Ring on her Finger

By Nickeltaffy

Disclaimer: I would like to thank Joss for the use of his characters. They are still his and will never be mine. (heavy sigh).

Author's note: I would like to thank everyone for being so patient on waiting for the next chapter of this story. I have just finished changing jobs and moving across the country. Whew!

…...

Chapter 33

The light blazed about Buffy, surging around her in a blinding haze. Buffy pulled her forearm tighter toward her face against the increasing glare and deafening roar that was building around her like a tempest. Her hair flew up as a wave of white heat tinged her skin as if she was too close to a fire. It seemed like the fires from an interior of a star in the depth of their brightness. Then suddenly, it seemed like the deafening roar skipped. Then it skipped again. The upheaval froze once more for just a second and then it settled into a slowing, jerking rhythm like a scratched record till the all the furor came to an abrupt halt around her. After a second, Buffy tilted her head in puzzlement and peeked one eye over her forearm. Her eye blinked and roamed the area around her, taking in stock that everything seemed to be frozen. She slowly lowered her arm as she turned her head to peer at the blinding turbulent chaos that had suddenly frozen around her.

"Catastrophe! Absolutely utter catastrophe!" A woman's exasperated voice carried over to Buffy in the hushed silence. "This was not supposed to happen…"

Buffy turned to the source of the voice, to see Aunt Charlotte standing a few feet away in the midst of the frozen onslaught. The woman had opened the large ornate clasp of the heavy cloak at her neck and allowed it to slide to one side down to the floor. Aunt Charlotte casually observed the cloak travel down her arm as it soundlessly fell to the floor. Buffy could see that Spike's Aunt Charlotte was really not that old, it was only the clothes and hairstyle that made her seem older than her years. She seemed to be in her late twenties. Her dark blonde hair was pulled back into a large bun at the base of her neck with two large locks of hair on the side of her head bent into a large curl before it was drawn back with the other hair. She was wearing a dark navy Victorian dress with black piping that flowed into a large skirt that swirled around her. She stood ramrod straight as her waist was held firm and artificially small by an apparent industrial strength corset attesting to the radiating outrage the woman seemed to exude. It was similar to a steam engine overheating, allowing a slow exhalation of steam to barely keep it from exploding.

"That's absolutely outlandish! How utterly perverse! I am unable to believe my eyes. How in the name of everything that is good, did that boy manage that?" Aunt Charlotte muttered as she shook her head in disbelief.

"Huh? Wha's goin on?" Buffy asked, still reeling from the scene she had witnessed.

"I realize that some forbearance had to be borne since he was not fully educated about his responsibility but to have this occur. It is beyond any reasonable expectation…" the prim Victorian woman announced, stress evident in her tone. "I hope you are pleased with yourself. Now, it is completely out of balance."

"Hey, wait a minute. Did I see what I think I saw what I think I did?" Buffy muttered as she put her hands to her head to stop the spinning. "Didn't I just see Spike dust?"

"Oh, indeed, that among a most important thing: he destroyed the other stone. The lovesick simpleton!"

"Well, what was supposed to happen?" Buffy uttered slowly scrunched her face as she gazed suspiciously at the other woman.

Aunt Charlotte did not respond. She just stood there staring at Buffy, her face inscrutable, after a few moments, she threw up her hands.

"I am without words!" Aunt Charlotte announced to the room as she hurriedly began to pace in front of Buffy. Suddenly, she stopped and pointed a finger at Buffy who reared back in response. "And you…You are unquestionably of no assistance in this matter. You sit there, acting rather dimwitted when a simple question is posed to you; but when it comes to admitting your feelings, you're as timid as baby deer."

"What? You're turning this on me? Are you saying this is my fault?" Buffy asked indignantly, then pointing back at Aunt Charlotte, she counter attacked. "What was with all the 'It is his destiny' speech that I've been wading through for the last five minutes?"

"Tpt….." Aunt Charlotte made a small sound of outrage, before physically restraining herself. With a deep sniff, she pulled back her shoulders while setting her jaw in determination. She folded her hands in front of her before addressing Buffy in measured tones.

"You are correct. I am wrong in saying this is your fault in allowing this situation to occur. My nephew choose to bestow his affection on someone of your ilk. It is BOTH your faults."

"Listen, if you had been a little more forthcoming when I got here, we wouldn't even be in this position. So, if blame is going to be handed out, you better get settled with a big ole plateful!"

"It is a simple matter. All you had to do was to admit your feelings, and you would have saved him, but I see that you are intensely tiresome on this matter." Aunt Charlotte placed her hands on her hips as she stared at Buffy. "Well, speak up! I believe I am entitled to an answer to my question."

"I….I don't …What?" Buffy gasped, so absolutely overwhelmed with the turn of events that she sounded absolutely befuddled.

"Still no answer?" Aunt Charlotte sighed and then looked upward in a helpless shrug. "Oh, I am utter confounded by my nephew's choice in women. Perhaps, my sister was too lenient with him in his early life. Let's see if I can put this in simpler terms: Do you have any feelings for William?"

"Feelings? Well, I…I mean he is…" Buffy's face wrinkled as she felt Aunt Charlotte's gaze upon her. "Okay! Just for argument's sake, let's say I do. I am not saying what type, but I can definitely agree that I do feel something."

"We have to start somewhere." Aunt Charlotte said with a resigned sigh. She pointed to Buffy's hand. "The ring obviously is reacting as if there is something between you. It has halted time based on your distress."

"Say what? It halted time…It can do that? Like everywhere?" Buffy's eyes became large as the impact of the event hit her.

"Yes." Aunt Charlotte answered, her patience running thin.

"Wow! This little ring packs a lotta of power." Buffy looked down at the ring and then announced with delight. "I thought it pulling me from my dimension was cool, but this….this is really super...uh cool!"

"Nevertheless, it is up to you to set things to right. The ring has halted the imbalance. The absence of the stone of the creature has created a void allowing an upheaval of the planes. An apocalypse, if you may."

"An apocalypse, huh? Must be Thursday!" Buffy muttered. "Okay, so what do we do about it? I mean we gotta do something. We just can sit around here forever….at least, I can't."

"There is one possible resolution. William was never meant to inherit the ring. My brother Bertram was. He met an unfortunate accident shortly before he was to acquire the ring." Aunt Charlotte turned and looked directly into Buffy's face and addressed her. "If you can bring my brother, hail and hearty to my father's house the night when the ring was given to William. We may avoid this unfortunate chain of events."

"What are you talking about? " Buffy asked as she stood up from her kneeling position and brushed off the sand from the knees of her jeans. "That happened over a hundred years ago….I mean you don't expect me to go back in time to wrestle this Bert guy over to your dad's place, do ya?"

Aunt Charlotte closed her eyes as she sighed before continuing.

"If you are successful and see that the correct heir accepts the mantle. William will not have to serve and all this will have never happened. You can go back to your life as a disagreeable, rather surly young woman."

"Really?" Buffy scrunched up her face, before slowly shaking her head. "This is getting too weird. Time travel, right! I mean where's the Delorean? Come on!"

"It is either that or you and I can spend eternity together." Aunt Charlotte mirthlessly responded.

"Okay. Start with the girl talk! Just tell me what I have to do!"

,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

She really needed to watch her mouth, Buffy thought as she fell. Once the words announcing her agreement had left her lips and quick bit of instruction from Aunt Charlotte, Buffy felt floor melt away from her feet and her body was suddenly falling. One moment she was standing beside a pool and the next she had been swallowed up in some inky dark void. She should have known from the stories she had read as a child, young Alice fell down the rabbit hole and Dorothy and her house fell out of a tornado, that landings when transporting to another world tended to be on the rough side. At first, only unintelligible sounds emitted from her open mouth as she flailed her arms in desperation as she stared into the blackness beneath. She seemed to be falling interminably, when in the next instant her body fell with a thud into a cold hard and yet rather moist surface.

She lay there in the cold mud, not moving for a moment. She wrinkled her face into a grimace as the cold gritty water enveloped the side of her face. She slowly lifted her head up from the puddle. Trails of dirty water traveled over her forehead as she inadvertently winked and opened one eye independent of each other. Finally, she gave her head a little shake and spitted out the grit that had managed to find its way into her mouth. She pulled up her hands to wipe the murky water away from her face, but stopped as her eyes locked onto the cold mud deposited on the heel of each palm. Placing her hands back down in the puddle, she pushed up to sit back on her heels. When she did, she felt the cold embrace of her clothes that had soaked up a considerably amount of the puddle against her breastbone, it sent new rivulets of cold dirty water down her torso down to her waistband. With two fingers of both hands, she gingerly held the mud adorned cloth away from her to keep the remaining dampness away from her torso.

She looked away from her body to see that she had landed on a muddy country road. The puddles of murky water sandwiched in between the ridges left by passing vehicles reflected the bright moon that was beaming in the sky. She looked around her to see that she was in the countryside. It seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, there were no billboards and the road wasn't even paved. Aside from the moonlight, there was no sign of light indicating civilization from the nearby surroundings. A chill wind blew across the landscape, making her realize the thinness of her wardrobe. Where was she?

She stood to take a better look. Over on the field, next to the road, something caught her eye. Wrapping her arms around her, she moved closer to the mysterious object. It was a dark mass laying on the field. It stood out among the gleaming leaves shining in the moonlight. She sidestepped the last few feet toward it, ready to take a defensive posture if it suddenly attacked. Her steps took a staccato rhythm as she edged closer.

"Oh Hell!" She exclaimed as she recognized the mass. She marched toward it with a sense of relief. "The stupid cloak!" She leaned down and pull the heavy cloak with her two hands. "I gotta say Aunt Charlotte has a wicked sense of humor."

Wrapping the warm cloak about her, Buffy began to stamp down the road, hoping to find some indication of where she might be. The cloak did turn out to be a godsend, keeping the chill air from making her wet clothes an even further irritant. She plodded down the side of the road, head down, intent on making progress. It was at the zenith of a small hill that she caught the first glimmer of a light in the distance. It was still quite a ways off, but it was the first sign of occupied civilization she had come across. The leather of her boots squeaked as she began to walk down the hill.

As she got closer, she could tell it was a two story building, light was illuminating the windows with a soft glow. There was a flattened piece of pounded earth out front that was being used as courtyard. It must be some kind of restaurant, she thought. She could make out the outline of a sign by the roadway. She peered a little longer, she began to make out some of the architecture. It looked like one of those steakhouses built in the seventies that tried to look like an old English Inn. As long as they had heat and a phone, they could be as corny as they wanted to be.

Buffy stopped to scratch her head for a moment and ponder about the world she now inhabiting. "Hmm….did they have phones in the nineteenth century? There were all those pictures of that inventory guy, Belle with that long beard...Those pictures were totally old." She nodded in confirmation as she approached the door. "Yeah, they should have phones."

Pushing on the oversized artfully weathered door, Buffy entered a room filled with golden light with a grateful sigh at escaping the chill night air. She stopped just inside the door to take in the battered wooden tables with a large fireplace at the end of the room. There was a bitter scent of smoke and unwashed bodies that floated over to her. Although there was a large fire burning the fireplace and more than a few people in the place, there was still a definite chill in the air which made her draw the cloak tighter. There was the sound of drunken carousing over in a corner where the silhouettes of several men could be made out against the flames in the fireplace.

"Oh, great! It's just like one of those theme restaurants." Buffy said to herself as she peered around the inn. "I guess it could be worse, at least they're not jousting."

"Hey. Excuse me." She stopped a rather thin and tall mustachioed man walked by dressed in a rolled up sleeves with a tightly fitting vest and an apron with a tray full of tall glasses. "Could you tell me where the phone is?"

The man's forehead wrinkled in confusion to her question. He responded in a deep Welsh accent. "Never heard of him. If you wantin somfin to drink, I'll need to be seeing some coin first."

"I didn't ask for something to drink. I need to use the telephone." Buffy decided he didn't understand her, so she began to talk slower. "You know…TEL-A-PHONE. Where is the telephone?"

"Tela….If you needin ta be usin the privy: turn right atta door, go behind da buildin and it's at the bottom of da knoll." The man's voice strained over the ever increasing din coming from near the fireplace.

"Priv…I need an English-English translation book!" Buffy grumbled. "Would you talk like a real person for a minute? Come on, you gotta have a telephone somewhere."

"Tela…Sorry, Miss, we don't serve any fancy wine here. We just ha' simple English fare."

"No, it is not wine." Buffy began to get exasperated. "You know, it's a telephone. It's a thing you can talk into and, you know, people talk back to you on it."

"One of those! Sure, we got plenty of those! Why didn you say so!" The man's voice echoed with false discovery to Buffy's hopeful face. The amusement fell from the man's face in the next instant as his voice lowered and he uttered. "Look, dearie…we don't have any of those tell things, so take your fevered imaginings right outside this establishment."

A sudden increase in noise suddenly occurred from the group near the fireplace, the innkeeper placed the tray of drinks on a nearby table. The man gave a short look over to the group before firmly grabbed Buffy's arm, moving her to the door.

He briskly informed her as they neared the door. "I have paying customers to take care of and I don't have time for your unbalanced ravings."

Buffy was so surprised that she was in shock as she felt her arm being lifted by the man as he firmly escorted her to the door. Opening it with one hand, he pushed her through it, calling after her.

"Please feel free to take your business to another establishment."

The sound of wood door closing followed after Buffy as she trotted a few steps with the momentum given by the man's push. She turned to look at the doorway, stunned as her other hand began to rub the blood back into her upper arm that had been pinched in the tall man's hand. She grumbled as she looked at the door for a moment.

"All he had to say was he didn't have a telephone. Sheeesh!"

Buffy had just turned away when the door to the inn suddenly opened, unleashing a blasting cacophony of outraged voices mingling threats and demands out into the courtyard. A slightly larger masculine body was being tossed out the door into the courtyard. It glanced off her shoulder making her stumble a few steps. After regaining her balance, she looked back to see a body of man, laying on his back on the chilly packed ground by the inn's entrance. Buffy stood up and straightened her cloak since the impact had jostled the cloak forward.

"I'll…ll ha you know, my goo..*hic...good man, tha I will na b ex-extending my b'nss any furder" a well inebriated male voice mixed with authority and amusement carried over to Buffy. The door slammed shut in response, but the drunken voice continued to the innkeeper or the night sky. "thiss eb-evening."

The man did not try to rise from the cold ground, he continued to lay exactly where he landed, his limbs splayed over the cold ground. He seemed quite content to look up at the frosty stars in the sky above him. Seemingly, having gotten his fill of the stars, he pulled up his elbows to prop himself up with an amused sigh. From the lazy way his head lolled on his neck, it appeared that he had imbibed quite a bit of alcohol during his sojourn at the inn. It took his eyes a few moments to focus to realize that he was not alone. His eyes finally seemed to fix on her feet. He slowly allowed his gaze to travel up from her feet all the way up to her face. When it reached her face, he blinked a few times before a small twisted smile appeared on his face as his voice broke the chill air with these familiar words.

"Hello, cutie."

.