There was a fire going in the fireplace at the mansion. Cassius walked past it, shivering. He stopped and paced back before turning to go back again. He was startled by some rustling in the atrium and slowly walked to the doorway. He quickly whipped the drapes aside and found Aurelia holding a small paper bag. He jumped back a little, startled.
"It's just me." She held out the bag. "Here." Cassius took the bag and opened it as he walked back into the room. Aurelia followed him in and gently helped him open the bag. She pulled a quart-sized clear plastic container out of the bag filled with blood. Ignoring his embarrassment at her seeing him with blood, she reached up and touched his face. "How are you feeling?"
"It hurts…. less." Cassius said.
"Good." Aurelia helped him take the lid off the container, but he looked at like he was embarrassed. "It's ok."
"You shouldn't have to see me…. like this."
"Like what?" She glanced at the pig's blood in his hands. "Oh, Cassius, I don't care!"
"My demon spent all that time torturing you."
Aurelia rolled her eyes. "Angelus is not your demon. He's a demon. And you're here. He's gone. That's all that matters."
"I know the difference between Angelus and Cassius. Better than anybody. Better than you, apparently." She touched his face tenderly again. "I love you, Cassius." He smiled slightly and reached out to straighten the lapel of her leather jacket. She saw him wince slightly when his arm came back down. "Come on. You sit. I'll warm that up for you."
"You don't have to."
"I know I don't, but I will." Aurelia forced him to sit and headed off to the kitchen.
Aurelia, Willow, and Oz walked down the outside stairs to the quad and started down. Aurelia was describing a dream to her friends she'd had the night before. "And then I was being chased by an improperly filled-in answer bubble screaming, 'none of the above!'"
"Wow." Willow said. "I hope that wasn't one of your prophecy dreams. Probably not."
"Hey, you know, I took it last year." Oz said. "I could help you get ready. There's this whole trick to antonyms, but…. this isn't the place."
"Oz is the highest-scoring person ever to fail to graduate." Willow said proudly.
"Isn't she cute when she's proud?" Aurelia giggled.
"She's always cute." Oz said.
Cordelia and Xander came out through the breezeway and walked behind them. "We could work on it tonight." Willow said to Aurelia.
"Work on what tonight?" Xander asked.
"Oh, God. Are we killing something again?" Cordelia griped.
"Only my carefree spirit." Aurelia said dramatically.
"Buffy SAT prep." Oz said.
"Oz is helping." Willow said. "He's the highest-scoring…."
"We know. We did the impressed thing already." Cordelia said.
"I hate they make us take that thing." Xander said. "It's totally fascist, and personally, I think it, uh, discriminates against the uninformed."
"Actually, I'm looking forward to it. I do well on standardized tests."
"So Aurelia, study tonight?" Willow asked as they headed into the cafeteria.
"Uh, yes on the studying, no on tonight. I'm spending time with my mother tonight." Aurelia said. They saw a table piled up with boxes of Milkbar fund-raiser chocolate bars. Other students were each taking a box as Snyder checked their names off on his clipboard.
"Ooh, candy bars! Lots of 'em!" Willow said excitedly.
Snyder held out a box to Xander. "Principal Snyder, thank you!" Xander said, taking the box. "You weren't visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, by any chance?"
"It's band candy." Snyder said.
"Very generous of them." Aurelia said.
"You will sell it to raise money for the marching band. They need new uniforms."
"Yeah. Those tall, fuzzy hats ain't cheap, huh?" Xander said.
"But they go with everything." Oz quipped.
"We're not in the band." Aurelia said.
"And if I'd handed you a trombone, that would've been a problem, Summers." Snyder held out a box. "It's candy. Sell it." He walked off, leaving them all staring at their boxes.
Aurelia and her mother were eating Chinese food for dinner at the island in the kitchen that night. Joyce was poking at the box of candy bars. "But you're not in the band." She said.
"And yet." Aurelia rolled her eyes.
"Buffy, what would I do with forty chocolate bars?"
"You could hand them out at the Gallery."
Joyce considered and decided it couldn't hurt to at least help. "Twenty."
"You're a good mom."
"I'm the best." Joyce turned back to her plate.
"I've got to go." Aurelia got up and grabbed her box of candy bars.
"What, you're going out?"
Aurelia sighed. "Can I tell you something without you…. Freaking out?"
Aurelia eyed her mother for a long moment. "I'm going to see Cassius."
Joyce dropped her food. "What? He's…. he's back?"
"Yes. He came back a few weeks ago."
"How? I thought you said…."
"I'm not sure how. And Giles doesn't know either. He's working overtime trying to figure it out and the prophecy and how to prevent whatever doom this is supposed to bring." Aurelia sighed. "All I can see is Cassius is in pain and I'm doing everything I can to ease that for him."
"How…. How is he?"
"Better. Much better, actually. His strength isn't back yet, but it's getting there."
"When he…. Gets better…. Can I meet him?"
Aurelia smiled. "Of course. I'm sure he'd like that."
A shirtless Cassius stood in the atrium practicing the slow, elegant forms of T'ai Chi. He brought his arms down together in front of him and then over to his right. As he brought his left arm up across his abdomen, he crossed his right arm over his left. His motions remained fluid as he slowly moved his left arm out in front of him, palm up, and extended his right arm out to his side. He drew his arms together again, this time crossing his left arm over his right and repeated a mirror image of his last move. Never stopping his motion, he brought both hands to his waist, palms facing forward, and slowly raised his right arm and swept it across in front of himself, palm down, while he swept his left arm across below his right, palm up.
Aurelia walked into the doorway and stopped just to watch him. The fluidity and smoothness of his motions were hypnotizing. Cassius didn't notice her and continued the exercises. He had his arms extended, his left hand angled up sharply from his forearm, and his right hand clasping the heel of his left. He brought them around in a broad sweeping motion toward Aurelia and then raised them, separated them, and spread them apart with his palms facing away from him. He raised his head as he did so and saw Aurelia standing there watching him.
Cassius smiled slightly. "Aurelia."
She looked down briefly, slightly embarrassed to be caught watching him like that, and then looked up at him again with a little smile of her own. "I didn't know you could do that."
He tried to straighten himself up from his slightly bent stance. "I-I'm feeling better." He couldn't maintain his posture and bent back over, supporting himself with his right hand on his knee.
Aurelia rushed to his aid. "Cassius…." She got under his left arm and helped him stand up straight. "Let's get you inside." They slowly made their way back into the mansion. There was a warm fire going in the fireplace. Aurelia picked up a small paper bag as they went past the coffee table in front of it.
"It's late. How'd you get away?" Cassius asked.
"It was easy. I started a fire in the prison laundry room. Rode out in the garbage truck." They stopped and let go. Cassius faced Aurelia, not sure what to make of that as he sat on the edge of the couch. Aurelia laughed. "I'm joking. There was no garbage. You can smell me if you like." She stepped closer to him and touched his face. "I told my mother the truth."
"She knows I'm back."
"Yes. And she wants to meet you when you feel up to it."
"She's already met me."
"No, she met Angel. She wants to meet Cassius…. You." Aurelia put the bag down on the table next to him and stepped over to sit on the couch on his other side.
Cassius leaned back on his cushions. "Are you…. How are you doing?"
Aurelia smiled slightly. "Better…. Now that you're back." She tried not to let him see the tears that were stinging her eyes. "You have no idea how long I've waited for you."
He stared at his hands. "I have an idea."
"Right. Of course." Aurelia indicated the bag she'd left next to him. "That's for you. It's fresh from the butcher."
"Thanks." He reached in and took out a quart-sized plastic tub of blood. He gave it a brief look, then slipped it back into the bag and set it aside. "You're being careful, right?"
"Of course. I am the epitome of careful."
He took her hand. "I worry about you."
"I worry about you."
"I'm getting stronger."
"Yes, pretty soon, you won't even need me."
"I'll always need you." He tugged on her hand and she leaned into him. She made sure not to lay on anything tender as she curled up into his side. His arms wrapped around her and she started to sob. "Aurelia…. My love…."
"I'm sorry. I just…. This feels like a dream. 246 years of waiting for a miracle I began to think would never come!"
His arms tightened around her. "It's not a dream. I'm here. I'm not going anywhere."
"We…. We can't know that. Not with this stupid prophecy hanging over our heads."
Aurelia gasped. "I didn't mean for that to come out."
"Aurelia, what prophecy?"
She sighed and reached into her back jeans pocket. She pulled out the worn piece of paper from Wolfram and Hart and handed it to him. "I didn't want you to know about this until you were better."
Cassius read over the prophecy three times before saying anything. "This isn't good."
"Is this happening?"
"Not yet, but I think it will be soon. Giles is working on figuring out the Eternal Circle, but so far he's found nothing about it."
"'Within the time of Light and Darkness, The Eternal Lovers shall be torn apart, And the End of Days shall be brought forth, Whence they come together again, In the moment the Eternal Circle should be restored, The End of Days shall be no more.'" Cassius read it a fourth time out loud. "I think the Eternal Circle has something to do with us."
"That whole prophecy is about us."
"What if the Eternal Circle is us?"
Aurelia stood up and started to pace. "Us? How?"
Cassius had to think for a long moment. "The End of Days stops when we start the Eternal Circle over again."
Aurelia stopped pacing. "'In the moment the Eternal Circle should be restored.' When we finally die together…."
"The Eternal Circle that was broken in 1753 will be restored."
"God! Why didn't I see that!"
"You've been preoccupied."
"We've got to tell Giles."
"Aurelia…. I don't know if we should."
"They're your friends, love. Giles loves you like a father. I don't think he'll like this."
"But last time there was a prophecy saying I had to die, he was so…. Gung ho about me dying."
"It tore him up."
Aurelia sighed. "I know."
Cassius touched her face gently. "Let's keep this to ourselves for now, ok? They're happy that you're back."
Aurelia looked up at him. "How do you know that?"
He smiled slightly. "I lurk."
"You shouldn't be going out by yourself. You're not at full strength. What if someone attacks you?"
"Sweetheart," He cupped her cheek and looked at her tenderly. "I'll be ok. I promise you."
Aurelia sat in study hall in the science classroom with Cordelia sitting next to her. Willow and Xander were at the table behind them. A boy near the front threw a wad of paper at another. The target boy almost managed to catch the paper. He snagged it as it was about to roll from the table and set it aside. A moment later he took it again and looked back at the boy who threw it, watching for an opening.
"I heard that there was a secret rule that if a teacher's more than ten minutes late, we can all leave." Cordelia said.
"It's Giles' turn to watch study hall. He'll be here." Aurelia said. "He's allergic to late."
"He is wound a little tight. I had this philosophy book checked out from the library for, like, a year, and he made me pay the fine, even though it was huge. I was sad to return it. It was perfect for starting conversations with college boys. Of course, that was B.X."
"B.X.?" Aurelia smiled slightly. "Before Xander. Very clever."
Behind them, Xander was busy munching on a chocolate bar. The books in front of him were closed. "I like chocolate." He said. "There is no bad here."
"You still have some left?" Willow asked. "I went to, like, four houses, and they were gone. It's like Trick-or-Treating in reverse."
"I know. These things are selling like hot cakes…. which is ironic, cause the hot cakes really aren't moving…. And it's, uh, ahem, fun to sell chocolate. Ahem."
"And we're raising a lot of money for the band."
"The band. Yeah. They're great. They march."
"Like an army. E-e-except with music instead of bullets, and…. usually no one dies."
Cordelia turned to face them. "I can't believe this." Aurelia noticed that Willow and Xander both hit opposite legs of the table and made it lurch with a loud thunk. "Where is Giles already? I'm bored, and he's not here to give me credit for it."
Just then, Ms. Barton came in and clapped her hands a few times to get the students' attention. "Hey! We're all stuck here, ok? So now let's just sit quietly and, and pretend we're reading something until we're really sure that old Commandant Snyder's gone. Then we're all outta here!"
"Does anyone else wanna marry Ms. Barton?" Xander asked.
"Get in line." Cordelia said.
"I guess Giles isn't coming?" Willow asked.
"I guess not." Aurelia said.