This Time Around
Chapter Nine - Apocolypse Again

written by Rainne

Giles had taken Dawn and Buffy to the new Council headquarters, showing them around proudly, and Buffy went there first, wondering if she might find a Watcher or another Slayer who could help her. The Council offices were located in what had once been a bank building in the heart of London and she found her way there fairly easily, only having to backtrack twice.

The building was dark and empty when Buffy arrived, the only person in view being a derelict in the public park across the street who was asleep on a bench. Buffy dithered for a long moment, wondering what to do. She moved up to the glass front doors, peering in, and her eyes fell on something she'd noticed before when on the grand tour of the building.

There was an axe hanging on the wall of the main lobby. It wasn't just any axe, either. It was shiny and silver with red accents and one end of it was a sharp stake, polished to a high glossy shine. And it was calling to her. She could feel its pull from out in the street. She wanted that axe, and she wanted it badly. Buffy looked around. It was the middle of the night; no one was around. Surely she could make it in and out before any burglary alarm summoned police.

The Slayer moved cautiously toward the doors, intending only to test them and see how secure they were. However, the moment her reaching hand was laid on the brass handle, the metal began to warm under her touch and the door clicked open, swinging wide to admit her. She stood frozen in the doorway for a long moment, unable to believe her luck. No alarms went off; no police were summoned. The only thing she heard was the steady call of the axe on the wall display and her own heartbeat thundering in her ears.

And then she saw a shadow move in the back of the room. Buffy's eyes darted to it and she nearly screamed as an old man stepped silently out of the darkness. "Hello, young Slayer," he said to her gently with a slight Scottish accent. "Enter, please."

She stepped into the lobby warily, circling widely around the room away from him, toward her goal. "Who are you?" she asked sharply. "How do you know I'm a Slayer?"

He chuckled. "The doors," he replied. "They are bespelled. Once locked at sundown, only the touch of a Slayer can unlock them before sunrise. No demon or human of ill-intent may cross the threshold. Thus is this place a safe haven for all Slayers."

"And who the heck are you?" Buffy repeated.

"I am. a caretaker," the man replied after a moment. He gestured to the axe. "Do you seek the Scythe?"

She looked up at the object in question. "That's not a scythe," she objected. "It's an axe."

He chuckled. "Why, so it is. I couldn't say how it came to be called the Scythe, but it's been called that since before it came to be on that wall." He nodded encouragingly. "Go on. Touch it. They all do."

She reached up tentatively and laid a hand on the cold metal of the axe blade. A sudden, warm thrill ran through her body and Buffy gasped. "Oh, wow," she whispered, a soft sort of ecstasy gripping her. "It's. it. it feels like. it's mine."

"It is yours, young Slayer," the man said gently, moving closer to her. "Yours and every other Slayer's that's ever walked. Are you so new to the life, then, that you know nothing about what and who you are, and where you come from?"

She glared at him. "I've been the Slayer since I was fifteen years old," she snapped. "If you know so much about Slayers, don't you know who Buffy Summers is?"

"Aye, I do," he responded easily. "Buffy Summers is twenty-seven years old and is retired, living peacefully now in Rome."

"Wrong," she replied. "Buffy Summers is eighteen and a half, and she's coming out of retirement." Buffy reached up and pulled the axe down off the wall, gripping it, testing the heft, and giving it a couple of practice swings. "I've got a demon to slay."

The old man's eyebrow cocked. "Have you, now?"

She nodded once, firmly, looking over at him with a determined expression. "Something's got my Watcher," she said flatly. "I'm not a hundred percent sure what, but. he thought it was the First Evil, and that's good enough for me." She looked at the axe in her hand. "Will this thing kill the First Evil?"

"Nothing can kill the First Evil, lass," the man replied seriously. "Nothing save the transformation of this world into a complete Utopia." He stepped toward her. "Has it taken on flesh, then?"

She pulled Giles's book out of her pocket and offered it to him. "That's what I know."

He read the pages Giles had enscribed, frowning as he did so. "The body of the Key? The First Evil inhabits the body of the Key?"

Buffy nodded. "Giles thinks so. It's pretending to be my sister."

"Beheading the body will temporarily remove the parasite," the man mused, looking into the dark and obviously thinking deeply. "But the body will need to be completely destroyed to prevent it coming back. I must think." He began to pace.

She watched him for a moment, then finally spoke. "Do you have a name?"

He smiled faintly. "Charles," he said quietly. "My name is Charles."

"Well, Charles, pacing is good, but it's not getting me any closer to killing the thing that's got Giles."

He nodded. "All right. You need a conflagration spell. Wait here." He turned and disappeared through a wide doorway and down a long, dark hallway.

"Wait here. Great." Buffy sighed. While she was waiting, she took a couple more practice swings with the axe. Then she took a couple more. Then she began to test the different ways she could hold it and use it. "Holy crap," she whispered to herself. "This thing is great! And they've got it on a wall? Now I know Giles is possessed."

There was a sound of footsteps and Charles returned, emerging from the darkness like a wraith, holding out a small cloth bag. "This is the spell," he told her, offering it by the pull-strings. "Be careful with it."

"What do I have to do to work it?" Buffy asked, taking the bag and rolling it carefully, then slipping it into her pocket.

"You throw the powder on the body of the host, once you have removed the head, and you say the word 'incendere'," he instructed.

"That's it?" she asked, skeptical.

"That's it," he replied reassuringly.

She sighed. "Okay, then," she said. "Well, if the apocalypse comes, you'll know I screwed up."

Charles smiled at her, reaching over to pat her reassuringly on the shoulder. "I have faith in you," he replied.

"Well, somebody needs to," she replied, then turned and headed out the door.

"Buffy," Charles called out.

She paused, turning to face him. "Yeah?"

"Tell him. Before it is too late, tell him what you have not. Only when all is revealed will you return home."

Buffy took a step back, her face taking on a strange expression. "What are you talking about?"

Charles stepped toward her. "When you awoke in Rome, who did you seek even before your mother? Whose distrust cut you more to the quick than all the slings and arrows thrown at you by childhood insults? Three people are under the thrall of this evil and your sister gave her life to it; for whose safety are you most concerned?" He pointed an aged finger at her. "Tell him."

She stared at him for a long moment, wordless, then turned and fled from the open doorway, axe in hand, pelting down the empty London streets and back toward Notting Hill as fast as she could run. The door closed softly behind her and Charles smiled softly. "I have faith in you," he repeated in a whisper, and then vanished.

The house was dark and quiet when Buffy approached. The window to her downstairs bedroom was still open and so she assumed her absence had not been noted. She climbed back inside silently and stood very still, centering herself and then opening her awareness outward. Her Watcher was asleep upstairs on the other end of the house, but above her, the slumbering malevolence was clear. It wasn't evil so much as it was simply a sort of "wrongness", and Buffy assumed that whatever a Key was, its presence was masking that of the evil.

She took a deep breath, firmed her grip on the handle of the axe, and unlocked her bedroom door. She stepped out into the main room of the house and then kicked off her shoes in the spirit of moving silently. In sock feet she crept across the living room and up the stairs.

At the top of the stairs, Buffy stood still for a full minute, listening with human and Slayer senses. She could hear Giles's light snores coming from the right-hand end of the hall. From the left, she simply got that faint sense of slumbering malevolence that she'd gotten before. She took a deep breath. Whatever the thing was, it looked human, and this was running very close to that whole fiasco with Faith last year. She closed her eyes. It was evil. Nothing human, not even bad humans, ever felt like that.

She straightened her shoulders, walked to the end of the hall, and tried the doorknob. It turned easily in her hand and she paused to wonder if the thing was that self-confident or if she was walking into a trap. Well, she decided, too late to worry about it now. She pushed the door open.

Dawn lay on the bed, apparently asleep, moonlight from the open window streaming in on her peaceful face. She wore a T-shirt and boxer shorts, and the shirt had ridden up, exposing her stomach. Buffy recoiled at what she saw there. A puncture wound, probably delivered by a sword or knife blow, split the girl's stomach wide open. There was something holding the entrails in - Buffy didn't want to examine close enough to see what the substance was. She swallowed back the intense desire to vomit and moved forward.

In two steps she was by the bed. She raised the axe high above her head in preparation for the blow. She swallowed hard, tensing her muscles to bring the weapon down, when the girl's eyes flew open. "Giles!" Dawn screamed. The black, tarry fog began to flow from her mouth. Giles's door down the hall burst open and he came barreling into the room.

"Buffy, stop!" Giles screamed.

The fog thickened around Buffy, trying to fight its way into her as it had into Giles earlier that evening, but some magic within the axe she held fought it back. Giles moved toward her, reaching for the axe, and Buffy brought it down on Dawn's neck, severing the head from the shoulders in one stroke.

There was a horrible, primal scream which echoed as though from the pits of hell, and the black fog contracted away from Buffy, pulling as it did so out of Giles and also out of the corpse on the bed. It formed into a vision of a huge, red-eyed monster, which menaced them from midair. "Fools!" it screamed in a voice choked with evil. "You cannot destroy me! I will have this body and soon I will have the Slayer! You cannot stop me!"

It formed back into smoke again, moving back toward the headless body on the bed, but Buffy was reaching into her pants pocket and pulling out the bag Charles had given her. She turned it up over the body and poured the dust from the severed head all the way down to the feet.

"Buffy, what are you doing?" Giles asked, panting and confused.

She ignored him. "Incendere!" she shouted. The powder on the body burst into flames, and a moment later, the body caught as well.

The black fog pulled away again, thwarted, and the evil voice screamed out once more. "You cannot! How did you? You could not defeat me!"

"Never underestimate the Slayer," Buffy snapped, moving to Giles's side. "Get the hell out of here, whatever you are, and don't come back!"

The fog screamed one last time, and then dissipated out the window and into the night. Buffy turned to Giles. "Are you okay, Giles?" she asked softly.

He looked down at her. "Yes, Buffy, of course, I'm fine," he said, taking a step away from the wall he'd been leaning on, moving toward the smoldering ashes on the bed. And then his knees buckled underneath him and he went down.

Read the next chapter: Your Actions Will Follow You Full Circle Round