DISCLAIMER: I don’t own the characters. I’m just borrowing them for this story. Gargoyles' characters belong to Disney and Buffy and Co. belong to Joss.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The final part of this story may make more sense if you have read "Bitter Friends and Good Enemies". Feedback as always is welcome. Enjoy.
"You want me to go where?"
"You heard me, Maza. Until recently, we might have been able to rely on help from the authorities in Sunnydale. Police and private citizens were coming forward with information and becoming, generally, more cooperative. Unfortunately, that’s changed. It’s almost like someone threw a switch. So you’re going. The Van Epps case that you’ve been grinding your teeth over leads there. He lived in Sunnydale for two years before moving here. He has an old prison buddy there who might know where he is."
"I know, but surely the authorities there-"
"Have grown profoundly uncooperative. Besides, you know Van Epps better than anyone there but his old cell mate. You have a better chance of finding him and bringing him back than anyone." Elisa sighed.
"I know captain. It’s just… You know, Sunnydale."
"Look on the bright side. You know what to expect from the town, and you have some resources there besides the official channels."
That didn’t cheer her up, but she nodded. She was not looking forward to visiting the Slayer’s home turf, but she understood the need, and she really was the best suited. As Chavez had just reminded her, she knew the truth about the town. She knew to expect vampires and demons.
"I might be able to find it in the budget for you to take something special along, say a large crate with a statue in it?" She frowned. "I’ll think of something else to put on the expense report." Elisa chuckled despite herself.
"Good idea." She turned thoughtful. "I could use the help. If you can arrange it I’ll see who’s available. Thanks captain. I’ll get everything in order."
Finding one of the clan who could go to California with her was more difficult than she’d thought. Each of them seemed to be caught up in their own business. Angela and Broadway were still playing newlywed, and Elisa didn’t want to separate them. Sata and Brooklyn had their hands full with the twins going through a new fad of theirs and collectively they were focused on an unexpected rise in Yakuza activity. She didn’t want to ask Lex. She knew that the small gargoyle didn't like the Slayer.
Hudson was keeping busy in the Labyrinth with his students. He was so happy to be useful to them that she was reluctant to ask him. Goliath would go if she asked, but she saw how badly the clan needed him just then. When she discussed it with him over a quiet dinner, he reluctantly agreed. He could not leave the clan at that time. It would put a strain on Brooklyn that he didn’t need. He did want her to take along some extra help though, and he had a suggestion that surprised her.
"Take Lexington with you." Elisa blinked, surprised at the suggestion.
"They didn’t get along that well last time."
"Regardless, I believe he is best suited. This man you pursue is accused of crimes using a computer, correct?"
"Yes. I’m not sure how much use computers will be in tracking him now, though."
"He has other skills. Many discount him because of his size, but you should know better."
"I do. He’s an able warrior and one of the smartest people I know." She pondered a moment. "He might be useful in getting into files that authorities in Sunnydale don’t want me to get into. They’ve become uncooperative recently, so that could be very useful."
They asked him later that night, and he agreed to go along, rather liking the idea of a change of scenery. The arrangements were made quickly, and as it turned out, Chavez didn’t have to put anything on the expense report.
"Owen’s going to Sunnydale?" Xanatos nodded, smiling at Elisa’s puzzled tone.
"There’s a defunct computer company that I’m looking into acquiring, Cadillax Research and Development. Everything about the company has been in legal limbo since it went belly up a couple of years ago. They were working on some promising patents, and I’m just the one to bail them out, provided an equitable arrangement can be made of course." He gave her a smile that he probably thought of as charming, but always looked predatory to Elisa. "Fact is, I was thinking of asking Lex to go along." He looked over at the diminutive gargoyle. "With his talents, he could come in very handy. If I decide acquiring the company is worth my trouble I’ll want to make sure the current owners aren’t hiding any surprises." Elisa resisted the urge to roll her eyes.
"Corporate espionage isn’t really his speed. Besides, it’s illegal."
Xanatos managed to look hurt. "Not espionage. I’m well within my rights to ask for full access to their systems before finalizing an agreement. Lex could make sure there are no surprises."
"It wouldn’t take long Elisa. I’d have plenty of time to help watch your back in the evening and go through the company’s systems in the early morning." Elisa eyed the billionaire warily, not sure that he wasn’t up to something. Xanatos did roll his eyes.
"Really Elisa. Haven’t I earned a measure of trust?"
"I suppose," she smiled to take some of the sting out of her words. "I’m surprised you’d be interested in Sunnydale though. Given what we know about the place, I mean…"
"Actually, I’ve been keeping an eye on it. There’s been an amazing drop in the number of unexplained deaths and rumors of a government project aimed at cleaning up the place. Sunnydale is still dangerous, but I think it’s starting to turn around. The location is one of the reasons that the company is such a bargain."
"Government project? That might explain why the authorities there have become so uncooperative again." She shook her head, wondering if this ‘project’ was going to be a problem.
Sunnydale wasn’t what Elisa had expected. Everything seemed so… normal. There were no monsters in sight, no wreckage from the latest demon rampage. On one level, she knew better than to expect direct evidence of supernatural goings on, but on another the sheer averageness of the town amazed her. She drove her rental by the high school and saw that the construction of a new campus was almost complete. From there, it was only a few blocks to the police station.
"Detective Andrews? I’m Elisa Maza, NYPD."
Andrews, a dour looking man in his late 40s, looked up at her without smiling. "Yes, yes, sit down. I’ve been expecting you." Elisa took a seat next to his desk in the busy office. It was so much like her own detective’s bullpen and her own desk she smiled ruefully.
"I can see you’re busy," she commented, nodding at the stack of files on his desk, "so I won’t keep you long. You received our request for information on Andrew Van Epps and Martin Anthony?"
"Yes, unfortunately we haven’t been able to put much time into it." He shifted files on his desk until he found what he wanted. ‘Ah, here we are. Andrew Van Epps hasn’t shown up on our radar, but Martin Anthony is a regular guest of ours. The guy is a drunk and he spends at least one night a month with us on drunk and disorderly. If Van Epps is as clever as his file indicates he’ll take one look at Anthony and look for a new partner in crime." Elisa sighed in frustration.
"He might just be looking for a place to stay for a while. He’s hit a rough patch himself. I think what he’ll mainly be concerned with is staying free. Anthony may be an unlikely lead, but he’s the best we have." Andrews nodded.
"Well we can run him in and question him if you like, but…" Elisa shook her head.
"That would scare him off. Our best chance is to keep Anthony under surveillance. Which is something I can do myself," she spoke up to forestall any objections. "I know I’m out of my jurisdiction, but I’ve spent more than a month chasing this guy. I know how he thinks." Detective Andrews didn’t look happy at the prospect, but he reluctantly agreed, contingent on the captain’s approval.
Owen Burnett walked through the main doors and began his inspection of the research facility. The building inspectors had come and gone, reporting nothing more than some minor electrical problems, but Owen had his own criteria. The real estate agent and a representative of the defunct company had offered to show him around, but he had politely declined. He didn’t need a tour and he didn’t want any distractions.
The power had been turned on for the purposes of the inspection and for Owen’s benefit as he walked through. He quickly spotted the electrical problem that the inspector had dismissed as minor. The florescent lights in three of the labs were blinking rhythmically and there was heavy damage to the main fuse box. He saw that it had been marked for replacement, though, and continued his inspection. After he left each lab, turning off the lights, the darkness lasted only for a moment before the lights began to pulse again, with a rhythm as steady as the beating of a heart.
"Tell me about the break-in," Owen said without preamble. The company rep looked uncomfortable, but nodded.
"It was a minor thing really. During the time that the company was shut down we think that a group of homeless people broke in and lived there for a few days. They made quite a mess of some of the obsolete equipment we left behind there."
"And the fuse box." Robberson nodded.
"Yeah, I saw that. It looked like someone took a sledgehammer to it. It’s been marked for replacement, though. It’s the patch job we had to do to get the power on that’s causing the flickering. Right now a computer wouldn’t last long in there, but I assure you the electrical problems will be fixed before anything more delicate than a light bulb is put in. Other than that the site is in good shape. We can give you access to our computer files tonight, as you specified."
"That will be fine." Owen turned and left. Lexington would spend the early evening with Detective Maza, looking for her fugitive. He had promised to return to the hotel though and go over the files in more detail than Owen ever could short of using magic. Till then, he had been instructed to look into a few other matters for his employer. The rumors of a government project to capture and study demons had him concerned. Demon hunting was all well and good, but it had to be done carefully. If certain types of demon were not disposed of properly then killing them could conceivably make a bad situation worse. Owen allowed himself a small sigh. The effort had to be applauded, he supposed.
Lex circled above the trees where he had seen the three stealthy figures enter the park at the edge of campus. He saw an opening and dipped down, letting his ears guide him. There was a fight going on. He caught a branch as the trees closed in and turned worked his way through the treetops.
There, in a clearing before him, were three humans in military style fatigues and stealth gear. They were engaged in a violent hand-to-hand with three vampires. As he watched, he saw one of the vampires crumble to dust, and two of the humans go down, knocked unconscious. The last soldier turned to see the vampires rushing at him. Cornered and not wanting to leave his comrades, the man made a decision and dove for something on the ground. He was going to be too late.
Lex dove off the branch and came in fast behind the two vamps. Speed and momentum were essential for this, but he didn’t have time to build up much of either. Grabbing both vamps by their collars he hefted them off the ground and flew directly toward two trees that were too close together for him to pass between flying level.
He stayed level, and pulled up at the last second dragging the vamps faces first up the trees. His momentum and speed were failing. At any moment, he would start to drop. He felt one of the vamps crumble to dust in his hands as it was speared by a protruding branch. The shift in weight surprised Lex even though that was what he had been hoping for. Starting to tumble, he dropped the other vampire and managed to regain his equilibrium.
The vampire he dropped hadn’t faired any better than his friend and was reaching the ground as a soft trickle of dust. Lex turned and headed back toward the ground to check on the human. The man was on his feet, apparently unhurt, and he looked up as Lex approached.
The small gargoyle barely threw himself out of the way of the artificial lightning bolt that the man fired at him. "You’re welcome!" he called sarcastically as he dodged away among the trees, trying to gain altitude.
Forest Gates lowered his weapon and stared after the fleeing hostile. You’re welcome?
What was that about? The two vampires were gone though. Perhaps the flying thing had frightened them off? He shook his head and tended to the others.
Lex landed on the roof of a house near the address Elisa had given him and activated his radio link. "Elisa?"
"Right here Lex. You okay? You sound a bit out of breath."
"Had a run in with some vampires and soldiers."
"What?" Lex told her what happened.
"It’s not like it’s a new reaction," Lex sighed, "but just once I’d like someone to respond to my help with something other than gunfire."
"Sorry Lex. It’ll take time and this isn’t even New York where you guys are common knowledge."
"I know," he said morosely. "Learn anything about the case today?"
"No sign of Van Epps," she responded, happy to change the subject, "but I’ve confirmed that he’s not staying with Anthony. He might know where Van Epps is, though."
"Where does he work?"
"He’s an electrician, but he works mainly temporary jobs because of a drinking problem. Hard to keep steady work when you show up to the job drunk more often than not. For the past week, he’s been working at Cadillax Research and Development, that’s the place Xanatos wants to buy right?"
"Yeah. Owen said the place had some electrical problems."
"He’s the best lead we have at the moment. I’m sure that Van Epps is in Sunnydale somewhere, but finding him is the problem." She drummed her fingers on the dash for a moment, considering. Nothing occurred to her immediately though. So it was a stakeout. She hated stakeouts. Lex was good company, but it wasn’t the same as having Matt or Goliath there. Although, she admitted to herself with a slight smile, if Goliath had been there a parade of escaped convicts might have gone by without either noticing.
Over the next few hours, they watched the house and monitored the incoming calls, thanks to some equipment grudgingly loaned to them by the chief of police and a warrant granted by an even more reluctant judge. Anthony was in there, but nothing was happening. Elisa let out a bored sigh after the second hour. It was going to be a long night.
It had already been a long night. Buffy took a moment to catch her breath and glanced over at Riley. He nodded, as winded as she, but unhurt. There was only one vampire left, and he was running. "Come on."
"Couldn’t we get him tomorrow night?" Buffy panted. ‘The guy must have been a marathon runner."
"I need closure." She winced as she recognized Angel’s own words, and remembering the time he’d used them. Buffy hoped that wasn’t some sort of ominous portent. They trailed the vampire several blocks to a part of town that Buffy found familiar for some reason. The vampire spotted them and made a break for it. Straight into the nearest building, or at least it tried to. Buffy and Riley stopped short when they saw the vampire repelled from an obviously commercial building.
"Homeless people, maybe?" Buffy didn’t have time to answer Riley’s speculation. A darkened security light over the door flared to life. Not merely coming on but blazing with far more wattage than it should have been able to produce. The bulb shattered and a bolt of artificial lightning struck the vampire, setting it ablaze. It was gone in seconds.
"Whoa! What was that?" Again, Buffy had no answer.
"I don’t know, but we’d better find out."
They parted company around 1 AM. When it was clear that Anthony had gone to bed for the night. Lex had peered in a window at one point and seen him emptying a bottle of whiskey by himself.
Elisa returned to her hotel and Lex went to meet Owen. The hotel room was small, but comfortable. She would pick up Anthony in a few hours. It annoyed her to have to leave him unwatched for even a short time, but without backup there wasn’t much choice. Goliath had made it clear that he didn’t want either of them alone at night, not in Sunnydale. Normally, Elisa would have bristled at such attempts to protect her, but when it came to vampires, she tended to agree with him. She wasn’t happy about being in Sunnydale.
Vampires aside there was still friction between her and the Slayer. They had reached an understanding of sorts the last time they met, but Elisa wasn’t at all sure how she would take the New York detective visiting Sunnydale, even if it in no way involved demons. She decided to deal with it tomorrow. Elisa flopped into bed and was asleep almost instantly.
"Do you have any idea what it was?"
"No ma’am. A flying demon of some sort. It’s wings looked more like those you’d see on a flying squirrel." Walsh looked at the other members of the beta team. Both shook their heads.
"Sorry ma’am," Graham said. "We were knocked out." She sighed and nodded.
"And the two vampires?"
"No sign of them ma’am." Forest stared straight ahead, standing at attention. Walsh wasn’t military, and thus not technically his superior, but she was the lead scientist at the Initiative. He took a risk and added an opinion, something he wouldn’t have done while addressing an officer. "I couldn’t take them hand to hand so I went for my weapon. When I came up the vamps were gone. I think the flying hostile might have scared them off."
"Scared them off?"
"Yes ma’am. That might explain what it said." Walsh raised an eyebrow, waiting. "The flying hostile was the only thing in sight. It was diving at me when I spotted it. When I fired at it, it dodged easily. The shot didn’t come close. It flew away, but it said something I didn’t get at the time. It said, ‘you’re welcome.’"
"’You’re welcome’?" Forest nodded. Walsh shook her head in disgust. "Describe it to the technicians and have them search the database. Maybe we’ll get lucky." The word ‘lucky’ came out like an obscenity. Walsh hated to rely on luck or chance. Forest felt her disappointment and cringed inwardly. How did she do that to him? He turned away when dismissed and went to describe the hostile he’d seen.
Riley’s report was more interesting, although just as frustrating in its way. The Slayer, as usual, had not been very forthcoming with details. She spoke of checking her own sources. Walsh suspected that the Slayer already knew what was happening, but that she wasn’t prepared to say anything, yet.
She had known that fitting Buffy into their organization would be difficult, but she hadn’t realized how independent the Slayer was. She seemed to go out of her way to be contrary. The questions she asked were usually relevant. Unfortunately, she often had a different idea of what was relevant. Being asked why a mission was necessary was not something Walsh was used to.
Setting that problem aside, Walsh directed her to assist agent Gates and the technician in identifying the flying hostile. Buffy looked over the technician’s shoulder at the screen as a new software program began to produce a composite picture of the creature. It compared Forest’s description to every hostile in the database. As it turned out, it wasn’t necessary.
"Wait a minute." Buffy looked at the image closely. "This isn’t accurate."
"What do you mean? You didn’t see it," Forest snapped. He didn’t hide his irritation with her presumption.
"I think I have. Make it smaller and ad another strut to the wings." He did. "Bigger eyes, and make the skin olive colored."
"I couldn’t tell the skin color," Forest said, "but the eyes look right." The image came together and Buffy regarded the finished product with only a little surprise.
"What’s he doing here?" Forest stared at her in surprise.
"You know this thing?" She nodded.
"He’s a gargoyle. Name of Lex, we met when I was in Manhattan a couple of years ago." Forest looked thoughtful for a moment then turned and called Walsh over.
"You’ve found it?"
"Gargoyle, old acquaintance of mine." Walsh stared at Buffy.
"You hang out a lot with demons, do you?"
"Gargoyles aren’t demons. They’re something different. Anyway, they’re harmless, usually they stick close to home, defending their territory against, well these days, mostly against criminals. When I first met his clan they were flying around Central Park capturing muggers and purse snatchers."
"I’ve heard of them," Walsh mused. "I can’t understand why they’re allowed to run loose. They should be captured for study. Now it seems, we have a perfect opportunity." She turned to Forest. "I want-"
"No." Walsh stopped in mid-sentence.
"I said, no. He’s not a hostile, and thus not your concern."
"He dove right at me," Forest pointed out.
"I doubt he was attacking you. More likely he was after the vampires you were fighting. I know I wasn’t there," she cut off his objection, "but I know him and I know how biased you are against non-humans." Forest stiffened in outrage.
"You callin’ me a bigot?" His tone rankled her, although she couldn’t immediately have said why. She turned on him, eyes narrowed, and her next words left her lips before had a chance to consider them.
"If the hood fits."
"Whoa!" Forest’s fist was grabbed long before it could make contact and Riley stepped between them. "That’s enough out of both of you." His eyes moved back and forth between them. "You," he said to Buffy, "are being deliberately contrary and picking a fight." He turned to Forest. "And you are letting her. We don’t have all the information about these creatures. Maybe they aren’t hostiles, but fighting among ourselves is not the way to find out." He gave them both an annoyed look and they stepped back, looking slightly abashed, but still glaring at each other. Riley sighed. "That’s enough for one night. Both of you back to your corners." He cut off the objections he saw coming, from Buffy at least. "I don’t want to hear about who started it. This is a military installation, not a schoolyard. Go." Both turned their backs at once and walked away. Riley shook his head.
"Nicely done, Riley." He turned to find Walsh smiling at him proudly. He gave her a tired smile.
"Thanks. I don’t know what the problem is between them, but I can’t have it interfering with the way we work."
"Buffy’s doing that already."
"She’s used to giving orders, not taking them. We knew it would be hard, but I still think it will be worth it."
"She did recognize the gargoyle," Walsh considered. "That will make it easier to devise a strategy to deal with it. If it becomes necessary," she amended. "It may not be necessary to capture the creature. We’ll just have to wait and see."
"Here it is, Cadillax Research and Development. That was the place that Moloch picked to have his new body built."
"I remember, now. We thought he was gone for good though. His body is in three separate junk yards and more than a dozen different pieces."
"What you described happening at the building, though, may indicate that the demon was not destroyed."
"So what are we dealing with now? A ghost in the machine? Literally?" Giles shrugged, having no better idea than she. "Any ideas Will?" The red head looked up from the computer she was using to hack into the power company’s records.
"Not right now Buff. I need more information. You said the bolt came from the light socket?"
"That’s right. First he was in the computer system, now he’s in the electrical system. At least," she paused to consider. "That’s what it looks like."
"We mustn’t jump to conclusions Buffy. This incident could be unrelated."
"What are the odds of that?" Giles considered briefly and acknowledged the point.
"Not great I’ll admit. How do you want to deal with this? Assuming it is what we believe it to be?" Buffy frowned thoughtfully.
"What about a cleansing spell?" Willow suggested. "It might need some tweaking to get rid of a demonic presence rather than a ghost, but we could try it."
"A little more research is in order before we try anything, though." Buffy nodded at Giles comment.
"Agreed. In the mean time, Lexington’s in town. I want to find out why."
"One of the Manhattan Gargoyles." Giles took his glasses off and stared at her.
"In Sunnydale?" He sounded incredulous.
"Yeah," Buffy nodded, "and we need to find out why. I talked to Cordelia a few weeks ago. Some of the clan was in Hollywood."
"I watched the interview," Willow smiled. "They seem like nice people."
"They are," Buffy agreed, "but what they didn’t show was their enemies attacking the studio during the interview. They’ve got some dangerous playmates. If any of them show up, we definitely need advance warning." Giles nodded.
"Do you know where to find him?" She nodded.
"I’m pretty sure I know where to start looking." She grabbed her bag and headed for the front door.
Half an hour later she had found Maza’s hotel room and was knocking on the door. There was a yawn and a grumbled answer from inside. Elisa opened the door and stared at her in a mixture of surprise and annoyance. "Buffy."
"Can I come in? I think we need to talk." Elisa stepped back, reluctantly, admitting her.
"What’s this about?" Buffy looked around, and wasn’t surprised to see Lex sleeping in the corner.
"So, you brought him."
"You wanted to talk about him?"
"I don’t know if he told you, but he was spotted last night by a group of demon hunters. They’re looking for him now."
"Those government hunters?" Buffy blinked in surprise.
"You know about them?" Elisa nodded.
"I’ll tell him to be careful, but he’s helping me on a case."
"Okay, just be sure he is careful. These guys are very serious about what they do, and they aren’t going to distinguish between non-humans. Things are strained between me and them as it is. I don’t want to have to break him out." Elisa nodded and Buffy took a breath before bringing up the next topic.
"I need to know something." She raised a hand before Elisa could start to get angry. "If you’re after a normal human criminal it doesn’t concern me, but I got a call from a friend in LA about what happened at the interview. If some cybernetic lunatic is going to start tearing up the town I would like a little advance warning."" Elisa let out her breath slowly.
"Fair enough. No, there’s nothing unusual about the guy I’m after. Run of the mill human." Buffy nodded, relieved, and turned to leave. Elisa decided she might as well get up and get back to her stakeout.
Owen Burnett watched the work crews as they busied themselves about the place. The main fuse box was replaced and all of the wiring was being checked before the electrical system was tested.
Once he was sure that the work was going well, he got out of the way. Moving outside, he took a moment to look around the site. Everything was in order for the most part. He frowned at the broken security light over the entrance. Vandalism? He was fairly certain it hadn’t been broken yesterday. He looked toward the street and saw, quite by chance, a familiar car. It was the one Elisa Maza had rented for her time in Sunnydale. She was watching the building.
Curious, he pulled out a cell phone and dialed the number of her phone. He saw her stirring in the car as he turned away, not wanting to draw attention to her.
"Detective. Has your case brought you here?" There was a moment of silence.
"Owen why are you calling me?"
"I wish to know whether your case involves the business I am here to conduct for Mr. Xanatos." She sighed.
"One of the electricians was the cell mate of a man I’m looking for. I’m hoping that he’ll lead me to the man I’m here to arrest. It shouldn’t interfere with your business. Now stop calling attention to me." Her irritation at the interruption, and at Owen’s presumption was clear. It also sounded, he thought, like she hadn’t gotten much sleep. He clicked off and moved toward his rented Cadilac in the building’s garage. His mind already moving to the next task on his schedule. He decided that Detective Maza’s business probably wouldn’t interfere with the review and, if all went well, the acquisition.
His next stop was the temporary offices of the Cadillax representative. Lexington had found something interesting in the company’s main computer. Apparently, someone had been using it to hack into practically everything. Lex hadn’t been able to reconstruct everything that had happened, but a partial list of the sites hacked included the FBI central computer, Interpol’s primary database, the central business office of the Catholic church in California, and several major banks.
He remembered the incidents vaguely. They had never been connected and none had ever been traced. After more than two years, the separate cases were still open. There could be considerable trouble later on if any of the crimes were linked to the company even after it was bought.
His mind was so full of possibilities and contingencies that he barely notice the slight electric shock he got when he opened the car door.
Buffy knocked on Walsh’s office door. The professor looked up and nodded. "Come in Buffy. I want to talk to you."
"If it’s about last night…"
"It is. I know we don’t always agree, but picking fights with my people is unacceptable. I want you to patch it up with agent Gates." Buffy snorted.
"There’s nothing to patch up unless he actually managed to find and attack Lex."
"You know what I mean. Gargoyles need to be studied and classified just like any other demon species."
"They aren’t demons. That’s the whole point. You automatically assume that anything not human is evil. That attitude… annoys me."
"Maybe they are harmless. We won’t know until we can examine one." Buffy rolled her eyes in exasperation. "The fact that they do talk shows isn’t proof of their good will."
"How about that they kill vampires?" Walsh looked surprised at this, but shook her head. "Vampires aren’t very popular with other demons as I’m sure you know." Buffy sighed.
"We’re never going to agree about this, so lets set it aside. I have the information you want on that building." She took a sheaf of papers from her bag. "The whole story is here as well as some theories as to what’s happening now and some possible remedies." Handing the papers to Walsh she turned to go.
"Wait. Please. I may have questions."
"Yeah," Buffy nodded, grimacing. "I’m sure you will."
"And I still want you to make peace with agent Gates. You don’t have to be his best friend, but I don’t want you at each other’s throats either." Buffy nodded reluctantly, knowing from experience how dangerous dissension in the ranks could be.
"All right. I’ll talk to him." Walsh read over the report, her expression going from fascinated to incredulous.
"You scanned a demon into a computer?" Buffy winced at the memory
"It was an accident. I didn’t know he was there." Walsh opened her mouth to speak, but reconsidered, pparently deciding it wasn’t worth clarifying the point.
"I remember this. A series of computer crimes around the world. No one ever linked them together, let alone traced them here." Buffy shrugged.
"It’s just as well. Not like anyone would have believed the truth anyway."
Walsh sighed and nodded. "I know the feeling." She continued to read. "An online binding spell?"
"Yeah. It worked too. Moloch was confined to the body he’d had built. Not very sophisticated as robots go, but it was strong." Walsh arched an eyebrow curiously.
"Have you seen many robots?"
"Uh, well only one other, really. And that was technically an android not a robot. It’s a long story." She shuddered at the memories Ted evoked. "By the way, if that thing ever shows up again, you’re on your own. There’s a level of creepy where even I draw the line." She could tell the professor wanted to ask and saw the point at which she decided not to.
"Noted." She took a deep breath. "What’s this about a hybrid spell?"
"Well. We think that somehow Moloch is part of the electrical system of the building. I don’t know if it’s possible, but something is strange there. We need to verify Moloch’s presence and then get rid of him once and for all. With that spell."
"How does it work?"
"Well it sort of combines the original binding spell with a basic cleansing that you would use for poltergeists." She took a moment to examine Walsh’s expression. "You don’t believe any of this do you?"
"I’m skeptical," the professor admitted in what she fondly believed was a conciliatory tone. "I find it hard to believe in magic."
"Well," Buffy had thought long and hard about how to present the argument. "How much do you know about physics or astronomy?" Walsh frowned, puzzled.
"Not much. What does that have to do with this?"
"Does the fact that you don’t understand much about them mean that they’re not scientifically valid? You accept that the Earth rotates around the sun and spins on an axis. Can you prove that?"
"Not personally, no."
"Try thinking of it as a science you’re not familiar with. Just because there are parts of what I do that don’t fit into the rules you know doesn’t mean that it’s not real."
"I suppose I can do that," she nodded, looking thoughtful. "I would feel better if I understood more about the mystical aspects of the business, though." Buffy smiled.
"I’ll see what I can arrange. The first step though is to be sure that it is Moloch. There’s a fairly simple spell that will force any entity occupying the building to reveal its true nature. So that shouldn’t be a problem."
"What if it’s not Moloch?"
"Might be a ghost of some sort," Buffy allowed. "Thanks to Moloch, several people died violently there, but I’ve never seen a ghost use electricity as a weapon. And yes, I’ve seen several ghosts."
"All right. How about tomorrow morning? It’s Saturday, and you could arrange a demonstration. I wouldn’t mind watching this spell in operation."
"That could be awkward, not to mention dangerous. Moloch is no one to fool around with. This won’t be easy as it is. I don’t want to have to worry about sightseers. No offense." Walsh said nothing for a moment, just glaring at Buffy. The Slayer didn’t flinch though. Finally, Walsh sighed and relented.
"Riley would agree with you, I’m sure, but I want a full report. Agents will go in with you wearing com-cams. I’ll have a front row seat even if I’m not there."
"I thought those weren’t ready?"
"Got them in yesterday."
"All right. It’ll take till tomorrow morning to put everything together for the spell. You have to make a decision though. My friends don’t know much about the Initiative beyond the fact that it exists. At Riley’s request, I’ve kept them in the dark, but I’ll need one at least to cast the necessary spells, possibly two. That means they’re going to see your agents in action. See their faces and the equipment they use. Are you willing to allow that?"
"You’re putting me in a tight spot. If I have to find another way of dealing with this problem, I will. My agents-"
"-will be dealing with a non-corporeal demon. Right now, Moloch doesn’t have an ass to kick. While they wander around the building trying to figure out what to do, he’ll have time to convert a few of them. He’s called the corrupter for a reason. I don’t know how he does it so I can’t offer any ideas about how they can protect themselves." That made Walsh stop and think. She was clearly frustrated, but after reading Buffy’s account of what had happened before she wasn’t willing to take chances with a demon taking control of her agents.
"All right. I don’t see a way around it." Buffy actually seemed surprised. Walsh smiled slightly. "I can be reasonable at times. Call me as soon as you make arrangements with your friends and let me know who will be there."
" I’ll talk to them after classes today. Probably call tonight around seven." Walsh nodded.
"Fine. Now get on to class or you’ll be late."
Buffy left quickly, not wanting to be late for algebra. The semester had barely begun and already she felt like she was floundering. If only that were my biggest problem.
"I can do the spell." Willow looked over at Giles, surprised.
"You? But I developed the spell to bind Moloch. If something goes wrong, I’m the best one to fix it."
"Improvising magic is very dangerous, despite the progress you’ve made I would feel more comfortable if you were out of harm’s way."
"I can do this Giles!" The redheaded witch pouted, not happy at losing out on a chance to test a spell she had designed herself.
"Besides, Walsh already knows, or at least strongly suspects that I’m involved. If the Initiative is going to get proof that one of us works with Buffy and is familiar with magic, I’d rather it was me."
Willow didn’t have an answer to that, but she didn’t look happy, and she could tell by his tone that there would be no arguing with him. Might as well use the time,
she concluded, making sure that he’s ready for anything.
"All right. Let’s go over the spells and contingencies in case they go wrong." Giles was a bit surprised by her easy capitulation, but wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth, so to speak. He was sure Willow wouldn’t appreciate that particular metaphor. They set to work with Anya kibitzing. Buffy and Xander got out of the way. They worked until after sunset, but were finally ready. Buffy made the call to Professor Walsh, arranging the meeting.
Maggie Walsh walked from her office after receiving the call from Buffy. Everything was ready Buffy and her ‘friend’ would be at the building bright and early. Walsh wasn’t happy about including another civilian, but she didn’t have any other ideas.
Buffy had been right. They had no way of dealing with non-corporeal entities. The Initiative scientists were still arguing about the nature of such creatures, and they would scoff at Walsh allowing an exorcism or anything else that smacked of superstition. If it worked though, she wasn’t going to complain about the method.
Lost in thought, she didn’t notice the group following her at first. There were three of them, keeping a safe distance and talking softly.
"I tell you that’s her," Greg insisted. “I saw her on campus talking to men we know are part of the commandos. They take orders from her." The others were skeptical, but they were also hungry.
"So we change her and she destroys them from the inside, right?" Mark sounded dubious.
"Sure. It’s a great plan, I tell ya. At the very least we’ll slow them down. Remember how confused everything was after the Master was killed? His number two guy couldn’t hold nearly as many vampires."
"It won’t be the same," Wendy pointed out. She looked like the cheerleader she had been, and it was sometimes hard to remember that she had a keen mind. "These guys are military. Their numbers won’t diminish just because their leader dies. It might even make them come after us, looking for revenge."
"It’ll still be worth it. If we have to, we lie low for a while." The others agreed, reluctantly and picked up the pace. They went into a well-rehearsed and natural sounding patter that usually lulled a potential victim’s suspicions. The woman turned her head briefly when she first heard them, but they looked like a normal enough bunch, so engrossed in their own conversation they didn’t even seem to be aware of her. As they approached her, she drifted to the side to let them pass as they were moving a little faster than she.
The grab was so fast and well practiced that she didn’t have time to fight back or cry out as they hustled her down an alley, across a darkened street and into a small park where they could eat in peace.
"Aaggh!" Wendy growled and swore as the woman managed to jab her with what turned out to be a portable stun gun, the type that civilians sometimes bought for self-defense. Wendy broke the woman’s wrist taking it away. "You sure we can’t just kill her?" she fumed pressing a hand her burned side. There was no answer. She looked up. Mark was looking around the small clearing with wide eyes.
"Where’d Greg go?" he asked nervously. Wendy pinned Walsh to the ground with one hand over the woman’s mouth as Mark gripped her wrists. Wendy looked around, more irritated than worried. Then a sound caught her ears. It sounded sort of like cloth billowing in the wind or maybe it was…
Mark let out a startled cry as something impacted with him at high speed. They rolled over and over until they fetched up against a tree. There was a last strangled cry from Mark and he burst into a cloud of dust. The other creature rose, holding a stake and began to approach her.
Wendy stared incredulously. The creature was hairless and almost naked. It couldn’t have been much more than three feet tall, with wings stretched between ankles and wrists. It stared at her with large glowing eyes as it stalked toward her. An almost silly sight given the bizarre wing construction, but it was obviously not something to be fooled with, as it had just killed her two companions.
"What are you?" she growled, releasing the woman and coming to her feet, ready to fight.
"If you run now," the creature ignored her question, "you might just get away. Either way, you’re not going to get a chance to hurt that woman." Wendy grinned, glancing down at the woman who was cradling her wrist and trying to inch away without being noticed.
"This woman?" Wendy drew back her leg for a kick she knew would cave in the woman’s skull. Before she could deliver it she was knocked off her feet and a grip like a vise pinned her arms to her sides. Her head cracked against a tree as she fell and the world swam around her. She barely felt the sharp stick penetrating her side.
The last vamp crumbled to dust and Lexington turned around as the woman finally made it to her feet. "Are you all right?" he asked taking a step towards her. She backed away, staring. The glow returned to his eyes for a second but faded as his shoulders slumped. "You’re welcome," he muttered, and turned to walk away.
"What?" Lex paused.
"You’re welcome," he repeated. When she didn’t respond he shook his head and continued on his way.
"You’re a gargoyle, aren’t you?" That stopped him. "I’d heard there were gargoyles in New York, but I didn’t know there were any in Sunnydale."
"I’m just visiting," he paused guiltily on his way out of the clearing. "Can you get to a hospital on your own? There may be more vampires around. The town has too many of those parasites."
"I’ll be fine," she said reaching automatically for a cell phone with her injured hand. She promptly dropped it, crying out in pain. It broke into several pieces.
"Uh-huh." Lex sighed. "Come with me." He motioned and turned away. After a moment’s hesitation, Walsh followed. The gargoyle led her through the park toward a well-lighted street where Walsh knew there were some open businesses and lots of people even late in the evening. "My name’s Lex," the creature said conversationally.
"Maggie," she responded before thinking about it. She was talking to a hostile. Why should she care what its name was? It was an excellent opportunity though, she reflected, to gather information about the creature.
"Yeah? I’ve got a sister-in-law named Maggie. That surprised Walsh as much as the creature’s friendly manner did.
"A gargoyle named Maggie?"
"Actually, she’s human." Walsh didn’t know how to respond to that, so she didn’t. If Lex minded he didn’t say so. The rest of the trip was uneventful and Lex said good-bye as he climbed a tree to become airborne again. He watched her cross the street and enter a convenience store.
He was late. He should have met Elisa ten minutes ago, but it was worth it if he’d gotten through to that woman. It made him smile briefly, but he quickly dismissed the matter as he approached the house Elisa was watching. "Hi Elisa!" he greeted her as he landed in a tree near the new rental car she had picked out to avoid being noticed. Elisa really hated doing stakeouts alone.
The radio set he fished out of his pouch hadn’t been damaged in the fight, which was lucky. He wasn’t as well suited to close quarter combat as his rookery brothers, but he could get by even if he had to rely more on momentum than brute strength.
"Hey Lex. What kept you?"
"In Sunnydale? What do you think? I interrupted something’s dinner." Elisa made a sympathetic noise and started to respond, but the front door opened and Anthony came out. He ignored his car and set off on foot, keeping to the shadows.
"Here we go. I think this could be what we’re waiting for." If Elisa hadn’t been watching the door at that moment she might have missed his departure. At Elisa’s request, Lex followed him from the air. It was nearly impossible for someone in a car to follow a man on foot without being spotted. After he had gone several blocks and turned a couple of corners, Elisa followed.
It was slow, but she managed to follow undetected as he made his way to Cadillax. "Now what is he doing here?" she wondered aloud as he sneaked through a side entrance. There were others there too, and Elisa realized with surprise that she had seen most of them coming and going from the building during the day. They were all workers putting the place in order. What were they doing there in the middle of the night?
It made no sense. "Lex, can you get a look at what’s going on in there?" The security system would have been turned off with people coming and going, but there were certain to be lookouts posted if something illegal was going on. Elisa knew from examining the layout that she couldn’t get into the building undetected without being spotted, at least not in any reasonable time, but Lexington could.
"Sure thing, Elisa." She looked up in time to see him take to the air. He took a moment to scope out the building’s security, the placement of cameras, motion detectors and alarm wires. Even with the building occupied there would be certain precautions taken to keep people out of sensitive areas. He then landed on a corner of the roof and moved, monkey-like, along the edge until he reached a point just above a window. Lowering himself carefully, he bypassed the window alarm and slid it open.
"Glad you’re on our side Lex," Elisa marveled. Lex chuckled over the radio. She had forgotten it was still on. He was silent for a time as he worked his way through the building. Finally he whispered to her.
"Elisa. They’re gathered in the main lobby. There’s a lot of electricity arcing around the room… It… Oh wow!"
"A face. There’s a face in the arc. I’ve never seen anything like this. I-I better get out. I think it knows I’m here." Elisa heard scrabbling and the pounding of feet as Lex abandoned stealth in favor of speed. "Careful Elisa. They may know you’re there too." Elisa looked down at the nearest door in time to see it open and several people come out. She spotted several guns.
"Oh great. Lex, can you get out?"
"Going now." A window on the second floor exploded outwards and Lex spread his wings. Elisa started the motor and pulled away. There were two shots, but neither came close as she peeled away from the curb.
"You okay Elisa? I heard shooting."
"Fine Lex. What did you see in there? You said a face in the arc?" Elisa heard a deep shuddering breath.
"Yeah. Formed out of pure electrical current. Incredible! It wasn’t a human or a gargoyle face and I haven’t seen anything like it before. It might be a demon of some sort." Elisa was silent for a moment.
"Let’s go talk to Buffy."
Buffy Summers and Riley Finn were enjoying an all too infrequent evening alone. Willow was studying in the library and said she wouldn’t be back until very late. Riley had his beeper as always, but all preparations had been made for the morning’s activities and they wouldn’t be needed until then.
A deep kiss and passionate caress, they had barely begun it seemed to Buffy, were interrupted by a sound at the window. She stiffened slightly. Riley noticed and pulled back slightly.
"Window," she whispered, and kissed him as if she hadn’t noticed anything. She felt Riley shift position and at her slight shove they rolled apart and Buffy landed on one knee near the window, which was slightly open. Reaching through, she found a skinny, rough skinned arm and yanked. With a squawk of surprise, Lexington found himself face down on the bed with a Slayer kneeling on his back.
"Anff a pleafant good efening to you," he said into the mattress. Buffy let him up, while Riley trained a smaller version of the standard issue taser on him. Buffy waved it away.
"Its okay Riley. I know him." Riley looked dubious, but he lowered the gun. "What are you doing here, Lex?" The small gargoyle worked himself into a more dignified position. "Besides spoiling a romantic evening?"
"Sorry about that, but I think our work is overlapping again." Riley looked at Buffy, confused. Instead of answering she sighed and addressed Lex.
"Meaning?" He quickly explained about the stakeout and where it had led. "I think it was some sort of demon. The place was on the outskirts of town. I think its called-"
"Cadillax Research and Development. I know it. We were prepared to go in tomorrow morning." She looked at Riley. His phone was already out. "Looks like our plans just got moved up." She reached for the phone on the nightstand and dialed Giles’ number.
"Why was a New York detective nosing around in Sunnydale anyway?" Walsh asked over the phone.
"She was tracking a man she hoped would lead her to a guy who jumped bail in New York," Buffy answered. "She didn’t know anything about Moloch or our plans."
"Why was she doing this herself? Where are the local police?" Buffy actually laughed.
"You must be kidding. They could give lessons in being uncooperative. Now with this thing at Cadillax?" She shook her head, even though Walsh couldn’t see it. "They’re sitting on their hands as usual when anything even vaguely of the strange happens. They don’t want to be involved. That’s why she was doing all of it herself." Walsh sighed. She hated complications, but it didn’t look like there was any real blame here. The gargoyle angle was interesting, but it didn’t seem the time to pursue it.
Maggie Walsh looked down at the cast on her arm. No. Not the time to pursue it.
"Where are they now?" She didn’t say who ‘they’ were.
"I’ve asked them to stay out of it. They may stay close by to watch, but I think they’ll stay out of the way."
"Good. I don’t want her or her ‘partner’ complicating things."
The ancient car pulled to a stop outside the parking area. A man in a uniform stepped out of the shadows to meet Giles as he got out.
"This area is off limits right now sir. You’ll have to move along."
"Yes, yes. I’m curious. Has anyone ever defined ‘covert’ for you? Because frankly none of you Initiative boys do it very well." He pulled a sack out of the back seat. "Now then, where is Agent Finn? I’m expected." The soldier didn’t respond for a moment, then raised his radio.
"Giles! Over here." Buffy waved to him and he trotted over to her, ignoring the guard. They turned and proceeded to the staging area set up a short distance from the building.
"Is everything prepared?" he asked without preamble as he came up to Riley, Forest, and Buffy. Buffy nodded.
"We’re ready to go in. We think Moloch has about six people in there." Giles nodded and turned to the agents.
"They mustn’t be harmed, but they will have no compunction about harming you. While under Moloch’s control they will do whatever is necessary to protect him."
"The tasers will be perfect for this. They don’t do any lasting damage. Do you know if they have weapons?"
"Handguns," Buffy confirmed. "Elisa said they shot at her." Riley nodded.
"Okay, Forest deploy the men. Standard containment and capture. We need to establish a safe place for Mr. Giles to work his spell." Forest snorted, obviously unimpressed with the idea of relying on magic, but he moved away to carry out his superior’s orders.
"How long will you need after we get in?" Giles considered carefully. Taking into account set up time and the actual casting of the spell, one that was essentially entirely new, he had to allow for potential problems.
"Maybe 30 minutes. Possibly more if there are complications."
"We’ve arranged to cut all external power to the building. If this Moloch is somehow manifesting as electricity his goal could be to connect to the city power grid and escape."
"We’d never be rid of him if that happened," Giles said quietly, not liking the implications at all. Riley nodded, having already considered that.
"Fortunately, the building is still isolated. The place was a research facility and had some fairly exotic power requirements. We’ve arranged to sever all the links to the outside that should keep him bottled up no matter what he does inside."
"Excellent. Let’s proceed then."
Forest motioned silently and alpha team moved in. They were covering two of the possible points of access and beta team had the remaining two. At Riley’s signal, they moved in. As the agents charged across the lot to force the doors, they started to open, and Moloch’s puppets began to fire. The agents had been hoping for this and returned fire. The doors, being made of metal, were excellent conductors. None of the people under the demon’s control got off more than two shots before the voltage incapacitated them.
Inside, however, things were more difficult. All ground level points of access were quickly secured, but Moloch began lashing out himself with electrical discharges from the power outlets, and electrical appliances, something he seemed to only be able to do once from any particular location, or by activating machines and tools left by the workers. One agent nearly lost his foot when a power saw unexpectedly came to life next to him.
Electrical bursts incapacitated three agents. They had taken precautions and worn body armor, which provided some insulation but wasn’t as much protection as they would have liked. At least they’re alive
, Buffy thought as she jumped high to avoid a blast from a lamp that caught on fire due to the excess voltage it was never meant to handle. Finally, they fought their way through to the fuse box, and Buffy ripped it off the wall, plunging them into darkness.
"If Giles is right, that should buy us a few minutes," she called out. For the moment, at any rate, things were quieter. The attacks ceased.
"Right," Riley answered, unhooking his radio. "Mr. Giles. It’s now or never."
Giles joined them a moment later already pulling items out of his bag. "We have to hurry. It won’t take Moloch long to reorient himself." He began to place candles in a circle and had one of the agents light them while he set out bowls and various herbs.
"Lousy time for a séance," one of them muttered, but Giles didn’t bother correcting him.
When the preparations were complete he double checked them and opened the book to the page he’d already marked. He began to read. The Latin rolled off his tongue as fluently as English ever had, and despite themselves, some of the soldiers looked impressed.
The response from Moloch was almost immediate. There was a very literal feeling of gathering power. A bright flash briefly illuminated the room and everyone jumped, looking around for the source of the attack. All they saw was the result. Every hair in the room was standing on end.
Forest snickered when he looked at Riley. "Nice do bro." Riley rolled his eyes and then frowned as he realized something. Raising his radio he tried to contact the agents outside. All he got was static.
"Equipment is fried. Forest, take Gibbs and check with the agents outside." Forest nodded and motioned for Gibbs to follow.
A black Cadilac moved down the street at a pace that wouldn’t attract attention, until it reached the street where Cadillax Research and Development was located. The car slowed and moved along the street as if intending to pull over. A man armed with an automatic weapon stepped out of the shadows and motioned the car to move on without stopping. It stopped anyway. The driver’s side window began to descend with an electric whine and the agent frowned in annoyance. He stepped into the road to walk around to the driver’s side.
The engine abruptly roared and the car shot forward catching him squarely. The agent didn’t even have time to scream as he was slammed to the ground and run over. The black car turned slightly, ensuring that the unfortunate agent would come under its wheels. Those wheels paused and turned slightly as they passed over him, making sure the man was dead. Then it continued on its way, the window slid upward again, the tinted glass concealing the fact that no one was driving it.
Forest and Gibbs went to each checkpoint. Communications had been effected over the entire area, not just inside the building. No one had anything unusual to report. They went to the street in front of this building last. The man’s sole purpose was to warn off anyone, police or curious civilians who noticed what was going on.
He wasn’t there. Forest looked around, more annoyed than worried. The man posted there was the newest of the Initiative agents, so he had drawn guard duty. New or not, unimportant post or not, he should know better than to wander off.
"Forrest." Gibbs’ voice was choked and Forest quickly turned to see what his friend was looking at.
"Oh God." Forest wanted to wretch. "What happened? Hit and run?" Gibbs shook his head, looking green.
"Doesn’t look like an accident. Someone must have deliberately driven over him. Look at the chest." Forest found that difficult, but he saw what Gibbs meant.
"Report back to Riley. I’ll call base." Gibbs headed back to the building. Forest raised his radio and tried to contact Walsh. Nothing, of course. Suddenly he stopped and glanced back at the body. The man’s radio was still in tact and it was crackling fiercely. Forest didn’t know what to make of that, assuming it was part of the same problem they were having inside. He crossed the street, not noticing the black Cadilac passing the cross street at the end of the block.
When Gibbs made his report Riley swore under his breath. "Could this be related to what we’re doing?" He glanced at Giles who was still chanting in Latin and setting fire to bowls of smelly herbs. Gibbs shrugged.
"Could be, but I don’t see how. The hostile is in here. Maybe someone under its control?" Riley nodded. That made sense.
"If so, binding Moloch should free him. The police can find the driver with good old fashioned detective work when we’re done here."
"Yes sir." There wasn’t much else they could do. The chanting rose to a climax and the candles that formed the circle flared causing the agents to jump back. Giles stood, snapping the book closed.
"Right then. That should do it."
"Are you sure?" Riley asked.
"The energies seemed to flow correctly. I could feel nothing amiss as I was casting. Moloch should be purged from this place. Is there a problem?" Riley told him about the dead agent. Giles shook his head sadly.
"No doubt one of Moloch’s puppets carrying out a final act of spite. I am sorry Riley. Perhaps if I-"
"Don’t. You did just what you were supposed to do. There was no way we could have known that he didn’t have all the people under his control here to protect him. No sense blaming yourself." Giles considered this and nodded glumly. We should check the others. Make sure they’re free of his influence.
"Yes. Um, I can run one or two tests, to be sure Moloch is gone, then we can be on our way." He went back to his bag and fetched out two vials of powder and a blue print of the building.
"We’re headed back professor. It seems to have worked. We found no trace of aberrant electrical activity in the building and Mr. Giles found no trace of demonic energy. The people being controlled are free. They woke up very confused and not remembering even leaving home. We lost one man though…. Yes ma’am. We should be able to find the one responsible. The body is already on its way back to base." Riley looked at Gibbs who was driving the Humvee. The man still looked shaken. He would get over it, Riley thought, or he wouldn’t last in the Initiative.
The agents had divided up among three vehicles and Giles was following in his old gray clunker. All had reports to make and Walsh was waiting. The wounded had already been sent ahead to the hospital to be looked over, but their wounds were not serious, comparable to those inflicted by the tasers the agents used. Riley cursed silently. He had lost agents before but not like this. It seemed so... random. Run down by a hit and run driver. He would see to it that the driver would pay, no matter what he had been under the influence of.
They were approaching a curving stretch of Route 17 when the opportunity came. A black Cadilac approached Giles, who was bringing up the rear of the small convoy. Pulling along side it swerved abruptly, driving him into the rail. Fortunately the car was too small and light to push through it to the steep embankment beyond. The Cadilac didn’t waste time trying again though, it raced ahead and tried to attack the next vehicle in line.
Forest Gates looked at Buffy out of the corner of his eye. He knew Riley had put them in the same car to give them the opportunity to talk, and he had to admit that the Slayer had tried. He wasn’t in the mood for reconciliation, though. Distracted by his general dislike for the Slayer, and angry about a dead comrade, he didn’t respond to her attempts at diplomacy. Finally, she annoyed him into answering.
"We don’t have to like each other to work together. We just have to behave like professionals. We can both do that right?" Buffy bit back an angry response and nodded. That nod turned into a sudden jerk to the side as they were rammed by a car neither one had noticed. Forest pulled the wheel toward the car, trying to muscle the smaller vehicle away, but their attacker had chosen the spot well and only had to hold a few seconds.
Forest slammed on the brakes as he saw the guardrail approaching, but it was too late. The Humvee punched through the rail and came to a stop with most of its body hanging over the edge of a slope so steep is almost qualified as a cliff. "Hold very still," Forest said, taking his own advice. Buffy didn’t waste breath on a comeback. Her eyes were riveted on the scene ahead of them.
The remaining Initiative vehicles had realized what was happening and had managed to turn back. They were now engaged in a bizarre game of chicken with their attacker. As they watched, one braked and turned to create a roadblock. The other approached the attacker at full speed on the side away from the drop off. A brief flash of fire from the roadblock and the sound of an automatic weapon being fired reached them. The Cadilac started to swerve toward the rail and the second Humvee rammed it, forcing it over the edge.
The big car hit the slope on its wheels and rolled a short distance before they locked. Its back end spun around and it began to roll. It managed four complete rolls before it hit the bottom, coming to rest on its side. Other agents were already rushing toward them as Buffy tried to find a way out of the car, which was starting to slip.
"Move over here," Forest said, "carefully. Maybe we can balance it long enough for help to get here." Even as he finished the car slipped almost a foot more over the edge.
"No time." Acting on instinct Buffy reached past Forest with her foot and gave the badly dented door he was trying to open a hard kick. The door came off and hit the ground. Forest was a second behind it as Buffy shoved him out. She was right behind him, but still too slow. The car tumbled as she tried to jump clear. The driver’s seat caught her just below her hips as it went over the edge, dragging her with it.
The shriek of metal against metal almost drowned out her own scream as the Humvee rolled over on top of her. Slayer and vehicle stayed together as they tumbled down the slope.
"Buffy!!!" Giles anguished cry echoed Riley’s as the two men reached the spot on the road where Forest was just beginning to pull himself upright. "Come on!" the ex-Watcher shouted as he started to make his way down the slope, despite a limp and a damp spot on his right leg that was clearly blood.
"Wait." Riley stopped him. "You’re hurt. I’ll go. Wait for the others to bring ropes." With that he began a semi-controlled slide down the slope. Several other agents were pacing him including Forest who had managed to shake off his shock at being saved by someone he held in such contempt.
At some point during the fall, Buffy had become separated from the Humvee and was lying well clear of any danger of fire from the ruined vehicle. Riley reached her first. Buffy Summers' blood smeared face stared at the sky with sightless eyes. Her body twisted at an unnatural angle. Riley couldn’t begin to count the number of broken bones or wounds inflicted by torn metal. He dropped to his knees, helplessly staring at her.
He felt Forest put a hand on his shoulder, not speaking, just being there for him. There was nothing anyone could say.
"Buffy!" Riley didn’t even turn as Buffy’s Watcher limped toward them as quickly as he could. "No. Oh no." He dropped to the ground next to Riley, more because he could no longer stand though than out of grief. There was plenty of grief, though. Rupert Giles had never felt so completely lost as he stared at the still form of the girl he’d loved like a daughter.
"Agent Finn," Riley’s radio crackled to life, but he ignored it. "Agent Finn are you there?" Riley fumbled the radio free of his belt and answered.
"I hear you," he said dully. "Report."
"You’d better get over here sir. The car that attacked us. I’ve never seen anything like this."
"Meaning?" Riley wasn’t really interested, but he was still in command whether he felt up to it or not.
"There’s no driver and... Sir, the car is electrified." That got everyone’s attention. Riley rose to his feet and helped Giles up. They made their way to the wreckage. The car was sparking. Bright blue squiggles of electricity crawled over the frame.
When they arrived, those squiggles began to coalesce and form a shape. Giles stood staring, as amazed as the agents as a face formed on the undercarriage of the car. A demonic face that laughed at them. Giles’ expression hardened as he looked at all that remained of Moloch the Corrupter.
"Stand clear," he ordered. The agents backed away, needing no orders or incentive. Giles went to one of the agents once they had reached a safe distance. "Your side-arm soldier." The man looked puzzled, but handed it over without hesitation. Giles turned and assumed a shooter’s stance.
He fired the .45 automatic three times into the car’s exposed gas tank. The third bullet caused the spark that ignited the tank. Moloch screamed in impotent fury as his last refuge burned fiercely, consuming the wires of the electrical system and eventually melting the engine and battery into useless slag.
Maggie Walsh was disappointed. Cleared or not for access to the Initiative, she had still been a loose cannon. Walsh wasn’t about to mourn her personally but the opportunity they’d lost to study her? That was something worth mourning.
What did upset her, though, was the group of civilians, the Slayer’s mother included, who were currently in the base’s small morgue. Riley had brought them in without her authorization. She would allow it, but she would talk to him later about the breach of security he had caused.
Joyce and Willow were weeping openly as they stood in the room just outside the morgue chamber where the body was being kept. Xander’s face was red and puffy, but he tried to look strong for Willow. Anya stood by looking anywhere but at Xander. She wasn’t crying, not that he had expected her to. She wasn’t sure why she had to be there at all. It was only her feelings for Xander and the fact that he was clearly hurting that made it possible for the ex-demon to brave the Initiative’s HQ.
"I always knew this could happen," Joyce sobbed, leaning against Giles, who wasn’t handling himself much better. "I ju- just…"
"It doesn’t make it any easier," Riley said from his place beside her. "This won’t mean much to you, but at least you know the truth." Joyce looked at him, confused. "I lost an agent tonight and his family will never know what really happened. They can’t." Joyce looked away, and for a moment Riley said nothing more.
"Are you ready?" he asked kindly. Joyce nodded mutely and they turned toward the double doors.
Pain. There was so much pain, but it was beginning to ease even as she became aware of it. The pain faded from one area and then another, gradually receding from sharp agony to dull ache.
Buffy Summers opened her eyes to darkness. She turned her head from side to side, confused. Where am I?
She tried to sit up, but found her body wouldn’t respond. The effort caused a sharp pain in her back that began to fade even as she gritted her teeth against it. She raised her arms or tried to. Only one responded and she began to feel around, exploring her surroundings. She was in a box. A coffin?! NO!
Her hand flew to her face and she felt there for what she was afraid she would find. No fangs. No ridges. That was good. The memory of the time they had all been drawn into the nightmare realm was still with her, stronger than she would have admitted, even to Giles. She had never told him that, for a time, she had had recurring nightmares about being turned.
Apparently, it hadn’t happened. So, why was she in a coffin? None of the possibilities were very comforting especially since she couldn’t remember what happened. There was a vague memory of a battle, of Riley and Giles and… She couldn’t think. She had to get out.
Buffy began to pound on her prison with her functioning arm. After a moment, the other began to work if only partially. It flopped brokenly at her side when she tried to move it, but it moved. She put several dents in the roof of the box before it suddenly slid away above her. She blinked stupidly, wondering how that had happened.
Then she focused on the shocked faces above her. Her friends, her mother, Riley, and Giles, were all there gathered around, staring at her uncomprehendingly. Her mother looked terrified and stepped back.
Her hand went back to her face, terrified of what she would find. "Mirror," she croaked, looking at Giles. "Re-refle-" She broke off in a series of wracking coughs. Giles didn’t understand at first, but then his face cleared and he reached into his pocket for a small compact. Normally the sight of him bringing out what Xander jokingly referred to as a portable vampire detector would have raised some eyebrows, but no one commented or even seemed to notice. He held it out to Buffy and she took it.
"I look terrible," she said, studying her reflection, "but at least I’m there." The others got it then, and the realization of what she had been afraid of seemed to loose them from their shock. Questions began to pour out of them, too fast for Buffy to comprehend, let alone answer. "Stop!" she said as loudly as she could. The babble stopped. "What. Is. Going. On?"
"That’s what we’d like to know, Buff," Xander answered, staring down at her. "How do you feel?"
"Like a very big demon stomped on me… repeatedly." She tried to sit up and still couldn’t. The implications struck her then. "I can’t move. Giles. Mom. I can’t move." Joyce overcame her fright and rushed to her daughter’s side.
"Don’t worry, honey. We’ll get you taken care of." She looked up at Riley and discovered him already moving toward the door.
"Get a doctor in here fast!" he ordered the guard at the door.
A few moments later a white-coated man in his thirties rushed through the door, closely followed by Walsh. Both stopped and stared when they saw Buffy. Walsh turned and called for reinforcements in case the Slayer proved to be a threat of some sort.
"She’s not a vampire," Xander called. "We already checked." The doctor approached her hesitantly and began to examine her. The others moved back out of the way.
"I don’t understand it," he said after a moment. "You were dead. I signed the death certificate." He looked over at Walsh, who was waiting impatiently. "Heart beat is a bit fast and BP is elevated, but I think that’s understandable. She has a variety of injuries, but I’ll need x-rays to determine the full extent of them."
"I hurt all over," Buffy commented, in case the doctor was interested in her thoughts. He had acted as if he were preparing for an autopsy during his examination. This guy needs to brush up on his graveside manner
, she thought morbidly.
One hour later the doctor moved the machinery away from the bed she’d been moved to.
"I don’t understand. Based on your injuries when you were brought in, you should be dead, but you’re not. What’s more, the injuries you have are mending at an astounding rate."
"I know." Buffy raised the arm that only a short time before had refused to respond. At her request, the doctor had set it. And the break had healed in a matter of minutes. Her back was taking longer, but the x-rays showed that it was mending. She could already move her legs a little. The doctor had set other breaks and given her painkillers. Beyond that, he had said there was nothing he could do but wait.
He didn’t want to interfere with the rapid healing process. Walsh had tried to evict her friends and mother, but Buffy had protested strenuously, and they had refused to leave her alone. Now they entered the examination room and waited for the doctor’s report.
"At this rate," he said. "She’ll be fine by morning."
"How?" Walsh demanded. "How is she doing it?" The doctor shrugged.
"She isn’t," Xander said in a quiet voice, a thoughtful look on his face.
"You know something Xander, I can tell." Everyone looked around to see Anya looking at her boyfriend intently.
"Xander?" Giles tone was incredulous and hopeful at the same time. Xander took a moment to be offended by the incredulous part. He had knowledge on occasion. The moment passed and he moved to Buffy’s bedside where her mother was already seated, squeezing her hand and generally being supportive.
"Cin-an-ev," he said softly. Buffy focused on him, her eyes widening for a second before closing as she realized what he meant and what had happened to her.
"Cin-an-ev," she repeated and nodded quietly.
"Who or what is Cin-an-ev?" Her mother demanded. Giles stepped forward, suddenly intent.
"The entity you encountered in New York last summer. You said he escaped from his imprisonment. What does he have to do with this?"
Xander looked at Buffy and then looked down. Buffy wouldn’t meet Giles’ eyes when he looked at her. "What happened?" he repeated.
"He said," Xander began hesitantly, "that he wanted to thank Buffy for freeing him. She was the one who broke the box during the fight. Punched where Faith was hiding it under her jacket."
"This much you told me. His release was accidental, though. Even the NYPD officers who were fighting alongside you said as much." Riley and Walsh looked at each other then at the Slayer and her friends. This was all news to them.
"Excuse me?" Riley stepped in, catching their attention. "Cin-an-ev?"
"He’s one of Oberon’s Children," Anya said, as if that explained everything. At their blank looks she shrugged impatiently. "You know, elves, the Fair Folk, Faeries?"
"There are such things?" Walsh suddenly looked very interested.
"Aren’t demons enough?" Riley asked, not sharing his superior’s excitement. Buffy chuckled.
"More than enough, but Oberon’s Children are something completely different. They aren’t like demons. They’re… I don’t know how to describe them."
"What happened?" Giles repeated.
"He wanted to reward me for letting him out," Buffy pursed her lips, not knowing how to continue. "I was pretty out of it and at one point I said that all I really wanted to do was retire. He said he could make that happen. He could make someone else the Slayer. I refused. I told him that wouldn’t be fair to the other person even if, for some reason they wanted it." She looked up at Giles who, despite his concern and confusion was beaming with pride. "Even if I wasn’t the Slayer I couldn’t… I…." She fell silent and Giles looked to Xander. The young man looked nervous, but after a look at Buffy, he continued.
"He said that that kind of sense of responsibility was rare in humans let alone one so young and he would definitely reward her. He said she would be able to retire, when her work was done." Giles stood silent, waiting for Xander to explain. "Then he made with some bad poetry and a light show and vanished."
"Bad poetry?" It was Walsh who asked this time.
"They don’t really have to say anything to work their magic," Anya explained. "Some don’t. But a lot of them like to show off or use their little poems to drop hints about what they’re doing. The rep they have as tricksters is well earned."
"What exactly did he say?" Giles removed his glasses and was looking at both Xander and Buffy intently. "And why didn’t you tell me about this before?"
"There was nothing to be done," Buffy said timidly. "And I was afraid I knew what he’d done. I just tried real hard not to think about it."
"What exactly did he say?" Giles repeated. It was Xander who answered.
"Slayer, you are content as you are and so shall you stay, until the last demon has vanished away. With their curse, so goes my spell. Beyond that point, I wish you well."
Giles stared at him and then at Buffy who still refused to meet his eyes. His jaw worked silently for a moment as the implications sank in. "Good lord. ‘Until the last demon has vanished away’?" Buffy nodded.
"Aren’t vampires very long lived?" Riley asked. "I mean there are some in containment who claim to over a hundred."
"There are some," Giles replied, "that are much older than that, and there are some demons that are thousands of years old, effectively i…"
"Immortal." Buffy drew everyone’s attention with that word. "I’d hoped I was wrong. That I didn’t understand." She looked at her mother and each of her friends in turn, finally settling on Riley. "Lots of demons live until something kills them, however long that may be. If I understand what he did to me, it means that I can’t die until the last demon does."
"Which could be a very long time," Riley realized. "Well..." He forgot what he was going to say and after a moment settled for "wow."
"We’ve met a couple of people who’ve been made immortal," Xander commented. "Don’t be jealous of her," he said looking at Walsh directly, noting the calculating look on the woman’s face. "Without exception they’ve got one goal, to end their lives."
Walsh looked incredulous, so Buffy picked it up. "After a century or two of watching friends and family age and die around them while they stay the same," she swallowed, looking miserable, "unconnected."
"It’s not something one should aspire to," Giles said severely, noticing Walsh’s expression as Xander had.
"I’m sorry I didn’t tell you all about this. I’m sorry, I just wanted things to be normal, or as normal as possible."
"I understand Buffy," Giles put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed gently. The others nodded, stunned by the implications, but not for the moment, letting them sink in.
"I’d be lying if I said I understand," her mother spoke for the first time. "Maybe I don’t see all the implications, but I’m just glad to know you’re job won’t take you away from me." She moved forward and hugged her daughter carefully, mindful of her injuries. "You have no idea what it felt like being told you were dead, coming down here to see you… your body." She sobbed and held on tighter. "If what you’re saying is right then I don’t have to be afraid of that again." No one spoke for a long time, letting the two have a moment of privacy.
"So what do we do?" Willow was the first to break the silence. "This isn’t something that’s going to hurt her immediately, and like Buffy’s mom said, there are good things about it."
"I would suggest research," Giles fell back on what he knew best. "In the meantime, I see no reason why you can’t resume life as normal. This is not, as Willow points out, an immediate problem, and I hesitate to make any assumptions about your ah…condition, until we have more facts."
"It might be useful to run some tests here," Walsh spoke up. "Try to determine what was done to her in a strictly medical sense."
"You’re not turning her into a guinea pig," Xander informed her without even turning to face her.
"That wasn’t my intention," she lied smoothly, "but I can offer expertise in fields beyond the supernatural. Medicine, psychology and biochemistry are also legitimate forms of research." Giles nodded grudgingly.
"Yes, yes they are. My apologies if I misjudged you."
"Accepted Mr. Giles. There’s no rush if you wish to think about it." There was also no point in trying to keep the Slayer there. She wasn’t likely to leave town and the tests she wanted to run would be much easier with a willing participant. As the Slayer’s friends had pointed out, there was time.
NOT THE END