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Part four of eight

Episode Fifteen: Into the Breach

by georgevna, fenwic & eep

*
Spike stood at the edge of the training room with his eyes closed. The sword felt heavy in his hand. It felt good. Natural. He breathed. Not for oxygen, but for rhythm and focus. He focused on killing. Lots and lots of killing.
But when he opened his eyes, he didn’t see a room full of distant relatives. Just one opponent. He named his imaginary opponent… Marla, and held his sword to her throat. Then he pulled his elbow back and thrust forward, ripping her vocal cords. Whatever she did now, at least she wouldn’t speak.
Nor would she die. Spike attacked again, but this time she parried and backed him up with a few thrusts of her own. He clutched his sword with both hands and swung for the bleachers but she crouched down and swiped at his feet. He jumped up and over the blade, and - while still in the air - aimed a backhanded swing at her head. She ducked under his arm and maneuvered behind him. He whirled round and they circled each other. Watching, waiting. She struck first and they clashed blades again, working each other around the room - thrusting, jumping, swinging. Then she raised her sword over her head and brought it down hard and fast. Spike sidestepped the blow, but got nicked in the shoulder. Startled, he touched a finger to the imaginary blood and growled at imaginary Marla. “Bitch.”
He whaled on her then, unleashing a succession of blows that brought her to her knees. But that wasn’t enough. He hopped up on a table, and with a holler, leapt into the air. He flipped once and landed… on his ass. Oh right. I’m only an acrobat in the sack.
Imaginary Marla dissipated, but he heard very real snickering coming from the hallway. He knew that laugh.
“Very funny, Harris.” Spike stood, rubbed his tailbone, then placed the sword in the weapons stand.
Xander walked into the room. “What is up with you guys and swords? What? You can’t be an Eagle vampire without your Highlander merit badge?”
Spike snarled. “These aren’t some stupid gits newly risen, Harris. They’re soldiers.” He grabbed him by the collar and invaded his personal bubble. “I gotta get this close to plant some wood. Which means he’s close enough to do the same.” He straightened his elbow, shoving Xander back a few feet. “From here, one good swing takes off his head. Then I move on to the next guy, and the next, and the next.”
Xander held up his hands in surrender. “Whoa, Spike. Kidding, okay? Just a little pre-apocalypse humor to take the edge off. Believe me, I know what we’re up against.”
Spike was instantly sorry. “Yeh.” He nodded. “Yeh.”
He crossed to where his coat lay over a chair, fished out his cigarettes but found the pack empty. Bugger. He crushed it and threw it across the room. “I’m ready for this fight, Harris. Hell, I’m spoilin’ for it. It’s just… It’s different this time.”
“You’ll get used to it.”
Spike laughed. “I reckon I will.” Then he noticed that Xander’d dropped something. “What’re those?”
“Oh.” Xander shrugged, embarrassed. He picked up the two boxes and held them out. “Two cartons of Camels. A little pre-war, pre-Christmas present.”
Surprised, Spike took the smokes. More gifts in the last few hours than in the last couple years. Then he looked at Xander and cocked his head to one side, feeling all over evil. “Xande-r-r-r, does this make you my prison bitch?”
“NOW CUT THAT OUT!”
Spike laughed loud. “Easy, Tiger. Just a little pre-apocalypse humor to take the edge off.”
Xander tried to look angry, but laughed instead. Then, “You done with that thing? I gotta go soon.”
“Wait.” Spike grabbed two towels, wrapped one around his neck and used the other to wipe down the sword. He gave it one last look before handing it to Xander. “Take care of my baby!”
“Promise.” He headed back into the shop.
“Harris.”
Xander looked over his shoulder. “Yeah?”
There was one more promise Spike needed. “Take care of my baby.”
Xander smiled. “I always have.”
Spike nodded.
Then Giles poked his head into the room. “Xander, will you come with me please? There’s something I may need you to do for me.”
Toting Spike’s sword, Xander schlepped out after his boss. “A general in the Slayer’s army, butt-monkeyin’ for everyone without any thrall at all. How the mighty have- Ah, hell. Whatever.”
***
Darla pursed her lips, shook her head, folded her arms. She didn’t like the look of this.
They stood at the bottom of a cliff, while a team of her soldiers laid wire over and around the rocks there. At the top of the cliff ran a tunnel that surfaced in Sunnydale High School.
“Why are we doing this?” she asked the Master.
He watched the work, bored. “You question me, Darla?”
“No,” she said quickly. “I would never question you. It’s just… I don’t understand. Why are we rigging one of the few exits still left to us?”
“An exit, an entrance, a little surprise for our enemy.” He waved a hand. “And yet these tunnels are but a trifle. When I rip open the Hellmouth, the darkness below will swallow all that is above, and we shall take our rightful place as rulers of this rock.”
She watched as her soldiers ran the wires to a detonator.
“But what if something… What if we need to escape?”
The Master sighed. Sometimes he missed Vlad. The count distracted Darla in ways that beautiful new dresses could not. That, and their skirmishes always amused him. Explaining himself did not amuse him in the least.
“We won’t require escape,” he said, finally. “They will. And there will be none.”
***
When Xander emerged from the basement, Giles had already gone. His turn to pow-wow with the chiefs before the fireworks began. Xander heard the bell ring and then he heard humming. He looked up. It was Faith and she was… humming. Humming what? Either “Jingle Bells” or… Iggy Pop? “Hey,” he said.
“Hey.” She looked around. “Everyone head out?”
Xander nodded. “About to. Giles and Buffy’re there already. Spike’s in the training room.” He looked toward the table, confused. “But Willow and Dawn were just here waiting for you.”
Faith shrugged and approached the counter. “Sooo… What? No huddle before the game? No pep talk? Is this how you guys always go to war?”
“We’re not really a talk-y army.” Xander grabbed the last of the stakes from behind the counter, then went to the table and shoved them into his backpack. “Nope, not a lot of talking right before an Armageddon. Just, y’know, ‘Have a good game! See ya at the party after!’”
She fiddled with a display of crystals. “Will I?”
“Will you what?”
“See you at the party after.”
He looked up, surprised. “Well, yeah.”
“Xander.”
“I’ll be there, Faith. And so will you.” He put on his jacket.
“You can’t really promise that.”
“I just did.” He went to her. “You can do this. You know that, right? You can, and you will.”
She looked at her fingers, stared at a nail she wanted desperately to chew. But if Xander thought she could do this… And Giles…
He reached out and gently pushed down her hand. “Look at my face.” Her eyes met his. “Ya see any doubt there?”
She really didn’t. But Xander answered for her. “No. That’s ‘cause there isn’t any. Not on my face, not in my ear, not in my pocket- Oh! Wait…”
He reached into his jacket, pulled out a little drawstring pouch, and put it in her hand. “Here.”
“Is this your doubt?”
He smiled. “This is for you. Because you gave me yours.”
While she stared at the bit of burgundy cloth and cord, he grabbed his backpack and Spike’s sword and headed for the door.
She heard the bell ring and started. “Xander!”
But he was gone.
Faith stared at the door for a full minute. Then she opened the pouch and upended it. A necklace spilled into the palm of her hand. Not like the utility chain she’d given him, no, here was 18 inches of delicate silver. She laced it over her fingers and held it up to the light. Like she’d never seen silver before. Like she’d never seen anything before.
She undid the clasp and tried to put it on, but her hair got in the way. So she walked into the training room holding one end of the necklace in each hand. “Can one of you guys-“
“Faith!” Spike threw up his arms when she appeared, begging for rescue. “Will you get these birds outta here so I can clean up, get changed, and go meet Count Whines-a-lot?”
Dawn giggled. “Nope. We’re staying until you put it back on. Willow hasn’t seen it yet.”
Willow played, too. “But I hear a commemorative poster is in the works.” She got up to help Faith work the clasp.
“Very funny, Red. Why I oughtta-“
“He’s been wasting threats on his own team all afternoon,” teased Dawn.
“And I don’t know about you,” said Willow, joining Dawn on the couch, “but I was terrified.”
“Yeah, terrified,” Dawn could barely speak for laughing.
Spike groaned. Not this again. He used to terrify women. Now? They mocked.
“Get ‘em outta here! Please? I gotta-“
“Clean up?” Faith glanced at the cases of Evian by the bathroom door. “You’re sprucing up to go chop off heads?”
He scoffed. “Like you don’t? Look at the three of you with your hair, and your chains, and your earrings - who in the tunnels is gonna be lookin’ at your ears?” He pointed at Faith. “And the pants. Tell me, how do you Slayers fight in those things? It’s a mystery to me.”
“They’re for luck. And the day you beat either one of us while we’re wearing lucky pants is the day I stop wearing ‘em.”
“Women!” He growled. “Next time I go to war-“
“-you better pray that the women are on your side,” said Willow.
“Yeh,” he sneered. “The Slayers, the Witch & their Wardrobe. Look at you - all puffed up.” He grinned. “The Powerpuff Girls!”
Willow and Dawn approved of that, but Faith made a face.
Spike stepped toward her, lowered his voice. “C’mon, Pet, you know you’re Buttercup.” She smiled. “Now get your crew outta here.”
Faith clapped twice. “Blossom! Bubbles! Let’s move!”
“Who died and made her Buttercup?” Dawn grumped as they headed out. “Oh, wait…”
Spike watched them go. Then, “Faith!”
She stopped, turned. “Yeah?”
He looked at her. “Nothing. You… nothing.”
She fingered the chain around her neck. “It’s all good, Spike. Look at my face. Ya see any doubt there?”
He shook his head.
“That’s ‘cause there is none.”
And they left.
Alone at last, Spike grabbed the orange, the latex, a bottle of water, and a jar of Vaseline. Time to get pretty.
Time to go to war.
***
Detective Grant checked his watch once again. "Girls, you'd better hurry. It's going to be sunset soon."
The three college girls settled on the floor of the hospital hallway. "Don't worry. We'll get this done," the brunette said with a smile.
"You'd better," he sighed, offering them a weary smile. If this didn't work... Well, he hoped it wouldn't come to that. He moved to the entrance of the ICU where another police officer stood guard.
"What are they doing over there?" the officer asked, gesturing to the girls.
Grant turned to face them. They arranged themselves in a triangle while the brunette lit a white candle in the middle of the group. "It's some kind of spell. The Slayer's witch friend said it would protect everyone here." He watched for a minute as the girls began to chant. "So, you ready?" he asked the officer, not taking his eyes from the girls.
The officer pulled back his jacket, revealing four stakes strapped to his holster. "Good to go."
"And everyone's inside?"
"Everyone but us and them."
Grant nodded, barely hearing the man at his side. All of his attention was trained on the girls ahead. Their chanting was barely audible, their eyes closed. They almost looked asleep.
A blue flash of light suddenly exploded from the center of the triangle, shooting up to the ceiling like a column of fire. It licked along the ceiling and walls, spreading towards the ICU. Grant and the officer ducked as the light washed over them, shielding their faces with their arms. Both expecting to feel their skin burning as it touched them; instead, nothing happened. They stood up slowly, straightening their bodies and checking themselves quickly for injury.
"Whoa," the officer breathed.
"No kidding."
The girls pulled themselves off of the ground, hugging each other and exchanging excited squeals.
"Hey!" the officer called. "What was that?"
The girls giggled as they entered the ICU. "A barrier spell," the brunette explained as she passed. "To keep the vampires out."
Grant smiled. "Pretty impressive."
"Yeah," she responded. "Let's just hope it stays up."
The detective raised an eyebrow. "You mean it won't?"
She shrugged. "Don't know. We've never done this sort of thing before."
Grant watched her enter the hospital ward, the door sliding open as she passed. Inside, the last of the town's children sat on the vinyl sofas, watching videos of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer on the televisions. Some of Sunnydale's elderly citizens watched with them, while others helped the nurses fill cups with juice for the hospital residents.
He sighed and followed her in, saying a quick prayer asking for the spell to hold up. He didn't want to see these people die tonight.
***
Spike smoked.
For the first time in… ever, he considered the unfiltered Camel, smoldering between his fingertips. It had been there from the very beginning. Only back then it was small, Turkish cigarettes. Deceptively deadly (to humans anyway), the exotic tobacco could burn a hole through steel. William didn’t smoke, so naturally Spike would. Behind closed doors, the cigarettes went away, just as the spectacles came out; but to the world, Spike breathed fire, and nothing escaped his gaze.
Dru never cared what the world thought. She lived every moment as if onstage. Angelus rarely smoked. But when he did, it was mostly for affect. Or when something disturbed him profoundly. Darla, usually. And so it was, that emotion invaded the image thing. He’d smoke with Angelus after a row with the women, or alone if the row was with Angelus. Before long, image became habit. He smoked after any row, with anyone. After feeding. After sex. He smoked because it was Wednesday. How bloody human. He flicked away the spent cigarette and lit another.
“Why do we wait?”
Spike faced the voice, blew smoke at it. The count remained unmoved.
“Why do we wait?”
“What’s the hurry, Drac? You never used to rush things.”
“And you, William, always rushing.”
Spike turned and scanned the chamber below. No one heard them.
“Except now,” Dracula continued. “Now we waste time. My men-“
“Your men?”
“-are in place. Why do we wait?”
“Because I’m having a smoke here and-”
“You have had two.”
“-and because I bloody well say so!”
Dracula acquiesced. He would be patient. Soon he would have what he wanted.
Spike surveyed their position. They stood on a cliff overlooking the chamber. Jagged rocks offered some cover. At their backs, the tunnel to the surface; to either side, a narrow path leading down to the main floor; and below, the ruins of the church arched toward the high ceiling. Not a soul in sight. Just several thousand vampires. He closed his eyes, remembered the last time he saw so many in one place. What a mess. Really, a glorious mess. But that was no Hellmouth.
There must exist some rule assigning the back door to the weakest minions. Dracula’s boys had dispatched them with little incident. The strongest would be close to the Master, and there was only one way to move them. But Spike had something to take care of first.
He dropped his cigarette and crushed it with his boot. Then he whirled and pounced on the count, slamming him hard against the rocks. Drac’s boys closed in.
“Stop!” Dracula hissed at them. Only he and Spike could see the stake hovering over his chest.
“You heard him.” Spike warned. “This is a family matter. Now, back off!”
They followed orders.
“William,” Dracula purred. “What is all this? You would forego victory just to kill an old rival?”
Spike tightened his grip. “He’s expecting us. You think I don’t know?”
“William-“
“Shut up! You think - from the second you ambushed the Slayer - do you really think there’s been a whisper, a glance that I don’t know about?”
Dracula smiled. “Mere strategy. He believes we will attack tomorrow. Tomorrow.”
“Yet you didn’t tell us. Why?”
“Have you told me? About the water?”
“What?
“About the fire?”
Spike faltered, but didn’t let go. His searched the count’s impassive face. Like his own, it hadn’t changed in over a century. His eyes raked for the truth under layers upon layers of lies.
Dracula finally blinked. He pursed his lips, and when he spoke, gone was the lilting, honeyed tone. His voice was base, common, and low, so only Spike could hear. “You think I could call him Master? With that bitch by his side?”
Spike released him. The boys moved in again, but Dracula waved them off. Then he examined his rumpled clothing, straightened his collar, brushed a speck of dust off his shoulder. He was, again, above it all.
Spike scowled and lit another cigarette. He considered Dracula, himself, and Angel. Prodigal sons all, torn from the family by a girl. The Gypsy who did not die in vain, the Bitch whose blood mingled with theirs, and the Slayer. Good god, the Slayer.
“Tonight,” said Dracula, “we will succeed. After tonight, we will have that which we desire most.”
Spike took a long drag. “Tonight. Do you even know that it’s Chris-“
“Yes.”
“Do you remember that one-“
“Yes.” A different tone.
“That was-“
“Enjoyable. Yes, William, it was.”
Spike looked at him sideways. “What happened to you? You used to be fun.”
“I would say the same of you.”
Spike chuckled, then nodded.
Dracula continued, “Now. Why do we wait?”
“I- Shh.” Spike’s eyes narrowed and he listened. Then he ducked behind the rocks and peered down. He saw movement, activity. The sea of minions parted to make way for attendants, Darla, and…
There. There he was. Struttin’ about like bloody Charlemagne. Draped in burgundy robes with fur trim. Minions bowing and scraping. Smug bastard. Smug, ugly bastard.
Murderer.
Dracula stepped forward. “Why do we-“
Spike stood straight, shoved a hand in his pocket, and walked to the extreme edge. “OI!” Oi, oi, oi… Not the controlled volume of their earlier scuffle. His voice echoed through the chamber as every head turned to look up at them.
“Why, it’s William!” drawled the Master. “And Vlad. Switching teams again, I see.” He squinted at them. “Whatever are you wearing? Is that the uniform of the Slayer’s army? The cherry atop the humiliation sundae! Or… have you switched teams of a different kind?”
“I wouldn’t be caught alive in orange,” muttered Darla.
The Master went on. “But William? You are, as usual, a bit premature. My birthday isn’t for a little while yet.”
I’ve got something for you. Spike pulled a shiny, red Christmas ornament from his pocket. Another gift from Xander, part of a very large set. Then he plucked the cigarette from his lips and touched it to the fuse. He watched it burn for a second, then flung it at the mass, aiming for the fringe. He wanted dearly to cosh the old bat, but he left that to a higher power. The minions scattered, except for two slow fledges, who exploded into fire and dust. The Master seemed entertained by the spectacle.
He spread his arms magnanimously, the sleeves of his robes flowing down to the floor. “If I’d known you were coming, I’d’ve baked a cake.”
Then a low noise rumbled through the chamber, like a train approaching the station. An explosion below knocked the gatecrashers off their feet.
“Oh,” the Master tilted his head. “Wait…”
***
Buffy crouched behind a wall of shrubs. Her troops were in place; the strongest men and women knelt behind her along the length of the hedge, weapons in hand. Four firemen stood at both ends of the line of people, one at the spout of each fire hose. People held onto the hose as well, waiting for the rush of water to bring it to life.
She shifted her grip on the stake in each hand. Mr. Pointy was in her right, a Xander special in her left. Six more held tight in the holsters around her thighs. Her favorite hand axe hung on a loose belt around her hips. Even her hair held weapons - two sharpened chopsticks kept her blond tresses in a tight bun. If all else failed, those would act as makeshift stakes.
The charred remains of Sunnydale High School loomed in front of the group. Buffy hated the sight of those front steps. Why hadn’t the building been torn down yet? The place stood there for three years already, a ghost haunting the town like a reminder of darker days. Darker, until today, that is. She’d make sure Xander’s construction crew razed the building after tonight. Then maybe lay down a three-foot thick slab of concrete over the Hellmouth. Salt the earth, something like that.
She peered across the lawn on the high school to where Giles and his troops lay in wait. She hoped that between them they had enough firepower. Giles had just as many townspeople with him, but only two fire hoses to take down the vamps. She prayed it would be enough.
Waiting was awful. Normally Buffy would have charged already, fists and stakes flying. But this was different. Too early and the surprise was blown. Too late and they all could be dead. She hated waiting.
Knowing Spike was down there without her made her feel sick. She just wanted to see the signal so that she knew he made it out okay. But the signal wasn’t an all-clear. It would tell him he made it out okay, but it meant Dawn, Willow, and Faith were going in. Out of the frying pan, into the fire.
She twisted the stakes in her hands again, trying to feel for the best grip. Her eyes squinted into the darkness ahead, straining to get a glimpse of something - anything.
She hated waiting.
***
Spike and Dracula barely had time to recover when another explosion shook them. They saw nothing, but heard rock crumbling and felt the ground beneath them weaken.
The Master turned to Darla, stroked her hair. “My dear… I want you to find William. I want you to cut him. Drain him. Then find the Slayer and drown her in his blood.” He smiled at a pleasant memory. “It’ll be déjà vu - with a twist.”
She smirked and motioned to her soldiers. “You heard him, boys.”
They swarmed up the pathways of the disintegrating cliff. Minions flooded other tunnels to go topside, to kill the traitors. Dracula exited on cue, but Spike held his ground, hurling fireballs and curses until he emptied his pockets. When the first soldiers reached him, he whaled and kicked and shoved them off the cliff.
Before others could surround him, he shouted one last “Piss off!” and raced up the tunnel to the surface.
The passage narrowed and he hopped over debris and ducked under pipes before emerging in the burnt-out band room of Buffy’s old school. Then he hurtled down a hallway, crashed through an exit, and ran into the night. He knew that his men hid in the bushes and trenches along the building, and waited at both flanks. But they would not move. No one would. Not without his signal.
11, 12, 13… He ran straight ahead toward the faint shadow of the treeline, toward one small, but bright light.
42, 43, 44… Darla’s brigade thundered after him. The earth shook and he didn’t dare look back. His arms pumped and his knees jammed up higher and higher. 97, 98, 99… He fixed his eyes on the spot ahead where Xander stood, waiting. He’d been so cocksure he could outrun any creature Darla made. Now he questioned his judgment, his boots, his knees. 113! Muscles that didn’t need oxygen ached anyway, and the awful realization that he’d overestimated himself rose up like bile in his stomach.
He made a decision. “Harris! Now!” 129!
Xander didn’t move.
“Now, now, NOW!!” 137!
Xander’s eyes went from Spike, to the soldiers gaining on him, to the torch in his own hand. “Spike-“
“XAAAAANNNDERRRRR!”
Xander dropped the torch into the trench that stretched out between himself and Spike. WHOOSH! Fire streaked in both directions for what seemed like miles and straight up for eight or nine feet. Spike’s signal lit up the blackest night of a very dark year. He now stood on the wrong side of this wall of fire, but knowledge was advantage and before the torch left Xander’s hand, Spike had ramped up. 145! 146! One forty SEVEN!! He planted a boot and sprang straight up, airborne. For a split second his entire body floated parallel with the earth. Flames licked his boot, his knee, his hand. “Aaaaaaarggh!”
He flew over the wall and plunged straight down, head first. At the last second, he tucked his head and let his shoulders absorb the shock. Momentum should’ve rolled him to his feet, but his body unfurled with a slap and he lay flat on his back, unmoving.
The soldiers closest to him careened headlong into the fire and exploded into dust. Some skidded but were shoved in by their stampeding kinsmen. The herd finally stopped, dumbstruck, gaping at a wall of fire, with only a cow’s understanding of what it is to be truly damned.
Xander glanced down at Spike, but timing was everything. He called up to the trees. “Now!”
The command echoed down the line, repeated from tree to tree.
Whish! Whish! Whish! A hail of red ornaments rained down from the sky. When the spirit of Christmas splattered into a soldier, both erupted into a ball of fire. Xander grinned. Napalm. When you care enough to send the very best.
The soldiers turned to flee the firestorm only to find that the Orangemen had vacated their hiding places and lined up behind them. Caught. Between a rock and a hot place.
Xander finally turned to Spike, offered him his hand. Spike hauled himself to his feet, then grabbed Xander by the shoulders. “Harris! You gotta tell Faith. We didn’t- Guh!” He grimaced, cursing his burned knee. “There was a cake… I mean… an explosion. They ran… but- Harris, we didn’t get them all out! You gotta tell Faith. There’s gonna be-” Spike shook him. “I have to go in with her!”
Xander broke free and looked at Spike, lit now by the wall of fire that roared hot and loud beside them. Hundreds of fireballs whistled over their heads. And the savage, clanging, vulgar sounds of war screamed from the other side of the wall - where Spike needed to be. “They’re already in.” Spike’s face fell. “Look, we knew this might happen. You did your best. They’re gonna be all right.” He turned to go.
Spike stopped him. “But Dawn-“
“-is with Faith. She’s strong. They all are. You know that.”
“Xander!”
“Listen to me! Faith’ll do her job. And you have to do yours. Here. It’s your job now to keep them out, Spike. You! You have to do it. Do you understand?!?”
“Yeh. I… Yeh.”
Xander nodded toward the nearest tree. Spike followed his gaze and smiled at what he saw there.
“Time to save Christmas, Spike.”
“And puppies!”
Xander clapped him on the shoulder, then ran along his river toward the school.
Spike took a moment to watch the river, and the rain, admiring Xander’s work. Then he grabbed his sword from its spot by the tree and ran after him. When they reached the west end of the school where the trench began, Xander veered off to re-join his team, and Spike went into the breach.
***
The vampires came streaming out of the manhole. Some of Dracula’s little family ran out first; the Master’s army followed them into the open plain. Faith shifted uncomfortably. God, she wanted to jump in and take them out, instead of hiding on the other side of the water. The stake in her palm itched, but she knew the plan. This time there was a plan - a good plan - and she was going to stick with it.
She looked toward the old high school, and her jaw dropped. Most of the vampires were coming to the surface over there. Hundreds of them. Thousands? Yikes. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes and still they came, ready to crush the traitors, and kill - well, everyone. Giles and Xander had talked a lot about the numbers, lately, and Dracula’s reports confirmed their deepest fears - there were more vampires than live humans left in lovely Sunnydale.
Her brain had been trying to wrap around that fact, but - WOW. Only seeing is believing. A city of vampires. Old bodies and young, fat bodies and thin, every color, shape and size imaginable. All dead. All hungry. All strong.
The flood of vampires slowed to a trickle, and then no more came. A whistle signaled that one of their men was in place across the ditch. Faith helped lay three planks across the trench to form a makeshift bridge.
“Now!” she whispered fiercely to the small knot of people behind her. “Go!”
They dashed across. Ten soldiers, hand-picked by Faith. They were strong. They were quick. They were really good with knives. Dawn and Willow ran in the middle of the group. Faith brought up the rearguard. She crossed the boards over the deep trench, and stood for a moment gazing across the battlefield. The others were already disappearing into the manhole.
A soldier waited for her on the other side. He pulled the planks back, and set them on fire with his blowtorch. "Go on! Go on! I'll make sure nobody follows you."
“Thanks.”
Still, Faith paused halfway down the ladder. Across the battlefield, she saw smoke, and ash. The distant flames rose higher; thousands of individual figures stood out, back-lit against the river of fire. She dropped into the tunnel. Damn. That’s gonna be a pretty cool fight.
***
They came out slowly at first, a few dozen stumbling out of the rubble of the school and onto the lawn. They didn’t look like much of a challenge. For a moment, everyone felt confident that the fight was theirs. Then another few dozen emerged from the ruins. And then nearly a hundred. And another hundred. And another. And they kept coming.
Buffy held her hand up to warn her troops to wait before attacking. She wanted to let the vampires get closer. She wanted to take them all down at once.
She heard gasps and murmurs from the people behind her. Nothing in Sunnydale's past prepared them for this. Not the werewolves, or the demons, or the snake mayor. This was bigger than any of them expected. Including Buffy.
This was bad. This was very bad.
Vampires swarmed over the lawn, snarling and baring fangs. Every pair of yellow eyes locked on the group of townspeople huddled by the bushes clutching weapons to their bodies like shields.
Buffy saw the hunger in the vampires’ faces. Their skin strained against the bones in their skulls, pulling tight against the sinewy muscle of their faces. These vampires hadn’t eaten in days. And why would they have? They had eaten almost everyone in town already.
She heard shuffling as the people behind her began to move. They wanted to run, and Buffy understood completely. She felt the same way the first time she saw a vampire all those years ago. Those feelings raced back to her, the panic rising in her chest, reaching up to swallow her tongue and choke her. She gulped, forcing herself to stare back at the vampires. This fight would be bigger, but she would win.
She raised her hand higher, a signal to the group to hold fast. She desperately wanted to turn and give them some kind of encouragement, but she didn’t dare take her eyes off the approaching mob of vampires. There was no room for error in this fight. "Okay, this is it!" she called. “Remember--go for the heart!"
The vampires slunk forward, moving slowly at first, hissing, and eyeing the people like the prey they were. As more vampires caught sight of them the more they pressed forward, propelling the horde faster. Soon the monsters were running at the troop, a wave of fangs and claws and stench.
They were only a hundred yards away when Buffy dropped her hand to her side. Immediately she heard the firemen turning the wrench on the hydrant and the sound of water rushing through the hose. "Get ready!" she shouted.
The men and women holding the fire hoses moved to flank Buffy. "Ready… Ready…" Her eyes darted to the firemen on either side, holding the nozzles of the hoses in their hands. Sweat beaded on their foreheads, their eyes riveted to the sight of hundreds of vampires charging at them. "NOW!" Buffy shouted.
The firemen threw open the valve on the nozzles, loosing two violent jets of water onto the horde. Nearly ten vampires took the brunt of the starting blasts, their bodies exploding into dust on contact. The holy water shot out into the mob, cutting a swath through the vampires like a giant sword. Bodies split in half by the force of the water, then exploded into dust or fell in pieces on the ground. Vampires shrieked and howled as the water splashed off fallen bodies and onto their arms and faces. The firemen swept the hoses back and forth across the vampires, sending holy water everywhere.
The vampires at the front of the group began to push back into the crowd, trying to return to the school and get away from the water. Those in the back had not yet seen the ambush at the front and continued to press forward, capturing their cohorts between the water and the mob.
It was complete chaos, and it was working just as the Scoobies planned.
***
Xander and his small group of men fought alongside Giles’s troops, helping to make up for the lesser number of fire hoses. The fighting had barely begun, but already a thick cloud of smoke and ash littered the air. Everything was going just as planned. His job was to keep theline of defense solid, making sure that vampires couldn’t break free of the battlefield. They would all die on the field tonight, Xander promised himself.
Another one rushed at Xander, screaming curses at him as its fangs glistened in the firelight. Without thinking, he sliced neatly through its neck with a machete, watching as the head rolled backward off the body as it exploded into ash. Killing them was second nature to him now.
His eyes instinctively scanned the battlefield. Giles stood at the front of his troops, hacking mercilessly at the vampires with an axe. Limbs fell off the dead bodies; cold blood spurted from the gaping wounds and onto the mud below. Some vampires crawled along the ground on the bloodied stumps of their legs, their feet long since disintegrated in the puddles of holy water collecting around the lawn. These were easy targets for Giles’s troops, lasting only a few moments before being obliterated into piles of dust.
On the other side of the field Buffy fought in the thick of the vampire mob, punching and kicking at the creatures surrounding her. Again and again they would swarm upon her like bees, hiding her from Xander’s view. But almost instantly they fell back, pummeled by her fists and feet. Her hands flew through the air, staking vampire after vampire. She was a killing machine. Buffy fought in the middle of the melee, soaked to the bone as she was moved further and further from the group. The firemen aimed at the vampires attacking her, hoping their steady jets of water might help her survive the fight. Behind them the people-
-were getting their asses kicked.
"Come on!" shouted Xander to his troop of men, pointing towards the group. All seven took off across the field, skirting between the line of townspeople and the deep trench of holy water. A few hundred yards away Xander saw townspeople jumping into the moat to escape the push of vampires that slipped past the firemen.
"You sneaky bastards," Xander muttered, watching helplessly as the vampires used Buffy as a distraction while they attacked the others. "HEY!" he screamed at the firemen. "Behind you!" His cries were useless; the sound of the water and fighting drowned him out a few feet away.
The group of men raced on. As they neared the gap in the line Xander stopped short, causing the group to stumble into one another behind him. "Charlie?" he called out to one of the men in his group.
His coworker stood at Xander’s side instantly, holding a small take the size of a fire extinguisher in his arms. "Right here."
Xander nodded to Charlie and the other men. "Saddle up."
The men pulled out all of their weapons and charged into the fight. Xander and Charlie held back, quickly fitting a thin rubber hose to the tank’s fitting. The men slashed and staked at the vampires ahead of them, causing enough of a commotion to turn the focus of the fight away from the townspeople.
Xander fished a lighter from his pocket. "Retreat!" he screamed. The men turned on their heels, sprinting towards Xander as the vampires chased them back. Xander stood at the front of the group, waiting for the right moment. The monsters were nearly on the men now, snarling and hissing as they raced forward. When they got within a few feet Xander flicked the lighter directly under the torch in his hand. With an ear-splitting snap the gas ignited and a blaze of fire shot out into the gang of bloodsuckers.
Flames engulfed the lead vampire as it imploded in a burst of fire and ash. Xander waved the blowtorch from side to side, catching every vampire that neared them. Some flailed for a moment before disintegrating, leaving a film of ash on the ground. Others exploded in a flash, man-sized columns of fire lighting the battlefield before disappearing as quickly as they came. The howls of burning vampires pierced the air, making Xander cringe.
He never wavered with his blowtorch, igniting vampire after vampire. Those that made it past him faced the other men, who dodged the vampires’ flaming limbs to sink stakes into unbeating hearts.
His face a mask of determination, Xander quickly dispatched the vampires. The fight meant almost everything to him. The only thing more important was getting everyone out safely. In only a few brief moments the insanity of their fight was over. The group of vampires was demolished, and Xander’s diversion allowed time for the people to fall back in place alongside the firemen.
"Holy shit," a voice in the back of the group muttered.
He turned to see Blayne Mall, tight end for the old Sunnydale Razorbacks, his muscular frame wracked with violent shakes. A stake fell from him hand.
Xander raced to Blayne’s side, putting his hand on his arm. "We’re okay," he said softly. Then Xander bent to pick up the stake. Pressing it in his hand, he repeated the phrase. "We’re okay."
Blayne nodded, wiping ash and sweat from his forehead.
"Come on," Xander said to his group, squaring his shoulders and heading onto the field.
A middle-aged man rushed forward, grabbing Xander and spinning him around. "Where are you going?"
Xander blinked at him for a moment. "Out to help. Come on."
The man shook his head. "No. No more. I’m done, you hear me? Get me out of here."
He tried to pry himself out of the man’s grip. "I can’t. I have to help."
The man’s grip tightened on Xander’s arms. "Don’t you understand? You’re going to get us all killed!"
Blayne rushed forward, pulling the man off Xander. He stared at both of them wildly, rocking back and forth as he hugged himself in fear. "Get me out of here! Let them all die, I don’t care. Just get me out of here!"
Xander’s voice dropped. "I’m not leaving. People are out there fighting for their lives, and I’m not going to let them down. We said we’d watch their backs, and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re still winning, and it’s going to stay that way. You can run if you want, but I’m fighting like I promised."
He turned on his heel and continued his march into the fray, Charlie at his side. Blayne watched for a few seconds before catching up. One by one the men followed, leaving the frightened man staring in disbelief at the mob of vampires. He eyed the field where Xander and his men entered the battle, their weapons drawn and ready for attack.
Then, slowly, he turned and walked away.
***
It took a moment for Spike's eyes to adjust to Hell.
That done, he felt right at home. Smoke and ash swirled in the boiling cauldron of battle. Blasts of sweltering heat assaulted him, and the smell of fire, blood, and lust washed over him in waves. He heard the wailing and snarling of his own kind, a horde of savage wolves tearing each other to pieces. The clamor escalated, filled his head… fire hissing and popping… metal crashing on metal… He closed his eyes and listened.
Then gunfire echoed across the field, like the loud, slow ripping of cloth. Drac's boys had come armed. Weapons they owned as humans, weapons they stole from humans. Guns alone wouldn't kill, but they could do damage, or just push the enemy back - right into the raging river. So the firepower lined up in front, stakes and fists to the rear. Everything else went somewhere in between.
Spike stood still and watched the earth move. The swarthy mass undulated and clawed - repelled by an arc of fire on one side and a ribbon of orange on the other. Dust erupted into the sky, tossed by the wind and fed by the frenzy.
The Master's forces far outnumbered them, but they lacked order and leadership. The Orangemen fought behind a general. Two, Spike admitted. They had lieutenants and a chain of command. When a soldier went down, another filled the gap. The thin orange line bent and cracked but did not break.
A simple plan, really. Herd the Master's men into the fire, into the rain, while Spike and Dracula hung back, measuring their progress and moving men around as needed. At least, that's how it worked on Xander's Stratego board.
But they failed to consider the reality of vampire wars. The nature of the beast. Already, Dracula loomed large in the thick of the melee, the dread avenger wielding his sword with black fury. He didn't always take off the heads. With arcing, powerful strokes, he sent hunks of flesh soaring through the air. Or he sliced long and deep, then left the enemy twitching in a pool of his own blood, begging to be staked. His eyes flashed, psychotic. And the laugh - he only laughed in battle - a mad, maniacal sound that stirred fear even in those who fought by his side.
Spike watched him plow through the enemy ranks, mowing them down like wheat before the sickle. He felt a pang of admiration. Here on the battlefield, the warlord rose above the legend. Mere writers could never do it justice, this ghastly scene. For all his capes and silky shirts, Vlad the Impaler embraced the dirty side of war. He craved it. Vlad wasn't the only one. Spike's skin tingled and he knew he could no longer hang back.
But before he took another step, a soldier boy got in his face. One of Darla's, sneaking up from the school. Spike blinked - he looked like Riley. That moment's hesitation earned him a knife in the shoulder.
"Ow!" He got over it then. He decided that G.I. Joe = Initiative, and the Initiative must pay - beginning with this wanker. For tasing him. Bash! Caging him. Slash! And shoving a tinker toy up his brain. Swish! De-bloody-capitated. "That's what you get for messin' with the hair," he shouted, then howled in delight.
The tingling intensified. And the hum he always heard in battle tickled his ears. By night's end, the ringing would engulf him. He looked forward to it.
Spike looked at the line. After choosing his point of entry - the hottest of hotspots - he kissed his sword, held it high, and plunged into the inferno.
***
"Okay, now what?" Faith's voice rang in the darkness.
When she got closer, Willow could see a wall of dirt and debris blocking the tunnel. "Looks like a construction team got a little too enthusiastic and forgot that this tunnel was supposed to be left open," she offered.
"No!" Faith snapped, frustrated. "We're right under the battlefield - there was no big-ass hole in the middle of that field."
"It doesn't matter, we'll just go around it." The soldier spoke confidently. "We saw the vampires coming out this way - there has to be a connector somewhere. We just have to backtrack."
There was nothing to do but turn around. They had passed several passages and rooms on the way in - one of them had to loop around to the Hellmouth. After about five minutes, they found a small tunnel on their right. Their flashlights didn't reach a far wall, so it probably wasn't a dead end. As they peered in, an unbearable stench hit them; Willow had to force herself to keep breathing. They went in anyway.
After a minute, the passage opened up into a room. The putrid reek of decay overwhelmed Willow and her mind reeled. Death… Evil. She grabbed onto Dawn's shoulder to keep herself upright. The flashlights swept either side of the room, and she understood. Bodies. Bodies heaped on bodies, to the ceiling. Throats torn, arms gashed, chests rent - each one punctured again and again. The garbage heap of the vampires, where they threw the remains of their meals once they'd been drained of every drop of blood.
Willow gagged and closed her eyes. Next to her, Dawn heaved and vomited. One of the soldiers held back her hair. "Let's get out of here." Faith's voice shook. The sooner they left this horror behind, the better.

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