Speaker-to-Customers (speakr2customrs) wrote,

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Life In Shadow Chapter 6 Part Two - revised!

This is a major re-write of the second half of chapter 6 of “Life in Shadow”. I had decided to sacrifice a plot point in the interests of just getting it done and posted, but in so doing I weakened the story line too much and I wasn’t happy at all with the result. This is a much longer version; Part One of the chapter is now 4,250 words, and this section, Part Two, is 6,150 words.

Earlier parts are in Memories HERE.

Part One of Chapter Six is HERE.

Sorry to have messed you around.

The summary is very simple; “What if Tara was a Vampire Slayer? And straight?”

Life in Shadow

Chapter Six: The Sounds of Silence - Part Two

Author's Note: To anyone who followed the link from su_herald; you are at the second half of the chapter, and Part One of Chapter Six is HERE.

Part Two

The local news reports the next morning were dominated by three brutal killings in Sunnydale overnight. Even the mysterious ‘laryngitis epidemic’ that was paralysing the town took second place to gory murder. The reports contained details that gave Giles a vital clue that he needed to enable him to complete his research. The victims had all been discovered with their hearts removed.

Olivia’s sketch of the Gentleman that she had seen was the final piece of the jigsaw. Bald, clad in an old-fashioned suit and tie, and with a grinning mouthful of teeth that appeared to be made of steel. Giles found a picture in one of his research tomes that matched it, and the riddle was solved.

Giles gathered the Scoobies together in a lecture room at the university for a briefing, taking advantage of the closure of the college due to the ‘laryngitis outbreak’. He gave a presentation with slides and music to tell them the story of the Gentlemen, who needed seven hearts for some unknown purpose, who had silenced the town’s population to prevent victims from being able to call for help, and who could not be killed by any normal method. He illustrated this with a slide showing a crude drawing of a Gentleman pierced with many swords but showing no signs of suffering any ill effects. “In the tales no sword could kill them”, the caption read.

Buffy, who had been enthusiastically making motions representing staking them, pouted and slumped in her chair.

“But the Princess screamed once,” Giles’ next caption read, “and they all died.”

Buffy perked up again.

There was some debate over who was ‘the Princess’, severely hampered by the inability to talk, but Giles eventually managed to put over his belief that ‘Princess’ might well be a metaphor for ‘Slayer’. As to whether it was Buffy or Tara, all he could do was to shrug his shoulders and mime tossing a coin.

* * * * * *

“What if these things come for us?” Anya’s handwriting was neat and precise, but her face conveyed her fear quite eloquently enough.

Xander tried to comfort her with a hug; she smiled, and snuggled into his embrace, but her eyes remained wide and alarmed.

“I suggest that we all gather together for safety in numbers,” Giles wrote. “Everyone spend the night here.”

“Ill go for that,” Xander scrawled.

“What about yor mom + dad?” Buffy scribbled.

The tip of Xander’s tongue protruded from his mouth as he slowly wrote out a response.

“Joyce?” Giles wrote.

“Out of town,” Buffy responded. “Safe.”

Xander completed his message and held it up. “Even a monster couldnt want my mom + dads hearts !! Not lik I could do that much anyway.”

Giles checked back at the newspaper reports of the murders. A fifteen year old and a college student. There were no details of the third victim, just a brief Stop Press that didn’t even mention the gender, but the slender information that he had gathered on the Gentlemen did seem to show a predilection for young hearts. “Your parents are probably not primary targets,” he wrote. “You and Anya will be safer with me.”

Willow wrote quickly on her message board. “Safer with superpowered help.”

“I should patrol,” Buffy wrote. “Fight them.”

I’d better p Me too,” Tara held up a page of her sketchbook.

“I’ll ask Spike to come & act as bodyguard,” Giles wrote, and passed the note around.

Tara would have liked to get Spike to join her on patrol. She missed him, and hoped that working together could do something to mend the breach that had opened up between them so suddenly, even with the difficulties that the absence of speech presented. However the Gentlemen would be most likely to be found in inhabited areas, the commandoes who had abducted Spike in the first place might well be operating in exactly those areas, and she could see that there might be unacceptable risks for the vampire in her plan. “Good idea,” she wrote, somewhat reluctantly.

“Yeah good plan giles,” Buffy agreed.

“Very well, it’s settled,” Giles wrote.

Willow counted heads and looked around Giles’ small bachelor apartment. “Gonna be a squash with all of us + Spike,” she wrote. “I stay with Buffy.”

Buffy frowned and stuck out her lower lip as she scribbled away. “Ill be patrolling.”

“I patrol with U,” Willow parried.

“How U fight?” Buffy asked. She suspected that Willow would be more of a hindrance than a help.

“Spells,” Willow wrote. “Think I can slow them down.”

“U sure?” Buffy queried.

“Pretty sure,” Willow wrote. “+ anyway easiest with us being roomies – patrol + then go home.”

Buffy frowned uncertainly. She didn’t want to be distracted by having to watch out for Willow if it came to close-quarters fighting. Still, magical back-up might be useful, even if Willow’s spells were unreliable and not exactly in the Gandalf league, and another pair of eyes might be useful too. “OK”, she wrote reluctantly.

Giles raised his hand to remove his glasses, fumbled because of the pen in his hand, and pushed them further up the bridge of his nose instead. “I’m not sure that it is wise but very well,” he wrote. “I will tell Spike to come at sundown.”

* * * * * *

“Cn U prtect us frm mnsters?” Olivia wrote.

“I can,” Giles replied. “Don’t worry, my dear, you are perfectly safe here.” His handwriting was fast but elegant, and even in these circumstances he wrote grammatically and almost without abbreviations.

“Dont undrstnd N E of this,” Olivia continued. “Mnstrs R real? How cn U fight thm?”

“Buffy and Tara are Slayers,” Giles explained. “Girls with special powers and training specifically for combat against the undead. Willow is a witch.”

“& Spik?” Olivia asked, pointing at the man who had turned up shortly after the sun had set. He wasn’t particularly tall or imposing, although he did have a certain reassuringly confident air, but Olivia had gathered that he was here to serve specifically as a bodyguard of some sort.

Spike saw her gesture, guessed that she was enquiring about him, and came over to where he could read the notes.

Giles frowned at Spike, who didn’t take the hint, and Giles didn’t press the point. Spike’s dietary requirements would probably attract Olivia’s attention eventually, Giles realised, and he decided that he might as well explain in advance. “Spike is a vampire, but he is on our side,” he wrote. “He doesn’t harm humans.”

Olivia’s eyes widened and she shifted away from Spike slightly. Spike grinned. It was nice to see a human treating him with a bit of respectful caution again.

“Spike is a friend,” Giles added.

It was Spike’s turn to open his eyes wide. He hadn’t expected that. He’d appreciated Giles’ use of ‘doesn’t harm’ rather than ‘can’t harm’; it preserved the illusion that he had some choice in the matter and made him feel less helpless and manipulated, even though it wasn’t the whole truth. The addition of ‘friend’ put an entirely different complexion on things, however.

Was it true? He had to admit that he had found the Watcher’s company more than tolerable while he had been staying in the apartment, and that he was less content in his new solitary home than he had expected. They had bonded over the classic British TV programmes and he certainly had no wish to harm Giles in future if the microchip thingy ever packed in, unless it was in direct self-defence. Yeah, maybe they were friends.

Spike looked at Olivia. He had begun to get the hang of empathising with humans during his time in the company of the Scooby Gang, and he could see that she must be scared and disorientated. In fact, things must be bloody horrible for her, dropped right in a horrible scary situation and not able to talk to her bloke about it. She was a smashing looking bird too, really classy and well dressed, maybe a few years older than he’d go for himself but still bloody lovely, with delicious-looking chocolate skin, and Spike was always a sucker for a pretty girl. He held out his hand for the pen and notebook.

“Yes, I am Giles’ friend,” he wrote, in a neat copperplate hand that caused Giles’ eyebrows to climb in surprise when he saw it. “That means I’m your friend too, and those buggers won’t get you unless I’m dust.”

“U R rly vmpr?” Olivia asked.

Spike nodded. He put his fingers to his mouth and mimed fangs, and looked at Giles for approval. Giles nodded and put a thumb up in assent, and Spike curled back his lips and let his fangs descend. The forehead ridges formed and his nose shifted as he went into full game face.

Olivia shrank back away from him.

Spike grinned at her, a terrifying sight, although he was feeling completely devoid of any impulse to attack. It was rather pleasant to get confirmation that he could still inspire fear in humans.

There was further confirmation from Anya and Xander, too. Anya took an involuntary step backwards and Xander moved to stand in front of her, his fists clenched.

Giles remained entirely unafraid. He used fingers to represent fangs in front of his own mouth and then turned the thumb of one hand downwards. Spike guessed that Giles wanted him to resume his human appearance, and he complied.

Olivia relaxed slightly. Giles picked up the note saying “Spike is a friend” and showed it to her once more, and then extended his hand to the vampire.

Spike shook Giles’ hand and gave Olivia his most disarming smile. Her mouth trembled for a moment but then she smiled back. It was a rather hesitant smile, and her eyes remained wary, but it was a smile.

Giles released Spike’s hand and went to Olivia’s side. He put his arm around her shoulder and squeezed reassuringly. Olivia held out her own hand towards Spike. It trembled slightly for a moment and she pulled it back, but then extended it again and this time it was steady.

Spike took her hand and shook. He bowed fractionally, almost by reflex, and smiled again. Olivia’s answering smile was more confident than before, and reached her eyes.

Spike released her hand and stepped back. He mimed drinking to Giles, who nodded, and Spike went to get some blood from the fridge. There was no further need to be coy about his habits now, with his vampire status right out in the open, and he tipped it into a mug and put it into the microwave to warm it.

He frowned as he drank. Giles’ very public declaration of friendship had changed things. Clever of the Watcher. Had it been totally sincere or had there been an element of manipulation behind it? Spike wasn’t one hundred per cent sure, but he was certain that Giles had meant it at least to some extent, and certainly, when Spike had made his own commitment to protect Olivia, he had been perfectly genuine in that declaration. Presumably that was at least part of what Giles had been hoping to achieve, and, if so, it had worked. Was Giles really his friend? Maybe. Certainly not an enemy, not now, and his attitude pretty well proved that Giles hadn’t been behind Tara’s sudden coldness.

Spike sipped slowly at the mug of blood and mused on what might have caused Tara to pull back from the relationship. He’d suspected interference from the Scoobies, but it no longer seemed plausible. Willow was apparently all in favour of Spike and Tara being together, she’d been downright friendly when she’d visited his lair – even if she had called him a ‘poophead’ – and could be ruled right out as a suspect. Slagging Spike off to Tara behind his back didn’t seem Buffy’s style; she was more straight out, fists and stakes, in your face, sort of thing. She’d taken risks on Spike’s behalf against the mob during Willow’s bodged spell, and he couldn’t see her going back on that. Harris? He seemed a straightforward enough bloke, would say that he didn’t like you to your face, and anyway Tara probably wouldn’t have taken much notice of him. Anya didn’t seem to care all that much one way or the other.

It looked like it was down to Tara herself, and if Red was right it was more likely to be some misunderstanding rather than a real change of attitude. Maybe the silly bint had got the idea that he didn’t really fancy her. Yeah. That might be it; Mighty Mouse was a smashing bird but confidence in herself wasn’t really her strong point. Soon as this bloody irritating silence spell was broken they really had to talk.

* * * * * *

Tara saw one of the Gentlemen floating silently and serenely along a deserted street. His bald head gleamed under the streetlights, his steel-toothed smile glinted menacingly, and his hands moved through intricate patterns that seemed to hold hidden but sinister meaning. The Gentleman’s immaculate suit and tie were weirdly incongruous on such an eerie figure and somehow added to its air of menace.

Tara moved towards the monster but before she could close with it a hunchbacked minion jumped out from behind a hedge and attacked her. The canvas sleeves of an untied straightjacket flapped loosely from its arms as it swung a clumsy but powerful punch. Tara used a deflection parry to guide the punch harmlessly past her face. She kicked the creature in the back of one knee as its momentum carried it round in a half circle and sent it sprawling to the ground.

A second one of the Gentlemen’s minions leaped from the other side of the street and seized her before she could follow up her advantage. She brought her heel back hard against its shins, drove an elbow into its body, reached back to grab its head and pulled it over her shoulder as its grip on her slackened. She slammed it to the ground, took hold of its head with both hands, and twisted sharply. The hideous being slumped to the ground and lay still with its head pointing backwards over one shoulder.

Tara’s first opponent had regained its feet but it didn’t return to the attack. Instead it ran off down the street towards the clock tower of the old town hall. Tara glanced around, saw no sign of the Gentleman, and set off after the lackey at a run.

Behind her the fallen minion’s head slowly rotated to face forwards once more. It clambered awkwardly to its feet, shook itself, and lurched slowly after Tara. For the first few steps it was staggering, almost falling, but gradually its progress became faster and more confident until after a minute it was capering grotesquely but nimbly as fast as a normal human could run.

* * * * * *

A pair of Gentlemen floated across the campus grounds. Ahead of them their retinue of minions capered and pranced, waving their arms and flapping the sleeves of their unfastened straightjackets.

“Creepy, huh?” Willow tried to remark, grimaced with frustration, and then tapped Buffy’s shoulder and pointed instead. Buffy saw the Gentlemen, nodded, and pointed from Willow to the creatures, trying to convey that Willow should open the ball with a magical attack.

Willow smiled confidently and pulled out an envelope from her pocket. She opened it and produced several broken feathers and a piece of a turtle’s shell. She drew symbols in the air, spoke the magical words of command – silently, of course – and hurled the spell components to the ground. She believed that she would be able to force the Gentlemen to the ground and slow their movement significantly.

Nothing happened. “Poot!” Willow cursed, unheard. She had been sure that the words acted only as a focus of her concentration, and that the spell would be just as effective even without the sound of the vocalisation, but apparently she was mistaken.

The monsters had noticed the pair of girls, however, either by sensing magical energies or simply because their eyes had been drawn to the movement, and the cavalcade turned and headed towards Willow and Buffy.

Willow fell back on a simpler spell. One that she had been practicing for a long time, and that didn’t need any words, although it did require a lot of mental concentration. She raised her hands, tossed a pair of stakes into the air, and pointed. The stakes flew like arrows. One struck a minion in the chest and sank home. The other impaled a Gentleman in similar fashion.

The minion collapsed, writhing, and Willow smiled triumphantly. However the Gentleman was unaffected. He simply pulled out the stake, threw it away, and continued on his inexorable course. The other Gentleman gestured imperiously. A lackey obeyed his unspoken command, bent down, and withdrew the stake from its injured colleague. The fallen minion rose to its feet immediately. It was hurt, definitely, and it was now lumbering rather than capering, but it was once more a threat.

Buffy frowned. Stakes had played a big part in her intended combat strategy and now it appeared that they would be useless. She pulled her back-up weapon, a short sword, from under her jacket and moved forward to the attack. She slashed at the leading lackey and carved a deep gouge across its torso. It didn’t even react other than to lash out in reply with a punch aimed at Buffy’s face. Buffy ducked the blow with ease, kicked the creature in the stomach, and then chopped down at its head with the sword. The blade bit deep and the minion fell.

Buffy turned to face the next attacker, delivered a spinning kick that sent it flying back ten yards, and then she almost decapitated a Gentleman with a slashing sword cut. The Gentleman’s head flopped over to one side, rose, and settled back into place. The wound healed instantly. The Gentleman’s metallic grin hadn’t even wavered. He drew a large and gleaming surgical knife and continued to float towards Buffy, who backed away. Behind her the fallen lackey clambered back to its feet and lurched towards her.

Willow made a futile attempt to shout a warning and then rushed forward to try to intervene. She was too late and Buffy backed straight into the shambling minion, who promptly threw its arms around her. The Gentleman floated closer, nodding and smiling and wielding the knife menacingly.

Willow’s attempt to save Buffy was blocked by a minion who flailed at her with fists hidden by flapping sleeves. A punch clipped Willow’s shoulder, knocking her to the ground, and she was forced to roll away as the creature reached to seize her.

Buffy’s sword arm was pinned, neutralising her weapon, but her left arm was free of the lackey’s grip. She took hold of one of its hands and, although the canvas of the straight-jacket protected it to some extent, her Slayer strength still enabled her to break bones. She pulled the arm upwards, twisting it as she pulled, and forced it round until the creature’s other arm slipped and its grip broke. Buffy turned, bent her legs, and threw the minion at the approaching Gentleman. Her move brought her round far enough to see Willow’s predicament.

Willow had rolled too far away for Buffy to reach. The Slayer threw her sword as if it were a knife and impaled the minion’s throat. It reeled away, clutching at the sword hilt, but there was no blood and Buffy didn’t think that she had put it out of action for long. Another minion was already approaching Willow and so Buffy rushed to the rescue. She kicked the lackey in the face, sending it staggering backwards, and then she helped Willow rise to her feet.

Willow was shaken and becoming frightened. She pointed back towards Stevenson Hall. Buffy looked around, sized up the situation, and nodded. The two girls ran away together towards shelter.

The host of Gentlemen and lackeys followed close at their heels.

* * * * * *

Spike paced around the room. He was bored. He couldn’t really watch the telly, as Xander and Anya were trying to sleep on the couch, and he couldn’t go to sleep himself as that would negate the whole point of him being here as a bodyguard. If those creepy things did attack someone the victim wouldn’t be able to yell for help, and so Spike had to be awake and alert the whole time. Not a lot to do except for thinking.

Even though the job was boring he was still proud to have been called upon. Want a bodyguard? Call Big Bads R Us. Spike Security. It was a pretty good feeling. Made him feel important, like he had a bit of power back, and he was getting a bit of respect.

Just as well that his plan to get minions to do some killing for him had gone wrong, really, wasn’t it? It had been as much because he was feeling pissed off at this bunch as for any other reason, and it looked now as if he hadn’t really had good cause. It had been a bloody stupid idea, really. Too much chance of the minions dropping him in the shit, and that would have been a total bugger while he couldn’t defend himself from humans. Still, it had all worked out for the best. If they ever found out, well, he’d come out of it looking like a big hero, saving that lass from evil vampires. Nice one, Spike, even if it was by accident.

Now if these Gentlemen buggers would only turn up here he could give them a good kicking, save the girl, and get Giles really owing him a big one. ‘Cept for that thing about them being unkillable, of course, could be a bit of a snag there. He hoped that Tara would be okay. She was bloody good at fighting these days, had to admit; but if the monsters were invulnerable that might be a bit too much of an edge.

* * * * * *

Tara entered the clock tower warily and found herself in a storage room full of barrels. She also found herself in the middle of a fight that was already raging there. A tall commando in dark fatigues was wielding a telescopic baton in a struggle against three of the Gentlemen’s minions, and seemingly was getting the worst of the fight. Tara leaped to his assistance.

She threw her arm around the neck of the closest minion, jerked it off its feet, and ran with it straight at one of the barrels. She rammed the creature’s head into the barrel so hard that it smashed through the wood. It slumped there, trapped, and she released it and turned back to the fight. She grabbed a flailing arm, twisted and spun, and sent a minion whirling through the air to smash down hard on its back. It stayed down for only seconds before climbing back to its feet.

The commando was being driven back against a wall by his remaining opponent. He held his baton in his right hand, grabbed the tip of it in his left, and thrust against the minion’s throat with the baton held horizontally. The minion was driven back. The commando released his left hand’s grip on the baton and whipped it round in a strike to the temple. The lackey fell to the ground.

Tara’s first victim pulled itself free of the barrel and returned to the attack. She grabbed it by one arm, spun it around, caught the trailing straightjacket sleeve of the other arm, and pulled the arm into position to be secured with the straightjacket. She pinned both arms in place and began to tie the sleeves together.

Her second victim moved to its companion’s assistance. The commando intercepted it and drove it back with baton blows. Tara completed her task and kicked the minion into a corner, where it stood struggling futilely against its bonds. She smiled in triumph and grabbed for the one that had been felled by the commando; but she was interrupted by a Gentleman, who floated into the room from the street and stabbed at her with a knife. A further horde of minions followed in its wake and rushed to the attack.

* * * * * *

Neither Giles nor Olivia could sleep. Lovemaking didn’t seem to be an option, as the young couple on the couch downstairs were an embarrassing factor, and there was a vampire patrolling the apartment to further cramp their style. They lay awake and watched a news channel on a small portable TV. Giles kept looking at his watch, and glancing at the window, and fidgeting with his glasses, and Olivia could tell that he was fretting about the girls who were – bafflingly to her – his main weapons in his battle against evil supernatural forces.

Olivia picked up a notepad and pen from the bedside cabinet. “U shld gt mobils,” she wrote. “Thn U cld txt.”

Giles gazed at the note in blank incomprehension.

Olivia raised her eyes towards the ceiling and shook her head in frustration. “Mobile phones,” she expanded. “Text messages.”

“Good Lord, you’re right!” Giles exclaimed automatically, and then grimaced as no sound came forth. “You’re right,” he wrote. “A wonderful idea, my dear.”

“U cn B a bit slw smtimes,” Olivia wrote.

“Not so slow that I can’t recognise your worth,” Giles wrote, smiling fondly.

Olivia sucked in her lips and thought. Giles was a charming man, kind and considerate, and had hidden depths of bravery that she had never suspected lurked behind the innocuous exterior. He did seem to care for her very much, he was a wonderful lover, and she had planned to make this just the first of many visits. She wasn’t getting any younger, she had begun to think about settling down into a long-term steady relationship, and she doubted whether she would ever find another man who could match up to Giles. It would be very easy to let herself fall in love with him.

However now she had found out about this strange and terrifying world that Giles lived in, the existence of which she had been entirely unaware, and she didn’t know if she could cope with dealing with that world.

Oh, to be able to talk to him!

* * * * * *

Buffy kicked a Gentleman down the stairs. He fell for only a few feet before halting in mid-air and floating upwards once more.

Willow tried to summon up a flame, but again the lack of verbal components caused the spell to fail. She backed away along the corridor, and Buffy followed.

A minion caught up with them. Buffy seized it by the back of the head and rammed it face first into the wall. She then cried out silently in pain as a Gentleman’s scalpel sliced a thin bloody line along her shoulder. She spun around and lashed out with a backhand punch to her assailant’s jaw. The Gentleman’s head rotated under the impact, going all the way around, and then twirled back into position as if on elastic. The grin hadn’t even wavered.

The sinister being struck out with its scalpel once again. Buffy jumped away, caught Willow’s arm, and they fled along the corridor. They passed their own dorm room but they were being too closely pursued to be able to try to seek safety inside. The room’s flimsy lock would probably have been inadequate to hold against the Gentlemen anyway.

Buffy was faster than the Gentlemen or the minions, and along the straight length of the corridor Willow managed to keep pace with her with the aid of sheer adrenalin and fear. They drew ahead of their pursuers and reached a laundry room at the end of the corridor. Together they dived into the room and slammed the door. Buffy took hold of a soda machine and heaved it against the door to form an improvised barricade. Moments later the door shuddered under impacts from outside; but the barrier held.

Willow was exhausted, panting for breath, but she took a moment to look at Buffy’s wound. She saw with relief that it was shallow, as only the tip of the blade had made contact, and the cut had already almost stopped bleeding. She made a ‘thumbs up’ sign to the other girl and then backed to the other side of the room and sat down against the wall to take a breather.

Buffy remained standing, facing the door and poised for action, waiting to see if it would hold as it trembled under the assault of the Gentlemen’s minions.

* * * * * *

Tara scrambled up the stairs to the clock tower’s top floor. The commando followed. They emerged into a wooden-floored space dominated by the bells that hung overhead. Ropes dangled from the bells. Of more immediate concern, however, were the three Gentlemen who occupied the room, together with a further three minions.

The grinning, elegantly-dressed, monsters were gathered around a table bearing a display of seven jars. Two were empty; the other five held gruesome trophies. A small lacquered wooden box stood beside the jars.

The Gentlemen immediately moved to attack the intruders. Knives gleamed in their hands. Tara reached inside her jacket and pulled out a machete.

The commando stretched out his arm and held Tara back. She could have pushed him out of the way without difficulty, but was reluctant to unleash her full strength on a human, and she allowed him to push past her. He raised an odd weapon, resembling a rifle that had fallen into the hands of Industrial Light and Magic, and unleashed a blast of electrical energy at the nearest Gentleman.

The Gentleman’s teeth lit up with coruscations of flashes and sparks. Other than that there was no visible effect. It glided forward smoothly and brought its knife around in a vicious cut that opened up a long gash in the commando’s flak-jacket. The Gentleman’s arm reversed its course and he slashed again, this time connecting with the commando’s forearm and slicing it open.

Tara’s machete blurred. The Gentleman’s forearm fell to the floor and the knife skidded away. Tara drove her leg out in a straight stamping kick and the Gentleman shot backwards across the room. It halted just short of the table. The fallen arm rose into the air and flew towards the Gentleman, connected with the stump of his arm, and reattached itself.

The commando’s jaw dropped. He uttered some silent exclamation, a curse or a prayer, and then fired another blast at one of the capering henchmen. The minion was affected far more than its master. It writhed in agony and fell to the ground, twitching and thrashing its arms. Another one took its place and suffered the same fate, but then one came up the stairs behind the commando and grabbed hold of his legs.

Tara made for the table. She had seen the box, guessed from its appearance in her Slayer dream that it was significant, and had decided that opening or breaking it would be a major step forward in defeating the Gentlemen. However they fought ferociously to prevent her reaching it, and the fallen minions recovered from the Tazer rifle blasts and joined in the fight.

Tara thrust her machete through a Gentleman’s face and lost her grip on it when a minion tackled her. The Gentleman wobbled in the air and floated away clawing at the machete hilt.

Tara unleashed her frustration on the minion in a devastating combination of punches, elbow strikes, and kicks. Her last kick sent the creature flying all the way across the room to crash through the window and fall out into the street. She grabbed a minion who was grappling with the commando, jerked it away, and then threw it upwards towards the bells. Its head connected hard with a bell and the impact sent a loud note ringing out through the tower.

The Gentlemen winced and clapped their hands over their ears. Tara permitted herself a brief smile and set off towards the box. However another minion had come up the stairs behind her and it seized her, grabbed the end of the bell rope, and tried to wrap the rope around her neck to garrotte the Slayer.

Tara saw that the commando was free and unengaged and she tried to signal to him that he should go for the box. He didn’t understand, however, and wasted time firing harmless electrical blasts at the Gentlemen.

It looked as if Tara would have to do it herself. Getting out of a stranglehold had been almost the first lesson that Spike had taught her, and she set about her task with grim determination. The straightjacket sleeves made it difficult to break her assailant’s fingers, as did its use of the rope, and so she started by kicking backwards at its legs. She caused it to lose its balance, and then she drove her elbow back into its midriff with all her Slayer power. It lost its grip and stumbled backwards. Tara unwrapped the rope from her neck and then had a sudden inspiration. She tugged hard on the rope and caused the bell to swing. Another loud note rang out, and again the Gentlemen recoiled.

Tara released the rope and jumped forward. This time she made it to the box and snatched it up. She kicked away a minion who tried to interfere and then wrenched the box lid open.

Hundreds of streaks of mist rose from the box and spread out in every direction. The majority left through the window, but two stayed within the room; one went into the commando’s mouth and the other went to Tara. She inhaled with a triumphant smile, opened her mouth wide, and shrieked with every ounce of lungpower that she possessed.

The commando clapped his hands over his ears and winced. The Gentlemen opened their mouths to show gaping steel-toothed maws, screamed silently, and their heads exploded. Jets of slime and pieces of brain shot into the air, the headless bodies toppled to the ground, and then both they and the minions began to melt away.

* * * * * *

The battering at the door came to an end and a succession of splattering noises reached their ears in its place. Silence fell for a moment.

“What the –” Willow began, and then she realised that she could hear her own voice and she grinned broadly. “Hey, we won!”

“I think we did,” Buffy agreed shakily. She went to the door, pulled the soda machine away, and opened the door cautiously. Nothing remained of Gentlemen or minions except dollops of disgusting goo that were rapidly evaporating into nothingness. “Tara must have found what took our voices, got rid of it, and screamed, like Giles said.”

“Yeah,” Willow smiled. “Go Tara!”

Buffy pouted. “Yeah,” she said, a hint of jealousy apparent in her tone. “Go Tara.”

“Hey, you’ve saved the world plenty, let Tara have a share of the glory for a change,” Willow said. “You can spare a little.”

“I don’t know,” Buffy said, frowning. “It just doesn’t seem right. It’s my job.”

“Tara’s not Faith, Buffy,” Willow said. “She won’t try to take your place. And hey, you did pretty good too. You saved my ass for a start. My spells sucked, as usual.”

“That one with the stakes was pretty cool,” Buffy said admiringly. The pout crept back onto her face. “Kinda makes the Slayer pointless, huh?”

“I don’t think it would work so good against vampires,” Willow said. “I had a nice clear shot at these guys, and they were moving slow and pretty predictable – vamps don’t give chances like that. Your job’s safe from me, Buff.”

“But not from Tara,” Buffy complained.

“Don’t worry, there’s plenty of bad guys to go around,” Willow assured her. “Hey, just ‘cause Tara got to star for once is no reason to get all miffed. She’s been living her life in your shadow for a while; let her have her turn in the limelight, 'kay?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Buffy said, still pouting. “Hey,” she exclaimed, a smile coming to her face as she saw a bright side to the situation, “maybe if Tara can do half the Slaying then I can take it a little easier, at least between apocalypses, and maybe get a chance to get a life. Even date a nice normal guy, like, say, Riley Finn?”

* * * * * *

The commando stared at Tara. “You’re that girl. The one who practices karate on the campus grounds. Taking classes in the History of Art or something.”

“Th-that’s right,” Tara said. “You’re one of the T-T-TAs. You t-take some of m-m-my friends’ classes. Riley something.”

“That’s right,” Riley Finn confirmed. “We have to talk.”

To be continued …

The characters in this story do not belong to me, but are being used for amusement only and all rights remain with Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, the writers of the original episodes, and the TV and production companies responsible for the original television shows. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER ©2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer trademark is used without express permission from Fox.

Tags: fic, life_in_shadow
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