By Mint Witch
RATING: PG, this chapter.
DISTRIBUTION: Previous chapters at http://www.geocities.com/cxyzjacobs/btvsfic/chrisindex.html and ff.net, eventually. And if you ask nice.
DISCLAIMER: Joss is my type-monkey; I keep him chained under my desk. Naughty, Joss, no touching!
NOTE: Thus this chapter begins my ode to Leonard Cohen. If you want to be spoiled, listen to The Window. On second thought, don't; spoilers are evil. Oh, and thanks to Canada for the beta, and Kimi for twisting my rubber arm to post.
FEEDBACK: If I didn't want it, would we even be here?
PREVIOUSLY: Spike gets collared (Yum). Buffy invites Spike to live out a Ramones song. Xander remains unhappy with Buffy's life choices. Fun with cutlery. Dawn runs away to dance with suspicious hippies. Buffy's got a Brachen beau. Golf balls from Heeeeeaven. Some walking and talking.
9. Of Locks and Keys
The glowing abruptly faded, and Buffy was relieved to see Anya snap her spell-book shut. The shopkeeper had placed wards on every conceivable entrance against strange demons and potential thieves, and was not the least bit reluctant to launch fireballs at anyone who didn't enter through the front door with wallet in hand.
"Is Dawn here, yet?" Spike caught the question as he and Gil re-emerged from the tunnel, and shot her a quizzical look.
"She's here, yes. We were just wondering if you would show up." Anya exchanged a complicated nod with Spike as Buffy passed her, and lagged behind to usher the others up the stairs. "She brought Xander with her, I can't imagine why. Oh! And I found that Dustin you were dating, lurking in the alley. He still won't make a wish, by the way, despite being brutally dumped."
Oh dear god, not this, too. "Dylan, Anya, his name is Dylan Slater," Buffy muttered through clenched teeth, earning another look from Spike.
"Whatever." Closing the basement door behind them, Anya slid back to her post behind the counter and sniffed. "I just thought I should keep you informed. I'll let you know if he changes his mind."
Buffy forced herself to smile cordially at the three already seated around the research table. What she really wanted to do was run out into the hailstorm and get knocked unconscious for an hour or five.
"Hi, again, Buffy." Slater twiddled his fingers at her with shy smile. "I'm glad you're okay."
Spike stalked bonelessly around the table and propped himself against a bookcase, sword still in one hand. He smirked at her and mockingly waggled his free fingers at the Slayer. She glared back.
Buffy should have remembered that dirty looks were Spike's favorite form of encouragement. He set down the sword, clasped his hands under his chin, and gazed longingly at the ceiling, mouthing 'Buuuuuu-uuuuffy.' Bastard. Not funny.
Forcing her eyes away from the immature vampire's antics, she sweetly addressed the Brachen, "Yeah, I'm okay. How about you? You weren't caught outside, were you?"
It wasn't his fault that he was the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"I'm fine," he reassured her.
"I found him trying to take cover behind the dumpsters," Anya argued. "He could've been killed."
"No, really, just a few bumps and bruises." Slater gave a self-deprecating laugh. "My aunt would say that's what I get for dawdling."
"Well, I'm still glad you're okay." Buffy transferred her gaze to Xander and Dawn. "You guys?" They both shook their heads. "Good."
"Okay, quick intros, then with the research." She ran through the cast list, introducing everyone quickly, trying not to notice how Slater's face fell when she reached Spike. Avoidance: avoidance was key.
"Let's crack these books, people, time's a' wastin'!" Buffy chirped desperately, clapping her hands once in an attempt to be upbeat and commander-y. Spike's smirk broadened into a delighted grin. Argh.
Buffy ducked and scurried, planting herself in the chair next to Dawn. "So, what do we know? Anything? Anya?"
The demon waved at the books piled on counter and table. "We've selected the most frequently referenced prophecies, but unfortunately none describes yuppie sports equipment. Rains of frogs are common, however, as are occurrences of currency and small valuables falling from the sky."
Xander snorted, switching his attention from scowling at Spike to mocking his ex-fiancée. "Pennies from Heaven? Hasn't that been done?"
"Wait, that's actually--" Buffy rose to pace around the table. "Hattie said something about it not being pearls, and Spike, you said that she and Gil have this theory about musicals and prophecy."
She looked for confirmation from the two hippies, but they were oblivious, staring with interest at the assorted merchandise of the store.
"Hello! Gil?" He came to attention, looking at her expectantly.
"Musicals, prophecies? Does this ring a bell in there, somewhere?"
"Oi, Slayer, watch your tone," Spike came to his friend's defense.
Gil shook his head and looked down at his companion. "Not me, Slay-sister, I'm just along for the ride." He nudged Hattie with a sandaled foot. "But she's got us this far, so it's groovy."
The prophetess smiled brilliantly from her lotus on the floor. "Hair!"
Interrupting her pacing to sidle up to Spike, Buffy whispered, "Does she ever make any sense?"
"Not often, luv, but she plays a mean game of Twister," he leered.
"I'll just bet." She threw him another glare and made a mental note to discuss inappropriate boyfriend behavior later. A full-fledged argument had exploded while her back was turned.
"Hollywood is run by demons, Xander! Pennies From Heaven, Singing In The Rain, Charlton Heston," Anya was retorting, shrilly.
He thumped his hand on the table, "It is not! You're just saying that." There was no way Xander that would ever admit that The Matrix was an evil plot. Not the best action movie ever made; it simply couldn't be.
"Oh, come on. The entire industry is based on apocalyptic prophecy and the end of human oppression. Before motion pictures and TV, there were plays and bards. Beowulf was a warning to demon-kind, you know."
Clem nodded soberly, finally joining the conversation. "Humans came and drove us out of the fens: it was genocide. Very scary stuff. My grand-da used to tell the story every Grofj Day. Kinda like Christmas in July," he clarified for the humans.
"Oh, is that where that came from," Dawn murmured, looking thoughtful.
Buffy's head was beginning to hurt. "Okay, so what we have here is what, the suburban version of rains of pearls, is that it?"
Dawn looked a little guilty. "Well, it makes sense." She opened her backpack, revealing a tote stuffed full of golf balls she'd gathered in a moment of inspiration before heading for the Magic Box. "The Pro Shop at the country club pays for used balls recovered from the woods and stuff. Some of my friends make extra money that way."
"Well," all heads turned to the Brachen, the only one of the group who had actually cracked a book. "This one says that the coming of some sort of god will be, er, 'heralded by a gift of the waters.' I think." He shrugged. "But it also mentions other stuff. My early Sumerian isn't very good."
The Slayer groaned. "We so need Giles for this. Hell Gods I can do. Dead languages, not so much."
"It doesn't mention a Key or anything, does it, Dyl?" Dawn looked a little nervous. "'Cause if it does, I'm so outta here."
"Don't worry, Dawnie, no matter what happens, there are no more towers in your future," Buffy reassured her sister.
"Duh! Like I care about that. Geez, Buffy," Dawn absently rubbed her ribs, "I'm all ready doomed to a life without bikinis; I'm not giving up middy tops." She set her chin, performing a Willow-worthy resolve face. "There will be no more permanent scarring of the Key, ever. And that's final."
Spike jerked away from the bookcase he had been holding up, as if he'd been burned, and stalked towards the girl, staring hard at Buffy all the while.
"No," he murmured, hand hovering over the girl's shoulder, "there won't be. I'll dust before I fail you again, Bit."
Dawn's face softened, and she looked back at him. Spike dropped his gaze from Buffy to meet the eyes of his chosen charge, and let himself touch her, the barest brush of his fingertips against her hair. They communicated silently for a long moment, the tension between them palpable to everyone in the room.
Buffy tried not squirm at the intensity of their connection. She'd been dead when they had turned to each other, and it probably had not been easy, but they made it seem so effortless. Spike and Dawn could forgive each other with a glance, while Buffy struggled to even talk to them. Would it always be this way, her sister and her lover closer to each other than either was to her?
They turned to look at her then, and the Slayer was no longer excluded. She wasn't closed out, she was part and parcel of each, and they in turn were part of her. Their combined gaze drew her forward until she was standing next to the pair. Her fingers brushed Spike's through the curtain of Dawn's hair and an electric charge seemed to run through Buffy.
Spike's eyes widened in surprise. He slipped his other arm around her waist, and drew her against his side. She leaned into him gratefully, returning the caress as her left hand dropped to rest on Dawn's shoulder.
Xander coughed. He was looking away from the scene, obviously uncomfortable, but holding his tongue. His last ally was gone, which meant he would have to get used to another vampire in Buffy's life or lose her and Dawn both. Although, technically, this vampire was back in Buffy's life, but she'd hidden it before, so he hadn't had to deal with it last year.
Turning his gaze to his old friend, Xander met the Slayer's sympathetic smile. At least this time, she wasn't lying to everyone. And he didn't have to like it. But he also didn't need to make this any harder for her than it would already be.
Buffy turned her attention to Slater. He was concentrating on the book in front of him as if his life depended on it, not just his heart. It wasn't her fault, but she still felt guilty for putting him through this.
"Hey, guys?" The assembled Scoobs and auxiliaries looked up at her soft call. "Why don't we call it a night? We've done as much as we can here, and it seems to have stopped." At some point during Xander and Anya's bitch- fest, the noise from outside had slackened, and now it was completely silent outside, excepting car alarms. More than one Sunnydale resident would wake up tomorrow to a broken windshield.
Gil helped his companion to her feet, as everybody stood and stretched, shuffling towards the entrance. Buffy tightened her grip on Spike when he tried to pull away, turning to him.
"Do you mind coming back to the house? I still want to talk to you, okay?" He nodded agreement.
"Are we done, then?" Anya piped up. "Good. You can all leave, now. Please come back during regular business hours with money, and thank you for visiting The Magic Box."
Buffy drew Spike away as Dawn stood and stretched. "I am going to be totally scragged tomorrow." She grinned at her older sister. "Unless my favorite person in the whole world wants to write me a note. Pullleeeeze, Buffy? Let me stay home," she pleaded, "I don't have any tests tomorrow or anything, and I can totally get the homework from Janice and Lisa. Please?"
"Uh-uh. If I can go to work, you can go to school."
"But you have super-powers: super-stay-awake-Slayer-powers!" Dawn's whine went straight to Buffy's guilt reflex, but she held firm.
"Dawn," she warned, "you are going to school tomorrow, and that's final. Do not make me sic the Kroger on you."
The teenager crossed her eyes and stuck out her tongue, deliberately juvenile. "Beeatch."
"Klepto." The girls dissolved into giggles, as Spike looked on in shock and Xander watched fondly from the doorway.
It was good to see them like this, acting like sisters, not warden and inmate. Dawn had been so thoroughly inserted into their memories that it was easy to forget she and Buffy were practically strangers only a year or two ago. The remembrances were actually a handicap to the sisters' relationship, creating a false sense of familiarity not grounded in reality. But over the summer, the slight awkwardness between them had gradually vanished, replaced by a deep loyalty and true affection. Enough so that they could now tease each other and laugh together.
A knot deep in Xander's soul loosened, releasing tension and resentment he hadn't even realized was there. They were beautiful, but they weren't his. Like Anya, they belonged only to themselves, and he was merely privileged enough to be included in their lives. It was more than enough.
"Hey, Anya," he began nervously, "can I, uh, walk you home?"
Anya looked up at him sharply. "I am perfectly capable of apparating myself, Xander," she reminded him with asperity. "I am a vengeance demon, as you seem to prefer to forget."
Xander winced, but pushed on. "Then, um, would you mind walking me home? Dawn brought me here and." he gestured out into the dark night.
A softly startled look passed over Anya's face and a tiny smile flickered around her mouth. "Oh! Um. Of course, Xander. I should have realized you are human and defenseless. Just let me lock up, and I would be, um. I will. yes." Flustered, she turned to the remaining threesome, said a hurried goodnight, and joined Xander at the door, locking it closed behind her.
Spike watched the exchange with amusement. It looked like Puff Daddy was well on his way to reconciliation with his demon-girl. Good on him. Unfortunately, he was now locked in the shop with Buffy and Dawn; not that it was necessarily a bad thing, but..
"I hate to destroy a tender moment, pet, but are we camping out in here or am I to break out a window?"
"You haven't told him?" Dawn snickered.
"I thought you did!" Buffy protested, releasing her hold on Spike and holding up her hands defensively. "It's yours to tell, anyway."
"Oh, yeah, right." Dawn rolled her eyes and flipped her hair back. "Like that's ever stopped you before, blabbermouth."
The girl eyed the vampire speculatively and snickered again. "Watch and be amazed, blood-breath."
She sauntered over to the closed door of what Spike distinctly remembered as a utility closet and pushed up her sleeves. Throwing a mischievous wink at Buffy, the Key pulled a tiny switchblade from her pocket, snapped it open, and ran her finger down the razor sharp edge.
A thin, red line of blood oozed out of the cut; Dawn reached out, grasped the doorknob firmly with her wounded hand, and threw open the door with a flourish.
"Holy fuck!" Spike yelled as Buffy seized his hand and dragged him towards the rectangle of green light.
"Show off," she muttered at her sister as she propelled the stunned vampire through the portal.
"Bloody fucking fuck!" Spike was still shouting obscenities when they stepped through into Buffy's bedroom. Dawn followed calmly, struggling to keep a straight face as the realization of where they had landed finally shut him up.
Handing the blade to Buffy, Dawn stepped away from the portal. The Slayer sliced her own finger, reached through the wall of viridian light and pulled the door shut.
She closed the miniature switchblade and tossed it back to Dawn, watching Spike warily. His eyes were wide and shocked, his gaze flicking back and forth between the two sisters.
With a choked sound, he flung himself at the closet, trying to push it open, but the door had reverted to it's natural closet state and once again opened into the room. After a few seconds of struggle, Spike was finally able to grasp the concept, and wrenched the door wide, only to be confronted with Buffy's stylish yet affordable wardrobe.
He slammed the closet shut again and leaned back against it, mouth working silently as he stared in panic at Buffy and Dawn. Buffy was doubled over with laughter, tears streaming down her face.
"That was cruel, Dawn," she gasped.
Dawn had fallen back onto Buffy's bed, howling and holding her stomach.
"Oh. oh. but so funny!" She pointed weakly at Spike. "You. ha! You should've seen your face! Omigod!"
Buffy slowly regained control of herself, clutching her aching side.
"I'm sorry, Spike, that was really mean," she chortled, not the least little bit repentant.
"What the bloody fuck was that?" he roared at the giggling duo.
Dawn sobered slightly and sat up. Giving Spike a smug look, she indicated the closet, "Door," herself, "Key," and Buffy, "Lock."
His head whipped toward Buffy. "Lock?"
"Kinda, yeah. More like Anti-Key, though." She shrugged. "We're not sure why, but Giles is researching it."
"How did you--" The vampire was still unable to form complete sentences.
"Figure it out? Kind of a funny story, actually." Buffy shifted uncomfortably. "In a deeply scary and almost fatal kinda way."
Dawn nodded agreement. "Big scary accident. Mucho badness." She smirked. "But for future reference, you might want to be careful about pissing me off. Just a suggestion."
"Enough, Dawn, I think he gets the idea." Spike gaped at the inappropriately amused twosome as he tried to assimilate what had just happened.
"I think you broke him, Dawnie," Buffy observed.
"Naw, he'll get over it."
"I don't know. Maybe you should have warned him first."
"Hey, a picture's worth a thousand words, right?" Dawn shrugged, unconcerned. "Whatever. I've gotta crash, since a certain evil someone is making me go to school tomorrow." She glanced at the bedside clock. "Make that today," she said pointedly, and levered herself off of Buffy's bed. "You should too, if you're gonna go to work tomorrow."
Buffy grimaced. "I know, but I have to call Giles first; he'll want to know what's going on."
"Yeah." Dawn kissed her sister's cheek as she let herself out. "See ya tomorrow, sis, evil dead."
"Sleep good, Dawnie." Buffy smiled affectionately at her sister's back, before turning to Spike. He still looked completely shell-shocked. She grabbed his hand and led him firmly from the room.
"C'mon, White Fang. Let's get you some blood before you pass out."
Continued in 10. Closing Time