Cassius's mansion was romantically lit by candles and a fire going in the fireplace. The remains of a cozy picnic dinner were still laying in front of the fire place. Aurelia hit the floor in front of the fireplace hard on her back. She had her right knee pulled up to her chest. Cassius crouched over her, holding himself up with his arms and grinning down at her. She used her leg to throw him over her head.
He flipped backward and landed flat on his back. Aurelia did a kick-up, bringing her up to a standing position, and spun around to face Cassius as he got to his feet. He hesitated for a moment before lunging at her with a wide punch that she easily ducked. She came up behind him and he turned around to face her. He tried a left-handed punch, but she blocked it and flew into a half-spinning kick. Cassius ducked it, but got knocked off his feet when she kept on spinning downwards with a back leg sweep, sending him to the floor. She scrambled to grab a baguette from the blanket and rolled toward him.
Aurelia came up straddling him at the waist and plunged the long, thin loaf at his chest, stopping just short of penetration. "Gotcha!"
"Right in the heart." Cassius said.
"I'm not sure that's the word."
Aurelia rolled her eyes and set the baguette aside. "I didn't mean 'satisfied' like…."
"I wasn't trying to…."
"I know." She hugged him tightly.
"Am I gonna see you this weekend? You, uh, you probably have plans."
She rolled her eyes again. "Birthday. I'm supposed to be seeing the ice show with my dad, but he always cancels. So, no. No plans."
"Would you like to celebrate?"
"Sure. Why not?"
"There's this restaurant downtown…. It's fancy. You get to dress up."
"I thought you'd like that."
"Of course." She leaned into him and kissed him gently.
The next night, Cassius, Xander, Willow, and Oz were sitting around the table in the library researching anything more they could find on the End of Days. Giles had left a message three days ago that the Council was worried that it was an all out attack on Slayers. Faith was supposed to be back, but she was missing and Giles hadn't been in contact with Aurelia since that last message. Aurelia had called around everywhere to try and find him with no luck.
Willow was working on the computer trying to find anything on Faith. She was hacking into police records around the country trying to see if she'd been spotted or hurt or anything. Aurelia, who was in Giles's office, sighed and threw down her pen in frustration. She put her head in her hands and let out a groan. The night before had meant to relax her, and it had, but the worries that she'd left at Cassius's doorstep had come swooping back the minute she'd walked out.
The phone rang and Aurelia picked it up before the first ring was even over. "Giles?"
"No, it's me." Joyce said. "I was just calling to check on you."
"I'm ok, mom."
"You don't sound like it."
"I'm just frustrated."
"Still no word from Giles or Faith?"
"No. Nothing. No one's heard from either of them."
"I'm sure everything's fine, Buffy. Don't think negative."
"Will you be coming home tonight?"
Aurelia hung up and sighed. Cassius appeared in the doorway. "Everything ok?"
"Yeah. That was just my mom checking in on me."
"She's right. Everything will turn out ok."
Just then, the lights flickered and went out. Out in the library the doors and windows burst open all around them. Someone burst into the office through the small window and pushed Aurelia into Cassius, sending them both sprawling to the ground. Robed men broke into the library from all angles, smashing windows and breaking down doors. Covered head to toe in long, black, hooded robes, these people had wooden staffs and no eyes.
Aurelia gasped, knowing exactly who they were. She and Cassius exchanged a look and she knew that he knew, too. They jumped up and started fighting. Willow pushed one of the robed men off of her. The one that Oz was fighting had his hood removed, revealing an eyeless face whose sockets were covered in red scars. He dropped the wooden staff and took out two silvery curved daggers and lunged at Oz, but narrowly missed as Oz rolled across the table.
Aurelia grabbed the robed person before he could jump after Oz. The Bringer kicked her and Aurelia fought back, kicking him in the head and sending him flying up into the stacks. Willow grabbed the discarded wooden staff. A Bringer was lying still on the floor in front of her. She inched closer to him, holding the wooden staff defensively. He swung his leg at her ankle, tripping her. He climbed on top of her and pulled out a silver dagger, aiming for her chest. Oz, also wielding a wooden staff, knocked the Bringer off of Willow and helped her to her feet.
Aurelia caught one Bringer trying to sneak up on Xander, but she grabbed him and swung him at another Bringer she was fighting, using his body both as a shield and a weapon, before throwing him to the floor. A Bringer came at her with silver curved daggers in both hands. She grabbed his wrists, kicked him back, and grabbed the daggers. One Bringer lunged at her and she stuck the dagger in his belly. When the other Bringer came at her she did the same. They screamed and collapsed.
Then the fight seemed to be over. The Bringers were retreating. "Aurelia?" Xander asked.
She nodded. "Everyone?" They all nodded that they were ok.
"Is this it?" Oz asked. "I thought there was more of them."
"They ran." Aurelia looked around. "Where's Cassius?"
"He was fighting up in the stacks." Xander said.
"Cassius!" Aurelia called, rushing up into the stacks. She went into the back room. It was a mess, but Cassius was nowhere in sight. "Cassius!" She rushed even further back and out the back door. He was still nowhere to be found. She rushed back into the library, stopping at the railing. "He's not here."
"Maybe he chased after them." Willow said.
"They were so fast. And organized." Xander said.
"They were after Cassius all along."
"And we were just in the way."
Aurelia came down the stairs and kneeled next one of the Bringers who was lying face-up on the stairs. "I know these men. I fought them before." She looked at her friends. "I know what we're up against now. What's coming to end the world. It's the First."
It was nearly dawn now. Xander was sweeping up the broken glass from the floor. Aurelia and Oz were doing research at the table. Willow was using the computer to research online. No one had spoken since they'd finished cleaning up and started to look for anything they could find on the First. Aurelia had gone to Giles's apartment and found the book they'd been looking at on Christmas Eve. It hadn't said anything more on the First. Willow and Oz had gone to their homes to get some sleep around one, but had come back only a couple of hours later. Xander hadn't wanted to leave Aurelia alone in case the Bringers came back for her.
"You know," Xander said, finally breaking the silence. "Maybe we should just put a condemned sign on the library until things are less hellmouthy. Would that keep the students away?"
"I think the library pretty much does that on its own." Oz said.
Aurelia stood up, throwing her book across the room. "Nothing…. There's nothing in any of these books!" She noticed everyone's startled looks. "I'm sorry. I can't take this. They've got Cassius and I have no idea where they took him or what they want with him. The First wanted him dead at Christmas, now it just abducts him?! What does that even mean!?"
"My search isn't turning anything up either. Are…. Are you sure this thing called itself the First?"
"Yes! It claimed to be the original evil, the one that came before anything else." She sighed and headed towards the office. Before going in, she stopped and turned back to her friends, leaning on the doorframe. "When I came up against this thing, I felt it. It was ancient and enormous. It nearly got Cassius to kill himself. And if we don't rescue Cassius soon, the gods only know what the First will get him to do this time. So just, please, keep reading. If we're going to rescue Cassius and my sanity, we need to figure out how to fight this thing." She went into the office and shut the door. The sky outside was growing lighter. Her mother should be up by now to go into the gallery. "Hi mom."
"Is everything ok, baby?"
"Is there anything I can do?"
"No. I just wanted to apologize for not coming home last night. I figured out who we're up against and research on it sort of became intense."
"I understand. You sound so tired, though."
"I'm not, really. I'm just frustrated. It feels like we're getting nowhere. I just wish that Giles were here."
"Still no word?"
"None. And now when you call the Council, the line doesn't work."
"Yes, it is. Mom, I need you to do something for me."
"Mom, I need you to leave town. As soon as possible.""Buffy….""Just promise me that you'll be far away from here by tonight if possible."
"I'm not leaving you to face an awful monster. If I go anywhere, you're going with me."
"You know that I can't."
"Well then I can't either."
"Mom, I know that sometimes you wish I were different."
"I wish I could be a lot of things for you. Remotely normal to start with, but I'm not. There is something I do that I can do better than anybody else in the world. I'm going to fight this thing, but I can't do it and worry about you."
"Buffy, you just can't…."
"You stay, you will get me killed. You'll have to trust me on this. Can you do that?"
Joyce sighed. "Of course I can trust you. Will you at least come home to say 'see you later'?"
"Yes. I'll be there around lunch time."
"Ok, Buffy. I'll start packing."
"Thank you, mom. I love you."
"I love you, too."
Aurelia hung up and put her head in her hands. The next thing she knew, she and Willow were in the basement again. "What…." Aurelia looked at Willow. She realized where in the basement they were. They were standing in front of a door and the three dead people were blocking her and Willow's way to it. "I'm beginning to think all you want is to get between me and that door. Who's for finding out why?" Her words echoed, coming from her mouth.
Willow raised her hand. The dead nerd lunged at Aurelia who pushed him out of the way. Then the dead girl jumped on her back and Aurelia fell back to the ground to knock her off. Willow kicked the older dead guy away from her as Aurelia got up. It looked like they'd managed to get rid of all three, but they were suddenly standing in front of the door again, like they'd reappeared there supernaturally.
Xander was suddenly there in front of her, gently shaking her awake. "Auri, wake up."
"You fell asleep."
"Oh…. Oh!" She stood up. "There's something in the basement."
"Uh, creepy shadows and bad memories?"
"Memories, yes! We've got to go down to the basement."
"I think there's something down there. Those dead people…. They didn't want us to go through that door. I forgot all about it until that dream…."
"The dream I just had. Willow?" Aurelia rushed out into the library. Willow looked up expectantly from the computer. "Do you remember where that door was?"
"What door?" Willow asked.
"The one in the basement that the dead people wouldn't let us go in to. Do you remember where it was?"
"Not really. That place was a maze."
"We've got to find it."
"Because there's something in there that has something to do with the Bringers and the First."
"How do you know that?"
"I just do."
"Ok, let's go." Xander said, holding two flashlights from Giles' office.