Riley was the first to react, sprinting up the stairs three at a time. The rest of the group stood in wary silence, straining their ears to identify the sounds echoing through the unnaturally quiet house. Riley pounded on the door, calling Cordelia's name. The solid wood shuddered with every blow, but no answer came from within the room. He jiggled the knob, but it was locked. Taking several steps back, he threw his shoulder against the door.
Downstairs, a sudden thought caused Willow to jerk her head, and she shuffled into the great room, followed by the others. They moved in a cluster to the easel, where none were surprised to see the now familiar red 'X' over Cordelia's face in the painting. They heard wood splinter and heavy footsteps circling upstairs, the sounds tapering off to normal when Riley appeared behind them.
"The door was locked from the inside, but she wasn't there," he reported, his eyes following the gaze of the remaining guests. "Guess she's number four."
"Shouldn't we l-look for her?" Tara asked.
"What good would it do?" Anya snapped. "Clearly she's dead."
"You don't know that," Willow argued weakly, her words lacking the force of belief.
"We have to do s-something," Tara said, pausing before turning to Willow and Oz. "When you were looking for Mr. Giles, did you notice a phone, radio...anything?"
Oz furrowed his brow and shook his head.
"But we weren't really looking for any," Willow conceded.
"So we do another search," Riley stated. "I suggest two teams of three. One upstairs, on down."
"Split up? Is th-that a good idea?" Tara said, her worried eyes seeking Willow's. Her fears went unspoken, but after the accusations against Willow earlier, the implication was clear: one of the six of us could be the killer.
"Everyone who's been picked off so far has been alone, so we should be fine," Riley replied.
No one debated the argument, but furtive glances and a lack of movement revealed the level of unease all were feeling.
"I just don't understand...why us?" Anya raged.
"I think I know."
Everyone turned at Tara's quietly spoken words, and she self-consciously ducked her head and pulled two folded cards out of her pocket.
"Willow dropped her c-card...and I w-wasn't going to r-read it-"
"It's okay, baby," Willow soothed. "What did you find?"
"The date," Tara stated, handing the papers to Willow, who looked at them curiously for moment before her mouth dropped open in shock.
"They're...they're the same!"
She passed the cards to Riley, and one by one each person confirmed that the crimes each was charged with had occurred on the exact same day, two years prior. A date that was now two days away.
"Both your husbands died on the same date?" Riley interrogated Anya. "That's quite a coincidence."
Anya sneered at the cop's sarcasm but said nothing.
"So we have a single date serial killer," Riley continued, retreating fully into a mask of professional aloofness.
"That's fairly freaksome," Oz stated.
"Or just, you know, insane," Willow muttered.
"Insane or not," Tara mused, "Someone's spent two years planning this."
"Someone with a lot of vengeance," Anya agreed.
The others looked quizzically at Dawn, who had largely remained silent, standing off to the side.
"That's what the voice on the tape said, right? Justice? Maybe we deserve it."
Before any of the others could angrily reply, Tara held up a hand.
"I know you're upset Dawn, and things seem really bad, but no one deserves this."
"Those people didn't deserve to die, either, but they did," the teenager countered, crossing her arms defiantly. "And it's not like anyone's coming to rescue us."
"Well, then we'll just have to rescue ourselves," Willow suggested, receiving a smile and nod of encouragement from Tara.
Oz turned the painting around and inspected the poem.
"Be a lot easier if we knew who was next," he intoned.
"The manner of deaths so far do seem to be patterned after each so-called murder," Riley speculated. "That first guy-"
"Xander," Willow interjected. "His name was Xander."
Riley clenched his jaw and continued.
"His was a car accident, right? Only here it was a bicycle. Not the same, but still a mode of transportation."
"Buffy was burnt...like in a tanning bed!" Anya added, smiling happily at her contribution.
Willow was about to chastise the woman for her lack of human feelings when Tara's hand entwining with hers stilled her nerves, and she took a breath.
"And Faith?" she asked.
"Fell on a fence, stabbed through the stomach."
Willow didn't know which was worse: Anya's inappropriate cheerfulness or Oz's perfunctory summation.
"Cordelia's sorority sister drowned..." she recalled.
"She wasn't in her room," Riley said again. "And if she left the house...we might not find a body. The fountain out front is empty, and I haven't seen a pool."
Oz had remained staring at the poem, and began reading the next passage.
"Six little murderers poking at a hive, one got stung to death and then there were five. Huh."
"It's probably not real bees," Anya helpfully provided. "Stung...maybe a gunshot?"
Tara paled at the suggestion, and even Riley's collected demeanor faltered. Willow moved behind Tara and wrapped her arms protectively around the woman.
"It might not mean that," she insisted. "It could be a...a..."
A long silence followed Oz's words, as each person scanned the remaining lines for any hint of their fate.
"Swept away is k-kind of vague...bitter brew sounds like...p-poison?" Tara said.
Anya's eyes widened and she chewed nervously on a manicured fingernail. Her reaction went unnoticed by all but one of the group.
"The second and third to the last don't give any clue," Riley remarked. "Just 'found the evidence' and 'joined the other team.'"
"Who finds evidence?" Oz inquired softly, turning compassionate eyes to Riley, who nodded once.
"'Joined the other team'...that's a sports term, right?" Anya guessed. "Like turning traitor or betraying someone?"
"Could be," Oz frowned. "But the last one...no one was strangled, or hung."
"Yes they were," Willow murmured, and Tara held on tighter to the arms crossed over her stomach. "My guy...Christopher Hewitt...he hung himself."
"What did you do to him?" Anya asked, eyeing Willow with overt curiosity.
"Nothing!" Willow replied defensively, her agitation rising.
"You must have done something," Anya insisted. "You wouldn't be here otherwise."
"She's got a point," Dawn said, shrugging nonchalantly and steadily meeting Willow's incredulous stare.
"I...made public some information that he was hiding."
"And he threatened you?" Anya guessed. "So you forced him to hang himself?"
"No! As far as I know he didn't even know who I was. I never met the man!"
"Interesting," Riley murmured, peering at the redhead.
"What?" Tara asked, protectively tightening her grip on Willow.
"We're all accused of murder, and whether that's the case or not, we all at least had contact with our alleged victims. Except you."
"One of these things is not like the other," Oz deadpanned.
"So I'm thinking there's three possible explanations for you being here," Finn continued, acknowledging Oz's statement with a nod. "One: you're lying through your teeth. Two:" he said, raising his voice to quell the expected protests, "you're the primary target and the rest of us are just a smokescreen-"
"What do you mean?" Tara interrupted.
"Whoever did this went to a lot of effort. Think about it...someone had to find ten people responsible for a death on the same exact day, and bring them all here. Why go to all that trouble? Why not 'exact justice' as they see it, on the spot? This is personal, so one of us was chosen first, the rest were added after. And the one person who deviates from the pattern is her."
Willow slumped heavily against Tara's back, her chin digging into the blonde's shoulder.
If that's true...then I'm to blame.
As if reading her mind, Tara turned and cradled Willow's face in her hands.
"This is not your fault," she insisted.
"What's behind door number three?" Oz asked, looking away from the private moment.
"Option number three is she's the killer."
Willow shook her head sadly, too exhausted to protest her innocence again. Tara pulled the redhead into her arms and glared at Finn.
"She isn't! I already told you-"
"And we're just supposed to believe it...take your word, even though you've admitted sleeping with her. Lady, that doesn't make me trust her more, it makes me trust you less."
All eyes turned at the sound of Anya's voice, then proceeded to look around the Great room with mounting unease. The teenager had disappeared.