Headlights in a Rainy Street
DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Sting’s, “Tomorrow We’ll See.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Xander has learned more of Spike’s situation and agreed to help him out, arranging to take him back to London just as Hanif said he would…
An hour outside of Heathrow, Xander started to have serious doubts about his decision. Storms pummeled the plane almost as soon as they left Cairo, making the aircraft drop and rock for most of the duration of the flight, and in the seat beside him, Spike clung to his armrest as if his life depended on it, his face decidedly green. Both Xander and Hanif had warned him of the possibilities while flying, but he had been adamant about continuing. Now, though, he seemed to regret his choice.
Xander, on the other hand, had long ago grown accustomed to turbulent flights, and sat through the tumult with the cast-iron stomach that had served him well during his high school years. The chaos to which he was succumbing was inside his head, caused first and foremost by the confusion of his traveling companion’s true identity. To his face, Xander had finally capitulated in calling him William, but he was still Spike in Xander’s thoughts, in spite of the obvious differences in manner and speech. And because it was Spike, Xander had lived much of the past two days in memories of Sunnydale.
He had no illusions that all had been mended between him and Anya by those last few days and nights. Too much had happened, too many words said, too many things done, for it all to be erased by a few warm smiles and one amazing night on the Summers’ kitchen floor. He didn’t know what Anya had expected to happen after the big fight in the Hellmouth, but Xander had been looking forward to trying to figure out what exactly was in store for them. Friends at the very least. Hopefully more. They had both learned a lot over that last year.
Except Anya hadn’t come out of the Hellmouth.
Neither did a part of Xander’s heart.
He’d dealt with it as best he could, throwing himself over-enthusiastically into everything that was asked of him. One-eyed carpenters weren’t in high demand in the job market, and it had seemed like an excellent opportunity to see some of the world. Life had grown easier with each passing country. Simpler.
He liked simple.
Then Spike had come along, and it had all come rushing back to Xander. For the first time in three years, he had to face the fact that Anya would forever be his one failure. There would be no more chances of redemption with her, no more opportunities for apology. He would have to live with the consequences of her death for the rest of his life.
He hated Spike a little bit for making him see that now.
What concerned him at the moment, however, was not his own reaction to seeing the presumed-dead vampire. It was how it was going to impact on those who’d actually cared about Spike. Dawn. Buffy. The only thing that was alleviating his worry was the fact that it wasn’t going to happen right away. Xander would have time to figure out with Willow and Giles how best to break the news to the Summers women. Hopefully, they could stall it for a few weeks while Spike regained a little bit of confidence about being in the real world again. They didn’t need him freaking out when he saw Buffy for the first time. The poor guy was convinced she was going to kill him again.
He left him at the Thistle Hotel around the corner from the new Council Headquarters. It was the preferred accommodation for Council employees due to its proximity from the offices, but Xander had been reluctant to use it when Willow first made the suggestion.
“Why can’t I just stay at the airport?” he said. Taking a room in the city implied a longer stay than he really wanted to commit to. All he wanted to do was drop Spike off on Willow and Giles’ doorstep and get his ass back to Africa. Let London have the ghosts for awhile.
“It’s too far,” she explained. “We haven’t seen you in three years and I have major catching up I want to do. This will put you practically on our doorstep. Plus, we get a discount, which always makes Giles happy, you know.”
So he caved, even when he didn’t want to. When Spike’s face lit up at the sight of the park across the street from the hotel, the first positive reaction he’d had since leaving Cairo, Xander decided that maybe it was better this way after all. The unexpected familiarity of the locale would have a soothing effect on his companion’s unsettled nerves, even if the constant drizzle and darkening gray of the sky was dragging down Xander’s at the same time.
“I’m only going to be gone for an hour,” he said as they got to their room. It was small but clean, two twin beds nearly filling the space. A small TV was on the desk and he turned it on, clipped BBC accents filling the air. “I need to lay the groundwork for Willow and Giles seeing you for the first time. I’ll be back before you can get too comfortable.”
Spike nodded, suddenly absorbed in the six o’clock news that was now playing. Xander left him like that, standing in front of the television, eyes intent on the flickering images. It seemed that some things never changed.
He wasn’t entirely certain how he was going to tell them about Spike. He’d chickened out from doing it on the phone, especially when Willow had sounded so glad that he was coming to London for the first time. It was bad enough he’d had to accompany Spike, but there was no way the Englishman was up to doing the trip on his own, and Hanif had adamantly refused to come along. In the end, he decided he’d just play it by ear. He’d been doing that for over three years now; it hadn’t failed him yet.
Willow’s arms were around his neck before he’d even lowered his hand from knocking, the door thrown open as if she’d been lying in wait on its other side. Automatically, Xander hugged her back, and as he bent his head to accommodate her shorter stature, he got a strong whiff of good ol’ eau de Willow, that unique mixture of strawberry scented shampoo, sage, and soap that was all her.
He squeezed his eye shut against the sudden rush of tears. God, he didn’t think anything had ever smelled this good before in his life.
There were jokes and smiles and more hugs as she pulled him across the threshold, leaving the wet London evening behind to embrace a rush of heat and smoke that could only be caused by a real fire. Xander’s smile was genuine by the time he entered the study, and when he saw Giles rise from the large desk in its corner, it grew only wider.
“I have this overwhelming urge to call you the prodigal son,” Giles remarked as he stepped from behind the desk.
“Well, I’ve been called worse,” Xander joked. “And that was just today.”
They didn’t bother with handshakes, opting instead for hugs that had been more commonplace the longer they’d lived on the Hellmouth. When they pulled apart, Xander noted the added gray at Giles’ temples, the deeper lines around his mouth. Of course, time would have taken its toll on the Watcher; a lot had transpired since they’d all left Sunnydale behind. It was oddly reassuring to see that Xander wasn’t the only one who’d changed.
Willow, on the other hand, looked mostly the same. She’d cut her hair short again, and her eyes were still bright and chirpy beneath the jagged fringe of her bangs. That was a relief. Though it had been two years since Kennedy had been killed in Bolivia, Xander had half-expected to see the same haunting in Willow’s eyes that had dulled them after Tara’s death. He knew she still wasn’t involved with anyone so it seemed as good a conclusion as any. It was good to see he’d been wrong.
“Tea or whisky?” Giles asked, crossing to the sideboard.
“In this weather? I’ll take the whisky.”
“I guess it’s a little wetter here than you’re used to,” Willow said with a hint of apology.
“It’s not the wet, it’s the gray,” Xander replied. He took the tumbler of amber reprieve from Giles and downed it one gulp. A rush of fire spread down his gullet, burning away some of his worries, and he opened his eye again to see the room bathed in richer tones. “You know I’ve always been more of a pastel kind of guy.”
They all chuckled, and scattered to sit, Willow curling up in the corner of the divan, Giles perching on the edge of the desk. Xander chose the chair by the fireplace. The heat it radiated gave him a slight sense of being back home.
He didn’t even get a chance to breathe. She started in with questions about Africa, about what he’d seen, what he’d done, all of the details that had been so spare in their other conversations. The words came fast and flibbertegibbety as if no time at all had passed since he’d last seen her, but Xander settled into the old familiar rhythm with an ease that should’ve been frightening if he’d bothered to think about it. Giles stayed on the periphery, offering the occasional anecdote to supplement Willow’s excitement, and refilled Xander’s tumbler without waiting for the request to do so.
Minutes passed. Everyone smiled, everyone talked. It all went by with a dreamlike blur until Giles finally asked the question.
“What I find curious,” he said, “is what could prove so important that you felt you had to bring it to us personally.”
Xander stiffened, and glanced at his watch. Those few minutes of chitchat had somehow already stretched into an hour. He hadn’t even brought up the issue of Spike yet. Damn it.
“Xander?” Willow prompted. Her smile had faded, and a tiny line appeared between her brows. “It’s not about Hanif, is it?”
“No.” He took a deep breath. There was only one way to do this. “It’s about Spike.”
It started out the same. But then…
He opened his eyes, her voice still echoing in his ears, all whispery and suggestive and willing him to rise from the awkward seated position in which he’d awoken. But instead of the books, instead of the known order of a paper world that existed only in people’s heads, there was the imposed sterility of another home, one that wasn’t his.
It wasn’t hers either, so there were still steps to be taken.
Up. Out. Down the hall.
Beneath the golden tones of her voice, he could hear the faraway patter of rain. The bare window at the end of the corridor blinked back at him in ebony. Nighttime. Fitting. He belonged in the dark, like the creatures he could hear scuttling about his feet. The light had banished him long ago, though he would walk to its farthest corners if it meant he could find her again.
The stairs made him hesitate. Tilting his head, he listened, straining to determine from which direction she called to him. It wasn’t just his location that was different now; it was the triangulation of her words, coming at him louder and clearer than it ever had before. That could only mean one thing, but that was something he couldn’t afford, not any more, not until he found her again.
He ignored the second voice he heard. That one gave him a headache. He just pushed the door of the stairwell open and began the descent to the street below.
Rain slicked the road ahead of the taxi, but it wasn’t enough to slow the weaving of the vehicle through the London traffic. Buffy stared out her window, watching the puddles splatter onto the sidewalk as the cab cut through them, but not even the darkening damp was enough to quell her good mood.
Xander was here. In just a few short hours, maybe even sooner, she’d get to see him. Until now, she hadn’t realized just how badly she wanted to see him again. Thank god Willow had called to let her know.
The comforting squeeze of her hand yanked her attention away from the window and back to the car’s other occupants. In the lone seat directly behind the driver, Dawn bounced like a little girl, eyes gleaming in excitement, while next to Buffy sat Judd, the latest of what Dawn called the Buffy Boyfriend Brigade. Dark-haired and dark-eyed, he was long and lean with limbs that always seemed to need more space than he was allowed. They didn’t make him clumsy, but one of the things Buffy liked most about Judd was that he wasn’t as into being the most physically commanding guy in the room, unlike most of the others she’d dated in the past.
He was smiling at her now, giving her assurance when she didn’t really need it. “Don’t be homesick,” he said, completely misreading the purpose of her absorption in the passing scenery.
“How could she be homesick?” Dawn exclaimed, saving Buffy from having to reply. “We get to see Xander. Do you have any idea how huge this is?”
“It doesn’t mean she can’t miss home, even a little bit,” Judd countered. It was impossible for him not to have the last word. Buffy usually let it slide, but it always managed to set Dawn on edge.
“It’s just hard for this California girl to get used to all the rain,” Buffy interjected before it could get ugly. “I don’t know how Willow and Giles can put up with it.”
“Cute galoshes,” Dawn said. “That’s what it takes. I bet Willow’s have ducks on them.”
“Funny, but I don’t see Giles wearing pink rubber boots,” Buffy said.
“That’s because you weren’t here last year for Willow’s birthday. She completely dared him to dress up like Frankenfurter from Rocky Horror. I don’t think Giles was expecting her to have a camera when he walked out in the corset and high heels, though.”
Buffy’s eyes widened as Judd snickered. “Remind me to ask Willow to keep that particular photo album packed away this time,” she said. “There are certain things I’m still in denial about.”
“Let’s just hope that your old friend Xander doesn’t show up in fishnets, then,” Judd kidded.
The cab fell into silence after that, his attempt at humor failing miserably. To tell the truth, Buffy would’ve preferred this reunion to happen with just the old gang, but Judd had been at the apartment when Willow had called, and he’d bought his own plane ticket and everything. She couldn’t very well tell him no, sorry, I know you want to be a bigger part of my life and this sure merits as one of the biggies for now, but I’d really rather you stayed behind because I’m not sure how much longer you’re going to be around anyway. It wasn’t that she didn’t like him. She just wasn’t sure she liked him enough.
At least she wouldn’t have to share a room with him at the hotel. Willow had only booked the one room for Buffy and Dawn at the Thistle around the corner from the Council offices; Judd hadn’t been able to get anything switched around in time for his arrival as well. He joked that they would have to sneak out and hide in housekeeping’s closet in order to get some quality make-out time, but secretly, Buffy was relieved. This trip was about Xander, not clandestine kisses with her boyfriend.
She saw the hotel in the distance, and had the door open almost before the taxi had coasted to a stop across the street. The rain pelted from overhead, already starting to soak her hair, and Buffy ducked her head, trying to cover it with her purse, as she crossed in front of the car and through the headlights toward the lobby doors.
Her eyes were on the slick cement of the street, so she never even saw the man before he bumped into her. The force of the jolt made her heel slip, but strong hands shot out and gripped her at the elbows, steadying her before she could fall over.
That’s when she saw his feet. Sandals. What idiot wore sandals this time of year, especially in London? There was a thick bandaid over one of the toes, soaked through from the puddle in which he stood. A clumsy idiot, apparently.
Buffy’s gaze swept upward, the irritated retort ready on her tongue.
Khakis over slim hips.
A white shirt, once crisp, now stained with raindrops.
The bowed head as he looked down at their feet, his dark blond hair drooping and curling from the wet.
His head lifted before she could speak, and the rejoinder died before she could utter it. Blue eyes bored into her, blue eyes she hadn’t seen beyond the realm of her dreams for the past three years. Rain clung to those impossibly long lashes, glistening as she stared at him in disbelief.
“Spike?” Buffy whispered.
To be continued in Chapter 6: The Sacred Geometry of Chance…
I fly back to CA tomorrow, so this will be the last chapter posted for a couple days. Well, until Saturday most likely. Just so you know. :)
Thanks to everyone for all the wonderful support on this one so far!