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Disclaimer: I don't own them, would that I did. The characters herein belong to Joss, Mutant Enemy, Greenwalt, Fox, etc. I'm merely using them to tell my own little story.
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Summary: Post-Gift Fic. Buffy is gone and the Scoobies are devastated, until a prophecy is uncovered. The four men who loved her best can bring her back - if they can get over themselves long enough to work together.
Part One: After the Fall
Rupert Giles sighed as he looked out at the rainy gloom of London. Hard not to brood in this weather. Hard not to brood since the Slayer fell. He turned back to the roaring fire, knowing it wouldn't warm or cheer him, but that it was at least not as conducive to brooding. Although he was managing quite nicely.
He built the fire for Dawn. When he had come in to check on her a little while ago, a casual touch had found her skin almost unnaturally chilled. She had demurred when he'd asked her if she was cold, which was gravely disturbing. He could still remember a few months ago when she never stopped complaining about things. The death of her sister and her mother had changed the girl in so many ways. Giles was certain that she never grumbled about being uprooted to London because she no longer cared. Travers had called not long after Buffy's death and had insisted upon his return. He had also demanded that he bring the Key with him. Research was itching to get their hands on her, but he was not going to allow it. No one would touch Dawn. It was the last thing he could do for his Slayer.
If anything, Giles mused, Dawn was happier here than in Sunnydale. The only activity that held any interest for her now was pouring over translations of codices. The Watcher's Council Library was the place for that. He knew what she was hoping to find, because he had the same hope. That maybe they could find a way...
They never spoke of it. They would sit across from each other in his modest study, firelight softening their pain-etched faces, the only sound the occasional clearing throat and the constant paper rustling. He tried to remember to send her to bed at a reasonable hour, but often failed to manage just that simple task. That she was fed at all and had clean clothes to wear was completely due to the work of Mrs. Parks, the shy but gentle housekeeper Olivia had sent. He couldn't remember phoning Olivia in the sea of phone calls and arrangements that had had to be made, but he supposed he must have. They had now been in London for three months, and he still hadn't seen her. There was simply no place in his heart where he could give her what she needed now. No place for anything but the research. No place for anyone but Buffy.
He returned to the book he had been looking at before, settling back into his chair with a long sigh. Dawn was reading with feral intensity and didn't react to his return. Giles frowned in concern. He should put a stop to this. Encourage Dawn to go on with a more normal life. She needed to let Buffy go; they both did. Just a few more days, and if they came up with nothing new, he would end this.
Giles returned to scanning the prophecies, his vow immediately forgotten.
Tara sighed and pushed her hair out of her eyes, only to have it fall back into the way a moment later. She yawned, too tired to be annoyed. Constant studying was blurring her vision, but these makeup classes were important to her. Having your brain sucked was murder on your GPA. She stole a look through her uncooperative bangs at Willow, sitting with her books open in front of her and staring into space. A single tear traced its way down her cheek, and Tara had to fight back her own tears. Instead she closed her book loudly, stirring her girlfriend from her thoughts.
"I'm beat, I think I'll turn in," she murmured. Willow nodded slowly.
"Okay, that's good." She looked down at her textbook sadly.
"How's the chemistry coming along?" Tara asked.
"I haven't gotten to it yet, I think I'll wait till tomorrow. It's not due till late, I can still get an extension. Dr. Porter's pretty cool about that kind of thing." Looking at the book, she sighed. "Dr. Ruiz, on the other hand, is not so kind. She's not going to let me slide...I should just drop the course." Tara stared at Willow as if she had turned blue and sprouted antlers.
"Who are you and what have you done with Willow, my overachieving girlfriend who makes other overachievers look like sloth demons?" Willow gave her a weak smile that quickly dissolved into tears.
"I...I just can't do it...it's too much. I'm so sorry, I know I'm disappointing everyone." Tara gathered the sobbing girl into her arms and held her, feeling completely useless. Willow was falling apart and there was nothing she could do to stop it. The only person who could had been buried months ago.
*Damn you, Buffy, why did you have to leave?* Tara thought, then felt an immediate wave of guilt. She closed her eyes. There was one other person who might be able to help her bring Willow back to herself. Unfortunately he was in as bad shape in his own way as Willow. Making a decision, she whispered a small sleeping charm and laid the hiccupping redhead back on her bed.
"Get some rest, Willow. I'll be back in a little while," she murmured. Willow nodded slowly, her eyelids closing as she did. She was asleep before Tara reached the door.
Anya could pinpoint the exact moment she'd stopped enjoying sex with Xander.
Okay, that was a bit strong. Xander was still an accomplished lover, and she still achieved orgasms in his arms almost nightly. Her body was definitely still enjoying things. Her heart was another matter. Every time she looked into his eyes and saw what was no longer there she could feel a piece of it crumble; it physically hurt. Eventually there would be nothing left.
Xander no longer loved her. That's what she saw when she looked into his eyes. She might be angry with him for that, if it wasn't so much worse than him just falling out of love. So much was missing from his glances, from his touch. There was no longer any hope in him. Xander couldn't love her now, because Xander no longer believed in anything enough to love. Somewhere deep down he'd always known that if Buffy died again, he'd save her as he had years before. When he couldn't, everything kind of collapsed inside. He still did all the normal Xander things: he worked, he ate her cooking like he hadn't been fed in days, he joked, he kissed her and held her and had the sex, as he called it, with her. But this Xander Harris was just a shadow of the Xander of old, continuing to exist in this world but no longer supposing he could make a difference in it. Buffy's White Knight was gone.
The first time they were together after Buffy's death, she knew. She had looked into his empty eyes, and she knew he was gone. Everyone had been surprised at how hard she'd taken Buffy's death. The truth was it wasn't Buffy she was mourning; it was the loss of her love that brought the frequent tears to her eyes. They were spilling now as she lay in bed listening to the shower. She thought of joining Xander; at least the spray of water in her face would hide their streaks. But she couldn't bring herself to move until the doorbell rang.
She grabbed her robe, wiping at her face with the back of her hand like a child and moved through the apartment quietly turning on lights. Knotting her belt so that she was well covered she opened the door, unsurprised to see Tara standing there. The witch had somehow mastered the art of making even the doorbell sound tentative. They looked at each other for a moment, then without words Anya pulled Tara into a hug. They shared the pain of watching lovers fall apart. It was a bond that Anya wished they didn't share.
After a while she took the blonde witch by the hand and settled her on the sofa. Anya went to make tea. The silence was so total that she nearly dropped the kettle when Tara spoke from behind her.
"Is Xander here?" Anya kept her back to the witch so that she wouldn't see her pain, never realizing that it was indelibly etched in her body movements. *Xander's dead, he's never going to be here again,* she thought as she took a deep breath.
"Shower. He should be out in a few minutes. He'll be glad to see you." They shared polite smiles at the lie.
"I need to talk to him."
"Okay. Is it something I can help with?" Tara stared at her blankly for a moment. None of the others was used to tact or compassion from the former demon, but she was gradually learning both.
"Th-thanks, but I really need to talk to Xander. About W-Willow." A sound made them both turn and see Xander standing in the kitchen doorway. He had also donned a robe and his wet hair was sticking up at a funny angle that Anya still found indescribably sexy.
"What's with Willow?" There was quiet concern in Xander's voice and Anya felt sick inside. Willow was the only thing Xander still seemed to care about at all. Jealousy flared and almost ignited into anger before dying back to an ember again. It was good to have Xander care about something, even if it wasn't her.
"Can we sit down?" Xander nodded and they returned to the living room sofa. Anya joined them a minute later with three cups of tea, feeling like a parlor maid in a play for all the attention they paid her. Both were frowning intensely.
"That's not like Willow. She's always been the strong one, you know?" Xander took the teacup from Anya with a small smile of thanks that she returned. The hollowness of it almost made her start crying again.
"I know, but ever since...she's not even trying at all, and with all the advanced classes she's taking it's really bad. I don't really care whether she does well in school or not, you know that. It's just...it's not like Willow. I'm really worried, Xander. I can't seem to reach her at all anymore. She just thinks she's letting me down." Xander put his cup back in the saucer carefully, running his fingers through his already tousled hair.
"Where is she now?" Tara leaned forward intensely, trying to meet Xander's eyes.
"I did a little spell to get her to sleep, but she should wake up soon. Will you come talk to her? Please?" Xander stood and moved away, and Anya realized that he wasn't going to help. Any residual jealousy was lost in a wave of despair. She had to get Xander to help Willow, or all of the light was gone. She knew she would be unable to bear it.
"I don't think I can help her, Tara. I don't know..." Anya had reached her love and grabbed his arm, forcing him to meet her gaze.
"You can. I know you can." For a moment she saw something flicker in the brown eyes she cherished and prayed it wasn't a trick of the light.
"You're the only one who can, Xander. Please, Willow needs you. Please." Tara's eyes were impossibly wide. Xander looked from Anya to Tara and back to his girlfriend. After a long moment he nodded.
"I'll get dressed." Xander gave Tara's arm a comforting squeeze as he passed her on his way into the bedroom. Tara and Anya exhaled simultaneously. Anya fought the urge to laugh in relief, knowing it would sound hysterical. Tara gave her a faint smile.
"Me, too. I'm coming too," Anya said as she followed Xander into the bedroom. Tara considered telling her it would be better if she didn't, then thought better of it. If love for Xander didn't help snap Willow out of her funk, maybe annoyance with Anya would do the trick.
Willow's eyes fluttered open. The room was only dimly lit, but she knew she was alone. Tara's quiet presence was gone, and Willow sighed in a combination of sadness and relief. She loved Tara with all of her heart, but it was so hard to be with her now. If she hadn't been so focused on saving Tara's mind, maybe she could have saved Buffy's life. The guilt was weighing her down, making it nearly impossible to function. Willow was certain that there was only one possible way to fix it. Find a way to bring Buffy back.
She gave a guilty glance around the room before reaching under the bed and retrieving the forbidden text. Tara was unaware that she was even doing research on the idea, but Willow could still somehow feel her disapproval. It didn't stop her from opening the book and continuing to read.
She couldn't have known that on another continent Dawn had opened the exact same book.
To the exact same page.
At the exact same moment.
She couldn't have known that there was someone from a long-forgotten time taking an interest in Slayers, in history, in the power of love.
All she knew was that the answer was suddenly staring at her from the page. She read. And read again. And smiled.
There was a soft knock on the door, followed by Tara's tentative entrance. Xander and Anya entered behind her, Xander coming to the bed and sitting himself next to her. Xander's eyes locked with hers, his shining in concern and bewilderment, hers with burgeoning joy.
"Willow, Xander wants to talk..." Tara began, trailing off as she saw the smile on Willow's face. Willow impulsively pulled Xander into a hug.
"Xander, I've found it. I don't understand it hardly, but I've found it. I've found the way."
"What way? I mean, the way to what?" Xander asked, wonder and fear in his voice. He felt as if he was teetering on the edge of something amazing but dangerous. Something that was going to change everything.
"The way to Buffy."
Dawn traced her shaking finger down the paragraph for the third time. She needed to be sure. There had already been so many disappointments, so many times she had shown Giles a text and had him sadly shake his head. She was trying not to get her hopes up. This would probably just be another one of those times, and yet...she swore she could feel something different. It hummed through her like energy. That thought was a like a slap, a reminder that she had begun her existence as something other than human. Then the monks gave her a history, and a family, and she brought them death. A tear snuck out from her eye and she turned her head, refusing to get salty water on the manuscript. She was holding her breath as she pushed the book towards Giles. She only realized it when she opened her mouth to speak and had to exhale first. He looked up, startled as she pointed at the passage she had read repeatedly.
"I think...I think I found something. Important." Dawn's voice was shaking, and Giles immediately adjusted his glasses and began reading the page she had indicated. After a moment he stopped and looked up at her. The hope in his eyes told her everything she needed to know, and she burst into tears.
A moment later the telephone rang, and as encouraged voices from Sunnydale and London began to discuss what needed to be done, an unseen figure smiled.
"The quest has begun."
TBC - I'm questing for feedback!