The Great Advantage of Being Alive by Enigmaticblue

ReviewsRating: PG-13

Summary: What if the Initiative had found a way to transform Spike into a human, rather than giving him a chip?

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Chapter 11: Meet the Inner Demons

“Don’t speak, words come out your eyes./You’re wet with this nightmare./Like thorns you hold these secrets to your breast,/Your slender fingers closing into fists./Trace your bruise like a guilty streak./Hold the pain./You’re a connoisseur./You think you have no other gift to give,/but we have so much left to live…So come on now,/I can almost see/that place on a distant shore./And courage is a weapon we must use/to find some life you can’t refuse…I guess all I really mean,/is you’re gonna be alright/yeah, you’re gonna be alright./You can close your eyes tonight.” ~Over the Rhine, “Etc, Whatever”

“Riley.” She smiled in greeting. They had somehow found themselves on much friendlier ground than before. “What’s up?”

“I have that information on Spike that you wanted,” he explained, handing her a thick folder. “It’s all there. What they used, where it came from, results of the testing they did after he became human.” The soldier stopped and hesitated. “Look, Buffy, there’s a CD with some footage in there too. You might want to let Spike watch that by himself. It’s—it’s a little rough.”

Buffy looked grim. “I’ll let him know.”

Riley took a deep breath. “I know we didn’t see eye to eye on the whole Spike thing, but after getting a better look at his records, I’m beginning to think you were right. And, if you wouldn’t mind, could you tell him that I’m sorry?” At Buffy’s look of surprise, Riley added, “The Initiative’s job is to protect humans; that’s what I signed up for. But in Spike’s case we didn’t do a very good job of distinguishing between human and not.”

The Slayer gave Riley a long look, sensing his sincerity. “I think Spike will appreciate that.”

“Anyway, use what you need,” Riley continued, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Let me know if you need my help with anything else, okay? I really want to do whatever I can to help stop Adam.”

“Thanks, Riley. Same here, if you need the Slayer, I mean.”

He shrugged. “I’ll let you know. See you around, Buffy.”

Riley turned to leave, and Buffy was relieved to see that he seemed cheerful enough. She hated to think that she’d damaged him for life by breaking things off. “Riley! Wait.” He half-turned to look back at her. “We’re having a meeting later this afternoon at Giles’ to talk about Adam and things. It would be nice if you could make it.”

She could see him hesitating, but he finally nodded. “I’ll try. Any particular time?”

“Maybe four-ish?” Riley nodded and started back down the hall. Buffy sighed. Now she would just have to explain his presence to Spike.

~~~~~

“Now why on earth would you ask me to do something like that?” Giles asked incredulously.

Spike looked at him stubbornly, and Giles had a feeling that no matter what was said, he would not be winning this argument. “’m curious, is all,” he said. “’sides, it’s not like you don’t have enough experience to help me out.”

Giles shook his head, still trying to figure out why Spike would want to train. His request seemed to come out of nowhere. “I am still uncertain as to what you feel you would gain by this, Spike.”

“I want to see where I end an’ the demon began,” the ex-vampire said quietly. “I was—I was different as a human, before. I want to know if I can still fight.” There was a note of desperation in his tone as he said, “Rupert, I spent over a hundred years learnin’ how to survive, honin’ my skills, getting a reputation. Wasn’t about the kill, it was about the excitement. There’s a part of me that still wants it.”

“And you want to see if you can still handle it,” Giles replied, beginning to understand. He sighed. Buffy hadn’t seemed particularly interested in training recently, and since Spike moved out he didn’t have nearly as much to keep him busy. The opportunity to train and teach someone else was inviting; he very much enjoyed that part of his work.

There was more, however. Giles felt that the time might soon be approaching for him to move back to England. Buffy certainly didn’t require extensive services from a Watcher, and Willow was skilled enough with witchcraft that they didn’t need his services as a magician. They might require an extra pair of hands in battle though, and a steady head where research was concerned. Spike was not a Watcher, but he could easily fill the role of replacement, without too much trouble. And Spike wouldn’t leave, that much Giles could guarantee.

“Very well, Spike. I do feel it wise to wait until after we have things with Adam sorted out before we start. I fear that he will require all our attention.” Giles looked at Spike, regarding him with serious intent. “It will also give you time to finish recovering.”

“I’m fine,” Spike protested, a touch of anger in his voice. “Wish you lot would quit hoverin’. You’re worse than Joyce. Least she’ll give me some space.”

“She also gave you the day off,” Giles pointed out. “With strict instructions to take it easy.”

Spike stared at him suspiciously. “You don’t know that.”

“I do,” the Watcher replied calmly. “She called me and told me to look out for you.”

Spike rolled his eyes dramatically. “You two are worse than a gaggle of old mamas,” he grumbled. “Won’t even give a bloke the chance to breathe.”

“We happen to be rather fond of you, William,” Giles said, unperturbed. “We would like to keep you relatively healthy.”

Spike might have managed a snarky reply to that statement of fact, in spite of the kindness. He really was more than a little tired of people trying to take care of him. It was beginning to make him clautrophobic. Giles was saved from his caustic reply, however, by Buffy breezing in the door after a brief knock. “Giles, Riley came through on the information we needed.”

The Slayer stopped when she saw Spike standing there. “Hey, Spike. I didn’t know you were going to be here today.”

“Your mom decided I was too fragile and needed a day off,” he explained, rather grumpily.

She smiled at him. “Well, whatever the reason, I’m glad you’re here,” Buffy said. “It’s all about you anyway.” She set the file down on Giles’ coffee table and come around to sit next to Spike on the couch. “We’ll probably need Willow for the data files,” she said, “but Riley said there was some footage on the CD that no one else should see.”

Buffy could feel Spike stiffen beside her, and she reached out to take his hand comfortingly. “That’s what’s s’posed to tell us what they did to me, huh?”

Giles was flipping through documents, including detailed notes about the substance—some kind of demon blood—and the demon it was taken out of.  “Spike, would you hand me Briggs’ Demon Compendium?”

Buffy was slightly surprised when Spike found it immediately, without any trouble at all. It seemed he knew his way around Giles’ books as well as the Watcher did. Giles flipped it open, going quickly to the correct entry. “Ah. I thought so. The Mohra demon, in whose veins runs the blood of eternity. The blood has regenerative properties. The Initiative tracked and captured one, and during their tests found out that the blood seemed to have strange abilities.” The Watcher flipped through a couple more pages, finding another that pertained to what he was looking for. “Spike was captured at about the same time they were looking for a test subject, and since vampires are technically dead, they decided to test the blood on him.”

Giles looked up at Spike. “It seems that the Initiative’s testing did include common vaccinations, so that’s one thing we don’t have to be concerned about.”

“That’s a relief,” Spike muttered, obviously uncomfortable.

“There are other things in here, of course. Test results, observations, some CD’s. I would suggest we let Willow look at it, at least to see what kind of information is there.” Giles threw a concerned look at Spike. “Are you sure you’re up to this, William?”

“Quite sure,” Spike replied, and for a second Buffy could hear traces of a much more Giles-like accent. “Let’s see it then.”

They spent the next several hours going over the rest of the files. Spike continued to get more quiet and more grim as he acquired additional information. He had pretty much missed out on the first couple weeks because he’d been, well, insane. Now, here was more information than he’d ever wanted. At some point, Buffy came over to sit next to him again, snuggling up close, and her physical proximity was a comfort.

Willow came over as soon as she finished her last class, bringing her laptop with her. “Okay. So I’m data girl. Here we go.” There were three disks, and Willow went through them quickly. Two were simply the electronic files for the hard copies of the documents they already had. The third obviously had footage on it, and Willow didn’t open any of the files on that one. “Do you want to watch it alone?” she asked Spike. “I could show you how.”

He shook his head. “Don’t think ‘m ready for that,” he replied. “Maybe—maybe some other time, yeah?”

“Whenever,” Willow said easily, almost too brightly. She was feeling particularly bad for Spike. Realizing exactly how much had been done to him was a little scary. “Just let me know.”

“Sure.” Spike wanted to do something, pummel something. He felt Buffy tug on his hand, and he glanced over at her.

“We have some time before the meeting later,” she said quietly. “Do you want to go somewhere?”

~~~~~

They walked to a park, Buffy keeping her fingers interlocked with his. “You sure you’re okay?”

“Wish everybody would stop askin’ me that,” Spike replied. “’s like you lot think I’m going to fly apart any minute.”

“Are you?”

“Ha bloody ha, Slayer,” Spike said.

Buffy smiled up at him. “So, you’re definitely feeling better then?”

“All your mother’s arguments aside, yeah. I’m better.” Spike managed to smile back at her. There was something about the sun on his face and Buffy’s hand in his that made him feel infinitely better.

“My mother?” Buffy teased. “She’s your boss.” He raised an eyebrow in response, and she went on. “Riley told me to say he was sorry. I don’t know if that’s really what you want to hear, but that’s what he said.”

“That’s big of him,” Spike said evenly.

Buffy frowned. “Spike, for Riley to even admit that the Initiative was wrong is huge. You could cut him some slack.”

“What do you want me to say?” he demanded. “I just went through a file several inches thick with ‘Hostile 17’ stamped all over it. So he’s sorry. Finn was still a part of the blokes that did that to me.” Spike took a deep breath to try and calm himself down. “I’m human because of what they did, an’ I’m not sayin’ I regret it. Most days I don’t. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for me.”

“I know,” Buffy replied.

Spike pulled away. “How can you?”

“Because I’m the Slayer,” she replied. “I know this kind of stuff.” When he didn’t smile or respond, she sighed. “I know what it’s like to have a hard time figuring out who you are, Spike. You’re right. It’s not easy. But you seem to be doing okay with things.”

“Yeah.” Spike studied the ground intently. “’m doin’ okay.”

Buffy reached out for him again. She had never been very good with words, not with anyone, so she tried the physical thing, hoping she might anchor him in a way. He let himself be moved, and she put her arms around his waist, feeling him return the embrace eventually. “I didn’t say you had to forgive Riley. I’m just passing along the message.” Buffy’s voice was muffled by the blue t-shirt he wore.

“I know.” Spike placed a kiss on the top of her head. “Just as long as you don’t expect me to be friends with the git, I think we’ll be okay.”

“That’s good,” Buffy said, pulling back slightly. “Then you don’t mind that he’s coming to the meeting, right?”

~~~~~

Spike had definitely minded, but he had understood Buffy’s point. They needed information from the Initiative to defeat Adam. The soldier could only be a help when it came to taking the hybrid human-demon cyborg down. That didn’t mean he was happy with it.

About the only saving grace was that Buffy was sitting next to him on Giles’ couch, as they went through the information they had. Spike made certain to keep one arm behind Buffy the entire time, the gesture a subtle declaration of possession.

“It’s been quiet,” Buffy said, knowing exactly why Spike felt he needed to put his arm around her, but deciding not to argue about it. “My kill count is way down.”

“Buffy doesn’t make her quota,” Xander quipped. “Bad Slayer.”

Spike glanced over to see Willow whispering in Tara’s ear, and he couldn’t help but wonder if Tara had spilled her secret yet. As he watched them laugh, he couldn’t help but feel happy for the both of them. They had a good chance of making it, he thought.

He tuned back into the conversation just as Giles said, “So the activity has shifted but not stopped. That’s very interesting.”

“To a very bored person maybe,” Anya commented, completely serious. Spike found it difficult to stifle his laughter. He always found Anya’s commentary funny, if sometimes embarrassing. She told it like it was, a trait he admired.

Giles got rather huffy, and Spike glanced over at Buffy who was also looking amused. Riley was valiantly trying to hide a smile, and then the door opened. The three of them looked up as the door opened, and Spike was surprised to see a short red-head standing in the doorway, looking a trifle awkward. He wasn’t sure who he was seeing, but as silence fell over the room, it looked to be an important arrival.

“Hi, guys.”

~~~~~

“So that was Willow’s ex?” Spike asked, as they walked back to his place.

“Yeah,” Buffy replied.

Spike glanced over at Buffy, who looked worried. “Bad breakup?”

“You could say that,” Buffy replied. “It was just before you showed up, actually. Some stuff came up, and Oz pretty much bailed over night. Willow was devastated.”

“I can imagine,” Spike murmured. “Been there, done that.”

“Me too,” Buffy said. They shared a look and both smiled, enjoying the shared bond. “Anyway, it’s really too bad. Willow was completely dealing with Oz being a werewolf.”

“The boy’s a werewolf?” Spike stared at Buffy. “Really? Is that safe?”

“Uh, sure.” Buffy gave him a weird look. “I mean, Oz locked himself up three days out of the month, but Willow was okay with it.”

Spike shook his head. “No, is it safe now? With the Initiative goons runnin’ around all the time, lookin’ for Adam.” He pointed at the sky. “’s a full moon tonight, luv. Do we know your friend’s in a safe spot?”

Buffy frowned. “I don’t know. Oz was meeting Willow tonight.” She gave it some consideration, and then said hopefully, “Oz was going to try to find a way to control the wolf. Maybe he figured it out.”

Spike hesitated, and then said slowly. “I hope he did, luv, but inner demons aren’t usually so easily gotten rid of.” He glanced over at Buffy. “You mind if we stop by Tara’s place? Want to check on her.”

Buffy wasn’t sure what to think of Spike’s question. She knew that he and Tara were friends, but she was curious as to why he thought he needed to look in on her. Unless—the thought was too strange to even contemplate. Except—Tara had been upset earlier that afternoon, as had Willow. If it were just a friendship—

Buffy shook the notion off. Of course it wasn’t anything like that. “Sure. And then, maybe, would you want to see a movie?”

Spike thought of needing to get up early the next morning to open the gallery. Then he thought of sitting in the back of a darkened theater with Buffy. It was no contest. “Yeah, pet. ‘d like that.”

~~~~~

Buffy woke slowly, her head pillowed on Spike’s shoulder. It was too early, but the alarm was going off, and she knew he had to be to work soon. She rolled over to look into his eyes. “Hey there.”

“’ey, luv,” he mumbled sleepily. “’s too bloody early.”

“I second that,” she said, giving him a kiss. They had gone to the movie after stopping by Tara’s. The girl had thanked Spike for stopping by, but had said that she was fine. They’d gone to the theater, finding whatever was playing at that late hour. Buffy hadn’t really seen any of it though. Spike had been too busy kissing her and making snide remarks about the actors for her to pay much attention. She couldn’t remember enjoying herself that much at the movies for, well, ever.

Knowing that Willow might want some time with Oz, and not wanting to intrude, they’d both gone back to Spike’s apartment and crashed together on his bed. Buffy wasn’t sure she would have minded doing something other than sleep, but Spike didn’t seem ready to go down that road yet. Just waking up next to him, though, his curly hair mussed and sticking up all over the place, his blue eyes darkened by dreams and desire—well, it was certainly something to wake up to.

“You want the shower first?” he asked sleepily.

Buffy shook her head. “No clean clothes. I’ll catch one back at the dorm.”

“You just want to sleep a bit more,” he accused. Buffy gave him a smug little smiled, then rolled over with her back to him. She heard him groan and then the bed creaked as he rose. She opened one eye to watch as he padded over to the closet and pulled out some clothing, admiring his well-muscled back and lean form. Definitely something nice to wake up to.

“How late are you working?” she called out.

His muffled voice came through the crack in the door, drifting across the short expanse of hall into the bedroom. “Till five. Your mom’s leavin’ on a buying trip in a day or so. She said she wanted to give me a bit of time off before I was stuck runnin’ the place on my own for the next few days. Why?”

“Just curious.” Buffy rolled over in bed lazily. “Thought maybe you might want to do something tonight.”

She could hear the water start, and whatever he might have said was drowned out by the noise. Buffy got out of bed and pulled on her pants, smiling as she did so. Spike had been so cute, looking away as she got undressed until she was under the covers. Buffy had to wonder how much of that was William.

Leaning back against the wall, thinking about Spike, she had to wonder how much of him was Spike, and how much was the man he’d been before he was turned. The Slayer had the sense that no one was really sure, least of all Spike himself.

She was still pondering when Spike stuck his head into the bedroom. “Sorry, pet. Didn’t hear you. What was that you said?”

“I was wondering if you wanted to do something tonight,” Buffy replied.

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. What would you want to do?”

Spike hesitated, and then said, almost plaintively, “You think we could just—I don’t know—sit? Maybe stay in, watch the telly? Wouldn’t be here, of course, but—I just want you to m’self for a while.”

A slow smile spread across Buffy’s face. “I think we could manage that.”

He grinned at her. “Brilliant. We could rent a bad movie an’ throw popcorn at the screen. Always wanted to do that.”

Buffy laughed, loving this playful side of Spike. “Sounds like a plan.”

~~~~~

Their plans never did go quite right. Spike had decided to go for a run after work, since he wasn’t supposed to meet Buffy until 7. He had discovered that he needed to get his adrenaline rush from somewhere. Stealing was out of the question, and hunting demons was rather foolish. Running, on the other hand, gave him a nice high and was easy on his wallet. It had been Giles who turned him onto the sport, and they’d been together a couple times. But most days, he liked going by himself, letting his mind empty.

He had just finished, and was out front towelling himself off with his shirt when Buffy came running up. “Spike!”

“Hey, luv,” he replied, smiling at her. “You’re early.”

“We have a problem,” Buffy said grimly. “The Initiative has Oz.”

Spike stiffened, the hand holding his t-shirt dropping limply to his side. “Did you call Finn?”

Buffy shook her head. “I tried. I’ve been trying, but I can’t get a hold of him. We have to get Oz out of there. If I had the security clearance still, we could walk in there, but that’s long gone. I—we thought, maybe if you still remembered how you got out…”

His voice was toneless when he finally spoke, the color in his cheeks from his run draining out. “I’ll need to change, get dressed. Shower.”

“We don’t have time!” Buffy protested.

Spike looked at her, and something flashed in his eyes. “We have time. Place starts shuttin’ down after 10. We don’t go in before then.”

Buffy was silenced by the flatness of his tone and the emptiness in his eyes. She realized belatedly that she was asking him to do what constituted his worst nightmare. She had been thinking only of ways to get Oz out, and hadn’t completely processed what it would mean for Spike to be asked to go back in. “Spike—”

“I’ll go,” he said, knowing what she was going to say before she said it. “I’ll go, Buffy.” He turned and looked at her before they entered the building, and the image he made would stay with the Slayer for a long time afterwards—pale skin sweat-streaked, muscles well-defined on his lean form, his curls hanging loose and wet. And the look in his eyes was that of a man going into Hell, and doing so willingly.

~~~~~

Spike finished showering and then went into his bedroom to dress, leaving Buffy in the living room. He wasn’t sure that there was truly anything in the world that would get him to go back into the heart of the Initiative, except that he wouldn’t leave the carcass of a rabid cur in their hands. There was certainly no way he could leave a stranger there, not when he knew what would happen, what they would do.

He pulled the worn duffel bag out from under his bed, rummaging around until he found what he was looking for. Spike hadn’t worn the clothing he’d had left over from his life as a vampire for months now. There seemed to be no reason. But now—now he pulled on slightly faded black jeans and a black t-shirt. Then, reaching into the bottom, he found it.

Spike had never much been one for weapons, whatever he had said to Buffy that night at the school. He had always preferred fists and fangs when he could get away with it, and he’d built himself a formidable reputation using them. On occasion, however, there had been need, and he had always liked knives.

He pulled it out of its sheath, the big ornamental knife gleaming in the dim light from the overhead bulb. It had been in a novelty store in New Orleans, over two decades before. He had seen it, and wanted it immediately; despite its beauty, it was sharp as a razor and fully functional. The shopkeeper he’d bled dry, and then he’d taken it and baptized it in blood that very night. So many to atone for…

Spike shook off the memories, and clipped the sheath to his belt in the small of his back, shrugging on his jacket over it. Except for the missing duster, he was Spike again. And it felt so good it was frightening.

Buffy looked up as he exited the bedroom, and there was something different in his eyes. It reminded her of Giles during the affair with Eyghon, as though a curtain had been drawn back and someone else entirely had been revealed. Oddly enough, she found herself comforted, because for the first time she believed that they might actually be able to pull this off.

“Ready?”

He gave her a hard smile. “Aren’t I always?”

They took the DeSoto to Giles’ apartment. “How did they catch him?” Spike finally asked, having yet to hear the story.

“Oz ran into Tara at the dorm. Apparently he—smelled Willow on her.” Buffy belatedly realized that Spike might not have all the details, and that Willow might not want all those details to get out. “You know, he just kind of—I guess he—”

“’s alright, luv,” Spike said, his face softening for the first time. “I know about the two of them.”

Buffy stared at him. “Wait. How come I didn’t know?” At Spike’s impatient look, she sighed. “Anyway, Oz changed right there. He went after Tara, but Riley and some of his guys showed up. Tara tried to tell them, but they weren’t really paying attention.”

“Yeah, I can imagine,” Spike snorted. “‘Wait, you should know—’, ‘No need to thank us ma’am, catching dangerous animals and making their lives miserable is all part of our duty.’ ‘But please, you have to realize—’, ‘That saving lives is what we do best. Yes, we’ve heard that before.’”

All of this was said in alternating voices, what Buffy could only imagine was supposed to be a damsel in distress and a manly soldier, and she couldn’t keep from giggling. The funniest part was that she had a feeling that he’d probably nailed the scenario right on the head. As much as she liked Riley, she could definitely picture him doing something like that. She sighed. “Something like that. Anyway, I tried to call Riley, but he wasn’t around.”

Buffy looked over at him earnestly. “Spike, you don’t have to do this. We can find another way if we need to.”

“No.” Spike was firm. “Won’t leave anybody I have a passing acquaintance with in that place longer than I have to. Wouldn’t leave my worst enemy in there, to be honest. There’s a different way in, the way they took me. Won’t be easy, but maybe the witches can whip something up.”

The Scoobies, including Tara, were at Giles’ when they arrived. Tara’s face was looking pinched, and she stared at Spike in relief when he came through the door. He couldn’t blame her; she probably thought he could actually pull off the rescue. Spike could tell she was feeling guilty, as though it were her fault, which it most certainly wasn’t. He walked over to her and leaned down to whisper in her ear, “Don’t you worry, ducks. Wasn’t your fault. Besides, we’ll get him out, right as rain.”

Buffy watched as he reassured the girl and wondered at his softness, even as he geared up for battle. It was like watching two people share the same skin. Spike straightened and looked over the others. “We’ll need somethin’ to keep the goons at bay,” he said without preamble. “I can get us in, but there’s bleedin’ security cameras all over the place. Red?”

Willow shook her head, her face pale and worried. “I don’t know of anything that’s going to work for us there, and there isn’t anything I can do about the security. I mean, maybe if I had more time, but it’s been too long already. They could be doing anything to him!”

Her voice rose towards the end, and Buffy knew her friend wasn’t far away from giving into full-blown panic. Spike’s voice cut through her hysteria. “Pull it together,” he commanded. “Boy’s alive, I can tell you that much for sure. He won’t be comfortable, but he’s alive. Tara—” He turned to look at the blonde witch. “What can you do for cloaking spells?”

Everyone but Tara looked surprised when he asked that question. Willow might have protested, but Tara replied with only a slight stutter. “I-I think I have s-something th-that c-could work.”

Spike smiled. “Take you long to work it up?” She shook her head. “Get with Red. ‘magine she’ll insist on goin’ in with us, so make sure she can do what it takes to get us goin’. Any other volunteers for service?”

Xander raised his hand. “You’re not going in without me,” he replied steadily. “Oz is my friend.”

“Thought so,” Spike replied. “You alright with the numbers, Slayer?”

Buffy stared at him. This was generalissimo-Spike she was seeing. This was Spike, the Master Vampire, who ordered minions and made plans and fought battles. This was also a major turn-on. “Sounds like a plan. You know where we’re going?”

He grew still, and Buffy could sense him drawing himself in, much as she did before a major fight. “I know.”

~~~~~

Spike had made no attempt to remember where the Initiative had brought him out into daylight for the first time in several months. He had been much more interested in escaping at the time to want to remember how to go back. He’d gone looking for the entrance just a couple weeks ago though, soon after Walsh had been killed. So much of his past was beginning to feel like a dream, as though it had never happened, that he had wanted to be able to point to a spot. To be able to say, this is where I started my life all over again.

It hadn’t been nearly as hard to find as he thought it might be. That reminded him that his past wasn’t nearly as far away as he might wish it were.

“Here,” he grunted, crouching down next to the manhole cover and trying to lift it. He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see Buffy looking rather amused.

“You want to let the superhero give it a shot?” Spike rolled his eyes and stepped back, watching enviously as Buffy lifted the cover effortlessly. The Slayer turned and looked at her friends. “Willow? Are you ready?”

The redhead nodded and then chanted the words needed to activate the spell pouches hanging around their necks. Tara had explained that the spell makes people not want to look at you. Even if they were spotted on the security cameras, there was a good possibility that the guards watching would feel an aversion to doing anything about it. Cloaking spells, she had added, were something of a hobby for her.

The pouches glowed yellow briefly as the spell took effect, and then Willow gave them all a hopeful smile. “That should do it.”

“Let’s go.” Buffy looked over at Spike, who was staring down into the hole with a strange expression on his face, one she couldn’t name. “Spike? You ready?”

He nodded shortly. “Yeah. Let’s go.” Spike lowered himself into through the opening, his feet finding the latter in the dim, emergency lighting from above. Waiting at the bottom for the others to descend, emotions washed over him in waves, memories of the day he’d escaped, memories from before.

They weren’t going to get him again, that much Spike was going to make certain of. It was the reason he had the knife strapped to his back. He didn’t see himself having any problem using it.

When they were all on the ground, he led the way through the hallways, letting himself move by instinct more than anything else. Spike had no idea where they would keep the wolf, but the place was huge. And it wasn’t as though there were going to be neon signs saying, “This way to rescue your friends.”

Buffy put her hand on Spike’s arm, catching his attention after fifteen minutes of fruitless wandering. “Spike, maybe we should go to plan B. Grab somebody who’s going to know where Oz is. Do you think you could find the head honcho?”

Spike frowned, thinking, and then nodded. “This way.”

They hadn’t gone very far when Spike stiffened, sensing people ahead. Buffy seemed to get the same idea at the same time, because she pushed herself out in front of the group. The soldiers came around the corner of the hallway, seemingly surprised to see the small group of trespassers. An older man was at the forefront, and he looked to be in charge. Unfortunately, the spell might work on cameras and guards, but it wasn’t much good in such close quarters.

There was a moment of mutual surprise, when no one knew quite what to do, but it was over in an instant. The soldiers pointed their weapons at the Slayer and her friends just as Buffy pointed her crossbow at the Colonel, and Xander brought his own weapon up.

It was a Mexican standoff. Neither Buffy nor Xander were ready to kill a human, but the soldiers didn’t know that. And the Initiative boys would willingly follow any orders given, regardless of the consequences. People on both sides were going to die if anyone decided to take action.

“You know who I am?” Buffy challenged the colonel.

“I know who you are,” he replied, distaste in his voice. “This isn’t going to do you any good, you know. Captain Finn is going to stay in the brig. Helping an HST to escape is a court martial offense.”

Xander blinked, and he and Willow exchanged looks from where they stood behind Buffy. “Riley tried to help Oz?” the Slayer asked.

The colonel’s eyes narrowed in recognition of their objective. “You came for the wolf.”

“I guess we’re two for one,” Xander said.

The colonel stared at them in disdain. “Hardly. You’re at a standstill Ms. Summers. You’ll be lucky to get out of here alive. Breaking and entering into a military base is a federal offense. I don’t think anyone will be surprised when we tell them you were shot during the attempt.”

“That’s assuming I don’t kill you first,” Buffy replied flippantly, trying to look as though she really meant it.

The older man seemed to recognize her hesitance. “You wouldn’t. We have very thorough records. Slayers don’t kill humans.”

“What about ex-vampires? What do your records say about them?” Spike’s voice came out of nowhere, just after he put the colonel into a headlock, knife at his throat. “You think I wouldn’t do it?”

Spike had been listening to the threats with the understanding that they were not going to make it out of there alive without drastic action. For months, he had been trying to reconcile what he had been with what he was now. He was William. He was Spike. He was neither.

He was both. William had been a wallflower, unnoticed except at the worst of times. He had long ago learned that it was often best to be overlooked, safer to be passed over. Spike had been a predator, and had known how to move swiftly and silently, taking advantage of the element of surprise, though he often bypassed surprise out of impatience. So he thought William-thoughts, enhancing the cloaking spell inadvertantly, even as the soldiers focused on Buffy. He tensed, inching his way to the side, wanting a clear shot at the colonel, the only non-expendable present.

Somewhere in there, he seemed to have reached a point of precious balance, something that both Spike and William could agree on: you did anything you had to do to protect the ones you cared about.

It took only a second, when all eyes were on the Slayer, and Spike had a wiry arm wrapped around the head honcho’s neck, knife at his throat, asking the crucial question. Would he kill?

Spike angled their bodies so that the other man was a shield. “You want him to stay alive, you bring the wolf and Finn to us,” he commanded. When they didn’t move, he applied a little more pressure with the knife and watched as a single drop of blood welled up and slid down the blade.

“Do it!” the colonel said, suddenly frantic.

Several of the soldiers disappeared back down the hall. Spike stood with the knife still poised. “Bit different, innit?” Spike murmured pleasantly in the man’s ear, almost purring. “To have a killer holdin’ the knife to your throat? ‘ve killed more people than you can count, an’ you thought to turn me back into a human, thinkin’ that would do some good. Did you ever stop to think what kind of damage I might do should I wish it?”

“Spike,” Buffy’s voice came from behind him, as though from a long way away. He wasn’t paying attention to the Slayer anymore, or anything else for that matter. There was only the knife and the man’s throat and the moment. Because if any of the soldiers thought for a moment that he wouldn’t kill, it would all be over.

Footsteps echoed down the hall, and Spike raised his eyes to see the soldiers heading back towards them, a limping, pinch-faced Oz in their midst. “Harris, take care of him.”

Xander didn’t question his orders, simply moved to help support his friend, pulling him back behind the rest of the group. Riley wasn’t far behind them, coming with his own escort just a few minutes later. “Buffy,” he said, pausing, his eyes going from his ex-girlfriend to Spike, who was holding his commanding officer hostage.

“Riley, we need to go,” Buffy said quietly, looking over at Spike, who seemed to be holding it together. She was worried however; he had a manic look that she hadn’t seen for a long time now.

“If I leave now, I can’t ever come back,” Riley replied, and then his eyes caught Spike’s. He looked at Oz. “I just wanted to hear that out loud.”

“Finn, Slayer, you lead. I’ll bring up the rear.” Spike walked backwards, keeping the colonel’s body in between him and the rest of the soldiers. One of them took a step forward, and he applied a little more pressure to the knife, watching their faces as they saw a thin red line appear and another drop run down the knife blade.

“I’ve done this before,” he reminded them. “And you’re the blokes what held me hostage for weeks. I know exactly how much pressure to give it before I spray the walls with his blood. And I’ll take a few of you lot with me. You want to see him die, take another step forward.”

“Stay,” the colonel croaked, and the soldiers fell back, obviously confused. Spike kept walking backwards until they were out of sight. Then he pushed the officer in front of him, prodding him with the point of the knife.

“Move.” They soon caught up with the others, and Spike forced the colonel into a half-trot as they hurried to get out of there. Riley reached the manhole first, and quickly lifted himself out, keeping watch until the others were safely out. Buffy was the last, and she was watching Spike decide whether or not to kill the man.

It was, perhaps, a more difficult decision than it should have been. Not that he actively wanted to kill the colonel, just that he didn’t think he would feel all that badly if he did. Spike hesitated, his fingers tightening around the handle of the knife. “I could slit your throat for all you’ve done to me and mine,” he said, anger threatening to overwhelm him.

“You don’t want to do that,” the colonel said, a flicker of understanding in his eyes. “You won’t be able to return from killing a man in cold blood.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Spike asked incredulously. “You did this to me. I could kill you for that.” He looked over at Buffy, and unexpectedly saw understanding in her eyes. She didn’t want him to kill the man, of course, but she understood everything. His anger, his indecision, his hurt, and Spike couldn’t help but wonder if she hadn’t felt this way about Faith. With one violent gesture, he hit the colonel across the temple with the knife handle, knocking him out.

“Let’s go,” Buffy said, motioning him to precede her.

They stood in the clear night air, not quite knowing what to do with what had just happened. “You’ll need to take Finn somewhere safe,” Spike said dully. “I’ve—I need some time. I’ll see you later, Slayer.”

“Hey—” Spike turned to see Oz looking at him with an intensity only someone who knew him well might have been able to see. “Thanks, man.”

Spike looked at Oz, at Riley, at the others—they seemed suddenly strange to him, as though he’d never seen them before. “Sure.”

~~~~~

Spike walked for a long time, no destination in mind. He went unmolested, though there was a part of him that wouldn’t have minded being attacked. It was a hard thing to walk into the pit of Hell and find that a demon still dwelt within.

He wasn’t all that surprised to find himself on Giles’ doorstep in the wee hours of the morning; the Watcher was one of the few he knew that might understand personal darkness. Giles himself seemed unsurprised to see him. “Spike.” He pulled the door open, wider, and let the smaller man inside. “I wondered when you might show up.”

“How did you know I would?” Spike asked with a touch of belligerance.

Giles made a motion with his shoulders that might have been a shrug. “Buffy came by and told me what happened. She wanted me to keep a lookout for you.” He poured them both a stiff drink, and handed Spike a glass.

“I would have killed him tonight,” Spike said, anger and bewilderment in his voice in equal parts. “I didn’t care.”

“Then why didn’t you?”

“Buffy.” Spike looked over at him. “She looked at me like she understood, but she didn’t. Not really. She wouldn’t’ve understood if I’d gutted the bastard.”

Giles nodded. “I daresay she would not.”

“It’s not the same,” Spike said slowly. “The bloodlust isn’t there anymore. Don’t want to go out an’ literally paint the town red. But it’s still in there, Rupert. I know—” He swallowed hard. “I know what it would have felt like to slit his throat—just where to put the knife. What it would have looked like, watchin’ the blood spray on the walls. God help me, I can even remember what I would have felt doin’ it, an’ I can’t help but wish I had a little bit of that back.”

“We do not completely exorcise our demons,” Giles said after a long silence in which he filled Spike’s glass a second time. “We bury them, or perhaps harness them for the greater good, but they are a part of who we are and ever will be.” He watched Spike slam the glass back. “You did well tonight.”

“Don’t want to think about it right now,” Spike mumbled, the alcohol hitting him hard on an empty stomach, with his human metabolism. William could never hold his liquor.

Giles poured him another glass, knowing exactly what he was doing. Well, Spike was hardly a minor, so it wasn’t like he was contributing to anyone’s deliquency. Another glass and the ex-vampire would be able to forget for a time that he had been a monster once. Another few days and he would forget what it felt like to let the demon loose. He would lose himself in his own life, in the day to day mundanities of going to work and paying the bills and making out with his girlfriend. Until the next time he had to bring the demon out, and it would be a little easier then.

But until then, he would watch as Spike got drunk and pour him into bed in an hour or two. He would call him into work sick and rib him about his hangover. Giles knew all too well what it was to want to forget for a time. All too well.

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