Conquest of the Reaper Macboru Mackenzie O'Byrne and Thomas Jager are my invention based on the preceding copyrighted concepts. Disclaimer: The concept and characters of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (Buffy, Xander, Willow, Oz, Joyce, Giles, et all) belong to Mr. Joss Whedon, Warner Bros. And Mutant Enemy. The concept and characters of "Highlander" (Duncan and Connor Macleod, Joe Dawson, Methos, et all) belong to Davis and Panzer Productions and Rysher Entertainment. The concept and characters of "The X-Files" (Fox Mulder, Dana Scully, Walter Skinner, et all) belong to Mr. Chris Carter, 10-13 Productions and 20th Century Fox. No profit has been or will be made from this story. Summary: Mackenzie O'Byrne and Buffy Summers are planning their wedding when Mac is summoned to fulfill his promise to a couple of FBI agents. Author's note: This a sequel to "Enter the Reaper" and "Vengeance of the Reaper". If you're looking for titles in a similar vein, check out "The Axer Carrick Cycle" by Henry Wyckoff and "Chronicles of the Wanderer" by Steve Pantovich. Oh, yeah – relationshippers beware. Despite Mr. Carter's stated preference, I don't quite see how those two keep their hands off one another. I've fixed that. A third sequel is in the works. E-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org **************************** Conquest of the Reaper By macboru **************************** Prologue Alexandria, Va. 1440-C Holmes Ave. 2315, Thursday (Local) The man who had proven to be the bane of Scully and Mulder's lives over the last seven years walked into his small, cheaply furnished apartment. It had been another long day. Sometimes he wished he had no knowledge of what was really happening in the world, no part to play. The hand that darted out, closed on his shoulder and jerked him up into the air was unexpected to say the least. In moments, the man was gagged, bound to a chair and looking at two very disturbing individuals. Each was dressed in dark clothes, their faces covered by black ski masks. The powerful manipulator had just about decided he was being robbed when one of his attackers squatted down in front of him and began to speak. "I don't know you, you don't know me," said the flat, dead voice. "But you have something I want. I'll stop the pain when you succeed in guessing what that is." The man Mulder had dubbed 'Cancerman' focused his eyes on a syringe that the attacker was about to inject him with. As the needle entered his arm, an intense burning sensation began to speed through his body from the point of entry. In moments the pain was almost unbearable. In the early light of dawn, the two interrogators slipped away. Once out of Cancerman's apartment, the two men slipped off their hoods. Ducking into the alley behind the building, one of the men produced a change of clothing for each of them from the bag he had been carrying. In minutes, two more bureaucratic clones were walking down the street, separated from each other by several hundred feet. A car was waiting for them a half-mile away. One after the other, about three minutes apart, the two men slid into the rear seat. The driver turned to the two men in back. "How'd it go?" asked Mulder. O'Byrne held a hand horizontal to the ground and waggled it. His partner and fellow veteran of the Legion grunted. "We've got a place to start," observed Jager. He turned his head to look at his friend. "Deblout?" he asked. "Deblout," O'Byrne confirmed with a nod. ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Part 1 Two weeks later Scene 1 Sunnydale, Ca. 150 Creek St. 0930, Sunday Buffy hopped out of bed when she saw the time. Left behind, Mac sleepily rubbed his face and watched his bride-to-be dart into the bathroom. Once she brushed her teeth, she saw Mac start to climb out of bed. She whirled on him. "Oh no you don't, Mackenzie! You just sit right there until I'm done," she ordered. "You don't want me to wash your back?" he asked innocently. Buffy permitted herself to drink in the sight of her man for a few seconds. Six-two, two hundred pounds without an ounce of anything but bone, brain and muscle, Mac looked like a handsome, healthy, twenty-something man. *Very* healthy. What he was, in fact, was a lecherous imp who was going to make her late if he succeeded in carrying out his rather obvious intention. "No, I don't want you to wash my back. Not right *now*, anyway. Be good and maybe I'll let you talk me into wearing my cheerleader outfit when I get back," she tempted him. "Provided, that is, you don't kill my Dad." Mac grimaced as Buffy spun around and entered the shower. Mac and Hank Summers didn't exactly have a warm and fuzzy relationship. Far from it. Buffy's father considered Mackenzie O'Byrne to be a cradle-robbing lech in desperate need of being shot dead. If the man had had any idea how old Mac *really* was… And it *really* steamed the man that Buffy was going to marry Mac just four months after meeting him. When she announced their engagement three days after her twentieth birthday, her father had nearly had a stroke. Buffy and Mac had known each other for all of six weeks at the time. Mac had thought of telling Hank Summers the truth about himself from time to time. Sometimes he considered it for as long as five seconds. But Summers had no clue about Buffy's status as the Slayer, much less her immortality. Learning that Mac was a sixty year old warrior who'd spent his life fighting in one campaign after another probably wasn't a good idea, all things considered. The real pain was the way the it was eating at Buffy. She wanted her father to be happy for her. Instead, she wasn't even sure if Hank would walk her down the aisle. So she and her mother – Joyce, who actually liked Mac – had beaten up Hank until he finally agreed to meet with Mac for a private lunch. Needless to say, Mac wasn't looking forward to *that*. Still, while Buffy and Joyce were at the church finalizing some arrangements for the upcoming nuptials, Mac was going to drive into L.A. and beard the lion. 'And I thought it was the *mother*-in-law who was supposed to be difficult,' Mac reflected sourly. The fact that Joyce did, in fact, approve of him, surprised Mac to no end. He never had figured out why, exactly, she did. Unknown to Mac, Joyce was grateful that he was in her daughter's life. Joyce had spent too many nights worrying that Giles would come knocking to tell her that Buffy had been killed. Knowing that Mac was there, that he'd tear down Heaven itself to protect Buffy, made serious money for him with the fearful mother of the Slayer. Having an immortal warrior who had earned the sobriquet 'The Reaper' watching out for her daughter's safety would bring a little comfort to almost *any* mother. That Buffy and he were living together within two weeks and engaged within six was something else again, of course, but Joyce wisely bowed to the inevitable. She was well aware that the two of them had fallen in love with each other almost at first sight. It had taken her a while to figure out that they really *were* in love and not just letting their hormones sweep them away, but once she did, Joyce had enough sense to keep her teeth together. Her ex-husband was something else again. Scene 2 Washington, D.C. Office of XXXX 1130, Sunday (Local) While Mac was contemplating his near term fate, a recent acquaintance was shifting in his seat, hidden in his office in the nation's capitol. The all but nameless man who FBI Special Agents Mulder and Scully had dubbed 'Cancerman' was in a dark mood. Had been, in fact, for a little more than two weeks. Ever since the night two mysterious strangers had accosted him in his home – former home now, seeing as how he'd moved the next day – and interrogated him about the Consortium. It had been an unpleasant experience to say the least. Those two men had shot him full of some particularly potent – and painful – drugs before grilling him for hours. When he came to – not knowing when he'd passed out – he had no clear idea of what he'd given up. The interrogators had left behind no evidence beyond the drugs in his system, nothing that could be used to track them. Nothing, in fact, but sheer terror that they might return. And fear about what they would do with what they had learned. Well founded fear. The sight at Foum Tatooine in Tunisia had been attacked and destroyed three days before. The man running the sight was missing. And yesterday, someone at the Curie Institute in Paris had brought in some very interesting materiel to be analyzed. Samples from Foum Tatooine. Cancerman had wasted no time ordering in a team to retrieve the evidence. On the desk in front of him was a police report detailing the condition of their bodies. The samples were still at the Institute. Under the protection of someone the French government – more importantly, his agents in that government – could not get to. Having racked his brain to no end, he had come up with only one realistic possibility as to the cause of the recent troubles. One name kept forcing its way to the front of his consciousness and screaming 'Look at me!' Fox Mulder. If it *was* Mulder behind this, he had some powerful people helping him. But who? Someone with access to trained commandos. Someone who could muzzle the traditionally intransigent French government – ergo, someone French. Someone *powerful* and French. Where could Mulder have found a man like that? One didn't just open up a "Soldier-of-Fortune" magazine and dial up the ad that read 1-800- Commando. What had Mulder done recently that would put him in touch with the sort who could pull this off? Mulder was sitting in Scully's apartment, leaned way back on her couch. The official resident was leaning against him, wrapped in his arms. He was watching a news program, hoping for the NBA highlights while she was pondering the wedding invitation in her hands. Dana had already RSVPd for both of them weeks before. The two agents had separately submitted requests for vacation time and both been approved. In less than a week, they would fly out to California to witness Mac and Buffy getting married. From the way she'd sounded on the phone a couple weeks before, the young bride-to-be was torn between pre-wedding jitters and excitement. Dana and Mulder were the first friends Buffy and Mac had made together as a couple, so it had been really important to the young woman that the two federal agents come. When Mac had 'visited' a couple of weeks previously, he'd spent almost two hours regaling them with funny stories about Buffy and her friends planning the wedding. He and Thomas had also said that they were each under strict instructions to personally confirm that Dana and Mulder were expected at the nuptials. Dana thought the whole thing was sweet. Not just the younger woman's excited antics. The way she so easily got the two veterans to comply with her wishes was stunning. Dana thought the woman should give seminars – she'd make a fortune. Of course, Buffy was *marrying* a fortune, so she wasn't exactly in need of money. Mackenzie O'Byrne was worth something in the neighborhood of thirty million dollars. That man knew how to manage money. "Fox?" Dana asked. "Hmm?" was his absent-minded reply. "You ever think about getting married?" Dana was expecting the typical terrified response of a perennial bachelor, so Mulder's reply stunned her. "Yeah. Wanna swing through Vegas while we're out there?" he asked. Dana bolted upright and whipped her head around. She stared at the man who had been first her partner, then her friend before recently becoming her lover. The expression on his face said it all. He was asking the question in dead ernest. "I was teasing, Fox." Mulder's face fell a little. "Oh." "I absolutely wasn't proposing to you. Seeing as how *I'm* the one who had to drag *you* into bed that first time, I think that *you* could at least be the one who does the proposing," she said, her voice softening as she went on. "And, incidentally, 'Wanna swing through Vegas' better not have been it!" she finished, teasing him now. "Do you want to see the ring?" Mulder asked. "What ring?" she demanded. 'Oh, god. He *has* been thinking about this!' "The one I bought three days after we got back from Sunnydale," he answered. "The one I've been trying to figure out how to propose to you with." Dana Scully tended to be the more practical one of the pair. She knew that while the Bureau would only frown at them sleeping together – it was discouraged, but not forbidden – the minute they were engaged (much less *married*), they'd be split up. They couldn't get married. Their work was too important. The only way they could get married – unless one or both of them left the Bureau – would be by keeping it secret. No big wedding. None of their few friends from the Bureau… Dana realized she really wanted to be Mrs. Mulder. Even if only Mom – and *no one* else – knew about it. But Vegas? "Vegas, Fox? Couldn't we do better than Vegas?" she asked softly. "Is that a 'yes'?" he asked. Scene 3 Sunnydale, Ca. 1630 Rabello Dr 1700, Sunday (Local) Mac parked his truck in Joyce's driveway and tiredly heaved himself out of the driver's seat. It had not been a pleasant afternoon. When he and Hank Summers had parted company, it had been everything the immortal could do to keep himself from killing the intransigent bastard. Mac had never eaten so much crow in the sum total of all his previous years. 'Oh, well,' he decided. 'At least he'll come to the wedding. That's important to Buffy.' Speaking of whom… Mac had no more sensed the telltale 'buzz' of another immortal, than Buffy appeared at her mother's door. He tried to muster a smile as, seeing the look on his face, hers slid away. "That bad?" she asked, dreading the answer. Mac looked at her for a long beat before striding over and picking her up in his arms. Nuzzling her neck, he whispered in her ear, "You are *definitely* putting on the cheerleader outfit when we get home." Buffy kissed his cheek and pulled back. "So things went okay, then?" "Well, he's coming. I never will be his favorite person, but I think even *he* had to see my point when I pointed out that very few of us '*lecherous, cradle-robbing perverts*'," Mac said in obvious quotation, "actually *marry* the young girls we're molesting." Buffy's eyes widened. "He actually said that?" she demanded sadly. Behind her, Joyce laughed. Buffy freed herself from Mac's embrace and turned to face her mother. "It's not funny, Mom!" she scolded. "Daddy won't even give Mac a chance, and-" "Buffy, honey," interrupted Joyce. "Your father loves you. But let's face it – he doesn't *know* you. How could he?" "I see him all the time, Mom, and-" "And you've told him about being the Slayer? About being immortal?" Joyce pointed out accusingly. "Honey, would *I* know, if not by accident? You've cut your father out of a big piece of your life. I understand why," she hastily added, seeing the look on Buffy's face. "But let's face it, Buffy. All your father knows – all you've *let* him know – is that in four months, you've met, moved in with and are preparing to marry a man that's officially what? Five, ten years older than his baby girl?" she finished. Mac suddenly looked a little abashed. 'Better a hundred pissed-off immortals, each out for my head,' he thought, 'than one self-righteous mother-in-law.' After a moment he amended the thought. 'Self-righteous and *uncomfortably correct* mother-in-law.' "I don't think Daddy could handle it, Mom," Buffy said softly. Joyce considered that. "That's what you thought about me, too, honey. And, granted, I handled it badly at first," Joyce allowed. "Maybe you should at least consider giving your father a chance." Buffy was deep in thought about that. Joyce thought for a moment that her daughter might come to her for a hug, but Buffy stepped into Mac's embrace instead. 'No doubt about it, Hank,' Joyce silently told her absent ex. 'This "*lecherous, cradle-robbing pervert*" has stolen our daughter away. Thank god she made a good choice as to who he would be.' Scene 4 Washington, D.C. Office of XXXX 0130, Monday (Local) Cancerman reviewed the file in front of him. Not quite eight weeks before, Mulder had been in California investigating a serial killer. A serial killer someone had literally blown to pieces and incinerated. Remains had been found of stun grenades and thermite within what was left of the alleged killer. The evidence was disturbingly reminiscent of what had happened to the retrieval team in Paris. Obvious conclusion? Mulder had run into someone that knew how to effectively conduct covert operations and was now working on his behalf. But who? Someone pretty damned good at covering his tracks. There were zero leads concerning the serial killer's murderer. In fact, there was only circumstantial evidence that the body in question *was* the man every policeman in California had been hunting for. Yet the LAPD had accepted it flat out. They wouldn't do that with out a damn good reason – the serial killer was believed to have killed a member of their department. Policemen tended to take such things rather personally. So someone had convinced them the ruined body was the one they were hunting for. Question: who? Obvious answer: Mulder. How? The only way a federal agent could possibly convince the locals would be by communicating personal – if non-verifiable – knowledge. Yet the LAPD was barely going through the motions while investigating the murder of a cop-killer. Meaning that either they already knew who had done it or didn't care. Or someone *convinced* them not care. Who? Obvious answer: again, Mulder. *How*? Answer? Probably irrelevant. Mulder's connection to whomever had conducted the operation was what was important. Someone he knew before he went there? Probably not. If he'd known the person or persons before, why were they only now moving against the Consortium? So, someone he met in California. Someone *also* hunting for the serial killer. Why would someone who had the ability to do what had been done in Tunisia – not to mention what was *being* done in France – have an interest in the killer in California? None of the victims had ever even *been* to France – Cancerman had had that checked. Someone else then? Someone connected to the people in France? Connected how? Had the commandos from the operation in Tunisia conducted the operation in California? No – again, no known connection with the victims. Maybe a connection with the killer? If so, what? Was the operation in California conducted by a local? A report had come in saying Mulder and Scully were booked for a flight back to L.A. in a few days – why? Vacation time – not official business. Cancerman's thoughts drifted to an unconnected observation – Scully and Mulder were quietly taking a vacation together. Hmm. In California. Where Mulder had most likely met his new allies. Where there might be an operative connected to the people in France. He sat back and lit a fresh cigarette. How much of this was valid? How much was idle – and useless – speculation? 'Run with it,' he decided. What if they *were* going to see their connection? Where? The body had been found in Sunnydale, a small, out of the way suburb of L.A. Where the two agents had spent almost a week while investigating the case – and subsequently produced not one single claims voucher for a hotel expense. Meaning they had stayed in a private residence in L.A., probably in Sunnydale. Their connection lived in Sunnydale, California. 'Maybe,' he granted, frowning. Yeah, maybe and, then again, maybe not. But if not, why else would they go to *Sunnydale*? For the sights? If the two of them *were*, in fact, now personally involved, wouldn't they pick some place nicer than L.A. for a romantic getaway? Like, say, a garbage dump? Cancerman had never liked L.A. So, say they *were* going to meet their connection in Sunnydale. Why there? Cancerman knew that if any of his speculations were valid, then Mulder's allies were perfectly capable of coming to D.C. Knew it from *personal* experience. So why Sunnydale? Cancerman rubbed his eyes tiredly. He knew he was desperate, knew he was jumping to conclusions based on only the slimmest, most weakly interconnected evidence – and very little of it at that. But it *felt* right. Something was drawing the two agents to Sunnydale, California in connection to their new allies. But what? He reached for his phone. "Mulder and Scully are on their way to California in a few days. Be there first. Do *not* be noticed. I want to know what they do, who they see and what they talk about. Oh, yes, by the way – the two of them may be intimately involved, now. If so, I want evidence of it. Take a video camera." :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Part 2 Scene 1 Sunnydale, Ca. 150 Creek St 1730, Thursday (Local) 'Two days to go,' Buffy told herself. 'Just two days. Come on, girl. You're the Slayer. You've defeated vampires, demons, zombies, witches and werewolves. You can handle Daddy.' The source Buffy's most immediate frustration sat glaring at his future son-in-law. Hank Summers' face was neutral enough, but almost palpable disdain radiated from the man. After tremendous soul-searching, Buffy had decided to let her father in on a couple of things. Even with Giles, Thomas and her mother on hand, things were going from bad to worse at warp speed. 'I *definitely* should have waited until after the wedding,' she thought. Daddy hadn't really believed them about the whole Slayer business. Immortality was worse. Disgusted, Mac had finally had Thomas hand him a knife and fetch an old rag. "Summers," Mac said coldly. "If you think you can manage to keep your teeth together for two minutes, I'm going to prove it. If you can't, I just might-" "Mac!" Mac winced. "Sorry, honey," he apologized. 'Forty years,' the immortal told himself. 'In forty *years* I never once told a mortal what I am. Now, I've got a *collection* of them.' Which, all around, was okay. Except for Buffy's father. Mac was really starting to dislike the man. Mac ran the knife through his forearm. He let it sit there, never changing expression. As the gathered mortals looked on, Mac reached out and picked up his beer. He took a small sip and set the bottle back down in his ice bucket. Judging from his expression, Mac didn't feel a thing. 'Show off,' Buffy thought. Mac held his arm out to Hank Summers. "Pull it out, Hank," he ordered. Summers was turning purple. Whatever this was about, Buffy would marry this lunatic over his dead body! Seeing that Summers wasn't going to touch the knife, Jager leaned over and jerked it out. It came free with a wet, sucking sound. For just a moment, Joyce thought she was going to throw up. Then the little sparks of light started dancing over the wounds on Mac's arm. In second he was whole again, unmarked. Mac wiped the blood from his arm with a the rag. "Any questions?" Mac asked pleasantly. Buffy walked over and smacked him across the back of his head. He shot her a look. "Don't be mean, Mac," she ordered angrily. She turned to face her father. Rather than purple, he was now pale. "Daddy?" she asked. "Are you okay?" "You, too?" Summers finally whispered. "You're like that, too?" Tears in her eyes, Buffy nodded. Mac had warned her that some people couldn't handle it. Buffy was suddenly terrified that her father would be one of them. He was learning at one sitting what Joyce had learned gradually over two *years*. Hank looked at Mac with hate in his eyes. "You did this to her?" he hissed. "No, Mr. Summers," Jager answered. "No one 'did this' to Buffy. She was born this way. All immortals are." Buffy was scared. She felt Mac's hand on her hip, giving her a gentle squeeze, letting her know he was there for her. Mac, Mom, Giles, Thomas – they were all there for her. What about Daddy? "Do want that drink, now, Hank?" Mac offered. He'd asked before and Summers had coldly refused. Hank had been willing to be civil to the lecher marrying his daughter, but he was damned if was going to be friendly. Now, Buffy's father nodded his head. Once Mac had fetched the man a tall whiskey, Summers stared at his daughter. "It's all true, then?" he asked. "You're im…*immortal*," he got out. Buffy nodded. "And the rest of it? Vampires and demons? All of it?" Buffy nodded again. "Buffy has quite literally saved the world, Mr. Summers," interjected Giles. "Saved us all. Many times." "And you never said anything?" Hank demanded of Joyce. "She's my daughter, too, Joyce!" "I didn't know if you could handle it, Hank," Joyce shot back. "I had strong doubts. So far, you're not doing anything to prove me wrong!" "Mom, Daddy, please," begged Buffy. Mac quietly sighed. This was actually going much better than he'd feared. He'd been scared shitless that Hank Summers would disown Buffy on the spot, like Duncan Macleod's father had disowned him. Instead, the major point of contention now seemed to be who should have been told what, when and by whom. It could have been a lot worse. Things had gradually died down. Buffy and her parents were sitting out in the back yard talking. *Together*. 'I missed my calling,' Mac reflected wryly. 'I should have been a therapist.' Just then, a rental pulled into the driveway and disgorged another pair of mortals that Mac still hadn't made up his mind about. He got up and went out to greet them. "Dana, Mulder. Welcome back…" his voice trailed away as he saw the discreet little engagement ring on Dana Scully's finger. "I hope you get along better with your father-in-law that I do with mine, Mulder. Congratulations to both of you." Dana gave him a sad smile. "Actually, Mac, my father passed away a few ago," she said before giving him a warm hug. "I didn't know. That was crass of me and I'm sorry," apologized the immortal. Releasing him, Dana waved it off. "You couldn't know. But thank you." Mac held his hand out to Mulder. "Congratulations, Mulder. She's quite a catch." Mulder grinned as he shook the proffered hand. Jager and Giles quickly came down from the porch to add their good wishes. "Where's Buffy?" Dana asked. "Out back with her folks. She decided to tell her father about, well, everything. More or less," explained the immortal. "Slaying? Immortality?" Mulder queried. Mac nodded. "How's he taking it?" "On a scale of one to ten, I'd say about a six at this point," judged Mac. "Hell, at least they're talking. Things have been getting a little tense." Over the next several hours, more than twenty people arrived. Most of them were immortals. Under strict orders from his daughter to say nothing about Slaying or immortality – and with Jager never more than five feet from him – Hank was introduced to Mac and Buffy's guests. For her, it was the first time meeting most of them as well. People had actually been arriving since the day before. Mac had booked forty rooms at the Sunnydale Holiday Inn to accommodate them all. He had personally apologized to each and every visitor about the less than Waldorf-style accommodations, explaining that Sunnydale had little to offer. L.A. was just too far away to be a reasonable commute. Despite the distance, most of the visitors had traveled to Los Angeles that day to do some shopping and sightseeing. The rest of the wedding guests would arrive the next day. All of them, hopefully, in time for the rehearsal dinner. The night before, a number of Mac's 'old friends' had taken him out and thrown a bachelor party hosted by Jager. Surprised, honored and rather pleased that Reaper had asked him to be his best man, Jager had taken what he saw as his duties seriously. One of those duties, of course, was to insure that the groom made it to the wedding. Jager was perfectly well aware that another of the best man's duties was to marry the bride if the groom was absent. He had no desire for Buffy to make herself a widow by murdering the stand-in for failing to produce the groom. People sometimes observed that Jager had a peculiar sense of humor. So Jager had remained absolutely sober through the bachelor party. In all the world, the Watcher *truly* trusted maybe four people. Discounting himself, that left three. Mac was the only one of them at the party, so Jager had stayed sober and alert to watch over his friend's safety. Tonight, he kept a surreptitious eye on his 'assignment' and pulled the additional duty of insuring that Buffy's father did nothing to embarrass her. Jager was perfectly aware that he intimidated the man. He considered that to be foolish. Not because Jager intimidated him – because Reaper did not. If Hank Summers had been anyone but Buffy's father, Jager might have decided the man was too stupid to live. The Watcher was a bit peeved at the man. Jager thought Buffy was a wonderful girl. Quite nearly, in fact, the perfect woman. And Reaper was the perfect mate for her. That Summers did not see that was irritating Jager to no end. The party had spilled out both the front and back doors. Most of the immortals new each other, but not all. So while old acquaintances were being renewed and some new ones made, quite a few guests were carefully keeping an eye on one another. Dawson had asked those in the know to avoid the subject of the Watchers, but the request had proven moot when he was confronted by three different immortals who knew what the tattoo on his wrist meant. There was no doubt in Joe's mind that before the night was out, every immortal in the room would know all about them. Seeing the look on his face, Mac had come to his rescue. Everyone there knew him. After all, he *was* the reason they were there. So he'd spent a couple of hours pulling in this immortal or that and giving them his take on the subject. By the time he was done, Joe decided it was about a forty-sixty split between those who could at least grudgingly accept the idea of the Watchers and those who thought stringing him up from a tree would nicely round out the evening. At least, until Mac started telling them about Jager. More importantly, that the man who had helped him rescue Buffy from that bastard Polovsky – and who just happened to be his best man – was a Watcher. Jager was suddenly the center of much attention. Scene 2 Sunnydale, Ca. 150 Creek St 2245, Thursday (Local) Unnoticed in the snarl of parked cars stretching up and down the remote street in front of the Keep (which was how Mac and Buffy humorously referred to their house), a sedan with dark windows sat. Inside the car, two of Cancerman's underlings were keeping careful note of who came and… Well, who came anyway. None of the guests seemed eager to leave. Unknown to the men in the car, Mac had posted a message on the voice mail of every room he'd booked, instructing all incoming visitors to feel free to swing by. He and Buffy had no doubt that the sun was going to rise before this party ended. Which was fine – the rehearsal wasn't going to be until two the next afternoon. All of the guests had been to weddings before and understood that following the rehearsal dinner, the bride and groom would need to be more or less left alone to take care of last minute business. And immediately following the wedding reception on Saturday, of course, the newlyweds would be leaving. So tonight was really the only time everyone would be together in an informal setting. Ergo – people arrived and did not leave. The men in the car had pointed a high-powered acoustic dish at the house. Most of what they caught was bound to be babble, but back at one of the labs it could be sorted out. The observers did manage to pick out enough to determine that their targets were here attending a wedding. And, of course, they'd learned earlier that Mulder and Scully were engaged. That whole business about 'Slaying' and 'Immortality' was something to wonder about. Buffy's friends were slinking through the party, trying to be friendly without being intrusive. They failed. Deblout had spread word about them and their exploits. Few of the immortals were willing to credit the existence of vampires initially, but with O'Byrne, Deblout, Ceirdwin and *both* of the Macleods giving personal testament… So Xander and Oz found themselves being policed up by different groups and asked to share. Buffy rescued Willow from that by pulling her over to one of the small clusters of women who only wanted to talk about the wedding. A stunningly beautiful woman named Amanda – who'd come with Duncan – complimented Buffy on having landed Mac. She was extremely interested in *how*. She pointed out that she'd never had that kind of luck with Duncan – and she'd been trying, on and off, for almost three hundred and fifty *years*! Hank Summers located his future son-in-law and asked to speak with him. Grudgingly, Mac agreed and the two men retreated to the office. Once inside, they sat in front of Mac's desk and contemplated one another. "How old are you, Mac," asked Hank. "Sixty," answered the immortal. "I was born in 1940." Hank Summers chewed on that for a few seconds. His daughter *was* marrying a cradle-robbing son-of-a-bitch! "Never been married before?" "No," Mac replied, wondering where this was going. "Why not?" Mac thought that over. "The flip answer, I guess, would be that I hadn't met Buffy. But that's not what you want to hear, is it?" "Not really, no," agreed the recalcitrant father. "I've spent most of my life fighting, Hank. I never really had a desire to settle down and play house." "Is that what you and Buffy plan to do?" Summers queried. "Play house?" "Not exactly." Mac tried to judge how to tell Hank what he wanted to know. "Buffy has a destiny, Hank. She had it before I came along. What are our plans? My plans? "We're going to protect the world, Hank. It's what she does. Because of her, it's also – now – what I do. *My* plans? I'm going to love her, Hank. Protect her as best I can. She wants you to be part of her life – *our* life, I guess. You can accept it, accept who she is, *what* she is – what *we* are… "Or you can lose her. It's time to choose." Hank Summers considered what the bastard his daughter was going to marry had said for a long moment. "I don't like you, O'Byrne. I don't think I ever will. But I'll be damned if I'm going to lose my daughter because of you." Buffy's father held his hand out to the despicable son-of-a-bitch that had stolen his baby girl from him. The sun was creeping up over the horizon. Only a small number of people were left at the Keep, most of them out back. Mac, Jager and Joe were making breakfast for the hangers-on. In the kitchen, one extremely tired Slayer was standing behind her fianc‚ with her arms wrapped around him as he made sausage gravy. Nuzzling his back with her face, she was on the verge of falling asleep on her feet. Turning in her arms, Mac wrapped an arm around Buffy and hoisted her up onto the counter beside the stove. Taking one of her hands, he gently massaged her palm as their joined fingers rested in her lap. Buffy gave him a tired smile, prompting the man to lean over and give her a small kiss. Mac knew the combined stress of the upcoming wedding ceremony, a house full of visitors and her father had taken a lot out of his lady. "Tomorrow, honey," he promised her. "We just get through tomorrow and we'll be off on our own for a while." The arrangements were all made. Big Jim and Jager would handle patrol duties under Giles' supervision for the next three weeks. Mac had the tickets and their bags were already packed. Following the reception, the newlyweds would spend the night in L.A. at the fanciest hotel Mac had been able to find. The next morning the two of them would fly to Nassau, where they'd stay in a bungalow belonging to an 'old friend' for three entire weeks. Unless they got an urge to go somewhere else, of course. Buffy gave him another wan smile. What idiot had ever decided weddings were *fun*? As Mac's fingers began tracing their way up her thigh. Buffy seized his hand before he could reach his destination. "*Mac!*" she scolded him. "Behave." The smile on the young woman's face was the reward Mac had been after. She looked a little more sunny, despite her exhaustion. Mission accomplished. Scene 3 Washington, D.C. Office of XXXX 2330, Friday (Local) Cancerman studied the file in front of him. His agents' report that morning had started a flurry of activity as license plates were checked, renters' identities discovered and names researched. Some very interesting information began to emerge. The distilled essence of which was now in his hands. Mulder was certainly keeping interesting company these days. The man whose wedding the two agents had flown to California to attend was named Mackenzie Patrick O'Byrne. That man had a long history performing covert operations for, among other people, Cancerman himself. Lighting yet another Morley, he wondered if O'Byrne knew that some of the work he'd done during the Reagan administration had been directed from this very office. O'Byrne had disappeared now and again over the years – he was the sort who tended to be mixed up in very quiet affairs. The US government had essentially lost track of him after Operation Desert Storm. Well, of course – who would have thought to look in Sunnydale? That the man had managed to slip back into the country didn't surprise Cancerman in the least. According to his files at the CIA and MI-6, he'd been a regular cross between James Bond and John Rambo back in the eighties. Still, that was ten-fifteen years before. The man in the picture Cancerman held had been taken that morning – and revealed a man maybe twenty-five years of age. 'Photogenic bastard,' decided Cancerman. 'Or good cosmetic surgery.' In addition to O'Byrne – who could easily be Mulder's connection – an entire host of men and women had appeared on the scene to witness the nuptials. Many of them had military and/or police files of their own. Interesting ones, too. Apparently O'Byrne kept in touch with at least *some* of his comrades- in-arms. The most dangerous ones at that. Particularly one Frenchman named Jean-Paul Deblout. Retired from the French Army, highly decorated and with a long record of involvement with the DGSE – French Intelligence – Deblout was an obvious candidate for the power in France that had been frustrating Cancerman. There were reports that many of Deblout's longest serving – read 'most loyal' – men had retired with him. So Deblout had a private army that could have easily pulled off the mission in Tunisia. Through O'Byrne, Mulder had a connection all right! * Several* of them, in fact. O'Byrne's wedding was turning into a virtual 'who's who' among the quiet and deadly. The question, then, was what the hell could he do about it? Answer? Bring him in. O'Byrne and his bride, both. He reached for his phone. "Find out where the O'Byrnes are spending their honeymoon," he ordered. "Retrieve them. Alive." Cancerman had a sneaking suspicion he knew who had come to visit him. O'Byrne and his partner – a German veteran of the French Foreign Legion named Thomas Jager – owned a martial arts dojo in Sunnydale. He'd had *two* visitors that night. Two men accustomed to violence and well skilled at wringing information from an unwilling man. Granted, he had nothing but a feeling, but, as he lit yet another cigarette, he decided he knew who those two men were. Scene 4 Sunnydale, Ca. Mulligan's Restaurant 2100, Friday (Local) "To my daughter and Mac," ('That god damned cradle-robbing bastard!') "Many happy times in the years to come," Hank toasted the bride- and groom-to-be. "Hear, hear!" chorused throughout the main room. The wedding party filled the entire establishment. Between all of Buffy's relatives, her few friends and all of his 'old' friends, Mac had wound up simply renting the entire place for the night. Considering what the he was being charged, the owner had been more than happy to shut out the general public from Sunnydale's only really good eatery that night. Dawson stood up. "Buffy and Mac. May the best of the times behind make for the worst of the times to come," he offered. "Hear, hear," chorused again. Buffy was leaning against Mac with a smile on her face. A smile that almost covered her burgeoning sense of dread. 'Oh, my god! I'm really getting married tomorrow!' kept repeating in her mind. Only the warm comfort of Mac's arm around her waist kept the young woman from bolting from the room to throw up. The pre-wedding jitters were hitting her hard. Finally, it was time to say goodnight. Buffy had begun to believe the toasts would never end. Once free of all the well-wishers, the nervous bride had been hustled by Joyce to her house. Buffy was going to stay there that night, allegedly so the groom wouldn't see her before the wedding. In truth, mother and daughter intended to flop. Having had barely two months to prepare for the wedding, the women were worn to a frazzle. Willow was there as well, basking in the reflected glory of her best friend. The three women were scarfing down brownies and getting fairly blitzed on wine within an hour of getting to Joyce's house. Every sweet that Buffy picked up she analyzed carefully, wondering if *this* would be the one that caused the seams on her wedding dress to bust or if *this* one would give her an unsightly blemish. Having carefully considered the issue, she then popped it into her mouth. "Nervous, Buffy?" asked Joyce. Buffy shot her mom a look. "Why do you ask that, Mom?" "Well, between you nearly streaking from Mulligan's in a panic and scarfing down more junk food than I've seen you eat at one sitting in *years*," Joyce recited, "*and* the fact that you're getting thoroughly smashed, I just thought you might be the *teensiest* bit nervous about tomorrow?" "You look like you're gonna hurl, Buffy," added Willow. Buffy looked back and forth between her mother and best friend. Then she raced for the bathroom. Mac, Jager, Duncan, Joe, Mulder, Dana and Deblout sat on Mac's porch, feet up, drinking beer. While a tiny part of Mac's mind was concerned about the next day, most of *Reaper's* attention was focused on Deblout's report. Tomorrow would take care of itself. Mac doubted anyone would be shooting at him. Not even Buffy's father. Probably, anyway. Deblout's report on the Consortium was a horse of another color. "The analysis is not complete yet, of course," Deblout was saying. "But early reports suggest that the samples we retrieved may well be of extra-terrestrial origin." Mulder felt vindicated by the Frenchman's report. Mac – 'No, he's in *Reaper* mode, now' Mulder decided – sat impassively through it. "What did you learn from Cancerman's retrieval team?" asked the immortal in the flat, dead voice he used when all his humanity was tucked away. "Little, I'm afraid. They gave up what they knew, but that didn't amount to much," answered Deblout. 'How long did it take those men to die?' Dana wondered. 'What level of Hell did they visit before Deblout and his men *let* them die?' She and Mulder were both aware that Mac and his friends were capable of almost unspeakable brutality. Cold, clinical brutality designed to insure that the subject of their efforts gave them what they wanted. And they would never bat an eye about it, either. Grateful as she was that she and Fox had acquired allies capable of dealing with Cancerman and his ilk, the monstrosities these men could engineer without exhibiting the slightest shred of remorse troubled her greatly. Dana believed that there really was a 'right' and a 'wrong' way to do things. The immortals seemed only to care about what worked and left morality to the philosophers. She'd been rather surprised that Thomas and Mac had allowed Cancerman to live. The two men had been vague as to their reasoning. Dana interpreted that to mean they had some specific intent that required Cancerman's survival. The woman tried very hard not to think about what that might be. Dana was afraid she'd start feeling sorry for the black-lunged son-of-a- bitch. The conversation on the porch was of great interest to the two men observing the Keep. They'd just struck gold. The boss was going to be *very* pleased to learn who Mulder's connections were. They wondered if they'd be allowed to kill the interfering bastard. Curiously, neither man was eager to be given the assignment to kill O'Byrne or his friends. Perhaps because they recognized the men for what they were – killers, much like themselves. The observers had no idea what calamity their boss was about to provoke by making the same mistake in judgement. :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Part 3 Scene 1 Sunnydale, Ca. 1630 Rabello Dr 0830, Saturday (Local) Buffy felt a bit ill. She wasn't hung over, exactly, she just felt…off. Definitely *off*. Seeing that her daughter looked a little green around the gills, Joyce started feeding Buffy coffee, juice and aspirin. By eight-thirty the bride was looking better. Not great, mind you, but better. The young woman spent a long time in the shower that morning. Willow was getting her and Buffy's things together when the phone rang. Joyce moved to answer it, calling out, "Don't forget the brown bag, Willow!" as she lifted up the receiver. "*What's in the brown bag?*" asked Mac's voice. "Never you mind, Mackenzie!" scolded Joyce. "Girl stuff. What's up?" "*Thought I'd check in with my girl." * Joyce had a small smile on her face. Mac wasn't afraid of fighting, dying or even – maybe – getting married. So she doubted he was calling to reassure his trembling bride. Not knowing what fear was when it smacked him on top of the head, it would never occur to him that Buffy might be suffering through the heebie-jeebies. Which meant he was calling because he hadn't seen Buffy since the night before and just wanted to hear her voice. In some ways, Joyce had long since decided, her soon-to-be son-in-law was a very sweet man. "She's a little busy right now, Mac. I-" Joyce broke off as Buffy's hand shot out and seized the phone. Joyce hadn't even seen her enter the kitchen. "Hi, sweetie! Miss me?" Buffy's face was a suddenly much healthier shade. Joyce shook her head. 'How on Earth does that man do it?' she wondered. Whatever the man's secret was, he needed to bottle it – he'd make a fortune. *Another* fortune. "*Of course. How're you doing?*" "Okay. Nervous?" Buffy teased. "*Nervous? What for?*" Mac asked. "Well in a couple more hours, you're gonna be tied to the ol' ball and chain. No more days of being footloose and fancy free," she answered. "Just that." "*Tied, huh? That reminds me – I forgot to pack the-*" "Mackenzie!" Buffy squealed. Joyce wondered why her daughter was suddenly blushing. After a moment's thought, she decided she didn't really *want* to know. *Knowing* your daughter was…'active' with someone was one thing. It certainly didn't bear *thinking* about. "*I just wanted to say good morning, honey. I'll see you soon.*" "You'll be the guy dressed in the black tux, right?" "*Tux…tux… Damn. Know what else I for-*" "I hope you're joking, Mac," threatened Buffy. Mac chuckled. "*C'mon, sweetie. Lighten up. See you soon. I love you.*" "I love you, too, honey," Buffy said. She hung up the phone and turned to her mother. "That was Mac." "No kidding," replied Joyce. "Buffy, *I* answered the phone, remember?" "Oh…right." Buffy paused for a long moment. "Mom?" "Yes, honey?" "When you and Daddy got married, were you…" "Nervous?" guessed Joyce. Seeing her daughter nod, Joyce replied, "Buffy, I was scared half to death. Don't worry. Once you get as far as the aisle, you'll pretty much cruise on auto-pilot. Trust me." Scene 2 Sunnydale, Ca. Mulligan's Restaurant 1930, Saturday (Local) Buffy O'Byrne hugged her father close as he danced her across the floor. Periodically breaking down in tears, the man was dry-eyed for the moment. Seeing that Mac was anxious to grab his wife and be on his way, Hank just held his daughter a little closer. That bastard might have married her, but Hank was *still* her father and would damn well finish his dance. After a couple more minutes – and entirely too soon – the dance *was* finished. Mac walked over to claim his bride. Seeing his baby girl's face light up as she gave that son-of-a-bitch a kiss, Hank had to concede that the bastard made her happy. He hadn't seen a woman's face glow like that since his own wedding. Though he knew it wasn't really possible – Buffy had been adopted, after all – Hank still swore that he could see Joyce in Buffy. Joyce had looked so much like their daughter that day… Mac and Buffy started making their way toward the exit clasping hands and being embraced by every last man and woman on the way. Finally outside, Mac loaded Buffy into a limo for the ride into L.A. Hank Summers had to grant that his son-in-law had class. Their bags had been sent out the day before and Jager would come by the hotel in the morning to collect the wedding dress for storage. All of which caused Hank to reflect that Buffy's new husband was an efficient bastard, too. Feeling a hand on his arm, he turned to find Jager pulling at him. "She married a good man, Mr. Summers." Hank stared at the…what was it called? *Watcher*. After a while he shrugged. "Maybe. But good *enough*?" "How many men think the man who marries their daughter is 'good enough'?" asked Jager. "She is happy. She has a man who would quite literally tear down Heaven and Hell to protect her. He is honorable and loves her very much. "And," added Jager with a smile, "he's rich. What else could you possible want for her?" Hank glared at the man. That Jager was right didn't really make any difference. His baby was gone. Mr. and Mrs. O'Byrne snuggled quietly in the back of the limo as they rode to L.A. Buffy wondered the entire way when her husband – 'My *husband*!' – was going to rip her dress off. Somehow the man managed to control himself all the way into the city. Arriving at the hotel, they were greeted by the night manager, who personally escorted them to their room. When Mac carried her over the threshold, Buffy almost gasped – the room was *huge*. Make that *rooms*, plural. Unable to resist, she darted about, exploring. When she focused on Mac, Buffy noticed they were alone. Buffy was alone with her husband. On their wedding night. A smile started creeping across her face. Several hours later, the newlyweds lay entwined with each other and the sheets, drifting in and out of sleep. Buffy ran her fingers through the mat of dark hair covering her husband's chest. Mac stroked his wife's soft hair, wondering at her beauty. And energy. There was definitely an upside to the whole Slayer business. That incredible strength and stamina had more than one use. Duncan had been right when he'd once suggested Buffy might well be the end of him. Ah, but what a way to go! Seeing the sly grin on his face, Buffy asked, "And what's amusing *you*, Mr. O'Byrne?" Mac smiled at her. "Just agreeing with a friend," he replied. After a moment, he appended, "*Mrs.* O'Byrne." Buffy smiled and snuggled against him. "Tired?" she asked. Mac shot her a look of disbelief. "You've got to be kidding me," he replied in response to her suggestive expression. Buffy's smile grew wider. Scene 3 Washington, D.C. Office of XXXX 0830, Sunday (Local) Cancerman read the transcripts that had been compiled over the last three days. Quite a collection of information was coming together. While informative, it was also a bit discouraging. Deblout was going to be hard to get to. Not impossible, of course – no one was impossible. But hard, nonetheless. The O'Byrnes were scheduled to fly to the Bahamas today. A two man reconnaissance team had already been dispatched there. Unfortunately, no one could determine where they intended to stay. Not that that was anything more than an inconvenience. The O'Byrnes luggage was going to have a locator attached to it before they ever left L.A. If shadowing them proved difficult – always a possibility with someone like O'Byrne – they could be followed from a distance. Cancerman believed he'd covered every base he could in the case of the O'Byrnes. Now, what to do about Deblout? The man had to be dealt with. He was scheduled to return to France by Concorde early Monday. A simple enough matter to smuggle a bomb onto the plane and destroy it over the Atlantic. But even without Deblout's presence on the plane, French security would be on the case like white on rice. The Concorde was France's pride and joy. Still… Worth the risk. Deblout would have some of his men with him. With him out of the way, his organization would be weakened considerably. The materiel at the Pasteur Institute could be retrieved and a serious threat would have been eliminated. He reached for his phone. Scene 4 US airspace UA flight #1320 1330, Sunday (EST) Buffy lounged against Mac with one of his arms draped around her, watching the movie as he read a book and absently stroked her forearm. She'd teased him a little about his choice of reading material before setting the headphones over her ears. Her husband (Husband!) was reading Tolstoy's "War and Peace". "I married a geezer," she'd said. "Are you *sure* you and Giles aren't related?" "Philistine," had been his reply. "Phili-what?" "Grrrrrrr." Bored by the movie, Buffy was mischievously drawing her fingers up his thigh. On her face, she maintained an innocent expression. She was wondering when he was going to react to her roving hand when the first- class attendant crouched beside her. "Can I get you anything?" the woman asked. 'My, god! This girl *can't* be married. She barely looks old enough to *drive*!' she thought. Buffy looked at her for a moment. Then she lifted one side of the 'phones from her ear. "Pardon?" she asked. "I asked if I could get you anything," repeated the attendant. "A drink? Something to eat?" "Honey?" Buffy asked. "Want anything?" Mac was grateful for the woman's intrusion. If Buffy's hand had slid any higher, his ears might have popped. "Coffee," he decided. "For some reason, I'm feeling a little tired." Seeing Buffy blush, the attendant decided 'Newlyweds'. It was kind of sweet. Recently married herself, the attendant had a wicked thought. Gesturing for Buffy to lean out to the aisle, she whispered in the young woman's ear. Buffy giggled and whispered her thanks. Once the waitress departed, Buffy leaned back against her husband. "Mac?" she asked him softly. "Hmm?" "Ever heard of the 'Mile High Club'?" :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Part 4 Scene 1 Outside Nassau, The Bahamas 14 King Place 0800, Monday (Local) The newlyweds woke up as the Caribbean sun flittered through the window facing the bed. Turning to each other, they began making love in a slow, languorous, early morning manner. It was a while after that before either one of them was willing to leave the other's embrace and rise to face the day. It was Buffy, in fact, who climbed out of bed first. Her husband joined her in the shower, of course. Breakfast was a long session of mutual teasing. The dishes were left waiting as they had at each other again in the kitchen. Deciding his wife looked a little uncomfortable on the linoleum floor, Mac carried her as far as the divan sitting on the patio. Lunch was prepared simultaneously with the chore of cleaning up from breakfast. It was a light meal, which Buffy decided to feed to him one bite at a time as she sat in his lap, both of them still naked from the night before. They cleaned up the mess from lunch and decided on a short swim in the pool. Buffy *loved* the pool. It had been carefully designed to resemble a natural pond. Kidney shaped, the pool wrapped around an intrusion planted with two small banzai trees and had a low, vine-covered stone wall encircling two- thirds of its circumference. Small, the pool wasn't really big enough for *swimming*, exactly. It was, however, perfectly proportioned for a small number of people to play in. It was just the right size for a young bride to lead her husband on a merry chase as she teased and tempted him. Of course, since the point was to let the man catch her – eventually – Buffy didn't try to escape him for all that long. As the sun crested its zenith and began the long, slow journey toward the western horizon, the lovers lay in each others arms, wrapped in a towel, propped up in the divan. They were making soft, affectionate mewling noises to one another as evening approached. The pair was caught in a blissful state, completely unaware that they were under continuous observation. "Jesus!" whispered one of the observers to the other. "Think they're on something?" The virtual marathon of sexual escapades had impressed the two men to no end. *And*, they had almost all of it on video! This was one surveillance tape that needed to be shared widely among their colleagues. For a price, of course. "Young love," whispered his partner in reply. "Man! And I thought *my* honeymoon was hot." "It's almost a shame, isn't it?" asked the first man. The snatch team would arrive that night. Within two days – barring unforeseen complications – the newlyweds were going to get a rude surprise. "Yeah. Still, by then they'll probably *need* a break," suggested the other. Scene 2 New York, NY Laguardia International Airport 1000, Monday (Local) The man tasked to destroy Concorde flight 102 moved easily through the cargo handling area. Selecting two separate pieces of luggage that already cleared security, he inserted a two-kilogram package into each. Each of the packages was set with a digital timer. One hour after take- off, Concorde flight 102 would have its belly ripped apart at forty-five thousand feet. Each of the one hundred and twenty-one passengers would be dead before they had a chance to realize what had happened. Jean-Paul Deblout, Colonel (Retired) of the Armie L'France finished a last-minute meeting with the two representatives from France's UN mission. Bidding the diplomats good day, Deblout and his party – three of his own men and two 'handlers' the DGSE insisted on whenever the Colonel *officially* traveled outside France – hurried to board Concorde 102. Only fifteen minutes after its officially scheduled departure (having been held up by Deblout's meeting), Concorde 102 lifted off from Laguardia. Flight time was expected to be just under three hours. Deblout read through a few documents that his friends in the DGSE wanted his take on, then sat back to rest his eyes. Waiting for sleep to take him, the Colonel thoughts moved back and forth between the business Mackenzie had gotten him involved in and the newlyweds themselves. It had occurred to the Colonel on more than one occasion that Mackenzie would have made an excellent choice for his own daughter, Marie. She needed a good, strong man. Oh, well. No doubt Buffy was a better choice for him. The passion between the two of them was an almost palpable thing, filling the very air around them. And Buffy certainly seemed to have brought out a sense of nobility in Mackenzie that the man had always previously lacked. Since meeting her, Deblout's old comrade had become… 'Heroic,' he finally decided. 'The Slayer has made the man over into an outright hero.' Not that Mackenzie was any less ruthless, mind you. He was simply far more interested in the common good. Amazing, the changes the right woman could render in a man. And now, this business with the Consortium… Deblout had been vaguely aware of their existence for years, but he'd never even *suspected* what they were actually up to. Once Mackenzie learned of their existence it took the young immortal all of about half a second to decide to destroy them. Buffy's influence? Probably, at least in part. The Consortium was the common enemy of everyone that lived on the planet. Which, unfortunately for the members of that secret sect, included the love of Mackenzie's life. Deblout was wondering what his comrade intended to do about the aliens when the plane exploded. Scene 3 Outside Nassau, The Bahamas The Dead Duck 2000, Monday (Local) The O'Byrnes had finally decided to head out for a while. Both of them needed a chance to recoup their energy, which meant getting out someplace where they would *have* to keep their hands off each other. Someplace public. A short drive of exploration revealed a slightly seedy-looking bar and restaurant called 'The Dead Duck'. The name alone had demanded they check it out. The Duck turned out to be a pretty friendly place. Far more a place for the locals than the tourists, the food was good and the prices were cheap. A light meal was followed by a little dancing. Though Mac was initially skeptical of anything faster than a slow waltz ('I *don't* boogie, Buffy!'), his wife soon had him 'shaking his bootie'. Tired of the crowd (i.e. having recovered from their earlier exercise), Buffy and Mac were soon walking down the dark street in the general direction of the beach. Once there, they slipped off their shoes and began to stroll through the sand as waves lapped at their feet. Mac's arm was wrapped around Buffy has she nuzzled his chest with her face. "Mac?" "Yeah, honey?" "Ever done it on the beach?" One of the observers sat with the leader of the snatch team. They were watching the young couple through a night scope from half a mile away. "They like this a lot?" asked the team leader. "Oh, yeah," replied his guide with a smirk. "I don't think they've slept more than a couple of hours, *total*, since they arrived." "Good." Tired, O'Byrne and his wife would be a hell of a lot easier to deal with. Mac gently brushed the hair out of Buffy's eyes as she huddled against him sleeping. Force of habit made him look away from her and scan up and down the beach. No one was nearby. He looked back down at the sleeping woman. Only, she was no longer asleep – her eyes were open and fixed on him, dancing with merriment. "Can't help it, can you?" Buffy asked. "Help what, sweetie?" "What do you call it? 'Situational something or other'?" "Situational awareness?" "That's it!" Buffy affirmed. "So," she teased him. "Anything bad out there?" Mac smiled at her. "Just me. Bad to the bone." Buffy giggled. "I'll say. We talking about the same one? Bone, that is." "Buffy!" he exclaimed, feigning shock. She giggled again. Buffy stood up. She grimaced for a moment, then held her hand out to help her husband to his feet. "Something wrong, honey?" he asked solicitously. "Sand," she replied. "Well, just remember, *I'm* not the one who threw *you* down on the beach," he responded with mocking self-righteousness. "It was the other way around. In fact, as I recall-" Buffy slapped his chest. Mac broke off and grinned at her. "Like, you minded?" she asked. "How are we gonna get back? I'm sure not *walking*!" Mac picked her up and, cradling his wife in his arms, carried her down to the ocean. A short swim later, Buffy figured she'd rinsed away enough of the sand to make it back to the bungalow. As the US Navy and Coast Guard searched through the area where Concorde 102 had gone down, the hopes of the rescuers were dismal to say the least. Despite the season, the North Atlantic was cold. Survival time in the chilly water could often be measured in minutes. Concorde 102 had gone down almost ten hours earlier. Besides which, the French airliner had virtually *vaporized*, according to radar. As the French navy steamed furiously to the crash site to aid in the effort, intelligence agencies everywhere were girding themselves for a long frustrating search. Given the almost fanatical care exhibited by the French when it came to maintaining their nation's flying flagship, the men and women at the CIA, MI-6, and – especially – France's DGSE *knew* that someone had deliberately destroyed the airliner. Knew it in their bones. At the estate of one retired French officer, his men were gearing up for battle. Someone had just murdered their boss – the man who had led them safely through one blood-chilling hellhole after another before *personally* seeing to their retirement. It didn't matter to them whether Jean-Paul Deblout had been the target of the attack or not – someone, somewhere was going to pay his blood-price. Honor demanded it. All too aware of what was happening at Deblout's estate, the movers and shakers at DGSE headquarters were working frantically to provide those men with a target. Much more than some politician who had successfully wormed his way into the corridors of power, more than just a retired officer with an impressive record of military achievement, Colonel Deblout was a legend within the military and intelligence circles of France. For the attack on France's pride, for the murder of her citizens and for the assassination of the wrong man, someone was going to die. The question, of course, was *who*? Scene 4 Outside Nassau, The Bahamas The Dead Duck 2000, Tuesday (Local) Buffy and Mac had returned to the Duck for dinner. The atmosphere was friendly, the food good… The newlyweds were comfortably anonymous. Mac was whispering something secret in Buffy's ear, causing her to color a pretty shade of pink under her deepening tan. Fingers intertwined on the table, the lovers sat hand in hand, seemingly oblivious to the world around them. Aware of their status as newlyweds – you'd just about have to be blind to miss it – the restaurant's staff had decided they really liked the young couple. They were not only very much in love, they were polite and unintrusive in a way most tourists were not. Having been asked, the bride had related that they planned to be around for about three weeks, but might come and go within that time frame. The owner was seriously considering giving them some kind of small party. At least a free meal. There was something just so…*magic* about the couple. Mac's apparent ignorance of his surroundings was deceptive. The immortal had survived in a dangerous world for far too long to be *completely* dismissive of it. So when something suddenly made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up, Mac's head snapped up in a quick scan of the room. At the entrance stood a man with a look of sheer amazement on his face, staring at Mac. A man Mac hadn't seen in more than twelve years. Noticing that something other than she, herself, was the abrupt focus of her husband's attention, Buffy looked up. A dark-skinned man was striding up to their table. His face was cold, almost angry. Buffy tensed up. The stranger arrived, looming over them. "*Reaper?*" he demanded in a quiet voice. Mac disengaged himself from Buffy and stood to face the new arrival. "Hello, Bob," he said. The two man contemplated one another for a long moment. 'It can't be,' Robert Lighter told himself. 'I saw Reaper die. I *know* I did. This guy… This *kid* can't be him! Can't be!' Buffy was staring at 'Bob', studying him. A little shorter than her husband – say around six or six-one – 'Bob' was a black guy with well chiseled features and short hair. Muscular, he probably weighed in it at around one-ninety or ninety-five. Handsome, too, she noted. "You want to sit down, Bob?" asked Mac. Lighter sat down. "Bob, I'd like you to meet my wife, Buffy. Honey, say hello to Bob Lighter," he instructed. "Hello, Bob Lighter," Buffy parroted. 'Oh, Christ! She's got Reaper's sense of humor,' Lighter thought. "Hello, Buffy," he replied. '*Buffy*? Who in hell would name their kid *Buffy*?' he wondered. And then 'Christ, she looks young!' Mac and Buffy sat and looked at Lighter, whose gaze was transfixed by the man he'd seen die twelve years before. "Why are you still alive, Reaper?" he demanded. If the girl didn't know about him, too bad. Lighter had considered the man a friend. To find him alive after so long… "I'm not that easy to kill, Bob," "That's not an answer, Reaper. I saw you charge into that shack. I saw it blow up. *Saw* it, Reaper. I didn't see you come out," Lighter accused, recalling that bad, bad day in Columbia twelve years ago. "Well… The blast knocked me for a loop, I'll grant you that. You guys were gone when I…came to." Mac shrugged. "What with all the noise Congress was making, we both knew that things were winding down." 'Besides,' thought Mac, 'I knew people were gonna be asking *serious* questions about my youthful appearance. They were already teasing me about how a thirty-something man looked so young.' "So you just what? Decided to up and vanish?" demanded Lighter. "And just never found time to let me know you were still alive?" "There comes a time to move on, Bob. The time had come," was Mac's answer. Lighter took that in. Reaper had always been secretive, he remembered. "I don't suppose you want to tell me why you still look twenty-five?" he asked. "Good genes?" Mac replied jokingly. Lighter took that in as well. No doubt about it – the bastard hadn't changed a bit. "And Verstaan?" he asked. Reaper had charged into that damn shack in pursuit of the Dutch mercenary. US forces had wanted the bastard stopped – he'd been a terrorist-for-hire for years before bringing his 'skills' to bear for the Medellin Cartel. "Dead," was the flat reply. Lighter remembered that tone. Reaper's voice turned flat – *dead* – whenever the darkness in the man took control. It was the voice he used when he planned missions. When he executed enemies. That tone was almost as bad as when Reaper started sounding cheerful. 'Cheerful Reaper' had been what the men on the anti-drug missions used to say when they wished to communicate that the man was pissed. If 'Cheerful Reaper' was coming out to play, you hid. Or you died. "Verstaan?" asked Buffy. Mac turned to her. "Bad guy, honey," he explained. "Oh," she responded. 'Bad guy' and 'dead'. Buffy briefly wondered what the man had done to piss off her honey. "*Very* bad guy," amended Lighter. "He was a god damned terrorist who thought nothing of killing women, children…" "Pets," added Mac. Buffy shot him a glare. "I'm not joking, sweetie. Verstaan liked to torture people's pets. He got off on it." "Still have a soft spot for dogs, Reaper?" Lighter queried. He turned to Buffy. "Reap- *Mac*," he amended, "really liked dogs-" "Reaper's fine, Bob," Mac cut in. "Buffy probably knows a hell of a lot more about me than you do." Lighter considered that a moment. Then, nodding, he continued with the story. "Anyway, we found this place in the mountains, once, where this guy Verstaan had killed a couple of peasants as an example for the others. See, these people were working for the Cartel growing coca, making next to nothing. "They were asking for a little more money. Not a lot, mind you, just… Oh, I guess it would amount to around two dollars a month. So this bastard Verstaan comes along, grabs the leaders and executes them. Just put them on their knees and shot them through the back of the head. Now, you think that would've been enough, right?" Buffy nodded, fascinated by the story "Not for this guy. He saw a couple of dogs in the village. Mangy little things, right? Not the least bit ferocious. Verstaan broke their jaws, hamstrung them and skinned them. *Alive*." Buffy shivered at the mental picture. Lost in the memory, Lighter continued. "So we come along. We hear about the dead peasants and we're all, like, 'What a shame – see what working for these guys gets you?' hoping to develop some intel. "Then Reaper, here, hears about the dogs. He goes out and digs them up so he can see for himself what had been done to them. Buries the dogs again, never says a word, right? Not until we got away from the village. Then he turns to me and these two other guys, Jeff and Frank, and he says in this really cheerful voice, 'Well, boys, I'll see you later. I'm gonna go have a chat with Monsieur Verstaan.' "So *then*-" "I think you've made your point, Bob," Mac cut him off. Sitting in a car outside the bar, the team leader was furious. 'Shit!' he thought to himself. 'What the fuck is Lighter doing here?' The team leader had known Lighter a long time. The CIA man was a former Navy SEAL who had worked for the CIA's Directorate of Operations for sixteen years. To the team leader's personal knowledge, Lighter was one of the very few honest-to-god assassins left in the Agency. And from the sound of things, he and their target were old friends. Old, *close* friends. 'Fuck!' The forty-third body fished from the cold water was that of Jean-Paul Deblout. The body was ravaged. Not yet identified, the corpse was placed in a freezer – one of three that had been set aside on the USS John Mitchell to hold the recovered remains. Sitting there in the cold and dark, no one was witness to its resurrection. With a gasp, Deblout came back to life. 'Where the hell am I?' wondered the chilled immortal. 'What the hell happened?' Groggily climbing to his feet, the veteran soldier began feeling his way through the dark. Discovering the bodies, he began to gather that something terrible must have occurred on the flight. He recalled a thunderous explosion, followed by darkness. 'Bomb,' he decided. 'But who…' In a moment, it clicked. The Consortium. He wondered how many people had been murdered by the attempt to kill him. Years spent in intelligence circles left him unwilling to consider the possibility of coincidence without strong proof. Besides, who but the Consortium could have slipped past both US *and* French security? Deblout knew his countrymen were stark raving paranoid when it came to the Concorde. He himself had helped in designing the security arrangements for the airline. To date, not one *single* terrorist had managed to get near- Deblout darted against a wall as the lights snapped on. The freezer door opened and two men carried in another victim. Unnoticed by the burdened – and very tired – men, Deblout glanced outside and quietly slipped away. Stealing a rain slicker from a nearby coat hook to cover his ragged apparel, the immortal made his way to the frigate's weather deck. He was in luck, a group of men who were obviously French liaisons to the ongoing rescue effort were nearby. Striding to them, he summoned their attention. "Colonel Deblout!" responded one of the men in shocked recognition. "How-" "I missed the flight. Something came up at the last minute," he explained. "But, how did you get *here*?" asked the stunned bureaucrat. "Do you imagine I have either the time or the desire to explain myself to you?" Deblout inquired of him coldly. The object of his displeasure snapped to attention. "No, sir. My apologies, Colonel." "Very well. It is believed I was on the flight?" "At every level, sir," affirmed his countryman. Deblout smiled, causing the French liaison to shiver. Deblout's expression was entirely too much like that of a hungry wolf. Scene 4 Outside Nassau, The Bahamas 14 King Place 2100, Tuesday (Local) It had been an effort to shake Lighter loose. Actually, Mac would have been happy to spend a little more time with the man – he'd always really liked Bob – but something the CIA agent had mentioned had struck a disturbing chord. "You guys hear about the Concorde exploding over the Atlantic?" In five minutes, Mac and Buffy were gone. Deblout was supposed to have been on that flight. Getting back to the bungalow, Mac raced for the phone. Immediately he started punching in Mulder's number. Buffy sat quietly, waiting to see what her husband of four days intended to do. If the Colonel *had* been on that plane, the honeymoon was over and she knew it. Reaper would be on the warpath. Buffy wasn't sure how she felt about Mac having involved himself in Mulder's crusade. On the one hand, between vampires and the occasional immortal, the two of them had plenty to keep themselves busy. On the other… If Mulder was right about this 'Consortium' thingy, vampires could turn out to be the least of their problems. Not getting anything but Mulder's machine, Mac quickly left a message to call back and provided the bungalow's phone number. He was punching in Scully's number, hoping the two agents were there together, when the tranquilizer dart hit him in the back. Buffy saw the strike of the dart, saw Mac flinch and stumble forward. Saw a hand loaded with a syringe appear from behind her. The young woman had been worried about Deblout. She'd been sad that the bliss she was sharing with her new husband was being interrupted. And Buffy had been startled by the unexpected attack on Mac. None of that stopped her from seizing the hand trying to plunge the needle into her. Crushing nearly every bone in the man's hand, she whirled up and around to confront their attacker. Make that *attackers*. Four of them. She jumped forward and kicked one man in the face, squashing his nose flat and smashing in his sinus cavity. The Slayer was used to dealing with vampires and routinely trained with an immortal, both of which tended to be far more resilient than your average hitman. The man she kicked somersaulted back through the hair, blinded by shock and pain. She moved to strike the next of their opponents when the man whose hand she'd crushed panicked and shot her in the back. Four nine millimeter rounds tore through the young woman, tightly grouped in the vicinity of her heart. Buffy was dead when she hit the floor. Mac saw this, but the fast acting drug in his system was already knocking him to the ground. Mustering all his power, all his will, the immortal struggled forward and grasped one of the men by the throat. With a savage jerk, Mac snapped the man's neck. He turned to the next man… And collapsed to the floor, unconscious. The three survivors were scattered around the room, two of them wounded. The man with the ruined face moaned in agony. The team leader – the only one of them left unscathed – shook his head in sheer amazement. 'Holy Christ on a crutch!' he thought. O'Byrne had managed to fight off a drug that should have put him down in five seconds long enough to kill a man with his bare hands. His wife… Make that *late* wife – 'God damn it!' – had crippled two other men on the team. And the leader was *sure* that they'd had no warning. *None*. Which meant that the newlyweds had taken out three-quarters of the team purely as a reaction. Who the hell were they and where the *fuck* had they come from? The immediate question was, what to do about the mess? In an instant, the leader made his decision. Grabbing his dead team mate, he pulled the man over and dropped him next to the dead woman – 'Sorry, Paul,' ran through his head – before setting an incendiary device between them. Grabbing his survivors and O'Byrne, he hustled them out of the bungalow. Reaching their van, the leader remote detonated the device. Stabbing O'Byrne with an additional dose of the knock-out drug as a precaution, he ordered them driven away. Behind them, the bungalow was in flames. 'Shame about the woman,' he thought. 'She'd have been useful leverage against her husband.' Still, O'Byrne was the primary target. Him, they had. Part 5 Scene 1 Nassau, The Bahamas Provincial Coroner's Office 0540, Wednesday (Local) Buffy came awake with a shuddering gasp. Realizing she was laying on something cold, she thrashed at the sheet covering her face. Sitting up, she realized immediately she was in a morgue. Sliding quietly off the autopsy table, she looked around. Next to the table was a bench with a chart. Examination revealed it to be hers, sort of. * Victim ID: Unknown Age: Unknown Gender: Female COD: Burn victim (tentative) * She set the chart down. On a table a short distance away was another sheet-covered body. It, too, had a chart. * Victim ID: Unknown Age: Unknown Gender: Male COD: Burn victim (tentative) * It couldn't be Mac. She didn't sense the presence of another immortal. Pulling back the sheet revealed a horribly burned body. Wrinkling her nose and making a disgusted noise, Buffy quickly pulled the sheet back over the charred corpse. According to the two charts, she and the dead guy had both been recovered from the bungalow. Looking at a clock on the wall, she saw that it was early morning. Buffy's grades in High School had barely permitted her to graduate. Aside from her husband and a few close friends, few people realized that Buffy was, in fact, a very bright young woman. But bright she was, so it took all of maybe three seconds for her to decide the dead guy was one of the men that had attacked her and Mac. Which, of course, left the question, 'Where's my honey?' Mac wouldn't have just left her to wake up in a strange place on her own. Not if it was within his power to avoid it. Buffy began to get a really bad feeling about where her husband was. Mac was still heavily sedated. Fortunately for the other men on the plane winging its way north to the US, he was completely unaware of where he was or what was happening to him. Not long after Buffy started figuring out that her husband had been forcibly taken away from her, the plane landed at Eglin AFB in Florida. Within minutes, Mac was taken to a remote location, stripped, strapped down and had a narcotic affixed to him by way of an IV drip. Three hours after that, Cancerman arrived, stepping off the last plane he would ever fly. Buffy spotted Mac's friend from the night before, 'Bob', as she slipped quietly out of the morgue. She'd stolen a lab smock to cover herself, having stripped off the charred remains of her own clothing. Lighter spotted her at the same moment and rushed to her. Taking her by the arm, he dragged her into a nearby alcove. "Buffy, wh-" was all Lighter managed to get out before her hand was wrapped around his throat. She jerked him into the air and slammed him against the wall. "All right, 'Bob', you son-of-a-bitch, *where's my husband*?" Buffy hissed at him. She'd been worried, saddened and finally startled the night before. Now the Slayer was pissed. * No one* messed with her honey! "Answer me!" she ordered as she slammed Lighter against the wall a second time, rattling his teeth. For his part, Lighter was shocked by the strength of the woman holding him aloft. Holding him and *strangling* him. He couldn't have talked even if he'd known what to say. Realizing that she might just kill the man before he had a chance to speak – as previously mentioned, she was a little emotional just then – Buffy forced herself to calm down. Setting the man down, she began to speak in a voice that reminded Lighter uncomfortably of the flat, dead tone Reaper tended to use right before people started dying. "Where is my husband, 'Bob'? Tell me what I want to know and *maybe* I'll let you live. For a while," she amended. "Buffy, I have *no* idea. When I heard what happened, I assumed the two of you had died," he replied. "Bad answer, Bob. Very bad. So *not* what I want to hear right now." The look in Buffy's eyes was seriously worrying Lighter. 'Jesus *Christ*, Reaper. What'd you do, clone yourself and dress her with-' Lighter's thought was interrupted by Buffy's twisting of his arm. Without changing expression, the young woman was about to start breaking his bones. "Buffy! Listen to me! I'll help you, but I can't do that if you kill me, got it?" "If you don't know where he is, then what the hell good are you?" she demanded. "That depends. Tell me what the hell happened." Buffy related what had occurred – more or less. She left out the parts about being shot and burned. "How'd you get away?" Lighter wanted to know. Somehow, he just couldn't picture her running. Buffy wasn't telling him everything, and he damn well knew it. She and Reaper were two of a kind, a matched set. "Don't worry about it," Buffy demurred. "Now, are going to help me or not?" Lighter thought hard about her question. From her description of events, it sounded like a professional snatch team had taken Reaper down. Only, professionals shouldn't have allowed Buffy to escape. She'd said not to worry about it, pretty much telling him that she'd left parts of the story out. Lighter knew for a fact that two bodies had been recovered from their bungalow. He'd assumed it was his old friend and his young wife. Yet, here she stood, alive and well. Looking for her husband. Who in hell was in the morgue? "Who's in the morgue, Buffy?" "One of the guys that attacked us," she answered. "Why?" "One? Who's the other body?" Lighter persisted. One of the team must have been killed during the raid. God *damn* but Reaper was good… Unless it was *Buffy* who'd iced him… "What other body?" Buffy asked innocently. Lighter detected something in her face… Something… "There were two bodies, Buffy. Give," he demanded. Buffy's eyes grew cold. "Listen, Bob. Right now, as far as I'm concerned, *you're* with the guys that took Mac, got it? You don't push me – *I* push *you*. Clear?" Based on Buffy's edited description of events, Lighter had decided that this 'Consortium' of hers sounded entirely too much like a group operating without the bounds of congressional oversight. He was vaguely aware of such a group. A friend of his had once tried to recruit him for it. Lighter had turned down the offer. He was a man who was perfectly happy right where he was. With the passing of the Reagan-Bush years, he had drifted out of the more violent aspect of his profession, eventually becoming a sort of super-gofer for the Deputy Director of Operations. Lighter liked his job a lot and hadn't seen the point in moving on to something else. The agent had been dispatched to Nassau earlier in the month to liaise with some Cuban refugees. Powers in the current administration didn't want the gradually thawing relationship with Cuba endangered, and Lighter had been sent to see if he could dissuade those men from taking any unilateral action. Sheer luck, then, that he had tripped over Reaper. Lighter still couldn't believe how little the man's appearance had changed. And to discover him on his *honeymoon*! Lighter remembered Reaper being somewhat…casual…about women. Of course, his wife wasn't exactly what she appeared to be. That much was obvious. Still… Reaper had saved his life more than once back in the old days. Lighter figured he owed the man. Besides, he'd done all he could to resolve the Cuban problem. Having decided to help Reaper's wife to find the missing man, Lighter made a couple of quick calls. A local contact had verified that a plane loaded with Americans had very quietly come and gone within the last few days. Gone north, the contact thought. North meant the US. Where would the snatch team go in the US? Lighter's second call was to an old friend in the DEA. For her old buddy Bob, the DEA agent had agreed to dig into the mystery of a possibly classified flight coming ashore over the Florida coast sometime that morning or the previous evening. A possibility immediately jumped out. At around 0330 that morning, a classified flight had crossed into US airspace and descended in the vicinity of Eglin AFB. Lighter had thanked his friend, cautioning her to silence, before hurrying to share the information with Buffy. Buffy had immediately started making calls of her own. Scene 2 Washington, D.C. J. Edgar Hoover Building 1100, Wednesday (Local) Mulder, having spent the night at Dana's apartment, had yet to receive Mac's message. He was seriously considering calling the immortal about the Concorde disaster despite the man's current status as a honeymooner. Unfortunately, he and Dana had been a little busy helping out with the general ruckus caused by the explosion. They were on alert to head to New York as part of a possible second wave of agents. Mulder wanted to go badly. He was sure in his bones that Deblout had been on that flight. The phone rang. Dana picked it up, answering, "Scully here." "*Ah, the redoubtable Agent Scully. Is Agent Mulder there as well?*" Dana's eyes squinted for a moment. It couldn't be… "Colonel?" she asked, causing Mulder's head to whip around. "*Yes. And Mulder?" * Mulder had lunged for the phone on his desk as soon as he'd heard his partner's startled gasp of recognition. "I'm here, Colonel. I was afraid that you were on-" he began. "*I was.*" Deblout's flat reply interrupted him. "*I'm thinking your 'friends' are behind this tragedy. I called to warn you to watch your backs. I must get off the line. I'm waiting to here from Jager. * "*I instructed him to locate Mackenzie. He assured me he would be calling back shortly.*" At that moment, the other line rang. Dana switched over. "Scully." "*Dana? It's Buffy.*" "Buffy! Hold on," Dana urged the young woman. Scully hit the conferencing switch. "Colonel, I've got Buffy on the line." "*Buffy, my dear, I must speak with Mackenzie.*" "*That'd be kind of hard right now,*" Buffy angrily replied. "*He's gone. He was kidnapped last night. They shot me and left me to burn and took Mac. Dana, I need help.*" In minutes, the two agents agreed to meet Buffy and some 'help' she'd recruited. They would rendezvous at Miami International Airport. Deblout promised her that he would dispatch a small team of his people, getting them to Miami by sometime late that night. Somehow, Buffy's 'help' had seemed certain that Mac was probably at Eglin AFB. Deblout himself – commonly believed to be dead – was returning to France. War had just been declared by the Consortium. He had to ready his forces for the fight ahead. In the dojo that he and Reaper were running in Sunnydale, Jager was impatiently waiting for the phone to ring. He'd placed calls to several friends from his days in the Legion who had retired in the Caribbean, asking them to locate Reaper or his lady. The bungalow's phone was out of service for some reason. Given what had happened to the Concorde, the Watcher was beginning to worry. The phone rang. Jager lunged for it. "Jager," he snapped out. "*Thomas, it's Buffy. Pack*." At Deblout's estate in north-western France, a team of five war-tested men was loading a private jet. The Colonel's survival had been a wonder. His reaction to the bombing was not. Apparently, the man who had set Deblout on the trail of the Consortium – which Deblout believed responsible for the tragedy over the Atlantic – had been kidnapped by them. They were to rendezvous with a young woman and her party. The young woman was in command. The Colonel had been very clear about that. "*Do not underestimate the lady, Jacques,*" the Colonel had instructed the strike team leader. "*Many others have done so. They died.*" So the veterans knew to expect a youthful, deceptively innocent-looking woman. Her husband – the Colonel's ally – was expected to still be alive. The Colonel's final instruction, before wishing them luck, had concerned the man they were being sent to rescue. "*Make no mistake, old friend. Reaper is the single most deadly human being I have ever encountered. Do not be surprised if you find nothing but bodies when you arrive. I expect he's more than a little pissed by now.*" Scene 3 Eglin AFB, Fl Bldg #6101 1800, Wednesday (Local) It was time to interrogate O'Byrne. Cancerman ordered the narcotic removed from the veteran so that his first session with the man would be uninhibited by its effects. The powerful manipulator wanted O'Byrne to know that he was in the grasp of the man he himself had tortured weeks before. Once the IV drip was removed, the immortal's system rapidly cleared away the remaining drugs. Unstrapped, his hands were chained. Two armed guards closely watched as a third man began to shackle Reaper's feet. The snatch team leader had warned them about this guy. The warning proved insufficient. The man shackling his legs was the first to die. Reaper reached out, seized the man's head and snapped his neck. Reaper then hurled the corpse at the two guards, following closely behind. He ripped the M-16 from the hands of one of the guards, reversed it and rammed the barrel through the soldier's head. Spinning to face the second guard, Reaper's bound hands lashed out and smashed into the guard's face. The soldier was slammed back against the wall, stunning him. Reaper's hands closed on his throat. The man died an ugly death as the immortal strangled him. Searching through the pockets of the dead men, Reaper discovered the keys for his shackles and quickly freed himself. One of the guards was about his size, so he stripped off the man's clothing and donned it himself. That done, the immortal armed himself with one of the M-16s and quietly slipped out the door. Reaper couldn't sense the presence of any immortals. So – Buffy wasn't anywhere nearby. The question was, then, where was she? Whoever had taken them – Reaper couldn't be certain who the men were, but he suspected they were agents of the Consortium – must have secured Buffy somewhere else. Where? The immortal began to hunt. Lighter managed to slip Buffy and himself quietly back into the country. They were waiting at Miami International Airport's baggage claim when Scully and Mulder arrived. The two agents had explained to A.D. Skinner that a possible lead had come up and requested permission to run it down. Skinner had agreed, somewhat surprised. Mulder had been pushing to join the agents in New York. Taking one look at Buffy, Dana knew immediately that the young newlywed was on the verge of emotional collapse. In the short time she'd known her, Dana had come to understand that Buffy was an extraordinarily strong woman. The fear she felt for her husband was taking one hell of a toll on the Slayer. Dana immediately embraced her friend. "Buffy, we'll get him back," Dana promised, hoping actions would reflect the words. "Mac is the strongest-" "We better, Dana," Buffy cut her off. "Or so help me, I'll kill them all!" Lighter took this in. Reaper's wife sounded very much as though she meant exactly what she said. "Who are you?" Mulder asked Lighter. Before the CIA officer could respond, Buffy straightened up and spoke for him. "Dana, Mulder, this is Bob Lighter. He's CIA. He and Mac served together back in the eighties," she informed the curious feds. "Bob, this is Agent Fox Mulder and Agent Dana Scully of the-" "FBI," Lighter cut her off. He was all to aware of who the new arrivals were. An old friend had died in Mulder's apartment four years before. "The X-Files, right?" Buffy and the agents looked a little nonplussed at that. "A friend of mine was found dead at your apartment several years ago. Jim Michaels." Seeing that neither of the FBI agents knew the name, he added, "Black guy? Beard and mustache?" Mulder nodded in recognition. So that was 'Mr. X's' name. "I never knew his name," Mulder replied. "He helped me from time to time." The small group was abruptly joined by four men. Buffy and the FBI agents knew two of them. "Thomas!" Buffy announced as she grabbed the first man into a tight hug. "Big Jim!" she nodded to another. Jager nodded at his two unknown companions. "Buffy, meet Jacques and Georgi. They work for the Colonel." Buffy nodded at the two men. "You guys made good time," she observed. Jacques nodded. "We were already prepped to fly when the Colonel's call came in," he explained. "There are five of us. I understand that time is of the urgency. Shall we go?" Lighter examined the new arrivals, noting the accents. Thomas sounded vaguely German. Big Jim was an American. Their companions were French. Lighter wondered who the 'Colonel' was. Buffy turned to look at him. "Well, Bob?" she asked. "Where are going and how do we get there?" Reaper hunted through the building, offering a silent death to everyone he met. Aware that he needed information, he killed every man and woman he came across anyway. The immortal was angrier than he'd been in *decades*. Besides, none of the people he'd run across looked useful. Then he smelled the smoke. *Cigarette* smoke. 'Well, well, well,' he thought to himself. 'Cancerman. Come out, come out wherever you are…' Cancerman was getting impatient. He'd expected O'Byrne to have been delivered to him by now. He turned to order an underling to see what the delay was just as his quarry arrived. Alone. Unshackled. * Armed*. Scene 4 Eglin AFB, Fl Bldg #6101 2300, Wednesday (Local) Loaded in two rental vans, Buffy's strike team had made good time to Eglin. Lighter had gotten them through the gates, easily enough, then directed them to a remote corner of the installation. "You sure this is going to be the right place?" Mulder asked him. "Sure? No," responded Lighter. "But, if *I* wanted to…" His voice trailed away as the van cruised to a stop at the locked entrance to a small compound. Formerly locked, at any rate. The gate hung at an angle. Two dead bodies lay next to it on the ground. The strike team carefully exited the vans and entered the building. The door had been torn free of its hinges. Cautious, they made their way into what was soon revealed to be a charnel house. Dead bodies lay everywhere. Jacques' men searched the building rapidly. On three floors and in two basements, the French commandos tallied twenty-eight corpses. "Looks like my husband's been busy," reflected Buffy to the group, looking a little green. 'Dear god,' Jacques thought. 'The Colonel wasn't kidding. If *one man* did this…' "Is he still here, Buffy?" Scully asked. Jacques and Lighter both glanced at the women curiously. How in hell could Buffy know? The young woman and Big Jim both shook their heads. No immortal was nearby. So where the hell was Mac? "Jacques," one of the Frenchmen said, speaking English for everyone's benefit. "This didn't happen very long ago. Some of these bodies are still warm." Giles sat and waited for the phone to ring. Buffy's other – and recently demoted – Watcher was struggling to keep his mouth shut. Buffy had often ignored him after he had come along during her senior year. Giles was her friend and she had little use for Wesley. Her husband had met the man only once. Learning of the dangerous 'test' he'd forced Giles to administer when Buffy had turned eighteen, he'd cheerfully informed the man that he would kill him the very next time he laid eyes on him. Wesley had been affronted at first. Then he'd begun to learn just who and what Mackenzie O'Byrne was. After that, he'd been terrified. The Slayer's husband could teach a vampire something about instilling fear. Now that Giles was back in the good graces of the Council – albeit, somewhat reluctantly on their part – Wesley was little more than a glorified research drone and all-around gofer. It was actually something of a kindness on Giles' part that the man had been notified of recent events at all. Wesley had immediately made the mistake of sounding off on his views concerning Buffy's involvement in anything other than her calling as the Slayer. She certainly had *no* business rushing off to rescue O'Byrne from his dealings with the Consortium. The man was just working himself up when Jager – who had not yet departed to join the Slayer in her quest – quietly told the man that his very next word would result in Jager's immediate execution of him. Wesley had quieted at once. Now, he and Giles were waiting to hear from their charge. The phone rang. "Hello?" answered Giles. "*Rupert? It's Mac. Please tell me you've heard from Buffy,*" O'Byrne's voice pleaded. Giles sighed in gratitude. "She's looking for you, Mackenzie," he answered. "*I'm in Florida.*" "So is she. Thomas, Big Jim, our federal agent friends and some of Jean- Paul's men are with her," Giles informed the immortal. "*Have you got a contact number?*" Depressed and wondering where in hell O'Byrne might be, the strike team was preparing for their departure. Curiously, none of them had any real doubts that the missing man had been behind what had happened. Buffy and her friends because they knew him, Lighter because he remembered fighting beside the veteran. Deblout's men were remembering the Colonel's words of warning. Jager's phone rang. The Watcher answered, expecting it was Giles hoping for an update. "Jager," answered the legionnaire. "*Hunter, is Buffy with you?*" It wasn't Giles. A large smile crept its way across Jager's face. "Buffy?" he called, holding the cellular phone out to her. "Yes?" she spoke into the phone. "*Sweetheart, where the hell are you?*" "Mac!" she cried into the phone. Every member of the team whipped their head in her direction. "Oh, my god! Honey, where are you? I've been so worried that-" "*Sweetie,*" Mac cut her off. "*Where are you?*" "Looking over your mess," she answered. "Assuming you're the one who did this." "*You're at the compound? You're on Eglin?*" "Yeah. Where are you?" she demanded. "*Stay right there. I just left. I'll be with you in about twenty minutes,*" he informed her. Sure enough, just over twenty minutes later Mac arrived at the wheel of a HMMWV – Humvee, in military parlance. Mac hopped out of the big truck, marched straight to Buffy – who was racing to him at a dead run – seized the woman up in his arms and embraced her as if he'd feared never seeing her again. Deblout's men had finished their preparations. Astounded that their leader had returned to them, they nonetheless had stayed focused on the task at hand. The commandos were getting ready for war. Deblout was huddled with Girard (his Chief of Staff), reviewing the information they had managed to wrest from Cancerman's retrieval team, when Jacques' call came in. "Yes, Jacques?" Deblout queried the team leader. "*I don't think we needed to bother showing up, sir,*" Jacques informed him. "*This man 'Reaper' had already cleaned the vermin out*." Deblout chuckled. "I warned you of that, my friend. Can you sterilize the sight?" "*I don't think so, sir. Not with what I have on hand. Reaper made a mess.*" Jacques paused before whispering his next sentence. "*Colonel… Sir, is he like you?*" "What do you mean, Jacques?" Deblout asked. "*I've never pried, sir, but I think that maybe I need to know. Is he…as…difficult to kill as you are, sir?*" Deblout took a deep breath. Jacques *knew*. Or, at least, suspected. How many of the others did? Probably Girard at the very least. *Mierde*! "Let me speak with him, Jacques," Deblout instructed. After a moment, Mackenzie came on the line. "*Colonel? Thanks for the help, sir. I think-*" "Jacques knows, Mackenzie" Deblout interrupted his friend. "About us. How much is factual and how much speculation, I don't know, but he knows." There was a long pause before Mackenzie replied to that. "*How do you want me to handle it, sir?*" Buffy sat on the hood of the Humvee, watching Mac as he quietly carried on his conversation in French with Colonel Deblout. She'd been so worried she could barely see straight. Now she was so relieved she saw nothing but her husband. She was a little surprised at herself. The grim carnage Mac had left in his wake should have unsettled her. Buffy didn't really approve of some aspects about the man. Because of that, she knew, he'd been a little hesitant to get involved in Mulder's crusade. Buffy didn't hold with killing people, so Mac was trying to refrain from doing so. So far, he'd been doing okay. Until today, at any rate. Despite his own better judgment, he'd let Cancerman live following their encounter in D.C. Well, look what *that* had led to! Twenty-eight dead men and women. Twenty-*nine *counting the one in Nassau. And all those poor people on the Concorde… Just now, Mac was getting ready to take off and unleash the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. He – more importantly, *she*, Buffy suspected – had been hunted down and attacked by the Consortium. Now, Reaper was going to kill them all. What should *she* do? One the one hand, Mac wouldn't want her to see him while he was waging this little war. And, she was the Slayer – she had a duty of her own that didn't really allow her to run off and save the world from evil government conspirators and alien invaders. On the other hand, Mac was her husband. Buffy actually bought into that whole 'whither thou goest' thing. Mac finished his conversation and returned Jacques' phone to the commando. Buffy was reflecting on the fact that she was *surrounded* by professional killers when Mac returned to her. "Penny?" he asked. "I have to go home," she answered. Mac considered her words for a long moment. "Away from this? Or away from me?" he asked softly. "Back to work. *My* work, Mac," Buffy replied. The two of them contemplated each other. Mac thought it was, on the whole, a good idea if Buffy stayed out of this. He knew what he was about to do. What he was about to let himself become. He didn't want her anywhere near that. But he couldn't help thinking that he and Buffy had really been enjoying time in their own little world. Sure, there was her destiny to deal with. Polovsky had turned up and rocked their world a few months before, too. Still, the two of them had been largely left alone by the outside world to love each other. Buffy went to school at U.C. Sunnydale by day, the two of them hunted vampires by night. And in every spare moment they loved each other as hard as they could. Now, Reaper's world was beckoning him back. War had come. For a few terrifying heartbeats, Mac feared the first casualty of this war would be Buffy's love for him. "Finish this, Mac. Finish it fast," Buffy ordered her husband. "I want you back home with me." Buffy pulled her man close and kissed him gently before nuzzling his neck and beginning to cry. :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Part 6 Scene 1 Somewhere in Florida The Everglades 1315, Thursday (Local) Mac had ordered Scully and Mulder to return with Buffy to Miami's airport before he, Jager, Big Jim and the French commandos had disappeared with their cargo. Cancerman. Reaper hadn't killed *him* yet. Knowing that Buffy was hurting, Dana had done what she could to comfort the young woman before their flights carried them in different directions. Though she'd put up a brave front with her husband, Buffy was inconsolable on her flight home. Two days before, she'd been almost giddy with happiness. Wrapped in wedded bliss, her thoughts had been filled with nothing but teasing and pleasing the man she'd married as she enjoyed his own attention being focused on her. Buffy honestly believed she hadn't ever been so happy before in her entire life. Now, her man was gone off to war. A war that might well decide the future of all life on the planet, sure, but… Selfish as it might be, all Buffy could think about was that her honeymoon had abruptly been ended and that Mac wasn't going home with her. It would prove to be a long, lonely flight home. Meanwhile, Reaper and his cohorts had found themselves a little hidey- whole deep in the swamps. Reaper quickly organized his force in preparation for the battle to come. He spent a few minutes explaining just how and why the Colonel had survived the Concorde blast. Each of the Frenchmen had served Deblout a long time. They had seen the man survive things no mortal man should have. Reaper's explanation of why that was so – more importantly, his *demonstration* – answered a lot of long-standing questions. Lighter was initially apoplectic, but Hunter pulled the man aside for a quiet talk. Then the immortal went to have a chat with his guest. When Reaper sat and looked at Cancerman, the powerful agent of evil feared he might have a heart attack. Of course, on reflection, that sounded like a much easier way to die than what the man in front of him might be planning. He wondered why the man was shirtless. "Hunter and I visited you a few weeks ago. I think you already knew that," O'Byrne said in a flat voice. "I allowed you to survive because of the young woman your men tried to kill. That was a mistake." Cancerman wondered at that. '*Tried* to kill?' O'Byrne's voice suddenly turned cheerful. Disturbingly cheerful. "It's Bill, right? Well, Bill, I was enjoying my honeymoon. There I was, minding my own business, enjoying the complete attention of undoubtedly the most beautiful woman on the planet… "And your boys come along. Why'd they do that, Bill?" Cancerman paled. O'Byrne knew his name. He was using it in an almost *friendly* way… But his eyes were cold gray pools, utterly lacking in humanity. "Just so you don't have to sit in suspense, Bill," O'Byrne continued, "I want you to know. I *am* going to kill you this time. You're going to die badly. Then, I'm going to find every last person in the world you care about. I'm going to kill *them*, too. "See, Bill, you went after my wife. That's out of bounds. You put families on the board. And *this* time, my wife isn't here to know what I'm doing. See, Bill, she *knew* that I was going to see you. She *doesn't* know what I'm going to do now. She just told me to be quick about it." One of O'Byrne's men walked in with a knife. Taking the knife, O'Byrne continued. "I'm thinking that you're probably wondering why I'm so self confident," he went on in that chillingly cheery voice. "This is why." With that, O'Byrne stabbed himself in the stomach. Cancerman flinched as his nemesis drew the knife deep through his own belly, finally sliding it out again. Cancerman's attention was torn between the deep wound the man had inflicted on himself and the blood-covered blade. O'Byrne had hardly flinched. O'Byrne's gut was a mess. Sliced wide open, the rolling mass of his intestines began to slither out onto his lap. Cancerman almost fainted. Except for catching the distending bowels, preventing them from spilling off his lap, his nemesis didn't shift a muscle. After a moment, as he shoved his entrails back inside the gaping wound, O'Byrne began to speak again in that eerily cheerful tone. "See, Bill, me and the boys here are…special." Little arcs of blue lightning danced over the open wound in O'Byrne's gut. Before Cancerman's disbelieving eyes, the injury began to heal. In minutes, O'Byrne was wiping the blood away. Aside from the blood splattered on his lap and pooled at his feet, not so much as a scar remained as evidence of the injury O'Byrne had inflicted on himself. "We're immortal, Bill. We can't die. We're not even human. We've been walking the Earth since the beginning of time, meeting out death to men like you. We are the agents of god, Bill." O'Byrne smiled at the man. "My friends and I were there when the walls of Troy fell. We were there to witness Noah's flood. We are the harbingers of death, judging and punishing whomsoever may seek to harm those under our protection. The people of this planet. "And now, Bill, you and your friends have our complete attention." Once outside the shack where Cancerman was being held, Reaper stumbled. He would have fallen if Hunter had not caught him. The Watcher eased his friend to the ground. Reaper would need time to recover from the ploy he had just engineered. The pain was excruciating. "*Gott*, Reaper!" hissed Jager. "If Buffy had seen you pull that stunt…" The Watcher lacked words for what the Slayer's reaction might have been. "Think he bought it?" Reaper ground out, feeling himself slide into the darkness. He never heard whatever reply Jager might have made. His system, overwhelmed, had shut down. The immortal was dead. Jacques looked on. "Is he…" "He'll be back in a while," Jager replied to the unfinished question. He turned his attention to the other immortal in their group. "Big Jim. In a few minutes, you and I will go back in there. Bring a knife." Scene 2 Sunnydale, Ca. 150 Creek St 1600, Friday (Local) Buffy sat in Mac's favorite chair on their front porch. She was dressed in one of his shirts, arms wrapped tightly about a pillow. 'I wonder where he is?' the depressed woman pondered. 'What he's doing, right this minute?' In the last four months and change, she and Mac had spent maybe three nights apart. Three nights and counting, now. She missed him, wanted to feel the comfort of his strong arms around her... Joyce had picked her up at the airport the night before. Her mother had listened, horrified, as Buffy related what the week had wrought. Joyce had offered Buffy's old room to her, but had been refused. "I need to be *here*, Mom. Mac needs to know where to find me," had been her answer. Joyce quite correctly suspected that *Buffy* needed to be where she could feel Mac's presence. Even if that meant sitting alone in an all too empty house. So she'd offered to come stay with her daughter instead. Buffy had quickly accepted the offer. Now, mother and daughter sat on the porch, waiting for friends to arrive. Buffy wanted them to know what had happened. She needed to be around people, right now. Hank Summers' arrival caused Joyce to worry a little. Given her ex- husbands disdain for their son-in-law, she feared that Buffy would come under pressure she didn't need – and might not be able to handle – right then. But Hank had, for once, had enough sense to keep his mouth shut and just hold his daughter. Giles arrived, bringing Wesley with him. Buffy almost exploded. "What's *he* doing here?" she demanded. "Buffy, I'm your-" Wesley began. "*Watcher*?" she cut him off. "Not anymore. You're fired. Go away." "I was trying to say 'friend', Buffy," Wesley implored her. "Come again?" she asked. "You're my friend? The friend who thinks it's my duty to be servile and obedient? Or my friend who thinks I have no business getting married and having a life?" "If Mac was here, he'd kill you where you stand, Wesley," volunteered Oz. "He really doesn't like you, you know." Hank struggled to take this in silently. Wesley, here, was something no one had mentioned before. Seeing the look on his face, Xander leaned in and let the Slayer's father know who the man was – and why Hank's son- in-law didn't like him. Buffy's father began to get red in the face. He suddenly had something in common with the cradle-robbing bastard. Hank didn't like Wesley either. "I'm curious about something," he asked loudly. Everyone turned their attention to him. "Why *does* my son-in-law let you keep breathing?" Buffy wasn't sure how to respond to that. Her father had just referred to her husband as his son-in-law. It was, hands down, the kindest appellation Daddy had ever awarded her honey. Wesley tried to explain to Hank why he had pushed Giles into performing the ritual test of a Slayer. He was making absolutely no progress, though Hank managed to learn that Mac had, in fact, nearly killed the man once. That he'd refrained was due entirely to Buffy's sensibilities. Despite himself, Hank was beginning to feel a grudging respect for the man his daughter loved. By six-thirty, everyone Buffy had invited was present. She explained what had happened to her and Mac from Tuesday on. Her friends and family were stunned. The cold-bloodedness of Mac's enemies was chilling. "So, that's where Mac is now, honey?" asked Hank. "Dealing with these… these… *Monsters*?" Buffy nodded. "What exactly do you think he's going to do?" Hank persisted. His daughter got a cold gleam in her eyes. "Do? Mac's gonna make the world safe for democracy, Daddy," she said sarcastically. "Don't you get it? It not just that these are bad people. They came after *me*. My honey's a little ticked, now. "What's he gonna do, Daddy? He's gonna kill them all." Scene 3 Somewhere over the South Atlantic French military transport plane 0400, Saturday (GMT) Deblout studied the map with his Chief of Staff. Late the previous day, Mackenzie had called in. Saying he had developed additional intelligence, he had provided the French commandos with a target that simply could not be passed up. An alien spacecraft. Mackenzie and his team were beginning the systemic assassination of every member of the Consortium on America's eastern seaboard. They would develop additional intelligence along the way. In the meantime, Deblout and his twenty-three remaining men were going to seize the alien ship. Careful of possible airborne contaminants (Mulder's warning), the commandos were going to treat the operation as a possible NBC scenario. NBC was military parlance for Nuclear, Biological, Chemical – the sort of environment every soldier had feared since the First World War. Feared and *trained for*. Mulder had additionally warned that the aliens might well have only one weakness, a difficult to locate spot on the back of their necks. Deblout had asked if beheading would suffice. When Mulder was unable to report on the efficacy of such an approach, Deblout promised to let the fed know shortly. Deblout had also suggested to Mackenzie that he call Joe Dawson. It was time for the Watchers to stand up and be counted. The immortals of the world might need to join this fight rapidly and the Watchers were the only way to really locate the right sort in short order. "Colonel?" Deblout looked up. "Yes, Airman? What is it?" "Twenty minutes to target, sir." The commandos began to prepare for the airborne insertion. * Three minutes out… * The commandos were feverishly checking their gear. "Sound off for equipment check!" screamed the jumpmaster. The word was passed up both lines of jumpers. Feeling the slap on his ass from the man behind him, Deblout took a half-step forward, pointed his hand at the jumpmaster and shouted, "All okay!" The doors went up on each side of the plane. As the wind hit them, each of the commandos felt the faint tickle of fear in their belly common to all paratroopers as they prepare to exit an aircraft. Deblout kept his eyes fixed on the signal light. The jumpmaster cleared the door and screamed at Deblout, "Stand by!" The lamp switched from red to green. Deblout faintly heard the jumpmaster screaming "Go! Go! Go!" as he leaped from the bird. It was a low insertion. Deblout had considered a HALO jump – meaning that he and his men would have left the plane at thirty-thousand feet and sailed through the air, undetected by radar, to the island – but had decided that he didn't want to risk losing his men in the contrary winds. Instead, they jumped at four hundred feet into open water, three miles from their target. In less than ten minutes, his men had cut away their 'chutes, begun drawing air off their scuba tanks and assembled underwater. They had all survived the first part of the insertion. Dawson was cleaning glasses behind the bar, idly wondering about the downed Concorde (which still led the evening news after five nights), when the phone rang. "Hello," he answered cheerfully. "*Joe? It's Mac.*" "Mac! How're the Bahamas? Your bride-" "*I hate to interrupt, Joe, but I've got a problem.*" Hearing the seriousness in the immortal's voice, Dawson snapped to. "What's up, Mac?" As O'Byrne related the story of his and Buffy's interrupted honeymoon, the actual cause behind the Concorde disaster and his and Deblout's current operation, the Watcher grew more and more pale. When Mac told him what he wanted, Dawson's heart began palpitating. "Mac, we don't interfere-" "*Fine. Don't,*" interrupted the immortal. "*Remember that when the world goes to shit. I told you, Dawson, these things are on a schedule. The crap has already begun. Go find a hole to hide in. I'm gonna find every immortal I can and take the fight to them. You… * "*You just go write in your journal that you scrupulously avoided interfering with the end of the world.*" Put that way, Joe realized he really didn't have a choice. "I don't know how well I can pull it off, *Reaper*," the Watcher emphasized. He knew full well what version of the man he was talking to. "But I'll try. Where do you want them to meet?" Scene 4 Around the world 2100, Saturday (Local) Dawson's first call, of course, was to Duncan Macleod. Hearing the near panic in his friend's voice, the Highlander had raced to the bar. Methos and Amanda were with him. Hearing the Watcher's wild tale of doom, the other immortals were ready to scoff. Not Duncan, though. He knew Mackenzie O'Byrne. And he knew Deblout and Mulder. The Highlander had battled the demon Ahriman before O'Byrne had summoned him to help with the vampires. He'd been there when Mulder had told them about the Consortium. He'd heard Deblout's report on what he and his men had found in the Tunisian desert. Mac's plan was risky. The immortal must be desperate. Meaning what he had shared with Dawson was very real. "We need to start making phone calls, Joe" said Duncan. "Then we need to get on a plane." * Ring. Ring. * "What?" demanded Connor Macleod. "Connor? It's Duncan…" * Ring. Ring. * "Hello?" "Ceirdwin? Duncan Macleod. You're needed…" * Here and there… * "Excuse me, sir?" asked the Watcher as he approached his 'assignment'. "Yes?" replied the immortal. "You don't know me. You'll have absolutely no reason to believe what I have to say. But it's vitally important that you listen…" Dawson pleaded. He cajoled. He begged. He threatened. Finally, he managed to reach seventy-one separate Watchers in North and South America and Europe. Many were men and women he'd known for on up in excess of twenty years. Those he thought he might have some chance of convincing to hear him out. About half listened. About half of those were willing to help. As the Watchers reached out and touched immortals in their vicinity, a backlash was forming. Dawson's stunt would likely finish the Watchers for all time. But by the time his superiors phoned him to ask what the hell he thought he was doing, it was too late. As Watchers pleaded with immortals to believe the threat that was coming, some of them died. Some of them were disbelieved. A few were listened to… Immortals began phoning *old* friends. Word began to spread. The Gathering was upon them. Only, contrary to legend, it wasn't to battle for the Prize. Not to take one another's heads… They were being summoned to fight the future. Not all immortals were called, of course. The few Watchers that had been willing to go along with Dawson had understood that only warriors need apply for this party. Someone, somewhere wanted only men and women that knew how to fight. Not the kind that just fought an occasional duel, disturbing an otherwise quiet life, nor the sort that relished taking heads in pursuit of the Prize. An immortal named Reaper wanted an army. God alone help whoever had pissed the man off. Because the three-hundred and twenty-seven warriors that answered the summons had somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred *thousand* years between them. A couple of them *had* seen Troy's mighty walls fall. One of them was even believed to have seen the great flood itself. One named *Methos*. If for no other reason than to see the legend in person, the warriors came. Where? Nowhere special, really. A little nothing of a town in southern California called Sunnydale. :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Part 7 Scene 1 The South Atlantic Consortium stronghold 0645, Saturday (GMT) The team of commandos was good. Individually, the men were among the best in their business. As a group, they easily rivaled a team from the US's own Delta Force or SEAL Team Six. So it is of little wonder that within ninety minutes of hitting the water, the Frenchmen had stroked to shore and slipped onto the island undetected. Luck was with them that morning. Before the first rays of the sun began to clear the horizon, they had come across an entrance to the island's hidden compound. Sophisticated detection gear was brought to bear. Amazingly, the entrance seemed to be guarded only by a metal door. Of course, that door was locked. Deblout and Girard pondered the best course of action. Deciding that it was bust down the door or wait for some cooperative soul to open it, the order went out to take the door. Charging in quietly – who knew? Maybe the door wasn't alarmed – the commandos spread out through the complex. Each of the men was encased in the very latest NBC protective garb. Soon, a man was discovered walking the corridors. He proved to be a useful source of information before he died. The only prisoners Deblout wanted were those that might be able to explain the workings of the prize he was there to seize. Unless he found and alien, that is. He *really* wanted one of those, too. The attack had been fast and deadly. And *profitable*. Deblout now had in his possession not merely an alien spacecraft, he had a pair of aliens. 'Course, admittedly, they weren't very lively. The two obviously inhuman creatures floated in some kind of preservative. They appeared to be very dead. "Girard? Ask one of our hosts to explain these, will you?" Deblout directed. "Oh, and Girard? Ask *thoroughly*." Some of the scientists still lived. Every other thing on two legs had been killed. Deblout believed that the attack had been carried out before any reinforcements could be summoned. He hoped so. Right now he needed some time to figure out how to move the spaceship. And it was time to track down Mackenzie. The two of them had a lot to discuss. Scene 2 Sunnydale, Ca. 150 Creek St 1100, Saturday (Local) Joyce sat, curled up on the big couch in her daughter's living room. She was reading a book she'd pulled off a shelf in Mac's office-cum-library. There were plenty to choose from, she noticed. Buffy had married a bookworm. Buffy was wandering around the house. Willow had promised to come over that afternoon. The young witch thought she had a good chance of casting a spell of some kind that would let them look in on the absent man of the house. Buffy wasn't entirely sure that was a good idea. Sure, she was worried about her husband, and she *really* wished he would call, but… Buffy was pretty sure she *didn't* want to see Mac doing whatever he was doing. * Ring. Ring. Ri-* Before the phone had finished its third ring, and just as Joyce was getting up to answer it herself, Buffy snatched it out of its cradle. "Hello?" she said. 'Please be Mac. Please be Mac. Please-" "*Sweetie? It's Mac.*" "Mac!" squealed Buffy. 'Thank you, god. Oh, thank you!' "*How are you, honey?*" he asked. "Better now. Not *great*, but better." She wouldn't be great until her husband came home. "*Listen, honey. I'm gonna be home in a couple days,*" Mac began. "It's over?" Buffy asked hopefully. "*Not hardly. In fact, this whole thing may be bigger – and a hell of a lot worse – than any of us ever imagined. Including Mulder,*" he answered. Buffy's hopes sank. "So… Why are coming back? Shore leave?" she asked sarcastically. She wanted Mac home, sure. But she wanted him home *permanently* when he came, not popping in and out. "*I've initiated the Gathering.*" Buffy's heart seized up. The Gathering – precursor to the end for all immortals save one. What in hell was Mac thinking? "*You there, Buffy?*" "The Gathering, Mac? Why?" "*I'm gonna try to rewrite the legend, sweetie. And I'm gonna need your help…*" Once Mac finished explaining what he wanted her to do, the newlyweds had exchanged declarations of mutual affection and hung up. Buffy slowly walked to a chair and sank into it. Joyce observed her daughter closely. Buffy was incredibly pale. Whatever this 'Gathering' was, it had scared her daughter. Scared her bad. "Buffy? Honey, are you okay? How's Mac?" she asked. Buffy just stared into some middle distance, oblivious to her mother. Finally, she shook herself out of it. Then she stood and walked to the phone. Joyce saw her punch in a number and listened to another half of a conversation. "Giles? It's Buffy. Mac just called." "*Is he all right?*" asked the Watcher. "Actually, he might be off his rocker. He's decided to initiate the Gathering," she answered. "*Good god!*" "Can you come over? You might as well bring Wesley. We're gonna need all the help we can get. My insane husband has a plan." Having finished her call to Giles, she then summoned the rest of her friends. Finally, Buffy turned to look at her mother. Joyce was suddenly very afraid. Whatever Mac was up to, it had really shaken Buffy. "Buffy? *What* is the Gathering?" she demanded. Buffy stared at her mother for a long, long moment before answering. "It's the immortal version of the apocalypse, Mom. Mac has decided to rewrite a prophecy," she finally explained. "What the hell does that mean?" "I never told you this, Mom. I was really hoping it would never come up." Buffy took a deep breath. "According to legend, at some point all immortals will be called to a place for a really huge battle. Once they – *we* – get there, we're supposed to start fighting. We're supposed to kill each other until only one of us is left. Just *one*." "And Mac is trying to make this happen? Right now?" demanded Joyce. 'Oh my god! Oh, god, please no!' Buffy nodded. "He's sent out a call for the best, most experienced warriors to come together. He wants them to band together. He wants to rewrite the legend. Instead of killing each other," she went on, "Mac wants these immortals to take on the aliens." "Do you think they'll listen?" Buffy shrugged. "I hope so," she said. "Mac sounded like the Gathering was all that stood between us and the end of the human race." As Buffy laid out Mac's plan to Giles and her friends, they all grew more and more nervous. Giles was deep in thought by the time she finished. "Giles?" she asked. "Hey, Giles!" The Watcher started, then looked around sheepishly. "Sorry," he apologized. "Where can we do this?" Buffy asked. "We need a good sized piece of real estate. *Holy* real estate." "I may know of a possibility. Not far from here, actually. It's an abandoned mission," Giles replied. The phone rang. Buffy answered it. "Hello?" "*Buffy? It's Duncan Macleod. Has Mac been in touch with you?*" "Yes, he has, Duncan. I take it you're coming?" Buffy answered. "*Yes. And I'm bringing some friends. A lot of them.*" After that, the phone began ringing continuously. Buffy finally enlisted the help of her friends to answer all the telephonic traffic. Immortals she'd never *heard* of, much less met, were coming out of the woodwork. They wanted directions. Each of the inquiring warriors was given directions to the Mission. Many were surprised and *all* were pleased to learn they were meeting on holy ground. In order to keep the calls short, given that the phone was ringing continuously with people wanting to know *where* and *when*, the explanation as to the *why* was kept short. The best were being gathered to face an unholy threat of unspeakable proportions, they were told. Believe or don't, come or not, take it or leave it. Buffy and Giles ran out to look at the Mission. Buffy took one look around and called Willow to get on the computer to find out who owned it. If Mac wanted the place, fine. Buffy would spend every last cent the man had to buy it. She was going to have to. No one could stay here in its present condition and she had days – at the most – to prepare for the arrival of what was beginning to look like a *lot* of people. Despite the dire chance Mac was taking, Buffy couldn't help feeling a little pride in him. Buffy O'Byrne couldn't help reflecting upon the fact that it was *her* husband all these immortals were responding to. Yet there was a second instruction that Mac had given her that still needed to be dealt with. Mac had asked the Slayer to capture a vampire. Scene 3 Sunnydale, Ca. Sunnydale Cemetery 2000, Saturday (Local) The Slayer was on the prowl. She wasn't entirely comfortable with it. Her objective tonight was to catch a vampire. She'd done it before. A few times. Well…twice, anyway. With Mac helping. But Mac had asked her to catch one for him, so… Buffy would catch one. She was a little uneasy about it though. Not even *Mac* had ever tried to catch one on his own. Sure, he'd killed – *slaughtered* – the beasts left and right by himself. Buffy remembered one night, not long after the two of them had first met, when Mac had charged into a room *full* of vampires, armed with nothing but his sword (which he actually hadn't used much), and taken them all on by himself. Buffy remembered that night all too well, actually. She and Willow had almost died. But *catching* them… *That* had always been a two or three man operation. Mac and she had done it twice after the local vamp population had been largely cleared out. When Mac came up with something new to use on them, he liked to test it in the comfort of his own home before trying it in the field (home had a werewolf-tested cage). But, Mac had asked, so here she was. She had back up – Oz, Xander and Giles were in Mac's Pathfinder – and Buffy was pretty well armed, but she was still nervous about the whole business. Catching a vampire was a lot trickier than simply killing one. Plus there was another little problem. Buffy had built up a considerable rep with the vamps *before* Mac had come into her life. *Since* then, vampires had begun largely avoiding Sunnydale, Hellmouth or no Hellmouth. The word was out: visiting Sunnydale was a euphemism for vampiric suicide. For a vampire, there were much easier ways to die if they got tired of living. Like sunbathing, for example. So, Buffy wasn't even sure she could *find* a blood-sucker on short notice, much less *catch* one. And she didn't really have time to go farther afield, either. Mac needed it, like, *now*. 'The things we do for our men,' she mused to herself. For a little while, Buffy let her mind drift to happier times. Over the last several months, she and Mac had taken 'field trips' to places like L.A. to hunt down and destroy vampires. They'd dress for work, go do a little slayage and then party on the town. A couple of times, when Giles reported possible outbreaks farther afield, Buffy and her honey would go away for a long weekend. Once they'd gone all the way up to 'Frisco… Suddenly, out of the blue (metaphorically speaking – it was, after all, nighttime), she saw one. It saw her, too. Buffy readied herself for a fight. The beast turned and ran. A little indignant ('What are things coming to? It just runs without even *trying* to kill me?'), the Slayer raced after it. Turning a corner, she saw that it was gone. Wary, she perused the vicinity. 'Wait a minute…' There was an alley. A nice, dark one. 'Good place to hide,' she decided. Buffy carefully slid into the shadow at the alley's mouth. Creeping silently down the darkened street, Buffy's senses were on full alert, her 'situational something or other' on high. She sensed, rather than saw, the vampire. It was huddling in the shadows, apparently hoping the Slayer would get tired of looking for it and leave. In fact, the vampire was doing just that. And cursing itself for having come to this damn town. It wasn't *fair*! Word had been that the Slayer and her mate had tied the knot, taken a vacation somewhere far away. Being hunted by someone supposedly on her honeymoon definitely had *not* been in the brochure! The vampire was, to be blunt, terrified. Several months before, a noteworthy vampire named Spike had spread the word about this place. Spike carried a lot of respect. The vampire had itself killed two Slayers and was one of the few to have survived tackling this one. Spike had put the word out: you either hid from this Slayer or you died. And her mate was supposed to be just as bad, if not worse. The Slayer's mate was called the Reaper. *That* bastard was rumored to be inhuman. Not a man, not a vampire. Something else. Something terrifying. And, worst of all, where you found one, you found the other. This Slayer didn't simply do things her own way (word was she had family and friends helping her out), she'd gone out and found that damned 'Reaper' and seduced him into joining her. The vampire was wondering if there was any chance it might survive the night. If it had known what the Slayer's mate had planned for it, it would've run a stake through its *own* chest. "Come out, come out wherever you are…" called the Slayer. The vampire nearly lost bowel control. The Slayer was *playing* with it! "Come on, now. Big bad blood-sucking fiend like you isn't afraid of little ol' me, now, are you?" came the taunting voice of the Slayer again. The vampire panicked. It hissed in fear. Clamping a hand over its own mouth, it began to pray. Too late – the Slayer had heard it. "Hi, there!" Buffy announced brightly. "Just so you know – I'm having a really bad week. This might hurt a little more than usual." The vampire screamed in sheer terror and tried to charge past her. The scream made Buffy's hair stand on end. *That* was something new. As the beast tried to get around her, Buffy whirled in the other direction. Just barely in control of itself enough to wonder what horror the Slayer was springing on it, the vampire completely missed seeing her leg as it swung through its two-hundred and seventy degree arc. Buffy's roundhouse kick caught it straight in the face, laying it out cold. It never even felt the shackles being applied. It woke up in a car, bound hand and foot by half-a-dozen very strong chains. It was almost too terrified to struggle when, after a short drive, it was lifted out of the vehicle and carried into a house and down some stairs. Then it saw the cage. Spike had gone into *considerable* detail about the cage. It began to convulse in rage and fear. Then the Slayer's hand shot out and seized its throat. "Listen up, fang-boy," Buffy ordered. "My honey wants you alive. So, be nice and we'll bring you something to suck on. Tick me off, and I'll tell Mac you were a *bad* little vamp. Got it?" When the cage had been closed and locked, the vampire asked, "Who is Mac?" The Slayer and her companions looked surprised at the question. Then, after a moment, the Slayer began to smile. "My mate. I think you guys might know him better as *Reaper*," she answered. The vampire began to tremble. "Can you believe it?" Buffy asked her friends once they all upstairs again. Wesley had been instructed to watch the 'guest' on the security monitor – they'd lost Spike from that cage, once. Mac had modified it to insure that didn't happen again, and the beast was till shackled securely, but Buffy didn't want to take any chances. "It seemed rather frightened of you," observed Giles. "Not just me, Giles. You *saw* its reaction to 'Reaper'." Hank didn't quite get it. He'd asked to come over earlier and though Buffy was a little skeptical of her father being around – she was afraid he'd insist on coming along for the hunt, and boy, wouldn't *that* have been a bad scene – he was doing okay. "What's with this 'Reaper' thing? That's Mac, right?" Hank asked. Buffy nodded. "But, if *you're* the Slayer-" "Mackenzie has a considerable reputation among the vampires himself, Hank," answered Giles. "Taken together, Buffy and Mackenzie seem to terrify the beasts." Hank thought that over. It was past time he learned all about the man his daughter had married. The man Buffy now claimed was trying to save the planet from an alien invasion. "Honey?" he asked Buffy. "I'd really like to hear everything there is to know about Mac." "Everything?" Buffy asked. "Yeah, honey," Hank affirmed. "Everything." Scene 4 Washington, D.C. J. Edgar Hoover Building 1400, Sunday (Local) Mulder and Scully had received a phone call from their boss, FBI A.D. Skinner, summoning them to his office. When they walked in they froze in shock. Joe Dawson and Mac O'Byrne were sitting there with him. The last they'd seen of Mac, he'd been about to disappear into the Florida swampland with his commandos and Cancerman. Skinner's face was a cold mask. "Sit down, Agents," he ordered. They sat. "I understand you know these two gentlemen. They tell me that Cancerman is dead. That he was behind the downing of Concorde 102." Joe and Mac sat impassively. Mulder and Scully tried to maintain neutral expressions as Skinner went on. "And this man," he said, pointing at Mac, "informs me that you knew that." Mulder turned to Mac. "You killed him?" Mac nodded. "Letting him live was a mistake. Our interrogation was much more thorough this time. Once he was empty, I didn't really see any point in allowing him to survive," he finished in his flat voice. Dana repressed a shudder. She had no doubt at all that Cancerman had died ugly. Mackenzie O'Byrne was on the warpath. 'No,' she thought. 'Not Mac. *Reaper*.' "You've admitted to killing a man-" Skinner began. Mac cut him off. "Not *a* man, Mr. Skinner. *Men*, plural. Quite a few of them, in fact." Mac smiled at the A.D. "And I'm just getting started," he added. "And you're sharing this *why*?" Skinner demanded. "Because we're staring Armageddon in the face, Walter," Joe jumped in. "We're out of time, sir," added Mac. "The time has come to choose. As a race. Do we live? Or do we perish?" The immortal turned his attention to the two agents. "Mulder. Gather everything you've got on the Consortium and what their up to. Then pack," he ordered. "As soon as you're done, we're getting on an airplane." He looked at the A.D. "Sir. Mulder has vouched for you. Joe and I are here to invite you along," Mac offered to Skinner. "To do what?" Skinner demanded. "Mac's got a plan, Walter," Joe explained. "We think you can help." Skinner sighed. "You don't understand, Joe. I've been…compromised." "My buddy, Bill, told me about that, sir," Mac informed him. "He told me you made a deal with the devil to save Mulder and Dana. I can respect that." Skinner looked shocked. "It doesn't matter. Most of those who know are being dealt with even now," the immortal added. Deblout's team was acquiring and 'servicing' targeted members of the Consortium as fast as they could find them. "Bill?" asked Mulder. Mac quirked a corner of his mouth at his ally. "Cancerman," he explained. "You say he's dead?" Skinner asked. Mac nodded. "You killed him?" Mac nodded again. Their was a cold gleam in his eye and a chilling smile on his face. Dana shuddered again. Skinner looked sadly at his old friend. Mulder, Scully and O'Byrne were off gathering the agents' files on the conspiracy. They would all be meeting at the airport in a couple hours for the flight to L.A. "How'd you get involved in this, Joe?" he asked his old friend. "I remember you being such a boy scout." Joe considered how to answer that for a long moment. "After that ambush where I lost my legs," he finally began explaining, "Sergeant Andy Parker dragged me back to safety." Skinner remembered visiting Joe at the MASH and listening to his friend's ravings about how he'd been saved by the dead Marine sergeant. "Joe… Andy was dead. You-" "I know that, damn it!" Dawson cut him off. "You're right. He *was* dead. Only, he wasn't." Skinner tried to understand what that meant. "Walter… Andy was immortal," Joe continued. Seeing the look on his friend's face, Dawson pressed on. "*Immortals*, Walter. They're all around us. Like O'Byrne. Guess how old he is." Skinner shrugged. "Twenty-five?" Joe grinned. "Try sixty. Mac was born back in 1940. He served in the French Foreign Legion in Viet Nam and Algeria in the late fifties and early sixties." "Bullshit," Skinner replied. "No, Walter. Not Bullshit. Mackenzie O'Byrne has been at war since nineteen fifty-seven. Almost nonstop," Joe responded. "And as immortals go, he's practically a baby. His teacher was a man named Finn Mac Cuhill. Mac Cuhill was born sometime around the Trojan War." "Joe, that's not possible." "No?" asked Dawson. "Ask him to show you his little trick with the knife." ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Part 8 Scene 1 Los Angeles, Ca. Los Angeles International Airport, charter terminal 2100, Sunday (Local) Buffy was shifting from foot to foot as she waited impatiently. Mac had called a few hours before to inform her he'd be arriving that evening. Though it had only been four days since she'd last seen him, to Buffy it felt like half of forever. In anticipation of her husband's return, the young bride had put considerable effort into her appearance. Dressed in a sleeveless top that tied behind her neck and a mini-skirt showing a *lot* of leg, she looked devastating and she knew it. Buffy hoped he noticed. And there he was. Mac just stood there, gazing at her. 'Jesus H. Christ!' he thought. 'I left *that*? I *am* nuts!' Then she was in his arms. For a short while, they were the only two people in the world. Skinner stared at O'Byrne and the young woman in his arms. The woman – '*That's* his *wife*?' – barely looked old enough to drive, much less be *married*. Around him, Dawson, Scully and Mulder looked on the pair affectionately. Finally, Dawson stepped forward and cleared his throat. "Ahem. Mac? Buffy? Shouldn't we go?" asked the Watcher. Buffy shot their friend an evil look. "Yeah," agreed Mac. "Let's get the hell out of here." The new arrivals were escorted out of the terminal by Buffy and her parents. Mac was a little surprised to see Hank Summers there, offering his hand. The last time Mac had checked, his father-in-law couldn't stand him. Buffy clutched Mac tightly, her arm wrapped around his waist. Mac had to keep forcing himself to watch where he was going. Buffy was dressed to kill. He leaned down and whispered to her. "You look pretty." Buffy smiled. "This old thing? I just grabbed it out of the closet." Hank and Joyce drove Dawson and Skinner back to the Keep. The others were in Mac's Pathfinder. The two car convoy wended its way back to Sunnydale, making good time in the late evening traffic. Hank was curious about something. "Joe – it *is* Joe, right?" he asked. When Dawson nodded, Hank went on, "Where's Thomas?" Dawson chewed that over for a second. "What do you know about what's going on, Hank?" "I know that lunatic son-in-law of mine is pretty pissed at a bunch of people conspiring with aliens to wipe out the human race," Summers replied. Dawson smiled. 'Am I the *only* man on the planet who *doesn't* believe all this?' wondered Skinner. "Thomas is running around with a bunch of French commandos putting paid to the conspirators," answered Joe. "I don't know what's got him more worked up. That these evil bastards are doing what they're doing, or that they tried to hurt Buffy." "What do you mean?" Summers asked. "You know what happened in the Bahamas?" Dawson queried. Seeing Summers nod, he answered, "Thomas is a charter member of the Slayer fan club, Hank. He practically worships her." "You don't mean…" Hank's voice trailed off, not sure how to safely finish that sentence. "Oh, *Hank*," Joyce interrupted, disgusted. "Buffy is like a daughter to Thomas. How would you react if someone tried to hurt her and you could do what he and Mac can?" "I'd kill them all," answered Hank tightly. "Well, there you go, Hank," responded Joe. "That's pretty much what he's doing right now. God have mercy on their souls. Thomas won't." Scene 2 Sunnydale, Ca. 150 Creek St 2230, Sunday (Local) Arriving home, the group poured into the house to face a warm reception. The entire team of Slayerettes was there. Mac wasn't exactly thrilled to see all the people in his home, but he put on his game face and dealt with it. He understood that Buffy's friends had been worried about him, even missed him. He just didn't care. He wanted to be with Buffy. *Alone* with Buffy. 'Oh, well,' he thought with a sigh. 'Business first.' Then he laid eyes on Wesley. Before Buffy could stop him, Reaper had crossed the room, seized the Watcher by his throat, jerked him straight up into the air and hurled the man across the room. The Watcher slammed into the wall with a tremendous thud, cracking the paint with the force of his impact. Reaper stepped forward to kill him. That's when Mac's legs were swept from under him. Taken by surprise, the immortal dropped to the floor, landing flat on his back. Buffy sat down on his chest. "Mac?" she asked. Mac glared at her. Then he sighed. Of course. If Wesley was here, *Buffy* had brought him. Damn it. "Mac," Buffy said again. "Yeah, sweetie," he answered tiredly. "I invited him. You wanted a lot done, and you didn't give me much time," she explained. "What's done is done, okay? *I'm* over it. You get over it too, okay?" Mac was all too aware that last part hadn't been a request. It was an order. He nodded. "What was that?" Buffy asked. "I couldn't hear you." Mac sighed again. "Okay, honey. I won't kill him." *Yet*. Buffy looked over to Giles. The Watcher was crouched down, examining Wesley. "Is he okay, Giles?" she asked. Giles helped the other man sit up. "I think he's had the wind knocked out of him," Giles replied. Skinner was stunned. He'd never seen anything like that in his life. O'Byrne had simply tossed the man halfway across the room like he was a rag doll. The moment he'd laid eyes on the man, and without even changing expression, O'Byrne had moved in to kill him. And his wife had taken *him* down just as fast. And, apparently, with just as much ease. Skinner wondered what the man had done to earn O'Byrne's enmity. In short order, Giles, Buffy and the rest of the people in the room had rendered their reports to O'Byrne. All except Wesley. That man had kept very quiet and very still. Skinner wondered if he was afraid of being noticed. Then O'Byrne's wife delivered the news about the vampire. That focused Skinner's attention. When his two agents had come out here a couple of months before, their investigation of the serial killer had had 'vampiric elements' to it, according to Mulder. When Skinner had pressed him on the point after his return to D.C., Mulder had only been willing to say that the vampires were being 'dealt with'. Skinner decided he knew who was 'dealing with' the vampires. He was surrounded by them. He also began to have the sinking feeling he knew who had murdered the serial killer. Mackenzie O'Byrne. In a few minutes, Skinner was being led down into the O'Byrne's basement by them and Giles. Mulder and Scully were close on his heels. In the basement was a cage. In the cage was a young man, bound with chains. Skinner opened his mouth to protest. This was all going entirely to far! But Mulder grabbed his arm, whispering to him to just watch, as Buffy stepped over to the cage. "Hey, fang-boy!" she called. "Wake up." The boy in the cage flinched and stared at them through the bars. "I wanted you to meet someone," Buffy continued. "Reaper?" As O'Byrne approached the cage and opened the door, the boy inside metamorphosed into a *thing* right before Skinner's disbelieving eyes. The vampire mewled in fear. The *Reaper* was here! With their guests bedded down for the night, the O'Byrnes got ready to hit the sack themselves. Mac was stripped and in bed, waiting for his wife to emerge from the bathroom. When Buffy stepped out into their bedroom, his mouth hung open. Buffy was dressed (sort of) in a sheer, cream-colored negligee constructed of silk. Translucent, it revealed much more than it covered. Her hair was swept back from her face, tied with a red ribbon. Buffy was a vision. The young woman had put *lot* of thought into what she would wear to welcome her husband home. Judging by the look on Mac's face, Buffy decided she'd achieved the desired effect. She went to him and sat on the bed near his feet, out of reach for the moment. Knowing she had the man's full attention, Buffy wanted to talk. "Mac…" her voice trailed away. Buffy knew *what* she wanted to say. She just wasn't sure *how* to say it. "Honey," she started again. "Are you *sure* you know what you're doing?" After a moment, Mac managed a strangled, "Huh?" Buffy smiled. She might have overdone it a bit. "The Gathering?" she reminded him. "All these people you're bringing together? Are you sure?" she asked. "Sunnydale is about to get very hazardous for people like us. For people, *period*, come to think of it," she finished. With a tremendous effort, Mac managed to focus on what Buffy was saying. "Sure? No, not really," he admitted. "But I don't know what else to do. If we don't stop this, we have months, a year at the most, before the human race dies out. The schedule is set. The pieces are in place. "You, me… Deblout, the Macleods… We can deal with most things on our own," he continued. "Wars, disasters, the like… We can play a part – a *silent* part – but this? If we don't all come together… Like Davis said, if we don't hang together, we'll sure hang separately." "Davis?" she asked, frowning in thought. "Jefferson Davis. President of the Confederacy?" asked Mac with a smile. "You know, honey. That little ruckus called the American Civil War?" he gently mocked. Buffy slapped his foot through the bed covers. "So I'm not Miss History. Sue me," she replied. "*Mrs.,*" Mac responded, gently but emphatically. "Right. *Mrs.*," she agreed. "Now, come here *Mrs*. O'Byrne," he instructed her. Buffy smiled at him. Then she complied… Skinner laid back on the bunk bed in the room O'Byrne had assigned him. What he'd seen an hour before kept running through his mind. That caged *thing* in O'Byrne's basement was a vampire. A vampire. Jesus! A frightened one. Its reaction to Mrs. O'Byrne's introduction of 'Reaper' had been startling. As O'Byrne opened the cage door, it had bucked madly, out of its mind with fear. Skinner wondered what O'Byrne and his wife – called the 'Slayer', apparently – had been up to. Then again, maybe he didn't want to know. He'd never seen anything that afraid before in his life. Not even in the 'Nam. Now that he knew who had been 'dealing with' Mulder's vampires, Skinner was torn between revulsion and disbelief. On the one hand, the O'Byrnes were almost children. He looked to be maybe in his mid-twenties, she about seventeen or eighteen – tops. On the other hand, Skinner had known Joe Dawson more than thirty years. And Mulder had been involved in some pretty strange things… Mostly, though, there was O'Byrne, himself. Sure, he *looked* like a kid, but his eyes… His eyes reminded Skinner of some of the multiple-tour veterans back in the 'Nam. Those eyes had that cold, flat, *lifeless* look of a man who had lost all of his humanity. And O'Byrne's occasionally all-too-cheerful disposition reminded the veteran agent of some particularly brutal psychopaths he'd known. Animals Skinner had helped hunt down and send to death row. Skinner wondered if that came from dealing with these vampires. Or if it was due to his alleged 'immortality'. Maybe the kid was just a monster. What would he be hunting if there *weren't* any vampires? Skinner recalled O'Byrne's reaction to the presence of that man Wesley. Without a second thought – hell, there'd barely been time for a *first* thought – O'Byrne had moved to kill the man where he stood. Mrs. O'Byrne was something else again. She seemed to be a genuinely friendly person with a sunny disposition. Yet *she* had taken her husband down just as fast as he had tossed Wesley across the room. As for the vampire… No one there had thought that the O'Byrnes' treatment of him (it?) was unusual or out of place. These people – 'Slayerettes', that girl, Willow, had called them – claimed it wasn't a *person* at all. Just a beast. A demon that needed to be killed at the first opportunity. What horror did O'Byrne have planned for it? A muffled shriek interrupted his thoughts. Instantly, Skinner was on his feet with his pistol in his hand. He crept out into the hallway. Another muffled squeal came from the direction of the master bedroom. Followed by the sound of a woman's giggle. Coloring, Skinner turned around to return to his room. He found Mulder, looking somewhat disheveled, standing at the entrance to his own room. The room he was apparently sharing with Agent Scully. Skinner had long suspected that the two of them were…*involved*, but the appearance of an engagement ring on Scully's hand immediately following their arrival here at the 'Keep' had been a bit startling. Skinner understood all too well why they would keep that a secret. He wondered if they understood the risk they were taking. Not just with their careers, their work, but with their lives. If their enemies found them out… Of course, O'Byrne and his allies were pretty well taking care of *that* little problem, weren't they? "They can be a little loud, can't they?" Mulder asked with a sly grin. He and Dana had heard the O'Byrnes as well, but they had visited before and were used to it. It was the sound of Skinner charging out into the hallway that had caused him to get up. In truth, *Mulder* hadn't heard the man. Dana had. Feeling a little self-conscious that their boss was in the next room, she hadn't been quite as lost in the throes of passion as her fianc‚. Dana had, in fact, been so concerned that Skinner might hear *them*, that she had been alert for any disturbances signaling that she and Fox might be heard themselves. Somewhat alert, at any rate. Most of her concentration had been fixed on insuring that *she* didn't make the kind of noise *Buffy* was making. "Good night, Mulder," replied Skinner before returning to bed. What the hell was going on here? A pair of obvious killers – the O'Byrnes – carrying on in one room, Mulder and Scully throwing caution to the winds as they (presumably) did much the same in another. His old friend, Joe Dawson, who Skinner had always thought so decent and level- headed, going on about 'immortals' and something called the 'Gathering' which, apparently was some kind of immortal apocalypse. Immortals, vampires, aliens and who knew what else gearing up for Armageddon… 'What in *hell* have I got myself wrapped up in now?' Scene 3 Los Angeles, Ca. Los Angeles International Airport, charter terminal 1200, Monday (Local) The group of immortals stared uncomfortably at one another. They were gathered around a young man – a mortal who had introduced himself as 'Xander' – holding up a sign that had '*Assemble here for transportation to the Gathering*' scrawled on it. Someone had a peculiar sense of humor. The boy, Xander, had promised them transportation to their destination. Anyone who wished to do so could supply transport of their own, of course. Xander had a stack of photocopied strip-maps to 'The Mission'. He'd also warned that accommodations weren't great. Apparently 'The Mission' was a fairly decrepit collection of buildings that their host had just acquired. Food and bedding (of a sort) would be on hand, but, if anyone so desired, they could stay elsewhere. The Gathering wouldn't be for a couple more days. Apparently their host (or, rather, *hostess* – someone named 'Buffy') was scrambling to improve things as best she could. Besides, they hadn't all arrived yet. Frustrating the immortals, Xander seemed unable – or unwilling – to provide much additional detail. They were, after all, in a pretty public place. He *was* willing to impart that whatever they might have heard wasn't the half of it. And, though the boy was friendly enough – even jaunty – he was also obviously nervous. Not about dealing with the incoming immortals. The boy seemed to know what they were and was used to being around their kind. No, Xander was scared of what they were being assembled to face. Curious. Beyond that, the immortals were a little nervous themselves. Many (if not most) of them had never met before. Some had of course. Old friends were being met. And old enemies. A man – another mortal – soon joined Xander. The new arrival, a man named Wesley, quietly beseeched them to forego any outstanding grievances for the time being. When it became obvious that several of the immortals intended to slip away and finish old business anyway, the man's pleas grew almost frantic. The immortals couldn't know it, of course, but their host had told Wesley his *immediate* survival depended on keeping the peace. And Buffy hadn't been around to defend him this time. Wesley was getting more nervous by the minute. Then he had an idea. "Ladies, gentlemen… Despite your own quarrels, certainly you want to see *Methos*, don't you?" he asked. As the day dragged on, that proved to be an effective method of cooling tempers. They *all* wanted to meet the legend. Even those that didn't really believe that Methos existed were curious. Wesley was a nervous wreck by the end of his shift. Scene 4 Sunnydale, Ca. 150 Creek St 1930, Monday (Local) Mac had just been introduced to Methos. He was left a little nonplussed by the experience. The legend wasn't exactly what he'd pictured. Mac doubted, in fact, that the ancient immortal would have come if not for Duncan. "So, let me get this straight," Mac was asking. "You're five thousand years old, give or take, you've never figured out or heard the explanation behind who…*what* we are, and you've spent the last several years hiding as a Watcher, trying to avoid the rest of us because you didn't want to risk your head. That about sum it up?" Mac, Buffy, the three feds, Dawson, Giles, Duncan, Duncan's significant other – Amanda – and Methos (who, apparently, usually went by the name Adam Pierson) were spread out on the porch of the Keep. Some of them were sitting on the porch rail, some were scattered in a loose circle around the rail-dwellers, sitting on the rest of Buffy and Mac's lawn furniture. Mac was in his favorite pose: leaned back, feet kicked up on the rail, Buffy sitting in his lap and a beer in his hand. Buffy knew from the sound of her husband's voice, without even turning to see him, that he looked like a little boy who'd just been told there really *wasn't* a Santa Claus. She'd have thought it was funny if she hadn't been a little disappointed herself. Buffy had pictured someone like Mac, only older. A Greco-Roman warrior, maybe, whose mere presence would cause the evil minions to tremble. What she saw was…well… "I'm just a *guy*, O'Byrne," responded Methos with a sigh. The ancient immortal had obviously had this discussion before. "I take it you're disappointed." "A little," Mac admitted. Duncan smiled. When *he* had first met Methos, they had had almost the same conversation. Practically word for word. "An *experienced* guy though, Mac," Macleod put in. "Yeah, but… but…" Mac floundered. Buffy couldn't hold it in. She started giggling. Pretty soon the rest of them were laughing, too. Mac's reaction *was* funny. "But?" prompted Methos. "Well… No offense, Methos, but I don't think you're gonna be what anyone *else* is expecting, either," Mac told him. He was more than just disappointed. Mac knew a lot of the incoming immortals were coming because *they* wanted to meet the legend. He was worried that once they saw the real McCoy, they throw up their hands and leave, disgusted. "So pick someone else. Let *them* be Methos," replied the man. "Believe me, it won't bother me in the slightest." In truth, Methos was of two minds. On the one hand, he hadn't really wanted to come at all. The idea of deliberately informing an entire gathering of immortals of his identity was hardly appealing. If Macleod hadn't forced him to come, he probably wouldn't have. *Whatever* this threat was that had the young immortal so worried didn't really scare him. Methos was a survivor. He'd been *surviving* for more than five millennia. On the other hand, this *pup* was starting to irritate him. He was very familiar with the man's file (in his guise as Pierson he *was* a Watcher, after all) and was well aware just how dangerous the man was. Still, to have this *child* – who hadn't seen his first entire *century* yet – acting as if Methos wasn't *good enough*… Oh, well. At least the kid had good taste in beer. He couldn't be *all* bad. "You're not getting out of this, Methos," Duncan announced. "Get over it." "Great. Now I'm being ordered about by *two* children," Methos replied sarcastically. Buffy perked up. The ancient immortal's comments might have been amusing to a point – and she was willing to grant that set against five *thousand* years, Mac *was*, inarguably, young – but no one picked on her honey. *No one*. "Listen, Mr. Methos," she said angrily. "You may be the geezer of geezers, but you're a guest here. I don't care *how* old you are, if you don't play nice, I'll take away your beer. Got it?" Buffy demanded. Methos, along with everyone else, stared at the young woman. From what Joe and Duncan had told him about her, she wasn't someone to piss off. They claimed that she'd been fighting vampires since she was sixteen. Of course, though he hadn't seen the point in mentioning it, Methos knew all about the Slayers. He hadn't spent the *entire* five thousand years of his life with his head in the sand. He knew what it meant to be the 'Chosen One'. He'd even met a couple of them. And he had a fair amount of respect for their abilities. But Buffy, here, wasn't *just* a Slayer. She was an immortal. Being a living mixture of two very deadly traditions, the girl was dangerous. Friendly enough, but *damned* dangerous for all that. And, apparently, fiercely protective of her husband, too. Who was an *extremely* dangerous man in his own right. And Buffy's teacher, as well. Meaning that the first immortal Slayer in history was hooked up with someone busily honing her inherent abilities to a razor's edge. God help whoever pissed them off. Of course, someone already *had*, hadn't they? O'Byrne had joined with Buffy in her calling to fight the vampires. From what Methos' friends had told him, the two youths were busily exterminating the undead. *Without* letting any pesky traditions get in their way. Methos liked that. He wasn't the sort to let tradition interfere with what *he* wanted, either. And there was that whole mess with Polovsky. Young O'Byrne here had come unglued over all that. That idiot of an immortal had kidnapped Buffy. When he'd done *that*, the Rules had gone right out the window as far as 'Reaper' was concerned. Polovsky had died ugly. "I didn't mean to offend you, Methos," Mac was saying. "If I did, I'm sorry. Really." "Hey, kid, don't worry about it," answered Methos. Mac considered the ancient immortal's offer to substitute someone else in his place. He'd didn't think it would work. Worse, it was dishonest. Mac was going to need the trust of his fellow immortals. Lies were a bad – worse, *fragile* – foundation for trust. Disappointing as the myth might be, they'd just have to deal with it. :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Part 9 Scene 1 Sunnydale, Ca. The Mission 1030, Thursday (Local) Mac stood and looked at the three hundred-odd immortals and Watchers. Given Dawson's dire warning (not to mention his superiors' reaction), it was inevitable that some of them show up. Mostly, they were there because they wanted a chunk of Joe's hide. Deblout's commandos had proven a rude surprise. Wary of the Watchers' response (having been informed by Duncan, Joe and Methos of what the organization had attempted to do to the man in the past), Mac had asked Deblout to post his men on the lookout. As various Watchers had crept into the vicinity, they'd been policed up. Mac had ordered they not be harmed, just captured and secured at the Mission. If they were so damn curious about what was going on, Mac decided, he'd show them. He had also decided to delay the meeting an additional day. Since there were very few immortals present that didn't know *anyone* else there, he and his allies had quietly policed up friends and given them a heads up. Those warriors had, in turn, talked to others, and so on. Just about everyone here now had at least *some* idea what he was up to. They didn't really believe it, of course, but every last one of them had stayed to hear him speak his piece. They had even – some of them – called for additional reinforcements. Mac was glad, even in the face of his misgivings, that Duncan had thought to produce Methos. Mac hadn't known that Duncan even* knew* the mythic figure, much less counted him as a friend. He wasn't so sure about Duncan's love interest, Amanda. Despite her age (the woman was more than a thousand years old), she just didn't strike Mac as a *warrior*. She certainly wasn't anything like Buffy, or Ceirdwin, or Belle… Still, there were probably a few others in the crowd that weren't exactly what he was looking for, either. And Duncan *had* assured him that she had valuable skills. It was time to get started. The gathered immortals saw a tall, dangerous-looking man climb up on a table. His apparent youth didn't register on any of them. Some of the crowd looked far younger. They quieted down as he began to speak. "Brethren," he began. "My name is Mackenzie Patrick O'Byrne. My teacher was Finn Mac Cuhill." The speaker paused to let that sink in. Mac Cuhill had been a veritable legend in his own right. Most of them had heard that Mac Cuhill was dead. They'd also been informed that *this* was the man who had killed his killer. "I've asked you to come here to join a crusade. Only, *this* crusade isn't about religion, or politics, or greed. It's about survival. "Ours, perhaps. *Definitely* that of our cousin, mortal man. I say 'cousin' because I don't believe that we are here on this world to conquer man. Nor to rule him. I'd like to think that we were placed here to teach him. To guide him. "To protect him." As they heard the opening words of what promised to be a stirring speech, some of the immortals shifted uncomfortably. They didn't want to be preached at or lectured to. But they all listened. Had they known that the speaker had once been an actor in London, that he'd even once been offered a place with the Royal Shakespearean Company, it wouldn't have surprised them. The speaker knew how to work a crowd. "Protect him from what you may ask? From his own shortsightedness? From his own folly? No. Mankind is our cousin, yes, but *not* our child. We let him make his own mistakes as he stumbles toward the future. We must. Else *we* become that which he must be protected *from*. "Then protect him from what? "From those forces beyond his control. From that which mankind *can not* protect himself from. From the monsters. From the forces against which he can not defend himself." The speaker paused and stared into the middle distance for moment, before continuing thoughtfully. "I was once told that a picture is worth a thousand words. So, before I *tell* you any more about the threats our cousins face… Let me *show* you." The speaker paused again as a pair of strong men – many of the crowd recognized those men as Connor and Duncan Macleod – dragged a struggling…*thing*…out of a darkened alcove and under a shade that had been erected not far from the speaker's podium. A young woman walked up to the *thing*. It looked *almost* human. The fangs and the glowing eyes set it apart, however. Stripped naked, it looked like a devilish beast of some kind. The young woman picked up a sword and hacked off one of its arms. The arm turned to dust before it hit the ground. The stump didn't *bleed*. What the hell? The beast's antagonizer produced a cross. Although the *thing* shied away from it, the woman managed to press the cross to its forehead, causing a horrific screech as the religious ornament seared the beast's skin. When the young woman removed the cross, its shape had been burned into the creature's brow. The girl poured some water on her arm from a clear jar. Then she splashed some of the water on the maimed creature. The beast screamed in agony as the water began eating into it like sulfuric acid. Smoke rose from where the water had splashed. Then the woman was handed a wooden stake by Connor Macleod. When she thrust the weapon into the howling thing's chest, it shattered into dust. Those standing close enough heard a soft *POOF*. The woman walked back to where she had been sitting near the speaker, and sat down. There was stunned silence in the Mission's courtyard. "For those among us who are a little slow, yes, that *was* a vampire," announced O'Byrne. "The lady who just demonstrated the validity of my claim is the Slayer. She who is chosen among mortal man to be given the strength and skill to destroy the beasts. The Slayer is chosen at the death of her predecessor. For the first time in history, *this* Slayer is an immortal. "Prior to her, *thousands* of girls – *children* – had been chosen. They died. For thousands of years, our cousins have had to fight this war alone. No longer. *Never* again. Some of us – myself, the Macleods, Deblout, Ceirdwin, a few others… Now *we* fight this war as well. This war is part of why I've called you here." What the hell? The gathered immortals looked back and forth between one another and the speaker. *No one* had said *anything* about *vampires*! And *this* was only *part* of it? The young woman – the 'Slayer' – handed the speaker a glass of something to drink. The man took a couple of small sips, giving the assembly time to chew on what he'd said so far. Letting the suspense build. He handed the glass back to the 'Slayer', and recommenced. "No, I didn't misspeak. I didn't stutter, either. The vampires are only *part* of it. It gets worse. *Much* worse. "I know that many, maybe *most* of you lived through the inquisition. Naturally, you're bound to be a little skeptical of wild-eyed claims by some fanatic decrying the end of man. That's why I asked the Slayer to produce a vampire for you. Usually, she just kills them." The flat-sounding end to his sentence caused many in the audience to start a bit. "I'm also sure that most of you remember what was reported out of Roswell, New Mexico, back in forty-eight. And I know that we've all listened to different crackpots expound endlessly about alien visitors. I'm sure many of you have wondered, just as *I* have, why a species that could soar through the heavens, would visit Earth and, amongst all the splendor here to see, to touch… "Would, instead, run right out and stick an anal probe up the ass of some redneck in the boondocks." The audience burst out laughing. *Damn*, but the man knew how to play an audience. This was getting to be entertaining. The grin disappeared from O'Byrne's face. "I've got bad news, folks. They weren't all crackpots. Colonel?" Deblout climbed up on the table to make his report. Scene 2 Sunnydale, Ca. The Mission 1800, Thursday (Local) It had been a long day. Wesley – now reduced in rank to delivery boy by Mac – had been charged to produce pizzas, barbecue and sodas for the assembled crowd. He didn't get to hear much of Mac's speech. Or Deblout's. Or Mulder's, either. Making his seventh round-trip between the Mission and various eateries, the Watcher wondered if he shouldn't just give up and quit. * Buffy* had forgiven him. More or less, anyway. They'd even managed to work together, somewhat, before *O'Byrne's* arrival on the scene. Now, after months of being almost totally excluded, Buffy seemed willing to let him back in. She'd even settled her husband down. But the man just wasn't buying into Wesley's presence. He'd had it explained to him *why* Buffy had been tested. He seemed not to hold it against *Giles*. Of course, Giles had been fired for interfering with the test when he found himself unable to do as duty demanded. Wesley didn't know that O'Byrne had come within an inch of killing Giles, too. Or that the only thing that had stopped him was knowing that Giles *had*, in fact, abandoned his 'duty' as a Watcher in favor of Buffy's well-being. Mac had once read, somewhere or other, something that really struck a chord deep in his soul. * 'If given a choice between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I pray to God I have the courage to betray my country.' * In Mac's eyes, Giles had made the only choice a decent man could. And his own feelings for his wife really had nothing to do with it, either. Mac had been faced with choosing between friends and duty himself, on rare occasion. Friendship won, every time, duty be damned. That Mac had fallen in love with Buffy when he popped up almost two years later, well… That just increased the scope of the crime, in the immortal's view. Wesley hadn't simply endangered the life of an innocent woman with that ridiculous ritual. The man had endangered the life of the woman Mac had come to love. That he had yet to even meet her when the test had occurred, that she was an immortal and couldn't have been harmed anyway – probably – was beside the point. It was the *principal* of the thing. Mac *really* wanted to kill Wesley. Slowly. At any rate, at least he was letting the man do *something* to help out. In the eyes of Giles and Buffy, Wesley didn't really have grounds for complaint. They had, after all, kept Mac off of him. Mostly. Deblout had produced evidence from both Tunisia and the recently stormed island stronghold. He had pictures of the spacecraft which was currently being quietly slipped into France. He'd even brought one of the aliens back with him. *And*, Deblout had brought a couple of the scientists captured during the island raid, as well. Mulder had spent the better part of two hours detailing everything he knew about the Consortium and what it was up to. Mac had warned him to keep his theories to himself – their audience was going to have their credibility strained enough without him speculating. Giles had been pointed out as the man to see if anyone wanted to know more about vampires. The Consortium was the immediate threat, they and the upcoming colonization effort. Mac didn't want to confuse the issue. Producing the vampire had served to punch his audience between the eyes. Once the short term problem was dealt with, *then* he'd try to steer the crowd toward hunting for vampires. The most compelling demonstration had undoubtedly been the videotaped 'confessions'. Deblout had brought one obtained as a result of Cancerman's abortive attempt to reclaim the Foum Tattooine materiel. The man on the tape – one of Cancerman's agents – had been difficult for some of the gathered crowd to watch. Still, that was nothing compared to Cancerman's confession. Buffy had walked out of the courtyard, looking like she was going to lose her lunch. Mac was glad he hadn't taped the man's execution. He wasn't sure Buffy would have understood why the man was still alive when her husband fed him to the alligator. Mac climbed the stage again. "There you have it," he said. "Monsters. That's what our cousins face while we battle one another for the Prize. I don't think I can end the Game. Too many of us want to be the *last* of us for that. I don't know why. "For power? So that the winner can sit around – *alone* – until the end of time? Whatever. I don't care anymore. I'm not sure I ever did. I *know* I don't now. My cousins are facing extermination. *That* matters. It matters to *me*, anyway. "I'm going to fight this fight. I'm going to fight the future. I'm going to wipe out the Consortium. I'm going to end the alien menace. If I must, I'll fight alone. "And I'll fail." The immortals, tired, some a little queasy, all of them astounded, were shocked to hear that. "I'll fail," Mac repeated. "I can't win this alone. The Macleods, Jean- Paul Deblout… We'll stand together. We'll fight. And we *will* fail. *If* we fight alone." Mac took a deep breath and slowly let it out again, sighing. "There's just one more of us to hear out. The one I expect most of you came hear to see. I hope you *believe* him to be who he *claims* to be. He wasn't what I was expecting, so he's probably not what you were expecting, either. For what it's worth, he hasn't told me whether or not *he'll* help. "Methos?" Mac called. Seeing the crowd stir, Methos took a deep breath. Then he walked up on the podium. Mac nodded at him and stepped down. Curiously, almost every pair of eyes managed to tear away from the myth and follow O'Byrne's retreating back. Methos cursed under his breath. With his dramatic departure, the pup had just more or less thrown him to the wolves. Fortunately, Methos knew exactly what he was going to say. O'Byrne had convinced him. The end was nigh. No more mankind. No more *beer*. The audience turned back to Methos. The ancient immortal remained silent for a long moment, letting the drama build. Mackenzie O'Byrne wasn't the only one who knew how to play a crowd. "I'm reminded of Shakespeare's words in 'Henry V'," he finally said. "Do as you will. I'm going to fight." Finished, Methos stepped down. Gathering the Macleods and Dawson, he walked out of the courtyard in pursuit of O'Byrne. Deblout stepped forward. "Those who want to fight, stay. Everyone else… Thank you for coming." The Colonel turned and walked back to the podium to sit and wait. The immortals began to disperse. Some came straight to him, others gathered in small groups to discuss what the day had brought. Quite a few moved to examine the alien. None left. Reaper had his army. Scene 3 Sunnydale, Ca. 150 Creek St 2000, Thursday (Local) Mac had found Buffy waiting on the hood of the Pathfinder. Silently, they boarded the vehicle and Mac drove them home. It was a quiet ride. When they got there, Buffy walked inside and up to their bathroom. She felt dirty. Mac started to follow her up the stairs, but she turned and waved him off. He was quiet as he watched her retreating back. 'I wonder if she'll forgive me?' he asked himself silently. Worried, he brewed some coffee, then grabbed a beer and went out to the porch. There he sat, waiting to see if the war had cost him the only thing in the world that he really cared about. Buffy scrubbed herself, trying to wash away the filth that had reached out to touch her. It hadn't been Mac and the Colonel's videos. It was what they *hadn't* shown. How those men had come to look the way they looked in those tapes. What had happened to them *after*. She'd always known there was a monster in Mac. It even had a name. When he became *Reaper*, the man she loved was gone. In his place stood a thing that could terrify a demon – *had*, in fact. And still did. She knew she wasn't the only thing keeping the vampires out of Sunnydale. It was too bad, really, that *Mac* wasn't the Slayer. It would have never occurred to him that life might be anything else. Hell, he *wasn't* the Slayer and it *still* didn't occur to him. The man *was* the damn Grim Reaper. Death wasn't just his profession, it was his *life*. It sickened her. The man she loved could be so much more than the harbinger of death. He was smart, educated… He could be a teacher. He'd be a good one, too. When Mac talked about the past, he made it come alive, made it seem like you were there, watching history unfold. But, *no*… Until the day he died, some fool somewhere would sound the bugle and Mac – *Reaper* – would be off, charging to the sound of the guns (whatever the hell *that* meant). And when he got there, he'd deal out the most brutal, viscous, *inhuman*… Buffy shuddered. That would be where he died, too. In battle. Not because he was immortal. Because he had this damn pavlovian response, hard-wired into his soul that demanded he be in the thick of it. One time too many, he was gonna hear that damn bugle and someone, somewhere would… She couldn't finish the thought. Losing him was too terrible to contemplate. Besides, Buffy really couldn't imagine the man or demon capable of besting him. Nothing she knew of even came close. The man could give lessons to a demon in the monster department. It was a good thing he *was* on the side of the angels. The alternative was frightening, to say the least. And that was what was bothering her right now. Buffy knew Mac was trying to save the human race. Sure, it had started off because *she* had been attacked… No, that wasn't quite right. Mulder had told him about these people, what they were doing. And Mac had heard the damn bugle again. But he'd let 'Cancerman' live. He'd done that because killing people bothered *her*. And in response, they'd attacked her, attacked him. Murdered more than a hundred people trying to kill the Colonel. Now Mac wanted *blood*. Buckets of it. Mac wasn't hearing bugles *now*, she realized. What he was hearing was the horn of the Archangel Gabriel himself. To Mac, this *was* the apocalypse. Armageddon had come. The line was drawn between good and evil, between angels and demons. Mac was on the side of the angels. Demons beware: the Reaper's coming for *you*. Finishing her shower, Buffy slipped on a tank-top and jeans before heading downstairs. Her man was waiting for her. He might well be all that stood between humanity and its extinction. She could buy that. It was *her* job to make sure that the *man* survived the war. The monster, *Reaper*, might be what he needed to win, but if it was going to be a world worth living in that when the war was over, that monster needed to be kept on a leash. When this was done, Buffy wanted her husband back. Scene 4 Sunnydale, Ca. 150 Creek St 2115, Thursday (Local) Mac was right where Buffy expected to find him: on the porch, feet kicked up, beer in hand. Methos, Joe, Amanda, the feds and the Macleods were there as well. Carrying her coffee with her, Buffy slipped out on the porch and took her seat. In Mac's lap. Mac focused on her for a moment. Buffy gave him a soft kiss and settled her head against his chest. She could feel the tension slipping out of him. Mac had been worried. If she hadn't been so emotionally worn out, that would have offended her. Mac should've known by now that she was his. Bought and paid for. No matter what, he owned her. Just like she knew she owned him, body and soul. Including, regrettably perhaps, but including nonetheless, a black bag labeled 'Reaper'. Buffy knew that. Why didn't he? "Anyway, we've got an army," Deblout was saying. "Now, what do we do with them?" They were all looking at Mac. Who grinned. The smile was surprisingly warm. Dana was the only one who understood why. She had seen the tension drain out of the man when Buffy settled in his lap. Mac – 'Definitely *Mac*,' she thought – had been worried about Buffy's reaction to the day's events. When Buffy had plopped down, all was suddenly right with the immortal's world. "We assign targets, sir," Mac answered. "We hit the Consortium everywhere at once. Develop additional intel along the way. Use that to select *new* targets and keep going." Mac's arms were both around Buffy, holding on to the woman as if he was afraid to let go. "And the aliens?" persisted Deblout. "They're on the way, Mackenzie." "We know where some of them are. Our intel suggests that some of the Consortium's efforts, those that are government sanctioned, are hustling to analyze them, search out weaknesses." Mac paused for a thought. "We need to capture some of those aliens already here. "I think we can roll up the Consortium pretty quick," he continued. "Stop what they're doing. Absorb their research into larger efforts. The colonization fleet? No one seems to know when they'll arrive. And I've got a thought about that." Buffy snuggled a little deeper into his chest as she listened to him. "What thought, my friend?" Deblout demanded when the pause drew out. Mackenzie needed to keep his mind on business. He was fond of the younger man's wife himself, but right now Mackenzie needed to focus. Mac stroked Buffy's hair as he answered. "What if there isn't any fleet?" he asked. The crowd was shocked. No fleet? What the hell was this lunatic going on about now? "Think about it," Mac went on. "If they – the aliens – could just drop in out of the blue and wipe us out, take us over, why not just *do* it? Why the long, drawn out conspiracy? And why," he demanded more forcefully, "have they worked so hard to persuade a bunch of mere humans to help engineer the effort?" "Then what the hell do we need an army for?" demanded Deblout. "This sounds an awful lot like wishful thinking, Mackenzie!" "Three hundred-odd immortals does not an army make, sir," Mac responded. "And I may be wrong. Certainly we can't afford to assume I'm *right*. In the event I *am* wrong, we need to be ready. On our own, we can't be. It'll be the fight of all time. We'll need every government on the planet and the whole of the human race to fight them off. "What we *can* do is wipe out the Consortium. The faster we do that, the better. Then we need – that *we* is us and our little force of immortal warriors, incidentally – to get more involved. We need more people to do what you do, Colonel. To get involved with their governments. To steer our combined efforts as a race," he finished. They all chewed that over for a minute. "You don't mean to cover it up, do you Mac?" asked Mulder quietly. "Hell, no!" asserted the immortal. "We're gonna blow the lid off this thing. Within a few months, there won't be anyone, anywhere that doesn't know about this." Mulder sighed in relief. The truth would be, finally, exposed. "You realize the danger in that, Mac?" asked Skinner. "When people find out what's been going on, what high-level government officials have been up to… Governments will fall." "So what?" asked Mac. "So *what*?" echoed Skinner. "Don't you realize what-" "Governments come and go, sir," Mac cut him off. "If those morons in the Consortium had revealed the truth back in the forties, we wouldn't be facing the task ahead." That task, of course, being the execution of the Consortium's members. "In the meantime," continued Mac, "we destroy the Consortium. We and our little band of heroes. We expose *everything*. Once that's done, the Colonel, here, and people like *you*, Mr. Skinner, are going to go public with the threat. With the crimes that have been committed. "And our army slips away. To get on with the next task," he hinted. "Next task, Mac?" Amanda wanted to know. "Keeping a sharp eye peeled for aliens. And, of course, vampires and demons and so forth," he replied. Deblout stared at O'Byrne with a calculating expression. Mackenzie was, quite possibly, the most devious bastard he'd ever met. Consortium, bullocks! Mackenzie O'Byrne had decided, at one fell swoop, to destroy the Consortium, recruit help for the Slayer *and* take a stab at ending the Game for all time. To do that, he'd reached out to the best of the immortal race and offered them a chance to be heroes, to use their gift for the common good. And it looked, at first blush, as if he just *might* pull it off. Deblout gazed at the woman in O'Byrne's lap, remembering how less than two weeks before, he'd been wondering about the changes the right woman could render in a man. He hadn't known the half of it. Buffy and Mac finally slipped off to bed. As they stripped down, she gazed at him thoughtfully. Slipping into bed next to him, Buffy sat and looked at the man she'd married. Really *looked*. Mac gazed back at her. His face had its typically bland expression, but the warmth glittered in his eyes. The love he felt for her was incandescent. "Mac, what are you really up to?" she finally asked. Mac seemed to consider her question for a moment. "Factually?" he asked. "Or truthfully?" "There's a difference?" He nodded. "Yeah. This time there is." "Let's try truthfully on for size, first," Buffy decided. Mac took a deep breath. Letting it out slowly, he got a peculiar look on his face. Not *wry* exactly. More…embarrassed? "Mac," prompted his wife. "I'm trying to be worthy of you," he blurted. As he turned red in the face, Buffy decided he *was* embarrassed. "Worthy of me?" she repeated. Mac nodded. "Yeah. I never really feel…good enough," he settled on. "What do you mean?" Buffy demanded. "Good enough! Mac, I-" He silenced her by laying his fingers against her lips. "Shhh," he said softly. "Listen." Buffy quieted. "I've spent my life in bad places, doing bad things to bad people, Buffy," he explained. "I came here, to Sunnydale, to kill someone. Then I met you. There you were, this gorgeous little spitfire, facing down things I'd never imagined in my worst nightmares. You *knew* you were going to die an ugly death. From sixteen years on, you knew that. "Yet, you fought anyway. No matter what it cost you, you fought. And you didn't lose your humanity." Listening to her husband, Buffy felt tears forming in her eyes. He'd never spoken of this before, never told her what he really *felt* about it all. "Me, I grew up determined to divorce myself of everything…*weak*, I guess. Love, compassion…humanity, if you want to call it that. Buffy, I didn't *lose* those things – I abandoned them. Intentionally. They didn't make me a better warrior, so I had no use for them." Tears started streaking down her face. "When I learned what I was, suddenly life became this huge adventure," Mac continued. "I got that from Finn. We were special. We had a gift. We could slay the dragons, rescue the damsels in distress, generally save the day… And we didn't have to worry much about dying, either. "Oh, don't get me wrong, honey. I was still one ruthlessly, cold-blooded son-of-a-bitch. I was just having fun with it. I got to be one of the heroes from the Saturday serials I grew up watching. Life was good," he said, smiling. "Then, I met you. I didn't get you at first. The whole 'why me?' thing. It took a while to sink in that, while at your age I *wanted* to slay the beast, you were *dragged* into it. And you went. You risked everything because someone showed up one day and said 'Guess what? You're the Chosen One! Oh, you had plans? Sorry about that. Here's a pointy stick – go save the world!'," he said. His voice was harsh, mocking the men that had stolen Buffy's youth from her. Buffy just sat and listened, thinking she was a mess. She sniffed and tried to wipe away some of the tears blurring her vision. "Set against all that, Buffy, what am I?" he asked. "A man who was so successful had destroying his own humanity that people started to call me the Grim Reaper? An immortal who was enjoying himself in what were, in hindsight, pointless crusades as I tried to seize glory from the blood of my enemies?" he demanded. Mackenzie O'Byrne had come to judge himself harshly, it seemed. "I am grateful, in a way, for the way I spent those years. They left me a capable warrior. I know you don't like some of the things about me, some of the things I do, but I still believe that the way to defeat something is to kill it," he asserted. "I don't shrink from that. "But you? You somehow have held onto the idea that all life his precious. When I do… When I do some of the things I do, it hurts you. When I hurt you, it makes me feel unworthy of you. It's an uncomfortable thing when your hero disapproves of you," he finished. Buffy started. 'Hero? Me? *His?*' she thought. Husband and wife stared at each other. "Are you saying…you're trying to change?" Buffy finally ventured. Mac grimaced. "No…not exactly," he said slowly. "Then…what…" Buffy wasn't even sure what she was trying to ask. Mac reached out and stroked her hair. He drew his fingers down her face, through her tears. He sighed. "I don't like myself much when I hurt you. So… I try not to do that. And…" Mac's voice trailed away for a moment as he lifted his shoulders in a shrug. "All my heroes before were men that had been dead for centuries. I never expected to be in love with one. Being worthy of you takes some doing. I think I fail a lot. Bear with me, baby. I'm trying," he finished. * Hero* again. It occurred to Buffy that this was undoubtedly as close as the man had ever come to suffering from angst. Mac probably wasn't even sure what angst *was*. She laid down on top of him, kissing him softly. "Just for the record, Mac," she said quietly. "You're doing fine." Her next kiss was much deeper. ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Part 10 Scene 1 New York, NY XXXX (Consortium Office) 1000, Friday (Local) Jager and Jacques conducted one last radio check. Everyone was in position. It was time to strike. Jager was having a good time. In the last week, he'd killed a dozen members of the Consortium. Men who had murdered innocent people. Who had hidden the truth of alien existence even as they conspired with it to bring about the end of mankind. Men who had attacked his friend, Reaper. Worse – they'd gone after *Buffy*. That was one crime too many. Jager would have enjoyed ending their miserable lives anyway, of course. Men like this were only good for killing. But going after *Buffy*… Jager was sorry he could kill each of them only once. Jacques signaled the team. They moved in. Two days before, the commandos had located a member of the Consortium who knew where a meeting was going to occur. A bunch of bigwigs were gathering to ask questions. Questions like: where was so-and-so? And, where is what's-his-name? Jager and friends decided to come over and answer those questions. It was the polite thing to do, they thought. Ten minutes after entry, the Georgian-style house was clear. Jager was looking at a collection of men, mostly older men, who had information the commandos wanted. Jager's eyes narrowed as he focused on one of the group. A younger man. A man with one arm. Jager stepped forward. "Your name wouldn't be Kryczeck, now, would it?" he asked. The man took a small step backwards, a shocked look on his face. Jager smiled at the man. "A friend of mine will be happy to know you're dead," said Hunter. Then he shot the man between the eyes. Kryczeck's head exploded, spraying the men behind him with blood and brain matter. Jager knew he probably shouldn't have killed the man outright like that. There was no telling what he might have been able to share. But it had felt good. Besides, the rest of the Consortium members would know that their own lives were hanging by a slender thread. Always good to have a useful example. "We have questions," Jager informed them. "You can buy an easy death. Or you can buy a hard one. I'm indifferent to your choice." He pointed at one of the men. "Him first," he announced. Then he turned to Jacques. "Call Big Jim, would you? And tell him to bring his knife." Jacques grinned. Scene 2 Sunnydale, Ca. 150 Creek St 0930, Friday (Local) * Ring. Ring. * Mac reached across Buffy to her bedside table and snagged the phone. She stirred and fluttered her eyes. As Mac rolled back off of her with the phone in his hand, she gave him a little kiss. "If this is a beautiful super-model anxious to jump my bones, it's only fair to let you know that my wife is here with me," he wisecracked, throwing Buffy a wink. "*Then it's a good thing I'm ugly*," said Jager in French. "Hunter!" cried Mac, sitting up. "Where the hell are you?" he asked, speaking English for Buffy's benefit. "*New York. Tell Mulder I've got a present for him.*" Buffy checked Mulder's room. Seeing that neither he nor Dana were there, she raced downstairs. They were in the kitchen. Along with, apparently, everyone else in the house. Meaning everyone else had slept while she and Mac had… Shaking off the thought (and still blissfully unaware that her walls *weren't* soundproof), Buffy grabbed Mulder. "Mulder, pick up the phone!" she told him. "Right now! It's important!" Startled by Buffy's excitement, but easily deducing from the expression on her face that it wasn't bad news, Mulder picked up the phone. "Mulder," he said. "*Mulder? It's Thomas. I think we found your sister.*" Dana was hurriedly packing her and Fox's bags. They were flying to New York on a private plane belonging to the French government, courtesy of Deblout. Fox was downstairs with Mac. Buffy was getting ready to take them to the airport. Things were moving fast. Jager's report had stirred things up, to say the least. The legionnaire had developed some intel on the location of a possible alien. A bounty hunter. The team in New York was moving to acquire the target. Right after the made a stop in Rochester. Deblout and Mac were trying to do ten things at once. Because Connor lived in New York City, he was going to lead a team of immortals to try and capture the alien. Deblout and Mac were about to race out to the Mission and pick that team. Things were going to be busy for the next few weeks, as immortals scattered back out across the world in small groups to begin hunting. Most of them seemed more interested in vampires than aliens. After all, they'd *seen* a vampire. Alive and kicking (in a manner of speaking), too. Deblout's 'alien' was clearly dead. This 'Consortium' may well be a threat, and maybe the aliens *were* real, but they'd *seen* a vampire. Giles (and Wesley) had gotten almost no sleep the previous night as they'd been repeatedly called upon to answer the immortals' questions about Hell's creatures. Still, almost all of them were willing to at least *look* into O'Byrne's Consortium, too, so Deblout and Mac had missions to assign. Dana looked up from her task when Fox entered the room. "Honey?" she asked. "Are you all right?" Mulder looked at her, struggling to hold back tears. "What if it's another false lead?" he replied. "What if I never find her, Dana?" Scully went to her soul-mate and wrapped her arms around him. She alone understood the pain he had suffered during the long years of his quest. Gently, she bent his head toward her and gave him a soft kiss. "I don't think we can give up hope, sweetheart," Dana answered him. "We can never give up hope." Scene 3 Sunnydale, Ca. The Mission 1330, Friday (Local) Skinner and Mac shook hands. Skinner was departing to go to the airport with his two agents, while Mac remained to continue dispatching his immortals on their assignments. Jager's report that morning had included more than Samantha Mulder's location. All sorts of interesting people had been located. People that needed to be killed. Skinner was heading to New York to insure no one interfered with either the immortals or the French commandos. He'd chosen his side long before. While he might not approve of O'Byrne's tactics, the veteran agent really couldn't find any fault with the man's goals. No more Consortium. No more lies. No more secrets. Except for that little matter concerning the existence of immortals, of course. Even if his life hadn't depended on making the right decision there, the man still couldn't have brought himself to be betray their secret. This band of heroes was laying their lives on the line to save humanity. Being hunted down as a bunch of freaks would have been a poor reward. As the strike team departed, Mac turned to face the immortals lined up to get their assignments. "Next," he called. "Do you really think you can do it?" asked the woman facing him. "End the Game?" she clarified. Mac scrutinized her. "What's your name, ma'am?" he asked politely. "Katherine Raven." Mac smiled. He'd heard of this woman. And her mortal husband, Nick, too. Heroes, indeed. "That's not really up to *me*, now, is it, Mrs. Raven?" Mac returned. "No, it's not," Katherine agreed, nodding. "But it's a place to start." "Vampires or aliens?" Mac asked. He and Deblout had quickly learned it was best to get that out of the way first, considering how few of their brethren really *believed* in the alien threat. Katherine smiled. "Why, both, of course," she answered. Mac grinned. Hot damn. This just might work after all. Deblout led his party on to the French Leer jet. In minutes they were in the air, bound for Rochester, NY. He huddled with Macleod and his team. "Remember your brief, people," the Colonel admonished them. "These things are hard to stop. They can shape-shift right before your eyes. If you don't get a 'buzz', it's a hostile. If you try and kill it, and it starts bleeding a green, toxic substance, it's our target. I want it alive if possible." The Frenchman grinned like a hungry wolf. "I want a chance to have a little chat with our illegal immigrant." It was a flight of five hours. Those hours were well spent, sharpening swords, checking weapons, preparing for the fight to come. Scene 4 Rochester, NY Millhouse Estate 1600, Friday (Local) Jager looked around at the ravaged bodies strewn about the backyard. The survivors were huddled together, quaking in fear. The attack had been swift and brutal. Everything that sprouted a weapon died. This, however, was a rescue mission. So non-combatants had been spared. The commandos had no way of knowing who among the survivors might be allied with the Consortium and who might be a relatively innocent bystander. So they'd been somewhat less savage in their attack than they had been in those of the previous several days. Jager looked back and forth between a woman of about thirty and a picture he held in his hand. Finally nodding to himself, he stepped toward her. Smiling, he asked, "What is your name, dear lady?" The woman braced her shoulders and looked the man in the eye. "Melissa," he answered. The woman's bravery impressed Jager. Her answer, though, was somewhat disappointing. "Melissa?" he replied. "Are you sure?" "I think I know my own name," the woman replied sarcastically. "Does the name 'Samantha' mean anything to you?" Jager persisted. 'Melissa' paled. *Samantha was the name from her dreams… * Zeroing in on the woman's reaction, Jager went on. "What about 'Fox'? Or 'Mulder'?" "Who are you?" 'Melissa' demanded. Jager smiled. "Why, dear lady, I'm the man that's come to rescue you," he replied. "To return you to the family you were stolen from more than twenty years ago." 'Melissa' backed away a step. She looked as if she were about to faint. Jager carefully maintained his distance. "I'm not going to *force* you, dear lady," he assured her. "But I will ask you a favor…" "What 'favor'?" she demanded again. "Your brother, Fox. He's on his way. He wants to see you," Jager answered. "He's been looking for you for a long time." Jacques had met the Colonel and his team at the plane. Deblout, the feds and Macleod had accompanied him back to the Millhouse Estate, while the remaining immortals remained with the jet. When Mulder saw his sister, his face was a cold mask. He turned to Deblout. "Colonel… I've been tricked before. We need to verify that she's…human," Mulder ground out." Big Jim Meyer stepped forward. "I already checked, Mulder. She bleeds." Big Jim was the only immortal with the group that had been hunting the Consortium's members. He'd tagged along in the event an alien was encountered, hoping that, as an immortal, he'd be immune to the toxic effects of their blood. 'Melissa' had been less than happy when he had scored her arm with a knife. Immediately following his nod to Jager, the Watcher had raced back to her and bandaged the small cut. He'd tried to explain to her that they had feared she was something other than what she appeared, but she had been…resistant to his explanation. Despite Jager's kind attentiveness, she couldn't get the image of the dead bodyguards out of her head. Now she stared at a man she only seen once before. On a night when her 'father' (Mac's buddy 'Bill') had taken her to meet him. The man was named Fox, and, at her father's insistence, she'd responded to the name 'Samantha'. A name she only remembered from her dreams. Now 'Fox' was back. Back, and in the company of murderers. "Sam…" he said, his voice trailing away as he approached her. "I don't know you," she declared. "My father asked me to talk with you, to pretend that I did, but…" But she remembered his name from her dreams. Like the name 'Samantha'. Like 'Mulder'. "It's okay, Sam," 'Fox' reassured her. "We've got time." "Melissa," she corrected him quietly. "My name is *Melissa*." "Your name is Samantha Mul-" Mulder began. "Mulder," Jager interrupted, cutting him off mid-word. Mulder looked up at him. "Give her some room," Jager advised. "It's been a long time. And it's been a trying day for the lady." Mulder looked back at his sister. "Sam," he started again. "Do you want to see Mom?" Jager felt as if the world had tilted. 'Melissa' literally took his breath away. He didn't quite understand it. He was almost forty years old. Would *be* forty in a couple of months. He was well past the age of adolescent infatuation. Yet… Something about Mulder's sister entranced him. Skinner had taken charge. All the occupants of the estate were in federal custody, he claimed, on suspicion of kidnapping and treason. That had gotten their attention. Many of them believed that a simple phone call to a husband or associate would clear this right up. Except, the 'federal agents' wouldn't let them use a phone! Some of the 'agents' looked as if they'd be just as happy to shoot them where they stood. 'Melissa' was indignant. "These are my friends, *Fox*," she informed her 'brother'. 'They are *not* criminals!" "Begging your pardon, ma'am," interjected Skinner. "These people are all suspects in a treason case-" "And we don't have rights?" she demanded. "This isn't still America? You can just walk in here and-" "Dear lady," interrupted Jager. She quieted down and looked at him. "Your friends are not merely players in the kidnapping of a seven year old child named Samantha Mulder," he explained to her. "They are also associated with a vast conspiracy of men seeking to *overthrow* the nation that guarantees the rights you feel we are abridging. "In addition," he went on, "we aren't, exactly, agents of the federal government." 'Melissa' took that in. "Then who the hell are you?" she demanded. Jager looked her dead in the eye. '*Gruss gott* she is beautiful!' he thought even as he answered her question. "We are the good guys, my lady. We are the ones that are going to stop them from ever hurting anyone ever again." There were tears in her eyes. "Don't you get it?" she insisted. "You've got the wrong people! You and your damn stormtroopers just killed a bunch of innocent men!" Jager shook his head sadly as Deblout joined the conversation. "Miss Mulder, shut your mouth, engage your ears and listen to me carefully," he ordered her harshly. She started at that, but quieted down again. "My name is Colonel Jean-Paul Deblout. I am a warrior. I am presently engaged in a war for the survival of our species," he informed her. "The men that were killed here are *not* innocents. They are in the employ of some of the most vile people it as ever been my pleasure to kill. "I don't really care whether you believe me or not, but just for your general fund of information, your name *is* Samantha Mulder. You *were* kidnapped from your home at the age of seven. This *is* your brother. He *has* been searching for you for a long time." Deblout took a deep breath. "Your 'father', was his name Bill Anderson?" Seeing her nod, paling at the implication of 'was', he went on. "Mr. Anderson, whatever kindness he may have shown you, was an absolutely despicable human being. He is dead, now. My only regret is that *I* was not the one that killed him. If you wish, I will show you his videotaped confession." "Confession?" Samantha whispered. "Yes. In which he detailed the numerous atrocities he has perpetrated and participated in over the last forty-odd years. Including the kidnapping of a young girl named Samantha Mulder. I should warn you, however, that the tape is not pleasant." With that, Deblout turned and strode away. Samantha hung her head, crying. 'My god,' she thought. 'What kind of monsters are these men?' :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Part 11 Scene 1 Martha's Vineyard, MD Mulder Summer home 0900, Saturday (Local) Mulder and Scully pulled up in front of the beachside house. Samantha was sitting quietly in the back seat. They had started the drive down late the previous night, the affianced couple switching off at the wheel periodically. Fox had tried to engage Sam in conversation, but the woman refused to interact with either him or Dana. As far as she was concerned, her 'brother' and his girlfriend were associated with murderers. She remembered little things. A kind woman ('My mother?'), a harsh man ('Father?'), a pesky older boy ('Fox?') and… This house. This house on the beach. The memories began to slam into her in wave after wave. 'Melissa' had had a good life. Her…father (?) had taken good care of her. Sure, there were all those visits to doctors, all those painful tests going back as far as she could remember, but it had been explained to her that she was sick. What was wrong, exactly, she'd never been clear on, but… Her entire *life* had just been ripped away! And that *bastard*, Deblout, had acted as if she had nothing to complain about! The car pulled up to the house and parked. The three of them got out and approached the house. A woman stepped outside. The kind woman from 'Melissa's' dreams. In that moment she knew it was true. *Melissa's* life may have just been ripped apart, but *Samantha* recognized her mother. "M-Mom?" Sam asked, suddenly short of breath. Mulder sat quietly on the porch, Dana cradled under his arm. He wasn't sure what to do, now. He had Sam back, sure… But it wasn't anything like what he had expected, what he'd hoped for. Sam thought him a monster. Cancerman had stolen even the sweetness of this victory from him. 'I agree with the Colonel,' Mulder decided. 'I wish *I'd* been the one to kill that black-lunged devil, too.' Dana held the hand draped over her shoulder. With her other hand she stroked Fox's thigh. He was hurting, she knew. She wished she knew what to do about it. Fox's mother and sister were inside, talking. Sam had obviously been unwilling to have anything to do with her brother, so he had stepped outside. Dana had followed shortly. She just didn't feel close to Fox's mother. Despite their engagement, she and the woman had never really warmed to one another. Around two-thirty, Sam stepped out on the porch. She moved to a chair next to the agents and sat down. "Why, Fox?" she asked. "Why'd you send in stormtroopers? Why couldn't you just come and *see* me?" "I didn't know where to find you, Sam," he answered. "Jager and his commandos… knew I've been looking for you. They aren't…nice men, granted," Fox allowed. "But they've been fighting 'Bill's' forces for a while now. They were worried you'd be taken away again." "That justifies murder?" Sam asked quietly. "Sam," interjected Dana. When the woman looked at her, she asked, "Did you here about the Concorde disaster a couple weeks ago?" Sam nodded. "Of course." "Your…*father*…was the man that ordered the bomb put on that plane," Dana informed her. "More than a hundred people were killed." Sam was shaking her head. "No. No, that's not possible," she insisted. "*Why* would he do that? Tell me, why?" "To kill one man. Colonel Deblout was supposed to be on that flight." That Deblout *had* been on the flight was something Dana didn't think needed to be shared. She went on, "One hundred and twenty passengers and a crew of nine were killed by your *father* because he wanted the Colonel. Given that, does it really surprise you that Thomas and his men are a little…rough?" Sam was pale as a ghost. "That's not possible," she whispered. "He admitted it. The man that planted the bomb admitted it. That man worked for Canc- *your father*," Dana continued relentlessly. "The Colonel offered to show you the tape." Dana prayed Sam didn't accept the offer. Cancerman had been in pretty bad shape. Curiously, he hadn't appeared to be injured – just terrified. Initially. The injuries had come later. If Sam saw the tape… "So what, then?" Sam asked. "The government just hunts them down? Executes them in the street? No trials?" "These men are above the law, Sam," Mulder said. "We can't touch them." "You mean you can't produce *evidence*!" Sam declared. Mulder sighed. "No, Sam. I mean that these men routinely order our superiors not to pursue any investigations against them. Those that try to anyway are murdered." "You're still alive," Sam accused. "Why's that?" "We shouldn't be," Dana said. "They kidnapped me. Infected me with cancer. Left me barren," Dana's voice grew harsher as she listed the Consortium's crimes against them. "They've poisoned us, framed us, tried to have us split up – even dismissed from the Bureau. They murdered my *sister*, Sam. They murdered your father – your *real* father – too. "Yes, we're alive. But, believe me, we shouldn't be," Dana finished. Scene 2 Sunnydale, Ca. 150 Creek St 1300, Saturday (Local) Buffy watched Mac pack his bag. Her husband was leaving. Again. Going back to the war. "When do you think you'll be back?" she asked. Mac looked up at her. "I don't know, honey. As quick as I can," he promised. Finished, Mac zippered the small bag shut. A larger bag – filled with various weapons – was waiting in his office, downstairs. He grabbed the bag and walked out of the room, taking Buffy's hand along the way. The two of them walked downstairs. The house was empty but for them. Joyce was coming to stay while Mac was gone, but hadn't arrived yet. Mac grabbed the bag of weapons and dropped his luggage on the porch. Then he turned to his wife. Abruptly seizing her, he swept Buffy up off her feet and into the air, cradling her in his arms. He sat in his chair, Buffy coming to rest in his lap. She wrapped her arms around him. The two of them just sat there for a bit, silent. All too soon, a good looking couple pulled into the driveway. They stepped out of their vehicle and approached the immortals on the porch. "Buffy, meet Nick and Kath. Guys, you remember my wife, Buffy," Mac announced. The newcomers smiled. "I don't remember you mentioning that you were *married* to the Slayer, Mackenzie," teased Katherine. She nodded at Buffy. "Hi, there! I met one of your sisters a few hundred years ago. I wish I'd believed her." Buffy examined the new arrivals. Nick was mortal, she deduced. "You two work together?" she asked. "Yeah," affirmed Nick. "You guys too, I take it." Buffy decided in an instant that she liked the pair. "Usually. You guys going with my hubby, here?" she asked. Katherine grinned like a wolf. "Yeah. Don't worry, Buffy. We'll bring him back in one piece." That sort of amused the younger woman. *They'd* bring *Mac* back? "Oh, I'm not too worried about Reaper, here," Buffy teased. "It's all the people standing nearby that concern me. Sometimes they forget to duck." Nick and Kath shared a look. Apparently the young woman knew exactly who and what she'd married. Nick looked back at her and said, "Don't worry. I've got lots of experience in the ducking department. My own body armor, too." Buffy was sitting on the porch when Joyce drove up. Mac and his allies had set out an hour before. "Hi, Mom," she called out. "Hi, honey," answered Joyce. "Mac gone?" "Yeah. 'Bout an hour ago," Buffy affirmed. Joyce sat down. Seeing that Buffy had brought out a picture of lemonade and some glasses, she poured herself some. 'I hope Mac made this stuff,' she mused to herself. Joyce loved her daughter, but was well aware that she couldn't master the kitchen arts if her life depended on it. Scene 3 New York, NY * On the streets… * 1850, Saturday (Local) Connor and his allies were set. The bait was in place. Now, they waited to see what would be snared. Jager had forced one of the men at the Consortium Headquarters to summon an alien. A 'bounty hunter' of some kind. That man was still alive – his fate depended entirely on how effective his summons had been. Shortly before seven, an absolutely *huge*, craggy faced man emerged from the shadows at the alley's mouth. Connor stepped forward, waiting silently. Ordinarily careless of his appearance, the Highlander had taken the time to shave himself and dress well. He looked very much like any other anonymous member of the Consortium. The stranger approached him. "You're not Blythe," he said. Connor nodded, granting the point. "What is the emergency?" the stranger rumbled. Behind the newcomer, three immortals closed off the entrance to the alley. Three more approached from the sides. "We are," Connor informed him. "This is a mistake," stated the unnamed man. "We'll risk it," replied Connor. "Then die," responded the alien. It turned to one of the closer men. Reaching out quickly, it grabbed the immortal's head, snapping his neck with a savage jerk. Another immortal speared the alien through its back with his sword. "Stand back!" commanded the Highlander. *Now they'd find out… * Both the Highlander and the sword-wielding immortal began to choke as the toxins released by the alien's wound began to work on them. The two men collapsed in agony. Still pierced by the sword, the bounty hunter turned to battle the four remaining opponents. Behind him, the immortals wounds were healing… The toxin – actually a virus – thickened and poisoned a human's blood. An immortal's as well, for that matter. But the virus could be defeated, like any other. The men lying on the ground had sacrificed themselves for a reason. They were pretty sure that they would recover from the effects of the alien's exposed blood. They were *hoping* they would be left immune to it. They had good reason to hope. Between them, the three immortals had, over the last several centuries, been exposed to (and, subsequently, developed an immunity to) almost every virus native to Earth, including small pox, HIV and, in one case, Ebola. Immortals tended to be a hardy breed. Now, the downed men needed time for their bodies to heal. *For the magic to work... * The four remaining men were running out of time. Two of them were already choking from the deadly effects of the alien's blood when the Highlander's eyes snapped open. There was never any telling how long an immortal would be down. Sometimes it was hours, sometimes minutes. It often depended on the gravity of the injury, the number of Quickenings one had collected, or the age of the immortal. Born tough, they tended to grow ever more resilient as they accumulated centuries. This time it had taken seconds. The Highlander was fast closing on five hundred. He had defeated numerous immortals in his time. Powerful, ancient beings who had taken the Quickenings of all too many others as they played the Game, sought the Prize. Macleod was on his feet. The bounty hunter felt something tap him on his shoulder. Turning, he discovered the Consortium impersonator facing him with a sword in his hand. One of his companions – similarly armed – was rising to his feet while the third (whose sword had skewered the alien) stepped back up to the impersonator's side. The alien noticed that his blood seemed to have no further effect on them. Curious. "I'm going to take you alive" Macleod announced. "Now, I can take you in pieces, or I can take you whole. Which would you prefer?" The bounty hunter attacked. Deblout examined Macleod's trophy. "Did you *have* to cut it into pieces, Macleod?" he asked tiredly. Connor shot the Frenchman a foul look. "It took us almost an *hour* to subdue the damn thing, Deblout. Every time we chopped a piece off, it grew back!" "Then where are its arm and legs?" the Colonel asked. The creature was a mess. Essentially just a torso and head, it resembled a partially inflated blow-up doll. "Puddles of goo, over in an alley off one-fifty-first street," answered the Highlander. "I think it ran out of material to grow new parts with. Quit complaining, you stuck up snob," commanded Macleod. "It's still alive, isn't it?" Scene 4 Andrews AFB, NV Fence line 2300, Saturday (Local) Reaper and his team moved slowly. Every one of the immortals on this team was an experienced special operations veteran. Nine men in all, they had been schooled by the US Navy SEALs, British SAS, German GSG-9 and other elite organizations to do exactly what they were attempting now. The undetected penetration of a restricted military installation. The Ravens had 'acquired' a helicopter and were standing by for an emergency extraction. Though wary about the participation of a mortal, Mac had quickly reminded himself of something he had once said to his wife: 'They're not children.' Besides, it was their fight, too. The immortals might be about the business of heroes, but they didn't wear spandex tights in funny colors. If their more fragile cousins wanted to join the party, well, then, hell – the more, the merrier. One of his team gave him a quick signal. *Fence is breached. * Hurriedly, albeit *cautiously*, the strike team slipped inside the fence. They started to crawl… Nick had the engine warmed up. He was ready to go at a moment's notice. He was also a bit amused. Katherine was *steamed*. She hadn't expected to be left behind. Now, *Nick*, sure, Mac wouldn't take *him*, she'd thought. Hubby was a mere mortal (poor, fragile, little thing). But *her*? She was almost eight hundred years old! She was an experienced warrior. What she wasn't, of course, was a school-trained commando. They didn't let women in those schools. *Sexist bastards! * She didn't think Mac had left her behind for any reason other than that. All the men on his team (*Men!*) had spent their formative years in places just like Mac himself had. They were all veterans of the modern schools of combat. Young veterans at that. It had surprised Kath to discover that the average age of the men on Mac's team was fifty-five. They were all men who had grown up in the Cold War – and been trained to fight in its dirty little campaigns. Nick was himself a veteran of the US Marine's Force Recon. Mac had left him back because he could fly a chopper. Nick's mortal status hadn't figured into it at all. Reaper was turning out to be one *ruthless* son-of-a-bitch. 'Course, considering what Ceirdwin had told the Ravens about how he'd killed that butcher, Polovsky, she shouldn't have felt surprised. And Mac had been Finn Mac Cuhill's student, too. Though she wasn't *about* to tell Nick, Kath had had a fling with the ancient immortal a few hundred years before. So, she knew what a ruthless bastard *that* man had been, too. Still, she felt left out. How did Buffy deal with it? *She* wasn't on her husband's team, either. Whether due to his wife's sensibilities or an affinity for the soldiers guarding what he sought, Mac was hesitant to kill anymore men than he absolutely *had* to, tonight. He was really hoping he wouldn't *have* to kill anyone. These men were doing their duty. Men much like himself. They'd been handed a rifle and told to guard a door, or a corridor, or a loaded truck – and not ask any questions. Most of them were kids, probably eighteen, nineteen years old. Mac *really* didn't want to have to hurt them. He *would*, of course, if he had to. And he wouldn't hesitate. None of the team would. They just wouldn't *like* it. So, they were careful not to attract any attention to themselves. Men that ordinarily would have had their throats cut or received a 'double- tap' (two bullets in the head from a silenced weapon) were, instead, drugged. Reaper's team was equipped with airguns that shot drug-filled darts at their targets – quite similar, really, to the sort of weapon that had been used on Mac during his aborted honeymoon. The team left a lot of downed men in their wake. * Living* men, though. Buffy would've been proud of her husband (even if she didn't understand his reasoning). Finally, the team slipped into the cluster of buildings they had targeted. Using an access card that had been 'donated' by a late member of the Consortium, Reaper cleared a pair of security doors and descended into the bowels of the Earth. * Skwack-screee * "*Raven, Reaper. Over.*" "Reaper, Raven. Send traffic. Over," responded Nick. "*Raven, Reaper. Extract. Site one. Over.*" "Reaper, Raven. Wilco. Over," Nick answered. Mac had said 'Site One', and he hadn't indicated any problems. It was getting near dawn and the team had been gone for hours… Nick grinned at his wife. "No telling if he found what he was looking for, but he brought them all out without raising a ruckus," he observed. Katherine smiled back at him. "Good," she said. "Maybe now he'll find something for *us* to do." ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Part 12 * Two weeks later… * Scene 1 Falls Church, VA Unregistered property on Alabaster Rd 1600, Thursday (Local) Skinner looked at the thick folder that had just been handed to him. It contained some pretty damning information. The question was, what was he supposed to do about it? "A copy of what you've got in your hand is being run off for delivery to every major newspaper we can find, sir," O'Byrne informed him. "It contains signed confessions, photographic evidence obtained from US military sites, scientific analysis from the Curie Institute and a chart detailing the who, what, where and when of the conspiracy going back to '48." "It is damning evidence, from a variety of sources, Walter," added Deblout. "Some governments *may* fall. We will release it anyway." "What am I supposed to do with it?" Skinner asked. In the last two weeks, he'd spent a lot of time putting out brushfires. A lot of important people were missing and hard questions were being asked. It had taken considerable effort to steer the burgeoning investigations away from the perpetrators. And away from the missing men. Skinner knew where they were. The ones that were still alive, at any rate. In a few hours, they were going to be dropped, naked, in front of the J. Edgar Hoover Building. Undoubtedly the would be surprised to find themselves immediately arrested. Many – if not all – would probably beat the charges Skinner was having drafted. Despite the thick book of evidence in his hand, federal judges would be falling over each other to cry 'foul'. It wouldn't matter, though. They'd be finished. Many of them had already been…dealt with. Ina matter of weeks, O'Byrne's immortals had smashed the Consortium into many pieces. Proof that the US government had known about alien life was about to be dropped in the lap of the world. It was going to be an interesting couple of years. "Go brief the President. Let him know what's coming," suggested Mac. At Skinner's surprised look, he explained, "People are going to need to be led, sir. It's going to be a trying time. I'm not interested in unbalancing the world any more than I have to. Give the man a heads-up." "What are you going to do?" asked Skinner. Mac grinned. "I thought I might try to finish my honeymoon," he answered. Scene 2 Washington, D.C. The White House 2100, Thursday (Local) The President's Chief of Staff was nonplussed. FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner had phoned a few hours before and *insisted* on an entire hour of the President's time. Ordinarily, the CoS would have told the man to get bent, but Skinner had suggested that it had to do with the Concorde explosion the month before. Meaning it was going to be bad. Now the man was unwilling to give the CoS any inkling of what he intended to tell the boss. The CoS was a little pissed. No, scratch that. The CoS was *very* pissed. But Skinner wouldn't bend an inch. Soon enough, the CoS decided, he was going to break the man. It was time to see the President. Carrying a thick tome under his arm, Skinner followed the man into the Oval Office. "Good evening, Mr. President," said Skinner. "Hello, Walter. Sit down," responded the leader of the free world. Once Skinner had complied, he asked, "Tom tells me that this has to do with the Concorde tragedy." "In part, sir." "In part?" echoed the President. "Sir, I have some bad news…" Skinner returned home after much more than the mere hour he'd asked for. The President hadn't taken it well. In fact, the man had looked as if he were about to have a stroke. He hadn't wanted to believe what the A.D. had had to tell him. He really hadn't been happy to learn that the information was being released world-wide. He'd almost fired Skinner on the spot. Skinner smiled grimly, wondering if he'd still have a job on Monday. Scene 3 Sunnydale, Ca. Sunnydale Park 2000 Friday (Local) Buffy patrolled through the park, curious to see if any demonic visitors had come to visit the Hellmouth. Giles was worried about the upcoming Feast of St Vigious, and Buffy thought a little slayage might be good for her. Mac had been gone for two weeks and she really missed him. Seeing a small crowd gathered under a tree several hundred feet away, she strolled over to them. As she got closer, she started getting a little nervous… It was a crowd of vampires. Twelve of them. The entire flock was focused on the Slayer as she drew to a halt. One of them addressed her. "Oh, good! Dinner's here." Buffy considered running. Really. There were *twelve* of them and only *one* of her, after all. On the other hand, she *was* the Slayer. Running wasn't really in the job description. Besides, she was surrounded. She whipped her pistol out. A silenced .38, it was loaded with hollow- point slugs filled with a mixture of garlic and holy water. Very effective against the undead – fatal if shot in the heart, excruciatingly painful anywhere else. And she was a good shot, too. The Slayer popped off a full magazine, taking several of the beasts in their chests. Not having enough time to reload, she dropped the pistol and whipped out a stake. She shoved it into the chest of one vampire, whirled to kick another in the face, and spun about, drawing her sword. Among her numerous other talents, the Slayer was an accomplished swordswoman. Something the vampires soon learned, much to their dismay. Their *brief* dismay. Fanning the blade around her head, Buffy lopped off an arm here, a head there. The battle was brutal. And short. Breathing hard, Buffy examined her surroundings. Grass and dust and trees and dust and… There was quite a bit of dust, actually. 'I am the man,' she thought as a smile crept across her face. The smile quickly turned sad. 'The man' wanted *her* man home. She missed him. Driving up into the driveway of the Keep, Buffy sensed the presence of another immortal. Wary, she emerged from the little red sports car with her Katana in hand. Her eyes scanned her surroundings. Behind her, Buffy heard the front door to her house opening. She turned quickly. Mac was standing in their doorway, coffee in one hand, his own sword in the other. Setting his sword aside and his coffee on the table just inside the doorway, he stepped down to greet her. They looked at each other for a long moment. Then Buffy was in his arms. "And what were you out doing, Mrs. O'Byrne?" asked Mac. "Oh, nothing much," she answered. Scene 4 Sunnydale, Ca. 150 Creek St 0140, Sunday (Local) Laying in bed, Mac and Buffy had yet to get to sleep. She was laying on top of him, kissing him deeply, just enjoying the *feel* of him again when the phone rang. Mac's arms tightened around her as the phone continued ringing. After the eighth ring, she drew back from him and smiled. "Aren't you gonna get that?" Buffy asked. "What if it's a gorgeous super-model?" The phone rang a tenth time as he replied, "If it is, should I invite her over?" The twelfth ring. "And what am *I* supposed to do while you two are carrying on?" she asked with a wicked grin. The fourteenth ring. "Join in?" Mac suggested. Buffy seemed to consider that for a moment. The sixteenth. "What is it with guys and the whole lesbian thing?" she queried. Silence. Mac smiled. "Like the man said, 'I may not know art, but I know what I like!'," he answered with a leer. The two of them turned their faces to the now silent phone. They looked at each other again. "Tell you what," she offered. "Check with me on our hundredth anniversary. Maybe I'll indulge you." Her husband got a speculative look. "Ninety-nine years, eleven months, four days," he calculated. "And counting." Mac smiled at his wife. "I can wait." :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::; Epilogue Washington, D.C. J. Edgar Hoover Building 1000, Monday (Local) Skinner looked at his two agents, Mulder and Scully. Despite the headline of the morning paper, he was still employed. The headline of the 'Washington Post' had screamed: "*The Truth Is Out, Aliens Are Here, Secret Gov't Cover-up Since 1948!*" That paper was sitting on his desk. "What now?" Skinner asked. "Sir?" replied Mulder. "This was your life's work, Agent Mulder," Skinner reminded him, nodding down at the paper. "You've exposed the conspiracy. The Consortium is smashed. You've found your sister. "So," he asked again, "what now?" The two agents apparently hadn't considered that. "I'm not sure, sir," Mulder slowly answered. "There are other X-Files, sir," pointed out Scully. Skinner nodded. "Yes, there are. Which is why I ask the question. I was afraid that given your personal involvement, you might be considering leaving the Bureau. Now that the truth is out, every crack-pot and nut- case in sight is going to be reporting bogeymen. "I need to know I've got a pair of agents capable of sorting the wheat from the chaff. And then dealing with the wheat," Skinner finished. The affianced agents traded a look. Before they could answer, Skinner added, "I think, given the nature of your work, that marriage will not be an impediment to both of you remaining assigned to the X-Files division." "Division, sir?" asked Scully. "Given the increased workload I'm expecting, I'll be assigning you some more agents," Skinner replied. The A.D. smiled. "Did I forget to mention that?" :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition: And gentlemen in England now a-bed Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, And hold their manhood's cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day. -Wm Shakespeare, "Henry V"