DISCLAIMER: We know they're Joss', right? Which really is a shame, because most of the time, we're so much nicer to them than he was.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy measured the depth of her situation with Riley by arguing with him, while Angel blackmailed Ilona into backing his story to the Immortal, that the payment either got changes or he'd let Buffy die, while Adam had Other!Spike on his operating table...

* * *

They moved like people possessed, finding each other’s rhythms in a way that would have been uncanny if Spike had actually stopped for a second to consider it. But immediacy was their primary concern. Make haste. Find the girl. Or in Tara’s case, find the vampire.

They returned to the others at a breakneck speed, the decision made without any more words exchanged between them, the invisible devil of fear at their heels. There was a brief moment where Giles began to query what was going on, but one look from Joyce was all that was necessary to shut him up. He grabbed the duffel before Spike could, eyes flashing with a violent fire that had Spike glad he had a pissed off Fyarl on his side for the upcoming fight. It wasn’t going to be pretty. It wasn’t going to be pleasant. It better fucking do the trick to get Buffy back once and for all.

This was different than not waking her up. This was terror about what that psycho Adam might do to her, about getting there too late and seeing her as some sort of demon hybrid without any of the shine or any of the vibrancy that lit her from within. This was having no choice but to kill her, knowing that Buffy would hate such a thing to be done to her.

This was dread at having to kill Buffy in front of her mother.

Out of the corner of his eye, Spike glanced at Joyce. Her jaw was set, her eyes hard. Like the others, she was ready to go into battle.

He was not going to disappoint any of them.

Their footsteps crunched over debris as Tara led them through the basement maze. When they reached a stairwell leading up, Spike hesitated for the first time since discovering Buffy was missing.

“I fancy you lot have means to move your vamps about during the day, yeah?” he asked with a lifted brow.

“Would I bring you this far without one?” Tara shot back over her shoulder.

It was good enough for him. He took the stairs two at a time after that.

The exit brought them out in the school’s old cafeteria, and Spike smelled residual traces of Buffy and his other self lingering in the exposed air. “Adam must’ve brought them through here,” he said.

Tara shook her head. “No, this is where Spike brought Buffy to hide when she wouldn’t go into the Hellmouth…” Her voice trailed off, guilt averting her gaze.

“Ah. Right.” When they’d shagged. He didn’t need a picture painted for him. Now that he had context, Spike could detect the fading scent of Buffy’s pussy, wet and succulent. His other self had never stood a chance.

Sunlight streamed in through the broken wall, forcing Spike to hang back as the others stepped forward. Tara’s order to wait was obeyed without question, and the seconds dragged as he watched the trio disappear around the edge of the building. Each was another marker against him, another opportunity missed to get to Buffy before it was too late. Was this going to be the story of his unlife? A series of chances missed, of being behind time, of watching events unfold beyond his control.

He had hoped those days were behind him. Closing the Hellmouth should have been his turning point. Working with Angel in LA had almost convinced him there was a real place for him, where his actions mattered. He couldn’t go back to being second-best. He wouldn’t.

Save the girl.

Save Buffy.

Die trying.

A flicker of movement shattered his dark thoughts, and he stood straighter as Giles came running back, his awkward demon gait making him lurch almost comically in his speed. A familiar blanket dangled from his fingers. Spike almost grinned at the irony.

With his head and body shielded from the sun’s rays, he followed Giles back to the van Tara had idling on the road, hopping into the open end and leaving Joyce to close the door behind him. Tara accelerated almost immediately, the screech of tires against the cement cutting through the van’s walls. Nobody spoke. There was no need. There was a job to be done, a job they all recognized. Perhaps if it was anybody else other than Buffy or his other self, they might have taken a more pragmatic view of the situation and waited to bring reinforcements.

Spike would have had to thump the lot of them if they’d tried that.

Tara cornered tightly, a surprising expert at the wheel of the van. Soon, she was pulling the vehicle to a halt and killing the engine, and the others were moving, gathering together the supplies with smooth efficiency. “This is Adam’s central base of operations,” she explained to Spike. “They live here, they train here, they do all their experiments here. Nobody’s seen the inside up close and personal, but we had a computer hacker once who got us floor plans.” She glanced at Giles. “But that was over a year ago. Things might have changed since then.”

“I don’t need a map to find Buffy,” Spike replied. He arranged the blanket closer over his head. “Do we have an actual plan? Or are we just goin’ in and winging it? Not that I have a problem with that. I’ve done some of my best work by the seat of my pants.”

“Actually…” Her hand tightened on her bag of magical supplies. “…are you OK if we split up? You follow your nose, and we’ll see what we can do to help my Spike.”

His gaze darted between the three grim faces, all resolute, all ready to do what was necessary to save one of their own. To save him. A flame ignited deep within his gut, and his lip curled into a smile. There was a lot that was wrong with this world, but there was a lot that was right, too. It was easy to see the appeal it held for Buffy.

“Will do,” he said. “Who knows? Maybe the pair of them are already givin’ Adam hell. The Slayer and me have a way of comin’ out swinging when our backs are to the wall.”

“Yeah,” Tara agreed with the first smile he’d seen from her since discovering the broken crystals. “You do.”

Giles pulled the van door open, and Spike made the dash to the door they’d parked outside of. He didn’t think. He didn’t contemplate deeper meanings. He had a job to do.

Find Buffy.

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

She had no idea what Riley was doing. Over the time they had dated, Buffy had thought she’d gotten to know him pretty well, able to predict his sometimes fragile moods, able to anticipate what his needs might be. Of course, the fact that he’d gone off in search of nightly suckjobs without her ever even noticing the damn bite marks on his arms didn’t say a lot for her powers of observation in her personal life, but still, there were definite patterns to Riley’s behavior that she was sure she could predict.

This was not one of them.

He wouldn’t stop moving around the room. After his creepy announcement about owning her, he had started obsessively cleaning the room, wiping down every available surface, going through the drawers to refold everything they contained, dragging a broom out of the closet to sweep the floor. She didn’t know what he thought he was doing. The room already looked spotless to her. When he’d exhausted all his cleaning options, he had pulled the chair over to the side of the bed and sat to watch her in silence.

That lasted five minutes. Then he was up and moving around again. Like he had ants in his pants, Willow would say.

Buffy finally cracked.

“If I’m keeping you from something,” she said, “be my guest to go do whatever it is.” And stop driving me crazy with the waiting. “Really. Go.”

He stopped in the middle of the room to look at her. She had to steel her limbs to stay completely still, so that he wouldn’t be able to tell she was getting her strength back. Buffy had a feeling she would only have a single shot at escaping. If it failed, the next time he chained her up, she didn’t think he’d be so easy on her.

“I don’t need to prepare like the others,” Riley said. “I won’t leave until it’s time.”

“Time? For what?”

He smiled, some of his frenetic energy dimming. Her skin crawled. Maybe she shouldn’t have spoken up in the first place. “Do you really want to hear how we’re going to destroy your friends, Buffy? Because after the fight tonight, there won’t be anything left of them. Except for the pieces we decide to collect and use for our purposes, that is.”

He was right. She didn’t want to hear this.

“You’ll fail,” she said with more confidence than she felt. “You always do, remember?”

His hands curled into fists at his side, but at least he didn’t come back to try strangling her again. She saw the muscle twitch in his jaw, the ragged graft between the demon skin and his own smoothing over the stretch of bone. “I got you, didn’t I? I would hardly call that failing.”

Oh yeah, talking was definitely of the bad. Everywhere she turned the conversation, another big black cloud appeared. Biting the inside of her cheek to keep from blurting out another question she wouldn’t like the answer to, Buffy remained still, staring at him, waiting. For something.

He waited longer.

“I don’t understand,” she finally murmured. “The Riley I knew would have fought to the death not to become the monster you have. How could you let Adam do this to you? How could you let yourself slaughter so many people when it goes against everything you ever wanted?”

His eyes narrowed as she spoke. “All I ever wanted was to make a difference,” he said. “To matter. Nobody besides Adam has more power than I do. I command troops who would die before disobeying me. So if you think to presume you know me, think again. The world is a different place than it was before you died.”

“Tell me about it,” she muttered.

“I have everything I’ve dreamed about now.” Slowly, Riley advanced back to the bed, stopping at the foot. His fingertips skimmed up her calf, and she had to struggle not to jerk away from his touch. “Sooner or later, you’ll see. It’s better this way. No woman ever challenged me the way you did, Buffy. I thought at first it was a Slayer thing, but the other one, as…entertaining as it was to learn from her…” His hand stopped at her waist, and she felt the coldness of his skin as he slipped a hand beneath her top to caress her stomach. “…it didn’t take me long to figure out she wasn’t you.”

She had a sickening feeling where all this was leading, but there was no way Buffy was going to let it get that far. She would bide her time and wait for her opening. This was going to be a one-time opening only.

“Bride of Frankenstein is such a bad look for me, though,” she said, keeping her tone light. “So, if it’s OK with you, thanks, but no thanks.”

His hand paused, his gaze lifting away from her torso to meet her eyes. “Adam is not touching you. I thought I made that clear.”

“But isn’t this new and improved version of you supposed to be all superior to my flawed, human self?” And then it all clicked into place. And in spite of the anger the understanding sparked, part of Buffy felt sorry for Riley. “That’s it, isn’t it?” she continued softly. “Demon you plus human me equals you finally getting to be the strong one in our relationship. As long as Adam doesn’t try to turn me into one of his hybrids, that is. That’s what this is all about.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

But she did. She knew it all too well.

And now she knew exactly how to make it work to her advantage.

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

The antidote to the poison didn’t start working until halfway through the operation, making it bloodier than Adam would have liked. It left his fingers and tools crimson-stained, too tacky to use again without a proper cleaning. Pushing back from where he’d been bowed over Hostile Seventeen’s unconscious body, he rose from his stool and carried his tray to the sink, setting it on the side and then turning on the tap. Hot water splashed inside the deep basin. Waiting until it reached a temperature to cause discomfort, he set to the task of rinsing his hands first before turning his attention to his scalpels.

The first phase of Hostile Seventeen’s transformation was a success. It was a step he didn’t normally take in the hybridization process, but this one had special circumstances. It would make him infinitely more effective in the raid against the Hellmouth and likely double his body count. Adam would do anything to acquire statistics such as that.

When he turned to dry his hands, his gaze was captured by the security cameras displayed on the desk computer. They had been inert when he had started, with the exception of the activity in the training room with the troops. Riley’s room was blacked out. For privacy issues, Riley had said when he’d requested Adam do so. But it wasn’t those that made him step closer to the screen. It was the sight of a certain blond vampire prowling through the inner halls of his sanctum.

Adam looked over his shoulder to confirm his patient was still on the operating table. He was. His head swiveled back to the computer. How was this possible?

Hostile Seventeen looked like he had when Adam had first been awakened, from the tips of his bleached hair to the leather hem of his black coat. But that coat was gone. It had been destroyed in an early battle in the rebellion, a casualty to a flame thrower and an overzealous private. The image in the monitor looked healthier as well, better fed, and there was a confidence to his swagger that spoke of freedom.

It could be magic. An illusion to distract him.

He searched the other screens for another anomaly, anything that would explain the intruder’s presence.

He saw the van almost immediately. Parked at the rear of the building, near the service entrance the vampire hybrids used for quick sewer access. Its near vicinity was deserted, but a faint glow from the cab betrayed its occupants. The source of the magic. For whatever reason, they wanted him to believe there was an intruder on the premises.

“Interesting,” Adam murmured.

It had to be the dissidents. Their favored witch was growing increasingly powerful. He looked forward to bringing her in and subverting her prowess for his own desires. With both the witch and Hostile Seventeen working with Riley, Adam would be unstoppable.

He smiled. It was even better to think she had made it easier for him by coming to him. Of course, she would have to be captured first. He reached for the phone to call the training room and order the soldiers down to apprehend the van’s occupants.

A pale hand shot out and gripped his wrist in an iron lock, stopping him in mid-reach.

Frowning, Adam turned to see Hostile Seventeen standing at his side. He had never heard him rise, but the fact that the hostile shouldn’t even be conscious was more worrying. The vampire’s curls were in wild disarray except for a section at the back of his skull, matted down there from the blood that had dripped during the removal of the chip. But it was the orange glow from his steady eyes that made Adam hesitate. These weren’t the eyes of a vampire wearing his demon visage. These were different.

And when Hostile Seventeen spoke, his deep voice seemed to almost echo.

“We don’t think so…”

 

To be continued in Chapter 27