by Alan Hitchen
Disclaimer: BtVS belongs to Joss Whedon and others.
Information: Sequel to Private Investigator.
The doctors were amazed by the speed and completeness of Buffy's recovery from the accident. Of course they didn't know about the healing spell that Willow and Tara had worked over her.
That was the first time Buffy had seen Willow since their split and the first time she had met Tara. Buffy instinctively liked Tara. She now wished she had been big enough to make up with Willow sooner.
The near loss of Buffy made Faith realise she had over reacted and things quickly returned to normal as both of them took time out to re-establish their relationship.
"Twenty bucks apiece! I didn't realise culture came so expensive," Buffy complained.
"Oh really, Buffy, it's not as if we can't afford it, and it's about time you learnt to appreciate the finer things in life," Faith retorted.
Buffy looked at her wife and smiled. It was her mouth working, but she could hear Giles' voice coming from it. The 'English Twit', as she liked to call him, might be a pain in the ass, but he had done his best for Faith. An appreciation for art was one of many things he had taught her.
"Okay, Faith, we're here now, so I guess I should make the most of it," she replied.
"That's more like it," Faith said in triumph and dragged Buffy off to the first display.
The Atrocity Exhibition was the biggest, most controversial event to hit LA in years. The creme of modern artistic talent had contributed their most 'difficult' pieces for an event that aimed to court publicity through shock tactics.
"I can't understand this," said Buffy, looking at a human head sculpted from the artist's own frozen blood. "It's clever, but is it art?"
"So tell me, what sort of art do you like?" asked Faith.
"Well, I like the work of Sam Jones," Buffy replied enthusiastically.
"Sam Jones? Oh, Samantha Jones, the sculptress who makes those steel mobiles. What do you like most about her work? The fact that she's drop dead gorgeous, or the fact that she has a penchant for wearing black rubber dresses?"
Buffy, realising she was on dangerous ground, changed tack. "I like Richard Serra too," she insisted.
"I see," said Faith with a suspicious glint in her eye. "So you're telling me that you like large steel sculptures in general?"
"Oh, yes, if it's big and made of steel I love it," Buffy said rather too eagerly.
Buffy kissed Faith to stifle any further argument. "And I love you when you're angry," she said soothingly.
Faith relented, and arm in arm they continued on into a side gallery which contained a display of polaroid photographs entitled: The Face of Fear. The room was lined with images of people caught in extremis, at the very edge of recognisability.
"This is awful," said Faith, who was taken aback by the sight. She had seen too much of this sort of thing in real life to want to see it as art. "I'm going to find something nicer."
"Okay, hun, I'll catch you up in a minute," said Buffy, looking closer at one of the photographs.
Kate was currently engaged in trying to locate a growing number of missing persons who had disappeared in the last six months. Buffy had been keeping her eyes open for them as well, and now she seemed to have found some of those missing people. She looked closely at the biography of the artist, Mark Lewis. He was locally based. She decided to pay him a visit as soon as possible.
The address turned out to be a former supermarket in a dilapidated area of the city. She rang the bell. An unexpectedly old man opened the door.
"Mark Lewis?" she enquired.
"Yes, yes, let's go, I haven't got all day," he replied brusquely.
"The TV studio of course," he snapped. "You are the driver, aren't you?"
"No, I'm a reporter for the LA Times arts supplement, can I have word with you?"
"Oh, very well," he said, "but just until the car comes. I'm appearing on television tonight."
"Congratulations," Buffy said as he let her into the building. It was all but empty and her voice echoed about in the void.
"Thank you, it's about time someone recognised my genius. Now, what can I do for you, young woman?"
"I'm interested in your work being shown at the Atrocity Exhibition."
"I thought you might, what about it?"
"The models you use, who are they?"
"No one in particular. I use anyone I find interesting that will pose for me. They pull a face, I manipulate the image to produce just the right effect, and there you have it. Why do you ask?"
"It's just that some of the people you've photographed have gone missing."
"Oh, really, and what is your interest in missing persons? I thought you were an arts journalist. Let me see your credentials," he demanded.
Buffy made a show of searching her purse for the non-existant item. "I seem to have left it at home," she said, then suddenly changing her focus to the rear of the building. "I see that the freezer is still in situ, and still working," she noted from the low hum it was giving out. "Isn't it a bit expensive to run just to keep a pint of milk fresh?"
"Who are you? What are you up to? Come back here!" he cried out in alarm.
Buffy ignored Mr Lewis and made straight for the freezer. She could see that the large stainless steel door was padlocked. She was about to turn and ask Mr Lewis why this was so when she felt a tremendous blow to the head. Just then the doorbell rang.
"All right, I'm coming, I'm coming," he called out as he unlocked the door of the freezer and bundled the insensible body of Buffy inside.
As her body temperature fell, Buffy became ever more unconscious. After some hours she sat up and looked around. It was pitch black; she could see nothing. She felt about; she could feel nothing. She didn't feel cold either. She leant back against the door - and fell through it!
She found herself outside the freezer and realised what had happened. Her body was still inside, more dead than alive now, but her spirit was free. She had heard Willow talk of astral projection but had never experienced it up till now. She now realised that unless she got help, and soon, this would be a permanent condition. She would be dead!
Buffy thought of Willow. She would know what to do she reasoned, but how to reach her was the problem. She closed her eyes, concentrated on the image in her mind, and with a whoosh! she found herself in Willow's apartment. She was sitting at her computer answering her e-mails.
"Will, am I pleased to see you," Buffy blurted out in happiness. Willow ignored her. In growing alarm she shouted as loud as she could. "Willow! Willow!! Willow!!!"
Willow could not see or hear Buffy. She could not touch or move anything. How could she tell Willow what had happened? By accident she put her hand through the monitor. It flickered. She did it again and this time concentrated hard on what she wanted to tell Willow.
Willow looked on in amazement as the screen went blank and a message appeared a word at a time. "Got it, Buffy," she said to the screen, then grabbed her phone and dialed Faith's number.
Buffy sighed with relief, then thought herself back to the supermarket to await Faith's arrival. It didn't take long before the screech of brakes announced her arrival outside. The door gave way with a shower of splinters as Faith booted her way in. Then using a handy lump of metal she smashed the lock off the freezer door and opened it.
She let out an involuntary scream as she did so, for the freezer was full of corpses stacked up like cordwood, and at the front was the body of her wife.
She dragged Buffy out towards a large space heater and turned it on full blast. Then she returned to the freezer and shut the door against the horrifying sight of its contents.
"Okay, hun," Faith said to the body reassuringly, "it's all under control."
Buffy looked down at her frozen counterpart and shivered. Surely it was too late to help her now. Faith broke her concentration as she began to speak into her mobile.
"Willow, I've found her. She's frozen stiff. I've got her to a heater but she needs warming up fast, can you do the spell now? Okay, thanks, I'll call you back."
Buffy watched as a pink glow enveloped her body then suddenly she was back inside looking up at Faith looking down.
"Are you okay?" Faith asked anxiously.
"As ice cubes go I'm cool," Buffy replied through chattering teeth. This feeble joke was rewarded by the biggest smile Buffy had ever seen.
"What happened?" Faith asked. "Who did this to you?"
"Mark Lewis. I was asking him about missing people when he slugged me."
"The missing people are the ones in the freezer?"
"That would be my guess."
"What's he up to?"
"Youth and immortality!"
Faith span round to find Mark Lewis had entered the building and was now covering them with a Colt.45 semi-automatic pistol.
"Isn't that an awfully big gun for such a little man?" Faith said antagonistically, moving into an attack stance.
"Don't mind her, she's had a bit of a shock," Buffy interrupted, hoping to distract him so Faith could make her move. "What were you saying about youth and immortality?"
"I'm glad you asked," said Mr Lewis, his attention not moving from Faith for an instant. "I've been dying to tell someone." He chuckled at his choice of words. "You see I am dying. It's a rare condition that causes premature ageing and death. You wouldn't think I was twenty-six would you?"
Faith wondered what his reflexes were like as Buffy made some reply and he went on.
"I found the artefact quite by accident. A harmless looking blue crystal, together with a manuscript that documented its use. It collects life essences. When I have enough I will drain the crystal and it will give me back my youth, and as a side effect I shall be immortal!"
"That's very nice for you, but what about the victims?" Buffy countered.
"Ah! I've given them immortality too! When they died I took their pictures. Life is short but art is longer! Now who said that?" He scratched his head with his free hand. "Never mind, I'm sure I'll remember later. The problem now is, what to do with you? Did you tell anyone you were coming here?"
"Yes," said Buffy and Faith together.
"Good. That means you didn't. Now, do you want to see the crystal, to find out how it works? I'm sure you do."
He waved the gun at Faith, motioning her to move to the work area. He made her sit down on a metal frame chair and tied her to it, hand and foot, by plastic zip ties. He glanced at Buffy who was still too weak to move.
"Don't worry," he told her. "Your turn next."
"I can't wait," she replied cheerily.
He turned again to Faith. "Just sit tight and I'll get the crystal. Don't go away now," he quipped.
As he scrabbled about in the bottom of a cabinet Faith used her Slayer strength to break free from her bonds.
"Got it!" Mr Lewis announced, finally unearthing his well hidden treasure just as Faith knocked him out with a single blow.
Now she could call for the police and an ambulance. But first she decided to have a look at Mr Lewis's artefact. It was a quite remarkable lump of cerulean quartz that glowed and sparkled brightly with the energy of the many souls trapped within it. She studied the manuscript and soon discovered that the process could be reversed.
"Are you going to spend all day reading?" Buffy enquired irritably. "This floor isn't getting any warmer you know."
"Sorry, honey, be with you in a minute," Faith replied distractedly. "I'm just going to raise the dead."
"I can bring the victims back to life. I'd better phone Willow and the hospital, we're going to need a lot of ambulances."
"Don't forget to tell Kate where she can find her kidnapper."
"Sure thing, darling," Faith said with a hard edge to her voice, "everything helps when you're bucking for promotion."
"Faith," Buffy admonished. "You know Kate's not like that."
"Maybe," Faith half-conceded, "but what are you going to get out of this?"
"Satisfaction of a job well done?"
"Okay, but does that pay the bills?"
"I thought you did that anyway?"
"Really, Buffy, why did I marry you?"
"My good looks and charm?"
"I knew there was a reason," said Faith, hunkering down beside her beloved. "Well, if you're not going to get paid, then I'll have to give you something won't I?"
She smiled and kissed Buffy, who suddenly felt as warm as toast in her lover's arms.
"Just one thing," said Buffy. "No more art exhibitions, please!"
"All right," Faith agreed, "we have enough atrocity in our lives as it is."
They both laughed.