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Welcome to the Hellmouth Agent Finn

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Summary: It's another beautiful day on the Hellmouth.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
BtVS/AtS Non-Crossover > Action/Adventure > Riley-CenteredAesopFR13111,279161,54314 Jul 0614 Jul 06Yes
WELCOME TO THE HELLMOUTH AGENT FINN

Author: Aesop

DISCLAIMER:  I don’t own the rights to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I earn no profit in writing this.

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  I found myself wondering if the Initiative could have been handled differently on the show.  I wrote this as a sort of ‘what if.’  They aren’t the bad guys, but they may not be the best allies either.  Wait and see.

 

Riley Finn ducked under the creature’s wild swing and drove his fist into its gut. It was like hitting a brick wall, but it had the desired effect. Its breath went out in a rush and it staggered back. Riley dove to the right, out of the range of its long arms with their, absurdly he thought, oversized clawed hands. Coming up on one knee with the taser he had lost earlier in the fight he aimed and fired. The blast struck the demon dead in the center of its mass, catapulting it backward into the park’s decorative fountain.

The water seemed to boil as the thing emitted a loud hissing scream and started to melt. Melt? Riley took a step closer and looked down into the fountain. There was a large spreading cloud of ick in the water, but nothing else to indicate that the creature had even existed.

"What was that thing?" he wondered aloud.

"The wicked witch’s ugly cousin." Riley turned to look at his girl friend with his, by now customary, confused expression.

"How do you say things like that with a straight face?" Buffy only grinned at him and put an arm around his waist as they started to walk away.

"Enough patrolling for one night. Let’s head back." Riley nodded, happy to call it an evening. They walked in silence for a while, enjoying the peace and quiet. It didn’t last. Riley was the first to speak.

"Did this seem a bit unusual to you? I mean the vampires and that thing?"

"A little," Buffy frowned. "Usually, vampires don’t work and play well with other demons." She shrugged. "We’ll tell Giles about it. He should be able to ID the baddy and that’ll give us a clue as to why they were working together." She decided to change the topic. "So. Are you enjoying your night off?"

"Its different," he admitted. "Usually, when we’re on patrol we’re more…um…"

"Organized? It’s okay. You can say it." Riley nodded.

"Professor Walsh would call your methods haphazard. In fact she has." Buffy considered this as they headed back towards the campus. They had done a patrol sweep of three cemeteries before ending with a sweep though the park. They had found one newbie, just waking up, right where Giles had said he would be, and an older lone wolf type, that were easily dispatched. Then they reached the park.

"She’s right, but I’m one person. I have to do things differently. I have a patrol route that I vary fairly often. I hit the cemeteries and parks in different orders, things like that. It may seem like wandering, but I can’t afford to become predictable." Riley nodded, acknowledging the point.

"I suppose it works. We certainly surprised that bunch." He gestured with his head back toward the park. Four vampires and a demon Buffy hadn’t recognized were gathered in the park not far from the fountain. They seemed to be in the middle of some sort of discussion when the Slayer and Riley had happened along. The fight had been a little unusual too. They had worked as a unit, at least at first, cooperating with each other in order to gain the upper hand, but none of them were skilled enough to pose a serious threat. Their attack had dissolved into a melee and the two humans had quickly gained the upper hand. The relatively easy victory didn’t detract from the unusual aspects of the fight though. It made Buffy curious, and she mentioned it to Riley.

"So we did." She frowned. "They fought as a unit at first, but they didn’t have the discipline to hold it. What do you think it means?" Buffy considered. The possibilities began to worry her a little more, but she wasn’t prepared to show Riley that.

"Could mean there’s a new boss in the vampire community. We’ve been overdue for a while."

"Boss?"

"A leader, a vampire or demon strong enough or smart enough to get others to follow him. I’ve faced several, Lothos, the Master, the annoying.. ah anointed one, Spike, Balthazar, Mr. Trick." She shrugged, and continued to walk. She deliberately left out one name. Riley wasn’t ready to hear about Angel, or at least Buffy wasn’t ready to tell him. She kicked herself though, when Riley latched onto another name.

"Spike? The guy you said you were going to marry?" Buffy tried to hide her reaction at the memory. It was still a huge embarrassment.

"Umm, yeah, well…"

"Long story?" She nodded mutely. He was used to that answer.

"And an embarrassing one." Riley chose not to press it. He knew that there were things that Buffy was not telling him. It disturbed him a little, but if anyone understood about keeping secrets he did. They continued to walk in silence for a while. The walk ended when they approached Stevenson Hall.

"I have to go prepare my report for the morning. Professor Walsh will want details, especially if your speculation about a new leader in the vampire community is true." Buffy nodded.

"I’ll talk to Giles tomorrow. I’m sure he’ll be able to fill in some blanks. This could be just a small gang working together. Too often it’s a wait and see game." She gave him a peck on the cheek and went into her dorm. Riley watched her enter and then turned toward his own dorm. The closest entrance to the Initiative’s lab was there. He had a report to make.

*****

"Thought you had the night off Riley?" Professor Maggie Walsh glanced up from the reports she was reviewing. He nodded.

"I did."

"Trouble? You look like you’ve had quite a work out."

"I went on patrol with Buffy." Walsh resisted the temptation to roll her eyes.

"Of course. Spending time with Buffy. That’s what you always do on the days when the earth rotates." Riley looked at her blankly and Walsh smiled.

"Something I heard her friend Willow say. It seemed rather apt." She changed the subject when she saw she was embarrassing him. "Anything to report?" Riley nodded, more comfortable with this topic.

"Six vampires and one demon of indeterminate type killed. The first two vampires were loners, but the other four and the demon were together. They seemed to be fighting as a unit." Walsh took greater interest in the verbal report now.

"They were working together?" Riley nodded.

"Not very well, but they were definitely together. Buffy is speculating about a new leader in the vampire community. It’s too soon to be sure of anything yet though. This could have been the equivalent of a small gang and nothing more." She nodded thoughtfully.

"I think that’s the most likely explanation. We’ve never seen them operating in groups of more than three or four. Still, have the teams keep an eye out for signs of organization. A single leader in the vampire community could cause us serious problems. Has Buffy dealt with such situations before?"

"Yes ma’am. We talked about it on the way back. She’s fought several such vampires and demons, individuals who’ve organized large groups of followers. Her input will be quite useful."

"Perhaps, but you still need to be cautious. She isn’t cleared to know a lot of what we do here. General Ramsey is being stubborn about granting clearance to a myth. He may require proof of her identity and abilities before he’ll even consider it."

"That could be a problem. I don’t think she’s much for exhibitions. She has secrets of her own, and…" He broke off, obviously uncomfortable.

"And?"

"I don’t think she really trusts the Initiative. Sometimes I think she agreed to get involved in order to keep an eye on us." Walsh was suddenly wary.

"Really? Do you think it’s our methods or our goals she distrusts?" Riley shrugged.

"I’m not sure. It’s probably just that we’re somewhat unprecedented. She‘s never met an organization that hunts demons before, let alone a government agency. Our methods may trouble her. Sometimes I get the impression she thinks we’re a bit naïve." She nodded, acknowledging the possibility and allowing herself a slight smile.

"Well that works both ways. Our methods are very different. She has a point though. Ramsey still has trouble believing that there are such things as demons, despite what he’s seen. It is difficult to accept some of the more… bizarre things we’ve encountered. It’s quite reasonable to worry about someone trained in science not accepting things that aren’t readily explained by science."

"How do you do it?" She glanced up in surprise. "I mean, how do you explain some of the things we’ve seen? Some of these creatures have abilities and weaknesses that simple biology or even physics can’t explain. You remember her story about the mayor? How does an average sized human turn into a fifty-foot long demon snake in under a minute? What about Mr. Giles? I was there when Ethan Rayne broke the spell he cast. I saw him change from a demon into a man. It was incredible."

"With little or no data or physical evidence to work with I can’t begin to speculate, and I don’t. We’ll just have to take every opportunity to gather information. That’s one of the reasons I told Buffy as much as I did. She has information we need." Her tone had turned all business when Riley had mentioned Giles. He didn’t know what had passed between them and wasn’t about to ask, but there was clearly a lot of hostility there.

"Well. It is late. I’m heading back to the dorm." He nodded toward the terminal on her desk. "There’s a report on what details I could make out about the demon. Buffy said she would try to find something more on the creature tomorrow." Walsh nodded absently, returning her attention to her work, and Riley slipped out

*****

Forest Gates and Gary Keyes moved through the cemetery gates quietly and headed toward the south end. There was supposed to be a rising tonight and they had been ordered to tend to that before they proceeded with a standard sweep. There was sometimes one or more vampires waiting for the newborn.

They hadn’t crossed half the distance when Gary held up a hand. "Wait." He moved off to the side of the rough trail they had been following through the brush and parted the bushes. Now Forest could hear what his partner had heard. Voices, or rather, a voice. He knelt next to the opening and looked through. About five yards away was a young woman kneeling next to a grave. It wasn’t fresh, but it was well tended. They couldn’t make out the words, but as they listened they realized that she was talking to the occupant of the grave, much as one would speak to an old friend.

She was dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt. Beyond that they couldn’t tell much about her. She was partially hidden by intervening headstones. "Strange time to be visiting a grave site," Gary observed, readying his weapon. Forest checked his infrared scanner.

"98.6. She’s human, whoever she is." Gary frowned.

"We can’t just leave her here with vampires on the loose. She’ll wind up someone’s dinner. Tell you what. I’ll watch her. You go check on the newborn. If there’s any sign of others come and get me." Forest nodded and silently moved away. They had been intending to just stake the newborn anyway, and one agent was sufficient for that. Gary settled down to watch.

The late night visitor seemed to be rambling on about nothing in particular. She was probably telling whoever was in the grave the latest news. His mother did things like that. Once a week for as long as he could remember she had gone to the grave of his father, who had died shortly after Gary was born, and would spend a half hour or so just talking to him. It had never made any sense to him, but he accepted it as something that was just done every Sunday, like going to church.

"You don’t need to worry about her." Gary jumped at the voice behind him and turned to find a tall, skeletally thin creature standing behind him. Its marble white skin almost seemed to glow in the pale moonlight. The face looked human enough if you discounted the skin color and the unnatural thinness. Gary raised his weapon and the creature casually snatched it away. "None of that now. You don’t want to disturb her." Gary blinked in confusion. Aside from disarming him, the creature made no hostile moves. "No one disturbs her while she’s visiting Kendra. The last vampire who did literally got his head torn off."

Gary glanced back at the gap in the bushes and saw that the woman was getting to her feet. There was a fresh flower on the grave and she seemed to be saying goodbye. He turned back and the creature was still there. He thought about physically attacking it, but the demon shook its head.

"Not a good idea. I’m not here to hurt you."

"Why are you here? What are you?" It smiled, a rather unpleasant sight, Gary thought, given the rows of needles it apparently used for teeth.

"I’m a Zcar’te demon, call me Makin. I’m here to give you a message."

"Anything you want to say you can say to my superiors." He took a step forward.

"It’s not a message for the Initiative. It’s a message for you, Gary." Gary stopped and stared. "You’ll have to make a choice soon Gary, a big one."

"What are you talking about?" Why was this hostile talking to him instead of trying to kill him? And how did it know his name? It didn’t make sense. Again he moved forward to attack. The hostile grabbed his arm in a crushing grip. Gary dropped to his knees.

"I offer the choice out of deference to an old friend, but don’t try my patience. Right now you don’t have a chance of surviving a fight with me." He gave a casual shove and Gary hit the ground hard. "Know who and what you’re fighting, and fighting for before you make your choice boy." The demon turned and vanished into the dark. Gary picked himself up looked after the demon, but it was already out of sight. His weapon was leaning against the tree. He picked it up and turned back in time to see the girl making her way toward the gate, oblivious to what had just happened.

He waited impatiently for Forest to return, and luckily didn’t have to wait long. Forest came through the bushes and shook his head at Gary’s unanswered question.

"We’re too late. It’s long gone, and I can’t find any trace of it on infrared." He looked toward the open cemetery and saw the woman pass through the gates. "Think we should follow her or look for the vamp?" He narrowed his eyes, looking at his friend curiously. "Hey Gar, you okay?"

"Yeah, fine." He considered a moment, and then looked after the departing woman. "Let’s follow her. If the hostile is in the area she’s a likely target." He turned to hurry toward the gate. He didn’t tell Forest about the other hostile. He wasn’t sure why, but there were too many unanswered questions at the moment.

*****

Buffy Summers stopped in the office door and knocked on the jamb. Walsh looked up and motioned her in. She hit a few more keys on her terminal and nodded, satisfied. "Hello Buffy. How are you today?"

"Fine. You wanted to ask me something?" Walsh nodded.

"Riley tells me you intercepted a new vampire the other night."

"Yeah, in Crestfield cemetery."

"I thought as much. Two of our agents were by there later that night. They thought it had gotten away."

"Nope. It didn’t even get out of its grave. Hope they didn’t spend too long looking." Walsh made a dismissive gesture.

"Unfortunately there are always plenty more where that one came from. What does concern me is that this is the third rising in as many nights."

"Fourth," Buffy corrected. "You’re only counting the ones that were buried." She shrugged. "It’s hard to keep track of sometimes. Too many people simply vanish in this town. I ran into a fresh one in street clothes last night." Walsh looked troubled.

"This is rather above the average number is it not?" Buffy nodded, suddenly all business.

"I think someone’s on a recruiting drive. Riley tell you about the four vamps and the demon we ran into?" Walsh nodded. "Someone is organizing. Possibly someone who knows about your work here." Walsh watched her closely as she prepared to ask her next question, but Buffy cut her off. "They didn’t find out from me or my people. I learned most of what I know about the Initiative by listening to rumors. Ethan Rayne knew quite a bit."

"Rayne? That would be the ‘sorcerer’ that Riley had detained."

"Yeah, Riley said something about rehabilitation." Her face took on a wistful expression. "I’d prescribe electric shock therapy for him."

"You think that would help him?"

"I don’t know," Buffy shrugged, "but just thinking about it is doing me a world of good." Walsh closed her eyes briefly.

"You have quite a vicious streak there you know."

"I know. Fortunately, I’m in just the right line of work." Again she grew serious. "The bad guys know about the Initiative. I don’t know how many actual facts they have. It’s all a bit vague, but they’re getting real stirred up. Giles has been seeing a disturbing trend."

"What sort of trend?"

"A gathering of forces. You know about rise in the number of newly made vampires. A week ago in L.A. a colleague of mine killed a Hacksaw beast." She raised a hand to forestall any questions. "It had, through some human servants/surrogates, impregnated seven women. My friend managed to get a prenatal on one of them. The sonogram showed seven or more heartbeats. What does that suggest to you?" Walsh paled as the implications hit home.

"Seven women with multiple births?"

"It was trying to raise an army, in several senses of the word, and I looked up this Hacksaw beast thing." She reached into her bag and pulled out several photocopied pages. "This thing is powerful. Fire won’t kill it, decapitation won’t kill it, and it’s really, really big." She handed them to Walsh who scanned the pages.

"It’s in Latin."

"Yeah. I can get a translation, but the gist of it is in the letter." She indicated the last page. "When big daddy demon died all of the pregnancies terminated. The women needed a couple of days rest, but they’re all fine, not even stretch marks."

"And you say you see a pattern just from these two instances? It could be coincidence." Buffy shook her head.

"I used to say there were two things I don’t believe in, leprechauns and coincidence. Now there's only one thing I don’t believe in." Walsh looked at her incredulously for a second but decided that she really didn’t want to know.

"We’ll be on the look out for any other signs, but I’m still skeptical. In the mean time, I have something else for you to look at." She opened a desk drawer and removed a folder. Buffy accepted it and looked at the contents.

"A headless corpse?"

"A seventeen year-old male. He worked as a janitor at a movie theater. He was found in a closet there and identified by fingerprints. The head wasn’t found."

"The cut is jagged, like a serrated blade." Buffy examined the pictures closely, a knot forming in her gut as she remembered.

"The coroner’s preliminary suggests a saw of some kind…"

"Dr. Gregory."

"What?"

"This wasn’t done with a saw it was done with a claw." She looks up at professor Walsh. "Send someone to the scene with those pheromone tracking devices you use. If I’m right the thing should go nuts. I could have gone a long time without seeing this again." She dropped the folder on the desk. "You wanted more evidence of someone organizing against us? Well, a she-mantis lays eggs, lots of eggs." She told Walsh about an incident a few years before involving a biology teacher at her high school. Walsh listened without interrupting until Buffy finished.

"Bat sonar? That should be fairly easy. The pheromone tracker should be able to find this creature." She typed a brief note into her computer.

"Anything else today?"

"No. That should be it. Thanks for the input."

"Good. I do have a question though." Walsh looked up. "How many people in the initiative know about me?"

"Only Riley and myself. I haven’t been able to get clearance for you yet, so the number of people who know about you and your involvement with us is limited. Why?"

"I noticed two of your people following me a couple of nights ago. They kept a fair distance, but every time I checked they were there." Walsh frowned and thought a moment.

"Agent Gates reported seeing someone in the cemetery when he went to look for the newborn. He wondered what someone was doing visiting a grave at that hour. He didn’t see that it was you, but he told me that he and Keyes followed you to the edge of campus just in case the ‘escaped’ vampire was around and hungry." Buffy nodded.

"Appreciate the thought. I have to get to class." Picking up her books, she nodded briefly to professor Walsh and left.

*****

Crazy. The tracker was going crazy. "There was definitely something here," Gates said. "I’ve never seen readings like this though. Let’s see if we can follow the trail." He rose from where he was kneeling just inside the crime scene tape.

Gary nodded and they began to follow the trail, but Forest stopped only a few feet away, confused. "What?"

"What’s wrong?" Gary looked over his shoulder at the readout.

"The trail disappeared. It’s concentrated around the site where it killed that civilian, but it drops off almost immediately when it leaves. We won’t be able to follow it." He sighed. "The professor isn’t going to like this."

*****

Riley watched as Buffy went through her warm up exercises in the campus gym. It would have been a full workout for many people, he reflected. The more he learned about her, the more impressed by her he was. He saw Giles off to one side, seated in a folding chair.

"Very good Buffy. Now move to the rings, and I want to see some movement. Iron crosses for 20 minutes don’t impress me anymore." He spotted Riley and waved him over. Riley took a seat next to him and watched as Buffy began a gymnastic routine that would have won her a place on the Olympic team easily.

"She impresses me more every time I see her," Riley breathed.

"Adequate," Giles nodded as Buffy did a hand stand on the rings, then pushed off and twisted in mid air neatly switching her hands without losing her balance. She repeated this several times before going into a more complex set of movements ending with a complex twist and flip dismount. Riley applauded and Giles allowed a smile.

"Nicely done. Your control and balance continues to improve." Giles rose and passed her a towel.

"I’m afraid we may have to cut it short," Riley put in. "The trackers aren’t working." Giles raised an eyebrow.

"Tracker?" Buffy nodded.

"I told you about the She-mantis, the headless guy that was found? They hoped to use these pheromone tracking thingies to locate it." She turned to Riley. "No luck huh?"

"Oh we found a couple of places it had been, but there was no trail between them. It doesn’t secrete enough of a trail to follow when it’s on the move." Buffy shrugged.

"No problem. I know another way." She toweled off. "It’ll have to wait until tonight though. In the meantime why don’t you join me, Xander and Anya for an early dinner? My ‘other way’ won’t be available till about an hour after sunset."

*****

"Are you certain this will work lord?" The demon prince Serhan turned one of his many eyes toward his minion.

"Unlikely, but not every battle is about winning or losing." The minion considered for a second before answering.

"You wish to gage their strength. Determine the limits of their abilities and resources." Serahn made a pleased sound, somewhere between the roll of thunder and a cat’s purr.

"Yes. It is also a psychological test of sorts. They are becoming complacent dealing with vampires and minor demons. Let us see how they cope with something completely different." The idea amused Serahn and he chuckled. "I believe this qualifies."

"It is… different," the minion admitted, eyeing the bizarre looking creatures before them. They stood on their hind legs about two feet tall and were vaguely reptilian in appearance. They looked up at their master, sharp-toothed grins splitting their faces. The large ears were the most expressive parts of their faces, continually moving, folding back against the heads like the ears of a cat when it was angry. "You created them specifically for this test?"

"Not exactly," Serahn admitted. "I borrowed them from a movie I saw a few years ago. The behavior of the creatures was quite entertaining, so I borrowed them, and made a few modifications."

"Which movie?" His master smiled

"Gremlins."

"Gremlins?" He considered. "Somehow, the image of you sitting in a theater munching popcorn and laughing at a human made comedy is more frightening than these creatures could ever be." Serahn gave his faithful servant an amused glance and chuckled softly. He was indeed in a good mood. "And they will be set free tonight?"

"Yes. The she-mantis is already at work, and Samuel’s recruiting drive is going well. Let us see how they handle multiple crises." His minion nodded approvingly while privately hoping that this wouldn’t all blow up in their faces.

Their kind had always existed in relative peace with the human world, ignoring each other whenever possible. For every demon that wanted to wipe out humans there were many more who just wanted to go unnoticed, and live quiet lives. Now that was changing. With the U.S. government becoming involved it would become near impossible to avoid a major conflict. It didn’t help to have demons like Serahn escalating that conflict.

For all his power and ingenuity, Serahn was sometimes like a child. This was a game to him. For the lesser creatures he was using as cannon fodder, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

These were thoughts that he kept carefully hidden from his master, but he could not resist the urge to caution him. He would never criticize, but he could caution with reasonable safety, provided he did not appear the coward.

Makin glanced at the ‘gremlins’ as Serahn called them. Although semi-sentient they were made specifically for this task and had no existence beyond serving the will of their master. They would be efficient; he had no doubt, efficient killers. If nothing else, he realized, they would make a good test for young Gary.

"Tonight at sundown," Serahn stated, "I will release them into various parts of the town. Then we will watch."

*****

"I like this place," Xander stated, holding up the knife. "They give you knives that will actually cut the food."

"Always a plus," Buffy agreed. The four of them were gathered in a small Italian restaurant that was a fairly recent addition to Sunnydale. The place was intimate without being claustrophobic, and they were relatively free to talk. Buffy smiled at Riley as he dug into his pasta primavera. "Food’s pretty good too." The others only nodded in agreement, their mouths being full. "What did Walsh say when you asked her?" Riley swallowed.

"She’s skeptical, but she agreed. Your ‘other way’ has his guarantee."

"Good. Xander?"

"He agreed, but he wants something extra. He feels confident he can stay out of sight on his own." Buffy rolled her eyes.

"How much?" She winced when Xander named a figure.

"It’ll be worth it if he can actually do it. I’ll take care of the cost. Are you sure he’s trustworthy?" The question sent Xander into a coughing fit as he tried to laugh and swallow at the same time. Riley looked at him in alarm and Buffy reached over and slapped him on the back.

"Spike and trust don’t really go together, but he can find the person we’re looking for. The guarantee and the money will help him remember what’s in his best interests. Besides, thanks to your patent pending procedure he can’t hurt anyone, unless they’re really oversensitive." Riley frowned at this.

"Meaning?"

"The only thing Spike can do these days is insult people, but he’s really good at it." Riley resisted the urge to roll his eyes.

"Noted. You should know it was a hard sell. She wasn’t exactly crazy about the idea."

"But she agreed right? He can be a tremendous asset, and I don’t want to break my word. He’s safe. That’s the only way it works." Her tone was deadly serious. Riley nodded

"I promise." She gave him her best perky smile.

"Good. Now lets-" the smile faded as she caught sight of something in the window. "Back on the clock guys." Riley and Xander were suddenly alert. Anya looked put out.

"What is it?" Riley’s back was to the window, but he didn’t immediately look around. Xander looked out of the corner of his eye.

"It’s about two feet tall," Buffy told him. "Scaly, with claws and real sharp teeth. I’ve never seen one before."

"You sure?" Xander squinted at the front window, giving it his full attention now. "Could be someone lost their pet monkey." Then the thing Buffy had seen swung into view again. It was using a banner out front like a swing. "Or not."

"Eeww," Anya said looking away. "I just lost my appetite." Xander smiled.

"Well then let’s dance." He changed the grip on his steak knife. Buffy rolled her eyes, but smiled. Riley didn’t have time to comment as a trash can crashed through the large picture window. There were screams and shouts from those closest. Overwhelming that was the sound of laughter from outside, high pitched and definitely malicious. "Let’s go."

The lights went out even as he shoved his chair back. The confusion seemed to grow exponentially. People started yelling and scrambling toward the exits. They pushed and shoved, and swore, intent on getting out at any cost. Then things got worse.

A woman practically screamed in Riley’s ear as the creature launched itself through the window and landed on her back. He turned, getting a closer look at the creature as it grabbed handfuls of the woman’s hair and pulled. Riley knocked it away with a single punch and turned to look for others, and there were others. Too many.

"Get these people out of here!" Buffy shouted. "I’ll tend to the munchkins." Saying this, she grabbed one that was hanging onto a woman’s skirt, apparently trying to look up it, by the leg and swung hard at another that was preparing to launch itself at her from the next table. Their bodies met with a satisfying thud and the one on the table sailed back toward the window and was neatly impaled on a shard still attached to the frame. Nice. Wish I could say I planned it that way.

She turned abruptly as one of the creatures was slammed down on the table its friend had just vacated. Xander drove the knife he had earlier praised into the thing’s chest.
"Civilians are clear of the restaurant," he said, "but these things are outside. Looks like everywhere."

"Riley?" She looked around and found him just putting up his cell phone.

"They seem concentrated in this area, whatever they are. Agents are on their way to help, but we have other problems. Beta team reported sighting a large group of vampires near campus. We’re going to be spread pretty thin."

"What about local cops?" Xander asked. "They aren’t good for much but they might help calm things down." A siren sounded even as they spoke. The four, including Anya, who had taken shelter under a table, made their way outside in time to see a patrol car run into Riley’s car. It bounced away continued on its way in fits and starts. Through the broken passenger side window they could see one of the small creatures wearing some luckless officers hat and laughing crazily as it spun the wheel back and forth. Judging by the way the car was moving, there must have been another jumping up and down on the gas pedal.

"So much for the cops," Anya said resignedly as the vehicle continued to swerve down the street. Riley looked from his caved in driver’s side door to the fleeing patrol car. It was the closest Buffy had come to seeing him angry.

"Let’s get them."

"Hold on," Buffy put a hand on his shoulder. "We’ve still got a bug to stomp."

"Just a sec." He dialed control again. "Professor? I…" He broke off and listened, frowning. "The mantis…"

"Let me," Buffy suggested. He handed the phone over. "Professor. The mantis may already have hostages. Can you spare two men and the proper equipment? I’ve a friend here who’s fought them before. He can round out the team." She glanced at Xander who nodded. "Don’t talk about security clearance. He already knows about you, and he won’t learn much more by leading you to the bug. Tell them to expect a… civilian consultant. Besides Spike won’t go with people he doesn’t recognize." She nodded. "Okay. We’re at…" She gave the address. "We’ll deal with the little guys….Yeah. Okay." She clicked off. Riley was staring at her.

"I don’t know anyone who talks to Walsh that way. How?"

"I don’t have time for the secret agent stuff. Let’s see what we can do here."

The next 10 minutes were spent chasing small, ugly, vicious little beasts. A van finally pulled up in front of them, just as Riley was snapping a diminutive neck. The members of Delta squad piled out. Riley waved to them, breathing hard. Buffy was nowhere to be seen. He heard the sounds of ass kicking in the next street though.

"Agents. I really hate these things." He held up the corpse and shook it roughly before tossing it into a garbage can. "Xander!" he shouted.

"Here." He came around the corner followed closely by Anya. Both were carrying lengths of 2X4. Each board was spattered with a greenish glop that they tried to avoid touching or looking at. "Hey great. Ride’s here. I’d rather go after a mantis than these things any day."

"Can I come too? Just to you know, hide in the van?" Anya looked exhausted and frightened. Xander raised an eyebrow at Riley, who shrugged.

"What’s one more security breach?" He turned to Forest. "This is Xander Harris, the civilian consultant you were told to expect.

They climbed into the van. The driver and one other agent stayed with them while the rest spread out to search for the creatures. Xander gave directions to the place Spike had agreed to meet them.

"All the equipment ready?" The agent who wasn’t driving nodded. Neither of the agents said anything, clearly not happy about his presence there. "Have you been thoroughly briefed on the mantis?" Again he nodded. "Okay. Is this to be a capture or a kill. I gotta tell you it’s ugly out tonight. Trying to capture it could waste a lot of time we don’t have."

"We’ve been ordered to kill the insect but secure the body. Then we’ll proceed with the rendezvous with another team." He turned to look at Xander. "We’ll drop you and your girl friend somewhere."

"Fine by me. I hate this monster hunting stuff." Anya pouted. "What’s the big deal about a Mantis anyway? They only kill a few men. No great loss." The contemptuous tone in her voice drew a curious stare from the agent. Xander only rolled his eyes.

"Pull over here." Xander pointed to a corner near the entrance of Crestview cemetery. The door opened and Xander hopped out. "Spike?" For a moment there was no response then a voice from the shadows asked.

"What about my guarantee?"

"You’ve got it. I’m here to make sure they keep that promise." Spike stepped out of the shadows and reluctantly came toward the van.

"Remind me again. How did you talk me into this?"

"I believe Mr. Franklin convinced you." Xander pulled the bill out of his pocket. "Let’s go already." He handed the money to Spike. "You’ll get the rest when the job is done." Spike climbed into the van. Both agents eyed him warily, but Xander cleared his throat.

"We have an approximate location of the hostile’s lair, but we need to narrow it down. That’s why Spike is here. Don’t even think about it," he added as he saw a hand stray toward a weapon. "There are lives at stake. That’s a lot more important than your vampire catching competition." He was guessing about the competition between the agents, but the nasty look the agent shot him pretty much confirmed his guess.

*****

Five minutes later they pulled to the side of the road in the center of the area they believed to be Mantis territory. The pheromone trackers had given them several good readings, and they had worked on the assumption that the mantis was working the area around her lair.

Xander, the agent who reluctantly identified himself as Jay and Spike got out. The van cruised the area looking for anything suspicious. Narrowing it down wasn’t as easy as it had been the last time. Spike sniffed the air and walked at a brisk pace along a search pattern they had worked out. Xander, following Buffy’s instructions, kept a close eye on Spike. Even so, he almost missed it.

Spike slowed at the entrance to a short cul de sac. He sniffed and looked around, lips pressed into a thin line. He glanced up the cul de sac and then turned away from it.

"This way."

"Are you sure?" Jay was getting tired of being led around by someone he thought should be in a cage.

"Yeah." Spike turned and started quickly away. They had gone a half-dozen paces before Xander realized what had happened.

"Hold it. It’s back that way." He pointed. "Up that street." Spike glared at him.

"Oh, you can smell it can you?"

"No, but you can. That’s how I know its back that way." Spike snorted and started off again. "Listen to me Spike. We told you you’d be able to smell it. We didn’t tell you everything. The chemical signals that thing puts out screw with a vampire’s head. It’s like it triggers some kind of fight or flight response. The closer we get. The more nervous you’ll get. You didn’t want to go up that street. Why?" Spike started to get angry and brush off Xander’s words as nonsense, but stopped.

Could he be right? Never met one of these things before.

"Don’t worry Spike. The pheromone tracker should be able to take it from here." He started back up the cul de sac and Spike stared after for a moment before following.

"How certain are you of this?" Jay asked.

"Fairly certain. The same thing happened last time, but the vampire who showed us the way wasn’t nearly as cooperative. We had to stake him when he managed to break loose and bolt. He wasn’t trying to fight though. Too scared. He just wanted to get away." The agent seemed skeptical, but he pulled out the tracker and moved it back and forth as they moved up the street. For a moment there was no response from the device, and he was obviously becoming frustrated. Then…

"I have a reading." He sounded honestly surprised. Xander nodded as they moved closer to the source of the signal. The van stopped at the end of the street and the driver jogged up to join them carrying the weapons they needed in inconspicuous brown paper bags like groceries.

As it was a residential area, they had to be circumspect. Jay slipped around the side of the house to check the cellar windows. While the others, Spike very reluctant but stubborn, moved unhurriedly up the driveway. Jay returned a moment later. He nodded, his face grave.

"It’s in there. Three male hostages." He picked the lock and they went in. Spike was grinding his teeth by this time.

"You don’t have to come," Xander reminded him.

"Oh right. Let you go and fight the monster while I hide? You’d love to brag to your friends about that wouldn’t you? I’m coming, and I’ll fight." To prove his point he strode straight to the cellar and kicked the door open. "Honey I’m home!" He roared and leapt down the steps before he could think twice about it. Xander charged down after him, carrying the tape player. Jay swore under his breath as he and the other agent followed.

The mantis was trying to pull one of its victims out of an improvised cage. The victim, a teenager about fifteen years old, was hanging on to the bars, yelling his head off. That stopped when Spike barged in. The Mantis let go and swung around to face the vampire.

Knowing the source of the fear only helped a little, Spike found. He was decidedly off his game, barely ducking the thing’s first clumsy swing, and being knocked on his ass by the next. This only made him angry though, and the angrier he got the easier it became to ignore the effects of the mantis’ body chemistry. Chitin cracked under his fists and the mantis fell back as the others came down the stairs.

Xander hit the play button, and the sound that came from the speaker sent the insect into spasm. Spike glanced back, annoyed by the sound, and a wayward limb struck his shoulder. He staggered, then turned back with a snarl and grabbed the leg, pulling hard. The mantis shrieked as the leg came off. The two agents moved in with fire axes and began hacking at the creature. Spike was happy to leave them to it. He backed away and turned to go up the stairs. Xander set the player on a chair before opening the cages and following.

"Great work," Xander admitted, almost grudgingly.

"Sod that. Where’s my money?" Xander fished a bill out of his pocket and held it out.

"Yeah, I guess you’d better be going in case they decide they should take you in…" Spike and the money were already gone. Xander snorted and walked back to the top of the stairs in time to intercept the prisoners as they came up. Two barged past him, headed for the door in a big hurry. The third stopped briefly though.

"Hey, um… thanks man. Really." Xander nodded.

"All in a days work." Then he was alone. He went to the stairs to see how the initiative agents were coming along. "How’s it going guys?"

"All done," Jay called up. They came up the stairs and looked around. "Where’s the hostile?"

"You mean Spike? He’s gone. He did his job, got his money, and he’s off. I’m thinking he didn’t really trust you to keep the other part of the bargain." They didn’t look happy, but they had their orders.

*****

Buffy and Riley had become separated at some point. Riley, Xander and Anya had stayed near the restaurant waiting for backup, but Buffy had drifted away, following the sounds of the disturbances the creatures created. There seemed to be no pattern to their actions. They were just… having fun. Unfortunately that fun consisted of doing as much damage as the pint-sized uglies could do. The numbers were dwindling rapidly, but there still seemed to be quite a few of them.

Buffy heard a loud, metallic sounding crash from an alley up the street and put on a burst of speed. She found an overturned Dumpster, and six of the little demons jumping up and down on top of it, laughing crazily. The laughter stopped abruptly when the Dumpster moved. It shifted violently back and forth, throwing all but two of the demons off. Those two began to laugh again, while maintaining their balance on the moving Dumpster. They clasped their hands over their heads and cheered as if they’d just won a game of king of the mountain.

The winners lost big though when their mountain was abruptly lifted into the air and thrown back against the side of the building, squashing them. It was their cohort’s turn to laugh, but that also ended abruptly when they saw what emerged from the pile of garbage bags. Even Buffy stared, her mouth hanging open.

The creature stood roughly six feet tall and was powerfully built. The skin was pale as moonlight and the eyes glowed a sickly green. It raised thick arms ended in five fingered, sharp-clawed hands. It regarded the small creatures with lips drawn back over teeth that looked better suited to a horse than anything else. They weren’t terribly intimidating in themselves, lacking any canines, but that didn’t matter. There were plenty of other things to be intimidated by.

The smaller demons backed away, startled by the thing before them. Then their muttering grew angry and the surviving four on the ground and five more that dropped from the roof of one of the buildings, swarmed the pale skinned creature. It lashed out at them, crushing skulls with fists that looked more like clubs than hands, or tearing at them with it’s claws. Buffy had seen more formidable claws. These were barely more than sharpened fingernails, but they seemed to get the job done.

Two survivors broke off and backed away when they saw one of their number seized and literally torn in half. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, they fled, straight toward Buffy. She kicked one hard in the midsection and there was a satisfying crunch as it sailed over the head of the head of the pale skinned demon and hit a wall. She grabbed the head of the other in one hand and twisted sharply, never taking her eyes off the larger creature.

For its part, the demon wasn’t paying much attention to her. It glanced at Buffy and then down at the blood on its hands. For some reason it seemed to find it fascinating. The creature stared at its hands wide-eyed as if seeing them for the first time. It glanced up at Buffy who had begun to move toward it. Then it ran. Buffy wasn’t overly concerned, as the alley was a dead end. It had nowhere to go.

"Or maybe he does," she said out loud as it jumped, hand barely brushing the top of the fifteen foot wall as it sailed over. She shook her head, dismissing the creature. After all it had saved her the work. If it was in town to cause trouble she’d see it again. Buffy turned and left the alley.

An odd thought occurred to her though. She had, on occasion, run into demons that just wanted to get by, and had no interest in hurting anyone. She also recalled Angel’s story of the demon half-breeds that he had helped not so long ago. The notion of a human and a demon together struck her as rather odd, but then she thought about Angel. Who am I to judge? She shrugged and went back to looking for more threatening demons.

Buffy made a note to herself to speak to Walsh though. Not all demons were hostiles and it might be a good idea to let the Initiative know that.

Sounds of a battle drew her attention. She sighed. Then again…

Buffy rounded the corner and ducked through a hole in the hedge that bordered the park on the south side. She made her way quickly, but quietly through the park to a clearing. Five Initiative agents were cornered, outnumbered at least three to one by vampires.

With no time to waste, she drew a stake from her belt and quickly scanned the ground. Aha. She picked up the broken branch she had spotted. It was sharp enough for stabbing and heavy enough to use as a club.

Two of them died before they knew she was there. The rest turned on her and she suddenly became very busy.

 

Forest watched, amazed, as Riley’s girlfriend waded into the fight. He had never seen anyone as quick or strong. Another vampire crumbled to dust as Forest shook off his surprise. He had one of the last weapons in the group, so he took aim and fired. A hostile behind her hit the ground hard and didn’t get up. The other agents charged in swinging improvised clubs and fists. The weapons were gone except for Forest’s taser and the short heavy batons that two others had managed to hang onto. The fight was short and confused.

Buffy took out most of the vampires, dusting four more in under two minutes, but the rest piled on, abandoning any pretense at form. The arrival of five more vampires didn’t help matters. Forest and the others fought on bravely, but their numbers were dwindling. By the time the vampire reinforcements arrived two were unconscious and badly wounded. Forest had placed his own call for help, but had been told that it might be a while before help arrived.

Then help arrived. The vampire clinging to his back, a small, vicious female, was abruptly snatched away and thrown hard against a tree. There was a flurry of taser blasts, including two directed into the pile on top of Buffy. Two agents, and a man in civilian clothes came out of the bushes. Jay and Graeme began firing at anything that moved while the civilian began using a stake to lighten the stunned, twitching pile on top of Buffy. He staked four before another vampire noticed and tackled him. They rolled to a stop near Forest and he kicked the hostile hard in the head. It sagged and went poof a second later as the stranger’s stake found its mark.

He got up breathing hard, nodded his thanks to Forrest and went back to the pile. He staked another before Buffy was able to shake herself free. It was at this point that he became aware of another. There was a platinum blonde man in a long duster coat breaking heads and looking as if he were thoroughly enjoying himself. A vampire with a broken back landed near him and Forest quickly knelt to stake it. He didn’t recognize hostile 17 until it turned to face him. Despite the twisted features he could tell the vampire had a huge grin on his face.

"Oh yeah! It’s been too long since I got some quality violence." He looked around and his face fell. "Hey! Where’d all our playmates go?"

"Ran off," the civilian came up breathing hard. "Guess they decided they’d had enough fun. Time to go home."

"Well, lets go after them." The agents stared at him open mouthed. "Come on. Gonna leave ‘em out here to kill people? Let’s go wipe ‘em out."

"Have fun." Jay panted, holding his ribs where a vampire had slashed him. "Give them my regards." Xander glanced at the agent and shook his head.

"He won’t want to go alone. He likes to have someone to show off for." Spike glared at him and made a disgusted noise.

"Have it your own way." He turned and left the clearing, just as Forest was picking his jaw up off the ground. The rest were groaning and picking themselves up as best they could. The civilian was walking, actually limping around the clearing killing the three remaining vampires that were still incapacitated by the taser blasts.

"We better get back to base," Jay suggested. "I think we all need medical attention." He nodded at Buffy who was just barely on her feet. She was covered in bruises and minor cuts and what appeared to be a bite on her arm. Forest made a decision.

"Okay, lets go. You two come too."

"Sir, security…"

"You want to leave ‘em out here after they saved our hides?" The agent who’d spoken frowned, but shook his head. "Lets go then."

*****

Spike walked along the road grumbling to himself. Why had he pitched in? Why had he even followed them? It made no sense to him. Well, maybe it did. He would never admit it, but Xander was right. He did enjoy having an audience. That never seemed to matter before. Now for some reason, it felt like he needed outsiders to validate him. He wasn’t comfortable being the ‘lone wolf’ anymore.

He really enjoyed being a vampire and all that went with it, but now things were different. What sort of demon was he that couldn’t so much as harm a mouse? "It’s not fair!" He kicked a soup can lying on the sidewalk and smiled as it left a nice starburst pattern in the front window of a shop across the road.

"What business have you got complaining?" a soft gravely voice demanded, sounding almost as morose as he felt. Spike stopped and looked up. There was a demon of a type he didn’t recognize sitting on the roof of the shop he was passing. It was a rather depressed looking demon.

"What have we here? A demon. I was just thinking I needed someone to kill." The pale skinned creature gave him a bored look then went back to looking depressed. Spike, not liking the implication that he was someone who could be ignored jumped and grabbed a foot. Setting one booted foot against the wall he yanked.

The demon’s only reaction was a surprised grunt. Spike suddenly found himself yanked skyward as the demon drew its legs up, and a crushing grip as it seized his arm. "Leave me alone," it growled.

Spike’s mouth opened and closed a few times silently as he tried not to yell in pain. Fortunately, the demon got bored quickly. It gestured casually and Spike found himself flying through the air. He landed hard on the roof of car and rolled off onto the ground. By the time he was able to get up, the demon was gone.

"What the hell was that?" Spike dusted himself off; looking around to be sure no one had seen his less than graceful landing. He turned toward home. "Enough for one night." He looked over his shoulder once or twice on his way there though.

 

*****

Riley and what was left of delta squad came through the door. Two members of the group had been badly injured and taken to the hospital. Another was missing. Most of those who were with him were injured in some way, mostly scratches and bruises, but they were all exhausted.

Learning that professor Walsh was at the infirmary with several other agents, he made his way there with the rest. He wasn’t prepared for what he found. Walsh was dressing down Forest Gates about a blatant security violation, and everyone seemed to be talking at once.

"Professor?" Walsh looked over at him

"Riley. I’m glad you’re here. Reports this evening have not been encouraging. What’s your take on this?"

"We seem to be under a coordinated attack," he said bluntly. "The vampires Beta team encountered were searching the campus, probably looking for a way in or maybe just trying to draw us out. I’m not sure which. The smaller hostiles provided a diversion, forcing us to split our forces. I haven’t had time to confer with the other teams yet. I can prepare a full report and tactical briefing by morning. Frankly though professor, we’re all exhausted. Staying out any longer would have been an unacceptable risk. We need rest and medical attention." Walsh considered this briefly and nodded.

"Agreed. In the meantime there’s a situation here." She nodded toward Gates who was standing at attention, as she’d left him.

"What’s going on Forrest?"

"It looks like I owe you an apology," he gestured into the next room. "There is a Slayer." Riley pushed past into the next room. One of the doctors was bending over a bed, where Buffy lay unconscious.

"How is she?" The doctor glanced up as Riley entered.

"She’ll be fine. The injuries aren’t as bad as agent Gates first believed, but-" He shook his head in confusion.

"What?"

"Some of these injuries, seem to be weeks old. It’s possible that the fighting reopened older wounds, but I’m not sure how she fought as she did with those kinds of injuries though. She’ll need a couple of weeks to recover fully though. The broken ribs alone will-"

"Don’t worry Riley, she’ll be fine by morning." Both turned to see a young man in civilian clothes standing in the doorway.

"Xander? What are you doing here?"

"I brought them in," Forrest stepped past Xander into the room. "They really saved our lives out there, especially her. We were surrounded, outnumbered three to one. She cut those odds in half in under two minutes. It cost her though. They stopped with the fancy stuff and just piled on top of her and started pounding." He shook his head. "Sheer weight of numbers did the trick. She could have handled all twelve of them otherwise. It took six to pin her. We could have handled the others, but they got reinforcements. Luckily, so did we." He nodded toward Xander. "Harris, Jay, Graeme and hostile-, Spike came to our rescue."

"Glad to hear it." They all turned to see Buffy trying to sit up. "Oohh. I think it’s time to turn off the sign." The commandos traded confused looks.

"What sign?" Riley asked for the rest.

"The one at the city limits that says ‘Vampire Night! No cover no minimum.’"

"Uh, yeah," Xander nodded. "We’ll get right on that." She smiled weakly at him as the doctor pushed her back down on the bed

"You need rest. You’ve got a couple or three broken ribs. You’ll be on the sidelines for at least two weeks."

"She’ll be 100% by morning," Xander assured them. Riley nodded.

"There are advantages to being a Slayer." Walsh looked at them, distinctly unhappy. The other agents looked back and forth between the two. "You’re right Forrest. She is the Slayer. Guys," he looked around at the others, who were all staring at him by now. "Meet Buffy Summers, vampire Slayer."

"A Slayer who fights with a vampire’s help?" Walsh sounded very displeased. This aspect of it was news to her. "You didn’t tell me that the ‘tracker’ you would be using was my escaped hostile."

"Spike can’t harm anything mortal, but vampires aren’t mortal. He can hurt other types of demons as well. It makes him useful. He helps out to get his recommended daily allowance of violence, to pick up a little spending money, and to keep me happy. Neutered or not I’d dust him if he gave me a good excuse. Thing is he can’t defend himself against me anymore. It just wouldn’t feel right."

"So why let him roam free? He could expose us. He could tell other demons about us. How do you know he didn’t instigate this?" Buffy shook her head.

"Vampire’s are sorta like wolves. If one of their number turns up lame, they’ll happily turn on him. Spike knows this, and he knows he’s lame." Xander interrupted with a short bark of laughter at this. Buffy shot him a look and continued. "Other vampires aren’t going to pay any attention to him. At best they’d give him a beating and send him packing. Besides, Ethan knew about your operation, and he heard it from demons he deals with. The cat was out of the bag before you captured Spike."

"How is that possible? We took every security precaution. That was the only breach we’ve had." Buffy shrugged.

"Demons like to watch from the shadows. I doubt you catch every one you see, and I’m sure you don’t see everyone that sees you. There’s also the little matter of magic. Demons don’t always get their information through traditional channels. There are ways of hiding from security cameras and sensors. There’s probably the magical equivalent of a security spy camera. Scrying I think it’s called. There are some things all your toys just can’t guard against."

"Magic?" Walsh sounded deeply skeptical. Buffy considered the best way to convince her. "I can accept certain things, but our understanding of magic is so limited." She shook her head. "Even if there is, as you say a magical way of watching us, which I’m not sure I believe, what can we do about it?"

"I’ll look into it." There was one sure way of proving that magic existed, but that would entail putting friends at risk. She wasn’t prepared to do that. She wasn’t ready to trust them that far.

"I’m not happy with this Summers. I want hostile 17 back under lock and key."

"You gave your word."

"You deceived me."

"Not at all. I said I had a way to find the mantis and I did. I told you he was a harmless demon, and he is. He’s also a lot more useful out there than in here. I’d appreciate you not saying that to him though. I know I only tolerate him because he’s sometimes useful, and he knows it, but he doesn’t like hearing it said. He’d probably get all mopey and refuse to do anything productive for at least a week." Walsh stood open mouthed for a moment, looking for an appropriate response. Riley stepped in.

"I don’t like it either, but he did help out tonight and he is neutered. Maybe we should give Buffy the benefit of the doubt." After a moment, Walsh nodded.

"I’ll be watching closely." Buffy nodded.

"Understood. I have to do things my own way professor. I’ve survived four years of this by following my instincts and doing what I think is right. I can’t change now. If that means we can’t cooperate, then I’m sorry."

"The world doesn’t revolve around you Buffy. The military works because people follow orders. I can’t deny your success rate, but I can’t do things your way either." Xander cleared his throat, drawing their attention.

"Why don’t we just try to get through tonight and see if we can’t reach some kind of understanding when things have calmed down?" Walsh considered this briefly and nodded, wondering what the civilian’s connection to all this was.

"What is our current situation?" She looked from Xander to the agents who had gone with him. "The mantis?"

"Dead," Graeme answered promptly. "It had three hostages. We arrived just in time, and they’re fine." Walsh nodded and moved on.

"The small hostiles?" Riley stepped forward.

"We think we got them all. We must have killed dozens of them, and things have finally started to calm down out there. We still have agents on the street, looking for signs of disturbance, but nothing has been reported yet."

"Vampires?" It was Forest’s turn.

"Almost twenty staked. We may not have gotten them all, but we hurt them bad."

"Unfortunately," Riley cut in. "All of this confirms Buffy’s suspicion about a new master demon in town. Some one went to a lot of trouble to organize this." Walsh looked around at the others. All of them were nodding in agreement.

"Very well then. I need all able-bodied agents back on the streets. Find any remaining hostiles and capture one of the small ones alive if there are any left. The vampires will retreat at dawn, but we don’t know about these small creatures." About five agents broke away and headed for the exits. She looked at the rest. "Get your wounds tended to." She turned and left for her office, leaving the doctor to handle their injuries.

*****

Two hours later, Xander’s sprained ankle was tended to, as were the injuries, mostly minor, of the rest of the group. The agents in the field had reported in by then. They had found only three more vampires, and had located a missing agent. By the time the sun rose, the crisis had passed. Wherever the small creatures had come from, they went back there, and the surviving vampires had retreated to their lairs.

"Where were you Gary?" Riley asked, sounding a bit peevish after his long night. "You just disappeared."

"It’s a bit embarrassing actually." He broke off, clearly not wanting to admit to what had happened. "I followed a pair of the small hostiles through a door in an alley. It turned out to be a utility room of some sort. They wriggled through a vent and the door slammed behind me. I spent the next four hours pounding on the door to be let out."

"Why didn’t you call in?" Riley asked. Gary looked away.

"Um, well, one of them picked my pocket." Riley stared at him, not quite believing what he’d heard.

"Picked your pocket?"

"Yes sir. Three of them jumped on me from a roof and tore up my vest," he gestured at his shredded uniform. "I threw them off easily, but I saw one had grabbed my phone. That was one of the two I chased into the alley." Riley sighed.

"Wonderful." Riley shook his head and moved away. "File your report and requisition new equipment." Gary sighed with relief when Riley was out of sight. That could have been much worse. Gary turned toward the locker room where he could get into something presentable.

Riley caught up with Buffy and Xander as they were getting into the elevator to take them to the surface. "Hang on a minute." They turned back to face him. "Walsh will want your take on this. A complete report about what happened." Buffy rolled her eyes.

"Great. More homework from her," but she nodded. "I’ll take one of the little things to Giles, and see what we can find out about them." Riley was obviously wanting to say something else, but wasn’t quite sure how to get it out. "Don’t worry Riley. We’ll figure it out. You can’t stress over everything."

"Okay." He nodded reluctantly. "I guess we did come through it pretty much in tact, and we did win this battle." Xander shook his head as they got in to the elevator.

"We won this skirmish," he corrected.

"Skirmish? What qualifies as a battle in your experience?" Buffy gave him a little half smile as the doors began to close.

"Welcome to the Hellmouth agent Finn."

THE END

The End

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