"Unit Beta is in place, sir."

"Roger that."

Dunst adjusted his mike and turned to face the passengers in the back of the parked humvee.

"You're all ready? Six minutes to sunrise."

Giles, Oz, Willow and Xander nodded warily.

There was only room for four in the back of the military vehicle. Doyle and Cordelia had been elected to stay back and enter the warehouse after the breach had been made. Giles had to work the spell. Willow and Xander were needed to bring Lisandra down - both of them carried dart guns loaded with Willow's little concoction. And the wolf in Oz might give them an edge.

At this point, any kind of edge would be welcome.

Wesley rode shotgun next to Dunst.

The ground troops stood on each side of the warehouse's main entrance, waiting for their team leader to launch the assault. They had spent the better part of the night combing the area for sentinels - killing the handful of vampires at the last minute. It wouldn't do for the alarm to be raised before all of them were in position.

Tension was mounting among the members of the Scooby Gang. They had no idea what kind of spectacle awaited them inside. It didn't help at all that they trusted their so-called allies only about as far as they could throw them. They had no choice but to follow Dunst, though. They needed the Watchers' artillery and expertise.

Giles looked out the window of the humvee, trying to block out the nervous twitching of the children.

He smiled despite himself. He still thought of them as children, sometimes. Even Angel, and that was odd. Beyond odd - considering the vampire had some two hundred years on him. But Angel could look so childlike, so heartbreakingly vulnerable sometimes.

With a start, Giles realized that his fear for Buffy's safety had overshadowed his worry for Angel's. If anything should happen to the vampire, he would mourn alongside his Slayer. A startling revelation - considering his past history with the souled vampire. But Angel had been a friend once, someone Giles trusted. There wasn't so many of those left around. Jenny's unreasoning specter had driven him to withhold his forgiveness, and it wasn't until Angel had left for L.A. without a word of goodbye that Giles realized what he had lost.

Once upon a time, there had been late nights in the high school library, discussions of demons, and history and literature, a common commiseration that the English language was a lost cause in these parts of the colonies and sometimes even playful political debates when Angel's Irish sensibilities clashed with his allegiance to the Queen.

There had been companionship.

The understanding of someone who could relate to the plight of a Watcher - a stranger in a land he did not always understand, the only adult in a realm of teen hysteria. A man condemned to lead a young girl he could not have loved more had she been his own daughter in an unending, deathly battle against the relentless forces of darkness.

Caught on the outside. Looking in.

Dunst's voice pulled him out of his internal musings.

"Team Beta reported screams," announced the Englishman, a hand clasped on his earpiece.

Giles' blood ran cold.

"We're going in. Team Beta, we are a go."

The humvee's engine roared to life and the Scooby Gang held onto their seats, bracing for impact. The military vehicle screeched out of the alley it had been concealed in and crossed the road at 50mph, aiming straight for the warehouse.

The humvee collided with the door at the very second a deafening explosion shook the support structure of the construction. For one moment, Giles feared the whole thing was going to come crashing around them, but it held strong.

In a regular hostage-taking situation, they would have covered their breach with gas cans, but in their case the smoke would do little to slow down the vampires and only succeed in impairing the humans.

As soon as the humvee screeched to a stop, Giles, Oz, Willow and Xander opened their respective doors and jumped, weapons raised at chest level.

There was a steel door ten feet ahead of them.

And a dozen vampires guarding it.

They raised nasty-looking swords as they rushed the invaders.

It didn't do them much good. The room was already swarming with about twenty armed commandos who all opened fire simultaneously. The bullets wouldn't kill the vampires, but enough of them would slow them down drastically.

The Scooby people ducked - keeping out of the line of fire until a path to the door was cleared.

When most of the vampires lay twitching on the ground, Dunst's team moved in to finish them off with stakes and crossbows. A few Nehemia warriors still standing engaged the commandos in hand-to-hand combat but the odds were in favor of the Watchers by sheer numbers alone.

Oz helped Willow to her feet after checking that she was unhurt and ran to follow Giles and Xander, charging through the door after Dunst.

The commando's radio crackled to life.

"This is Barker, sir. We've breached the roof and are in. I have Lisandra and Morghane in visual. Hold or fire?"

Giles froze - convinced that he had misunderstood Barker's question.

Dunst's cold injunction left him little doubt though.