Lair of the Stealth Bunnies
Home Chapter Eight
HOME IS WHERE YOU HANG YOUR CROSSBOW
Buffy wiggled up along the ridge line the small hill in the park made and looked down on the clearing below about 50 yards away. A large group of people milled, but none of them looked her way. She wiggled back down just below the ridge and sat crosslegged, looking at the others.
She took a deep breath. "Okay. Here we go. Oz, you go up first and take a look. They arenít too far away, but I want you to get a feel for it before you go down in there. There's lots of brush - doesn't anyone take care of the parks in Sunnydale - so you shouldnít have too much trouble sneaking up to them."
"Gotcha." He dropped to his belly and wiggled up to the ridge like she had. He carried a wooden baseball bat in one hand, and had a couple of stakes in his back pocket.
Xander was loading the last crossbow. Cordelia knew how to load them, and she preferred being the weapons management. Anything rather than being in the thick of it. She was laying the bolts out where she could reach them easily. They may have had the extra crossbow, but they were lower on bolts than they would have liked, and she eyed the little pile fearfully. As long as the pile held out, she would be safely away from the fighting. Once they were out, it meant that they would be going hand to hand. She touched the small pile of stakes next to her on her other side. It wasn't much comfort.
Oz looked down at them, gave a little wave, then melted into the bushes soundlessly. Buffy closed her eyes and mentally wished him luck. She felt a twinge of fear in her stomach; she hated sending one of them out on something like this. She'd rather do it herself than risk any of her friends.
But sometimes, you just didn't have a choice.
She crawled back up the slope again. This time, Sarah and Xander came with her, and they peered over the edge. "Giles and Willow are down there," Buffy said in a murmur that wouldn't carry more than a few feet. "Xander, how many bolts do we have?"
Buffy sighed and studied the movements below. "And I'd say there's, what, thirty down there? Thirty-five?"
"Make 'em count, Xander." She looked at Sarah, on her other side. "You have this figured out yet?"
Sarah chewed on her lower lip. Buffy noticed it was already raw. "Not really, but I have a basic idea."
Buffy studied her closely. Her hair was pulled back, but she still looked pale against the dark red. "You gonna be able to handle this?"
"Yeah," she said softly. "Just do me a favor?"
She glanced at Buffy, her eyes haunted. "When all hell break loose, just don't kill me, huh?"
Buffy rolled her eyes. "We have better aim than that!"
"Speak for yourself," Xander whispered. "Who shot Giles with the tranquilizer dart?"
Buffy frowned at him. "I was distracted."
"That wasnít quite what I meant." Sarah shook her head. "Just be ready."
"What's the signal?" Xander asked.
She smiled mirthlessly. "You'll know it when you see it." She backed away and slipped through the brush, just as silently as Oz had.
Oz, who at that moment was less than a few feet away from the pile of tweed that was Giles, and beyond that, something pink and fuzzy that had to be Willow's sweater. He hoped that Willow was still in it. He fought down the urge to crawl forward and cut them loose, especially when he heard Willow's voice, low and frightened. Giles answered with something that was probably meant to be soothing, but the tone of his voice was too tense. Oz leaned forward slightly, then eased back when he saw three vampires guarding them. There wasnít much of a way he could get them out without being pounced upon. He thought he could take care of three vampires, but not the thirty or so behind them who were sure to notice and not be happy in his general direction.
He settled back to wait, hoping it wouldn't be long.
It wasn't. There was a shout and a sudden violent rustling on the other side of the clearing.
"Is that it?" Xander asked leaning over the crossbow.
"I donít think so," Buffy said thoughtfully. "That really doesnít fall under my definition of 'all hell breaking loose.' And I dont think Sarah is one for exaggeration. Give it another minute or two. Hey, that's Trick, isn't it?"
"Figures he's behind this," Xander said, then grinned. "I always wanted to say something like that."
"You watch too much tv," Buffy said absently. Trick and several of the other vampires were watching the bushes where the shouting had come. He snapped his fingers and pointed, and two other vampires ran over. They didnít move very quickly, sauntering with the easy stride of a predator with very little that hunts it.
One of them came flying back out again. He hit a tree hard and slunk to the ground in a crumpled heap. The other one backed out, hands held in front of him. Sarah stalked out from the bushes. She threw something at Trick's feet, and Buffy realized it was the head of another vampire.
"Can I say yuck, now?" Xander said in a small voice.
Privately, Buffy agreed. Staking was much less... messy. Still, beheading was a perfectly adequate method of killing a vampire. She wondered idly how Sarah had done it without a weapon, then suddenly decided she didnít want to know.
Oz heard Willow's sudden squeak of fear as the head rolled near her, and his heart went out to her. It was so hard to be only a few feet away from her and still not be able to help. He eased to one side, so he had a better view of what was happening.
Trick motioned for two other vampires to move forward, but Sarah looked at them. Oz couldnt see her expression, but the vamps backed down, with apologetic glances at Trick. Trick shook his head in disgust. "Now, why would you go killing some of my best troops?" he asked Sarah mildly.
"If those are your best, I feel sorry for you," she answered.
_Score one._ Oz thought gleefully.
"Besides," she went on. "He was very... rude. I didnít like that much." She smiled, and Oz was suddenly very frightened. From the smile, he couldnít tell what side she was really on.
Trick settled back, his eyes lit with amusement. "And who are you?"
Sarah shrugged. "I'm the messenger. The Slayer heard yours out. She asks that you listen to hers."
Trick studied her, then shrugged and smiled. "Does this mean the Slayer isnít coming?"
"It means she wants to bargain." Sarah held up the Orb in her bloody hand. "Do you recognize this?"
Trick leaned forward. His eyes sparked, and for a split second, his face shifted to vampire, then back to human. "Is that what I think it is?"
Sarah studied it, as if someone else was holding it. "An Orb of Gekkos? Yes."
Trick came forward and reached out to touch it, but Sarah whisked it away. She smiled again.
Trick's gaze turned calculating. "I suppose you want them in exchange for this?"
She shrugged. "The Slayer wants them back, She isnít finished with them yet."
Trick frowned. "Do I know you?"
"I donít think we've ever met," Sarah said through her teeth.
"Yeah, but for a moment..." He shook his head. "But how do I know that's what you say it is? It's not glowing."
She gave him a sardonic look. "I'm not magical."
"I am. Let me hold it."
She snatched it away again. "No, I don't think so." She waved her hand at Giles. "He's the Watcher. It will glow for him. You certainly have him tied up enough so he's not going anywhere.Ē
Trick nodded, and she moved to Giles and Willow. She squatted before them. "What the bloody hell are you doing?" Giles hissed.
The vampire guards stepped forward, but she gave them one of those looks, and they hesitated. "Just be ready," she whispered, almost soundlessly. She handed Giles the Orb, and after a second, he took it in his bound hands.
The Orb glowed to life, bathing them all in blue. Sarah glanced over her shoulder at the vampires. "Satisfied?"
"I'm satisfied that it's real." Trick deliberated. Sarah patted Willow comfortingly on the knee, her movement hidded from the guards. She flowed to her feet, and turned to face Trick. She raised an eyebrow in question. Trick sighed and shook his head. "I could give you the girl for the Orb, but not the Watcher." He smiled through his fangs. "That's not my decision. Orders from On High. Political reasons, you might say." For some reason, he seemed to find that very funny.
Sarah regarded him with distaste. "For both of them," she said quietly, but clearly enough for Oz to hear her. "Or you go back to your On High and tell him how you lost the only Orb of Gekkos ever seen in this country. Either way, he's probably going to be unhappy. I guess you have to decide which will make him angriest."
Trick studied her, then turned to look at Giles and Willow. Oz carefully faded.
"You might be able to catch them again another time," Sarah crooned. "How often will you find one of these?"
"Are you sure I don't know you?" he asked again. "I could swear that... ah, well. You know, I could just have you killed and then I'd have the Orb and the two humans."
She shrugged. "You could try," she agreed.
The two vampires closest to her shot each other uncomfortable glances and eased a few more steps away.
She stepped forward, until she was barely a foot away from Trick. She smiled. "I wouldn't, though," she said quietly. "It would be... rude."
Trick's face suddenly harded, and he stepped away. "Kill her," he said sharply. One of the vampires muttered, "Damn," but moved forward.
"I don't think so," Sarah purred, and she lunged forward, swifter than Oz could follow, and there was something about the set of her body that looked familiar to him, and then as she grabbed the vampire's throat and squeezed, her body shifted and _changed_, ripping through her clothes, her fingers around the vampire's neck lengthening into claws, and suddenly, she wasn't even human any more, but some creature of vengence, her voice raising into roars of anger.
"I thought I recognized you," Trick said in surprise.
"That's it," Buffy said from up on the ridge.
"Gee, ya think?" Xander asked sarcastically. As Buffy plummeted into the growing melee below, he shot the first bolt, then handed the crossbow back to Cordelia, who handed him a loaded one in return.
Buffy hurtled down the hill, the third crossbow in her hands. She shot the bolt on the run. The vampire disintegrated in front her, and she ran through the ashes, to bring the crossbow around in a swing that landed on the side of the next vampire's head.
Oz quickly crawled forward and touched Willow's shoulder first, and she drew in breath to shriek, then somehow, recognized his touch with that strange sense-sharing they had. He quickly cut her feet loose, then her hands, then crushed her in his arms, burying his face in her hair.
"I don't mean to interrupt this tender moment," they heard Giles hiss, "but if you could take a moment to CUT ME LOOSE!"
"Yeah, sure, Giles. No problem," Oz said. He dropped a quick kiss on Willow's head and eased her away. "Here," he said and held out a stake. Her eyes lit up, and she dove past him to grab the baseball bat. In one swift movement, she flowed to her feet and swung the baseball bat up like a golf club. She squarely caught the vampire guard on the chin as he rushed at her. The blow flipped him over backwards and the bat creaked ominously. Willow raised it and brought it down hard on the vampire's back. "I am sick of being knocked out and tied up!" she shrieked, hitting the vampire again. The bat cracked and splintered on the third hit. Almost as an afterthought, she used the jagged end of the bat to stake the vampire. She straighted up and blew the hair out of her eyes. She looked around. "Hey, you!" she shouted. "Yeah, you! 'Useless one,' huh? Come back here! I wanna talk to you!" She dashed off in pursuit.
"Never," Oz said quietly as he cut Giles loose, "get her angry at you."
"Yes, indeed," Giles said faintly. "I shall endeavor to remember that." Oz handed him one of the stakes and ran after Willow, who was still pelting after a vampire who had given up trying to fight and was now desperately trying to out-dodge her. Giles climbed to his feet, reflecting how much easier this had been when he was closer to Willow's age. A vampire loomed ahead of him, and suddenly disintegrated. A crossbow bolt fell to the ground on the pile of ashes.
"That's the last of them." Xander put the crossbow aside. "C'mon, Cordy. Let's join the fun."
"Fun?" she whimpered under her breath, but stood up. She had not ever figured out how the others managed to be brave enough to fight. She was so scared, she didnt think she could run down into the... war that was being fought a few yards away.
Then she saw Xander stake one vampire. He lost hold of the stake and it scattered away in the near darkness. He searched desperately for it, but two more vampires were running at him. Before Cordelia could think, she grabbed two of the stakes from her little pile and ran down the hill. "Xander!' she shrieked, and when he turned, she tossed one of the stakes to him. He caught it neatly, and whirled, stabbing up and into the vampire's chest. The other one came up on his other side, but Cordelia threw herself at it, and somehow managed to ram the stake in it. They looked at each other through the floating ashes. "Thanks," Xander said softly.
She tried to smile at him, and wasn't sure she succeeded, but he nodded and turned back to the battle.
The _thing_ that had been Sarah, or maybe was Sarah still, somehow, underneath the cat-like body and fur, was mowing through the vampires as fast as they charged at her. Xander couldn't see that she had any stakes, but she seemed to be doing well without them. Occasionally, she would toss a vampire towards Buffy, and she would stake it in mid-air. Xander tried to angle closer, thinking to toss her his stake, when he realized her fighting was hampered by trying to keep the Orb safe in one of her clawed hands. She looked up at him, with eyes that were remarkably feline, but still with Sarah's expressions. Without thinking, he dropped the stake and held up his hands, catcher-style. Her eyes widened in relief and she threw the Orb.
Giles shouted in pure libraian panto.
Xander caught the Orb neatly, and held it up triumphantly. The move caught Trick's eyes, and he bellowed for someone to forget humans and to get the Orb.
Xander suddenly found himself in the attention of ten vampires. He looked wildly at Cordelia and gently tossed the Orb to her, praying she'd catch it. "Nonononono!' she shrieked, but put her hands out and the Orb fell gently into them as if it had been guided. The pack of vampires veered her way. She screamed for Buffy, who looked up, and Cordelia threw. Buffy dropped the stakes in her hands and leaped up and caught the Orb. She landed and threw a kick that dropped the vampire nearest to her. She looked up, saw the pack, and saw Oz pitching water balloons into the melee. As a balloon would hit a vampire, Willow would dart out and stake it. Buffy shouted Oz's name. He looked at her and she threw the Orb to him. He tossed the balloon he was holding and caught the Orb.
By the time the pack of vampires got past Buffy, they were whittled down in size by three bodies. One of them pointed at Oz, and they descended. Oz waited until the last moment, then threw the Orb over the pack's heads to Willow. She dropped the bat and caught it.
The pack ran to Willow. Willow threw the ball back to Oz.
The pack ran toward Oz. Oz held something round up and threw it in the middle of the swarm of vampires. They all clawed for it, not realizing it was a water balloon until it burst in the midst of them, spraying them all. Meanwhile, Oz threw the Orb to Buffy. She jumped and missed it. The vampire behind her caught it, and looked at it in his hand, surprised. Buffy staked him, then neatly plucked the Orb out of mid-air as ashes rained.
The pack of holy-water-splashed vampires stopped in mid-run when they saw it was the Slayer who had the Orb. She grinned evilly. The vampire in the lead looked pleadingly at Trick, who angrily waved him on. The vampire must have decided he was more afraid of Trick than the Slayer, since he ran forward. The others followed him. Buffy glanced around for someone that was clear, then threw the Orb to Cordelia. Cordelia screamed, but caught it again. Then she screamed again when the pack gratefully swerved away from Buffy towards her. She frantically threw the Orb back to Buffy, but her throw went wild and over Buffy's head by several feet.
Everyone on the field stopped and watched the Orb fly straight to Giles.
"Oh, dear," they heard him say.
Willow closed her eyes and wondered what the end of the world felt like.
Giles tentatively held up his hands and the Orb fell neatly into them.
He lowered his hands and looked at the Orb in disbelief. "I caught it," he called in delight.
Seven vampires fell on top of him. The conglomerate of arms, legs, and fangs thrashed wildly, then rolled away, leaving Giles huddled in a ball behind them. He sat up and watched increduously as the ball of vampires rolled down the field.
Trick watched them roll by in dumbfounded amazement. Then watched them roll back past him again. He walked over to Giles, who caught up a large tree branch. "Wait, man," the vampire said under the noise of the fighting. "Look, let's make a deal here. I'll let you go this time"
Giles glared at him suspiciously over the tree branch. "And what's the other part of the deal?"
The vampire looked at the rolling mass of vampires and winced. "We agree that this fight never happened." He sighed. "In fact, do whatever you want with them. They're too stupid to live. I should have let them die. The first time." He shook his head and walked away. "My head hurts..."
Giles watched him leave, then turned and looked at the battlefield. Buffy was still staking, Oz and Willow were still pitching waterballoons, and Xander was gleefully darting around with one of the Super Soakers. "I can almost agree with him," he said wistfully and tossed the tree branch away. Buffy staked the last vampire near her and whirled around wildly. "I think it's just about over, Buffy," Giles called.
The ball of vampires suddenly stopped rolling. "Hey, wait a minute," a voice floated out. "I dont think he's in here."
The clump fell apart, and the five vampires left looked around bewilderedly into the faces of the five teenager surrounding them... grinning....
"I still can't believe you carried this out." Giles picked up another stake and added it to the pile in Willow's arms. "And to endanger the Orb like that, is just....just..."
"Brilliant?" Buffy asked eagerly.
"Well, yes, it is rather that, too." Giles stopped and stared at the crossbow Xander was holding. "Buffy, is that _my_ crossbow?"
Giles sighed in relief.
"This is," Buffy said, holding up the crushed remains.
Giles closed his eyes. "I am going home, now," he said faintly. "I am going to have a hot drink, and I am going to bed, and maybe when I wake up, this all would have been a bad dream."
"Nah, just a normal day in the Hellmouth," Buffy chirped.
"Hey, where's Sarah?" Willow asked.