PART TEN: 24th to 25th September 2004
Chapter Two: Dropping In
Buffy held Spike's shirt to the gash on Andrew's forehead as she listened to the conversation going on in the cockpit of the plane.
The pilot was speaking, his voice rising in frustration. "It doesn't matter how much you need one to be there, there isn't! I can't conjure a landing strip out of thin air. If you can, be my guest, and I'll land on it, but if you can't... I'm not landing in Bracciano."
"That doesn't sound good," Andrew murmured.
He didn't sound good, and Buffy shushed him as she lifted the shirt away for another look at the wound. It was kinda nasty up close. She'd had worse, of course, but her head wasn't all soft like Andrew's.
"Found it yet?" she asked softly out of respect for the headache he must have.
"Angel said it was in here." Dawn was rummaging through one of the overhead compartments. "Got it!"
She jumped back down off the seat with a large first aid kit in her hands. Sitting down on the other side of Andrew, she started routing though it.
"There's a lot in here but... Do we need to do sutures?"
Buffy pulled the shirt away again, wincing at the wound beneath before covering it again quickly. "It's still bleeding; a stitch or two couldn't hurt."
"No. No stitches," Andrew said worriedly. "We don't have any anesthetic!"
"I'm sorry. If we could take you to a hospital I would, but we don't have time, and this looks bad, so..."
He went paler and she wished she hadn't added that last bit.
"See, this is what trying to be a hero gets you," Dawn said cheerfully. "Next time, just wait to be rescued."
"They wanted information," Andrew said. "They wanted to know what Buffy knew. And I know what Buffy knew. If I hadn't tried to run they would have gotten it out of me. Torture brings out the worst in me... it brings out everything in me!"
"It's okay. You did great, Andrew," Buffy told him. "And this wound isn't that bad, it just looks . . . well, bad, but you're gonna be fine. We just have to put a couple of stitches in it to be on the safe side."
He still didn't look convinced, and when Dawn passed over a surgical needle and thread, he actually shied away and tried to stand up.
"Whoa, no!" Buffy put a hand on his shoulder to keep him in his seat. "Stand up and I guarantee you'll feel worse. Remember New Years Eve when you drank all those wine coolers? Worse than that."
Spike sauntered down from the cockpit, his hair still looking a little singed. Buffy had reached him just before the bright sun had popped above the horizon, but hadn't had a blanket or anything. She'd managed to forcefully pull his coat over his head just as he'd awoken from the Minotaur trance, but it had still been a really hairy race through the long shadows to the nearest Metro station.
"Stop being such a wuss and let the Slayer stitch you up," he said, dropping into the seat opposite them.
"It'll hurt," Andrew whined.
"Not as much as when your brain falls out that hole in your forehead. Look, she does herself all the time so it can't hurt that much, right?" He slapped the boy's knee. "You're the man of the hour, Andy; reckon you can handle a couple of stitches."
"Do we have any ice?" Dawn asked.
"Angel, ice?" Spike shouted.
"Kitchen," Angel shouted through before going back to arguing with the pilot.
Spike pointed Dawn in the direction of the little kitchen cubicle.
"That doesn't sound promising," Buffy nodded her head towards the cockpit.
"Nowhere to land in that little place you need to go. Angel's trying to talk him into hovering over the castle so we can let you down on a rope." Spike paused to listen for a moment. "Don't think the pilot's buying it."
"Planes don't hover." Andrew pointed out. "Do you have a parachute?"
"Dunno." Spike was about to call for Angel again, but Buffy cut him off.
"I'm not parachuting into the castle. For one I'd lose the element of surprise, for two, I'm not jumping out the plane!"
"How'd ya think the allied forces got behind enemy lines," Spike challenged.
"The plane's instruments can give us wind speed and direction. If we can figure exactly the right point for you to jump out, you could land right on the roof of the castle!" Andrew said excitedly. "No one would be any wiser."
"I'm not jumping out of the plane!" she said again seeing as no one had listened the first time. "That's insane!"
"How are you going to get into the castle then?" Dawn came back with a baggy full of ice and Buffy motioned for her to hold it against Andrew's forehead.
He winced from it, but when Spike gave him a look, he held still.
"I don't know yet but there has to be a better way than that. Do you want your shirt back?" she asked Spike as she pulled it away from Andrew.
"No, leave it off!" Andrew blurted. "I-I mean, I might bleed some more."
Buffy raised an eyebrow but didn't point it at anyone. Whatever made him feel better right now was all that counted.
She did have to lean in and whisper in his ear though, "Spike's bare chest gets that reaction but me in my underwear, nothing?"
Andrew blushed and sat silently for a moment. After a sniff and wary dart of his eyes, he leaned up to her ear. "Maybe it's a nipple thing."
"I couldn't see yours."
"Well I'm not going to show them to you for the sake of comparison!" She'd forgotten to whisper and both Spike and Dawn were looking at her, amused.
"Are you ready?" She held the needle up menacingly and was a little disappointed when it didn't glint in the early sunlight lighting up the small oval window.
He grimaced, but nodded. Dawn removed the icepack and Buffy gently pulled the skin above and below the gash together.
"I'm sure your nipples are very arousing to some people," he said in that condescendingly earnest way he had.
"Don't make me hurt you!"
Buffy held the needle up for him to get a good look at, waited for him to make a face, and then pushed it into his skin.
The ice had done its job because he didn't make more than an 'uh' sound.
"Be all over in two minutes," Spike promised him.
"You can squeeze my hand if you like," Dawn offered.
"I'm okay," Andrew said, and although he was quivering ever so slightly, he was definitely holding his own.
"You know, I really think Andy might be on to something," Spike said.
"I'm not showing him my nipples!"
Spike rolled his eyes. "About the parachute! If The Immortal thinks you're gonna crash his party then he's going to have his castle surrounded. Probably the only thing he won't be expecting is for you to drop out of the sky."
"I don't want to 'drop out of the sky'!"
"You'll have a parachute," Andrew reminded her.
"Thanks, that makes me feel better."
"At least you know you won't be late," Dawn said helpfully. "You could land on top and then sneak down and hide somewhere inside. You'd have hours to figure out how you're going to stop the prophecy from happening."
Buffy pulled a face. They couldn't be right, could they? Surely nothing that involved throwing herself out of a plane could be right. But the more they tried to convince her, the more convinced she became.
"This is peer pressure," she said at last. "Mom warned me about this. She said it would be to try alcohol and drugs though, she never mentioned getting pressured into jumping out of an airplane."
"It'll be a piece of cake," Spike promised. "All ya gotta do is jump and pull the cord."
"It's really that easy, huh?"
Her skepticism was met by two encouraging grins and one encouraging grimace from Andrew.
"How do you steer them?" The encouraging faces turned a little blank. "Well, what if we can't calculate it exactly and I start to go off course? It's not going to be easier or quicker if I land in the middle of the lake."
"That won't happen," Spike said confidently.
"How do you know? How did those ally force guys do it?"
"I don't know, do I, I wasn't bleedin' with them."
Angel came back down the short aisle looking exasperated. He was completely unsinged, thanks to the courtyard being in the shadow of the surrounding buildings until half an hour after sunrise. Dawn and Andrew had gone to help him, but he'd left them to make their own way to the airport and disappeared into the sewers to make the journey himself. He was still pissed and embarrassed at being turned into a statue in the first place.
Buffy didn't dare spare him more than a sidelong glance while she had a needle in Andrew's head, but she asked,
"What's the what?"
"We can't take you to Bracciano. I'm sorry."
Buffy grit her teeth for a second, but she had been expecting this ever since she heard the pilot arguing.
"Okay." She sighed heavily. "Do you have any parachutes?"
"Uh, yeah, I think there are six on board, but are you sure you want to do that?" he asked.
"Actually, I'm very sure I don't want to do that, but these three have convinced me it might be my only option to get into the castle."
Angel looked pained; proving now that he'd thought about it, he obviously did too.
Buffy groaned. "I don't even know how to wear a parachute!"
Dawn grinned eagerly. "I'll help you with yours if you help me with mine."
Buffy shot her down fast. "No way!"
"Oh, come on!"
"No! If this is something I have to do, then I'll do it, but there is no way I'm risking your neck as well."
"No buts! Besides, Andrew can't start jumping out of planes until a doctor's given his head the all clear and someone needs to go home with him."
"You're making us go back to the apartment? Alone? Is that really a good idea considering..."
"No, not the apartment. Home." She finished stitching the boy up and cut the end of the thread with a tiny pair of scissors. "Angel's gonna to take you guys back."
"He can't. You need us," Dawn argued.
"I need to know you're both safe," Buffy countered, knocking Andrew's hand away as he tried to touch his stitches. "There's nothing you can do to help me here and I can't afford to worry about you."
"But that's stupid. The wedding is in a week! You're not seriously going to make us fly all the way back to the States just so we can fly all the way back here again in a few days time."
"You can fly into LA with us," Angel explained. "We'll get Andrew to a hospital, then, after Juan has refueled, he'll fly you to Cleveland. We'd drop you off first, but we're on a pretty tight schedule ourselves thanks to The Immortal."
"Troy probably didn't wanna risk you staying long enough to help me. It's okay though. As much as I'd love some company, I think all of us parachuting in would be a little noticeable." She shook her head. "God, am I really going to do this?"
"You have one other option," Angel said seriously. "But you won't like it."
"Less than I like the idea of jumping out of the plane with just a big sheet tied to my back?"
"You could let the prophecy go ahead. Let the child be conceived and then do something about it later."
"I said you wouldn't like it," Angel said uncomfortably.
"I don't know whether I do or not yet. What are you suggesting exactly?"
"You know what he's suggesting," Spike said quietly.
Buffy's eyes narrowed. "You're suggesting I let Faith have the baby and then, what, kill him? How can you even think I could...?"
"You wouldn't have to kill him," Angel said quickly, his hands raised placatingly. "Just take him away from The Immortal."
"What he's saying, badly, is," Spike began, "maybe you can't change The Immortal's destiny, but you might be able to change the little mite's. Get him away from big bad daddy and maybe he won't grow up to balls up the world."
Buffy gave it due consideration, for about thirty seconds. "And then what do I do with him? And what do I do about Faith? She'll be his mother whether I like it or not. I can't just steal her child and hand him over to the wolves to raise."
She stood, needing to pace. "I thought I had another week to prepare for this. I thought we had a workable plan that was going to make this... not easy, but... easier, ya know? Now I'm going in blind and completely on my own. I have no plan, workable or otherwise. I don't know what I'm going to do when I get there. But I know I have to stop this today. Later isn't an option I can live with. I have to pull this off now or else... well, you all know the 'or else' already."
"It's a trade off," Andrew said, still sounding woozy.
"Xander explained it to me once when I hit my thumb with his hammer. So it's all suddenly got a lot harder to do, but at least you won't be ruining her wedding night now."
"Like that was such a negative," she muttered, but Andrew's words did make her feel better.
It was true. All Faith could be pissed off with her for now was interrupting her romantic weekend away. There was no longer a big secret plot to destroy the happiest night of her life. No reason for Buffy to feel guilty about deceiving her anymore. She could do the right thing guilt-free.
That was if she could actually do the thing.
"Where are the parachutes?"
Angel went to the back of the plane to fetch one. Andrew and Spike went to the front of the plane to tell the pilot they were taking off and to suss out the best place for her to jump. Buffy sat back down and tried not to shake with nerves.
"You're doing the right thing," Dawn said.
"If you waited, and then took the baby, Faith would probably never forgive you."
"So you're doing the right thing."
Buffy looked up, realizing how nervous Dawn sounded, and she wasn't even the one who had to jump!
"I'll be fine, Dawnie. You heard Spike, piece of cake."
"I just wish you weren't going alone. What if Troy...?"
"I'm not even planning on bumping into Troy, but if I do, I'll handle him. It's not like he can kill me, anyway, I'm the maid of honor," she added, trying to get a smile out of her.
Angel came back with a rucksack.
"That's the parachute?" she asked doubtfully.
He nodded. "Wolfram and Hart special design."
"So it'll float me all the way down to hell?"
He smiled grimly. "Well, that's where you wanted to go anyway, right?"
'No, that's where Faith's going once I stop this thing," she thought fleetingly, but what were her choices? None of them had a happy ending for Faith, but at least this way her life before death wasn't being ruined.
"I guess," she said aloud. "Do you know how it works?"
He helped her get the pack set on her back as he explained it all in detail, finishing with, "Just don't forget to pull the cord and you'll be fine."
Dawn helped her adjust the straps so they fit comfortably but securely. It felt too light! How was something so obviously small and flimsy supposed to float her safely a couple of thousand feet to the ground? Also, there was still the matter of how she was going to guarantee landing on top of the castle. It was a big building, but probably wouldn't look it from so far up.
"Where's the steering wheel?"
To her surprise, Angel told her. "The toggles here can control your direction and then these ones can slow you down if you need it. There's a computer chip inside too, if you don't deploy in time, it'll do it for you, but don't rely on it because I don't know whether it's been tested all that well."
"How do you know all this?" Buffy asked, finally smiling again. "Did you take up skydiving when you left Sunnydale?"
"No, Fred helped redesign the technology," he said, his voice softer now. "She was kind of excited about it."
"Oh." Buffy paused and then put her hand on his arm. "I'm sorry about..."
He nodded quickly, like he didn't want her to finish, so she didn't. Spike came back before the silence could get too awkward.
"Right, Juan says if we're going we gotta go now. Ground Control have given us a ten minute window."
"I'm ready," Buffy lied. "Has Andrew got the co-ordinates for me to jump at?"
"They're still working on it. No worries though, luv," he grinned, "we won't let you land in any lakes."
She grinned back, but hers was definitely less self-assured at the moment. "Okay, let's get this show off the ground."
Spike went to give the green light and Buffy perched on the edge of a seat. Her legs were wobbly.
Dawn sat beside her and grabbed her hand. Angel sat opposite. They both smiled reassuringly as the plane started up around them.
"It won't be that bad," he promised.
"Yeah, it might even be fun," her sister added.
She was actually less worried about jumping now that she'd made up her mind to do it. She was still really worried about what happened next though. Presuming she wasn't spotted on descent, she could probably find somewhere to hide easily enough. The roof and turrets alone probably had a hundred hideaway places and slipping deeper into the castle could happen once she'd gotten her bearings, but what after that?
Being in the castle didn't mean she automatically had a way of stopping the prophecy from happening. It was going to take more than just being there.
Quantiaro had said something about a ritual taking place beforehand so her best shot had to be preventing that. Hopefully, no ritual meant no baby even if Troy slept with Faith at the right time. But what was the ritual and where would it be taking place? That would have to be the first thing she tried to figure out once she got there.
Spike and Andrew came back as the plane began taxiing towards the runway.
"It is so cool in there!" Andrew said as he took a seat on the opposite side of the plane. "It's like the spaceship on Independence Day."
"It better not go up that high," Buffy said through clenched teeth.
"Juan said you've got about twenty minutes," Spike said. "He's gonna beep the horn when we get there."
"Planes don't have horns," Dawn pointed out with a giggle.
Spike shrugged. "Shout then."
"Twenty minutes!" Buffy ran a palm over her forehead. "Okay, that's sooner than I thought."
The seatbelt lights blinked on above them. Nobody but Andrew bothered about it though. Buffy couldn't have if she'd wanted to - and she did want to - she couldn't sit back enough with the parachute attached to her.
"Any famous last words?" Dawn asked, squeezing her hand.
Buffy gave her a baleful look that made her sister smirk.
The plane picked up speed. The engine roared, rushing through her ears and filling her brain. She let go of Dawn's hand so she wouldn't kill it and clutched the armrests instead. They twisted in her grip but she didn't care.
"I hate flying," she muttered just as the wheels left the tarmac and they were all pushed back in their seats.
She waited until they'd been 'up' a few seconds before opening her eyes again. "I'm actually looking forward to jumping out of this thing now."
"That's the spirit!" Andrew said, craning his neck to look out of the window beside him.
She'd never understand people who actually liked this experience. She shook her head to clear it of flying fog and sat forward a little more, trying to ignore the sensation of banking hard to the left.
"So I better get ready."
"You are ready," Dawn pointed out.
"Oh yeah. It doesn't feel like it. How can I be ready to jump out of a moving plane with just a rucksack on my back? Shouldn't I at least get a few lessons first?"
"Here's your lesson," Spike said. "Jump, don't look down, pull your cord, land with your knees bent."
"Thanks. Very helpful." Buffy stood up unsteadily; it had to be nearly time. "Well, it was nice knowing you all," she joked.
Angel stood up with her. "Good luck."
"Good luck? That's it?"
"I'm sorry. I wish we could stay, but..."
"Yeah, yeah, imminent demon war," Buffy griped. "That better be real. Dawn'll tell me if it's just an excuse, ya know?"
"It's not," he promised.
"I'll check," Dawn also promised as Buffy gave her a big goodbye hug. "I still can't believe you're sending us home. What about all our stuff?"
"I'll come back for it as soon as the job's done."
"What if you can't stay in Rome? You know, because of Troy?"
Buffy let go of her sister. "Haven't thought that far ahead yet." She turned towards Andrew. "I'll see you in a week, Andy, and... thank you for last night. Okay, that sounded weird. I meant for you nearly spilling your brains so you didn't spill your guts. Thanks."
"You're welcome, Buffy," he said.
She nodded. "Right, I better go."
Angel moved over to open the door. It made it really noisy, but they couldn't have been that high because none of them were sucked out by the pressure. She moved closer, but not too close, and looked out. Damn, they were that high!
"That's more than a couple of thousand feet!"
Andrew looked out of his window again. "Maybe ten thousand."
"You gotta be kidding me!" She took a deep breath, another look out and then looked back at her friends and family. "Wish me some more luck?"
They did. Dawn had tears on her cheeks. Seeing that Buffy was about to come back to her, Angel shook his head and put his arm around the youngest Summers' shoulders instead.
"You have to go," he said, but she could see in his eyes he didn't like saying it.
Spike joined her by the door. One hand gently on her back the other hanging on to the side. "Wait til the pilot says," he shouted.
"So..." he paused until she looked at him. "...You and Faith, huh?"
She looked away again fast, only realizing after what a dead giveaway that was.
Tentatively, she met his eyes again as she said quietly, "It's a secret, but..." she nodded.
It felt good to say it especially when she might be about to plunge to her death. Someone should know. Not just speculation, but really know. Maybe it was stupid, but if this did go all horribly wrong, and then a few seconds after that, splat, she needed someone to really know that her and Faith weren't just a fantasy, that she hadn't been wrong about it all along. And if things worked out better than splat, then she was pretty sure she could trust Spike not to repeat her secret.
"Figured as much. Knew that Toni bird was just a cover."
Buffy chuckled at that as she inched her feet closer to the door. "She's not."
"Oh." He frowned before smiling. "Right then. Guess your life's about to get even more interesting."
"Ya think?" She rolled her eyes as she pointed at the nothingness between her and the ground.
"At least it's a nice day for it," Dawn said conversationally from behind her.
A look over her shoulder showed they were all behind her now. Come to see her off so to speak, or literally in fact. Dawn was right too. It was a beautiful blue sky morning. The only reason Spike and Angel weren't combusting was because at this moment the sun was on the other side of the plane.
"Be careful," Angel said.
"You're telling the girl about to jump out of a plane to be careful?" Buffy asked.
"Don't think of it as jumping out of a plane," Andrew suggested. "Think of it as...Just try not to think about it at all."
"I'm giving that my best shot."
"One minute!" Came loud and clear through the speakers beside them, their finality cutting through the noise of the engines and the rushing of the wind.
She could see the castle now, surrounded by the small village and with the lake sparkling in the sunlight beyond it.
"Okay, this is it." Buffy stepped closer, both hands braced on the sides of the door now. "Dawn, I'll call you as soon as I can, okay? Don't worry, just you and Andrew get home safe."
She stepped even closer, but couldn't quite bring herself to make the leap yet. There was something she was forgetting. Something important.
"Now!" shouted the pilot.
Oh, right, she needed something to...
"Well, don't keep the damsel waiting." Spike dropped a quick kiss for luck on the top of her head and then gave her a helpful little push.
"Wait, I need to put on some...." The rest of her sentence was a scream as she fell away from the plane.
"What did she say?" Dawn asked.
"Um, it sounded like panties," Andrew said as they all leaned just a tiny bit out to watch her go.
Buffy was hurtling towards the ground, her dress up around her ears. She was practically naked skydiving! It was such a pity she'd never be able to tell Faith about this.
She tried frantically to remember anything she'd ever seen on TV about skydiving, but it turned out she'd never really seen anything about it. Or maybe her mind was just blank with fear.
Getting herself under control, she yanked her dress down with one hand and did a little twist in the air so that she was falling head first. Providing she didn't land this way, it was okay, even kinda fun. It was definitely like nothing she had experienced before. The castle was still a little off to one side so she spread her arms and 'swam' through the air in the right direction and was slightly amazed when it worked.
As scary as the idea of hitting the ground too hard was, she knew she couldn't open her chute too soon. Being seen floating over the castle couldn't be classed as stealthy. She had absolutely no training in this but she was prepared to trust that being a Slayer meant she could take a slightly harder impact than most if it came to it. Having said that, the castle turrets did seem to be coming up pretty fast now!
She pulled the release cord a couple of thousand feet up and grunted as she suddenly seemed to swing upwards again. She couldn't keep her dress down now because she had to concentrate on pulling the toggles to guide her descent, but with the slower pace it only floated up to her waist. She was still showing her goods to anyone looking up, but then if anyone was looking up, a lack of modesty would be the least of her problems soon.
So far, this was going better than she could have hoped. She hadn't even expected to make it inside the castle before it was too late; had envisaged herself charging at the castle walls - possibly on horseback - while demons shot burning arrows at her from the turrets. The sneak attack might not carry so much glory, but it definitely had higher odds for success.
She aimed for the closest turret. There was something bright white in the middle of it which was nearly as good as a big X. It was only when she was too close to change direction that someone walked out of the turret doors, completely oblivious to her panicking only twenty feet above.
Until she landed on top of him anyway.
She hit him hard and they both fell to the stone floor. The parachute blanketed them and the beautifully laid out table she'd unwittingly aimed for.
Buffy groaned, slightly dazed from impact, as Troy's muffled voice shouted out:
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Part Ten Quick-Jump:
Chapter One ||
Chapter Two ||
Chapter Three ||
Chapter Four ||
Chapter Five ||
Chapter Six ||
Chapter Seven ||
Chapter Eight ||
Chapter Nine ||
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Part Ten Quick-Jump:
Chapter One || Chapter Two || Chapter Three || Chapter Four || Chapter Five || Chapter Six || Chapter Seven || Chapter Eight || Chapter Nine || Bonus Chapter