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Patricia de Lioncourt [userpic]

Fic: The Funny Thing About Keys (21/25)

Author Name: Patriciatepes (Patricia de Lioncourt )

Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Batman: the Animated Series

Rating: PG-13

Characters: Dawn Summers, The Joker, Nightwing/Dick Grayson, Batman, Giles, Willow, Xander, Buffy Summers, OCs, several minor scenes with major characters

Pairing: Dawn/Nightwing (Dick Grayson)

Chapter Links: Prev | Next

Warnings: (for all chapters) Torture, swearing

Summary: When Buffy is poisoned and dying, Dawn is left no choice but to go to Gotham for the cure that she is told is too dangerous to retrieve. Time is on her side... too bad the universe isn't.

Disclaimer: I don't own Buffy, Batman, or any related characters. They belong to Whedon, DC Comics, and WB. No money made here.

Author's Notes: Art by the wonderful 20thcenturyvole. I started this story long, long ago, and decided to finish it for the wipbigbang.  I do author's notes every chapter on fanfiction (dot) net, but I'll only copy the relevant ones here.


Chapter 21- Precious Time

"Damn it," Willow muttered under her breath.

The sound of a fluttering cape alerted her that Batman had re-emerged from his shadowy search of the warehouse that she, the Dark Knight, and the rest of their group, sans Nightwing, had entered. She turned, finding that the only part of Batman's face that was visible was clearly pulled into a tight grimace. Granted, it always seemed to look like that, but this time, Willow just knew that it was warranted. Batman's gloved right hand appeared out from underneath his cape, and he tossed a tiny object that caught what little light that the building had to the witch. She caught it with minimal fumbling—and she found herself wishing that that was one area she could feel a bit "cooler" in—and groaned when she saw what it was.

"Something's wrong," Batman noted.

Willow nodded. It was a glass slide, like the kind one would use in a microscope. A single droplet of blood was pressed between the two pieces of glass, and etched into either side of the drop were symbols that Willow recognized.

"Anchors," she answered. "Damn it all."

Robin, Giles, and Xander emerged from the shadows now, with Xander shaking his head.

"Those doors are something other than just 'locked.' But one thing's for sure… we're stuck in here," he said, his one eye briefly searching the area before coming to rest on Willow once again.

"And we're the only ones. No sign that Joker, or Dawn, were ever here," Robin put in.

"No, he wouldn't be here. We've been duped," Willow said, tossing the slide to Giles with a brief word of "catch."

The watcher caught the glass-bound drop of blood and groaned. "Anchors. Bloody brilliant."

Robin arched a brow. "Anchors? What does that mean?"

Willow sighed, crossing her arms. "It means that instead of my scry searching for the Joker and finding him, it found the piece of him that was anchored. Joker is already very difficult to search for, given his crazy, so whoever put that slide in this warehouse anchored any scrying to it, instead of the clown."

Xander groaned. "Which means that Dawn—"

"And Joker—" Giles added.

Willow nodded. "Are in the proverbial wind. And on top of that? It means that someone else doesn't want us to find them. Unless someone wants to tell me that Joker is an accomplished sorcerer?"

Batman shook his head. "Joker has little, if any, experience in the mystical."

"That's what I thought. To think, though, for just a second there, I was hoping your answer would be the opposite," Willow huffed.

"So, no Joker? And where's Nightwing, by the way?" Robin asked.

Xander turned to the Boy Wonder. "Wasn't he taking the roof or something?"

"Surely he would've checked in by now?" Giles noted.

Batman nodded. "You're absolutely right." He put a hand to the ear of his cowl. "Nightwing? Nightwing, come in? Nightwing, check in!"

Static loud enough for those around the Dark Knight to hear was his only reply, and he removed his hand from the transmitter in his mask with a hiss. Giles sighed.

"Something's rotten in the state of Denmark, it would seem," the watcher noted.

"Way to go Shakespeare on us, British Man," Xander chuckled.

Giles and Willow both turned surprised eyes to their one-eyed friend, who grinned proudly.

"That's right. I know Hamlet. What of it?" he challenged, puffing out his chest.

Willow shook her head. "O-kay. I'm gonna try and scry for Joker again. Batman, wouldn't happen to have a map in that belt of yours, do you?"

Batman clicked a button on the left side of his belt, producing the world's tiniest folded map. He worked on unfolding it—which revealed its growing size—while Willow dug into her pocket for the scrying crystal she had—thankfully—thought to bring in with her. Batman spread the map on the floor, and Willow sat cross-legged in front of it, dangling the pointed crystal from its long silver chain over the center of the map. She began to mutter in Latin, motioning to Giles for the slide of Joker's blood. He handed it over, and Willow managed to pry it open, dropping the blood onto the map. For good measure, she destroyed the glass, and thus the anchoring spell.

The chain began to swing back and forward of its own accord, growing in speed and momentum. Then, suddenly, it switched to a left and right pace, and, finally, it swung in a wild circle. Willow stopped chanting, which brought the swinging chain to an unnatural and abrupt stop. She groaned.

"Someone's enacted another spell. They must have taken another sample of Joker's blood and spread it all over or something. It's like he's everywhere and nowhere all at once."

Batman pulled out a small, handheld device, glancing at its screen. He growled softly under his breath.

"I have a tracker on Nightwing… but it's not reading. Something's jamming it. And that does not happen easily on my equipment."

"Can you scry for Nightwing?" Robin asked.

She pursed her lips. "Do you have anything that belongs to him?"

Robin nodded and pulled one of Nightwing's version of Batman's batarangs out of his utility belt. Willow's brow furrowed, and Robin shrugged.

"I picked it up from a fight we were in the other night. I just haven't thought to give it back yet."

Willow shrugged, taking the proffered weapon. "Works for me. I'll give it a shot."

She repeated the process she had before, and this time, while the crystal still couldn't settle, its swinging was a bit more… controlled. Well, in all honestly, in Willow's opinion, it was more like controlled confusion. It circled over a small area of the map, but the area it circled was, in fact, quite large in real life terms.

"Nothing," Willow all but yelled in frustration, trying desperately not to throw her crystal. "There's gotta be a spell on this building. This scry was different, but still unclear. Whatever is keeping us in here is keeping us from finding anyone, let alone Dawn and Joker."

"We could blow the door," Robin said, pulling a small bit of explosive out of his belt.

"Whoa! Is that even safe?" Xander said, throwing up his hands.

"Best not," Giles said. "There's no way of knowing how the spell would react to such an assault. Our wizard may have thought of such a precaution, given your mentor's reputation in this city."

"Something bigger is going on here. Something we didn't know about when Joker kidnapped Dawn," Willow muttered.

"Okay… so… if we can't blow the door… and if there's a spell keeping us in here… how do we get out?" Robin asked.

Xander grinned and clapped the young hero on the shoulder. This garnered him a rather fearsome look from the young man, and Xander chuckled nervously.

"Ahem. Well, this is where the fact that we have the world's most powerful sorceress comes in handy. If anyone can bust this spell wide open, it's our Will," Xander noted.

Willow was close to blushing. Relaxing into a more meditative pose, she smiled up at the Dark Knight and Boy Wonder.

"I don't know about 'most powerful,' but I've done some huge crap. This wizard has absolutely no idea who he's messing with. And worse yet? He's messing with family. I'll have us out of here in a jiff, then we can hunt this guy down and kick his ass."

With that, she let her eyes slide shut and began to chant. She could almost hear the proud grin in Xander's voice as he remarked, "That's our girl."

#

Buffy was worse. Any fool could see that. And, worse yet, Andrew couldn't find Willow, Giles, Xander, or Dawn to get their expert opinions on what the hell to do with the now near delusional leader of the slayers. So, instead, Andrew and a couple of the mid-grade slayers (not too new, but definitely not a part of the group that had headed into the Hellmouth) stood over Buffy's hospital bed, watching the blonde woman writhe. She was speaking almost constantly and feverishly, her head lolling from side to side, unable to focus.

"I need Willow. Where's Dawn? Xander? Giles? Please! Where are they? I need them! I need them now!" Buffy muttered, her volume varying between whispering and screaming.

The darker haired slayer that stood with Andrew who reminded him of some sort of pixie warrior in looks glanced worriedly down at her leader.

"We d-don't know, Buffy. We think they've gone to Gotham," she answered. "But they're not here."

"Spells. Spells, spell, spells. Spells!" Buffy repeated.

The pixie slayer glanced to Andrew, shrugging. Andrew sighed.

"We've tried all sorts of spells, Buffy. We just can't find any of them. I'm sorry," he answered.

Buffy replied in grunts, whines, and groans, her tossing and writhing growing a bit more violent. The other slayer standing with Andrew, a pretty blonde with almost abnormally long and thick hair, spoke up.

"Maybe a few of us could go to Gotham. Try to find them," she offered.

"No!" Buffy screamed, reaching out and grabbing the girl by the front of her blouse.

"Ah! Buffy! Let go!" Andrew pleaded as the captured slayer struggled.

"Why?" the caught slayer yelled over Buffy's continual yelling of "no."

"Yeah," the pixie slayer said. "Why can't we go? We could cure you, Buffy!"

"No!" Buffy screamed until she was hoarse, finally letting go of her fellow slayer.

The recently released slayer backed a few paces away from the bed for good measure. She shook her head.

"Why not?"

"No," Buffy whispered now. "Can't. Can't go. Dangerous."

Buffy was relaxing now, drifting off into what brief amount of sleep she was getting these days. Andrew shook his head.

"It doesn't make any sense," he murmured. "This isn't like her. And we don't even know for sure that that's where Willow and the group went."

"Well, I hope they did," pixie slayer said. "Because Buffy's worse and her forbidding anybody to go to Gotham is damn stupid."

"But she is the boss," the other slayer said.

Andrew sighed, nodding. "Yeah. The boss."

#

"And that's it in a nutshell," Dawn finished, sighing.

Nightwing shook his head. "So, you're absolutely sure what you found on the computer was about you, about the Key?"

Dawn huffed. "Have some experience with this stuff, Nightwing. So you'll excuse me if I won't even dignify that with a real answer."

Nightwing grinned, and Dawn found herself seeing Dick's unmasked, handsome face in her mind's eye instead of what was actually in front of her.

"Fair enough. But if Joker is researching you, then it's gone from bad to worse. Not to mention this dead-not-dead warlock chasing after you."

Dawn nodded. "Tell me about it. Cane's been popping up more often than a whack-a-mole game. And now Joker knows why Cane wants me."

Here, Nightwing's brow furrowed. "A malleable poison, able to do… what? Other than kill without an antidote?"

"Too much crazy for me, I'm afraid. I have no idea what that nutbag means by that, but I'm pretty sure I don't get to survive it," Dawn groaned.

"That's a grim outlook," Nightwing muttered.

Dawn laughed. "And that's not even the worst case scenario in my brain. Life of being the Key-slash-slayer's sister."

The two were silent for a moment. The yellowed lights overhead buzzed like insects, filling the space between the two of them. Dawn sighed, taking a quick glance about the shadowed room before turning back to Nightwing.

"So, this is a rather hopeful question, but… you don't happen to have a plan of escape, do you?"

"Gee," the Joker's familiar voice sounded from behind them. "I hope not."

He entered into their view, arms laden with Chinese take-out boxes. He used one of his feet to kick another chair around so that it faced his two hostages. He took a seat, maneuvering the boxes so that one hand became freed, and he used that hand to reach into the shadows and pull forth what looked like a silver medical tray, like the kind doctors used in surgery. Where that had come from, or how Joker had known it would be there, Dawn had no idea. But Joker sat his food down confidently upon it, and turned back toward them.

"Want some?" he offered. "I got plenty."

Nightwing sneered, and Dawn shook her head. Joker shrugged.

"More for me, then," he noted, pulling open a pair of wooden chopsticks and cracking open a box of what smelled like fried rice.

Dawn's stomach growled. She couldn't remember the last time she had eaten something. But something told her that accepting food from her captor was in the top five list of "Stupidest Hostage Moves Ever." And, not to mention, it brought back memories of a scene in a movie called The Golden Child that killed her appetite pretty quickly.

"So, what's the plan here, Joker?" Nightwing asked.

Joker swallowed a mouthful of rice. "Hmm?"

Nightwing grinned. "Don't play stupid. Although, I have to admit, from what I've heard, you've been doing that a lot lately."

Joker growled, his eyes flashing at the hero. "Careful, boy. You wouldn't want something to happen to the pretty girl here, would you?"

Nightwing shrugged, which Dawn thought was horribly inappropriate timing for that move. "I'm just wondering… why were you researching Dawn? Or rather, why were you researching the Key?"

Joker arched a brow, his glance sliding to Dawn before returning to Nightwing.

"Told you about that, did she? Well, you had an easier time getting that information out of her than I did. She must have a crush on you."

Dawn had left out the torture when she had caught Nightwing up. And now, he was picking up on the Joker's subtext. His teeth gritted together, ever so slightly, and Dawn was really hoping that he would remember to keep his focus.

"Why, Joker? What possible use could you have for a mystical Key?" Nightwing demanded.

Joker sighed. "Just information I feel I ought to have, Wingy."

"It's nice to be informed, isn't Joker?" Cane's voice rang out from the shadows.

Nightwing went rigid with alert, while Joker and Dawn both groaned and muttered, "Not again."

The rotund warlock stepped into the light on Nightwing's far side, putting him away from Dawn, but not far enough in her opinion. Joker didn't even bother to stand, though he did set his Chinese food aside.

"My, my. You just can't stay dead, can you? I know I shot you, and I doubt you're wearing body armor. Are you really that fat that the bullet didn't hit its mark?" Joker chuckled.

"Fat jokes, Joker? They're really on the level of knock-knock jokes. A little under par for you, don't you think?" Cane remarked.

Joker shrugged. "It's been a long night. So, what brings you to my… what… third attempt at a hideout?"

Dawn had a feeling she knew the answer to this question already, and she was trying her best to wiggle any room she could get out of her ropes. But so far, it was of no use. Cane grinned at her, as if to say that he saw what she was doing there, but said nothing on the subject. Instead, he put his attention back on Joker.

"I've come for my Key. You can keep the bird, but the Key is leaving with me," Cane said.

Joker laughed, long and hard. When he finally calmed, he sighed, wiping away a fake tear.

"Leaving with the Key, huh? How's that been working out for you so far?"

"Leave Dawn alone," Nightwing warned.

Cane chuckled. "Or what? You'll glare me to death?"

"My friends are here in Gotham, Cane. They won't let you get away with this," Dawn chimed in.

"Oh, I know all about your friends. Currently, I have them holed up in another abandoned warehouse. I know that Miss Rosenberg will, undoubtly, be able to bust free, but I hope to be long gone by then."

"Abandoned warehouse? Seriously, how bad is this city's economy?" Dawn mumbled.

Cane ignored her, putting his attention back on Joker. "You pose no threat to me, clown. You've already seen that I can survive a bullet. And I'm a master of poisons, so your toxin will do so little as to illicit so much as a chuckle from me. Give me the girl, or die regretting your decision."

Joker nodded. "Very true. Apparently you are bullet proof. So, yeah, I don't pose much of a threat to you. But what about her?"

With that, Joker lifted his pistol from his side, placing the barrel right on Dawn's temple. He cocked the gun. Cane shook his head.

"Surely you've deduced that the Key must be alive for me to make any use of her, at least initially. You crave power as I do, Joker. You wouldn't dare kill her."

Joker applied a tiny bit more pressure on Dawn's temple with the gun. "Wouldn't I?"

"Don't do this," Nightwing said.

Dawn closed her eyes. She didn't know why. If she was about to have her head blown off from the side, it wasn't like she was actually going to witness it happening. But it seemed to be her body's natural reaction to the stress, so she went with it, praying while she was at it that the gun wouldn't be the thing that finally took her life.

After what seemed like an eternity, Dawn finally heard Cane sigh.

"Very well. What are your demands, Joker?"

Dawn's eyes flew open as Joker retracted the gun. She glanced over at the homicidal clown.

"I want in on this little poison plan of yours," he said.

Nightwing shook his head. "Don't do this, Cane. Make the smart decision here."

Cane arched his brow at the Joker. "Is that all?"

"Sounds like fun, really," Joker commented.

Cane laughed, grinning. "Deal."

"Shit," Dawn muttered.

"Yeah. I know," Nightwing replied.


End Notes: Like we didn't know this was going to happen eventually, right? But, yeah, that happened. Poor Dawn. Also, on the Joker calling Nightwing "Wingy," I'm not sure if this has ever actually happened in canon, like in the comics or anything. I know that in Darkwing Duck, Gizmoduck calls Darkwing "Wingy," but for some reason, I can just hear the Joker calling Nightwing this.

Fun Fact: Last chapter's title was inspired by "I Can't Decide" by the Sisscor Sisters. I totally picture the Joker just singing away when this song comes on. Also, if any of you have not seen The Golden Child, it's on Netflix—I think—and I highly recommend it. Definitely a movie from my childhood, and I'm referring, in this chapter, to the scene with the oatmeal. You'll know it when you see it.