Part One

"Yeah, we copy that Riley, over." Xander gave the Slayer a half smile. Buffy just grimaced and continued scanning the cemetery. It was almost dawn and she was dead tired. Even Slayer stamina didn't make up for two nights without sleep. Ever since the Initiative had
imploded she and the Scoobies had been playing clean up with all the demons that had made it out of the base. The fact that most of them were half mad or dying didn't make the job any easier, in the physical sense anyway, and in the moral sense? Well, she looked at it more like putting an animal out of its misery rather than protecting the good citizens of Sunnydale.
She was getting damn tired of the good citizens of Sunnydale.

Buffy rubbed hard at her neck trying to work the kink out. Her hands were nudged out of the way and Xander gave her a brisk massage. She groaned sensually.

"Oh my God Xander, don't stop, please." Her head fell forward limply.

"That's what all my women say," he smirked, smacking her lightly on the head as she tried to straighten up and snap back a witty reply.

"Yeah, speaking of women, how's Anya?" Buffy heard the cattiness in her tone and winced. Oops, got to work on that.

"She's fine. She was at a seminar last night on money markets, that's why she didn't patrol with us." Xander gave one last shoulder rub.

"Hey, she's got a life, more power to her." Buffy shrugged experimentally and then bestowed the megawatt Slayer smile on her friend.

"Well, someone in this bunch needs one, that's for sure." Xander muttered.

Buffy smothered a sigh. Xander had lost another job and was feeling pretty down and he had a bitch of a girlfriend with expensive tastes; that must suck. She was trying to think of something upbeat to say but nothing was coming to mind. "I'll think about it tomorrow, after I get some sleep. I promise." She told herself.

She rubbed at her eyes, "Xander let's call it a night and round everybody up and go home."

The young man nodded agreement through his yawn. "Riley, this is Xander, the Boss says to move 'em out." He gave his best John Wayne imitation, which judging from the silence on the other end of the communicator, sucked.

He loved these little headsets that the gang liberated from the ruins of the Initiative base. Buffy didn't like them and refused to wear one but it made Xander feel all official and professional. He suspected they made Riley feel the same way and that's why Buffy had
mumbled her agreement after getting a good look at Riley's version of puppy dog eyes. He'd looked almost pathetically grateful in a way that made Xander cringe inside. It pulled memories of Xander's childhood to the surface, memories of being way too thankful for any kind word thrown his way. He knew what it was like to desperately want to fit in with a group even a group that wasn't really your type. You made way too many compromises, gave too much of yourself away and it took years to get those pieces of yourself back, if you ever did. Man, he was going to have a talk with Riley or the soldier was soon going to be known as Zeppo Jnr.

He realized he'd been staring into space, again, judging from the look on Buffy's face. She seemed about to say something than changed her mind and just shook her head. "C'mon you look like you need sugar."

They turned towards the south gate of the cemetery to meet up with the others when Buffy stopped and cocked her head to the side. She held up her hand to forestall any questions. She lifted her nose, scenting the air in a gesture reminiscent of Spike. Xander shuddered, sometimes this little blonde girl just creeped him out. He'd never tell anybody that but she
did, she really did.

She stepped forward slowly, lightly in what Xander recognized as hunting mode; Mr. Pointy held at the ready. They cleared a small, broken crypt, remnant of one of Sunnydale's older families, long since fallen on hard times. She didn't need to motion to him to stop. He'd already done so, the sight before his eyes striking his senses as blood chilling and yet poignant, and so he stopped, his brain trying to process the scene before him.

A tall, well-built woman, covered from head to toe in a long black woollen cloak, evocative of an earlier age sat gently rocking a small barely covered bundle, a baby. She was singing a lullaby to it in a fashion that reminded Xander, uncomfortably of Drusilla and her mad ramblings. Even from here, Xander could tell the baby was dead and that there was something wrong with it. It didn't look like a human child, not completely; the limbs were too long, the skin too pale and the face was off, what he could see of it. It looked almost familiar, like something he'd seen before but his brain didn't want to make the connection, all this, in a flash of perception before Buffy stepped forward and the woman's head reared as
she finally became aware of their presence.

She hissed and growled low in her throat, raising the hackles along Xander's neck. She sounded just like an alley cat he inadvertently cornered once. Her lips skinned back and he gasped; her canines were long and sharp and gleamed in the false dawn. She raised a hand
tipped with nails that more closely resembled talons as she scooted back along the bench, clutching the baby to her chest.

Buffy had raised her stake at the first hiss but stood still and silent in an attitude of confusion. "Vampire?" But it was more of a question than a statement. She took another step forward but hesitantly; still unsure of what manner of creature was before her.

"Buffy?" Xander questioned. "Maybe we should wait until the others get here." Xander was freaked, he didn't mind admitting it. Something wasn't right here; something was wrong, big time. He knew better than to try and touch the Slayer when she was in fighting mode but everything in him was screaming that they back off slowly. Hell, it was screaming at him to leave, just take off running and don't look back.

It was like watching a horror movie when you knew, just knew that the kids shouldn't open the door, that if they'd just walk away they could live and they'd never have to know about the thing in the basement. That's what he felt like right now; that if they didn't back away something was going to happen and they were gonna come face to face with the thing in the basement and nothing was ever going to be the same again.

The woman had backed herself against the crumbling wall of the cemetery, growling continuously. Buffy advanced step by hesitant step, drawn forward by instinct, curiosity, Hell Xander wasn't sure what. He figured, he would risk touching her, if just to break her out of the almost trancelike state she was in when the decision was taken out of his hands by a large human shaped object launching itself at the Slayer.

Xander was knocked to the ground hard, bruising his ribs and momentarily knocking the air out of his lungs. He lay there gasping for breath for what felt like forever but in reality was only a few seconds. He pushed himself up enough to see Buffy fighting with a male version of the woman. The hood on his cloak had fallen back and Xander was startled to see a
communicator, like his own on the vampire's head. Xander wasn't sure if vampire was the right word but the thing sure was fighting like one of the undead. He was good too, Buffy was fighting hard to hold her own. The battle was all claws and fang and what Xander
recognized with surprise, as military hand-to-hand tactics.

He swung his head around and watched in horror as the woman pulled out an automatic pistol and tried to get a clear shot at the Slayer. She wasn't paying any attention to him and Xander reacted to the threat to one of his best friends instinctually and smoothly. He grabbed a piece of broken headstone and threw a curve ball worthy of any major league pitcher. It hit the gun, knocking it out of the woman's hands, which was of the good. On the other hand, her attention now turned to the still slightly stunned teenager.

"Oh crap," Xander groaned pushing completely upright and getting into fighting mode. He risked a glance at Buffy but she had troubles of her own, the big guy wasn't cooperating with the Slayer and her desire to dust him. In fact he had just grabbed her, pulling her forward, his teeth bared and reached for her throat. Big mistake, Buffy excelled at close combat. Mr. Pointy went up and in with a well-practiced move but that's where the similarities to previous slayings ended.

As the stake pierced his chest he screamed in agony and for the first time in her life, Buffy found herself covered in blood, hot, red and everywhere. She stumbled back horrified as the man continued to thrash and writhe on the ground splashing gore and the screaming became higher pitched like letting the air out of a balloon and Xander gagged at the thought.

Buffy stumbled forward, dropping to her knees and attempting the totally impossible task of stopping the blood that continued to gush from the wound, and oh God why wasn't the guy dead anything to stop that screaming, Xander thought.

He turned, as if in slow motion to the woman who now stood clutching the baby to her chest, a curiously blank expression on her face as she watched the man flail in his death throes. She met Xander's gaze, dead eyes in a too still face before calmly, almost regally
stepping around him to stand facing east in an attitude of patient watchfulness.

"Xander, for God's sake help me!" Buffy was crying and as close to hysterical as Xander had ever seen her. He didn't move, anyone could see there wasn't any point. The guy's cries had faded to a soft keening, his eyes fixed and staring into the rapidly lightening sky. Buffy raised his head onto her lap, one hand still desperately trying to hold his heart's blood in his body, unaware that it had faded to a sluggish stream. He reached one hand out toward the waiting woman, one word leaving his lips before his eyes rolled back in his head. "Mary," he'd whispered.

Riley and Willow arrived at a dead run, skidding to a halt in shock. Willow dropped to her knees beside Buffy and the two young women shared a stricken look. Riley looked in stunned recognition at the dead man before turning to the silent woman.

"Mary O'Farrell?" He questioned softly. She made no gesture that she'd heard his words.

"Sergeant O'Farrell, it Riley Finn, do you remember me?" He tried again, ignoring the starts of surprise from the Scoobies.

In answer to his question she turned slowly to stare at the young man, an almost compassionate look on her face, before smiling vaguely and turning to face the sun as it crested the horizon. She clutched the baby closer to her and began to sing a lullaby as the
rising sun struck them. She continued to sing as her skin smoked and crackled and tiny flames erupted from the fissures as the tissue ruptured. This time Xander moved, jumping forward to grab the woman but he found himself trapped by stronger arms as Riley held him, ignoring the curses Xander threw at him, holding him hard against his chest while the woman burned and burned and burned, singing all the while to the dead child in her arms.

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Part Two

Riley finally felt Xander quit fighting. Only the smallest of flames remained in the ashes but Riley could swear he still heard her voice, singing that lullaby. He knew he would hear it for the rest of his life.

He loosened his hold on Xander, completely unprepared for the right hook to the jaw that knocked him on his ass. He stared up at the furious teenager, too shocked to think of defending himself. He'd never seen Xander really angry before. The guy looked furious.

"What the Hell Riley, why didn't you let me save her? What's wrong with you?" Xander raged.

Riley carefully regained his footing. Buffy hadn't moved, she still knelt by the pile of ashes that had been Joe Ramirez, Corporal Ramirez, last time Riley had seen him.

Willow had scrambled to her feet but now stood uncertainly, unsure what to do. She glanced at the still silent Slayer. "Buffy?"

Buffy Summers stared at her bloodstained hands for a moment before closing her eyes and doing something she hadn't done since the night her parents announced they were getting a divorce; she wished, she wished very hard that when she opened her eyes the blood would be gone. There would be no pile of ashes with a smoking, blackened stake protruding from their depths and the screaming in her ears would stop, just go away please, anytime would be fine.

Willow flinched at the bitter smile gracing her friend's face as Buffy re-opened her eyes and stared down at her gore-covered hands.

Xander stepped forward aggressively and Willow made her decision. "Please Xander, not here, not now. We need to leave, go tell Giles what happened. Okay? Please?" Willow grasped her best friend's arm tightly, wincing in apology at the blood her nails drew.

Xander glanced down at her pleading eyes and nodded once before turning to the Slayer.

"C'mon Buff, Willow's right, we've got to talk to Giles." He grasped her arm, gently lifting her to her feet. The look she gave him made his heart skip a beat. She looked about fifteen and very lost. Willow offered her some tissues from her purse and Buffy stared at them for a moment. Xander thought she might start crying but then she gave the red head a watery
smile and did her best to clean her hands and face of the blood that covered them. Riley offered his coat as covering, since even in Sunnydale, a blood soaked girl would cause questions.

Willow and Xander flanked her waiting impatiently while Riley dealt with the remains. No words were spoken as Riley joined them and they started back to Giles' place.

* * * * * * * * * * * *


"You're sure they're dead?" Capt. Murphy asked Pvt. Ryker. Only in town two days and already a quarter of his force was gone and him being such a fine officer too. He felt the all too familiar stab of self-loathing before putting a sharp rein on his emotions. Time enough for that later after this mission was over.

"The Slayer staked Ramirez and O'Farrell just waited for the dawn. They're about as dead as we can get." Ryker answered, a hint of his ever-present sarcasm in his voice.

"Damn, that bitch staked him? Well, serves him right." Cpl. Wolinski sneered.

"Wolinski!" Murphy gave a warning growl, his eyes flashing a brief gold, which Wolinski ignored with his customary lack of respect for authority. Recent changes had only made this annoying personality trait more pronounced.

"Well, c'mon Captain, you told him not to go out there, you told all of us." Wolinski snarled.

"You know why he went, why you being such a hard ass huh?" Ruiz snapped at him. She was barely holding her tears back. She and O'Farrell had been best friends before everything had gone to Hell.

"Look, I know she was your friend but Mary hasn't been with us in quite some time, ever since that little...." Wolinski broke off as Ruiz jumped up snarling, her fangs extended, eyes almost pure yellow.

"Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!" She screamed.

"That's enough! Attention!" Murphy howled at them. They all fell in line, including their Medic, Brown who'd come rushing in when the screaming started.

Murphy could feel his heart pounding; smell the anger and grief in the room. He felt his fangs elongate and had an almost overwhelming desire to rend and tear at these pups until they dropped in subservience. He saw Brown looking at him with concern. He saw him make a motion towards the med kit he always carried with him, no matter what. Murphy shook his head imperceptibly and instead took a deep calming breath.

"We lost two of our own today and the reasons don't matter. O'Farrell was a good soldier and a good woman and Ramirez was a good soldier and good man. We can only hope that they've gone to a better place and that God will have mercy on their souls but their deaths
don't change our reasons for being here. It's unfortunate the Slayer found them but we knew we might have to deal with her. We keep avoiding her and we go with the original plan. We stay low, find Hostile 17 and maybe, just maybe we can get our lives back." He looked each of them in the eye, holding their gazes until they nodded in agreement.

"Now get your shots and get something to eat. We're going to be short handed so Ruiz, you relieve Sutter and Lt. Burke after breakfast. You're going to be on guard duty on your own. You think you can handle it?" He was hoping that the duty would help to keep the young woman's mind occupied, give her time to deal with her grief.

She nodded her head briefly, "Yes Captain. I'll be fine."

"Alright then, dismissed."

Ruiz hesitated briefly, "Captain, about O'Farrell and Ramirez, what you said, you believe that, about God having mercy on their souls?"

"They didn't ask for this Ruiz." Murphy said bluntly. "None of us did."

"Yeah but we didn't ask any questions either, we just followed orders, maybe if we had, Mary would still be alive and sane and that poor little baby," she stopped, unable to finish the sentence, asking instead. "You knew it was Ramirez's didn't you?"

"I suspected," he answered with a shrug, waiting for Ruiz to finish, sensing her need to tell someone about her friend.

"You know, they didn't have a lot in common, just that one-night stand. She didn't know she was pregnant when the doctors started all this," she said gesturing at herself. "But they must have known huh?"

"Yeah, they must have," Murphy agreed, feeling tired and old, because of course he'd already worked this out for himself; they probably all had but it was just one more thing that his unit didn't talk about, because talking about it made what was happening to them too real.

Ruiz nodded to herself, "Yeah, I figured. I wonder what else they knew?" She gave him a wry smile, not really expecting an answer, not wanting one. She saluted and he returned it, watching as she left the room. He made a mental note to ask Brown to increase her injections. She'd gone feral very fast in the argument with Wolinski. He rubbed his eyes wearily. O'Farrell, Ruiz; the women seemed to be changing more rapidly than the men in the unit. God, if he lost Burke, he shook his head, couldn't think like that or he'd never make it through this mission. Burke would be fine that brain of hers wouldn't succumb to the wild without a fight of that he was sure.

"Sir?" Ryker stood patiently.

"Yes Ryker? What is it?" Murphy asked.

"Something else you should know Sir. The Slayer wasn't the only one there when Ramirez and O'Farrell died. Some of her friends were there; Riley Finn was there and he recognized Mary. He called her by name. I think he recognized Ramirez too." Ryker said grimly.

"Prof. Walsh's pet is still alive? Well, lucky us I guess maybe we don't go with the original plan after all." Murphy growled low in his throat causing Ryker to swallow heavily. The Captain took a quick look at the clock; they would need to sleep soon all of them. Only the extra drugs Ruiz was taking would allow her to stand guard until the afternoon.

"Tell the others they'll be a meeting at fifteen hundred hours to discuss a change of plans." Murphy fought to hold himself upright, the compulsion to sleep becoming greater minute by minute.

Ryker nodded weakly before leaving to inform his comrades. Murphy stumbled to his room dropping heavily to the army cot set up in the corner, his last thoughts of his old friend Riley.

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Part Three

It was a barely awake Giles that responded to the pounding at his front door and found himself confronted by a shell shocked Slayer being supported by a teary eyed Willow and angry Xander with Riley bringing up the rear.

"Good Lord, what happened?" Giles eyed Buffy's bloody clothing with trepidation. Oh dear God, not Buffy, not his Slayer.

Strangely, it was Riley who answered for the group while Xander and Willow guided a silent Slayer inside.

"We ran into same vampires, there was a fight, it was a little messier than usual." Riley reported in a dead voice.

If it weren't for the blood covering his Slayer and the looks of incredulity on the faces of Willow and Xander, the young man's voice would have been the tip off. Giles took a closer look at the ex-soldier and realized that he wasn't in much better shape than Buffy.

"I see," Giles said gently casting a stern look at Xander who appeared about to protest. "Why don't you sit down while I see to Buffy." Giles turned to Willow who was steadying Buffy while she took off her shoes and hose.

There were tear tracks on her face and her eyes were red and swollen from weeping but she appeared to be in control of herself, for the moment anyway. Giles took a deep breath and let his Watcher training take control.

"Xander please put the kettle on while I fetch some extra towels. Buffy, why don't you and Willow go upstairs; you can take a shower and get cleaned up." He reached out a hand to help the young blonde to her feet but she flinched back, giving her head a quick shake and standing on her own.

"Giles, I have to tell you what happened," she began.

"Later Buffy, after you've showered and had a cup of tea, yes?" Giles said gently.

She looked like she wanted to argue but then her shoulders slumped and she acquiesced wearily, following Willow up the stairs.

Giles watched the girls leave. He hadn't missed the fact that Willow had been abnormally silent through out the proceedings; what in God's name had happened out there?

Giles turned around, starting in surprise because Xander was standing behind him. He too had watched the girls go upstairs and was now staring at Giles with an eerily mature expression on his face. Giles found himself wondering just who this young man was who had returned from patrol; he wasn't the same bouncing, sometimes clumsy, somewhat annoying boy who had left his house only three hours earlier. Now Giles found himself confronted by a grim stranger with a haunted expression.

Giles gestured to Xander to take a seat. He noted that the boy sat as far from Riley as possible and continued to eye the ex-soldier's bent head with hard eyes. The ex-Watcher excused himself; escaping to the kitchen under pretence of making the tea. He took another deep calming breath, trying to gather his scattered thoughts. Everything seemed surreal, off
kilter, almost nightmarish; the blood, the feelings of anger, despair and horror he sensed, the odd behaviour of these young people he would have sworn he knew.

He stared out the window at his sun washed yard, watching a robin pull a protesting worm from the moist soil of the lawn. The worm snapped in two and the robin cocked its head to the side, contemplating the part that got away before hopping off to feed its young. Giles felt a chill whisper across his skin and rubbed briskly at his arms, dashing a bit of cold water on his face to wash the sleep from his eyes.

He heard the shower turn off upstairs as he finished fixing the tea, arranging everything on the tray just so, as if the exact placement of milk and sugar were of vital importance.

The boys were in exactly the same position as when he left, stirring only when he placed the tray on the table, asking how they wanted their tea. He noted, in surprise that he'd used his best china, as if he were entertaining guests or other adults. Well perhaps he was; these certainly weren't the same teenagers who left his house for patrol late last night.

Buffy and Willow returned to the living room; Buffy dressed in the extra set of clothes she kept at Giles house; her comfort set she called them, because if she needed to change before going home, it must have been a hard night.

He noted that Willow had changed as well, having stripped off her bulky sweater in favor of one of his shirts. He suspected that when he went upstairs he would find the combined clothing stuffed into the bathroom wastebasket except for Riley's coat. Buffy stood mutely offering the garment to her boyfriend who stared at it for a moment before gingerly taking it
from her hands and setting it on the floor.

The silence lengthened as everyone sipped at his or her tea. Giles had an uneasy desire to laugh as his eyes travelled the room; everyone so proper, almost staid, as Willow would have said, 'very British'.

Finally Buffy set her cup down, careful of the paper-thin china and folded her hands on her lap. She sat up very straight and began reciting that morning's events in a concise, almost clinical manner. Giles listened with growing horror to her description of the creatures she and Xander had fought. He felt his stomach roll at her description of the male vampire's death and his skin crawl as she related the death of the female.

Buffy finished her narrative and then sat back in her chair, waiting patiently for her punishment. She wondered what the Council would do now with only two murderous Slayers to choose from; she couldn't muster the energy to care. She felt strangely lethargic,
almost detached. She realized that she was probably still in shock but she felt no compelling desire to reassert her connection to reality; reality was a bloody place filled with screaming men and mad women, not a pleasant place to be at the moment. She had become pragmatic enough in the past few years to realize that she would return to normal soon enough, probably long before she was ready. This would do for now.

"Riley, you knew these vampires?" Giles asked more sharply than he had intended by the surprised look on the young man's face. He didn't mean to take this out on the young man, it must have been even more horrifying to have watched these gruesome deaths and known those involved but he had the uncomfortable feeling that the Initiative had something to do with this mornings events. He also now understood Xander's ire at the young commando although to Giles' knowledge nothing could have prevented the death of the female. She had seemed determined to die.

"One was Mary O'Farrell; I went through basic training with her. The other was Joe Ramirez. We all started out together in the Initiative but they were in a different unit. They were shipped out before I met you guys, I don't know where. We heard the entire unit
bought it in some fire fight down in the jungle, Brazil or somewhere like it. That's all I know, I swear." Riley met the ex-Watcher's gaze squarely. Giles believed him. It was obvious the young man was greatly affected by the deaths of the two vampires.

"Willow, do you think you could find some reference to these two in the Initiative files we salvaged?" Willow glanced up, startled. She had kept her head down, staying close to Buffy throughout Riley's account. She was doing her best to make herself as small and
inconspicuous as possible. Xander recognized the behaviour as classic Willow defence mode perfected over the years as a means of dealing with the taunts and spitefulness hurled their way in school and out.

"I might be able to, maybe, I think but..." Willow broke off and took a deep shuddering breath. Xander quickly slipped from his chair and slid next to Willow, clasping her hand. She gave him a grateful look then turned back to Giles, and made an attempt at her 'Willow resolve face'. "I just need to catch a little sleep okay Giles?"

Giles nodded compassionately at the shaky young woman.

"What about me Giles? What happens to me?" Buffy asked softly.

"Nothing, you did your duty. You are a vampire slayer and they were vampires," Giles answered as he carefully removed his glasses and polished them on his shirt.

"Jesus Giles, didn't you hear anything that was said? They weren't your regular vampires and that woman had a baby with her! Weren't you listening..." Xander broke off as Giles fixed him with icy stare and Xander felt afraid of Giles for the first time in his life; he felt very afraid.

"I can assure that I heard everything Xander," he said, his voice harsher and deeper than any of the Scoobies had ever heard it. "They may not have been your typical vampires but they were vampires and as such, a threat and one that must be destroyed, that is, after all, the whole point of the exercise. Wouldn't you agree?" He held the young man's gaze for a moment before nodding his head decisively.

"Buffy, why don't you go home and get some rest? Why don't all of you go home? We'll meet back here later today and see if we can find out anything more." Giles stood and ushered the young people to the front door. Buffy gave him an uncertain look and he nodded to her encouragingly. "You did the right thing, Buffy. Now try to get some sleep, all right?"

She nodded briefly, not quite believing him he could tell, but wanting to, before following the others out the door. Giles sighed deeply, noting that Riley had left his bloodstained jacket in a ball on the floor. Giles picked it up, shoving it into the garbage before gathering up the cups and saucers and filling the sink with hot, soapy water, starting the task of washing the dishes and trying to order his thoughts. He was on his third cup when the first sob escaped and feeling completely unmanned, he slowly slid to the floor and wept, as he hadn't since the night Jenny had died.

Xander, Willow and Riley all walked Buffy home in silence. She mounted the steps to her front door slowly; almost unwillingly it seemed to her friends before turning and giving them a half-hearted wave.

"I'll come by and pick you up later okay Buff? We'll meet up with Willow and Riley at Giles' place around three?" Xander glanced at Willow for confirmation. He still wasn't speaking directly to Riley but he felt the icy rage around his heart thawing a little. It was just, man, a baby and the woman was obviously deranged by grief and vampires couldn't have kids could they? And that singing and just everything and Xander just wanted something he could hit and make it all go away.

Buffy nodded vaguely before going inside. The three remaining friends exchanged glances before Xander turned to head home and Riley and Willow went back to campus.

He saw the ex-soldier cast a last longing glance at the Slayer's house before turning away and hunching his shoulders in defeat. Xander felt a little more of the ice melt around his heart. Riley loved Buffy and she didn't love him back but he would stick with her as long as she let him. Xander gave a self deprecating smile, been there, done that. He really hoped Anya was up when he got home.

Buffy slipped quietly up the stairs stopping briefly at her mother's room. Joyce lay sleeping peacefully and Buffy felt her vision blur. She looked so far away to the young Slayer, untouchable even more so now, after the events of that morning. Buffy sniffed and rubbed her hand across her nose childishly, turning to go into her room when Joyce Summers stirred, awaked perhaps by a mother's instinct.

"Buffy? Honey what time is it?" Joyce stared blearily at the bedside clock, noting that the alarm would be going off in another fifteen minutes before noticing that Buffy hadn't answered her. She focused on her only child and noted the baggy sweats and still slightly swollen eyes. She felt a rush of alarm and a dozen questions crowded her lips before she met her daughter's eyes. Joyce drew a sharp breath at the desolation she saw there and all the questions and fear melted away, overwhelmed by a simple powerful emotion, as old as time.

She switched the alarm off and lifted the covers invitingly, saying not a word. Buffy gave a single sobbing cry of "Mommy" before burrowing into the covers next to her mother, hugging Joyce tightly, just this short of pain; but the woman only smiled sadly, carding her child's hair and whispering soft assurances to the weeping young woman until she fell asleep.

* * * * * * * * *


Ruiz made her way to the tunnel entrance nodding briefly to Sutter as she relieved him.

"Sorry to hear about Mary," he said gruffly. He was a big man, not given to idle chitchat but there was no one better to watch your back in a fight. Ruiz gave him a grateful smile, feeling giddy with the abnormal rush of the drugs through her system. She hated this feeling but it was the only way she would be able to stay up to guard the others until they woke up. He
patted her shoulder awkwardly before heading back to camp.

"Where's the L.T.?" She suddenly glanced around, wondering where Burke could be until she spotted the woman slipping from shadow to shadow in the graveyard. Ruiz held her breath as Burke made a daring leap across a patch of sunlight before making her way to the tunnel entrance.

"Man, LT you crazy or what, you could have fried." Burke raised her eyebrows at the anger in the young woman's voice before calmly pulling out a cigarette and lighting it. She took a long drag before offering it to Ruiz.

Ruiz stared at her, still annoyed but unable to sustain her anger under the sympathetic gaze of the other woman. She huffed in annoyance before taking the proffered smoke.

They sat in companionable silence, sharing the cigarette until it was gone, watching, with
bittersweet enjoyment, the start of a new day before the need for sleep drove the lieutenant to her feet.

"Hey LT, can I ask you something?" Ruiz knew she had to ask now or she never would.

"Better make it quick," Burke said, yawning to make her point.

"This plan you and the Captain thought up, you think it's really gonna work?" Ruiz wanted to believe that it would, but deep in her heart, she knew, she was already doomed, same as Mary.

Burke stared into the eyes of the desperate young woman and dug deep, dredging up a very authentic looking reassuring smile. "It has a good chance Luisa, all we need is Hostile 17 and by tomorrow, we'll have him." Burke met the young woman's eyes and willed her to believe.

Ruiz nodded once before saluting and taking her station.

Burke watched her for a moment longer, knowing that Ruiz was unconvinced, before turning away and heading to her bed and another sleep filled with the nightmare faces of the dead and dying.

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Part Four

Xander let himself into the basement as quietly as possible in case Anya had decided to spend the night. She was gonna be pissed when she woke up because he'd promised to be home earlier. He stumbled over to the bed, noting that there were several baskets of laundry
sitting conspicuously on the steps. Damn, that's right it was Wednesday, wash day and his mother liked to get it done in the morning while her talk shows were on. She always tried to get the household chores out of the way before she started the cocktail hour, usually around four o'clock, while she was starting dinner, so that by the time it was ready she was numb enough to meet her husband with a fair amount of resignation.

Well, no morning sex and they'd both have to clear out by nine at the latest. Well, he could use this morning, before the meeting to go looking for another lousy, low paying job, plenty of those around.

He tried to undress without waking Anya, thought he'd made it too but than she turned over and stared at him with a surprisingly awake look.

"You're late," she said with a pout. "I waited. It was Tuesday and Tuesday night we sleep together here. I shouldn't be sleeping here alone." She sounded almost conversational, as if she were discussing a doctor's appointment and not a sexual assignation. Xander felt a chill whisper across his skin.

"We ran into some really bad weirdness early this morning An, we had to meet over at Giles, figure out what to do." Xander pulled his t-shirt off and tossed it into one of the laundry baskets. It hit with a silent 'plonk', two points. He sat on the bed to untie his shoes while the silence grew behind him. He grimaced as he toed the sneakers off and started on his pants. He pulled the covers back and dropped onto the mattress, hitting the bent spring and wincing. The bent spring was why he had this side of the bed.

Anya waited a few moments more but Xander didn't elaborate, nor did he apologize.

"Well, what did run into? Demons? Dragons? What?" She snapped pushing the hair back from her face and adjusting the sheet covering her breast. She cast a quick glance in his direction but Xander wasn't looking at her, he was simply staring at the ceiling with a strange look on his face.

"Vampires, at least I think they were vampires." He closed his eyes briefly before suddenly rolling towards her. "Ah God Anya, it was horrible." Xander gripped her arm and she twisted it, trying to pull away.

"Xander, you're hurting me!" He let her go abruptly and she stared at him as she rubbed at the bruise forming on her wrist. He'd all ready dropped back, his arm over his eyes trying futilely to block the memory in his head.

"What was so different about these vampires?" She watched him warily as she asked in case.

"There were two of them, a man and a woman. The woman had this dead baby in her arms and she was holding it, rocking it in her arms and singing to it just like a person. And Buffy went for her and this guy, this vamp came out of nowhere and Buffy staked him and there

was so much blood and he came to protect the woman and she watched him die and then she just stood there waiting for the sun, waiting to burn." Xander rubbed at his face, pressing his palms hard into his eye sockets, welcoming the pain, anything to distract him from the memory of that awful singing.

Anya stared at him in confusion. He was obviously upset about the female's death but she wasn't sure how to comfort him. He'd never been upset before; before it had always been about numbers, how many vamps did we dust tonight, a scorecard but not this time and she

wasn't sure why or what to say, but she tried her best. She always tried her best.

"I expect she was just tired of being here Xander. Maybe the baby dying upset her; vampires aren't very good at keeping things alive or maybe she was just mad, like Drusilla." Anya patted his arm awkwardly.

Xander turned to look at his girlfriend, his eyes sparking with irritation. "What the Hell are you talking about Anya, vamps don't commit suicide or feel upset; they're demons."

Anya's lips thinned and she met the anger in her boyfriend's eyes with sparks of her own. "That's right, they're demons, not animals or things. They have feelings just not like you do. And they do commit suicide for the same reason; they get depressed or they're grief stricken or they're simply insane." Anya reached for her shirt jerking it over her head, for the first time in a long time she didn't feel like having sex with Xander, not right now, and she realized with surprise, maybe not for a while.

"You know, I realize that I'm not very good at being a human being but you know something, sometimes neither are you. You and your gang of friends go out every night and you kill demons before they can kill you and I get that, I do and so do they. They understand about the whole 'kill or be killed' thing that's not why they hate humans. It's because you look at them and you don't see them as anything other than objects to be gotten rid of; they have feelings," She struck at her chest, "I had feelings. Sure maybe I didn't care

about most humans but I did my job, I got them vengeance. I did understand where those woman who invoked me were coming from, I could empathize you know, I just wasn't very good at it but I could do it. And I cared about other demons and some of them cared about me."

"An," Xander reached out and she struck his hand away. He blinked in astonishment; he didn't think he'd ever seen her like this, so upset.

"No, it's not a game of numbers." She clutched her hands and this was so important, she had to get this out, had to make him understand. "We're people just like you. We have families and children and jokes and friends and yeah, most of us would eat you if we got the chance but that doesn't make us any less real. Don't you understand?" She reached out and clasped his hand in hers and gazed into his soft, brown eyes and what she saw there made her heart break.

"Sure they do Anya, I know that," Xander tried to soothe the distraught young woman catching her close, "But you gotta remember it's different for you, you used to be human," he explained gently.

Anya closed her eyes slowly and when she opened them again her gaze was clear and calm and she smiled, a sad little smile at him and touched his face tenderly. "Of course, you're right. It's okay." She lay back on the bed; the poignant look never leaving her face and Xander didn't like it, not at all. She gotten so upset, what had she gotten so upset for?

He snuggled in close but rather than laying her head on his chest like she usually did this time she brought his head to hers and it felt - uncomfortable, like lying with your mother but he didn't move and she absently ran her fingers through his hair, softly, soothingly.

"Anya, all I meant was that I think there was something different about these vamps, you know?" Xander tried to raise his head but she shushed him gently.

"I'm sure you're right, they were different, now go to sleep, you need to rest." Anya stared out the basement window at another perfect Southern California day and listened to Xander's breathing become slow and even and wondered for the first time what life would be like on her own.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Willow reached her dorm room on autopilot. Riley had left her downstairs. He'd wanted to walk her up but she'd said no, go get some rest. He looked like he was barely holding it together. He looked like she felt.

The first thing she did was go into the bathroom and wash her hands, again. She scrubbed at them until they were almost raw, ignoring the strange looks from the early risers. And when she finished that she took a shower, doing her best to muffle her sobs.

She'd told Giles she needed to get some rest but now that she was here she found she couldn't sleep, wasn't sure if she'd ever be able to sleep again without waking in a cold sweat.

She could always go and see Tara. Willow was really growing fond of her. But no, she couldn't wake her up with "Hi, I saw someone murdered by my best friend last night and I can't get the images out of my head."

Willow's gaze strayed to her bookshelf and her magic books. Somewhere in there was probably a spell for forgetting the events of this morning but, she wasn't going to do that; she could get through this on her own.

Well magic was out and apparently so was sleep; that left work. She booted up her laptop fixing a cup of tea while she waited for the programs to load. Time to see if she could locate the rest of Riley's missing friends.

It took her more than an hour to decrypt and work her way through the first set of salvaged files. That was one of the reasons she hadn't gone through the files yet, it was slow, painstaking work. If not decrypted properly the files were set to self-destruct. She wished that Oz were still here, he was great at this stuff. He'd taught her a lot of tricks in the time

they'd been together.

After another hour she finally started getting somewhere. She'd stumbled upon a set of emails between Prof. Walsh and someone at the Pentagon referring to a project codenamed: Dante. She wouldn't have followed the thread at all if an O'Farrell, M. hadn't been mentioned in one of the emails as an intriguing subject choice for the project.

Willow shivered; it was all so clinical and cold just like Maggie Walsh herself. Willow read for thirty minutes more and realized she would have to get some rest, the screen was blurring. She rubbed her eyes tiredly, about to save and switch off when the subject line of the next email caught her eye. It was referring to Hostile 17. As Willow read the email her pupils grew huge as the enormity of the project itself became clear.

"Oh Goddess, they wouldn't, they couldn't." Willow finished the email, falling back in her seat in horror. She reached over, fumbling with the phone, nearly dropping it as she dialled Giles number.

She felt cold, very, very cold. Giles picked up on the third ring.

"Yes, hullo?" Giles mumbled sleepily. Willow smiled thinly, well he wouldn't be sleepy for long.

"Giles, it's Willow."

"Willow, what is it? Is something wrong?" Giles fumbled for his glasses as if being to see would make the conversation clearer.

"I know why they're here Giles; why they had to come back to Sunnydale. They came back for Spike."

"Who Willow, the Initiative?" Giles did like the tenor of the young witch's voice. It was cold and hard and far too adult.

"Riley's missing squad. They didn't disappear in the jungle Giles. They were being changed, altered so that they could survive where they were going." Willow said flatly.

"Willow I don't understand, perhaps you'd better start at the beginning."

Willow continued as if she hadn't heard him. "Maggie Walsh was supposed to come up with soldiers, hybrids. She decided to use a vampire and she choose Spike. That's why they kept him alive, that's why the chip. It wasn't about controlling demons, at least not all demons just the ones they needed."

Giles felt his stomach tighten. He didn't want to ask the next question, he truly did not but Watcher's were trained to face unpleasantness of the worst kind.

"What did they need soldiers for Willow? Why did they need to control the demons?"

Willow laughed harshly, "Project Dante Giles, the Initiative was going to invade Hell."

................................................................................................................................................................................

Part Five

 

Riley Finn, responsible to a fault, never called in sick a day in his life, honest as the day was long, called his boss and lied. He lied about being sick; he lied about needing a couple of days off and he lied when he said he was sorry because it left his boss short handed. He wasn't sorry; for the first time in his life he could care less.

His life had fallen apart since the destruction of the Initiative and the death of Maggie Walsh. His whole world view altered by the events of the past year, friends dead or gone, everything crushed and he'd helped, gone along with it all for the love of a petite little blond girl who loved him in her way just not the way he loved her.

He dropped to the floor, leaning against his bed, reaching underneath to pull out his treasure box. That's what he'd called the various boxes he kept his mementos and keepsakes in over the years; stupid childhood name but it was comforting and comfort was important right now.

Inside was a lock of Buffy's hair, a beat up old rabbit's foot with most of the fur missing, the tassel from his graduation cap, a gold cross from his mother, the bars from his dress uniform and pictures.

The top one was of he and Graham on the night they'd gotten their first teaching assignments. They'd gone out and celebrated in style, dinner in LA and afterwards a show. They been mistaken for a couple at the restaurant and he'd been embarrassed but Graham

surprisingly had taken it in stride but then he was from money, old money back East, at least on his mother's side and he'd been raised to take everything in stride. On his dad's side it was military all the way; there'd been a Miller in the Revolutionary War.

People used to think they were the odd couple, secretly Riley did too but Graham never acted like he noticed and probably wouldn't have cared if he did.

The second one was of Graham and Forrest after a rugby match against UC Santa Barbara. They were covered in mud and looked like hell but they were smiling, big happy 'we came, we saw, we kicked their ass' smiles. Forrest always had a touch of arrogance in his smiles,

a bit of smugness that gave you the niggling feeling that he was laughing at you and not in a good way, but he'd been a friend, more Graham's than Riley's but still, a friend.

Riley traced the side of Forrest's face, the side that had been torn away to make room for the demonic skin. He'd had that same smug smile on his face when he'd tried to kill him.

"How the mighty have fallen, hey?" Riley sighed, before flipping to the next picture in the pile. This one showed three fresh faced young recruits, all prepared to defend their home against any and all comers. Riley, Graham and Kevin Murphy.

Murphy with his dark curly hair, blue eyes, slow Southern drawl and Irish charm; a chick magnet they used to call him. He took the teasing with a slow shrug and a wink and ambled on to the next young woman that caught his eye and there were plenty of them.

At the beginning, before he knew him very well, Riley thought Murphy had all those women hanging around because he was some sort of stud but after a while he realized it was because Murphy liked women, really liked them. He liked listening to them, the way they

thought, the way they moved and yes, there shapes. He plain liked women and they responded. He could get even the shyest woman to open up and chat.

He'd done the same thing with Riley, a young farm boy far from home and unsure how to act in social situations at the officer's parties that were as much about politics as war. Murphy had explained that every party was a battle, think tactics, think objectives, think winning and he'd do fine. It was Murphy who'd introduced him to Graham at the beginning of training and the three young men hung around together for the rest of their time in basic; The Three Musketeers.

They'd joined the Initiative together but while Graham and Riley had been sent to Sunnydale, Murphy had been given a squad to command to seek out Hostiles in other parts of the world. The letters and postcards had been sporadic but they'd all kept in touch until one day the letters stopped coming. It had been Graham that tracked down the information about Murphy and his missing squad, that was all he found though, the squad was declared lost and that was that, no memorials, no burials, nothing.

He and Graham had held their own farewell: a bottle and a bonfire on one of the hills above Sunnydale. They stood and drank until the bottle was dry and the sky began to lighten, it was the only time that Riley cursed God for taking his friend away. He'd waited with baited breath for God to show his displeasure but nothing happened and he'd let loose a sigh of relief. He figured he'd gotten off light but after tonight, maybe God had been listening after all because if Mary and Joe were here than Kevin or what was left of him couldn't be far behind.

Riley leaned his head back against the bed, closed his eyes and prayed very hard for forgiveness and realized he'd remembered too late the old adage 'be careful what you wish for.' He closed his eyes hoping to get some dreamless sleep before the meeting this afternoon, he'd hoped in vain.

* * * * * * * * * *

Spike was drunk, not a new or even rare occurrence, every time he got a few bucks together he made his way down to the local liquor store and picked up one or two bottles of the finest cheap whiskey he could afford. He'd become a real connoisseur of the more bang for your bucks brands and the ones that would do in a pinch.

He should be using the money to buy blood, that's what any sensible chipped vampire would do. He laughed harshly from his position on the floor. Yeah should be putting the money away for a rainy day, buy himself a ledger all shiny and new, crisp white pages to record

the days expenditures and income; always put a bit away for a rainy day, his mother used to say or was that Darla? God he was drunk and wasn't it wonderful!

He stumbled to his feet and spun in a circle, deliriously happy or not, perhaps he was simply mad. The stinking hell his life had become, had finally gotten to him and peeled his brain away bit-by-bit leaving only disjointed pieces. Perhaps, but who cared? Not him, not the Big Bad, not when he had another bottle around here somewhere.

"Here bottle, bottle, bottle, come to Spikey." He dropped to his hands and knees, crawling and poking here and there looking for the container.

"There's no point in hiding luv, I can smell ya," he giggled. "I'll make it quick, I promise." He crossed his fingers hiding them behind his back before continuing his hunt.

"Ah, there you are," and he pounced, crowing with triumph as he twisted the bottle open guzzling half the contents in one go before leaning against one of the stone coffins and attempting to light a cigarette.

He caught the decayed face of the coffin's occupant in the flare of his lighter. "What are you looking at?" He sneered. 

He inhaled a deep breath of nicotine, holding it in his lungs for over a minute before exhaling. He stared at the glowing tip of the cigarette, holding out his arm, deliberately holding the tip to his skin. He hissed when the pain hit but held the cigarette in place until his skin began to smoke and he was in serious danger of combusting.

He laughed softly, "Death by cigarette, bet the Slayer hasn't used that one." His mood rapidly changed again. He hopped up on the edge of the coffin and stared into space, as morose now as he'd been maniacal before.

"What the fuck am I doing here?" He closed his eyes and tried to remember the good times when he'd been cock of the walk and a figure to be feared not some object of fun for kids who weren't even as old as he was when Dru turned him. But it was hard and getting harder the longer this twisted existence continued.

Instead he remembered every time he screwed up or Angelus had belittled his plans and dismissed him to go play with Drusilla and stay out of the way. He remembered Darla and her constant disappointment in him after Angelus disappeared the first time. He'd thought, "I'll show her I can be a right proper demon with grand schemes and such but it hadn't worked that way. His impatience had been his undoing, his plans never quite worked out, his demonic tendencies, while vicious lacked the refinement of Angelus' torture and to cap it all off, Darla refused to receive him in her bed choosing instead celibacy, virtually unheard of in

the vampire community where love had little to do with sex and hate worked just as well.

The only time she'd shown him any favor was the night he'd killed his first Slayer and even that triumph was overshadowed by the underlying tension between herself and a newly returned Angelus.

"Yeah, I've got to get this chip out all right, the world doesn't have enough fuck ups as it is, I'm needed." He gave a bitter laugh.

For the first time he seriously contemplated what he'd do if he never got the chip out. How was he going to spend the next how ever many years without being able to defend himself against humans? Hell he'd only recently been let loose by the Watcher because he'd been deemed 'harmless' which was pure crap, he still had a working brain didn't he? He could still come up with a plan - that would probably fall apart before it ever got off the ground. Spike grimaced. Sod it, who was he kidding. He wasn't getting this chip out without help.

So that begged the question, whose help? Did he really think somewhere in the back of his demented brain that the Scoobies were ever going to help him, despite what Giles said? No, why would they? Appearances to the contrary they weren't stupid; na´ve, arrogant and a

little too trusting but not stupid. Well, maybe Xander. He snickered.

So that left who? No demon would help him that's for sure, Dru? Could he get her to focus long enough to lend her childe a hand? Sure they hadn't parted on the best of terms but still; there was all that Sire/Childer lore that was supposed to be upheld. Yeah, right, if Dru were gonna help him she'd have been here all ready. He'd no doubt that the stars had told her of his predicament and she'd chosen not to come. She was punishing her bad dog.

"Bloody Hell, isn't there anyone on my side?" He yelled out loud to the ceiling and to the rainy spring sky beyond. His voice echoing hollowly was his only reply.

He finished his cigarette and was trying to decide whether to finish the bottle or save it for later when a faint noise caught his attention. It was coming from underground near the trapdoor that led to the caverns under the crypt. Spike carefully and quietly slipped to his feet, slipping on his duster and pulling the blanket he used when making a run in the sun, around his shoulders. The crypt across the way also had an underground entrance that led to a different branch of those same caverns. If he could make it across the relatively small open space, he could slip inside and take off. He might bemoan his loss in status as the Big Bad but he wasn't willing to fight in an enclosed space in the daylight hours just for pride's sake.

He edged towards the door, all the while keeping his ears open for the any further sounds from below. He made it to the door throwing it open and was promptly clipped across the chin with a rifle butt. He landed hard, trying desperately to roll to his feet but he

was surrounded and a long wooden sword was placed against his chest not to mention the rifles being stuck in his face.

He stared up at his attackers in confusion. They were covered head to toe in some sort of black armoured body suit. They were wearing goggles over their eyes and they were loaded for bear: swords, guns, stakes and what looked liked grenades at their belts.

There were three of them, no four, another one had come up the ladder from below where they'd been hiding.

"Who the Hell are you lot?" Spike brazened but inside he was shivering in fear, soldiers, bleedin, fuck me, soldiers. At least he assumed so, their scent was masked somehow, that's why he hadn't sensed them outside the door but something was wrong. They were wrong. They held themselves too still; they'd moved too fast and that hit, it'd been strong, Slayer

strong.

The one holding the sword to his chest moved back slowly, rising gracefully to a standing position and staring down at him in silence for a moment longer before pulling the hood and goggles from its face to reveal sharp feminine features. Spike drew in a deep breath, catching her scent for the first time, his eyes widening in shock. The female smiled thinly.

"Hello daddy, remember us?"

....................................................................................................................................................................................

Part Six

Anya was all ready up and dressed when the phone rang summoning Xander from sleep. He'd never been so grateful for a phone call in his life. His dreams had been this side of nightmares; disjointed images of the woman and her baby morphing into vampires and humans, predator and prey all tearing at each other in fear and pain and finally, Jesse's eyes when he'd fallen on the stake, the wide shocked look that Xander had never been able to forget, even after all these years.

He sat up with a start in response to the phone, blindly grabbing for the receiver.

"Hello?"

"Xander, it's Giles. Willow's found some information and we need to meet."

"Barely awake here Giles," Xander rubbed at his face wearily now that the initial adrenalin rush of the dreams was wearing off.

"I realize that but this is important. I've asked Willow to contact Riley. I'll call Buffy myself." Giles said curtly.

"Yeah, sure, I had to get up soon anyway. Anya and I'll be there in a few." Xander hung up and rolled over to stare at his uncharacteristically quiet girlfriend. She sat silent and still, watching him with an eerie patient stare, unblinking and solemn. It was at times like these that he couldn't forget that she was an ancient creature, only barely human.

Anya watched Xander hang up the phone and caught his eye as he looked up. He was so young; she couldn't even remember being his age. What was she doing with this child; she loved him, true but she was old enough to know that love couldn't withstand reality and

someday Xander would wake up to the reality of what she truly was, what she'd spent most of her existence doing to the humans around her. But as long as they didn't talk about it, apparently it didn't exist. She wondered how long they could continue to play this game of don't ask don't tell with each other?

"You coming?" Xander gestured to the phone.

"Yes, I suppose so."

"An, about this morning,..." Xander began.

"You need to take a shower before your mother starts the wash. I'll meet you at Giles' house." Anya interrupted. She picked up her purse and checked her hair, wheat gold this week. "You should bring some coffee."

She turned and smiled briefly, sadly, "Hurry up, you don't want to keep them waiting."

Xander nodded and watched her walk out the door, an ominous dull ache in the pit of his stomach.

"Xander, are you up yet? I need to start the wash."

"Be out of your way in a minute Mom," Xander yelled, setting aside messy emotional issues for later.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Joyce Summers sipped her coffee, grimacing slightly at the taste. She never could make a decent cup of coffee. It was one of the nails in the coffin of her marriage. She remembered how Hank thought it was kind of cute the first few years they'd been married: a running joke at parties, 'my Joycee's coffee, strong enough to eat through steel'. She laughed along with

everyone else but it hurt a little because she tried, she really did, it just never came out quite right.

The marriage counsellor suggested that perhaps the coffee had become a passive/aggressive weapon to be used against her husband. Joyce had coolly told her that if she needed a weapon she'd use a frying pan, thank you very much. Besides, she'd bet her life's savings that Hank's little bimbette of a secretary couldn't even spell coffee much less make it. And to

think she once thought he was the best thing to ever happen to her.

She smiled bitterly, her gaze softening as she glanced up at the ceiling thinking of her sleeping child. Now that was the best thing to ever happen to her and she'd come damn close to screwing that up with her refusal to open her eyes and see what was going on around her. Buffy had been right, Joyce didn't want to ask questions, didn't want to know, it was that same trait that had allowed her to turn a blind eye to Hank's succession of little friends over the years before he finally told her 'adios babe'.

The phone rang breaking into her reverie. She glared at it, knowing without knowing that it was Giles. Despite her earlier thoughts she still had the childish desire to ignore it but she repressed it before squaring her shoulders and picking up the phone.

"Hello?"

"Joyce, it's Rupert. Could I speak with Buffy please?" She wondered what he'd do if she said 'no' but than, that hadn't been a request had it?

"She's asleep, if you'll wait a moment?" She didn't wait for an answer, simply setting the phone on the counter and turning to get Buffy.  She gave a slight gasp when confronted with a sleep rumpled but completely awake Buffy standing behind her.

"It's Giles." Joyce waved to the phone, watching her daughter carefully for any hint of distress but there was none; just the calm quiet Slayer fašade that Joyce didn't think she'd ever get used to, not in a million years.

"Okay Mom, thanks." Buffy picked up the phone and listened for a moment.

"I'll be there in thirty Giles." She hung up and smiled a little tiredly at her mother, transforming from Slayer back to sleepy young girl in the blink of an eye.

"Waffles?" She asked softly. Joyce searched her daughter's face still worried about her earlier breakdown.

"Waffles, please," Buffy asked again, a little desperately this time, "While I shower?"

Joyce relented and nodded, "Waffles."

Buffy sighed in relief and ran upstairs hoping that constant motion would keep her thoughts at bay like it always had in the past.

* * * * * * * * * * * * ***

Willow stared at her face in the mirror. Oh Goddess she looked like a pasty-faced geek. She stared down at her favourite fuzzy red sweater in disgust.

"That's why Oz left you, you know, you're plain and clingy and you dress like a rag doll." She hissed at the Willow in the mirror before yanking the offending garment off and tossing it to the bed. She pulled out one of Buffy's white v-necked tee shirts. It was a little tight but her little voice noted with a hint of catty superiority that she filled it out better than Buffy did. She shushed it guiltily. She hesitated at  borrowing any make up though and in the end only used a hint of eye shadow.

She stared at the girl in the mirror, "There, now I look - better." She grimaced but tossed her head before picking up her bag. The events of the past few hours had drained the young woman but after she'd finished speaking with Giles and had a chance to digest the information, instead of being a fluttery mess she'd gotten angry, very angry.

Who the Hell did the Initiative think it was anyway, messing with people's lives, hurting one of her best friends, creating, well maybe not monsters (she couldn't get Ramirez' screaming out of her head) but creatures and for what, to invade Hell?

Willow snorted, unaware of the strange looks she was getting, muttering to herself as she headed over to Riley's apartment. As if there was only one Hell, stupid people, they didn't know what real power was, what it could do. (But the little voice whispered, 'you do, don't you?') They were all lucky that they'd never actually succeeded, in the invasion at least.

She sneered, how much longer were they going to spend cleaning up the Initiative's mess?

She rapped on Riley's door, tapping her foot impatiently, eager to be gone, to be doing something. Anything was better than waiting around for something to happen; she'd been doing that ever since Oz left and she was tired of it. Not even her relationship with Tara seemed to fill the void. Tara was sweet and kind and pure and Willow liked her, a lot, but she was almost too nice and Willow expended a lot of energy trying to be the perfect girlfriend. It was getting old.

Willow felt an uncomfortable flush of heat, half anger and half guilt at the uncharacteristic snipe. (Except it's not uncharacteristic is it? Her little voice whispered.) Willow rapped again, hurry up Riley.

The door opened abruptly and Riley appeared looking as tired as Willow yet he mustered a small smile for the red head. Willow smiled back, telling her little voice to go sit in the corner.

"Hey Willow," Riley had a large duffle bag hitched over one shoulder.

She stared at it curiously, "What's that?"

"Well, you said we had to go pick up Spike right? Well this," Riley tapped the bag carefully, "this is insurance."

Willow eyed the bag warily now but than shrugged, Riley and his boy toys. She honestly didn't think they'd need it once she explained to Spike that he was in danger but if it made the ex-soldier happy.

"Okay, but let me just ask him if he'll come along before we go into macho threat mode."

Riley nodded easily enough at her request, after all if she thought the insurance was for the blonde vampire that was fine. Riley knew that what he and the other Scoobies might be up against was far more dangerous than any thing they'd faced before and if Kevin was here they were in for a world of hurt.

 

* * * * * * * * * * ** * *

"Status Private?" Kevin Murphy struggled to keep his features from shifting, holding onto control by the skin of his teeth. He hadn't eaten yet and was finding it hard to concentrate.

"At last report she was entering Hostile 17's crypt sir." Ryker stared at his Captain, gauging his mood. He felt his own features shifting slightly, teeth elongating, and the desire to bow in submission was strong.

"We should have waited until later," Murphy paced restlessly before stopping with a hiss of annoyance. He was pacing like a caged animal. He closed his eyes, clenching his fist hard; he was not an animal, he was a Captain in the United States Marine Corp. He breathed deeply, willing his heartbeat to slow.

Ryker felt himself calm as his captain steadied his breathing. "No Sir, Lt. Burke was right, if Riley was around we have to move fast; better to get Hostile 17 now and get him contained. Besides, he won't be expecting a thing this early in the morning and Riley and his kid friends are probably still in bed."

Murphy shook his head, "Don't underestimate Riley Finn, Private. He was Maggie Walsh's golden boy; he's tenacious as Hell, once he gets his teeth into something, he doesn't let go."

Ryker shrugged before answering, "The lieutenant will be back before he has a chance to sink his teeth in Sir." The soldier moved closer, "She'll get the Hostile sir, she has to." Ryker finished grimly.

Murphy smiled, "She will, Private, don't worry." But even as he reassured the dour young soldier he felt a chill whisper across his the back of his neck, that sixth sense feeling that used to let him know when a mission was screwed back in the old days, when he was still a real soldier and not a thing. "Come on Burke, come on." He whispered.

 

* * * * * * * * *

Spike stared up at the female smiling coldly at him. He was awash in half suppressed memories that threatened to short-circuit his hold on sanity. He shook his head, refusing to accept what his senses were telling him.

"You're not mine. You're no part of me, nope, not possible." Spike laughed, wincing at the near hysterical tone in his voice.

"Now, now Poppa, is that any way to greet your Childer? And after we came all this way to see you." She motioned and one of the soldiers, a real big bruiser, grabbed him, hauling him upright with ridiculous ease.

"Look 17, we're no happier about this than you are; bet you didn't think any of us would survive huh? Well surprise, we did and now we need you." Burke snapped, trying to keep her emotions under control. She felt uncomfortable, like she felt around Murphy but more

so; she sensed that the others felt the same. She hadn't counted on this, fucking Sire bond.

Spike squirmed a bit, making a production out of trying to get out of Goliath's hold but he noted the change in scent from the female, one part of his brain trying to work how he could use it to his advantage even while the rest of mind balked at what surrounded him. "Not mine," he chanted like a mantra, "Not mine."

"Need?" Spike altered his voice subtly, injecting the almost sub sonic variances in tone that were indicative of a Sire speaking to his Childer, willing her closer.  "Not mine," his mind continued to chant.

Burke stepped forward unconsciously, the wooden sword dipping slightly, before answering, "Your blood Daddy, we need your blood." She laughed a little wildly before shaking her head and stepping back out of harms way. Spike snarled.

"And what do I get out of this deal bint, a one way ticket to dust bunny heaven?" Spike spat angrily.

"Maybe but it'll be minus one government issued security chip," Burke smiled at the stunned blonde. "Deal?"

.......................................................................................................................................................................

tbc...