Aurora's Villa – Minutes later
"I already know a lot of what you're about to tell me," Aurora said, holding up a hand to forestall Jocasta's explanation. "A rogue element in the Council has created something dangerous, and you and Giles are going to try to destroy it before it can get loose and threaten innocent lives. Correct?"
"That's... how do you know all that... I mean, if Mr. Giles hadn't called...?" Jocasta asked as Katherine looked around the living room of Aurora's villa, which was populated with all manner of exotic artifacts and artworks.
"I keep in touch," Aurora shrugged. "I value my privacy, but not my ignorance. Have a seat?"
"Thank you," Jocasta said, seating herself on one of the couches, with Katherine next to her. Aurora glanced out the window, then sat on her other side.
"Tell me about the people who caused this," Aurora said quietly. "How much influence do they have?"
"Their leader, so far as we know, is Horatio Tyrell," Jocasta began.
"Ah," Aurora nodded, "not a surprise."
"You know him?" Katherine asked.
"I know of him," Aurora said, glancing at her sidelong, "enough to know he's never had any interests at heart but his own." She grinned mirthlessly. "I hate to generalize, but it does run in the family more than a little."
"We've got him in custody," Jocasta went on. "There're still several factions loyal to him, but according to the message Giles sent us this morning, they're not trying to intervene at the moment. He thinks they've realized their project is out of control, and now they're going to lie low and hope someone else deals with it."
"And that someone is you," Aurora said.
"Well... yeah," Jocasta admitted, "me, Katie, Giles, whatever friends and allies we can pull together between us."
"Not quite what you imagined when you joined the Council?" Aurora asked gently. Jocasta opened her mouth to speak, then paused and looked thoughtful. She took off the badge on her coat and held it between her fingers, turning it over and examining it.
"I knew back then that it wasn't the most idealistic organization," she said, "but... when I actually manage to get something done, something that'll help people, that'll let them live a normal life, despite all the demons and chaos going on... most days, I think it's worth it."
"What about today?" Aurora prompted.
"Today..." she fixed the badge back on her coat. "Today I'm a Watcher, and there's evil to fight. I can worry about the rest later." She glanced at Katherine, who took her hand comfortingly, then at Aurora, who was regarding her with a wistful grin.
"So then," she said. "Tell me about the evil we're fighting."
Aurora's Villa – Sometime later
"Let me get this straight," Aurora said after Jocasta had explained the situation. "The High Command – who is supposed to be protecting this world from this sort of thing, has built an army of vampires, enhanced them with technology based on a rogue hybrid that tried to wipe out the human race, and now they've lost control of them?"
Jocasta looked embarrassed. "Yeah, well," she said, "you don't know Tyrell."
"I'm getting an idea," Aurora said darkly. "And you want to go up against this army with... what? A handful of Slayers and whatever equipment Giles can scrounge up, and do a spell in the middle of a war zone to turn me into a super-Slayer to take out the big bad?"
"That's pretty much the only plan we've got," Jocasta admitted. "That, or drop a color bomb on them... that's not really a viable option."
"No kidding," Aurora said.
"Miss Summers," Jocasta said earnestly, "according to Willow Rosenberg's records, you're a direct descendant of Buffy Summers, who was the focus for this spell when the Adam prototype was defeated."
"That's... yes," Aurora said warily.
"That spell was amazingly powerful," Jocasta went on. "It left an imprint on all the Summers who are women."
"Then why me?" she asked. "Why not another?"
Jocasta and Katherine exchanged a nervous glance. "Unfortunately, you are the only Summers woman alive in the line at this point. Until a daughter is born in the family..."
"I'm your only source," she finished.
Jocasta gave a nod and continued. "With the Slayer line split across all the potentials, the only way for us to recreate that spell is to activate that imprint. Even for accomplished spell-casters, casting the spell from scratch would be impossible. For us..." she made a distressed face, "I won't lie to you, there's a chance we won't even be able to do it this way. But for humanity we have to try. We can't do this without you." Aurora raised an eyebrow and studied Jocasta intently.
"Magic often runs in the blood," she observed. "Rosenberg and Rupert Giles were, each in their own way, the strongest spell-casters of their time. Maybe of any time."
"It doesn't run in my blood," Katherine observed quietly. Aurora gave her a searching look.
"Sometimes, though," she said with an enigmatic smile, "it comes straight from the soul and you my dear, you have a very old soul." Her expression turned serious again. "I don't doubt you've got the power. But it doesn't matter what I think. Do you two believe you can do this?"
Jocasta glanced at Katherine, then back at Aurora and nodded.
"Yes," Katherine said quietly.
"All right," Aurora said, "I'll get ready." She stood, and Jocasta and Katherine followed.
"Um, have you ever fought a demon before?" Katherine asked. "We'll keep you safe, of course, but just in case –"
She broke off as Aurora drew a slender katana sword from a scabbard resting on the mantelpiece and swung it in a series of arcs as if she had been born to it.
"Once or twice over the years," she said. "There's a communications terminal in the sunroom. Tell Giles I'll be ready as soon as he arrives."
Aurora's Villa – Sunroom – Afternoon
Katherine whispered conspiratorially, "Okay, sweet girl. But slightly quirky."
Jocasta gave Katherine a slight grin that disappeared almost as quickly as it came.
"Are you all right?" Katherine asked Jocasta. Since sending a brief message to Giles she had remained silent, staring off into space. She drew herself out of her private reverie and focused on Katherine.
"I'm afraid," she said in a small voice.
"We'll be all right," Katherine said reassuringly. "Aurora seems very capable, unnerving like I said, but capable... don't ask me how I know, it's just a feeling. She'll do fine."
"It's not that," Jocasta said, "it's... I'm starting to understand what's going on, and it frightens me. Chances are you won't think Aurora is the only crazy one."
"I said quirky, not crazy," Katherine corrected. When Jocasta didn't say anything further Katherine gently asked, "What is going on Jo?" Jocasta looked reluctant to say anything but Katherine coaxed her along. "It's okay," she said softly.
Jocasta's words then came out in a rush.
"M-my dreams, it's you. And I can't explain it but I can feel it. I felt it the moment you walked into my office but there aren't any words to describe it, a-and now we're about to go into battle, and you, what if – if it all goes wrong, I can't Katie, I... I know, I –"
"Slowly," Katherine said. Jocasta sighed and tried again.
"When I dream, I feel like... like I'm broken and I can't ever be put back together, like I'm always going to hurt. For the longest time I thought it was sympathy – a sorrow for what Willow lost – but more and more lately..." She put her hands on Katherine's arms, as if she wanted to hug her, but couldn't. "I'm realizing it's not sympathy, it's empathy. I understand how it feels because... "
"It was you," Katherine finished when Jocasta trailed off.
The Watcher nodded. "So I don't think Aurora's quirky. I think she has an insight that many people pretend to have but few possess. But who knows, maybe the sleep deprivation is finally claiming my sanity," Jocasta sighed. "It just feels like... I – I just found you, Katie and I know what it would feel like to lose you because... I've lost you before," she whispered, blinking to chase the tears from her eyes, "a-and it, it frightens me, so much –"
She pulled back from Katherine and turned around, looking out through the window onto the bay. Katherine stood behind her, searching for words as Jocasta's shoulders rose and fell as she fought back the tears.
"I'm afraid too," she admitted quietly. "And I think you're right... to a point."
"Wh-what?" Jocasta asked, looking back as Katherine dropped her gaze to the floor.
"When I'm with you," Katherine said, "what I feel, it... it frightens me... but you never truly lost me. I think Aurora is right – I do have an old soul. This might not be the first time for us but I don't think it's the last either." Jocasta spun around, putting a hand to Katherine's cheek, gently guiding her gaze up to meet hers. Her mouth formed a soundless question.
"Because I want to be with you," Katherine went on, "I, I want my life – any life." She gulped and took a breath to steady herself, fixing Jocasta with an intense stare. "I want to put you in a place in my heart, where it'd hurt so much if I ever lost you... it's not something the Council trains its Slayers to deal with," she smirked.
"Y-you want to..." Jocasta said, then faltered.
"It frightens me too," Katherine went on, "but I, I want to... if you...?" She paused, looking nervously at Jocasta, and let out a sigh of relief as the Watcher nodded once, slowly. "I've never been afraid like this," Katherine said with a smile, "but I... well," she shrugged, "that is something they train Slayers for, to conquer fear, not to let it rule you. I-if I let it, I'd regret it all my life."
"Can you –" Jocasta said hesitantly, "can... you show me how?"
"I-I think so," Katherine whispered, cupping Jocasta's face in her palms, "I want to... if you want me to?" Jocasta stared helplessly into her eyes, then nodded.
"I do," she murmured, and then she opened her lips as Katherine kissed her, gently, slowly. Her arms went around the Slayer's body, her hands pressing lightly against her back, then firmly, holding her close.
Aurora's Villa – Bedroom – Moments later
In her bedroom, Aurora deftly sealed the back of her Council combat suit and fixed the sword belt around her hips. Her eyes passed over the wall beside her mirror, over the dozens of framed photographs, smiling faces staring back at her. She reached out to touch the frame of one depicting two girls on a beach, the redhead grinning excitedly at the barbeque fire she had lit, the blonde smiling lovingly up at her.
Aurora's Villa – Sunroom – Moments later
In the sunroom, with the door solidly latched, sunlight lanced through the window onto two forms pressed together, clothes scattered heedlessly around them, writhing, kissing, exploring. Jocasta let out a shuddering sigh as Katherine released her lips, then rolled over on top of her. Her lips formed into a sultry grin, and her hands led the way as she worked her way down.
Aurora's Villa – Bedroom – Same time
"She found you, Tare," Aurora said quietly, "just like she said."
Aurora's Villa – Sunroom – Same time
"Oh goddess," Katherine moaned. A muffled sound of appreciation reached her ears as she let her head fall back, staring up through the sunlight.
"Jo," she sighed happily.
Aurora's Villa – Balcony – Afternoon
The three women stood on the villa's balcony, watching a tiny speck in the sky grow larger. Jocasta and Katherine stood close together, meeting each other's eyes from time to time with little, private smiles. Aurora pretended not to notice, and kept her sly smirk to herself.
"Have I ever mentioned I'm nervous about flying?" Jocasta asked Katherine in a low voice, as the drone of turbojets reached their ears. Aurora glanced at them fondly, glancing down at where their hands touched on the balcony rail, then fixed her eyes back on the horizon, growing somber again. Jocasta walked down to the lawn as the craft neared, now recognizable as a Council assault transport. It hovered just above the ground, engines blasting up a storm of air beneath it, and a hatch opened. The craft's pilot jumped to the ground and approached.
"Oh goddess," Jocasta shouted, smiling despite her anxiety, "not you!"
"Good to see you too, Cuz!" Antonia Allister shouted back. "Is that her?"
"That's her," Jocasta replied, not having to shout quite so much now that Antonia was beside her. She waved to Katherine and Aurora, and they both came down the stairs from the balcony and headed for the transport.
"Promise me you'll fly like a sane person," Jocasta pleaded.
"What are you saying? You want to take all the fun out of it?" Antonia replied with a deadpan expression. Jocasta looked at her with an anxious frown, and wasn't at all reassured by her sudden grin. She climbed back aboard the hovering transport as Giles disembarked and made his way over to Jocasta.
"We've located the research facility," he said tersely, "assuming the data we retrieved is accurate. And Willow helped break open the High Command database, but I'm afraid with Tyrell out of the picture the Council is in something of a state of disarray. It may be some time before we can count on support from the other offices, assuming whoever decides they're in charge at the moment doesn't decide to have us all arrested for treason or some such thing. At any rate it'll take at least a day just to regroup and reassign the local strike units, and Willow calculated we may not have that much time, so we'll have to go in with what we've got."
"What have we got?" Jocasta asked. Katherine helped Aurora up into the craft, then came to stand by Jocasta's side.
"Four transports," Giles said, "two more plus support craft joining us before we reach the facility. Half a dozen Watchers and their Slayers, plus all the Slayers I could round up from the headquarters in Cleveland and on our way here. Forty or so, all up."
"Livia Hansen," Giles said. Katherine looked impressed.
"Well that's a blessing," Jocasta said with a wry smile.
"Yes, vast quantities of destruction do seem called for," Giles agreed. "I've done the best I can with the preparations for the spell. Is Aurora ready?"
"I've told her as much as I know," Jocasta said, "but... I don't like it, Giles, we're asking a civilian to go into a war zone, and we can't sustain the spell that long. What if –"
"She'll have the Slayers taking care of her," Giles said reassuringly, "and if the spell works as planned, she won't need them once it's cast. If it doesn't work... well, we'll have to cast it from somewhere inside the facility, to be close enough, so it's not as if we're shirking the danger ourselves."
"Way to find the silver lining," Jocasta said with a sigh.
"Where is the facility?" Katherine asked.
"Willow traced the remains of the vampire you brought in," Giles said. "They were loaded onto a transport for L.A., then diverted before it arrived. Satellite tracking lost contact somewhere in the Sunnydale dead zone."
"Sunnydale," Jocasta complained, "of course it's in Sunnydale. You'd think flattening the place would stop it being such a draw card for every demon and lunatic in the western hemisphere."
"Well, if you think about it, it is the perfect site for a covert facility," Giles mused. "After the collapse of the Hellmouth, and the series of earthquakes, no one's set foot there in decades. Civilians aren't even allowed within fifty miles of it."
"Yeah," Jocasta said, "but it's Sunnydale, Giles, you could put a nursery in Sunnydale and six months later you'd have killer demon babies swarming all over the place... I guess it's up to us to clean up the mess."
Giles gave her a reassuring clap on the shoulder, and Katherine discreetly took her hand.
Transport – Troop Bay – Afternoon
Jocasta held on to a safety rail and tried to look comfortable as the transport thundered through the air. Giles came back from the cockpit hatchway and stood beside her, looking equally green around the gills. Katherine shot Jocasta a sympathetic look, though she herself seemed completely unaffected by the lurching of the craft.
"We've got five other transports in formation," Giles said, "and a group of three gunships on each flank."
"Will that be enough?" Jocasta wondered.
"It had better be," Giles said ruefully. "Willow managed to access a partial schematic of the research facility, once we connected her back to the Council network, and it didn't look too promising. Ablative armor, interceptor cannons, not to mention the best fabrication facilities that fool Tyrell could equip them with. If these creatures have any idea we're coming, they're probably manufacturing new defensive hardware at a frightening rate. Given a few days, it could be turned into a fortress."
"Just as well Toni's flying with her usual disregard for safe speed," Jocasta grumbled, "at least we'll get there before they've had enough time to build an armored battalion or something."
"Well, yes, there is that bright side to this infernal vehicle," Giles agreed as the transport lurched through another patch of turbulent air.
"Okay girls, listen up!" The Slayers jumped to attention as their field commander, Livia, emerged from the equipment bay, with Aurora in tow.
"We've got a partial schematic of the vamp's nest," Livia said, "it's downloading into your comp links now, so make sure you're familiar with every corridor we know about before we hit the ground. You've all probably been hearing things about cyber-vamps with hardware. This is the deal: sunlight won't work, so we leave the UV bombs at home. We've had stunners work on these vamps when they've been working at less than a hundred percent, but we don't know how to spot the damaged goods from the spotless ones, so don't rely on that. They're armored, so no hand stakes. Decapitation's the trick. I want swords and axes with everyone, and make sure they're fully charged. Fifty thousand volts might not dust these guys, but it won't do them any good either, particularly delivered through a gaping neck wound. Martina, Joanna, you'll be carrying carbon flechette cannons, our Watchers are pretty sure they'll be able to punch through the chest armor these things have. Celia, Bri, you've got the reapers. Make sure you've got swords as well, though – this could come down to hand-to-hand. Everyone, pack all the secondary equipment you've got. Mira, you've got the Seraphim suit prototype."
"Kick ass," Mira grinned to herself.
"Flame 'em 'til they're crispy," Livia said with a feral smile. "Last thing: this is Aurora. You've got briefings on the spell that's going to be done in your comps now, and you're all going to read and memorize them, but I'll tell you now – no vamp lays a hand on her. So tell me girls, how's this mission goin' down?!"
The Slayers gave a rousing cheer in unison and shouted, "Five by Five!"
Livia smiled and waved them off to their preparations. She and Aurora moved over to where Giles, Katherine and Jocasta were watching.
"All set boss," Livia said to Giles. "What about you, Blondie?" she asked Katherine. "Ready to show 'em what a bitchin' witch can do?"
"I-I'll do my best," Katherine said.
"You do that," Livia said, " and don't worry... I never bought that 'magic is evil' crap. Slaying isn't just about hitting things. Well, it is for me," she grinned, "but everyone fights in their own way. Good luck. Oh, hey, Red," she added, turning to Jocasta, "I don't suppose when we get back you could put a little pressure on Harris at the R&D division to get me the next Seraphim suit that rolls off the line? I'm getting serious envy watching Mira play with that thing."
Jocasta gave a little laugh, breaking the tension. "Sure," she said, "because you really need the firepower of a tank to do some damage."
"Hey, I do what I'm good at," Livia shot back, with a mock-hurt expression. "Take care, I'll see you all when the dust has settled."
Antonia appeared in the door to the cockpit and spoke to Mira for a moment.
"Thirty minutes to target!" Mira called to the other Slayers. "We're coming in hot!"
"Game on," Livia said to herself.
"We should perhaps go strap ourselves in," Giles said earnestly. He, Jocasta and Katherine headed for the equipment bay, while the Slayers prepared to deploy. Livia shot a glance after them, then put a hand on Aurora's shoulder reassuringly.
"You up for it?" she asked.
"Five by five," Aurora said with a grin turning up the edges of her mouth.
Livia smiled. "Team player. I like that."
Transport – Cockpit – Later
In the center of the blasted wasteland that had once been Sunnydale, a mammoth block of steel and concrete loomed. Antonia fixed it in the targeting computer, noting with some dismay the profusion of interceptor cannons and missile turrets dotting its roof.
"All wings, come in low," she said calmly into her microphone, "don't go above the target's ceiling level unless you have to. Let's light 'em up."
The six transports closed their formation, thundering along barely fifty feet from the ground, straight at the armored base. On either side of them, their flanking gunships dipped down to match their altitude, gunners checking their sights. Antonia watched the range indicator on her display, quietly counting down the distance as they neared.
"Three hundred... two... one..." she whispered, before calling: "Break and attack!"
At the same moment the cannons and missiles on the base fired, and the Council formation flew apart. The faster gunships were already returning fire, their railguns blazing trails of supersonic titanium at the defenses of their target. Behind them the transports veered back on course, dodging cannon-fire and missiles as best they could now that the first, most deadly volley had come and gone. Antonia charged a missile battery head-on, flipping the transport upside-down for a moment and dropped a trail of decoys as the base fired at her. The missiles streaked beneath her transport, and she flipped it back over, gunning the engines against the fierce bucking of her own missiles roaring out of their batteries.
Transport – Equipment Bay – Moments later
In the equipment bay, securely strapped into high-g flight seats, Jocasta and Giles both swallowed and looked ill, while even Katherine was looking less than jovial about the jarring maneuvers.
"Is that really necessary?" Jocasta yelled, as the transport rolled over again.
Transport – Troop Bay – Moments later
In the transport bay Livia hung on to the safety rails like grim death, staying on her feet in defiance of the extreme lurches of the craft's flight path. Her eyes were fixed on the monitors before her, showing views transmitted from the gun cameras of the various transports. The base was taking heavy damage, missiles and railguns tearing holes in its armor, fires already blazing from several breaches.
"Rise and shine, demon boys," she whispered to herself, "let's get it on."
Transport – Cockpit – Moments later
"Gunships two and five, give me an arrowhead and cover for a launch," Antonia ordered. Two of the heavily armed craft fell in off her wingtips as she steered the transport in a wide arc, barely noticing the missiles streaking behind her, detonating on the last of her decoys. She righted the transport, aimed its nose for the center of the base's fortified blast doors, and jammed the engines to full power.
"Fox three!" she called out, thumbing the release switch for the transport's smart missiles. The bulky, lumbering warheads roared away, as the gunships blazed away at the base's interceptor turrets, silencing each one that turned its fire on the incoming missiles.
"Give the girl a cigar," Antonia said off-handedly as the base's blast doors shattered in a titanic explosion, throwing fire and debris hundreds of meters into the air.
Transport – Troop Bay – Moments later
Livia looked up as a red light began to strobe on the transport bay's ceiling.
"Look sharp," she shouted with a grin, "time for a whoopin'!" The other Slayers gripped their swords, and Livia watched with amusement, and some envy, as Mira, now heavily armored, lit the ignition jets on her flamers.
Transport – Equipment Bay – Moments later
Giles grimaced as the transport slammed heavily into the ground.
"Now I remember why I accepted the promotion and avoided flight school," he grumbled, as he, Jocasta and Katherine unstrapped themselves, each picking up a case of spell components. Katherine handed swords to both her companions, Jocasta accepting hers with a grateful smile, Giles looking at the weapon in his hand as if it were going to bite him.
"Let's hope we don't have to use them," Jocasta quipped. She scrambled out of the bay's exterior hatch, ducking as a pair of gunships roared overhead. The scene outside was something from Hell – fires blazing on either side, gunfire and the blasts of missiles thundering all around them, and the entrance to the base a twisted wreck where the blast doors had been torn away. The three joined Livia's Slayers as they ran across the short space of open ground to the relative cover of the base.
"How far in do you have to be?" she shouted to Giles.
"Twenty meters should do it," he yelled back. Livia nodded and shot off a series of commands into her mike, waving Katherine and the two Watchers along behind her. The Slayers moved along quickly on either side of them, three surrounding Aurora, and with Mira steadily bringing up the rear, the hydraulics of her suit whirring. Outside the base Antonia's transport lifted back into the air, and another landed in its place, the transport bay hinging open to disgorge its load of Slayers.
Beyond the wreckage of the blast doors was a long, high-ceilinged hangar, with light aircraft parked along the sidewalls. As the Slayers made their way through the chamber a door at its far end opened, revealing a mass of vampires. Each one was partially covered in blood-red metal plating, some with guns and blades built into their arms, some with lenses in place of their eyes or hydraulic rams powering their legs. The moment the door had opened far enough, they charged.
"Cannons!" shouted Livia. Joanna and Martina aimed their bulky weapons, unleashing twin streams of armor-piercing rounds. The first two vampires staggered as they were hit, and as the rounds blasted through their armor and detonated in a hail of wooden splinters, they exploded into dust. The two Slayers swept the vampires with fire, dusting more, until the sheer mass of them pressed forward to where Livia and her Slayers were waiting.
The first were beheaded the moment they were in reach of the Slayers' swords and axes, but the others never broke stride, charging among the women, blades slashing at any target, guns blazing. The Slayers leapt and dodged, somersaulting over and under the bullets flying around them, sweeping their weapons at the vampires' necks every chance they got. Katherine stood protectively in front of Jocasta and Giles, sword drawn, but none of the vampires broke through.
"Mira!" Livia yelled. "Give me a corridor!"
"Party," Mira grinned to herself. She snapped the helmet of her suit down over her face, and rose into the air with a roar from the twin turbojets mounted on her back. Soaring forward, she aimed at the mass of vampires charging towards the melee and let loose two streams of fire from the flamers on her arms. Livia dispatched her latest challenger and ran behind the flame jets, a sword in each hand, dusting the vampires as they staggered and burned.
"Secure!" she called to Jocasta, Giles and Katherine. "Is this far enough?" Giles nodded and quickly set his case down, beginning his preparations. Katherine and Jocasta joined him as the Slayers finished off the last of the vampires and followed Livia and Mira through the far doorway, further into the base. Jocasta caught Aurora's eye as she followed, offering a reassuring smile, though the young woman seemed far more calm than Jocasta.
"Are you okay?" Katherine asked, her voice just loud enough for Jocasta to hear over the din of the battle continuing beyond the walls.
"Yeah," Jocasta replied with a quick smile, taking off her jacket. She hesitated, then spoke again. "You?" Katherine took her hand, meeting her gaze with a serene smile.
"Always," she said.
Fortress – Lower Levels – Minutes later
Two levels lower, Livia led her Slayers out onto a bridge spanning a massive chasm of steel. Turrets swiveled towards them, and Bri and Celia instantly aimed their reaper launchers and fired, blasting the automated guns with a hail of micro-missiles. The huge chamber was rocked with the sounds of explosions and infernos blazing as a firefight broke out, while Livia led the way across the bridge, meeting head-on the charge of the armored vampires swarming across it. Mira soared overhead, sending jets of flame into the mass of vampires. Further back, Aurora looked on.
Fortress – Hangar – Moments later
"Ready," Giles said.
"Ready," Katherine echoed.
"Ready," Jocasta finished. In unison, each took a handful of dust and tossed it into the flame burning between them.
"Oh goddess," Jocasta said in wonder as the energy surrounded her.
Fortress – Lower Levels – Moments later
Aurora closed her eyes for a moment, and when she looked back up they were pure white.
"I have to go," she said to the Slayers guarding her, her voice resonating strangely. Without fear or caution she walked ahead, stepping around the struggling vampires and Slayers. Each time a vampire would reach for her she held up a hand, and it froze, as if time had stopped for it. The Slayers dispatched the defenseless vampires quickly, and set after their comrades with renewed energy.
"Nice moves, kid!" Livia called, dueling two vampires that had their weapons smashed from their arms. Aurora glanced at her, tossed Livia her sword, then turned away, raising her hands and sweeping them to either side of herself. The railing in front of her buckled, twisted and split, bending out of her way without even being touched. She simply stepped off the bridge, landing on the floor of the steel chasm twenty meters below and calmly tore a hole in it with another wave of her hand.
Fortress – Hangar – Moments later
"We feel the demon's presence," Jocasta said. When she spoke, Giles's and Katherine's lips moved, silently, simultaneously echoing her words.
"It is strong," Giles noted.
"We will be stronger," Katherine finished.
Fortress – Core – Moments later
Deep beneath the raging battle, in a chamber at the heart of the base's massive array of armored networking, the ceiling split and melted. Aurora dropped down and walked through the cascade of molten steel droplets, which hovered in mid-air until she had passed. A twisted form, half machine, half flesh, turned to survey her.
"What are you?" it asked in a voice devoid of warmth.
"We are the Slayers," Aurora said simply.
"I am Eve," the creature replied. "I have memories of one of your kind."
"Do you remember being destroyed?" Aurora smirked. She aimed a punch at the creature's head, but her fist struck an invisible barrier inches from it. She gritted her teeth and pushed forward, ripples of force emanating from the point where her skin made contact with the barrier. Finally she broke off, breathing heavily.
"I have improved since that time," Eve said mildly. "I am not vulnerable to you." She closed her eyes, and a dozen glistening steel tendrils shot out of the chamber's walls, lunging toward Aurora. She stood her ground as they rebounded off her, not even leaving a scratch on her skin.
"Impressive," Eve observed. "We are at an impasse. And so we shall remain until my soldiers destroy your allies, and the magic protecting you fails."
Fortress – Lower Levels – Moments later
On the far end of the bridge, Livia struggled to repel three more vampires, slashing at their arms and legs with both her swords as she and her Slayers were slowly driven back. One of them ducked beneath her swing and aimed a burst of fire over her, knocking Mira from the air. Livia slashed at it, splitting its chest open, and glanced back to where Mira was struggling back to her feet, her chestplate cracked and a cut on her face.
"Fine!" Mira yelled over the din. Livia swallowed and turned her attention back to the fight, forcing the mass of vampires to work for every inch of ground they took from her, hoping that she could buy the crucial seconds Katherine and the Watchers needed.
Fortress – Core – Same time
"Five Slayers injured," Eve said dispassionately, "it will only be a matter of time until the first kill. Then the next will be easier, and the next, and so on."
"You're nothing more than an over-confident, cold, demonic machine that'll be put down." Aurora hammered at the creature's protective field with every shred of the power flowing through her. Eve seemed unimpressed.
"Not so cold," she said, with a faint grin, "that I will not enjoy your pain, as you watch your friends die, one by one." Aurora fell back a step, then squared her shoulders and lifted a hand, palm open.
"No," she murmured, "They won't."
"Is that so?" Eve taunted.
A look of resolve and contentment washed over Aurora's face. She began to grin slowly, methodically almost, as she began to wave one palm above the other in a circular motion.
Fortress – Hangar – Same time
"What's she doing?" Katherine yelled.
"Giles?" Jocasta asked.
"Hold the spell together!" he insisted.
Fortress – Core – Same time
A ball of blue fire formed in Aurora's hand, swelling with power, writhing and churning. Eve seemed to falter, her certainty draining away.
"What –" she began.
"My time is finally at hand," Aurora told Eve confidently. As if certain of her fate Aurora softly added to herself, "Now or never". With a mighty swing of her arm she released her energy toward Eve.
Fortress – Hangar – Same time
Giles, Jocasta and Katherine fell back as the spell flew apart. Jocasta scrambled to Katherine's side, panicked, as the ground shook beneath her.
Fortress – Lower Levels – Same time
Livia hesitated for a second as the vampires bearing down on her faltered. They began to jerk, as if losing control of their bodies, while a rumble built from beneath the chasm floor. Great tears opened up in it, spewing out flame.
"Fall back!" she yelled.
Sunnydale wasteland – Moments later
With the Slayers around them, Jocasta, Katherine and Giles ran from the hangar into the open. They flung themselves to the ground as the interior of the base filled with flame, blasts erupting from its walls as power conduits overloaded and ruptured. They scrambled away, pausing only once they had reached a safe distance, looking back at the massive structure as it burned.
"What the Hell was that?" Livia demanded at the top of her voice. "Did someone let off a nuke down there?"
"No," Giles said quietly, "it was her."
"The girl?" Livia said in disbelief. "She did that? How – where is she?" Giles dropped his gaze to the dusty ground.
"It was the only way," he said. Livia looked back at the devastated base.
"Oh damn," she breathed. She lowered her head in respect.
Sunnydale wasteland – Moments later
A short distance away, Katherine and Jocasta watched, hands joined.
"Good to see you know what's important," Aurora said from behind them. Jocasta and Katherine spun around to face her.
"Goddess!" Jocasta exclaimed. "What did you do? How did you get out..." she trailed off, seeing the rueful look in Aurora's eyes. "You didn't make it, did you?"
She shrugged, and looked up at the burning wreck in the distance. "Hey, that really nailed 'em, huh?"
"Yeah," Jocasta said with small nod. Katherine was just staring at Aurora curiously.
"I can't stay," she said before Katherine could say anything. "I just wanted to let you know you did the right thing, and if it didn't work out quite the way we thought," she gave a little smile, "I went into it with my eyes open. There are worse things a girl could do."
"I'm so sorry," Jocasta said weakly. Aurora smiled at her and put a hand on her shoulder.
"Don't be," she said, "With every ending is a new beginning. You're both living proof of that. We just live our lives, and hopefully we make it count before the next beginning takes us."
"You did," Katherine said quietly, "you saved everyone."
"Yeah, well," Aurora said dismissively, "I had a chance to do something good, it's been a long time coming, actually." She gave both women a smile, and then turned to leave.
"Are you," Jocasta began, "I mean, will we see you again?"
Aurora paused and glanced over her shoulder.
"I'm not sure when or where but you can count on it," she grinned. She walked away, and was quickly lost in the smoke billowing across the plain from the burning fortress. Katherine and Jocasta watched her go, and then turned to each other.
"How –?" Jocasta began.
"I don't know," Katherine said. "Does it matter? She's right."
"Here and now, we're alive," Jocasta smiled.
"Yes we are," Katherine agreed. "Exhausted, magically drained, and slightly singed, but alive. How do you feel?"
"I feel," Jocasta said slowly, "I feel like... like I want to make my time count. No matter what." She leaned in close to Katherine.
"I think we both should," Katherine said, leaning in herself.
"I think we will," Jocasta breathed, before finally closing the last distance between her lips and Katherine's and kissing her.
Fade to Black