"Snug as a bug in a rug," Xander smiled coldly as he peered through the scope that Yaz had made him. It was probably the best of its design in the world. Not only did it have the standard night vision over a range of approximately 2,000 yards, not that he was even close to being that good of a shot, it also offered thermal imaging and x-ray vision.
Which, Xander continued to ignore the winds whipping at him as he examined the house before him, made it perfect to see the three men inside the hillside villa. "That makes all six," he muttered before pocketing the lens, face taking on a thoughtful look.
The villa was on Florence’s outskirts, pressed up against the hillside, and supported on a platform of four legs, the front two considerably longer than the rear ones. Xander’s brow furrowed. He could just blast the house with a rocket from here, but that would be over too quickly. He needed them to feel the pain his girl had felt, the fear he’d felt as she’d fallen.
He was an eye for an eye sorta guy. "Sue me," he muttered.
He was a little puzzled why they hadn’t rabbited when they’d discovered he and Faith had lived, but perhaps they figured he’d be too traumatised to do anything or that they were too well hidden to be found. Xander smiled sourly. They were fatally wrong on both counts.
The hill ledge he was on was to the left and about four hundred yards from the target. Xander looked down and then up. It was a starry night and there wasn’t much in the way of cover between him and his target. On the plus side, his targets were in the lounge arguing, no apparent guard set up.
"Ah," he grunted. "To hell with it." Rising, he started down the hill, a few pebbles breaking lose underfoot and bumping down the hill. Xander edged down the hill until he was about a third of the way down, and then crept towards the house.
His heart pounded as he dropped to his belly and started to crawl. He was out of eye-view, unless someone looked down. Sweat beaded down his face as he began to hear the house’s occupants’ voices raised in argument. They were speaking some east European language so he couldn’t understand what was being said. Despite that he instinctively knew they had to be discussing him and his friends.
He heaved a relieved sigh as he reached the house itself and crawled under its platform. "Halfway there livin’ on a prayer," he quoted in a hardly needed whisper. Peering around, he found himself in almost total darkness.
A lick of the lips followed. As a kid, he’d always been nervous about the dark, always worried that when he turned his light on in the morning, he’d find his bed infested with snakes. With the passing of time and the discovery of the true horrors that prowled the night, his fears had slowly lessened.
But not died apparently, because this place was giving him the serious heebie jeebies. Forcing his fears down deep, he turned his pencil light on and started work on the platform’s supports, every second seeming to simultaneously stretch on forever and yet pass in an instance.
This had definitely been a crappy idea, he mused as he worked laid on his back, sweat dripping into his eyes, deeply conscious of every creak from the house above him. He winced as something scurried past him in the dark. He didn’t even want to guess what that had been.
Finally though, his work had done. He gulped at the four lights flickering back at him. Four bombs, one fastened to each of the platform supports, surrounding him. Xander shuddered as he shook his head. "I must be freakin’ nuts," he mused before beginning to crawl back out.
The air’s chill was wonderful after the platform’s subterranean claustrophobia, but Xander didn’t have time to stop and enjoy it. Instead he rolled on his front and started back across to his original vantage point overlooking the house. The hairs on the back of his neck crawled with him as he crept back to his original destination, certain that at any moment the villa’s doors would crash open, there’d be a shocked shout, and then his life would end in a blaze of gunfire.
Despite his most pessimistic fears he made the ledge. Once there, he ducked under the cover and watched the house for a second before pulling out a rocket launcher and readying it. Then he pressed his detonator.
It sounded like a thunder splitting the sky in half or the first shudder of an earthquake. This though wasn’t a natural explosion but a man-made one.
Dust erupted from the platform’s legs, and then the platform left the ground, the explosions’ force flipping the house onto its side before ponderously starting down the hill, the shocked shouts of the men inside travelling to Xander on the night’s slight wind. Then the building hit a slight ledge and lurched to a stop. Then Xander pulled the trigger on his rocket launcher.
The rocket hissed as it flew out of his launcher, a trail of sparks tailing it en-route to its target. Xander’s ears popped as the rocket slammed into the house, a fireball briefly illuminating the sky. Assorted debris flew clumsily before rushing back down to crash to the ground in an even more ungainly fashion. Where there had once been a house there now lay a caved-in ruin that somewhat resembled all the photos he’d seen of the London Blitz, smoke smouldering out of a pile of bricks, slates, and glass.
"Game, set, and match," he muttered as he placed the rocket launcher away and rose. Now he best get out of here before the police turned up. And then, Xander grimaced, Faith was going to kill him for running off like this.
"Oh boy," he groaned. Maybe he should just wait for the police…..
Xander crept into the darkened bedroom, relieved that Faith was asleep. He’d be in trouble in the morning, but at least he could get a good night’s-. "Owww!" he winced as a palm slapped him across the back of his neck. "Owww!" Even worse was when his ear was grabbed and twisted.
"You stupid bastard!" Okay, so he was wrong. She was awake. "Where the hell have you been! I -, Tara was worried!"
"You weren’t? Owww!" His question only gained him an extra twist.
"Answer the damn question, Harris!"
"I had to make them pay, they nearly -," he couldn’t say it. "I won’t let anyone get away with attacking us, it sets a precedent."
"But," he groaned as Faith released her pincer-like grip on his ear, "it’s dealt with?" He nodded. "Good," Faith turned towards their bed. "Now, let’s go to bed."
"I’m sorry," after struggling to utter his apology, he found the words tumbling out, "I’m sorry, I should have known better. I made a stupid mistake."
And just like that, the look in his girl-friend’s luminous eyes shut him up. "You’re the biggest dumbass I’ve ever met," Faith said, the softness in her voice belying her harsh words. "The business we’re in, Slayers usually only last nine to fifteen months on average. I’m way over that by now, and that’s ‘cause of you, and Tar’, and even the brat." Faith grinned briefly. "But ya can’t ever tell her that."
"But you’re alright?"
"It’s lucky we’ve got an angel on call, but yeah." There was the slightest tremble in Faith’s answering curved smile. "Five by five, hon." Faith glanced at the bed. "Maybe you could just hold me tonight?"
Xander nodded in understanding. "Sure."
* * *
"Nothing?" Rossi scowled. "We’ve got a file on this priest dating from the day he was born and we can’t find anything?"
Captain Cherna shook his head, the shaven-headed former Vympel operative’s grey eyes stared back impassively at him. But then, it wouldn’t do if the man jumped at his slightest displeasure. He needed men with nerve, men with certain stoniness to them. "I’m afraid not.
However," the man paused as if uncertain how to proceed. Rossi’s impatient gesture got him talking again. "The church and house that were destroyed yesterday, the church that was wrecked was probably the work of the Mithras Quartet. And it’s been reported that the men inside the church were linked to those found in the destroyed house, it’s logical to assume the two explosions were also linked."
"Um," Rossi pursed his lips. The Mithras Quartet were about as subtle as a baseball bat to the face, but like the bat they got the job done. He was under no illusions, he might have the Mithras Quartet out-numbered, but even if he defeated them, he’d almost definitely suffer losses. A wise general always tries to only fight the battles he can win. Avoidance was definitely the key here. "Tell the men to re-double their efforts. We have to have those notes before they do."
"Sir," Cherna nodded. "There’s another problem. There’s rumours Wolfram & Hart have a team in town."
Rossi smiled tightly. His fingers reached automatically for a scar on his left cheek, a memento of a fight with a W&H owned were in the Amazonian rain forests. He’d fought W&H’s servants in Canada's frozen wastelands, Brazil’s steaming rain forests, and Senegal’s unforgiving deserts. He always welcomed a chance to kill some of their demonspawn agents. "Let them come," he whispered. "Let them come."
* * *
"No! No! Please! No! Oh mother Mary! By the saints!"
Elda’s fingers drummed impatiently on the table as the monk’s screams died down to nothing. Even though the monk had finished wailing himself hoarse, he could still smell his sweat, piss, and shit, even over his fear.
As a child of the senior partners he had certain abilities. Unfortunately he didn’t seem to have the ability to force someone to give him information that they didn’t have.
His eyes turned back to the monk chained to the basement’s wall. His robes had been torn from him, his torso covered with welts, cuts, and burns, both his eyes bludgeoned shut, several of his teeth had been pulled out by pliers, leaving his mouth a bloody mess, and his hamstring tendons cut off. Most mockingly of all, nails had been driven through his palms. If he was unfortunate to leave here alive, he’d never walk nor a have pain-free second of life again.
It was most disappointing, he’d thoroughly expected Brother Guido’s co-keeper to be in on the theft, but apparently not. All this time wasted, most disappointing indeed. A thoughtful look on his face, he picked up the hammer. There were other leads of course, but for now he had to tie up this loose end.
Suddenly the hammer was leaving his hand, sailing through the air to smash through the oblivious monk’s head, splattering brains, blood, and skull over the wall.
"That’s one loose end tied," he muttered before rising. Now to tie another.
"That’s it?" Xander nodded as the terrified don finished the cell message. "Well done," he glanced at his watch. "You’ve got fifty-one hours to get out of Italy. And remember, you’re retired." He hung up and looked towards his companions. "My contact-."
"The one who set us up?" Faith queried.
"Yes," Xander raised a hand at Faith’s protest. "I know, but we don’t have any connections over here. And trust me, I scared him straight." Xander sighed as Tara opened her mouth. "No, Tara. You don’t want to know the details, trust me on this."
"Where are we heading?" Kennedy asked as she rose from her seat in the roadside café.
"Apparently the monk has been planning this for some time," Xander replied. "He’d rented a house two months ago in his deceased mother’s name."
"And no-one’s caught that yet?" Faith arched an eyebrow as he threw down a bunch of notes on the table. "Smells like a trap to me."
"The d-," Xander caught himself, "my contact said he’d reserved it under his mom’s maiden name. I guess everyone’s checking out his actual family or reservations only made in the last few days."
"Why hasn’t he rabbited out of the city?" demanded Kennedy.
"Apparently, he had a boat coming to smuggle him out but the Vatican and W&H responded too quickly, and he couldn’t risk leaving. He probably figures his best chance is waiting them out." Xander shoved the door open and strode out into the cobbled back-street.
Just as he stepped out, a pair of cars pulled up in a screeching halt, blocking his car in. "What is this Harris?"
"I don’t know, Faith," he replied to his girl-friend’s mutter with one of his own. "Too amateurish for the Vatican, Wolfram & Hart, or the Mafia though."
"The Mafia?" He heard Faith’s palm slapping her head. "You’ve pissed them off haven’t you?"
"That’s not important," Xander evaded, eyes fixed on the two carloads of men advancing on them from the left and right. Ten of them, shouldn’t be a problem. Not unless they pulled guns or something.
"You dare intrude on the great Armageddon!" screamed the leader, spittle flying from his corpulent lips, jowls wobbling in outrage as he waddled towards Xander. "Those that are our gods should be-."
"Idiot." Xander interrupted the man with a finger jab to the throat. He shook his head as the gurgling fanatic fell to the cobbles, face purpling. What sort of whack jobs willingly worshipped the end of the world?
Even Hulkamania was preferable.
A shocked silence followed his attack. And then chaos erupted, the remaining nine men surging forward.
Xander caught the first with a kick to the knee, the sound of cracking bone lost in the general melee. He ducked under a right hook, before grabbing his opponent’s arm and yanking him towards him while hooking his leg behind his attacker’s. Then he slammed his palm into his attacker’s chest and let go of his arm, the man floundered backwards then tripped over Xander’s out-stretched leg before crashing to the ground, head bouncing off the hood of the nearest car.
Warrior’s instinct had Xander dropping into a crouch as a third man threw a punch from the left. Xander’s swung an elbow, sinking it deep into the man’s groin. Xander heard the man’s sharp intake of breath as he doubled up and Xander himself rose, his knee cracking into the man’s jaw like a cue hitting a billiard ball.
The man crumpled soundlessly to Xander’s feet. Another lunged at him, Xander blocked his first punch on the shoulder before sidestepping and catching the man with a clothesline to the chest. The man grunted as he left his feet and flew through the air, hitting the car ass-first and sliding to the ground. The man put his hands on the cobbles and started to push up but Xander’s foot to his face put paid to that.
Looking around, he saw the rest of their attackers had hit the ground. He grimaced as he saw the café owner on the phone. "Let’s get out of-." He stopped at Faith’s disapproving look. "What?"
"The Mafia?" Faith shook her head. "You talked to the mafia? Jesus, Xan, you can’t trust those sons of bitches!"
Xander sighed. "Just get in the car. You can tell me off on the way there."
"Who do you think they are?" Kennedy asked as she stepped over a groaning body.
"Probably some death-cult or something," Faith replied before shooting him an unfriendly look. "The Mafia? Have you never seen ‘The Godfather’?"
Xander sighed. "Can you nag me on the way there?"
"Sur-," Faith’s features contorted. "Hey! I do not nag, mister!"
"My mistake," Xander murmured.
"Easy one to make," Tara agreed.
"Preachin’ to the choir," Kennedy muttered.
The house was a nondescript bungalow in one of the city’s more run-down areas, the single-storey building’s roof thatched, walls crumbling, and dirty windows cracked. The garden in front of it was unkempt, wild flowers and weeds dominating the uncut lawn. Xander peered around. There was an air of peaceful normality around the area, children running in the streets while wrinkled faced grannies watched them.
They didn’t have much here, but they were happy. Which was the important thing.
"There doesn’t seem to be any men observing the house," Faith reporting. "Certainly no cars less then ten years old, nothing to suggest the house is under surveillance."
"Yeah," Xander nodded. "You remember what the priest looks like from his photo?"
"Yeah," Faith nodded.
"Good, we’re going in, doing the lost tourist bit," Xander glanced over his shoulder, "Tara, you and Kennedy stay here, four at once will be suspicious. You’ve got the radio if trouble rears its ugly head."
"Sure," the witch agreed, scooting into his driver’s seat as he vacated it.
Xander pulled out a map as he started across the cobbled road, Faith’s hand in his hand. Eyes flitted their way, suspicious eyes unused to having strangers in their midst. "Natives are friendly," Faith grunted.
"Yeah," Xander nodded. "I noticed that. Could just be a closed community’s usual unfriendliness to strangers. Or that they’ve heard about you."
"Funny fucker," Faith scowled before turning serious. "Or it could be something else."
"Yeah," he agreed.
"Only one way to find out." As they made it up the gravelled path Xander glanced at the house’s fragile looking door with just the tiniest suggestion of wood-rot around the edges. "I’m assuming you could kick it down if you had to?"
"Kick it down?" Faith snorted. "Shit, even Kennedy could manage that job."
"Okay," Xander nodded as he lifted the map to his face to cover what he was about to say. "If the monk answers the door and I say San Lorenzo, get him inside as fast as you can, okay?"
"If he come out waving a gun do I have to wait for you to tell me or not?" Faith snarkily asked.
"Then, god help us," his fist thudded into the door, "use your initiative."
"Funny guy," Faith snarled.
"I could have an act off Broadway," Xander retorted. "Instead I’m with you clowns." On his sixth knock the door crept open perhaps six inches.
The olive-skinned speaker was short and balding with watery eyes and a furtive air. And a perfect match for the photograph of the thief. "Hello,"
Xander spoke slowly, carefully enunciating every word like every American tourist he’d ever seen while discreetly sliding his foot against the door frame, "we’re tourists and we’re lost," he shook the map for emphasis. "I was wondering if you could give us directions to San Lorenzo?"
He’d barely got the ‘San’ out when Faith was barrelling past him. The former monk’s mouth had barely begun to open when the brunette’s forearm crashed into his chest. The thief let out a gasp as he flew backwards, sailing over the room’s solitary sofa to crash in a heap on the ground.
The thief had barely begun to raise his head off the wood floor when Faith had her foot on his chest. "Stay there," she growled.
"That was subtle," Xander remarked as he hurried in, quickly closing the door behind him.
"Worked didn’t it?" Faith rasped.
Xander didn’t directly reply, knowing that doing so would only encourage a reaction. Instead he peered down at the monk. "Let me save you some time. Where’s Gailei’s papers?"
"Papers, what papers?" Faith sobbed hysterically a second before the treacherous holy man could open his mouth.
"I’m willing to pay you two million dollars for them," Xander continued.
"Who are you people!" Faith gasped. She was really getting into character.
Xander crouched down by the priest’s head. "I’m Mithras, the babe’s Faith-."
"Hey," Faith waved down at the restrained priest.
Xander pulled the holdall he’d earlier packed full of bills out of the Always Pocket and dumped it on the sofa, opening it up so the monk could see the money. "This is a one time offer," he warned. "Take the money and tell me where the papers are or I’ll start breaking things."
"Ah Xan," Faith purred. "You said it was my turn to snap limbs."
Faith’s threat was all it took to break the monk. "It’s in the lining of the sofa cushion," the man gasped.
"Wow," Faith shook her head. "Unoriginal much?"
Xander shot his girl-friend an amused look as he tore open the sofa cushion. "It’s not like he’s a veteran at this sorta thing."
"Jesus Xan," Faith snorted. "He’s not even a gifted amateur."
Xander chuckled at his girl-friend’s answer. "Let him up. We’re out of here."
"Sure," Faith removed her foot on the monk’s chest and joined him in backing to the door. "Next plane out of here?"
"Nah," Xander figured the Vatican would have all the airports under guard, "I’ve got other thoughts about that."
"Wait!" whined the monk, now stood upright and by the window. "You have to take me with you!"
Xander grinned coldly at the treacherous holy man. "You’ve got your money, you do what the hell you want with it. Our business is through."
"And ours," a cold voice stated from behind him, "is only beginning."
The hairs suddenly prickling on her neck, Tara pulled away from kissing Kennedy. "Oh goddess," she hissed as she noticed cars screeching in from everywhere, "I best radio the others!"
Kennedy snatched the radio from her. "Get us around the back, I’ll tell them to meet us there!"
"Sure," Tara nodded as she started up the engine.
"Faith! Xander!" Kennedy shouted into the radio. "We’ve got company, meet us around back!"
* * *
"Gee Ken," Faith scoffed as she eyed the two newcomers, "whatever gave it away?"
The duo’s apparent leader was perhaps an inch or two taller than Xand, but lean with swimmer’s shoulders cold, dark eyes and severely cut features. The second was shorter but built like a bull, with glacially grey eyes. "Let us dispense with the formalities," Faith started slightly when the duo’s leader squeezed his 9mm’s trigger, the gunshot deafening in the enclosed room.
She let out a relieved gasp when the monk crumpled to the ground, crimson flowering on his chest. "You didn’t need to do that."
Faith groaned inwardly at the coldness in her man’s voice. Oh boy, trouble. "Actually I did," the duo’s leader corrected, "orders. Plus, it illustrates just what lengths I’ll go to. Now, Captain Cherna will take the papers off you. Any resistance and I’ll put several rounds in the beautiful Miss. Spenser."
"You know what the Vatican will do with this?" Xander growled. "If they ever get to the point where they think they’re strong enough, they’ll try and invade hell."
"That’s not my concern," cold fire burnt in the Vatican’s hired gun’s eyes. "I just obey orders."
"You know, the SS. used that excuse at Nuremberg," Xander replied. "People didn’t buy it then. I’m not buying it now."
The Italian’s eyes didn’t shift from Xander. "Cherna, shoot Miss. Spenser in the leg."
"Wait!" Xander raised a hand. "You can have it."
The Italian’s smile was stone-hard. "Cherna, get the papers."
"And what happens to us?" Xander demanded.
"I’d rather we hadn’t run into you," the Italian replied as the thick-set Russian started towards Xander. "The Vatican was only ever interested in the papers and the thief. We’d have gladly not directly encountered you on this mission." The Italian sighed. "As it is, we were told to use whatever force necessary to get the papers. We’ve got them now. As long you don’t resist there’s no need for any further unpleasantries –vaffanculo!"
The moment both soldiers’ gazes snapped towards the window, hypnotically drawn there by the sound of outside gunfire. Xander moved, flinging her the papers as he charged towards the two gunmen. "Faith! Out the back!"
* * *
Tara spun the wheel as she roared around the myriad of streets that turned Florence’s streets into a maze. Pebbles flew up from beneath her screeching tyres as she twisted around a corner, narrowly missing taking a road-sign out. "Jeez!"
"They shouldn’t have left it there," she responded.
"What?" Kennedy half-laughed. "On the pavement?"
Tara grinned shyly at her girl-friend as she rammed on the brakes, the car squealing to a halt just by the house’s back-yard. Her grin turned to a grimace. "Do you hear that?"
"Yeah," Kennedy started out of the car, "we best- ah!"
Tara gasped as a huge figure lunged out from nowhere, catching her girl-friend with a back-hand to the face that sent her somersaulting onto the car roof. Tara’s mouth opened in a spell but before she could utter a word, a fist crashed into her mouth.
* * *
Realising the situation’s dire urgency, Faith quelled her natural impulse to argue she was the one better able to take on two armed men and snatched the papers. Muscles straining, she leapt for the rear exit. As she jumped over the couch, legs tucked into her chest, a hail of bullets hit it, tearing the already threadbare furniture to shreds, its stuffing flying into the taut air.
Heart racing, she kicked the door open and charged through. She had just a half-second to notice the kitchen had the essentials and not much else. A sink, oven, and fridge that had seen better days, a wall-mounted spice rack, and two cupboards that had been lovingly hand-made but were now riddled with rot, and a table sat central to the tiled floor with a trio of chairs around it.
Yet, it was homely for all it was.
And then the outer door crashed open and a fist smashed into her head.
Xander gasped as he leapt forward, the Italian already spinning to face him even as the Russian took pot-shots at his girl. The Italian’s gun had almost levelled when he stepped past it, throwing a tight right to the body.
The Italian grunted as the blow connected, Xander grabbed at his wrist and twisted, the Italian gasped as the gun fell from his hand.
Sensing the Russian charging from behind, scared of firing in case he hit his companion, Xander kept a hold of the man’s wrist while back-heel kicking the Russian in his chest.
Grimacing at the pain reverberating up his leg, Xander caught a left to the head off the Italian. Dazed, he released his grip on the Italian’s now unarmed wrist and stumbled backwards, right into a clubbing blow to the back of the neck. Twisting at the waist, he swung a backwards elbow into the Russian’s face.
"Nyet!" The Russian cried in pain, crimson spurting from the wound as he stumbled backwards.
The Italian cracking a right to his mouth sapped him of any sense of victory.
* * *
Faith had the briefest second to take in her attacker; a tall, stylish dressed Italian with olive skin and slicked back black hair, and then the man was swinging another haymaker.
"Jesus!" Faith grunted as the punch exploded against the side of her head. Despite the pain she managed to barely duck a thrust kick and throw her own right that connected square on the man’s forehead. The ‘man’ just grinned, grabbed her around the throat and flung her into the air.
Faith managed to kick out, her foot smashing into the fashion-plate’s face as she crashed into the spice rack above the cooker, tearing it off the wall. Faith grunted as she crashed into the cooker, her flailing hands snatching hold of a pan that she flung at her attacker.
The advancing figure managed to knock her attack aside but not the kick she caught him in the chest with. That hurt, she heard the bastard grunt.
Then his fist was crashing into her forehead, stunning her. The next thing she knew, the man had her by her neck and was throwing her to the floor, the cooker crashing down on top of her.
* * *
Blood erupted from Xander’s mouth, splattering the window. Swallowing both blood and pain down deep, Xander ducked a follow-up left hook, stepped back and drove his elbow at the Russian’s face, shattering the nose, claret spilling out.
"Ah!" He grunted as the Russian grabbed his arms in a bear-like grip. The Italian grinned before stepping towards him.
And caught Xander’s feet square in his stomach when he launched his legs up, using the Russian’s leverage against him. The man grunted before stumbling to the side, Xander used his momentum to push backwards, sending him and the Russian down onto the sofa.
The back of Xander’s head crashed into the shaven-headed thug’s mouth, spilling blood and teeth. The moment the Russian’s grip slackened, Xander rose, eyes widening as he saw the Italian on one knee, and holding a gun.
Xander leapt across the lounge, crashing into the Italian before he had chance to raise his weapon and aim. "Ahhhh!" Xander ignored the hired gun’s fist clubbing into the side of his face to concentrate on staying on top and biting down on the man’s gun hand, teeth sinking deep.
The moment the Italian released his gun, Xander started punching him in the face. "Ahhhh!" Pain exploded in his lower back when the Russian kicked him there. The shaven-headed powerhouse grabbed his shoulder and threw him off the now bloodied Italian and into the wall.
Xander hit the wall with a thud and slumped to the ground. The grinning Russian charged him as he struggled to his feet. Xander reached into The Always Pocket, but his befuddled mind was just a half-second slow and his reflexes just an inch too sluggish to get him out of the way of a hard right to the forehead.
Head ringing, Xander still had enough instinct left to roll with the punch, leaning away and grabbing the Russian’s forearm before he pulled it back and leveraging the man face-first into the wall.
Spinning around, he turned to face the Italian.
And stopped dead when he found the Italian stood a foot away from him, gun in hand and insanity blazing in his eyes. "Not a single move, Harris," the Italian warned, his earlier composure completely gone. "Get your bitch back in here with those pap-."
* * *
Elda yanked the cooker off the brunette, stamping on her hand as she struggled to her hands and knees before snatching a handful of silky locks and yanking her up. "I thought the Slayer was meant to be someone?" he sneered as he smashed her headfirst into and through the nearest cupboard before lifting her by her throat, pulse throbbing under his fingers, and slamming her through the table.
The Slayer kicked out, but he took the blow on his thigh before snatching her by her hair and beginning to yank her back up. She was a pretty little thing he supposed, at least she would have been before the blood and the bruising, indeed she could have modelled or made herself considerable money as a courtesan.
But as a fighter, he sniffed disdainfully as he examined the limp body. "As a child of the Senior Partners, I was always taught that the Slayer was something special," he punched the girl in her flat belly, "clearly my tutors were in error."
Then gasped as her fingers jabbed into his throat, smashing into his larynx. "Rope a dope, motherfucker!"
A cold rage filled him as he wheezed. He flung the girl up into the air, dust falling from the ceiling as she hit it.
And bounced off it into a drop kick that cannoned into his chest, knocking him back into a workbench by the sink. The girl grinned through her bloody face as she landed in a crouch.
Rage bubbling on his lips, he charged the defiant brunette. The Slayer blocked his first blow on her forearm, but his second, an overhead right, cannoned off her forehead, bursting open a crimson geyser. The girl stumbled to one knee, only just managing to lean away from a knee to the face before he grabbed her glossy mane and flung her at the fridge.
The girl twisted in mid-air, catching the fridge shoulder rather than face-first. He was immediately on her, throwing a blurred combination of fists and feet that had her twisting madly to avoid them. He gasped as she caught him with a butt to the face, but managed to grab the back of her neck and fling her across the decimated kitchen. The girl grabbed hold of a chair as she flew through the air, twisted and threw it at him.
He knocked the chair out of the air and into the outside door, watching as the girl landed by the lounge door. A grin on his face, he advanced on the wounded beauty.
Then she smiled with crooked confidence. "Look at the cooker, asshole." Puzzled, he shot the overturned cooker a look. When he turned back to the Slayer, she had a lighter in her hand. "Gas leak, bitch."
Suddenly she ignited it and dived through the door. "Xan! Down!"
* * *
The house shook to the explosion, the lounge’s ceiling light falling to shatter on the carpet, and the two men Faith’s shout hadn’t ordered to the ground were flung from their feet. Faith hit the floor in a roll, coming up before any of the men, and quickly putting the Vatican’s guns out cold with a couple of well-placed kicks. Hearing the sound of gunfire outside, she grabbed hold of Xander, pulled him to his feet, and started for the back.
"I thought you were mean-, screw that," Xander stared at her, "what happened to you?"
"Wolfram & Hart bad-ass," Faith explained as she opened the door to the kitchen to find everything, including the man himself, was scorched all the way through, barbecued the hard way, the stench of ash and charred flesh hanging in the air. "He tore the cooker out of the wall when he was beating my ass, so I waited until the gas had built up, then I lit it and jumped for the door."
"Smart thinking," Xander praised.
Faith beamed. "Yeah," she winked. "I do okay."
"So that’s it?" Faith queried as Xander pulled out his lighter and set the parchment on fire. She watched, mesmerised, as the flames flickered hypnotically up the page, smoky ash carried away on the slight wind. All that trouble just to burn it. "You’re not even gonna store it in the Always Pocket?"
"No," Xander’s gaze was unusually sombre as he shook his head, "things I normally throw in the Always Pocket for safe-keeping are there only because I can’t destroy them. This I can destroy. It’s too dangerous to risk," Xander paused as the flames licked at his fingers, releasing the last of the paper as the fire engulfed it, "it ever being found." Xander shuddered. "Imagine if it fell into the hands of some crazy who wanted to storm the gates of hell and conquer it."
"Where are we going next?"
Her boy-friend smiled wryly at Tara’s whispered question. "My guess would be on to the next crisis."
"What’s life without the crises?" Kennedy mused.
"Boring as hell," she retorted.
Xander shook his head and chuckled. "Let’s get a move on, we’ve a plane to catch."
* * *
"This is unacceptable!" Illona Costa Biancha managed not to flinch when her master, a horned demon by the name of Izzerial slammed his fist through the desk, splitting it in half with his rage-fuelled power. "We were to have those papers."
"Sire," Ill Costa was relieved when her voice didn’t shake, "those who I sent who returned, have been executed-."
"And please explain why," this time she couldn’t help a flinch and a sob when Izzerial ran the back of his scaled hand down her cheek, "you shouldn’t follow them." Ill Costa’s mouth opened. "Hush." Her jaw clamped shut. "Ah, you at least can obey simple instructions. There is perhaps some hope for you. Perhaps."
She breathed again when the demon pulled his hand away from her face. "I…I thought," she swallowed, "the gates were prophesied are to open-."
"Prophecy is never certain," Izzerial shot her a disgusted look that made her shrivel inside. "You’re on what your fourth body and you still don’t know the basics?" Ill Costa shuddered when the demon touched her again, his fingers sliding up and down her neck, touching at the throbbing vein. "Maybe my first instinct was right, maybe you should be taken to the torture chambers, and when they’re finished your head stuck on a pole in reception as a lesson in the consequences of failure at Wolfram & Hart."
"Noooo," Ill Costa gasped, head shaking in seeming tune with her sweat-drenched body. "I want to understand."
"Then I’ll explain," Izzerial relented. "The prophecy like all these things is a series of events. The right, or in this case the wrong, girl being Called, her surviving various threats, the right man being their Watcher, a strong man except in one respect, an ancient power arising, a foolish love interest leading her into the wrong decision. All these things have to happen, and even if they do." Izzerial paused. "This is not going to happen on our timetable or at our place of choosing. We find it discomforting when things are not happening to our schedule. This paper could have given us control on our terms."
"I…I’m sorry," she managed to stutter.
Izzerial’s smile could have chilled stone. "Yes," the arch-demon nodded. "I believe you are." She whimpered helplessly as Izzerial tousled her hair, a thoughtful expression on his pointed face. "And because of that, because you truly understand the enormity of your failure, and the future consequences, I shall let you live. But," Ill Costa could smell the sulphur on her master’s breath when he leaned in close, near enough so that she was sure that a dozen showers wouldn’t remove its stain, "another mistake and you’ll wish I took your life this time. Understand?" Il Costa managed a terrified nod. "I want to hear the words, otherwise it’s to the basement for you."
The basement. The place where all manner of terrible experiments, depraved indignities, and sadistic torture were visited on those unfortunate to be escorted down there, either those who’d failed W&H or those who’d dare to oppose them. No-body ever returned from the basement. "I..I understand," Ill Costa forced a stutter.
"Good," Izzerial nodded as he stepped back, gaze sweeping over the office he’d demolished in his rage, the shattered table, the ripped out phone, the turned over bookcase, and the smashed window. "You’ll have to clean up in here," he noted.
* * *
"You’re sure?" As he spoke, his eyes scanned his luxuriously furnished apartment, everything in it of the highest quality. Including of course the quite stunning Russian beauty on his bed, her silky white hair billowing under her naked body, cushioning her in a way not even the bed’s satin sheets could manage. "All four of them got on the plane out of Italy and back to the States?" his knuckles clenched the phone as he awaited his subordinate’s reply. The girls were a charm, true beauties, but brought chaos in their wake. And as for him….. On balance he’d rather they left the country without incident. "Splendid! Splendid!" He smiled as his junior confirmed his news. "Ciao."
The moment he’d hung up, he smiled at the woman sprawled on his bed. "I’m sorry for that my dear," he apologised as he poured a glass of Champagne. "Business, you understand of course?"
* * *
"I’m afraid so, Countess."
"Damn!" her fist crashed into the desk. When she’d heard they were in town, she’d thought her luck was changing, that they’d inevitably head up to Rome. But now they’d left, possibly never to return. "Damn!"