Court and Spark - 5
~ Initiative Quarantine, Tuesday, 12:02 p.m.~
“Hey Buffy, can you come over here?” Riley called as the door shut behind the slayer.
“Sure, what’s up?” She eyed her watcher and TA suspiciously. They seemed to be putting on a show for the cameras, but she had no idea what the plot of this play was.
“I want to talk with you.” Riley said sincerely. Buffy just eyed him cautiously. She could tell from the tense lines on Giles face that something had happened when she was in the bathroom, and whatever it was, Riley was the reason behind it.
“Um, Riley, what’s up?” She took a tentative step forward and even Riley could tell she was ready to spring into a defensive stance if need be.
“Nothing’s up. I just want to talk.” Riley frowned. He couldn’t help but wonder if all Californian girls had such weird reactions, or if Buffy was just special.
“Uh huh, sure, just talk.” Buffy sounded thoroughly unconvinced.
Giles quit polishing his glasses and slipped them back onto his face. “Oh for Christ’s sake, Buffy! If you must know, while you were out, Riley asked me permission to court you and spark up some lively conversation. Now, get over here immediately so I may assume my chaperone duties.” Giles rolled his eyes.
“Has anyone told you that you’re weird?” Buffy scowled at her watcher, but still followed his instructions, crossing the room quickly to sit between the two men. Whatever Riley was planning, Giles knew about it and agreed.
“I believe you’ve called me that on numerous occasions. However that does not change the circumstances.”
“And the circumstances are?” Buffy whispered, hoping to get a clear answer.
“Well, I for one think the idea of a rock paper scissors tournament sounds like a lovely way to pass the time.” Giles said loud enough for the cameras to pick up on it.
“You know, I was just kidding about that.” Buffy frowned.
“Funny, I’m not.” Giles said, slightly less amused.
“Well, I’m up for it! I haven’t played rock paper scissors since boy scout camp.” Riley said cheerily enough that both Giles and Buffy had to stare at him.
“Am I the only one not on planet weird?” Buffy asked.
“Come on Buffy, it’ll be fun.” Riley tried again, adding a saccharine smile.
“Um, okay?” Buffy was getting seriously wigged.
“Okay, let’s form a circle, everyone’s foreheads in the middle. We’ll count to three, and then everyone gives their sign.” Giles began moving them around so that their backs would be to all the cameras Riley had pointed out earlier, and they’d be close enough to whisper without being picked up by the microphones.
“This isn’t how tournaments work. If you play three people at once then you can get a three way tie.” Buffy tried to protest, not quite sure what her watcher was doing.
“We’re playing British rules, now just sit down and count to three.”
“Yes, sir. Long live the queen.” Buffy saluted, sitting in the exact spot Giles pointed.
They formed a close knit circle and Giles indicated that they should all lean their foreheads in to be practically touching. They did one round of rock paper scissors before Giles thought it would be safe to begin whispering. “We need to keep playing as we talk, but we should be safe whispering here.” He informed his slayer. “And really, Buffy, must you have been so belligerent?”
“Rock crushes scissors!” She called out as she banged his fingers lightly. “Well, how was I to know what your plans were? You weren’t exactly being Mr. Obvious, polishing your glasses like that. I mean, that was the big-scary-demon-over-left-shoulder- polish, not the we-need-to-sit-in-a-circle-indian-style-polish. Geesh! Keep your signals straight.” Both men looked at Buffy like she was crazy. “Well, it was.” She shrugged.
“Regardless, Mr. Finn has gotten word that the situation has worsened.”
“My second in command told me that all units were reporting increased activities by the H.S.T.s above ground.” Riley explained, as the counted off round two.
“Ha! Scissors win!” Buffy hit both of the guys’ flat hands, then whispered. “Translation please?”
“Word has gotten out that the slayer is no longer a threat. Needless to say the demonic population is taking advantage of that.”
“Oh crap.” Buffy muttered.
“Our guys have had record injuries from patrol last night.”
“That’s not good.” Buffy felt ill. It was her responsibility to keep the town safe, and instead she was treating this like an extended study break.
“Yes, that’s one way to put it. One… two… three…” Giles counted off the next round of rock paper scissors, as they thought quietly to themselves.
“So what are we going to do about it?” Riley asked the question that was on everyone’s mind.
“Well, obviously we can’t stay here.” Buffy frowned. “You’re the local, how do we get out?”
“Paper doesn’t beat scissors!” Riley said loudly for the microphones, noticing that Buffy had lost track of their cover.
“Do over!” She called out then counted them off again.
“I’ve been trying to figure out a way since I talked to Graham.” Riley admitted in a whisper.
“And not before? That’s peculiar.” Giles frowned.
“Well, Walsh said things were under control and she wanted me to stay here to keep you out of trouble, but obviously that’s not the case.”
“One … two… three… I know it’s after drop-add, but can I drop her course? I don’t think she likes me.” Buffy mused before dropping back to a whisper. “So have you figured out a way?”
“We’ll pretty much have to charge the doors when they come to get one of us. The door doesn’t have any way to open from the inside and the ceiling vents are too small for us to get out that way.”
“It should be me.” Giles said. “I’m the slowest, so I should get a head start for the door. When I’m about to step out, that’s when you two should charge.”
“Ha! You always play paper! You spend too much time with books.” Buffy loudly teased Giles, trying to keep the game up while thinking things through. “We need one of those card thingies right?”
“Yeah, all the doors are card access. We have to get them off the guards.” Riley muttered, preparing his fist for yet another round of rock. “We should get as many cards as we can. I’m not sure all the guards have access everywhere.”
“Alright, so saying we get as far as the hallway, which way?”
“Hrm, that’s a tough one. The Lowell House elevator is a complete trap. The main garage entrance is going to have a lot of traffic, and we really don’t blend in enough to get out that way.” Riley frowned. “I suppose there’s the sewer access, but that’s a tight fit.”
“It will be about two hours before the next check up, is that correct?” Giles stared at the soldier.
“They’re short staffed, so they won’t be trying to rush the schedule.”
“I say we take a half hour break.” Giles said a bit louder. “I’m afraid this game is not so conducive to arthritis.”
“You’re just a sore loser, Mr. Paper.” Buffy teased, backing away.
~ Sunnydale High School, Tuesday, 12:03 p.m.~
It looked like an average lunch in the faculty workroom at Sunnydale High, if it weren’t for the fact that the occupants were really playing poker, the school had been condemned last year, and a green demon looking eerily like a crocodile was guarding a laundry basket overflowing with kittens.
“What a fabulous choice for a vacation. Thanks for the invite, darling.”
“It would hardly be a party without you, Zoltan.” D’Hoffryn nodded to his friend.
“Aren’t you a doll!” The seven foot tall demon laughed gaily, running a dozen fingers through his pile of chips. He would have been mistaken for Steven Segal, if only his skin wasn’t actually scales and that third red eye didn’t stand out quite so much. “So is it your deal?”
A yellow bumpy demon next to him grunted and began shuffling the cards. The demons were putting in their antes when Halfrek popped up behind her boss. “Ooh! Great hand.”
“Halfrek!” all the demons groaned.
“Well it is; I haven’t seen five aces in one hand in at least a century.”
“Oops?” She shrunk back noticing how annoyed the other demons were. Perhaps she would be better off just playing with the kitties in the bank pen.
“Did you get all the invitations delivered?” D’Hoffryn asked as Bumpy reshuffled the deck.
“Yes, and I do believe everyone is coming.”
“Is Anyanka coming? I haven’t seen her in absolute ages.” Zoltan’s idea of bluffing was to distract the other players with mindless chattering. D’Hoffryn rolled his eyes and fixed a look at Halfrek.
“She’s still an undecided actually.” Halfrek blushed.
“Oh really? Do tell.” Zoltan smiled, he loved gossip and it had been so long since he’d seen most of the other demons. It really was a pity they spent so much time in Europe.
“She met with some unfortunate times.” D’Hoffryn said gruffly.
“Hallie, darling, surely you can offer more details than that.” Zoltan fished for the story, but Halfrek shook her head, not willing to anger D’Hoffryn twice in a row.
“Oh come on, surely you’ve heard what happened to Anyanka.” The card shark who had been silent up to this point finally spoke up. He hated playing with amateurs, but it was generally the best way to make a quick profit. Unfortunately the demon crowd he was playing with now wasn’t nearly the amateurs they pretended to be; they were certainly more skilled than the average vampire fledgling.
“This sounds like a juicy story.” Zoltan smiled, raising the stakes.
“So Anyanka gets called in for a job in this very town. Evidently some dame caught her boy cheatin’ with his best friend, and well long story short, the dame wishes the friend had never been born.”
“That’s not quite right, it wasn’t the friend he was cheating with; it was the friend who he had a crush on for…”
“Halfrek!” The demons yelled before shark got back to the story. “So, the fun starts there because it turns out the girl is the Avenger.”
“Slayer,” Bumpy interrupted.
“Slayer, fine, whatever.” Shark eyed his companions before calling the bet. “So, suddenly we’ve got a Hellmouth where the slayer never was born.”
“That’s not right, she was born, she just hadn’t come to…”
“So things are running amuck, vampires everywhere, it could have been the greatest wish Anyanka ever granted.”
“Sounds that way.” Zoltan nodded appreciatively.
“But then, the slayer’s watcher finds Anyanka, and crushes her power center.”
“No!” Zoltan cried scandalously.
“Yes.” D’Hoffryn admitted quietly.
“So what happened?”
“She’s human.” D’Hoffryn shrugged. “What could I do? My hands were tied. Rules are rules.”
“She’s doing alright for herself.” Halfrek said, petting the kittens in the bank. “She’s dating the guy she was doing the wish against originally. Evidently he’s a tiger in the sack, for a human.”
The vengeance demoness was spared a lecture on proper conversation topics when one of the minnows ran in. “Mr. Shark, there’s trouble outside.”
“Define trouble.” The shark quietly ordered, not willing to interrupt the poker game for anything less than a real emergency.
“There are some guys with guns. They look like they could be with the army.”
“Oh damn.” Shark mumbled.
“What’s the trouble, ol’ boy?” Zoltan asked finally folding with the realization that a pair of threes beat nothing in this crowd.
“If it’s not one thing, it’s another. There have been some government agents causing trouble here for the past few months. They’re like damn mosquitoes; they can’t really hurt you too much, but they get annoying buzzing around your head.”
“Well, since I’m out this hand, do you want me to handle this?” Zoltan arched a brow.
“Yeah, if you don’t mind.” D’Hoffryn muttered.
“Not at all. Hallie, darling, be a darling and watch my chips? I expect to find 19 reds, 10 blues, and 25 greens when I get back.”
“Sure thing.” She returned the flirtatious wink, giggling like a school girl as she took Zoltan’s place at the table.
Zoltan strolled down the charred hallway, following the fish-headed demon to the front doorway. Peeking out of the window, it was very clear what the problem was. There were two fish-heads engaging in a firefight with eight soldiers. The fish-heads weren’t really aiming to hit, they just tried to get close enough to keep the soldiers from getting a good shot in. “How much longer do they plan on doing this?” Zoltan asked the minnow.
“Well, they’ll probably need more ammo sent out the door in a few minutes, but they’ll keep the door for hours.” The minnow speculated, tipping his derby that his spawnmate insisted was the latest in gangster fashion.
“Why don’t they aim?” Zoltan wondered out loud.
“Oh they are, we just don’t see so good out of the water.” The fish-head answered, missing Zoltan sadly shaking his head. Zoltan figured that he could probably get rid of those army guys before the fish-heads needed to reload, so he slipped outside the door.
“Excuse me everyone! Can we please stop with the war games for a bit?” Zoltan’s voice resounded through the courtyard, immediately ceasing the firing on both sides. “Ah, now that’s better. You there, what’s your name?” Zoltan waved his hand at one of the soldiers that appeared to be in charge.
“Graham Miller.” Graham said, peeking up from behind the picnic table they had been using as cover.
“Ah, Mr. Miller, so nice to meet you. You can’t pronounce my name, but I suppose you can call me Zoltan. Everybody else does.” Graham exchanged a confused glance with Forrest. “Now what exactly is the meaning of this?” He waved at the guns haphazardly. On a whim, he glanced down at his watch. “I mean, isn’t it considered tacky to have gunfights in the middle of the day like this. It isn’t even high noon, yet.” Graham exchanged a frantic look at Forrest who just offered the ‘you wanted to be the captain’ shrug. “From where I’m standing, we can do this the easy way, or the hard way.” Zoltan said loudly before turning to the fish-head next to him “I’ve always wanted to say that; do you think it was dramatic enough?”
“By order of the U.S. Army. I am arresting you for being a danger to the public.” Graham called back, indicating that his men should follow his lead and prepare their stun guns for capture.
“I guess that means I get to do this the easy way. Goody.” Zoltan’s third eye flared to life and shot out a red beam that hit Graham squarely before glancing across the rest of the soldiers. “And I was so worried you’d make me negotiate.” Zoltan shrugged and he turned back into the building. “Let them crawl away, but if they come back, try to aim this time.” He informed the fish-heads before returning to the poker game.
“So was it a problem?” D’Hoffryn asked, watching Bumpy collect the chips from that hand.
“Nothing I couldn’t handle. So what’s the kitten count?”
~Sunnydale High School Lawn, Tuesday, 12:08 p.m.~
Forrest watched Graham fall right before he felt a beam of heat cross over his body. He could hear the soldiers around him cursing as they too felt something hot cover them. “Daisy One to base.” Forrest said into his radio.
“Base to Daisy One, he heard the static voice of the operator reply. “We’ve got a man down. Our position is indefensible. Request instructions.”
“What’s Pansy One’s twenty? I need to speak to your C.O.”
“He’s our man down.” Forrest rolled his eyes.
“Can you call a retreat?”
Forrest peeked up over the picnic benches. The weird fish things seemed to be more relaxed and less likely to shoot if they were to move away. They acted strictly like territorial bodyguards, so Forrest was guessing it would be safe to move out of the territory. “Yeah, we can call a retreat.”
“Get yourselves back to base.” The operator replied. “I’ll let Mother know you’re coming home.”
“Thanks.” Forrest sighed as he signed off, tucking the radio back into his belt.
“Gates?” Graham looked up at his friend. His face was flushed and sweating.
“Yeah?” Forrest cringed, worried by how ill Graham looked.
“I don’t feel so good.”
“Can you walk?” Forrest asked. Graham nodded quietly. Forrest checked on the rest of the Initiative men and was relieved to see that they all seemed well enough to walk. “Okay, stay low until we reach the corner, then we get to base A.S.A.P. Got it?” Forrest gave the command and the unit set off down the block, trying to stay low and keep as many cars between themselves and the fish things as possible. “How are you feeling?” Forrest asked when they reached the corner.
Graham felt like he had just been hit with a truck and was playing with the idea of loosing his lunch right then and there on the sidewalk, but he took a nervous swallow and said “Fine, and you?”
“My ass,” Forrest grumbled. “You look like hell.”
Graham tried to laugh but it came out as a weak cough. “What do you think they hit me with?”
“I don’t know.” Forrest muttered, “But we’re almost home.” He watched his Alphas head in a beeline for Lowell House. Mike seemed to have trouble walking a straight line, and John seemed to be wheezing more than usual, but none seemed as bad off as Graham. “Don’t worry, we’ll get you patched up.”
“Thanks.” Graham muttered, staggering against Forrest as he tried to take a step forward. “Only a true friend would lie to me like that.”
“Any time.” Forrest muttered distractedly as he watched Graham grab a tree, lean over, and lose his lunch in the bushes. “Why me?” he whispered.