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The gang gathered at Giles’ cramped apartment the next day to go over ideas on taking down the Initiative. Tara had come along with Willow, as the two had been nearly joined at the hip since first meeting. Only Anya was missing, having gone off on some special “top secret mission” of her own.
“Okay, Buffster, how do you want to handle the ‘not so good guys’ that are all over town with high tech weapons…and did I mention official military status too? Not going to be like shutting down Willy’s there.” Xander wasn’t sure how he seemed to have signed up for taking on the United States government, but when push came to shove, he would always stand at the side of his friends.
“Willow thinks that if we can hack into their computer system we’ll maybe find some stuff that talks about what they plan to do to me and then the Council will take them on for us and shut them down.” Buffy was hopeful that this plan would work. Quentin Travers was a thorn in her side and vice versa, but she was still ‘Slayer comma The’. It didn’t hurt that she had averted several apocalypses and performed better than most Slayers in recorded history.
“I bow to the hackery goodness that is my bestest friend.” Xander was clearly impressed. “How long will that take?”
“Well…,” Willow bit her lip before springing her idea on Buffy. “I was thinking that having someone on the inside, someone basically decent, might help.”
“Sure, that would be great. Got any ideas?” Buffy just wanted it all done and over with.
“I was thinking Riley might help if he knew what they plan to do to you. He really likes you, Buffy, and wouldn’t want you to get hurt. He knows you’re a good guy like he is. In fact, I kinda asked him to drop by in a while so we can talk.” Willow cringed at the look Buffy shot her way at that news. “And I did find a few things already and printed them out. It might be enough to convince him to help.”
They were arguing the viability of Riley Finn as their inside man as the door crashed open to reveal a smoking quilt covering a cursing vampire.
“Spike, what are you doing here? Haven’t you gotten the memo about vampires being flammable?” Xander snipped. “Not like you’re needed or even wanted. Hey, maybe you’re suicidal? I can help with that!”
“Xander, that’s uncalled for,” Giles chided. “Spike is here at my invitation. He has a vested interest in helping to bring down the Initiative and is the only one of us aside from Buffy to have ever been in those laboratories. “
“But if Riley is going to join our little crusade, we won’t need Sparky here,” Xander sneered.
Spike looked at the group as if they had lost their minds. “You plan to trust one of THEM to pull down the pillars of their own group? Are you all as crazy as Dru?”
“I will admit that on the surface it sounds foolhardy, but there may be merit to the idea.” Giles wasn’t completely sold on the idea but had none better to offer. Time was at a premium, after all. “If the lad is the well-intentioned soldier he appears, then he will be as appalled as we are at the plans his superiors have to experiment on Buffy. That being the case, he will likely assist us. f he does not believe it to be their true purpose, he will probably investigate to prove us wrong and in so doing will discover the truth and come to our cause on his own.”
“And you still put teeth under your pillow at night hoping for a pence or two in the morning? What about you, Slayer, still sit on Santa’s lap come December?”
Willow was upset that her simple solution was being questioned. “This isn’t some fictional guy; Riley’s a real soldier. He likes Buffy. He wants to be a good guy and won’t like it that his boss is planning to hurt a human. He’ll help, I just know it.”
The argument flared up again, loud enough that no one heard the knock at first. Tara finally got Willow’s attention with a tug on her sleeve. “Someone’s at the door.”
Willow shushed the group and Giles answered the door, muttering, “Must be the first time the bloody knocker’s been used since I acquired this flat. Aside from one rather pushy Jehovah’s Witness contingent, no one bothers to knock.” He opened the door to a smiling Riley Finn.
“Hi, Mr. Giles. I don’t know if you remember me from Buffy’s birthday party. I’m Riley Finn, a TA at Sunnydale U.” He carefully omitted his real position with the commandos.
“Yes, yes, I remember you. We’ve been expecting you, actually. Willow told us she extended an invitation,” Giles motioned the young man into his home.
Buffy gave a short smile and wave as Willow poured on the charm. Riley looked about, slightly bemused and curious to the purpose of his being asked to the home of a virtual stranger filled with people he didn’t know.
After normal courtesies and small talk, Buffy revealed to Riley what they had learned about Maggie Walsh’s plans for studying the Slayer. “NO! Mom–I mean Professor Walsh–would never harm a human. Her entire mission is the protection of our species from Subterrestrial Hostiles and other slime. She respects you, Buffy! We’re doing good here. Protecting the public, removing the subterrestrial threat. It’s work worth doing. You’ve seen all our progress! You’re one of us, Buffy.”
It took looking at the meager evidence, all circumstantial, that Willow had uncovered and the certainty of Giles’ information to convince Riley that he should at least look into the possibility that a plan was afoot that conflicted with everything he believed in. “I’m not saying I’ll help. But I’m not saying I won’t. If this IS the truth, and I just can’t believe it, then naturally I won’t allow an innocent young woman to be harmed. Not even in the name of science and country would that be right. I’ll snoop around and if it looks like you are right, then I’ll do what I can to help. BUT if you’re wrong I’ll expect a full apology for besmirching the name of a great patriot and brilliant scientist.”
“Sig Heil,” muttered Spike. He had been staying on the fringes, avoiding the gimlet eye of the soldier. Finn had given him the ‘don’t I know you?’ look off and on and Spike really didn’t want to discover that the soldier could add two plus two and arrive at four.
Riley looked sharply at ‘Xander’s cousin’ and suddenly it all clicked in place. “You’re Hostile 17! We’ve been looking for you ever since you broke out.”
Buffy rushed to run interference. “This is Xander’s cousin–”
Spike cut her off, tired of the game playing with this dolt, “Oh bugger it! Congratulations, you caught Doctor Kimble, Lt. Gerard.” Off the puzzled looks of the youngsters in the room, he rolled his eyes, “’The Fugitive’? Classic American television? Any of this ring any bells?”
“Oh yeah!” Xander snapped, “Harrison Ford movie…I get it!”
“Your mother must be so proud,” Spike snarked.
Riley had shaken off his surprise at seeing the Hostile in the home of Buffy’s Watcher behaving as if he were just another guest. “We’ve been looking all over the place for him and you’ve known where he was the whole time!” He turned hurt, accusing eyes on Buffy. Maybe she wasn’t on the same team after all.
“He’s not bad anymore,” Buffy started.
“Hey! Still the Big Bad, just inconvenienced at the moment,” Spike asserted.
“Not helping,” Buffy hissed.
“He’s chipped, thanks to you guys, and not hurting anyone. In fact, he’s even helped us out.” Buffy looked challengingly at the soldier. “Spike helped me in the past too. There’s no reason to hunt him down. I swear he’s no threat.”
“I don’t know what to believe with you people,” Riley accused. “I’ll check out your claims because I can’t wait to prove you wrong. As for that monster,” he pointed at Spike, “he belongs back in a cage.”
“Riley,” Buffy turned on the charm, missing the blazing eyes of the vampire in question, “Trust me, I’ve got a handle on Spike. Check out our information. If you find out they aren’t doing the job you think they are doing there at the Initiative, maybe it’s better Spike not be one of their subjects. I mean, what’s the plan with chipping vampires anyway?”
Riley looked daggers at Spike and then back at Buffy’s innocent pleading face and crumbled. “All right…FOR NOW. Once we sort out this whole mess, we can deal with it.” He looked pointedly at Spike on the last word before heading out the door and back to base.
“Well, that went rather well,” Giles said sarcastically.
“Do ya think? Spike, I think you’d better lay low, just in case Riley slips and mentions seeing you.” Buffy suggested.
“Not hidin’ from the likes of him!” Spike was insulted at the thought of cowering before the farm boy in camouflage.
“Oh dear,” Giles said as he looked at his watch. “I’m afraid we shall have to continue this riveting conversation at a later date. I have a job to perform and while it may not be as important as Watcher for the Council, it does at least keep me in single malt and Jaffa cakes.”
“Playin’ another gig at the Espresso Pump then? What, more acoustic Who with a bit of James Taylor thrown in the mix?” Spike grinned at the blush he had caused on the Watcher’s face.
“You play music? In public?” Buffy sputtered.
“One must make a respectable living. Not much call for foreign librarians, and demonology is a sadly limited vocation.” Giles gave up hiding his secret career, picked up his guitar case from behind the chair where he had hidden it and huffed his way to the door. “Do lock up when you’ve finished here, please.”
“Willow, do you think you might be able to get the information without Riley?” Buffy asked. “I really don’t want to have all our eggs in his basket.”
“My laptop isn’t working too well. It picked up a virus that I haven’t debugged yet, so I can’t say when I can work on hacking into the Initiative’s system,” Willow admitted. She hated being unplugged from the wonderful world of computers and hated even more admitting she had not been able to fix the problems. Perfectionist that she was, she felt she should have fixed the infection immediately.
“Mom’s computers at the gallery should work, shouldn’t they?” Buffy knew very little about computers but did know her mother was linked to the internet and that her system was top of the line.
“Do you think she’d mind?”
“What, to save her darling daughter from becoming lab rat for the government? Sure, she’d be all over it,” Buffy laughed.
“Tara, do you mind hanging out here with Spike until the sun sets and he can leave? We’ll be back before you know it and we can pick up dinner on the way back to the dorm,” Willow suggested. She wasn’t comfortable leaving Tara alone with the other bullies on the loose and she knew Spike would be sure to look out for her. Just to be sure, she shot a look at Spike that let him know her real purpose.
“Wouldn’t turn down the company, ducks,” Spike said with a raised eyebrow. He knew full well that Willow was asking him to look out for her girl.
“Will Mr. Giles mind? I don’t want to impose.”
“I’m the one imposing, just ask the bloke,” Spike reassured the girl. “You’ll just be keepin me out of trouble. Rupes’ll thank you.”
The two girls headed out to the gallery to set in motion the plan to hack into the Initiative’s computers.
“Well, I’m not sitting here with the evil undead!” Xander announced.
“Not like you’re my choice for good company, whelp,” Spike returned. “Can do lots better than a glorified bricklayer for conversation.”
“Yeah? Well, at least I’m a decent solid citizen and not a serial killer, Spike. That’s all you are. You may be on a leash right now, but we both know what you are, what you’ve been. You’ve got a century of torture, rape and murder to your name, William the Bloody. You may not be killing at the moment, but you’re still nothing but an evil monster…the same serial killer you’ve always been.” He slammed the door on exit.
Tara and Spike sat in uncomfortable silence for a brief while after Xander’s dramatic exit. Spike could sense no judgment from the sweet girl he had come to respect, but having his past brought up so pointedly made him uneasy about her feelings toward him.
“Pup has a way with words, don’t he? Look, I’ll understand if you’d rather I just leave.”
“Nonsense, Spike. I told you that I judge people on how they are now, not what they’ve been.” Tara desperately hoped her instincts were right about Spike. If a demon as evil-prone as he could turn to the light, then maybe whatever demon she was could avoid becoming evil too. She could see the good in Spike and hung onto that possibility with all the desperation of one teetering on the brink of that deep slide into the black herself.
“Can I ask you something without you thinking I’m judging you?”
“Ask me whatever you want, petal. Can’t say you’ll like the answers though.”
“Why does someone do those things? What makes someone say, ‘Hey, it’s okay to kill. It’s fine for me to do all this evil’? I just can’t understand it in humans or demons.”
“Don’t rightly know, pet. All those people…they were just prey to me. There wasn’t any thought to it. I never thought about it being okay or not. I needed to feed and they were food. Only thing I did think about was pleasing Dru, bein’ the biggest Big Bad, makin’ her love me more than Peaches. He had a big reputation, big shoes to fill. Never did outdo the bugger though, even when I tried. I’m a vampire; we kill. Grrrr Arghhhhh!” He made a face more comical than scary.
“But you’re more than that! You still have a good heart; I’ve seen it,” Tara insisted.
“Heart don’t even beat, pet. When I was turned, I lost my conscience. Have to, else you’d never eat. I know right from wrong. Not stupid, just don’t care anymore. Rules don’t apply any longer. Complete freedom to do whatever you want whenever you want. Want…Take…Have…Simple rules to unlive by; anarchy reigns! Gotta kill to live and still rest easy after that.” He could see that Tara was truly trying to understand. “I never went in much for torture, not after Peaches left us early on. That was his gig; he was in love with evil for its own sake. Tell you himself if he was here! Torture was never a challenge to me; it’s not like I made a moral choice against it. Where’s the fun in it when the victim’s all trussed up and not able to fight back? Was too besotted with my wicked beauty to want to do much raping.” Tara noticed he didn’t deny ever committing that crime either.
“I liked the balls to the wall feeling of fist and fang. That was my thing, never knowin’ if I’d be lickin’ blood from my lips after leavin’ a pile of corpses or blowin’ in the wind. Each time, I might be getting ready to meet up with the real Devil at last. I took plenty of easy targets, sure, but the real fun was when there was a good chance I’d be nothing but a pile of dust at day’s end.” He looked Tara squarely in the eye and summed it up, “I’m a vampire. It’s what we do.”
Tara thought about what he’d said for a moment, then flashed him a cheeky grin. “YOU? I thought you were a rebel, a real maverick? Why would you do just like all the other vampires do? Why not make your own mold? You’ve got that chance now.”
Spike gave a return grin and whispered mostly for his own benefit, “Why not indeed?” Then, in a normal voice, “I can’t undo my past or make up for it, petal.”
“No, you can’t. No one can ever make up for the harm they do. No one expects you to be able to bring anyone back to life. But you can be redeemed.”
“Change, you mean.” Spike’d had similar conversations with Joyce Summers along these lines, maybe not as blunt.
“No, I’m talking about you reclaiming yourself, your TRUE self. Be the man you started out to be before the choices seemed to be taken away from you. Earn forgiveness, trust.”
“’S too late, luv.” Tara could hear the sadness in his voice and see it in his aura. Clearly the idea appealed to him on a very basic level even if he thought it impossible.
“It’s never too late and nothing is past forgiving, not as long as you exist,” Tara insisted.
“Vampire seeks redemption! I’m not bloody Angel!” His voice was heated, though Tara knew the anger wasn’t directed at her. “I don’t have a bleedin’ soul, do I now?”
She wasn’t sure about this Angel, but Willow had told her a little bit about the other vampire and she knew enough to have a clue. “You’ve got soul enough. Does this Angel seek redemption?”
Spike snorted. “Says so. Got the soul cursed into him and moped about with the ‘woe is me’ and enough guilt to make the Slayer’s knees jelly. Off bein’ the hero now. Knight in rusty armor and all.”
“What about without his soul? Did he seek redemption then?”
Spike thought he’d die from laughter. “Not bloody likely! Poofter had no interest in anything but blood and mayhem. Gave a rat’s arse about all else.”
“What about you, Spike? What would you like? Do you want to be an outcast among humans, just another vampire like all the rest?”
Spike’s voice was barely audible, “No. Would want me mum to be proud. Like to please Joyce, you, Buf–”
“Then do it!” Tara stood up. “I’ll be in your corner.”
“Ta, luv,” Spike said ruefully. “No one’s gonna give the chipped vamp a chance. Damned in name and by deed.”
“It won’t be easy, you’re right. Everyone will want to judge you on your past. You have to want to do this for YOU, Spike.” Tara held out a hand in a clear offer of friendship. “If you’re persistent and keep trying, prove who you really are and not what you’ve been told you have to be, they’ll see it eventually. They’ll have to, all of them, even Buffy.”
“You met Joyce yet, ‘cause you seem to be channeling her,” Spike chuckled. “I’ve a black heart, no hope there.”
“It’s been done before,” Tara asserted.
“Yes, we’ve discussed the Gelled Wonder,” Spike snarked.
“I’m not talking about Angel. I’m not even talking about vampires. Evil comes in human packages too. There’ve been people who have done terrible, horrible things and then really changed. Done good in the world.”
“You don’t know the meaning of evil, pet.”
“Sure I do! Okay, one person I can think of offhand is Nicky Cruz. He was a gang warlord. He did all kinds of evil. Then he changed, really changed. Now he runs halfway houses to help drug addicts. They made a movie about him; I saw it at my church when I was little.”
“I’ve killed a lot of people,” Spike hedged.
“So now you can help a lot of people,” she challenged. “You want this, then do it. I’ll be in your corner. No one is beyond saving, Spike.” She offered a silent prayer that she spoke the truth, not just for his sake but her own.
“Why’s this matter so much to you?”
“I like you, Spike. I see the good in you and the potential for a lot more. Being a demon shouldn’t have to mean you have no choice but evil.”
“Some demons aren’t evil.” He noticed Tara’s instant attentitiveness at that comment. “Why do I think there’s more goin’ on here than a pep talk to a reformin’ vamp? Talk to Spike.”
“I’m a demon,” she blurted the awful truth.
“You’re a what? What bleedin’ idiot put that idea in your head, poppet?”
“All the women in my family are. Daddy said it would show up when I became an adult. I really don’t want to hurt anybody. I don’t want to be evil!”
“Sweetheart, you couldn’t be evil if Satan himself instructed you! You’re about the purest good I’ve ever seen in my entire existence. Whatever shite your old man was shovelin’, there’s no demon in you,” Spike shook his head in amazement at the very idea.
“No, it’s true. Mamma even agreed.”
“No, it’s NOT true and I can prove it,” Spike smacked her on the back of the head and then grasped his own and growled in pain. “See! I can’t hit a human without the mother of all headaches, but I can hit demons all night long. If there was even a bit of demon in you, I wouldn’t be planning on raiding Rupert’s medicine chest for some Tylenol now. You’re as human as they come.”
Tara suddenly felt as if the weight of the world had lifted from her shoulders and broke out into a smile that could light a room. “I’m not a demon! I’m not a demon! Oh God, thank you, thank you, Spike!” She kissed him and danced about the room in glee. “I’m not a demon, I’m just a lesbian!”
“Um…what’s going on, guys?” Willow asked from the doorway.
“Why don’t I head back to my crypt while you two sus things out, yeah?” Spike made a quick exit leaving the girls to their chance to lay all cards on the table.
The door to the crypt felt like it weighed a ton or maybe Spike was simply emotionally drained by the conversation he had just had with Tara.
“Hostile 17! Don’t move or we will taser your ass!”
“Balls!” Spike debated running until he saw the number of commandos led by Finn and knew there was no way he could get past all of them.
Riley held the walkie-talkie to his mouth and reported in, “Subject in custody. Over. Returning to base. Over.” He smirked at Spike. “You didn’t think we’d let you wander around confusing all the little girls, now did you? Welcome back, Hostile. We have lots of plans for you.”
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/200563.html