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Part one of two

Episode Thirteen: Plans of Attack

by Ehann
Fire and Rain by James Taylor
Dust In the Wind by Kansas

Note: This chapter was very difficult to write. The tragedy and turmoil suffered by those in New York and Washington has made it very clear to us all what’s truly important and what’s not. This effort is therefore dedicated to the victims and families of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Speaking as a New Yorker, I need to say thank you to all the people who emailed thoughts of support and compassion during this horrible time for us. Blessed be.
Shout Outs: Thank you to the Beta crew: Adjrun, Aureliozen, Cousinjean , Fenwic, Georgevna. Especially G, since I blatantly stole hunks of dialogue from her. Also, thanks to Fiona77 for inspiring me to fix my favorite scene instead of tossing it in the trash heap.


*

The blonde woman felt herself being carried. She heard screaming, but she couldn’t tell where it was coming from. She wished it would stop. Her fingers grasped at something. Cloth. They were carrying her on a large blanket. It scraped the few remaining layers of skin. She felt a thud, and realized that she'd been put down on a hard surface. Cold metal touched her chest and then fingers pressed into her neck. She heard people talking around her. It was gibberish; they were talking over each other and shouting. Very clearly, she heard someone say, “She’s in asystole.”
“Doctor, I’m not getting a pulse but her eyes just moved.”
“Diana, check the leads, maybe they’re loose.”
Pressure on her chest as the nurse checked the…whatevers.
“They’re fine, Doctor Cohen.”
“Great. Get the EAD, we’ll shock her, just in case.”
The words still hung in the air as she sat up and grabbed a young doctor by the throat. He was dark haired, and his eyes were terrified. “I haven’t had a doctor in a long time. I hope you taste better than the last one.” She sank her fangs into his neck. Members of the medical team ran from the room, screaming. She drank quickly. In seconds, he was drained and she threw the body into the nurse who watched in horror. A security guard jumped at her and she sidestepped casually. She turned and grabbed the nurse by the elbow. “You’re coming with me,” Darla said. “In case I need a little…snack. I don’t know why, but I am just famished.”
***
Five Days Later…
I can’t believe it’s Christmas time, Faith thought. Giles hadn’t made any effort to pull out his Christmas things. The store remained undecorated, too- an unspoken reminder of Anya’s absence. She would’ve been the one to think about those things. Holiday spirit, my ass. Shouldn’t bother me, Faith thought. Never has before. Even spent one Christmas in jail, and that was better than this. She wanted to bite her nails, but she was trying to quit doing that. She jiggled her legs under the table and tried to concentrate on what she was doing.
Carving stakes in Giles’ kitchen. It was cramped in the tiny room, especially with Xander crammed in next to her. He was carving too, but his stakes came out a lot prettier than hers did. He liked to do scroll work that spiraled down each stake. There was a small pile of stakes resting on the floor next to him. He’d been doing this for a few days now, but Faith wasn’t surprised that he was spending so much time woodworking. It was kind of relaxing in a strange way. Or totally boring…
Her stakes, on the other hand, were units of function. She needed quantity, not beauty. The points had to be thick enough that they wouldn’t break easily, but not too thick. She placed the small knife on the table and rested her cramping hand for a moment. Then she leaned over to get a better look at Xander’s current stake. This one had a series of designs on the scrolling. From the looks of it, he was gonna be working on that baby for a long time. He still had over half of it to finish. Maybe he’ll never finish it, she thought. Maybe, he’ll just work and work on it, and it’ll never be good enough.
The young Watcher glanced up to find himself being scrutinized. “What?”
Faith shrugged self-consciously. “Nothing, I was just…looking.”
Xander sighed and stretched. “Do we have enough stakes yet?”
The dark Slayer looked wry. “I think we could have a thousand and still be short a few.” She hesitated before asking, “Still no word about Riley?”
“None,” he said flatly. He really didn’t expect Riley to turn up. After all, it had been five days since he’d gone missing. If he was alive, he would’ve been back by now. If he was turned…well, Xander tried not to think about that possibility. Just like he tried not to think about Jesse. Xander knew in his heart that he had killed the thing that murdered his friend. He hadn’t even staked Jesse, really. Couldn’t. Thank god that girl bumped into us. That was history, and Xander had no desire to go through it again. Especially not after…an image flashed through his mind. Anya, lying on the ground with her throat crushed nearly flat. Weeping over her body… He pressed his lips together and examined his stake. I don’t want to have to watch anyone else die. Even if Riley…I don’t want to have to watch.
“Where are you?” Faith asked softly.
“Nowhere I want to be,” he replied. He smoothed down the bumps on his forearms and added, “But I…it’s like…it’s like there I am, going about my day, and all of the sudden I see the whole thing happen in my mind again. And…it’s just…horrible, because even in my mind there’s nothing I can do to stop it.”
His voiced trailed off and Faith busied herself looking at her pile of stakes on the table. Her throat was tight and she felt pressure building up behind her eyes. “Yeah,” she agreed. “I get like that, too. But mine is…” Thrusting a stake into Finch’s chest, then standing around in dumb shock…stabbing the old professor, Lester, then watching herself as she twisted the knife in his gut… squeezing Xander’s neck in her hands, and seeing his face turn purple - God, no, not that one.
“Faith?” Xander asked, concerned. Her dark eyes stood out starkly against the pallor of her cheeks. She looked down so that her hair obscured her face. Then she was gone, striding out the kitchen and around the corner.
Giles looked up from his arm chair to see the Slayer nearly running through the living room. There was a telltale redness about her eyes. She slipped into the bathroom and he heard the lock turn. He stood up and crossed over to stand outside the locked door. From the sound, the taps were on full force. He still heard the muffled sobs, though. He sighed and removed his glasses. He sat back down and waited. Presently, she emerged, looking rather rumpled. She jammed her hands in her pockets and stared at the floor.
“Hey,” she said.
“Are you well?”
“Yeah, um, Xander and me, we just got to talking, you know, and…” She shifted from one foot to another. “Bad memories.”
Giles was silent for a few moments. Then he said, “Yes, I imagine there are a number of those.” He paused, and smiled gently at her. “Faith, we already know you can’t change the past. But you’re not the same person that you used to be. I wouldn’t have you in my home if you were.”
She looked down at him, a smile playing on her lips. It’s so rare, Giles thought, to see her truly smile.
“You’re right. I just wish that I could do something…something to make it all better.” She jerked her head in Xander’s direction.
“Sometimes, Faith, a person simply needs to feel his pain. You must acknowledge the loss before you can move past it. And it…it is difficult, but what other choice is there?” He stood up and laid a hand on her shoulder. “Is he still carving?”
“Uh huh. For the past two hours. He couldn’t sleep.”
“All right. The sun should be up in a few minutes, and then we’ll get report from Spike and Buffy.” Giles paused a moment. “How is the new patrol schedule working out?”
She shrugged. “Okay I guess. Buffy wanted to take the midnight to five shift. Didn’t make a difference to me.” She cocked her head. “Seven to twelve means I get to have dinner, slay and a good night’s sleep.” She made a wry face. “Usually.”
“Yes, well, you girls can’t keep up this schedule for very long, I’m afraid. Especially since…”
“Since we could get detained or whatever they want to call it, if they catch us out after sunset.” Faith sucked on her front teeth, making a tsk sound. “It’s just so hard to believe that this town finally woke up and smelled the blood. All the years…the things going on here…they just figure it out now?”
Giles ran his hand over his cheek. He’d been forgetting to shave lately. The stubble felt rough against his palm. “Perhaps Detective Grant has been a little too successful at convincing others about the danger here.” He yawned and added, “How was Xander on patrol last night?”
“He tried out one of his new stakes.” She offered.
“Yes? No problem with the design, then?”
Faith snorted. “Actually, it was pretty effective, but maybe that’s because he soaked our stakes in Holy Water all day.”
Giles gave her a look. “Indeed,” he said crisply.
“Hey Giles, did you ever call and get service set up for your cell phone? ‘Cause we…everyone else did.” She smiled a little and said, “You don’t want to be out of the loop, do you?”
“Oh. I ah, meant to, but…not yet.”
“Mmm-hmm. Giles. It’s been like, a week. Feel free to come into this century anytime soon. Besides, you know that Buffy’ll be pissed if she calls you and gets the ‘no service’ message.”
There was no hope for it. “Remind me after dinner. I’ll take care of it tonight.” He went to the front window and moved the curtain aside. It was nearly light. Buffy, where are you? “They should be back soon,” he said softly, “If there were no problems on patrol.”
***
In a few minutes, there was going to be a very dusty problem if Spike didn’t move his ass. Fledglings, he thought. They’re all so bloody stupid. Trying to feed right before sunrise. Even dumber, not realizing that he was a vampire. Morons. The whole lot of them.
Buffy fought three vamps over by the Morrison crypt. She was holding her own, from what he could see. Okay, there, another one gone. Another one bites the dust, his mind finished automatically. With the song running through his head now, his kicks and punches were falling on the beat. Buffy could take two vamps without too much trouble so he concentrated on his own problems for the moment. Namely, the newly risen wanker who clung to his back. Spike reached over his shoulder and easily flipped the vamp to the ground. As he cocked his arm back to plunge the stake downwards, his wrist was caught from behind. Spike found himself spinning in the air before he landed with a thud. Oh, shit. This new vamp might be more of a problem. This was the guy that taught martial arts in town. Or he used to, before he became a minion. Spike, suddenly on the defensive, had his hands full blocking the flurry of punches and spinning kicks coming at him. The guy was good, no question about it. And he was fast. But Spike was older, and more cunning. Also, Spike was faster. He used all of his supernatural speed, and suddenly appeared behind the undead Jujitsu teacher. He snapped the teacher’s neck and let him drop to the ground. Spike patted his waist where his spare stake should be. Not there. He scanned the ground, looking for it when he heard air whispering behind him. He turned like lightning. His distraction would be the death of him-there was a stake curving down towards his heart. There wasn’t time to evade it. Spike tensed. Then there was only dust, scattering and falling to the earth. The stake dropped harmlessly to the ground, brushing against Spike’s boots as it landed.
Buffy.
“Love, I tell you lately that your timing is impeccable?”
Buffy glared at him. “And yours sucks. Look.” She gestured eastward and Spike could see the sun glowing from behind a cloud, quickly burning through. “Come on!” They took off through the cemetery, hurdling tombstones and dodging trees, trying to outrun the light. Spike felt his skin starting to tingle when he saw the DeSoto parked on the street. The doors were unlocked, and he dove in the car, just as the first rays struck the Earth and covered it with light.
***
“I don’t understand,” Dawn said. “How can the reporters on the TV just ignore all the stuff that happens here?” She sat in the Summers’ living room, a bowl of cereal on her lap. Her hair hung loose, all matted in the back. Her eyes showed purple shadows from lack of sleep. “They really expect us to believe we’re under a curfew because of riots? Who’s rioting?”
Willow sat down next to her on the couch. “I guess the police had to come up with something besides ‘creatures of the night’ to tell the reporters. One time, Principal Synder convinced everyone that the snakes in the cafeteria were from backed up sewer lines.”
Dawn’s brow furrowed. “Wasn’t that the thing with the Sadie Hawkins dance or something?”
“Yeah,” Willow said wistfully.
Dawn placed the bowl on the coffee table and sat back against the cushions. “I don’t feel like eating. I just feel so sick.” She yawned. “What time is it?”
Willow said, “Around seven. Giles wanted to get an early start today.” She was worried about Dawn. Before Buffy left for patrol last night, she’d pulled Willow aside and asked her to try and make sure Dawn got some sleep. The teenager hardly slept in the days since her latest ordeal with Darla and Drusilla. So Willow tried everything. Hot Epsom salt bath with lavender oil, chamomile tea with honey, Willow even gave the girl a blessed moonstone to ward off bad dreams. None of it worked. “You get any sleep last night, Dawnie?”
“Nah.” She snorted. “I don’t think I’m ever gonna sleep again. Every time I close my eyes… it’s all there. I’m so sick of it. Sometimes, though, I think I’m still awake, but I’m really dreaming. And then portals start opening up all around me, until I fall down into one.” She leaned forward. “You know what the worst part is?”
“What?”
“That I know that I’m going to die. It’s like, a certainty, or something. Whatever, in the dream? I just know.” Dawn carefully inspected her fingernails.
“You know, Dawn, I think…” Willow hesitated.
“Yeah? What?”
“I think I can help you control the portals a little better. Like maybe you can learn how to open one without having to get all bloody and stuff. And maybe, we can figure out a way to help you direct where one leads to.”
“Is that possible? I mean…”
“Well, see, we don’t know. We’d have to work on it. You spend a lot of time at the Magic shop now, right?”
“Yeah. It’s kind of crazed there.”
Willow looked kind of sad for a moment. “This is supposed to be a happy time,” she said softly. “Anyway, I think that I know a way you can do it.”
Dawn looked down at her hands. “I don’t know, Willow. I mean, I made Doug’s house explode. It’s only luck that Spike made it through the portal alive. What if … what if something happens to you? I couldn’t…”
“Dawn, don’t you understand yet? The things you opened up a few days ago … Spike said there weren’t any dragons or weird things coming through. They were just … doorways. Doorways that led to different places in this dimension.” The redhead paused for a second. “I have this theory … because of the Hellmouth, there’s all this mystical energy here, right? So the fabric of reality is stretched thin to begin with. If you can somehow tap into the ‘key’ part of you, using your own energy, not your blood, then you might be able to focus enough to will a doorway to open to a particular place.”
“And if I could do that … then we could, like, blow up the Master and dive though a portal and not get turned into mush.” Dawn looked pleased by that thought.
Willow tilted her head. “Actually, I hadn’t thought about that, but…that’s not a half bad idea.” She got up and started pacing. “ It would take a lot of work, don’t even kid yourself. We don’t have a lot of time…” Time. She checked the cable clock. Crap! “We really don’t have time, Dawn. Scooby meeting in half an hour.”
“'Kay. I’ll go get a quick shower.” She bounded up the steps, suddenly full of energy.
Willow sank into the couch. Was she ready to try to teach Dawn some advanced meditations? Was this a good idea? She shook her head slowly. It would have to be. Right now, Willow couldn’t think of any other plan that even had a miniscule chance of working. She put the dishes in the sink, and absently started straightening the house. Her mind was ticking away a laundry list of things to be done for the coming battle.
It was some time later, and she was staring out the kitchen window when she felt a tug at her sleeve. Willow jumped and nearly screamed. She let out a long breath. “You scared me,” she said unnecessarily. “You all set, Dawn?”
“Uh-huh.”
“Listen, I was thinking. Why don’t we start working on the portal thing this afternoon? Giles will be at the store if we need help.”
Dawn snorted. “Good thing the school board closed the schools. Couldn’t imagine doing Portals for Dummies and doing homework.”
“Yeah, andI have a bad feeling about the stuff that’s going on. I think we might run out of time, somewhere down the road.” Willow picked up her bag and headed for the door. “Which means, you may have to be a really quick study.”
***
The door opened just as Willow’s hand touched the knob. She jerked back reflexively. A blanket-covered Spike ran in the house, with Buffy on his heels.
“Great timing, guys, we were just about to leave.” Willow said.
Buffy grinned wickedly. “Good timing for me anyway. For him? Not so much.” She gave Dawn a kiss on the cheek and bounded upstairs yelling behind her, “I’ll be right down, just want to make myself beautiful again.”
Spike folded his blanket and tossed it on the back of the armchair. “You’re always beautiful, love,” he called. “Morning Niblet, Red. Any problems last night? All clear and safe?”
Dawn quickly said, “Yeah, everything’s great.”
Spike eyed her critically. “You’re losin’ weight, Dawn. And you haven’t slept, have you?”
Dawn looked mutinous and dug her hands into her jeans pockets. “So what? I’m fine.”
Spike snorted, “Yeah, you’re so fine you blow my mind.”
“Hey Mickey!” Willow cried suddenly, earning a look from the other two. “What? It was a good song.”
“You guys stake a lot of vamps last night?” Dawn asked eagerly. “How many?”
“Dunno. Lost count after…” he crinkled his face and peered up at the ceiling. He went to the bottom of the steps and called up, “Buffy! How many staked, total?”
“Um…I think twelve for me and eight for you.” Her voice floated down.
Spike gave Dawn a ‘There you have it’ look. “That good enough for you, Niblet?”
“How come Buffy had more than you? You slipping in your old age, Spike?” She teased.
“Hey! Big sis had ‘em coming at her only two at a time. Mine, jumped me all at once. Besides, was only a few days ago, I was drained nearly dry.”
Buffy paused on the steps, hairbrush in hand. “Could be that,” she agreed. Then, she winked at Spike. “Then again, could be you’re just getting cocky.”
“Ain’t that the truth, love,” he said slyly.
“Whoa, let’s keep it PG-13, there, kids,” Willow said, her eyes dancing.
Buffy continued regaling Dawn with the story. “You should have seen the look on his face. The pride, the manly accomplishment, when he finished off the kung fu guy. And then the look when he realized the lowly minion was about to STAKE HIS ASS WITH HIS OWN STAKE!” She pinned Spike with a look. “And we will have words about that, dear.”
“Yeah, alright. Gonna go get a hot shower, then.” He shrugged his shoulders back and forth. “Apparently, torture’s hard on a body,” he remarked, looking quizzical.
The girls looked after him, bemused.
After a moment Willow said, “Buffy, Dawn and I have an idea.” She glanced over at Dawn. The teenager nodded. “I think that I can help her learn to control the portals.”
Buffy’s face paled. “Willow, I didn’t just hear you say that, did I?”
“Buffy,” Dawn said in a pleading voice, “listen to her. I think it could work too.”
“And I think that it’s a good way to end up dead. Or worse.” Buffy said flatly. She looked at Willow. “I thought you were all about being defensive Willow. Getting back to the basics and whatnot. It was only a couple of months ago that you were fusing doors shut and blowing up the training room.”
“Hey, it wasn’t her fault last time, it was-” Dawn stopped.
“I know who it was.”
“Buffy, if you would just listen…” Willow tried again.
“No! I won’t.” Buffy shook her head. Her chest hurt and her hand involuntarily rested over her heart. It pounded and raced until Buffy felt short of breath and dizzy. “Do I have to remind you how many times Dawn almost died this year?”
“You don’t have to tell me.,” said Dawn. “I know how many it was. Once with Glory at the hospital. Once with Glory over the Hellmouth.” Her voice cracked. “At the Bronze, I missed it by that much, so I don’t know if that counts. But a lot of other people died so maybe I should get a penalty, anyway.”
“Dawn…” Buffy said softly.
“No! You want to know how many? Fine. We’ll go there. What about the first time Drusilla kidnapped me? Remember that? I do. I used to think about it every night, before I went to sleep…oh yeah. That was back when I could sleep. And Doug. My boyfriend brought me home, not just to kill me, oh, no, worse. Wanted to make me his immortal soul mate. The last time? Just a few days ago. Drusilla and Darla. Again.” She was crying now, the tears running freely down her face. “The only thing that saved me was that I’m the key.” She rubbed her nose hard, and sniffed. “My own stupid portal saved my life. Thank God, Spike had the guts to walk through it, if he didn’t…”
Buffy closed her eyes. “I get it,” she whispered. “You can stop now.”
“I can’t eat…I can’t sleep. I feel like I have to throw up all the time and I can’t take it anymore. This key thing…it’s me. I have to find out who I am. What I can do. What I have to do.” She looked into her sister’s eyes. “Buffy don’t you even see? If I can make portals, that means that we can use them. We might actually have a shot at making the ones who did this pay. And I might be able to sleep again. Don’t take that away from me.”
Willow stood silently, looking from one girl to the other. They both looked miserable.
Buffy pressed her lips together then she walked into the kitchen. The sound of the faucet echoed loudly in the sudden silence. She braced her arms against the sink for a few moments then splashed water on her face. When she felt like she had it together, Buffy went to her sister, and stood in front of her. She felt like she could hardly speak.
“Dawn, I keep coming so close to losing you…after Mom died, you were the only thing that kept me hanging on. If something happened to you…I don’t know what I’d do. And the thought of that scares me so much-” Buffy’s throat closed and she couldn’t speak.
Dawn smiled a little. “It scares me too. A lot. But this could work. We have to try.”
“Okay,” Buffy said. She leaned forward until her forehead touched Dawn’s. “You win. We’ll try.” She pulled her little sister into a bear hug. “I love you, y’know.”
“I know, Buffy.”
***
Giles felt tired. It was midmorning, and he’d been at the shop for a few hours already. He took off his glasses and pressed the heels of his palms into his sockets to relieve the pressure. It was one thing to tell the Slayers not to overdo, but more difficult to follow his own advice. There was the store to watch over, and that in itself was more than a full-time job. Especially without Anya. Sometimes, he’d forgotten just how much the poor girl had actually been doing for him. Should have given her a higher raise, he thought sadly. Business had reached an all time high last week, but had tapered off sharply within the last few days. He believed it had to do with the fact that the people of Sunnydale simply couldn’t stick their heads in the sand anymore. People were waking up and what they saw scared them. As well it should. He’d noticed over the past two evenings that the traffic leaving town was starting to get heavier and heavier. People were taking what loved ones they had left, and heading for the hills. They left without giving notice to employers, without notifying the schools, and without adieu. The stories were similar all through the town.
Perhaps it’s better if they leave, he thought. At least then they have a fighting chance. Here, the darkness is closing in. Giles shook his head. Times like this made him feel older than his years. He liked to think that dealing with Buffy all this time kept him young. Right now, he was just weary. He replaced the glasses on his face and his gaze rested on the flyer he’d been handed this morning by an old man. TOWN MEETING 12 NOON AT SUNNYDALE H.S.
He got up to make some tea. Wondered what the meeting meant. Probably nothing. He jumped as the phone rang. Crossing to the wall, he picked up the receiver and said, “Good Morning, The Magic Box.”
***
Willow was almost ready to start working with Dawn. It had only taken an hour and a half to convince Giles that this idea wasn’t totally crazy. Between Dawn, Buffy, and Willow herself, they had won him over. He’d figured that the Slayers were getting plenty of on the job training every night. They could spare the sessions here for a few days.
Giles had decided that Willow and Dawn should work together in the training room every morning and afternoon. Wasn’t expecting to start today Willow thought. Maybe we’ll just start with the basics. After we get back from this meeting thingie, we can do some more if she’s up to it. And if I am.
They sat face to face, Indian style, their knees touching. They needed the physical contact for Willow to create a mental link between them. If the girl had trouble with a concept or exercise, Willow could sort of jam the ability directly into her head. That was the idea, anyway. Once again, she wished they weren’t in such a hurry to do this.
“Okay.” Willow began. “I need to show you how to breathe properly. Then we’ll practice some simple meditations. The trick’s gonna be learning how to achieve the state of mind at will without having to do the warm-ups. Then, it’s on to raising and directing external energy.”
Dawn looked doubtful. “Sounds like fun?”
“Yeah, that’s the good stuff.” Willow agreed. “The last thing we do is raising and directing internal energy. That’s where the key stuff comes in. During meditations, you should try concentrating on your true nature. Hopefully, that’ll help you access the keyness when you want to bring that energy out and direct it somewhere.” She took a deep breath. “Now, it’s really important when we’re trying to get a portal up, that you have a clear image in your head of where you want it to open to. If you want to come out in your bedroom, then you need to see every detail of those surroundings in your mind. The energy has to know where you want it to go, and what you want it to do.”
“Willow, are you sure that I can do all that?” Dawn’s stomach was starting to get that flippy feeling.
“Well, yeah. I know you can, because you’ve already done it. Maybe it has something to do with puberty. All those changes going on…maybe the monks forgot to allow for the hormone factor.”
Dawn couldn’t help but giggle. “They make perfect memories about me for like, the whole world, but they forget to allow for puberty? Talk about being out of touch.”
“Yeah.” Willow raised her eyebrows, and settled herself. “You comfy? Then close your eyes, and take deep breaths from your belly…”
Willow closed her eyes, and let her spirit rise up in the astral. She reached out for Dawn’s energy, hestitating for a moment; It was mesmerizing to see all the different shades of green swirling about her. It was so beautiful. There. She’d connected. Willow sensed apprehension and a steely resolve to do what had to be done. Good enough, she figured, and opened her eyes.
***
Darla crammed herself into a stall in the ladies’ room. Security searched for her out in the hospital, and if she’d been anywhere near full strength, she’d give them the bloodbath they were looking for. She was recuperating, though. She couldn’t believe how stupid these humans were. She sat on the toilet seat and waited. Finally, the bathroom door opened and Darla heard the clicking of heels on the marble floor. Then the sound of a purse being unzipped.
She swung the stall door open. Her bare feet made no sound.
The woman in front of the mirror applied her lipstick with ruthless precision. She dug through her purse some more, until she came out with a hairbrush. Darla watched in the mirror as the woman’s neck snapped back and her blouse ripped. As Darla drank eagerly, she watched the rivulets of blood run down the woman’s chest. The vampire roughly turned the woman around so that they faced each other. Darla ripped the woman’s blouse further and licked every last drop from the salty skin.
The lady was dead now, so Darla put the body in the handicapped stall with the others. It was getting harder to balance them on the wheelchair. Maybe it’s time to check out the services in the men’s room, Darla thought. Her skin was regenerating with every feeding. The more blood she got, the faster she healed. Burns healed more slowly than stabbings or gunshots. It was very annoying. She’d be back in another day or so. No doubt about it. Things in Sunnydale would soon be very interesting.
She hid in the hospital until dark. After she’d finished her tour of the restrooms, she quickly located a locker room. The people in the showers were oblivious. Disgusted at the idiocy of humans, Darla rummaged through the pile of clothes on the bench. She settled on a soft white t-shirt and sweat pants. Not much to choose from, but then again, now she could go wherever she wanted.
Her skin had regenerated to the point that it now covered the major portions of her body. A few more snacks, and she’d be good as new. Dressed finally, she slipped out of the locker room and headed downstairs to leave the hospital. She was still trying to figure out why she’d woken up in Vegas.
Two men walked past her as the hospital doors wooshed open to let her out. One of them brushed against the tender new skin on her shoulder. She cried out, in spite of herself.
The man on the left spun to help her. “You all right, Darlin’?” He wore a cowboy hat, tight blue t-shirt, jeans that had faded in the butt, and battered leather boots. In short, he looked delicious.
“I am now,” she simpered. “Where you headed, cowboy?”
“That way,” he pointed. His smile widened. “I’m staying at the Mirage. Feel like joining me for dinner tonight?”
“You know, I was about to ask you that same thing.” She latched onto his elbow and walked with him across the street.
***
“Giles, are you really sure this is gonna do any good?” Faith asked. She sat next to him in the cramped chairs of the Sunnydale H.S. auditorium. Buffy, Willow and Xander all filed into the row, and found seats. Spike and Dawn sat behind Xander and Willow.
Faith looked around, struck by the number of empty seats. Place like this oughta be packed. The sign on the wall said it could hold seven hundred fifty. But maybe a hundred and fifty people were there. At least they had sense enough to have the meeting in the middle of the day. Faith imagined a scenario:
Cop: We need to get everyone together to discuss the vampire situation.
Cop 2: How ‘bout tonight?
Cop: Great idea…they’ll be home from work and…oh.
The funny thing was…this was Sunnydale. There was a very good chance that a similar conversation had actually taken place! She stifled the hysterical giggles that rose in her throat.
The older Watcher shifted in his seat. “We can only hope. Perhaps the police are finally going to acknowledge the missing persons.”
Xander rolled his eyes. “Jeez, it’s about time. I was starting to wonder if the whole town had to disappear to get their attention.”
Giles sniffed and said, “Spike, are you sure you’re not on fire?”
“Bloody ha-ha, Rupert.”
“All I know,” Faith interjected, “is if it means more people to kill vampires, so much the better. No offense, Spike.”
The blonde vampire smirked. “None taken.” He leaned forward and brushed Buffy’s hair aside from her neck. “Something wrong, love?” he murmured.
She turned toward him. “Nope.” Her eyes were shadowed, though.
Spike leaned back. Well, she’ll tell when she’s ready.
Willow said, “Shh. Here he comes.”
Police Chief Brixton was a tall man. He walked purposefully down the center aisle and ascended the steps to the stage. He took his place behind the podium. His hair was the color of old steel and his eyes were pale blue. Like many of the people present, he was tired, and it showed.
Giles leaned back and whispered to Spike, “Is that the Chief? I thought-”
“That guy got killed,” Spike said shortly. “Grant says that they shipped this guy in from New York. Apparently, no one else wanted the job.”
“Thank you for coming, ladies and gentlemen,” Brixton said. “I’m glad you could make it. I’m sure you are all aware of the curfew that was implemented two nights ago. It seems we have ourselves a situation.”
Giles’s eyebrows rose. A situation? That was putting it mildly.
“One of my detectives suggested that I look through the records of the missing persons.” He straightened the stack of papers and said soberly, “There is a theory which states that the simplest explanation is very often the most accurate, even when dealing with circumstances of a fantastic nature.” He paused and took a deep breath. “Now, I want everyone to keep an open mind for a moment-”
“The town’s full of vampires!” a voice shouted from the back row.
The crowd gasped as one, but absolutely no one laughed. No one jeered, or scoffed. The man walked calmly down the center aisle then took the steps two at a time until he stood next to Chief Brixton.
Riley.
Buffy sat stunned, her mouth in an O. Spike squeezed her shoulder. Dawn held onto Spike’s arm. Giles, Faith and Xander all exchanged a meaningful look.
“He’s alive,” Willow whispered. She laughed out loud. “Riley, you’re alive!” she called.
Riley grinned. “And kicking,” he confirmed. Then he turned to Brixton. “Chief, this town has been filled with vampires for months. Well, years.”
Brixton was amazed. “Do you know, I was trying to figure out how to say those very words. Who are you, son?”
“Riley Finn, sir. I take it Officer Grant finally got you to see what’s going on around here?”
“That’s exactly what he did, all right.” Brixton shook his head. “Didn’t believe it at first, of course. No sane man would. Then…then he showed me pictures of the bodies from the attack at that nightclub. He showed me the files from the few corpses that turned up. He made me take a good long look through the cold case files. And, a few nights ago, he made go with him to the cemetery.”
Brixton’s hands shook, the only indication he wasn’t fully in control. “What I saw…I never wanted to see. I would’ve forgotten it if I could. It’s there, every time I close my eyes.” He gripped the sides of the podium. “I saw a pack of vampires attacking a young girl. And the way she fought! She took on the whole pack, with no weapons. Just a wooden stake.” Sweat beaded at his forehead. “After the girl plunged the stake in its heart, the thing turned to dust, right before my eyes. Most horrible thing I’ve ever seen.”
Faith leaned forward and met Buffy’s look. Faith half smiled and tilted her head. They had no way of knowing which Slayer the Police Chief had seen. Both girls sank back into their seats, but not without feeling a certain sense of pride.
“Chief,” Riley said. “This town needs to make some changes so we can all be safe. It’s our home. And I can’t speak for any of you,” he addressed the crowd, “ but I’m not willing to give up my home, or my life to a bunch of demons in the night.”
A woman stood up. She carried a baby on her hip. “You’ve got to be kidding me. We’ve got a real crisis on our hands-people are missing, people are dying, no one can go out after dark because of the riots, and -you’re talking about vampires?!” She looked around the room for support but was surprised and disgusted to see that people were actually taking this seriously. “Look,” she shifted the baby to her other hip, “I came to this meeting to get some answers. I came hoping that the police of Sunnydale were finally ready to make it a safe place for me to raise my child.” She pressed her lips to her daughter’s head briefly. “Why am I not surprised that you’re so willing to latch onto a tall tale about blood sucking monsters, instead of dealing with the real problems? How do you expect me to believe this?”
Giles couldn’t take anymore. “You’d better believe it,” he said harshly. “Most of you have been ignoring what’s going on for years. Now the Hellmouth is ready to bite you on the ass, and still you try to stick your heads in the sand.” His eyes flashed with anger. “Wake up! Living in Sunnydale is living at the mouth of hell. Anyone ever seen anything inexplicable? Perhaps a chap with yellow eyes? Maybe a malformed forehead?”
“Hey!” Spike hissed. Buffy silenced him with a glare.
A middle aged man stood up. He wore glasses and had a bit of a paunch. His cheeks were ruddy and he talked through his nose. “I once saw…it was at Graduation a few years ago. The Mayor…”
“Turned into a snake!” someone finished impatiently.
The man looked sheepish. “I tried to tell myself that it never happened. But that same day…I think I saw some…vampires.” He sat back down.
A teenager got up and said solemnly, “Vampires killed my friend Jeff, and his whole family. They found the bodies all stacked up in their back yard.” Tears seeped from his eyes. “My sister is a vampire now. She was one of the ones killed at the Bronze a few months ago. They never found her body…but I saw her just a few nights ago…” he broke down into genuine weeping now. He sank into his seat and the woman next to him laid an arm against his shoulder for comfort.
After that, every person present seemed to have a story to tell.
The woman in the green silk dress said, “My husband has been missing for two weeks. I keep waiting…hoping he’ll call.” She started to cry, her hands covering her face. “I keep hoping that he’s…in a coma or something, and can’t get in touch. But he was only going to the store for some milk…” She couldn’t continue.
Two rows from the stage a handsome man in his twenties stood up and turned to the crowd. “My brother Parker has been missing for over a week.” His dark eyes were red rimmed. “He could be an ass, you know? But he’s my only brother. My mother is worried sick…”
A forty-five year old woman. “My best friend Erlinda disappeared too. She was working late…she never made it home that day. She was a social worker. She really wanted to help her clients, too…she wanted to make a difference. And she was one of the lucky ones. Some man saved her. She eventually found her way back. Alive. But from what she told me…some of the others with her weren’t so lucky. Now, those poor people will never see their families again.”
“I’m Maria Fernandez,” a girl a few years younger than Dawn said. Her face was pale and her eyes haunted. “My Mom was…is a teacher at this school. She disappeared nine days ago. The last time I saw her was when she dropped me off at school. The last thing I said to her was…” Maria’s face crumpled. “I told her to leave me alone. I never even said I loved her.”
A blonde fifteen year old stood up. “My name’s Kristy. All of my friends were killed at the Bronze two months ago. My mom and dad went to a movie two nights ago.” A lone tear dripped onto her cheek. “They never came home.”
An elderly man rose to his feet. “My grandbaby was stolen from the hospital, two days after she was born.” His lips tightened and his voice shook. “My little girl hasn’t said a word since, she just…” He reached into his pocket and drew out a handkerchief. He blew his nose. “She pushes an empty baby carriage around all day.”
Finally, it was Dawn’s turn. She squeezed Spike’s hand and found her feet. Her voice, unsteady at first, gradually evened out and she told her story dispassionately. “I just missed being there when the Bronze was attacked.” She let the murmurs die down, and then continued. “My boyfriend was turned. He lured me to his house, and tried to…tried to make me a vampire. I…I had to kill him.” She sat down. Spike pulled her into a hug.
“You did good, Niblet,” he said softly. “I’m proud of you.”
Dawn poked him in the gut and Spike realized he had to stand up and say something. Well, what was he supposed to say that wouldn’t get him staked? “Vampires kidnapped the Little Bit, here. I had to fight a lot of them to get her back.” He said his piece quickly then shut the hell up.
Xander stood up. “Vampires killed my Fiancée and my best friend. I’ve been helping kill them for six years.”
Willow stood up. “Vampires killed my favorite teacher and a lot of other people. I’ve been helping kill them for a long time, too.
Giles wiped his glasses and then slowly rose to his feet. He said, “I’ve been fighting against vampires for many years. They are quite real, I assure you.” His eyes closed for a moment and he said, “The woman I loved was killed by a vampire many years ago. I…never told her…” he lowered himself to his chair, surprised by how painful it still was. Something touched his hand and he jumped. He looked down to see a pale hand folded in his. Faith. He forced his lips to curve upward the tiniest bit and squeezed her fingers in wordless thanks.
Now it was Buffy’s turn. She stood slowly. She turned to Giles. He nodded at her, and she knew what she had to do. “My name is Buffy Summers. I killed my first vampire when I was fifteen.” She stepped over Xander and took hold of Faith’s sleeve.
“Hey!” Faith yelped.
Buffy tugged the other girl to her feet. “This is Faith,” Buffy said.
Faith looked around. For a moment she was unable to speak. “Vampires… they killed the first person who ever gave a shit about me,” she said in a harsh whisper.
“Faith and Me, we’re the Vampire Slayers. The chosen two in all the world who fight the forces of darkness and evil.”
Silence rocked the crowd. They stared at the two girls. Faith looked around, not entirely pleased with the attention.
The blonde Slayer leaned down. “Giles, how’d I do? I know how much you like that ‘Chosen One’ speech.” She glanced at Faith. “I just figured it need a little updating.” Both Slayers found their seats again.
“I have been helping train first Buffy, then Faith.” Giles slipped out of his seat and approached the stage. “Chief Brixton, I believe you and I should talk.”
***
The meeting had dispersed some time ago. Buffy and her friends were still talking to Chief Brixton. Riley had disappeared somewhere before Buffy’d even talked to him. They’d pulled folding chairs up to the stage and sat around in a circle.
Brixton was ticking items off on his fingers. “Stakes, beheading, the sun, holy water. Nothing else?”
“Fire,” Faith added.
Buffy shrugged. “Mostly, I just use a stake. Sometimes I have to…improvise. This one time, I used a cymbal to…” she stopped at the Chief’s horrified look. “What? He had Xander. I had to act fast.”
Brixton shook his head. “What about garlic?”
Spike answered. “It’s all right if you haven’t got anything else…Holy water is more painful. To them.”
“Girls,” said Brixton, “I’m sorry. Can we go over this again? You girls are Slayers.”
They nodded.
“And you,” he pointed at Buffy, “found out when you were fifteen?”
She sighed. “Yes. We’ve been over this a few times now, Chief, so I really-”
He silenced her with a wave of his hand. “So, you’re like a vampire only…not?”
Faith stretched her legs out. Her back cracked and she winced. “We’re fast, we’re strong, and we have accelerated healing. Killing vampires is what we were born to do, right, B?”
Buffy’s voice was hollow. “Yeah. Born to kill.”
“So, explain to me why there’s two of you, if there’s only supposed to be one.”
Buffy glared. “Look. This isn’t Highlander. There can be only one,” she mocked in a deep voice. “It doesn’t work that way. I died for a few minutes. Kendra was called. Kendra gets killed, Faith gets called.”
“What happens if you get killed again, Miss Summers?”
“I don’t know, “ Buffy said honestly. “And we’re not going to find out so we’re moving on.”
Giles gave the chief a hard look. “Yes, quite, Buffy. Chief Brixton, right now we are in the middle of a most disturbing situation. A Master vampire has been resurrected, Dracula is part of his team, and there is literally an army of vampires slowly taking over this town. Only they have become so numerous it’s not happening slowly anymore. Hence, all the people who have been killed and turned. If the entire town becomes vampires, they don’t have much to worry about do they?”
Brixton paled. “So what you’re saying…is that the majority of the missing are actually dead. And been turned into vampires?”
“Give that man a cigar,” muttered Xander.
Brixton examined his shoes for a moment. Why had he left New York again? These things were impossible, plain and simple, and here he was discussing them like he was talking about the Yankees. Vampires. Dracula was real? Christ. “What do you propose we do about it? That is, I assume you have some sort of plan.”
They all looked at each other.
“A plan,” said Buffy.
“You know,” said Willow, “One of those…planny things?” She shrugged helplessly. “I got nothing, Buffy. Oh! Wait! I have something after all.”
“Will, what is it?”
Willow tilted her head to the side and made a face. “Well, it’s kind of traditional, but um, we could always capture a minion or a regular vampire if you want. And, uh, you and Faith could, um, talk to him, and see if he knows anything.”
“Torture him, you mean?” Spike asked.
“Well, okay, I mean, if you want to say it like that…” Willow trailed off.
Spike looked at Buffy from underneath his lashes. “Alright. I’m in.”
“How can I help,” asked Brixton. “The full resources of the Sunnydale P.D. are at your service.”
Buffy said, “We’ll let you know if anything comes up. We’ll figure out the particulars.” She held Spike’s arm and told the others, “You guys go on ahead.”
He waited until they were the only ones left in the auditorium. “What’s up, love?”
She slid her arms up to his shoulders and wrapped them around his neck, inhaling deeply. Spike pulled her close, letting every delicious curve press against his body. Buffy rubbed her cheeks against his, then drew his mouth against hers. She deepened the kiss until Spike suddenly pulled back.
“What?” she asked innocently.
“They’re waiting for us, Buffy.”
“I know. I just wanted…” she paused. “You.”
“Love.”
“Well, Spike, it’s getting so that if we don’t steal some time for ourselves, we won’t ever get any. And, much as I love my sister and my friends, I need to be with you.”
His full lips curved into a smile. Sometimes, he still couldn’t believe that Buffy was actually his, wanted him. Times like this he knew he was the luckiest bloke in the world. “Tell you what. That restaurant on Oakwood is still open during the day, right?”
“Yes,” she said slowly. She moved closer again. “How is that helping me?”
Spike leaned down and nuzzled her neck. “Was thinking you could treat the bloody gang to lunch, while we went back home and…rested.” He lifted his head so Buffy saw the wicked smile.
“Rest. Is that what we’re calling it now?” She took his hand and led him down the steps.
“We are today,” he said. They got to the back row of seats and Spike stopped. He turned his head, looking for something.
“What?”
“My blanket,” he said. “I tossed it over the back of this seat when we came in. It’s gone.” He got down on his knees and checked under the chair. “Bleedin’ fuck,” he muttered.
“Now, now, temper, temper.” Buffy said saucily. “Just use your coat, can’t you?”
He straightened. “Course I can. But it means my hands’ll get burned.” Shook his head. “Won’t be the first time, c’mon then.”
“Wait, we’ll find something else. Let me run out to the car…I’ll get Xander to give me his shirt or something.” She turned a corner and headed for the exit.
“Wonderful,” Spike grumped. He turned back to survey the auditorium. “Now I have to hear it from Harris about how he gave me the bloody shirt off his back.”
Something brushed against his shoulder.
“Spike,” Buffy said softly.
“Slayer, don’t do that,” he said. “No need to sneak. Or lurk, for that matter.” Suddenly he read the expression in her eyes. His gaze dropped to her hand. She held a scrap of green silk. The green color only showed at the edges… most of the fabric was an angry maroon.. He inhaled and said, “Blood.”

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