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I'm British, so's my spelling. Live with it.
In room 704, the operations centre, a flat-panel CCTV monitor showed the view inside room 709, picked up by a tiny fibre-optic lens pushed under the door. Patricia Craig was sitting on the floor by a table, with a small girl held against her chest. She was holding the girl with a knife at her throat. There was another child on the bed; both children looked terrified.
"I think that's Dorothy Jones she's holding," said the hostage negotiator, "Rachel Jones is on the bed. Dorothy is six, Rachel is eight."
"What about the parents?" asked Brass.
"Brian and Suzanne Jones. Must be locked in the bathroom, or somewhere out of shot of the camera. Maybe lying on the floor behind the bed where we can't see them."
Willow sat on the floor, wearing a hands-free telephone headset, trying to match the position shown on the screen as closely as she could. When she was ready she said "Okay, ring her phone and patch me through."
There was a few seconds delay, then Willow heard the ring tone.
"Come on," said Willow, "pick up the phone."
"I'm surprised you're letting her do this," Grissom whispered to Brass.
"I agree with you that both women are dangerous," he replied, "but now I've talked to Miss Rosenberg I'm sure that they're doing their best to help. Sometimes we need dangerous people."
"You're sure she didn't do something to you? Cast a spell or something?"
"More or less. I didn't like what she was saying, if she'd been using magic I think the conversation would have gone very differently."
"Come on, Patricia, answer," said Willow.
"I'm questioning everything I've done since I've met her," said Grissom. "I get the feeling that Nick, Catherine, and I have been just a little too ready to go along with their suggestions."
"If half of what we've been told about her is true she could have us licking her boots if she wanted to," said Brass. "Either she's not doing anything, or she's pulling her punches so as not to hurt us. Either way, it doesn't look like she's dangerous to us or out of control."
"Let's hope you're right."
Willow moved her hand, as though picking up a phone from the table. "Yes?" said the voice in everyone's earphones.
"Patricia Craig? My name is Willow Rosenberg."
"So you want to speak to the Slayer, Patricia. Convince me that you deserve to."
"What the hell is this?" whispered the hostage negotiator.
"Calm down," whispered Brass, "I think she knows what she's doing."
"What do you mean?" said Patricia.
"She's a busy woman. You know, vampires to stake, demons to slay. Why should she drop everything for you?" Her lips began to move in time with Patricia's words.
"I've got hostages."
"Which is why I'm talking to you at all. What is it you want?" As she spoke to Patricia, Willow changed her position slightly, exactly matching Patricia's movements on-screen.
"I want to meet the Slayer, face to face."
"Will you release your hostages first?"
"Then why should I waste the Slayer's time."
"I know she's in Las Vegas. I heard about the vampire nest. Tell the Slayer that if I don't meet her, face to face, these people die."
"That was last year, Patricia, the Slayer's moved on."
"Then move her back, Watcher." There was a click as she hung up the phone.
Willow shook herself, then stood. "So much rage..."
"Do you know what she wants?" asked Brass.
"I underestimated her. Thought she just wanted to die, but she's more ambitious than that."
"It's me, isn't it," said Faith. "She wants to kill me."
"Okay," said Grissom, "I guess I can understand the basic idea. She's been told that whenever a Slayer dies a Potential takes her place. What I don't understand is why she thinks it'll be her."
"She's seen Highlander?" suggested Faith, "'There can only be one?'"
"I think that's pretty much it," said Willow. "except I doubt that she consciously thinks of it in quite those terms. She thinks that if she's powerful enough to defeat the Slayer she'll take her place. It's as simple as that."
"What about the hostages? What does she think of them?"
"They're expendable. Totally. She can see all four of them, the parents are tied up on the floor behind the bed, but she isn't really thinking of them, except maybe as bait. There's no compassion in there, no remorse."
"I've come across vampires with more respect for human life - and I'm not talking about Angel or Spike here. Something's burned out any compassion she might once have had."
"Sounds like a sociopath," said Grissom.
"I think she's got the idea that it's okay if a few people get hurt if at the end of the day she's a better fighter, a more efficient monster killer. She's wrong, any Slayer that's worth a damn has total emotional commitment. I've been inside Buffy's mind, seen where the power comes from. Same with Faith, although she shows it differently."
"Now I'm getting annoyed," said Faith.
"Don't pretend it isn't true. Three years ago you could have walked away, gone free with nobody on your trail. You gave it all up to save a bunch of strangers. You nearly got killed saving Angel just a couple of days ago."
"I was never good at walking from a fight," Faith said uncomfortably.
"Earlier you said something about controlling her magically," said Grissom. "Do you think that's possible now you've spoken to her?"
"I'm not sure," said Willow. "There's so much rage there, so much determination.. Getting her to do something would be really difficult. And she's sitting there with her knife at the throat of a little girl. We can't afford to try and find out I can't. By the same token I can't try to make her sleep, or anything like that, there's too much chance that she'd kill her before she went under. All of the other ways to attack her from a distance run into the same problem."
"What other ways are there?" asked Grissom.
"With the power that's available here I could teleport in there, take Faith with me, but it takes several seconds. It'd surprise her, I guess, but so would kicking the door down and it can go wrong in exactly the same ways."
"That's no good," said Brass, "anything else?"
"Nothing you'd want me to try. They're all too slow and uncertain. The fastest thing I've thought of so far is a sort of voodoo technique, I tune into her mind again, get her feeling what I'm feeling, then someone zaps me with a Taser or something, I transmit the pain to her. Trouble is she'd probably jerk and cut the kid's throat by reflex."
"You'd let someone do that to you?"
"If I thought it would work."
"What about the gun?" asked Brass. "She's got the knife and the kid in her hands, what's she done with the gun."
"On the table by the phone."
"Damn," said the SWAT commander, "given how she's holding the kid, there's no way we can be sure to take her. Even if we have total surprise going through the door she'd have time to kill the kid. I saw the tape, her reflexes have to be way too good."
"Okay," said Faith, "let's assume that the only way to do this is to fight her one on one, the way she wants. Does she expect Buffy or would any Slayer do?"
"I think we have to assume she's expecting Buffy," said Grissom. "She didn't exactly hide when she was here. Dozens of people could have described her."
"You're right," said Willow, "when she mentioned the Slayer there was a definite mental image. Kinda idealised, like Buffy crossed with Xena."
"Then the First hasn't been messing with her mind," said Faith. "or she'd look exactly like the real thing but be even more of a bitch."
"I think you're right. Whatever's going on in Patricia's head, it's home grown."
"Okay, can you make me look like Buffy? Like her version?"
"A seeming? Easy." She concentrated for a moment, and Faith's appearance changed, gradually morphing to a muscular blonde with a bandolier of stakes. "I can fine-tune it any way you like, all it takes is some concentration. But it won't last more than a few minutes once I stop concentrating."
"Okay. Can you protect the hostages somehow, long enough for me to take her, if I go in through the door? Or the window?"
"That's difficult. Invulnerability, force fields, stuff like that you usually need contact, or at least to be able to see the subject, and not just on TV. She's actually holding the kid so... no, not a chance."
"I didn't say we needed the kid, or anyone else in that room, to be indestructible. I just don't want them getting hurt. Could you.. I dunno, magic away her weapons?"
"She's still got hands, even without Slayer strength she has the martial arts moves, she could do a lot of harm before you got to her. Making the weapons vanish might be enough to trigger her."
"Okay, that's out. Any other way to protect them? Doesn't matter if it protects her too, provided it lets me get the hostages out first, or get her apart from them."
"I have an idea," said Grissom. "It's probably not a good one. Willow, you've been saying that if you use major magic the most likely side effect will be strange luck."
"That's right," said Willow. "The power in this city comes from gambling, how else would it show?"
"Could you do it deliberately? Make the hostages so lucky that no harm can come to them?"
"Goddess... you know, that could actually work. But she'd be lucky too, I couldn't make it miss her out."
"Makes it more of a fair fight," said Faith. "Let's do it. I'll go in from the window of the room above, more impressive than the door. Will, concentrate on keeping the hostages safe first, then give me backup. Everyone else, stay out of it until I've taken her out, anything you try to do will probably end up working for her."
"One thing, Faith... better not use any weapons. With the sort of luck she's gonna have you'd end up cutting off your own nose."
"No problem, I think I'll enjoy slapping this bitch around."
"Okay. This is going to be a magical ritual, invoking several goddesses, and for the best results I'll need some props. The main thing is something to generate a lot of random probabilities; coins would be best, but they need to be real gold or silver, failing that some dice, expensive ones. A silver pail to throw them from. Some wine to offer to the goddesses, a good Italian red and a bottle of Greek retsina, the most expensive you can find. Oh, and I'm probably gonna ruin this carpet. Can you do all that?"
Brass thought, nodded. "The dice would be easier to get in a hurry, there's a casino supply house just a couple of blocks away. How many dice?"
"Let's say a hundred."
"Okay, no problem. Say twenty minutes to have everything here."
"Faith, as soon as we have everything I'll cast the seeming again, then you should get ready to go in. It'll take me about five minutes to do the luck spell after that."
"Five by five. Just tell me when you're ready for me to go in."
"Okay," said Willow. "Everyone stay back. And try not to do anything that can be affected by chance, the luck I'm gonna pump into that room has to come from somewhere and it just might be here." She moved to a section of floor that had been cleared of furniture and began the invocation.
"Goddesses, hear my plea. Earth Mother, aid this charm. Eleos, goddess of mercy, aid this charm. Tyche, Fortuna, goddesses of luck, aid this charm. Your humble supplicant beseeches your intercession for the innocent. I offer you a libation of wine..." She walked in a circle, chanting a mixture of Greek and Latin, holding a bottle in each hand and slowly pouring them onto the carpet in a complex crossover pattern, staying inside the circle. As she completed the circuit the lines began to emit a golden glow, and the watching police could see that it was also coming from her skin. "...This aid I ask for the innocent, and in the name of luck, by the intercession of the goddesses. So mote it be." She picked up the pailful of dice and poured them around the circle. The light became blinding, then slowly faded to a gentle glow. Willow staggered, said "Do it!", and collapsed to her knees. Brass gave Faith the signal through his radio. He and Grissom moved forward, but Willow said "I'm okay, stay out of the circle." They stood a few feet back, gradually realising that every one of the dice was in one or another of the loops of the pattern on the floor and showing a six.
"Don't ever let the Gaming Commission know about this," said Brass.
Disguised by the earlier spell, Faith dropped from the window of room 809, caught the top of the window frame of 709, and jackknifed her heels into the window to smash the glass. Shards flew everywhere, but miraculously nobody was hurt. Patricia flinched back, somehow pushing the flat of her knife against Dorothy's throat instead of the edge.
"Ding dong," said Faith, landing in a crouch, "Slayer calling."
Patricia threw the child to one side, somehow without hurting her, and leaped forward at Faith, knife in hand. Faith dropped, avoiding the blow rather than trying to parry it, but Patricia caught her forehead with the hilt, drawing first blood. "Lucky," grunted Faith. They began to circle,
On the floor Suzanne Jones realised that hands were free, the rope that had secured them cut by a piece of flying glass. She began to work on her husband's bonds, staying down to stay out of the way of the fighting women. Rachel was still bound but wriggled onto the floor on the other side of the bed and tried to work her way over to her dazed sister.
Faith and Patricia traded blows, neither able to penetrate the other's defences. Faith's tactics were paying off, her skill, speed, and strength just countering Patricia's skill and luck.
In the circle Willow rose to her feet and began to chant again, watching the scene shown on the monitor, her eyes and hair turning black. She was floating a few inches above the floor. Both children seemed to blur then vanished from 709, reappearing between the conjuring circle and the waiting police in 704. They lay there, shaken but unharmed, and Catherine and Grissom lifted them clear and began to untie them.
In 709 Faith's blows began to connect, and she guessed that Patricia's luck was starting to run out. Patricia seemed to realise it too and began to fight more aggressively, trying to finish things quickly.
Willow vanished from the circle, reappearing above the bed in 709. Abruptly the power sustaining her vanished and she fell in a crouch. Simultaneously the circle in 704 stopped glowing. Willow gasped "luck's gone" and fainted, her nose bleeding and her hair fading back to red. Faith countered Patricia's blows and moved to the offensive, finally able to use her strength and speed aggressively. The fight was over in seconds, and the police burst in to mop up.
"What exactly happened there?" Grissom asked, once Willow was on her feet again.
"Pretty simple, really," said Willow. "I made everyone in that room lucky to protect the hostages, but with that much luck Patricia might have been able to beat Faith. So as soon as I could I began to take the luck away again, first by rescuing the kids then by going in myself. Teleporting is about the hardest spell there is, really eats power."
"So you went in there knowing that you'd have no power when you got there?"
"Pretty much, but I knew Faith wouldn't let me down. Without the luck there was no way a Potential could beat her."
"What happens now?" asked Faith.
"We arrest Patricia," said Brass, "evaluate her, I suspect that eventually she goes to trial, if she isn't found to be clinically insane and if she isn't extradited for the murder of her parents first. It'll take months."
"Will you need us?" asked Willow.
"I doubt it. You can't give us any admissible evidence, and there's not much doubt about the facts. As far as we're concerned she took hostages and was taken down by the hostage rescue team."
"That's good," said Faith, "When you're handling her, make sure she's really well guarded. She doesn't have Slayer strength or speed but she's definitely got the skill and the moves. Tell them she has special forces training or something, that might give them the idea."
"What about the other murders," asked Willow, "did she kill the maids, or was it the Bringers?"
"We're still working on that, at a guess I'd say no to both. We think that someone or something was travelling with the Bringers, our estimates from blood splatter and other evidence is that it's a man about six feet tall, considerably stronger than any normal human."
"Not likely. The room was on the sunny side of the hotel and the curtains and blinds were open."
"Then it isn't over."
"I think it might be," said Grissom, "for the moment anyway. We've nothing to indicate that any of the Bringers survived, if they had someone helping them he's had a four or five hour start. I think that room was always intended to be a dead end, that's why they booked it in Buffy's name. We'll run all the tests, of course, and follow up any leads we develop, but we haven't even found any usable fingerprints so far. Sometimes CSI work is like that."
"Would magic help at all?"
"We already have a pretty clear picture of what happened, and from what Nick and Catherine have told us you can't give us anything much better than we already have."
"So now what?" asked Faith.
"You go back to Sunnydale and fight your war," said Brass. "There still isn't any Federal paper on you, and as far as we're concerned you've done nothing here but help us make an arrest. Eventually we'll file a report to that effect, making it clear that you risked your own life to help children. It might help when you give yourself up. If we develop anything useful here we'll let Buffy know."
"Okay. Let's grab some food before we leave, fighting always leaves me hungry."
"I thought you always said hungry and horny," Willow said with a grin.
"Well, that too, but I wasn't gonna mention it in mixed company."
"If you'd care to join us, ladies," said Grissom, "there's a pretty good Italian restaurant a few blocks from here, and I'm sure that Captain Brass would be happy to foot the bill."
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," said Brass, offering Willow his arm. "So, how're things with the Slayer. Sorry, Faith, the other Slayer..."
A few days later Grissom was in his office, trying to identify the insect larvae found in a rotting corpse, when Brass walked in and said "Switch on the news."
Grissom reached for the remote and saw an aerial view of a huge crater, obviously filmed from a helicopter. At the bottom of the screen was the logo 'Sunnydale CA.' As the sound came up he heard "...less than three hours ago, apparently caused by the collapse of a cave system underlying the town. All that remains is pulverized rubble, the wreckage of shattered buildings. The disaster follows weeks of rioting and violence in the town, which state officials now believe may have been triggered by toxic gases venting from the caves. Ironically, this violence may have saved the lives of most of the inhabitants, who fled to neighbouring towns for safety. At the moment the death toll is believed to be very low, probably no more than twenty or thirty."
"They had their war," said Grissom.
"Looks like it," agreed Brass. "Wonder who won."
The picture shifted to a yellow bus stopped near several police cars, with a small crowd around it. "State police have been intercepting vehicles en route to Sunnydale, and helping the last few stragglers from the town. This school bus contained the last people to have left Sunnydale, a group of students and their teachers, many of them injured when the school, near the epicentre of the disturbance, began to collapse."
The camera zoomed in on the group, mostly girls in their teens, and both men recognised Faith, Buffy, and Dawn to one side, as the camera zoomed in on Willow. She said "We wanted to evacuate the student records - we were afraid they'd be lost if there was more rioting. We'd just got inside the building when it began to shake and chunks of the ceiling fell down, most of us were hurt by that. We got out and back to the bus and a huge crater began to open, so Xander drove us out of there and we just kept going. It was a miracle we got clear."
An off-screen reporter asked "What are you going to do now?"
"We're heading for LA. They've just air-lifted out the principal and a couple of other guys who were badly injured, we all want to catch up with them and with our families and friends. If it's okay with you we'll be getting along."
The screen shifted to show another view over the crater, and the reporter said "State officials are already dealing with the relocation of the town's citizens. More on this fast-breaking story after these words from our sponsors..." Grissom pressed the mute button and said "Looks like they did."
"Okay," said Brass. "I'll find out where they've gone, leave a message asking Buffy to contact us. I'm assuming that we want to keep her on as a consultant."
"I guess so. Maybe there won't be quite as much need with Sunnydale gone, but I'd prefer not to take any chances."
"Agreed. I'll see to it this afternoon."
On the screen, unnoticed, the advertisements ended and the report turned to local news and the escape of murder suspect Patricia Craig, who somehow broke her handcuffs and overcame three guards en route to court.
I'd like to thank everyone who has given me so much encouragement in writing this series. Apologies for not replying to most reviews directly, please believe me when I say that I do pay attention to what people say - I may think that they're out of their minds, but I do pay attention.
Originally I'd planned to set a final story in Sunnydale, but for obvious reasons that won't be happening. Instead I'm tentatively planning to write a series of much shorter stories, mostly with a Las Vegas setting but possibly also visiting Los Angeles, the Cleveland Hellmouth, the wreckage of Sunnydale, and elsewhere. These will essentially be BtVS futurefic, and probably AU once we learn more of subsequent events via Angel Season 5.