Greater Good Part 27/27: Deliverance
Spoilers: Just to be safe, everything in the Buffyverse.

Most of the day had been spent in preparation. They'd commandeered an abandoned school bus and had gathered all the supplies they needed to put Buffy's plan in motion. The Slayer had gone over the details time and again but the whole band of unlikely heroes patiently listened in every time the plan was retold. It was drilled into their heads until they would act without thinking.

Giles had kept his distance. He had to. Both he and Spike couldn't be much help in gearing up the bus with equipment due to the sweltering sun above. So they watched from the shadows as everyone of the less demony persuasion went about preparing themselves for battle.

Conversation seemed voluntarily limited to that of making arrangements rather than the ordinarily casual conversation. Everyone was understandably nervous. No matter what the prophecy had said, it was difficult not to have doubts.

Buffy kept finding her gaze falling on Giles as he remained in the church. He would stand as still as a statue, watching from the shade as she tried to go about her business. Regrets ached in her chest. Not from the night she'd spent with him, she would never have let that moment escape between them. She regretted the fact she practically ran away from him, leaving so brusquely that he had to doubt the rightness of their passionate night together. The sad fact was she wasn't running away from him, she was running away from herself, what she would willingly risk to spend another passion filled moment with him. Her body pined for him, his gentle touch and sumptuous lips. Buffy wanted to be with Giles and knew she would doom the world with her longing. So she looked away, trying to convince herself it was for the best, though her heart thumped its disapproval.

It hurt her. He'd hurt her. Without intending to, of course, but he'd known better than to play with her heart like so. She said she'd never forget it but Giles prayed she would. For her own good, for the greater good. Their time together was better left forgotten. It would make it easier for him to leave and he would. He had to. But for the moment, Giles was satisfied to watch her from a distance, admiring and remembering.

"Firecrackers are go," Faith yelled from outside the bus.

"Good. Take the girls in. We'll be there in a minute." Buffy watched from inside the school bus as Faith and Oz led the army of young women toward Sunnydale High School , fully armed with an arsenal of deadly weapons.

"You guys ready?" Buffy looked back at Giles and Spike. The two vampires were crouched low, being shielded from daylight by Willow and Dawn who were holding up a blanket.

"Just about." Giles nodded, wrapping another bed sheet around his head.

" They arm themselves with swords and axes… we choose rags. I feel like I'm getting ready for the bloody prom," Spike mumbled. "See you inside, princess..." Spike gave the Watcher a playful wink, slipped out through the door and made a run for it. Giles shook his head as he watched the vampire go, leaving behind him a trail of smoke marking his path.

Dawn shrugged. "Princess? Look who's wearing the gaudy jewelry?" Giles smiled mildly in response and she felt good she'd managed to affect him so. "Guess I'll go help Oz, Andrew and Anya with the backup traps."

"Dawn, wait..." Giles stood up and moved to stop her. "You'll need this." She glanced back, her curiosity growing. Giles shuffled up to her, struggled for a moment under his wrap, and reached out to her with something in his hand. He uncurled his fingers to reveal a stake. Not just any ordinary stake, the exact stake she'd presented to him on his bitter homecoming. She could never forget it.

"Thank you." She smiled and reached out to take it. Giles caught her hand in his and held it tenderly.

"No... thank you." He said softly and released her. Before he knew it, his arms were pinned to his sides as the young lady wrapped her arms around him, hugging him with such affection that it was a pity to have to pull away. "We'll be along in a moment." Dawn nodded and took off after the others, leaving Giles, Xander, Willow and Buffy alone within the bus.

The gang stood in silence, taking in the feel of the old friends with them. Though they'd known each other for over seven years, the moment seemed so strange and new, as if they were meeting for the first time. Buffy realized it was the first real chance they'd had to be alone together; the original four, and it was a bittersweet moment.

"I don't really know what to say," Buffy shrugged helplessly. "We've done this so many times... our punch card is full. We really should get a free mocha or something."

"Pizza seems more fitting, on account of how many we slayed in the name of saving the world. Besides, I can't take the caffeine anymore. Makes me jittery," Xander noted.

"Not surprisingly after all those years of cola. It's just a matter for time before such questionable dietary habits catch up with you. It's a bloody miracle you still have your teeth," Giles teased.

"Thank you, Mister Tea-guy," Xander said sarcastically. "How many times did I watch you snacking on some sugary treat during Scooby meetings? You gave new meaning to the phrase 'food for thought'."

"True, you always had something in your mouth... besides big words," Buffy agreed.

Willow joined in. "He was our official sponsor. Or do I have to remind you of the many years of us eating him out of house and home..."

"I earned every tasty morsel with my quick wit and perfect comedic timing..."

"That you did," Giles nodded agreeably.

Buffy hated to interrupt the merriment of the exchange but she had to speak.

"Guys..." Everyone's eyes focused on her. "This past year has been... well... hell, literally. But you were there for me, all of you. Through the good and the bad, like always, and I gotta say... thanks. I'd never gotten through this without you. I really love you guys." Each of them was touched by her praise.

"We love you too, Buff." Xander reached out and pulled her into his thick arms. Willow folded immediately with the sight and rushed to join in. Giles remained firm in his spot, unsure and awkward as to how he should behave. After a second, Willow peeked out from the group hug and sent Giles a stern glare.

"If you don't get in on this, I'm gonna go witchy on your ass!" A wide smile spread along her lips as she waited for a response.

They dissolved into giggles at the uncharacteristic threat and Giles couldn't help but chuckle at Willow 's madcap persuasiveness. He hesitantly stepped forward only to be forcefully pulled within the embrace and he tried his best to join in. The garb of blankets unfortunately restricted his movement but the emotion and the warmth of the group of friends was undeniable.

"Right... let's go kill us some baddies!" Xander cheered enthusiastically as he pulled away. He flashed his boyish grinned and went out the door as the rest separated.

"And save the world... again," Willow added, following along after him.

Buffy and Giles finally looked at each other. There was so much to say yet they didn't want to speak it for fear there was nothing that could be spoke that would come close to expressing what they both were feeling. Watcher and Slayer struggled to avoid the inevitable words of caution they always seemed to share. Buffy moved in closer, draw in by the slight glimpse of his kindly face peeking out from under the ridiculous shield of decorative linens.

"Nice look. Was the Little Mermaid print your idea?" She smiled, motioning to the fabric draped along his shoulders.

"Anya, actually. She said the green would bring out my eyes. Reminded me of something Cordelia might say," he smiled. "And yet, so uniquely her. I didn't have the heart to argue the point."

"I don't know how you did it." She said modestly with a shake of her head.

"Did what?"

"Put up with me... with them. We drove you nuts."

"I can't deny that," he snickered for an instant and then his face sobered. "But you also made me so incredibly proud and taught me more than I'd ever hoped to pass onto you."

"I seriously doubt that. Well, except for the fashion upgrades and the tie-loosening, tweedylessness turn of... our... relationship..." Buffy's words trailed off as she stared out a window. "What happened to the sun?"

"Guys, you better come see this," Xander yelled from outside.

Buffy slipped outside and Giles moved to the door. He carefully stepped out and chanced a cautious look. After a second, he tossed his blanket aside with reckless abandon. What had been a clear, blue sky was now overcast with dark, ominous storm clouds brewing above them, threatening rain with a spark of lightning and rumble of thunder. The Watcher looked around, trying to read the crackling atmosphere surrounding the Hellmouth. "It's begun."

"We're too late?" Willow asked anxiously.

"No, but we should hurry." Giles gestured toward the school entrance and they marched forward. As they stepped over the threshold, Buffy moved to the head of the group.

"Wil..." Buffy pointed down a hall as she moved along. "Principals office is to the left." She quickened her pace as Kennedy, Oz, Dawn, Anya, and Andrew rushed over to rejoin the group.

"Oz… you, Dawn and Andrew stand guard here." Buffy pointed to the entrance. "Nothing can get past these doors. Got it?"

"It's a one way... loud and clear." Oz nodded as Spike strolled casually up beside Giles and gave him a mischievous nudge.

"Nice of you to make it. I thought you'd stood me up." Spike puffed away on his cigarette.

"Anya and Xander, you've got the basement door with Kennedy as your backup," Buffy ordered and turned to the promising Potential. "As soon as Wil's worked her mojo… you get your ass to them. Got it?"

Kennedy saluted and gave Willow a confident smile.

"Giles and Spike…"

"Kill anything that moves," Spike interrupted, giving a mock salute.

"Protect the Potentials," Giles added with a self-assured smile.

Buffy stopped at the four corners center point for the joining of all the halls and examined the faces of her team, her family. "I'm sure it's time for one of those customary uplifting and commanding speeches... but I've got nothing." She shrugged. "All I can say is that we all know what to do. It's been written that we win this thing…" she said boldly, "Let's make it happen, people."

"Buffy… be careful," Giles said softly, offering a regretful smile for breaking the previous evasion of the subject. Everyone nodded in agreement. "That goes for the rest of you as well."

Buffy lowered her eyes to the scythe in her grip and smiled. She handed off the weapon to Willow. After a deep breath, she walked over to Giles and, as the others watched silently, she lifted her hand to his face and drew a delicate finger along his chin.

Dawn's stern expression gave way to a smile of approval. She noticed Spike roll his eyes in irritation.

"We'll win, Giles." Buffy curved her hand around his neck and pulled his face to meet hers, giving him a tender kiss, without a care for the audience watching on.

He pulled away, his green eyes smiling appreciatively. "I already have."

"Let's do it!" she yelled and headed down into the basement to join the Potentials.

"When did this happen?" Xander asked Anya as they watched Giles and Buffy disappear into the darkness side by side and hand in hand.

Once focused on their mission, the band of Potentials and Slayers were a well oiled machine. They took up their positions surrounding the closed seal in the soil. Without hesitation, each in turn slashed their palms and let their blood flow over the barrier to the Hellmouth. Giles eyes stayed on Buffy all the while, silently praying for her safety and her strength. Though he wanted the world to survive, he couldn't help his selfish want for his Slayer to be safe from the battle. She'd paid so dearly over the years, Giles needed to know she would go on, that she would be allowed the life she so thoroughly deserved.

"You think it will tickle?" Rona asked as the seal began to open.

"What?" Amanda asked.

"Becoming a Slayer?"

"Maybe it hurts?" Vi said nervously.

"What did it feel like, Buffy? Did you feel anything?" Rona asked and looked to Faith for a possible answer.

The Slayers exchanged unconcerned shrugs and shook their heads.

"You must have felt something?" Rona urged. Giles was also curious; it was a question he'd never thought to ask.

"Alone." Buffy answered plainly. "But it'll be different for you. You have each other. No matter what happens down there, you will know that there are others out there that are like you. Sharing your hardships and your triumphs. You're not alone."

"Neither are you." Amanda smiled and nodded toward Faith who rolled her eyes at the awkward yet telling moment.

"You're right..." Buffy offered a smile to the dark Slayer. "I was never alone." Her eyes moved to Giles who gave a humble grin at the silent compliment. Faith descended into the hole and the others followed.

"You know what you're doing?" Kennedy asked nervously as she watched the redhead set up the candles and place the scythe before her on the floor of the ransacked principal's office.

"Yeah, I think so. This enchantment is based on ones I've used before. Ones Giles and I..." Willow swallowed down her fears. "Let's just leave it at 'yeah'."

"You love him?" Kennedy asked softly as she knelt to the ground. "Don't you?"

"Huh? What? Of course I love him. He's my... my friend, my teacher. When I went all veiny and to the dark place, he could have killed me. But he didn't. He risked everything... risked himself, risked humanity for a slim chance to save me. So yeah... he's up there on my list of affection. I'm just worried this spell could put him at risk again, put everyone at risk."

Kennedy smiled knowingly. "I meant Oz."

"Oh..." Willow was immediately embarrassed at her assumption. "Well, yeah. Some part of me will always love him. He was my first love. But things have changed, I've changed."

"Is there room in changed Willow 's life for a soon-to-be Slayer?"

Willow smiled timidly. "I don't know. Maybe... I think we should focus on this. Wait until after we stop the First?"

"That's the first time I've heard confidence in your words."

"It's strange but I know that whatever happens, the right thing will be done. He's got my back."

"Who... Oz?"

Willow smiled. "Giles."

She sat cross-legged, resting her hands on the scythe, and after a deep, cleansing breath, Willow began to chant.

"My fabulous accessory isn't doing anything," Spike grumbled as he moved further into the darkness, trying to make room for the others falling in line behind him. Giles glanced back and noticed the seemingly unremarkable amulet.

"Maybe that's what it does." Faith snickered. "But hey, bright side... it really lights up your eyes."

Buffy continued deeper into the darkness, pausing as she came upon some dim light ahead in the cavern. "Do you hear that?"

Giles moved up along side of her, listening as a low roar began to grow louder as it echoed along the rocky walls to them. "It's the Turok Han..." He said, examining the faces of the Potentials and realizing he'd already lost them. "Ubervamps." They nodded their understanding.

Buffy continued on, carefully turning a corner and checking back to see the others were still with her. They came to a level plateau of stone that allowed for a view of the large, cavernous pit below. Buffy moved to the edge to take a look at the source of light and the almost deafening roars coming from underneath. Giles followed her to the edge and froze at the sight of a sea of beasts howling and frenzied, covering every bit of ground and ledges beneath them, lit only by the dim flicker of torches along the cavern walls.

"Shit! There's so many of 'em," Faith whispered.

"It'll be fine. As long as they don't notice us before Willow can do her spell." Just as Buffy finished the sentence, the entire infestation of Ubervamps stopped their wild ranting and looked up at the small group of young ladies. Out of the shadows stepped the all too familiar figure of the menacing preacher, Caleb.

"How nice, we have company boys." Caleb smiled, strolling forward with a passive stance, his arms behind him, hands folded together. "Let's give 'em just as friendly a welcome as they'd given us." With that, every demon attacked as the preacher watched on. Out of nowhere, a hoard of Bringers charged. Buffy and Faith took up defensive positions on either side of the group of Potentials.

"Get back!" Giles yelled and stepped forward. His eyes swirled to black as he hurriedly uttered an enchantment, trying to finish before the beasts got to them.

Spike stood resolved at Giles' side, already recognizing the sorcerer's game plan. Just as the first demon reached Spike, a purplish-blue iridescent bubble sprouted out from the ground and surrounded the Potentials, Buffy and Faith. Giles and Spike were the only ones left unprotected and they soon found themselves fighting off a growing militia of very frustrated and furious vampires.

"Giles!" Buffy screamed as the mystical force-field shielded her from the beasts' attack.

"What do we do?" Faith yelled, watching helplessly as Giles and Spike suffered blow after blow from the demons.

"We wait for Willow to do her part." Buffy clawed powerlessly at the unearthly protection. Suddenly, Giles face was slammed hard against the barrier and he collapsed to the ground. He raised his head up and she caught sight of his face just as it morphed into the beast. His yellow eyes were filled with rage and she was surprisingly thrilled to witness his transformation. With a snarl, he leapt to his feet and stormed back into the growing numbers of Ubervamps.

"Oh... my... goddess..." The invisible stream of power rang out from the sorceress, stretching out to reach every possible Potential. A wave of strength, courage and confidence surged through every girl, every woman. In that moment, when the scythe's energies were being focused through her and Willow thought she was on the verge of losing control, she felt a soothing sensation embrace her. Within the chaos of majicks in her mind, a face appeared. It was the beautiful face of an angelic Tara , smiling lovingly and proud. Willow gasped at the vision.

Strength and confidence poured over Kennedy, seeping into her and she felt as if every other woman in the world shared with her their will and power. Buffy was right, she wasn't alone.

" Willow ?" Kennedy watched in amazement as Willow 's face lit up with a heavenly glow and her once fiery, red hair paled to a luminous white.

Tara 's lovely features faded as the light dimmed. Though it was such a brief sight, Willow thanked the powers for such a precious gift.

" Willow ... you're a goddess..."

"And you're a Slayer..." Willow lifted the scythe and held it out to Kennedy. "Get this to Buffy."

"Wow... let me at 'em!" Rona yelled and the other Potentials echoed her confidence.

"Buffy!" Kennedy appeared at the stairs and tossed the scythe into the air.

"Giles... it worked!" Buffy didn't have to scream it twice, the mystical shield shattered and evaporated as the scythe fell across its path, landing perfectly within her grasp.

The war was on. The newly activated Slayers went to work, fighting anything that got in their way. Little by little, the new Slayers sent the beasts flailing off the ledge and into the pit below. As Buffy had hoped, in the heat of battle, they were amazing. Buffy searched the area for a sign of Giles as she struck a blow at the charging Ubervamps and Bringers.

"Giles and Spike are one level below. Trying to cut them off from reaching us," Faith yelled, perceptively noticing Buffy's concern.

"Hey, Slayer!" Caleb hollered over the melee. "We have some unfinished business to attend to..." He took off down a corridor and Buffy followed in pursuit.

"How's it look down there?" Xander stopped his nervous pacing as Kennedy came through the basement door. Anya sat across from the door, sword lying on the ground beside her.

"I don't know. There's so many of them. So many... but Willow's spell worked and Buffy's got her cool axe. Just gotta have faith." The young Slayer bit anxiously at her bottom lip as she began to pace in the opposite direction as Xander.

"How's Willow? Where is she, is she ok?" Xander glanced down the hall as if to spot her safe and sound.

"She's fine. She should be along any minute."

Thunderous roars came from just beyond the door sending Anya bolting to her feet.

"Their coming... already? But I'm not ready!" Anya said quickly, taking up her sword and holding it in front of her.

"You're ready, Ahn. You just don't know it." Xander tried to be reassuring but could tell she wasn't buying it.

"No... I'm not ready. I'm only eleven hundred and twenty three years old; I'm too young to die!"

"No one's gonna die. We've lost too many already," Xander said resolutely. Another roar sounded from just beyond the door and Xander scurried a few feet away.

"That's just stupid! You can never lose enough. I use to make it my business to take everything away from men until they thought there was nothing left to lose, and you know what...? There's always something left to lose. We're all going to die."

"But Buffy's prophecy? She said we will win." Kennedy said determinedly.

"Prophecies are like traffic laws, there made to be broken."

"See... its talk like that that keeps me from letting you borrow my car." Xander was jostled again by a loud banging on the basement door. Kennedy rushed to block it. "I'm thinking they might need your help."

"No, Xander! I want the Slayer to stay here... with me... protecting me from certain death! And you too."

"I have my orders!" Kennedy shook her head. "I'm staying." As if on cue, the pounding stopped. After an eerily quiet moment, a faint yell reverberated from beyond the door, calling for Kennedy.

"Damn it! What do I do?" The young ladies eyes darted back and forth between Anya and Xander.

"Go... they need you," Anya said with frustration.

"We'll keep the door guarded as long as we can." Xander nodded. "Go."

After a moment of hesitancy, Kennedy swiftly opened the door and slammed it shut behind her. Anya and Xander were alone.

"So..." Anya continued to aim her blade toward the door. "Last night was... it was nice."

Xander smiled as he let his sword blade rest along his shoulder. "Yeah, it was."

"Maybe we could do it again? If we survive?"

"It's a date."

"Welcome home, Slayer." Caleb stepped out from behind a large outcropping of stone and smugly crossed his arms in front of him as he examined the Slayer. "You ready to finish this?"

"Ready and oh, so willing," Buffy smiled confidently.

"Where's that undead Watcher of yours? I'd so hoped to see him again."

"He's busy kicking your buddies asses!"

"Pity, I wanted him to see this." Caleb charged forward so swiftly it took Buffy by surprise. She was caught by a roundhouse punch and knocked sideways as Caleb paused to gloat his accomplishment. "Perhaps I can make him a memory book out of your innards. Bet he'd like that, on account of his bloodlust."

"I'll save him a snip of your hair." Buffy gripped the scythe in her hand and swung it with a grand gesture. "Mind if I take a little off from the neck up?"

"I smell fear. That's smart."

"Wrong, alter boy... you smell death... your death. It's hard to tell the difference. Smells just like chicken." Buffy charged with the axe, swiping and slashing but unable to make contact as the preacher dodged every attack. As she attempted to strike his head, Caleb caught her wrist and brought her closer, butting his forehead to hers and knocking her to her knees with the impact. She was off to a very unimpressive start.

"I think I hear something," Dawn readied her axe.

"Something good or something bad?" Oz asked. A menacing growl came from down the hall and Oz glanced over at Dawn. "I think I have my answer." He looked down at the wires leading into the store of explosives within the first two rooms positioned on either side of the exit.

"Blow it!" Andrew yelled nervously.

"Let's give it a bit more time," Dawn said restlessly. "They just got started."

"Blow it... better to be safe than sorry..." Andrew repeated.

"Not wanting to be the voice of doomsday here, but it might already be over." Oz tried to be delicate.

"No," she shook her head. "Buffy said we'll win and we will."

"I say we blow it, just in case." Andrew moved closer toward the handheld radio trigger in Oz's hands.

"If we blow this place, it'll kind of be a win." Oz said softly to Dawn, not really wanting to agree with the cowardly nerd but unsure what the best course of action would be to spare the world of a rising army of almost unstoppable super vampires.

Dawn glanced out at the sky. "We don't know that. With that stormy sky... no sunlight to stop the Ubervamps... it's a last resort." The growls grew louder.

"I... I can't be here..." With a strike of thunderous lightning, Andrew scurried off outside into the storm.

"I hope for his sake he gets struck by lightning," Dawn rumbled disappointedly.

"Tell me you don't love this?" Spike snapped the neck of another slow Bringer and move on quickly to the next one.

"I don't!" Giles growled as he dodged an attack by a quick Ubervamp and turned the defensive into an offensive with a cunning counter attack of a sideswiping kick, knocking the beast to the ground and allowing Giles to finish it with a vicious slash across the throat. "Perhaps a little..."

"It's a bloody rush and you know it. Never had such fun as a bookworm."

"No... but I had a life."

"You called that a life? Waste of life, more like it!"

"It's been too long, Spike. You may have gained a soul, but you've forgotten your humanity."

"Said the vampire who just decapitated a Bringer with his own arm."

"I do what I must... what I'm forced to do..."

"And you do it with such a zeal, you'd make Hitler blush, mate."

"I have you to thank for that."

"Let's have it then..."

"Kennedy, keep those stairs clear!" Faith ordered as she tossed another Ubervamp over the cliff edge.

"On it!" The young Slayer yelled and rushed to the only exit in sight.

"We've lost Tory and Kelly." Vi hollered, glancing down at yet another fallen Slayer.

"There's too many. We can't hold them much longer!" Rona yelled, defending against a pair of Bringers.

"Brea and Alice are reporting casualties near the basement door..." a panicked voice carried from down the corridor just beyond the stony steps.

"Where's Buffy?" Faith yelled.

"Working on collar boy, two ledges over," Amanda hollered as she sliced through an Ubervamp and advanced to a duo of Bringers.

"Again, you're disappointing me Slayer," Caleb chuckled as he planted another hard kick to the fallen Slayer's bruised ribs. The power of his hit lifted her a few feet off the ground allowing her get her legs under her to land solid on the stony ground. "Is your heart just not in this?"

"End it, Caleb," the familiar voice of Giles came from beside Buffy and she ignored it, knowing full well it was the First. But Caleb chanced a look and it gave Buffy the opening she needed. She leapt forward, bringing the scythe down in a slicing blow across Caleb's chest, tearing his flesh with its sharp blade.

"That's more like it," he laughed as he stumbled back. He gently glided his fingertips along the fresh wound and examined the blood coating his hand. "There's that hellfire."

"Here's some more for you!" Getting her second wind, Buffy charged. Caleb attempted to dodge only to be caught with a swift sideswiping kick that knocked him off balance and sent him crashing spread eagle and face first to the gritty floor.

"This is becoming tedious, Slayer. You're Watcher will betray you." The false Giles said confidently. "He will be your doom. I've sent you warning of this before. Why aren't you listening?"

Buffy glanced over for the briefest moment, spotting the evil spirit masked in the cloak of Rupert Giles, stuffy, tweed-clad Watcher of yesterday. "He's betrayed you before, remember. It will happen again."

Buffy sent the scythe down toward Caleb's head and he rolled out of the way. She shuffled along with him, attempting another thrust but he caught the axe blade just before it reached him. Caleb twisted it back and forth, pulling Buffy off balance for a second and he took the moment to get upright.

"You'll have to do much better than that!" He shouted boastfully, dodging another attack from her. She stepped back, collecting herself.

"Ok." She charged again, faster than before, stunning him with a speedy barrage of kicks and jabs. She followed through with an uppercut of the flat side of the scythe, sending the Preacher crashing into the rocky cavern wall. "How's that?"

"You're dead, whore!"

"Not this time." She'd done it, she'd cracked him. She's managed through the instant of overconfidence, that speck of superiority, and now he'd fall into the usual pattern of reckless action. In the end, Caleb was just another dead demon and she would soon send him to that Hell he craved so badly.

"You don't get it, Slayer." The First spoke as Caleb and Buffy circled it, guardedly watching each other. "I am invincible. I am forever. I've seen the birth of humanity and I will see its death. You cannot stop me."

"I already have!" Buffy charged the First, passing through the apparition on her way to attacking Caleb. He sidestepped to avoid a head-on collision but had unintentionally forecast his defense with a quick sideways glace. Buffy changed gears in mid-strike, going from a slice with the axe to simply continuing to charge him. The next thing he felt was a rocky dagger piercing the skin of his back and bursting his organs as it ran him through from behind. In shock, he looked down to see a gore sodden, rocky lance protruding from his chest and his blood spilling to the thirsty soil below.

"Still disappointed?" Buffy gripped his shoulders, pinning him flat to the cavern wall. Caleb began to chuckle, gurgling and coughing as his lungs filled with blood.

"You insignificant whore... you'll have to do... do better..."

Buffy released her grip, turned her back to him and stepped away before he could finish his taunt. "This 'insignificant whore' just kicked your self-righteous ass!"

She heard him move before he did. Caleb tore himself free from the earthy snare and went for her. Just as he reached her, Buffy pivoted around and sent the scythe blade slashing through his neck. Caleb's charge faltered to a halt and after a moment, his eyes went wide. A disbelieving smile spread along his lips as his head tipped gently to the side and fell to the ground with the rest of his body following a moment after.

"Bloody Hell..." The false Giles shook his head disapprovingly. "That was all too easy. See what happens when you put your trust in others, when you put your trust in your friends."

Buffy tried to ignore the specter and struggled to catch her breath. Her body was showing signs of fatigue, the fight with Caleb had drained her. She held her breath to listen to the progress of her troops. The disconcerting sounds of panicked yells echoed from down the cavern corridor.

"They are dying, I'm afraid." Giles strolled up to her. "You've lost about... I'd have to say about a dozen, give or take a few. But who's counting, right? Certainly not you. You saw it fit to abandon them for some personal vendetta. And now look who is paying the price for your narrow-minded war."

Buffy fought back the urge to speak as she moved toward the corridor leading back to the others.

"But fear not. I have plans to even the score. My nasty boys above have taken your family... your friends. All that is left is to take your life and your love."

"Giles?" Buffy paused, cursing her hasty reaction to such an obvious trap. She tried to hurry onward, ignoring the First's taunts.

"I needed not bother with that poor sod. He's done well enough on his own. And he's about to end it all by betraying you. You better stop him..." The apparition vanished. Buffy's pace hastened.

Xander had never seen such fury from Anya. She slashed mercilessly through the Bringers with her sword, cutting them down one by one, leaving Xander only ribbons to tend to.

"Ahn, I'm thinking therapy and lots of it!" Xander yelled as he ran through an already mortally wounded man with his sword.

"There's something to be said for the physical massacring of evil. Much more satisfying than a curse." She kicked an attacker in the midsection as two more came up from behind her.

"Down!" Xander yelled and she managed to duck just as Xander swiped his blade, decapitating the first and burying his blade deep within the shoulder of the much taller, second man. He tugged back to retrieve the sword and was astounded as the Bringer gripped the blade and twisted it out from Xander's grip. He was suddenly unarmed and defenseless. The Bringer pulled the sword free from its own flesh and turned the weapon on its owner. Just as Xander had thought the worst, the tall Bringer collapsed to the floor, one leg sliced clean through at the knee by Anya.

"I think we should pull back!" She yelled as he helped her to her feet. Another couple of Bringers struggled to pull open the broken and barricaded basement door. Xander hurried along, pulling Anya with him.

"Yeah, let's see how team Boom is doing." He answered, already pulling Anya along with him toward the school entrance.

"Hey... wait up!" Willow dizzily made her way towards them. Xander and Anya rushed to help her.

"Wil... you ok?"

"Just a bit... um, dizzy. And tired... real tired..." She lost her footing and almost stumbled forward. Xander caught her in time, lifting her up in his arms and continued toward the entrance.

"Did we win?" Willow asked innocently.

"We don't know yet." Anya said. "But we're still alive. It's a start."

There was a momentary intermission, a second for both vampires to catch their breath, if only they could. Giles glanced over at Spike, struggling with his blood stained sight to view his battling companion. Spike was busy wrestling with the final soldiers of the first wave of Ubervamps. The blonde vampire decapitated his foe and turned towards Giles, noticeably fatigued.

“This bloody thing is broken!” Spike yelled, taking a quick inventory of the inactivity of the amulet. "I'm telling you, that ponce gave us a dud!"

"Another legion is coming..." Giles pointed to the Turok Han climbing up from below.

"What do I need to do to set this thing off? No way I'm snoggin' a rock!" Spike asked.

"What?" Giles glanced back, trying to keep one eye on the action and one eye on Spike.

"Something Red told Faith to do before, when sporting one of these mystically challenged baubles..."

"I think it's safe to say that a kiss from you would probably send us all spirally into hell." Giles moved in to take a look as Spike's attention fell on the encroaching second wave. With Giles' every step closer, the amulet pulsed brighter. He stepped back, it dimmed.

"Oh, you're a bloody riot!" Spike yelled.

Giles tore his eyes from the glowing crystal to note the location of Buffy and the newly activated Slayers. They were holding the upper level but he could see their arms growing heavy, their breathing growing labored. They needed help. Spike noticed Giles concern.

"There's too many. We should get over there!" Spike warned, not noticing his partner breaking off a piece of a stalactite from the cavern ceiling and positioning it back over his shoulder.

Giles moved closer to Spike, seeing the increasing glow of the amulet with his approach. "I'm sorry," Giles said, waiting for Spike to turn and face him.

"Sorry?" He turned. "What for…?"

Giles sent the stone bat crashing down on the vampires head, watching indifferently as Spike collapsed to the soil unconscious, blood seeping out slowly from a fresh gash. The Watcher knelt down and quickly removed the amulet from around Spike's neck, draping the sparkling necklace over his head, watching hopefully as it came to rest on his chest. Immediately, the storm of light swirling within the crystal intensified.

"I know you wanted to do this, Spike," Giles spoke sympathetically as he gazed into the shimmering squall. "It wasn't meant to be."

"G-Giles… no…" Spike tried to crawl toward the Watcher only to slip and meet the dirt with every attempt. "It's m-mine..." He reached out with a trembling hand. "I'm her... her c-champion..."

"No, Spike. You're not. Perhaps... given time..."

"Don't! Don't do this!"

"It's for me to do. And me alone..." With a final crooked smile, Giles took off running as swiftly as he could toward the border of the ridge. As he reached the edge, he leapt into the air, soared over the precipice and disappeared from Spike's view.

"You bloody bastard!" Spike cursed as he managed to scurry to the edge, peering down in time to see Giles land solid on another larger outcropping below. At once, the Watcher was surrounded by a swarming mass of ubervamps.


Giles felt the ground give a little under his feet as he hit the soil. After he was sure of his footing, he stood upright, prepared to take on all attackers. It didn't take long for him to be swallowed up by a sea of claws and fangs.

Oz stood in position, halfway between the bus and the school, trying to remain steady in the unrelentingly stormy winds. He kept his finger over the switch, ready to blow the school sky high at a moments notice. He knew that Willow and Xander would most likely want to avoid that action at all costs. Giles knew it as well, that's why he asked Oz to finish it if things seemed grave. At least the explosion would offer a brief time for the survivors to get away, for someone to get word to Angel to ready the second front.

Dawn returned from the bus, fighting against the powerful gusts attempting to throw her down. When she reached oz, she glanced over at the school.

" Willow?" Oz yelled fearfully.

"She's fine, just worn out from the spell." Dawn looked down at his much too steady hands cupping the radio detonator. "Thanks for not blowing it yet."

"You know I don't want to do this." Oz's usually stoic expression was replaced by genuine sorrow.

"I know." She choked up. "It's the plan."

"If we wait, we might not make it."

Dawn understood the reasons, she didn't care. It was her sister still in there and the people she'd come to think of as her friends. But if they didn't do it, so many others could lose their friends and family. Dawn didn't want any other person to suffer the losses she'd suffered. Just as she was about to give him her permission to end it, she saw the school begin to brighten. They both looked up to see the sky miraculously clearing. The threatening storm clouds parted and seemed to evaporate within a vividly blue and sunny sky. She'd never been so ecstatic to see the sun in her life.

"I'd say we're back in business." Oz's forehead creased with concern over the change in circumstances. The plan was still the plan.

"Not yet. This could be a sign. Something might be happening." Dawn moved to stop him from triggering the explosives.

"If this is going to work, it has to be before sunset."

"I know. Just give it... a ... few... more..." Dawn's eyes went wide. She stumbled backwards, trying to focus on something in the sky. Oz followed her gaze.

"What is it?" he yelled.

"I don't know..." She yelled back. "But it's really, really bright!"

He didn't know how close he needed to get to activate the amulet but he was willing to soar into the pits of hell itself to serve his purpose. As he kicked and scratched and punched his way out from under another blanket of Ubervamps, he felt a tingling sensation growing in his chest where the amulet lay. The charging Ubervamps suddenly stopped their advance and watched as Giles returned to an erect position, ready to defend against any charges. A burning in his chest made him glance down to the amulet once more just as a pulse of brilliant light burst from it, instantly blinding and petrifying him with its supernatural power. The ceiling above him shattered and collapsed, raining sunlight down from above.

"Buffy?" He gasped.

Before he knew it, he was entombed within a column of luminous sunlight, unable to move. The Ubervamps panicked, turning to flee but Giles could feel the building energies reach their peak and in another burst of raw power, the light tore out to claim its victims. As it struck its targets, it instantly evaporated the immediate area of Ubervamps, clearing the way for Buffy and the new Slayers. Then came the rumble and shift of the ground beneath him and he knew the Hellmouth was imploding, trying to take everything and everyone with it.

"Buffy!" He screamed out to be heard over the roar of the crumbling earth.

In a miraculous blaze of light, the army of the undead disintegrated before Buffy's eyes. Their ashes formed into a decayed cloud that hung thick in the air of the large cavern. Buffy shielded her eyes as another stream of light ripped through her enemies one by one. She waited until the illumination dimmed to search for the source. It had to be the amulet, it had to be Spike.

A rumble echoed from below, soon followed by the subtle movement underfoot. Somehow Buffy knew it wasn't just an earthquake.

"Faith! Get them out. Get them out now!" Buffy ordered and the dark Slayer had already begun to steer the girls out.

"I tried to stop him." A voice winced from the shadows and Buffy's eyes struggled to focus through the haze.

"He wouldn't listen... never listened. The bloody bastard!"

"Spike?" Buffy could see the vampire cowering behind the protection of a rocky protrusion. The floor shifted, sending her stumbling sideways.

"Buffy?" Faith yelled.

"Go now!" Buffy barked.

"What about you?"

"Go!" Buffy moved closer to Spike.

Faith made sure the others were gone and with a final look back, she disappeared up the stairway.

Spike stood up and guardedly hobbled closer to Buffy, dazed and almost incoherent. "I tried, Buffy. It wouldn't work... damn thing just lay there..."

Buffy saw the stream of blood along his brow and glanced to his scratched and dusty chest, noticing that the amulet was gone.

Her heart sank. "Where's Giles?" She yelled over the rumbling earth.

"I'm sorry," Spike said regrettably, shaken by another stream of light crossing just inches from him.

Buffy's eyes went wide with realization and she searched the cavern for Giles. He was nowhere to be seen. Then she managed to get to the rim of the platform and peered over.

Motionless, trapped within a column of radiant sunlight, stood Giles. His hands resting at his sides, shaking. His face was glistening with sweat, with strain, and Buffy felt her body seize up with panic.

"Oh my God..." she gasped, "...No..."

"The amulet wasn't working. Didn't work until Giles..." Spike swallowed hard, struggling to voice the explanation. "He took it. He knew, Buffy. Giles knew..."

Before Spike could register her movement, she was gone. Buffy ran as fast as she could toward the edge of the platform and dove off into the pulsing rays of sporadic light.

"Too late, luv." Spike choked. "Bloody kamikaze mission..."


Giles couldn't see, still blinded by the shock of the massive light emanating from the crystal. He could hear the roar of the tremors below and the cracking of the stone around him but his eyes offered little more than a grey haze speckled with hints of gold, like fireworks celebrating the victory over the First's legions. Then, like an apparition, a dark blur grew from the haze and he struggled to focus. Through the smoke and light shaped Buffy's features, tearful and shocked and though he was exceedingly grateful to see her, he knew time was growing short.

"You need to go, Buffy," Giles voice strained with effort to be heard. "The others..."

"They're out..." Buffy said softly, barely managing to speak. "They're safe. We won."

"Thank heavens." Giles tired eyes closed, sending a stream of sweat and blood from his soiled brow down his cheek as he let out a fatigued sigh of relief. The amulet dimmed to a glow but the column of daylight remained, surrounding the Watcher. His eyes cracked opened, staring at her, the warm green pleading to her. With a blink to clear his vision, a tear trickled down and evaporated as it reached his cheek. "You must leave."

"Come with me." She moved to him, reaching out and taking his hand in hers. The minute her skin touched his, she could feel the heat of his flesh fighting off combustion. She held on, determined never to let him go. He smiled faintly as he gave her hand a gentle squeeze.

"You know I can't." He spoke delicately, every word begging for forgiveness.

"You've done enough, Giles." Her eyes shimmered with his unearthly light, ignoring the agony of his searing touch.

"Angel was right, Buffy. The Hellmouth is closing. This amulet is the key and I'm the lock. I must stay." He released his grip on her hand and fought to pull it away. It was one of the hardest things he'd ever had to do. "And you must go..."

"Please... don't do this, don't leave me. I need you."

"It's better this way."

"No! No Giles. You should be with me... stay with me..."

"This is a rebirth, love… a new life for you. I have no place in it… not as I am."

"That doesn't matter… we'll find a way…"

"It's my punishment for touching heaven… and my reward."

"But, I love you, Giles," she sobbed, tears flowing freely down her flushed cheeks. "I love you."

Another escaped tear evaporated into mist as he smiled contently. "I know." He'd spoken with such serenity that Buffy knew he finally believed her. "Now prove it..." he choked on his words, "...and go."

Her lips trembled and her heart screamed for her to save him somehow, anyway she could. But she didn't know how. "I can't!"

"Buffy! Roofs caving in… we gotta go now!" Spike yelled as he came out from behind some large stone formations. Buffy's eyes remained fixed on Giles, refusing to leave.

"Go... please..."Giles begged as he felt a swell of uncontainable heat rush through his body.


"We're going!" Spike wrapped his arms around Buffy.

"No... Giles, please..." She screamed, fighting to be free of Spike's hold.

"I love you, Buffy. Always and forever. Even death cannot strip me of that." Giles said, reaching out to touch her. Buffy's hand stretched out and gripped his in one last instant of connection. The contact caused a searing blaze as flames burst from their skin.

"Giles... don't do this, please!" She screamed out as the blonde vampire wrestled to get her free from Giles' grip and get her safe from the falling debris. With a hearty tug, Slayer and Watcher were separated and Giles choked back a sob.

Spike held her back, struggling against the panic stricken Slayer and he realized she wasn't going to leave Giles. He gave her a swift kick to the midsection and as she buckled forwards, he sent a devastating elbow down to the back of her neck. She was out. The tired and bloodied vampire lifted her up and cradled her within his arms. He turned to Giles and shook his head.

"It wasn't supposed to be this way! You know she'll never forgive you for this, Giles," Spike said solemnly.

A shutter of pain ran shot through Giles and his face distorted to the demon, fiery eyes staring unsympathetically, smoking and cracking as the light flared around him. "She'll never forgive you for this, William."

After a moment of contemplation, Spike nodded with shamed understanding. "Guess that makes two of us. For what it's worth... I'm sorry."

For the first time in their time together, Giles believed him. The Watcher's true face returned and he offered the vampire a kindly smile. "You're forgiven. Now go." And he did.

Spike sprinted in the direction of the exit, leaping with all of his reserved strength to get the unconscious Slayer and himself airborne. They landed firm on the platform above. Spike glanced back one last time, giving a final nod of appreciation to the Watcher below. Giles watched as the center of his world escape from the cavernous tomb within the protective arms of his murderer. He silently rejoiced as they disappeared up the stone stairway and out of his view.

A second later, there was a surge of heat and the amulet radiated outward again, sending the far walls crashing down. Then, the crystal let off an explosion of daylight energy so strong it rattled Giles to his very core. He could feel his soul channeling the light, directing it though he was helpless to control anything but the simplest movements. But it had been enough to grant him one last touch of his beloved.

He was wholly aware that the light was taking him, absorbing him with every pulse. Every fiber of Giles' being was unraveling, he was coming apart.

Within the chaos of illumination, his became a shattered reality. Flickers of images and sensations, snapshots of destruction and light, memories long forgotten and moments forever treasured, all flooded his mind. As the world collapsed around him, Giles final thought was of Buffy.

A tickled breeze of sunshine hair...
Bubblegum pink and satin lips...
Smiling, pale cyan eyes...
And the echoing soft words 'I love you, Giles'...

He was beyond himself. There was no more pain, no more sorrow, only peace... cherished peace.

Then nothing...

And in a flash, he burst into a shower of cinders and ash. Oblivion...

"Giles!" Buffy screamed as they stumbled outside into full sunlight. The stubborn Slayer had refused to stay unconscious.

Though Spike could feel his skin smoldering, he fought to keep her from returning inside the collapsing structure of Sunnydale High School. He fought to save Buffy from herself.

"No! Giles..." She screamed frantically.

"He's gone, Buffy. We have to go, pet." Spike tried to calm her but she ripped and clawed for every inch.


"Is that Buffy?" Willow pointed out the grimy bus window and everyone who was able, hurried to glimpse the sight.

"It looks like her..." Dawn said anxiously. "Is that Giles?"

"It has to be him. Smoking like a damn kabob. Why is she fighting him?" Xander asked worriedly as the smoldering couple moved closer.


"Giles..." Buffy screamed hysterically, forcing Spike to lose his footing, falling back towards the breaking up building.

"Sorry 'bout this, luv." Spike pulled her back and punched with full force directly to Buffy's face, knocking her dizzy and limp. He gathered her up in his arms and hurried toward the bus as she whimpered for her lost love, her Watcher. Spike's arms and legs were smoldering with every step and then, as he'd anticipated, his face went alight with dancing flames.


"Wil, do something!" Dawn screamed. The witch was already chanting when Xander, Dawn and Anya rushed to help the burning couple.

"Take her!" Spike tried to yell but felt flames overcome his voice. His body was crackling, his face blazing, but he ignored the pain and moved on. Buffy was going to make it. Giles' sacrifice would not be in vain.


Xander made it to them just as an eerie cloud formed above the group. It followed along with them as he took Buffy into his arms, rushing as fast as he could toward the escape vehicle. Anya and Dawn covered the blackened and blistering vampire with linens and tried to hurry him along as the earth cracked and sank just after their steps. They all made it to the bus and as the soil was swallowed up behind them, they tore off into the setting sun. Dawn and Anya helped the vampire to the back of the bus and uncovered him. That's when Dawn realized it wasn't Giles.

"Where's Giles?" She feverously shook the barely conscious and charbroiled vampire. "Spike... what happened?"

"Saved us..." Spike choked, his skin cracking and peeling away from the bone. "He saved us all." With a grimace of pain, the badly burnt vampire passed out, looking as if he were little more that an over-grilled piece of flesh.

Xander glanced down at a mumbling and ash tainted Buffy and swallowed down a sob. "Giles..."

Dawn's tearful eyes stared out the back window, watching as the town of Sunnydale disappeared before her very eyes.

Explosion after explosion flashed and sounded behind them as the bus rushed to safety.

They drove a short while, until the earth seemed to stop its sinking and stabilized. Xander barked an order for Oz to pull over and he did, not bothering to ask why. In a daze of shock and denial, the gang stepped outside and walked toward the gaping chasm that had claimed their home... that had claimed their friend. The sun was a beautiful orange-yellow as it began it's decent behind the desert horizon. Willow, Xander, Dawn, Anya, Oz and Faith stood in silent mourning for their fallen comrade, none of them able to speak as their emotions stole their voices.

A clumsy thump drew their attentions back to the bus and they watched as a bruised and battered Slayer staggered out the door and collapsed to the orange sand with her shimmering red scythe barely gripped in her hand. Willow moved forward to help Buffy but Dawn stopped her with a tight grip to her sleeve.

Buffy lifted her head and stared off into the glowing sunset, her swollen eyes unable to shed any more tears, though her crying heart felt like it could never be silenced. She fought to stand up, using her weapon to help her to her feet, swaying and dizzy as the scent of ash and dust wafted past her. They all watched in silence as she limped up to the edge of the gorge and stopped. She lifted the axe with her weakened arms and examined the blood and ash that encrusted its blade. Then her eyes fell to the vast sunken hole, void of any sign of what had stood there just moments before.

"Never again..." her hoarse voice cut the silence. With every last bit of her strength and will, she spun around and hurled the axe into the air, sending it flying end over end into the great expanse. She fell to her knees, exhausted and heartbroken.

The gang watched as the axe soared to the middle of the abyss, shimmering in the sunlight until, with a final dim flicker, it disappeared from view.

"Never... again..." Buffy cried softly.

After a moment, Buffy felt a hand slip onto her shoulder and then felt an arm wrap around her as Dawn joined her sister at the chasms edge.

"I'm sorry..." Dawn said softly, holding back her own tears. "I loved him too." There was no response. "You did it... you saved the world, again."

"No..." Buffy whispered, "He did."

"I think he'd disagree. It was your plan... your brains..."

"His soul..." Buffy's tears fell to the parched sand. Dawn choked back her cries, trying desperately to be strong for her older sister. Buffy needed her.

"I take it that little show with the axe was your way of retiring?"

Buffy's lips trembled. "Yeah."

"Well... there is a world full of Slayers out there, now. Guess that means you've earned it."

"By losing so much..."

Dawn took in a deep breath, trying to find the courage and strength to go on. "He loved you, Buffy. He needed for you to live." Buffy's eyes met Dawn's with such a weighty sadness, so powerful that Dawn wasn't sure she could stand to witness the sight of it.

"I don't know if I can."

"You don't have a choice. Giles chose for you. It was his last wish and he sure as hell is getting it," Dawn said determinedly.

Buffy started to cry. "I'm beginning to miss you being mute."

Dawn took Buffy into her arms and let her spill out her emotions, let her release her pain.

After a few minutes, Dawn pulled back and guided Buffy's hair from her eyes. "Next stop is Los Angeles. Angel will have some unexpected guests."

"If that's what you want."

"For now. Come on, let's go."

Buffy went to stand up and her eyes caught a glimpse of something shimmering in the sand a few feet beside her. She dusted the sand away to uncover the fated amulet, encrusted with a paste-like residue and earthly grit. She brushed a finger over the crystal and watched it glow for a heartbeat and then dim to black.

"Always and forever..." Buffy whispered and draped the amulet around her neck. With a heavy sigh, she allowed her sister to help her back to the bus, to help her go on. The sun dipped beyond the vacant horizon. Sunnydale was no more.