Dawn was in school. Anya had dragged XandePierre, looking dazed but sated, off to the Magic Box, after calling him in sick. The two remaining captives had been given orange juice and Pop-Tarts, allowed to relieve themselves under heavy guard, and were once again tied hand and foot and propped against the sofa. One good thing about the Jonathan incident, Buffy reflected: Andrew and Warren weren’t putting up a fuss. She imagined they were feeling pretty lucky to be inside right now.
Spike was nowhere to be seen, but she figured she could find him if she wanted him. In the meantime, Tara and Willow had been hitting the books over fruit and coffee. Buffy pulled another chair up to the kitchen table, stole a slice of apple from Willow’s plate, and looked from one worried face to the next. “What’s the word?”
“Bad news,” Willow said gloomily.
Tara looked grim. “While you were dropping Dawn at school? We went over to Warren’s.”
“No spells anywhere,” Willow said. “Not a book, not a scrap of paper, not a diskette. We searched his hard drive – some interesting stuff there, believe me – but I can’t find a copy of the spell he used anywhere. And it doesn’t seem to be in any of our books.” She jerked a thumb at Andrew and Warren. “They don’t know anything, either. Figures.”
Tara raked her hair back from her face. “We can take a chance on Giles being able to locate it, but when I called him last night to tell him about … about Jonathan, he thought that was pretty slim. He’s gone through all the Council’s sources on mystical jewelry and historically significant gemstones, and there’s nothing but speculation about the Blue Tavernier.” She sipped her coffee, made a face, and took another, larger, slug. “So we’re thinking that Jonathan got his material from an underground source.”
“God.” Buffy tipped her chair back. “So, let’s recap. Basically, Jonathan’s the only one who can reverse the spell.”
“And Jonathan’s presently in some demon dimension, waiting to be made into Loser McNuggets.”
“So, if we want Xander back in his body, we’re going to have to rescue Jonathan.”
Buffy blew her breath out through puffed cheeks. “Any idea how we’re gonna do that?”
Willow shook her head. “Not so far.” She grimaced. “Hence, the bad news.” She and Tara exchanged uneasy looks and went back to reading. Buffy fidgeted with the hem of her sweater.
“Willow,” she said suddenly. “How do you summon the Doorkeeper?” Willow looked startled.
“Um, you don’t. Well, I didn’t. H-he did. Rack.” She swallowed. “He’s got some kind of deal going with it. It comes when he calls it.”
“Well, then. He’s the one we should talk to, right?”
The sudden quiet at the table was laced with tension. Willow fiddled nervously with the lead of her automatic pencil until it snapped off in her fingers, then looked up and shrugged. “Yeah. I guess so.”
“Wait,” Tara said. “You shouldn’t go back there. One of us should go. Me, maybe.” Willow shook her head.
“Wouldn’t work. You’d get a different dimension, a different Doorkeeper.”
“Oh.” Tara hesitated, then set her jaw. “But I don’t like the idea of you going alone.”
“Why? Don’t you trust me?” Willow’s eyes flared. Tara shook her head.
“It’s not that. It’s just that it’s … dangerous. I’d worry.”
“You don’t have to worry.” Willow set her jaw. “You didn’t want to deal with this in the first place. Didn’t want to deal with me. So, don’t. Don’t deal. But don’t tell me what to do, either.”
Tara shoved her chair back. “That isn’t fair, Willow, and you know it. I didn’t abandon you! I didn’t just decide, oh, Willow, what a basket case, and walk out!” She wiped the back of her hand across her eyes. Her voice was full of pain. “I left because you broke a promise. Betrayed a trust.”
“Um, guys?” Buffy sighed. They were way beyond listening to her. Where was bloody Queen Elizabeth when you needed her?
“I’m promising now,” Willow said. Her eyes glittered with intensity. “Trust me to keep this one. If you can.”
They glared at each other across the table, Willow stolid in her chair, arms folded defiantly across her chest, Tara braced for flight. Buffy spread her hands placatingly.
“Whoa! Heavy!” She put a hand on Tara’s shoulder. “Calm down, both of you. This isn’t helping. Call truce, okay? You can pick this up when Xander’s Xander again.” She waited until Tara relaxed back into her chair, then flashed them her most reassuring smile. “Hear me out on this. I think I’ve got a plan.”
They both sat staring at her after she was finished. She frowned at them. “What?”
“Well, it plays to a certain point,” Willow said. “I mean, I’m pretty sure we could get in the door. If what Amy said was true, and he really wants to see me that badly. But I’m not sure that he’d buy the notion that you want to join his club. Y’know? Being the Slayer and all. White Hat, evil-fighter and all that.”
“Look.” Buffy studied her fingernails for a second. Yikes. Manicure needed, and yesterday. “He only has to buy it long enough for us to get in the door. Then, I’m gonna kick his ass.” Off Willow’s apprehensive look, she bristled. “What? Spike says he’s a loser, that he’s running on empty. Bound to have a vulnerable side, don’t you think?”
“Great,” Willow muttered. “Not only am I a pathetic junkie, but my dealer’s small-time. I can’t even make a splash when I rebel.”
“Get over yourself,” Tara snapped, and they both looked at her in astonishment. Her voice was so low it sounded almost vicious. “You’re not pathetic, you’re not a junkie, and you had us worried sick. You want to beat yourself up, do it on your own time.” She turned her attention to Buffy, leaving Willow open-mouthed in shock. “I think it’ll work,” she said. “Though I really wish I knew what that purple stuff was. Especially since you had that second dream about it.”
“No results from the chemistry lab?”
“According to my friend, it’s not a known substance. So, definitely mystical.”
“When does Giles get here?”
Tara bit her lip. “Late tonight. Buffy, Willow was right about Jonathan – he doesn’t have too much power in reserve. I’m afraid that if we wait for Giles, we’ll be too late.”
“Oh.” Buffy was grateful when the phone rang. “I’ll get it.”
“No, I’m closer.” Willow picked up the receiver. “Hello?”
“Giles,” she said, and Buffy could hear the relief in her voice. “We were just talking about you.” She laughed. “No, nothing bad. What’s up?”
Whatever he said, it wasn’t good. Willow paled and sank into her chair. “What?” She covered the receiver and mouthed, He’s not coming. Tara groaned. “No, I understand. Weather’s weather. Look, Tara needs to ask you some stuff. I’m going to put her on.” She passed the cordless phone to Tara, who tucked it between her shoulder and her ear and made a beeline for the books on the coffee table. “Freak snowstorm in London,” Willow said. “Twelve-hour delays at Heathrow.”
“Wonderful.” They sat in silence for a minute or two, watching Tara flip pages and murmur into the phone.
“This is all my fault, isn’t it?”
“Actually, it’s mostly Jonathan’s.” Buffy squeezed her hand. “We’ll get him back. Xander, I mean. One way or another.”
“Keep telling me that.”
Tara beeped the phone off and brought her notebook over to the table. “Okay. Here’s something interesting.” She sat down heavily and put her hands over her eyes. “Ready for some more bad news?”
“There’s no way to get him back?”
They all sighed in relief.
“The Apocalypse is coming?” Buffy asked.
“Not quite that bad.”
Willow perked up. “Xander’s real soul is stuck in a demon dimension populated by evil clowns?”
Tara laughed, then covered her mouth quickly with her hand. “No.” She sobered. “According to Giles, it’s possible to go through the door after Jonathan. He gave me the spell that opens the portal and summons the Doorkeeper. We don’t need Rack; we can do it ourselves. But only as many people can exit as enter.”
Buffy and Willow stared at her blankly. Tara sighed in exasperation.
“Don’t you get it? We can’t just waltz in and take him out of there. We’re going to have to make a trade.”
They sat quietly, staring at the table, for a long time. Buffy decided to break the silence.
“Why? The demon won’t let us back through otherwise? ‘Cause I could …” She trailed off as Tara shook her head.
“It’s not the Doorkeeper. It’s, like, some yin-yang thing, designed to keep balance between the two worlds. Like the portal itself is a sort of cosmic tollbooth.”
“But Jonathan had to go through that tollbooth, too,” Willow pointed out. “So, there’s your extra body, right?” They all winced at the word ‘body’.
“Not the same thing, I guess,” Tara said. “Jonathan went through the portal not as a human being, but as … well, groceries. We’d be going through on our own power.” She paused. “So … if we take him out, somebody has to stay.”
Another long silence. They didn’t look at each other.
“I’m the one who screwed up and summoned it,” Willow said softly. Her lips were trembling. “I’m the reason it was roaming Sunnydale, looking for a snack. I’m the one it’s wanted all along. The one it was supposed to get.” She swallowed hard. “If anyone stays, it should be me.” Buffy and Tara exchanged horrified glances.
“Will, we can’t let you do that,” Buffy said. Willow shot her a watery smile.
“See another alternative?”
Change the subject, Buffy thought. Quick. “Um. Tara. The purple goo. Did Giles know anything about that?”
“Oh! Yeah.” Tara consulted her notebook. “By-product of an energy transfer,” she read. “Mildly toxic to human beings. Harmless but useless to demons.” She looked at Willow, then quickly away. “Known to replace human blood, over extended period of magical misuse. Giles called it ‘kuumfas’. Whatever that means.”
Willow was looking decidedly green. “So, when Rack put his hands on me, he left this stuff behind in place of what he took.”
Tara nodded, started to say something, then closed her mouth again. Willow was ashen.
“Well, time for a science experiment,” she said, and picked up the paring knife she’d used to cut her apple with.
“Willow, no!” Tara grabbed for the knife handle, but it was too late. Willow pressed the tip of the knife to her wrist and bore down.
A few dark crimson beads welled up and spilled over. Willow, her expression unreadable, watched herself bleed for a few tense seconds. Then she shot Tara a triumphant look. She was dry-eyed but shaking.
“Red,” she said. “It’s still red.”
Then she passed out.
Continued in Chapter Nine