When Buffy opened her eyes, she immediately knew that Willow's spell had gone wrong.
For one, there was that odd tingling sensation which she attributed to her slayer senses - a subtle itch building at the base of her spine that told her that there was something wrong with the world. It was a feeling she had learned to recognise based on the experience gained from having been at the receiving end of more than one failed Willow-special.
But what most of all clued her in on the whole spell-going-awry business this time was that when she had closed her eyes - just to blink, because the rain was getting into her eyes - she had been in a small back alley, fighting two vampires back-to-back with Spike, and when she opened them, she was in a stable.
With a horse.
A beautiful white horse that was looking at her curiously with its head tilted to the side in an oddly familiar angle.
She whirled around to make sure that Spike - and the vampires they had been fighting - wasn't behind her. When a quick scan of the room confirmed that there were no vampires, neither friend nor foe, anywhere near, Buffy dropped her sword and took a tentative step towards the horse. The animal was looking at her warily but didn't seem to be afraid, and so she carefully reached out her hand to touch it. The horse whinnied gently, its hot breath ticking her palm as it nuzzled against her fingers.
She took a deep breath to calm herself, trying to swallow past the heavy lump rising in her throat as she gently petted the horse. "Spike? Is that you?"
"Over here, love."
Buffy jumped at the sound of his voice, startling the horse which reared back and crashed into the wooden wall of the stall. Her first thought was "But he didn't even move his lips!" until her brain caught up with her ears and informed her that the voice had actually come from behind her.
She turned around to see a familiar hand with black-laquered nails appear from behind a pile of wooden crates, followed by an equally familiar blond head. Spike ran his hand through his hair to brush away the straws caught in his curls and then looked around blearily until he spotted Buffy. "You planning on helping me up, or is this just a spectator sport?"
Almost laughing with relief, Buffy crossed the room with a few running steps. When she reached Spike, she took his hand and gently helped him to his feet. "Sorry, I thought you were a horse."
Spike swayed as he stood up, and Buffy wrapped her arm around his waist to support him, careful not to touch the large patch of blood on his side. He let out a hiss of pain and then gave her a confused look.
"A horse." She pointed at the animal that was still eyeing them suspiciously from the back of the stall. "That horse. I thought Willow's spell had gone wrong."
With her boyfriend securely in vampire-form, Buffy took a moment to have a better look at their surroundings. The air was thick with dust, and when she breathed, the overpowering smell of animals and straw made her nose tickle. There was very little light trickling in through the layers of dirt on the small windows, but she could see that they were standing in front of a row of wooden stalls, empty but for the one holding the white horse, while a tall pile of hay and stacked crates occupied most of the other side of the room. The various tools made of cast iron and leather hanging on the dirty walls gave the place the feel of an abandoned BDSM dungeon.
Buffy shrugged. "Well, more wrong."
As they shuffled their way around the crates, Spike put his weight on her, leaning down to whisper in her ear. "A stallion of your own, eh? What would-" He leaned further down and his brow creasing into a frown.
Suddenly he pulled away from her. "Oh, ha, bloody, ha, Slayer. The vampires could still be watching so let us not waste an opportunity to remind the world that Spike's a bloody gelding."
Buffy was used to his moodswings which had only seemed to grow worse since Angel's shanshu, but they were on a mission, stuck in a stable somewhere - and somewhen - that was not where they had been just five minutes earlier, and she did not have the time nor the patience to play "mollycoddle the vampire" as Spike would probably put it.
She grabbed Spike's arm to keep him from falling down on his face and forcibly guided him to sit down on one of the crates. They both winced as the movement aggravated the wound on his side, but she ignored the pang of guilt and just took his face between her hands to make him look her in the eye.
"What the hell are you talking about? And what's a gelding?"
He stared at her, his anger slowly fading to confusion, and then shook his head.
"Sorry pet, I'm just..." He closed his eyes and rubbed his neck. "Just feeling a bit strange, is all. It's like-" Looking at Buffy from under his lashes, he gave her an amused smile. "I'd say it feels like someone's walking on my grave, but that doesn't really work for a vampire." He shrugged. "Must be just the after effects of the spell. And getting a sword through my guts isn't helping either."
Buffy sat down next to him and gently pulled his coat away to have a better look at the wound. The hem of his shirt was soaked with blood and he winced when she pulled it up to see the wound. The wound itself was not as bad as she had feared, a clean cut that went straight through his abdomen, and though it was still bleeding, the blood was only sluggishly oozing from the wound. What did worry her, however, was the small web of what looked like black veins spreading from the wound towards his heart.
"Is it bad?" she asked, not entirely managing to keep the worry out of her voice.
Spike just shrugged again. Buffy couldn't help noticing that the gesture was smaller and more careful than before.
"Hurts like a bitch, but I'll manage. Just give me a mo and I'll be as good as new."
She nodded and gently covered the wound with his shirt again. "Willow said that the spell will return us to the exact moment when we left, so it doesn't matter how long we are here. We can rest for a bit before deciding what to do, wait for your vampy-healing midichlorians to start working."
Spike gave her a curious look. "Midichlorians?"
Buffy groaned. "I've been spending way too much time with Andrew, haven't I? When we get back, I'm going to make Giles promise that I never again have to make a mission plan with that little twerp. In fact, I'm going to make him promise I never have to make a mission plan, period. Because planning and Buffy are totally un-mixy things."
"Don't sell yourself short, pet. You've got plenty of planning skills. Just remember to schedule in a quickie or two, and you won't find me complaining."
She playfully swatted away the hand that was making its way up her thigh - a vampire shish-kebab he may be, but his libido was still very much unaffected - before continuing. "This one, I'm gonna blame on Andrew, though. I mean, I know technically this was probably all Willow's fault, but I'm sure I can come up with some way to blame this on him as well."
She carefully wrapped her arm around his waist and pulled him closer, ignoring the slippery touch of his bloodstained clothes. "So where is your grave, anyway?"
"That your idea of small talk, Slayer?" He chuckled. "Never had one, actually. Dru took me with her and buried me in the woods somewhere near Hampsted Heath. Wasn't gone long enough for anyone but my mother to miss me and when I came back, I-"
Buffy staggered at the absence of contact when Spike abruptly stood up and walked to the doors.
"We should leave," he said, glancing up at the small windows, "The sun's low so it must be late afternoon out there. We have to get going as soon as it's dark so we can get the cup and get back tonight."
Buffy sighed. She wanted to ask him to come back and tell her what was really going on, but he did have a point, even if his sudden sense of urgency seemed to be prompted by matters other than the actual facts of the mission. The longer they remained in the stables, the more likely they were to be caught by someone, and not even knowing when or where they currently were, she didn't particularly want to take that risk.
She stood up and picked up her sword from the floor.
"Do you still have the spell to get us back?" Spike asked.
Buffy fished the small leather pouch from her pocket and nodded.
The plan had been simple - at least as soon as Giles had locked Andrew out of the conference room, bringing to an end his lecture on the subject of "time travel as demonstrated by the Top 5 Star Trek episodes not featuring the Borg" - to find and bring back an artifact that Giles called "the Cup of Eternal Restoration, and the next person to call it the Grail will bloody well find out where the name Ripper comes from" which was the only thing left that could save a group of slayers poisoned by a vengeful witch.
The problem was that the cave that was supposed to hold the cup was now a construction site for a new shopping mall, and according to the various finding spells Willow and the coven had performed, the cup had been destroyed by the builders. The only way to retrieve the cup had then been to travel three months back in time to before the first work on the construction site had started.
Buffy looked at the small pouch in her hand. "We can't go back without the cup. According to Giles the ritual for the timetravel spell can't be performed again until next summer, so if we go back now, the girls will die before we can try again."
"How about the spell to get the Grail?" Spike asked, while surreptitiously trying to lean to the wall without her noticing. "Any idea if it'll still work even if we're not where we're supposed to be?".
"I think so. The spell's supposed to create an illusion of the cup in the cave to keep us from changing history. I don't think it has a time limit."
Spike nodded. "And according to Giles, no-one has touched the cup since the Middle Ages, so that shouldn't be a problem either." He pushed away from the wall. "C'mon. Let's find out if we're even in England any more."
Buffy walked to the door, opened it to a narrow slit, and looked out. The stable door opened into a shade, and she soon felt Spike behind her, leaning in for a look.
The street outside was definitely not the one they had left. Gone were the parked cars and colourful billboards, in their stead now a cobbled road with horse carriages rumbling past the stable every now and then. There weren't many people around either - she could see a two men talking in front of a small shop across the street and a woman with a small child walking past the stables. Ignoring the possibility that they had somehow ended up in the middle of a really weird ren fair, based on the clothes the people were wearing Buffy concluded that they had been transported to a time period which she could confidently call "history", or possibly "the olden times". For anything more specific, she would need to ask Spike.
She turned around, only to bump into Spike. He was frozen in place, still staring at something on the street outside, looking like he had just seen a ghost. Buffy quickly glanced behind her to see what had shocked him, but she could see nothing that should have elicited such a reaction from him.
She touched his arm, trying to catch his attention. "Spike? What's wrong?"
Spike's fingers splintered the wood as he held onto the frame. "That..." He looked down at her, his eyes wide and terrified. "That was my mum."