Part 3

“Nitty-gritty me.” Agent Travis leaned against the side of a gray, nondescript van. Inside the van were two FBI agents and about two million dollars’ worth of surveillance equipment. Right now, the man who had Travis’ attention was the leader of the tactical team, Agent Paulson.

“I’ve got two men good to go on the north and south sides of the diner with glass-cutters, silenced ranged pistols, and infrared goggles. When we cut the power after night falls, both men should have good angles to take down the target.”

“Unless he goes behind the counter.”

“If he goes behind the counter, we go to phase two: storm the front and back exits, create a wall for the hostages to escape behind, and take down the target.”

“Tear gas?”

“That’ll be up to the entry leader. He’ll assess the situation on the fly; tear gas can be trouble if we’re trying to get hostages out.”

“What’s the ammo?”

“First man will have rubber bullets, the rear men will have the real deal, in case more force is necessary.”

Travis shrugged. “What’s the estimated splash damage?”

“Three, maybe four civilians, tops. Certainly whoever’s closest to him will be in the greatest danger; he might start shooting wildly once the lights are out.”

The negotiator nodded. “Sounds good. Be ready to go on my signal.” He turned to the local police chief, who was sweating just a little bit. “Chief, how was it that a civilian got past your men and walked right into that diner? Did a box of donuts suddenly make their appearance?”

“Well …”

Behind the Chief, the sun touched the horizon.

*                              *                              *

“Do you have everything you need?” asked Oz.

Giles glanced at Willow’s handbag and nodded. “I would imagine so. Between the two of us, we should be able to stir up quite a storm.”

“But you have to be on the roof of the diner to do this?” asked Cordelia.

“That’s as close as we can get,” replied Willow. “That’s why we’re here.”

Cordelia looked down to the alley below. “On the roof of the motel,” she deadpanned. “I guess we’re going to jump across, and yet I’m lacking a certain something … What is it …? Oh, I know, a stuntwoman.”

“Come on, Cordelia, it’s as easy as falling off a log,” said Willow encouragingly.

“The falling part is what I’m worried about.”

The motel’s roof was a half-story higher than the diner’s roof, and the alley was about ten feet wide. To Cordelia, it looked more like fifty.

“Weren’t you a cheerleader?” asked Oz.

“Yeah, so?”

“So you’re in good physical shape, and you’re used to leaping around. What’s the problem?”

“The problem is, I wasn’t thirty feet off the ground when I was doing that stuff. Why can’t I stay here? I don’t think that sniper is going to stay knocked out for long; if he looks like he’s going to wake up, I can bash him in the head again.”

Giles chuckled. “I still can’t believe you assaulted the man in the first place.”

Cordelia crossed her arms, her face clouded. “Hey, I don’t want him shooting his gun down there where Xander could get hit. Then there’d be no end to the complaining.”

“Right, well, we had best get going. The sun’s down, and it is dark enough that they won’t see us.” Giles walked several steps back from the edge. “I’ll go first.”

He took a couple of deep, steadying breaths, and then took off. Four strides later, he was at the edge, and he leaped with all the grace of a gazelle …

*                              *                              *

“It’s getting pretty dark out there.” Brody gave Buffy a strange, secretive smile. “This will all be over real soon.”

“What do you mean?” she asked. She was sitting at an empty table with Xander. Everyone else was still on the floor. Starkey had stopped moaning a little while ago, and Buffy was trying not to think about what that probably meant.

“They’ll try and storm this place.” He got up from his stool beside the counter and walked leisurely down the aisle. “Won’t be long; they’ll cut the power, and in the confusion, they’ll crash through the front door, shooting everything that moves, hoping one of them’s me.” He stopped beside one booth, reached down, and took the young girl, Amy, by the arm. Several people gasped in horrified anticipation.

“Don’t hurt the little girl, Brody,” said Xander. “Give her a couple of decades so she can grow up and defend herself.”

The hostage-taker dragged the girl behind the counter. She whimpered, struggling to free herself from his grip. It was all Buffy could do to stop herself from leaping over the counter to help her. “Slippery, isn’t she?” His arm caught Amy around the chest, and he held her close, the barrel of the gun resting lightly on her temple. “They’re tricksome, demons are. Hiding in little tiny human bodies like this one. Yesterday, a demon disguised as a teenage boy tried to slash my throat when he found out that I knew. He got a surprise, though.”

“If these demons are all over the place like you say, then what’s their motivation? Take over the world?” Buffy slowly and silently moved her chair out from the table, to make it easier for her to jump up and deal with whatever happened next. She didn’t think Brody was going to kill her, or any of the others in the diner, but she was just about certain that he was going to pull that trigger and end Amy’s life. Could she get to Brody before he got a shot off? He was quick; you didn’t have to be a Guns & Ammo subscriber to come to that conclusion. She would need a diversion. Although they hadn’t had a chance to talk, Buffy assumed that Xander’s presence meant that her other friends were nearby, and probably setting up something for her to work with.

Hey, girlfriend, let’s not forget the other thing.

What’s that?

Does this guy see demons, or not? I mean, you know that demons are as real as Zagnut bars, but you can only see them when they get all demonic.

Her eyes kept getting drawn back to Amy’s temple, where the gun was pointing.

A little girl, a demon?

I don’t think so.

“I don’t know what demons want,” said Brody, his voice becoming calmer with each word. “I’ve never kept one alive long enough to find out, since they keep trying to kill me.” He pulled a set of red goggles from his back pocket and put them on.

“Yeah,” agreed Xander, “that little girl could probably give Chucky a run for his money.”

Brody shook his head in disbelief. “What is with you two? Don’t you know how you’re supposed to talk to a hostage-taker? You’re supposed to humor me, tell me what I want to hear, not ridicule my every sentence.”

“Sorry,” apologized Buffy. “We didn’t take ‘Negotiations 101’. I wanted a spare.”

“And I can’t even spell the word, so …” Xander smiled ingratiatingly.

That’s when the lights went out in Fullerton.

*                              *                              *

Giles and Willow faced each other in lotus positions, a small circle drawn with white chalk separating them. They began waving their hands in unison over the circle, chanting together:

“Zanzu, febrilla, ektellon … Toktemi, belemar, kakendrom …”

A tiny black cloud began to form over the circle. The spellcasters’ hands seemed to stroke the upper surface, waving back and forth, and as Oz watched, they pushed the cloud downwards into the circle.

Just then, the lights went out in the diner.

“Hurry up, guys, it’s starting,” said Oz urgently.

Their hands kept pushing downwards, until the cloud had sunk completely into the circle, which had become a dark hole. Through it, they could hear the clap of thunder.

Giles sighed. “It’s already begun.”

*                              *                              *

“We’re dark,” said the voice in Agent Travis’ ear. Another voice said, “Target is behind the counter. I’ve got no shot.” Travis clicked the send button on his walkie-talkie. “Incursion is a go. On my mark …”

Four armed agents ran up to the front door and hugged the wall on both sides.

“Three …”

Another four armed agents entered the kitchen in the back and silently made their way to the swinging door marked ‘Employees Only’.

“Two …”

The agents on the north and south ends began cutting larger holes in the windows.

“One …”

The sniper on the roof of the gas station steadied himself; one of the first things the team was supposed to do upon entry was to pull up the blinds next to the door.


*                              *                              *

The diner was plunged into darkness. Buffy got out of her chair and moved over to the counter, hoping to catch Brody unaware.

“Blondie, get out of the way. They’ll be coming in the door any minute. Besides, I’ve got infrared goggles, so I can see your pretty ass.”

She pounded her knee in frustration. A small rumble made her look up. Her night vision was quickly asserting itself, and she could make out the ceiling. Now, what was that darker blob that seemed to be coming through the ceiling? Buffy realized that the air was now humid and very electric.

“Xander, try to get everybody down to the bathrooms!”

As he did that, Buffy crouched between two stools, trying to figure out what to do next.

“Brody, don’t shoot the girl!” she yelled.

“It’s not a girl, blondie, it’s a demon!” he yelled back. His voice sounded further away.

He must be moving down the counter away from the kitchen door. She moved down three stools and wished that she could see better. The rumbling from the ceiling was getting louder.

“Brody? Please let her go!”

“Like hell! She’s my proof!”

A lightning bolt shot down from the blob and struck the counter a few feet away from Buffy.

“Jesus Christ!” cried Brody, startled.

The thunder was nearly deafening, and Buffy realized what the blob was.

A storm cloud.

*                              *                              *

Xander got the middle-aged couple moving, and then realized his next stop was the dead agent lying on the floor. At least, he thought the guy was dead; Buffy sure didn’t think his chances of living were too high. Knowing my luck, he thought, I’ll put my hand right where the guy’s wound is. Won’t that be lovely. He crawled forward, and his right hand came down on a wet and sticky part of the floor. Gee, I must be close. He continued on, and blinked. He was now able to make out vague shapes, and he realized that something was wrong.

There was the blood, but …

Where was the agent?

*                              *                              *

Another lightning bolt came down, this time on the table beside the Slayer, and the thunderclap was loud enough to make her head wobbly. Her mind became disconnected from her body for a moment, as it idly wondered what would happen if one of those bolts happened to strike her.

Stay low, then.

The front door crashed open, and from the dim light that cascaded in from the street, Buffy watched several armed men enter the diner, semi-automatic guns raised. That’s when things got really fun.

*                              *                              *

“Luke Brody! Put the gun down!”

Gunshots rang out from behind the counter. The first agent through the kitchen door hit the floor, crying out in pain. The next agent flew through the doorway, rolled, and came up in a firing crouch.

“Don’t test me! I have a hostage!” yelled Brody.

Now the diner was populated with half a dozen heavily-armored federal agents, and Buffy wondered what she should do. Everybody was yelling, and nobody was making any sense. She came out of her crouch just enough to see over the counter, where she saw Brody against the wall, his gun still on Amy’s temple, and his eyes were wild. She turned her head, and it seemed that all she saw were guns. Another lightning bolt came down, and this stopped everybody in their tracks.

“What the Christ?” said one of the agents.

It began to rain.

*                              *                              *

Agent Jameson picked up the rifle and used the telescopic sight to get an idea of what was going on in the diner. Beside him, the sniper who had been waiting patiently on the roof of the gas station for a decent shot was now lying unconscious. The blinds were up, but it was still incredibly dark inside. He switched to infrared, and saw several agents with guns pointed at someone he couldn’t see. Not a lot of doubt as to who that could be. The hostages were assembling at the far end of the diner; he couldn’t see the Slayer, so he assumed she was the one organizing the civilians. Finally, he noticed that his partner was no longer lying on the floor, bleeding to death.

The agent smiled.

Starkey had always liked the nickname ‘Wild Card’.

*                              *                              *

Xander felt a hand on his shoulder. Wiping away the rainfall from his brow, the teenager looked around to see a familiar, grim-looking federal agent.


“Let’s get these people out of here.” The agent, who seemed to be feeling no ill effects from the gunshot wound, used the butt of his weapon to smash one of the windows. Outside, a surprised agent stood ready to help.

“Okay, people, you heard the dead guy. Out the window!” Xander and Starkey helped each hostage up from the floor and through the opening. Behind them, people were still yelling furiously. Finally, they got the last one outside.

“All right, kid, now you.”

“Uh-uh, secret agent man, not without Buffy.”

Starkey gave Xander a penetrating stare that made the young man shift from one foot to another. “All right. But make sure you’re both down on the floor when it happens. Don’t look up until I say.”

“When what happens?”

*                              *                              *

“I’m going to shoot this little girl, and you’re all going to see the demon inside her!”

“You fire that weapon, you’re a dead man, Brody!”

“I don’t care anymore! People need to know the truth!”

“Put the goddamn gun down, Brody!”

Buffy was starting to wonder just what she was accomplishing here; with all these men thinking with their guns and not their heads, her murky plan of using a distraction to overpower Brody was right out the window now. Then Xander appeared beside her and whispered in her ear.

“The others are outside. We need to get down.”

“Why?” she whispered back.

“I don’t know. But our friend Starkey has something to do with it.”


“That’s what I said, too. Now come on. I don’t like going against the advice of a guy who should already be dead.”

She allowed Xander to drag her away from the counter, and they took refuge under a table, their heads down. Thus, they were unable to see what happened next.

*                              *                              *

Brody pressed the gun barrel against the girl’s temple and screamed, “This is it! Now you’ll all see!”

His finger began pulling the trigger, but before this motion could be completed, something amazing happened.

The little girl’s body exploded with light, and a shockwave of orange energy shot outwards. Reality itself seemed to warp like a shaken bedsheet as the energy flowed through the air. The armed men all screamed in unison as it enveloped them, shaking their bodies like drunken marionettes, snapping their spines and dropping them to the floor. The windows of the diner shattered, showering the crowd outside with glass. Overhead, the storm cloud, which covered the entire ceiling, rumbled ominously.

Out of the light came a seven-foot tall demon, whose worm-like body shook with something like satisfaction. Its head turned to regard the former Mr. Brody, who was now plastered against the wall like stucco. It tested its arms and legs, which were small, but powerful.

Its voice was deep, guttural.

“I had not expected to be born so early. Is the Time of Reckoning at hand?”

Starkey emerged from the shadows. “Not quite yet. Unless you mean paying the bill.” He was carrying two small weapons that looked like hypodermic needles with handles. “Buffy! Xander!”

The two teenagers came out from under the table and ran over to where the agent was standing.

Buffy raised an eyebrow. “Shouldn’t you be dead?”

Starkey shrugged. “If I were human, I suppose I would be.”

Her eyes widened. “So Brody could see demons!”

He chuckled grimly. “Yeah, he just couldn’t tell the difference between a good one and a bad one.”

Xander pointed at the worm-demon, which was trying to figure out how to get over the counter. “I’m guessing he’s a bad one.”

“Yep. There’s only one way to kill this type of demon.” He held up the needle guns. “One of these in each eye.”

Buffy grimaced. “Not a distance weapon, is it…”

The worm-demon smashed through the counter and made a noise that sounded like growling.

Starkey handed each teenager one of the needle guns. “All right, I’m going to distract the demon while you stick it in the eyes.”

Xander gave the agent a sardonic look. “Right. The worst part of all this is that you’re serious, aren’t you?”

A lightning bolt struck the floor in front of the demon, which made it stop for a moment to consider things. The three took that moment to move up to face the creature.

Its voice sounded like gears grinding.

“You will be the first sacrifices.”

“But I’m not a virgin,” Xander and Buffy said at the same time. The Slayer blinked and cocked her head at her friend. “When did this happen?” she asked.

“I’ll tell you later. First, demon kill, then, gossip.”

Starkey raised his hands. “Ready?!?” he yelled.

“Let’s do it!” replied Buffy.

Another lightning bolt crashed down, splitting to strike Starkey on each hand. He screamed, his body suddenly glowing and crackling with electricity, and he leaped at the worm-demon. They struggled for a moment, and then the agent managed to trip the creature. They both landed on the floor with Starkey on top, and he wrestled gamely with the slimy demon. His body still glowed, but the light was growing dimmer.

“Any time now would be good,” he said between clenched teeth.

Xander and Buffy jumped forward, flanking the pair of demons. They raised up their needle guns, and Xander had time enough to say, “God, this is gross,” before they brought justice down upon the evil being.

The needles found their target, and the demon cried out in limitless pain. It began shuddering and jittering, and Starkey grabbed the two teenagers, his electricity all used up.

“Run!” he yelled, and propelled them towards the door. They ran outside, where they managed a half dozen steps before the demon exploded. The wet, snapping sound was enough to knock them down to the ground, where they stayed for a few seconds, panting.

Xander was the first one to speak. “Well, that was traumatizing. Man, I wish I was old enough to drink.”

*                              *                              *

Sometimes, thought Buffy Summers, a burger’s all good. Especially when you’re with friends.

They were at an all-night truck stop forty miles from Fullerton. Everyone was sitting around their table, eating a midnight snack, smiles on their faces, but Buffy wasn’t so out of it that she couldn’t recognize false good cheer when she saw it.

“So …” began Cordelia, “I see we’re trying a new look. Grunge, is it? Or just grungy?”

Buffy smiled. “These are my good clothes.”


“So …” began Xander, “that was awful nice of Starkey and Jameson to take the heat for us. I don’t think the other FBI guys even knew we were there.”


Buffy’s smile faded. Her heart felt about as heavy as a sumo wrestler.

“Listen, I …” Expectant faces turned towards her. “I’m so sorry. I don’t really know much about what I was thinking two months ago. It’s a hazy, fog-like substance. I just …” Tears began to run down her cheeks. “I just didn’t understand how important you all are to me. How important friends are.”

“Buffy, it’s okay. For now.” Willow rubbed her friend’s arm. “We’ll talk about all this when we get home.”

“Yeah,” agreed Xander. “We can kick back with some Haagen-Dazs and Yoo-Hoos and all that.”

Buffy got up and hugged Willow. “Thank you,” she whispered in her friend’s ear. “I’m sorry.”

“Let’s just eat and get on home, okay?” Oz grinned encouragingly.

“Well, about that,” said Buffy hesitatingly. “Would you mind if we made a stop in Las Vegas? It’s kind of on our way, and it won’t take long, I promise.”

Giles spoke for the first time since they arrived at the restaurant. “Why, Buffy?”

“We need to pick somebody up. I owe him.”

After all, I sent him to Hell.


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