The Dying of the Light
by Kirayoshi
Part one of the Dying Light series.
Chapter 5 - Taking the Initiative Taking the Initiative

Giles pulled up to the curb in front of his house, and he and his passengers filed out quickly. Giles immediately rallied the troops; "Xander, take Anya to the basement, you know where I keep my armory. Grab as many weapons as you can. Stakes, crossbows, swords, a good armful each! We're hunting for bear!"

"You want me to grab some too?" Willow asked eagerly. She was more motivated than the others to rescue Buffy, although she was certain that they didn't know why.

"No, Willow, I need to speak with you once we get inside," Giles answered.

The second that Giles opened the front door, his ears were assailed by his television speaker blasting out; "FUN, FUN, FUN, IN THE SUN, SUN, SUN!"

"What the bloody hell is going on?" Giles had to shout to be heard over the din.

The razor-haired head of the defanged vampire Spike appeared over the top of Giles sofa. "Hey, gov'ner!" he greeted loudly. "Just in time for 'Red Dwarf'! It's the one where Lister meets his female counterpart..."

"What happened to your movie, Deadboy?" Xander asked Spike, suppressing a desire to grab the nearest object that resembled a wooden stake and plunging the business end into his heart.

"Ooh, 'Deadboy'!" Spike chided. "More of the legendary Xander wit. Or half of it!" Anya had to nearly pull a flying tackle on her boyfriend to stop him from trying to gouge out the vampire's eyes. "Wouldn't you know, they replaced 'Sixth Sense' with 'Stuart Little'! So I thought I'd kick back here."

"Thank you, Spike," Giles shouted angrily, snatching the remote control from Spike's hand and turning the television off, "for reminding me why I chose to remain in America!"

" 'Ere, now," Spike protested. "I'm a guest in this shack, you know!"

"And as such," Giles answered, his rage held in check by the most tenuous of leashes, "it is long past time that you earn your keep! You can join Xander and Anya gathering weapons, and then meet us by the car. We're attacking a concentration of vampires at the old Sunnydale High School site." Giles turned his back on the vampire, and approached Willow.

"You're kidding, right?" Xander asked. "Man you picked a screwy time to develop a sense of humor."

"Believe me, Xander," Giles said, the irritation in his voice becoming a palpable force. "In a way it's all a sick joke. But at this point we need any warm body who can help us. Or in Spike's case, a room-temperature body."

"Whoa, Steady on, mate!" Spike shouted at Giles. "Nobody tells William the Bloody what to do, you hear me? I don't take orders from any effin' mortal ponces like yourselves! Got it?"

Spike didn't see the hand that grabbed the collar of his jacket, until he found himself pinned like a chloroformed butterfly against the nearest wall. The look on Giles' face would have intimidated a legion of demons. "Now you listen to me, 'mate'!" he spat out his venom at the vampiric houseguest. "You are only tolerated here as long as you are useful to us. And if you ever, EVER, use that tone of voice with me again, I shall chain you to the front porch, and let you watch the sunrise! Do we have a meeting of the minds?" William Blood, AKA William the Bloody, AKA Spike, tried to look away from Giles' eyes as they flashed fire at him. "DO WE?"

"There was a time when I would have torn into your jugular for that little display, mate," Spike growled. His shoulders then sagged in defeat. "All right. What do you want from your toybox?"

"Xander will show you what we require," Giles' voice returned to its normal quiet tone, but the steel that edged his outburst was still there. Spike meekly followed Xander and Anya as they quietly made their way toward the basement. Only Willow stayed behind, in part because after watching Giles attack Spike, she was to scared to move.

"Uh, Giles," Willow started timidly, but Giles cut her off with a curt movement of his hand.

"I wish to apologize for that display, Willow," he said gently. "I guess that this situation with Buffy and her future counterpart has got all of us on edge."

"Hey," Willow answered. "You hear that sound? That's the sound of no one disagreeing with what you did. Spike had it coming for a long time. But you said that you wanted to speak with me about something?"

"Yes," he muttered as he headed toward a small shelf. He reached behind an antique tome, and produced a small metal box. "You remember our last confrontation with Quentin Travers, don't you?"

"Yes, he made you use that muscle relaxant of Buffy, for that damned eighteenth birthday rite of passage thingy."

"If you mean that exercise in barbarity they called a 'rite of passage', yes," Giles said bitterly. "Possibly the lowest point of my life was when I had to betray Buffy. She was right to turn her back on the Council. I only wish I had seen it before then." He shook his head, clearing his mind of self-recrimination, and continued; "Since that fiasco, I had taken the liberty of taking the compound that they had me give Buffy to a friend of mine, Lucas Small, a pharmacist." He opened the box, revealing a large metal hypodermic needle. "He supplied me with this antidote. If Quentin's after Buffy for deserting the Council, he'll no doubt use the muscle relaxant on her. Perhaps even a stronger concentration."

Giles knew this to be true. He had not said anything before, because he didn't want to be seen as fishing for undue sympathy, but when Quentin Travers gave him the formula to administer to Buffy, he looked at the substance. It was of such a high concentration that it would have probably stopped Buffy's heart permanently had Giles given her the dosage that Quentin ordered. Unable(or simply too scared, he still wasn't sure) to go against the Council openly, he chose to defy them covertly; he diluted the muscle relaxant with simple blood plasma, reducing its potency. His first act of rebellion against his masters. Still, he couldn't deny that he had betrayed the young woman who had become a foster daughter to him. He could say that he was just following orders, but that excuse didn't fly with Nazi war criminals, Why should it fly with him?

Willow, for her part, stood thunderstruck at what Giles was saying to her. The head of the Council, whose stated purpose was to aid the Slayer in her fight against the forces of Hell, sabotaging her efforts, poisoning her? She remembered how devastated Buffy was to learn of Giles' involvement in her losing her Slayer strength. She silently swore to the Goddess that if Quentin so much as breathed on Buffy, she would exact a terrible revenge.

"When we get to Sunnydale High," Giles continued, "you must find Buffy. That is your top priority. Once you find her, give her the entire contents of this hypodermic. The syringe contains a compound designed to stimulate the adrenal glands, and boost the metabolism to burn out any and all toxins. Once it's administered, according to Lucas, the poisons will be purged from Buffy's body within fifteen minutes. The only side effect is that she'll become ravenously hungry about an hour after the chemical takes effect, as a result of her heightened metabolism."

"So we'll have the traditional celebratory pizza party after we save the world," Willow suggested.

Giles smiled. "My treat. One more thing; before she recovers fully, she'll be vulnerable. You'll need to stand guard over her, and take on anything or anyone who would attack her."

"No worries, Giles," Willow answered, "I've got a defensive herbal spell I've been dying to try out." She rolled up her right sleeve, revealing a small sachet strapped to her wrist. "Twice blest herbs, simple ingredients, and a simple spell to activate it."

"You came prepared, Willow. I commend you." He turned his head toward her, and said simply, "I think I'm beginning to understand how important Buffy is to you. I know that you are in love with her. I want you to know that I will move Heaven and Hell to bring her back safely.

"Geez, does everybody know about me and Buffy?" Willow lamented. "I didn't know I was even in a closet, when suddenly I'm outed!"

Giles suppressed a chuckle at Willow's observations. He knew that Buffy was in good hands. Now, and should she and Willow choose to pledge their love for each other. "She's lucky to have you in her life, Willow. I used to fret that she shouldn't involve you in her fights, but it seems I was wrong."

"It was my choice," Willow answered solemnly. She remembered last spring when Willow amazed Buffy with her announcement that she was joining her at UC Sunnydale. Willow would have been right at home in Harvard or Princeton, any ivy league school, but she chose to fight along side Buffy. "It's a good fight," she had said to her friend, "I want in."

All Buffy could say after her vow was simply, "I kinda love you."

Believe me, Willow thought now as she remembered, for me, it's more than 'kinda'.

"We'd better get going," Giles said, breaking the moment of nostalgia. Giles called for Xander and Anya, who, along with an obstinate Spike, had emerged from the basement, each bearing a small arsenal of medieval weapons; spikes, crossbows, silver-tipped swords. "We've got the party favors," Xander announced, "let's crash the party!"

"Don't worry, Willow," Anya said in surprisingly sympathetic tones. "We'll get your potential orgasm-buddy back for you."

Willow gasped loudly at her turn of phrase. She stood aghast at the vengeance demon, then shrieked, "Does anyone here not know that I'm in love with Buffy?"

Xander's face wore an expression of goofy surprise, as he paused for a second, and answered, "Well, not now." Spike just smirked. Willow wished that she could turn invisible, or intangible and seep through the floor beneath her.

"Well, enough of these happy thoughts, mates," Spike quipped in mock-cheerfulness. " 'Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more', and hopefully," he finished, staring daggers at Giles, "we'll shut the walls up with our English dead!" He headed outside, toward Giles' car.

As the others headed out, Xander was heard to say, "Oh, yeah, I'm feeling more confident about this mission already!" Fittingly enough, no one answered.

Buffy awoke slowly, and could not quite shake the veil of lethargy that seemed to steal the function from her limbs. Unable to move more than her neck, she turned her head around to gage her surroundings. She was dimly aware of the hard cold ground beneath her, of the cooling night winds that brushed against her cheek, of the derisive laughing of unearthly fiends. Her innate preternatural senses, what she sometimes called her "Spider Sense", was buzzing in her skull like a hive of angry wasps, but she couldn't muster the strength to arise, to stop whatever was happening.

"Our sleeping beauty awakens," a condescendingly proper British voice that she didn't recognize at first, but knew didn't belong to Giles, intoned over her prone form. "Prop her up, I doubt she has the energy to move herself." She felt rough hands grab her arms and yank her upright. She tried to keep her head from lolling to the side, as her body had all the structure of an old doggy chew toy. She managed to raise her head slightly, and look at the speaker. Her blood ran cold, but she still couldn't fight back against whatever was sapping her strength.

"Quen-Quentin..." she started, forcing back the fogginess that had been engulfing her mind.

"I'm pleased that you remember me," Quentin Travers nodded to the weakened Slayer. "Oh, don't bother to get up. I've taken the liberty of dosing you with a stronger form of the muscle relaxant that I had Giles use on you before. You won't be able to move your limbs for at least several hours. Long enough for our business to be concluded."

The Slayer said nothing. She just tried to sit up straighter, but her body betrayed her and fell forward, like an ancient Raggedy Ann doll. Her nose was gracelessly flattened against the ground.

Quentin ignored the suffering Slayer, and turned to the other gentleman who stood beside him. "I like her this way," the weasel-faced individual commented. "For once, she's not talking back to me. If it weren't for the school board, I'd have never let her back in school. She was a bad influence."

"I assure you, Mr. Snyder," Quentin said to his partner, "that she will trouble no one again. The Watcher's Council knows how to deal with troublemakers." The two men turned their backs on the helpless Buffy, who could only remain in the position in which she fell, since no one had offered to sit her back up, and wonder what Quentin and the demon who had assumed the form of Mr. Snyder were planning.

This exchange took place outside of the remains of the school building, in the school's old football field. As Quentin and Snyder discussed their plans, they failed to notice a second Slayer, a tired, ragged young woman with only one arm, lurking behind the bleachers. She managed to tail Quentin's car to the field, and avoid any vampires(and there were many present) to get to her location. She spied on the proceedings, and when she felt the coast was clear, she pulled out a cell phone, and dialed.

"Thanks, Buffy, we're on our way." Willow hung up the phone and told Giles, who was concentrating on driving, "Alt-Buffy sneaked into the football field, and heard Quentin talking to The Amazing Snyder-Man. She also saw Buffy, and from what she told me, they used the muscle relaxant on her."

"Damn," Giles muttered under his breath. "Did she see what they were doing?"

"No, but she said that the vamps that were gathering around were keeping quiet. She thinks that something big is happening."

"We'll find out soon enough," Giles answered. "There's the school, just to our left."

He passed the parking lot, looking for a space near the football field, only to find a large number of jeeps, and at least one Humvee, all painted in camouflage colors. A squad of soldiers was milling outside the school grounds, all carrying large, rather exotic looking weaponry. One black soldier motioned for Giles to pull over, and marched toward his car. As Giles rolled down his window, the soldier said to him; "Sorry, folks, this is a restricted area. I must ask you to vacate the premises."

"May I ask on whose authority this area is restricted?" an irritated Giles asked.

"By the authority of the Initiative," the man answered smartly. "I repeat, this is a restricted area."

"Now look, Mr..."

"Sergeant Carter," he barked out, loudly emphasizing his rank.

"Fine, sergeant, we have business here. We are here to stave off an event that will have severe repercussions on this city."

"The Initiative has this situation under control," Carter said loudly, "there is no reason for you to remain here. If you do not return to your homes, I will be forced to bring you into protective custody for your own safety."

"Excuse me, sergeant, I thought that we were still in America!" Giles shouted, his patience worn to the nub. Before he and the sergeant could continue their stand-off, the sergeant found himself in a hammer-lock. Spike, who had surreptitiously slipped out of the car, had managed to overpower Forrest. "I think the gentleman wants to get through, gov'ner!"

"Hostile 17!" Carter shouted. "Shock it!" A lance of electricity rushed through Spike's body, augmented by the chip that the Initiative had implanted in his nervous system to control him. Spike convulsed, releasing Carter and dropping nervelessly to the ground.

"Out of the car, all of you!" a commanding voice shouted. "Hands where I can see them."

Giles and the younger passengers slowly filed out of the Citroen, their hands above their heads. The man giving the orders turned to them, and Willow gasped when she recognized his face, and his wavy blond hair. "Riley?"

"Lieutenant Finn to you, Ma'am, he's the commanding officer of this mission," Carter stated.

"At ease, Carter," Riley interrupted. "I know her. Willow," he turned his attention to the young hacker. "What the devil are you doing here? This place isn't safe. Intelligence confirmed that it's crawling with vampires."

"That's what we're doing here," Willow answered. "Buffy's in there. Someone's holding her hostage."

"Whoa, Buffy?" Riley shook his head. "What's she doing in there?"

"It's her job, Riley," Willow raised her voice. "She's the Slayer. You saw her take out the Gentlemen, your intelligence people should have some idea what a Slayer is. We're her posse, we help her slay undead stuff."

"Then what are you doing consorting with a known vampire?" Riley asked, his voice edged with mistrust.

"Uh, can we call someone at home on that, Regis?" Xander chimed in, only to get Anya's elbow hard in the ribcage.

"Don't worry about Pretentious-Boy here, he's on a tight leash. We're just making sure he won't cause any more trouble."

"I don't know, Willow," Riley hedged. "I like you, and I know that Buffy thinks the world of you, but you've put me in a tight spot. My superiors don't want civilians involved in--" Riley's statement was cut short by sounds of battle. His troops were firing at a mob of vampires and demons, holding their own but doing minimal permanent damage. Riley barked out orders to his men; "Full power on the stun rifles. Fry 'em!"

"If you'll permit us," Giles offered, "we may be of assistance."

"Oh yeah?" Carter snapped at the retired librarian. "What can you do?"

"Well, how about--THIS!" In a single fluid motion, he allowed a small wooden stake to drop out of his sleeve and into his right hand, and threw it like a dart into the chest of a vampire that had risen from behind Carter. Carter turned around in time to see the hapless vampire disintegrate into a small pile of ash.

"Bogey at one o'clock!" Xander shouted, ducking back into the car long enough to pull out a crossbow. He quickly loaded a bolt onto the bowstring, cocked the weapon and fired. The bolt flew into the heart of another undead fiend, dusting it instantly.

Two more vampires were converging upon Riley and the Scoobs. Willow raised her right arm, revealing the herb packet she wore on her wrist, and shouted rapidly, "Henbane and holly to guard my back, Garlic and rue to repel the attack!" An invisible force hammered into the bodies of the two vampires, and several others behind them, knocking them flat on their backs, and burning them as effectively as the sun. The remaining vampires retreated to the field. Spike got back up on his feet, and asked Willow, "Not that I mind, missy, but why didn't that spell dust me?"

"I guess that implant protected you, interfered with the spell," Willow answered nonchalantly. "Consider yourself lucky." Spike pursed his lips, wondering at her coldness.

Riley looked around at the evidence of the vampire attack. "Rather old-fashioned weapons you're packing, Giles."

"They're effective enough against vampires," Giles answered. "Sometimes the old ways work."

"And how did you take the others out, Willow?" Riley scratched his head over that puzzle.

"I'm a witch," Willow stated simply. "Wicca, to be exact."

"So, you just cast a spell and poof, no more vampires?" he countered skeptically.

"Pretty much, yeah."

Riley stood silent, considering his options. "You'll forgive me if I'm a little suspicious. I'm a scientist by nature; I don't accept magic that readily."

"Arthur C. Clarke once said," Giles offered calmly, "that any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic."

"And there are more things in heaven and earth, right Horatio?" Riley thought further, then said, "You seem to know more about what's going on here than we do. Would you care to tell us more about it later?"

"Perhaps," Giles smiled at Riley. "For now, you have weaponry, we have information, I say that we put our mutual animosity aside and pool our resources."

At length, Riley turned to Carter. "I'm going to take a chance and trust these people." Carter started to protest, but Riley cut him off; "Go gather the troops, we'll be going in on my mark. Dismissed." Carter saluted his superior officer, and left. Riley then asked Giles, "Okay, friend, what do you suggest?"

"The two men behind this concentration of vampires are Quentin Travers and a demon called Belial. Belial will be assuming the identity of a human named Snyder. In all likelihood, they have Buffy with them, drugged and helpless. They have something major planned. While we take on the vampires inside, I will confront Quentin. We have a history together, and I feel that I should confront him first. Meanwhile, Willow will find Buffy and administer the anti-toxin. Buffy should recover within fifteen minutes of receiving it."

"And then what?"

Xander answered for Giles; "Then she kicks butt, we save the day, then we all go home, scarf lots of pizza and watch Jet Li movies."

Riley regarded Xander with a smirk. "You seem to have faith in Buffy."

"Hey," Willow answered. "She's saved the world three times now. You?"

Riley half-smiled at Willow. He then turned to his men, and shouted, "We're moving in, men. Let's do the deed!" The forces of the Initiative marched toward the wreckage of Sunnydale High to face the monsters within.

"What about that?" Riley asked, pointing his head to indicate Spike.

"He gets a sword and some stakes, that's it," Giles said as he passed weapons around to the others. "I don't trust him with a ranged weapon like a crossbow." To the Slayerettes, he added, "The first sign of betrayal from our peroxide poster child, you know what to do."

"Got it, he's a pincushion," Xander said. Willow and Anya nodded in silent accord.

"All right, people," Giles announced, crossbow in hand, a bandoleer of stakes over his shoulder. "Let's move in!"

And the battle was joined.

Chapter 6 - Vows of Love, Vows of Hate Vows of Love, Vows of Hate

Buffy lay ten yards away from the two men, ignored as an inconsequence. As she listened to them, she knew that she was getting weaker. It was all that she could do to keep her eyes from shutting, to keep her ears attuned to the conversation between Quentin Travers and Roland Snyder. She feared that should she close her eyes, they would never open in this life again. Whatever Quentin pumped into her veins, it was far stronger than the stuff Giles gave her on her eighteenth birthday. The part of her brain that could function coherently was growing more and more quiet, and her respiration became more shallow with each breath.

She knew that she was dying, and despaired that there was nothing she could do to stave it off, or to stop these evil en from their mad design. The more she heard of their plan, the more she raged with desire to stop them. But her body would not respond to that desire. She was trapped in a prison of useless dying flesh.

The sounds of energy weapons and screaming vampires interrupted Quentin's business with Snyder. "It seems we have company," Snyder commented.

"No one ever accused you of being an original conversationalist," Quentin replied. "Don't worry, Snyder, our troops will take care of them. Now, shall we get on with business?"

"Of course," Snyder smiled, a feral display of teeth. "Our negotiations have reached their final stages, the...persons...I represent have agreed to abide by the stipulations of the contract. However, we require possession of the disputed territory within the next twenty-four hours."

"This doesn't give the residents of the disputed area time to evacuate," Quentin argued. Snyder simply laughed at Quentin's observation.

"Mr. Travers, evacuation was never an option. The residents are part of the disputed area, and must therefore be considered part of the trade. With the signing of this contract, the city of Sunnydale and all its population become property of the Hellmouth."

"I understand your position, Mr. Snyder," Quentin sighed, "but there are those among my organization who would find this clause in the contract unacceptable. There could be repercussions."

"Quentin, old bean," Snyder grinned like Satan's spin doctor, "you do understand what we hope to accomplish, do you? We are on the verge of forging the first peace accord between humanity and demonkind. This treaty between Earth and the Hellmouth will forever assure the peace for your world. You can no longer rely on your highly vaunted Slayers, Miss Summers and Mr. Giles have guaranteed that. This measure is required for humanity to survive. If a few thousand souls must sacrifice themselves to save a few billion, then, well, you know what they say about making an omelet. You have to break a couple of eggs."

Quentin lowered his shoulders, swayed by Snyder's logic. "I suppose you're right. As long as I have your assurances that the demons of Hellmouth, once they take over Sunnydale, won't cross over the boundary lines to invade the rest of the world."

"You have my word," Snyder lied. The two men shook hands.

From her vantage point behind the bleachers, Alt-Buffy seethed, her disbelief at what she had witnessed; Quentin Travers just sold out the human race to Belial. She made a silent vow at that very instant, that before she completed her mission to undo what Quentin and Snyder were doing, she would kill Quentin with her bare hands. As far as she was concerned, he had proven himself more evil than any vampire, any demon, any monster she had faced before.

Master? Yeah, right.

Angelus? Amateur!

At least those creatures didn't have the burden of souls. Quentin Travers didn't have that excuse. He had a soul and chose to sell it to the devil. He could go to hell as far as she was concerned.

And she would send him there herself.

"Team one, forward! Team two, ground support!" Riley shouted to his men, who responded with both professionalism and gusto. A khaki swarm poured into the football field, as the Initiative soldiers sought out and targeted their undead prey. A number of vampires broke through Initiative lines, only to be felled either by their energy weapons or by the stakes and crossbows wielded by Giles and the Slayerettes. They advanced toward the center of the field, toward where two older men were talking. Giles recognized them as Snyder and Travers.

"Look!" Willow shouted excitedly, pointing toward the two men. "Just past Snydeman!"

Giles, having dispatched a clumsy newbie vampire, craned his neck to see where Willow was pointing. Ten yards behind where Snyder and Travers were standing, a body slumped over on her side, seemingly unconscious. "Buffy," Giles whispered. "Willow, quickly, get to her and give her the anti-toxin. Xander, Anya, Spike, cover her!"

"On it, Fearless Leader!" Xander shouted, his customary fear of nasty situations forgotten by his concern for Buffy. Willow sprinted toward her fallen friend, only to have a pair of especially disreputable looking vampires cut her off.

"Well, ain't that sweet," the female vamp, her tattered leather clothes barely concealing her decaying body.

"Looks like fresh meat," her male counterpart added.

"Geez," Willow teased, her right arm raised, to release the herbal spell. "What are you, the vampiric answer to Team Rocket?"

Xander knew a cue when he heard one. "If that's the case," he quipped, "I choose you, Crossbow!" He promptly fired two bolts in rapid succession. They hit their targets with deadly accuracy. Two more piles of dust were kicked aside by Willow's feet as she ran toward Buffy.

Xander simply stood back with his crossbow in hand, saying to Anya, "Gotta slay 'em all!" Willow silently gave Xander a raised eyebrow and a withering stare, recognized by all the Scooby Gang as meaning, Man, Xander, are you ever dumb!, then headed back to where she had seen Buffy.

After quietly felling a demon who had snuck up on Xander and Anya, Spike stood beside them, his sword resting casually in his hand, strangely evoking the image of William Wallace, or at least Mel Gibson in that role in 'Braveheart'. "Nice slayage, Deadboy," Xander quipped, and the former William Blood smirked at the left-handed compliment.

He managed to peg two other vampires that had threatened himself and the others. With each blow against his former brethren, he came closer to the realization that he could never go back to being the man whom he was, even if he could ever shake the effects of the microchip that kept him from harming humans.

He had little choice in the matter, but when push came to shove, he chose which side he would be on in the eternal battle. It wasn't a matter of humanity, for he still had no soul. More a matter of enlightened self-interest; having turned against his own kind, he knew that they would declare him enemy. So it was only fitting that he declare himself their enemy in deed as well as by perception. And if that meant that I would be forced to join Buffy's merry marching society, he thought at that time, then, Scooby-bloody-Doobie-Doo! He turned his mind away from thoughts of the future, instead thinking only of the present, and the fight at hand.

As it turned out, Willow didn't need the cover fire from Xander and the Initiative, since her herbal spell was still protecting her. She didn't even notice three vampires who had tried to block her way to Buffy. They jerked back from her as though she had erected an invisible force field around her, just like Susan Richards of the Fantastic Four. At least I can use this spell to protect Buffy. Oh Goddess, grant that I'm not too late!

After running for what seemed to her like an eternity, she finally made it to the fallen Slayer's side. Thankfully, neither Quentin, Snyder, nor any of their hench-monsters seemed to notice her slipping through their defenses, as she concentrated on Buffy's condition. Buffy's eyes were closed, her lips parted, her skin pale and ashen. Willow fought down her panic reflex as she placed her finger on her friend's carotid artery. The pulse was weak, thready, but still there. After breathing a sigh of relief and offering a silent prayer of thanks to the Goddess for saving the one she loved, Willow immediately got to work.

She opened the packet of herbs at one corner, and sprinkled them out in a circle, around herself and Buffy. She muttered the invocation, modified for her purpose; "Henbane and holly to guard our backs, Garlic and rue to repel all attacks." The utterance would activate the defense spell, and allow her to work undisturbed. She opened the wooden case, and primed the syringe, pointing it upwards and pressing against the plunger to squirt out any air bubbles. She then gingerly pressed the needle into the lower basalic vein in Buffy's right arm. As the needle first made contact with the skin, Buffy's eyes fluttered open. "N-no, no," she murmured, ""

"Shh," Willow soothed her friend in a delicate. "Don't try to move. I'm not hurting you, Buffy, I'm giving you an antitoxin. Giles gave me this, it'll burn out the bad stuff that Quentin gave you." Buffy tried to squirm, but could only put up token resistance. Willow carefully found the vein, pressed the needle into her arm, and injected its contents. "There now, Buffy," Willow soothed, placing the Slayer's head on her lap. "That wasn't so bad now, was it?"

"C-can I...have..a...a..lo-lollypop?" Buffy asked, her voice barely audible.

Willow just smiled at her beloved, and stroked her blonde hair. "Now you just lie back for a few minutes, let the antitoxin work. Don't worry, your Willow is here for you." She placed her hand in Buffy's, who squeezed her hand lightly, but with growing firmness. Willow smiled, relieved that the antitoxin was working.

Outside of the protective circle, the battle raged. The Initiative's soldiers clashed with the vampires, and both sides drew heavy causalities. Buffy, hearing the din of battle, tried to stand up, to join the fray, but her center of gravity suddenly seemed to shift to somewhere above her neck, and she collapsed quickly. "No," Willow tried to take her arms, to get her to sit for a few more minutes. Buffy despaired as she tried to move with limited success. "I have to get in there," she lamented. "I need to find Giles, to tell him..."

"Hush, Buff," Willow consoled her. "Giles is out there, he knows what Quentin and Snydely are up to. You'll be up to full strength in a few minutes, and we'll be safe inside the protective circle." She took Buffy's hand in her own again and whispered, "I'm not about to lose you again, do you hear me Buffy? You're too important to the world. To me." She closed her eyes, knowing that with her next sentence, nothing was going to be the same. "I love you, Buffy Summers. More than anything or anyone else in this world. Always have. Always will."

Her declaration, her vow, was greeted with silence. For five seconds, each one dragging on for what seemed like an eternity, Willow was convinced that she had gone too far, that she had crossed a line from which she could never go back, that she had jeopardized her friendship with Buffy forever. She kept her eyes closed, afraid to face Buffy. Then, she heard Buffy speak, an edge of laughter in her voice; "Damn. I wanted to be the first to say it."

Willow's eyes snapped open, revealing to her the face of her beloved, her Buffy, smiling at her. She tried to think of something to say, to make sure that Buffy meant what she said, and then felt a hand gently but firmly grasp the back of her neck and draw her closer, and a pair of warm clinging lips press against her own.

Buffy's lips were sweeter and softer than she had imagined, and the thrill of kissing her sent electric jolts throughout her nervous system. It took her a second to recover from the shock, and start kissing her back. For a timeless instant, Buffy Summers and Willow Rosenberg were the only two people in existence. No Sunnydale, no Hellmouth, no vampires, no demons, no Quentin, no Initiative, no...

"Mhi-mhey!" Buffy mumbled against Willow's mouth.

"What?" Willow broke off the kiss reluctantly.

"Riley," Buffy repeated herself. Willow turned around, to find Riley Finn staring directly at them. Oh God, Willow thought, I feel a babble attack coming on...

"Buffy?" he asked. "Are you all right?"

"Right as rain," she answered quickly. Willow just waved at the hapless Lieutenant, clamping down hard on her mouth to keep the babble dam from bursting.

"Good," he answered simply, although both women could clearly see the disappointment in his eyes.

"I'm sorry, Riley," was all that Buffy could say.

"Hey, it's okay." He gave her a half-smile, and said to Willow, "You take good care of her, or I'll beat you to death with a shovel." Riley tipped his right hand toward the two in a casual salute, and turned around, barking orders to his men; "All right, men, let's finish what we started!"

Willow looked back at Buffy, saying, "Hey, I'm sorry about..."

"Don't be, Wills," Buffy soothed her friend, as she struggled to get to her feet, and became relieved to find that her legs would support the weight. "This is what I want. I'm the one who initiated the kiss, remember?" She suddenly regarded Willow with a tooth-bearing grin. "And once this is all over, I plan on kissing you again. Repeatedly. And probably a lot more than that."

"Talk about incentive for world savage!" Willow answered back with what could only be described as a shit-eating grin.

Buffy returned that grin with one of her own, sighing, "I do love you, Willow Rosenberg." She then stopped, the smile vanishing from her face. "We gotta find Giles. It's worse than he knows. Quentin's signing a deal with Sny- uh, Belial! He's going to hand Sunnydale over to the Hellmouth!"

"And you, Slayer," the quietly evil voice of Quentin Travers replied from out of nowhere, "will not interfere with these proceedings. Buffy and Willow turned around to face Quentin, who held a small handgun aimed directly at Buffy's heart. "I had hoped to let you die in peace, without pain or bloodshed, but since you insist on being difficult..." Without another word, he pulled the trigger.

The bullet ricocheted off of the protective field in front of the two young women, and back toward Quentin, lodging in his arm. Buffy looked at Willow and said, "That is one user-friendly spell you got there."

"I don't know my own strength!" Willow breathed, awed by the power of her own spell. "That one's definitely a keeper."

"I'll just relieve you of that, if you don't mind!" Giles, suddenly standing in front of Quentin, grabbed his neck in a hammerlock, and wrested the gun from his hand. Buffy had never seen Giles this angry before, not at her when she had lied about Angel being alive, not at Angelus when he killed Jenny Calendar, not even at Snyder for any number of reasons. There was a flash of white fire in his eyes, and she swore she could see sparks flaring out of his mouth as he ground his teeth. "And now, traitor," Giles snarled, throwing Quentin to the ground, "I would have words with you!"

"You are persona non gratia among the Council, Giles," Quentin puffed himself like a penguin, as though being bodily assaulted had done nothing to his composure. "You have no authority in these proceedings."

"What authority do you have," Giles shouted indignantly, "to make such a deal with Roland Snyder? You are talking about sacrificing tens of thousands of people to the Hellmouth!"

"Why, Giles," Snyder suddenly stepped forward from his observation perch, oozing mock civility. "What an unexpected surprise. You and Miss Summers, and her little witch friend," he grinned evilly at Buffy, who held Willow a little tighter, a little more protectively. "I suppose that Xander Harris is here as well? How delightful, I get to see the four who caused me so much grief over the years die at the hands of my associates."

"This is not about revenge, Mr. Snyder," Quentin glared at the former principal. Apparently, he hated the man as much as Giles and Buffy did. "Giles, what I am doing here is safeguarding the lives of over five billion humans. I have met with Mr. Snyder, who has represented the denizens of what you euphemistically call 'the Hellmouth', and together, we have forged the first treaty between humanity and demonkind. Sunnydale will be sacrificed to the Hellmouth, and yes that is a tragedy, but that is the price that we were forced to pay because of you, Buffy Summers."

"Oh, no, no, no," Buffy flared, her rage slowly matching that she saw in Giles. "You try to pin this one on me, I'll filet you!"

"Indeed, Miss Summers, it is that attitude," Quentin continued, "that has forced the Watcher's Council to accept this non-aggression pact with the Hellmouth. You and your fellow slayer Faith have proven unreliable, therefore we require a peaceful solution."

"Peaceful solution?" Giles sputtered. "You honestly think that you can deal with that--that--creature?"

"Sticks and stones, Giles," Snyder tut-tutted.

"You're a greater fool than Neville Chamberlain," Giles continued his tirade, ignoring the demon in barely-human form, "when he signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany! He called it 'Peace in our time', then shortly after began the Blitz! You think you'll fare better dealing with demons?"

"If you had kept a tighter rein on your charges, none of this would have happened." Quentin then turned to Buffy, damning her with his eyes. "Your rebellious nature has made you a liability, I'm afraid. You have constantly defied our orders, flaunted your association with your so-called 'Slayerettes'--"

"We prefer 'Scooby Gang'," Xander chimed in. The horde of vampires had thinned out considerably, and the Initiative was eliminating the last few of them, so Xander and Anya had joined the debate at the center of the football field.

"Besides, we wanted in," Willow defended the gang. "Buffy's our friend, we watch her back."

"My point exactly," Quentin growled. "The Slayer is a solitary person, she must go alone through her life--"

"Blah, blabity blah, I'm so stuffy, get me a scone!" Giles interrupted, shouting a line Buffy had used on him when he delivered a similar speech years ago. Buffy, remembering that incident, had to laugh out loud as she heard those words coming from Giles lips. In his own way, Giles was saying that Buffy was right all along. And he had heard enough of this fool Quentin, he was going to give him a piece of his mind. The Ripper is back, Giles thought, taking names.

"Has it ever occurred to you, Quentin," Giles continued, "that Buffy is the most successful Slayer in the long recorded history of the Watcher's Council? That she is so successful, not in spite of her defying our ancient, archaic traditions, but because she defies them? And that is why you wish to eliminate her? Because she's her own person? Nice plan you have here, eliminate Buffy, and Faith while you're at it, she'll be killed while she's in a coma, and destroy an entire town to cover up the evidence? And then two new slayers will emerge to replace Buffy and Faith, and hopefully be more pliant to the Council's wishes? I will never believe that the Council would ever approve such a monstrosity!"

"None the less, Giles," Quentin said quietly, "the pact is struck. It only awaits my signature, and..." A sledgehammer blow interrupted his declaration, sending him reeling to the ground. Buffy and Willow shuddered when they saw the figure who delivered the blow, and was now punching, kicking, clawing and kneeing the hapless Quentin.

Alt-Buffy had remained hidden from sight, listening to Quentin's mad plan until she could hear no more. "Don't pass out on me now, ass-wipe!" she shouted, a year's worth of rage boiling over in her gut. "I want you to look at me, to know who it is who kills you!"

"Buffy, don't do it!" Giles shouted at the time-traveler. "He's not worth it!"

"Oh, this is worth it, Giles!" Alt-Buffy screamed, a desperate cry of righteous rage. She grabbed Quentin by the collar of his shirt, and shook him with her one good hand. "Do you know who I am, Quentin? DO YOU?"

Quentin, dazed by the onslaught, turned a bruised eye toward his captor, and gasped. "Bu-Bu- Buffy?"

"Yes, dickweed, Buffy! I came from the future, from the world that you created. You signed a deal with that thing that calls himself Snyder. But do you know who he really is? He's Belial, a major demon! He used your blasted contract to invade this world, to lead an army of vampires, to destroy every living thing on this planet!"

She threw him onto the bleachers, hard enough to break his arm. "My world is dead!" As he struggled to right himself, she rammed her palm up his jaw, breaking seven of his teeth. "Humanity is extinct!" She tried to kick him in the side, but Xander finally managed to grab her by the arm, restraining her, just barely. "And you killed them all!" She struggled in Xander's grip, but was unable, with only one arm, to get enough leverage to break free.

"Congratulations, Quentin," Giles intoned, his disgust at his former superior officer putting steel in his voice. "You just surpassed Judas Iscariot as the greatest traitor who ever lived."

Quentin, his body one vast area of pain, looked around at the two Buffies, and the others who had gathered around them. "My-my God," he stammered, his speech slurred by extensive injuries to his jaw. "Is this true?" Giles nodded. Alt-Buffy finally stopped struggling and just glared at Quentin. Perhaps no human face before had ever displayed such contempt, such raw, unfettered hatred.

"Come now, Quentin," Snyder smiled. "You're not going to let these delinquents sway you from the great work you're about to complete, are you? For the first time in millennia, there will be peace between the two worlds. You can't bail out now."

"Get thee behind me, Satan!" Quentin whispered. "You misrepresented yourself, demon. You lied to me about your intentions. You make me ashamed of my part in this blasphemy. No more! I refuse to sign your contract, monster! Our pact is null and void! Be gone to your realm and never come back!" For a full ten seconds, not a sound could be heard. The injured Quentin and the supplicant Snyder just stood, staring at each other, each daring the other to make the next move.

Snyder stepped forward until he was just inches away from Quentin. He sagged his shoulders, saying, "I'm sorry you feel this way, friend." He then lunged his right hand forward, bursting through Quentin's ribcage, and pulling out his still-beating heart. He stepped over the newly-killed corpse, taking the parchment on which the contract was written. He smeared the heart over the parchment, chanting;

"Words of a traitor, penned in black;
Blood of a traitor, to seal the pact.
So long as this contract is in my hand,
This world is no more the dominion of man!"

His laughter echoed across the field, and beyond, disturbing the dreams of all sleeping people around the world, and chilling the souls of the waking. Snyder turned toward the younger Buffy, the grin on his face reminiscent of Batman's eternal nemesis, the Joker. He seemed taller, more muscular, no longer the weakling authoritarian he appeared to be at Sunnydale High, but a true force of evil. "Remind me, Buffy, what was the name of that song you and your classmates liked?" he chortled. "By REM, I believe? Ah, yes; 'It's The End Of The World As We Know It, And I Feel Fine'!"

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