Disclaimers, etc., in first chapter
Xander’s leg was burning from exertion, and the pain was almost unbearable. But he ground his teeth and set his foot and beheaded another zombie. Swing and cut. Swing and cut. It was monotonous, but he couldn’t let his mind wander. He had to concentrate.
“Does anybody else hear that?” Allison called.
Xander blinked a few times and cocked his head.
“Not me,” Dawn yelled from the opposite end of the roof.
“Nothing,” confirmed Dean.
“It’s like a… sheet flapping, over and over,” Allison told them.
Xander was about to ask a question when, with no warning, the head of a zombie in front of him exploded. Then one in front of Luis, and one by Allison, and over the next few seconds seven more, all at the front of the line. And then Xander thought he did hear something. He risked a glance behind them and saw, in the distance, a searchlight was slowly approaching.
“Hold your places!” Xander yelled. “Don’t move left or right! Keep sightlines clear!”
“Sightlines?” Sam asked.
“Behind us,” Xander replied, his energy increasing. He could almost feel the pain bleeding from his leg as his adrenaline surged. “Cavalry is on the way!”
He saw the heads around him swivel, then return to the problem in front of them. A moment later, heads started blasting apart again.
“God, I love snipers!” Dean yelled.
Within a few minutes the helicopter was approaching the mall, and they were starting to get excited. Even Luis, who hadn’t said anything since Erica’s death, seemed to be excited.
Soon, the helicopter was hovering above them, the sniper was picking off zombies left and right, and three soldiers descended on zip lines to the roof and started picking off zombies. After a couple of moments, they moved forward far enough and had thinned the herd enough that they the group could take a short break.
Another soldier slid down the line and approached Xander and executed a smart salute.
“Permission to get you guys the hell out of here, sir?”
Xander grinned. “Permission granted. I am so fucking glad to see you, Ri.”
Riley nodded. “Time for that in the chopper.” He made a hand signal and someone in the chopper rode down to the rooftop a metal basket. “We can take you up one at a time. Where are the rest of your people?”
Xander shook his head. "This is it."
“Six out of twelve?” Riley asked.
Xander nodded. “Two in the last day.”
Riley shook his head. “That sucks, but at 50%, you’re doing a hell of a lot better than most.”
“We got lucky, sort of,” Xander said. “The guy who started this whole goddamn thing was holed up here with us, and he was keeping the zombies out for days.”
“The guy who started it?” Riley asked. He pointed to Dawn, and the soldier hooked her into the basket and they slowly started their ascent.
Xander nodded. “He’s dead now, but we’ve got pictures of all his writings and everything. I’m hopeful that Dawn, Giles and Willow can come up with… something.”
“Giles isn’t around,” Riley said.
“What? What happened?”
Riley shook his head. “Nothing bad. All travel to and from the continent was shut down about a day before you got the care package. He’s fine. He’s pulling his hair out with worry, but he’s fine.”
Xander nodded. The soldier came back from the chopper, and Riley pointed to Allison. The man nodded and moved toward her, when Dean yelled out in pain.
Immediately, Xander and Riley had their guns up, but they were too late. They looked over, and a crippled, but not dead zombie, had dragged itself to the edge and bitten the first thing it came to – Dean’s ankle. With the soldiers present, he had gotten complacent, and too comfortable, and this was the result. Dean stabbed it in the head, killing it. Xander could see the blood drain from his face, though, and knew that it had bit through his pants and socks, and gotten to the flesh.
“No,” said Sam, dropping to his knee and rolling up Dean’s pant leg. The wound there was not severe, but it broke the skin.
“Goddammit!” Xander yelled. He turned his gun on the crowd and wasted five bullets and five zombies.
“It’s okay,” Dean said, placing his hand on his brother’s shoulder. Sam looked up at Dean, tears in his eyes. “It’s okay. We all knew this could happen. You guys… you’ll make it out, and you’ll live long healthy lives. It’s okay.”
“Like hell it is,” Riley said, calmly. He signaled to the soldier who was operating the basket, and the young man called up to the chopper with his radio.
“What?” Xander asked.
Riley smiled at him, and walked over to Dean. “Your life or your leg?”
“What?” Dean asked.
“Choose!” Riley said. “Your life or your leg?”
“Life!” Sam said, standing up. “His life.”
The soldier jogged over and pulled Dean down so he was sitting, then tied a tourniquet under his knee. They helped Dean stand again. The soldier led him to the basket, and Sam moved to follow, but Riley stopped him.
“You’ve got a cure?” Xander asked.
“Not a cure,” he said. “A way to stop the infection from spreading. Do we know his blood type?”
“A-negative,” Sam said. “I’m also his type, if that’ll help.”
Riley shook his head. “We’ve got a supply up in the chopper.” He called the blood type into his radio, and this time the basket came back down empty.
“What are they doing to my brother?” Sam asked.
“Brother, huh? You guys the Winchesters?” Riley asked. Sam nodded. “Heard about you guys. They’re going to cut off your brother’s leg below the knee. He’s lucky it was an ankle bite, any higher and we’d have to take the whole leg.”
“What the hell can stop a zombie infection?” Xander asked.
“Slayer’s blood, mixed with epinephrine,” Riley said. They heard, a moment later, screams of pain coming from the helicopter, and Sam’s head snapped up. “Unfortunately, we can’t render the patient unconscious initially, it slows the heart too much. He’s going to be in a lot of pain for the next five minutes.”
“I need to be up there,” Sam said.
“In a minute,” Riley said. “You don’t want to see it.”
“But Dawn –”
“Dawn’s smart enough to look away,” Riley said.
“And a pretty girl is sometimes a better anesthetic than a brother,” Xander said. “I imagine especially so in Dean’s case.”
“What, um…” Sam started. “What are they going to do with the leg?”
Riley frowned. “Usually we just… toss them. Is that… I mean, do you object –”
“Uh, no,” Sam said. “Just… warn me?”
Riley nodded and spoke into his radio. When the time came, Sam turned his head, and was spared the sight of a human leg – Dean’s leg – spinning out from the helicopter and over the edge of the mall.
The basket lowered, and Sam and Luis hooked themselves into it and rode up to the helicopter. Luis, Xander was happy to see, was trying to keep Sam’s spirits up.
“You the guy who sent us the food, right?” Allison asked, walking up to them.
“Allison, this is Riley. Riley, Allison. She’s a Slayer.”
Riley shook her hand. “Pleasure to meet you, miss.” He turned to Xander. “Slayer, huh? I always knew you were a cheater. No wonder you held out.”
“I wanted to thank you for the food and supplies,” she said. “You saved our asses.”
“Glad I can help.”
“Xander smiled at her. “You take the next trip, Riley’s gonna help me up.”
Allison nodded and headed back towards the chopper.
“Her dad died today,” Xander said. He looked at his watch. “Well, yesterday, I guess.”
“A lot of people lost their fathers.”
Xander nodded. “How’s the world?”
Riley frowned. “I’ll leave that for when we get back to camp.”
Riley smiled. “About ready to take my head off for not coming to get you sooner. Sorry about that, by the way. We just couldn’t spare the resources until right now.”
“I understand,” Xander said. “It sucks, but I understand.”
Riley nodded and pointed to the basket. “Our ride’s here.”
Xander smiled at him. “Thanks for coming personally, Riley. It means a lot.”
“It’s an honor, Xander,” he said, smiling. Xander allowed his friend to help him walk over to the basket. He helped secure Xander into the basket.
“I got a few orders to pass out down here,” Riley said. He leaned over and pushed a button, sending the basket back up to the chopper.
As the basket rose to the chopper, he heard Riley shouting some commands. A few seconds later, the helicopter blades drowned out everything, but he saw some explosions in the mass of zombies. Allison helped him into the chopper, where Sam was sitting next to his brother, who was mercifully unconscious, and whose right leg was missing below the knee. The floor of the helicopter was damp in places where they’d washed out the blood. It smelled heavily of ammonia. Xander was careful not to slip. He hobbled over and sat next to Dawn and watched the basket return to the roof.
And for the first time in thirteen days, he relaxed.
* * * * *
The helicopter landed roughly, jolting Xander out of a nap he hadn’t realized he was taking. A group of medics was waiting for them. About half of them took Dean on a stretcher off to a tent, and the rest took the group aside for a quick check-up. The medics took them, individually, into a tent and had each of them strip, to check them over for bites.
An hour later, showered and cleanly clothed, they were reunited in a tent that looked like it was used for military briefings. After they waited for a few minutes, Riley showed up.
“Okay,” he said, “I don’t have much time, but Xander and Dawn are friends, so I wanted to personally tell you guys what’s going to happen. In about an hour, we’re going to chopper you out to Detroit, and you’re going to board a jet. It’s gonna fly you west, I’m not sure exactly where. Oregon, maybe, or possibly Northern California. You’ll find out once you’re there.
“Once you get wherever you’re going, they’re going to be splitting everyone up into groups based on skill sets. Now you guys know each other, so if you want, I can have them keep you together as a group.” Riley looked at them.
They all looked at each other, and nodded.
“Yeah,” Xander said. “We’d like that.”
“Oh…” Riley started. “Actually… I just meant them. You and Dawn aren’t leaving yet.”
Riley shook his head. “Buffy should be back within a couple of hours. She and a few other Slayers are off on a mission right now. Anyway, you’re not headed to the same place they are.”
“Why not?” Dawn asked.
“Because some of these decisions are made above my pay grade,” Riley said. “This one, I have no control over. You guys are headed for San Diego.”
“And they can’t come with?” Xander asked.
Riley shook his head. “Sorry. They tell me there’s no room on your plane. If you want to try to keep in touch, I can find out where they’re going, but that’s about it.”
“I’d like that,” Xander said.
Riley nodded. “Sam, your brother will be going with you, of course. Actually, with him in your group, you guys should get a pretty sweet gig.”
“You say that,” Sam said, “you’re not the one who’s gonna have to race him over an obstacle course.”
The others laughed, and Riley knew he was missing something. That was okay, though. They’d all been through something together that he hadn’t.
A large black man wearing BDU’s walked into the tent and nodded to Riley.
“Okay,” Riley said. “Sergeant Doakes here is going to take the rest of you guys to the mess tent. Food and drinks, have as much as you want. Sam, if you’d like to check on your brother, the sergeant can take you to him.”
“Thanks,” Sam said. Sam, Luis and Allison shook Riley’s hand and followed the sergeant out of the tent, and Xander immediately turned to Riley.
“How bad is it?”
Riley licked his lips and led them out of the tent. “It’s bad. Really bad. We took too long getting organized, and had too much trouble clearing Slayers for transport into the US. Slayers and all sorts of other mystical people, really. Willow’s witches had the damnedest time getting here. She’s also fine, by the way.”
“I know,” Xander said.
Riley cocked his head. “How?”
Xander shrugged. “I’d know if she wasn’t.”
Riley shook his head, but didn’t press further. “Anyway. She’s in Texas assisting a group we’ve got there. They’re trying to hold the Rio Grande, stop these guys from spreading.”
He led them into yet another tent, the main feature of which was a map of the United States, Canada and Mexico. Huge swaths of the map were covered in red, with little pockets here and there of white. There was a rough separation line at the Rocky Mountains, at the Mexican Border, and, in the South, along the Appalachian Mountains, though that had started to bleed a bit.
Riley nodded to a young man in the tent, and said “Cincinnati.”
The man nodded, picked up a red marker and colored over the city.
“This is what they’ve taken?” Dawn asked. “This is where… zombies are in control?”
“Yes,” said Riley. “The small white dots are areas where we know there are, or were, people holding out. I’m sure a number have fallen, but there are also a lot who are doing pretty good.”
For the next hour, Riley explained the situation to them, with frequent interruptions from subordinates. He explained supply lines, from food to fuel to ammunition and construction materials. He showed them force allocations, weak points and points that could hold with minimal support for extended periods of time.
“I don’t understand,” Dawn said, interrupting Riley while he was talking about troop movements.
“Which part?” he asked.
“The whole thing,” Dawn said. “I mean, I understand what you’re saying, all the specifics, all the… everything. I don’t understand why.”
Riley frowned. A young man entered the tent and handed Riley a small piece of paper. He nodded at the man, and stood up. “The long and short of it is this,” he said. “America as we knew it is gone. It’s been overrun with the undead, and our people were trying to run, but have nowhere to go. We’ve got forces fighting, but we lack leadership who knows what the hell they’re talking about, leadership with real experience.
“You guys are going to San Diego because that’s where operations are going to be run from. You’re going for your expertise, and my job, in the short time I’ve got you, is to get you up to speed.” He held up a hand to delay their questions. “Excuse me, for just one minute.”
Riley stepped out of the tent, and Dawn and Xander looked at each other.
Xander nodded, and Dawn said what they were both thinking.
“I have to pee.”
* * * * *
Buffy Summers hopped out of the cab of the 5-ton truck she was riding in. She looked up and saw Riley Finn standing in the beams of the headlights, his fists against his hips and his elbows spread wide, like a superhero. Buffy rolled her eyes.
“Never gets old, Ri,” she said. “For you.”
Riley smiled and approached her. He brushed some blood matted hair away from her forehead. “You’re cut,” he said.
“I’ll be fine in the morning.”
Riley nodded. “Listen, I know you’re tired,” he said, eliciting a groan from her.
“Jesus, Riley, we’ve been on the go for the last twenty hours. I know I’m a slayer, but even we need some sleep! Hell, Brandi nearly fell asleep at the wheel. And how bad would that be, if we crashed and ruined all your pretty explosives?”
“Full haul?” he asked.
Buffy rolled her eyes again. “Yeah, as full as we could get it.”
“Well,” he said. “As I said, I know you’re tired, but there’s one last thing I need you to look at in the command center. I promise, this will be the last time I do this to you.”
Buffy sighed and let her shoulders droop.
“Fine,” she said. “Let’s get it over with.”
Riley led her to the command center tent and swept back the flaps dramatically.
He deflated a little as Buffy looked at him oddly and walked inside.
“Okay,” she said. “What’s this thing I need to –”
“Hey Riley,” Xander said, hobbling into the tent. “You guys really need to –”
Buffy cut him off mid sentence by tackling him to the ground, smothering him with kisses and demanding promises of never being apart like that ever again – promises he had no time to make with her attentions.
After almost a minute of this, she finally rolled off of him and frowned at his arm and leg. She was about to ask what happened to him when Dawn poked her head in.
“Is it safe?” she asked, only to have a Buffy-shaped rocket launch itself at her as well.
“Safe from what?” Xander asked as Riley helped him up off the floor.
“Seeing the two of you get it on right here, I would imagine,” Riley said.
As soon as she was done mugging her sister, Buffy accepted Riley’s help up as well, then picked her sister up off the floor. She stood between them, her arms hooked between theirs, beaming at Riley.
“Okay,” Riley said, glancing at his watch. “Your plane doesn’t leave for another five hours or so, why don’t you guys grab some shuteye.”
“Plane?” Buffy asked.
“You didn’t tell her?” Xander asked.
Riley shook his head. “Feel welcome to take that job from me, though, since I get to give people good news all the time.”
“I will, thanks,” Xander said, ignoring the sarcasm. He turned to Buffy and smiled. “We’re going to San Diego.”
“We? As in all of us?” she asked.
Xander nodded. He turned back to Riley. “When are you joining us?”
Riley smiled. “I um. I’m not, actually.”
“What? I thought you said –”
“I said it’s for people who are going to lead. Lead the people. I’m a leader of soldiers, not civilians.”
“But you could –” Dawn started.
Riley shook his head. He pointed to the map. “We’ve targeted about two dozen locations across the country. Places that are easy to hold. A couple dozen men, a lot of ammunition, food supplies, and these are places that could hold out for years.”
“Oh my God,” Buffy said.
Riley continued, ignoring her. “We um. We’ve figured out that the zombies are attracted by both scent and sound. So we take these places, places that are already full of people, and we make as much noise as we can. We go out at all hours of the day and draw them to us.”
“But that’s a death sentence,” Xander said. “For anyone in there, people can’t sustain that for that long it’s –”
“It’s so that our society can live on,” Riley said. “We’re the distraction. We keep them away from you guys so you can rebuild, re-arm, retool and come in and save our asses. We’re counting on you guys – everyone who’s getting out – you have to grow food, make weapons, you have to… you have to produce so much that you could gorge yourselves, because we’re counting on you to keep us alive. To give us hope.”
“Other countries could –”
“They’re not,” Riley said. “We have no evidence a zombie could survive a trip across the ocean. At the moment, this is seen as an American problem. Mexico has lined up their army on the border, with orders to shoot on sight anyone trying to cross. Canada… well, they’re just as fucked as we are, really. Giles is doing what he can, but the last I heard, even Downing Street wasn’t listening. And if they won’t support us….” He shook his head.
“There are a lot of countries out there that don’t like us, and a lot of people who think we deserve this. But we’re going to survive this, and you guys are going to make that happen. And you’re going to come in and you’re going to save us,” he said, swallowing hard, his eyes damp. “Because I don’t want to die. Not like this. Not like your friend’s girlfriend, or that girl Allison’s dad. And not like –. Not like my Sam did, either.”
Buffy felt Xander grab her arm, looked at him and shook her head. It was the first she’d heard of Sam’s death.
Riley sniffed a little and wiped his eyes on his sleeve. “So you guys have to make it work, okay? You just… you have to.”
Xander placed his hand on Riley’s shoulder. “We will.”
Buffy took Riley’s hand in hers and squeezed gently. He looked down at her hand, and then into her eyes. “Faith,” she said.
“Faith?” Dawn asked.
Buffy licked her lips. “Faith’s been running around the country and coming back with pages and pages of notes. She never told me what she was doing.”
“She was doing recon for us. She volunteered. She’s actually going to be on my team. For about the last week, she’s had the priority on gas rations.”
“Where are you guys going to be?” Dawn asked.
Riley pointed to a little white spot outside Atlanta. “My own private Alamo,” he said.
“Don’t say that,” Xander said.
“Why not? A small group of people holding out in a small fort, massively outnumbered by a group that can just send wave after wave after wave…”
“And everyone there died,” Xander said. Riley said nothing.
“Hey,” Xander said, shaking Riley’s shoulder. Riley turned and looked at him. “We’re gonna come for you. We’re going to beat these monsters, and we’re going to come for you. We’re Scoobies, and we take care of our own.”
Dawn stepped up to him. “And that includes you.”
Riley swallowed and nodded. “Come on,” he said. “Let me show you to your bunks.”
They stepped out of the tent, Riley and Buffy walking a little ahead of Dawn and Xander.
“Why us?” Buffy asked.
“Why you what?”
“You said we’re picked to be leaders. Why us? Why not Giles or Willow, or… anyone else?”
“Willow’s on the list,” Riley said. “But they’ve deemed that, at the moment, she’s too valuable in the field. Also, they’re a little afraid of her.”
Riley shrugged. “The ones who make the decisions. The ones who tell me what to do. You know. ‘They.’”
Buffy rolled her eyes.
“Anyway, Giles was on the list, but we can’t get to him. And you guys, well… your name carries a lot of weight, Buffy. The people who know, know who you are and what you’ve done. And they respect that.”
“They didn’t see me the last year or two in Sunnydale.”
“No, but your friends did. And they stuck around.”
“And what about them?” she asked, nodding at Dawn and Xander. “Why do they get a golden ticket?”
“They thought you wouldn’t cooperate if Dawn wasn’t either with you or evacuated somewhere safe. And Xander… he keeps you grounded. More than anyone else, he keeps you connected to the world. Lets you remember what you’re fighting for. Always has.”
“’They’ think that?” Buffy asked.
Riley shook his head. “No, I do. ‘They’ said that if he gets too fed up with the bullshit, he’ll just go out and get together a bunch of people and do things himself, and probably do it better anyway.”
Buffy slid her arm into his and leaned her head on his shoulder. “We won’t leave you out there. You’re one of us.”
Riley stepped up to a tent in a remote section of the camp and pulled back the flap. “The Hotel Finn,” he said. “Your plane leaves in about five hours. I’ll come get you when it’s time.”
Buffy gave him a hug and stepped into the tent. Xander patted him on the shoulder and stepped in as well. Dawn stepped up, and Riley dropped the tent flap.
“Not you,” he said. He draped his arm over her shoulder. “You don’t want to be in there tonight.”
Buffy smiled at Xander and leaned up to kiss him, and sighed contentedly as he wrapped his arms around her. “So really,” she heard Dawn say as Riley led her away from the tent. “Why did you think I’d find that banana thing funny?”