Title: Epilogue

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds belong to SyFy and Whedon.

Rating: T

Summary: "All this over a key?" Angel frowned, staring across the conference table at his former girlfriend. 2000 words.

Spoilers: B:tVS post-5.13 "Blood Ties"; Eureka post-3.15 "Shower the People"; set in a vague post-A:tS AU future

Notes: Warning - this chapter is a little more dark- and sexual- than the others. (This is the last chapter for the fic, but not the 'verse; don't panic. I have a plan.)

"All this over a key?" Angel frowned, staring across the conference table at his former girlfriend. "A magical key to a mystical lock that won't be accessible again for thousands of years? I mean, I remember it was a big deal a few years ago when that Hell-goddess tore through Sunnydale looking for it, but I thought you said she'd disappeared when its window of usefulness was over."

Buffy frowned back at him, dropping a hand under the table to squeeze Willow's fingers in reassurance. Glorificus' little rampage through their hometown sounded a lot less traumatic in Angel's abrupt summation than it had been to actually live through; Willow's first girlfriend had lost her sanity and later her life at the Hell-bitch's hands, and Tara hadn't been the only casualty of the goddess' unshakeable conviction that the Slayer had somehow stolen her mystical get-out-of-jail-free card. Dozens more civilians, allies, and enemies had been swept up in her wake, including Angel's defanged grandchilde, Spike. But Angel hadn't been there for any of that; it was no surprise that he didn't understand just what that deadly MacGuffin meant to them, now that they finally had a lead on its location.

"It isn't just a key," she told him, her expression falling into deadly serious lines. "Yeah, Glory wanted to use it to open a portal, and the Order of Dagon was created to stop her from doing that, but we're pretty sure there's more to it than just some kind of mystical garage door opener."

Willow took a deep breath, then launched into the next part of the explanation. "The Watcher's Council's books refer to the Key as an energy matrix, vibrating at a dimensional frequency beyond normal human perception. Energy that could be anything, do anything- and holds a scary amount of power." She shook her head. "Unfortunately, the perception clause means that only those outside reality can see its true nature. We ran into some guys in chainmail a couple of times that year that seemed to think it was the font of ultimate evil, but they didn't know much more than that, either- or if they did, they weren't willing to tell us. Whatever it is, though, it's dangerous, and a lot of monks gave their lives nine years ago to make sure it remained hidden."

The furrows in Angel's brow deepened. "But like you just said, that was nine years ago," he said. "Why the urgency now?"

"Because one of the monks survived after all," Buffy told him. "He turned up a few days ago. And we weren't the first ones to find him."

She'd faced, and conquered, stronger opponents since meeting Glory, but the Hell-goddess had been the first to make her feel truly impotent: the first to really press home just how small the Slayer was in comparison to the true evils of the world. Buffy had no doubt that if Glory hadn't finally realized that the Key had not been sent to Sunnydale after all, the fashion-challenged goddess would have eventually killed all of them. Instead, Glory had just disappeared one day, out of sight, out of mind- until a wounded man had turned up, gasping her name, on Buffy and Willow's doorstep.

A girl never really forgot her first, in any sense of the word. The unexpected threat of facing Glorificus in person again had made Buffy's knees go all wobbly... and brought out a black-eyed rage in Willow she hadn't seen in years. They'd been stupid to let it go before, too distracted by grief and school and the idiot Trio to follow through on the Hell-goddess' disappearance while it had been fresh, and remembrance of pain had dissuaded them from doing so since. They wouldn't make that mistake a second time.

"He knew where it was," Angel concluded, raising his eyebrows.

"He knew what had happened to it, anyway, and he had a good idea how to find it again," Buffy agreed. "He had this Sphere thingy that was supposed to repel Glory, that was all attuned to the Key's energies."

"He was going to bring it to Sunnydale," Willow added, frowning, "back when the Order wanted to send the Key for Buffy to protection, but after that went wrong-"

"So she was supposed to have it?" Angel pounced on that tidbit.

"Supposed to," Willow agreed. "Only the spell malfunctioned, and it ended up sending the Key to another dimension instead. But rather than tell anyone what happened, or find a way to warn us, he ran away and hid so Glory would still think it had been sent to the Slayer."

"Leaving you to face the consequences in his place," Angel said, eyes widening in realization.

"I guess he thought that was the lesser evil," Buffy smiled mirthlessly. "When she didn't find it before the day she was supposed to do her ritual, she went looking for someone else to help her instead. And found them. All they needed was that Sphere."

Angel blinked. "Wait, are you saying..." His face fell as he finally realized why, exactly, they'd asked for a meeting at his despised place of business. "Do you mean Wolfram and Hart? Why didn't I know about this?"

Buffy snorted. "You're still under the impression you're using this place instead of it using you," she said, bitterly. She'd done some moronic things in her time, she had to admit, but that one still boggled her mind- and he never had been willing to listen to reason on that point. Whatever rationale he'd had, he'd ranked it above his own people's objections, and over any value he might still have put on their relationship.

She squeezed Willow's fingers again, gently, then disentangled them and stood up, bracing her hands on the table and leaning forward slightly to emphasize her point. "Check your records, Angel. We're going after her, whether it's with you or through you; we're not just going to let her have it."

She forestalled his next objection with a firm shake of her head. "This isn't just because of what she did to us, either. If she gets her hands on this Key she could rip the universe apart; it's not like she has anything else to do now that her chance to go home is gone. And frankly, I don't trust your team to take care of it. Not after she waltzed through right under your nose."

Angel balled up his fists on the table, clenching his jaw furiously, then took an unnecessary breath and smoothed his hands out on the flat surface again. "I'll have Wes and Gunn look into the records and find out exactly what was done to help her," he said, "and in the meantime, I'll see about purging the customer relations department again. If you'll excuse me?"

Buffy studied the pent frustration in his body language and the carefully bland expression on his face, then gave a tight nod. He meant well. He always had. He just had a tendency to make spectacularly bad judgments when his personal goals ran into conflict with reality.

Hard to imagine, now, that she'd ever thought they might end up together again when all was said and done; they'd just have ended up reinforcing each other's worst qualities. Cordelia was welcome to him.

"We'll wait," she said, sitting back down again. "You might want to warn your receptionist that Giles and Anya will be here soon, too; they caught a flight back from England last night, and we told them to meet us here. Oh, and maybe you could have some sandwiches or something sent up?"

Beside her, Willow began casually retrieving a stack of research tomes from the seemingly-empty backpack they called her Bag of Holding, spreading them out over the conference table as if settling in for a long session. Angel eyed them in apparent dismay, then reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Yeah, why not," he said. "The more the merrier. Just make yourselves at home."

"Thank you, we will," Buffy said, then deliberately looked away from him, reaching for the nearest dusty book and carefully turning back its aged leather cover. Silence reigned; then the door creaked audibly open, and stompy footsteps marched away.

Buffy sighed, then turned to look at her companion. Knowing green eyes studied her back from under a fringe of stylishly cut red hair; twin streaks of white and black twined down from her left temple, a reminder of all their triumphs and losses since the day Buffy had first met her all those years before. Of all the Scoobies, both those who'd been there from the beginning and those who'd joined them over the years, they were the only two who'd never managed to leave the Hellmouth behind them. They'd seen the best of each other, and the worst; and she knew Willow knew exactly what had just been going through her mind without even stretching her telepathy.

"He'll come through for us," Willow assured her. "He's been a big fat jerk lately, but he still cares about you, and he doesn't want the world to go poof any more than we do."

"I know," Buffy sighed. "He just makes me so angry, sometimes." She smiled sadly, remembering. "Like Spike said, that time he kidnapped you."

"That you'd never be friends?" Willow raised her eyebrows.

"Yeah, that. Never thought I'd miss the bleached wonder, but he did have a way with words. It's just- never let that happen to us, okay?" She felt her lip wobble, and looked away in embarrassment; this whole mess had her off kilter, and she didn't like the feeling. She needed to be strong. Had to, especially now; this was going to be the most difficult task she'd ever faced as the Slayer.

"Hey, shhh." A warm hand rested on her cheek, turning her face back toward her witchy partner. Then Willow leaned toward her, wrapping Buffy up in a reassuring hug. "Don't worry," she said. "You're stuck with me for life, got it?"

Buffy let herself rest there a moment, burying her nose in Willow's sweet-smelling shoulder, then leaned back again, smiling through a wavery curtain of almost-tears. "Got it," she said.

They'd conquer this, just like every other seemingly insurmountable problem they'd faced. Wherever that Key was, they were going to find it and stop Glory from using it, no matter what- or how long- it took.

Somewhere else- somewhen else- a satisfied blonde curled around Eureka's sleeping sheriff. Something had startled her awake- a flash of light, or a pinprick twinge of pain in her abdomen, or some kind of noise, or all three- but whatever it was it didn't repeat itself, and Tess relaxed again, drowsing in her partner's arms.

She'd gone to Jack Carter's place for dinner that evening half-hoping that he would convince her not to take the opportunity she'd just been offered in Australia. There was still work to be done with the Columbus data; just nothing that offered as much advancement as the new job. In the end, though, she hadn't even had to bring it up. Dawn had been staying with the Carters for the weekend, and she and her half-sister had carried on a lively, teasing conversation, effortlessly including not only each other, but also their father, the house's AI, S.A.R.A.H., and Tess in a warm, entertaining whirlwind of words. She had felt more at home in that moment than anywhere else she'd been in years.

Tess Fontana, PhD, PhD, PhD, had sacrificed a lot to her career over the course of her life; maybe it was time she slowed down, just a little, to smell the roses. Be a stepmom. Maybe be an actual mom, too; maybe introduce a baby boy to the Carter household for a change? She'd always liked the name Ben.

With that thought, Tess curled an absent hand over her stomach, then snuggled closer to Jack's warm body and went back to sleep.