The Best-Laid Plans…
The Fulci Fun Centre was a God-awful architectural monstrosity designed to resemble a giant coin-op video game console from the Eighties.
Xander fell in love with it right away. It reminded him of simpler times, of Atari and SuperNES.
Their mission was clear: get to Rosalind, get her free, and punch Josey’s ticket along the way.
Juliet quickly came up with a fairly decent plan. While the rest of the team went full frontal on the bad guys, Papa Starling would sneak in through the back door.
Gideon Starling proudly (and tearfully) submitted to his "little tactical genius" before turning on the rest of their ragtag little bunch.
"You best watch what you do with my little girl while you're hiding the shadows,” Gideon hissed at Nick before turning to Xander. “That goes double for you, Watcher Man."
The boys watched in muted terror as the burly Papa Starling scaled the building by fire escape.
"I think he really liked you. Both of you," Juliet observed cheerfully.
“I don't know about Nicky-boy, but If that man LIKES me, then I'd like to see what he'd do if he hated me." Xander grunted.
“No, you wouldn't," Juliet shrugged. "You really wouldn’t."
“Shouldn’t we be worrying more about the army on our doorstep ready to go defcon one on our ass?” Nick asked.
Xander shook his head. “Nick, if you’re gonna play in the big leagues, then you gotta learn how to prioritize. We can’t do squat about the army, so we ignore it. For now.”
“…and concentrate on Swan and the rest of the Dark Purveyors.” Juliet finished.
“Dark Purveyors!” Nick and Xander automatically chorused.
Juliet blinked. “I know,” she said defensively. “That’s what I said.”
“Oh,” Xander observed. Then he shrugged. “Sorry, force of habit.”
The trio battled their way upstairs through an army of undead.
As he blasted the undead hordes away with his Holy Boomstick, Xander had to give Juliet credit; her almost-pathological need to be cheery and upbeat made it fun to follow her if nothing else.
…not that she didn’t have her issues; as seen when a lurching undead fiend lumbered towards her.
“Juliet, two o’clock!” Xander shouted, quickly blasting off another zombie’s head as she swung around quickly eviscerating the zombie with a single slash.
“Wow, I think that was our math teacher,” Nick observed.
Juliet shrugged. “Guess we don’t have to worry about tomorrow’s calculus test,” she replied.
Xander grimaced. Dear God, he was getting old. There was a time when he'd have rejoiced at the thought of a dead calculus teacher.
Of course, that was before Miss Calendar had been killed.
“It’s good that you guys can find the upside of a local zombie apocalypse.” Xander dryly commented.
Juliet pouted. “I knew these people and they’d totally want us to move on with our lives.”
“Not those guys at your five,” Nick quipped. “They’d be totally trying to look up your skirt.”
“Pervy douchebags,” Juliet snarled, revving up her chainsaw and lunging at them.
Even as she drove them back, several more surrounded her, lurching towards her from all sides.
Xander watched mutely, absently picking off zombies that approached him, as Juliet wrapped herself around a pole and used it to anchor herself as she swung around and around to cut down the group of fiends menacing her.
“That’s, uh… stripper-robics, isn’t it?” he asked her finally, after she’d dismembered the attacking zombies and bounced back to him, still covered in blood.
“It was Sensei Morikawa’s idea,” Juliet chirped. “It’s a total body workout.”
Xander didn’t know if he hated the old perv for taking advantage of Juliet, or admire the creep for still managing to teach her so much in spite of being a raging lech. It helped that she seemed rather naïve. Either that, or she’d just needed to have the obvious pointed out to her.
“You’re, ah... pretty good at that,” he said finally.
“You mean it?” Juliet gushed. “When I practice this alone in my room, I do it naked for less wind resistance!”
Xander gaped. “I, uh… I don’t know how to respond to that.”
“I do it for the exercise! Really!” she chirped helpfully.
Xander grimaced. “ Morikawa liked you to videotape your workouts, didn’t he?”
Juliet snorted, as if he’d said something stupidly obvious. “How else was he supposed to make sure I was doing it right?”
"Oh Honey..." Xander sighed.
Xander closed his eye, trying to banish the images playing through his all-too vivid imagination.
Nick smirked. “You’re drooling again.”
“Am I?” Xander shot back dryly. “I hadn’t noticed.”
Juliet ran at another group of zombies, attacking them with her… unique style, having left Nick in Xander’s hands.
“Hey, zombies, put a dollar in my skirt and I won’t kill you,” she sang.
A quick Highlander pirouette later, and she added, “Ha ha! Just kidding! I’d kill you anyway!”
“Remember; special Hell,” Nick taunted as Juliet cackled, off in the distance.
Xander snorted. “You must be pissing yourself at how funny this is,” he sneered at the disembodied jock. “Oh, wait. You can’t.”
“How long you been holding onto that one?” Nick deadpanned.
“Since the farm,” Xander shrugged.
Nick had to admit it; he’d been had there. “Timing’s everything.”
Rupert Giles stood in the middle of the Slayer’s Nerve Center, and it was the Nerve Center.
No matter how much Xander and Andrew tried to redub the room The Slayer Cave, much to their combined chagrin.
He had a team of Slayers manning the room, those whose talents lay more in the realm of tactical analysis rather than kicking demon ass. Normally, they’d be answering to Xander, but since he was in the middle of the San Romero mess, Giles had felt obligated to step up and do his part to see Xander safely home.
Right now, he and the teams were using the Nerve Center’s banks of screens and monitors to scan all incoming information about the current crisis in San Romero.
At the moment, they were tracking the deployment of military forces around the Greater San Romero area.
Several Slayers were gathered around a monitor on which a grainy video played in an endless loop. Showing a chainsaw wielding blonde attacking a zombie wearing a horrendously gaudy combination of top hat, furs, and the worst parts of American fashion of the last fifty years, this video was the latest footage from Xander.
Giles sighed in spite of himself. Not for the first time during this case did he wonder if the universe was messing with them.
Vikings, punk rockers, a female hippie zombie quoting New Age philosophy… this was almost like someone out there was trying to mock them.
He cleared his throat and the girls looked up.
“Make sure you compare that video against the others we have, and make sure that Archives has a copy as well.”
One of the girls raised her hand. “Uh, Mister Giles? What exactly are we looking for?”
Giles sighed. “I know how much you all hate it when we say things like this, but… I’ll know it when I see it.”
The girls groaned. This was normal for them, meaning a long and sleepless night that involved looking up stuff in old books or in the computer archives that Willow was continuously filling up for better indexing and faster reference.
“If it helps, I’m fairly certain that we’re looking for something in American historical records, early colonial era. I don’t how the Latin fits into all this, but…” he shrugged, taking off his glasses and polishing the lenses nervously.
The girls brightened. Now their search would only take hours instead of days.
Not that they had hours. Riley had been blunt. The President wanted San Romero contained, and had tasked elements of the NSA with systematically patrolling all of the town’s Internet traffic so that no information concerning its zombie infestation could be leaked to the public.
The loss of Sunnydale had more consequences than anything the Scoobies had anticipated.
Since nobody had thought to inform Riley about the First Evil’s plans in Sunnydale so that he could pass it on to his superiors as an advanced warning, the town’s sudden collapse had come as a very rude awakening for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and America’s intelligence apparatus.
In the aftermath of the Sunnydale collapse, Riley had found himself briefing the Joint Chiefs, and certain Senators and Congressmen, on the existence of the supernatural.
Amidst great protest, Xander had joined him as the Scooby Gang’s liaison at this hearing panel, and nobody knew whether his presence had hurt or helped their stance with the American government.
But even with Buffy’s unilateral decision to alienate official governments because of what she saw as their amateurish experience with the supernatural, the mortal Powers-that-Be were no longer content to stay on the sidelines.
Especially when registered voters with long memories were in harm’s way.
The downside of this enlightened worldview was the fact that militaries, in general, liked having a nice, clear enemy to point their collective guns at.
Buffy Summers and the Slayers made for a photogenic enemy threat. Especially since certain extremist elements regarded her behavior and career history as enough to label her a traitor to mankind, particularly where her choices in romance and relationships were concerned.
A gang of miscreants with strange superpowers and mysterious knowledge (that they would not disclose) made for an easy target.
As if called by his thoughts, Buffy entered the Situation Room. She was dressed in her work clothes, complete with a utility belt loaded with her favorite bladed and stabbing weapons slung over her shoulder and the Scythe in hand.
“What’s the good word, Giles? I got a bunch of Slayers ready to rock and roll. You do not want a bunch of girls all dressed up with no place to go on your hands.”
"Xander just sent us another video. Same Latin phrasing about dark works and whatnot,” the older Watcher said, having long since grown inured to Buffy’s penchant for malapropisms.
Buffy sighed. "Again with the dark works and evil doing. Can't these guys get a hobby?"
“My understanding is that Mister Swan had been bullied rather extensively and that plunging the city into a local zombie apocalypse is his form of revenge.” Giles shot back dryly.
Buffy shuddered. "Well, it's good that he's found a HEALTHY outlet for his rage,” she quipped sardonically. “We sure wouldn't want him to bottle it up inside and end up doing something crazy, now would we?"
Giles smiled grimly. School shooting rampages and publicized suicides aside, this was one topic that hit home for the Scooby Gang’s veteran members. "I can assure you that I sympathize with your point, Buffy, but not everyone’s had an easy time of it in school.”
"Giles, I had days where it took all I had not to lay a Slayer-powered beating on someone. Usually Cordelia.”
Giles rolled his eyes. "Pedantics aside, Willow felt much the same way."
"Sometimes growing up means learning to let go of things."
Giles looked back at the strong, confident woman next to him. Since when had the flighty girl he'd met years ago grown up? He’d have liked to see it happen...
"Ooh, is that the cheerleader?" Buffy had noticed Juliet Starling in action on a video monitor. "I love that belt. Giles, remind me to get one of those belts while we're in San Romero?”
Then again, the world would be awfully dull without the flighty and vacuous girl whose biggest worry in life was if she'd find shoes to match the belt that she didn’t even own yet.
One of the girls approached them, tentatively holding out a sheet of paper.
“I think I’ve found what you’re looking for, Mister Giles.” The girl, who Giles was certain her name was Rachel, said. “A Franciscan monk who was living with Chumash tribesmen to learn their ways and customs wrote about the tribe that lived where Sunnydale… well, where it used to be.”
Giles quickly scanned its contents. Looking back up at her, he demanded, “How sure are you?”
“The monk wrote an account of the tribe’s medicine man telling a story about how five creatures called from beyond sacrificed their deaths to tear open a hole.” Rachel confirmed. “Creating, or so the monk describes, a new gate to Hell.”
Buffy looked at Giles, shock written all over on her face. “Seriously? This Marilyn Manson-lookalike douchenozzle’s trying to make a Hellmouth? Who’s that stupid?”
Giles pinched the bridge of his nose. “Considering that his plan requires the deaths of these Dark Purveyors and that he’s only one more death away? Not as stupid as we’d wish.”
“We’ve gotta warn Xander,” Buffy demanded, her Slayer team suddenly grabbing and tossing automatic crossbows (plus ammo cans) to each other from a nearby armory.
Giles just shook his head. “He’d most likely continue trying to destroy the Dark Purveyors anyway. As long as they’re alive, they pose a grave threat to the human population.”
“I’m done waiting, Giles! I’m going in!” Buffy snapped, ready to pummel something.
Giles sighed. “Are you quite sure of this?”
“I spent the better part of seven years stopping every dark and evil creepy-crawly that lurched their way out of my Hellmouth!” Buffy snapped, her fists clenched. “Now some idiot’s going to unleash that Hell upon the world just ’cuz he got swirlied one too many times?!?”
She suddenly shook her head, making a beeline for the door. “No, Giles. He’s going down, and he’s going down hard. And if he’s done anything to Xander, I’ll show this little jerkwad what real Hell is.”
Giles grabbed at her arm. “Buffy, wait!” he snapped.
“I’m going, Giles, I’m not losing Xander,” she snarled back.
He shook his head. “I’m not stopping you, I’m coming with you.”
A long look passed between the two of them, one with a multitude of unspoken arguments made back and forth in the way that only true friends could manage. Finally, Buffy blinked and sighed.
“Fine, Giles,” she huffed as he let go of her wrist, smiling slightly as he caught a crossbow that she tossed at him.
“Let’s, uh… lock and load, shall we?” he quipped, amused at Buffy smiling at him.