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Chapter 12: The Problem with Prophecy
"That place that blew up, in the dream," Buffy asked from the passenger seat, "did you recognise it?"
"Looked like it was somewhere near the docks," Faith replied, not taking her eyes off the road. "Think we should go looking for it?"
"Probably. I wonder if those soldiers were Riley's unit."
"They weren't," Faith muttered.
"How do you-"
"I've seen those uniforms before. But it's impossible - they can't be here."
"Why? Who are they?"
"They're called START. They're a kind of anti-slayer commando unit. Those guns they were carrying - they don't fire bullets. They spit out needles full of that shit that Giles used to take your powers away when you turned eighteen. But super-concentrated. If you get hit, it strips you of all your power, instantly. Then they can just kill you the old-fashioned way."
Buffy was silent, looking thoughtfully out the window. "What does their name mean?" she asked, finally.
"I don't know, actually. Most of the government paperwork and computer records from that time got nuked during the DC Dustup." Faith caught Buffy's confused expression. "Sorry - big battle for DC, ended with most of the city getting levelled."
"They did. I don't know if you've missed the point of my stories, B, but we didn't win a whole lot of battles."
"Can I ask you something?"
"Anything you want, B. Always."
"You said that when you went to that prison in Michigan, I was in hiding."
"In London, yeah."
"Why was I hiding?"
Buffy waited a moment for Faith to explain, but she didn't. "And that was?"
"You really want to know?"
"Probably not, but tell me anyway."
"The Others were after Dawn, in full force. You took a group of slayers to London and sheltered her there. I think you were in one of the old war tunnels, but I didn't know for sure - it was safer that way."
"Why did they want her?"
"There's more than one way to use the Key - what Glory would have done to her was way less painful than the way they came up with. If they'd have gotten hold of her, they would have ripped a brand new hole in reality. One that couldn't be closed."
"Why? What would that accomplish?"
"I don't know - their grand plan was kind of a mystery. Something about bringing the Old Ones back, but beyond that we never did find out."
"They never got Dawn, though?"
"Not alive, no." Faith clenched her jaw, hoping that Buffy would take a hint and stop asking questions. Fortunately, she did. A few minutes later, Faith turned on the radio and they listened to the music all the way back to Sunnydale.
"It's good to have you back, Buff," Xander embraced her.
"Thank Faith - she's the one that talked me into coming back." Giles smiled warmly at Faith, who blushed.
"No big, really."
"So," Willow asked from her spot at Tara's side, "what's our next move?"
"We had that dream again," Faith said, looking at Giles. "We saw a few more things this time - the confusing part, though, is that the clock still said thirty-one."
"Indeed?" Giles looked puzzled. "So perhaps it's not a countdown - but that does raise the question of what exactly it is. What else did you see?"
"An explosion," Buffy interjected. "It was huge. Faith thinks it's a spot near the docks, so we're going to check it out. And some soldiers - I thought they were Riley's guys, but Faith says they're an anti-slayer team from the future."
"From the future?" Xander scratched his head. "So - they're time travellers, too?"
"I don't know," Faith clenched a fist in frustration. "I don't get how they could be here. But if we're up against them, we're going to need backup. Non-slayers would have better odds against them. B, where's Spike? I thought he was hanging around all the time these days."
The group exchanged glances. "Actually," Xander said thoughtfully, "that's a really good question. I haven't seen him for a while."
"Do we assume he's not with us on this, then?" Faith raised an eyebrow. "You'd think, living in a crypt, that he'd have noticed all the Quitos digging themselves out of their graves."
"Maybe we should check on him," Buffy mused. "They may have gone after him first."
"Or he might be working with them!" Xander protested. "You might be walking right into a trap!"
"I've got to go with X on this one," Faith admitted. "If he was on the side of angels, we'd have heard from him by now."
"But what if-"
"Focus, B," Faith chided. "Bigger things to deal with."
Frustrated, Buffy sighed. "You're right. Where do we start?"
"The docks. If there's an explosion there, it means either they got a base there or that they're planting explosives. Either way, we need to find out what's so important about that spot. Can somebody round up Jonny? Tell him to bring his gun."
"We're bringing him?"
"He needs the practice."
"And what should the rest of us do?" Giles inquired. "I don't like the idea of putting our two strongest fighters in one place - one of us should go instead."
"You're right," Faith admitted, and held up a hand to stop Buffy's protests, "but at the moment, I don't want to risk anyone else. We don't know how many Quitos are out there now, and we have no idea where that thing with my mom's face is or what it's planning." She thought for a moment. "I'll make a deal with you, though - we'll take Xander. X, get a sword or whatever your preference is." Xander made his way to the weapons chest, a spring in his step.
"That still doesn't answer my question. What do the rest of us do?"
"Well, G, I need you to call Angel. Connor should have been born by now, so get him and his crew to haul ass Sunnydale way. Then, I need ya to look up thirty-one. If it's not a countdown, then it means something. Find any references that you can, see if there's some demon or legend or something that thirty one is a part of. Will, T, have you tried looking for my mom?"
"None of the standard locator spells work," Willow pouted. Tara patted her arm comfortingly.
"Would it work better if you had some of my blood? For the DNA or something?"
"Yes!" Willow nearly vibrated with excitement. "I know some really good spells that use blood."
"I thought you might. You guys handle that end of things. Oh, and G? Get Andrew to help you. He turned out to be a pretty wicked Watcher, in the future."
"You can't be serious," Giles protested. Faith just smirked.
"Wicked cool sword, X," Faith complimented him as they made their way toward the docks. "Looks good on you."
"Thanks," Xander beamed. "Let's just hope I don't need to use it."
"When are we ever that lucky, Xan?" Buffy laughed. In a quieter voice, she spoke to Faith. "Is your hand okay?"
"B, it was just a scratch," she showed her palm, a small bandage over the cut she'd made to provide blood for Willow and Tara's spell. "Trust me, I've had a lot worse."
"We're here," Jonathon piped up from behind them. "The docks, I mean. Where are we going, exactly?"
Buffy and Faith both scanned the area, comparing it against their memories of the dream. "There," they both pointed at the same time. "That building there," Faith finished. "Keep your head up, everybody - if they're using this place for something, it'll be guarded. Maybe booby-trapped on top of that. I don't want anybody doing their job for them and blowing us all up. Clear?"
Xander and Jonathon responded in the affirmative. The small group made its way quickly and quietly across the docks, Faith taking point while Buffy kept a watchful eye from the rear. They reached the front door with no resistance, and Faith frowned. "Something's not right - they should be all over us by now," she whispered, just loudly enough for Buffy to make out her words.
"Unless they don't know we're coming?"
"B, the building's got windows on all four floors. If they had a single fuckin' half-blind guard, he should have spotted us a mile off."
"What do you wanna do, then?"
"Well, we have to check it out, I guess, but - well, just take care."
Faith turned the handle on the front door - unlocked, she noted - and slowly pushed the door open. The interior of the building - an abandoned office space, it appeared - was dark and silent. "Flashlight," she whispered, and Xander passed one up to her. She shone the beam around, keeping a close eye for tripwires or enemies that might be hiding in the corners. None were apparent, so she waved for the others to follow her as she approached the door to the stairwell - there was no way she would trust the elevators.
The door swung inward as easily as the front. The flashlight beam revealed no obstacles in their path upward, so she started forward and the others followed. A harsh click-clack from above was her only warning.
"Get back!" she cried, pushing the others under the stairs, grateful that they were solid cement, with no gaps between them. There was a sharp crack, and something hit the concrete floor inches behind her.
"What was that?" Buffy tried to poke her head out, and Faith pulled her back.
"It was a dart. I'd know the sound of those guns anywhere."
A voice, muffled by what Faith presumed was the gas mask she'd seen in her dream, called down from the top of the stairs. "Slayers - surrender now! The door locked behind you, and we have a dozen guns trained on your position! You cannot escape! Surrender now, and we'll release your colleagues!"
"The fuck you will," Faith muttered. "We need to know if that door's really locked, or if he's bluffing.
"I'll go," Jonathon swallowed.
"Not a chance," Faith hissed.
"The darts can't hurt me, right? I can do this," he insisted.
Faith thought for a moment. "Fine. Here's what you do, Jonny. Take out your gun, and turn the safety off. Step out and shoot upwards, that should buy you a minute. Check the door, and then get your ass back under cover. Get me?"
"I get you," he nodded, pulling his gun from the waistband of his pants. He flipped the safety off as Faith had showed him and stepped out, pointing it upward. The report of the two shots was deafening in the closed space, and the recoil jerked his arm hard enough to make him wince, but he did as he'd been told. Running to the door he shoved it, hard, but it stayed stubbornly closed. He threw himself back under the stairs just in time, as a hail of darts hit the cement floor.
There was a tremendous crash from outside the stairwell, and the door bowed slightly inward. Before they could wonder what it was, the voice above them spoke again.
"Slayers! There's now a large truck in front of that door! Even if you force it open or rip it off its hinges, which we know you're capable of, you can't move the vehicle! Surrender - you have ten seconds!"
"Fuck!" Faith hissed. They'd been effectively trapped, and she cursed herself for not knowing better. There was a loud ping as something else - not a dart this time - hit the cement floor. Suddenly, she knew why they had gas masks.
"We've gotta move," Faith muttered in Buffy's ear. "That's tear gas. You and I can probably take it for a minute, but the other two are gonna be useless right away."
"How do we do that?" The grenade started releasing white smoke with a quiet hiss. "They've got us kind of pinned here."
"Let me take Jonathon," Xander suggested, his voice muffled by his shirt - he'd pulled it up over his mouth and nose to stop the worst of the gas. "We may not be able to beat them in a straight fight, but if we can get you the second floor, maybe one of you can kick in the door up there."
"Don't be crazy, X."
"Those darts can't hurt us, right?"
"They won't kill you, but getting shot with a dart is kinda painful no matter who you are."
"Look, we don't have time to argue! You can't do this, so we have to!" he coughed.
Faith, torn, looked to Buffy. She shrugged helplessly, and Faith made her decision. "Fine. Go. No hero stuff, just get us the second floor."
Xander's eyes lit up. "Excellent. Come on, Jonny, you wanna live forever?"
Giles was elbow-deep in books when a sound like an air raid siren rent the quiet air of the house. He ducked, instinctively moving away from the window, and yelled up the stairs. "Willow! Tara! Your wards!"
"We heard," Willow descended the stairs carefully, followed by Tara and Andrew. Dawn came to the top of the stairs, but no further. "Okay," Willow whispered once they'd reached the first floor, "what are we dealing with? Did you see anything?"
"No," Giles shook his head. "I felt getting away from the windows would be preferential."
"Good call. Tara, baby, do you remember where my computer is?"
"It's, um, in the kitchen, I think."
"Why on earth does your computer matter?"
"It's hooked up to the cameras."
"What cameras?" Dawn whispered down the stairs.
"After we did the wards, I set up a couple cameras outside - I forgot to mention that to Faith. I need the laptop, though."
"I'll get it," Giles patted her on the shoulder. "You lot stay here, and for goodness' sake keep your heads down."
"Be careful!" Tara whispered. They watched as Giles, crouched low, crossed the living room and entered the kitchen. When he returned without incident, they released a collective breath. He handed Willow the computer and she flipped it open, accessing the cameras' feeds. Andrew gasped behind them as they revealed the house was surrounded by at least a dozen Quitos, perhaps more.
"They've come in force," Giles mused. "Do they think Buffy and Faith are here? Or is there something else they're after?"
"We can take them," Willow nodded emphatically. "We killed a bunch of them in the graveyard that night Faith got hurt, no fuss no muss."
"I wouldn't do that," Giles said, staring at the laptop. He pointed at the feed that showed the front of the house, where a woman that could only be Tawny Lehane stood grinning at the camera. She held up a crude sign, painted in what looked for all the world like blood.
Give me what I want, and I'll go away.
Willow mouthed the words as she read them. "What does she want? It'd be helpful if she-" on the screen, Tawny turned the sign around and pointed at it, grinning.
"It doesn't matter why," Tawny's voice spoke from the laptop's speakers, and all of them jumped.
"Those cameras don't have sound!" Willow stared at Tara, who shrugged nervously. "And even if they did, how can she hear us?"
"I'm not," Tawny laughed, "limited by your technology. I see all, I know all. The Key is inside, and I want her. Give her to me, and I'll go away. Refuse, and I'll kill you all. Please, take your time deciding. Your slayers are a bit occupied, so they won't be interrupting us. And I can wait forever."
Willow opened her mouth, but Giles put a finger to his lips. From the table near the front door, he grabbed a pad of paper and a pen, and he gestured for Dawn to join them. No talking, he wrote. She can hear us.
What do we do? Willow scribbled below his words. She nearly killed Faith, and I don't know if we have enough power to stop her.
Can we teleport her away? Tara asked. Like we did with Glory?
We'd have to get close to her. She's too fast.
Andrew, Giles scribbled, is there anything you can summon to deal with the Quitos? He saw Willow start to protest and shook his head. We'll need all of your and Tara's power if we're to stand a chance against her. Let Andrew deal with the lesser threat.
I've got it! Andrew scribbled excitedly. The Eater of the Dead! This is right up his alley!
Make ready, Giles looked up at him. We'll let you know when it's time. Andrew didn't waste time responding, turning and running up the stairs instead.
"You know," Tawny's mocking voice rang through the house, "it's rude to whisper in front of company. You know how I said I could wait forever? I got bored. If the brat's not standing on the front step in, say, ten minutes, I'll kill you all. See how generous I am? I'm even letting you say your goodbyes! Now don't keep me waiting, okay?"
What are we going to do? Willow wrote, underlining it twice. Giles looked at her, and the desperation in his eyes made her gasp. He took the pad and pen and scribbled one thing on it, large enough for everyone to see.
Chapter 13: A History of Violence
Xander screamed as loudly as he could, he and Jonathon charging the troops gathered on the second floor. For a moment he thought it had worked, that his scream had startled them - they backed up, and seemed ready to retreat - but then their training took over and they levelled their weapons instead. Xander's scream died in his throat, and he leapt forward.
There was a loud bang and the first START trooper dropped in his tracks, clutching his knee and screaming. Xander took advantage of the distraction and dove into the group, swinging his sword. It made contact with the gas mask of one of the troops, the point bouncing off the glass eyepiece. His second swing was luckier, knocking the gun out the soldier's hand. There was another deafening report, and the soldier to his right fell. They were still grossly outnumbered, but the START group suddenly looked hesitant. Xander swung again, and they began to fall back up the stairs, abandoning their two fallen members.
"Faith!" Xander cried. "Road's open!" The two slayers rushed up from the first level, which was now almost totally obscured from view by the gas, and without a pause they ran past Xander and Jonathon, hitting the second floor door together like a battering ram. It crumpled and fell inward, and the other two followed, each dragging one of the fallen troops with them. There was a sharp crack as the dart guns fired from the third floor, but everyone was safely inside before the first of them hit the landing.
"Nice work!" Faith grinned. "Jonny, you took those guys down like a pro!"
"I, uh," Jonathon flushed, "I was aiming for their chests."
There was a beat, and everyone laughed. "Okay," Faith said after a minute. "We need to block up that door. Jonny, keep your gun trained on it. Anyone tries to bust in, shoot ‘em. Everybody else, look for stuff to pile in front of it."
It wasn't difficult, it turned out - the second floor was abandoned office space, and there was no shortage of desks and heavy furniture. Xander and the slayers stacked it two layers deep, effectively blocking the entrance.
"Cool," Buffy grinned. "Now what? Isn't that the only way out?"
"Who said anything about leaving, B? We still need to figure out what's going on here." Kneeling down, she tore the gas mask from one of the injured troopers' faces. Underneath was a young man of no more than twenty. His blonde hair was dark with sweat, and the pain of his injury was apparent in his face.
"Let's make this easy," Faith said softly. "Why are you here?"
"Pilgrim, Chris," he replied. "First lieutenant. ST972015."
"What?" Buffy looked confused.
"Name, rank, serial number, B. It's what a captured soldier is supposed to say. I don't have time for this shit." She reached down and jammed a finger into the gunshot wound in his thigh, and he screamed.
"Faith!" Buffy put a hand on her shoulder, and Faith shrugged it off.
"There's no Geneva shit here, B. We don't have time to play nice. X, come hold him down. He's going to squirm."
"X, do it now!" he did, but not before exchanging worried looks with Buffy. "I'll ask you again," she said, her voice different now - still soft, but with deadly menace behind the words. "What are you doing here?"
"Pilgrim, Chr-AAAHHHH!" he screamed as she dug around in his wound.
"Listen, Chris. We're just getting started." With her free hand, she pulled a small knife out of her boot. "The longer it takes for you to answer me, the more this is going to hurt. Make it easy on yourself."
"Pilgrim," he gasped, his voice weak. "Lieutenant." Faith sighed and removed her finger. Xander started to relax, but cringed and nearly let go of the soldier when Faith drove her knife into the bullet wound instead. Lieutenant Pilgrim howled with agony, the pitch of his voice rising as she twisted the narrow blade.
"I am done playing nice with you!" she screamed. "Answer the fucking question, or I'm going to hollow you out from the inside, you little fuck!"
She saw him break - something in his eyes changed - and she released the pressure on the knife. "No more," he pleaded. "I'll tell you."
Without removing the knife, she raised an eyebrow.
"They're - the brass, I mean - they're building something on the fourth floor. I don't know what it does."
"Oh, you'll have to do much better than that."
"I swear!" he pleaded. "It's big - nearly the whole floor! The stuff they're using - I've never seen anything like it!"
"How did you get here?"
"I," he licked his lips. "I don't know! The sergeant said to follow him - we went through this big glowing thing, and we ended up here!"
Faith pulled the knife out, and he slumped. Then she cracked him across the face, knocking him out cold.
"Relax, B. It'll be less painful if he's asleep, and we need him to stay down until we're through. I didn't hit cut anything vital, so he won't bleed out. Now, let's see what our other contestant has to say."
"Faith, stop!" Buffy grabbed her arm. "You don't need to torture them - that's not who you are!"
"B," Faith shook her off. "Spend a few weeks in Michigan, we'll see if you change your mind. Now if you're not helping, then stay back." Buffy stared at her, hurt, but Faith walked away and knelt down next to the second soldier. She ripped off his mask, and fell backward as the colour drained from her face.
"Faith?" Jonathon asked, worried.
"Xander, give me your sword," there was no mistaking her intent.
"X, I said give me your fucking sword!" she screamed. He did, and she leaned on it like a cane as she stood up. Towering over the soldier, she put the tip to his throat. "Do you remember me?" she asked. "I looked a little older."
He shook his head, his eyes filled with terror.
"Really? How about a boy - a little boy? Two, three years old?"
He understood, then, and he began to shake.
"Ah, so you do remember. You remember how you killed him, don't you? How much it hurt him? How he screamed? Let me tell you, you're going to scream twice as much before you're dead. I'm Captain Lehane-Summers, asshole, and you killed my son. You better be ready to suffer." She raised the sword, and Buffy pulled it out of her hands.
"B, give me that fucking thing right now. I won't ask you twice - I love you, but you're not getting in the middle of this."
"Faith - we have bigger things to deal with right now. We need to get to the roof. Please, baby - we need to go."
"No," Faith shook her head savagely. "He needs to suffer. I need to make him pay. Give me the sword."
The sound of a gunshot split the quiet air, and everyone jumped. Faith looked at the soldier, who bled profusely from a bullet wound in his head, and then over to Jonathon, who held the smoking gun at arms' length. He stared at it, as if he didn't quite believe what he'd done. "He killed a little boy," he whispered. "You can't - that's not -" he looked at Faith, unsure. "I didn't - I was just so angry..."
Swallowing the bitterness she felt at being denied her revenge, Faith approached him carefully and took the gun from his shaking hand. "It's okay, Jonny. Really, it is. I understand. Sometimes there's things you just - you can't bear them. And there have to be consequences. You didn't do anything wrong, okay?" He nodded, a haunted expression on his face. She handed the gun back and turned to the others. She sighed.
"I'm sorry - I got out of hand there. B - I didn't mean to say-"
"It's okay, Faith. I promise." She smiled warmly.
"We need to get to the top floor," Faith took a deep breath. "Everybody, see if there's any other way besides the stairs."
Willow and Tara - can you teleport Dawn away from the house?
Willow shook her head. It's not that exact. She might appear a half mile above where she's supposed to be, and unless she can fly she's going to have a rough landing. Plus we'll both be useless after that - the spell gave me nosebleeds and a headache for a week last time.
Let her take me. Dawn's addition to the pad took everyone aback.
Dawnie, what are you talking about?
It's the only answer. Let her take me, and then you and Buffy and Faith can rescue me.
Unacceptable. You could be dead before we can save you. Buffy and Faith might not even- Giles stopped, but the meaning was clear.
Then WHAT? You can't stop her, you said so yourself!!
Giles paused. Andrew - is your summoning ready? Andrew nodded. Good. When I give you the signal, do it. Then Dawn can leave out the back door - the Quitos won't be able to tell Tawny she's there.
She's fast, though- Willow was cut off as Giles grabbed the pad.
I'll go out the front.
Giles, that's insane - she'll kill you. If you're lucky. You'll barely slow her down.
Hopefully it'll be enough.
We'll come with you. Willow looked at Tara, who nodded.
I can't ask you to.
You're not. We're volunteering. If we can slow her for even a few minutes, maybe Dawnie and Andrew can get away.
No arguing, Dawnie. We've got to go now - there's not much time.
They shared a silent look in place of a goodbye, and Giles and the witches moved to the front door as Andrew took Dawn's hand and led her to the back. Giles mentally counted down the seconds, then yelled "now!"
Outside, the demon Andrew summoned tore through the Quitos like a hot knife through butter, consuming them utterly. Andrew pulled the back door open and shoved Dawn through it as Giles opened the front door. He, Tara and Willow strode out purposefully, watching from the front porch as the Eater of the Dead approached Tawny. He sniffed her, sensing the dead body she wore but repelled by the power the body's new occupant possessed. She looked disdainfully at him, slapping him away with the back of one hand. He howled in pain and disappeared, and she looked up at Giles.
"I really hope that wasn't the best you've got."
"That'd be us," Willow bared her teeth, linking hands with Tara and casting the "thicken" spell she'd used on Glory. Unlike Glory, though, Tawny laughed.
"You're not serious, right?" She walked through the thickened air, and it evaporated in her path.
"Here!" Jonathon called, and there was a crash as he shoved a chair out of his way. "There's a cargo elevator back here!"
Xander and the slayers joined him. Faith jabbed at the buttons hopefully, but nothing happened and her face fell. "I was afraid of that. We need to get those doors open."
"And then what?"
"Well, X, then we climb. Remember climbing the rope in gym class? It'll be just like that. Except if you fall this time, you'll get hurt."
"Pfft," Xander scoffed. "I got hurt back then, too."
"Well, then," Faith chuckled, "there's no problem. B, we need something to wedge into the door - we need leverage."
"It's too thin. It'd break in half. We need, like, a crowbar or somethin'. Anybody see anything like that?"
"There's a paper cutter in the corner," Jonathon volunteered. "If we broke the blade part off-"
"Jonny, you are on a fuckin' roll today!" Faith clapped him on the shoulder. "X, we might have to replace you."
Buffy followed Faith as she strode off to retrieve the paper cutter. When they were out of earshot, she whispered, just loud enough to hear, "you had a son?"
Faith's choked sob would have been inaudible to anyone else. "Not the time, B. I - I'll tell you the story, I swear, but-"
"Okay," Buffy gently stroked her arm. "Let's get this over with, then."
"Let's," Faith sniffed. She grabbed the paper cutter and threw it to the floor, then planted a foot on the base and pulled the long cutting arm away. It came off with a metallic screech, and she grinned.
"We should have carried one of these on patrol. Be good for beheading vamps."
"Who knew Staples was the place to buy vamp-killing supplies?" they shared a smile. As they returned to the elevator, Faith threw the paper cutter to Buffy, who caught it with one hand. "You pull, I'll push?"
Buffy winked. "Wasn't that the plan last night?" She laughed as Faith sputtered. They reached the doors, and Buffy didn't hesitate before jamming the blade in between the doors and pulling. As they started to separate, Faith wedged her hands between them and pushed one door back along its tracks. When it was firmly in place, Buffy helped her push the other one. Faith stuck her head into the shaft, looking down.
"Wait," she muttered. She looked up. "Fuck."
"What's wrong?" Xander muscled in beside her, following her gaze. "It's just the elevator car."
Faith gave him a withering glare. "Yes, X. I know it's the fucking elevator car. Look again. Tell me what floor it's on."
"Well, there's the third - oh. Okay, I get it now."
"That's great, special ed." Faith turned to look back at the others. "I was hoping, with no power, that the car would be down on the first floor. It's not, it's on the fourth - the emergency brakes must have kicked in or something. That's a problem. We're going to have to climb to the third floor and find another way from there."
"We have to go back!" Dawn cried, fighting against Andrew's surprisingly tight grip. "They'll die!"
"So'll we, if we go back!" he insisted, pulling her along. "We can't save them - if they're gonna die, don't let it be for nothing!"
Tears streamed down her face, but she couldn't argue with his logic. "Where are we going?" she choked out.
Andrew paused, and then his eyes lit up. "I've got it - we're going to the house I shared with Warren."
"Our van is there. We can head out of town."
"Anywhere. Mexico, maybe."
"Can you drive?" Dawn raised an eyebrow as they picked up their pace, running side-by-side.
"Uh - kind of."
"Great," Dawn rolled her eyes. They both fell silent then, conserving their breath as they jogged to Andrew's former residence. They both looked over their shoulders all the way, but were surprised to find nothing following them. Dawn tried not to wonder about what that meant in terms of Giles' survival.
They reached the house and found the van still in the driveway, surrounded by yellow police tape. In any other city, it would have been impounded while the police searched it for clues regarding Warren's murder, but for once the notoriously slack attitude of the Sunnydale Police had done them a favour. Fumbling in his pocket, Andrew found a set of keys and unlocked the doors as Dawn pulled down the tape.
The smell in the van was terrible - Warren's blood had soaked into the upholstery, and the whole vehicle smelled like death. Holding his nose, Andrew rolled down the windows and gulped the fresh air greedily, trying not to think of the friend that had lost his life in the vehicle. Dawn climbed in the passenger side and gagged at the smell, but hurriedly buckled her seat belt.
Andrew turned the key and the van's engine sputtered into life. He fiddled with the gear shift, and the vehicle lurched backward into the garage door. "Oops," he blushed. "Let's try that again. Make it so!" he threw the shifter into drive and the van began to roll down the drive.
It was, Faith thought ruefully, a nicely executed ambush, compounded by her own stupidity. She'd overlooked the unimpeded third floor stairwell door, and the START team had been waiting outside the third floor elevator, pouncing as Jonathon, the last of them, emerged from the shaft. Caught completely unprepared, the group had no choice but to surrender. Jonathon turned over his gun, Xander his sword, and Faith her knife. They were marched, at gunpoint, up the stairs to the fourth floor. When the door opened, all of them gasped in unison.
The device that took up most of the floor thrummed with power. It looked for all the world like a giant centrifuge, like one would expect to find at NASA's training facilities. But it glowed green, a sickly shade that none of them could look at for long without feeling nauseous. It was spinning - slowly, but obviously picking up speed. "Sir!" called one of the START soldiers guarding them, and the man at the machine's controls turned. He tapped the man next to him, who took his place, and strode over to the slayers with a grin.
"Well, this is truly a treat. I never thought I'd see the two of you again."
"What, she didn't tell you we were coming?" Faith raised an eyebrow. "What happened to the chain of command?"
"'She' who?" he sneered.
"You're telling me you're not taking orders from Tawny Lehane?"
"Girlie, I have no idea what you're babbling about. My orders come from the same place they always did - the president."
The soldier and the slayers stared at each other, confused. "Hold up," Faith put a hand up. "You do know this isn't your time, right?"
He rolled his eyes. "Of course I know that. The president's briefing was quite detailed."
"So - if you know when you are, and you're not working with her, then what the fuck are you doing here? And for that matter, how did you get here?"
He smiled and tapped the side of his nose with one finger. "This isn't the movies, Faith. I'm not going to tell you anything." Behind him, the centrifuge started to hum, and the green glow began to coalesce into a brilliant sphere around the machine. "But because I'm a nice guy, I'll let you watch." He looked at the guards behind them. "If they move, shoot ‘em."
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