I thought you were going to get me a veggie dog.
Whistler handed her a massive Italian sausage, with the small bun soaked in relish and ketchup. It looked beaten up and bloody.
Veggie dog? At a ballgame? What next, diet popcorn?
Buffy carefully grasped the sausage in one hand, realized that it was going to drip no matter what angle she held it, and held it over Whistlers lap. At least I know whats in a veggie dog. This thing is definitely nutritionally challenged. I can almost feel my arteries clogging up already.
Come on, Slayer, live a little. It wouldnt kill you.
No? I notice youre not having one.
I ate mine on the way back. Hunger is the most daunting of masters. Did you see that catch last inning? I thought Grace was going to kill himself, running into the stands like that.
Buffy took a tentative bite of her sausage. Not bad. I could get used to eating unidentified animal parts. Thanks, Whistler.
No problem. Thats what friends are for.
The Slayer gave her companion one of those looks that women are famous for incredulous and knowing at the same time. Is that what you are? My friend?
Im not your enemy, and Im not standing on the sidelines, either. So I guess that makes me your friend by default.
Well, she said between bites, Thanks I think. So tell me, friend, whats the deal with the FBI, anyway? Why are they after me? Not for that ridiculous stuff that happened in Sunnydale before I left.
I dont know much, to be honest. I think they used the murder charge as an excuse to hunt you down at first, but I dont think thats why theyre really after you. Whistler watched her carefully as she digested this bit of information.
Do they know Im a Slayer? Would the government know about that?
The demon shrugged. Hard to say. Theyre really good about covering up a whole bunch of other unbelievable things, like aliens and assassinations, so they might be aware that things like vampires are real.
Yeah, but then theyd be all over Sunnydale like bees on honey, wouldnt they?
Whistler chuckled. You think? How long would it take for someone to figure out what was going on, if the government had a heavy, visible presence in a California town? Better to play it safe, if they knew someone like you was already on the scene taking care of business.
Buffy made a frustrated noise. This is great. Im saving the world, and not even my own government will give me a hand. No purple hearts, no pensions, no steady paychecks. She stopped, thinking hard. So, again, why is the FBI after me?
Whistler kept quiet, waiting for her to figure it out.
It didnt take her long.
* * *
Mark Grace looks so small from up here. Do you think hed see me if I yell out his name really loud? Cordelia leaned over the upper-deck railing and shielded her eyes from the sun.
Xander put his arm around her waist. Maybe he would if you fell over. Here, let me help you. He pretended to lift her up, and Willow slapped him in the shoulder.
Xander, stop playing around. We need to find Buffy. Fulfilling a long-held secret wish wont help that. Willow took a pair of binoculars from her purse and began scanning the crowd below.
I am still trying to understand the motives of the person who left us these tickets, said Giles, clutching the railing with a tight grip; he wasnt too impressed with the steep grade of the bleacher steps. Was it to lead us to her, or steer us away?
Oz was having little trouble with the height. If were here anyway, it might as well be the first one. If shes here, she wont be far away. If shes not, theres got to be a wild goose around here somewhere.
All right, said Xander urgently. Heres the game plan. Willow and Cordy, you check the concessions and womens washrooms, Oz, you and I will go up and down the aisles, and Giles The Watchers grip on that railing was definitely of the white-knuckle variety. Xander took the binoculars from Willow and handed them to the older man. Giles, you can sit right here and scan the crowd. If you spot any hotties, Ill have a walkie-talkie, let me know right away. Xander raised his hands in supplication towards the women. Hey, hey, kidding. He bent close to Giles ear. No, really, dont be slow on the talk button.
Is there a point at which your hormones are not at full-throttle, Xander? asked the librarian.
The teenager shrugged. Id say when Im asleep, but He coughed. Okay, lets roll out, people!
Twenty-three rows above them, Buffys jaw was still hanging at waist level.
* * *
Wh-what are they doing here? She ducked down in her seat, trying to avoid notice.
Dont you want to go down there and say hi? Maybe I can get Giles attention. Whistler began standing up, and Buffy pulled him back down into his seat so hard the plastic creaked alarmingly.
You set this up, didnt you? Brought them all the way from Sunnydale so we could have a family reunion, and, gee, you just forgot to tell me. Her grip on his arm was cutting off the circulation to his hand.
Whistler grimaced. I didnt bring them from Sunnydale. Use your head, Slayer. How was I supposed to know youd be coming to Chicago on this very day? Do you think my powers include teleportation?
Are you on my side or not?
If you have to ask, Im not telling. They stared at each other unflinchingly for several seconds, before Buffy released him from her grip.
Right, she muttered, grabbing her bag and getting up from her seat. She crouched down in the row, being careful to avoid being seen, and moved towards the nearest set of concrete stairs.
Buffy? Whistler got up to follow her.
At the end of the row, Buffy found herself blocked by a male body. She looked up.
All this hunting, and in the end, the prey comes to the hunter, said Starkey, his right hand on the grip of his gun.
You dont look like a hot dog vendor, said Buffy, still in a crouch.
You dont look like a vampire slayer, but then again, youre the first one Ive met, so how would I know? Starkey pressed a finger against his earpiece. Target is located. Need assistance, upper deck, right field.
Her eyes betrayed the fury that wasnt evident in her voice. I dont want to hurt you, not if I dont have to.
The FBI agent loosened the gun in its holster. Therell be no trouble if you dont give me any.
Ill make it quick, then, she said, and sprang up from her crouch with astonishing speed, slamming into his midsection. They flew across the staircase and landed on some Cub fans in the next aisle. Hes got a gun! she cried, and people scattered in all directions. The Cub fan Starkey had landed on tried to scramble out from under him, and in the confusion, Buffy kicked the weapon out of Starkeys hand, which skipped down the aisle.
Sorry, she said, and dashed down the stairs. To her far left, she could see three men in identical dress running in her direction more FBI agents, she thought. To her far right, two more feds on the way. She took the stairs two at a time, and at the bottom
Buffy, Giles said softly, stunned into immobility. Buffy came to a screeching halt and faced her Watcher, tears forming without warning in her eyes. Her mouth worked, but she couldnt make any sounds come out. Finally, she made an anguished sound, and ran the other way. As she passed the tunnel leading to the concessions, a security guard emerged and tried to grab her. She batted him aside and kept moving. A hundred feet ahead, the other FBI agents were closing in. She had to get off the upper deck. Now.
* * *
Whistler sighed. He had been hoping to see at least four or five innings, maybe a Sosa home run. However, it was time to do a quick fade from the scene. He had done what he could, and it was up to the parties involved to do the rest. At least he had gotten the Slayer to think about what she was doing, instead of constantly living in denial. He wasnt any good at this impromptu therapy stuff, never would be. Angel had been tough enough to deal with; he had no experience with young women, at least not like Buffy. They had scrambled his circuits enough when he had been human, and his current demon incarnation didnt make the situation any better. Whistler climbed the stairs to the highest aisle, turned, and surveyed the scene one last time. Giles was finally reaching for the walkie-talkie; the demon thought the poor guy was going to have a heart attack when he saw his Slayer again. Buffy was caught between two groups of FBI agents, and shed have to be creative to get away. Somehow, he thought, shed find a way. She always did.
Whistler vanished into the shadows.
* * *
Buffy looked over the railing. The lower deck was a good forty feet below. Long way down, really. Then she noticed the Little Debbie Snack Cake banner hanging on the facing of the upper deck. It was tied off with rope, and one end was just a few seats down from where she stood.
She pulled out her whittling knife and moved quickly towards the rope. I so need to start living a more mundane life. The rope was as thick as her wrist, but the blade was sharp, and her grip was strong. Behind her, at the other end of the aisle, Giles was struggling with Starkey, trying to impede his progress. Buffy was trying very hard not to think about Giles and the rest of her friends. She concentrated on the rope.
Three inches to go.
The FBI agents running towards her were only seventy-five feet away. No guns drawn yet. She wondered if they would really shoot her.
Two inches to go.
She heard her name being called, and she didnt need to turn around to know it was Xanders voice. She also could tell he was far away, too far, too late. She remembered having lunch with him at school one day a few months ago, just the two of them sitting in the shade of an oak tree, and he had made her laugh with his impression of Giles and Principal Snyder.
One inch to go.
Her pursuers were twenty feet away, and now, look at that, guns were drawn, people were screaming, total chaos here on the upper deck of Wrigley Field, and here she was about to do something she had become an expert on in the last month: she was going to run away. Again. But, oh, this was going to be spectacular. Highlight reel stuff.
The rope was cut, and it took all of her strength to hold the banner up where she stood. The FBI agents surrounded her in a circle, guns pointed at her midsection.
Just let it go, Slayer. Youve got nowhere to run. Starkeys aim was steady, but his words were like solid rock.
Youre right, she said, trying out a smile. But I have somewhere to go, now. She jumped over the railing just as Starkey lunged for her; all he got was thin air.
The banner swung downwards, and Buffy held on for the ride. The crowd below her oohed and aahed as she hurtled through the air like the hero in some swashbuckling epic. The banner was heavy enough that it didnt swing very far past vertical, and it only took a couple of pendulum movements before settling down. Buffy let go of the rope, and she dropped a few feet into the lap of a teenage boy. The crowd clapped, and the teenage boy said, Are you from heaven?
She smiled and said, Go back to sleep. Scrambling down the row, she got to the stairs and saw more FBI agents running down toward her. These guys take the concept of dedication way too seriously. She turned and ran down the stairs to the visitors dugout. A couple of ushers were there waiting for her; two seconds later, they were kissing concrete. She leaped up onto the dugout roof and looked around. Now even the players on the field had stopped to watch what was going on, and the uniformed cops sitting around the edges were stirring. Against her better judgment, she glanced upwards and saw Giles leaning over the upper deck railing, watching her with sad eyes. Then Willow and Cordelia joined him, yelling something, probably her name. Things were starting to get blurry; it sounded like somebody was telling her to hold it right there, but the fight or flight reaction hit her with full force, and she flipped over the edge of the roof into the dugout, surprising the Mets players and the cop at the clubhouse steps. Before anyone could move, she picked up a bat and rushed the policeman, knocking the gun out of his hand, and kicked him in the stomach. One of the Mets players, John Olerud, stood in her way. He was suggesting she should calm down, or something like that. She lifted him up by the arms and moved him aside, then ran down the short steps into the visitors clubhouse. She heard angry voices behind her, and assumed that the FBI was following her inside. Her eyes found an exit sign, and she ran for it.
* * *
She went into the clubhouse! Xander yelled. Damn it! We cant follow her in there.
The exits, suggested Willow. We cover as many exits as we can, and hope she comes out one of them. Like where the players come out, service exits, those kind of exits.
Lets go, said Oz, herding everyone down the tunnel to the concessions. He was really worried about Giles, who hadnt said a word since Buffy ran into him. The concept of Giles going wiggy on them was something Oz wasnt sure they were ready to deal with. He was their rock, their leader, the adult among children, and if he broke down, the rest of them would soon follow. Ill get the van.
Please, God, let us not be too late.
* * *
Jesus Christ, I dont even know where the hell we are. Starkey, you see an exit down there?
The FBI agent shook his head, and jogged up the hallway to join his partner. Its a frigging maze is what it is. Place is seventy years old, you know. There were probably bootlegger stills set up down here during Prohibition.
She could be anywhere.
Thats a brilliant deduction, Holmes. Any other gems youd like to lay on me?
I dont know, Starkey. Course, I wasnt the one who let her slip through my fingers.
Yeah, I dont know how missed that jump off the upper deck strategy at the academy.
A young girl behind them cleared her throat.
Looking for me, boys?
They spun around, and the baseball bat Buffy was holding in her right hand flew upwards, nailing Jameson right between the legs. His eyes bulged, and he collapsed to the floor, groaning. Starkey brought up his gun in the classic firing stance and backed up a couple of paces.
All right, lets just settle down. No need for gratuitous violence.
Buffy gave him a dubious look. Is there such a thing as non-gratuitous violence? Besides, you wont shoot me.
No? There isnt a crowd of people for you to hide behind now.
What about you hiding behind that phallic symbol called a gun? No, you need me alive to hunt your monsters for you. She turned her back on the FBI agent and walked down the hall.
Stop or I will shoot, young lady.
Tell your partner Im sorry about his gems. She continued walking.
This is the last warning! Stop and put your hands in the air! Starkeys voice barely hid the desperation behind it.
She disappeared around the corner.
The FBI agent made an agonized sound of frustration, and bent to his partner. Jameson, you all right?
The injured man groaned again, and clutched at Starkeys leg. This is a lot of ohhh work just to get aaah a girl back home.
Starkey sighed. Tell me about it.
* * *
It was an innocuous door. The sign on it said, Authorized Personnel Only. There were probably a couple dozen doors just like it all the way around Wrigley Field, but Oz chose this one beside Gate K on West Waveland Avenue just because it looked so harmless. The odds that Buffy would emerge from this particular door were probably something like a million to one, Oz thought, but everybody knows that million to one odds always come through.
To prove this theory, the door opened, and Buffy stepped out into the shade. She was quite startled to find Oz waiting there, leaning up against his van.
The very same.
Are you alone?
Except when Im with people.
Buffy took a few moments to collect herself. Why are you This isnt she floundered. I can explain. Not now. Later. I have to go.
She misses you.
Some nights she cries herself to sleep. She thinks I dont know, but I do.
Oh. Her face crumpled. Im sorry. Really, Oz, I am. Its all me, Ive got issues. Wow, does that sound lame. Please, can you tell her Im sorry? I miss her, too.
You could tell her yourself. Shes not far away.
I wish I could, but I still have stuff to do first. Ill meet you all in Sunnydale afterwards, okay? I can handle it on my own. Dont worry about me. She edged around him and started down the street, walking backwards.
Well always be there for you, Buffy. Whenever you need us, you just have to ask.
I know. Thanks, Oz. See you later.
She broke into a run. She thought maybe she could run all the way to Vegas.
Oz watched her figure shrink slowly in the distance. The sound of police sirens was barely audible.
The walkie-talkie buzzed. Oz, this is Willow. Any sign of her?
He hesitated only a moment before replying.
Nope, sorry, precious.
None at all.
He whispered to the growing dusk, You can tell her yourself.
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