Title: Home and Heart
A Buffy the Vampire Slayer story.
By: Ghostrider
Summary: What happens when your heart is ripped apart by those you love? A slayerette's return after years of absence causes old wounds to be ripped open.
Rating: R

Authors Notes: This story takes place approximately 8 years after the events in the this season's last episode. Personally, I don't like the ending, it's too convenient. So I rewrote it to what I would have wanted to see. Furthermore, I would like to thank my Beta-readers Ozmandayus, Banquo and Scb047 for everything they've done.

Disclaimer: Joss Whedon, Fox, Mutant Enemy, the WB and UPN own the characters.

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The noonday sun beat down on jungle canopy, penetrating it, stirring up the moisture contained in the trees and ground until the heat became cloying, oppressive. Every step was sheer agony, every breath scalding the lungs as hot, moist air was sucked in. The cries of animals wafted through the treetops of the dense forest, reaching out to the two figures walking slowly over long since overgrown paths, carved out by the indigenous people eons ago.

One had to look closely to even see them, the exposed parts of their skin covered in greens, browns and blacks. Their bodies covered with what appeared to be vines, leaves and plants, blending them into the background. Watching them move was like watching a strangely choreographed dance, as each foot slowly lifted off the ground, before setting down again after making sure there were no dried leaves of branches on the spot that would alert anyone in the vicinity. One misstep, one crack of wood splintering or scrunching of leaves would bring down death, swiftly and surely.

More sounds drifted through the dense foliage; raucous sounds of laughter, voices shouting obscenities, clinking of utensils and other, less identifiable sounds. The two shapes stopped behind a large tree, thick vines running down over the ground giving them a clear vantagepoint. They were near the outer perimeter of the target zone; they still had much further to travel before being able to mark the target. No words were used, the only communication between them short jerks of their heads, slight gazes and hand signals.

Using the dense foliage, they moved further into the enemy's territory, their movements even slower, more deliberate then before. Nearly three hours later, the two figures had passed the outer perimeter, crossing less then 600 meters of ground in that time. Carefully navigating their way through the jungle, every step carefully taken, every part of their surroundings checked for signs of boobytraps, surveillance equipment, dried leaves or branches that could give away their presence. Nightfall came quickly, the sun was there one moment, the next it was gone. Still they traveled onward, the timetable demanding it, spurring them on. But still making sure no one would hear them; finally, reaching their next designated resting point, they both made a careful sweep of the area, before climbing into a tree.

Nestled between the many leaves, one pulled out a small satellite uplink, sending a microsecond burst transmission, not waiting for an acknowledgement. Someone always had the money to buy better equipment, no need to tempt fate. The other scanned the surrounding area with his night vision goggles, satisfying himself their position was secure; the nearest human-sized heatsource was miles away. They had made it deeply into the enemy's position; tomorrow, at first light, they would travel the remaining 3 clicks to ground zero, before setting up for the night. Two more days and nights of travelling, searching for the perfect spot, then taking the shot. 48 hours of relative peace and quiet, before everything was going to go to hell. 48 hours before their lives would become forfeit.

Late the next day, both men reached ground zero, staying back deep in the jungle as the waning sunlight threw ever-growing shadows around them. Merging in the shadows themselves, they began a detailed scan of their surroundings and the opulent palace in front of them. A palace built on a foundation of hundreds of thousands who had died by what the owner produced in the fields all around them. A palace built with the blood of untold numbers of those who dared stand in his way to reach power through any means necessary. Blood money that even now was paying for the hundreds of guards surrounding the grounds; for the thousands more guarding the fields, using the locals as slaves. Abusing them, killing them for sport, raping their wives, sisters and daughters.

The lead man carefully moved the binoculars from one side of the white marble building to the other, noting every entry point, every sentry, every machine gun emplacement. Calculating how best to approach unseen if that became a necessity. It was no use to think about the man inside; the power-hungry megalomaniac that wanted ever more. The man whose appetite for power, destruction and fear was only surpassed by his hunger for money. Every piece of this giant edifice had to be flown in by helicopter or dragged on the backs of underfed, abused slaves.

There is evil in the world, the lead man knows that. He's seen it up close and personal. He's fought it since he was but a young, gangly teenager. But evil takes many forms. Again he's sickened by the fact that no matter how vile the demons are, man can often make them look like angels in comparison. Tomorrow, he thinks, tomorrow he will make sure this evil is put down for a little while, until another takes over. Then things will go back to what they were, what they've always been. The people here will still be under the whip of these power-hungry animals. Their families will still be starving, they will still hear the cries of anguish when their loved ones are being beaten or raped for no other reason than that their handlers can. Their spirits will still be broken. It's but one drop on a boiling hot plate. Life will go on as usual, the never-ending chain once again ruffled but not destroyed.

Is it worth it, he asks himself again. Yes, it is, he convinces himself. If this one isn't stopped, he will use his money to buy himself deeper into the government, enlarging his powerbase. Making it possible for him to perpetrate his evil on an even larger scale. They may not be able to stop it but they can slow it down. Maybe make some others think twice before venturing into business with the next despot of these parts. It has to be worth it, no matter how small or fleeting the victory. It has to be enough. Anything else is unacceptable.

As the darkness descends, activity surrounding the palace picks up, as more patrols go out. The leader is not concerned; unless one of the 'soldiers' steps on him or his companion, they'll never see them. Suddenly, behind them the crushing of branches. Both still their bodies even more as a chill runs up their spines; a group of men from the outer perimeter has returned, not using one of the access roads. Instead, walking through the jungle, in search of anyone that might have passed through their ranks. A patrol on the well-kept grounds walks towards them, the group that came up behind them standing less them half a meter away from their current position.

Willing his breath to come out slow and even from his open mouth, the leader lies perfectly still, the heel of a muddy combat boot inches from his nose, listening to the apparent leader of the group talk to the men of the grounds patrol. Their singsong voices high-pitched would be a source of amusement at any other time, right now, he's listening to the tone of the conversation. It would tell him if they'd discovered that someone had broken through their ranks. It would tell him what the next few seconds would bring, instant death or long hours of inactivity.

After a few minutes, the two groups walk off, one back to patrol, the other to get something to eat and sleep or some other activity. Feeling the tension drain slowly from his body at the close call, the leader again thanks whoever is up there for his training and equipment. Whoever designed these 'ghilly suits' should get a medal, he thought. It also didn't hurt that they'd been trained to stay still for hours, days on end even.

Several hours later, the mansion's staff has finished the final preparations for tomorrow's festivities. Everybody except the guards is asleep. Staying close to the jungle's border, the leader moves stealthily towards his entry point; the owner of the mansion is no fool. The mansion is situated in the middle of an artificial clearing, over a 1000 meters wide on all sides. Each corner has one concrete bunker with 2 machinegun ports on opposite sides, each one covering an area that partly overlaps the one from the other two opposite bunkers. Add a mobile radar/SAM facility in another clearing a mile further, no access roads and the roving patrols and you have an almost impenetrable fortress.

He rapidly crosses the field, throwing himself down on the ground once a patrol comes close enough to spot him, waiting until they're well passed before moving again. Finally reaching the mansion, he hugs the walls as he accesses the satellite imagery he's imprinted in his brain and sets to work.

*** 0800 hours, local time ***

Both men watch the activity in front of them through their binoculars. The sun has been up for an hour now and the 'soldiers' are all dressed up, the mansion's kitchen staff is preparing a feast fit for a king and just now, a helicopter is unloading over 20 females, all carrying bags, all different nationalities and all beautiful. Undoubtedly, tonight's entertainment. None of them locals, for security reasons; it was highly unlikely any of them spoke the language so business could be attended to while they were entertaining the guests and the host. The two men quickly move their sight into other directions, making sure everything is still as it should be. Mistakes would lead to instant death.

"Roof, north-west corner, looks like a Dragunov."
"Got it. Window, one o'clock, behind the drapes."
"Definitely a Dragunov. No infrared."
"That would make for a bad day."
"Barn, eastern side. Second floor, behind the coffee bags. Bipod-mounted."
"Good position."

Just then, the helicopter bringing the women in, lifted off with a thunderous roar and a massive downdraft of air. Once it was away, the area seemed calmer somehow, as if everything held its breath. It was an oppressive silence. Soon, however, that silence would be broken in the most violent of ways. Just a few more hours.

When one is having fun, time seems to fly by at the speed of sound. Before you know it, it's over. But have you noticed what happens when you're waiting for something to happen? When you're waiting to be dismissed from class after a test, or just waiting for the bus? Time seems to slow to a crawl. That minute seems more like an hour. The second hand on your watch seems to be glued into place, not moving. You feel the anxiety build with every beat of your heart. Tick, tock, tick, tock, you can almost hear the clock ticking away the precious seconds of your life. Have you ever wondered how much time in your life is spent waiting? Both men have pondered this question time and again as they lay there, waiting for the events to unfold before them. Suddenly, in the distance, the unmistakable sound of rotor-blades is heard. Time seems to speed up again.

"A, B, 3, 2, 1."
"Acknowledged. Tricky shooting, all targets beyond max effective range."
"Not a problem."

The sound gets louder and suddenly the helicopter comes in sight as it circles around the landing zone. Flaring briefly, it pulls its nose up as it comes down for its landing, the main gear making some contact with the ground. As it settles completely, the pilot shuts down the engines, spooling down the rotors. As the sound settles and the powerful vortex used to lift the aircraft falls away, the owner of the mansion steps out, partially obscured by the helicopter. His aides and bodyguards surround him as he walks down the steps towards his visitor as he and his bodyguards get out of the helicopter.

Carefully, the leader pushes out his M40A1 rifle, trying to get a clear shot. Both men are obscured by their bodyguards, but he is a patient man. All he needs is a split second. Reaching out with his mind, he wills the guards to step aside. He knows it is foolish, he knows it's just wishful thinking. After all, he's only human. Just an ordinary human. But that needed split second is there, he sees it, he takes advantage of it. Depressing the trigger smoothly, he's already working the bolt and acquiring the second target.

The high-powered sniper rifle is one of the most frightening weapons devised. Travelling at almost 800 meters a second, the bullet breaks the sound barrier. As such, you only hear the shot after impact.

The guest is laughing with his host, the only real thing on his mind being the fact that if all goes well today, he will be millions richer. One has to think about the future and one's own well being, after all. Suddenly, he feels something splash his face, like somebody just threw a bucket of water down on stone steps while he's walking passed. What he sees however, is much worse, like something out of a Edgar Allen Poe story.

The host is amicably talking with the politician as the bullet enters just below his left ear, underneath the jaw. Traveling in an upward trajectory, it rips through the brain tissue and exits the skull from the top, violently ripping apart the skull bones. Blood and brain matter flying every opening in the head, showering all those standing close by. The power of the impact lifts the body up and into a somersault; before it has fully fallen to the ground, the sound of the gunshot is heard, cracking like a whip.

Humans tend to look up towards any sudden sounds instinctively, trying to locate the source. So too did the group clustered around the visiting dignitary and his now dead host. The politician's head had turned, providing the sniper with a clearer shot. Even before the host's body had come to rest on the ground, the second bullet had found its mark, tearing through his temple. The sniper turned the rifle as the sound of the shot reverberated through the area, sighting the sniper hidden behind the bags in the barn. The man's head popped up as he trained his rifle on the grounds, searching for the target. Before he could do more then that, the third shot followed, throwing him backwards. Another quick turn, working the bolt, removing the spent cartridge, another shot and the second sniper died. Up, work the bolt, sight, depress trigger; the last sniper died a violent dead as his head exploded from the impact. 5 shots, 5 kills in under 8 seconds.

"Let's book."
"Time for the sparkler."

The spotter lifted the small red covering from the switch on the detonator and quickly depressed the green button. The response was immediate as everywhere, C-4 charges exploded. All 4 the gun emplacements went up, the ammo stored in them cooking off. The fuel dump exploded, sending barrels of diesel and aircraft fuel shooting into the air like they were rockets. The pandemonium it caused gave the two men more then enough time to get out without being seen and they took off. Instead of going back the way they had come, they were going for the secondary site, where the SAM site was. It had to be cleared for their extraction and that was exactly what they were going to do.

After 3 hours of travel, they'd made it halfway to the secondary objective. Several times, they had to hunker down as patrols swept the area but none of the patrols was looking for the people that had killed their boss. They were going to aid the other groups that were searching the other side; after all, who would be stupid enough to trek deeper into the jungle, moving further away from the border? No words were exchanged as they made their way, their senses attuned to their surroundings. Listening for anything and everything. Each sound a potential threat. The leader's eyes flicked to the side rapidly as a chill ran up his spine. His body felt cold even in this sweltering climate. Something was out there stalking them. As he turned around to look at his spotter, a gurgling sound reached his ears. Belatedly he realized it was coming from behind him; what he saw paralyzed him on the spot.

His spotter was hovering in mid-air, a huge claw sticking out of his stomach, his face filled with fear and pain, blood streaming from his eyes, mouth and nose. Behind him, grinning, stood the second largest creature he'd ever seen. It was fully 8 feet in length, mottled green and brown skin, at least 600 pounds of muscle. Its head was something out of a nightmare, dark tendrils wafting about, their tiny mouths opening and closing as if gasping for air. A flat nose and a huge maw-like mouth filled with what looked like shark's teeth, edged in a permanent grin.

'Demon', his mind screamed. 'Shoot it', it screamed next. He knew he had to do something or his partner would die. He willed his body to move, to react to the messages his brain was sending but it refused steadfastly. The demon licked its lips, sending bolts of revulsion through his body as he watched his spotter flap like a fish on the claw protruding from his body. Before he could react, though, the demon's free hand grabbed hold of his partner's dangling left arm, twisted and ripped it off the man's body. The scream that tore through the jungle... he would never be able to tell if it was his or his spotter's. He could do nothing but stand and watch as the man he'd worked with, the man he'd broken bread with, was torn limb from limb, blood gushing out of his body like a waterfall. Finally, the demon opened its maw wide, lowering it over the softly moaning man's head and bit off the top of his skull, proceeding to suck out his brainmatter.

"You cannot save them, human."