Playing Dead part 7

The Council:

"The strike team failed sir," he reports quietly. "No response, all signals lost but that of Summers and her team."

"So the Slayer is still alive?" I ask with little doubt.

"It seems so, Sir. But she hasn't checked in yet. We were considering doing a scan…"

"Nothing to be alarmed about, Captain. This one tends to ignore conventions." I shuffle through the stack of papers on my desk, dreading reading the monotonous details presented there. "How did the new armaments do, then?"

"The data we received shows initial success, Sir. The vitals of those armed with the SR pistols registered longer than those without. We haven't any statistics on the numbers of hostiles we face there but in all, the pistols seem a viable option."

"Very good. Arm another two teams and prepare them for tomorrow."

"So soon, Sir?"

"Indeed. Striking in succession will catch him off guard."

"With all due respect, Sir, he knows our every move. He's outwitted us in every assault we've attempted thus far. At this rate, we'll exhaust our resources in weeks."

"Unlikely, we've been granted full cooperation with the remaining Initiative forces as well as CIA paranormal divisions."

"Their dying in droves out there, Sir."

I grow tired of justifying myself. "Once Summers removes his presence…"

"What makes you so confident she can, Sir?"

That is what this is about. They don't think the girl can do it.

"I have every faith that Summers will rid us of this nuisance."

"But Sir, he was her…"

"He is a monster, like any other and she will get the job done. You have your orders, see to them. That is all, Captain."

"Yes Sir." He salutes and I dismiss him with an irritated gesture. I've better things to do than waste time arguing with grunts.

The Heart:

We gather the dead, placing them temporarily at rest on the borders of the rooftop. It's the best we could do for them for now. Buffy checks for the possibility of anyone being turned and rising again. No signs of it. Just murder and mayhem, same old song.

"He's trapped us here. Not the strongest of spells. I'll have it broken by morning," I tell them, feeling the hum of magicks tingle along my skin. "Just like he said." That's what bothers me.

"I don't get it. Why would he do this?" Xander asks, ruffling his fingers through his hair then straightening his eye patch. "Not the slaughter thing. I get that vampire equals kill equation. I mean, with the casting? So he prevents us from attacking but then why leave the spell active?"

"He doesn't want us involved?" I explain, trying to relate to the fiend possessing my dead friend's skin. "I wouldn't either. He wants us to go home."

"He wants *you* to go home," Buffy corrects and I replay the conversation in my mind. She could be right. That worries me even more.

"It's a lesson," she continues, settling to the ground, sitting cross-legged. "He wants to make us stay here, to surround us with blood and death. Surrounded by the blood he spilled, the death he caused." Buffy says quietly. It makes more sense than I want to believe.

"He went to all this trouble laying out the welcoming mat, gotta pay him back for it." Xander tries to make like he's not bothered but I can see his gaze shift to the heaps of flesh lying beyond the lanterns light.

"It'll be safe here. With all the stench of blood and vampires…" Buffy pauses, seeing the disgust in our eyes, "…and the spell. We'll stay here until morning when the chopper comes."

"Chopper?" Xander asks. "I sure hope you mean motorcycles to get around in."

"You guys are outta here," Buffy says plainly.

"So not going to happen," Xander objects.

"You heard him. He's giving you a get-out-of-hell-free card and you're taking it. Both of you."

"You can't do this alone," I insist.

"Watch me." She retrieves her cell phone and begins to radio in to base. I feel the magicks stirring with my anger and with a hissing phrase, the cell phone melts from her hand to the floor. "Hey, that was new!"

"We're in this thing together. Get it through that stubborn Slayer-shaped skull. You aren't getting rid of us," I insist. "Not after nine years of this. Not ever!"

"I second that. Motion passed. Onto the next item on our agenda, tasty vittles courtesy of your neighborhood boy scout." Xander throws himself into the task of cooking us up some food with the portable burner he's brought along. "Always come prepared."

"How can you eat?" I ask, mystified by his iron stomach.

"I do two things well, joke and eat." He pauses, considers then shrugs. "Okay, one thing."

We smile and go about making camp amongst the dead. Strange how quickly we get used to it. I watch as Xander fires up his stove. He takes out a small metal pot and pours in some bottled water and dehydrated soup. He won't eat alone. I know Buffy will join him. She's always hungry after Slaying and she's had a full day of it, more than we anticipated.

I check again on the spell and feel the chaotic energies there. This isn't floating rose-based-missle strong, this is dark and dangerous. It's wrong. He shouldn't have such power, or any power. It goes against the natural way of things. But still, it's there and I need to know why. There's no telling what he's capable of. I struggle with telling Buffy or not. Though she should know to be prepared, I can't help but think what good would it do her to know? Magic has always been her weak point as much as it's been my crutch. I need to feel my way through this. And when I reach out to feel his energies, there's something strange in Ethan, in his magicks. I'll just have to keep on my toes and be ready for anything. I have power too… more than he has, I think. It's probably why I'm not wanted here, why Ethan's help was enlisted in the first place.

I take a seat, finishing the triangle we form around the small burner. The breeze kicks up, sending a chill along my neck and I unfold my sweater collar to keep warm. Xander offers Buffy a cupful of his soup, his eye searching her face with a question he wants to ask but is hesitant to.

"What was the last thing he said to you?" He finally asks her and I'm surprised he did. We don't talk about it… ever.

I look anxiously at him, trying to delicately stop him. "Xander, I don't think…"

"Naw, it's okay." Buffy shrugs, twirling a stake in one hand as she gratefully accepts the cup of soup with the other. "Thanks."

"I mean not now… before, you know… before." He clarifies, returning to his spot. "What was the last thing you guys talked about?"

Buffy thinks a moment, swallows then speaks quietly. "Dawn." The answer makes him shrink a little.

Now I feel bad for Xander and decide this isn't helping. "Buffy, maybe it's better if we don't…"

" Willow , it's okay. Really," she reassures me. "We argued about Dawn's wanting to go to college in California . We were always arguing."

"Yeah, same here. We argued about the coven's decision to relocate closer to Council headquarters." I shake my head, regretfully remembering the heated debate.

"We argued over what pizza," Xander says. "I wanted stuffed crust. He insisted on thin… it was ugly. He was a biter."

I can't help the sad giggle that passes my lips at the image of Xander and him quarrelling over dinner. Buffy seems wounded by my reaction at first then gives in and joins me. Soon, all three of us are laughing about it, even though some part of us is crying inside. I feel it.

The Restless:

I separate from the others. Wandering and wondering as I listen to the echoes of celebration in the main hall fade with every step I gain. I don't feel like celebrating and it troubles me. Now, more than ever, I feel apart from the brood, seeking solitude in the far ends of the mall. There is a curious sound of water splashing as I approach the public bathrooms at the end of a long corridor. I quietly make my way toward the sound and peek around the corner to see Rupert standing at one in a long row of sinks, lit only by the flickering light of a decorative oil lantern. The shadows dance along his naked chest, the dampness glistening with the motion of the trapped flame. I slip back into the shadows, not wanting to disturb the intriguing scene playing out before me. He stops with the slightest of smiles.

"What did you need, Ethan?" He asks and I keep myself from chuckling.

"A few things come to mind." I step forward, leaning against the doorway. "What was it, then? Smell me coming, see me… or was it something else?" Why do I always feel as if the lessons never end?

"Something else," he says softly and splashes another palm full of water to his face. I watch, mesmerized by the drops cascading along his skin.

"Trying to clean those hard to reach places?" I'm trying to act casual but seeing him like this, exposed… I'm a bloody fool.

"Cleanliness is next to…"

"Someplace far and away from here," I conclude. "Still, no one wears blood quite like you, Ripper."

It was entirely true. No color complimented Ripper more than red. Be it a deeper burgundy of blood from the gut, the ruby glaze of the head, the scarlet flood of the limbs, or the cherry stain of entrails. Even now, he wore all shades, every one of them beautifully accentuating his body, his face, his lips.

"Why aren't you with the others, Ethan?"

"Wanted to be alone."

"Then you're failing miserably." He smiles, glancing sideways to me as droplets of water trace a path along his nose to fall to the sink below.

I move further inside, sitting against the edge of the neighboring sink and cross my arms. "Want to talk about it?"

"About what?" He asks, continuing with his bathing.

"The childr..."

"No." He cuts me off and I know better than to press the issue. He wipes the drops from his face then rinses off his hands, clearly avoiding my gaze. He's nearly clean of the evidence of his rampage but I see a speck of red behind his ear and unthinkingly reach out to wipe it away. He catches my hand, holding it firmly with eyes locked on me. There it is again, a glimpse of the beast crossing his shaded features.

"You missed some." I smile easily though my body is pulsing with excitement. Christ he smells delicious.

To my surprise, his stern look suddenly softens and he releases my hand. I slowly brush my thumb along his neck watching as his eyes go heavy and close for a moment. I wonder if it's the comfort of my touch or if he's that tired after the evening's events. I wipe the smear of red away to reveal a pair of perfectly rounded scars. Instinctively, I know their origin, feeling a tingle in my neck and throb in my cock. Mine's a rough, jagged and crudely fashioned mark. It is a blatant indication of a hurried turning, more purpose than pleasure. In stark contrast, Rupert's is beautifully produced, given with subtle precision and slow tenderness. It looks smaller than mine feels, perhaps a lady. I wonder who.

"Why do you want to be alone?" He asks, interrupting my train of thought. I pull my hand away, licking the blood clean from my fingertip. It sparks a rush of hunger and arousal that I work to deaden.

"I don't know, exactly." I shrug helplessly. "Quite possibly for the same reasons you do."

He combs his damp fingers through the curling tuffs atop his head, slicking them down. I don't like it and feel the urge to mess him up. But I restrain. It's obvious something is bothering him.

"I should put in an appearance before they come looking." It's an unwanted obligation.

"Let them stew, Rupert." I inch closer and to my amazement, he draws in as well.

"I have work to do," he mutters softly but I don't believe a word of it.

"As do I."

He's just out of reach, calling, waiting, and all I have to do is lean in and…

"Sir, the men have requested your presence."

Rupert pulls back and I have to stop myself from ashing the soldier bastard with a curse.

"Thank you, Jacobs. I'll be along in a moment." Rupert stares at me as he speaks and I see the burden carried in his apologizing eyes. Jacobs turns and marches off.

"Mustn't keep ‘m waiting, Ripper." I leave it for him to determine who I'm referring to. He's a bright boy. He knows.

The Morning:

Morning after sunlight doesn't make the horror scene any better, only juicier. And now the stench of death is growing musky. We need to get out of here. I check on Willow and Buffy and am shocked to see they are still asleep. I give Willow a quick shake and she slowly sits up, groggily rubbing her eyes.

"I can't believe I managed to sleep," she mumbles quietly as she works to fix the messed up ponytail in the back of her hair.

"You were sleeping like the dead." I smile. "Okay, not so funny."

"Must be the magicks. It's like white noise, lulling me into sleep." She carefully gets to her feet and pauses. Her eyes go wide. "Speaking of which, it's gone."

"The magicks?"

"Yeah." Willow looks around as if she can see the invisible streams that once surrounded us. "After the teleportation yesterday, I was pretty tired. Figured I'd be waking up to some serious casting. But it's just gone."

"Then let's get started." Buffy marches between us and determinedly towards the stairway exiting the rooftop. Willow and I look at each other then with a mutual shrug, we follow along after her.

"I could teleport us back to ground level, Buffy," Willow offers, uncertainly.

"Save your strength. If we find them, you may be going twelve rounds with Ethan. And something tells me he'll be no-holds-barred."

With a tug, the door swings open and I get my first look at the never-ending stairs below us.

"I have energy bars if anyone likes gnawing on tanned leather that tastes like paper pulp," I offer as we head down the first of many flights of stairs. We're obviously going to need all the energy we can get.

part 8...