Disclaimers: All is Joss, and Joss is all.
Spoilers: Vague ones up through season five. Goes AU
during The Gift.
Summary: Brave new world.
Ratings Note: R.
Author's Note: Jenn demanded entertainment. I
demanded a first line. This happened.
Acknowledgments: To Jenn for audiencing.
Feedback: Adored. firstname.lastname@example.org
The crawling smell of sewage clings to his skin and his hair even after he showers, subtle beneath the scent of the cheap ivory soap that all hotels seem to use.
Well, subtle in the way only human offal and pollution *can* be, which is still quite obvious enough to make him repulse himself.
He'd do that anyway.
Giles looks at himself in the unfortunately large and clean mirror and tries to see something he can recognize, beyond the bleak-eyed old man dripping on the motel floor.
There's just enough time for another shower, though not enough hot water. He's shivering and dripping again when the others arrive. Not enough of them, either.
Faith claims the one chair by dint of getting there first, and throws her feet up on the coffee table. The sole of one of her boots is coming off quickly, the other looks as though it's been slashed with a knife.
It hasn't been.
Oz drags Xander in, half-carrying the man. Both are bleeding, and Oz is still in half-wolfen form. There is no one else.
And Giles isn't inclined to ask, but.
"Ethan didn't make it out."
He nods, mostly to himself, and tries to believe in the old ways, the old days when it didn't matter whether Ethan made it out unscathed, because he simply always *would*.
Oz tosses a stained pile of papers on the bed and shifts back to something mostly human. "Those were all we could get. All in code."
He tosses the small device Ethan had pressed into his hand before ushering him out through the sewers. "We have a key."
There's silence for a moment, in the place where, in another life, celebration might have happened.
The moment passes.
Faith eases herself out of the chair. "We need to get out of here."
It's nothing but the truth.
Before the coming of Order, there were all sorts of places for four disreputable people to go, ways for them to move through the world, no matter what weapons they carried, or what bandages covered their faces.
Now, it's necessary for them to steal a car, and then wait in the long driveway until daylight.
Nothing moves at night without Willow's permission.
So many mistakes there, so many chances standing out in the glare of blinding hindsight where Giles might have made a difference. But Glory had stolen Tara's mind, and broken Buffy's body, and Willow...
He can be thankful about some things: there is rarely time for regret.
Xander regains consciousness on the highway south. It's a slow, painful thing to watch, as his sleeping body registers every new injury, every new hurt.
Giles wonders if this will be the time when Xander wakes up with nothing in his eyes but the need to destroy. To *end* this.
He wonders if, after, there will be room to hate himself for wanting just that. Xander still thinks he can *reach* Willow.
Oz pets the boy's hair gently, earning a narrow-eyed snort of almost-amusement from Faith.
Giles knows there isn't much Willow left.
Not a hotel this time, but an abandoned winery. There's a stink of rotten fruit and vinegar, but the walls are solid and the floor is dry. The leaks in the ceiling are easily avoided.
Faith builds a fire so that he'll have light to work by. The device pulses with a warmth of its own. For a small, private moment, Giles imagines the heat to be Ethan's. He thinks he's allowed.
For all the flaws of reconciliation under pressure, it had been a reconciliation just the same. And he had gotten the man killed.
Faith punches him lightly on the shoulder.
He blinks up and sees a look of horrifically sincere sympathy in her eyes, and he knows that if she were to say anything, anything at all, he will have to kill her.
But, "later," is all she says, and Giles gets to work.
The documents are carefully, meticulously organized. It is an outline any teacher could be proud of, and it very clearly delineates the goals, approved methods, and general ideology of Willow's new organization.
Here, the Official Police, always to wear White, always to be pure.
Here, the demonic adjuncts, and how to control them.
Here, the spells allowed for general use.
Here, the approved methods for eradicating insurrection.
Nothing, really, of use.
He reads his small band the highlights. Faith cultivates a look of bland unsurprise that may even be real. Oz is a compact bundle of rage, and, perhaps, betrayal.
Xander listens to every word, and when Giles is done, begins cleaning the few guns they have to their name.
And organizes the ammunition.
There is no other choice.
In the end, they make it into Sunnydale with an ease less surprising than appropriately ominous.
"We're gonna die here," Faith says, jittering like an addict in the passenger seat.
Giles can't quite come up with anything to say to that.
The house is as it's always been. The windows perhaps a bit cleaner, the yard a more lush and uniform green than it had ever been before.
There are no guards.
The front door opens magically, and Giles has a moment to wonder if he shouldn't have forced this push, if he should've tried to recruit another mage. If it would've made a difference.
They walk inside, Faith taking point, and into the living room, where a somewhat familiar girl is kneeling on the floor. She's clean, hair straight and even, and shakes constantly.
The girl whips her head around and looks at them each in turn, focusing for only a moment longer on Xander. There's nothing like pleading in her eyes. That would require hope.
Tara sits on the old, much-repaired armchair, hands resting on her lap, eyes utterly blank.
"Where is she? Where's --"
"I'm right here, Faith."
And she is. Hovering perhaps a foot above the carpet and literally glowing with magic. The power makes the hairs on the back of Giles' arms prickle. Make his teeth ache like he's bitten some cold and metallic.
"Willow, you have to stop this." Xander reaches out, eyes as open and guileless as they've ever been. The reach makes his jacket ride up in the back, where two pistols aren't so much holstered as *ready*.
Willow laughs, a bright, cheerful thing that would be absolutely perfect, absolutely *familiar*, were it not for the raw abandon of it.
"Will -- Wills..."
"*Fuck* this." Faith leaps for her before any of them can think to stop her. Willow throws up a hand and the wall of force knocks them all back a step.
Knocks Faith most of the way through the couch. She doesn't move.
Willow doesn't stop laughing, until she does, ending on a low, happy note that should be far more false than it is. "I have to admit, I always wanted to do that."
She raises her hand again, and lifting Amy with nothing but power and dragging her close. Closer, until her hand rests between the girl's breasts.
"Willow..." But Giles has nothing to say to this. Nothing much left, really.
"It takes a lot of power to run an empire, you know?" When she's done, the desiccated body hits the floor with a thump. Willow grins. "Who'm I kidding? I always wanted to do that, too."
"You have to know this is wrong, Wills. You just... you can't *do* this." One hand creeping slowly, so slowly, towards his own back.
Willow doesn't say anything for a long stretch of moments, and when she looks at Xander her eyes are hard, the blue faded under a layer of glittering white. "You ran, Xander."
"You... God, you used Dawn to open portals, used her until she'd been bled dry --"
"You *ran*." A magical echo enough to make their ears start to bleed, gently. "And you never gave me a chance to explain."
Giles swallows hard. "Tell us."
"I..." And before Xander can move, there's an awful *crack* and his arms are broken. "You were trying to *distract* me. Bad Watcher." She giggles, and Xander falls to his knees, guns hitting the floor with useless noise.
"No, see, Giles, it's really simple. The old world... the old world was nasty, and brutish, and..." A tiny frown line between her eyes. "The old world was full of *chaos*, Giles. Anything could happen. Any horrible, awful thing, no matter how good you were, no matter how much you loved someone --"
"Wonderful things could happen, too." Oz's voice is a loose, casual growl.
And there's a snarl on her face, brief and wild and crackling with all the stolen magic within her, and there's a stink of ozone in the air, and Giles has just enough time to think "this is how it ends," before it all fades to nothing.
Willow tucks a lock of hair behind her ear, the roots purest white. "It wasn't enough, Oz. It was never, never enough."
"Willow, there's an... there's a balance to things. Good, evil, order, chaos. The world needs harmony --"
"The world needs what *I* need."
A wave of her arm and Giles feels his knees buckle, watches Oz catch himself on his hands.
Willow's hand, small, soft, and gentle, rests on his forehead. "And I need friends."
And Giles watches himself go, down into the white.