"What? Are you sure?" Buffy objected, straightening in her chair as the casual, gossipy weekly chat she'd been looking forward to with her Watcher veered straight into unexpected apocalypse territory.
"I'm afraid so," Wes replied, sounding nearly as tense as she felt. "Their business took a significant hit in the War of '96, and not just because so many of their offices were located in the world's largest cities. Their entire business model relied on the gradual increase of evil in the average human soul until their favored version of the apocalypse delivered world sovereignty into their grasp. Aliens played no part in that goal, still less the general public reaction to the invasion."
"All that 'nations have put their petty differences aside' stuff, you mean," Buffy replied, wrinkling her nose. She liked President Whitmore, but people had a tendency to quote his motivational speeches and highlight the rebuilding of major first-world capitols and completely ignore the corners of the world that had neither money nor armies nor valuable resources to contribute. She'd seen a lot of them over the last several years, fighting pockets of aliens that had survived the ship crashes and gone to ground. Still, Brit Lite had a point-- at least as far as the media was concerned, and any major law firm always had their finger on the public pulse. Much less a demonic one.
"...Hey," she abruptly realized. "These Wolfram and Hart guys, they're the ones that kept trying to sound Angel out, right? That souled vampire who moved to Sunnydale and helped Giles and his crew out for a while?" He'd vibed as attractive and vaguely tragic on first meeting, but the rest of Team Up Yours had been very, very vocal about his whole loomy stalkery dynamic, in a not-around-OUR-Slayer sort of way. Plus, by the time she'd gone back for her second major Slayer-related apocalypse-- that mess with the demony Mayor who'd eaten a faceful of alien blaster instead of the graduating class of 1999-- she'd heard he was dating one of the high school seniors, some pretty, sharp-tongued brunette who'd been drawn into Giles' little circle of mentees.
(That had also, of course, been when she'd first met one Wesley Wyndam-Pryce; the Watcher's Council had fired Giles for not being able to get her killed quick enough or something, and had sent a younger and stiffer-necked model to try to corral her first chance he got. The joke had been on them in the end; Giles had adopted an orphaned Potential from Boston who'd fought her way there after the invasion and stayed in Sunnydale for her and her friends' sake, and Wes had taken one look at Buffy and thrown the script they'd given him out the window.
He might be a little stuck up, a lot prissy, and definitely more book and sharpshooter guy than melee fighter, but at least he knew it, and could instantly tell the difference between 'rebellious teenage girl who needs to be taught a lesson' and 'seasoned spec ops-type with a team at her back capable of fucking his shit up if he tried anything.' He'd treated her respectfully from the start, and bonus points, had stuck around too and done his best to make the supernatural side of her job easier to juggle.)
"Yes. They continued to cling to their original prophecies for a few years, but the general consensus has finally shifted," Wes replied. "According to my contact, they've decided to cut their losses and evacuate as many of their people and resources as they can through the Hellmouth, and if possible, wedge it open after they leave. In another century or two, after the escaping demons defeat the inevitable second invasion and the scorched earth has had time to recover, their intention is to return to pick up the pieces and present themselves as the saviors of whatever small population of humans manages to survive."
"Except for that last part, that sounds a lot like Glorificus Take 2," she replied in disgust, then looked up at the sound of a sharply indrawn breath by the door.
"I guess that explains these readings," David Levinson said, very dryly, holding up a printout covered in squiggles. "Someone's prepping to open the Hellmouth again?"
Buffy covered the speaker on her phone and wrinkled her nose at him. "Sounds like. I don't have all the deets yet; I'll let you know when I do. Is Steve around?"
"Nah, he's still neck deep in that anti-grav fighter project. Colonel Mitchell's still here, though, and most of the rest of the team. The next Moonbase launch got delayed 'til next week, remember?"
Meaning, the tech group was working feverishly on the materials packages being sent up for the new construction, and the security group was guarding the equipment from antis who thought mounting a defense in space would just piss the aliens off worse rather than actually protecting anybody. Such was a slow day in the life of the Earth-Space Defense Force. "Good," she mouthed at him, and made a shooing motion. "Don't forget to remind them this is demon stuff, not alien stuff; they don't have to come."
He rolled his eyes at her, then took off again, muttering something snide under his breath that she deliberately chose not to hear.
"...hopefully easier to defeat," Wes was still saying, when she turned her attention back to the phone. "Although I do have reason to believe they absorbed some of the technology from the defunct Initiative project that was pursuing less legal ways to exploit alien technology, and they've also been recovering every mystical object they can get their hands on. Except for the curious case of a bladed weapon embedded in rock in an old cellar under Sunnydale-- we'd never have known about that one if they hadn't tried to blow it up. Faith reported that it 'feels like it could be hers, but not yet', so perhaps it's some sort of enchanted Slayer weapon?"
"I'll check it out while I'm out there. If they wanted to deny it to anyone else, they might be afraid of it-- and it just might be useful. Hopefully for the last time, at least for anything major-- but then, I said the same thing after Glory. Just when you think you've stamped out all the cockroaches."
"Considering that demons have walked the earth longer than cockroaches have existed...." he countered.
"Shut up; you're harshing my optimism." Buffy frowned. "So... you trust this contact of yours?"
"Not completely." Wes sighed. "Personally, I believe she's very much out for her own gain; but considering that she originally contracted with the firm as a means of providing for the care of her ill mother, and Wolfram and Hart's plan is quite likely to result in her mother's death? I trust that she would not lie about this."
"All right, then. I'll be there as quick as I can. Anything else I need to know before we get there?"
They finished the conversation talking specifics; then she hung up and went to find her team.
A week later, covered in demon goo, the remains of several alien shield generators sparking at her feet courtesy of the very, very shiny blade in her hands and the portal slammed shut behind Holland Manners and the last of his sleazy minions, Buffy revised her opinion of that 'petty differences' stuff. Just a little.
At least, the part about we sacrifice for each other no matter what the cost, and that's worth fighting for.
She'd wondered from time to time, if they ever mostly managed to clear the world of aliens and-or demons, if she'd ever try to retire. But every time she thought that, she only had to look around at the people fighting at her side, or who'd protected her mom and sister when a skanky blonde with almost as much power in her fist as an entire alien mothership had come after her family, or spent their down days helping with the rebuilding efforts, and knew she just didn't have it in her.
The first thing she'd wanted, when Merrick had found her, had just been to be normal again. But what was normal in a world universally motivated not to go quietly into the night?
She was Buffy Summers, part time Vampire- and full time Alien-Slayer, and this was her normal now.