Title:    The Chronicles of Wanderer and the Slayer – Slayer Run

 

Part One:  Libyan Assault

Part Two:  War of the Sections 

 

Copyrighted : October 2000

 

Category: Crossover

 

Rating:   For Mature Readers – Depictions of Violence, Sexual Situations, Foul Language as well as Descriptions of Horrific Acts

 

Spoilers:      A few, but who cares?

 

Keywords: X-Files/Highlander/Buffy the Vampire Slayer Crossover with many guest stars.

 

The following TV series have been included in the story.  Disclaimers appear at the end with the cast list.

 

Pretender

A-Team

Star Trek the Next Generation/Deep Space Nine/Voyager

Gargoyles

Xena, Warrior Princess

La Femme Nikita

Forever Knight

 

The following novel series have been included in the story.  Disclaimers appear at the end with the character list

 

Casca - The Eternal Mercenary

The Executioner

Able Team

Phoenix Team

Bureau 13

The Destroyer

Conan the Barbarian

Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan

Red Sonja

 

Summary: A madman tries to destroy the world, a Watcher wants revenge against the Slayerettes, a covert government agency is out for blood, and a vampire army wants to kill the Slayer and control the Hellmouth.  All-in-all, it’s just a typical, ho-hum workweek for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Wanderer, and their crew.

All disclaimers appear at the end of the story.

 

Any character whose names and descriptions are used are the property of their original owners, and no copyright infringement is intended or meant.

 

No money can be made from this story.  It can be distributed freely so long as it is kept in its entirety, with all notices and copyright information intact.

 

The characters Wanderer/Steven St. Wolf, Frank Iverson, Brother Aaron, Robert McCallister, The Knights of the Order of the Grail, Randi Jessup, Brian Jessup and this story are Steve Pantovich’s.  Anyone wishing to use them, please contact the Wandererverse panel at the Wandererverse Revival Yahoo Group.

 

The character, Robin Goodfellow is the property of Mike Weyer and used with his permission.

 

Comments and criticisms are appreciated; please post to the above referenced e-mail address.

 

Author's Note's:    When Steve started to write this story, he decided to change some things concerning several canon (characters from TV series, movies, or novels) characters.

 

X-Files   Mulder and Scully are married and Immortal - so Non-Relationshippers beware.

 

Highlander:    It was Steve’s view that Richie Ryan shouldn't have died at the end of the fifth season, so here he hasn't.

 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer:     Buffy is an Immortal and this series splits from the second season show, Innocence.

 

Casca, the Eternal Mercenary: Various of Casca's friends are Immortal including the love of his life, Lida.

 

The Executioner:    Mack Bolan is an Immortal.  How else do you think he survived dying all those times?

 

The Destroyer:  Remo Williams is also an Immortal and the Avatar of the Hindu God Shiva.

 

Steve's thanks:

 

I'd like to thank the people who helped me in writing this story.  It took the better part of seven years to complete, but I think that it was worth it.  They stuck with me, helping and encouraging me to complete it.  They are:

 

Goblin214, Doug Elder, Rebekah Sandell, Mark Safransky, Dalton Spence, Mike Weyer, Tim Knight, and Jack.  Thank you all for your time and input on this story.

 

I'd also like to thank all those great fan fiction writers out there, whose stories I've enjoyed.  They showed me that I could let my imagination run.  (Where it went I don't want to know :>))

 

Thanks and here's the Story.  Enjoy.

 

Relief Pitcher’s note:

 

In memoriam: It should go without saying that I would like to dedicate this story to a great writer, Steve Pantovich.  Steve passed away in April 2007 due to complications from pneumonia.  Since I worked with him over the years on his stories both as his editor and his friend, I’ve been asked to step in to finish this most-ambitious novel, the sequel to his crowning achievement, Calling Out the Clan, from his award-winning fan fiction universe, the Wandererverse.  Steve wrote over 550 pages of this book…I’m just stepping in to bring it on home for the big guy.  An additional note to mention is that you’ll find that the writing style in this story a bit different from Steve’s.  He was married to the use of present tense in his writing.  However, I never liked his use of present tense due to all the linguistic gyrations it requires when you write something this big.  Thus, I have converted the prose to past tense.  Although the gist of his story has not changed, it should be easier for you to read it.  Another note is that there are some areas that have been enhanced by me that differ from Steve’s previous drafts.  Some items were never completed by Steve and I tried to deal with them based on conversations we had when he was planning these unfinished scenes.  Other changes have to do with making St. Wolf less of a ‘Gary Stu’ (a character that tends to completely overshadow canon characters) than he was in Steve’s previous works.  Steve also had indicated that he wanted to change this aspect of the character and I tried to do that for him in a way in which it would have made Steve comfortable. 

 

Anyway, here’s to you, Steve.  I hope you enjoy it!  With fondest regards, from your friend, Jack.

 

Also, I would like to add my thanks to Ruth Longhurst, my fabulous beta reader who helped me tighten this work for your enjoyment.  Thank you, love!  Finally, I’d like to thank the Wandererverse Editorial Panel for its encouragement and support.

 

Now, on with Steve’s story!

 

Jack, January 2, 2008.


PART ONE

 

The Chronicles of the Wanderer and the Slayer

Slayer Run

 

Libyan Assault

 

Prologue - Trains, Planes and Automobiles

(This Sure Isn’t a Steve Martin/John Candy Flick)

 

Bureau 13 Headquarters - July 14th 08:00

(One day after Calling Out the Clan)

 

            Horace Gordon glanced up from his reports and grimaced when he saw that Merlin waited at Gordon’s office door.  What now? he thought, as Gordon clambered from his chair and uncoiled his lanky six and a half foot frame to tower over the smaller wizard.  “What do you want now, Merlin?”

 

            Merlin merely flashed a smile that reminded Gordon of a shark’s.  “I just wanted to tell you that the Council of Black Mages has been destroyed.”  The entire room went silent as various Bureau 13 agents literally dropped their jaws in astonishment.

 

            “What about Morgan La Fey?” Gordon asked.

 

            “She’s dead.  I killed her personally.”  At that, the entire control room erupted with cheers at the fall of one of humanity’s greatest foes.

 

            “How did you do it?” Horace asked in a hushed voice.  After Merlin gave him a complete report, everyone in the room applauded. 

 

            Horace then gazed deeply into his father’s eyes and detected the sadness in them.  “How many did you lose?”

 

            “Surprisingly few, but every life counts.  Fourteen Knights and a hundred and three Squires died when we stormed the Black Council’s headquarters.  However, we managed to eradicate the entire Council, a hundred twenty five Black Mages and several hundred apprentices.  We also rescued almost three thousand innocent people from their clutches.”

 

            Gordon shook his head in wonder.  “Why aren’t you celebrating?”

 

            “I need help for the people we rescued.  Most of them were seriously hurt by the Black Mages and their apprentices before we could pull them out of that hell hole.  We don’t have enough healers and healing potions to save a lot of them.  I came here to ask for your help.”

 

            Gordon’s eyes grew moist as he began to snap out orders.  “I want every healer here as soon as possible!  Break out the reserves of healing potion!  Anyone who wants to volunteer, can.  Team Angel is on standby for any emergencies!”  He then turned to his personal assistant.  “Dimitri!”  The centaur snapped to attention.  “Contact the Sons of Van Helsing, Spooky’s Club House and every other agency we’re allied with and get them to help.”  Without hesitation, Dimitri galloped off to Communications.  Then Gordon turned back to Merlin and asked, “Anything else you need?”

 

            “I haven’t had a chance to check in on Steve and his friends.  Are they all right?”

 

            Gordon gave his father a warm smile.  “They did all right, Father.  No one died except for the vampires and their demon allies.”

 

            “Good,” Merlin said with a small grin, “I was worried that he wouldn’t have enough help.”

 

            “Oh, he definitely had help!  In fact I want to ask you what in the hell is Section Seven and what does it have to do with Steve?”

 

            “I don’t know anything about a ‘Section Seven.’  Maybe Steve got in touch with some of his covert operations friends?”

 

            “Even so, that still doesn’t explain the incredible number of people there and the weapons they brought to the fight.”

 

            “What sort of weapons?” 

 

            “They had an advanced assault helicopter of unknown design.  According to my field agent, it has supersonic capabilities and a weapons package in the possible nuclear range.  He also observed another aircraft that had supersonic capabilities and laser weapons.”

 

            Merlin whistles lowly.  “Is that all or was there more?”

 

            “I’ll say there’s more.  He also had about twenty men armed with laser rifles and pistols, a Gargoyle, a Werewolf and the Avatar of Shiva, just to name a few.”

 

            Merlin grinned broadly.  “Damn, that boy certainly pulled this one off.  I believe I should pay him a visit and ask him how he did it.”

 

            “Mind if I tag along?”

 

            “No.  May I ask why?”

 

            “I want to find out if he’s willing to work for me once in a while.”

 

            “I’m sure something can be worked out.  But first, let’s get those medical supplies and healers to the Knights’ headquarters.”

 

*****

 

St. Wolf’s Home - July 15th 12:00

(Two Days After Calling Out the Clan)

 

            Intense California sunlight streamed through the windows as two of the deadliest women the world had ever known padded into the kitchen.  The younger one, a blonde woman of average height with an athletic build, yawned as she crossed the stained hardwood floor to fill their water bottles at the kitchen sink.  Meanwhile, the other, a buxom woman with a titanic build and flaming red hair, placed a call on the telephone affixed to the wall by the oak cabinets. 

 

The taller woman pursed her full and luscious lips as she waited for a connection. When her companion finished her task, she shut off the faucet, turned, and asked, “Still no answer?”

 

The red head glanced at her battle mate and shrugged.  “Apparently, Heather and Janice still haven’t come home, Gabrielle.” 

 

The former traveling companion of Xena the Warrior Princess offered the concerned elder woman a tiny smile of comfort.  “They’re probably working at a remote site on their ranch, Sonja.  You know Heather; once she’s involved in a task, that girl always loses track of time!”

 

Sonja nodded sullenly as she brushed an uncooperative lock of hair out of her left eye.  After they had returned to Sunnydale from the battle against the vampire queen and her horde, Gabrielle and Sonja had tried to contact one of the Immortals they had taken in many years ago to tell her the truth about both the Game and the Immortals’ destiny as revealed by the Avatar of Shiva.  They had tried to reach Heather several times over the past few days, but had been unsuccessful.

 

Now, Sonja squeezed her eyes shut for several beats before she cracked them open and noticed the worried look on Gabby’s beloved face.  Forcing a smile, she strode over to her ancient lover, gently placed her fingertips under the bard’s chin, lifted it, and tenderly plundered the blonde’s mouth with a soul-searing kiss.  After she pulled away from the bard’s sweet lips, Sonja gazed deeply into her lover’s eyes.  “You’re probably right, hon.  I’ll try again later.” 

 

Still reveling from the tingle of Sonja’s tender salute, Gabrielle nodded numbly and followed the tall red head out of the kitchen.  As they strolled toward St. Wolf's gym, Sonja resorted to her normal practice of surreptitiously falling behind the former Amazon queen to enjoy the enticing sway of her forever love’s hips as she sashayed through the man’s home.   

 

Then, when they entered the exercise room for their daily work-out, Gabrielle shook her head, screeched to a dead stop, and nearly caused Sonja to bowl her over.

 

            “Hey!” Sonja snapped. 

 

            “Can’t you feel it?”  Gabrielle said through gritted teeth as she stared at the altar on the far side of the gym.  “This place—i-it’s holy ground.” 

 

            “And that’s a problem because…”

 

            “It’s holy ground that belongs to Artemis!”  Gabrielle snapped as she turned to face the tall man who’d just entered the room behind them.  “What in the hell is this, St. Wolf!?”

 

            The male Immortal, taken aback by Gabrielle’s vehemence, asked, “What’s wrong, Gabrielle?”

 

            “That shrine—it belongs to Artemis!”

 

            “Yes,” Steve confirmed as Cordelia, Willow, Amy and Jenny entered the gym. 

 

            No one said a word for several moments as an uncomfortable silence permeated the room.  Suddenly, Gabrielle's face clouded over with fury. "Sonja. . . we're leaving!" Gabrielle stalked toward the gym door, but found her way blocked by the four women.  Gabrielle glared at the four mortals and snapped, "Let me pass."   When none of the women moved aside, her eyes began to smolder.  "I'm not looking for trouble, ladies.  If you want to avoid a long and unpleasant stay at the hospital, I'd suggest you get out of the way!"

 

             "Gabrielle," Steve said in a low growl, "I don't know what is your problem, nor do I care. But you WILL NOT threaten my students in my home!"

 

             Gabrielle turned to face Steve and he shuddered despite himself.   "I don't make threats, St. Wolf," she said in a flat, controlled and dangerous voice, “I make promises.  And if they don't move out of my way, they won't like how I keep my promises.  And neither will you."

 

            “Okay. . .” he drawled, trying hard not to let it show that this small woman had actually succeeded in intimidating even him, "let's try this again. Why are you so angry?"

 

            “I have no need to explain myself either to them or you.  All you need know is that I want to leave, it's a free country, and I have every right to come and go as I please since I’m not a criminal and you’re not a cop.  Now, if you please, instruct your students to step aside and let me pass.”

 

            At that moment, Jenny decided to intervene in the conversation to try and calm things down.  “Gabrielle,” Jenny started in a soothing voice.   “Please, don't leave like this.  We aren't trying to restrain or harm you.  We want to be your friends.  We just want to know why you have a problem with our shrine and your reaction frankly frightened the girls.”  At that, a flash of guilt raced through the blonde Immortal's eyes.  Jenny smiled inwardly; she knew that had gotten to the ancient bard.  “Please, talk to us.”

 

Gabrielle hugged herself and glanced at Sonja.  Then she drew a deep breath, rolled her eyes, and snapped, “Fine.  It all began before I became an Immortal.  I was traveling with Xena---”

 

            “No way!”  Cordelia angrily barked. “That would mean you're THE Gabrielle, the last Queen of the Amazons.”

 

            “Yes, that's exactly what that would mean, Cordelia,” Gabrielle confirmed, “And that's exactly why I'm leaving.”

 

            “I know I’d asked this earlier,” Steve said, “but why do you want to leave?”

 

            “It’s quite simple, really.  You have a shrine to Artemis here and I won't be in the same house with a shrine to that traitorous bitch!”

 

            “Say what?!?” Cordelia snapped.  “You’d better take that back!”

 

            Gabrielle's eyes flashed as she regarded the teen Amazon.  “I shall do nothing of the kind, girl.  Now, do you want me to tell you my reasons, without further interruptions, or do you want me to open an industrial strength can of whoop-ass on your beauty queen behind?”

 

            Cordelia advanced toward Gabrielle, but Jenny stopped her with a firm hand to her chest.  Cordelia, let me handle this.”  Then Jenny turned, faced Gabrielle, and said, “Those are strong words…I hope you can back them up.”

 

            Gabrielle stared the younger woman down for a moment then tilted her head toward the exit.  “It's stuffy in here,” she murmured and walked out toward the living room as the others followed closely behind her. 

 

When everyone was situated in the living room, Gabrielle related her story to the group.  "Before I became an Immortal, I was made a Queen of a tribe of Greek Amazons.  I was very proud of my title, but knew that I couldn't stay and be their leader; you see my life, at that time, was with Xena. I chose someone else to rule for me while Xena and I continued our journeys together." 

 

            Just then, Cordelia snapped, "Why you copyright-infringing-ho! That's straight from the damn TV show, Xena, Warrior Princess! Who in the hell do you think you are, claiming to be Xena's gal pal?"

 

            Gabrielle glared at Cordelia and snarled.  "Little girl, you're just aching for that beating, aren't you?  Let me put this in terms that even you can understand.  Who do you think sold Robert Trebor Xena's story twenty years ago? He didn't start doing the show until his Hercules series became popular.  The funny thing is that Hercules is actually playing himself." Gabrielle looked at their faces and saw that no one seemed surprised by her revelation. "Wait a minute…you guys already knew Kevin Sorbo is the real Hercules?"

 

            "Yep," Steve said. "He's an old friend of mine."

 

            Gabrielle simply sighed.  "Why am I not surprised about that with you, St. Wolf?  You do get around." 

 

            "Kevin saved my life when a mission went badly," St. Wolf said softly.

 

            Gabrielle stared into his eyes and saw the sadness in them.  She nodded her head in understanding. "I've been there. Kevin's always been a good friend. I'm glad he was there for you, too."

 

            "So am I." Buffy whispered as she noticed the haunted look in her lover's eyes. < Oh Goddess! It must have been wigsome to the max! >

 

            "Okay, okay," Cordelia drawled, "let's end this Hallmark moment and get to the crux of the matter.  Why do you hate Artemis?"

 

            Old memories soured Gabrielle's face and she said, "Because She caused the Amazon nation's downfall."

 

            "I don't believe it!!" Cordelia angrily retorted.  She catapulted herself from the sofa and stalked toward Gabrielle. Xander tried to hold her back, but Cordelia shook him off and sent the boy flying across the room.  Then when she leaned over to grab Gabrielle, she found the little blonde no longer seated on the couch where she had been a second before.  Just then, she felt pressure behind her right knee that forced her face down into the cushions while her right arm was twisted behind her back in a steel-like grip.

 

            "Cordelia," Gabrielle barked into the girl’s right ear as she held the struggling teen down, “Behave!  I don't want to hurt you!"

 

            "You bitch!" Cordelia lashed out with her words as she struggled in Gabrielle's Greco-Roman wrestling hold, “I won't stand for your lies about my God--ouch!" she yelped as Gabrielle jerked her arm a bit harder. 

 

A wicked smile then crossed Gabrielle's face.  "Now, that I've regained your attention," she drawled, "I won't hurt you, but I won't let you hurt me when I speak the truth."

 

            At that moment a husky, warm female voice intruded upon their battle.  "Gabrielle, please don't harm her."  When the two women recognized that Artemis was in their presence, they ceased their struggles. 

 

            "I never intended to, Artemis," Gabrielle said.  "Unlike you, I don't harm innocents."

 

            Artemis avoided Gabrielle's hard glare for a moment before she crossed over to Cordelia.  "Daughter," she said, "Although I appreciate your devotion more than you know, you owe Gabrielle an apology for attacking her without provocation."

 

            A stunned Cordelia balked at that.  "What?" she sputtered.  "She said some awful things about you and I wasn't going to let her--"

 

            "Enough!" Artemis snapped, silencing Cordelia.  Then with a sad smile, the goddess drew the brunette Amazon into a hug.  "The hardest thing for both mortal and god, dear Cordelia, is to face the truth.  But as Amazons it is our duty to do so even when it is painful."

 

            Although confused by Artemis' statement, Cordelia relented and stared at Gabrielle.  "I'm sorry."

 

            Gabrielle nodded at Cordelia and smiled. "Apology accepted."

 

            "Good," Artemis said.  Then she turned to Gabrielle and softly said, "Hello, Gabrielle.  It's been a long time.  I'm happy to see you're still alive and well."

 

            "Sorry I can't say the same for you, Moon Goddess," Gabrielle snapped. "What have you done to these women?"

 

            "They are the first of my new Amazons," Artemis calmly said. "I enhanced them with abilities and skills similar to my Chosen of days past."

 

            "What!?" Gabrielle looked at the goddess as if the deity had lost her mind.  "Are you fucking kidding me!?"

 

            "No,” Artemis answered softly while she glided over to Xander and helped him to his feet.  Xander gave her a quick grin and brushed himself off as Artemis smiled and raised her glowing hands to his face. The bruise that had formed on his cheek rapidly disappeared as she continued her discussion with the Amazon queen. "I wanted to give them a chance to survive and to have some happiness in their lives."

 

            "Happiness!? A chance to survive!? Now I know you've finally gone off the deep end.  News flash: they’re not fighting Romans, they’re fighting vampires and demons!   How in the hell does that give them a chance at a long life!?"

 

            "They were already fighting vampires and demons for two years when Cordelia first called to me.  I witnessed her great courage as she faced a dozen vampires armed only with a wooden knife and a water gun filled with holy water to rescue a girl who they were going to kill. She managed to destroy one of the Bacchae before they captured her. It was at that moment I decided to make her the first of my new Amazons. Afterwards, she asked that her three friends also be afforded the opportunity to become Amazons.  They agreed and I gave them my blessing so they would have a better chance of survival."

 

            Then Gabrielle turned to Cordelia. "Why did you call Artemis?"

 

            "Steve was teaching us the basics of hand to hand combat and I sucked at it.  I felt like such a failure and was crying my eyes out when I saw Artemis' statue sitting on a book shelf.  I picked it up and started to talk to it.  After a few minutes, I dried my eyes and went home to cry some more. When I tried to rescue Harmony, Artemis pulled my ass out of the frying pan and made me an offer that I couldn’t refuse." 

 

            "And what, pray tell, were you before you became an Amazon?" Gabrielle asked with hooded eyes.

 

            "I was a cheerleader and a member of the 'in' crowd." Cordelia said with a grin.

 

            "I don't believe this!  You turned a freaking cheerleader into an Amazon!?"

 

            "Not just a cheerleader." Artemis said with a serene smile. "I made an Amazon of the meanest Bitch in the Valley."

 

Gabrielle stared in shock as everyone began to laugh at Artemis' joke.  "Okay, this just got weird," Gabrielle muttered. "Since when did you develop a sense of humor?"

 

            "The day I decided to take a major role in the lives of my Amazons, all of my Amazons. . . I hope."

 

            Gabrielle snorted derisively at the goddess. "I can see how much effort you've put into this ‘rebirth’; there're only four of them."

 

            “Actually, there are five.  And I've also contacted the descendants of the original tribes." Artemis said, “They're out there, waiting for the Amazon Nation to be reformed."

 

            Gabrielle gave the goddess a harsh glare.  "You’re some piece of work, Artemis.  What do you think?  You can make up for all the misery and pain you caused my sisters two thousand years ago by playing the concerned mother to these women now?  So what happens when you grow tired of this game like you did before?  What happens when these women are involved in a battle against those who want to oppress them?  Will you turn your back on them during their hour of need, too?"

 

            "No," Artemis said softly. "I can never make up for my past sins, Gabrielle.  I freely admit I was wrong.  I know I had made some horrible mistakes.  All I can say is that I have learned from what happened before and have changed. I will be there for my Amazons.  I will not turn my back on my Amazons ever again. When other Gods try to use them for their own purposes, I will protect them with my dying breath.  I will speak to them, and give them counsel when they ask, but I won't govern their lives. They will have free will as to how they lead their lives and with whom. I want my Amazons to have mates. Whether they're male or female doesn't matter anymore, but I will expect them all to have children to carry on the line of the Nation."

 

            "What about the men?" Sonja asked.  “Will they be mere consorts in this ‘brave new world’ of yours?"

 

            "No, Red Sonja, men will have a voice in Amazon society as equals. The old ways destroyed the first Amazon nation, but the new Amazon nation will be stronger and more adaptable."

 

            Gabrielle rolled her eyes at that and began to applaud sarcastically.  “Pretty words, Moon Goddess, pretty words!  Yet, why do I find that I still doubt you?"

 

            "I do not deny that I betrayed your and your sisters' trust when the old Amazon nation fell to the Romans," Artemis admitted softly.

 

            Sonja hugged Gabrielle from behind to offer comfort, but the blonde warrior shrugged her off and angrily regarded the goddess.  "And you think you can make up for it now and regain my trust?"

 

            At Gabrielle’s harsh words, a tear streaked down the goddess's cheek.  "I don't know if I can ever regain your trust, Gabrielle," Artemis said.  "But I'll never stop trying to show you that I have changed and am worthy of you."  Then the goddess swallowed and thrust her chin forward proudly.  "However, no matter what you think of me at this moment, I am willing to humble myself before you to beg a favor on behalf of these brave women."

 

            Gabrielle nodded gravely, then straightened her back, taking on the regal air of the proud queen she truly was.  "Speak."

 

            "I respectfully request that you help train my new Amazons.  Steven is an excellent teacher…for a man," she added with a small smile, "but you and Sonja know the old Amazon fighting arts.  I want my daughters and their mates to learn them and pass them on to their future sisters, brothers and children."

 

            "I shall consider your request, Goddess of the Hunt, and provide you my answer shortly," she said as she examined each face of the four Amazons.

 

            "Very well, then.  Thank you, Gabrielle," Artemis murmured as she disappeared.

 

As Gabrielle continued to watch the spot where her one-time patron Goddess had stood, heavy sobs were torn from her heaving bosom.  She turned with tears in her eyes and sought solace in the arms of her red haired warrior.  As Sonja hugged Gabrielle close, Jenny motioned everyone out of the living room into the gym, leaving Gabrielle and Sonja some privacy to deal with the bard's grief.

 

****

 

            “YOU!!”

 

Several minutes after they had entered the gymnasium, everyone in the room whirled to find a furious blonde Amazon stalking toward Cordelia.  As Gabrielle speared Cordelia with her glare, Cordelia gulped and pointed to herself.  “Yes, you!  You’re the one who’s responsible for that Bitch being here!  Why in the hell couldn’t you have kept your big mouth shut?”

 

            Cordelia’s back stiffened as she morphed into full, screaming-bitch mode.  “Because I wanted to help my friends, you bitch!  I don’t know how you were raised, but in my world, that’s a good thing!  Yeah, it goes without saying that I may have thought of them as losers and nothings a year ago, but they showed me what a few good people could do and I wanted to be a part of that!”

 

            Gabrielle narrowed her eyes at the former cheerleader.  “Is that all?”

 

            “Not quite.  I like Artemis.  She wants to help humanity and I will worship her no matter what you say!”

 

            “Even after I tell you that she’s a backstabbing Bitch who allowed her daughters to be abused, enslaved and destroyed by the other gods?” 

 

            Cordelia clenched her hands into fists as she struggled to rein in her anger.  Meanwhile, a tiny smile dawned on Sonja’s face as the young woman stood up to her ancient lover. < I think Artemis chose well when she chose this one.  Let’s see if she can handle the Queen Bitch. >

 

            Before Cordelia could respond, Willow moved between them.  Cordelia, acknowledging Willow’s presence, ordered, “Netgirl, stay out of this!  I’m not going to kick her ass, but I am going to give her a piece of my mind!”

 

            At that, Gabrielle chuckled darkly.  “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, with you being a cheerleader and all.  I don’t think you can afford the drop in IQ!”

 

            Ignoring the bard’s pun, Willow shook her head.  “This argument ends now, Cordelia!  You heard Artemis.  She wants this woman to train us; we have to respect her wishes.”

 

            “Get out of the way, kid,” Gabrielle said.  “If the beauty queen wants to tell me what she thinks, let her.  It should be worth a laugh or two.”

 

            “No!”  Willow snapped.  “You two will stop this insanity and listen to what Artemis said to the both of you!”

 

            “Really?” Gabrielle said with an air of menace.  “And what if I don’t want to stop, Willow?”  .

 

            “Then you’ll have to deal with me,” Willow said as her hands began to glow with mystical energy. 

 

As the young woman’s hands began to glow with eldritch might, Gabrielle cocked her right eyebrow and wryly regarded the teenager.  “Nice parlor trick, Red.  But aren’t you barking up the wrong tree with Artemis as your patron goddess?  Hecate might be more your speed.”

 

*****

 

            Alarmed, Sonja stepped forward to protect her companion.  However, before she could take another step, St. Wolf reached out and grabbed her shoulder.

 

            “Release me!” 

 

            “I will if you let them come to terms on their own.”  Steve quietly said.  Willow, Amy and Jenny won’t hurt Gabrielle, but they won’t let Gabrielle hurt Cordelia either.”

 

            “Do you want to bet your life on that?” she growled.

 

            “Yes, because I know I can count on them,” Steve said. < I’m definitely going to have Willow get some training in negotiation. > 

 

*****

 

            Brian and Randi gawked at the scene unfolding in front of them.  “Uh, sis?” 

 

            “Yeah, Bri?” 

 

            “Think that there’ll be a fight?”

 

            “I don’t know.”  Randi whispered. < Oh God.  What have I gotten us into? >

 

*****

 

            // What do you want me to do, Steve? // Duke broadcasted to Steve.

 

            < Stand down, Duke!  Let them work this out. >

 

            // All right.  But you should know that Arial and Patches are monitoring the situation and if Cordelia gets hurt, Gabrielle won’t leave this town alive. //

 

            < Duke,> the Wanderer sighed inwardly, <don’t make threats you can’t keep.  This woman is one of the deadliest warriors on the planet.  The only other person who’d stand a chance against her is her partner and she’s standing right here.  Those cats don’t have a prayer of being able to defeat either of them.  Order the cats to stand down! >

 

            // Already did.  But Arial is already on her way here.  And Patches isn’t far behind. //

 

            “Damnit!”   Steve muttered under his breath.   < Tell them if they attack without provocation, I’ll take them out myself! > 

 

            // They said they’ll comply for the moment, but I can’t guarantee anything if Cordelia is hurt. //

 

            < Fine. > Steve beamed back as he turned his attention back to the scene in the living room.

 

*****

 

            Gabrielle gazed into Willow’s earnest green eyes and saw only concern there and a bit of awe.  Gabrielle sighed as she stepped away from the young women and unclenched her hands.  Then she stared at the four new Amazons and sighed.  “All right…we talk.”

 

            Willow gave her a dazzling smile and hugged her.  Gabrielle stiffened for a moment then returned the hug.  “You are a very brave young woman, Willow.” 

 

            “Do you want all of us here or just the Amazons?”  Steve asked from the side of the room.

 

            “No, you may all stay.”  Gabrielle said as she sat on the couch.  She studied each of the new Amazons’ faces and wondered, < Why did we stay?  We could have gone back with Casey and Lida.  But no, we had to stick around to see what St. Wolf was doing with these kids.  Well, we made our bed, now we have to lie in it.   By the gods, they’re all so young! > “Okay, so tell me all about your plans.”

 

            “Um…er…plans?” Cordelia asked.

 

            Gabrielle sighed.  “Tell me your plans for the future.  Are you going to reform the tribes or are you just going to do what you’ve been doing?”

 

            The silence in the room was deafening as the four Amazons stared at one another then at Jenny.  In silent reply, Jenny simply shrugged her shoulders and shook her head.  “Well,” Willow began, “we never planned to restart the tribes.  We’ve been too busy helping Steve and Buffy fight the monsters that are trying to destroy the world.”

 

            Gabrielle squeezed her eyes shut in frustration at their naiveté.  Then her eyes flashed open to reveal a look of steely determination.  “Very well, then.  We’ll begin training today.”  Gabrielle quietly said as she rose to her feet.  “But if you thought St. Wolf was bad, I’m a thousand times worse.”

 

            “We wouldn’t want it any other way.”  Jenny said with a smile as she stretched in preparation for the workout to come. 

 

            “Gabrielle,” St. Wolf announced, “none of these kids is an Immortal, except for Randi and Buffy.  I don’t want any full contact training until they’ve all been thoroughly taught the basics of whatever styles you’re going to teach them.”

 

            “Fair enough—how long do they train each day?”

 

            “They train two hours when school’s in session and five hours when they’re on vacation from school.  And they also take shifts patrolling the town during the week.”

 

            “And how are these shifts broken down?”  Sonja asked.

 

            “It depends on who’s doing the patrolling.”  Steve said.  “Buffy and I are on constant call, but we only patrol Thursday to Sunday as a team.  The rest of the time, the others take turns working in four to six man teams.”

 

            “Why are you two constantly on call?” Gabrielle asked but she already knew the answer.

 

            “Because I’m the Slayer and Steve is a highly trained warrior,” Buffy said simply.  “It’s our responsibility to be there for our friends.”

 

            Gabrielle sighed as she shook her head in wonder.  “Goddess,” she quietly murmured. < This child reminds me so much of Xena in how she wants to protect the innocent. > She stared into Buffy’s eyes and saw the same piercing look that the Warrior Princess had possessed when she had fought the good fight so long ago.  She then stared into Steve’s eyes and also saw a familiar intense, but calm look. “How long did you study with Darius, St. Wolf?”

 

            “Three years.” he said calmly.  “I still miss him.”   

 

            “Who’s Darius?” Buffy asked.

 

            “A dear friend,” Sonja said sadly.  “He’s gone now, but we will always treasure our time with him.”

 

            “Oh,” Buffy softly said, realizing how good of a friend this Darius was to all three.

 

            “I know that this Darius guy was important to the three of you, but are you going to moon over him all day?” Cordelia asked.

 

            “Thank you, Cordelia,” Steve said.

 

            “For what?”

 

            “For volunteering to be the practice dummy.  The pads are in the storage locker, Chase.  Don’t keep us waiting.”

 

            “Oh…and Cordelia?” Gabrielle added as she strolled past the stunned girl.  “We’ll perform each lesson as many times as required to make certain each person gets it right.”

 

*****

 

July 15th 15:30

St. Wolf’s Home - Training Room

 

            “Arrrrgggghhhh!” 

 

Cordelia screamed as she was sent crashing to the mat, again.  Rubbing her sore backside, she winced as Willow grinned down at her. 

 

            “That was excellent, Willow.”  Gabrielle said from the side where she and the rest of the group watched the practice session.  “Try it once more and then we’ll let Buffy have a try.”

 

            “Oh Goddess!”  Cordelia cried out as Willow helped her up.  “When do I get a break?”

 

            Gabrielle turned to Steve and sweetly asked, “Think she’s had enough?”

 

            “After that crack about Darius?  No,” Steve replied.

 

 

******

 

            // Think we should get involved? // A multi-colored Calico cat asked the Regal Persian sitting next to him.

 

            // No. // Arial said with a smug thought while her companion took another fall. // Cordelia will remember this lesson for a long time; it’ll make her a better person. //

 

            // I think Xander is about to get involved. // Patches said as Xander left the group to go to Cordelia’s side.

 

*****

 

            Xander walked over to the fallen Cordelia and gently helped her to her feet.  Then, after giving her a loving hug, he stripped the pads off of her worn and tired body.

 

            “Xander?  What are you doing?”  Gabrielle asked with a small smile. < Oh this boy definitely has it bad for this girl. >

 

            “I’ll take her place for a while.” 

 

            “Why?”  Sonja asked with a smile.

 

            “She needs to rest.  I know that she smarted off earlier, but even Queen C has her limits.”

 

*****

 

            Gabrielle stared at both Sonja and St. Wolf.  They nodded at her and she turned back to Xander and Cordelia.  “Xander, don’t bother putting the pads on.  Training’s over for today.” 

 

At that, Cordelia sighed and nearly collapsed against Xander’s body.

 

*****

 

            Patches beamed to Arial, // Want to stick around? //

 

            // No. // Arial said as she stretched and nuzzled Patches’ throat.   // Thanks for coming with me. //

 

            // You’re welcome, Kitten, // Patches said as he returned her nuzzle with one of his own.

 

            // Walk me home? //

 

            // Of course, // Patches said with a contented purr.

 

*****

 

            “Patrol will be Buffy, Sonja, Gabrielle, and me tonight,” Steve said.  “The rest of you get the night off.” 

 

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief and turned to leave.  “Cordelia, Xander,” Steve called out.  When the two teens turned to him, he said, “Cordelia, I’m not going to apologize for making you the practice dummy today.  That crack about Darius was uncalled for.”

 

            “Steve, exactly who was this Darius guy?” Xander asked.

 

            “He was one of my teachers.  He also taught Duncan, Connor and many other Immortals that we were more than mere pawns of the ‘Game’.  He was one of the main reasons that I searched so hard for Krevar’s Journal.” 

 

Cordelia nodded in understanding.  “Sorry I shot my mouth off like that, then, Steve.  Friends again?” she chirped and thrust out her right hand toward him. 

 

He chuckled then reached out and shook her proffered hand.  “Friends again,” he said warmly.  Moments later, the couple took their leave and Steve turned to Gabrielle and Sonja.  “You two want dinner first or do we grab a meal while on patrol?”

 

            “Depends.  What’ve you got in the refrigerator?”  Gabrielle asked.

 

            “It’s loaded for bear.  I just went shopping this morning.” 

 

            “I hope you don’t shop like most single men.”  Sonja muttered.

 

            “You tell me,” St. Wolf drawled. 

 

Sonja opened the appliance’s door and uncovered a proverbial cornucopia of fruit, vegetables, fresh meats and cheeses.

 

            “Hey, Gabby!” Sonja yelled as she grabbed a ten pound package of steaks from the meat compartment.  “How about we go with meat and potatoes tonight?” 

 

            “That sounds good, honey.  Did you find anything we could use to marinate the steaks?”   

 

            “Yep, he’s got everything here for your famous Amazon Steak.”

 

            “All right, buddy, get your tight ass out of this kitchen!” Gabrielle announced as she playfully shoved the male Immortal toward the great room.  “Sonja and I are cooking tonight.”

 

            “Just make certain you make enough for six people and one pain in the ass.”  Steve said as he walked toward the stairs.

 

            “Who’s the pain in the ass?” Sonja asked then jerked back as Duke jumped up onto the island. 

 

            “Speak of the devil,” Steve said with a smirk.

 

            // I’m going to get even for that crack. //

 

            < Promises…promises. >

 

            // Screw you, // Duke beamed.  Then he took a big sniff and stared at the steaks.

 

            Sonja watched the dog as it stared at the meat with intelligent eyes.  “Hi boy!” she said brightly.  “Okay, if you’re a good boy and I’ll make sure that you get something in your bowl.”  Duke barked twice, leapt from the counter and ran straight to Brian.  “Take him outside, Brian,” Sonja suggested.  “Make sure that he gets some exercise.”

 

            “You’ve got it, Miss Sonja.”  Brian then grabbed his jacket and walked toward the door. 

 

Gabrielle, sensing something, stopped him and asked, “What’s wrong, Brian?”

 

            “This is all so new to me.”  Brian said softly as he put on his jacket.  “Last week, we, Randi and I, lived with my parents.  Now, we’re living here.”

 

            “Where are your parents?” 

 

            “Vampires killed them,” Brian said in a sad whisper.

 

            Gabrielle sat Brian down and took him into her arms.  “Why are you here, Brian?”

 

            “Randi is an Immortal like you, Miss Sonja, Mr. St. Wolf and Buffy are.  Mr. St. Wolf explained to Randi what she was and tried to find a teacher who’d take us both in, but no one wanted to take her if I tagged along.  Randi asked if we could stay here and Mr. St. Wolf agreed to it.”

 

            Gabrielle sighed.  “I know it hurts, Brian, but the pain will ease with time.”

 

            “Will it ever go away?”

 

            She regarded him with haunted eyes and shook her head.  “No, it won’t.  And you don’t want it to.”  Brian stared up at her and Gabrielle continued.  “You’ll miss your mom and dad for the rest of your life, Brian. There’s nothing that can be done to erase that pain.  And take it from me, you don’t want it to totally go away because then, you’ve lost your parents forever.”

 

            Brian shuddered and nodded.  “Randi really wants to fight the vampires to get even for our parents,” he mumbled into her chest.

 

            “And what did Steve say about this?”

 

            “He doesn’t want Randi to fight to get even.  He wants her to fight to protect people.  He said that it’s different.”

 

            “He’s right, it is different.” 

 

            “How?”

 

            “It’s different in the way she fights and how she thinks.  When you fight for vengeance, you fight with all of your emotions raw and usually alone.  You hate, you take chances that you shouldn’t and you get yourself, your friends and innocents killed.  When you fight to protect, you work as part of a team or an extended family.  Randi will have support, someone to talk to her and someone to protect her back.” < And I’m going to make sure that she doesn’t go Lone Wolf on us. >  Now,” she said brightly, “all better?”

 

            He nodded shyly and said, “Thank you, Miss Gabrielle,” as he reluctantly pulled himself from the comfort of her arms.

 

            “Just call me, Gabrielle and Sonja, Sonja, Brian.  No need for you to be so formal with us, young man.  Just think of us as your young…and pretty aunts, all right?”

 

            “Okay,” he said as he peered around the room.  “Uhm, where’s the dog’s leash?”

 

            “Duke doesn’t need a leash, Brian.”  Buffy said as she and Randi entered the kitchen. 

 

            “Are you sure that Brian will be safe outside with only that dog for protection?” Randi asked as she stared out the window and saw the sun going down.

 

            “I can practically guarantee it,” Buffy said as she regarded Duke.  “Duke, be a honey and show them what you really are.”  

 

Then at Buffy’s command, Duke barked twice and converted into his true form.  Four sets of mouths dropped open in shock as Randi, Brian, Gabrielle, and Sonja stared at the massive wolf that stood in the middle of the kitchen.

 

            “Holy shit!” Sonja screamed as she grabbed for a large knife on the counter while Sonja’s ancient battle-mate protectively shielded Brian with her own body.

 

            “What in the hell is that thing!?” Gabrielle demanded.

 

            “Steve’s personal Guardian Spirit.”  Buffy said with a lopsided grin on her face.

 

            “His what!?” Randi snapped as she stared at the five foot tall wolf.

 

            “Duke guards Steve’s house and protects the people who live here.  I have one at home, too.  My Mom has one that goes with her wherever she goes, Willow has a collie, Cordelia a Persian cat.  Every one of us has either a cat or a dog.”

 

            “What do the cats turn into?” Gabrielle asked.

 

            “Two hundred, fifty pound saber-tooth tigers,” Buffy said with a smile.

 

            “That’s some cat,” Sonja breathed.  Then she relaxed as Duke changed back into his regular form.

 

            “Brian, with that dog, you’ll probably need a saddle instead of a leash,” Gabrielle wryly observed as the dog crossed the floor toward the boy and sat down beside him.

 

            “You can’t be serious?” Randi asked while her little brother patted the puppy on its head.

 

            “Duke will never hurt Brian, Randi,” Buffy explained.  “His job is to protect Steve’s family and that now includes Brian and you.”

 

            “You have got to be kidding,” Randi muttered in disbelief as Brian and Duke waited for her to make her decision.  When Randi resignedly nodded her head, Brian grinned and raced out of the house with Duke following closely behind.

 

            “Is there anything else we should know about Steve?”  Randi asked Buffy.

 

            “Only that he’s a Knight Lieutenant in the Order of the Grail,” Buffy said as both Sonja and Gabrielle narrowed their eyes at each other in annoyance.  “Ever hear of Merlin of Camelot?”  Buffy asked.  Randi nodded her head dully.  “Well, Steve is his and his wife’s personal champion.”

 

            “I knew it!”  Sonja snapped.  “I told you this whole thing had the stench of that old fart all over it!!” 

 

            “I take it you’ve both met Merlin?” Buffy asked sweetly.

 

            “Arrrgggghhhh!” a frustrated Sonja yelled and glared down at her lover.  “We just had to stay here, didn’t we?!  Why didn’t you listen to me and go back with Lida and me to make Casca’s life a living hell!?”

 

            “I guess that’s a ‘yes,’” Buffy noted as Gabrielle shook her head in disgust.

 

            “Yes, we know him.  And the only reason he’s still alive is because we like Niume,” Gabrielle muttered darkly.  “That nosey-old-busybody is a royal pain in the ass!”

 

            “Still want to make dinner?” Buffy asked as she reached for the phone.

 

            “Yes,” Sonja said in exasperation.  “How does Steve like his steak?”

 

            “Well done.  I like mine medium rare,” Buffy said.

 

            “Lightly well done for me.  Brian likes his medium,” Randi said while Sonja cleaved the steaks from a ten pound piece of meat.

 

            “And Duke?”

 

            “Rare, of course,” Buffy said as Steve walked into the kitchen to a chorus of hard stares from the elder Immortal women. 

 

“What did I do now?” he offered with a heavy sigh.

 

            Gabrielle and Sonja simply continued to glare at him. 

 

“They know Merlin,” Buffy explained to him. 

 

At that, Steve shook his head in disgust and sat down next to Buffy.

 

            “Steve?”  Randi asked as Steve snaked his arm around Buffy’s shoulders.  “That, that dog—what is he?”

 

            “Duke’s a Guardian Spirit.  His job is to protect this house and any family that I have.”

 

            “Is it safe for Brian to be alone with him?”

 

            “Yes, Brian is safe with Duke.  He’ll give his life to protect him.”

 

            “How do you know that?” 

 

            “Duke’s job is to protect my home and my family of which you and Brian are now a part of,” Steve said as Buffy snickered.  “I think Buffy has something to tell us.”

 

            “Well,” she said, fighting back her laughter, “the look on Randi’s face after Duke changed was priceless!”

 

            “I’m glad this whole situation, my parents being murdered by those monsters, Brian and I displaced from our home and our lives, is so amusing to you!” Randi snapped.

 

            Buffy’s face immediately clouded over in guilt.  “Randi, I’m so sorry.  That’s not at all what we feel.  What I meant was that it’s nice to see someone else go through what I went through the last few months.  All of the wonder and surprise at finding out how things most people think are myths are actually real.”  Then her face glowed with a sense of wonder.  “I’ve met actual Immortals who’ve seen history unfold…met an actual Goddess, too!”  At that, Gabrielle growled lowly, but Buffy pressed onward.  “And what makes it so special is that I’m beginning to realize that I’m…we all are here for a purpose.”

 

            “A purpose!?” Randi screamed as she rose from her seat.  “I’ve lost my parents and now I’m responsible for my twelve year old brother.  I have no job, very little money and I’m living with a man who I only met when this entire mess started!”

 

            “Randi, I know that you and Brian lost your parents, but you’re not alone,” Buffy softly said.  Randi stared into Buffy’s sad eyes as the Slayer continued.  “You now have an extended family, Randi.  I know that you hardly know us, but we’re here for you and Brian.  Through everything that has happened and will happen, you can count on us.”

 

*****

 

            “Damn, but she’s good.”  Sonja said softly as she stood with Gabrielle in the kitchen.

 

            “That she is.  I wonder if she and Steve are the Two?

 

            “Only time will tell, Gabrielle.”  Sonja muttered as she chopped some vegetables.  “Think that we’ll survive what’s to come?”  Sonja wondered.

 

            Gabrielle smiled gently at her lover.  “Yes,” she said simply.

 

            “Good,” Sonja said with a growl, “because I want you sleeping beside me for…well…forever!” 

 

Then as Sonja nuzzled Gabrielle’s neck, the bard sighed and leaned back into the arms of her eternal love.  “The same goes for me, too, Red.” 

 

            “Er…um…do you two need to get a room or something?” Buffy asked from across the living room.

 

            The two glanced at the Slayer and they both gave her a saucy smile. “No need for that, sweetie, we mess around in the kitchen all the time.  Want to join in on the fun?”  Gabrielle drawled cheekily. 

 

At that, the Slayer’s eyes shot comically wide open.  Then she shot a deer-caught-in-the-headlights look at St. Wolf and stammered, “I-I…uh…  Oh, man!  I’ve got to go to the bathroom!”  Then in a mad dash, Buffy raced up the flight of stairs to the second floor.

 

As the Slayer fled the scene, Randi smiled at the Gabrielle and Sonja and purred, “Now that was fun!”

 

*****

 

July 15th 21:30

St. Wolf’s Home - Living Room

 

            “Sword,” Steve said.

 

            “Check,” Buffy confirmed.

 

            “Glock 21.”

 

            “Check.”

 

            “Silver ammunition.”

 

            “Check, check and check,” Buffy said while she confirmed the presence of three extra magazines.

 

            “Wooden ammunition.”

 

            “Check, check, check and check.”

 

            “Wood knives.”

 

            “Check.”

 

            “Plastique charges.”

 

            “Check.”

 

            “Grenades.”

 

            “Check for high explosive, check for holy water and check for silver pellet.”

 

            While Sonja approached from the kitchen after placing another unanswered telephone call to Heather, Gabrielle, Randi, and Brian simply watched as the Wanderer and the Slayer prepared to go on patrol.  “Damn, but those two look like they’re soldiers going to war!” Randi breathed.

 

            “That’s precisely what they’re doing, Randi,” Gabrielle noted as she studied Buffy and Steve closely.  “And that’s how you survive in this game.  Be ready for anything and everything and carry a hell of lot more firepower than your enemy.”

 

            Randi shuddered despite herself. < Oh God!  What are these two? > As she reflected on that, Sonja and Gabrielle had also begun their preparations. 

 

            Then as the quartet prepared to leave, St. Wolf turned to his new ward and said, “Randi, don’t open the door for anyone.  The house is warded against any demons or vampires, but that doesn’t mean they can’t hire a mortal or an Immortal to try to kill everyone in the house.”

 

            “What happens if someone breaks in?”  Randi asked as she held Brian close to her.

 

            “Let Duke handle it.  If it’s too much for Duke, go into my office and break the crystal on the side table.  That will call in a company of Knights and White Mages.  If they can’t handle it, they’ll get you and Brian to safety and then call in the big guns.”

 

            “Um…did you say, knights?” 

 

            “They’re the Knights of the Order of the Grail.  They’ve protected humanity for the last fifteen hundred years,” St. Wolf explained.

 

            “How come I never heard of them?” Randi asked.

 

            “What can I say?  We suck at public relations,” St. Wolf noted with a low chuckle.   Then he wriggled into his duster and said, “Let’s go people.  We have to patrol most of the cemeteries before midnight.”

 

            “Right, order us around, pup,” Sonja groused.

 

            “Hey!” Steve said with a grin.  “I am not a pup.  According to Xander, I’m in the old fart category.”

 

            “Compared to us, you’re a wet behind the ears pup, Steve,” Gabrielle shot back.  “So watch it, pup, or I’ll call in a favor that Aphrodite still owes me and make your love life a living hell.”

 

            Buffy smirked at the other blonde Immortal.  “Too late…we already know her.  And she likes us as a couple.”

 

            Gabrielle glared at the young woman in front of her, shook her head in disgust, and stormed out the door, followed closely by a grinning couple and a bemused Sonja.

 

****

           

“What do you want to watch on the TV, Randi?”  Brian asked as he turned on the television and used its remote to channel surf. 

 

            “Anything you want, Brian,” Randi said as the strange dog that St. Wolf called Duke snuggled against the boy’s side as they both sat on the couch.  Then her eyes scanned around the well-appointed yet comfortable fixtures and furniture in the house where she was now living.  “It’s nice…but so different from our house,” she murmured under her breath. 

 

            “What was that, Randi?” Brian asked absentmindedly then his attention was captured by what had just appeared on the TV screen.  “Hey Randi!  Drew Carey’s on!”  

 

            “You go ahead and watch, Bri.  I’m going out for a walk.”  Randi said softly as she crossed from the couch over to one of the hidden cabinets and drew out a sword and a gun.

 

            “Are you sure, Randi?”

 

            She nearly jumped out of her skin when he surprised her with his voice.  She turned and found him right behind her, causing her to marvel at his stealth. “Yeah, I’m sure, Bri,” Randi said with a smile.  “Don’t worry about me, baby brother.  I’m Immortal; I can’t die.”

 

            “Just be careful, sis,” Brian muttered as he hugged her.

 

            “I will, Brian,” Randi said.  Then she walked out the side door.

 

****

 

            “Can you go after her?”  Brian asked Duke.  Duke barked once and Brian sighed.  “One means no?”  Duke barked twice and Brian grinned.  “You are a smart one, aren’t you?”  Duke barked twice again and Brian turned back to the TV.  “I hope Randi knows what she’s doing.”

 

            // So do I, Brian. // Duke thought. // Steve! //

 

****

 

            < What is it, Duke? > Steve asked as he stopped dead in his tracks, causing Gabrielle to bump into him and bounce back.  Then she quickly turned around and began to guard Steve’s rear.

 

            // Randi left with a sword and a gun.   She’s headed toward Weatherly Park.  //

 

            < Where’s Brian? > 

 

            // Watching TV with me. //

 

            < Keep an eye on him and call me if he tries to leave. >

 

            // Will do. // Duke said as St. Wolf growled.

 

            “Of all of the dumb ass things to do,” Steve muttered as he drew his cell phone from the clip on his belt.

 

            “What’s wrong, Steve?”  Gabrielle asked as she scanned the area with her intense blue eyes.

 

            “Randi may be in danger,” he said and dialed a number on the phone. 

 

St. Wolf’s call was immediately answered.  “It’s my night off.”

 

            “Randi just left my home with a sword and a gun.  Apparently, she’s gone ‘Wild Bunch’ and you’re the closest.”

 

            “Exactly why is that my problem?”

 

            St. Wolf sighed.  “Look, just get moving.  She’s headed to Weatherly Park; I don’t want her to get hurt.”

 

            “All right, but you owe me, bro,” the man said before he disconnected the line.

 

            When he clipped the cell phone back onto his belt, Sonja asked him, “How did you know about Randi?”

 

            “Duke told me,” St. Wolf said simply.  Then he led his team toward Weatherly Park.

 

*****

 

July 15th 22:20

Weatherly Park, Sunnydale, Ca

 

            Randi crept down the path that led to the center of the sprawling park with her hand resting on the butt of her gun.  She gulped when she heard a noise off to her side.  She stopped, stared around, but saw nothing.  She sighed with relief and started to walk away when she felt a pain inside her head that made it seem like it was going to split open. < Oh God!  Steve!  How did he find out that I’d left the house?  He must have called the house and Brian told him.  > Randi stared around like a small child with her hand caught in the cookie jar.  Then she spied a shape move out of the shadows of a nearby grove of trees.  Randi breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that it wasn’t anyone she knew.  The man, a young Hispanic male, stood a shade over six feet tall.  He had dark curly hair and a dark, olive skin.  When he entered the light cast by a nearby street light, Randi smiled winningly at him.  Then her good humor evaporated when he exposed his glowing sword and growled, “I am Hector Vasquez Ramos of Castile.  Name yourself and prepare to die.”

           

At that, Randi backed nervously away.  “Uhmm, ahhh, I’m Randi Jessup of Los Angeles.”

 

            “Draw your sword, woman!” Hector ordered.  “I challenge you to a duel.”

 

            “But…why?  I haven’t done anything to you!  Why do you want to fight me?” 

 

            “Why?” he asked.  He seemed puzzled.  “How long have you been an Immortal?” 

 

            “About four days.” 

 

            “Do you have a teacher?”

 

            “Yes.”

 

            “Then he’s a fool to let you walk around by yourself,” Hector observed coldly.  “First, I’ll have some fun with you then I’ll take your head, little one.  Then I’ll take your teacher’s head as well.”

 

            “Not in this lifetime, asshole,” a harsh voice called from the darkness.  Suddenly Hector froze as a large, African American man stepped out of the darkness with a gun in one hand and a wooden knife in the other.  Randi gulped when she noticed his six foot, six inch height.  Then her eyes widened when she saw the ridges on the man’s forehead. < Ohmigod!  He’s a vampire! >

 

            When Hector saw the ridges on the man’s face, he gasped.  “Dear God in Heaven, what are you!?” 

 

            “Name’s Charles,” he said simply then squeezed his trigger finger and fired a silenced bullet that killed Hector on the spot.  As the other man lay dead at his feet, Charles shook his head and sighed.  “What a waste—another idiot involved in the ‘Game’.”  He turned back to Randi, ready to escort her home when he saw that she had him covered with her own gun.  “That’s not necessary, Miss Jessup.”

 

            “H-how do you know my name?”  Randi stammered as her hand began to tremble.  Accidentally, her gun went off as a major ‘Buzz’ struck her.   Luckily for Charles, the bullet missed him and he raced in to tear the gun away from the distracted girl. 

 

Apparently frightened out of her mind, Randi turned to flee but froze when she found St. Wolf, Buffy, Gabrielle and Sonja standing behind her.  Sonja and Gabrielle moved toward Charles, swords ready, but St. Wolf held up his hand.  Both women halted and expected him to take out the vampire.  Instead, St. Wolf peered at Randi and began to dress her down.

 

            “Care to explain what in the hell you’re up to!?” he demanded as Randi cringed under his glare.  “You do realize that you could have been killed by someone or something just by walking out here!?  And I don’t mean temporarily, either!”  Randi gulped as she wilted under his angry glare.  “I don’t know how much clearer I could have made it but when I tell you to stay inside for your own good, I mean it!!”

 

            “But they killed my parents!” Randi angrily retorted.  “Don’t Brian and I deserve some justice?”

 

            “Of course you do.  But leaving Brian to fend for himself is not the way!  “How could you be so inconsiderate that you left your twelve year old brother alone, in a house, with only a dog to keep him out of trouble?  What would Brian do if I came home and told him that you were dead!?” he shouted and caused her to flinch.  “NO kid deserves to have so much ripped away from him in such a short time!”

 

            “I want revenge!” Randi snapped.

 

            St. Wolf sighed and shook his head.  He fixed Randi with a glare that could’ve melted the armor from a battle tank.  “If you want to continue as my student, you’ll never mention that word to me again!”

 

            “That’s easy for you to say!” she spat.  “You and Buffy are out here every night killing those things, so why can’t I?  Don’t you understand, you bastard, I want to kill them!  For my parents, for the pain they caused Brian, for the pain they caused me—I want to see them all die!” 

 

The anger ran away from St. Wolf’s face to be replaced by a look of compassion and understanding.  However, before he could respond, he was interrupted by the sudden ‘Buzz’ that filled all of the Immortals’ heads.

 

*****

 

            When the young woman stood up to St. Wolf, Charlie grinned. < Little girl’s got guts, a lot like that Buffy girl.  But he’s right.  Vengeance can get you killed out here. >

 

*****

 

            When the vampire leaned against a tree, a confused Sonja wondered, “Who in the hell is the vamp and why does he still exist?”

 

            “There’s more here than meets the eye, Sonja.”  Gabrielle muttered softly.  “Buffy hasn’t tried to slay him and he’s not frightened of her.  I’ve never seen a vampire this sure of himself around a Slayer.”

 

            “Never mind that, who’s the stiff?” Sonja asked as the body jerked back to life.  “Oh, hell…” Sonja muttered as the man rose from the ground with his sword in hand.

 

            “I’m going to kill you, you piece of shit!” Hector screamed out to Charlie.  Charlie regarded St. Wolf with his eyebrow cocked wryly and when the Immortal gave him a nod, he snapped off another shot at the angry Immortal.  Hector’s face registered his shock and surprise as Charlie’s bullet struck him in the chest then he collapsed to the ground, dead again as Steve responded to Randi’s diatribe.

 

*****

 

            “Okay…by the numbers, tell me what in the hell happened here.”

 

            “I was looking for vampires when this guy came out of the woods.  When I felt the ‘Buzz,’ I thought it was you.  Then, the next thing I knew, he challenged me to a duel.”

 

            “What did you tell him?”

 

            “That I didn’t know how to use a sword,” Randi said softly.  “I told him that I only became an Immortal four days ago.  He asked if I had a teacher and when I said yes, he said you were stupid to let me go out alone at night.”

 

            “What else?” St. Wolf asked with a sigh.

 

            “He said he was going to rape me then kill me.  And he said that he was going to kill you next.”

 

            St. Wolf shot a look at Charlie and the vampire nodded, confirming Randi’s story.  Then he strode over to the dead Immortal’s body, took away his gun and left him with his sword. 

 

Before long, the Immortal revived with a curse on his lips.  “You are dead!” he growled at Charlie.  “You are FUCKING DEAD!!”

 

            “Too late, asshole, I’m already dead,” Charles observed with a low chuckle.  Hector glared and reached for his gun.  When he found his firearm was missing, he glanced around and finally recognized the powerful presences nearby.

 

            “Holy fuck…who in the hell are you!?”

 

            “Methos,” St. Wolf said lowly.

 

            Hector stared at St. Wolf like a viper.  “No, you’re not,” Hector said.  “For one thing, you wouldn’t advertise the fact.  Second, Methos is supposed to be over five thousand years old.  You don’t live to be that old by being a guy willing to take in a newbie.  Only idiots like the MacLeods or their types would do that.  And none of those fools live to be more than a thousand.”

 

            “That’s some reasoning, old son.  So, who was your teacher?  Sherlock Holmes?”

 

            “As a matter of fact, he was,” Hector said easily.  “After he taught me everything he knew, I tried to take his head.”

 

            “You’re not a very nice person, are you?” Gabrielle observed.

 

            Hector stared at the four female Immortals and grinned lecherously.  “Oh…yeah…I’m going to enjoy this town.  After I kill you, I’m going to take your girlfriends out, one by one.”

 

            “And what makes you think you’ll survive facing me?” 

 

            “This,” Hector said simply as he drew out a glowing blade.  “This sword is magical.  It’ll beat any blade forged by a normal sword-smith.  So, c’mon, big man!  Why don’t you show these ladies how a real hero buys the farm!

 

            “Do we do this properly or do we just get down to business?”  St. Wolf asked through gritted teeth. 

 

            “Oh yeah, we’ll do this right,” Hector said.  “I am Hector Vasquez Ramos of Castile.  Who do I face?”

 

             “I am Steven St. Wolf, former student of Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod and Darius.”  Hector snorted but it turned into a choke when Demon Slayer appeared from thin air, its blade aglow with a pale blue glow.

 

            “Holy fuck!  What in the hell is that thing?”

 

            Steve ignored the other man and continued his introduction.  “I hold the rank of Knight Lieutenant in the Order of the Grail.”  Hector gulped in shock, but stood firm.  “Champion to the Order’s Patron, Merlin of Camelot and his wife, Lady Niume.  Bearer of Hercules’ bracers, the Fangs of Tyr, and the Sword of Destiny known as Demon Slayer.” 

 

            “A Sword of Destiny!?  Oh Fuck!  I choose the wrong place to hunt,” Hector muttered. < I thought those blades were only a legend!  What the fuck am I supposed to do against one of those? >

 

            “Oh, honey!” Buffy announced.  Hector then faced the young girl and saw the broad smile on her face.  “Don’t forget the rest.”

 

            “There’s more!?”

 

            “Not much—just a few small things.”

 

            “Like what?” Hector asked.

 

             “Let’s see....I’m a former Green Beret and Medal of Honor nominee.  I’m also allied with the Priest Warriors of the C'est Dei, the Sons of Asgard, High Priests and Priestesses of Wicca, several of Oberon’s Children and Oberon himself and the Council of Dragons.”

 

            “Oh, shit!” Hector said.  “You can’t be him. He’s only a freaking legend!”

 

            “Who am I?” St. Wolf asked.

 

            “You’re the Wanderer,” Hector said in a low voice.  At that moment, he realized that this wasn’t going to be as easy as he’d thought now that he knew that he faced a man who was considered one of the four most likely to win the ‘Game’.

 

            “Yeah, that’s what some people call me.”

 

            “I want to know something.”

 

            St. Wolf shot a puzzled look at the Spaniard.  “What?”

 

            “Why don’t you play the ‘Game’?  With Demon Slayer you could win without much difficulty.”

 

            “The ‘Game’?”  St. Wolf spat.  “The Game is the death of our kind!  I have better things to do than murder my fellow Immortals.”

 

            “Is that why you’ve only killed a single Immortal and never killed anyone as part of the ‘Game’?”

 

            “How did you know that?”

 

            “I took it from my Watcher.  Poor bastard didn’t last long after I got started on him.”

 

            “You are some piece of work, Hector.”

 

            “What about you, Amigo?” Hector drawled as he stalled for time.  “You got four Immortal women at your beck and call.  All I want to know is how long you intend to keep ‘em around before you take their heads and get a new harem?”

 

            “Well, that’s not going to be any concern of yours in a few moments, Hector.”  St. Wolf quipped as he watched Hector closely.  “Before you die, care to tell me where you found that sword?”

 

            “A guy in a black robe gave it to me.  I can’t believe he parted with a magical sword for nothing.”

 

            “A guy in a black robe simply gave you a magical sword, eh?  And why did you happen to come here?”

 

            “I just go where the wind takes me.” 

 

            “So, you just came here, because you felt like it?”

 

            “Si.” 

 

            “You’re an idiot.  That sword is controlling you and you don’t even realize it.”

 

            “If that’s true then I don’t care,” Hector said with a maniacal gleam in his eyes.  “And I’ve enjoyed my latest hunt.  I’m up eight heads this trip and you and your girlfriends will make the trip from Utah worth it when I take you all and rack up my count.”

 

            “Then you die tonight,” Steve said simply as he moved forward to attack. 

 

            “Halt!” 

 

At Sonja’s command, both men immediately discontinued their attacks and stepped away from each other.  Then Hector eyed Sonja as she strode toward him.  “I want to know something,” she said.

 

            “Yeah?” 

 

            “I tried to call a friend of mine this morning.  She lives north of here in Iron Springs, Utah.  Know anything about her?”

 

            “Bitch lived on Hidden Lane?” Hector asked with a sick and twisted grin on his face.  “Yeah, I did her in more ways than one.”

 

            Sonja growled so loud that Buffy and Randi nearly jumped out of their skins.  “Stand back, St. Wolf!  This bastard is mine!”

 

            “Are you sure, Sonja?” he asked then immediately closed his mouth when he saw the fire in her eyes. 

 

            Then Sonja turned to face Hector with her sword still in its scabbard on her back and said, “Prepare to die, pup!  Gabrielle and I raised Heather from a small child.  Her death shall be avenged.”

 

            “No wonder the bitch was a dyke,” Hector brayed. “She was raised by a pair of fucking lesbians!  Don’t worry, bitch.  I made a woman out of her and her girlfriend right before I killed them.”

 

            Gabrielle then spoke in a quiet and deadly voice that was deeply disturbing to St. Wolf, Buffy, Randi, Charlie, and particularly to Sonja.  “Sonja, you’ve got two minutes to kill him.  After that, I’ll invoke the Amazon Rite of Vengeance.”           

 

At that, a frantic Sonja glanced at Gabrielle.  The Rite of Vengeance!  Beads of perspiration broke out on Sonja’s brow.  Then she shook her head angrily.  “Ain’t gonna happen,” she said under her breath.  There was no way she was ever going to let Gabrielle torture this man to find all the people he ever cared about so Gabrielle could hunt them down and kill them.  It would destroy Gabrielle’s soul and Sonja would never allow that to come to pass.  So…

 

She regarded Hector with cold, cruel eyes.  “It’s time to die, you bastard,” Sonja said as St. Wolf offered Demon Slayer to her.  Confused, Sonja examined the blade and raised her eyebrow questioningly at the Wanderer.

 

            “His blade’s cursed,” St. Wolf said.  “Your blade will be destroyed if you take him on with it.”

 

            “Son of a bitch!” she snapped.  “So, you had to cheat to defeat your victims?  You’re nothing but scum!”  Suddenly, she tossed Demon Slayer back to St. Wolf without looking and glared at Hector.  “Thanks, but no thanks, St. Wolf,” she said, “I don’t need a crutch.  I’ve never used magic to win my battles and I’m not about to start now.”  Then she said to her opponent, “Since you like doing this all nice and proper, asshole, you can call me Sonja.”

 

            “That’s it?  Sonja?”

 

            “Oh please let me!”  Buffy cried out and Hector stared at the girl and began to salivate at the prospect of having her nubile, young body. 

 

            “Go ahead, Buffy, knock yourself out.”

 

            “All right, asshole,” Buffy drawled.  “You’re facing the woman that men have called the Red Vengeance, the Hyperborean Terror, the Shield Maiden of Crom, and the Bringer of Death in a Stainless Steel Bikini.  Oh, and, you should also know that she’s SO bad, Conan the Barbarian was HER Boy Toy.  May I introduce the one, the only, Red Sonja!

 

            Hector stared dumbly at the tall red head.  “Is she shitting me?”

 

            “Afraid not,” Sonja said with a feral look in her eyes.  “I’ve been kicking ass for over fifteen thousand years, ass-wipe.  Now, let’s party!”  And with that, the Battle Maiden of the Hykarian Steppes pounced. 

 

Hector also moved toward her, confident in his sword and its powers.  “Die, bitch!” he cried as he swung his sword at where he thought her neck would be.  Unfortunately for him, Sonja seemed to have melted away and his blade passed harmlessly over her head.  Then, before he knew it, his red headed opponent landed a crushing blow to his solar plexus with her right fist.  As he stumbled forward, she followed her first blow with a strike from her left forearm into the center of his back.  Hector nearly collapsed to the ground after two punches that rocked him as if he’d been hit by a pair of sledgehammers.  He glared at her over his shoulder while she gave him a smile absent of any warmth.  “There’s one thing you ought to know before you die, you pathetic piece of shit.”

 

“What?” he spat out.

 

“We’re bisexuals, not ‘fucking lesbians.’  I just wanted to clear that up for you so when you get to Hell, be sure to tell them who sent you!”

 

Upon hearing her taunt, Hector was so angry all he could see was red.  “Fuck you!” he screamed as he charged Sonja with his sword held high.  In response, the ancient warrior surprised nearly everyone but her lover when she whirled and jogged toward a large tree as the angered Immortal rapidly gained on her.  Then when he was only a few feet behind her, she raced forward so fast she was able to run several steps up the tree’s trunk.  Then she sprang high into the air while Hector skidded to a halt and tried to follow Sonja’s flight.  In the meantime, the Shieldmaiden of Crom drew her sword from its scabbard as she somersaulted in the air and when she alighted on the ground behind Hector, Sonja swung her sword viciously and cleaved the man’s head from his body.  As Hector’s head toppled from his severed neck, his body collapsed to the ground like a puppet without its strings.  As Sonja lowered her blade to rest alongside her right leg, a mist suddenly emerged from the body and caused St. Wolf to scream, “Charlie!!  Move it or lose it!”

 

            “You don’t have to tell me twice!” Charlie called out as he raced away from the impending Quickening.

 

*****

 

            A stunned Randi saw Sonja stand her ground in the middle of a miniature lightning storm.  She witnessed the older, red headed woman shudder uncontrollably as bolts of electricity struck Sonja’s body.  Unable to watch helplessly any more, Randi started toward Sonja.  However, both Buffy and Gabrielle were easily able to hold her back. 

“Why don’t you help her?” a frustrated Randi cried.

 

            “She doesn’t need our help,” Buffy yelled.

 

            “What’s happening to her?” 

 

            “That’s a Quickening.  That’s what happens when an Immortal takes the head of another Immortal,” Gabrielle explained.  “Sonja is absorbing his memories and the memories of the people that he killed and the people that they killed as well.”

 

            “How can someone take in all of those memories?” an awestruck Randi whispered.

 

            “Immortal brains work differently than mortal ones.  We compartmentalize the memories and they just coexist with our preexisting memories.”

 

            Moments later, after the Quickening slowly faded away, St. Wolf and Gabrielle ran over to a now semi-comatose Sonja and helped her to her feet.

 

            “Let’s get out of here,” St. Wolf said as he picked up Hector’s blade with a silk handkerchief. 

 

            “What about the body?” Buffy asked.

 

            “It’ll be taken care of,” St. Wolf said as he escorted his charges away.

 

*****

 

            Phillip Jackson continued to spy on the sextet from the bushes as St. Wolf and his charges fled the scene. < So the stories are true!  The world’s oldest Immortal is staying with St. Wolf. > He shuddered when he recalled hearing the woman’s words. < Fifteen thousand years!  How in the hell could she retain her sanity after all that time?  And she’s the REAL Red Sonja from the Conan books.  Oh God!  What in the hell have we walked into? > When he was certain they had gone, he left the relative safety of the foliage, crossed over to the dead man, stared down at the body, drew the cell phone from his pocket, and dialed.  “This is Phillip.  Ramos is dead.”

 

            “Who killed him?  St. Wolf?”

 

            “No.  Red Sonja of Hyperborea.” 

 

            There was dead silence on the line for a moment.   “Please tell me you’re joking.” 

 

            “No, Mike, I’m not.  She actually admitted to being over fifteen thousand years old.  You do know what this means?”

 

            “Methos isn’t the oldest Immortal.  Phil, if she’s telling the truth then who in the hell trained her?”

 

            “We may never know.”  Phillip said as he scanned the surrounding area for intruders.  “How soon before that cleanup crew gets here?”

 

            “They should be pulling up right about now,” Mike said.  Then, almost as if it had been due to magic, a hearse pulled up next to the two Watchers.

 

            “They made it.”  Phillip said in relief as two other Watchers get out of the car and pick up Ramos’ body.  One of the men scanned the area and asked, “Where’s the sword?”

 

            “St. Wolf took it.  Said it was cursed.  I wasn’t going to argue about it.”

 

            “Right,” the other Watcher said wryly.  Then they both climbed into the passenger compartment of the hearse.

 

*****

 

July 15th 23:10

Home of St. Wolf, Sunnydale, CA

 

            Brian watched as St. Wolf, Buffy, Randi, Sonya, Gabrielle and a large African American man entered the house.  < Who’s this guy? > Brian wondered as the black man entered the living room.

 

*****

 

            St. Wolf tossed the sword into a convenient umbrella stand and turned toward Randi, intent on continuing their ‘little talk.’  However, Gabrielle motioned for him to be silent.  “Please…it’s my turn now.”  He shrugged and stepped back as Gabrielle got into Randi’s face, literally.  “You childish ingrate!  How in the hell could you do something that stupid!  Were you born under a rock without the brains that the Gods gave to an ant!?”  Randi stood dumbstruck as Gabrielle continued dressing her down.  “You do realize that if someone dies tonight, it’s your fault!?”  Randi shook her head in denial as Gabrielle continued to press.  “Yes, ‘Little-Miss-I-Want-Revenge,’ it’ll be all because of you!  Understand this, you little idiot; you screwed up our patrol because we had to drag your candy ass out of the fire tonight!  Do you realize that we would have patrolled all of the trouble spots in town in the time it took for us to save your sorry, cheerleader ass!?”  Randi began to quiver as Gabrielle relentlessly pressed on.  “Well, what do you know?  It finally seems the truth has sunk into your pea-brain, eh, princess?  Now do you see we may have left behind innocents to die because we had to act to save your bony ass!  Now get this through your thick skull:  WE CARE ABOUT YOU!!!”  Randi gaped at the blonde woman as Gabrielle angrily whirled away from her.  “Steve!  Buffy!  We’re going back out on patrol!”  Then Gabrielle turned back to Randi and said in a low, threatening voice, “If you leave this house after we go, I swear to the gods, I’ll take your sorry little head myself!  Do you understand!?”

 

            “Yes, ma’am!” Randi answered immediately. 

 

Gabrielle nodded once and turned toward the door.  Then she noticed Charlie standing there, quietly watching her.  “You!”  Gabrielle barked, causing Charlie to snap to attention.  “How did you get into this house without being invited?”

 

            “I work for Steve and Buffy,” Charlie said.

 

            “You work for them!?” Gabrielle shouted as she turned to St. Wolf.  “Why in the hell do you have a vampire working for you!?”

 

            “Before you stake Charlie, Gabrielle, I think you should know that he has his soul and has never killed an innocent.”

 

            “So he’s never harmed a human being?” Randi asked.

 

            “No.  I’ve never killed an innocent,” Charlie said.  “When I was in the Marines, I killed a lot of people doing my duty.”

 

            Gabrielle glared at Randi for interrupting her and the girl immediately snapped her mouth shut.  “Let’s go, St. Wolf.  I want a long, hot soak after we finish patrol.”

 

            “All right, but Sonja should remain here, Gabrielle.  She’s not one hundred percent after absorbing such a massive Quickening.”

 

            “Like hell I will!” Sonja angrily retorted, but Gabrielle held up her hand.  Sonja then pouted at her lover.  “But, Gabby!  I can’t just sit here with Heather’s memories haunting me!”

 

            Gabrielle regarded her with loving eyes.  “Yes, you can, love.  Please,” the blonde begged, “I can’t risk losing you.  Please don’t ask me to be that strong, Sonja.  I-I just can’t do it.”

 

            “Oh…all right,” the red head grumbled.  “Who’ll watch your back?”

 

            “St. Wolf and Buffy will.”

 

            Sonja glared at the young Immortals.  “If anything happens to her, you’ll beg me to take your heads before I’m done with you.”

 

            Both Buffy and St. Wolf gave the red head an incredulous look for actually believing that they could possibly survive a battle with something that could defeat Gabrielle of Potaedeia.  “Right,” Buffy drawled as she playfully chanced a glimpse at her checklist, “make sure the ancient, bisexual hottie is returned to her big, red headed girlfriend safe-and-sound—check!”

 

With that, Sonja slumped onto the couch as Gabrielle took one look at her companion and smirked.  “Watch some TV, honey.  We’ll be home soon.”

 

            “You’d better bring me back something good!” Sonja shouted as the trio left.  Then she glared at Charlie, who’s still stood by the office.  “What do you want, Charles?”

 

            “I was just making sure that you and the kids will be all right before I leave.”

 

            “We’re fine,” Sonja said as she glared at Randi.  “But I know someone who’ll be experiencing a whole lot of pain in the morning.”  Randi gulped and tried to make herself a whole lot smaller as she curled up in the large easy chair.  Then Sonja turned back to Charlie and asked, “So, how do you like being their spy?”

 

            “It’s a job,” Charlie observed with a shrug before he sat down across from Sonja, near Randi.  As the young blonde shrinks away from him, Charlie sighed.  “Miss Jessup, I’m getting a little tired of your attitude.  Look…I’ve never killed an innocent human being, only vampires.”

 

            “You kill vampires?”

 

            “As many as I can.  If there’re too many of them, I call Steve, Buffy and the rest and they help me take out the nest.”

 

            “What about your family?”  Sonja asked, as she noticed the wedding band on Charlie’s hand.

 

            “My wife knows what happened to me and we’re still together.  Debra’s a good woman.  I’m lucky to have her.”

 

            “How did you become a vampire?” Brian asked. 

 

            “Well, it all started several months ago.  I was working the late shift at the mall and...”

 

*****

 

May 10th 01:20 PST

Sunnydale Mall, Rear Parking Lot

 

            Charles Henderson wearily marched to his car while he shook his head in disgust. < I can’t believe I have to take a second job to help pay for Mike’s braces!  Why in the hell can’t Provincial give me dental insurance with my benefits?  Maybe I should have stayed in the Marines?  At least then, the braces would have been covered under my medical plan.  >  He sighed again, stared up at the half moon and wondered softly, “Will I ever make enough to give my family a good life?”  He shook his head resignedly and drew his car keys from his pocket. Then, as he tried to unlock his car, an arm wrapped around his throat.  Rapidly recovering from the unexpected attack, Charlie lunged forward and flipped his opponent over his back.  His attacker landed on the ground hard; however he rose quickly.  Then Charles cringed as the man’s face contorted into the form of a living nightmare.  “My God!  What are you!?”

 

            “Your death, meat!” the thing exclaimed.  Then it rushed Charlie faster than was humanly possible, grabbed him by the neck and began to choke him.  Charlie tried to struggle but he realized he fought a losing battle.  Then the monster bent his head back and bit down on his neck.  Charlie felt the life drain from him and he reacted instinctively when he bit into the hand that had covered his mouth.  He tasted blood as he began to slip away.  Then he felt his legs buckle as the thing discarded his limp form to fall on the ground.  The last thing he saw was an ethereal blue blade thrust out of the thing’s chest with a light that seemed so beautiful…

 

*****

 

May 10th 08:15 PST

St. Wolf’s Home, Sunnydale, CA

 

            Willow Rosenberg glanced up from her book when she heard the rattle of the vampire’s chains and grinned.  “Naughty, naughty boy,” she murmured. “I bet you want to kill us!” Then she smiled knowingly when it tried to snap the chains but failed.  At that moment, everyone else in the room, her “weird sisters,” Jenny Calendar and Amy Madison, along with her best friend Buffy and their new friend and sometimes team leader, Steven St. Wolf awakened to find the vampire straining against its chains.  After it ceased its struggles, Willow rose from her chair and caused it to focus on her.  Then she smiled sweetly and said in her husky, bedroom voice, “Now, now, you better be a good puppy unless you want Willow to have to punish you.”

 

            The vampire froze at Willow’s words and studied her the way a cobra watched a mongoose.  He gulped when he saw the look in her eyes but belied his fear by saying with a bit of bluster in its voice, “All right, bitch.  What do you want!?  Who do you want me to kill?”

 

            “Oh…” she purred, “I don’t know.  So little time, so many people to kill…,” Willow quipped as she sauntered over to Charlie.  “First, though, I want to play with you a little.”  Charlie watched her closely and swallowed the lump in his throat when Willow sauntered around him like a cat toying with a mouse.

 

            “Who in the hell are you, girl!?”

 

            “Why little ole me?” she asked in faux innocence.  “I’m just your friendly, neighborhood, teenaged Amazon Witch.” 

 

            “You don’t say?  Well, I’m a vampire.”

 

            “I know.”  Willow breathed.  “Why do you think you’re chained up?”

 

            “You’re into kinky sex?”

 

            “You could tell that just by looking at me?  I guess it must be my leather calf boots!” Willow teased with a winsome smile as she knelt beside Charlie’s head.  Charlie peered into the pretty red head’s bewitching eyes, while his enhanced hearing detected the rush of her blood as it flowed through her veins.  Suddenly, without warning, his hunger consumed him, forcing him to snap forward to take a bite from Willow’s proffered neck.  However, to his utter surprise, faster than the eye could follow, she smacked his head with the palm of her hand and knocked him back down to the ground.

 

            Willow, that’s enough!” a strong male voice snapped from the doorway. 

 

            “Ahh, you’re no fun,” Willow whined as she pouted prettily.

 

            “I never said I was,” St. Wolf noted as he strode toward Charlie.  “Care to talk, old son?”

 

            “I’m going to kill her first then I’m going to kill you!” Charlie screamed as his visage contorted into his ‘Game’ face. 

 

In response, St. Wolf glanced down at Charlie’s chains and laughed.  “Yeah, right.  When you get out of those chains, give me a call.”

 

            “YOU FUCKING BASTARD!!”

 

            St. Wolf shook his head then turned to address the four women in the room.  “Anyone want breakfast?”

 

            “Sure,” Willow happily chirped.  “What are you fixing?”

 

            “How does bacon and eggs, minute steak, toast, bagels, orange juice, and coffee sound?” 

 

            // You’d better make me some bacon! // Duke added in from the side of the room.

 

            < I made an extra pound.  But you’ll have to wait until the girls are done. >

 

            // I can wait.  Just make sure that Buffy isn’t a chow hound and eats it all! //

 

            < I can’t make any promises, boy.  You know how her Slayer metabolism is, > Steve said with a mental chuckle as he watched Buffy’s behind sway from side-to-side as she climbed the stairs in front of him. < Damn, but she looks mighty fine from here! > 

 

*****

 

            Duke grinned wickedly as he beamed to Buffy’s guardian, // Hey, Sarah!!  Steve’s ogling Buffy’s butt! //

 

            // Oh really? // Sarah said with a snicker of laughter from her position on the couch. // Hey Buffy! //

 

            < Is anything wrong at home, Sarah? >

 

            // No.  Everything’s fine.  Duke just told me that Steve was scoping out your butt. //

 

            < Hmm…you don’t say? > Buffy asked slyly.  Then she turned and glared at Steve.  “Enjoy the show, Demon Hunter-boy?”

 

            “W-what…h-how!?”  St. Wolf stammered as Buffy’s glare turned into a wanton look and her mouth twisted into a smirk just before she rushed upstairs.

 

            // Better make sure I get that bacon, or,// Duke reminded Steve, // I’ll tell Sarah a whole lot more. //

 

            < You are SO dead, > Steve growled as he walked upstairs while he tossed mental daggers Duke’s way.

*****

 

            After everyone had left, Charlie stared at the dog in the corner then grinned. <Breakfast! > He quietly called the dog over, hoping to get him close enough for a bite.  He grinned when the dog walked over and stood nearby.  < Just a little more…just a little bit more. > “Nice doggie…come here and let me lick your face.” 

 

            // Ye gods.  Is this guy desperate or what? //

 

            < All new vampires are starving when they wake up, > Steve told Duke. < That’s the main reason they go after their families, easy prey. >

 

            // Can I? //

 

            < Go ahead. >

 

            // Cool, // Duke said as he eased forward.  Charlie continued to watch the dog, waiting for his chance.  Just as Duke got within biting distance, Charlie tensed and prepared to snap forward.  However, just before he could move, the dog’s body shimmered and in its place stood a huge wolf.  Charlie, mouth wide open, stared at the wolf for several beats then screamed.

 

            < We can hear him up here, > Steve said to Duke. 

 

            // I certainly hope so, // Duke said with a laugh as he padded away. // I wish Patches was here, he’d be laughing his tail off. //

 

            The demon inside Charlie’s body was relieved when the huge wolf strutted away and changed back into the form of a German Shepard pup.  “WHERE IN THE HELL AM I?”  Charlie screamed out to the empty room.

 

            A short while later, five people entered the room and surrounded him.  He watched them all closely and searched his memories but came up empty.  “What do you want with me!?  I have rights!”

 

            Steve smiled coldly.  “Really?  Somehow, I don’t think Congress made undead Americans a protected class under the Civil Rights Act.”

 

            “Who are you people?”

 

            “For the moment, we’re your enemy,” Steve said as three of the young women began to draw a circle around him.  When they completed the circle, they arranged various items around him: an old, leather bound book, a glass orb and some herbs.  After the items were placed to the satisfaction of the eldest woman, the three spread out and began to chant.

 

            “Charles Henderson, we curse thee,” the witches intoned. “We curse thee with thy soul, for now and all time, never to be undone, never to be apart, mind, body or soul. Thy soul is bonded to thy body, until such time as thy body is commended to the Earth, at which time thy soul is commended to thy Patron, be it God or Goddess, so that thou shalt be judged by thine own actions, and no other. This is our curse upon thee, now and forever more.”

 

            The orb in Jenny’s hands pulsed then a glow surrounded Charlie for a few seconds before it faded away.  Suddenly, Charlie’s body went limp.  “Is that it?”  Steve asked.

 

            “That’s it,” Jenny announced as she sat down on a nearby couch.  Then Willow and Amy both sat down on either side of Jenny.

 

            “Do you three need anything—coffee, juice?” Buffy asked.

 

            “No thanks, Buffy,” Willow said as she watched Charlie.  “What will he do when he wakes up?”

 

            “I don’t know,” St. Wolf said as Charlie awoke with a scream.  His eyes bulged out as he began to hyperventilate.  Then he stared wildly around him and saw a large man standing next to a petite, pretty little blonde and three girls resting on a couch.  Then his breathing began to slow as he broke out in a sweat. 

 

            “Where am I!?” Charles demanded.  “Who are you people!?”

 

            Steve shot a questioning look at Jenny who nodded her answer.  Then he bent down and began to unchain Charlie.  “Let’s get you out of these chains, Mr. Henderson, and I’ll explain everything.”

 

            “What happened to the freak who tried to kill me?”

 

            “He’s dead and gone,” Buffy answered as she held a glowing blue sword ready.

 

            Charlie stared at her weapon and the determined look on the young woman’s face and gulped.  He glanced at the three other women and saw their hands were aglow with an eerie golden light.  Memories of long nights playing Dungeons and Dragons haunted him just then and he realized what he actually faced.  “Oh Fuck!  I’m in the Twilight Zone.”

 

            “Sorry, old son, but no.”   

 

            “You didn’t answer my question!  Who are you people!?”

 

            “We keep this town safe from certain monsters who think human beings are on the dinner menu,” the tall man said.

 

            “Like, like the thing that attacked me?”

 

            “Yeah, like ‘the thing’ that attacked you.  Now we have a problem.”

 

            “What sort of problem?”

 

            “Did you drink any of that thing’s blood?”

 

            Charlie’s forehead scrunched up in thought.  “Yes, I bit its hand and drew blood.  Oh my God!  Did it have rabies?  Or, maybe AIDS!?” 

 

            “I’m afraid that those diseases are the least of your concerns, Mr. Henderson.”  Then the man turned to the women with the mystical glow about them.  “Any of you have a compact?”  A petite blonde, slightly taller than the one who held the sword, dug into her pocket and handed the man a small case.  He then handed it to Charlie.  “Open it, look into the mirror and tell me what you see.”

 

            Charlie took the compact and opened it.  He stared into the mirror and was unable to see his reflection.  “Dear God in Heaven…what has happened to me!?”

 

            “Touch your throat and feel for a pulse,” the other man quietly directed.  Charlie did as he’s told and froze when he felt the coldness of his skin and the absence of a pulse.

 

            “What happened to me?” Charlie hoarsely asked.

 

            “A vampire attacked and killed you.  You drank some of its blood and became a vampire in turn.”

 

            Charlie stared at Steve as if he were insane.  “Please tell me you’re joking,” Charlie begged.  However, no one was laughing.  Dejected, he turned back to Steve.  “What did you people do to me!?”

 

             “We need to talk about what you’re going to do with your life now, such as it is.”

 

            “Such as it is!” Charlie growled as he glared at the man.  “What the fuck are you talking about!?”

 

            “You’re a vampire now, Mr. Henderson.  We’ll have to explain to you what that means,” he said softly as he bent over to help Charlie up.  Charlie grabbed his hand and inadvertently pulled the man off balance.  Then in an attempt to keep the large man from falling on top of him, Charlie threw the man into the wall, hard.  The man crashed with a sickening thud and Charlie winced as the man’s body left a blood trail as it slid down the wall to slump on the floor.  

 

            “Oh, God, what have I done?” 

 

            “You’ve just signed your death warrant!” a harsh voice said from the side.  Charlie turned and saw the enmity on the face of the pretty little blonde with the sword.  He gulped and raised his hands to ward her off.  The girl then whirled to address her three companions.  “I thought you gave him back his soul!?”

 

            “We did,” a raven-haired beauty said.  “But that won’t stop us from taking him out.”

 

            Charlie knew he didn’t like the sound of that.  “Please!  I didn’t mean to do it!  I don’t know my own strength.”

 

            “Don’t kill him!” the man directed from his position on the floor.  The three magical women stopped and glared at Charlie while the blonde with the sword moved to help the man up.   Charlie stared dumbly as the man shook off the massive head wound and turned to him.  Then Charlie saw the bits of scalp and massive quantities of blood on the wall and shuddered.

 

            “No one could survive that impact!  What are you!?”

 

            The man grimaced and shook his head.  Charlie saw the miniature lightning bolts flow across the man’s back and side of his head.  Then the man smiled at him.  “I’m an Immortal, Mr. Henderson.  Immortals are warriors chosen by the gods to live the early part of our lives as normal human beings.  When we die violently the first time, we become Immortals.”

 

            “What are you going to do with me?”

 

            “I want to offer you a job, but if you refuse, I’ll understand.”

 

            “What sort of job?”

 

            “Have you ever heard of Sun Tzu?”

 

            “You’re not by any chance talking about chapter thirteen?” Charlie asked.

 

            “Yep,” the man said then cleaned himself with a damp towel that the sword-bearing blonde had given him.  At the sight of both men’s grins, she glared at them and huffed.

 

            Suddenly, Charlie’s stomach rumbled at the sight of the blood and his fangs extended while he morphed into his Game face.  The man saw this and quietly whispered, “Please forgive me, Mr. Henderson.  I forgot that you’ll need some blood for nourishment.”  The man then glanced at the willowy blonde girl standing next to the dark woman and the little red headed girl.  “Amy, go to the refrigerator and get those two one quart tubs out of it.”

 

            “Steve, the blood should be heated,” the other blonde said as she moved toward the stairs.

 

            “Go with her and warm it correctly.”  She nodded and left with the other blonde.  Then Steve turned back to Charlie and said, “While they’re gone, I’ll go over what I want you to do for me.”

 

            Charlie chuckled.  “I already figured out what you want.”

 

            Steve grinned.  “Special Forces?”

 

            “Worse,” Charlie said with a wolfish grin.  “Marine Force Recon.  You?”

 

            “Special Forces.”

 

            “Anyone I’ve have heard of?” Charlie asked.

 

            “They called me Cherokee.  But these days I go by the name, the Wanderer.”

 

            “Fuck!” Charlie hoarsely whispered, recalling stories of two of the most infamous Special Forces operatives.

 

            Willow turned to Jenny and chuckled.  “It seems that Steve has quite a reputation.”

 

            When he heard the little red head say something, he glanced at her and asked, “Why the kids?”

 

            “They were fighting here for two years before I came.  I’ve been giving them proper training, backup and equipment.  I didn’t recruit them; basically, they recruited me.”

 

            “Oh,” Charlie simply said.  Moments later, the other two girls returned carrying two large containers of blood and Charlie rose to meet them.  The blonde whose hair color came from a bottle handed him the first container and Charlie’s Game face formed.  He then leaned his head back and greedily drank down the first quart of warm blood.  After he finished the first container, he took the second one and downed that as well.  When he was done, his face had returned to normal.  He turned back to Steve and asked, “You said you restored my soul to me?  Why?”

 

            “If we hadn’t, you’d be a monster.  Then you would have risen and gone after your family, probably murdering them all.  That’s what most newborn vampires do.”

 

            “My…God,” Charlie muttered at the implications.  “I could have murdered my family?”

 

            “They’re an easy first meal,” the little blonde said simply.  “You saw how hungry you were.  Most vampires are like that when they rise for the first time.  The only thing stopping you from trying to eat one of us is your soul.”

 

            Charlie stood there, stunned. < Debra, and the boys?  I would have murdered them? > Then he asked Steve, “Can I still do that?”

 

            “No.  Your soul has dominance over your body, Mr. Henderson.  It won’t allow the demon inside you to control you.”

 

            “Will it ever gain control?”

 

            “No.  The spell we used permanently bound your soul to your body.  The only way for your soul to leave is for your body to be destroyed,” the dark woman explained.

 

            “What about the hunger I felt earlier?”

 

            “You’re now able to control it,” Willow said with a smile.  “That’s why you’re not a pile of ash on the floor.”

 

            Charlie stared at the young woman and saw the certainty in her eyes.  “Kid, I don’t know who you are, but I was a Force Recon Marine, we’re not pushovers.”

 

            “I have your Force Recon Marine and raise you three Amazon Witches and a Slayer with a Sword of Destiny.  All of whom have been trained by a Green Beret and a Navy SEAL,” Willow primly countered.

 

            “What Navy SEAL?” Charlie asked.

 

            “Frank ‘Two Step’ Scully,” Steve said as Charlie turned slightly green.

 

            Charlie simply shook his head in disbelief.  “What about my wife and kids?  What will I tell them?”

 

            “I don’t know.”  Steve said truthfully.  “If you wish, I’ll bring your wife here and explain everything, but I think your kids shouldn’t know.”

 

            “She’ll never believe this,” Charlie said with conviction.

 

            “I think we can make her believe,” Steve said easily. 

 

*****

 

            “So that’s how you came to work for St. Wolf?” Sonja asked. < That man is a dangerous one.  I’m glad he doesn’t play the ‘Game’. >

 

            “Yes.  Debra learned what I was and the job that I agreed to do.  We’re still together.”

 

            “What about your kids?  Do they know?” Randi asked.

 

            “I told them I took the nightshift for more money.  It allows me to sleep during the day.  That’s all that they know.”

 

            “So, does St. Wolf pay well?” Sonja asked.

 

            “He does.  I’m not complaining about the pay or the benefits that he got for me,” Charlie said with a smile as he rose from his seat.  “If that’s all, folks, I’ll be heading home.”

 

            “Thank you for sharing your story with us, Charles,” Sonja said as she escorted him to the front door.  “Good night.”

 

            “Good night,” Charlie said as he walked into the night.

 

            Sonja watched Charlie walk down the front path onto the sidewalk.  Then she heard a young voice cry, “Eww,” turned to Randi and cocked an eyebrow at the girl. 

 

“How can Steve work with a vampire?”

 

            “That *MAN* has his soul, Randi,” Sonja testily observed.  “He may be a vampire, but he’s fighting the good fight.  Don’t you EVER forget that!

 

            “I still don’t like him,” Randi whined with a pout.  “How Steve can work with him is beyond me.” 

 

Sonja sighed and glared at the young Immortal.  “Little girl,” Sonja began softly, “your teacher may be a white warrior, but he fights in the grey that divides the light and the shadows.  Trust me, there are a hell of a lot more shades of gray than shades of white and black.”

 

            “What does that mean?” Brian asked.

 

            “Would you care to explain it to your brother?” Sonja asked.

 

            “I can’t!” Randi angrily snapped.

 

            “Why not?”

 

            “Because I don’t understand a single thing you’ve said!” Randi blurted out as she threw up her hands.  “Shadows, white, black, and grays—none of it makes any sense!”

 

            Sonja leaned back on the couch and smiled demurely.  “Then sit and listen, grasshopper.” 

 

            “Grasshopper?”

 

            “An old friend of mine named Po used to call his favorite student ‘Grasshopper’.”

 

            Randi simply sighed.  “Please, God, tell me she’s not talking like a Chinese fortune cookie.”

 

            Sonja laughed lightly and grinned.  “Sorry, kid, but I learned a long time ago that people have to be taught at their own speed.  And some people are slower than others.”

 

            “Is that an insult!?” 

 

            “No, it’s not.  It’s a statement of fact.  You fucked up tonight and we had to bail your ass out of a situation that you should have avoided.  You heard that bastard, Hector.  He’s killed dozens of Immortals; he killed Heather.  She was a fine warrior, her skills were easily the equal of Buffy’s.  Even without his magical sword, Hector would have taken your head without working up a sweat!  So, you may not like what St. Wolf and Gabrielle said, but if you’re smart and you want to live a longer life, I’d listen, if I were you.  Lives depend on this group being able to do its job well.”

 

            “And just what is this ‘job’?”

 

            “To protect humanity and prevent what happened to you and Brian from happening to another brother and sister.”

 

            “That’s what I want!” Randi yelled.

 

            “No,” Sonja said.  “You want revenge for what happened to your parents.  And you want it now.”

 

            “Don’t we deserve it?  Doesn’t Brian deserve to know that the monsters that killed our parents are gone?”

 

            “Didn’t we already destroy the vampires that killed your parents?”

 

            Randi shot a hard glare at Sonja before she lost her composure and began to sob.  Sonja then reached out, took the girl’s hand, and pulled her into a loving hug.  As Randi cried into Sonja’s shoulder, she admitted, “But I wanted to kill them!  Not Buffy and Steve and their all-mighty ‘Army of the Light!’  It should have been me!  Brian and I are alone because of those ‘things’ and our parents are gone!” Then she glanced up at Sonja with waterlogged eyes, searching for a lifeline.  “I don’t know which way to turn!”

 

            Sonja hugged Randi to herself and quietly murmured, “But you’re not alone, Randi.  I’m here, Gabrielle is here.  Steve and Buffy are also here for you as are their friends.  You and Brian are not alone.”

 

            “Why do they care so much about two people who they didn’t even know until a few days ago?” 

 

            “Because they understand what loss is, Randi.  Steve lost his wife and his former life to evil men.  Buffy and her friends have lost many of their friends because of the Darkness.  You can talk to anyone here and they’ll understand what you’re going through.  They’ll help you ease your pain and then, when you’re ready, they’ll help you to move on.”

 

            “When will I be ready to help them?” Randi asked through her tears.

 

            “When the time is right, Randi.  When the time is right,” Sonja cooed softly and lulled Randi into a sound sleep.  When Randi’s ragged breathing slowed and grew even, Sonja eased her down onto the couch.  She turned to Brian and asked, “Is there anything I can do for you, Brian?”

 

            “No.  But thanks for helping Randi.  I was worried about her.”

 

            “You’re more than welcome, Brian,” Sonja said as she stared at her watch.  “Don’t you think you should be going to bed?”

 

            Brian nodded at her, rose from his seat, and walked toward a door near the workout room.   Then Sonja smiled as Duke followed him inside. < A boy and his dog.  How normal that looks until someone threatens Brian. >

 

*****

 

July 16th 00:25

The Bronze, Sunnydale, CA

 

            Gabrielle crept through the back alley, flanked by Buffy with Steve following ten paces behind.  She spied two vampires standing in the darkness, waiting for Buffy and her. < Poor bastards...I’m going to enjoy this. > As Gabrielle reached them, the larger of the two stepped forward and grabbed her right arm.  Gabrielle gave him a faux scream as Buffy also played the rabbit and drew the smaller vampire to her.   Then, before either creature knew what hit them, both vampires flew headlong into the alley walls.  Just as the bloodsuckers managed to regain their footing, two wooden stakes penetrated their hearts and sent them on a one-way trip to oblivion.  As both women dusted themselves off, Buffy slyly remarked, “Relieving a little tension, Gabby?”

 

            “Can you blame me?  It’s been one of those days,” Gabrielle said softly.  “First finding out that Artemis has resurrected the Amazons, then seeing that Bitch after all these years, not to mention running across the man who’d murdered Heather and threatened Randi.  That was the last straw.”  Then without warning, she choked up and tears began to fall from her blue eyes.  “S-sonja and I will have to go and take care of their remains,” she stammered. “I’ll book a flight to Utah for us when we return to the house.”

 

            Buffy gave Gabrielle a look of sympathy.  “I’m so sorry about your friend.”

 

Gabrielle graced the Slayer with a watery smile.  “I know, Buffy.  Thank you.  I think you’d have liked Heather.  She was a lot like you.  At least Sonja was able to receive her Quickening.  That way, she’ll always be with us.”

 

Buffy nodded at Gabrielle.  Then a tiny smile crossed her lips.  “I think the perfect end to such a crappy day calls for some ice cream.  Then we can follow the time-honored tradition of pigging out on a half gallon of comfort food to deal with our misery!”

 

            Gabrielle’s smile grew at Buffy’s suggestion.  “Yes…that just might be what the doctor ordered.  Are we done with patrol, yet?”

 

            “We’ll just swing by Weatherly and Hammersmith Parks and then head home.”

 

            “Fine, let’s go!”   

 

“What’s nice about this route, Gabby, is that the Scoop Shop is on the way home.”

 

            “You two want some ice cream?” St. Wolf asked as they headed toward Weatherly Park.

 

            “That sounds of the good to me,” Buffy said.

 

 

*****

 

July 16th 01:10

St. Wolf’s Home, Sunnydale, CA

 

            Sonja and Randi glanced at the door as the ‘Buzz’ hit them both.  “Thank Crom, she’s home,” Sonja breathed as the front door swung open and Steve, Buffy and Gabrielle entered the house.  St. Wolf placed a large brown bag on a nearby counter then Gabrielle quickly reached inside the package and removed several items.  She stared at Sonja and held up a pair of two quart containers of ice cream and a can of whipped cream.  “I hope you’ve got some chocolate ice cream over there,” Sonja said.

 

            “Actually, it’s chocolate with black cherries,” Gabrielle noted, “the perfect food for a pity party.  Care to join us, Buffy?” 

 

At the appearance of chocolate, Buffy poured on Slayer speed and snatched one of the cartons of ice cream out of the bard’s hands.  “Race ya!” she chirped and sped toward the kitchen with Gabrielle and Sonja following closely behind. 

 

 

*****

 

July 18th 22:35 PST - 01:35 Local

Broots’ Home, Blue Cove, DE

 

            The sound of someone pounding on his door awakened Broots from his fitful sleep.  Once again, he’d fallen asleep at his computer and some of his drool had dripped onto his keyboard. Grimacing, he muttered, “I’ve got to stop doing this.”  Then he noticed the time. < Who in the hell…? > Still out of sorts, he stumbled to his baseball bat that stood ready nearby his desk, grabbed it and went to answer the door.  He stared through the peep hole and spied an agitated Sidney standing outside.  Broots quickly opened the door and said, “Sidney?  What are you doing here at one thirty in the morning?”

 

            “Get inside, Broots,” Sidney ordered as he and Angelo entered the house.  When Broots recognized Angelo, the hairs stood up on the back of his neck. 

 

            “What’s HE doing here?” Broots demanded.  “If Mr. Raines finds out that Angelo’s outside the Centre, we’re both dead!”

 

            “It’s far too late for you to concern yourself with that, Broots,” Sidney said.  “Mr. Parker has termination orders out on the both of us,” the psychiatrist indicated by gesturing to Broots and himself.  “Angelo came to my home and warned me.”

 

            “Oh God!” Broots muttered as he collapsed onto his sofa.  “Why?”

 

            “Mr. Parker wants everyone who worked closely with Miss Parker, dead.  He feels that we’re a risk to the Centre.”

 

            “Shit!”  Broots cursed as he glanced at his daughter’s room.  “What about Debbie?”

 

            “Chances are she’ll also be killed.”

 

            “But she’s just a kid!”

 

            “She was close to Miss Parker.  That’s all the reason they need.”

 

            Broots squeezed his eyes shut in frustration for several beats before he opened them to peer up into Sidney’s face.  “What are we going to do, Sidney?”

 

            “Run,” Angelo said.  “Go to where you saw Miss Parker die.  Help is there.”  Sidney and Broots both stare at Angelo as he began to sing a strange song. “Fighting Soldiers from the Sky will save us.  Fighting Soldiers from the Sky will save us.

 

            “Can these ‘soldiers’ be trusted?” Sidney asked.

 

            “Men who mean just what they say,” Angelo answered in singsong.

 

            “Will they be able to protect us from the Centre?” Broots asked.

 

            “Trained to live off nature's land.  Trained in combat, hand to hand.  Men who fight by night and day,” Angelo sang.

 

            Broots and Sidney exchanged glances and shrugged their shoulders.  Then Broots ran to wake up his daughter.

 

            He entered Debbie’s room and saw his twelve year old girl sleeping peacefully.  He sighed when he realized that her childhood was about to end.  Then he leaned over her and gently shook her shoulder.

 

            Debbie awakened groggily.  “D-dad, what’s wrong?”

 

            “Get dressed, honey.  Something’s happened and we have to leave in a hurry.”

 

            “What’s going on, Dad?”

 

            “Debbie, we’ll explain on the road,” Sidney said from the doorway.  “Pack only clothes and whatever personal things you can in one suitcase.”

 

            “What’s going on, Dr. Sidney?”

 

            “Some people want to hurt your father, Debbie.  We have to leave before they arrive.  Broots, give your daughter some privacy so she can get dressed and pack her things.”

 

            “Right, Sid,” Broots muttered then he left Debbie’s room to go and pack his own bag.

 

            Five minutes later, Debbie exited her room and found Sidney, Angelo and her Dad waiting for her in the living room.  “Are these the same people who killed Miss Parker?” Debbie asked as Sidney took her bag.

 

            “Yes,” Sidney said as he checked his watch.

 

            Then Angelo sniffed the air like a hound.  “They come.  The nasty woman is with them,” Angelo whined.

 

            “We have to go…now!” Sidney ordered as he led them from the house.

 

            Broots grabbed Debbie’s hand as they followed Sidney to a black sedan.  He placed Debbie in the back seat and climbed into the front passenger seat as Sidney moved behind the wheel.  Sidney gunned the motor and the car raced off with a squeal of rubber just as three late model sedans appeared out of the darkness.

 

            “Oh shit!  It’s a Sweeper team!”  Broots cried out as Sidney rocketed past them.  A stunned Broots watched as the speedometer climbed past a hundred miles an hour on Oak Orchard Road.  Broots turned his head as the large sedans were rapidly falling behind.  “Where in the hell did you get this car from?”

 

            “Jarod left it for me in a garage in Millsboro,” Sidney said softly.  “He thought that I might need an escape vehicle someday.”

 

            “What if the Sweepers shoot at us?” Broots nervously asked.

 

            Sidney grimaced.  “The car is armor-plated; the glass is bulletproof.”

 

            “How are we going to survive?  It’s not like we can stop at the bank and withdraw some cash.”

 

            “Jarod left fifty thousand dollars in cash in the trunk and new driver’s licenses for both of us.” < There was also a license for Miss Parker as well, > Sidney thought.

 

            “I guess Jarod thought of everything,” Broots murmured as the trees whizzed by.  When he saw a police car near the intersection of John Williams Highway and Gravel Hill Road, he’s stunned once again when it failed to give chase.  “Why aren’t the cops after us?”

 

            “This car contains a device that makes the police think we’re Federal Agents answering an emergency call.”

 

            “Yep, he did think of everything,” Broots drawled as the miles raced by.

 

*****

 

            Bridget glared at the dark colored sedan as it roared away from the Broots house.  Then she saw Doctor Green behind the wheel with the computer geek Broots sitting next to him.  “Bloody! Fucking! Hell!  That’s them!  Get them!”  Bridget yelled out to her driver.  The driver quickly executed a bootlegger’s turn and began to follow the car that had just sped past them.  Then his sedan’s powerful engine whined as it tried to catch the fleeing car.

 

            “That car is damned fast!”  The driver muttered as he pushed his engine to the limit.

 

            “Can we catch them!?” 

 

            “I’m trying.  But it doesn’t look good.”

 

            “If you lose them, you’ll answer to Raines!”  Bridget snapped. < How in the hell did the shrink know? >

 

            As they neared the fleeing car, Bridget heard a whine over her shoulder and when she glanced out the rear window she saw the flashing lights of a Delaware State Trooper right behind them.  “Oh Fuck!  Now the constables are involved.”

 

            “Should I pull over or out race him?” the driver asked.

 

            “Pull over!” Bridget angrily barked.  “We’ll catch them later.  There’s no place for them to hide from the Centre.”


Part 1 – Jamboree

(Who Knew Sunnydale was the Convention Capital of the World?)

 

Society of Watchers Meeting - July 18th 17:00 - PST

Trial of Joe Dawson

 

            Joe Dawson stood before the reconvened Council of the Society of Watchers and awaited its decision.  Then Arthur Cambridge spoke for the Council.  “Joseph Dawson, you are here on charges of Treason and Interference.  The Council’s Governing Body has met in a closed session and has made its decision.”

 

            Joe’s hands clasped around the head of his cane, and he waited for what was most likely a sentence of death as Cambridge pontificated.  “The evidence speaks for itself.  Indeed, you do not even deny the charges.  In times past the sentence for such transgressions would earn a Watcher his death.”

 

            Then Cambridge dramatically paused as the assembled Watchers grew restless amid several calls for mercy.  As they quieted down, he continued.  “So be grateful these are not those times, Dawson.  The Council votes to retain you as the head of the North American branch of the Society of Watchers.  The evidence shows you did the right thing in saving the lives of the Immortals and putting an end to the ‘Game’.”  The crowd cheered and Joe grinned.  Suddenly, Buster O’Hara and Bill Davis rushed forward and shook his hand just before more well wishers surrounded and congratulated Joe.

 

            Moments later, Cambridge slammed his gavel on his table and announced, “Please be seated.  The meeting is not over yet.  Joe, please stay where you are.  The Council has some questions for you.”

 

            “Yes?”

 

            “Since we now know what the Immortals’ purpose is, what do we do now?”

 

            “Simple.  We continue to be Watchers.  We send out copies of the tapes to every Immortal out there.  Those Immortals that choose not to fight, we continue to watch them and record their lives as we did before.”

 

            “What about those Immortals who chose to fight?” Anthony Watkins asked.

 

            “We give them whatever support we can.  For instance, Rupert Giles takes an active hand in the fight by researching the monsters for his Immortals.  Jenny Calendar is a witch who helps by using her powers.  They both have shown us the way.”

 

            “How exactly do we assist the other Immortals?”

 

            “We use our skills as historians and researchers to build a library of occult books.  When an Immortal is fighting something, their Watcher should be able to tell them about what he’s fighting and its weaknesses.  St. Wolf has promised me a steady supply of wooden and enchanted silver bullets for our people to use.  We, the Society of Watchers, will no longer be sitting ducks for things that stalk the night.”

 

            “Very well,” Cambridge said.  “We’ll immediately start collecting books on the occult and begin to amass a database for our Watchers’ and Immortals’ use.  We will also begin weapons training for any of our people who wish it.  Anything else you wish to add, Joe?”

 

            “Yes.  We’ve witnessed the horrors those things committed.  We got a taste of their evil and had to bury one hundred twenty-seven of our friends and fellow Watchers.  I want payback and by supporting the Immortals in their fight, we get the payback that’s our due.”

 

            After Joe’s stirring words, the Society of Watchers erupted into cheers.  Then Cambridge waited for the shouting to die down before he banged his gavel and a new era for the Society of Watchers had begun.

 

*****

 

LAX - July 21st 09:00 - PST

(Ten Days after Calling Out the Clan)

 

            Owen Marshall and his fellow Watchers exited the jet airliner and move toward customs.  He stared over to his superior, Mr. Quentin Travers and wondered about the report that Samuel Zabuto had recently provided to the Council of Watchers.  After they’d cleared customs, Owen asked Travers, “Where to now, sir?”

 

            “Sunnydale,” the senior Watcher said simply.

 

 

Continental Flight 101 - July 21st 08:00 - PST

Somewhere over the Rockies

 

            Mulder peered out the window of his plane as it winged its way over the Rockies.  Then, seeking his partner’s touch, he reached out and gently squeezed his soulmate’s hand.  She returned the squeeze and asked, “Mulder, Assistant Director Skinner really didn’t balk too much at your request for a two week vacation for the two of us.  You think Bill had anything to do with it?”

 

            “Of course, he did.  The Consortium loves it when we’re on vacation.  This way they know we’re not interfering with any of their dastardly deeds.”

 

            Scully grinned.  “I’ll bet Steve and Buffy will be surprised to see us again so soon.”

 

            “I know.  That’s why I didn’t bother to call them.”

 

            Scully then regarded her man with a bemused look on her face before she shook her head in silent amusement.  “You’re evil, Mulder, simply evil.”

 

 

July 21st 11:15 - PST

Apartment of Rupert Giles and Jenny Calendar

 

            Quentin Travers quietly rapped on the door to Rupert Giles’ apartment but no one appeared to be home.  He glanced at his three colleagues who stood nearby waiting for his next order.  “Shall we go to the high school library?  Perhaps he’s there.”

 

            The four men returned to their car and traveled to Sunnydale High School.  When the delegation arrived, it found the library was locked up tight.  Suddenly, a small, nasty-looking man approached and demanded, “What are you doing here?”

 

            Since it was still daylight, the four Watchers relaxed as Quentin asked, “Could you be so kind as to tell us where can we find Mr. Giles?”

 

            In response, the little man scowled at them.  “Do I look like the ‘lost and found’ to you?  Apparently, he’s not where he should be!” the man snapped then left. 

 

While the Watchers scratched their heads in confusion, a large young man, wearing a sweat suit over his muscular body, strolled toward them.  Apparently after he’d overheard Travers’ question and the little man’s snide comments, the young man said, “He went to his friend’s place on Bryant Terrace.”

 

            “Would you happen to know the address?” 

 

            “No.  But it’s the fourth house from the corner of Bryant and Garden Lane.  If you go there, I’m sure you’ll see Mr. Giles’ car parked out front.”

 

            “Thank you, young sir,” Quentin said.  Then his party turned to leave.

 

            Larry watched the four men as they walked away and particularly appreciated the young dark haired man’s tantalizing sway of his hips.

 

*****

 

            Wesley Wyndham-Pryce chanced a glance over his shoulder and noted the young American who watched him with predatory gaze.  “My God!  The way that young man is looking at me, you’d think I was a piece of beef hanging in a butcher’s shop window!”

 

            Appearing a tad annoyed, Travers glared at his young associate.  “What was that, Wyndham-Pryce?”

 

            “N-nothing, sir,” Wesley stuttered nervously.

 

*****

 

            A few minutes later, after reaching Bryant Terrace, Owen spotted Giles’ ancient Citroen and told Taylor Raleigh to park their rental car behind it.  Then the four Watchers exited their vehicle and approached the residence’s front door. 

 

*****

 

July 21st 11:25 - PST

St. Wolf’s Home

 

            A sore Willow dragged her weary body into the kitchen after barely surviving a training session with Gabrielle and Sonja.  The two Immortals had flown in the day before from Utah where they had buried both their Immortal student’s and her lover’s bodies and settled their estates.  Apparently, at least to Willow, they were still working through their issues over their loss by making life miserable for her and the rest of the New Amazons. 

 

As she grabbed the refrigerator door handle, a new twinge of pain worked its way through the muscles of her forearm.  Willow winced from it but pushed through the ache and yanked the door open.  Then, something Gabrielle had said earlier burrowed its way out of the corner of her mind. 

 

“Just like Buffy or Heather,” Gabrielle had said, “you ladies have now joined the ranks of the hunted.  Being an Amazon in the world of men makes you a target.  Many of them cannot bear the thought of a society of women who are capable of besting them.  Like an Immortal, there are those who will hunt you down for simply being who you are.  So, it’s our job to prepare you to turn those hunters into the hunted!”

 

Before Gabby’s ‘cheery little pep-talk,’ Willow mused wryly, she’d never considered there might be a downside to being an Amazon, or, for that matter, an Immortal, until she had happened to overhear a conversation that Giles had had with Jenny several days ago.  At first, it seemed the Watcher had been completely overjoyed when Buffy and Steve had told him about their Immortality.  To know that his Slayer would outlive him had seemed to take an unbearable weight from the “Emotional Marathon Man’s” shoulders.   However, when Jenny’s Immortal cousin had almost taken Buffy’s head earlier that year, not to mention the recent incident with Hector, apparently, Giles had had second thoughts about the supposed benefits of Immortality.  Now he thought perhaps it was more like a curse, particularly for a heroic person like Buffy to be forced to kill someone who possessed a soul simply to preserve one’s own life, a choice he’d hope that his Slayer would never have to face.

 

Then Willow rolled her eyes at herself and murmured, “Get a grip, Gloomy Girl!  There I go again, not staying in the moment!”  Then just as she reached for several cans of soda, the doorbell rang.  Cursing softly, she slammed the refrigerator door shut and jogged into the foyer.  As she approached the front door, she drew her handgun from its holster and peeked through the peephole.  She saw four strangers dressed in formal business attire and opened the door with her gun hidden behind her back, ready for action.  “May I help you?” she asked and smiled warmly at them.

 

            “Yes, young lady.  We’re looking for Rupert Giles.  Would he be here at this time?”

 

            “May I ask who is looking for him?”

 

            “Certainly, miss.  Please tell him that Quentin Travers is here from London to see him.”

 

            Willow’s smile froze on her pixie-like face.  “Please wait here.  Mr. Giles will be with you momentarily.”  Then she closed the door and engaged the deadbolt lock.

 

*****

 

            Quentin turned to his companions and muttered, “Apparently, the Colonials have failed to impart proper manners on their descendants after they broke away from England.”  His companions silently affirmed his comment with nods.

 

*****

 

            Willow raced into the gym to Giles’ side.  “Giles, there’s some Travers guy at the door who wants to see you!   Is he from the Council?” she breathed.

 

            Giles stiffened as Jenny asked, “Is he alone?”

 

            “No.  He’s got three more guys with him.”

 

            "Bring them into the house and escort them here," St. Wolf said.

 

             "Why on Earth would you want to bring them in here?" Giles asked.

 

             "Have you ever tried to get blood out of a carpet?" 

 

             "Steven, I hope you're not planning on harming them."

 

             "I won’t if they aren’t here to harm any of us."

 

*****

 

             Willow and Jenny left the gym and walked to the front door.  The elder woman opened the door and asked, "Will you gentlemen please follow me?"

 

            The four Watchers quietly entered the house and Willow closed the door behind the last of them.  Jenny, her gun hidden in her sweat pants, escorted them to the gym and smiled demurely at their reaction to the group that awaited them.

 

            Travers glanced at the group and couldn’t believe his eyes.  A rough and fit Giles sat on a weight bench with a sly grin on his face.  Moreover, he noticed a large number of young people milling about and studying him as well.  Travers then cleared his throat, turned to Giles and said, "Rupert, this is not the proper venue to discuss our business."

 

            "I vehemently disagree, Quentin.  In fact, everyone here knows about Slayers and the Council of Watchers."

 

            Quentin then spotted Brian and lost his temper.  "In heaven’s name, man, have you lost your mind?  What on Earth could possess you to reveal our secrets to these children?"

 

            "It’s quite simple, really.  They deserve to know who battles at their side.  I have no secrets that I will not share with my comrades-in-arms."

 

            Quentin did a double take; then it struck him.  This place, the weapons spread across the room, the young men and women standing there in their exercise clothing.  "Bloody hell!  Don't tell me you're training these children to fight!?"

 

            "Giles isn’t the person conducting the training here," St. Wolf said.  "Sonja, Gabrielle and I are."

 

            Quentin examined the young man who’d just spoke as well as the two women standing next to him.  Snorting back a laugh, he snidely said, "Young man, you and these two ‘ladies’ certainly do not have the capability to train a Slayer."

 

            "Their credentials speak for themselves, Quentin.  They are more than capable to teach Buffy how to fight." < They have almost eighteen thousand years of experience between them, > Giles mused.

 

            "Are you daft, man?  These young people couldn’t possibly have the training and experience to effectively prepare the Slayer.”

 

            "Careful, ‘Oh-Purveyor-of-Tweed—I wouldn't piss my honey off, if I were you," Buffy warned Quentin.  "He's liable to kill you on the spot."

 

            "I wouldn't doubt it for a second.  He looks the type,” Wesley said, not liking the current situation whatsoever.

 

            St. Wolf then glared at the older man and shook his head.  "When I first met Giles I thought he was the typical Watcher, tough but obviously caring of his charge and her friends.  Then Zabuto tried to kill Kendra and I thought he was the aberration, but I see now that he was the norm while Giles is the aberration."

 

            "Aberration is an apt description for him, young man," Quentin snapped.  Then he turned to the Slayer’s Watcher and said, "Rupert Giles, you are hereby discharged from the Council of Watchers.  Your Slayer and Kendra will be given to new Watchers."

 

            "Like hell we will!" Buffy retorted.  "This is America, pal!  You can’t order me around like a tin soldier!"

 

            "We are your Watchers, young lady.  You will do what you are told or the consequences for you and your mother shall be most dire."

 

            "Oh?  And what, pray tell, might those be?" Steve asked, barely concealing the enmity he felt for this man.  Hearing the hidden threat in his voice, Buffy prepared to launch a preemptive strike.

 

            "Recalcitrant Slayers have been known to have short careers—rather short ones." 

 

            Unable to hold back any longer, Cordelia Chase angrily stalked forward.  "Tell me I *DIDN'T* just hear you threaten Buffy's life."

 

            Quentin glared at the young woman with barely concealed distaste.  "This is none of your concern, miss, so don't get involved."

 

            Cordelia then hauled off with a right cross and decked Travers, knocking him to the ground.  She stared down at the stunned man and said, "Get back up you piece of shit!  I want to hit you again!"

 

            Before Quentin could say anything, Xander took Cordelia by the arm and escorted her away from the downed Watcher.  Safe for the moment, Quentin rose from the floor and rubbed his sore jaw.  < My God!  She hits as hard as a Slayer!  Could she be…no, it isn’t possible! > Then he spied a grinning Giles and his blood boiled.  "Are you quite amused, Rupert?  Laugh at this then.  The Council will revoke your status as a Watcher and have all of your teaching credentials lifted as well.  The Royal Museum will disavow any knowledge of you.  You shall be blacklisted.  You will never work again.  And, if your Slayer knows what's good for her, she will pack up her belongings and leave with us."

 

            "For a supposedly intelligent man, you are stupendously stupid," an angry voice said from behind the Watchers.

 

            Turning toward the sound, Quentin muttered, "Who in the bloody he—"  Then his words were cut-off by an armored fist that smashed into his face.  Travers reeled from the massive blow down to the gymnasium floor while the other three Watchers moved aside to allow a man in black armor to stride into the room and stand over the fallen Watcher.

 

            A six-foot-six-inch tall Marc Le Chevalier softly said to the three Watchers, "Pick that piece of shit up."  The three hastily complied and moved back to the side.  Marc then turned to the Wanderer and wryly said, "I can't leave you alone for a minute, can I?"

 

            St. Wolf gave his old friend a chagrined smile.  "What's up, Marc?  Why are you here?"

 

            "Can’t I visit an old friend?"

 

            "Marc, you're the Knight General of the Order of the Grail.  You don't just drop by for tea and cookies."

 

*****

 

            Wesley glanced at his friend Owen and quietly asked, "He’s the Knight General of the Order of the Grail?  It can't be!  The Order's only a legend!"

 

            "Perhaps the legends are true," Owen observed as another half-dozen armored men entered the gym. 

 

A cowed Wesley saw that each man proudly displayed the image of the Grail in gold relief on their breastplates.  Then after he shook himself from his stupor, Wesley tried to reset Travers’s nose.  Quentin glared at the younger Watcher and angrily turned to face the so-called Knight General, but suddenly found himself surrounded by six knights.  Quentin took one look at their grim faces and apparently acquiesced to the knights’ silent command to follow both Giles’ and the Watchers’ groups into the living room.

 

*****

 

            Stunned, Steve's friends looked on as six more knights entered the gym and spread out around the Watchers.  St. Wolf glanced around at the tightly-packed quarters and said, "Marc, let's take this out into the great room.  This place was never built to hold so many people."

 

            "Good thinking.  Besides, I don't think Merlin would find sitting on a weight bench to his liking."

 

            "Merlin's here?”

 

            "He wants to ask about the mission he sent you on.  Merlin said your report was somewhat lacking in details.  He also wants to ask you about the people you called in to help," Marc explained as they left the gym.  Then, he looked at one of his knights and said, "Bring those four as well.  Merlin doesn't take kindly to people who threaten his friends."  The four Watchers were escorted into the great room where Merlin, dressed in a pair of comfortable jeans, work shirt, hiking boots and holding a six-foot tall gold and crystal wizard’s staff sat alongside a very tall, gray-haired man on the couch.

 

*****

 

            "What's going on, Merlin?” Steve asked.  “You didn't receive my report on the mission?"

 

            “Oh, I received it, all right.  However, let’s say it was a bit…lacking.  In fact so much so, I had to find out from other sources that you destroyed over 700 vampires!” Then he spotted Sonja and Gabrielle and shuddered. < Oh Gods!  Not those two! > They both grinned nastily back at him and he shook his head in disbelief. < How in the hell did Steve find them!? >

 

            The four Watchers gaped unabashedly at Merlin.  "Pardon me, sir,” Owen said.  “Did you just say that these young people were responsible for eradicating 700 vampires?"

 

            "Not to mention more than twenty demons, including Throlog, a first circle demon lord," Giles added as if he was simply talking about the weather.

 

            "How could you do all of that?  No Watcher or Slayer should have been capable of doing that!" Travers sputtered.

 

            "That is exactly what I’m here to find out!" Merlin angrily barked as he noticed that Sonja had just thrust her tongue out at him. < Remain calm, remain calm. > "If you open your mouth once more, sir, I will shut it for you, permanently!" < Or better yet, I’ll let Sonja and Gabby have you! > At that, the four Watchers cringed as the man approached both the Slayer and her male companion.  Merlin held up a single sheet of paper and shot a hard look at them both.   "You call this a report?"

 

            St. Wolf took it, read it, and handed it back.  "Yes."

 

            Merlin balled the paper up into a wad and threw it into a trash basket.  Not to waste the moment, a flippant Xander drawled, "Merlin shoots, he scores and the crowd roars!"  Several people chuckled while Merlin glared at Xander. < Damn kids> Then, he turned to St. Wolf and said, "Steve, a report should contain far more detail than a simple, ‘we won.'"

 

            "Sorry, I had other things on my mind at the time," Steve said evenly.

 

            Buffy turned to Steve and asked, "Was that what you were trying to do when I…"  Buffy then let the rest hang as she turned a pretty shade of red. 

 

            Merlin turned to her with a broad grin.  "Young lady, you should allow your paramour a little time to draft a report.  If he had provided me with one, I wouldn't have had to come here and receive it firsthand."  Then Merlin spied Gabrielle flap the fingers of her right hand in the form of a duck’s bill. < Oh, man,> he moaned under his breath, <why in the hell did they have to show up here!? >

 

             "You should have just asked me to expand on it.  I would've gotten around to it."

 

            "I’ll bet," Merlin muttered.  "Anyway, we should return to the business at hand.  What are those four doing here?" Merlin asked as he pointed at the four Watchers.

 

            "They have a problem with Giles and Buffy.  Giles can explain it better than I."  Steve said as Buffy crossed over to her Watcher to shield him from the other Watchers.

 

            Merlin noted the hidden fear in the girl’s eyes and said, “Mr. Giles, would you care to enlighten me?”

 

            “Yes, sir.”  Then Giles relayed to the wizard the details about what had happened between him, Zabuto and the Council.

 

            After Giles finished his tale, Marc asked, “Is this the girl for whom you requested a rotating guard?”

 

            “Yes.”

 

            “You’ll have it,” Marc angrily decreed.  Then he stalked over to the four Watchers and coldly told them, “Understand this.  That girl in the hospital, Mr. Giles, Ms. Summers, their families and their friends are under my protection.  Try and harm any of them and I will consider it an attack against the Order of the Grail as a whole and as a personal attack against me.”

 

            “And I will also consider it a personal attack,” Merlin added darkly.  “Steve has served me for the last thirteen years.  He is like a son to me.  I shall not countenance any action taken against him or his loved ones in any way, shape, or form.”

 

            The four Watchers merely nodded.  Merlin shook his head in disgust and said to St. Wolf, “Give me that report now.”

 

*****

 

            “Merlin thinks of St. Wolf as a son!?”  Sonja noted under her breath to Gabrielle.

 

            “Wow…gotta admit, I didn’t see that coming,” Gabrielle whispered to her lover.

 

*****

 

            “All right, Merlin.”  Steve then launched into a detailed report on the assaults and their various outcomes.  Merlin, Marc and their companions smiled as they hear about the numbers of destroyed vampires and demons as the four Watchers listened in muted awe.

 

            When St. Wolf finished his report, Merlin asked, “Who came to help you, Steve?  I want a complete list of names and telephone numbers.”

 

            “Sorry, Merlin, but I’m not giving it to you.  Those people are friends of mine and I won’t take advantage of their good intentions by handing them over to you on a silver platter.”

 

            “St. Wolf?” The tall gray-haired stranger attracted Steve’s attention.  “Listen to Merlin; he means well.”

 

            “Excuse me…who are you, sir?”

 

            The man grinned slightly.  “I’m Horace Gordon, Bureau 13.”

 

Steve nodded once at the man.  “I’ve heard of your organization.  It’s nice to finally meet you.”  Then he turned to Merlin and said, “So, I’ve finally met your prodigal son, eh?”

 

Gordon grinned at both St. Wolf’s comment and his father’s slight discomfiture.  “I’m afraid that I couldn’t stay out of my father’s fight.  I’m now the Bureau’s Director.”

 

            “Why are you here, Horace?” St. Wolf asked, suddenly suspicious.

 

            “I’m here to oversee the interests of the United States of America.”  The Wanderer rolled his eyes at that, however, Gordon ignored him and pushed through.  “Steve, I’ll make this short and sweet.  I want you and your friends to help us fight the Darkness.  I’m not trying to conscript you or any of your friends to become Bureau 13 agents.  The only thing that I ask is for the opportunity to discuss it with them on an individual basis.”

 

            “I’ll ask them.  If they want to talk to you, I’ll provide their names and phone numbers.  If any of them say no, you won’t get anything from me.  Do we have a deal?”

 

            “We have a deal, Steve.  We don’t force people to help us.  If you ever need our help, please call this number.”  Horace gave Steve a business card.  “Please pass the number to your friends who do volunteer to help and we’ll give them whatever support they need.”

 

            “Thanks, Horace.  I’m sure most of us here appreciate the help,” Steve said as he glared at the four Watchers.

 

            Gordon then rose from the couch and walked over to the Watchers.  “I’m certain that Merlin’s and the Knight General’s promises are still fresh in you minds.  Well add this to the mix.  If you harm anyone here, their families or their friends, I will make it my mission in life to hunt you down like dogs and wipe you from the face of the Earth.”

 

            At that moment, Gordon’s vow was too much for Travers.  “Now see here.  The Slayer has been the Council of Watchers’ charge for thousands of years!  You can’t just walk in and take her from us!!”

 

*****

 

            All at once, Buffy detected the flare of Giles anger behind her, causing her to nearly swoon.  She gasped as his heat nearly overwhelmed her as Giles snapped, “And men like you have used them as nothing more than tools!  They’re taken from their families and friends at a young age and expected to become living weapons!  No more, I tell you!  Understand this!  My Buffy is not grist for the Council’s mill to grind up in hopeless battles against the monsters of the night!”

 

            Buffy chanced a glimpse at her Watcher when she heard his vulnerable slip of the tongue, yet Travers was so angry he apparently didn’t notice it.  “Rupert, that flies in the face of all tradition and you know it!  The Watchers have guided and aided the Slayers for centuries; we know what’s best for them.”

 

            “Oh yes, you’ve guided them all right, right smack into early graves!  The average life-span of a Slayer is little less than a year!  Many of those poor girls die horribly.  And what does the Council do?  They go out and find another sacrifice to the idol of its all-mighty pride.  Well, I say it ends here and now!  Buffy and Kendra shall stay with me.  And believe you me, I won’t allow your short-sighted pride to get them both killed!”

 

            “You have no right to do this, Giles!  The Council will take any and all measures to stop you!”  Travers barked, not realizing his mistake.

 

            “I warned you and you only get one warning from me!” Merlin decreed.  Then he pointed a finger at Travers and a beam of force streamed from it to impact against Travers’ body, changing him where he stood.  The three other Watchers then watch in horror as Travers transformed into a gray- feathered duck.  Merlin glared at the three young Watchers as lightning bolts literally flash from his eyes.  “Take that piece of shit, leave now, and never darken this home’s doorstep.  Tell the so-called Council of Watchers all that transpired here.  Tell them the next time, I will destroy anyone who threatens those under my protection.”  Then as Steve and Merlin strolled across the floor to the foyer, several of the knights grabbed the duck and the remaining three Watchers and hustled them to the door, where they were unceremoniously dumped outside.

 

*****

 

            Owen lifted the grey feathered duck and raced after his friends back to their waiting car.  Then, the tires squealed as the rental car sped off in a cloud of smoke from the burnt rubber. 

 

*****

 

As the Watchers drove away, a laughing St. Wolf asked the wizard, “Was that really necessary?”

 

            “Yes it was.  That bastard didn’t believe I was really me.  He thought that Giles had hired some actors in an elaborate ruse so he could keep Buffy and Kendra to himself.”

 

            “I think you’ll need to explain your actions to Giles and the others.  I don’t want them to think that the man who’s like a father to me is capricious and insane.”

 

            Merlin gave Steve’s shoulder a squeeze and they both walked into the great room to face the younger man’s friends.

 

*****

 

            Taylor Raleigh glanced over his shoulder out the rear window then uttered a sigh of relief.  “I don’t think they’re following us.  Where are we going?”

 

            Los Angeles,” Wesley announced.  “I’m going to locate a hotel in which we can register for the night.  Then we’re going to call the Council.”

 

            “Then what?” Taylor asked.

 

            “I’m going to get really pissed.”

 

            “That’s a capital idea, Wesley,” Owen agreed.

 

*****

 

            Giles was pacing the floor when Merlin and Steve returned.  Then he turned to Merlin and demanded, “I want to know why you did that!”

 

            “Because he thought I was an actor hired by you to protect your charges.  He planned to murder you and take both girls back to England.”

 

            The look of wide-eyed fear on the Slayer’s young face nearly tore the heart out of the old man.  “No,” she whispered.  “They wouldn’t do that, not to Giles, not to me.  They’re supposed to be the good guys!  If they kill Giles that would be the same as if they killed me!  I wouldn’t last a week without him!”

 

            In response to his Slayer’s distress, Giles immediately hugged her close.  “Buffy, I’m not going anywhere.  Don’t be frightened, they’re gone.  Please don’t worry, nothing shall happen to me.  I promise.” 

 

Apparently, his ministrations worked because his Slayer’s breathing began to return to normal.  At that moment, the Watcher took the opportunity to shoot an inquiring glance at the wizard.  “How could you know all of that?”

 

            “It’s simple, Mr. Giles.  I can read minds.  His surface thoughts were very clear concerning you, Miss Summers and a girl called Kendra.”

 

            Giles flashed a skeptical glance at the elder man.  “If that’s true, then what am I thinking at this very moment?”

 

            “You are reflecting on the recipe for your mother’s tea cakes.  If your memories are accurate, they appear to be quite tasty.  Would you mind terribly if I gave the recipe to my chef?”

 

            Giles drew Buffy down beside him on the couch and muttered, “No, I don’t mind at all.”  Then he whipped off his glasses and began to furiously polish them with his handkerchief.  “Quentin really planned to murder me?  He wanted to kidnap Buffy and Kendra?”  When he saw the certainty in the elder man’s eyes, the Watcher shook his head sorrowfully.  “How can he be so blind?”

 

            “Unfortunately, the man is a fanatic of the worst kind,” Merlin observed.

 

            “So what happens now?  Does he remain a duck forever?” Giles asked.

 

            “Don’t worry, Mr. Giles.  He’ll change back in a day.  I’m not as evil as my biographers make me out to be.”

 

            “What about the Council?  What do we do if they attempt to force the issue?”

 

            “I don’t think you need to worry about that, Mr. Giles.  If the Council is smart, it won’t interfere with how you and your Slayers work.  If it does, then we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.  Now, I’ve been here for thirty minutes and no one’s gotten me a beer.”

 

            Merlin’s comment caused the tension in the room to ease and provided everyone with a hearty laugh before Xander entered the kitchen to retrieve sodas and beers for the entire gathering.


 

Part 2 – THIS Is What Happens When You Take a Joke Too Damn Far

(Mulder…You Have Some ‘Plaining To Do!)

 

July 21st - 11:45 PST

Oak Street - Sunnydale, California

 

            Just as an automobile driving in the opposite direction nearly side-swiped their rental car, Mulder suddenly jerked the wheel, managing to narrowly avoid an accident.  “Hey!  Watch where you’re going, you idiots!” he screamed.  Then he turned to Scully and said, “Damn fool!  What in the hell is the matter with him?  He was on the wrong side of the road!”

 

            “They must be British,” Scully observed with a smirk on her face.

 

            Mulder simply sighed at Scully’s remark.  “Dana, you’ve got to let that thing with Phoebe go.  I was over her even before we worked on that Firestarter case.  Besides, just because some guy drives on the wrong side of the road doesn’t make him British.”

 

            “Mulder, I never accused you of carrying a ‘flame’ for that home-wrecking hussy,” Scully said with a sly smile at both her pun and her alliteration.  “Remember when we were in London?  You drove on the wrong side of the road once.  What did that cabbie call you?  Oh yeah, he called you a ‘Crazy Yank,’ didn’t he?”

 

            Mulder grimaced and steered their car into the driveway in front of St. Wolf’s home.  Then, after shutting off the ignition, the two agents, removed their travel bags from the trunk of the car, approached the front door and rang the door bell.

 

            Willow opened the door, saw the FBI agents, and immediately gave Scully a hug.  “Why are you back here so soon?”

 

            “We need to talk to Steve about his friend Merlin.  Is the gang all here?” Mulder asked.

 

            “Yeah,” Willow answered then chuckled under her breath as she ushered the two FBI Agents inside. < Boy, are they going to be surprised. >

 

            Mulder, then saw Xander holding a can of soda and drawled, “Everybody freeze!  This is the FBI and I demand access to the beer in the fridge.  Anyone who gets in the way. . .”  Suddenly, his comment died on his lips when he surveyed the living room and found the knights standing there in full armor.  “So, Steve you’re having a party and you forgot to invite us or something?”

 

            Steve glared at the FBI Special Agent and sighed.  “It seems that Merlin has decided to pay me a visit.  He apparently believes that my report to him concerning the little donnybrook we had two weeks ago was somewhat lacking.”

 

            “Oh?  What did you write?”

 

            Before Steve could respond, Xander reached into the garbage can and tossed a crumpled piece of paper to Mulder.  “Here you go Mulder, see for yourself.”

 

            Mulder unwrinkled the paper and he and Scully reviewed it for a couple of seconds.  Scully stared up from the report and observed, “I can see how Merlin felt that there might be something missing.”  Then both agents doubled over with laughter.  “Mulder, could you imagine Skinner’s face if you ever handed in a report like that?”

 

            “He’d move my office to the lowest section he could find and then pour in enough concrete to bury me in it.”  Mulder said between laughs.  “Steve, how could you submit a report like this?”

 

            “I had something better to do at the time.” Then in an attempt to change the subject, St. Wolf asked, “By the way, what are you two doing back here?  I thought your boss would have another case for you?”

 

            “We had a long talk with a new friend.  He told us some interesting things about your friend Merlin that we wanted to share with you.  Since Merlin is already here, why don’t we ask him directly?”

 

            “May I ask you the identity of your new friend?” Merlin queried.

 

            “Does the name Chaos sound familiar?” 

 

            Merlin took a deep breath and shot a knowing glance at Horace.  “Now I see why you consider them to be such pains in the ass.”

 

            “Who’s the guy sitting next to Merlin?” 

 

            “Mulder, meet Horace Gordon.  Horace is the Director of Bureau 13.”

 

            Mulder and Scully both gasped and shook their heads in awe.  “Steve, you have got to stop having parties like this.” 

 

            “You said you had some information?”

 

            “Did you know that Merlin, Methos and various others lead a secret group called the Illuminati?” Mulder asked.

 

            St. Wolf sat up at that.  “You have my complete attention, Mulder.  Please, go on.”  Gordon also looked interested.

 

            “The Illuminati has supposedly been around for the last four thousand years.  Its stated goal, according to our new friend, is the protection of humanity and its history.  Merlin and Methos are on the managing council.  In fact Methos was supposed to have helped form the group.”  Mulder then stared at Merlin and asked, “Did we leave anything out?”

 

            “No, that was quite accurate and should never be repeated again,” Merlin said as he leaned threateningly forward.  “Or the consequences will be most dire.”

 

            Mulder and Scully each take a deep gulp and nodded their heads in agreement.  Steve stared at his old mentor and angrily said, “Don’t threaten my friends, Merlin.  You don’t want to make me choose sides.”

 

            “Oh, be quiet, Steve!” the wizard snapped.  “My statement wasn’t a threat.  Believe it or not, I’m trying to help them.  You two,” he said, as he pointed toward the FBI agents, “are sticking your noses into things that don’t concern you!  May I ask how you and Chaos came to be on such good terms?  I thought you both hated him.”

 

            “Chaos tends to be rather nosy himself.  Did you know that he had the entire situation here under surveillance?”

 

            “No, I didn’t know that,” Merlin said. < But I definitely will have a talk with him about it. > “Go on.”

 

            “Well he put two and two together and discovered that we were keeping secret various things that we, Buffy and Steve had done in Sunnydale.  He suddenly found out that we were playing by the same rules that he was.  Since we were playing by his rules, Chaos felt that he could tell us a few things.  We, in turn agreed to continue and escalate our fight against the Consortium.”

 

            “What’s the Consortium?”  Horace asked.

 

            “It’s a group that runs a shadow government within our own and various other governments.  It’s responsible for hiding all of the evidence of UFO’s and aliens that you read about in the tabloids.  They also try to run various experiments on humanity to create some sort of hybrid with the Grays.  After the hybrids are perfected, the Grays want to invade and take over the planet and use the hybrids as slave labor.   However, the rest of humanity is to be eradicated.”

 

            Gordon turned to Merlin and demanded, “Why wasn’t I informed about this group?  Bureau 13 could destroy it overnight!”

 

            “Because then the invasion would immediately begin and we’d all lose.  Chaos’ role is to buy the Earth more time to prepare for that invasion and he’s done an excellent job.  We’ve had forty years to develop weapons and technology to rival the Grays and we’ve not wasted it.  We’ll be ready for them in another fifteen years.”

 

            “Don’t we have any aliens willing to help us?” Horace asked.

 

            Merlin sadly shook his head.  “No.  They’re all too afraid of the Grays.”

 

            “I wouldn’t make book on that,” St. Wolf said lowly with a mysterious smile on his face.

 

            Merlin’s head snapped up.  “Cough it up, boy!   I know that look!  The last time I saw it, you held a royal flush and it cost me quite a bit of money.  What do you have up your sleeve?”

 

            “Not much…just a friend from…out there.”

 

            Merlin smiled warmly at the remembrance of an old friend.  “Steve, the good Doctor is well meaning and a great asset but even he couldn’t stop an invasion like the one that the Grays are planning.”

 

            Mulder and Scully shared puzzled looks with Buffy and Steve.  Merlin saw the confusion on their faces and said, “Sorry, I thought you meant a dear friend of mine.”

 

            Steve shrugged then muttered, “And I thought that I had a Christmas card problem.”

 

            “Reveal the identity of this so-called ‘friend’ to me!” Merlin demanded.

 

            “I’m sorry Merlin, but I gave my word that I would protect his privacy.” 

 

            For a few moments, Merlin’s face goes blank and then he whispered, “But they’re only legend!!  How could you have befriended an entity like him!?  Quinn could be the greatest hope that humanity has to survive the Grays and their allies.”

 

            Mulder and Scully both chanced glances at the Wanderer.  “How could he know?”

 

            Steve glared at his mentor.  “Merlin can read minds.   He probably took it from one of you.”

 

            “Why couldn’t he get the information from you, Steve?” Mulder asked.

 

            “The boy’s got a thick skull,” Merlin joked.  “It’s like trying to crack a safe with an ice pick.  So tell me, will this ‘Quinn’ help humanity when the chips are down?”

 

            “He will only if we help ourselves,” Mulder said.

 

            “What does that mean?” Gordon asked.

 

            “He’ll be there to give us advice and to help out once in a while.  But he won’t do our fighting for us.  He feels that’s humanity’s responsibility, not his,” St. Wolf said. 

 

            Marc quietly muttered, “Now that is a truly superior being.  He understands that if humanity is going to be worth anything, we must earn our position in the scheme of things.  But he also understands that we may need guidance from time to time and he is willing to freely offer it.”

 

            A chagrined Merlin glanced down at the floor before he raised his gaze to meet Scully’s.  “I’m sorry that I read your minds without your permission.  However, I’m charged with the safety of the human race and sometimes I overstep my bounds.”

 

            “Apology accepted.  So what’s next?” Mulder asked.

 

            “All right, why don’t you tell us what in the hell is Section Seven?” Gordon asked.  In response, the entire Sunnydale contingent, as well as Scully and Mulder, cracked up.  Horace, Merlin, Marc and the Knights looked at one another and wondered what’s so funny.

 

            St. Wolf said between laughs, “Mulder, Merlin wants to know what Section Seven is.  Would you please tell him?”  Then Steve began to laugh again. 

 

Merlin and his companions sighed and patiently waited for the laughter to die down.  A few minutes later, Mulder regained enough control to tell them the entire story.  Then Merlin and his men joined in on the laughter.

 

            As the room quieted down, Merlin stared directly at Buffy, Steve and their friends.  “I hope you realize that Section Seven is now an active.  Steve, you and your friends will make up the core.  You’ll have access to assets from various groups and I’ll make sure you get proper funding from the Illuminati.”

 

            St. Wolf stared dumbly at his mentor.  “Say what?!  Section Seven was just a joke that the Lone Gunmen played on the NRO.  You can’t form a covert operations group just like that!”

 

            “I didn’t,” Merlin observed with a roguish grin.  “You did.  Now you have the responsibility of running it.  So enjoy.”

 

            “If you’d like,” Gordon offered, “I’ll help you establish your headquarters.  My Technical Services people will be glad for the work.”

 

            At that, St. Wolf turned to the male FBI agent in the room.  “Mulder, what in the hell did we do to deserve this?”

 

            “What do you mean ‘we,’ ki-mo-sa-be?  Merlin was talking to you and your little band of Slayerettes.  Scully and I already work for the FBI; I don’t think she wants another job.”

 

            St. Wolf’s eyes flashed in anger as he snapped, “Don’t give me that crap, Mulder! Who was the one who started the whole ‘Section Seven’ story in the first place?” 

 

            “That was Frohike.  Blame him.”

 

            St. Wolf shook his head at Mulder.  “No…I mean who told those hostages in the supermarket who we were?”  Mulder stared down on the floor and squirmed in his seat.  “Well?” Steve prompted.

 

            “I did,” Mulder quietly admitted.  “But that doesn’t make Scully and me responsible for your little group.  You were the one who told your friend Jack Gerber about Section Seven.”

 

            “Who’s Jack Gerber?” Gordon asked.

 

            “Jack’s an old friend of mine who’s now in charge of an Alien Retrieval and Termination Unit or ART Unit as they’re called at Area 51."

 

            “Why in the hell was an ART Unit there?” 

 

            “They just lent us a hand.  Besides, it was good to see my old friends Jack, Chavez and Bushido again.”

 

            “I don’t believe this!” Horace snapped.  “Next thing you’re going to tell me that you had the Knights of the Round Table by your side during the battle.”  Horace stared around him as everyone simply stared back.  “Please tell me that didn’t happen.”

 

            “I can’t lie to you, Horace.”  St. Wolf noted with a wicked grin on his face. “A few of them were there along with King Arthur.”

 

            “What in the hell are you people trying to do to me?  Give me a coronary?”   

 

            “I’ll tell you about it later,” St. Wolf offered.  “However, I want to get back to the matter at hand.  Mulder why don’t you and Scully want to help us on a full time basis?  I can pay you a lot more than the FBI ever could and I don’t care if you’re married or not.”

 

            Mulder looked at Scully and she nodded in silent agreement.  Then Mulder turned back to Steve and said, “Although we’d like to, Steve, we can’t do it, at least not now.  Chaos needs us to run interference for him with the Consortium.  Every time we screw them over, we save innocent lives.  If we leave, then those bastards will be able to do what they want, when they want.”

 

            “You know that we’ll be here for you, if you ever need us,” Buffy offered.

 

            “Y-yes, quite right,” Giles said in support of his Slayer.

 

            “We know.  The same applies for us as well.  Chaos also promised to help as much as he can by keeping the Consortium off your backs.” 

 

            “All right, I suppose we don’t have any choice except to accept this arrangement,” St. Wolf observed.  “So, how are we going to create an entire covert organization and keep its location secret?”

 

            “That’s easy.  Let’s buy the Cybertonics building and use it as a base.  It’s just outside of town and it’s for sale,” Xander said.

 

            “What’s going to be your cover?” Horace asked.

 

            “What about a PI and security firm?  I used to be a pretty good private eye.”

 

“Wouldn’t most people nowadays call you a ‘private dick?’” Willow noted obligingly. 

 

For several beats, St. Wolf had a horrified look on his face while the Slayerettes and Scully had bemused expressions on theirs.  Then Buffy sang in a poor imitation of an African American female soul-singer’s accent, “Girl…shut your mouth!”

 

Willow grinned and responded in a passable Isaac Hayes’ impression, “I’m talkin’ ‘bout Shaft!”

 

In sync, Buffy, Amy, and Cordy sang, “Then we can dig it!”

 

            For the hundredth time, St. Wolf rued the day that the girls had gotten into Giles’ old record collection.   He shot an annoyed look at the Watcher and said, “I can’t believe you listened to seventies soundtracks!”

 

            Giles gave him imperturbable look and shrugged.  “I’m a complicated man.”

 

            Then his statement was immediately followed by Jenny in song.  “And no one understands him but his wo-man!”

 

In the meantime, Horace Gordon counted to ten under his breath as the kids chortled at St. Wolf’s discomfort.  “Now that we’ve all had our little fun,” he said, causing the Slayerettes to sober, “I think a PI firm is a great idea.  I have several agents who run PI firms for their covers.”

 

            “Very good then, I’ll make arrangements to purchase the building and you’ll develop your PI business as your cover,” Merlin said.  “Now, I’m thirsty.  Who do I have to cast a spell on to get drink around here?”

 


 

                                                  Part 3 – Once More Unto the Breach

                                            (Or How To Ruin General Stockwell’s Day?

                                             Tell Him the A-TEAM Is Back In Business.)

 

July 21st - 12:00 - PST - 12:00 Local

Long Neck Saloon, Yuma, AZ

 

            A young, Arabic woman glanced nervously over her shoulder and gulped when she spied a pair of swarthy men storm into a building on the other side of the street. < Allah!  They’re still after me!  Please let Melissa’s information be correct! >   The woman sprinted toward a seedy looking establishment called the Long Neck Saloon.  After she entered the place, she made her way to the bar.  She spared a moment to pray for her college roommate, Melissa then tried to attract the bartender’s attention.

 

“May I help you, ma’am?” 

 

“Mr. Lee sent me.  Do you know where can I find the A-Team?”

 

            Just then the barkeep squinted at something over her shoulder.  “Well, now, little lady, I don’t rightly know where they are and I’m not sure if I would tell you if I did.  You see, the A-Team don’t like set-ups!”

 

            She chanced a glance over her shoulder and gasped.  “They’ve found me!  I’m dead!” she cried as the two men who’d been after her moved to apprehend her.  Then they drew their guns and motioned for the bar’s patrons to give them some room.

 

            The girl froze when one of the men placed a gun to her head and decreed, “In the name of the Swords of Allah, die, you traitorous bitch!!”

 

            Before the man could pull the trigger, a whiskey bottle smashed against his head, causing him to slump to the floor.  In a flash, his partner pointed his gun at the barkeep but before he could pull the trigger, a large, African American man with a Mohawk haircut grabbed him by the collar of his jacket and smashed him head first into the bar.

 

            The barkeep muttered, “Scumbags!” then barked some orders.  “Tie them up, BA.  We’re taking them with us.  Miss Armari?”  The woman turned to regard the barkeep to see he’d removed a fake mustache and a hair piece.  “You’ve just found the A-Team.”

 

            From a side room, two more men entered and manhandled the pair of would-be assassins outside into a dark van.  Then after the men, the assassins and Armari enter the van, it roared away in a cloud of dust.

 

*****

            A middle aged man, dressed in jeans and a sport coat monitored the fleeing van, raised his communicator, and silently cursed under his breath.  “Headquarters, this is Cheshire.”

 

            “Roger, Cheshire, this is headquarters.  What’s your situation?”

 

            “Everything’s gone to hell, Birkoff.  The Armari woman contacted some people who are now protecting her.  They grabbed the two assassins that Corvo sent after her and took them and her out of here.”

 

            After Cheshire finished his report, he heard another voice on the open channel.  “Do you have an ID on the group that grabbed the terrorists and are helping the Armari woman?” 

 

            “I’ve got nothing concrete, sir.  However, I was able to overhear her refer to the men as the A-Team.”

 

*****

 

            In response, for several moments, all Operations could do was stare at the speaker. < It can’t be.  They’re dead or too old for something like this.  But something like this was exactly Smith’s style, damn it! >   He glanced at Birkoff, who seemed to be busy calibrating the communication board.  With a sigh, Operations opened the channel and ordered, “Find those men and collect them as new material, if you can capture them alive and reasonably whole.”

 

            “I understand.  Cheshire out.”

 

            Operations stared across the floor of Section One and saw Madeline.  With a tilt of his head, he indicated that she should follow him to his office.  She nodded and started for his office. 

 

            Meanwhile, a young, blond haired woman with an Australian accent approached Birkoff with a smile and asked, “What happened?”

 

            “A target being chased down by a pair of Sword of Allah assassins found her some competent protection.  They managed to capture the assassins and whisk the girl and the assassins away from our tracking teams.”

 

            “Who was able to accomplish that?”  Nikita asked then frowned.  No one should have been able to do that—no one.

 

            Cheshire reported that it was the A-Team.  I’ve never heard of them.  Have you?” 

 

            Nikita blinked twice.  “They’re supposed to be dead.”  Nikita then turned and left the room. 

 

            Moments later, a confused Michael entered the room and quietly demanded of Birkoff, “What in the hell did you say to her?”

 

            Birkoff told Michael about Cheshire’s report and how it had shaken both Nikita and Operations.  Michael leaned over and asked, “Can you look up this A-Team on your computer?”

 

            “Sure.  Just give me a second,” Birkoff said as he began his search.  Several moments later, he found some information and opened the A-Team’s classified files.  He and Michael skimmed through them and Birkoff whistled lowly.  “These four guys were incredible.  No wonder Operations is frantic about them; these guys have screwed up more Section One business than anyone alive.”

 

            “So what do these four men have to do with Nikita?” Michael murmured more to himself than Birkoff.

 

*****

 

            Operations stormed into his office and nervously paced the floor as he awaited Madeline’s arrival.  When she entered the room, Operations nodded at the door and she closed it behind her.  He sat down behind his desk and activated the view screen on his office wall.  She watched the emotions play across his normally neutral face and wondered what could have caused this.  Moments later, an elderly man with a strong, commanding presence appeared on the screen and Operations began his report on the latest intelligence for the Armari operation.  Then he finished by saying, “George, I think the A-Team is still alive.”

 

            General George Stockwell studied the face of his best operative.  “Are you quite certain of that, Paul?”

 

            “Not entirely, but it doesn’t look good.  The Armari rescue operation was a classic Hannibal Smith op.”

 

            “We have to be dead right about this, Paul.  Continue digging into it and keep me informed,” Stockwell said then terminated the connection.

 

            Operations glanced at Madeline and quietly muttered, “I don’t know how they did it, but they’ve somehow returned from the dead.”

 

            Hannibal always had something up his sleeve, Paul.  What do think his next move’s going to be?”

 

            Operations grinned broadly for the first time in years.  “Take down the Swords of Allah, of course.”

 

            “I agree, especially if he’s on ‘the Jazz’,” Madeline quipped.  “What’s our next step?”

 

            “We take out the Swords of Allah before he does then capture Hannibal and his team when they come to rescue the Armari family.”

 

            “Can I have them for a little while, Paul?” she cooed.

 

            “We’ll see,” Operations teased as Madeline pouted prettily at him.

 

                                                               Part 4 - Old Friends

                                               (I’ve Been Cursed.  Cursed, I Tell You!)

 

July 21st - 12:00 PST - 15:00 PM Local Time

Washington, DC

 

            Jack Ryan hung up the phone then glared at the three men who stood in front of his desk.  “That was one of my operatives.   He just confirmed from two NSA operatives who’d been in Los Angeles that our old friend was the man who’d lead Section Seven.”

 

            “Are you going to tell us how to get in touch with Carson?” Lt. Colonel John Franklin asked.

 

            “Sorry, Bull, but like I told you a couple of days ago, I can’t give you that information.”

 

            “Don’t hand me that bullshit, Ryan!  Why don’t you just call him and ask him if he’s Carson Jamieson?”

 

            “I don’t think that’s wise, John.  Carson Jamieson is still wanted for six counts of homicide in Texas.  If I ask him and he confirms his identity then I’m obligated to report his whereabouts to the Texas authorities. Until that pardon comes through, I’m not going to contact him.”

 

            “That’s a mighty thin line, Jack,” Franklin noted.

 

            “It’s a line I can stand on, Bull.”

 

            “Nice to see you haven’t changed, Jack,” Major Kevin ‘Tex’ Ritter said.  “So what do we do now?”

 

            “If Governor Bush signs the pardon for Carson today then we’re going to pay our friend a little visit,” Jack said.  Moments later, his secretary entered his office and handed him a fax from the Texas Governor’s office.  He read it for several seconds then grinned.  “Are you three doing anything tomorrow?”

 

            “Nope,” Bull said with a satisfied smile on his face.

 

            “Then pack your bags; California here we come!”

 

*****

 

July 21st - 13:00 - PST - 13:00 Local

Yuma, Arizona

 

            Hannibal glared at the pair of would be assassins and demanded, “Tell me, scumbags.  Do you get your jollies from killing innocent women?”

 

            One of the terrorists spat at Hannibal and barked, “We’re the Swords of Allah, Infidel!  Cower in your shoes because you are a dead man!”

 

            Hannibal grinned and lit his cigar.  He took a puff and blew the smoke into the loud-mouthed terrorist’s face.  “I’m really quaking in my boots, asshole.  Now tell me where I can find the rest of the Armari family.”

 

            Both men smiled wickedly at him.  “They are being held at our Libyan installation.  Professor Armari is there working for our leader, the mighty Corvo.”

 

            “And you’re just spoon-feeding us this…why?”

 

            “So that you may go there and die.”

 

            “Listen, pal, I don’t think we’re going to be the ones doing the dying,” Wally said.

 

            “What good are five against two hundred?” the loud-mouth asked.

 

            “Who said it’s going to be just the five of us?” Face asked.

 

            “Because you don’t have time to gather a large force, you fool!  Corvo will release the plague before you can do anything to stop him.”

 

            “When?” Hannibal snapped.

 

            “We missed our check-in time,” the loud-mouth explained.  “Corvo’s orders were that we check in every 24 hours or he would release the plague 72 hours later.”

 

            Hannibal glanced at his men then reached for his cell phone.  “Hello?  Amy?  It’s Hannibal.  I’m fine.  Do you have the Wanderer’s phone number by any chance?”  At the mention of St. Wolf’s nom de plume, the color drained from both assassins’ faces.  “Did something I say frighten the big, bad terrorists?”

 

            “You know the Wanderer?” the loud- mouthed terrorist asked fearfully.

 

            “Seems like Wanderer’s reputation precedes him, again,” Wally noted.

 

            Karen Armari watched the members of the A-Team as they chuckled at the terrorists’ obvious discomfort.  “Who is the Wanderer?” she asked.

 

            “The Devil incarnate!” the loud-mouth shrieked.

 

            “He is a demon from the pits of Hell!” the other muttered.

 

            “Actually,” Hannibal said, “the Wanderer is the leader of a covert operations group called Section Seven.  It looks like he’s already made the acquaintance of our playmates here.”

 

            “That infidel is responsible for the death of many of our brothers,” the loud-mouth said.  “He’s responsible for interfering in many of our missions to right the wrongs foisted upon us by the Crusaders.”

 

            After Amy provided the number to Hannibal, he dialed it. 

 

Moments later, Buffy answered the phone.  “St. Wolf residence, can I help you?”

 

            “Sure can, sweetheart.  Is St. Wolf around?”

 

            “Depends on who happens to be calling, ‘snookums,” Buffy drawled. < Just who in the hell is this asshole? >

 

            “Tell him it’s Colonel Hannibal Smith from the A-Team.  I have a major situation and I need his help.”

 

            “One minute, Colonel Smith,” Buffy, now all business, snapped into the telephone.  Then she waved St. Wolf over to the phone.

 

            “Who is it, Buffy?” 

 

            “It’s Colonel Smith from the A-Team.  He said he needs our help.”

 

*****

 

            Gordon overheard Buffy and stared at the Wanderer as he took the legendary Hannibal Smith’s call.  Then he turned to Merlin and said, “Father, I thought Smith and the members of his team were dead.”

 

            “I guess they just got a whole lot better.”

 

*****

 

            “What can I do for you, Colonel?” 

 

            “Steve, we were recently hired by an old friend to rescue his sister and her family from a terrorist group called the Swords of Allah.  You know anything about them?”

 

            “I’ve run into them a few times during the last twelve years, Colonel.  Let’s just say that there’s no love lost between us.  What’s the situation?”

 

            “We captured two of their assassins as they tried to kill the girl we were hired to protect.  They told us that they’re holding the rest of the family in some facility they have in Libya.  They also told us that the girl’s father is being forced to work for them.”

 

            “What does the girl’s father do?”

 

            “He’s a virologist who specializes in infectious diseases.  You don’t have to have a PhD to figure out why Corvo is using him.”

 

            “Shit,” the Wanderer muttered.  “What else?”

 

            “The assassins just admitted that their leader is going to release some kind of disease in less than 72 hours.  Can you help us take these scumbags out?”

 

            “You got it, Colonel.  What is your current position?”

 

            “We’re outside Yuma, Arizona.”

 

            “That’s do-able,” Steve said as he stared at his watch.  “It’s now thirteen hundred hours.  Can you reach Yuma International Airport by sixteen hundred?”

 

            “Not a problem.  Why?”

 

            “When you get there, go to Iverson Air Freight’s terminal and make sure you avoid any of the Marine Corp personnel stationed there.  Iverson’s located in the cargo section of the airport.  Ask for the operations manager and tell him that Steven St. Wolf sent you and that you have to get to Sunnydale Airport, ASAP.  The operations manager will handle the rest.”

 

            “What about our weapons and prisoners?”

 

            “Let’s just say that the operations manager and the crew at Iverson Air tend to have blind spots when it comes to certain people and items.”

 

            “Sounds like my kind of airline.”

 

            “Colonel, don’t let the Marines make you when you get there.  The Iverson people are good friends; I don’t want anything happening to them.”

 

            “We’ll look after them like they’re our own.  See you soon, Steve.” Then Hannibal terminated the connection.

 

*****

            “Damn it!!!” St. Wolf shouted as he hung up the phone.  Everyone in the room turned to regard him as he walked over to the couch, sat, and took a long swig of his beer from his bottle.  Then he studied the expectant faces around him and gave them a rundown on what Hannibal Smith had just told him.  He then turned to Marc Le Chevalier and said, “Marc, I’ll need to use about two hundred knights.”

 

            “You’ll have them.  I’ll arrange the deployment in Chad, twelve hours from now.”

 

            “Good, that’ll give me enough time to bring some specialists here to make sure whatever poison they’re cooking is completely destroyed.”

 

            Steve then turned to Giles and said, “Contact Joe Dawson, see if he knows anyone who has the requisite skill-set.”

 

            Giles nodded at him and went to Steve’s office to place the call.

 

            “So…when do we leave?” Buffy asked.

 

            Steve silently regarded her for several beats then sighed.  We don’t.  I go; you and the others stay.”

 

            “What in the hell are you saying?” Buffy demanded as the rest of the Slayerettes looked on, hurt registered on their faces.  “We’re a team.  You don’t leave your team behind when you’re going into a major battle.”

 

            “This battle is different, Buffy.  I’m not going to kill monsters.  I’m going to kill a lot of very nasty people.  These people may be mass murderers, but they’re still human beings, they still have souls.  I don’t think you and the rest are ready for something like this,” Steve said.  < And I hope to God, you never are. >

 

            Unfortunately for St. Wolf, Buffy didn’t buy it.  She shot a hard glare his way and said, “I don’t accept that!  If they succeed in developing that plague, millions will die.  So give me one good reason why you don’t want us to come with you.”

 

            “Because the knights are spell warded against all manner of diseases and poisons.  We don’t have the time do it correctly for our friends.  When we attack, chances are that Corvo is going to release whatever plague he’s cooked up in an attempt to take us all to hell with him.”

 

            “What about the A-Team?” Xander asked.

 

            “Colonel Smith and his people are protected by the water from the Fountain of Youth that they drank.  Its magic protects them from any disease and poison.”

 

            Merlin gasped at that.  “Who gave Smith that water?”

 

            “A friend of mine provided it to them.”

 

            “Oberon’s going to have a shit fit if he finds out that someone stole water from the Fountain of Youth, again.  He wanted to blast you into atoms when you took some to save Frank’s life.”

 

            “And if the situation presented itself once more, I’d do it again to save a friend.  Besides, Coyote gave them the water, and he’s a big boy, Merlin.  He can take care of himself.”

 

            “Have a care, Steve.  You may be a favorite of mine but that only goes so far.  I hope you had nothing to do with Coyote’s foolhardy decision.  Oberon is not particular about who gets caught in the fallout of his magic when he goes postal.  You don’t want to get on Oberon’s bad side, trust me on that.  He is not a friend of humanity…he may barely tolerate us, but don’t mistake his indifference as friendship.”

 

            “Hey, old guys, excuse me!” Buffy snapped indignantly.  “Slayer’s got the floor!”  Then she stared straight at St. Wolf and said, “I’m still coming with you.”

 

            Steve sighed and shook his head.  “Buffy, I don’t think Giles would approve.  He doesn’t want you to go out and have to kill a human being.”

 

            “I don’t need anyone’s approval.  If I’m old enough to go out and fight creatures that want to see me dead every night, I’m old enough to make my own decisions about something like this.”

 

Jenny noisily cleared her throat to gain Buffy’s attention.  “Buffy, I think you should listen to Steve about this.  Slaying a human being is not the same as slaying a demon.”

 

            “I know that, Jenny.  When those assassins came to Sunnydale, I killed a member of the Order of Teraka with a skate blade.  He was human.  I wasn’t proud of it, but he was trying to kill me.  I was just lucky enough to get him first.”

 

            Jenny grimaced at Buffy.  “That’s not entirely accurate, now, is it, Buffy?  You’re Immortal.  Even if he had succeeded, you would have come back.  He didn’t, though.  So it wasn’t truly a ‘him or you’ scenario.”  Jenny then walked over to a Buffy that could no longer meet her gaze and said softly, “Look, I’m not trying to pressure you into anything.  I just want to make sure you’re not pressing yourself to do something you might regret later.”

 

            Buffy nodded and stared up into Jenny’s eyes.  “Thanks, Jenny, but…I’ve got to do this.  It’s important to me.”

           

            Resigned to the inevitable, Jenny smiled and regarded the Slayer with moist eyes.  “Okay.  Then promise me that you’re going to be careful and come back to us, all right?”

 

            Buffy smiled as she fought to hold back her own tears.  “Hey, I’m like a bad penny, I always turn up,” she chirped.

 

Steve, fighting a wave of nausea that tore through his stomach, decided to bow to the inevitable.  “All right, you can come, but no one else.  Am I clear?”

 

            “What about us?” Sonja asked then pointed to herself and Gabrielle.

 

            “You two are welcome to join in as are Mulder and Scully,” Steve said.

 

            “What about me?” Randi asked.

 

            “Sorry, Randi, but you just don’t have the training.  You stay and patrol Sunnydale with the rest of our friends.

 

            “So much for our vacation,” Mulder muttered.

 

            St. Wolf began to bark out orders.  “Xander, Oz, break out six H&K G3 assault rifles, enough armor-piercing ammunition for twenty magazines per rifle, body armor, grenades and anything else you can think of.”

 

            “Man…I don’t know whether I should pity those terrorists or be angry at them because of all the weight I’ll have to carry,” Mulder lamented. 

 

*****

 

            Hannibal turned back to his friends and gave them a quick run down on his conversation with St. Wolf.  B.A. seemed troubled but said nothing.  Then Hannibal noticed the worried look on his old friend’s face and asked, “B.A., what’s wrong?”

 

            “You know I hate to fly, Hannibal.  But I know that we’ve got a deadline, so I won’t make a fuss.”

 

            At that, Hannibal clapped B.A. on the shoulder and grinned.  “Good man, B.A.!  I’m sure the plane ride will be a whole lot better than riding in the back of a Huey.”

 

            B.A. returned his grin.  “So long as the fool’s not flying the plane I can take it.”

 

            “Hey!  I resemble that remark,” Howling Mad Murdock cried out and the team had a good laugh as the two terrorists and Karen looked on and wondered what was so funny.

 

*****

 

July 21st 13:30 PST

Joe’s Blues Bar, Seacover, WA

 

            When the telephone rang, Joe Dawson placed his guitar down on the counter and shot an annoyed look at the infernal device. < Damn, why does this thing always interrupt me when I’m enjoying myself? > Then he lifted the receiver and said, “Joe’s Blues Bar.  Can I help you?”

 

            “Hello, Joe.  This is Rupert Giles.  I really need to talk to you.”

 

            “Are you giving me an advance on your weekly report?”

 

            “No.  I need to find an Immortal who has a working knowledge of biological warfare.  Can you check the Watcher Database and find one?”

 

            A shiver ran up Joe’s spine and his mouth suddenly went dry.  “Did the vampires get their hands on some kind of bio-weapon?”

 

            “No, Joe,” Giles said then gave him a complete rundown on the situation.

 

            Joe leaned back in his chair and sadly shook his head. < The Society’s never gonna believe that we have to act this soon. > He then flipped open the screen of his laptop and entered a query in his computer’s database.  Several names popped up and Joe said, “Giles, I have several names and as luck would have it, one of them is a friend of Duncan’s who lives nearby.  Do you want me to ask Duncan to contact him and explain the situation?”

 

            “That would be preferable, Joe.  Thank you for arranging this.  Goodbye.”  Giles said then terminated the connection.

 

            Joe grunted as his stiff leg protested his movement toward the door.  As he leaves, he called over to his bartender and said, “Mike, I’m going over to Duncan’s place.  If you need me, call me on my cell.”

 

            The bartender nodded and continued to clean the bar glasses.

 

*****

 

            Fifteen minutes later, Joe entered DeSalvo’s Gym to see seven Immortals going through their daily routines.  He quietly sat down and watched as six of the Immortals paired off under the critical eye of Duncan Macleod for a rotating sparring session.  Joe noticed that the two newest Immortals, Jarod and Andrea were advancing a lot faster than Justin. < Must be their background, > he mused.   Duncan then saw Joe and flashed him a grin.                                                              

 

            “Joe, what brings you here?”

 

            “Rupert Giles just called.  St. Wolf needs some help on a mission that was just dumped on his doorstep.”  Joe then gave Duncan a complete rundown.

 

            Duncan’s mouth set into a grim line.  “I’ll call Henry right now.  I hope he’ll want to join in on this.”  Duncan turned to leave, stopped, turned back, and asked, “Do you think that Steve would mind some extra backup on this?”

 

            Joe grinned at his old friend.  “I’m sure he wouldn’t mind the company.”

 

            “Good.  You know, I think I like doing this type of work.”

 

*****

 

            Jarod peeked over Andrea’s shoulder and saw his instructor having words with the Watcher.  “Andrea,” he whispered, “it looks like Joe Dawson told something important to Duncan.”

 

            “What makes you say that?”

 

            “He’s here far too early for it to be a social call.  I wonder what it could be?

 

            “You might not want to know, if you’re smart, Ratboy,” she drawled.  “As they always say, curiosity killed the cat.”

 

            Jarod looked puzzled.  “It did?  When?  I just saw Garfield a few minutes ago?”

 

            Instead of answering him, Andrea knocked his sword to the side, grabbed him by his shirt front, and pulled him in for a deep kiss.  Jarod wrapped his arms around her waist and Andrea melted against his body.   Richie, Amanda, Justin and Methos then stopped sparring to watch the pair.  “Could someone please throw a bucket of cold water on those two?” Methos complained with a mischievous grin on his face.

 

            “Oh shut up, old man.  They’re young and in love.  Let them have their fun,” Amanda drawled.

 

            Justin and Richie look at each other and shake their heads.  “Those two are worse than teenagers,” Richie observed.  “The next time Methos or Duncan say something about us, I’ll remind them about this wonderful pair.”

 

            “That’s enough, everyone,” Duncan announced.  When he had everyone’s attention, he gave them a run down on the mission that he’d received from Joe.

 

            Afterwards, Jarod and Andrea immediately stepped forward.  “Duncan, Andrea and I have a working knowledge of those types of laboratories.  Can we lend a hand?”

 

            “Of course, you can.  You two handled yourselves well a few weeks ago,” Duncan noted then turned to the rest of the Immortals.  “Anyone else interested?”

 

            Duncan, darling, are you trying to ask us to come along on this little jaunt?”  Amanda purred as she wrapped herself around the Highlander.

 

            Duncan smiled warmly at her when he took her into his arms and stared deeply into her eyes.  “You know me too well, Amanda.”

 

            As they gazed deeply into each others’ eyes, Methos simply groaned.  As Duncan and Amanda reluctantly broke apart, Richie asked, “Is this a trip for couples only or can the single guys join in on all the fun?”

 

            “Of course, darling,” Amanda drawled.  “Who else is going to carry my luggage?” 

 

*****

 

            Moments later, Duncan entered his office and placed a call to his old friend, Henry Stamos.  “Henry, this is Duncan.  Can we talk?”

 

            “Certainly, Duncan, what can I do for you?”

 

            Duncan then explained the mission to him.  Stamos listened intently then asked, “Duncan, can these people be trusted?  I’ve worked with covert operations units before; I’ve never liked them.”

 

            “Yes Henry, they can be trusted.”  Then Duncan told him what’d happened two weeks ago in Los Angeles.

 

            Henry whistled lowly and asked, “Do you believe it?  That we’re fated to become the Champions of Humanity?”

 

            “I believe it more than I believe the ‘Game’ was our fate.  Will you help us?”

 

            Henry stared at the pictures of his mortal wife and their adopted children then imagined them dying of an unknown disease and life without them.  “Yes, I’ll help you.  Where shall we meet?”

 

            Duncan gave him the Iverson Air Freight address in Seacover and they agreed to meet there in three hours.  “Duncan…this guy, St. Wolf, does he go by the name ‘the Wanderer’ on occasion?”

 

            “Yes, he does.  Have you heard of him?”

 

            “Yes, I have.  The man’s reputation is one of the best in the intelligence community.”

 

            “Does that make a difference to you?”

 

            “Yes, it does.  I like knowing with whom I’m dealing with.  See you soon,” Henry said then terminated the connection.

 

 

                                                     Part 5 - Telephone Conversations

                                                             (Tweed In An Uproar)

 

July 21st 14:00 - PST

Marriott Hotel, Los Angeles, CA

 

            Marshall nervously glanced at the duck sitting quietly on the bed then picked up the telephone and dialed the number to the Council of Watchers in Great Britain.  When the connection was made, Owen gave the daily password.  “Trafalgar,” he said.  He was immediately transferred to the Board of Governor’s chambers. 

 

“This is Owen Marshall, I need to speak to the governors.”

 

            “Where is Mr. Travers?” 

 

            Owen looked at Wesley who held the duck on the bed.  “I’m afraid he’s unable to speak at the moment.”

 

            “I shall place you on the intercom.  Please speak clearly and provide us with your report.”

 

            Owen waited for several moments before the voice said, “Report, Watcher Marshall.”

 

            “Thank you, sir.”  Then Owen gave them a complete report on the situation in Sunnydale. 

 

The phone is silent for several long moments before another voice instructed, “Ring us again in three hours.  We’ll have orders for you then.”

 

            The three men stared at one another and wondered what their orders would be.

 

*****

 

July 21st 14:03 - PST - 21:03 - Local

Council of Watchers Headquarters - Somewhere in Britain.

 

            The governors dumbly regarded one another, astounded beyond belief.  Then Lord Tanner shot a glare at Owen’s father and asked, “Is your son drunk, Carter?”

 

            Carter Marshall, his jaw clenched, said, “My son doesn’t drink, Tanner.  He sounded very fearful and can you blame him?  Merlin turned his mentor into a duck and you expect him to be calm about it?”

 

            Before Tanner could respond, the Chairman, Sir William Appleby, snapped, “Marshall!  Tanner!  Stop this bickering at once.”  After both men complied, Appleby cleared his throat and asked, “What do we do now?”

 

            “It’s obviously a hoax of some kind perpetrated by Rupert Giles,” Antonio Carpelli opined.  “Merlin?  He’s probably an actor of some sort.  The Knights of the Grail?  They’re part of his deceit, of course.  This Bureau 13 garbage—another fabrication by Giles to protect that Summers girl.  I told you last year that he was too close to her; we should have replaced him then.  Now he’s created his own organization and taken our Slayers for himself.”

 

            Several of the governors also agreed with Carpelli’s take on events and called for an assault group to be sent to apprehend the rogue Watcher and his Slayer.  Appleby called for order and the governors quieted down.  “Gentlemen, we cannot have a pitched battle in the streets of an American city!  That simply won’t do.”

 

            “Let’s use the Order of Teraka to get rid of our problem.  We’ve done it before,” one Watcher recommended.  Several seconded his idea and the Board voted to send the Order against Giles, Buffy and their friends.   Sighing as he was forced to do something against his very nature, Sir William placed a call and was answered by a hissing voice.  Several of the governors who voted against calling the Terakan Order looked on disapprovingly at this turn of events.  However, they remained silent.

 

            “To what do I owe the honor of receiving a call from the hallowed Council of Watchers?” the voice asked.

 

            “We wish to eliminate a rogue Watcher and his Slayer,” Appleby said.

 

            “Who, pray tell, are the targets?”

 

            “They are Rupert Giles and the Slayer known as Buffy Summers.”

 

            The voice gasped then spat a curse into the telephone receiver.  “You fools!  The Order of Teraka does not accept suicide missions!”

 

            The governors looked at one another with panic in their eyes.  The Order was afraid of a single Watcher and Slayer?  “What do you mean?” Appleby asked.

 

            “Your precious little darling and her steadfast Watcher are protected by forces that even we fear, old man.”

 

             “What sort of forces?”

 

            “That information will cost you.”

 

            “Name your price.”

 

            “Shall we say…one hundred thousand pounds?” 

 

            “If your information is accurate, we have an agreement,” Appleby bargained.  Several of the governors gritted their teeth at the cost but said nothing.

 

            “The Watcher Giles and his Slayer have joined forces with the demon hunter called the Wanderer.”

 

            “What?  The man doesn’t exist; no Watcher has ever seen him.”

 

            “He exists.  He’s responsible for the death of twenty three members of our Order.” the voice angrily said.  At that, the jaws of several governors nearly dropped on the table.  “He also carries the Sword of Destiny called Demon Slayer.”

 

            “And…what exactly is his interest in the Slayer and her Watcher?”

 

             “She has become his student and lover.  She also carries Demon Slayer’s mate, the sword called Vampire Slayer.  To attack her is to attack him.”

 

            The governors silently digested the words and found them to be unsettling.  “How can she carry Vampire Slayer?  That sword was lost over two hundred years ago.  Where could she have found it?”

 

            “A Dragon named Smaug gave it to her several months ago.”

 

            Stunned, Appleby simply shook his head.  “What about Rupert Giles?  Can you kill him?”

 

            “We have not grown tired of breathing, you fool.  Rupert Giles has become the Wanderer’s Watcher.”

 

            “What does that mean?  The Wanderer isn’t a Slayer!”   

 

            “That is what my sources tell me.  I do not understand the meaning of it myself.  Clearly, though, the Wanderer does not serve the Council.  He serves but one being and is a friend to many more.  Attempt to harm him and they will destroy you.”

 

            “Who are they?”

 

            “He is pledged in service to Merlin and his wife Niume as their personal champion.”  The Council members gasped at that.  “He can also call upon the aid of the Knights of the Order of the Grail, several of Oberon’s Children, the Council of Dragons, the American’s Central Intelligence Agency, the British Secret Service and the French Security Service, just to name a few.”

 

            Appleby continued to press.  “I have one more question.  What is Bureau 13?”

 

            “How do you know of it?” the voice snapped.

 

            “The Watcher Giles and the Slayers are also under its protection.”

 

            “There are stories of a covert agency of the United States Government, supposedly equipped with powerful magic and weapons.  They hunt down paranormal threats to that nation’s safety.  It is said that anyone who stands against them falls.  Members of our Order who have faced them have never been seen again.”

 

            A shaken Appleby looked around the boardroom and realized the meeting was going to be a long one.  “Thank you for the information.  Your money will be deposited in the usual account by the end of the week.”

 

            “Some free advice, for valued customers.”

 

            “Yes?”

 

            “Cut your losses and leave the girl and her Watcher alone or your Council will be dust in the wind,” the voice instructed.  Then the connection was terminated.

 

            Appleby shuddered.  “Anyone else have a better suggestion?”

 

            The other governors said nothing and simply bowed their heads in defeat.  As Appleby was about to call the meeting to an end, a young man approached from a side door.  Appleby saw him and asked, “Yes, Smithers?”

 

            “A new Slayer has been found in the city of Boston.  Our local Watcher, Miss Linda Pryce, has contacted her and taken her under her wing.”

 

            Appleby stared silently at the young man for a full minute, until he discovered his voice.  “Is she sure that the girl’s a Slayer?”

 

            “Yes, Sir William.  Miss Pryce conducted all of the tests.  It is confirmed.” 

 

            “Thank you, Smithers.  You can go now.”  After Smithers left the room, Appleby turned to the governors and said, “I move we cut our losses and leave Giles and his Slayers alone.” 

 

The governors hurriedly agreed with his motion.

 

            Then Lord Tanner added, “We’ll also never tell this new Slayer about the other two Slayers.” 

 

Tanner’s motion was also rapidly approved.

 

            Appleby turned to his assistant and directed, “Call young Marshall and instruct him that we shall arrange transport from Los Angeles for his party.  Tell him to bring back Mr. Travers.  Perhaps we can change him back to normal.”

 

*****

 

            Later, Owen Marshall received the call from the Council.  He turned to his two companions and told them, “We’re going home.  The governors want us back.” 

 

 

                                                                  Part 6 - Q & A

                         (Rummy’s GITMO Boys Have Nothing on the Weird Amazon Sisters)

 

July 21st - 1600 - PST - 1600 - Local

Yuma Airport, Yuma Arizona

 

            Hannibal guarded the terrorists in the rear of the van while B.A. drove the vehicle through the gates of the Iverson Air facility in Yuma.  As B.A. parked the van, a man dressed in an Iverson Air jacket ambled out of the hanger.  He gave them a friendly grin and promptly asked, “What can I do for you folks?”

 

            B.A. nodded at Hannibal.  Still smiling politely, the man strolled to the other side of the van and approached Hannibal’s open window. 

 

“Are you the operations manager?” Smith asked.

 

            “Yes, I am.  My name’s Tom Coventry.”

 

            Hannibal grinned at the man.  “Steven St. Wolf told us you could get us and our cargo to Sunnydale, ASAP.”

 

            Coventry’s face lost the smile and was now pure business.  “Get the van in the hanger.  Your plane is waiting for you.”  He then led the van into the hanger.  As the A-Team got out with its ‘cargo,’ Coventry gave them their flight schedule.  “You’ll take off from here and travel due east for thirty minutes.  Then the pilot will cross paths with another Iverson jet going west.  When they reach that point, both planes will drop below radar and turn 180 degrees.  You’ll then proceed straight to Sunnydale.  The other plane will continue on your old course.  Any questions?”

 

            Hannibal shook his head and smiled. < Damn, these guys are pros. > “We’ll just stow our ‘cargo’ aboard and be on our way.”

 

            “Good luck, sir,” Coventry said as he snapped a salute.

 

            Hannibal returned it and gave the other man a puzzled look.

 

            “You might not remember me, Colonel Smith, but you pulled my unit out of a tight spot in the Delta, back in 72.”

 

            < Damn, this kid couldn’t be that old? > Then it hit him.  “You’re like Steve, aren’t you?”

 

            Coventry grinned.  “Yes.”

 

            Hannibal returned his grin with one of his own and said, “You’re welcome.”  Then he shook Tom’s hand, crossed the tarmac, and boarded the jet.  Coventry waved the pilot off and the plane rolled out of the hanger and immediately received clearance to depart.  Moments later, the jet roared down the runway and took flight, catapulting itself into the wild blue yonder.  When the plane leveled out, Hannibal walked to the cockpit and asked the pilot, “How’d we get clearance so quickly?”

 

            “Told the tower we had an organ delivery.  That gave us priority.”

 

            Hannibal nodded then returned to his seat and relaxed as the plane began its near supersonic flight eastward. < Damn.  I could get used to this. > Then he spied B.A. holding on for dear life and fighting to retain his sanity. < Poor B.A., still doesn’t like to fly. >

 

*****

            Cheshire rubbed the back of his neck as he switched on his communicator.  “Birkoff, this is Cheshire.  Put me through to Operations.”  

 

            Moments later, Operations asked, “Did you find them?”

 

            Cheshire nervously regarded the device in his hand and tried to control the stammer that crept into his voice.  “N-no, sir.  They’ve apparently disappeared off the face of the Earth.  We found their hideout, but they were already gone.”

 

            “Check every airport and train station.  Have your units keep an eye on the main roads leading out of Yuma.  Check everything that’s going to California, especially Los Angeles.  Smith and his crew will try to hide in their home territory.”

 

            “Understood, sir, anything else?”

 

            “Don’t fail me, Cheshire.”  Then Operations terminated the connection.

 

            Cheshire studied his shaking hand and felt like someone had just dug his own grave.

 

*****

 

 

July 21st 1730 - PST

Iverson Air Terminal - Sunnydale, CA

 

            Buffy, St. Wolf and the rest of their friends entered the hanger that housed the Sunnydale branch of Iverson Air.  As the waited for the plane’s arrival, the operations manager, seeing their grim demeanors, raced over to them.  “Mr. St. Wolf, I’ve prepared everything per your orders.  Do you need anything else, sir?”

 

            “Leave the facility when the plane arrives.  None of you need to be here, understand?”

 

            The Ops manager saluted then he and his crew left the area. 

 

Mulder whistled lowly.  “I take it that they’ve worked with you before?”

 

            St. Wolf cocked a wry eyebrow at him.  “The grapevine at Iverson Air has some ‘very’ interesting stories about me.  Most of the people here tend to believe them.”

 

            At that, Scully smiled slyly.  “Fox, honey.  Let’s not talk about YOUR reputation at the Bureau.  How many Agents and Assistant Directors have you torpedoed because of it?”

 

            Mulder began to protest, but the Wanderer cut him off.  “Face facts, Mulder.  You’ll never win an argument with Dana.  You’re simply out of your league.”

 

            Mulder grimaced at that.  “I don’t exactly see *you* winning any arguments with Buffy.”

 

            “That’s because I know better.” 

 

            “That’s right, Mulder, ‘cause Homey don’t play that!” Buffy drawled.

 

At that moment, the operations manager re-entered the hanger and said, “The plane has landed and it’ll taxi here in about three minutes.  Do you need anything else?”

 

            “Make sure that we have that plane ready for Chad,” Steve said.  “When Duncan and his group arrive, we’ll leave.”

           

            A faint “Roger,” is heard from the man as he strode out of the hanger.  A minute or so later, the hanger doors opened to allow the Lear jet to roll inside.  The pilots parked it in the middle of the hangar and exited the plane while exchanging greetings with St. Wolf.

 

            Buffy turned to her boyfriend and said, “I take it they also know your rep?”

 

            He raised an eyebrow at her and said, “You think?”

 

*****

 

            The pilot turned to Hannibal after he shut the plane down and said, “We’ll be leaving now, Colonel.”  The pilot gave the two Sword of Allah assassins a look of pity and then deplaned.

 

            The assassins peered out their windows and saw a small group of people waiting outside.  Both took deep gulps and the loud one asked, “Is that devil out there?”

 

            Hannibal leaned over, took a glimpse out the window and grinned.  “Sure is.  Shall we go, maggots?”  He then grabbed the loud mouth by his shoulders and shoved him toward the door.

 

            As Hannibal and his charge deplaned, St. Wolf turned to Jenny, Willow and Amy. “You can set up your stuff now.”

 

            “Give us about ten minutes and we’ll be ready for them,” Jenny said as she started to draw a circle on the floor.

 

            “Then we’ll keep our guests ‘entertained,’” he promised as the A-Team approached with the assassins in tow. 

 

            Hannibal glanced around the area and noticed Merlin, Gordon and the Knights.  “Who’re the new guys, Steve?”

 

            “Hannibal, the bearded gentleman next to me is my boss, Merlin.”  The A-Team members nodded to the wizard.  “The rather large man in the black armor is Marc Le Chevalier, the Knight General of the Order of the Grail and six of his knights.”  Hannibal extended his hand and Marc took it.  “The other gentleman is Horace Gordon.  He’s in charge of another agency similar to ours.”

 

            Horace extended his hand and Hannibal shook it.  “Your reputation precedes you Colonel Smith.  When this is over, maybe we can discuss if you’d like to work for us, once in a while?”

 

            “If Steve vouches for you, then we can talk.”

 

            “Good.  I can always use good men.  There are never enough to go around,” Horace said.  Then he turned to the two assassins.  “I hope you enjoy your last hours of freedom.”

 

            “We fear nothing, infidel!” the loud-mouthed terrorist screamed.

 

            Gordon gave him a merciless smile.  “You’re fools then.”

 

            “We fear no torture that you weak-willed American dogs can devise!”

 

            Horace chanced a glimpse toward Jenny, Willow and Amy and grinned.  “Who said anything about torture?  I don’t think you’ll be able to resist those ladies’ charms.”

 

            Loud-mouth studied the three young women and grinned sickly.  “Those whores are only fit to accept the seeds of dogs such as yourselves.”

 

            At that insult to her Amazon sisters, Cordelia fired her fist into the terrorist’s face and snapped Loud-mouth’s head back, hard.  For several seconds, he saw only stars then shook his head and glared at the girl.  “Bitch!  Is this an example of the American’s so-called sense of fair-play to strike a man who is unable to defend himself?”

 

            Cordelia looked at St. Wolf, who said, “I want him alive and able to answer questions.  Other than that, all bets are open.”

 

            Cordelia grinned and nodded to Gabrielle, who cut the assassin’s bonds with a knife.  The loud-mouthed assassin seemed puzzled at why he’d been released.  Then he glared at St. Wolf.  “You let women do your fighting for you?  Your lack of respect for your own women astounds even me!  Well, do not expect me to show her any more respect than you, infidel.  Watch as I teach this whore a lesson in humility.”  He carefully moved forward and suddenly threw a punch at Cordelia’s face; however, Cordelia seemingly melted to the side to avoid the blow which sent his fist harmlessly over her shoulder.  Now, close to his body, the tall brunette beauty landed several devastating punches into his stomach and upper groin, causing him to grunt and stumble from her blows.  Then like a mongoose sizing up her prey, Cordelia stared at him and waited for his next move.  He growled at her then charged and was surprised when he was thrown so hard, his back bounced twice before he was laid out flat on the floor.

 

            “What happened?” he croaked.

 

            “The woman beat you down,” the other assassin whispered hoarsely.

 

            “That is not possible.”

 

            “It is when you fight an Amazon,” Gabrielle said to the pair in fluent Arabic.

 

            They both studied her for several beats before the quiet assassin muttered, “That is impossible.  The Amazon race died out over two thousand years ago.  Their last queen, Gabrielle, disbanded the tribes herself.”  He then stared at the lovely, doe-eyed woman and suddenly recalled several images he’d seen at an archeological dig several years ago.  “It…it can’t be.  It is not possible!  Y-you would have to be over two thousand years old!”

 

            “Yousef?!  What are you saying?” Loud-mouth demanded.

 

            Yousef continued to watch her as if he’d seen a ghost.  “S-she is the last Queen of the Amazons!  I don’t know how, but she’s alive!”

 

            “Fool!  You’ve been tricked by these infidels.  She’s no queen and I’ll prove it to you.”  Then the loud-mouthed assassin scrambled to his feet and launched an attack on Gabrielle.   Before he could even land the first punch, she managed to kick him four times in the face and chest and sent him crashing to the hangar floor once again. 

 

            “I hope you didn’t damage him too badly,” St. Wolf said.  “We still need him to talk.”

 

            “We’ll never talk, no matter what you do to us!”  Yousef exclaimed with a fanatical gleam in his eye.

 

            St. Wolf simply smiled a wicked smile at him and said, “Jenny, are you ready?”

 

            Jenny looked up from her work and said, “We’re ready.”

 

            The two assassins were dragged forward by several knights and tied down in a mystical circle.  After the knights stepped away from the terrorists, Jenny cast a spell and both men gasped as a demon appeared inside the circle with them.

 

            The demon peered at the pair and opened its mouth to reveal three rows of razor sharp teeth.  The assassins screamed in fear as the demon moved toward them.  The men screamed even louder as the demon licked their exposed skin.  Jenny then tapped her staff on the floor and the demon looked at her and asked in a high pitched voice, “Are they treats for me?”  

 

            “Only if they lie or refuse to answer any of our questions,” Jenny instructed.

 

            The demon turned back to the pair and pleaded salaciously, “Please, please lie!”

 

            The assassins stared at the demon in abject terror, their voices hoarse from their prior screams.  Yousef whipped his head side-to-side, frightened out of his mind.  “W-what is the infernal thing saying?  What does it want?”

 

            “It’s simple, really,” St. Wolf explained.  “We’re going to question you.  If you lie or refuse to answer during that questioning, our little friend here will take a bite out of you.”

 

            “You are truly the devil that Corvo said you were!” Loud-mouth angrily said.

 

            “Yeah…ain’t I, though!” St. Wolf drawled.  “Where are the Armaris being held?”

 

            “They are being held in an oil refinery north and west of the town of Ma’tan as Sarah in southern Libya,” Yousef answered.

 

            “How many men does he have?”

 

            “Two hundred.”

 

            “Do you know the patrol patterns for the guards?”

 

            “No.  ARRRGGGGHHHH!” Yousef screamed out as the demon took a bite out of him.

 

            “Again.  Do you know the patrol patterns?”

 

            “I won’t tell you,” Yousef said through gritted teeth as the demon bit down again, causing him to scream even louder this time.  Panting now, Yousef was weeping like a baby.  “No!  Please, no more.  The guards patrol in three perimeters.  Their schedules are changed daily by Corvo or his security chief.” 

 

            St. Wolf nearly laughed out loud as the demon turned and gave him a disappointed look on its ugly face.   “When is Corvo set to release the plague?”

 

            “In 60 hours,” Loud-mouth said quickly.

 

            Steve stared at Yousef before he asked him the same question.  “Is the plague going to be released in less than 60 hours?”

 

            Yousef remained quiet and the demon began to gnaw on him.  After the third bite, Yousef screamed out, “YES!  Corvo plans on releasing the plague in less than 36 hours.”  The demon finally stopped biting and Yousef slumped in his bonds.

 

            “How is he going to do it?” 

 

            Yousef stared at the demon’s blood soaked mouth and shuddered.  “He shall send our brave warriors.  They will release the plague in various airports in Europe.  The infidels will carry the plague world-wide and destroy all of our enemies.”

 

            “One more question.  Is there a cure?”

 

            “Only Corvo has it.  He will give it to us when the time is right.”

 

            St. Wolf shot a disgusted look at both men.   “Gods above, how can you be so stupid?”  The two assassins looked dumbly at him.  “Corvo plans to kill everyone!   This bastard’s got to die!  I have enough Jenny, send our little friend away.”  Jenny nodded, quickly uttered an incantation, and the demon disappeared with a wail.  Yousef and his companion then looked at their appendages in wonder as their flesh healed right before their very eyes.   St. Wolf grinned at them.  “The mind creates a person’s own most effective torture,” he said.  As the pair stared dumbly at their intact limbs, Steve turned to Marc.  “Marc, have the Knights meet us near the Libyan border in Chad.”

 

            “It shall be done,” Marc said as he pulled out his communicator and began to give his subordinates orders.

 

            Steve then drew his cell phone and hit a speed dial button.

 

            The phone rang twice and was quickly answered by Captain John Randall, LAPD Major Cases Unit.  “Randall here; this had better be important.”

 

            “Hello, John.  It’s St. Wolf.  Got a minute?”

 

*****

 

            Randall froze where he stood. < It hasn’t even been two fricking weeks!  Doesn’t this guy ever take a vacation? > “What can I do for you?”

 

            “I need a favor.  I’m holding two men wanted by the Israelis.  I need you to turn them over to the proper authorities.  Can you handle it?”

 

            “Who are they?”

 

            “They’re members of the terrorist group known as the Swords of Allah.”

 

            John gulped then quietly asked, “What did they do to get your attention?” < Please don’t let it be another demon. >

 

            Steve gave him a run down on what the Swords of Allah were planning.  “I’m leaving to take care of the situation in Libya.  I want these two processed and turned over to the Israelis.  Is that a problem?”

 

            < At least it’s not another demon.  But it just as well could be. > “I’ll have the Rangers at your place in two hours.”

 

            “Actually, why don’t you send the Rangers tomorrow.  I want these two kept under tight security until we hit their base.”

 

            “You’ve got it.  Oh, and Steve…good luck and good hunting.” 

 

            “Thanks, John.  I’ll see you when we get back.” 

 

            After he hung up the telephone, Randall sat back in his chair, stared out the window and silently offered a prayer. <God, let them succeed and stop this madness. >

 

            As John gazed out his window, Tracy Vetter entered his office.  “Are you ready for dinner, John?”  She then noticed his slightly pale skin and asked, “Are you all right?”

 

            “I just spoke with our friend, St. Wolf.”

 

            “Is something up?”

 

            “Yes. He’s taking care of it.”  John said as he turned back to the window and made a decision. < God, she’s so beautiful. > “Tracy, during the past two weeks, I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff and I’ve come to a decision.”

 

            “I hope you’re not quitting?”

 

            He continued to stare out the window.  “No.  But I’ve realized that I shouldn’t put things off and that I should tell you that I love you.”

 

            Stunned, Tracy took a step back. < He loves me?  Oh God!  Yes! >

 

            John, misinterpreting her reaction, hung his head in defeat. <What have I done?  Have I ruined our friendship? >

 

            Then his thoughts were interrupted by Tracy’s loving voice.  “Pardon me, John, but is this seat taken?” she purred as she maneuvered herself onto his lap, wrapped her good arm around his neck and pulled him to her for a searing soul kiss.  A full minute later, after they come up for air, she asked, “What took you so long to tell me?”

 

            “Hell if I know!” John quipped before he drew her to him for another tender salute.

 

*****

 

            Steve turned to his team and said, “Giles, you, Xander, Cordelia, Jenny, Amy and Oz will guard these two at my place.  Cody and the Rangers will pick them up tomorrow.”

 

            “Not a problem.  I’m sure that Cordy won’t mind beating them senseless a few more times,” Xander said.

 

            As the two terrorists were being restrained, the operations manager entered the hangar and reported, “The flight from Seattle has arrived and your friends have already transferred to the Fox Xanatos jet bound for Chad.”

 

            “Buffy, Mulder, Scully, Gabrielle, and Sonja, mount up!” St. Wolf barked.  “Our ride’s ready.”

 

            Just before Buffy turned to leave, Giles took three long strides to stand in front of his Slayer.  “Buffy, if your mother calls home from her buying trip, I’ll be sure to let her know what’s happened.  Oh, and, please do be careful and return home soon.  I simply couldn’t stand the enjoyment I’d have in my life if, for some reason, you aren’t around to tease me unmercifully about my ‘tweed-fetish.’”

 

            She graced him with a watery smile, stole his heart away for the hundredth time, and launched herself into his waiting arms.  “I’ll miss you, too,” she murmured into his chest.  Then after several blissful moments, she reluctantly pulled herself away from the comfort of his arms and drawled, “See, you could’ve said what I said without all the big words!”

 

            He flashed a glimpse of a smile meant only for her.  “Well, as you’re so fond to note on numerous occasions, I can’t help myself.  I’m British, after all.”

 

            With that, she smiled brightly, turned away, and rushed after the other Immortals.

 

*****

 

            “Is he available?”  Gordon asked his assistant, Dimitri, over his communicator.

 

            “Yes.  Where do you want him?”

 

            “Have him appear at my coordinates.”  Then before Gordon finished his sentence, a man appeared virtually out of nowhere right beside him, wearing dark brown clothing with an oversized hat, leaving only his icy blue eyes to show to the world.  Gordon turned to the man and said, “J.P. I know this is short notice, but I would like you to go on this mission with these people.”

 

            “Fine, as long as I can kill something evil,” J.P. said with a hollow, raspy voice.

 

            Gordon gulped deeply then asked politely, “Do you have any questions?”

 

            “Who are they?” 

 

            “The people you’ll be working with are from a group called Section Seven.  They’re a lot like the Bureau.”

 

            “Not them.  I couldn’t care less about them.  Who am I going to kill?”

 

            Horace shuddered and said, “A terrorist group called the Swords of Allah.”

 

            “Why?”

 

            “It plans on releasing an engineered plague that’ll wipe out most of humanity.  That group must be stopped at any and all costs.”

 

            “Fine,” J.P. muttered then turned and left a trembling Gordon in his wake.  He strode toward the waiting jet and crossed paths with Sonja and Gabrielle.  “Still hanging around together I see.”

 

            Both women were startled by the man who was able to approach them without their noticing his presence.  “What in the hell are you doing here!?” Sonja asked with a hint of mock annoyance in her voice while Gabrielle simply stared at him, too unsettled to say anything.

 

            J.P. shot a thumb back at Gordon in response.  “I work for him and his Bureau.  Got to tell you, though, it’s nice to see the two of you still doing some good in the world.”

 

            At that moment, St. Wolf noticed the stranger, walked up behind him and asked, “Who are you and what are you doing here?”

 

            J.P. turned and glared at the young Immortal. 

 

St. Wolf simply glared back at the other man. 

 

Gordon watched the staring match in amazement.  < Well, I’ll be damned.  St. Wolf’s not frightened of J.P.!  That poor, dumb bastard! >

 

            Finally, J.P. broke the impasse.  “I work for Gordon.  He called.  I came.  He wants me to help you on this mission,” J.P. said as a tiny smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. < Punk has balls.  This could be fun, ramming them down his throat. >

 

            Steve turned to Gordon.  “Horace, I don’t want one of your agents on this mission.  If he becomes exposed to the disease, he could die.”

 

            “J.P.’s an Immortal,” Gordon said. 

 

Steve raised his left eyebrow at that.

 

            “It’s true, St. Wolf,” Sonja said.  “I’ve known this ‘man’ for close to fifteen thousand years.  He never could turn down a good fight.”

 

            Steve sighed and relented.  “Oh well, the more the merrier.”  Then he picked up his bag and headed toward the door of the waiting airplane.  Once there, he turned around and announced, “Well, what are you all waiting for, an engraved invitation?”

 

            J.P. chuckled softly and said, “This mission actually might not manage to suck.”

 

            “Now I’ve seen everything,” Gordon muttered. “J.P. Withers actually laughed.”  Then he turned to Merlin and asked, “Do you think the world’s coming to an end?”

 

            “Not if that bunch has anything to say about it.” 

 

*****

 

            Once onboard, St. Wolf addressed the pilot when he’d come aft to greet his passengers.  “Captain Matthews, what’s our itinerary?”

 

            “Sir, our trip should take approximately six hours at Mach 1.7.  We should reach the target area by 0800 local time.”

 

            “Are the chutes loaded?”

 

            “Yes, sir.  We have twenty chutes ready for you and your people.  May I ask what the mission is?”

 

            “We’ll go over it in the air, Captain,” St. Wolf said.  As the pilot returned to the cockpit, St. Wolf saw a grinning Duncan standing in the aisle.  He reached out and hugged his old friend.  “It’s good to see your scrawny Scottish butt here, Duncan.”

 

            “I couldn’t resist after all the fun we had at your last party,” the dark haired Scotsman said.  “Allow me introduce you to Henry Stamos.  He’s the man that you asked to join us.”

 

            Steve reached out and shook Stamos’ hand.  “I’m glad that you agreed to accompany us, Doctor.  I’ve heard about your work in fighting the AIDS virus.”

 

            “The pleasure is mine, Mr. St. Wolf.  When Duncan told me about your mission, I couldn’t refuse.  My wife and adopted children are mortal; I don’t want them to die because of these monsters.”

 

            “We’ll stop them, Doctor.  I can practically guarantee it.”

 

            “Practically?”

 

            “There are no certain guarantees in life, Doctor,” the Wanderer said.  “We can only hope to stack the deck in our favor, the best we can.”

 

            “How well did you stack this deck?”  .

 

            “A dozen aces, several hundred Jacks and six wild cards.”

 

            “A well-stacked deck indeed,” Stamos observed.

 

*****

 

            Methos studied St. Wolf while the younger man greeted the Highlander and Stamos. < Duncan did well in teaching this youngster. > He smiled when he saw Buffy, Sonja, Gabrielle, and Dana climb aboard to greet Andrea and Amanda. < Well, well, the lovely view in the passenger section should make the miles pass quickly. > Methos mused.  Then he lost his good humor as the last passenger boarded the plane. < Gods above!  It can’t be him!? > Methos stared at the stranger and watched as he turned around, recognized him, and rewarded him with a death’s head grin that shook him to the core. < It IS him!  Where in the world did St. Wolf dig him up!? >

 

*****

 

            J.P. Withers’ gaze wandered among the crowd until he spied a youthful-looking blonde girl with a pug nose and petite, yet attractive build who caused his heart to skip several beats. < What the hell?  Where do I know her from? > Then he shrugged his shoulders and mused that he’d recall who she might be, sooner or later.  Moments later, he saw another face, one who he immediately placed.  < Why, even Death’s at this little party.  Damn, but I’m glad I didn’t kill him 2,500 years ago. >J.P. picked up his pack, strolled down the aisle, and stood in front of a young man seated next to his former prey.  “Move, son.  Your friend and I need to have a little chat.”

 

            Justin glared up at the man, but Methos’ hand on his shoulder stopped the young man’s retort.  “Justin, find another seat.  Aderron and I need to talk.”

 

            “You know this guy?” Justin asked.

 

            “We’re old…friends, very old friends.” 

 

Justin grumbled, stood up, and found a seat next to Richie.

 

            Then J.P. sat down and grinned.  “Glad to see you’ve learned your lesson, Methos.”

 

            “What are you doing here?” Methos demanded.

 

            J.P. removed a cigarette from his coat pocket, lit it by puffing on it then took it from his mouth and exhaled a smoke ring.  “Just lending a hand.  I work for your sister agency, Bureau 13.”

 

            “Sister agency?   Who in the hell do you think I work for?”

 

            “Section Seven, of course.  My boss Horace Gordon confirmed it.”  Then J.P. pointed at St. Wolf.  “That guy runs the show.  Merlin confirmed it, too.”

 

            “Damnit!  What in the hell have those boy and girl scouts done to me now?” 

 

            J.P. chuckled wickedly.  “So, you got dragged into this little mission by your friends?”

 

            “No.” Methos snapped as he held his aching head in both hands.  “I was actually dumb enough to volunteer for it.”  He shook his head resignedly and muttered, “I simply must get away from these people.”

 

            “Why, Methos!  I do believe you’ve actually dredged up a sense of responsibility.  Hell must have truly frozen over.” 

 

            “Oh, don’t hand me that sanctimonious crap, old man.  I’m in a foul mood.”

 

            “Like I care!  It seems you’ve also managed to develop a sense of humor over the years, too,” J.P. drawled as he leaned his seat back and waited for the plane to depart. 

 

After screwing up his courage, Methos chanced a glance at the ancient immortal and shuddered. < I don’t believe he’s actually here!  What could we face that would require the help of this ancient demon hunter? >

 

It was that thought which truly frightened Methos more than the presence of the ‘man’ who sat beside him.

 

 

Part 7 - A Dark Night in the Desert

                                  (The Hand of Anjou Watches Over His Brothers in Arms)

 

July 21st 18:00 PST - July 22nd 04:00 Local

Chad/Libyan Border

 

            From his position on the dune, Lieutenant Pierre La Croix spied on the Chad/Libyan border through his light intensifying binoculars.  He whistled lowly at the sight of the black-clad men and women who gathered in the valley below and muttered, “Whoever they are, there are a lot of them.”  Then he said to his radio operator who stood behind him, “Tony, radio headquarters for me.”

 

            “Sir…” the radioman whispered ominously.

 

            La Croix turned to his radioman and asked, “Yes, Tony?”  Then, all was forgotten when he saw two dozen men and women dressed in the same black armor as the people in the valley below.  They had surrounded his entire squad and gotten the drop on his men.  He managed to ask, “What the hell is going on here?” just before several of the dark clad people grabbed him, professionally searched his person, and stripped him of his weapons.  He glared at the largest man dressed in black, a seven foot tall giant, who Pierre assumed was their leader.  “Who in the hell are you people?”

 

            “That is none of your affair, Leftenant,” a sultry British voice crisply said from the side. 

 

            Pierre turned in the direction of that voice and was bowled over at the sight of the 5’10” tall blonde Valkyrie who stood before him. < Mon dieu!  She’s exquisite! > Pierre thought as he gazed upon a face that should have graced the cover of Vogue.  Turning on the charm, Pierre politely asked, “Mademoiselle, could you please tell me what is happening here?”

 

            Knight Captain Jordan Smythe regarded him coolly.  “Forgive me, Leftenant; I’m afraid I must insist that you and your men must be kept incommunicado for the next thirty-six hours.  That is all I can say at the moment.”

 

            “And what happens after that?”

 

            “You shall be released and go home if everything goes as planned.”

 

            “And if it doesn’t ‘go as planned’?”

 

            “Then we shall die and you shall die with us,” Jordan said in a grim tone that frightened Pierre and his men to their very core.  “Gentlemen, if you would be so kind, please walk this way,” Jordan directed as her unit escorted the Legionnaires down into the valley below.

 

            When they entered the camp proper, Jordan led her prisoners into a tent and directed them to be seated on the tent’s floor.  A short while later, the knight commanding the camp, Knight Colonel Javier Sanchez, entered to greet his ‘guests.’  Jordan crisply saluted him and turned over the custody of her prisoners to her commander.  Sanchez studied the members of the group then said, “Gentlemen, my apologies for this inconvenience; however, harsh times require harsh measures.”

 

            Pierre stepped in front of the Colonel and said, “I’m Lieutenant La Croix.  I want to know who you people are, sir, and by what right you claim to have the authority to invade Chadian soil and detain my men.”

 

            Sanchez smiled at Pierre.  “I am unable to provide an explanation to you at this time, young man.  When the overall commander arrives, I am certain he shall enlighten you.  Until then you are our ‘guests’ and you shall be well-treated, I assure you.  Please, gentlemen, do not test the limits of our hospitality,” Sanchez said then promptly left the tent.

 

            When they were alone, Pierre turned to his men and asked, “What do we have to work with?” 

 

            “Very little, sir,” Sergeant-Chef Brisby said.  “They took everything we had.  Hell, sir, they even took Rico’s weighted belt.  These blokes are real pros.”

 

            Pierre sighed at that.  “All right, options, gentlemen?”

 

            “Sit tight and wait for the Jaguar to bail us out.  If these people have been monitoring us, chances are they missed the thirty minute beep we have to transmit.”

 

            Pierre grinned at Brisby.  “Yes, there is that.  I always thought the Colonel was too paranoid.”

 

            Brisby smiled mischievously at him.  “I’d wager you probably don’t think that anymore now, do you, sir?”

 

            “Not in the least.  Now, what do we do when the rest of the First DREP attacks?”

 

            “We lie low, sir.”  Brisby said. 

 

Pierre nodded in agreement.  Keeping their men safe was a priority for the both of them.

 

*****

 

            While Sanchez inspected the perimeter, Jordan walked with him.  “Colonel, what if they try to escape?”

 

            Sanchez sighed.  “Then use any non-lethal method at your disposal.  Those men are innocents; we don’t want them injured in any way, shape, or form.”

 

            “Innocents?  They’re Legionnaires for God’s sakes!  The only innocent in that group seems to be their Leftenant.”

 

            “Do I sense something other than your usual cool detachment, Captain?” Sanchez teased.

 

            Jordan crafted a carefully neutral look and said, “No, sir, nothing out of sorts here.  Actually, they are quite good.  We almost missed them out there.”

 

            “They are a competent bunch,” Sanchez said evenly.  “If the mission goes well, perhaps we should make an offer to them.”

 

            “And if it doesn’t go well?”

 

            “Then we’ll bury them with honors.” 

 

                                                               Part 8 - Road Trips

                             (You Know, Bob and Bing Traveled on the Road to Morocco

Well, This Ain’t It)

 

July 21st 20:00 - PST

Somewhere over the US, headed East

 

            For the hundredth time during the past hour, St. Wolf studied the young face of his mate as she slept beside him.  Then he squeezed his eyes shut in frustration, shook his head and cursed himself for failing to be strong enough to keep her from losing the last shred of innocence she had left.

 

*****

 

            Duncan saw the emotions play across St. Wolf’s face and sighed. < You can’t protect her forever, Steve,> the Highlander mused.  <You need to accept the fact that she’s going to be by your side, through thick and thin, for as long as the two of you are together. > 

 

*****

            In another section of the passenger section, Miss Parker turned from viewing the twilight through her window to talk to the man seated beside her.  “Jarod,” Andrea whispered, “what do you think of this mission?”

 

            “If we don’t stop these terrorists, they’ll unleash a disaster of global proportions.”

 

            Andrea nodded solemnly then asked, “Does this work help you make up for what the Centre did with your simulations?”

 

            Jarod squeezed her hand warmly and looked deeply into her eyes.  “In some small way, I suppose.”  Then he hesitated for a moment, seeming to want to say something, yet he held back.

 

“Jarod…what?”

 

He regarded her shyly.  “I-it’s nothing…really.”

 

Mildly exasperated, she gently gripped his jaw with her long fingers.  “Tell me,” she said with a loving smile.

 

Finding his courage, he whispered, “All right.  This may sound strange, Andrea.  B-but I’m glad you’re here…with me.”

 

            Andrea laid her head on his shoulder and chuckled.  “Funny, but that’s exactly what I was going to say about you.”

 

*****

 

            Sonja leaned over and said quietly to Gabrielle, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

 

            Gabrielle sighed resignedly.  “That’s what you always say every time we face impossible odds and certain death.”

 

            “This time, it’s not about you and me, honey.  It’s about Buffy.  I don’t think she’s ready for this.  Hell, if you and I hadn’t have experienced all that we’ve been through, I wouldn’t want to expose YOU to this, either.  Killing something that has no connection to humanity is one thing, but killing someone who’s somebody’s child, father, or brother…” Instead of finishing her thought, Sonja’s words simply faded away.

 

            Gabrielle stared deeply into her lover’s eyes.  “Sweetie, you know I prefer peaceful solutions, but, at times, I have come to accept that taking a life may be justified to protect the lives of the innocent.”

 

            “Yes…I know.”

 

            Something in the way Sonja had said those three little words, made something inside Gabrielle’s brain click into place.  “Why didn’t you let me be the one to take Hector’s head?” 

 

            The Amazon Queen had seen this remarkable woman, the flame-haired love of her life, fearlessly face demons and godlings in mortal combat on many occasions.  Her bravery knew no bounds.  Yet, Sonja’s fear, at that moment, was a tangible thing that was so intense Gabrielle could almost taste it.  “Sonja?”

 

            “When I lost my family, after I was raped…I became a killer.  I deprived others of their lives, their loved-ones, their reason for living.  Revenge drove me to become what had destroyed my life.  For nearly twelve-thousand years, I was the Angel of Death, a reaper of souls that killed at whim.  There was no rhyme or reason to what I did, Gabrielle.”  Then Sonja smiled weakly at the little blonde.  “Then you came into my life.  It didn’t take me long to see what Xena had seen in you, and every day, I thank Crom for you.  You saved me, Gabrielle.  You made me want to be a better person, someone worthy of you.  Before you, I was only a warrior.  Now, I-I’m a hero.  I owe everything to you.  And because of that…I cannot allow you to lose your purity.  I won’t let you kill out of vengeance and risk becoming…hollow, a shell of yourself.”  Then Sonja’s voice started to break as she said, “They’d have to take my head first, before I’d let that happen.  So please, honey, I would give you anything except that one thi—”

 

Gabrielle didn’t give Sonja a chance to continue her babble. With tears in her eyes, she cupped the redhead’s cheeks in her hands and drew Sonja to her for a tender, soul-caressing kiss.  Then when oxygen became an issue, their lips parted and neither uttered a single word.  They simply studied each other’s face, an exercise of which these primal lovers would never tire. 

 

*****

 

            Justin and Richie gawked brazenly at the mind-boggling kiss shared by the ancient bisexual lovers.  “Wow,” Justin breathed, “that was so…so…”

 

“So smoking hot?!” Richie finished his friend’s observation for him. 

 

“Yeah,” Justin said with a goofy smile on his face.  “You know, the only thing that sucks about this is I really need to go to the john but I don’t want to leave because I might miss something.”

 

            Richie nodded slowly as the two men continued to spy on the lovers who were lost in their own little world.  “Right there with you, big guy…right there.”

 

                                                     Part 9 – Thanks for the Memories

                          (Hmmm…I Detect Bob Hope’s Theme Song Rearing Its Ugly Head.)

 

            For the thousandth time since he answered the call from St. Wolf months ago, Methos kicked himself.  < I can’t believe that I actually volunteered for this job.  What in the hell is wrong with me?   I was ‘Death’.  I shouldn’t be here with all of these boy and girl scouts.  I should be out there causing havoc, not preventing it.  Damn you, Macleod!  What in the hell have you done to me? >

 

            “What’s eating you, Methos?”  J.P. asked from his seat next to the ancient Immortal.

 

            “Not a god damn thing,” the Immortal groused.

 

            J.P. cracked a grin and muttered, “Oh…I see.  You’re angry at yourself for trying to make up for all of the shit that you pulled when you were younger.  Remember the first time we met?”

 

            Methos nodded as his mind wandered back through the ages:

 

*****

 

Area that is now located in the State of Bavaria, Germany

August, 500 BC

 

            He came upon a large farm that was tucked inside a small valley below the forest.  As he guided his horse down a rolling hill, he saw six armed men standing below, waiting for him.  When he was a hundred feet or so distant from them, Methos calmly raised his empty right hand in the universal signal of peace.  At that, they appeared to relax and lowered their arms as they waited for the lone traveler to come closer.  Then he smiled as he considered how easy it would be to kill them all.

 

            When he got within throwing range, he pulled out his two throwing axes that had been tucked into his belt and hidden behind his back with both hands.  Then he threw them and sent the axes spinning through the air and into the chests of the two on either end of the group.  As they went down, he drew his sword and attacked the remaining four men.  The first man he simply gutted and left there to die with his intestines lying on the ground.  The second and third men got their throats sliced with a single slash of his iron sword as they attempted to draw their own swords.  The fourth man, however, leaped back from a blow that would have sliced open his chest and raised his shield while he began his attack with his hand axe.  As his opponent aimed a wild swing at the Immortal, Methos grinned, stepped inside the man’s swing and tripped him, causing the man to stumble over his leg and fall flat on his face.  Then, Methos stabbed the fallen man in the back, severing his vertebrae, and leaving the man paralyzed and dying.

 

            After he finished his dance of death, he turned his attention toward the simple farm house and wondered if it had anything worth his trouble inside.  Then he smiled warmly as he spied two young girls looking at him in fear from a window of the house. < Oh yes.  Now this has just become far more interesting, > he thought.

 

*****

 

            Aderron, former Captain of the Imperial Guard of Atlantis, sought his prey through the Black Forest and wondered where the man known as Death could be. < From what those merchants had told me, he has to be in this area.  If that bastard thinks he’s going to do here what he did in the Euripides Valley then he’s going to learn there are things far more deadly than he. > As he approached a clearing, a small child ran toward him.  He immediately noted three things about the child; she had been crying, there was blood running down her legs and four men were chasing her, while a fifth attempted to raise his pants so that he could apparently give chase, too.  Aderron quietly seethed as his eyes narrowed at the scene.  He hated rapists, especially child rapists. He saw the girl trip over a root and the four men laughed as they approached her fallen body.  At that moment, Aderron pounced from his cover and attacked.  He came to the first man and sliced him open with his Atlantean steel sword.  The man cried out in anguish as his bowels entangled his legs and he fell.

 

            Another man brought up his axe and shield in response as he fearfully regarded the Atlantean.  Aderron grinned and his sword was a blur as he cut apart the wooden shield and the arm that had held it.  The rapist’s two other friends quickly moved apart and launched attacks against the stranger.  He avoided a swing from the man on his right and snap kicked the man in the groin.  As the injured man went down to his knees, he brought his foot back into a reverse sweep kick and took down the last unwounded man.  Aderron then heard a twig snap and turned to the sound.  He found the rapist trying to sneak up on him with his axe and responded by stabbing the man in the heart. 

 

For several moments, the man peered down at his chest.  Then he died with a look of wonder on his face.  Aderron then turned to the three downed men and killed them.  Moments later, a sudden noise made him spin around but all he found was a frightened, little girl.  As Aderron slowly walked toward her, she cringed from him.  Uttering soothing sounds, he reached out with his mind and began to comfort the frightened child.

 

            After a few minutes of this, the girl calmed down and asked, meekly, “Lord Aderron?  Is it really you?” 

 

            Aderron squatted down and asked out loud, “How do you know me, young lass?”

 

            “My family met you at the last Festival.  You were speaking with the Jarl.”  The girl said, her legs barely holding her up.  “Thank you for saving me from those men.”

 

            Aderron’s face grew wistful.  “I once had a daughter.  She looked a lot like you.” 

 

            The girl nodded.  “Could you help my family?  More of these men are at our farm.”

 

            “Where’re you father and brothers, girl?”

 

            The girl looked over to the mountains.  “They went to the mountains to bring the animals back before the winter snows close the passes.”

 

            “Who guarded your family while they’re gone?”

 

            “My grandfather,” the girl sobbed.  “They hurt him before they took over our farm.  I was in the field and ran.  Those five men followed me and hurt me.”  The girl broke down and began to sob uncontrollably.  Then Aderron took her into his arms and comforted her with a hug as he mentally projected soothing thoughts into her mind. 

 

            Minutes later, the girl settled down and whispered, “My lord, we have to go back and save my sisters.”

 

            Aderron quietly nodded and followed the girl through the woods.

 

*****

 

            Methos took a close look at the two girls and found that’s exactly what they were, children. < I’ve never raped children before; I won’t start now.> His eyes scanned the farm and they spied the body of an old man on the ground near a lean-to.  Methos strode over to the man and turned him over.  He found the old man was still barely alive and when the old man looked up at him, Methos asked, “Is this your farm, old man?”

 

            “Aye, my family works the land here.  Who are you and where are those bastards who shot me in the back?”

 

            “They’re dead, old man,” Methos said.  “Unfortunately, you’ll be dead soon as well.”

 

            The old man grinned at him.  “Thank you…son,” he said.  “My family…is defenseless…will you guard them until my son and his sons return?”

 

            “Where’s his wife?”

 

            “She died last winter.”

 

            Methos nodded.  “My horse could use some rest.”

 

            “Thank you,” the old man said then died in Methos’s arms.

 

            After he closed the old man’s eyes, he noticed that the two girls watched him warily.  Methos stood up and said, “Find me a shovel and show me where to put him.”

 

            Both girls nodded, headed off to a side building, and quickly brought back a wooden shovel.  He took the shovel from them and grabbed an axe from the ground.  Then he followed both girls to a shady spot under an oak tree.  He saw that there were two other mounds there and began to dig to the right of the pair.  As the girls sat down nearby to watch, he began to dig.

 

*****

            From behind a grove of small trees, Aderron and the girl spied on the strange man who’d begun to dig a hole by the oak tree.    “Who is that man?  Why is he digging there?” Aderron asked the young girl.

 

            “My mother and grandmother are buried under that oak tree,” the girl explained.

 

            “Is he one of the men who attacked your farm?”

 

            “No, he’s dressed very differently from them.”

 

            “Wait here,” Aderron ordered and he moved stealthily to the other side of the farm.  He discovered the bodies of six dead men in front of the main house and grinned.  Damn, he’s good, he thought.  Then he quietly returned to where the stranger was digging.  As he approached, one of the girls who sat near the digger yelled out and the stranger turned around, his sword held ready.  Aderron held up his hand and called to his little friend, “Come out girl!  This man appears to be a friend.”  Then the girl came out of some nearby bushes and raced toward her sisters.

 

            Methos glanced at the three girls then at the stranger. < That’s a damn fine sword he has.  I wonder if I can kill him for it? >

 

            Aderron watched Methos closely. < Damn…the bastard’s actually trying to size me up.  If he tries anything, it’ll be the last thing he ever does. > As Aderron finished his thought, Methos flashed a throwing axe from behind his back and flung it at Aderron.  When it struck, the axe bit deeply into the Atlantean’s shoulder, causing Aderron to hiss. 

 

However, when Aderron calmly removed the axe and his shoulder healed instantaneously, Methos watched in amazement.   “What are you?!”  Methos exclaimed as he raised his sword.

 

            “Your death, whelp!” Aderron said.  With that, Aderron attacked.

 

Methos attempted to block the slash aimed at him, but Aderron’s sword powered through his defenses and stabbed Methos in the heart.  Afterward, Methos fell to the ground, dead.  The Atlantean just shook his head in disgust and walked over to the three girls.  “What was he doing here?”

 

            The elder of the two girls pointed to the body of an old man. “He was going to bury our grandpa.”

 

            “Damn him!  Why the hell did he attack me?”

 

            “Because I want your sword,” a cold voice said from behind the Atlantean.  Aderron turned and found Methos had risen from the dead and now faced him with an axe in his hands.  “What are you, old man?  You’re no Immortal!”

 

            “No, but you are!” Aderron noted with a bit of humor in his voice.  “So tell me, warrior, how exactly old are you?”

 

            “I’ve been around a long time, maybe two thousand years.”

 

            Aderron snorted at that.  “Hah!” he barked.  “You’re just a pup!  Well, young fellow, allow me to introduce myself.  I am Aderron, former Captain of the Guards to the Emperor of Atlantis.”

 

            Methos sullenly stared at the man as he dropped his axe down to his right side.  “That’s impossible.  Atlantis is just a myth, a child’s fable!”

 

            Aderron grinned and squatted on the ground.  “Well, to me, you are akin to a child, so while you’re digging, let me tell you my story.”

 

            Methos, no longer wary about the man, dropped his weapon and picked up the shovel.  Then, as he began to dig the old man’s grave, the self-professed Atlantean said, “I was born in the city of Terrela on the island nation called Atlantis.”

 

“At the age of seventeen, I entered the Royal Academy and became a soldier for the Emperor of Atlantis.  I served well and soon found myself in the Emperor’s personal guard.  I rose through the ranks and became the Captain.”  Then he sighed wistfully.  “Ah, life was good for me.  I even had a wonderful, gentle wife and three beautiful children.”

 

Then he grimaced.  “One day, the Emperor ordered me to undertake a mission to kill some evil sorcerers who called themselves the Black Circle of Archon.  After several weeks of searching we found them and attacked.  I lost nearly all of my men, but we were finally able to kill the last sorcerer.  As he lay dying, the spell that he was casting went into me and as the sorcerer died, he cackled ‘You’ll watch as your loved ones die all around you while you remain ever the same.’  I didn’t think anything about until about forty years later, when my youngest said he looked older than I did.

 

            “Soon after that, my wife passed away of old age.  I went to the Emperor, not the same one mind you, but his grandson, and asked to be allowed to leave his service.  He asked why and I told him that I didn’t want to see my family die around me.  The Emperor granted me permission to leave his service.  I left Atlantis for the mainland a week later on a trading mission to travel the world and try to forget all that I’d lost.  Years later, Atlantis was destroyed.  I was in a small fishing village then and I cried for my great-great grandchildren that had stayed on the island when I left.

 

            “Since then, I’ve wandered the world.  I have known several other Immortals during that time, a red headed she-devil who drove me to drink on many occasions and warmed my heart, Krevar, Methuselah, others of your kind.”

 

            “How old are you?” Methos asked.

 

            “Something over fifteen thousand years old,” Aderron said.

 

            “By the gods, you are old!  I’ve barely reached two thousand and I feel the weight of the years on me.  What do you do to keep from losing your mind?”

 

            “I live everyday one day at a time.  I don’t try to plan too far into the future, because if you do that, you’ll only live for the future.”

 

            “Good advice, old man.  Do you have any other words of wisdom?”

 

            “Yes, learn to care about those around you.  Having friends, even if it is only for a brief time, will help the years pass by quicker.”

 

            Then Methos grunted as he finished his task.  “Help me put the old man in so I can be done with it.”  Aderron nodded and they picked up the old man’s body and gently placed it inside the grave.  When they had climbed from the grave, the three girls stood together and uttered a small prayer to the gods while the two strangers began to cover the body with dirt.  When they were finished, Methos turned to Aderron and asked, “I take it that you’ll stay with the girls until their father comes home?”

 

            “Yes,” Aderron said simply.

 

            “Good, then I’ll take my leave of you, old man.  When next we meet, may we meet as friends.

 

            “Good travels to you as well, Methos.  Don’t lose your head if you can help it.”  With that, Methos untied his horse from a nearby fence rail, mounted his steed, and left without looking back.  

 

As Methos disappeared into the rising mists, Aderron quietly considered the decision he’d made.  < Perhaps I should have killed you the moment that I saw you Death.  But the kindness you showed these children brought you a reprieve.  Live your life in peace, Methos.  But if you ride again, I will kill you and the other horsemen. >

 

*****

 

            “Would either of you care for a drink?”

 

            The flight attendant’s voice shook the two men from their discussion of times long past.  “Yes, a glass of merlot, please,” Methos said.

 

            “Nothing for me, young lady.  Thanks, anyway.”

 

            When she left to retrieve Methos’s drink, he asked, “What happened when the father and sons came home?” 

 

            “The girls explained what had happened and the father provided me with room and board for a week after that.  Then I took my leave of them.”

 

            “How did you explain our Immortality to the girls?”

 

            “I told them that we were warriors chosen by the gods to protect the innocent.” 

 

            Methos chuckled ruefully.  “Did they believe you?”

 

            “Of course, they did!  They saw us both recover from death wounds like they were nothing.  Besides, it fit their religious beliefs.  They hoped that their grandfather would also be chosen.”

 

            “What did their father say about the pack of lies that you told the girls?”

 

            “He never found out while I was there.  I swore the girls to secrecy,” J.P. said with a grin.

 

            “You are one sneaky son of a bitch, Aderron.” 

 

            “Thank you,” J.P. said as he put out his cigarette and pulled the brim of his hat down to shield his eyes from the cabin light.

 

            “I hope they were able to have a decent life,” Methos muttered.

 

            J.P. burrowed down into his seat and tried to hide the grin on his face. < My how you have changed, Death.  It’s good to know that even you are capable of change. >

 

                                                                 Part 10 - Visitors

                        (How Come My Teachers Weren’t as Hot as a Certain Technopagan?)

 

July 22nd 09:00 - PST

Sunnydale, CA

 

            Jack Ryan removed his sunglasses, placed them in his suit jacket’s breast pocket, glanced at his three companions, and asked, “Are you ready to meet an old friend?”

 

            “Yeah, well, I’m going to tear him a new one for not telling us he was alive,” Colonel Franklin groused as he pulled his lanky frame from the front passenger seat of their rental car.

 

            “You’ll do no such thing, Bull,” Ryan ordered.  “I have a few questions to ask him about this group he’s working with.  After that, then, you can rip him a new one.”

 

            “Good.”  Colonel Franklin said as he knocked on the front door.  However, when the door opened, instead of finding their old comrade on the other side, they were blessed with the vision of a lovely young woman.  She wore a short skirt that flattered her long, taut legs.  She appeared to be a little more than five and a half feet tall, fit and trim, with a dark, sensual look that warred with the keen intellect he saw in her eyes.  It was at that moment, a line from a Donald Fagen song a few years back popped into Ryan’s mind: a beautiful survivor with dancer’s legs and laughing eyes.

 

            “May I help you?” she asked.

 

            “I’d like to speak with Steven St. Wolf.  Is he home?” Ryan asked.

 

            She froze for a second and stared at Ryan.  Then she regained her composure and said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Ryan, but Steve is out of town.  Would you care to leave a message for him?”

 

            Jack blinked twice at her.  “You know who I am?”

 

            “Steve’s told us about you, sir.  If you’d wait right here I’ll get a pad and pen for you.”

 

            Ryan was a bit suspicious about this well-informed young woman and decided to even the playing field.  Pouring on the charm, he gave her his most disarming smile.  “Before you go, it seems you have me at a disadvantage.  What exactly is your connection to Steve?”   

 

            “I’m just a friend.”

 

            “Are you a close friend?” he asked.  If so, Ryan wished he had more friends who looked like St. Wolf’s.

 

            “Close enough, Mr. Ryan,” she drawled

 

            Slightly taken aback by her evasion, he asked, “Is there any way for me to contact him?”

 

            She hesitated for a moment then said, “I’m afraid not, sir.”

 

            “May I use the phone in Steve’s office?” 

 

            “All right, please follow me,” she said and allowed Jack and his three friends to enter the house.

 

            While Ryan struggled not to study the sway of her “snake hips” and cursed the fact he couldn’t get the words of Fagen’s song out of his mind, he pretended to notice the home’s décor.  “Steve certainly has a good eye for decoration.”

 

            “Not really, Mr. Ryan,” she said smugly.  “He had help.”

 

            As they entered the home’s great room, Bull noticed all of the picture frames on the mantel.  He crossed the plush oriental rug and picked up one of the photographs.  It had a picture of St. Wolf sitting on a swing kissing a very youthful-looking blonde girl blessed with the classic looks of a California beach bunny.  “Who’s the girl with Steve?”

 

            “She’s another friend of his.”

 

            Bull showed her the photo and said, “This girl can’t be a day over eighteen, if that.  Is he dating her?”  

 

            Bull actually gulped when he saw the fire in the woman’s eyes.  "That's between the two of them!  Just because you’re business associates of his, doesn’t give you the right to ask personal questions about my friends!" she angrily scolded.  Then she turned back to Ryan, apparently unaware that Bull had started toward her, and said, “Mr. Ryan, if you’d wait here a moment…”

 

            When Bull stalked toward the woman to give her a piece of his mind, the sound of several safeties being released filled the room.  Suddenly, all four men found themselves painted by laser sights.  Each of them froze as the woman whirled on the source of the deadly light show and exploded.  “Damn it!  He wasn’t going to do anything to me!  I had the situation under control!”

 

            “Sorry, Jenny, but we couldn’t let him get his hands on you,” Lieutenant Cody Rodgers of the Los Angeles Police Department said as he stepped out of a doorway.  Then the rest of his Rangers followed suit as they continued to cover Ryan and his three companions.

 

            Ryan, although stunned, quickly gathered his wits about him.  He turned to the young lady that the SWAT leader had called ‘Jenny’ and asked, “Care to tell us what’s going on here?”

 

            “Let me make a phone call first,” she said and strode down the hallway.

 

****

 

            Jenny walked into St. Wolf’s office where Xander held the two terrorists.  “Xander, take those two out of here and leave them with Cody and his team in the great room.”  Xander nodded and ordered both men to their feet.  Then he led them out while Jenny began to place a telephone call.  Meanwhile, two of the Rangers quickly fell in behind Xander and escorted the prisoners to a seat on the couch.

 

*****

 

            Jack studied the faces of the two men and asked, “Who are they?”

 

            “They’re just your average, run-of-the-mill terrorists,” a young man with brunette hair said.  “The Rangers were going to escort them to LA for arraignment.  But you kinda put the kibosh on that plan.”

 

            “Corvo will kill you all for this,” Loud mouth said.

 

            Jack stared at the pair and asked, in a hushed voice, “You’re members of the Swords of Allah?”

 

            The men glared back at him and said nothing while the young man chuckled ruefully.  “You still think that Corvo has a chance of completing his plan?”

 

            Loud mouth said, “Corvo is the greatest leader in the whole world.  He will not fail.”

*****

 

            Jenny studied the card that Horace Gordon had given them earlier that day and dialed the phone number listed on it.  After the first ring, someone picked up the receiver.  “What can we do for you, Ms. Calendar?” a voice asked.

 

            “Is Mr. Gordon there?”

 

            Jenny heard the click as the call was transferred.  “Hello, this is Gordon.”

 

            “Mr. Gordon, Jenny Calendar here.  Jack Ryan walked in just as we were getting the prisoners ready for transfer to the LAPD.  I can’t reach Steve at this time.  Do you have any advice on how to deal with Mr. Ryan?”

 

            “Ryan’s a straight shooter.  Tell him everything and he’ll help.  If you need any backup, call back.” 

 

“Will do, Mr. Gordon.  Thanks.”

 

“Any time, Ms. Calendar, and I mean that.  Goodbye,” he said then hung up the telephone. 

 

Jenny hung up the phone and walked out of the office.  Moments later, she found Ryan and his three companions staring at the two terrorists.

 

            Ryan, clearly not amused, asked her, “What’s going on here?”

 

            “Just a moment, Mr. Ryan,” Jenny said then turned to Cody.  “Please take those two out into the garage and detail several of your people to guard them.”

 

            Rodgers nodded and turned to his people.  “Rodriguez, Thompson, Jones, take them.”  The two terrorists were then hustled out of the room by the three SWAT troopers.

 

            After the terrorists were gone, Jenny sat down in a nearby easy chair across from Ryan and said, “Those two men were sent by the Swords of Allah to kill a young woman name Karen Armari.  Her father, Benjamin Armari, and the rest of his family were kidnapped by the Swords of Allah.”

 

            “Ben Armari?  The Nobel laureate virologist?  Dear God!!  Do you realize what that means?”

 

            “Yes,” Jenny said.  Then she gave him a complete rundown on St. Wolf’s mission.

 

            Ryan simply stared dumbly at her for several moments.  Then he asked, “I take it that you and everybody here works for Section Seven?”

 

            “Not all of us.  The SWAT team is LAPD.  They’re here to take those two to jail to stand trial for their crimes.”

 

            “Who runs Section Seven?” Jack asked.

 

            Her eyes twinkled with good humor as she said, “I’m afraid that information is classified, Mr. Ryan.”

 

            Although he should have been extremely annoyed at her, he couldn’t help but be disarmed by her beauty and charm.  “Jenny, if that’s your real name, no more games, all right?  Your group doesn’t legally exist.  As far as the US Government is concerned you could be classified as terrorists yourselves.”

 

            “I suppose we could test that theory…Jack,” Jenny said with a sly smile.

 

            Ryan kind of liked the way she said his Christian name.

 

            “Who’s the leader of your group?” Bull asked.

 

            Jenny glared at Bull and he shifted uncomfortably in his chair.  “I’m afraid that’s none of your business, Mister...?”

 

            “I’m Lt. Colonel John Franklin of the 82nd Airborne, the two men with me are Major Ritter and Sergeant Sanchez of the 5th Special Forces Group.  The man you call Steven St. Wolf served with us in the Army.”

 

            “When he served with you, you knew him as Carson ‘Cherokee’ Jamieson?” she prompted.

 

            “Yeah.  We’re here to make sure that he’s all right,” Major Ritter said.

 

            Jenny grinned at the major.  “He’s doing all right, sir.  You have absolutely nothing to worry about.”

 

            “Pardon me, ma’am, but our experience with groups like yours is that they tend to abuse their people and not take care of them,” Ritter said.

 

            “Not this group, Major.  We take care of our own,” she said evenly.  “We’re like family to one another here.”

 

            “That’s all well and good, Jenny, but you’re still members of an illegal agency,” Ryan said.

 

            “Like anyone here cares about that,” Cody Rodgers said with a smirk as the rest of his team laughed.

 

            Jack turned to the SWAT officer and asked, “Why are you here, Lieutenant?”

 

            “St. Wolf called my superior and gave him a rundown on what was going on and asked that we take those two off his hands.  They’ll be read their rights and held.  The Israelis have been contacted and they’ve demanded extradition for those two.  Captain Randall is handling that end of the matter with the district attorney.”

 

            “State is going to have a field day with this one,” Ryan muttered.  Then he glanced at Jenny and asked, “One more thing.”

 

            “Yes?”

 

            “Are vampires real?” Ryan asked and grimaced as nearly everyone in the room started to laugh.  “Well?”

 

            “They’re real.  May I ask how you know about them?”

 

            “You people rescued one of my men when you raided an abandoned supermarket.”  Bull said.  “When he reported for duty, he saw a picture of Cherokee hanging on the wall in my office.  He told me he saw Cherokee alive and well, so I called Tex and Gunner to my office and ordered the soldier to give me a full report.  What he told me scared the living daylights out of us, so I contacted Jack and found out that he actually knew Cherokee, but under a different name.”

 

            Ryan took up the thread from there.  “You could imagine my surprise when I found out that one, no, make that two, of my best operatives were working with a covert operations group that I had never heard of before.  So I ran some background checks and made some arrangements, cleared up a few matters, and decided to come and visit my old friend Steven St. Wolf for some answers.”

 

            “Exactly what sort of arrangements did you make, Jack?” Jenny asked.

 

            “Well, Jenny, did you know that Carson ‘Cherokee’ Jamieson was wanted in Texas for six counts of first degree murder?” 

 

To her credit, she didn’t react to the information at all.  However, the SWAT troopers tensed up.

 

            “Who did he kill?” Rodgers asked.

 

            “He killed the six men responsible for the rape and murder of his wife, Katherine,” Bull said.  “He let the cops have them, but the bastards fixed the trial and they walked.  Then Cherokee tracked them down and killed them all.  After that, he disappeared without a trace.  The last that we heard of him was that he supposedly died saving a group of kids from a nutcase armed with an AK-47.  However, his body disappeared from the morgue so we couldn’t be sure he really was dead.”

 

            “Were those men wanted for anything else?” Sergeant Bob Devlin of the LAPD asked.

 

            “The Texas Rangers were able to track them and pin at least another dozen rape/murders on the group,” Ritter said. 

 

When they heard that, the troopers relaxed.

 

            “Recently, I contacted Governor Bush and convinced him to pardon Carson Jamieson,” Ryan said.

 

            “Really, Jack?” Jenny asked.  “Why would you do that for a dead man?”

 

            “Steve has done a lot of good for this country.  As far as I’m concerned, he’s more than repaid his debt to society, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude.  The other reason was because of this.”  Then Ryan took out a small case and opened it.

 

            “Is that what I think it is?” Rodgers asked in a hushed voice, tinged with respect and awe.

 

            “It is.  Carson Jamieson was nominated for the Medal of Honor for bravery above and beyond the call of duty.  He deserved this and I wanted him to have it.”

 

                                                              Part 11 - Old Friends

                                               (Old Friends Are Always There for You)

 

July 22nd  - 01:30 PST - 11:30 - Local Time

Somewhere over the Chad/Libyan border

 

            St. Wolf studied the sand dunes that stretched to the horizon.  To him, it looked like hell. 

 

He didn’t want to be here, particularly with her by his side because before the day was out, he was afraid she would truly be horrified by what he would become to get the job done.  In reality, though, he was terrified that she would want nothing to do with any of it, including him.

 

            Then he chanced a glimpse at her and caught her eye.  She beamed one of her thousand watt smiles at him and stole his breath away once again.  Then he felt cold inside because he hoped she’d be able to smile at him like that when they returned to Sunnydale after this mission. 

 

Then they heard the intercom switch on and the captain spoke.  “This is your pilot speaking.  We’re thirty minutes from the drop point.  Everyone get ready.”

 

            “Drop?” Buffy asked.  “Did the Captain say drop?” 

 

Steve grinned at her. 

 

“He means out of a perfectly good airplane?  How exactly am I supposed to do that?  I’ve never done it before,” she babbled.

 

            “Buffy, we’ll do this the proper way.  I’ll help you into your chute and then I’ll teach you everything you need to know about sky diving.”

 

            “And you’re going to teach me this in the next thirty minutes?”

 

            “Sure,” Steve said with a goofy smile on his face.

 

            “What exactly are you going to teach me?”

 

            “I’ll teach you the locations of your main chute and auxiliary chute releases.”

 

            “Is that all?” 

 

            “Well, no.  There is the final lesson.”

 

            “And that is?”

 

            “We throw you out of the plane and see if you land on your head,” Steve said with a straight face. 

 

Buffy’s face turned beet red as the rest of her friends shared in his joke.  Then she narrowed her eyes at him and pouted.  “Oh, you are such a bastard!”

 

****

            Steve laughed at her pout and said, “Don’t worry, Buffy, you’re going down with me.”

 

            “Hmm…somehow, the way you just said that kind of sounds a little naughty,” she said with a saucy look on her face.  “Care to fill in the blanks for me?” she asked as Steve began to strap the chute on her body.

 

            “I’m going to tie us together and we’ll jump out of the plane at the same time.”

 

            Buffy grinned.  She certainly liked the sound of that and thought it had a lot of possibilities. “So,” she drawled, “are we going to be tied together face to face or what?”

 

            “Actually, we’re going to be facing the same direction,” Steve said with a wicked gleam in his eye.

 

            “Oh?” Buffy said as Steve’s hands lingered over certain tantalizing parts of her body as he adjusted her harness.  “You know, if you continue to touch me like that, I won’t be responsible for my actions.”

 

            Steve simply chuckled and said, “You’re all set!  Now, I’m going to tie you to me and we’ll jump together.”

 

            “How are you going to do that?” Buffy asked as she turned around and felt him tighten her harness and strapped them both together. 

 

“There.  If I pull it any tighter, we’ll bump together the whole way down.”

 

With her bottom firmly pressed against her new lover’s crotch, she swiveled her head around and pressed her lips against the corner of his mouth.

 

            “Let’s do this, so when it’s over, I can have my wicked way with you.”

 

            He grinned at that.  “Okay, it’s a date!”

 

*****

 

            J.P. glared at the young couple and wondered why he suddenly felt like hitting the boy.  Then he shrugged and tried to shake it off as a case of the boy reminding him of someone long forgotten that he’d hated a long time ago.

 

*****

 

            Mulder and Scully finished checking each other’s straps and grinned at Steve’s and Buffy’s antics.  “Were we ever like that?”

 

            “Once, maybe.  Not so much now, but we still have our moments,” Scully observed.  “I’m glad it didn’t take them five years to find each other.”

 

            “True but I wouldn’t trade any of that time I spent getting to know you for anything in the world,” Mulder said in a low whisper as he nuzzled her throat while she reached up to gently and lovingly caress his face.

 

*****

            Methos, finally tired of watching several of the couples become intimate, said loudly, “Will you people stop it already!?  This damn love-fest is a little much, don’t you think?”

 

            “Shut up, old man,” a grinning Amanda said.  “We’re just wishing each other luck.”

 

            “The battle’s not until tonight,” Richie said.

 

            “When you’re jumping out of an airplane, you need all the luck you can get,” Andrea said.

 

            Methos grew sullen as he prepared his chute.  “Gods preserve me from hormonally charged youngsters.”

 

            J.P. chuckled at Methos’ discomfort and said, “Just because you haven’t found anyone for yourself, doesn’t mean that you won’t.”

 

            Methos regarded him with suspicion.  “You’re not trying to set me up with a friend of yours by chance?”

 

            “Methos, I wouldn’t set up my worst enemy with you.”

 

            “Glad to hear it, old man.”

 

*****

 

            Captain Matthews looked over his shoulder and saw the Wanderer strap himself to the young lady.  < So the high and mighty Wanderer has a girlfriend.  It’s good to see him loosening up and not be such a morose SOB. > “Drop in five minutes, people,” he said to his passengers.   Then he turned to his co-pilot.  “Tony, you’re the jump master, give everyone a final check.”  Tony nodded and headed for the main cabin.

 

            Moments later, Tony checked everyone’s chute.  Then he walked to the rear of the plane and strapped on a safety harness.  After he checked his harness, he lowered the rear ramp.  As the wind whipped around him, Tony announced, “Mr. St. Wolf, we’re ready to drop you in thirty seconds.  Please come to the edge of the ramp.”

 

            As the Immortals gathered in the rear of the plane, Tony said, “All right people, the stick order calls for you to jump at 10,000 feet and release chutes at 7,000.  That gives you, once you leave the plane, roughly two minutes to orient yourselves and head to the landing zone.  Any questions?”  No one said a word.  Then Tony said, “All right, the green light is on.  Go!”

 

            Buffy looked around the cabin, puzzled.  “I don’t see a green light.  The only thing that got turned on was the ‘No Smoking’ sign.” 

 

Steve simply shook his head, calmly lifted her, and walked over to the edge of the ramp.   Then he stepped out into thin air.

 

Buffy screamed something unintelligible at first then was heard to say, “You are SO dead, mister!” 

 

Mulder then jumped next and yelled out, “Geromino!”  A moment later, Tony admired a foxy red head who’d strolled over and looked over the edge.  Tony then was surprised when the guy who called himself Methos shoved her over the edge.  Methos looked at his handiwork and grinned then flung himself out into space.  Soon, the other people had all jumped from the plane and the last to go was the five man group that referred to itself as the A-Team.  Finally, when they were all gone, Tony closed the ramp, unbuckled his harness, and returned to his co-pilot’s seat.  As he sat down, he asked the pilot, “Are all of these missions like this?”

 

            “They are when the Wanderer’s involved,” Matthews said as he banked the plane in the direction of Egypt toward their rendezvous.

 

 

Part 12 - Free Fall

(Nothing Gets the Adrenalin Pumping Like a Jump)

 

July 22nd 02:30 PST - 12:30 Local

Libyan/Chad Border - Drop Zone Alpha

 

            Steve grinned as Buffy thrashed below him.  “Buffy if you don’t stop doing that I’m going to have to change my pants,” he yelled.

 

            She playfully jabbed his ribs with her left elbow.  “It’d serve you right for making me wig like this!”

 

            “Just relax, honey.  Raise both of your arms above your head like you’re doing jumping jacks.  It’ll slow our fall a little and help you to relax and enjoy the view.”

 

            Moments later, a somewhat calm Slayer began to enjoy the experience.  Indeed, she reveled in the sensation of floating on a cushion of air. 

 

*****

 

            Above the two lovers, the other members of their group began to sort themselves out.

 

            Richie and Justin did several loops and moments later were joined by Mulder.  Meanwhile, Scully shot dagger-like glares at Methos who glided on the air currents next to Duncan. 

 

            At that moment, Duncan saw that Amanda had joined Sonja and Gabrielle and decided to join them.  However, when Amanda saw him coming, she led the other women away from him and left him to fume.

 

            In the meantime, Jarod and Andrea were performing an aerial ballet and as the dancers met, they kissed each other, pirouetted away, only to rejoin for another kiss.  Then, as Methos passed them, he yelled, “Get a room already!” 

 

In response, Jarod simply grinned at the elder Immortal, turned, and kissed Andrea again.

 

*****

 

            J.P. Withers enjoyed the younger Immortals’ antics and wondered if his life was going to be any different now that he had a chance to build some permanent relationships. < Who knows?  Maybe I’ll find someone to call ‘friend’ here.  Maybe I won’t be such an insufferable bastard.> Then he snorted at himself.  <Yeah and Hell will freeze over and Satan himself will sell cookies door to door while wearing a girl scout’s uniform. > Suddenly he had a wicked gleam in his eye. < Damn.  I should make that buggerer wear one!  That’d teach him a lesson! >

 

*****

 

            Several feet above Withers, Hannibal saw his team was following jump discipline and were keeping close together.  Then, when they reached the 7,000 foot mark, the Immortals and his men deployed their parachutes.

 

*****

 

            Knight Captain Jordan Smythe grinned as she witnessed the Immortals’ aerial performances.  Then, a minute or so later, when they were almost on the ground, she motioned to the rest of her knights to help the jumpers out of their chutes.

 

*****

 

            Buffy saw the ground approaching rapidly and heard Steve grunt as his legs took most of the landing’s impact.  Although his knees slightly buckled, he righted both Buffy and himself and started to gather in the chute.  A split second later, several knights moved in and began to cut away the chute with knives while Buffy and Steve unbuckled their harnesses.  When they were done, a tall, blonde woman approached them and said, “Hello, I’m Knight Captain Jordan Smythe.  May I ask who’s in charge here?”

 

“That would be me, Captain.  I’m Knight Lieutenant Steve St. Wolf.”

 

            < Merlin’s personal Champion?  Oh God!  It’s going to be a hot one. >  Glad to see that you could make it so quickly, Lieutenant.  Colonel Sanchez is back at base camp,” Jordan said as she saluted. 

 

            St. Wolf returned her salute with one of his own.  “Good, I’ll meet with him there.  Anything happen while we were in transit?”

 

            “We caught a patrol of Legionnaires from the 1st DREP.  The Colonel’s orders are to keep them under wraps until we’re finished here.”

 

            “Good,” he said as the rest of his team joined them.

 

            Jordan examined the faces of his team and saw a familiar one amongst them.  She smiled and asked, “Jarod?  Is that you?”

 

            Jarod smiled at her.  “Hello, Jordan.  It’s been a long time.  May I ask what you’re doing here?”

 

            She smiled at the man she had known a year or so ago.  Then, he was a constable with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Alberta who’d helped her track down an English noble family’s little girl and her kidnapper.  “I believe we’re both here for the same reason, Mountie.”  Suddenly, Jordan noticed the woman who stood beside him and grimaced.  “What the hell is that bitch doing here?”

 

            Andrea shot an ice-cold smirk at the blonde who’d helped protect Jarod from her when she, Sidney, and Broots had tracked him to Canada.  She sashayed up to Jordan and said, “Just covering my man’s back,” as Jarod wrapped his right arm around Andrea’s wasp-thin waist.  “What’s it to you anyway, Piccadilly Barbie?”

 

            Jordan simply glared at the tall brunette and muttered, “Now, I’ve seen everything.”  Then she turned back to St. Wolf and asked, “Is this it for your team, Lieutenant?”

 

            St. Wolf nodded.  “Yep.  Let’s go.” Then as they strode away from the drop site, Steve asked, “Did you bring the extra armor?”

 

            Jordan nodded as six HUMVEEs pulled out of their hiding spots and everyone climbed aboard.  However, when Jordan saw Buffy scramble into the lead HUMVEE, she asked, “Aren’t you a little young to be out here?”

 

            “I’m an Immortal,” Buffy said simply. 

 

Jordan quietly nodded at the little blonde and wondered what her connection was to St. Wolf.

 

*****

 

July 22nd 04:00 PST - 14:00 Local

Air Traffic Control Tower

Tripoli, Libya

 

            The man known to most of the air traffic controllers as Old Hamed screamed.

 

            The major in charge of the airfield rushed over to Hamed and asked, “What is the matter with you?”

 

Hamed turned and speared the man with the haunted look in his eyes.  “It has returned,” he said simply.  “And it is not alone.”

 

The major fought to swallow the lump in his throat.  “Are you certain?”

 

            “Yes.  There are six of them, moving in rapidly from the south.  I estimate their speed at Mach 1.2.  In approximately four minutes, they will cross the border.”

 

            “Allah preserve us,” the major muttered.  Then he snapped out orders to the rest of his air traffic controllers.  “Order every military plane and helicopter down and under cover.  NOW!!!” 

 

As the controllers rapidly issued orders on the military frequencies, the major walked on stiff legs to his office and closed the door.  Then he picked up the phone, took a deep breath and said to the operator, “This is Major Benmari at the airfield.  I must speak to the Colonel immediately!”

 

            His call was quickly routed through to the head of state of Libya. 

 

“What is it?”

 

            “It has returned, sir,” the major said.

 

            The phone was silent for an entire minute before the Colonel asked, “Benmari, have you recalled all of our aircraft?”

 

            “Yes, sir.”

 

            “You should have ordered them to attack, Major.”

 

            “Sir, it’s not alone this time.  There are six of them now.”

 

            There was another pause before Benmari heard a heavy sigh on the other end of the phone.  “You did well,” the Colonel said then terminated the call.

 

            At that moment, the major slumped in his chair and was relieved to have heard those three simple words.

 

*****

 

July 22nd 04:15 PST - 14:15 Local

Order Base Camp, Libyan/Chad Border

 

            Jordan had the driver park their HUMVEE right next to Colonel Sanchez.  As she climbed out, she saw another group of Legionnaires being led into the prisoners’ tent. < Damn it.  What the hell happened? >  She strode on her long legs toward the Colonel and reported, “Sir, the specialists are here.” 

 

Sanchez nodded.  “Very good, Captain.  Also, you may have noticed we’ve run across another squad of Legionnaires.  We should expect a swarm of them soon,” he muttered.  “One missing patrol could be due to defective equipment.  Two means trouble.”

 

*****

 

            After the mysterious soldiers in black had left their tent, La Croix approached his friend, Lieutenant Andre Selon, the other squad leader.  “Andre, what do you make of the group that captured us?”

 

            Andre shrugged.  “I don’t know but a lot of them carry swords!”

 

            Pierre raised his right eyebrow at that.  “Swords, eh?  That is very strange.”

 

*****

 

            St. Wolf approached the medium-height Spaniard who was the field commander and said, “Colonel, I’m Knight Lieutenant St. Wolf.  Thank you for arriving so quickly.”

 

            Sanchez smiled and shook St. Wolf’s hand.  “The pleasure is all mine, Sir Steven.  Your reputation and that of your friends precedes you.  That was a damn fine victory you had in Los Angeles two weeks ago.”

 

            “I had good people, Colonel.  They made all the difference.  Merlin told me about your raid on the Black Mage Council.  That was good work as well.”

 

            Colonel Sanchez smiled. “Thank you, Sir Steven.  The Council’s destruction was a great victory for us.”

 

            “Who are the men under guard?” 

 

            “Two Legion patrols we captured as they were observing us.  We’ll let them go as soon as we complete our mission.”

 

            “Did you tell them what we were doing here?”

 

            “No.”

 

            “All right, let me talk to them.” 

 

******

 

            St. Wolf entered the tent with Sanchez and approached the two Legion officers. “May I speak with you and your men?” St. Wolf asked.

 

            Pierre studied St. Wolf’s face and thought it looked familiar to him.  Then, in response to St. Wolf’s question, Pierre shrugged.  “You’re in command here.  Who am I to say no to you?”

 

            St. Wolf smirked at the young Lieutenant and said, “Don’t be a smart ass, Lieutenant.  Some people might take offense.”

 

            “Offending the enemy is not a concern of mine, I’m afraid,” Pierre noted crisply.

 

            St. Wolf sighed.  “Fine, Lieutenant, let’s do this by the numbers.  I’m going to tell you why we’re here and once you understand what our mission is, I hope I can trust you and your men to act accordingly.”

 

            “Very well, Monsieur…?”

 

            “St. Wolf.”  Then he gave the men a full report concerning the last twelve hours.   

 

            Pierre and Andre digested the unbelievable news and Pierre asked, “Who are you people?”

 

            “We’re a covert operations group called Section Seven.”

 

            “Are you American or British?”

 

            “I can’t tell you that, Lieutenant.  Let’s just say that our agents come from all over the world.  We claim no country as our own, but help everyone as we can.”

 

            “All well and good Monsieur St. Wolf, but if you cross the border here, you’ll be opening Chad up to retaliation by Libya.”

 

            St. Wolf grinned at him.  “I wouldn’t worry about the Libyans.  They won’t do anything.  We’ll be in and out of there in a matter of hours.”

 

            “How can you be so certain of that?  The Libyan Air Force constantly patrols this area.”

 

            Steve smirked at him then looked up at the sky.  Just then, six shadows passed over them.  “The Libyan Air Force won’t be a problem, Lieutenant.”

 

            The Legionnaires looked up and saw a sight they simply couldn’t believe.  Six huge dragons flew over the hot sands of the Sahara toward Libya. 

 

Pierre then glanced at St. Wolf.  “What the hell are those things?”

 

            “They’re old friends of mine, Lieutenant, here to do me a favor.”

 

            “And that favor is?”

 

            “Their purpose is to keep the Libyan Air Force on the ground.  Last time the Libyans faced only one of my friends and he destroyed a major portion of their air force in less than two hours.”

 

            “Who are you people?” Pierre asked in a hushed voice.

 

            “We are the latest incarnation of a force that has existed since the dawn of humanity.  We exist for one purpose only, to protect humanity from the ‘Darkness,’ whether the threat concerns demons or vampires or even a megalomaniac like Corvo.  Is that what you want to know?”

 

            “Are you mad?” Pierre sputtered.  “Demons?  Vampires?  What in heaven’s name are you saying?  There is no such thing as demons or vampires!”

 

            “Or dragons, Lieutenant?” St. Wolf added with a sly smile.  “I imagine I am asking too much of you to believe your own eyes!”

 

            Pierre shook his head.  “I-I don’t know what those things were, but I’m sure there is a logical explanation for them.”

 

            St. Wolf smirked and said, “Well, you’ll have a lot of time to sit and try to come up with that explanation, son of Anjou.”

 

            Pierre stared at the stranger.  “Have you served in the Legion E’tranger?”

 

            “No, but I trained for a while with the 1st DREP.  It’s been a good twenty years since I worked with Legionnaires.”

 

            Pierre again studied the man’s face for several long moments.  Then it struck him.  “Cherokee, is it really you?”

 

            Stunned, Steve looked at the Lieutenant and said, “I’m sorry, Lieutenant, but I don’t know you, do I?”

 

            Pierre grinned sheepishly.  “You don’t remember the little boy you used to tell cowboy and Indian stories?  Or stories of your friends C.D. Parker and Cordell Walker, the Texas Rangers?”

 

            St. Wolf held out his hand about hip level.  “Little Pierre?”

 

            Pierre nodded, grinned and gave his old friend a hug.  “Mon Ami, we thought you lost after you’d saved those children!  How is it that you are still alive?”

 

            “Section Seven faked my death, Pierre.  I’ve been working for them for the last fifteen years.”

 

            “Who’s in charge of this group?” 

 

            “I’m running this operation, Pierre.”

 

            Pierre nodded.  “Let me have a radio.  I’ll contact the Jaguar and make sure that you have a strong guard here on the border.”

 

            Steve nodded toward one of the knights and a radio was brought to Pierre.  The lieutenant then picked up the transmitter and punched in a frequency known only to a few men.  He then repeated a code phrase. “This is Mount Le Blanc to the Louvre, come in please.”

 

            After a few seconds, a voice said, “This is Luxembourg, report.”

 

            Pierre grinned.  “It’s Jaguar,” he said to St. Wolf. He then announced into the microphone, “Luxembourg, this is Mount Blanc.  The snow is slushy.  I repeat; the snow is slushy.”

 

            “Clarify.” 

 

            “Negative.  I require a face off at third quarter, fifth period, seventh inning.” 

 

            “Confirmed; will reach you in two halves.”

 

            “Confirmed; touchdown in two halves.  Out.”

 

            Steve shook his head and grinned.  “Still using the code that Jaguar, Sean and I cooked up?”

 

            “It’s never been broken.  So what will we call you, Cherokee or St. Wolf?”

 

            “Cherokee died a long time ago my friend.  I’m St. Wolf now.”

 

            “I understand, old friend,” Pierre softly said. < He’s buried his past like he buried Catherine. >

 

            “May I ask a personal question?” St. Wolf said.

 

            “Certainly.”

 

            “I thought Constance would have died a thousand deaths rather than see you in the Legion.”

 

            Pierre shook his head ruefully as his men snickered.  “Mama can be somewhat…difficult.”

 

            “I’ll bet!  Did she try to kill the officer who swore you in?” 

 

            “Yes, but Uncle Anton had O’Rourke there to fend her off.”

 

*****

 

Legion Headquarter, Loc Yora, Chad

7 March 1997

 

            “Do you swear to uphold the Constitution and Government of France to the best of your abilities?” Anton asked the young man in front of him.

 

            “I do,” the young man, broad shouldered and earnest said formally.

 

            Anton smiled and drew the young man into a manly hug.  “Then I welcome you into the Legion E’stranger, Pierre.  Your father would’ve been proud.”

 

            Before the young man could respond, a female whirlwind flew into Anton’s office.  Both men turned and saw a sight that would haunt them to their graves.  Constance La Croix, broken table leg in hand, had knocked both of the Legionnaires who’d guarded the door out cold. “My God!!  Constance!?” Anton shouted.

 

She glared at him with the flames of righteousness burning hotly in her eyes.  “How DARE you, Anton!?  Time and again, I’ve told you that Pierre would have nothing to do with you and the animals you lead!!”

 

            “Mother!!  I’m an adult!  You have no right to make my decisions for me,” Pierre said.  Constance faced him and he gulped when he saw how angry she was. 

 

            Pierre,” she said in an even, deadly quiet voice that frightened both men even more than her earlier rant.  “My sweet, sweet boy.  I love and wish you all of the happiness in the world.  But I won’t let you throw your life away like this.”

 

            “He’s already sworn the oath, Constance.  He’s an officer in the Legion now,” Anton said from behind his desk.

 

            “Oath?  What oath?  I think you’re going to swear to all that’s holy that he never swore any oath, Anton,” Constance said while she continually smacked her open palm with the broken table leg.

 

            “I can’t do that!”  

 

            “Well…enjoy your stay in the hospital, Anton!” Then she rushed forward to attack the Legion Major and said, “Genevieve will forgive me sooner or later for doing this to you!”

 

            Before the table leg could connect, a pair of large, hairy arms grabbed the determined woman, forced her arms down, and snatched the make-shift weapon away from her grip.

 

            “Let go of me, you ugly ape!!” Constance snapped.

 

            “Now, darlin’, you know I can’t let you kill the major,” a large man said to her.  “After all, who’s going to protect this sorry Irishman when he’s gone?”

 

            Constance struggled valiantly but she was no match for the incredibly strong man. “Let go of me, Sean!!  I can’t have Pierre join this crew of insane murderers!”

 

            “Is that all we are to you, Constance?” Anton asked quietly.  “What about Robert?  He was a Legion officer when you married him.”

 

            “He was different!” she screamed.  “He was kind and gentle and caring!  He was forced to join this unit because he refused to follow an illegal order!”

 

            “We all know that, darlin’,” Sean O’Rourke said as he held Constance and tried not to betray his true feelings for her. < God!  What a woman!  Give her red hair and no one would say she wasn’t Irish! > “That’s why the Libyans are still bitching over what we did to their men when we found Robert’s body.”

 

            Constance stiffened as she remembered what the Libyan officers had allowed their men to do to desecrate the body of her dear husband.  “They deserved it!!  All of them!”

 

            “We kno—Ugh!” Sean cried out as she stamped on his foot with the heel of her pump.  Although his foot hurt like hell, he was still able to maintain his hold on the woman.  Constance, enough!  We agree with you about the Libyans, dammit!  Why do you think the entire battalion volunteered for that mission!?”

 

            “What the hell are you saying, Sean?” she scoffed.  “Those animals never cared for my Robert!  They all thought he was a stuffy Parisian peacock!”

 

            “That’s not true, woman!  His men loved him!” Sean barked while Anton nodded in agreement.  “In fact, several of his men died trying to save him!  They were ordered by Robert’s aide to retreat and to a man they refused to leave without their commander!”

 

            “Is this true, Anton!?” 

 

            “It’s true,” the major said.

 

            “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”

 

            Anton sighed.  “You were distraught over Robert, so much so, that we were seriously considered sending you to a mental health facility.  You wouldn’t listen to anyone for a long time and when you got better, we thought it best to let sleeping dogs lie.”

 

            Quiet for the moment, Constance allowed Sean to guide her over to the couch.  Then he sat next to her and allowed her to lean into his chest as she began to cry. 

 

*****

 

            Pierre?”  

 

            Pierre shook the memories from his mind and grinned sheepishly at St. Wolf.  “Sorry, Mon Ami.  Shall we wait for Uncle Anton’s arrival?”

 

*****

 

July 22nd 04:30 PST - 14:30 Local

1st DREP Headquarters

Town of Lac Yora, Chad

 

            Colonel Anton ‘The Jaguar’ Dumas paced back and forth in his office as he awaited news about his missing nephew.  He glared at Sergeant-Chef O’Rourke and the Irishman said, “Maybe it’s just equipment failure.”

 

            Colonel Dumas stopped pacing and straightened to his full six foot one inch height.  “I sincerely hope so, my friend, for both our sakes.  Would you want to tell Constance that Pierre is missing?”

 

            The six foot eight inch tall giant of a man shuddered and shook his head.  “The only way I’d want to tell her something like that is if I ever got tired of breathing.”

 

            Then their conversation was interrupted by a young corporal who rushed into the office.  The young man handed the colonel a message and Anton read it.  Moments later, Anton grabbed the microphone to the radio transmitter from his desk and spoke into it.  After several cryptic sentences, he placed the microphone back on his desk and glared at O’Rourke.  “Sergeant-Chef, prepare the men.  We leave in one hour.” 

 

O’Rourke nodded and rushed out the door, taking the corporal with him.

 

            As the pair of non-commissioned officers strode to communications room, the corporal asked, “Where are we going?”

 

            “We’re going to the border,” a grim-faced Sergeant-Chef O’Rourke said.

 

*****

 

            As St. Wolf and La Croix marched out of the camp toward the rendezvous point, the Frenchman glanced at the other man’s black armor and asked, “Aren’t you hot in that thing?”

 

            “No.  It has an air conditioning unit built into the back and legs.”

 

            Pierre’s eyes opened wide in surprise.  “I don’t hear a thing!  What’s its power source?”

 

            “That’s classified,” St. Wolf said with a sly grin. < Magic isn’t for everyone. >

 

            “Can you talk about your work?”  Pierre asked.

 

            “Sorry, Pierre, I can’t.  Wish that I could, but I can’t.”

 

            “Understood, mon ami,” the Legionnaire said as they continued to walk.

 

*****

 

             “Dana, have you seen where Steve went off to?”

 

            Buffy entered the tent that she and her lover shared with Mulder and Scully after she’d taken a stroll around the camp.  Seeing all of these hardened and experienced warriors being so professional and so resolute had made her feel like a fish out of water.  When it was your own life on the line every night, the punning helped keep her from totally wigging out from the tragedy that was her life.  Yet, when others depended on you to lead them and send them into situations where they could die if you screwed up, you had to be serious about everything.  So she searched for Steve so they could talk about how she might try to deal with it.

 

Scully smiled warmly at the younger Immortal and said, “He left with that French Lieutenant about twenty minutes ago.  Why?”

 

            Buffy’s face broke out in a sad pout.  “But I told him I’d go with him.”  She glanced at the equipment she’d previously left on her cot, found her radio and picked it up.  As she switched it to Steve’s personal code, she sent a quick beep.  When Mulder, Scully, and she’d heard the answering beep come from the radio on Steve’s cot, Buffy snapped, “That idiot didn’t even take his radio with him?”

 

            Mulder placed his hand on Buffy’s shoulder and said, “He didn’t want you to go with him in case the meeting went sour.  He also felt it would be better if he left the radio behind.”

 

            Scully muttered, “Of all of the lame brained ideas!  What the hell was he thinking?”

 

            Mulder shrugged.  “Although it’s stupid considering that you’re the Slayer and stronger than he is, he doesn’t want you to get hurt, Buffy.  That’s why he didn’t take you with him.”

 

            Buffy glared at Mulder and said, “I think a certain someone needs an attitude adjustment and I’ve got just the right size foot to kick his butt and make it happen!”

 

                                                  Part 13 - A Gathering of Old Friends

                                                     (Usually Means Tons of Trouble)

 

July 22nd 06:30 PST - 16:30 Local

Chad/Libyan Border

 

            The Jaguar studied the sands in front of his Hussar half track and wondered about Pierre’s message. < Who could these friends be?  And what are they doing at the border? > Then he’s roused from his thoughts by O’Rourke’s hand on his shoulder.  Anton lifted his binoculars in the direction of where O’Rourke’s hand was pointing and saw his nephew standing next to a stranger in a black uniform. < What kind of fool wears black in the desert? > Moments later, Anton pounded on the roof of the cab and pointed to the pair of men waiting for him.  Then the driver drove the half-track toward them. 

 

            A minute or so later, Anton and O’Rourke jumped down from the back of the Hussar and approached Pierre and the stranger.  As they finally came face to face with the two men, O’Rourke gasped then grabbed up the stranger in a bear hug.  “You’re still alive!  Damn it!  Where the hell have you been, Carson?”

 

            St. Wolf grinned.  “Let me down, you overgrown ox and I’ll tell you.”  O’Rourke placed him gently on the ground and St. Wolf offered his hand in friendship to Anton.  “Damn it’s good to see you still alive, Anton.  How are Genevieve and the kids?”

 

            “Genevieve is fine and she’s missed you these last fifteen years, mon ami.  And my youngest son would have liked to have met the man for whom he was named.  Where have you been?”

 

            “Working for a covert operations group called Section Seven.”

 

            “Have they treated you well?”

 

            “Yes they have,” Steve said with a sly smile.  Seconds later, though, he was all business.  “Anton, I’d like to catch up on old times, but I’m here on business.”

 

            “I thought as much.  What are you going to be doing and how will it affect me and my men?”

 

            St. Wolf gave Anton complete report on the situation as it was.  “One of my teams captured two of Corvo’s assassins a day or so ago.  After we questioned them, we discovered they were planning to release a mutated strain of the Ebola virus on the world.  According to them, it has an almost one hundred percent death rate.”

 

            “And you and your people are here to stop them?”

 

            “Yes,” St. Wolf confirmed.

 

            “How many people do you have?”

 

            “We have two hundred and twenty.  We’re fairly well armed with small arms, mounted machine guns, and rocket launchers.  We can take out Corvo and his Swords of Allah, but we’re not going to fight the Legion.”

 

            Anton nodded.  “What do you need us to do?”

 

            “Watch our backs and allow us to escape across the border when we’re done.”

 

            “You don’t ask for much.  What about the Libyan Air Force?  Recently, they’ve been keeping a close eye on the border.”

 

            “The Libyans have been taken care of.  None of their planes or helicopters will be in the air for the next twelve hours.”

 

            “May I ask how you arranged this?”

 

            “Some friends of mine are paying the Libyans a little visit.  Khadaffi’s keeping his planes well away from them.” 

 

            “Very well, then.  Where are we to deploy?”

 

            “Let’s return to my camp.  I’ve outlined our insertion points and escape vectors on several maps.  We can go over them together and work from there.”

 

            “Good.  Do you need a lift?”

 

            “We walked here.  It would speed things up,” St. Wolf said as they walked toward the Hussar. 

 

            Once aboard, Anton asked, “Where shall we go?”

 

            “That way,” St. Wolf said and pointed in a direction with his right index finger.

 

            “You heard the man, Henry.  Let’s get this monster moving,” Anton ordered as the driver shifted the Hussar into gear.

 

            “So, is there anyone in your life?” Anton asked.

 

            Steve grinned and his complexion turned slightly red.  “Yes, there is.”

 

            “Is she beautiful?” O’Rourke asked.

 

            “Yes, she is.  Why the third degree, fellas?”

 

            “Because, mon ami, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do and when we arrive at your base, we’ll be too busy to ask,” Anton said.  “Does she know what you do for a living?”

 

            “I’d say so…she’s my second in command.” 

 

            Then a flustered Pierre blurted out, “It’s not Jordan, is it?”

 

            Anton turned to the young Lieutenant and asked, “Who is this ‘Jordan?’”

 

            “She’s one of my officers.  I do believe that she’s caught young Pierre’s eye,” St. Wolf said with a smirk.

 

            “Is she a looker?” Anton asked.

 

            Pierre glanced at St. Wolf, who said, “Pierre, while we’re in this vehicle, anything you say will be kept in the strictest confidence.”

 

            “Thank you, but I choose not to incriminate myself at this time,” Pierre said in a snarky tone of voice as his three companions laughed boisterously.

 

            “He’s got it bad!” O’Rourke observed.  “She must be something to have such a hold on him this fast.”

 

            As Pierre continued to sulk, Anton took a modicum of pity on him.  “Don’t worry, Pierre.   We won’t embarrass you.”

 

            “Too much,” Sean O’Rourke added, causing the young Legionnaire to groan.

 

            “But we must do the honorable thing and warn her about your mother,” Anton slyly said.  Then as Pierre buried his face in his hands, Anton decided to let his nephew off the hook and changed the subject.  He turned to St. Wolf and asked, “So, Carson, how come you look so young?”

 

            “Good living and a job that agrees with me,” St. Wolf said noncommittally. 

 

*****

 

            Buffy paced in front of the command tent and constantly looked to the south, in the direction he’d gone.  Then she strode back to her tent and found the FBI agents sitting outside.  Scully obviously noticed the concerned look on her young friend’s face because she asked, “Still worried about Steve?”

 

            “It’s been two and half hours, Dana.  What’s keeping them?”

 

            “The meeting wasn’t for two hours, Buffy; they could still be talking,” Mulder said.  “Look, Steve didn’t want to do anything to irritate the Legion any further.  After all, we’re in their country about to crossover the border to attack a group of terrorists in another country that these people have been in a state of semi-war with for the last six years.” 

 

Then Buffy turned toward a sound from the south that her Slayer hearing detected before anyone else could.  Thirty seconds later, Mulder heard it, too, and saw the Hussar as it approached the camp.  “Never underestimate Steve, Buffy.  He’ll constantly surprise you every time!”

 

            “Single Legion Hussar to the south!” the camp guard called out.  In response, everyone in the camp moved to their ready positions.  Buffy watched as the knights performed a choreographed ballet as they prepared missile launchers and heavy machine guns for a possible attack.  Then she whirled in the nick of time to catch her assault rifle that Scully had just thrown to her.  She caught it and automatically checked the rifle, pulled the action back then chambered a round of the armor piercing .308 ammunition loaded in her magazine.  Finally, she took her place in the center of the compound and waited with the rest of the Immortals. 

 

            Jordan glanced at the Immortals and saw they were ready with the young-looking, blonde woman at their head, large and in charge.  Jordan then smiled and slightly bowed her head toward her to acknowledge the tiny woman.

 

*****

 

            Lieutenant Selon and his men watched in amazement as the quiet camp suddenly sprang into action.  “Mon Dieu, these people are well disciplined.”

 

            “I noticed that as well, Lieutenant.   Makes you wonder who to cheer for if this goes bad.”

 

            “That it does, Sergeant-Chef.  That it does.”

 

*****

            Anton’s driver’s radar detector sounded its alarm as the vehicle neared the top of a rise.  The man examined the panel and hissed.  “Oh, Shit!”  Then he turned to look at his commanding officer.  “Colonel, we’ve got multiple targets.  The board is going crazy!”

 

            St. Wolf shot Anton with a wry look.  “So those new radar detectors that Xanatos’ Corp developed for the French Military have been issued to the 1st DREP?”

 

            Anton’s eyes opened wide at that.  “How in the hell do you know about that!?  They’re supposed to be top secret!”

 

            The man he’d known as Carson simply shrugged.  “I sometimes moonlight for David Xanatos.  He’s a good friend of mine.”

 

            “You’ve come up in the world, my friend,” Anton noted with a shake of his head.  “Tell me, is his wife as beautiful as they say?”

 

            “Fox is a killer, both literally and figuratively, old friend.  You don’t ever want to get on her bad side, particularly if she considers you a threat to her children.”

 

            “She sounds a lot like Constance,” Sean grumbled.

 

            “Perhaps, except for the fact that Constance doesn’t own a laser rifle or a cybernetic battle-suit that flies and fires mini-missiles.”

 

            “You’re joking!” Anton said in awe.  Then it struck him.  This wasn’t the same boy that he’d known all those years ago.  This man had seen and done things that would probably haunt most people for eternity.

 

            “Sir, what do I do?” the driver asked.

 

            “Pull up in front of the first tent, turn off the engine, and climb out,” Carson said.

 

            “Do as he says, Henry.  We’re not here to fight,” Anton said.

 

            Henry nodded and halted the Hussar about twenty feet from the first tent.  He then shut down the engine and climbed out of the cab followed by his door gunner.  St. Wolf, Anton, Sean and Pierre then jump down from the back of the Hussar and walked toward the camp.  As St. Wolf and his three companions enter into the camp, a tiny, blonde dervish approached them with fire in her eyes and confronted the “leader” of Section Seven. 

 

“Here’s your radio!” she yelled as she flung the device at his chest.  “You left it on your bed.  Next time, would you like me to shove it where the sun doesn’t shine to make sure you’re never out of contact with the team!?”

 

            Anton and Sean grinned at the discomfort of their old friend while he profusely apologized to the tiny woman.  “I’m sorry, Buffy, really!  I just thought it would be best to meet them on neutral ground.  There was no way Anton would come into an armed camp of people he didn’t know.”

 

            “Save it!” she snapped.  “Don’t do it again or I will kill you myself…at least twice!  Catch my drift?”

 

            “Yes, dear,” Steve said, somewhat cowed. 

 

“Idiot,” she grumbled.  Then her face broke into one of her patented thousand watt smiles right before she grabbed the front of his armor and drew his face down to hers to steal a kiss.

 

*****

 

            Pierre grinned as Buffy’s lips claimed those of his old friend’s. < Thank god, Jordan isn’t his lady! > Then he glanced about and saw the aristocratic Englishwoman standing with a group of well-armed people. < Must be their fast reaction force. > He then spied Colonel Sanchez walking toward them and relaxed.

 

*****

 

            Meanwhile, Sean O’Rourke had just stepped into a slice of his own private hell.   < What in the hell are THEY doing here? > As the memories of his loss took control of him, he quietly reached for his pistol.  As he drew his sidearm, Carson apparently noticed and moved to shield the young-looking girl he’d just kissed behind him.  O’Rourke smiled at the chivalry shown by his old comrade as he wheeled the gun away from them. 

 

            A split second later, Sean targeted the man who he thought was the commander of his enemy and fired.  His round was accurate as it struck Colonel Sanchez in the heart, felling the old man.

 

            “Sean, what the hell are you doing?” Anton cried.

 

            “I’m sorry, sir, but these bastards must die!” 

 

            “Sargent-Chef!!” Anton barked as he drew his own gun and aimed it at O’Rourke’s head.  “Sean!  Drop the gun, now!  Don’t make me kill you, Sean…please!”

 

            “I’m sorry, sir.  They have to die.  My family’s honor demands it!”  Then through tear filled eyes, he locked his sights on Jordan Smythe and started to squeeze the trigger…

 

            But before he could fire, Pierre barreled into the larger man’s legs with desperate speed and adrenaline-fueled strength and managed to tackle him.  Both men tumbled to the hot sands and struggled over the gun for several heart beats before they were rapidly surrounded by grim-faced knights, Immortals and Legionnaires.  Then several people lifted Pierre off of Sean, while others stripped the large man of his weapons. 

 

When O’Rourke seemed resigned to his capture, Anton glared at his oldest friend.  “What the hell were you thinking?  We’re in the middle of a heavily armed camp and you go and start shooting people!?  Why Sean!?  Give me one damned good reason for doing what you just did!” Anton asked with tears in his eyes.

 

            “These bastards murdered my Da and uncle twenty three years ago, Anton.  I swore I’d seek vengeance over their graves,” Sean said with a hard glare.  Then he turned to face Carson.  “And you! How could you have anything to do with these murderers?”

 

            St. Wolf looked O’Rourke straight in the eye.  “I hold the rank of Knight Lieutenant in the Order, Sean.”  The Irishman stiffened at that.  “I’ve served with the knights for the last twelve years. I’ve found them to be people worthy of my allegiance and loyalty.  They’ve helped me when I asked for it and I’ve helped them when they’ve asked.  I don’t know who or what killed your father and uncle, but I can swear to you that these people did nothing of the sort.” 

 

            “Liar!!” Sean shouted as he surged forward to attack his old friend.  Suddenly, though, his friend, at the last second, was inconceivably shoved aside by the tiny girl who’d shared an intimate moment with Carson.  Then before he knew it, she sprang toward him and decked him with a right cross to the jaw delivered with such force that she snapped Sean’s head back and caused his eyes to roll up into his head.  A moment later, he dropped like a stone. 

 

Buffy simply stared down at the unconscious man for several moments until she heard the deafening silence around her.  Then she looked around and noticed that everyone was unabashedly gawking at her. 

 

Buffy gulped and muttered under her breath, “Gosh, Rocky, I guess I don’t know my own strength!”

 

            Anton, for several moments, too shaken to do anything considering that he’d just seen Sean O’Rourke, the toughest man he’d ever known, a virtual giant, knocked cold by a tiny slip of a girl, had finally gathered his wits, and walked over to apologize to Carson while giving that girl a wide berth.  Carson, I’m sorry this happened.  I hope the man that he shot is all right.”

 

            St. Wolf glanced over to where one of Sanchez’s men was helping the colonel up.  “No harm done, Anton.  The Colonel is fine.”

 

            Anton then followed his friend’s gaze and saw Colonel Sanchez brush himself off.  “How?” 

 

            “It’s simply standard operating procedure while in a hostile area.  Always wear your armor.” 

 

            Anton nodded.  “Good policy.  I’ll have to remember that one.” < Especially, if I have to kill these people. >

 

            Just then Sean moaned as he lay at their feet.  “Whoever hit me with the two by four, you ought to know, I’m going to kill you.”

 

            Buffy scoffed loudly at that.  “Yeah, right…as if!”

 

Sean opened his eyes to find the tiny blonde smirking down at him.  “Oh, fuck.  It wasn’t a dream,” Sean softly said as he’s lifted up by several Legionnaires.  “That was a wicked punch, miss.  Who taught you how to hit like that?”

 

            “My mom,” Buffy noted with a quirky smile.  “Had enough?”

 

            Sean held up his hands in surrender.  “Yes, ma’am!  Care to introduce me to your lady, Carson?”

 

            “Buffy Summers, allow me to introduce you to two of my best friends and comrades, Colonel Anton Dumas and Sergeant-Chef Sean Patrick O’Rourke of the First Parachute Division, French Foreign Legion.”

 

            Buffy offered her right hand to Anton who flinched momentarily.  Then he bowed graciously, took her hand gently and kissed it.  “I am honored to make your acquaintance, My Lady.  I am also pleased Carson still has exceptional taste.”

 

            Buffy grinned and offered her hand to Sean who said with a roguish grin, “I’m afraid that I’ve had the not-quite-so honorable pleasure of having your fist meet my jaw, so I’m still a little sore and it’s hard to pucker up at the moment.” 

 

            After several people chuckled at Sean’s comment, St. Wolf asked him, “Sean, what can you tell me about how your father and uncle died?” 

 

            “My Da and Uncle Connor were going to blow up the statue of Admiral Nelson located in the Square in front of the Parliament in Belfast.”

 

            Steve turned to Colonel Sanchez and saw his grim face.  “What’s under the statue, Colonel?”

 

            Colonel Sanchez crossed himself.  “The Third Horseman, Famine.”  Everyone was silent as Sanchez said, “During the Potato Famine of the middle 1800's or the ‘Blight’ as the Irish called it, the Order found out that Famine had somehow been released into the mortal world.  It took close to three hundred knights and a thousand Squires to put him down and bind him.  In the end only a handful survived the battle and we bound him into the base of what would become the statue of Admiral Nelson.  The IRA was informed about the statue and that’s why they’ve never touched it.  Not even they want Famine released into the world again.  Your father and uncle were acting against orders when they were killed by the guardians of the statue.  I’m sorry for your loss, but the lives of millions of people mattered more to us than two stubborn men who couldn’t see past their prejudices.”

 

            Sean looked on in disbelief.  “Famine?  The Third Horseman?  You people are insane!  There is no such thing!”

 

            “Uncle Sean,” Pierre snapped.  “I saw a flight of six dragons fly over this camp not more than three hours ago.  If dragons exist, why not the Four Horsemen?”

 

            “Has the sun played havoc with your senses, Pierre?  Dragons don’t exist.”

 

            “We all saw them, Sergeant-Chef,” Lieutenant Anton said.

 

            Sean looked at the two squads and every man nodded their agreement.  “I don’t know what you’ve been drinking, but there are no such things as dragons.”

 

            “Then…what am I?” a deep voice boomed out from above as a huge shadow landed nearby.

 

            Sean turned around and looked up.  Then he cringed as he stared at the huge golden dragon that calmly sat on the warm sand. 

 

Anton saw it, too and muttered, “Mon Dieu.  Is that what I think it is?”

 

*****

 

            Major Benton gaped in horror as a huge shape dropped from the sky and landed next to his commanding officer.  “Merde!!  What the hell is that thing?”

 

            “A dragon?” his radioman said.  Moments later, he received a series of fearful requests.  “Our ground units want permission to attack, sir.”

 

            Benton watched as the strange men and women calmly accepted the dragon amongst them.  He shook his head in disbelief as the dragon squatted down and began to talk with the people in the camp and his commander.  Then he saw the young woman who decked the Sergeant-Chef hug the beast’s neck in open affection.  “Tell the men to stand ready, but not to attack.  This has just gotten very interesting.” < Damn it, Jaguar!!  What the hell is going on? >

 

*****

 

            Corporal-Chef Charlie ‘Malibu’ Perkins spied through his FRF2's sniper scope and hissed softly.  “Fuck me!!  What in the hell is Buffy Summers doing out here in Chad with a freaking dragon?”

 

            “Who, Malibu?”

 

            Malibu turned to his partner and spotter, George Hanbill.  “The girl hugging the dragon’s neck…she used to go to school with me.”

 

             “Are you sure it’s her, mate?”

 

            “Yeah.  I’ll never forget the day she saved my life.”  Malibu muttered.  “I always knew that Sunnydale was strange, but this is just too fucking weird.”

 

*****

 

            St. Wolf grinned warmly and said, “Hello, Smaug.  I thought you and Fragnar were keeping the Libyans busy?”

 

            “They hid their military vehicles and are cowering in their buildings.  Fragnar must have frightened them when he was here last time,” Smaug said with a chuckle.  Then he glared down at Sean.  “So tell me, Irish.  Do I look real enough to you?”

 

            Sean took a deep gulp and stared back open-mouthed at Smaug.  Carson,” he asked, his voice tinged with awe, “how in the hell do you control that beast?”

 

            Smaug snorted.  “Control?  Foolish mortal, the only reason that I and my kind are here is because our friend asked us to help save mankind from a madman.”

 

            “Who is this man that you call friend?”

 

            “That would be me, Sean,” St. Wolf said as he walked over and stood next to Smaug’s now lowered head.  Buffy then joined the man and the dragon and gave Smaug a hug around his neck and a quick kiss on his jaw.

 

            Sean and the rest of the Legionnaires looked on in disbelief as the huge dragon’s face split into a grin and he softly hissed in pleasure at Buffy’s touch.  “My God, but he’s a magnificent beast,” Sean softly muttered.

 

            “He’s no beast, Sargent-Chef,” Jordan said.  “I’ve fought besides dragons for the last ten years and have found them to be great friends and allies.  Smaug and his brother Fragnar have saved this world numerous times at great expense to themselves.  They’ve stood with the Order and other unsung heroes in numerous battles and have more than earned our respect and loyalty.”

 

            “As have the Knights of the Grail earned Dragon kind’s respect and friendship.  When we have needed help, you and your Order have never hesitated to aid us.”  Smaug told the awed Legionnaires as Jordan and Sanchez bowed in respect to him.

 

            Sean shook his head and shuddered. < Da and Uncle Connor were the most stubborn men in the world.  If they got it into their heads to do something, come hell or high water, they’d do it and nobody would be able to talk them out of it.  God, what am I to say to Ma and Aunt Mary?  Damn it! >

 

            As the emotions played across his old friend’s face, St. Wolf asked, “Sean, are you all right?”

 

            “No damn it!  I’m not all right.  This is too much for me to take in, all at once.”  He glanced at Anton and asked, “Permission to withdraw, sir?”

 

            “Of course, Sean,” Anton said.  Then he turned to Lieutenant Selon.  “Lieutenant Selon, you and Sergeant-Chef Brisby will escort Sergeant-Chef O’Rourke to my Hussar and keep him there.  Make sure that he is comfortable, but remains restrained.”

 

            “Yes, sir,” both men said then took Sean away.

 

            Anton turned back to Steve and Colonel Sanchez and asked, “Now, what are your plans to stop this madman?”

 

            “The plans are laid out in the command tent,” Colonel Sanchez said as he led them away.

 

*****

 

            After the three commanders had gone, Jordan turned to Pierre and said, “Thank you for saving my life back there.”

 

            Pierre gave her a quick grin.  “Any time, any place, Cherie.”

 

            Jordan grinned back, grabbed him by his shirt front, and pulled him in for a passionate kiss.   

 

            Afterwards, a nearly breathless Pierre asked, “What was that for?”

 

            Jordan winked then sashayed away.  “I just wanted to see if you were a good kisser, that’s all.”

 

            “W-was I?” Pierre stammered.

 

            “I think before I know for sure, I need to conduct more…research,” she tossed over her shoulder as she entered a nearby tent.

 

            Behind her, Pierre fell to his knees in the sand. 

 

“I think I’m going to have to marry that woman,” he murmured.

 

*****

 

            Steve escorted Anton into the command center and Anton whistled in awe. < Most of this equipment is so far beyond what we have in the Legion that it’s scares me. >  He looked around and noted the advanced computers and holographic projectors.  “Where the hell did you get this equipment from?”

 

            “We got them from various supporters and friends.  The Order has saved many lives over the last fifteen hundred years that it’s been in existence.  Many of the people we saved have donated money, equipment and sometimes themselves to the cause.”

 

            “And what exactly is this ‘cause’ that you speak of?”

 

            “The Order of the Holy Grail was formed by the last of the knights of King Arthur’s Round Table to continue the fight for humanity that Arthur had begun.  Merlin, who was still alive, became their leader and the Order has been fighting a constant war to protect humanity.  Many knights have fallen in a silent war that began centuries ago by the powers of Darkness that want to destroy humanity and bring back the demons that once walked the Earth.  The Order has many allies and friends who often help us.  Smaug and his kin are just some those friends.”

 

            Anton simply shook his head and asked, “How can such noble and selfless people exist?” 

 

            “Believe me when I say that there are never enough to fill the ranks, Anton.”  Steve softly said.

 

            Anton nodded and bent over the 3 dimensional map laid out before him. < My God, their technology is incredible!>  He saw the people who manned the equipment and noted that they were of different races and creeds, working together for a common cause.  “Is this the route you planned to take to the refinery?”

 

            “The red line is our primary route and the secondary one is in blue.  The yellow lines are the bailout routes.”

 

            Anton shook his head in disbelief.  “How long have you been planning this raid?”

 

            “Less than twelve hours,” Colonel Sanchez said.

 

             “You’ve managed to plan all of this in less than a day?” 

 

Sanchez merely shrugged.  “Sir Steve once assaulted a group of Slavers near Tripoli seven years ago with only four hours of planning.”

 

            Anton stared at Steve as if he’d grown a second head.  “YOU were the madman that led that raid?”  Steve grinned and nodded his head.  “Merde!!  You had the entire region in an uproar!  The Libyans were blaming everyone and their grandmother for that mess!!  What the hell was worth so much aggravation?”

 

            “Four hundred and thirty seven children.  Most of whom were between the ages of eight to twelve,” Steve quietly said.

 

            Anton peered into his old friend’s eyes and saw only grim truth in them.  Carson, I’m sorry.  I didn’t know.  What do you need from me and my men that can help you now?” 

 

            “We’ll need your men spread out in this valley here.”  Steve then pointed to a valley just across the border and Anton grinned.

 

            “So, we are doing one of the classics?”  Both Steve and Colonel Sanchez grinned back at him.  “My friends, if the Libyans cross the border, they’ll be slaughtered.”

 

            “How long before the 1st DREP can be here?”  Colonel Sanchez asked.  Both Steve and Anton smile as Colonel Sanchez realized just how close the men of the 1st DREP were.  Then Sanchez called out to one of the knights who manned the satellite system.  “Peter, scan the area around the camp.”

 

            “Yes, sir!” the man yelled out.  “How far do you want me to go out?”

 

            “Start just outside the camp, check for body heat signatures and go out to four miles and check for engine heat.”

 

            Several minutes later the man loudly cursed.  “Sir!  The camp’s surrounded by at least two thousand troops and we’re within the range of a 155 mm artillery unit stationed approximately six miles out.”  The knight paused, not believing what he saw.  “There are at least thirty Hussar and twenty Chausseur Class AFVs and--My God!  At least twelve AMX 10 light attack tanks!  How the hell did they sneak up on us like that?”

 

            Colonel Sanchez turned to Anton.  “May I ask you of your intentions, Colonel Dumas?”

 

            Anton clapped Sanchez on the shoulder and gave him a warm smile.  “Why, to do exactly as my old friend asked and honor demands.” 

 

Sanchez nodded and offered his hand to Anton, who took it.  Anton then turned to the tent entrance, walked outside, and continued to the perimeter of the camp.  Then he called out, “Ollie, ollie oxen free.”  He then turned around and walked back to Steve and Sanchez.

 

            “What was that all about?”  Sanchez asked.

 

            “Those were the code words that told my men not to attack.  If you’ll tell your people not to fire on them, I’ll order them to show themselves.”

 

            Sanchez nodded and raised his voice.  “All units stand down.  We have allies approaching the camp.  All weapons are to have their safeties on.” 

 

            “I see that you didn’t order your people to completely stand down,” Anton said.

 

            “Would you?” Sanchez asked with a smile.

 

            “No mon ami, I wouldn’t either.”  Anton said just before he screams out, “AVEC, AVEC.  THE CAKE IS GETTING COLD.”

 

            “That’s your all clear code?” Sanchez asked.

 

            “It is for today,” Anton said as several thousand Legionnaires reveal themselves from the tops of the dunes that they had hidden behind.

 

*****

 

            Major Benton relaxed as he heard the standby code. < They never expected the Colonel to have a bug on his person. >  Order the units to stand down.” 

 

            The radioman relayed the major’s orders and reported, “All units have reported in, sir.  They are on standby.”

 

            “Very good,” Benton said as he heard the all clear code.  “The Colonel’s just given the all clear code.  Have the men get up.”

 

            “Including the reserves?” the radioman asked.

 

            “No.  They’re to stay hidden.” < First rule of warfare.  Always expect the unexpected and keep a ready reserve, just in case. >

 

*****

 

            St. Wolf turned to Sanchez and asked, “I take it that we’ll be ready to leave at nightfall?”

 

            Colonel Sanchez nodded in agreement.  “We will, Sir Steven.  Do you have any orders?”

 

            “No, Colonel.  You and your people have pretty much done everything.  Now comes the hard part.”

 

            “I have one question,” Anton asked.

 

            “What is it, Anton?” Steve asked.

 

            “Who’s in command here, the Colonel or you, Carson?”

 

            “I am.  Even though the Colonel out ranks me, I’m in command because of my status.”

 

            “Your status?”

 

            “Sir Steven is Merlin’s personal champion.  Being Merlin’s personal champion makes him the equal of the Knight-General himself,” Sanchez said.

 

            “Merlin is still alive?” Anton asked, his voice tinge with awe.  Both Steve and Sanchez nodded at him.  “Mon Dieu,” Anton softly muttered.  “Well, I had better get my men in order.  Colonel, my command staff is approaching and I think it would be a good idea if I were to introduce them to you.”

 

            Moments later, his staff arrived and he introduced Colonel Sanchez to his officers.  They nod their greetings and awaited their orders.  Anton gave them a run down on current events and the plans for that night.

 

            Most of the officers trusted their Colonel’s judgment but one fresh faced Lieutenant asked, “Sir, how do we know this isn’t a hoax of some kind?”

 

            Anton shook his head in disbelief.  “Haven’t you been paying attention?  This is not a joke of some kind.  You have your orders.  Follow them!”

 

            “They all get to be like that sometimes,” Sanchez quietly muttered as the Lieutenant turned and scurried away. 

 

            “I know Juan, but we’ll get them through it.”

 

            “Just like our superior officers got us through,” Sanchez said with a knowing smile.

 

            “The circle continues to spin, mon ami.  Just be glad that it isn’t going too fast,” Anton said.

 

                                                         Part 14 - Libyan Road Trip

                                                         (Night Time Conversations)

July 22nd 11:00 - PST - 21:00 Local

Chad/Libyan Border

 

            St. Wolf barked a command to his knights, “Mount up and move out!”  In response his people ran to their vehicles, climbed aboard, and moved out as the sun set in the west.  Then the Legionnaires of the 1st DREP watched as the fifty vehicles raced into the darkness on their all-or-nothing mission.

 

*****

 

            Pierre whispered a prayer as Jordan’s HUMVEE disappeared into the growing twilight.  “God, watch over these brave men and women while they try and save us all from a madman.  May they all return safe and sound.” < Especially Jordan, Carson and his Lady. >

 

*****

 

            Anton and Sean witnessed their old comrade disappear into the night with his people.  “Think they’ll make it back?”  Sean asked.

 

            “Based on what Carson told me, the Knights of the Order of the Grail are some of the toughest bastards to walk the Earth, Sean.  If anyone can come back from this suicide mission it’s them.”

 

            “That’s good to know.  What do you think of our old friend and what he’s become?”

 

            Anton smiled.  “I always knew he was destined for greatness, but this?” Anton waves his hand at the empty camp.  “It’s a bit much.”

 

            “But he wears it well,” Sean said softly.

 

            “Like he was born to it,” Anton answered.

 

*****

 

            Buffy saw the darkened desert as it whizzed by outside her window while their driver followed the HUMVEE in front of them.  She glanced over to where Steve sat in the shotgun seat and wished she could join him there. Then she chanced a glance at Dana and Fox and saw that they were busy comforting each other.  When they happened to notice that she was looking their way, she gave them a weak grin and a shy little wave of her hand.

 

*****

 

            St. Wolf scanned the GPS and starlight system in front of the HUMVEE as they raced toward the oil refinery located northwest of the town of Ma’tan as Sarah. Then he chanced a glance behind him and saw his Slayer as she sat there, nervous and alone.  He felt like kicking himself.  < I should have my head examined, bringing her here!> he chastised himself inwardly.  <I should have put my foot down.  She shouldn’t be here, she shouldn’t see what’s to come.  Why is she so damn stubborn sometimes? > Then he turned once again and saw the wide-eyed expression on her face and cringed.  < She looks so small and scared.  I am a certified idiot for putting her through this mess! >

 

*****

 

            Methos, who was in another Humvee, turned to his companion in the brown trench coat and asked, “Did you ever think we’d be working together?”

 

            J.P. shook his head wryly.  “Not in this lifetime, Methos.  I’d always thought that I would hunt you down and kill you and your three friends.”

 

            “You know about my being ‘Death’?”

 

            “Why do you think we met that first time?  I was hunting you.”

 

            “Why didn’t you kill me when you had the chance?”

 

            “By saving those kids, you earned another chance at life.  Don’t think I’m soft.  If I had heard that four horsemen rode after that, I’d have hunted you down and killed you all.”

 

            “Are you so sure that you could have taken us all?” 

 

            “Without a doubt youngster, without a doubt,” J.P. said with a merciless grin that lacked any semblance of humor or remorse.

 

            Methos shuddered as though someone had just walked over his grave.  “Old man, you can be down right terrifying sometimes.”

 

            “I know.”   

 

            “So what are you doing after we’re completed this mission?”

 

            “There’s this psycho that’s been terrorizing the northeast.  He hunts small children, kills them and leaves them in their family’s living rooms for their parents and siblings to find.”

 

            “I’ve heard of him.  The media’s calling him the ‘The Sculptor’.  Do you want an extra set of hands on the case?”

 

            “Why, Methos, whatever happened to the cold, callous bastard known as ‘Death’?” 

 

            “I’ve been hanging around the boy and girl scouts far too long,” Methos spat.  Then he calmed himself and said, “I think they’ve polluted me with their behavior.  I need to hang out with an evil, twisted son of a bitch to get back to where I was when you’d first met me.”

 

            “Compliments will get you nowhere,” J.P. cracked.

 

            “I’ll buy the beer.”

 

            “Now, that will get you someplace.”

 

*****

 

            Back in Buffy’s Humvee, Mulder saw Buffy shrink down into her seat.  He leaned closer to his wife and whispered, “Think we should talk to Buffy?  Offer her some comfort?”

 

            Dana shook her head.  “No.  She’s going into a firefight for the first time in her life.  She needs to sort this out for herself.”

 

*****

 

            In his Humvee, Jarod felt Andrea move beside him.  He wrapped her in his arms and nuzzled her neck as he quietly murmured, “Don’t worry, we’ll get through this.”

 

            Andrea sighed softly as she relaxed into Jarod’s arms.  “I know, but so much depends on us and our success in this mission.”

 

            “We’ll succeed.”

 

            “I hope to God we do.”  Andrea murmured.

 

*****

 

            The leader of the A-Team glanced at the young man who drove his HUMVEE and asked, “How do you stay on the road, kid, without using headlights?”

 

            The driver grinned and pointed to the pair of goggles he wore.  “These have night vision, plus a built in range finder/GPS system, sir.  The HUMVEE’s headlights are also giving off light in the ultra-violet range which is invisible to human beings.  By the way, the name’s Terry Dennison, not kid.”

 

            “Impressive, Terry.  Where do you people get your toys?”  Hannibal asked.

 

            “From various sources,” he noted cryptically.  “If you want a complete list, talk to the Knight General.  I’m sure he’ll provide it to you.”

 

            Hannibal stared intensely at Terry.  “How do you know that we know the Knight General?”

 

            Terry grinned.  “Four of the knights who serve bodyguard duty with the General volunteered for this mission and the rumor mill already started in regards to you and your men, Colonel Smith.”

 

            “You’ve heard about us?”

 

            “Who hasn’t, sir?  You and your men are legends.  Glad to have you with us on this one, Colonel.”

 

            Hannibal simply shook his head in resignation.  “I wonder what you guys think about St. Wolf’s reputation.”

 

            “The Wanderer?”  Hannibal nodded.  “Scary.  If half the stories are true, that guy should have died at least a dozen times.  Even for an Immortal, that guy is crazy.”

 

            “So you know about Immortals?”

 

            “Sure do.  Several of the knights here are Immortals and thank God for them.  They often take on the riskiest missions and come back alive, most of the time.  They’ve saved my life on at least three occasions.”  Terry then asked, “Sir, were you in Los Angeles when the Immortals fought the vampires?”

 

            “Sure was, Terry.  I never saw so many selfless people in my life and it was one of the greatest moments of our lives when we stood with them against those vampires and demons.”

 

            “Amen to that Colonel,” Murdock said. 

 

*****

 

            In another HUMVEE, Justin and Richie grumpily watched as Gabrielle and Sonja calmly slept during the trip to the refinery. 

 

“How can they sleep at a time like this?”  Justin asked as he nervously shifted in his seat.

 

            “They’ve done this before,” the knight who drove said over his shoulder.  “They know you have to sleep whenever you can.”

 

            “So how come you’re not sleeping?” Justin asked. 

 

            “I’m the one driving the car, kid,” the knight said with a soft chuckle.  “You’re your first firefight?”

 

            Justin nodded.  “Yeah.  I’m barely twenty and I’m fighting to save the world for a second time in less than a month.”

 

             “Son,” the knight began in a fatherly tone, “fear is nothing to be ashamed of.  It’s natural to be scared before a battle.  Every man and woman here is scared to one degree or another.  You have nothing to be ashamed of.”

 

            “But you’re Knights of the Grail.  According to Methos, you people are fearless.”

 

            The knight chuckled darkly.  “Don’t let the stories fool you.  We’re just better able to hide our fear more than most.”

 

            Justin and Richie simply stared at the back of the driver’s head and pondered his words as the miles passed quickly.

 

*****

 

July 22nd 13:30 PST - 23:30 Local

Ma’tan as Sarah Oil Refinery, Libya

 

            Jordan examined the Ma’tan as Sarah oil refinery through her night scope and grimaced.  She noted the guard detachments and quickly leopard crawled back to the amassed HUMVEEs.  She got up from the ground and walked toward St. Wolf.  “The base is secured by a three stage rotating patrol pattern.  The first circle, numbering twenty men, is at the perimeter of the refinery, the second, numbering forty men, is approximately a kilometer out and the third, also numbering forty men, is approximately two kilometers out.  The second and third circles are using British Land Rovers for vehicles.”

 

            “Options?”  St. Wolf asked.

 

            “Why don’t we make it simple?”  Hannibal suggested as he squatted down and drew a simple box figure that represented the refinery in the dirt.  “We send in an assault force in three stages.  The first stage will be the Immortals; they’ll attack directly down their throats.  The second stage will be a coordinated missile and sniper attack on the second and third rings by the Knights.  The third stage will be a flying column moving in behind the Immortals, giving them cover fire and securing their flanks.  When the terrorists try to fall back to the refinery, they’ll find themselves in a crossfire and out in the open.”

 

            St. Wolf glanced at his other commanders.  “Anyone got a better plan?”

 

            “Just a modification, sir,” Jordan said.  “Since Fragnar and Smaug are close by, shall we use them to lay down some fire on any condensed formations that are out in the open?”

 

            “Not a bad idea,” Hannibal noted with a wicked smile on his face.

 

            “Oh damn.  Hannibal’s on the Jazz again,” B.A. muttered.

 

            “Yep and loving it,” Hannibal retorted.

 

            “All right, people.  Let’s do this!  All of the Immortals will attack the refinery directly.  We’ll use six HUMVEEs, all of them, but one, equipped with machine guns.  We’ll go in, in a column of twos.  The TOW launcher will be in the first two and will take out any barricades.  The middle two will cover the sides with the machine guns, the last two will be rear guard.  Rear guard will limit its fire to identified targets.  We don’t want to hit our follow up team.

 

            “Colonel Sanchez will command the knights on the perimeter, with a force of twenty HUMVEES, fifteen equipped with TOWs, the rest with machine guns.  Colonel, you’ll move your people in a double crescent, overlapping our assault force and forcing the terrorists into a crossfire.  Jordan will command the reserve force of six TOW and four machine equipped HUMVEEs.  Jordan will also coordinate Fragnar and Smaug.  The last group, sixteen HUMVEEs, will be commanded by Colonel Smith and will be our securing and cleanup force.  We’ll use cloaking spells to get as close as possible and then we attack. Any questions?”

 

            “What are cloaking spells?” Hannibal asked.

 

            “Magical spells that cloak us so no one can see or hear us, until it’s too late.  Why do you think we’ve been able to move around so much without the Libyans and the terrorists seeing us?”

 

            “When do we start?” Jordan asked.

 

            “In one hour.  Everyone check weapons and loads now and then we disperse for the assault in.” 

 

Then St. Wolf checked his watch and set the countdown for one hour.  “Synchronize your watches on the hour on my mark in five seconds, four, three, two, one, mark!”  Everyone clicked off their timers and broke up into smaller groups to go over their particular phase of the plan.

 

*****

 

            Hannibal crossed the desert sand to the three knights that were his squad leaders.  He drew a quick sketch on the ground to show them how he wanted his units placed.  Then he counted off the unit designations.  “I’m Alpha,” Hannibal said, pointing to himself and the unit in front.  “You, Mickey, are Beta leader, Francine is Gamma leader and Terry is Delta leader.  We’ll follow the lead element by two minutes and we’ll move in a modified diamond pattern.  Alpha team will be equipped with machine guns, Beta, Gamma and Delta teams will have the TOWs and the rest of the machine guns evenly dispersed among your units.  Any questions?”

 

            “Why are you leading the charge, Colonel?  You’re not an Immortal like Sir Steven.”  Terry asked.

 

            Hannibal grinned.  “Because we learned our battle tactics at the same school.  We were taught to lead by example and that being in the front is where we do our best work.”

 

            Mickey grinned.  “Colonel Smith.  Have you and the rest of your team considered joining the Order on a permanent basis?”

 

            “I’ll talk to Colonel Sanchez and the Knight General when we get back.  It’ll be good to have decent support again,” Hannibal said as he checked his watch.  “We have forty minutes left.  Check weapons once more and load up.”

 

*****

 

            St. Wolf finished checking his H&K G3 and glanced at Buffy.  She was looking down into the valley where the refinery sat in a pool of light.  He walked up behind her and softly asked, “It’s not too late to go with Colonel Sanchez or Jordan.”

 

            Buffy shook her head.  “No.  I can’t go with them.  I have to stay with you.”

 

            “Buffy, you have nothing to prove to me or anyone here.  Don’t do this to yourself.” 

 

            Buffy turned around and stared up into his eyes.  “No, if I’m going to be your partner, I have to do this.”

 

            He rested his chin on the top of her head and asked, “Are you sure about this?  It’s not like hunting vampires and demons.  Even though they may be killers, they’re still people.  They have souls.”

 

            She responded by giving him a reassuring hug.  “I know.  Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.”

 

            “All right then.  Check your weapons.  We leave in twenty minutes.  You’re with me in the lead HUMVEE.” 

 

            Steve walked over to his other commanders and passed Mulder and Scully.  Mulder glanced at Scully and she nodded at him.  Then they both got up and walked to Buffy’s side.

 

            As Buffy finished checking her sidearm, Dana asked, “Buffy, how are you…really?” 

 

            Buffy looked up from her task and grimaced.  “Did Steve send you over here?”

 

            “No,” Scully said.  “The look on his face told the whole story.” 

 

            “Buffy, you don’t have to do this,” Mulder said.

 

            Quietly, the Slayer regarded her two friends and sullenly shook her head.

 

“Steve doesn’t want you to do something that you don’t want to do,” Dana added.

 

            “I know.”

                                                                                                           

            “Then why are you here?”  Dana asked.

 

            “Steve’s been there for me and my friends, Dana.  He’s stood by me when I’ve faced horrors that most normal guys would run away from.  I want to be here for him when he has to face his monsters.  I know it sounds silly, but that’s why I’m here.”

 

            Dana squeezed Buffy’s shoulder and gently smiled.  “No,” she chanced a glance at Mulder and flashed a sad smile as she remembered all the times he’d wanted to protect her from danger and she’d refused to leave his side.  “No, it doesn’t sound silly at all.”

 

*****

            Meanwhile, Jordan was busy making certain that her knights had checked their weapons one more time.  Then she looked up at the sky and angrily muttered, “Damn you Corvo!  Why couldn’t you’ve been a normal terrorist and be killed by the Israeli Mossad?  Why did you have to gain the Wanderer’s undivided attention?  Now I’ll miss Gwen’s sixth birthday party because of this mess!”

 

*****

 

            Colonel Sanchez peered out over the sand at the oil refinery and felt his anger build. < I’ve faced demons, vampires and every monster known to mankind. Each of those times I’ve known my duty and done it.  I’ve always had respect for them as enemies, but you scum are trying to destroy the world that we all have to live on.  How can mankind be so foolish? > Sanchez shuddered and then turned to his team leaders.  “Mount up and get moving.  You have your orders, we attack in thirty minutes.”  The knights nodded silently and moved to carry out their orders.

 

***** 

 

            St. Wolf glanced at his watch and said, “We leave in five minutes people.  Mount up and prepare to move out!”

 

*****

 

            Corvo, the terrorist leader of the Swords of Allah stared up at the sky and grinned. < Soon, most of Earth will be cleansed of the Infidels.  Allah is truly great,> he mused then shook his head in amusement.  If only those fools who’d taunted him in his youth could see him now.  After he had left his backward home behind and had fought the Soviets in Afghanistan, he had learned much at the feet of great leaders such as bin Laden.  But now, he had surpassed even Osama in his brilliant plan to bring the West to its knees.  < I wonder he will say when he discovers that I’ve moved the execution of the plan ahead of schedule? > He laughed in glee and re-entered his headquarters.  Corvo strolled down the hall to check on the status of his ‘guests.’  When he opened the door, he noticed that the entire Armari family had hustled to the other end of the room.  Their fear of him pleased him greatly.  He gave them a wicked grin and asked, “Are you and your family being treated well, Dr. Armari?”

 

            A dark haired man, in a lab coat, stepped forward and fearfully said, “We are, Great Corvo.  Thank you for asking.”

 

            “That is well because this is your last night on Earth, my good doctor.  We release the plague tomorrow.” 

 

            “But you said that you would first offer the world a chance to bend to your will,” Dr. Armari sputtered.

 

            “Those plans have changed.  Your daughter and the men who I’ve sent to retrieve her have disappeared.  I must, therefore, assume the worst and proceed ahead of schedule, before the Infidels can stop me.”

 

            “But what about the rest of faithful of Islam?  Without the cure, most, if not all of the people who follow the Faith will also die.”

 

            Corvo laughed hysterically at the professor with a maniacal gleam in his eye.  “Allah will watch over his children.  Those that die are not worthy of the new world that I shall forge in His name.  Those that survive will follow me into a new world that blessed Allah has revealed to me.” 

 

            “What about my family?”

 

            “If any survive the plague, then they shall live with the rest of us in the new world; those that don’t, I shall bury.” Then the madman turned and left the room.

 

****

 

            Ben Armari stared at his wife and three children and prostrated himself on the floor in prayer.  He knelt down on his prayer rug, faced Mecca, and whispered, “God, who is all merciful and powerful, I have always prayed to you for guidance, but now I ask you for a miracle.  Please destroy these evil men who seek to destroy humanity in your name.  Amen.”

 

                                                             Part 15 - Night Assault

                                             (Who Says Prayers Are Never Answered?)

 

July 22nd 12:30 PST - July 23rd - 00:30 Local

Ma’tan as Sarah Oil Refinery, Libya

 

            St. Wolf glanced at his watch and counted the seconds down.  Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five—then he raised his hand, four, three, two, one!  His hand came down and the first wave of HUMVEEs raced out and down into the valley as their guns scanned for targets.

 

*****

 

            Colonel Sanchez watched as his timer clicked on zero.  He glanced at his TOW operator and nodded his head.  The operator grinned as he spied a Land Rover and blew it out of existence.  The rest of his unit also began to fire into the Land Rovers that speeded toward the doomed Land Rover. 

 

*****

 

            St. Wolf pointed his rifle toward the oil complex and said into his radio transmitter, “Let’s move out, people!”  The HUMVEEs under his command sped toward the complex.  Moments later, he grinned at Buffy as three Range Rovers filled with terrorists careened toward them.  Then he ordered the machine gunners to open fire.  “Beta Team, take them out.” 

 

Buffy saw two of the HUMVEEs located off to her side let loose with their fifty caliber machine guns, effectively shooting the three carloads of terrorists to pieces before any of them could raise a gun to defend themselves.  She gasped and whispered, “Isn’t that unfair?”  In response, her lover looked down at her with a satisfied smirk on his face.

 

“Alls fair in love and war, Buffy,” he murmured.

 

At that moment, she suddenly realized the man she’d fallen in love with could be a cold and callous killer. < Oh God, THIS was what he didn’t want me to see! >

 

            Heedless of the horror that plainly showed on the Slayer’s face, St. Wolf continued to press the attack.  “Alpha Two,” he snapped.  “There are a group of terrorists by that grey out building marked K12; blow them away!”  Almost immediately, the HUMVEE to their left fired a TOW and shortly thereafter, a small building exploded nearby, tossing several bodies like rag dolls from an angry child’s bed.

 

            Buffy’s eyes shot wide open at the grim spectacle of shattered bodies flying through the air.  Then she shuddered when St. Wolf raised his rifle and fired a short burst.  Her superhuman eyesight followed his line of tracers as they bored into a man’s chest, causing him to fall from some scaffolding to the ground.  Blinking rapidly, she witnessed her friends, Mulder and Scully, as they fired short bursts from their rifles into the night.  Following the path of Dana’s tracers, she saw a terrorist who Dana had missed, aim his rifle in the direction of the female FBI agent.  Without thinking, Buffy aimed and fired a short burst that struck the man’s head, causing it to explode like a ripe melon smashed against the pavement. 

 

When she realized that she’d just brutally slaughtered a man, Buffy’s lunch almost clawed its way up her esophagus from her lurching stomach.  “Oh…my…God.  I killed him,” she murmured.  She had just taken a human life.  Not only that, she reflected, she’d made his corpse unrecognizable to anyone who might have grieved for him.  She had destroyed someone’s son, or father, or brother, just like the infernal things that she fought every night in Sunnydale had tried to do to the humans that she protected.  Now, she was like them and the only thing that she was glad of was that her dear Watcher had not seen what she’d become. 

 

“Oh, Giles,” she sobbed, “what have I done?”

 

            For several heartbeats, she nearly shut down.  Then she shook her head and scolded herself.  Steve had warned her about this and he’d been right.  But now, there was no time for recriminations.  He’d helped her with her horrors and she was going to help him with his come hell or high water!  So she fought down the queasiness and steadied herself as she spotted another terrorist.  She fired once more and gunned him down just before she felt the HUMVEE skid to a stop.  As St. Wolf leapt from the vehicle, Buffy sprang after him and the pair raced toward a doorway. 

 

*****

 

            Duncan leaned out his window and fired a burst at a group of terrorists that’d just rounded the corner of a building.  A moment later, Amanda joined in and the terrorists danced to a song of death as they jerked around like puppets on a string amidst the hail of the Immortals’ deadly fire. 

 

*****

 

            Methos lifted his rifle and squeezed off a three round burst, catching a terrorist in the face.  Then he looked up at the moon and howled.  He glanced back at J.P., Jarod and Andrea and ordered, “Move forward and show no mercy!”

 

            J.P. grinned.  “Death truly rides again,” he muttered as he placed a four round burst into a terrorist’s center mass.  The terrorist fell back into his friends and J.P. followed up by firing his battle rifle to cut the rest down as well. 

 

            Both Jarod and Andrea stared at the carnage caused by the two men and shuddered.  “And I thought the Centre had all of the cold-blooded killers on its payroll,” Jarod observed under his breath.  Andrea silently nodded as she snapped off a two round burst and killed a terrorist on a gangway who’d pointed a gun at Methos.  Then as the man’s body tumbled into the railing and dangled overhead, Methos saw it, then turned to her and gave her a devil- may-care grin.

 

            Andrea shuddered at that.  “Dear God, he’s enjoying himself!” 

 

            “He was ‘Death,’ you know,” Jarod said.

 

            “I know, but it frightens me to no end to know that the guy who gets you and me drunk off our ass can be such a cold-blooded psycho,” Andrea said. < I wonder if he would take our heads if the opportunity presented itself? >

 

*****

 

            “What in Allah’s name is going on?” Corvo snapped as he heard the gunfire.

 

            One of his guards rushed in and said, “Master, the Infidels are attacking!  They have destroyed the exterior security lines and are directly attacking the complex.”

 

            “How could this happen?” Corvo demanded.

 

            “We don’t know Master, but they are unstoppable!  All fall before them.”

 

            Corvo glared at the man standing in front of him.  “Get out there and hold them at all cost!  I must release the plague before they destroy it.”

 

            “Yes, Master,” the man said and ran out the door.

 

*****

 

            St. Wolf, Summers, Mulder, Scully, Gabrielle and Sonja had formed an assault phalanx that had penetrated deeply into the main building of the complex.  Buffy was slightly behind St. Wolf, covering their left side, while he covered their right.  The team leapfrogged from one area of concealment to another in twos.  Then when they broke cover, several terrorists rushed out of a side room and began to fire at them.  

 

Buffy fell back and flinched as she waited for the pain of the bullets to rip into her.  However, it never came as the rounds struck a nearby wall several inches above her head.  “Whew!” she expressed in an outpouring of relief and brushed an errant strand of bottle-blond hair from her left eye.  For the first time in her life, being little had finally turned into an advantage!  She glanced at St. Wolf who stood his ground nearby.  He fired back at the terrorists for a few seconds then slowly retreated, providing the tiny blonde with a modicum of cover.  Not looking a gift horse in the mouth, Buffy scooted back toward the hallway with Steve now sprinting behind her.  When the terrorists brought up an RPG-7 to fire down the hallway after the Wanderer and the Slayer, they were surprised to find that their targets had dropped to the floor, allowing Mulder and the others the opportunity to fire their weapons at the hapless terrorists. 

 

*****

 

            Outside on the grounds surrounding the main building, Abula Acheed was apoplectic as he saw his friends and fellow freedom fighters cut down by the withering fire of two men.  The first, a tall man, dressed in brown from head to foot, and the other, his face painted in different colors, moved forward, effortlessly dealing death to anyone who dared face them.  Abula gulped and raised his rifle to fire on them.  Suddenly, he felt a burning sensation in the pit of his stomach.  He looked down and found a hole where a bullet had just passed through him.  Abula dropped his rifle from unfeeling hands as his scream traveled through the night.  He fell to his knees and spied the man with the painted face raise his gun to his shoulder.  He only had time to flash upon the image of his sister Sahara in his mind before the man’s rifle muzzle flashed and Abula would never see anything more after that.

 

*****

 

            Methos stared at the dead lying all around him.  J.P. walked up to him and he grinned.  “Now this is a battle worthy of us, wouldn’t you agree, old timer?”

 

            “Yeah, well, it ain’t over until it’s over, Methos!” J.P. growled as a spray of bullets struck him in the back.  He whirled around and saw the terrorist that had shot him had just run behind a building.  J.P. growled as he drew his Thunder Pistol and blew a hole through both the building and the terrorist who’d hid behind it.  Then he holstered his sidearm and glared at Methos, Jarod, and Andrea.  “What the hell are you waiting for?  Kill them all!”  Then he turned and revealed his back to them.  Moments later, they saw his bullet holes had already healed as the slugs fell out and plummeted to the sand like morbid rain drops.

 

            Jarod and Andrea held each other for a moment, stunned by what they’d just witnessed.  Then as several terrorists began to shoot at them, they were shaken from their stupor.  Richie took a bullet in his left leg and cried out as most of the bullets harmlessly ricocheted off their armor.  The terrorists, shaken by the mostly ineffectual attack they had just unleashed, stood dumbly with their weapons in hand.  Then they died blissfully unaware of their mistake as Jarod, Andrea, Justin, and Methos returned fire.

 

*****

 

            Duncan gulped as the man called J.P. and his friend Methos sliced through the terrorists like a sword through a stick of warm butter.  He shot a look at Amanda and asked, “Did you see what I saw?”

 

            “Absolutely, darling.  Those two are positively terrifying.”

 

            Shortly, the lovers were joined by Richie and Justin.  “I can’t believe that’s Methos out there,” Richie said in awe as he tested his newly healed leg.

 

            “Neither can I,” Justin said.  He shook his head and simply couldn’t believe that the man who’d taken him in and trained him was such a cold blooded killer.

 

*****

 

            St. Wolf and his team continued to press on into the heart of the facility.  Then, when they approached an area that had ten or more terrorists fortified behind sandbags in front of a secure door, Buffy’s attention was caught by an unseen threat.  With her Slayer hearing, she heard the scampering of many footsteps from an adjacent hallway behind them.

 

            She grabbed her new lover’s elbow and said, “Steve, there’s some more of them down the corridor behind us to our right!”

 

            Sonja grunted.  “Gabrielle and I will handle them.  Press on!  We’ll join you shortly.”

 

*****

 

            Frantic now, Corvo rushed to the laboratory and found the deadly plague vials.  He clumsily gathered most of the deadly capsules and exited the laboratory.  He entered the hallway and heard the approaching sounds of gunfire.  Then, regaining some of his usual swagger due to his invulnerability to the deadly virus, his lips parted into a death’s head grin and he shattered the vials on the floor. < These infidels will die a horrible death.> he mused.  He then slammed through the door into the room where the scientist and his family were being held.  “Armari, who are they?  Who would dare to attack me?”

 

            Ben Armari stared up at the madman from his prayer rug as Corvo stalked across the floor and grabbed his youngest son. 

 

“I do not know how you did it, but I am under attack.  I demand that you order them to stop!”

 

            Ben looked into his youngest son’s eyes and sadly shook his head.  “I cannot stop them.”

 

            “Then your entire family shall die!” He shattered a vial on the floor and a mist rose from the remnants of the broken vial to permeate the room.  The entire family began to cough, shake and sweat blood.  Corvo grinned as he tossed the young boy toward his father.  Then as he turned to leave, Corvo felt a sudden pain in the pit of his stomach that caused him to double over.  His entire body began to shake and shiver and he leaned against a wall to support himself.  He glared at Armari and demanded, “How is this possible?  I am the chosen of Allah!  I cannot die like this!  Didn’t you inject me with the cure?”

 

            Ben Armari grimaced then glared at the madman.  “You poor, demented fool!  There was no cure!  I couldn’t find one in the little time that you gave me!”

 

            “The injection…what was it?”

 

            “Dyed water, you bastard.  I hope you enjoy your s-stay…in H-hell,” Armari stammered then died as his blood dripped from his dissolving tear ducts to mingle with the blood of the man who’d murdered both him and his family.

 

*****

 

            The assault teams rapidly cleared out the rest of the defenders and they began an extensive search of the main building. 

 

“Over here!”

 

St. Wolf, Summers, Mulder, and Scully rushed toward the voice and found a knight standing outside a door.  “I found Corvo and the Armaris,” he said just before Gabrielle and Sonja had called out from a nearby hallway that they were approaching.

 

            “Where?” St. Wolf demanded.

 

            “In here,” came the cryptic response.  “They’re all dead from the plague.  We’ve sealed off the room and started to sterilize the area.” 

 

            St. Wolf nodded and entered the room to find several knights spraying various chemicals to kill as many of the plague germs as possible.  He walked over to Henry Stamos and asked, “What’s the situation?”

 

            “The entire Armari family is dead, but so is a man one of the knights identified as Corvo.”

 

            “How did he die?”  Steve asked.

 

            “From the disease…I guess God really has a sense of humor.” 

 

            “More like black irony,” Duncan said as he entered the room and noticed Corvo’s body.  “Are those the vials?”

 

            “Yes,” Henry Stamos said.  “What are we going to do?”

 

            “We’re going to burn this building to the ground.  One of the buildings contains a large supply of gasoline in barrels.  We’re going to move in as many as we can and detonate them with a series charge of plastique.  Will that destroy any of the remaining germs?”

 

            Henry thought for a moment and slowly nodded.  “Yes, it should do.  What about the remaining vials and Armari’s notes?”

 

            “Transfer all of the files to several disks and we’ll destroy everything else,” St. Wolf ordered.

 

            “I’ll need ten minutes or so,” Henry said

 

            “You’ve got it.  It’ll take us that long to rig the explosives.”

 

            “What about the vials?”

 

            “Destroy them.”

 

            “I agree,” Henry said as he dropped the vials into a bucket of chemicals and placed the notes inside a sealed container.

 

            “Will the notes need to be sterilized?” Duncan asked.

 

            “Yes, but not here.  I’ll take them to CDC for sterilization and copying.  Then we’ll destroy them.  When will we destroy this complex?”

 

            “Now,” Steve said as he touched his throat microphone and issued his orders.  “Colonel Sanchez, leave ten of your vehicles on patrol, the rest are to park by the main building to receive new orders.”

 

            “It shall be done, Sir Steven,” Colonel Sanchez said.

 

*****

 

July 22nd 15:15 PST - July 23rd - 01:15 Local

Ma’tan as Sarah Oil Refinery, Libya

 

            An hour later, Buffy stared sullenly at the Ma’tan as Sarah oil refinery while the fire that had been started by several blasts of plastique and gasoline destroyed all of the buildings.  “They never had a chance,” she noted with a hard edge in her voice.  “You just had to kill them all, didn’t you?”

 

            He regarded her defensively.  “They didn’t offer us any choice in the matter, Buffy.  I would rather kill every member of the Swords of Allah, than lose any of my people or an innocent.”

 

            “Yeah, well, you didn’t offer them a choice, either, Steve.  We just shot them down like dogs!  None of us even tried to take any prisoners!”

 

He grimaced at her.  “We don’t have the capability of processing prisoners when you conduct a raid.  We are supposed to be in and out.  We’ve been in…now it’s time for us to get out.”

 

Buffy’s stomach tensed as she recognized the tone of his voice that indicated that the discussion was over.  Burying her resentment for the moment, she asked quietly, “How many wounded do we have?”

 

            “Eleven.  Thank the Gods, none of the injuries were serious,” Steve noted as he started for the lead HUMVEE.

 

            “Where are you going?” 

 

            “To tell Colonel Sanchez that we’re leaving.”

 

            “Fine,” she snapped and trudged after him.  “You do that!”

 

*****

 

July 22nd 15:20 PST - July 23rd - 01:20 Local

Town of Ma’tan as Sarah, Libya

 

            Twenty miles away in the town of Ma’tan as Sarah, Colonel Ahmed Hakim of the Libyan 3rd Border Guards, walked out of his office and stared at the fireball that rose from the oil refinery.  He turned to his Senior Sergeant and said, “Ibrahim, get the men up and ready to move out.”

 

            “What about the orders from Tripoli, sir?” 

 

            “It’s obviously an emergency, Sergeant.  We need to move, now!”

 

            The Senior Sergeant shrugged and bellowed out, “You heard the Colonel, you sons of dogs!  Get moving!  We leave in five minutes!”

 

*****

 

            Buffy struggled to push down her anger as she peered out the HUMVEE’s window at the night-shrouded terrain.  She blinked hard, fighting back her tears, as she inwardly grieved for her lost innocence.  “Now I know why he didn’t want me or our friends here,” she said lowly to herself.  Then she rested her head on the back of her seat and moments later fell asleep to the gentle rocking of the HUMVEE’s suspension as they drove south back toward the Chad/Libyan border.  

 

*****

 

July 22nd 15:40 PST - July 23rd - 01:40 Local

Town of Ma’tan as Sarah, Libya

 

            Colonel Hakim ordered the driver to stop his BMP3 Command Vehicle as the scout quickly drove his motorcycle over to him.  Hakim stared the man down and asked, “Corporal, what’s the situation?”

 

            The man stuttered and said, “T-the oil refinery…it’s gone, sir.”

 

            “Gone?  What do you mean gone?” 

 

            “The refinery was destroyed, Colonel.  Every building is on fire.”

 

            “Any survivors?”

 

            “Just two, sir.”

 

            “Did they say what happened?”

 

            “Yes, sir…it was attacked by a large group of soldiers.  Corvo and nearly all of his followers are dead.”

 

            Oh, well, Colonel Hakim mused, that’s one less fanatic in the world. Then he returned his attention to the scout.  “Where did they go?”

 

            “Tire tracks point to the south, sir.”

 

            Chad!” Hakim exclaimed.  “But…the Jaguar…he wouldn’t dare!”  Then he snapped his mouth shut and grew deep in thought.  Or would he, he mused.  Perhaps the Legionnaires were responsible.

 

            However, the scout shook his head.  “Whatever they’re driving, it’s not Hussars, Chussars or Panhards.  The tread marks are like those of a Landrover’s, but they are spaced too widely and the tread is all wrong for the French vehicles.”

 

            “Americans?”  Colonel Hakim asked.

 

            “Possibly.  The two survivors heard the attacking soldiers speak English, however, they didn’t have English accents.”

 

            < Damnation! > “How long ago did they leave?”

 

            “Less than an hour ago.”  The scout said pointing east, southeast.  “We can catch them if we head southeast on the main road.”

 

            Hakim nodded. < Do I really want to fight these soldiers?  Their sole crime was killing Corvo and the world is surely better off without that bastard. >  However, Hakim’s sense of duty won out.  < They did destroy the oil refinery.  I have to punish them for that. >  Then Hakim pointed to the southeast.  “Move the convoy out.  We must catch the invaders before they cross the border.”

 

*****

 

July 22nd 16:30 PST - July 23rd - 02:30 Local

Bedouin Path South to Chad/Libyan Border

 

            An hour later, Buffy woke with a start as she’s roused out of her sleep.  “Where are we?  What happened?”

 

            “We just hit some roughs in the road.  As to our location, we’re two miles north of the border.”  Steve said as he looked out the window.  “Did you sleep well?”

 

            Buffy shuddered and hugged herself tightly.  “I had a bad nightmare.”

 

            “I know.  I was holding you when it hit.”

 

            At that, Buffy felt chagrined.  She had been such a royal bitch to him after the attack yet he’d still tried to comfort her.  Thanks, honey,” Buffy said as she burrowed into his side.  In response, Steve wrapped a protective arm around her and kissed the top of her head.

 

*****

 

            Mulder and Scully watched Steve and Buffy and shared a secret grin.  Mulder leaned in and whispered, “Think Steve’s gotten over Buffy being in the line of fire with him?”

 

            “I think so, but he’ll always remain protective of her.  Reminds me of someone else I know,” Dana noted with a smile.

 

            “Anyone I know?”

 

            “Yeah…Connor,” Dana said with a twinkle in her beautiful blue eyes.

 

At first, Mulder’s face clouded over with jealousy, but a moment later he grinned when he realized that she had been teasing him.  Then he leaned toward her and kissed her deeply.  

 

*****

 

            While the Mulders stole a moment of intimacy, Jarod sighed wistfully as Andrea snuggled up to him.  “My God, Jarod.  That was the most intense four hours of my life.”  Andrea muttered.

 

            “I don’t think Sidney ever gave me a simulation like that.”  Jarod quietly whispered.

 

            “But we succeeded.  The world goes on and no one will ever know how close it came to ending.”

 

            “We’ll know.  That’s all that matters,” Jarod said then held her even tighter.

 

*****

 

            Meanwhile, Methos tried to clean the paint off of his face and discovered that some of the paint didn’t want to come out.  “You should use cold cream to remove that stuff,” J.P. Withers said.

 

            Methos glanced over to the ancient demon hunter and grimaced.  “How the hell do you keep your clothes clean?”

 

            J.P. grinned.  “Magic.”

 

            “Figures,” Methos said as they neared the border.  “Think we got away with it?”

 

            J.P. glared at Methos.  “What are you trying to do Methos?  Jinx the mission?”

 

            “Oh come on, old man.  There’s nothing out her--  Then before he could complete his sentence, a machine gun opened up on the convoy.  “What the hell was that?”

 

            “Murphy being an Irish fuck!” J.P. snapped as he drew his Masterson Assault Cannon and began to fire into the darkness.

 

            Methos stared at the 20 mm cannon and shouted above the noise, “Where the hell did you get that thing from?”

 

            J.P. grinned as he exited the HUMVEE.  “That’s none of your business, punk!  Now, why don’t you pick up that rifle and lay down some cover fire for those Knights in the first HUMVEE!”

 

            “You got it, old timer,” Methos yelled back over the roar of the Masterson.

 

*****

 

July 22nd 17:15 PST - July 23rd - 03:15 Local

Bedouin Path South to Chad/Libyan Border

 

            Yousef ben Mohammed grinned as the invaders entered the trap that he and his scouts had set up. < Allah is great.  Now let the Infidels come a little closer and we’ll delay them for the Colonel to attack. The sides of this river bed are perfect for our ambush. >  As the first vehicle passed the point of no return, they opened up with their light machine guns.  Yousef grinned as the vehicle is peppered with the armor piercing rounds.  Then he aimed his rifle at the next vehicle and prepared to pull the trigger.  Suddenly he heard a loud noise.  He turned toward it and saw a horrible sight.  Someone was cutting his unit apart with some kind of hand-held cannon!

 

*****

 

            Sir Greg Bernard looked on in horror as his windshield is almost shattered by the concentrated fire of at least four light machine guns.  He glanced over to his friend and long time partner, Mike Donnelly, and screamed, “Shit!!  Mike, it looks like we’re going to buy it this time!!”

 

            “Not yet!” Mike snapped as the support fire from the second HUMVEE began to tear into the men who’d ambushed them.  Mike saw two of the Immortals calmly walking forward, one of them equipped with an H&K G3 Battle rifle, the other armed with, for the lack of a better word, cannon, shooting all the way.  “Where in the hell do I get one of those things!?” Mike muttered in awe as the brown suited man passed him with a glowing cigarette in his mouth and a maniacal grin plastered on his face.  “Oh Shit!  Where the hell did the Wanderer get this guy from!?”

 

            “Who cares?” Greg cried out as he climbed out of the driver’s side.  “Let’s get the fuck out of here!  This HUMVEE’s gonna blow!” 

 

            Mike quickly followed his partner’s lead, grabbed his rifle and joined Methos and J.P. in attacking the scouts. 

 

*****

 

            “Allah Forfend!”  Yousef muttered as the firing increased in tempo.  He stared as the invaders began to lay down highly accurate fire on his men and positions.  Finally, realizing that he couldn’t hold his position, he ordered, “Retreat!!  They are too strong for us!”

 

            His men moved back in order and rapidly abandoned the hills surrounding the pass.  Yousef watched as the last of his men moved out.  Then he quickly joined them, leading the rear guard.  The scouts left behind their heavy weapons and jumped onto their motorcycles and Zil scout cars.  Then Yousef looked back as his men made their escape and said, “Allah be merciful!  What kind of demons are we facing?”

 

            “Sir, the Colonel’s on the radio,” Yousef’s radioman said.

 

            < Damn.  I hope this doesn’t destroy my career. > “Sir!  We weren’t able to hold them.”

 

            “How bad was it?”

 

            “I’ve lost sixty-three men, sir, forty percent of my force, including the light machine guns.”

 

            “How long were you able to hold?”

 

            “Barely two minutes!  These infidels are devils incarnate!  I have never seen men and women who reacted so swiftly to an ambush.”

 

            The silence on the radio was palpable as Colonel Hakim digested the news.  “Did you say men AND women, Lieutenant?”

 

            Yousef gulped.  “I did, sir.  There were women firing at us as well as men.”

 

            “How many?”

 

            “I estimate about two hundred, maybe two hundred fifty.”

 

            “Did you recognize their uniforms?”

 

            “No, sir.  They wore black fatigues with some sort of golden emblem over their hearts.”

 

*****

 

            Hakim stared at his aide and he nodded soberly.  Hakim turned back to the radio and asked, “Is the emblem shaped like a cup?”

 

*****

 

            Yousef stared at his radio and nervously said, “Yes, that’s correct.  Do you know who they are?”

 

            “Get out of there immediately!”  Hakim ordered.

 

            “Yes, sir!” Yousef snapped as he turned to his radio operator.  “Get on the unit net and order the men to retreat as fast as they can.”

 

*****

 

            Hakim turned to his aide and said simply, “He’s back.”

 

            The Sergeant nodded and bellowed to the radioman, “Order the regiment to increase speed.  We’re going to WAR!!!”

 

*****

 

            St. Wolf examined the damaged HUMVEE then issued his orders.  “Strip it and roll it off to the side.”  Several knights moved in and began to take critical components out of the HUMVEE.  Meanwhile, Steve walked over to Methos and J.P. and said, “Good job covering the knights when their HUMVEE was ambushed, guys.”

 

            “Always nice to be appreciated,” J.P. quipped.  “I hope you plan on buying the beer when we get back.”

 

            “Why do I have a feeling that I’m going to regret agreeing to that?” the Wanderer said with a laugh.

 

            “Because the two of us can drink a brewery dry,” Methos offered with a chuckle.

 

            St. Wolf shook his head resignedly as he turned from the two Immortals to watch his knights finish stripping the HUMVEE and moving it out of the way.  Then he turned toward Colonel Sanchez and said, “Move them out, Colonel.  Buffy and I will command the rear guard.”

 

            Colonel Sanchez nodded and announced, “Mount up and let’s get out of here.” 

 

            St. Wolf sighed as he watched the other HUMVEEs leave then he called out to the rear guard.  “Keep a sharp eye out.  Where there’s one set of bandits, there could be more.”

 

            “Roger that,” Sonja said from her HUMVEE a short distance away.

 

*****

 

            Hakim stared up at the stars and silently thanked Allah. < The bastard that destroyed my career has returned.  Now I shall avenge my dishonor! > He looked around at his men and said to his senior Sergeant, “Ibrahim, make sure that we catch up with the bastard.”

 

            “May Allah deliver all of them to our righteous vengeance,” Ibrahim said softly.

 

            When the Russian and East German made BMPs and APCs rushed forward at their maximum speed, Hakim said, “I hope we can catch up to the invaders before they cross the border.”

 

            “And if they cross the border?”

 

            Hakim grinned.  “We follow them.  It won’t be the first or last time that we or the French have ‘accidentally’ crossed over.”

 

            “Understood, sir!” the Senior Sergeant said with a grin and began to issue orders over the unit channel.  Several of the faster vehicles then moved off and sped toward the Chad border.

 

*****

 

            Colonel Sanchez breathed a sigh of relief as his GPS signaled that they were closing on the one mile marker to the border.  He glanced back at Jordan and grinned.  “Almost there, Captain.”

 

            “True, Colonel.”  Jordan said.  “When we’re back in our homes is when I’ll feel safe.”

 

            “Good point, Jordan,” Sanchez said then opened the channel on his throat mike.  “All units remain on alert.”

 

*****

 

            Major Fasheel grinned as his six wheeled armored personal carriers sped past the main body of his regiment.   “Allah Akbah!” he screamed out as they passed Colonel Hakim’s command car.

 

            Hakim gave him a salute and a silent prayer. < May you survive this coming battle, old friend.  Better men have fallen against those that you rush to face. >

 

*****

 

 

July 22nd 17:45 PST - July 23rd - 03:45 Local

Bedouin path South to Chad/Libyan Border

 

            “There’s nothing but sand out there.”

 

            St. Wolf grunted at Buffy’s comment.  “There’s always something out there.”  Then, almost a heartbeat after he had finished his statement, a bullet struck their vehicle.  The vehicle’s occupants turned toward the northeast and saw several armored cars rushing toward them.  St. Wolf cursed softly and ordered into his throat mike, “All TOW operators.  Take out those BMPs!”

 

            Then at his command, a dozen rockets streaked through the night and into the pursuing BMPs.

 

*****

 

            Major Fasheel’s smile rapidly faded away as a half dozen of his lead armored cars are blown into the desert sky.  “Merciful Allah!  Who are these people?!” he muttered.  Then he gasped when a body landed on the front of his command BMP.  He opened a channel on his radio and screamed into it.  “Colonel Hakim!  I need support immediately!  These demons are tearing us apart with anti-tank missiles.”

 

*****

 

            Hakim listened to his subordinate then turned toward his Sergeant and ordered, “Swing wide of Fasheel’s attack.  We’ll trap the enemy at the border and force them back onto Fasheel.”

 

            “What about Fasheel?  Shouldn’t we send him some support?” 

 

            “No, Ibrahim.  Fasheel stands or dies,” Hakim sadly said.  

 

            Ibrahim nodded and ordered the rest of the convoy to top speed and to the border.  They sped forward and completed a wide circle around Fasheel’s ambush.  Meanwhile, Hakim looked down at his hands and found that they were shaking. < There were only nine of them seven years ago, now I face two hundred of them.  Allah save us all if this move fails. >

 

*****

 

            St. Wolf noted that the lead BMPs were stopped and had blocked the others from entering the pass.  He ordered the TOW operators to blow the last car in the column, and when it was destroyed, it served to block the entire force from retreating and gaining maneuvering room.  “Open fire with the machine guns!” he bellowed.  In response, the heavy fifty caliber machine guns opened up and peppered the skin of the BMPs.  Moments later, he grinned.  “That’s enough!”  The guns ceased firing and he said, “Let’s get the hell out of here.”  The HUMVEEs then sped toward the south at top speed.

 

*****

 

            Fasheel reached for his radio with a bloody hand, coughed up some phlegm from his collapsed lung, and reported, “Colonel Hakim.  This is Fasheel.  The invaders have bottled up my men and vehicles.  They’re headed south at top speed.”

 

*****

 

            Hakim listened to Fasheel’s report and sadly shook his head.  “That’s another one I owe you, you bastard!” he snarled.  Then Hakim glanced at Ibrahim.  “I don’t think your son-in-law will die from his wounds, old friend.”

 

            Ibrahim nodded sadly.  “He’s a tough one.  He’ll pull through just to spite that bastard!”

 

            “Are we in position?”  Hakim asked.

 

            “Yes, sir, we are.  Whenever you give the order, we’ll cut cross-country and cut off their escape route.”

 

            “Do it now!” 

 

            “Yes, sir!” Ibrahim snapped as he turned to the radio man sitting next to him.  “Pass the word, cut to the west, NOW!!”  The radio man repeated the order on the regimental frequency and almost immediately, the entire column changed direction and headed west.

 

*****

 

            St. Wolf and Buffy breathed a sigh of relief as the armored personnel carriers ceased all movement.  Then St. Wolf turned to the driver and said, “Put the pedal to the metal, old son.  We’re getting the fuck out of Dodge as fast as we can.” 

 

            The knight grinned.  “You got it, Kemosabbe.  Hi yo Silver!!”

 

            St. Wolf chuckled as a confused Buffy looked on.  “I’ll explain it later,” he told her.  Buffy nodded and pointed her rifle out of the open window.  Mulder and Scully quickly followed suit as a bullet ‘pinged’ off the rear window.

 

            Mulder raised his rifle and fired a short burst.  He grinned when he heard a distant scream in response. 

 

*****

 

            Colonel Sanchez glanced to the right side of his vehicle as his HUMVEE sped down the river bed.  Jordan, make sure that the TOWs and machine guns point to the east.  Those Libyans moved too fast to have come cross-country.”

 

            “Aye, Colonel,” Jordan said as she relayed the Colonel’s orders.

 

*****

 

            Hakim watched as his four T-72 tanks veered from the road to the edge of the river bed. < The tanks will stop those bastards cold,> he mused.

 

*****

 

            Donald Harris scanned the high banks of the river bed, his TOW launcher ready for anything.  Suddenly, he saw the familiar and frightening shape of a T-72.  “Holy crap,” he yelled into his mike, “we got…four T-fucking-72s on the ridge above us.  Blow those fucks away!!”  Before his voice died down, a dozen TOWs streaked into the night and smashed into the tanks, knocking them back at least twenty feet.

 

*****

 

            Hakim couldn’t believe his eyes when multiple explosions rocked his tanks backwards.  “How in Allah’s name can these infidels be this dangerous?”  He muttered as he called out to his radioman.  “Order the men forward!!”  The radioman nodded and began to issue Hakim’s orders.

 

*****

 

            Ali Fajil gulped down his horror as he saw the four tanks destroyed in a matter of seconds.  “Who are we fighting?  The Legion?”

 

            “It’s not the Legion,” the Sergeant said as he pushed his men forward to the lip of the river bed.

 

            “Then who are we fighting?” Ali asked just before the Sergeant was ripped in half by a concentrated burst of machine gun fire coming up from below. < Allah save us! > Ali turned to run, but the gun barrel of his commanding officer’s Skorpion submachine gun stopped him. 

 

            “Move forward you sons of dogs or I’ll shoot you down,” the Lieutenant said with murder in his eyes.

 

            Ali grimly nodded and turned back.  He fell onto his stomach as he drew near the river bank and slowly crawled forward.  When he reached the edge, he glanced over for a second, but yanked his head back as bullets began to chew up the ground where his head had been. < Allah protect me! > He looked back toward his Lieutenant and gulped when he saw the man raise his machine pistol toward Ali.  Then, without thinking, Ali turned back to the edge and began to fire blindly into the river bed.

 

*****

 

            Methos looked up at the edge of the river bed, lifted his rifle, and fired along the top of the river bed.  His accurate fire forced the Libyans away from the edge.  Then he noticed one foolish soldier had risen to his knees to spray the column with his AK-47.  Methos grinned as several fifty caliber bullets shatter the man’s skull.  As the man’s body fell backward, his AK-47 fired up into the night sky. < That’ll keep their heads down. > Methos thought grimly.

 

*****

 

            As his men are forced back from the edge of the river bed, Hakim muttered to his Sergeant, “How is this possible?”

 

            “The bastards are firing as they pass this section of the river bed.  The men are cut down as soon as they near the edge.  None of the men can reach the edge and the BMPs and Tanks are destroyed as soon as they are seen,” Ibrahim said.

 

            “Damn them to whatever Hell that spawned them!” Hakim screamed into the night sky.  He whirled toward his radio man and said, “Order the men to pull back and have the mortars brought up and sighted on the river bed!” 

 

            Ibrahim nodded and began to issue the proper orders.  The infantry men retreated while the 88mm and 120mm mortars were rolled into position.  Ibrahim glanced at Colonel Hakim and waited for his superior officer’s order.  Hakim nodded and Ibrahim relayed the order to fire.  Shortly after that, the mortars began to sound their familiar ‘CHUNG’, ‘CHUNG’ sound.

 

            < Let that bastard stop this, > Hakim thought as the mortar bombs rained down on the river bed.

 

*****

 

            When the first mortar bomb struck nearby, Duncan cursed loudly.  “Shit!  They’ve brought up the mortars!!”  The knight who drove his vehicle veered toward the east side of the river bed and tried to use the steep bank as a shield. 

 

Several cars back, St. Wolf saw the explosions and spoke into his mike.  “Move all of the cars to the east side of the bank.” 

 

*****

 

            When Colonel Sanchez heard St. Wolf’s order, he said over his radio mike,   “What the hell is going on back there!?”

 

            “Sir, the Libyans are using mortars on the river bed.  We can’t fire back at them.”  A knight reported.

 

            “Roger,” Sanchez said then switched channels.  “Artillery, this is Knight 0-0-7.  Over.”

 

            “0-0-7, this is Artillery.  What are your orders?  Over.”

 

            “The Libyans have sighted in mortars on our column in the river bed.  Take them out!”

 

            “Roger that 0-0-7.  We have them locked in via satellite.  We are firing for effect, over.”

 

*****

 

July 22nd 18:10 PST - July 23rd - 04:10 Local

Order Base Camp, Chad/Libyan Border

 

            Lieutenant Selon spied several of Section Seven’s support personnel unfurl two of their tents. Shortly after that, the barrel of an artillery piece lit the night sky as the covert unit fired the weapon.  < Oh my God!> he thought, <they have rocket assisted artillery!?>  Get me the Jaguar,” he snapped to his radioman. 

 

            “I have the 1st DREP on the radio now, sir!” 

 

            “Colonel, this is Selon.  Section Seven has just opened fire on the enemy with rocket assisted artillery.  Do you have any orders for me, sir?”

 

            The response he received was very cryptic.  “Sit tight and observe.”

 

            “Understood.  Patrol Delta, out.”

 

*****

 

July 22nd 18:15 PST - July 23rd - 04:15 Local

 

Valley of Broken Spears

Northeastern Chad

 

            Colonel Anton ‘The Jaguar’ Dumas’ reverie was broken by a radioman who rushed toward him.  “Sir, the patrol unit watching Section Seven’s camp have reported that several of the tents were pulled back, exposing some sort of artillery pieces.”  Then the radioman handed Anton his transmitter/receiver.

 

            Anton spoke into the device and said, “Report.”

 

            “This is Selon,” he heard over the receiver.  “Section Seven has rocket assisted artillery firing into Libya, Sir!” 

 

            Anton grinned.  < Rocket assisted artillery?  Trust Carson to have an ace up his sleeve.  I have to ask where I can get some.  >  Sit tight and only observe.”  Then, after Selon responded, Anton turned to the radioman and said, “I take it that our ‘friends’ are coming back and they have someone chasing them.”

 

            “Yes, sir!  Long range reconnaissance has sighted the head of the column and we’ve been eavesdropping on the Libyan’s radio traffic.  The Third Border Guards are hot on their trail.  Colonel Hakim is royally pissed off at these people for some reason.”

 

            Anton laughed at the perplexed look on the young Corporal’s face.  “Son, Hakim is angry because the man leading Section Seven is the same man who destroyed his career.”

 

            “How do you know that, sir?”

 

            “Remember hearing about that little problem the Libyans had with their Air Force, seven years ago?”

 

            “Yes, sir.  The newspapers said the United States sent in a bunch of bombers and totaled Tripoli.”

 

            “That part was true, however, two weeks before the American raid, Section Seven destroyed the Libyan’s Air Forces.”

 

            “Oh Shit!!  And this Colonel Hakim?”

 

            “Had the foul luck to run into our ‘friends’ on the ground.  He had a company at his disposal, but nine of Section Seven’s personnel, supported by a single Mi-8 fought them to a stand still and forced Hakim to retreat with his tail between his legs.  Now there are two hundred and twenty of them and he faces them with only a regiment.”

 

            “Sweet Mother of God,” the Corporal muttered.  “Then why are we here if these people are so good?”

 

            “The Legion helps its friends, Corporal,” Anton said with a shark’s grin.  “Besides, anytime I can give the Libyans a bloody nose is a good day for me.”

 

            The Corporal suddenly shared his commander’s predatory grin.  “Yes, sir!  Do you have any further orders for Lieutenant Seton?”

 

            “No, that will be all, Corporal,” Anton said with a smile as the younger man rushed off. 

 

*****

 

            Hakim smiled grimly as his mortar men pounded the river bed.  “That should soften those bastards up quite nicely,” he muttered.  Then he barked, “Ibrahim, move the men forward on the double!”

 

            “Aye, Sir!”  Ibrahim said.  “Move forward you sons of dogs!”

 

            The men stared at Ibrahim as if he was a madman.  One of the troopers scoffed at him and said, “You are a fool if you think I’m going over there to get killed.” 

 

In response, Ibrahim simply raised his machine pistol and gunned the trooper down.

 

            “Anyone else care to disobey orders?” Ibrahim asked as the gun smoke rose from his barrel.  The men all nodded fearfully and trudged to the edge of the river bed.  As one of the men leaned over to check out the river bed, a heavy machine gun round took his head off.

 

            As the mass of troops began to inch forward, the men heard a whistling sound.  “INCOMING!!!” someone screamed, which caused the men to rush away from the edge of the river bed just as artillery shells began to pound their vehicles and the mortars.

 

            Hakim stood dumbfounded when a dozen shells fell on his regiment in less than twenty seconds.  “NO!!!!” he screamed to the world that seemed to conspire against him.  “This cannot be happening!!!”

 

*****

 

            While Hakim was busy screaming into the night, St. Wolf was dealing with his own troubles.  Two of his HUMVEEs had been struck by the enemy’s mortar fire and were badly damaged.  When he was given respite from the mortars by his artillery, St. Wolf yelled out to his people, “Let’s move!  We need to get those people out of those vehicles!  Buffy, you and Dana cover us.”  Then he and several other men wrestled with the twisted metal of one of the vehicles.  As he concentrated on the door in front of him no one noticed that his wrist bands had begun to glow with a pale white light.  Suddenly the metal fell apart and he tore the door from the HUMVEE’s chassis.  Then, he reached inside and tore out the steering column.  Then as St. Wolf scrambled out of the way and began to work on ripping off the roof to free Sonja and Gabrielle, Mulder and Richie quickly reached in and pulled the knight out of the driver’s seat.

 

When St. Wolf had uncovered the two Immortal lovers, he tried to reach the second HUMVEE, however, bullets began to rain down on him.  In response, Buffy, Dana, and a half dozen HUMVEEs returned fire and tried to cover him.  St. Wolf crouched down and scuttled over to the other vehicle.  When he reached the driver’s side, he ripped the door from its hinges and cursed loudly when he saw that the steering wheel had been forced into the Knight’s chest, causing the man’s body armor to fail. 

 

He looked into the face of the dying man and began to tear up.  “Dammit!  Francois, don’t you die on me!”

 

            The man’s eyes fluttered open and he hoarsely said, “It’s too late for me, mon ami.  Take care of my men, Steven.  B-bury…me…next…to…Yvonne.”

 

            Then, the man drew another breath, gasped, and fell silent as his eyes stared into eternity.

 

            “Francois!!” St. Wolf screamed.  The tears began to fall and for several moments he was aware of nothing but the pain of his loss.  Then he felt a gentle yet insistent hand on his shoulder.  He glanced back through tear-streaked eyes and found Mulder standing behind him.

 

            “I’ll take care of him, Steve.  Rescue the others.” 

 

St. Wolf nodded and numbly went to the rear of the HUMVEE.  Then he ripped off the warped roof to allow Richie, Justin, Jarod, Andrea and Dana to remove the wounded knights from the wrecked HUMVEE into awaiting vehicles.

 

            After everyone else had mounted up and began to move off, St. Wolf still stood silently next to his HUMVEE.  He turned toward the river bank and stared up at the top edge for several moments before a small but firm hand reached out and held his arm tight.  “Let’s go, honey,” Buffy whispered.  For several seconds, he ignored her and continued to stare at the river bank.  Then he tried to take a step but was unable to advance because his Slayer held him fast.  “Steve,” Buffy said softly, “if you go up there, I go up there.  Remember, we’re a team.  Is it worth it?”

 

            Buffy’s words sliced through the fog of rage that clouded his mind and he sighed deeply.  Then he took her into his arms and hugged her desperately.  “Thanks.”

 

            He felt her nod in response then she gently extricated herself from his embrace.  “Let’s go home,” she said simply.

 

            Moments later, with Francois’ body in the back of their HUMVEE, St. Wolf sat quietly as his vehicle raced into the night to catch up with the rest of their column.  Meanwhile, the shattered hulks of the two lost HUMVEEs were a brutal reminder that the Order engaged in a very nasty business, even for an Immortal.

 

*****

 

            Hakim stared at the wreckage of what was once the pride of the Libyan southern army. < The Colonel shall never forgive me for this. >  How bad is it?” Hakim forlornly asked his sergeant.

 

             “Almost four hundred dead, another two hundred fifty wounded.  We’ve lost four tanks, twenty seven BMPs and the mortars.”

 

            Hakim winced then swore under his breath.  Suddenly the anger at the unfairness of it all consumed him.  He whirled on Lieutenant ben Mohammed and asked, “Where does this river bed lead?” 

 

Yousef thought for several seconds before he said, “The Valley of Broken Spears, sir.”

 

            “Will we be able to catch them before they scatter?”

 

            “Yes, sir!  But the Valley of Spears is a good kilometer inside of Chad.  What about the Legion?”

 

            Hakim snorted.  “The Jaguar is sitting in his home in Lac Yora with his wife and children.  He would not be in league with these animals.”  He then turned to Ibrahim.  “Ibrahim, move the able men into the river bed with all of the still operating vehicles.”

 

            “What about the wounded, sir?” Ibrahim asked.

 

            “Signal our reserves in Ma’tan as Sarah and have them send out ambulances for them.”

 

            “Very good, sir.  I’ll make all of the arrangements.”

 

            “Just get us on the road in the next five minutes,” Hakim muttered while he stared down into the dry river bed. <Whoever you are, I will kill you, you bastard.  You destroyed my family name and ruined my career.  Before this night is out, I will have my revenge!! >

 

*****

 

                                                   Part 16 - Comes a Dark Horseman

                                    (Yea, I Walk Into the Valley Of Death, Fearing No Evil

                                          Because I’m the Baddest Mother Fucker There)

 

July 22nd 18:30 PST - July 23rd - 04:30 Local

 

            Hakim stared out into the night as his regiment pushed after the invaders.  Then he turned to Lieutenant ben Mohammed and asked, “Do those bastards have any alternate routes available to them?”

 

            “Only if they want to leave their vehicles behind, sir,” ben Mohammed said.

 

            “What do you mean by that, Lieutenant?”

 

            “The Valley of the Broken Spears is full of broken sandstone arches and spires.  Legend says four of the ancient Gods fought a small army of demons and defeated them in the valley.  The smaller spires are supposed to be the remains of the demons turned to stone by the gods as punishment.”

 

            Hakim snorted.  “What kind of childish fairy tale is that?  Ancient gods, demons!  As the Americans would say, ‘that’s bullshit’!”

 

            “They’re only stories,” Yousef said stiffly.

 

            “Will we be able to catch them?”

 

            Yousef looked at the cloud of dust in front of them.  “I believe so, sir.  When they enter the valley, it bottlenecks down and makes for a very slow crawl.  If even one of their vehicles break down, the others will be trapped behind it.”

 

            Hakim nodded at him and spoke into his mike.  “We must make all possible speed, men!  I want those bastards’ heads on a platter!”  After he closed the channel, Hakim muttered under his breath and said, “Where is my air support?”

 

*****

 

July 22nd 18:15 PST - July 23rd - 04:15 Local

National Air Base - Tripoli, Libya.

 

            Major Benmari gazed out his window and shuddered as a huge dragon flew overhead.  He noted how its golden scales shimmered and reflected the moonlight and sighed wistfully despite himself.  < Allah forgive me, but it is a magnificent beast.>

 

            Old Hamed walked up to the major, his old eyes also scrutinizing the magnificent creature.  “Why have they been here for such a long time this time?”

 

            “I don’t know,” Benmari said in wonder.  

 

            “What did the ‘Colonel’ say when you told him that there were six of them?”

 

            “He said that we did a good job getting the planes and helicopters down.  I wonder what’s going to happen next.”

 

            “What makes you think something’s going to happen?” Hamed asked.

 

            “You don’t know?” the major asked.  Hamed shook his head in response.  “The last time one of those dragons harassed us like this, a group of mercenaries attacked an auction that dealt in children fifty miles south of here.  They killed everyone there and escaped with the children.”

 

            Hamed stared back at the dragons.  “Is that why the dragon had come, to protect some mercenaries?  I find that extremely hard to believe.”

 

            “It’s true.  Our agents in France were able to find out who the leader of the mercenaries was.  The ‘Colonel’ offered a large reward on his head.  So far, no one has been able to collect it.”

 

            Hamed snickered and nodded toward the dragons.  “If this man can command those creatures, who would dare to face him?”

 

            “Who indeed,” Benmari said as a young clerk rushed over to him to hand Benmari a communique.  After the major had read it, he scoffed.  “That impetuous fool!  Didn’t he learn anything from the last time?”

 

            “What’s going on?” Hamed asked.

 

            “Colonel Hakim is attacking a group of invaders south of Ma’tan as Sarah.  He reports that they’ve destroyed Corvo and his ‘Swords of Allah’ fanatics.  Now they’ve beaten him back and they’re headed south to the border.  I have to inform the ‘Colonel’ about this.”

 

            “The ‘Colonel’ won’t do anything to you, sir,” Hamed said.  “Colonel Hakim violated his orders.  You bear no fault in this, whatsoever.”

 

            “I know, but the ‘Colonel’ sometimes shoots the bearers of bad tidings,” the major said as he walked toward his office.  When he arrives at his desk, he picked up his telephone and dialed the ‘Colonel’s’ personal number.

 

            It rang twice before the ‘Colonel’ answered.  “What now, Benmari?”

 

            Benmari swallowed his fear and said, “I’m sorry to disturb you, sir.  But I just had a request for air support from the 3rd Border Guards.”

 

            “What?” the ‘Colonel’ barked.  “Why?  Has Ma’tan as Sarah been attacked?”

 

            “Only the oil refinery, sir.  According to the partial report that I have in front of me, Corvo and all of his men are dead and the oil refinery is completely destroyed.”

 

            “Then why does Hakim need air support?”

 

            “He’s attacking the group that destroyed Corvo, his men and the refinery.”

 

            “IS HAKIM INSANE??!!!”  Khadaffi screamed.

 

            “I’m afraid it appears to be so, sir,” Benmari said.

 

            Khadaffi actually growled loudly over the telephone.  “Order that idiot to withdraw!  Oh, and Benmari, I want you to place him under arrest and have him here by tomorrow m