by Marcus L. Rowland
I was fine until we sat down inside the helicopter again, to get out of the way of the yellow demons who were unloading the bodies, dead and unconscious, then my laughter turned to sobs. Dad hugged me, and Xander squatted on the deck near us and said "reaction catching up with you?"
"It's never easy. You're not the only one, Vi's covering pretty well but she's going to need a lot of help when we're done."
"Vi? But I thought she was a vampire slayer. Isn't it what she does?"
"Vampires yes. Demons yes. But people... the whole Slayer thing is about protecting them and the world, and Slayers who kill people don't usually take it well, even when it's unavoidable. She had to kill five of those fake soldiers to save us, surprised it wasn't more. You know about Faith?" He didn't wait for an answer. "That started with an accidental killing. Drove her over the edge, though the guy who was supposed to be her Watcher was an idiot and didn't help."
"Watcher?" asked Dad.
"What I do these days. It's a support organisation. Basically a Watcher is supposed to be a trainer and research guy, though I'm more a talent scout. I find Slayers and get them to someone who can train them properly, if there isn't someone local."
"Like Harriet?" I asked.
"Yeah, she's one of mine." There was a coughing roar and the rotor blades started to turn, slow at first then faster. The demons threw out the last body and slammed the side door, and began to help themselves to assault rifles from a rack near the door. Xander grabbed onto a strap as we slowly rose into the air. "I'd better get forward, I know a little about how these things work, might be able to spot if the pilot tries to pull a fast one."
"What do we do?"
"Reload your guns, keep an eye on the yellow guys, they've taken our money and they're scared of Willow so we should be okay, but I wouldn't put it past them to sell us out if someone made another offer. If you see any of them using a cellphone let me know."
Xander went forward, and a minute or so later Vi came back and said "There's something nasty going on up ahead. Willow thinks someone's done a major spell, brought something really big through from another dimension. We'll try to set you down somewhere safe as soon as we can."
"Try the police frequency," said Dad, and gave her a radio setting. "If something big's going down LAPD are probably on it."
"Okay." She went back forward. Almost at once one of the demons, who had been peering out of a window on the other side of the helicopter, gave a shout in whatever language they spoke. The others crowded to take a look, then backed away and started to point their guns at the windows on that side. "What the hell is it?" I shouted.
"Regy'k!" shouted the demon.
"You have got..." I said, then that side of the helicopter was covered in a sheet of yellow flame, and all the demons started firing out of the windows, which shattered. Good thing they weren't armoured glass. The helicopter lurched to one side then straightened, and for a fraction of a second I saw it outside. Big, dark, and breathing fire. "Holy crap!" I'll never know why we didn't start burning, maybe Willow was protecting us somehow.
The thing flew away again, and I heard a loud engine roar, even above the noise we were making. Another helicopter overtook us, this one with Army markings, and fired some sort of missile as it passed us. I guess it was aiming at the dragon, we must have been too close for it to take a shot before. A few seconds later there was a massive explosion, and I guessed that we were now minus one dragon. Or maybe minus a skyscraper, of course, because by now we were flying between buildings. The helicopter was descending and we could see fires out the windows on both sides. Xander came back, and shouted "Give me a hand with the door." A couple of the demons helped him slide it open. I looked out, hanging on for dear life, and saw we were about a hundred feet up, cautiously heading down towards a big intersection. There wasn't any traffic, and I could see a car on its side below. Whatever was happening was big. Xander went forward again.
Vi and Willow came back, with Vi carrying an odd-looking weapon, like an axe with an ornate blade and a stake sticking out of the end of the handle. Don't know where it came from. She went to the door, looked down, then dropped into the night holding it above her head. Willow said something to the demons I didn't understand. She was still glittering with little sparks, but now the blades they'd given her were hovering by her shoulder, pointing wherever she looked. I had a feeling they'd fly wherever she looked if she let them loose. The demons followed her out of the helicopter as soon as we were down, and took up guard postitions around the helicopter. We went to follow Willow, but the demons pushed us back, reasonably gently. As the engine noise died I suddenly realised where we were, about two blocks from the Hyperion Hotel. It was still raining heavily, and every now and again I saw a bolt of lightning flash down towards the flames behind the hotel.
"What the hell do we do now?" I asked.
"Stay here," said Dad, "Maybe Xander knows what's going on."
We went forward. The pilot was unconscious, and Xander was talking into his cellphone, saying "...Willow's on the ground, she'll be the one with the lightning. Vi's covering her with the scythe. Warn your pilots, Riley, don't screw up."
"What do we do now?" asked Dad. Xander covered the microphone and said "Wait, and get ready for casualties."
"Can't we help?"
"Not this time. We wouldn't last a minute out there."
I could hear shrieks and roars, like feeding time at some sort of monstrous zoo, with an occasional boom of thunder and flash of lightning. Twice helicopters flew overhead, the second one was firing tracer bullets at something huge that was looming above an intervening building. Dad and I went back and started setting up the stretchers. It felt odd, after the way they'd been used before.
About five minutes later I heard some shouts from outside, and looked out to see the demon guys sprawled on the ground, with a woman with blue skin and hair, wearing something that looked like leather armour, standing over them carrying an unconscious black guy. A dozen or so of the yellow knives the demons made were scattered around her, mostly broken. She came in, dumped him on one of the stretchers, said "Repair him," and left so fast I couldn't see her go.
"Looks like an abdominal bleeder," said Dad, who saw his share of traffic accidents when he was Sheriff. "Maybe a punctured lung. We might be able to keep him stable for a while, ease the pain a little, but I'm not up to stopping it. See if Xander can get help."
I went forward and told Xander, and he relayed it to the guy he was talking to. Outside the demons were picking themselves up, apparently unharmed, so I guessed she was on our side. Eventually Xander said "There's a medevac team trying to get through, but it might take a while. It's a war zone out there, Wolfram and Hart have magical barriers and demons blocking all the routes into this area. They're waiting on a National Guard tank unit." For the first time the sheer scale of what was going on was beginning to sink in.
Another helicopter flew over, with the CNN logo, and I wondered what the hell they were making of it. Later on I found out; the news archive for that night includes a shot of our helicopter with eight Miquot demons around it, all waving at the camera. Their faces are pretty clear.
I went back to help dad, and between us we did our best to keep the guy alive. He was failing fast when another helicopter landed nearby, a small one with Red Cross markings from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. We ran the stretcher out to them, stooping low to avoid the rotor blades, and the guys inside hooked him up to a drip feed and flew him out.
Just after it left there was a final burst of noise, roars and screams, and I saw what must have been a dozen bolts of lightning stab down in a few seconds. After that it was eerily quiet, and I began to hear sirens, shots, and an occasional explosion in the distance.
"Think it's over?" asked Dad.
"Sounds like this part of it is."
We went to the doorway and watched. Eventually Vi came into view, supporting Willow and holding the axe in her other hand, with the blue woman and a dark-haired guy I didn't recognise by her side, carrying a big sword. Trailing along behind them was someone I did know - Spike, carrying a huge battle-axe.
Xander came back to join us, and said "You guys okay?"
"Willow's mojo'd out," said Vi. "I've got a few cuts, same for Spike and Angel, but we all heal pretty fast."
"How's Gunn?" asked the tall guy; by now I'd remembered his picture from the business news, and knew he was Angel.
"The black guy?" I asked. "Hospital helicopter evacuated him a few minutes ago. He's hurt pretty bad."
"Where'd they take him?" asked Spike.
"Cedars-Sinai." The blue-haired woman tilted her head oddly and Spike said "It's a hospital. Cedars-Sinai Hospital."
"I will guard him." She took off again, so fast I almost expected to hear a sonic boom, and disappeared into the night.
"I know you," said Spike. "You were prowling around the Hyperion last week." He turned to Vi. "One of your lot?"
"No," said Willow. "She's working for Cordy."
"The cheerleader?" said Spike "But..."
"Cordelia's dead," Angel interrupted, moving towards me and grabbing my arm. "I don't know what sort of sick game you're playing, but..."
I'll never know what he planned to say next, because it turns out that a knee to the groin hurts a vampire about as much as it does a human. While he was lying on the ground I boarded the helicopter, while Spike laughed himself silly.
"What happens now?" Dad asked.
"We get out of here," said Willow. "Riley and his guys can find a way to explain this."
"Not this time," said Xander, still listening to the 'phone. "It's too big, too public. There's still half-a-dozen firefights going on, about a hundred thousand people saw the dragon, and every network's carrying the story. The President's decided to come clean."
"You're kidding!" said Willow.
"Nope. Prepare to be famous." Willow went white and sat down hard. I think she was having a panic attack.
"What about us?" Dad asked.
Xander listened again, and said "Riley wants us clear of the area until they've finished mopping up. Think you can wake the pilot again? Might as well head back to Neptune."
Willow nodded and went forward with Vi, while Dad broke out more medical supplies for the wounded. Xander went to speak to the demons, and I tagged along. He said "Your contract expires at midnight. My instructions to you are to stay the hell out of trouble and get out of the area if you can. And no looting, okay? By morning there'll be a dozen Slayers in town, so I really wouldn't recommend hanging about."
"We go," said the spokesdemon. "No work now, no Wolfram and Hart."
"And no looting," Xander repeated.
He looked at Xander appraisingly and seemed to decide that he really meant it. "No looting."
"So what'll you guys do?" I asked.
"Find other job."
"But you said..."
He grinned, showing pointed teeth. "Give it a month, more work we can handle. President's giving publicity." They started to walk away. I wondered if I should say anything about the assault rifles they were still carrying, then decided to let it be.
"They're right, of course," shouted Xander, as the helicopter lurched into the air again a few minutes later. I was beginning to worry that the pilot might be a little punch-drunk.
"How do you mean?"
"I can think of ten governments that'll want demons in their armies, not to mention every crime family from here to Boston. There was already a little of that, now everyone'll be doing it." He sounded discouraged.
"So what was that about the cheerleader?" shouted Spike, after Dad had finished bandaging his ribs a little later. Angel was sulking on one of the stretchers.
"Cordelia? She called us, hired us to watch a few of her friends."
"And you'd be...?" asked Angel, finally taking an interest.
"Mars Investigations," said Dad, fishing into a pocket and giving him a business card.
I heard something buzz, and Xander reached into his pocket and pulled out the cellphone he'd been using. He listened for a second, looked a little odd, and said "It's for you." He gave me the phone.
"Hi," said Cordelia. "Everyone okay?"
"As if you didn't know."
"Okay, yeah, I kinda do. Doesn't mean I know all the details. Told you, I'm a higher being, not the highest."
Angel said "Give me that!" and took the 'phone from my hand, so fast I didn't have time to react. "Cordy, is that really you?" He listened for about thirty seconds, and seemed to wilt. Even over the helicopter noise I could hear the angry buzz of her voice. A couble of times he tried to interrupt, but didn't get past the first couple of words. Eventually he shouted "Okay. I'm sorry!" and gave it back to me.
"Hi, Veronica, sorry about the interruption. By the way, nice knee work! You have questions?"
"You going to answer them?"
"Okay. What was that really about? Why did you involve us?"
"You won't like it."
"I guessed that."
"Some things are kinda obvious from my perspective. One of them was that Lilah would stop Angel doing what he had to do if I couldn't get her out of the way, she was about the smartest person working for Wolfram and Hart when she was alive, and I didn't think death would change that. So I had to find a way to keep her distracted for a few days, preferably somewhere away from LA."
"So you didn't want Willow and the others involved?"
"I didn't really expect them to take it so seriously. I'm glad that they did, the guys would be dead if they hadn't taken a hand, but I wasn't relying on it. The essential part was to get Lilah's attention, draw her away from LA."
"So all that stuff about Billy..?"
"Pfffft. Like the Senior Partners didn't know what she'd done. I was a little surprised she didn't call me on it, but once she caved in I knew that she'd taken the bait. The only reason she'd pretend to give up on you was if she was planning something."
"The bait? You were using us as bait?
"Wait a minute..." I said. "Did you just tell me you expected your friends to be killed?"
"It was pretty much a certainty. I'm kinda amazed they made it. Pleased, but amazed."
"Do you care?"
"I have to care about the world, kid. Friends are a bonus."
"I can't think that way."
"I know," said Cordelia. "Most people can't."
"What happens now?"
"Go home, get back to normal, find the guy that killed your friend."
"Sure. Don't sweat it, you'll soon get some answers."
"No. That's one I can't help you with, you're too closely involved. But maybe another time..."
"Maybe. I'm not sure we can afford your prices."
"Okay," said Cordelia, laughing. "Maybe one day you'll think differently. Let me talk to your dad, we need to work out how much money I owe you."
I gave him the phone and sat down next to Vi, wondering how Cordelia planned to pay. I guessed she'd work it out somehow. Within a few minutes I was asleep again. This time I didn't dream.
Any other night the raid on Neptune would have been headline news all over America. With the situation in Los Angeles it was just part of that night's general weirdness, a paragraph or two on page six. It got a little more coverage in Neptune, of course, but as Xander had predicted Willow and Vi got most of the attention, we were just listed in paragraphs that usually began "amongst the other victims were..." Dad got another $5000 from Cordelia, somehow transferred to us in the hours before Wolfram and Hart's bank accounts were frozen. I'm inclined to think we earned it.
Incredible as it might sound, everything blew over pretty fast, and within a few days things were more or less back to normal. School reopened once the crime scene guys, FBI, and agents from about ten other organisations were through with it. Our office was open again in two days. A small army of workmen helped repair it, apparently arranged by Xander's friend Riley.
Eventually, as Cordelia had predicted, we found out who killed Lilly Kane. No doubts whatever. And as she'd also predicted, I was closely involved. Any closer and I'd be another victim. Right now Dad and I are talking to film companies about the rights to that story, though they won't be able to make the movie until after the trial is over.
I haven't seen Xander, Willow, the Slayers or Angel and his friends since that night, not in person, though they're on the news often enough. One hell of a lot of stuff has come out since then, not least the real story on Warren Meers. Willow got a Presidential pardon for that, though dad doubts any jury would have convicted.
So that's that, or should be. Except that when I checked my voicemail at lunch there was a message from Cordelia, saying that she'll call us back tonight. I've no idea what she wants, but I've got a feeling it's going to be interesting.
Note: As with my earlier story Slayers / CSI - VI - Cold Cases I've based my ideas of the aftermath of Not Fade Away on some ideas mentioned in Roz Kaveney's story Dawn In Rome, which is archived at the Buffy Fiction Archive and is VERY highly recommended.