Crossover: BtVS with the movie 'Red Dawn', the full blooded, down to earth 1984 version, not the pale, insipid remake that slithered shamefully onto our movie screens a couple of years ago.
Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: Written in glorious UK-English (the original and best) which is different to US-English.
Timeline: Set during BtVS Season Two, with added Dawn.
Words: Twenty-eight chapters of 2500 plus words.
Warnings: 'Red Dawn' made the Guinness Book of Records for having the most acts of violence of any film up to that time. According to their calculations, 134 acts of violence occurred per hour, or, 2.23 per minute...so yeah there's gonna be some violence and maybe even some harsh language! Also...character deaths!
Summary:War comes to Sunnydale High; '...Xander suddenly realised just how scared he really was; there he stood, he had one hand on Buffy's butt and the other on her leg and he could see right up the very short skirt she was wearing...and he didn't care!'
Just a couple of things before we start. First, Dawn is just a normal fourteen year old girl (this makes her a little older than canon) she is not the 'Key' she's just Buffy's little sister.
Secondly; I'm writing this entirely from Buffy and her friends perspective. Although I did work out how I thought the war would go (based largely on an old SPI game called 'Invasion America') I'm not going into anything about the 'Bigger Picture' unless it impacts directly on the action in the fic.
When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.
Parent Teachers Night, Sunnydale High, September 1997.
Sitting on an upturned crate in the janitor's closet, Willow wondered what had possessed her to do it; exactly why had she rescued Cordelia? Resting her chin in her hand, she sighed heavily. Letting the vampire eat the girl would have been 'bad', she'd told herself. Particularly if she'd been in a position to help out, which she had been. Parent Teacher Night had been coming to a close (of course her parents hadn't turned up, they were away in Portland), Principal Snyder had switched out the lights in the student's common area to signal the end of the meeting. Within moments of the lights going out the vampires had smashed their way through the windows and into the school.
Screaming in fear Willow had run. Had she been paying more attention she'd have run in the same direction as Buffy and her mom, but she hadn't; she'd been scared out of her mind and she'd just run in any direction that there weren't vampires. This was how she'd found herself running down the corridor that led towards the gym. Then she'd sort of noticed someone being dragged off by a vampire, it had only been after she'd used the wooden bust of Mayor Richard Wilkins the First as a club that Willow realised she'd accidentally saved Cordelia Chase from almost certain death. Darn, thought Willow, as she grabbed the cheerleader by the hand, but it was no use crying over spilt milk.
Somehow using the bust to hit the vampire over the back of its head had centred Willow and she started thinking with her cool, human, brain and not with her terrified, tiny, lizard brain. After grabbing Cordelia she'd dragged her into a nearby janitor's closet. Slamming and locking the door Willow knew that short of breaking down the door the vampires couldn't get in, perhaps they wouldn't even notice them. On the other hand she was now trapped in a small, hot room with the girl she'd hated with a fiery passion for most of her school life, looking at it that way, perhaps being eaten or turned into a vampire wouldn't be that bad.
“I'm scared,” Cordelia whispered as she guarded the door clutching a broom in her hands, “are you scared? No you can't be, you're used to being chased by all these totally weird things...why do these things always happen to me?”
“Karma,” Willow muttered under her breath and then a little louder she said, “Of course I'm scared,” she replied her voice hard and unforgiving; Cordy turned to look down at her and Willow had to admit the girl really did look frightened, Willow's heart softened...a little, “Here, come sit next to me.”
Shifting to make room, Willow patted the crate next to her, putting down her broom, Cordy sat down next to her. Sitting there almost touching, Willow could feel Cordelia tremble with fear. Again, not really knowing why, it was probably just the natural need to comfort another human-being in pain or distress, Willow reached out and took hold of Cordelia's hand. Half expecting to have Cordelia snatch her hand away, Willow was surprised when Cordy moved closer and held her hand a little more tightly, the girl really must be scared. Outside in the corridor there was a blood curdling scream followed by a crash as something was knocked over.
“I don't want to die!” Cordy wailed as she turned and hugged Willow in her fear.
“There, there,” Willow said self-consciously as she patted Cordelia on the back trying to comfort her, “erm...is it me or is it really hot in here?”
Sitting there with Cordelia's head resting on her shoulder, Willow could feel one of Cordy's breasts pressing against her own. She was also starting to get some majorly inappropriate thoughts go through her mind as she decided that Cordy's boob felt pretty nice where it was pressed.
“I'm sorry Willow,” Cordy moved away slightly so she could look Willow in the eye.
“Sorry for what?” for some reason Willow felt a little disappointed that Cordy wasn't holding her any more.
“For every mean word I've ever said to you over however many years we've been at school together...”
“Hey,” Willow smiled, “that's o...”
“Hey, I'm talking here,” Cordy snapped, “I'm apologising so like don't interrupt...”
“Okay,” Willow replied a little breathlessly.
“Now where was I?” Cordy pondered the question.
“Mean words,” Willow prompted.
“Oh yeah,” Cordy smiled brightly, “every mean word or catty comment I've made about the way you dress, which was totally justified, I mean... anyway I could have said it in a nicer way.”
“Oh that's okay,” Willow suddenly felt a real need to make Cordy feel better, “I know you have a position to maintain with your crowd and it was totally all my fault for having no fashion sense.”
“Oh that's so totally sweet of you to admit it,” Cordy hugged Willow again.
This time when Cordy pushed her breasts against Willow's, Willow felt her heart begin to beat like a drum, she felt her skin flush and there was a strange tingly feeling between her legs as her breathing became more rapid; she was also pretty sure that if she looked in a mirror right now her eyes would be dilated. Pulling away from Cordy, which was something Willow now found she really didn't want to do, she looked into the cheerleader's eyes.
“Oh Cordy...” Willow gasped surprised at the breathless emotion in her voice.
“Oh Willow...” Cordelia sighed with desire.
Within seconds the two girls had their lips pressed together as they ran their hands of each other's bodies in a passionate embrace.
“This never happened,” Cordelia stood with her back towards Willow as she buttoned up her blouse.
“No, of course not,” Willow agreed as she tried to pull her bra back into place without actually taking off her top.
“If this ever got out, I'd never be able to show my face in school again,” Cordy smoothed down her short skirt and straightened her blouse.
“Me neither,” Willow agreed as she turned her back to Cordy, hitched up her own skirt and pulled her panties straight; as she did so she momentarily relived how Cordy had stroked her and...
No, Willow admonished herself and banished these thoughts to the darkest recesses of her mind, this sort of thinking led only to heartache and insanity.
“It must have been all the fear...what with the vampires an'all,” Willow began to explain.
“Yeah fear!” Cordy clutched at any straw to explain away what they'd just done.
“Yeah,” Willow expounded on her theory, “the vampires, the fear of being killed, it was all just a natural reaction to the possibility of dying...”
“Yeah, right!” Cordy agreed nodding eagerly as the two teenagers turned to face each other again, “That's what it was,” she smiled without any great conviction, “it must have been the fear and the heat and the...”
Cordy started to move towards Willow again leading with her lips, her eyes half closed.
“NO!” Willow cried in panic causing Cordelia to back off a little, “Look, the vamps musta gone by now, it should be safe to go home...”
“Yeah, home,” Cordy agreed as she swept her hair away from her face, “do I look presentable? Is my make up good to go?”
“You look...” Willow found herself gazing longingly into Cordy's eyes again as she replayed everything that had happen in the last half hour in her mind; with a great effort of will she pulled herself back to reality. “Fine...you look...really...” Willow wanted to say 'sexy' but stopped herself just in time, “...wonderful...”
Being so distracted by the memories of what'd happened the night before, Willow didn't at first hear Buffy as she called to her.
“Willow!” Buffy hurried along the corridor easily dodging between the other students until she came up behind her friend, “Willow,” Buffy called again as she touched Willow on the shoulder and saw the vacant look in the other girl's eyes when she eventually turned to face her. “Willow?” Buffy said yet again but now with real concern in her voice, “You okay?”
“Okay?” Willow was acting like this was a really, really hard Math problem, “Erm, yeah I'm good...”
“You sure?” Buffy didn't sound convinced, she linked her arm through Willow's as they continued their walk along the corridor together, “I'm sorry we got separated in all the carnage and slayage last night, but I had to look out for my mom and...”
“No that's totally okay,” Willow reassured her friend, “I understand and your mom comes first. Anyway I hid out in a janitor's closet...with Cordelia.”
“Cordelia!?” Buffy brought them both to a halt and looked in wide eyed shock at her friend, “That musta been...been...” words failed Buffy for a moment, “...well that musta been like totally intense.”
“Oh it was,” Willow sighed longingly.
“Willow,” Buffy was now feeling very concerned about how her friend was acting, “are you sure you're okay?”
“Look, Buffy,” Willow's laugh was just a little too brittle to be one-hundred-percent genuine, “I'm fine, in fact I'm more than fine, I'm great...oh excuse me...”
Willow unlinked her arm from Buffy's and went over to a water fountain to take a drink. Just as she had drunk her fill, Cordelia and a couple of her friends appeared on the scene and stopped, Cordy looked at Willow.
“You know, Willow,” Cordy said without a trace of meanness or sarcasm, “You have really nice hair you should really do something more with it.”
Buffy's jaw almost hit the floor as she watched Cordy and her friends continue on down the corridor.
“Is there an apocalypse on the way or was Cordy actually being nice for once?” Buffy wanted to know, she turned to look at Willow, “What did you do to her in that janitor's closet?”
“DO!?” Willow almost panicked, had her best-friend guessed what Cordy and herself had been doing? “No...” she shook her head, “...we didn't do anything, we...we...” Willow tried to think of something to explain Cordy's strange actions, “...we just had a moment last night, y'know with all the fear and the vampires an' such...” Willow took a deep breath, “...we understand each other so much better now.” Willow congratulated herself on explaining without really explaining and not telling a lie.
“What's going on?” Xander demanded as he joined Willow and Buffy as Cordelia walked off into the distance, “Did I miss something?”
“Not so much,” Buffy shrugged, “either Cordy's been taking 'niceness pills' or its the start of the final apocalypse...”
“Ah good,” Giles arrived before Buffy could complete her thoughts on the likely reasons for Cordy being 'nice', “I'm glad I found you all together...”
“What's up Giles,” Buffy looked up at her watcher, “you look more than normally hyper, what is it,” she laughed lightly, “the world about to end?”
“Yes,” Giles replied succinctly, “very possibly...”
“Didn't I say?” Buffy rolled her eyes, “I knew it was too good to be true, Cordelia being nice is the first sign of the impending final apocalypse!”
“What?” Giles looked down at his slayer with more than the usual amount of confusion, “Cordelia's caused an apocalypse? No this is much worse...have any of you seen Miss Calendar?”
“No, why?” Willow wanted to know.
“Well, its best I tell you all what I've found out at the same time,” Giles explained urgently, “we may not have much time and we'll need all the help we can get to defeat this, whatever 'this' is.”
“This sounds serious,” Buffy frowned before taking charge, “Okay guys, we'll split up, find Miss Calendar and meet back in the library in ten minutes, okay?”
“I was looking through my books of prophecy the other night,” Giles explained as the three teens and Jenny Calendar settled themselves around the research table, “Unfortunately, due to one thing and another I wasn't able to complete my calculations for some of the dates until this morning. As you may know the calender has changed several times over the years so...”
“Giles,” Buffy stopped Giles' impending lecture on calenders and dates in its tracks, “focus please, the apocalypse?”
“Sorry yes,” Giles picked up a heavy, leather bound tome from the table and opened it at a marked page, “the apocalypse, right...this comes from a book of prophecies written by Donald MacDonald an obscure and little known Scottish seer who lived in the 1500's when he wrote a book containing all his prophecies,” Giles looked at his audience to see them all starring blankly up at him. “Well, here we go...” Giles began to read the prophesy from the book.
“In th' one thoosandth, nine hunder an' ninety seventh year ay uir laird,” Giles started to read, “upon St Crispin's day th' skies will open an' demons will rain frae th' heavens bringin' death an' fire tae th' warld. Oan 'at day aw th' races ay cheil will be united in their fear an' terrur an' darkness will engulf th' warld until th' end ay time.”
“Say what?” Willow frowned.
“Rupert, are you sure you've got that right?” Jenny asked.
“May I add a resounding...huh?” Xander asked.
“Once more in English, Giles,” Buffy added.
“Oh all right, once more without the accent,” Giles replied and started to read from the hand written notes he'd prepared. “In the one-thousandth-nine-hundred-and-ninety-seventh year of our Lord, upon St Crispin's day the skies will open and demons will rain from the heavens bringing death and fire to the world. On that day all the races of man will be united in their fear and terror and darkness will engulf the world until the end of time.”
“Best not renew my subscription to Babylon 5 Monthly,” Xander observed quietly.
“How sure are you that this will happen?” Buffy wanted to know.
“Well,” Giles put down his book, “as with all prophesies there's always room for double meanings and miscalculation, but...”
“But?” everyone chorused.
“MacDonald is very...what's the word I'm looking for...?” Giles hesitated for a moment too long.
“Scottish?” Willow offered.
“Owned a farm?” Xander suggested.
“Ee-ie-ee-ie-oh,” Buffy added for emphasis
“Well, yes but...” again Giles seemed to be having difficulty finding the right words, “...he doesn't waffle like other seers, he tends to write down exactly what he sees and doesn't embellish it,” Giles paused for a moment, “you'll also notice that he's pretty specific about the date.”
“St Crispin's Day?” Buffy asked.
“Twenty-fifth of October,” Jenny pointed out without hesitation.
“The five-hundred-and-eighty-second anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt,” Giles observed.
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers...” Xander quoted unexpectedly.
“Siblings,” Willow corrected before adding, “girls here. That gives us about a month to prepare,” she continued soberly all thoughts of her little adventure with Cordelia forgotten.
“Yes,” Giles agreed, he turned to the computer sciences teacher, “Miss Calendar can you help us?”
“Of course,” Jenny nodded, “I'll go on line and talk to some of my contacts, see if they've heard anything. If they haven't I'm sure I can dig something up.”
“Good,” Giles nodded, “Willow can you search the internet with Ms Calendar?”
“Yeah, no problemo,” Willow shifted herself to the seat in front of the computer monitor and started to tap out search requests on the keyboard.
“Buffy, you better start collecting more weapons, here's the key to my flat.”
“Got it,” Buffy snatched the keys out of the air but didn't otherwise move.
“So, what shall I do?” Xander wanted to know.
“Oh, yes, I almost forgot,” Giles searched his mind for something that Xander could do, “I suppose you could help me research my books.”
“Hey! I'm a book researching demon!” Xander declared enthusiastically.
As everyone got on with their tasks, Buffy walked over to have a private word with Giles.
“Look Giles,” Buffy laid her hand on Giles' arm as she looked up at him, “this, darkness will engulf the world thing and demons raining from the sky sounds like a totally worldwide thing, not just Sunnydale.”
“I agree,” Giles nodded, “I'll contact the council in London they'll get a warning out if its necessary.”
“I'm sure,” Giles nodded, “but we better get to work there's not much time...”
There was in fact less time than even Giles suspected.
It was an unfortunate fact of life at Sunnydale High, that Principal Snyder insisted that all pupils actually attended class, even those who were trying to research the next and possibly final apocalypse. With this in mind, Willow was walking briskly along the corridor heading for her history class. Her head was down as she searched through her school bag looking for the assignment she'd written about the closing stages of the Civil War. As a result she didn't notice the door of the janitor's closet open ahead of her. In fact it wasn't until a long, slim, elegant arm reached out and grabbed hold of her that Willow realised that there was anything amiss. Pulled into the closet, Willow soon found herself in a passionate embrace with Cordelia Chase. The two girls stood in the middle of the closet kissing urgently as their hands roamed over each other's bodies.
“Oh god Willow,” Cordy moaned as Willow cupped Cordy's breast in her hand, “all last night I couldn't stop thinking about you and then when I saw you this morning...”
“I know,” Willow reluctantly stopped kissing Cordy's neck but kept her hand on Cordelia's breast, she could feel Cordy's hardened nipple against the palm of her hand, it made her want to rip the other girl's clothes off and...
It was about at this point Willow's mind went into 'overload' and she pushed herself away from Cordy, but by only a little.
“Please, Willow,” Cordy's arms encircled Willow once again in a tender embrace, “I love you, I realise that now...all those boys I used to go out with...”
“Uh-huh,” Willow nodded as she gazed hungrily into Cordy's eyes.
“I realise now why none of them really...” Cordelia paused trying to find the right words, “...none of them really...well...you know...did anything for me...like, you know...got me...” Cordy frowned, “...help me out here Willow.”
“Excited?” Willow suggested.
“Hmmm,” Cody considered for a moment, “I think I would have said something more, like 'hot'...at least not in the same way as five seconds with you does...” she looked hopefully at Willow, “...please say you feel the same.”
“Well,” Willow thought about what she should say, after all she did feel something for Cordelia although she wasn't sure what it was, “you have been pretty mean to me over the years, I don't know if I...”
“I know, I know,” Cordy gasped, “and I'll so totally make it up to you if only you take off that really frumpy top you're wearing so I can...”
“Stop!” things were going a little too quickly for Willow's peace of mind; she wasn't very experienced in the romance department and she wasn't sure whether this was just tawdry, teen, lust or the start of something deeper.
“Okay,” Cordy breathed deeply and took half a step away from Willow, “I'll go first...”
Before Willow could say anything, Cordelia had started to unbutton her blouse; after slipping it off her shoulders she reached behind her back and unclipped her bra and took it off.
“Oh, my...” Willow breathed softly as she took in the sight of Cordy's firm breasts and her hard, pink nipples, she realised that it was now or never, “Screw it!” Willow cried as she started to pull off her own top, “I'll take the tawdry, teen, lust any day!”
“What the...?” Mrs Jackson asked quietly as she moved towards the back of the class, “This is very strange...they are way off course...”
Turning to see what Mrs Jackson thought was 'strange' and 'off course', Buffy's eyes were greeted by the sight of what seemed like hundreds of parachutes drifting silently down from the sky. Standing up with the rest of the class, Buffy starred at the scene; the sky seemed to be full of parachutes and she could clearly hear the sound of jets as they flew high over the school. Stepping closer to the window, Buffy could now see that under each of the parachutes hung a man in a camouflaged uniform who was festooned with weapons and other equipment. By now all the pupils in Mrs Jackson's class either had their noses pressed against the classroom windows or were standing on their chairs so they could see over their classmate's heads.
“This is most strange,” Mrs Jackson repeated with amazing understatement as her class gasped or whispered in hushed tones, too overawed by the sight before them to make much noise.
“Xander?” Buffy glanced to her left to find Xander standing a little behind her.
“Huh?” Xander replied as he stared with wide, fearful eyes at the sight before him.
“Do you think this counts as a 'hole in the sky'?”
“W-what!?” Xander dragged his eyes away from the parachuting men, “Huh? Hole?” realisation suddenly dawned on him, “Oh crap...!” he gasped after only a moment's more thought.
It was as if the words 'oh crap' had been a signal, the camouflaged figures started to land in the school grounds. It was at this point Buffy began to realise that there was something very wrong and it was time for her to do something about it. In the time it had taken her to work this out the figures had turned into distinct man-shapes. Whoever they were they definitely looked 'soldier' shaped and they were all carrying guns in there hands. Buffy felt Xander shake her shoulder trying to get her attention as more and more of these sinister figures landed in and around the parking lot.
“Do those guys look like demons to you?” Xander pointed as the soldiers formed into small groups and started to spread out across the parking lot.
Now they were closer, Buffy could see the soldiers were wearing harnesses like the soldiers she'd often seen on TV did to carry their equipment and spare ammunition. The soldiers began to trot towards the school building; some were now within about fifty yards of the school. Just as Buffy was about to shout a warning for everyone to get away from the windows, the relative calm of the classroom was shattered as bullets smashed the windows and ripped into the ceiling tiles sending showers of plaster to rain down on the screaming students.
Heading for the floor with commendable speed, Buffy grabbed hold of Xander's belt and dragged her stunned friend down to crouch next to her. Another volley of automatic fire came in through the smashed windows. Students were hit by bullets which blew ragged, bloody holes in their bodies. In an instant the room was full of screams and the smell of spilt blood. Panicking students headed for the classroom door as they attempted to escape, tripping over chairs and dropped school bags as they did so. Trying to get out of the way of the stampede, Buffy pulled Xander towards the side of the classroom only to be brought up short when the headless corpse of Mrs Jackson fell to the floor in front of them. Staring in numbed horror at the body of her one time history teacher, another part of Buffy's mind studied the bloody wound, Giles would need to know everything she could find out so she looked for other injuries that might throw some light on what sort of weapons the demon-soldiers were using. At this point the smell of all the blood obviously proved too much for Xander and he threw-up on the floor.
“Eww!” Buffy cried out more or less automatically.
“Is that all you can say?” Xander gasped as he spat pieces of vomit from his mouth, “the world's ending, but I throw-up and you say 'eww'?”
“You're right, of course,” as there were no more bullets coming through the smashed windows, Buffy climbed cautiously to her feet, “I shoulda said, 'yuck'!”
Grabbing hold of Xander's hand, Buffy pulled him to his feet and towed him between the bodies on the floor and towards the door. Out in the corridor it was pandemonium, screaming students and staff were running this way and that in their efforts to get away from the terror that was being visited on the school.
“We've got to get to the library and find Giles,” Buffy yelled over the sound of screaming students.
“Willow!” Xander cried as he dodged one of the school's football players who was ploughing his way through the crowd of panicking students in his efforts to get away.
“Oh-my-god, Willow!” Buffy stopped and pushed the football player out of her way, “Where is she?”
“What's that?” Willow asked as she felt Cordy's body stiffen against her own.
“Oh-my-god!” Cordy gasped as she held on tightly to Willow, “It's one of those school shooting things isn't it?”
“Hold on,” Willow peeled Cordy off her before moving towards the door; resting her hand on the door handle, she was about to unlock it when Cordy cried out.
“NO!” Cordelia was suddenly at Willow's side trying to pull her hand away from the lock, “Whoever's out there will see us!” she cried, “Lets stay in here where its safe...”
“No!” Willow pushed Cordy away, she turned the catch and opened the door a crack.
Looking out into the corridor, Willow really wished she'd followed Cordy's advice. The corridor was like a scene from hell; it was full of running, screaming students and staff. There was a loud crackling-cracking sound accompanied by some painfully bright flashes of light. This time everyone screamed in agony as students and staff fell with bloody, holes in their bodies. Some of the people who fell were only wounded and tried to drag themselves away, others stumbled on through the press of screaming teenagers until they too fell to the floor. The corridor was full of smoke and fire as the sound of gunshots and explosions filled the air.
Horrified by what she was seeing, Willow watched wide eyed as several figures moved through the smoke towards her. Back lit by the flames of the burning school the figures looked bigger than they actually were as they moved inexorably along the corridor. There weapons tracked from one side of the corridor to the other as they looked for fresh targets. Watching, Willow saw one of the gunmen bend down and drag a girl in a cheerleader's uniform back to her feet, she'd been playing dead hoping that death would pass her by today, but she wasn't going to be that lucky. Holding the terrified girl up by her hair, the camouflaged hell-soldier shifted his rifle on to his back. Then using his free hand he drew a wide bladed knife from his belt. Seeing the knife the girl screamed and tried to struggle out of the killer's grip. The demon-soldier laughed at her pitiful attempts at breaking his hold on her before stabbing her in the stomach with his knife. After cutting her open from pubis to rib cage the hell-soldier tossed the corpse contemptuously to one side, put away his knife and continued down the corridor after his comrades, his gun back in his hands.
“Oh god!” Willow groaned and nearly threw-up; resisting the urge to slam the door, she closed it carefully and locked it again.
“What...hmmm!” Cordelia mumbled as Willow clamped her hand across her mouth.
“Shhhh!” Willow hissed, “Don't make a sound,” she whispered, “something terrible's happening. We've got to get dressed and get out of here without making any noise, understand?”
Cordelia Chase was a lot of things, but she wasn't stupid, although she did expend a lot of time and energy to make it appear that she was. Seeing the fear in Willow's eyes she knew that now was not the time for explanations, now was the time for action and to do what the expert in the world of the weird and frightening told her to do. Nodding at Willow, who Cordelia was rapidly coming to think of as her girlfriend, Cordy started to pick up her clothes and put them back on.
“We've got to get out of here,” Buffy said stating the obvious.
“What about Willow?” Xander asked as he pushed another bookcase against the door.
“Hopefully she's in the library with Giles, she'll be safe with him.”
“What if she's not,” Xander found he didn't feel like panicking so much if he fixated on Willow's safety, “in the library, I mean, and what makes the library so safe? You think these guys respect the written word that much?”
“I don't know,” Buffy was on the edge of hysteria herself and Xander asking stupid, unanswerable questions wasn't helping, “All I know is we've got to get out of here and going to the library looks like our best bet, okay?”
“Yeah, okay, sorry,” Xander nodded, “what do you suggest?”
“Like, we can't go out there,” Buffy gestured towards the corpse filled corridor, “the window overlooks the plaza and I wouldn't recommend going out that way...”
“So...?” Xander had the strongest of feelings that he was going to die very soon and he wanted Buffy to tell him how to avoid the bloody fate he was sure was waiting for him.
“There's only one way,” Buffy looked at the ceiling, “there's a crawl space up there, I used it to get around last night...” was it really only last night she'd used the crawl space to avoid the vampire gate crashers? “Hey, Xander give me a boost!”
Boosting Buffy towards the ceiling, Xander suddenly realised just how scared he really was; there he stood, he had one hand on Buffy's butt and the other on her leg and he could the cute pink panties, she was wearing under her very short skirt...and he didn't care! At any other time he'd be thinking that all his birthdays had come at once, but just now he just couldn't get too worked up about it.
Jumping down into the library, Buffy only avoided having her head cut clean off because of her super fast slayer reactions.
“GILES!” Buffy cried as she turned to face the sword wielding librarian.
“Buffy!” Giles lowered his sword, “Thank god you're alive.”
“What's going on?” Buffy wanted to know as Xander fell from the hole in the ceiling to crash land on the floor in a cloud of plaster dust, “Who are these people?”
“I was hoping you could tell me,” Giles used his sword to gesture to the barricaded library door.
Buffy took about a minute to fill Giles in on what she'd seen.
“...these men?” Buffy struggled to find the right words to describe the school's attackers, “These soldier-demons, they're just killing everyone, what do we do?”
“That's easy,” Xander chipped in as he climbed back to his feet and dusted himself off, “we load up with weapons and kick butt!”
“I really don't think that would be wise,” Giles replied as he led the way over to his little office.
“Why not?” Xander demanded.
“Yeah, why not, Giles?” Buffy wanted to know.
“Because, generally speaking,” Giles explained as he switched on his kettle to make a cup of tea, “demons don't normally use what I suspect, from your description, are modern, military type weapons...”
“Maybe they're magical weapons,” Xander suggested uncertainly.
“Either way,” Giles sighed as he spooned tea leaves into his teapot, “we've only got swords and crossbows at best. Going up against these creatures with hand-to-hand weapons really would be 'bows and arrows against the lightning'.”
“Huh?” Buffy asked, not recognising the reference; she slumped down to sit on the edge of Giles' desk.
“Never mind,” Giles shrugged as he poured boiling water into the teapot, “I think it best that you and Xander get off school grounds and...”
“Oh my god!” Buffy exclaimed, “Mom and Dawn! I'd totally forgotten about them in all the death and destruction.”
“Where are they?” Giles asked as he put milk into three cups.
“Like,” Buffy took a deep breath, “Mom'll be at the gallery and Dawn's at school...”
“Right,” Giles started to pour the tea, “in that case I'd suggest that Buffy goes home and waits for her mother and sister and Xander you should...”
“Help Buffy find Mrs Summers and Dawnie,” Xander interrupted.
“What about your own parents?” Giles asked softly.
“What about them?” Xander replied with a shrug.
“If you're sure,” Buffy looked up her friend, “I gotta say it would be a like a big help if you could come with me.”
“Not a problem Buff,” Xander accepted a cup of tea from Giles' hand.
“Now we have that settled,” after offering everyone the sugar bowl, Giles sat down and stirred his tea as he took a minute to think. “From what I've seen, which I admit isn't much and from what you've told me, Buffy. These 'demons' landed from aircraft and attacked without provocation using what could be either mundane or magical weapons. They also appear to have blocked all radio transmissions, my radio,” he gestured to the old transistor radio on his window sill, “went dead at about the same time that these creatures arrived.”
“Is this just Sunnydale or are are there other attacks like elsewhere?” Buffy wanted to know.
“Unknown,” Giles replied after sipping his tea, “either way, because of their numbers and their weaponry there's nothing very much I think we can do about it...I think this could be a job for the military.”
“So what am I supposed to do,” Buffy demanded belligerently, “wait at home and sit on my hands?”
“No,” Giles shook his head slowly, “I suggest you go home and wait for your mother and sister to show up. I'd also suggest that we use your house as a meeting place, has anyone seen Willow?”
Buffy and Xander shook their heads.
“Look, I think it best that we do nothing until everyone we know is as safe as they can be before we decide on what action to take.”
Buffy mulled over Giles' words for a moment or two; he was making sense. Knowing where everyone was would be one less thing to worry about and it would probably be best to find out more about these creatures before kicking their butts.
“Okay,” Buffy said quietly, “Xander and I'll go back to my house...”
“Go out the door behind the stacks,” Giles instructed, “from there you should be able to cross the street without being seen. Stay off the main roads, go through people's back gardens if you have to, or use back alleys. When you get home stay there until I come for you...”
“What'll you do, G-man?” Xander asked.
“I'm going to stay here and try to find Miss Calendar,” Giles put down his tea cup and stood up, “you better take some weapons just in case and with any luck I'll see you both at Buffy's house this evening.”
Getting up Buffy and Xander headed over to the book cage and took a selection of swords, axes and the one crossbow. After distributing the weapons between themselves, Buffy and Xander were just heading up the stairs into the main part of the library.
“Buffy,” Giles called her over, “a moment please.”
“What's up Giles,” Buffy could see the very serious expression on her watcher's face.
“Erm, look,” Giles lowered his head so he could talk to Buffy without Xander overhearing, “I think it best that if I don't turn up at your house within say, twenty-four hours...well, I think you should do whatever you think's best.”
“Okay,” Buffy replied a little puzzled by her watcher's words, “so where do you wanna meet up?”
“Erm...” Giles hesitated for a heartbeat, “...what I'm saying is that if I'm not there in twenty-four hours time I probably won't be joining you.”
“You'll go some place else?” Buffy asked naïvely.
“Erm... yes, that's right,” Giles gave up trying to explain, obviously Buffy couldn't accept that he could quite easily die sometime in the next twenty-four hours, “you better get along now.”
“Okay,” Buffy put her arm around Giles' neck and kissed him on the cheek, “you look after yourself, you know I can't do this without you...”
“You'll do just fine,” Giles reassured her, “I have every confidence in you.”
“Whatever,” Buffy turned away and wiped at her eyes as she headed for the stairs, she turned to call to Giles, “I'll see you later, right?”
“Of course,” Giles replied as he watched his slayer disappear amongst the stacks.
“What was all that about?” Xander asked as he led the way to the secret exit.
“Giles is going to look for Miss Calender, and I think he thinks he's going to die,” Buffy sniffed just the once before becoming the slayer again and stopped being the frightened teenager who was about to lose her father figure. “Right,” Buffy glanced at Xander, “when we get outside we'll need to move quickly and quietly, got that?”
“What if there's one of those soldier things is waiting out there for us?” Cordy asked fearfully.
“Then we'll have to move very quickly and not worry so much about the quietly, okay?”
“I want to go home,” Cordelia wailed softly.
“Hey!” Willow said brightly, “That's a great idea.”
“What is?” Cordy frowned.
“Going to your house,” Willow paused as she thought her plan through, “I'd been wondering where to go if...I mean...when we get outta here.” Willow took a deep breath, “Look my folks are away, as usual, so there's no point me going to my house. So, I might as well go back to your place and that way we can keep together...” a thought crossed Willow's mind, “...your mom won't mind me sleeping over, will she?”
“Willow,” Cordy grinned, if the truth was told she'd not been looking forward to going home alone, “my mom will take one look at you and love you!”
“Yeah, she doesn't really approve of most of my friends,” Cordy explained quickly, “and you're everything they're not.”
“Okay,” Willow gave a little sigh of relief, “now we've decided where we're going, how do we get there?”
Cordy held up her car keys.
With everything decided, Willow cautiously opened the closet door a crack and looked out. Nothing much had changed since she'd last looked. There were still bodies on the floor, small fires burnt here and there, but on the plus side there were no demons with guns. Stepping gingerly between the bodies of her schoolmates, Willow tried not to look at them too closely, she didn't want to find herself looking at the dead body of someone she knew. After a nightmare journey through the corridors of twisted, blood soaked, corpses the two teenagers came to an opened fire exit. Here the students had been cut down as they'd tried to make their escape, near the door the bodies were stacked up two or three deep. Cordelia threw-up at the sight followed almost immediately by Willow.
“Look we've got to get outside,” Willow gasped as she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.
“Through that!?” Cordy pointed at the pile of dead bodies.
“Yeah,” Willow gulped as she moved forward, “it should be easy now we've both throw-up...”
After a journey that they would relive in their dreams for as long as they both lived, Willow and Cordelia stood outside in the bright September sunshine and dry heaved as they attempted to regain control of their stomachs.
“Come on we've got to move,” Willow ordered as she lifted her head to look around.
Here and there there were the still bodies of students who'd been shot down as they'd run for safety. As she looked Willow realised that had she not been with Cordy, coming out of the closet would have been fatal. It was probably only because they'd not got caught up in the initial panic that they were both still alive. Looking up from the bodies, Willow caught sight of some crashed and burnt out cars on the road that went by the school. Here and there the bodies of the drivers lay on the tarmac, Willow stopped herself from looking too closely.
“This way,” Cordy pointed, “the parking lot.”
Leading the way around the corner of one of the school buildings, Cordelia stopped short and pushed Willow up against the wall.
“What's wrong!?” Willow asked fearing the answer.
“T-There's this big, huge, green, tank thing in the parking lot with more of those hell-soldier things standing around it!”
“What!?” Willow pushed past Cordy to look for herself; half a second later, Willow had seen all she'd wanted to see and had ducked back into cover.
“Well,” Cordy tossed her keys up into the air and caught them before throwing them away, “I don't think I'll need those again...”
“We better start walking,” Willow observed.
Heading away from the school, Willow and Cordy made their way across the road and into someone's backyard. From there they climbed over a couple of fences until they came out onto a secondary road which ran between the rows of houses. In the back streets they saw no sign of the invaders, but they could feel people watching them from their windows. It wasn't until they got near the Sunnydale Mall that they saw more enemy soldiers. Coming around a corner onto the main street that ran past the front of the mall, they saw a burnt out police cruiser with two police officers lying dead next to it, their guns lying near their out stretched hands. Over by the main door to the mall they saw a contorted carpet of dead people with a group of the mysterious soldiers standing near the bodies as if they were guarding them.
Just as the two girls ducked back into cover they looked up into the sky at the sound of a helicopter. Hoping against hope that it was the army come to have a look at what was going on, they saw it was only a news chopper, probably belonging to one of the news channels in LA. Almost immediately the chopper made itself known, the soldiers looked up, raised their guns and started to fire. As they crouched and watched, Willow and Cordy saw lines of bright tracer bullets reach up towards the helicopter. Moments later a line of white smoke and fire reached out to the chopper and connected with it making it seem to stagger in the air. Smoke started to billow from the helicopter as the pilot lost control and it started to spin towards the ground. More bursts of automatic fire hit the chopper as it got lower, until it exploded in a ball of flame and black smoke. As pieces of helicopter impacted the ground, Willow and Cordy held on to each other's hands as they sprinted down a service road and away from the front of the mall.
“Oh crap!” Cordy exclaimed as she stood on the lawn in front of her house.
The front door was wide open and there was a trail of personnel belongings leading from the door, across the lawn and over to the curb.
“Looks like you've been burgled,” Willow observed; after all that she'd seen today a burgled house hardly rated a mention.
“The bastards!” Cordelia fumed as she stormed towards the house with Willow following in her wake; standing just inside the front door, Willow watched as Cordelia moved from one room to another. “I bet this was that freaking maid and her no-good boyfriend,” she stormed, “I warned my mom that she was no-good, but does anyone listen to me?”
“I'm guessing not,” Willow told herself quietly.
Closing the door behind her, Willow followed Cordelia into what looked like the living room. Walking into the room, Willow found Cordy pulling books out of a bookcase and throwing them onto the floor. Willow could just imagine Giles having a fit at the way Cordy was treating the books. However, when Cordy got to one particular book she stopped, opened it carefully and produced a chunky looking revolver from its hollowed out interior.
“HEY!” Willow called in alarm as Cordy waved the gun in her general direction.
“Don't worry I know what I'm doing.”
Willow knew that people usually said that sort of thing just before they accidentally shot one of their buddies. Watching as Cordy opened the cylinder where the bullets went, Willow moved out of the line of fire. Apparently satisfied with what she found, Cordy snapped the cylinder closed and started opening draws that had been missed by the burglars.
“There's no need to hide like that,” Cordy called as she searched, “my dad bought this for home defence and he insisted that both my mom and me learnt how to use it...I'm a pretty good shot y'know...” Cordy paused before asking, “...now where did daddy hide the spare bullets?”
“Dawn!” Buffy cried as she ran out of the kitchen, through the dining room and on into the hall, “Dawnie!” she embraced her sister in a relieved hug, “Dawnie, Dawnie, Dawnie!” she repeated as she squeezed the life from her little sister in her excitement and relief at seeing her again.
“Buffy...!” Dawn gasped as her sister crushed her to her bosom, “Please...air...!”
“Sorry!” Buffy let go of Dawn like she'd suddenly turned red hot, “Are you alright? Are you hurt?”
“No...” Dawn looked at her sister as if she'd gone more than a little insane, “...the power went off at school so they sent us all home,” Dawn frowned at her sister, “What's going on? Everyone's driving like lunatics I nearly got killed crossing the road...” Dawn noticed the worried expression on her sister's face, “...what's happening Buffy, where's mom?”
“I don't know...for sure,” Buffy admitted as she led Dawn into the kitchen.
“Hi Dawnie,” Xander called as Dawn and Buffy entered the room.
“Oh, hi Xander,” Dawn smiled as she frantically tried not to look like an immature, junior high school girl; she swept her hair away from her face and surreptitiously dropped her school bag and kicked it out the way, “Erm, how's it going?”
“Oh, you know,” Xander shrugged, “demon soldiers dropping outta the sky and killing everyone, same old, same old!”
“DEMONS!?” Dawn shrieked turning to her sister looking for an explanation, “KILLING PEOPLE!?”
“Calm down, we're not sure if they're really demons,” Buffy held her sister again as she turned to scowl at Xander, “and thank-you Xander Harris for explaining everything like a total cretin!”
“Sorry,” Xander ducked his head, “I thought you knew.”
“NO,” Dawn replied before turning back to her sister, “What's happening and again, where's mom?”
“Its pretty much like Xander, king of cretins said...” Buffy started to explain.
“Believe me when I say, maybe...”
“I don't know,” Buffy admitted, “but I expect she stayed at the gallery when she saw what was going down.”
Buffy wanted to tell her sister 'yes' she was sure, but she didn't want to lie to her either or raise any false hopes so she said nothing.
“There has to be a better way for two girls to have sex,” Cordy sighed as she lay in bed next to Willow and stared at the ceiling.
After getting to Cordy's house the two girls had tidied up after the burglar and then, by mutual agreement, they'd not bothered trying to call the police. What with demon-soldiers falling from the sky, the police probably wouldn't have time to investigate a simple house breaking. They'd made themselves a meal and then taken a shower...together. This was about when any plans they might have had for the rest of the evening sort of went out the window. Now it was near midnight and they were both sexually, mentally and physically exhausted.
“Its not something I've ever researched, y'know?” Willow admitted, “But what we were doing wasn't so bad,” she added brightly, “I mean we both got to where we wanted to go, right?”
“Yeah,” Cordy turned onto her side so she was looking at Willow in the dark, “I suppose we'll get better at it as time goes by.”
“You want this to be a long term relationship?” Willow asked uncertainly, “I mean not that I'm saying it isn't nice, but why me? I'd thought you'd go with someone like Harmony...”
“Harmony!?” Cordy pushed herself up on an elbow to look down at Willow, “Harmony is a sheep and a dufus and she's never had a single original thought go through that empty head of hers. I can barely stand more than a few minutes alone with her...I have layers, you know?”
“You do?” Willow tried to keep the surprise out of her voice and almost succeeded.
“Yeah, I do...” Cordy sat up and the covers fell from her breasts, “...people look at me and see some sort of, dumb, bimbo, cheerleader, but I'm going places. I'm outta this one horse town and going to college as soon as I graduate and did you hear that noise?”
“What noise?” Willow hadn't heard a noise, she'd been too engrossed in what Cordelia was saying and the way it made her breasts bounce up and down as she said it, some times people really surprised her. “No?”
“There!” there was a crash as something fell over downstairs; Cordy turned and looked towards the bedroom door, “You musta heard that!”
“Meep!” Willow 'meeped', she had indeed heard something; something like someone moving around downstairs.
“I bet its that freaking maid and her no account boyfriend again,” Cordy snapped as she sprang out of bed, picked up her father's pistol and headed determinedly towards the door.
“Cordy!” Willow cried in a loud whisper, “You can't go like that!”
“Like what?” Cordelia turned around to look at Willow.
“Like, put some clothes on first!”
“Clothes?” Cordy looked down at herself and realised she was naked, “Damn-it!”
Retracing her steps, she picked up the robe that she'd dropped next to the bed, put it on and headed back towards the door. This time Willow followed her as she too put on one of Cordy's spare robes.
“Be careful,” Willow whispered as Cordy opened the door.
“Careful?” Cordelia looked at Willow over her shoulder as she hefted the revolver in her hand, “The only people around here that need to be careful are whoever's downstairs!”
Walking on bare feet along the upstairs corridor, Cordy and Willow came to the top of the stairs and listened. They could hear two people talking and moving about in the rooms below, but they couldn't make out what was being said.
“Maybe its your parents,” Willow whispered into Cordy's ear.
“No,” Cordy shook her head, “they'd have come straight up to see if I was okay...they also wouldn't be sneaking around in the dark.”
“Good point,” Willow agreed as she followed Cordy down the stairs and into the hall.
“Stay behind me,” Cordy whispered as she raised her pistol in the approved two-hand hold and advanced into the living room, “Switch on the lights,” she ordered quietly.”
It only took Willow a moment to find the light switch and turn on the lights. As the bright electric light flooded the room, Willow found herself looking over Cordelia's shoulder at two guys, one of whom held a pistol while the other clutched a jemmy.
“Well lookie here,” the guy with the gun turned to confront the two girls, “looks like the ladies of the house have come down to party...I want the brunette you can take the red head.”
Willow was just about to scream and run for her life when Cordelia shot both the intruders...dead.
“Cordy!” Willow squeaked as she smelt the gunsmoke and looked down at the two corpses, “You shot them!”
“Damn straight I did,” Cordy walked over to the bodies whilst keeping them covered, she kicked them both to make sure they were dead.
“They were armed and in my house,” Cordy glanced over at Willow, “when he said, 'you take the redhead', did you really think he meant 'take', as in 'out for a candle lit dinner'?”
“Now that you mention it...no,” Willow looked down at the bodies and suddenly didn't feel too bad about Cordy shooting them; in fact she felt quite proud of Cordelia.
“Cool,” Cordy bent down next to the guy with the gun and picked up his weapon, “now we have another gun!”
Having left Dawn in Xander's care, Buffy had taken her favourite sword and headed on out into the Sunnydale night, she'd given herself several objectives; first she wanted to find her mother, next she needed to find out what had happened to Giles and Angel, thirdly she wanted to see what the black-hats were doing.
The apartment where Giles lived was between her house and her mother's gallery so she stopped off there first. Giles wasn't home; after knocking loudly on the door, Buffy had gone around to the back of the block and looked in through the downstairs window. The place was deserted and it looked as if Giles hadn't been back there since he'd set out for school that morning. Trying to tell herself that just because Giles wasn't at home didn't mean something bad had happened to him. Buffy told herself that he could have found Miss Calendar and gone back to her place, or, he could be back at school, or, he could be lying dead somewhere in a pool of his own blood. Taking a moment to push the images of Giles' bullet riddled and twisted body lying dead on the floor of the library to the back of her mind; she turned towards the road and headed off to her mother's shop, she could check in with Angel after she'd found her mother.
It took her nearly thirty minutes to complete what would have normally been a five or ten minute walk. Several times she'd had to hide to avoid enemy patrols. Hiding in the dark, Buffy watched the soldiers as they patrolled in silence around Sunnydale; she couldn't help but think how the demons moved like she'd seen soldiers move on the TV. They went from cover to cover always looking outwards and keeping their weapons trained on spots likely to contain an enemy. Whatever, she shrugged as she came out of hiding, these guys were acting majorly un-demonly.
Moving cautiously out to the junction of the alley and onto the main road ahead, she looked up and down the street. About half the street lights were still on casting deep shadows into the areas where the lights had failed. There were cars parked along the curb as normal, while others were halted at odd angles across the street. A closer examination showed that these cars had been hit by bullets or heavier weapons and were burnt out. Buffy also noticed about a dozen bodies lying about, she didn't look too closely because she knew that if she did she'd only find more. Stepping off along the sidewalk, she kept close to the wall and shop fronts as she made her way along the street towards her mother's gallery. Having not gone more than fifty yards, she heard what could only be the roar of a tank's powerful engine and the squeaking of its tracks as it came up the road behind her.
Throwing herself down onto the sidewalk, Buffy slid under an undamaged car and turned herself so she could watch the tank pass by. It turned out to be a small, tracked, open backed vehicle with some kind of gun in a small turret and a couple of human looking soldiers in the back. It didn't take a military expert to realise that this was some kind of armoured vehicle; it looked very low and wide and the engine sounded unnaturally loud on the quiet streets. As the vehicle passed by the patrol she'd seen earlier without firing, Buffy's heart sunk again. Obviously the vehicle belonged to the demons. Just then two thoughts struck her at the same time; first, she'd noted earlier that demons didn't normally use guns. Secondly, demons did not drive little tanks. So, maybe these weren't demons and if they weren't demons who and what were they?
Squeezing out from under the car, Buffy brushed herself down before heading on towards the little arty mall where her mother had her gallery. As she walked she looked at the sword she was carrying, it was a good sword, well balanced, sharp and strongly made, but it would do her little good if she was faced by one of those tanks. In fact it probably wouldn't help much if she was spotted by a patrol; standing there looking at her useless sword, Buffy decided it was time to get into the twentieth century weapon-wise and get herself a gun of some kind. These guys didn't look bullet proof (although how someone would look if they were bullet proof did cross her mind for a split second). Buffy didn't particularly like guns and she didn't know all that much about them. But, it seemed to her that the time had come to get over her personnel likes and dislikes and learn all she could about using firearms.
Without really realising it Buffy found she'd arrived at the small, arty, mall where her mother had her gallery. Turning to face the glass doors, she saw that they'd been smashed in, some pieces of broken glass even looked a little bloody. There were a dozen or so bodies lying around the doors, they'd obviously been killed as they'd tried to escape. Trying not to look too closely at the bodies, Buffy picked her way into the building and cursed softly to herself as her slayer night vision showed her the death and destruction that had been visited on the mall. There were more bodies, burnt out shops and wreckage all over the place. The invaders had really gone to town on the place; maybe they didn't like arts and crafts she told herself.
With a sinking heart Buffy climbed the stalled escalator up to the second floor where her mother's gallery was situated. Her heart lifted a little when she saw that the upstairs area wasn't as badly damaged as the lower. Perhaps her mother had got away or was hiding somewhere. Pushing at the gallery's door, Buffy found it was unlocked. Stepping carefully around the door, she smelt the smell she'd always associated with the paintings and ceramics her mother sold.
“Mom?” Buffy called quietly, “Mom its me, Buffy...I've come to get you outta here.”
There was no reply as Buffy moved further into the room. Pausing for a moment she looked around; there were paintings on the walls, sculptures on the pedestals scattered around the open area but no sign of her mother. Another thing she noticed was there were no bodies on the floor which had to be good, right? Moving to the rear of the gallery where she knew her mother had an office, Buffy paused as she listened at the door.
“Mom?” Buffy tapped quietly on the door, “Mom, its me, Buffy...its okay I've come to take you home...”
Again there was no reply. Turning the door handle, Buffy tried to open the door, it opened a couple of inches and then stuck. Putting her shoulder to the door, she pushed real hard and managed to push the door open enough so she could slip through into the office. It was only then that she found out what had been holding the door closed. Her mother had been lying slumped against the door. There was a bloody hole in her chest which married up with the hole in the window opposite. Dropping her sword and falling to her knees, Buffy reached for her mother as the tears filled her eyes.
“Mom!” she gasped as she held her mother's corpse to her chest, “Mommy!” she sobbed as she rocked her mother's dead body back and forth.
Her mother was dead, killed by the demon-soldiers; she'd probably hidden in the office when she'd realised what was happening outside. An invader must have been on the roof of the building opposite, seen her and just shot her down without knowing he was killing the slayer's mother. This had been the invader's second big mistake of the day; their first had been attacking Sunnydale, their second had been they'd killed Joyce Summers without killing her oldest daughter first. For that mistake they would all pay. As Buffy sat on the floor looking at her dead mother a smouldering hatred for the invaders slowly filled her heart. Promising herself that she would only stop killing them when there were either no more of them left to kill, or, she was dead herself. Moving her mother away from the door, Buffy laid her out as best she could, crossing her arms over her chest and closing her eyes. Taking her mother's rain coat from the back of the door she placed it over her body before picking up her sword again.
“Bye Mom,” Buffy dashed the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand, “I might not have shown it much at times, but I always loved you more than you'll ever know...”
Turning away from the body, Buffy opened the door and found herself face to face with a demon!
Blood dripped from Buffy's sword blade as she stood over the demon's corpse. Having killed the creature quickly and efficiently she was now worried that it might have come to the mall with some of its buddies. Stepping over the dead body she looked cautiously over the edge of the floor and down into the main part of the gallery, breathing a sigh of disappointment that there were no more demons to slay, she relaxed a little and went back to where she’d left the body. Crouching down she studied the creature for a moment or two; it looked just like the soldiers she'd seen earlier in the day, roughly five-eight, man shaped with skin that had a pale green caste to it, its hair was short and sort of shiny black under its helmet. It had sharp features, pointy ears and normal looking teeth although the canines looked a little longer than would be normal on a human but nowhere near as long as a vampire's. It didn't look particularly muscular and as she'd not given it a chance to fight back, she didn't know how strong it actually was.
Shifting her attention to the demon's weapons and equipment, Buffy picked up its rifle and examined it closely. It looked ordinary just like ones she'd seen on the TV news, it had a pistol grip and trigger much like any other weapon and one of those long curved magazines. Turning the weapon over in her hands, Buffy noticed a handle like protrusion on the right hand side plus what might have been a lever or cover for the gap in the side of the weapon behind the handle. There was some lettering that might have been Chinese or Japanese on the left hand side of the weapon's body along with some ordinary looking numbers. Putting the weapon aside Buffy checked out the demon's uniform. Again this was nothing special, in the reduced light of the mall it looked like a dark, grass green with splodges of light brown and tan all over it. Feeling the material Buffy found that it was just like any camouflaged jacket you could buy from a surplus store. Over its uniform the demon wore a canvas harness with ammunition pouches, a water bottle and a couple of utility pouches with what looked like tinned rations in them.
Had Buffy killed the demon-soldier a week or so later than she had, she'd have stripped the creature of his weapons and equipment. But she didn't, perhaps she was too confused and upset about finding her mother dead to think straight. Later, when her mind wasn't in such turmoil she'd kick herself for what she hadn't done, but just now she wasn't thinking straight and left all the demon-soldier's equipment lying unused on the floor. Picking up her sword she headed on out into the gallery proper. For a moment she paused as she tried to remember if she'd ever seen a gun store in Sunnydale; she couldn't think of one. Apart from the sporting goods store on Broadway which sold shotguns, Buffy couldn't immediately think of anywhere she could acquire a firearm. Once again the idea that she could use the demon's weapons completely escaped her. Okay, it was time to leave, she told herself as she headed on out of the gallery; she'd check in with Angel and then head for home. Perhaps by morning the TV and radio would be back on and she could make some plans. Stepping out onto the lower concourse, Buffy was momentarily blinded when someone shone a flashlight into her eyes.
“Hey!” Buffy cried as she held her arm up to shield her eyes from the light.
The two voices sounded familiar to her.
“Put it out,” one voice said in a loud whisper.
“What?” replied the deeper voice.
“The flashlight,” said the lighter voice, “put it out or they'll spot us.”
“Yeah right, sorry,” said the deeper voice and the flashlight went out.
Not being blinded by the flashlight's beam, Buffy was now able to see who'd confronted her.
“Larry? Larry Blaisdell,” Buffy took a step towards the big football player, “and Jonathan Levinson? I'd never have suspected to see you guys together, what-cha-doin'?”
“Fighting back,” Larry replied belligerently, “what about you?”
“Oh I'm doing my bit for truth, justice and the American way,” Buffy replied as she walked over to join the two guys.
“Yeah right,” Larry laughed not believing Buffy for a moment.
“Hey I just killed one of those demon-soldier-things,” Buffy held up her bloody sword which made Larry and Jonathan step back a pace, “how many have you killed?”
“Demons?” Jonathan said sounding slightly puzzled, “I thought they were Chinese.”
“Five, maybe six,” Larry held up his long barrelled shotgun for Buffy to see.
“Six,” Jonathan said with unusual (at least for him) firmness, “I totally got that one...”
“It doesn't count if I don't see the body,” Larry pointed out.
“Look, can I help it if he dropped behind that car?” Jonathan demanded.
“Hey guys!” Buffy stepped between the two teenagers, “Lets not argue...so, you've killed more of these Chinese-demon-things than me, looks like I'll be playing catch up...”
“Yeah right...” Larry scoffed only to have his shotgun snatched from his hands and the tip of Buffy's sword pressed against his throat.
“You were about to doubt my demon killing abilities?”
“No!” Larry tried to back up but Buffy followed him keeping her sword pressed against his throat.
“Buffy,” Jonathan called; turning Buffy saw Jonathan not exactly pointing his rifle at her, but he wasn't exactly pointing it away from her either, “he's an asshole but he's our asshole and he knows stuff.”
“He does?” Buffy lowered her blade a little, “Like what?”
“He knows more about guns than I do,” Jonathan admitted with a shrug.
“Damn straight,” Larry had found his voice again once Buffy had removed her sword from his throat.
“Is that where you got the rifle?” Buffy asked as she gestured to the weapon Jonathan was carrying; it was the type that had a telescopic sight.
“Nah,” Jonathan shook his head, “this was my dad's...”
“Was?” Buffy asked quietly.
“Yeah his house was deserted when he got home,” Larry answered for Jonathan; Larry unexpectedly put a supportive hand on Jonathan's shoulder, “Hey man, just course your folks weren't at home doesn't mean they're dead.”
“An unexpectedly gentler side to Larry Blaisdell,” Buffy muttered to herself, “may be this is the end of the world,” aloud she said, “Here Larry,” she tossed his shotgun back to him, “you better have this back...so what happened to your parents?”
“Don't know,” Larry shrugged, “I've only got my dad, he's a truck driver and he was outta town anyway, what about you?”
“My mom's back there,” Buffy replied sadly as she gestured back to the gallery.
“Hey, why doesn't she...” Larry's voice petered out for a moment as he realised why Buffy's mom wasn't with her, “...oh...sorry man.”
“Whatever,” Buffy sighed, “my dad's in LA so I might not be an orphan just yet.” Buffy took a deep breath, “So where are you guys heading?”
“Hadn't thought that far ahead,” Larry admitted.
“Like to come round to my place?” Buffy suggested.
“You coming on to me Summers?” Larry leered.
“Believe me when I say 'no',” Buffy waved her sword in Larry's general direction again.
“Hey I'm kidding,” Larry pointed out, “lighten up will ya?”
“Look my sister's at home with Xander...”
“Harris!?” Larry laughed dismissively.
“Yeah,” Buffy frowned up at the football jock, “you wanna make something of it?”
“No,” Larry replied quickly as Buffy blade passed too close to his face for comfort.
“Look I'm trying to get all my family and friends together in one place, make plans, totally hit back at these things...people, whatever,” Buffy explained.
“I'm all for that,” Larry eyed Buffy and wondered how she'd 'hit back'; then he remembered how fast she'd moved with that sword, “Okay,” he turned to look at Jonathan, “how does that sound to you man?”
“What?” Jonathan had been standing a little to one side looking out of the smashed doors to the street.
“How about joining up with Buffy, her sister and Harris?”
“Yeah,” Jonathan turned and walked over to where Buffy and Larry were standing, “why not, I've nothing better to do...”
“Cool,” Buffy smiled, “one thing though...”
“What?” Larry asked warily.
“I'm in charge...”
“Oh come on Summers I sho...AAAAGH!”
“You have a counter argument?” Buffy asked; she stepped away from Larry as he rolled about in pain on the floor.
“NO!” Jonathan replied wide eyed; he knew there was something special about Buffy Summers, he'd certainly never seen anyone move quite so fast before. “You're in charge...” Jonathan said quickly, “...isn't she, Larry?”
“Yeah,” Larry gasped as he pushed himself back to his feet.
“Say it,” Buffy stared belligerently up into Larry's face.
“What?” Larry slowly straightened himself up until he was once again towering over the diminutive blonde girl.
“Say, I'm in charge and you'll do as I tell you.”
“Okay, okay,” Larry might be a jock but he wasn't so stupid that he didn't know when he'd met his match, “You're in charge and I promise to do what you say...happy now?”
“I promise too,” Jonathan added quickly.
“Cool,” Buffy smiled for the first time since the demons had arrived, “Okay my first order is for you to follow me, I've got someone I need to check on. After that we'll go home and I'll find you something to eat and somewhere to sleep.”
Sitting at the breakfast bar in Cordelia's mom's cook's kitchen, Willow and Cordy ate half melted chocolate chip icecream. The electricity had gone off during the night so the icecream would have gone to waste and sticking to a calorie controlled diet didn't seem that important just now. For the most part they ate in silence, each young woman trying to come to terms with the events of the last twenty-four hours in their own way.
“My parents aren't coming back are they?” Cordy was the first to break the silence.
“I...” Willow was just about to tell her new found friend that of course her parents weren't dead and would come home soon, but she found she couldn't lie, “...probably not.”
“I think I knew from the first time we saw one of those soldier things,” Cordy said quietly, “You know,” she gave Willow a sad look, “my parents didn't deserve me...”
“What!?” Willow almost dropped her spoon, she'd always know that Cordelia was self centred but this was, well, it was going just a little too far.
“I mean,” Cordy spoke before Willow had a chance to say anything, “they totally put up with a lot of crap from me...I so could’ve been a better daughter.”
“Daughter?” Willow repeated having had all the self-righteous wind taken from her sails.
“Yeah,” Cordy sighed sadly, “now they're gone, more than likely and I never told them how much I really loved them...well at least not since I was about eleven.”
“I'm so sorry, Cordy,” Willow reached across the table to hold one of Cordy's hands.
“Yeah, whatever,” Cordy brightened a little and looked up at Willow, “is what we have, just sex or do you wanna go for the relationship thing, coz I'd like to try for the relationship.”
“Yeah...I...” Willow was a little confused about the sudden change of topic, “...sure, why not? I'm all for relationships, but the sex is nice too...”
“Don't worry we can do both,” Cordy beamed, but her smile didn't quite make it all the way to her eyes, there was still a deep sadness there, “So, in the spirit of making joint relationship type decisions, what do we do next?”
“Like we can't stay here,” Willow glanced towards the living room where the bodies of the two looters still lay, “I mean they'll start to stink soon.”
“Totally,” Cordy agreed, “so what do we do and where do we go?”
“We could go to Buffy's house,” Willow suggested.
“Buffy...?” Cordy thought about the idea, “...I suppose so, I mean if anyone could survive she's weird enough...”
“Cordy!” Willow snapped warningly.
“Hey it was like a compliment,” Cordy explained, “I mean Buffy knows how to deal with this sort of stuff...like Harmony, Tiffany, Ashley or any of my other hangers-on would know what to do.”
“Okay I'll believe you,” Willow replied with just a hint of disbelief.
“Okay so we go over to Buffy's mom's place, but we won't go empty handed, okay?”
“Okay,” Willow agreed.
“How do you know all this stuff?” Willow asked as she watched Cordy's hands move over the pistol before she tried it herself.
“You know I said my dad wanted my mom and me to learn how to shoot?” Cordelia explained, “Like one of the instructors so totally wanted to get into my pants and he thought he could get there by showing be all his 'weapons'.”
“Did he?” Willow asked.
“Oh yeah,” Cordy grinned at the memory, “but by then I'd learnt so much that I threatened to shoot his balls off if he ever tried to touch me.”
Willow laughed so hard she nearly shot a hole in the kitchen ceiling. After ten or twenty minutes of instruction, Willow was fairly confident that if the need arose she could shoot at one of the demons and maybe even hit him. On the other hand Cordelia looked and sounded positively eager to go out and shoot demons. Going back up to Cordelia's room the two girls changed into jeans, sneakers and shirts, they also stuffed some spare clothes into a back pack. All Cordy's stuff was a little too big for Willow, but she told herself she wasn't going to a fashion show so she could make do. Filling a couple of bottles with water and putting them and some food in another backpack the girls left the house and started their journey towards Buffy's home.
Once out on the street they noticed a complete absence of demon-soldiers and started to think that maybe they were over-reacting until they remembered all the death and destruction from yesterday. They saw a few people come out of their houses to stare at them before rushing off on their own business. No one approached them to ask what two teenage girls were doing on the streets when there were monsters about. They didn't see any sign of demon activity until they turned onto the main road that would lead them to Revello Drive. Here they saw crashed and burnt out cars and trucks. Bodies with bullet holes in them lay on the road and sidewalk. About half the houses on either side of the street showed signs of damage.
“Its like they turn up, shoot the place up and leave,” Cordy pointed out as they walked between the bodies and wreckage.
“I just wish they'd leave, like forever,” Willow replied in a small frightened voice.
“I don't think they'll go unless we make them,” Cordy said with quiet determination, “They're going to pay for screwing with my life...”
“Good old Cordy,” Willow muttered to herself.
“What was that?”
“N-Nothing,” Willow lied before she changed the subject, “Hey look,” she pointed, “that's Buffy's street, lets go!”
Running across the wreckage strewn road, Willow and Cordy found themselves at the wrong end of Revello Drive from Buffy's house.
“It almost looks normal,” Willow observed as the two teenagers stood at the end of the road.
Indeed it did look normal if you ignored the fact that no one was outside and moving about. Starting to walk towards Buffy's house Cordy and Willow could almost feel the eyes looking at them from the windows of the houses.
“Y'know,” Willow said quietly, afraid to shatter the quiet surrounding, “in any other town in America there'd probably be people asking if we're okay or if we had any news.”
“Yeah,” Cordy nodded, “and forming their own militia to fight the invaders.”
“How do you know words like 'militia'?” Willow wanted to know.
“Like I say, I have layers,” Cordy explained.
“But this is Sunnydale,” Willow said, “the town of turning the blind eye.”
“Yeah,” Cordy stopped and looked around, she pointed, “isn't that Buffy's house?”
“Sure,” Willow nodded as she turned to walk across the lawn to the front door.
“Small isn't it?” Cordy asked as she followed Willow.
“Cordy,” Willow warned, “be nice.”
“Oh, you want nice,” Cordelia smirked, “I can do nice...”
Morning, Buffy's House.
Sitting by herself in the living room while everyone else was in the kitchen, noisily discussing what had happened; Buffy tried to get the events of the last few days straight. Was it really only Thursday, she asked herself. On Tuesday she'd fought off vampires at the parent-teacher evening. The next day Giles had warned everyone about demons coming from the sky. A couple of hours later the demon's had arrived, at least a month early and now...
Her mother was dead; Dawn had cried so much Buffy had thought she'd never stop. Now she was in with the others, she was quiet but at least she wasn't crying; Giles was missing, probably dead. The building where Angel had his home was a burnt out ruin, so he was likely as not dead or missing. Wiping away the tear that ran down her cheek, Buffy admitted she'd done her own fair share of crying in the last twenty-four hours. Nearly all the adults she'd loved and relied on were now gone, probably dead. On the plus side Willow and Cordelia had turned up about an hour ago, it was nice to have her best friend back, even seeing Cordelia wasn't that bad.
“Okay,” Buffy stood up and turned to face the mirror over the fire place, she saw a scared teenage girl with a tear streaked face staring back at her, “I can do this,” she wiped at her eyes with a screwed up tissue, “I'm Buffy the Vampire Slayer...I'm not going to let a bunch of Chinese-demon-soldiers mess with me...” Buffy sighed heavily, “...who the hell am I kidding?”
Standing up straighter and looking herself in the eye, Buffy told herself she needed to tough it out, she was the leader, right? There were people that needed her, they were relying on her to get them through this, plus there was the little thing about kicking Chinese-soldier-demon butt. Having given herself a good mental talking to, Buffy turned and marched back into the kitchen.
“Okay guys,” she said with all the firmness she could muster, “we've gotta get ourselves organised, but first I want a show of hands, who wants me to be leader?”
Dawn beat Willow's raised hand by a fraction of a second, Xander's hand was the next to go up followed by Larry and Jonathan's. Only Cordelia hadn't raised her hand. Buffy looked at the cheerleader and saw Willow nudging her. For just a moment Buffy frowned, ever since Willow and Cordy had turned up Buffy had noticed that they appeared to have become very 'close'; like they sat next to each other and shared little looks. Oh, well, Buffy shrugged, maybe they'd gone through some stuff. Reluctantly, Cordy eventually raised her hand.
“Okay, I'm in charge,” Buffy watched as everyone lowered their hands, “but I'll listen to any suggestions...it doesn't mean I'll take them but I'll listen. So, in the spirit of listening, what do we do now?” Buffy watched everyone's faces for a moment, “I know Larry and Jonathan want to fight back, I know I do too, so...”
“I want to fight the monsters,” Dawn interrupted.
“And me!” Cordelia added with unexpected eagerness.
“Its what we do,” Xander grinned.
“Why bother asking?” Willow chipped in.
“Okay that's settled, we fight...so what have we got to fight with?” Buffy looked at the weapons lying on the breakfast bar, “We've got two pistols, a shotgun, a rifle a couple of cross bows and some swords and axes. I'm here to tell you, you don't want to fight machine-guns with swords, I'm also guessing we've not got many bullets for the guns we've got.”
“What about killing demons and using their guns?” Xander asked.
“Yeah,” Buffy looked away guiltily, “I killed one of these demon soldiers but totally forgot to take his stuff...I won't be doing that again.”
“What's that?” Cordy said into the silence that followed Buffy's statement.
“What's what?” Xander sneered back.
“That!” Cordelia sneered right back at him but harder.
“Quiet!” Buffy held up her hand for silence as she cocked her head to listen, she'd heard that sound before, “That sounds like a demon tank!”
“A demon what!?” Xander demanded.
“Grab some weapons!” Buffy cried as she picked up a crossbow and headed towards the front of the house.
Even before she got to a window, Buffy could hear the sound of demon guns followed by the screams of people. Kneeling on the floor by the living room window, she carefully pulled the drapes to one side and looked out into the street. The first thing she saw was a couple of demon vehicles, they were like the tank-thing she'd seen the previous night. There were maybe a dozen or more demon-soldiers going up to houses, shooting open the doors and going inside. The screams came from the mouths of people as they were dragged from their homes and made to stand by the tanks. Anyone who fought back or tried to run away was shot without warning or mercy.
“What's going on, Buffy?” Dawn asked from beside her.
“I...I don't know...I think we should go...like now!” Buffy stood up and started to push her little sister towards the rear of the house.
“Buffy!” Xander called out to her from the dinning room, “There's one coming up the path!”
“Stay away from the...” the front door exploded into a cloud of splinters as a hail of bullets ripped it apart, “...door!”
Lifting her crossbow, Buffy aimed at the ragged remains of the door. A couple of seconds after the door burst open
a demon soldier appeared. For a moment it stood framed in the doorway and Buffy realised she was looking at a normal human, a very oriental looking human, but a human just the same. Up until now she'd only seen either the enemy at night or during the panic at school. Aiming her crossbow, Buffy shot her bolt just before Larry's shotgun boomed, Jonathan's rifle cracked and Willow and Cordy fired their pistols at the unfortunate soldier. Buffy's bolt hit him high up in his chest. Larry's buck shot tore open his stomach, while the bullets from Jonathan, Willow and Cordy's guns hit home sending bright, red, blood splattering in all directions. Not to be left out Dawn tossed a vase at the soldier which hit him on the side of its helmeted head as he slumped to the floor, very dead.
“Everybody out!” Buffy ordered as she grabbed hold of Dawn's wrist and dragged her towards the rear of the house.
“BOOM!” Larry's shotgun was incredibly loud in the confines of the house.
Turning to look over her shoulder, Buffy saw another human soldier stagger and fall as he crossed the threshold.
“LARRY!” Buffy yelled, “MOVE!”
Larry hesitated for a second, torn between wanting to stay to shoot more of the enemy and going with the others. His mind was made up for him when a burst of machine-gun fire smashed into the front of the building. In an instant the house was full of the sound of breaking glass and the crack of bullets as they flew through the air before impacting the walls and furniture. Holes were punched in walls while furniture burst into clouds of splinters and stuffing.
“OUT THE BACK!” Buffy yelled over the sound of all the destruction, the front rooms of the house where almost completely wrecked now, “MOVE PEOPLE!”
Pushing her way towards the kitchen, Buffy turned to see yet another soldier, this time one of the pale green demon ones, came in through the smashed up front door, he didn't appear to be worried about all the destruction around him he just aimed its rifle towards where Buffy was standing. Throwing her useless crossbow at the demon as if it was a short, un-aerodynamic spear, Buffy was gratified to see the bow hit the demon in the face making him stagger back. Shaking his head it reacquired Buffy and raised his weapon to fire; Xander grabbed Buffy's arm and pulled her to safety as the demon-soldier's bullets ripped into the wall where Buffy's head had been a moment or two earlier.
“Come on Buff,” Xander dragged her towards the back door, “lets get outta here!”
Stumbling down the steps into the back yard, Buffy saw all her friends looking at her as they caught their breath. For a moment she didn't know what to say or do, she wasn't used to telling people what to do, in a fight she was usually by herself and just did stuff instinctively and... Buffy's mental panic was interrupted when Cordelia fired her pistol twice in rapid succession. Turning to see what she'd been shooting at, Buffy saw a human soldier with two bright red blotches of blood on his uniformed chest. He staggered as he dropped his weapon and fell slowly to his knees; Cordy fired again and hit the man in the face reducing it to a bloody mess.
“My, that girl can shoot!” Buffy said to herself before turning back to her friends, “Okay, everyone over the fence,” she pointed to the far end of the yard were a five foot high wooden fence separated the yard from the next house's yard, “lets move it people.”
While Buffy led the way towards the fence, she noticed Larry falling back to cover the house. Jonathan used the butt of his rifle to smash in a part of the fence, poking his rifle's barrel through hole he'd made he looked into the next yard and proclaimed it free of the enemy. Helping boost everyone over the fence, Buffy checked on where Larry was, he was still pointing his shotgun towards the now burning house waiting for more demons or men to appear.
“COME ON, LARRY, MOVE IT!” Buffy yelled; when Larry didn't move, she rushed over to him and pulled his shotgun down so it was pointing at the dirt, “Move it Larry,” Buffy said quietly, “don't be a hero, we need you.”
By the time Buffy and Larry had joined the others over the fence, 1630 Revello Drive was a roaring inferno. But on the plus side there didn't appear to be any demon or human soldiers this side of the fence.
“Okay people lets get out of here!” Buffy said with quiet determination.
“Hold on!” Larry called.
Looking back at the big football player Buffy saw him loading cartridges into his shotgun.
“Come on,” Buffy urged, “we haven't got time for that...”
“Never move with an unloaded weapon,” Cordy pointed out as she loaded fresh bullets into her own pistol.
“She's right,” Larry sounded a little surprised at Cordelia's words.
Buffy opened her mouth to tell everyone to get moving but shut it before she actually said anything.
“Sorry,” Buffy admitted, “you're right, just...hurry it up will you?”
“Done,” Cordy called as she snapped the cylinder of her revolver closed.
“And me,” Larry grinned ready for more action.
“Larry you go first,” Buffy ordered, “Jonathan bring up the rear, Cordy, Willow you protect every one else, I'll scout the way ahead.”
“But you've not got a weapon,” Dawn pointed out.
“I am a weapon!” Buffy grinned in what she hoped was a reassuring way, “Okay guys, follow me!”
Buffy headed off at a slow trot towards the house who's yard they were in. Kicking open the back door, Buffy found herself in a deserted kitchen. Seeing a heavy bladed kitchen knife lying on a working surface she snatched it up before heading for the front of the house.
“Keep up guys,” she called, “don't get separated.”
Running through the house, Buffy saw no sigh of the owners; perhaps they'd been killed the previous day when the invaders had first arrived. Opening the front door Buffy looked up and down the street. There was no sign of the enemy or their vehicles, so she led the way out of the door and across the front yard. Checking behind her, she saw that everyone was keeping up. After looking both ways, Buffy started to cross the road. The party was only half way across the road when another demon vehicle turned into the far end of the street. More demon and human soldiers jumped from the rear of the little tank-like vehicle before starting to head for the houses no doubt to clear the people from them. Just as Buffy thought they'd not been spotted, a demon skidded to a halt, raised his weapon and fired. The first burst of fire ripped up the surface of the road at Buffy's feet.
“RUN!” Buffy yelled as she wished she had the gun she'd left in her mother's gallery.
The sharp crack in her right ear, not only made her temporarily deaf it also made her jump a little. Turning to see what was going on she watched Jonathan working the bolt of his rifle, turning to look back at the demon, she saw him lying on the road the centre of a large red puddle.
“Good shooting!” Buffy congratulated.
“First person shooters,” Jonathan explained with a shrug as he trotted after Buffy.
“Computer games,” Jonathan admitted explaining his marksmanship skills.
“Let's be gone before his buddies,” Buffy gestured to the dead demon, “notice we're here.”
Buffy and Jonathan headed for the house across the street where the rest of the group had taken shelter. They were almost at the house when a couple of invader soldiers started to shoot in their general direction.
“Buffy!” Xander called as Buffy slid in to stand next to him, “we can't keep running we've got to break contact with these guys.”
“Break contact?” Buffy wondered why everyone was being way more knowledgeable than her
“We've got to get away so we can stop running and plan, its what Sergeant Rock would do,” Xander pointed out.
“He's right,” Willow added, “we can't go on like this.”
“Why is it that everyone's suddenly a military genius?” Buffy wanted to know.
“You're just lucky, I suppose,” Cordy smiled in that annoyingly superior way she had.
“Okay,” Buffy took a deep breath as she looked around the corner of the house to see the two soldiers who'd shot at them start to work their way along the street; behind them the other demon and human soldiers were dragging people from their houses and herding them into the middle of the road. “We'll try to 'break contact',” Buffy looked pointedly at Xander, “By going through this house and as many others as we need to until we lose these bozos!”
It took nearly half an hour of running, climbing over fences and hiding for Buffy and her party to get away from the invaders. Resting in another deserted house, the street where it was situated looked as if it had already been cleared of people by the enemy. Now they sat on the floor in the kitchen as Dawn, Willow and Cordelia emptied the cupboards of food.
“We need stuff,” Buffy gestured at the cans and packets were piled up on the kitchen table.
“And new clothes,” Cordelia pointed out as she drew attention to her dirty jeans and shirt.
“Trust Cordy to worry about what she's got to wear,” Xander smirked.
“Some of us have standards,” Cordy pointed out.
“Yes Xander,” Willow agreed, “some of us have standards...”
“Thank-you Willow,” Cordy smiled exposing bright white teeth.
“Weird,” Buffy muttered, “but Cordelia's right...although I hate to admit it, we need clothes, food, weapons, loads of stuff and somewhere safe to hide away from these guys...”
“I know a place,” Larry volunteered.
“Go on,” Buffy said hopefully.
“Up in the hills, in the National Park,” Larry explained, “My dad has a hunting cabin, its not much but its warm and dry and we've got some guns and ammo stashed away up there.”
“Can you take us there?” Buffy asked urgently.
“Yeah,” Larry nodded his head, “but we'll need a pick-up truck or something, an' like you said, we need stuff.”
“Okay,” a plan started to form in Buffy's mind, “we'll rest up here until its dark. Then we'll go into town, hit the stores, then head for the hills before first light.”
“Oh coool!” Cordy smiled, “Shopping trip.”
“Okay guys, time to get up,” Buffy called softly as she moved from room to room, it was nearly midnight and it was time for them to move on.
The little group of teenagers had spent the day in the house where they'd taken refuge. They'd passed the time watching out the windows for any sign of the invaders. At around midday they'd spotted another helicopter from one of the windows in an upstairs room. The chopper had hovered over central Sunnydale for a few minutes until it was shot down like the one the previous day. Larry, who'd been watching the helicopter using a telescope from a room which had belonged to a child said the aircraft had looked like another news chopper. The next time they'd heard helicopters everyone had once again rushed upstairs to see half-a-dozen helicopter gunships sweep in from the west.
The gunships had fired rockets and missiles in the direction of Sunnydale High, it was only after two helicopters had been brought down by what looked like small missiles that the survivors turned north and left the area. The next piece of excitement was around the middle of the afternoon when there were several very loud explosions which rattled the windows and shook the house. Once again everyone had rushed upstairs to try and see what was going on. Although they could see several tall columns of smoke, again rising from the direction of Sunnydale High, this time no one saw any attacking helicopters or other aircraft. Xander suggested that it might have been a proper airstrike and the aircraft had been moving too fast or too high for them to see.
In between watching all this air activity, Buffy'd had everyone search the house for anything useful; there was enough food to keep them going for a couple of days and Cordy found herself some clean and more practical clothing as did Willow. Larry found another thirty-eight calibre revolver and a couple of boxes of ammunition; the extra bullets more than doubled the amount of thirty-eight calibre ammo they had. The pistol was given to Xander, over the complaints and demands of Dawn, Cordy taught him the basics of how to load and fire the weapon, they daren't actually fire it however for fear of attracting the attention of the invaders.
Of the evil-Chinese-demon-invaders they saw very little, there was a moment of excitement when one of the invader's armoured vehicles sped along the street outside, but it didn't stop or shoot at anything. There was a lot of smoke in the air, probably from the houses the invaders had set on fire or from whatever the helicopters and aircraft had been shooting at. Of human activity in the neighbourhood they saw none, Buffy's earlier assertion that the enemy had already cleared the area of people appeared to be the right one. But where had they taken all the people, what were they doing with them and who the hell were the invaders anyway? Speculating on these questions took up most of the afternoon, it was only when Buffy suggested that everyone have something to eat and then try and get some rest that the speculation ended. At least the vocal speculation stopped, Buffy for one still thought about what the invaders were doing. Unfortunately having a vivid imagination that tended to go to the 'bad' explanation, Buffy found she couldn't sleep.
“Can anyone else hear that?” Dawn asked interrupting her sister.
“Probably thunder, sweetie,” Willow observed.
“Artillery,” Xander and Larry said in unison.
“It started about half an hour ago,” Xander pointed out.
“Yeah,” Larry agreed, “if you go upstairs and look to the west you can see the flashes on the horizon.”
“And just how do you two know this?” Buffy asked, a half smile on her lips.
“Hey, we're guys right?” Xander glanced at Larry who simply shrugged in reply, “Guys just know about this sorta stuff.”
“Especially if they spend most of the summer vacation indoors watching war documentaries on the History Channel,” Willow pointed out.
“Hey this is great!” Cordy cried out her face split in a huge grin, “If the army's on the way we should maybe just sit here and wait to be rescued...right!?”
“Sorry to rain on your parade, Cordy,” Larry replied slowly, “but it sounded like the guns were getting further away...”
“You mean we're losing?” Cordy sounded betrayed, “But we can't lose...we're the USA we don't lose things like wars...do we?”
“I don't know,” Buffy watched as Willow gave Cordy a comforting hug; they really were acting weird she told herself, “but I for one aren't going to take any chances, I say we go with our original plan, everyone with me?”
There were nods and confirmations of agreement from around the table.
“Okay,” Buffy took a deep breath, “lets close the window blinds and light a few candles so we can see what we're doing here.”
Waiting while the blinds were closed and candles were found and lit, Buffy thought over the plan they'd developed over the afternoon. It was a pretty simple plan; they'd get all the stuff they needed and then head for Larry's dad's cabin. Once they were there they could work out what to do for the long term.
“Right,” Buffy stood as she looked at the map, “we're going to head for the Mall on the corner of Broadway and Front Street...”
“Why there?” Cordy asked, “The stores there aren't...”
“Cordy,” Buffy looked at the girl and sighed tiredly, “this isn't a shopping trip to get you a new winter outfit, the Front Street Mall has everything we need in one place so we're going there, no arguments, okay?”
“Okay,” Cordy agree with an ill grace as she once again got Willow's elbow in her ribs.
“Now that's settled,” Buffy looked around at the group, “once we're there I want Willow, Xander and Cordy to go to the market and pick up some food, Willow,” Buffy looked at her old friend, “its probably best to go for tinned stuff and bags of rice and pasta, okay?”
“Got it,” Willow nodded as she produced a notebook and started to make a list.
“Dawnie, you go with Jonathan to the drug store,” Buffy continued, “get plenty of soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, first aid things, aspirins all that kind of stuff...”
“And plenty of toilet tissue!” Cordy cried out only to find herself the centre of attention, “What?” she demanded after a moment, “Look do you wanna use leaves?”
“Cordy has a point,” Buffy found herself agreeing with the cheerleader, “and add tampons to the list...”
“Gross,” Dawn muttered as the three guys around the table looked away in embarrassment.
“Hey like Cordy said,” Buffy replied firmly, “you want to use leaves?”
“No way,” Dawn agreed.
“Okay now that's settled,” Buffy took a deep breath, “while you guys are doing that Larry and me will be breaking into Jefferson's Wilderness store for more guns and ammo and any camping gear and outdoor clothing we can find...any questions?”
“Yeah,” Xander looked up and smiled, “I hope we're not going to have to carry this stuff all the way up to the hills on our backs.”
“Good point,” Buffy agree as she turned to look at Larry.
“I've got a pick-up stashed in the parking lot under the Mall,” Larry confessed, “it should be big enough for everything and I've got the keys,” he held the keys up for all to see.
“But you can't drive,” Xander pointed out.
“I can't drive legally,” Larry explained, “and I don't think anyone's gonna ask to see my licence just now.”
“Whatever,” Buffy brought any discussion about Larry's legality to drive to a close before it could really begin, “lets get all our weapons together and lets get outta here,” Buffy looked at the man's watch she'd 'acquired' from one of the upstairs bedrooms, “It's twenty-five after midnight and it'll take us about twenty minutes to get to the mall, maybe an hour to load up so I wanna be heading for the hills way before dawn, so lets move it people.”
“Yes Ma'am!” Xander jumped to his feet and saluted.
“We don't all have to do that, do we?” Cordy asked with a heavy sigh.
It actually took the teenagers nearer an hour to reach the Mall than the twenty minutes they'd expected. Several times they'd had to hide from invader patrols or take detours around burning or burnt out areas. However, they did eventually get to the mall and everyone breathed a big sigh of relief to find it intact and open. It hadn't occurred to any of them that the mall might have been destroyed until they'd seen the destruction visited on Sunnydale by the invaders. The Mall had been such a feature in all their lives that none of them could imagine anything 'bad' ever happening to it.
The invader attack had come on the town so quickly that no one had been able to lock up their doors, so, Buffy and her friends were able to walk right into the mall without having to stop to break in. First they headed down to the underground parking lot. It was only then that they realised they'd not thought everything through. The parking lot was so dark even Buffy had problems seeing where she was going. After a few minutes spent stumbling about in the pitch darkness, Xander and Willow had gone back upstairs only to reappear five minutes later with flashlights for everyone. Now able to see what they were doing, Larry led them to his pick-up. It was an older model, but Larry assured everyone that it was well maintained and it looked more than big enough to carry everyone and everything they'd need. Once everyone knew where the pick-up was they all split up into the individual groups and went about their assigned tasks.
“Hey Buffy,” Larry called from inside the store, “wanna give me a hand back here?”
“Sure,” Buffy replied softly as she went to join Larry by a rack of rifles and shotguns, “what's up?”
“Its locked,” Larry gestured to the gun rack, “we need to find the keys.”
“No problemo,” Buffy reached out and took hold of the padlock that secured the gun rack; twisting the lock to the right, there was the sound of screws snapping as they were pulled from the metal frame and the lock came away in her hand, “See? No need for keys.”
“How'd you do that?” Larry asked in alarm as he stepped away from Buffy and picked up his shotgun from the counter where he'd left it.
“I'm stronger than I look,” Buffy had considered lying but had decided, what the hell? What was the point, Larry, Jonathan and Cordy were bound to find out her 'dirty' little secret, “I'm way stronger than I look,” Buffy turned to Larry and gave him a bright innocent smile, it was time to change the subject. “Hey,” she frowned a little, “I don't mean to sound personal or anything but your gun isn't quite as long as it used to be...”
“W-what?” Larry stammered.
“Your gun,” Buffy gestured to the shotgun cradled in Larry's arms, “not to put too fine a point on it...well, its like shrunk.”
“What?” Larry tore his eyes away from Buffy and looked at his shotgun, “Yeah I shortened the barrel, makes it handier and easier to hit stuff, down side is it shortens the range.”
“Cool,” Buffy started to take weapons from the rack and place them on the counter behind her, “I'm glad one of us knows what they're doing, hey help me here, what do we need to take?”
“Just take the twelve gauge stuff and a couple of good rifles and everyone will need a pistol too...”
“Huh?” Buffy gave Larry a lost look, she really was hopeless where guns were concerned.
“Look, I'll get the guns and ammo,” Larry smiled at the lost expression on Buffy's face, “you might be 'really' strong but you're a typical girl, y'know?”
“A typical girl who can break your legs, but yeah,” Buffy placed her hands on her hips, “give me a sword or an axe or a crossbow and I know what I'm doing, guns...not so much. Okay other stuff?”
“Sleeping bags, water proof clothing, walking boots?” Larry suggested as he finished emptying the gun rack.
“Got it!” Buffy smiled as she started her search of the store, “I can do this, I mean its just like shopping with a no limit credit card, right?”
Very soon there was a heap of guns and equipment piled up in the doorway of the shop as Xander, Willow and Cordy turned up. Their part of the mission had been the easiest, they'd simply loaded things into shopping carts and then pushed them down into the parking lot where they loaded up the pick-up. Taking bundles of equipment in their arms they helped Larry ferry everything down to the pick-up. This left Buffy to take one last look around the store in case they'd missed anything useful. Shining her flashlight towards the rear of the store Buffy saw the beam land on a glass fronted case containing a long rifle. Stepping towards the case, she felt herself being called by the weapon inside the case. It was long and deadly looking. It's black, well oiled metal-work shone in the light from her flashlight. The rifle's wooden furniture was a rich, dark, polished brown; Buffy knew she had to have it.
“Springfield model '03, thirty calibre rifle,” Larry's voice came from behind her, “that one's a World War Two sniper's rifle, that's the telescopic sight right on top there.”
“I've got to have it,” Buffy whispered.
“I thought you didn't know anything about guns.”
“I don't,” Buffy admitted, “but that one knows about me, I have to have it.”
“Well, go on take it,” Larry laughed softly, “not like anyone's going to stop you, but...”
“But?” Buffy turned and looked up into Larry's face.
“If there's no rounds for it it won't be much use.”
“Rounds?” Buffy frowned, “You mean bullets?”
“Got it in one.”
“Over there.” Buffy pointed at a locked drawer before going over to it and ripping it open, “Are these the right ones?”
“How did you...?” Larry began to ask but then thought better of it, “What the hell,” he sighed as he looked at the cartons of thirty calibre rifle ammunition, “yep those are the ones you need.”
Taking a small back pack from a nearby rack, Larry started to load it up with boxes of ammo while Buffy smashed the glass case and took down the rifle. The rifle looked ridiculously large in Buffy's small hands, but as she ran her fingers over the weapon her mind filled with the knowledge she'd need to use it.
“Bullets,” Buffy held out her hand to Larry.
“I don't think you...”
“Just shut up and give me some damn bullets,” Buffy replied evenly, “I know what I'm doing.”
Taking a box of rounds, Larry opened it and placed it on the counter near Buffy. Opening the rifle's bolt she loaded it with five shiny brass cases, before closing the breach with a satisfying 'click-clack' sound.
“Ready to go,” Buffy grinned at Larry before stuffing the spare rounds into the pocket of her jacket and turning to go; she'd not gone more than two steps when a dark, brooding figure appeared in the doorway of the store, “Angel!” she gasped.
Front Street Mall.
“Angel!” Buffy threw her arms around Angel's neck and almost knocked him out with her new found rifle as she did so as it slipped from her shoulder and hit on his forehead.
“OWW!” Angel replied as he rubbed his forehead where the barrel of Buffy's weapon had hit him.
“Oh, sorry!” Buffy apologised as she released Angel for a moment while she put down her rifle, once both hands were free again she threw them around the vampire's neck once more and hugged him hard enough to squeeze the life out of him had he been alive, “I thought you were dead...well deader...I went 'round to your basement and your building had been burnt down.
“I know,” Angel tried to loosen Buffy's grip on him, “I woke up with the building on fire, I had to get away through the sewers...what's going on?”
“Yeah, right no breath, huh?” Xander whispered angrily, “He sure has enough breath to talk his way into Buffy’s bed, right?”
Xander wasn't one-hundred percent sure if Buffy and Angel had had sex yet, but he was pretty sure that if they hadn't already they soon would. Placing his hand on the butt of his pistol as it rested in the newly acquired holster on his hip, Xander itched to pull the gun and fill Angel so full of holes he'd sink if he went swimming. These murderous feelings left him almost as soon as they'd arrived. First, he told himself, it was pointless shooting Angel, he was an undead creature of the night and shooting him would only annoy Buffy. No, if he wanted Angel dead or deader than he was right now he'd need to do something that would guarantee the blood sucker's complete and utter demise. He'd also have to do it well away from Buffy and have a real good story as to why he, Xander Harris, was standing with a stake in his hand over Angel's ashes.
“Who's that, Buffy's boyfriend?” Larry's voice came from behind Xander, “He's a lot older than her, right?”.
“Yeah,” Xander growled under his breath, “like you wouldn't believe how old.”
“Oh I get it,” Larry replied with unexpected understanding, “he's her boyfriend and you wish you were, right?”
“Yeah something like that,” Xander admitted.
“Hey, women,” Larry shrugged, “what can ya do, huh?”
“Yeah,” Xander agreed before adding, “what can ya do...okay, lets get the rest of this stuff down to the truck...”
“Oh no, what?” Cordy asked, for once keeping her voice down.
“You saw the look on Xander's face?” Willow asked.
“Uh-huh,” Cordelia nodded.
“Like, the only thing that makes him look like that is when Buffy's boyfriend, Angel is about.”
“Oh I get it,” Cordy explained, “Xander wants to get into Buffy's pants but this Angel guy got there first, right?”
“Something like that,” Willow eyed her girlfriend for a moment, Cordy tended to have a very blunt way of putting things.
“Get a life Harris, and stop pining over Buffy, she's not so hot,” Cordy shrugged, “y'know now I've started to 'like' girls I'm really starting to get the boob thing that boys have got...I mean Buffy's aren't that outstanding.”
“Whatever,” Willow sighed, “but its more than just that...”
“Yeah,” Willow took a deep breath, “you know I explained about Buffy being the Vampire Slayer?”
“Yeah,” Cordy sighed heavily, “one girl in all the world blah-blah-blah!”
“Yeah, like,” Willow looked at Cordy crossly for a moment, “Buffy's the Vampire Slayer right? And, like, Angel's a vampire.”
“What him?” Cordy gasped as she stole a look around the corner to where Buffy and Angel held each other, “Tall, dark and brooding's a blood sucking fiend?”
“Have you been talking to Xander?” Willow frowned.
“No way!” Cordy exclaimed in shock, “So Buffy's snuggle-bunny is an animated corpse...ewww... and its like I always say,” Cordy leaned over and kissed Willow on the cheek, “you just can't trust guys.”
“No,” Angel shook his head gravely.
“Why not?” Buffy's voice almost broke as she hugged Angel even more tightly than she had before.
“Sunlight, Buffy,” Angel explain, “at least here in Sunnydale I've got the service tunnels to hide in. Plus you'll need someone in town to tell you what these people are doing.”
“Yeah,” Buffy relaxed her grip on her boyfriend as she realised she'd got a lot to learn about being a resistance leader, “Do you know what these demon guys are, where they come from, like are they some sort of advanced demon or something?”
“I don't know,” Angel replied as he freed himself from Buffy's embrace, “the humans look Chinese or Japanese. I think they could be from PACS.”
“Pacs?” Buffy asked as she tried to come to terms with leaving Angel behind, “I don't know what...?”
“Pan Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere,” Angel explained; Buffy like most teenagers didn't really bother keeping up with current events, “look, whoever these people are it's best if I stay here and keep an eye on things. You go up into the hills and set up your camp, then when you're ready to hit back you come and find me.”
“Oh Angel!” Buffy sobbed.
“Cordy,” Willow looked over the top of the pile of jackets in her arms, “Angel's not like that he's noble and...”
“Pah!” Cordy scoffed as she picked up one small box of flare cartridges, “Men are all the same, dead or alive. They just want one thing and they'll do anything to get it...”
“You really have a downer on guys, don't you?” Willow said as she headed for the door.
“Hey, look,” Cordy put her box of flares on top of Willow's load of jackets, “it was Buffy who saved everyone from the vampires a couple of nights ago. Its Buffy who's trying to get everyone organised to fight these Martians...”
“They're probably not Martians,” Willow pointed out.
“Whatever,” Cordy waited for Willow to push open the door to the fire escape that led down to the parking lot, “what I'm saying is, its Buffy trying to do stuff not any of the guys...girls are way cooler than boys!”
“They'd be way cooler if they gave me a helping hand here,” Willow replied as the coats started to get the better of her.
“Oh crap, yeah,” Cordy gasped, “here I'll help...DAWN!”
“Couldn't you have got a bigger truck?” Cordelia asked as she squirmed about trying to get herself comfortable.
“You could always get out and walk to the mountains,” Buffy pointed out; she was feeling a little sad at having to leave Angel behind and she didn't want to put up with Cordelia's complaining. “Or you could always stay in town and see how you get on with our demon friends.”
“Hey,” Cordy complained, “there's no need to be like that.”
“Cordy's got a point,” Larry began but was soon interrupted by Cordy.
“I do!?” Cordy giggled quietly, “See? I'm always right!”
“Yeah, whatever,” Larry sighed, “but if we had a bigger truck we could carry more stuff, after all we don't know how long we're gonna be up in the hills.”
“I don't know...” Buffy glanced over her shoulder and into the cargo space where, Willow, Xander, Dawn and Jonathan sat on top of piles of food and equipment, “...no! Look, we can mess around and probably get killed trying to get everything just right. Lets move and get out of here, okay?”
“As long as you're sure,” Larry replied as he started the engine.
“Sure?” Buffy laughed bitterly, “If only...but someone's gotta make the decisions so...lets roll!”
“Rolling,” Larry smiled as he put the truck into gear and pulled out of the parking spot, “What I thought we'd do is head out on the one-nine-two, that goes around behind Sunny'D' and parallels the mountains and the one-oh-one...”
“Okay...” Buffy tried to sound as if she knew what Larry was talking about, but the fact was she didn't have a clue.
“We head outta town and take the turn off for Meiners Oaks,” Larry explained as he drove the pick up out from under the Mall, “then we head up into the hills. My dad's cabin is about ten miles further on...”
“I hope we make it before dawn,” Buffy looked up at the sky; everything had taken longer than she'd expected and the sky was starting to turn bright blue towards the east.
“We'll make it,” Larry reassured her, “with time to spare.”
So far everything had gone smoothly. Buffy and her band of resistance fighters had driven out of Sunnydale without once having to evade any demon patrols. It seemed that even evil-Chinese-demon-soldiers got sloppy in the wee small hours of the night just before dawn. A fact that Buffy filed away for later use. They'd driven along the one-nine-two through Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria without seeing any sign of either human or demonic life. Buffy suspected that any humans that might be around were hiding in their cellars while the invaders might not have got this far out of Sunnydale yet. It was as they were heading towards Meiners Oaks that Buffy was proved wrong. The first sign of trouble was the line of abandoned cars which had been pulled over to the side of the road. As Larry slowed down, Buffy was able to see into the windows of the cars as they passed, she was also able to see the bodies that lay in or near the abandoned cars and in the fields next to the road.
“Looks like trouble,” Buffy turned and banged on the window which separated her from her friends in the cargo compartment.
“What?” Xander called back.
“Watch out for trouble,” Buffy called back, “guns at the ready, okay?” the order didn't sound very 'military' but it got over what she meant.
“Okay,” Xander called back before passing on Buffy's instructions.
“Okay,” Buffy tried to get her rifle into a position from which she could fire, but it was too cramped inside the cab so she gave up and pulled the revolver she'd been given, “lets go carefully here...”
“Look!” Cordy pointed out the windshield; it was almost dawn now and even normal human eyes could see the danger ahead.
Following Cordy's pointing finger, Buffy saw the invader armoured vehicle parked across the road its cannon pointing down the road towards them. She also saw the dozen or so wrecked cars that had been hit by that same weapon as the people inside the cars had tried to run the roadblock and escape the invaders.
“What do I do?” Larry asked as he slowed the pick-up down to a crawl.
“I...!” Buffy had the decision taken away from her as the tank's gun fired.
“AAAGH!” Buffy and Cordy screamed as they both ducked instinctively before being thrown back in their seats as Larry floored the accelerator.
“GET OFF THE ROAD!” Buffy screamed in panic as another shell flew over their heads.
Heaving the wheel over to the left, Larry steered the truck towards the side of the road.
“HANG ON!” everyone in the cab yelled as the truck bounced over the roadside ditch and smashed through the wire fence that separated the road from the fields.
Looking to her right Buffy saw the turret of the enemy vehicle continue to track them as it fired once again. This time the shell didn't fly over their heads, it blew a long furrow in the field not half-a-dozen yards in front of the truck. It didn't take a military genius to work out that the tank's gunner had woken up and was starting to aim instead of just firing blindly down the road.
“FASTER!” Buffy screamed as the truck bounced over the burning furrow and across the field, “GO LEFT! GO LEFT!”
Buffy had noticed a dip in the ground which would hopefully hide them from the tank's fire. The truck actually took off as it bounced over the lip of the dip. Landing with a spine crushing 'crunch' she could hear screams of fear and pain coming from the rear of the vehicle. When she opened her eyes again, she'd not realised she'd closed them, she found the truck had stalled in a fairly deep hollow in the field, looking around she could see no sign of the enemy tank.
“EVERY BODY OUT!” Buffy cried breaking the spell that was holding everyone inside the truck.
Cordy was the first to move, opening the passenger door she threw herself out onto the field and hugged the ground. Grabbing her rifle, Buffy followed Cordy out of the door. However, unlike Cordy, Buffy didn't take cover, she started to run up the slope towards the rim of the hollow. As she ran she was dimly aware of other people jumping from the pick-up and taking cover where they could. Buffy wasn't about to take cover, she was looking for pay back.
Just before her head became visible over the rim of the hollow, Buffy threw herself to the ground and crawled the last few feet until she could see the road. From where she now lay, she had a clear view of the enemy road block. Taking the covers from the lenses of her telescopic sight, she brought the rifle to her shoulder and watched the invader soldiers through her sniper-scope. Apart from the tank, Buffy could see about eight demonic and human soldiers standing or kneeling around the vehicle; she might not be able to do much about the tank but she could certainly do something about the soldiers.
Steadying her breathing, Buffy sighted on a soldier standing to one side of the tank, he had to be a leader, she reasoned, because he was using binoculars to search the field for any sign of movement. Taking a deep breath, she centred her cross hairs on the man's head, letting out her breath slowly, she squeezed the trigger. The rifle went off with a sharp crack and slammed into her shoulder causing her to cry out in pain and shock; she'd not known what to expect when she'd fired the rifle but it hadn't been that! Pulling herself back together she looked through the sight again. The guy with the binoculars had vanished, but the other soldiers were still there only now they were taking up position to face the new threat.
Firing again and again, Buffy watched as the enemy soldiers fell to her bullets. The tank fired into the field but it was obvious that the gunner didn't know where she was because the tank's shells landed about a fifty yards off to her left. Again Buffy fired and another demon's head exploded in a spray of bright scarlet blood as he fell to the road. Realising she'd fired off the five rounds in her magazine, Buffy edged back from the lip of the hollow and started to thumb fresh rounds into her weapon. As she was slipping her last round into place she heard a loud throbbing sound coming from out of the sky. Crawling back to the lip of the hollow, she saw a helicopter gunship flying low as it headed down the line of the road towards the road block. She could see the enemy soldiers turn in surprise and look up as death bore down on them. Before the tank's weapon could be brought to bear on the gunship, the helicopter opened fire. Earth flew up into the air as rockets and bullets cut up the ground all around the tank. The few remaining solders threw up their arms as cannon shells cut them in two. Eventually a rocket hit the tank which exploded with a mind numbing roar as smoke, flames and bits of tank blossomed into the air.
“YAY FOR OUR GUYS!” Buffy cheered as her friends joined her to see what was happening.
“We better haul ass before any of those guy's friends come to see what's happened,” Larry called as he watched the tank burn and the helicopter flew off into the distance.
It was nearly nine-thirty by the time they eventually made it to Larry's cabin deep in the Los Padres National Forest. Most of the delay had been caused when Larry had to stop the truck and repair the radiator, a high velocity stone had hit it and made a hole. Of course most of the water had leaked out so the next delay was when everyone had to take turns peeing into the radiator so the engine wouldn't over heat. While the boys had no problem with this little expedient repair the girls found it much harder to position themselves and aim.
However, much later than they had originally planned they arrived at the cabin; Buffy made a mental note that in future she'd need to allow a lot more time when she and the other's were travelling. When Larry had said, 'a cabin in the woods', Buffy had sort of assumed a log cabin like you saw on TV Westerns. What she actually saw was a large clap-board, house, old but in good repair. Downstairs there was one big room that doubled as a kitchen come living room. Upstairs in the roof space there were two small and one large bedrooms. There wasn't a bathroom. Almost everyone was disgusted to hear they'd have to use the outhouse out back and if they wanted an actual bath they'd have to use the tin bath tub which was hung up on the wall by the back door. There was a porch both front and rear and in the backyard was the remains of a vegetable garden, while out front was a small barn just big enough to hide the pick-up truck.
“Okay people lets get organised,” Buffy said tiredly as she climbed down from the cab of the pick-up. “Lets get everything inside and have something to eat...can anyone cook?”
There was a long silence as no one volunteered for cooking duty. Just as Buffy was about to assign someone, Jonathan stepped forward and raised his hand.
“I can cook,” he admitted reluctantly.
“Great!” Buffy beamed, one volunteer was worth ten 'pressed' men any day, “You're now in charge of cooking and supplies...” Buffy paused before turning to her sister, “...Dawn, you help him...”
“DAWN!?” Xander cried in horror.
“Cook!?” Willow added with some feeling, both she and Xander had sampled Dawn's cookery experiments in the past, an experience they both had hoped they'd never have to endure again.
“Hey, look,” Buffy replied, “we're all going to have to make sacrifices...”
“I don't mind making sacrifices,” Xander pointed out, “but letting Dawn cook goes way beyond mere sacrifices.”
“Hey!” Dawn complained, “I'm not that bad, at least I know how to cook something more than micro-wave pop-corn!”
“She's got you there, Xan,” Willow told her childhood friend.
“Okay people, enough with the witticisms,” Buffy ordered, “we've got to get organised and eat before we can all get some rest.”
“Buffy's right,” Cordelia agreed unexpectedly, “she might be short with small boobs and bad hair, but those things don't matter now...well not much. We need to start working as a team...like in sports you know...?” Cordy stopped and took a moment to really look at the people she was talking to, “Yeah, well maybe you don't, but we're a team now get it?” Cordelia did a very short cheerleader routine which ended with an impressively high kick which would have been more appreciated by the boys (and at least one girl) had she been wearing her short cheerleader skirt, “GO RAZORBACKS!”
“Wow,” sighed Buffy impressed despite herself, “now come on guys, lets get moving.”
Within half an hour all the supplies had been moved into the house and the truck had been hidden in the barn; Larry was fairly confident that he'd be able to make permanent repairs on it over the next few days. While everyone else was moving things into the house, Jonathan and Dawn prepared a breakfast of tinned sausages, baked beans and pancakes with coffee and tinned fruit juice. Exhausted from not having very much sleep in the last twenty-four hours and all the danger and excitement they'd experienced they all slumped down into the chairs around the big table at the kitchen end of the main room while Dawn and Jonathan served up the breakfast.
“Okay,” Buffy said between mouthfuls of food, “how much food do we have? I mean its pointless us hiding out up here if we're going to starve by the end of the week...” just for a moment Buffy wished Giles was there; she was sure he'd have something clever to say about how long it took to starve to death.
“I haven't been able to unpack everything yet,” Jonathan looked up from his plate, “but as long as we don't pig out...”
“And Dawn doesn't burn everything she cooks,” Xander added quietly.
“You're mean!” Dawn complained, “An' just for that I don't love you any-more and I'm going to poison your food!”
“There'll be no poisoning,” Buffy told Dawn before turning her gaze towards Xander, “and as we've got to live together lets turn the hazing down a little, that goes for you too Cordy.”
“Hey!” Cordy cried out from her seat next to Willow, “I never said a word!”
“Whatever,” Buffy continued as if Cordy hadn't spoken, “Jonathan you were saying?”
“Like as long as we're careful,” Jonathan explained, “we have enough basic stuff for two or three weeks, but there's stuff like fruit and fresh vegetables...”
“Okay,” Buffy cut Jonathan off before he got into his stride, “make a list and we'll see what we can do, okay?”
“There's some food already in the cellar,” Larry pointed out, “it's not much but it'll keep us going for a while longer...”
“Cool,” Buffy smiled at Larry, “anything else up here I should know about?”
“Like I said there's a couple more rifles, at least one shot gun and about five hundred rounds of ammo in a floor safe over there,” Larry nodded his head in the direction of the far corner of the room. “There's a good set of tools and saws, shovels things like that in the barn. But there's no bedding or anything...”
“We can manage with the sleeping bags we brought,” Buffy suggested, “Talking of which sleeping arrangements...can you boys share the big room?”
“Sure,” Larry nodded, “that's the room my dad and I used, there's a spare mattress for whoever gets to sleep on the floor.”
“Cool,” Buffy turned to the girls next, “Dawn you share with me...” Buffy took a deep breath, “...sorry Will you'll have to share with Cordy.”
“Hey!” Cordy opened her mouth to complain.
“NO!” Willow said just a little too loudly and quickly, “I mean, no, that's fine...”
“What?” Cordy turned to look at Willow and received a meaningful look that Buffy completely failed to catch, “What...OH! I mean, yeah, sure that's fine, in fact it's totally better than fine,” Cordy wrapped an arm around Willow's shoulder, “Like I say we've all got to learn to live together and what better way to learn that than for two girls to share a room...a bed even!”
“There's bunk beds in one of the rooms and a double in the other,” Larry pointed out.
“Dibs on the double!” Cordy cried happily.
“Cordy!” Willow hissed out of the corner of her mouth.
“What...?” Cordelia frowned at her new 'roomie'.
“Back to food,” Larry said before Cordelia could put her foot any further into her mouth than it was already, “I know how to hunt so we should be able to stretch our supplies that way.”
“Larry,” Buffy smiled at the football player, “you're a life saver...” Buffy looked at Larry for a moment or two and found herself thinking that he was quite handsome in a rough sort of school-jock-way and if she wasn't already involved she might...Buffy felt her cheeks start to burn as she hurriedly pushed the thoughts she had been thinking about Larry and herself to the dark recesses at the back of her mind.
“Can you look after the guns and things like that?” Buffy asked, “Xander can help and Cordy, could you and Larry make sure that everyone knows what they're doing with the guns and we don't shoot each other or ourselves.”
“What, today?” Cordy complained.
“No,” Buffy shook her head, “over the next few days.”
“You're being, like remarkably grown-up and organised about this, Buffy,” Willow said from across the table.
“Yeah,” Buffy agree, “like this is mega serious and there's no Giles to tell us what to do, so I thought I needed to step up and be grown-up about this. Like Cordy says we're a team...go Razorbacks!”
“Yo!” everyone replied with varying amounts of enthusiasm.
“Hi,” Larry looked up from the rifle he was cleaning, “you couldn't sleep either?”
“Nah,” Buffy shook her head before going over to the table and clearing it of the breakfast remains, “so how are we off for guns?”
“Not bad,” Larry put down his rifle and picked up a shotgun, “there's a shotgun for everyone either a pump or an automatic...”
“I'm sure that'll mean something to me eventually,” Buffy admitted with a smile, “but for now keep it simple, huh?”
“I thought I was,” Larry laughed, “okay, simple, huh? Right, we've got four good rifles and everyone's got a hand gun. I've kept everything to three basic types of ammo....twelve gauge for the shotguns, twenty-two for the rifles and three-eight for the pistols.”
“Fire bad, tree pretty,” Buffy replied as she tried the tap in the kitchen sink and only got cold water.
“If you want hot water, you'll need to heat it up on the stove,” Larry pointed out.
“There,” Larry pointed to the big black wood burning stove a few feet down from the sink.
“Oh,” Buffy looked at the stove and sighed in defeat, “do you think we'll even be able to survive let alone fight back against those people?”
“Hey,” Larry smiled supportively and Buffy started to get warm fuzzy feelings towards him again; she'd hardly given him a second glance at school, he was usually such a jerk. “Give it a week and it'll be like we've always been here.”
“Even Cordelia?” Buffy raised a sceptical eyebrow.
“Well maybe not Cordy,” Larry smiled, “but Cordy's not so bad she's got 'team spirit' and we're gonna need that.”
“That and a gazillion other things we forgot to bring,” Buffy came and sat down at the table opposite Larry, “So, is there somewhere we can get supplies from around here, coz I do not want to go shopping in Sunnydale for quite some time.”
“Well,” Larry paused to think for a moment, “there's a gated community about five miles north and east of here.”
“A gated community?” Buffy asked.
“Load of rich folks set it up a few years back,” Larry explained, “about a thousand people, they've got their own security and everything, we might be able to get some stuff from them but I wouldn't bet on it. People like that are gonna lock themselves down tight with something like this going on.”
“You can show me where it is on the map,” Buffy pointed out, “I'll take Xander and have a look at the place tomorrow.”
“Harris?” Larry made a face.
“Don't knock Xander,” Buffy replied, “he has hidden depths.”
“Always seemed like a loser to me,” Larry shrugged.
“Like, I think he might surprise you,” Buffy replied firmly.
“If you say so.”
“I do...” Buffy got up and picked up her Springfield from where it rested against the wall.
“You were pretty good with that cannon today,” Larry admitted as he ran a rag over the shotgun he held, “now where does a little girl like you learn how to shoot like that?”
“Your mom never tell you all the best things come in small packages?” Buffy grinned.
“Musta missed that one out,” Larry admitted, “so how come you didn't dislocate your shoulder when you fired that thing. I mean not to be unkind but there's not a lot of you to soak up the recoil.”
“What is it with you and how big I am?”
“Hey look at me,” Larry shrugged; Buffy did, there certainly was a lot of Larry to go 'round, “to me anyone under six foot is small.”
“Okay,” Buffy sighed and rested the Springfield on the table in front of her, “you'll find out soon enough anyway...” Buffy took a deep breath, “...sorry if I start to sound like Mr Giles...” Buffy saw the blank look on Larry's face, “...the school librarian...sheesh!” She rolled her eyes, “Anyway, like I was about to say...contrary to popular myth, the world didn't start as a paradise...”
“And other things,” Buffy nodded, “but basically, yep.”
“An' you're this kinda 'super-girl' who fights all the monsters?”
“That's me,” Buffy nodded again.
“You believe me?” Buffy asked in surprise.
“Why'd you lie about something like that,” Larry said, “I mean if it wasn't true people would think you're some sorta headcase so you'd only say something like that if it really was true and it all makes a twisted sorta sense. I mean,” Larry laughed bitterly, “we all know someone who's died in some real weird way...”
“Wow,” Buffy was impressed; she'd not had much experience at explaining the facts of Sunnydale life to people, but she'd really expected more cynicism than the total acceptance that Larry was showing.
“So you're like really strong?” Larry asked eagerly, “Like how strong?”
“Okay, if we must,” Buffy sighed, “but couldn't you just trust me on this?”
Having been beaten five times out of five, Larry sat back in his chair and admired Buffy anew as he rubbed his arm.
“I can beat you left handed too,” Buffy didn't look at all tired from their little contest.
“I believe you,” Larry replied, but before he could say anything else a loud roaring came from the sky.
Grabbing their weapons Buffy and Larry rushed outside to see what was going on. They were just in time to see two air force jets disappear over the trees heading in the direction of LA. No sooner had the sound levels dropped so that they could speak than the peace of the forest was shattered again as two more jets followed the first pair also on their way to LA.
“Bad guys musta landed in LA too,” Larry said as he watched the smoke from the jet's engines fade into the blue sky.
“Give 'em hell guys,” Buffy called after the jets.
Los Padres, National Forest.
It actually took the little band of refugees what remained of the day to unpack and organise their supplies and equipment. Once everything was out of their boxes it was easy enough to work out what they hadn't brought with them and what they needed. By the end of the day, Buffy had several lists of things that they really needed. Deciding it was better to try and fill the holes in the lists of supplies now rather than later, she had Larry show her where the gated community he'd talked about was and mark up a map with a route that even she could follow. Larry wanted to go with her and deep down Buffy wanted Larry along, he was about the only member of the party that had a clue how to survive in the wilderness. However, this also made him the best person to leave in charge of their base so she choose Xander to come with her.
Early the next morning, Buffy and Xander started out from the house loaded down with guns, maps, a compass (which Buffy didn't really know how to use) food, ammunition, water, sleeping bags and a couple of camouflaged ground-sheets. Buffy was learning, if anything went wrong or if anything unusual happened she didn't intend to be trapped out in the woods without even basic survival gear. Normally a trek of five miles or so would take less than a couple of hours; the way Buffy's luck had been running recently it could take them as long as two or three days. Having walked for about a mile, Buffy brought herself and Xander to a halt so she could check the map. After several minutes of looking at the map from every possible angle and dropping the compass a couple of times, she eventually gave up.
“Oooooh!” Buffy cried in frustration, “Why can't girls read maps and why doesn't the slayer have a really great sense of direction?”
“Here, let me,” Xander took the compass and map from Buffy's hands and studied them both for a moment or two before pointing and saying, “this way.”
“Yep,” Xander replied as he started to walk along the track they'd been following.
“Like, not that I'm doubting you,” Buffy ran to catch up, “but how?”
“Spent awhile in the scouts,” Xander replied.
“You did?” this wasn't a part of Xander's past that she'd been privy to.
“It was tough,” Xander admitted with a small grin, “but a man has to do what a man has to do...or at least an eleven year old boy does,” he shrugged, “It was mainly to get out of the house, but when one of the patrol disappeared one night at camp I left.”
“Oh,” Buffy gave her friend a sympathetic look, “monster?”
“Probably,” again Xander shrugged, “either that or Mr King, the Scout Master, was a child predator...I always said there was something 'wrong' about him.”
“Poor Xander,” Buffy gave Xander's hand a gentle squeeze.
“Yeah, like that's what you get for living in a town like Sunnydale,” he sighed heavily before walking on in silence.
Listening to Xander not say anything, Buffy wondered what it must have been like to have lived in Sunnydale all your life. To see friends and neighbours vanish in the night, to live with the constant knowledge that one day your luck might run out and you'd not make it home after school. Before she'd become the slayer, like most kids her age, she'd never seen a dead person. The only person she'd known who'd died was her cousin who she'd been very close to, but, even then she'd never actually seen the body, her parents had sheltered her from even that. Of course now she was the slayer sometimes it felt like she was struggling across piles of corpses to kill the thing that had killed people like Xander, Willow and all the others without a thought. This was why she was here, this was why she'd not given a second thought to fighting back. Not only had the demons and their human buddies killed her mother, but they'd killed all those people who'd never done anything to deserve to die like that.
“Looks like we're here,” Xander called.
“W-what!?” Buffy looked up in confusion; she must have been so involved with her dark thoughts that she'd not noticed that they'd arrived.
“Look,” Xander pointed off through the trees; Buffy could just see the line of a high fence with houses half hidden by neatly planted trees behind it.
“Okay,” Buffy started to shrug off her pack, “we'll leave our gear here just take weapons and stuff we might need.”
“Like?” Xander asked unhelpfully.
“I don't know,” Buffy looked at Xander helplessly, “I was kinda hoping that you'd know, scout-boy.”
“Okay, time for the Xan-man to step up...” Xander thought for a moment or two, “...erm...water?”
“Water?” Buffy frowned at her friend.
“Yeah, we might get thirsty,” Xander replied defensively, “I don't know...”
“Big help you are,” Buffy started to take things from her pack, “okay, guns, spare bullets and water, what else?”
“Binoculars?” Xander suggested uncertainly.
“Yeah good idea,” Buffy took the binoculars from a pocket of her pack and hung them around her neck, “I wish I'd joined the Girl-Scouts.”
“You mean you never had Giles teach you about this stuff?” Xander wanted to know.
“No and mom thought the Girl-Scouts were too 'authoritarian' and with Giles it was mostly hack and slash stuff,” Buffy admitted with a shrug.
“Steep learning curve then?”
“Very...” Buffy agreed, “...so lets get out there and learn!”
Crawling forward to the edge of the forest, Buffy and Xander found themselves on a slight rise above 'Woodlands Village'. Looking through the binoculars, Buffy saw a lot of big houses nestled between the trees. Each house appeared to be in its own grounds separated from its neighbour by more trees as if each house house was positioned to look as if it was all by itself in the forest. Most of the back yards had their own swimming pools and fancy patios for parties; the one thing none of the houses she could see from her vantage point had was people.
“Looks awfully quiet down there,” Buffy said as she passed the binoculars to Xander.
“You think the black hats got here first?”
“Don't know,” Buffy flipped the lens caps of her telescopic sight and continued to scan the houses with her rifle, “maybe everyone just headed out for safety.”
“Yeah maybe,” Xander didn't really believe that but didn't say anything, the visions that were going around in his head were a lot worse than people just running away.”
“Okay,” Buffy took a deep breath, “I think we've seen everything we're gonna see from here, lets move into town.”
“I'm right behind you,” Xander said bravely as Buffy turned to look at him.
“Are you sure you know how to use that thing?” Buffy gestured to the shotgun in Xander's hands; it was the one Larry had shortened to make it handier, “Coz if you don't, I really don't want you behind me.”
“No its okay,” Xander assured her, “Larry checked me out on it last night, he said I was cool with it.”
“Cool huh?” Buffy sounded majorly unconvinced, “Of well,” she shrugged, “beggars can't be choosers...”
“Thanks for that hearty vote of confidence,” Xander muttered as he and Buffy struggled out of cover and started to head towards the first house.
“Sorry Xan,” Buffy glanced over her shoulder, “but I don't want to be shot by accident before I've even had a chance to even the score with the bad guys.”
“Look I'll point it into the air if it makes you feel better...” Xander said just a moment before the shotgun went off in his hand, round eyed with terror he looked at Buffy, “...sorry! Buffy?”
Buffy appeared to have vanished, as Xander looked around in increasing panic he wondered if he'd shot her and made her disappear.
“That's it, Xander Harris!” a very angry Buffy Summers appeared from out of the long grass where she'd taken cover, “You walk ahead of me where I can see you...MOVE!”
“Yes ma'am,” Xander hurried passed Buffy and on towards the first house.
“Looks like the black hats got here first,” Buffy toed the body with her boot and was just about to tell Xander to take the rent-a-cop's gun and gun-belt before she had second thoughts, unbuckling the dead man's gun-belt she pulled it off him and buckled it up across her body, the belt was way too big to fit around her waist.
“What I don't understand is what these Chinese-demon-guys are doing,” Xander said, “like, they come into town, shoot the place up and then leave with all the people.”
“Terror?” Buffy suggested as she watched the trees and empty houses for any sign of movement.
“But what's with the kidnapping everyone, what do they do with them?”
“I don't know, maybe they're lonely and just want the company?” Buffy sighed tiredly.
“Hey, I'm only askin',” Xander replied defensively.
“I know, but I'm tired of being asked stuff I don't know the answers to, I'm not Giles right?” Buffy's words seemed to break something in her heart, her face crumpled and she sat down heavily on the driveway next to the body of the guard as the tears ran down her face.
Giles was dead, she knew this without any need for evidence; she'd cried for her mother but this was somehow different. The thought had only just really sunk in that she'd never see or hear Giles or her mom again, she'd never be able to turn to them for support again and it hurt, it hurt so much that she thought her heart would break.
“Thanks Xander,” Buffy said as she felt Xander put his arms around her, “I'm just having a girlie moment...” she turned and smiled into his face, “...what would I do without you...even if you do try to shoot me!?”
“Hey, that was a one time thing.”
“Yeah, right, whatever...” pushing Xander away gently, Buffy got back to her feet. “Look, lets get on, I want to be home before dark and there's more to see...didn't Larry say the people here had their own private police?”
“Looks like,” Xander gestured at the dead security guard.
“Okay so they must have had a headquarters or something,” Buffy started to walk briskly along the road towards what she hoped was the centre of town, “we might find some better guns although I'm not sure I can trust you with a slingshot...”
“Oh give it a rest, Buffy,” Xander pleaded, “it won't happen again!”
“Yeah, that's what all the mass murders say!”
“Come one,” Buffy started to walk slowly towards the bodies, “lets go look.”
“Lets not,” Xander called back but followed Buffy anyway.
“You know what's weird?” Buffy asked as she walked between the contorted corpses.
“Apart from the fact that we're walking through, what looks like a very untidy grave yard?” Xander wanted to know.
“Where are all the kids our age?” Buffy stopped and turned to look at Xander, “Look there's little kids...”
“I'd rather not...” Xander was starting to look very green just now.
“There's moms and dads, old people...” Buffy gestured to the bodies lying all around her, “but where are the teenagers?”
“Maybe they ran away,” Xander said as he hung on to his breakfast by force of will alone, “can we go now?”
“Sorry,” Buffy pointed to what looked like a food store well away from the bodies, “lets go over there.”
“Lets just get away from 'here', okay?”
Once away from all the death, Xander started to regain his usual colouring. What they thought was a store was in fact a pretty big general store, probably the main outlet for the town. Although the lights were out, Buffy could plainly see that the store had been looted, perhaps by the very people who'd died outside. Maybe they'd come into town to loot the store for supplies but had been caught and killed by the demon-soldiers before they could get away.
“You know,” Buffy called as she stepped between the broken bottles, jars and spilt food, “if the store room is untouched we could use this place like a food mine.”
“Place is gonna get pretty ripe in a few days,” Xander pointed out.
“What?” Buffy turned to Xander as he gestured to all the bodies outside, “Oh yeah...I better not send Dawn.”
“Hey!” Xander forced a laugh, “Forget Dawn, what about me!?” he paused for a moment before adding, “Send Cordelia, nothing fazes her.”
“Even piles of dead people?” Buffy asked, “Hey, have you noticed how Willow and Cordy seem to be thick as thieves recently?”
“Yeah,” Xander nodded as he moved back towards the entrance of the store, “Willow said Cordy and her shared a moment back in school.”
“Yeah, she told me that too...” Buffy cocked her head and listened, “...can you hear a car or something.”
“Car?” Xander listened carefully but heard nothing, “Must be your imagination...”
“No,” Buffy shook her head as she pushed past Xander to stand just outside the store, “no, I can definitely hear something...”
“I can too now,” Xander stood next to Buffy; he could definitely hear a vehicle or something and it was getting closer.
“Back inside!” Buffy grabbed hold of Xander's arm and pulled him back into the store.
“But...!” Xander was about to suggest that it might be the army or someone but found himself being dragged inexorably back into the store.
“Down!” Buffy ordered as she got down behind one of the check out stations and aimed her rifle out of the window, “Don't shoot unless I do!”
“But...” Xander was once again about to suggest that it could be the Army or the Park Rangers or someone when a big SUV drove into view and stopped, it had a Park Ranger badge on the driver's door. “Hurrah!” Xander cried quietly, “The Park Rangers are here to rescue us!”
“Shut up and get down!” Buffy snapped, not giving Xander a chance to comply with her order she grabbed hold of his pistol belt and pulled him down beside her.
“What the...” Xander was just about to ask Buffy what she was doing when her words froze the blood in his veins.
“Do those look like Park Rangers to you?” Buffy pointed with her rifle at the figures that were climbing from the SUV.
Looking to where Buffy was pointing, Xander saw five of the invader-soldiers climb out of the SUV. They were all dressed in camouflaged uniforms, and they all carried rifles. As they started to move away from their stolen pick-up he noticed that while three of the soldiers looked like normal humans the other two looked like the demon soldiers Buffy had described and the ones that he'd seen for himself. As the soldiers, both human and demonic walked away from their pick-up it became more and more obvious to Xander that they were heading towards the store.
“Oh, crap!” Xander whispered hoarsely as he checked that his shotgun was ready to fire.
Aiming at her first target it occurred to Buffy that she had five targets and five bullets in her rifle. As the enemy soldiers walked in a line towards the store, she asked herself if she could kill all five of them by just using the five rounds in her rifle, after all they were less than a hundred yards away and she was the slayer...
Settling into a comfortable firing position Buffy aimed at the soldier at the end of the line to her right. His head swam into focus in her sight and she saw that he was one of the two demonic soldiers. Smiling to herself, she rested the cross hairs of her telescopic sight on his forehead. Taking a breath and then slowly letting it out, she squeezed the trigger exerting an even pressure until she almost felt the firing pin being released and the spring driving it forward to slam into the base of the first cartridge to be fired.
The store window exploded outwards as it shattered into a million sparkling shards of glass. An instant later the bullet struck the first soldier knocking him off his feet and sending his helmet flying as it blew out the back of his head in a high velocity fan of blood, bone and brain matter. Even as the first soldier was falling to the ground, Buffy shifted her aim to let her cross hairs rest on the forehead of the next soldier in line, a human this time. Firing again she sensed rather than saw her target fall as she worked the bolt of her rifle loading another round.
By the time she was aiming at the third soldier the three survivors had stopped and had started to turn and look down at their dead comrades. Before the third soldier had even fully realised that he was in danger he was already dead, his hand hadn't even started to move towards the rifle hanging on its sling from his shoulder. Once again Buffy's hand moved so fast it blurred as she reloaded her weapon.
Sighting on the forth soldier Buffy saw that this was the other demon and he was already reaching for his rifle as he stood there with his eyes wide open searching for the sniper who was killing his comrades. Once again the Springfield slammed into Buffy's shoulder and the demonic soldier crumpled to the ground another, neat, thirty calibre hole in his forehead. By the time she’d got to the fifth and last soldier he'd turned and had started to run for the supposed safety of the ranger's pick-up. It did him no good, the high powered bullet punched through his helmet and reduced his brain to a bloody mess. He fell as if in slow motion as Buffy lowered the butt of her rifle and looked at her handiwork over the top of the rifle's open and slightly smoking breech.
Crouched next to Buffy, Xander had been watching her in a mixture of horror and admiration. He'd seen Buffy fight many times before against demons and vampires. But, it wasn't until just now that he truly realised just how deadly and cold blooded his friend could be. It had taken her less than five seconds to kill the five enemy soldiers. The five shots that had come so rapidly one after another that her old bolt action rifle had sounded almost like a machine-gun to his ears. Gazing at Buffy's beautiful, calm face he knew he loved her now more than ever; he yearned to take her in his arms and...
“Xander?” Buffy's voice penetrated through the mist of desire that had settled over him.
“You okay?” Buffy asked a look of concern on her face.
“Yeah!” Xander mentally shook himself before smiling at his friend, “Great shooting there Buff.”
“Yeah it was, wasn't it?” Buffy grinned as she started to stand up, “Lets go see what I got?”
“Sure, yeah,” Xander smiled back, just at the moment he had a painfully hard erection and he didn't think he should stand up right now, “you go ahead I'll be along in a moment.”
“Okay,” Buffy looked a little crestfallen, but soon cheered up again as she started to head towards her victims.
Ducking slightly as she stepped through the shattered store front window, Buffy stood for a moment in the clear mountain air and thought about what she needed to do next. Slipping her hand into the pocket of her jacket she retrieved some spare rounds and started to thumb them into the breach of her rifle. For a moment she wished she had some of those 'stripper clips' that Larry had told her about. Apart from sounding like something a hooker might use, Larry had told her they made reloading her Springfield quicker and easier.
By the time she'd finished thinking about 'stripper clips' and what women who took their clothes off professionally might use them for, she found herself standing over the bodies of the enemy soldiers. They lay in a ragged line except for the one who'd tried to run, he lay a couple of yards further towards the pick-up than his buddies. Although she'd killed all five of the enemy with head shots and she was pretty sure they were all dead, her experience of being the slayer told her that it was always sensible to make sure. After giving each corpse a hefty kick with her walking boot clad foot, she decided that these guys wouldn't be getting up and walking around any time soon.
Crouching down next to one of the dead soldiers, Buffy saw that this one was human. If it wasn't for the small, reddy-black hole in his forehead she could almost believe he was simply asleep. However, the blackly-red blood that was seeping out of the back of his head to stain the grass told her he was well and truly not asleep. Sitting on her haunches, she looked at the guy for a moment and wondered at what had brought him here and to his sudden death in a land far away from his home. Buffy found that she felt no pity for this guy, okay, he was probably 'just' a soldier doing his duty. But it had been ordinary soldiers like him who'd shot her mother and her classmates. It was ‘ordinary’ guys like him who'd killed hundreds of people in Sunnydale, who'd attempted to kill her and her friends as they'd tried to escape. It was ‘ordinary’ guys like him who made friends and allies out of demons. No, this guy didn't deserve any of her sympathy, she'd reserve all her sympathy for the helpless innocent people she'd see killed over the last few days.
Seeing a flash of colour on the shoulder of the dead man's camouflaged jacket, Buffy reached out and rolled the guy onto his side to get a better look. As she crouched there looking at the little flag sewed to the man's uniform she sensed Xander come up behind her.
“Look,” Buffy said quietly as she pointed out the flag badge on the soldier's shoulder, “Pan Asians.”
“Yeah,” Xander knelt down next to Buffy as he studied the yellow and red 'Rising Star' flag of the Pan Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, “what the hell are they doing here?”
“Don't know,” Buffy shrugged, “its times like this I wished I'd paid more attention to the evening news.”
“Yeah, well, they're here now so what are we gonna do about it?”
“Kill them and keep killing them until they go away,” Buffy said coldly as she climbed to her feet again.
“You won't find me arguing,” Xander replied as he got up to stand next to her.
“Okay,” Buffy took a deep breath, she seemed to have made her mind up as to what needed doing, “these guys might have some buddies who'll be wondering where they've gone in a while, so...”
“So?” Xander held his shotgun a little more tightly as he looked towards where the road entered the village green as if expecting to see some of the little tanks the invaders seemed so fond of drive into the village.
“So, we strip these guys of their guns and equipment,” Buffy ordered, she looked at her blue jacket for a moment before adding, “strip them of the camouflaged jackets too, put everything in the pick-up, okay?”
“Yeah, okay,” Xander agreed as he knelt down again and started to fumble with the buckle of the first soldier's equipment harness, “Erm,” he pulled a face as he got some blood on his fingers, “what do I do if the jacket's got blood on it?”
“Take it anyway,” Buffy replied coldly, “blood can be washed off...you get on here while I find somewhere to hide the bodies.”
By the time Xander had stripped the bodies of anything useful Buffy had returned with a gardener's hand cart and started to heave the body's of the soldiers on to it before wheeling it away, heading towards the rear of the store.
“Can you drive?” Buffy called as she pulled the cart and its dead weight of cargo away.
“A little,” Xander admitted.
“Then drive the pick-up over to the store and start loading it up with supplies.”
“Yeah got that,” Xander replied but didn't move as he watched Buffy drag the cart full of corpses out of sight; once again he'd got an erection and found he needed to adjust his clothing before he could move comfortably, even when hauling away dead enemy soldiers, Buffy really turned him on.
Sitting at the head of the table in the cabin's living room, Buffy looked at all the faces turned expectantly towards her. After killing the PACS soldiers, stripping and hiding their bodies, Buffy and Xander had loaded up the pick-up with supplies from the general store. The drive home had taken longer than expected because Xander would only drive slowly along the rough forest tracks. Almost screaming in frustration, she’d ordered him to stop the truck and swap places with her. Once behind the wheel Buffy found she was almost too short to reach the accelerator and brake peddles, after spending several minutes adjusting the driver’s seat she set off at a breakneck speed for home with Xander screaming all the way.
“Okay,” Buffy began after taking a sip of the hot chocolate that Dawn had made her, “I've got good news and bad news... The good news is we've got five military type rifles with about two-hundred rounds each and we also got one of those...” Buffy looked at Larry, “...what did you call it?”
“An RPG,” Larry said to the blank faces of his fellow resistance fighters, “Rocket Propelled Grenade,” he explained, “they're used to blow up tanks and stuff. Unfortunately there's only four rockets and we'll need to use those to lean how to fire an' aim the thing.”
“But like I say,” Buffy chipped in, “we've got those,” once again Buffy looked to Larry, “what did you call them?”
“Assault Rifles,” Larry replied, “but they're real easy to learn how to use...”
“Dibs!” Cordy called from further down the table as she raised her arm; everyone looked at her as if she was slightly insane, “Hey look,” she spoke up firmly, “if you think I'm just going to sit at home washing blood out of uniforms you've got another thing coming...I wanna fight and I want one of these assault rifle things to fight with!”
“Me too,” Dawn called.
“They can have mine,” Willow said in a small voice, “not so much of the fighty-girl here.”
“Dawn I don't think...” Buffy began but was cut off by Dawn.
“Like Cordy says,” Dawn explained her jaw set in determination, “I'm not sitting at home doing the cooking while everyone else is fighting.”
“But Dawn you're too young,” Buffy played the youth card.
“I'm only three years younger than you,” Dawn pointed out.
“Four,” Buffy corrected but didn't get to press her argument because she was interrupted by Xander.
“You were gonna tell everyone about the bad news,” he said.
“Oh yeah,” Buffy paused for a moment, “guys, it looks like we've been invaded by the Pan Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere...”
“The who?” Cody asked.
“Please don't make me say that all again,” Buffy sighed.
“Pac-men,” Dawn cried out suddenly.
“Pac-men?” Buffy and several others repeated.
“Its easier than saying all that Pan Asian stuff,” Jonathan pointed out.
“Yeah,” Buffy agreed as she turned to smile at her sister, “cool, well done Dawnie.”
“Thanks, but I still wanna go out and fight!” Dawn repeated.
“No, Dawn I...” Buffy began but was this time she was interrupted by Jonathan.
“The food and stuff you brought back will keep us going probably until spring,” Jonathan explained as he neatly prevented the disagreement between Dawn and Buffy developing into a full blown argument. “The fresh fruit will need eating pretty quickly, but the vegetables I can pickle...I found some pickling jars in the cellar and the vitamin tablets should last us a while...”
“How do you know all this stuff?” Willow asked as she looked across the table at Jonathan.
“In my house if you wanted to live you learnt to cook,” Jonathan smiled as he shrugged his shoulders, “my mom wasn't exactly a whizz in the kitchen.”
“Lucky for us,” Larry pointed out, “my dad and me got to be pretty good cooks after mom died.”
“You know if I wasn't so fantastic,” Cordy smiled, “and beautiful I'd be feeling pretty useless just about now.”
“No you're not, sweetie,” Willow said supportively as she laid her hand on Cordy's.
“Look,” Cordy smiled at Willow for a moment before adding, “not only can the guys shoot an' stuff but they can totally cook too!”
“Cordy,” Buffy, who was feeling a little overwhelmed herself smiled at the cheerleader, “you can learn.”
“Which is why I want one of those assault rifle things,” Cordy replied firmly.
“Okay,” Buffy laughed, “if you can fire it you can have one...now this might be good news or bad, but I'm going into Sunnydale tomorrow.”
“Why?” Dawn demanded.
“We need to find out what going on and how many of Dawn's Pac-men there are,” Buffy explained, “We've been up here for two or three days and the only other Americans we've seen were either dead or flying over us at twice the speed of sound...”
As if to punctuate her words the roar of a couple of jets heading towards LA or Sunnydale made the house shake.
“Yeah, you'll never get anything out of those guys,” Xander quipped, “and I'll be going with you...”
“No Xander its too...”
“Dangerous?” Xander asked, “Then if its dangerous you either don't go or you take me to watch your back.”
“And you'll need me,” Cordy cried, “to watch Xander watching your back...or something like that.”
“Thanks guys but no thanks,” Buffy started to turn down the offer of an escort, “I'd be able to move faster by myself...”
“Gotta say I agree with Harris an' Cordy,” Larry said calmly, he turned to look Buffy in the eye, “you're the leader now, you can't go off by yourself into the heart of enemy territory, its too dangerous and we need you. Plus tomorrow might be too early, we've got stuff that needs doin' an' having three outta the seven of us gone will slow us down,” he explained, “better you go next week.”
“But...” Buffy looked around the table to see everyone staring at her, each look a vote for her to not go to town by herself tomorrow.
“Oh Buuuuffy,” Dawn sang in a fake, sister mocking, country and western accent, “don't take your butt to town...”
Highlight and right click.
Near Sunnydale a week later.
Lying at the edge of the woods that grew on the hills overlooking Sunnydale, Buffy, Cordy and Xander studied the town spread out below them. It was just over a week since they'd left Sunnydale and it was pretty obvious that things had changed. The town looked kind of 'dull', it appeared to have lost all its 'brightness'. Buffy found it hard to explain even in her own mind, but some how the town just looked drab. Of course there were all the enemy troops marching along the streets in long well ordered columns. Also there were tanks, artillery pieces and military trucks that drove up from the docks and passed the well ordered columns of infantry. Slowly Buffy lowered the binoculars and passed them to Xander.
“Hey!” Xander quipped, as he put the glasses to his eyes, “I can see my house from up here...”
“Can you see your drunken parents?” Cordy asked tartly.
“Cordy,” Buffy warned quietly, “Be nice...”
“No Buffy,” Xander passed the binoculars over to Cordy, “she's right, I expect my folks have spent the last week totally drunk so they wouldn't have to deal...of course what happens when the booze runs out is anyone's guess.”
It was a sad fact, but Xander was probably right, his parents had likely as not spent the last week in an alcoholic haze, unlike their son. While Mr and Mrs Harris had been trying to drink the town dry, Xander had been helping his friends up at the cabin. There had been the night time visits to Woodlands Village where they'd stripped the general store clean of food and anything else that they thought might be useful. Larry had set up food and weapons caches away from the cabin just in case they were forced to leave in a hurry. There was wood to cut for the winter, weapons to learn how to use; this hadn't bothered Buffy because she instinctively knew how to use any weapon that was put in her hand. So, instead of weapons training Buffy found herself chopping up logs for the stove and winter fires, Larry said it got cold up in the mountains during the winter and winter was fast approaching.
Eventually Larry admitted that they'd done enough to get a good start on surviving until next spring and he agreed that Buffy should take her trip to Sunnydale with Xander and Cordy. Although Buffy was 'in charge', on points of 'wilderness survival' she nearly always went along with what ever Larry suggested. This sort of survival was something she knew nothing about and she was grown up enough to take the advice of someone who knew more than she did. So, one clear mountain morning, the three intrepid scouts loaded up Larry's old pick up with food, water and weapons and drove off towards Sunnydale. They avoided the roads wherever they could and followed forest tracks until they got to a point about two miles north of the town. Hiding the pick-up under the trees, they hiked through the forest until they were in a position to overlook Sunnydale.
“Okay,” Buffy said after watching the streets with their roadblocks manned by Pac-man soldiers for a few more minutes, “you guys stay here I'll go down and take a look around...”
“No way Buff,” Xander interrupted her, “we're coming with.”
“But...” Buffy was about to explain how dangerous it would be for all three of them to go down into the town when she was interrupted by Cordy.
“Although I hate to admit it,” Cordelia said sadly, “Harris is right...”
“I am?” Xander smiled, “Coool!”
“Whatever,” Cordy sighed heavily as she gave Xander an exasperated look, “what ever happened to watching each other's back's, huh? There's no 'I' in team...” Cordy shot Xander another daggers look, “...and if you say that stupid line about there being a 'me', I'll shoot you!” she paused to take a breath, “We're a team remember? Go Razorbacks?”
“Yeah okay,” Buffy admitted after a moment or two, “we're a team...but if you two get shot and killed I'm never going to talk to either of you like ever!”
“Yay, Razorbacks!” Xander cried weakly.
“Right,” Buffy took a deep breath, “we leave the guns and our gear here, but we'll take our revolvers just in case, so, don't go starting any gunfights, okay?”
“Who me?” Xander asked, “Like I'd do anything like that!”
“Knowing your extreme klutziness,” Cordy replied with a superior tone, “I wouldn't put anything beyond you...”
“Children...” it was Buffy's turn to interrupt, “...play nice or we'll all go home.”
“Aw mom?” Xander whined jokingly.
“Give me strength,” Cordy looked heavenwards but was not suddenly endowed with superhuman strength, she'd have to put up with Harris for a while longer; perhaps if they were ambushed he'd run in front of her as she fired her gun, she could claim she'd shot him by accident; the thought made her smile. Taking off their backpacks they hid them with their rifles in a hollow under an uprooted tree. Standing up they checked each other over so as not to look like three people who'd spent nearly two weeks living in a cabin in the forest. Eventually Cordy said they were good to go as long as no one she knew saw her and they'd just have to try and steer clear of any Pac-man patrols.
“So where are we going?” Xander wanted to know as they made their way downhill towards the town.
“I don't know,” Buffy shrugged as she glanced at Xander.
“We need to know what's going on,” Cordy pointed out.
“Yeah, okay,” a sort of plan popped into Buffy's mind, “I wanna see if I can find Angel...”
“Oh him,” Xander grumbled quietly.
“Yes 'him',” Buffy turned her head to glare at Xander as they walked from the woods and onto a track that would lead them into town, “then I want to try and find Giles and maybe Miss Calendar...anyone you guys want to try and find?”
“Nope,” Xander said firmly, he wanted nothing to do with his mother and father.
“No,” Cordy replied sadly; she'd love to see her mom and dad again, but she'd no idea where they might be.
“Look,” Xander called from over by a toppled book case, “all his magic books are gone...”
“And his weapons,” Buffy added.
“What would the Pac-men want with a load of old mouldy books?” Cordy asked as she stood in the middle of the room trying not to touch anything.
“I don't know,” Xander replied sarcastically, “perhaps its something to do with all their soldier-demons?”
“Okay Harris!” Cordy snapped, “Just give me an excuse and I'll plug you so full of holes...”
“No one will be plugging anyone full of holes,” Buffy warned before looking at Cordy, “and where did you learn words like 'plug'?”
“He started it,” Cordy sulked, “I just asked a perfectly sensible question...I don't know why they'd want to take all his stupid old books.”
“Cordy has a point,” Buffy admitted, “what do they want with books on demonology?”
“Perhaps their demon-soldiers have a weakness?” Xander suggested.
“Maybe,” Buffy started to head towards the door, “I think I'd like to see the school library, see what's been taken from there.”
“Darn,” Xander exclaimed, “I doubt we'll be going back to school anytime soon...I wonder if Snyder was in there when they blew the place up?”
The school had been heavily bombed and had been reduced to a burnt out shell and some big piles of rubble. A lot of the houses and other buildings around the school had been hit too and were also now just burnt out shells.
“Why would they blow up the school?” Cordy asked.
“Why wouldn't they?” Xander replied.
“Hey guys,” Buffy said into the silence that had fallen after Xander had spoken, “I don't think this was the black-hats...”
“Who then?” Xander wanted to know.
“Remember all those jets that flew over the cabin?” Buffy explained.
“You mean the Air Force did this?” Cordy asked aghast.
“Lets hear it for the air force...Go Air Force!” Xander's dislike of school knew no bounds.
“Okay, lets stop the celebrating and get outta here,” Buffy started to pull her friends away from the scene of destruction, “there's a couple of guards taking way too much interest in us.”
Sure enough a couple of Pac-man demon-soldiers were looking curiously towards where the three teenagers stood, but they made no move to follow when Buffy led the way away from the ruins.
“Does anyone happen to know where Miss Calendar lives?” Buffy asked as they headed off down a side street.
“1352, West Chester Street, Apartment 'D',” Xander said without hesitation.
“And you know this how?” Cordy asked suspiciously.
“Oh...” Xander looked a little guiltily at Cordy, “...its just something I know, y'know?”
“I can guess,” Cordy muttered darkly under her breath as they walked on.
“Miss Calendar?” Buffy called quietly through the door, “Are you there, its Buffy Summers...”
Before Buffy could say anything more, she heard footsteps coming towards the door followed by the sound of locks being unlocked. A moment later the door was opened a crack and Miss Calendar's face appeared looking warily out at the three teenagers.
“Oh my god it is you,” Jenny Calendar gasped as she opened the door wider, “come-in, come-in quickly!” Jenny almost dragged the teens into her apartment before checking that no one was watching in the corridor before closing the door and locking it again. “You have to be so careful these days, you never know who's watching or who'll denounce you to the Liberation Forces,” she explained as she ushered the teens into her sitting room.
“Denounce?” Cordy asked.
“Liberation Forces?” Xander wanted an explanation too.
“What's going on?” Buffy demanded.
“Sit,” Jenny gestured to her couch, “I'll try and explain, so, what do you know?”
Buffy explained what little they'd learnt, but didn't say where they'd been hiding or what they'd been doing. Significantly, Jenny didn't ask or even seem to want to know.
“If someone denounces me and they take me in for questioning,” Jenny explained her reasons for not wanting to know what Buffy and her friends had been doing, “I won't be able to tell them what I don't know.”
“Why would anyone denounce you?” Cordy wanted to know.
“For extra food?” Jenny shrugged, “The Liberation Forces took most of the town's supplies when they arrived, us 'useless mouths' don't get much, unless you work for the Pacs.”
“What happened to Giles?” Buffy asked the question she'd been dying to ask since she'd come to town.
“Last I saw he was alive,” Jenny said weighing her words carefully, “he was rounded up with a lot of what the Pacs called 'trouble makers' and put into a re-education camp down by the docks.”
“I've got to see him!” Buffy cried as she jumped to her feet.
“NO! Not now!” Jenny cried as she grabbed hold of Buffy's hand in an attempt to stop her, “If you go now,” Jenny called as Buffy headed towards the door, “they'll take you too!”
“Buffy hold on!” Xander sprang to his feet and managed to get in front of Buffy, “Lets listen to what Miss Calendar says before we rush off all half-cocked and such.”
“He's right,” Cordy stood and added her voice to the 'stop Buffy' movement, “lets find out what's happening here.”
“Okay,” Buffy agreed reluctantly as she turned to face Jenny and crossed her arms under her breasts, “talk.”
“I don't know how you got here without being rounded up,” Jenny started to explain.
“Rounded up?” Cordy frowned, she didn't like the sound of this.
“A couple of days after the invasion when the first troopships started to arrive from Japan and China,” Jenny explained slowly, “they began to round up all the teenagers...”
“Why?” Buffy asked as she moved to rejoin the group.
“I don't know,” Jenny admitted, “no one does. All anyone does know is that anyone aged from about thirteen to nineteen is rounded up, put aboard the empty troopships and sent back to China and Japan.”
“I bet I can guess what happens to the girls,” Cordy muttered darkly.
“Do they take anyone else?” Buffy wanted to know.
“No,” Jenny shook her head sadly, “just the teens.”
“You said Giles was in a re-education camp,” Buffy was thinking that perhaps Giles could tell her why the Pac-men were so interested in American teens.
“Yes, but I think they just want certain people under guard, I don't think there's any actual re-education going on. There's an open area that used to be a parking lot on the north side of the warehouse district near the docks,” Jenny explained, “If you go to the perimeter fence you might get to talk to Rupert. The Pacs don't much care if people come to see the prisoners...maybe they think it'll stop people fighting back...”
“Is anyone fighting back?” Xander asked.
“There was some resistance in the first couple of days,” Jenny replied with a shrug, “but nothing more in the last week or so...even the air force has stopped bombing the docks.”
“That sounds bad,” Buffy admitted, she'd noticed that fewer and fewer jets had been passing over their hide-out, but she'd put it down to the jets taking a different route.
“The Pacs don't like to admit it but there's still fighting in LA, but I don't think even that's going to last much longer,” Jenny shrugged, “its hard knowing what's the truth and what's Pacs propaganda.”
“Is anyone fighting these people?” Cordy demanded, “I mean the whole country just couldn't have rolled over and given up.”
“Like I say,” Jenny replied sadly, “there's no real news just rumour.”
“We'll take rumour,” Buffy said firmly.
“The rumour is the Pacs are trying to take out the entire western seaboard and they're advancing in land towards the Rockies,” once again Jenny shrugged, “what the real situation is is just guess work.”
“Can we stay here until its dark?” Buffy asked, she desperately wanted to see Giles.
“Yes, but I can't feed you,” Jenny explained, “I've barely enough for myself...”
“Don't worry,” Cordy smiled as she picked up the small back pack she'd been carrying, “we brought some food...”
As Cordy unpacked the few tins and packets of food they'd brought along just in case of emergencies, Jenny began to sob. Just finding enough food for one, or if you were lucky two meals a day was becoming increasingly difficult. To her it seemed like she'd not seen so much food in weeks.
Night time, Sunnydale.
Walking along the line of the high, chain-link fence that surrounded the old parking lot, Buffy, Cordy and Xander kept their heads down and their faces turned away from any inquisitive guards. Mindful of what Jenny had told them about the Pac-men taking away anyone who looked like a teenager, the three of them had done their best to look older than they were. As they walked they cast glances at the men and women on the other side of the fence, they saw several people that they knew including a number of their high school teachers. Pressed against the fence on the outside were family members of the prisoners talking urgently with their loved ones. Each side of the conversation tried to convince the other that everything would work out okay, Buffy could see that most people didn't believe anything their loved ones said. Above the hushed conversations of the prisoners and their relatives a loud political tirade was being broadcast over the tannoy system that had obviously been put in place by the Pacs.
“America is a whorehouse...” explained some nameless, faceless Pacs political officer, “...where the revolutionary ideals of your forefathers have been corrupted and sold on the streets by the vendors of capitalism...”
Buffy didn't know anything about the ‘vendors of capitalism’ and she tuned most of what was being said out, she was too intent on finding Giles to worry about what some political officer was talking about. Hearing Xander say something, she stopped to look around only to see him talking to someone on the other side of the fence.
“Principal Snyder,” Xander almost gloated when he saw the short, scruffy man, “as I live and breath, I gotta say what a surprise it is to see you behind...if not bars then the next best thing,” he smirked as he rattled the fence, “Now I wonder what you could have done to piss off our new friends so badly that they'd want to lock you up...no...I get it now...you were just being your normal obnoxious self weren't you?”
“Xander Harris,” Snyder sighed heavily, “I should have known that a cockroach like you would have found some way to survive. Over the last few days the only thing that sustained me was the thought that you had been killed or transported to a Chinese coal mine or labour camp.”
There was absolutely no love lost between Principal Snyder and Xander Harris.
“Okay,” Buffy butted in, “now we've got the meet an' greet over with, tell....”
“Oh good god!” Snyder groaned as he recognised Buffy, “My life is now completely pointless...Summers!” Snyder shook his head sadly, “I should have know that if Harris could survive then you wouldn't be too far away and lets see, who's the third member of your happy band?”
“Hi Principal Snyder,” Cordy said tiredly before turning to Buffy and adding, “Could we like get on with this?”
“Miss Chase,” Snyder smiled but not in a nice way, “now my desolation is complete. I had hoped that you at least would be serving the Liberation Forces in a way more suited to your nature...”
“Okay enough of the verbal venom, already,” Buffy snapped at the little man, “I came here to find Mr Giles, now, can you tell me where he is?”
“That creepy librarian's around here somewhere,” Snyder replied with an ill humour, “stay there and I'll go find him...”
Watching as Snyder wandered off looking for Giles, Xander moved closer to Buffy so he could speak to her privately.
“I see a stay with the Pac-men hasn't improved our führer’s attitude.”
“I expect being beaten and half starved hasn't improved him much,” Buffy pointed out, “I mean he did start from a pretty low point anyway...”
“Hey!” Cordy cried out, “What did he mean by me, 'serving the Liberation Forces'?”
“If you don't know,” Xander turned to look at Cordy, “I'm not going to try and explain.”
“Xander!” Buffy slapped Xander's arm before glancing at Cordy, “I sure its nothing more than Snyder being his usual obnoxious self.”
“Buffy...” called a voice she knew from the other side of the wire.
“Giles!” Buffy gasped in shock as she turned to face her mentor.
Under the stark light of the spotlights that illuminated the parking lot, Buffy could see that Giles had been beaten. His normally neat tweed suit was ripped and dirty, his glasses had been broken and the were several bad cuts and bruises on his face and blood stains on his shirt.
“Don't speak,” Giles tried to pull his cut lips into something resembling a smile; it was only then that Buffy saw he was missing several teeth while a number of others were broken, “I just want to look at you a while...I knew that you'd escape...”
“Yeah, several of us got...” Buffy began but was stopped by Giles' raised hand.
“No! Don't tell me,” Giles shook his head, “the less I know the less I can give away...you must get away from here, go as far as you can and don't come back until all this is over.”
“But Giles...” Buffy sobbed as she held on to the fence all the time wishing she was brave enough to rip it down and take her watcher away to the hills. But, somewhere deep in her mind a small voice was telling her that any rescue attempt would ultimately be futile, if they weren't killed here the Pac-men would track them down and kill them all later.
“No listen to me,” Giles said urgently, “I did my best to train you...I expect there were times when you didn't like me very much...but, I had to do what I did so you could survive,” Giles took a deep breath and winced as he clutched at his ribs. “I couldn't bear to see you injured or worse, so there were times I had to be harder on you than I really wanted to be. Selfish really...”
“Selfish?” Buffy sniffed, “Never...”
“Yes,” Giles forced a smile, “I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if you'd been killed...”
“Oh Giles...” the tears ran down Buffy's face as she touched Giles' fingers through the fence, “...I-I'll be back Giles,” she promised, “I'll be back and get you out of this place...”
“No,” Giles replied firmly, “do this one last thing for me, find Jenny and take her away from here, get away...now go!”
“Xander...” Giles shifted his gaze to look at the younger man, “...make sure you all get out of here, don't stop, don't look back...just go!”
Reaching out, Xander gently disentangled Buffy's fingers from the fence, with one hand on her shoulder he guided her away from the prison.
“Mr Giles,” Cordy stepped up to the fence.
“Miss Chase?” Giles replied, he sounded exhausted.
“I think I see now why Buffy respected and loved you so much,” Cordy shrugged helplessly, “I wish I'd known you better...don't worry I'll see that Harris gets Buffy out of here.”
“Thank-you,” Giles replied, amazed at Cordy's sudden change of character.
“I'd wish you good luck but I think your luck's just about run out,” Cordy went back to her usual blunt way of putting things.
“The thought is appreciated,” Giles smiled, “now you'd better go...good luck...”
“Goodbye,” Cordy replied before turning and following Buffy and Xander into the darkness.
Still standing at the fence Giles knew damn well that Buffy would never run form a fight whatever the odds, so he might as well give her a reason to fight just that little bit harder. Glancing towards the closest watch tower he saw that the guards weren't paying him any special attention.
“AVENGE ME!” he cried as loudly as he could, “AVENGE ME...” he repeated before adding in a quieter voice, “...make the bloody, bastard's eyes water.”
“Quick!” Buffy whispered as she pulled her two friends into the pitch black alley, “Trouble, stay still and quiet...” she heard someone pull back the hammer of their revolver, “...and no shooting,” she hissed before looking around the corner of the alley and back out toward the main service road.
They were still in the warehouse district behind the docks so the roads were fairly narrow and filled with wooden crates, dumpsters and odd, abandoned pieces of machinery. Now she was away from the spot lights around the prison, Buffy's slayer night vision was actually better than it had been nearer the electric lights. Standing perfectly still she could see and hear the Pac-man patrol as it moved cautiously along the service road. Glancing upwards she looked for a route she could use to get behind the soldiers. If the soldiers got a chance to use their guns it would alert other patrols and getting away would be made doubly difficult for her and her friends.
However, as Buffy looked up and around for a way to outflank the Pac-men a large, dark shape detached itself from the roof of the warehouse opposite her. It landed behind the patrol like some great, giant, silent, black cat. Stepping up behind the patrol the figure took one of the solders by the head and broke his neck. The sound of the man's neck snapping made the other soldiers turn to see what was wrong. They all moved too late and too slowly as the figure dispatched them with silent lethality.
“Angel!” Buffy gasped as she stepped from her hiding place and rushed into Angel's arms to smother him with frantic kisses.
“Oh that's just great,” Xander muttered angrily as he tried to block out the sound of Buffy kissing Angel, “fang-boy, that's all I need.”
“Who?” Cordy asked as she squinted into the dark.
“Angel,” Xander replied as he too walked out into the open.
“Oh, Angel the vampire slayer's boyfriend,” Cordy shrugged, she didn't care who Buffy dated, but it seemed to bother Harris a lot; she looked down at the bodies of the Pac-man patrol, “Hey this Angel guy is seriously dangerous!”
“You wouldn't believe just how much,” Xander sighed before he too looked down at the dead soldiers, “While we're here we might as well take their weapons...and don't forget their ammunition...”
“Hey!” Cordy spat back, “I'm not stupid y'know!”
“Coulda fooled me,” Xander replied as he stripped a soldier of his rifle, ammunition and grenades.
“One day Harris,” Cordy was suddenly at Xander's ear and when she spoke, she spoke with ill concealed menace, “you're going to say the wrong thing, so you better watch your back when I'm around.”
“Whatever,” Xander had dismissed Cordy's threats even as she said them.
“...yeah, what about these demon guys?” Buffy asked after she’d given Angel the edited highlights from the last couple of weeks of her life.
“They're not real demons,” Angel replied.
“Y'coulda fooled me!” Buffy smiled back in the dim candle light that illuminated Angel's hide out, “I mean, all the green skin, the pointy teeth and ears they all sorta scream some kind of demon.”
“I said they're not real demons,” Angel explained.
“Huh?” Buffy looked at him with more than a little confused, “Explain...please?”
“They're a mixture of demon and human,” Angel replied.
“How do you know?” Buffy wanted to know.
“I tasted a few of them...” Angel saw the look of barely concealed horror in Buffy's eyes, “...hey look I've got to eat and its not like I can go to the butchers for pig's blood any-more.”
“Okay so you've been chowing down on the bad guys,” Buffy sighed, “I suppose I can live with that, like you say, you've got to eat. So, about these soldier-demons, what have you found out?”
“Not a lot other than what I've told you,” Angel explained, “I don't speak Mandarin or Japanese and these guys aren't what you might call talkative.”
Having exhausted what little information he had about the demon-soldiers, Angel went on to give Buffy his estimate of enemy numbers and what equipment they had.
“I also got this for you,” he handed Buffy a small radio.
“Thanks,” Buffy smiled, “but I don't think we'll have time to party on down and listen to music...”
“No,” Angel shook his head, “listen, eventually people are going to get organised and the army will need to pass on information to the resistance fighters in enemy held territory,” he explained. “Back in World War Two the British used to send coded messages to resistance workers in occupied Europe over the radio, I'm betting some one will do the same once everything settles down.”
“Oh,” Buffy looked at the radio in her hands, “I get it...all I have to do is switch this on and find out what the hell's going on?”
“Something like that...” Angel smiled once again before moving in to kiss Buffy.
On the other side of the room Xander pretended to be checking one of the new rifles, he was in fact watching Buffy and Angel like a hawk...a very angry and jealous hawk. Once again he reviewed all the times he'd helped and saved Buffy, yet she was still in love with the blood sucking murderer. Yes she loved him...loved him like a brother, but Xander wasn't into incest. He loved Buffy so much that it hurt, yet she couldn't, wouldn't see his pain. But one day, oh yes, one day and please god make that day come soon, he'd have his revenge on Angel and Buffy would turn to him and love him like he loved her.
“What was that?” Cordy asked a she tossed a grenade from one hand to the other.
“What was what?” Xander tore his eyes away from Buffy and glanced at Cordy.
“You were mumbling something,” the ex-cheerleader told him.
“Oh it was nothing,” Xander forced a smile; he must have been vocalising his thoughts, he better watch that in future.
“Whatever,” Cordy shrugged, “hey, you guys,” she called over to where Buffy and Angel gazed into each other's eyes, “its getting late...” she glanced at her watch, “...or early or whatever. We wanna be outta here before it gets light...I don't want to spend any more time in this place than I have to...lets move it people.”
Early October, near Woodland Village.
It was now just over two weeks since Buffy had taken her little jaunt to Sunnydale and she was beginning to learn that being a resistance fighter was harder than it looked in the movies. For example; in the last two weeks Buffy and her brave band had set up four ambushes on the roads through the forest where they lived. In that time they had managed to kill exactly seven enemy soldiers and destroy one of their little tanks. It wasn't that their tactics were incorrect, she instinctively knew how to set an ambush, their failure so far had been a result of not knowing where and when the enemy would be patrolling.
To make matters worse the ammunition and RPGs they'd used to destroy the small patrol that they'd found had only just been replaced by what they'd manage to salvage from the dead soldiers. As far as Buffy could see, if this went on they'd be out of business before they'd even got properly started. Plus, as if to add insult to injury, the Pacs weren't even stepping up their patrols or trying to hunt them down, it was like they were making zero impact. Knowing this needed to change, Buffy decided to head out one morning to think away from activity around the cabin. However, she found she couldn't go by herself (which was what she'd really wanted to do), she'd became a victim of her own rules. Early in the group's tenure of the cabin, she’d told everyone that no one was to leave the immediate area of the cabin by themselves.
Buffy and Willow had been walking through the forest in the general direction of Woodland Village when the sound of trucks came to them through the trees. Following the noise they eventually came out on to a raise above the village, below them they saw about a dozen trucks, two of the Pac-men's little tank things and maybe thirty or forty of their soldiers. There were also around two or three hundred locals, probably people from Sunnydale. The Pac-men were having the civilians strip the houses of food and anything useful before loading the loot onto the trucks. The trucks themselves were all civilian models that had been hurriedly painted green and had rising star flags painted on the doors of their cabs. Settling down in cover, Buffy and Willow watched the activity below them.
“So,” Buffy said quietly as she watched the Pacs through her sniper scope, “what's it with you an' Cordy...” another question popped into her mind hard on the heels of the first, “...and don't you think she's got totally scary over the last few weeks?”
“I told you how she shot those guys in her house,” Willow replied trying to avoid answering Buffy's question about Cordy and herself.
“Yeah,” Buffy glanced over at Willow, “I suppose we've all changed since the Pac-men got here, even Dawn's acting more grown up.”
“Dawn could always act 'grown-up',” Willow smiled, “only you didn't see it because you're her big sister.”
“Whatever,” Buffy shrugged as she went back to watching the Pac-men and their workers, “I wonder why those people are working for the Pac-man? I'd never do that...”
“Maybe they're hungry,” Willow said as she watched through her binoculars, “like, you said people looked half starved when you went into Sunny'D', maybe this is the only way they can get more food.”
“But working for the Pac-man?” Buffy zoomed in on a couple of guys who were carrying a big box to one of the trucks, she had to admit they did look thin.
“It's okay to say that now,” Willow lowered her glasses, “we've got food and warm beds and...”
“Talking of beds,” Buffy butted in, “like I asked before, what is it with you an' Cordy? Look you always told me that you and Xander hated her. I mean Xander still does but you're like all 'lovy-dovy' now and I saw you holding her hand under the table last night and...” Buffy gasped as the penny dropped, “...OH MY GOD!” Buffy cried out forgetting that they were near the enemy, “You an' Cordy...you're gay!”
At first Willow thought about denying it, but then she realised that Buffy had already worked it out and it was no good trying to hide the truth.
“Okay, so what if we are?” Willow replied with an uncharacteristic show of belligerence, “You got a problem with that?”
“No Willow,” Buffy shook her head, “I think its great Will, if that's what makes you happy Will you carry on Will and don't you mind what anyone says...”
“Buffy why do you keep using my name like that, its creepy.”
“It is?” Buffy realised she wasn't exactly handling this as well as she'd imagined she would, “I am?” she took a deep breath, “Gotta say Will, this comes as something of a total surprise although all the moaning and giggling and crying out in...pleasure, coming from your bedroom at night should have tipped me off...”
“You were listening!?” Willow looked at her friend in horror.
“Hard not to when I'm in the next room and I've got slayer hearing, plus those walls aren't exactly thick,” Buffy paused for a moment as she thought of something, “You know, of my two bestest buds I'd have guessed Xander was gay before you.”
“Oh he's straight as they come,” Willow replied, “it's Larry who's gay...”
“Larry!?” this time Buffy remembered not to shout out loudly.
“Yep,” Willow nodded her head firmly.
“Big, head-jock, Larry?” Buffy demanded confirmation.
“Uh-huh,” Willow nodded again.
“Well, I never.”
“Obviously not,” Willow added, “and what's more he 'likes' Xander.”
“Oh boy,” Buffy sighed, “but Xander's not gay, right? You said so, okay?”
“Poor Larry,” Willow sighed.
“There's nothing else I should know is there?” Buffy still couldn't believe she'd missed all this stuff, “I mean Dawn and Andrew aren't...you know...” Buffy found she couldn't say the words, “...like...?”
“Having sex in the storeroom?” Willow asked mischievously.
“Uh-huh,” Buffy nodded slowly.
“Not as far as I know,” Willow decided to have some fun at Buffy's expense, “but it wouldn't surprise me, I mean they do spend an awful lot of time together, it'd only be natural if they started to have feelings for one anther, and Andrew's quite a nice guy once you get past the geekiness I'm sure they'll be real happy together!”
“Willow!” Buffy had to stop herself from shrieking out loud again.
“Whatever,” Willow shrugged, “hey we better get back to watching these guys...”
“About three, why?” Willow replied; they'd spent nearly all day watching the village and if they didn't start to head for home soon they wouldn't get back until well after dark.
“Nothing,” Buffy replied as she took her eye from her sniper-scope and pointed the soldiers out to Willow, “see those guys...?”
“Yeah, what of them?”
“Remember Xan an' I ran into a Pac-man patrol and I shot them?”
“I hid the bodies behind...” Buffy saw something and went back to watching through her sniper-scope, “...oh crap this is bad!”
“What's bad?” Willow wanted to know.
“I think they've found the bodies,” Buffy saw that the soldiers looked really pissed at something.
“Should we go?” Willow asked nervously, “You know I'm not much of a fighter, I don't even think I could kill anyone with this thing,” Willow gestured to the Pac-man assault rifle she carried.
“It's okay, Will,” Buffy said reassuringly, “I don't think we'll have to fight...oh my god!”
“What now?” Willow cried.
“Look,” Buffy pointed down into the village, “look down there by the store...”
“What?” Willow put the binoculars back to her eyes and searched the area around the general store, “Oh my god!” Willow cried, “It's Giles!”
“And Snyder and Mr Flint the home economics teacher and is that Miss Stirling?”
“Yeah,” Willow lowered her glasses and looked at her friend, “what's going on, Buffy?”
Once Giles and his fellow prisoners had dug the graves and placed the bodies into the holes, the officer had had all the workers line up near the graves as the soldiers sang the Pacs anthem. Next the officer had the politicals fill in the graves before lining them up on the far side of the village green near the rotted bodies of the people who had once lived there. Giles had an awful feeling of impending doom as he realised what was going to happen next.
“So this is it, we're all going to die,” he told Snyder with as much aplomb as he could manage, “I can't say I'm looking forward to dying in your company, Snyder, I never liked you.”
“The feeling's mutual,” Snyder replied as they heard the two little tanks drive up behind them, “but I don't suppose it matters much now.”
“No, I don't suppose it does,” Giles agreed; the tanks had stopped somewhere behind them and he could hear orders being passed from one man to the other, his heart jumped a little as he heard the heavy machine guns on top of the tank's turrets being cocked, “Oh bugger,” was the only thing he could think of to say.
At the far end of the line of prisoners someone started to sing.
“O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain!” the lone voice was slowly joined by others as the political prisoners turned to face their executioners, Giles didn't join in the singing this wasn't his song or indeed his country.
“Oh what the hell,” he told himself and joined in the singing as he watched the men behind their machine guns, “I read the news today, oh boy...”
“I'm...I'm not sure, I...” the words caught in Buffy's throat as realisation dawned.
“They're not going to...” tears started to fill Willow's eyes, “...I mean they can't...that's Giles down there...”
“I know,” Buffy felt more helpless at that moment than she'd ever done before.
“...all those people Buffy,” Willow sobbed, “they can't just...we've got to do something.”
“I know,” Buffy looked up at the trees, there was hardly any breeze and the enemy were only about five hundred yards away, the two men on top of the tanks operating the machine guns would be easy targets. “Get everything ready to move,” Buffy ordered, “when I stop firing we're...!”
The sound of heavy machine gun fire prevented Buffy from completing what she'd been about to say. Hearing Willow scream in a mixture of helpless rage, despair and terror, Buffy watched as the machine gunners cut down Giles and the other prisoners. A wail of horror rose from the town's people who'd been forced to watch as the politicals were gunned down. Almost before her shocked mind had registered what was happening Buffy's ears were assaulted by the silence that followed the firing.
Watching over the top of her rifle, Buffy saw an officer advance on the line of bodies, his pistol in his hand. Pulling her rifle into her shoulder, she told herself that the two men who'd fired were as good as dead. As if to prove herself right she sighted on the left hand gunner, steadied her breathing and fired. Seeing the spray of blood explode from the first man's head as he fell, she knew he was dead. Working the bolt, she loaded another round and changed her point of aim to the second gunner.
The man standing on the decking behind the tank's turret clutched the grips of his machine gun and appeared to have been frozen in place as he stared towards where his dead comrade had once stood. He didn't stare for long, Buffy's second round took the top of his head clean off and he fell to the ground next to his vehicle. The sound of the second shot acted like a catalyst as people started to scream and run for cover. The officer started to shout orders as he pointed towards the trees where Buffy and Willow lay hidden. His men started to break ranks and shake themselves out into a more tactical formation.
The third round Buffy fired hit the officer in the mouth and blew out the back of his head. The ordinary Pacs soldiers hesitated as their officer fell. However, another soldier soon stepped forward and started to shout orders, Buffy shot him as well. Unsure what else to do the enemy soldiers began to fire wildly into the trees. Spotting a man talking into a radio, Buffy shot him through the chest. Now she'd fired off all the rounds in her rifle and as she could hear bullets flying through the branches above her head she decided that it was time to leave.
“Willow, grab the stuff and...!” Buffy turned to look at her friend only to find she was standing up and pointing her rifle down slope at the enemy.
“BASTARDS!” Willow raged as she fired burst after burst at the enemy from her rifle, “BASTARDS!” she repeated as her magazine ran dry and she tried to fumble a full one into place.
“WILLOW!” Buffy grabbed at her friend and dragged her down beside her, “It's no good your bullets are falling short...we've gotta go!”
One hand on Willow, and one on her own rifle, Buffy looked at all the gear Willow had been about to pack up. Deciding she could leave it she dragged Willow into the deep dark of the forest and headed for home. Cursing herself for almost forgetting to lay a false trail, she dragged Willow off in a random direction once they were deep enough into the trees not to be seen by any pursuing Pac-men. They'd have to move fast and away from their goal unless they wanted the Pac-men to follow them home. It also looked as if they'd have to spend the night out in the open to be sure they'd not lead the enemy back to their base.
As they trotted between the trees, Buffy now wished that she'd stopped to collect their gear before running for cover, it was going to be a cold night without food, a fire or sleeping bags. As she ran she sighed heavily, the only way to look at this was as a lesson, she'd not make the same mistakes again, but on the plus side there were five less Pac-men to worry about.
High light and right click.
Telling Jenny Calendar that Giles was dead had been one of the hardest things Buffy had ever had to do, only telling Dawn that their mother had been killed had been harder. Jenny had joined the group after Buffy had told her that Giles had said to get out of Sunnydale. Now Giles was dead and although she'd seen it happen Buffy didn't know if she really believed it; she could only imagine how Jenny felt at that moment. However, Giles' death had filled Buffy with a new determination to hit back at the invaders, in her old mentor's words to 'make their eyes water'.
“Okay everyone,” Buffy said at the end of the evening meal three days after Giles' death, “so far the Pac-men have hardly noticed us and I'm totally not surprised,” she cast her eyes around the table and no one seemed inclined to disagree with her, “But that's going to change, if we can't hit them while they're on the road we'll hit them when they're in their beds!”
“In their beds?” Xander replied uncertainly.
“Totally,” Buffy frowned, “not exactly in their beds but close to...” Buffy looked to where Larry was sitting, “...Larry what do you know about this 'Frazier Park' place?”
“Small community at the head of Tejon Pass about twenty miles east of here, why?”
“Because we're going to raid it!” Buffy said as a wide grin spread across her face.
“Why?” Jenny asked from the other end of the table.
“Well,” Buffy took a deep breath, “like Larry said its at the end of a pass that leads to the Interstate, if the Pac-men have got people anywhere it'll be in places like Frazier Park.”
“But you don't actually know if there's any Pacs there, right?” Jenny asked.
“Not as such,” Buffy agreed, “but its our best bet...” she noted the look of uncertainty on Jenny's face, “...look Jenny before you joined us we'd all decided to hit back at the Pac-men for what they'd done. So far we've hardly patted them let alone hit them, but if they're at Frazier Park we can make a start.”
“Okay,” Jenny nodded her head, “but promise me you'll not do anything if there's too many of them.”
“Yeah, okay,” Buffy looked at Jenny and wondered if she was going to have a problem with the adult, “but we've got to do something.”
“What's the plan, Buff?” this came from Willow; since she'd seen Giles' murder and the murder of all those other people she'd been one of the loudest voices in favour of retaliation.
“Okay,” Buffy began, “we load up the Rangers' pick-up and use the back trails to get near Frazier Park, we'll do that at night so there's less chance of being spotted. Once we're within a couple of miles of Frazier Park we hide the pick-up and go the rest of the way on foot. If everything goes right we should hit the place just after dawn, okay?”
“Is that your plan?” Jenny demanded, “Just go over there in the hopes of catching the Pacs in their PJs?”
“Its the best we can do for now,” Buffy replied a hard edge to her voice, “I'm in charge,” she pointed out, “so, its my responsibility. I don't want to get anyone hurt or killed but we have to do something...” once again Buffy looked at Larry, “...can you find a way to this place in the dark?”
“Yeah,” Larry replied hesitantly, “but we might have to use some of the main tracks and if we're going at night we'll need to start out no later than midnight.”
“Okay, I can live with that,” Buffy informed the group, “what have got for weapons?”
“Everyone's got an assault rifle,” Cordy spoke up; she'd sort of taken on the responsibility of looking after the weapons and ammunition as it got her out of firewood chopping duty, “and there's enough ammo to give everyone five fully loaded magazines...”
“RPGs, grenades?” Buffy wanted to know.
“I was just coming to that,” Cordy replied a little sharply, “although we've got two launchers we've only got two rockets for them...”
“Take one launcher and both rockets...Cordy you're the best shot with an RPG you get to shoot up any of those little tanks we might see...”
“Okay, but if there's more than two...” Cordy shrugged helplessly.
“If there's more than two, we'll go back another day,” Buffy returned Cordy's shrug before asking, “Grenades?”
“Only enough for two each.” Cordelia admitted.
“Not much of an arsenal,” Jenny pointed out.
“It'll have to do,” Buffy replied as she fought down the sharp reply she'd been about to give, “look I'll be taking my rifle so you can redistribute my bullets and Dawn and Jenny will be staying here...”
“BUFFY!?” Dawn cried out from next to her sister.
“You're too young,” Buffy replied before her sister could give all the reasons why she should go on the raid, “and I want you to stay here with Jenny and guard the cabin.”
Dawn was just about to tell her sister all the really good reasons that she should go on the raid, when she closed her mouth with a snap. Whatever she said Buffy wouldn't let her go, so, she'd put Buffy in a position where she couldn't help but bring her along.
“Okay,” Dawn said.
Looking down at her little sister, Buffy frowned, she'd really expected to have more of an argument.
“Whatever,” Buffy shrugged again, before directing her gaze back to Cordy, “does that make things better?”
“Gives everyone two more magazines assuming you want to leave Dawn and Ms Calendar with a couple of mags each,” Cordy explained.
“One magazine,” Buffy ordered, “for the assault rifles, there's still all the shotguns and hunting rifles in the cabin.”
“Better,” Cordy nodded as she made a note on the pad in front of her.
“So when do you intend to start this mission?” Jenny wanted to know.
“No time like the present,” Buffy beamed happily, “we'll start out tonight at eleven-thirty...”
“Twenty-three-thirty,” Xander corrected.
“What?” everyone turned to look at Xander.
“It's army-speak for eleven-thirty,” he explained self-consciously.
“Whatever,” Buffy sighed heavily.
Dressed in jeans, boots and a warm jacket under her camouflaged smock, Dawn ran her fingers over her assault rifle. It felt very big in her hands but she'd fired it a couple of times before and she'd found she didn't have too much difficulty hitting things with it, even with it being a little too big for her. Shifting slightly, Dawn saw and heard Buffy giving everyone her 'before battle' pep talk; Buffy was really bad at this sort of talk and usually ended up saying the wrong thing, it was hardly 'Henry the Fifth' before Agincourt. Finally, after depressing everyone, Buffy stopped talking and climbed into the front of the pick up with Larry. Everyone else climbed into the rear cargo area and started to wrap blankets around themselves, it was pretty cold up in the mountains at this time of year.
This was the moment Dawn had been waiting for, coming out of cover she ran towards the pick-up just as Larry started the engine. Reaching the vehicle she put one foot on the rear wheel and grabbed the side of the cargo area with both hands. Just as she was about to boast herself into the back of the pick-up she found herself face to face with Xander.
“Please...” Dawn pleaded.
“Okay,” Xander replied after a moment's hesitation, “but Buffy's gonna kill me when she finds you.”
Climbing into the back of the pick-up, Dawn found herself being pulled down between Cordelia and Willow before they covered her with a blanket.
“Everyone okay back there?” Buffy called from the cab.
“Fine,” everyone but Cordy called back; Willow had prevented her saying anything by digging her in the ribs with her elbow.
“Dawn!?” Buffy whispered angrily.
“Hey, Buffy,” it was Xander who spoke, “she'll be fine, we'll all look out for her...”
“And while you're looking out for her, you get killed,” Buffy snapped.
“I won't,” Cordy volunteered.
“Right,” Buffy turned to glare at her sister in the moonlight, “you stick to Willow and Cordy like glue...”
“Oh god,” Cordy groaned, “not baby sitting duty?”
“I'm not a baby,” Dawn said from between clenched teeth.
“Shut up all of you,” Buffy ordered, “or next time I'll leave you all at home!”
This threat was met by discontented mutterings from everyone.
“Look,” Buffy glanced at her watch, “its nearly three in the morning and we've got three miles to cover over rough ground.” This information made everyone shut up, at least for a moment, “Willow, Cordy and now Dawn, you are our tank hunters, okay?”
“As long as there's no more that two tanks,” Cordy reminded her.
“Whatever,” Buffy sighed, “I'll go with Jonathan, Larry you go with Xander we're the assault teams.”
“Where did Buffy learn words like 'assault teams',” Willow whispered into Cordy's ear.
“Watching the History Channel?” Cordy suggested only to hear Willow stifle a derisive laugh.
“Okay,” everyone eventually agreed.
“Come on, lets move,” Buffy said as she led the way into the dark woods, “and don't anyone get lost.”
Lying in the cover of the trees everyone who had binoculars or sniper-scopes studied the village in the early morning light.
“I see one little tank thing by the Ranger station,” Buffy said as she pulled her eye away from her sniper-scope.
“Got it,” Willow called back from where she lay next to Cordy and Dawn, “I don't think we can hit it from up here.”
“Talk for yourself,” Cordy replied as she prepared the RPG for firing.
“Hey!” Buffy warned, “Only two rockets remember.”
“Yeah okay,” Cordy agreed grudgingly, “we'll get closer.”
“Okay,” Buffy checked the scene through her scope again, “I can see one guard outside the Ranger Station so I'm guessing that's were they're camped out...”
“Yeah I wonder how many of them are in there,” Andrew asked.
“However many there are we'll take them down,” Xander said as he fingered his rifle.
“Look,” Buffy called softly, “best I can think of is we sneak down until we're behind the gas station. We cross the road, tank hunters break off and get ready to zap the tank while the rest of us surround the Ranger Station. On my signal Cordy takes out the tank while the rest of us throw grenades through the windows and shoot anyone that comes out.”
“That's your plan?” Cordy asked.
“You got a better one?” Buffy waited for a reply, “No, I'm serious, has anyone got a better idea, coz I'm working in the dark here...so not my area of expertise.”
“Hey look,” Xander shrugged in the dark, “we'll make it up as we go along, I mean how hard can it be?”
“Whatever,” Buffy sighed, “if anything goes wrong or we get separated we meet back here, okay?”
“Okay!” everyone replied.
“Go Razorbacks,” Cordy cheered quietly.
“CORDY! TANK! GO!” Buffy yelled as she turned to face the guard and shooting him neatly between the eyes as she did so, “COVER!”
Hitting the ground, Buffy aimed at the guard outside the Ranger station, she shot him with another deadly accurate head shot. With the bolt of her rifle was open Buffy took two spare rounds from her jacket pocket and slipped them into her magazine. While she was doing this the first of the Pac-man soldiers tumbled from the door of the ranger station. Almost as soon as the enemy soldiers appeared, Larry, Xander and Jonathan opened fire. Dust flew into the air as bullets chewed up the ground around the soldier's feet. Two Pac-man soldiers fell dead and another one was dragged back into the station by his buddies.
“I thought you guys could shoot,” Buffy said in mild disgust; her guys had fired on full automatic and hit only three out of seven targets.
Sighting on movement in the window next to the door Buffy fired again and smiled as she saw a shadow drop away from the opening.
“Okay,” Buffy looked up from her scope, “Larry and Xander you try and work your way around to the left, make sure they're not climbing out the windows or something...” just as Larry and Xander started to move away, she called a warning to them, “...and try not to shoot Cordy, Willow and my sister, right?”
Xander waved back at her to show he'd heard her.
“What do we do?” Jonathan asked.
“We distract them,” Buffy replied.
“By shooting at them!”
“Now what?” Willow looked at Cordy as if she knew what she was doing.
“Erm...” Cordy looked down the street to where a fusillade of shots was directed at the ranger station from Buffy's position in the gas station, to be honest she didn't know what was to be done for the best.
“Hey guys,” Dawn said as she held her rifle in shaking hands; she didn't know if she was scared silly or simply hyped up just at the moment but it was obvious that standing here wasn't doing anything useful. “Look if we go around the back of the store we should come out in a position we can zap the tank from.”
“Great!” both the older girls replied; moments later they made their way to the rear of the store and sure enough there stood the little tank-like vehicle out in the open with no one near it.
“Cool,” Cody grinned as she lifted the launcher to her shoulder, “clear behind?” she asked as she sighted on the enemy vehicle.
“Clear!” Willow replied as she pulled Dawn behind her; the RPG didn't have a lot of backblast but it was still unwise to stand behind it when someone fired.
“On the way!” Cordy cried as the rocket launched itself from the tube.
The distance to the tank was less than a fifty yards and it took the rocket only a moment to reach its target. The warhead punched through the vehicle's thin armour causing it to explode with a satisfying 'BOOOM!' accompanied by a cloud of smoke and flame. The three girls cheered their own success and hugged each other just as another enemy vehicle appeared from around the corner of the ranger station.
High light and right click...
Swapping an empty magazine for a fresh one, Xander was shocked to find he'd gone through almost half of his ammunition. After slipping a fully loaded magazine into his rifle he risked a look around the pick-up truck he'd been hiding behind. Sure enough the Pac-men were still firing from the ranger station as if all the rounds he and Larry had pumped into the place had had absolutely no effect.
Looking to his right, Xander saw Larry hiding behind a low concrete wall. The wall was heavily chipped from where Pac-man return fire had hit it, he couldn't help but think that if Larry didn't move soon the Pac-men would blow the wall clean away. After firing a long burst at the ranger station, he ducked down again, sitting with his back resting against the front wheel of the pick-up it occurred to him that if something didn't change soon they'd all be in deep crap! It was only then that he remembered the three grenades that he'd got stuffed into his pockets.
Placing his rifle on the ground he dug out one of the grenades from his pocket and held it in his hand. The grenade was just a little smaller than a baseball, painted green with a smooth surface, it didn't look very much like the grenades he'd seen in comics or in old war movies. It did however have a pin; he’d once tried to pull the pin with his teeth like they did in all the best war movies and nearly pulled his teeth out by the roots! Holding the grenade firmly in his hand and making sure he had the lever that actually fired the grenade so it wouldn't fly off when he pulled the pin, he turned and got into a better position for throwing.
“COVERING FIRE!” Xander yelled to Larry.
“Hold on!” came the reply as Larry swapped magazines, “Okay, on three...one, two, THREE!”
On 'three', Larry sent a long burst of fire at the Ranger's station hitting it all along the wall facing him and sending wood splitters flying in all directions. It also caused the Pac-men to leave off firing back for a moment, however a moment was all Xander needed. Popping up from behind the pick-up, Xander pulled the grenade's pin before hurling it through one of the station's smashed windows. Ducking back down, Xander waited for the grenade to explode.
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU...!” Larry yelled just as the grenade exploded.
There was no ear-deadening explosion, no great plume of smoke and flame, the roof of the station wasn't blown off and the walls weren't blown out. Once again Xander realised that the reality of action movies was way different to the reality of life. The sound of the explosion caused by the grenade was almost lost in the sound of all the gunfire going on, but what Xander did hear was the sound of screams as shrapnel from the grenade tore through the bodies of at least some of the defenders. There was a significant reduction in return fire as thin grey tendrils of smoke drifted from the smashed windows.
“Now that's better!” Xander told himself as he picked up his rifle again.
It was just about now that a thought hit her, she needed to play to her natural strengths. Laying her rifle down on the glass covered floor, Buffy took the cut down automatic shotgun from off her back. Next she pulled her revolver from its holster and held it in her left hand. Shotgun in her right hand and pistol in her left, Buffy next pondered how she was going cross the bullet swept road and get into the station. As if in answer to this question there was a sharp, 'CRACK!' and the fire from the Ranger station eased off a little. Not bothering to think her plan through, she jumped to her feet and leaped through the broken display window under which she'd been hiding.
Sprinting for all she was worth, Buffy crossed the street firing her revolver and shotgun at the station's windows as she did so. By some miracle she made it across the road without being hit. Thumping against the wall of the Ranger station, she put her empty pistol back into its holster and slung her empty shotgun back across her back. Stepping back half a pace she flexed her legs and jumped up onto the roof of the station. Landing on all fours, she paused for just a second before scrambling across the roof until she was able to sit astride the angle of the roof. Quickly reloading her weapons she next tried to work out the rest of her somewhat sketchy plan. Somehow and with out being shot by her friends or the Pac-man she needed to smash through the roof and get inside the Ranger station.
Casting aside the useless rocket and dropping the launcher, Cordy picked up her rifle and joined Willow in firing at the vehicle only to see her rounds sparking as they bounced from its armour.
Hiding behind a pile of crates a little to the right of Willow and Cordy's position, Dawn watched as the vehicle came slowly around the corner of the Ranger station and its turret sung ominously in her direction. Unlike the first 'tank' Cordy had destroyed this one ran on four wheels. Its hull was sort of boat shaped and it had a small turret that looked like an up-side-down frying pan with a big machine gun like weapon in it. From where she hid, Dawn could also see a big hatch in the side of the vehicle and a couple of smaller openings that probably let the driver see out.
Watching as Cordy and Willow's bullets bounced from the front and side of the vehicle, Dawn saw they were having no effect what-so-ever. Lifting her own rifle to her shoulder, Dawn sighted on the front wheel closest to her. Aiming her rifle carefully she squeezed the trigger, just like she'd been taught...nothing happened. For just a moment she sat there stupidly staring at her rifle, it took her all of ten seconds to realise that she'd not pulled back on the lever that loaded the first bullet. Pushing down one click on the cover that also acted as a safety catch, Dawn raised her weapon again aimed and fired.
This time the rifle went off sending bullets flying in all directions. The noise and vibration took Dawn so much by surprise that she almost dropped her rifle. Forcing herself to ease up on the trigger and stop firing, Dawn ducked down behind the crates again and tried to stop her hands and body from trembling so much.
“Okay,” Dawn told herself, “you can do this...”
Taking a firm hold on her rifle Dawn popped up again until she could see her target, aimed and fired emptying her magazine into the wheel arch of the 'tank'. Nothing happened, Dawn could see her rounds striking the wheel but it didn't deflate and bring the vehicle's slow and steady advance to a halt. Obviously she needed to do something a little more violent to get this thing to stop.
Standing up, Buffy gripped her shotgun firmly in her hands, took a deep breath and fired. Pulling the trigger as fast as she could, she saw the buckshot eat away at the roof. After she'd fired off the six rounds in the gun she found she still wasn't quite through. Kicking with her heel she made the hole more or less 'Buffy' sized before taking one of her grenades, pulling the pin and dropping it through the hole. After flinching away from the shrapnel that punched its way through the roof next to her feet and the few pieces that flew up through the hole and missed her by a hair's breadth. she jumped down into the Ranger station.
The room she'd jumped into, an office of some kind, was full of smoke and the only Pac-men around were a couple of soldiers who lay crumpled on the floor their uniforms ripped and bloody. Almost before the scene had really registered on her mind a Pac-man soldier burst into the room his rifle at the ready. Without any conscious thought, Buffy shot him in the forehead with her pistol. The man went down as she ripped the rifle from his numbed hands before he'd even hit the floor. Sliding her pistol back into its holster, she gripped the Pac-man's rifle and burst out into a much bigger room. Here she saw four or five enemy soldiers kneeling and firing out of the window. The sound of all the firing had been so loud that they'd not heard her arrive.
Firing a long burst as she swung her rifle from left to right, Buffy cut down the enemy soldiers before they even realised they were in danger. Finding her rifle was empty, she tossed it aside and moved on to the next room as she ducked the bullets coming in from outside; it was at this point she realised that 'friendly fire' wasn't!
Remembering the grenade in her pocket as it bounced against her boob as she ran, Dawn came up with a daring and probably suicidal plan. Yes, what she was now planning to do would more than likely result in her tragic and early death; but, if she didn't do something her friends and sister could very well die. It was time for her to step up and be counted...counted amongst the dead most likely but counted just the same.
Taking the grenade from the pocket of her camouflaged smock, Dawn frantically tried to remember what Larry had said about throwing a grenade, but she had no intention of throwing anything. Slinging her rifle onto her back, she broke from cover and ran towards the wheeled tank; she came at it at right angles so the crew, who she fervently hoped was looking forward, wouldn't see her.
Much to her own surprise Dawn reached the vehicle without being chopped into dog meat by the tank's big machine-gun. Breathing heavily as she rested against the side of the vehicle's hull, she worked the pin from the grenade. Making sure she kept her hand firmly over the lever that fired the grenade, she moved towards the front of the tank. Here she had planned to toss the grenade into the driver's open hatch, it was only then that she discovered a major flaw in her plan, she was too short. Having not fully appreciated just how big the tank was, Dawn found that she couldn't just toss the grenade in through the hatch, she'd need to actually climb up on the vehicle to make sure her grenade went where she wanted it to go.
“Oh crap!” Dawn cried quietly to herself as the tank's machine-gun blazed away above her head.
Holding the grenade in a grip of steel for fear she might drop it and blow herself to kingdom come, Dawn put her foot in a handy foothold on the side of the vehicle and boosted herself up until her head was level with the driver's hatch. For just a moment, Dawn found herself staring into the surprised eyes of the Pac-man driver. Seconds ticked by as if they were hours as the girl and the soldier starred at each other in shock. A bullet clanging off the armour broke Dawn out of her stupor, for a moment she could hear yelling as the driver shouted a warning or it could have been a panicked request for someone to shoot Dawn. Whatever it was the shout were cut off and turned to screams of alarm as Dawn dropped her grenade through the hatch.
Dropping to the ground, Dawn distinctly heard the 'CLING!' as the grenade's lever released the striker inside the grenade, there was a moment or two of complete silence followed by a dull 'BANG!' which made the body of the armoured car ring like a bell for a second. When Dawn looked up from where she lay she could see clouds of grey smoke pour from every hatch and hole in the vehicle's body. Just as she was about to congratulate herself on surviving, she saw one of the side hatches start to open. Only a second or two later a badly wounded man tumbled out of the armoured car to lie groaning on the dusty ground. Dawn looked at the man in horror at what she'd done. His uniform was bloody and scorched, blood oozed from multiple wounds to form into small gristly puddles around where he lay.
“DAWN!” the sound of her name came to her through ears that still rang with the sound of the exploding grenade.
Turning Dawn saw Willow and Cordy running towards her as they kept their rifles trained on the smoking armoured car.
“Dawn are you okay?” Willow called softly as she knelt down next to her.
“I-I'm fine...” Dawn managed to say.
“Not for long,” Cordy observed as she checked the interior of the armoured car for survivors, “your sister's going to kill you when she finds out about this!
It was almost a week after the attack on Frazier Park and not a lot had happened. Buffy was busy planning the next attack while the rest of the group spent their time chopping wood, practising with their weapons, patrolling and generally just surviving. A couple of nights after the raid the first snow had fallen, it had only been a light dusting and hadn't lasted the day, but Larry told them it would get colder and the snow would get heavier. The worsening weather had encouraged more wood cutting, no one wanted to risk freezing if the conditions up in the mountains got as bad as Larry was suggesting.
On this particular morning Dawn and Jonathan found themselves about a mile away from the cabin. There'd been a heavy frost over night and the sky was clear with the sun shining down between the trees onto the two teenagers; it was bitterly cold and both of them were well bundled up against the freezing temperatures. They mostly walked in silence with only the crunching of their footsteps on the frost covered ground giving away their position. Today, Jonathan carried a hunting rifle, he'd turned into a proficient hunter and he carried the weapon just in case he saw something tasty that he could shoot to supplement the group's supply of fresh meat. Carrying a Pac-man assault rifle Dawn was there as his back up in case they came across a Pac-man patrol that couldn't be avoided.
After the attack on Frazier Park, Buffy had gone ballistic calling Dawn all sorts of stupid; she'd only calmed down when both Willow and Cordelia had pointed out that if it hadn't been for Dawn's brave actions they'd all probably be dead by now. This had literally given Buffy pause and she'd stopped yelling and shouting at her little sister; she had however stormed out of the house and gone to sit in the barn for an hour or two by herself. When she came back she'd actually apologised to Dawn and thanked her for her bravery. As you could imagine Buffy's about face left Dawn speechless and prone to being knocked down by someone waving a feather about. From that point onward, Buffy treated her sister more like she did the rest of the group. However, Willow noticed that Buffy didn't like what she'd been forced to do, she'd still prefer to keep Dawn somewhere safe but it had dawned on her that until the Pac-men had gone nowhere was really safe.
The other reason Dawn and Jonathan were away from the cabin was that Buffy had sent out patrols. The previous night everyone had been woken by a helicopter that had flown low over the forest near the cabin. Concerned that it could have been a Pac-man aircraft that might have landed a foot patrol, she'd dispatched Dawn and Jonathan to cover the area north of the cabin while herself and Xander searched the southern quadrant. Larry, Willow, Cordy and Jenny remained at the cabin to protect it and continue chopping even more firewood.
“How the hell does Buffy think anyone could land here?” Dawn demanded as she gestured to all the closely spaced trees around herself and Jonathan.
“Maybe they hovered and slid down ropes,” Jonathan replied with a shrug, “I saw that once...”
“You did?” Dawn turned to look at her partner trying to work out if he was messing with her.
“Yeah,” Jonathan nodded, “it was on the news once, the forest rangers or someone were trying to rescue some injured guy.”
“Oh,” Dawn shrugged; perhaps her sister wasn't being completely paranoid, “whatever,” she shrugged before turning and continuing to walk between the trees, “Jeez its cold...”
“Yeah,” Jonathan agreed, “who'd have thought California could get so cold.”
“Yeah,” Dawn paused; there was something more important than the weather she'd wanted to ask Jonathan for several days, but she'd never found just the right moment; now seemed as good a time as any, “Hey,” once again she stopped and turned to face Jonathan bringing him to a halt next to her, “erm...look...” Dawn took a deep breath before continuing, “...do you wanna totally have sex with me?” the words tumbled out of Dawn's mouth in their eagerness to be spoken, “Not here...” Dawn grinned and laughed nervously, “...we'd freeze out butts off, but back at the cabin, maybe in the store room?”
“W-what!?” it was Jonathan's turn to be assaulted by feather wielding maniacs as he stood there with his mouth open staring at Dawn as if she grown another head.
“Come on, I'm not that ugly,” Dawn pleaded, “and we could all be dead tomorrow.”
“B-b-but B-Buffy?” Jonathan stammered as he backed away from Dawn like she was some sort of homicidal axe killer.
“What about her?” Dawn replied, “I wasn't planning on telling her...”
“B-but she'd kill me if she ever found out!” Jonathan appeared to have regained his composure and was now thinking about all the unpleasant and no doubt painful things Buffy would do to him if she caught him screwing Dawn.
“Like I say I totally wasn't planning on telling her,” Dawn reiterated, “and I'm guessing you won't either.”
“No...” Jonathan agreed as he desperately tried to think up a good reason not to have sex with Dawn; apart from Buffy killing him and as Dawn had pointed out they could all be dead tomorrow anyway, he was coming up blank, “...in the store room?”
“Yeah!” Dawn replied eagerly.
“But its cold down there,” Jonathan almost whined.
“Totally...” Dawn agreed as she thought about this for a moment before coming up with a solution, “...we could wait until everyone's out then we could do it in one of the bedrooms...oh...” Dawn had already thought of a hitch in her plan, “...Miss Calendar...”
“Yeah, Miss Calendar...” Jonathan agreed; since joining the group, Jenny Calendar had mostly stayed near the cabin helping with the cooking and doing other household chores.
“Hey look,” Dawn said brightly, “what about the barn?”
“Too cold,” Jonathan slowly realised that despite the prospect of a slow painful death at the hands of Buffy Summers, he's accepted that at some point in the near future Dawn and himself would be having sex.
“We could make it snug and Jenny never goes out there,” Dawn pointed out earnestly.
“But you're only fourteen...” Jonathan rallied and was telling himself that sex with under-age girls was wrong in so many ways as well as being dangerous.
“I'll be fifteen soon,” Dawn pointed out stretching the truth a little; she'd be fifteen in about six months.
“An-and what if you get...” Jonathan hesitated as he found he couldn't say the word he wanted to, “...you know...like...you know?”
“Pregnant?” Dawn smiled infectiously as she stuck her hand in one of the pockets of her camouflaged smock, a moment later she produced a string of about a dozen condoms, “Not going to happen...”
“Where'd you get those?” Jonathan demanded as he looked around in case someone was watching.
“Like, I grabbed loads of them when we were getting supplies from that rich people's place,” Dawn shrugged as she stuffed the condoms back in her pocket.
“But why?” Jonathan asked curious despite himself.
“Why not?” Dawn shrugged once more before she sighed heavily and asked, “Look, do you wanna have sex with me or not?”
“Well...” Jonathan looked at Dawn; even armed to the teeth and wrapped up in several layers of clothes she still looked cute; plus it wasn't as if he hadn't thought about it.
They spent most of their time since breaking out of Sunnydale together and Dawn was one of the few people in his life that hadn't treated him like an idiot and a total loser, plus he didn't want to die after not having sex even once, but there was Buffy to think about...but, Dawn really was cute and...
“Okay,” Jonathan replied quietly.
“I said, 'okay',” Jonathan answered as once again visions of Buffy with a sharp knife intruded on his thoughts.
“Cool,” Dawn grinned, “and there's totally no reason to sound like I'm gonna kill you or something...”
“Yeah, but your sister might,” Jonathan pointed out.
“Oh screw Buffy,” Dawn shaped.
“Do I have to?” Jonathan replied with a grin.
“What?” Dawn turned a puzzled frown on Jonathan before she realised what he'd said, “HA!” Dawn laughed before adding, “Come on we better look around a little more before we head home, Buffy'll only send us out again if she thinks we haven't looked hard enough.”
“Can we go home now?” Dawn called; she felt like they'd been out in the forest forever, she was cold and her feet were starting to ache from the cold and walking too much.
“Yeah,” Jonathan shrugged under his layers of clothes; they'd seen no sign of Pac-man patrols and Dawn's loud complaints about the cold, her feet and how heavy her rifle was had scared off any game that might have been around, “we might as well...”
Resting his rifle against his shoulder Jonathan was about to turn away when he saw something glint in a ray of sunshine that had penetrated the forest canopy.
“Hey...” he cradled his rifle in both hands as he crouched down a little in the hopes of seeing whatever it was that had caught his attention more clearly.
“Totally stop messin' with me...” Dawn called as she turned to see Jonathan staring off between the trees.
“Shhhh!” Jonathan called as he suddenly became more alert.
“What?” Dawn whispered as she quietly made her way over to where Jonathan crouched and pointed through the trees, “What is it?”
“Maybe its the helicopter from last night,” Jonathan replied as he slowly worked the bolt on his rifle as quietly as he could.
“You think?” Dawn asked as she too pulled back the working parts of her rifle before guiding forward so as not to make too much noise, “Shouldn't we go get Buffy?”
“Erm...” part of Jonathan wanted to head back and collect Buffy, but another part was telling him he should check this whatever it was out first, “...I'm going to have a look, you stay here.”
“No way am I staying here,” Dawn hissed in a loud whisper as she took a firmer hold on her weapon.
“Okay...” long experience had taught Jonathan that it was foolish to argue with Dawn, just ask her sister, “...but stay behind me an' if I say run, you run, okay?”
“Yeah, okay,” Dawn agreed after a moment's hesitation.
Moving slowly and carefully from tree to tree, Dawn and Jonathan advanced on the shape in the trees. They had only covered a few yards when they both saw that the object was something man-made. Another couple of yards and the shape revealed itself to be a crashed helicopter, or at least a helicopter that had been forced to land somewhere it had not been designed to land.
“Wow...” Dawn gasped quietly as the two teens stepped out into the clearing made by the chopper's rotors as it had crashed through the tree tops.
“Look,” Jonathan pointed to the side of the aircraft where a black US insignia had been painted along with the words 'United States Marine Corps'.
“Its one of ours,” Dawn relaxed a little, “I wonder if the crew got out?”
“Lets see,” Jonathan advanced on the downed chopper with Dawn right behind him.
The nose of the helicopter had dug itself into the soft earth of the forest floor when it had come down so they had no difficulty seeing into the cockpit.
“Ewww!” Dawn said when she saw the body in the front seat; the canopy was stared where bullets had passed through it to hit the crewman.
“Yikes!” Jonathan agreed as he joined Dawn in looking at the dead man, the rear seat was empty.
“Look,” Dawn pointed to the churned up ground next to the chopper, “foot prints...”
“Yeah,” Jonathan jumped down from the wreck and looked off through the trees in the direction the tracks led, “we better go look.”
“Like totally carefully,” Dawn said, “you know I wouldn't put it past those Pac-man bastards to be using an American helicopter...”
“For, like, spying?”
“Yeah, totally,” Dawn brought her rifle up to cover the trees just in case they were hiding hordes of Pac-man infiltrators.
Moving with all the care that living as resistance fighters had taught them, Dawn and Jonathan moved through the forest like they'd been born to it. They'd gone for nearly half a mile and were just about to turn back when Dawn's sharp eyes saw something like a big green slug lying in the shelter of a tree.
“There,” she pointed out the shape to Jonathan, it was obviously a man in a camouflaged sleeping bag, “I'll go take a look you cover me...”
“No!” Jonathan exclaimed in a half whisper, “I'll go...”
“No you won't,” Dawn replied summoning all her determination, “he won't shoot a girl...”
“How do you know...” the penny dropped in Jonathan's mind as he put the pieces together, “...oh yeah, right.”
“Right,” Dawn nodded; she'd lost a lot of innocence in the last few weeks; she knew that if the guy was hostile and he saw that she was a girl, he'd be more likely to try and rape her than shoot her, “just you totally make sure you shoot the bastard if he makes a grab for me, okay?”
“No problemo,” Jonathan replied as he got down into a comfortable firing position, “just don't stand between him an' me.”
“Don't worry I won't,” taking off her hat and shaking loose her hair to make it more obvious she was in fact a girl, Dawn slowly and cautiously made her way over to where the man lay.
Moments later Dawn was standing over the sleeping pilot, she saw a pistol lying within easy reach of the man's hand. Tensing and glancing over to where Jonathan was hidden she poked the guy with the muzzle of her rifle. In an instant the pilot woke up and made a grab for his gun. Moving faster than the downed pilot, Dawn stamped on the man's gun hand with her booted foot trapping both the gun and the hand between her foot and the ground. The pilot gave out a yelp of pain as Dawn ground his hand into the earth under her foot. Jamming the muzzle of her rifle hard into the pilot's ribs she bent down and retrieved the gun before standing back to let the man sit up.
“You American?” Dawn wanted to know as she checked out the pilot's big revolver which she was now holding before stuffing it into her belt.
“Red blooded,” the pilot replied as he turned to show her the Stars and Strips flag Velcroed onto the shoulder of his flight suit.
“Yeah...” Dawn replied emboldened by the knowledge that Jonathan would kill this sucker stone cold dead if he made one move towards her, “...okay, what's the capital of California?”
“WRONG PAC-MAN BASTARD!” Dawn yelled, “It's Sacramento!” she added as she jumped away from the pilot ready to fill him full of holes.
Captain Andy Tanner, USMC.
“So, what's your story, Captain?” Buffy asked from the opposite end of the table.
As it happened, Dawn had not filled Captain Tanner full of holes, it had been a close call, but she'd managed to keep her finger away from her trigger. Instead she and Jonathan had questioned the Marine officer until they were fairly sure he wasn't a Pac-man spy. Eventually they'd agreed to take him back to the cabin and let Buffy have the final say on whether they should shoot him or not.
“I got shot down,” Tanner replied as he spooned more of the rich, tasty, deer stew into his mouth, “we got caught by flak, Chuck, my weapons operator, got killed and the engines were damaged. I managed to nurse my chopper out this way then everything failed and I went down...”
“Uh-huh,” Buffy replied not sure if she believed the man's story, she glanced at Larry and Xander hoping they'd have some input here.
“Okay, Captain,” Xander spoke up, “that's all totally interesting but tell me, how come you're down here, by my reckoning a Cobra hasn't got the range to be anywhere near Sunny-hell.”
“True,” Tanner replied with a nod as he put down his spoon and pushed his empty plate away before picking up his mug of coffee, “but I was part of an amphibious strike group working off the assault ship USS Veracruz...”
“A strike group?” Willow asked hopefully, thinking that they might not have to stay out in the woods for much longer if the Marines had landed.
“Yeah,” Tanner nodded, “the plan was to sail up from Puerto Vallarta, break the P-A-C-S blockade on LA and land supplies and reinforcements...”
“There's people still holding out in LA?” Larry asked, “We'd heard rumours but...”
“Yeah,” Tanner shrugged, “but the chances are they won't last much longer...not now.”
“You failed?” Willow asked her voice going very small and quiet as she lost all hope of things ever going back to normal.
“Yeah,” Tanner nodded, “the P-A-C-S defences were stronger than anyone guessed, shot most of our air support outta the sky and their subs took out a lot of ships...”
“So how did you survive?” Buffy wanted to know.
“I almost didn't, little lady,” Tanner gave a regretful smile while Buffy bristled at being called a 'little lady', “the Vera-C was part of a task group who were sent to attack Sunnydale's docks as part of a diversion...it didn't work,” Tanner shrugged as he sipped his coffee, “like I say the P-A-C-S' defences were stronger than anyone knew...”
The Marine's story was met with silence as everyone took in what Tanner had said and what it meant. No one would be going home any time soon.
“Like, what's totally going on?” Dawn asked from where she sat next to Jonathan half way down the table.
“Yes Captain,” Jenny spoke up, “we've had nothing but Pac-man propaganda since they landed.”
“Okay...” Tanner sighed heavily before he started to explain, “...the first anyone knew was when they nuked Pearl Harbor; they just glazed it over didn't even bother making a landing. Couple of hours later they took out most of the missile silos in the mid-west, plus places like Washington, we never saw their missiles coming, they musta been heavily stealthed or maybe they were guided in by infiltrators. The P-A-C-S missile defences were a-helluva lot more effective than anything we had an' they blew about half of our retaliatory strike outta the sky.”
“So why aren't they using nukes now?” Xander wanted to know.
“Who knows?” again Tanner shrugged, “Maybe the P-A-C-S' don't wanna damage anywhere they're planning on taking. I know we won't use any-more because, hey they're on our land so we're not gonna nuke our own people an' those P-A-C-S' bastards still have some pretty powerful anti-missile defences, so what's the point? Everything's pretty conventional now...who knows in a few years time we might be using bows an' arrows...”
“Whatever,” Buffy said a little impatiently, “how did they manage to invade?”
“Best guess is they infiltrated special forces units disguised as refugees over the last year or so,” Tanner explained bitterly, “They made co-ordinated attacks on military bases and captured airports so that when their transports flew in there was somewhere for them to land and next to nothing to try an' stop them. They landed paratroopers...”
“Like they did on Sunnydale,” Buffy nodded.
“...which blocked most of the routes that reinforcements would have used and took out secondary military targets,” Tanner continued.
“Camp Sunnydale,” Larry muttered shaking his head sadly.
“But the biggest surprise was their transport subs...”
“Transport subs?” everyone repeated.
“Huge, submarines the size of aircraft carriers designed to transport troops,” Tanner explained as Xander made a low whistle, “no one saw them coming...literally...we didn't even suspect that they existed.”
“I mean I heard they'd been building a big navy,” Xander said to the astonished looks of his friends, “hey...I watched stuff on the news and read stuff...”
“Whatever,” Buffy grinned at Xander before turning back to Tanner, “go on Captain.”
“Yeah, well, they stormed ashore all along the coast from Vancouver down to San Diego” Tanner said slowly, “the National Guard and regular units didn't really stand a chance...”
“So is anyone still fighting, has this happen all over the States?” Jenny demanded.
“No ma'am,” Tanner shook his head, “we stopped them at the Rockies. Most of the east side of the country was untouched and the Navy in the Atlantic and Caribbean survived. Things have settled down into a sorta stalemate now with everyone building up their forces ready for the spring offensives.”
“When we totally kick their asses right back across the Pacific, right!?” Larry demanded.
“Maybe,” Tanner didn't sound so sure.
“You don't sound so certain, Captain,” Buffy said quietly.
“Well...” Tanner took a deep breath before saying, “...these P-A-C bastards seem to pull surprises outta asses all the time. I'm not even sure we can beat them...”
“Surprises like the demon soldiers?” Buffy pointed out.
“Demon soldiers?” Tanner smiled, “Oh, you mean the mutants?”
“Whatever,” Buffy shrugged, “they're green and vicious, where did they come from?”
“Best guess is the Japs and the Chinks have been playing around with building artificial lifeforms,” Tanner explained, “looks like even the Chinese have a manpower shortage, maybe it was a screw-up caused by their 'one-child' policy, I don't know... Anyway, they're not too bright and the P-A-C-S' use them for cannon fodder, you know the kinda thing...”
“Pretend I don't,” Buffy replied with a brittle smile.
“Like human wave attacks only without the humans.”
“Wave attacks?” Buffy frowned.
“Like, they just keep coming,” Xander explained, “until they're either all dead or they've overrun the defenders.”
“That's about right son,” Tanner nodded.
“Okay this is all very interesting,” Cordelia interrupted, “but is there anyone on our side?”
“Canadians and the Mexicans,” Tanner replied, “then there's the Aussies, Kiwis, Ruskies and the Indians...”
“What about Europe?” Jonathan wanted to know.
“Erm...” Tanner shrugged, “...they musta thought twice in one century was enough, they're sitting this one out...all except Britain, but they're mostly helping the Canadians.”
“These Pac-guys are sure picking on everyone,” Cordy muttered, “global domination, much?”
“Looks that way,” Tanner agreed, “seems like they've been planning this since the sixties and with all these mutant soldiers they've got the bodies to throw around.”
“And the technology,” Xander pointed out.
“You know what the funny thing is?” Tanner chuckled mirthlessly, “Most everything they've been using against us is stuff us or the Russians thought up but didn't go through with cause it was too expensive or it would break treaties.”
“Obviously the Pacs weren't that worried about annoying anyone or screwing up their economy,” Jenny sighed.
“Whatever,” Buffy sat up and looked around the table at the faces of her friends, “all this doesn't change the fact that we're well behind enemy lines and I'm guessing no friendlies are going to get to Sunnydale anytime soon, am I right, Captain?”
“That's about the size of it, little lady,” Captain Tanner agreed as Buffy quietly fumed at being called 'little lady' once more.
“So, Captain, what're your plans?” Buffy asked.
“I suppose I should get back to American lines,” Tanner mused.
“Which are somewhere near the Rockies, right?”
“Or I could go south to the Mexicans, or north to Canada,” Tanner suggested with a shrug.
“Either way its a long walk through enemy held territory,” Larry pointed out.
“What about totally stealing a boat an' sailing down to Mexico?” Dawn wanted to know.
“Whatever,” Buffy brought the discussion about how Tanner was supposed to get back to 'Free America' to an end before it got out of control, she looked at Tanner, “looks like we're stuck with you for now. Jenny, can you find the Captain something to sleep on, he'll have to go in with the boys. Cordy you better fit him out with some warmer clothes and some better weapons...the rest of you've got chores to do so lets get on with it.”
“Buffy?” Jenny grinned from over the top of a pile of blankets, “You'd do well not to underestimate her, Buffy's special.”
“She's a cheerleader,” Tanner pointed out.
“Don't let the Socal-cheerleader-dumb-blonde thing fool you,” Jenny smirked; close contact with 'The Slayer' had changed Jenny's opinion of Buffy; she'd gone from reluctant follower to eager supporter in a matter of days since the raid on Frazier Park, “she's as sharp as a knife and quite honestly she could break your neck with just a shrug of her shoulders.”
“Oh come off it,” Tanner laughed gently as he put the bed next to the wall, “she's hardly five foot tall, okay she must be pretty fit but...”
“Look,” Jenny dumped the blankets on a bed before placing her hands on her hips and turning to face Tanner, “if you want to find out just how strong she is, keep calling her 'little lady' why don't you?”
“She doesn't like that, huh?”
“Didn't you hear her teeth grinding?”
“Okay, I won't call her that again,” Tanner smirked, “but honestly I'd be surprised if she could break a chicken's neck.”
“Like I say,” Jenny shrugged, “just keep calling her 'little lady' and find out.”
“Okay, point taken,” Tanner started to make his bed, “so what have you been doing out here since the P-A-C-S attacked?”
“Well,” Jenny started to help Tanner make up his bed, “to begin with Buffy got herself and her friends out of Sunnydale when the Pac-men attacked...”
“Why do you call the P-A-C-S', 'Pac-men'?”
“It was something Dawn thought up.”
“Dawn? That's Buffy's little sister right?”
“Got it,” Jenny nodded, “and I wouldn't refer to her as 'Buffy's little sister' unless you want to get food poisoning.”
“Touchy about that, huh?” Tanner asked only to get an answering nod from Jenny, “Where are her folks?”
“Her father's out of the picture...”
“Her mom's dead, killed by the Pacs,” Jenny explained, “most of everyone's parents are either dead or missing, I'm sort of a substitute parent, not that they need much parenting, they've all grown up a lot in the last couple of months.”
“Yeah I can tell,” Tanner agreed.
“Buffy came back and got me out of Sunnydale, if it wasn't for her I'd probably be dead by now,” Jenny admitted.
“Why would she come for you?” Tanner asked as he put the finishing touches to his bed.
“I was their Computer Sciences Teacher and I was in a relationship with Mr Giles the librarian...”
“A librarian?” Tanner frowned; Jenny was pretty hot he told himself and could do much better than a mere librarian...say someone like a Marine Corps Captain for instance.
“Rupert?” not only was this guy a Librarian but he had a stupid Limey name!
“Yeah, Rupert, what of it?”
“Whatever,” Tanner shrugged.
“Well, Rupert was sorta Buffy's father figure like I suppose he was to Willow and Xander.”
“Willow's the red head who holds hands under the table with that Cordelia girl, right?”
“You noticed that, huh?” Jenny grinned, “A very odd couple.”
“An' Xander's the guy who knows all the military stuff?”
“Spot on...” Jenny sighed, “...if only he'd taken that much of an interest in his school work.”
“Hey,” Tanner sat down on his bed and gestured for Jenny to join him, “under the circumstances looks like he got it about right.”
“I suppose you're right,” Jenny agreed reluctantly as she sat down, “anyway, Buffy got us all together, she persuaded everyone not to just sit back and hide, she got us to fight back!”
“About that,” Tanner mused, “I've heard reports about resistance groups working in the occupied territories.”
“That'll be us,” Jenny replied with a grin, “not that we've really hurt the Pacs much yet, we're still trying to work out how to do it all, I mean be Resistance Fighters.”
“You know how long a resistance group lasts before they're hunted down?”
“No,” Jenny shook her head.
“On average, about six months,” Tanner replied, “you might do better and live longer if you all come with me back to Free America.”
“We'll see,” Jenny said as she stood up and turned towards the door, “I'm going to make the hot chocolate...”
“You have hot chocolate?” Tanner said in surprise as he stood up.
“Yeah,” Jenny frowned, “its pre-war stock and we've got to drink it before it expires.”
“I haven't tasted hot chocolate since before the invasion,” Tanner explained, “its a 'non-essential' and doesn't get made any-more.”
“Looks like things have changed a lot while we've been out here.”
“...you've got it pretty good up here, all things considered,” Tanner said quietly, “those poor bastards in LA would kill just for one mouthful of this,” he gestured with his mug. “I remember standing on the flight deck of the Vera-C the night we sailed passed LA. You could see the pyres for the dead even out there, its medieval. They live on rats and bread made outta sawdust, some say they sometimes even eat their own dead...”
“Does anyone know why they're taking all the teenagers back to Pac-land?” Dawn asked.
“I don't know,” Tanner shrugged, “slave labour, hell they might even be eating them.”
Standing up, Tanner took the radio from off of the mantle shelf where it had been left, he switched it on and moved the dial until he got a more or less clear signal. A female voice from a world that was so far away and yet so close filled the room.
“...it's eleven-fifty-eight on Radio Free American,” announced a cheerful female voice, “and this is Liberty Belle with music, comment and the truth 'til dawn. Right now I've got a few messages for our brothers and sisters behind enemy lines; the chair is against the wall, I repeat, the chair is against the wall. John has a long moustache, I repeat, John has a long moustache. There is a fire at the insurance agency, I repeat, there is a fire at the insurance agency. Blessent mon cœur d'une langueur monotone, I repeat, Blessent mon cœur d'une langueur monotone. It's twelve o'clock Americans and one day closer to victory, for all of you out there on or behind the lines, this is your song...My eyes have seen the glory in the coming of the lord...
Two days after his arrival at the cabin, Tanner found himself being hauled out of bed early one morning while it was still dark. Told to get dressed and go down to the main room, he did as he’d been asked curious to find out what was happening. Instead of answers he was given a bowl of oatmeal and told to eat it quickly. As he stood to one side of the room he watched as the rest of the group came, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, to join him for breakfast. Like Tanner everyone was dressed in warm clothes covered with captured camouflaged smocks. After the oatmeal was eaten and cups of coffee were drunk, the resistance fighters grabbed their weapons and headed outside.
“What's going on?” Tanner asked as Buffy told him to climb into the back of the ex-Forest Ranger's pick up.
“We're going to shoot up a Pac-man supply column,” Buffy replied with a blood thirsty grin on her face.
The trip to the ambush site was cold and uncomfortable as the pick-up bounced along the unsurfaced tracks in the dark. Finding himself hanging on for dear life, Tanner noticed how the others in the back of the truck seemed to be used to the violent bouncing. It then dawned on him to ask how Larry, who was driving, could see where he was going in the dark.
“Buffy can see in the dark,” Xander explained, “and she tells Larry which way to go.”
“Okay,” Tanner replied not really believing Xander's explanation, “so why doesn't Buffy drive?”
“You don't want to let Buffy drive,” Xander grinned at him, “and anyway her feet don't really reach the pedals and she has to sit on a cushion to see over the steering wheel.”
Arriving at a bend in the track just as it was getting light the pick-up slowed down before being driven off the track and under the trees. Relieved that the nightmare journey was over, Tanner heard Dawn call out...
“Are we there yet?”
The question was greeted by some suppressed laughter and Tanner got the impression that the comment was some kind of running joke.
“Yep!” Buffy replied as she jumped down from the cab.
Looking at the short girl, Tanner realised that Xander hadn't been joking about her feet not reaching the pedals. Standing next to the truck Buffy looked tiny, almost child-like.
“Okay,” Buffy called as she slung her Springfield over her shoulder, her torso was already festooned with equipment and spare ammunition, “grab the gear we've got about half a mile to go yet.”
With a minimum of chatter everyone picked up their personal weapons and equipment, before grabbing the heavier weapons and the spare ammunition, Tanner found himself helping Larry to carry a PAC heavy-machine-gun and tripod while the others carried boxes of ammunition, RPGs and spare rockets.
“Remember where we parked people,” Buffy called as she led the way into the woods, “if anything goes wrong we meet back here or at one of the alternate meet-up points, okay?”
Everyone with the exception of Tanner replied in the affirmative.
“Captain,” Buffy turned to glance over her shoulder at the Marine, “if it hits the fan you totally stick to me like glue and try to keep up, okay?”
“Okay,” Tanner replied; he had the distinct impression that Buffy was somehow showing off.
Perhaps she was frightened that he would try and take over command of the group. Yes, every Marine was a rifleman, but Tanner felt that he could best serve his country from the pilot's seat of a Cobra gunship not leading a bunch of teenagers in an ultimately futile fight against overwhelming numbers. In a week or two, once he'd worked out a good plan, he'd be heading for Free America or possibly Mexico.
The road disappeared around the mountain side about a hundred-and-fifty yards away. Next came a more or less straight section that passed under a rocky out crop about twenty yards up the track from where they were standing before following the hillside around to the right. If the PACs came from around the bend they'd be a perfect target, Tanner wondered how Buffy intended to stop the enemy escaping.
“Okay people,” Buffy called to get everyone's attention, “I've been watching this track for three days now...”
That, Tanner said to himself, explained where Buffy disappeared to every morning and didn’t come back to the cabin until dusk.
“...and so far every morning between ten and ten-thirty a Pac-man supply column goes past this point...”
Tanner checked his watch, it wasn't even seven-thirty yet.
“...I've no reason to think that they totally won't do the same today, which is why we're here to teach them not to be so predictable...”
Nodding his head in agreement, Tanner knew from personal experience that if the 'pac-men' had a major fault it was doing everything in a set way at a set time.
“...the convoy is always led by one of their wheeled tank things...”
Tanner frowned for a moment, wheeled tanks?
“You mean an armoured car?” he asked.
“Erm, what?” Buffy looked at him with a slightly puzzled expression on her face, she brightened as she realised what Tanner was talking about, “Yeah that's it, like I say, an armoured car. Then there's three trucks each with a driver and two guards. Then right at the back is a converted pick-up truck with a machine-gun in the back.”
Not too hard a target if she did this right, Tanner told himself as he listened to Buffy unfold her plan.
“Larry, Captain Tanner, dump the machine-gun up in those boulders,” Buffy pointed up slope to where a jumble of boulders made a natural firing position, “then I want you to check the explosives under the overhang and the claymores I planted in the trees covering the ditch...”
“W-what?” Tanner stuttered a little.
“Yeah I totally planted the stuff yesterday,” Buffy grinned, “and people look out for booby traps just in case the Pac-man saw me sneaking about up here and left some surprises for us.” Buffy paused before continuing with her plan, “Jenny and Dawn you're on the machine-gun; Willow, Cordy you set up your RPG post wherever you think best, I'm planning on taking out the armoured car” Buffy grinned at Tanner, “with the overhang, but just in case that doesn't work out you better set up where you can shoot at both ends of the track. Larry, Xander and Andrew, you take a couple of the little machine guns...”
“SAWs,” Tanner interrupted.
“Huh?” Buffy replied totally mystified.
“They're called SAWs not 'little machine-guns,” seeing Buffy had no idea what he was talking about he explained further, “Squad Automatic Weapons...”
“Whatever,” Buffy sighed heavily, “just set up where you can shut the back door, Captain Tanner you stay with me, suggestions anyone?”
There was a short silence before everyone answered in the negative.
“The ambush starts when I blow the over hang...” Buffy explained.
Looking at the outcrop Tanner realised that not only would it bury the lead armoured car but it would completely block the road so the Pacs would have to send engineers to clear the road if they ever wanted to use the track again.
“...Cordy you take out the tail end pick-up so they can't reverse outta here, everyone else shoots at the Pac-men but try not to blow up those trucks we might need what they're carrying. Now everyone remember, the ambush starts and only starts when the overhang goes, up 'til then or if it doesn't blow you keep your heads down, now get set up.”
As everyone went off to complete their tasks, Tanner went over to talk to Buffy.
“What do you think?” Buffy asked quietly when Tanner came to stand next to her.
“Good plan, I'm impressed...one thing...”
“Uh-huh,” Tanner nodded.
“That ditch is about the only cover down there,” Buffy pointed out, “if the Pac-men jump out of their trucks that's where they'll hide...”
“And you blow them up,” Tanner chuckled, “sweet.”
“You know at first we didn't know what they were, the claymores I mean,” Buffy shrugged as she took her Springfield from her shoulder, “all the instructions on the boxes were in Pac-man. But Xander said he thought they were these claymore things, so we set one off.”
“How did that go for you?”
“I wasn't impressed...at first,” Buffy smiled at the memory, “then we found all the holes in the trees, I've been looking for a way of using them ever since!”
“What about the other stuff, the explosives?”
“We found the explosives at an old lumber camp,” Buffy grinned again, “we had to blow some stuff up before we worked out how to make it go boom! Like everything else really, we've had to work it out by ourselves...”
“Looks like you're doing pretty good,” Tanner admitted.
“Yeah,” Buffy replied uncertainly as she opened the blot of her rifle and started to load cartridges into the magazine, “about that...” she looked up into Tanner's eyes, “...are we doing the right thing?”
“The right thing?” Tanner asked slowly.
“You know, I suppose I mean am Idoing the right thing?” Buffy's shoulders slumped as she sat down on a handy rock, “I mean I could've led everyone to safety just after the Pac-men arrived, there was really nothing to stop us in all the confusion. But I chose to stay and I sorta carried everyone along with me, I didn't even really ask if they wanted out.”
“Look,” Tanner settled himself down next to Buffy, “I think you're doing a great job...”
“For a cheerleader...” Buffy added.
“For anyone,” Tanner smiled, “though I gotta admit that I had my doubts before...look you were put into a crappy position, you did your best and there's no point in trying to second guess yourself now. And look,” Tanner gestured to the track, “these Pac-men haven't been the best of neighbours, so I say; kick their asses Buffy Summers, Go Razorbacks!”
“Yay!” Buffy replied only half convinced.
“They're coming,” she told Tanner.
“What?” Tanner looked up and around, he could hear and see nothing to indicate the Pacs' approach.
“I can hear them,” Buffy told him as she started to signal the other members of her team by waving her arms about.
“The hell you...” Tanner shut up and listened to hear the faint sounds of engines getting closer, “...what the hell?” the girl must have ears like a bat he told himself.
Getting down behind his boulder and readying his captured assault rifle, Tanner watched the road below him. The sound of truck engines sounded clear in his ears now, the convoy must be just around the bend. As the thought formed in his mind the lead armoured car appeared around the bend and started down the track in front of him. It was travelling at an easy twenty miles-an-hour by his estimate. Next, following far too closely behind the AFV came the first of the trucks, a big troop carrier by the looks of things.
“Hey Buffy,” he whispered even though he knew the Pac-men couldn't possibly hear him, “didn't you say they use captured trucks for carrying cargo?”
“Yeah, I did say that, didn't I,” Buffy agreed as two more trucks came into sight.
“These look like troop carriers,” Tanner pointed out.
“I know,” Buffy agreed shortly, there were now five trucks in view followed by another armoured car; the time had come for her to decide to spring the ambush or let it drive by, she needed to decide soon because the lead car was almost under the over hang, “what the hell!”
Grabbing the detonator, Buffy set off the charges under the rocky outcrop. There was a satisfyingly loud explosion as a cloud of dust and rock fragments rose into the air and tons of rock crushed the first armoured car. Before the sound of the explosion had even stopped there was a 'whoosh!' as Cordy sent her first rocket towards the rear of the convoy. Once again there was a satisfyingly loud bang as Cordy's rocket easily punched through the armoured car's frontal armour and exploded inside the vehicle. The car seemed to bulge a little before it exploded sending bits of engine, armour and crew in all directions.
Brought to a halt the convoy next fell victim to Jenny and Dawn's machine gun. Firing along the line of the convoy Jenny racked each cab with a burst of fire killing the driver and the guard sitting next to him. It was only when all the trucks had been brought to an untidy halt that things started to go badly wrong. From the back of the first truck a torrent of pale green skinned uniformed figures tumbled from the truck's cargo bay and started to shake themselves out along the road and fire up slope at the ambushers.
“Demons!” Buffy cursed before turning to look back towards Cordelia's position, “CORDY!” she yelled, “TAKE OUT THE TRUCKS!”
Almost before the words were out of her mouth another rocket flashed towards the next truck in line. Hitting the cab the rocket exploded and engulfed the truck in smoke and flame even as the green skinned demons leaped from its rear. By now everyone was shooting as fast as they could as more and more demons jumped down from the trucks. As Cordy destroyed each truck in turn the demons took up positions to fire up slope, they even looked as if they were going to attack.
“Shoot the officers,” Buffy told Tanner as she put the rifle to her shoulder and squinted through the sniper-scope.
Doing as he was told, Tanner picked out the human officers in amongst the 'demon' soldier. Beside him Buffy sent single shots into the mass and with each shot a human officer or demonic NCO fell to the ground, dead.
“You know each of those trucks can carry fifty men?” Tanner pointed out as he changed the magazine on his rifle.
“Crap, no I didn't!” Buffy admitted as she did a swift sum in her head, they were facing a possible two-hundred-and-fifty enemy.
“Look out!” Tanner called as he rose to fire into a group of demons.
Unfortunately his fire alone wasn't sufficient to stop or even slow down the demons as they started up the slope right towards where he and Buffy lay.
The demons howled like...well...demons, as they started up the slope towards where Buffy and Tanner hid. As they ran they fired their rifles wildly sending rounds to crack above the American's heads. Resting her rifle between two boulders so as to minimise the chance of her head being hit, Buffy drew a bead on the human officer who ran to one side of the pack of demons waving them forward with his pistol and shouting words of encouragement. Squeezing her trigger, she saw the bullet punch through the man's helmet and explode out of the back of his head. The Pac-man officer stumbled and fell but it didn't appear to have any effect on the progress of the demons as they headed up slope. Opening the bolt of her Springfield, she saw that she'd fired the last shot in her magazine. Guessing she'd not have time to reload she dropped her rifle before reaching behind her back to grab her sawn-off auto-shotgun.
Beside her Tanner was firing steadily into the waves of demons heading towards their position, as he fired and demons tumbled to lie dead amongst the boulders and bushes on the slope, he cursed the enemy as only a Marine could. Smiling at the sound of Tanner's invective, Buffy readied her shotgun, the demons were less than fifty yards away now and at the speed they were running they'd be on top of her and Tanner in seconds. Just as she was readying herself to fire, the front rank of demons started to fall as heavy machine gun bullets scythed into them from their left flank. Glancing over her shoulder and up slope she saw Jenny and Dawn firing their machine-gun into the demonic horde.
The large calibre machine-gun bullets ripped through the demon formation taking down the demons, often one bullet would pass through two or even three demons at a time. Climbing over the bodies of their fallen comrades the surviving demons continued their advance as they howled out their frustration and hate at the enemy and continued to fire wildly up slope. Lifting her shotgun, Buffy fired into the closest group of demons and watched them die in a blizzard of heavy buckshot. All too soon she'd fired off the eight shells in her weapon and as she frantically thumbed replacements in her weapon, she wished she had a weapon with a larger magazine capacity.
“TIME TO LEAVE!” Buffy yelled over the sound of continuous firing, although they'd killed at least half of the attacking force the demons were still advancing.
“I'm not arguing!” Tanner called back, “We retreat by leap-frog you go first!”
Buffy was just about to argue the point on who should go first when a burst of demonic rifle fire hit the boulders in front of her covering her with dust and little pieces of rock. Grabbing her Springfield before standing up, she fired a couple of shotgun rounds at the nearest demons before turning and sprinting up the hill. After running for twenty-five or thirty yards she stopped and turned to give Tanner some covering fire. He was already up and running as more demons tumbled to the ground, they were being hit from both flanks now as Larry, Xander and Jonathan had turned their weapons on the attacking force.
Standing out in the open, Buffy once again emptied her shotgun into the demons as machine-gun bullets ripped into the formation from both left and right. The demons seemed to melt away like snow in spring sunshine as the fire from the Americans took its toll. But still the survivors came on. Eventually there was only one demon left, he ran screaming and howling towards Buffy as she stood out in the open on the slope. Her shotgun and rifle empty, Buffy pulled the revolver from the holster on her waist-belt, lifting the weapon she aimed and coldly shot the demon right between the eyes. The demon ran on for a couple of paces before he fell to lie at her feet.
“TIME TO GO!” Buffy shouted as loudly as she could, “LEAVE ANYTHING YOU CAN'T CARRY AND RUN!”
Looking down towards the road she saw another group of demons forming up to charge. Now the ambush had been called off and there was no one shooting at them the demon's human officers were able to get their troops organised quicker than before. Just as one of the humans was giving the order to attack a ripple of explosions sounded from behind the Pacs. Grey smoke rose into the air as thousands of ball-bearings flew through the space between the tree line and where the demons stood. Although the claymores had been planted to take out anyone hiding in the roadside ditch they had a scatter pattern wide enough to kill a few demons standing on the road. But better still it distracted the demons and their human officers long enough for Buffy and her friends to get a head start on the enemy.
Looking over to her left, Buffy saw Cordy and Willow break cover and start to head for the treeline at the top of the slope. The couple must have realised what was going to happen and fired off the claymores, or, more likely they'd fired them off because it would have seemed like a waste not to, having set them up they might as well use them. Emptying her revolver in the general direction of the demons, Buffy turned and headed for the protection of the trees. Gaining the treeline she paused once more to look behind her. Much to her surprise she saw no one was following them.
“Come on!” Buffy called as her friends gathered around where she stood, “no time to stand around, admiring the view, lets get outta here.”
Leading the way between the trees Buffy soon had everyone back at where they'd left the pick-up. Checking to make sure they'd not left anyone behind, Buffy watched as all her friends climbed into the rear of the truck. She couldn't help feeling that she'd nearly got everyone killed, but somehow they'd all managed to survive, they were even smiling and cracking stupid jokes. Shaking her head, she climbed into the cab next to Larry.
“Take us home, Larry,” Buffy said quietly as she slumped into her seat, “we better take the long way round just in case they try and follow us...”
“Okay,” Buffy called as she stood in front of the group, “well done everyone, we survived...Dawn, Jonathan get some food on. Larry, hide the truck and check it over. The rest of you weapons cleaning and don't forget to clean Larry's, Dawn's and Jonathan's weapons. Cordy, soon as you can let me know what the ammo situations like.”
With surprisingly little argument everyone turned to get on with their tasks leaving Buffy to stand by herself in front of the cabin.
“Darn!” she said quietly to herself, “That didn't turn out like I planned...”
“No plan survives contact with the enemy,” Tanner's voice came from behind Buffy.
“What?” Buffy turned to find the tall Marine standing a couple of feet away.
“Look you did good,” Tanner shrugged, “I mean that's one 'demon' company that won't be heading to the front anytime soon. We musta killed about half of them.”
“I should never have started the ambush,” Buffy replied bitterly, “as soon as I saw things were different I should have called it all off let them pass and gone home.”
“Okay,” Tanner walked over to the veranda at the front of the cabin and sat down, he started to take his rifle apart prior to cleaning it, “so it got a little hairy out there today, but we really gave those Pac-men and their demon buddies a bloody nose.”
“I was showing off,” Buffy admitted as she too sat down and started to clean her weapons, “I was showing off because I wanted to show you we weren't just a bunch of kids playing at soldiers...”
“You're not kids...” Tanner replied sadly, “...and you weren't playing either.”
“Whatever,” Buffy shrugged, “but I still think I nearly got everyone killed.”
“We also fired off six rockets,” Cordy consulted a note book that lay next to her empty plate, “we also lost one heavy machine-gun and used up almost all of our claymores to no real effect, we need to restock.”
“I've thought of that,” Buffy replied, “there's a check point on route five at the gas station near Pyramid Lake, it's manned by about a dozen Pacs, I can raid that in a couple of night's time. We should get enough rifle ammo to replace our loses.”
“You planning on going by yourself?” Xander asked.
“Yeah,” Buffy shrugged, “but I'll need Larry to drive...”
“No way Buffy,” Willow chimed in, “you're not going by yourself.
“But...” Buffy began but was interrupted by Xander.
“Willow's right, remember, you're the leader we can't afford to lose you.”
“All those in favour of Buffy not getting herself killed,” Dawn called, “say aye!”
“AYE!” Dawn's motion was passed unanimously.
“Okay,” Buffy sighed, “in that case, Xander you can drive, Jenny you can be look out and Cordy can bring her RPG there might be something for her to blow up.”
“When?” Xander wanted to know.
“Tomorrow night?” Buffy asked, the chosen three who all nodded their heads in agreement.
“Has anyone wondered why those demon guys were where they were?” Tanner asked only to get blank looks from everyone around the table.
“Hey, man,” Xander shrugged, “they're Pacs, who knows what they're doing?”
“Yeah, but info like this might be important to someone back in Free America,” Tanner tried to explain as he looked from face to face, “I've been thinking, in a week or two I should head on outta here, you guys seem to be doing okay, but you could use some expert advice, maybe some Green Berets or something...”
“Green doesn't go with my complexion,” Cordy informed everyone.
“They're Special Forces guys,” Xander tried to explain only to get a blank look off Cordelia.
“Look you guys need help organising,” Tanner went on.
“I thought we were pretty 'organised' like we are,” Larry pointed out.
“Look,” Tanner added, “you could get radios, weapons drops...”
“Be sent to blow stuff up when it might get us all killed,” Xander objected, “we've all seen the movies...”
“I haven't,” Willow turned to Cordy, “have you?”
“No,” Cordy shook her head.
“Look, some nameless suit way behind the lines tells some poor smucks to attack some mega important target and they all get killed,” Xander outlined the 'plot', “and the suit goes on about breaking eggs to make omelettes...”
“Why's he making omelettes?” Dawn wanted to know.
“...and the greater good,” Xander continued as if Dawn hadn't spoken, “and how they'll be remembered as heroes. Well, look, I don't wanna be a dead hero because some suit in Washington screwed up!”
“Washington's flat, black and glows in the dark,” Tanner pointed out.
“Whatever,” Xander replied, “my argument still stands, I say screw Washington or wherever and we keep doing what we're doing.”
“How long for?” Buffy asked quietly, “I mean I nearly got everyone killed today.”
“Oh for god sake Buffy,” Dawn cried, “stop with the tragic hero stuff its getting kinda boring!”
“W-what!?” Buffy looked at her sister in surprise.
“You didn't get anyone killed that didn't deserve it,” Dawn pointed out, “so stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
“That sure told you,” Cordy pointed out as she grinned at Buffy.
“Look,” Tanner stood up, “I think we maybe should talk about this tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” Larry agreed, “tomorrow.”
“Okay, we'll discuss it tomorrow,” Buffy got slowly to her feet, “but I gotta say I'm totally with Xander on this...” yawning, Buffy turned to look at her friends, “...sleep everyone, things to do tomorrow.”
“Erm...” Dawn called as she stood up, “...me an' Jonathan need to do some stuff in the cellar first...”
“We do?” Jonathan frowned, “What?”
“You know...” Dawn gave Jonathan a meaningful look, “...you know that stuff!?”
“Oh yeah!” Jonathan caught on, “Yeah there's that stuff we've gotta do before it goes off.”
“Totally,” Dawn agreed.
“Okay,” Buffy yawned again, being a resistance leader was tiring work, “but don't stay up too long.”
“We won't!” Dawn cried as she grabbed hold of Jonathan's arm and dragged him towards the kitchen.
“Now that's what I call dedication,” Tanner began but was interrupted by Buffy.
“No it isn't,” Buffy sighed, “they're going to have sex, they think no one else knows,” she shrugged, “who am I to spoil their fun, we could all be dead tomorrow...”
“That was way better,” Dawn gasped as she lay on her back looking up into Jonathan's face.
“Y-you, erm, arrived?” Jonathan asked as he rolled off Dawn and held her in his arms, he'd read that girls liked to cuddle after sex and Dawn appeared to be no exception.
“Best yet,” Dawn admitted, “you know you're getting pretty good at this.”
“Gee thanks,” Jonathan smiled and kissed Dawn on the cheek.
“Y'wanna go again?” Dawn asked eagerly.
“So what was all that stuff Xander was going on about?” Cordy wanted to know as she stripped off her underwear under the covers.
“Oh that was just Xander being Xander,” Willow was already naked as she helped Cordy pull off her panties.
“He sounded pretty passionate to me,” Cordy lay back on her pillow as Willow started to run her hands over the other girl's body, “your hands are rough...”
“Sorry, its all this fighting and chopping wood,” Willow replied defensively.
“I wasn't complaining,” Cordy rolled onto her side to look into her lovers eyes, “its just something else the Pacs have done to us.”
“Apart from making us all killers you mean?”
“Whatever,” Cordy sighed sadly as she remembered the life she used to have, “but they can't be all bad...”
“Well they gave me you...”
The drive to Pyramid Lake was tedious but without incident. Tedious because although Xander's driving had improved he still didn't feel confident to go at more than about twenty-five miles an hour. However this didn't really hold them up by much because the tracks they were using were rough and in some places almost non-existent.
“We need gas,” Xander announced as they pulled up under the trees at the south end of Pyramid Lake.
“Shouldn't be a problem,” Buffy replied as she climbed down from the cab, “I mean they've totally set up at a gas station so there should be plenty.”
“I'm surprised you're still using the trucks,” Tanner said as he helped Cordy unload weapons and equipment from the back of the pick-up.
“Why shouldn't we?” Buffy wanted to know.
“Well,” Tanner sighed as he moved a carrier full of RPG rockets and laid them down under a tree, “there's the problem with fuel and I'm surprised the Pac-men haven't spotted you...maybe its time to think of an alternative form of transport.”
“I'm not riding a bicycle,” Cordy pointed out.
“I was thinking about horses,” Tanner explained.
“Like that would be totally fine if we had some horses and any of us knew the first thing about riding them,” Buffy pointed out.
“I rode a horse once,” Xander put in.
“You did,” Buffy turned to her friend in surprise, “when? You've never mentioned it before.”
“It was at Jesse's birthday party when he was six...and it was more of a pony.”
“Whatever,” Buffy smiled, “come on guys lets get the truck hidden so the Pac-men don't spot it.”
After jumping back into the pick-up, Xander backed it between two trees at the side of the track. Next they cut branches and placed them against the pick-up, once they were satisfied with their work the four Americans picked up their weapons and gear before heading up-slope a little and through the trees. Coming to a spot Buffy was happy with they dumped their equipment and took an initial look at their target.
The highway was about three hundred yards away and ran north-west to south-east in front of them. Pyramid Lake was on their side of the highway and about one-hundred and fifty yards to their north. The ground between their present position was bare of trees but there was plenty of long grass and scrub-like bushes to provide Buffy with cover. The highway and the gas station were slightly raised up from the surrounding ground and there was a drainage ditch on both sides of the highway itself.
The gas station consisted of a shop, another larger building which was probably a workshop, several smaller out building probably used for storage and a number of abandoned cars. The Pac-men had built a couple of sandbagged weapons emplacements, only one of which was manned and held a machine-gun. This emplacement was situated on the flat roof of the shop, the unmanned and empty emplacement was close to the gas pumps.
Of the Pac-men, after ten minutes of watching through some binoculars, Buffy counted only eight, two human and six demonic. Only two soldier-demons, were on guard at any one time; one up with the machine-gun while the other wandered listlessly around the gas station. There was also a locally made pick-up which had been hurriedly repainted in camouflage colours, obviously the Pac-men's transport. Although Buffy didn't spot a radio antenna or mast, she assumed that the Pac-men must have a radio either in the pick-up or in the shop which they seemed to be using as their main base of operations.
“What about the highway?” Tanner asked.
“What about it?” Buffy lowered her binoculars and looked at the Marine.
“Aren't you worried that something might come on down the pike while you're 'raiding' the place...and hey I'm still not happy about you going down there by yourself.”
“First,” Buffy turned to face Tanner, “the Pacs pack up at around dusk and nothing moves after that until dawn, creatures of habit are our Pac-guys...”
“Yeah, we've all noticed that,” Tanner agreed, “but...”
“But I'm only a girl?” Buffy asked with enough sarcasm to make Giles proud, “How could a poor little cheerleader like me take on all those nasty Pac-men?”
“Well,” Tanner shrugged, “I wasn't going to put it quite like that, but, yeah, you are only a girl and not a very big one so...”
“Look, Captain,” Buffy was used to people doubting her abilities, but it still annoyed her, “take it from me those Pacs don't stand a chance once I get down there...and talking about getting down there. Lets totally get organised, huh?”
Crawling backwards out of their observation point, Buffy and Tanner joined Xander and Cordy back where they'd dumped their gear.
“Coffee anyone?” Cordy indicated a pot steaming on a small camping cooker.
They all took a tin cup of coffee and a home-made cookie each.
“Dawn didn't make these did she?” Buffy asked suspiciously.
“No, Andrew,” Xander reassured her.
“Thank god for that,” Buffy sighed before biting into her cookie, “hmm...good!” after chewing and swallowing, Buffy sipped her coffee before outlining her plan, “Okay, Cordy you take the RPG and rockets and set up where you've got a good view of the highway, Xander you take one of the little machine-guns,” she gave Tanner a pointed look, “and back up Cordy. Captain Tanner,” Buffy turned her gaze onto the Marine, “your main job is to stop Cordy and Xander from murdering each other!” this produced a low chuckle from everyone; if left to their own devices Xander and Cordy would fight like cat and dog. “No one shoots unless its pretty obvious that everything had gone sideways and I'm fighting for my life, okay?”
Both Xander and Cordy nodded, Tanner just looked as if he still didn't approve of Buffy going down to the station by herself.
“Once I've killed everyone and its clear, I'll flash you a signal...erm...two long flashes and two short, okay?”
Once again everyone nodded.
“Then Xander you drive the truck down to the station so we can load up with all the goodies they've got stashed down there...okay lets move it people.”
At once everyone began to collect up weapons and pack away gear. Xander took the camping cooker and coffee pot back to the truck while Cordy went over her launcher and Tanner checked the rockets. While the others were busy with their jobs, Buffy stripped off her equipment harness and left her Springfield leaning against a tree.
“Captain, could you look after my rifle please?”
“Sure,” Tanner looked from the big heavy rifle to the short blonde girl and once again wondered how someone so small and light could handle the weapon, but he'd seen her shoot down Pacs with it so he supposed she knew what she was doing, “so you're not taking it?”
“Nope,” Buffy shook her head as she checked her revolver was loaded, “I'm just taking this,” she held up the pistol, “and a couple of knives...” suddenly two Bowie knives appeared in her hands to only disappear again just as quickly.
“Are you sure...” Tanner began but was interrupted by an exasperated sigh from Buffy.
“Yes I'm sure and if I thought you were going to moan like...like...I don't know what, I'd have left you at home.”
“Hey, Captain,” Cordy called, “Buffy might have terrible hair and there's that thing on her face that she really needs to get fixed, but when it comes to killing stuff she knows what she's doing.”
“Thank-you,” Buffy nodded to Cordy, “I think.”
“I tell it like it is,” Cordy confirmed.
“So we've noticed,” Buffy said as she looked up into the sky to check on how dark it had got, “time to go I think...”
Looking up Tanner silently agreed that now would be a good time for Buffy to start her move towards the station. Looking back to where Buffy had been sitting he was surprised to find that she'd gone.
“She does that,” Xander said from behind Tanner having returned from the truck.
“Its worse when she sneaks up behind you,” Cordy explained, “I convinced she's trying to give everyone a heart attack, she just thinks its funny.”
Shifting slightly so she could bring her ear closer to the highway's tarmac surface she detected no sound or vibrations that would indicate any traffic on the road nearby. Finally sitting up and looking around like a Meercat, she saw no aircraft lights within several miles of her position, which didn't mean there were no aircraft around, but if there were she'd probably hear them before she could see them anyway. A glance towards the station told her that the two guards were now both stationed in the bunker on top of the shop building, she decided that they'd be the first to die.
Checking both ways to make doubly sure the highway was clear, Buffy moved like a ghost as she crossed the road while the guards were looking the other way. Safely hidden in the ditch on the opposite side of the highway, she checked to make sure no one had spotted her. The guards were still looking away from her and she began to worry that they'd spotted something she hadn't. However, as nothing obviously dangerous happened, she got up and ran in a crouch towards the station. Pausing at a low fence that she'd not spotted from her Oh-Pee in the trees, Buffy ran on silent feet to where a cluster of over full dumpsters were standing behind the shop; it was there she found the body.
The body was of a once pretty young woman. From the remains of the smock she was wearing Buffy guessed she'd been one of the attendants at the station. Her body showed signs of extreme abuse, no doubt she'd been repeatedly beaten and raped in the weeks since the PACs had occupied the station. Eventually some Pac-man had finally killed her either by accident or design. For a moment Buffy looked at the body and wished she could kill the Pac-men more than once. Shaking her head she got her mind back in the game, it was time for the killing to begin.
Using the dumpsters to give herself a boost, Buffy watched over the edge of the roof to see the two Pac-man demons sitting on the sandbag walls of their bunker facing inwards and sharing a cigarette and a joke. Slipping silently onto the roof proper, she kept low as she wormed her way over to the sandbagged wall of the machine-gun post. Pulling one of her knives from behind her back she reached up and grabbed one of the demons around the neck and pulled him backwards as his buddy was looking the other way. Clamping her hand over the demon's mouth and holding him down she cut off his cries of alarm, Buffy looked for a second into the demon's wide bulging and terrified eyes before she ran the edge of her knife across his throat.
Blood gushed as the demon struggled weakly in Buffy's unbreakable grip. The demon's buddy turned to see his pal gone just as Buffy's first victim breathed his last breath. Standing up the demon looked around and laughed nervously; he said some thing that probably translated as, 'Hey stop messing around'. Walking over to where his buddy had been sitting he leaned over the wall right where Buffy was still lying. Calling out to his friend he never saw her moving to strike like a snake. Catching the demon under the chin, Buffy pushed her knife up into his brain and watched him die instantly as the blood trickled down her arm.
Standing up, Buffy retrieved her knife and did her best to wipe the blood from her hand and the hilt of her knife; it would be 'bad' if it was slippery and turned in her hand. Walking over to the edge of the roof she jumped like a cat down onto the hard standing behind the shop. Drawing her other knife, she moved quickly and quietly over to where a fire exit door would provide her with easy access to the shop. Kicking the door clean off its hinges, she stepped into the bright lights of the shop, she was immediately confronted by six pairs of wide staring eyes as the demons and humans looked on in horror and surprise at the short, blood stained apparition that stood before them. It was only when Buffy began to move that the screaming began.
Moving like a blonde tornado, Buffy stabbed and slashed with her knives. The Pac-men and their demons fumbled for their weapons as they were, one by one, dispatched by those terrible flashing blades. One of the human Pac-men actually managed to draw his pistol and fire twice. Dodging the bullets, Buffy appeared in front of the man and almost took his head off with one slash of her knife. A Pac-man demon decided to 'go for help', as he was halfway through the front door, she dragged him back into the building and stabbed him twice in the heart. Finding the last of the demons hiding in the rest-room, Buffy dispatched him with a gutting blow that left his entrails lying on the rest-room floor. Satisfied that all immediate threats had been dealt with she looked down at herself to find that the front of her outfit was covered in blood.
“Eww...” she said softly, “...Dawn's never going to be able to clean this...whatever,” she shrugged, “time to call the guys.”
Grabbing a Pac-man flashlight from where it lay on the shop's counter, Buffy stepped outside and gave the signal for everyone to come down. As it would take perhaps ten or fifteen minutes for Xander and the truck to appear, so, Buffy took the time to collect weapons and ammunition from the dead Pac-men. By the time she'd finished there was quite a haul with enough small arms ammo and RPG rockets to keep them in business for quite some time. Unfortunately there were no Claymores or explosives; Buffy was up on the roof dismantling the machine-gun when the pick-up bounced over the ditch and drove across the highway before Xander parked up in front of the store.
“I've dumped everything useful in front of the store,” Buffy called out, “get the truck loaded up and then get some gas...there looks like there's cans of it out back, take as much as'll fit in the truck.”
Everyone started move, either loading up boxes of ammunition or searching out cans of fuel. It was only as the truck was almost fully loaded that Buffy noticed a rumbling coming on down the highway from the north.
“Listen!” she called out and everyone stopped what they were doing and listened.
“A TANK!” they all cried in chorus.
Buffy and the Tank.
Standing on the roof of the store, Buffy listened as the tank approached in the dark. The engine and track noise sounded different from the 'little tanks' she was used to, this tank sounded much, much bigger.
“I'll take my RPG an' take it out,” Cordy called, she was standing next to the pick-up her faithful RPG in her hands and the rocket carrier hanging from her shoulder.
“No!” Buffy called as the tank got closer, it couldn't be more than two or three hundred yards away, “Everyone get outta here, like now!”
“We'll never get back to the tree line before it arrives,” Tanner called as he shoved Xander away from the steering wheel and started the truck's engine, “they'll see us and then we're dead...we need to hide.”
“Totally,” Buffy agreed, “erm...there's a dip aways down the road,” she pointed in a southerly direction, “hide there...first chance you have, get outta here, okay?”
“What about you?” Xander wanted to know.
“I'll be okay,” Buffy reassured him, “now GET!”
Watching as Tanner drove the pick-up away, Buffy hoped against hope that the tank crew wouldn't spot them. Would the tank crew be able to spot them, did they have night vision aides? She didn't know, the best she could do was try to destroy the tank and its crew before they had a chance to spot her friends.
Dropping down behind the wall of the bunker, Buffy heard the tank turn onto the gas station's forecourt. What the hell was it doing there at this time of night, she asked herself as the vehicle stopped and the driver switched off the engine. The Pacs rarely drove at night, she'd no idea why but ever since the invasion the Pacs appeared to have an aversion to night-time movement which was fine by her. It meant that her friends and herself were basically free to move around at night without much of a chance of being spotted or accidentally walking into an enemy patrol. Perhaps, she thought as she crawled across the roof to where she could see the tank, this tank had got lost or broken down and was only moving now because it was trying to catch up to its friends. Sniggering quietly as she imagined lost tanks wandering about in the dark looking for their buddies, she peeped over the edge of the roof and caught sight of the tank for the first time.
“My god that's big!” Buffy whispered to herself.
The vehicle was three or four times the size of the little tanks she was used to, this was a monster tank with a monster gun sticking out from its round turret. There appeared to be four crewmen, all human; a stray thought entered Buffy's mind. The Pacs always seemed to used human troops for anything that needed something more than the ability to shoot a gun, perhaps the demon soldiers really weren't that bright.
The S-A-T scores of demon soldiers could wait for now, Buffy admonished herself. At the moment one of the crewmen was standing in one of the turret hatches. Another, probably the driver was just climbing out of his hatch at the front of the vehicle. Two other crewmen, Buffy thought that one of them was a sergeant or something, were even now about to open the door to the store. When they did they were sure to to see all the blood and bodies belonging to the gas station's little garrison. When they did there was going to be trouble. Doing a quick inventory of the weapons she had available, Buffy counted; two knives, one pistol and some spare bullets and a couple of grenades; she didn't think any of these weapons could deal with the tank so that just left her.
The tank was an easy jump from where Buffy lay on the gas station roof, coming up into a crouch, she heard the store door open followed almost immediately by the sound of cries of alarm from the mouths of the crewmen. The two men still with the tank instantly became more alert and pulled automatic pistols from the holsters attached to their waist-belts. Leaping like a big cat, Buffy landed silently on the engine deck of the tank. The sergeant appeared in the doorway of the shop shouting incomprehensible orders as Buffy reached towards the man in the hatch and grabbed him by the head.
Dragging him from the turret, Buffy broke his neck and tossed the dead body over the side of the tank. Jumping up onto the turret itself, she took one of her grenades, pulled the pin and dropped it through the now vacated hatchway. Moving with sure footed purpose, she climbed down onto the front of the tank where the driver was just turning to see what was going on behind him. He died as Buffy slashed him across the throat with one of her knives. His dying gurgle as he drowned in his own blood was silenced by the sharp crack of the grenade as it went off. A smoke ring rose from the open hatches followed seconds later by some flames that licked around the edges of the hatches.
Jumping down off the front of the tank, Buffy turned to face the two crewmen who were now standing between the store and the tank, they were both looking directly at her and any moment now they'd remember about the pistols in their hands and shoot her. Buffy didn't give them much time to think or fire, she hauled her own pistol out of her holster and shot the two Pac-men in the head. Unfortunately the sergeant must have had faster reactions than his comrades because he managed to get off a shot before he died. The bullet ripped through the material of her camouflaged smock and made a shallow furrow in her upper arm.
“OWW!” Buffy cried as she clutched at the bloody hole in her jacket, “That hurt!” she stepped over to the downed sergeant and kicked his dead body, “Bastard!”
Turning back to the tank she saw that the fire in the turret was quickly taking hold and quite large flames were now leaping from both the hatches. Tossing her second grenade into the driver's hatch, she turned and headed off in the direction her friends had taken well pleased with what she'd done. Taking a wide, circular route over to where the pick-up was hidden, she managed to sneak up behind her friends without them spotting her.
“Scratch one tank,” Buffy announced making everyone jump.
“Hey, Buff,” Xander cried as soon as he'd recovered from Buffy's sudden reappearance, “you've been hit!”
“Yeah, I know,” Buffy replied casting her wounded arm a look, “it's only a scratch, Willow can look at it when we get home, so lets get moving, huh?”
Near the cabin, but hidden from it by about a hundred yards of trees, was a clearing. The gap in the trees had been made when a large tree had succumbed to a storm many years before. The tree trunk, long since devoid of leaves and most of its smaller branches lay at an angle across the clearing. The clearing formed an almost perfect circle about twenty yards across and was surrounded by more trees which formed a sort of grove that a druid might use to perform his bloody rites. Right at the moment, Buffy was crouched down using one of her Bowie knives to carve into the old tree trunk. Blowing a few wood chips away from the final letter of the name she'd been carving she sat back on her heels to admire her work.
'Rupert Giles', said the words she'd carved; she wasn't very good at carving, whittling stakes hadn't been very good practice for this type of work but she was improving; in a way she hoped that she'd not get the chance to improve any more because each name she carved into the tree meant some one else had died. Looking up at the tree she saw her mother's name next to the names of several of her teachers she'd seen killed that day in Woodland Village. Then there were Willow's mom and dad; no one had seen them die but everyone just knew they were dead. Jonathan's mom and dad were there along with Larry's dad's name. The only parents that were missing were Xander's, he refused point blank to let Buffy put there names on the 'Tree of Remembrance'.
Putting her knife away Buffy got up and walked over to a smaller tree trunk and sat down facing the big, old fallen tree; she wondered how many more names she'd have to carve into the wood. Who would carve her name into that old tree trunk? Dawn? If she died, Buffy hoped that everyone, if there was anyone left by then, would head for Free America.
Finding that a tear was running down her cheek, Buffy brushed it away before searching her pockets for something to blow her noise on, she tried to tell herself it was the cold that was making her eyes water and her noise run, but she knew the truth. Being hit by that bullet had reminded her that she was human like everyone else and could be shot and killed just like a 'normal' person. Being the slayer didn't protect you from bullets. Sometimes being the slayer was like being drunk (or how she imagined being drunk) or high on PCP (again she could only imagine). It made you feel invincible, unstoppable and this feeling would last right up until the moment someone or something killed you. Sensing someone moving behind her, she let her hand move towards the butt of her revolver.
“Hi,” it was Andrew Tanner's voice, Buffy turned to see him walk slowly over to where she was sitting.
“Hi y'self,” Buffy replied letting her hand relax and fall by her side.
“Mind if I join you?” Tanner asked.
“Be my guest,” Buffy indicated that Tanner should sit down next to her, “its a free country or at least this bit of it is.”
“Yeah,” Tanner chuckled as he sat down next to Buffy, “it sure is,” after making himself comfortable he asked, “how's the arm?”
“Okay, I guess,” Buffy replied, “its almost healed, it'll be completely healed in a week or so and you'll hardly notice I'd been shot.”
“But its only, what, three days you can't...” Tanner noticed the look on Buffy face and shut up she'd obviously had this conversation before; he'd also noticed how all her friends hadn't sounded particularly worried about Buffy's wound, they obviously knew something he didn't.
“I heal very quickly and I don't scar,” Buffy told the Marine, it was nothing but the truth, but she didn't explain why she healed quickly or didn't scar.
“Nice work,” Tanner pointed to the carved names on the tree trunk.
“Thanks I've had a lot of practice...” Buffy went silent for a moment, “...maybe too much practice.”
“Hey,” Tanner wanted to put his arm around Buffy to comfort her and perhaps tell her everything would be okay and that everything would work out; but he didn't because he knew it would be a lie; Buffy and her friends were all on borrowed time.
In all probability Buffy and her friends would be dead or in a Pacs prison camp by the summer. Eventually they'd do something to really piss off the Pac-men and they'd come after them and then...and then it would all be over for Buffy and her friends. They'd be hunted down like animals, if they were lucky they'd all go down fighting, but that was no way for a bunch of teens and their one adult friend to die.
“Look,” Tanner said after a short pause, “I didn't come out here to admire your knife work...”
“You didn't?” Buffy gasped in faux surprise, “I'm so disappointed...”
“No,” Tanner smiled, “its been fun but I think its time that I tried to make it to Free America.”
“Okay...” Buffy replied slowly, “...I'm betting you've put some thought into this.”
Since the raid on the gas station Buffy had noticed Tanner studying their limited supply of maps.
“Yeah,” Tanner nodded, “I thought about climbing over the Rockies and hoping to bump into an American unit, but that has three things going against it...”
“I might die in the snow, or a Pac unit might catch me, or, a jumpy American sentry might shoot me by accident.”
“All very good reasons not to walk out of here over the Rockies,” Buffy agreed.
“My other option is to walk down to the coast, steal a boat and sail south until I'm on the right side of the US and Mexican lines. Then I head for shore and hope that some Mexican sentry doesn't mistake me for a Pacs commando or something.”
“Can you sail?” Buffy wanted to know.
“I'm a Marine, I can do anything!”
“Yeah, totally,” Buffy laughed at Tanner's earnest reply, “but seriously, can you sail?”
“Some,” Tanner admitted.
“And where are you going to get your sail-boat from?”
“Well, I was kinda hoping you'd be able to tell me.”
“Okay...” Buffy thought hard for a moment, “...there was a marina in Sunny-hell but I'm kinda betting the Pacs aren't using that to run pleasure cruises up and down the coast.”
“Not that I know of,” Buffy admitted, “but Larry and Xander might know a place...oh...of course, Cordy's bound to know somewhere.”
“Well you might have noticed Cordy is more...” Buffy struggled for the right words, “...more of an 'entitled bitch' than the rest of us.”
“Yeah, I though she was more self involved than was usual, even for a teen.”
“Whatever,” Buffy shrugged, “but if anyone knows where the millionaire's yachts are kept, she will...”
“Before you go...” Buffy began but stopped herself, “...no I can't ask you that you're probably got someone waiting for you back home.”
“No, go on...”
“I was wondering...” Buffy said slowly, before changing her mind again, “...no its nothing forget it.”
Buffy had been about to ask Tanner if he'd make love to her, just the once; she'd never made love with Angel, in fact she'd never made love with anyone. The furthest she'd ever gone was 'second base' and that was back when she'd been living in LA. Now it looked like her little sister had more sexual experience than she did and she didn't want to die before she'd made love even once. But, asking Tanner was probably a bad idea. It would destroy Xander if he ever found out...a thought suddenly hit her, the solution to her present problem maybe...what about doing it with Xander? Yes she still loved Angel but she'd not seen him since just after the invasion, so maybe...
“Earth to Buffy.”
“You looked like you were miles away there.”
“I was...I was thinking about getting you outta here,” she lied, “come on,” Buffy stood up and pulled Tanner to his feet, “lets go tell everyone the good news, then we can plan your escape.”
“Hey, look I don't want you to think that I'm running out on you guys...”
“But, I'm not very good at being a resistance fighter I'm a chopper pilot, I'll do more good in a Cobra than here.”
“Don't worry,” Buffy said sympathetically, “I know exactly what you mean.”
It took a day for Buffy, Cordy, Jonathan and Captain Tanner to reach the northern shore of Lake Cachuma. There'd been little choice in their method of travel because the ground they'd had to cover was very rough, there were no roads or even tracks so taking one of the pick-ups was out of the question. Plus, although they'd managed to replenish their fuel supply for the trucks, Buffy had decided to restrict the use of the vehicles to vital operations only.
The ground they'd had to cover between the cabin and Lake Cachuma was covered in thick forest and cut through with numerous and deep defiles which helped make the journey almost twice as long as it would have been if the terrain had been flatter. Their plan had been to rest up at Lake Cachuma before crossing the Santa Ynez Mountains after which they'd head for the isolated settlement of Drake where Cordy had assured everyone that they'd find some sail boats.
The second part of the journey was likely to take another couple of days as not only did they have to cross the steep sided mountain range but there were several main roads they'd have to cross which were patrolled by Pac-man forces. Also Drake was close to Goviota where the Pac-men kept a small garrison. Once at the coast and assuming that they found a boat that Tanner could; 'A' steal and 'B' sail, the three teens would head for home using more or less the same route they'd taken to get to the coast. If there were no boats or they couldn't get to the coast due to Pac-man activity, Captain Tanner would have to resign himself to staying up in the mountains with Buffy and her friends, at least for the foreseeable future.
“Looks clear,” Buffy announced as she lowered her rifle and put the lens caps back on her sniper scope.
Although she's pronounced the road clear of Pac-men she made no move to start to cross the road which was only about one-hundred yards in front of them across some scrubby grass; something was holding her back.
“So?” Cordy broke into Buffy's examination of the empty road.
“W-what?” Buffy came back to the land of the living and turned to look at the dark haired girl.
“What's up Buffy?” Jonathan asked noticing the pensive look on Buffy's face.
“I-I don't know,” Buffy replied slowly.
“You're not having one of your weird feelings are you?” Cordy wanted to know, “Can you hear anything with those bat-like ears of yours, not that your ears look like a bat's because that would be totally weird...”
“I can't hear anything,” Tanner said as he shifted his position to get a better look at the road.
“You haven't got super-hearing,” Cordy pointed out to the Marine.
“Will everyone shut-up!?” Buffy demanded before turning her head to one side and listening very carefully; for a long moment everyone kept quiet as Buffy listened, “THERE!” she cried.
“Where?” Cordy scanned the road but couldn't see anything new.
“Tanks!” Buffy explained.
“Tanks,” Buffy repeated pointing to the north.
“But you can't possibly be hearing anything,” Tanner pointed out.
“Super hearing,” Cordy said as if that explained everything.
“But...” whatever Tanner had been about to say was put on hold by the appearance of two Pac-man soldiers on motorbikes as they rode around the corner and onto the highway in front of the resistance fighters, “...crap, how'd you...?”
“Like I said,” Cordy smirked, “super hearing.”
“What do we do now?” Jonathan asked.
“Keep our heads down and wait,” Buffy replied; okay, they could have taken out the two motorbike scouts but she could hear something bigger than motorbikes.
No sooner had the motor-bikers reached the recreation area than an armoured car followed by a tracked armoured personnel carrier appeared and followed the motorbikes along the road.
“Not exactly tanks but...” Tanner said.
“Wait...” Buffy held up her hand for silence, now everyone could clearly hear tanks coming down the road, she looked at Tanner and grinned, “...told ya so.”
“What the hell...” Tanner watched as the first tank drove into view, “...I get it...”
“I wish I did,” Buffy muttered quietly as yet another and another tank drove along the road.
“These, must be reinforcements,” Tanner explained quickly, “remember how the radio said that the army was launching an offensive along Highway Ten towards LA?”
“Yeah,” Buffy nodded; it was amazing but according to Radio Free America parts of LA was still holding out against the Pacs, if the army could break through and relieve LA it would be a major boast for US moral.
“Well, these,” Tanner gestured to the enemy tanks, “must be heading that way to block our attack...damn-it, I wish I had a radio.”
“Erm, why?” Jonathan asked.
“So I can call in an airstrike,” Tanner replied.
“What I want to know,” Cordy began as the tenth tank came around the corner, “is why they're using this road, surely the coast road would be better.”
“Too exposed,” Tanner explained, “too easy to be spotted and attacked with cruise missiles from subs.”
“I thought you said...” Jonathan was about to add something when the lead tank drove off the road and stopped at the camp site next to the recreation centre.
“What now?” Cordy demanded as more tanks drove off the road and stopped, “Don't tell me the slackers are totally stopping for breakfast!”
“Looks like,” Buffy said as the crewmen started to climb down from their tanks.
“I should have guessed,” Cordelia said with a hint of disgust in her voice, “but what do you expect from lazy...”
“Hey, what's that?” Jonathan wanted to know as a new vehicle appeared on the road.
The new vehicle looked as if it belonged in a sci-fi movie rather than on a road in America. Although it ran on tracks like a tank it wasn't a tank like the other vehicles parked at the side of the road. This one appeared to bristle with antennas and dishes that pointed at the sky. The vehicle's turret sprouted tubes that probably held missiles of some sort.
“That my friends is one of their new anti-aircraft tanks,” Tanner explained quietly, “its all new Japanese tech and one of the reasons our air attacks haven't been so effective...its rumoured the darn thing can shoot down incoming bombs and missiles.”
“So it would totally be a good thing if we blew it up?” Buffy asked as a predator's smile spread slowly across her face.
“What?” Tanner looked at Buffy as if she was insane.
“Look...” Buffy started to explain her thoughts, “...getting you to the coast and outta here looks like a bust...we'll have to try another day...but...”
“You seriously want to blow that thing up?” Tanner couldn't believe what here was hearing, “that'd be suicide.”
“Why?” Buffy asked quietly, “I can't see any infantry and they can't chase us up an' down hills in the forest with tanks...so what if they call in gunships, they'll never find us under all the trees, so why not? I mean we've come all this way and I don't want to go home having done nothing.”
“She's right,” Cordy chipped in.
“I'm up for it,” Jonathan added.
“Come on Marine,” Buffy grinned like a very naughty school girl, “y'know ya totally want to...”
“Well...” Tanner wanted to say what a bad idea it was, but he couldn't, his inner Marine was telling him to blow that armoured monster off the face of the planet, “...how many rockets you got Cordy?”
“Three,” Cordy replied as she checked the rocket already in her RPG launcher.
“Range is only about a two-hundred-and-fifty yards,” Jonathan pointed out, “no more than three-hundred, easy shot for Cordy.”
“Hey,” Buffy smirked, “her head's big enough already don't make it any bigger.”
“Look,” Cordy snapped, “do you want that thing blown up or not?”
“Sorry,” Buffy replied, “of course I want it blown up.”
“Right...” Cordy settled down into a good firing position, “...so, lets have no more comments about my hat size, okay?”
“Okay so what's the plan...!” Tanner started to ask as Cordy fired her rocket; “WHAT THE FU...!?”
The rocket lurched from the launcher on Cordy's shoulder and flew twenty or so yards before its main rocket motor ignited and sent the missile speeding towards its target. The range was so close it only took the rocket a couple of seconds to reach the Pac-man tank. When it did the RPG's warhead punched through the thin side armour of the vehicle and exploded. Smoke and flames started to billow from the tank as its crew threw open hatches and scrambled from the suddenly dangerous interior of the tank. Just as they were leaping off the burning vehicle the crew were killed as secondary explosions ripped the tank to pieces.
“Wow!” Cordy said quietly in amazement, “It's never done that before...”
“Time to leave...” Tanner observed as he started to stand up ready to run deeper into the woods.
“WAIT!” Buffy managed to grab hold of his equipment belt and pull him back into cover.
“What the hell?” Tanner demanded but was cut off by Buffy's cry of...
Once again the group was saved by Buffy's slayer hearing as a low flying jet flew along the line of the road leaving death and destruction in its wake.
“That was lucky!” Cordy yelled over the sound of multiple explosions as Pac-man tanks were turned into smoking wrecks at the passage of the jet.
“Yeah!” Jonathan cried over the sound of another jet, “Blow up the anti-aircraft tank moments before the airstrike arrives!”
“Too much of a coincidence,” Buffy agreed as more explosions rocked the little valley where the road ran, “gotta be someone else around.” The road and the area either side of it was now a burning hell of destroyed tanks and dead crewmen, “Time we were gone,” Buffy started to get up as another jet screamed down the valley dropping little bomblettes which exploded with sharp cracks and puffs of grey smoke killing any dismounted crewmen who'd escaped the initial attacks.
“Come on lets get outta here,” Buffy ordered as she collected up her gear and turned to head back the way they'd come.
“Right behind you...” Jonathan and Cordy chorused.
The three teens had only run a few yards when Buffy realised Tanner wasn't with them.
“Go on,” Buffy called over the still loud sound of explosions, “we'll meet by that big fallen tree, okay?”
Turning back towards the scene of destruction, Buffy dodged through the trees until she was back at their ambush position. There she saw Tanner crouching in the grass.
“Get back here!” Buffy shouted between explosions as yet another jet added its load of death to the inferno.
“You were right!” Tanner called back to her, “There's gotta be some special forces around here...I've gonna find them.”
“Through that!?” Buffy pointed at the hell of burning tanks, “You'll be killed, now get back here!”
“No!” Tanner shook his head as another jet approached, “If I can get back I might be able to...”
Tanner's words were cut off as the jet dropped its load a little wide of its target. Hitting the ground with commendable speed, Buffy was aware of black objects falling from the sky around her. The ground came up to hit her as explosions deafened and threw her around. After what felt like an eternity during which Buffy rediscovered the power of prayer, she dug herself out of the soft earth and looked around in numb fascination. Everything was so quiet, she hoped her hearing would return soon, but, as she looked around she couldn't see any sign of Tanner.
“Tanner!” Buffy yelled only just being able to hear herself as she looked frantically around; all the jets had gone away now but there was still no sign of Tanner, “ANDY!” she called again, this time she was able to hear herself, but it looked like she was talking to the dead.
Stumbling towards where she'd last seen Tanner all Buffy found was a large hole in the ground, Tanner was gone with not a trace of him remaining. For a moment she tried to tell herself that he'd escaped and was even now heading towards the other side of the valley. But she knew she was only lying to herself. Captain Andy Tanner was gone, blown to tiny pieces by an American bomb. Turning away sadly, she headed back into the safety of the trees.
'Captain Andrew Tanner, USMC', she craved the letters carefully so there'd be no mistake if anyone came to see.
Hearing someone walking through the trees, Buffy's hand moved down to the butt of her pistol. Looking up and around she half expected to see Tanner walking towards her, she sighed in disappointment when she saw it was only Jenny.
“You okay?” Jenny asked as she sat down beside her.
“I'll live,” Buffy replied quietly.
“I see you've...” Jenny gestured to the new name in the tree trunk.
“It was bound to happen sooner or later, Buffy,” Jenny explained as she put her arm around Buffy's shoulder and pulled her close, “I know its a hard thing to say, but it was better it wasn't one of the core group...”
“I know,” Buffy nodded as she started to sob quietly, “but it doesn't make it any easier...I got someone else killed.”
“No you didn't,” Jenny said firmly, “I don't want to hear you talk like that ever again. Everyone relies on you Buffy, even me...”
“But I don't want everyone to rely on me,” Buffy explained, “I want to be sixteen again and only have to worry about boys and going to the prom and what dress I'm going to wear and...and...”
“I know...” Jenny hugged Buffy tightly, “...when this is all over...”
“You think its going to end...the war...the killing?”
“You know they used to have those really long wars, like in history, this could be like that...”
“Doubt it,” Jenny smiled sadly, “it'll all be over by Christmas,” she repeated the old lie, “and then you can go home and brag about everything we did and people will pretend to be interested...”
“Yeah right,” Buffy nodded her head and wiped away her tears.
But would she have a home to go to, the only family she had now were here with her, everything from her old life had been stripped away from her.
“You know, Buffy,” Jenny said, “I'm always here to talk or give you a hug if ever you need it, you know that, right?”
“Yeah, thanks Jenny,” Buffy sat up and smiled at her teacher, “you can be like my Watcher, okay?”
“Yeah,” Jenny nodded, “why not...?”
“Buffy'll be so pissed at you,” Larry pointed out reasonably.
“Not if no one tells her,” Xander replied; yesterday Buffy, Cordy and Andrew had started out to take Captain Tanner to the coast, they were expected to be gone for three maybe four days just the amount of time needed for him to carry out his plan.
“I don't know man, look Buffy's in charge, we all promised to do what she said and she said no going to town,” Larry was a team player and just at the moment, Buffy was his team captain so what Buffy said was law.
“Look man,” Xander sighed heavily as he struggled to remain calm; he'd been planning this for some time and he didn't want the big jock screwing with his timetable, “I've gotta find out what's happened to my parents,” he lied; to be honest he didn't care a damn about his parents, whether they were alive or dead didn't bother him just now, he had bigger fish to fry, “I've gotta know if they're alive or dead.”
“I know, man,” Larry replied sympathetically, “but Buffy said...”
“I know, I know,” Xander was beginning to find Larry's slavish obedience to Buffy's word a little annoying, but he kept his cool, this was too important to spoil it all by losing his temper, “look all you have to say is that I just left one morning before everyone got up, or say I was doing a one-man recon job, whatever makes you feel better.”
“Okay, okay,” Larry could see the determination on Xander's face, plus he could understand why Xander needed to do this, “if anyone asks I'll say you're checking out on the timing of a convoy or something, just...” Larry had grown to 'like' Xander over the weeks and months they'd been up at the cabin and to be honest he didn't want anything bad to happen to him, “Look I know you've gotta do this but be careful man, understand?”
“Yeah sure,” Xander grinned, “you want anything from town?”
“Nah,” Larry shook his head, “but maybe you better bring something nice back for Buffy, just in case, you know what I mean?”
“Sure do,” Xander laughed, before turning away and going to finish his packing.
Pushing the images of Buffy and Angel together to the back of his mind, Xander finished packing his pack. He had spare socks a civilian jacket, a couple of days worth food and of course he had the thing that would make his plan 'do-able'. His plan was simple; first he actually would check on his parents; it wouldn't do for him to claim they were dead and then to have them turn up on the doorstep alive and kicking the next day. How to find Angel had been a problem that had caused Xander to postpone his mission several times. But then it had come to him as if in a blinding flash, he didn't need to find Angel, Angel would find him. All he had to do was wander around the places that Angel was likely to be hiding and he'd be sure to slide out from under his stone.
Once at Angel's liar he'd pull his surprise package and Angel would be no more, he'd be like that parrot Dawn was always going on about, he'd be an 'ex-vampire', he'd go to meet his maker...IN HELL! Stuffing his fist into his mouth to stop the maniacal laughter from escaping, he regained control of his emotions and took a deep cleansing breath. Once Angel was no more than a particularly bad memory he'd come home and tell Buffy the 'sad' news. He'd tell her how he'd met up with Angel, how they'd bumped into a Pac-man patrol and finally how, after a heroic fight Angel had died.
He of course would escape to tell the story. Buffy would be sad, she'd probably cry, she'd likely as not be angry with him, but in the end she'd thank him. She'd thank him so much that eventually she'd see how much he loved her, then she'd realise how much she loved him. Xander who'd always been there for her, who'd loved her from the first time he'd laid eyes on her. Someone who'd always care for her and never turn her into a blood-sucking monster so he could lay his dirty, old man hands on her young nubile body and...
Once again Xander had to dismiss the images of Buffy and Angel together...in bed...doing...
“No!” Xander cried out loud.
“Who?” Xander turned to see Dawn standing in the doorway of the 'boy's room', she held a paper wrapped package in her hands; Dawn, Xander smiled, even she was getting more sex than he was and with Jonathan too, who'd have thought it?
“Only me,” Dawn smiled as she held out the package to him, “I made you some sandwiches for your trip.”
“How did you...?” Xander began fearing that Dawn might tell her sister the real reason he was leaving the group.
“No one notices me so I hear more than people think,” Dawn explained, “like I know that everyone knows I'm having sex with Jonathan...so...here you go, Bambi burger sandwiches!”
“My favourite!” Xander smiled as he took the package; whatever he might once have said about Dawn's cooking, he took it all back now, Dawn could cook like a cooking demon, “Hey,” Xander felt the weight of the package, “how many did you make?”
“Probably enough to last you the week,” suddenly the smile left Dawn's lips and she became serious, “You be careful, right? I know you've got to do this, to know one way or the other, right? I know Buffy told me that mom is dead, but its not the same as actually knowing, like I would have totally liked to have seen her one last time before...”
Dumping his gear on his bed, Xander rushed over and held Dawn in his arms as she burst into sobs that racked her body. He felt her young body against his and wondered if this was how it would feel to have Buffy's body next to his own. Feeling himself start to go hard he pushed Dawn away and held her by the shoulders at arm's length.
“Look, Dawn,” Xander looked Dawn right in the eye, “I'll be careful, look,” he grinned, “the Xan-man always comes back.”
“Make sure that you do!” Dawn said with some force as she wiped at her eyes.
“Oh, don't you worry,” Xander smiled, “I'll be back!”
What he found was a mess that even his mother would have felt compelled to clean-up. Smashed crockery crunched under his feet as he made his way across the room and into the hall. Pausing for a moment he remembered all the times he'd headed off to school with no one to see him, both his parents would be sleeping it off from the night before. Sometimes he thought Willow had it better than he did, at least she knew that her parents didn't care and that apart from her friends she was alone in the world. Moving into the, so-called, family room, Xander stood in the doorway and surveyed the mess the room had become, it looked like the Harris home had been visited by some particularly untidy burglars.
“They came and looted the place a couple of weeks ago.”
The voice behind his right ear almost made him jump out of his skin, turning he saw the vampire standing not two feet away, he'd never even heard him approach.
“Angel!?” Xander gasped not believing his luck.
“Yeah,” Angel nodded, “I hope you don't mind but I've been living in your basement for the last few days...I reasoned that it was one of the places you'd look if anyone came back to town.”
Now he'd got over the shock of bumping into his arch nemesis like this, he noticed how pale...well, paler the vampire looked, how he'd lost some of his, not to put it too bluntly, sexiness, he even looked thin.
“Hey, are you eating okay?” Xander asked feeling at least for a moment a little concerned for the monster.
“I do okay,” Angel replied tiredly, “come on downstairs, its not safe up here...”
Following Angel to the door that led down into the basement, Xander wondered just how wise it was to go with a vampire who quite frankly looked as if he needed a good feed. Reaching into his pocket, he felt the cool, smooth surface of the canister that was the answer to all his problems. Emboldened by the knowledge that he could destroy the blood soaked fiend, Xander followed Angel down into the basement.
“The Pacs take everything,” Angel explained, “they send gangs of prisoners around to strip the houses then they send the stuff back to Pac-land.”
“Best I can come up with is they've been on a war footing back home for so long that there must be shortages of basic stuff,” Angel explained, “I'm guessing they're using the stuff taken from the US to keep the folks back home happy...I mean it was nearly all made in China or Japan anyway.”
“Whatever,” Xander pitied the Pac who got his ' things, “what's going on in town, what are the Pac-men doing.”
Realising that this was a good chance of finding out useful information on Pac-man numbers and intentions, Xander sat back and let Angel talk. As it turned out Angel hadn't heard about the US offensive towards LA, he didn't even know that parts of LA were still holding out. However, he had noticed more Pacs air activity, most of which was heading east. He'd also noticed that there were less Pacs troops in Sunnydale and any that landed at the docks were marching east as soon as they arrived. Also, that nearly all the infantry units arriving from Pac-land now were made up of the green skinned demon-soldiers, it seemed only human soldiers were allowed to crew armoured vehicles or artillery.
One thing that did worry Xander, with most of the Pac-men heading east there would be less troops to chase him and the guys; but, a few days ago, Angel said he'd seen a new unit arrive that hadn't gone east. The unit appeared to be made up entirely of human soldiers. On 'questioning' a collaborator, just before he'd eaten him, Angel had found out that the new troops were a Japanese special forces unit. He'd not been able to find out why they were there but it wasn't too much of a stretch of the imagination to guess that they were here to hunt down any local partisans like the people the Pacs were calling 'The Razorbacks'.
“Hey, thanks man,” Xander said as he got to his feet; unknowingly Angel had given him the perfect excuse to go, “I better start heading back and tell Buffy the bad news.”
“Tonight?” Angel asked as if he was really concerned for Xander's safety; no doubt the real reason was that Angel wanted Xander to stay so he could feed off him.
“Yeah its better to travel by night,” Xander explained, “and Buffy'll want to hear about this soon as.”
“H-how is Buffy?” Angel asked quietly.
“Oh, you know,” Xander replied with false jollity, “Buffy's still Buffy, plus the loneliness of command, but hey, she's handling it so anyway I gotta go...”
“Tell her...” Angel hesitated as Xander headed for the stairs that led back up into the house, “...tell her...I still think of her...”
“Sure man,” Xander was now half way up the stairs; he put his hand into his pocket and pulled out the phosphorous grenade he'd had hidden there, “I'll be sure to tell her an' next time maybe she'll be able to come visit.”
Standing at the top of the stairs, Xander turned to see Angel standing looking up at him and just for a moment, no more than a fraction of a second really, he thought that Angel had guessed what he was about to do. But Angel made no move to stop him as he held up the grenade, pulled the pin and tossed it down into the basement.
Hurling himself through the door, Xander landed on his stomach in the hall as the grenade exploded with a soft bang. Bright light spilled from the doorway swiftly followed by acrid, white, chemical smoke. He could hear the phosphorous hiss and spit as it started to consume the contents of the basement. Very quickly darker smoke and the smell of burning wood joined the white chemical smoke and Xander told himself that it was time to leave. Scrambling to his feet he ran for the front door, bursting out into the night, he glanced back at his house to see smoke and flames billowing from the basement, Angel must be dead, nothing could survive the inferno in the basement. Turning away from the house, Xander ran right into the waiting arms of the two Pac-man special forces troopers who'd been waiting for him.
“Persistent, aren't they?” Larry observed as he and Buffy watched the Pacs troops who'd been following them nearly all day.
“Yeah,” Buffy agreed, “and they're really starting to annoy me, y'know?”
It was only two days since Buffy had returned from trying to get Tanner to the ocean. The news of his death had hit everyone hard, Tanner had been their one link to the outside world, now he was gone and they were on their own again. Thinking that shooting up a Pac-man convoy would improve everyone's moral and stop them thinking about Tanner's death, Buffy had led her friends out towards the highway that ran between Santa Clarita and Bakersfield.
Unfortunately the only convoys on the road were heavily armed troop convoys that were far too hard a target for the teenage resistance fighters. Deciding that this part of the mission was a bust, she led her group off in a search for easier pickings. Checking out several spots where the Pacs normally had small garrisons that could be attacked with more hope of success they found that even these squad and platoon sized forces had been withdrawn. No doubt they were being sent to reinforce the Pacs forces facing the US thrust towards LA.
Realising that it was pointless wandering around the forests trying to find someone to attack, Buffy decided to head on home, it was then that they saw the troops following them in the distance. Turning to observe the enemy, she saw that the trailing force had to number at least a platoon and from the way they moved between the trees she got the idea that these were something more than your general, run of the mill, Pacs infantry. These guys looked as if they knew what they were doing and as far as anyone could see they were all human.
“I think its time to do something about these guys,” Buffy said slowly.
“I noticed they go wherever we go,” Larry pointed out; they'd been trying to shake their pursuers all day and failed, now it was getting towards evening and everyone wanted to go home, no one wanted to spend a night out under the stars in freezing temperatures.
“Yeah I noticed that too,” Buffy agreed; she cast a glance to where everyone was sitting in the shelter of a large boulder, no one looked happy. “You thinking we might be able to lead them into a place we can trap them?”
“Why not,” Larry turned to Buffy and shrugged under his layers of warm clothing, “we've got to do something an' Dead Man's Bluff is only about half-an-hour's walk from here...”
“Yeah,” Buffy nodded as she watched the Pac-men get closer, she grinned, “we can cut them off at the pass.”
“Sure thing partner,” Larry grinned back.
“Okay, Dead Man's Bluff it is,” Buffy crawled back from the spot she'd been using to watch the Pac-men from, “lets get this show on the road...”
Larry and Xander covered the entrance to the pass; Larry had one of the 'small' machine-guns, what Tanner had insisted on calling a SAW, Xander had his Assault Rifle and a bunch of grenades. Once the Pacs were in the pass they'd shut the door behind the enemy. At the far end of the pass, which wasn't more than fifty yards away, Buffy had posted Cordy and Willow on one side of the track and Dawn and Jonathan on the other. Cordy had her faithful RPG and Willow had her Assault Rifle. Jonathan had a hunting rifle with a telescopic sight and he was backed up by Dawn with another Assault rifle, Jenny, of course, had volunteered to guard the cabin.
Buffy had posted herself on a high spot from where she could cover the length of the pass, from her position any Pac-man who showed himself would die very quickly. Everyone knew what to do if things went wrong. There were to be no heroics, if the ambush didn't work out they were to make their way to one of the rally points that had been set up over the last few weeks at Captain Tanner's suggestion. The only person to stay behind and watch everyone's backs would be Buffy. Once everyone was safe she'd break contact with the Pac-men and meet up with her friends.
Watching through her sniper scope, Buffy wondered if it might not be better for all concerned if she didn't make it back to the rally point. Since Tanner's death she couldn't help but feel that she was the only thing keeping the group in place. With the Army getting closer every day, it would be easy enough to head out towards the front lines and wait for the army to overrun them so they could hand themselves in to the US authorities. It had to be better than scratching out a living up in the mountains wondering if every day would be the day the Pac-men got themselves organised and came after them...just like they had now.
Movement caught her eye and Buffy looked down the pass to see several Pac-men moving towards the entrance to the pass. As she watched they stopped and took up positions around the entrance. Frowning, Buffy watched them through her sniper scope, had they noticed something out of place she wondered? Every one was pretty good at camouflage by now so she doubted that the Pac-men had spotted anyone. The next thought was that the ambush site was too obvious, but anyone coming this way would have to go through the pass. There was no way around Dead Man's Bluff for miles and the Pac-men seemed to know that they'd come this way...perhaps she'd made their tracks too obvious?
No, Buffy smiled as she saw several men get up out of cover and move towards the mouth of the pass; she was pretty sure no one would fire until she gave the signal and the signal to fire was when she set off the first of the Claymores. The four Pac-man scouts moved through the pass, finding nothing suspicious they walked back to their buddies. At a call from the scouts more figures appeared out of the woods and started to move through the pass, Larry and herself had been right about their numbers there appeared to be just over thirty of them. A shout from a man near the centre of the column caused Buffy to shift her aim. Watching she saw the man, he was holding some sort of box, call to another man who was probably an officer.
The man with the box was talking urgently to the officer guy as he gesticulated back down the pass, he almost seemed to be pointing to where Larry and Xander were waiting to nail the coffin lid shut. Something was wrong, the officer had called on his troopers to halt and take cover, while the man with the box appeared to be insisting that they go back the way they'd come. Deciding that something had gone wrong and if she didn't act now the Pac-men would be following her until they caught up with her, she picked up the detonator and set off the first Claymore.
Hundreds of steel ball-bearings ripped through the front of the Pac-man patrol taking down at least six men. The two remaining Claymores went off in rapid succession killing another dozen troopers. Just as the Pac-men were beginning to realise something had gone horribly wrong, Cordy sent an RPG rocket down the length of the pass, the warhead impacted the ground where the officer and the man with the box had been shocked into inactivity. The rocket exploded killing both men just as everyone else opened fire.
The Pac-men soldiers stood no chance. A few tried to escape but were cut down by Larry's machine-gun or blown up by Xander's hand grenades. A few tried to attack Cordy and Willow's position but they were caught in a crossfire from Jonathan and Dawn's position. Others tried to take cover and fight it out, these Buffy coldly killed with head shots from her Springfield. In less that a couple of minutes all the Pacs soldiers were either dead or dying. Standing up, Buffy signalled everyone to move in and kill the wounded before stripping the bodies of spare ammunition and supplies.
Walking along the path between the bodies, Buffy shot a wounded Pac-man. In the distance she could hear single shots as other Pac-men were dispatched. Coming around a tree, Buffy saw Willow standing over a wounded Pac-man who'd been shot in both legs but was otherwise okay, if he could get to a hospital he'd be fine but that wasn't going to happen.
“Hey, Willow,” Buffy called, Willow seemed to be frozen in place standing like a statue over the downed Pac-man, “the bolts open, you're rifle's jammed...hey...Willow?”
“Die Yankee whore!” replied the trooper.
The Pac-girl's answer didn't please Cordy who started to kick the girl as she lay tied up and helpless on the ground.
“BITCH!” Cordy screamed as she kicked the girl's wounded legs causing her to cry-out in pain, but other than that she said nothing.
“Rub a butt on her!” Willow suggested, her comment making everyone stop and stare at her, even Cordy stopped assaulting the young woman for a moment.
“Erm...Willow...” Buffy was the first to break the silence, “...I really don't think...”
“No!” Willow cried out as she realised how everyone had misunderstood her suggestion, “I meant rub a cigarette butt on her...”
“No one smokes, Will,” Jonathan pointed out helpfully.
“Oh darn...” Willow sighed sadly.
“Hey,” Larry spoke up, “maybe rubbing a butt on her would really get in her face?”
Larry's suggestion was greeted by a few inappropriate giggles from some of the less mature members of the band.
Standing slightly to one side of the circle around the prisoner, Buffy watched as Cordy resumed beating on the girl. Although the Pac-girl wasn't talking, beating on her seemed to be making Cordy happy and from the looks on everyone's faces no one appeared about to object. Except Xander who was standing a little apart from the group with a worried expression on his face. Shrugging, she took Xander's reaction as one of disapproval, not that she really cared what he was thinking just at the moment.
“Tsukimuri, Wakana,” cried the girl as Cordy paused in her beating, “Trooper, seven-two-six...”
“I DON'T CARE!” Cordy screamed, before going back to punching and kicking the girl.
“I show you how Nipponese can die!” the girl cried defiantly.
“I've seen it all before,” Cordy sneered in reply.
Wondering when she should call a halt to this, it was fairly obvious to her that Cordy beating on the girl wasn't going to produce any useful information, plus they had no time for subtler means of interrogation, so maybe it was time to just shoot the bitch and go home. Turning slightly Buffy happened to notice Dawn sitting on the ground examining the box she'd seen the Pac-girls use just before they'd sprung the ambush.
“Hey, Willow,” Dawn called as she turned the box one way and another, “come and look at this, it keeps beeping and there's an arrow an' it keeps pointing...” Dawn stood up slowly as she moved and pointed the box from left to right, “...it keeps pointing to...” she moved slowly toward Xander, “...towards...towards...you!”
By now Dawn was standing right in front of Xander who was looking utterly terrified as if someone had found out his deepest, darkest secrets.
“Here,” Willow went over and joined Dawn, “give me that,” Dawn handed over the box, “you must be reading it wrong, I...”
Swinging the box from side to side, Willow eventually ended up with it pointing directly at Xander, she looked disbelievingly at her oldest friend in all the world.
“Xander?” Willow cried in a very small voice as she guessed what must have happen, the box was a receiver for a tracking device and that device was on Xander.
“What did you do?” Buffy asked in a low menacing voice as she moved towards where Xander stood.
“I...” Xander tried to answer but found that his tongue wouldn't work.
“What did you do?” Buffy repeated as she stepped right up to Xander and looked him squarely in the eye, “You went to town and got caught, didn't you?”
Larry had told Buffy that Xander had gone on a one-man recon mission while she'd been gone, this must have been a cover for Xander real mission which was to go back to Sunnydale, what she couldn't understand was, why?
“Yes...” Xander almost sobbed, “...I did it for you Buf...”
“ME!” Buffy yelled into his face, “In what weird world would going to town and getting caught by the Pacs be for me?”
“I love you Buffy,” Xander confessed, “I always have, they said that if I led them to you, we could go to Free America and...”
“WHAT!?” Buffy couldn't believe her ears, “ARE YOU INSANE!?”
“B-Buffy all I wanted...”
“IDIOT!” Buffy's temper snapped and she hit Xander on the side of his head with the butt of her rifle, “Where is it?” she demanded, “The bug, where is it?” Xander didn't reply. “GOD-DAMMIT, WHERE'S THE FREAKIN' BUG!?” Buffy screamed in anger and frustration.
“They made me swallow it...” Xander replied shamefully.
“What have you done, Harris?” Larry asked not really believing that anyone could be quite that stupid; they'd all kinda promised to die rather than be captured.
“AAAAGGHHH! YOU STUPID SON OF A BITCH!” Buffy kicked Xander making him cry out in pain.
“Hey Buffy!” Willow rushed forward to put herself between her two best friends, “I'm sure he didn't mean it...” she looked down to where Xander crouched with his hand to the bloody wound on the side of his head, “...you know...this is Xander being goofy...an' stupid..an'...”
“He tried to get us all killed, Will,” Buffy turned on Willow making her take a step back, “this goes way beyond goofy and stupid, this is treason!”
“But Buffy this is Xander...” Willow tried to explain but faded into silence as she saw the look of determination in Buffy's eyes.
“Grab your rifles...” Buffy began but Xander interrupted her before she could finish what she was about to order.
“Buffy...” Xander sobbed, “.. all I wanted was for us to be together.”
“And you didn't care how many of your friends died so you could live in your little fantasy world?” Buffy asked, “I thought we were all friends here, but you betrayed me and you betrayed everyone else,” she gestured to Larry, “get him to his feet, the rest of you get your rifles.”
“No!” Dawn came to stand next to Willow, “Okay so he's an asshole, but we can't just kill him, he was our friend...”
“He was willing to get us all killed or captured,” Cordy pointed out, “he should die.”
“But...” Dawn's mind raced as she tried to think of an alternative, but she came up empty, if they let him go he'd only go back to the Pacs and he knew too much for them to do that, “...okay,” she sighed, “but I'm not going to help shoot him, you'll have to do that by yourself.”
Buffy looked at all the faces of her friends and realised that yes she'd have to do this by herself; hadn't Giles told her that in the end the slayer was always alone?
“Come, Yankee-boy,” cried the Pacs trooper now Cordy had stopped beating on her, “tell me your name so we can die together...”
“I'll totally, do it,” Cordy announced brightly; many times in the past she'd wanted to shoot Xander, it now looked like she was going to get her chance.
“Cordy!” Willow cried, “No!”
“Look, Buffy's right...for once,” Cordy explained, “he was going to get us all killed so he could live, I'd die before I let the Pacs catch me,” she looked at Willow. “I'd totally die for you...”
“Okay...” Willow said softly, “...but like Dawnie says, if you want him dead Buffy, you'll have to do it yourself...”
There were nods of agreement from all around the group except from Cordy.
“Okay, cool,” Buffy pointed her rifle at the Pacs trooper and shot her in the head before turning to point her rifle at Xander.
“No Buffy!” Xander held out his hand imploring Buffy not to shoot him.
Looking down at her one time friend, Buffy felt the hot tears fill her eyes as she couldn't even make her hand move to work the bolt of her Springfield.
“Please Buffy please don't...” Xander cried as he tried to crawl away from her, “...I love you Buffy...I...”
Xander's words were interrupted by a short burst of fire from Cordy's rifle. The bullets hit Xander in the chest and he fell onto his back, dead.
“What? Come on guys,” Cordy turned to face the looks of shock and horror on everyone's faces; although they all knew, deep down that Xander had to die no one really believed it would actually happen, “someone had to do it...”
“Cordy's right,” Buffy said as she wiped the tears from her eyes, “now get your gear together, we need to be getting home...”
Turning, Buffy left Xander's body lying on the ground as his blood seeped into the forest floor.
“Oh no...” Buffy groaned quietly as she held up her hand to indicate that the group should come to a halt and take cover.
It was dark and late and they were still twenty minutes from home, but, Buffy could already smell the smoke on the forest air and her slayer senses were telling her that something was very wrong, very wrong indeed.
“Larry,” Buffy called in a loud whisper, she waited a moment as the big jock moved silently forward to join her at the head of the group.
“What's up,” he asked as he crouched down next to Buffy and tried to penetrate the Stygian darkness with merely human eyes.
“Something's wrong,” Buffy explained, “I can smell smoke coming from the direction of the cabin. It may be nothing but with the luck we've had today, I'm totally not going to take any more chances...”
“Okay,” Larry agreed, “what's the plan?”
“Give me Xander's rifle and ammunition, I'm going to take a look at what's going on,” Buffy handed Larry her Springfield and her ammunition belt while accepting Xander's AK and its magazines in exchange; for what she was planning the AK would be a better weapon than her Springfield. “Look, while I'm taking a look-see you take everyone to the First Alternative, okay?”
“Got that,” Larry nodded; the 'First Alternative' was one of the food and equipment dumps they'd set up just in case they couldn't get back to the cabin for any reason.
“Like I say its probably nothing,” Buffy repeated, “but if I've not come for you by dawn, I want you to try and get everyone to Free America...”
“But...” Larry started to object.
“No 'buts', Larry,” Buffy replied firmly, “I can look after myself and if I can't, well, I don't want you guys charging to the rescue and getting killed or worse yet, captured.”
“Okay...” Larry didn't sound too happy; he'd grown to trust and respect Buffy over the months they'd been up in the mountains and leaving a five-foot-two cheerleader to face the enemy by herself just wasn't in his play-book...even if she could whip his ass with one hand tied behind her back. “...okay, but I'm giving you 'til midday.”
“Whatever,” Buffy shrugged as she checked over Xander's old weapon by touch alone, “but I'm counting on you to get everyone to safety.”
“I'll try,” Larry assured her, “good...”
“No!” Buffy placed her hand over Larry's mouth, “Don't say 'good luck', it sounds way too much like 'good bye' and I'm not coming back...believe me I do intend to come back, I've no intention of letting you be boss of this outfit.”
“Hey,” Larry gave a quiet chuckle, “I...” suddenly Larry found he was talking to himself, Buffy had gone.
Sighing heavily, Larry turned and moved back along the track to tell the rest of the group what was going on. He knew there'd be demands that they go after Buffy, particularly from Cordelia. Of all the people here Cordy had changed the most...she'd been the one to shoot Harris when it looked like Buffy couldn't do it and he wondered if that change was for the best.
“Okay, listen up,” Larry spoke softly as he gathered the group around him, “this is what we're doing...”
Coming up behind a convenient, fallen, tree trunk, Buffy looked around her cover so no one would notice her head sticking up over the fallen tree if there was anyone there to notice. The first thing she saw was the burnt out ruin of the cabin. The barn where they'd kept Larry's pick up was also a smouldering wreck as was Larry's truck; she couldn't see the Ranger's pick-up but she sort of bet herself that was destroyed too.
Ducking back into cover, Buffy reconstructed what must have happened in her mind. Having caught Xander and making him swallow the tracking device, the Pac-men must have triangulated his position and come to check the place out once he'd moved away. They must have found the cabin and destroyed it, now the only question left to Buffy was whether the Pac-men had killed or captured Jenny.
If they'd killed Jenny then she was dead and there was nothing much Buffy could do for her teacher and friend. On the other hand if the Pac-men had captured her then they'd probably taken her back to Sunnydale for interrogation. Buffy needed to find out what had happened to Jenny, if she wasn't dead, she needed to get her friends away, far away, as far as Free America even. Jenny knew all their secrets, their numbers, their weapons, where the emergency supplies were stashed. No, if Jenny was alive she'd talk, everyone talked eventually it was inevitable; Jenny would hold out as long as she could, she was sure of that, but she'd eventually give it up so they'd stop hurting her. Buffy knew and accepted it, there was no shame in it...it wasn't a betrayal, this wasn’t anything like what Xander had done, Jenny would never betray her or the others.
So, Buffy leant her back against the tree and tugged the Bowie knife from the sheath on her belt, she'd have to assume that Jenny was captured until she found her body. This meant she needed to get after Larry and the others, but first there was enough time for some pay-back. Jenny was gone whatever she did and, the Pac-men needed to pay for what they were likely to do to her and in a way what they'd made her do to Xander.
Moving like a ghost through the trees, Buffy came up behind where she could feel a couple of Pac-man demon soldiers were lying in ambush. There were more Pacs hiding around the cabin, but these were first on her list. Sneaking quietly up behind the soldiers, she realised that they'd both fallen asleep, this was going to be too easy. Stamping down hard on the back of one demon's neck she reached down and grabbed the other with her left hand. Pulling the demon's head back by its hair she slipped her knife under its neck and cut its throat with one easy cut. Shifting her weight a little so it was fully on the other demon's neck she felt and heard it break with a satisfying dead branch-like snap. Moving quickly away from her dead victims, she went in search of more quarry.
It was after she'd killed her fifth or sixth Pac-man or demon, she really didn't know or care whether her victims were human or demonic by this time, that she felt a new presence behind her. Turning as fast as only a slayer could, she found herself face-to-face with one of the Japanese special forces trooper-ettes. For just a fraction of a second, Buffy was surprised to find the girl prepared for any attack she might initiate. Like Buffy the girl's rifle was slung across her back and like Buffy her fists were up and ready to block or launch blows in hand-to-hand combat.
“Buffy Summers,” the girl said in surprisingly good English, “leader of the Razorbacks resistance group...”
“The same,” Buffy replied as she circled the girl looking for an opening, while the girl moved to keep her at a distance.
“It is an honour to finally meet you.”
“The pleasure's all mine,” Buffy replied, she was getting a strange vibe off the girl, almost but not exactly like she was a demon, “and you are?”
“Lieutenant Sakura Airi, Nippon Special Forces,” Sakura nodded her head towards Buffy, “you might not have realised it, but you have caused us more that a little...annoyance...”
“Glad to have been of service,” Buffy smiled, “but I'm kinda inna rush, so can I kill you now? I have an important meeting to go to.”
“You can try,” Sakura smiled, “but don't you want to know what happened to your friends Angel and Jenny first?”
“Angel...?” Buffy gasped and she momentarily let her guard down.
Taking advantage of Buffy being distracted, Sakura struck like a snake aiming for Buffy throat with a blow that would have ruptured her windpipe and have her choking to death in seconds. Recovering from her initial shock at the mention of Angel's name, Buffy managed to block the blow and deliver one of her own; much to her astonishment Sakura blocked it easily and again moved out of range.
“Yes, Angel,” Sakura taunted hoping to get Buffy to attack her; when she didn't Sakura continued with her tale, “I thought you were supposed to be a Vampire Slayer not a Vampire Layer...” Sakura giggled at her own pun.
“Ha-ha, very funny,” Buffy replied sarcastically, “so, what about Angel?”
“I notice you don't ask after Jenny Calendar...she's dead, we shot her, rest assured she fought bravely but her struggle was hopeless, however, she died honourably...unlike Angel...he's dead too, I mean really dead,” Sakura announced flatly, “hmmm, I thought you would react more and give me an opening but you seem very controlled...almost as if you didn't care any-more.”
“Oh I care,” Buffy informed the Japanese soldier, “but after the day I've had I'm really not that surprised...”
“Oh yes,” grinned Sakura, “you had to shoot your friend Xander Harris...but no you could not, you had to let Cordelia Chase do it for you, I had expected more of you, The Slayer, I expected you to be harder, tougher, not a soft American Cheerleader girl.”
“You seem to know a heck of a lot about me and my friends, but I know so little about you,” Buffy sneered, “but tell you what, I don't care...”
“We have some very good Seers, but more importantly I bet you would like to know how Angel died?”
Buffy remained silent, she wanted, needed to know how Angel had died, if this slant-eyed bitch wasn't lying.
“We didn't kill him it was your friend Harris...”
“B-but how?” Buffy decided that she didn't believe the Jap-bitch.
“You mean, how did, no hope, Harris kill, mass murdering vampire Angel?” Sakura grinned so hard her face nearly split in two, “Simple really, he tossed a phosphorous grenade into the vampire's lair just before we caught him, Angel I mean, we'd tracked him to his hide-out and were about to kill him; Harris saved us the trouble. I can assure you that Angel is nothing but a cloud of ash blowing on the wind.”
“Why you...!” Buffy pulled her revolver from behind her back and shot Sakura three times in the head.
Standing over the girl's body, Buffy smiled at the surprised look on the Japanese girl's face and waited for any more Pac-men or girls to appear out of the darkness. When they didn't Buffy reloaded her revolver and slipped it back into its holster.
“I bet you thought I was going to fight you, woman-to-woman,” Buffy sighed, “but, if I've learnt one thing about being a resistance fighter its to only fight battles on my terms...you lose sucker.”
Turning away from the dead girl Buffy headed off into the trees, she had some carving to do.
Sitting alone on an out crop of rock, Buffy watched the sunrise. Angel was dead, Jenny was dead, Tanner was dead, Xander had died a traitor. Four dead in less just over a week, she couldn't help wondering who'd be next. What if Dawn got killed, what would she do then? Perhaps the time had come to give it all up to move on, maybe join up with the US forces moving towards LA. The Voice of Free America had been talking about a big tank battle around Palm Springs, that wasn't too far away. If they were careful they could get to the American lines in about a week or ten days. Perhaps it was time to tell the others that the time to move on had come, to quit while there was still any of them left alive to quit.
Hearing movement behind her she turned and saw Dawn make her way over to her sister and sit down beside her.
“Hi,” Dawn said quietly, “what-cha-doin?”
“Thinking,” Buffy replied in the same hushed tone as her sister had used.
“Why you whispering?” Dawn wanted to know.
“I don't know,” Buffy shrugged, “it just feels quiet is all. What's everyone saying?”
“Oh...” Dawn sighed and moved closer to Buffy, “...everyone's talking about quitting an' heading for FA...”
“What about you?”
“What I think don't count...” Dawn shrugged and laid her head on Buffy's shoulder.
“Doesn't...” Buffy corrected.
“Whatever,” Dawn replied, “whatever anyone else decides I'll stick with you, I'm your sister...”
“Oh Dawn...” Buffy sobbed as the tears filled her eyes to overflowing and started to trickle down her face cutting little tracks through the grime on her cheeks, “...I wish I knew what to do...I wish Mom was here, she always knew what to do...”
“Even about being a resistance fighter?” Dawn asked as she hugged her sister tightly.
“I bet she would,” Buffy forced a laugh through her tears, “everyone's dying an' I don't know what to do.”
“You'll think of something,” Dawn encouraged, “you always do and I'll be there to totally back you up and if no one else wants to follow you then I'll be there by your side come hell or high water.”
“That's oddly supportive and grown-up of you,” Buffy said suspiciously as she wiped her eyes smearing dirt across her face as she did so.
“Like I say, I'm your sister and that's what sisters do however annoying the older one might be.”
“Phew,” Buffy smiled, “back to normal again, for a minute I thought you were going to ask me if you could get a tattoo or something.”
“No...” Dawn shook her head, “...but now you've mentioned it, can I?”
“So what do we do next?” Dawn wanted to know.
“I'd like to head for FA but I think we should stay here and stir things up a little,” Buffy explained, “I'm thinking that the Pacs are going to need all the supplies they can get...”
“..and if it all goes up in flames inside their trucks that has to be good for our side, right?” Dawn completed Buffy's thought for her.
“That's my sis,” Buffy squeezed Dawn's shoulder, “but what if the others don't want to?”
“We'll talk them 'round,” Dawn reassured her.
“Yeah,” Buffy nodded, “we'll hit a few supply convoys then we'll head for FA, right?”
“Right!” Dawn agreed, “But...”
“But first you better wash your face you look all 'cry-baby'...and its dirty...” Dawn sighed, “..y'know you've really let yourself go over the last few months...”
The convoy had been stationary at the side of the road for about ten minutes now. It consisted of twelve trucks, nine captured civilian vehicles which had been given a hurried coat of green paint and three regular Pac-man troop transport trucks, these last were full of Pac-man demon soldiers. At the front of the convoy was a Pac-man armoured car, while at the rear was a small military truck with a big double barrelled machine-gun on its flat bed.
Watching the vehicles through her sniper scope, Buffy realised that the truck with the big machine-guns instead of supplies was the convoy's anti-aircraft defence. Not much of a defence, she thought, nowhere near as impressive as the big tank-like thing that had escorted the tank unit she'd watched destroyed by the air force. Shrugging, she told herself, maybe the Pac-men only had a few of those big tanks and convoys like this one weren't important enough to rate proper protection.
Hadn't the radio said that the US Army was still attacking towards LA? Hadn't there been an increase in the number of Pac-man convoys heading south and towards the front? Wasn't every convoy important to the Pacs now? Since the army had begun its attack there'd been a lot less Pac-man troops about and the demon soldiers had almost all disappeared. President O’Neill, whoever he was, she’d never heard of the guy, had been on the radio asking that all Minuteman units concentrate their attacks on Pacs supply convoys. Every truck destroyed was fewer soldiers and less supplies getting to the front.
Shifting slightly, Buffy turned to look at the armoured car, it was nothing special, other than being covered with equipment and loot, it looked no different to any other armoured car she'd seen, except maybe... The doors in the side of the car were open and just after the convoy had come to a halt a human guy with lots of red badges had climbed out of the car and taken a leak at the side of the road before going back to the car and climbing up on top of it. Studying the guy through her scope, Buffy wondered if he was a general or something, people seemed to be showing him a lot of respect, like standing to attention if they wanted to speak to him. If he was a general then he could be a dead general as soon as she’d decided whether it was worth the risk to actually attack.
The thing holding Buffy back from ordering everyone to open up on the convoy were the demon soldiers, there had to be forty or fifty of them, maybe more. Sure, Buffy and her guys were in a good position, but; they only had the weapons they'd had at the ambush at Dead Man's Bluff. There'd been a couple of spare rifles at the First Alternate site plus about five hundred rounds. But, they only had three rockets left for Cordy's RPG and they only had the one 'little machine-gun'. If those Pacs demons hadn't been there, she would've ordered the attack. Apart from anything else they needed stuff, they needed food as well as weapons and ammo. The emergency supply dumps were only good for a couple of days, so far they'd been at the First Alternate three, they needed to replenish their stocks before moving on to the Second Alternate.
“What are we gonna do?” Larry asked quietly.
“I'm thinking...” Buffy's reply was cut short my the truck with the anti-aircraft gun exploding with a satisfyingly loud explosion.
At first Buffy thought that the truck had exploded for no reason, but then she heard a sound like a giant ripping canvas. All along the line of the convoy, trucks exploded and men fell as the ground was churned up by what looked like small explosions. Then it appeared, little more than a grey blur flying low over the road.
“Thunderbolts!” Larry yelled over the sound of the jet's engines.
“WHAT!?” Buffy screamed back as another aircraft appeared and attacked the convoy leaving more trucks burning and men dead.
“A10 THUNDERBOLTS!” Larry screamed over all the noise.
“Whatever...” Buffy shrugged and turned to watch the show.
After the first pass about half the trucks were burning, the drivers had mostly taken cover in the roadside ditch, but the demon soldiers looked like they were preparing to make a fight of it. Just as Buffy was going to tell everyone to shoot at the demons, Larry grabbed hold of her arm.
“Watch,” he said with a grin on his face.
The two air force jets had flown around the convoy in a big loop, now they were coming in for their second attack. Once again there was a sound like giants ripping up sails, once again trucks burst into flame or simply exploded. The demon soldiers fired at the jets with their personal weapons but the jets simply flew through the hail of fire directed at them with no harm being done to them. In fact the second aircraft scattered a multitude of black objects behind it as it flew over the demons. Watching as the little black balls fell to the ground, Buffy was surprised and a little disappointed when they didn't explode immediately.
Sighing with disappointment, Buffy was just about to shoot at the demons when the little bombs exploded in a long rippling 'crack'. Dust rose from the ground as demons screamed in agony and fell to writhe about in the dust. Once again the jets flew around the smoking remains of the convoy. This time when the attacked, they flew almost wing-tip to wing-tip down the line of the convoy firing their guns and dropping more of the little bombs that exploded after they'd safely passed over the ruins of the convoy.
Unable to contain herself, Buffy jumped up from her position and started to wave and cheer the aircraft, her friends joined in as the jets came back to check they'd destroyed everything. One of the pilots must have seen them because he dropped his wing to get a better look at the teenagers jumping up and down on the rock near the road. The pilot must have realised who and what they were and pulled his aircraft up into a steep climb before turning it onto its back and looping the loop. Larry said the manoeuvre was called a 'victory roll'; after completing its aerobatics the jet rejoined its buddy and they both flew off to the east.
“Okay, people,” Buffy called as she watched the jets disappear into the east, “we've still got work to do...”
The drivers were all either dead or running back the way the convoy from which it had come. Of the demon soldiers, Buffy could see none, but her senses were telling her there were still a few alive down there.
“Listen up,” Buffy called as she shifted her rifle back into both her hands, “we need ammo, grenades, RPG rockets and food, so lets go shopping and remember...lets be careful down there.”
“Like that's gonna happen anytime soon,” Willow said as she stepped over the burnt body of a driver; bodies didn't bother her any-more and she hardly gave this one a second look, the guy hadn't even been wearing his equipment harness.
“Anything?” Cordy stopped and turned to look at Willow.
“Nothing, driver,” Willow called back.
“Whatever,” Cordy pointed over to her left, “hey, that's where all the demons were,” she grinned, “they're bound to have bullets an' guns.”
“Yeah,” Willow hurried over to join Cordelia, “lets go see.”
Squatting down beside him, Buffy took the pistol from his holster and the two spare magazines and tucked them into her own belt. Rolling the guy onto his back she searched through his pockets. Apart from an American candy bar she only found his PACS party book, ID card and some letters from home, she left them lying on the road the chocolate she put in her pocket to share out later. Just as she was about to get to her feet again she sensed movement over to her right. Getting into a proper kneeling, firing position she pointed her rifle in the direction from which she'd sensed the movement. Only a couple of seconds later she saw the guy with all the red badges appear slowly from the ditch.
His head was above the line of the road now and he'd obviously not noticed Buffy kneeling by the body of the dead crewman. Standing up the Pac-man officer looked around, his eyes going wide with shock as he finally noticed Buffy for the first time. For just a moment their eyes were locked together, him in surprise, Buffy in...well, she felt nothing. This was just one more Pac-man that needed killing. Pulling the trigger of her Springfield, she felt the rifle slam into her shoulder as the Pac-man officer's head exploded into the familiar spray of blood, bone and brain. As the Pac-man fell over backwards and back down into the ditch, she stood up and worked the bolt of her rifle replacing the spent round as she did so. Standing there looking at the spot where the Pac-man had been standing, Buffy wondered how many of the invaders she'd killed by now. However many it was it wasn't enough, it would never be enough. Next she reminded herself that she only had fifty or sixty rounds left for the Springfield and she better go easy on them.
“Probably Buffy shooting something,” Cordy replied as she got up from searching the body of another demon soldier, she used some sand to get the blood and gore off her hands, “those air force guys sure made a mess of these demons,” she observed.
“You want that they'd been more tidy?” Willow giggled as she watched Cordy dust off her hands.
“No...but...” Cordy sighed heavily, “...what I wouldn't give for a proper bath or a shower with real hot water...”
“And soap...” Willow added as she knelt and searched the body of another Pacs demon; so far they'd only found half-a-dozen undamaged magazines and three grenades.
“Oh, yeah I remember soap,” Cordy went over to another body, “hey...have you noticed we never find any soap on these bastard's bodies?”
“Maybe they don't use it,” Willow moved towards were she saw what she thought was the nose of an RPG rocket sticking out from under the body of a demon, “Cordy come give me a hand will ya?”
“On the way,” Cordy headed over towards where Willow stood; feeling something catch her foot she looked down to see a dark green, metal cylinder lying next to her booted foot, “Hey, Willow what's...!”
There was a sharp 'crack' followed by an even louder 'bang'. Blow off her feet, Willow woke up only moments later to find herself covered in dust and earth, her ears were ringing from the sound of the explosion and she felt kind of numb all over. Shaking her head, she pushed herself up on her arms, she didn't appear to be hurt, at least nothing was bleeding or broken, she was just shaken up and she was probably covered in bruises and small cuts that she couldn't feel just now. Getting unsteadily to her feet, she looked around, although she could hear people calling her name as if from very far away she couldn't see Cordelia anywhere.
“Cordy?” Willow took an unsteady step in the direction in which she'd last seen Cordelia, “Cordy, honey, where are you? Call out I can't see you...”
Taking a few more steps Willow found herself more or less where Cordy had been standing only moments before. On the ground in front of her was a small blackened crater and instead of the girl she loved, Willow saw a fan of blood, little pieces of bone and tiny scraps of bloody clothing, Cordelia Chase was gone.
“OOOOOOOOOOOH NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Willow wailed and fell to her knees as she was blinded by the tears that flooded her eyes.
“Willow, what's wrong...” Buffy's voice came as if from a million miles away, “...oh my god!”
“What happened?” Buffy asked as she approached Larry and Jonathan who stood staring at the spot where Cordy had died.
“Huh? What...?” Larry seemed to shake himself before letting his eyes focus on Buffy, “Yeah, right...I think she musta stepped on an unexploded bomb...”
“One that was dropped by those aircraft?” Buffy wanted to know.
“Musta been, or maybe a mine,” Larry nodded, “then the rockets on her back cooked off and...” he gestured helplessly to the place Cordy had died, “...that's why...”
“So after all she'd been through, after all we've all been through,” there was anger in Buffy's voice now, “she gets killed by an American bomb!”
“Looks like,” Larry agreed with a shrug.
“I don't suppose they meant to...” Jonathan added, “...it was an accident.”
“An' Cordy's dead!” Buffy snapped; taking a deep breath she forced herself to calm down; two of her friends had been killed by American bombs, it wasn't Jonathan's fault, it wasn't anyone's fault except for the Pac-men, if they hadn't invaded, Cordy wouldn't be dead, Jenny wouldn't be dead or Tanner and she'd never have had to shoot Xander. “That's it,” Buffy said with quiet determination, “I've had it, no more, I resign, tomorrow we start for Free America...” she looked at her two male friends and saw only quiet acceptance, “...come on guys, grab Willow we're outta here...”
“Hi, this is The Voice of Free America with Liberty Belle bringing you news and the truth through 'til dawn. Before I start to take calls, here is a round up of the major news stories tonight...” the young woman's voice came from the radio's tiny little speakers.
“At eighteen-thirty hours this evening US Army Central Command announced that the P-A-C-S front around Palm Springs has collapse and units of the US Army's Seventh Corps, led by elements of the Ninth Armoured Division are advancing, almost unopposed, towards Riverside. They are expected to link up with the units of the US Marines and Minutemen still under siege in LA within the next forty-eight hours.
Further South, Mexican troops belonging to the Mexican Third Infantry Corps have already liberated Tijuana and San Diego. Mexican troops supported by US Navy warships and aircraft are reported to have reached the outskirts of Escondido and Oceanside-Carlsbad.
While in the North, its reported that the Canadian First Corps, supported by the British Forth Armoured Division, Royal Marines plus British and Canadian warships are fighting their way into Seattle against stiff P-A-C-S opposition.
With P-A-C-S forces on the run up and down the West Coast its time for us to open up our lines to our first caller of the night. Hello caller...”
“Okay, that's it,” Buffy sighed, she looked at the expectant faces of the survivors, “its time for us to leave and let someone else do the fighting...”
Far better it is to dare mighty things, than to take rank with those poor, timid spirits who know neither victory nor defeat.
The Final Fight.
Sitting by herself, Buffy could actually see Sunnydale through the trees. Today they had moved to the Second Alternate and dug up its store of food and ammunition in preparation for their move to Free America. They'd be moving out tonight and heading east, the plan was to skirt around Santa Carla, which was probably still held by the Pac-men. Then they would move along the line of the Gabrie Mountains to the north of LA until they bumped into the US forces heading west. Everyone was catching some sleep ready for the journey tonight, everyone except Buffy, she couldn't sleep she had much too much on her mind. Searching in the breast pocket of her camouflaged smock she found what she'd been looking for and pulled it out into the daylight. It was an old, battered, much folded and refolded photograph on her mother, Dawn and herself taken in much happier times.
“Mommy,” Buffy sighed sadly as she touched the picture of her mother's face with a grubby figure.
Looking at the photo Buffy felt her eyes begin to burn as the tears started and trickled down her cheeks. If only the Pac-men hadn't killed her mother. Not only would her mother still be alive but she'd have had no reason to stay and fight the invaders, in fact she'd have a good reason to get everyone out of Sunnydale and to safety; with her mother still alive she wouldn't have risked staying to fight the invaders. But her mother had died, shot by a faceless Pac-man trooper and she’d sworn on her mother's dead body that she wouldn't stop fighting the Pac-men until they were all dead or gone. Plus there'd been Giles' call to avenge him, 'to make their bloody eyes water', Buffy smiled as she remembered Giles' words. But then she remembered Giles dying, how she'd been helpless to do anything other than kill the men and demons who'd killed the man who'd been more of a father to her these last few years than her real father. Then there was everything the Pacs had done to all her friends, they'd been turned into killers and forced to grow up far too soon, even little Dawnie. None of them would ever be the same again. Sighing heavily, she folded up the photo and placed it back in her pocket; she knew what she had to do and she'd have to do it by herself. After all, she reminded herself, in the end there was only The Slayer.
“We're not going to FA?” Dawn asked a little fearfully as she reached for Jonathan's hand; of all the group Dawn had been effected most by Xander's betrayal and death.
“No,” Buffy smiled reassuringly at her sister, “you're going to FA as planned but I won't be coming with...”
“Buffy?” Willow turned empty eyes at her best-friend, after losing Cordelia she couldn't stand to lose another friend.
“Look,” Buffy took a deep breath, “I'm gonna go down into Sunnydale to stir things up a little...keep the Pac-men occupied and give you guys time to get clear...”
“But you'll follow us, right?” Dawn wanted to know.
“Yeah,” Buffy nodded before turning to Larry, “show me your map...” Larry got out his map and spread it on the ground between himself and Buffy; she looked at the map for a good thirty seconds before pointing, “here...Six Flags Magic Mountain just west of Santa Carla. I'll meet you there in three days time.”
“You're sure?” Willow asked, as she began to suspect what Buffy had got planned, “You know if you totally don't make it I'll be really pissed at you.”
“I know, Will,” Buffy reached over and squeezed Willow's hand, “I'll be there you can bet on it...”
“Okay...” Willow replied unconvinced.
“Okay guys I'm gonna need all the magazines and grenades you can spare,” Buffy explained.
“What about food?” Dawn wanted to know.
“Erm...I'll find some on the route,” Buffy replied but wouldn't meet her sister's eyes, “I need to travel light...”
“Hmmm?” Dawn, looked off in the direction Buffy had taken five minutes earlier, “What? Sorry, I was thinking about Buffy...”
“You're gonna go after her aren't you?” Jonathan asked sadly.
“Erm, yeah,” Dawn admitted with a nod, before trying to explain, “I've got to y'know? If I don't she'll get herself killed...”
“I don't suppose there's anything I can do or say to stop you?”
“No,” Dawn shook her head, “and you can't go with me...”
“No!” Dawn silenced Jonathan's explanation of how it would be better for him to go with her, with a kiss before he'd even got started. “No...this is something I've gotta do by myself...”
“But...” Jonathan tried again.
“Its a sister thing, y'know?” Dawn leaned towards Jonathan and hugged him, “I'll always love you Jonathan...”
“I'll always love you, too,” Jonathan replied, turning his head away so Dawn wouldn't see him cry.
“Okay then,” Dawn sighed; she picked up her rifle and checked the ammo pouches on her equipment harness, “I'll go now before the other's try to stop me...wish me luck?”
“Good luck,” Jonathan said as he stood up and hugged Dawn for what was probably the last time.
“Thanks,” Dawn gently pulled herself from Jonathan's embrace, “I'll see you in three days time at Six Flags mountain, okay?”
Without another word, Dawn turned away and headed off into the forest. Wiping the tears from his eyes, Jonathan went back to checking his weapons and equipment, he'd wait awhile before he told Larry and Willow what Dawn had decided.
“DAWN!?” Buffy stepped out of her ambush position and replaced her knife in its sheath; she'd sensed someone following her for about the last mile or two, “What the hell...”
Silenced by the high velocity sister who'd thrown herself into her arms, Buffy hugged Dawn tightly and found she couldn't be cross with her.
“I suppose you want to come with?” Buffy wanted to know.
“Yeah, of course,” Dawn pulled back from Buffy a little, “you'll only screw things up if I'm not there to look out for you.”
“Whatever,” Buffy sighed heavily, “but if you're coming with, you do what I tell you...”
“As if...” Dawn snorted her derision.
“...when I tell you,” Buffy managed to complete her sentence.
“If you want to think you're in charge that's fine by me,” Dawn pointed out.
“Sisters...” Buffy sighed
“What about them?”
“I couldn't do it without you, Dawnie.”
“Told you so,” Dawn quipped, “come on times a-wastin' so what's the big plan?”
“I thought I'd blow up Sunnydale railroad station...”
“Cool!” Dawn grinned, “Never liked that place...”
“What time is it?” Dawn yawned.
“Not sure,” Buffy replied quietly; the sisters were crouching on the roof of Sunnydale's one and only movie theatre, “but it must be well after midnight...” and time you were in bed, Buffy added to herself.
Around them Sunnydale stretched out in all direction and apart from one or two small lights shining dimly in the darkness the town was completely blacked out. It seemed so long ago now that Jenny had explained how the Pac-men had cut off all the power to 'none essential' areas, namely those areas and buildings that they weren't using. But to Buffy this seemed different some how, this felt like the Pac-men were trying to hide Sunnydale, probably to stop the docks being bombed or from having missiles fired at it. The two young women had made their way to the movie house about an hour ago. On their trip through Sunnydale they'd hardly seen any Pac-man soldiers. Yes they'd avoided a couple of foot patrols made up of a few human and demon soldiers, but other than that Sunnydale looked as if it was closed for the night.
“Where's everyone gone?” Dawn asked as she joined Buffy in looking out over the darkened town.
“Probably gone off to fight the army,” Buffy replied uncertainly; it was annoying to not have any real information, “so there should be less soldiers around to stop us...”
“Cool,” Dawn said with some feeling.
“...which totally gives us an advantage,” Buffy continued brightly.
“It does?” Dawn sounded doubtful.
“Look,” Buffy started to explain, “so, there's still more of them than us...”
“Well, duh,” Dawn interrupted.
“...so, every time they fire at something they've gotta check its us not some of their own guys and as they don't know how many there are of us...”
“Chances are they'll shoot more of their own guys than us...” Dawn was beginning to buy into the lie that they might just get away with this, “So, what's the plan?”
“I'm thinking a diversion might be a good idea...”
“Okay...” Buffy whispered as she brought her AK to her shoulder, “on three...one...two...THREE!”
Opening fire, Buffy and Dawn shot down five guards before the Pac-men even began to reacted. While Dawn and the guards exchanged fire, Buffy started to pull grenades from inside her jacket and throw them at the Pac-men soldiers. The grenades exploded with sharp cracks and puffs of grey smoke. Each explosion sent razor sharp pieces of shrapnel scything through the air to cut down any Pac-men who wasn't behind the cover of the sandbagged emplacement. Throwing a last grenade, Buffy watched as it sailed through the air to land inside the emplacement. A moment later the grenade went off after which a lone Pacs soldier staggered out into the open his uniform smoking as blood oozed from multiple wounds; Dawn shot him down with a double-tap to the body before joining Buffy as they raced away from the scene and towards Sunnydale station. Behind them they could hear a Pac-man officer yelling orders as reinforcements fired into the night at imaginary attackers. Ducking into the shadow of an ally, Buffy and Dawn saw more troops heading towards the Civic Centre. The two sisters grinned at each other, so far their plan seemed to be working out.
“This looks important,” Dawn pointed to several trucks and military trailers that were lined up in the parking lot.
“Yeah...” Buffy agreed, “...but if its important why aren't there more guards?”
“Probably chasing after us over by the townhall,” Dawn pointed out.
“Okay,” Buffy agreed eagerly, “time to blow something else up,” she glanced at the fence and gauged its height, “look you stay here and cover me while I jump over that fence and check the place out.”
“Got it!” only a few months ago Dawn would have complained about being left out of all the excitement, now she knew better.
After quickly checking that all her pockets were buttoned down and all her ammo pouches were closed, Buffy took a firm grip of her rifle before running at the fence. Jumping, she easily cleared the top strands of wire and landed silently on the other side. Pausing only to check that she'd not been spotted, she ran towards the first trailer. Arriving at the trailer, she pressed her back to its camouflaged side and listened very carefully. The only sound she could hear was a buzzing noise, like lots of electrical equipment running inside the trailer and the sound of the big generator about fifty feet to her right. Bursting around the corner of the trailer she came face-to-face with a guard. Reacting as only a slayer could she jabbed him in the throat with the muzzle of her rifle. Not giving the guard time to choke to death she smashed in his skull with the butt of her weapon.
Crouching over the dead body she took his spare magazines and the two grenades the man had been carrying before heading off in the direction of the next trailer in line. Running up to the trailer she found that this was something much more than a single trailer, it was in fact three all joined together with canvas awnings. Guessing that she might have found some sort of headquarters or possibly a field hospital, she pulled her knife and made a small hole in the canvas so she could look inside, the sight that greeted her eye made her gasp and jump back from the hole.
It was like a light had gone on in her mind; she'd almost forgotten about how all of Giles' magic books had been taken by the Pacs. She'd also often wondered why the Pac-men had bothered to expend so much time and effort to capture Sunnydale; okay, there was the port, but honestly Sunny'D' wasn't that important. How she realised why the Pacs were there; it was the Hellmouth! They needed the power of the Hellmouth to make their demon soldiers work or obey commands or something. Obviously there must have been a hellmouth in China or Japan or in any one of the countries that made up the P-A-C-S which must have been how they'd discovered the demons in the first place.
Inside the headquarters Buffy had seen an alter and a load of weird statues and stuff the defied easy description; she'd also seen about half-a-dozen guys who simply had to be priests or wizards or demons, or all three. Whoever they were they had to die. If she destroyed this...this...temple, it might affect the demon soldiers and if something bad happened to them that had to be good for the US army fighting to get into LA.
Ripping apart the canvas with strong slayer fingers, Buffy burst into the tent-temple; raising her rifle she gunned down half the priests before the survivors even began to run. Panicking priests ran for the exits only to get in the way of the guards who were coming to see what all the noise was about. This simply made Buffy's job easier; gunning down the surviving priests and their guards, she remembered back to when the Pac-men had first arrived in Sunny-hell. She remembered how the bodies of her schoolmates lay piled up around the doors as they'd tried to escape the demon soldiers who'd moved through the school gunning everyone down without mercy. She remembered the smell of blood and death that had clogged her nostrils, how Xander had throw-up at the sight of Mrs Jackson's headless corpse as it fell to the floor, she remembered...
Suddenly Buffy found herself standing clutching an empty rifle as all the priests and guards lay in an untidy heap around the exit. Shaking her head in an attempt to clear her mind of all the images that had haunted her from the start of the invasion, she swapped her empty magazine for a full one before turning to head out the way she'd come in. Pausing outside the hole in the canvas wall she tossed three grenades into the temple and was gratified to see them start a fire. With any luck the whole place would burn down destroying all the magical items it held.
“Some sort of HQ I think,” Buffy answered, not wishing to get into a fuller explanation, “Come on,” she turned away from the burning temple, “we've got a railroad station to blow up.”
“And how exactly are we going to do that?” Dawn wanted to know as they had no explosives with them.
“I'll totally think of something,” Buffy replied as they ran away from the heat of the fire.
“What the hell's going on?” Dawn wanted to know.
Before Buffy could reply a couple of demon soldiers appeared out of the shadows and attacked the human Pac-man guard who'd been standing only ten or twelve yards from where Buffy and Dawn lay. Strangely the demons didn't use the rifles that they had strapped across their backs. They simply grabbed the soldier and started to rip him apart with their teeth and claw-like hands.
“Ewww,” Dawn said quietly at the sight of the dismembered soldier.
Standing up and coming out of cover Buffy fired from the hip and brought down the two demons. Destroying the temple must have done more than affect the control the priests had on the demons. Now the demons were actually attacking the Pac-man soldiers.
“Come on Dawnie!” Buffy cried, “Lets keep moving!”
“I'm right behind you!” Dawn called as they ran towards the station.
“What do we do now?” Dawn yelled over the sound of all the firing; they only had a few grenades left and quite honestly the tankers looked too tough a nut for them to crack.
“I don't know...” Buffy replied, her training as a slayer hadn't covered sabotaging rolling stock, “...what the hell...” Buffy called as she fired a long burst of rifle fire into the side of the closest tanker.
There was a lot sparks and clanging as bullets bounced off the side of the tank, but otherwise they did little damage.
“Damn!” Buffy cursed as she stopped firing.
“Hold on!” Dawn cried as she advanced on the tanker and started to try and turn a large valve-like facet at one end of the tank, “Buffy come give me a hand!”
Running over to her sister, Buffy slung her rifle onto her back, grabbed hold of the valve she used all her slayer strength to turn the stiff control wheel. Very soon the two girls had to jump back to avoid being covered in gasoline as it poured from the valve.
“Back!” Buffy called as she grabbed her sister's arm and pulled her away from the stream of fuel that had started to pool under the tanker, “We've got to set it alight.”
Retreating to what they thought was a safe distance, Buffy threw a grenade. Once again the grenade exploded and once again it didn't have the desired effect.
“What the...!” Buffy exclaimed in frustration; why couldn't things be like they were in the movies?
“The fumes!” Dawn cried.
“We have to set fire to the fumes, I learnt about it in science class,” she explained.
“So, how do we do that?”
“I...” Dawn began but interrupted herself by firing her rifle at the tanker, once again sparks flew everywhere as her bullets bounced off the metal tank.
“That won't work...!”
Both Buffy and Dawn were blown off their feet as the tanker exploded with a loud 'woof' sound, a little like god's dog barking.
Lying on the ground with their hair and clothes singed they looked up at the fireball as it rose ever higher into the night sky.
“I think our work here is done,” Buffy announced truly amazed that they were both still alive; perhaps they would make it to Santa Carla to join up with their friends after all.
“Fuck...” Dawn said quietly as she slowly climbed to her feet, as more rolling stock went up in flames.
“I'll raise you a 'good-god-damn'!” Buffy replied ignoring Dawn's use of the word, 'fuck'; after all if she'd done it she should be allowed to say it.
“What now?” Dawn asked as she bent to pick up her rifle which had been knocked out of her hand, the fire was starting to spread to the stacked supplies next to the tracks.
“Looks like we're free an' clear,” Buffy pulled a compass from one of the pockets of her smock, looking at it she turned until she was facing slightly east of north, “this looks about right,” she pointed, “we'll skirt 'round all the mayhem and death then head back up into the hills, lay up for a few hours then haul-ass towards Santa Carla.”
“Sounds good to me,” Dawn fell in next to Buffy as they jogged along the line of the railroad track and the world went up in flames behind them, “you're the best Buffy.”
“You're not so bad y'self, Dawnie,” the sisters stopped to hug each other.
Stepping away from each other, Buffy was about to say that they'd need to move fast to get out of Sunnydale before the Pac-men got themselves organised and came after them. Just as she was about to open her mouth, she was surprised to find that Dawn had thrown herself back into her arms. At first she thought that Dawn was just messing about and was about to tell her sister not to be so childish when she felt the dead weight of her sister's body in her arms.
“Dawn!?” Buffy cried as she lowered her sister to the ground, “Dawnie?”
It was only as Buffy crouched over her sister's still body that she noticed the blood leaking from two holes in Dawn's chest.
“DAWN...!” Buffy wailed as she frantically searched for a pulse, “Dawn, oh god, Dawn don't die!”
Placing a hand over the worst of the wounds, Buffy searched her equipment for a first aid dressing, with the other, but found none. She'd left everything she'd thought she wasn't going to need behind, now her sister was going to die because she couldn't be bothered to carry a couple of dressing with her. Crouching up over her sister, Buffy slung her rifle over her shoulder ready to lift her sister up and carrying her to safety; it was then that the bullets hit her. The rounds came in out of the darkness and hit her in the chest and stomach. The Pac-man who'd fired them was probably shooting at shadows and likely as not didn't even realise he'd hit something.
“Damn-it!” Buffy cried as the first waves of pain hit her, she'd been hit four or five times and her body was telling her that these were mortal wounds, she needed to get Dawn out of danger before it was too late; turning to look at Dawn, Buffy coughed up some blood as she crawled over to where Dawn lay, “Dawn?” she tried to shake her sister to make her open her eyes, but Dawn's eyes remained firmly closed, “Dawnie?”
Even although she knew that Dawn was dead, Buffy still needed to get her away. Summoning all her strength, she pushed herself back to her feet. Swaying over the body of her sister she bent down and put her arms around Dawn's legs and shoulders. With a groan of pain and effort, she picked her sister up and stumbled off into the night.
As she walked on legs that were getting weaker by the second, Buffy remembered all those times she and Dawn had played together when they were younger. As Buffy's brain became starved of oxygen she imagined that they were back in LA. They'd used to go to a park where Buffy would push Dawn on the swings making the younger girl squeal with laughter as she went higher and higher into the clear, blue, sky. Coming to a bench next to the railroad lines, Buffy slumped down and gathered Dawn into her arms. Around her instead of the burning supply dump, she could see the park in the bright LA sunshine, she could hear the other children laughing and shouting as they played and in a moment or two their mother would come to take them home.
“You can rest now...” Buffy told her sister, “...just hang on, Dawnie...it's okay...mommy'll be here soon Dawn...come on, Dawnie mommy'll be here soon...” Buffy held on to her sister as tightly as her fast waning strength would allow, “...I'll hold you as long as I can...you can lean on me, Dawn...I'm so tired,” Buffy looked away from Dawn as she caught movement out of the corner of her eye, “...Mom...” she called weakly to an approaching figure, “...mommy?”
Moments later, in London, Sarah Chatham came into her Slayer powers.
Holding Tara's hand, Willow walked along the gravel path from the parking lot and visitor's centre (both had been built on the spot where the cabin and barn had once stood) through the trees to where the 'Remembrance Tree' still lay. Once it had lain alone, but now it was fenced off and she'd had to get special permission to do what she had to do from the Director of National Parks. It had helped that she was a war hero, although she'd never considered any of her actions all those years ago as particularly heroic.
Willow and Tara had met when Willow had been trying to trace her parents, Tara had been working for the National Refugee Relocation Authority and had helped Willow track down her mother and father. In the months it had taken for them to find Willow's family the two young women had grown very close. Both of them had lost their families, although in Willow's case it was only temporary. Tara's entire family had been wiped out by a Pacs nuclear strike on the first day of the war, Tara had only survived because she'd been at school well outside the blast zone.
A Park Ranger opened the gate and let Willow and Tara go and stand in front of the tree. From the bag that hung from Willow's shoulder she produced a large, sharp knife. Getting down on her knees she started to carve the last three names into the dead wood, she'd been practising especially for this day. Half way through carving the first name, Willow found herself blinded by her tears, she looked up her girlfriend.
“Tara,” she sobbed quietly, “can you give me a hand here?”
“Sure,” Tara knelt down next to her and took the knife from Willow's trembling hand (Tara had been practising too, just in case) and finished the first name for her.
“Thanks,” Willow smiled as she dried her eyes, “I think I can finish now...”
Handing the knife back to Willow, Tara stood up and took a step back as she watched her girlfriend work. Twenty minutes later, Willow had finished and the Ranger led them out of the little fenced off area to where they could stand undisturbed by the usual Memorial Day visitors.
“I never saw Buffy and Dawn again,” Willow explained, “I'm not even sure how they died, just that they did, but I'll always be convinced that they had something to do with the demon-soldiers turning on their masters.” She sighed sadly and thought about the life she might have had if the Pacs had never invaded, “Anyway, the war, like every other war ended, and we won...I suppose I should be happy about that. I'll never forget them Tara and I come here whenever I can and when no one else does...”
Looking up the two young women saw the Stars and Stripes as it flapped proudly in the wind above the memorial stone on which the following words had been engraved...
"In the early days of World War 3, Resistance Fighters,
mostly high school students, carved the names of their fallen upon this tree.
They fought here alone and gave up their lives,
so that this nation should not perish from the earth."