Lair of the Stealth Bunnies
Home Chapter Ten
"You know," Cordelia said hours later as she rubbed her tired eyes, "there's no in- between in this. We're either out risking our lives, or in here, dying of boredom." She pushed her books away and pillowed her head on her folded arms. Xander thoughtfully reached over and massaged her neck. "It must be a beautiful day out there somewhere," she said wistfully.
The library was hot and a little stuffy. They had propped open the doors, but the hall was hot and stuffy, too, so it wasn't much help. Willow had fallen asleep in her book, and Sarah was asleep in her chair. Oz looked like he wished he was asleep, and Buffy had just plain given up and was doing her history homework for entertainment.
"We're pretty pathetic." Xander agreed.
"I don't have to be," Cordelia said mournfully. "I was popular. I could be out shopping, or something. Anything."
"Wicked, wicked vampires for inflicting this on you." Xander closed his book. She scooched her chair over and rested against him. Xander breathed in the scent of her shampoo, enjoying one of her rare moments of affection in public.
Sarah sat up with a sudden jerk and intake of breath, startling those who were still awake. She looked wildly, then seemed to recognize where she was. "You okay?" Buffy asked.
"Nightmare," she said shortly, rubbing her eyes.
"But it's daytime," Xander said sleepily. "What would you call it, then? A daymare?"
"Reality," Sarah said bitterly. She looked at the book in her lap, then sighed and stood up to stretch. She looked over at the table, where Oz had joined the ranks of the sleeping.
"God, I miss coffee," she said.
"Giles has tea," Buffy suggested.
"I don't think he needs to be bothered." Sarah paced the library once, then stopped by a window. "I didn't realize it was getting so late."
"And we still haven't found anything yet." Buffy stared in dismay at the two boxes they hadn't even opened yet. "Is this Orb thingie really so rare? The only thing we've found so far is that Latin stuff."
"Toads! All of them into toads!" Willow giggled in her sleep.
"I think all this research has popped her brain," Xander observed. Cordelia didn't even look up, and Buffy suspected she had gone to sleep too.
Sarah wandered back to the table and looked around it. Xander and Buffy were the only ones awake, and Xander not by much. She drummed her fingers on the table surface for a moment, then sighed and walked over to Giles' office. She knocked on the door frame and went in.
Giles glanced up at her, then down at his book. "There's tea, if you'd like some." he said grudgingly.
She went to the tea kettle and found a clean cup. "They're dropping like flies out there."
"Hmm?" He looked up again.
She poured hot water over the tea bag. "They fought late last night and were here first thing this morning. How much sleep do you think any of them got? Not counting the last couple of hours, anyway."
Giles looked at his watch and winced. He took off his glasses and rubbed his face. “It is getting rather late, isn't it?"
Sarah blew on the tea to cool it slightly. "Were you able to find anything?" she asked, nodding at the book and notepad that was covered with scribbled notes.
Giles snorted. "I found out what color it is, what color it is when it glows, that it glows when it senses magic, who created it, and that it has been unheard of for the last century."
"But not what it does."
"No. Some vague references, but it is mostly a history of who has owned it since its creation. The whole text is cross-referenced to the first volume of this book, which, unfortunately, has not existed since.... oh, around the turn of the century. I was only able to find the second volume in a collectors book store about ten years ago out of sheer luck." He shook his head ruefully. "Truth to tell, I had almost forgotten I had it at all. It has never been very useful."
"And still isn't," she murmured.
"Yes, well, I'm afraid I have to concur on that."
She sipped at her tea. "You said last night that you think they'll come after the Orb, now that they know we have it?"
Giles sat back in his chair. "It rather stands to reason, doesn't it? Trick apparently knew more about it than we did, although that was a nice job of bluffing on your part. Once again, we're about five steps behind them."
"You're lucky," she said into her mug. "I think we're usually at least six steps behind. What's the chances that Trick was bluffing, too?"
Giles looked at her, meeting her gaze for the first time all day. "You mean, perhaps they don't know what it does either? I don't think we can rely on that hope."
"Probably not," she agreed. "But it would he nice for once. Look, it's starting to get dark out. How safe are those kids going to be if they're walking home after dark, with Trick just looking for more hostages?"
"You want to send them home?"
She shrugged. "You know them best. But if they were mine, I probably would. I'd like to think they were home safe before the vampires start roaming, especially if they are prime targets."
"Buffy can take care of herself."
"I wasn't talking about just Buffy."
"No, you weren't, were you?" He smiled slightly. "Are any of them still awake?"
She grinned. "Those that were when I came in, looked like they wouldn't be for long."
"Yes, well... since they're not getting any researching done anyway, you may be right." He stood up, but stopped at the door, looking back at her. "You do understand, that they are not just soldiers to me."
"Yes, I do," she said gently.
He went out and less than a minute later, Cordelia, Xander, and Buffy bolted past the office door on their way out of the library.
"I can stay longer," she heard Willow protesting as she came out.
"All things considered," Giles answered, "I think everyone getting a good night's sleep for once will be beneficial."
"But you're staying, aren't you?" Willow asked. "And you, too, aren't you, Sarah?"
"Yes, but we're old and are used to going without sleep," Sarah managed to say with a straight face.
"Well... I'm... I'm young, and I can go with less sleep." Willow truly looked wounded. Oz patted her shoulder. "Look, I can help."
"I know you can, Willow," Giles said soothingly.
"I don't want to be helpless again," she burst out, then looked away, biting her lip.
Giles was quiet for a moment. "Yes. I can understand that," he said softly.
She brightened. "Then I can stay?"
"Wait, just a moment," he said and walked through the library, collecting books. When he had a good armful, he brought them back to Willow. "I will loan these to you, and you can study them in the comfort of your home. They are beginning spell books. Just promise me you won't try any of these, until we talk them over first. And promise me that you'll take good care of them."
Willow smiled sadly. "But I still can't stay, can I?"
"Call it a compromise," he said with a smile of his own.
Oz took the majority of the books from her. "Come on, babe. Well get a pizza on the way, and I'll help you study."
"I won’t get anything done if you help," she said, then blushed.
"You're good with them," Sarah said softly as the couple left, their heads close together as they walked.
"Not if you listen to Buffy." Giles started to place the already-read books in the empty boxes. "But they have become... rather like family."
She began filling another box. "Yes. I had one of those once, too."
"What happened to them?"
"Half of them are dead," she said shortly.
"Hazard of the business," he answered softly.
She rubbed her face. "Yeah, but you chose it. I didn't."
"I couldn't really escape it, either. It's in the bloodlines." He folded the flaps over, closing the box. "Are you staying, or do you want to get home before dark as well?"
She smiled bitterly at him, and he caught a glimpse of her fangs. She picked up another book and settled down in her chair again. He watched her for a minute, then went back to his translating.
They both were so deep in their work that neither of them noticed time passing. Giles finally came out a few hours later. "Anything?"
"Not yet." She shook her head. "This is so frustrating. There's less on this stuff than there is on the early middle ages. At least when I did my research back in school, I could find sources."
"It is aggravating," he agreed. "I've spent all evening going through the Watchers Journals, but I haven't found any mention there either. I'm beginning to wonder if maybe the Orb is known under another more common name, and we're missing it."
Sarah tossed her book aside with a grimace. "Which means we'd have to start all over again. Giles, the kids'd kill us if we made them go through this again."
He smiled. "I think you underestimate them. They complain, but they've never given up. Anyway, I think I'm calling a break. I seem to have worked through lunch and not realized it, but I don't think I'll be able to do the same with dinner--"
The school doors flew open with enough force that they could hear the doors rebounding off the walls even from the library. Feet pounded down the hall and Cordelia flew into the library. "You have to come, Giles!" she said hoarsely, panting for breath.
"Good heavens." He stepped towards her, hand held out in concern. "What's happened, Cordelia?"
She caught his hand and tugged nervously. "But--"
"Just calm down," he said soothingly, "and tell us what's wrong."
"Well," she started, then took a deep breath. "Okay, we decided to help Buffy patrol tonight. Well, actually, it wasn't 'we'. I didn't want to, but Xander said it would only be an hour, and then--"
"Yes, yes," Giles said impatiently. "Go on."
"So there we were patrolling, and like, the whole town was deserted. Not a vampire in sight. And I'm thinking this is a good thing, but Buffy seemed kind of freaked out by it. She was sure she'd find some sort of activity after last night. Which is why we all decided to go with her tonight, in case she needed help. Or rather, they decided, and I got dragged along, and--"
"Cordelia, get to the point," Giles said through gritted teeth.
"Oh. Right. Anyway, she decided she'd come back here, just to make sure you were all right, after you being grabbed last night. She thought maybe it was quiet because they were after you again, 'cause you know about all this weird stuff and all."
"Cordelia!" Giles grated.
"I'm getting to it," she said indignantly. "Who's telling this anyway? So, there were no vampires around anywhere because they were all here. We walked in on them all, and kind of surprised each other. And there's a lot of them, so I thought I'd better run for help, since I'm not good at fighting and all. " She jittered in agitation. "Hurry! We have to get back and help Xander. And, I guess, the others, of course."
"Where?" Giles thundered.
"Oh," she said, as if it was obvious. "The football field."
"Go," Giles snapped. Sarah bolted, dragging Cordelia around with her. "Show me," she snapped, and pushed Cordelia ahead of her.
Cordelia dragged her heels. "Giles," she wailed, "bring something -- oh, I don't know! Something mean!" Then she let Sarah pull her out the door. Sarah had been fuming about having to go at Cordelia's pace, then suddenly found out that Cordelia's pace was certainly not slow. Once she started, the pretty brunette could certainly run, and Sarah wondered how much else she had missed under the teen's tendency to fuss.
They ran through the halls, Cordelia taking the quickest way possible. She hit the doors at the same run as she had the front doors, not stopping to see if Sarah made it through without the door rebounding in her face.
Cordelia wheeled to a stop on the other side of the rear parking lot. Sarah nearly piled into her before she could stop. "What is it?" she hissed.
"Go!" Cordelia gave her a shove. "There's a shortcut, down that path and through those trees. I have an idea." Then she turned and ran the other direction, one that would take her around further to the front entrance to the field. She ran up the stairs to the control room and leaned on the door for a second, breathing heavily. "Please let it be unlocked. please, please," she chanted. She tried the door, and of course, it was locked. "Damn," she wailed. "Of all the times for them not to be careless!" She pressed her forehead against the cold glass of the door's window, and closed her eyes, still trying to catch her breath.
Then she opened her eyes and gazed thoughtfully at the window. It was plain glass, without any reinforcement.
Cordelia held her breath for a moment. She had always tried very hard not to get into trouble, unless it was something that would increase her popularity. She hadn't even had detention in a couple of years. Especially since she now hung out with known troublemakers, she tried tremendously hard not to do anything that would put her under the eyes of school authority.
She could hear yelling from down in the field. Then Xander's voice rose clearly over the rest, just for a brief second, and she whirled around, picked up a nearby fire extinguisher, and without another thought, she calmly pitched it through the window. She carefully reached in, unlocked the door, and ran to the control panel. "Which one is it?" she muttered to herself. She had dated a boy a while back who had run the sound system, and he had once given her a tour, including showing her how to operate the system.
Of course, she had been much more interested in making out than in such boring details.
She had broken up with him shortly after that.
She leaned forward, studying the panels and buttons. "Doesn't anyone believe in labels?" she complained. She looked out the large display window, her gaze singling out Xander. She bit her lip and punched several buttons at random, and the huge flood lights flared on, drenching the entire field with intense light. Vampires screeched as the, light seared their nocturnal eyes.
Sarah had rocketed out onto the field and was lunging at the nearest vampire when the lights burst on. She screamed in pain, her hands going to her eyes, and the vampire clawed blindly at her. She had still been lunging forward and she hurtled heavily against the ground. The vampire blinked furiously, then as its eyes slowly began to adjust, it stepped forward to Sarah, who was curled in a blind huddle. It homed in on her more by scent than sight, and it was only a few feet away when a crossbow bolt ripped through its chest. Ashes whirled, and Giles knelt next to Sarah. "Are you hurt?"
"My eyes," she gasped. She tried to open them, but tears streamed down her face. She pawed at them. "I can't see!"
Giles remembered how she had avoided the light in her apartment, and he realized that the field lighting must be excruciating. "All right, just stay down and out of the way." He quickly loaded the crossbow. He had only had enough time to grab a handful of bolts. "They'll grow used to the light quickly enough. It's really only sunlight that's deadly to them." He wasn't sure if she had heard him, or if she even cared. She had curled back into her tight ball. It must be terrifying, he thought as he shot again and bent to reload, to be blinded and helpless while a fight rages around you.
He shot again at a vampire that had regained enough vision to see them. The shot missed, and there was no time to reload. Unconsciously imitating Buffy's move, he swung the crossbow and hit the vampire squarely in its face. The crossbow splintered, and the vampire went down. In a smooth move, Giles reversed the wooden stock of the crossbow and -staked the vampire with it. He looked in dismay at the shattered crossbow. "We go through too many of these bloody things," he muttered and tossed it aside. The only other weapon he had managed to grab on the way out had been his quarterstaff, still left in the library from Buffy's practice session. He knocked a vampire's feet out from under it, then swung the staff around and caught another under its chin. Its head jerked back, and he heard bones snap. In a sudden, still moment, he fished a stake out of his pocket and staked them both.
He smiled tightly. Sometimes, it was just so good to get out of the library.
Cordelia watched from up in the control room. "You're safe here," she murmured to herself "You aren't a fighter. You won't be any help down there. Just stay here where it's safe." Nervously, she gathered her hair and twisted it up in a knot at the back of her neck. She found a hair pin in her jacket pocket and ran it through the bun. "Safe," she murmured again. "... oh, hell..." She ran out and down the stairs before she could change her mind. She ran onto the field and caught up the abandoned crossbow. She struggled with it for a second until she held it as a makeshift club, like she had seen Giles do, and flung herself at the vampire Xander was fighting. She swung the crossbow around clumsily and clouted the vampire on the side of its head. It snarled at her, and that gave Xander enough of an opening to lunge in and stake it. He grinned at her in admiration. "I'm dating one brave lady!"
"Then follow my example and do something," she wailed, pointing behind him. He whirled and ducked the vampire's first swing. As he came up from the duck, he drew and fired his Super Soaker into the vampire's face. It was the diluted holy water, and the last of it. The vampire frantically wiped its face with the tail of its shirt, while Xander putted just as frantically at his pockets.
"Stake it!" Cordelia screamed.
"I don't have another stake," he shouted and searched the ground for the stake he had dropped, a stick, chopsticks, anything made of wood.
Cordelia darted in with the remains of the wooden crossbow stock, but it had lost its jagged end, and she didn't have the strength to ram it hard enough. The vampire wrestled it away and, clawed at her face, ripping into her cheek. She screamed in fear, stumbling a few steps. Then she saw the blood streaming off her, splattering to the ground, and she touched her face with shaking fingers and touched only warm and wet and rawness. The world tilted, and he stomach lurched in fear, and then the pain hit, as if the whole side of her face was on fire. She fell to her knees, screaming.
The vampire smelled the blood, and its eyes glowed yellow. It grabbed Cordelia's hair, pulling her head back, and then Xander smashed a rock the size of his head between the vampire's shoulders. It snarled again and pushed Cordelia away. Xander threw the rock at it and tried to pull Cordelia to her feet, but the vampire dodged the rock and moved in on them. It raised the crossbow stock above its head, and Xander had nothing else to block the blow, so he threw up his arm and beard it snap when the stock hit his forearm. Before he could cry out in pain, Cordelia had lunged to her feet. She pulled the wooden hairpin out of her hair and went after the vampire in a screeching fury, armed with a piece of wood the size of a pencil. The vampire stepped back quickly just from the sheer fury of her attack and. tripped over the rock Xander had thrown. It went down, and Cordelia flung herself at it and rammed the tiny spike into its chest. It evaporated into ashes.
Her face really began to hurt then, and she fell, cupping her fingers over her face and trying not to look at the blood that covered them.
Xander staggered over to her and gathered her into his good arm. "Did I say brave?" he asked in a choked voice. "It was definitely an understatement." He helped her to her feet and pulled her over to the stands, where they could hide under the bleachers. He took off his flannel shirt, easing it over his broken arm, then held the fabric tightly against her cheek, trying to stop the bleeding. She clung to him, gasping sobs. "Don't worry, Cordy," he said helplessly. "Well get you out of this."
Buffy, Willow, and Oz had formed a triangle and had been fighting together. Buffy had been trying to take the brunt of the fighting, but the vampires just kept swarming until she had all she could do just to stay alive. Her heart screamed inside once at leaving her friends to fight for themselves, but then she iced it down, narrowing her world down to killing and killing again, locking down whatever there was of Buffy and letting the Slayer take over.
Oz and Willow were backed against the giant cushions for the pole vault. Willow handed her stake to Oz. "Keep them off me." she shouted.
"What are you doing?"
She shook her head angrily. "Just keep them away from me!"
"What do you think I'm trying to do?" he shot back, but he stepped to stand in front of her. The vampires mostly had focused on the Slayer and Giles, as the most recognizable of them all, but there were still more coming at him in a steady flow. Behind him, he heard Willow rustling papers, then muttering under her breath. He couldn't tell if he couldn't understand her because he couldn't concentrate on her, or if she was speaking a language he didn't understand, but the hair on the back of his neck bristled, and he knew she was trying something magical. He wanted to turn and tell her to stop, that she wasn't ready to cast any serious spells, and they would fight their way out of this the normal way, but another vampire ran at him, and he had to protect Willow. Her muttering rose to chanting, then to shouting in a loud ringing voice that was nothing like Willow's soft spoken tone.
Then, there was more light behind him than could possibly come from the overhead lights.
Giles suddenly bellowed, "Buffy, Oz, get down!"
Neither of them took the time to look. Out of pure trust in Giles, they both dropped to the ground.
It saved their lives.
The glow around Willow grew larger, and so bright that Oz buried his face in his arms against the earth, and still the light flowed into his closed eyes. He heard the sparking and showering of broken glass as the overhead lights began to shatter. Under the bleachers, Xander covered Cordelia's head, pressing his own face into her hair. The wind and the glow wailed around them, and he thought he could hear a vampire scream, a high pitched, inhuman sound, but the air itself felt inhuman, and he held onto Cordelia tightly, afraid that if he loosened his grip at all, she would be sucked away into that glow.
Then Willow's voice rose again, over the unnatural sound and light, in one last incomprehensible word, and the world went dark and silent in such a sudden second, that Xander thought that they finally had done something that really did cause the end of the world.
Giles sat up cautiously. He touched Sarah lightly on her shoulder, and she began to uncurl, blinking furiously, trying to clear the spots out of her eyes. He didn't look at her; his eyes singled out the blonde girl picking herself up warily and looking around.
There wasn't a vampire in sight. And the tip of each blade of grass except for where each of them hid been laying was singed black.
Oz rolled over and looked for Willow, half afraid that what he would find wouldn't be the petite redhead, but something that was huge and powerful enough to create such a spell. But Willow smiled at him in the light of the one floodlight that was left sputtering, and it was the same Willow he loved and adored. He stretched out his hand to her, and she reached out to him, and then crumpled into a motionless heap on the grass.