Buffy came through the basement door in time to see Xander being helped into the lounge by Willow and Anya. She waited for Dawn to detach herself from him and then leaned over to give him a hug.
"It's good to have you home," she said into his ear before straightening up and turning to face her assembled ranks. No one looked happy. A banner bearing the words 'WELCOME HOME XANDER' hung from the ceiling, but it hadn't lightened anyone's mood.
She took a deep breath and began. "I know this isn't a good day for us. In fact, with the exception of having Xander back, it pretty much sucks." Xander gave her a small smile which spurred her on. "What we faced the other night at the vineyard was evil. That preacher creature is evil in its purest form and it worked us over. I don't deny that; I can't deny that, none of us can, but that is exactly what we are here to face. This - us - our army, that is our mission. We are here to fight that evil, destroy its servants and trash its plans." She looked around to gauge their reactions.
"Here, here B, but how exactly do you suggest we do that?" Faith asked.
Buffy turned to face her, noticing Principal Wood had just arrived and was standing in the doorway behind her.
"That's what we're here to discuss." She looked around at everyone. "Where's Spike? I want everyone to listen to this."
"Um, I'm not sure. He and Andrew came back some time ago, but I haven't seen Spike since." Giles answered, puzzled.
"I saw him. He came bursting through the cellar door at a hundred miles an hour about twenty minutes ago. He didn't look very pleased. He was rude to me and then stormed off into the night like an avenging angel with good cheekbones," Anya reported. Xander smiled at her a little condescendingly and patted her hand.
"Very poetic," he told her. "Well Buff, we can catch him up later, tell us what you've got planned." No one noticed the flicker of guilt in Buffy's eyes, except Faith, who wondered once again why the other Slayer still felt responsible for Spike.
Buffy smiled wanly at them. "Okay, don't all protest at once, but we have to go back."
"Back where?" Kennedy asked, fearing the worst.
"Back to the vineyard."
"You have to be kidding," Kennedy exploded. All around her the rest of the group voiced their dissent and dismay. Buffy stood at the center of it all feeling it buffet her like a mast on a storm tossed ship. She knew she was right, she also knew how scary it was.
She caught Faith's eye and silently pleaded with the other girl to help. Faith understood what was being asked of her but she too thought the plan foolhardy and she wasn't going to convince a group of kids to do something she had no intention of doing herself.
When the protesting reached a crescendo Buffy held up her arms. "Okay - I'm getting the impression you're not keen on the plan." No one listened to her.
"HEY" Faith yelled. Everyone automatically stopped mid-gripe at the authority in her tone. "Hey" She said again with a little less volume. "We don't even know what B has planned yet so let's pipe down until we do, yeah?"
"You can't tell me you want to go back in there," Kennedy insisted. "She's losing it."
"I am not losing it . . . " Buffy began.
"Look Sprite, hang on a minute. Let's just stay calm . . ." Faith cut in.
"I am calm. And I'm not crazy. I want to fight, but I'm not gonna follow her into certain death just because she says so."
"Kennedy, let's just hear the plan, please." Willow soothed her girlfriend, entwining her fingers through hers and pulling her onto her lap.
"I gotta say I'm with Kennedy on this one. As long as that fanatical priest dude is lurking around down there, it's not some place I wanna be." Rhona put in her two cents.
"Look, I understand you being scared," Buffy began. "I'm scared too, but we've got to face facts."
"And what are the facts?" Robin asked.
"Well for one, we know Caleb has something of ours."
"We assume. We only have his word for it." Giles stood leaning against the mantelpiece. Looking at him Buffy could see the lines of worry etched on his face. When had he started looking his age? Last night, last week. The day she died or the day Willow had tried to kill him.
"Okay, we assume, but at the moment we're gonna have to work on the assumption he's telling the truth," Buffy said.
"Yeah that's the part of this plan that's giving me your so-called wiggins," Rhona put in.
"What?" Buffy turned to look at the out-spoken potential.
"The part where we're singing to his tune. He tells us he's got something of ours and we go rushing to our deaths."
"No one's going to rush to their death, Rhona. That's why we're making a plan," Xander answered diplomatically, earning him a smile of gratitude from Buffy.
"Well no, you may just rush into a crippling disability or charge headlong into a loss of limbs. It doesn't necessarily have to be death."
Buffy shook her head in disbelief. "Thank you Anya, but I think if you don't mind I'll take it from here."
"Well I was only trying to put a more positive light on a situation which is seriously lacking in positivity," Anya grumbled.
"And in your own unique way you did." Xander soothed her.
"And anyway," Buffy spoke up to get everyone's attention again. "Assumption number two coming up. Whatever he has got of ours, it has to be at the vineyard."
"Why?" Asked a number of people.
"Because that's where he's holed up. Why would he be there otherwise? He makes a lot of noise about the Hellmouth, but as far as we can tell he's never been anywhere near it. The vineyard has never been on our radar before but suddenly there's a whole host of Bringers hanging around. He's protecting something there, or making something maybe. Up to something he shouldn't be anyway." Buffy looked around to see how everyone was digesting this theory.
"Okay, suppose your right. Just suppose he is there for a purpose other than it being a handy abandoned hidey-hole. Why didn't you see any evidence of it last night?"
Faith suddenly thought of something. "But Giles, it wasn't abandoned. It was full of wine barrels, dozens of them. And they were full of wine, believe me. I stank like a brown-bagging subway bum after being launched into one. You're not gonna convince me that Caleb takes his wine cellar with him wherever he goes."
"Which would mean it wasn't abandoned, which means there's something there important enough to override the risk of being discovered by whoever owns the place," Amanda said.
"Do we really believe that would be a worry for him, though? Surely he'd just kill anyone who got in his way," Kennedy argued
"Yeah and most people are getting the hell out of here anyway," Robin agreed
"Guys, we're going round in circles here," Willow pointed out.
"She's right. We can discuss that in more length later. On to point three." Buffy thought for a moment. "Right, one, has something. Two, at the vineyard." She muttered under her breath. "Ah right, three: whatever he has of ours, we want it."
She looked around, everyone just looked back at her. "Everyone agrees with number three then, you don't wanna pick it apart and suck the bones."
"Buffy, of course we want what he has of ours . . ." Giles started, but was interrupted by Faith.
". . . Just none of us want to go in there and take it."
There was a murmur of agreement from everyone.
Buffy turned to look at Willow. "Any magicky way you can teleport something out?"
Willow looked panicky. "I don't know. Maybe, if I knew what it was and where it was, but there's no way I could get my mind into the lair of the First without it knowing and, well you know what happened last time. I think it would make things a whole lot worse instead of better."
"Okay, that's probably true. We'll just have to save the big guns for later, huh." She smiled reassuringly at Willow.
"What about luring Caleb out?" Kennedy asked. Everyone turned their attention to the small potential. "Y'know, bait him so he comes out and then maybe we can go in and have a look around."
"That's not a totally bad idea." Buffy agreed.
"Sharp sharp knives," Anya reminded them
"The Bringers would still be there. Even if Caleb was stupid enough to fall for a trick . . ."
"Hey what makes you think I'd come up with a stupid plan?" Kennedy complained pouting.
Giles annoyance was evident. "If someone would please let me finish a sentence, you would realize, Kennedy, that I did not mean to imply your plan was stupid, merely that we can not assume Caleb is either."
"Don't know why, we're assuming everything else."
"You're not gonna let that go anytime soon are you Rhona?" Xander chuckled.
"I think what Giles is trying to say is that even with Caleb out of the nest the place will still be swarming with Bringers," Dawn summed up, trying for her sisters sake to bring the conversation back on topic.
"I said it first!"
"Giles and Anya," Dawn corrected.
"Can't we lure them out too or just kill them?" Kennedy asked.
"No, there's too many. However many followed Caleb we'd still never know how many more had been left behind," Buffy reasoned
"Yeah, and the last thing we want is to be knee deep in Bringers and have Caleb come back and catch us in there. It would be worse than just storming the place," Faith. said.
"So there must be another option. No one wants to storm in, we can't magick the thing out and tricking Caleb isn't going to work. What else is there?" Robin asked. "I don't know," Buffy admitted. She shook her head slightly as if to clear it. Then having an idea she turned to Andrew. "What did you find out anyway? Please tell me it's something useful."
"Uh well, we rode up there on Spike's hog - which was cool, and I wanted to stop and get curly . . ."
"Andrew, I don't want a report on what you did on your summer holidays. Did you find anything useful at the monastery or not."
"Uh sorry. Yeah, sort of. Caleb had been there and killed everyone except one monk who he'd branded on his face."
Willow perked up at that. "Branded, like the girl at the hospital!"
"Yeah I guess. Anyway, the monk showed us this secret room that Caleb had gotten nutty over and there was a stone with an inscription carved on it. I couldn't read it but Spike could."
"Damn, where is he when we need him?" Buffy ran her hands though her hair refusing to meet Faith's eyes. She could feel the brunette watching her.
"It's okay, I can remember it. It was pretty short."
"Go on then Andy. Spill." Faith told him, her eyes still on Buffy.
"Well it said, 'IT IS NOT FOR THEE, BUT FOR SHE ALONE TO WIELD.'"
"What the blazes does that mean?" Xander asked.
"Well the monk said it got Caleb all fired up so Spike assumed it must have something to do with what's going on here."
"She alone to wield. That would mean Buffy, right?" Xander reasoned.
"Or Faith," Kennedy countered.
"Nah, Sprite, I think Xander got it right." Faith chuckled.
"Either way it's lending more weight to the theory that he's got something of ours," Buffy said.
"That would seem to be the case," Giles conceded. "And if there are forgotten carvings in random monasteries and what have you, it would be wise to assume that whatever it is, is extremely powerful to the First."
"Thank you. Now do you still think it's a stapler?" Buffy asked.
"Well, er . . . No."
"We still don't know if it's at the vineyard though," Rhona pointed out. "And I still don't want to go in there."
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