|"One Girl in all the World"
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters from Roswell, BTVS or Angel. I'm
just borrowing them. No profit is earned and I'll dust them off before I
Summary: Liz and Spike are off to Sunnydale to stop the Skins from raising an ancient war god. Cooperation is called for, but how much will they get?
|"I got some of the pictures from Whitaker's campaign," Willow said
turning away from her laptop computer and showing them the pictures on
the screen. They had gathered back at the magic shop after looking over
the Holiday Inn from a distance. Liz hadn't wanted to take the chance of
being spotted and recognized. The pictures showed not only Whitaker, but
some of her 'family' as well. Liz recognized one of the faces.
"Whitaker's mother. She was at Copper Summit." She looked at Willow. "What about the League? Their website…"
"Is heavily encrypted. It'll take time to crack it. There's basic information there, a civic organization, yada, yada yada. A lot of public image stuff, but nothing of any use to anyone. I haven't been able to log on as a member yet."
"I'm not sure it would help anyway," Michael said. "I don't think they'd post invasion 0plans no matter how good their firewall is."
"Probably not," Willow admitted sheepishly.
"It doesn't matter anyway," Michael groused. "We know where they are, and what they're doing."
"So lets go break some heads," Spike enthused. "I need a good brawl."
"Have you forgotten what Whitaker did to that vampire in Roswell?" Liz asked. "We need to do this carefully. Willow, what about the guest list from the hotel?"
"Got it. Betty Whitaker is there, but not Vanessa Whitaker."
"She may be using an alias to keep from being noticed," Riley offered. 'A U.S. congresswoman might attract attention." He shook his head. "An alien in Congress. That's disturbing."
"Tell me about it," Liz sympathized. "Let's just deal with it." She looked around at the full assembly. Xander was the only one missing. He was watching the hotel from a diner across the street. He had reported in a few minutes before to let them know that Whitaker had just arrived. She'd been carrying a large package.
"What now?" Riley asked. "Do we bust in and take them out?" Buffy smiled.
"Simple. Direct. I like it." Liz shook her head.
"They have some pretty lethal powers and we're not sure how many of them there are." She considered for a moment. "What about check in times? They probably arrived in a big group." Willow nodded thoughtfully and called up the necessary page. Compared to getting past the League's security, looking at the register for the Holiday Inn in Sunnydale was easy.
"Okay. Here it is. There's no list of people associated with the League, but a big group did check in a couple of days ago. Looks like about eight people in a group. I'm betting there's more cause, like this is their only chance, I'd think all of them would show up."
"Good bet," Liz nodded. "So how about we watch them? I doubt they're doing whatever ritual they need in the hotel."
"Probably not," Giles agreed. "They would need a fairly elaborate arrangement of mystical symbols and apparatus for focusing the energies necessary for the ritual."
"So we watch 'em," Spike summarized. "Find out how many there are, then make plans based on that. Then we follow them to where they're doin' the mojo and break some heads."
"That's the plan." Liz confirmed.
"Sounds good to me," Buffy agreed, although her tone suggested it was a grudging admission. "Xander will let us know when they leave. We should be ready."
"There she is. Betty Whitaker." Riley's voice came clearly over the radio. "There's a fairly large group getting ready to move out." He paused for a moment. "I count ten."
"They're not even trying to be subtle," Buffy remarked from the back seat of Giles' car.
"Why should they?" Michael asked rhetorically. "They're just members of a civic group heading off to a perfectly legal and harmless meeting."
"Yeah, well lets go bust up this legal and harmless meeting. Follow at a safe distance Giles. We don't want to be spotted." They waited until the last of the group of three cars pulled out of the hotel parking lot. It was shortly after sunset and the entire group was assembled. Giles, Buffy, Michael, and Willow waited in the convertible a block away. Riley, Spike, Liz and Xander waited in Riley's car a half-mile down the road. Spike was grousing over the close quarters, and neither Xander nor Riley was happy with them either.
"Let's get this over with," the ex-soldier said between clenched teeth, barely holding on to his temper.
"Amen," the vampire responded fervently.
"Focus Spike. We need to work together." Liz repressed a sigh of frustration. She was getting tired of diffusing arguments between her Watcher and the Sunnydale group. It was an extra aggravation she could have easily done without. Spike started some of the arguments, but he was by no means the only one to blame for the friction. They resented his presence and, to an extent, hers. The sooner they were done and on their way home, the happier everyone would be. She wasn't prepared to rush things though. With an effort, she suppressed her irritation and followed her own admonition. She focused on their immediate goal.
They did have one advantage. The Skins had no idea that they were there. Not expecting trouble of any sort, they had chosen to 'hide in plain sight.' They weren't making any effort to hide what they were doing. They didn't feel any need. Following them to a rented building on the East Side of town was easy. The Skins parked in the lot and went inside, all in plain view of anyone who happened by.
At Liz direction, Giles parked in the next block and Riley joined them a few moments later. They made their way back to the building, being wary of sentries. It didn't seem likely that they would be that overconfident. Spike spotted the first one.
"Got him. South-east corner." It took 20 minutes of careful maneuvering, but they found the rest. There were four in all. Three were very well hidden. The last was trying to look like an ordinary jogger making circuits around the block where the building was located. Either he didn't know or didn't care that nighttime joggers in Sunnydale were rare. "One for each of us," Spike grinned at Liz, Buffy, and Michael. "Lets do it."
They spread out and found their targets. At Liz direction they started a silent count and moved in simultaneously. Buffy thought it was a bit much and had said so, but she went along with the plan. After all, Liz knew these people and what they were capable of. She didn't. Though she realized it was petty and a little irrational, some part of her resented that. She found, to her honest surprise, that she didn't like having to follow someone else's lead. This time she wasn't the one with the plan, the one making the decisions. She didn't like it.
Suddenly, Buffy was seeing a part of herself that she wasn't terribly proud of. When the current crisis was past, she would have to take a long hard look at how she'd handled this meeting with Liz. When it was in the past. Pushing it all to the back of her mind for the time she moved into position and waited for the count to reach zero.
The balding, pudgy man dressed in jogging sweats didn't make a sound when Buffy drove her fist into the spot Liz had shown her. She quickly retreated into the shadows as the remains of the husk fluttered to the ground. There was no reaction from the building. The windows remained dark and no hint of movement was revealed at any of those windows. < Time to move in. >
There was no alarm on the window. Spike checked the corners of the room for motion detectors. They were there but inactive. He moved into the corridor after listening at the door for indication of movement.
Michael nodded to Spike as he completed his circuit of the ground floor hallway and met the vampire near the basement stairs. It was a fairly simple layout. There were several offices and storerooms along the outer edge of the building. Each one opened onto the same inner hallway that skirted the edge of a large central room that was used for whatever function the current renters were organizing. The central room was empty. That only left one place the Skins could be. The basement was, if anything, more expansive than the central room, having been designed to accommodate big trucks bringing in all manner of supplies and equipment. They had seen from outside that the vehicle entrance was closed off securely to prevent casual intrusion by Sunnydale's small homeless population or by demons of any sort.
That entrance would have been too obvious anyway Michael realized as he silently greeted the others. Giles looked in at the group and nodded before withdrawing. He, Willow, Xander, and Riley had agreed to take up positions outside the building to watch for any Skins trying to leave. No, the truck entrance was undoubtedly being watched. Liz glanced at her watch and Michael did the same. Two minutes had passed since they had killed the guards. Liz nodded toward the door.
Michael placed a hand over the locking mechanism and concentrated. A moment later, the push bar moved and the door to the stairwell swung open. After listening for a moment he turned and motioned to the others. "Ready?" They all nodded.
He eased through and descended the stairs as quietly as possible. Spike, the last through, quietly closed the door. At the bottom of the stairs they paused and listened. There were voices, but they were muffled, distant. Carefully opening the door, Michael looked out and saw that they were in a service corridor. The voices came from the right, at the far end of the corridor.
Buffy moved to the fore and edged her way to the end of the corridor. The scene in the room made her stop. She gestured to the others and, one by one, they each took a look.
There were almost twenty of them. A geeky looking teenage boy was giving the orders. He was fairly ordinary looking except for the chain he wore about his neck, a chain with a carved stone face hanging from it. It made for a decidedly ugly piece of jewelry.
The Skins were busily opening boxes and unwrapping parcels. Against one wall a stone framework of sorts had been assembled. Some of the stone used seemed to be very old, perhaps parts of the original bas-relief. Others had clearly been shaped recently. The Skins were using their powers to merge the old and new pieces together. Where the original pieces met, however, this wasn't necessary. The image of Devarri himself was nearly complete. As they watched, a large piece of torso was fit into the scene like a missing puzzle piece. The edges of the once shattered pieces immediately fused together. All that was lacking now was part of the left leg, the right hand, and the head. Most of the body appeared to be original material, badly scarred in some places, but original. The few pieces of Devarri's actual body that were not original were plainly visible as a creeping, inky blackness slowly covered the gray stone, turning the granite to something that looked like obsidian. Buffy suspected that this need of 'new material' was the only reason that the job had not been completed already. The Skins were efficient she had to admit.
Even as she watched, cracks and chips were repaired with shaped stone that began to blacken almost immediately, corrupted she supposed. At a table in another part of the room the final pieces were being unwrapped or shaped. Buffy drew back quickly preparing a plan even as she focused on them. The odds were very heavily against them, so a frontal assault was far too dangerous, likewise just smashing it and running wasn't an option either. They needed an advantage. Spike held up a hand to stop her. She looked at him impatiently, but he grinned and, with a slight flourish, pointed to the fuse box on the wall.
He pointed to himself, then the box, and then to Michael. Buffy looked on in confusion as he made an odd gesture with hand outstretched palm facing away and then made a face, an almost comical imitation of Devarri's twisted countenance. Michael nodded, apparently understanding. Spike pointed at Liz, Buffy, and at himself again and mimed a few punches. Liz nodded and moved toward the entrance behind Michael as he took up position. Buffy didn't like it, but she had to admit that she didn't have any better ideas. It was close to suicide, but it was their best chance.
Michael held up three fingers and began counting down. Three fingers, two fingers, one. The lights went out and there was a small explosion from the far end of the room where Devarri was being assembled. Immediate chaos. There was confused babbling, shouted but barely heard orders and rising above it all was an inhuman howl of rage.
Into this confusion came four new shapes, moving through the darkness with deadly purpose and efficiency. A few seconds passed before any of the Skins realized there were enemies among them. Suddenly the room was full of light that was nearly blinding despite its apparent lack of a source. The two Slayers and the vampire squinted against the glare but kept moving, never giving the Skins a chance to focus on them. Surrounded by enemies, staying in constant and violent motion was their best bet.
Michael was the most caught off guard, but Liz had been keeping a close eye on him and quickly killed the first Skin to threaten him. "Keep moving," she hissed as she delivered an uppercut to a man trying to draw a bead on Spike.
There were too many of them. They had injured or killed several of them, but the light was a serious problem and there was no ready solution. Buffy was the first to fall, hurled against a wall as by an unseen giant. Michael attempted to reach her, but neglected his own defense to do so and was overwhelmed.
"Sop now or we kill them!" Liz looked to see the teenager with what she realized was Devarri's head on a chain standing over her unconscious friends.
"Keep fighting!" Spike shouted, taking advantage of the distraction the Skin's leader had caused to kill another. "They'll die anyway if he gets loose." He didn't get a chance to say more as a small crate was hurled across the room and impacted with his head. Distracted by her teacher's fall, Liz held position long enough for one of the aliens to throw her against a wall, just as Buffy had been thrown.
"Do not kill them!" a loud rasping voice commanded. The Skins obeyed and quickly moved in to bind them. The teenager came forward, bearing Devarri. It was the head itself that had spoken. "I want the pleasure of killing them myself." Liz stared in amazement at the stone head. "Nicholas, set a guard on them and put the rest to work repairing the damage they have done. They will die by my own talons." Nicholas turned away from them, taking Devarri out of view for a moment. He quickly gave orders and then turned back. "Well," the head hissed as it's burning eyes swept over them. "A Slayer… No, two Slayers and a vampire." It's attention, something Liz could actually feel, though she didn't understand how, turned to Michael. "And you. I do not know your kind, but be assured I will grind them under my heel for this offense."
"That'll be a neat trick," Buffy observed, eyeing the disembodied head. Nicholas kicked her in the face.
"Silence!" Liz' attention was fixed on the rest of Devarri. Michael's blast had done a lot of damage. Most of the torso was scattered across the floor and a long, wide crack ran down the only complete leg. < Good aim, > she acknowledged. Several people were already at work with brooms < sweeping up their lord and master. > She couldn't repress a snicker.
"Laugh while you may Slayer," Devarri hissed. "Soon I will be whole." Devarri didn't bother making threats. Instead he had Nicholas pitch in to reassemble the image. It would take a while, but they would finish it before the night was out. < Speaking of 'out'… >. Spike was unconscious. Liz had no idea how long it would take him to recover. Vampires healed quickly, but time was running out, and the odds were against them. She counted 12. There were seven piles of dust on the floor, testament to the group's reduced numbers, but they were still badly outnumbered.
Whatever else they were though, the Skins weren't competent knot makers. The ropes were tight, but they weren't staying that way. Liz knew she could get loose, but at the moment there wasn't any point. Five of the Skins stood guard over them, and she knew enough of their powers to know that there wasn't time to get free and finish them before one of them killed her. The only bright spot, and that was debatable, was that Spike was starting to come around.
"Oh, bloody hell!"
"Welcome back," Michael sulked.
Spike glanced around the room and scowled. "I woke up for this?" The Skins set to guard him glared and moved to kick him. Spike leaned to one side and the sneaker shod foot ht the stone wall. It's owner howled and cursed while holding his foot.
The others laughed despite themselves, but a curt word from Nicholas silenced them. "I told you to watch them, nothing more." Subdued, the guards glared sullenly at their prisoners, blaming them for the reprimand. < Terrific, > Liz thought irritably looking around for any opportunity or distraction.
Nothing presented itself until the room started to fill with fog. < Fog? > Liz didn't stop to question it. The fog rapidly spread and she had her distraction. Quickly freeing herself she prepared to attack, but before she could make her move there was a movement near the truck entrance.
"Fire in the hole!" Riley yelled and something rolled into the room to stop near what was left of Devarri's portal to Earth.
"NO!" Devarri howled, seeing the object and apparently recognizing it. Determined as he was to preserve his gateway however he couldn't keep Nicholas from going the other way. Liz threw herself flat yelling for the others to do the same. The grenade shattered the stone and sent stone shrapnel across the room. The prisoners were pelted with bits of stone, but were protected somewhat by their distance from the blast.
The Skins weren't so fortunate. Three members of the group closest to the blast had their husks shredded and vanished completely. Buffy, Liz, Michael, and Spike were up before the dust settled and wading into the survivors. The fog was as much a mystery to them as it was to the Skins, but they didn't stop to wonder, they just kept moving, taking advantage of the cover. The woman in front of Liz exploded and Xander was suddenly there wielding a crowbar. She caught a glimpse of Willow near the truck entrance holding a small bowl from which the fog literally poured. Liz couldn't take time to be amazed; there were still seven Skins.
Nicholas, unfortunately, had not been one of those killed in the blast. The remaining Skins began to rally to him, and their combined powers forced the Slayers and their friends back. Buffy was on the verge of calling for a retreat. It was getting too dangerous.
At her gesture they began to retreat. A call to Willow, and the fog began to thicken, hiding them from view.
"No!! You will not escape me that easily!" Devarri roared, and even through the fog they could see the stone eyes glowing.
"This is bad right?" Buffy asked of Giles as they turned to run for the entrance, hoping the fog would cover their retreat. In the fog ahead of them, she heard Willow scream. "Will!" Buffy was by her friend's side even as the bowl hit the ground. When it shattered the fog began to settle and clear. There was something holding Willow against the wall, something vaguely reptilian and made of stone.
"Devarri's critters," Michael yelled and focused a blast back toward a shield of some sort that had been raised against him. The shield was advancing towards them with the Skins right behind it. Whatever it was, it was absorbing Michael's best efforts. The only good thing about it seemed to be that it worked both ways. The Skins couldn't actively attack them while the shield was raised.
He chanced a glance over his shoulder and saw Liz and the others fighting for their lives against Devarri's minions, the same type of demons that had attacked them on the road back from Copper Summit. Glancing back toward the Skins, he saw that the shield was steadily advancing. With a supreme effort of will he forced it back, but was unable to do more. He couldn't breach it. A scream drew his attention and his head whipped around. Liz was down, one of the creatures straddling her. Something like a strong static charge caused him to cry out and convulse in pain. A quick glance back showed him the shield was advancing again, and he staggered away from it, giving up valuable fighting room.
The demon's sharp talons descended toward Liz. A shield that shocked and burned anyone who touched it advanced steadily, cutting them off from any retreat. The smug, superior look on Nicholas' face as he met Michael's eyes. That look.
Memory. Not from his current life, but the one before. He knew that look even if the face that went with it had changed, and it made him angry. Connection.
The connection was not with another person, but with something deep inside himself; something he'd never even suspected was there. A switch was thrown. A circuit closed. A floodgate opened. No single metaphor seemed to work, but the power he had feared for weeks after Pierce's death suddenly poured from him, as it never had before.
Liz managed to catch the descending arm, keeping the claws from her throat but she was still at a terrible disadvantage. In an attempt to throw the creature off she twisted the arm she held and bucked. The arm came away and the weight vanished with an abruptness that amazed her. She was on her feet and looking for a new enemy at once.
There were none to be found. Turning a quick 360 failed to find her an opponent. She repeated the turn more slowly, wondering what had happened. The others were all there, and apparently just as baffled as she. Buffy was holding a fighting stance while pivoting on her heel. She looked as bewildered as Liz felt. Giles, Riley, Xander, Willow, and Spike all looked equally mystified.
"What the hell was that?" Spike finally asked.
"Huh?" Riley asked looking at the vampire in confusion.
"What d'you mean, 'huh?' That… that wave. Something passed over us and suddenly no more bad guys."
"Wave?" Xander asked. "I didn't notice any-"
"He's right," Willow spoke up. "There was a wave. Felt kinda magicy, but not quite." She stopped and stared. First Liz, and then the others turned to see what she was looking at.
Michael knelt in the midst of slowly settling cloud of skin flakes, which was all that remained of Nicholas and his followers. He wore a stunned expression and didn't respond at first when Liz spoke to him. She placed a hand on his shoulder as she knelt next to him and tried again.
"Michael? What happened?" His mouth opened and closed silently for a moment before answering.
"Would you care to explain that?" Giles blinked owlishly at him. Michael didn't respond. He just looked down at his hands, turning them over and over. "Michael?"
"I killed them all." Spike snorted.
"Well that was the idea." Michael finally glanced up, a flash of irritation penetrating the shock.
"Not like that." He looked around at the others as Liz helped him to his feet. "Why are you still alive?" The Sunnydale group exchanged startled glances and a moment passed before Riley ventured a guess.
"You weren't aiming for us?" Michael let out a short, harsh bark. No one mistook it for laughter.
"Aim? I didn't aim." Riley didn't know how to respond to that. So he asked the question Michael himself had asked.
"So why are we still alive? Why weren't we affected?" Buffy stepped forward hesitantly.
"What did you do?"
"Three questions," he muttered darkly. "Same answer. I don't know." Looks were exchanged again.
"What do you mean you-"
"I mean I don't know!" He yelled. "I don't know what that was or why you weren't affected. I don't know!" The silence that ensued was profound. Even Spike kept his mouth shut. Finally, Michael shook his head, calming down slightly. "It's Pierce all over again."
"Who is Pierce?" Giles asked. Michael ignored him and walked out of the building. Giles looked at Liz for answers.
"He was… a man that Michael accidentally killed. Pierce was trying to kill us at the time. Michael was the only one in a position to stoop him, but he didn't intend to kill him."
"He lost control," Giles interpreted. Liz nodded. "It really tore him up. He avoided everyone for days after it happened. It took weeks of intensive training before he would trust himself to be around anyone he cared about." She looked after him, not prepared to follow yet. "I should go after him. I know how this will affect him." She looked around at the others. "Could you take care of the… um, cleanup? I should go..." she gestured vaguely in the direction her friend had gone. She looked to Buffy who nodded, and took off to find Michael.
Buffy watched the other Slayer go not sure what to do. There was too much about them that she didn't know and couldn't even begin to guess at. She turned her attention to what was left of the Skins and Devarri. There was nothing left of the Skins and the stone of the gateway was melted. < Melted?! > The thought was tinged with alarm. < What the hell did he do? >
One of their enemies had survived, after a fashion. The image of Devarri's face carved in stone stared up at them. The chain had been reduced to slag, but somehow the face had survived with only a crack. She didn't know how, and didn't care. She brought her heel down hard on the stone face, shattering it. That done she turned to the others, all of whom still looked a bit rattled. "So," she said, a little more loudly than necessary. "What should 'clean up' consist of?"
"Lots of baggies?" Willow suggested. "To keep the bits apart?" Giles nodded.
"Y-yes, that seems appropriate. We can arrange to scatter the pieces across via the U.S. postal service and some colleagues of mine in other parts of the world."
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