"Lines in the Sand"
Buffy turned her head to look at Riley in amazement. She had never before heard him utter anything even close to a profanity. But she could not fault his eloquence.
Buffy wasn't sure what she expected to find Walsh up to, but this was not it. From their hiding place, just inside an access passage that met the much larger tunnel at a ninety degree angle, they had a clear view of the sheer scale of the project the scientist had undertaken. It was staggering. There were at least eighty vampires working in the tunnel; a mix of the DHSTs the Council had provided Walsh, and rogues that she exploited. They were well trained, working together seamlessly, but without enthusiasm.
Quickly, her eyes found Angel, wounded but conscious, chained to the far wall. Only years of practiced emotional restraint allowed Buffy to detach herself from the situation. She tamped down the overwhelming urge to hunt down Walsh and tear her apart. Doing that wouldn't stop Walsh's plans, and it wouldn't save Angel. She forced herself into the role of soldier, searching for a way to put a stop to both Walsh and Varkesh.
Beside her, Riley quietly asked,
"How long before they break through?"
Buffy shrugged, distracted. "They're only half of our problem," she said baldly. "The demons we saw in the ravine are burrowing through to meet Walsh's army."
Riley's vision flicked between the Slayer and the DHSTs. "How can you be certain?" he asked.
"I can hear them."
To his credit, Riley didn't flinch at the statement, though it bothered him on various levels. Regardless of how she acquired the knowledge, Buffy was aware that Varkesh's forces were digging through to meet Walsh's. They could not allow that to happen. They would be seriously pushing their limits to even attempt to subdue Walsh's DHSTs. They would be completely unable to deal with the added threat of Varkesh's minions. If they didn't prevent the two forces from meeting, the results would be disastrous. Riley doubted that even a sizable demon attack would be able to capture The City, but there would be massive human casualties.
They had to find a way to stop it. Riley watched Buffy as her eyes scanned every inch of the tunnel, searching for a weakness.
"There," she said quietly, her mouth curving into a hard grin.
Following her line of sight, Riley found their answer. The tunnel had been filled in at one point, and obviously excavated by Walsh's DHSTs. From the look of things, it had caved in several times since then, no doubt killing a number of Walsh's vampiric slaves in the process. The cave-ins had been shored up and the ceiling of the tunnel was braced by a haphazard scaffolding that looked ready to collapse at any moment. Clumps of earth shook loose due to the vibrations from the digging.
"Looks like a plan," Lindsey said smugly from his position behind Buffy and Riley.
"You can't do this," Wesley said, his voice a harsh, accusing whisper.
Buffy turned, meeting his disapproving gaze without hesitation. "I'm not going to hurt them if I don't have to," she said. "I'll give them fair warning, but if they choose to side with Walsh, I can't vouch for their safety."
Wesley obviously wanted to argue with her, but there was no time. He swallowed harshly and gave her a curt nod.
Turning to the others, Buffy started barking orders. "Angel is chained to the far wall. I want Lindsey to get him and get out of here as soon as I make my move -"
Buffy looked at Lindsey sharply.
"I'm going after Walsh," he said with cold conviction.
Knowing the things that Walsh had probably done to him, Buffy could not deny him a chance at retribution. She nodded in assent. "Riley, you get Angel and get him out," she amended. "I'm going to make my way over to that scaffolding. Wesley, I want you and Fred to be waiting for the DHSTs in the holding tank. Do your best to keep them calm."
There were half a dozen access passages branching off of the main tunnel, but they all looped around and converged in a large circular room several hundred yards above them. At some point it had been a holding tank for the water that had filled the tunnels, but like them, it was currently dry. It would be far enough away that it wouldn't be affected by the cave in, but it would allow them to get all of the DHSTs in one spot and attempt to reason with them.
Breathing wasn't something Angel did often, but in times of stress, it helped calm him down. Although he had re-attached his collar, he retained the ability to breathe easily due to Buffy's alterations. Sitting with his back against the brick wall, watching the vampires dig into the earth, he took several deep breaths.
And abruptly stopped.
Nothing of his outward appearance betrayed the thoughts racing through his head. He forced himself to remain still, not wanting to attract any undue attention. Cautiously, he looked around the large space, searching. Buffy was near. He knew it, and it terrified him. She was drastically outnumbered. Any attempt to save him could put her life in jeopardy. Terror seized him.
As inconspicuously as possible, his vision scoured the tunnel, looking for any sign of the Slayer. Luckily, it appeared that none of the other DHSTs had yet noticed her, but that would not last for long.
If his heart had been beating, it would have stopped the moment he saw her slinking along the cold brick wall, sticking to the shadows. He saw Lindsey and Riley with her, but that was all. What the hell was she thinking? She couldn't possibly take on all of Walsh's conscripted minions.
Upon entering the tunnel, the group immediately split. Buffy wasted no time heading for the scaffolding as Lindsey moved inconspicuously through the throng of DHSTs towards Walsh. A quick glance over her shoulder assured Buffy that Riley would get Angel to safety.
She reached the scaffolding and for a moment was frantic. How was she going to get their attention? As silence descended upon the cavernous space, she realized she didn't have to do anything.
One by one the DHSTs stopped what they were doing and looked to the Slayer. She stood next to the scaffolding with a deceptively slight hand resting on one of the major structural supports. In mere moments, silence was absolute.
Buffy looked around the crowd, taking note of the hideous physical condition of most of Walsh's slaves. They were dirty, bruised and battered, obviously as near starvation as Angel had been when she first met him. They were a miserable group, their eyes reflecting nothing but pain and hopelessness.
"What are you doing?" Maggie Walsh yelled at the DHSTs. "Get back to work!"
Walsh was looking around the tunnel frantically, trying to find the source of the DHSTs mutinous actions. Her vision lighted on Buffy and she nearly snarled in anger.
"This isn't going to happen," Buffy said with quiet authority. She blinked slowly, turning her gaze from Walsh to the DHSTs. "Walsh is finished," she said. "What she has done, what she is attempting to do, is treason against the Council. She has nothing to offer you."
The DHSTs remained rooted to the spot, all of their attention fixated on the Slayer who was speaking to them as if they were something more than animals.
"Leave now," Buffy continued. "There are others waiting for you in the access tunnels. They will help."
A strangled scream pierced the air and everyone's attention turned to the source. Maggie Walsh's broken body lay in a heap in the dirt as Lindsey shook with rage. Her neck was twisted at a grotesque angle, testament to the viciousness of his actions. The DHSTs looked from him and back to the Slayer, waiting for the retaliation they knew would come.
But it didn't come. Buffy nodded sadly at Lindsey, hoping that Walsh's death would appease some of his rage, but knowing that it wouldn't. Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy saw Riley help Angel through the access passages. With very deliberate movements, she turned, bracing both arms against the scaffolding.
"Go," she said firmly.
The DHSTs were pulled from their near catatonic state, hurrying for the exits. Buffy waited as long as she could, but she could hear Varkesh's forces getting closer and closer. The tunnel was nearly empty when she heaved as hard as she could against the scaffolding, setting off a chain reaction that brought the entire structure, as well as the roof of the tunnel, crashing down.
"Get your hands off me!" Angel snarled, throwing Riley back against the steel wall of the holding tank.
It did not matter to the enraged vampire that the soldier was trying to help. All Angel knew was that Buffy was in the tunnel when it collapsed. He whipped around, frantically searching the crowd for her. He couldn't find her anywhere and was all the more terrified because he couldn't sense her, even in game face, with all of his demonic senses to the fore, there was no trace.
Riley shook his head to clear it, stunned for a moment, and then reacted as a decade of intensive training dictated. The beast had actually physically attacked him. It was unheard of. Even vampires in the Wastelands thought twice about taking on a Council soldier. But this wasn't the Wastelands, and Angel wasn't ignorant of Council law. No DHST who used physical violence against their master was permitted to live. Especially one that was involved with Buffy.
Angel was turned, his attention fixated on his search. Riley reached for his gun, but realized he must have dropped it when he slammed into the wall. He didn't have time to search for it. Quickly, he removed the collapsible baton clipped on his belt. A well practiced flick of his wrist, and the weapon was ready. Riley swung at the back of Angel's head in a well practiced move designed to stop anything, human or demon. The blow connected solidly.
But contrary to past experience, the DHST did not crumple to the floor. As Angel whipped around to face the soldier, Riley swallowed harshly.
Wesley addressed the DHSTs in a loud, clear voice. He was worried that they would be too terrified to reason with, but it turned out that was not the case. They were agitated, but not uncontrollably so. He spoke to them in even tones, informing them that there were those in the Council who were concerned about their well being.
Wesley informed the DHSTs that none of them would be destroyed. They would be given a choice between returning to the Wastelands and staying in The City. If they chose to stay in The City, he would personally offer them sanctuary. It was a tall order. Wesley wasn't speaking with the Council's backing, but he was confident that he would be able to sway his peers.
Everything seemed to be going well until he realized that a fight had broken out towards the back. He was deeply annoyed until he realized that the two involved were Riley and Angel. Muttering a curse under his breath, he pushed his way towards the back of the room, hoping to halt the fight before any permanent damage was done by either party.
For the first time, Riley truly felt terror facing off against an unarmed vampire. Angel's eyes were yellow, his forehead heavily ridged and a constant low growl emanated from his chest. The soldier couldn't imagine how the creature had ever seemed even remotely human. The thing before him was an animal. And Buffy cared for it. The thought caused Riley to snarl in return.
Angel lunged at the soldier with clawed hands, reaching for Riley. The boy moved fast, but not fast enough. Angel managed to tear several deep gashes in his left shoulder before Riley twisted out of range. Dizzy, Angel stumbled. Riley's earlier blow hadn't incapacitated him, but it jarred him and his quick rush made the world tilt. As he was trying to recover, Riley landed a solid kick to the small of his back, sending him crashing face first into the wall of the holding tank.
Angel coughed, spraying blood from the rent flesh of his split lower lip. He was on his knees, with one arm braced against the wall to keep him from collapsing completely. He looked over his shoulder, well aware that his injuries made his appearance all the more hideous. Fear was etched on Riley's face, but the soldier was fighting it admirably. Angel laughed, pushing himself to his feet.
Though they were packed tightly into the holding tank, the DHSTs gave the two a wide berth. The vampires may have been covertly and literally undermining the Council, but none of them would have dreamed of openly attacking a Council soldier in full view of other humans.
Angel smiled at Riley, a grotesque gesture that showed his blood smeared fangs. The boy flinched, but quickly caught himself and steeled his features. He pulled his standard issue stake out of his hip holster. Armed with the stake and the baton, he felt confident. It was the first of many mistakes. Riley was a good fighter, no doubt about it. He was in excellent physical condition. He was well trained at hand to hand combat with DHSTs, and very adept at thinking on his feet. He was also physically larger than Angel, several inches taller and at least thirty pounds heavier.
No experience in Riley's life could allow him to appreciate how woefully outmatched he was at that moment. Angel was not a DHST that had been raised in captivity for a life of manual labor. He was at least ten times older than the oldest vampire Riley had ever faced off against. Unlike every other vampire living in The City, he was not kept on starvation rations. But most importantly, for nearly three centuries, he had answered to no one but himself. It never occurred to Angel to allow Riley to win.
Riley never saw Angel move. One second, Riley was on alert, waiting for anything that would give him insight in to what Angel was going to do, and the next, he was pinned against the wall, with an enraged vampire in his face. Riley screamed, he couldn't help it. He had no idea what had happened. Angel moved too fast for him to even begin to try and counter. The vampire grinned smugly at him, flashing lots of fang.
Looking over his shoulder, Angel snapped at Fred, causing her to dance back out of his reach. But she wasn't one to be deterred. When he turned his attention back to Riley, she advanced again, grabbing his belt and doing her best to try and pull him off the soldier before he could inflict any serious injuries.
Angel turned to growl at her again and Riley hit him as hard as he could in the chin. Angel stumbled backwards and the soldier quickly scrambled out of reach.
"Angel," Fred begged from the sidelines as the two began circling each other again.
Angel paid her no mind, but did notice when Wesley pulled her out of the fight. Angel had no desire to hurt Fred, but they were both vampires and according to pack hierarchy, she was acting out of turn. He was her elder and as such, he would hurt her if she tried to get between him and his prey. Riley was sweating profusely now, always moving, trying anything to stay out of the vampire's reach. Angel crouched down, ready to spring at the boy.
Angel stopped immediately, all of his attention fixated on the tiny - but dusty - Slayer. Buffy was all right. She wasn't gone. He started towards her.
"Don't move," Riley seethed, once again holding his gun.
In his relief to find Buffy, Angel hadn't seen Riley retrieve the firearm from the ground. Bullets, as a rule, did not kill vampires. But guns were part of the standard Council issue for soldiers. They were loaded with hollow point bullets. The damage they could do was unbelievable. A stake through the heart was somewhat unnecessary if a single shot could destroy a vampire's entire chest cavity. Angel stopped.
"Put it down, Riley," Buffy said, her voice tight with strain.
The soldier didn't acknowledge her in any way, his attention riveted to the motionless vampire. Riley's hand was shaking and his aim probably wasn't as good as usual, but at this range, it wouldn't really matter.
"Riley," Buffy said again, still getting no response. Buffy didn't know how things had gotten out of hand, but they definitely had, and she wasn't going to let it continue. Calmly, she stepped in between the two males. Riley blinked and then shook his head once sharply to clear it. He looked at her like she had three heads.
"What are you doing?" Riley barked incredulously.
"Put it down, Riley. Now," Buffy commanded.
"No," he countered, almost yelling. "Get the hell out of the way."
Buffy met his gaze and held it for several long moments. She shook her head very calmly and took a step closer to Angel lest he try and move so she was no longer in the line of fire.
"Are you insane?" Riley demanded. "I know that you have a lot invested in him, but he attacked a human. He needs to be put down. Move."
Behind her, Angel still hadn't moved, but Buffy could feel the tension rolling off his body in waves. Initially, Riley was threatening him, now Riley was threatening her. If she didn't stop this soon, Angel was going to tear the soldier's head off. Cautiously, Buffy took two more steps backwards, pressing herself back against Angel. Slowly, he snaked an arm around her waist.
"Riley, put the gun down," Buffy said again. "I'm not going to let you touch him. He won't hurt anyone, I promise." She knew that Angel's grip around her waist was protective, but she also knew that it put him in an excellent position to be able to push her out of the way and rush Riley.
The soldier shook his head. "He's still exhibiting hostile behavior," he blustered.
Game face. DHSTs weren't allowed to use them in The City unless they were feeding. "You're holding a gun on me, Riley," Buffy explained. "You're threatening me. He's being protective, not hostile." Buffy knew it wasn't entirely true. Angel had been in game face before she showed up, but she was hoping Riley's logic was a little fuzzy at the moment.
Riley took a deep breath. Buffy could almost taste his resolve waver. Reluctantly, he holstered the gun. Buffy sighed, leaning back into Angel, clamping her hands around his arm, so he couldn't resume the fight.
As Riley watched, the DHST slid out of game face. He glowered at Riley for several long moments before the tension seemed to fade. He took a long shuddering breath, burying his bloody face at the nape of Buffy's neck. The Slayer didn't seem to mind.
Wesley cleared his throat loudly. "Now that everyone is accounted for, I suggest we get out of here."
Riley watched Buffy and Angel as they stood together, wrapped around one another. It was all he could do to keep from vomiting. Buffy actually let that thing touch her. Riley was disgusted with Buffy for her deplorable behavior, but also at himself for being so blind. He had worshiped her, thought about her every waking second. He had never felt so betrayed.
[End Chapter 13]
Feedback to indie
Back to Domestication Index
On to Next Chapter
Back to Previous Chapter