One Card Left to Play…
“Who the hell are you?!” Swan demanded.
“Hi… Buffy Summers, Vampire Slayer.” Buffy chirped back breezily, "though I have to say, loving the zombies. I could get into slaying of zombies."
Great, Xander thought, Her Californian pretty princess accent was in full effect. She was obviously feeling perky today.
“I hope you don't mind, but end-of-the-world apocalypses and stuff like that? That's kind of my thing, Sorry to just, uh… DROP IN
“No, you’re not!” Xander snorted.
“Yes, I am!” she shot back, hamming up the hurt look. That look took him back.
Xander suddenly felt more relaxed. Swan had already lost; he just didn't know it yet.
Looks like things were gonna be ok.
“Seriously, Buff,” he said finally. “Where's the rest of the gang?”
“Willow and Giles are parking the chopper, Faith and Vi are leading teams that should’ve finished evacuating the school and the rest of the town by now, so they'll join us when they're done.”
“Well, the gang's all here-”
Before he could say anything else, sarcastic clapping filled the Cathedral.
“Fantastic work, guys,” Swan cackled. “You did everything just as I’d hoped you would, from start to finish. Thanks for your cooperation; especially you, Juliet. Now the real deal is fulfilled!”
Buffy elbowed Xander. “His hand waving is kinda distracting,” she hissed to him. “Are you sure he’s not a drama geek posing as a Goth?”
“Shush,” he hushed her. “The bad guy’s monologuing.”
“Ah, what are you talking about?” Nick asked Swan.
“You incredibly hot idiot, I already told you.” Swan shook his dreadlocked head. “For the Gates of Hell to open, a ritual must be enacted, and you were part of it all along! I set this whole thing up and you fell for it like the idiots you are!” he laughed.
“I’m confused,” Juliet muttered. “Does he think he’s winning?”
“They usually do.” Xander shrugged.
“What was the point of all of this?” Juliet asked.
“A pawn, meaning you, had to sacrifice five pre-selected zombies, and they must utter the sacred words at the point of their deaths.”
“Yes, Captain Guyliner,” Xander sighed, “We worked that bit out for ourselves already. We’re just wondering what you want all that power for.”
“He’s opening a Hellmouth in San Romero,” Buffy replied.
“A Hellmouth?” Xander turned an incredulous look to her. “Seriously?”
“What’s a Hellmouth?” Juliet asked.
“Pretty much what you think it is,” Buffy explained. “A gateway to places that even your worst nightmares wouldn’t go.”
Xander nodded. “All the zombies we fought today? Just the chocolate sprinkles on top of the huge super sundae’s worth of badness that would start rolling through this town.”
“Vampires, werewolves, every two-bit hedge-mage and minor demon lord looking to make a power-play…” Buffy sighed mockingly.
“…and if you’re really, really
unlucky?” Xander added snidely. “One of those idiots will manage to actually tap the power. That's what destroyed the last town sitting on top of a Hellmouth; our hometown of Sunnydale.”
“Exactly!” Swan cackled. “Watching this town and everything in it drown in its own blood? It'll be beautiful.”
Juliet, bless her heart, actually looked hurt. “But why would you do this to our school? Our friends? Our families? I mean, destroying the world is so uncool,” she whined.
“Because this world, this school, deserves to be destroyed!” he shrieked, pointing a gloved finger at her. “It rejected me! It ridiculed me! So fuck all of you, because now I’m gonna make this rotten world even more rotten!”
“You know, I think I remember tossing a ball at you during dodgeball,” Nick deadpanned. “But this seems a bit of an overreaction.”
“What would you know? A perfect little jock in your perfect little jock world?” Swan sneered.
“My perfect world? Are you shitting me?” Nick snorted. “This morning, I stubbed my toe, and I was all like; this is the worst thing ever. Then some creepy emo-Goth kid blew up my school, fed my friends to zombies, tried to kill my girlfriend, and now I’m a decapitated talking head! My world is pretty fucking far from perfect! And as near as I can tell, it’s all your fault!”
“Aw, did the jock pretty-boy and his cheerleader bimbo have a hard day?” Swan cooed mockingly. “Cry me a fuckin’ river!”
“Yeah, uh, maybe you didn’t get the memo from Zed?” Xander growled. “But insulting cheerleaders around me? Not the smartest thing to do.”
“What’d he do?” Buffy whispered.
“Arrow to the junk,” Nick replied.
“Nice!” Buffy hissed.
Swan bent down and picked up Lewis Legend’s guitar. “Meus vita, Rege, pro nefario coepto,” he mumbled, making the hair rise up on the back of their collective necks.
“Look, Swan,” Juliet said, trying to reason with him. “It’s not too late; you can still stop this.”
The Goth just shot her a withering glare. “You’re just like everyone else.” he hissed.
“Yes! Juliet! You bitch!” Swan snarled. “You pretend to be different, but you’re not!”
“Bullshit,” Nick snapped. “I’ve known Juliet Starling a long time; she’s never hurt anyone.” A beat later he added, “On purpose, anyway. Or unless you’re a zombie, in which case she’d seriously fuck your shit up.”
Juliet looked like she was going to cry, “Nick, that’s like the most romantic thing that anyone’s ever said to me.”
the most romantic thing she’s ever heard?” Xander snorted.
Buffy slapped his arm impatiently. Xander noticed that she had that same sappy look on her face as when she and Willow were watching those nauseating Nicholas Sparks movies.
“Oh, you’ve gotta be kidding me,” he sighed, rolling his eye. Just what he didn’t need at the moment: sappy romantic tripe.
“This is the end…” Swan sang giddily, twirling about in a horrible parody of a waltzing pirouette. “The real end, to everything!”
Xander just leveled his Holy Boomstick. “Swan, last chance,” he said. “Drop the mojo book and step away from the… evil magic.”
“What are you gonna do, shop teacher?” the Goth mocked him. “Shoot me?”
“If I have to,” the one-eyed Watcher shrugged. “Do I have to?”
“No, you won’t,” Swan sneered, jamming the barrel of Lewis’ guitar gun to his own head and pulling the trigger.
A single shot rang out and Swan’s freshly-headless body dropped to the floor.
Nick and Juliet gasped in shock.
was unexpected,” Xander observed, “Wonder why he did that?”
“If I still had a stomach, I think I’d puke.” Nick moaned
Buffy seemed less surprised. “Finally,” she griped. “I thought Creepy Drama Boy was gonna keep us waiting all day.”
Xander frowned at her. “No pressure, Buff, but now might be a good time to let me in on the plan. We do have a plan this time, right?”
“Oh, yeah, it’s a great plan,” she shrugged. “You should’ve seen it. There were slides and time checks and everything.”
“I could use a good plan.” Juliet nodded..
Nobody noticed Swan’s headless body beginning to glow and seethe with magical energies.
“Technically, it’s Giles and Willow’s plan,” Buffy explained. “Swan’s ceremony needed three things; pre-selected zombies, or his Dark Purveyors.”
“Check.” Xander nodded.
“A patsy to sacrifice them.”
“Check, check, and double-check,” Xander pointed at himself and the group.
“…and a final sacrifice, to tie the whole thing together.”
“Big ol’ mega-check over there,” he noted, jerking a thumb at Swan’s body.
“Now that Swan-boy’s gone and blown his load, no pun intended,”
Nick snickered anyway.
“…he’s become the conduit for all the mojo he was conjuring.” Buffy finished.
“This is good news, right?” Xander asked.
Buffy nodded. “Very good news; we destroy Swan’s body and the mojo goes poof.”
“…then I’ll assume that that’s the bad news?” Juliet interjected. When they turned to look at her, she pointed behind them, and they turned on their heels quite quickly.
Swan’s body had risen off the floor and was now floating up to join a mass of bodies forming…
As the ungodly morass coalesced into its final form, Xander could feel his gorge rising.
“If I live to a hundred," he sighed, "I’ll never understand why people DO NOT
read the fine print when it comes to empowerment magic?”
“That’s the ugliest mega-zombie I’ve ever seen!” Nick yelped from where he was still dangling at Juliet’s hip.
The gang looked on in mute amazement as the teenage Goth’s body melded with the others and became a gargantuan monstrosity that looked like a cross between the Stay-puft Marshmallow Man and an Elvis impersonator.
A really bad Elvis impersonator, too; one inordinately obsessed with the rhinestone jumpsuits and the too-many fried peanut butter-and-banana sandwiches-era of the King’s career.
“Daddy will not be happy about this...” Juliet muttered.
“Juliet, focus. We need your help.” Buffy shot back.
Xander shook his head. “Buffy, have you ever met Gideon Starling? The man has huge love for The King.”
The beast roaming San Romero streets was Killabilly, the Zombie King. He stomped through the city and smashed stuff, but casualties were low. The Slayers had already evacuated the survivors holed up at the High School and the rest of the town as well.
Xander and the gang were joined by Giles, Willow, and Faith. Together, they watched Killabilly’s lumbering progress through the city.
it look like Elvis?” Xander asked finally.
“Maybe someone in town has huge Elvis love.” Willow shrugged.
“…and so the zombie king took this form?” Nick demanded incredulously.
“But it’s fat Elvis.” Xander pointed out. “Even people who like Elvis hate fat Elvis.”
“Now that just burns me,” Gideon grumbled, shooting Xander a half-hearted glare. “Elvis was at the top of his game in Vegas. Sure, he had a little meat on the bone and maybe he’d slowed down some.” Before anyone could get a word in, he cut them off with, “…and, yes, he was takin’ medication for pain
, but he was still the King of Rock and Roll.”
Xander blinked before turning to Willow. “Okay, now I’m officially buying your Elvis Love theory.”
“Breaks my heart to see Graceland’s son so defiled,” Gideon sighed. “Elvis, I swear we’ll put this right even if it takes my last breath!” The elder Starling yelled to the heavens with almost religious fervor.
“Sorry, but what flavor of idiot was this
kid?” Faith griped. “Who looks at the spell that turns you into a giant zombie and says, yeah, I want to be a part of that?”
Xander shrugged. “Probably the same kind of guy that thinks, hey, the other kids are mean to me, so I’m gonna open a gateway to a Hell dimension and kill everyone, and that’ll show them.”
“All right, Xander. The city’s emptied out, so take the civvies out of the danger zone.” Willow observed, jerking a thumb at the Starlings.
Gideon bristled. “Hey, Sabrina, who you calling civilian?”
Xander instantly knew where those
comments were coming from. He knew better than most.
Badness was on the move and it was time for the Slayer and the super-witch to do their thing and could the normal non-Chosen people please get out of the way.
So he stepped in to exercise his rarely-used sense of diplomacy. “Sorry, Mister Starling, but what with us being on the outs with practically every local, state, and federal law enforcement agency in the free world, sometimes we forget the social graces
Xander directed a pointed glare at Willow as he said those last four words, and she mumbled something that sounded enough like an apology that Papa Starling was willing to stand down.
“What Willow’s trying to say,” Xander continued testily, "...is that we've
actually fought giant monsters and that thing
, whatever it is, is still on the bleeding edge of our comfort zone.”
Cordelia looked up at the hulking monster. “Gotta say, daddy... this is
a little beyond what you’ve been teaching us to fight."
“Doesn’t matter,” Juliet snapped. “It’s our town and our responsibility. I’ve come too far to just give that up now.”
"A-bloody-men," Gideon nodded in agreement.
“Juliet, nobody’s giving up,” Buffy soothed. “This is just what I do. This is what WE
do. A giant zombie Elvis? Hey, we got this.”
“Buffy,” Xander said, a little harshly out of old wounds. “Juliet’s been part of this mess from the beginning. She’s earned her place on the front lines.”
“It’s an empowerment, Xander. You know
how that plays out,” Buffy warned. “Do you really think that she can do what has to be done? Or the boyfriend?”
Xander scowled at her, wondering if she’d conveniently forgotten about the time she’d let Angelus run amok.
He turned back to look Juliet in the eyes. “I know that she’s earned the chance to try. So has Nick.”
“What you talkin’ about, boy?” Gideon snapped.
“In just under…” he quickly checked his watch, “…thirty minutes, America’s boys and girls in uniform will be lobbing more than enough bombs to reduce San Romero to molten glass.”
“I’d forgotten about those GI Joes outside the city,” papa Starling griped.
“So we’re gonna let them destroy our hometown?” Cordelia demanded.
“All that firepower might
take Killabilly down.” Xander shrugged.
“…and flatten San Romero in the process,” Nick complained. “There’s gotta be a way to save our home.”
“Funny you should ask,” Buffy noted. “There is
Xander felt her eyes boring a hole in his back. She was daring him
to say it, and why not? He'd vouched for Juliet and Nick.
It would kill Juliet, but better they know and decide for themselves.
“Swan powered himself up with evil magic. He’s soaking in it,” Xander explained. “If we can get to his body and annihilate it, then we can send Killabilly back where he came from.”
“So what’s the big deal?” Cordelia wanted to know.
“Swan blew his head off, which means that Nick here could
take control of his headless corpse and blow Killabilly back to Hell.” Xander shrugged, watching as horror filled Juliet’s face.
“What’d happen to Nick?” Juliet asked, obviously dreading the answer.
“Nick would be at Killabilly’s heart. When the spell reversed...” he replied carefully. “There’s no way he could set off the chain reaction and get clear in time… on his own, anyway.”
“But… but there’s another way, right?” Juliet begged.
“Aren’t you guys professionals? I mean, you’ve done this stuff before, you have other ways of fixing this, right?” Nick demanded.
“If we had a couple of hours, maybe
I could pull something off.” Willow sighed. “But we don’t have a couple of hours.”
Xander glanced at his watch; sunset was fast approaching.
“We don’t even have twenty minutes anymore,” he sighed.
“You want me… to walk into a giant zombie with my boyfriend’s head… and leave him there to die?” Juliet repeated slowly.
“What I want
is for you and your boyfriend to survive and forget this day ever happened.” Buffy replied. “But we don’t always get what we want, now do we?”
Gideon shook his head. “She’s eighteen, girl. You can’t expect her to make that kind of choice.”
“Oh, yes, I can,” Buffy shot back. “Because this is what we do. Every day, we make the hard choices so everybody else gets to keep on thinking that zombies and monsters aren’t real.”
“Could you do it?” Gideon challenged.
“She already has,” Giles butted in, noticing that Gideon’s words had opened an old wound for Buffy. “Every one of us has made choices like this.”
“To save the most amounts of people with the least amount of effort, in the time we have. This is the job; this is what we do.” Buffy sighed.
“I’ll do it!” Nick suddenly yelled.
“Nick, you can’t!” Juliet protested.
“I’ve been asking myself all day why
did I end up as a talking head. Now I know; it was for this moment. This is what I was meant to do.”
“But, Nick, I don’t want you to die!” Juliet wailed, hugging her boyfriend’s head in her cleavage.
“Sometimes there are more important things than what we want, babe,” Nick mumbled into what might have been a divinely-made mattress for him at that moment.
“I won’t do it!” she cried, pulling his head away so she could look at him. “I won’t let them take you!”
“Yes, you will, because we’re a team,” he chided her. “We’re a zombie-hunting team, and there’s nobody else I’d want to do this with.”
Xander tried to ignore the way Buffy and Willow were sniffling behind him. Watching The Notebook was a special kind of Hell. Actively contributing to that kind of cheese-and-wine party made his gorge rise. He noticed Faith pretending to throw up, while Cordelia caught his gaze and blew him a kiss.
Rosalind was busy bugging Giles, who looked extremely uncomfortable, while Gideon Starling glared at the two of them with his beefy arms crossed.
Meanwhile, Juliet nodded and kissed Nick before hitching his head to her side. Fighting back her tears, she faced Buffy. “How are we doing this?” she demanded.
“Vi’s team will go on ahead sweep the streets and keep it clear for us.” Buffy nodded.
Giles added, “Faith, you and Cordelia Starling cover them from the rooftops.”
“Xander, Mister Starling, we need a way into that tub of guts.” Willow finished.
“Where there’s explosives, there’s a way,” Xander cackled, rubbing his hands together.
“Kid, I’m starting to like you,” Gideon chuckled. As a red-blooded American male, he loved setting off explosions as much as the next guy.
“Willow, once me and Julie are inside that thing, you’ll be the point of contact.”
“I’ll be ready,” the witch nodded.
“Alright, gang!” he turned to the rest of the group, reloading his Holy Boomstick. “Let’s go kill us a zombie.”