Wilkins had designed the campus himself. Fraternity Row was the highest concentration of drunk and unwary people on campus. A veritable buffet.


She spotted the low stone wall that formed the border of Phi Kap’s back lawn.

As she drew closer, the house came into sight, and she knew that she’d been right. Screams were coming from inside and flames were starting to rise in some of the windows.

Buffy hurdled the wall and flew across the lawn. The back door was closed, but she didn’t even slow down. She just lowered her shoulder and charged right on through.


The back door of the Phi Kappa Sigma house was solid oak. Buffy hit it hard enough to break it, but the frame gave way first. The door flew open, sending splinters of the frame flying through the room, and Buffy charged in.

The interior of the house was in ruins. The furniture was broken. The big-screen TV in the den had been kicked in. Trophies and plaques had been pulled off the wall. About half the lights were out and those that remained were flickering, turning the house into a dim, strobelike nightmarescape. Perhaps the electrical system had been damaged.

Some of the brothers had tried to fight. They were the ones lying broken on the floor—some groaning, some silent. Others had apparently tried to escape to their rooms. Those were the rooms that were going up in flames.

The brothers who could still move had been herded into the den, and were now standing surrounded by a group of familiar-looking young women.

Of course they looked familiar. She’d seen their faces quite a few times in the Initiatives files of the girls who’d gone missing. The fact that some of them were manifesting their vampiric faces made little difference. She was too used to it.

Buffy paused when she saw that the girls were just holding the brothers in place, rather than starting to eat. Then she started walking. Maybe she could talk through this, instead of taking on a rather pointless fight with close onto two dozen vamps.

"I know what you’re here for," she announced as she approached them. They whirled on her and snarled into vamp face, but she forced herself to keep calm. "Darren hurt all of you, and you want revenge. I’m on board with that. But you know I can’t let you hurt them."

She pointed at the brothers of Phi Kap, who were staring at her incredulously.

"Can’t let?" One of the vampiresses, who’d been a Philosophy major named Rachel a week before, chuckled. An ugly, half-bestial sound. "Maybe you haven’t noticed how many of us there are. I don’t care if you are the Slayer, you aren’t ‘letting’ us do anything."

Buffy shrugged. "True. If I fight all of you, you’ll kill me. But a lot of you will die first. Is it really worth it? I don’t even see Darren here."

"Sung called dibs on him," an athletic, red-haired vamp who’d once been a Phys. Ed. Major from Kentucky, answered. "It’s her right as our sire."

Buffy had to stop herself from nodding. Her hunch had been correct. "What did she offer you?" She demanded. "Power? Revenge? Well, wake up! She’s the one who’s getting her revenge on Darren. You’re just playing zookeeper."

"You think they’re innocent?" Another—one former Mary Beth Wilson of Wisconsin—demanded.

"No," Buffy answered. "They knew what he was doing, and not only didn’t they stop it, they helped. They covered up. And they laughed at you. I know. Believe me, I know, and I’ve wanted to kill them, too. But I can’t let you."

Mary Beth shook her head. Her vampiric mask vanished, revealing a fresh-scrubbed, freckle-spattered face with boyishly-short, sun-blond hair. She could have been Riley’s sister. "Do you really think that’s all they did? Just sat around and watched the fun and never participated?"

Buffy stared back blankly, struck dumb. She realized that she had believed that. But then, she’d been too focused on Darren to consider it much.

"Want to know what they did to me?" Mary Beth continued. "They leaned me halfway out a window when I was too falling-down drunk to do otherwise and—let’s see, what did they call it?—ran a train on me. Those are the men you’re protecting."

Buffy almost puked then and there, but she fought it down. The taste of bile wouldn’t leave her mouth for the rest of the night, however. For one brief, blazing moment, she wanted to turn around and walk out. Let the vampiresses do whatever the hell they wanted to these scumbags who didn’t deserve the title ‘men’. After all, that put them in the same category as Xander, Giles, Riley, and even Parker.

But she was the Slayer. She defended humans. Period. She didn’t get to judge who lived and who died.

She picked up a pool cue from the table where one of the brothers—Buffy thought it was the one who had told her that Sung had been "gagging for it"—sprawled, white and drained.

"I didn’t know that," Buffy said as she gripped the cue like a quarterstaff and set herself. "But I’m not surprised. That’s why I’m giving you a chance to walk out of here."

Mary Beth snarled her demon face back into place and started stalking toward her, along with about half of the guards. "Some things are worth dying for, even for us," Mary Beth said. "Worth giving up a chance at forever. And yes, we do hate them that much."

"And guess what, you traitorous little bitch," Rachel growled. "You’re in our way."

Then they lunged.

They were young and weak—just barely out of the grave. Their speed was just slightly more than human, and their blows lacked the crushing power of the Master, Angelus, or even Spike.

Unfortunately, there were a lot of them.

Once upon a time, when she was young and weak herself, Buffy would have been overwhelmed almost immediately. But she wasn’t young and weak anymore—she’d been the Slayer for five years. Untrained instincts had been honed and practiced until they became muscle memory. Her eyes picked out every opening for her to slip through or thrust her pool cue into. She heard the whistle of a coming blow in time to duck or block or twist away. Mary Beth exploded into dust in the initial charge, and Rachel went staggering away, clutching her broken jaw. Buffy swept the feet out from one of her attackers, dislocated the knee of another with a well-placed kick; staked one with a thrust of her pool cue and smashed the teeth of another with the backthrust when she yanked it out.

But there were too many. The one whose teeth she’d smashed fell to the floor stunned, but another stepped over her and landed a kidney punch. Buffy rolled with the punch and spun around into a high kick, sending the kidney-puncher flying, but the Phys. Ed. Major took the opportunity to kick her in the hip from the other side. It staggered Buffy just enough. They began to pile on.

That was when the windows exploded.

Initiative members in fatigues and masks, wielding tasers with wooden-stake bayonets, began pouring in through the windows and doors. The vampiresses forgot all about Buffy and their prisoners as they turned to meet this new threat.

A particularly big agent stepped up to Buffy’s side. He didn’t take off his mask—there were civilians present, after all—but Buffy recognized him anyway.

"How did you know?" She asked.

"Willow called me," Riley answered. "And had me call up a strike force. It’s a good thing she did, too." She could all but see him frowning in disapproval under his mask. "It wasn’t too wise coming here without calling for backup," he chided. "You didn’t know many—"

"I was in a hurry," Buffy interrupted, cutting off his lecture (a TA to the bone, even when he’s being a Special Agent). "I still am, in fact. I need to find Darren."

That was when a scream erupted from upstairs.

Buffy and Riley looked at each other. Found.

"It’s mine," Buffy said, already starting for the stairway.


Buffy kicked the door to Darren’s room down, and both inhabitants froze.

The room itself was nothing but a pile of wreckage. Every piece of furniture smashed, phone torn from one wall and crushed against another, posters ripped down. TV, VCR, computer, and a stereo system that must have cost a third of Joyce Summers’ yearly income lay in shards of glass, metal, and plastic on the floor. One or two were still plugged in, so the piles of clothes that they lay on were starting to smolder.

Darren himself wasn’t in much better shape. Both of his legs, one of his arms, and most of his fingers skewed off from his body at angles that nature had never intended. His shirt had been torn off to reveal fist-sized spots on his ribs that were nearly black. His face was beaten just as badly—one of his eyes was swollen entirely shut, while the other could open halfway at best. His nose was a flattened bulb, and his swollen, half-open mouth revealed missing teeth.

Sung looked pretty much how Buffy had expected her to. She was in the midst of snapping what looked like a high school trophy in two when Buffy entered. Calmly, she finished doing so and dropped both pieces on Darren before turning to face the new arrival. The heavy base bounced off Darren’s ribs, drawing another scream.

"Heff me," Darren pleaded. "Pleaf, you haff to heff me."

"Shut up," Buffy said coldly. Then she turned her attention to Sung. "You know that we have to fight in a minute, right?"

Sung nodded. "Of course."

"Before we do, though, I just have one question."

"What’s that?"

"How?" Buffy asked, her face completely perplexed. "I was there the night after you were killed, and you never showed. Yet here you stand, pointy teeth and all. How does that work?"

"Don’t jutht thtand there talking to her, you thtupid bitth! Heff me!"

Sung turned and kicked Darren in the ribs, drawing another scream. When he subsided into sobs, she turned back. "Sorry about that," she apologized.

Buffy just nodded and waved her on. The Slayer had started at a vampire torturing a human. Buffy Summers, on the other hand, found that she could handle Darren Edwards’ suffering a little bit longer.

"As for your question," Sung continued. "It’s actually pretty simple, but it’s kinda airy-sounding. I’m not sure if you’ll buy it."

"Try me," Buffy prompted.

"Have you ever talked to a vampire before staking them?" Sung asked.

Buffy nodded.

"Then I’m sure they’ve told you how it feels: a darkness bigger than anything you can imagine fills the place where your soul used to be, and suddenly you’re part of eternity. You’re more than you ever were before—you feel like a god."

"So I’ve heard," Buffy agreed.

"But it was different for me," Sung said. "I didn’t know it at the time, but I’ve met other vampires since and I know I’m different somehow. The darkness didn’t just make me stronger or faster, it let me know things. Things I couldn’t possibly know. I could feel you walking around over my grave. I could feel your anger, and I could see you blazing in the darkness. You have darkness inside you, but you were also a light bright enough to burn me away. Light and darkness—I didn’t stand a chance. So I waited."

"Makes sense." Buffy had met ‘special’ vampires before. The Master, who’d had all his hocus-pocus tricks and who’d left a skeleton behind was one. Kakistos had needed a bit more stake than the norm. But then, they were both so old and powerful that the human had been wearing away and revealing the demon beneath. A better comparison was to Drusilla, who’d been special when she was alive. That probably meant that Sung had been, too. Suddenly, Buffy hated Darren more than she ever had before. He and Captain Bomber Jacket had found something absolutely unique and precious, and had decided to destroy it. Captain Bomber Jacket had an excuse—he was a blood-drinking night monster. Besides, she’d already killed him. But Darren had a soul. He was supposed to know better.

There was nothing Buffy wanted to do more at that moment than turn around and walk out the door. But that wasn’t among her options. She was the Slayer. She protected humans. Besides, even if she let Darren die, she didn’t even want to think about the kind of master vampire that Sung would become if she was allowed even a little more time.

"I know that you have to kill me," Sung said, interrupting Buffy’s reverie. "And I know that I don’t have the power to stop you. Maybe if I’d had just a little more time…" she shrugged and left it hanging. "I just have one last request."

"What’s that?" Buffy asked. She had a pretty good idea.

"Let me kill him," Sung said. "That’s all I ask. Don’t think of it as revenge or punishment, if you’re not down with that. Think of it as protecting all the women he’ll go on to rape down the years if you let him live."

Buffy gravely considered it, stroking her chin as she watched Darren shaking his head desperately. He didn’t dare to speak, but he whimpered pleadingly.

Buffy dropped her hand as she reached a decision and turned her attention back to Sung. "Do what you have to do," she said.


Darren shook his head wildly as the goo—Sung, her name was Sung, as she’d reminded as she’d broken three fingers one after another—knelt above him, straddling his legs. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be happening. It just couldn’t. The slant-eyed little—Sung! Sung!—whose death had solved so many problems for him had just shown up out of nowhere an hour ago, and not only was she not dead, she was impossibly strong. Then this little blond twat who’d given him so much trouble showed up, and Sung starts talking to the blond about being able to kill her but she won’t help! She won’t help! She’s going to let me die!

"No," he begged—after all, he had nothing to lose by talking now—"Pleaf heff. Pleaf don’t. Pleaf don’t let her do thith. Pleaf heff me! Heff me!"

"Hush," Sung said, laying a cold finger on his swollen lips. "I’m on top this time, lover."

Then she slid her other hand into his pants and squeezed. Pain sent white hot tendrils shooting out into his guts and down his legs, and if he hadn’t thrown up everything in his stomach the first time she’d hit him there, he would have now. Things were rupturing inside him, they had to be, and he couldn’t even breathe the pain was so—

"Awww, what’s the matter, lover?" Sung asked from the other side of the galaxy. "Don’t like my handjob? How about just a kiss to say good night, then?"

She leaned in close, like she was indeed planning to kiss him. But then leaned down further, to his neck, and then there was more pain.

It was a pain unlike any he had experienced. He’d been about to pass out from the crushing pain in his crotch, but this sharp, drilling pain brought him back.

"Oh, God!" He screamed. "Oh, God, it hurts!"

But the pain was relentless, twin razors digging through skin and muscle and tendon.

"Make it stop make it stop oh please make it stop!"

Some deep, animal part of him realized that the all the pain that went before had meant nothing. Those razors were digging for his life, the blood that bubbled so close to the surface. Nothing else mattered.

He pushed uselessly at Sung with his unbroken arm, not even feeling the pain from his splintered fingers.

"Please! I’ll do anything! Anything!" He begged. "Just help me! Oh, God, please…help me…" In addition to the pain, he now felt a horrible draining. Sung was emptying him, sucking him dry like an orange.

But despite all his pleading, the blond simply stood at the door, watching. Hard-eyed. And as his own vision started to fade, he knew it would be the last thing he ever saw.

Then, abruptly, it was over. Sung vanished into nowhere, and he tasted ashes in his mouth.

He dared to open his less-swollen eye, and looked up. The blond was standing over him, slipping a sharp piece of wood into her sleeve.

"That’s what it’s like," she said coldly. "That’s how it feels to be absolutely helpless against someone who thinks that you’re not even human—that you’re just a piece of shit who doesn’t deserve anything but to be treated like one. That’s how it feels to be in the hands of someone who can do anything they want with you—and who only wants to hurt you. That’s how it feels to be a victim."

She paused and crouched beside him. "You’ve made a lot of women on this campus feel that way. Did you like it?"

Darren shook his head weakly.

"No?" She stood and wiped her hands on her pants, as if they’d been soiled just by being near him. "Then let me tell you what’s going to happen. As soon as you can talk, you’re going to call the police, and you’re going to confess everything. Every detail, every name—everything. When you get to court, you will plead guilty, and you will not let your lawyer make any deals. You will go to jail as long as the law will send you."

Darren began shaking his head again. Doesn’t she understand? If I go to prison, they’ll line up out the door to ass-fuck a rich white boy like me…if I even make it there alive. If I rat out my brothers, they’ll kill me!

"Don’t tell me no," she said. "I can make this happen again."

Darren froze.

"There are others like her—oh, believe it—and I know plenty. If you don’t do exactly what I’ve told you to do, I’ll talk to the ones I know. They’ll spread the word that the Slayer will owe anyone a favor if they get you. You won’t be safe anywhere. Do you believe me?"

Darren nodded.

"Are you going to be a good boy?"

Darren nodded again.

"Good." She paused then, looking down at him thoughtfully. He didn’t want to know what she was thinking about—her eyes were glacial. "Live in fear, Darren," she said softly. Then she turned and walked out the door.


Buffy descended the stairs much slower than she’d climbed them. She was tired. So terribly tired. Not physically, though there was indeed a bit of fatigue. But emotionally, she was weary to the bone

What the hell am I fighting for?

She’d just staked Sung to protect Darren. Just because he was human.

Human. She thought about Oz. And Angel. And Darren Edwards the third.

What the hell am I fighting for?

Her bruises throbbed. Usually, she wouldn’t even notice them. Tonight, they hurt. Because they didn’t seem worth it. Neither did the effort of moving her body forward.

She reached the bottom of the stairs and trudged into the den. When she saw what was waiting there, her mind ground to a halt. Her feet took a few more steps, then did the same.

The brothers of Phi Kappa Sigma were gone—either fled or quarantined—and piles of ash littered the floor. Except for Riley, the agents of the Initiative stood around clapping each other on the back and grinning triumphantly. Riley was talking into his radio, his face still all business.

None of those sights were what had caused the gears in Buffy’s mind to seize up.

Four of Sung’s followers had survived the battle, and lay unconscious on the floor.

Riley spotted Buffy and hurried over, but Forrest noticed her at the same time—and he was standing right next to her.

"Hey, Agent Summers," he greeted her. Something he and the other agents had started calling her. They’d intended it as a gesture of respect. "Glad we got here in time to save your reckless ass? And look: we even managed to capture a few lab specimens."

That was when Riley arrived, but he knew he was already too late. All he could manage was a weak "Buffy—" as she started forward.

"No," she said, shaking her head. "No more."

It had been little more than a whisper, but the Initiative agents turned to her, the smiles fading from their faces.

Buffy pulled her stake back out of her sleeve and the agents took a step back. "No more ‘lab specimens’," she said, her voice rising. She dropped to one knee and staked the first unconscious vampiress, who dissolved silently into ash—too far gone to even give a death shriek.

"Hey!" Forrest shouted. He started forward, but Riley caught him by the arm. Forrest turned back and stared incredulously at his friend, who was just shaking his head.

"No more girls drugged and sleeping—" Louder.

Stake. Silent fall of ash.

"No more naked and helpless on beds or tables—" A shout.

Silent stab. The Initiative troops were standing back now, staring in genuine fright

"No more doing whatever the fuck you want to them! No!" A raw, half-wild shriek.

Ash. The last was gone, but Buffy kept stabbing at the floor, pounding and screaming "No more! No more! No more!" Until her stake splintered and she broke down sobbing.

The Initiative soldiers all looked at each other uncomfortably.

"Walsh isn’t going to be happy," Forrest said in a low voice to Riley. "We already told her we had specimens incoming."

"This case has been hard on Buffy," Riley said. "For once, I think Walsh will understand."

That said, he went over to Buffy. He briefly considered scooping her up in his arms, but decided against it. He suspected that it would be unwelcome at this point. Maybe that psychology major was good for something after all. Instead, he reached down and helped her to her feet. "Come on, Buffy," he said softly. "Let’s get you home."


"I was pretty embarrassed in the morning, I can tell you that," Buffy said as she finished her story.

"I would imagine so," Giles agreed. "Still, I doubt anyone would hold it against you."

"Forrest does," Buffy said. "But then, Forrest looks for things to hold against me."

Giles shrugged. "One can’t always please everyone."

"I guess not." Buffy fell silent and sipped at the cooling dregs of her hot cocoa.

Giles also sat in silence for a moment, sipping at his tea. There was more to say. Finally, he decided that there was no delicate way.

"If it’s any comfort," he said. "You absolutely had to do it. Sung posed an enormous threat. Controlling a large group of vampires is rather like herding cats, but she managed to do so within the first month after she was sired. If she was telling the truth about her powers, she could have been greater than the Master."

Buffy nodded and sighed. "I know."

"And is it no comfort at all that Darren will receive his just desserts?"

Buffy shook her head. "Punishing the guilty is a piss-poor substitute for being there to save the innocent, Giles."

As had happened to him far too many times since Buffy Summers had entered his life, Rupert Giles had no answer.