Chapter 11: Pivot Point
“I'll take the sewers and be there soon. Singed, but there.”
“No, don't.” Buffy looked across the wide corridor to the unshaded windows. “It's not safe for you here. Too much daylight.” She sighed into the payphone. “It's not like anything is different. It's the same nightmare it was the first time around.”
“I'm sorry, love.” Spike sank down into the sofa cushions. “Any luck with Doctor Boy, at least?”
“I haven't gotten a single useful thing out of him, and flirting with him makes me feel like I need a shower. We've gotten far enough that he's given me his phone number. I think the next big conversation is going to land me with a coffee date.”
“Perish the thought.”
“You're supposed to be jealous, Spike. Try to act like it.”
“It's for the job, love. Don't have to like it to live with it.”
“He's kind of handsy. I might come home smelling faintly of Ben.”
“Speaking of showers...”
“It's not just that. It's... Once I broke things off with Riley, I kinda thought I was done with all that stuff, you know? I didn't think I'd have to deal with anyone else... showing an interest.”
“Calling yourself off the market, are you?”
“I was asking you.”
“I should go. Dawnie's alone. I'll call back soon.”
Spike frowned at the phone when the call disconnected. He paced the main floor of the house, glaring at the covered windows as he passed them. Then he picked up the phone again.
Buffy's mind was elsewhere as she played idly with Dawn's hair while she napped. Two hands appeared in her line of sight, draping a tweed jacket over the sleeping girl. Buffy looked up in surprise.
“Any word?” Giles whispered.
She shook her head. “Nothing yet.”
Willow handed her a cup of coffee and followed Giles to the row of seats under the windows across the corridor. Tara leaned over to give Buffy a hug. “Just tell us what you need.”
“Ladies room,” Buffy whispered before breaking the hug. Tara gave her a smile that was meant as confirmation before retreating to sit with her girlfriend.
Xander took the empty seat on Buffy's left. “Ahn's manning the store, or she'd be here, too.”
“I- I don't understand, Xan. I didn't tell anyone we were here. I thought everyone would still be mad about me going out with Spike. I mean, I didn't hear from anyone yesterday.”
He shifted uncomfortably. “The truth? We were trying to drum up support for a little intervention when Spike called and told us what was going on. He asked us to come and wait with you, since he couldn't.”
Buffy smiled softly. “He never stops surprising me,” she whispered.
“He surprised us, too. And talk about changing the vibe of the conversation.” Xander looked down at his own paper coffee cup. “Ahn's mad at me again. We got into another argument the other night. Now I'm getting shown up by Spike, and she made sure I knew it before we left the shop.”
“Will you guys be ok?”
“Yeah. I just gotta quit putting my foot in my mouth about her history. If I don't, well, just call me Snoopy, because I'll be living in the doghouse.”
“Think in present tense,” Buffy murmured.
“Just a conversation I had with Mom. What matters is now, not the past. Ditch the baggage or help each other carry it. Otherwise, you'll fall flat on your face for not talking to each other.”
“Hmm...” Xander seemed to be trying to interpret this tangled message. “What were you and your mom talking about, exactly?”
“A certain pain in the ass vamp who couldn't be here today.”
“Ah. So she's not wigged?”
“She likes him. You would, too, I think. If you two ever gave each other a chance.”
Xander looked skeptical. “Not likely. But he called in the Scoobs when he thought you needed moral support. That counts for something.”
“I know this is terrible timing, and I hope it doesn't make me a callous daughter, but we need to talk shop, and getting you alone is kind of difficult.”
Tara leaned against a stall door frame. “No one thinks you aren't worried and upset, Buffy. Least of all me. And I needed to talk to you, too. You have no idea what things have been like since we saw you and Spike smooching at the Bronze. It's like the Buffybot panic, but with more guilt and paranoia. Xander is stuck somewhere between freaked and confused. Willow ran to Giles. Giles acted surprised, then pretended it wasn't important. So she went into research mode, studying thralls and talking about possible residuals from that spell she did when she and Oz broke up. She also questioned me.”
Buffy perched on the counter between the sinks. “She asked you about our auras, didn't she?”
“Yep. And I'm embarrassed to say how proud I was that she bought my lies.”
“Welcome to the club. Lying to people you care about is misery number one in the time travel game.”
“Speaking of lies, I had an idea about dealing with Glory I wanted to talk to you and Spike about. Can I come by your place later?”
“Sure. We'd love some new ideas. And I need to get your opinion on a slayer dream I had. Spike and I have turned it over in our heads, and made some progress, but we've kind of hit a wall. It was 2003--”
Willow poked her head around the bathroom door. “Hey. You guys ok? You've been in here a while.”
Tara gave a reassuring smile. “We're fine, sweetie. We were just talking about when my mom got sick, and all the medical paperwork stuff.”
Buffy gave Tara's quick thinking a nod of approval as they followed Willow out of the bathroom.
Spike answered the phone on the second ring. “Hello?”
“They showed up, then?”
“Everyone but Anya. She's at the Magic Box. If we're lucky, she'll tell Glory she's out of the ingredients she needs, and I won't have to strangle a giant snake tonight.”
“She's there alone? Not fond of that.”
“She's the one who knows what goes into a transmogrification spell. I'm willing to bet she lies to Glory about her inventory and sends her packing. She'll do this job for us, without even knowing it.”
“Still, think I'll hit the sewers, go keep an eye on Demon Girl. You talked to the doctors yet?”
“It's the same news as before: scary shadows. Dawn's visiting with Mom now. I'm going back in there in a sec. ...God, this is hard.”
“I know, love. Wish I could change it for you.”
“I know. I should go. Be careful.” She hung up the phone and went to sit with Giles. “I think Spike is feeling caged in by the evil sunshine. He's taking the underground route to the Magic Box.”
“Spike and Anya in my shop unsupervised? Should I be worried?” Giles chuckled slightly, trying to get her to smile. “They could conjure up something... Buffy? I'm only joking.”
A strange expression had crossed her face. “If there's anything to worry about, I'll stake him myself.”
His smile fell. “I suspect there's a story there.” He took her hand. “How are you managing all this?”
“Somewhere between numb and worried. Numb because... you know.”
Giles glanced around and lowered his already quiet voice to a whisper. “Familiar roads?”
“And tired feet. I don't want to be here again.” She forced a smile. “But I'm glad you guys are here. It helps.”
“Were we not... before?”
“No. This is something Spike changed for me.”
Anya's eyes lit up with recognition as she read the list. She schooled her expression quickly. “I have everything except the last item.”
The woman across the counter noticed the change in demeanor. “Are you lying to me, girlie?”
“I want your money, lady, but I can't take all of it. I'll get the rest of the items together for you.” Anya started to turn around, but found her arm caught in a vicious grip. She was yanked back against the display counter with enough force to break its glass.
“You have what I need, mortal. Don't make me dig through this place like a common thief to get it.”
“Hey! 'Mortal'?! Do you have any idea how old I--” Anya's words were cut off by violent shaking.
“Where. Is. It?” The woman ground out, nose to nose with her over the remains of the counter.
Anya shook her head resolutely.
“Ugh!” Glory threw her against the wall in frustration. She came around the counter, paying no attention to the glass grinding under her stilettos. “Never mind,” she sighed. “I'll find it myself.” She picked up the dropped list and began searching the broken shelves behind Anya's unconscious form.
Spike crouched on the floor behind the counter. “Anya! Wake up!”
“Xander?” Anya whispered.
“Hardly,” he scoffed. “Open your eyes, pet.”
“Spike?” Her eyes fluttered open. “Spike, I think I found Buffy's Hellgod.”
“Seems likely. Can you sit up?”
“I-- I don't think I can move my arm. It hurts too much.” Anya lifted her head to look at the debris around her. “My inventory...”
Spike's eyes followed hers. “Shh... Stay still. The mess will keep.” He spotted the new phone book laying open on a surviving section of counter. “Pet, I need to make a call. You'll be alright for a minute?”
“Lock the door,” she whispered. “I can't make money like this.”
“Buffy Summers, please visit a nurse's station courtesy phone. You have a telephone call on line 3.”
The page brought every Scooby head up at full attention. Buffy dropped the magazine she was pretending to read and hurried down the hall to the nearest nurse's station. She reached for the phone on the corner of the counter, but a hand got in her way. She looked up. “Great. Just what I needed today.”
“Nice to see you, too, kid.” Whistler removed his hand from the phone. “Go ahead. I'll wait.”
She gave him a suspicious look as she picked up the phone and pressed the button for line 3. “Hello?”
“I'm sorry, love.” Spike's voice was barely above a whisper. “Looks like I bollixed it up.”
“I'm at the shop. A bit late to do any good. Looks like the bitch didn't like being told 'no' and just took what she wanted.”
“Is Anya...? She isn't...?”
“She's conscious, barely. Gonna need to join Joyce in hospital, I'm thinking.”
“I'll send someone to come get her. She's... coherent, right?”
“No less than usual. Got lucky on that score... Buffy, I made this happen. I--”
“We'll talk about it later. Go take care of Anya.” She hung up the phone. “Is that why you're here?”
“I'm here because you are. That phone rang because you geniuses stopped looking for the big picture, stopped using the one tool you have.”
“I'm not above killing you in front of witnesses,” Buffy hissed. “Make sense or make tracks.”
“You want sense? Figure out what this mission's really about, before you make things worse.”
Whistler disappeared in a flash of blue. Buffy looked around her, wondering if anyone had noticed. Seeing no reaction, she returned to her friends. “Giles, Xan, you need to get back to the shop. Glory paid us a visit. Anya's been attacked.”
Giles whispered to her as he reached for his jacket. “You seem surprised.”
At the Magic Box, Spike knelt on the floor behind the counter. Anya's eyes were drifting shut again. “Anyanka! Stay awake! Help's coming, pet. Just don't go to sleep.”
“And I thought slayers hit hard,” Anya mumbled. “They're nothing like that.”
“I know, pet. Trust me, I know.”
“My head hurts. And you're a little blurry.”
“She knew I was lying.” Anya winced as she tried to move her shoulder. “Knew I recognized the spell. Transmogrification...” She tried to focus her gaze on the ceiling, but a pair of blue eyes got in her way.
“Pupils are uneven,” Spike muttered. “Think you've got a concussion, pet.”
“Great... Now I'm Giles.”
He fought back a chuckle. “Nah, you're just a typical Magic Box shopkeeper, earning her bones.”
“Hmm. I guess so.” She winced again as he gingerly inspected her arm. “Ow, ow, ow! ...Spike?”
“She's kind of pretty, you know the form she's taken. But she has chipmunk cheeks.” Anya lapsed into silence for a few minutes, her mind drifting between her pain and the urge to sleep. “But Spike won't let me sleep,” she muttered, finishing her train of thought aloud.
“Sorry, pet. Can't.”
She furrowed her brow. “Wait a second... I thought you were stuck at home?”
“Just couldn't go to a bloody hospital that doesn't cover the waiting room windows.”
“You want to be with Buffy. I so called it.” She tried to smile through her pain, but it came out as a grimace. “I knew Buffy wasn't dumb enough to not have sex with you.”
Spike teetered between his reluctance to have this conversation and the need to keep Anya alert. “What makes you so sure I'm shagging the slayer?”
Silence. He nudged her good shoulder. “Anya? Still with me, pet?”
“I'm not dumb, either,” she mumbled, struggling to keep her eyes open. “You don't have to live with her to help her with Dawn... or patrol with her. Buffy wants you close.”
“Think you might be the only one to figure that out, save maybe her mum.” Spike leaned back on his heels. “Harris picked up on it?”
“Xander thinks...” Anya started to drift off again, then forced her eyes open. “He thinks anything he doesn't want to believe isn't true if no one says it out loud... At the Bronze, you forced the conversation to start.” She reached out with her good hand to take Spike's. “I can't tell Xander this, but I like the conversation... It's better for me if Buffy's not available.”
Spike's eyebrow shot up at this admission, confirming his old suspicions, but he didn't have an opportunity to reply. Keys jingled outside the front door. A moment later, Xander and Giles came running in.
“Back here, Harris!” Spike called. “Watch your step!”
Xander caught himself on the corner of the counter's metal frame as he came around it, nearly losing his footing in the sea of broken glass. “Ahn?”
“Hey. There you are.” Anya managed a small smile. “I think my arm is broken.”
Spike relinquished her hand to her boyfriend and rose to his feet. He turned to Giles, who was looking around in dismay. “Concussion and a broken arm. Wearing her tongue out making herself stay awake.”
“We'll get her to the hospital. Is this why you came here?”
“No one was supposed to get hurt.” Spike started toward the stairs to the basement storeroom.
Giles watched him go, taking in the slumped shoulders and slow steps. Not for the first time, he found himself questioning the changes in the time traveling vampire.
“Mom's back in her room. So far, so good. But she's not going to be awake for a while. Dawnie and I are coming home for the evening.”
“Gonna let the snake sniff her out here, then?”
“Well, word on the street is that the Magic Box is already a wreck. And I'd rather have both of us on this job. Last time was too close of a shave, and we've had enough mistakes for one day.”
Spike absorbed the sting of her words with a sigh. “How's Anya?”
“In a cast and loaded up on painkillers. She's staying overnight for observation, so we'll all be making hospital rounds, between her and Mom.”
“You sound tired, love. Come home and get some kip before Glory's new toy comes to call.”
“We'll be there soon.”
Dawn was staring blankly at the television, barely noticing the images on the screen, when someone came in the front door and into the living room. She looked up. “Hi, Tara.”
“Hi, Dawnie.” Tara shifted the satchel strap on her shoulder. “Um, don't you want to grab a nap or something? You're going back to the hospital with Buffy tonight, right?”
“Yeah, I guess I could try to sleep. But then, Buffy said the same thing when we got home.”
“What is she doing?”
“Not sleeping.” Dawn hit the mute button on the remote control. “Listen.”
With the rest of the house in silence, Tara could hear muffled voices coming from below. She frowned. “I can't make out the words, but the tone...”
“Yeah, I think they're arguing.” Dawn shrugged. “One of them is always making the other one mad about something. I think this one is about Anya getting hurt, but I'm not sure.”
“Go upstairs for a little while, Dawnie. Try to have a nap. I'll keep them from getting too loud, ok?”
Dawn hit the power button on the remote control and stood up. “Thanks, but I'm still going to put on some music. Not that I don't have any faith in you, but if they come upstairs...”
Tara came down the basement stairs just as the first punches were thrown. She jumped between the two combatants with her arms outstretched. “Hey! That's enough!”
Buffy was the first to back down. “He started it.”
“I did not!” Spike argued. “If you hadn't been so sure Anya saying 'sorry, sold out' to that crazy bitch would be enough, I might have hurried, might have gotten there in time.”
“In time for what?” Tara asked. “In time to get your butt kicked? How exactly would that have helped Anya?” She turned to Buffy. “And you! It was a sincere gesture, and you appreciated it at the time; I could see it all over your face when we got to the hospital. But when it backfires a few hours later, you're suddenly mad at him about it? How is that fair, Buffy?”
Buffy looked chastened. “I'm not mad at Spike. I'm mad at both of us. We got reckless, and the changes spun out of control while we were thinking about... other stuff.”
“I noticed at the Bronze Monday night that you were a little distracted from the mission. But that gave me the idea I wanted to talk to you about.” She gave them each stern glares. “If, that is, you aren't going to kill each other before Glory gets her chance at any of us?”
Spike fell into one of the club chairs and gestured to Tara to take the other. Buffy flopped onto the bed. “Ok, you have our attention. What's your idea?”
Tara took the offered seat. “When Willow and Xander went all bug-eyed at seeing you two on a date, I was thinking they'd be ok with it if they could see what I see, you know, the bond between you. And that made me realize something: The way to keep Dawn safe from Glory -and to keep the portal from opening- is to use what I've seen to distract and misdirect.”
Buffy shook her head. “I don't understand.”
Tara pulled a large, leather-bound spell book from her satchel and opened it to a marked page. She handed it to Buffy. “This is what I want to do.”
“That's not English.”
“You don't read Latin?”
“Um, no? Why would you think I could?”
“In your line of work, Buffy, you really should know Latin.”
“I do.” Spike took the book from Buffy and read over the spell. “Hmm. Reads like a glamour, but I didn't think they were that complicated.”
“They aren't, generally. This is a specialized type. It's longer-lasting, strong enough to stand without maintenance, and only visible to those to whom it's directed. I want to use it on myself.”
“To do what, exactly?”
“To make myself look like the Key to unhinged minds.”
This simple statement was met with shouts of anger. “Absolutely not!”
“Oh my god, Tara! Are you high?”
“Think about it: I'm the only one who knows what Dawn actually looks like to them, because I was one of them. Do you have another witch hanging around who has seen her original form?”
“Well, no. But--”
“I'm also new to your lives, at least compared to everyone else. I'm the best person to play decoy.”
“We don't need a decoy, Glinda. Can find another way to keep that bint's paws off Nibblet.”
“A decoy Key would improve the odds, Spike. You have to acknowledge that.”
“Why can't you do the spell on someone else, Tara? What about me?”
“She knows you're the protector of the Key, Buffy. And she knows it's newly created. She wouldn't believe it's the slayer, not for a minute. Me, on the other hand, I'd be totally believable.”
“You could die trying to pull off this stunt, pet.”
“That's the worst-case scenario, which is why it's so perfect. Even if I fail, I've slowed her search and confused her a little. And I'll only die a year earlier than I did before, this time for an actual reason.”
Her calm approach to her death brought an uncomfortable silence. “I don't think I like where this is going,” Buffy whispered. No one replied. She looked to Spike. “Don't you have anything to say to that, Mr. 'It's not suicide, it's sacrifice'?”
“Buffy...” Spike's eyes met hers as a realization struck him. “'Tara is going to stand in. Let her.'”
“It's just a test run. See that addendum at the bottom of the page? It's instructions for a light-weight, short-term version of the spell, something closer to a traditional glamour. It will only last about an hour. I thought I could try it on Glory's transmogrified snake, since you guys are going to be nearby to kill it, anyway. If I get a response from him, but look normal to you, I know I'm doing it right, and I can do the full version geared toward the mentally unsound.” Tara looked at the floor. “After I talk to Willow.”
“You're gonna tell Red what you're up to?”
“I have to. The full version takes more power than I have. She's a source of mystical power I can draw from. She has know what we're doing.”
Spike furrowed his brow. “Maybe not... Love, when you went to see the Shadow Men, Red had to pull power from other sources to reopen the portal to get you back. She grabbed Anya--”
“A vengeance demon. There's a lot of power there,” Tara interrupted.
“Former vengeance demon, actually.”
“Again?” Tara shook off her confusion. “Still, residual power.”
Buffy's eyes lit up. “Then I'd be a good enough second source!”
“Um...” Buffy's elation faded. “She was -is, I guess- a potential slayer.”
“Point is, Glinda, if a Potential and a former demon have enough mystical power to help Willow fuel a portal to wherever and whenever that bleedin' carousel trinket sent Buffy, a full slayer definitely has enough juice to do this job with you.”
Tara frowned. “You'll have to explain this story to me sometime, but it can wait. This could leave you weakened for a while, Buffy, maybe even a couple of weeks.”
“Kennedy and Anya were alright after Red sucked the power from them. Tired for a day or two.”
“Willow had a lot more power then than anyone has now. I'm not sure she needed more than a little boost.” Buffy suddenly found her fingernails interesting. “She had already taken so much...”
Tara waved a hand to draw her attention. “I know the basics, remember? You don't have to coddle me about her. I know what she became. But that insane amount of power is also how you two got to come back to this time, so -hopefully- it will balance the scales. In the meantime, Spike, the two people she took from were carriers of power. Since they weren't actively using it, they wouldn't have known the difference. And Buffy's also right that she probably didn't need to borrow much. But I'm not her, then or now. I would need a stronger power source, and if it's someone actively using it -like you, Buffy, or Willow- I'd probably leave that person noticeably weakened. We'll have to choose our timing carefully, and be smart about which of you I use. Guys, we have to consider getting Willow's help. I don't like the idea of weakening Buffy in the middle of all this.”
“What we need is an alternate power source,” Buffy murmured. “Not a person.” She looked to see if Spike was following her train of thought.
He was. “Plan A had one of those.”
Buffy turned to their confused friend. “Tara, we can hook you up with some big time slayer power, without draining me. But it will take a while to get. We have to dig for it. Literally. Shovels and pick axes. Are you ready to get your hands dirty?”
Tara stood the hallway, listening for her cue from one of the open doors. Buffy crossed her line of vision, tapping the sidewalk in front of the house with her sword as she paced, looking in every direction for their target's approach.
Spike's voice came from the back porch. “Glinda! He's coming!”
Tara relayed the message. “Buffy! Out back!” She ran through the kitchen and out the back door, bolting down the porch steps and out the gate, trying to put as much distance between herself and the house as she could. Spike stayed close behind her, and Buffy was quickly catching up.
The snake found her in the narrow alley between the backyards, three houses east. He reared up in alarm at the sight of her, then abruptly turned north. He was moving toward Glory, not Dawn.
“It works!” She shouted. “Go!” She stepped aside as Buffy and Spike sped past her to tackle and stab the monster before it could get out of the neighborhood.
They walked back to the house, put away their weapons, and closed the doors. They fell into the living room chairs with smiles that were a mix of relief and excitement.
“It works,” Tara said again. “You get me that power source, and I'm your decoy. She won't get anything but annoyed from my blood.”
“So...” Spike looked at Buffy. “In retrospect?”
Buffy nodded. “The dream makes sense. And I was right about what we changed the other night that was so momentous: The Scoobies saw us on a date.” She pointed to Tara. “This Scooby in particular.”
Tara blushed. “I'm only a Scooby by association.”
“Who needs the bleedin' Scoobies, anyway?” Spike looked around the room. “Got muscle, magic, and some decent brains right here.”
“True.” Buffy said. “It took all three of us to solve that dream. We planned what to do about it, and ran a successful test of the plan, complete with slayed monster. Together. Sounds like a team to me.”
Tara laughed. “If I'd known this felt so good, I'd have forced you two to get along and joined in the fight the first time around.”
“You'll change your tune when we're digging under the vineyard together,” Spike grumbled.
Really, the title covers a lot of ground on this one. Welcome to the Pivot Point.
Chapter 11: Pivot Point