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
"Anyanka? You're all mortal. What happened to you?"
Anya sighed. "Long story. We could go for a drink? Maybe a frappuccino?"
"Cold frothy coffee. It's nicer than it sounds."
The demon looked unconvinced. "It's ideas like that that remind me why I haven't visited this dimension since you started the War of the Roses."
Anya gave a wistful sigh. "Honestly, you would like it if you tried it. And what about you? You were working as a mischief demon last time I saw you."
"It's been three hundred years and change, Annie. A girl picks up a new skill every once in a while... Then, a community here and there actually starts worshipping you and whoo, power here I come... You know how it is."
Tara cleared her throat slightly. "Em, Anya, is your friend going to object if I check on Willow?"
The demon turned to Tara and gave her what she probably considered was a winning smile. "No need, dear. She's just fine other than being unconscious. Of course, she is a little bit older than she used to be. Unfortunately, I can't guarantee that she'll end up any wiser, but we can hope."
Turning back to Anya she continued. "Can you believe she tried to offer me some mongrel mutt to take back time? Don't these people have any standards? And then she levitated the poor beast and was surprised when it peed all over her precious circle. Some people just shouldn't be allowed near a spell book."
"She certainly shouldn't. If she wasn't my husband's best friend since kindergarten, I'd probably have nothing to do with her."
"You got married? That's not very appropriate for the patron saint of scorned women."
"Times change. I have an idea." Anya linked her arm through the demon's. "I've got a car outside. We can go back to my place, and prod him awake so you can meet him. Then we can order pizza, drink what's left of his booze and watch his porn while we catch up."
She turned to Tara. "Buffy and the others will be here soon. They can help you with Willow and the pooch. You can tell them they don't need to worry about Evie any more."
They got about half way down the first flight of stairs when there was a resounding crash from beneath them.
Wesley had just worked out where they were on the map and was about to work out the best route to where he wanted to be when a distinctive, black, finned car drove past them. He thrust the map back at Giles and pulled out, determined not to lose sight of the DeSoto. Buffy had lived on campus. She had to know where she was going.
When the DeSoto pulled up next to Xander's Ford, Wes was still right behind them. Wes and Giles just managed to get their helmets off before Buffy used her previously untested orb-given strength to kick open the front doors of the clock tower as if they were the door to Spike's old crypt. She stood for a second, framed by the doorway, listening to hear what was going on. Then a dark grey streak pelted past her at such a speed that if she hadn't had the orbs she would probably have been knocked off balance.
Spike simply turned to watch the dog go, but both watchers tried to catch it, much to his amusement as she dodged them both with ease. His amusement wasn't to last long, however.
"Oh, crap!" Buffy turned to him. "You can track it later, can't you? Once we deal with... Anya's new friend?" The slayer and the others stared incredulously as Anya made her way downstairs arm in arm with a rather attractive demon.
"Anya, pet, I don't believe you've introduced us to this stunning lady." The vampire smiled and sauntered over to where the two women now waited at the bottom of the staircase. The demon adjusted her slightly longer than shoulder length hair, brushing it away from her face at one side.
Anya rolled her eyes. "Evie, this is Spike, a.k.a. William the Bloody, and the possessive-looking, little blonde next to him is his fiancée and mate , Buffy Summers the Vampire Slayer." Anya stressed Spike's relationship with Buffy as if to remind the vampire, who was displaying all the gallantry of his upbringing and none of the awkwardness. "The other two are Giles and Wesley. They used to be her watchers before she outgrew them."
"Charmed, I'm sure," Spike replied. "Everythin' with Red all sorted out, then?"
"Tara was keeping an eye on her until you all got here. So, since you're here now... we'll leave."
The men in the group all stepped back to allow the two women through before they and Buffy began to make their way up the staircase to see what awaited them.
As Anya started up the car, Evania cast a glance back toward the double doors. "You know, it must be nearly thirteen hundred years since the last time there was a slayer mated to a vampire," she said.
Anya shrugged. "Spike'll be so upset when he finds out. He always wants to be unique. So what happened to them? The other two."
This time it was the demon who shrugged.
"No one knows. One day, there was a new slayer and no one saw them again. There were plenty of theories. Some people said they were killed "on the job". Well, her job, anyway. Some say he turned her so that they could be alone together and they're still living the dream. Some say it was some sort of suicide pact but my personal favourite was the one where the Council of Watchers killed them both."
The demon turned to Anya with a raised eyebrow, "Strange that your slayer's got not one, but two, watchers in tow when you say neither of them are really her watcher any more."
As Buffy and Spike made their way upstairs hand in hand, followed by the two watchers, Buffy resumed her interrupted conversation.
"You can find the dog, can't you? Sniff it out or something?"
Spike rolled his eyes. "I could . What makes you think I will ? Do I look like I work for Animal Control?"
Buffy let her lower lip form into a pout, her eyes wide and innocent. "But Dawn's always wanted a dog. That story about the Saint Bernard? She meant it. And it was pretty big for a puppy. I bet it could grow into a decent-sized guard dog. Help keep Dawn safe when we're out on patrol."
"Bloody hell! Leave off with the emotional blackmail, love. You do realise with our luck that the damn thing's more likely to chew all the furniture, pee on Joyce's rugs and we already know it'll run like the blazes at the first sign of trouble."
"But Dawn'll love it, anyway."
"Yeah," Spike's tone softened. "She probably will, but first we've got to have things out with Red."
Buffy gave a nervous swallow. "I guess we do."
Without a word Buffy made her way to where Tara was kneeling beside Willow's horizontal form. As she made her way to sit opposite the blonde, fussing over the witch's unconscious form, Spike released her hand to place an arm around Tara's shoulders as he dropped to his knees next to her. Giles joined the group and began a check on Willow's vital signs whilst Wes hung back just slightly.
"So, how're you doin', pet?"
Tara turned her head to look at him through a veil of tawny-blonde hair. "Don't you mean how's she doing?"
"Nope. Can see and hear as much as you're like to be able to tell me about Red an' seein' as she's out for the count, I reckon as I might as well see how my favourite non-Summers Scooby's takin' this whole situation."
Tara seemed almost flummoxed by the question. "I-Uh-I, well, I-." Her eyes pooled with tears. Spike's arm pulled her closer as they both twisted their upper bodies until they faced each other. His hands stroked her hair as she tried again to frame an answer to his question. "You-. Sorry for the weepy, it's just people don't normally ask about me."
"Then people are idiots!" Spike's impatience about Tara's past treatment was evident before his voice softened again. "Besides, you were the first person to stick me with the Scooby label, weren't you? That means you were like the first one to adopt me into the "family", so to speak, so it's your own fault if you get Big Brother Spike instead of the Big Bad. You tell us what we can do to help you through this, and then you consider it done. Okay?"
Tears flowed freely down Tara's face now. "It's okay. I mean, I wouldn't say no if you offered me a lift back to the dorm with my stuff, but I don't really think I can be around Willow, so it's awkward. I'll be okay." When she saw Spike's sceptical look she continued. "I will... in time. I was doing okay before. I guess it just wasn't meant to work."
"I guess not, pet. Sometimes, though, these things? They turn out for the best. I thought my world had ended when Dru left me but it ended up bein' a new beginning.
An'..." Spike listened closely to Willow's breathing and heartbeat for a few seconds to confirm that she was still sound asleep. "That dorm idea, if that's really what you want, then you've got it, no questions asked. Thing is, Buffy and me were talking about this in the car, an' well, when it comes to Dawn, we're not prepared to give Red any more chances." Tara's eyes flicked to Buffy, the slayer's tiny nod confirming that Spike spoke for them both. "Bit's already feelin' vulnerable an' I reckon when what happened tonight sinks in, it's goin' to make things worse. The bottom line is that Red's dangerous and it's our job to keep Niblet safe. We're going to have to ask her to move out. She hasn't left us any other option.
So, if you can put up with the rest of us fussin' around you an' hoggin' the bathroom, not to mention Bitty's new puppy that to judge by round here doesn't appear to be housetrained, and it's really just because you can't be 'round Red, we'd both be happy if you'd consider staying. I know the Niblet would be right gutted if you disappeared again, especially with things the way they are.
Chances are Niblet's gonna want company tonight, so you could always have Buffy's bed for the night and think it over. I mean, if Red doesn't come round soon and whatever so we can't get it sorted out tonight." Having done so well for most of his little speech Spike suddenly found himself babbling.
"Hell! I'm makin' a right arse of this. What-.
We, all three of us, like havin' you around, and we'd miss you if you left and we'd worry about you bein' on your own, an' that's about the size of it."
Spike pulled her close again, letting her bury her head on his shoulder as she cried tears that stemmed as much from relief that she wouldn't have to face emotional exile again as from her shattered heart.
Buffy watched as her friend cried herself out on her fiancé's shoulder, marvelling at how easily he had extended the nurturing side of his nature to include the other girl simply because she had demonstrated her acceptance of him. They waited for some time to see if Willow would come round before Buffy finally spoke up.
"Spike? We're going to have to make a move if we want to have a chance to catch that puppy and still pick up Dawn at ten."
Spike nodded and looked over to Wesley. "Think you can drop off Glinda and we'll take Red and Rupes in the car?" Spike acted almost without thinking to spare Tara from having to cradle her unconscious soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend in her lap on the drive home. Then, he passed his car keys to Buffy before scooping up Willow's form into his arms.
Wes somewhat self-consciously placed an arm around Tara's shoulders as he escorted her downstairs. His concerns about his own romantic life seemed terribly petty under the present circumstances.
Ten minutes later, Willow was ensconced, still unconscious, in the bed that had once belonged to Buffy's mother. Joyce had always been fastidious about her hair colour and her moisturising regime so that she had always looked younger than her true age. If she had still been alive, it seemed likely that anyone comparing her with Willow would have mistaken her for marginally the younger of the two.
Tara retreated to Buffy's room while Wesley was left to ring Dawn to explain that Spike and Buffy would be along shortly to pick her up, but they had an errand to attend to first so she shouldn't worry if they were a little late. He was going to avail himself of another beer and see if Giles cared to join him again in the still of the garden, but the limit of the older man's diplomacy had been reached and he had slipped upstairs to interrogate Tara.
He knocked gently on Buffy's room door.
"Tara?" he paused trying to pick up some clue as to the well-being or otherwise of the room's occupant from the sounds from the room. "Tara, I was wondering if you might be able to provide any illumination as to what's actually wrong with Willow?"
Slowly, the door to the room was pulled open and Giles followed Tara into the room when she moved to sit on Buffy's bed, her eyes fixed on the carpet.
"Do you know what happened to her?"
"I think Evie cast a spell of some sort on her, but it was really all over before Anya and I got there. She said there was nothing wrong with her other than being unconscious and a bit older, though she couldn't guarantee she'd be any wiser."
"Anya's friend stole her youth?"
Tara shrugged dejectedly. "That makes it sound like Evie had something to gain from it. I don't think she did. I don't know why, but I think it was more like it was her way to try to teach Willow to have the proper respect for the power she uses."
Giles gave Tara a contemplative glance. "This demon has almost certainly shortened Willow's life-span by more than twenty years, yet you seem to be relatively unconcerned."
"I just see it differently. I think she spared Willow's life when she could easily have taken it. She tried to teach her a valuable lesson and if it has worked then maybe Willow will actually make it through the next year without getting herself killed in some equally stupid stunt, but if I'm honest I doubt even this will be enough. Chances are Willow's first reaction will be to try to magic things better.
You can't tell me that you approve of what she did, can you?"
"No, of course not, but I do feel that we're obligated to at least explore all the options. There may be some less drastic alternative that could be considered."
Tara sighed. "I disagree but if you mean it, I suggest you talk to Evie before she leaves. She should be over at Anya's."
Tara lifted her head to look Giles in the eye for the first time since the start of the conversation. "Willow knows way too much about the theory of magic, but she understands nothing about the spirit of magic. Spike was right. She's dangerous. I've tried and tried to get her to understand till I'm just too tired to keep trying. Maybe Evie's way will work, maybe not, but if Willow gets out of this with no more serious consequences than baking cookies then just think what she might try next time.
I really think, for her own good, that you should leave things as they are, Giles."
"I see," Giles removed his glasses but instead of cleaning them he let them dangle between his fingers and pinched the bridge of his nose between the thumb and first finger of his free hand. "You really think such a step is necessary?"
"I really do."
Still not entirely convinced, Giles turned toward the door, wondering if he rang up Spike on his mobile to ask where he'd stashed his supply of bourbon in the house, whether the vampire would actually tell him. He needed something stronger than beer. He felt like he had been complicit in starting Willow along the path that had led to this. Right now, that thought bothered him more than a little. He had a feeling it was going to be on his conscience for a very long time. Later, he might try to ring the coven to see if they had any suggestions. How do you help someone if they won't or can't accept that they have a problem? For now, he had to come to terms with his part in Willow's transformation from shy, awkward schoolgirl to the magical equivalent of an idiot savant.
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