Chapter 13: The Whites of Their Eyes
In the dark, Buffy heard a deep groan. "Aagh. Everybody who's not dead or unconscious, sound off," Colonel O'Neill rasped.
"I'm alive," Buffy answered. "Don't know how, but I'm alive. Yay Slayer strength," she continued wearily.
"I'm still here," Willow answered weakly.
"Me ... me too," Tara's voice wavered.
"Riley? Giles? Anya?" Buffy asked.
"Banged up but I'll live."
"I'm conscious. Miracle of miracles."
"I think my clothes are ruined."
That had to be Anya, Buffy thought with a smile. "That's why I didn't wear my prom dress, Anya."
"Carter? Daniel?" O'Neill asked.
"I'm okay, Colonel. Kinda rattled, but nothing's broken."
"Can't find my glasses, Jack, but other than that ... wait, there they are."
"Just in case any of you blokes were wondering, I'm still here."
"Oh, yay. The evil vampire gets to walk another day," Buffy groused.
"You know, Slayer, if it weren't for me then Xander and Tara would be flattened under the front entrance right now."
"Doesn't make up for trying to kill Willow and Xander year before last. Or trying to kill me in broad daylight last fall. Or selling us all out to Adam a couple of-"
"Knock it off!" O'Neill snapped, flicking on a flashlight. "Everybody's accounted for?" he asked pointedly, shining the light around the sewer pipe, catching dust motes in the beam.
"Everyone except Xander," Anya groused.
"And Teal'c," Daniel said, more kindly.
"Okay," O'Neill said, touching his throat mike. "Teal'c, this is O'Neill, are you there?
"I am ... alive," Teal'c responded over the radio. "As is Xander Harris."
"We're heading for the ... oops. So much for using the Hummer to get you guys up and out."
"Oops?" O'Neill said incredulously.
"Not 'oops' as in 'screwed up'," Xander continued quickly. "More like 'oops' as in 'didn't realize that your invincible Army truck was gonna land on its roof'."
Carter sighed as she got up, turned on her own flashlight, and started looking for exits to the surface. "We might have miscalculated the blast a bit."
"Ya think?" O'Neill asked, struggling back upright.
"The sarcophagus," Carter mused. "It must have magnified the effect."
"Carter, if you start calculating the explosive force and the compression ratios and the heatsink qualities of naquada, I am going to shoot you."
"Hammond'll court-martial you," Carter responded, not unkindly.
"Fine, then. I'll shoot myself. No court-martial, no worries about finding a new team member, and maybe I'll get some peace and quiet."
"Look, let's just get to the surface, okay?" Buffy said sharply. "This may be Sunnydale, but someone's bound to have noticed that," she said, jerking a thumb back towards the blast zone.
O'Neill thumbed his radio. "Teal'c, any chance you guys can get the Humvee upright and lower the winch rope down one of the manholes?"
"I will ... make the attempt."
"No, he won't," Xander's voice came through. "He's pretty banged up."
"I am not seriously injured."
"No, you just busted five ribs, Tank. You think I'm gonna let you bench-press a car like that?"
"Found a ladder," Buffy called. "Anyone who can't climb?"
"Uh ... Buffy?" Tara said. "Willow's ... Willow ... she's out."
Willow moaned. "The ... the shield spell. Took too much out of me," she whispered.
"Probably because you got hit by the ribbon device," Daniel said. "Want me to carry her?"
"Spike. Take Willow," Buffy commanded. "And don't hurt her."
"Spike, do this. Spike, do that. Spike, we need your help to save the world, and by the way, that's a lovely porter's hat you're wearing," Spike groused, but he picked Willow up gently and carried her to the ladder.
"So much for plausible deniability," O'Neill sighed when he looked out at Richard Wilkins Memorial Park, and beheld the hundred-foot-wide crater where Carter had sworn a statue once stood. "Nobody's gonna believe a leaky gas main did this."
"Don't be so sure," Buffy said as she paced on the charred grass. "Snyder managed to explain away a full-blown vampire attack on Parent-Teacher Night as gang activity. People don't want to believe this town's sitting on the mouth of Hell, so they'll jump at any expanation that comes by. That's not gonna be half as difficult as explaining how Larry wound up being all ... well, not dead."
"Buffy," Xander said softly.
"Where is Larry anyway?"
"Buffy ... he never made it out."
Buffy opened her mouth, took a breath, then closed it without making a sound, slowly sinking back down to the ground near where the others sat or lay down in various states of fatigue or pain.
Teal'c walked over, and if Buffy noticed a slight twitch in his face when his foot touched the ground, she didn't mention it. "The Goa'uld left him with the hardest of choices," he explained. "Had I faced the same circumstance ... I would have made the same choice. As would O'Neill."
"Teal'c, it's not the same thing," O'Neill said.
"If you were offered one chance to end the threat of the Goa'uld forever, and told that you could protect your world until the end of time, but you would have to sacrifice your life to do so, otherwise the Tau'ri would be doomed, would you refuse?"
O'Neill got to his feet, leaning on a tree at the edge of the woods by the park. "Okay, when you put it that way, I suppose-"
He never finished the sentence.
Instead, he yelled in pain, arching his back, grabbing at the figure that had crept up behind him, sinking fangs into his neck.
Buffy leapt to her feet, grabbing her bow and the last arrow from her quiver, drawing it back, praying that the time she'd spent with Giles practicing would hold true.
Next to her, Carter rolled upright and pulled her hand from her fatigues' thigh pocket, clad in a gauntlet like the ones Xander and Tara had worn - like the device Kheper had worn on his hand ... was wearing on the hand that gripped O'Neill while his fangs drove into the Colonel's neck.
Buffy whispered a prayer and let her arrow loose, watching it whistle past O'Neill's neck and tear right through the enemy's jaw, causing him to gasp in pain and let up the bite.
O'Neill dropped like a stone, rolling away, and even as Kheper brought up his gauntlet, Carter threw her hand forward - and the air rippled and threw Kheper back, smashing him into a tree. He staggered and collapsed, and Carter ran up to him, spread her hand again, and with a loud crunch, he was driven into the ground like a cannonball had been dropped on him.
Carter looked at the tableau, slowly slipped the glove off her hand, and turned to look at the Colonel-
-when Kheper's eyes flashed red again, his hand snapped up, and Buffy felt the air slam into her like a sledgehammer, knocking her on her back ... and she'd just been at the edge of the effect. Carter, taking the full brunt of the blast, was thrown back, spinning, airborne, and when she hit the ground she didn't move.
Buffy struggled to get up, but she'd barely reached her knees when Kheper was standing before her, gloved hand spread out in front of her, and it was like he was drilling into her head for oil, boring through her brain, crushing her, leaving her uncertain whether her skull was about to implode or her brains were about to explode.
"I will succeed," Kheper snarled. "I will see this miserable world burn if I have to pry the portal open with bare hands. And you will pay in blood for defying me."
"Know how many ... Big Bads ... said that?" Buffy asked, forcing the words past a jaw that refused to open. "Know ... what they all ... have in common?"
Kheper smiled now, fangs gleaming, eyes glittering silver and red, flashing like a neon sign.
Buffy took one more tortured breath under the glow of the hand device, and spat out, "This."
Her left hand snapped up, catching the hand with the gauntlet, yanking it away from her head, and her right hand slammed into his chest, twisted, and came back out.
Mister Pointy gleamed in her hand, wet with vampire blood.
Kheper grunted, looked down, and hissed. Buffy brought up her legs and kicked, throwing him back, ripping the gauntlet from his hand.
The would-be god clasped his hands to his chest and howled in pain, eyes flaring as he clutched at the wound. He staggered forward, then sank to his knees, skin beginning to crack.
It was slower than normal, Buffy observed; perhaps the snake was trying to stave off the inevitable, prolonging the agony of the vampire's doom. She felt a pang of pity for him, then remembered the first time she saw him, invading her home, casually dealing out death and destruction, and pity gave way to grim satisfaction.
Finally, the creature collapsed, eyes flaring red, then white, then fading to a dull ashen gray. Kheper's body held its form a moment longer before slowly collapsing under its own weight, dust beginning to blow in the wind.
Buffy sat back hard, drained, feeling like she'd just finished a marathon. "Breathe deep," she heard Daniel Jackson advise. "It takes a while to get over that thing."
"You've been through it?" Buffy asked weakly.
"Oh, yeah. More often than I want to admit," Daniel said.
"Is it normal to feel like your brain just got put through the Cuisinhart after getting hit with one of those?" Buffy asked, sliding her left hand into her pocket absently.
O'Neill rolled over from where Riley was bandaging his neck, looking over at Carter, who was being tended by Giles and Xander. "You're lucky. Snake-heads generally don't like to stop with one of those things until your brains get frapee'd. If you can stop it in time, yeah, it hurts like hell, but trust me, there's worse - LOOK OUT!"
The warning, while given in the first possible instant, was far too late to stop what happened. From the ashes of the body of the Scarab of Ra, a writhing eel-like creature had slithered its way to the surface, coiled itself behind Buffy's back, and now sprang-
-only to stop violently in midair, its teeth snapping at empty air barely a millimeter from the back of Buffy's neck.
Buffy brought the snake around, caught tightly in her grip, and looked closely at it. This was the face of her enemy, she realized. Behind the minions, beneath the trickery, beyond the elegant face, this was the thing that had tried to kill her, kill her friends, kill her world, slaughter everything she was Chosen to protect.
"You need this thing alive?" she called out.
"Not particularly!" Daniel answered.
"No way!" O'Neill shouted.
Buffy turned from them to the writhing snake in her grip, narrowing her eyes, frowning at it as it shrieked and struggled.
"Give my regards to King Tut," she said, softly but very clearly, and tightened her grip.
The snake thrashed more violently, its shrieks rising, and then with a sickening crunch it went limp. Buffy stood at last, gave one long look to the thing in her hand, and tossed it aside in disgust.
"Give my regards to King Tut?" Xander echoed incredulously. "Where'd that come from? Buff, I gotta tell you, you're losing your edge on the quippage here."
"Hey, my brain's stir-fried," Buffy said petulantly. "It was all I could think of."
"Yeah, but that's not even tired-Buffy talk," Xander persisted. "That's, like, lame movie action hero talk. Back me up here, Colonel?"
"I'm not saying a word," Jack O'Neill muttered. "Not ... one ... word."
"Jack, didn't you say that to-"
"Don't even, Daniel."