By Estepheia and Marcee
Part 30 - Alter Egos
"This is a hypothetical question, right? I mean, you're not seriously thinking about this kind of thing, Willow, are you?"
"No! Of course not. No thinking of this thing, as in contemplating or planning or whatever. Absolutely not," Willow said. "It's just, have you never wished you could go back in time and fix something you've done or said, you know, go back and do it right? Wished for a second chance to undo a mistake you made?"
"No, Willow, never." Tara shook her head vehemently, causing her pigtails to flap. She put the cage back in its place and sat down on the bed. The rat scurried over to her and was rewarded with a pat. "Life's not some computer game. You can't just press reset and go back to before you screwed up. Life is a one shot deal. You can always try to make up for mistakes, like do things differently, better, the next time you're in a similar situation. If we don't have to suffer the consequences of our actions, what is to stop us from making the same mistakes over and over again?"
"I know, Tara, and I agree," Willow replied emphatically but without true conviction. "But there are so many things that could be better, that could be prevented if someone went back... wars and catastrophes and stuff."
"And who gets to decide what needs fixing?"
Tara was shocked, not so much at the things Willow was saying as at how she was saying them. Their discussion about whether they should raise Buffy from the dead had started off more or less the same way, with lots of "hypotheticallys" and "theoreticallys" thrown in and fervent denial on Willow's part - and in the end they'd gone and done it, anyway. Tara was very happy that Buffy was alive, but somehow she was waiting for the other shoe to fall, wondering if there was still price to pay for playing with fate like this.
If Tara had to be completely honest with herself, she had to admit that Willow's been-there-done-that-bought-the-t-shirt attitude towards that resurrection spell was beginning to worry her. "Willow, we've talked about this before. Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should," Tara said unhappily. She picked up Amy and put her back into the cage. The rat climbed into the racing wheel and began to run.
"So you're saying that if I find a way to turn Amy back into her old self I shouldn't do it?" Willow asked, peeved and taken aback at the intensity of Tara's concern. "Or are you saying I should leave Buffy where she is? Do you think I do spells just because I can? You of all people should know me better. You should know that I use magic to help. It's what I do. Buffy slays vampires, I work magic to save the world. That's MY calling."
"You know that's not what I meant!" Tara looked stunned.
"Then what DO you mean?" Willow asked loudly, not sure if she even wanted to hear what Tara might have to say. How could Tara possibly understand? It wasn't like they were playing in the same league when it came to magic.
Tara shook her head, unable to find the words she needed.
Willow put her mug down forcefully and got up. Her head hurt and she felt slightly dizzy. How come she and Tara were fighting? Again. The last time this had happened, Glory had gotten her hands on Tara and sucked all sanity and coherence right out of her. Willow had sworn to herself that if she got Tara back, the real, sane, common-sense, lovable, gentle and sweet Tara she loved so much, then they'd never argue again. Ever.
"W-willow, please," Tara said pleadingly.
Willow looked at her lover and felt a cold chill, an almost painful wave of apprehension. She shook her hand. "Let's not fight over this," she said, sounding colder than she intended. She had to clear her head, get rid of that awful headache first, that was making her cranky. Maybe then they could talk and make things right. "This is not the right time for recriminations. We'll talk about this when I've brought Buffy back, and then you can tell me again, how my using magic is wrong. You better get some rest now, you must still be tired from opening that portal."
And with that she walked out of their room.
"What are you watching?" Warren asked as he walked into the lair, carrying two large cardboard boxes. He glanced at the monitor screen, recognizing the larger of the Summers' bedrooms. "Waiting for some lesbo action?"
"They're just talking," Jonathan said with a shrug. "Boring stuff."
"Too bad. Well, let us know when it gets x-rated. And don't forget to tape the proceedings. You never know when it might come in handy."
Jonathan nodded and unwrapped a chocolate bar. "So, how do we get that spellbook?" he asked. He kept one eye and ear trained on the monitor, but swiveled his chair to look at his comrades-in-crime.
"I could summon a Theoffyd demon to steal it," Andrew suggested, looking up from the X-Men comic books he was putting into protective plastic bags. While Warren had spent large amounts of the haul from the bank robbery on electronic parts and stuff, Andrew had gone about filling the gaps in his comic book collection. "The ritual is easy. But he wants the left hand of a freshly dead body as payment."
Jonathan shuddered. "How do you think we're supposed to get one of those?" he asked petulantly. "Buy one at the Magic Box?"
"We could go to the cemetery and dig up a fresh corpse. We could chop it up for other spell components, too. A dead man's eyes are good for spying on people, although we don't need those, not with the cameras Warren installed," Andrew said matter-of-factly.
"Ew!" Jonathan exclaimed, eyeing his half eaten Mars bar in disgust and tossing it into the trash. "I'm not going to dig up bodies, they're smelly and disgusting, and the cemeteries are crawling with vampires who don't know we're dangerous crime lords on our way to world domination."
"Digging up bodies won't be necessary, gentlemen," Warren said cheerfully, as he strode to their evil archive. "I already know who's going to get us that spell book." He reached up to the top shelf and took down a handful of video tapes. Holding them up triumphantly, he announced: "And this is all we need as payment."
"Yea? What do you want?" Dawn asked, taking a nervous step backwards. She'd been walking home from school when a small, creepy looking man had stepped out from behind a tree and into her path. He was ugly, and old, and bald. *Ew!*
"There is something you need to see," the man said. Even his voice was creepy.
Dawn frowned, hoping the guy wasn't some kind of pervert. But no, he was just handing her a brown manila envelope.
"What is it?"
She opened the envelope and tilted it. A small stack of prints slid out. The top one was a grimy black and white photograph. It showed her in the magic box, looking in a strangely aloof way at Anya, whose back was turned to her. She looked at the next print. It was taken just a second later and caught her secretly pocketing a good-luck charm. Dawn felt a cold chill spread through her. She looked at the next pictures. It showed her in Willow and Tara's room, taking Willow's favorite scarf. The loss of which Willow was still bemoaning at regular intervals, even though it had been three weeks since Dawn had borrowed it indefinitely. And there were more incriminating pictures.
"Who... who are you? How did you get this? And what do you want?" she asked, hating the fact that she sounded scared and shrill. *Oh god, if Buffy finds out about this...*
"You can keep the pictures, we can always make more copies. We can even make video tapes," Jonathan said, repeating the words Warren was speaking into his tiny earphone. He knew Warren was just around the corner, sitting in the Deathstar, taping the whole exchange as Jonathan's collar camera transmitted it.
The crushed and ashamed look on the girl's face made him uneasy. He was glad his glamour spell was keeping his identity a secret. He had met Buffy's sister a few times, and although he didn't know her very well, he wouldn't have been able to do this wearing his own face. He had picked the scariest person he'd ever known (other than Cordelia Chase) for the illusion and he was only acting as Warren's mouthpiece, so he wasn't really here, was he?
"What would your friends say if they knew you're stealing from them? And your sister? We could circulate these at your school. Do you steal from your school buddies, too?"
"What do you want?" Dawn asked again, trying to sound cold and in control. But she was trembling both with rage and guilt.
"We'd like you to steal something."
Dawn nodded slowly.
Jonathan knew he should feel great about a brilliant plan so well executed...but, in reality, he felt like he'd bitten into something rotten. Somehow, being evil wasn't so much fun, after all.
Miss Catrall's thesis on William the Bloody was a tedious read. It was chock full of annotations and addendums and sprouted the usual pretentious Watcher jargon, not to mention tons of footnotes. Sifting through the drivel for some relevant piece of information was like searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack. Giles sighed, tossed the stack of printouts on the table in front of him and poured himself another cup of Earl Grey.
There was a knock on the front door. When Anya unlocked it, Dawn walked in, dragging her feet. "Hey everybody." She dropped her bag near the stairs and walked over to Giles. She scanned the shelves as unobtrusively as she could, and her mind worked on angles and perspectives. In the end, she let her gaze briefly rest on a human skull, a replica of course - *jeez, amazing really, the kind of stuff people were prepared to spend money on* - unable to see the camera but pretty sure that it was there.
"Dawn! Is it that late already?" Giles glanced at his watch.
"Already? I thought school would never end. Isn't it amazing how time crawls when you're bored out of your skull?"
"Yes, quite," Giles said, only listening with one ear.
Dawn leafed through the stack of fax paper, caught sight of the footnotes at the bottom of each page and withdrew her hand as if she'd burned herself. "What are you reading?" she asked.
Giles squinted at the two sheets of paper he was still holding. *'Effulgent?'* He winced. "Poetry," he said.
Dawn wrinkled her nose disdainfully.
"Giles! I'm tidying up your half of this mess and you are reading poetry?" Anya asked with a raised voice. She and the Slayer were almost finished with making the shop presentable again. "Being a not-so-very silent overseas partner doesn't exempt you from your half of the damages!"
"I wasn't actually reading poetry in order to amuse myself, Anya," Giles informed her patiently. "I was doing research."
"Oh, in that case, carry on. Don't let me keep you from anything that might help Xander," she said reasonably and gave him an encouraging pat on the shoulder. "Or Buffy," she added as an afterthought. "If you need my help, just say so."
"Thank you, Anya. That won't be necessary."
She nodded and headed for the cellar to fetch stuff like scented candles and scarab amulets to fill the empty shelves. Maeve hesitated for a moment, then followed her.
"Can I do my homework here?" Dawn asked, trying to hide her nervousness It took every ounce of her self control to keep from looking at the hidden camera.
"Yes, sure. Go ahead," Giles said absentmindedly, rubbing his tired eyes.
Giles was well versed in literary criticism. After reading the two awful poems Miss Catrall had attached to her thesis, he concluded that William Crawford had been the nineteenth century equivalent of a geek. Much like Xander, really. Passionate, insecure, dependable, possessive, protective of those he cared for. Both shared an interest in tales of heroism and grandeur, even though it required a certain stretch of imagination to compare Crawford's taste for the classics with Xander's interest in Spiderman's exploits.
Miss Catrall had built her whole long-winded thesis around the conviction she'd already imparted on the phone: that upon turning, the human personality was utterly destroyed and that the demon merely inherited enough memories of the dead body it animated to pass itself off as human. Giles wondered what she'd say if she knew that by describing William Crawford she had unknowingly given Giles the means to understand Spike.
As he reread those heart-felt but pathetically inarticulate poems, Giles felt like he'd been handed the key to a long locked door.
"She's really gonna do it," Andrew said, his jaw dropping in awe. "We actually blackmailed the Slayer's little sister. Wow! Guess she really thinks we're going to tell everybody."
"That's cause we would," Warren said. "What use is a threat if you're not prepared to go through with it?"
"Right," Andrew nodded in understanding. "No bluffing."
"No bluffing," Warren said, giving him a pat on the back.
Jonathan said nothing. He merely watched on the monitor as Dawn Summers walked into the Magic Box.
"What's going to happen when she brings the book?" he asked, but he already knew what Warren would say.
"Then we have our hostage, without so much as lifting a finger."
"Cool," Andrew said.
Continued in Part 31 - Old Habits Die Hard