Buffy felt the first premonition of Very Bad Things to Come nibble at the back of her neck. “Oh. Why?”
Willow’s eyes were downcast. “To cast the circle takes two people.” She didn’t look at Buffy. “I have to help Tara. I’m sorry.”
God. This is so, SO familiar.
“Hey, no big.” Buffy forced a smile. She didn’t dare look at Spike. “One- person job anyway, right?”
“Y-yeah. It’s pretty straightforward,” Tara said. She looked cautiously relieved. “Willow and I will open the portal, right about where the coffee table is. Giles said it’s going to look like a circle of light. He saw an engraving in one of his books.” She shrugged. “To move between dimensions, all you have to do is step into the circle.”
Buffy frowned. “Not that I’m complaining,” she said. “But this sounds way too easy. Why couldn’t Glory have used this last spring, to get where she was going?”
A moment of silence, during which Willow and Tara exchanged a number of meaningful glances. Finally, Willow bit her lip. “It’s only going to work because of me,” she said. “Because the Doorkeeper’s already been summoned.” Tara nodded.
“When Rack summoned the Doorkeeper for Willow, he threw off the balance between this dimension and the other one,” she said. “You’re going to find yourself not in the demon dimension itself, but in a kind of holding area. A pocket in time and space that was created by his spell. Limbo.” She paused. “We would have eventually done this spell anyway, Buffy,” she said. “It’s really intended to destroy the holding area, close the walkway from one world to the next so that the Doorkeeper can’t pass freely anymore.”
“Oh.” Buffy thought for a minute. “So, when I step into the circle, Jonathan will be right there? I won’t have to go looking for him?”
“Right.” Willow nodded eagerly. “The spell does two things – it opens the portal, and it’s also a summoning spell. He should be almost within touching distance, the minute you’re … well, um, there.”
Buffy briefly considered catatonia, then decided against it. “So. I step into this circle of light, I’m immediately transported to Demon Limbo, I brain-suck Jonathan, I try to leave with him. Right?”
“Uh-huh.” Tara leaned forward in her chair. “Probably the best thing to do is try to carry him out. If it doesn’t work, you know that the Tollbooth is only going to let one of you back through.” Her eyes clouded. “In which case, I guess you’ll have to leave him there. We won’t close the circle until you’re back.”
“What about the Ewok? He isn’t going to be happy about this, is he?”
Spike pushed away from the doorway where he’d been leaning, making an angry little sound in his throat that made all eyes snap his way. “This is bollocks,” he said. “You’re expecting her to just waltz into one of Hell’s holding cells and waltz out again? You’re all mad. Slayer or no Slayer, a little extra muscle can’t hurt.”
Buffy, startled and touched in equal parts, caught his eyes with hers. “You offering?”
A muscle jumped in his jaw. “You know it, baby.”
He was steaming mad. The Teen Witches couldn’t look him in the eye, and small wonder.
They were bustling around, getting ready to mumbo their jumbo. Buffy had retreated to the far side of the room. She was holding the Sac of Amaru Muru as if it were Mr. Gordo, and standing very straight and very still.
Almost as if she didn’t trust herself to move. Spike felt something twist inside his rib cage. He walked over to her.
“When we get there,” he said. “You get Jonathan. I’ll handle the demon. Hold him off for you, till you get through.”
“Okay.” She threaded her small, cold hand into his. “Spike?”
They might as well have been alone. Tara and Willow were holding hands, chanting, and a circular column of violet-white light was rising from the floor to the ceiling. Celestial dust bunnies. “Listen to me,” she said, soft but fierce, almost in his ear. “I should have told you this a long time ago.”
“I already told you, you don’t have –“
“Fuck that.” Her eyes were wet. “Once you know, you should never stop saying it. Mom taught me that.” She squeezed his hand, hard enough to crack bone. He never felt it. “I’m crazy in love with you.”
His mouth tightened. “This isn’t like last time,” he managed to croak. “This time, I’ll save you.”
The chanting was louder. His hand was cold but reassuring in hers. Buffy was blinded; she told herself it was the violet light. “Come on,” she said. “It’s time.”
They walked into the circle of light. And vanished.
After all that talk about pockets and holding cells, Buffy had expected a stone room. A dungeon. An oubliette.
What she saw was a starry night – miles and miles of prairie grass sloping away from her, and not one, but two full moons, hanging in space like a giant pair of fuzzy dice. The Tollbooth glimmered violet behind her. A hundred yards away, a stocky little figure lay like a broken doll. Buffy hurried over to it.
The figure stirred feebly. “Jonathan!” she repeated, and shook him by the shoulder.
“Buffy,” he breathed. “How are you here?”
“Came to get you,” she said. “Feeling up to a trip?”
“We have to hurry,” he said fearfully. “It’ll be back for me. It said tonight was the night.” He clutched at her hands. “It’s been pulling things out of me, Buffy. It’s left a bunch of holes where there used to be stuff.”
That reminded her. The spell. “Jonathan, we’re going to get you out of here,” she promised, hating herself because it was possibly a lie. God, this whole thing felt bad. “But you’ve gotta tell me. What’s the spell you used on the diamond?”
She saw his face pause in remembrance, closed her hand around the bag in her pocket, and grabbed his arm, just below the sleeve of his T-shirt. They both shook with a quick, cold frisson of energy. Buffy felt the bag grow suddenly heavier. Creepy. Jonathan stared at her, puzzled, but didn’t shake her hand off. “What was that about?”
“I’ll tell you later,” she said. “Come on.”
She pulled him up, and they turned around. Against the white light of the Tollbooth, Spike and the Doorkeeper grappled. “Spike, go!” Buffy yelled. He shoved the demon back and risked a glance at her.
“Go yourself,” he ordered her. “Get him through, then go yourself. I’ll be right behind you.”
“No! He’s got to go last, don’t you remember? The Tollbooth –“ She broke off suddenly.
This was bad. This was VERY bad.
She’d taken her eyes off Jonathan for a moment, and now what she saw made her blood freeze. He’d glimpsed the Tollbooth and was sprinting for it.
“No,” she said softly, and went after him. But it was too late. He’d jumped.
Dizzy with foreboding, she turned back around, saw Spike still battling with the increasingly enraged Doorkeeper. She got into the mix, delivered a couple of good kicks of her own. The demon hit the ground hard and was still. Not dead, probably, but maybe it’d be under for a while.
They stepped away from it and stared at each other.
“Go,” she said, chin trembling, and he shook his head slowly. His eyes had never looked so blue.
“Not a chance, Blondie,” he said. “Ladies first.”
“You don’t understand,” she insisted. “You might not get back through. We don’t know.”
“You think I could live down there again, without you?” He brushed a strand of hair from her cheek. “You think I’d want to?”
“Spike …” Her eyes were wet. Why were her eyes wet?
“You go,” he said. “Go back to your friends, to your little sis, to your life. There’s nothing there for me, except for you, and I’ve had my day in the sun anyway.” She shook her head, and in desperation he shoved her away from him.
“I’ll be along if I can,” he said. “Don’t fight me on this, Buffy. This is the right thing. The right choice. You’ve got to let me make it.”
She stumbled forward again, and he couldn’t bring himself to back away. “I love you,” she said desperately.
“Knowing that,” he said, “makes this possible. Buffy, you’re my world.”
He closed his eyes and pushed her into the column of light.
Buffy opened her eyes. The living room. She was in the living room. On the couch.
The Tollbooth was still open. Thank God.
“Spike,” she said. “Where’s Spike?”
The look on Willow’s face told her everything she needed to know.
“Oh God,” she said, and the words sounded broken. “How long since I came through?”
“Ten minutes,” Tara said unhappily. “At least.”
Jonathan was tied up again, over by the wall. Buffy couldn’t look at him.
“What happened?” Anya asked. Buffy closed her eyes.
“He wouldn’t go,” she said. “Jonathan got through, and then I tried to make him go, and he … wouldn’t.” Her face crumpled. “How long does the Tollbooth stay open?”
“We’ve been keeping it open,” Willow said, and Buffy could see now the lines of strain on their faces. “But we’re getting tired, Buff. I don’t think it’ll last much longer.”
“And after it closes? There’s no way to …”
“I’m afraid not.”
Silence in the room. Buffy fought for composure. Failed.
“You guys should have told me,” she said finally. “What it felt like.”
Anya squeezed her hand. “What do you mean?”
Buffy shook her head dully. “It’s so much easier to jump yourself,” she said. “So much harder to be the one who’s left behind.”
More uneasy silence, as the column of light began to waver. “We have to stop,” Tara gasped finally, and Buffy, exhausted beyond tears, raised her head to nod.
They all turned. Amy was standing at the end of the sofa. Holding the knife Willow had left on the kitchen table. She looked pale. Grim. Determined.
“Just one minute more,” she said, and raised the knife. Buffy saw a thin line of purple begin to snake down her arm.
“What are you doing?”
Amy smiled. Made a parallel cut on her other arm. Drew the knife across the neckline of her shirt. Purple flowers blossomed on the white of her chest.
“Finishing what I started,” she said. “You’re gonna go out, might as well be with a bang. Right?”
The kuumfas was running faster now. She was weakening. “I’m sorry, Willow,” she said. “Not a good friend, was I? But here’s a start, at least.” She wiped her eyes, leaving violet smudges on both cheeks. “Take care now.”
She took two uneasy steps and pitched forward into the wavering Tollbooth. A couple of seconds later, Spike thudded onto the living room floor.
The Tollbooth faded. Spike sat up. Looked around until he saw her.
“Hello, luv,” he said. “Miss me?”
The world swayed, seemed to right itself, then fell on its ass. Buffy felt her eyes roll up into her head, and surrendered herself gratefully to oblivion.
She hoped she slept for awhile.
Continued in Chapter Twelve