Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.
SECTION 1 - CHINA IN YOUR HAND
It was a flight on the wings
Of a young girls dreams
That flew too far away
And we could make the monster live again
Oh hands move and heart beat on
Now life will return in this electric storm
A prophecy for a fantasy
The curse of a vivid mind
Don't push too far
Your Dreams are china in your hand
Don't wish to hard
Because they may come true
And you can't help them
You don't know what you might
Have set upon yourself
China in your hand
(T'Pau, Album - Bridge of Spies)
Thursday, May 16th, 2002
Willow began to chant. The language was demonic and, if she had but known, her accent was abysmal. Unfortunately, to the demon she was trying to summon the words were more than clear enough. Just when a demon finally got some time for herself, there was some no-account mortal trying to interrupt her night off. She only just had time to rinse off her face pack before she could feel the magic pulling her to another dimension. Whoever was doing this was going to be very sorry indeed, unless of course they had an extremely nice present, and even then she wasn't so sure.
Thank goodness these mortals didn't know the difference between a dressing gown and a ball gown. At least she wasn't wearing pyjamas.
Murphy's Law said that Tara had to be on the absolute opposite side of the campus when she got Anya's message. She forgot all the things she'd ever learned about how to conduct herself when she had to travel alone at night, warnings about appearing unusually hurried or flustered. Instead, she ran until she was gasping for air and then she ran some more. She ran until her throat and lungs burned and she had to stop, doubled over with her hands on her knees, but her objective was just within sight in the distance. That was when the vampire stepped out of the bushes beside the path to confront her.
"Hey, little girl, did you know that I could hear your blood pumping when you were still twenty yards away? I can smell your fear... and it smells good ."
The vampire's gaze was fixed on the luscious curves of Tara's breasts as they heaved with every hyperventilating breath that the witch took, her normally modest clothing affording the demon an excellent view given her current pose. Every ounce of physical effort she could muster was focused on simply regulating her breathing once more, so that she could speak.
The demon seemed to be aware of this, and even paused in his approach, toying with her as she was obviously in no condition to get away from him.
"I-it's n-not you I'm scared of." Tara stumbled over her words but not out of nervousness, simply because she was still so short of breath.
"You should be. I'm going to kill you... but I might just play with you a little, first."
"I don't think so," the witch replied as she levitated her stake through his heart. Physically, she might need some recovery time. Magically, she hadn't even started.
Anya fumbled through Xander's trouser pockets, getting a gentle swat from his sleeping hand for her efforts, but unfortunately no car keys.
'Okay, if they're not in his jacket pocket, I'm going to have to wake him up and ask. And if I wake him up and ask he's going to want to come. But he's still drunk and he really shouldn't be going near anything that Willow might have summoned in that state, not without the orbs. And why didn't Giles want Spike to give them back? They were supposed to make me not worry about Xander. Then, just when he might actually need them, Giles said Spike has to have them. And who made Giles the boss of us, anyway? ...Well, except in the sense that he pays me to work for him.
Drat! No keys.'
"Xander, honey. Where did you put the car keys?" Anya tried to shake him awake as gently as possible and when that didn't work she became progressively louder and the shaking became progressively more violent.
Finally, Xander jerked awake as his brain told him that his wife had just bellowed that his best friend was about to cause an apocalypse and she needed the car keys because Giles wanted her to be the first to die when she didn't manage to talk her round.
"Wh-. Ahn," he mumbled. "Did you say Willow was going to end the world?"
"Yes, but you missed the important bit," his wife replied impatiently. "Just tell me where the car keys are."
"Top dresser drawer. What's that about Giles wanting you dead?"
Anya pulled open the drawer and brandished the keys with an air of triumph. "Don't be silly, Xander. Why would Giles want me dead? I'm his star employee. You must be dreaming. Why don't you dream the one about the Princess Leia outfit again? You know the one where I'm dancing and I have a chain around my neck and you keep pulling me closer and closer."
"Mmmm, good idea," Xander replied, already half asleep again as he nuzzled his face into his pillows.
Anya sneaked from the room as quietly as she could without slowing down too much. At least, if things were as bad as they thought they might be, Xander would be safe a little while longer in his makeshift bed.
Anya easily found her way to where she wanted to go. She pulled up the mauve sedan before the rather forbidding-looking building with a slight screech. She hadn't quite got the hang of smooth deceleration yet. Nevertheless, considering she'd never actually taken the class, she was doing a lot better than Buffy.
It would have been too much to expect for the front door to be open and, after trying it and finding it locked, Anya began to work her way around the building, hoping to find the same way in as Willow.
Wes pulled the bike over next to the front entrance of one of the university buildings. He checked the building's name and then held his hand out towards Giles.
"Give me the map."
"It's quite alright. I'm sure we're nearly there now."
"Giles..." The other watcher pointed at the intersection fifty or sixty yards ahead. "We've arrived at that junction three times from three different directions now, one of which involved driving the wrong way down a one-way street, so perhaps if you would be so kind as to pass the map we won't end up visiting it for a fourth time."
"I should have known she wouldn't have been at her mother's. Now we're going to be too late. What if she's already summoned it?" Buffy asked the vampire as they headed toward campus.
"Then, we'll do what we always do. I'll stand back and cheer you on while you kick its butt."
Buffy couldn't help but smile. "And if it whoops..." Buffy made a swirling gesture in the air with one finger. "Time back on us, then what do we do?"
"Nothing. Like as not we won't know she's done it."
"And there's no way to write ourselves a note or anything to say what's happened."
"Nope, 'cause if she turns the clock back we won't have been here to do it."
"Spike, what if it sends us all back years instead of days? What if we end up fighting again? What if I lose you?"
"Not gonna happen, princess. Didn't I tell you it was fate? Things between us would work out just the same in the end no matter how often we had to do things. We're meant to be."
"Like Romeo and Juliet?" Buffy asked.
"They died, pet."
"Okay, like Bogart and Bacall?" Buffy suggested, remembering the pictures on the bedroom wall of Spike's apartment.
"Like Bogie and Bacall. I'll give you that one," Spike conceded with a smile.
"What about Dawn?"
"She's meant to be, too, love." Despite the vampire's reassuring words and calm demeanour Buffy could feel his own anxiety rise. There were times when she wished the bond didn't tell her quite so much about his feelings.
"Evania, demon lord of time and illusions, I call you here and hold you by my will and the circle that surrounds you seven times over. Meet my bargain and you may leave." Willow intoned the last words of the actual spell in the demon tongue, but she knew that was more or less what they meant.
Aside from her slightly bluish skin tone and seemingly natural whiter-than-Spike hair, the demon could have stepped from the cover of a forties film magazine. Her ankle-length dressing gown was made from a material that had the sheen of midnight silk and clung like cotton jersey. It buttoned with delicate pearlescent fastenings from her ample cleavage to mid-thigh, exposing a well-turned leg, set off by a pair of high-heeled mules. Willow found her heart beating faster and it wasn't entirely because of the power and hostility that rolled from the creature in waves.
The demon simply crossed her arms, drawing even more attention to her well-proportioned chest and raised a delicately arched eyebrow as if to say, name your terms but don't expect me to like them.
Willow was slightly thrown by the stony silence from the demon and wasn't entirely sure if the creature even understood English.
"I wish for you to take back time, for two rotations of this world upon its axis. In return, I offer the sacrifice of precious stone and innocent blood." Without moving from where she sat, Willow used her mind to peel back the tape that bound the box's occupant inside. As soon as she did a dark grey head peered over the rim of the box. Its bone structure and the shape of its ears suggested a parentage that was part labrador and part great dane, but the colour and wiry texture of its coat suggested there was a bit of wolfhound in there as well.
The wicca then began to levitate the trembling puppy toward the circle; its oversized and probably clumsy feet paddling at thin air as if it were trying to swim.
The demon gave a dismissive snort. "For one thing you'd be lucky if quartz even counts as semi-precious, though it might make a pretty paperweight. And for another, don't they teach you people to read these days?
Sac-ri-fice. Look it up. It means something you will actually miss, not some mongrel stray that was probably slated to be put to sleep anyway."
"The book said a young animal of medium size," Willow protested.
"Yeah, and it was probably written in an age when most people measured their worth in pigs and cows and chickens. Inflation, honey. Ever heard of it?" For several minutes the demon seemed to look into Willow's eyes as if she could see straight into her mind.
"The lover would be a fitting sacrifice, but she's not yours to bequeath. What say you run fetch that laptop you're so fond of?"
"L-laptop? B-but, what about this?" Willow gestured at the floundering puppy.
"What about it? I don't want it." Just as the demon was refuting any claim to the animal, not unnaturally for a young animal being levitated in mid-air, the beast chose to display its nervousness in a tangible manner.
The demon stepped back as far as the circle would let her to avoid the golden spray that splattered over the boards of the clock tower and over Willow's carefully drawn sand circle. Then, as the stream washed through the lines, creating gaps in the design, she backed away even further, stepping out of the circle altogether.
Willow was too busy scrambling to her feet to avoid the flow herself to notice at first, but when the demon stepped free from both the circle and her will, the wiccan staggered to a nearby wall. She needed its support to stay upright. The dog landed sharply on its feet and scampered for the nearest exit, the stairway down.
"You think you have the power to bind me, little girl. You want me to tinker with time to do your bidding... I'll tinker, then, but you won't like the result."
The demon extended a delicately manicured hand, index finger outstretched toward the redhead and began a guttural chant in the same language the witch had used to summon her.
The redhead smiled a smug grin. Whatever the demon was doing obviously wasn't working. No lightning bolts, no balls of fire. This demon wasn't so tough.
"Is that all you've got? I don't think you're trying," she taunted, knowing if not for her fatigue, she could put up a far showier display. Then, she realised that her view of the demon seemed to be getting slightly out of focus. She looked down at her hand and didn't recognise it. The skin seemed drier, the fingers pudgier. Her clothes started to cut in under the arms and at the crotch as if they were a couple of sizes too small. She tugged at her hair, pulling a small section down taut in front of her face, squinting at it until she confirmed the presence of white strands between the now dull and lifeless reddish brown.
"Stop it. You can't do this!" she ranted at the demon.
"Yes, you stupid mortal, I can. If I wanted I could take you through to your deathbed or maybe just to the borders of senility where you're just aware enough of the fact that your mind is going for it to upset you in your lucid moments. Then again, your body could give out first so that you're all too aware of the indignity of having to be escorted to the bathroom by your mother. Or do you think they'd put you in a nursing home and forget you?"
The demon could have kept up her end of the conversation a bit longer, but Willow had slumped into unconsciousness, and she really didn't see the point.
Anya was struggling with the back door of the building when Tara found her.
"Thank whoever!" the ex-demon said when she saw the witch. "I think she went in this way, but it's bolted from the inside."
Tara held her right hand up, palm toward the door as if she could use it to "see" through the wood. She ran it up and down near the door's outer edge a couple of times, and then moved it to the left. As she did so, both girls could hear the sound of metal against metal. She raised her hand to release a second bolt when there was a frantic clawing sound from the other side of the door. Tara gave Anya a puzzled look and, since there was nothing in the back alley where they were that they could use as a weapon, Tara pulled her stake from her bag, passing it to the other girl.
She pushed the door open, working at first against the weight of the puppy that was behind it until the dog saw its chance for freedom and tried to wriggle through the gap as it opened.
Once they saw the nature of their assailant, Tara forced it back into the room as she squeezed through the partially open door, and then prevented it escaping by virtue of a firm grip around its chest while Anya made her way in.
"I guess since it's still alive we're in time?" Tara conjectured.
"Not necessarily," the former demon replied as the pair headed for the stairs. "I eviscerated quite a few people that summoned me before they got as far as doing anything like that, but then any man that summoned me was asking for trouble. I'm still not quite sure why I left Giles alive, you know, but I suppose it was for the best."
When they heard Willow's cry, they broke into a run, grabbing at the staircase's supports so that their momentum would swing them around corners and taking the stairs two at a time.
Tara almost ran into Anya's back as the other girl stopped dead in shock at the scene before her eyes.
"Evie? What in Arashmahar are you doing here? And why on earth are you only wearing your dressing gown?" she asked.
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