DISCLAMAIR: All things Buffy belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and lots of people in expensive suits. Iím not making any money here, just trying to create a happier Buffyverse for my favorite characters.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Adheres to Buffy canon up to "Who Are You?" Spoilers for S4 after (and including) "This Yearís Girl" and the Angelís episode "Sanctuary."† Many thanks to Val for the beta and encouragement.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Rebelrsr


Chapter Four

Silence followed Buffyís statement. "íKay. Not wanting to sound insensitive, but I donít understand."

"He didnít notice, Will. Riley slept with that evil, whoring bitch and he couldnít even tell that it wasnít me!" Buffy was almost shouting at the end.

Willow pulled Buffy a little closer and rested her cheek on the top of Buffyís head. Faithís voice rang in her head, "Only been one romp since wakiní upÖ" "Oh, Goddess, Buffy, I am so sorry. Thatís..thatís, well, terrible." Way to go, Willow. Thatís sure to make her feel better. "Did you talk to him about it?"

"Not really. I mean, I was in shock, you know? And then I got mad. How could he not know it wasnít me?"

"Um, Buffy? Faith made a pretty good you." Feeling Buffy stiffen, she hurried on, "She knew just what to say. OK, thinking back, she was still using her street talk and everything, but she sounded just like you. She even told me she would make sure you Ė I mean, Faith/you Ė never hurt me. Admit it, thatís what you would say, too, if I was afraid of something." I canít believe Iím defending her!

"But, Will, he slept with her. Itís not like they were just discussing the weather."

Weíre not letting go of this one any time soon. "So, you gonna keep seeing him?"

"I donít know, Will." Buffyís voice was low. "Itís just one more thingÖ Iíve been thinking a lot, lately, about my life. All I really have or do ends up centering on being the Slayer. I canít remember a time when I could just be me." She pulled away from Willow. "For a while, being in college helped. I didnít have to see Giles every day; I didnít spend most of my waking hours in the library researching or training, and I set my own patrol schedule."

Willow sat, listening in horror. It was too dark in the room to see her friend clearly, but Buffyís emotions were easy enough to read in her voice. She sounded tired, defeated.

"Then Riley came along and things got even better. God, he was everything I wanted in a boyfriend. And," she smiled slightly and took Willowís hand, "he didnít know anything about vampires or demons."

"Then just in time to interrupt your happiness, the Intitiative," Willow finished. "But, Buffy, Riley knowing about your being the Slayer is a good thing. You donít have to lie about patrolling or sneak out like you did when you first moved to Sunnydale."

Buffy didnít say anything for a minute, concentrating on their joined hands. "Not lying is of the good. Rileyís kinda like my mom, though, when it comes to Slaying. He doesnít get that itís not a job, that I canít just quit if I want." She paused and almost braced herself before continuing. "I want to quit, Will. I am so tired. Tired of being responsible for finding a way to defeat every Big Bad coming out of the Hellmouth. Tired of pretending I can be like every other college student at UCS. Tired of finding something that makes me happy only to lose it because of a curse or a body swap. I think the last time I was really happy was the night I slept with Angel. I wasnít thinking ahead or worrying about any new evil. It was just me, Angel, and our love for each other."

Willow could feel her friend shuddering, and her next words were triggered by a strangled sob. "My happiest moment, Will. Look how well that turned out."

Turning slightly, Willow pulled Buffy into her arms. Buffy clung to her, sobbing. "Shh, Buffy. Itíll be OK." Will it? Iíve never seen her like this Ė not even before she fought the Master. "You donít have to deal with everything alone. Xander, Giles, and I will always be with you. Let us help you." Willow was near tears herself. Finally, Buffyís sobs slowed down and Willow could feel her relax in her arms. "Come on. Letís get you into bed."

The two girls climbed to their feet and Willow helped put the smaller blonde into bed. To Buffyís surprise, the redhead climbed into bed next to her and pulled her into her arms again. "Snuggle in, best friend. For once, let me be there to hold you, OK?"

Tara managed to contain her humor. "Mr. Giles, what do you Ė"She stopped, noticing his attention was focused on something behind her.† She sat up when Giles stood.

"Spike, what on Earth are you doing here?"

The vampire ignored the question and walked into the kitchen, opening the refrigerator. After a little rummaging, he stood up, blood bag in hand. "I thought Iíd left one in here," he said triumphantly. "Sorry, to interrupt, Rupert. Is this your latest bird?" He leered at Tara before biting into the bag and ripping it open. He watched the two humans closely as he poured the contents of the bag into a bright yellow coffee mug and placed it in the microwave. "I need you to get a message to the Slayer for me, Rupert."

When Giles and Tara just looked at him, he continued. "Look, mate, what if I told you that I thought there were files and such about Adam still in the Initiative?"

"Iíd say that I might wonder if this was a case of you having just what we needed at just the right time," Giles replied, sarcastically. "And, I might ask, whatís in it for you?"

Spike took a sip from his mug. "Well, I was imagining the undying gratitude from the Slayer, but boatloads of cash sound fantastic, too." Noticing Giles and Tara sharing a look, Spike frowned. "Can you let the Slayer know, then?"

"I donít see much of Buffy these days, Spike." Giles sounded as if that bothered him. "Itís not like Iím her Watcher anymore."

Spike smirked slightly and finished off the blood in his mug. Placing the mug, unwashed, in the kitchen sink, he started for the door. "Youíre right, mate. Seems your little Slayerís set out on her own. Iíve seen the way she treats youÖvery much like a retired librarian." Spike paused at the door. "Iíll stop in tomorrow, and see if youíre all willing to deal for my goodies." He slipped out the door, leaving a stunned ex-Watcher and witch behind.

Tara settled back into the couch. "Do you think heís really got any information, Mr. Giles?"

Giles shook his head and shrugged. "Spikeís motivation is a mystery. He could, but itís more likely a diversion or a way to get closer to the group." He sat back down. "With the behavior modification chip in his head, he canít directly harm a human. That does not, however, mean that he is harmless. He has been useful in the past, though." He gave Tara a half-smile. "In other words, my dear, I have no idea if his information is useful. Were you not able to pick anything up?"

"No. Once the soul departs the body, there is no aura to read." They shared an unhappy look. "I should probably be going. Willow is with Buffy right now. Hopefully, she can get her to talk about whatís wrong. Is there anything you think we can do to help?"

"Unfortunately, until Ė or if Ė Buffy decides to share her thoughts with us, there is very little we can do. Willow will have the best chance, I think, to help." He sighed, rubbing his hand down the back of his neck. "As harsh as it may sound, Buffyís emotional turmoil may have to take a back seat to Adam.† Do you mind letting everyone know to meet here tomorrow, say one oíclock?"

"Of course not, Mr. Giles. Maybe Willow and I could stop by a little early to talk about Buffy?"

Wow! Did someone turn up the heat in here? Willow thought sleepily. She sluggishly moved her arms to get rid of the confining blankets, but they were wrapped around her Ė Oh, my Goddess. Eyes opening wide, Willow realized she wasnít tangled in her sheets. She was being spooned by a Slayer. Buffyís arm around her waist kept her immobilized. Stifling a groan at the thought of Buffyís reaction to their proximity, Willow began subtly wiggling in an attempt to gain her freedom. Several minutes later, the arm was still there, but the novice witch had managed to shift from her side to her back.

Resigning herself to dealing with an embarrassed Slayer, Willow settled in for a little Buffy-watching. She didnít often see her friend like this. If she had, Faithís message wouldnít have come as such a shock. Sleeping, Buffy was still tense. Her muscles twitched intermittently and her faced was etched by a permanent frown. Willow stroked her hand along the arm at her waist and waited for the blonde to wake. She lost track of time and had nearly drifted back to sleep when a soft knock woke her bedmate. Willow couldnít restrain a chuckle at the comical look of shock in Buffyís hazel eyes when she realized she was wrapped around her best friend. A second knock sounded, and Willow scooted out of Buffyís loosened grasp. By the time she got to the door, though, there was no one there. A note had been tacked to the outside.

"Tara says thereís a meeting at Gilesí at 1:00," Willow said after scanning the message. And I need to find a way to be there without you, Buffy. There was no response. Willow glanced up to see a still sleepy-looking Slayer staring at her. "What? Something wrong?" Willow sat on the bed. "To quote a good friend Ė Earth to Buffy, you in there?"

The mocking question worked. Buffy shook her head slightly and grinned. "Yeah, Will. Iím good." She glanced away and Willow was sure she saw a blush creep up her friendís neck. "Sorry about the death grip."

"Thatís OK, Buffy. It was the hand on my breast earlier that was the problem." Willow laughed out loud when Buffyís eyes nearly came out of her head. "Gotcha!"

She received a crusty look in return. "Meanie. Itís not fair teasing the Slayer when she wakes up." Buffy relaxed back onto the pillow. "So strategy with Watcher Man at 1:00." She looked at the clock. "Gives us a little time. I should probably check in with Riley to see if heís got anything new on Adam."

Willow nodded. "OK. Iíll try to catch up with Tara and see if Giles had any other information." She stood up and grabbed a robe and her shower supplies. Opening the door, she glanced back at a still-reclining Buffy. "Race you to the showers?!"

"Sheís more depressed than Iíve ever seen her, Giles," Willow said. She and Tara sat across from the older man in his living room. "Faith said she had given up. I donít know that I would go that far Ė yet." The redhead shrugged.

"There isnít anything in the Watchersí Diaries. Of course, no Slayer has ever lived as long as Buffy. It isnít so surprising, given the nature of her Calling, that she feels a sense of isolation."

Willow sighed. "I just hate to see her this way; Iím afraid Adamís beating her because sheís not really trying."

"I donít spend much time with Buffy, but maybe I can hang out with you both more, Willow. Iíll keep an eye on her aura." Tara looked uncomfortable for a minute. "I donít usually do a deep scan. I think itís intrusive. But in this case, Iíll make an exception if you think itís a good idea." She looked at Willow and Giles to get their reaction. They both nodded their assent. "OK. Then Iíll just have to spend more time with you, Will." She gave Willow a small smile that grew when Willow winked at her.

Giles stood and moved toward the kitchen. "We should probably wrap this up. The rest of the gang should be here soon."

I should have just stayed in bed, Buffy grumbled to herself. So far, her day had been a bust. Riley hadnít been camped out in the remains of Sunnydale High, and she hadnít spotted him when sheíd stopped in at Lowell House. She checked her watch and debated. Too early to go to Giles.í Maybe I should check out some of those caves Riley was talking about last week. Her decision made, she jogged across campus.

Chapter Five

The Scooby gang had invaded Gilesí living room. Tara and Willow still shared the couch. Giles sat in his armchair and Xander sat on the floor at Willowís feet. Giles looked at his watch. "Willow, you did tell her the meeting was at 1:00?"

Suppressing a sigh since heíd already asked her that twice, Willow replied, "Yes, Giles. I did. She said she needed to stop in at Rileyís. I think she wanted to talk to him about, um, well, she was going to talk to him. Maybe sheís just running late." She smiled at the group. "Buffy may not be Miss Punctuality, but she eventually shows up."

"Regardless, we need to get started." Willow thought he sounded particularly stuffy today. "Now, have you been able to discover how Adam gets his power?"

Willow leaned back on the couch, feeling Xander shift to a more comfortable spot against her legs. "Iíve been going through the information Riley gave Buffy. It looks like heís got a uranium core. Itís not on any of the schematics, but from what information Riley did have, Iíd say its going to be close to his drive only farther toward the back."

"Way to go, Will. Now we just have to convince Adam to take a nap while we do a little bit of exploratory surgery."

Three pairs of eyes looked at Xander. "OK. Maybe not."

Hesitantly, Willow looked at Tara and Giles. "What about magic? Some sort of uranium-extracting spell?"† She looked embarrassed as she noticed she was receiving the same look† Xander had.† "I know, Iím reaching."

Giles stood up. "Perhaps a paralyzing spell." He moved to the bookcase behind his chair and picked up a small, leather-bound book, opening it and rifling through its pages. He stopped at a specific page. After a short examination, he continued, "Only I canít perform the incantation of this."

"Oh, yeah. Donít you have to speak it in, like Sumerian?" Willow interrupted.

Looking faintly annoyed, Giles replied, "I do speak Sumerian. Only an experienced witch can incant it." He moved back to his seat.

"May I take a look at the spell, Mr. Giles?" Tara asked. Giles handed her the book and she skimmed quickly through the description. "Either Willow or I could do the incantation." She frowned as she continued reading. "But I donít think it would work. The book says some demons are immune to its effect."

Xander looked confused. "Why would that be a problem?"

"Well, Adam is part demon. Or-Or parts of several demons." Willow jumped in. "Did it say which demons, Tara?"

"No. That, plus the fact we arenít entirely sure which demons Professor Walsh used to construct Adam, make it risky."

Everyone was silent as they absorbed the news. "So no problem." Xander said with forced enthusiasm. "All we need is combo Buffy. Her with Slayer strength, Gilesí multilingual know how, and Willow or Taraís witchy power." He continued, noticing he was once again the center of attention. "Yeah, I know, just tell me Iím full of helpful suggestions."

He nearly fainted when Giles replied, "As a matter of fact, you are."

"Yay, Xander!" Willow ruffled his hair. "Um, Giles, we can do a spell like that?"

"Itís theoretically possible. We would need to research the right ritual and incantation, though." He smiled at Tara. "You seem to have some experience with this. I believe the Council records mention a way to invoke the spirit of the First Slayer. Perhaps that would be a good place for the two of us to start?"

"What about me and Will?" Xander sounded as if he couldnít make up his mind. Research was really not his thing, but he was ready to help Buffy. To his surprise, Tara answered instead of Giles.

"You and Will should go look for Buffy. Sheís not usually this late." She caught Willowís eye. "Iím a little worried."

"Sure, Tara. Weíll go to Rileyís first."

"So, Will, whatís with you and Tara?" Xander asked as they drove toward the ruins of the high school.

Willow glanced at her oldest friend. "What do you mean?"

Xander frowned, dividing his attention between the road and Willow. "I mean the little smiles and the eye thing." When Willow still looked confused, he elaborated, "The thing where you stare a little too long and maybe wink a little. Something you want to tell me about you and Tara?"

Willow actually felt herself pale. She opened her mouth to deny any relationship, and paused. Címon, Willow. This is what Tara wants. Why is it so hard to say? "Absolutely no eye thing going on, Xander." I am such a coward. "OK, maybe a little eye thing." She noticed his small grin and sighed. "What made you the expert on secret relationships all of a sudden?"

Xander laughed out loud. "Remember me and Cordy?" Willow nodded. "We shared a lot of those lengthy looks back before you guys ever found out. How long have you been an item?" He stopped the van a few blocks from their old school.

"I donít think we are an item." Willow said, climbing out and shutting the door. She grabbed Xanderís hand as they began walking. "I mean, thatís definitely what Tara wants. And, I want that, too. I think." She shrugged. "I donít know, Xan. Iím just so confused."

"Are you confused, or just scared of what everyone will say," Xander asked.

Stopping, Willow turned to her friend. "Xander? Is that you?"

"Will, Iíve know you since we were five. I probably know you better than anyone else on the planet." He let go of her hand and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. Starting to walk again, he continued, "Besides, Iím dating a 1200 year-old ex-demon. Anya may have a problem with tact, but she knows an amazing amount of stuff about people. Maybe Iíve picked up a few things from her."

"What kinds of things, Harris?" Willow asked with an impish smile.

"Evil witch!"

Willow shrieked when Xander dropped his arm from her shoulder and began tickling her ribs. "Stop. Hey, come on. It was funny. You know it was. Stop!" She was gasping for air and twisting. "OK. Iím sorry. I didnít mean it!"

"I knew youíd see it my way." They had reached the back of the school and its chain link barrier. Xander pulled back a loose section of the fencing and they clambered through. Riley, a deserter from the Initiative, had been hiding in the remains of the school library. The two Scoobies picked their way through the detritus of their fight with the Mayor. Nestled amid broken shelving and book rubble, they found Rileyís sleeping bag and supplies Ė but no Riley or Buffy.

"Letís head back to the dorm. Maybe sheís there. If not, we can call Giles and check in."

"Uh, Wil, does this place look like itís been lived in by a Marine?" Xander indicated the mess that littered the floor. "I mean, the one time we were all at Lowell House, Rileyís towels looked ironed. Iím thinking he left in a hurry and didnít plan on coming back."

Willow looked around and had to agree. She hadnít noticed before, but the place was a disaster. Clothes were strewn everywhere. The sleeping bag lay open on the floor littered with pieces of what looked like electronic equipment. "Hey, Xander? Is that one of the Initiativeís radios?" She pointed to the equipment.

"Good call." Xander picked up a walkie talkie. "But I donít think this is government issue" He waved the device at her. "If Marines go into battle with duct taped radios, I might be willing to cough up more in taxes. Letís see what Riley was listening to." He turned the unit on and they fell silent trying to hear the voices that crackled from the speaker.

"Status report, Team Two."

"Sir, weíve tracked Adam and Hostile 17 to some caves in Sector 4. What are our orders?"

"Hostile 17 Ė isnít that Spike?" Willow spoke over the answer to the question. She shrugged an apology when Xander put his finger over his lips and glared.

The tinny conversation continued. "Öbelieve that Adam is also present, sir. We discovered the body of a female a short distance from the entrance. She appeared to be alive, but badly wounded."

"ID," the other voiced barked impatiently.

"Yes, sir. One of the men identified her as Elizabeth Summers."

Chapter Six

Tara watched as Willow and Xander left the apartment before turning back to Giles. The ex-Watcher was furiously pulling books off the bookcase behind his chair and mumbling to himself. Finally, he seemed to find the one he was looking for. "I knew I had it." He handed the book to Tara. "Itís an incantation the council has used to channel the spirit of the First Slayer."

Tara began translating the text, her eyebrows climbing higher as she read. "Um, Mr. Giles, h-have you really looked at this?"

"Well, no. Is it not the right spell?"

"Oh, itís the right one, I think. B-But did you look at all of the warnings written next to the incantation?" Seeing the older man just look more confused, Tara sighed. "Mr. Giles, what exactly do you think this spell will do?"

Giles looked surprised at the question. "The Council hasnít used this particular spell in quite some time. However, it is reputed to infuse the current Slayer with the spirit of the First Slayer." When Tara looked like she was waiting for a more detailed explanation, he haltingly continued. "I thought we could use it to augment Buffyís Slayer strength to defeat Adam."

An uncomfortable silence filled the room. Giles, used to being the voice of reason and instruction, began to understand that this time, he was the student. "Itís not that simple, Mr. Giles. This spell calls on the First Slayer, but it infuses the vessel with three other beings as well."

"What other beings? I donít remember anything like that from the Council records."

Tara shrugged. "Maybe they never spoke with the Slayer who was the vessel. From what Willowís told me, they donít seem very interested in listening to their girl soldiers." Giles winced as Tara continued "To do this spell correctly, you need four people. Buffy has to act as the Hand of the First Slayer. In other words, the living vessel. Through the incantation, sheíll have access to the knowledge and strength of the entire Slayer line. Thatís not all, Mr. Giles," Tara said, noticing his elation. "Along with the strength, the vessel would be able to tap into the magical abilities of the witch casting the spell and the essences of the other two anchors."

"How is that a bad thing, my dear?"

"It might be easier to explain if you told me who you planned to use as the anchors."

"Well," Giles stalled. He took off his glasses and began to clean them. "I suppose you or Willow would cast the spell, with Xander and I completing the other components."

Tara gave a short laugh. "If we do that, Mr. Giles, weíll need to make our funeral arrangements before we go find Adam.

Pausing outside the cave entrance, Buffy hooked her handbag over her shoulder, allowing her to get a more comfortable grip on the taser rifle. She moved slowly forward, senses stretched to the limit. Using the nose of the rifle to move the undergrowth, Buffy crept into the cave, allowing her eyes to adjust to the changing light. The cave was empty Ė too empty. Despite the heavy overgrowth at the mouth, the interior of the cave was clean. There were indentations indicating the movement of people and objects. Buffy continued† forward, weapon ready. Her Slayer senses began to tingle. She waited.

A familiar black leather duster topped by bleached blonde hair emerged from one of the caveís chambers. Spike looked surprised to see her, but recovered quickly. "So, I guess you decided to come get the information yourself, then, Slayer."

Buffy nodded, hoping Spike missed her confusion. What information? And what does he mean by come and get it myself? Who else knows about this? "What have you got for me, Spike? Obviously you want something in return?" Buffy wanted to wipe her clammy palms on her jeans.

"Well, now," Spike smirked, "I told Rupert the price yesterday. Donít tell me heís been withholding information from you, luv?"

Damn! Why didnít Giles call me? She took a deep breath. "Look, Spike, you donít really think Iím going to do this without a little negotiation? I donít even know if your information is worth it." Buffy felt proud of her bluffing when Spike nodded in agreement. "So, show me yours, and then we talk price."

The vampire reached into a pocket and retrieved four computer disks. He held them out to Buffy. "These are files I found in the Initiative. I think they may have more information on Adam."

"You think? You mean you donít really know whatís on them?"

"Oh, yeah. I forgot to check them on the computer in my crypt. I thought your hacker could get the information off them."

"Sorry, Spike." Buffy reached for the disks, and placed them in her bag. "What do you think is a reasonable exchange for the information?"

"There will be no need to discuss payment options," a deep voice interrupted.

Buffy clutched the rifle tighter as Adam appeared behind Spike. He placed a hand on the vampireís shoulder.

"You have fulfilled your part of the deal, vampire. You promised to separate the Slayer from her friends and bring her to me." The constructís head tilted slightly. "I will have to move up completion of the final phase."

Spike looked uncomfortable. "Well, now, Mr. Chips, glad to see you realize my contributions. Whatís say we talk about moving up the date of my chipectomy, too?"

Adam turned Spike to face him. "I think not. You are no longer of use to me." Buffy watched in horror as the monster gripped the vampireís hair in his left hand and pulled, removing Spikeís head with no apparent strain. Seconds later, he was standing in a pile of dust. "Now, Slayer, time to complete Motherís vision."

The Slayer wasted no time talking. Raising the taser rifle, she fired a blast at Adam. The force of the electrical pulse wrapped around the metal portions of the demon-man. Rather than stop him, the pulses seemed to boost his power. Buffy dropped the rifle and launched an unarmed offensive. She could feel the bones in her hand break when her first blow landed, but there was no time to feel the accompanying pain. Adam casually swung his arm, knocking her several feet backward into the cave wall. Her vision wavered, but the Slayer wasnít giving up so easily. Staggering erect, she tried to land a spinning kick and found herself back against the wall.

"Do not fight me, human. Killing you is not part of Motherís plan."

"Yeah, well, your mother was a power hungry ego maniac. Are you sure she knew what she was doing?" Buffy taunted.

Adam paused. "Ah, you attempt to make me angry. Perhaps provoking me to attack in anger, without thought? Interesting."

Moving a few steps from the wall, Buffy tried to stem the fear draining her strength, and took a fighting stance. It took most of her strength just to hold the pose. Her left leg felt numb, and her arms were heavy. She blocked a few of Adamís blows. Experience told her she wouldnít manage that for long. It was time to get out of the cave. She threw a desperate roundhouse at the monsterís head. He moved easily out of the way, but her momentum twisted her out of position. She couldnít block the combination of blows followed by a kick that propelled her several feet in the air. By the time she landed on the ground, Buffy realized this was probably her last fight. The thought didnít scare her; it brought a strange kind of detachment. Slowly, she got to her feet. She was going to make this bastard work to kill her. The pain receded into the background as Buffy launched another attack.

She landed two solid blows to Adamís head and was just starting a third when Adam reached out. His left arm retracted and in its place was a long metal spike. All Buffy could do was scream when he thrust the attachment into her side. The spike was the only thing holding her upright, and the Slayer waited for the final blow.

Adam stopped moving, head cocked to one side as if listening. "I had hoped you would prove useful during the final phase, but I do not wish to lose potential siblings by fighting Motherís soldiers here." He retracted the spike, turned, and left the chamber without looking back.

Buffy collapsed to her knees. She couldnít seem to get her legs to work and resorted to crawling toward the exit. As she crawled, she kept one thought in mind: she had to get those disks to Willow.

Willow and Xander raced from the school. "Xan, do you know what caves they were talking about?"

"I think there are some out by Hillcrest Cemetery."

"We donít have time to try finding them." They reached the van and clambered in. "Give me a minute." She fought to slow her breathing and regain her focus. When she felt centered enough, she chanted quietly, reaching out to the energy around her. A green mist coalesced around her, slowly taking shape as a collection of bright green, pulsing lights. Willow opened her eyes and watched the twinkling lights flow out of the van and down the street. "Follow those lights, Xan. Theyíll take us to Buffy."

For once, Xander had nothing funny to say. He started the engine and roared off in the wake of floating lights. It took almost an hour to reach the caves. They had to backtrack in the van since their guides hadnít always followed the streets, and the final leg of the journey was taken on foot. Caution finally overrode his need to reach Buffy as they ran through the wood.

"Will, wait. We canít just go charging in there. The Initiative may still be lurking around Ė or worse, Adam," he panted. He noticed Willow wasnít slowing down, so he grabbed her arm and stopped running. "Letís not make this worse by just going in blind" He held up the radio. "Let me see if anyone is still here." Turning it on and keying the mike, Xander let his soldier memories take over. "Team Two, status report," he barked. There was no response, just the hiss of static. "Someone give me a status report on Sector 4!"

"Sir, this is Base HQ. Sector 4 has been cleared."

"Cleared?" Xander needed to know if Buffy was still by the caves. "Why wasnít I informed? What about that civilian? Was she evacíd with Team Two?"

The voice on the radio was clearly confused. "No, sir. Team Two was ordered to Base HQ to assist with containment."

Before his informant started asking questions, Xander turned off the radio. "Come on, Will. The coast is clear." They started chasing the bobbing green lights again, and found Buffy ten minutes later. The Slayer was lying at the bottom of a small incline, blood pooling beneath her.

Four years as a Scooby hadnít made the hospital waiting room easier to bear. Willow shifted in the hard plastic chair and looked at the four small disks in her hand. Buffy had given them to her on the harrowing ride to Sunnydale General, managing to whisper they contained information on Adam. It was the last time she had been conscious. She needed to take a look at what was on the disks, but that would mean leaving the hospital.

"Will, is there anything you want to drink?"

She focused on Xander and shook her head. He turned and started to leave. "Hey, Xan. Do you think Giles would give you the keys to his place? My laptop is there." She waved the disks. "Maybe I can get the information while we wait." The redhead watched the young man stop by the nursesí station and talk to Giles. To her surprise, Xander didnít leave after the short conversation. Instead, both men walked back over to Willow and Tara.

"Perhaps we should find someplace quieter to talk about how we to proceed," Giles said.

Willow just shrugged, but Tara stated, "Thereís a chapel just down the hall. Take Willow and Xander. Iíll let the nurses and Mrs. Summers know where we are." She left the others to make their slow, silent progression to the chapel. Inside, it was softly lit, with candles burning on small tables lining the wall. A dozen folding chairs were grouped in a semi-circle in front of a long, wooden table that was covered with a wide green runner. Both hacker and ex-Watcher chose chairs and sat without speaking. Xander leaned against the table.

Tara entered with Mrs. Summers a few minutes later. Seeing the expectant looks, Joyce Summers wearily shook her head. "They donít have any more news, but I got them to promise to find me if that changes." She and Tara joined the two already seated. "This is the first time I think weíve visited here in the daylight." Joyce looked at Giles. "So I am assuming this wasnít a vampire attack."

Giles opened his mouth to reply, but sat back with a sigh when Tara took over the burden. "No, Mrs. Summers. It was Adam." Joyce nodded, but didnít say anything further. "We Ė Mr. Giles and I Ė we think weíve found a spell to use against Adam." As quickly as possible, she outlined the enjoining spell.

"How are we going to get past that whole "no man" problem?" Willow asked.

"Well, I was thinking that you and I would be two parts." Here she hesitated and looked down at the hands in her lap. "And m-maybe Mrs. Sum-Summers would be the other."

"I think it would be best if we spoke to Buffy about this," Giles suggested. "It would be unwise to begin formulating a plan that requires using her mother without her consent."

Joyce stood up and began to pace. "Rupert, what Buffy wants isnít really an issue. She obviously canít defeat this thing on her own. If making me a part of some spell will give her a fighting chance, then Iím in." She looked at Tara. "What else can we do?"

"Willow needs to look at the disks Spike gave Buffy. We donít really know what Adamís plans are or even where to find him. I canít use a locator spell because of all the different demon parts." She looked at each of them in turn, getting a feel for their emotions. "And we need to come up with Plan B."

Willow looked at the older witch. "I thought you said the spell would work?"

"Oh, itíll work. But it takes three anchors and the vessel. The vessel has to be a Slayer. Depending on how long we have and Buffyís injuries, we donít have a Slayer." She met the redheadís eyes. "The only other Slayer disappeared. We either need a different plan, or we need to find Faith and bring her back to Sunnydale."

Part 7

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