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 13: United We Stand

“Wherever you go, you know I’ll be there/If you go far, you know I’ll be there/I’ll go anywhere, so I’ll see you there/You place the name, you know I’ll be there/You name the time you know I’ll be there/I’ll go anywhere, so I’ll see you there/I don’t care if you don’t mind/I’ll be there not far behind/I will dare, keep in mind/I’ll be there for you/Where there’s truth, you know I’ll be there/Amongst the lies you know I’ll be there/I’ll go anywhere, so I’ll see you there./If you should fall, you know I’ll be there/To catch the call, you know I’ll be there/I’ll go anywhere, so I’ll see you there.” ~Greenday, “Poprocks and Coke”

Giles entered the gallery, looking around cautiously. He had never thought to come here before the night of the band candy, and he had never been comfortable visiting after that. It was too bad really, because it was a place he might have spent many enjoyable hours.

“Mr. Giles? Can I help you?” Joyce came out of the back, giving him a hesitant smile.

He smiled in reply. “Yes, actually, you can call me Giles, or Rupert if you prefer.”

“Of course.” Joyce shook her head, laughing a little. “I suppose we should be on a first name basis. After…”

“Yes, well, I suppose so.” Giles cleared his throat and didn’t quite meet her eyes. “I was actually looking for William. Is he around?”

“He’s running an errand,” Joyce explained. “Can I do anything for you?”

Giles shook his head. “No. No, I shouldn’t think so. I have a feeling we’re going to need his help, however. Spike has been quite—helpful lately.”

“He really has,” she agreed. “I don’t know what I might have done without him these last few months.”

Giles smiled and looked down at his shoes. “I think we might all say the same.” There was a lull in the conversation, as neither of them seemed to know what to say. “Joyce, I know we haven’t always been friends, but I wanted you to know that I have the utmost respect for you.”

“Likewise,” Joyce said sincerely. “In some ways, I almost feel as though we have two children in common now.”

“Indeed, I suppose we do in a way.” Their eyes met in mutual understanding, and suddenly they both knew that they would part this time as friends, and not just acquaintances. Giles opened his mouth to say something else, perhaps to ask a question, but he never got the chance.

The bell over the door rang as Spike came back in. “Rupert? ‘s everythin’ alright?”

“Quite alright,” Giles assured him. “But we’re setting things up, and we need all the help we can get.”

Spike cast a look back at his boss. “Joyce…?”

“Go, William,” she said. “Be careful.”

“Always,” he replied, giving her a cheeky grin and a quick peck on the cheek. Giles followed him out of the gallery. “Did you lot work things out then?”

“Something like that,” Giles said. “At least we agreed that we needed to work together right now.”

Spike rolled his eyes. “We’re goin’ to need a little more than that to defeat Adam. We need the whole team on board here.”

“The ‘team’ is on board,” Giles replied stiffly. “We’re still working out the details, but Willow managed to decode the disks early this morning.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” Spike said sarcastically. “We’ve got the information that’s goin’ to lead us into a trap, an’ we’re all just fine with bein’ pissed off at each other.”

“Spike…”

“No,” Spike said firmly. “You’re the Watcher—”

“Not anymore,” Giles muttered.

Spike ran right over that comment. “You’re the Watcher, which means you get to be the adult in all this. What everybody seems to forget is that they’re children. Children who’ve started down different roads, an’ haven’t figured out what that means yet. You’re the adult here, you know ‘bout changes.”

The Watcher stared at him for a moment, and then sighed. “I suppose you’re right.”

“I know I’m right,” was Spike’s rather cocky reply. “Buck up, Rupert. Might not know it now, but they’ll always need you. An’ your books.”

Giles glared at him, though there was a suspicious twinkle in his eye. “Pillock.”

“Git.”

~~~~~

“Riley’s a no-show, huh?” Spike asked, as they got to Giles’ apartment.

The older man shook his head. “Buffy went to the high school, but he’s nowhere to be found. No one else has seen him either, not since last night.”

“And Harris and his girl? They goin’ to be in on this?”

Giles shrugged. “Xander seemed to think he would be here. I’m not sure that we really need Anya, however. Just the core group.”

“An’ I’m part of the core group, huh?” Spike asked, a hint of wonder interlaced with smugness in his voice.

Giles looked over at him. “You’ve proven yourself more than once, Spike. So, yes, as a matter of fact, you are one of us now. As frightening as that sounds.”

“So what are we waiting for?” Spike asked.

“Now?” Both men turned to see Willow standing in the doorway. “Just Buffy and Xander. Unless Buffy has news, we’ve got all the information we’re going to have.”

There was an awkward silence as they waited for the Slayer to arrive. Willow had left a message at the dorm for her to come to Giles’ place whenever she got done with her patrol. They might have put a lid on their disagreement of the previous night, but that didn’t mean the tension wasn’t there. Spike could sense it simmering just below the surface, a heady maelstrom of resentment and mistrust. It only got thicker when Xander arrived, a sullen look on his face as he tried not to meet anyone’s eyes.

Spike sighed. He wasn’t used to being the one in a position to smooth things over; in the past, he’d always been the one to stir things up. “Does anyone here think Harris is a loser?” he asked to the room at large.

Three pairs of eyes swung around to stare at him, startled. “Huh?” Willow asked.

“Does anybody here think Harris is a loser?”

“Of course not,” Willow said indignantly. “Xander’s never been a loser.”

“And Rupert?” Spike asked casually. “You lot think you could do without him?”

Xander frowned. “Without the G-Man? No. I mean, he’s the only one that usually knows anything.”

“What about Willow? You all think she’s losin’ her mind, what between all the witchcraft, an’ the new girlfriend?”

Giles shook his head. “No. Willow’s ability is much appreciated, and Tara seems like a perfectly nice girl.”

Spike smirked. “Good. Now that we’ve gotten that all cleared up, we can move on.”

Just then, Buffy came through the door. Looking around at the rather bemused expression on all her friends’ faces, she had to ask, “Okay, so what’d I miss?”

“Harris isn’t a loser, Willow’s still alright, an’ you’d be lost without Rupert. I miss anythin’?”

Buffy stared at him. “What?”

Spike didn’t really reply. “We’re just movin’ past last night’s little discussion an’ making war plans. You got anythin’ to add to that, luv?”

The Slayer took in his smug look, glanced over at Giles, who seemed rather sheepish, and her friends, who were looking rather bemused themselves. She shrugged. “Spike and I are in a serious dating relationship. And he’s really old fashioned.” Buffy grinned at him and turned to Willow, who was trying very hard to hide a snigger. “What have we got, Will?”

“I managed to get the computer disks decoded. Well, actually, they pretty much started decoding themselves,” Willow stated. “It’s pretty clear that someone wanted us to have that information.”

“Adam,” Buffy stated flatly. The atmosphere in the room was rapidly turning serious. “He’s moved out of the cave he was using as his lair. Whatever he’s planning, it’s going to happen soon. What was on those disks, Willow?”

Willow frowned in concentration, her nose wrinkling. “Well, a bunch of stuff that we already knew about 314, but also there’s something there about a final phase. Apparently, Adam’s going to construct a bunch of creepy cyber-demons just like him.”

“Oh, that’s fun,” Xander commented. Everyone was leaning in now, interested, and Spike noticed the change in the room. This was the reason why Buffy and her friends had always been able to defeat him. Give them a challenge, and there was no breaking them apart. Presented with an outside enemy, and they were ready for a fight, completely united.

“Okay, so where’s this construction going to take place?” Buffy asked.

“Somewhere in the Initiative, in a secret lab,” Willow explained. “The disks didn’t say exactly where.”

Buffy let out a breath. “Well, I’ll give the demon his due. He gave this a lot of thought.”

Spike nodded, knowing where she was going with her line of thinking. “Because the demons were goin’ after the Initiative boys an’ leavin’ you alone,” he stated. “They wanted inside.”

“My guess is that Adam’s going to let them loose on the soldiers,” Buffy agreed.

“Demons versus soldiers. Massacre, massacre,” Xander said, whistling under his breath.

Giles nodded. “The perfect Trojan horse.”

Willow made a face. “And then Adam has a neat pile of body parts that he can make new demons out of. Diabolical, yet…gross.”

“Does anyone else miss the Mayor ‘I wanna be a big snake?’” Xander asked facetiously. Spike couldn’t help but roll his eyes. The boy never could resist the opportunity to crack a joke during a serious moment.

“I’ve got to shut him down now, Giles,” Buffy said quietly. “There’s no way I can let this happen.”

“Perhaps we should warn the Initiative?” Giles suggested.

Buffy shook her head. “They’re not going to listen to us, or Riley, since he’s a deserter. If we could even find him to ask him to pass on the message.”

“Okay, I’m confused again,” Xander said. “Adam’s got this evil plan, but he seems pretty anxious for you to know about it. Isn’t he worried you might kill him?”

“No, he’s really not.” Buffy bit her lip. She was used to arrogant evil guys. The Master, Spike, the Mayor, Angelus: they had all been pretty cocky until she shut them down. Adam worried her, however. She had watched Forrest shoot him with his Initiative-issue weapon, and the cyber-demon had lapped it up. He really did seem indesctructible.

She felt Spike’s hand slip into hers, and she glanced over at him. He’d come to stand behind her, and she could feel the strength of his presence. “He doesn’t have to be worried ‘bout you killin’ him, luv,” the ex-vampire reminded her, reading her mind. “Him bein’ worried doesn’t change the fact that you’re gonna rip him into tiny pieces.”

Willow grinned. “No kidding. The Mayor thought he had it under wraps until we blew him up. We’ll take Adam down just like we’ve taken down every other bad guy.”

“I’m not sure blowing Adam up is going to work in this case,” Buffy said, smiling a little at the support. “According to Riley, he has some sort of uranium core near his spine. That’s what we need to get to.”

“Great, so we ask him to lay down while we perform exploratory surgery?” Xander asked sarcastically.

Spike raised an eyebrow. “Or, you could hold his arms while Buffy rips it out.” He smirked a little at Xander’s glare.

“Oh! Maybe a spell?” Willow suggested. “You know, one that holds him down?”

“A paralyzing spell?” Giles asked. He stood and grabbed a book leafing through it. Finding the one he was looking for, the Watcher shook his head. “Only I can’t perform the incantation for this.”

Willow’s brow furrowed. “Right. Don’t you have to speak it in ancient Sumerian or something?”

Giles looked slightly offended. “I do speak ancient Sumerian. But this spell must be performed by an experienced witch, and within close range of the object in question.”

“An’ they don’t teach Sumerian in schools these days?” Spike asked glibly. “What is this world coming to?”

“So what we need,” Xander said, “is combo-Buffy. Her with her Slayerness, Giles with his language know-how, and Willow with her witchy-power.” At Giles look, he held up his hands in surrender. “I know, I know, I’m just full of good suggestions.”

“Actually, you are,” Giles responded, going to his bookshelf for yet another book. As Giles explained the adjoining spell to them, Spike got the sinking feeling that he was being left out of things. Giles was mentioning heart, mind, spirit and hand, but that didn’t leave a role for ex-vampires.

He raised a cautious hand after a while. “Uh, an’ what about me?”

Four pairs of eyes turned to look at him. “Oh, Spike,” Willow said, her voice faltering slightly. “You know, there’s only room for three, and, you know, we’ve uh…” The redhead trailed off as she realized that telling Spike that they didn’t need him wasn’t the most tactful way to do it.

“Maybe you should stay behind,” Buffy suggested tentatively. “There’s going to be a lot of danger, and—” Spike’s look cut off whatever else she might have said. “Or not.”

Spike’s eyes were glinting dangerously. “’m not lettin’ you go in there without me. Period. ‘f nothin’ else you can use the extra muscle.” He looked over at Giles. “Besides, what about while you lot are doin’ the spell? What happens to you?”

Giles blinked, unsure of where the question was going. “Well, we will be connected to Buffy, with her in a mystical sense.”

Spike shrugged. “Yeah, got that. But what happens to you lot? If somethin’ comes after you?”

There were looks shared all around. “Uh, yeah,” Xander said, realizing that they had just been about to walk into a death trap, immobilize themselves, and hope for the best. “Maybe Spike should come along. To watch our backs.”

“An excellent idea,” Giles concurred, as Willow nodded.

Buffy still looked uncertain. “Spike, I don’t know. We’re talking about walking right into a war zone. If you’re there—”

“I can watch out for your friends.” Spike gave her a look. “I’m doing this, Slayer. End of story.”

They locked eyes, and to the rest of the room it appeared that they were having a staring contest. Finally, Buffy gave him a slow nod. “You’re right. Somebody needs to look out for them while I’m doing my thing. You know, killing Adam.”

Spike mock sighed. “An’ look how far the Big Bad has fallen. Reduced to a bloody babysitter.” Three indignant “heys” greeted his comment.

~~~~~

Spike finished tightening the straps on Buffy’s harness. The Slayer could have done it herself, but she could feel the worry radiating off of him. She knew very well that there were moments he wished he was still a vampire, and that this was probably one of them. Wished that he had his strength and speed so that he could hope to help her defeat Adam, instead of being “reduced to a bloody babysitter.” Even though it was supposed to be a joke, he had been half-serious, wishing he could be at her side.

“Who’s gonna tighten your straps?” Buffy asked him.

He gave her a dirty look. “I can tighten my own straps, luv.”

“I’m going to be fine.”

“I know.” He paused to lay his forehead against hers. “I hate this,” he whispered. “I hate bein’ of no bloody use.”

“You’re not useless,” Buffy replied heatedly. “You’re taking care of my friends so I don’t have to worry about them..”

“Which is why you didn’t want me along.” Spike raised a scarred eyebrow, his expression telling her exactly what he thought of that sentiment.

Buffy smiled. “I don’t want to lose you.”

Spike’s face smoothed and he cocked his head to one side, studying her face. “If I say anythin’ right now,” he whispered, “’s gonna seem like ‘m sayin’ it because we might all die. So I’m not sayin’ it now. I’ll have to tell you later.”

“Tell me what later?” she asked.

“This.” Spike captured her lips in a sweet kiss, nibbling at her lower lip. They broke away from each other reluctantly. There had been so little time to spend with each other, in their own company and away from the others. Buffy wished they’d had just a little more time. Their eyes met, and Spike smiled, just an upward turn of one corner of his lips. He released her, and Buffy walked to the edge of the elevator shaft.

“Watch your back,” she said, before she and Willow began climbing down.

Willow threw her friend a smug look. “I knew you two would be perfect for each other.”

“What?” Buffy asked.

Willow smiled. “Come on. Spike has it so bad for you, it’s not even funny. And I don’t think I ever saw you look at Riley like that.”

“Yeah. Spike’s something special,” Buffy agreed. She paused, wanting to get things out in the open. Spike had forced the issue earlier, but she wanted to lay things to rest herself. “Will, I’m sorry things got strained between us.”

“It’s okay, Buffy. I mean, the first year of college, you can’t keep the high school gang together always.”

“But I want to! Will, I miss you, and Xander, and Giles. I’ve been so wrapped up in my own life, with Riley and the Initiative and then Spike, I lost track of everybody else. I think Spike was trying to tell me that, but I wasn’t listening very well.”

Willow gave her friend a sympathetic look. “Buffy, we all messed up. I kept secrets. I should have told you about Tara, but I was scared.”

“You can tell me anything,” Buffy assured her. “I love you. You’re my best friend.” They hugged across the distance, Willow echoing Buffy’s words, even as their combined weight sent them plummeting.

The two girls lay on the floor, giggling together. Buffy thought that it felt like old times. They pounced on Xander as soon as his feet hit the ground. “We love you, Xander!”

Though bewildered, the boy wasn’t all that upset at his position as the sandwich filling. “Hey, guys!” he shouted, calling up to Giles and Spike. “I think you might want to get down here for this.”

~~~~~

Spike was fairly certain the colonel would have found some way to kill him if the lights hadn’t suddenly dimmed. They had all made it down the elevator shaft, into the Initiative itself, only to be greeted by several gun-toting soldiers. To say that their commanding officer had not been happy to see them again was an undestatement. To say that he was looking at Spike with fear and loathing would have been right on the mark.

For his part, the ex-vampire was happy to stay out of the way and let the Slayer and her friends do most of the talking. Spike just didn’t want to give the soldiers an excuse to shoot him, because he was certain they’d have no qualms about doing so. While he certainly wasn’t above adding his own sarcastic commentary (he’d had a few comments to make about group hugs earlier), one wrong word would get him zapped. Been there, done that, didn’t need a repeat experience.

So, even though the lights going out wasn’t necessarily a good sign, it also made it a lot harder for the soldiers to aim, and thus possibly hit, their targets. Spike heard one of the soldiers inform the colonel that the main power grid and backup were down. And then came the news that the containment areas had been breached.

Spike had some idea of what it means to let a bunch of demons loose like that. Their inbred need for violence and mayhem would be magnified by days’ worth of inactivity. The colonel’s stubborn refusal to believe that a mere slip of girl would be capable of doing him any good at all was going to get him killed. Him, and who knew how many more of their men.

Spike shared a look with Buffy in the dim emergency lighting, and they separated slightly as the colonel marched out, all but two of the soldiers following. The Slayer took out the one closest to her, and as the second turned to help his comrade, Spike pulled his special knife out from his holster at his back and clocked him over the head with the pommel. The soldiers had disarmed them, of course, but Spike knew how to hide a weapon. Although, he’d need his ax back.

He stripped the unconscious soldiers of their weapons, tossing a gun to Xander, and taking his ax back. Even as he did so, Spike realized that the violence got easier. It became easier to distinguish between the love of the challenge and the adrenaline rush. Violence done in aid of the right thing was nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, he supposed it put him on the road to being a hero, as unlikely as that seemed. Or, perhaps not a hero, but simply a man who knew the right thing to do and did it. That was something to aspire to.

“We’ve got to find Adam,” Buffy said, even as Willow moved over to the computer console.

“I’m on it,” Willow replied, her fingers flying over the keyboard.

Giles frowned. “The enjoining spell is touchy. It’s highly volatile, and dangerous. We can’t risk it being interrupted. We’ll need someplace quiet to do it.”

Spike and Xander shared a look. “Quiet?” Spike asked. “You wanted quiet, you could have stayed at your place.”

Giles gave him a look. “We’ll need to be close to Buffy.”

“Right.” Spike shook his head and muttered, “Guess that’s where I come in then.” As they waited for Willow to locate Adam, the sounds of a war filtered up to them. Spike had no idea how they were even supposed to get to where Adam was in the first place. Of course, that’s probably just what the cyber-demon wanted—if they got killed on their way to see him, no skin off his nose. If his nose had skin. Spike wasn’t any too sure about that.

“How are we coming, Will?” Buffy asked.

“Almost there,” the witch said. “Hold on. There it is. See all those air ducts and conduits running to that room?” She pointed to the schematic on the screen.

Buffy nodded. “Yeah. So?”

“So there’s nothing there,” Willow explained. “Look.”

“It’s Adam,” Buffy said.

“Are you sure?” Giles asked.

Buffy nodded absently, already thinking of the battle ahead. “I’m sure. Willow, can you unlock it?”

Willow shook her head. “I don’t need to. All the door locks have been disengaged except for the ones that lead out.”

Xander pulled a face. “Demon open house.”

“Guess we get to close it down then,” Spike said pragmatically.

Buffy nodded. “We stick together. Spike? You think you can take the rear?”

Spike hefted the ax that he’d brought along. “I think I can manage it.”

There was a mad dash through the “demon open house,” as Xander had called it. Soldiers and demons were at each others’ throats in a free-for-all that rivalled any of the scenes of chaos he’d witnessed (or created) in his century and more of living. Spike used his ax, a part of him glorying in the mayhem that surrounded them. This was a piece of him that would not die; the demon who called himself Spike had left a deep imprint on the man, and the man who remained was beginning to accept that.

His muscles and reflexes as a human were as good as they had been as a vampire. Not as strong, or as fast, of course, but almost as good. Sometimes knowledge is enough. It was his knowledge that told him that the Kraylor demon could only be killed by putting out its eyes, and that’s where he hit it with his ax. Spike sent his knife deep into the body of a Polgara demon with his left hand, even as his right hand eviscerated a Dullar. He whirled, ducking, to get away from a mean set of claws, and in the next moment lept over a spiked tail. He’d cracked at least two more skulls and slit a throat before they reached the other side.

Spike gloried in the mayhem.

The last one through the door, Spike helped Buffy push a cart in front of it to prevent unwelcome intruders. “This gonna be alright, Watcher?” Spike asked.

Giles looked over at the ex-vampire, thinking that he made quite a picture. He had demon goo of some kind smeared over his gray t-shirt, and his black pants had a rip across one knee. It was the look in his eyes, though, one that reminded Giles very much of the vampire he had known. Somehow the resemblance only made him feel safer. “It will do.”

“As long as we don’t get blown up or anything,” Willow commented.

Xander grinned. “And what are the chances of that happening?”

“How long before the ritual takes effect?” Buffy asked Giles, ignoring the quips of her friends. The generalissimo attitude caught Spike’s attention, and he couldn’t help smiling. He loved it when the Slayer took charge like that. Strength in a woman was a turn-on for him.

“Five minutes, give or take,” Giles said.

“All right. Barricade the door after me.” She looked at Spike for a long time, their eyes saying what they could not put into words.

Xander grabbed her arm, and spoke Spike’s thoughts. “Buffy, I still don’t like you going in alone.”

The Slayer smiled at him. “I won’t be.” Her eyes caught Spike’s for one last look, and then she was gone. He helped the others block the door, and then stood back as they prepared for the spell.

“I’m not sure what this will look like, or what effect it will have on you,” Giles told him frankly, pulling him aside for a brief moment before the chanting began. “It’s imperative that you do not interrupt, however, no matter what happens.”

Spike nodded, swallowing hard. Magic typically made him a bit nervous; there was always a price to pay, after all. Magic of this magnitude made him doubly nervous, because he’d seen spells like this go awry before. He hated to think he might have to watch it go bad and not be able to do anything. The thought of the four of them being stuck together for eternity just wouldn’t leave his mind. Giles gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder and then went back to take his place in the triad.

He watched, a silent observer, as Giles lit a candle, and Willow began chanting. “The power of the Slayer and all who yield it. Last to ancient first, we invoke thee. Grant us thy domain and primal strength. Accept us in the power we possess. Make us mind and heart and spirit joy. Let the hand encompass us. Do thy will.”

Spike couldn’t help but feel a little awe as Willow, Xander, and Giles all put their cards down in turn. He also couldn’t help but envy their union with the Slayer. They would be one with Buffy in a way he would never know. Even though there might soon come a day when he could celebrate a union with her in a different way entirely, they would still have a history, a unity that he would never be able to match.

Willow spoke the words that sealed the spell, and Spike could feel the difference in the room. And even though he was not supposed to be a part of it, he could still catch a sense of what was going on at the edges of his mind. He could almost taste their essences, feel the power that each of them possessed. Even Xander, for all his seeming uselessness, had a part to play in this game. They each had something to offer.

What did he have to give, besides his now-fragile strength? It was a thought that sometimes woke him in the middle of the night, that made him wonder how Buffy could ever be happy with a mere human. Perhaps being a good man might be enough for himself, enough for the rest of the world, but could it be enough for the Slayer?

Listening as they spoke in unison, he couldn’t stop the shiver that ran up his spine at the raw strength in their voices. This was strength without mercy or passion, but only purpose. Spike instinctively knew that it was the Slayer’s voice he was hearing. That part of Buffy that fed her strength and made her more than human. He loved that part of her, but he also loved her humanity, and he was suddenly glad that he wouldn’t see her while she was in the grip of this spell. He didn’t know that it wouldn’t change the way he viewed her. He also didn’t know that it wouldn’t cause him to desire to worship her that much more.

The banging on the outside door got his attention, and Spike swung around to face the entrance, knife in one hand and ax in the other. He heard Willow’s voice behind him saying, “Wow, that was—” They had come out of the spell, but he had no time for them, only time for the demon that came crashing into the room.

He sidestepped its trajectory, graceful as a cat, and lodged his ax in the back of its head, using his knife to stop the other that followed close on its heels. Spike turned to face the group. “You know, it’s a good thing you lot had me here. Otherwise, you would have been breakfast. Or maybe it’s dinner time ‘round here.”

“Yes, Spike, it was certainly a good thing we had you around,” Giles replied, trying to keep the sarcasm in his voice to a minimum. He looked at the bodies of the demons, and hid a shudder.

“Definitely a good thing,” Xander agreed, trying to stand, and not quite managing it due to shaky legs. Spike came over and offered a hand to haul him up.

Spike looked at Giles expectantly. “Buffy’s okay, yeah? That’s why the spell ended, because you managed to defeat Adam?”

~~~~

Buffy went through the doors, feeling a lot better knowing that Spike was staying behind to look after them. From the spells she’d seen done in the past, the spell-casters had a tendency to lose sight of their surroundings.

Of course, that would be assuming that the spell worked and she managed to kill Adam. Otherwise, Spike would end up just being one more dead body.

She found Riley immediately, seated, a look of distress on his face. “Riley?” He didn’t move, didn’t speak. “Riley? Are you okay? Why won’t you answer me?”

“He can’t.” Adam’s deep voice startled her. He always seemed to be able to sneak up from behind, and Buffy wasn’t quite sure how that was possible. Adam was big, for one thing, and he was half-metal. You’d think he’d at least squeak.

She turned to look at him, Dr. Walsh and Dr. Engleman appearing. They both looked like something out of a Frankenstein movie. “What’s going on with him?”

“He has not been programmed to talk to you,” Adam explained. “He is part of the final phase now, as you were supposed to be.”

“I don’t jump through hoops on command,” Buffy replied. “Sorry.”

“Oh.” Adam paused. “Kill her.”

Strong arms grabbed her from behind, and Buffy recognized Forrest’s voice as he spoke. “Thought you’d never ask.”

The Slayer knew that dead things could present challenges of both strength and skill, but dead things like this? When could she get back to normal dead things, like vampires? She’d even take a zombie or two at this point.

Walsh was getting way too close to her with whatever she had in her hand. A quick kick sent the former professor flying, and Buffy concentrated on taking Forrest down. What had to be most annoying was that she ought to have been able to do it with one hand tied behind her back.

And now she was losing. Forrest played around with her a little bit before bashing her head into the table. Buffy heard Riley say her name as she slowly got up.

“Shut up and watch me kill your girlfriend, Finn. That’s an order.”

“Not my boyfriend anymore, Forrest,” Buffy snarled. “Get with the program.” It might have been a mistake, making him mad, because he just came at her with that much more ferocity. Buffy found herself hard-pressed just to hold her own, and soon she found herself way too close to being put into restraints.

“That all you got?” Forrest asked.

Riley loomed behind him. “No, it’s not.” Forrest turned to look at him. “She’s still got friends on the inside.” He knocked out both Walsh and Engelman and then turned to struggle with Forrest. Buffy kicked the cyber-soldier to one side, looking at Riley with relief.

“I need to get to Adam. Like, now. Are you able?” Buffy asked.

He almost laughed. “Go.”

Buffy took off, and found Adam sooner than expected. There were the usual pre-fight pleasantries, and then the fight really began. Adam worried her; he didn’t tire, and he didn’t seem to be rocked by any of her blows. She broke the spine in his arm, and it turned into a gun.

She took cover behind the computer console, and felt the spell descend on her. It felt as though she were being consumed by living fire, as though she were both more and less than she had ever been. Buffy could feel Willow’s power, Xander’s heart, Giles’ mind; she could feel the pure power of the First Slayer.

Buffy-Giles-Xander-Willow stood and looked at Adam, seeing him for the first time like the bug he was. The bug she was going to crush beneath her heel.

“You can’t last much longer,” Adam said, sounding puzzled.

“We can. We are forever.” There was a small, tiny part of herself that remained Buffy during the spell, and that part stood back and stared in wonder as the Hand spoke Sumerian, as the power rushed out of the Spirit. She put up a forcefield, and turned rockets into birds. She blocked every punch and stopped every kick.

She was strong. She was infinite. She was eternal. “You can never hope to grasp the source of our strength.” Buffy-Giles-Xander-Willow said. “But yours is right here.” She reached through his chest and pulled out the uranium core.

Adam fell to the ground, dead, and the power that looked like Buffy heard Riley call her name. Her task was not yet over, however, and she levitated the uranium, again speaking in Sumerian, and it disappeared into thin air. The power rushed out of her, and blackness rushed in.

She woke to find herself cradled in Riley’s arms. “Hey.”

“Hey yourself,” he replied. “You okay?”

Buffy laughed a little. “I think so. Quite a ride though.”

“What was that?”

She hesitated, unsure of how to explain. “Let’s just say it was combo-Buffy,” she said, using Xander’s terminology, thinking it as good as any. “What was that thing with you about?” She looked at his bloody shirt pointedly.

“Modification chip,” Riley explained. “The others?”

“I left them with Spike.” Buffy realized she was still in Riley’s arms, and she struggled to stand. Once she got to her feet, she found she was steady enough to help the soldier stand. “We should get you out of here. We still have demons to kill. Can I count on you to make sure the other soldiers are on board?”

“Of course, Buffy,” Riley said. “Always.”

Buffy supported her ex-boyfriend through the lower level, and then up and into the room where she’d left her friends and Spike. Just in time to hear Spike ask the question about whether or not they’d defeated Adam.

“He’s history.” Spike’s head swiveled to stare at her and Riley. She gave him a reassuring smile. “Adam’s done.” She looked at the bodies of the dead demons and then at her boyfriend. “You up for a little more mayhem?” she asked. “We need to do clean-up. Riley’s going to organize the soldiers.”

“After you, Slayer,” Spike replied, and then they stepped out into the fray. This might be all he had to offer, Spike thought, but it would be enough. He would make sure it would be enough.

~~~~~

“You can come back with us if you want,” Buffy offered. They had all made it out of the Initiative alive, which now seemed like a miracle. She would never forget the sight of her ex-boyfriend digging the modification chip out of his chest on his own. In the end, Riley Finn had acquitted himself admirably, even if she was never in love with him.

Riley shook his head. “No, I’ve got a debriefing to go to.” He hesitated, and then looked over at Buffy almost apologetically. “I’m leaving. Asking for a transfer. I don’t think I’ll have any trouble getting it.”

“Where will you go?” she asked, feeling a sense of sadness, though not loss.

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Probably go with Graham to Belize. I always wanted to travel, you know. And now, with the Initiative gone, and with helping take Adam out, I’ll probably have my pick of commands.” Riley laughed a little. “Who knows? Maybe I’ll even get a promotion out of this.”

They stood above ground, in Lowell House, and in the relative peace that surrounded them, it was hard to believe what they’d just faced and survived. It was always hard to believe what went on in the darkness while you stood in the light of day. It was no wonder the populace of Sunnydale managed to delude themselves. “I guess this is good-bye then,” Buffy said.

He just smiled. “Pretty much. You never know, though. Maybe I’ll be back. Lot of weird stuff happens in this town. They might need me here again.”

Buffy pulled him into a hug. “Good luck, Riley.”

“You too.” He gave her a gentle squeeze and then released her. “I’ll see you.”

Buffy watched another piece of her past slip away and turned to find Spike watching her with a peculiar expression on his face. He came up, and without saying a word, pulled her into a hug of his own. They stood there holding one another, until he leaned down and kissed her, long and slow, reassuring himself that it had all turned out right. “Where to now, luv?”

“My house,” Buffy replied. “Traditional post-apocalyptic movie-night. The whole gang’s invited.”

Spike shook his head in wonder. “’s what Rupert said. Somethin’ about me bein’ a part of the gang.”

“Oh, you’re definitely in,” she assured him. “Even if you haven’t gone through the initiation.”

“Initiation?” he inquired.

She grinned. “Yep. Initiation: you help stop an apocalypse and live to tell the tale.”

“Did that two years ago,” he reminded her.

“Well, two makes it good then.” Buffy gave him a big grin. “That means you’re only one behind everybody else.”

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