Part 10

#

"How many of them are there?" Buffy peeked around the corner of the high school building, trying to make out their attackers.

"At least one more sniper," Angel said. "I make out two vampires, plus at least two demons whose species I can't place."

The one good thing about the battle so far was the fact that the attackers' targets had soon become evident. The yellow demon had seen the others barricade themselves in the storage room, but had gone right past them to follow Buffy, Angel, and Faith. No one seemed interested in Giles and the others, they were only hunting the Slayers and the vampire.

Which was just fine with them.

Buffy closed her eyes and inhaled, picking up the scent of a human moving in closer to them. He was creeping up behind their position, the smell of gun oil clinging to his form. There was also a demon close by, not the yellow one, but she could not quite make out his location. Somewhere in the underbrush behind the parking lot.

"You take the sniper," she whispered to Angel. "Faith, yellow guy is yours. I'll try and track down that other demon that's sneaking around here."

"What about the vamps?" Faith whispered back.

"Can't locate them right now," she admitted. "Let's hope the others aren't in danger."

"Should we double back and make sure?"

"We would lead the others right back to them. The gang can handle two vampires." I hope, she added silently.

#

"Can you hear anything?"

Giles was leaning his head against the door, trying to pick up any sounds from outside. There was nothing but silence, though.

"It appears the fight has moved away from us," he told the others, who were slowly recovering from the gas.

"Who were these guys?" Xander looked at the others. "Any clue?"

"None whatsoever," Giles admitted, though he had a feeling that it was once again connected to everything else that had happened to them recently. He doubted that it was a coincidence that they were subjected to an organized attempt at their lives on the same day that Xander had gotten out of prison and Buffy and Angel had visited the scene of Amy's murder.

"They seem to be after our three super people, though," Oz added, still wheezing from the gas. "I mean, so far no one has tried ..."

There was a disgusting, slurping noise right outside the door and moments later a gray, oozy substance began to pour in below the door.

"This is not good," Giles mumbled, inching back.

#

Lyle Gorch looked at the gray slime thing that was trying to get into the room that held the Slayer's human friends and made a face.

"Now that's really disgustin'!"

Candy, his wife, stood beside him and looked even more revolted than he did.

"Ya think this thing will kill'em, honey?"

"Ah doubt it'll want to make nice."

#

Angel had managed to take out the second sniper with but one gunshot wound to show for it when he saw something really disturbing. He was on the roof of the high school, where the sniper had tried to get a good position to kill them, and could see most of the surrounding area that had been turned into a battlefield.

Faith was fighting the yellow demon and seemed to be holding her own, despite the fact that her knife was a lot smaller than the organic blades the demon used. He did not see Buffy, but he felt her moving through the underbrush near the parking lot, clearly on the hunt.

He also saw a faint trail of gray slime leading into the school.

"Great," he mumbled, jumping off the roof and sliding his sword out of the spine sheath. "Faith's slimy friend is here."

As if they did not have enough trouble already.

#

"What is this thing?"

Giles motioned for them all to get back, trying to keep himself from panicking. Which was not all that easy, given what was breaking down the door right now. The only door leading out of the room, to be precise.

"This must be the slime demon Faith encountered," he told the others.

"Why a slime demon?" Cordelia complained. "If we are to die at a demon's hands, why does it have to be a slime demon of all things?"

More of the gray mass was oozing through the door, which was reduced to a broken wreck by now, torn apart by the pressure put against it. Giles dimly saw two figures out in the corridor, but as they were not rushing in to help he felt it safe to assume that they were part of the attackers.

Probably wanted to make sure that no one made it out of here alive.

"The only way to kill it is to hack it into pieces you said, right?" Oz was standing beside Giles, wishing that Willow had already gotten around to modifying Amy's spell for him. If he could have shifted into his wolf form at will then maybe he would be able to do something here. Something other than dying, that was.

"It's mass must be reduced below the critical level," Giles nodded.

"How many pieces is that?"

"I have no idea."

"Do we have anything to cut it into pieces with?" Xander asked, which caused Oz to produce a pocket knife. "Great," Xander groaned.

#

"Honey," Candy said to Lyle, "shouldn't we go lookin' for the Slayers and Angelus? They're the ones that'll bring us the bounty."

Lyle was busy watching through the busted door as the slime demon crept towards the humans inside, but the mention of the money managed to shake him loose.

"You're right, honey. Maybe we should let'em know their buddies are in trouble. I'm sure that would have come a'runnin'."

"A little late for that," a voice came out of nowhere and Lyle Gorch had just enough time to see that it was Angelus who had spoken before a sharp blade separated his head from his shoulders. Candy jumped back, screaming as her husband crumbled into dust.

Angelus looked at her. "Still interested in the money?"

Candy didn't need to be told twice and ran for her unlife.

#

"Now would be a really great time for a last-minute rescue," Cordelia screeched as they pressed back against the wall. The slime demon had reformed into a semi-humanoid shape and was still coming toward them in eerie silence, broken only by the squishing it produced with every step.

Without warning something slashed right through the figure's chest, effectively cleaving it in two. The demon crumbled into puddles, revealing Angel standing behind it with a sword in hand.

"Get out, quickly!"

No one needed more encouragement than that, especially seeing as the slime was already moving once more. As the others stormed past him Angel raised his blade again, unable to help the thought that was popping into his head as he watched the slime reform itself.

This was going to be disgusting.

#

By the time Buffy finally caught up with the second demon she had had to evade two bear traps, a weighted capture net, a razor tripwire, and several other nasty surprises someone had put up around Sunnydale High. She also kept worrying about who would clean up this area before unsuspecting students would arrive in the morning, but thankfully she remembered it was a Friday night.

The demon looked human except for his hands, which were claws, and the abundance of facial hair, which left little more than his eyes and mouth bare. The moment he spotted her he tried to skewer her with a thrown spear, which she evaded, and then shot at her with a bow, forcing her to catch the arrow. He also moved extremely fast, Buffy barely able to lay a finger on him.

She finally managed to get a solid hit on him, the impact carrying him back into a tree, when she heard the sound of an exploding wall. Turning around she saw that one of the school's walls had exploded outward, courtesy of the large spurt of gray slime that was only now trickling to a stop.

Leaving a motionless body lying in a puddle of the stuff. A body dressed all in black.

"Angel!" Buffy forgot all about her own opponent and started running toward the slime demon that was even now reforming all around her lover, seeking to trap him inside its own form. Unfortunately her opponent had not forgotten about her and threw something at her from behind.

Buffy had never seen a bola, but that did not change its effectiveness. The steel string wrapped around her body in a flurry, pinning her arms to her side, tying her legs together. Buffy stumbled and fell, unable to even soften the impact with the ground.

The demon rose and came toward her with a knife in his hand.

#

Part 11

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Giles, Willow, Oz, Cordelia, and Xander had managed to reach the end of the corridor when the crash of the exploding wall caused all of them to duck. Turning around they saw a big hole where a wall should have been, the edges still dripping with gray slime.

Angel was nowhere to be seen.

"He's in trouble," Willow said under her breath.

"Gross," Cordelia added, watching the dripping slime. "Why did it have to be slime?"

Giles did not say anything, but he saw the sword that Angel had been holding a second ago lying abandoned on the floor of the corridor, also covered in slime. Needing but a moment to overcome his inner revulsion he ran back, grabbed the sword from the floor, and jumped out through the gaping hole.

"What's he doing?" Cordelia looked after him. "He isn't going to ... is he?"

Xander was frozen. For a moment he played with the same thought, going after Angel, helping him. Maybe if he saved Angel then Buffy would forgive him, some very selfish part of his mind added. Was that not how it always went in the movies? All he needed was come through for them, show Buffy that he was really here to help, and everything would be okay again. She would thank him for saving Angel, maybe even ...

Willow was clutching Oz, while Cordelia seemed to be involved in a struggle between fear and disgust. And Xander? Xander just stood there, frozen.

#

Faith was covered in cuts and bruises, but she finally managed to bury her knife in the yellow demon's throat, finishing him off after a good ten minutes of fighting. She was panting and out of breath, hurting all over, but given that her senses were still tingling she doubted that now was the time to rest.

A loud crash drew her attention to the wall of the school, just in time to see Angel making a hard impact with the parking lot ground, covered with gray slime and remains of the wall he had been knocked through.

"Oh great," Faith swore. "Slimer is back!"

The creature began to reform even as she started running toward it, Angel still down and seemingly out. Faith did not know whether she would be able to cut that thing into enough pieces using only her knife. Maybe she should have swiped a sword from Giles' weapons locker after all.

She was halfway toward Angel and the slime demon when she heard another sound from the opposite direction. There was Buffy at the edge of the underbrush, crashing to the ground as some kind of rope or string wrapped itself around her body. Another demon, one with a wicked-looking knife, was stalking right toward her.

"Shit!" Faith knew she could not reach both Angel and Buffy in time.

#

"The weapons locker," Willow suddenly called out, startling the others.

"What?"

"If everyone is out there we can go get Giles' weapons. Don't you think the guys are gonna need them?"

Everyone started running back to the library. Xander hesitated but a moment, then snapped out of it and followed.

#

Buffy struggled against her bonds, but the steel string was just wrapping tighter around her body. She simply could not get enough leverage to snap them.

"Don't bother," the demon coming toward her growled. "I've hunted Slayers before. I know your strength."

"Tough guy, eh?" Buffy managed to turn enough to look at him. "Why are you doing this? Is it a demon pride thing or what?"

"The thrill of the hunt." He knelt down beside her, moving the knife toward her throat. "Plus the very high monetary reward for delivering your head, pretty Slayer."

"Reward? Who put out a reward on us?"

Buffy never learned whether he had planned to answer her or would have just slit her throat, because at that moment Faith jumped the demon, knocking him over until the two of them tumbled across the dirty ground in a tumble of arms and legs.

"Faith, Angel needs help," Buffy yelled, not really thinking about the fact that the knife had been awfully close to her throat.

"G-man is handling it," Faith yelled back, delivering a kick that knocked the demon off his feet once more. The knife fell from his hand and came to rest right next to Buffy, who wasted no time grabbing on to it.

"Big heap Slayer hunter, are you?" Faith's voice was ringing from somewhere behind a tree, lost to sight. "Why don't you show me your big gun?"

The only sounds she heard from the demon were pain-filled.

Her fingers finally reached the knife and moments later the steel string broke, finally freeing her. Buffy jumped to her feet, looking around. Faith did not seem to need any help, which reminded her of someone who might. The reason she had turned her back on the demon in the first place.

"Angel," she yelled, running out into the parking lot.

Her lover was no longer motionless, now weakly struggling against gray slime that was trying to swallow him whole. Giles was there, hacking into the stuff with Angel's sword, but not doing too much good. Whatever pieces he hacked off reattached within seconds.

Buffy just gripped the demon's knife harder and jumped into the slime.

#

Xander and Oz stormed out of the school entrance, armed with swords and crossbows, shortly followed by Willow and Cordelia who were also armed to the teeth. All four of them skidded to a stop, though, when they saw the mess in front of them.

"Eeew," was Cordelia's only comment.

Buffy, Angel, and Giles were sitting on the concrete, all three of them covered head to foot in gray slime and looking rather beat.

"Where is the slime thing?" Willow held her sword out in front of her, seeming more likely to put out someone's eye rather than slay demons. "Where is it?"

"Over there," Angel said, pointing toward a parking car.

"And over there," Giles pointed in the other direction.

"And way over there," Buffy finished, making a sweeping motion all around her.

"And may I just add, eeeew!" Cordelia turned away.

Faith strolled toward them with a smile on her face, made all the more scary by the spots of blood on her cheeks. Slung over her shoulder was some kind of leather strap with lots of teeth fastened to it, some of them yellow with age, others pearly white.

"Hunter guy got demoted to hunted," she told the others. "He got some wicked cool trophies, though."

She looked at the three people sitting in the slime. Giles was shaking his head at his ruined suit, Angel discarded his equally ruined leather coat, which hit the pavement with a wet slurp, and Buffy seemed on the verge of despair seeing the disaster that was her long blonde hair. Faith's lips spread into a full-fledged grin.

"Don't worry, B, it'll only take about six hours of showering to get that stuff off, no more."

Angel, Buffy, and Giles just looked at for a moment, then simultaneously started throwing remains of the slime demon at her. Within a minute all eight people present found themselves involved in yet another battle, though not all of them voluntarily.

"EEEEEEW!" Cordelia's scream could be heard across half of Sunnydale.

#

Part 12

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They spent the rest of the night making extensive use of the gymnasium shower stalls, breaking open a few lockers to get their hands on the necessary soap-based products. Giles was not happy about the latter, truth be told, but when faced with the alternative of staying in his slime-soaked clothes even one more second he relented, planning to recompense the appropriate parties come Monday.

When Xander finally emerged from the shower, feeling more or less clean and dressed in mismatched exercise clothing he had scrounged from his own much neglected gym locker, he found Cordelia sitting outside, looking at the first hints of dawn on the horizon.

"Cordy," he called out softly, approaching her. She tensed for a moment, then proceeded to ignore him.

Xander sat down beside her. "Can we talk? Please?"

"About what? The incredible denseness that is your brain or some other topic for once?"

Xander sighed, resting his head on his hands and trying not to get too excited about a still-wet Cordy sitting beside him, dressed in the only outfit she had had available at school. Her cheerleading uniform.

"Tonight is the Homecoming Queen coronation, isn't it?"

Cordelia seemed a bit confused by the topic, but nodded.

"So ... I figure you're gonna win, right?"

"I might. Though I did not have the time to campaign properly, seeing as some idiot was causing a lot of trouble around Sunnydale at the time."

She was not going to let this go, was she? Well, he deserved nothing less than that.

"I wanted to apologize," Xander finally said, looking at her.

Cordelia looked back at him, no give in her eyes. If Xander thought she was going to make this easy for him he had another thing coming.

"I wanted to apologize," he repeated, "for not telling you how I really felt about you. Cordy, I ... I never saw you as second-best to Buffy, you have to believe that."

"Do I?" She snorted at him. "And why do I have to, seeing as all you ever did was prove it over and over again?"

"I had a crush on Buffy for a long, long time," he confessed, "but I think around Halloween last year I realized that it would never come to anything. Buffy loved Angel, there was nothing I could do about that."

"Did not keep you from trying."

"No, it didn't. I guess ... I guess by that time it was habit. Or maybe I was just angry at Angel for taking something away from me. Something I never had in the first place."

He shook his head. "What I'm trying to say, Cordy ... it had nothing to do with you, I promise. What I feel for you has nothing to do with Buffy, Angel, or any of that bullshit I did during the last few months."

He fell silent, just looking at her, until Cordelia snorted again. "What are you expecting me to do now, Xander? Fall into your arms and sob that I forgive you? Newsflash, Xander! Not on your best day!"

"I didn't ... Cordy, I know I will need a lot of time to make up for ..."

"Zip it! You're a waste of space, Xander Harris, and I hope whatever remained of that demon who possessed me to give you the time of day in the first place was suffocated in that gray slime out there."

Cordelia rose and walked back inside, leaving Xander sitting by himself. Why did this have to be so hard? He was sorry for what he did, could they not just believe him when he said that? It was true, could they not tell?

Probably not.

#

Faith had not planned to eavesdrop on the conversation between Xander and Cordelia, but when she heard them talking around the corner she could not help but listen. A minute later she melted back into the shadows as Cordelia walked by, face stoic and emotionless, but with a hint of tears in her eyes.

Faith was not the best when it came to picking up emotions from the people around her, but one thing was painfully obvious. Cordelia still cared for Xander, though she might hate herself for it.

Which once again left Faith with a feeling of loneliness. She had friends now, good friends, plus a woman who was almost like a mother to her, but she was missing one thing. One thing she had never had before, one thing she desperately wanted. Some part of her kept saying that she should be happy with all she had gained in so short a time, but she did not listen.

Instead she wondered if there was anyone out there who would ever cry because he or she could not help but love her, no matter what she did.

#

Mr. Trick wished that he had ignored the ringing of the phone.

"I must say, Mr. Trick," Mayor Richard Wilkins said in his usual friendly tone, "that the people you hired for this job performed anything but stellar."

"Mr. Mayor, the people you want killed are not your garden-variety easy prey. They destroyed two very old Master Vampires, defied the Order of Taraka, and killed more of my brothers than anyone I would care to meet. Did you really expect this to be easy?"

"I expected you to deliver me quality personnel."

Trick was rapidly growing tired of this talk. He was also growing tired of the Mayor of Sunnydale, Sunnydale and general, and anything associated with Slayers and vampires with souls.

"Mr. Mayor, you asked for my consultation in regard to hiring assassins. I did not give any guarantee in regard to their ability to accomplish the job, I just said that they were the best one could hire on short notice and you said that you were satisfied with that."

He had that in writing, thankfully.

The Mayor sighed deeply. "Be that as it may, Mr. Trick, I still have my original problem. I ..."

"I am afraid my calendar is quite full at the moment, Mr. Mayor," Trick interrupted him. "I have some important business to attend to these next few weeks."

"I see," Wilkins just said.

"Good day to you, Mr. Mayor," Trick said before hanging up the phone, thankful that this was over with. Despite the money he had made from his business in Sunnydale he had developed a severe dislike for Mayor Richard Wilkins III. and did not plan to ever work for him again. Honesty forced him to admit that enough money might yet change his mind, but for now he was just satisfied to be far away from Sunnydale and its very troublesome population.

"And Mr. Mayor," he spoke to himself, "if you're worrying about the Slayers and their friends, well, I left them a little surprise that should keep them occupied for a while."

No one should say that Mr. Trick did not do his best to ensure client satisfaction, even if he could not stand said client.

#

When dark fell over Sunnydale once more the Homecoming Queen coronation began at the Bronze. Buffy and Angel were there, as well as Willow and Oz. Faith had dressed up for what she thought was only the second or third time in her life and busy scouting the local guy scene, but not having much luck. If one defined luck as finding something more than guys willing to spend the night, that was. Xander had shown, but was busy standing in a corner and wondering whether being ignored by Buffy and Cordelia was a good or a bad thing right now.

Cordelia did not win the Homecoming Queen, but somehow she was not really as upset about that as she had figured she would be. She also figured out that she was quite upset about other things, one thing in particular, but refused to spend too much time thinking about it.

Some distance away from the Bronze was one of Sunnydale's larger cemeteries, Sunny Rest. Three nights earlier the body of Amy Madison had been found dead in her house. One night ago she had been buried, which was quick even for Sunnydale standards. There had been no autopsy, which was also quite unusual in a murder case.

Amy Madison's body had been in the ground for little more than 24 hours when something that was definitely not Amy Madison burst free from her grave.

THE END