(Disclaimer: I own none of the characters, no profit is being made, no infringement is intended.)
A.N.#1 I want to thank everyone who has reviewed this story so far, I hope you will stick with it.
A.N.#2 This chapter is very dialogue heavy, ye be warned.
It had been less than a year since they’d all been together like this, but it felt like more. And to be fair, they’d all been quite busy; trying to save the world, one way or another. It had taken months of planning to get everyone here, not like you could send an e-mail, or pick up a phone and call, not anymore.
Almost one year ago...
He pulled his cloak tightly around himself as he made his way down the stairs, creeping past the sentries. Ever cautious, he descended through the seemingly bottomless pit. Reaching the bottom, he faced the smooth expanse of the wall and thought hard about what he had been told. The wall rippled as a doorway appeared. He moved slowly, pausing only at the threshold to permit the guardian wards to surge around him. The wards gave way with a sigh, granting him permission to pass unmolested. The doorway vanished behind him and he made his way into a darkened corner of the room. He thrice checked the spells he had cast topside to ensure that they were still functioning as intended.
‘This is my last chance,’
he thought, ‘to make things right.’
“We have news,” Willow announced to those gathered around the table.
“I should bloody well hope so,” Spike groused, “I’d hate to think I’d dragged m’self all this way for a tea party.”
“Oh, I miss tea,” Giles said quietly almost to himself. Anya, patted his arm with a circumspect “There, there.”
From across the table, a frowning Connor said, “We all have things we miss.”
Had there been crickets, everyone would have heard them chirping.
“Wow,” Xander joked, “They weren’t kidding about that whole ‘destroyer’ thing were they? Haven’t see a mood killed that quickly in long time. Congrats.”
In attempt to forestall another tangent, Willow spoke, “Well, do you want the bad news first, or the really horrible news?”
Silence reigned as everyone contemplated their choices.
“Bad news,” they all chorused in response.
Willow gestured to Anya, who stood, looking grave under their scrutiny.
“Arash Ma’har is overrun,” she informed them, “Demons are fleeing this dimension anyway they can.”
Dawn snorted, “Tell me about it. There’ve been two attempts to hijack the Dawn Key express just this past month.”
“The donkey express?” Connor asked Faith in an undertone, “Is that the new code?” Faith merely rolled her eyes in response.
“Well, you can’t really blame them,” Anya spoke in a tone shaded with sympathy, as she reclaimed her seat.
“Um, I can,” Buffy avowed, “However bad the problem is, trying to bleed my sister is not the solution.”
“And I’ve tried explaining that to them,” Anya retorted with exasperation, “They’re getting desperate.” She looked sullenly around the table, gauging their reactions, “We all are.”
“’Okay, I’m missing something,” Andrew interjected. “What’s the big deal? So the demons are leaving, that just gives us one less thing to fight… Shouldn’t this be good news?”
Spike broke the deafening silence, expressing the common disbelief of the group, “How are you still alive?”
Andrew leaned away from the table, pouting slightly.
Xander felt a momentary swell of pity, “Andrew, you’ve been with us long enough to know that when scary things get scared, it’s not a good sign.”
“More like rats deserting a sinking ship,” Spike sighed disdainfully.
Xander cleared his throat loudly, attracting everyone’s attention, “Does that make us the captains?”
“Hardly,” Spike muttered darkly, “You’ve never made it past cabin boy.”
“Will you two-” Giles’ voice rose before he paused to gather himself, continuing calmly but sternly. “This is neither the time, nor the place. Willow, if you please,”
“Right, my turn… yay,” Willow said steeling herself, “We all know what happened two years ago-”
“Will,-” Buffy cut in.
“So we don’t need to go over it again.” Willow continued ignoring the interruption.
“Thank God,” Anya whispered, to Faith. Connor’s lips twitched into a smile for a split second, overhearing.
“All that matters is it didn’t work,” Willow said steamrolling onwards. “And now I…” she paused, glancing at Dawn, “We think we know why.”
They all snapped to attention.
Slightly shocked, Xander stage whispered to Buffy, “Okay, that’s new.”
“That is new right?” Connor asked as he leaned closer to Faith, “Because I haven’t been listening the last few times…”
Faith placed a small kiss on his cheek.
“Don’t worry about it,” she assured him, while looking pointedly at Giles, “At least you weren’t snoring.” Willow stifled a smirk. Giles contemplated defending himself, and then thought better of it. They all knew him too well.
“I’m sorry Will,” Buffy said, haltingly. “I know it hurts but…” She glanced first at Xander then Spike, seeking their aid.
“Don’t look at me, pet,” Spike shrugged, “If Red wants to obsess over -”
“I’m not obsessed,” Willow put forth, unamused by the eye-rolls which accompanied that statement.
Xander closed his hand over hers “Sweetie, what they’re trying, and failing, to say is that, sometimes, we just lose.”
“I know that,” Willow said with growing frustration, “That’s not what this is about. Just because Kennedy was -”
Anya interrupted her, muttering, “I thought we weren’t going to have to listen to this again.”
“We’re not!” Dawn spoke in a tone which brooked no argument. She reached under her chair, pulling out a folder which she passed to Faith. “Be careful with that,” Dawn cautioned, “it’s our only copy.” She waited while the file circulated. “ Willow was right, we were fated to lose.”
Swallowing loudly, Xander broke the ominous silence. “Fated? That’s never a good word. In fact I’d have to say that’s one of my least favourite words ever.”
Dawn ignored him, gesturing at the folder. “The details are sketchy, but from what we can gather…” She trailed off, unsure how to continue.
“I’d say the hooks are sufficiently baited D,” Faith chided.
“There was a prophecy,” Dawn said, wincing as Buffy pounded her hand on the table.
“And there it is, my other least favourite word,” Xander said sourly.
“It’s not high on my list either,” Buffy said, gripping Spike’s hand for comfort. “Giles, did you know about this?”
“Only after Dawn informed me,” Giles protested, “I don’t know any of the details. Willow said they were few and far between.”
“They still are,” Willow said with a grimace, “And I’m not obsessed.”
“So, who has to die this time?” Faith asked, her voice lacking its usual bravado. “It’s my turn, isn’t it?”
“You’re not leaving me,” Connor said throwing a protective arm around her. “And I’ll kill anyone who says differently,” he growled, glaring a challenge at the others around the table.
“Know just how you feel mate,” Spike said, smirking at how uncomfortable everyone now seemed after Connor’s outburst, “But, I don’t think it’s that kind of prophecy.”
“There are different kinds?” Andrew piped up from behind his notebook.
“Then why do we always get stuck with the crappy ones?” Xander groused.
“Just lucky I guess,” Buffy replied to Xander’s rhetorical question, sounding less than grateful. “So which kind is this?”
Willow bit her lip in an effort to reign in any nervous babble, “One that’s already happened, we think.” She gazed at Dawn, silently imploring her to speak.
“The gist of it is, someone was going to be born who could kill the… other, or die at his hand.” Dawn scowled at her inability to name him. “Well, one died.”
“Since we’re all sitting here shivering in the basement that time and cleanliness forgot," Xander paused, inhaling loudly to prove his point, “ I’m voting it wasn’t the bad guy who bit the big one.”
“But that means,” Andrew exclaimed, a sudden pallor overtaking him, “This dread dark lord whose equally dark followers dog our every step is -”
“Indestructible,” Connor said flatly.
“I was getting there,” Andrew said, pouting, “You guys have no sense of dramatic tension.”
“I believe this situation is tense enough Andrew,” Giles chastised, as was his wont, “Without your -”
Spike interrupted, with swearing, “Bollocks! Niblet, you’re telling me the only one who can off this bastard is already dead?”
“Well,” Dawn felt the full weight of their collective gazes, and hesitated, “Prophecy’s can be tricky things. Without it in front of me I -” Both Connor and Spike growled, sensing the lie as it was uttered. “Really, most sincerely, dead,” Dawn capitulated.
Giles watched as his chosen family strove to reconcile this new information within themselves. He longed to make it more palatable, alas. Giles stood up slowly, stiffly, bracing his hands against the table for leverage, betraying his age. Giles stated, “There is no easy way to say this.”
“What?” Buffy snapped abruptly, lashing out, “What could you possibly have to add that would trump the fact we’re never going to get this guy?”
“The fact that it wouldn’t matter if we did!” Ripper surged to the forefront briefly as Giles lost hold of his temper.
“Huh?” Xander asked, not the least bit perturbed by Giles’ shouting.
“I second that…” remarked Faith, slowly working her way back from her metaphorical brush with death.
Giles sat back down with a despondent sigh, “We’ve all been out there, and know exactly how desperate times have become. Do any of you really think we could fix this, a world gone mad, with the death of one wizard.”
Anya’s eyes widened as the ramifications occurred to her, “A hundred more would rise up to take his place.”
Spike put his arm around Buffy and attempted comfort and distraction. “Sod tea, mate,” he declared, “Now would be the perfect time to get well sloshed.”
“Now there’s a plan I think we could all get behind,” Faith said dryly.
“Unfortunately, we are sadly lacking in libations,” Xander joked weakly, “Unless, Willow wants to -”
“This can’t be it,” Buffy asserted, firmly embracing denial, “I’ve sacrificed everything for this world…” She looked at each of her compatriots, “We all have. There has to be something we can do.”
A man uncloaked himself, appearing in the corner of the room, “That would be where I come in.”