Previous Chapters: ONE / TWO / THREE / FOUR / FIVE / SIX / SEVEN / EIGHT / NINE / TEN / ELEVEN / TWELVE / THIRTEEN / FOURTEEN
Summary: AU from some point during Tabula Rasa, when the crystal doesn’t get broken and something else happens to it instead. Events not dissimilar to those in kallysten and kantayra’s excellent story Tabula Rasa Ad Aeternum are taking place simultaneously with this story, but off-screen.
The Copper Coronet was full to beyond capacity. There was barely space enough for the serving wenches, bearing trays laden with goblets of beer or with plates of roast pork, to squeeze through the crowds. Nobles in robes trimmed with Winter Wolf fur rubbed shoulders with peasants in sackcloth. Tattooed barbarians stood alongside plump merchants. Street urchins mingled with halflings and with ladies in brocade velvet gowns. Surly the bare-knuckle boxer, who operated a booth in the tavern and had expected that it would become a veritable goldmine with the demise of the gladiatorial slave combats, glowered at the stranger who had taken his place as top attraction. The booth was closed and its space was crammed full of extra tables and chairs.
Bernard sent Giles to a platform at the top of the stairs, where in Lehtinan’s day an armed guard had stood overlooking the patrons, and the Scoobies sat on the stairs below him. All except Willow, that is. She sat between Viconia and Minsc at a table close to the foot of the stairs, clinging tightly to their arms, her face set in an expression of deep misery.
Spike sat on the lowest flight of stairs and puffed on a cigar. He was unarmored, as he had promised that once he had departed Yoshimo could have the Armor of Deep Night, and he had taken it off and left it in their room. The others had made similar promises and were also unarmored and largely unarmed. The exception was Buffy, who was fiercely determined to take the Blade of Roses back to Sunnydale with her, and who wore the richly decorated sword strapped at her side.
Giles started off his performance with songs that had no relevance to his planned magical departure. Had the evening’s entertainment consisted of a few chords, a few words, and then ‘Elvis has left the building’, a riot would have been inevitable. That wasn’t something that Giles would want on his conscience and also, to be honest, he was quietly reveling in the audience reaction he was receiving in this world and wanted to make the most of what might be his final show.
He began with ‘Honky Tonk Women’, kept the tempo going with ‘Sharp Dressed Man’, and then slowed it right down with ‘Behind Blue Eyes’. Dire Straits’ ‘Romeo and Juliet’ reduced most of the women in the audience to misty-eyed silence. Dwarfs and elves who had never heard of Dead-heads or Cadillacs swayed to ‘The Boys of Summer’.
Giles followed that one with a version of Big Country’s ‘Chance’, slightly more up-tempo than their original recording, the way that they had often played it live. Spike, who had been in Moscow with Drusilla at the time of Big Country’s concerts there, was reminded of the way that the crowd at the ‘Palace of Wings’ had sang along with the chorus despite few of them even speaking English. It had the same effect here; dwarfs, halflings, nobles and barbarians were all on their feet singing ‘Oh, Lord, where did the feeling go? Two, three, four; Oh, Lord, I’ve never felt so low…’
After that Giles performed a rendition of Chris Rea’s ‘Let’s Dance’ that had even Viconia on her feet and swaying her hips. Buffy tapped her feet along with the rest, but the pout on her face as she looked up at Giles revealed that she was growing impatient. He performed one more neutral song, Led Zeppelin’s ‘Over the hills and far away’, and then he struck up the opening chords of a song that he hoped would settle the doubts that were churning in his mind over the wisdom of his plan.
Before he could open his mouth to begin the vocals Spike had shot up the stairs and confronted him. “Hey, Watcher, not going to sit here and listen to you murder that one,” the vampire said. “Stick to your soft rock crap. Leave The Clash alone.”
Giles raised an eyebrow. “I suppose you think that you could do better?”
“Damn right,” Spike said confidently.
“Very well, let’s see you do it,” Giles challenged. “Okay, everyone,” he called to the crowd. “For this number there’s a special guest vocalist. Performing ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’, I give you… William the Bloody!”
Spike swaggered to the front of the balcony, tilted his head to one side and ran his tongue over his teeth, and launched himself into the song. By the end most of the tavern patrons were chanting ‘Stay! Stay! Stay’.
Surly the boxer scowled up at the balcony. “Go! Go! Go!” he called.
“Ye’re a scum-sucking louse, Surly,” growled Korgan the dwarf. “Ah’m tellin’ ye to shut yer gob, or ah’ll shut it with ma axe.” Surly turned to utter a rude retort, saw the massive breadth of the dwarf’s shoulders, the scars on his grim face, and the way in which he was fondling his axe, and changed his mind.
“Quite impressive, Spike,” Giles praised. “Another number, perhaps? ‘Rebel Yell’?”
“Giles!” Buffy complained, giving him an eye-roll that would have picked up a 5.8 from any impartial judge. “That’s not what we’re here for. Get on with it.”
“Oh, very well, my dear,” Giles agreed. “Another time, Spike. At the Espresso Pump, if all goes well.”
“Not really my scene, wouldn’t have thought that either me or Billy Idol was their scene, but, okay, Watcher,” Spike said. He bowed to the audience, grinned, and descended the stairs once more. He noticed the eyes of several women in the audience following him. One in particular, a lithe swordswoman in black leather, blew him a kiss and gave him a look that promised much in the way of carnal delights. He might have been tempted, if the attempt to return everyone to Sunnydale failed, but he was already feeling torn between Buffy and Viconia and there was no point in bringing a third factor into the equation. He gave her a brief shake of his head, sat down, and lit another cigar.
Giles breathed in deeply. The way in which he could perform magic with some songs, while at other times they were simply innocuous music, was still something of a mystery to him. It came to him as if by instinct with little conscious control. He concentrated hard until he was sure that he had got into the magical groove, and then began to sing.
“I’m sitting in a railway station
Got a ticket for my destination…”
Nothing happened, or at least nothing magical. As he sang ‘Home, where my love lies waiting’ Jaheira rose to her feet, snatched a carving knife from a serving wench, and drew back her arm to throw it at Giles. Sorkatani caught her arm and wrestled briefly with her friend to disarm her. Apart from that incident ‘Homeward Bound’ had no effect whatsoever and the Scoobies remained firmly in the Copper Coronet, in Athkatla, in the Forgotten Realms of Faerûn, far away from Sunnydale.
Giles frowned. It was a powerful song, and he had felt the tingle of magic as he played, but it had been a complete failure. He tried again.
“Run for home, run as fast as I can,
Oh-oh I’m a running man,
Running for home…”
“I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again,
Oh babe, I hate to go…”
Runrig’s ‘I’ll Keep Coming Home’ reduced the audience to such absolute silence that the Scoobies could hear the sound of fat spurting from the roasting pigs in the gaps between lines. The conclusion of the song was greeted with a storm of applause, very pleasant for Giles to hear, but it achieved absolutely nothing in the way of transporting the Scoobies home.
Giles gritted his teeth and slammed his fingers across the guitar strings in a fast rhythm. He stamped out a drumbeat with his foot and yelled out raucously instead of in his normal melodious voice.
“Come up to you one night,
Noticed the look in your eye.
I saw you was on your own.
And it was all right…”
He pounded his way through Slade’s ‘Take Me Bak ‘Ome’, somewhat to the consternation of the Sunnydale crew who had never dreamed of hearing anything like that from Giles’ lips, but he did get Spike thumping his boots down to the beat. Giles reached the final chorus and roared out the words.
“Oh won't you take me back home my baby
Ah won't you take me back home oh yeah
I said take me, take me, take me, take me back home
Take me take me take me home!”
There was a flash of light, a shower of glittering silver flakes fell from the ceiling, and Giles vanished.
“Giles!” Buffy cried.
“Oh shit!” Xander exclaimed.
“Bummer! Worst case scenario,” Dawn wailed. “Giles is gone and we’re stuck here.”
The reactions of the audience were mixed. Some applauded, thinking it a magical effect that was part of the act. Some cried out in alarm. Jaheira sank her head into her hands. Willow was torn between conflicting emotions.
And then the door behind the balcony opened and Giles stepped through.
“Giles! What happened?” Buffy asked.
“I found myself in my bedroom,” Giles told her. “It seems that the spell regards this place as my home.”
“Yay!” said Dawn. “You can stay here and send the rest of us back.”
“Ah, that might indeed be feasible,” Giles said. “I will have to be somewhat more specific in my choice of song. I do have several more numbers prepared.” He frowned in concentration, waited until the applause died down, and began another song.
‘California Dreaming’ had no effect. Led Zeppelin’s ‘Going to California’ was equally ineffective. A version of James Taylor’s ‘Carolina in my Mind’, with a slight change to the State mentioned in the lyrics, achieved nothing.
“I’m running out of ideas,” Giles confessed. “There are only two possibilities remaining, and they wouldn’t get us back to Sunnydale without such substantial changes to the lyrics that the whole force of the songs would be lost. Still, we could travel by conventional means once back on Earth. I have my credit cards with me, and even my passport.”
“Yeah, ‘cause you were going to run out on us,” Dawn said accusingly.
“I have reconsidered that decision,” Giles told her. “I won’t leave unless I’m certain that you will all be able to manage satisfactorily in my absence.” Buffy grabbed him in a hug.
“Uh, Giles, what about ‘Hotel California’?” Xander suggested.
“I considered it,” Giles said, “but rejected it because of the line ‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave’. I think it would be an unwise choice.”
Xander reflected on some of the other lyrics of the song. “Uh, yeah, good thinking, Giles.”
The pause in proceedings was beginning to cause the audience to grow impatient. Giles brought his guitar to the ready again and began to play.
“Take us home, country roads,
To the place where we belong,
West Virginia, mountain momma,
Take us home, country roads.”
Yet another song concluded without achieving any of the desired effects.
“None of us belong in West Virginia,” Buffy pointed out. “Maybe that’s why it didn’t work.”
“Or perhaps the whole concept is flawed,” Giles said gloomily. “Still, the very fact that I was transported to the bedroom proves that I’m on the right lines. Tara, my dear, would you assist me on this one? It may transport you alone, but that would not be an entirely unsatisfactory result, would it?”
“I guess not,” she said. “Maybe the rest of you could follow on later.” She climbed the stairs to join Giles at the top. “Uh, what do you want me to sing?”
“Ah, ‘Sweet Home Alabama’,” he told her. “I’ll take the lead, if you could just join in on the choruses. They go –”
“Giles,” Tara interrupted him, shaking her head, “do you really think you need to tell me? I’ll take the lead. Just play me in.”
“This will be our final song for tonight,” Giles told the audience. “With Tara Maclay on vocals, this is ‘Sweet Home Alabama’.” He played the opening chords and Tara’s voice rang out clearly.
“Big wheels keep on turning,
Carry me home to see my kin,”
Her mouth twisted fractionally at that line, but she kept right on singing.
“Singing songs about the Southlands,
I miss Alabamy once again, it’s a sin, yeah…”
Willow stared up at Tara in amazement as she sang. Willow herself was terrified of performing in public, would never sing if she thought that anyone else would be able to hear, and if it had been her standing up there on the balcony she knew that she’d never have been able to open her mouth and utter any coherent sounds. She’d always regarded Tara as shyer than herself by a considerable margin. And yet there she was, standing up proudly, swinging her hips so that her long skirt swayed from side to side, and belting out the song with confidence and passion. There were eyes trained on her with admiration and with lust, Willow noticed as she glanced around the room, from men and a few women too, and Willow could well understand why.
“Lord, I’m coming home to you,” Tara finished. She was still standing on the balcony at the Copper Coronet. She lowered her eyes, blushed, and stepped back as the crowd clapped and cheered and called for more.
“That’s all for tonight,” Giles called. “I’m sorry, but I’m just too tired to play another note. And really, how could I follow that? Thank you, and goodnight.”
“It didn’t work,” Buffy lamented. “A total bust. Gee, thanks for raising my hopes, Giles.”
“I really thought that it had a chance,” Giles said. “Perhaps I simply don’t have enough power to achieve what we desire. Perhaps at some time in the future, when I have gained additional power and skills, I might be able to pull it off.”
“Uh, I could feel the power you were putting out,” Tara said. “A lot. I don’t think that just upping the amperage is going to make any difference.”
“Perhaps you were being blocked,” Anya suggested.
“Blocked?” Giles turned and frowned at her over the rim of his glasses. “What do you mean, Anya?”
“I mean, some wizard might have been actively working against you,” she said. “Maybe that Irenicus character, although if he’s locked up in jail I suppose it can’t be him, or the Cowled Wizards. Or Willow.”
“Willow?” Xander’s mouth dropped open. “What do you mean, Ahn?”
“Well, she doesn’t want to go home,” Anya said. “She wouldn’t even sit with us. I thought it was so that she’d have a chance of avoiding the effects and not getting carried away along with us, but maybe it was so that she could be doing a counter-spell without us seeing.”
“Willow wouldn’t do that!” Xander said. “She wouldn’t go behind our backs.”
“Oh? Like she was honest and upfront with Dawn, and Giles, and Spike about bringing Buffy back?”
“That was different,” Xander said. “The rest of us were all on board with that.”
“So what you mean is that she wouldn’t go behind your back?” Anya arched an eyebrow. “She kept things from Giles because she thought he might stop her, that’s all. Do you really think that she’d let you know about something that you would try to stop?”
“Willow’s not like that,” Xander insisted, but his voice lacked its previous ring of conviction.
“Guys, guys,” Buffy said, “Willow wouldn’t have done anything. Really. She had a long talk with me, and apologized for a whole lot of things, and she was totally up front about not wanting to go back to Sunnydale, and she accepted the majority decision, and okay, she was maybe resentful and sulky, but she, uh, acted exactly like she was going to pretend to go along with it and then do her own thing.”
“It’s Spike’s fault,” Xander said. “Willow would never have turned against us if it hadn’t been for Spike.”
“Huh?” Tara stared at him. “Where does that logic come in? A minute ago you were saying that Willow would never have gone behind our backs and now you’re just taking it for granted and blaming it on Spike. Well, I don’t believe for one minute that either of them had anything to do with Giles’ spell not working.”
“I don’t know about Willow, but Spike had nothing to do with it,” Dawn put in.
“I didn’t say he had,” Xander said. “Just that he’s a bad influence on Willow. And so is that Viconia creature.”
“Please, everyone, can we leave this discussion for another time?” Giles suggested. “We are all tired, all disappointed that my plan was an ignominious failure, and we may be saying things that we will regret later. I for one see no reason to suspect Willow in the slightest and, as I have said before, Spike has been acting entirely properly since our arrival here and any effect that he is having on Willow’s behavior is likely to be beneficial rather than the reverse.”
“I think you’re right,” Tara said.
“That’s ridiculous!” Xander snapped. “He could only bring her down.”
“Xander, Willow isn’t perfect,” Anya said, with an edge of irritation evident in her voice. “Will you stop defending her every single time anybody criticizes her?”
“Please, please, everyone,” Giles repeated. “It’s late, I’m tired, and I’m starting to get a headache. If we have to have this pointless argument, can it be tomorrow?”
“So that million to one chance didn’t come off this time,” Jonathan said. “Everything’s okay. I guess it’s pretty much impossible to do it that way.”
“Yeah,” Warren said. “Good thing too. Hey, for an old guy Giles can pretty much rock, right, dude?”
Andrew had a slightly misty look in his eyes. “Spike rocks too, dude.”
“Yeah, whatever. Okay, things are safe, we can go out bowling with Alex without worrying that he’s gonna suddenly turn into a whole different guy who hardly knows us.”
“Xander was in my class,” Jonathan pointed out.
“He wasn’t exactly your best buddy, though, was he? Forget it, anyway. It’s not gonna happen. I guess whatever powers their magic in the PC can’t reach out to the real world. Which reminds me, don’t go online while the game’s running, dude.”
“I don’t,” Jonathan said. “Like I’d risk the whole Internet developing a mind of its own?”
“It could be kinda fun,” Warren mused. “On the other hand it could suck big time, and we wouldn’t know which until it happened, by which time it would be too late. There’s all kinds of potential badness there, I guess, Skynet and big robot guys with guns going, like, ‘Varren Mears? You vill be terminated! Bang!’ and shit, so best leave it alone. Okay, let’s go bowling. Power down, dude.”
“I think I’ll just leave it running,” Jonathan said. “They can manage pretty much by themselves. That way they’ll get through the whole thing as fast as possible, and then we can get the mod finished and up on the boards.”
“And then we’ll be famous,” Warren gloated. “Yeah, right. Okay, guys, to the Batmobile and away.”
“I told you, I didn’t do anything,” Willow insisted. “I wanted to, yeah, I admit it. I was thinking of casting some, like, protection spells on myself so that I’d maybe not get caught by the spell and would stay here. Only then I thought maybe it would mess things up for you guys. Buffy said it was kinda all or nothing, so I left it alone.”
“I’d like to believe you, Will,” Buffy said.
“So believe me, okay? I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t do anything that would spoil things for you. That’s the truth, Buffy.” She looked Buffy straight in her eyes. “Get Tara to do one of those Detect Lie spells if you don’t believe me.”
“See, I told you that Willow didn’t do anything,” said Xander.
“No, you said that Willow did and that she’d been led into it by Spike,” Tara reminded him. “I believe you, Willow. You’re, uh, doing good these days. Would you, maybe, like to meet up with me for a cup of coffee sometime?”
Willow’s face lit up. “Well, they don’t seem to have coffee in these parts, but we could make it tea. Yeah, I’d like that.”
“Okay, I believe you,” Buffy said.
“Yeah, right.” Willow gave Buffy a smile that lacked her usual warmth. “I’ve got to be going, Buff. We’re going to check out the shops, see if the hats that I designed for Viconia are ready, that sort of thing. See you around.”
“You’re going shopping? Hey, I could come with.”
Willow’s smile became distinctly tepid. “No, I don’t think so, Buffy. The whole bunch of us are going and hey, you don’t get on with Viconia, and you’ve been mean and snarky with Spike all the time since we got here, and, well, I think it would be more fun without you. Maybe another time.”
“I have a job offer for you, if you would just hear me out,” Lord Jierdan Firkraag said to Sorkatani, for the fifth time.
“I have no time now,” Sorkatani brushed him off, as she had done four times before. “Another time, perhaps.” She led her group past him to rendezvous with Buffy’s party.
“Hey, what took you so long?” Buffy asked. “I thought you were just doing some hat shopping. And hey, you’re looking a little frazzled. Has shopping turned into a combat sport in these parts?”
“We encountered a band of ruffians committing an assault,” Sorkatani explained. “Their victim had been poisoned and insisted that only his friends could cure him. We went far out of our way to deliver him there. Then other matters arose.”
“You should have ignored Xzar,” Jaheira grumbled. “I warned you that no good could come of his request.”
“He stood with Imoen and me against the wolves when I was but a frightened girl of fifteen,” Sorkatani replied. “He and Montaron. Evil he may have been, true, but I owed him a debt, and I am filled with sorrow that my repayment of that debt brought him to his death.”
“Sounds like you had the kind of morning that’s all full of joy, not,” Buffy said. “So, are you up for taking out the Slavers now, or do you need, like, some rest and recuperation?”
Sorkatani shot a glance over her shoulder to where Lord Firkraag had been, worried in case he was someone who might tip off the Slavers about the planned assault, but he had already walked out of the room. “Our fights were hardly more than skirmishes,” she said. “We are ready to face the Slavers. I remember that I was to take the path through the sewers and you wished to storm the front door. Is that still your desire?”
“If that’s okay by you, yeah,” Buffy confirmed. “Will, can you still do that thing where you can talk to our minds?”
“Uh, if there’s nothing in the way, no problem at all,” Willow said. “But from the sewers up to you out in the street, well, that might be tough. I think I’ll have to give a ‘no’ to that.”
Buffy frowned. “Okay, we’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way. Set a time and go for it then, ready or not.”
“I would never have believed that timepieces could be so small,” Sorkatani remarked, gazing at the watches on Buffy and Willow’s wrists. “There must be ingenious artisans indeed in the land from which you come.”
“And to which they are so eager to return,” Jaheira said with a bitter edge in her tone.
“Jaheira,” Giles said, “if I could just try to explain? It is not that I wanted to leave you.”
“Yet you still tried.” Jaheira turned her back on him. “Let us delay no longer, Sorkatani. There may be creatures in the sewers that must be fought before we reach our destination.”
“True,” Sorkatani agreed. “Shall we say, then, at the start of the second hour after noon?”
“Two o’clock is good with me,” Buffy agreed.
Sorkatani’s party readied their weapons and headed for the Copper Coronet’s cellars where there was an entrance to the sewers. Willow lingered for one brief moment. “I’ll try to talk her round, Giles,” she said, and then scurried off.
“It looks like things aren’t doing so good for you on the girlfriend front right now, Giles,” Xander commiserated. “That’s tough.”
“She is a proud woman,” Giles said. “She sees my attempt to leave as a betrayal, and, well, I’m not sure that I blame her.”
“Hey, Willow’s gonna put a word in for you, so, there’s still hope,” Xander said.
“You’re already making progress, Giles,” Anya put in.
Giles frowned. “What makes you think that?”
“Well,” Anya pointed out, “she was in your company for a whole two minutes there and she didn’t try to kill you even once.”
Disclaimer: extracts from the lyrics of ‘Chance’ by Big Country, ‘Homeward Bound’ by Simon and Garfunkel, ‘Run for Home’ by Lindisfarne, ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ by Peter Paul and Mary, ‘Take Me Bak ‘Ome’ by Slade, ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ by John Denver, and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ by Lynrd Skynyrd are used without permission and with no intent to claim ownership or profit from their use.