Author: Tim Knight
Title: Death Before Dishonor

Copyright: May 2002
Rating: PG-13 (fights, blood, language)

Spoilers:
Buffy: Season 2 until Phases. Specific Episode, Bad Girls.
Angel: Seasons 1-3. Specific Episodes, anything with Gunn and Anne.
Highlander: Season 5 until Season finale. Richie Ryan lives.

Keywords: Buffy/ Highlander/ Angel.

Summary: Another story of happenings away from the Hellmouth. When a vamp duelist cult sets its sights on the Lost Boys for a series of honor duels and a certain time-hopping Slayer and Watcher try to help on the q.t., Gunn and the gang find out that chivalry isn’t dead… it’s more like undead.

Legalese: All characters except those noted below with their respective rights, properties, and copyrights are the property of the respective creators, authors, owners, producers and agencies. These characters are used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended or meant, and no money will be made from this story. This story may be copied in its entirety, and may be distributed as long as all copyright information remains.

The characters Shaw Hunter and Kenzie (the Slayer formerly identified by readers as Buffybot (don’t worry, this will be the last intro I use to rub it in on you guys…)) are mine. Anyone wishing to use them may contact me at doobytim@aol.com.
The characters Steven St. Wolf, Frank Iverson, Joe N'Gato, Marc La Chevalier, Randi Jessup, and Brian Jessup, are property of Steve Pantovich, as is the universe in which this story takes place. Steve can be contacted at Steve711@concentric.net.
The character Jaina the Lost Boy (Girl, Whatever) is property of Tenhawk. He can be reached tenhawk@sympatico.ca.

The character serving as the Watcher for the time-hopping Slayer does not belong to me or anyone else in the group of writers of the Wandererverse.

Author's Notes: This story takes place in April 1999, sometime between For Every Action and Homecoming, and in the same timeframe as Soul Sisters.

Dedications:
To Steve, Grand High Poobah of the Wandererverse, for giving the original Okays for my stories and liking the ideas we authors and beta readers come up with.
To Jack, Oh Editorial Dude, who I’ve begged to start taking credit for his role in making stories what they are. See Soul Sisters and Pilgrimage for an example.
To Tenhawk, for bringing in that kick ass Latina who makes Gunn’s life harder than it should have to be.

Here are the changes from your regular shows that might play a part in this story:
Buffy:
1. Gunn doesn’t leave the Lost Boys to join Angel Investigations and Alonna, Gunn’s sister, is still alive.
2. Annie, who runs the homeless shelter on Angel, is still known as Lily in the Wandererverse. However, she still runs the shelter, providing the Lost Boys and other people in the ‘hood with protection from the bad guys, dead or not.
3. The Lost Boys know about Section Seven and the Sunnydale Gang, having met Amy, Shaw, Kendra, and Joe N’Gato in Be Careful What You Wish For, and Xander in Road Trips: Solo. They occasionally get help from the Zombies and Rangers SWAT teams in fighting off vamps.
4. Some of the Lost Boys do know how to use simple firearms and receive a supply of wooden bullets (as revealed in Road Trips), but still prefer relying on homemade weapons like flamethrowers.


Death Before Dishonor

Part 1: Just Another Night On The Job
(But This Job’s Medical Plan Just Sucks!)

East Side
Los Angeles, California
7 April 1999

Gunn hit the vampire with a wicked roundhouse that stopped the bloodsucker in his tracks. He kicked the thing’s legs out from under him, sending him crashing to the blacktop, where it cracked its skull with an audible "smack!" Wasting no time, the Lost Boys’ leader pulled out a wooden stake and plunged it into the vamp’s heart. Then the vamp’s bodily components scattered to the four winds.

The young man stood up, sweat glistening on his scalp and running down his forehead. He glanced around to see if any more of the bloodsuckers had stuck around, but all he saw was Jaina and her cousin Tommy nearby. Tommy was limping, using his pointed quarterstaff for support. Gunn was relieved to see the signs of a twisted ankle rather than something more serious. Jaina still packed her homemade flamethrower and was happy; she’d obviously gotten more than one vamp.

"How many?" he asked in a two-tier question.

Jaina smiled with that battle gleam in her eyes. "Two smoked, one charbroiled, and one medium rare. One vamoosed."

Tommy winced at her attitude and Gunn agreed; sometimes she liked this fighting thing too much. "I got two, homey. But the one she saw running was mine, not hers."

"Damn," Gunn snarled under his breath. One vamp getting away tonight could mean two more on the streets tomorrow. Still…> "Good work, guys. Let’s swing by the shelter. I want to check on the place before we head home."

"Yeah, right," Jaina snickered, giving Tommy a good-natured elbow to the ribs. "You just wanna check on Lily."

Gunn felt the heat rising in his cheeks. He turned around and scolded Jaina. "Dammit, Jaina! There’s nothing between me and Lily! How many times I gotta tell you that?"

"Enough times so that you might start thinking that’s true," she shot back with a gleam in her eye.

Gunn just rolled his eyes; if anything, it was Rondell who’d be getting together with Lily in the near future. "Whatever. When Lily starts dating Rondell, maybe then you’ll believe me."

Jaina just smirked back at him. "Right. Just as long as you believe that…"

As she started heading to the van, Gunn turned to his other homey. "Thanks for the help, Tommy!" he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "You know how Rondell’s carrying on with her!"

"Yeah, but if I show Jaina up, it’s a kick to the balls."

"She’s your cousin!" Gunn snapped in disbelief.

"Yeah. Imagine what she’d do to someone she didn’t like."

Gunn just shook his head. "Let’s go."

*****

As they climbed into their van, the departing Lost Boys failed to notice the figures that were cloaked in shadows on the other side of the deserted street.

One of them, garbed in a suit of armor with two blades belted at his waist, asked, "Is he the one?"

"Hmmm." The other reviewed the tactics and success of these so-called Lost Boys for a moment, then turned to his companion. "Your thoughts. Speak."

The first shook his head. "They are crude, uncouth. They use weapons no honorable knight would deign to wield, and attack their opponents like hyenas rather than engage them in the honor of single combat."

He cocked his head when his liege turned a disapproving eye upon him. "Yes, perhaps on the surface your analysis is accurate. But as I have said before; you must look beyond the surface. You call them crude; they are young and lack our training in the ways of combat. Uncouth? Look at the environment in which they were raised. Their weapons? One must make do with what one has; the one named Thomas uses the same kind of quarterstaff you once used when you were younger than he. And as for attacking as a pack, that is because they are more than a group; they consider themselves a family." The leader glanced back at the street, as if imagining himself in combat against the leader of this group. "And the one they call Gunn…" He nodded approvingly. "He shows the spark of a true leader. One that others will follow to the death. This group… they will prove to be excellent foes."

The armored figure asked, "What of the valiant warriors who guard the Hellmouth? They possess far more skills, if the tales we hear are true. Would they not make better opponents? Particularly the Wanderer and the Slayers?"

"You should recall that they have recently battled Krtog and Throlog themselves," the commander said with a shake of his head. "Assuredly, they must still be engaged in recovering from those battles. Would you wish to face opponents not at the height of their skills, perhaps defeat opponents still weakened from prior battles?"

He snorted. "Of course not. There is little honor in that."

"It is settled then," the leader told him. "We will observe them for two more days and, if I deem them worthy of our attention, we will issue our challenge."

*****

East Side Teen Shelter
Los Angeles, California
7 April 1999

Gunn pushed the door open and called out, "Lily! We got Gimps!"

He aided Tommy into the shelter, grimacing under the weight of his friend. As Jaina came up watching their back, her flamethrower exchanged for a discreetly held Beretta 9mil equipped with wooden bullets, the young fighter helped Tommy down onto a couch. He forced a smile onto his face. "Dude, you gotta lay off the nachos. All that cheese is making you gain weight."

"Screw you," Tommy said, smiling through his mock anger.

Gunn heard footsteps approaching and turned around, expecting to see Lily. The blonde haired hottie held the first aid kit, but she wasn’t alone. Not for the first time, Gunn wondered why some well off chick from Westwood would volunteer to work here in the ‘hood. He shook it off; Kenzie was one chick that didn’t mind getting her hands dirty doing volunteer work, and she was great with the kids. And he had to admit; the five-ten, black haired Brit/Jap girl was a stone-cold fox.

"What happened, Tommy?" Lily asked as she opened the first aid box. "Are you all right?"

Gunn chuckled. "Please. Homey here tried to play Bruce Lee by doing some fancy spinning move and twisted his ankle. Not like he got hit or something."

He watched Lily’s eyes twinkle at the source of Tommy’s injuries. "Well, at least he tried. Just be glad this isn’t from playing basketball or something like that, or I’d be mad at you for getting free first aid from me instead of going to the hospital."

Gunn and Jaina laughed at Tommy’s expense, while Kenzie just quirked a grin. He turned to the tall girl and smiled. "What’s up, K-Z?"

Kenzie shrugged and asked, "Shouldn’t I ask the three of you that question, Charles?"

Gunn winced; he usually hated that—but from her lips…it sounded kinda…good. "Ah, caught some punks breaking into the pawn shop a few blocks from here. We tried to scare them off, but they didn’t scare easy."

"Against the three of you? Color me surprised!" Kenzie said with wide, innocent eyes that didn’t fool him for a sec.

"Hey, honey, just because you don’t help out on Neighborhood Watch doesn’t mean you get to diss us," Jaina said with a hard voice.

That didn’t fool Gunn either; J-Girl and K-Z had become fast friends once Jaina found out the hard way that her "Go Alpha Bitch on the new girl" routine only led to her getting her butt kicked. <The girl’s half Japanese; even a poor dumb brother like me thought she’d probably know martial arts, Jaina.> "Don’t start, you two. It’s been a long night." He knelt next to Lily, who had taken off Tommy’s sneaker. She placed an ice pack on his foot before wrapping it. "We had a good night. Less activity than last week. So I think we’re due for some down time."

"Good," she said, not looking up from her ministrations. "Alonna called and said she’d meet you at the base." She squinted as if trying to recall something else. "She said that Lieutenant Kelly’d called and asked how we’re doing on supplies, too."

Gunn winced again, this time over the volunteer being in earshot. The less she knew about what they did, the better. "I’ll get with him. We are running low on Neighborhood Watch pamphlets." <Hell, with the skills Kenzie used on Jaina, I wouldn’t mind bringing her in. But I don’t know if she’d deal real well if she knew vamps and demons were real. Oh well.> "Okay, Lily. We’re gonna head out. You need anything? Supplies or some fast food to chow down?"

"No, we already took care of that," Lily said with a smile. She glanced up at him. "Kenzie’s uncle’s bringing me some chicken from BBQ Bob’s."

Gunn nodded. K-Z’s uncle was a decent guy, for an old college professor dude. "You get enough for everyone?"

"Sorry," she said, not sounding that way at all. "If you’d bothered to call and tell me you were coming, I might’ve ordered enough for everyone."

"Gee, thanks." He turned to look at the other girls, who were talking about something under their breaths. Probably me or the other boys,> he sighed. "Jaina." Both girls regarded him coolly. "We’re booking in twenty."

"S’okay," she said with a nod, becoming all business in short order. "White Bread and me’s just dishing the dirt on how you big bad boys scared off those burglars tonight."

As they started laughing under their breaths, Gunn just rolled his eyes. "I’m getting too old for this shit."

*****

As Gunn and Jaina waited on the sidewalk for Tommy to come out, they heard the door open. The two Lost Boys turned around, expecting Jaina’s cousin, but instead saw Kenzie coming out, her shift at the shelter just ending.

Gunn couldn’t help but stare; the girl’s transformation once again stunned him into silence. Whereas she’d been wearing coveralls, a cropped t-shirt, and sneakers while doing her job, after work, she was quite the doll!

The girl was wearing a dark blue, spaghetti strapped halter top that set off her pale skin, showing off the white girl part of her genes. The black skirt that ended at midthigh did the same for her legs, which to his eyes went on nearly forever. The skirt did nothing to ruin that illusion. And if it weren’t bad enough that she intimidated the other male homeys with her height, she was even taller with the four-inch ankle strap heels she’d thrown on. Gunn felt his face flush and he prayed, prayed very hard, that Jaina wouldn’t catch him staring.

Luck seemed to be with him tonight as Jaina was whistling in appreciation. "Damn honey, you got a hot date or something?"

"No, not tonight. But maybe I’ll find something on the way home," she said with that cultured Braveheart accent that drove boys nuts. Gunn knew she watched him and enjoyed his embarrassment at catching his stare. She didn’t seem to mind and didn’t spill to Jaina, thus sparing him a chewing out like the one he’d gotten on more than one occasion. "But you know me; I like to make an exit. Helps you Yank boys remember me long after I’m gone."

Jaina snorted in agreement. She folded her arms and chuckled, "Yeah, they’d remember that outfit all right."

Gunn shook his head. "K-Z, you gotta find yourself a man and stop teasing us like this." He knew he’d said the wrong thing once Jaina whirled on him. <Oh GOD NO!> "Oh come on, Jaina, look at her! She’s all but wearing a sign that says, ‘Look but don’t touch!’ I can’t believe you’re letting her get away with that with your men!"

"Yeah, well…" Jaina’s eyes became darker than normal. "I like Kenzie. So I’ll let it slide."

<Whew.>

She suddenly smacked him on the head. "I meant her, dumbass! You’re not off the hook!"

Gunn growled. "Gee, thanks, Kenzie!"

"I guess my work here is done," she retorted. She glanced down the street and Gunn followed her gaze. He saw her ’78 Pontiac Firebird coming down the street and knew that had to be Juan. "I’ll see you lads tomorrow. Take care, Jaina."

"You too, sister," Jaina warmly responded.

As the car pulled up, Kenzie strolled over and reached into the passenger’s side, making Gunn close his eyes so he wouldn’t get the peek at her ass. The little tease—she’s just trying to get him into more trouble. He didn’t know why she enjoyed messing with him so much, and quite frankly, it was getting damned irritating.

She pulled out a bag and Gunn could smell the barbequed meat inside. She walked over to Jaina and handed it to her, giving him a smirk and a mischievous look with those almond shaped brown eyes. "Jaina, would you take this to Lily? I know what happens if you put BBQ in a man’s hands."

"Right you are, honey," Jaina laughed, taking the bag and heading back inside.

As soon as the door closed behind her, Scottie turned back to him. "I was just kidding, Charles."

"No, you weren’t," he snapped. "You forget, I’ve eaten there before." When her trim eyebrows rose in curiosity, he shook it off. "But stop getting me and the other boys in trouble, huh? We’re getting concussions from all the headslaps from Jaina and Lily!"

"Well, if they can’t appreciate their men at least showing they have good taste, that’s not my fault," K-Z laughed back at him. His shoulders sagged and it seemed to make her take pity on him. "All right, I’ll tone down a bit on the flesh. Are you happy?"

"I say anything at all, it’s gonna piss off you or Jaina, so whatever you decide…" He purposely trailed off, hoping to stay out of more trouble.

She gave him a friendly smile and said, "All right, Charles. From now on, it’ll only be skintight leather and a great deal of it!" She turned and strutted to her car, leaving him wondering if that would be better or worse. <I am gonna get a concussion one of these days…> he moaned.

*****

"So how did they do tonight?" Juan asked once they were on their way.

Kenzie didn’t answer; she reached into the back seat and pulled out the sack lying there. She started going through it and inspecting her equipment. "They did well enough, Juan," she said easily, "an injured ankle was the extent of it tonight."

Juan’s bearded face twisted into thought. "Are they that good, or that lucky?"

Kenzie hesitated again, which made him look at her. She ran her index finger along the edges of her shuriken, examining the sharpness. "They’re getting good enough to survive and win. But the boys are nowhere near their class…"

Juan saw her eyes become distant before she shook off her common fantasy. "So where should we patrol tonight? Mop up duty here or downtown?"

His charge considered her answer as she reached down and pulled off her heels. She reached behind his seat and pulled out the ankle boots that would go with her fashionable outfit but be better suited for patrolling and combat. "To be perfectly honest, Juan? I think there’s precious little to mop up tonight. Let us swing around Hollywood and Vine and we can go from there."

"You’re the Slayer," Juan jokingly said as he hit the gas.

"Aye, but you’re the Watcher," she countered as she began the mental exercises to prepare herself for combat. "Now let us get to work."

"Another night, another patrol."

*****

Part 2: Movin’ On Up… Movin’ On Up… To The East Side…
(Oh Come On! You Had To See THAT One Coming Eventually!)

Home Of The Lost Boys
Unknown Location
East Side
9 April 1999

"All right, that’s your patrol areas," Gunn said, folding up the street map and tucking it under his arm. "Listen up, crew; just ‘cause it’s been quiet lately doesn’t mean you get sloppy. You run into trouble, call on the cells. Don’t be heroes, call for help. No room for egos in our posse."

The Lost Boys murmured their agreement as they started heading to the equipment racks. Gunn turned to Rondell, who was shoving wooden bullets into one of the Boys’ few firearms. "How you doing tonight, homey?"

Rondell glanced at him, looking sullen. "Tommy says you were getting the look again last night."

Gunn’s forehead wrinkled in confusion. "Come again?"

"You know, the look." He finished loading the magazine and slapped it into his piece. "The one you always get when you’re scoping out a recruit."

"So?" the leader asked, leaning over the table and bracing his arms. "You’ve hardly had problems with the people I’ve brought in before. What’s the problem? Or is it ‘who’s the problem?’"

"It’s White Bread at the shelter. You’ve been thinking of bringing her into the loop."

Gunn stood back up and sighed. "Kenzie." Rondell nodded with a frown. The urban commando pulled a chair out, turned it around, and straddled it. "Okay, why do you think we shouldn’t bring her in?"

"Why do you think we should?" his bud countered.

"Oh no. You first." Gunn didn’t take offense; this was old hat. Gunn had final say on recruiting, but Rondell or Jaina usually played devil’s advocate to make sure Gunn wasn’t making a mistake, even if they thought the potential enlistee should join. <But Rondell’s been cold about her since she showed up.> "Okay, Ronnie, what’s the deal? What’s wrong with bringing her in?"

Rondell sat back in his chair and folded his arms. "She’s an outsider."

"Outsider how?" Gunn countered. He held up a hand. "Lemme clear that up; you mean outsider as in outside the ‘hood, outside America, or outside as in white?"

Rondell winced at the last and pointed at him. "Hey, just because she’s not a sister or Latina don’t matter to me, you know that. Heck, ‘least her ears are round and she’s not wearing a badge." Gunn frowned at the lame joke. "Just kidding. Okay, seriously; when I say ‘outsider,’ I mean outside the ‘life.’ I see she likes helping out and I’m pretty sure it ain’t to brag to her upper class friends at school about helping her fellow man in the slums. But Gunn, my man, for one thing, she has to commute to the shelter. But the big thing is, she’s got family, dude. You think that even if she could deal, her Uncle Juan would let her do what we do? Hell no."

Gunn glared at Rondell’s argument but his second-in-command wasn’t finished. "That’s the issue here, Gunn. I know what you’re thinking; it’d mean we stop tiptoeing around her, talking about fighting. She can handle herself in a fight; heck, I never seen Jaina get taken down with a snap kick like that. But you gotta consider whether or not it’s the right thing to do for her. Yeah, I think she’s an outsider; she wasn’t born here like the rest of us. And that’s the main issue here; she’s got nothing at stake in the ‘hood. This is our home, but it ain’t hers."

Gunn licked his lips and folded his hands. "Damn. I thought for sure I’d be able to take you down on this one."

"Sorry, my man. That’s how I feel. Jaina, she might want White Bread to join." Rondell shook his head. "Hey, I admit K-Z’s got some serious game. But just ‘cause she got game don’t mean she’s got the heart. Maybe later, I might change my mind."

"Okay. You’re right though," Gunn said, resigning himself to the argument. "For now." He stood up and replaced the chair. "But we need to get to work."

Rondell stood up and slapped Gunn five. "Let’s do it."

*****

East Side
Los Angeles, California
9 April 1999

Gunn pulled his stake back and watched the vampire break apart. He turned around and dashed across the street, where Jaina was doing the rope-a-dope with a vamp armed with a butterfly knife.

<God, more of ‘em are packing blades every damn night.> He made a note to remember that and bring it to the Boys’ attention after patrol. He reached the dueling kids and stopped short, looking for an opening.

Jaina twirled the axe she carried and swung it out with a backhand swipe meant to force the vampire back and give herself space to breathe. When she finished the swing, the vamp tried to jab forward but was met by the stake in her left hand.

As much as he appreciated her growing skill, Gunn wasn’t about to let her finish the fight alone. The neighborhood Robin Hood pulled out a second stake and started to move in. "Hey, homey!" he shouted to distract the vampire, "Take on someone your own size!"

As the vamp turned toward him, game face on display, Jaina took advantage of his idiocy. She hefted the hand axe and tossed it at him. Gunn grimaced at the sick sounding thud that came with the impact. As the vamp started screeching, he dropped his knife. Gunn struck like a rattlesnake, reaching forward and punching his stake through the opening offered by the bloodsucker’s falling defenses. His stake punched into the vamp’s chest and the vamp stiffened in surprise for the briefest of instants before dusting. The next sound the young pair heard came when Jaina’s new toy clattered to the ground.

Jaina walked over and picked the axe off the ground, checking it for nicks. She gave him her normal smart girl smirk. "See? Told ya I can get good stuff off Ebay!"

"I’ll bookmark it on my computer," Gunn sighed. He nodded to her in approval. "Good toss."

She beamed at his compliment, though he was just being honest. "Thanks." She came back to Earth and looked around. "That’s six between us tonight. I’m thinking down time is come and gone, Boss Man."

"Yeah," he sighed, partly from frustration and partly from fatigue. "Looks like." He scoped out the street for any sign of witnesses or other undesirable elements. "Let’s book. We got other sections to check before we’re done for the night."

"Right," she said, hiding the axe underneath her coat. She pulled it tight and looked around. "You think someone new’s moving in or are these just our usual free floaters?"

"I’m not sure, Jaina." Gunn had been wondering that himself. "Seems to me like they aren’t organized enough to be anything else. They didn’t come after us because we’re fightin’ them, they were looking for lunch."

He knew Jaina was chewing her lip as she thought. They started walking toward Jaina’s ride. It had already been a busy night, and it wasn’t even halfway through. He considered calling their friends in the Fuzz but decided to make sure he knew the sitch before he brought them in for what might be a false alarm.

He walked around to the passenger side and climbed in, throwing his stakes in his pockets so they’d be handy. He pursed his lips before telling Jaina, "Head west. I wanna see how Rondell and Elisa’s group is doing."

"You got it."

Jaina turned the ignition and shifted the car into drive.

*****

As the car pulled away and headed westward, Sir Antonio Marcellus del Medici stepped from the shadows and walked over to the remains of the last battle. He observed the pile of dust on the ground and shoved his boot through it, scattering the ashes across the sidewalk.

His mind replayed the battle he’d just witnessed, comparing the skills the humans had shown against his vast experience in matters of warfare. The two were raw compared to the polished skills of knights of his time, and young in addition. Still, their skills were more than adequate.

He looked up and imagined he could still see these two in their vehicle, driving away to join their comrades. <Yes,> he finally decided, these ‘Lost Boys’ are definitely a worthy challenge for us.>

El Eliminati would face worthy warriors once again.

*****

Elsewhere on the East Side
Los Angeles, California
9 April 1999

Juan sliced the vampire’s right leg with his katana, cutting a wide gash through the meaty portion of his thigh. Sliding the titanium-silver alloy blade out, the old Watcher spun and struck the vampire down with a killing stroke, severing his neck in half. As the creature began disintegrating, the vastly experienced fighter turned to make sure his protégé wasn’t in any danger.

Once again, the Slayer’s new mentor was surprised by her grace. She executed a forward somersault that left her standing in a crouch against a metal fence, with two vampires between them. The vampires cautiously moved forward, finally suspecting that these were no ordinary opponents. <Of course it only took the dusting of four of their companions to make them realize it.>

Kenzie put away her laser pistol and reached for her opposing forearms. One of the reasons for wearing the black long sleeve shirt with splits running from shoulder to wrist became apparent when she withdrew two small objects that had been taped to her forearms.

With a motion that he could barely follow, Kenzie spun clockwise and used a sidearm release to fling her weapons at her opponents. His eyes caught the glint of light flashing off the metal as the throwing stars imbedded themselves deep into the demons’ foreheads. Since the shuriken had been blessed long ago, the steel projectiles began smoking inside the wounds they created.

As the pair began wailing in agony, Kenzie got a running start and jumped into the air, landing a side kick against the vamp on her left. As she landed, she clicked the heel on her right boot to expose one of this pair’s hidden tricks. She launched a spin kick that drove her heel, and the slim piece of wood inserted into it, square into the creature’s chest cavity. The vampire’s eyes bugged out and he vanished before he could utter any last words.

As the last of the group of vampires writhed on the ground, clutching at the ninja star jutting from his forehead, Juan walked up and asked, "Do we question him or no?"

Kenzie considered that for the briefest time before shaking her head. "No, I don’t think so," she panted, her chest rising and falling as she tried to catch her breath, "I think these are newborns. No combat skills, serious lack of coordination."

"All right," he said, raising his sword. He brought it down with a chop learned so long ago and cut off his head, sending the demon back to the underworld. He quickly inspected his surroundings, panting from the exertion. He gave his charge a roguish grin. "Now this was the type of bracing affair I expected to have every night. You must admit, our last few patrols have been somewhat lackluster."

"Aye, too true." The young woman began looking around. Juan knew she was using her special senses to see if any more likely opponents were in need of their tender ministrations. "I do not sense anything further, Juan." She picked up her weapons and hid them once again. The tall Slayer he was charged with teaching pulled her hair band off and moved her hair back out of her eyes. "I think it’s safe to say we’re done here."

Juan nodded; she was the one equipped to make those observations. "All right, Kenzie. Let’s go home." They started walking to where he’d parked her car; they didn’t use his vehicle on patrols since it wasn’t as fast as Kenzie’s Firebird. "You know, Kenzie, I see some improvement in your style. In due time, I think you will be able to outfight anyone we know about."

Kenzie blushed; it wasn’t the praise that embarrassed her, but the thought that she might be anywhere near the skill level of her idols. He sighed because she’d always failed to take into account one very important fact; her memories of their skills were from the time they’d come from, not the here and now. <She’ll understand in time; she’s more than intelligent enough.>

"I was thinking that we could go easy on the training tomorrow, and maybe take a night off," he said, changing the subject. "Since you don’t have a shift at the shelter, you could go out if you wish."

Kenzie nodded as they walked. "I was thinking about that. I was thinking of seeing if any of the students from Hemery were doing anything. Perhaps I’ll hang with them or I’ll go shopping."

Juan kept his groan to himself; the girl was insatiable regarding that 20th century ritual. <The dark side of several of her favorite aunts…> "Try not to spend over a thousand dollars on clothing, my dear. We only have so much hidden away."

"It’s over four bloody million in Krugerands and gems and you know it!" she protested with a giggle. "But I promise to be frugal. I always do find the best sales…" She stopped in mid-step and started cursing in Celtic.

Juan reached under his trench coat and gripped the handle of his specially made sword. "How many, Kenzie?"

"Only one… and he’s not hostile," she said, her vocal surprise matching his own. She started reaching behind her neck. "But it pays to be prepared, just in case."

"Agreed," the Watcher said affectionately; this was the kind of student he liked. <She doesn’t react and think with her blade first. She thinks two or three moves ahead.> He copied her motion of pulling out a katana and assumed a ready stance. Soon enough, the vampire she’d detected walked into the light, over one hundred feet away. He slowly walked forward but the duo was too busy taking in his outfit.

He glanced at Kenzie, who just smiled tightly. "And here I thought you were stuck in the Middle Ages."

Not dignifying her observation with a response, Juan returned his focus back to the demon walking toward them. The vampire was covered in a suit of medieval chain mail armor, a tabard bearing some form of heraldry symbol, and a belt with two blades, long and short. He had his hands at his sides, showing he had no harmful intent, but this was a vampire. Juan held his katana up and pointed it at the vampire. "I think that’s close enough, friend."

The vampire stopped about twenty-five feet away, still holding his hands out, palms facing him and his Slayer. "I come in the name of my liege to challenge you to trial by combat."

"Your liege?" Juan asked doubtfully. He glanced at Kenzie who just shook her head once. "You seem to be alone, vampire. I see no liege."

"He is watching your leader, the one called Gunn." Juan heard Kenzie’s intake of breath at the vampire’s assumption. The undead warrior went on with his announcement. "We will challenge him and his warriors to duels to test our skills on the field of honor, to see who is superior in the arts of war."

"And just when are these bloody duels supposed to happen, ye bluidy Sassanach!" Kenzie sarcastically shouted to Juan’s dismay.

The game-faced knight focused on her. "That will be for my liege and your leader to decide. However, if your leader is cowardly enough to refuse our honorable challenge, then we will treat him and his like the dogs they are."

"Something ta remember abou’ dogs, laddie," Kenzie growled, her rarely provoked temper showing in the form of her accent going "brogue," "is tha’ we run in bluidy packs! An’ we take care o’ our bluidy own."

The vampire just watched her for several seconds. Juan moved forward and bowed to the knight, knowing he was surprising his student with his response. "We will await our leader’s answer to your liege’s challenge. Until then, I would suggest you not make challenges under your own initiative. It might be seen as a trap being set by yourself to forestall any honorable duels, as your liege desires. Therefore, we will allow our… liege to make the decision and perhaps choose champions as chivalry allows. I bid you good night, Sir."

The knight’s jaw clenched and Juan could tell that this one had somewhat "higher" standards than his so-called liege when it came to deciding what opponents were honorable or not. He turned and vanished into the night, leaving the fighters alone.

"Of all the bloody, arrogant, egotistical…"

"Yes, but this is something we should be grateful for." When she turned to him to argue, he nodded at the spot formerly occupied by the undead knight. "Kenzie, this vampire’s liege or leader apparently favors formal duels in the style of the Old World. Apparently he wishes to test himself against those he sees as skilled vampire hunters. And it would seem that Gunn and your other friends have been chosen to be those so honored by their attention."

"If that’s the bloody case, why don’t they head… you know where?" she said, stating the obvious hole in the old man’s thoughts.

"That, my dear," he sighed, "is something we have to determine." He put his katana away. "And that is best done by researching our mysterious vampire in shining armor. Let’s return to the house."

"But Juannnnn…" she whined, sounding so much like another favorite aunt.

He sighed, able to withstand her charms a tad better than that aunt’s Watcher. "The Lost Boys are safe for tonight, Kenzie!" he snapped. It was a rare time when he had to show some annoyance toward her. "You heard that one; his leader is making the challenge tonight. That gives us time to find out who they are and what we should do about it."

She swallowed angrily and looked back in the direction where the shelter was. He felt the conflict she was going through. But in the end, duty won out as always. She nodded and slid her blade back into its sheath inside her shirt. "Let’s go," she sullenly said. "The sooner we return, the sooner I can hack into the Council’s computers."

*****

Home of the Lost Boys
Location <<Not As>> Unknown <<As They’d Like To Think>>
East Side
Los Angeles, California
9 April 1999

Gunn listened to the last report and slumped in relief. He and Jaina had been the only ones to even see a vamp tonight. <Just some vamps passing through, like we’d thought. Good.> He glanced at his homeys in turn and smiled. "Good. Maybe we are in for some down time. I’ll call Kelly and give him the 411. People not on guard, go home and get some sleep. We’ve earned it."

As the gang started breaking up, Gunn pointed a finger at Rondell, who nodded to show he’d seen the sign. Gunn started putting his maps away and glanced at the notes he and the Boys had taken, to see if they could find any patterns to vamp activity. He started packing them away to hand over to Kelly or Randall the next time he stopped by to pick up more bullets.

"What’s up, brother?" Rondell asked, clapping Gunn on the shoulder. "Besides you and J-Girl hogging all the action?"

Gunn laughed a bit, slowly releasing the burden of leadership from his shoulders now that the night was over with. "Just wanted to say, you’re right about ‘the look.’ I’m gonna leave it lying."

"Okay," his best bud agreed, although Gunn could hear some regrets in his voice. "Like I said, maybe later on."

The young man just smiled in agreement, though he was still bothered a bit by their decision not to invite her into the Boys. "Who’s on for tomorrow night? Us, Zombies, Rangers?"

"That’d be us for the weekend, then the Zombies take over on Monday." Rondell knew the schedule like the back of his hand, making the most of his free time. "I finally asked Lily out. We’re going out on Monday."

Gunn turned on Rondell and shared his smile. "Good for you! ‘Bout time, Rondell." Rondell just shrugged at his good fortune and started to leave. Gunn called his name. When Ronnie turned around, he jabbed a finger at him. "You better treat her right, pal, or there’s gonna be Hell to pay."

"Who? From you?"

"No, Jaina and Alonna. Now get lost."

Gunn continued to smile, his spirits being buoyed by the recent dry spell in patrols, which meant less worries about losing more friends, and the way things seemed to be shaping up for the others. Rondell and Lily getting together was just the latest. <Too bad I can’t find a girl yet. Well, I just gotta find some time to look.>

He had just finished gathering his notes when Alonna yelled for him. Reacting on years of instinct honed by growing up on the streets, Gunn pulled a stake off the table and ran to the improvised training room, which took up most of the front half of the building the Boys used. He came out and saw several of his crew picking up weapons as Alonna stared out the doorway.

"’Lonna, get away from the door!" he shouted, praying that someone hadn’t screwed up and given whatever was out there an invite. He reached the door and gently grabbed his sister by the arms, pulling her away so that he could see outside. "Get back, guys."

Gunn looked into the empty lot outside and was taken somewhat aback by the sight that greeted him. He’d expected to see some vamps, but not only one. <And dressed like King Arthur to boot?> He knew better than to step outside, so he just raised his voice to address this crazy bloodsucker. "All right, home boy, I assume you’re looking for me. What do you want?"

The vampire reached his hands to his belt, which carried two swords that Gunn could see. He inclined his head and the Lost Boys’ leader got the really Wiggy feeling that the guy was doing some weird Round Table version of showing him respect. <Giving me my props or something?>

"You are the one they call Gunn?" the vamp asked with a way too serious voice.

Gunn knew that he wasn’t really asking. "Yeah, I’m Gunn. Now who are you?" He folded his arms. "King Arthur? Sir Lancelot? Monty Python?"

The Lionheart wannabe calmly said, "Gunn, leader of the Lost Boys, I am Sir Antonio Marcellus del Medici, leader of El Eliminati. Word of your skills has reached us and we have come to see if your reputation is warranted."

"Wait a minute!" Gunn snapped, his face twisting in anger. "Are you telling me that you came all the way from wherever to call me out?"

Mister Medicine or whatever his name was answered, "You and your ‘Lost Boys’ have gained a reputation as warriors to be respected. We of the Eliminati are here to test our skills against yours in honorable combat."

"Really," he said, not believing what he was hearing. "Lemme get this straight; you want me and my homeys to play this Middle Ages ‘duel to the death’ crap just so you can get your kicks playing the fanged versions of Camelot? Tell you what, Sir Tony; gimme one reason my homeys and I don’t wax your undead, Python-dressing ass right now."

"If you acted so dishonorably, my fellow knights would simply avenge me." His voice became ugly enough to send shivers running over Gunn’s scalp. "And they would strike wherever necessary to eradicate every single one of your warriors for their less than chivalrous actions."

<Man, I hate it when they use words like ‘chivalrous.’> Gunn snarled, "So you’d attack civilians to get revenge. Doesn’t sound honorable to me."

"Even you must admit that sometimes, the fog of war claims unintended casualties," came the reply.

<Crap. Dude’s done his homework on me.> Gunn’s hand tightened around the piece of wood. "I don’t suppose you’d tell me exactly how we’re supposed to have these duels, huh Tony?"

He could almost see the tight grin spreading across Sir Attitude’s face. "We would decide which of our warriors would serve as champions, who would engage in single combat." That smile disappeared real quick. "And any violations of the duelist code would result in deadly consequences like those I mentioned earlier."

"Yeah, well," Gunn said, trying to stall for time, "I appreciate you being more than the usual, ‘kill the homeys and take over the ‘hood’ type, but no thanks. Find someone else to play Dungeons and Dragons with."

Gunn didn’t know if it was the D&D crack or the "no" that made Armor dude stalk forward a bit. "A warning, Gunn of the Lost Boys. We will not be swayed. If you will not meet us on equal terms, you will meet us on terms of our choosing." Gunn started to reply, but the vamp just turned and started walking away, like he knew Gunn wouldn’t shoot him in the back or something. "We will be watching. You have two days to accept or decline."

*****

Part 3: Strategic Type Thinking, Angelino Style
(The KISS Principle Ain’t Got NOTHING On These Guys)

Casa del Kenzie
Westwood
Los Angeles, California
Early hours
10 April 1999

"BOLLOCKS!!!"

Kenzie’s fist pounded on the computer desk, although she remembered to keep from hitting it with all her power. Barely. She scrolled to the top of the screen of her laptop, reading the print over again.

Her enhanced hearing picked up her Watcher’s footsteps as he entered the den. He walked up to her and placed a concerned hand on her shoulder. "If you shout any louder, the neighbors will call the police on us for disturbing the peace."

"Good," she snapped with the last of her draining anger. <Where do I get those flashes of temper from…> "I could stand to hit something about now."

"I take it you found who our mysterious knights are?" the Old Man asked.

Kenzie reached up and tugged the shoulder of her "The Way To A Vampire’s Heart Is Through The Ribcage" nightshirt back into place and flicked a hand at the screen. "Yes. And it’s not very good news."

"Give me the short version then," Juan instructed with surprising patience.

Of course. Patience comes with age,> the Slayer ruminated. She took a deep breath before starting her summary. "I checked…"

"You hacked."

"I hacked the Council records, at least those that are actually computerized here and now," she amended easily. She leaned back in the student chair and folded her bare arms. "I cross referenced vampires, knightly orders, duels, and I even included the double swords our dear town crier had helping hold his trousers up. It was the swords that cinched it, down to the hilts."

Juan leaned over her shoulder and gazed at the computer. His eyes peered at the title gracing the top of the screen. "El Eliminati."

"Aye," Kenzie mumbled before continuing. "A vampiric duelist cult dating back to the Middle Ages, around the 14th or 15th centuries. According to the reports I was able to find, the first knight of that order was cursed by a White Mage to keep his vows of chivalry. He couldn’t restore the knight’s soul, but he was able to make sure that part of the knight’s personality remained intact. The curse has been passed down to each subsequent knight. They weren’t your typical soulless vamps; their souls were lost, yes, but somehow they retained their personalities. They followed their own version of the code of chivalry, suitably modified for facing vampire hunters. The cult nearly died out around 1675 due to declining numbers caused by duels amongst their own members." Kenzie leaned forward and clicked the mouse to move further down. "According to this, the demon Balthazar took control of the cult shortly after the turn of the 18th century. However, the demon was reported as being killed about a century ago by some wealthy landowner near what is now Sunnydale." Her dark brown eyes flicked back and forth, skimming for any details about their present activities. "What happened to the cult is the subject of hypothesis on part of the Council. Some say part of the group splintered off and resumed the tradition of seeking out the finest vampire hunters across the globe and engaging in honor duels to hone the skills of their warriors. The surprising thing, Old Man, is that any time members of the cult are killed in these duels, revenge has not been wreaked upon the victors."

"So they are honorable," Juan said with a thoughtful expression. "Do you think it’s likely that this is the splinter group?"

"Yes. Juan," she said uneasily, "the reports say that the Eliminati so don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. If the Lost Boys refuse to go along with this…"

"Then the vampires will force the issue by seeking them out and forcing their hands," the professor finished, apparently reading along with her.

Kenzie stood up and folded her arms across her chest. "Please tell me we aren’t going to stand by and allow this to happen."

Her new teacher looked to the ceiling, as if asking God for inspiration. "I don’t see how we can avoid a fight in this situation, Kenzie. But they have made the mistake of assuming we are part of the group." He looked back at her and she saw the gleam in those eyes that said he was thinking up a plan. "Since our… visitors value their honor so highly, perhaps they will honor the tradition of a champion or two fighting in place of Charles and his fellow fighters."

"Track the boggarts down and fight the duels before Charles can accept or make the mistake of declining," the Scotswoman said, pondering the possibilities. "We have to track them down first."

The Old Spaniard smiled at her. "That’s why you have your gifts."

"My Spidey-Sense, yes." Her eyes flashed at his puzzled frown. "Goddess, you’re just like Colin! No appreciation for ancient pop culture!" She yawned then, the last vestiges of Slayer rush fading. She stretched her body a bit and said, "What time do we start tomorrow?"

"Ten o’clock should be fine. If we’re in for a fight tomorrow, I want us both to be well rested." He gave her shoulder one last squeeze. "Good night, Kenzie."

"Night, Juan," she said with a grin.

Kenzie walked out of the den and down the hallway to her bedroom. As she closed the door behind her, she glanced around the room and spent a few minutes gazing over the items she’d purchased for herself, if only to make it "look" like a 20th century teen’s room. Some of the items, however, she’d gotten because she liked them and decided to buy them. Some of those things were Cassandra Hastings’ novels, which were so out of print where she came from.

Oh well. Off to bed,> she ordered herself. She sat down on her bed and crossed her long legs. She closed her eyes and started meditating as she did when praying every night. As was often the case, she absently reached up and ran her fingers over the small disk attached to the gold chain around her neck. <Goddess give us the strength to stop these vampires and the cunning to find a way that lets us keep the Boys alive.>

After finishing her devotions, the Slayer laid down and allowed sleep to take her into its embrace.

*****

Home of the Lost Boys
East Side
Los Angeles, California
Early hours
11 April 1999

Gunn was finally roused from his musings when he got fed up with the background noise caused by the posse’s shouts. He smacked his palms on the table and snapped, "That’s enough, dammit!"

The suddenness with which silence fell in the back room would have impressed the hardest of Drill Sergeants. Gunn let his angry eyes flash across every single one of the Boys in the room before looking back down at the table. "All right, let’s stop acting like little kids and think, people! We need to figure out how we’re going to handle this. I want options and I want them now."

The Boys started to offer suggestions at once but Gunn said, "Ah-ah! Don’t even start that again!" He felt determination swelling in his heart and looked at each of the senior members of his crew. "Here’s how we’re gonna handle it. ‘Lonna, Jaina, Rondell, Tommy, Elisa, all of you stay here. Everyone else go home."

"But those vamps are out there," Rashaan snapped, waving his hand at the front door. "What if they follow us home?"

"Dude, they’ve been watching us for who knows how long," he countered. He shook his head. "Explains how they knew about the hideout, and maybe why the ‘hood’s been almost ‘dead’ lately." He glanced at some of the others. "Dude gave us two days to decide, I don’t think he’s gonna fight dirty. I think it’s safe."

"What about the shelter?" Alonna asked from next to him. "Should we send anyone there to keep an eye on things?"

Gunn stopped whirling ideas in his mind to consider that. Vamps and demons had a nonstop "No Trespassing" thing up at the shelter, but he still preferred knowing things were covered the old-fashioned way. "Rashaan, pick two or three Boys to go with you and stay there today. Tell Lily what’s going on and I’ll get in touch with her later."

Rashaan started moving but Rondell spoke up. "Dude, I’ll head to the shelter."

Gunn shook his head. "No." Rondell’s jaw dropped so Gunn laid down the law, though he felt like an ass. "Ronnie, you’re next in charge. I need you here." He added a caveat to keep his mind on the Boys. "You’ll be there later today and you can pick people to guard it tonight, okay?"

His jaw working back and forth, Rondell nodded. "Sorry, man."

"I know. But let’s keep our minds on business." He glanced at the main group. "People, go home and get some sleep. We’re gonna be busy soon so snooze while you can."

The Boys reluctantly began replacing their weapons or training gear in preparations to vacate the building. The members he’d named stayed behind so they could discuss the dilemma that had them on edge.

As soon as Alonna had closed the door to the back room to ensure their privacy, Gunn looked over his buds. "Okay, here’s the deal. We’re being called out, Musketeer style. We know what might happen if we say ‘no.’ Home boy was up front about that. I want options."

"Screw ‘em," Tommy blurted out before anyone else could answer. "Track ‘em down while the sun’s up and blowtorch their asses."

"Oh right. And you know where they’re at?" Gunn impatiently remarked.

Tommy’s jaw clenched, but Jaina came to his rescue. "I gotta agree with him, Boss Man. We don’t owe these guys shit! Why bother with them?"

"Because we don’t let civvies bleed, that’s why we bother with them," he sighed. Jaina winced and he nodded in satisfaction. "You think we oughta fry them?"

"Well, no," she admitted, though the gleam was back in her Hispanic eyes. "What I think is, call the Fuzz. Let them handle these guys. They’re trained in hand-to-hand."

Gunn shook his head dismally; calling the Zombies was the first thing he’d thought about, but dismissed it. "I already thought about that. Problem is, these knight boys will know who’s with us and who’s not. We can’t bring in the Zombies."

"They know martial arts, right?" Tommy reminded him. "And we know how to fight. If you don’t want to call them in, then let’s take ‘em on!"

"Guys, remember what Messenger Boy dressed like?" Gunn waited a few seconds to allow them the recollection. "This guy’s crew is stuck in the Middle Ages. They’ve been using swords for centuries! You think any of the Zombies know how to fight like Knights of the Round Table?" He paused a bit before sarcastically adding, "I don’t think so, either."

He saw Elisa sharing a glance with Alonna. "What is it, ‘Lisa?"

She hesitated and looked at his sister, who nodded for her to continue. Elisa might be one of the senior Boys, but she was quiet most of the time. She straightened her shoulders before making her pitch. "We could tell the policia what is happening and ask them to guard the shelter," she said with her flowing accent. "If the shelter is protected by them, we can worry about these vampires, si?"

Tommy raised his hand and added something. "Maybe we can call the Barbie Twins or that Xander dude, see if they want to have some fun. Isn’t this why we have their number?"

Gunn sat down and thought about that. He was all too aware of the mixed reactions to Tommy’s suggestion; the Boys had their pride and preferred handling things themselves, but this challenge thing was way out in left field compared to anything they’d dealt with. He rubbed his chin before looking at his homeys. "I’m gonna call Kelly and ask him to meet with us." He saw more approval for that decision than he’d expected. "I’ll call the Suburb Girls and ask them to get us the scoop on the vamps, but remember what they deal with; with our luck they’ll be on another ‘save the world’ jag. But they have to have some kind of ‘vamp roster’ that’ll let us know who we’re dealing with. It ain’t much but maybe it’ll help."

There were murmurs of agreement from the others, mixed in with some concern. Jaina spoke their thoughts. "You’re gonna let ‘em call us out, ain’t ya?"

Gunn stared her down and nodded. "Remember what Sir Bloodsucker said? He said we could pick and choose who fights." The leader stood up, the courage that had made him responsible for nearly fifty runaways and orphans almost tangible to the others. "I’ll throw down with him."

"WHAT?!" Rondell and Alonna shouted, though it quickly became apparent that their reasons were so frickin’ different. Alonna shouted, "You can’t risk yourself, Charles!"

Rondell’s sputter was quite different. "You crazy mother fucker! You think we’re gonna let you do this by your own frickin’ self?!?" Jaina jumped in with a shout of, "No shit!"

"Now wait a minute!" Gunn snapped back, but this time he wasn’t shutting them down.

"No you wait a minute!" Jaina barked, leaning as far over the table as she could to get in Gunn’s face. "We’re a family, homey! They said it was a challenge to all of us! We are NOT letting you play kamikaze here, Gunn! We’re in this together. You got two choices, Boss Man; tell ‘em we’re in, meaning all of us, backing each other up, or tell ‘em ‘go to Hell,’ and we back you up if they try something dumb!"

Rondell, Tommy, and even the normally quiet Elisa shouted their support for Jaina’s position. Even ‘Lonna, who hated the violence that came with the fighting, seemed to agree with the family argument, though he could tell she didn’t like the idea of him fighting a vamp who knew how to fight.

Seeing that his homeys were united against him going alone, but united with him in accepting the challenge laid down by the knight, Gunn’s mind whirled to think of a proper solution. He replayed everything Sir Marky Mark said earlier and his mind stuck on one point. He glanced around the room and saw a possible way to keep the damage to a minimum, if such a thing were even possible.

"What is it, Charles?" Little Sis asked, knowing the look he was sporting better than anyone.

"Things Sir Drac said," he answered, trying to think. He glanced at Rondell. "Ronnie, you remember him saying stuff about naming who would fight and that thing about testing their skills against ours?"

"Yeah, so what? We all heard that," Gunn’s best bud shrugged. "They want to throw down and see how good we are."

"That’s it," he stressed, waving his right hand in circles to bring the conversation back to their minds. "The vamp didn’t say crap about killing us, he said they’re here to see if we’re as good as our rep. I don’t think they care about killing us." He leaned forward to get the point across. "It’s the fight they want."

"Whoa, whoa, wait a fricking minute here!" Jaina snapped, her doubts too easily heard. "You saying that these guys, these vamps, don’t give a shit about ripping us apart and sucking us dry?" He nodded, which only spurred her on. "Dude, what are you smokin’? You’re telling us these boys want to play something like Tyson/Holyfield for kicks?"

"Think about it!" he snapped in irritation. "Dudes, think! These vamps are here to try their luck. Hell, if they’re into their stupid honor like Klingons, maybe they’ll let us say, ‘no dying.’ Maybe they’ll go with sparring type stuff, only I don’t think they’d settle for practice toys. They’ll want to use the real thing. But maybe they’ll settle for ‘first blood’ or ‘two out of three,’ who knows?" He felt a ray of hope because of the phrasing used by the vampire. "I dunno, maybe they’d go for it. They want to play ‘Three Musketeers,’ but the vamp didn’t say he wanted us dead. He wants to see how good we are."

The others were still doubtful to say the least, but Gunn was the boss and they’d follow his lead to Hell and back. Or at least to Beverly Hills and Hollywood.> He made his decision and looked at Rondell. "Ronnie, hit the shelter like you wanted. I’m gonna call Kelly, ask him to meet us there later. Maybe they can help out when we pick who’s gonna fight if we have to."

Ronnie nodded and silently departed, but Gunn (and the others, he knew) could see the relief that he wasn’t going to be away from Lily. <He’s finally got a chance with her, he ain’t letting it go.> He let that issue rest and turned back to the others. "Okay, we’re staying here tonight. Tomorrow we hit the shelter with our gear. Jaina, you, Ronnie and me are gonna decide who might hold their own in a fight like this. Okay?"

"Okay," she said somberly.

Gunn knew she didn’t mind fighting, but he also knew she didn’t like going along with what the vamps wanted; they might by lying, even though Gunn’s gut said it was as far on the up and up as vamps could be.

"Good," he finally said. He started toward the phone. "You guys hit the sack. I’ve got some calls to make."

*****

Casa del Kenzie
Westwood
Los Angeles, California
10 April 1999

Juan twisted his sword and felt the reassuring triple clash of wood on wood, which meant he’d blocked Kenzie’s three stroke offensive routine. Besides the relief that his skills showed no further signs of rust from his long time away from fighting, he also felt appreciation for the range of Kenzie’s earlier education before coming under his tutelage.

Yes, the Council was most thorough with this one,> he mused happily. He took over the offense with a complicated routine that, despite his greater experience, failed to penetrate his student’s defenses. The Watcher decided to try something new and switched to a style he’d learned from African desert dwellers in his younger days. He noted that while she was caught off guard at first, the young British girl adapted before he could score a hit on her. He eventually backed off and saluted her before she could assume the role of attacker once again.

She stiffened in realization before the intense concentration in her eyes faded to the fun loving girl the world normally saw. She returned his salute and plopped down on the mat, breathing hard from the workout. Panting between words, the tired Slayer admitted, "You’re even better than I’d thought."

The Watcher chuckled. "I would hope so," he said, pretending to take offense, "after all, I do have a few years on you, Kenzie."

"A ‘few?’" she innocently echoed from the mat. He turned around to put his sword away and heard her shifting around on the mat. "You surprised me with the Saracen techniques."

"Hmph," he said as he rested his practice blade on the rack. "You surprised me by knowing it." He turned back around when she giggled. "What’s so funny?"

Sitting crosslegged on the mat, the Chosen One started untying her ponytail and shrugged. "I knew some Amazons who didn’t use Japanese or European blades. Scimitars aren’t too different from the Indian blades they used, so I had some idea of what to expect. But if you’d kept at it, I think you would’ve broken through." She shook her sweat-matted hair loose and smiled at him. "After all, you do have a ‘few’ years on me."

Juan let out a loud, genuinely amused laugh that she returned. He took another look at her sitting there, her heart shaped face glistening from the perspiration beading on it, framed by glossy black hair. He’d loved a Japanese woman once, and his student’s hair and eyes stirred some old memories. While she was too young for him to lust after her, he knew the effect her beauty had on younger men. <The problem is, so does she. And she enjoys having harmless fun with it.> "My dear, please stop using my words against me," he chuckled. His eyes still gleamed as he turned his mind back to the training session they’d just completed. "You know the sabre style very well, but what about the epee or other fencing techniques?"

Her smile faded to a thoughtful pout, and she blushed a bit. "Not so good as the sabre, I’m afraid. I favor the sabre style because I prefer slashing weapons. I could probably hold my own against mid-level fencers, but against the Eliminati? I dinna think so, not if they fight solely in the fencing styles."

"I myself don’t think that will be a problem," Juan guessed, basing his theory on the twin blades carried by the knight they’d met. "I think they’ll fight with a two-handed style, like Florentine. It was used by well-to-do swordsmen of the Renaissance period. Personally, if it comes down to a fight I think you’ll prove to be the equal of any Eliminati."

"I’m glad you think so," the teenager cheerfully said. She stood up, walked over to one of their weight machines, and started removing her shoes and socks. "Are we going to, to put it one way, ‘dress for the occasion?’ I think we of the Old World should so not show up for duels dressed in our typical patrolling attire."

Juan rolled his eyes. <Even now, she thinks about looking good. God help me.> Despite the initial irritation, she did have a point. "I do think you’re right, Kenzie. Should we don our own armor?"

He was surprised when she stopped rubbing the kinks out of her calves and stared at him incredulously. "Are you bloody daft?" she whispered before raising her voice. "If the Lost Boys see us in that armor, they’ll assume we’re with the Section! We’ll blow our damned covers in more ways than one!" She stood up and padded over to him. "I’m just saying we should look better than what that Knight considers as ‘street rabble.’"

"Your point is well taken," the old man agreed. He rubbed his hand through his beard before speaking up. "Please tell me you won’t go too far. The Eliminati might not take us seriously if you show up clad in something too provocative."

Kenzie gave him a pout. "Spoil my fun."

"When it’s at my expense, absolutely," he said with a touch of command in his answer. As he turned back around, he heard her mutter something under her breath. For one of those rare occasions, he wondered why he’d ever given up teaching the male members of her kind.

*****

An hour or so later, Kenzie walked into the living room. She saw Juan sheathing his sword inside the trench coat he usually wore for patrols. She looked her Watcher over and saw that he had indeed chosen fancier attire; a white silk shirt with long sleeves, dark trousers that even she considered impressive, and a pair of boots that we not only for fighting, but looked good.

Maybe I should try to find some for myself,> she mused. In short, he’d turned himself into a fine-looking specimen, for an old man anyway.

He must have sensed her presence because he turned and saw the small grin on her face. He sighed and waved an arm at her. "Get your jokes out of the way now."

"None to give," she said evenly, folding her arms and leaning sideways against the wall. She grinned wider. "At least you’re wearing silk. Poor Colin, of course, would have done the family thing and worn that Goddess awful tweed."

"I’ll take your word for it," he said with a smile. She watched him look her over, checking her own wardrobe. "Very nice, yet functional."

She smiled at his approval; after all, she did dress to impress. She was pleased with her choices. Her shirt was black silk, but glimmered in the light because of silver threads woven into the fabric. Her long legs were literally encased by gleaming black leather pants, and a pair of hundred dollar low-cut hiking boots completed the outfit. Her necklace and a pair of diamond stud earrings were her only accents.

She held up her sword. "Do I take this or go with one of our European models?"

The old man looked adamant. "Katana, definitely. I don’t want to give the vampires any advantages they don’t already possess."

She nodded, feeling relief flood through her body. Going into battle without her most trusted friend was not high on her to-do list. She gently laid the sheathed blade across the recliner and went to the closet to grab a suitable jacket.

She found the one she wanted and pulled it out, along with a silk scarf as an idea formed in her head. "Well, we’re burning daylight. I suggest we get moving so I can salvage some shopping time this weekend."

*****

East Side Teen Shelter
East Side
Los Angeles, California
10 April 1999

"All right, Jenny. Yes, that’ll help a lot. Thanks."

Gunn and the others uneasily watched as Pat Kelly put his cell phone away. He turned back to Gunn, who asked, "So what’s the deal, Kelly?"

The SWAT Lieutenant walked over to the big table the Boys and Zombies were using to figure out what to do about the vampires. Since Sir Tony had said whom he worked for, getting the whole spiel from the suburb team had been easier than he’d thought it would be.

Gunn finally got tired of waiting. "Well? Come on, Kelly. Spill it; we’re not little kids."

"Okay," the SWAT man began, obviously not happy with what he’d learned. He looked at Gunn and no one else. "El Eliminati is just what you were told; a group of vampires who, despite being soulless, believe in and follow the code of chivalry. They’re very protective of their honor and travel the world, seeking out the finest warriors against evil, like vampire hunters, to test their skills against, sort of like jousting knights in the past."

"Only now they’ll settle for a street gang," Jaina added with her unique touch.

Gunn and the others were surprised when Kelly stared bullets at her. "Jaina, let me tell you something. We’ve watched you kids fight for the last four months. And in our opinion, to the last Zombie and Ranger, you kids are a family, not a gang. And if you’re not a unit like ours, you’re definitely a team." Gunn saw actual pride in his eyes for them. "The Lost Boys are fighters and I know we’d want you at our backs if the situation were reversed."

For once, Gunn felt his chest swelling with pride at someone else’s praise. <Is this how the Boys feel about me?> He decided to thank them for the whole crew. "We’ll remember that, Kelly. Thanks." Kelly smiled back. "So give us the short version; what can we expect from the Python boys?"

The cop turned serious. "I think it’s pretty simple, Gunn. The vampires are here to see how good your fighters are and how they compare to you. They want to keep their honor intact by practicing their traditions. You’re safe from any typical villain-type backstabbing. The danger comes if you refuse their challenge. That would release them from treating you as ‘knights’ in their eyes."

"They’d start acting like the vamps they are," Gunn reasoned.

"Jenny told me about one case," the cop said, making a sour face. "In 1431, one of the Eliminati sent a challenge to a Captain in the French army, one Xiantrilles La Hire. Since this was during the Hundred Years’ War and La Hire was fighting the British, he repeatedly refused the challenge. The vampire, not pleased at being denied his fight, warned British units in the area about an attack La Hire was planning." Kelly shook his head. "La Hire’s attack was beaten back by the British on the day Joan of Arc died at the stake."

The shock Gunn felt was evident in his homey’s faces too. He choked out, "You’re telling us this shithead was so pissed about the fight that he let Joan of Arc get fried?!?"

"The Joan factor was coincidental. La Hire might not have been trying to rescue her; it might have been a raid. The Eliminati tried to get his fight for six months before deciding La Hire no longer deserved the treatment due a knight."

Alonna’s eyes were hooded. "I thought they challenged vampire hunters."

"Miss Calendar was vague on that," the dude admitted with a shrug, "but some legends say Joan fought more than just the English army. The records of that time tend to be incomplete because of the war."

"The point is," the leader of the Boys summed up, "the vamp screwed Frog boy and got his men killed. Which means if I say no, they’ll do whatever it takes to get their throwdown."

"What could they do?" Rondell asked, though Gunn was sure they were thinking the same thing.

Lily was too, but she didn’t keep quiet. "The shelter. They can’t come in, but they might try to keep anyone from getting in or out." She looked at him. "They might take hostages."

Gunn felt mad about that. "They’d drink ‘em or offer to trade ‘em up for their party." He hit the table. "Damn!"

"So the only real choice is to find a compromise," Juan Sanchez, one of Kelly’s men said with gleaming eyes. "Give them their fights but try to make it so they’re not to the death. If someone’s injured, we can always get them treatment."

"We were thinking the same thing," Gunn confessed. He laid his hands on the table. "Okay, here’s what I think; I’ll tell the dudes we’re on, but not all the way. I’ll pick some of the Boys to go along and the Zombies’ll stay here and keep an eye out."

"Now just a moment son," Kelly said gently, although Gunn knew it wasn’t a request, "you need to think this through and not go off half-cocked."

Gunn growled a bit. "Kelly, I’ve been thinking this through. Hell, it’s all I’ve been thinking about!"

"Then let me put it another way," the cop said, holding up his hands like some peace offering, "you need to think it through enough to plan for contingencies. For one thing, what happens if you’re hurt?"

"Rondell will take over," Gunn said with no hesitation. "He’s a good man, he’ll take good care of the Boys."

Sanchez added his own two cents. "How many of the Boys actually know how to fight with something besides stakes and flamethrowers?"

Now Gunn was caught; he hadn’t actually tried to pick who would go along with him. He’d been more worried about the civvies. "Damn it. I’m more worried…"

"… about the noncombatants," Kelly finished. "The signs of a good leader, which is why the Eliminati are here in the first place."

The man clapped him on the shoulder. "Son, you have the skill, the desire, and the heart. All you’re missing is seasoning. But we have a bit of time left, so let’s decide who’s going to take part in the fights."

Gunn nodded and looked over the Boys who’d been able to fit in the room. He glanced at Rondell and Lily, who shared worried looks. He knew it was because this was one time he was going to have to make a hard choice; who was going to go with him and maybe not come home.

He settled the doubts he had and took a deep breath. "Ronnie, ‘Lonna, J-Girl, Lily, Kelly, let’s rap. Everyone else wait outside."

The Boys didn’t argue, but the Fuzz looked at their boss before booking. Kelly pointed to Sanchez. Gunn gave him a brief look before saying he could stay.

The others started filing out and Gunn ignored their looks of worry and confusion. Once one of his crew pulled the door shut, Gunn said, "Let’s sit down and talk."

He took his own seat in usual fashion; straddling the back. Once everyone but the keyed up Rondell had parked themselves, he folded his hands together and stared at Kelly.

"Why’m I getting the feeling you want to put some ringers in this?" Gunn asked straight up. "This is still our fight, y’know?"

"I understand that," SWAT Man said before sharing a look with his homey. "But I think we have a way to get some experience on your side."

Gunn knew that he wasn’t the only one who caught that eyeball. "What’ve you got up your sleeve Kelly? Don’t tell me you cops know how to fight like the vamps."

"Actually, Gunn," Sanchez spoke up, reaching into his pocket, "I know my way around a sword and shield." He pulled out a little card. "I belong to the SCA, a group that does historical reenactments. Learning how to use a blade is pretty much required."

He took the business-type card and looked it over. He snorted and said, "Just how good are you?"

"Good enough to stay alive." He shrugged. "You could say I know a thing or two about Camelot."

Jaina snickered, making Gunn glare at her. "S’not funny, Jaina!" he barked. He looked back over the cops. "What makes you think the vamps will let him fight? They’ll know he’s not legit."

Sanchez grinned like he had all the answers. "It’s simple. The Eliminati said you could name champions. I’ll take the place of Thomas. I know you’d pick him; he’s damn good with that staff of his. But with him having a bum ankle, he can’t fight. I’ll go in his stead and we tell them the truth; that I’m an officer that’s aided you before."

Gunn swallowed heavily as he weighed the pros and cons. <He’s right. Tommy’s one of our best, but he’s out. Damn! That doesn’t leave me much choice. And if Sanchez can hold his own…> He glanced at ‘Lonna, who mouthed, "Do it."

Okay.> He slapped the table with his palms. "Okay, you’re in. But I pick the others." The Fuzz nodded. <Too easily. Way too easily.> "Dudes, you ain’t gonna wipe ‘em out when we’re not looking. We get through with this, we let ‘em leave. I don’t want them having any reason to go into revenge mode."

"We wouldn’t do that," Kelly told him sharply. "I think we have a better idea of what’s at stake here. We were here in December. We just want to keep you kids safe."

"Good." Gunn looked around the room once more. It was time to name names. "I don’t like this, but here’s who’s going with." He took a deep breath and stared at the table. "Okay, besides me and Mr. I Like To Dress Up In Tights And Swing A Sword will be Jaina, Rashaan…" He looked up at Rondell, knowing he’d be freaking out in two seconds. "… and Montez."

He waited out the brief pause caused by the shock of his last choice. He knew that it was probably the best choice because of what Montez was. But Gunn was surprised when Ronnie managed to keep his temper. His eyes were hard and his face showed he wasn’t happy.

"You’re serious," was all he said, his emotions on total lockdown.

"I’m serious," the young man repeated. He turned to his sister. "You told me he wants to really be part of the gang, right?"

Alonna folded her arms and quietly said, "He hasn’t said it out loud, but he’s helped us for the last two months, Charles, and never complained about it. But he’d like to really be part of the team."

Gunn looked at Jaina. "How ‘bout you?"

To his surprise, his fiery Latina friend looked more nervous than angry. "I dunno. Yeah, he broke open the car ring, but…" She sighed. "I’m down with him being on our side, homey. What I’m worried about is that he might still be a little loco in the head, y’know?"

"That was that Penance Stare thing, Jaina," Gunn reminded her. "And that soul thing Madison and Kentraine did on him put him on a guilt trip. He spent eight weeks at that monastery getting his head back together. Hell, he could’ve been a Boy if we’d gotten to him first; he was clean. And it’s like the dude can do a little fighting. And he’ll be tough enough to survive."

The crew couldn’t argue that; the souled kid had done everything they’d asked of him once he’d recovered from the double whammy laid on him by Ghost Rider, Barbie Witch, and Bethie.

And we still keep him on the outside…> Gunn realized. It made him a little guilty, even though he knew Montez would’ve turned down an invite to join the Boys "straight up" after he’d fought them for three months. He looked at Rondell. "I think it’s time we stopped treating him like shit, don’t you?"

He watched Ronnie look at Jaina. Gunn knew how Lily and Alonna felt; they checked up on Montez every week to make sure he was dealing. He avoided looking at Jaina, though; this time, the choice had to be theirs.

Rondell’s eyes fell back on him for several seconds before he talked.

"You’re right, homey. Man’s paid his dues."

Gunn grinned, showing teeth. His crew’d done him proud again.

*****

Part 4: The Hype
(You Know, The Hype To Build Up The Big Event!
Like The Week Before The Super Bowl When Everyone Gets Our Hopes Up Until Everyone Tunes In To Watch The New Commercials Instead Of The Game!)

Home of the Lost Boys
Location <<Not As>> Unknown <<As… Oh You Know The Drill!>>
East Side
Los Angeles, California
10 April 1999

"Okay, here’s what’s gonna happen," Gunn said to the crew. He looked past the Boys to watch Jaina helping Montez pick out a weapon. "I figure the vamp’s gonna show up here to get his answer from me. I’ll lay it all out on the table; the five of us against whoever they pick. I figure their big shots’ll get first crack at our people."

Now came the hard part. He focused on Rondell. "Ronnie, we agreed on this, so I’ll let you break the news."

Rondell stood up and walked to stand next to him. He faced their Boys and started slow. "Here’s the deal, crew. No ‘ifs,’ ‘ands,’ or ‘buts.’ Gunn, Jaina, Rashaan, Montez, and the Fuzz will handle the Vamps of the Round Table. While they’re doing that, the rest of us are gonna patrol. Tonight’s no different from last night."

Gunn whistled to stop the protests they could really pick up speed. "Listen up, people! The Zombies are keeping their eyes on Lily’s. The others and me are giving the vamps their jousts to make ‘em happy. That’s why you’re not following us or setting up drive-by type shit on the Eliminati. I need my boys to do what they do; guard the ‘hood."

He looked every one of his team in the eyes, knowing that they weren’t happy about this. But he’d done the right thing by making them remember who they were and what their real job was. He felt them thinking about it and, however reluctantly, accepting what he’d always known. <The fight’s more important than one person.>

But just in case, he decided to give them some props. "Remember, crew; it’s the ‘hood that matters. Rondell’s in charge. I know you’ll do right by him, just like you’ve done for me." He brought up an example of how important the fight was. "Remember last year, guys; the suburb kids came here to help us because we needed it. Didn’t matter that we didn’t like it, they cared about helping us." He glanced over at ‘Lonna. "And it doesn’t matter that we’re going into a fight and some of us got family involved. Remember the Barbie Twins? Blondie led the fight and could’ve gotten fried. Scottie had to wait with us but she did her job, looking after the wounded. And Blondie was the only blood she had left, but she did her job." He grinned at them, setting them up. "And I know you wouldn’t let those rich girls from the ‘burbs show you up, right?"

The Lost Boys started shouting and Alonna gave him her brightest smile. He was just starting to feel really good about this when Jaina ruined his moment.

"Just don’t be expecting me to kiss you when we’re done!"

The crowd exploded into laughter over her comment. Gunn saw his sister put her hand up to cover her own snickers. <Et tu, ‘Lonna?>

"All right, enough chatter!" Gunn barked. He nodded to Rondell. "Ronnie, they’re all yours. Get them on the streets where they belong."

Rondell started heading for the weapons rack, being quickly followed by the others. After fifteen minutes, the building was all but deserted, ‘cept for Gunn and the other Boys going up against the Knights of Transylvania.

The foursome and Alonna walked over to the table and pulled up some chairs to discuss their plans. Gunn spoke to Montez first. "Thanks for showing, Montez."

"Anytime," the teen vamp said, looking eager to prove himself. He glanced at Jaina. "I want to help out, you know that."

Gunn felt warning bells going off in his head. "Dude, you gotta understand." He leaned forward. "I don’t want you going out to prove yourself by going kamikaze. Just keep yourself in one piece, okay?"

He didn’t look convinced, but Gunn thought he’d gotten the point through. "I’ll do my best."

"That’s all we ask, brother." Gunn thought about what Montez’d gone through and told him, "We owe you, Montez. I just want you to know you can always ask us if you need anything."

"Hey, the money the cops gave Mama’s enough," Montez said softly. The story they’d given his mother was that he’d been doing some informant work when the drug dealers busted his cover and killed him. Other than the undercover part, it was pretty much the truth. But the Zombies had talked with their Sunnydale buds and set up a pension or something for him and Old Lady Chamberlain.

"We’re talking about you, Montez. You’re a Boy now and we take care of our own." Leaving it there, Gunn turned to Rashaan and Jaina. "You two ready for this?"

Both of them nodded, having hard gazes in their eyes. "Good. Just remember, we don’t have to kill them. Just stay alive." He looked at Alonna, who looked more worried than he thought she should. "’Lonna, soon as we book, head to Lily’s. I don’t want you here alone, okay?"

"I’d rather be going with you," she said, taking on Mama’s role of worrying about him. "But you’re right, the shelter is safer. But if you get hurt, I’ll kick your butt myself."

That being settled to his satisfaction, Gunn stood up. "All right, we’ve covered our bases. Grab whatever weapons you’re gonna use tonight and keep yourselves loose. I’m betting Sir Tony will be showing up soon as he figures out we’re not setting him up. You guys stay out of sight; I’ll be waiting outside."

He turned and walked away, his mind going over the hard bargain he was going to drive with the vamp.

*****

It was only forty-five minutes after sundown that Tony made his appearance. As was the case with some vamps, Gunn didn’t see him show up. One minute he was wasn’t there, then "poof," there he was.

The Lost Boy pushed off from the wall he’d been leaning against and walked forward about ten feet. Palming a stake in his right hand, he nodded to show he’d seen the vamp. "I was expecting you sooner."

Sir Antonio clasped his hands behind his back. "I wanted to be certain of your whereabouts. The shelter you frequent has impressive magic about it."

"That’s why it’s a shelter," he said, trying to be Cryptic Boy. "And I’m really hoping you don’t have some stupid idea like holding the place hostage to get your duels."

"Not if more honorable methods are available." Gunn wondered if he was imagining the distaste in Sir Tony’s voice. The knight seemed to put it aside so they could get down to business. "That you were awaiting my arrival would indicate that you have come to a decision regarding our challenge."

"Yeah," Gunn replied with an even voice, trying not to give him any hints. "I decided."

Tony was quicker than your normal vamp; he didn’t wait for Gunn to go on. His face went way serious. "And what is your response to the challenge, Charles Gunn?"

Gunn stood as straight as he could and stared the vamp down. He cricked his neck and said, "You’ve got your duels, Sir Antonio. On one condition."

He could tell the vamp didn’t like that. His voice dropped real low. "And what is this ‘condition?’"

"We make it so the fights aren’t ‘kill or be killed,’" the determined fighter drawled. He went forward with his feelings before the other guy could say no. "You said it last night, man; this challenge thing isn’t about wiping each other out, it’s about seeing how good we are. Doesn’t make sense to kill us off when what you really want is to see if we have the skills you’ve heard about."

The vampire watched him for several seconds before saying anything. Gunn could almost see the gears going round his brain. "I suppose your next ‘condition’ will be forcing my knights to forgo the use of their weapons?"

"Nope." Gunn folded his arms and started breathing through his nose to keep himself under tight control. "I know you wouldn’t go for that. So it’ll be the real things, but your people don’t try to cut us down like dogs." He walked forward a bit to show the man he meant business. "Just because we’re willing to risk our lives doesn’t mean we’re going to throw them away like idiots. My priority’s protecting our homes, dude. I’m only saying ‘yes’ so innocents don’t get smashed. You get my point?"

To his surprise, Sir Antonio actually seemed impressed. He bowed his head and brought his hands around to grab his belt. "I understand your motivations and salute them, Charles Gunn. So be it. I accept your condition." He looked back up. "How many of your warriors will accompany you?"

"Four. With me that makes five." Gunn hoped he’d be satisfied with that. "That’s all I think are good enough right now. You know we were pretty much still kids a year ago."

"That is acceptable," the vamp agreed with that business-type attitude. He hit his chest with a fist and Gunn realized the dude was saluting him. "Do you know of the abandoned warehouse where your original opponents were based?"

<Boy do I ever,> Gunn growled. He did some quick number crunching. "We’ll do it tonight, Sir Antonio." Gunn glanced at his watch and raised his voice. "It’s eight-thirty now. We’ll be there by ten o’clock."

"Ten o’clock," the other dude said. He looked around before pursing his lips. "And after our appointment on the field of honor? What then, Charles Gunn?"

Gunn knew what Tony was asking. He gritted his teeth. "We get done, you book and find your next fights. You gave me the chance to keep my people safe, I’m giving you the chance to bug out before Monday night. Tonight and tomorrow, you’re safe so long as you don’t hurt people. Stay to yourselves and raid the butcher shop for blood. Monday, we see you on the street, we take you down any way we can."

The threat seemed to mean little to the knight, but Gunn knew that was just because he knew the vamp wouldn’t do something of the normally evil persuasion if he didn’t have to.

"Very well, Sir Charles," Antonio said, and the Lost Boy knew he wasn’t being mocked. "Ten o’clock. We shall be awaiting you and your champions."

Tony turned and vanished back into the night, leaving Gunn wondering what it was that made this demon different from all the others.

<Maybe it’s because he’s old.>

*****

Near The East Side Teen Shelter
East Side
Los Angeles, California
10 April 1999

Kenzie watched the vampire walking toward her and felt a cold lump forming in her stomach, caused by the fact that the Eliminati was walking away from the shelter. Both her Slayer instincts and her own loyalties to the only friends she had in her age bracket screamed at her to jump out and dust this demon. However, her rational mind coldly reminded her of the consequences of any rash actions she might take.

After spending the day trying to find the vampires’ hideout, they’d finally managed to track down the place the Eliminati had chosen to hold out in during their stay in Los Angeles. The bad news was that it had been ten minutes after sunset and the vampires had left for the night, whether to get Gunn’s response to their challenge or to feed. Kenzie had suggested they split up and try to find the leader of the band, so that they could insert themselves into whatever little jousting event was scheduled. Kenzie would stake out the shelter while Juan headed toward the Boys’ hideout, since they wouldn’t know his car. Hers was too recognizable. But the main reason he was there was because she knew that Charles would be waiting for the Eliminati at the hideout, while if he had called in backup, it would likely be in the form of the Zombies. <And I so don’t want that meeting to take place.> She’d hoped they could catch the vampires before they made contact with Gunn or whoever was at the shelter.

<Because I know Charles is too committed to protecting the innocent to let them come to any harm…> she’d reasoned at the time. <And now I’m too bloody late to stop the Eliminati from getting to them. Juan is so not going to like this… Goddess, I so don’t bloody like this!>

Again she felt the urge to whip her sword out and cleave the knight’s head from his shoulders. But her normally cool temperament reigned in her mind, not her instincts. So instead she mentally resolved to follow Juan’s plan to the best of her ability. She also couldn’t believe how young this vampire looked. <Goddess, he couldn’t have been older than Gunn when turned.>

She waited until the Eliminati was almost on top of her before boldly stepping out and showing herself to him. He stopped and reached for his blades on instinct, stopping only when he saw she was alone.

"Nice night for a stroll, aye Sir Knight?" she casually asked. The Chosen One let a tight smile form on her face. "Of course, it’s a nice night for practicing one’s sword skills, as well."

The vampire was fast, she had to give him that. He brought his hands within easy reach of his longsword and let his game face manifest. "Is this Gunn’s idea of honor? Having his Lost Boys strike at us in alleyways in the dark?"

"If it were, you’d be dead right now," Kenzie said lightly. She took two steps forward, still leaving plenty of distance between herself and the demon. "Fortunately for you, one of yours challenged me last night. I’m here to accept on behalf of myself and my uncle."

"Our challenge has already been accepted by Sir Charles, Milady. His second, Rondell, informed me that Gunn and four of his fighters shall engage us in duels of skill." The Knight cocked his head. "Are you one of his champions? You seem younger than those fighters we have already observed."

Kenzie smiled at his misconception. <Whom are you calling young?> "No, Sir Knight, I am not one of his champions, and it is therein that lies our problem." She folded her arms and stared into his yellow eyes. "One of your Eliminati, in his zeal to make sure your challenge was delivered one way or the other, mistakenly laid down a challenge to honorable combat to my uncle and me. He assumed we are members of the Lost Boys, which we are not." She smiled at the trap she was setting. "However, knowing about El Eliminati, my uncle and I could hardly ignore the invitation to engage in an honor duel that your knight so graciously gave us. The only problem was he failed to give a name or location to send our acceptance to. Thus my uncle and I were forced to track you down and inform you of our acceptance."

The Slayer only hoped that the Eliminati would honor the challenge mistakenly offered by his fellow. He seemed way too suspicious to immediately agree and seemed to look her body over. Kenzie wondered if she should be gratified or irritated that it was to gauge her likely fighting skills rather than her sex appeal.

The vampire lowered his arms and let his human seeming return. "I would ask why a fair maiden such as yourself and her uncle, not allied with the Lost Boys, would risk their lives in the duel, especially since you have admitted that the challenge was erroneously made?"

"We might not be members of the Lost Boys, but we are their friends," Kenzie said proudly. "And while they dinna know it, we do aid them in patrols. That’s how your boy found us. And as I said, Eliminati, I’m here to accept his challenge. Are you going to allow us to join in these duels, or do I have to punish your dishonor by killing you and then tracking down every single one of your fellow knights and terminating their unlives with extreme prejudice?"

She fought to keep from laughing out loud at the vampire’s face twisting in anger. She’d used their own ways against him, bringing up what they would do if they deemed someone dishonorable. She did, however, feel a measure of relief that their honor wasn’t convenient for them; they took it seriously.

"If one of our knights made the challenge, it is still open," the vamp finally answered, giving her another once over. "Although Sir Antonio will not be pleased by this error in judgment, he will honor your acceptance." He started to walk forward again but stopped in consideration. "Do you know where we are to have the duels, Milady?"

"I do," Kenzie replied, hiding the fact that they’d found out by looking for them rather than finding out from the Boys. "As I said, my uncle and I both will accept any opponents who wish to test their skills against us." She let mischief shine in her eyes. "And even if he won’t be pleased by the error, I think Sir Antonio will at least appreciate the novelty of two opponents from the Old World, will he not? Believe me, Sir Knight, I am not your modern American teenager."

To her surprise, the knightly vampire actually smiled at that. <A vamp with a sense of humor? Goddess I can die now, I’ve bloody seen it all.> "You find that amusing, Sir?"

"A tad, Milady," the vampire confessed, bowing in apology, "but I mean no offense." He straightened and asked, "However, I would know your name, Milady, so I can report to my liege who you and your uncle are, that you accept this challenge with such courage and aplomb."

<Oh Goddess he is impressed! Well, he’s about to be even more impressed…>

Kenzie reached over her shoulder with her left hand, dug under her French braided hair, and drew her katana. When the knight understandably tensed, she quickly pointed the blade downward and pressed her palms flat against the carved hilt. She didn’t wait for the Eliminati to see she wasn’t going to cut him down where he stood. She bowed her head a bit in an old Japanese salute.

"Sir Knight, inform your liege, Sir Antonio," she said formally, hoping not to lose her patience since she believed Gunn’s life depended on it, "that I, Kenzie MacLeod, daughter of Jacob and Rosalind MacLeod of Edinburgh, Scotland, accept the challenge laid down by El Eliminati on behalf of myself and my Watcher, Juan Sanchez of Madrid, Spain."

Kenzie watched the knight’s eyes go wide as he realized just who, or, rather, what, she was. She nodded to him and brought her blade around, giving him another salute by tapping the tip of the blade to her forehead.

"You are one of the Slayers?" the vampire asked in wonder.

"Yes, Sir Knight," she replied, sheathing her blade with one flawless move. "I for one do not live on the Hellmouth. You see, there are evils to fight elsewhere in the world, even in this city. And someone has to fight them to allow my sisters in destiny to concentrate on their duties in Sunnydale. Now please be so kind as to deliver our acceptance to your liege. My uncle and I will enter your domain within the hour, so I would suggest you be off."

The knight bristled at her command, but nonetheless did as she told him, moving by her and moving very quickly, by the sound of his boots smacking against the pavement. Kenzie didn’t look back; instead, she walked forward and stopped at the edge of the alley. She watched one of the Zombies who helped the Lost Boys walking out and heading in the direction of the warehouse.

Her eyes tightened as she realized he was going to be one of the five fighters mentioned by the Eliminati. On reflex she pulled out her cell phone and dialed Juan’s number to tell him to meet her at the warehouse.

The fact that one of the Immortal officers was going to be there complicated matters, to say the least. Kenzie, however, had a little more to say.

"CHIKUSHKO!!!"

She wondered what Juan would say if he knew she could curse just as well in Japanese as she could in Celtic. A fleeting smile crossed her face. <Perhaps I should do so, just to see his reaction… Oh well, maybe tomorrow night.>

*****

Part 5: Saturday Night's Main Event
(I Think The Reason Jousting Died Out In The Middle Ages Was Because They Didn't Have An "Icon."
You Know, Someone With The Charisma Of Ali Or The Hulkster...)

Abandoned Warehouse
East Side
Los Angeles, California
10 April 1999

The Firebird’s headlights splashed across Juan’s body as Kenzie pulled up to the old warehouse appropriated by El Eliminati. She caught a brief glimpse of her Watcher reaching up to keep the glare of the headlights out of his eyes before focusing on turning off the car.

As she shifted into park and cut the lights, she smiled. <It’s strange.> She ran her hands over the steering wheel. <Say what you will about antique technologies, this car’s a Goddess blessed treasure.> She took a few seconds to center herself, then pulled the keys out of the ignition and pocketed them.

She stepped out and gracefully walked to the back of the car, where she’d placed her sword before driving here. She heard Juan’s footsteps as she pulled the trunk open but focused on getting ready for her impending combat.

<If Juan and I can take on their best fighters, it gives Charles and the others that much more of a chance to live through this.> She shivered with worry; since taking the Boys’ places in the duels was out of the question, their next best course of action was to try to occupy the Eliminati’s best fighters so that the Boys would face knights who weren’t as deadly with the sword. Kenzie pulled out the silk scarf she’d brought along just as Juan joined her at the back of the car.

"Are you ready, Kenzie?" Juan asked tenderly. She felt his hand gently squeeze her shoulder to reassure her. "Remember, this isn’t your usual style of combat. There are formal rules you must follow."

"I understand," she mumbled as she wrapped the silk around her slim waist. A disturbing thought struck her, making her glance at Juan. "Am I allowed to utilize all the skills I’ve learned? I won’t be limited to European styles?"

"Absolutely not," the old man told her warmly. His eyes shined with her using her brain to consider such things. "To show anything less than your full skill as the Slayer would be an insult to them. But no fisticuffs; this has to be weapon to weapon."

She nodded. "I can do that, no problemo." She knew he hated it when she used Spanish casually like that. She finished tying the elaborate knot in the silk and picked up her katana. Turning the sheathed weapon so that the blade faced upward, she thrust it underneath her improvised belt so that it rested against her stomach. She turned to her guardian and smiled. "What do you think?"

"A two-tie sagayo," he said approvingly. "Very clever, young lady."

"Thank you." She turned to the doorway. "Well, they’re waiting for us. Shall we?"

"We shall," the elder member of the pair consented. He pulled out his own katana and started walking toward the door. "I’ll fight first, as I have seniority."

"Of course, Juan," the Slayer said, falling in at his side. With her long strides, she had no problem keeping up. "After all, two old sayings apply here."

Knowing he suspected she was about to spring a verbal trap, he ruefully said, "Which ones, Kenzie?"

"Age before beauty, and save the best for last," she chirped. She snickered at his sigh of despair. "After all, I’m the Slayer and you’re the Watcher. That makes me the main event!"

Juan didn’t deign to answer her; she was always teasing him about his age. The Watcher and Slayer arrived at the door. Her "boss" squared his shoulders and let a formal mask drop over his face. She fought to not roll her eyes.

<I’ll take this seriously the second we pull our blades out,> she vowed to herself. She just watched the Spaniard raise his hand and gently rap on the door with his knuckles.

Kenzie leaned in. "Geez, Juan, I hope they heard you," she whispered sotto voce.

They had. Just as Juan was about to chide her a bit, the door cracked open and an armored figure, the very knight who’d challenged them last night, fixed his eyes on them. After taking a few seconds to see their better clothing, he grunted in recognition and stepped back, opening the door so that they could see his whole body.

He bowed to Juan first, then to her. "Watcher and Slayer, we welcome you to the field of honor. Enter and be recognized." He stood up and eyed her mentor, probably because he was the mentor. "How do you wish to be recognized, Sir Watcher?"

"Full titles and honors," Juan answered with a smile he could have copied from her. <Oh Goddess, he’s going to set them up.> She all but groaned when their greeter nodded in approval.

"Full titles and honors, as you wish," the vamp seconded. "It is good to see some of our opponents have good breeding."

<You have no idea, sassanach…> Kenzie started to protest at the put down of the Boys, but Juan stepped in to defend them. "The others may be young and undisciplined, but they are fighters worthy of your respect, Sir Knight," the man coldly said. With steel he rarely showed her, the Watcher told the vamp, "Their previous opponents underestimated them. They died."

He left it there, making Kenzie smile. She added, "And I’ve kept my calling a secret from the Lost Boys because I haven’t had to tell them, because I respect them that much. I’d appreciate you also keeping the information from them. It’d only make them rely on me and not their own skills."

The vampire didn’t acknowledge her request, but rather backed further into the building, allowing them to enter.

Kenzie saw the quick glance Juan gave her before she entered before him. She was touched that he was risking getting stabbed in the unlikely event the Eliminati violated their oaths. <Time to put your mind on the job, Slayer.>

Kenzie looked around the main floor and felt chills run up and down her spine. Silently counting from left to right, the seventeen-year-old counted nineteen vampires in the Eliminati uniforms. <Goddess, if they’d forced Charles to pick opponents for everyone…> Her throat became tight at the ugly image. <That’s why you’re here, Kenzie MacLeod. To prevent the Boys from dying.>

Kenzie focused on the vampire that strode forward to greet them at the center of the warehouse. He was six-four if he was an inch, with handsome Mediterranean features. She’d bet twenty-to-one odds he’d been a nobleman, too.

Juan stood in front of her and to her right, claiming his place as her Watcher and the one to formally accept the challenge laid down by the vamps. He let the tip of his sword touch the concrete with a tinny metallic clink, resting his hands on the end of the hilt. "I bid you greetings, Sir Knight," he said with that strong voice, "and I give you my thanks at you gracious acceptance of our decision to accept your challenge as offered by your brethren."

"The challenge was accidental, yet you had the courage to accept," the Eliminati leader countered respectfully. He straightened himself to a position of attention and spoke out. "I am Sir Antonio Marcellus del Medici, son of the House of del Medici, knight of the blood, leader of El Eliminati. Let all present bear witness to these tests of skill, and let none say that honor was not served on this night." The vampire eyed her Watcher again. "Name yourself and your Slayer."

Juan dipped his head to Sir Antonio and flashed that smile that told Kenzie he was about to lay it on thick. "Sir Antonio, leader of El Eliminati. I am Juan Sanchez del Madrid, member of the Watchers’ Council, historian and professor of archaeology, descendant of members of the royal court of King Philip the First of Spain, and guardian, teacher, and field Watcher for the Slayer."

Knowing that this was her cue, Kenzie stood as straight as she could. Juan then gave her "credentials." <I’m the Slayer, what else will impress them?>

"I present my niece and student, the Chosen One, the Lady Kenzie MacLeod of Edinburgh, Scotland; defender of humanity, savior of Lisbon, daughter of warriors of the United Nations, and scion of warriors who fought for Bonnie Prince Charles, the Duke of Wellington, the Earl of Leicester, and the Shogun of Japan."

Kenzie kept her face neutral, although it was an effort. She couldn’t help but admire how Juan had played up both sides of her heritage. <If this weren’t so Goddess bloody important, I’d be smiling at him, I just know it. Damn. Sometimes my dear Watcher’s too suave for his own good. I suppose that’s why I have to work so hard to keep his ego in check…>

She turned her attention back to del Medici, who seemed at a loss as to how to proceed. In a burst of realization, she realized his dilemma. <He came here to challenge Charles, but now he’s faced with an honor duel involving the… a Slayer. I’ve become the monkey wrench in his plans.> Now she did smile. <I love being me.>

Sir Antonio seemed to take several slow breaths, although Kenzie knew it was more for show. He had to be taking time to think about this addition to the "fight card."

He finally faced Juan again. "Sir Juan, will you or the Lady Kenzie begin?"

"I will go first, Sir Antonio," Juan said. The Eliminati nodded and turned away, walking toward the back end of the warehouse to join the semi-circle formed by the various members of the group.

Kenzie leaned in and whispered, "Be careful, Juan. I'd hate to have to break in a new Watcher."

Juan scowled at the "again" she'd left unsaid. "Willful child."

"An ye wouldna have it any other way, ye bluidy peacock."

A sigh from her Watcher let her know she'd won that "argument."

Juan smiled again and started forward, muttering, "Let it begin."

*****

Juan stopped when he reached the middle of the warehouse-cum-dueling circle. He easily held his blade in an unthreatening position while waiting for Sir del Medici to name his opponent.

<I do hope it's one of their better fighters,> the Watcher thought grimly. The better an opponent, the less skilled the Boys' foes would be.

"Sir Juan Sanchez del Madrid," the senior vampire called out in a booming voice, "Watcher and guardian of the Slayer, may your courage be remembered amongst us." Juan nodded in thanks as Sir del Medici turned his head to the left slightly. "Your opponent will be Sir Carlos Roberto Hernandez DaCosta, knight of their Royal Majesties, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain."

Juan followed his gaze to see a vampire step from his place in the assemblage. DaCosta was a good looking vampire, probably turned around the age of thirty-five. The man had the look of pure Royal Court upbringing. It was more than the appearance; it was the bearing, the look that bespoke of being nobility by birth. It was something Juan was somewhat familiar with.

His named opponent stepped in front of him and Juan could see a trace of that Old World arrogance common to nobility of the time. He knew why he sported that look; here was a member of the court of two of Spain's greatest monarchs, whereas he was just a "descendant" of such.

<And of course modern descendants know nothing of what it’s like to have the ear of royalty,> he sighed to himself. <Well, youngling, I think it's time I showed you some respect for your elders.>

Juan formally saluted his foe-to-be and grinned. "Sir Carlos, a pleasure."

"Si, 'Sir' Juan," the vampire said tersely. He didn't bother to hide the trace of arrogance in his greeting. He took up a classical fencing pose common to the 15th century and held his hands loose near his belt. He glanced at the katana Juan held. "An interesting choice for a son of Espana, Watcher."

"Let's just say I've traveled far and wide," Juan said with a smile. He let himself turn the slightest bit serious and took up a basic pose for using a saber. "And while my katana may not have the age or history your blades certainly do, it more than suffices. In both fighting vampires without honor... or for teaching the martial arts to my Slayer."

The vampire's face tightened at the not so subtle hint Juan had made; he might not be a true Knight in DaCosta's eyes, but he was the man responsible for the Slayer's skill at arms. In short, this wouldn't be as easy a fight as he'd first assumed.

"Let us begin," Sir Carlos announced, reaching with his right hand. He pulled out his longsword and set himself into the same fencing position as Juan.

Juan settled himself fully and smiled. "Let us begin, senor."

On an unspoken agreement, DaCosta lunged forward with a basic strike. Juan blocked it easily and countered with two jabs of his own. The two went back and forth, feeling each other out with the most elementary of fencing moves. Juan knew the advantages the vampire possessed; strength, speed, and nearly limitless stamina. However, the vampire's honor seemed to keep him from exploiting those advantages to their fullest; this wasn't about showing him human weaknesses, it was about showing off their mutual skills with the very symbol of warriors throughout time, the sword.

Juan's smile faded a bit as he focused on DaCosta's defenses. His vast experience showed him the knight had trained in Madrid or Seville, and under one of the finer Maestros of the time. <But just how well did he learn his lessons?> Juan asked the world at large. <Time to find out.>

Juan blocked an epee technique, a tiny bit of a challenge with a Japanese blade. As Sir Carlos backed off to reset his defenses, the archaeology professor began the first stage of his attempt to defeat his opponent. Fully committing to the saber form, Juan jabbed straight forward with his katana, aiming it at DaCosta's chest. As the Eliminati blocked the strike, Juan turned his arm over and threw an underhanded slash at Dacosta's left arm. The demon blocked it again but that only gave Juan the chance to bring his arm back, turn it over yet again, and send a semi-backhanded strike arcing in at Carlos' left leg.

He noticed the realization light in Carlos' eyes as he blocked yet again, this time somewhat hastily. Juan just let the blow be blocked and started his rhythm over again; heart, arm, leg. He fell into what Kenzie alternately called a "groove" or "zone," letting a lifetime's worth of instincts and training guide him automatically. He finished a second, third, and fourth cycles with flawless precision, giving his Spanish opponent the barest showing of what he was capable of.

As Juan started driving the vampire back, step by step, he continued his rhythm, keeping the other from launching any offense whatsoever, making him concentrate only on defending himself and trying to break the rhythm.

Juan sent the strike at the heart. The ring of metal signaled the block. The Watcher aimed at the arm. Again, the collision of tempered metal. Once Juan knew his opponent was fully committed, he sprung his trap.

He brought his arm back again but did *not* strike. Instead he brought his left arm around and gripped his katana in both hands, as he normally did. In an instant so brief anyone blinking would have missed it, the Watcher went from classical fencing to pure kenjitsu. He couldn't help but shout a "KAI" as he brought the blade overhead in a standard chopping strike. At the last instant, the overcompensated DaCosta ducked and brought his sword up in both hands. He managed to block Juan's strike but scooted backwards to regain his composure.

Juan moved forward, using the skills he'd learned in Japan so long ago to follow up on his advantage. He started a new rhythm, but one totally different from that he'd started with. Now that he was utilizing more than his most basic skills, Juan was in his element.

DaCosta was just as much out of his when it came to the styles of the Orient. He put up as much defense as he could, but he continued giving ground, moving in a haphazard circle in his attempt to buy enough space or time to mount a counteroffensive.

Juan didn't oblige him. He finally separated one of DaCosta's hands from the hilt of his sword, making Sir Carlos defend himself with one hand. He then faked a backhanded strike. He turned the blade over, came up to DaCosta's side, and sliced him across the stomach.

He ignored the startled gasp that escaped Kenzie's throat. He didn't know if it was because of the skill he'd actually been required to use, or because she thought he'd severely injured the vampire. He fought to keep his grin to himself. The vampire's armor had mostly stood up to the slice since he'd pulled his blow to keep any true cut of the vampire's flesh shallow. But he knew, and hoped the vampire would as well, that under normal circumstances, that Sir Carlos DaCosta would be trying to hold his intestines inside of his opened stomach.

He backed off from his offensive for the first time in the seven minutes he'd been backing Sir Carlos up and took up a relaxed position, holding his blade up just in case the vampire's pride kept him from admitting what everyone in the warehouse had to know.

"Sir Carlos," Juan said evenly, but with respect for his opponent, who had indeed been skilled, <Just not enough.> "Will you yield?"

His fellow duelist slowly stood up, dragging the tip of his sword along the floor in one hand and holding his stomach with the other. A thin line of blood was dripping from the wound, but it wasn't serious. That much the old Watcher could tell.

Sir Carlos eyed him with obvious anger at being defeated, but respect also flared in those eyes. "You are skilled, senor."

"As are you," Juan admitted without hesitation. "Anyone else would have fallen to my rhythm, let alone the change to the ways of the samurai. I admit I may have underestimated your skill a bit."

The undead Spaniard took in a deep breath before bowing his head once. "You have won fairly and with honor, Sir Juan. You are my better, Sir Knight."

He sheathed his sword and bowed to Juan, this time from the waist. He turned and bowed to Sir Antonio, then moved to take his place in the circle once again.

Juan faced del Medici and saluted him with his katana before sheathing it. He turned and walked back to the spot occupied by his charge.

"Your turn, my dear," he chuckled, drawing her out of her silent reverie.

*****

Kenzie just watched in awe at the skill her teacher had shown. While she understood that the Eliminati might be a better judge of Juan's fencing techniques, she had to have the edge in gauging his kenjitsu. Not for the first time, she found herself thanking the Goddess that he hadn't totally embarrassed her in training.

She saw the usual grin he flashed when in private with her and stifled a moan. <Goddess, he's going to be bluidy insufferable.>

Sir Antonio calling her name brought her back to the present. She turned her near-black eyes to Juan without moving her head.

He turned to face the dueling floor but said, "Give them your best, Slayer."

She gave the tiniest of nods. She squared herself and strode forward, knowing her height and attractive features made her cut an impressive figure. She stopped at the spot Juan had started his duel from and patiently waited for the vampires' leader to name her opponent, although she assumed he'd be fighting her himself.

<After all, who could possibly turn down the chance to fight the Chosen One,> the young woman asked herself. <Come on, Sir Antonio. As Aunt Faith used to say... 'Just BRING it.'>

The leader of El Eliminati stood up straighter and took on the look of ritual again. He faced her and she could see some serious respect in his eyes.

His head moved from one side to another before focusing back on her. Kenzie licked her lips in anticipation, her Slayer instincts crying out for battle. <Here it comes.>

"My Lady Kenzie MacLeod, Vampire Slayer," he started, "your opponent... Sir William Thatcher, Knight of England, knighted by his Royal Majesty, Prince Edward, heir to the throne of England."

Kenzie kept her face as much a neutral mask as she could, but she knew her dark eyes were flashing a bit. <He's savin' his bluidy undead self for Charles!> She hoped the vamps hadn't felt or noticed the ripple of shock passing through her body. She moved her head around, determined to seek out her opponent. To her surprise, it was the same vampire she'd met in the alley across from the shelter.

He stood in front of her and gave her a friendly smile. "We meet again, Milady."

<This is a soulless demon?> Kenzie asked herself. She reminded herself of what some Eliminati had done to those who refused her challenges. <They're still evil, Highland Girl. Get your mind on business.>

"Yes, we meet again, Sir William," she said evenly. However, a hint of her sense of humor popped up and she couldn't help but add her own smart alec remark. With a honey sweet voice, she gently teased, "Or would you prefer Sir Ulric?"

To her surprise, her opponent sighed. "I knew I never should have let Chaucer write that book."

<Laddie, if you think the book's bad, give it another year...> she thought before remembering that this man, a character out of classic literature, was an undead demon. "How?" she asked. She couldn't ask in any more words.

"The Hundred Years' War," Thatcher answered, knowing what she wanted to know. He smiled sadly at her. "I went to France and fell in battle. The leader of the Eliminati at that time personally brought me over."

"You allowed this?" she asked incredulously. <Why?>

"I wasn't exactly conscious at the time, Lady Kenzie." His eyes took on a wistful look. "My squires were dead and he knew of my reputation from the World Championships. He was, as he put it, determined that 'true knights of honor should keep chivalry alive in this world for as long as possible.' He saw me as someone who would keep our traditions alive."

"I mean no offense, Sir William," the Slayer sighed, actually feeling some regrets, "but I wish we had some Gypsies here right now. If we souled the whole lot of you Eliminati, we'd love to have you fighting on our side."

"I'm sorry, but no thank you," the knight countered with a slight touch of humor. "And I take no offense. But we are here for a reason. Shall we begin, Lady Kenzie?" His eyes narrowed in puzzlement. "Might I ask what domain you are a Lady of?"

"When I turned nine, I became the ward of my original Watcher. He was the son of the Earl of Leicester. He always told me I was to be accorded the same rank and title as he. Of course, I was more concerned with being the Slayer than some rich snobby girl."

A ripple of laughter came from some of the vampire ranks. Kenzie decided the time had come to start their duel.

"Well, Sir Knight, shall we get down to brass tacks?" she inquired with gleaming eyes. "I might be a British teenager, but I'm still a teenager. I have shopping plans tomorrow."

Her opponent smiled a bit at her bravado, but her intent had been to score a jab at her Watcher. Her sharp hearing picked up a sigh of resignation and she knew she'd scored a bulls eye.

Sir William drew his longsword, leaving the other blade sheathed. Kenzie glanced at the dagger he kept at his belt.

"I was told that not utilizing my full skills as the Slayer would be an insult to you, Sir William," she offered, nodding at the dagger, "I would not want you to limit yourself."

The old knight blinked but nodded in agreement. "As you wish."

He drew the dagger and modified his position so that he could defend himself with either weapon. Kenzie shifted so that she faced him directly. Reaching with her left hand, she moved to draw her sword.

She felt her fingers closing around the carved ivory, relishing the feel of the dragon's scales under her skin. She whipped the blade out with a flourish and brought her right hand up to complete the motion, gripping the katana in a left-handed grip, blade straight up. Slowly, she brought it down until the tip pointed toward the floor.

Sir William's eyes registered what she'd hoped. <Even Mr. I'm-A-Centuries-Old-Vampire-Knight hasn't faced many southpaws in his time. Good. Very good.>

She flashed him a smile that was pure Aunt Faith and said, "Let's dance, Sir William."

Her knightly opponent nodded and the two began to circle. Somehow Kenzie knew they wouldn't be fencing with each other. After a brief detente, the Brit jabbed with his dagger. Kenzie didn't react; it was a feint. The vampire's sword also jabbed forward only to be deflected by Kenzie's katana. The overhead lights flashed off of her blade as the swords clashed.

Kenzie moved her blade up and out, spinning away to give herself some room. She swung her Masaki from a three-quarters position. William crossed his blades to form an "x" and caught hers. William spun his blades around, attempting to disarm her. <Oh, like I'm going to fall for that old trick.>

As he brought his blades back to the top of the arc, Kenzie did the last thing he'd probably expect her to do. She switched her grip. Now she had a right-hander's grip on her weapon. As the shock of what she'd done registered, Kenzie safely withdrew the old weapon from his foiled trap. She wasn't going to tell him part of the reason; while the blade might be 15th century, the hilt was less than eighteen months old. It might be genuine ivory, but it had been custom made for her own reach and grip.

<Forward thinking on the part of Uncle Stevie,> she mused happily. This wasn't the first time it had come in handy.

Kenzie moved her sword into a kendo stance, the blade over her head and parallel to the concrete floor, returning to the lefty grip. The "star" of the Canterbury Tales took up his defensive position and nodded in admiration.

He then attacked again, forcing Kenzie onto the defensive once again. The Slayer's wide range of teaching showed again; she blocked every move, a combination of piercing and slashing techniques that impressed even her. But she was the Slayer; she had the instincts of a warrior.

Kenzie slowly took over the offensive. She thrust, parried, and thrust again. She added techniques she assumed Sir William would never have seen before, especially the ancient Amazon fighting arts. Unlike DaCosta fighting her Watcher, Sir William bided his time, seeking an opening. Kenzie knew that a patient vampire was a dangerous one, no matter how honorable.

She spun away from an attempted counterstrike and completed a full circuit, bringing her katana around in an arc meant to take the vampire in his sword arm and make him drop his primary weapon. However, Sir William apparently anticipated her move; instead of blocking the blow, he jumped back, leaving her sword to meet empty air. Kenzie tried to keep herself from overbalancing and bring her katana back into a defensive mode.

Sir William took advantage of the opening presented by her loss of balance. He swung with the longsword. Kenzie knew he was pulling the blow so as not to injure her, but she wasn't taking any chances. This time she pulled the unexpected maneuver; giving up on regaining her balance, she let gravity win. However, she also let her own power and grace aid her in rolling along the floor, getting away from her sparring partner.

Kenzie rolled to her feet and spun around, regaining her stance before William could even get close to her. Starting to breathe hard, she tossed her sweat-soaked hair out of her eyes. "Surprise," she said with a shrug.

The English knight just nodded but went back on the offensive. Kenzie met him on equal terms, exchanging blow for blow. Just as she began to gain the upper hand and was preparing to set Thatcher up for a spin that would leave her behind him and with an open shot at his back, Lady Luck decided to be a bitch.

She heard the doorway to the warehouse burst open and crash against the wall. The sound was just enough to shatter the purity of her concentration. She hesitated the slightest bit as the sound startled her. She didn't see it, as she didn't see Juan suddenly turning to face the doorway, pulling his sword out once again.

Thatcher's sword punched past the tsuba of her katana and slid unimpeded between the bones of her left forearm. It didn't matter that William's eyes held regret and shock at his wounding of her. It didn't matter that he immediately tried to withdraw. None of that mattered.

The shock and pain erupting through her system sent Kenzie from dueling into full-blown combat. In the terms she would use, she was in Slayer Mode.

Kenzie's eyes flashed as the instincts of the Chosen One put her into a level beyond what she'd been using in their duel; the extra edge the Slayer used against those vampires and demons determined to ruin humanity. The young member of the Clan MacLeod brought her sword up in her right hand and started slashing with all the power she could muster. Thatcher found himself blocking blows that would have broken cheaper, more modern blades off at the guards.

Kenzie's mouth emitted a low growl as she tried to blast his blades aside. She swept his dagger aside and stepped inside the arc of his weapons. She jabbed forward and hit the vampire square between the eyes with her fist. She then stabbed William with the tip of her blade, sending it at least ten inches into his gut. As he gasped and dropped his longsword, Kenzie stepped back and brought her weapon to the knight's neck.

As the instincts of the Slayer tried to drive her to remove the demon's head from his shoulders, she was held back by the one voice of authority she recognized; her Watcher's.

"Kenzie, STOP!" he shouted at the top of his lungs. The tone he used was the same one he'd used the other night; the one that brooked no disagreement to his edicts.

A burst of sudden coldness hit Kenzie as she came back under her self-control. She rapidly blinked several times before shivering and realizing what had happened.

<Oh Goddess, was that what Aunt Faith went through...> she asked herself, not getting an answer. She let her eyes wander the length of her arm, her clenched fist, the gold-plated guard of her katana, and the twenty-seven inches of gleaming blade resting against William's neck. His game face had emerged, but only out of fear. Somehow, she knew that.

She slowly removed the blade and sheathed it. As he let out a sigh of immense relief, she reached forward and grasped his free arm. He allowed her to guide him up, both of them wounded, winded, and knowing how close they'd just come to disaster.

She looked over at the entrance and saw who'd barged in like that. <Sure enough...>

Gunn. Accompanied by four of the Lost Boys, including the vampire she'd seen working with them. She sighed. "Sir Bald Homey coming to my bloody rescue."

William started chuckling and she glared at him before she realized that's exactly what had happened. She started giggling under her breath at the shared joke. If the others present didn't get it, too bad.

She guiltily glanced at the gash in his stomach and swallowed. "I'm sorry, William. I lost control." He drew breath to argue but she wouldn't have it. "No. There's no excuse."

"Apology accepted then," the blonde man said softly. She looked at him and he said, "And I am sorry for wounding you."

"Don't be; I'll heal," she quipped. But she did give him a mock frown. "But pray I don't hunt you down and stake you for ruining my shirt."

She knew he saw the grin behind her eyes so he didn't take her seriously. She cocked her head. "But before I give Charles a serious cursing down, who won this round?"

William blinked; apparently he'd forgotten the entire reason they were here. The vampire glanced at Sir Antonio, whose expression was totally unreadable.

<Apparently they're letting us decide that,> Kenzie deduced.

Thatcher glanced at her. "I don't want to keep this fight up if all we're going to do is end up gravely wounded, Lady Kenzie." He flashed a frown that worried her. "But I do want to continue our test of honor. I do not like the idea of losing to a woman, however skilled."

She cocked an eyebrow. "Speak for yourself, Sir Thatcher. Personally, I wouldn't be adverse to declaring our joust a draw," she said, letting the slightest trace of mockery into her counter. "I'd say I was at least ahead on points, wouldn't you?"

She groaned at the dark look that came to his face. "I was bloody kidding!" A flash of pain in her arm made her wince as the Slayer Rush started fading. She gritted her teeth. "Emphasis on bloody." She nodded. "Is that truly so horrible?"

"I do not..."

"For Goddess' sake, bloodsucker," she hissed, leaning in close so that only he and, presumably, the other vampires could hear. In an angry tone, Kenzie MacLeod laid out her view on the matter. "You, Sir William, need to learn to take a gift when ye're given one. Ye challenged the bluidy Slayer. Ye fought the bluidy Slayer to a standstill when yer counterpart couldn't beat her Watcher. Ye blooded the Slayer and lived to bluidy tell about it! And with the Goddess as me bloody witness, ye..." She locked her almond-shaped eyes onto him and admitted, "Ye earned the Slayer's respect."

Sir William just listened to her and she knew he was thinking about what she'd offered him. <Aye, I'm a female, but for Goddess' sakes, the Slayer isn't just any female! I'd bloody think the honorable ones would know that.>

Thatcher glanced over at his liege, who was watching Kenzie rather than him. She saw greater respect in his eyes than before. He nodded once. "Well said, Kenzie MacLeod."

She started to wonder why he hadn't called her the Slayer until she remembered Charles and friends. <Ooooooo, I'm going to have a word with him... he's going to see why it's not Jaina he needs to be frightened of!> She gave one final, serious look at Sir William Thatcher. "A draw, Sir William?"

To her immense relief, he nodded. "A draw. Well fought, my Lady."

Kenzie gave him a terse grin and turned away. She wouldn't give him a full smile; he was still a vampire, and she was the Slayer. There were some lines she just would not cross with the soulless breeds.

She walked toward the new arrivals, noting how Juan and Juan were giving each other the stare down. <I don't have time for this.> She finally gripped her bleeding arm with her unwounded one and saw the look of worry in Charles and Jaina's faces. <Oh, Charlie me lad, you ain't seen nothin' to worry about yet.>

*****

As soon as he saw the set of Kenzie's face, Gunn knew he was in deep shit. "Oh shit. What'd we do to piss her off?"

"Barged in like idiots and got her poked?" Jaina asked innocently; he'd been the one to charge in like the cavalry when he'd seen K-Z's ride sitting in the old parking lot.

He glanced at Jaina. "You think she knows we were worried about her?"

"Don't think she cares, homey," Jaina said. Gunn noticed she was scooting back so he could take the brunt of her impending barrage. "You ruin a woman's clothes, you pay."

<Great...> Gunn moaned as he was left all by his lonesome. He turned and held his arms up. "Kenzie, look! We were just trying..."

"What in Christ's bloody name were ye doing bargin' in like tha' like a bunch of bluidy boggarts?!?" she shouted in his face. Gunn winced, which only spurred her on. "Yer crazy, insane, stupid stunt got me arm turned into beef on a spit!"

"Whoa, whoa, wait a minute!" Gunn shouted, now getting in her face. He might think she was okay, but he was not going to take this in his 'hood. "We thought the bloodsuckers'd taken you hostage or something! We were trying to make sure you were all right!"

"Yer concern is so bloody appreciated," she said between rolls of those dark eyes. It only pissed him off more. "Ye bluidy know I can bluidy take care of myself!"

"Well excuse me for being stupid enough to think you couldn't handle a vampire!" Gunn barked. It was then that he realized that he'd seen her fighting the vamp. His eyes went wide. "Hold the phone here, K-Z. What're you doing here fighting these suckers?!?" He did another doubletake. "You KNOW about vampires?!?"

K-Z rolled her eyes and waved her arms, indicating she thought he was hopelessly stupid. She glared at him. "And you're what, *surprised* by this? Hello! What part of 'my parents work for covert units of the United Nations' did you not bloody understand! The Eliminati assumed we were with you bloody Yankee city boys and issued a challenge to us. We accepted and were hoping to take your places so you wouldn't end up getting split into so many pieces." She gripped her bloody sleeve and moaned. "And this is the bloody thanks I get!"

"Well excuse me for not knowing you two rich folks were coming here! If you'd told us we would've..." Gunn stopped as Kenzie's statement caught up to him. His own anger started to drain away. "Wait a minute. You wanted to take our places?"

"And you're surprised by this, why?" she snootily asked. <God, now she's acting like a California rich girl!> He watched her own temper starting to diminish and she shrugged. "You think volunteering at the shelter's the only way I help you Yanks out?"

That question came out sounding a bit perturbed, so he let it go. "How long've you been patrolling our 'hood?"

"Oh, like I limit myself to your part of town," she snorted. "I do check the other parts of town, Charles."

<There's that name again,> he groaned. "You're just a helpful gal, ain't ya?"

"A regular bleeding heart," she joked back. She winced in pain. "Make that bleeding forearm."

Gunn grimaced at the slick sleeve and said, "Here. Lemme look at that."

Kenzie drew her arm out of his reach and sarcastically remarked, "After what happened the last time you tried to help me five minutes ago, I'll pass."

Gunn's jaw started grinding but he didn't know if it was from Kenzie's diss or Jaina's laugh. He growled, "Fine! Be that way!"

"If you insist, homey," Jap Girl shot back. She walked by him and he counted to ten, trying to calm himself down. Just as he was regaining his self-control, she barked, "And just remember that it's because you got me arm cut that I have to show flesh again!"

"Gaaaaah!"

He turned to Rashaan and Montez. "Let's get this over with." He didn't give them time to nod before walking forward to chat with Sir Antonio.

*****

Juan Sanchez walked up to the man who was probably Kenzie's uncle. He hadn't met the man before, and now he knew why.

Juan nodded and offered a soft greeting. "Juan Sanchez of Camelot."

The old man chuckled, apparently not taking this introduction seriously. He leaned in. "Juan Sanchez of UCLA."

Juan blinked as he understood the man's humor. "Dear Lord, now I know the reason why Kenzie laughed the first time I met her at the shelter."

"She's probably been dreaming of seeing the looks on our faces once we give names," his counterpart admitted. "I'm surprised she hasn't tried to arrange it beforehand."

The Zombie chuckled and glanced between Gunn, who was waiting for the leader of the Eliminati to approach him, and Kenzie, who had Jaina ripping off the sleeve of her shirt off to look at her wound. "About your 'niece...'"

"She's not."

"I know that," the officer admitted. "It's just that I've been around a while and..."

"I'll wager twenty dollars those two don't 'get it' until at least the middle of July," the other Sanchez whispered.

"Hmmm." The former Knight of the Round Table glanced at the wounded girl again. "Sorry. Not taking that one."

*****

"You didn't have to blast Gunn like that, sister," Jaina said as she started wiping blood away from the wound. She gave her friend a dark look despite their friendship. "He thought they'd put the bite on you."

"As if," the rich girl snorted. "Like I said, Jaina, we were trying to save you the trouble of getting into duels with these prats. Sorry we couldn't spare you this 'death before dishonor' crap."

"Don't you believe in honor?" Jaina teased; she couldn't help it.

"Honor's no bloody good if you aren't around to enjoy it."

"Good point," she conceded. "But anyway, Gunn's got a good head on his shoulders. He made the fights so no one dies." She saw Kenzie's eyes narrow in pain as she kept dabbing at the wound. "You're lucky. Didn't go as deep as I thought." She took out some bandages from the first aid kit Gunn'd made sure they brought. "You're gonna have to get stitches, y'know."

"I'll be fine. Let's just say I have a good health plan," the volunteer joked.

Not liking the joke, Jaina pulled the bandage extra tight. "Please don't tell me yer one of those macho types that's gotta have a scar before he thinks he's a bad ass soldier boy."

"Oh, please. I'm going to have to wait until this heals before going out in some of my best outfits," she said sourly.

Jaina rolled her eyes. <Yeah, she's going to be fine.> She might really like K-Z, even if she had her eyes set on Gunn and didn't realize it, but...

"I give up."

*****

Gunn met Sir Antonio halfway and gave him the staredown for a few seconds before talking. "We're here, like we said we'd be." He glanced around the warehouse. "I brought Rashaan, Montez, Jaina, and Juan Sanchez. Sanchez is a SWAT guy who's taking Tommy's place. You probably saw him with the twisted ankle."

Antonio's eyes flicked to the side to look past him. He slowly said, "One of yours is a vampire."

"Long story," Gunn said. He hadn't thought Sir Tony would have a problem with that but gave the 411. "Short version. Montez was a clean kid, got vamped by the drug boys used to hang out here. Got a double whammy. First one was a Penance Stare from this Spirit of Vengeance dude. Round two was a couple witches giving him his soul back. He took a vacation at this monastery to get his head on straight and asked to help us out. He's one of ours."

Antonio's eyes came back to him. "This vampire spent time on consecrated ground?"

<He seems impressed!> the Lost Boys' commander thought. "Yeah. Eight weeks, give or take. He's a good man."

"Very well then." Sir Fangalot puffed his chest out. "Which of your fighters shall begin, Sir Charles?"

Gunn had already thought that out. "Rashaan. Rashaan Clay."

"Rashaan Clay, step forward," Tony said, turning and moving back to his spot. Gunn turned around and did the same.

Gunn passed Rashaan on the way and gave him a hand slap. "Just stay alive, man. Do your best and keep going as long as you can."

"Got it, Gunn."

Gunn reached his crew, Kenzie, and her uncle. He turned and watched Rashaan holding his quarterstaff at the ready. His worry increased when he saw one of Tony's homeys whispering to him. <What the Hell's that about?> He decided there wasn't anything he could do about it for now.

Sir Tony nodded once and turned back to business. "Rashaan, your opponent... Sir Piotr Ivanovich Dogdorvich, servant of Czar Peter the Great."

Gunn felt a knot of fear in his stomach; history was far from his strong suit, but even he knew Peter the Great was from *way* back in the day. <Holy shit. I'm glad Rashaan's using the wood.> He idly wondered who Kenzie had had to fight. <Too late now. She already did her stuff. I wonder why they did it? To hog the good fighters?>

The vamp Rashaan was going to fight was a big one. <Figures. Even then Russians were big.> He unbelted his sword belt and moved over to a weapons rack a lot like the one the Boys had in the warehouse. He pulled a staff off and took up a position.

Gunn started praying he hadn't made a mistake gambling on the vamps' honor.

*****

"You prefer the quarterstaff, da?"

Rashaan nodded once; he didn't like talking to vamps, let alone making small talk. <Montez bein' the exception, man.> He took the staff like Gunn had taught him. "Let's rock, Russkie."

"As you wish," the bearded Russian agreed. He sent a basic strike that Rashaan easily deflected.

Rashaan decided, <Why not go for broke?> He went on the attack, surprising the vamp. He could see it in his eyes. He used the basic stuff first, making the bloodsucker smile. <Great. He likes it that I'm taking it to him. Fine by me.>

Rashaan started some middle grade moves, probing Petey's guard and flanks. The old guy showed he knew his stuff, taking the shots and keeping Rashaan from hitting him. Rashaan picked up the pace, trying to go for some of the fancy stuff. <Dude probably don't know I've learned some dirty tricks.> he thought gleefully.

As Piotr matched his increasing pace, Rashaan twirled the staff around and tried a backhanded swing meant to take the Russkie's legs out from under him and make him fall on his keester. Rashaan knew he was in trouble when the vamp knight not only blocked it, but brought his own staff underneath his and...

The next thing Rashaan felt was a sharp jab in his chin. He saw stars and felt himself falling and kissing concrete. He moaned and couldn't move without his head pounding. He felt someone turning him over and tried to clear the vision of two vamps in armor out of his eyes. His fear of vamps hit him and he tried to scramble to his feet, but the vamp backed off rather than put the bite on him.

The vampire held his own staff out as if offering it to Rashaan. In that Dolph Lungdren voice, he asked, "Would you like some assistance in regaining your feet, young one?"

<Young one,> Rashaan moaned, mentally and vocally. He considered it and decided it was better than "kid" or "boy." "Yeah, I might need it."

He grabbed the staff and let the vampire pull him up. He shook off his foggy head. "God, how bad was it?" he asked, referring to getting his clock cleaned.

"You did well for one so young," Pete said without any mocking in his voice. "And you took the offensive. Very brave."

"Still got knocked on my ass," Rashaan grumbled. He picked his staff up and sighed. "Hope you'll understand me not taking this two out of three, Pete."

The Russian laughed and Rashaan started to get pissed until he remembered the vamp'd given him some kudos. <Fine. He thinks I'm good. Whatever.> He started back to the Boys. <Ouch...>

*****

Jaina glanced at Gunn as Rashaan, pissed that he'd lost, staggered back to his line. She decided she was up next before Gunn could pick somebody. She took her axe out from its case on her back and boldly walked forward.

"Jaina!" Gunn snapped, but to no avail.

She gave him a smirk over her shoulder. "Oh come on. They're gonna have to face me sooner or later. Don't tell me you think this little Latina can't handle herself, homey."

"You're crazy," he told her, but he didn't stop her. He knew better.

"Damn straight," she agreed. She got to the spot she liked and let her right arm swing lazily, the axe blade lowly "whooshing." "Okay, Sir Tony, name's Jaina Benitez. Whatcha got for me?"

Mr. Armor Pants probably didn't like her attitude but that was just too bad for him. This was their 'hood and they were gonna fight for it. <Or maybe it's 'cause he's from the olden days when little girls didn't talk back to their daddies or old farts like him.>

The vamp dude looked around and probably picked out a one of his posse for her to fight. His eyes settled on someone to her left, so she looked. The vamp boss's voice called out, "Sir Klaus von Hamburg, step forward."

A blonde-haired undead hunk came out and walked over in front of her, taking his sweet time and checking her out.

<I really hope he's checking out what kind of fighter I am,> she snarled, her lip curling on one side. "So you're the boy that I get to throw down with, huh?"

"Apparently so, child," Klaus told her with surprisingly good English. He appraised her axe and actually seemed to take it seriously. "An interesting choice, fraulein."

"Got it off Ebay," she said proudly. "Hey, I'm a woman. I know how to shop. Now shut up and let's dance, sucker."

Jaina gripped her axe in both hands, although the hilt was a wee bit short for that; it was made more for a fast-paced style of combat. But she figured she could wing it; she didn't have the stake she normally added to her haul.

Santa Klaus decided to get right down to business. He took his pigsticker out and held it up, ready to get down. He put both hands around it and suddenly swung at her.

She wasn't there. She danced to the right and swung her axe with a wicked baseball swing. He ducked back and stood up. Jaina didn't let up; she swung again, this time in backhanded. Although she missed again, she was able to bring the axe back into a ready position.

The vamp didn't seem too impressed, but he wasn't stupid either. He moved in slowly and swung his sword at her, though she could tell he was holding back. She regretted she had to do the same, but still went in nearly full tilt. Jaina dropped one hand away from the axe and let fly with a blow that the bloodsucker blocked.

Jaina felt herself getting into the groove, dancing in and out of the vamp's reach, trying to find a hole to drive the axe in while also keeping out of reach of his sword. <If I can get him to fuck up, I'll paste his ass.>

The young woman moved in on the balls of her feet and tried another backhand. The vamp blocked it with his sword and hooked his blade underneath the bottom of her axe head. He yanked and pulled the startled Jaina forward with his greater power. In desperation, Jaina spun to the side and pulled her axe with her, just hoping she'd keep it in her hand. She felt the sword pulling with her but didn't follow up on it. Instead she scrambled to her feet and frantically put herself back on guard.

German Boy moved in, but slow, giving her time. <What the...> she wondered about his brains until she remembered. <Oh yeah. They want to see how good we are. Duh!>

The self-proclaimed Alpha Bitch of the Lost Boys started rope-a-doping again. She wasn't stupid; she didn't have his reach, with her arms or her axe. But she could do the duck and weave like nobody's business. Jaina moved back and forth, hoping to make Klaus lose his cool because she was starting to get tired.

He wasn't biting, though. Jaina realized she needed to do something stupid. So she charged in, bringing her axe back for a swing. Klaus moved to block her chop, just like she'd expected. Just as she got inside his reach, she dropped. She fell to her knees and swung the axe at his left thigh. At the last instant she remembered to pull back. Still, she scored a hit, feeling the blade bite into the meaty portion of his leg. As the vampire involuntarily hissed, she pulled back and did a backward somersault. She scampered back to her feet, a little wobbly from the head rush.

Klaus' sword was in the spot she'd been in. Her temper raged and she spitted Vamp Boy with heat vision eyes. "So much for no dying, huh asshole?!?"

Her vamp buddy seemed surprised and actually looked like he was sorry. He backed up two or three steps and said, "I did not use my full strength, fraulein."

She chanced a glance at her homeys. Gunn and the cop Sanchez both nodded that he was giving her the truth. She turned back to him and warily watched over him. "Still going?"

She didn't know what to think when Klaus shook his head. "Nein, fraulein," he answered, reaching down and touching his leg. "Besides being unconventional, you are also imaginative. I need no more wounds today."

Jaina didn't get it until he put his sword away and smiled at her. <I won? Holy shit I won!> She felt like shouting for joy until she thought about something else. <Not good to rub it in. Not when I'm still alive.>

She nodded at the retreating vamp and went back to her friends. She knew she still had the dazed look in her eyes but she didn't care. She knew that beyond beating Sir Hitler, she'd also done her part to help the Boys and the 'hood. <That's what matters.>

She joined Kenzie and said, "I can't believe I beat him."

"You did well," Scottie said, leaning in to whisper. "You kept him from using his skills. You made him chase you and react to you. And now we're even."

Jaina gave her a look. "Come again, girlfriend?"

"I didn't beat *my* opponent. I had to settle for a tie." She sighed in mock frustration. "So you rubbing this in on *me* will counter me rubbing in kicking your butt for Christmas."

Jaina flashed her a smile. "Damn straight, KZ Mac." She looked at Gunn, worry taking the place of her euphoria. "Okay, who's next?"

*****

Rashaan groaned, "Man, we're gonna be hearing about her winning her fight for days."

Gunn gave him a look and cocked an eyebrow. "You think she'll stop that soon." Rashaan just shook his head. "Okay. Montez, you're up." He stepped in front of the souled kid as he picked up his sword. "Look, homey. Don't go all 'Redemption' on me. The plan is simple; do your best, stay alive. Got that?"

Montez did a 'homey handshake' with him. "Got it, Gunn."

"Good. You give 'em 'what fer,'" Gunn told him with a smile. Montez started walking to his place on the floor. The leader felt the weight on his shoulders again and glanced at Sanchez. "Yo, Juan." Both old men looked up and Gunn rolled his eyes. "The one with the badge. You're up after Montez."

The cop nodded and placed his hand on his sword to show he was ready.

Gunn turned back to see who drew the lucky number to face the Boys' newest member.

*****

Montez nervously hefted his sword, waiting for the other vampires to pick his dance partner. <God, I hope you're watching this. I don't wanna leave Mama alone just yet. Watch over her, huh Big Guy?>

The vamp that bossed these Excalibur wannabes just stared at him, like he was something special. His eyes flicked across the entire warehouse before he finally faced Montez directly.

"Montez of the Lost Boys," the head dead guy said with that booming voice of his, "your opponent will be Sir Henri du Rouen, servant of his Royal Majesty, Louis XIII, King of France."

Montez looked around and saw the white dude he'd be squaring off with. This dude wasn't carrying the typical sword the other vamps were carrying; he replaced it with one of those swords you saw on the Three Musketeers. <Oh shit. Of all the people I get to fight, I get a fancy pants Musketeer.>

The Eliminati walked up to him and bowed. "Monsieur Montez. We heard what your liege said about your history. You are very brave, sir, to spend so much time on consecrated ground. Not many of our kind have such courage."

<I'm not your kind, asshole.> Montez growled, his game face starting to come up. "I'm not like you," he snarled.

The dude blinked at him but got the point. His lips tightened. "My apologies, young one. I meant no offense. I meant it as a compliment."

Still a bit ticked about it, Montez decided to let it drop. "Fine, man." He didn't care what the vamps thought; he was doing this for the neighborhood. "Let's get it on, Hank."

The other bloodsucker's eyes narrowed. He drew his fancy ass sword and saluted him. "Very well, Monsieur. Let us get it on."

Montez brought his sword up. He knew it wasn't a top-notch thing like the one the other guy was using, but it'd do for a fight. He swung and growled a bit at the smarmy look that came to the knight's face as he blocked it without a sweat.

His little bloodsucking playmate took over the offense, using those fancy moves you saw the masked guys doing in the Olympics. He even held his hand the same way. Thing was, Montez had no problem with it; he didn't mind going on "D." He backed up a bit here and there, letting Hank back him up. He got the impression Hank was playing with him, but didn't mind. <You suckers just don't get it. We don't have to win; we just have to survive, man.>

After two minutes of the goofy smirk on Frenchy's face, Montez decided it was time to show Porthos the Pissant who things were done here in the USA. He started swinging his sword like he'd seen Arnold do it in those Conan movies. Henri was taken by surprise and backed up to get away from the wild swings.

Montez allowed his emotions to carry him a little bit; his desire to pay the Boys back for taking care of his Mama played the largest role. His game face started to emerge but he kept himself under tight control. That was something he'd learned while Aaron and Michael had been helping him out; control. He kept the frustration he felt at the vamp deflecting his moves from growing. <He's better than me, but I can last just as long as he does. I won't get tired.>

Montez kept coming, trying in vain to get past Frenchy's sword. He tried to get fancy and go after his legs. He had but a moment to register the shock of Henri jumping up and over the whooshing sword before he landed, whipped his sword out and cut the back of Montez's hand, making him drop his sword, and then brought the sword up to his neck.

Montez stiffened on instinct; cutting his head off was just as good as putting a splinter through his ribcage. None of the Lost Boys screamed, but deep down he just knew that they were ready to waste these suckers if the French guy decided honor wasn't worth it.

Porthos the Bloodsucker slowly pulled the blade away and picked up his sword, the one he'd dropped when his hand got cut.

The knight turned it over and held it out to him, hilt first. "I knew you had courage, mon ami. But now I see the beginnings of heart and discipline." Montez's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "When they and your skill match your courage, then I would be honored to face you again, Monsieur."

"Right. Whenever." Montez took his sword and started back toward the crowd. He reached Gunn and showed him the regret in his eyes. He just uttered a weak, "Sorry dude."

"For what?" the boss man asked. Montez could feel some satisfaction coming from Gunn. "You did what I told you. Did your best, stayed alive. And you didn't let him get to you. You took the fight to him. Not your fault he's been doing this so long. You did this so the others don't pay, Montez. You did right by us."

Montez just stared at Gunn's proud, smiling face before he looked at Jaina and Rashaan. Rashaan nodded to show he agreed with Gunn.

Jaina, on the other hand...

"Don't look at me. You're just another guy to brag to that I won my fight."

He didn't take it personally. That was Jaina. He chuckled and joined his teammates.

*****

Sanchez glanced at his counterpart. "Well, looks like it's my turn."

"Good luck," the other Juan told him. "They're good but somewhat limited to classical European styles."

Sanchez nodded agreeably. "Well, let's see just how classical they like their styles." He flipped a salute to the other and started forward. As he passed Gunn, he said through the corner of his mouth, "Now you youngsters will see how we do it down at the old folk's home."

He didn't answer Gunn's answer of, "Kiss my ass, Fuzz."

Sanchez walked to the prearranged spot and waited for del Medici to announce the sacrificial... er, opponent. He started doing breathing exercises he'd learned a long time ago to center himself for the coming combat. He watched with interest as the leader of the Eliminati strode forward rather than call for an opponent. He braced himself, assuming that the knight had a problem with his being here.

Sir Antonio stopped in front of him and searched his face, while Juan just watched silently, showing his own proud bearing. <Just like the old days,> he told himself.

At length, del Medici looked into his eyes. With a low voice, so that what was said was between them only, he asked, "One of my knights believes he remembers you from his days as a living man. Does he remember correctly?"

"I don't see how," Sanchez said easily. He forced himself not to search out whoever it was that recognized him. "I'm just a living human being, Sir Antonio, one who has a fascination with the days of chivalry."

His gambit failed. "Sir," the other knight said with flaring nostrils but a quiet voice, "I know that there are humans who live long lives. Through curses or other magics, such as the Last Atlantean. Are you one such a man?"

Seeing no reason to lie, Juan lowered his voice accordingly. "Very well, Sir Antonio. Do you want the truth?" The leader of El Eliminati nodded in confirmation. <So be it.> Juan stood up straight and called forth everything he remembered about his early days of training. He switched to the Latin spoken in his time so that whatever was overhead wouldn't be understood by the younger generation. "I am Sir Juan Sanchez, son of Spain, knight of the blood, Knight of the Round Table, and loyal servant of his Royal Majesty, Rex Artorius, wielder of Excalibur, First of the Nine, Once and Future King of England."

As soon as he finished, he knew without a doubt that he'd, as the kids would put it, "rocked Tony's world." Antonio's eyes went wide and he actually seemed at a loss for words. <Then again, it's understandable. It isn't every day you meet a *genuine* Knight of the Round Table.> "Sir Antonio, I swear in the name of Almighty God that everything I have said is the truth. I am here to engage your knights in an honorable joust. Do you have a worthy opponent for me?"

The Italian nobleman didn't answer. Instead he backed up, did an about face, and walked back to his place amongst his knights. He looked around, gauging his own warriors. He was probably estimating which of them would make a "worthy" foe. Finally he said, "Sir Sanchez, I know of no knight who would dare to take up arms against one of your... lineage. We often talk about what it would have been like to fight *alongside* such men. I cannot think of one among us who would wish to fight against you."

"It would allow one to test his skills against his peers," Juan countered. <I won't argue if they back out of a fight, but I don't want to come up with an excuse on the fly to give Charles.> "Are any of your knights willing to challenge me in a duel of honor?"

He and Antonio both looked around, trying to see if any of the Eliminati was willing to fight him. The SWAT officer finally noticed the person who had to have recognized him. He smiled, feeling a bit of nostalgia at recognizing the young squire he'd seen serving a friend in the 17th century. The smile faded once he remembered how he'd come to be in this warehouse.

"Sir Enrique?" he asked, singling out the vampire.

The former squire stood up straight and inclined his head. "Yes, Sir Juan. It is I."

"I told you, you would make knight someday," Juan said, hoping that this demon still had some of the idealistic young boy in him. "I don't know whether to be proud of you for making knight or sad that you are here. I know your father would be proud for the former." He glanced at Sir Antonio. "Lord del Medici, I think I have a worthy opponent in mind."

Antonio probably realized at that point that he needed the fight to keep the children from asking too many questions. He glanced at the tense Enrique. "Sir Enrique Esteban Camacho de la Ruiz, step forward and let honor be served."

The Eliminati stepped forward, however tentatively. Juan waited for him to face in his direction and said, "You grew up to be a fine looking young man, Enrique."

"Thank you, Sir Sanchez." He glanced around nervously. "I never knew you were from Camelot."

"I was born in Spain, just as you were. Such ties to home are not so easily forgotten." Juan drew his sword and saluted Enrique. "Shall we begin, *Sir* de la Ruiz?"

Placing his emphasis on Enrique's title seemed to spur the younger knight. He nodded and drew his sword, giving the traditional salute of the Spanish Court. Juan returned the salute for old times sake and took up his stance.

Juan struck first, moving on some unseen cue. Enrique blocked the strike but Juan moved into a pattern he'd learned in Italy around 1480. The younger Spaniard's training had covered that routine as well, but Juan was just starting to dig into his bag of tricks, one that covered nearly twenty centuries.

Sanchez routinely switched styles, moving from standard broadsword techniques of ancient England to the rough and tumble style favored by the Vikings at the turn of the millennium. Enrique was unable to mount any type of offensive, but Sanchez didn't take advantage. Instead he showed the patience that came with long life and simply waited for the proper opening.

<THERE!> He saw the opening and took it. His ancient longsword slipped past de la Ruiz's guard and lightly pierced his armor. The blade barely broke through but it was enough. By Enrique's shout of pain from the blessed blade, everyone knew Juan had won.

Sanchez promptly withdrew the sword and backed up. He saluted his opponent and sheathed the weapon, waiting for Antonio to declare the match over. He glanced at the child he'd once known and saw the awe in the vampire's eyes. <He still believes in honor. Not to mention the myth and honor of Camelot.>

He chose to give one last compliment to the person who had once been Enrique de la Ruiz. "You lasted longer than many warriors would have, Sir Enrique. You made a worthier opponent than most. You have my respects for your skill and bravery." He leaned in close. "You did your teacher proud."

He backed up and allowed Enrique to salute him again. As soon as he sheathed his sword, Juan turned and walked back to his allies.

*****

"What just happened there?" Gunn asked his crew.

None of them had an answer, but Kenzie did. The tall girl leaned in and nodded at Juan. "The bobbie was telling Sir Antonio that he's descended from a real, actual Knight of the Round Table, Charles." He snorted, which earned him another one of her death ray looks. "Ye just don't go makin' things up like that, Charles! Family trees can be checked out, you know! And with these vampires, there are some claims even *they* won't be making." The anger faded just a bit. "Do you understand now, just how serious the Eliminati are about their honor, and how they treat those they deem honorable? Like you?"

Gunn couldn't argue. "Okay, I think I'm finally getting it." He frowned in confusion. "How'd you know what he said? It wasn't in English. It sounded really old."

K-Z sighed at him. "Keep in mind my uncle's an archaeologist, Charles. You'd be surprised at what I know about certain things."

"Yeah, I'm just starting to figure that out," he muttered. <And I just know Ronnie's gonna have a cow when he finds out you've been helping us on the qt all along. So much for not having anything at stake in the 'hood.> "Well, time for the finale. Wish me luck?"

Jaina snidely said, "Still trying to pick up girls, huh Boss Man?"

Gunn whirled on her, one hand on his sword. "Will you give it up with the girls? Geez! I'm not trying to pick her up!"

"Too bad," Kenzie pouted, strutting by him and joining Jaina in the giggling department. He just watched, he couldn't help it. <God, the way those pants hug her ass...> He shook his head. "I'm getting too old for this shit."

He turned to Rashaan. "Time to get this over with." He started marching, determined to fight his fight and end any threat these vamps presented to his home.

*****

Gunn watched as Tony moved up to him, a respectful look in his eyes. <Man, I'm glad I only gotta do this tonight. I'll never get used to that.>

"So it comes down to you and me, huh?" he asked the knight. "The leaders goin' up against each other."

"So it does," the bloodsucker said quietly. "So it does." He glanced at Gunn's sword. "I see you chose the sword over the quarterstaff."

"What can I say?" the Lost Boy said confidently. "My buddy Jack thought I should go with the sword."

"As you wish, Sir Charles," the knight replied. "Let us begin."

Gunn shook off the worry he'd felt when his crew was fighting the vamps. They'd held up their end of the bargain, now it was time for him to hold up his. <I'm not making this a show. I'm gonna try and win this thing.> The vamps wanted to see Lost Boy honor. By God, they were gonna get it.

The leader of the local vampire hunters brought his sword up and went into fighting mode. He bowed his head toward Antonio. "Okay, Antonio. Show me what you got."

The vamp drew both his swords and gave him that funky Middle Ages salute. He set himself up and tensed. Gunn did the same and after barely a second's pause, they attacked.

Gunn swung his sword at Tony's longer blade, trying to keep it away. He figured he could avoid the dagger if he was careful. The longsword was the one that worried him. The black man's blow was blocked by Eliminati steel but Gunn didn't let him follow up by moving it so that his defenses were open. He pulled back and tried again.

Tony blocked again, this time with the dagger. He pushed away and lunged with the sword. Gunn had to jump back to avoid being poked. The rush of fear he felt in combat sent chills down his spine and he had to remind himself that this wasn't to the death. It was just until one fighter swallowed his pride.

The vamp went on the attack, sending his sword stabbing in at various angles. Gunn knew what he was doing; trying to get his attention totally on the sword so he could bring the dagger in and win his fight. Gunn knew that trick; he'd taught the same thing to his Boys, only with stakes instead of big knives.

Gunn backpedaled, trying to stay one step ahead of Tony. He knew that he needed to avoid doing something dumb if he was going to avoid getting turned into a pincushion. <But I am not going to go down easy!>

Antonio started increasing the speed of his attacks. He wasn't trying to embarrass Gunn; he was trying to see how good he really was. For some reason, Gunn decided the time had come to see for himself. <You never know how good you really are until you try.>

Gunn took another step back and changed tactics. He moved to the bloodsucker's left and swung his sword at Tony's left arm. It didn't work, as Tony spun in time and caught the blade on his dagger's guard. <DAMN!>

He moved to Tony's left again but the vamp cut him off, not letting him escape. Now Gunn faced a new problem; he was running out of room. <Screw it.> He went on the attack, swinging for all he was worth in his last hope of getting past the dude's D. He swung with greater speed he'd even thought he had, stabbed in holes he'd never seen in anyone else's defenses. It was like he'd never needed to be a fighter as much as he did now, because he knew lives might not be the only thing on the line; the Boys' honor was at stake.

<Sometimes,> a saying his Daddy used to be fond of came to mind, <a man is only as good as his word.>

Even so, with his father's voice inspiring him, his attacks were in vain. Tony got the upper hand back and made him retreat again.

In the end, it was inevitable. Tony's sword hooked Gunn's by the crossguard and twirled. His sword flew out of his hands, landing with a "clang" and skidding beyond away. Gunn started to go after it on instinct, but Tony's sword came up and pointed at his heart. Gunn stopped short, defiantly glaring at the vamp.

Sir Tony stared at him, and the two just watched each other. Finally, Tony told him, "A valiant effort, Charles."

"Yeah?" Gunn said, not backing down. "Lemme get my sword back, we'll keep going."

He ignored the shouts of protest from the Boys and Sanchez's soft, "Charles." He kept giving the evil eye to the Knight who'd come to his town and made his life difficult.

"You know you would not defeat me," Tony reminded him.

"Glad you think so."

"Do you yield, Charles Gunn?" Antonio asked him, leveling the sword and dagger together. He seemed very interested in the answer.

"You seem to be forgetting something, home boy." Gunn moved forward until the tip of the sword poked his shirt. "You're on my turf. I ain't givin' up, not as long as vamps are trying to get at my people." The young man raised his chin proudly. "Maybe you're better with that sword, Tony. Maybe I can't beat you in a fight. But that don't make you better. Swords and fighting don't make the man. It's what's inside that does."

Tony just kept his cool, listening to Gunn's speech and letting him vent. Finally, home boy lowered his toys and raised his own chin, just like Gunn. "My father used to say something similar, Charles." He sheathed his blades and held out his hand. "You are a fine warrior."

Gunn's eyes glanced at the hand before looking back up at Tony's face. "You kick my ass and say I'm a fine warrior? What's up with that?"

"As swords do not make the man, they do not make the warrior, either." The knight kept his hand out, making Gunn wonder what made him so sure he'd shake it. "It is heart, determination, and honor that make the warrior. You have these in abundance. It is also those reasons that we came here, not only your skill at arms." His head turned to his left. "Some of my knights still fail to see that at times." Those too-human eyes came back to face Gunn. "I would not want to face you when you gain the experience to match your bravery and dedication, Charles Gunn."

Gunn took the props and finally shook Tony's hands. He realized, <It's over. They're gonna leave.> "I'd hate to face you in a dark alley, Antonio." He chuckled. "Or in the open, either. My luck, you'll be aiming one of those big jousting sticks at me from the back of a horse."

Antonio didn't laugh, but the loud grunt gave him the impression the guy found that funny. <A vamp with a sense of humor. God, I can die now, I've seen it all.> "So now what? What happens now?" Gunn asked. <Gotta cover all the angles.>

Antonio had just turned to head back to his spot in the group. He stopped and looked over his shoulder. "Now, we go and seek out opponents who we hope will be as worthy and honorable as you."

"See, that's what I don't get," he admitted. "You got honor and all that, why don't you fight the bad guys? It'd make our job easier."

The barest flash of a grin touched Antonio's lips. <Another thing that's creepy; a happy vamp.> "If not for us learning which warriors have honor amongst the living, we would not know who will be the heroes of tomorrow." He paused a second. "We came from the age when chivalry was palpable, more than a mere ideal. People truly lived by it. We seek out those who might live by it, or something close to it, even if they do not know it. We do seek to test their skills, and thereby improve our own." He glanced past Gunn, looking at one of his crew, though he didn't know who. "And today, you have shown us that the ideals for which we once lived has a place in this world, even amongst the young." He shrugged. "That is the only reason I can give you, Charles. We seek out the heroes of this age because by finding those who live by a code like ours, we know that in the end, we did not live, or die, in vain."

Gunn just watched as the vamp turned away. He glanced around and saw something other than this whole knights and honor thing; he saw... daydreaming. <God, they're... they're not just trying to see how good we are at killing vamps. They're... they're trying to see what kind of men we are.>

He turned and walked back to his homeys, knowing that they'd heard. He wondered if they were gonna be thinking tonight. He didn't think he'd be the only one.

The first person he looked at was Jaina. "Let's head home, crew. We got wounded to patch up and homeys to check."

"Charles," Sanchez said, getting the kids' attention, "I'm going to stay and have a talk with Sir Antonio. Make sure we don't have any accidents regarding our truce."

"I'll stay here with him," Kenzie's parental unit said with a smile. "It's not every day you get to talk with farts as old as you."

"Juan!" Kenzie snapped, making the Boys laugh. He just watched her shake her head in frustration. "You see what I put up with."

A twinkle came to Gunn's eyes and his lips twitched. "Yeah, we do. And we see where you get your sense of humor from."

She turned on him, her brown eyes boring into him. She walked up to him and he saw her ready to give him a head slap of her own. She leaned in close and gave him a husky whisper. "Then ye'd best be prayin', laddie, that I don't show you just how evil me sense of humor can be."

She stepped back a bit, not letting her eyes wander. Then she whirled and strutted out the door, purposely wiggling her butt in those tight leather pants.

<Damnit girl stop DOING that!> he snarled before something impacted against his skull. "OW!"

"Stop staring at her ass, you chauvinist pig!" Jaina shouted.

<I'm so dead...> He sighed that we was just destined to get a concussion and glanced at her Unc. "You wanna tag along, Prof? We'll patch Kenzie up real good."

"No, Charles," the old man said, giving Charles a funny look. "Like I said, I'll stay here. But please take her with you and patch her up." His eyes lit up. "And have someone else drive her car. I don't relish the idea of her driving twenty miles an hour over the speed limit with one hand." He moved in real close and grinned. "After all, you know women drivers."

Gunn didn't answer. If he had, Jaina would've heard it. "I'll see it gets there in one piece." He pursed his lips. "Thanks for the help, Prof."

"You're welcome. Now get to the shelter. I wager there's a number of homeys who want to make sure you're all right."

"Later." Gunn nodded at the old guys and took off, heading out of the warehouse.

*****

Part 6: Aftermaths
(Talks Between Old Guys, Talks Between Young Guys and Gals, Covering Asses, And Deep Philosophical Type Stuff)

Abandoned Warehouse
East Side
Los Angeles, California
Early hours
11 April 1999

The officer watched as the Eliminati went about their business, putting away weapons or talking about the various jousts of the night. Juan turned to Kenzie's uncle and said, "Mind if I ask why you stayed?"

"To make sure that we have an understanding," the Professor told him. The Knight of Camelot knew that he didn't just mean the Eliminati. "Plus it gives the children time to talk about what they learned tonight."

"You were trying to spare them the honor duels," he said. He wasn't asking.

"Who better than one of us?" the other asked with a sly grin.

Juan sighed, wondering what he was going to tell Pat Kelly. "I'd been thinking the same thing all night." He saw del Medici walking in their direction and stood up straight, as befit a fellow knight. He greeted the vampire with a casual nod. "Sir Antonio."

"Sir Juan of Camelot," he said formally, probably to distinguish them from one another. He glanced between them before asking, "You wish to ensure that we do not go against our agreement to spare the living?"

"We would never think that," the teacher said firmly in his gravelly accent. "In fact, I think our purposes for wishing to speak with you differ."

"I see. Very well then." The Eliminati faced him first. "Knight of Camelot, what do you wish to discuss?"

Juan wondered how his request would be received. "I hoped to ask you this, Sir Antonio; when you leave here, I would like to request that you tell us how you received the information about Charles and the Lost Boys. It seems to me that someone was willing to use your sense of honor to have you dispose of these young men and women when there were certainly other warriors who would have given you combat worthy of the bards of old."

The scion of del Medici's face tightened into an unreadable mask. "Do you think me or mine so gullible, Sir Knight? We do not issue challenges to just any warriors. We watched them for several days before making ourselves known. We respect these children that much." His expression softened a bit. "Our first intention had been to observe the warriors of Sunnydale, such as the Slayers." He sent a glance at the other man. "But as they recently fought greater foes than us, we did not wish to take advantage of them. We heard about the Lost Boys and Charles, thus we came here. They are brave and talented. They will make fine warriors when they come into their own."

"Very well. Thank you, Sir," Juan replied honestly. It was beneath the vampire to lie, soul or no soul. "I hope you'll understand that I merely hope to keep them alive long enough so that they do come into their own."

"I do not doubt it." Sir Antonio held his arm out. "It was an honor to meet one of the Knights of the Old Code, Sir Sanchez of Camelot. Our histories will remember this day fondly."

"Pleased to be of service," he said ironically. He took Antonio's arm and clasped it . "I only wish we could fight on the same side, Lord del Medici. But I fear that will never be the case."

"No," he said, and Juan could feel that he regretted it. "We have our traditions, and we will not abandon them. May you live your life with honor."

"May you also," he finished. He turned to his counterpart. "I'll wait for you outside?" He nodded. "All right. But don't take too long or the kids'll come back looking for us."

*****

Juan watched the other Immortal walk out before turning to the Italian. He cricked his neck and softly said, "I would ask a favor of you, Sir Knight."

"A favor." The demon arched an eyebrow in curiosity. "And what would this favor be, Sir Juan?"

"That you stay away from Sunnydale."

He'd expected skepticism. Instead, Antonio seemed to take the request at face value. "As I told the knight of Camelot, we will not challenge the warriors on the Hellmouth so soon. It would be dishonorable."

"I am asking you to stay away from Sunnydale, period." Juan moved into the undead knight's face and whispered. "There are things in motion, Sir Knight, things beyond your honor or my guardianship of the Slayer." He paused for drama and let his secret out. "Sir Antonio Marcellus del Medici, the Final Battle has begun. The battle between the Army of the Light and Throlog in Los Angeles heralded the beginning."

Antonio just watched him. "You are serious."

"The End of Days is coming, Sir Knight." Juan said gravely. "The forces of light and darkness are moving into place. And among these forces is the Slayer under my care. She cannot be made known to anyone else. Her role in the battles to come must be behind the scenes, away from the glory of battle." He glanced outside and knew the Eliminati was following his look. "That is why we asked you to keep our true identities from the others. They cannot yet know." They faced each other again and Juan made his final push. "And as with them, so the Wanderer and the Slayers he has allied with cannot know of her. These days are their time. Hers is yet to come. That much has been foreseen."

Sir Antonio chewed on that for several moments before softly saying, "You are trying to guide her destiny."

"Not so much guide it as allow it to unfold in its own time."

The vampire glanced at one of his own, who was busy recording something in a large tome with an actual feather pen. Antonio wistfully said, "You do not ask us to keep this information out of our histories."

"As Sir Sanchez and I have our traditions, so you have yours. I know what I may and may not ask." The old Watcher glanced around, watching the vampires and hearing their jumbled conversations about this night. "And hopefully, your traditions might come to serve the Army of the Light rather than be used by the Darkness. The future is unwritten." <To some extent, anyway.>

Sir Antonio looked at him with a strange look. "You make a strong case, Sir Watcher. You have given me much to ponder with this revelation." He shook his head. "The Final Battle." He glanced around at his followers, his men. "We will not journey to the Hellmouth, Sir Watcher. Although we have the right to record this night, you and your Slayer have the right to see your futures unfold unhindered." The vampire started walking away. "Fare thee well, Sir Juan del Madrid."

Juan turned and started for the door; there was nothing more to be done here. He exited the warehouse and walked over to his car, where Sanchez was waiting.

"Mind if I get a lift back to the shelter?" he asked with a smirk. "Seems I forgot about the little fact I got a ride from the Boys."

"Of course not. Get in." Juan hit the remote to unlock both doors. He opened his door and climbed in, sliding into the driver's seat and pulling the door closed. He buckled his seatbelt as the officer did the same. As the SWAT officer settled in, Juan reached for a little something to make things easier. Giving Sanchez a ride made it all the more simple. "Oh, Juan?"

"Yes?" As Sanchez glanced in his direction, Juan hit the trigger on the small pen-like device he carried. Once the flash of light hit the Immortal’s eyes, Sanchez's eyes went blank and Juan sighed at the necessity of what he was doing.

He gripped the steering wheel and quickly thought up a reasonable order. "What you saw tonight was Kenzie and I trying to help the Lost Boys avoid the honor duels they had already accepted. After meeting me, you understood my refusal to become known to the Society of Watchers because of my commitments of raising my niece, continuing my career in teaching, and the fact that I am at least willing to aid in local vampire hunts. You will tell the other Zombies that I wish to avoid entanglements with Section Seven, instead keeping myself limited to fighting alongside the Lost Boys on nights I can get away from grading homework and you and your fellow Immortals are otherwise occupied. You will keep my secret between us because you understand how I need some peace and quiet to raise one British/Japanese teenager who's far too American for my own good."

Juan smiled at that last addition, wondering how it'd go over with Kenzie if Sanchez uttered it within her range of hearing.

< After all, I have to work so hard to keep her ego at a reasonable level...>

*****

East Side Teen Shelter
East Side
Los Angeles, California
Early hours
11 April 1999

Kenzie just sat there, her hands folded, legs crossed at the ankles, one sleeve ripped off and showing off her muscled left arm. <Thank Goddess that arm got stabbed.> She moaned to herself. <Bollocks. When I'm thankful I got stabbed somewhere, I need a vacation.>

She focused on Gunn, sitting across the table from her. Jaina and Lily were standing against the door to the kitchen, making sure no one else barged in, or worse, eavesdropped on them. Kenzie liked to think it was also to make sure Gunn didn't bushwack her. Still, she didn't like the silence that had dominated the ride here or since they'd arrived.

<These are my friends. I know how they feel, but I can't help it. I have rules I have to follow.> "Charles, the silent treatment doesn't work where I'm concerned. I've been stared down by worse than you." She let one corner of her mouth turn upward. "No offense."

"Way I see it, it's either give you the third degree or kick your ass for pulling this lame stunt," he said coldly. For some reason, she wished he'd be full blown bonkers. Her eyes must have shown something, because he lowered his head so that she had to focus on his dark eyes. "You think I can't?"

"I don't know," she said slowly. <Not in a straight up fight. I'm too strong, fast, and skilled. Fighting dirty, I'd wipe the floor with you even faster.> "And I don't want to find out. You're my friend, Charles."

"Don't call me 'Charles,'" he said, standing up and leaning over the table, trying to give himself the advantage. "And I thought we were friends too, Kenzie. But you kept secrets from us. Not good."

"Oh that bloody does it," she hissed. She stood up and gave him her own glare. He didn't back down. "You have the bloody gall to accuse me of keeping secrets? Fine, here's the bloody truth, 'homey!'" <Time for as much of the truth as I can give you, that is.> "You already knew about my parents; I was up front with you about that much. But as for keeping secrets? I came here to bloody get through high school and into college without having to worry about screwing things up with my family." <Literally true.> "The idea was to keep a low bloody profile, Charles. You do understand the concept of a low profile. You've been keeping one for how long now?" She shook her head. "I didn't find out about the vampires until after I came here." <A whole three Goddess blasted hours...>

She let her hard look fade a bit and show some of the frustration she did feel. "My family's been fighting what people commonly call 'the good fight' for centuries, Charles. I've always dreamt of following in their footsteps, to do the right thing for the innocent. Once I found out just how bad the problem was in this part of town, yes, I admit to patrolling and taking out stragglers along with Juan." She glanced past the silent leader and looked at her friend and boss. "But damn it, Charles, part of the reason I work so many hours here is because you're the only damned good friends I've got my own age. I'm the foreigner and the new girl at Hemery. Doesn't matter I've got runway model looks or that I've got more brains than I need at this school. And that's what's so funny about this. You and the people call me a foreigner, but you don't treat me like it. I think of myself as a Scot, but I honor both sides of my heritage. At Hemery, all they see is 'the long legged Jap babe.' They totally ignore my Scottish accent or the fact I was born in bloody ENGLAND. But you and the others? You treat me like the person I am; one who's spent a damn good portion of her life in America. And you damn near treat me as one of your own."

Lily moved forward and joined the group at the table. "Kenzie, it's just that you suddenly showed up at the fight tonight. You've been working here for four months and now, all of a sudden, we find out you've known all along about what we do."

"Which brings me to another thing," she said, talking more to Gunn than Lily. "I'm not the only one keeping secrets. You've been telling me about your Neighborhood Watch. Well, I'll thank you to remember that I not only knew about your secret, but I kept it. I haven't told anyone other than Juan. And no one ever will know, not from me." She bowed her head a bit. "Do you have any idea how much I hate patrolling in Hollywood or Beverly Hills when the SWAT teams aren't covering for you? I'm trying to make a life here in Los Angeles. You're a big part of it."

She didn't know how Charles or the others would react to that. She'd told them why she'd done it, but she didn't know how much it would mean. <Blessed Mother, I literally bled for them. Doesn't that mean anything?>

"Jaina, Lily," Gunn finally said, his voice still emotionally cold, "wait outside." She heard Jaina draw breath to argue, but he didn't let her. "Now."

She looked up and saw that Jaina at least had some sympathy in her eyes. Lily looked worried. Kenzie understood; she and Gunn were both stubborn fighters. She resisted the urge to promise not to destroy the shelter. <I need to be serious here.>

*****

Gunn waited for the door to close behind Lily before he sat back down. He knew better than to order Kenzie to take a seat, so he just waited for her to do it.

She watched him for a few seconds before she sat back down and scooted the chair back in. She just kept those cool eyes on him.

<Obviously I'm going to talk first.> He folded his arms and leaned back. "So now what?"

Kenzie's lips tightened. "I won't stop doing what I do, Charles. Patrolling Los Angeles, and especially not doing my volunteer work here. Lily runs the shelter, not you. That's not your call, laddie."

"Damn it, Kenzie, that's not what I'm talking about!" he snapped. His hands pounded on the table. "I'm talking about the secrets, girl! You know about us but we obviously don't know jack about you." He fought to regain control of his breathing. "You wanna know something, K-Z? I actually brought up bringing you in. To the Boys. Rondell brought up that you didn't live here and I thought that was a good reason. That and I didn't think Uncle Juan'd let you join us."

He made a helpless shrug. "So what happens? Tonight I find out you already know bout vamps, and your uncle's helping you. Shit, Kenzie, you showed up and took on these vamps when you got nothing at stake here. I don't..."

"No you don't, you arrogant ass!" she snapped, standing back up and using her height against him. Her eyes were flaring up and Gunn knew he'd said something wrong. She promptly gave him the deal. "You don't get it. We did it so because I didn't want to see any of my friends lying all over that warehouse, bleeding all over the bloody concrete! We did it so you wouldn't have to! Because I do have something at stake here; YOU. ALL OF YOU." She turned away and stalked over to the window. She braced herself on the sill and looked outside. "Damn it, Charles... I didn't want it to be like this. I want you to know the truth, but there's things I just can't tell you. I know too much. I know things that put me in danger. It's not like I have a bloody choice. But you've known me for four months now and I haven't held back. I like you blokes and... Damn it, I like it here better than at my school."

He stood up and she turned to face him again. "But you won't move here." He'd meant it as a joke.

She didn't think it funny. "I can't. I have responsibilities. And no, I can't patrol just this part of town. I have to cover it all. If I focus on just one spot, someone'll suffer. I can't have that, not on my watch."

"That much I understand," he confessed. He looked her over again. He saw, for the first time, a vulnerable side to her, now that she thought he might tell the crew not to hang with her. She'd said she liked it here. He saw the tightness in her body, something he never noticed in the way she was most of the time; freewheeling and fun loving. His eyes fell on her left forearm, bandaged from elbow to wrist. "You were really worried about us."

She knew what he was looking at. "I'd say I earned the benefit of the doubt, wouldn't you?" She turned a bit more serious again. "Bloody Hell, Charles. I bled for the Boys tonight. What more do I have to do to make you trust me?"

"You've still got secrets, K-Z." She started to protest but he held his hands up. "I know you'd come clean if you could. I got you on that." He brought his hands down and looked around the room. "But I know that in this weird ass way tonight, you showing up there and getting cut and all..." Their eyes locked again and he gently said, "You had our back tonight."

"I tried to."

"Yeah." He turned his head toward the door before turning back to her. "Well, now that everything's in the open, what do we do?"

"I was kind of hoping you'd tell me," she said carefully.

He knew what she wanted. <Hell, I want the same thing. But...> He glanced at her arm again and made his decision. <She paid for it tonight. She's earned it.>

"You wanna join?" he asked her. <There. Ball's in your court, K-Z. What's your answer? >

Kenzie seemed to be hedging. "I can't ignore the rest of the town. I do have to patrol there sometimes."

"Not asking you to stop," he assured her.

Kenzie walked forward and gazed at him with those damned eyes of hers. "What about the old fart?"

"Hey, if he can keep up, he's more than welcome."

They both laughed at the Prof's expense. They spent some time looking at each other before a knock came at the door, startling them.

Gunn growled, "What?!?"

Jaina's head peeked in and she nodded at Kenzie. "Uncle's here. Wanted to make sure you were all right."

Gunn glanced at Kenzie, who smiled at J. "I'm fine, Jaina." She started to walk toward the door. "But I'll tell him myself. And just so you know, Gunn asked me to join the Lost Boys."

Jaina didn't seem surprised. Instead she gave him a sharp look of annoyance. "Bout time, Gunn!"

"Hey!"

"We need more girls on the team, homey," Jaina told him. She smirked at him and Kenzie did the same. The Latina gleefully reminded him, "Seems I remember that me and girlfriend here did better than you boys tonight. That's why we need her, to help me keep you guys alive!"

"Hey!" Gunn snapped. "You got lucky!"

The girls looked at each other and shouted, "BULLSHIT!"

They laughed and left the kitchen, leaving Gunn to wonder what he'd just gotten himself into by giving Jaina a partner in pissing him off.

<No wonder I'm bald; with those two together, my hair can't even start growing, let alone fall out!>

*****

Casa del Kenzie
Westwood
Los Angeles, California
Early hours
11 April 1999

Kenzie finished logging off of her computer and called out to Juan. As the screen died, she turned her attention to her wounded forearm and sighed. < Two days, four at the outside. I'll deal.> She gingerly probed it with a glittering silver-colored fingernail and winced. <Well, hurts less than the gore I got in Pamplona in July '04. Now *that* took a full two weeks to heal. I'm just glad I had my actual presence there as a handy excuse. Of course, it would've been nice if I'd been able to actually run with the bulls instead of getting gored after saving those bloody cows from the vamps. >

Juan walked into the den, clothed in silk pajamas. <Goddess, even for bed his taste is more expensive than mine. And he complains about my shopping habits.> "You found out the Hellmouth situation?"

"In three words." Kenzie started ticking off metallic fingers. "Krtog. Throlog. Tezcatlipoca."

"Oh God," he sighed. "No wonder the Boys were the Eliminati's choice."

"Duuuuuh!" Kenzie chirped irritably. She leaned back in her chair and propped her feet on the table, knowing how much her Watcher hated that little habit of hers. "And it seems like more than a few of them went space hopping." An evil grin creased her lips. "Want the..."

"NO!" he snapped. He stood briskly and got ready to head to bed. "Not at all. Besides, I think we need to concentrate less on them and more on the Lost Boys, now that you got us both drafted into their little group."

"It works out better this way, Juan, and you know it," she retorted. She pushed her feet off the desk and spun around, setting her feet on the ground to stop her chair and stand up. "They're adding to our experience, we're getting some support in that part of town. It's a good thing, Watcher O'Mine."

"I wish I shared your confidence," he grumbled. He was resigned, just not totally convinced.

"Think of it this way. When the time comes to go meet them, the Boys will be able to vouch for us." She started walking, determined to hit the sack herself. "And it's not like Gunn could turn down someone like me, Juan. Once he knew, it was academic."

"You didn't tell him," he said in a shocked whisper. He whirled on her and demanded, "You didn't tell him you're a Slayer!"

"Of course not," she snickered. "The reason was so simple I didn't have to tell him."

"And what reason was that, pray tell?" he said, too relieved to argue with her at this point in the morning.

Kenzie smiled fully and held her arms out wide, so he couldn't help but focus totally on her and her answer. "The reason, my dear Watcher, is this."

Her smile became evil.

"The girl's got skillz."

She turned and headed to bed, laughing at her Watcher's groan of misery.

*****

East Side Teen Shelter
East Side
Los Angeles, California
Early hours
11 April 1999

Gunn finished his report to the Boys who were present. "And that's it. Everything's cool between the Eliminati and us. They'll be gone before Monday night" He turned his eyes on Rondell. "And good job tonight. You all did great. I'm proud of you."

The Boys all murmured at the praise. <Hell, they earned it.> He glanced around. "Go home and get some sleep. You earned it." Just as they began to cheer, he reminded them, "Don't forget, we got patrol tomorrow night too."

A series of groans and catcalls met his orders. But he just laughed along with the others in charge. As the others began leaving, he glanced at Rondell. "You have any problems with it?"

"What? Rich girl joining up?" Gunn nodded, worried Ronnie might still have some problems with that. "Hell no, brother, not if what you said is true." Ronnie winced at the memory of Gunn's description of her getting stabbed. "She really did it. She really got hurt for us."

"Yep. That's why I offered her the spot. Like I said, she's got the whole city to cover, but still, even having her and Juan in the know will help us out." Gunn stood up and stretched. "Thanks for not fighting me this time."

"She earned it, pal." Rondell smiled. "Just hope you don't mind me messin' with her about being a rich girl."

"Hey, if it keeps her ego in check, be my guest." He turned to Lily. "You need anything before we leave, Lily?"

"No thanks," she said warmly. She gave Rondell a warm smile. "Ron's staying the night, so we'll be fine."

Gunn didn't say anything smart; he'd had enough for one night. "Okay." He smiled as his sister. "You got anything, 'Lonna?"

"Yes, I do. It's about Kenzie." She gave Rondell a soft, pleading look. "Can you give us a second?"

"Sure," the second said. He left Lily's office and it was just him, 'Lonna, and Lily.

Gunn frowned since it was his own flesh and blood that had an issue with recruiting. "Okay, what's the deal? Don't tell me you have a problem with her joining up. You heard what she did for us tonight."

"It's not so much her joining the team," Alonna said, looking nervous about something. "It's about her joining that might cut into her time here."

"Oh, she's not gonna let that happen. Trust me, she made that clear." Gunn noted Lily's sigh of relief; other than Kenzie, she was short of help. "The shelter is number one on her list, staking vamps is number two. What's the other issue?"

Alonna hesitated, so Gunn urged her on. She rubbed her palms together, a sign there was something she didn't like. "All right, Charles. I'm worried about what Kenzie's joining up will do to you. What happens if you decide to stop rotating your patrols with the others?"

"Say what?" he asked. This didn't make sense to him. "What are you talking about? Why would I stop mixing my shifts with everyone? I patrol with everyone, you know that."

"Yes," little sis allowed, but she wasn't going to let this lie. "But if you get involved..."

"What do you mean, 'involved?' I'm already involved with the Boys. 'Lonna, what's bugging you? Straight up."

The girls glanced at each other and shrugged. 'Lonna gave him a stony look like Mama used to give him when she thought he was up to something. "I'm not sure it's a good idea to get involved with Kenzie if she's on the team."

Gunn blinked. Five or six times. He gave her a "Whatchu talking 'bout, Willis?" stare before he realized what she meant by "involved." Once he figured it out, he did the first thing that came to mind.

He burst out laughing. It didn't start slow, either. He just broke out against his will and couldn't stop. Hell, he didn't want to! He just continued laughing harder and harder. His chest started hurting.

He looked up at the stunned looks on 'Lonna and Lily's faces, which only made it worse. It was just so absurd he couldn't stop laughing his ass off. He just shook his head in disbelief. "Oh my God, you had me going there for a minute! I thought you two were SERIOUS!" He started getting louder and it was an effort to regain what little control he'd started with. He turned and walked out of the office, shaking his head and laughing his ass off.

<Oh God, what a way to end the night.>

*****

Alonna's teeth grinded away at Charles' reaction. She didn't know what made her angrier; his thinking she was making a joke, or the fact that neither he or Kenzie saw...

"He's got it bad," Lily said needlessly. "Very, very bad."

"At least Kenzie's making some headway," Gunn's sister said sadly. "She's at the teasing stage, she's just not doing it to make him realize why."

"She doesn't know either," Lily pointed out. "I work with her, I should know."

"But she knows it on the inside." She just waved a hand at the office door ashamed at her brother's level of intelligence. <Or lack of it.> "He just doesn't have a clue."

"So who'll realize it first?" the blonde shelter owner asked, a smile coming to her face. Alonna agreed, the next few months might be fun after all. "And how long before they get together."

"I don't know how long," she confessed, "but the sooner the better. As for who? Kenzie, of course. And you know why, the same reason it took Ronnie so long with you."

The sister of the leader of the Lost Boys and the head of the East Side Teen Shelter looked at each other and smiled.

"Men."

End

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