Sam slightly kneaded Tara's shoulders as she was still holding the witch in her arms. She helped her to get to her feet.
"Are you okay?" She sympathetically asked as the blonde turned slowly to face her.
Tara nodded and whispered "yes" before giving her a light thankful smile. Sam smiled back and then turned to Riley, Faith and Graham who obviously had already forgotten about the incident with Tara. Riley had come carefully to the window and had looked for a second outside. Then he had picked up arms, gestured to Sam, Graham and Faith to do the same and had headed resolutely toward the stairs. Tara watched them getting away for half a second and finally decided to follow.
Downstairs, soldiers were moving about in every directions. When he saw him arriving, a young officer came to meet up with Riley. He interrupted whatever the soldier was about to say.
"Have guys been hurt? Or killed?" He immediately asked.
"At least, Thomas's dead" He announced. "And Roberts and McMahon are severely hurt. But I haven't seen everybody"
Riley clenched his teeth and fists but asked in the most neutral tone:
"What was it?"
"We don't really know. Armed men. They suddenly appeared from the forest and opened fire"
"The werewolves" Graham growled behind him. "Those bastards"
"I never would have thought they'd attack as humans" Riley hissed between his teeth.
"Why would they do that?" Faith asked. "I thought that it was the wolf in them that was aggressive"
"According to our experts and to what I saw, there's no real frontier left between the man and the wolf. Whatever their form is, they just live for the kill"
"They perfectly knew we wouldn't expect them to come as human beings but as wolves" Sam commented.
Riley deeply sighed as he looked around him.
"Graham, gather the guys who can stand. Sam, check everyone's state. I'm going to gather weapons"
Graham and Sam nodded and were about to go away but stopped and considered Tara and Faith. Riley followed their gazes and offered an apologic smile to both girls.
"Sam, take Tara with you. Faith'll help me"
Sam didn't object and simply nodded. She gestured to Tara to follow her and the witch did without saying anything. Graham quickly went away and Faith remained with Riley.
"Come with me" He said.
Faith followed him silently all the way to a big metallic closet, hidden in a corner of the building. Riley unlocked it with a series of keys he was wearing at his belt and the closet revealed its content. Faith couldn't help but whistle with admiration at the range of knives and firearms in front of her.
"Awesome" She commented.
Riley didn't answer and started to unhook one of the shotguns and to inspect it very carefully. When he was done, he put it against the closet and grabbed another one he handed to Faith. The Slayer took it willingly and watched it in her turn with curiosity as Riley seized another gun in front of him.
"What are you going to do?" Faith asked.
"Going after them" Riley breathed. "We're gonna finish this"
Faith put the shot gun she was holding with the one Riley had left at her feet a few seconds before and looked at him getting out a new weapon from the closet.
"I'm not sure that's the best thing to do" She finally said.
Riley turned sharply to her.
"Running after them" Faith clarified in an annoyed tone. "That's what they want"
"How would you know? And whatever. We're trained and all-armed."
"Some of your guys just got hurt. Some have been killed. Those demons know that forest far better than us and…"
"And what?" Riley growled. "I'm the one in charge here and I won't just wait patiently for them to come back to finish the job when they'll be even more armed and prepared"
"I'm just saying it's not the best thing to do. They didn't go very far" Faith resumed. "I can feel them around"
"Perfect" Riley concluded, obviously not in the mood to change his mind.
He grabbed two more guns and closed the closet back.
"Riley, listen to me damnit. I'm a Slayer, I know what I'm talking about." Faith insisted as she scooped her arm to keep him in place.
"I do too," Riley dryly answered. "And I was already killing demons when you had fun teaming with them"
Faith's gesture stopped short and her arm fell along her body as a hurt glimmer passed in her eyes and she furrowed severely her eyebrows. She tightened her body and crossed her arms over her chest.
"Good. Do as you want"
Riley saw the change in the Slayer's stance and regretted his words. He sighed and turned again to face her.
"Listen, I'm sorry Faith." He said in his usual gentle tone. "It was out of place from my part"
"No, no" Faith bitterly replied. "You're right. You've fought demons for a long longer than me, and after all, nothing tells you that you can really trust me or whatever…"
"I trust you" Riley interrupted her.
The assertion caught Faith off guard and she looked at him in surprise.
"I saw how you saved Tara's life sooner." Riley explained. "It's enough for me"
He gathered the guns, hung them slung over his shoulder one after the other.
"But that's my job. And I'll do it. If you don't wanna come, no problem, I get it"
Faith rolled her eyes, uncrossed her arms and opened the closet to take something for her.
"Like I'm the kind of girl to stay here and wait while you're chasing werewolves. You forget it's ALSO my job"
Her eyes roamed over the weapons in front of her and Faith grabbed a shotgun in her turn. She then stretched her hand to a long thin dagger but finally gave in and left it where it was.
"I'm good" She said as she closed the closet again. "I've got what I need"
Riley nodded and locked the closet again.
Faith and Riley had met up with Sam, Graham and Tara and three others soldiers near the building entrance. One of the newcomers leant on a crutch and one of his legs was covered in blood.
"Thomas and Bride are dead" Sam announced in a dark tone and Riley couldn't help but shiver. "McMahon and Kirrell are badly hurt, not sure they're gonna make it. Roberts and Quizky are too seriously wounded to fight. Others are slightly hurt"
Riley's shoulders slouched at so much bad news at the same time and he deeply sighed.
"We're just five left in good shape." Graham said. "Are you sure…"
Six with Faith" Riley interrupted. "And she's a Slayer. She's a great fighter"
"You never saw her fighting" Graham protested.
"I know what Buffy told me" Riley replied.
"What did she say?" Faith asked, in a mocking and slightly worried tone at the same time.
Riley looked at her in surprise and couldn't help but smile.
"Hum, it wasn't exactly good Faith" He explained, slightly embarrassed.
"Yeah, kinda figured that one" Faith growled.
"Good" Riley resumed. "We're enough, we're well armed and they're just more of them than us"
"Faith, do you still feel them?" He asked as he turned to the Slayer.
"Yeah, they're close"
"Good." Riley said. "Tell us where to go, we're following you"
"Riley…" Faith began.
"We're following you" Riley insisted.
Faith sighed, rolled her eyes but nevertheless nodded and gestured to a direction with her chin.
Riley turned to the group behind him.
"Together and guns in hands. Let's go"
Faith was about to take the lead but stopped and considered Tara.
"Stay here Blondie" She said simply. "Won't be that easy"
Tara looked at her silently then turned to Riley who nodded.
"Faith's right. It will be safer for you to stay here"
Then he turned to the soldier leant on his clutch.
"Lenz, take care of her while we're out"
Said-Lenz watched Tara from the corner of his eye and nodded. Riley and Faith looked away and started to walk. The small group crossed quickly the clearing separating the building from the forest itself.
But when they reached the threshold, Faith stopped short. Immediately, Riley raised his shotgun's barrel.
"I'm hearing footsteps" Faith whispered, pricking up her ears.
Riley gestured to his team behind him and got ready to move forward again but faith stopped him with her arm.
"There's something weird"
She listened again and her eyes fell on the shotgun Riley was holding in his hand beside her.
"What's this?" She suddenly asked.
Riley looked at her with a puzzled look and opened his mouth to answer but never got the chance. There was the noise of a stampede in front of them, a series of wild growls and suddenly, a group of werewolves appeared in front of them, ready to attack.
Instinctively, the soldiers raised their shotguns and opened fire.
Which didn't bother them. The wolves stumbled for a few seconds under the bullets before roaring and attacking again. One of them jumped on one of the soldier Faith didn't know as he was emptying his gun on him without any result. When the wolf was on him, he threw his now useless gun on the side and tried to reach his knife at his belt but was too slow. He found himself to the ground with the werewolf across his chest, trying desperately to protect himself from the demon's rage. Sam-who was the closest to him- rushed to his help and attacked the werewolf with her own knife. Another one came to attack her from behind but in an expert gesture, Sam hit it hard in its head with the butt of her shotgun and the werewolf stepped back.
Riley and Faith for their part found themselves separated from Graham and the other soldier, each duet being attacked by four other werewolves.
Riley stopped quickly to fire when he noticed how useless it was and used his gun to hit the demons as Faith took advantage of her trademark celerity and agility to avoid their claws. They soon got rid off two of the werewolves and the third was quickly knocked out. The fourth probably thought it would be better to take off and tried to escape. Faith wanted to come between but a scream made her turn her head. She noticed that Sam was in difficulty faced to two werewolves she had managed to get away from the young soldier. Riley rushed immediately to help his wife but Faith was quicker. She raised her shotgun to her shoulder and made fire on the werewolf threatening Sam. It stumbled dead to ground.
Riley turned to the slayer and considered her with surprise.
"How?" He said, frowning.
Faith pointed to the shotgun in her hand.
"Silver bullets" She said.
Riley nodded and smiled.
"Foresighted" He said with admiration. "And not too bad at firing"
Faith smirked with pride.
"I know I'm good" she said.
"And all modest!" Riley replied, rolling his eyes.
"Hey! Some help over there!"
Graham's voice pulled them out of their conversation and they both turned to Riley's second in command. He was facing two new werewolves, come to replace the one he had managed to shot. Beside him lied motionlessly the other soldier.
Riley immediately hurried toward them as Faith raised her shotgun to her shoulder once again. Two werewolves were already dead when Riley reached the group.
Faith was about to fire a third time when she was Riley's eyes widening in horror as he gestured behind her. Faith turned around and the same expression plastered on her face when she saw Tara alone in front of the building as two more werewolves headed toward her. She raised her shotgun to those ones this time.
"No point Faith!" Riley yelled. "They're out of reach!"
"What?" Faith replied as she turned to him.
Riley was about to repeat but Faith didn't waste her time to listen to him. She threw her shotgun to Sam who was catching her breath not too far with a dead werewolf at her feet and a slight stain of blood on her forehead.
Riley's wife grabbed the shotgun and turned to her husband and Graham while Faith started to run toward Tara.
She didn't move and looked at the werewolves getting closer. They curiously approached without haste, without the savagery Faith had seen them act until then. But Faith knew it was just because they approached with the laziness of predators sure to get their prey.
When she reached the werewolves, they were only at two meters from the witch and in a desperate effort, Faith kicked them skillfully before coming to stand between them and Tara.
The Slayer got two knives out from her belt and attacked them one after the other. Her task was difficult because both werewolves looked really interested in devouring the with who had slightly stepped back at Faith's arrival. But the Slayer managed nevertheless to knock one of the two out to face the second who was slightly taken aback by its companion's sudden absence.
Faith took advantage of this to stab it violently and was about to put it out of its misery when Tara's voice stopped her.
Faith stopped short and turned to the blonde.
"What?" She abruptly asked.
"They…they… they're humans" She stuttered.
"Oh, yeah! Humans" Faith replied and rolled her eyes. "Humans really interested in eating you!"
As to agree with her, the werewolf she thought she had knocked out chose that precise moment to jump above her and try to reach Tara. But Faith reacted at lightning speed and tackled it to the ground before raising her knife above it. Again, a virulent "no" from Tara made her hesitate. And that wavering allowed the werewolf to escape Faith as it projected her to the ground before getting ready to attack again.
"Are you crazy?" Faith asked in an exasperated tone. "They're gonna kill you!"
Tara shook her head and Faith looked to her with puzzlement.
"They can't" The blonde simply asserted.
Confusion grew on Faith's face.
"They can't" Tara repeated as she stared at Faith. "I'm already dead"
Faith wanted to say something but remained silent and stupid to that assertion. She needed a second to understand what the blonde had said.
But she didn't get time to give it some thought as the werewolf came back to her. Faith jumped to her feet to counter the attack.
But it never came. The werewolf fell dead in front of her and Faith looked up to see Riley who had just shot it. He got closer, Graham on his heels. Both of them were slightly hurt and their clothes were torn apart. A little farther, Sam kneeled beside one of the other soldiers.
"Bite?" Faith asked as she pointed at a wound on Riley's thigh.
He nodded then added quickly when he saw the look on Faith's face.
"No problem. We all took medicines to block the werewolf transformation out"
Faith slowly nodded.
"Thank you" she said after a silence and pointed to the shotgun in Riley's hand. "I guess"
Riley smiled widely.
"My pleasure" He answered "Well, you don't save a Slayer in distress everyday"
"You didn't save me, I was in control" Faith protested with a pout. "And I certainly wasn't in distress"
"Let him dream a little" Graham wisely advised. "You don't believe you saved a Slayer in distress everyday"
The comment brightened up Faith as Riley grew serious again and looked around him.
"Faith, can you feel others around?"
The Slayer shook her head after a second.
"No, they're all dead. All those that were there" she confirmed.
Graham started to count the corpses on the ground and nodded.
"All there Riley" he said. "As many as we counted"
"We can just hope we counted all of them" Riley commented.
Graham shrugged nonchalantly.
"Anyway, they've suffered today"
Riley thoughtfully nodded and went past Faith to reach Tara he helped to get to her feet.
"Are you okay?" He gently asked.
Tara simply nodded, her eyes glued to the closest werewolf corpse. Riley took her gently by her arm and led her toward the building.
"And Sam?" Graham asked.
"She's staying with Frost the time we get back with a stretcher." Riley answered above his shoulder.
Graham nodded and he and Faith followed the commander and the witch.
"You gave us a great hand" Graham said after a silence. "You could be part of the team. You're damn efficient"
Faith rolled her eyes in horror.
"Me? In the army?" She exclaimed. "You must be kidding me. You'd rather give up and let the Slayers do their job"
Graham shrugged with an annoyed look on his face.
"Maybe, we're not as ready as you are or even as skilled or gifted. But that's our job too"
Faith turned to him and casually nodded.
"I respect that"
The jeep stopped on the side of the road and three of its occupants jumped to the ground. Then Sam helped Tara to carefully get down in her turn.
Riley gestured to one of his soldiers standing at a distance, beside the roadblock that was getting removed. He headed toward them and held Riley the keys of the girls' car, which had been brought back to the point they had left it.
Faith checked it was in the same state she had left it, and then turned to her guests.
"Good luck for the future" Sam simply said, shaking successively Tara's and Faith's hands. "Maybe see you later"
She then turned to her husband, gave him a discreet smile and got away toward the roadblock, leaving Riley alone with the girls.
Riley hugged Tara without hesitation and Tara let him do with any resistance but without returning the hug. She almost smiled and Faith saw a melancholic and sorry expression appear on Riley's face as he looked at her.
"Take care of you Tara" He whispered simply, squeezing slightly her shoulder again. "I hope you'll be better when I'll see you again"
He smiled warmly and hugged her again against him. Tara got free and looked up to him.
"Thank you" she simply whispered, so low that even Faith had to prick up her ears to hear her.
Riley smiled to her again and Tara turned away and walked to the car she climbed in and settled at her usual passenger seat.
Riley and Faith remained alone. An embarrassed silence followed and lasted probably just for a few seconds but looked like hours to Faith.
"Thanks for your help Faith" Riley said simply. "I think that you probably avoided us many more hunting days"
Faith shrugged, her eyes glued to her feet.
"I did my job" She simply said. "Nothing more"
If she had been looking at him, Faith would have seen Riley smiling to her with an amused look on his face.
"Thanks anyway" Riley insisted.
Faith shrugged again as her foot played flippantly with a rock.
"Hum…" she said after a new silence she felt lasting for an eternity.
"I'm the one who has to thank you" she finally said.
Riley frowned and looked at her in surprise.
"For trusting me" She answered the silent question. "For everything"
Riley looked like he was giving some thought to the meaning of her words, then smiled again with a warm and melancholic look on his face this time.
"It was my pleasure" He concluded.
Faith nodded silently and they stayed this way for a second, looking at each other straight in the eye in silence, not knowing what to do or say after. Riley started to open his arms but as he just did, Faith held her hand to him.
Riley grabbed it and squeezed it gently before Faith had time to pull back.
And then, Faith turned on her heels, got in the car and switched the engine on. When the car was out of sight, Sam came back to Riley and he grabbed her lovingly by her waist to lead her to the jeep that would bring them back to their now useless HQ.
End of 'In the middle of nowhere'
To be continued in 'Rescuers'