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Part six of eight

Episode Fifteen: Into the Breach

by georgevna, fenwic & eep

***

Ben Grant shifted in his seat. Almost three hours had passed since sunset. The televisions in the hospital waiting room now played A Muppet Christmas Carol. It was nice that the nurses put on these shows to distract the children, and as much as he loved the Muppets-because who didn't love Kermit? -he couldn't help but find these cheery programs left a bad taste in his mouth.

He wanted to know what was going on outside. Grant stood and walked down the long corridor of the ICU. The drapes were shut in almost every room, as the nurses didn't want to worry their patients. But in the room farthest from the waiting room the curtains lay open.

This room faced east, looking out across the town to where the battle took place. He positioned himself next to the window, leaning against the glass and staring out. Only a few blocks away he saw the fire raging by the school. Flames soared into the sky, arching slightly north to the ocean. No signs of life shone from his vantage point, only the fire.

"How d'ya think they're doing out there?" a voice piped up behind him.

He turned around to find an elderly gentleman standing in the doorway. He smiled at the detective and walked towards him, pulling behind him an IV bag on stand. Grant smiled. "I'm sure everything's fine."

"I've lived in Sunnydale for forty-eight years. I know how things in this town go. They aren't going 'fine.'" The man joined him at the window and extended a hand. "Howard."

"Ben Grant," he said, shaking his hand. "Nice to meet you."

Howard looked out at the fire. "So… What happens if they don't make it?"

Grant swallowed. "Um… I'm not sure."

"Huh." There was a pause. "So if this doesn't work, it's just you, me, and all those kids up front?"

Grant nodded.

"Does this mean that if everyone dies I'll be stuck watching the Smurf Christmas special for the rest of my life?" Howard laughed and shook his head. "This is not how I expected the end of my life to be."

Grant looked at him, appalled. "I'm sure it's going to be fine," he repeated.

Howard looked out the window. "I hope so. Things sure don't look good out there."

Just then screams of children erupted down the hallway. Grant ran towards the waiting area, pulling his gun from its holster. Then he remembered what he was doing, shoved it back in, and grabbed a stake. He ran to the doors separating the ICU from the other hospital wards. A nurse stood nearby. Children screamed and ran away from the doorway, tears streaming down their faces.

"What's going on?" he asked the nurse.

She pointed out the window in the door. "Vampires! They've gotten in somehow."

Grant turned and scanned the room for the witches. "What's going on?" he shouted again.

The brunette was at his side instantly. "I don't know. It must be something to do with the black moon or whatever the heck Willow called it. She said something might happen."

Grant ran behind the nurses' station and grabbed his sharpened Louisville slugger. He ran back towards the doorway and signaled the nurse. "These doors lock?" he asked her.

She punched a code on the keypad by the door. "In emergencies only," she muttered. "And I think now counts."

Grant peered through the window and watched as vampires edged down the hallway towards them. Near the back of the hallway he saw vampires pouring out of one room. "What's down there?" he asked her.

The nurse knitted her brow. "The facility room. Boilers, pipes, that sort of thing."

"Sewer access in there?" he questioned, quickly putting the pieces together in his head.

"Yeah."

Grant nodded. "Get everyone as far back from here as fast as you can."

As the nurse ran back to give instructions to the other nurses, the girls appeared next to him. "How can we help?" the brunette asked.

"You got stakes?" the detective replied. "Use 'em."

The nurses already began moving their patients from the closest rooms to the end of the corridor. Beds wheeled down the hallway as IVs and machinery followed in tow. The senior citizens herded the children towards the back, squeezing between beds and wheelchairs.

Grant's eyes never left the hallway as almost thirty vampires approached. They leered at him, grinning, as they slithered towards him. The other policeman stood at Grant's side, a stake in each hand. Two of the nurses approached. "Can we help?" one asked.

He turned to the witches. "You want to work on that spell some more?"

They nodded and headed for a corner of the room.

"Not there!" Grant ordered. "Back with the others. Wait for us if you can, but protect everyone else first."

The girls nodded and ran back with the others.

The detective turned his attention to the hallway again. The vampires stood only a few steps away. "Get ready," he told the officer and the nurses at his side.

The vampires rushed at them, banging against the heavy metal doors. The doors jumped a little but did not budge. "How long will this hold?" the officer asked.

"Beats me," one nurse replied.

The other ran behind the nurses' station and ran back to the doorway. "Will these help?" she asked, showing Grant two large crucifixes in her hands.

"Where'd you get those?" he asked.

"From the chapel on the second floor. I figured they might come in handy."

Grant grabbed one and held it against the windows. The vampires against the door reeled backwards instinctively, hissing. Upon realizing the crosses couldn't hurt them from behind the glass, they began banging on the doors again.

The police officers backed away from the door, ushering the nurses behind them. "We've got to form a blockade," Grant whispered to the officer. "Get whatever you can out of those rooms, block the hallway."

The officer nodded and moved with the nurses to the ICU corridor. One of the women reached over the counter and grabbed something from behind the front desk and then darted into another room. In the hallway, the nurses began pushing beds together to form the foundation for their blockade.

Grant watched as the doors to the main hallway began to buckle as the vampires bashed against it with their fists. The glass panels on the door smashed to bits as the vampires broke through them with their fists. One reached through to grab the door handle from the inside, and Grant punched at the arm again and again. The demon screeched and withdrew the hand, only to be replaced by another. Grant grabbed a nearby chair and smashed it against the ground, splintering it into pieces. He used one of the legs to beat the arm away from the door.

The metal groaned as the door bent at the corners. They would soon be crushed inward. Grant knew he needed to retreat.

He turned on his heel and raced to the corridor. Chairs, empty beds, shower chairs, rolling tables, and various machinery blocked his path. He picked his way over the barricade as a loud crash echoed down the hall. He looked over his shoulder to see vampires streaming into the hospital ward.

Grant scrambled to climb over the blockade, catching his sleeves on edges of furniture. The barricade stood nearly to the ceiling, and he struggled to find a steady foothold to help climb over the furniture. "Help!" he screamed, hoping that he could make it over before the vampires got to him.

The officer appeared at the top of the barrier, reaching down to pull Grant to safety. He caught the back of Grant's shirt and he felt himself being heaved upward. One of his hand grabbed at the barrier, helping to hoist him higher, while the other still clutched his Louisville Slugger.

Suddenly the officer let go of his hand. "Duck!" he yelled, pointing his pistol above the detective's head. He fired two shots, then grabbed Grant's collar and yanked him over the top of the blockade. As he was heaved across, he turned to see a vampire splayed on the ground below, its head lolling to one side while half of the skull lay in pieces on the floor.

Grant and the officer tumbled down the blockade. They landed on the floor with a thud and quickly scrambled to their feet.

"You all right?" the officer asked.

Grant nodded absently. "Yeah. Let's move."

The two took off for the end of the corridor, skidding to a stop as they entered the room. Beds full of sick people were crammed next to one another, and the few children left in Sunnydale perched on the sides and edges between the ill patients. The elderly citizens also hovered near the beds, packing as tightly into the room as they could. Nurses stood at the doorway, waiting for Grant's orders.

"What do we do?" one asked.

"We fight if we have to," Grant answered simply, passing out stakes.

A sudden crash behind him made the detective spin on his heels. A corner of the barricade had fallen open, and a vampire began squeezing through the hole.

The officer headed back into the hall. "Let's go!" he shouted, running at the vampire with his stake held high.

A nurse followed in pursuit, a stake in one hand and a small box in another. Grant moved to join them when a hand caught his arm.

"Let me help," Howard said, his eyes catching Grant's. "Let me help."

"Can you shoot a gun?"

Howard nodded and smiled proudly. "Five years in the United States Marine Corps. Just give me a weapon and I'm ready to go."

Grant slapped his handgun into the man's palm. "Aim for the throats. If you can blow their heads clean off, you've killed them. But stay here. We'll need someone with good aim to protect everyone inside."

Howard nodded. "I've got your back."

Grant readied the bat in his hands. "Thanks."

The man nodded. "I always wanted to go down fighting. But I'd rather it didn't happen today."

Ben Grant sprinted back in the hallway to join the others. The officer beat at a vampire as it crawled through the hole. Another charged at Grant and he aimed the bat at it, running straight for it like playing a game of chicken. The vampire lunged at him and Grant skewed it with one thrust, leaving the vampire to explode into dust.

The nurse ran to where the officer fought with a vampire, tearing open the box in her hands as she ran. As she reached the barricade she pulled a handful of tiny crackers from the box and stuffed them into its mouth. As soon as they touched its tongue the vampire began to howl in pain, lashing out at the nurse. She grabbed the top of its head with one hand and the officer pushed at its jaw, forcing the mouth closed. The creature shrieked, smoke billowing from its mouth, jerking desperately to get away. But they held on until the entire head began to smoke, then melted into ash as the body followed suit.

Grant beat a vampire to the ground with his bat and staked it through the heart. "What was that?" he shouted to the nurse.

"Holy wafers!" she hollered back. "I got 'em from the chapel, too."

As another vampire began to crawl through the hole she shook the box upside down, dumping the wafers all over the barricade and into the gap. On the other side of the blockade the monsters hissed, drawing away from the entrance. In a matter of seconds the nurse and policeman heard scratching as the vampires tried clawing their way through the barricade. The furniture began to shake, and they pressed their bodies against the barricade to keep it from collapsing.

In the middle of the hallway Grant fought off another vampire, dodging its punches as he tried to maneuver his stake into its body. It jumped at him, pinning him against the wall of the hallway. It drew in a wheezing breath as it bared its fangs, ready to bite him. A bang ricocheted through the hallway and the vampire's head shattered into bits and cold blood splattered across Grant's face. The body against him turned to dust and Grant looked to the end of the hallway. Howard stood in the doorway and smiled, the gun still held at eye level. Grant smiled back and ran to help the others.

Somehow, they were going to win this fight.

***

The battle of two vampire armies fractured into a thousand little brawls. They'd thinned the Master's herd, but with the field wide open, numbers suddenly mattered. Each of Dracula's men now fought two, maybe three at a time. Orangemen went down, upping the burden for those that stayed standing. But old warriors knew when to raise their game.

Near the fire, conditions changed. Spike could wield his sword, but visibility worsened. After a stream of messy kills, he swung three times and hit nothing. His inert blade offended him, but he stood still and waited… Then instinct spun him round in time to block the downward motion of an ax.

"That's more like it!" Spike grinned in the direction of his new opponent. The minion answered with a swing at his head. Spike ducked and planted a boot in his sternum. The minion stumbled backward with Spike in pursuit. "Too bad you swing like a little girl," he taunted. "Then again…" He thrust out his sword and jacked it up, slicing off the minion's arm and sending the ax flying. "…that would be an insult to little girls." One last swing turned the rest of him to dust.

Then Spike caught sight of Dracula, rampaging, driving the Master's men south like cattle. Leaving the firewall behind, he followed the turmoil - recovering his deadly rhythm and annihilating everything in his path. They couldn't come fast enough. He chased them down - shoving aside his own men - and attacked from behind. Relentless, insatiable, he burned for the next kill.

A figure tumbled into him sideways and he raised his sword.

The creature stared in horror and put up her arms. "Spike! I'm one of you!"

He hesitated, then moved to strike.

"NO!" she shrieked. "You know me! At… At the gym, you showed me how… Oh, god, look at me, I'm human!"

Spike checked his swing, but didn't - couldn't - lower his sword. Their eyes locked, the terrified human and the demon poised to kill her. Every molecule of air pricked his skin, and the pandemonium in his head reached fever pitch. Holding still meant holding back a hurricane - the forces of nature would surely tear him apart.

She tried to reach him. "You know me…"

He watched her lips move, smelled the blood on her cheek. Then he shut his eyes and with his last ounce of strength whispered, "Go."

Slowly, the woman got to her feet and backed away, her eyes never leaving his face.

A lifetime later, Spike lowered his sword, let it slip from his hand.

"William…"

Spike whirled round, hands shaking, eyes wild.

Dracula noticed, but said nothing. Not yet. "We have done it! We have crushed the Master's forces into dust. Soon, he will follow."

They stared at each other. Spike knew well that gleam in his eye, the exultation in his voice. It felt like looking back in time. Or seeing his own reflection.

Victory! Spike savored the taste. Rich, intoxicating. Like blood. Like the blood he smelled all around him. Thick, warm, human blood.

Already giddy from the fight, he found himself suddenly hungry - he ran his tongue over his teeth - nothing tasted so sweet as the first feeding after a battle. Once, in Budapest, they-

Spike stopped, shook himself. He saw Dracula watching him, and knew the warlord was never more dangerous than at this moment.

"Old friend… I feel your hunger. With our oppressor destroyed, the Hellmouth is ours to rule. This town is ours to drink."

The familiar voice penetrated his mind, touching on passions and needs that Spike could not deny. He shook his head. "It's not over."

Dracula approached him, slowly. "No… The human army is weakened and vulnerable. We have enough men to overwhelm them… yet keep them alive." He moved around and hovered behind Spike, his voice just above a whisper. "What might, William? O, what might? Nights like this, slaughtering those who would challenge our dominion. Nights like this, rewarded by the taste that only we among demons are honored to know."

So hungry… Spike's head swam, and he reached for a lifeline. "The Slayer-"

"-shall rule by your side. She will make a worthy queen."

Spike tried to clear his head, and ignore his senses. "She won't. I… I don't…"

"I know your struggle."

"It's-"

"Difficult. Every day you live against your nature. But tonight! Tonight I watched you free your true self and fight like the killer you are."

Spike looked hard at the ground. Focus. Focus. "No."

"William…"

"No!"

"Listen to your blood…"

"NO!"

Spike leapt on him, knocking him to the ground and keeping him there with a flurry of blows. At last, Dracula caught Spike's fists in his hands and threw him off. Then Dracula stood, touched his mouth, and looked at the blood on his fingertips. He smiled down at the boy, who still hadn't moved.

"One night, sweet William, you will lose the struggle against this unnatural life. When that night comes, seek me out. I will welcome you with open arms and we-" Dracula's mouth quirked. "-will have fun."

Spike got to his feet and into Dracula's face. "When this is over, you get your men. And your women. Get out of my town or we will kill you. Me, the Slayer, and the weak, vulnerable humans will kill you all, so help me-"

"God? I do not think so."

With that, Dracula picked up his sword and walked away.

Spike watched him go. Watched him until his silhouette faded into the haze. Then he picked up his own sword and went back to work.

***

Father Sanchez had done his part before the battle even started. The Watchers had both gone out of their way to tell him that. He'd gotten them "fired up" and helped them develop their "kick ass plan" (that was Xander), and of course his "services in providing the holy water" were "invaluable" (that was Mr. Giles).

He didn't credit himself with being the catalyst for action - that had mostly been Buffy. And he knew enough about this group's history now to know they would have fought this menace with or without his inspiration or input. As for the holy water - well, he preferred to give credit where credit was due.

They'd been trying to talk him out of fighting in the battle. He couldn't blame them. Sure, people who were older than him fought - and fought well - but they hadn't devoted the past three years of their lives to destroying their own bodies. He'd been sober less than a month. And now his chest hurt, his breath rattled, and he - he wasn't doing any good. He had to admit it. The people around him had already saved him a time or two.

The battle-lines were broken. The victory that had been so close slipped away. They were overrun. All around him he heard screams and howls, the dying shrieks of humans and the last growls of the undead. Chaos reigned supreme.

For a moment he stood in the eye of the storm. He looked at the fighting all around, trying to find some way he could be useful, instead of being a liability. A short distance away, at the edge of the light from the fires dotting the field, he saw a group of vampires. Just as he noticed them they headed back into the thick of the fight.

Father Sanchez ran out of the crush, to the deserted edge of the battlefield. He wasn't running away. He was running to help. To help the wounded to hold on to life - or to get through their last few moments before death.

A small knot of people lay near the trench of holy water, east of most of the fighting. The vampires must have separated them from the main flanks of the battle. Out of sight of most of their enemies, the demons had time to be particularly brutal here. Father Sanchez knelt for a moment beside each person… no - beside each body. Not one of these people was left alive. Some had been hacked limb from limb, others had been drained by three and four vampires at once. In some cases it was impossible to tell how the person had died - whether from the blade in the gut or from the gash across the neck… so many lethal wounds on each body. Father Sanchez wept; he felt sick.

Still, he held each hand, closed each pair of eyes. He knew some of these people had no family left - or wouldn't after tonight. Someone should bear witness to their deaths. He tried to pray, but the only thoughts he could form were "Why?" and "Help." So with these as his mantra he made his way through the slain. No more than twenty yards away the battle raged on, but he paid it no more mind.

At the edge of the group he found the body of a young woman. Twenty-three or twenty-four years old. He gasped in recognition when he saw her face. He didn't know her name, had never seen her before that night; he only knew she was the girl with the tools. The hammer and the nail gun. The sight of her had made his heart leap earlier in the evening - she was so brave, so alive. Now he looked down at her broken body - the arms dislocated from her shoulders as if she'd been roughly held in place while…. He shuddered. Her pretty face studded with nails from her own gun, her collarbone bashed in with the hammer. Her neck had been snapped, but from the horror in her expression she had been conscious while nails were driven into her forehead, her cheeks, her lips.

The priest's heart flamed with anger, even as he wept. It wasn't fair. These people had survived, somehow, through the long months since the Master had risen. They were courageous, strong, full of life…. He reached out to close her eyes, but couldn't. Clusters of nails had been shot into each one. He broke down, wailing, howling in his wordless grief. Sobs wracked his body.

He never saw the vampire. It barreled into him from the left, knocking him flat on his back. Pinned underneath the monster, Father Sanchez saw one chance to escape with his life. Instead of trying to push the vampire away, the priest used all his remaining strength to roll sideways, taking his assailant with him. They rolled once, twice - and fell into the trench.

The holy water bubbled and roiled around him as the vampire dissolved. Father Sanchez pushed off the bottom of the trench and bobbed to the surface. A couple of people who had heard his cry stood at the edge and offered him a hand back up onto the battlefield.

"Do you need something to dry off with?" a young man offered.

No. No, he did not need to dry off.

His grief turned to fury; the priest ran at the nearest vampire and thrust his dripping hands into the fiend's face. As it howled in pain, he finally drove a stake home. He turned to find another demon to fight.

When his hands dried, Father Sanchez flung his soaking wet sleeves in his opponents' faces. If he couldn't penetrate the heart with his stake, he just threw his sopping body against them and drove them into the trench of holy water. It was exhilarating.

Five vampires, eight vampires. He paused, wheezing. He leaned forward for a moment with his hands on his knees. A vampire took this opportunity to grab him - and fell back, shrieking in pain. The priest shoved her into the trench. He felt a stabbing pain through his heart. He froze. Not now. Not a heart attack. Please God, not a heart attack.

He looked down and saw the bloody point of the sword protruding from his chest. He tried to laugh, but it came out as a strangled gurgle as blood poured into his lungs. The vampire behind him wrenched the sword out of the priest's back. Father Sanchez fell forward, dead before his body hit the ground.

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