A/N: Just one more chapter to go after this. Thanks for the reviews! :)
The bell above the door to the Magic Box jangled loudly as Buffy and Dawn walked into the shop. Buffy saw Anya step enthusiastically around the counter, a wide grin on her face that fell when she saw who it was.
“Oh. It’s just you. I thought it might be some customers.”
“Slow day?” Buffy asked, peering around the otherwise empty store.
“Extremely,” Anya replied, picking up her feather duster and flicking away non-existent dust from the top of a fertility statue. “I had a creepy warlock in this morning looking for some very unsanitary items, and Willow bought some chicken feet about an hour ago. She is very good for maintaining profits, you know. Now that she doesn’t steal from me anymore.”
Buffy frowned. It looked like Willow still planned to go ahead with the spell to create a temporal fold, and that was worrying.
“Uh… speaking of stealing,” Dawn said nervously, reaching into her pocket and pulling out a handful of trinkets. “Um, here. I took these from you.”
She dropped the objects on top of the glass of the counter, eyes fixed firmly on the floor. Buffy sighed, and nudged her sister, mouthing ‘apologise’ when Dawn looked up.
“How could you do this?” Anya asked, her voice shrill with shock. “I work hard at this store, and I helped you! I took care of you! This is how you say thank you?”
“I’m sorry,” Dawn mumbled, still staring at the floor. She looked up and met Anya’s eyes. “I really am. I don’t know… I can’t really explain why I took the stuff. I just did. And I swear I won’t ever do it again. I promise.”
“You’d better not,” Anya said. “And I shall punish you by making you work for me, and you’d better be thankful that’s all I’m making you do, missy. When I was a Vengeance Demon, I’d have-”
“Vengeance Demon!” Buffy blurted. “Um, Willow. Is gonna do a spell, a bad spell. The one she tried to help you with when you first moved to Sunnydale? A temporal foldy thing.”
“Oh crap,” Anya frowned. “I guess that’s what she wanted the chicken feet for. Damn it, I knew she was up to something! Her eyes were all shifty and narrow.”
“Where would she go to do the spell? She doesn’t even need to do it anymore, Dawn had her earrings all along.”
Anya made a weird coughing noise that sounded like ‘kleptomaniac’, which earned her a glare from Dawn and a frustrated sigh from Buffy.
“Anya, we don’t have time for this. Last time we only had to deal with Willow’s vampy doppelganger, but Willow’s way more powerful now, and she doesn’t exactly have the best track record for spells going right. Who knows what she’ll do this time?”
“Okay, okay,” Anya said, pacing up and down in front of the counter. “She needs an area of high mystical activity to perform the spell, so she’ll have gone to the Hellmouth. We used an empty classroom back then, it was the closest I could get to the library, what with you Scoobies stomping in and out all day. That’s probably why the spell went so wrong, you know.”
“Buffy, I don’t get why you’re so worried about this,” Dawn said, her arms crossed across her chest. “She’s only trying to find her earrings, no big.”
“Big! Yes big!” Buffy said.
“Talkin’ ‘bout me, pet?” Spike’s voice startled them all, as he emerged from the door to the basement. “All right, ladies?”
“Ew, Spike,” Dawn muttered.
Spike smirked, and opened his mouth to say something else, but before he could get the words out, Buffy interrupted.
“We don’t have time for this! Dawn, I just have a bad feeling. Call it my slayer senses going haywire, I don’t know… but it feels wrong. You don’t mess with time.”
“Oh yes, that’s quite right,” Anya put in. “If she does something even slightly wrong, and knowing Willow there’s a high possibility of that, she will most likely displace something from either the past or the future to our timeline. That’s not a good thing.”
“What’s the witch done now?” Spike asked.
“I’ll explain on the way,” Buffy replied. “Crap! I’m supposed to be at work. I can’t lose that job. Ned! Ned, get here now!”
Both Dawn and Anya frowned, wondering who the heck Buffy was referring to, and why she had suddenly started talking to thin air.
“Ned, I need you to go to the gym and tell them I’m sick,” Buffy said, when the demon popped into the shop. “Then get your ass to the Hellmouth, we might need help.”
“Who is she talking to?” Anya asked, weaving her head from side to side as though trying to spot someone.
“Oh, er…” Spike hedged, then sighed. “Oh bugger it. Slayer’s got herself an Imaginary Friend. Goes by the name of Ned McNabb, and he’s been helping her sort out a few things.”
“Spike, don’t be stupid,” Dawn scoffed, “Imaginary Friends don’t exist.”
“Oh my god!” Anya shrieked. “Ned McNabb? The Ned McNabb? Does my hair look okay?”
“Guys! We don’t have time for this. Yes, Dawnie, I have an Imaginary Friend. We’ll talk about it later. Now? We need to get to the Hellmouth and stop Willow from sending us back in time. Or forwards. Whatever.”
“Should we call the others?” Dawn asked. “Tara might be able to help…”
“Good idea,” Buffy frowned. “Dawn, you call them and then stay here.”
“But, Buffy! I can help! This is kind of my fault, anyway.”
“I don’t want you anywhere that there might be trouble,” Buffy said. “You’ll stay.”
“Fine,” Dawn sighed, as she made her way behind the counter towards the phone.
“Let’s go,” Buffy told the others, and she moved towards the door of the shop, face set in grim determination.
The sun had set whilst they had been in the Magic Box, so Buffy didn’t have to worry about Spike dodging any fatal rays.
Buffy sighed to herself as she realised that she was worrying about Spike’s safety, and if she was honest with herself – had been doing so for the past few weeks. She thought back to the conversation she’d had with Dawn earlier, and decided that she would definitely have to do something about the Spike situation. Later. Much later.
She shot Spike a sidelong glance, and pulled her eyes away immediately when she saw that he had been staring at her, too. She blushed, and glanced up again to see a self-satisfied smirk on his face as he sauntered along.
“So, what we expectin’ to find when we get to the old Hellmouth?” Spike asked. “Didn’t quite pick up on what the witch is tryin’ to do.”
“She’s going to try to make a temporal fold,” Buffy said. “She’s looking for some earrings, which by the way, don’t even need finding anymore.”
“Ah.” Spike stuck a cigarette between his lips and lit it, cupping his hands around the flame.
Buffy felt her heart skip a beat, and mentally glared at it. How could he make something so gross look so sexy?
“Yeah, messing with time never ends well,” Spike said, “knew a bloke once, back in the sixties. He was big on the whole time travel thing. I didn’t take much of it in, mind. Kind of lost the thread when he started going on about time being all wibbly-wobbly.”
“Wibbly-wobbly?” Buffy grinned.
“Yeah. Mad, right?”
“Oh, will you two stop flirting and hurry up!” Anya snapped from several feet in front of them.
Buffy blushed. “There was no flirtage!” she called back, and then smiled at Spike and jogged a little to catch up with Anya.
They got to the old high school soon after, arriving at the same time as Xander, Giles and Tara pulled up to the kerb.
Buffy quickly explained what was going on, and why she was so concerned that something would go wrong, and they turned to go into the school.
"You know, I really, really hate this place," Xander said. Hearing bones crunch under his feet, he grimaced as he remembered the Mayor turning into a snake. "Going to add one more ‘really’ to solidify the hatred."
“Don’t have the fondest memories of the place myself,” Spike commented. “Last time I was here I was wearing the ugliest shirt known to man, and the time before that I was trounced on the head with an axe.”
“Hey! That’s my shirt you’re insulting, Bleach Boy,” Xander said. “And you’re forgetting the time you came here to vamp-nap me and Willow.”
“Yeah,” Spike rolled his eyes. “And now I’m riding in on the white horse to rescue her. Ironic, ain’t it?”
“Guys, be quiet,” Buffy cut in on the impending argument. “We’re almost at the library.”
“I’m not sure that we’re really all needed here, Buffy,” Giles said, sounding weary. “Willow may not have begun the spell, and if she has it might simply be a case of pulling her out of it.”
“I don’t know, Giles,” Buffy replied doubtfully. “I just have this feeling…”
“I feel it too,” Tara put in, speaking for the first time since being told the situation her girlfriend was in. “A-and you didn’t see her the last time she tried a spell this dangerous, Giles. It was scary.”
There was no need to say which spell she was referring to.
“Quite,” Giles frowned. “Very well then, let’s get on.”
Buffy pushed open what remained of the doors, and they all followed her into the decimated library.
Willow was seated cross-legged in the middle of the room, a circle of sand around her and various magical accoutrements scattered in intricate patterns. She seemed to be in some sort of trance, and there was a frightening darkness in her eyes.
Buffy was unsurprised to see Ned in the room, hovering over Willow’s shoulder, a worried expression on his face.
“My god, Woman!” he exclaimed, when he saw Buffy. “Took your time, didn’t you? It’s getting pretty intense in here.”
Buffy rolled her eyes, and made her way over to Willow, Tara following swiftly behind.
“Willow?” Buffy said, waving her hand in front of Willow’s face. “Snap out of it.”
“Buffy,” Tara’s voice was worried. “She’s too deep into the trance. She’s- hmm. Think of it as if she’s browsing a catalogue, trying to find the right time-spot.”
Buffy frowned. “What do we do?”
“Let me try something,” Tara said, and moved to stand in front of Willow, careful not to disturb the magic circle. She held out her hands above Willow’s head, and closed her eyes. A soft blue glow began to gather around her hands.
“Willow, sweetie?” Tara said, “Come on. I need you to wake up, now.”
The blue glow began to pulse slightly, then grew more and more intense before it burst up into the air above Willow and turned red. Willow’s head snapped backwards, and her eyes darkened until they were black.
“Get back!” Buffy called, but Tara continued holding her hands over Willow.
“Eryishon. K’shala. Meh-uhn,” Willow said, suddenly, her voice hard and low. “Diprecht. Doh-tehenlo nu-Eryishon.”
Buffy watched as Willow reached out, unseeing, but able to find what she needed – a small bottle of sand, which she then began to pour out onto the ground.
The red light was pulsing once more, until it seemed to drum in synchrony with all the heartbeats in the room. It flashed blue, then burst outwards in a sunburst, temporarily blinding Buffy. When she could see again, the light had coalesced into a swirling portal in the crack over the Hellmouth. And there was something coming out of it.
“Oh God,” she whispered, as she realised what Willow had done, what she’d brought forth and from when.
“We didn’t bring any weapons!” Xander shouted from somewhere behind her.
There was a rumbling beneath the ground, as more and more of the creature emerged, its pale fleshy tentacles thrusting through the air blindly.
Willow was still seated in the middle of the library, still deep into her trance, deaf and blind to Tara’s pleas to move – oh god – move.
Spike had rushed forwards, and was using a blunt piece of metal to attack one of the creature’s tentacles. Buffy followed his example, scooping up what looked like part of the old book cage, and slamming it down onto the creature.
“The car!” Giles called, “there are weapons in the car. Xander, Anya, quickly!”
“Tara! Look out!”
Buffy was startled from the fight by Ned’s bellowing voice, and abstractly she realised that he must have made himself visible again to shout the warning.
It came too late, and there was a pained cry as one of the creature’s pointed tentacles pierced through Tara’s chest, and she fell lifeless to the ground.
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