Challenge Fic: The Gift Revisited part 2/3

The Battle...

The unlikely band of marauders hurried along the barren side roads of Sunnydales industrial district. They kept their distance but with a cautionary eye always following Tara as she marched them toward battle. With weapons in hand and a semi-plausible plan laid out for them, Giles tried to feel confident in their chances. But his gut warned him of the more possible outcome. He held his breath as they came around the bend and saw the rickety constructed tower reaching toward the pre-dawn sky.

'Change of plan,' he thought.

"Shpadoinkle," Xander exclaimed and stopped cold.

"What is that?" Anya asked.

"The portal must open up there," Giles explained and turned toward Willow.

"Will, you're up," Buffy said with a gentle squeeze of her arm.

"Need anything?" Giles offered.

"Could use a little courage," she said nervously.

Spike pulled out his handy flask and propped it in front of the uneasy witch's face.

"The real kind," she said then smiled at his attempt at kindness. "But thanks."

Spike nodded and safely tucked the flask away for later use. He'd probably be needing it soon enough. Giles moved ahead to catch up with Buffy, pulling her aside with a light tug of her arm. The others continued to walk along, keeping Tara in view.

"Before we go in there..." Giles started and found himself at a loss for words. Everything that needed to be said had been said back at the workout room yet he desperately clung to any second he might steal with Buffy before facing the inevitable. He wanted to say something meaningful but all he could do was peer into her beautiful eyes and pray for her safe return. Buffy smiled warmly and lifted his hand to her lips, giving his shaky fingers a tender kiss.

"I know Giles," she whispered. "I love you."

"Come back to me," he pleaded softly. He allowed himself a final touch of her skin, burning it into his memory with a gentle glide of his thumb along her pouted lips.

"Stay alive. I'll do the rest," she ordered and hurried to catch up with the others.

The gang took their places at the gate entrance. Everyone sat quietly, exchanging nervous glances as they waited for Tara to make her way inside. She wandered in and went about her mysterious task as if being prompted to do so by some inaudible orders. The appearance of Glory set the plan in motion and Giles watched as his brave redheaded witch marched up to confront the god. Willow's determined hands dived into Glory and Tara's minds, joining the two for an instant as a gleaming wave of energy flashed through the lot. Glory fell back stunned and destabilized. Giles felt a hint of pride at Willow's accomplishment. What a powerful Wicca she'd become. He hoped her bravery would be rewarded with the return of Tara's sanity.

"Buffybot is a go!" Buffy gave the robot a pat on the back and it responded to the gesture with an eager smile.

"Time to help Spike?" she asked cheerfully.

"Willow hasn't worked out all those little idiosyncrasies I see," Giles shrugged.

"Buffy... I mean Buffybot," Buffy rolled her eyes at the awkward slip. "Remember what Spike told you?"

"I'm programmed to record into my datafiles every..."

"Yeah, whatever. Now there's the bitch that hurt Spike. Go get her and take this with you," Buffy handed the Dagon sphere over to the willing robot and gave her a gentle nudge. They watched with anticipation as the Buffybot took her turn with Glory.

Spike and Anya shuffled forward ready to attack at the moment the Buffybot tossed off the Dagon sphere to the god. Giles couldn't keep his concentration on the action; his eyes kept drifting over to glimpse Buffy as she watched intently for her signal.

"We're up Rupert," Spike whispered and caught the man's curious stare at his Slayer. "Giles! Wakey wakey."

Giles' attentions fell back to the skirmish as Spike took a shot with the crossbow, successfully striking a minion center mass. Anya took a deep breath and gave a quick nod to her unlikely support troops.

"Don't let me die, ok?" She smiled timidly and charged forward with Giles at her side.

Glory's minions came at them from every angle, rushing forward in waves. Giles cut them down one by one, keeping a watchful eye over Anya as she swung her bat with all the power of an all-star baseball player. Spike rashly dove into the oncoming horde, managing to take out a few clumsy minions.

After dispatching a duo of Glory's crazed lackeys, Giles glimpsed Willow embracing Tara in the safety of the lot corner. He could tell the gentle-spoken witch had returned to them as the devoted couple shared a relieved kiss.

An unnoticed strike to his midsection sent Giles to his knees gasping for breath. The sound of splintering wood above gave a momentary reprieve from defending himself as he realized Anya had come to his aid. He glanced up just in time to react to an attacking minion about to run her through with a vicious machete. His blade sliced the unaware demon in two as Anya tripped over some pipes beneath her. Giles struggled to his feet and hurried to help her return to a defensive stance.

"How you holding up?" he asked as another trio of Glory's baddies moved in for the kill.

"As good as you," she huffed and took up a pipe as her newly improvised weapon of choice.

"That bad, eh?" Giles chuckled and swiped his blade toward all three minions.

They staggered back as he thrust the blade and connected to the closest. It buried deeply within its flesh as it screamed in agony. Anya followed through with her own attack, bludgeoning the fallen minion until the others scampered cowardly away from the brutal assault. This gave Giles a moment to take inventory of the Buffybot's progress. She was down and Buffy had already stepped in with Olaf's hammer. He'd hoped the Buffybot would last longer so Buffy could reach Dawn without interruption. Before he had time to settle into his usual amount of worry, the cowardly minions returned with reinforcements. Spike suddenly popped up in front of them and joined the escalating violence with a savage enthusiasm. Anya gave Giles a quick smile.

"A lot of pent up aggression in that one," she said. She took a wide swing with her pipe, connecting with a rushing minion and uncontrollably following though, just missing Giles who dodged back.

"Look who's talking," he chuckled then froze with panic at the sight of Buffy and Glory plummeting from an unseen height of the tower and landing hard on the unforgiving concrete below. The hammer landed a few feet out of the Slayer's reach.

"Get up, Buffy," he hissed fretfully through clenched teeth.

Another unblocked strike to the midsection and Giles felt something tear at his side. Anya fought off his attacker with wild swipes of her pipe, giving Giles a second to see if Buffy had recovered from her fall. He let out a sigh of relief entwined with a moan of pain as he spotted her upright and on track with the plan; waiting for Glory to step into position and take the punishment Xander had waiting for her.

"Giles, I could use you..." Anya ducked down to avoid a punch as Spike dove over them to attack minions coming up behind them. The thundering crash of the wrecking ball plunging through the wall and sending Glory flailing made everyone pause in bewilderment.

"That's my man!" Anya said with loving satisfaction.

Giles strained to his feet and tried to defend himself with feeble swipes of his sword but every motion sent jolts of pain through his wounded body.

"Fall back!" he barked, calling for Anya and Spike to follow his retreat as the minions rushed to guard the stairs of the tower. The ex-vengeance demon and vampire followed Giles orders and took refuge behind some heavy machinery.

"Has anyone noticed we're going backwards?" Anya said disappointedly.

Spike peeked his head up to be greeted with a well-aimed brick and return to the shelter of the makeshift bunker, feeling a tinge embarrassed from his lack of defense.

"It's crossed my mind," Spike grumbled.

Giles noticed the majority of the mob blockading the stairs were the demented victims of Glory's mind attacks.

"As long as ... Buffy can keep Glory down ... long enough, it doesn't matter," he couldn't catch his breath. It felt like something was stabbing at his chest. "There's only a few minutes left to start the ritual." He searched for a sign of Buffy and saw the hammer was gone from the position it had fallen. She had to be keeping Glory at bay. Xander cautiously jumped the fence and joined the waiting gang.

"How we doing?" he asked.

"So far it's a tie," Anya said, glancing up at the tower.

"We haven't got up to Dawn, but then neither has anyone else," Giles bargained. 'Where is Buffy?' He thought, his concern increasing with every passing second.

Spike took a closer look and noticed a speck of something moving on the platform, "Someone's up there."

"Okay, we gotta charge or something." Xander fidgeted anxiously, feeling utterly useless.

"We tried that," Anya huffed, a bit annoyed.

'Spike. Can you hear me?' Willow's voice filled Spike's mind.

"Yeah, loud and clear."

'Is there someone up there with Dawn?' Willow glanced up nervously.

"Yeah, can't tell who," Spike answered and the others looked at him puzzled.

"Are you talking to us?" Xander asked but the vampire ignored him, focusing on the inside conversation with the witch.

'Get up there. Go now!' Willow ordered.

Spike examined the crowd at the base of the tower one last time. They seemed hunkered down and ready for anything.

"Yeah, but..."

'Go!' Willow ordered again and the vampire leapt into action, running at top speed toward the tower. Giles reached out to stop Spike from the rash attack but recognized what was going on as the enraged crowd guarding the tower collapsed away from the stairs as some potent invisible force brushed them aside like a house of cards.

"We'll just wait here then?" Anya asked and looked back for Giles who had already disappeared.

"You're just a mortal. You couldn't understand my pain, " Glory whimpered, unable to defend herself any longer.

"Then I'll just have to settle for causing it." Buffy swung the hammer wide, striking Glory full on and watching as the god quickly recovered, turning back to face her.

"You can't kill me."

"No ..." Buffy effortlessly lifted the hammer and readied it for another strike, "...but my arm's not even tired yet." She landed another brutal blow, dropping Glory with the powerful strike. The sobbing god glanced up at the Slayer with tears in her eyes, gasping for breath.

"Stop it!" she whined.

"You're a god," another brutal pounding and Glory fell flat on her back, completely vulnerable. "Make it stop."

Buffy continued the ferocious attack, sending the hammer crashing down on the fallen villain with increasing force. Buffy watched as Glory's face began to show the bloodied and beaten marks of her attack, feeling a bit of guilt for taking pleasure in beating down the wicked, inhuman monster. As she pulled the hammer back for another whack, Glory's face morphed into Ben's, gory and pleading for mercy. She couldn't strike.

"I'm sorry," Ben choked, gasping to catch his breath.

'No fair.' Buffy looked down on the innocent face of a person she'd come to think of as a friend and didn't know what to do. "Tell her it's over. She missed her shot. She goes. She ever, *ever* comes near me and mine again..."

"We won't. I swear," he begged and worked for another breath.

Buffy dropped the oversized hammer and rushed off to get to Dawn.

Giles quietly stepped out of the shadows and approached the stranger lying helpless and bleeding.

"I guess we're stuck with each other, huh baby?" Ben coughed with a weak smile. Every breath was a struggle and panic was setting in with the realization he was almost paralyzed.

'You are an illusion...' Giles thought as he knelt beside the fallen young man. '... Immaterial in a world that suffers with your life.'

"Can you move?" Giles asked softly. 'Do it for her. For Buffy.'

"Need a ... a minute," he wheezed. "She could've killed me."

"No, she couldn't. Never. And sooner or later Glory will re-emerge, and ... make Buffy pay for that mercy. And the world with her. Buffy even knows that..." Giles fumbled in his pocket for his glasses and pulled them out, "...and still she couldn't take a human life."

Ben's face twisted with pain as he labored to listen to the man he acknowledged as Buffy's friend, a man he'd helped once. Perhaps he could return that help now.

"She's a hero, you see." Giles returned his glasses to the proper position and focused on the young man's pitiful face. "She's not like us."

"Us?" Ben asked, confused at the man's vagueness.

The Watcher moved with an almost robotic precision, keeping his expression unfeeling and observant as he went about his duty. Applying the slightest of pressure as he pinched the nose and mouth shut. Giles calculated the whole act should require a few minutes at most. He watched the young man's eyes grow wide with panic as his grip tightened. There was very little resistance, Buffy had prepared him well for death but she couldn't take it to that level. Giles understood that, she was being Buffy. He sat quietly, waiting patiently for the movement to stop, determined to complete his mission and finalize what Buffy couldn't, what she shouldn't have to.

'Time to die, Ben.' Giles wouldn't allow himself the delusion of unfamiliarity. He knew this human being and would never forget his name or his eyes pleading for mercy as he snuffed the light from him. It was the price he was willing to pay for taking the life of an innocent, to spare the world. Ben died and Glory with him. Giles took a deep gulp of air, wondering if he'd managed to breathe during the assassination. 'Forgive me.'

'Get back to the others. Get to Buffy,' Giles strained to his feet and headed back toward the center of the lot, hoping Buffy was fairing well with Dawn. A blazing tempest stirred above the lot, pulsing outward from the sky and Giles knew the portal had opened. They were too late.

He couldn't see clearly. The view to the tower was obstructed by the fiery gateway tearing the fabric of space right below the plank where Buffy and Dawn stood. Every other moment, a luminous stream of light would strike out to rip into their dimension and Giles would catch a fleeting glimpse of the sisters as they embraced above him.

'What now,' he thought and watched helplessly, wishing he could spend his last moments on earth holding Buffy, cherishing her. He saw a figure on the platform separate from the other and recognized it was Buffy. She stood poised, staring off into the rising sun. It was then that he realized what he was about to witness.

'Lord, no,' he thought as his Slayer... his Buffy ran with all her power and speed toward the edge of the platform.

"Buffy!" He cried, his voice failing in the roaring squall.

She leapt and Giles' heart stopped.

In a flash, the storm of light subsided and the portal closed. When the dust settled, everyone moved toward the spot where they'd seen her fall.

No one said a word. No one had to. It was the moment they'd all been dreading but knew would eventually come. They recognized the end of an era when they saw one. Buffy was dead and no one in the world would ever know what was sacrificed to spare hell on earth.

After a moment of silent sorrow and respect, the group came together in a tearful reunion. Tara and Willow hugged an almost inconsolable Dawn as Xander and Anya embraced then joined with the others. Everyone took turns checking Dawn and swapping between partners, sneaking mournful glimpses of the body of their friend and hero lying dead upon the rubble.

Spike restrained his sobs as he limped away from the rising sun, seeking out the only remaining darkness, a garbage dumpster enclosure beside the tower. He didn't want to leave Buffy's side but he had to, he'd promised to protect Dawn and he had to live to fulfill that promise. The half crippled vampire watched from the shadows as everyone tenderly consoled each other, taking comfort in the fact that they'd survived. But one member of the gang stood separate and alone.

Giles stared at the motionless Slayer, his face pale and sick with disbelief as the sunrise glistened off his tear soaked cheeks.

'She can't stay here,' he thought. 'She needs to go home.' He knelt down to Buffy and delicately lifted her limp body into his weakened arms. There was a jab of pain from the wound in his side as he wrestled to his feet. It was unimportant, it was nothing. He held her close and began to walk to the gate. 'I'll take you home.'

The others didn't even notice the grief-stricken Watcher's actions until Spike threw a rock that struck Xander on the side of the head prompting the confused young man to search for his attacker.

"What the..." Xander saw Spike motioning his attention towards Giles. Orange-yellow rays of radiant light haloed the Watcher's silhouette as he slowly made his way toward the exit of the tower yard.

"Giles?" Xander pulled away from the others who turned to see what the concern was about. "Wha...what are you doing?"

He didn't answer, only advanced onward. His steps faltering over a discarded pipe and Giles glancing down at Buffy's face as if to make sure he hadn't disturbed her sleep. Xander followed, taking notice of the ruby droplets scattered along the cement, growing larger as they lead up to the departing Watcher.

Willow rushed over to Giles and noticed his sallow complexion. "Giles, you shouldn't be doing this. You're injured." She glanced down, wincing at the red stain spreading across the fabric of his shirt. He ignored the pain, ignore everyone, it was nothing.

Sirens roared as police and aid cars stormed up to the gate, screeching to an abrupt halt. A small army of officers spilled into the lot and began to wrangle up the surviving crazed minions of Glory's army. EMT's scattered to help the injured and confused. The Scoobies walked along side the ailing Watcher, ready to help him but not knowing how. A medic rushed up to Giles and gestured to take Buffy from his arms. Giles disregarded the young man and continued to walk, sweat pouring from his brow and his blood marking the path with every unsteady step.

"Sir, we can handle this from here," the young man offered and waved for another EMT to assist him. Giles' footing fumbled under the dizziness that swirled in his mind and blurred his vision but he continued on, determined to take Buffy home. When the assisting medic caught a glimpse of Giles' seeping wound he blocked the stubborn man's path.

"You're injured Sir. We're required to help you."

Giles head bobbed forward and he caught himself just before blacking out. 'It's nothing. Get her home,' he thought, staggering sideways as the medics swayed with him to prevent his fall. Finally, his unsteady legs gave out and he collapsed to the uneven pavement, still cradling Buffy protectively in his arms.

"Giles... she's gone," Willow pleaded as she knelt beside him. "It's too late for her. Let them help you."

Giles looked over to Willow and could see the tears in her eyes as she begged for him to allow them to take Buffy.

"Please... we need you. We can't do this without you."

He felt his body fading and knew he couldn't go on.

"I-I just wanted..." he choked on his words as Willow wrapped her arms around his neck. He couldn't remember what he wanted, what he was doing, why he couldn't let her go. "... wanted to say goodbye."

Willow pulled away and tenderly wiped a tear from his cheek."I know... do it and let them help you."

With a subtle nod, he lowered Buffy's body to the ground and bowed his face to hers. Tears and sweat dripped along her forehead and Giles brushed them away apologetically.

"You did it," he whispered. "Everyone's safe. Dawn's safe. You can rest now."

Dawn stooped beside Willow and draped an arm around her shoulders, silently thanking her for being so strong for them, for him.

Placing a gentle kiss on Buffy's cold lips, Giles whispered, "Goodbye my love," and blacked out.

Part 3