Author's Note: Wow, hello to a brand new piece! Heh, you'd think I'd have learned by now: don't get too many projects going at once. But alas, here we are. Actually, I just kind of wanted to establish my footing with this piece, because I've already been reading some fics where authors are going in the same direction that I planned to so… meh, I'm sure you get the point. Anyways, as always reviews are nice; lemme know if I should make this a priority piece (which I might, because I don't intend on making this one very long), or if you think it could be a 'back burner' type. And hey, opinions on the story ITSELF are always nice, too *winks*. Thanks! Oh, and… please excuse any formatting problems… My computer has been refusing to upload things correctly (eg, those little ¤+---+---+---¤ time divider things I use should be centred), but I'm too lazy and impatient for it to work again, so please excuse that :)!
Silence hung over the group as everyone attempted to tackle Buffy's two-worded description, caught off-guard by the simplicity of her statement. Most of them expected her to offer at least another syllable or two, perhaps the name of a demon. But the Slayer remained static, arms crossed, a single curl of golden hair dangling against her cheek. 'The First'; she'd said it, and had obviously assumed that it had been enough.
Quickly proving her wrong though, Xander was the first to sweep away the cloud of anticipating silence. "Uh… Think you could give us a little more to go on there, Buff?" he said with elevated eyebrows, open and upturned palm waving briefly in front of him. "The First… What?" shrugging, the carpenter's head slid forward slightly with the question. "The first… ghost? Demon…? Vampire…? I think you were missing a noun somewhere," he said, attempting to keep the mood light by adding a soundless laugh.
"The First Evil" Buffy responded shortly, tone incredibly soft when compared to the earthshaking magnitude of her words. "The thing that came before vampires and demons and Hell gods…" she said, allowing a short pause to follow, knowing it might be a lot for even her group of veterans to take in.
"The First…" Anya echoed, drifting eyes filling with texture as they rose to briefly meet Buffy's. "And all this time I thought it was only a myth" her head shook faintly in disbelief, a sort of silent fear appearing to dangle above the ex-demon's head.
"You've heard of it?" Buffy quickly prompted, eyebrows lifting in interest.
"Well, yes… But like I said, The First was mostly considered to be a myth, so a lot of what I have heard is just rumour" Anya replied, fingers lacing together.
"Well, it's a lot more than what we've got at the moment" Buffy sighed, edging toward and finally planting herself in the nearest easy chair. "What do you know?" she said softly, suddenly coming to terms with just how thankful she was that Anya hadn't been slain. As well as a friend and occasional comic relief, the young woman was also a valued member of the Scooby Squad. When they were fighting blind, she often came to the rescue.
"Well…" Anya began, breaking Buffy's brief spell of idle thought. "The First is kind of like the Boogeyman of the demon world, only much more powerful, and less focused on children" she paused when Xander made the motion to jump in, continuing when his attempt quickly died down, gaze turning back to Buffy. "Every now and then someone will mention it, usually in the context that humans refer to God… And, while most of us understand the concept of a, or The First Evil, very few of us have ever actually seen it. The one thing that all demons know for sure though is that The First Evil is basically our reason for existence, like you said. It's what we're all made of in one way or another, only in much less… potent amounts" she finished, assuming that her explanation had been sufficient.
"Okay" Buffy's head nodded in contemplation, mind running through an index of weapons and slaying strategies. "So, we get that The First isn't Mr. Social, and sort of understand what it is" she sighed. "The big question now is, how do we kill it?" Buffy made sure to connect gazes with Anya then, obviously in desperate need of whatever the thousand-year-old entity could provide.
"We don't" Anya replied simply, her rather uncreative answer attracting everyone's attention. Understanding that such full and undivided attention was usually followed by a request for her knowledge on a certain subject, the former demon continued. "Well, just to remind you, everything I've ever heard has been strict speculation," she said, the disclaimer spoken with her usual style of precise vocabulary. "But from what I've been told, The First can't be killed."
"Why not?" Dawn asked quickly, not wanting Anya to believe that her simple explanation was enough for their purposes.
"Well, it's just impossible," the brunette replied, brows furrowed as if she thought the question was useless. Isn't it obvious why they can't kill it? she thought idly, the still inquiring looks of her comrades quickly answering that question. With a sigh, the young woman continued. "All right, we all understand the fact that The First has a consciousness. It knows what it is, who we are, yadda yadda yadda," she said, rolling her hand in the air as if flipping through several pages of text. "But what makes it different from vampires and demons and even some Hell gods is that it has no singular form."
"Like, it can shape-shift?" Dawn questioned, not grasping Anya's full meaning.
"Well, yes…" the brunette replied, attempting though to remain on track with her explanation. "But it also means that The First has no body. It just…" she paused, attempting to find a suitable word. "Exists," she finally spat out, giving a sigh at her own failure in grasping a correct adjective. "The First is… it's evil in its purest form. It can't be anchored to a body because as well as being itself, it must also be able to be present in every vampire and demon and Hell-god… For that reason, it's also more powerful than all of them put together, and then some," she concluded, giving her friends a moment to absorb the magnitude of her verbally simplistic explanation.
"And so returns the annual feeling of hopelessness" Xander broke in, once again proving that he was an effective means of destroying awkward silence. "Kinda makes you feel all cold and dead inside" he smiled despite his gloomy statement, looking around at his equally stricken friends.
"At least we know what we're dealing with" Buffy attempted to provide, doubting her friends would be comforted by what even she saw as a lame attempt at encouragement.
"And that it can't be killed" Dawn supplied, her mood equally as gloomy as that of her comrades.
"So what do we do now, aside from the obvious choice of packing our bags and heading for Fiji" the carpenter chuckled slightly when he spoke, knowing Buffy wouldn't run from even the most hopeless of cases.
The Slayer sighed, a smile of acknowledgement provided for Xander as she ran through a mental checklist, 'fix house' added yet again to her set of priorities. But the words 'rescue Spike' preceded each and every concern she fluttered over, appearing in her mind five times before it was finally acknowledged. "I think we need to find Spike," she finally found herself answering, now able to put a mute on the blaring message within her consciousness.
Everyone remained silent, each sharing their own silent opinion on the Slayer's suggestion. "Uh, are you sure that a missing vampire is the worst of our problems here, Buff?" Xander probed, his voice cautious.
"I don't know" she responded weakly, standing up and walking a few paces in order to work out even an ounce of tension from her muscles. "I wouldn't even know where to begin looking," she confessed, one hand resting idly at her side while the other massaged her neck briefly.
"What about the house?" Dawn supplied, not enjoying the thought of sleeping in a home that was lacking an essential front door.
"Do you think we should maybe call Giles?" Willow added, features openly displaying the newfound dread brought on by Anya's definition of their newest foe.
"We need a plan," Buffy said in response to the suggestions from her companions, arms folding across her chest. "Okay… three problems, five people" she began pacing slowly, thinking aloud. "Xander, how long do you think it'll take to fix the front and back doors?"
"I-It depends," he said automatically, having not been expecting Buffy to turn on him. "I mean, if you just need a quick patch-up, maybe an hour…"
"Good. You and Anya get started on the doors and windows then" the Slayer cut in quickly, taking away the need for Xander to estimate how long it would take to fully repair the broken home. As she turned toward Willow though, Buffy froze suddenly, hazel-tinted optics becoming slightly translucent in thought. "Wait… Anya!" she beckoned, still putting together the clues in her mind as the brunette approached her. There was something controlling Spike… slices of her own statements rang in her memory. He just threw me aside and headed straight for Andrew… yet another recollection, another piece to the puzzle her mind was putting together.
"Yes?" the ex-demon inquired, wondering if she was to be reassigned for duty.
Buffy took a deep breath, using the cleansing inhalation to collect each of her fragmented and newly developed suspicions. "This afternoon, just before Spike attacked Andrew, what were you guys talking about? What was Andrew saying?"
"Um…" Anya's brows knitted together as she recalled memories that were only a few hours old. "He was telling us about how The First had him bleed Jonathan… But we never found out why," she answered shortly.
"What's up, Buff?" Xander inquired from behind his former fiancée, attracted by their topic of conversation.
"I'm beginning to think there was a reason why Spike attacked Andrew" her eyes made contact with each of her comrades, all of them now absorbed by her newest investigation. "I mean, I was right there… He could have easily gone after me instead" she sighed, arms crossing again. "I think Andrew was about to tell you guys something that The First didn't want us to know."
"So it used Spike to shut him up" Willow finished, receiving a nod from her blonde friend.
The Scooby gang found momentary silence then, not knowing any other way to respond to their latest conclusion. Buffy was the first to speak though, continuing her job assigning by turning to her long-time best friend. "Willow," she said, recapturing the drifting attention of the redhead. "You should call Giles… tell him what we think is going on and see if he has any information on The First Evil. After that, you and Dawn can help Xander and Anya". Comprehensive nods encompassed the group, everyone immediately setting to work. Buffy on the other hand made a silent pivot, feet actively taking her toward the staircase.
"What about you?" Dawn prompted, standing from her maintained seat on the couch to follow Buffy over a few footfalls. "What are you going to do?" she asked inquisitively, her usually confident voice now petite.
Buffy paused, wondering how she could answer her sister's questions in as few words as possible. "I'm going to find Spike," she said softly, face holding only concrete resolve as she spoke. "And Andrew is going to help me" not allowing her sibling to ask anything more, the Slayer continued her ascension, heeled shoes slapping furiously against the wooden staircase.
"God, you didn't even get hit that hard!" Buffy said in exasperation, her five-minute attempt at waking her chicken-boned prisoner proving useless. Andrew was slumped against a set of pillows at the head of Dawn's bed, the bandage on his neck filled with slightly more crimson liquid due to being used as a battering ram.
"Andrew!" the Slayer insisted again, giving him a light shake. "Andrew, wake up" she practically growled, her tolerance shortening at a rapid pace. "I swear to God… If you're pretending to still be unconscious…" she threatened, standing up to turn her back on the pipsqueak; maybe he'd open his eyes once she wasn't staring directly at him. "You know, Willow never lost any of the power she had back in June," she said offhandedly, feeling guilty for using her friend's addiction as a weapon, but seeing no other choice. "To tell you the truth, I don't think she's completely vented all of that built-up anger… One of these days, if she comes across the right situation or the right person…" Buffy trailed off, leaving a hopefully conscious Andrew to fill in the gaps.
"All right! I'm awake…" the still-maturing voice appeared, and Buffy spun to face a fearful Andrew. "Just don't bring Willow up here. Please. Or that Anya girl. She's crazy," his eyes trailed away from the Slayer's, obviously afraid to insult her friends while making eye-contact with her.
"Don't worry, they're not coming up here" Buffy said in a monotone voice, arms crossed as she now faced her former nemesis. "Besides… Willow and Anya aren't your problem" her voice instantly became dark as she recovered the few steps between her and Dawn's bed, taking a seat next to Andrew, who was now sitting while holding his knees against his chest.
"They're not?" Andrew's eyebrows furrowed in questioning fear, wondering if someone or something else was already planning his demise.
"No" the blonde replied shortly, leaning closer to the boy as her next statement was prepared. Usually warm, emerald eyes became spheres of steel; ivory teeth were clenched as the Slayer spoke, wanting her mood to be crystal clear for the delinquent. "I'm your problem"
"You are?" Andrew's voice shook, arms clenching around his bent limbs.
"I could be… but then, if you decide to cooperate with me, you've got nothing to worry about" Buffy's mood lightened fractionally, not wanting to scare him beyond the point of talking. "So, here's how it's going to work. I'm going to ask the questions, and you are going to answer them. Truthfully. Understand?" her eyebrows lifted above a still solid visage, apparently expecting nothing but agreement from her captive.
"Yeah" Andrew's reply was almost silent, gaze refusing to match wits with the hard stare of Buffy.
"Good" she stood up again, feeling slightly restless due to her constantly reappearing case of impending doom. "Because to tell you the truth, I'm really, really not in the mood for games right now," she said darkly, lips pursed in calm hostility. "And I'll admit that I do have a problem with killing humans" her tone was soft liquid… the calm before the storm. Leaning in, her face cleared Andrew's by only inches. "But when it comes to beating them senseless for information, especially people like you, I don't really feel inclined to stand by my morals," Buffy's words were venomous, her victim cringing beneath her.
Straightening herself fluidly, the Slayer turned her back on Andrew, stepping forward until she reached the foot of Dawn's bed. "So let's try to make this as painless as possible on you," she paused, practically able to feel Andrew's eyes darting toward the tantalizing doorway. "Try it. Really… I'd love to see how far you get before I've got you pinned against a wall" her threat was anything but idle, and Buffy's degree of ruthlessness was even beginning to surprise her.
After a pause for thorough contemplation on her demands and threats, Andrew agreed to comply with the Slayer. "Okay," he said, allowing the word to slip past his lips with a lengthened breath. "I'll talk."
Buffy spun on her heel, eyes instantly locking upon his stealthily black-clad figure. "Good. Because I really don't have time for games" she looked away then, attempting to formulate her first question. "Anya said that before Spike attacked you, you were saying something about how The First had you kill and bleed Jonathan" her eyes were level and neutral as they formed a bond with Andrew's, both of them seasoned veterans with the experience of losing comrades. Unlike this boy however, she wasn't used to killing them herself.
"I didn't want to kill him!" Andrew quickly jumped to his own defence. "It's just that Warren said…"
"Okay!" Buffy cut the Evil geek off before he could get going, eyes pinching shut in an attempt to dampen a hovering headache. Lowering the open palm she'd raised as a physical barrier to Andrew's words, the Slayer restored her hold on his gaze. "You obviously didn't understand what I said before. The way this works is: I ask the questions, and you answer them. Not looking for excuses about why you killed your best friend. What I need now is information, not guilt" Buffy's voice was sharp, arms crossing while her mission statement was explained once more. "Now, do you know exactly why The Fir… Warren… wanted you to bleed Jonathan?" instantly deciding the conversation would be much smoother if Andrew was allowed to believe that The First was in fact his deceased friend, she referred to it as such.
"No" Andrew answered shortly. When his interrogator's eyes flared with disbelief and partial anger, the geek swiftly added justification to his simple statement. "H-he just told me that he needed blood, and that he needed me to do it for him."
"Uh-huh… So, what, you mentioned it to Jonathan and he instantly offered himself up as the one who'd get to meet the not-so-safe end of a knife?" Buffy cocked a slightly glaring eyebrow, its partner rising to unusual heights to display her scepticism of Jonathan's willing participation.
"Well, no…" the geek said, shrinking as he began picking at a convenient cuticle.
"And you remember the discussion we had three minutes ago," Buffy prompted, hoping it would be incentive for the young adult to get around his anxiety.
Andrew huffed in a childlike manner before disposing of his victimized finger, still refusing to meet the Slayer's gaze, lifting close to but never touching it. "I told Jonathan that there was something at the high school that we had to dig up. He thought we were doing it so we could show you, but once we had it uncovered, that's when I…" the boy paused, eyes and voice dropping in unison. "I stabbed him."
"Okay, starting to get a clearer picture," she sighed. "So this thing you dug up… What was it?" Buffy refused to comfort the so-called human being perched atop her sister's bed, regarding him with a consistently neutral yet somewhat chilled gaze.
"I dunno," he said with a shrug. "Warren didn't tell me what it was, and even if he did it wouldn't matter. It didn't even work."
Although Buffy was intrigued by what the boys had uncovered, other questions were demanding passage through her lips. "Why not?" Buffy's voice faltered only slightly during her brief question, instinctive worry instantly jumping to the front of her consciousness.
"Jonathan and Warren both said it was because there wasn't enough blood to complete the ritual," he answered.
Buffy could have guessed that Andrew went on explaining, but her sense of hearing was instantly switched off with his response. Not enough blood. Not. Enough. Blood. The harbingers had gone after Andrew at first it seemed, but in the end they'd made off with Spike. Putting two and two together, no matter how simple in this equation, was something dreadfully unappealing for the Slayer.
"Downstairs. Now" Buffy ordered as if she were a retired drill instructor, completely oblivious to the chance that she'd interrupted yet another of Andrew's profusely extensive explanations.
Giles didn't realise that his life had been in an astonishing position of danger until the last possible second. Electric hues of red and blue shimmered before his eyes, the protection spell he'd been granted forming an invisible bubble around him. Silently thanking the coven for warning and arming him ahead of time, Giles spun to meet his attacker with a sheer look of fearlessness painted across his features.
Dodging the harbinger's attack, Giles moved with astonishing speed past the black-cloaked form, left shoulder clearing the axe's deadly swipe by only millimetres. A sleek dagger entered his weapon-craving line of sight, and the Watcher made a desperate lunge for it. Fingers scraped against the wall upon which it was hung, pulling the metallic object from its hanging position and hurling it blindly in his attacker's general direction all in the same instant. Giles' sight refocused just in time to watch the miniature sword plunge into his opponent's chest, The First's servant briefly yelling in agony before crumpling to the floor.
Breathing a sigh of relief, the Watcher let his hands fall to his knees, a few hurried breaths contributing to the relaxation of his lungs. "Good work, Giles. Take out the enemy and almost give yourself a heart attack in the meanwhile," the Watcher mused, his body returning to its upright position. Gaze fluttering over a floor that was now littered with bodies, the older man's features creased in dismay as his eyes landed upon the motionless and now surely deceased form of a once potential Watcher.
Unable to find the proper words, 'sorry' being too bland and a lengthened speech plainly inappropriate, Giles lowered his head in a moment of solemn grievance before he departed the apartment's gruesome atmosphere. That's all of them… he thought hopelessly. Everyone's been sent to Sunnydale… at that, the Watcher paused, an uncertain yet hopeful and petite smile finding its way onto his lips. All except one…
"So the bovine squealed before you had to put the choke hold on him, eh Buff?" Xander said with an amused smile, turning from his task at the sound of footsteps colliding with the Summers' wooden staircase. The carpenter's features quickly wrinkled though, a catchy statement failing to rise to the surface as he watched Andrew descend the staircase closely behind Buffy.
Landing within a three-foot proximity of her vertically unchallenged friend, Buffy exchanged glances with him, offering one to Anya as well. "Get a chair, tie him up," the Slayer ordered breathlessly, ignoring an extremely vocal protest from her rear right.
"Sure" Xander gave an affirmative nod, taking a firm hold on Andrew's upper arm and leading him to a chair while Anya was dispatched to find a good length of rope.
Having heard the slight commotion, Willow and Dawn entered the room as Xander lead his prisoner out of it, odd glances creasing the women's features. "Somewhat long story. I'll explain when Xander and Anya get back," Buffy said with a sigh. "Any luck getting through to Giles?"
Willow shook her head, rose lips pressing together in disappointment. "None. I tried every number he gave me but still couldn't find him. I left a message for him at home though," she smiled partially in an attempt to appear reassuring.
"Let's just hope he knows how to work an answering machine," Buffy sighed again, a thousand thoughts spinning through her mind in simultaneous rotation. Please let Giles be okay… she heard herself think before the silent words were pushed furiously aside by more potential plans and frightened anticipations about what she would be facing in the near future.
"So what's up, Buff? Why the 'deer-in-headlights' expression?" Xander quipped as he and Anya returned from their brief task.
"Well I didn't get the full story from Andrew, but I do know that we have to find Spike. Now," she said concisely, not taking the time to absorb everyone's different expressions. "I'd love to fill you guys in on all the gory details, but we really don't have time for it," she said desperately.
"Why, what's up?" Xander frowned, dropping his hammer into his tool belt. "I mean, just the Coles Notes version."
"Like I said, Andrew never gave me the full story… But I think The First is going to use Spike's blood to activate… something" she said gravely, hazel optics making a sweep of her assembled group.
"Activate? Like, a weapon?" Willow inquired.
"Maybe… I'm not sure what sort of 'thing' Andrew was talking about, but if The First is interested, then it's definitely not of the good," she sighed, arms crossed firmly over her chest. "Which is why we need to organize a rescue party before The First can do whatever it has planned."
"Uh…" Xander's hand rose as if he were in a classroom situation. "Buffy, I admit that I'm all for the 'avert yet another apocalypse' decision; totally with you on that. But don't you think we should maybe wait a little while before pulling a Rambo?" he gave her a pleading look, hoping the Slayer would listen to simple reason. "Especially if it's going to be activating some sort of doomsday machine… Not to mention the fact that none of us have slept much in the past twenty-four hours," he said, eyebrows lifted convincingly.
"I'm fine," Buffy insisted, voice firm and defiant. "Besides, we can't wait around for this thing to do what it wants to do… We have to get Spike back," her arms flung from their crossed position, swinging down to meet her sides.
"I know," the carpenter answered, his voice softer as he held up two defensive hands. "And I agree with you. But what help are we gonna be to anyone if we get killed in the process?" he paused, allowing the Slayer a moment to think. "Just give it a few hours… Get some sleep… If The First hasn't done anything by now, and we know it hasn't because hey, no sudden fiery death" he laughed shortly before continuing. "… Then chances are it won't be doing anything anytime soon, either" he smiled gently, able to see the reconsideration fluttering through his friend's eyes already.
Buffy massaged her temples, walking a few contemplative paces before giving a decisive sigh. "All right," she nodded. "You're right… We'll wait," she gave each of her comrades a meaningful glance. "But first thing tomorrow morning…"
"Operation Rescue Spike," Xander broke in, saluting with his index and middle fingers.
"Right…" Buffy smiled. "In that case I guess we should all get some sleep… You don't mind crashing on the couch?" she looked at Xander.
"Nah… You forget: after living in my parent's basement, I've learned to cope with almost anything," he grinned.
"Even cat pee and bleach," Anya quipped, attracting everyone's attention for a fleeting moment.
"I was going to say pull-out couches that otherwise belonged on the curb, but that, too" Xander tipped his head in slight agreement. "So short answer, yes… I'm fine with it. After all, someone's gotta keep an eye on Captain Pipsqueak," he chuckled.
"Remind me to find a good home for him," Buffy shook her head. "Even if 'good' refers to a box on the street…" she sighed, realising suddenly that Anya's presence solicited a need for another change in the sleeping arrangement. "Uh… Dawn, if you wanna sleep in my bed tonight, then could Anya maybe take yours? Just for tonight?"
"I guess," she replied casually, shrugging as she spoke.
"Anya? Is that all right with you?" Buffy turned to the ex-demon.
"Unless there is some unknown defect in the bed, then yes, I am fine with it" Anya tossed a questioning glance in Dawn's direction. She was searching for any signs of nervousness, but instead the teenager offered only a rolling of her eyes.
"Good… Then everyone's got a cushiony place to sleep," Buffy said, rubbing the sides of her thighs compulsively before letting her hands find a seat upon her waist.
"This chair isn't very soft!" Andrew called from the next room, confessing that he'd been eavesdropping with the action.
"I'll get the gag," Willow said almost cheerily, partially glad that she could finally offer her voice to the conversation.
"And I'll finish up down here," Xander motioned to the still moderately dilapidated front door.
"Sounds good," Buffy answered Xander's statement before turning on Willow. "And please do…" she said almost desperately. Before anyone could leave, the Slayer spoke up, offering her final words of wisdom. "Everyone get some sleep… Feel free to knock Andrew out if he gets too annoying, even with that gag on his face," the second portion of her statement was intentionally louder, making sure she could be heard by the geek. Readjusting her voice, Buffy concluded her sentence.
"We've got a big day ahead of us."