Aurelia and Xander walked into Willy's bar. He was wiping down a few bottles and putting them away when he saw them. Willy started to speak loudly so everyone heard. "Hey! It's the Slayer. What brings the, uh, Slayer down here?" Several vampires at the bar got up and quietly left.
"Hello, Willy, how've you been?" Aurelia asked politely.
"Keeping out of trouble, as God is my witness. So, w-what can I do for you? Couple of drinks?"
"Yeah. Let me get a double shot of, um…." Xander exchanged a look with Aurelia. "Of information, pal."
"Three priests." Aurelia rolled her eyes at Xander. "They call themselves…."
She shot Xander a harsh look. "Bringers, Harbingers. They have no eyes."
"Doesn't ring a bell." Willy said.
"How about I ring that bell for you?" Xander said. He looked hopefully at Aurelia. "Does the threatening come now?"
"Maybe you shouldn't help." Aurelia said gently. "They would've come to town recently. They'd be holed up somewhere summoning the spirit of The First."
Willy looked around the bar carefully, then leaned in toward them. "Well…. I heard a few things, you know, from the underground."
"The underground?" Xander asked.
"Yeah, you know. From things that live under the ground. Apparently there's been a lot of migration out of Sunnydale from the lower inhabitants. Something's scaring them off, and these are things that aren't easily scared. Could be your priest guys are underground."
"Underground where?" Aurelia asked.
"I do not know."
"Ok. Thank you."
"See you around." Xander said as they started to leave.
"Hey." Willy called to Xander. "You did great, by the way. I was very intimidated by you."
"Really?" Willy gave him a nod. "Thanks!"
"Let's go." Aurelia led him away.
"Hey, kid. Merry Christmas." Willy said to Aurelia. She just gave him a look and then she and Xander left. They stepped into the heat of the day and started down the block.
"Man, is it hot. It was so nice and cool in there." Xander said.
"Yes, a nice cool waste of time." Aurelia countered.
"We know underground. That's a start."
"Sure, in a town with fourteen million square miles of sewer."
"Plus a lot of natural cave formations and a gateway to Hell. Yeah, this does resemble square one."
"I don't know what to do."
"I think right now the best plan is to deck the halls with boughs of holly. Look, we'll catch the bad guys…. sooner or later."
Christmas music played in the background as Aurelia put the finishing touches on the tree. Joyce placed another log on the fire and stood up to inspect the result. "There we go." She said proudly.
"Nothing like a roaring fire to keep away the blistering heat." Aurelia joked.
"Oh, come on. It's lovely. Maybe I should turn the air conditioning on." Joyce walked off to turn the AC on. Aurelia went off into her own world as she finished trimming the tree. She didn't hear her mother come back in. "So, angel's on top again?"
"What?" Aurelia jumped, turning to look at her mother.
Joyce held up an angel and a star. "Angel or star?"
"Oh, uh…. star." The doorbell rang and Aurelia sighed. "That's probably Cassius." She went to the door and opened it.
"Hey." Faith said uncertainly.
"Hi!" Aurelia said brightly. "You're not Cassius."
"It's ok. Uh, looked like that whole party thing was gonna be kind of a drag. I didn't really have anything…. You know."
"I'm glad you came."
"Uh…. Here." Faith handed Aurelia gifts.
"Why don't you come in from the entire lack of cold?"
Faith stepped in and Aurelia closed the door. "Uh, that one is for your mom. They're pretty crappy."
"Faith, you made it." Joyce said, taking the gifts from Aurelia. "Oh, that is so thoughtful."
"You know what? I'm going to go upstairs and get your gifts. Excuse me." Aurelia rushed up the stairs calling, "Ok, Mom, don't touch yours, though, because then you're going to know what it is." Once in her room she heard her door slam behind her. She spun around to find Cassius there. He looked very tired and somewhat disoriented. "Cassius…."
"Huh…. Aurelia." He muttered.
"What is it?"
He looked around apprehensively and cleared his throat. "I gotta…. I…. look, I, uh, I had to see you, um…. I don't know, I…. You shouldn't be…."
She stepped up to him and touched his face with both of her hands. "Tell me what's going on, love."
His gaze focused on her neck. "You have to stay away from me."
"You came to see me to tell me that I can't see you?" He panted heavily and struggled hard with himself for control. "Cassius, something is doing this to you. You just have to control it, ok? I know that you're confused."
"I think you're the one who's confused. I think you need to…." Cassius struggled for control of his mind. He grabbed his hair with his hands in desperation.
"Love, how can I help you?"
"Leave me alone!" He ran toward her window and dove out, shoving her out of the way."
"Giles, we have to do something." Aurelia said as she paced frantically around Giles's apartment. "Soon. Now."
"I'm still not sure what…." Giles started.
"Find me these priests. Find me something I can hurt."
"Let's not lose our heads."
"Giles, he's slipping. I think we're losing him." Her voice faltered and she looked at her hands.
"Look…. You realize if he…. truly becomes a danger, you may have to kill him. Again. Can you do that?"
"Oh, just find me a damn book!" She started to pace again until Giles handed her a book. She still couldn't sit still, so she paced and read. After a long hour of reading, she found something about the first. "'A child shall be born of man and goat and have two heads, and The First shall speak only in riddles….' Priests?"
"Um…. Yes, but, uh, more, more posturing, I'm afraid." Giles looked at his book. "Um, 'For they are the Harbingers of death. Nothing shall grow above or below them. No seed shall flower, neither in man nor….' They're rebels and they'll never ever be any good. Nothing specific about their haunts."
"Let me see that." Giles handed her the book. "'….the Harbingers of death. Nothing shall grow above or below….'" She was suddenly lost in thought.
"What?" Giles looked at the book over her shoulder.
"I've got to go!" Aurelia dropped the books and rushed out. She headed to downtown Sunnydale, feeling every second that she was losing precious time. She made it to the Christmas tree lot and kicked open the gate, marching straight toward the dead trees. Once there she studied them for a moment. They had to be under this spot. She looked around for something to dig with and found a long-handled ax. She swung it at the ground and after a couple of hits she broke through. A few more swings and the hole was large enough for her to get through. She crouched down and dropped herself into it.
Aurelia found herself standing in a cave. There were groups of candles burning here and there. She cautiously looked around and started to make her way deeper into the cave. She could hear chanting coming from nearby and didn't have to go far before she found the table with the priests sitting around it.
"Stop!" Aurelia ordered.
The priests got up and Aurelia jumped down to fight them. She swung the handle of her ax into one priest's stomach and he went down. She swung it into another one, who doubled over. She followed up with another swing to his head and he went down, too. The third one ran away. Aurelia used the ax to destroy the arrangement of artifacts on the table. The next thing she knew, Jenny was in the cave with her.
"Hmm. I'm impressed."
Aurelia hesitated at first, surprised to see Jenny there, but quickly realized that it wasn't really her. "You won't get him."
"Hmm. You think you can fight me? I'm not a demon, little girl. I am something that you can't even conceive. The First Evil. Beyond sin, beyond death. I am the thing the darkness fears. You'll never see me, but I am everywhere. Every being, every thought, every drop of hate."
"Ugh! I get it. You're evil. Do we really have to chat about it all day?"
"Cassius will be dead by sunrise. Your Christmas…. Will be the beginning of the End for this world."
"You have no idea what you're dealing with."
"Let me guess. Is it…. evil?"
The apparition of Jenny shrunk and was replaced for an instant by an image of a huge horned and clawed beast coming at her, roaring, with eyes glowing red. It faded as quickly as it appeared. "DEAD BY SUNRISE!"
Aurelia ran from the cave. She headed for the mansion, hoping against hope that Cassius wouldn't do something stupid. The First had just proven that Aurelia and Cassius were meant to stop the End of Days together. It wanted them dead so they couldn't stop what was coming. Aurelia ran into the mansion calling Cassius's name. She looked around, but he was nowhere to be seen. She walked toward the doorway to the atrium and looked out. The steps leading up seemed to glow and she took it as a sign as she ran toward them. She run up the hills behind the mansion and through the bushes, frantically looking for Cassius. She climbed further up the hill and found him standing at the top looking out over a peaceful residential area of town.
"Cassius." She sighed in relief.
He heard her say his name and briefly glanced in her direction before looking back out over the rooftops. "I bet half the kids down there are already awake. Lying in their beds…. Sneaking downstairs…. waiting for day."
"Cassius, please. I need for you to get inside. There's only a few minutes left."
"I know. I can smell the sunrise long before it comes."
"I don't have time to explain this. You just have to trust me. That thing that was haunting you…."
"It wasn't haunting me. It was showing me."
"What I am."
"And ever shall be. I wanted to know why I was back. Now I do."
"You don't know! Some great evil takes credit for bringing you back and you just take it as truth? You just give up?"
"I can't do it again, Aurelia. I can't become a killer."
"Then fight it."
"It's too hard."
"Cassius, please, you have to get inside."
"It told me to kill you. You were in the dream. You know. It told me to lose my soul in you and become a monster again."
"I know what it told you. What does it matter? It…."
"Because I wanted to! Because I want you so badly! I want to take comfort in you, and I know it'll cost me my soul, and a part of me doesn't care. Look, I'm weak. It's not the demon in me that needs killing, Aurelia. It's the man."
"You're weak. Everybody is. Everybody fails. This evil didn't bring you back. It couldn't have. You were brought back to stop that evil. I know it." She looked out at the sky as it began to lighten. "Please, the sun is coming up!"
"We'll end it here."
"We can't. We have to stop what's coming."
"This is the only way."
"I don't believe that! This evil wants you dead now. It wants us dead now so it can get us out of the way. We're meant to stop the End of Days together…. but not like this. This isn't the way." He didn't move, so Aurelia grabbed his arm and started to pull. "You are not staying here. I won't let you!"
"Leave if you don't want to face this!" He jerked his arm free of her grasp. In her anger and desperation Aurelia punched him. He reacted by shoving her away from him roughly, making her fall face forward, hard to the ground. He went to her and crouched over her, grabbing her by the shoulders and turning her around to face him. "Am I a thing worth saving, huh? The world wants me gone!"
Aurelia's eyebrows pulled down in confusion. Then it suddenly clicked. The evil had used all of Angelus' past evils to convince him that it was HIM that should die. It didn't care about Aurelia for some reason. So, she played the First's game, reversing it in her favor. Appealing to his love for her. "What about me? I love you so much…. And I hate it! I hate that it's so hard…. and that you can hurt me so much. I know everything that you did, because you did it to me. Lifetime after lifetime I NEVER stopped loving you. I wish that I wished you dead. I don't. I can't."
"No!" Before she could say anything more, a snowflake fell a hit her nose. She looked up and realized it had inexplicably began to snow. She and Cassius both looked up at it coming down, lightly at first and gradually heavier. The snowflakes swirled and danced around them in the gentle morning breeze as the ground around them became white. Aurelia walked to the edge of the hill and looked out at the town as the roofs on the houses below also started to become white. She turned to Cassius and they looked at each other, stunned by the apparent miracle.
"See?" She said to him quietly. "This wasn't the way."
She threw herself in his arms. "The Powers That Be don't want it to end like this. We're meant to stop the End of Days together. We're meant to face what's coming together."