Title: Shield (1/1)

Author: Cyclone

Feedback: Please be gentle.

Distribution: Gimme credit and a link. Plus, archived at http://fanfiction.net/profile.php?userid=62966 or http://fanfiction.net/~cyclone

Rating: I'm gonna go say PG.

Spoilers: Up to Grave.

Disclaimer: The characters depicted herein belong to the almighty Joss, and a concept here belongs to someone else. I'm just borrowing them for a while.

Summary: Xander's dying, but Riley may have the cure... with a few side effects.

Author's Note: Okay, I wanted to do a 'fic that turned the energy stream Xander intercepted (now I'm having Ghostbuster flashbacks; "Don't cross the streams") into a meaningful plot point. Devil's Bargain was one of the two I came up with. This is the other.

* * *

Riley Finn knocked on the door, and when it swung open, he saw Buffy on the other side.

"Riley, what are you doing here?"

He blinked, surprised by the question, "I came as soon as I got Willow's e-mail. Didn't she tell you?"

The Slayer turned and shot the redhead on the couch a Look, even as she waved her ex-boyfriend in.

"I had to do something, Buffy," Willow said with a helpless shrug. "I won't let him die. I-I thought maybe Riley's government contacts could help."

"Never mind that," Riley said impatiently. "How is he?"

Willow blinked back tears, "Not good. Th-they don't know if he'll make it."

"What happened?" Riley asked softly. "Your e-mail wasn't exactly clear on that."

Willow looked away and replied very quietly, "I happened."

She began to shake with sobbing as she said, "The last thing he said... he told me he loved me. He told me he loved me and that if I was going to... to kill the world, that I should... start with him. And I did. Oh, God."

Riley caught the redhead in his arms and let her cry it out. "Hey, hey, talk to me, Willow. What's killing him?"

"Power," she said, after she took a moment to collect herself. "He... he stepped in the path of a flow of magic. I-it's inside him now, burning him up from the inside out."

Riley nodded slowly and said, "I think I can help."

"How?" Buffy asked skeptically. "Riley, Adam had access to everything your people had. Magic's something the Initiative never could figure out."

Riley sighed and closed his eyes. "Remember the drugs Walsh had us on?"

"Yeah," Buffy nodded. "Not likely to forget _that_."

Riley opened his eyes and fished out a small box. "She was trying to duplicate this." He held it up and opened it, revealing the glass vial inside, surrounded by foam padding. "This was developed in World War Two, but no one's been able to duplicate it since then. This is all that's left of it. If I'm right, it should amplify Xander's body enough that he can handle that kind of power."

Buffy touched the vial and looked at him, "If this is all that's left, how did you get it?"

Riley winced, "I, ah, kinda stole it."

"Whoa, wait. What about side effects?" Dawn spoke up, concerned. "I-I mean, it isn't going to make his heart go haywire like it did with you, is it?"

"The last person to take it died defending our country," Riley said solemnly. "He was in perfect health until he was killed, and according to reports, he was pretty sickly before taking it. Still, it'll be Xander's choice. I'm not going to force it on him."

"Let's go," Buffy said.

* * *

Xander listened as Riley explained the history of the serum. He closed his eyes and considered.

Several minutes passed.

Finally, he opened his eyes and nodded. Riley extracted the vial and picked up a sterile syringe. He'd already made arrangements with the hospital staff.

Riley carefully drew out the serum into the syringe and injected it into Xander's arm.

* * *

Buffy, Dawn, and Willow rose anxiously from their chairs when Riley stepped out.

"Well?" Willow asked anxiously.

"He took it," Riley replied. "If it works, it'll take a few days for it to take effect. We'll just have to wait."

* * *

Willow, Dawn, Buffy, and Riley waited with a certain amount of trepidation. The hospital was discharging Xander today.

Xander stepped out, wearing his own clothes, though they seemed unusually tight, especially since they used to hang loose. He moved with a lithe grace and an economy of motion he had never possessed before.

Buffy's throat suddenly went dry, and she had to consciously stop herself from licking her lips. He looked positively delicious.

*Bad Buffy,* she scolded herself.

"Xander?" Willow called tentatively, her voice back to the mousy little girl she once was.

"Hey, Will," he smiled. "The pain's gone."

Suddenly, two blurs tackled Xander -- Dawn and Willow -- in huge hugs, and he caught them easily, wrapping his arms around them in turn.

"It's good to have you back, Xand," Buffy managed to say, her voice catching.

"It's good to be back, Buffy," he replied. Then he looked at Riley and said, "How can I repay you, man? You saved my life."

Riley shrugged, "And you saved mine. Let's get back. I've got something for you."

* * *

"This is yours now."

Xander stared at the round shield Riley had given him. The red, white, and blue design was unmistakeable.

"Mine?" he sputtered in disbelief.

"Yours," Riley nodded. "He was the only other person to take that serum, Xander. It was either give it to you or put it in a museum. And it's not going to help anyone from inside a museum."

Xander shook his head, "I... I can't live up to this, Riley. I'm no Captain America."

"You are now."

* * *

Author's Postscript:

Yes, I know I'm mangling Captain America canon. So what? Also this is just a one-shot, so don't expect me to continue it.