Heirs of Armageddon

Author: Greywizard1235 <grey.wizard[at]verizon.net>

Rating: R, due to what some people might consider bad language and what will be realistic depictions of violence. Not really much worse than the show for the most part, although I won't be condoning or promoting any kind of affectionate relationships between rape victims and their rapists, unlike Crackhead Joss did during the majority of Season Sux Part Deux.

Disclaimer: Is this really necessary? If anyone really thinks these characters belong to me, then you're even more out of touch with reality than Crackhead Joss was. All of the BtVS and AtS characters belong to Crackhead Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, etc. and the crossover characters belong to the author who dreamed them up in the first place, who I'm not identifying at the moment. There is no intent to profit from this, I'm just borrowing the characters for a while to show how things could have gone at the end of season 7. Only the story is mine, and if anyone waves enough money in front of me, even that is negotiable.

Category: C/X 'ship, with F/X and D/X friendships.

Warning: Multiple character deaths.

Summary: A response to Keith Collin's Season Seven challenge regarding what could have happened if Spike was accurately portrayed as the vicious and evil prick he truly was over the last two seasons of Buffy. After betraying Buffy's Post Traumatic Stress Disorder- based trust, he revealed that he had actually been working with the First Evil all along, and used the talisman Angel gave Buffy to make the Hellmouth open quicker.

Time frame: AU, beginning near the end of the seventh season finale, "Chosen."

Character Bashing: None, in my opinion, which is based on the premise that Spike was still truly the nasty, vicious, backstabbing bastard he had always been, throughout season seven. If, however, for some reason you think that a person who deliberately mentally abused and raped a mentally incompetent young woman in desperate need of psychiatric care as well as physically raping her over an extended period time, is a nice guy, you should not be spending any time reading this as you obviously need to be talking to a competent psychiatrist, yourself. I have several sisters and several nieces, and if I ever found out that someone had treated any of them the way Joss portrayed Spike treating Buffy, the authorities would never find whatever remained of the body after I was finished with them.

Spoilers: None, if you've seen or heard anything about the series finale. If you haven't, then don't read any of this if you don't want to be spoiled.

Warning: Crossover ahead. Possibly more than one.

Feedback: Of course! Constructive criticism will be greatly appreciated. Flamers will be ignored and added to the lists of those to be painfully exterminated, once I am appointed to my rightful position as King of the World. Yeah, you just wait and see if I'm joking. :)

Author's Notes: Everything in Buffy happened just as Joss wrote it, and pretty much everything in Angel happened, too, with the exceptions that Connor didn't go nuts and take any hostages in the sporting goods store, and therefore, Angel didn't have to kill him (damn!), and Cordy regained consciousness after Jasmine died and is no longer in a coma. She is very weak, however, and still recovering from being possessed and becoming pregnant by Connor. (And you *really* don't want to hear what she had to say about *that* whole fiasco to Angel and the rest of the Fang Gang.) Connor and Angel are both still complete assholes, though, thus offering conclusive proof *against* Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest.

Archiving: If you want to archive this, just let me know where, please.

Latest addition

Chapter 1

Hyperion Hotel
May 20, 2003
3:55 pm

The front door flew open, bounced against the lobby wall and rebounded back, only to be caught and pushed back open by the flurry of people hurrying inside.

Wesley looked up in surprise from his position behind the main counter and was shocked to see a tall, older, dark-haired man with bandages wrapped around his head staggering/being mostly-carried inside the hotel by a strongly-built brunet. He was closely followed by a young brunette teenager loaded down with several backpacks and two duffel bags and a well-built brunette, possibly in her late teens, carrying a black teenaged girl in her arms. Yet a third teenager, a younger redhead, was following her and carrying another teenager whose dark hair was partially concealed by the bloody bandages wrapped around her head and face, bandages that matched those wrapped extensively around her torso.

"Rupert? Xander? Dawn? Faith? Good god, what happened?" he exclaimed in shocked recognition as he rushed around the counter to help the newcomers carry in their obviously seriously injured comrades and settle them down on the lobby's couches.

"Armageddon, Wes. The First Evil's opened the Hellmouth and we all just got our asses stomped into the ground good and hard," Faith replied, as she carefully set the black teenager down on the nearest sofa and began examining the blood-stained bandages wrapped around the younger girl's abdomen and arm. On the other side of the lobby, the redhead was performing the same examination on her fellow newly Awakened Slayer.

"Spike betrayed us and helped the First open the Hellmouth," Xander added as he carefully lowered Giles down onto one of the overstuffed chairs and began his own inspection of the ex-Watcher's injuries. The older man's eyes were obviously trying to focus on the younger ex-Watcher and his mouth moved soundlessly for a moment, before his eyes rolled up into his head and he lost his battle to stay conscious. Xander elevated the Englishman's feet to help keep shock at bay before looking around the room.

Wes bit down the multitude of questions that rose up as he caught sight of the eyepatch the carpenter was wearing. As he silently catalogued the numerous and extensive bandaged injuries all the members of the group were showing, he forced himself to listen to the explanation that was being offered by the brunet Scooby as he tended to his now unconscious mentor.

"The bleached bastard was working with the First the whole time he was with us," the carpenter practically spat on the floor as he described the blond vampire's treachery. "He waited 'til there wasn't anything we could do to stop him, and then the bastard turned on us."

"After we all went inside the Hellmouth to fight the Turok-Han Buffy had seen there, Spike used the talisman Angel gave Buffy to accelerate the Hellmouth's opening," Dawn calmly elaborated on Xander's statement.

Entirely too calmly, Wes judged, as he took a moment to more critically examine all of his visitors and, most particularly, the young brunette placidly standing off to one side of the lobby. It was immediately obvious to him that all of the group were suffering from various degrees of extreme trauma and shock, whether it be physical, emotional or a combination of the two.

"The Turok-Han attacked us right after he activated the amulet," the Key dispassionately continued her report. "There were even more of them than Buffy had seen in her vision. We were outnumbered by at least fifty-to-one, and they were attacking in waves, just overrunning us with sheer numbers. We began retreating almost immediately, and once we escaped the school, we headed here to warn you guys." The young girl's tranquil delivery of the news of their betrayal was being spoken of in the same tone of voice one might here from someone announcing a weather forecast.

"It took us just about an hour and a half to get here on the freeway, Wes," Xander broke into their conversation. "And that was without traffic, so I think we've got some time before they show up here. You need to get in touch with Angel and anybody else you think they might go after and who can get moving right away, 'cause we're not gonna have a lot of time to spare."

"When will Buffy and Willow be arriving with the other survivors?" Wes asked, as he pulled out his cell phone and began contacting the rest of his team.

"They won't," Dawn answered, her voice still carrying a remote, detached tone as she spoke.

"They won't what?" Wes queried, pausing in his task and looking across the room at the young girl who had effectively been shanghaied into the group's demon-hunting lifestyle.

"They won't be arriving with any other survivors," Xander said, after a few seconds of silence indicated that Dawn wouldn't be answering the question.

"We're it, Wes. Nobody else got out," he stated flatly.

Seeing the look of horrified disbelief on the ex-Watcher's face, the carpenter elaborated.

"Spike ripped out Buffy's throat right after he activated the talisman. I saw him reach out to her as she stared at him, and then he literally ripped her throat open. She looked like she was in such a state of shock when she saw him start opening the portal, I don't think she even realized what he was doing after that," he said.

"At least, we know he didn't try to turn her," he added quietly. "I think that would have been the worst possible thing he could have done to her. And to us," he added in a low voice.

"This way, at least, we know she died quickly. And I did manage to toss a Wiley Peter on her before we had to run," Xander said. Seeing the uncomprehending look on the Englishman's face, he explained, "That's the Army's designation for a white phosphorus grenade. Burning metal, completely incinerates pretty much anything it hits. There was no way I was going to let that goddamned sonofabitch desecrate her body any further! The little shit managed to duck the one I threw at him, though. That prick's luckier than any friggin' demon has a right to be!"

Wesley could only stare at the tall brunet with appalled horror as he tried to assimilate the news he had just heard.

"I think there must have been a couple groups of Turok-Han hiding inside the school's basement, 'cause they went after Willow as soon as she started casting the empowerment spell. Kennedy was guarding her, but they apparently just overran her, and then they pretty much ripped Willow to shreds. She managed to complete the empowerment spell, though. How, I can't begin to imagine. But even with that, Kennedy didn't make out all that much better," Xander informed the dumbstruck Englishman, his voice beginning to quaver and his face starting to fall as he recalled discovering the stomach-turning state of his childhood friend's body when they had attempted to gather up the witch and newly Awakened Slayer during their retreat. He had used his last white phosphorus grenade to give the redhead a funeral pyre that would ensure that nothing remained of her body, either, for the First to abuse.

"They also got the axe Buffy found in the vineyard's basement," he added, as he paused to compose himself.

Wes, staring at the group in numbed shock, witnessed the transformation as the younger man closed his good eye for a moment and visibly pushed down the surging emotions that the memories of the past few hours and his friends' deaths had triggered. When he re-opened it a moment later, a calm and in-control Xander Harris was looking out and evaluating the situation.

"Right now, the First is still consolidating the portal it opened through the Hellmouth, because it needs to make sure it can get its troops through to here without any problems," the brunet stated. "We came here to alert you guys about what's going on, pick up some supplies and get our wounded treated before we start running again.

"I figure we've got maybe two and a half hours, three tops, before the First's troops can get here and start looking for us. It can't afford to let us get away, Wes, and I'm sure it already knows about Buffy's telling Angel to start setting up a possible fallback position, thanks to Spike. It'll want all of the books we managed to grab on our way out of town and anything you guys might have here, too, 'cause it can't take a chance that we might stumble across some prophecy about it taking over that could give us a clue about how to defeat it, or even slow down its invasion," he warned the former Watcher.

"Rona's looking *bad*, Xander," Faith informed him, as she finished up her examination of the wounded girl, having replaced most of the injured girl's blood-soaked bandages. "Most of the bleeding's stopped, but she's lost an awful lot of blood, and I don't think she's gonna make it through the night, if we don't get some replacement blood in her, as soon as possible," she judged, giving thanks one more time for all of those First Aid courses she had taken while doing her time.

"Vi? How's Kennedy?" the now oldest living experienced Slayer asked as she turned to address the only other still functioning Slayer and survivor of the Battle of Sunnydale.

"I -I don't, I don't think she's going to make it," the redheaded English girl admitted in a barely audible voice. "Her breathing's real fast and shallow, and I keep hearing this, uhm, this - gurgling - noise that's coming from her stomach, and, and she keeps coughing up blood, and she, she keeps asking for Willow, and, and I - I just can't do this!" she half-screamed, before breaking down in tears and collapsing to the floor next to her injured comrade, crying uncontrollably and leaning back against the couch on which Kennedy was currently sprawled.

Before anyone could react to the redhead's hysteria, they were interrupted by a voice coming somewhere above them.

"Hey, Wes, are the guys back from - My god! What the hell happened to you people?"

Everyone who was able, looked up to the stairway landing that spiraled up along the inner wall from the lobby, to see a wan and somewhat haggard figure, currently dressed in jeans and a faded tee-shirt, paused there looking down at them.

"Cordy?" Xander managed to keep the quaver out of his voice as he took in the brunette's extreme pallor and somewhat dissipated condition, while a sick feeling took up residence in his stomach and an incipient rage began to flicker as one possible explanation for her ashen appearance immediately occurred to him.

"Xander? Good god, what happened to you?" the brunette demanded upon seeing her ex-boyfriend's eyepatch and the general condition of their visitors, and she immediately began making her way down the stairs, albeit slowly and carefully.

"Dawn? Giles? Faith? What's going on, here? Did you guys go out and declare war on someone?" she asked in bewilderment, as she noted the Army issue .45 caliber pistol holstered at the carpenter's hip and several shotgun barrels protruding from the duffle bags Dawn had set down on the floor at her feet.

Looking over towards Faith, Xander's narrowed eyebrows and body language asked the Dark Slayer the question his mind refused to let his mouth form, and a small sigh of relief escaped him as she focused her attention on his ex-girlfriend for a moment, before a slight shake of her head reassured him of her continuing status among the living.

Following up his initial request with a minimal nod of his head towards the weeping girl on the floor and a slight shift of his shoulders, Xander silently asked Faith if she could do what she could to comfort the redhead, and, after a bare moment's hesitation, the brunette nodded her agreement.

"It was more like the First Evil declared war on us," Dawn offhandedly declared in answer to Cordy's question, as the Seer looked all of them over with an incredulous eye.

"The first who did what?" Cordy asked, not sure she had understood the younger girl's reply.

"Reader's digest version here, Cordy," Xander interrupted the girls' conversation, anticipating the former Seer's questions. "Spike betrayed us. Buffy and Willow are dead, and so is Anya. The latest Big Bad's managed to open the Hellmouth, his troops are probably on their way here, to kill us and all of the good guys they can locate before we can organize any kind of resistance and there's nobody else left to help us out except you guys.

"Based on his most recent actions, the First's definition of good guys will most likely include everyone who doesn't immediately swear their allegiance to him, and pretty much anybody else he feels like killing, and I'm pretty sure all of us here are at the top of Spike's to-do list," he continued. "We've got maybe three hours, tops, to get everything together that we need and then get out of Dodge, because I really don't think any of us would like the accommodations the First's going to be offering us, however temporary they might be.

"Wes," he turned and addressed the former Watcher, "you need to contact Angel and anyone else you think you need to talk to, and let them know what's going on, so they can get the hell out of town, 'cause staying here is gonna be suicide. You guys are welcome to come with us, if you want to, but you have to be ready to leave when we do, 'cause we can't afford to waste any time."

"What are you planning to do about your injured?" Wes asked, looking out across the lobby of hotel, which now more closely resembled an emergency way station as he opened up one of the cabinets and began pulling out a large first aid kit.

"First thing I'm gonna do is borrow some of your emergency equipment and get some plasma and sucrose solution started into both girls," Xander replied. "Then, I'm gonna donate a pint of blood to Kennedy, 'cause she's definitely in worse shape than Rona. Willow mentioned once that she's the same blood type I am, and getting whole blood into her can't hurt her much, considering the shape she's already in. Faith's gonna do the same for Rona, once I get done.

"We can't chance taking either of them to a hospital ER yet," he continued. "That'll be the first place the First will have his minions check, once they get here. Once we're a couple hundred miles away from here, then maybe we'll be able to take that chance, depending on what condition they're in. I've seen Buffy come back from some really horrendous beatings over the years, so I'm mostly praying that their Slayer healing kicks in and both of them will be able to pull out on their own."

"How are you fixed for supplies?" Wesley asked

"Well, after I'm done with the giving blood to Kennedy thing, I'm hitting the local supermarkets and hardware stores and getting as much food and necessities as I can pack into the van. Wills did some kind of extra-dimensional space spell in the van's storage area after the Potentials started showing up and we were having to make all these runs to the supermarket all the time, so I figure I'm just gonna max out the plastic I've got with me and worry about everything else later," the former carpenter outlined his plans.

"We're pretty well supplied as far as guns and ammo go, 'cause I had already cleared out the Sunnydale PD's armory before we headed down into the school," he informed the two AI associates. "It's a shame I didn't have enough time to finish cleaning out the Army base before we had to run. Regular bullets may not be able to kill vampires, but they do a real good job if you're just trying to kneecap them, so they can't chase you.

"Oh, I also discovered that tracers make for a great vampire flambé, Wes. Downside, though, is that if you miss with them, they tend to set whatever they hit on fire, so you usually can't use them just anywhere," he lamented.

As he spoke, the brunet had been inspecting and replacing the bandages wrapped around Giles' head, the ex-Watcher lying quietly, if not completely peacefully, after sinking down into the chair's cushions. Satisfied that his surrogate father was doing as best as could be expected under the current conditions, he broke open the emergency supplies Wes had brought over to them.

Working quickly, with Wes and Faith's assistance, Xander soon had bags of plasma and sucrose solution being fed into the two most badly injured survivors of the Sunnydale catastrophe.

"Faith, you gonna be able to handle things here while I'm gone?" Xander asked, as he expertly cleaned and swabbed the inside of his left arm with antiseptics.

"No sweat, X-Man," the senior Slayer told him, as she mimicked his actions on the other side of the lobby with the medical kit she had taken from their supplies. "You go do what you need to do. We'll hold things down here."

"Hey, Wes, think can you help me out here?" the possibly ex-carpenter asked as he held out an IV needle, tubing and blood bag towards the ex-Watcher. "It's a little awkward doing this to yourself."

"Here, I'll do it," Cordy volunteered, taking the medical paraphernalia from her ex-boy friend's outstretched hands. "Wes, you go help Faith. Whatever-her-name-is over there looks like she needs to get some blood in her as soon as possible."

The former Seer had been standing at the base of the stairs, an incredulous expression on her face as she watched and listened to her ex-high school sweetheart and her fellow demon fighter discussing plans to try to avoid the latest end of the world campaign set in motion by yet another would-be world ruler, and wondered how she could help. In her present condition, she could barely manage to walk from one end of the hotel to the other without having to pause for a brief rest, so she had immediately latched onto the first opportunity to contribute that she felt she could reasonably handle.

It was the work of less than a minute to get Xander properly situated sitting down on one of the chairs and his donated blood flowing into the collection bag, and then she was again back to finding some way to help.

It was as she looked around the lobby, unsure of what she should do that she noticed that Dawn was still standing placidly in the midst of all the activity, seemingly staring at nothing. Seeing the 'thousand-yard stare' the teenager was wearing as she passively stood in the center of what more closely resembled a military triage center, the former cheerleader immediately realized that the younger Summers girl was in shock and headed towards her.

"Dawn, you need to come over here and sit down," Cordy instructed as she walked over to the quiescent adolescent and took her hand to lead her over to one of the unoccupied couches on the far side of the foyer. The younger girl docilely followed the ex-Seer and sat quietly, her attention seemingly focused on other places or times than the present.

Unsure of what she could or should do for the now-deceased-Slayer's sister, Cordy left her to her own devices and went to help tend to the others, checking back every few minutes to make sure the younger woman was still there and didn't require any attention.

Taking over the task of attending to Kennedy from the visibly distraught and shell-shocked Vi, the former Prom Queen deftly connected the freshly produced bag of blood given her by Xander to the injured girl's IV line as she watched him then head to the lobby's front doors, after first retrieving several clips of ammunition from one of the backpacks carried in by Dawn and stuffing them into the pockets of the windbreaker he threw on to conceal the pistol on his hip.

"Xander?" she called after him, as a thought struck her. Seeing him pause and look back, she pulled a small wallet from her belt pack and tossed it to him.

"Here, you can use my cards for supplies, too. Just be careful, and don't do anything stupid or heroic, okay?" she urged him. "They - we - need you to come back."

Seeing the concern in her eyes, he nodded and gave her a small, half-hearted smile before turning and leaving.

Chapter 2

"I don't understand why you believe everything this guy told you. We haven't seen or heard anything on the TV or the radio about anything these people said. How do you know you can trust any of them? Maybe things really aren't nearly as bad as they said they were."

The speaker was a dark-haired adolescent who was currently helping Cordy and Wes move numerous boxes of ancient books and tomes to an area immediately adjacent to the lobby's front doors. Both of the former Sunnydale residents were ignoring the boy's grumbling as they concentrated on making sure that the most important texts were packed and ready to go, along with as many of the concentrated emergency food stuffs as they could find in the hotel's storage areas.

"Sure, they're all injured and stuff, but all I'm saying is -"

"Connor! SHUT UP!"

Wes's temper had finally reached its limit, and he turned to bestow a truly intimidating glare on the teenager.

The preceding complaint was more verbiage than the boy usually extended over the course of an entire week. He knew that they all had been encouraging him to speak out more, but why, in Heaven's name, did he have to choose this particular moment to finally comply with the same requests that he had been ignoring for the past several months?

"We trust Xander's judgment because we are both long-time acquaintances of his and know that he has sufficient experience in dealing with exactly these types of situations that he would not be inclined to panic and run away," he said to the boy. Even as he began patiently explain to the boy exactly why it was they were following the newcomer's requests, he realized that his words were most likely sounding much less cordial than they could and realized that, frankly, he didn't care in the least.

"He has, in fact, far more field experience dealing with Hellmouth-related phenomena than anyone here, save Rupert and your father. He has managed to not only survive under the most extreme circumstances, he has also proven himself to be instrumental in the defeat of several menaces thought by many to be unbeatable," he informed the youth. "The Judge is but one instance of which I speak, and I am more than weary of listening to you complain and attempt to denigrate him simply because you do not know him."

He sighed knowing that most of this would go right over the whiny little prat's head.

"To put it as simply as I can: until you have accomplished one tenth as much as Xander Harris has done, simply keep quiet and cease your prattling! Now, do you understand me, or is it necessary for me to employ single syllables in order to convey my message to you?"


Smirking to herself as she listened to Wes berate Angel's child, and giving him an unspoken, private 'thank-you' for the dressing down Connor so richly deserved, Cordy headed over to the numerous file cabinets that held all of Angel Investigations' remaining records. These were the records that were left over after she had finished packing the final box of books and files they were taking with them, and she began feeding them into the office's paper shredder. It might not mean very much, but any hindrance they could throw in the First's way had to be made.

< Besides, > she told herself, < knowing Spike, he'd probably want to hunt down and torture to death any poor soul we helped, for no other reason than knowing it would upset Angel. >

"Okay, people, time's up! We need to move out, now! Grab anything you need to take with you if it's not already packed, 'cause we're leaving now!"

Xander's voice interrupted the ex-Seer's musings, and she made a final check of her surroundings to ensure that they hadn't left anything useful behind them.

When she looked over in the direction of her ex-boyfriend, she was a bit surprised to see him crouched in front of the sofa holding the body of the newly Awakened Slayer he had identified as Kennedy, Willow's new girl friend. The girl's injuries had proven too severe for even her enhanced constitution to deal with, and she had died shortly after Xander had departed on his 'shopping spree,' diminishing the group of Hellmouth survivors by yet another.

"...hope you'll all be happy, together," he was saying softly.

She could barely hear the almost inaudible words issuing from his lips, but she managed to catch enough to know that he was praying or saying some private benediction over the girl's body.

Realizing that she was approaching him from his blind side, she coughed softly so as not to startle him and possibly have him react in a reflexive, Sunnydale manner, something which almost always involved violence.

"Thanks for the warning, Cordy, but I did hear you coming," the former carpenter said, as he straightened up after blessing himself. When he turned to face her, Cordy could see the glistening moisture in his remaining eye that he refused to shed.

"Are you okay, Xand?" she asked him quietly, instantly realizing just how foolish her words sounded, given their current situation.

"Yeah, Cor, I'm doing great," he replied reflexively, a bitter grin on his face. Seeing the expression on the ex-Seer's face, he immediately softened his tone as he reached out to touch her shoulder.

"Sorry, I really didn't mean anything by that, Cordy," he told her as he glanced back at Kennedy's body.

"Yeah, I know. It was a dumb thing to say," the brunette replied. "How are you doing, really?" she asked as she put her hand on his shoulder, intent on following up her concerns about his well-being.

"I'm getting by," he tried to smile at her reassuringly, but the former cheerleader had known him too long to be fooled by the facade he presented to the world.

"Don't try and bullshit me, Xander," Cordy told him as she pulled on his shoulder to turn him towards her again. "I know you well enough -"


The remainder of the brunette's statement was lost as the sound of screams and gunshots suddenly broke the quietude of the hotel, coming from the side of the building.

At the sound of the shots, Xander's head shot up. His .45 appearing in his hand as if by magic, he grabbed hold of Cordy's hand and began pulling her along with him as he headed towards the lobby's side doors, scanning the rest of the floor in search of any possible enemies as he did so.

As they burst through to the overhang shading one of the hotel's loading docks, they could see Wesley and the tall, shaven-headed black man introduced only as Gunn were both methodically firing at two small buses with blackened windows that had apparently been disabled while still only partway up the hotel's entrance ramp. All of the buses' tires as well as the engines had been shot to pieces, while the bullet-ridden frame of a third bus had come to rest much closer, almost at the end of the loading dock, all of its dark-tinted windows shattered and broken open allowing the late afternoon sunlight to flood its interior.

Off to one side and inside the shadowed veranda area covered by the overhanging roof, Faith, Angel and Angel's son, Connor, were all involved in two-on-one combat with several massive Turok-Han, with neither side seeming able to gain an edge.

Vi and the soft-spoken brunette, Fred, that Xander had seen helping out Wes and Cordy when he had returned were helping Giles into the backseat of the Chevy Venture van they had arrived in.

Despite the fact that the sun was still visible in the sky, the smoking bodies of several Turok-Han were sprawled across the shaded portion of the concrete apron in front of the dock. Seeing that, Xander guessed that this implied that this species of vampire was somewhat more resistant to the effects of sunlight than the typical vamp they were accustomed to dealing with.

Quickly taking in the situation, Xander aimed and fired several times in Angel's direction, and watched with grim satisfaction as the souled vampire's opponents abruptly screamed and reflexively clutched at their groins, allowing Angel an opportunity to drive his stakes through their hearts and dust them. He then quickly turned and repeated his actions against Faith and Connor's foes, still hitting his targets despite the greater distance. Faith's powerful kick to one opponent's newest injury left it doubled over and screaming until she plunged her stake through its back and into its heart, leaving her free to finish off her remaining opponent.

Xander half-led/half-dragged the ex-Seer by his side towards the driver's seat of their sole means of escape, while asking, "Are you up to driving?"

At Cordy's nod, he quickly grabbed up the Winchester Defender extended-magazine shotgun lying on the front seat and moved aside to let her slide into the seat, just as he heard a terrified scream erupt from the rear of the van before abruptly stopping.

Turning to find the source of the scream, he saw weeping Vi driving a stake through the eye of a Turok-Han who had somehow managed to get close enough to attack Fred, who now lay on the ground at its feet, her eyes staring blankly at the sky and her throat a gaping ruin open to the sky.

As the demon backhanded the redhead away, Xander darted forward towards the monster and fired three shots as quickly as he could pump the receiver into its face and the base of its neck as it began turning to face him, effectively decapitating it.

His heart thundering, he immediately chambered another round while scanning the area for any additional enemies, absently noting the body turning to dust from the corner of his eye. Moving over to where the newest Slayer was sprawled, half-stunned, he leaned down and pulled Vi to her feet, telling her, "Get in the van and make sure Giles and Rona are belted in, then belt yourself in, okay?"

Not waiting for her acknowledgement, and noting that the area around them was clear at the moment, Xander flipped open the rear gate and quickly retrieved an M16A2M203 riflegrenade launcher combo from one of the side compartments as well as several grenades.

Loading a flare round into the grenade launcher, he bellowed at the surviving demon fighters.

"Everyone, get in the cars! We've got to get moving!" he yelled, as he fixed his sights on the more distant carload of their enemies and squeezed the M203's trigger.

The grenade had scarcely impacted its target and ignited the gasoline leaking from its tank, before he'd loaded a second round and targeted the remaining car for a similar fate. The detonation of the second explosion reverberated through the concrete canyons surrounding the hotel on the heels of the first explosion's echoes, with the distant sounds of sirens faintly audible in the distance.

"Burn in hell, you bastards!" he muttered as Cordy screeched the van to a stop next to him.

Leaning across the seat and throwing the passenger door open, she yelled, "Get in, Doofus!"

Ignoring the two burning wrecks and the guttural screams of the demons trapped within, he dove into the empty passenger seat, barely managing to get the door closed before Cordy was accelerating away, wrenching the vehicle in a tire-squealing bootlegger turn out of the hotel parking lot that had them roaring down the street, heading towards the nearest freeway on-ramp. Angel's black Plymouth GTX convertible, with Lorne at the wheel and the top up to provide protection to the ensouled vampire huddled in the backseat, pursued them like a duckling following its mother's trail.

Glancing in the passenger side mirror, Xander could see the green-skinned and red-horned demon Cordy had introduced as Lorne was at the wheel, maintaining a following distance that had him begin fervently praying that Cordy wouldn't be making any sudden stops.

As they swerved onto the on-ramp, a flicker of motion in the distance caught his attention and he leaned out the window to see a bus with blackened windows, similar to those currently burning outside the Hyperion, wheel around the corner and apparently begin lumbering after them. A black Desoto Sportsman with blackened windows came into view immediately after it, and Xander uttered a low-voiced and incredibly complex and malevolent curse in Sumerian that would have both astonished and pleased Giles with his display of linguistic proficiency.

"What's wrong, X-Man?" Faith asked.

"When did you learn to speak Sumerian?" Cordy demanded at virtually the same time.

"Spike's caught up with us, and the beginning of senior year," he answered both women's questions absently as he began considering how best to lose their pursuers.

"And it looks like he's brought some more of his playmates with him," he added.

"Cordy, what's Wes' cell phone number?" he asked as he fumbled in his pockets for his own phone. "They need to know we've got more company following us."

Punching in the number Cordy dictated, Xander quickly apprised the rest of the AI team of the two vehicles trailing them and recommended that the two teams split up, allowing them a better chance to hopefully lose their tails and escape the city unseen.

"Ain't no way in hell I'm running from these freakin' bloodsuckers!" he could hear Gunn exclaiming loudly in the background upon hearing his suggestion. "I aim to kill a whole lot more of those bastards - they killed Fred and they're gonna pay. Big time!"

"Gunn's sentiments echo all of ours, Xander," Wes stated firmly. "We will not abandon you, at this moment, or any other."

Xander could hear Angel chiming in, his voice a bit muffled from his position beneath the heavy blanket shielding him from the rapidly fading sunlight. "We're in this together, Xander. If we split up, all we'll be doing is just making it easier for Spike and the demons he brought with him to take each of us down individually. Together, we're that much stronger."

The sound of an explosion off to one side, followed by the sounds of tires screeching and metal crumpling, interrupted their conversation, as everyone looked to see what was happening.

Some twenty yards behind them, they could see several cars twisted together in a jumbled amalgamation of metal from which flames were already leaping, and around which other vehicles were desperately swerving in hopes of avoiding becoming a part of the accident.

Beyond the wreck, Xander could see the upper body of a Deevak demon hanging out of an open bus window, the easily recognizable (at least to him) tube of an AT-4 anti-tank rocket clutched in its arms as it attempted to train the weapon's sights on the vehicles carrying them.

"Swerve!" he screamed instinctively, both to Cordy and into the phone to Wes, the moment he saw the rocket launcher. "They're using rockets!"

The ex-cheerleader's immediate compliance with his orders nearly threw him out of the open window he was hanging out of, and he grabbed frantically at the door frame for a moment before he felt Faith's hands latching securely onto his belt and pulling him back inside the van.

"You aren't getting away that easily, X," he heard the Dark Slayer telling him as he reflexively grasped his seat's armrest. "You're not going anywhere without us."

Glancing out the rear windshield, he could see the Plymouth sliding back and forth across the relatively uncrowded road in much the same manner that Cordy was swinging the van, as a second explosion echoed from behind them, again accompanied by the sounds of multiple cars and trucks smashing into one another.

"Xander, we're gonna be running out of road real soon," Cordy warned him frantically. "There 's some kind of traffic jam up ahead."

Looking out the front windshield, the one-eyed carpenter could see the blazing brake lights of a number of cars some distance down the road, warning them of the upcoming end to their attempted escape.

"Shit!" was the brunet's only comment as he frantically tried to figure a way out of their present dilemma.

Behind them, Faith remained quiet, aware that she could do little at the moment to affect their fate.

"Now would be a really good time to have an interdimensional gateway open up and swallow us," he could hear Cordy muttering to herself. "Even Pylea would look good, now."

Glancing out the back windshield again, he caught notice of the brunette teenager sitting placidly in the backseat next to Giles, holding him and trying to steady him against the abrupt changes in direction the van was making, and an idea born of utter desperation flared up in his mind.

According to Glory's admittedly insane ramblings, Dawn was the Key, with power to open doorways to other worlds, other dimensions. And if they ever needed a doorway to somewhere other than here, it was now.

"Dawn!" he called as he leaned over the passenger seat and into the bench seat behind him. "Dawn, wake up!" he demanded as he shook the teenager's shoulder to get her attention.

"Huh?" the Key blinked and looked around her dazedly, as though noticing her surroundings for the first time. "Xander? Where are we?"

"Dawn, we're in LA with Cordy and Angel's group. We escaped the First's opening the Hellmouth and we're being chased by a bunch of demons the First sent after us. We need to get out of here, right now!" he ordered as a bewildered expression took possession of the Key's face at his actions and statement.

"Dawn, listen to me! We need you to open up a gateway for us! Right away!" he told her. "We're all going to be blown up into kibbles and bits if we can't get out of here, right now!"

"I - I - can't," the brunette teen answered. "I don't know how to do something like that. I could get us all killed."

"We need you to try anyway, Dawnie," Xander told the sole surviving member of the Summers family, grabbing hold of her hands and giving her an encouraging squeeze. "We've got absolutely nothing to lose here," he assured her. "If we have to stop the van, the demons chasing us are going to kill us all, or worse, take us back to the First for a light evening's entertainment of slow torture and, eventually, death, so we're gonners either way.

"I'd prefer to go out fighting, myself. Actually, I'd prefer not to go at all, if I had any choice about it," he smiled his lopsided grin at her. "You have to try and open up a gateway for us and the car behind us. And you have to do it, now!" he added as he glanced back over his shoulder at the rapidly approaching traffic jam ahead of them, for which Cordy was already starting to slow the van down.

"Dawn! Try! Please!" he pleaded with her. "NOW!"


Looking at her former crush's earnest expression, the teenager could see the desperation in his eyes as he spoke to her.

"Give me your pocketknife, Xander," she told him, holding at her hand as she stared into his remaining eye. Xander fumbled in his pocket for only a moment before handing over the designated tool.

Ignoring the questioning looks she could see on both Faith and Cordy's faces, the brunette opened the knife and drew it across her palm, opening up a shallow furrow which began to bleed freely.

With a look of concentration on her face, Dawn closed her eyes and desperately tried to envision a portal opening up ahead of their rapidly moving van, unaware of the faint glow that began emanating from her body.


Seeing the light that was beginning to manifest around her, Xander turned to look out of the front windshield and saw a pale greenish oval beginning to form a short distance ahead of them.

"Keep on moving," he instructed Cordy when she reflexively began slowing the van upon seeing the glow ahead. "Don't slow down for anything, okay?"

"Wes!" he spoke into the still open cell phone he was holding. "Whatever you do, don't stop! Just follow us. We may have a way out of this mess, yet!"

As if to punctuate his words, an explosion jarred the van as one of their pursuers' rockets detonated only a few yards off to their left.

As if that were a signal, Cordy jammed the accelerator to the floor and the van surged ahead, closely followed by Angel's Plymouth.

As she headed into the now-brightly glowing oval ahead of them, Xander could hear the ex-Seer cursing under her breath.

"If we get killed because of this, Xander Harris, I'm gonna haunt you for the rest of eternity!" she swore, a split second before their vehicle disappeared into the lightly glowing disc before them, followed immediately after by the car carrying the remainder of their little group of refugees.

The busload of demons chasing them could only stare in complete befuddlement as the glow abruptly winked out of existence before they could get near.

And the solid wall of rush hour cars that they were about to crash into...

Chapter 3

It had been a very dull and boring night, Lieutenant Marta Kaminski of His Imperial Majesty's Battle Fleet reflected as she glanced out of the window of the main control room for what she felt was the hundredth time during an apparently endless duty shift. Looking around, she again confirmed that the cavernous chamber enclosing the three huge pads used for bulk material transport was still empty, and there was no one around save for herself and the three techs manning the control boards.

Sure, the Sunday night shift was definitely the slowest one of the week, but this particular night was probably the dullest she had ever seen in the two and a half years she'd been assigned here. She was so bored that she was even beginning to consider working on the problems her adviser had suggested she look over in preparation for her sociology finals she had to take next week.

Some unidentified patron deity responsible for overseeing chaos must have been listening to her mental complaints, she decided later, because she had no sooner completed that thought when the board controlling Pad #3 lit up, just as though they had received a conformation signal and were preparing to receive an incoming shipment.

Which was a physical impossibility, she immediately realized, since all of Pad #3's main power connections were currently disassembled and scattered across the floor adjacent to it, the main transducer having decided to suicide and fuse itself into a very expensive and completely useless mass of silica and trace elements in the middle of this morning's shift.

"Lieutenant, the board indicates that we've got an incoming transfer," Tech Specialist/2 M'Kambo announced, his voice the same controlled and almost bored tone he would be using during a normal duty shift.

"I have absolutely no idea how that can be, sir, since the power connection is indicating that the pad is still cold," he added, his brow furrowed and the least amount of puzzlement and curiosity tingeing his announcement as his fingers danced over the control panel before him. "Whatever's headed this way is apparently supplying their own motive power."

As the eyes of the other three shift members joined hers in turning to stare at the area in question, Kaminski noticed that the space immediately above the thirty meter square surface of the platform in question was beginning to glow a pale green, delineating a somewhat oval area about three meters high by about four meters wide. Within a few seconds, the luminosity of the area had increased from the strength of a night light to that of a brightly glowing lamp, not quite enough to make one look away, but still more than was comfortable to look directly at.

"What in the name of the Maker is going on?" she wondered quietly to herself, while she automatically triggered an Orange level security alert and commed Security for a quick response team before then wondering whether they would be in time, should they actually end up being needed.

A bare ten seconds after the first indication of the oval's presence had first been noted, a dark blue van and a black convertible came hurtling out of the oval, which then vanished a fraction of a second after the second vehicle emerged from the 'whatever-the-hell-it-was.'

The two vehicles, both of which looked to be antiques at least fifty years old, dropped several centimeters before their wheels (with actual rubber tires?!) hit the pad's surface and they each began swerving wildly across the alloyed-steel surface, obviously out of control.

The lead vehicle, the van, began skidding almost immediately, the rear end sliding clockwise towards its left as the front wheels futilely sought purchase on the slick metal plating over which it was moving. Barely a second and a half after it had appeared, the front wheels hit the metal conduits that edged the perimeter of the pad, causing the driver to lose any semblance of control they might have held previously. The vehicle careened off the mat-trans pad's upper deck to drop to the floor a half meter below before slewing wildly and crashing into the wall separating the mat-trans area from the control booth, specifically the control panel for Pad #2. Seeing the unidentified vehicle apparently heading directly for him, Tech Specialist/2 Greshnamil reflexively jumped to the side, his four hundred plus kilograms of mass just barely missing M'Kambo, who had also been staring in amazement and disbelief at the wildly careening object.

The second vehicle, a convertible if she remembered the terminology correctly, also dropped to the pad and spun out of control, actually completely a full three hundred and sixty degree revolution as it slid across the mat-trans's slick surface beneath it before it, too, smashed through the wiring conduits lining the pad's perimeter and collided with the wall enclosing control panels responsible for regulating Pad #3.

< At least it hit the panels for the pad that's already out of commission, > she thought to herself before recognizing the absurdity of the idea.

Everyone stared at the two vehicles that had somehow impossibly appeared out of the seemingly thin air of the station for only a moment before they all began running towards the control room's exit, intent upon seeing what exactly it was that had interrupted their quiet evening. As she commed a call for an emergency medical team to also respond to her earlier call, Kaminski absently noted with approval that both M'Kambo and Tech Specialist/3 Neuvanntor had slapped the emergency power cutoff switches before leaving their posts.


Faith let out a low groan as she shook her head to clear it of the momentary confusion and disorientation caused by the van's crashing into the walls of - whatever the hell it was they had run into.

< Damn, C, that's the last time I'm letting you drive anywhere! You're worse than B ever was, > the Dark Slayer thought to herself, before a momentary twinge of loss and regret ran through her at the thought of her deceased fellow warrior.

If she had correctly understood what Xander had been saying to Dawn before they had driven into the glowing green whatever-the-hell-it-was that had gotten them away from their pursuers, the younger girl was the one responsible for whisking them away from their pursuers.

Unfortunately, that didn't answer the question of where they now were, she realized as she looked around. The young brunette was sprawled across the bench seat she was sitting in, her head practically in Faith's lap, unconscious and with a another small bruise on her forehead joining the others she had received earlier in the day, but without any other obvious injuries that she could see.

She gave a low gasp of dismay as she looked at the front of the van. Cordelia was slumped over the steering wheel, unconscious but hopefully not seriously injured, judging by the fact that she had been wearing her seat belt and the sight of the now-deflated air bag covering the wheel beneath her.

Xander, however, was another story entirely.

Unlike the ex-cheerleader/former Ascended being seated behind the wheel, the carpenter had *not* been wearing his seat belt and the sudden deceleration of the van when it had hit the wall outside had apparently thrown the brunet against the windshield and the completely unyielding metal surface against which the van had flattened itself despite the best efforts of the partially deployed air bag.

The male Scooby was awkwardly sprawled across the front of the van, lying partially across the front passenger seat of the van and partially on the floor, blood smeared across his face and most of his body. And from what she could see, there was something about the way he was lying there, the way he seemed to be kind of twisted or something, that made her more than a little worried about what kind of internal damage he might have sustained in the collision.

Before she could do anything more than look, the sound of voices approaching caught her notice and a quick glance out the window immediately made her sit up and start looking for her weapons as she punched the release on her seatbelt.

"Holy fuck!" she muttered to herself, as she saw two humans and two creatures that looked a whole lot like a cross between a centaur and a mother-humping *big* combination of horselizardcrocodile heading towards the cars and the unconscious, helpless people within them. "Where the hell did Little D send us?" she muttered to herself as she scanned the debris on the floor for weapons.

"Vi! Wake up! Now!" she called to the younger Slayer, whom she could hear stirring in the backseat behind her. "The shit's hitting the fan, and you need to wake up NOW!!"

"Wha - What'd you say?" the redhead asked fuzzily as she sat up, clearly trying to gather her wits together as she looked around at the other, still unconscious, occupants of the van.

"Demons, girl! Now get your ass up and moving before they can start chowing down on the buffet," Faith told her, nodding towards their unconscious friends as she grabbed the closest weapons she could reach, a sword and a mace that had apparently been jarred loose from one of the equipment bags in the crash.

Forcing the no-longer-easily sliding door on her side of the van open with a loud screech that announced her presence (< Shit! That'll get their attention if they hadn't already noticed me! > ), Faith jumped out of the van and positioned herself between the approaching demons and the wreck containing pretty much all of the still-living people in her life that she cared about.

Who were all going to remain that way if she had any say in the matter.


Huddled under the blanket that had been shielding him from the sunlight, Angel hadn't been able to see exactly what was happening when Xander had instructed them not to stop and to follow them as they were attempting to escape the First's troops pursuing them.

There had been some kind of green glowing portal or something through which they had driven, and then they were apparently airborne for several seconds before landing abruptly on some kind of road or something, after which Lorne and Wes both immediately began swearing profusely in several languages just an instant before the car slammed into some kind of wall or other metal-reinforced structure, stunning the other occupants of the car.

Seeing that they were currently in some kind of enclosed building, Angel shrugged off the blanket and looked out the windows, to see two uniformed humans approaching both vehicles, accompanied by a couple demons of a species he didn't immediately recognize.

Recalling how the last occasion when he had dealt with uniformed troops hadn't ended pleasantly for either himself or the Initiative troops facing him and the Scoobies, Angel forced his way past the unconscious body of his son and moved to challenge the oncoming group.


As Kaminski and her people approached the two wrecks in order to check the condition of their occupants, a young brunette practically leaped out of the wreckage and immediately positioned herself between the ruined scrap metal behind her and Neuvanntor, a sword and a mace in her hands and her body language practically screaming out a challenge to them to try to get past her to any of the possibly injured within.

< Maker, she can't be more than nineteen, if that! And what does she think she's doing, trying to threaten us with those things? > she reflected with astonishment after a quick look at the girl. She also noted that both weapons bore the look of long use and conscientious care, and that the disquieting, relaxed, almost professional way the girl was handling them indicated a disturbing degree of expertise far greater than someone that age should possess.

< And where'd she come from, that she doesn't have any enhancements? > she asked herself moment later, when her sensors indicated a complete lack of any biotechnics in the girl standing before her.

A moment later, her attention was momentarily distracted as she noticed a large, dark-haired man force his way out of the second vehicle and move to take up an aggressive stance, similar to that of the girl's, between M'Kambo and Greshnamil and the convertible.

"M'Kambo! Greshnamil! Hold up a minute," she ordered as she put out her hand towards Neuvanntor to indicate that she, too, should stop moving.

"Look, I have absolutely no idea who you people are," the blonde said, directing her words to the girl, but turning slightly to include the man, also, "but all we want to do is see if anyone inside these vehicles need medical attention.

"So why don't you just move aside and let us see if we can help, okay?" she asked reasonably, looking the girl in the eye and seeing nothing but animosity and anger looking back at her.

"Not a fucking chance in hell, bitch," the small brunette practically spat at her, the look in her eyes one of absolute determination. "The only way you and your demon buddies will ever get to my friends is by killing me."

Taking a half-step forward, she gestured towards the four of them with her sword. "So, who's gonna die first?" she asked, her mouth twisted in a vicious smile.

Kaminski stared at the girl in stunned disbelief for a moment, before turning to look over her shoulder at her crew.

< So she's a racist, too. > The Lieutenant's brow narrowed as she looked at the two Narhani who, along with the chocolate-hued, two meter tall M'Kambo, made up her team.

< Damnation. I thought that, after all the humiliation Hilgemann caused supporting Jefferson's attempted coup, the Church of Armageddon pretty much faded out of existence. Looks like I was wrong, > she decided, as she turned back to face the girl.

"I don't see any *demons* here, girl," she replied, her voice now the temperature of liquid nitrogen. "All I see are *people*. My guess is that you've got some seriously injured people in there," she indicated the two wrecks, "and that they probably should be receiving medical attention as quick as possible. If you don't move aside and let us look at them, their fate's going to be all on you."

"It always has been," the brunette answered her, and a noticeable change seemed to come over her as she spoke. The angry stiffness of her body suddenly seemed to fade, to be replaced by a fluidity and litheness that permeated her body, along with an almost fatalistic calmness and acceptance.

"I may have failed them once before," she said quietly, almost as though she was speaking to herself, "but that's *never* gonna happen again."


Even she answered the uniformed blonde's statement, Faith could feel the truth of her words suffusing her body. It was true; never again would she betray the trust her family had placed in her. Anyone looking to harm her loved ones (and that they were her loved ones was something she could finally admit to herself) was going to die, as quickly and painfully as she could manage.

< Okay, girl, save the Dr. Phil self-revelation shit for a more appropriate time, > she told herself. < Like when you've got a couple full bottles of Jack Daniels, a couple gallons of chocolate ice cream and you're not about to start a fight to the death with some big friggin' demons you've never seen before and their human teammates. >

She heard the faint scuff of footsteps behind her, so she wasn't surprised when Vi stepped up beside her, a sword in one hand, a large axe in the other, and a smaller axe hanging at her hip.

"Yo, Angel," she heard the redhead call, while she kept the majority of her attention focused on the foursome before her. "You look like you could use some hardware."

Using her peripheral vision, the now most experienced living Slayer saw her newly Awakened sibling toss the massive war axe in her hand across the twenty meters separating them from the ensouled vampire as easily as if it were a folded-up newspaper, and watched her friend/mentor pluck it out of the air as casually as if it were a softball lofted towards him.

"Thanks, little one," she saw him smile at the younger girl, and the momentary feral grin on his face as he hefted the double-bladed weapon and turned towards their opponents matched the one on each of the Slayers' faces.

What exactly the three of them would have done next would remain forever unknown as everyone's attention was immediately drawn to the six-person, apparently all human, armored squad that entered the transfer pads enclosure. The incongruously high-tech-looking rifles she could see they carried, while not specifically aimed at them, were all clearly pointed in their general direction as they spread out and encircled the two wrecks.

"Welcome to the party, guys," Faith smiled, an instant before she leaped forward.


The speed with which the young brunette and her two companions moved took everyone by surprise, allowing the trio to launch the first attack.

All three dimensional travelers had gained the element of surprise since all of the Security squad's members, having scanned Faith, Vi and Angel immediately upon their arrival in the mat-trans building and noted their lack of enhancements, had pretty much dismissed them as a serious possible threat to them, and, at least subconsciously, were expecting to easily overwhelm the three, should it come down to a matter of physical force.

Faith lunged at the nearest Marine, sword thrusting forward to impale him like a canapé on a toothpick, and only his reflexive block with his rifle, parrying the blade away from his torso, kept the brunette from eviscerating him. Her immediate follow-up attack with the mace to his head caught him unawares, however, and he dropped to the floor like a puppet with its strings cut.

Both Vi and Angel followed the Slayer's lead, attacking the nearest armed target, with the intention of hewing down anyone or anything in their way.

While Vi, unlike Faith, successfully drove her sword into the stomach of her target, the Marine's reflexive use of his biotechnics to clamp down on the pain of his injury enabled him to continue bringing his rifle around, his finger tightening on the trigger as soon as the muzzle was lined up with the redhead's torso.

Angel's intended attack against the Marine closest to him was frustrated when Tech Specialist/2 Greshnamil threw his four hundred and eight kilograms in his way, slamming his arm against the one of Angel's that held the axe and knocking it from the vampire's grasp as he tackled the newcomer and crashed to the floor atop him, wrapping his arms around the dark-haired man in a vise-like grip the undead detective found surprisingly difficult to break.

While their sudden attack may have taken the base personnel by surprise, that didn't mean that the Marines were unable to defend themselves.

As Faith felled her initial target with her mace, the Marine next closest to her leveled his rifle at her and fired, a low hum barely discernable to the brunette accompanying the sudden pseudo-electric shock that jolted through her body, dropping her to her knees for a moment.

Shaking her head to clear it, Faith noted the look of shock and amazement on her opponent's face as she forced herself back to her feet and turned, intending to charge him.

Regrettably, however, she found her body refused to respond as quickly as it normally would, and she had taken only two steps towards him before she was jolted again, forcing her to stop in her tracks, with only her iron will keeping her on her feet. A third blast ripped through her as she was attempting to lift her mace high enough to throw at her foe, and then blackness overtook her.

Her last thought before she lost consciousness was, < I'm sorry, guys. I really tried to stop them. Please forgive me. >


Senior Fleet Admiral Ninhursag MacMahan's office Office of Naval Intelligence Imperial Battle Fleet Headquarters Birhat Bia System

Fleet Major Ester Steinberg began counting down the seconds once she noted that Admiral MacMahan had opened the data file she had forwarded, after marking it with the highest priority for her boss's attention.

< Five...four...three.. >

"Ester! In my office! Now!"

< She's a bit ahead of schedule, > the redhead smirked to herself as she entered in response to her superior's summons.

"Exactly who else has seen this report?" the dark-haired, olive-brown-skinned woman demanded as the adjutant crossed the threshold of her office, the focused intensity of her expression enough to typically cow even the most stalwart of officers. The subject of her question was obvious to the redheaded intelligence officer, the file in question the only item evident on the Admiral's virtual desktop.

"Admiral Tattiaglia, the originator of the report, his staff, the lab people involved in the verification tests, the medical personnel who treated the injured and the security team and the mat-trans team involved in the initial incident, Ma'am," the major immediately answered.

"The Admiral has already invoked a 'Black' security rating on this incident, Ma'am, and everyone involved has been relieved of all other duties and transferred to the new project the Admiral created upon initial notification of the particulars of the situation. He also cancelled all leaves and has confined all personnel to White Sands Base for the duration of the investigation," Steinberg added. "Do you want your usual group coming with us, Ma'am, or will we just be popping in for a quick look, initially?"

Realizing that Steinberg had, as usual, anticipated her intentions, 'Hursag's face took on a rather satisfied and extremely evil grin as she considered the reaction her report would engender, once she had verified for herself all of the particulars involved in this 'incident,' as Ester had described it. She especially wanted to see Baltan and Geran's faces when they first read the explanations that White Sands' 'guests' had offered for their sudden appearance, and Cohanna's face when she read the detailed report describing several of their guests' physiologies.

"Oh, I don't think we need to bother anyone else about this just yet," she replied casually, as she locked her terminal preparatory to exiting the office. "I think we should check this matter out in person before bringing it to anyone else's attention, don't you?"

"Most definitely, Ma'am," Steinberg agreed with a matching smile. "I've already scheduled us for a transport slot thirty minutes from now. Admiral Tattiaglia will be meeting us at the Pad, and we should be interviewing the newcomers within the hour."


The Imperial Palace Birhat Bia System

"So, what you're telling me, 'Hursag, is that none of our 'guests' can be identified in *any* of the Imperium's databases, and they're claiming to be a group of refugees from an alternate universe that sounds like it would be a perfect setting for a Tri-D horror series, all the way up to the point of supplying its own 'Monster of the Week'?"

The speaker, a large, somewhat homely-looking, beak-nosed man, looked at the woman who had just finished her report on the recent developments taking place at the White Sands base.

"Yes, I'd say that's a fairly accurate general summary, Colin," 'Hursag agreed pleasantly with her boss as she sat back on what would be best described as a rec room couch, were it anywhere else but the Imperial Palace.

His Imperial Majesty, Colinmacintyre I, Grand Duke of Birhat, Prince of Bia, Sol, Chamhar and Narhan, Warlord and Prince Protector of the Realm, Defender of the Five Thousand Suns, Champion of Humanity, and by the Maker's Grace, Emperor of Mankind, was currently looking at his Head of Imperial Intelligence as though he were expecting her to now inform him that the Tooth Fairy had just appeared before her and asked if she'd like to arrange a personal audience with Santa Claus for him.

"Let me make sure I have all of this straight," he said, shaking his head in disbelief at what he had just heard. "This group of refugees consists of - if I understood you properly - two men who claim to be members of some sort of mystical organization thousands of years old, as well as being what they call minor sorcerers; several unenhanced, apparently human teenage girls, at least two of whom are capable of kicking the asses of a squad of biotechnically enhanced, fully trained Imperial Marines and another of whom allegedly possesses the ability to open interdimensional portals, which is, apparently, how they got here; a man who says he was, earlier in his life, the leader of an inner city street gang who hunted various non-human beings he and the others refer to as vampires and demons; a young woman who insists she was bonded with what she called a demonic essence earlier in her life to allow her to survive receiving what she said were precognitive visions sent by something she called 'The Powers That Be'; another man who says that as a teenager, he was possessed at different times by both an animal spirit and the spirit of a deceased soldier; an alien of a species we've never even imagined, let alone encountered before this, and who has a physiology that has Cohanna walking around cursing and muttering about impossible biochemistries under her breath; an unenhanced, superhumanly strong and fast teenager who insists that both of his parents were vampires; and a superhumanly strong walking, talking corpse who reacts in almost exactly the same way as any normal, living human being would, without any sign of technical augmentation that might explain how he does this, and who insists he is the father of the aforementioned teenager," he noted, with a look on his face that suggested that he was hoping to see someone jump up and yell, 'April Fool!'

"Furthermore," he continued, "the medical reports on all of these - people - also state that they all are carrying numerous strains of bacteria that were believed to have been eradicated twenty or more years ago and which are virtually unknown at the present time.

"Have I missed anything here, people?" he finished, apparently only semi-rhetorically.

Glancing around the room, the head of ONI took in the various expressions being worn by the other occupants of the room.

Her Imperial Majesty, Jiltanith MacIntyre, sat across the room, next to her husband on a matching love seat, a serene expression on her face as she waited for him to finish expressing his immediate reaction before voicing her own thoughts.

Crown Prince Sean Horus MacIntyre, Duke of Pardal and Heir to the Throne, was listening attentively as he leaned against the wall directly behind the chair in which his wife, Crown Princess Consort Sandra MacMahan MacIntyre, sat and relaxed, her fingers absently rubbing over her distended, six months pregnant belly, while Princess Harriet Isis (Harry) MacIntyre frowned with concentration as she sat next to her husband, Stomald MacIntyre, on another small couch, all of their attention riveted on the Intelligence Branch chief's words.

General Hector MacMahan, Commandant of His Majesty's Imperial Marines, along with Star Marshall Tsien Tao-ling of Battle Fleet and his wife, General Amanda Tsien of the Imperial Marines, sat at a small table off to one side, calmly listening to his wife's report, while Admiral of the Fleet Gerald Hatcher, Chief of Naval Operations, appeared to grow more intense with each sentence issued.

"Uh, I think you neglected to mention that both of the girls that Aunt 'Hursag said were later identified as Slayers shook off stun attacks that would have taken down an elephant, Dad," Harry spoke up, her voice a soft contralto that perfectly matched her ostensibly delicate form.

"Actually, Mom said that they each had to be stunned three times before they went down, and they had to shoot the walking dead guy five times before he finally collapsed," Sandy elaborated on her sister-in-law's statement.

"I think that thou hast neglected the most significant fact that our dear 'Hursag hath brought to our attention, my heart," Jiltanith smiled at her husband, once it became clear that no one else had anything further to add.

"And what would that be, 'Tanni?" he asked as he returned her smile.

"These visitors with whom the fates hath seen fit to grace us do believe in the truth of ever' fact that hath issued from their lips," she pointed out, "and have sworn so while sitting 'neath one of our dear 'Hursag's lie detectors."

"'Tanni is, indeed, correct, Colin." The deep, mellow voice issuing from thin air surprised no one. "That should, indeed, be of significant import to our considerations regarding their fates here."

"So what's your opinion, Dahak?" Colin asked. "Any suggestions as to what we should do?"

"Truly, Colin, I am, at this point in time, completely uncertain as to recommending what course of action we should take," came the immediate reply. "Their stories are, from a totally logical point of view, both impossible and completely fantastic and unbelievable.

"Offsetting that viewpoint, however," Dahak continued, "are certain indisputable facts: these refugees, as you described them, appeared, without any warning, at a highly secure Imperial facility, apparently using a non-functional mat-trans unit as a focus; none of them show any sign of biotechnic enhancement and yet, two of the women possess sufficient physical power that enabled them to incapacitate several enhanced and trained Imperial Marines; another of their personnel is of a species completely unlike any currently known to the Imperium; and most disturbing of all, at least to me, is the fact that one member of their group is, by all laws of physics and biology know to the Imperium, indisputably dead, yet he continues to walk, talk and behave as though he were still alive."

"Well, speaking purely for myself, I want to talk to some of these 'refugees' personally," Stomald stated into the silence that followed Dahak's comments. "I find that just the idea that they might truly be from some alternate plane of existence to be not only awesome, but a little bit intimidating, also."

"You know, that's an excellent idea, Stomald," Colin smiled, secretly pleased that someone else had voiced the suggestion before he would have to do it himself.

"Make arrangements for me to see them, tomorrow morning after breakfast, okay, 'Hursag?" he ordered, before the inevitable disagreements and arguments he knew were coming could begin.


Chapter 4

Sandra Yvonne Tillotson Naval Hospital
Imperial Headquarters

Cordelia Chase sat quietly in the corner of the darkened room which was currently illuminated solely by one of the smaller moons (yes, moons - plural! she absently noted to herself) hanging in the night sky, her attention focused on the shadow-shrouded figure presently sleeping quietly in the hospital bed across from her. She tried to ignore the various readings outlining the patient's medical status that were displayed on the monitor mounted above and off to one side by all of the medical equipment inconspicuously incorporated into the bed's inner structure as she pondered, exactly, why she was present here.

< This is *so* definitely the wrong place for you to be right now, > she told herself, for what had to be the thirtieth time in the last thirty minutes. < And just what do you think you're doing here, anyway? Remember what you promised yourself back when you left Sunnydale for LA? No more getting involved in any way with any guys involved with weirdness of any kind! >

< And that plan worked out just so well once you got to LA, didn't it? > the mocking response echoed back immediately. < 'Cause Russell Winters was so exactly your normal, run-of-the-mill, everyday, BLOODSUCKING VAMPIRE, remember?! >

< Hey, that wasn't my fault! > she automatically protested. < I thought he was a legitimate businessman! If I had known he was a vampire, I would have steered him to Buffy or Faith. They would have loved talking business with him. Right before they staked his ass. I avoided non-normal guys after that. >

< R-i-i-i-i-i-ght, > that same sarcastic voice replied. < 'Cause Angel's just so completely normal. NOT! And Doyle was normal, too. In a half-Bracken demon sort of way. And let's not forget Phantom Dennis and those oh-so-intimate massages he used to give you. >

Cordelia blushed profusely at that reminder. < Well, I completely avoided guys associated with any kind of weirdness after that, > the ex-cheerleader qualified her protest. < Completely and totally. >

< Hello?! Does the name William Christopher ring any bells, missy? Hmmm? Overnight pregnancy carrying seven demonspawn that will devour the mother after delivery is something that is just so forgettable, isn't it? > the annoying voice, that sounded too much like her own for comfort, reminded her.

< He was just a regular guy, > the former Seer protested reflexively. < It was the Hacksaw demon that was empowering him that was responsible for the pregnancy. I've been avoiding weirdness guys since then. >

< Let's make this little discussion as short as possible, vision girl. Remember Groo? And your semi-crush/romantic interest in Angel last year? And last - and most certainly least - Connor? And let me say, even if you really weren't completely responsible for that last one - EEUUUUUGGGHHH!!!! > the now-really-annoying voice said.

<You've done nothing BUT get involved with guys involved with weirdness since high school. Since you first got involved with HIM. Admit it, move forward and get on with your life. At least admit to yourself that you still have feelings for him. You may be able to lie to other people, but you can't lie to yourself. >

< Okay, okay! Stop with the preaching, already! I admit it already! I...MIGHT...still have some feelings for him, all right? > she reluctantly acknowledged. < Happy now? But I'm not going to do anything about them! > she stated firmly. <They're in the past, and that's where they're going to stay. Cordelia Chase always moves forward. No going backwards for this girl, no sir! And doing anything about those feelings would be a big step backwards! Always heading forward! Yeah! That's me! Forward-looking Girl! Yeah! >

< And the important thing is that you believe that, > she heard that REALLY annoying little voice saying to her.

< And what's that supposed to mean? > she demanded irately. < Well?! > she asked, when she heard no response to her question.

As she sat there in the darkness, the room's silence broken only by the quiet breathing of the man in the bed and her own measured inhalations, the former Seer dropped her head into her hands in resignation.

< Oh god, I am *so* screwed, > she told herself, as she could feel the triumphant smirk of her conscience grinning down at her.

< Maybe Willow had the right idea, after all... >


Office of Naval Intelligence Imperial Battle Fleet Headquarters Birhat

"Good morning again, gentlemen. His Majesty has asked me to once more express his regrets that he's unable to be here this morning but urgent matters of state that have just surfaced require his immediate attention. He has asked me to reiterate one more time how much he and the rest of the Imperium appreciate your consenting to provide this opportunity to discuss your understanding of the unexplained phenomena involved in your appearance here and your cooperation with our studies of it."

The deep, mellow voice used by the artificial intelligence known as Dahak seemed to issue from no specific area, a fact that Giles still found the least bit disquieting, even as he glanced around the room to which he and Wesley had been escorted, where they were currently meeting with the various Imperial scientists, historians and theologians gathered around the conference table here, all of whom were practically frothing at the mouth in their eagerness to discuss and/or refute the basic underlying principles of the 'unexplained phenomena' that had delivered the refugees here.

While not a technophobe by any means, the ex-Watcher had never been overly comfortable when dealing with any form of electronics more complex than a pocket calculator. And the fact that he was now speaking directly with an artificial intelligence, a being who had apparently somehow managed to develop both self-awareness and a soul over the course of fifty millennia of solitary existence, and who currently resided in the bowels of the moon-sized planetoid that now orbited this planet, was much more disconcerting - by several orders of magnitude, at the very least, he judged.

Still, in principle, the noncorporeal nature of Dahak's existence was little different from that of the innumerable spirits the Council's libraries had annotated and investigated over the preceding twenty centuries. He just needed to readjust his new world view to encompass, if not necessarily embrace, the wonders this new world they had stumbled into contained.

And if by some chance these people possessed any methods by which he might somehow, someday, manage to return the smallest portion of his pain and suffering to those forces who had murdered his adopted children and forced the surviving members of his family to flee, then he'd not only embrace the wonders they offered, he'd incorporate them into his very soul.

Patience was, no doubt, a virtue that Dahak had integrated into his being over the course of his millennia long existence and something to which the Englishman could relate; it was possibly the *only* virtue that the Ripper had bothered to embody during his all-too-eventful earlier life.

As the old saying went, revenge was a dish best served cold. And if it was at all possible, Giles and Ripper were both going to shove the whole bloody dish down Spike and the First's throats.

If there was one thing that the part of him that was still, to this day, Ripper knew, it was the depths of revenge.

No matter how long it took, no matter what the cost to him personally might be, Spike and the First Evil *would* pay for their crimes.

Giles refocused his wandering thoughts to pay more attention to the disembodied voice, when he realized Dahak was addressing him directly.

"This is a completely new field of research for us, Mr. Giles, and your advice and insights are, quite literally, invaluable to our investigation."

"Please, Dahak, call me Giles," he responded to the AI's comments. "Most likely as a direct result of all the years during which I was required to associate with groups of nattering adolescents, I now find that the proper use of forms of address to be somewhat disquieting," he half-smiled, his comments drawing a quiet chuckle from most of the meeting's attendees, especially those who said they had teaching jobs of one sort or another.

"My colleague and I have discussed this matter in some depth over the course of the past few days, and we've decided, since we are far from the most qualified people to be addressing you on these matters, that we will, initially, simply provide the most commonly accepted definitions and hypotheses that had been developed in our native universe to explain the existence and methodology of magic," he stated, looking around at the various faces who were all staring at him intently. "We also ask that you keep in mind that neither of us was considered to be at all gifted as regards arcane ability, and accordingly, received only the most rudimentary training, as compared to the schooling and training available to those with more innate power and ability."

Looking around the room as he spoke, Giles noticed both Cordelia and Faith standing by the door, peering inside in evident interest at the various other attendees of the meeting. Faith was slightly behind the ex-Sunnydale-ian, rubbing her back in a show of support; even with their hosts' technology, the Seer's weakened condition was slow to heal. Seeing him looking at her, the former head cheerleader flashed him a brilliant smile and a 'thumb's up' gesture, indicating her approval of his performance, so far.

Obviously, the former May Queen found his ramblings to be of at least some interest, he decided, as he gave her a small nod of acknowledgement before forging onward.

"One of the most commonly accepted characteristics of magic, one that has been generally accepted by the overwhelming majority of practitioners, is that its power is derived mainly by suggestion and the focusing of attention, an assertion of the user's willpower or resolve to accomplish their intent, if you will. Such actions are generally referred to as casting spells. A successful working of magic has, for many practitioners, often depended upon being part of a social group which supports that belief, which explains the widespread existence of covens in our home world," the former Watcher stated, his words the focus of everyone present and of countless more observers who were witnessing the meeting courtesy of the Imperial communication network.

"As far as an explanation of what truly provides the energy that accomplishes the actualization of the spell's effects, adherents or practitioners generally believe that it may work by one or more of the following basic principles:

"Groups of more scientifically-inclined practitioners, who are nominally called Techno-pagans, have theorized that that there are natural forces that cannot be detected by science at present, and in fact may not be detectable at all. A - former colleague - believed that these magical forces exist in addition to, and alongside, the five already recognized forces of nature: gravity, electromagnetism, probability, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force," he continued, before pausing to take a sip of water and gesturing to Wesley to take over as he resumed his seat.

"Other groups believe that magic is the result of intervention of spirits similar to these hypothetic natural forces," the younger man seamlessly picked up the narrative as he stood up, drawing everyone's attention away from his fellow former Council member, "but possessing their own consciousness and intelligence, which may not necessarily prove to be completely congruent with our own. Believers in this theory insist that there likely exists a whole cosmos of beings of many different kinds, sometimes organized into a hierarchy, which is unknown and normally undetectable to us. At least as we far as we can perceive the universe at the present time," he qualified his statement.

"Still others believe that a mystical power, such as mana, exists in all things. This power is often said to be dangerous to humans since, because we cannot properly perceive it in our current incarnations, we are unable to utilize it properly, and it not only affects those things which the spell is intended to influence, but the caster and their surroundings, as well, and generally in a manner unfavorable to both the caster and anyone or anything in their vicinity," the former Watcher-turned-demon hunter noted.

"Some scholars have hypothesized that there exists an as-yet undiscovered and unrecognized interconnection in the cosmos that links and binds all things together, in a manner above and beyond the ways that we currently perceive is done by the five presently recognized natural forces," he continued.

"Additionally, some adherents of magical thinking believe that symbols can be used for more than simply representation. They believe that they are able to magically assume the physical qualities of the phenomenon or object that the symbol represents. This school of thought advocates that by manipulating symbols, one is then be able to manipulate the reality that the symbol represents.

"The accuracy of any of the preceding theories can be considered entirely a matter of opinion, since ample evidence existed in our home universe that could be construed as supporting or disproving each of them, depending upon how one interpreted the information provided," the former rogue demon hunter stated, glancing around the room and then looking over to Giles and nodding.

"We realize that everything we have just told you must certainly sound completely preposterous and might, indeed, well-nigh be considered unbelievable," Giles said, as he again resumed the role of orator. "Accordingly, we have arranged to provide some limited demonstrations of our abilities in several of the laboratories His Majesty has been gracious enough to provide us for research purposes.

"If you would all just follow me, we will next endeavor to provide you with what we believe will be more than sufficient evidence as to the veracity and authenticity of our claims..."


"I can't stress enough just how much we all appreciate your helping us out with this research, Dawn," Fleet Commander (Engineering) Vladimir Chernikov stated as he and the young brunette watched the Commander's crew of engineers, physicists, mathematicians and technicians swarming around the laboratory like a horde of ants at a picnic, checking that all of their equipment was properly positioned and calibrated and focused on the center of the cleared space that would be Ground Zero for *The Experiment* only a few short minutes from now.

The surprisingly large crowd of off-duty and/or just-curious-and-not-quite-believing-what-they'd-heard-might-be-happening onlookers who had managed to wheedle their way inside this section of the research facility lined the walls around the large chamber, most of them taking a random moment to covertly glance over at the statuesque beauty who was currently clad in the same navy blue one-piece Fleet uniform that everyone else was wearing.

Dawn felt a definite sense of comfort and reassurance fill her as she caught sight of everybody from the Scooby and Fang Gangs, save Xander and Cordy (whose turn it was to stay by Xander's side, while he recuperated), all standing in the front row of observers. The bewildered looks Lorne continued to draw from people around them, despite their presence here over the course of the last week, still made her grin with amusement, and each of her fellow refugees gave her encouraging smiles as they caught her eyes as she looked over towards them.

"Indeed, Dawn, the opportunity you are providing us is, quite literally, unprecedented in the entire history of the Imperium,"

Dahak's voice echoed just off of the Key's left side, managing to sound as though he was standing right next to her. "Words cannot begin to express the significance of this moment, and the virtually unlimited possibilities for research and discovery that will cascade forward from this moment are, without any exaggeration whatsoever, mind-boggling. And we mean it quite literally when we say that we could not accomplish any of this without you here to help us."

"I'm just glad I can help you guys out," Dawn replied quietly, looking over the varied and esoteric pieces of scientific paraphernalia dotting the lab's floor.

"It's not like there's anything else important that I could be doing," she noted a bit somberly, turning her attention back to the dark-haired engineer by her side.

Looking at him, you wouldn't think he was much more than approximately Wes's age, but according to the various bits and pieces of conversation she'd picked up over the past few days while killing time hanging around the various labs here and the information Dahak had given her in response to her questions, he was actually old enough to be Giles's father.

She shook her head in bemusement as she again considered that little bit of information. Vlad's youthful appearance was just one of the minor side-effects of the biotechnics that pretty much everyone in the Imperium possessed. Well, to be more precise, that nearly all of the adults in the Imperium possessed.

Apparently, until the doctors here were satisfied that your body was completely finished growing, you couldn't get a full set of biotechnics, which definitely sucked, since they included a laminar skeletal reinforcement with some kind of Imperial alloy that made the toughest alloys back home look like they were made of glass and muscular enhancements that would let the recipient give a Slayer a run for her money. The basic package, though, which children over the age of seven could receive, included enhanced tissue renewal treatments that improved the recipient's healing capability while also greatly retarding the aging process, a sensory booster package that sounded as though it provided the user with senses not much short of Superman's and enabled the beneficiary to exert almost total control over their entire metabolic system, including pain management, as Vlad had referred to it.

The first time she'd heard about that, her first thought had been to wonder exactly how long it would take until she could talk Xander into getting the upgrade package. Having been a devoted Xander Harris groupie/semi-stalker for nearly six years, since they had first moved to Sunny-Hell, Dawn was an expert in reading the brunet Scooby's body language, and she knew he had been in virtually constant pain over the course of the past week, ever since that bastard Caleb had gouged out his eye. Sure, he'd *said* he'd been taking his pills, but she was also completely certain that he hadn't been taking anywhere near the full dosage he'd been prescribed, because if he had, he would have been stretched out on the couch or his bed, sedated into unconsciousness from the strength of the dosages.

That body control capability, together with the sensory booster package, could restore Xander back to somewhere close to what he had been before the First and its minions had decided to show up and start fucking around with their lives like they were toys or playthings, to be used and abused any way they wished. Add in the skeletal-muscular reinforcement/augmentation thing and Xander would be kicking Spiderman's and Captain America's asses all around the block. Well, he would if either of the two cartoon characters had ever really existed, she mentally qualified her earlier statement.

All in all, it sounded as like pretty much anyone here could kick your typical Sunnydale vampire's ass with ease. It was a damn shame they hadn't met these people six months ago, back before -

Dawn broke off that train of train immediately, reminding herself of the reason why she was here right now: to let Vlad and Dahak and their people witness and begin their investigation into exactly how she could create portals.

"Okay, Dawn, we're ready anytime you are," she heard Vlad saying to her as she pulled herself back to the present and shoved images of torn-apart bodies, stunned and disbelieving blue-green eyes and blood pouring out of throats brutally ripped open back into the mental closet they had been shoved into. There'd be time enough later to deal with that stuff, she assured herself. Much later.

"Okay, then Vlad," she smiled up at the older man. "Let's get started, then."

Moving out to the carefully cleared center of the chamber, she took a last look around to make sure that there wasn't anyone else within the precisely marked parameters of area designated for the tests before speaking aloud.

"Dahak, set up the shields, please," she directed, smiling to herself as she caught sight of Horus MacIntyre, Colin's younger son and the male half of Their Majesties' second set of twins, quietly standing in the forefront of the watching crowd, next to Vlad. She also saw the wide smile on Faith's face as the dark-haired Slayer pointed out Horus's presence here, along with what she was sure Giles would describe as a lascivious wink as she glanced back at the Baron of Osir and gave the younger brunette a wide smile and a thumb's up, making Dawn blush slightly with embarrassment.

She had to admit, Faith was right; he did look kind of cute with that very Xander-ish expression of concern and unease on his face. And he did kind of resemble Xander, she idly mused, in that he was kind of tall and dark-haired like her former crush, although his eyes were a startling deep green, not like Xander's chocolate brown. Although they did seem to express that same kind of care and concern for others that the male Scooby's did, she had decided a few days past. And there was the hotness factor to be considered, too...

Shaking her head at the completely irrelevant thoughts that had slipped through her mind, the Key focused her attention on the task at hand as she caught the faint shimmer of the force field Dahak had created around her and the test area in which she was going to try to open a portal from the corner of her eye.

"Okay, here goes nothing," she murmured under her breath.

Focusing her attention and ignoring the rest of her surroundings the way Wes had been teaching her to do over the past four days, Dawn opened up the same pocket knife she had used to create the initial portal that had delivered them here and sliced a shallow furrow across her palm, just deep enough to let her blood begin flowing.

Dahak, Vlad, Baltan and Geran had all questioned Giles and Wes extensively about the necessity of her cutting her hand and providing an actual flow of blood in order to create a portal, and the two semi-practitioners had admitted readily enough their ignorance as to whether the blood was more symbolic or there was an actual need for the young brunette's lifeblood to be shed during the formation of a portal.

As Dahak had found the concept of a human being able to create and control an interdimensional gateway through their own personal efforts and without benefit of any form of technology to be both bewildering and disconcerting, he had spent the computer equivalent of several man-years of research attempting to develop a mathematical basis that would enable him to explain how such an accomplishment could be achieved. After extensive efforts, he'd finally managed to come up with several mutually-exclusive theorems that would appear to support the known facts, and now had every instrument in the lab focused on Dawn, eagerly anticipating any data that might be gleaned from the young brunette's efforts.

A soft collective gasp could be heard running through the chamber when a faint green radiance began illuminating the area surrounding the slender brunette, while a larger, oval-shaped area about three meters high by about four meters wide began glowing also, approximately fifteen meters away.

As everyone stood quietly and watched, fascinated by the unexpected appearance of the unknown luminescence, Dahak activated one of his remote sensing units and it floated up from the floor and began heading towards the shimmering oval.


Sandra Yvonne Tillotson Naval Hospital
Imperial Headquarters
Xander's hospital room

"So, X, what do we do now?"

Faith's ostensibly straightforward question, posed as the two of them, together with Rona, Vi and Gunn, watched the ending screen credits of a horror flick they had stumbled across while channel-surfing, encompassed more than just a simple request for suggestions as to how they might spend the next few hours, the brunet realized as he chafed from the enforced inactivity of being confined to a hospital bed.

Fortunately, he reflected to himself, that condition was of but a temporary status, lasting only until the medical treatments he was currently receiving had managed to repair all of the damage he had suffered upon their arrival. Had he suffered these injuries back home, even under the most optimum circumstances, he would have been considered fortunate to only be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, no matter how long or short that time span might be.

Here, however, in this world that seemed to be drawn straight out of the fevered, imaginary futures described in all the science fiction novels he had read during his younger, blessedly ignorant adolescent years, the damage to his spine and his other internal injuries could be healed over the course of a few short weeks. The things these people were capable of doing was, without any doubt whatsoever, nothing short of miraculous. In fact, if he'd correctly understood the various bits and pieces of information he'd overheard the medical staff here discussing, they could not only put him back together as good as new, they could make him even better than new!

Admittedly, his first impressions upon waking after their van had smashed into the wall of what these people referred to as the mat-trans chamber had been that he had been captured by Spike and some of the First's other minions, and that his inability to move was a result of some bizarre form of torture devised by the bleached-blond vampire's twisted mind.

His apprehension had not been helped in the least upon seeing an amalgamated horse lizard crocodile centaur-like demon enter his room and give him a wide, toothy smile.

The fact that the demon apparently spoke perfect English, albeit with a New England accent, and was asking him how he was feeling, along with the sunlight apparently streaming in through the window on the far wall of what looked to be a pastel blue decorated hospital room, was something that didn't seem to quite fit the demonic torture chamber scenario that he had instantly constructed in his mind upon first opening his eyes.

His misgivings had finally been completely banished upon the entrance of three beautiful brunette women, who had quickly swarmed him and buried him under a veritable storm of hugs, kisses and declarations of happiness and relief once they realized that he was now fully conscious and able to respond to their presence.

Dawn's tears of joy and relief had been echoed, though in a much more controlled and subtle fashion, by Cordy and Faith, although the latter was adamant in her insistence that the glistening in her eyes was merely an allergic reaction to some unidentified substance present in the hospital. ( "I don't do tears, Boytoy. They're for wimps.")

Since that time, at least one of the girls had been at his side constantly, whether it be surfing through the evidently unlimited number of holographic entertainment channels available to the residents of this universe or for something as quiet and uneventful as simply sitting and talking, or not talking, as the case may be.

Faith apparently had had a deck of cards with her since Sunnydale, and they put them to good use, even if she couldn't talk anybody into a game of strip poker.

In response to Xander's questions concerning the remaining members of the refugee group, Dawn had taken it upon herself to keep him informed of everyone's health and status, an activity the older members of the groups encouraged as a way to divert her attention from focusing on the calamitous and tragic events that had necessitated their fleeing their home universe.

Most likely as a result of his completely non-human physiology, Lorne, like Faith, Vi and Angel, had received only minor bruising and abrasions in the crash, while Wesley had fractured his left forearm and suffered a minor concussion, from which he had already recovered. Both Gunn and Connor, though, also had incurred severe injuries as a result of Angel's car impacting the wall of the mat-trans chamber after traveling through Dawn's portal, although none approached the seriousness of the former carpenter's. Giles, who had sustained numerous deep gashes across his torso, a severe concussion and head trauma while attempting to provide cover for the Scoobies' retreat once it had become evident that the battle beneath the high school had turned against them, had suffered several broken ribs and a badly bruised shoulder and hip during the crash. Dawn and Cordy were both suffering from relatively minor concussions, extensive bruising and numerous abrasions, much like the Slayers and Angel.

Rona's wounds, however, sustained in the course of her battles with the Turok-Han, had nearly proven fatal. Indeed, it was only because of the potency of the girl's enhanced Slayer healing capability that she had managed to endure as long as she had.

The swiftness and expertise with which the Fleet medical personnel had reacted to Lieutenant Kaminski's request for emergency medical response teams was the major factor in saving the newly Awakened Slayer's life, and the efficacy of her Slayer healing factor combined with the Imperium's quick-heal medical technology quickly had her back on her feet and reclassified as 'ambulatory personnel,' an upgrade that permitted her to move around the hospital and visit her injured comrades.

It would most likely be no more than another three days, five at the most according to their resident intern, before Xander would be up and about, too. And even if he wouldn't be in the best physical shape of his life, he'd at least be up and walking around, something that wouldn't be possible back home, since he, and the rest of their merry band of refugees would all most certainly be dead, or possibly just wishing they were.

Which brought him roundabout back to Faith's question; both the literal one and the implied one that accompanied it - what did they want to do with their lives, now that they wouldn't have to be spending them on the run, always looking over their shoulders for signs of pursuit by the First and its minions?

The first thing he needed to do, once he was up and about was to get together with Giles and figure out what exactly they needed to do to get Dawn the help she needed to deal with everything that had happened to her - hell, to all of them - back in Sunnydale. Not only had the younger Summers daughter lost the last two remaining female authority figures in her life at the same time, she had also been betrayed by someone that she, Buffy and Willow had grown to trust over the course of the past two years.

Xander took a moment from his ruminations to curse himself soundly and thoroughly one more time for not having ignored the others' opinions and staked that bleached blond bloodsucker at the first opportunity that occurred, and then lied and told the girls that Spike had left town in search of a way to remove the chip in his head.

< Would have saved us all a LOT of trouble, > he told himself. < And Will and Buffy would probably still be alive. Just one more screwup I made that cost us all dearly. >

The only thing he could do about it now, though, was to make sure that his fuck-ups didn't cause any more problems for Dawn. The way he saw it, it was his fault she was an orphan now, so it was up to him to take care of things until she was capable of taking care of herself. Once he was sure she was set up properly and would never have to worry about anything again, he'd get as far away from her as he could manage, so that he couldn't do any more damage to her life than he already had.

Maybe he'd take advantage of the offer Colin had made to them (And he *still* couldn't really believe that he was referring to the freakin' *Emperor* of this universe's human civilization by his first name, regardless of what the man might say!), and he'd take the set of biotechnics he'd been offered, then head on out into the big bad universe and see what trouble he could find out there. At least he'd be far away from Dawnie if he did that, and he wouldn't be around to fuck her life up any more than he already had. It wasn't like she really needed him around anymore; she had Giles, Faith and Cordy to watch out for her, if he wasn't around. Hell, even Deadboy and Wes would keep an eye on her if they thought there might be any kind of trouble.

As long as he wasn't around to screw things up, Dawn'd just fine.

He reached over and squeezed the Bostonian's hand. "Well, I think Channel 374 is televising live coverage of the Academy's third year midshipmen's field exercises, so unless someone else objects, we can watch that," he answered the brunette beauty's nominal question.

"And if you're talking about what I'm thinking about doing beyond next week, aside from getting out of this bed here, I'm kind of open to suggestions at the moment," he admitted to the Dark Slayer. "I've been spending so much time the past few weeks planning what to do short-term, I really don't have any ideas about what to do long-term.

"Do any of you guys have any ideas?" he returned the question to the surrounding audience.

"Hell, what with Jasmine and all the other shit we've been dealing with lately, it seems like planning on living to see tomorrow *was* planning long-term," Gunn commented with a dour look on his face.

"But if you're asking what I'd *like* to do in the future, I wouldn't mind going back home and killing every mother-humping vampire or demon I can find," the dark-skinned demon fighter added quietly, the look on his face making it clear that he was thinking of his murdered girlfriend.

"Gotcha on that one, Big G," Faith nodded her head in agreement. "If I ever got the chance to go back, I'd be looking to shove a stake through ol' Spikey-Boy's black little heart. But I'd be shoving it up his ass, to get it there!" she predicted, with a truly feral smile on her face as she contemplated the image her words conjured up.

"Y'know, for some reason, that image brings a smile to my lips, Faith," Xander told her, as vague dreams of the vengeance he'd like to wreak on both their betrayer and the First Evil passed through his mind.

Images of Spike being slowly immersed in a bathtub filled with holy water alternated with others of the blonde vampire crucified on a cross facing the rising sun before his mental eyes, while visions of him looking down at their betrayer, manacled to a hospital bed with an intravenous line hooked into a vein, and his own work-hardened hands attaching a pint bag of holy water to the IV line seduced him with their glorious promises of vengeance.

And as far as the First was concerned, he'd like to rip that immaterial bastard's heart out of its chest and grind it into powder while the ghostly sonuvabitch watched.

He'd like to smash every aspect of every hope and dream it ever had into tiny, little pieces and then piss on the fragments while it watched, just like it had done to him.

He wanted to destroy everything the First cared about, everything it had *ever* cared about, to annihilate whatever those things might be, to wipe them from existence and make it as if they had never existed at all.

He almost scared himself, he hated the First Evil so deeply and intensely. He'd never felt this way about anyone or anything before this. Even years back, when he'd hated Angelus, it hadn't approached the intensity or passion he felt now. If he could be assured that the First would be destroyed, completely, totally and irrevocably, he'd sell his soul in a moment, without a second thought about it; that's how much he hated it. And he'd hate it for every second of every minute of every day of the rest of his life.

According to the information Dahak had given them, with the enhanced tissue renewal package included in the biotechnic package they'd all been offered, the life expectancy of the typical Imperial citizen was nearly six standard Terran centuries.

That was going to give him a LOT of time to figure out some way to make that bastard pay.

He squeezed Faith's hand again. "There're a lot of debts gonna come due, someday..."

"Don't worry, Boytoy," she said with a shark-toothed smile that even the old Faith would have found terrifying. "We're all gonna be there to collect, one way or another.

"With a LOT of vig on top."