Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all characters belonging to the show are not mine, and I take no credit for them. If I occasionally make them do the hokey pokey, that’s my prerogative. Don’t take me to court over it.
Author’s Notes: As always, much thanks to DreamsofSpike, my beta, and to all my wonderful reviewers.
Willow kept her eyes mostly to the ground as she was led back into the office. Hiding in one of the rarely used tunnels while waiting for your best friend to dress – especially after accidentally viewing her naked – was an awkward experience, to say the least.
Shuffling her feet, she allowed Xander to lead her where he would. Since he’d literally dragged her into the portal, she hadn’t had much of a choice so far. When she had been covered by a heavy cloak too large for her and smelling of something else’s sweat, she’d tried to protest. When she’d been shushed, she had begrudgingly followed down the dark corridors, trying her best to ignore the sounds of screams and wails of agony that brought back images from the video tape.
But then, she had seen her best friend and a strange demon naked.
‘Hush!’ she silently scolded herself. ‘Don’t think of that. Thinking of a naked Buffy is weird. Thinking of a naked demon is slightly weirder. Think of Tara. Naked Tara is always a good thought.’
Thinking of Tara made her think of how they’d parted, and the brief conversation that had come before. The witch barely managed to hold her tongue long enough for Xander to lead her into what looked like an office.
“Hey, guys…just so you know, Dawn kinda thinks that Spike is…” Her eyes widened as she saw the cage, and an alarmingly familiar and even more alarmingly naked vampire staring back at her. “…here.”
Buffy made her way toward the cage as Willow stared in shock, stopping to stand by the bars, and place a supportive hand on the shoulder of the kneeling vampire. Spike barely seemed to notice at first, simply watching the witch with narrowed eyes.
“Is this the witch that is to help us?” The female half-demon stepped forward, ending the spell of shock.
“Uh…” Willow nodded, still staring somewhat blankly at Spike, and the Slayer standing so protectively over him. “…yeah.” She shook her head and tried to shift her attention . “Yeah, um…what do you guys need? Research? A translation?”
“No translations are required,” the female answered. “I know the language well enough, and will be translating for you. The scrolls I have taken should be all you need to produce a spell that will…”
“Spell?” Willow finally gave her full attention to the others in the room, scanning Xander’s face, while he looked down at his scuffed boots. She then looked at the stranger that seemed to be taking charge, and finally her best friend.
“No way!” Willow tried not to fidget under the Slayer’s fierce gaze. “Buffy, I don’t do magic anymore! You know I can’t handle it! Last time…”
“I don’t care about last time!” Buffy’s shout startled even her. She was suddenly glad that they had been left alone to debate. “I don’t care about that time, or the time before, or the time that’ll eventually come after this. I need your help, Willow…a lot of people need your help right now.”
The witch shook her head, trying to look at anything in the room but Buffy as she quietly protested, “You don’t understand…”
“What is there to understand?”
She whirled around to face the blonde again. “I could lose Tara!”
“I’m asking you to risk it!”
The sudden silence between them was as harsh as a blow. Willow stared at her with disbelieving eyes as she slowly sank down into the chair beside the desk.
“Willow…” Buffy brushed strands of wet hair away from her face impatiently. “I don’t think Tara left you just because of the magic. I think she mostly left…because you were using it selfishly.”
“Selfishly?” Willow’s voice rose in pitch in her hurt. “Buffy, the magic was never all about me!”
Almost growling in frustration, Buffy marched forward and took her hand, almost yanking her out of the chair and pulling her towards the cage at the far end of the room.
As soon as Spike realized that they were marching towards him, he scrambled back away from the door, pressing as much of his body against the far wall as he could, watching them cautiously.
“Take a good look, Willow.” The Slayer forced her best friend to stand as close to the cage door as possible. “Please, look long and hard…
Willow met Spike’s eyes only once, before both of them looked away. When the witch realized that the once brazen vampire was even meeker than she usually was, her gaze was drawn back to him. She took in his injuries, the long hair, the way he wouldn’t look up at them, and the slight trembling of his body…
“Buffy…he’s a stranger…”
“This is the price he’s had to pay…that they’ve all had to pay…for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. They’re trapped here, Willow. It doesn’t matter if we defeat their owners or not, they can’t leave. They can’t leave without your help.”
The redhead felt a shiver of fear. “Buffy…”
“This isn’t about you or me,” the Slayer interrupted. “But, still…if you do this, I’ll forgive you.”
Eyes wide, Willow turned to face her. “What…?”
“I’ll forgive you, Willow…do this for me, or just for them…but either way, I’ll forgive you for everything. I don’t hate you for bringing me back, Wills…but I didn’t think I could forgive you, either.”
Her friend looked down, forcing back tears.
“I know you didn’t mean to do what you did – to pull me out of heaven. You thought I was in hell – but I wasn’t.” She sighed, before continuing. “Spike is. Please, Willow,” Buffy finished softly, her voice barely over a whisper, “get him out of here, and I swear I’ll forgive everything, even what happened with Dawn.”
Willow had never been intimidated by research before; but with all the maps and charts, books of laws, slave files, scrolls, translations, and spell books spread across the desk and littering the floor around it, she could feel her breath coming a little harder than normal. She was lost in a sea of data, which normally wouldn’t be bad…but she was in another dimension, and wasn’t even sure how well she would perform any spell, much less one as drastic as the one she was being called on to do.
“But…but what about spells for the fight?” she had implored some of the others..
“I am a magic user,” the female demon had assured her. “I do not have the power your friends seem to believe you have, but I am no novice. I will worry about any little distractions along the way. You just take care of the stones.”
Swallowing hard, Willow nodded. She then held her hand out toward the female. “I’m Willow, by the way. I just thought I would mention that…though, usually, I mention that before seeing someone naked…”
The demon looked down at the offered hand and raised an eyebrow. “Danaia,” she said simply, without taking it.
Translating the scrolls had taken hours. Danaia had poured over them, barely looking away. The only time she stopped was to briefly rub her eyes. Xander had poked idly at maps, and usually helped by providing a distraction by pacing or whistling, while Willow jotted down spells and materials that they would need for them.
Buffy did not leave Spike’s side.
As the spell took shape and the plan began to form, Willow’s apprehension grew.
“Uh, Buffy?” She cast a glance in the direction of the Slayer, who had not moved away from the cage the entire night. Willow was trying not to think too hard about the haunted look in her eyes every time she looked at the vampire, who had remained huddled against the wall all night. “Buffy…I think there might be a problem.”
She had the Slayer’s attention immediately. “What kind of problem?”
When Buffy stood, Willow scooted her chair over to make room for her at the crowded desk. “It’s the spell for the stones, Buffy.” She shook her head. “This is big…and there are a lot of them. We’re not exactly going to be able to remove the power one stone at a time…but, luckily, the magic is connected. That means that we can draw it all out at the same time…”
“So what’s the problem?” Buffy leaned against the desk and picked up one of the Wicca’s many notes.
“We’ve only got one shot,” she whispered to her. She cast a glance in Spike’s direction, but then quickly looked away. “It’s all connected, like I said…and if we try to take the power out of all the stones at once…well, we’ll either succeed…or they’ll kind of…um…go kablooey. All of them. At the same time. We’ll be freeing a whole lot of dust.”
There was a very long moment of silence. Buffy seemed to have drawn inward, slowly stepping away from the desk and pacing the length of the room. When she found herself in front of the cage again, she leaned against the bars.
Half-curled on the floor, Spike had fallen into another exhausted rest. His brow was wrinkled in silent distress, his fingers occasionally twitching. Buffy watched as his mouth opened, and wondered if he would be crying out in his sleep, if he could.
“Is there any other way?” she asked. “Is there anything else we could do to get them out of here?”
Willow rubbed at her tired eyes. “Maybe if I had about a week to research another spell-”
“We do not have a week,” Danaia interjected. She then sent a sharp glance in the Slayer’s direction. “Especially since we have enemies that already know of our plans.”
“Ah, come on.” Xander occupied the sole bed in the room, leaning against the wall, eyelids drooping. “Let’s leave your daddy out of this.”
Danaia’s lips drew away from human-looking teeth, but the hiss she sent in Xander’s direction was far from human.
“Enough,” Buffy said wearily. She didn’t raise her voice. She looked as tired as the rest of them. “Danaia’s right…we don’t have time.” She turned to face the others, leaning back against the bars. “This is our only shot. Do what you have to do, Willow.”
Xander’s snores threatened to take up the remainder of Willow’s concentration. One of his arms dangled over the bed, and he occasionally twitched and turned in his sleep. The only other noise in the room was the repeated tapping of Danaia’s nails as she stared, absorbed in her own work, though Willow doubted that they would need any more of the scrolls translated.
Something was itching in the back of the witch’s mind, and she just couldn’t put it to rest. She’d felt strange and off balance ever since she’d stepped into the portal.
‘Well, more like got dragged into the portal…’ she mused.
Now, if only she could concentrate enough to figure out what her weird feeling was stemming from…
Glancing over at Xander, she decided firmly that he was the bigger annoyance.
Discreetly leaning down to pick up a book from the floor, she gave it a toss that was not quite so discreet. The dusty volume landed directly on the carpenter’s gut, startling him from his sleep with a half snore and half snort. He jackknifed in alarm, sitting up quickly and blinking around at the room.
One of the menacing noises taken care of, Willow allowed her thoughts to drift inward. She attempted to quiet her mind, and get a better sense of her surroundings. Tara was always the more sensitive one, more observant of the energies around them, but the redheaded witch had a nagging suspicion that what she felt in the air could have a profound effect on what would happen with the spell.
Something crackled all around her when she tried to meditate. The air itself seemed to shift and shudder, and there was nothing steady about the pulse of magic that she could feel from it…
Her eyes snapped open, and she looked at Danaia with alarm. “I need to go out.”
The half-demon raised her head. “You what?”
“I need to go outside…I think there’s something wrong.”
Lightning struck in the distance, and the thunder rumbled in constant waves. The sky was pitch black, dark enough to swallow every gaze, if not for the random bursts of light.
It was the darkest, dreariest place that Willow had ever seen. She was sure if Tara were standing there with her, the blond witch would weep. There was no life in anything, except for the demons that traveled between the towering stone monuments. Most of them were heading towards the domed building that Danaia had told her was an arena for condemned slaves to burn by holy water and crosses, climbing for their lives even as their limbs burned away, past the point of use.
“Why are we out here, again?” Xander’s voice was muffled by the heavy black hood covering most of his face. “It’s creepy out here. Not that I can see much…and now that I think about it, it’s a little less creepy than watching Buffy cuddle with a vampire. So, by all means…let’s camp out!”
“Shhh!” Willow warned him only once before removing the hood of her cloak. She stared up at the sky, as if entranced. “Does anybody else see the moon…or, should I say, lack thereof? A moon, stars, anything?”
“There is no moon,” Danaia told her. “And there have never been visible stars.”
“And there are no clouds…” Willow noted. “So why all the lightning?”
Not waiting for an answer, she closed her eyes, focusing her energy inward. She began her meditation again, drowning out all other sounds. Finally, she attempted to connect with the energy around her. She felt the sharp bursts of power, spiraling out of control all around her. When she tried to grab hold of it with her own energy, it struck out at her with the force of a small electric shock. She gasped, tumbling backward onto her butt.
“Willow!” Xander knelt beside her, looking perplexed and concerned. He had seen nothing that would have caused her to fall. “You okay?”
She stared with wide eyes at the sky, before turning her gaze to Danaia. “I need you to start translating only the oldest of the scrolls. I need to know as much about the history of this place as possible.”
Buffy tried to give the vampire as much space as she could while still inspecting his wounds. She held Spike’s hand tenderly in her lap, gently examining some of the lash marks on his arms. He had retreated when she had entered the cage again, sitting against the wall with his knees drawn up against his chest.
But at least there wasn’t absolute terror in his eyes anymore, – just weary curiosity.
She cringed as her fingertip traced one of the wounds on his arm. “These aren’t healing like they should be.”
He gave no answer, simply watching her with an unblinking stare that was beginning to unnerve the Slayer.
Buffy ducked her head, trying to hide her nervousness. She stroked his knuckles with her thumb. “Willow found a spell…something that will help get you out of here.” She glanced up at him through her eyelashes, hoping to catch some sign that he’d understood her, some shred of hope that he might still have for himself.
Instead, his eyes were trained on the hands holding his. His fingers began to imitate hers, his thumb moving in slow circles against her palm. The soft caress made Buffy want to cry. A suggestive smirk or a look of longing would usually follow a touch like that, but there was no such expression on his face. The Slayer had never thought there would be a time that she’d want to see it so badly. The detached curiosity was far too cold for an emotional creature like the Spike she had known.
She was startled by her thoughts and looked quickly up at the redhead, standing right outside the door. She wasn’t, however, distracted enough to notice the way Spike pulled his hand from hers, an almost guilty expression on his face.
Sighing softly, she stood and brushed her wrinkled pants off. “What is it, Wills?”
“I, um…” Willow cast an awkward glance in Spike’s direction, before returning her gaze to her best friend. “I think we should re-think the spell.”
“What?” Tired green eyes widened in dismay. “Why? You don’t think it’ll work?”
“Buffy…” Willow was silent for a moment, trying to think of a way to explain. “Danaia and I just did some digging…i-its not the spell…its this dimension.”
Buffy shook her head, at a loss.
“Ok,” Willow began. “The dimension…it’s not stable. I felt it as soon as I walked through the portal. The energy in this place…everything’s out of whack. And, I kinda think I know why now…” She fidgeted with the front of her green shirt, trying to smooth invisible wrinkles. “The dimension isn’t natural, Buffy…it’s not supposed to be here.”
The Slayer shook her head. “What do you mean? How is it not supposed to be here?”
“Well, from what I can get from the scrolls, it was kind of…created.” She frowned, as if offended. “It’s stolen, Buffy…it was created from stolen time and space from the two dimensions it’s between. That’s why everything’s so unstable here…it’s not even supposed to exist. It’s barely holding itself together…” Willow sighed wearily. “Buffy, this spell takes a lot of energy…a natural dimension has a firm balance to it…this place has no balance at all. If I perform a spell this big, here…” She shook her head, frowning. “Well, I’m not sure what it would do to this place…I mean, I’m pretty sure the spell isn’t anywhere near big enough to bring the sky crashing down on our heads and destroy this little pocket dimension, but-“
“Could you do it?”
Willow frowned. “Could I do what?”
“A spell that big.” There was a dangerous gleam in the Slayer’s green eyes. “Could you perform a spell, big enough to destroy this pocket dimension – to wipe this place right out of existence?”
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