Ch. 15 – She Who Leads
“Well, it’s clear we’re not safe here,” a voice rose above the cacophony in the living-room only to fade again.
“What can we do?”
“We’re not soldiers. This is way too real.”
“They’re gonna kill us all!”
Buffy stood with her arms crossed, leaning against the wall and watching the turmoil. She couldn’t really blame them. Her own mind was pretty much mirroring the scene before her. How was she supposed to do this? How could she protect these kids and the world when she kept losing everyone she counted on for help?
“So we run. What choice do we have?”
“Run where? We’re here because nowhere else was safe.”
“Yeah, well, that’s what He told us. And now He’s the one that’s gonna kill us.”
The room hushed quickly when Faith came slowly down the stairs. She glanced around at all of the expectant faces and made her way to Buffy. “She’s alive,” Faith said. “But not for long if we keep her here. Dawnie’s up there working her little butt off, but there’s no way. We just don’t have the resources.”
“She’s right, Buffy,” the younger Summers was standing at the top of the stairs. “We have to get her some real help.”
“Is it okay to leave her alone?” Buffy whispered.
“Spike’s with her. He’ll call if she needs me. She can’t.” Dawn spoke in a detached, matter-of-fact tone, as if something inside her had broken. Her sister didn’t like it, but understood.
“What can we do?” one of the potentials asked. “The hospital’s abandoned. This whole freakin’ town is abandoned.”
“Yeah,” Faith agreed with the comment, but still spoke mostly to Buffy. “But the hospital might be a good idea. It’s practically a fortress. Easily defendable and full of supplies and food to last us weeks. What do ya’ think, B?”
Buffy stared up at Dawn. “But, we have protection here.”
“From wards that Ethan set up,” Dawn took a step down the stairs.
“This is our home.”
“A home that the vampire out there has a standing invitation to enter.” Another step.
Buffy’s voice grew uncharacteristically small. “This is mom’s house.”
“This is where mom is and I won’t abandon it,” the Slayer insisted.
Dawn reached the bottom of the stairs. “You’re wrong, Buffy. Mom is with us. And she’ll be with us wherever we go. We can’t stay.”
Tears gathered in Buffy’s eyes, both sadness and anger. “Evil has taken everything from me. From both of us. I won’t let it take our home, too.”
“I’m still with you.”
“I can’t leave.”
“Then maybe it is better if you stay,” the girl said sadly but resigned, like she’d expected the reaction. Dawn looked past her sister to the stunned second Slayer. “Get the girls prepared. We’re moving out as soon as I have the Doc ready to go.”
Everyone slowly began to move, as if the younger sister’s orders had suddenly become law. All the while Buffy stood perfectly still in the middle of the rush and chaos, unable to argue, unable to stop it, unable to move.
Soon Spike was helping Faith carry Dr. Pryce to the front door on a stretcher. “What do you mean she’s not coming?”
Dawn walked up beside him. “It’s her choice. You know we’ll all die if we stay here. This has to happen.”
The vampire gently set the stretcher down and weaved through the crowd headed out the door. He stood in front of an incoherent Buffy, tenderly taking her by the shoulders. “What’s all this then, Pet? They tell me you want to stay here.”
“Yep, I am, Spike,” Buffy nodded as if it suddenly made no difference to her. “But Dawn’s right. You need to take everyone to a safer place.”
“None of this is right. There’s no reason for you to stay here alone.”
“I have my reasons.”
“Spike,” Faith called from the front door. “The girls are ready. We need to get moving while you can still help me without frying.”
He nodded and turned back to Buffy. “Listen. I’m going to get everyone to safety. You stay right here. Swear to me that you won’t do anything until I get back. Got it?”
Buffy nodded slowly, but didn’t quite focus on him. “I’ll be here.”
As the house emptied, one person who had remained surprisingly silent through everything stepped up to the Slayer. “Are you going after her?” Kennedy asked. “If you’re going to get Willow, I’m coming with you. I gave her my promise I’d protect her.”
Buffy smiled at the gutsy potential. “You can’t. This is something I have to do.”
“Not alone, you don’t.”
“I have to. Just like you have to go fortify the hospital with the others. I’m counting on you to help Faith lead them. She still doesn’t understand how good she really is.”
“This is the end, isn’t it? Nothing we do will matter.”
The Slayer put a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “If it comes to it, I hope you’re the next to be called. I can’t imagine a bigger pain in the ass for the First to have to deal with.”
Kennedy couldn’t help a small chuckle. “If only we could all be. That would show It.”
“Yeah,” Buffy smiled back. “Who came up with this ‘Chosen One’ crap anyway.”
“Total man move, if ask me.” Kennedy looked into Buffy’s eyes with deep respect and sadness. “Just make sure there’s no need for me to be the next, all right.” She turned away and hurried to catch up with the others.
“Enjoy your night out?” Ethan asked when Magister entered the cavern.
“I found ways to amuse myself, yes,” the vampire grinned. “I won’t ask if you accomplished anything useful.”
The sorcerer laughed. “Oh, Ripper, I’m hurt.”
“And I wonder if you’ll ever accept the fact that I am not your boyhood fantasy. Your Ripper is gone. You made sure of it.”
Ethan stepped forward to stand intimately close to the vampire. “I am well aware. When I was young, I didn’t have the imagination to dream of you.”
“Poor panting puppy,” Magister ran a hand through Ethan’s hair. He tightened his grip at the back, yanking hard. Leaning in close to Ethan’s ear, he whispered, “I might not know how to kill you just yet. But there are other ways to have fun tormenting you.” Along with the pain, Ethan began to feel a caressing hand explore the curves of his hardening manhood. He leaned into the solid body, craving as much contact as he could achieve. Lowering his head, the vampire played along his offered neck until Ethan’s sensitized skin could feel the slightest brush of lip and purposeful puff of artificially heated breath.
“Please,” he whimpered, melting into his lover’s attentions.
A moment later he was alone, standing on wobbly legs and watching through half hooded eyes as his perfect man walked away.
“Bugger,” Ethan hissed under his breath.
“Not today,” the being with the super-hearing chuckled back.
The sorcerer adjusted himself, shook his excited body, and put on his patented playful smile. He was used to being teased and could take it in stride. Though, much more of that and he’d have to find ways of handling the tension.
“So,” he said conversationally, “Are we expecting a visit from a Slayer today?”
“After the message I left her, I’d expect Buffy to be on her way as we speak.”
“And you still think she’ll try to take us on alone, after everything. No one could be that mad.”
Magister gave a hearty laugh. “This Slayer is given too much credit. She is an impulsive and emotional little thing. Of course, she won’t come thinking she’ll survive, but she’ll come.”
Spike launched himself through the door just as billows of smoke began pouring off of him. He stood, chuckling from the rush of near death and patting himself down. “Buffy, I’m back,” he called. When there was no answer, he began sprinting through the house in search of her. “Buffy! Buffy, answer me, damn it!” But the house was empty. She was gone, and there was nothing he could do to help her.
“You’re right. She’s here.” Buffy stood at the top of the cavern stairs.
Ethan spun toward the voice. “How did you find the entrance so quickly?”
“Someone left me plenty of signposts.” She slowly made her way down, keeping both of them in her sight.
Magister chuckled. “What else are Bringers good for?”
“Plenty,” Jenny appeared beside him, “if you’d stop killing them.”
“Your people too, huh?” Buffy reached the bottom of the staircase. “You wanted a monster. Happy now?”
The First made a show of looking Magister over slowly. “A few rough edges, but I’m satisfied. Can’t wait to see what he’s about to do to you.”
“Well, I’m about all that’s left. Everyone else is either gone or dead. So, why do you want me here? I would’ve thought you’d use me to put on some kind of sick show for the few girls who can still watch. Or something like that.”
“What a marvelous idea. That way I could see it in her eyes as each watches the last die while she feels herself becoming the next. I might change my plans and round them all up after all.”
“What do you mean, after all?” Jenny huffed. “You are going to kill every last one. That’s the whole point.”
“A world without Slayers,” Magister murmured in an amused tone. “Where would be the fun in that?”
“Why am I here then?” Buffy asked, her anger and hatred tightly controlled. “Like you said, there’s plenty more where I came from. And we both know I have a slim to none chance of taking you out. If you’re not looking to bag your first Slayer, what do you want?”
“We simply require your help, Dear Girl,” the vampire flashed a charming and familiar smile. Buffy had to glance away, her Watcher was gone and she was never going to get him back. “I apologize. I meant you no discomfort. Would this make things easier for you?” He shifted to his demon form.
“Don’t you dare pretend to care anything about my comfort after everything you’ve done,” the Slayer growled. “You’ve taken so much, and you just keep taking. So, come on and let’s get this over with.”
“I don’t think she believes you’re not going to kill her,” Ethan observed. “Come to think of it, I’m not sure either.”
“It would be rude to deceive a guest when it serves no purpose. The truth is we need a Slayer.”
“For what,” Buffy’s patience was running out.
“For this,” Magister stepped aside, letting the scythe fall into her view. “A lovely weapon of destruction, isn’t it?”
The Slayer stood mesmerized. The weapon of wood and steel called to her, sang to her very being. It seemed to vibrate with power. The same power she felt inside. “What do you want me to do?”
“Simply claim it. It is, after all, the weapon forged for the Slayer.”
Buffy eyed both men suspiciously as they stepped clear of her path. But she couldn’t help moving forward. It belonged in her hands.
“This is foolish,” the First hissed to them. “You’re taking too big a risk.”
They continued to stand by as the Slayer wrapped her hand around it and easily pulled it from its stone prison.
“Now take it from her!” the ghost ordered. “If she makes it out of here, she’ll be able to stand against both of you.”
Buffy jumped around with the scythe held before her, ready for the attack. But none came. Neither man moved.
“That’s rather the point,” Magister grinned with a dark glee. “Now the field is leveled. Now the game is worthy.”
“Stupid, cocky…” the First vanished.
Buffy studied the weapon in her hands for a moment. “Does this mean if I attack both of you right now, you’re not sure who would come out alive?”
“Exhilarating, is it not?” Magister practically shivered with excitement. “But you won’t.”
She stepped toward them. “Why not? If I finish you both it will end a whole lot of heartache for the people you’ve hurt.” The comment was directed pointedly at Ethan. He shrugged nonchalantly.
“Because there’s another thing Bringers are good for,” the vampire explained. “Transporting massive amounts of explosives to hospitals.”
Buffy hesitated only a moment before sprinting up the stairs.
“Were you able to get a line out?” Faith asked as Dawn approached her team barricading a side entrance.
“They’ve already cut off the phones for the building, but the old payphones in the lounge are still connected.”
“Any luck?” She took a large chair from a potential and tossed it to the top of a tall, interwoven pile.
“I managed to get through to Angel. It took a whole vending machine’s worth of quarters before I stopped getting that stupid answer machine.”
Faith nodded at the blocked entrance and turned to focus on the conversation. “Vandalism for the win.”
“He said he was afraid something big was happening, rumblings in the underworld. But, since Buffy never called, thought we could handle it.”
“So, he’s coming. Nice.”
“No,” Dawn’s face remained a distant neutral as she spoke. It was a bit unnerving on the usually expressive girl, even to the bad-girl Slayer. “We decided he needed to use his contacts out there and try to find some kind of weapon that can help us. One more vampire in this fight wouldn’t do much. But he is sending Gunn and Wes this way.”
“To be honest, two more men isn’t any better.”
“They won’t make it this far to help us. What they’re going to do is meet and escort our evacuees.”
Faith followed when Dawn turned and walked up the stairs to the ICU, now their headquarters. “Buffy might think it’s too risky to split the group up.”
“She’s not here, and we have no choice. There are too many wounded for us to take care of… And Dr. Pryce is going to die here.”
The Slayer’s eyes widened. “Holy crap. Dr. Pryce. Wesley’s coming to get his… Does he know?”
“I told Angel to warn him.” A flash of sadness and anger finally shot through Dawn’s eyes. “But how can anyone be prepared for what he… what happened to her.” She looked up as the people she’d sent on scouting missions began returning. “Did you find anything?”
Anya spoke up first. “There is a big generator on the roof. If I read the indicators right, it looks ready to go when the power goes out. No extra fuel though, so not for long.”
“You really think the lights will go out?” a small voice from the gathering girls asked.
“It’s almost certain,” Anya answered in her blunt way. “This building should be empty, and the people at the power company are not stupid enough to stay in a doomed town.” As if on cue, all of the overhead lights blinked off and there was the unmistakable sound of a very mechanized building shutting down. “See,” the ex-demon chirped.
“Don’t worry,” Dawn spoke up in a commanding voice as a wave of frightened mumbles rolled through the girls. “There’s plenty of light coming in the windows while the sun’s out. We’ll be okay.”
“Got it covered,” Kennedy spoke up. “You were right about the basement. They’ve got it stocked with emergency supplies. Including a wall full of lanterns and batteries.”
“Good,” Dawn sighed. “When we’re done up here, take your team down and start passing them out. Better grab anything else we could use, too.”
“We found the kitchen,” Molly reported. “Everything they’ve got in there is in massive bags, but at least we won’t have to fight over food.”
Rona added, “Stoves are gas, too. We can keep cooking with the power gone.”
“I could so go for…” Faith muttered. “Hey! Any of you know your way around the food stuffs.” A few girls raised their hands. “Great. A fed army is a happy army. Same for teenagers. Don’t try anything bigtime. I’m pretty sure we’re all willing to kiss ya’ for a PB&J at this point.” The volunteers nodded and jogged away.
“Kennedy, they might need you to help set up that kitchen with light and such,” Dawn said. “But first, I think I’ll need your team up here. Andrew, what did you find?”
“There were a few left out there like you hoped,” the boy stepped into the crowed. “Three ambulances. Hey, I saw an armored truck that would be so awesome, but I couldn’t get into it. Oh, and a bus.”
“We have a winner,” Dawn sighed. “Please say you found a key for that bus.”
“Yeah. In the security station. Saw a weapons locker, too. No keys for that, but I thought a slayer might have no trouble cracking it.”
“Good call,” Faith nodded. “A little firepower might help with the outnumbered problem. I’ll check it out.”
“First things first,” Dawn ordered. “Anya, Andrew, and Xander. You guys are going to take anyone too wounded to fight on that bus and head for L.A.”
“You’re mostly right there.” Xander was fully dressed and standing in the doorway to his room. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Xander, you can’t see. We won’t be able to take care of you here.”
“I can see enough. I can even almost tell which blob over there is you, Dawnie. And I can certainly do my job and watch after you.”
The younger Summers couldn’t help a small smile. “All right. But only if you promise not to do anything--”
“Stupid? But we both know that’s my specialty.” He chuckled at his own joke. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Fine,” Dawn relented with a shake of her head. If someone tried to send her away, she knew she’d react the same way. She turned to the other two. “Any objections over here?”
“Running away from the danger will be the first sensible thing I’ve done since I was forced into this pathetic existence,” Anya stated.
Dawn suppressed a chuckle. “We love you too, An. And I know they’ll be in good hands.”
“Wait,” Andrew spoke up. “I mean, it’s not that I don’t want to help. But the First always knows where we are. What are we supposed to do when It comes after us? You do know that I’m pretty much useless.”
“I’m trusting you to do this, right? Would I if I thought you were useless?”
“A good way to get him out of the way,” a voice muttered.
“The wimp’s right,” Anya spoke up. “What do we do when the First comes for them.”
“You keep going. Don’t stop, don’t give it a chance. Gunn and Wes will be there if you ever need to fight.”
“But,” Andrew raised his hand timidly, “don’t busses need gas… or they don’t get very far.”
“Got ya’ covered.” Faith pulled a black card out of her pocket and handed it to Anya. “Should get you wherever you need to go.”
Anya looked at the card critically. “What is it?”
The Slayer leaned in and whispered to her, “Imagine the Council. Now imagine the Council ferreting away money for hundreds of years. You put that card into any bank machine and you are magically connected to all that money.” Anya gripped the card tight and her eyes lit up like she had just witnessed nirvana.
Dawn let a smile slip. “Right. If no one else feels like arguing… Load up anyone who’s out of this fight. The sooner we get that bus out of here, the sooner we can be ready when he comes.”
“Drive!” Faith shouted as the bus roared to life. “We’ll cover you!” Anya managed to pull away as the first of the Bringer attackers began crossed the parking lot.
“Here,” Kennedy tossed the Slayer a crossbow. “We can take a few down before they get close.”
Faith fired the bolt but, instead of falling, the struck Bringer exploded. “What the fuck?!”
The potential looked over at her with eyes just as wide. “Seriously? Mr. Mastermind turned them into suicide bombers?”
“We can’t let them reach the hospital. They’ll take the whole place down.” Faith sprinted forward with several of the more able potentials at her heels.
They took down as many as possible from a distance as they ran, but there were still plenty to cause damage when the two forces collided. It was almost impossible to tell where it was safe to strike blows, and Bringers were self-igniting all around. The explosions were deafening. Faith’s head rang with each shockwave. She saw girls falling at her side. Raising her short sword, she was too slow to strike down her target before he, too, exploded. Faith was blown back, hitting the ground with a painful thud. She tried to cling to consciousness. Her vision was fading into blackness. The last thing she saw were flashes of blonde hair along with gleaming red and chrome.