A.F.E.W. (1/?) - FR21 - Multiple pairings – Willow, Cordelia, Xander, and Buffy under go some life altering changes.
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the recognizable characters from Buffy or Marvel. They are owned by those that created them. If the character has been copyrighted then it is definitely not mine.
Disclaimer Note: It was pointed out to me that there were some similarities with Bill Willingham's "Elementals". However, until it was brought to my attention, I had never heard of those stories before. I did briefly check them out and agree that the idea of gaining powers from the four elements is similar to what my story intends to do, the actual method and results differ quite widely. Other than looking at how his characters gained their powers, I did not delve any deeper into his works to avoid ‘contaminating’ my own work with his. I am stating this so that people know that my intention is a FF4 cross and not an “Elementals” one.
AN - Takes place right after “THE ZEPPO”. “BAD GIRLS” does not happen. Willow and Oz are not getting back together.
Warning: Stopping the end of the world has a price.
Cordelia was talking with Harmony and the rest of her sheep, when she spied Buffy Summers walking their way. From the way she was walking, Cordelia surmised that Buffy was not just going to pass by on her way to someplace else. She was coming to speak to her. Since her split with Xander ‘The Loser’ Harris, her involvement with the Scoobies had been minimal at best while she reasserted her title as Queen C. Cordelia also noticed that Buffy was hesitant to approach which meant that not only did this have to do with something Hellmouth-y but that Cordelia herself was not going to like being involved with it, even more than usual. Her original purpose for getting involved with the Goon Squad had been to keep near Buffy since the girl had saved her from several attempts on her life and she had wanted to stay close to her should it keep happening.
Harmony also noticed Buffy’s approach and snidely said, “Weirdness at six o’clock.”
Cordelia knew Buffy heard the comment but she not only ignored it but even her face gave no indication one way or another as to how she felt about it.
“Giles would like to see you in the library,” said Buffy as she stopped next to the group and looked at Cordelia, although not at her eyes. “He said it was kind of important.”
Without even waiting to see what Cordelia would do, Buffy just turned around and walked back the way she came.
“Well, that was stranger than normal,” quipped Harmony.
Cordelia thought so too, but instead said, “Giles must have finally gotten that book I need to finish my report for English class and just made Buffy messenger girl. Better go pick it up. Ta.”
That said, Cordelia walked off in the same direction Buffy had taken.
“I don’t remember any report due in English,” said Harmony, bewilderedly to the rest of the sheep since Cordelia was already gone.
Cordelia had tried to catch up with Buffy without resorting to running after her, but the blonde slayer made it back to the library before she could close the distance. When she herself entered the library she saw Buffy, Faith, Willow, Giles, and of course Xander.
“I told them not to involve you,” said Xander, standing up from the research table when she entered.
Buffy looked harshly at Xander and said, “One, Cordelia became part of the group voluntarily. Two, she has not officially resigned or told us to go to hell. Three, she is therefore entitled to hear about the latest crisis and make up her own mind as to whether she wishes to be involved or not. It is not your decision to make for her.”
Since Xander looked at a loss for words to respond, Cordelia presumed he had made similar, if not exactly, those arguments concerning how the group had tried to keep him out of danger when the Hellmouth had opened a couple days ago. It was probably why her Zeppo comment hadn’t gotten the mileage she had hoped it would.
“Buffy’s right Dweeb-boy, I make up my own mind about things,” Cordelia said disdainfully. “So spill already. What is so important that Buffy herself tracks me down to get me here?”
Giles removed his glasses and started cleaning them before he began speaking.
“Last night Buffy fought and killed a Kosmogalic demon. Normally, even against the strongest of this type of demon, a slayer of Buffy’s talents and skill should have been able to defeat it in ten minutes or less. In this particular case though, it took Buffy over two-and-a-half hours of fighting before she happened to impale it on a tree branch long enough to retrieve her sword and decapitate it. The demon had obviously gotten a power boost somehow. Research told us that while they like to eat the brains of the recently dead; their strength actually comes from absorbing cosmic energy. The Earth’s atmosphere normally filters out sufficient amounts of cosmic radiation to prevent them getting too strong, Kosmogalic demons are only considered to have a mid-level strength rating. We figured that this one somehow managed to focus cosmic radiation to itself. Willow did a backtrack spell to see where this demon had been in the past 48 hours to see if we could locate where this occurred and find evidence as to how this was accomplished so the technique could be kept out of the hands of others of its kind. It turned out that the demon didn’t focus cosmic radiation but rather punched a hole in the atmosphere such that almost no filtering occurred. The demon did this on top of a little hill just east of town in the woods. The problem is that unless that hole is closed by the time the sun reaches is zenith today, it will continue to expand. Radiation levels will reach lethal limits by the end of the week here in Sunnydale. Within a month, the whole of North America will be uninhabitable. The rest of the world will follow over the following two months.”
“OK, so there’s a big end of the world about to happen. What needs to be done to stop it and what part do you want me to play?” asked Cordelia.
“I found an Earth spell that can be used to close the hole,” spoke up Willow, although quietly. “Earth being one of the four mystical elements of Air, Fire, Earth, and Water. Normally one would use an Air spell to fix something like a hole in the air, but since the cosmic radiation is also affecting the plants and animals, the strength of an Earth spell is needed to heal both the air and the land underneath the hole. The spell requires a male as the focus of the mystical energies needed to close the hole and heal the Earth. But he needs the help of three females who ‘hold places of highest honored love in his heart’.”
“Hold on there,” interjected Cordelia harshly, although secretly elated that Xander still loved her. “If you’re about to say that Xander is the male and you want me to be one of the three females, may I remind you that we broke up quite awhile ago.”
“The ritual concerns itself only with how the male feels about the females, not how they may think of him,” stated Giles. “And it has nothing to do with sex or the like. If the ritual did not require females for the support role, I would make a good option based on Xander’s apparent high regard for me.”
“As you surmised, Xander is the male in question, but only because I wouldn’t survive to perform the ritual,” said Giles flatly.
This brought Cordelia up short and she suddenly looked at all the faces of the Scooby gang. Their eyes were dead and their faces showed resignation.
“Wh…what’s going on?” asked Cordelia in a more subdued, but suddenly scared tone. “What do you mean you wouldn’t survive?”
“The ritual to close the hole has to be done at the spot where the demon used its magic to open it,” replied Giles. “As I indicated earlier there is a concentration of unshielded cosmic radiation around that area. Whoever participates in the ritual to close the hole will receive a fatal dose of radiation even before arriving at the spot for the ritual. In this case the resilience of youth is not a cliché. I would succumb to the radiation poisoning faster because of my age and therefore would not provide the proper focus for the spell to work. Those younger than myself stand a better chance of arriving at the spot and completing the ritual before the radiation makes them too sick. However, even though the planet would be saved, those participating in the ritual would be beyond saving. The best they might hope for is to survive long enough to be hospitalized so that drugs could ease their pain before dieing.” Giles’ last sentence was almost a whisper.
“You’re asking me to go on a suicide mission?” asked Cordelia in near panic.
“Buffy and Willow have already agreed to accompany Xander to the site,” said Giles, doing his best to keep emotion out of his voice. “We need a third female whom Xander has strong feelings for to complete the participants needed for the ritual. You are one of two whom are aware of the situation here on the Hellmouth and would meet that requirement.”
Cordelia looked up surprised to hear that there was another person who could go if she didn’t.
“Who’s the other person?” she asked looking in Faith’s direction.
The dark haired slayer, held up her hands in a stop motion and said, “Not me Queenie. Despite trying my best to get to know boytoy a little better a couple of days ago, I didn’t even make his top ten. You know I’m probably going to have some real issues from this since you don’t seem to appreciate me.” This last was directed towards Xander.
“I’m sorry Faith,” he replied. “I really do appreciate your reaching out to get to know me better, but you were just too intense. It takes time to get up there in the ratings. You can’t get there based on a single event, although it wasn’t a bad start and I wish we had more time to work at it cause I know you would be able to get there eventually.” A sad smile showed on his lips as he said the last.
Everyone knew that Faith and Xander were saying things other than what the words they used meant, but other concerns were more pressing at the moment. So there was no interrogation of the two to get the whole story.
“As to the other person who could participate in the ritual,” said Giles, returning to the matter at hand. “We called her before Buffy went in search of you and asked her to come over. She should be arriving shortly. We decided to talk to you first since you are the more ideal choice. You must decide whether to help or not. You would have this choice even if there were no other person available to do it. As will the other. Buffy, Willow, and Xander would just have to try the ritual with only two instead of three females if neither of you wished to participate. As you pointed out this is a suicide mission. Only volunteers will go on it. No one will think unkindly towards you should you decline.”
Before Cordelia could tell them where they could all go, the doors to the library opened and a voice said, “Buffy, Mr. Giles called and said that you needed to discuss something with me.”
There stood Joyce Summers, Buffy’s mother. Obviously the other female who could participate in the ritual if Cordelia didn’t.
Of course, Joyce Summers would be the only other female that Xander had strong feelings for thought Cordelia. Giles had said Xander’s feelings for him would make him eligible if he had been the right sex. Xander obviously thought of Giles as a positive father figure and he would think of Mrs. Summers as a mother figure just as she and Willow did as well. But Giles had also indicated that the older a person was, the less likely they would even make it to the ritual site or if they did, have the strength to effectively participate in the ritual. While Joyce wasn’t as old as Giles, her age would work against her if she went and the ritual might not work to save the world. And Joyce Summers would go. Cordelia knew she would. Even after they told her about her chances of survival, she would go. She would go to help Buffy and the others because she would believe she was the only choice and therefore the only hope for success. No one would tell her that Cordelia would have been a better choice but had turned them down. Even though she knew that if Joyce was aware of the situation, she wouldn’t condemn her anymore than the rest of them would. Buffy might not like it that her mother was going instead of Cordelia but Buffy would not condemn her either. After all if they failed Cordelia would be dead shortly thereafter anyway. Going out to face demons with the group meant the possibility of dieing, while this mission guaranteed that those going would die, win or lose. Cordelia found the whole situation filled with irony. If she went on the mission, she would die. If she didn’t go but they failed because Buffy’s mom is unable to participate in the ritual properly, she would die in about a week or so anyway. And lastly, if she didn’t go and they were successful in saving the world again, she would wish she were dead for being such a coward and abandoning the only true friends she ever had in her life. Xander and Willow may have messed up what she and Xander had but her relationship with the Scoobies had opened her eyes to who she really wanted to be and what real friends meant to each other. That is why after thinking about all of the previous things in under a second that she was the one to answer Mrs. Summers.
“That’s right Mrs. Summers, Buffy wanted to know if it was alright for her to go out to the woods east of town and perform a pagan ritual with Xander, Willow, and myself? Apparently it is to prevent the end of the world.”
To say that Giles, Faith, Willow, Xander, and Buffy were shocked by Cordelia’s summation of what they were going to do, minus the certain death part, and as well as her apparent agreement to be the third female needed for the ritual would be an understatement. They were silent for at least five seconds after Cordelia finished talking.
Joyce, of course, noticed the silence and at first thought they might be playing a joke on her so she said, “I don’t know Buffy. Don’t pagan rituals get a little risqué?”
Buffy was the first to recover and responded to her mother’s inquiry, “Willow assures me it will be very tame. However, the ritual may take some time and we might not get back today. That’s why I wanted to see you so you wouldn’t worry about me..er..us.”
Joyce looks at Giles and asks, “They really are going out to do a pagan ritual?”
Giles responds with forced cheerfulness in his voice, “Yes. A demon opened a hole in the atmosphere and they need to close it to prevent the end of the world like Cordelia said. It’s all very straight forward.”
Joyce looks over at the dark slayer.
Faith notices and says, “The ritual only requires the Xan-man have three helpers and since they have known him longer than me, they get to have all the fun. Besides as B said, they’ll be gone awhile and someone has to patrol to keep the bad guys in line while they are out gallivanting about in the forest.”
“Well, you better get going so you can start the ritual on time,” said Giles, trying his hardest to put on a nonchalant, but brave front for Buffy’s mother’s sake.
Buffy went over to Faith supposedly to talk about which cemeteries Faith should check out that evening but changing to another topic as she whispered, “Watch out for my mom, please. And Giles, too.”
Faith whispered back, “Don’t worry B, if anyone or anything even thinks of messing with either of them, I will put such a hurt on them that the torments of Hell will seem to be a gentle caress from a loved one in comparison.”
“Thanks,” Buffy whispered back. “And Faith, I know you can handle yourself pretty good, but if you think you need to talk about things, but are not comfortable doing it with Giles, Mom’s a pretty good listener and she already knows about the slayer gig so there’s not much you wouldn’t be able to share with her. Just thought I’d let you know in case something came up in the future. You might even make up some things so she doesn’t go cold turkey with the dispensing of motherly advice.”
“Thanks B, I’ll ke..keep it in mind,” Faith responded knowing what Buffy was really saying. And while Faith knew she would never replace Buffy in Joyce’s affections if she did became close to Joyce, developing such a relationship between the two of them might make it easier for each of them to each cope with what was to occur.
Joyce was talking to Xander when Buffy turned to go talk to her mother one last time.
“Pagan ritual or no, Xander Harris you had better behave like a gentleman or I will have your hide on my wall,” she said to him in a stern but teasing tone.
“Not to fear fair lady,” replied Xander in an equally teasing, almost normal joking voice, “I will insist that they cover their eyes while Willow draws those ancient runes on my manly chest. Of course that may make it difficult for Willow to write those runes in the first place with her eyes closed. My being ticklish won’t help matters much either.”
Laughing along with the others, Joyce turned towards her daughter as she approached.
Buffy put a smile on her face and hugged her mom. It took all of her inner strength not to break down crying. She hadn’t felt this helpless since she had gone alone to face the Master knowing it was foretold that she would die if she did. The fact that three of her friends would be facing the same fate really increased her guilt.
“Are you going to change before you go?” asked Joyce looking at Buffy’s and Cordelia’s short skirts. Willow had on an ankle length peasant skirt while Xander looked like the only one actually dressed for hiking in the woods with a pair of jeans on.
“We really don’t have time. Besides there is a dirt road that takes us near to where we have to go and Cordelia can drive us in her car,” replied Buffy.
“Don’t wait supper for me,” said Buffy to her mom. Then she added, “I love you.”
“I love you, too, honey,” responded Joyce.
The four teenagers hugged the three remaining behind and then all went out to Cordelia’s car and drove off.
After they had gone from sight, Joyce Summers asked while staring at where the car had disappeared, silent tears forming in her eyes, “They’re not coming back, are they?”
Giles and Faith were both caught off guard by Joyce’s question.
After a couple of seconds Giles found his voice and said, “If they were going off to take on an army of a thousand demons, I would have every confidence in being able to say that while they might return battered and bloody, that they would indeed return.”
“But they’re not going out to fight an army of a thousand demons are they?”
“No, no they’re not. They are going out to do exactly what you were told they were going to do. What we didn’t tell you is that the reason the world will end if they don’t close the hole in the atmosphere is because it is letting in lethal concentrations of cosmic radiation. They will be exposed to those lethal rays as they make their way to the site of the ritual and continue to be exposed until the ritual is completed. The only hope for the world is that they do not succumb to the radiation poisoning until after that time. However, succumb they will and there will be no way to prevent their deaths. Because of her slayer healing, Buffy will most likely last the longest. She might even be able to get them all back to the hospital so that their last moments can be made more comfortable.”
Suddenly Giles’ voice turned angry, “If we’d only had another day to prepare. I might have been able to get them some protective clothing and they’d have a better chance of survival. I’ve failed them.”
“I’ve failed them,” he repeated more subdued as tears began to fall from his eyes.
Joyce Summers turned towards the man with whom she shared an intimate moment while under the influence of the band candy. Although both were embarrassed by what had happened, she at least felt she had a better understanding of the man who had become a father figure to her daughter. Placing her hand on his shoulder, she said, “You have not failed them, Rupert. Circumstances failed them but not you. I could tell they were afraid to go but from what you have taught them these past couple of years about making a difference, no matter how small, you gave them the courage to do what must be done. You’ve come a long way from the man who let a prophecy of doom paralyze him to inaction when Buffy had to face the Master. From what Buffy told me, she was very fatalistic and reluctantly accepting of her fate that time. This time, while she was frightened and sad, she was not going off to meet her doom. She and the others went to save the world feeling as good as possible given the circumstances. They will fight their fate and not resign themselves to it. They will act like true heroes and never give up.”
Giles managed to regain control of his anger and sadness because of her words.
“Do you know how long the ritual will take?” Joyce asked once Giles had composed himself.
“It is hard to tell,” he replied, “but since the hole is almost at the point of no return, I would guess it might take till midnight or later.”
“Will we know when they succeed?” she asked.
Giles noted her use of the word ‘when’ instead of ‘if’ in her question and decided to focus on that positive thought for any other outcome would belittle their sacrifice.
“I’m believe that there will be some kind of sign, although I not sure of the exact nature of it.”
“Well then,” sighed Joyce heavily and wiping the tears from her face, “I best be getting back to the gallery.”
“Joyce, do you really…” started Giles.
“I need to keep busy,” Joyce interrupted. “Although I’m sure I will need company this evening. Both of you are to come over for dinner.”
Both Giles and Faith looked like they were about to argue so Joyce added, “I insist. Since the world is not going to end, you still need to eat. And as I said, I need to keep busy but will need you both with me tonight.”
The dark slayer and former watcher just nodded. Joyce hugged Giles, gave him a small kiss on the check, and said, “Thank you for giving me the chance to say goodbye to them.”
She then hugged Faith and whispered in her ear, “We’ll talk.” With that she turned and left.
Faith and Giles are left standing outside the school watching Joyce drive away.
Faith is antsy. She knows that Buffy and the others have less than an hour to get to the ritual site. Meanwhile its not even noon yet and she feels the need to find something, pound it into the ground, pull it back out, then pound it into the ground again. While pondering how to accomplish this thought, she thinks of something else.
“What about Angel?” she asks Giles. “Who’s going to tell him about Buffy and the others?”
“Buffy left strict instruction not to tell Angel anything until tomorrow. She feels he will try something foolish and possibly disrupt the ritual. With the world in the balance, she doesn’t want to take the risk,” he replied.
“He’s going to be wicked pissed at you,” she said. “Do you want me to come along as bodyguard?”
“No need. Buffy wrote him a letter. I just need to deliver it in the morning,” he stated. “Although you are correct that he will be unhappy being left out of the loop, so I suggest that we both stick close to Mrs. Summers for the next few days. He will be less likely to do anything to upset her anymore than she will be and it will give him time to cool down and think logically.”
Faith just nodded in agreement. And again turned her thoughts to trying to find something to hurt. It wasn’t just her desire to vent her pent up feelings of helplessness, she also was angry with herself for feeling relieved that she wasn’t in the running to help with the ritual and needed to vent that as well. She knew is was probably just human nature that made her feel alright about not going out to die but she was a Slayer and facing death was a part of the gig that, given her childhood, had never really bothered her that much other than when she fled Boston. She tried to believe that if both Cordelia and Mrs. Summers had declined to participate in the ritual that she would insist on being the third female even if she wasn’t exactly tops in Xander’s list of females he had strong feelings for. Kicking him out right after doing it with him probably is what caused her low standing. Of course her tossing him out hadn’t been entirely due to her ‘use em and lose em’ attitude to guys and sex. Even for his first time, Xander had done quite well and Faith got scared that she might develop feelings for him and had to get him away from her before that happened. Apparently she hadn’t been fast enough because she did have blossoming feelings for him and even Buffy and Willow of at least friendship and now there would be no one left near her age she could bond with. She really needed to hurt something bad. Very, very bad.