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Part XVIII...

Still in pitch black darkness, the Andrew-transported half of the Slayer Special Team and its special ops back-up, stumbles after Andy's little Buffy-locator...

Every bit as bright as one of Willow's...Dawn loyally insists when it pauses...

Too bad these emergency lights are out too...she notes, after banging her head against one...

"I think I accidently knocked out all electrical devices in the area when we materialized..." Andrew sheepishly replies in a whisper...

No problem...She pats him...Willow used to do that all the time...And anyway, it coulda been our planes...

"Andrew...?" Giles calls to him from behind... "Are you certain that this spell is properly targeted on Buffy...?"

A sudden flash of light from up ahead, followed by shouted words in what Giles ids as Iraqi...Followed immediately by gunshot flashes...Down!...Giles cries...Suggests that Andrew's targeting is not all that bad...

***

Further up the tunnel, near the old G37-A bunker...

"What the heck's up with the lights down here?..." Kennedy calls...Tripping in the growing dark of the walkway tunnel which Willow's sure will lead them to Buffy...

"Dunno...There oughta be emergency lights..." Willow replies... "Hold up just a mo...Lemme see what I can do..."

Xander shines his flashlight...Well-built, he notes to Anya...Who nods, taking a sincere interest...Having learned back home that the construction business can be quite profitable...

See the way the brick is laid...They put some effort into this one...he points at the roof...

A faint sound of gunfire from up ahead...

"Wait...!" Willow calls...Concentrating...

The emergency lights glow faintly...

They view each other in eerie blue light...

"Sorry, not much power..."

It's wonderful, Willow...Sam beams... Great job...

Thanks...Willow curtly replies...

"We'd better get moving..." Riley suggests... "Be ready to take cover..."

They begin moving towards the gunfire...Kennedy hanging back with Willow...

"It's...Wonderful...Willow...Great...Job..." Kennedy hisses at her, grinning...

Shuddup...Willow glares...

Really Wonderful...Kennedy smiles benevolently at her...



***

Further down the tunnel...Andrew, Dawn, Giles and their soldiers have run into the soldiers left by Qusai Hussein to guard the entrance to Bunker B87-B...The good news being that for the moment, there are only two...Firing rather blindly into the black darkness...

The bad news...That Andrew's teleport spell failed to carry their arms and equipment along...

The group try to keep as down in the mud of the tunnel floor as humanly possible as bullets whiz round...

"Try to crawl back...!" Giles hisses... "But carefully..."

Hmmn...Really would prefer not to move at all, Giles...Dawn thinks, plastering herself as flat on the ground as possible...

But, maybe...It would be best if...

OW!...A bullet nicks her foot...NO!...It would not be best...No way!...OW!..she moans...

"Dawn!?..." Andrew calls...Putting a hand out...

Hmmn...Mud...Some brick...Water, I hope...Hey!...Dawn hisses...

Ah, Dawn...

She moans a little...

"Can you crawl back?...I'll help you..." he whispered...

No...she shakes her head...Too far...

Hmmn...He tries to peer ahead from where he lies...

"Andrew!?...Dawn?!..." Giles' voice from behind...Moving towards them slowly...

Louder sounds now from ahead...The Iraqi soldiers moving on them...

Hmmn...Can't go back fast enough...

So why not try...

"Come on, Dawn..." he pulls at her... "This way..."

"What?...Andrew, that's the wrong way..." she hisses...

Just leave me and go back...she whispers...

"This way..." he pulls her... "I have an idea..."

Andrew...Dawn...Giles hisses...Moving forward slowly...The others with him following, all crawling flat on the ground in the dark...

The Iraqi guards close in...

"Ok...Look dead...Or unconscious..." Andrew hisses to Dawn... "Just don't move, whatever you do..."

Oww...Dawn replies...Her foot throbbing...But she complies...



A soldier shines a light on her...Hmmn...He moves forward more rapidly, gun unlimbered...His comrade close behind...

A tinkerbellish light suddenly flashes to their side...Both look, startled...As Andrew pulls one off his feet, knocking his flashlight away and grabbing his gun...

The other soldier drops back in panic...Andrew firing towards the roof...The man continues to flee back down the tunnel...

Phew...

"Mr. Giles...?" Andrew calls...

Dawn?...he shines the light on her...

Hey...she sits up wanly...

"Andrew...? Nice goin'..." she gives a feeble grin...

"Andrew...? Dawn...!..." Giles reaches them, with the soldiers just behind...He moves to tend Dawn's foot...

"Where the devil did you get that gun, Andrew?..." he stares at the machine gun in his hand...

My guy...Dawn beams proudly...A budding William...Without the superstrength...

Or better yet, an apprentice Xander...

"Who goes there?..." Riley's voice is heard from behind... "Identify yourselves..."

"It's us..." Andrew calls...

***

In the main chamber of Bunker B87-B...The group now joined by Minister al-Sahaf himself, fresh from the Information Ministry downtown...Where all is well, he assures the hastily gathered commanders and government types...And rumors of an Allied advance...Groundless...

Qusai having joined his brother...With the young British prisoner recently captured during the Hussein brothers' heroic defense of Dad's person at their former HQ...

Though of course, just a hopeless raid by the desperate and soon-to-be-vanquished coalition forces, Qusai notes...And Minister al-Sahaf seconds, firmly...Eyeing the foolishly suicidal blonde male infidel now handcuffed to a chair against a side wall, under guard...

And the troupe of zombies...Who attract a little notice...What with the distorted faces and drooling...

However Qusai's explanation... "More of Odai's..."secretarial"...staff..."satisfies the group...

They've seen Odai's girls...These pretty much fit his usual type...Beaten, drugged, and terrorized into submission...Though the blonde on his arm is a definite step-up for him...

All await the Leader's promised brief words of inspiration...As Qusai and Odai "consult" with dear ole Dad...Qusai hastily, but cautiously, checking the tape recorder...As Odai carefully maneuvers Dad into proper position...

"Hey, Brit...!" one, a newly arrived, slightly...Well..fairly...Drunk...Commander eyes William narrowly, moving up to him...

"We kicked your ass...Loser...We're gonna kick your buddies' asses at Basra...Saddam be praised..."

We'll see, mate...Will nods pleasantly...



"Dog!..." the officer, a lieutenant colonel by uniform, strikes him...

"Hey there!..." Qusai calls...Waving to the guards near William...Who pull the officer away...

Violations of the Geneva Convention are sure to make it harder for me to convince the Allies I'm on their side...

Say, who is that fellow anyway?...he eyes the drunken officer...Hmmn...

Looks a lot like Christopher Walken...

The officer takes a seat...With several others, still scowling William...Who gives a pleasant look back...

Always nice to have reinforcements before making a break, he reflects...Though Buffy would much prefer to do this on her own, I know...

Especially after the Hussein boys' little spell session...Well, maybe I can engineer things to get one of those idiots to release her in time to put her oar in...But, best to simply be glad for the help...

After all, we're settling down soon...Hafta take a more sober and responsible path in our battles from now on...Think of the family rep...The kiddies, if any...Hmmn...

Wonder where Braddock and his men found six Iraqis whose uniforms fit so well...?

The audience is brought to attention as Qusai brings a couple of microphones over to dear ole Dad...Odai sitting proudly by with the blank-eyed Buffy next to him...

***

"So...As Dad just told us...He's well...War's going ok...Things are good..." Odai notes to a couple of mid-level governmental staffers...Of occasional acquaintance...As he and his new girl pause for him to do the mandatory schmoozing in their cruise round the bunker chamber...

"Meet Buffy, my latest...Buffy, say hi...Hi...Hi..."

"Sssay Hiii...Hiii..." she blankly repeats...

"Nice to meet you..." the female of the two staffers gives her a cool smile...Eyes narrowing as she looks her over...

Whoops...Odai has a sudden flash...Didn't I date her five years ago?...Without brutal coercion...?

Ri...ght...I promised to have her boss shot and never called back...Hmmn...

"How's your boss these days...?" he asks...

"I'm just fine..." the male nods...The woman glaring slightly...Yeah...Just fine...

"Mr. Walthrop?..." Qusai pauses by the handcuffed William...Looking round...Ah, no one in earshot..."So sorry about that unpleasantness back there...Some of our people tend to be a little bitter towards the Allies...Which is why I hope you'll allow me to handle things and get you and Ms. Summers safely away..."

"Mate...If you really want to make a show of good faith...Get her away from that idiot brother of yours and break the spell...Now...Or else..."

A little irritating, this arrogant little fellow...Or else?...Or else?...

"Or else, what?..." Qusai sneers a bit...Perhaps this "Slayer fiancee" ought to meet with a tragic accident later while the noble Qusai Hussein tries valiantly...But less successfully...To save him as well as dear Ms. Summers from the fiendish Odai...



"Or else...We shoot you..." Colonel Braddock notes, rising with the five men he'd infiltrated into the bunker...All well armed...

Whoops...Odai looks over...As William snaps his handcuffs...

"Odai!!!..." Qusai screams, dodging back into the now panicked gaggle of mostly disarmed...Hey, Saddam's bunker, no chances taken...civilians, officers, and troops...

Hmmn...Odai quickly sums up the strategic situation as Braddock and his men wave their guns at the crowd, now clearly ready to accept terms...This looks like a job for...

Dad...And the girls...He waves the zombies into action...

***

Part XIX...

"Careful, there...These types are pretty lead tolerant...!" William calls over to Colonel Braddock and his small force as Zombie Hussein and Odai's female zombie troupe...Thankfully Will notes, minus Buffy, still next to Odai...Move on them...

My God...! Several of the Iraqi officers with hands raised look in embarrassed shock at the spectacle of their Leader heroically leading a group of rather odd-looking, but then Odai's girls, ladies against the commando team which has penetrated his secure bunker...

Never been so proud of their Leader...

Even more amazing than the spectacular display of courage is the resistance Saddam and his companions now show to machine gun fire...

Odai, sensing the troops recovering their shattered nerve, calls them to rally...As Qusai manages to slip back to where his dear brother stands by their remaining hostage...

William charges one of the female zombies... "Best to use the bayonet with these types, mates...!" he calls to Braddock and his men as he falls to the floor on top of the remarkably agile dead girl...

Rather a nice zombie spell, they're usually not so mobile and flexible...he notes...As the girl claws and bites at him...

"And watch...Hey!..." he tosses the girl back as she tries to sink her teeth in... "...out for the teeth...These lot are the contagious type...!"

The others take the hint and go for the bayonet...Unfortunately the zombies have given the room full of soldiers a chance to regroup and start to go for their confiscated weapons...

"FALL BACK!!..." Braddock cries...As the odds rapidly mount against them, one of his men caught and strangled by Zombie Hussein...

Good one, Dad!...Odai shouts, raising a fist...

"Buffy!..." William cries, hopping on a table to see her over the crowd...The soldiers now beginning to distribute guns...

"Surrender, Walthrop!..." Qusai calls over to him... "Or you, your friends, and Ms. Summers all die!..."

Hey...Odai sulks a bit...I'm the one who just turned the situation around...

The zombies close in on Braddock and his men...William reluctantly returning to assist them...As the rearmed soldiers likewise begin to move in...

"Finish them!..." Qusai orders...

Hey...Odai glares at him...

"Yeah...Finish them..." he calls as well...

After all, I still have dear Buffy to prove my loyalty to the Allied cause...Such a pity I couldn't help her boyfriend and the brave troops who came to assist us in rescuing her...Odai notes, grinning at the trapped group...Penned in, now...William barely holding the zombies off...

And Joseph pooh-poohed our chances...

"Hey, Odai..." he feels a tap on his shoulder...

"Yes?...Buffy, what is it?..." he turns to her...

Wait a minute...?

"Qusai!!!..." he screams as Buffy grabs his arm and pulls it firmly up behind his back..Though still a bit wobbily on the magically stimulated legs...And woozy from compound S37H...

"What's the matter, Odai...I thought you wanted to get better acquainted?..." she tells him...

Whoa...Qusai stares at them...Well, I told elder brother the formula might wear off sooner with the Slayer physiology and all...

"Help!!...Qusai!!..." Odai screams...

Some of the soldiers training guns on him and Buffy...

A tragic but necessary loss to the nation, several note happily...

"Call off your zombies and stand the soldiers down, Qusai...Or I'll rip his arm out of his socket and kill you with it...!!" Buffy hollers...

Hiya, honey...she smiles quickly at William...

So sweet of you to go to all this trouble to save me...her beaming expression says...

"Don't be a fool, Slayer...!" Qusai yells back... "We have you utterly outnumbered...Surrender, now...Or your friends and lover die...While you watch...Then you as well!..."

"Utterly!..." Minister al-Sahaf chimes in from the crowd where he stands, hands still raised...Oh, right...he lowers them...

As for my brother...Qusai proudly eyes him..He is ready to die for the nation...

I am?...Odai blinks...

Lover...William smiles at Buffy...Who beams back...

I mean to have it publically stated...By a top government official, no less...Kinda sorta really makes it official, ya know...?

"Kill them...!..." Qusai calls to the soldiers, waving at the zombies...All of whom ready for the final charge...

Good-bye, bro...I will see a proper statue is erected...he calls to Odai...

"Buffy?..." Odai gasps in her grip...

We do still have a deal right...?



"Oh, absolutely...This..." she wrenches his arm...And grasps him by the throat...

Is just a performance...

"Hands up!..." A call from the rear of the chamber...Riley...With Willow and the others behind him, Andrew helping a limping Dawn...The soldiers whirl round, startled...The zombies, Hussein in the lead pressing dutifully on...

Dawn!?...Buffy and William both look over at her limping in...

Oh!!!!...They both turn to glare at Qusai...Who gulps a bit at that glare...Buffy shaking Odai as well...

"Don't be fools, men!...There's only a handful of them...Shoot them all!..." Qusai orders...

"Pumpkin!..." Sam pulls Riley down as several soldiers aim and shoot...One striking Willow in the hip, Kennedy leaping to assist her...Dawn dragging Andrew down, Anya, pulling Xander, then Giles down...

"Take cover...!" Riley calls...Sam rolling over to take a position under a table with machine gun at the ready...She fires as do some of their soldiers...

God, how I hate guns...Buffy grimaces, watching the bullets start to fly...

But, duty calls...she sees the zombies breaking through to Braddock's men...And starts over, dragging the feebly struggling Odai...Oops...

Legs still a bit frazzled...Moving slower than Zombie Hussein would on inclined ground...

"We've got them, love...Stay back..!" William calls to her...Kicking zombie Hussein back from the colonel...Braddock pulling his men back to the other side of the room as the zombies continue to pursue, a bit slowly...

Odai flails helplessly...Several soldiers, recovering their nerve yet again, take aim...As before...A regrettable loss to Iraq...But...

Can't move fast enough...Oh well, Buffy sighs...Here we go again...She drops to the ground, Odai as well in her grip...

Naturally...Fallen and can't...she shakes her head a bit...Got try the electrical stimulation therapy when we get home...

Bullets whizz overhead...

"How dare you shoot at the heir of Saddam?!..." Odai chokes out, glaring at the soldiers as they continue firing...Buffy rolling him and her over the floor as William, Braddock's group, a little safer now, hurries over...

The crowd, seeing the bullets ricochet everywhere, panics again...Especially with the zombies marching through...And over...Some of those now blocking the way to Braddock's force...

Most of the soldiers hold their fire, fearing to hit friends and superiors...After all, it's only the Husseins at risk here...Though inspired by Zombie Saddam's brave example, most would just as soon shoot the Leader and his moronic boys...

As the soldiers still firing at Buffy, Odai, and now William prove...

Riley takes advantage of the confusion to regroup his part of the Slayer's team...Sam still firing on the floor beside him...He waves the special ops soldiers with them and Giles up...Andrew and Xander helping Kennedy pull Willow to relative safety while Anya and Dawn slip past them to join the rest...

Hey, here for the full monty...Dawn reflects...Grabbing a machine gun...

Hmmn...I hate these as much as Buf does...Still...Crisis sit...she fires towards the roof...As Anya does...

More bullets whiz...More panic...



"So, love?...You're all right now?..." Will anxiously asks Buffy...As he takes Odai from her grip and holds him over them as a shield...

Help!...the disenthroned heir, Iraq's greatest playboy...cries...Bullets flying by...

"Lots better, Will..." she beams back... "I think I was drugged..." she glares at the struggling Odai...

Still got a leetle prob with the legs, though...she notes...

Unfortunately, Qusai has had time to summon more troops...The main doors open and the panicky crowd begins to fight its way though...

On the positive side, making it impossible for the soldiers to continue firing...Even the zombies can make little further progress and are soon caught in the fleeing tide...

"All is well!..." Minister al-Sahaf tries a little positive attitude...But even he is dragged out with the mob...

Happily for Odai, a large group chooses to clamber over him, Buffy, and William...Will and Buffy barely avoiding a trampling, are unable to keep a hold on their prisoner...

"Qusai...!" he staggers over to his brother...

Damn...Qusai looks at his battered sibling...Doesn't anything kill this little maniac?...

"We've gotta get outta here...!" Odai gasps...

Hello...I know that...Qusai glares...

He summons back the zombies who begin to make their violent way slowly through the running crowd...

"How are we gonna get outta here?..." Odai looks fearfully round the room...The Americans are gathering...The crowd starting to thin...The soldiers outside the room can't get in...Those inside are mostly fleeing...

"The secret exit...Here..." Qusai points...

You first, brother...he waves a hand...

"Gee...Thanks...Qus..." Qusai closes the closet door on Odai and heads for the real exit...

Hey!...Odai bangs on the door...

Fortunately he's good at kicking doors open...His favorite way of announcing his presence to potential girlfriends...He falls out into the room and spies the zombies heading for the real secret exit...

***

Part XX...

PG-13

Disclaimer: All BTVS characters remain the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and all other owner/creators of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series...

Summary: C'mon...You know you want Buffy and William to take on Sady and his boys...

Naturally, we assume in this AU the First's been dealt with...



Archived at the Buffy Rebecca verse, "normal" (you've got to be kidding) Buffyverse page...

http://members.lycos.co.uk/regertz/index.html or direct to story at https://www.angelfire.com/zine2/buffyrebecca/tws.html

Pics and music coming...

***

Part XX...

Xander makes his way through the fleeing crowd of Iraqi governmental types and soldiers to Buffy, sprawled on the floor, William protectively covering her...

"Buffy?...Will?...We've got get back until this mob disperses...!" he helps Will lift Buffy back on her feet...Willow's spell still holding I see...he notes...

"I saw Willow get hit!?...Is she ok...?" Buffy cries...

"Kennedy and Giles are with her...She's ok...We've gotta pull back, Buf...C'mon Will..."

"We should get after those two clowns and their zombo group..." she looks over to the no longer secret exit where Odai has just followed the last of the zombies...

"In a minute, love...Xan is right...We'll just get trampled if we don't get back..." Will tells her...

Or shot...Xander points at the main entrance where some of the Guard are rallying and taking aim...Looking for a clear target...

"Buffy...Xander...William!...Over here!..." Riley waves to them...Samantha, Dawn, and several of his troopers next to him firing to distract the soldiers...

"But..." Buffy glares back at Odai's escape hatch...Really have a desire to meet up with that clown again...For just a few...

"Darling...C'mon...We'll go as soon as things settle a bit...It'll be much easier with your chair..." Will notes to her...

"You brought my chair?...All this way?...Why, honey..."

Ummn...Well, actually...The Mr. and Ms. GI Joes brought your chair, with the rest of the equipment they could manage...he explains...

"I was a bit busy slipping in here after you...Though I did remind them not to leave it behind..."

She beams...My guy...So thoughtful...

"Ok...Lets get the old girl and make tracks..." she starts to stagger towards Riley's group...

"How did she ever get you to agree to this crazy trip?...In her condition?..." Xander hisses to Will as they move to assist the slowly-waddling Slayer...

"She's the Slayer, Xan...The Slayer doesn't need to ask...How you do think she did?..."

She cried, didn't she...? Xander smiles...

Like a river...Will sighs...

"Come on, honey!..."Buffy calls, waving...

***

A high-speed elevator at the end of the escape hallway waits to swiftly ferry the scurrying Odai to a secret heliport on top of the Baghdad building housing their current bunker hideout...

"Qusai...?..." he beams at his younger brother who glares round to see the millstone round his neck still hanging on... "You waited for me, bro?...Oh...I call that.."

"Don't be a putz, you little maniac...The elevator's stuck..."Qusai glares...

"Maybe the Yanks bombed up top?..."

Maybe the Yanks bombed up top...Qusai mimics, sneeringly...

"Well, maybe you should lead Dad and the girls up the stairs to the surface...If you want a free ride to safety..." he frowns...

Hmmn...Maybe I do...Odai happily takes the lead...

"But remember, jackass...I have the copter port keys..." Qusai calls...

Damn...

What an idiot...Qusai shakes his head, following the zombie troupe and several hastily gathered officers...Hope he does us the courtesy of warning us before any Yanks on the roof blast him...

Michael Corleone never had the trouble with his brother I do with this moron...

***

Most of the Slayer team and Braddock's men have reached the Hussein's escape elevator...Buffy pressing through in her wheelchair...

"Buffy..." William frowns at her as she attempts to start the stair climb...Rising from her chair...

Oh...She really wants that Odai...Bad...

Riley and Xander having confirmed the elevator is hopeless...

Will shakes his head...

"Sweetheart, you'll never make it up twenty-seven floors...And the building above may already be blasted...Let the colonel finish trying to reach Air Command..."

Andrew comes up, leading a hobbling Dawn...Willow's doing ok but under sedation...

Rats...Buffy frowns...No teleport option...

Unless...She eyes the team's back-up magics expert...

And Dawn's in the middle of a bubbly report on his recent success...

"Andrew...?" she looks at him...A faint smile...

Oh-oh...William, Riley, Xander immediately sense what's up...

***

"What's going on up there?...Odai?!..." a puffing Qusai calls up the stairs as they pass the twentieth floor...To his relief, the officers with him also showing some strain...



A future interim President mustn't seem out of shape...Especially to those who might seek his job one day...

"No problem, bro..." Odai pleasantly calls back...Carried comfortably in the arms of one of the lead female zombies...Who seems not to mind the climb in the slightest...Dad seems fine as well...

"The way up seems clear...Guess the Yanks haven't hit the place yet...!...Just a bit more and we'll be there..."

Say?...he pauses...

"Where the hell are we going?...Assuming we can get out of the city alive in US-dominated airspace...?"

Bunker A-0...Qusai calls...

The Bunker A-0?...The Bunker of bunkers?...Dad's ultimate Fortress of Solitude?...But I thought that wasn't ready yet?...Odai thinks, miffed a bit...

Nobody ever tells me anything...he sulks to the young lady zombie...

***

Twenty floors below, the colonel confirms that Air Command has not hit this building...Yet...

And can't for another hour or so...Schedules to keep, people...he replies to the gang's sighs...

"All right, then..." Buffy nods... "Then it's up to you, Andrew...Can you get...Me..." she says firmly...A hard stare at William...Who rolls his eyes...Is it always gonna be like this?...Always, babe...her look replies... "...And a few of us up there?..."

Hmmn...Dawn quickly weighs supporting her honey against certain death for her insane sis...

Aw, she'll do it anyway...So why not make Andy happy...?

"Andrew can do it...No question..." she notes firmly...

You ain't going, kiddo...Buffy eyes her...

Aw...Geesh...Dawn frowns...

Phew...Thank God...she thinks...

No, wait...Gotta support my honey in spirit as well as word...Like Sam does with Riley...Will with Buffy...Buffy...sometimes...With Will...

"I wanna go..." she insists... "And I'm smaller and lighter, yet very capable...An easier subject for Andy..."

Not Dawn...Andrew insists...With startling firmness...Surprising Buffy and Dawn...And the others...

Why Andy?...Dawn beams for a half-second, then does her best Buffy glare...What?...

"You're already hurt and I won't chance it with you...If you go, I don't...So no one goes..." he folds his arms...

Will gives Buffy a guarded smile...The boy has potential, dear...Admit it...

We'll...See...her look back says...

God...I love that romantic telepathy...Anya's look to Xander says...



You realize I will severely injure you if you try to go...? her next look says...

Which she hastily follows-up with a harsh whisper...Just in case something got lost in translation...

"I think I may be able to manage four if we take Buffy's chair...Including me..." Andrew counts on fingers... "Yeah, four...No more...And not Dawn..." he firmly repeats...

Why, Andrew...You sweet little sexist adorable jerk hero geek cutie-pie, you...Dawn thinks, desperately maintaining a glare...

"We could take five if you stayed behind..." Will eyes Buffy...

One more isn't gonna even the odds...Especially if it's not the Slayer...she sniffs...

"The Slayer in a freakin' bloody wheelchair, still full of the Hussein boys' dope...?!" he grouses...

Show a little sense, girl...

"Did you when you let me beat you silly?...Went to Africa for that damned beautiful soul?..." she glares back...

"And...If this condition turns out to be permanent..." she eyes the chair... "What am I supposed to do...Sit at home and knit during the next Apocalypse?..."

Not that there'll be one after what we did back home to the First...she notes...

"It's not permanent..." Will begins...

And if it were...? Are you telling me you'd hide in a cellar if I were fighting something deadly in daylight...? Though you should...she hastily adds...

"No...You'd be out there in a raincoat and goggles, fighting with me...And I'm gonna fight with you...In the chair if need be...Which I happen to do quite well, as a matter of fact..."

Though you really shouldn't fight in daylight with me, unless it's really bad...she adds quickly...

Arrgh...He groans...

"Ummn...Buffy?..." Xander politely interrupts...

"You're marrying a Slayer, Walthrop...Deal with it..."

Yeah, yeah...But don't come cryin' to me if you and your chair wind up between the twenty-second and twenty-third floors...

"Well...Then...We'll both be dead...Again...And Heaven's a great place for a honeymoon...Willow can resurrect us later..."

"Buffy?..." Xander tries again... Yeah?... "It is daylight outside..."

Oh...? she stares at William who smiles...Hah...Shoe's on the other foot now, eh...Dear?

"Somebody wanna get me a raincoat...?" he calls... "And could I borrow those goggles, Colonel?..."

Now...Will...Buffy begins...

"All set..." Andrew calls... "Who's ready to beam up...?"

"Lets move..." Braddock nods, tossing Will goggles and raincoat...

***

The roof heliport...

"Whatdaya mean none of you can fly this thing?!..." Qusai rages at the officers aboard the presidential chopper, Dad and the other zombies securely tied down...

Odai looks innocently at his brother...beaming...

Guess which brother learned how to fly to impress the ladies...

"All right, all right...Take the damned controls..." Qusai glares at his smiling brother...

Just don't smash us into that building over there...Or the coalition planes coming up...

Please...Odai sniffs...I've tangled with our best pilots...Under strict orders from Dad to take me out...Anyway they could...

True enough...Qusai has to admit...

***

"There they are!..." Braddock points to the presidential chopper as Odai begins revving it up...Strictly by the checklist, of course...In spite of his brother's frantic proddings as he catches sight of the newly materialized Slayer and co...

When flying, Odai Hussein is a safety-first kinda guy...

The chopper's main blades start to turn...

"They're getting away!..." Andrew cries...

"Like Hell!...C'mon Will...!" Buffy yells...Wheeling with Slayer speed over to the helicopter...Followed by William in headdress, overcoat, and goggles...

"Wait, Summers!...Walthrop!...I've just called in..." the colonel runs towards them and the copter...Qusai and several officers firing guns wildly from the open side door...Braddock ducks as Buffy and Will dodging fire reach the slowly rising craft...

"...Our planes..." Braddock finishes, staring at the sight of Buffy and William holding onto the lower left skid as the copter and they rise off into the morning sky...As Andrew reaches him...Likewise staring...

***

Part XXI...

The skies over morning Baghdad...

"I'm gonna fly like an eagle...To the sea...Fly like an eagle...Let my spirit carry me..." Odai Hussein sings happily as he rather deftly pilots the presidential chopper between buildings...Carefully keeping low to avoid attracting any coalition planes...

Qusai grimacing at him occasionally as he stares nervously out the copter front windows...The small group of officers allowed to accompany the boys to safety in Bunker A-0, likewise taking nervous looks out the side windows...

Maybe accepting Qusai's generous offer wasn't really the best way to go...

The strapped-in zombies, including Saddam, looking reasonably content and calm...For zombies...

"What's the problem, bro...?" Odai eyes his brother... "I'll get us there...Never fear..."

"Just try to stay on course, you idiot...And watch you don't bring down any enemy planes on us..."

Hmmn...Bit unfair...Odai thinks, glaring back...I'm an excellent pilot and saving all our necks...No need to be rude...

Whoa...Mind those buildings, Odai!...he pulls himself up...Say...Aren't we listing to the left a bit?...

"Guys...? Try not to cluster on one side...Delicate maneuvering here..." he calls back...

Qusai looks back...The officers look at each other...We seem pretty evenly spread...

"They're fine...Be more careful..." he frowns at his brother...

"We're listing...Somebody's weighing us to the left..." Odai firmly replies...

"Sir!..." An officer grabs Qusai's arm... "Look!..." he points to the upper portion of the front window...

Shit!...Qusai blinks...

"Odai!...American planes coming in...!"

"I see 'em...Watch this, guys...Hold on tight!..." Odai grins...As the copter makes a sudden dive between buildings...

***

"Will!!!..." Buffy hollers, hanging onto her half of the left copter skid...

"Hold on!...Tight!...And don't lose your head cover!..."

"Thanks for the tactics lesson, Slayer...I'll do my best!..." he calls back... "I love you, too!!..." he adds, grinning...She grins back...And looks up...

Oh...My...God...she spies the planes...Pointing...

"Stop that!!!...Hold on with both hands, girl!!!.." Will cries...

"Planes...!!..." she cries back...

Naturally!...he returns...

"What did you expect...?"

"Building!!!..." she screams...As the copter skid turns up at an angle, headed straight for an office building...

***

The roof of the building covering Presidential Bunker B87-B...

Colonel Braddock on radio, desperately trying to reach Air Command and have the planes back off...Andrew, trying to follow the fast-disappearing Iraqi presidential chopper with Buffy and Will dangling from its left side...

A heavily puffing Xander appears at the rooftop stairway entrance, followed a short time later by Anya and Giles...Some of Braddock's men...Then Dawn...

"Wh...ere...?" Xander gasps as he stumbles over to Andrew...Who points...

"There..."

***

Whoa...Buffy gasps as Odai's deft touch skims the copter skid just enough over the building he's dodging around to avoid an end to a touching romance...

"William?!!!.." she calls frantically... "Did I say I love you...Today?!!!"

Just did!!!!...he grins back...Gasping himself...

"We should try and pull ourselves up closer to...Yikes!!!..." he calls...Flattening himself against the skid as Odai veers round another building...

"Buffy!!!...Get up on the skid...Now!!!..." he cries...

My God, she did it...And quick too...

Well, 'bout time I started asserting my...Equal, of course...Share of the commands in this partnership...he thinks...

"GET THE HELL UP HERE!!!..." she screams at him...Tugging his arm...

He pulls himself up as well, both flattening themselves against the copter side...

"You look worse than Andrew in that thing!!!..." she shouts with a grin, pointing at his headdress...

But Do Not Take It Off!!!...she adds...Glancing at the morning sun...

"Just as long...As you don't tell anyone outside the family about my fashion lapse...!!!" he shouts back...

Never!!!...she hollers back...

***

"The planes aren't after us...Yet..." Odai reassures his brother...

And they can't follow us down here...

"So...? We're safe?..." Qusai asks...

"So long as they don't fire missiles or target us with their cannon...I don't understand why they haven't yet...They must be tracking us..."

"I think I have the answer, sir..." an officer calls...Pointing out his left side window...

Whoa...Qusai stares out at Buffy and William, hanging onto the left side of the copter...

"What's up...?" Odai glances back...

"I don't think the coalition planes will fire on us...For the moment..." Qusai continues to stare out the window...

Not with my expert piloting, they won't...Odai thinks happily...

"Try and keep level, Odai...Can the fancy stuff and head straight for A-0...I'll have our people there send up a smoke screen when we get close..."

But?...Whoa...Odai catches a hasty glimpse of Buffy plastered against the left side window...

What a girl...Pity there's no more of that compound at hand right now...

***

"The planes are holding fire...Trying to pursue..." Braddock informs

Giles...

Trying?...Xander, Anya, Dawn stare...

Riley and Sam, plus more soldiers emerge from the stairway...Hi, guys!

How's it goin'? Sam waves...

"Whatdaya mean...Tryin'...?" Xander looks at Braddock...

"They can't hold the low speed of the chopper, Harris...They've got to track it by radar...Then our choppers can move in later...One's already on its way to us..."

"Where are they likely to be headed, Colonel?" Giles asks...

"Hard to say...But once they know we're not gonna fire on them, they may straighten out and we can make a guess...We'd best be patient and wait..."

"Yes..." Giles nods, turning to Andrew...Xander looking anything but ready to wait...

"Andrew...Could you get me on that helicopter...?" Giles asks hastily...

What?...Xander blinks...

Giles!?...Dawn jumps...

"I doubt it, Mr. Giles...See when the object of a teleport is moving relative to the teleported subject, the "teleportee" as it were..." Andrew begins...

"Giles...You are not gonna try and teleport onto a moving helicopter..." Xander fumes...

Especially not with Andrew as your substitute Wiccan...

"No way, Giles..." Dawn agrees...Though my Andy could do it if anyone

could...she thinks proudly...

Riley joins them, Sam following...

"Where's Buffy and William?..." she asks brightly...

There...Andrew points out across the Baghdad skyline...In the vague direction of the now-vanished copter...

***

Part XXII...

A lake in central Iraq...With a secret in its center...A man-made island, rising from the lake bed to just beneath the water...A combination heliport and small aircraft landing strip rising up on elevator from the water as a smoke-screen spreads out to conceal the incoming presidential copter...

Hmmn...Odai bites a lip as he tries to mentally review procedure for a landing on instruments as they descend into the blackness...Not exactly his forte, but in a crisis sit...

Say...

"What about our unwanted passengers?..." he turns to Qusai a moment...

"Best to unload em..." Qusai suggests...

Pity but they're no use to him any longer...Highly unlikely the US will place him on the short list for the interim President's job now...Another recipe for victory will have to be found...

Hmmn...Odai on the other hand still harbors hopes...Hard for him to give up that dream of being a Bush-in-law...

On the other hand, Buffy doesn't seem well disposed to him without the assistance of hypnotics...And no one needs to know who was piloting the copter after her and her boyfriend's tragic deaths...

I tried valiantly to restrain my insane brother...he thinks, mentally rehearsing his performance for the Bushes...

But...To no avail...He puts the copter into a series of sudden rocking motions...

***

Whoa...Whoa...Whoa!!!...Buffy groans as the copter lurches from side to side...William trying to brace her as well as himself...

"I'm gonna be sick...!" she moans...

Secondary problem, pet!!!...he notes...Whoops...Nearly lost my head covering there...

"Honey?...I think they're trying to shake us off!!!" she cries...Whoa!...Nearly succeeded...

"Looks like it, dear!..."

But...We are the...Whoa!...he slips, losing his grip...She grabs at him desperately and catches...Pulling him back...

"Summers-Walthrops..." he finishes, gasping...

Yeah!...Buffy nods firmly...

"Say...I'm getting fed up with these clowns...Lets take some offensive action!..." she calls...

Hmmn...He stares...As she begins smashing at the side of the copter...

***

"Hey?!..." Odai feels his craft shaking...

What's happening?...

A crashing sound of shattering glass as Buffy smashes at the left window...

Hmmn...

William smashes open a side panel...Eyeing...God knows what, but it looks relatively important...He gives a hard smash...

"William?!!...Careful with your coverings!!!...Don't tear anything!!!..." Buffy calls...

What the hell are those two doing out...?...Oops...Hydraulic pressure dropping...Fast...Hmmn...I think we should be...Yep, got my chute...Whoa!...The copter lurched to the side...

"Odai?!...What's going on!?..."

Leaving...

"Bro...? I think it's time we headed down...Just us...And left this baby to the Slayer..." Odai hisses to Qusai...

We should take the zombies, too, I suppose...We'll need their help and they shouldn't need parachutes...

Another smash at the left window by Buffy, a rather unfriendly look on her face, one officer notes...William pounding the side in his turn...The officers look at each other...

"Sounds like a plan, my dear brother..." Qusai nods...

"Release the zombies..." he calls back... "They'll take care of the Slayer and her friend..."

Is that what these things are?...One female officer stares...

"Qusai...?" Odai hisses, looking back...As the increasingly panicky officers unstrap the zombies...

Buffy smashes the left window again...Widening an opening...

"Mind the glass, sweet...!!" Will calls...

"You think maybe...So long as those guys are all gonna die now anyway...?" Odai eyes Qusai...And looks over at the officers...As he readies his parachute...One of only two...

More zombies...? Qusai looks back as well...As Dad and the female zombies begin to move at his command toward the left...

Why not?...May as well get some use out of these fellas...

Hope that pretty lieutenant keeps her looks on the long way down...Odai thinks, waving the zombies to attack/reproduce mode as the officers begin screaming...

William kicks the left window yet again...This time it goes completely and Buffy swings in...Hi...As the copter begins turning over...The zombies grabbing the nearest humans for transformation...

"Geromino!..." Odai shouts as he and Qusai open their front doors and jump, each barely clearing the now-falling copter...

Hmmn...Buffy looks to the front as Will shoves off two zombies...Who turn to easier prey, most of the officers already unconscious from the sudden flip-over...Where not already dead and transforming...

"I think we picked the wrong time to come aboard...!!!" she notes...Seeing the water below now spinning beneath their front windows...

Whoa...!...Hey!...The copter flips again...Several of the zombies, including poor ole Saddam, and some officers, falling out the open right side door...Buffy and William barely hanging onto copter seats...

"Don't see any parachutes...Can you fly a helicopter?..." she looks at William...

"We can give it a whirl, girl...!" he replies, pulling her forward...

But I think we'd be best off making like Butch and Sundance...he notes...If we can just find...Ah...He points...

The image of an inflatable life raft on a side cabinet, along with some bold, black lettering...

"A raft?...What does it say?!..." Buffy cries...

"Iraqi to me, pet!..." Will replies, smashing the cabinet open and pulling out its contents...



Buffy punching back another zombie, who'd avoided the quick exit of the others...

She looks out the front window...Water seems much closer, she notes to William...

"It is dear!...Come on!..." he pulls her to the right side door...

Give it a good push...!!...he grabs the open door side and shoves hard...As does she...The copter lurches, the right door now facing down...As he also pulls the CO2 cartridge cord on the life raft...And tugs Buffy back...

Leggo that...he points at the chair she's struggling to hang onto...And hold on!!...he calls, wrapping his arms around her and the inflating raft as they fall out the open door...

***

Well...Odai surveys the sand and concrete strip on which he's just landed...Somewhat painfully...But not too bad...

Certainly not as bad as that poor fellow...he eyes a fallen...About 2000 feet, sans parachute...human officer...

A battered-looking figure approaches stiffly...Hmmn...Zombie?...He signs for it to halt...

Dad?...he looks...Blinking...

Wow...Still functional...Amazing...

That's my pa...he thinks...Rather proudly...

Such a shame really...Father and son have never been closer...

"Odai!..." he hears a cry...

Hey, Qus!...he calls back...

Looks like the whole family came through unscathed...

Well...He eyes Dad...

Relatively speaking...

***

"Their last reported position was here!!!..." Colonel Braddock points to a map, shouting over the helicopter's engines...The reunited gang, minus Buffy, William, and a recovering, but mobile field hospitalized Willow, look intently...Along with several of Braddock's troopers...

"A lake?..." Xander looks at the map...

"Any islands...?" he asks hopefully...The others staring at Braddock...

None that we know of...the colonel shakes his head...

But that doesn't mean they didn't come down safely on the water...

"Why would the Husseins head for a lake?..." Anya asks...

They didn't seem like self-immolating types...

"Possibly a base on shore...A ship or rig on the lake...Or something else..." Braddock shrugs...



Or they were heading somewhere else and just crashed...Dawn notes...

"Either way...We'll find them..." the colonel insists...

We oughta at least find something recognizable to bring home...Anya thinks...

***

The lake near the secret A-0 bunker underwater island...

"Oh..." Buffy groans...That first step...

She looks round...Hmmn...The raft is still partially inflated...Commendable workmanship...Floating on what appears to be a flat, empty lake...

"Will!!!..." she calls...Where...? Hmmn...she feels...A hand...no, two hands on her...Locked tight...

Reaching round her from beneath her...In fact, from beneath the raft...In the water...

"William?!!!..." she pulls him up from under the raft...Unconscious...And rather wet...Still well covered, thank goodness...She adjusts his headdress and water-filled, cracked goggles as best she can to keep the sun away...Holding him in the water, against the raft...

Gee...Just like that scene in "Titanic"...Where the guy froze to death?...

"Will?..." she patted his face under the protective headgear...A faint moan...Oh...Phew...

Nearly thought I was 0 for 4 in romance...

He groans feebly...Twisting a bit in the water... "Will, Will..."

Never thought I'd say this...But Thank God my fiancee is a vampire...

He gives a loud groan and goes silent, passing out again...Or worse...She feels...No pulse...

Well, naturally...I guess...No wait, he has a working heart...I mean, besides that wonderfully huge emotional one...

"Honey...?" she rubs his chest, patting his hands...

Can you do CPR on the undead?...Sure wish Xander were here...

***

On the secret island landing strip...

The reunited Husseins take stock...About 11 zombies have made it down, including dear old Dad...All in working condition...

So far, no coalition planes have appeared...Though the smoke-screen may still be keeping at least the low-level craft away...And surely the Yanks must have tracked their copter...They'll be coming...Soon...Qusai notes...

"We must go below, retract this landing area, and prepare our defenses...For the moment we should be safe in Bunker A-0...It's two miles beneath the lake bed, protected by the lake waters, sediment, and solid rock..."

A miracle of constructive ingenuity...Odai eyes Dad with some pride...Worthy of ancient Babylon...Way to go, Dad...

"Hopefully those damned French and German engineers didn't cut too many corners..." Qusai frowns... "Lets go...Summon the zombies too..."



We'll regroup once we're safely below...And consider our options...he notes...

Options...? Odai wonders...

Of course I still have my chance to join the Bush family...But I don't see much future for Qusai...

Dad might still have a career as an object of scientific research, though...

***

Part XXIII...

"See anything, honey...?" Buffy calls to William, now recovered and up on what's left of the raft with her...She unable to rise for the present, he's trying to quickly scan the lake for anything to head for...Shore seeming a bit far for this thing...

Bit difficult...He squints desperately...Through these night vision goggles...

"Noth..." Parts of the raft curled up underwater strike against a hard edge...The edge of the landing strip of Bunker A-0...Now retracted three feet under water...Will falls forward...Into the water and onto the strip underneath...

Honey?...Buffy tries to get up on her elbows...The damned legs still a hindrance...

"Fine, fine..." he calls back...Sitting up on the strip, head and upper torso out of the water...

"Looks like there was something here, after all..." he notes...

And I don't think it's the lake bottom...

***

Two miles down, deep in Bunker A-0...

"Greetings, gentlemen...Your...Excellency...?..." a bemedalled general greets the Husseins and co...Eyeing the battered Saddam...

"Dad's had a rough time...Pressures of wartime leadership...He needs to lie down..."Odai hastily explains...

Of...Course...the general nods...Detailing an aide to prepare the Presidential suite at once...

"And this..." Qusai waves at the zombies... "Is Dad's New Elite Guard Force...Specially chosen, highly trained, and chemically treated to be almost unstoppable..."

Oh?...the general eyes the battered, blank-eyed zombies...Hmmn...Well, they do look durable...If a bit worn...

"Well, welcome to Bunker A-0...The most secure facility on Earth..."

H-Bomb-proof, completely protected against gas or chemical attacks...Food and water for years...The general proudly recites the sales list the European designers had given...

Hmmn...Looks a little slapped together in patches to me...Qusai eyes the place as they walk to the Presidential suite...

How come no one ever told me where this place was?...Odai sulks...Dad and Qus always kept stuff like this from me...

Dad however maintains his air of Presidential calm...

"Who are all these civilians...? This is supposed to be a top-secret military facility...?" Qusai eyes a large line of people huddled against the walls of the larger chambers as they pass...



"A few locals, some of our people's families...They followed our supply trucks into the lake shore entrance after the last bombing wave and we couldn't keep them out...Sorry, sir...I'm arranging to send them back before we blow the lake tunnel..."

Hmmn...Qusai eyes them...

"Not just yet...No reason to force these poor folks out into a possible US air strike on the shore when they track us here..." he beams...Politely waving at some who seem to recognize him or Dad...

"How goes the war?..." the general asks curiously... "We've been watching CNN...They claim the Allied advance against the capitol has resumed and they've reached the city...But Minister al-Sahaf's press briefing denied it all..."

"General?...Who you gonna believe...Our information minister or the Americans' CNN mouthpieces...?" Odai gives a firm stare...

So...We've lost Baghdad...the general thinks...Thank God, it's almost over...Unless these clowns keep it up down here...

Or worse yet, try to use...It...

"Weapons, general?...Troops on hand?..." Qusai asks...

"Plenty of both, sir...And we can still call in reinforcements from our lake shore tunnel until we have to blow it...There's a full Guards division five miles from here, plus Army units..."

And...It...? Is still functional...?

"Yes...sir..." the general sighs...

Oh, boy...It...Odai beams...

"Well, sirs...Excellency...Here is the Presidential suite..." the general waves them into a colossal apartment...

Cool...Odai grins...Leading Dad in...Qusai taking charge of the other zombies...

"We'll let Dad rest a bit..." Qusai smoothly explains... "But we'll join you and the senior staff in the main conference room in twenty minutes..."

Yes...Sir...the general nods, sighing as he heads off...

Allah...And I hoped this would be a great place to sit out the war...

"Qusai...?..." Odai calls as Qusai comes in with the zombies...

"What is...IT?..."

Qusai smiles coldly...

"IT...Dear brother...Is Dad's last gift to us, his heirs...Our little ace in the hole..."

Good ole Dad...Odai beams at zombie Hussein...

"But first...We need to gather all possible forces of Evil to our side..." Qusai notes...

And a few more zombies for our army couldn't hurt...he eyes Odai...Especially when there's so many useless civilians hanging around our private complex...

Oh...Great idea, bro...Odai nods...



"Ladies...And Guys..." he turns to the zombies... "Time to mingle with the locals..."

Ah...he notes the pretty...Still to some extent...Remarkably considering zombification and a 2000 foot drop...young lieutenant in the group...She made it...Relatively speaking...Nice for me...

"I'll take them...And keep the troops from interfering..." Odai notes...

"Just don't waste time choosing the pretty females...Take all you can get..." Qusai frowns...

"While I put in a call to Joseph..." he begins to lay out implements...

Like that drunk will be a big help...Odai frowns in turn as he leads the zombies off...

***

The sky over the secret lake where Bunker A-0 lies concealed...

"Look!..." Dawn cries from her seat, pointing down to what looks like a waving speck...

"Go in!!..." Braddock calls to the pilot...The copter carrying the gang descends...

"It's William!!..." Anya calls...

Hmmn...The others stare at her...

"Who else would be wearing that kind of crazy outfit in daylight?..." she notes...

I mean besides Andrew...she thinks...

"That must be Buffy...!" Samantha spies the battered raft next to William...

"He seems to be...Standing on the water?..." the colonel looks at Giles... "Can his kind do that?..."

Special kind of a guy my future bro-in-law...Dawn notes proudly...

***

Screams are heard from the outer corridors of Bunker A-0 as Qusai calls the conference of senior officers to order...

He politely shuts the door...Several officers staring...But hey, when you work for Saddam Hussein, screaming civilians go with the territory...

"Well...People..." he opens the meeting... "The situation may look a bit grim...But we are receiving reinforcements of Elite troops...And a powerful ally is on the way..."

Why are we letting this clown run the show?...one colonel hisses to another officer...Where's his dad?...

"Victory is certain..." Qusai beams... "If we just have face in ourselves...In Iraq...In Dad..."

Besides, we always have...IT...If all else fails...

Lovely...several officers eye each other...

And this was supposed to be the cushiest assignment in Iraq...Damn...I coulda surrendered and been home by now...they think...

Odai raps at the door and is let in...



"All's goin' well...The recruitment drive is working wonders..." he beams at Qusai...

Inspiring how the locals are signing up for our Elite Force...Women, even children, as well as men...

Excellent...See gentlemen, our resources are mounting by the moment...Qusai smiles...

"The troops outside giving any trouble?..." Qusai hisses to Odai as he comes over...

Not after our Elite Force killed a couple...Odai whispers back...

"What about Joseph?..."

"He's promised to come...With all the reinforcements he could get his hands on..."

"Sir...!..." a soldier enters...

"Radar has picked up an enemy aircraft...Helicopter...Over the lake surface..."

General?...Qusai turns to the base commander...Who sighs...Couldn't we just surrender?...he thinks...

"Have our shore batteries target them..." the general calls to an aide...

Might as well use up what we've got before the Yanks blast em out of existence...

***

"Buffy...!" Will calls... "Look, sweetheart!...They've found us!..."

She makes an effort to lift herself to see...As the copter descends and a life ring and cable are dropped...Will pulls it in and hauls it over to the raft...

"Just a bit!...Now just grab on here..." he tells Buffy, now struggling up on the side of the raft...She manages to grab on...

Oops...The sounds of artillery fire...Looks like someone's found them...

Buffy looks at William as the cable begins to reel up...

"Go on...!..." he shouts... "I'll be right al..." she grabs and holds him with one arm as the ring with her head and shoulders above begins to lift...Her other arm struggling to hold ring and cable...

"From now on...We do everything...together!!..." she shouts down to him, pulling him up to get a hand on the ring...He looks uncertain... As the cable seems to be having a leetle trouble with the two of them...

"If you don't hold on!...I'll let go...!!" she cries... "And by the way...You're pulling my arm of its socket...!!!" He grabs the ring...

"Can't you get them up faster?!..." Xander turns to the colonel...

Lucky they're still coming up at all...It's not designed for two!...he shouts back...

Well, that's idiotic...Anya frowns...Pulling up one at a time in a combat situation...We'd be a sitting...

"Incoming...!" a cry from the pilot...Several artillery rounds whiz by, one striking the main rotor blades and the copter lurches...

Duck...

***



"Whoa...Whoa...Whoa!!!..." Buffy yelps...As the cable sways with the lurching helicopter...She and Will beside her swinging out like a giant yoyo...

Not again...she looks up at the copter...Clearly not in good shape...But it manages to right itself...They rise a bit on cable...But the copter seems to be moving toward shore...And...

Down...

More artillery rounds whiz by...

"Thank God we've both been dead!..." she shouts to William...He, scanning the shore, eyes her...

"Doesn't help though, does it?!..." she adds...He shakes his head...Not really...

"Ya don't think Dawn is up there?..." she looks up anxiously...They're still rising...Which is good...But the copter is sinking...Which is bad...

"No chance..." Will shakes his head reassuringly... "Rupert and Xander would never allow it!..."

They swing forward again as the copter veers...First to dodge another round...Then involuntarily...

I am definitely gonna be sick...If I don't die first...Buffy thinks...

"Remember...Far as I'm concerned...We're married...Stick to that story when they interview you for Heaven..." she tells Will... "You're the Slayer's husband...Just in case you need a little extra recommendation at the gates..."

A common-law kinda of thing...he nods...Should work...He squeezes her hand...They rise still more...But the copter, now over land, sinks further...Lucky there are no trees here...he thinks...

"Not that you need any special help to get in..." she hastily adds...

"Can someone marry us?...Quick!..." Anya calls as the copter heads down...Xander, beside her, trying with Riley and Giles to pull the cable up...

Hmmn...Dawn eyes Andrew...

"Brace yourselves...!...They'll try to set us down...!" Braddock cries...

***

"Well..." William notes...

Didn't expect it would be that easy...

He and Buffy having swung rather gently into a grassy loose sand dune and managed to let go of the ring and cable...

"Will!..." Buffy calls... "Your clothes...?"

Well...I know it's not my standard look...he thinks, eyeing the overcoat...Oh...

"Still well covered, pet..."

"The others!?..." she tries to look over to where the helicopter had gone down...Not too out-of-controlly it had seemed to her just before they touched down...

"I'll take a gander...Let me get you sitting first..." he helps her to a sitting posture...Feeling for anything broken...



God...Sand everywhere...Buffy groans...Hair, my mouth...My...

"Hey!..." she shouts...Startling him...

Sorry...he begins...Just checking...

"No, no...I feel something...On my feet...I feel my feet...A little..." she smiles...

Look...she points...I'm wigglin' my toes...!...

Guess this trip really is doing me some good...Oh!...

"Will?..." she looks at him...

Right...he nods...Off I go...Just stay here...Quietly...

***

Aboard the downed chopper...Which has landed upright without too much damage...

"Everyone all right?!..." Braddock calls...

Fine...! a chorus from Dawn, Anya, Kennedy...

"Optimal..." Sam calls...

"Ready..." Riley chimes in...

"Quite all right..." Giles nods...

"We're not in Heaven are we?..." Andrew asks...

Hmmn...Xander eyes Anya...It was kinda too easy...

"Don't know..." she shrugs... "Demons aren't allowed even for business purposes..."

***

Part XXIV...

Grim news has reached Bunker A-0...

The capitol's airport is now in American hands...The situation...While in the televised opinion of Minister al-Sahaf, never better...Is judged rather desperate by the more military-minded...

The base commander lays out the harsh details to the Hussein boys...Hoping it may shock them into getting some grip on reality and persuading the Leader to consider either the noble gesture of self-surrender (yeah, right) or the better part of valor...Paris is lovely this time of year, he hopefully notes...

Not the best of news...Qusai admits...However...He gives a confident beam to the assembled staff...

"We are almost ready to begin our victorious counterstrike...Our new Elite Guard is heavily reinforced, our base impregnable...And a new ally is rushing to our side..."

Plus...We always have...It...Standing by...

Oh, Allah...He's crazier than Odai...one officer reflects...



Still...I would rather not "volunteer" for their new Elite Guard...

All I wanted was a comfortable spot to rest my rear until retirement the base commander shakes his head slightly...Trying to maintain a loyally confident air...Why the hell did I ever choose this place?...

A junior officer hurries in... "The enemy aircraft is down...Our troops on the lake are moving to capture any survivors...!"

"Excellent, excellent..." Qusai nods... "You see, gentlemen and ladies...All is well..."

But...The officer pauses...

Hmmn...Odai frowns...That's never good...

"Other enemy craft are coming in...Rapidly...In large numbers..."

Hmmn...

"Shall we blow up the tunnel to the lake shore, sir...?" the base commander asks...

"Is that the only way in here...?" Qusai eyes him...

Yes...If the enemy doesn't find a way to blast through the upper levels under water, dig through two miles of sediment and rock...And penetrate the two 1000 foot layers of concrete and steel shielding, separated by a 500 foot thick lead layer...

Sounds sturdy...Odai thinks...

"Well...In that case...Perhaps we'll wait a bit..." Qusai notes...

Let our foes make their fool-hardy attempt to enter...While we make like Charleton Heston in the Red Sea scene of "The Ten Commandments"...

"A little water absolves us of this deed..." he quotes...Grinning...

The officers and Odai stare...They got the "Ten Commandments" thing ok, but this...?

Qusai frowns...

"It's from "Macbeth"...? Shakespeare...?...Hello?...I thought you people had university degrees...?"

We really must upgrade our military education requirements...Include some liberal arts courses...

***

On the lake shore, William's made contact with the rest of the team...And with Xander's and Riley's help, gotten Buffy safely over to the downed copter area...She eagerly telling Giles of the return of sensation to her feet...The most important event of the trip, clearly...

Though...Her Slayer sense of responsibility quickly kicks in to remind her that there are other issues at stake...Strengthened by Kennedy's slight glare at hearing no immediate request from the Slayer for an update as to her Willow's condition...

"How is Willow?..." Buffy hastily works to set matters right...Kennedy relenting in turn...

Doing quite well...By last accounts...Safely evacuated to the airbase...Giles informs her...

Fortunately we had Andy available for the magics end...Dawn quickly puts in a plug for her boy...

Yeah...Buffy gives him a slight glare...Great job...But is surprised by Dawn's sharp return glare...



Hmmn...Perhaps I was a bit...Nice one, Dawny...she thinks, gauging with the eye of a professional...

You could kill demons with that glare...

"Really nice job...Andrew..." she nods at him...Dawn giving her a quiet look...Apology accepted, thanks...

What are we gonna do?...her quick look at Will says...

Just leave things be...his look back begins... "Run for cover!!..." he finishes...

Hmmn...Run for cover...Metaphorically?... In regard to the concept of Andrew with Dawn?...she wonders...Or...As he grabs her...Riley pulling Sam back away from the copter, Anya, Xander...Kennedy, Giles...Dawn hopping onto Andrew's shoulders...Sorry, foot's still tender...she notes...Braddock calling to his troopers...

Machine gun fire rakes the area...

***

A fleet of US copters appears over the lake...In the lead copter, a certain red-haired Wiccan...Magically recovered from her recent wounds and determined to see this one through...

"Dum...dum...da-da-da-dah...Dum...dum...da-da-da-dah...Dum...dum...da-da-da-dah...Da-da-da-dah...!" she hums...

The lieutenant colonel in charge of the assault team stares at her...

"Sorry..." she sheepishly grins... "Thought that a little Wagner ala Apocalypse Now was called for here..."

Civilians...he shakes his head...

"ST-1 and -2 are taking enemy fire!..." the copilot calls from up front...

"Have the gunships move in...Get us in behind them!..."

***

This is so great...Dawn happily notes to herself as Andrew carries her along on his back to the shelter of some large dunes behind the copter...

Saved me twice in one adventure...Buf's gotta ease up on him a lit...She catches sight of Buffy being dragged backwards to them by William...Willow's spell having failed once and for all...A hard Slayer?...Nope, worse...Older Sister...glare in her eyes as she stares at Andrew...

Well...Maybe once she hears about our...er his...Plans to patent the freeze and invisibility ray guns...After all he's all that left of the old nerd gang...Sure to bring in money by the bushel...And sees what a provider he can be...She'll come round...

Hell, she's marrying a vampire for crying out loud...She could cut us some slack...

***

Back in the depths of Bunker A-0, the boys have decided to let a "rested" Dad inspire their forces...Zombie Hussein looking much improved in a new uniform sits at desk on the rear platform of the main conference room while Odai videos the speech for distribution to any remaining loyalists outside the bunker and Qusai works the ole tape recorder...

"We...Shall...Fight...On the hills...And on the beaches...We shall...Never...Surrender..."

Hmmn...Saddam does a great Winston Churchill...one admiring officer in the group watching from the floor notes...



"We have nothing to fear...Except...Fear...Itself..." Hussein does an excellent FDR as well, courtesy Qusai...

A pause...Music suddenly blares from the loudspeakers...

"I was workin' in the lab late one night...When my eyes beheld an eerie sight...As my monster from his slab began to rise...And suddenly...To my surprise..."

Ooops...Forgot to erase that bit before I gave the tape to Qusai...Odai embarrassedly looks at his furious brother...Sorry, bro...

Just a little joke...

Qusai cuts the tape...

"A minor technical glitch...But I'm sure we're all grateful to His Excellency for his inspiring words of courageous defiance..." he carefully signs for zombie Hussein to rise and wave, and leads him off...Giving one last glare at Odai...

"Any word on the situation topside...?" Odai turns to the base commander next to him...The officers murmuring among themselves...

"Our forces are attempting to capture or kill the enemy on the ground...But heavy coalition forces are moving in...Our Guards division from the north is beginning to arrive...But they may have to pull back if the planes begin pounding them..."

Which they no doubt will...the general sighs to himself...

"Sounds a little uncertain...But not too bad..." Odai cheerily notes...

Hey, it's that sunny disposition that has won him the hearts of thousands of the fairer sex...That and hideous torture of family members...

***

On the ground by the lake, despite the support of the newly arrived Guards division, the Iraqi forces are beginning to waver as the gunships pound them on the open shore...The gang and Colonel Braddock's troopers still hanging on behind the shelter of dunes and their copter...

Above ground, Willow tenses for her second parachute jump...

"Those guys are gonna stop blastin' away once we jump...Right?..." she turns to the force commander...

Soon as it's optimal...he nods...

Great...

She dutifully follows the guy ahead of her out the copter door...

Hmmn...Whatdaya say?...Oh yeah...

"Geromino!..."

Now I do somethin' else?...Pull the cord...Right...

The chute pops open behind her...Dragging her back...

Hey...I'm really gettin' the hang of this...she beams to herself...

Maybe I should consider ROTC while I'm in college...



***

Part XXV...

With the arrival of coalition ground reinforcements and the heavy pounding by the gunships, the Iraqi forces have begun to fall back...Some, in the know, head towards the lake tunnel to Bunker A-0, others for the nearby hills...

"Willow?!..." Giles calls from the dune where he is taking cover with William, Buffy, Xander, and Anya...Looking up...

"Hey!..." she waves...Hitting the ground with a dull thud...Arghh!...That hip again...Think I was supposed to pull my knees in a bit...she drops in agony as her parachute settles near her...

Sure wish that magics healing cure had included a powerful herbal narcotic...She spies Giles and Xander racing over to her...Fortunately the machine-gun fire has died down quite a bit...

Kennedy zips up from another dune...Riley and Sam following...

Andrew and Dawn watching the enemy fall back... "Look..." Andrew points...A lot of them are heading into that big cave..." They move to assist a few newly arrived soldiers with their parachutes...

"What's going on!?...C'mon guys...!...William?!..." Buffy calls from the dune where she's been left...Flat on her back...

Somebody pull me over...!...she hollers...Hey, come on...!

Hmmn...William looks over from where he's helping Giles unhook Willow...

On the one hand...I leave her there...Maybe with Dawn...And she's safe while we all go after these fellows...

On the other hand...She stakes me the moment she can get on her feet...Or at least refuses to speak to me for the first two years of our marriage...

"Be right there, darling...Hang on a bit...Helping ole Red out!..." he calls...

The fresh troops begin to cluster, orders to get ready to move, shouted...Colonel Braddock gathers his men as well...

Xander eyes Will... "You're not really gonna try and take her along?..."

"If I have to drag and carry her, yeah...It's what a Slayer's mate does, Harris..."

Or a Slayer's assistant's mate...Anya notes, sighing at Xander...

***

With the enemy retreating to the hills and into the large cavern, the drop force commander confers with Braddock and the leader of the united ST team...To discuss their next move...There being some uncertainty as to where the Husseins might have fled...

Leader...As in she goes in with you guys...Buffy the Leader frowned at her team as she sat in her wheelchair...Which Andrew...At Dawn's strong hint...Well he did think to take it with them when they'd left the last bunker after Buffy and Will had gone for their copter ride...Had...Very thoughtfully, Dawn has noted several times to her sis...Arranged to have brought along...

As the group pauses to consider the proper course of action, Dawn urges Andy forward...Tell 'em your brilliant assessment of the situation, Andy...

"I'd say our objective is the cavern..." Andrew hastily blurts out... "A lot of the ones with special Guard emblems went there...And they'd've headed for the hills if the Husseins were going there..."



Hmmn...Buffy frowns...Worst thing is, he's probably right...

"I think Andrew here is right..." William chimes in...Earning a sudden glare...WhatIdo?...he looks back at her hastily...Some support my fiancee is giving me with sis...she thinks, a little peeved...But fortunately a little embarrassed as well...Will's just thinkin' of the mission, after all...She relents slightly...

"We bumped into some kind of platform out on the lake..." Will continues... "I was on it when you lot saw me...They must be down there...A base of some sort..."

Hmmn...Braddock nods...So the legends about Bunker A-0 are true...

Jacques Chirac has some 'plaining to do...

"I don't think we should go charging down in there..." the force commander notes... "They're sure to have it booby-trapped..."

"But if the rumors about Bunker A-0 are true...It's much too well protected for conventional bombs or depth charges in the lake..." Braddock points out...

If we could just get a small force in ahead of us...To disarm whatever explosives they've got down inside there...he frowns...

"Not a chance with all those troops in there..." the force commander shakes his head...

Hah, ha...Dawn beams...This looks like a job for...

"Andrew...?" she turns to him... "I think it's time to uncrate our secret weapon..."

Oh, no...Buffy groans silently...The others look at Dawn...And a sheepish Andrew...

Well...he explains...It's just our old invisibility ray...Tinkered up a little...

Grrr...

"Dawn...I told you we weren't going to use the geek trio's toys on this one..." Buffy firmly tells her...With side glare to Andrew...Yoou...Liittle...Whathaya done to my sis?... "They're too dangerous...And I don't like relying on that nerd stuff..."

Gee...Willow thinks as Kennedy applies a cold pack to her poor hip... You just flew over here in a plane and a helicopter, Buf...And them's the work of a number of...Us...Nerds...A slight glare...

"It's perfectly safe for short-term use...And Andrew's improved it..." Dawn frowns

His own patent, just filed...she notes hastily to the group at large, smiling at him...

Just in case any of these military types decide to take a few notes and diagrams...

"An invisibility ray?..." Braddock stares at Andrew...

"Short-term...Some tendency towards molecular decomposition over time..." Andrew replies...

"I told you not to bring that junk of his!..." Buffy hisses to Dawn...As the military types quiz Andrew...Will, Xander, and Giles lending him a little male support...Member of the Slayer team, after all...

"Well...Good thing I did some just-in-case packing, I'd say..." Dawn hisses back...

Knew we'd find a chance to use it...she smiles over to Andrew...

"Buf...It may make a difference here..." Willow notes...Trying hard to get comfortable...Ow!...On the mat Kennedy's fetched her...



"I'm not so hot at dematerialization spells..."

"It should only take a few minutes, love..." William, returning to her side, puts in his oar... "I think it's the way least likely to end in causalities..."

Grrr...Some supportive fiancee...

Who patched my hands when I came back from the dead...And was there for me nearly every minute of every day the past two years...Without and with soul...she sighs...Staring at his earnest face...

When certain other heroic types whose name shall be buried in obscurity...Were not...

And now...Just concerned that avoidable casualties be avoided...Like the dear...Loving...Soul he is...Damn, I am in love...

Well...A reluctant nod and wan smile to William...

O...K...

"I guess it's the best way...And I have been exposed to the ray before without harm..." she caves...

"I'm going, of course..." she hastily adds...

Right...Will sighs...

Thanks Will...Dawn beams a grateful look...

Don't mention it, sis...And I mean that...his look back says...

"Fire her up, hon...er Partner..." she turns to Andrew...

Grrr...Buffy groans...Xander and Giles frowning as well...

Oh, well...Look at how we treated William and Buf that first year they came together...Dawn thinks...Staring back...Firmly...

***

The main conference room in Bunker A-0...

"So..." Odai eyes Qusai as they view various TV screens giving views of the area...CNN...And Minister al-Sahaf's latest press briefing...Best comedy on TV, Odai notes...

"How will we know when to blow up the lake tunnel?..."

"When the allied troops are inside it, idiot...!..." Qusai whacks him...

"Well..." Odai sniffs, rather aggrieved... "Does that mean...When they start in...?...When they're midway...When they're about to reach the end?..."

I think it's important to get that clear...

Kid has a point...The base commander sitting nearby notes...To himself...

"Whenever I say we blow it, that's when!..." Qusai shouts... "Just watch the screens...And keep me informed...!"

He wouldn't treat me this way if my future dad-in-law were here...Odai sulks...

***



Near the cavern entrance to Bunker A-0...

"Ooooh..." a whistling sound...Followed by the creak of an invisible wheelchair...Which leaves wheel marks in the sand...The coalition soldiers not in on the secret look around...Rather puzzled...Giles frowns...Not a good example his Slayer is setting here...

Dawn lets a satisfied smile rise...Heh...Knew sis would be hooked once we got her to try it again...

"Cute, Buf..." Willow calls from her mat...Kennedy beside her... "You'll have the Guard gibbering with fear with that one..."

But ya better let Xander oil that chair before you guys head out...

OW!...A cry from Xander...Likewise invisible...

"Sorry..." Invisible Buffy apologizes... "Can't see you or my chair..."

Hey, Will...? she hisses...Ya wanta make out in front of everybody during the final briefing...?

Will?...

"Ummn...It's me, Buffy...William's helping Andrew invisibilize...He wanted to be sure to know how to reverse the process..." Anya replies, somewhat embarrassed...

Sounds like a neat idea, through...Can Xander and I borrow it...?...

"This is so fun!..."Sam's voice suddenly comes in, about five feet away...

"Dawn...?" she calls..."You know...My Pumpkin here..." faint sound of a pat... "Has lots of good inventive ideas...Andrew and he oughta discuss a partnership after this mission..."

"Sure...I'll ask Andy later..." Dawn nods in the direction of the voice...Yeah, right...I can guess how that'd work out...RILEY AND SAMANTHA FINN, Inc...And their little tech-geek, Andrew...Who does all the work and gets none of the credit...Or profits...

In a pig's eye...a still visible...Forced to accept her cut from this one...Dawn frowns...She and Willow eyeing each other...In mutual agreement...

Bitch...

Luckily Andy has me to look out for him...she thinks...

"...oooooh..." a few inches from her head....Jesus!...She jumps...Ouch!...

"Knock it off, Buffy!..." she grouses...And watch where you wheel that chair...she rubs her elbow...

An invisible giggle...

What a kid...Geesh...Show a little sense, sis...You're supposed to be our leader...

***

The conference room of Bunker A-0...

Qusai catching a few winks, a bored Odai monitors the lake tunnel TV screens with several officers...

Dullsville...And can't even have a little fun with one of my female Elite Guard zombies...All 1,000 or so lined up near the tunnel entrance for immediate deployment...Excepting Dad, of course...



"Sir...?!" an officer calls over...

"Yeah...?" Thank God for a little action... "Are the Yanks coming or no?..."

"Sorry, sir...Thought I saw some equipment move on Camera 2...Must have been a trick of my eyes..."

Ah...Well...

"Why dontcha take five and bring us all back some coffee and pastry?..." Odai suggests...Generous-hearted junior commander-in-chief that he is...

***

Down in the lake tunnel...

"Sorry..." Andrew whispers...Having tripped over a janitor's bucket and mop...He looks up...Hmmn...Looks like a small leak in the ceiling...I thought this place was brand new?...That's awful...The Husseins should get their money back, he notes to Xander...

"Harris Construction would never allow such shoddy workmanship..." Anya proudly agrees in a whisper...

"Guys...Come on...!" a harsh whisper from Buffy, ahead in her invisible chair with William pushing...

"The main circuit lines for any explosives have to run through here...Back there..." the explosives expert detailed by Braddock to accompany them notes to Buffy and Will in a low whisper...

"Yeah..." Xander agrees, likewise in whisper...But causing them to jump...Xander!...

"Don't creep up on us like that!..." Buffy hisses... "We can't see you, remember..."

Sorry...

Hmmpf...Our Leader didn't mind doing that intentionally a few minutes ago, back outside...Just for fun...Anya grouses to herself...

"I think this should be the right point to sever the lines..." their expert uses the mop Andrew just tripped over to point out the spot...

Great...Buffy whispers...Lets do it...

"You sure that's the one...?" Andrew has joined them...

Cause that red one over there...he pulls the mop over to it...And accidently shorts the whole electrical system...Including emergency lights...

And the bombs...The expert kindly points out to an obviously, if not visibly, furious Buffy...As they race back down the darkened tunnel...Everyone, including the enemy troops, equally invisible now...

And all rather in panic mode...

"Why don't we hold up here...?" Will calls to the others...Panting a bit from pushing the future Missus' chair... "Before we get trampled..."

And...He switches back to whisper mode...Call in our fellas...It's safe for them now, right?...

Should be...The expert agrees...



That's my guy...Always cool and calm in a crisis...Buffy beams...

And always cool in general...

***

"Odai!..." Qusai bursts into the conference room...Where Odai is discussing the latest development, the sudden loss of power in the lake tunnel with the officers scattered about the room...Wonder what coulda caused it...? The bombers, maybe?...As they munch pastry...Could be a problem, but probably nothing...

"Hey bro...Wanta canolli...?" he waves one...

"Idiot!...The Americans are entering the tunnel from the shore!...They must have knocked the power out in there...We can't blow the tunnel...!"

Hmmn...Guess it is a problem...Odai nods...

I owe ya five bucks...he turns to one officer...

"Moron!...Why didn't you stop them?!..."

Hey...We were watching like hawks...Nobody came through...Odai glares...

"Anyway...Whatda we do now...?"

"We'll have to use our Elite Guards and RG troops to fight them back...Then blow the tunnel manually..." Qusai fumes...

Gather our troops while I see where in Hell Joseph and his boys are...

"Don't blow this one, you idiot!..." he yells, racing out the door...

Show time...Odai nods to the officers...

***

The coalition forces on the lake shore, having received Buffy's call, move cautiously into the cavern and enter the tunnel...Capturing the few remaining troops at the entrance...

Giles, Dawn, and Kennedy, assisting a determined, if battered Willow, in their midst...

***

Qusai enters the large assembly area where Odai rallies the hastily assembled Guard troops...The zombie force standing by as well...

Bringing additional help...In the form of the newly arrived...Had really hoped to be fleeing to a quiet place to sit out the surrender, but what the hell...Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf...Minister of Information...

Just in time to lend his ever-positive outlook...

Odai gives the rallying cry...

"Get them, boys!...Get them!!...Get them in the name of..."

Ummn...

"Qusai...?! What the hell are we fighting for?!..."



"For us, you idiot...!!..." Qusai hollers back...

Hmmn...The soldiers look at each other...If that's all...

"And for fat perks, the right to exhort kickbacks from the oppressed populace, large bribes!...And for us not to torture and kill all of you and those of your family members still in our prisons if we manage to survive!..." Qusai glares at the wavering troops...

Ah...The usual noble causes...

The troops rally for a charge...Somewhat reluctantly...

"There is absolutely nothing to fear, men...I promise you..." al-Sahaf adds the support of his positive spin...

"The enemy down the tunnel is here to commit suicide!...And the rest are 100 miles away!..."

"Where are Joseph and his hell demons...?" Odai calls...Summoning his zombies to the front line...

Phew, collectively think the human troops...Much prefer those things in front of me...

"Right here...Hi, fellas..." Joseph materializes with three large, rather resigned, and somewhat-down-at-heel demons...

"This is the best you could do, Joseph...?" Qusai stares furiously...

"The Hellmouth's sealed, kid...I told you my powers were very limited now...You're damned lucky I could scrape these boys up..." Joseph frowns back...Wobbling a little...As are the three demons...

Damned lucky...Hic...

"You...!...Are you and your guys drunk?!!...You worthless!..." Qusai rages...

"Had to give the boys some...Hic...Incentive..." Joseph notes, stumbling...

"And God knows only roarin' blind drunk demons would try tanglin' wid' the Slayer now...Hic..." he glares back...

"Yeah...The...Hic...Hic...Slowya...Gunner get her at...Hic...Last..." one of the demons waves a drunken fist...

"Hey there cutie..." he eyes one of Odai's female zombies in the front ranks...Sliding up to her as she stares blankly forward...Her once attractive face rather distorted by rigor mortis...

"Afta the Sleerer kills these guys whatdya say you and I slip away and..."

"Get in line!..." Odai fumes...

The demon glares... "Heya punk human!...I'm agonna eat your..." The female zombie snaps his neck at Odai's signal...

"Nice zombie handling, kid..." Joseph nods... "You're a natural..."

Pity it's all for nuthin' now...he sighs...

"Shut up, you old fool!...And get those two in line!!..." Qusai hollers...

Joseph waves the surviving two demons into line...

Hey, kid...he calls to Odai...

"Better move the stiffs back to the rear...Hic..." he indicates the lines of zombies...



"Hey, you...Whatever you are...I command our Undead Elite!..." Odai shakes his head firmly...

Ok...ay...Joseph shrugs...

"But you'll be...hic...Sorry..." he notes...Wobbling over to the ranks...

"Joseph?..." Qusai stares at him... "But you never go into battle...?"

Ah, kid...Joseph shrugs at him...

"It's all over..." he shakes his bald death's head sadly... "Evil's day is dun..."

Even that bitch Lilah Morgan ran out on me...Well...he grins...

Least I managed to get her back...Sent the IRS the real dope on her taxes...

"She'll be in da slammer so long I'll look good to her when she gets out..." he chuckles...

Well...he sighs...

"May as well go out with a bang..."

"Once more...inta the breech...Hic...Dear friends...Once more..." he calls, taking his place in the front row with his demon pals...To the right of the zombie front line...

"B'aal for Joseph...The First...And the law offices of Wolfram-Hart, Inc!...Hic...Hic..." he waves a fist drunkenly...

Huh?...The human troops eye each other...

The zombies maintaining their fixed stares...

"Get moving!..." Odai yells...Pointing...

The zombies stagger off...Slowly...Then more rapidly...Flanked by Joseph and his demons and the Guard behind...

They move down into the wide tunnel...

Gross, even by my standards...Joseph eyes several young child zombies in the line...These Hussein boys...Had...real Evil potential...But, it's all over now...

A damned shame...

***

Part XXVI...

As battle is joined in the tunnel...The boys, observing from the main conference room soon see the wisdom of Joseph's advice about the positioning of the zombie ranks...

Gleaned from his WWII experience as Soviet Commander-in-Chief against Hitler (now one of his partners at W-H, but hey, things change)...Those weren't actually Siberian troops who suddenly popped up to hold the Germans off at the climax of the '41 invasion...

Zombies...Good on the defensive, not so hot offensively...Kinda lacking in the kind of initiative, not to mention, speed...That a bold offense needs...Especially when neither of their commanders chooses to enter the fray to give on the spot orders...



Plus...A bit on the stupid side...Ordered to march as a solid line...They do just that...Even if that line doesn't correspond to the size of the thing they're marching into...Like a steadily narrowing supply tunnel...

"They're stuck in the tunnel!..." Odai views the progress or lack thereof on screen as best he can via battery-powered zombie-carried video...As the zombies wedge themselves together in the darkened tunnel at a junction...Each line piling on the other...Only a handful popping through to march on to the coalition line...

DAMN!...Qusai shrieks, watching a moment...

"Odai!...Go down there and get them straightened out...!...At once!..."

The front-line screens go blank as their zombie cameramen are crushed with the others...The human troops behind wisely holding back and awaiting fresh orders...While those with videos film the backs of the tightly wedged zombie force...Joseph, with his two demons watching as well in resignation...Having pulled back to the rear on seeing the impending disaster...

"Me...!?..." Odai glares... "You're the one with "top control"...Who summoned Joseph and started the whole thing...You go!..."

"Damn you, you coward...As Dad's heir... I order you to go...!" he turns to several officers...

Take him!...They reluctantly seize the struggling Odai...Carrying him out...

"Guys?...You fools can't really want to go down to the tunnel?..." Odai calls as they carry him to the elevator... "Lets arrest my brother and proclaim me heir...You can both be generals..."

C'mon...We'll all die down there...he pleads...

"Who said anything about us going?..." one eyes him...As they toss him into the elevator and lock the controls on descent...

Nasty little putz, wasn't he...? the other looks at his companion as they head back...Propositioned my sister once when he was drunk one Saddam Day, you know...Very rudely...

Hell, he's "propositioned" every woman in Iraq...the other shook his head...Your sis must have been pretty ugly for him not to have her imprisoned or shot when he sobered up...

"My brother off to meet his destiny on the heroic battlefield...? Great..." Qusai beams as they enter...

That news alone is enough to get this bad day back on track...

***

In the tunnel, all is not so black for the Husseins...A few zombies have broken out of the wedged mass and are giving the coalition troops a little trouble...

Nothing however the ST team, especially the invisible ones working their way back to the main force...Can't handle...

Seeing their front-line comrades a bit pressed, Buffy the Leader orders the invisibles to whirl round and face the enemy...

"Get em,Will!..." Buffy yells from her invisible chair...Holding out her invisible stake...

Whoa, nice form...she beams as he tosses several heavily armed members of Iraq's finest Undead back...

"Wish I could see your moves, honey..." she calls...

Hey!...One of those guys was Xander's and mine's...Anya calls...

Nice!...Buffy calls back...Whoops...About ten more come chargin'...Slowly...



"Will, you back there?..." she tries to look behind her chair...Nothing...Naturally...

A zombie in front goes down... "Will?...That you...?"

Me...Andrew calls...

"Will?!..." a tad nervous...

"Here, girl...Just got here..." he calls from behind...

"Ok, then...Grab the chair and get set...Everybody!...Charge...!" she holds Mr. Pointy...Hmmn...Which end?...she feels...Ok...Out in front of her... "I mean...Push, honey!..." she turns back...Got ya...he returns... Rolling the chair forward...

"Anybody ahead?...Get outta of the way!..."

***

Odai stumbles down the tunnel, grousing at his fate...

"Ah...So glad you've come to lead us, sir..." a Guards officer...Probably in shock from his wounds...Beams at him as he reaches the human troops...Yeah, yeah...he waves sullenly...

"I gotta get up front...Things to do..."

Be our guest...A number of the Guards eye him...With pleasure...

He reaches the beginning of the zombie ranks...Tightly wedged, all still trying to march froward...A number pretty much battered to pieces by smashing against the tunnel walls and their companions...

Joseph stands by with his demons...Hey, kid...He waves...

I tried to warn ya...he notes the wedged zombies...

Odai sighs and begins patiently trying to disengage enough of the Elite Force to let a few more move forward...

Ah...A little more...There now we...Wham!...A dozen march into the opening, destroying half of themselves and resealing the little gap...

"It's tough to herd so many at once..." Joseph shakes his head...

Shoulda tried just a quarter of this bunch...

Another small gap is opened...

Sounds from up the tunnel...Odai stares...

"Here comes the Slayer...I'd say..." the demonic lawyer sighs...And a pretty large back-up...

"I smell smoke...?" Odai looks at Joseph...

Probably the Yanks using flamethrowers...his companion shrugs...

Hell, kid we tried using zombies back in WWII...It's a nice stop-gap but they're just too slow and relatively easy to take out...

"It's like I told your brother...We're all washed up..." he hangs his bald death's-head sadly...

"Damn, you...Stop that!..." Odai frowns... "Even if it doesn't affect the zombies...You're depressing the hell out of me!..."



Sorry, sorry...

***

The coalition troopers having put the time gained by the zombie traffic jam and the Slayer's invisibles to good use, are flame-throwing their way down the tunnel...The small groups of zombies now beginning to clear the block and avoid the charging invisible Slayer and co are pretty much easy prey...

But there are still hundreds waiting to be freed...And Odai is beginning to make progress...

A group of fifty zombies is now able to break off and move on...Followed by another thirty...

William pulls a reluctant Buffy off to the side as a small horde passes...A few too many just right now, pet...Let the boys with the toys handle these lot...Our job's to make it to the other side and hold that end open...There'll be plenty left for us...

Yeah...She deftly rams a couple passing by and tosses them over to the side...Ta-dah...

"Nice...I'll have to take you spear-fishing sometime..." he notes...

"Careful, careful..."Anya calls... "They can smell us you know, even if they can't see us and they're kinda dumb..."

"Yeah...I'm getting that...Help, here!..." Xander calls from a few feet off the ground...Where a zombie has lifted...Whatever it has just run into for sniffing examination...Hmmn...Tasty smell...

"Watch its left side...!...Keep off there...!" Samantha calls...

Left?...Xander calls back...The zombie hold him trying to figure out where the invisible brain might be...

Wham!...The zombie goes down, a large section of its left side gone to Samantha's rather large ax...

"Xander...? You didn't lose anything else there?..." Anya cries...

"Nope...Everything but the eye's still here, honey..."

Sounds of intense flame-throwing from behind...The dark cavern now filling with smoke...

"Hope they stop with the firestorm before we all smother..." Riley groans, dodging a column of staggering zombies...Which he hits from the rear, swiftly taking out several...

How many'd the Finns get...? Buffy whispers to William...

Not that I'm keeping score or anything...

***

Further back up the tunnel...

The force's success in using flame-throwers to hold off the zombie Elite is beginning to seem its undoing...

"We've got to hold on the throwers...There's too much smoke...!" Braddock cries...

We may have to consider a temporary withdrawal...he notes to Giles...We won't be able to breathe down here soon, let alone fight...

"What about Buffy and the guys?..." Willow asks anxiously, now hobbling on a stick...Kennedy lending support... "We can't leave 'em down here alone..."



"Can't do them much good if we're all unconscious or dead..." the dropforce commander notes...Braddock nodding in agreement...

Hmmn...What we need here...Is a breath of fresh air...Willow thinks...

A breath of fresh air...she concentrates...A strong wind begins blowing...The smoke starts clearing...

Braddock gives a slight bow...Very nice...

A powerful...Wiccan...Indeed...he grins...Kennedy beaming...

"Yeah, well...Just showin' off my stuff for my girl here..." Willow smiles back...

***

The invisible team likewise enjoys the benefits of Willow's air flushing...

Ok...Buffy calls... "Lets move..."

However...There are now more and larger groups of zombies freed and moving down on them, courtesy Odai's efforts...

Even Buffy agrees that it's necessary to slip past these mobs quickly now and secure the opposite tunnel end...Their guys behind should be able to flame em now that they've got some kind of air blower going...

They press on, hugging the tunnel walls to avoid the larger groups of zombies...The sounds of flaming coming up to them again from back down...

Ah...Roadblock...They've reached where Odai is still trying to get his Elite Force to stop replugging the gaps he's freed and move on...

Hmmn...Buffy spies her would-be boyfriend by some lanterns, frantically signing at zombies...A few human troops nervously standing by...

Well...Maybe it's time for some fun...

"Will?...Push me close as you can get...Try to keep it quiet..." she hisses...

He cautiously shoves her forward, the others in support...

"What was that?..." Odai turns round...Looking into the dark of the tunnel...A guard shines a light...Nothing...

"....oooodaiiiii....husssseinnnn...." a croaking voice... "...Yooooourr vicccctiiimmmssss seeeeek yyyyou..."

Odai finds himself a bit isolated...The human guards not so much impressed by the potential wrath of their junior boss' many ghostly victims...Not speaking English for the most part...But definitely by the croaking...And the lack of anything showing when their lights flash about...They race through a gap back to the safety of the upper tunnel and the human troops...

"Cowards!..." Odai cries... Turning to join them...

"Hey, Odai...I thought we had a deal..."

He halts...Looking round...Wait a minute...

"Ms. Summers...?...Buffy?..."

Hey, if she's still willing to deal...Odai's the man to sell out...



"Where are you?..."

"I'm right here..." Buffy chirps... "Trying letting your eyes adjust to the dark a mo..."

He pauses...Looking round...And over at the nearest zombies...Whom he signs to move around him in a circle...

"I'm ready to deal, Buffy...Show yourself..."

Nah...she chuckles...The others keeping silent...

"I think I'd prefer to keep things professional between us...Like you surrender and I don't kill you..."

"Hey, lady...I'm on your side..." Odai replies...Still peering through the dark, with more smoke from behind adding to the difficulty...He waves the nearest two zombies to a wider circle...

"Where are you?!..."

"Right behind you!..." she tosses a pebble at his back...

Damn...You bitch!...

"Such language!...Is that how you romance a girl here...? My vampire fiancee used better language when he was soulless..."

Well...Not really William thinks...But I did try to tone it down around Joyce and Dawn...

"So...You wanna...Go for it, Odai?..." Buffy smiles sweetly at him...Sadly an effect wasted on him with her invisibility and all...Still, he knows when a girl is trying to torment him...

Cause I'm waiting on ya, boyfriend...

He pauses, blinking...Then turns to stare at us...Shrugging...

"I know, I know...She's just playing with me...And this is really gonna hurt...But, hell...She's the Slayer...And when am I ever gonna get another offer like this...?"

He charges into the dark...Signing for all available freed zombies to follow...

Hard left, Will...she hisses to William who pulls the chair to the left...

Stop fooling around, girl...We got work to do...he hisses back...

Odai slams into the side wall...

"Cold!..." Buffy calls...

He pulls himself up...Waving for the zombies at hand to circle about...Searching for...

"Warmer..."

Two zombies go flying...Courtesy Riley and Sam...

"Red Hot!..." Buffy calls...

Odai spinning round...Where the hell...He brings the zombies in closer...Nothing...

Buffy...Time to move on, girl...Will whispers...



The zombies spread a little...

"Come on...guys..." Riley calls...

That way!...Odai waves the zombies around...

"Colder..." Buffy coos...

OW!...A yelp as Andrew whacks his leg on the chair...Ummn...Buffy...?...he whispers...

"We only have fifteen minutes of invisibility left...My new safety feature...And Riley thinks we oughta get moving..."

Yeah, yeah...Just a minute...she hisses...

"Colder!..." she calls to Odai...Damn...He swings the zombies round again...He and they move cautiously down...Right past their quarry...

"Are you sure she isn't more susceptible to the brain-melting features of your little toy than the rest of us?..." Will hisses to Andrew...

"Not in this limited a time period...She's just fooling around..." Andrew whispers back...

A disembodied giggle...

"You know...There's more Drusilla in you than you'd ever care to admit, girl..." William invisibly frowns, whispering to the air...

Oh, really?...Two more enemy soldiers, human come up through a gap in the zombie roadblock cautiously...

"Sir?..." One calls over to Odai... "This way..."

But a now furious Odai is determined to continue the hunt...

However, seeing the gap open in the wall of tightly compressed zombies in front of them, Buffy's Slayer responsibility bone has kicked in...

"There's our chance...Let's go on through..." she hisses to Will...

"Everybody!...Follow..." Well, not a good option... "Just head for the opening up ahead...Hurry!..." she calls...William tearing back a few wedged-in zombies to make space for her chair...They're through...

Well...So much for...Hmmn...She sees the huge force of waiting human Guards...

Ah, human foes at last...Just gotta get past them to the tunnel exit and hold things open till the rest of us come up...

But there's still one last opportunity for some fun...And they need to stir a little panic anyway...

Dru, eh...Buffy thinks...

Neat idea...She feels the wheels and moves up towards the human Guards...Hey!...Will feels the sudden jerk as he tries to hold the chair...

"...oooh...I be the ghost of Bloody Dru..." a Californian-cockney accent...Sends the less-than-stalwart human Guards flying...

Hee...

"You do know they all probably couldn't even speak English...?" Will's voice hisses...



Aw, c'mon...Just havin' some fun...she hisses back...

"Will you two get moving...?" Riley makes his way to them... "We're running out of time..."

Sorry...she contritely whispers back...My fault...Lets go...

"Buffy?...We can still make a deal..." Odai, down the tunnel, his zombies circling round him, addresses empty air...

Hmmn...He notes the smell of smoke...And hears the shouts of the advancing coalition forces...

Best to head back...he realizes...Still, worth one last try...

"Here's my cell phone number...Call me..." he leaves a slip of paper under a rock...And waves his zombie force to move onto the enemy...While he turns to head back to safety...

"Really hope you'll give me a chance to explain things, Miss Summers...!" he calls...

***

"There's the end of the tunnel...!" Sam calls...As the invisible group races up...Slowed by a stream of panicky human Guards through the exit...

Ok...Buffy hisses... "Now all we gotta do is go through and make sure this exit stays..."

The group suddenly rematerializes...Whoops...Andrew looks a bit sheepish...But he had warned them...

The human Guards blink at the sudden apparition...Fortunately, they're already in some degree of panic...

"This way...!" Xander calls, spying a side tunnel...Maintenance, probably he notes to Anya...

But any port in a storm of 1000 Guards troops...William pushes and drags Buffy's chair over...

"Everyone inside?...I'm ready to close..." Riley calls...A chorus of yes...

Het-huh...Buffy looks at him...

"Sorry...Ok to close her, Buffy?" she nods...He slams the side tunnel door...

A few enemy troops, recovering a little moral fiber, begin pounding on the door...Ordering them out...

***

Part XXVII...

With coalition forces now hard at his heels, Odai flees back past the zombie traffic jam to the tunnel's end where Guard officers are desperately trying to rally the panicky human troops while a few hardier souls batter at the door to the side tunnel where Buffy and her...formerly invisible...team are holed up...

"Blow it up..." he helpfully suggests to the men pounding away...

Can't sir...An officer pauses...An explosion might damage the main complex doors...Our last barrier to the bunker area..

Oh...Okay...Ummn...Shoot it off?...he offers...

Bulletproof, sir...Perhaps you'd prefer to re-enter the main complex?...the officer strongly urges...



The sounds of heavy gunfire and a massive flame-throwing attack up at the zombie traffic jam suggests it to be a fine idea...Odai takes the hint...Waving the pitiful remnants of the Elite Guard of zombies back into the lower level complex chamber...Joseph already there with his demons and the bulk of the surviving human troops...

***

The pounding continues as Buffy and co try to brace their door...

"Will...?" she calls to him as he assists Riley and Xander in ripping piping and framework from the tunnel...

Hmmn?...

"Sorry about getting you into this mess..." she begins...As she tries to direct Anya, Andrew, and Sam in placing the scrap in front of the door...

"Nonsense, dear heart...Wouldn't have missed that copter ride for the world..." he grins... "Baghdad was beautiful by air..."

Just hope no one got a photo of me in that damned headdress...

The pounding halts...Shouts are heard outside...The group look at each other...

More pounding...But...Someone shouting as well...A familiar...

"Guys, open up..." Willow calls through the door...

"They've gone back into the complex and shut their blast doors...You can come out..."

Unless you're already out here, invisible?...C'mon guys, quit fooling...she calls again...

***

Meanwhile...In the main conference room of Bunker A-0...the leaders review the darkening situation...

The battle is going against our boys...The coalition forces are battering at the doors of Bunker A-0, preparing to blow it...The Guard remnants behind it are rather demoralized...

Though zombie Hussein and the few remaining members of the Elite Force retain a commendable air of calm...

"We must summon extra help!!..." Qusai hollers...Turning to Joseph...Who shrugs...

There's nobody left fellas...

"Coward!...Loser!...I shall call forth the First...!..." Qusai rages... "She will help us...!"

Please...Don't call her...Joseph sighs...She might actually come...And...the way she is now...She'd be no help to you...And

"I couldn't bear it..."

Qusai shrugs him off and begins the incantation...

A glow...Faint...

"She'll need a lota help...She's pretty well wiped these days..." Joseph tells him resignedly...

But I tell ya, kid...It's no use...

And it won't be pretty...



"Odai...Fetch Dad's supply of magic orbs...The big closet on the right...!" Qusai points...

Odai goes over...Dragging out four large glowing orbs...He has soldiers take them to Qusai...

"More than that..." Joseph shakes his head... "She's almost powerless..."

"Odai!...Go!...Grab the leftover plutonium the North Koreans sent last month for Dad's Doomsday device!...It's in the basement, lower level...The big lead-lined trash can!..."

Doomsday device?...Joseph perks up a hair...

At least the faint possibility of going out with a modicum of dignity...

"Your dad's gotta doomsday device...?" he asks innocently...

Yeah, yeah...Qusai nods impatiently...An old Russian system from the sixties...

"We picked it up from the French a few years ago...Cheap...Dad thought it might be useful...But it's clunky and takes a huge amount of plutonium...Took years to get enough scraped together...And it wasn't much good...You hafta turn it on for the other guy to detect it...And then it's too late..."

Even Dad wasn't crazy enough to try and use it...

Hmmn...Joseph ponders...

Odai returns with two soldiers lugging heavily shielded containers marked "Plutonium"...in French...

The main blast doors are still holding...But the Yanks must be getting ready to blow it...he reports...

"And what a rip-off on the plutonium..." Qusai glares at the containers... "The damned French and Russians sold it to Kim, he sold it right on to us at a huge mark-up..."

Well...Is that enough power for her to manifest...? he eyes Joseph...

Yeah...The demon leader sighs...

"But look, kid...I'm beggin' ya...Ya don't wanta bring her up...Not the way she is since her last fight..."

Qusai waves him off and continues the ceremony...

The glow becomes stronger...A white light...The First, in Morphy Buffy form appears...Looking rather peaceful and benign...In rather a combination of Ophelia's weeds and a 60's flower child's garment...

Oh, B'aal...Joseph rolls his eyes...

"Hi...?...Who needs the First's aid...?..." she asks happily...

"The First is here to help..." she smiles... "Though...I'm sorry but I'm a bit low on the power scale right now..."

"I have summoned you, First..." Qusai calls... "I, Qusai Hussein..."

To assist us...The heirs of the Hussein dynasty...In preserving our evil Empire...

Oh...She nods...

"Well...I must tell you...Qusai...I don't support evil causes anymore..."



Whoa...Another Buffy...Odai eyes her...Smiling...She returns the smile...Hi, there...

"What?..." Qusai stares at her...Not exactly the First I expected...

Joseph shrugs...Told ya...

"What do you mean...You don't support evil causes?...You are the First Evil..." Qusai fumes at her...

"I am the First...But...After my recent altercation with the Slayer...You know her?...I sat down and took a good, long look at my existence..." she gives him a deeply soulful look...

And I realized...I never chose to be the First...Evil...It was just something people assumed I was...Until I gradually came to accept it as my nature...

"But losing to Buffy Summers and her friends made me see...I don't have to be Evil just cause everyone around me says I am...I can choose my own path...Like Buffy did..."

Buffy...Is my new role model...she happily notes...

"But I hope to even do better...She does have an unfortunate penchant for violence at times, you know..."

And she was very hard on her poor William and her friends for a while...

Odai looks at Qusai...?

"But..." the First looks down... "I suppose the darkness in her came from her Slayer link to my old, unhappy nature...My longing for any kind of connection to your physical world...Even a dark one...Now though, I have had a great revelation...And now...I want to take on the more loveable sides of Buffy's multi-faceted personality..."...she smiles...

"But...What does this mean?!...We are your loyal followers!...You must help us!..." Qusai stares at her...

Well...I would like to...she beams...

"Perhaps I could negotiate your surrender...?...Buffy won't be too hard on you if you surrender...She never takes advantage of a defeated foe who shows some capacity for reform..."

Lets give Peace a chance...she concludes...Smiling wistfully...

What?!...Qusai looks at Joseph...Who shrugs, waving hands...

"Oh...Joseph..." the First catches sight of him... "When will you turn from your dark path and seek the way of Light...The Way of Buffy's sweeter side?..."

"Come on, lets sing..." she beams... "Singing connects us to the loving child within..."

"All we are sayin'...Is give Peace a chance..." she begins...

"Oh...B'aal!...Hand me over to Trotsky and Bukharin and the rest of my old Party right now..." Joseph moans...

"Joseph...That's your guilty Stalin soul speaking..." the First notes...Beaming at him...

Come on now...Wouldn't you like to face those you wronged in your past existence on Earth and beg their forgiveness...?

Oh...Joseph shakes his head, stumbling off...

Doomsday device, eh...?



"He's right..." Qdai nods to Qusai... "This is humiliating..."

Thank God I'm secretly on the side of Justice, Texas-style (Dallas, Texas, that is), and the Right-wing American Way...he thinks...Clearly, Evil is way beyond whipped...

"All we are sayin'...Is give peace a chance..." the First resumes her song, swaying with the music as she strolls about the chamber...Offering flowers to the various officers and soldiers...Non-corporeal of course...

Pathetic...Still...Nice gams...Odai notes...

An explosion rocks the bunker...Suggesting that the last barrier to the bunker complex is down...

"Shut down all elevators...!...Have our troops take positions on the lower floors!..." Qusai commands...

I dunno...Odai thinks...That "Give peace a chance" thing is beginning to make sense to me...

"The allies are advancing towards the main complex floors!..." an officer cries, watching his screen...

"I could go and speak to them for you, fellas..." the First suggests kindly... "They can't hurt me and Buffy will listen...She always listens to the sincerely repentant, peace-seeker whom she can't easily kill...Come, Joseph...Let me show you the Way of Buffy and Light..."

Ok?...she smiles at Qusai...Who shrugs...Whatever...Just, go...

"Whatdaya we do now, Qus...?" Odai looks at the departing First...Joseph stumbling after her...Resigned to his fate...Perhaps...

"Ya think she can get us a good deal with Buffy?..."

***

The First wanders slowly through the fighting masses...Offering flowers in with a wan smile...

"Imagine all the people...Living life in peace..." she warbles dreamily...

Joseph, eyeing her as he stumbles along, sadly shakes his head...

Doomsday device, eh...? he thinks again...And vanishes...

Joseph?...The First looks for him...Hmmn...Oh, well...He'll give in one day...

"Buffy?...Hi!..." she waves as she spies Buffy and William entering the chamber from the rear with the rest of the gang in support...

Suddenly vanishing and reappearing just in front of them...Buffy staring...Xander jumping...Whoa!...

Don't wanna interrupt your latest victory, Slayer...But...Could we talk a moment?...she eagerly asks...

"In the interests of peace and love..." she solemnly states...

Boy, did we fix her wagon...But good...Willow notes to Giles, eyeing her...It's almost a little pathetic...

"So if you could see your way clear to allowing these misguided fellows to surrender peaceably...This can all end without any more violence..." the First smiles to Buffy...

Which is good...Cause violence is bad...she offers Xander a flower...

***



"Our only hope is to slip out to the emergency exit elevator to the surface...Then swim for it..." Qusai notes...As he and Odai make their cautious way through another crowd of fighters clogging the stairwells to the upper levels...Zombie Dad in front, kindly clearing a safe path for his boys...

They reach the open balcony above the large chamber where Buffy and co are "negotiating" with the First...Just a little bit further and...

"There are the boys..." the First calls happily... "Odai!...Qusai!...Buffy says you can surrender now...!"

Whoops...

Well, Odai sighs...Maybe surrender's not such a bad...

A blaring alarm sounds...Red lights flash everywhere...!

Oh my Allah!...Qusai pulls up short, looking at the lights...

"Wait...Wait...!..." he waves at the fighters...

Truce...Take five...he calls to his troops...Waving the surviving zombies to stand down as well...

"Slayer...! We must talk...Now!..." he yells as Buffy and co move up on them...The First happily following...Peace is at hand...she contentedly notes to Xander...

Which is very good...And the Way of Buffy...

Uh-huh...Xander nods kindly to her...

"Some fool has activated...It...!" Qusai looks at Odai...

Hey...I'm right here, ya know...Odai frowns...

"What the hell's...It?..." Will calls to them...

"Our doomsday device...It has been activated...! World destruction is pending...!"

"We...er You, Slayer..." Qusai turns to Buffy... "Must shut it down...At once!!..."

Please?...Odai gives his most winning smile...

***

Play

"We'll meet again...Don't know where...Don't know when... But I know we'll meet again, some sunny day..." Joseph warbles as he sits by the controls of the doomsday device...

"Global destruction will commence in four minutes..." the machine tells him in Russian...

Da...Joseph thinks...This is the way to go out...With my own people's manufactory...

In the end, I am true to my roots...No more will I be the evil stooge of Capitalism...he takes a swig from his vodka bottle...

Even if Lenin and the old gang would kick my ass if they could catch up with me...

***

Part XXVIII...Conclusion...



In the main lower chamber of Bunker A-0 an impromptu truce is arranged...Under the impending threat of global destruction...

"So...Mr. Bush was right about you guys...?" Xander eyes the Hussein boys...

Hmmn...Odai politely looks...? What did my future dad-in-law say 'bout us...? he thinks...

"You guys have the mass destruction stuff and all..."

I haven't seen it...Dawn sniffs...

"Isn't wonderful, Buffy...?" the First beams at her twin... "My first success in peacemaking..."

Yeah...Buffy nods...Say... "Didn't I leave you trapped powerless in Hell?"

Qusai and Odai very kindly lent me some additional power from their plutonium stockpile...she beams...Just a one time trip...In the interests of peace...

Why is she dressed like Ophelia in "Hamlet"? Willow hisses to Giles...

Hmmn...Metaphoric insanity, perhaps...he notes...

Thanks to your teachings and example, Buffy...she smiles...

"Buf...?" William pulls her chair over as they and the coalition forces move for the room housing the Doomsday device... "What...teachings?..."

She shrugs...God knows...But she might be able to get into that room and keep that maniac Joseph busy...

"I would be happy to talk to Joseph for the cause of peace..." the First nods at her twin's request and beams, vanishing...

"A strange personality, the First..." Andrew solemnly notes to Dawn... "Easily manipulated by the first strong individual it meets, actually..."

Good, honey...Lets you keep away from it from now on, though, right? she firmly eyes him...

Yes, Dawn...he nods...

Countdown now at one minute...

Impenetrable, Qusai notes...To Colonel Braddock's query at the door to the Doomsday room...Without the proper codes...

Which I will now give you...he hastily pulls out the code book as Braddock shoves a pistol in his face...

"Best to hurry this, colonel..." William suggests...Buffy beside him looking for anything that might force the door...

Maybe a good ole-fashioned Slayer...She kicks at the door...Drawing surprised looks from Willow, William, and Xander...

The code lights on the light go out just as Braddock has finished entering Qusai's codes...

"It does that..." Qusai notes...

"I think the locking system is shorted out..." Riley sighs...

Oops...Buffy looks sheepishly at the gang, putting her foot back down...But hey?...

"I moved my foot...!...William, look, my feet are working...Some..."



"Wonderful, dear..." he smiles...Well, at least we may now be able to walk into Paradise together...

"Willow?..." Sam turns to her... "Can you magics the door...?"

Protected against magics...she shook her head...Sorry...

"Then what the hell is all the mumbo-jumbo good for?..." Samantha grouses...

Ah-hah!...Willow eyes Kennedy...Knew she was thinking that...All the time...

Twenty...Nineteen...Odai chants...

"Shut up, idiot!..We know..." Qusai whacks him...

Say...Where's Dad?...Odai asks...Ah...There he is...He moves over to zombie Hussein near a hallway door...Qusai follows...

At moments like these...It's nice to have one's family about, Odai notes...

"Shut up...And follow me...Just in case the Slayer manages to shut down the Doomsday device..." Qusai hisses...

"Don't you start a countdown, Andrew..." Dawn eyes him...

No...Dawn...

"Remember...Be nice to my Mom when we get to Heaven...She'll smooth things with Buffy and Will..."

Yes...Dawn...

Buffy hops up carefully from the chair...Trying the door while holding on to William who also gives a last try...No good, she sighs but realizes...As she grabs her fiancee for dear life...

"William!...Guys!...I can walk!..."

***

Inside the Doomsday device room, the First sighs as Joseph refuses to see the benefits of the Way of Buffy...

Ha!...Ha!...A triumph for Evil at last...Joseph beams as the clock ticks to zero...A loud rumble...

One more chorus...he begins...Awaiting vaporization... "We'll meet again..."

Hmmn...Nothing else happening...And that rumble sounded...Taped...

A rather clunky panel opens on the machine console...Revealing an old style cathode ray TV monitor which lights up to reveal the stern face of Nikita Khrushchev...

"Attention!...In the interests of demonstrating the peace-loving intentions of the peoples of the Soviet Union, this device, designed to protect the interests of the Soviet State and its allies, has been prevented from functioning...! But look upon this three-minute film of the horrors of thermonuclear war and know!...That next time the Soviet State will not offer a mere... "demonst..."..." Joseph smashes the screen in fury...

Damn that Nikita...! That miserable little peacenik...!

First he blackens my rep...Then he caves to Kennedy...Now this!...he shrieks in fury...Then puts his head down on the console, sobbing...

The First tries consolation...Oh...Joseph...There, there...



"You really must try to find a new Way...Why don't you come back to Hell with me and we'll talk it out..."

Lots of your old Bolshevik friends have embraced the Way of Buffy...she notes...Even Lenin...

"They wouldn't want to see me again...I had them all tortured and shot..."

Well...she sighs...That is true...And some do still hold grudges...But...Hey...That was then...This is now...And Time heals all quarrels...

Come on...What's the worst that could happen...?

"They could torment me in Hell for all Eternity...That's what you threatened they'd do when you offered me demonic authority and the Wolfram-Hart partnership..."

Well...I was kinda nasty then...she smiles...They couldn't torment you for more than the time you tormented them...It's the rules...

Lenin's giving a symposium tonight...she eyes him...You're invited...

Really...?

"Of course...Then they get you in a room alone for ten years of agony..."

Not so bad...he reflects...If the guys are willing to settle for just an eye for an eye...Literally...

I do have all Eternity...Hmmn...

"My wife wouldn't...Possibly...?"

Hmmn...Sorry...Heaven for the innocent...the First shakes her head... "And she's gonna bear a grudge a long, long time..."

***

Where are the Husseins?...Buffy looks around as the team forces the door...It now clear the device is not about to go off...Ever...

"They must've slipped off in the confusion..." Riley notes...

Don't worry...They won't get far...

***

Heh, heh...Qusai notes to Odai as they slip carefully along a side passage...

All is sorting out rather well...No Doomsday and in just a minute, though that door...The secret passage to a hidden boat dock...

Cool...Odai nods...

Too bad...zombie Dad needs a feed...And that I don't intend to allow more than one in the boat...Qusai thinks...

They activate the door...It slides open and they enter...

"Who the hell are you guys...?" Qusai looks at the room of Saddam doubles...

Whoa...Odai stares...Still, they don't all really look that much like Dad...Look at that fat guy with the blue eyes...

"They are my Special Corps of body doubles, you idiot...!" The blue-eyed man rises, stepping forward...Removing colored contacts and a false chin...



Dad...? the boys stare...

"Qusai!...Odai!...You...Fools!..."

"Dad?!...You're alive?!..." Qusai blinks at the real Saddam...

"Of course, fool!...Allah!...And I thought you were the sensible one...!..."

Right, go ahead and act like I'm not even here...You always did...Odai sulks...

"But...Even Joseph thought..." Qusai stares... "He spoke to your spirit in Hell..."

My spirit double, you mean...Saddam grins...The doubles likewise grinning...

"Of course...I've been running the country via one of my doubles since Hell sent Joseph to persuade me to launch that nonsensical invasion of Iran...I knew this day was coming...And had no intention of ending up like some cheap imitation of Adolf Hitler..."

Moderation, Qusai...Saddam shakes his head...As do the body doubles...Always trying to perfect themselves...

"What did I always tell you...We're not the A-team of Evil...Iraq is just a nice, small...Slightly plunderable country...I'm just a third-level dictator...We don't try to conquer the world...Or destroy it..."

And, when the time comes...We do not fight to the bitter end...We slip out, like Idi Amin did, retire, and enjoy the good life...As I've been planning to for the past 15 years...Waiting my chance...

"If only Bush, Sr. had pushed onto Baghdad back in '91..." he sighs... "I woulda been on the Rivera ten years by now...A nice little chateau..."

But...A strong man dictator can't leggo the throne all that easily...So I've had to sit and wait...Keeping my secret even from the minions of Hell...

But it's a dream I still plan to live out...he glares at his boys...And will, now...

"As John C. Krueger, Jr...Retired insurance executive...Formerly of Hoboken, New Jersey..."

Call me, Jack, boys...Saddam gives a wide all-American retired businessman's smile...

Hoboken...? Odai blinks...

"Though...I may be lying...That's why my doubles are escaping as well..."

"They shall go to live similar false lives in various lands...Just in case somebody..." he glares at the boys... "Rats on me to the Yanks..."

No one will ever know which life I have actually chosen to lead...

"But...What about us...Meaning me...?...Can we...Meaning I...come too...?" Qusai looks at good ole Dad...Dear Papa...

"I think not...Sorry boys...No room in the boat..." Saddam sneers...

Especially for sons who betray me...Even one of my doubles...

Yeah...The doubles glare as a group at the boys...Especially one of his doubles...

All pull guns...Saddam smiles...Opening the outer secret passage to the hidden boat mooring...



"A last word of advice, my sons...Two, actually..."

Unconditional Surrender...The words you two should now live by...

"I look forward to reading about your fates in "Time"...!" he waves a goodbye...

Dad?...The boys look after him...As the passageway door closes...

And zombie "Hussein" indicates it's feeding time...Forcefully...

"Him...You want him..." Qusai waves at Odai...

Me?...

"But Qusai...Everyone knows...You're the...Brains of the family..." Odai notes...

Hmmn...the zombie eyes Qusai...Brains?...Yeah...

No...No!!! Arrgggghh...

Eehew...Odai eyes the remains...

"Odai Hussein...?" A small man enters the room...In dark suit...

Yeah...? Who...

"Your CIA contact...Wirms...Please come with me...Some people are waiting to debrief you..."

Odai hesistates...Ummn...

"Some are women, Mr. Hussein..." Wirms nods...

Oh...

Neat...

***

"Well done, people..!" On finding the last zombie Hussein and the human remains it was dining on, presumably one or both of the Hussein boys...Colonel Braddock pronounces the mission...A success...

"Andy..." Dawn beams...Perhaps eager to exaggerate her feller's accomplishment... "Ya saved my life...!"

She eyes Buffy...Who glares...

Aw, c'mon sis...her look pleads...

Arghh...

"Buffy..." William looks at her...Hell, girl...This one is breathing...And human...

"Nice...Job...Andrew..." Buffy reluctantly grouses... "Thanks..."

A content Dawn, knowing when not to press her luck, happily pulls her, nearly shocked as Buffy, Andy away...

Buffy gives Will a hard stare...



"Buf...She's just a kid...Plenty of time..."

She rolls her eyes...God, Walthrop...You of all people oughta know...When a Summers selects a mate, the potential for lifetime use is always there...If the guy has any staying power at all...

And Andrew clearly is the type to hang...

Damn...Why couldn't you have saved her...? Buffy hisses to Xander...

Cause I'd've preferred he didn't...Unless absolutely necessary...Anya firmly hisses back...

***

London...Buckingham Palace...

"And..." the Queen pauses...Eyeing the kneeling William carefully...As she raises her ceremonial sword...

Buffy beaming from the side...Now on crutches, soon to be footloose and fancy-free...Until the wedding, of course...Eyeing her own medal and commission happily...That's my lil' blonde human-souled hero boy there...

"For meritorious service in the recent conflict in Iraq, involving the rescue of large numbers of our gallant Allies...I dub thee..."

"No!...Stop!!!..." A cry from the rear...

"Angel!?..." Dawn, Buffy, Xander, Giles all turn...

A harassed-looking Wesley following after him...Sorry folks, couldn't hold him...his expression saying...

"I'm the hero!...Me...Angel of LA...!...Buffy?...Are you outta your mind?!...Whatdaya think you doing?!..."

"Boss...Please..." Wes hisses...Angel waving him off...

Buffy excuses herself and goes over, quickly giving Will an "I'll deal, honey..." look...

The Queen leans over to a guard...Who is that bloody stupid fellow with the pointy hair...?

"Angel...It's over...Give it up..." Buffy hisses to him...

Darla's waiting for you in Heaven, I'm sure...Now go home and stop bothering us...

"But Buffy...I'm your true..."

"Look pal...You were the one who never showed when I needed you until the Apocalypse was gonna blast "your" city off the face of the Earth too...Who told me we were "taking different paths"...And who didn't even have the slightest intention of sticking round after we beat the First..." she glares...

"What we had was nice...But you woulda found a way to stay if you really had cared all that much...Like Will did..." she beams over at her feller...

Besides...I just found out during the course of my recovery that I was Will's lover back in 1880 as well...she notes...

Lover...And secret wife...she grins...

He stares...What?...

Memory flashes...Looks like I musta been reincarnated to save him...she smiles back at the waiting, still kneeling Will...



"I'm sorry I didn't realize you were the wrong human-souled vamp when I first met ya...But these reincarnation things are never easy..."

So...I'm sorry...But you have Connor...And Darla's your true...So...Sit down and enjoy the ceremony and we'll tell everyone you're my cousin who likes to play dumb practical jokes...

"No!...No!..." he glares...Grabbing her...

"I'll won't let it end like this...Not with him getting..."

My knighthood...

She glares back...Jerk to the end...Couldn't even pretend it was me he cared about...

"O...K..." she mutters...

"Oh...My...Angelus...!..." she puts a "horrified" hand to her face...

"You're finally back...? To kill us all and destroy the world, you say...?!"

Buffy?...Angel stares as she whips up Mr. Pointy...

"Well, then...Here's the deal..." she stakes him...

And resumes her spot as everyone looks at each other...

Evil Vampire...And jealous ex-...she explains...

Oh...

Hey...Lots of surviving Watchers...Including the Queen herself...In the crowd...

So...I'm the new Head of Angel Investigations, eh?...Wes thinks...Rather happily...

"Well done...Hear, hear..." a few quiet words of praise from the crowd...

She gives Will a beam and wink...Problem...Solved...

"Buffy?..." Dawn stares at her...As Andrew asks her who this "Angel" was...

"Eh...He'll be much happier with Darla up there..." Buffy shakes her head...

And it coulda been Angelus...

***

The Texas ranch of the current US President...Where a victory reception is in progress...

"And this..." President Bush beams...To a startled Colin Powell...Eyeing the loathsome thing about to be presented to him...

"Is my future son-in-law...Who's givin' us so much help over there in...That a-rab country, you know, Colin..."

Iraq, sir...Powell sighs...Staring at a smiling Odai Hussein...

"We've met..." Powell nods curtly... "Hello, Odai..." You filthy little murderer...he thinks...

"Colin, hey..." Odai nods back...



"Our Odai here is a real fighter for dummoxcracy and human rights..." Bush solemnly notes... "Been workin' on our side in secret all the time...Got those northern oilfields all sewed up for us...er for them... (Iraqi?...Powell suggests...Right, Bush nods) Araqi people..."

"He's my kinda boy..." Bush fondly puts an arm round Odai...Who beams happily... "Gonna marry my little..."

Say...Which of the twins you marrying, kid?...he asks...

Either...Both...Odai grins...

"That's the Texas way!..." Bush slaps him on the back...

***



"John ("Jack")C. Krueger"...and friends...

Play theme

...and one more time...

Boy, that way Buf's spike Slayed...

The many ways that Faith got laid...

Guys in Sunnydale had it made...

Those were the days...

You didn't know who was who then...

Demons turning into girls and men...

Mister, we use a man like Richard Wilkens again...

Didn't need that Broodo long...

Buf's gang could even work in song...

Gee the Spikemobile sure ran strong...

Those were the days...

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