I want to start by saying I'm glad so many of you got my hints that Spike's vision last chapter was Wishverse, but it also seems it wasn't too heavy handed. It was a bit of a struggle finding that balance :) Also - things start happening this chapter ;-)
Once Spike got it into his head to do something, he usually saw it through immediately. No matter how unpleasant the task it was always preferable to waiting, in his opinion. So when he finished patrol with Buffy on Sunday night he walked her home and asked after the Bit. Unfortunately, Dawn was already sleeping and the Slayer was watching him with the beginnings of suspicion, so he opted not to insist on waking her. After all, what were the odds he'd spiral into incognizance overnight? Not high, to his way of thinking.
Monday he called the Summers' house following his afternoon breakfast. The Bit picked up, but as soon as she realized it was him she hissed that she was busy and that she would see him at the Scooby meeting Tuesday morning. Odd that, but he didn't suppose another eighteen hours would hurt anything – his sleep had been mercifully dream free this morning. That evening Buffy said something about a mom day and Spike was glad he hadn't insisted on interrupting the Bit's family time. Joyce was recovering nicely, but the Bit was still wound tighter than a garrote mid-strangle so he could only assume mum's time on this earth was still creeping steadily to a close.
Tuesday he got up early, which was easier than should be expected for a vampire, but then, he'd been operating more on slayer hours than vampire for some time now. A little blood and Jack settled his stomach and he was soon on his way through the sewers, his thickest blanket bundled about his shoulders. He was hoping to catch Bit before the meeting proper, but when he arrived even Harris was already seated at the table, an open box of donuts in front of him.
Porky wanker he'd become, hadn't he?
They were waiting for him, which he still found a little disconcerting even as it warmed him. They might not know it, but they'd let him in. And while his predator half disapproved, the man in him knew that there was no way to Buffy that didn't involve making nice with her chums. Honestly, he rather liked the girls, and even the Watcher could be a bit of alright on occasion. Harris was Harris, but he'd dealt with worse in his time. Much worse. And for far less promise of gain.
Unfortunately, that they were waiting for him meant he had no chance to slip away with the Bit and voice his growing concerns, but surely another hour or even two was nothing when he'd already waited two days. Hell, technically he'd waited more'n a year.
The watcher opened the meeting and the others began listing the results of their fruitless search for information on Glory, whose name they still did not know. Spike sat on the glass counter and watched Dawn in an attempt to distract himself from the uneasy feeling curling in the pit of his stomach. He'd never been much for lying or keeping secrets. The truth was a sharper weapon and a more solid comfort than any lie could ever be. And the end of this particular untruth would set those he loved at ease, even if it might stir up unwanted questions.
Bit was attempting to study the ends of her hair, probably a nervous habit remaining from many years of keeping it much longer in her once-upon-a-time future. At length she gave up and instead began to meticulously smooth each wrinkle in her long sleeved blouse. Her fingers chased each line to its end, stretching the material taut, before moving to the next. Inevitably the previous line reappeared as soon as she moved on, which only guaranteed her continued occupation for however long was necessary.
He fully expected this to continue the length of the discussion and so was surprised when her fingers abruptly stilled and her chin jerked up, her eyes narrowed.
"Why?" she demanded tersely.
Startled from his reverie, Spike realized he'd succeeded in utterly tuning out the conversation, which meant he had no idea what had commanded the Bit's sudden attention.
He risked a glance at Buffy to find that her lips were tight with disapproval. Though he couldn't suss out if she the source of her displeasure was her sister or another of the group.
Rupert sighed. "Much as I am loathe to admit it, the Council does have resources beyond my own."
"Umm." Red raised a tentative hand. "Sorry, but, even if they do have information we don't, are you sure they'll share?"
"They did fire you," Harris said, by way of agreement.
They wanted to involve the Watchers? Spike's hackles rose of their own accord and he almost growled. No good would come of that. He cast a furtive glance as Dawn. She didn't notice, though for the way she was abusing her lower lip with her teeth she would agree whole heartedly with his sentiment and was as much at a loss as he for what to do about it.
"Dawnie," the Slayer said sharply, "we talked about this. They're not gonna let the world end over a stupid disagreement, and neither are we."
"Okay, I know. But . . . Glory hasn't even done anything in months."
"So, these storms or whatever, that's nothing?" Buffy snapped back.
Spike fought a wince at the Bit's slip up, but no one else seemed to have noticed. Did no good to give them time to think on it though. "Still don' see why you're all so set to believe the bitch has something to do with the weather," he said. "Never heard of a demon what controlled the weather. An' for all your looking you've not found a single thing in the watcher's musty old books."
His ploy was successful, and the collective displeasure of most of the room turned on him.
"Which is why Giles is thinking about playing nice with the Council," the Slayer said through gritted teeth.
"Gonna feel a right git when he finds what he really needs is a consult with a meteorologist."
"Listen, evil dead the second, bubble storms are not natural occurring," Harris sneered. Then he faltered and looked to the red witch uncertainly. "They aren't, are they, Wills?"
Red shook her head.
Spike snorted. "Probably has summat to do with global warming and all that rot."
The Bit threw him a grateful look, which he studiously ignored as all eyes were still on him.
Dawn spoke up, diverting their attention. "Even if they aren't natural, Spike's right. Bad perm never did anything remotely weather related. Or elemental, or whatever. This probably has nothing to do with her." Dawn looked down at her lap. "How do you know she's even still here?" she asked quietly. "I mean, no one's seen her, right? Maybe she figured out her key is gone and she just . . . left."
Buffy heaved a sigh and moved to sit beside her sister, pressing their sides together. "That'd be great, Dawnie, but this is my life, so I'm thinking not likely."
"It could have happened though. I mean, she sent that snake thing to look for the key, right? Maybe when she didn't find it she went somewhere else."
Giles shook his head. "Dawn, it is unlikely that she would give up so easily."
"But you said she had a time limit, right? I mean, probably." Dawn turned pleading eyes from the watcher to her sister. "The monk said something about that didn't he?"
Spike had to hand it to her – that was an Oscar worthy performance.
"I don't know," Buffy said. "It just seems too easy."
"Oh! Oh!" Willow bounced in her seat in what looked to Spike to be equal parts anxiety and excitement. "Dimensions. The key was supposed to open dimensions, right? So maybe she does know her key is gone, and she's looking for another way through. Like, these things could be her attempt to open a doorway, or whatever. Right?" Red looked from Rupert to Glinda and back again. The white witch reached to tangle their fingers and gave a reassuring squeeze.
"It's possible. Don't you think Mr. Giles?"
The watcher sighed. "Honestly? I've no idea what that would look like. But it does seem plausible."
The Bit's lips compressed in an unhappy line at this possible explanation. It was a damn logical explanation, unfortunately. There was no way to refute it without sharing that they'd seen Glory to her end.
Buffy fought the urge to rub at her temples. God, she was tired of this argument. All they had was nothing, nothing, and more nothing. And Dawn seemed determined to downplay the whole thing. It was like now that she was no longer the key she wasn't worried about the super-powerful evil chick at all. As if being super-powerful and evil wasn't problematic all on its own?
"The other option is that our baddie is throwing a temper tantrum. Which would not be unusual around here," she pointed out. "Either way, we need to figure out what's going on and stop it. I'd like one spring without an apocalypse, you know?"
Was she the only one considering the possibility that this was some sort of retaliation for destroying the key?
Unless they hadn't destroyed the key. Dawn and Spike had been shaky on the details of the de-keying spell, and Buffy had been so relieved that her sister was safe that she hadn't even considered the further implications. What if the key hadn't been destroyed, what if they'd somehow shifted it onto someone or something else? Could Glory be lying low and using these storms as a distraction while she continued the search?
"Um, ow?" Dawn said beside her, and Buffy looked down only to realize her fingers were digging into her sister's thigh.
"Sorry." Buffy blushed and relaxed her grip. "I was thinking."
From over near the glass counter she thought she might have heard a snarkily muttered, "'sposed to only be painful for you." She didn't acknowledge the words. With Spike sometimes any attention was taken as good attention and she didn't want to encourage him. A little banter on patrol could be fun, but this was a serious conversation. Besides, every time they got into it in front of the gang they got accused of things. Flirty type things.
Instead she kept her focus on Dawn. "That spell, the one that you used to dekey yourself, what did it do?"
Dawnie frowned. "Uh, it made me not the key anymore. Clearly."
Buffy shook her head. "No. I mean, not what what, what how? Like, did it make the key go poof, or did it do something else?"
"Good Lord." Giles was already moving for the ladder to the loft.
Buffy continued. "I mean, stuff doesn't usually poof, right? If you take it from one place it has to go to another." She looked to Willow for support.
Willow nodded thoughtfully. "Energy, even magic energy, can't really be destroyed."
"It can be used though!" Dawn insisted.
"Are you saying you opened a portal?" Giles asked. He had the book now and was frantically flipping through the pages, looking for the right spell.
"Was a removal spell, Rupert," Spike said. "We made sure of that."
"I thought it was a separation spell," Tara ventured quietly.
"A separation and removal spell," Dawn corrected.
"Will you all kindly shut up and let me read?" Giles snapped from the loft.
They sat in tense silence for several minutes while Giles read and reread the spell. At length his shoulders relaxed slightly and he came back down to the main floor, though he did keep the book firmly in hand.
"Well?" Buffy asked, unable to contain herself. If they needed to start looking for the key again she wanted to know, like, yesterday.
"It does not appear that any energies are translocated as a part of this spell."
Buffy frowned and stepped over next to him to peer down at the book. It was instinct really, and a useless one. Books and Buffy were non-mixy things, especially when said books weren't even written in English. "Transloco what?" she asked. "What do trains have to do with anything?"
"He means the key wasn't moved from one place, in this case the Bit, to another," Spike translated.
"Then what happened to the energy?" Willow asked.
Giles eyed Dawn. "You said the energy could be used. How so?"
Dawn shifted in obvious discomfort and Buffy wondered if she was worried about a lecture or if she was just trying to remember what had happened. "Well, there were candles, and runes, and uh . . . stuff. I think the energy went into those. Like, to feed them."
Or it could have been because she knew she had no idea what she was talking about. Great. Buffy looked to Giles expectantly. Dawn's answer must not have been the one he was looking for, because he still had that look he got when Xander ate jelly donuts over his books.
"Were that the case, there would have been a tremendous amount of backlash. I imagine an ancient dimensional key has more energy than your average witch's power."
"There was backlash, alright," Spike muttered.
"What was that?" Buffy asked, gaze snapping to the vampire. She'd almost forgotten he was there. Not 'in the room now' there, because, with the helpful translating and all, but 'with Dawn during the spell' there.
He shrugged. "Was backlash, I said. Bloody gale force winds, an' the Bit was glowing like a light bulb.
"See." Dawn glared at Buffy mutinously.
The Slayer rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to the mature adult in the room. Giles, not surprisingly, was cleaning his glasses.
"It does seem likely, then; that the energies of the key were, um, safely dissipated."
"That's good, right?" Anya asked, speaking for the first time.
Buffy deflated a little. Yeah, it was good, but it left them back at square nothing. Again. "Yeah, that's," she paused wearily, "good. So we're back to, what then? On the storms?"
"Doorways?" Willow asked.
"I still say there's no way she knows we got rid of her key and she hasn't come looking for payback. Revenge is very demony." Automatically Buffy turned to Spike for support. "Right?"
Spike looked startled, and maybe a little pleased, but he nodded.
Dawn huffed impatiently. "Which is why I'm saying she's probably gone. So there's no point in Giles running off to England and getting the stupid Council involved."
Buffy was about to respond with something either very exasperated, or very snarky, possibly both, but at that moment Xander cleared his throat uncertainly.
"Um, does anyone else see that?"
There was a storm manifesting inside the Magic Box.
"All those who agree that storms spontaneously generating inside buildings are not normal raise their hands." Xander followed his own instruction, but no one else did.
Buffy had already leapt across the room, throwing herself and Dawn to the floor. Buffy needed to remember she had slayer strength, Dawn thought, because that seriously hurt. She was going to have bruises.
"It's an attack!" Buffy shouted.
"You don't know that!" Dawn protested as loudly as she could with her face pressed into a human shoulder by a person with superhuman strength. Was Buffy trying to suffocate her? And this was only the second time she'd seen one of these things up close and personal. She needed to be able to see so that she could figure out what this thing was.
"If this is an attack this hellbitch has the worst bloody aim in known history," Spike observed in a bored tone. "These things have been popping up all over town for weeks. And no one's been hurt by them."
"Someone needs to look and see if there's anything inside," Willow called, so clearly Buffy wasn't the only one who'd gone with the "duck and cover" instinct.
"Inside?" Xander echoed. "It's not a snow globe, Will!"
Anya caught on to Willow's implication more quickly. Which wasn't at all surprising considering she'd been able to travel through dimensions practically at will once upon a time. "You can't see other dimensions through a portal. The doorway thing is just imagery. Portals are pure energy."
"Well, someone should bloody well do something," Spike snapped. "This isn't a soddin' earthquake, why are you all on the ground?"
"Let me see," Dawn insisted, shifting against her sister's hold. "I want to see."
In response, Buffy tightened her hold.
"Spike, what is it?" the Slayer demanded.
"Do I look like the research sort to you?" Spike asked, tone rich with incredulity.
"I've never seen anything like it," the ex-demon confessed. "And I've seen just about everything in this dimension or any other."
"Great, something new. This is fun," Xander said with false brightness. "Ahn, get back down here."
There were sounds of minor scuffling, as though Xander had tried to pull Anya back and she was resisting. Then Anya snorted.
"Good grief, Xander, it's not doing anything but sitting there. And someone has to take a look."
How unusually brave of her. Dawn almost said something, but a sudden wind whipped through the shop, rustling pages and causing smaller trinkets to rock unsteadily on the shelves. Weird though, it didn't do that sucking in thing like she remembered from the first time. Or maybe she'd just been so tired she'd been more affected then. Regardless, the beginning of the wind was the end of Anya's uncharacteristic bravery, or so Dawn surmised from her sudden squeak followed by shuffling steps and a solid thump that Dawn was almost positive was the ex-demon's butt hitting the floor.
There was a familiar snarl. "Oh, for the love of— fine, I'll do it."
In his heavy boots Spike's steps were easy to pick out, especially as he was practically stomping. "Watcher!" he snapped. "Could use an assist."
"Ah, yes, um, I shall observe from here, I believe." Here seemed to be the vicinity of the counter, from the sound of it.
"Bloody— how do you lot ever get anything done?"
"Buffy, we have to know what we're up against," Dawn tried again. "Hiding isn't going to help."
"Neither is getting sucked into that, whatever that is."
"No one's getting sucked in," Spike said. "M standing right in front of it, an' aside a bit of wind burn, I'm fine."
"You're also not human," Buffy countered.
Spike didn't answer, not with words, but from the tension in her sister's shoulders Dawn was pretty sure they were having a silent glaring contest.
The wind redoubled with a sudden, prolonged gust. Spike swore, and Dawn felt Buffy's face press into her hair.
Ah, there was that sucking feeling she'd been missing earlier.
Dawn was suddenly grateful for her sister's solid hold. Of course, she'd be more grateful if said hold was not cutting off her circulation, but that was a minor detail. If she recalled correctly, last time the sucking wind was prelude to the storm's disappearance, which meant they were going to lose their chance if they didn't do something now. Though what they could possibly do Dawn didn't know. She wracked her brain, desperate for some insight, but she had a sinking feeling it was already too late.
The Magic Box went silent.
There was wind.
And then there was not.
The sudden stillness caused Buffy to look up involuntarily, releasing Dawn in the process who bounced to her feet immediately. Buffy ignored her, eyes fixed on the anomaly. The pocket storm was not gone. It was, however, completely transformed. The whirling, spinning clouds had dissipated, and the arching lights seemed to consolidate before her eyes, forming a sudden picture.
There was something in the bubble.
"What the bleeding hell?"
Buffy couldn't help but agree with Spike's sentiment. What was this? Supernatural cable? If so, demon tv needed a new camera man, everything was too zoomed in to make any sense. Still, when the bubble suddenly stretch another foot, the peach and orange blur became clearly recognizable as a face.
A familiar face.
Willow moved forward, seemingly drawn against her will, as the focus of the picture shifted to a dark haired young man and then a rail thin blonde.
"It's us," Willow said slowly. Tara came up beside her and pulled her raised hand away from the bubble.
"Some of us," Tara corrected quietly. "And different. Older?"
"Why am I wearing an eye patch?" Xander demanded. "Not that I have an issue with the pirate look, but I'm clearly missing the hoop earring and the hook hand."
Anya patted his shoulder. "You look very good in an eye patch," she said in what she probably thought was a reassuring way.
Like this was in any way the point? Buffy opened her mouth to say so, but at that moment the scene in the bubble shifted from the original Scooby gang to an image of Giles. He was thinner, dressed in a suit, and his hair had significantly more gray. More startling, however, was the calendar on the wall behind him. There, in neat print, was the month and year:
"Good Lord," Giles said, he leaned forward. "It's not a doorway to a hell dimension; it's a window in time."
And for no reason whatsoever, at least none that Buffy could determine, Dawn fell to her knees.
Chapter End Notes:
Dun dun dun! At least one of the things you've all been waiting for happens next chapter. Stay tuned! Since this is a cliffie I'll try to post sometime in the mid-week.
Thanks for reading and to all who review,