Dance with the Invisible Ones
DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Sting’s, “They Dance Alone.” Some remembered dialogue taken directly from “Chosen.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Dawn has convinced Xander to get away for the day, while Spike/William has offered to help research the amulet while they wait for word from Wesley…
Time had not made research any easier for Buffy. She still fidgeted, she still doodled, she still found the entire process excruciatingly brain and butt numbing. Even with as serious a subject as the issue of Spike’s resurrection at hand, she had problems concentrating. She just wanted to get the answers and get on with what she had to do. Even if she wasn’t entirely sure what that had to do actually was.
Answers came sooner, rather than later, with an electronic whimper and not a bang. Somehow, Buffy thought someone who died saving the world deserved something with a little more flash.
“Wesley just e-mailed me,” Willow announced from the desk in the corner.
All heads turned, but it was Buffy who rose to her feet.
“What does he say?” she asked.
“Not a whole lot. He’s attached a few documents, stuff he says were internal memos at Wolfram and Hart back when Angel first got the amulet. He says it’s the best he can give us.”
“Does he say who his contact is for this information?” Giles asked, concerned.
Willow was busy clicking away at her laptop. “Just an old friend. Someone who owed him a few favors, I guess. The e-mail he forwarded it from says ‘L. Morgan.’” Silence filled the room while she worked at the computer, her gaze jumping across the screen as she scanned the documents. Her mouth made a tiny o, and her eyes widened, but she stayed silent as she continued to read.
“Sharing with the rest of the class would be highly appreciated right about now,” Buffy said impatiently.
“Oh. Right.” Turning to face the group, Willow’s eyes glittered with the delight of having new information. “Apparently, the amulet was all a ploy to get rid of Angel, once and for all. They gave it to him, assuming he’d be the one to use it in the battle with the First.”
“What was it supposed to do?” Giles asked.
“Exactly what they told him it would. It was created to act as a purifier. The ultimate mystical cleanser. Not only was it going to kill the First’s army, but basically, what they really wanted it to do was soft scrub the demon right out of the champion who wore it.”
Silence again, only this time it wasn’t the heavy anticipatory quiet of waiting for bad news. Now, each of the group digested the small tidbit of information, turning it over and over to try and fit it into his or her world picture.
“And since vampires are hybrids, without his demon, Angel would’ve been rendered human,” Giles mused. “Or Spike, as the case may be.”
“I’m sorry,” Spike said, speaking up for the first time since settling in with the research. “Did you say…champion?”
Buffy twisted to look at him. His brow was wrinkled, his eyes confused. “Were you not listening to me when I mentioned the saving the world bit?” she teased.
He colored at her gentle gibe. “You said…but I didn’t presume…”
“I chose you to wear the amulet for a reason,” she said. “You deserve being called a champion.”
Giles cleared his throat. “I imagine Wolfram and Hart thought they would be able to dispose of Angel far easier if he were human,” he said. “But why send the amulet to Hanif?”
“They thought the Watcher’s Council would be the ones most likely to enact some sort of punishment, because of everything he did as Angelus,” Willow replied. “And Hanif was one of the few they could find.”
“But…nothing happened,” Spike said.
A guilty flush stained Willow’s cheeks, and her eyes darted nervously back to her laptop. “Yeah, well, that’s because Angel didn’t wear it,” she said. “When he showed up back in LA and he was still all fangy, they cancelled their plans to follow up on what happened with the amulet.”
The pained disappointment in Spike’s voice drew Buffy to his side. “But that’s a good thing,” she argued. “Because that meant you’ve been safe for the past three years. That means…you’re safe now.”
But he didn’t believe her. She could tell that even if she didn’t already know how to read him.
With a heavy sigh, Giles leaned back in his chair, closing the book on his lap with a loud thump. “Well, that was rather…anti-climactic,” he said. “Though, truthfully, I’m grateful there’s not another apocalypse attached to this one. We have enough to worry about with Inland Revenue at the moment.”
“Not to mention Andrew’s due back from Wales any day,” Willow said. “We’ll be able to get back to that translation now---.”
“Wait a minute.” Buffy couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “That’s it? An e-mail from Wesley and you’re ready to call it a day?”
She wanted to scream when she saw Willow and Giles exchange a look. It was the one which said, Do you want to deal with the stupid Slayer, or should I? She hated that look.
“There’s nothing left for us to,” Giles said gently. “The point was to discover why exactly Spike is human now. We’ve done that.”
“But…” There had to be a but. Something was still wrong about this whole situation; she just couldn’t put her finger on it.
“I think you’re mistaken, sir.” Nobody was more surprised than Buffy when Spike spoke up, though, for once, he didn’t quail beneath their gazes when they turned to him. “There is still the issue of my nightmares. If this amulet was to cleanse me of the demon, why would my memories of those days still be haunting me in my dreams?”
She pointed excitedly at Spike. “There! That’s my but!”
Everyone except Buffy frowned, but her enthusiasm was impossible to ignore. “Perhaps it’s some sort of kinesthetic memory recall,” Giles said.
“That doesn’t explain why he’s trying to find me,” Buffy argued.
“Or why he only communicates in poetry while he’s sleepwalking,” Willow conceded. “Nothing Wesley sent even hints that those might be other effects to the amulet. As far as Wolfram and Hart was concerned, it was just a people maker. No sleepwalking on the side.”
“I have no idea, then,” he conceded. “Unless Spike utilized the amulet’s power incorrectly.”
OK, that was just annoying. “It didn’t exactly come with an instruction manual, Giles,” Buffy said. “It didn’t even start working right away. We were in the middle of the fight when it started doing its glowy thing, and then the walls were coming down around us, and Spike was pretty much pinned there by the power in it.”
“Wait.” Setting aside his book, Spike rose from his seat and walked over to where Buffy stood, keeping his eyes locked on hers while he reached carefully for her left hand. His fingertips brushed over her scar as he turned it palm-up, and then held his right hand in the same position so that his scars could be visible as well. “How is it we came to get these, then?”
Her throat grew tight. “I took your hand,” Buffy whispered. All she could see was the deep blue of his eyes. It had been all she could see down in the Hellmouth, too.
Giles seemed to understand where Spike was going with this, and slowly rose to his feet. “Buffy…did you do something to…interrupt what the amulet was trying to accomplish?”
She thought for a moment that she could feel the flames licking at her skin again, but then realized it was just the sensation of Spike’s fingers unconsciously caressing the back of her hand.
“What happened?” he murmured. “Please…tell me.”
I love you.
No, you don’t, but thanks for saying it.
“The ground started to shake when the light shot out of the amulet.” How could she sound so calm when her heart was skittering beyond her control? “Faith was trying to get everybody out, and when it was just me left, Spike started in on it, too.”
“But you wouldn’t go,” Spike said.
Her eyes widened. “How’d you know that?”
He smiled, softly, gently, his head tilting as he spoke. “Because you don’t leave those you care about behind if you can help it.”
I love you.
No, you don’t, but thanks for saying it.
“What then?” Giles prompted when neither of them continued.
“Faith left,” Buffy said. “And Spike…” She took his hand and positioned it as she remembered from that day in the Hellmouth. “…did this to stop me when he thought I might be getting too close to him. The light was really intense by that point, and he was…well, he was glowing.”
“And…I did this.” Taking a deep breath, Buffy laced her fingers through Spike’s, feeling the cooler skin of the scar tissue against her own.
“While the amulet was still emitting all its power.”
“Flames.” Spike’s voice was hoarse. “I remember…fire.”
“Yeah,” Buffy breathed. “Our hands kind of combusted for a few seconds there.”
I love you.
No, you don’t, but thanks for saying it.
Her tears were returning, but she swallowed against the urge to let them fall. “There was another quake, a bigger one, and I lost my hold. You yelled at me to get out while I still could.” Carefully, she extricated her fingers from his and reached to cup his cheek. “You were a champion, William. You saved all of us.”
When he turned his head to press his lips to her palm, Buffy felt the dam inside her break, and she stepped further into the circle of space that surrounded Spike to slide her arms around his neck. He initially stiffened at the embrace, but then, slowly, his arms coiled around her waist, so achingly familiar in the weight along her hips that she couldn’t help but mold herself to him.
“I can’t believe you came back,” she said into his neck. Repeating it over and over again did nothing to diminish the power of the awe that overwhelmed her, and Buffy squeezed her eyes shut to try and stop her sudden trembling.
No more running away. No more trying not to think about the hole that had been left in her life when he’d been gone. He was back, and this time, she wasn’t going to screw it up. She’d made too many mistakes over the past few years, lost too many people. She wasn’t going to lose him again. She’d do whatever she had to, to make sure that didn’t happen.
This time, she’d yank the amulet off his neck to get him out if she had to. Figuratively speaking, of course.
The comfort that Dawn had spent the entire day cultivating for Xander vanished the instant they saw the Council offices from the taxi. She felt him stiffen at her side, his easy smile sliding from his face until the hard shell was back in its place, and her hopes crumbled that she’d actually done him some good with the sightseeing jaunt. She’d just wanted to help him forget all the ghosts, the ones that he still allowed to haunt him, and while it had seemed to be working at various points in the day, now she could see that it had been only temporary.
“Maybe I’ll just head back to the hotel,” he said when the taxi coasted to a stop.
She shoved some money at the driver, unwilling to let Xander escape even for a second. “Let’s just check on Buffy first,” she suggested. “We don’t even know how her phone call with Angel turned out.”
It was dirty pool, and she knew it, but appealing to his love for Buffy was the only way Dawn knew to keep Xander in the game. Reluctantly, he followed her up the front walk, reaching to hold the door open before slipping inside after her. They stopped short when Willow came rushing down the hallway.
“Don’t go in the study,” she warned, holding up her hands as if that would stop them.
“Why not?” Xander asked.
“Spike and Buffy are in there. They’re…talking.”
Behind her, Xander edged away, and Dawn glanced back to see the resignation in his eye. “It’s about time,” he commented. “Does this mean my work here is done? Please tell me I can go back to Somalia now.”
To both of their surprise, Willow shook her head. “Giles and I have been discussing what we found out today. We think---.”
“Wait. What did you find out?”
“Let’s go into the kitchen,” she said, turning to start leading them there without waiting for their agreement. “I’ll explain everything there.”
“So, you think Buffy messed up Spike becoming human somehow?” Dawn asked the question. Xander hadn’t said much of anything since they’d sat down.
Willow nodded. “According to what Wesley sent, the amulet was supposed to wipe the slate completely clean.”
“And Spike’s not.”
Xander snorted at her side, but beyond shaking his head, said nothing.
“Not if the sleepwalking is anything to go by,” Willow said, though her eyes kept straying to Xander. “And don’t forget the dreams. Those shouldn’t be there, either.”
“So what does that mean?”
“It means, this isn’t over by a longshot,” Xander finally said. “It means, Willow and Giles want to figure out what went wrong.”
“Actually,” Willow said, “Buffy and Spike want that. We were ready to call it quits until they said something.”
“And I’m stuck here because you need my help.”
Dawn turned confused eyes to Xander. “How do you get that?”
“Spike’s sleepwalking. Out of all of us, I’m the one who’s seen the most of it.” He stared at Willow, who colored slightly beneath his intense gaze. “You want me to try talking to him when he tries it again, don’t you?”
“You and Buffy both. Maybe, between the two of you, we can find the part that’s missing from the puzzle. Why Spike can’t seem to settle. It all comes back to that.”
“It always does,” Xander muttered.
He looked defeated. Boldly, Dawn reached across and took his hand in hers, offering him what she hoped was a comforting smile. “Just so you know,” she said when he looked at her, “this was so not what I had in mind when I said we should check in.”
“I know.” He didn’t remove his hand from her grasp, but stood up, pulling her with him. “We’re going to go back to the hotel, Will. Get a bite to eat. When you’re ready for me to start with the Newhart, just call. I’ll do what I can.”
Dawn followed Xander as he headed back outside, staying quiet until they had rounded the corner of the block. “You didn’t even argue with her,” she finally said.
“What would’ve been the point?” he countered. “Willow would’ve kept bugging me about it until I said yes. Plus this way, I don’t have to see the look of disappointment on Buffy’s face, either.”
“Is that what you think?” She dragged him to a halt. “That we’re all disappointed in you?”
“I think…” he started, and then stopped, shaking his head. “It doesn’t matter what I think. Let’s just go eat, OK?”
She didn’t move when he started to walk again. “You’re wrong. About all of it. None of us feel like that. If anything, the one who’s disappointed in you…is you, Xander.”
“Well, somebody’s got to do it. Might as well be me.”
“Oh, that’s real mature. It’s a good thing Anya isn’t alive to hear you talking like this. She’d kick you around the block for being so stupid.”
His shoulders hitched, and he halted where he stood, slowly turning around to glare at her. “You said you wouldn’t mention Anya today,” he accused, his voice low.
Dawn folded her arms across her chest. “That was before you started being such a dumbass.”
The surprise name-calling seemed to jolt him from the funk he’d settled in again. “Did you just call me a dumbass?”
“Do you need me to repeat it? Because I can. Dumb---”
“No, thank you, I heard it fine the first time.” He shook his head in annoyed disbelief. “What the hell’s gotten into you?”
She took a step closer. These were important words, and she’d been dying to say them all day. She didn’t want to run the risk of him missing a single one.
“I’m tired of seeing you shove us all away,” she said. “I’m tired of pretending that I think it’s fine that you keep punishing yourself. Anya’s dead, Xander. Nothing’s going to change that. She wasn’t wearing a mystical amulet to save her, and she doesn’t have nine demon lives to cash in to come back. She’s gone. Why do you want to be so gone, too?”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Then that’s going to make two of us. Except…you see everybody else, Xander. You look around, and you can tell what’s right and what’s wrong, and you see what we really are. Why is it you can’t see yourself?”
“You think I don’t?” He was going pale beneath his tan. “Do you really think I don’t know what a wash-up I am? Spike’s not the only one who can regale you with all the colors of Africa. Except I can do with it with one eye closed.”
She ignored his joke. “You’re not a wash-up. You just miss Anya. And there’s nothing wrong with that if you don’t let it stop you from going on. But you haven’t. You’re still beating yourself up about it. I don’t get it.”
A woman walking by shot them a curious look, making Xander turn away from the street to lean heavily against the iron fence that lined the walk. “Because I never…” His voice was so low, Dawn had to step closer in order to hear him. “I never got to tell Anya how sorry I was,” he finished. “For all the shit. Things were just starting to get good again, and then…”
He stopped, unable to go on. She knew he’d had to rip the words out of his heart in order to say them.
Carefully, tenderly, Dawn leaned in and pressed her lips to his cheek, tasting the salt there for the briefest of moments. “Don’t you think she already knows that?” she whispered. “We saw it. There’s no way Anya didn’t, too.”
When he started to crumble, she wrapped her long arms around him and held him tight.
This time, he didn’t fight her embrace.
This time, Xander hugged her back.
To be continued in Chapter 13: Whenever Your Memory Feeds My Soul…