Characters: Buffybot, Tara, Dana, OC Watcher Richard Philips, OC slayer Kara
A/N: A new watcher's first field mission goes stunningly -- but not stunningly *well*. This latest "Four Friends" Story, about Buffybot, Tara, Dana, and OC slayer Kara, is my entry in the still_grrr challenge prompt #62, "self-insert". As such, it stars -- well, me. Or at least, a version of me.
“We’re at the back door,” Buffy Summers called over the radio.
“I’m clear. Five seconds.” Crouched by the warehouse’s front door, Richard Philips pocketed the walkie and hoisted his crossbow.
A late afternoon sun warmed the Indiana industrial park, raising an odor of oil and asphalt. It made his black commando outfit a bit warm, but the uniform looked very cool, especially with its utility belt.
There was nothing wrong with a Watcher’s outfit being cool, right? Or maybe he’d been spending too much time around younger people, specifically Xander and Andrew.
The unlocked door opened silently, assisted by WD-40 he’d sprayed on the hinges. This warehouse was the center of recent odd sightings, leading nearby businesses to lock up early.
His team’s job was to make it just another small town industrial park.
Lit security lights confirmed their intelligence that these particular demons had poor eyesight, relying on their sense of smell to hunt. He’d considered cutting power and using night vision goggles, but it was a relatively small building, and he anticipated no problems tracking them down.
The warehouse area itself was mostly empty, closed since the last economic downturn. Three working lights threw shadows, but there weren’t many shadows to throw: A few stacks of wooden pallets, scattered cardboard boxes, and a single forklift abandoned in the middle of the concrete expanse. With practiced ease, he scanned for both trap doors and problems at ceiling level, and found nothing.
On the opposite side of the warehouse a shadow drifted across the far wall, as Dana covered her half of the area. No problems there; but to Richard’s left an area of offices, meeting rooms, and storage areas stretched across the building, and two doors led into that area. That’s where they expected the trouble to start.
Dana waited for him, and at a nod they entered the doors simultaneously.
A hallway. The first door off of it led to a conference room, and there still another door made him hesitate. As a volunteer firefighter, searching for victims and flames, he’d seldom worried about being attacked. He glanced behind him but saw no movement.
Well, he’d wanted field work. He had the weapons, training, and knowledge, not to mention experience handling emergencies as a firefighter and father. The father thing was the more challenging.
Striding to the door, he jerked it open.
Darkness. No light, no window. Heart thumping, Richard jerked back, fumbling for his flashlight. Of course all the rooms won’t be lit, idiot. He’d made himself the perfect target. Light ready, he crouched down to reduce his profile and poked both light and crossbow around the corner.
Shaking his head, Richard climbed to his feet, then turned to push back through into the hallway. He expected to find it empty. Instead, a figure just feet away spun around and took a step toward him – while clutching a sword.
“Hey!” His finger tightened convulsively on the crossbow trigger and with a twang it let loose, leaving him with an empty weapon that would take too long to reload. “Crap –“ Backing up, Richard clutched at his knife, but it slipped through his fingers and clattered to the floor.
“Ow – ow!” Buffy fell backward on her butt, staring in disbelief at the crossbow bolt sticking out of her black-clad thigh.
Oh no. He was beside her in an instant. “Are you all right?” Okay, stupid question.
“It hurts!” Sounding more surprised than hurt, she reached for the protruding shaft, but Richard grabbed her hand.
“It’s barbed – pulling it out might damage your circuits.”
“But why does it hurt? I can’t shut the pain off, and I’m leaking fluids.” Her pants leg was already soaked, while blood or something like it pooled on the floor beneath her. “This has been happening ever since Dana zapped me with magic.” Buffybot looked up at him, showing moist eyes and a trembling lip. “That mage zapped me too, in Missouri. Remember? It’s really irritating.”
A deep voice came from the door behind Richard. “Oh, my. Can we help?”
A look backward revealed a small group of gray skinned demons, watching with concern. The closest stood on Richard’s dropped knife.
“Oh, hi!” Buffy gave a little wave. “It’s okay, we carry bandages. Maybe a little direct pressure …”
Taking the hint, Richard reached into his first aid pouch and opened a bandage. He pressed it around the crossbow shaft while blocking the demons’ vision. “Your sword,” he hissed. “Pass me your sword.”
Down the hallway a door banged open, and two armed slayers strode toward them. Dana had her sword while Richard’s daughter, Kara, carried another crossbow. Richard tried to lean to one side while maintaining pressure on the wound. “Now, Kara!”
“Now what?” The two girls came to a stop, taking the situation in. “Dad – did you shoot Bottie?”
“Not exactly. I mean, yes. Kara. Demons?”
Dana glanced at the demons, who still hovered a few feet behind him. “Do you live here?”
The leader nodded. “When we got back and found the front door open we figured it was kids looking for a place to skateboard again. Usually we just ruffle our plumage, growl, and they stay away for a awhile.”
Plumage? Richard, who’d been winding a roll of gauze around Bottie’s thigh to secure the bandage, looked up in confusion. “Taftri demons don’t have plumage.”
The leader shivered. “Oh, those horrible things. I’m so ashamed to be related to them.” The others nodded.
“These are Rafti demons,” Buffybot told him.
“They are not!” Having finished his bandaging, Richard climbed to his feet and faced the group. “They’re Taftri. They massacre families and eat bone marrow. It’s in the books.”
The demons turned pale, and one waved its hands. “But – we’re vegetarians.”
“No, no –“ This was ridiculous. He was a watcher – maybe not for long, but he knew how to tell one demon from another. Reaching into his breast pocket, he produced a photo and waved it at his teammates. “I took this picture myself, in the Appalachians. Taftri demon.”
The robot craned her neck, and the two slayers leaned in. A moment later Richard caught a flash of movement down the hallway, then Kara and Dana parted to let Tara McClay get a look.
“Ooh,” one of the demons gasped. “A ghost!”
“Um, the ones in the photo are Taftri; these are Rafti demons.” Looking apologetic, Tara pointed from the photo to the demons. “See? Two horns instead of three, the skin’s a bit grayer, and their teeth aren’t as sharp.”
Before he could examine it more closely, Kara grabbed the picture away. “Hey, I took this picture.”
“You most certainly did not –“
“Don’t you remember? Your old frostbite injury was acting up, so Dana and I finished the surveillance. This one’s mine.”
Richard stood there, searching his memory, and not recalling one way or another. He knew which pictures he took, and which ones he didn’t. Didn’t he? But the creatures before him had only two horns each, and teeth as innocent looking as a human’s. Where had his mind been when he spotted them while driving through town the day before?
“I can’t believe you shot Bottie.” Reaching down, Kara helped Buffybot to her feet, then led her back the way they’d come. “I’m going to call Willow for first aid tips.”
“I think that might be real blood!” Bottie said excitedly, as they moved down the hall.
“Well, maybe … but it’s still better off inside you.” Kara sent her father one last glare. “It’s a good thing you’re such a bad shot.”
Tara sent Richard a glance, then turned to Dana. “Would you help our new friends bring their groceries in?”
Dana blinked. Richard, staring blankly toward the dusty floor, barely heard their conversation.
“Oh, it’s no trouble,” the lead demon said, but Dana turned to awkwardly pat him on the arm.
“I can help you secure the doors.” Dana looked back at Tara just once, then led the demons away. “No more skateboarders getting in …”
Then all was silent, until Richard leaned down to retrieve his knife. He stuck it in his belt, then realized his flashlight had fallen and also retrieved it, all while avoiding what he knew would be a pitying gaze.
“It - it all worked out okay,” Tara finally ventured.
“Oh? I shot the Buffybot during a mission that would have been unnecessary if I’d paid more attention in the demonology course.” He took a breath, trying to maintain some semblance of control now that dignity was out of the question. “Tell me how that worked out okay.”
“Well, we know now that Bottie’s turning more human on the inside now, as well as the outside. Just think, if you’d shot me in the thigh we could have found out whether that spell made me just a ghost in a shell, or if I had inside parts!”
The image of shooting Tara made Richard queasy. Turning, he stalked away from her down the hall, intent on getting the hell out and avoiding everyone for awhile. When hurried steps followed him he almost snapped at her. Almost. Even in his worst moods, he found it impossible to snap at Tara.
“Richard, we’re all going to make mistakes.”
“You make mistakes in this job, somebody dies.”
“But all you can do is your best.”
That made him stop short. “When I was training officer I had people kicked off the fire department for lesser mistakes than that. When I was a teacher I railed against any other teacher who did something to harm their students.”
“Then it was me who made the mistake.”
Tara looked away. “I wasn’t supposed to let you out of my sight, but you seemed so confident in your plan. When I was Xander’s trainee he was right there by my side –“ She clamped her mouth shut.
“I’m your trainee?”
She nodded meekly.
“I thought I was leading this mission. I’m twice your age.” But it made sense, and the drumbeat of self-ridicule in his head told him so. She’d been in the field for almost a year; he’d been mostly teaching during that time. What a fool he’d been, to think he was taking charge when really they were only humoring him.
“I’m sorry, I thought …”
“No, you …” Richard turned away, running a hand through his hair, then turned back. “I’m not mad at you, Tara. Just myself.”
“But you did okay. My first time in the field, I tried to reason with a demon who’d already disemboweled twelve people – Dana pulled me away just in time. It was a dumb thing to do, but I learned from it and got better.”
“How did Xander handle that?”
Tara frowned. “Pretty much the same way I handled this. He said stuff that didn’t help, then told me about times he’d screwed up. Then he put his arm around me and led me away.” Putting her arm around him, Tara led Richard toward the entrance.
Taking a deep breath, he tried to calm his nerves and brace himself for what was to come. He’d have to face the rest of the team, then he’d have to submit a report, which would lead to much ridicule. Richard supposed he’d be punished enough, soon. “You know, I think I just got carried away by this need to feel … cool.”
“Oh, you’re very cool.” Tara smiled at him.
“Okay, now you’re getting carried away with that making me feel better thing.” But it did make him feel better. A little.
“Seriously, if you were my age and female, and if I wasn’t dead, I’d tumble for you.” They pushed through the door, into the final rays of the setting sun.
“I think I’ll just ignore the little caveats you added to that.”