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DeadWar: Mercykiller

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  • DeadWar: Mercykiller

    Disclaimer: Not my characters. Not my universe. Just my story.

    Rating: PG-13 for violence

    Beta: King of Cretins

    "This may seem foolish to you, coming as it does from a false and soulless priest. But I want to say the Mass one last time, and pray, even though I know there is no reason I should be heard with a sympathetic ear."
    Deucalion rose from his chair. "I see nothing foolish in that request, Father Duchaine. It may be the least foolish thing that you could ask."
    --Dean Koontz's Frankenstein: City of Night


    She hears the birds singing in the air. She hears the worms crawling through the earth. Harmony hears it all. Like all of her kind.

    Summer is fading into autumn, bringing a faint chill to the city at last. She feels it--is aware of it, at least, though cold means nothing to her now. Feels the breeze stir against her equally-cold skin.

    She can smell the green of growing things and the moldering rot of bodies beneath her. The first smells good to one part of her; the second, to the other. Sometimes when you're between worlds, both sides are ugly to you. And sometimes...not.

    Harmony takes a deep breath. It's such a pretty night, and it's not like she'll get another.
    ***
    "Harm...no." Willow's voice is tight with strain. They're not friends, not even now, but... "It's not fair to you. We can't treat you that way."

    "Willow, think about it. I sucked at being evil, and I suck at being good too. If I get killed, you haven't lost much. It's okay."

    "Giles, talk some sense into her. Harmony, you're getting better. I thought you were just trying to copy Angel when you started, but you're in good physical shape, and you're learning. You don't suck. We need you." Giles opens and closes his mouth, unable to get a word in over Willow's tirade. There's no telling what he'd say anyway.

    "I'm not that stupid, Will. I know what's going to happen to me. I've lost my soul twice already. It's going to happen again, and this time I won't come crawling back, because now I know it won't protect me. I think...I think maybe I'd run. But no one'll help me, 'cause I'm useless, and Buffy will catch up. If she even has to bother. I'm gonna die. At least give me the chance to do something good with it."

    "Giles..."

    "It's her decision, Willow. She's...Lord help us, Harmony is an adult. And I think she understands more than we realize, sometimes. She knows what her choices are. Let her make them for herself."

    ********
    "I feel awful about this, Giles."

    "I'm not comfortable with it either, Dawn. But our options are rather limited, you know." He holds her back, letting Harmony move ahead of them, around a tombstone and deeper into the cemetery. They have to let her out of their sight, no matter how dangerous it is. To use any means they can think of to prevent Buffy from noticing them first. There are contingencies, of course...there always have to be. But the odds are best this way.

    "Why did it have to be her that started all this? I mean...why not Buffy? Why couldn't it be Buffy who came back for her soul?"

    "Your sister is an independent young woman, Dawn. And rash. And stubborn. And headstrong. Surely you can understand why she's determined to do this on her own. Never mind that it can't be done. It was inevitable that she would try." Was there something he could have done differently? Some way he could have set her on a different course? But even then...what course? Buffy changed the world. It was what she did. It was in her nature not to accept what was. Grim though it might be, was there any better alternative than this?

    Angel nods. "It's the sort of thing Buffy does. She never stops fighting, even when there's nothing left to fight for."

    "Giles, she never did any of it on her own, not really. She's always had our help. I don't mean...I...she wasn't alone. That's how she lasted so long. She needed us, and she needs us now." Dawn chokes down her frustration. "Why can't she see that?"

    "Everyone changes, Dawn. Some more than most. Now...I'm sorry, but we need to be quiet. When your sister appears...ask her yourself. Who knows? Perhaps she'll listen." Perhaps there's a chance. Angel shakes his head silently, but surely the world has gone mad enough for there to be a chance.
    ***
    "So we're what? Sending her in to die?"

    "I hope not," Giles answers. "Anne, you said Buffy wanted to talk...needed to talk. So we will talk to her, those of us she knows best. Myself. Dawn, I trust you will come?"

    "Of course I'll talk to her, Giles, but...you don't seriously think we're going to change her mind about anything?" Dawn's eyes stare bleakly at him. "She's my sister, but, well, she's not my sister. She won't listen to us."

    "This will all make sense, I assure you. I will get there. Xander, is there any chance?"

    "Does the plan end with 'pile of dust'? You want me to distract her, I can do that."

    "No, Xander. As I think has already been made plain, staking her will solve very little. We will kill her only as a last resort."

    "Then count me out. You're wasting your time, G-man, you know that, don't you?"

    "In that case, Mr. Harris..." Giles pauses, gathering his strength. "...why are you still here? Angel? I would prefer to have only humans in this group, but I need Willow elsewhere, and that means we're rather short of close friends."

    Angel hesitates. "If you really think it'll do any good, I would like to talk to her again. But Xander's half right, isn't he? Everyone you've brought up so far, we're a distraction."

    ********
    Willow and Kennedy are loaded down with the ritual junk. Until Buffy appears, they can't even start setting up.

    "Sure you can't get some kinda foldout thing?" Faith asks uneasily. "Like, nail everything to it, open up when you're ready? When this goes down, it's gonna go down fast."

    "I'll just have to float everything into place," Willow says. "Not ideal, it could leave some problem resonances, but it's the best shot we're going to get. I know you'd rather not be on guard duty."

    "Hell, any day I get to fight Buffy is a good day." Buffy's always been one hell of a workout. "I'm thinkin' I'll get my chance. This ain't gonna happen like we want, I know that much."

    "No," Red says softly. "It won't. Harm's as good as dust already, isn't she?" Kennedy prods her in the arm reassuringly.

    Faith shakes her head. "She's got a chance," she says, trying to cover a touch of jealousy toward the other Slayer. "Not a good one, but ya never know. Look...dying sucks. There's no glory in it, none of that shit people talk about. But Harm doesn't think that way. Dying a hero is..." She shifts voices, mimicking. "...like, totally cool, y'know?" The witch stares at her. "How many valley-girls get to do it themselves instead of just seeing it in the movies? Everybody dies. She gets to go out with a bang. Look at it her way, she's kinda lucky."

    Kennedy gestures with a candle. "That why she looked scared out of her skin?"
    ***
    "Yes," Giles confirms. "We're a distraction. We have to keep Buffy busy while Willow performs the ritual."

    "Right," Xander scoffs. "Like ensouling Angel worked so well."

    Angel bristles, his face shifting. "It worked, or you'd have been dead the first time we met."

    "It didn't undo any of what you did before. Buffy would still be alive if..."

    "Mr. Harris." Giles' voice has gone cold. "We know your opinion on the subject. You've made your position clear. Since you are not going to help us, I suggest you leave the room. If you would like to create your own plan, we will be happy to hear it...later."

    Xander shrugs. "I'll call Deanna, try and work things out. Have fun getting yourselves killed." He squeezes out from between Harmony and Illyria, letting the door swing shut behind him.

    Illyria turns back to the table, having watched him go. "Grief sits poorly on him. We would have expected such a weight to crush him long ago. Yet he endures it. Will it lessen if we prove him wrong?"

    Willow sighs. "I wish."

    ********
    "Still say we could have used a goddess on our side." Connor has seated himself on a tombstone and is fiddling with the arm-mounted stake-thrower he hasn't used in years. "We should have brought her along."

    Sadha shakes her head, studying him. The child of two vampires...utterly impossible. Or so one would suppose. "Giles was correct. Under the circumstances, we dare not attract Buffy's attention. If we could hide ourselves entirely, that would be better still."

    "Too bad that's not gonna happen," Rona says. "I bet she already knows we're here. We shoulda brought more. Everybody, maybe."

    "I think not even Buffy would knowingly come out to meet a Slayer army," says Sadha. "Faith, Kennedy, and Angel will all take part in the fighting when it comes to that."

    "When? Not if?"

    "Much as I regret to disillusion you, Connor, the odds of Buffy coming quietly are extraordinarily low." Sadha chuckles, low and under her breath. "Vampires fight. It's in our nature. And, by extension, in yours."

    Rona nods. "We've all got a little demon in us here. Buffy's got more. We just better hope a soul's enough to stop her."
    ***
    "We need one more group. In spite of everything, it's unlikely that we can hold Buffy's attention long enough to complete the ritual. In the end, I suspect it will come to fighting. At the same time, we have little choice but to limit our numbers. Buffy's enhanced senses will certainly detect us at some point regardless of what we do, so we must convince her that she can win. At the same time...she must be wrong. Angel, and if necessary, Faith and Kennedy, will be present. I need three more volunteers."

    "Humans," Illyria sighs. "Always you hope for the impossible. Still...the summit you reach for was our dwelling-place. We shall shatter the limbs of Buffy Summers and present her to you as a gift. Then you may attempt whatever you like."

    "Illyria....I may well regret saying this. You may be the only one of us more powerful than she is. Perhaps you could bring her to us alone. Unfortunately, you are also unique. Even the Slayers whose senses are weakest detect you easily. I don't know how Buffy will react to your presence, whether to run or fight...and that is the problem with bringing you along. If we fail...well, perhaps you will have your chance. I'm sure it will be a challenge for you both."

    "You would stand in my way?"

    "No one can stand in your way, Illyria. Except, perhaps, Buffy. Even when she was human, she fought a god and won. She's more than that now, and we need your cooperation...not merely your strength."

    Illyria assumes an unfamiliar expression: a smirk. "I would give much to have seen Glorificus' face. She always believed herself greater than she was. We will gladly allow you to fail, Rupert Giles, that we may have opportunity to succeed alone afterward."

    "Ah...yes, thank you. Anyone else?"

    Connor's hand rises slowly. "This is about my father. In a way, he started this--sorry, Dad, but you did. I'll help finish it. It's only fair."

    Angel shakes his head. "Connor, you're unique too. Won't she sense that?"

    "Keep up with the times, Dad. The Slayers who can sense me say I read like a vampire, only not as loud. She'll hear my heartbeat, I guess, but Buffy knows enough to recognize me and know I'm not that special in a fight. I'm good, yeah, but I'm not on the Blue Meanie's level."

    "I want to meet her."

    "Sadha, are you certain you're up to this?" Giles frowns. He hadn't expected her to come along.

    "Watcher training methods, from what I've seen, have changed relatively little in two hundred years, Rupert. Most of what you've taught Buffy, I know as well. And unlike the average Watcher, I have the strength and speed to make it useful. Rather than needing to react to her moves, I'll be able to anticipate them, and she won't expect that. I'll survive. I suggest, however, that the final member of this little group be another Slayer. They come closest to matching her."

    "Very well...though I suggest you be cautious in your assumptions about Buffy's fighting style. She's never been...traditional in her methods. Rona?" The Slayer had raised her hand.

    "Yeah. I was one of the first, right? Trained about as long as any Slayer here. I'm in if you want me."

    "That will be enough, then. All right...the rest of you will patrol on your normal shifts tonight. Keep your pagers on, however. There is the possibility, however remote, of a true emergency. Tonight we face one of our own. Be ready."

    ********
    She knows Buffy's crypt is close. Harmony's almost gotten used to the idea of Buffy having a crypt. Almost. Of course, Buffy might've slipped out early. Or gone out through the sewers...but they don't usually link up here, they way they sometimes did in Sunnydale, right? Still, Buffy could be...

    Stop fooling yourself. She's here. You just don't want to die.

    Who did, anyway? Obviously some people.... Harmony peers around the edge of an oversized pillar tombstone. There's the entrance. This is where Buffy lives now. If you can call it that. She doesn't even have a radio. Or a curling iron, or makeup, or anything. Buffy just sort of...exists. No wonder Anne says she's freaking out.

    "A month of that," she whispers just before the noose closes around her neck. Her feet leave the ground, kicking. She digs at the cord with her nails, for the first time in her entire existence not noticing when one of them breaks. Harmony fights to call for help, but the air remaining in her lungs can't escape. In all of two seconds, she's hidden among the leaves. With Buffy.

    Buffy regards her with those unchanging golden eyes. "Can't even scream, can't even cry..." A vicious grin fades over her lips and away. "Sorry...old times' sake, y'know?" She reaches for the cord around Harmony's neck. "Keep quiet. I can take your head off in an instant, so no shouting and no jumping." Harmony nods, bleakly. It's over. Maybe she should shout. Just get it over with. Buffy's own nails slice through the rope as if it were tissue paper. "Sorry for the surprise, Harm. I've got a lot of time to plan for these things."

    Glaring, Harmony responds quietly. "You keep saying sorry. Quit pretending and kill me. I'm ready."

    "To die? Harmony, you're not being noble, are you? It doesn't suit you. But you're right. I'm not sorry. I can't be sorry."

    "What is it with you and excuses?" She came here to die. Now the suspense is killing her. "Get on with it."

    "Fine." Buffy pulls out a tiny box. "I want you to help me."

    Super-balance almost isn't enough to keep her in the tree. "Yeah, right. Buffy, that's why we came here. You lassoed me and dragged me into a tree. You're the boogeyman, Buffy. You're the thing that scares monsters. Like I'm gonna believe you're afraid of anything yourself?"

    "I couldn't take the chance that you were here to kill me, Harm. You've tried before...not you personally, but the others." She pauses, about to impart some deep secret. "Do you know what it's like to remember heaven, Harmony? I do. It's not crisp or clear any more, but I remember. And I'm never, ever, going to see it again." Shockingly, a single tear rolls down her cheek. "You have no idea what it's like to know that."

    "Yeah, well...it's not like you're gonna die any time soon." Something doesn't smell right about this. But why bother faking anything? Why not just kill?

    "You don't know that, Harmony. No one trusts me. No one wants me. I hear there are whole demon armies that want me dead. Harm, what do you think happens to a vampire that dies without a soul? Do we go to hell? Or...maybe we just disappear, completely, like a lightbulb going out. I don't want that to happen to me. Please...just hear me out."

    "I don't know if I can trust you, Buffy. But everyone's down there, waiting. If you come quietly...I'm sure no one will hurt you." Even if they could.

    Buffy's arms wrap around her, and Harmony tenses. But it's a hug, a huge rib-cracking hug. "Thank you." She doesn't return it, and after a moment Buffy lets go and opens the box. "These are for you." It's a pair of diamond unicorn earrings...definitely stolen, but still--meant for her.

    "Oh, god, Buffy, you know I can't take these." She struggles not to squeal and grab them. "I can't...haven't you heard what happens to me? I can't accept gifts. I mean, thank you, but I'm really really sorry..."

    "Harmony...I know it's not easy, but think. For once in your life? If you're afraid of what's going to happen, if you're sad because you can't take them...you're not gonna be perfectly happy. Right? Listen to yourself. It's okay. You're okay. Just...breathe. Or don't, or something. Here."

    Harmony reaches out...closes her hand around the box. Nothing happens. She gazes at the sparkly jewelry. Still nothing. "Oh god oh god oh god...." Buffy's being helpful. She's acting like a friend. And she's going to come with them and get her soul back. With Buffy on their side they can stop the killing before it starts. It's...everything's going to be all right. Everything's...gonna...gonna... "Oh no!"

    Buffy's lips peel back in a malicious fanged mockery of a smile. "You stupid, shallow little bitch." Her open hand slams into Harmony's face, and Harmony is spinning backward, backward and down....
    ********
    "Giles, where the heck did they...?" Dawn cuts off as Harmony comes rocketing out of a tree to slam back-first into a crypt. "Whoa!"

    Giles gathers himself and springs forward, clutching his cross. He won't bring it out unless he has to. "Dawn, pager, now!" He feels his own begin to vibrate against his hip. That'll be signal one--Buffy's been found. Though under the circumstances, it's possible everyone knows. He can hear Dawn's footsteps behind him. She ought to stay back, but he knows she never would, and says nothing.

    No sooner has he come to a halt, wheezing just slightly, beside the crypt, than something powerful seizes him by the collar and hurls him away. He sprawls across the grass, coming to rest between the tombstones, and immediately struggles to his feet. It won't have been luck that he didn't strike a headstone; Buffy's aim is better than that.

    Dawn is beyond him and to his right, staring at the creature that used to be her sister. Buffy glares, though not harshly, and holds up Harmony, dangling the dazed vampire by the scruff of her neck. "You're all out of your minds," Buffy says flatly. "I keep telling you....I'm on your side. Dawn, what's the matter with you anyway? Running around in cemeteries in the middle of the night?"

    Dawn's face screws up as if she's on the edge of tears. "You're not on our side, Buffy, not while you're hurting our friends. You have to stop. You need to let us help you."

    "No," says Buffy. "No one can help me now. I wish you could." She holds Harmony a little higher. "Buffy's gone. This is what you're trying to save, and it's you who needs to stop." Harmony dangles there, seemingly human, and Buffy frowns and slaps her across the face with her other hand, twice, until Harmony lets out a low growl and her face morphs. "You can't save this. Not any of us."

    "She's a step ahead of you, Buffy." Angel steps out of the night, coat flaring in the breeze. "She has a soul. You don't. No matter what you want to believe, it makes a difference."

    "Huh," Buffy chuckles. "It figures you'd be one of the ones who can't tell. Look again, Angelus."

    "I'm not..." He stops, appalled. "Buffy, you didn't...you made her lose it. How? No, why?"

    "To make a point, Angelus. It doesn't make a damn bit of difference. We are what we are. You are what you are, and so is she. And there's only one thing you can do with things like us." She pulls a stake from her pocket, holding it over Harmony's heart. "Either kill me, or help me kill. Those are the only choices you've got."

    A coughing sound erupts behind her, followed by a low-pitched whistling drone, and Buffy spins, her own stake disappearing back into her pocket as she grabs the new one at arm's length. "C'mon out, Daywalker. I knew you were hanging around here somewhere." She throws it back, aimed straight ahead and spinning like a football to keep it that way. "Wesley Snipes was better, you know."

    Angel lunges even as she throws, crashing into her from behind and knocking Harmony free.

    Damn it, Giles wants to complain, this isn't the plan. But it's too late now; the plan has gone to dust as quickly as any vampire. The only part that remains intact is that, hopefully, Willow is close enough and beginning her incantation. All they have to do is delay Buffy long enough.

    Buffy has already writhed around to face Angel, catching a blow aimed at her face. "Too slow, sweetie. If I didn't know better, I'd think you thought your lover was still in here somewhere. But I'm not gonna lie to you, any more than you did to me." She forces the hand away, headbutting him at the same time. "It was always you. And I don't exist any more."

    "That was not me," Angel grates, spitting blood from a busted lip. "I'm not going to admit to something I didn't do. If that's the only thing you want from me, it's never going to happen." He can't seem to free his fist from her grip, never mind that her hand doesn't half cover his.

    "Right now," Buffy deadpans, "all I want you to do is wriggle." Furious, he drives his other fist at her face as well, only to bury it deep in the ground as she flicks her head aside. "Aww. What's wrong? Don't you get off on fighting me any more? Fine." She tosses him to one side like so much rubbish and leaps to her feet. "Darn. The bimbo got away." She fades left, evading Rona's charge as if the younger Slayer were strolling by, and grapples her around the waist.

    "Why can't you come quietly?" Rona argues, pounding fists into Buffy's kidneys. "You wanna slay vampires. We want you to slay vampires. Just not like you did to Anne."

    "Last I saw," Buffy smirks, "Anne was still around. Unless you let her roast, but that'd be too much to hope for from bleeding hearts like you. She enjoying being helpless as a baby? I meant her to dust, but when she didn't, I thought I'd just let her suffer a while. She deserves it." Connor comes racing toward them from behind, where Buffy can't possibly see, yet she leaps upward all the same, soaring above the nearby treetops with Rona in tow. "Ciao!" She lets go, lashing out with fists and feet so that both of them topple backward, sending Rona flying into a scraggly pine some yards away while Buffy lands on her feet atop a mausoleum. "Next!"

    Giles grabs Dawn by the shoulder. "There's no use in standing around watching this," he says. "We should go..." find Willow. But he can't say that. Even through the noise, there's too much risk that Buffy will hear. Connor is trying to come to blows with her, dodging and weaving, but can't seem to get a punch in. If Buffy doesn't already know, he can't risk warning her.

    Dawn shakes her head. "What if she notices we're gone? I wouldn't just leave her, Giles, and I won't."

    "We need to see if Rona is all right," he suggests. And indeed someone does, at least. "Buffy will recognize that." Dawn nods, reluctantly. They can send in Kennedy and Faith and watch over Willow themselves. Buffy won't have allies. That isn't how she works any more.
    ********
    "It's Destroyer," Connor says. "Not Daywalker. What's a Daywalker?" He'd managed to force Buffy off the roof by using her own dodges against her, if only just barely. He's discarded the stake-shooter; the stake Buffy threw back at it must have damaged it.

    "Ridiculous vampire movie," Angel answers, working the arm that Buffy ripped from the ground when she flipped him over. "I'd have thought you remembered seeing it. Tell you when we're done working." They're circling Buffy, trying to keep her contained, and he'd feel a lot better about it if the third member of the circle were anyone but Harmony. No...Harm. The soulless vampire that just keeps coming back. Why is she even still here?

    She must have read his expression. "There's nowhere left to run," she whines, but she circles clockwise with everyone else, keeping pace. "Not from her. If I help you stop her, maybe I can get away before you kill me."

    "They won't," Buffy sneers. "They'll hold you down till they can stuff that soul back in where it doesn't belong. I wish I could see you scream while they do." She spins, lunging at Connor, who stands his ground, brandishing a pair of stakes to impale her with if she comes too close. "You are going to put it back, right, Angelus? Bet you just love watching her struggle and cry."

    He hadn't even considered what to do with her. What good would re-ensouling her do, anyway? He'd kept his soul for over a hundred years without coming anywhere near perfect happiness. "Happy" hadn't even been an option for him, but it was starting to look as if Harmony just wasn't capable of caring enough, even with a soul.

    He realizes after a moment that Connor is staring at him. "Of course we're going to put it back," Connor snaps, perhaps as much to him as to Buffy. "We don't betray our friends." The young man hurls a stake, pulling out another even as the first spins end over end toward Buffy's heart.

    "You've got an interesting definition of 'betray'," Buffy sneers, seizing the stake and throwing it at Harmony. With a squeak, Harmony ducks, just in time to catch the stake in her left shoulder rather than her heart. "Not to mention 'friends'. What we are is monsters. You're no different, Connor. It just runs a little thinner. We fight. We kill. We die. That's what we're for."

    Angel glances from Buffy to Harmony to Connor and back. Harmony's pulling the stake from her arm, whimpering and not paying enough attention. They need a distraction. "You don't understand at all," he says at last. "You really believe what you're saying. That what you're doing is good. You've got all the lines in place, but you can't see the picture. But we can give that back to you, Buffy. We can help you see it. If you really want to be good, we can still help you."

    "Understand what?" Buffy scowls into the distance, at something he can't see.

    "Mercy."

    "We're vampires, Angel. There's no such thing as mercy," she scoffs. "Not from us. And not for us." She starts to charge at Harmony, obviously planning to break through at the circle's weakest point, and suddenly Sadha appears around a log-shaped tombstone. For a moment, the former Watcher regards Harmony with unconcealed revulsion, but then simply moves into the circle, reinforcing it. Buffy raises a ridged eyebrow. "Who the hell are you?"

    "Shefali was more mature at thirteen than you are at twenty-four," Sadha responds. "I'm amazed you're still alive. Oh, wait...you aren't." She assumes a fighting stance Angel recognizes--though he can't name it, he's seen Buffy use it herself.

    "Shefali?" Buffy eyes her cautiously...and then begins to laugh. "Oh, this is rich. Giles is even more desperate than I thought. You were a Watcher."

    "I am a Watcher. Whether Mr. Giles acknowledges me as such or not." She closes with Buffy, feinting to her left, but Buffy doesn't even acknowledge the attempt. The circle closes up behind them again...as much as it can, anyway. "I swore the oaths, and I have never been formally removed from the list." Buffy leaps above her attempt at a sweep kick. "Even if he rejects me in the end, I will do what I can."

    Sadha sees Buffy's punch coming, but it clips her jaw all the same. "Which is what, exactly? Get beaten up?" The second blow lands squarely in her midriff, driving her backward with a grunt. "I'd say I wouldn't trust you as far as I can throw you." A kick slams Sadha into Harmony, and both of them into the broad side of a tombstone, snapping it off like a piece of thin bark. "But that'd be way too far." Angel starts to close in on her--he sees Connor coming from the other side--and Buffy grins broadly. "You're trying to delay me. You don't have a prayer." She leaps, and Angel follows her into the air, but she soars a foot or more above his grasping hands. "Pop fly on the..."

    A black-clad blur wraps itself around her legs, dragging both of them back down to earth. "Intercepted."
    ********
    Willow is panting when they find her, speeding through the liturgy on as few breaths as she can manage. "...sufletu la el..."

    "Where's Faith?" Dawn asks, gasping a little herself. The battle seems to be moving dangerously far away.

    "Already gone," says Kennedy. "She saw Rona go flying, and...she hasn't come back yet."

    Giles finally manages to catch his own breath. "I thought I saw someone moving in toward the fight on the way here. I'd imagine that was her. Go see about Rona. If she's all right, help Faith and the others. We need to get Willow closer if we can. Dawn? Take the Orb. I think the rest can remain in place at this point in the ritual as long as it's not disturbed. I'll guard it. Willow, can you move while you do this?"

    She nods, unwilling to stop. Good. This is going to be a very close call indeed.
    ********
    "I don't believe this," Buffy snarls. Faith struggles to dodge her blows, weaving and trying to get in a few of her own. For every one she evades or blocks, Buffy seems to have another already coming. "I'm a vampire, and you're still the bad Slayer?"

    Faith wants to respond--wants to insist that if she's the bad Slayer, there's a hell of a lot more of them out there--but she can't seem to catch her breath. She's faster than the other vampires, stronger, tougher--but she still has to breathe. Buffy moves so fast her whole body seems to blur at times. There's no dealing with her on these terms.

    Buffy throws a right hook, and Faith grabs for it and hangs on for dear life, trying to yank Buffy off her feet. She crashes into Buffy instead, but the impact knocks them both to the ground. "Didn't know you still cared," Buffy snickers. Doesn't matter. Now that Buffy's not going anywhere, Faith's got a clear shot. She pounds a fist into Buffy's face, giving it everything she's got.

    It's not enough. Buffy knees her in the stomach, thrashing, leaving her gasping for air again. Can't give up. Faith elbows her hard in the ribs, smashes their heads together, and reaches for a stake. "Will if I have to," she warns. "Don't make me."

    "Shouldn't need to," Buffy snarls, and sinks her teeth into Faith's neck. Faith's been bitten before; she knows how it feels, what it does to you. She raises her stake, prepared to drive it in, and finds she can't. Buffy's like a vacuum cleaner, sucking the life out of her faster than...like...too damn fast, is what it's like. She...she can't...

    Buffy's fangs jar loose as a kick grazes Faith's skull. "Oops." Harmony grabs Buffy by the hair and yanks, dragging her away from Faith. "Sorry, Faith, I--" Buffy's feet come up, kicking Harmony backwards, strands of blond hair still dangling from her fingers, and then Buffy is standing again.

    She glances around, scowls...and bursts into a dead run, vanishing almost before Faith can see which way she's going. "Damn," Faith mutters, trying to get her hands and feet underneath her. "She's getting away. Somebody he--" The one tombstone in front of her becomes two, three, a dozen....and then nothing at all.
    ********
    "Acum!" Willow shouts breathlessly as the Orb flares and vanishes, and collapses against Dawn, crushing her into the side of a mausoleum. Dawn tries to shift her, finds the weight too much after running around all night, and sags to the ground instead.

    "Did it work? Is Buffy...?" But Willow shakes her head numbly. The others are coming, drawn by the shout. Connor, who rushes over to her. She waves him away--Willow needs to lie here for a minute or two. Angel, carrying an unconscious Faith. Sadha with her hands locked around Harmony's right arm.

    Kennedy appears, supporting Rona. "Got a broken leg here, people. Any more casual...?" She breaks off, seeing Willow. Leaving Rona to lean against a marble pillar, she rushes to lift the protesting redhead out of Dawn's lap.

    "Just...just got to rest a minute, sweetie. Better than it used to be. Practice...you know." But Kennedy pulls her to one side, making room for Connor to help Dawn up.

    "Willow," Giles says, arriviing with a bundle of artifacts wrapped in his jacket. "Did the spell function properly?"

    Willow shakes her head again. "She got away. The spell worked...I felt the soul brush by her shields. I bet she knows, but it didn't take. I tried so hard...."

    "Nobody's perfect, Will," Kennedy tells her, receiving only a frown in response.

    "What's with Harmony?" Rona asks, scowling at the pair of vampires. Harmony turns dull eyes toward her, pouting slightly...resigned.

    "She lost her soul again," Sadha growls. "How many times did you say this has happened?"

    "Three, counting this one," says Angel. "But we'll deal with that later. We need to get Rona and Faith to a hospital."

    "No," says Sadha. "I think we may as well deal with it now." She produces a gnarled stake from one of her sleeves. "She's a liability."

    "What?!" Connor echoes Dawn, realizes they're saying the same thing, and lets her speak. "You can't! She came into this expecting to die, Ms. Kaur. To help us."

    "For all practical purposes, she has. Look at your witch. She's exhausted, and the Orb is gone." Willow mumbles something and tries to stand. "If this can happen at any time--even in combat--then Harmony is worse than useless to you. She could turn on you at any moment."

    "Much as I regret to say it," Giles begins.

    Connor interrupts. "Then don't. Betraying your friends just gets you dead faster."

    "This is not a friend!" Angel insists. "Maybe it was, but not now! No more than Angelus would be."

    "Harm's no Angelus," Rona puts in weakly, "so can we get back to calling 911? Please? Deal with the dumb blond sometime when my leg's not broken."

    Harmony's not even trying to defend herself, Dawn realizes. She doesn't even respond to Rona's insult. She's given up.

    "I'll take care of that," Giles says irritably, and pulls a cell phone from his jacket pocket. "You should all be aware that our supply of Orbs of Thesulah remains limited. We can only produce them so fast, and we may need them for more important tactical purposes than....pardon me. Yes, please...we've had an incident...." He turns away with a sigh.

    Faith stirs. "Stop her...hey, who's got me? This the hospital?"

    Willow struggles to her feet, shaking Kennedy off with a murmured, "I'll be fine." She stalks toward Sadha and Harmony, hair bristling visibly despite the lack of wind. Sadha tightens her grip on Harmony's wrist at the witch's attempt to release her. "Damn it, people! What the hell happened to 'family'? Because I thought that's what we were, all of us, and if I have to make a dozen Orbs myself just for Harmony I'm gonna do it! No, maybe we don't get along all that well, but--"

    There's a rush of wind, a solid thunk, and abruptly Angel topples over, pinning Faith beneath him. A crossbow bolt protrudes from his side.

    "You wanted mercy?" Buffy calls from atop a mausoleum. "There. Mercy." Kennedy starts to lunge forward, but Buffy vanishes almost too fast to see her go.

    "Aw, hell," Faith murmurs. "Tell me she didn't use--"

    "Don't even say it," Dawn warns her. "Guess it's battlefield medicine 101." She puts her hand on the bolt and yanks it free. "Eww. Sticky. What's...?" Angel groans painfully, writhing as every muscle in his body seems to tense at once. Dawn reflexively tries to hold him down with hands on his side and chest, not that she has any chance of doing so....

    And feels his heart begin to beat.
    Last edited by Mabus; 10-06-07, 03:26 AM.
    DeadWar: Burden of Proof
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