[identity profile] eee1313.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] dancing_lessons_archive
Part five of eight

Episode Fifteen: Into the Breach

by georgevna, fenwic & eep

*
Giles loaded the final arrow into his crossbow. "This had better be good," he thought.

He aimed the crossbow ahead of him and pulled the trigger, watching as the arrow whizzed through the air and struck a vampire squarely in the heart. He barely waited for it to finish disintegrating before he plowed through the dust, moving on for another kill.

With his left hand he staked another vampire that approached, then quickly bent down and smashed the crossbow against the ground. There was no use wasting good wood. He grabbed the handle and shoved it into his jacket pocket, ready to use it as a makeshift stake if all else failed. He didn’t know how many stakes he would go through that night.

To his left a group of people slowly herded the vampires toward the trench of holy water. That maneuver wasn’t part of the original plan, but it worked wonderfully. Giles gave it to these people-they had ingenuity.

He grabbed another stake from his pocket and headed to his right. Behind him he heard the screams of the vampires as they fell into the trench. He could only imagine their skin melting away, then the muscle, then the bone, quickly disintegrating into a fine film floating on top of the water.

Ahead, the right flank of his troops stood under attack from the vampires. They kept coming. And coming. He couldn’t begin to fathom how many stood on that lawn. He circled to the back of the group and wove his way to the front. The people parted for him as he moved through the crowd. They knew he fought better than them all.

As he broke through the group he found himself face to face with nearly forty vampires. Two rushed at him immediately. Instinctively he pulled out his stakes and plunged his fists towards their chests. They exploded in a violent burst of dust and from that point on his fight consisted entirely of hand-to-hand combat. Sometimes Giles missed their hearts and his stakes just plunged into the chest, making a hollow sucking noise as he pulled them out to try again. He hated fighting this close to the vampires; he liked his distance. Besides, he fought better with the crossbow.

The townspeople moved around him in a semicircle, slowly bringing the vampire horde back into its place. They didn’t want the creatures to gain any more ground than they already had, and they certainly didn’t want to be backed against the trenches. At least the trenches worked as a blockade to keep them out of town. But if every person died, the vampires would just pile up their bodies and use them as a bridge across the trench. It couldn’t come to that.

Flames shot up from the field, licking at the pitch-black sky. The school was back lit in a bizarre silhouette of flame. Giles knew that the battle raging on the other side of the school must be even more gruesome. Then again, if Dracula and his army died Giles wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.

What was happening underneath the school concerned him even more. Somewhere down there were the girls… Faith. Giles marvelled at how attached he became to the girl over the past few months. He always thought of Buffy as a daughter, but having Faith around meant something different to him. Buffy now had her own little family unit with Spike and Dawn. Giles disliked being selfish, but he enjoyed the fact that he was the only family in Faith’s life. When she first came to live with him he never expected to stay up at night, waiting for her to come home. Oddly enough, he worried more when she borrowed his car than when she patrolled. What was it with Slayers that they managed killing the worst demons on the planet without any trouble, yet they couldn’t master an automatic transmission?

A vampire raced at him, its mouth a gaping hole filled only with razor-sharp teeth. Giles stabbed a stake into its body and watched as the face disappeared in front of him. He recognized this one: the vampire had been the manager of the Espresso Pump. Sad, really. The man always split the night’s grosses with Giles when he played, which was very kind. Most owners only paid in tips.

Another crush of vampires headed towards them, and Giles knew that this group was too thick for them to fight. "Fall back!" he shouted at the people and they moved towards the trenches. As loud as he could, Giles yelled "Guns!"

Some of the people moved backwards to let others through. As the new troop took their place at the front of the group, Giles once again studied the weapons in their hands. Semiautomatic rifles of some kind, he couldn’t be sure. Giles was certain that the equipment with which Xander supplied them had been stolen, but he wasn’t going to ask. What he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.

"Aim for the knees!" Giles yelled.

A spray of bullets filled the air. The vampires fell almost immediately; some of them with their legs blown clean off their bodies. They lay on the ground screaming while the others trampled over them to get to the people.

"Keep shooting! Go for the necks!"

The bullets shot higher through the air and flew across the field and into the heads, necks, torsos of the vampires. Body parts and blood splattered on the ground. Some of the vampires exploded into dust once their heads became severed by the bullets. Others screamed in agony, their limbs lying dead but their bodies still moving.

The monsters closed in. Giles waved his arms as a signal for the gunmen to quit firing. When the gunfire stopped echoing in the air, Giles yelled again. "Hoses!"

Immediately the firemen appeared, a chain of people behind them manning the hoses. Water gushed through the air and plowed down the vampires. Those that didn’t explode immediately upon contact with the water were left to watch as their skin withered and melted away.

As the vampires moved back to the school to escape the terror of the holy water, Giles urged his troops onward. With a stake in each hands, he moved into the crowd of wet and disintegrating vampires. Those that languished on the ground were pounced upon and staked. The dust that collected under Giles’s feet now lay ankle-deep.

He veered right towards an especially thick knot of vampires. Suddenly a vampire jumped him from behind and put him in a headlock, choking him. Giles grabbed the arm and shoved his hips backward into the vampire’s body, bending at the waist. The demon flipped over Giles’s head and landed on the ground before him. Instantly he was ready and the vampire was dust.

Another one approached and punched him in the face. Giles punched it back in the gut and when it doubled over he hit it again, his fist connecting with the creature’s chin. The vampire reeled as it pulled its arm back to throw a punch, but Giles punched it again and again in the throat and ears. Then he slammed his stake into its body and the demon fell to the earth in dust.

While Giles was never proud of his days as Ripper, times like these made him glad for his rebellious youth. Sometimes he forgot what he was capable of. It felt good to remember.

***

For the first time in her life, Erlinda Bacani didn't know if she could do her job. She didn't know if she could really kill them. She claimed no proficiency with weapons, so like most of the humans, she waited in the rear. Behind the hoses. Behind the torches, swords and arrows, she waited for the vampires.

In each hand, she clutched a stake. When one of those monsters got through the gauntlet and fell at her feet - burned, bleeding, missing a limb - her job was to clean up the mess. Containment, they said, no one gets out. She feared she couldn't do it.

In her lifetime, she'd been poor. She'd also been hungry, sad, happy, anxious, proud, delighted, and incredibly pissed off. But she'd never been afraid. Now she was afraid all the time, ever since the day they walked into her office… and grabbed people and… ripped them. People she knew… Their bodies broken, like little sticks. Twenty years at this job… Pieces of her friends landed on her desk. Their blood spattered her papers.

They herded the rest of them into trucks like cattle, but not before having a last bit of fun. They found the copyboy hiding in the back and dragged him out into the open. Bobby was all of nineteen years old, with long hair, and earrings, and black boots with metal plates on them. He sassed her sometimes. She always thought he was kind of weird.

Those creatures shoved him to the ground and beat him. They admired his pretty, young flesh and announced that they would play with him a little before they ate it. They terrorized and threatened him until he soiled his pants and blubbered like a baby. Then they laughed. She watched the boy cower on the floor, crying and begging for mercy. They tore him apart right in front of her. Slowly, to prolong the screaming. Every night in her sleep she heard Bobby screaming.

She heard screaming now, as the first vampire fell at her feet. Just like she'd imagined - helpless, writhing in agony. Blood and char covered his puckered skin, and his many wounds would kill any human. She watched him twitch and convulse and listened to his mournful wail. He looked up at her, anguished. Could she really kill him?

Erlinda Bacani smiled.

Then she brought her foot back and kicked it. Over and over. Finally, she raised a stake and drove it home.

She'd been so afraid that her need to see the monsters suffer would interfere with her job. She was wrong.

***

Some distance further down the main tunnel, they found another passage to the right. They were back on track. With every step, the group seemed more confident as their minds shut out the ghastly memory of the chamber of bodies. Not Willow. She knew, without directions, without sight, that they were coming closer to the Hellmouth. There was a blackness there, a magic so strong and so dark that it shook her to her core. She felt helpless, overpowered, scared. Dawn's voice brought her back to the moment.

"Check out the hottie putting the moves on Faith!" the girl whispered.

Willow looked at the tall young man walking beside the Slayer. He hadn't left her side since she got into the tunnel. Willow raised her eyebrows appreciatively. "Wow. I'd do him."

Dawn looked so bewildered, Willow had to laugh. "Look, I may be gay, but I'm not dead!"

***

Claire always loved her dad's workshop. As a child she played in the basement room with him, spinning in the sawdust as he cut wood for a new fence or a window frame. The sound of a table saw reminded her of weekend afternoons, when she sat watching as he built one thing or another. So it came as no surprise to anyone who knew her when she armed herself with all of his old tools.

She stormed through the crowd of vampires, a toolbelt slung around her waist. Five stakes hung in it, as well as one hatchet, a hammer, and a saw. She'd pin them down and hack off their heads one by one if it came to it. She held a long wooden stake in one hand-if only she learned to use the lathe-and a nail gun in the other. People questioned her when she first showed up with it that afternoon, but once the fighting began they knew she was on to something.

A vampire ran forward, screeching as it tore towards her. With a steady hand she raised the nail gun and fired three times. One nail missed completely, but the other two hit their targets. The vampire reeled, two tiny metal spikes sticking out of each eye. It groped the air around it looking to find her, to maybe gouge her eyes out in return. But if there was one thing Claire knew, it was that vampires can't kill what they can't see.

Claire holstered the nail gun and pulled the hammer from the belt. She ducked away from the vampire's blind clutches and then stepped in for the kill. The point of the stake touched the ghoul's chest, and in one swift strike the hammer drove the stake in. The vampire melted into dust before her.

She smiled to herself and moved on to the next vampire. That made twenty-nine she dusted, and out of them all she hadn't actually touched a single one.

***

George thrust his mop back down into the puddle. This'll show those sons of bitches, he thought, jabbing the cloth strips into the water. Been taking their crap for too long. Been taking this town's crap for too long. Having to clean up after those kids day in and day out. No one remembering my name half the time. He shifted the handle in his hands, steadying the weight of the wet mop as he lifted it from the ground. Going to jail for murdering that teacher while I was possessed-now that was the kicker. Thank God that librarian cleared my name at the trial…

A vampire charged him from the left. Without a second thought, George whipped the mop through the air, the dripping mass of rags connecting with the ridged and mutated face. Instantly the monster roared in pain, the water leaving deep, open sores across its forehead and cheeks. Smoke rose from the burns, and while the vampire screamed in agony, George spun the handle in his grip. With a quick thrust he pierced the vampire's chest with the pointed end of the mop, watching as it burst into dust in front of him. Even before the dust had settled on the wet ground below, George busied himself mopping up more of the holy water. There was no sense in wasting it.

Man, after tonight, I'm outta here.

***

Buffy slammed her stake into a vampire. It was too easy. These vampires were young and stupid, and they made too many mistakes. Not that Buffy wanted it any other way. Mistakes meant easy dusting.

The stake cut through the skin of yet another vampire, meeting the familiar resistance of dead flesh until the tip pierced the heart. And then there was more dust.

A thin coat of it covered her entire body, in every layer of clothing and even underneath. If she went home that night to find dust in her underwear, she was going to be really squicked out. Buffy made a face at the thought and staked another vampire.

Two vampires rushed at her from either side. Buffy jumped straight up and did the splits in midair, her feet connecting with both of their faces. They fell backwards into the crowd of vampires behind them, knocking a few to the ground. Before she even landed her stakes were poised for attack. She smashed them into the bodies of two more vampires, holding her breath as they exploded.

A group of five vampires surrounded her. Buffy sized them up and pulled her hand axe from her belt. The first one charged and she dispatched it with the stake in her left hand. Two more ran at her, and she plunged the stake into one while she sliced through the neck of another, lobbing its head off in one quick blow.

Another charged at her and managed to get a punch in. His fist clocked her on her right cheek, just below the eye. Buffy's cheek began to swell as her eyes stung with tears, momentarily blurring her vision. She ducked below the vampire's second punch and dropped to the ground, spinning on the ball of her foot while she swept-kicked the vampire to the ground. It landed square on its back and Buffy pounced to stake it.

As she knelt down to stab the vampire, a strong pair of arms threaded through her own. Buffy's arms were pinned behind her back, wedged between her body and her attacker's chest. She struggled to break free, but the other pair of arms only clenched tighter, pulling her arms and shoulders backwards.

The vampire on the ground stood up and faced her, leering beneath its Neanderthal forehead. It took two steps forward before Buffy made her move. She kicked her feet out in front of her, making contact with the approaching vampire's legs. It barely had time to react as she ran up its body, her feet hitting it in the legs, stomach, and chest. When her feet touched its shoulders she kicked off him, knocking the creature to the ground once again. The force of her kick propelled her upwards and over the vampire behind her, bringing both of their arms over its head. Buffy landed behind the bewildered creature and instantly staked it from behind.

She found herself face to face with the same vampire as it righted itself from the ground. For the first time Buffy actually acknowledged the monster before her, actually took a moment to look at it. Once it had been a soldier, one of the men on the military base. Or maybe he had been an Initiative soldier before they all shipped out.

With a grunt Buffy ran at it, her mind racing with images of Riley's last moments. Riley, the monster. Riley, the murderer. The Riley that wasn't Riley. That Riley hadn't deserved a second chance. This monster didn't deserve one, either.

Buffy planted her stake into the vampire just as her axe beheaded it. Dust covered her body as she fell through the disintegrating remains of the creature, and she stumbled a few steps before gaining control of herself again.

She mentally checked herself. Too much effort on one measly vampire. There were others to kill, and she should save her strength.

***

The vampires were on the run. All over the battlefield they turned tail and began their retreat back towards the Hellmouth. But the people followed them every step of the way, stabbing them in the back with their stakes or beheading them or dousing them with holy water.

Giles ordered one of his hoses to circle the perimeter of the field as far as they could reach and aim towards the school. The other fire brigade cut straight through the field and tried herding the vampires back towards the people. Once the vampires were encircled, it would be less than an hour before they all lay in a pile of ash.

Buffy's troops pressed on just as planned, spraying down the vampires and hacking the heads off those who somehow survived. This group fought with less hand-to-hand combat, relying more on water power to keep the vampires away. Those in the back staked the bodies of injured and immobile vampires, their faces grim with determination. The victory was theirs; they just had to claim it.

The fighting had started over an hour before, and Buffy could feel herself tiring out. She couldn't show signs of slowing to her troops, though. She was their moral support through this. The vampires kept coming, but her reactions slowed considerably. Buffy tried to remember having a fight that lasted this long before, but her mind only drew blanks. Training lasted for hours at a time, but this was different. Knowing that any moment could be her last tired her physically and mentally. Buffy knew that she'd have to fall back for a breather-fighting with a cloudy head was too risky for her liking.

Slowly she began to give up ground to the vampires, returning to the group of townspeople. The vampires pursued her some of the way, pressing forward as she moved back. But as they neared the spray of the fire hoses they retreated as well.

"What's wrong?" Someone met her as soon as she stepped into the safety zone between the firemen.

Buffy looked at the woman at her side. Shorter, middle-aged, a bloodied wooden meat tenderizer in her hand.

"Are you all right?" she asked Buffy.

She nodded. "I just need a breather for a minute. Then I'm going back in."

The woman smiled. "You're amazing out there. I wish I had your agility when I was your age."

"Trust me, no you don't." Buffy holstered her stake and took a few deep breaths. Her eyes darted towards the school, then to the fire burning on its other side. For a moment her thoughts lingered on the people she couldn't protect, their faces flashing through her mind-

"Buffy!"

She snapped back to attention. The firemen were signaling, waving frantically. Behind them, the people manning the hoses stood in stunned disbelief. The hoses lay limp and flat in their hands.

"Shit!" Buffy muttered, racing over to one of the men. "What's wrong?" she shouted as she approached.

The fireman waved the hose at her. "The water pressure's out!"

Her brow knotted in confusion. "What? What does that mean?"

"We're out of water! That's it! No more!"

Realization spread across Buffy's face. "Shit!" she screamed, spinning to survey the battlefield.

Already the vampires moved forward. The other fire brigades were stranded across the field, vampires circling in on all sides for the kill. The people backed against one another, drawing stakes against the vampires surrounding them.

Buffy stood helpless as screams erupted from the far side of the field. Without seeing anything, she knew people were being eaten alive. She shuddered and raced to her backup troops, the firemen and people behind her.

"Grenades! Napalm! Guns! Anything!" she shouted at them.

Not two seconds later hundreds of weapons pointed forward. She pointed to the left, where one band of people headed earlier. "Go that way, help them!" she ordered half of the group. They ran onto the field as Buffy signaled for the other group to follow. She ran back onto the field in the direction of the second group with the fire hoses. "We're getting them out!" she called to the people running with her. "Help them first, then worry about winning the fight!" The people close enough to hear her nodded and clutched their weapons tightly.

Within a minute her group flanked a knot of vampires, stabbing at bodies and slashing at throats. Buffy jumped into the fray, her hands a blur of thrusts and punches. Yellow eyes. Aim for yellow eyes, she told herself. Vampires reached for her arms to pull her down but she yanked back on her arms, bringing the creatures to smash headfirst into one another before her. Her palms slammed into their noses, sending the cartilage shooting back into their brains. Her feet kicked into their chests, knocking them to the ground. One grabbed her arm and she grabbed its wrist in return, twisting the arm around and slamming her other arm into its elbow, dislocating it. With all of her might she wrenched the limp limb from the body and snapped it off. The vampire screamed in agony, its mouth a gaping chasm of teeth and blood as Buffy plunged her stake into it.

Around her the people did everything possible to plow down the vampires and get to the people trapped nearby. One woman swung a garden hoe at the vampires, catching their chests with the blade and pulling them towards her for the kill. A man used a fireplace poker to smash in their skulls and beat them to the ground where he staked them. Another man threw Christmas bulbs full of napalm at the vampires, watching as their bodies melted under the sticky fire.

The screams kept coming from the other side of the vampires. Buffy continued to plow through the monsters, hoping to get to the people before they were ripped apart. The screams grew louder, and she moved deeper into the crush of vampires. Palm to chest, knee to groin, axe to neck, stake to heart. Buffy knew the drill, and she'd keep fighting until everyone was safe.

Screams erupted behind her and Buffy's skin crawled. Screams were everywhere. She was surrounded.

***

God, we have got to be almost there by now, right? The little detour around the debris was turning out to be a nightmare. Faith never had much sense of direction, and these tunnels were starting to make her claustrophobic. Thank god some of these military boys seemed able to navigate better than her.

"I think I hear something down this way." Anderson put a hand on her elbow and pointed off to the left. Was that his first or last name? Damn, he's cute. Sandy blond hair, tall. Special Forces guy. Nice shoulders. Amazing hazel eyes. With his contacts in, the boy was lethal…

Stop it. Pay attention. His hand left her arm, but he stayed right behind her. She heard it then, too. Voices speaking. She gestured for quiet, and the team crept forward. All at once the tunnel opened up on either side of them, and they were surrounded.

Fifty vampires, at least. Finally! Faith didn't wait for them to attack, she simply leapt at the biggest one she could see and staked him cleanly. Another grabbed her from behind, but Faith was in her element. She bent forward, grabbed the vampire's shoulders and flipped her onto the floor. Stake through the heart. Too easy…

Before she could even straighten up, another vampire jumped on her. Faith landed face down on the tunnel floor, with her hands and stake crushed in front of her by the vampire's weight on her back. She struggled to push herself up when the weight was suddenly gone. Coughing through the ash, she tried to see who had helped her out.

"Hey, it worked! You can stake 'em from behind!" Dawn sounded almost giddy.

Faith tried to get her bearings. It seemed like they were slightly inside a side tunnel, just out of the way of the fight. She looked back the way she had come, towards the growls and bone-crunching thuds. The flashlights had all fallen to the ground and illuminated only shadowy feet. "Stay here!" Faith commanded, as she dashed back into the melee.

"Fiat lux!"

A burst of golden light flooded the room. The fight was almost over - these boys were good. Faith rushed towards Willow, heading off the vampire approaching the witch from the right. Damn, where was her stake?

"Not so fast, bitch!" Faith screamed, as she kicked the vampire in the small of her back.

The vampire fell to her knees, but managed to grab Faith by the ankle. She jerked Faith to the floor and hissed, "Back at ya, Slayer!"

From the corner of her eye, Faith saw Anderson wrestling with another one. "Anderson! Stake! Please!" The matronly vampire kept an iron grip on Faith's neck. Her right fist pounded the girl's face as her knees dug into Faith's upper arms, pinning her to the floor. Anderson managed to get on top of his vamp, and Faith heard something clatter towards her outstretched right hand. Her fingers tightened around it, and she realized Anderson had thrown her his knife.

Faith hesitated a moment. She hadn't used a knife as a weapon since she'd been released from prison. Stakes. Crossbows. Anything handy - but not knives. The vampire on top of her landed another fist to her face, and Faith got over it. She lifted the knife and plunged it into the vampire's side at the only angle she could manage with her arms pinned. The vampire screamed in pain and fell back just enough. Faith brought the knife up and took the bitch's head off.

***

Spike rode an orange wave into the deep end of the ocean and came up swinging. With his two-fisted grip, what he lost in reach he made up for in power. One swing per head. And keep on swingin' till all heads are gone.

Flurries of ash and his crappy (for a vampire) eyesight made his world a dark and hazy place. He lunged at every blur of skin, eyes and teeth; and dodged whenever light glinted on metal. He saw flashes of crimson and orange as his army's uniforms lost their citrus glow. Soldiers of every color crashed into him from all sides. He shoved them off with an elbow or a boot, struggling to keep his footing on the blood-slick grass.

Still, Spike hit his marks. The droning in his ears acted like sonar somehow. A signal bouncing off objects telling him more than his own eyes ever could. His hands told him when his blade went through flesh, muscle and bone. And when the spray hitting his face went from sticky to ashy, he grinned and moved on to the next kill.

How he missed this! The strength it gave him, the way it fed him. He felt it in his bones. And the kills - not so clean anymore. He plunged his sword in deep, then wrenched it sideways or up, shredding all comers with vicious glee.

Conscious only of the enemy right in front of him, Spike marched on - like Sherman to the sea. He and Dracula no longer moved an army - their army trailed after them, a spearhead into the mob, striking out with abandon. Fiery red ornaments whizzed past as they neared the firewall. Searing heat… Black air… The mob thickened - shoving, mauling, growling. The crushing pressure… No longer able to swing his weapon, Spike grasped whomever he could lay hands on and pitched them into the flames.

With no one minding the front, the rank and file broke down. Containment collapsed into chaos. And strategy gave way to the utter joy of killing.

The orange line bulged, and then ruptured as the Master's forces spilled forth.

***

Francisco jumped in the puddle on the ground, splashing water up into the air. Any other day and he would have felt ridiculous-a fifty-two year old man playing in a puddle? But today wasn't any other day. Today he was surrounded.

Three vampires stood on the edge of the puddle, dodging away from stray droplets of water that flew through the air. They had chased Francisco across nearly fifty yards, and they almost caught him. Then he spotted the huge puddle and ran straight into the middle, just out of arms' reach.

A vampire grabbed at him again, trying desperately to reach him without losing its balance. Francisco muttered a curse in Spanish and kicked at the puddle, sending the water raining down on the vampire's hand. It hissed and pulled away, its eyes blazing a deep gold in the dark night.

Francisco continued kicking and jumping in the puddle as the vampires circled. He felt the one stake in his pants pocket bang against his leg, and for a moment he debated on fighting them all. But common sense quickly took over, telling him that he might only stake one vampire before the other two ripped his throat out.

He hopped up and down some more, hoping that either the vampires would grow bored and leave him, or that someone would come by and rescue him. The other option-that he might kick the puddle into oblivion-was too frightening to contemplate.

***

Ben Simmons pulled a Christmas bulb from his jacket pocket and threw it at the vampire in front of him. The glass ornament shattered when it hit the dead body, sending a spray of napalm across the vampire. Then he lit a match and tossed it at the vampire, igniting the napalm and engulfing the creature in flame. It shrieked as the liquid fire began eating through its flesh, and as it clawed at the napalm its fingers burnt with every touch. Ben's eyes narrowed as he rammed a stake into the vampire's chest.

He took a few more steps across the field, ready to take on the next vampire. His eyes focused on a woman to his right. She crouched on the ground, moving in an almost reptilian manner. Vampire, he thought confidently. He strode over to it and raised his stake.

The woman turned to look at him. She had shoulder-length hair, gray now, but once had been a beautiful shade of honey-blonde. Small features, smooth skin, high cheekbones. Blue eyes.

Ben dropped his stake. "Mom?"

She stood up and smiled. "Oh, sweetie," she sighed.

He shook his head. "Mom, are you okay?"

Mrs. Simmons wrapped her son in a tight hug. "Yes, yes, I'm fine."

Ben burst into tears. "I thought they had you."

"They did. But I escaped." She stroked his hair while he cried against her shoulder.

"Mom, I'm so sorry. I was so worried you were dead. I never thought I'd see you again."

"Shhhh, shhhh," Mrs. Simmons whispered, holding the young man in her arms as his body shook with sobs. "It's okay. We're all going to be okay."

With that Mrs. Simmons grinned and let her features transform into her vampire visage. Ben, still sobbing and holding what he thought was his mother, never noticed the change. She sunk her fangs into his neck and drank quickly, then dropped the limp body in her arms. Ben hit the ground in a heap, and she bent over him and snapped his neck with a twist of his head.

"Sleep tight, stupid boy," the vampire cooed to the corpse beneath its feet before heading back out into battle.

***

Buffy cried out in pain as a vampire pulled her arm out of its socket. It held her by her injured arm while a second punched her repeatedly in the face. She tried to grab a stake in her leg holsters, but every time she reached down another punch knocked her off course.

"Damn it!" she muttered, giving up on that idea and reaching to lock the vampire's forearm against her own. Buffy pivoted her arm to slide underneath his and clamped her hand around its arm. She jerked on it, pinning its arm against her body. As the creature fell forward she head butted it in the nose, sending it to the ground.

Buffy rammed her head backwards into the skull of the other vampire. It dropped her arm, and she grabbed a stake while she spun to face it. The stake sunk into the vampire and it exploded in dust.

Just then the other vampire rose and clamped its arm on her injured shoulder. "Oh, that's good," Buffy said happily as she twisted her body backwards, popping her arm back into place. She whirled to face the vampire.

"Thanks, that helped a lot," she said with a cheery smile as she stabbed the vampire in the heart. It fell to her feet in a shower of dust.

Buffy rotated her shoulder a few times and flexed her hand. "Good as new."

Twenty yards ahead three vampires fought over the body of a dead woman. Buffy grimaced and ran at them, pulling a second stake from her holster. "Hey!" she shouted, drawing their attention.

The vampires turned to face her and Buffy jumped into the air, her legs flying over her head. In mid-cartwheel Buffy lifted both hands, piercing two of the vampires' hearts with her stakes. As she began her descent back to the ground, her feet connected with the third vampire's head, knocking it to the ground.

Buffy landed in a graceful somersault, rolling to a stop next to the downed creature. She pulled up her stake and rammed it into the vampire before it had time to recover.

"Easy as pie," Buffy quipped, then stood up to face the battle. All around her people fought with the vampires, some staking the enemy easily while others wrestled to keep themselves alive. Nearby a couple beat a vampire with shovels, trying to kill the creature before it bit the man pinned underneath it.

Buffy raced over to help. A Slayer's work is never done.

***

And then there were three.

Two of the guys - Martin and Henson - were dead. Two others - Finch and… gah! What was his name? - Tom? - were in really bad shape. Three more were walking wounded. Only three of the men had escaped without any injury - Anderson, Jeremy and David, and they had to carry out the guys who were hurt.

It took some doing to convince them to go, but Faith wasn't about to let Finch and Tom die if she could help it. She pointed out to the uninjured guys that there'd be plenty more fighting for them to do once they got back to the surface.

In the end she'd had to order them to leave.

Faith searched the floor with her flashlight, and found her Xander special in the side tunnel where Dawn had saved her. Xander had spent a week on this one, on and off. She should have brought more, but it was like the lucky pants. Since she got it two weeks ago, it was the only stake she'd used - and she'd used it a lot. It seemed like tempting fate to carry any backup.

She rejoined Willow and Dawn in the main tunnel.

"Hey, Dawn - thanks for the save."

Dawn smiled. "No prob. Just call me 'Dawn, the Vampire Slayer'!"

Faith laughed. She turned to Willow, who seemed sort of dazed. "Will? Are you okay?"

"Hmmm? Oh, yeah. I… I'm fine."

"Seriously, Willow? What's up?" Faith pressed.

"Oh, the usual… Extremely ancient undead evil, tried to possess me a while back, black moon, blah blah… No big." She frowned.

Dawn put an arm around the witch as they set off down the tunnel. "That light thing was pretty cool though!"

"Seriously cool," Faith agreed.

Willow seemed to perk up a little. "Thanks… I - I just want to get this over with."

They walked on in silence. They all wanted it over with.

***

"Hey, sexy."

Giles spun around, raising his stake to strike. "You."

"Who did you expect?" Darla simpered, flashing an innocent smile.

He raced at her, thrusting his arm towards her to stake her.

"I don't think so," she spat, grabbing his arm and pulling him against her. She spun him around, pinning his back to her chest. "I can't get to either of your girls," she cooed in his ear. "So I'll just have to settle with killing you for now."

Giles heard the familiar sound of skin tightening and twisting as Darla morphed into her game face.

"Not tonight," Giles said through gritted teeth, quickly driving his left heel into her shin.

Darla jerked away. He took the opportunity to spin around, catching a fistful of her hair in his hands. Pulling her head down, he quickly thrust his knee up, slamming it into her face.

She screamed in pain as Giles once again moved in to stake her. His hand rose again, but this time it was met by the sharp points of her fingernails raking across his inner arm.

Giles sucked a sharp breath between his teeth, turning his arm to see that his blood already soaked his shirt sleeve.

Darla looked up and met him face to face. Her nose was smashed; blood ran from her nostrils and over her lips. "I can't smell you any more," she growled. "I just might have to taste you tonight instead."

"Not bloody likely," Giles spat back, bending down to grab an axe from the ground, a weapon lost when its owner fell. He whirled the weapon between them, hoping to keep her at bay until he got his bearings.

"Better keep that elevated," she said with a cold grin, nodding to his arm. "I'd hate to see all that good blood go to waste."

His upper lip curled in an angry sneer. "You're going to die tonight."

She rolled her eyes. "If I had a nickel for every time I heard that…"

Giles ran forward, swinging the axe at her neck. The weight of the blade kept the axe moving in its arc, whizzing through the air just inches from her throat.

Darla reached out and snatched the handle just below the head, yanking the axe from him. "You can't win against me," she chided. "You're just some poor old fool who thinks he can rely on his little girls to protect him."

She swung at him, causing Giles to take a few steps away.

"How sad are you, a grown man hanging out with a bunch of kids all day?"

Giles stumbled backwards another few feet. He didn't dare turn his back on her.

"Don't you have any friends of your own?"

She swung again.

"Don't you have any girlfriends?"

Another swing, and Giles moved farther away. Darla kept coming.

"When's the last time you got laid?" she scoffed, aiming another blow towards his torso. "Oh, that's right, didn't Angelus kill your girlfriend?" Darla laughed, exposing a mouthful of pointed teeth.

She swung once more.

"Do you miss her? Would you like to see her again?"

Giles ducked away, searching the field behind her for someone to help him. But he was alone. Darla managed to edge him away from the fight, and now he only had himself to rely on.

And that was fine with him.

Giles ran at her, throwing himself sideways into her body. His shoulder caught her squarely in the breastbone, knocking her to the ground. The axe flew out of her hands and sailed through the air, leaving them both weaponless. Darla clawed at him while Giles worked to grab her hands in his own.

She screamed beneath him, thrashing against the ground as she tried desperately to throw him off. He let her twist underneath him until she lay on her stomach, trying to stand up in the mud. Giles pinned one of his knees into the small of her back, rendering her bottom half immobile. With her left arm pinned under her body, he grabbed her right arm with his left and then planted his leg on her elbow, pinning her arm to the ground.

Giles panted and stared at the creature beneath him. He wanted to see fear in her eyes, for her to realize her time was up.

Instead, she laughed.

"You're not going to kill me this easily," she told him. "I haven't lived as long as I have without learning a thing or two. You want an example?"

"Not particularly," Giles said. He just needed to find his stake…

"I've learned that you can't kill me if I have your only weapon."

Giles blinked at her.

"It's underneath me, honey," she snickered.

He looked around wildly for the stake, hoping to God that she lied.

"You know, I was a whore before I was turned," Darla chatted amiably. "I lived day to day hoping that men like you were willing to give me their pocket change for a screw. It was the only way I could get money to survive."

Giles scanned the area around them, frantic to find any sort of weapon. The axe lay several feet away-too far to reach without letting go of Darla.

"When the men weren't interested, I found other ways to get by," she continued. "Picking pockets, for example."

Giles's eyes locked on hers. She had to be lying. This couldn't be happening to him. He was a Watcher. In all of his years, he had never lost a weapon. Had them taken, yes. But never lost.

Darla began laughing underneath him, cackling as he tried to think of a way to kill her. He couldn't get the stake from beneath her unless he let her go. And then he would have to fight it away from her. He'd have better luck trying for the axe.

He pushed himself off her, digging his toes into the ground to help catapult himself away. He rolled across the ground, landing near the axe. His hand closed around the handle as he turned on his back, and he hoped to have enough momentum to swing it at her as he rolled to face her.

But she was already there. Giles hadn't even finished turning when she sunk her fangs into his neck.

He cried out as her teeth tore through his skin, tearing at the muscle and veins below. It was unlike anything he knew before, and Giles realized that fighting her only made it worse. He didn't want to move for fear that twisting his body beneath her would only cause the fangs to sink deeper into him. Her bite paralyzed him, a crescent of pain cutting into him. He felt the blood flowing out of his body and into her mouth, her wet lips moving on his neck.

No, not like this, he begged himself.

He felt as if he were underwater. His limbs moved slowly, his balance awkward. But he still held the axe in his hand.

Using all of his might he brought the axe up, not having the strength to position the blade anywhere near her neck. No matter. With a quick jab he thrust the wooden handle through her ribcage, lodging itself between the bones.

Darla screamed and pulled off him, shredding the flesh from his neck as she moved. Through his blurred vision, Giles saw her standing above him, reaching behind her to pull the axe from her body. He missed the heart, but it didn't matter. He just needed to get away.

Giles turned himself in the bloodied dirt beneath him, scrambling to get to his feet. Suddenly he found himself face down in the mud, a searing pain coursed through his body. Darla stood over him, her foot crushing his pelvic bone. Giles screamed, his mind not even comprehending anything other than escape and pain. She lifted her weight from his body, He crawled like a soldier along the ground, lifting himself on his forearms. He just had to make it back to the others.

A pair of feet stepped in front of his face. "Hey!"

He looked up. Darla stood over him, panting, holding the bloody axe handle. "Didn't I say I was going to kill you?" she asked.

Giles opened his mouth to answer, but the broad side of the axe slammed into his face, crushing his cheekbones and cracking the skull at the temple, sending his world into blackness.

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