“And those would be the ghoulies storming the Scooby castle. Not so bad.” Spike smirked, quickly reducing his cigarette to ash with a few deep puffs. He adjusted his grip on the broadsword in his hand as he and his companions surveyed the crowd from a shadowy alleyway across the street.
“Not so bad?” Clem gripped Spike’s arm. “Anything more than three is flee-worthy in my book and if I’m not seeing double, and I doubt I am...”
“I think I am.” Giles hiccupped, leaning against the floppy-eared demon for support.
“So how many do you see?”
“What comes after 10?” Rupert slurred, working to focus on Clem for a response.
“That would be pain and lots of it,” Clem concluded, concern clear on his wrinkled features.
“I’ve had worse.” Spike shrugged.
“So… have I,” Rupert said with another hiccup. When he saw the disbelieving stares from his demon associates, he added, “S-said as much in the j-journals… my journals. So there.”
Spike assessed the store front damage. “Window’s are busted out, won’t be long until they breach the security gates.”
Clem gave the vampire’s arm a squeeze. “You can’t go out there alone.”
“I’ll go with…” Giles hiccupped, “…with you.” He staggered forward.
“Afraid not Rupert, Slayer would have my entrails bronzed if I let you anywhere near this party. You’re going to stay here and be good and safe.”
“Maybe we should discuss this first, Spike. I mean, someone needs to look after Rupert, right? And I’m not the man to do it. Heck, I’m not even a man.” Clem tried to talk sense into his friend but, frustrated by Clem’s remark, Rupert jerked away, stumbling off balance and into the nearby brick wall.
“I can take care of myself!” He righted himself, directing a swaying finger towards the demon.
Spike rolled his eyes and approached. “No doubt, mate. Listen, Rupert… buddy...”
“Yes, Spike… erm… vampire… friend… foe? What are we again?” Rupert slurred.
“We’re friends, Rupert. We are. And I need you to be real a mate and watch over our cowardly Clem here.”
“But Buffy needs my help.”
“So does Clem. Buffy would want you to help him.”
“She would?” Giles cast a narrow glance to the vampire.
“That’s right. Get in good with the Slayer, that’s what you want, right?”
“I will help Clem for Buffy.” Rupert nodded resolutely, draping his arm over Clem’s shoulders and giving him a friendly hug.
“Spike, this is another bad idea in your rich history of bad ideas.” Clem shook his head as Spike tugged free of his friend’s hold.
“Just let Watcher-in-training here, watch your back while I inflict a bit of damage on these grunts.”
Clem watched helplessly as his friend charged out into the horde of demons. Two of the arachnid-like beasts spotted him first, refocusing their aggressions on the newcomer while others continued to assault the shop. The vampire roared in savage delight as he valiantly fought them back. The blade of the broadsword streaked across the path of one spider demon, hacking off one leg as it struck out at Spike. With a few well directed slices, the vampire managed to disarm and cripple the creature. Once the beast fell, it took a precise thrust of the blade to the breastplate to reduce it to a puddle of mucous. Without pause, Spike pivoted fast to target the next demon, all the while keeping a safe distance between the bulk of hostiles and him. With more wide strikes of the sword, he beat another demon down to the cement before its companions could intervene.
“I should help him. He’s helping Buffy and I should too.” Inch by inch, Giles moved closer to the illuminated mouth of the alley.
“Spike’s right, Rupert, Buffy would want you stay here and be safe with me. It’s too dangerous.”
“I don’t care. He needs help.”
Clem gripped his companion’s arms. “No, wait. Look! He’s doing pretty well.”
“Isn’t that the bloodsucker that’s been dusting his own kind?” One of the Chaos demons wagged a finger toward Spike, alerting all the others to his presence.
“Correction, he was doing pretty well.” Clem raised his hand to his face, nervously biting at his nails as the four vampires crowded around Spike. “This isn’t good. It’s bad. Really, really bad.” He shook his head.
It wasn’t long before Spike was overwhelmed by his assailants. Once the seven-foot lizard-bear brute got in its lashes with its thick, whip-like tail, Spike was transformed into nothing more than a rag doll. The hulking beast thrashed its tail, batting Spike against the shattered glass windows. Every time the fatigued vampire returned to his feet, he was leveled by another swipe of the powerful appendage.
“Spike is hurt. He needs help.” Rupert took a few lumbering steps forward, barely managing to keep straight. Clem reached out and gripped him firmly by the arm.
“You heard what Spike said. You have to stay here, with me, where it’s safer.”
Rupert felt he had to do something but what? Then he noticed three familiar boys a block down the street from the shop. They bickered with each other, pushing and shoving, totally distracted and not aware of the goings on around them. It was those boys from the hospital. Why weren’t the demons going after them? It was too much of a coincidence to ignore.
Giles tore his arm free from Clem’s grip and stormed out from the safety of the shadows.
“What’s going on now?” Willow asked as she began to pace the length of the store.
“Looks like Spike’s taking a beating out there. Why in the hell would he even be here?” Xander repositioned himself further down the shop window, trying to get a better look at the scuffle. “Think it’s slipped his mind that we don’t like him?”
“Remind me to remind him of that later, after he’s thinned the herd out there,” Buffy grumbled.
“Wait a sec, I see someone else out there.” Xander said, quickly shifting his position again.
“Who?” Both Buffy and Ethan asked, rushing in an impromptu race to reach the window.
Beyond the mêlée of rampaging beasts, a man marched with a determined stride, staggering slightly but quickly recovering as he approached Warren and his lackeys.
“It’s Ripper.” Ethan’s lips curled to a subtle grin.
“Oh my God, that’s Giles,” Buffy gasped.
“One and the same, dearest.” Ethan sighed. “When will you get it through that blunt skull of yours that Rupert is Ripper is Giles is…?”
“No, he’s not. Giles isn’t even Giles let alone Ripper. He can’t fight or protect himself.”
Catching an inviting whiff of the new comer, a hellhound pulled free from its master and charged after Giles. Just as the creature reached the curbside, its leash was recaptured. The disappointed demon scratched a set of grooves in the pavement as it fought against the restraint pulling him back toward the store front assault. All the while, Rupert marched toward the boys, undaunted by the chaos erupting so nearby.
“Looks as if he isn’t bothered by that.” Ethan stepped sideways, nudging the Slayer out of the way as he tried to get a better vantage point for the coming confrontation.
“What in the world is he doing? He’s going to get himself killed.”
“I’d say reacquainting himself with some rather discourteous boys.” Ethan smirked as he began rolling up his sleeves.
“If the demons see him…”
Spike’s head came driving through the buckling glass, crashing against the metal grating within and triggering an iridescent ripple in the barrier spell. After a brief moment, the battered vampire was ripped free from the hole he’d punctured and tossed within a circle of demons all eager to take turns pummeling him.
“I’m afraid we have more pressing issues to resolve.” Ethan raised his hand and spread his fingers wide, feeling along the dim bubble now flickering like a dying light bulb. With a roaring charge, Spike’s head came plunging back through the glass, this time fracturing the barrier spell and shooting bolts of unnatural light outward. The last remaining sparkles fluttered about, dissipating in the air as Ethan let out a pained sigh.
“While I do so love these little bonding sessions, Slayer, it’s about time you exercise some of your more brutal talents, don’t you think?”
Buffy bit back a response and hurried toward the back room. She was immediately greeted by two hellhounds upon exiting the back alley door to the Magic Box. It was some small comfort seeing their demon escorts had remained where the rest of the action was. She fired a bolt from her crossbow, hitting the closest hound in the neck. It tripped up and buckled to the pavement, blocking the others path long enough to give Buffy time to reload. Just as the beast leapt over its fallen companion, she fired a second shot, catching it in the eye. It yelped and crash landed half-blind to the ground. It scraped its claw-adorn paws along its snout, trying to rid itself of the bolt protruding from its face. Meanwhile, the first hellhound had managed to recover, stalking cautiously towards Buffy and preparing to charge. She discarded the crossbow, calculating the beast was too close for another accurate shot. It paused beside its frantic companion, giving it a nudge from its blind side and snorting loudly. Suddenly, the wounded and panicked beast turned on its partner, wildly attacking. Buffy watched for a moment as the two ferocious creatures went at it, then with a satisfied shrug, hurried off to help Giles.
“You’re useless, bait-boy. Nothing but a worthless magic hack!” Warren growled as he clamped his arm around Jonathan’s head, trapping him in a hunched position.
“Stop it. Just stop it!” Jonathan tried to pry himself free only to be wrestled back within the same hold over and over, much to the amusement of his bullying captor.
“Make me, Mini-Me. How do you expect to take over Sunnydale when you can’t even break a head lock? Weak Whine-athan, real weak!”
“Guys… I think there’s something going on.” Andrew tried halfheartedly to break the two apart but got a misguided kick to the shin for his troubles. “Ow! Buttheads!”
Suddenly, Jonathan was yanked free from Warren’s hold. Warren swivelled fast, ready to strike, then froze at the sight of the tall figure accosting him. His distress faded with recognition of the former Watcher.
“Well if it isn’t Forrest Gump. How’s the head?” Warren snickered.
“Make them stop,” Giles ordered, fists clenched at his sides.
“Make who stop?” Warren feigned innocence, flashing his associates a smug grin.
“The demons. I don’t know how but you are doing this. Stop it.”
“Well isn’t this precious? Mister Mentally Challenged wants to play the nit-witted town protector. Listen up, we know all about your little handicap; otherwise, I might actually be shaking in my Sketcher’s right about now.”
“Let’s get that barrier back up,” Tara said, already gathering up ingredients she’d seen Ethan use before. Eager to not feel as useless, Willow quickly joined in on the effort.
“Actually, I had something else in mind. If you can temporarily suppress your revulsion for a mystical gigolo and his corrupted craft, you can help if you like.” Ethan offered, wearing an inviting smirk as he approached the stockpile of supplies.
“As long as you don’t mind my policing your every move,” Tara bargained, “You have yourself a partner.”
“What should I do?” Xander asked.
“If it’s not too outrageous a suggestion, calling the authorities might suit the occasion.”
“You know, you’re falling into this whole running-the-show role way too easily,” Willow grumbled.
“Not directing this act, luv, just editing.”
Over the roars of the demon skirmish across the street, a sizzling sound resonated as sparks of light seeped from the cracks in the sidewalk below.
“Warren, I think someone’s casting some kind of…”
“Shut it, Stay Puffed! Let’s hear what special Ed has to say.”
“Stop what you’re d-doing,” Rupert demanded.
“But I’m really enjoying it, aren’t you? I mean you sure as hell can’t taste the rainbow in getting your violence on any more. Why don’t you just sit back and enjoy our feature presentation? My treat.” Warren landed a playful punch to the Rupert’s shoulder.
“I w-won’t ask again.”
“Oh no… what are you going to do, stammer me to death?” Warren asked in a mock-frightened tone, exaggeratingly cowering and snickering.
“What should we do?” Andrew asked, fidgeting nervously.
“Not a single thing. The Slayer’s old man is nothing but stuttering hot air and empty threats. Bet he can’t even remember how to tie his shoes let alone…”
In a burst of movement, Warren found himself pinned to the wall with Giles’ powerful hand clamping around his neck. He struggled to steady his breathing and mask his fright as he tried to pry free of the choke. The wiggling only made the grip tighten.
Buffy rounded the corner where the alley spilled into the main road and was met with a crackle of static. Tendrils of purple luminescence crept up from the gaps in the pavement, catching the breeze and drifting off into vapor. She felt her chest grow heavy and breathing slowed. It was as if the air was growing denser. She stopped to consider the strange phenomenon. The furious demon militia rampaging outside the shop suddenly seemed to be moving in slow motion, as if maneuvering through water. The spell affected most of the beasts within close proximity to the shop, including Spike, but left Giles and the Troika unaffected. She took a few steps back, determining the boundary of the spell.
“Gotta hand it to him, the man knows how to cheat.” Buffy smirked.
The remaining arachnoid demon spotted the Slayer and rushed after her. Buffy unsheathed her katana with a practiced flourish and encouraged the demon with a smile. At the first sight of the blade and its exceedingly confident host, it did an about face and scurried off in the opposite direction.
“What? Too much?”
Buffy shrugged and marched over to the border of the mystically sluggish brawl. She stood and waited as another beast noticed her and did its best to attack. The spell made for an embarrassingly easy counterattack as Buffy swiped the blade through the barrier, dispatching the charging Chaos demon with a single strike. Its antlered head went sailing slowly through the air as its lifeless body sunk to the pavement.
“A girl could get used to this. Almost feel cheap.”
Two of the four vampires had pulled away from the Spike bashing party and were making their way towards her. Just as she was ready to relax at the pure ease of the battle, the 7-foot lizard-bear also zeroed in on her.
“I just had to say something, didn’t I?” Buffy prepared herself, katana steady and ready to fly.
“Stop them,” Giles seethed through clenched teeth.
“No,” Warren said, half choking, half chuckling. “You don’t have the nerve to…” His words were cut off as his air supply was.
“You don’t know me. You don’t know what I’ve done.”
“But we know you wouldn’t kill him,” Andrew challenged, trying to remain calm. “You’re one of the good guys, Mr. Giles. We’ve done our research and all things point to the good side of the force.”
“I won’t let you hurt her,” Rupert growled.
Jonathan stepped forward, hands raised in a defensive, pleading pose. “Mr. Giles…”
“Rupert,” he barked, startling both Andrew and Jonathan back a few paces. “My name is Rupert.”
Trying to capitalize on the distraction, Warren fumbled within his jacket pockets. Giles caught his hand, tightening his grip of Warren’s neck and quickly fished for what he’d been trying to retrieve. All eyes went wide when the Watcher revealed the gun Warren had been going for.
“Oh, God. Oh, no.” Jonathan backed away. “Not good.”
“Guns? Since when did we start carrying guns?” Andrew squeaked. “And why don’t I have one too?”
“Fuck, this isn’t happening.” Warren choked, heart racing, forehead drenched in a cold sweat.
“You are one of the bad men,” Giles accused, raising the gun within Warren’s line of sight.
“No… no, I’m not bad. Not a bad man. Mischievous, yeah. Misunderstood, maybe.”
“Oh, God, he’s going to shoot him,” Andrew started chattering inconsolably. “He’s going to shoot him.”
“You don’t want to do this, Giles… Rupert… buddy,” Warren pleaded, hands trembling at his sides.
“You don’t know me,” Rupert said, his voice deep with restrained fury. “I’ve taken lives to protect her. I’ll take another if I have to. Tell the monsters to go away.”
“That’s it! I’m stopping this.” Jonathan shook his head and swivelled around, ready to march out into the demon horde. But when he looked up, he realized all that was left was piles of dust and a few dismembered demon corpses.
“Stop what, Jonathan?” Buffy stood victorious, hands on her hips and waiting for answers.
“Hey, where did our army go?” Andrew whined.
“What’s left of them called it a night after I made sushi out of the giant lizard-bear creep courtesy of my portable demon Cuisinart here.” She flaunted her blood-stained katana, giving it a skillful swipe and making both Jonathan and Andrew flinch with the speed. “Want a demonstration?”
“No thank you,” Andrew choked and shrank back.
“S-so what h-happens now?” Jonathan asked nervously.
“We all go inside like civilized human beings and talk until our friendly neighborhood law enforcement agency pays us a visit and finally earns their keep around here.”
“Good plan. First-rate, solid plan. Let’s do that,” Warren rattled off quickly.
“But he’s one of the bad men, Buffy,” Giles said, aiming the gun at Warren’s head.
“God no… I’m not. Tell him I’m not, will you?” Warren’s voice cracked with panic.
“Giles, give me the gun,” Buffy said calmly as she approached and reached out her hand.
“He was going to hurt you. He was going to *kill* you.”
“That happens all the time. You read about it, remember?”
“He’ll try it again.” The barrel pressed into Warren’s cheek, making him squeeze his eyes shut in dread of what was to come.
“No, he won’t. If he has any brain cells left, he won’t.”
“I won’t let him hurt you.”
“And I won’t let him hurt you, which is what he will do if you shoot him. He will win if you shoot him. That’s not what we do. The police are on their way. They’ll take Warren and his nerdy tag team to jail, lock them away for a good long while.”
Giles stood motionless, gun firm in his grip, finger on the trigger, eyes staring into the fearful face of the bad man. His gaze shifted to Buffy’s face as it moved just within his peripheral vision.
“Please, Rupert… give me the gun.”
Her hand wrapped gently around his and though he knew she had strength enough to remove it with ease, she didn’t. She just held his hand holding the weapon holding the young man’s life hostage. With a heavy sigh, his finger retreated from the trigger, his grasp on the pistol grip loosened and Buffy carefully took it. Giles released his choke hold and Warren immediately collapsed to the cement, blubbering cowardly.
Rupert’s face bowed forward, heavy with fatigue. “My head hurts,” he admitted quietly.
“Judging by the Eau de Moonshine perfume on your breath, I’d say you’re gonna have a monster of a hangover to go with it,” Buffy said with a sympathetic smile. “I assume we have Spike to thank for that?”
The beaten and bruised vampire in question chose that moment to swagger into the conversation. “Just watchin’ your Watcher’s back, Slayer. If it wasn’t for my keen sense of duty to you and yours, Rupert here would have been served up t-bone style to some lucky vamps tonight.”
“He’s fine, Spike.”
“Right, this time thanks to some mystical backup. How many times you going to dangle him in fates’ face before it’s one too many? Look at him, Buffy. Does that look like a man capable of defending himself against anything other than geeky computer types?”
She looked over at Rupert who was quite the sad sight. With the waning of adrenalin, he was succumbing to his intoxication, swaying enough to need support from a nearby streetlight. Xander and Willow came out from the shop, rushing to help him.
“You okay, big guy?” Xander asked, carefully tucking his arm under Giles to steady him.
“Think I’m going to be sick,” he mumbled.
Xander’s eyes went wide when he caught a whiff of alcohol on Rupert’s breath. “Woah boy! Did you dive into a distillery or is that your idea of aftershave?”
“S-Spike gave me…”
“Spike!” Willow shouted making Rupert wince with the loud noise. She quieted her tone, “Sorry… sorry. Spike, how could you?”
“You can spank me later, Red. Right now, I think we better take these delinquents inside, give them a real, hard Q& A.” With a push to their backs, Spike escorted Jonathan and Andrew across the street and into the Magic Box. Buffy gripped Warren’s arm and dragged him along. She watched sadly as Xander struggled with drunken Rupert. Spike was right, they had been lucky again.