Chapter 40: Battle Ready

May, 2001

A young priest, alone in the sanctuary in the small hours of the morning, stood from where he knelt in prayer at the sound of the door opening behind him. He turned to face the stranger. “Welcome.” He gestured to the basin of holy water beside the newcomer. “Please.”

Spike raised an eyebrow at the basin. “Not really my thing, thanks.” He walked down the aisle, his eyes on a statue of the Blessed Virgin.

The priest frowned at him, suddenly wary. “You do not come for prayer.”

“No.” Spike stopped, a few feet from the man. “Not here to cause trouble, either. Need to see something, then I'll be out of here.”

“What do you need to see?”

Spike stepped around him, and went to the wall to push on the statue. “This.” He grabbed a candlestick from beside the altar and led the astonished young priest into the hidden chamber. At the back of the little room, he pulled down a tapestry, revealing an inscription on the wall. He held the candle close to read it, translating as he went.

The house thee has built with her will stand.

“That's helpful.” He scoffed as he turned away from the inscription.

“Where did that come from?” the priest asked. “I've never seen it.”

“You might call it 'god.' Everyone's got a different word for the ones pulling the strings.” He handed the candlestick back to the man. “Thanks for the tour.”

He followed Spike out of the chamber. “You did not come to pray because you receive guidance more directly? You are a true instrument of God?”

Spike turned around midway up the aisle, stifling a laugh. “More like a reluctant puppet.” He shrugged. “Got caught up with the wrong woman a few years back. Ended up supporting her cause, crossing lines I was never meant to cross.”

“What do you mean?”

Spike continued up the aisle, stopping by the basin of holy water. He dipped a finger in it, hissing in pain as steam rose from the water. He withdrew from the basin and pointed at it. “That is what I mean.”

The young priest was still staring at the basin long after the door had closed behind the vampire.

*~*~*

Willow shoved aside the book she was studying in frustration. She opened another she'd taken from Tara's stash in the equipment drawers. She was carefully going through the lengthy table of contents, line by line, when she heard movement near the sewer entrance. She looked up, automatically reaching for the dagger on the table beside her. She eased her grip on it when she saw the source of the noise.

Spike walked into the bunker, looking tired. “Morning, Red,” he whispered. “You lot manage to stay out of trouble while I was gone?”

“Yeah. Buffy didn't talk much before she went to sleep, but she's making one point very clear.” Willow gestured to the bed.

Buffy was curled up on her side, the lock box in front of her, and a scythe on top of the box. She slept with one hand resting on the handle of her weapon.

Spike shrugged out of his coat and kicked off his boots as he approached the bed. “Sorry, Red. It's necessary just now.”

“You aren't going to explain anything, either?”

“No. Get as much rest as you can. Gonna have a hard night ahead of us.” He curled up behind Buffy and draped an arm over her, resting his hand on a corner of the box.

“Spike?” Willow whispered a minute later.

“Yeah?”

“We're going to get her back, aren't we? Tara's Plan B is going to work?”

“Count on it, pet. Glinda's coming home.”

Spike's voice so close to Buffy's ear stirred her awake. “Sparky? Gilroy?”

“More cryptic nonsense, love. Go back to sleep.”

She sighed, settling back against him. “I should have expected that. Never a straight answer when you need one.”

“I know the feeling,” Willow grumbled from the table.

Buffy's eyes opened. She lifted her head just far enough to look at her friend. “Wils, do you trust me?”

“I'm trying Buffy, really. But you guys are holding out on me and--”

“That has nothing to do with it. No matter what stories you haven't been told, we're in the middle of a war, here. And with Tara gone, we need you. With us. Focused on the mission. Tara thinks you can handle this. Don't prove her wrong.”

“Be a good back-up witch, you mean.”

“Be the witch she thinks you are,” Spike countered. “Who'd you think made us promise to have you brought in if things went sideways?”

“My girl.” Willow's pout gave way to a soft smile. She gestured to the books in front of her. “I'm working on it.”

*~*~*

“And you're sure about the translation?”

Spike pulled his mug out of the microwave and turned to raise an eyebrow at his wife. “You're questioning my language skills?”

“Ok, smartypants. What does it mean, then?”

He joined the group at the table. “Hell if I know. Rupert? Seems like this lands in your department. Any thoughts?”

Giles shook his head. “I'm afraid not, not without some research. What language was it in?”

“Greek.” Spike stole a potato chip from the plate in front of Buffy, earning himself a light slap on the hand.

“Of course! He reads Greek, too.” She rolled her eyes.

“If I can read Buffy Sanskrit, I can read anything.”

She ignored him. “Let's table the weird house building message for now. How's everything else shaping up?”

“I'm cool with the wrecking ball idea,” Xander said with a grin. “That sounds fun.”

“The ebay seller I bought the golf ball launcher from failed to mention it mounts to an AR-15,” Anya reported. “Does anyone have that kind of firepower in their pocket?”

Buffy, Willow, and Giles looked to Xander, whose grin widened. “Yeah, I might be able to swing that.”

Spike glanced around the table. “Should I be afraid to ask?”

“Guess who got me the rocket launcher to blow up that nasty little birthday present you and your princess got for me when I turned seventeen?” Buffy asked, her expression matching Xander's.

“For the record, that was mostly Dru.” Spike stole another potato chip and gave Xander a nod. “Well played, Harris.”

Xander bowed his head in mock humility. “Thank you, thank you. I try not to wear my awesome on my sleeve.” He looked up to a sea of eye rolls. “So Ahn and I will run a little armory break in. What else do we need?”

“Nothing else from there,” Buffy said. “Anya, where's the launcher stashed?”

“It's been in the towel cabinet in the training room since it arrived last month. Where's the ammo?”

“Here, in the back of Glinda's supply drawer. She had the fledge bring them over last week, while we were on lock down.”

“Lock down?” Willow asked.

“Tara almost got spotted by a brain-sucked knight, and then the knights ran a raid on Willy's bar,” Buffy explained. “We knew we were getting close to something happening after that, so Tara, Dawn, and I went into 'school only' mode. Spike and Eddie ran all our errands. Mostly Eddie.”

“Rupert, think you could run by the shop, pick up the launcher for us?”

“And detour to Lydia's, please,” Buffy added. “I want the original sphere in hand. It's the most powerful. She's been keeping it at home for study. Were you any good with lock picks, Ripper?”

“No need. I have her spare.” Anya jumped up from the table and went to her purse. She pulled her keys out of the depths and tossed them to Giles. “Lydia's is the bronze one with the square top.”

“There's something else we need,” Willow said, as Anya returned to the table. “I've gone over the books Tara's been keeping here. Twice. I can't find that restoration spell you were talking about. I'm running out of time to translate and learn it.”

“It must still be at home. Didn't even think to look for it when I packed her bag.” Spike shook his head in self-reproach. “A few nights 'fore we bugged out, we stayed up, studying it. Your prep work's done, Red. I double checked her translation, helped her rewrite her notes. Shouldn't take you long to have it down cold.”

Xander snickered at him. “You were playing witchy study buddy? I would have paid to see that. Was it as fun as I think, Buff?”

She shrugged. “Got me. While they were locked up in Tara's room, being language nerds, Dawnie and I were asleep.”

“I'm not a nerd.”

“Yes, William, you really are. So it looks like we're making a last minute run home while Xan and Ahn hit the armory. Giles...” Buffy paused. “Just swing by Lydia's. We'll go to the shop for the launcher.”

“Are you sure it's safe for us to go out?” Giles asked, handing her his key to the Magic Box.

“No one's chasing us now,” Spike answered, frowning at Buffy's sudden change of plans. “Should be fine. Just the same, Red, go with Rupert. Best not have anyone left alone.”

Willow nodded at this direction, but only after a poorly hidden glance around the table. “When do we leave?”

Buffy stood up. “Now's as good a time as any. We'll meet back here in two hours?”

*~*~*

“Ah! Jackpot!” Xander pulled a metal case off a shelf.

Anya looked around the darkened armory. “Good. Let's get going. It took you too long to talk that guy into letting us in here. We don't want to be late getting back.”

He put down the case. “Not yet. There's one more thing I want to do, while I have you alone.”

She grinned. “Sure! But it had better be a quickie, or we'll have a Scooby cavalry out looking for us.”

Xander chuckled. “Not that. Something else.” He pulled a ring box from his pocket and opened it. “Anya, you wanna marry me?”

Anya stared at the modest diamond ring for a moment. Then she slapped his cheek.

“Can I take that as a maybe?”
“You're proposing to me!”

“Yeah. That's kind of the idea.”

She put her hands on her hips. “You're proposing because you think we're going to die! And you think it's all romantic and sexy and you won't have to go through with it, because Glory's going to kill us!”
Xander took her hand. “I'm proposing to you, Anya, because she won't. No matter what Buffy was yelling about in the sewers last night, Eddie's going to be the last one we lose. I'm sure of it. We're going to go in there, knock that Hellgod down, bring Tara home, call Lydia and Dawnie home, and then throw a big, crazy engagement party with the whole gang, followed by a bigger, crazier wedding.”

She hesitated, her gaze shifting between his earnest eyes and the ring. “You don't want to elope in secret, like Buffy and Spike did?”

“Not unless you do.” He tried to analyze her expression. “We can if you want, you know.”

Anya shook her head. “I think I'd like a big, crazy wedding... But you can't know that's how it will go. We could all be dead by morning.”
“We're going to get through this, Ahn. You can be scared if you want to. I'm willing to believe it enough for both of us. I'm going to live a long and silly life and I'm going to do everything I can to make sure you're right there with me.”

“Oh. Ok.”
He gulped. “Ok?”

“Yes. I mean... yes.” She watched him pull the ring from its box, then withdrew her hand. “No.”
“No?”
“After. Give it to me in the morning, when everyone gets home.” She closed the ring box. “But if you can make time for a proposal...” She nodded to the empty metal table beside the shelves with a grin.

“Ahn, when I was packing for a weekend in a bunker with the whole gang, I wasn't planning for--”

She stopped him with a kiss. “I don't care.”

*~*~*

Buffy unlocked the front door of the house and hurried inside. She was two steps up the staircase before she realized Spike was still standing on the porch. She turned around to face him. “What?”

“This.” Spike gestured between the two of them. “This is familiar.”

She chuckled. “I'm pretty sure you don't need an invite anymore. Your name is on the deed.”

He crossed the threshold and moved to the bottom of the staircase. “Don't have anything important to say this time, love. Just promise me, when you get to the top, you'll come back down by the stairs.”

“I'll do my best. You ought to try the stairs this time, too. Rumor has it, you got pretty mangled from that fall.”

“Point is, I survived. Both of us, this time?”

“Sounds like a plan, Lieutenant.” She let herself fall forward on the stairs, landing in his arms with her own wrapped around his neck and her lips pressed to his. When she broke the kiss, she whispered. “I like this better than last time.”

“Me, too. Think we can pull it off?”

“You and me, Sparky. We're going to save the world.”

Spike pushed her back into an upright position on the second step. He waved her up with a shake of his head, moving down the hall. “Go on, get the book.”

Buffy started up the stairs, then stopped again. “When this is over, William...” She turned to look at him over the railing. “I'm yours. You know that, right?”

“And you know I won't hold you to that. Later is fine, love. No rush. And after tonight? A lot fewer deadlines. For everything.”

“That's not some subtle way of saying... You're not turning me down, are you?”

“Only if the end of the world happens to be tonight.” Spike smirked. “That's about the only way I could say no to you.”

While Buffy was upstairs, Spike went looking for the phone. He was surprised to find it still on their bed in the basement, and the dresser and wardrobe still wide open. Buffy had made one change to the room when she'd retrieved the lock box, however. He switched the Oscar Wilde quotes near the nightstands and closed up the open furniture before he placed his call.

He walked back upstairs while he waited for the answering machine to pick up. “Where are you, Liam? Likely the first time I've wanted to hear your voice in... well, ever, and you're nowhere to be found. Was hoping you'd take care of my Nibblet for me, but--”

Dawn picked up the phone, breathless from running to it. “Spike! What's going on? Is everyone ok?”

“Not quite, Bit. The bloody knights dusted Eddie, and then the bitch snatched Glinda. About to go get her back. It'll all be over by morning. You alright down there?”

Dawn heard Buffy's voice in the background. “Is she ok?”

“I'm fine. You guys worry too much. Lydia is taking guard duty super seriously. You couldn't have sent me away with someone fun, like Xander?”

*~*~*

Spike leaned against the door frame of the training room's back door, watching her work. “Did you volunteer us to detour out here just for this?”

Buffy slammed the vampire she was fighting into a dumpster. “Uh-huh.”

The young man cowering on a nearby pile of garbage bags looked up at Spike. “Aren't you going to help her?”

Spike chuckled. “Love, tell this kid what would happen if I got in your way.”

The burly vampire exploded to ashes. “That. Well, not that, but definitely a few bruises. Possibly a broken nose. And yelling. A lot of yelling.” Buffy shoved her stake into the back of her waistband and pulled the young man to his feet. “You should get home.”

He looked back and forth between them, both taking the incident with calm, casual attitudes. “How did you do that? You're-- You're just a girl.”

“I used to be,” she whispered, turning away.

He was still staring, confused by the girl's answer, when she followed the man back inside and closed the door behind them.

Buffy sagged against the door. “We came here because I really felt like I needed to save that kid.”

“That's the job, isn't it?”

“Not just that. He's so young and helpless...” She looked away. “...I wish I'd never had you drag him to the bunker.”

“The fledge went out on the other side of the line this way, love. That's gotta mean something.”

“Maybe. Or maybe it just makes him another lost soldier on my tally.”

“If you're gonna keep score, make it fair. Count the lives you've saved.” He lifted her chin with one finger, drawing her gaze to his. “That's all of 'em, General. More than once.”

Buffy shook her head. “Is this the part where you send me off to do some big hero stuff?”

“Depends. You gonna write me a letter in the morning?”

“Dear John meets thank you note?”

“I'm hoping you can do a little better this time. You know, maybe something legible?”

She punched his arm. “Jackass.”

Spike smirked and backed away from her. “That mean you're ready for your real warm up, Slayer?”

“Hell, yes.” She dropped into a fighting stance and balled up her fists, smiling in anticipation.

*~*~*

The general surveyed her troops. Anya had Tara's messenger bag -now full of golf ball-sized Dagon's spheres- slung over her shoulder, and carried an AR-15 rigged with a ball launcher. Xander carried both her sword and his own. Giles had his book satchel over his shoulder, holding Tara's restoration spell notes and a crossbow, as well as a sword in his hand. Willow held another sword, and had her eyes closed as she mumbled, reciting the steps of the spell she'd just memorized. Spike lifted the scythes from their case after shoving a length of rope into his coat pocket.

Buffy picked up the large Dagon's sphere from the table. “I feel like I should say something... And I'm drawing a blank.”

Anya looked at her oversized weapon. “Well, I don't know about you guys, but I feel like we're going to kick some ass and all be home in time for breakfast.” She threw Xander a grin. “Right?”

He nodded, his eyes locked on her smile. “We'll celebrate with eggs and waffles for nine, and a toast to the tenth.”

Buffy and Spike traded glances, guessing at the subtext. She nodded toward Xander and Anya. “That's good enough for me. Are we ready to kick some Hellgod ass?”

Giles shrugged. “Well, it isn't exactly the St. Crispin's Day speech, but I suppose it will do.”

Buffy and Spike glanced at each other again, this time fighting back laughter.

Willow opened her eyes in time to see their expressions. “What's so funny?”

Buffy shook her head. “Nothing, really. It's that... Well, I just realized something...”

In unison, she and Spike said, “We're going to win.” They promptly lost the battle with their laughter.

Xander pointed a sword at the laughing pair. “Giles, please tell me that's not a sign of the apocalypse.”

“I would if I could,” he mumbled as he climbed up the ladder. “The earth is definitely doomed.”

Spike and Buffy lingered behind for a moment, after everyone else had gone up to the crypt.

“In a couple of hours, it'll be over. Finally. No more risk of the First rising.”

“Been a long bloody time coming.”

“So, what do you want to do this summer?”

He shrugged. “Eh, nothing big. Get ourselves back on the same sleep schedule, maybe.”

She tilted her head at the ceiling. “That would be heavenly!”

“Have a few dates at Galvin's. Buy you some pretzels.”

“Ooh! Keep talking like that, and I'll marry you all over again.”

“Well, I'm hoping the third item on the list...”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “But no pressure, right?”

He handed her one of the scythes. “Of course not.”

“Liar.” She started for the ladder.

He followed her. “Just a request.”

“I've heard that before.” Buffy glanced back at him, smiling. “You know I'm just teasing you, right?”

“And I've finally gotten used to it. Not sure that's a good thing.”

“I am.” She reached for the ladder. “Once more unto the breach, Lieutenant?”

“Bloody hell. The general's actually literate.” He chuckled at her glare. “But that bit's from the previous act, just so you know.”

“Previous act, huh?” Buffy shrugged as she started to climb. “Seems appropriate.”

*~*~*

Glory turned back and forth, screaming in frustration as she was pelted with crossbow bolts from one side and tiny, headache-inducing, glowing balls from another. She tried to back away from the onslaught, but found herself tripping over her own wandering victims, who were mindlessly working behind her, trying to reinforce the haphazardly constructed tower. Her minions, meanwhile, were trying to fight through the victims from the other direction, to break through the crowd and attack the newcomers.

Anya threw down her gun when she ran out of ammo. “Giles! Willow! Now!” She picked up the sword lying ready at her feet as she charged into the melee.

Giles dropped his crossbow and reached for the babbling man Spike had tied up and brought to him. He shoved the victim toward Glory, just as Willow stepped up beside her.

Willow grabbed Glory's head in one hand and the stranger's head in the other. A few murmured words triggered a flash of light. The man fell back, and Giles dragged him away to remove the ropes.

Glory shook her head, stunned and disoriented. “Ow! What--?”

Willow started to back away, but Glory gave the witch a powerful backhand before she was out of reach, throwing her into a nearby brick wall.

Just then, a wrecking ball came crashing through an adjacent wall, slamming into the Hellgod, and throwing her toward the scaffolding at the back of the tower, where a small woman with a scythe in her hand had run after throwing a large Dagon's sphere into Glory's face, just before the onslaught of tiny ones had begun.

“Oh, yeah,” Xander said to himself as he grabbed his sword and climbed down to the ground. “Breakfast for nine, coming to a kitchen near you.” He ran toward Anya, who was swinging wildly at a group of Glory's minions near the base of the tower.

Spike made his way through the chaos to the brick wall Willow had crashed into. She was struggling to sit up against it, groaning in pain.

“Red? You gonna make it?”

“Uh-huh... Ow. Maybe,” she mumbled.

Spike looked up at the tower, at a familiar figure climbing the stairs. “Bloody hell...” He put down his scythe to strip off his coat. “Here. Take this.” He balled it up, tucking it between her head and the wall. “Need one more thing from you, pet. You gotta get me up there.”

He turned his focus back to the tower, watching the small figure as it neared the top. Not hearing a response from Willow, he turned back to her, noticing her half-closed eyes, the obvious focus on her own internal aches. “Willow! Stay with me!” He picked up his scythe and shoved it under her hand. “Make me a road. Get me to Tara.”

“Tara.” She shifted against the wall to face the tower, and held out her other hand. Summoning her concentration, she forced a gap in the melee. “Go!”

As he jumped to his feet, taking his scythe with him, Willow gasped as the surge of power she'd taken from the weapon strengthened her, leaving her feeling significantly less injured, but far more lightheaded. She let her head sink against the make-shift pillow. “Whoa! And they like those things for the sharp parts?”

Spike ran for the tower, his stomach sinking at the familiarity of it all. Only this time, instead of opening the portal, Doc was going to cut open the lie, the lie that would send Glory running to find Dawn the second she figured out who was missing. He passed the scaffolding where Buffy and Glory were fighting, forcing himself to give them no more than a passing glance, keeping his focus on Doc. He reached the platform just as the first cuts were made, and brought forth his fangs.

At the sight of her rescuer, Tara's eyes went wide, and Doc noticed it. He turned around.

Spike tightened his grip on his scythe as he approached the demon. “Doesn't a fellow stay dead when you kill him?”

“Looks who's talking.” Doc nodded to the weapon. “Didn't you already try that?”

“Figure it's worth a second go 'round, like most things.” He nodded to Tara. “Right, Glinda?”

The comment seemed to confuse Doc. He turned to look at Tara, giving Spike an opening to swing at him. Doc tried to dodge as he turned back around. His severed tail went sailing below. He lunged at the vampire, but his movements were clumsy, lacking the extra balance his tail would normally provide. A second later, he landed on the platform in a splash of dark blood, his left arm cut off at the shoulder.

Amber eyes peered down at him. “Practice makes perfect.” Spike kicked the demon's damaged body off the platform as he walked by it, not bothering to watch it fall. He set the scythe down and straddled the hole in the platform to untie Tara. “Did us proud, Glinda,” he murmured, looking at her with suddenly blue eyes. “We're all gonna make it this time.”

Just behind him, the bleeding, lizard-like body crawled over the side of the platform, having caught itself with a powerful tongue.

Tara saw it, just as the tongue reached for the scythe. “No!”

Spike turned, stepping around the hole to face Doc.

The tongue pushed the scythe into the dying demon's remaining hand. “What's the other end do?”

Glory's bleeding body went flying off the scaffolding.

Tara's scream echoed in the darkness. “Spike!”

Buffy ran for the top.

Ben landed with a thump. Giles followed the sound.

Buffy found Tara, bleeding and crying, burying the blade of Spike's scythe into the dead demon's body. She added a swing of her own, right into Doc's skull. She jerked the blade back and turned to her friend. “Are you ok?”

Tara managed a nod.

Buffy looked down, squinting at the people and construction debris below. “Tara, where did he fall?”

Tara struggled to speak through her tears. “He... He didn't.”

 





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