Buffy woke up with a start and flailed around for a few seconds, disoriented and confused. Then her brain opened for business, and she relaxed. Slightly. Her tummy was really rumbling now, but not as loudly as the Holes metal door. The air did taste a little strange, like it was somewhat burnt. She didnt mind the noise, though; it was better than the usual combination of silence and darkness. There was nothing like being completely alone with her thoughts to make her appreciate all the distractions in her everyday life. Like vegging on the couch with Willow and Xander, watching old movies until dawn, munching on low-fat popcorn and sneaking a few scoops of Haagen-Dazs out of the freezer. Like talking shop with Giles, practicing her martial arts moves, cracking wise about the latest bit of arcane knowledge to come their way, falling asleep in the library with her head resting on the musty pages of an ancient tome. Like staying up late with Mom, baking cookies, with more batter ending up in their stomachs than on the cookie tray, laughing about boys and life and the world.
A homesick girl cried for the return of her life.
* * *
The TV flickered with images of various colors, but Jimmy wasnt paying much attention to it. His mind flickered with images of his own. They all involved the Reverend and Buffy in some way, and none of them were particularly uplifting. He was starting to wonder if he was obsessed with her, because he couldnt stop thinking about this strong, defiant young girl. Was she crazy or courageous for wanting to jump back into that kitchen to battle God-knows-what? Why did the Reverend throw her in the Hole? What had been in that kitchen? What had been killing those kids? His mind whispered the word vampire, and he tried to ignore it.
Why did he feel so handicapped?
A scrolling message along the bottom of the screen caught his attention.
There is a tornado warning in effect for Smith and Breckin Counties until three oclock this morning
He felt his spine freeze. He knew the barracks on the farm wasnt good for anything in a storm. He knew that the metal door on the Hole wouldnt hold up to a stiff wind, let alone a tornado. He knew that the Reverend wouldnt give a damn about anyone but himself.
So, Jimmy, get up. Lets go, lets do something, lets be a hero, what do you say?
But my mother, my job, Im
Youre what? Afraid? How long are you going to sit here and be the doormat, Jimmy? How long are you going to let fear rule your life?
Its not that easy, I cant just get up and go. I cant just leave behind who I am, its too hard, too risky. The Reverend, hell
People are going to die, Jimmy. Kids. Buffy. That tornado will snatch her out of that Hole like the Hand of God, and youre just going to sit here and watch it all on TV?
What do you want from me? he cried, covering his eyes with his hands.
I want you to stop being the boy and start being the man, Jimmy.
I dont know how, he said, his voice wavering.
Yes, you do. Dont be ridiculous. Now get up and go. Courage is as simple as taking the first step.
He pulled himself up from the easy chair, his heart pounding in his chest. Okay, he said hesitantly. His right foot reached out and found that first step. All right, Buffy, Im coming.
* * *
Buffy started awake again; the rattling of the door above her was getting louder. What a strange dream that was. Suddenly there began a staccato sound on the door, which could only be the sound of rainfall. Water began dripping from one corner, and the Slayer cursed.
What next? A cave-in?
She cupped her hands and tried to collect some of the water. It tasted brackish and grainy, but it was water, and she was deathly thirsty. She raised her hands up to her mouth for a second sip, and thats when she heard the first scream.
* * *
The Reverend woke with the first scream, and sat up in bed, very still. A second scream rang out, and he scrambled out of bed. He knew what those screams meant. He hurried into his clothes and grabbed a large wooden cross from the nighttable. The cross also happened to have a sharpened tip.
Coming out of the front door, one of his security guards came running up. Rain was pelting down, and the harsh wind made it difficult to stand straight. The Reverend scanned the sky and saw nothing but darkness.
Reverend, theres screaming down at the barracks.
I know that, fool, why do you think Im out here? Get back to the front gate.
The guard gave him a confused look. But, Reverend, there could be
The false holy man took his guard by the lapels and shook him back and forth. Those who are disobedient to the Lord and his most blessed followers will be punished severely. Dont make me tell you this again. He let him go, and the guard stepped back a few feet.
Reverend, the storm, I dont know if its safe to be outside. The radio said there was a tornado that touched down in the next county. Maybe if we all moved down to your cellar
The Reverend rushed the guard and punched him in the face, bloodying his nose. Enough! What do you fear more, the tornado or me? His eyes blazed with fury and a fork of lightning crashed down, striking the metal cross on the roof of the chapel.
The guard yelped and ran away.
God likes to test me in my hour of tribulation. He went over the spells in his mind as he walked quickly towards the barracks.
He opened the door and said in a commanding voice, The vengeance of the Lord, my friends, is mine!
* * *
The rain and wind made it nearly impossible to drive; his cars wipers were never designed for this much abuse. More than once, he had nearly run himself right off the road, not seeing the turn until it was almost too late. For the hundredth time since he had left his house, Jimmy checked his pulse. How long can the heart beat 150 times a minute before it bursts? He had turned on the radio earlier, but after the third report of tornado activity, he had switched it off. Better to not know exactly how suicidal this was. Yet whose face did he see every time he closed his eyes? Whose face beckoned him forward, so beautiful and noble, so courageous and strong?
Oh, God, tell me Im not crazy.
He slammed on the brakes, coming to a halt a few feet from the front gate. He secured his gun in his holster, and got out of the car. The driving rain made him wince, and he rushed over to the gate.
Hey, somebody! This is Sheriff Branson! Open this up! Somebody!
He peered through the rain, and it seemed to him that there were no lights on in the security building. Is there anybody here? Anybody?!?
No one answered.
The gates were fifteen feet tall, chain-link fencing, the two sections locked with a chain and padlock. Jimmy doubted that he could climb that fence; the spaces between the links were too small for footholds.
Oh, Christ, this is the point of no return.
He knew what he had to do. Hadnt he seen it in dozens of movies and TV shows?
Jimmy sighed, and ran back to his car. Buckling his seatbelt, he put it in reverse and backed up fifty feet. He slammed it into drive and sat there for a moment, building his resolve. All right, Jimmy, this is it, this is crunch time. Fourth quarter, down by six, ten seconds on the clock and were thirty yards from the goal line. Do I have the will to succeed?
He buried the gas pedal, and his car shot forward. The gates grew bigger and bigger, and he tried to steer the front of the vehicle to the middle.
Oh, man !
Jimmy closed his eyes, and the car hit the gates at thirty-five miles per hour, smashing the lock and chain to pieces, whipping the fencing open. He opened his eyes in time to see that nobody was coming out of the security building. It worked! Holy crap, it worked! The car flew down the driveway, and Jimmy hit the brakes when he reached the house. As he got out of the car, he heard screaming from the barracks.
No time for that yet. Buffy first, then the barracks.
He ran for the Hole.
* * *
Buffy pounded the earthen wall in frustration. She knew what Spike and Drusilla were doing up there, and it was driving her nuts. They probably want me to hear. Suits their twisted sense of humor. The worst thing was, her stomach felt like a hollow pit, and her mind was suggesting things about that severed arm, things that were really starting to freak her out.
Id rather starve. Most definitely. Starvings the way to go. No shame in that.
She tried digging ruts in the wall again, hoping against hope that she could make enough of a foothold to climb with. Come on, she thought, scraping with her fingernails, how about a little help here?
Above her, the door opened, and her jaw dropped.
Buffy? Buffy Summers?
A flashlight shined down into the Hole, temporarily blinding her. She blinked, her eyes not used to even the relative lightness of the night. Hey, I need those eyes. Who are you?
Im the Sheriff. Ive come to get you outta here.
Thanks. Got a rope?
She heard the sound of a hand slapping a forehead. Idiot! No, I dont, but I know! Now she heard a slippery, leathery sound. Grab my belt!
She reached up and couldnt feel anything; Jimmy focused the flashlight on the end of the belt. It was a good foot and a half out of her reach.
All right, Buffster, heres where the Slayer thing kicks in.
She crouched down, her legs screaming with pain from being cramped for so long. She waited a second, then sprang upwards, reaching for the sky.
She found a belt instead.
Jimmy began pulling her up, huffing and puffing all the while. He was muttering something under his breath, but she didnt much care, as long as she was getting out of this prison. Finally she reached the top and he helped her out. She rolled onto her back, enjoying the feel of the rain on her body.
Thank you, Sheriff.
Its Jimmy, remember? His voice sounded like a teenagers, all nervous and adrenaline-filled.
Right. She tried to move and winced. Im all cramped up; I need to stretch before I can do anything else. Can you help me? Grab my ankles and try to touch my forehead with them.
The look on his face made her want to laugh. It reminded her of Xander. You want me to grab your ankles, he said, deadpan.
Okay He did as she requested, and he made such an obvious show of not looking at her butt that she did finally laugh.
Thats it She grunted, then sighed. Okay, you can let me go now. He released her ankles as if he had been burned, and she sat up. After a few more leg stretches, she decided she was ready to move. The screams from the barracks were also a large motivator.
She lifted her hand up, and Jimmy pulled Buffy to her feet. Okay, now, go get help.
His face hardened. Uh-uh. We do this together. I already called the State Police; the storms going to hold them up, but they should be here in an hour or so. That leaves me to help you fight whatever it is were going to fight.
She looked at him curiously, then started off towards the barracks. Just cover my back, okay?
* * *
The scene was something out of a Clive Barker book cover. Bodies strewn everywhere, blood on the floor, the walls, the ceiling, and more teenagers were huddled in the corner, screaming as they waited to be taken next. In the middle of the large room was the male vampire, Spike, ripping the head off a victims body. The female vampire, Drusilla, was contentedly munching on another victims neck.
Reverend! Glad you could join our little party. Sorry if we didnt wait for you, but Dru had this feeling that youd be a bit of a party-pooper, if you know what I mean.
You couldnt wait, could you? Youre nothing more than a couple of animals.
Spike smiled. Yeah, well, survival of the fittest and all that, eh, mate?
The Reverend raised his arms and started chanting. Xeon katmai mendocino merced deschutes
Not so fast, holy man, said Spike, taking the head he had just removed from a girls body and throwing it at the Reverend. It hit him square in the chest, which knocked the wind out of the mortal. Spike leaped forward and tackled the man. They tumbled to the floor with the vampire on top.
Now, Reverend, let me show you the place youve been talking so much about. He bent forward to bite, but his instincts told him to stop. He looked up and saw a muddy Slayer smiling sweetly.
Hi, Spike. Are you a soccer fan?
He winced. The proper name, imbecile, is football, but yes, I am. Why?
Just thought youd get a kick out of this. She booted him in the head, which sent the blond vampire rolling off the Reverend. Buffy pointed to the teenagers at the other end of the long room and said, Get those people out of here!
Jimmy came through the doorway and sprinted past the Slayer. Before he could advance more than a few steps, Drusilla dropped her meal and sprang forward, blocking his way.
You didnt say hello, she purred. How rude.
He drew his weapon in a flash and pointed it at her smiling face.
Youre gonna want to drop to the floor with your hands behind your head.
She giggled. That sounds kinky. Are you going to handcuff me?
She clapped her hands with delight. Marvelous! I do hope you wont mind my killing you afterwards. Drusilla started walking towards him, her arms wide.
Stop right there, please, or I will be forced to shoot. He took a tentative step back.
Oooh, would that hurt? She kept coming at him.
Right. He pulled the trigger, and the bullet exploded out of the barrel, rushing through the air, punching a hole in the middle of her chest. She staggered back, raising a hand to touch her wound.
Spike? He ruined my dress.
Drusillas paramour was busy exchanging body blows with the Slayer, but he found a spare moment to reply, Kill him, then.
Jimmy couldnt believe it. That would have stopped a Mack truck. And wheres the blood that should be spurtin outta her like Old Faithful? Uh, Buffy ?
Buffy spun around with a roundhouse kick, her foot crashing into Spikes face, and the blond vampire flew backwards into the wall. She took a clothes trunk sitting in front of the nearest bed and hurled it at Drusilla, who ducked, but was caught in the shoulder. Dru howled in pain, her face contorted with anger.
A low growl was the only warning Buffy had, but she moved too late; Spike kicked her in the spine, and she crashed into Jimmy. They skidded several feet, ending up all tangled underneath one of the beds.
This wasnt really what I was going for, said Jimmy.
What, the tangled-up thing, or being under the bed instead of on it?
Okay, maybe it was what I was going for. Jimmy freed an arm and lifted the bed up and out of the way. Buffy scrambled out, ready to fight, but saw that Spike was helping Drusilla out the door.
Sorry, Slayer, well have to play again another time. He blew her a kiss, then disappeared into the night.
But I wasnt finished, she said in a frustrated voice, starting after them. The Sheriff saw her begin the pursuit and followed close behind. He got outside and skidded to a stop. In the distance, to the west, there was a terrifying darkness. He could hear a bass-heavy rumble, and his ears popped.
Oh, Jesus, Buffy, thats a tornado!
She stopped, turning to look back at him, then followed his frightened stare. Her mind was yelling, frantic with rage and frustration. Theyre getting away! Again! How many other people are they going to kill if you let them go this time?
How many people are going to die right now if I dont? She shook her head. Always with the conflicts. Some day she was going to make a therapist earn their salary.
Okay, lets get everybody into the cellar!
* * *
The Reverend watched Buffy and the Sheriff rush outside after the two vampires and sighed. Nothing was going right. His undead associates had run amuck, and then this Buffy girl had interrupted his attempts at setting things right. Sure, he had been pinned to the floor by that Spike fellow, but he had been about to unleash a particularly wicked spell when Buffy had so presumptuously taken over the situation.
God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Well, that was a silly question, wasnt it?
He got to his feet and brushed the dust from his pants. His ears popped, and the air suddenly tasted like sulfur.
Theres a tornado coming.
Without even sparing a thought for the two dozen teenagers huddled together against the far wall of the barracks, he ran outside, heading for the house, passing the awestruck Jimmy and the conflicted Buffy. Ive got to get my cash to a safe place. He never could use banks, that would have been too obvious, and while the safe he had bought two years before was a good one, he also didnt want to have to spend several days searching for it if it was caught in the whirlwind. Then there was the risk of the safe popping open with the force
Because he knew that the tornado wasnt going to miss his house. Not after all that he had done in his life.
Gods justice, indeed.
* * *
For a few moments, Buffy didnt think she was going to get any of these teenagers out of the barracks.
I think theyre as afraid of you as they were of the vampires, said Jimmy.
Buffy put her hands on her hips and scowled. They should be. Listen, people, theres a tornado coming, and unless you come with us, you might all end up flying to Kansas the hard way.
They all stared at her like animals caught in a set of headlights.
Jimmy sighed, drew his gun, and fired at the ceiling. Unless everybody hauls ass outta this building, Im gonna start wounding people and draggin em out.
Buffy gave him a look. You wouldnt.
Im not saying its the best way, but I got plenty of bullets, and its not like I have to hit moving targets here.
There was a very pregnant pause. Buffy wondered how close the tornado was. She wondered whether they were already out of time.
All right, said Jimmy, and aimed his gun at one boys leg, pulling the trigger. The explosive sound of the shot seemed to be enough; screaming and yelling, they practically ran Buffy and Jimmy over in their haste to escape, and the couple quickly followed.
You missed, observed Buffy.
Yeah, good thing he didnt move his leg.
Try to lead them to the storm cellar doors, okay? Ill bring up the rear.
Jimmy nodded, and ran faster, yelling at the kids in front of the stampede.
Buffy glanced west, and saw that the fence a half-mile away was being lifted one pole at a time out of the ground by a dark, unseen hand. Go, go!
They all ran across the driveway and behind the house. Jimmy reached the metal cellar doors and flipped them up. Okay, everybody in, lets go, lets go!
Buffy looked back and saw the tornado, which was even bigger than she had imagined; it filled her vision with its size and filled her heart with fear. This was one thing she couldnt fight. It was just behind the barracks now, and her mind coldly calculated that they had about ninety seconds before those cellar doors had to be shut tight.
Ninety seconds to live.
* * *
The Reverend jogged down the stairs, the satchel with the money clutched to his side like a life preserver. The rumble was getting louder; he didnt have much time. He got to the bottom of the staircase and skidded sideways on the carpet. He could see the door to the cellar down the hall, but his legs felt like lead.
So this is what terror does to you.
Each step he took, the door became larger and larger, inviting him to safety. The satchel felt like it was carrying gold bars instead of dollar bills, and he considered casting a spell to give him some needed strength. The extra effort, though
Finally he reached the door. He turned the handle and pushed.
It refused to move.
What the ? He turned the handle again. Nothing. He slammed his body against the door once, twice, three times, and it still refused to open. Locked, why is it locked? One last joke from the two vampires?
He cursed loudly and stood there for a moment, his mind a blank. What to do? Where to go? How much
The outside cellar doors. Idiot! he said to himself, and sprinted for the back door.
* * *
Buffy ushered the last of the prisoners into the cellar and allowed herself a final look at the oncoming natural disaster. The barracks had been flattened, the contents scattered in a thousand directions. The barn was just gone; probably somewhere over Idaho by now. The tornado was advancing on the chapel, and after the chapel, it would be the house, so why was she still standing there watching it? The wind and rain whipped around her with a frightening force, and she could barely hear Jimmy yelling from inside the cellar. This was nature, this was the true force of nature, demonstrating how puny human beings really are, and she felt a religious awe settle into her.
I see I have rats in my cellar.
She turned to see the Reverend standing a few feet away, holding a satchel, trying his best to ignore what was happening to his chapel at that moment.
You know, if you start running now, you might be able to find shelter in time.
Why should I run when my cellar is right in front of me? He stepped forward and she moved to block his entrance.
I dont think so, Reverend. Youre not allowed in here. But you can still run for it.
His face turned crimson with rage. Run? RUN? This is my house, those are my sheep, and this shepherd will tend his flock. He pulled out a gun from inside his jacket and aimed it at her.
Well, it was worth a try
The tornado growled, and the earth shook. The Reverend staggered, and he turned to look at the swirling darkness.
Buffy raised a hand to shield her face, and saw
the metal cross from the chapel roof hurtle from the tornados bulk, spinning end over end. Before he could move, it impaled the Reverend in the chest, killing him instantly. The long end stuck itself into the ground, and the false holy mans body hung suspended, arms and legs spread out in supplication.
After all the strange and grisly things Buffy had seen in her lifetime, this didnt faze her at all. She turned calmly, and with the tornado snarling and booming, she descended into the cellar, the doors falling shut and locking behind her.
* * *
The young blonde girl sat in the passenger seat of his police cruiser, waiting patiently. Jimmy Branson couldnt help himself; he kept sneaking glances over to her from where he was standing, cataloguing every feature, every perfection.
Im never going to see her again.
Sometimes the truth was really irritating.
So, Sheriff, have you had any luck in locating the Reverends body?
This reporter from Inside Edition was also really irritating.
Nah, although we were thinking of asking the State Police if they could do an aerial search. Hell, they probably were already doing that anyway. Still, that was a funny thing; after the storm had ended, and they had emerged from the cellar, the steel cross was where Buffy had said it landed, but The Reverend was gone. Even the blood that should have been on the ground, or on the cross gone. It was like he had been swept away clean. The satchel had still been there, lying peacefully on the ground as if it had been tossed casually to one side. One thing he was sure of, though they were never going to find that body.
Thanks, Sheriff, for your time. The reporter ambled off to bother somebody else. Jimmy sighed. At least this reporter didnt ask him that question the others had kept asking, 60 Minutes, Dateline NBC, CNN, all those talking heads.
Did you know what was going on at the farm, Sheriff?
He walked back to his car, where Buffy Summers was resting peacefully. For a moment, he stood with his grip on the handle, wondering if he should disturb her, not wanting to do anything to upset her or make her mad. Then she decided for him by opening her eyes and saying, Are they done?
He opened the car door and got behind the wheel before answering.
For now, I guess. They look like vultures who dont know what they want to eat first. Through the windshield, they could see dozens of reporters, technical people, and dazed locals. The State Police had corralled all the security guys, and the reporters were yelling questions to one of the troopers.
Jimmy waited for her to ask the question the others had asked, but she didnt. He reached into his inside pocket and pulled out a small wad of bills. Her eyes widened when he offered it to her.
He smiled. Sure you can. Its not my money anyway, not really. I didnt think that satchel was going to miss it.
Jimmy, I This is very nice of you, really. I promise to nominate you for sainthood as soon as I get Her face fell momentarily before she replaced it with a carefully constructed mask of happiness.
He looked at her, confounded, confused, and more than a little afraid of this beautiful young girl who appeared to fight monsters for a living. Where is home, anyway?
Her eyes lowered, but not before he could see the hurt resting deep inside.
Ah, forget I asked. Listen, where you headed? Maybe thats a better question.
West. Im heading west. He kept looking at her silently, and she glanced at him before flushing a deep red. Okay, maybe I owe you a bit more than that. Im going to Las Vegas.
Vegas? Talk about your wretched hives of scum and villainy. What would a girl like you oh. Monsters. Demons. Vampires. Where else would you go, aside from Congress? Well, I can drive you as far as the state line. How about that?
That, she said with a grin, would be as fine as paint.
* * *
He watched the marshmallow dissolve in the brown liquid; it spun around and around like a white tornado, little chunks flying off and disappearing in the vortex. It seemed familiar to him for some reason.
So this was heartache. Like hunger and heartburn put together. Maybe that was a better word for it: heartburn. He burned, all right, like a hot flame that was quickly running out of fuel. Was that right, to fall in love with someone you could never have? To fall in love with someone whose life could not include yours? Was that right? Was that justice?
He smelled her before he saw her, and immediately he knew who it was. He didnt need to turn around, because that smell was from away, from that place where Buffy Summers belonged. That smell was fresh, and lively, and alien to this place.
Las Vegas. Thats where shes going.
She stopped in surprise.
Jimmy spun around in his seat to face the beautiful young dark-haired girl. You find her, and you take her home, okay? Promise me you will.
He held out his hand, and she took it without thinking. She opened her mouth, appeared to change what she had been about to say, and replied, We will.
My children, He works in mysterious ways, and it is not for us to question his methods, it is not for us to ask Him why, it is only for us to accept what is, change what we should for the better, and live the best we can.
Gods justice is His own.
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