Title: Chapter 3: The Deals We Make, pt 1
Characters: Anya Jenkins, Buffybot, Rupert Giles, Spike, Tara Mcclay, Willow Rosenberg, Xander Harris
Word Count: 3,735
A/N: Though I list a lot of characters, and some of them actually do get dialog, some of them just pass through.
Shock raced through Spike. How long had they been planning this? He had thought they were growing close – or at least that he and Willow were. Apparently, he had been wrong. He expected to feel anger. All he could feel, though, was hurt and betrayed. Part of him wanted to turn around, leave, and pretend he had never overheard the conversation. However, the part of him that had watched Willow's back for these past few months came forward. Her friends weren't in the right place to make her stop and think, so he had to.
"No. Giles and Spike can't know. They might not understand." He could hear nothing but conviction and determination in her voice. He only hoped it was all a front and he could get her to slow down and rethink things, maybe get her to explain what was going on in her pretty little head.
He took a deep breath – quickly shook off the random flash of Willow's voice from a few nights after they had started patrolling together questioning why he bothered with the deep breathing – opened the door and stepped into the room just in time to hear Willow start to break.
"Her body, yeah. But her soul – her essence, I mean, that could be somewhere else. She could be trapped, in-in some sort of hell dimension like Angel was – suffering eternal torment just because she saved us, and I'm not gonna let... I'm not gonna leave her there. It's Buffy."
This was it. He needed to step in, calmly and rationally, before her tearful speech convinced her pals to go ahead with this insane idea. He had to. For Willow. After pulling the Buffybot into the room and pointing her to the couch, he leaned against the door jamb like he hadn't just overheard them planning something completely unnatural, dangerous, and foolish. He had to choose his words carefully.
"I'll grant you, she could be in a hell dimension. It happens sometimes," he was not too brainwashed by his time with the white hat brigade to go without a small smirk when Xander and Tara startled at the sound of his voice, but his gaze remained on Willow "and sometimes it doesn't."
When she didn't speak, didn't even turn to him, he skirted the kitchen table. He would have to take his time and be gentle; yelling or talking down to her would only get her dander up. He could do gentle; the question was if she would let him or not.
Spike circled around her until she had to either face him or deliberately turn away. Thankfully, she chose to remain as she was. He decided to go one step further and, placing his hands on either side of her head, raised her face until she was forced to look him in the eyes. He briefly closed his eyes and prayed he could find the right words. Now would be a convenient time to develop some decent poetic ability, not that he had much hope of that.
"I'm not saying you shouldn't worry that she's trapped somewhere suffering. You're a smart girl to worry. And I'm not saying you should pretend it's not possible. I just think you need to be sure that she's not somewhere better than here before you go trying to bring her back."
As he moved to rest his forehead against hers, he was suddenly hit with why she was so determined to go through with this that she hadn't even thought to see where Buffy had ended up. She had gone from being the sidekick and occasional Big Gun to being the one everyone turned to. The person everyone expected to have the answers and the plans and know exactly what to do. His Red was tired.
Spike took a deep breath and, in a soft voice, continued, "I know you're hurtin', Red. We all are. And I know we put so much weight on your shoulders, more than we should most of the time. I'm just asking that you make sure you're doing the right thing before you do something you can't take back."
He shifted his hold on the sides of her head – one hand unconsciously petting her hair as he did – and continued in a whisper, "And if she's better off where she is, we'll find some other way to make this right for you. I promise I will move heaven and earth to find a way."
In the silence that followed, he could practically feel Xander's desperate belief that Spike would pull a miracle out of thin air. He must have been desperate for someone other than him to stop Willow's plan if he didn't make a fuss at a vampire being so up close and personal with one of ‘his girls'. Spike was racking his brain for just such a miracle when Willow lifted her hands to rest gently on his wrists. The look on her face was grim and tired, and he half expected her to keep fighting him. Instead, he and Xander got their miracle.
"We'll wait until we can be sure. We'll all look for a way to find out where she is before we do anything else. And if she's better off… we'll figure out what to do."
Spike was too focused on the witch in front of him to pay attention to anyone else. That was why he missed the anger that flashed across Tara's face and didn't notice how, when he stepped back, the arms she wrapped around Willow were more than a touch possessive. If he had seen it, though, it wouldn't have mattered to him; he had got Willow to wait and that gave him hope he could stop her going down a path that could destroy her.
Last time he'd gone to this much trouble for someone else, he'd been a fool in love. What was his excuse now? Here he was going against the very nature of a vampire to prevent someone he… to prevent a friend from doing something potentially stupid. Was this what being a do-gooder was like all the soddin' time?
The meeting quickly lost steam after that and Anya less than tactfully kicked them all out. Spike, Willow, and Tara's trip back to the Summers' home was spent quietly talking about possible spells while they walked behind the bot and course corrected whenever it tried to go off in the wrong direction. They quickly figured out that they couldn't mention who they were looking for because it seemed to get Buffybot stuck on a logic loop and she refused to move while trying to work out what they were talking about.
Willow was so focused on trying to keep Buffybot walking in a relatively straight path that she missed the tension between Spike and Tara as she tried to subtly exclude him from research plans and he none too subtly included himself back in. Of course, the argument ended when Buffybot's glitch caused her to start spouting some of her original colorful programming again.
While Willow didn't seem phased, Spike didn't miss the almost triumphant look on Tara's face that went so smashingly with the surge of self-disgust rising in his gut. After making sure they made it safely to the house, he made his excuses and left.
The next morning found Buffybot training with Giles in the backroom of the Magic Box. Of course, that only lasted until Anya got bored and intruded on the session. Her blunt words reminded Giles that he wasn't training a slayer and he quickly lost any motivation to continue.
In answer to the bot's ever cheerful voice asking if he would like to test her again, he could only muster a half-hearted "No. Perhaps we should call it a day. Your, uh, your responses are fine."
He turned too quickly to notice the earnest expression that came across her face. However, he was brought up short by her next words.
"I can't call it a day. Willow told me that I had to stay here until she came to pick me up. She, Tara, Xander, and Spike are busy at my house. I told her I could help her look for the spell they wanted, but she used her resolve face."
A sense of unease took root in his stomach as he asked, "What spell are they looking for?"
The bot's smile was vacant and placid as it she told him, "It's a location spell. They want to find out if Buffy went to a hell dimension when she died."
Hurt lanced through him; both at the mention of his slayer and at the thought that they felt it necessary to exclude him. That hurt stayed with him as he mumbled some instruction to the bot and quickly left out through the back door to avoid being seen by Anya. It lasted until just after he started his car and he realized why they would have excluded him. It then quickly turned to an anger which stayed with him for the rest of the trip.
When he arrived at the Summers' house, he didn't bother with knocking. It was obvious that Spike had warned them he was coming up the walk by the fact that they were clearly in the middle of trying to hide their research.
"Don't bother cleaning up on my account."
While both Tara and Xander sat down with guilty expressions, Spike simply leaned back into his chair with a bored eye roll. Giles's eyes went to Willow who straightened up with an expression that was both defiant and defensive. When she made no move to try and explain herself, he broke the silence himself.
"Imagine my complete shock when I learned, from a robot of all things, what you lot were up to! At first I couldn't, for the life of me, figure out why you would hide it from me. And then it dawned on me. You knew I wouldn't approve of your plan of action for if she's in a hell dimension."
Willow took a deep breath and smiled at him in what he could only assume was meant to be placating.
"There's no need to think about that one way or another until we find out where she is."
Her obvious disregard for reason infuriated him.
"Have you even put one moment of thought into how reckless and foolhardy this is? I will not stand by and let some arrogant amateur go against the very laws of nature!"
Almost immediately he felt the air in the room get heavier. Giles could feel a knot of dread form in his stomach. Spike was suddenly at Willow's side, hand over her arm as if to sooth her. Willow's face, however, didn't show any of the rage Giles could feel practically throbbing in the air. Her expression was cold as she spoke.
"If I find out that Buffy is in a hell dimension, I will get her out. And I will not be asking for anyone's permission."
Almost immediately the room seemed to lighten as Willow's expression turned pleading. "Giles, I don't want to fight. Let's not. We'll just focus on finding out where Buffy is. Okay?"
Feeling out of his depth, he could only nod. Had Willow become unstable and he somehow missed it? How had she gotten to this point? He was drawn out of his confusion by Spike's voice, obviously not believing silence would keep Willow calm.
"Old Rupes is just in shock, Red. How about I take him into the kitchen and have tea and a heart to heart with him. Brit to Brit?"
The look Willow turned on Spike was full of hope and relief as she quietly agreed. With a quick gesture of his head, he left the room and Giles followed without a word. However, Spike didn't stop in the kitchen; opting instead to head out to the porch where he obviously expected Giles to follow. The door had no sooner closed behind him than Spike was up in his face.
"Rule number one, Watcher, we do not piss off Willow. She is a mighty powerful witch who is buried under responsibility and grief. If she snaps, we're all buggered. When I found out about their little plan, she had already skipped straight to resurrection and her little witch and her friends had rolled right over and were ready to follow her every command. This finding out where the slayer is? This is my compromise.
"If we find out that Buffy is in hell, short of killing her, I doubt there's anything that anyone can do to stop her from getting her friend back."
Spike got impossibly closer and his voice dropped as he finished. "And I don't care how much it fries my brain, I won't be letting you or anyone else touch her."
Having said his peace, Spike went back into the house and began preparing tea. Giles had the sudden urge to find a quiet place to pray to whatever deity would listen that Buffy was in heaven because God help the world if she wasn't.
He quickly dismissed the idea of being able to stop Willow; he couldn't do it himself and even if he was willing to call in for help, the council would take too long to get a man here and there would be no telling if Willow would know they were coming. The only thing he could do was stick with them and try to ensure everything went as safe and smoothly as it could while perverting the laws of nature.
To that end, Giles entered the house and walked past where Spike was lounging against the kitchen counter. Making his way toward the door, he took a deep breath and turned back to where Willow was watching him with confusion.
"I believe I know just the spell we can use. I'll run by the Magic Box and grab the book so you can look it over."
Willow seemed relieved at his words and he did his best to return the smile she gave him before he left.
As Giles was making his way to the shop and returning with the book in question, a few hours ride out of Sunnydale the vampire that had escaped Spike and the Buffybot the night before was in a bar spilling his guts to a demon biker gang. It didn't take long for them to decide that the Hellmouth was ripe for the picking.
Oblivious to the incoming danger, Giles, Willow, and Tara went over the supplies they'd need for the spell while Spike listened from the kitchen and Xander left to go spend time with Anya and update her on the situation.
That night Willow sent Buffybot off to patrol. Of course, she couldn't see a way around telling her where everyone was headed, just in case the bot should malfunction again. As she stared up at the tower where Buffy had jumped to her death, Willow began to think on the possibilities. If they had to bring Buffy back, would that somehow also bring Dawn back?
Spike's voice, a hushed whisper at her side, brought her back to the present. "Everything's set up, pet. It's on you now."
She had no sooner looked at Spike and caught a brief glimpse of understanding and sympathy in his eyes, then Tara was on her other side gently pulling on her hand.
"Are you sure you want to do this so soon? We can always wait until you're ready."
Willow tamped down her anger; Tara was only trying to help and be considerate. Regardless of how it came across, she didn't mean to question Willow's abilities. She mustered up a smile she hoped came across as grateful and said, "I'm ready now."
"Well then, we're ready on our end." Giles voice was a welcome reprieve from the further questions she could see Tara was ready to ply her with. When she walked up to him, he gripped her shoulders lightly. There was comfort and reassurance in the gesture, neither of which she realized she needed so badly.
"This will take a great deal of concentration given the vast number of dimensions Buffy could be in. Calling on the first slayer should narrow down the possibilities, but I need you to focus solely on the task at hand. The rest of us will make sure nothing happens out here, you concentrate on the spell."
Giving a firm nod of her head, Willow said, "I'll keep my head in the game, coach."
Giles didn't smile, only shifted his hands until he held her face between them.
"Remember what you're looking for and why you're looking for it. Do not get lost. No matter what you see or what you are promised, remember that this… Remember that we are your home. Come back to us, Willow."
Her vision blurry with tears and a lump forming in her throat, Willow lifted her hands to his wrists and gave a reassuring squeeze and promised him she would in a barely audible voice. Walking toward the circle they had created, she accepted the hug from Xander and the oddly reassuring bright grin and thumbs up from Anya.
As Willow entered the necessary trance to track down Buffy's spirit, Buffybot was not far from them on patrol. It had been an uneventful night until she caught sight of a large group of demons vandalizing a storefront. Knowing it could simply be a case of a well-meaning demon not understanding the finer aspects of personal property, she informed him that the DVD player that he had just picked up wasn't his and he needed to put it back. She kept her voice firm and authoritative so he would know that it was not a suggestion.
He replied with a screech that seemed to be designed to call the attention of the other demons to her. Soon, she was surrounded by the group. The largest of them, most probably the leader, spoke to her. Banter was part of her programing and so she attempted to implement it. However, he quickly injured her, requiring her to locate Willow so she could be repaired. Hopefully her friend would understand why she had to intrude upon their evening and would be able to repair her soon enough to deal with the pack of demons that followed in her wake.
It didn't take long to find the tower where Willow and the others currently were. Unfortunately, the demons were on motorcycles and able to keep up with her. No sooner had she yelled to Willow that she needed service than the gang appeared behind her. She attempted to disengage from the fight, but there were a large number of demons and they continued to attack. Her friends were greatly outnumbered and were therefore unable to help her. She could not see a way out of the situation.
Perhaps if her friends had been equipped with weapons, the fight would have lasted much longer. However, in a short amount of time, the demons had them all captured and kneeling together. Buffybot found herself circled by four motorcyclists with a chain wrapped around each limb. She was sure that, were she able to feel fear, now would be the time she would. As it was, she chose to mute out the demon leader's speech and concentrate on her friends. Perhaps, if she somehow were to survive this attempted destruction, her memory banks would be all that was left of them. As her focus came to Willow, kneeling in a circle she saw the witch begin to come out of her trance.
Willow slowly became aware of the world around her. It was much louder than when she had left it; disturbingly so. She was extremely confused by the large number of demons, but that was quickly overridden by the sight of Spike, Tara, Giles, Anya, and Xander all being held captive. Looking around, she caught sight of the Buffybot gazing at her with an almost serene expression, highly at odds with the chains wrapped around her. Just as Willow registered what was about to happen, a gunshot went off and then the bot was torn apart.
Grief and rage tore through her, her heart unable to tell the difference between the death of her best friend and the destruction of a robot. A wordless scream ripped from her throat, the precursor to a wave of magic that incinerated half the demons yet left her friends untouched. Willow was so focused on the gang leader that she didn't feel it as she began to rise into the air. She took a deep breath and let out a scream that set fire to those demons left who hadn't already run. The leader remained and, with a snarl, stalked towards Willow. With a growl that barely sounded human, she pushed forward her hands as if digging into his ribcage from a distance. The demon stopped in obvious pain.
"And now you die."
Willow followed her words up by ripping her hands out away from each other and the demon in front of her was brutally torn in half. In the next breath, Willow, spent, fell to the ground. Within seconds Spike was by her side, pushing the hair out of her face and asking if she was okay. Before she could answer, Tara's arms were wrapped around her in a crushing embrace and Spike straightened up to stand beside them as Tara pulled back to look at her.
"Oh, baby! You're bleeding. We need to get you healed."
Limping toward them, half supported by Anya, Xander said "Not hating that last minute save, Wills."
With a pained grimace, Willow looked up at Spike. "We got lucky."
Looking around at their battered friends with a disbelieving laugh, Xander asked, "How is this lucky?"
Spike answered, though his eyes remained on Willow. "Because we're alive and the demons that Willow didn't manage to kill ran away. Those were Hellions. They go after vulnerable places. They obviously knew there was no slayer protecting the Hellmouth. The next time whoever comes might not run away.
With pained grunts and a lot of help from both Tara and Spike, Willow made it to her feet. Looking around at her battered friends and girlfriend, her eyes finally landed back on Spike.
"We need the Slayer."