Buffy was silent as she looked from Spike to Dawn, then back at her friends who were staring at her.
Willow spoke first. “What aren’t you telling us?”
Buffy took a deep breath as Spike moved behind her and put a supportive hand on her shoulder. She took Dawn’s hand in hers and gave what she hoped was a reassuring squeeze.
“Okay, here’s what you don’t know, and that I was hoping we’d have taken care of without having to tell you.” She chewed her lip. “You know how Glory’s minion thought Xander might be the Key? Well… she wasn’t as far off as you might think.”
Anya, who had been present for more mysterious conversations between Buffy, Dawn, and Giles than anyone else, gasped. “It’s Dawn, isn’t it? She’s the Key. That’s why you don’t want her out of your sight.”
“Well that’s just ridicu….” Willow paused, her eyes growing wide as she saw the expressions on their faces. “Oh. My. God.”
“Yes,” Buffy said, squeezing Dawn’s hand again before releasing it. “The first thing you need to know is that Dawnis my sister. End of discussion on that.” She glared around at them. “But, you also need to know that she didn’t exist in her current form until a few months ago when the monks who’ve been hiding the Key from Glory for a gazillion years—”
“Give or take,” Spike added dryly.
Buffy waved away his comment. “Anyway, these monks knew Glory was getting closer and they wouldn’t be able to stop her, so they somehow turned the Key into a human girl made from my blood… with my DNA … and sent her to me to protect. And they somehow managed to insert her into our lives as if she’d always been here.” A babble of objections and questions broke out until Buffy held up her hand and Spike growled at them to be quiet.
“I don’t know how they did it. Nobody knows how they did it. But they did. And it worked. Except for Spike and me, who already had our own memories, and maybe Giles and Winston….” She shook her head. “Although I’m not sure they would have believed me if we hadn’t already told them about her before she was here and made them put it in their notes.”
“I can’t blame them. It’s pretty hard to swallow,” Willow said. “That’s some really powerful magic!” Her curiosity and envy were almost palpable, and Buffy could hear Spike’s low growl.
“The point is, Dawn is the Key that Glory needs to get herself back where she came from, and obviously we can’t let that happen.”
“What part of Dawn does she need? If it’s something simple, like a piece of her hair….”
“It’s blood,” Dawn said softly. “My blood.” Buffy put a reassuring arm around her and said, “Not this time.”
“So, what happened in your time? Does this have anything to do with when you say you died?” Xander looked as if he was still dubious, and kept sending sidelong glances at Dawn who had shrunk into Buffy’s side as much as she could.
“Long story short—Glory got hold of Dawn, and while I was fighting the hellgod on the ground, her minions got Dawn to the top of this stupid tower they built, and her pet demon threw Spike off the tower when he tried to save her. Then Doc—the demon—cut Dawn so she would bleed where they needed her blood to open the portal to the hell dimension. By the time I was finished with Glory, the portal was already opening, scary things were coming through, and the only way to close it was with more of Dawn’s blood.” Buffy paused to look at their faces. “Which, I’d like to remind you, is also my blood. I did what I had to do to save Dawn’s life and close the portal. I jumped into it. Portal very owie, by the way,” she added as an afterthought. “Then it closed up, gravity was still in effect, and my body fell all the way to the ground. Bye bye, Buffy.”
Xander glared up at Spike, who was now clenching Buffy’s shoulders so hard she winced.
“You let Dawn get stabbed, and then you let Buffy jump into a portal to die? And you want us to believe you’re on our side?”
“Wasn’t my finest hour,” Spike said, shoulders sagging. “If it hadn’t been for promising Buffy I’d take care of the Bit, I probably would’ve just stayed there at the bottom of the tower and waited for the sun ‘stead of draggin’ myself away…. But I’d made a promise,” he added softly, stroking Dawn’s hair.
Dawn looked at his anguished face with new understanding, and reached a hand toward him. Even Xander, seeing Spike’s expression and the way Buffy and Dawn tried to soothe him with touches and murmured words the others couldn’t hear, looked sympathetic and somewhat ashamed of himself.
“Shit,” he said under his breath.
“Good-bye, Buffy; hello worst 147 days of my life. Bit’s too. She’d lost her mother and then her sister in the space of just a few months. Nothing left for her but a bunch of grieving people and one useless vampire that couldn’t even walk for a week.” Spike shook himself.
“But that was then. This is now and we’ve been given another chance to make it come out right.”
“What’s the plan?” Willow seemed to have accepted the situation and was ready to move on. “Are we—Winston and Max and me… and Giles—going to join forces to throw Glory back where she came from?”
“I don’t know what the plan is for sure yet. Max and Winston… and you,” she added hastily, “are going to put strong wards around the shop and Mom’s house, Spike’s crypt, maybe Dawn’s school? I dunno. Max doesn’t think wards can stop Glory if she’s really determined, but they’ll probably stop the minions and definitely those Renaissance Fair rejects. If nothing else, they can buy us some time.”
Buffy focused on Anya. “In our time, Willow was trying to do a spell using some crystal thing that was in the shop, and somehow, instead of what she was hoping for, we got a visit from a troll. Which didn’t go well, obviously, but I got his hammer and that was really helpful against Glory. I guess I won’t have it this time.” Buffy looked wistful for a moment. “Turned out he knew you, so that was—”
“Olaf? Willow brought Olaf here?” Anya turned to stare at Willow. “What were you thinking?”
Willow glared at her. “How the hell would I know? If he knew you, it might have been your fault he showed up.”
“Who’s Olaf?” Xander asked, staring back and forth between Anya and Willow.
“My ex. I turned him into a troll for cheating on me. That’s what attracted D’Hoffryn’s attention, and he made me a job offer.” Anya smiled, waiting for Xander’s appreciation. When it didn’t come, she turned her back on him, asking, “What kind of spell did Willow do that brought Olaf here? She must have really screwed that one up!”
Willow’s face went white, then red, and Buffy wasn’t sure she couldn’t see a flash of black eyes before Tara’s hand on her arm and gentle whispering had Willow taking a visibly deep breath to calm herself.
Taking advantage of the momentary peace, Buffy said quickly, “I’m not sure what the spell was supposed to be. I think the troll—Olaf—was trapped in the crystal by witches. He really didn’t like witches… and he wasn’t too happy with you, either. But maybe you wanted to go somewhere else? Where there are trolls….?” she finished weakly. “It doesn’t matter. You and Willow are getting along much better this time, and I’m sure you don’t want to leave Xander, so it’s all right. We’ll just have to get along without a magic troll hammer. Sorry I mentioned it.”
With a “humph” of disgust, Willow got up and pulled Tara to the dance floor where they were obviously having an animated discussion.
Xander stared at Anya. “You made a troll?”
“That was me then. This is me now,” Anya said. “Although, if I had my powers, I might be able to…. Nah. I don’t think even D’Hoffryn would take on a hellgod.”
“I’m sorry I brought it up. I hope Willow doesn’t stay mad.” Buffy frowned at the dance floor, relaxing when Willow nodded her head and smiled at Tara, moving closer so they could sway together in a slow dance.
“So, which one of us ratted Dawn out in your time?” Xander asked.
“It’s not going to happen now, so there’s no reason for you to know. And it wasn’t ‘ratted out’. I told you that before. It was an accident caused by Glory’s mindsucking.”
A more mellow Willow and Tara came back to the table and began sipping their drinks.
“Okay, what’s going on now?” Willow asked as if she’d never looked like she wanted to turn Anya into a toad.
“We’re just talking about alternatives to me taking on Glory with a troll hammer.”
“You don’t think you’re going to need it?”
“Well, I’m hoping not, ‘cause I won’t have it. The main thing we need to worry about right now, is keeping all of you safe from Glory or her creepy little minions. I’m not sure we can fit everybody into our apartment….”
“The crypt is bigger,” Spike pointed out.
“Yeah, remember I showed you guys this summer? Spike has a crypt that he lived in, in our time. And he still has it, we just haven’t needed to use it often, and he lets Clem borrow it. But it’s there, and it’s plenty big enough for all of us if we need to hunker down somewhere for a while.”
“All of us?” Anya looked less than pleased.
“I hope not. But it’s something to keep in mind. In our time, Glory captured Spike and tried to torture him into telling her where the Key was.” She stared around the table, her expression grim. “He survived because he’s already dead and he has vampire strength and healing. None of you have those advantages, and I’d like to keep you that way. That means keeping you safe, not just from her, but from her scabby little gofers that could capture you.”
Buffy looked at Willow, who seemed to be getting angry again. “You were able to do a lot to help us be safe, but you couldn’t get rid of her permanently. And if she gets her hands on you, we lose one fourth of our magical arsenal.”
Willow looked like she was going to argue, then sighed. “Okay. I get that. Do we have a plan then?”
“We’re going to work on the plan at the next Scooby meeting. Which is probably going to be at our apartment since Max doesn’t like to leave the building unless he has to.”
“What’s he hiding from?” Anya asked.
“We don’t know, and it’s none of our business. If he wants to explain why he’s here, he will. And if he doesn’t, he won’t. As long as he’s on our side, I don’t give a bloody fig who or what he wants to hide from.” Spike glared at her, earning a haughty sniff in his direction.
“He’s risking that anyway, just by helping us. There’s no sense bringing Glory’s attention to him until we have to.” Buffy frowned. “It would be great if we had a better idea what she does and doesn’t know about us.” She shrugged. “But anyway. It’s my birthday, and she’s not invited, so let’s have a good time!”
“I’ll drink to that.” Xander tipped his bottle up.
“Do you want to come with me when I go tell Warren he needs to shut down his skeezy sexbot before she hurts someone?”
Spike rolled his eyes, but said, “S’pose I should. It’s not like I’m going to come shopping there in a few months.” He frowned. “Didn’t he shoot you?”
“Yeah, he did. It was at the end of next year, while you were off getting your soul. He killed Tara, and would have killed me except Willow went crazy and saved me by pulling the bullet out….to use it on him.”
“Why don’t I just visit him by myself and tear his throat out?” Spike’s expression was deadly serious.
“Because you can’t do that. It will change everything.”
“He dies anyway, doesn’t he? Or he will, if Red can’t control herself. I hope you don’t think I’m going to let that miserable bastard shoot you and Tara?”
“Crap. I didn’t think about that…. It’s going to be all different from here on, isn’t it?”
“We knew that from the start, love.”
“Well, I’m not going to let you tear his throat out… but I guess we need to let him know we’ll be watching him from now on. Maybe we can keep some of that bad stuff from happening next year.”
“Could find Andrew and shake him until his ideas about being evil fall out. That might be fun.”
Buffy laughed. “That one I might be able to get behind. And I don’t think Jonathan will need a lot of convincing. If Warren can’t find minions, maybe he won’t be able to cause as much trouble.”
“Aside from taking care of his jilted sexbot, you didn’t have to worry about him much this year, did you?” Spike frowned. “I don’t think he’d hooked up with the other two losers yet. I didn’t see them when I…. Nevermind.”
Buffy just glared at him, then sighed. “I’m over it. If it wasn’t for the bot, I’d never have known what you did for Dawn… and me. It was a gross and disgusting idea, but she turned out to be useful in the long run.”
He ran a hand down her cheek and tucked a stray lock of hair back. “And she wasn’t even close to the real thing. Knew that the second you kissed me. Couldn’t have gone back to… to….” He stopped, frowning, clearly at a loss for words.
Buffy sighed again. “The word you’re looking for is ‘using’. You used her because she was a thing and that was her purpose.” She nudged at his hand with her nose. “You used a robot, I used a man who loved me. Which of us comes out the worst in that contest?”
He shook his head and pulled her into a tight embrace. “Don’t ever think that, sweetheart. I loved every minute of the time you spent ‘using’ me. Never doubt it. Did I wish for more? You know I did. But you let me love you for a little while, and that was worth everything to me.”
“I don’t deserve you,” she mumbled into his chest. “Nobody deserves to be loved like that.”
“You do,” he said fiercely, tightening his already uncomfortable hug. “I could do good deeds for the rest of my unlife and I still wouldn’t deserve to have you in it.”
“Uh, Spike? Air? I need it?”
He released his grip and let her lean back in a much looser embrace. “Sorry, love. I get a mite upset when you say things like that.”
“Note to self, don’t get into a who-loves-who-the-most argument with Spike. He might smother you to win it.” Her grin belied her words and he smiled back at her.
“Alright, we’re off to beard the robot maker in his den… or his mum’s basement, as the case might be.”
“Well, that went well,” Buffy snorted.
“Could have been worse,” Spike said with a shrug. “His mum heard us talking and got a clue what he’s been doing, his bird heard the whole thing, so she’s out of there—”
“Crap! I forgot about Trina. We’re going to have to warn her next year not to have a drink with Warren.”
Spike swore and started to turn around. “Forgot about that. The bastard killed her and set you up to take the blame. I am going to tear his throat out.”
Buffy hung on his arm, pulling him back the way they were going.
“No, you aren’t. We’re just going to watch them like hawks next year and make sure he never has a chance to kidnap her, or to do any of those things. We’ll know who’s behind stuff this time, and where to find him if we need to.”
“You’re assuming next year is going to be anything like the one we remember,” he said, falling into step with her. “We aren’t going to know what the hell is going to happen next if we do what we need to do this year.”
“Then we’ll wing it,” she said firmly. “It’s what we do. We figure things out and we handle them.”
Neither one mentioned their fear that Buffy’s not dying might mean a very different relationship between them.
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