DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Sting’s, “After the Rain Has
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Xander has met with Spike the following morning, but he is not what he expected to find…
Xander swallowed the tea Spike served in two quick gulps, ignoring the fact that he’d just scalded his tongue and that he really didn’t like tea in the first place, and stammered out a feeble excuse about needing some fresh air. He bolted from the tiny house, stopping on the porch to breathe in the thickening autumn air before moving into the sunshine in desperate hopes that the Egyptian brilliance would burn the confusion in his brain away.
Hanif was swift on Xander’s heels, strides deceptively long as he emerged from the house, but his voice was calm as he approached.
“You are perplexed by what you see,” he observed.
“Perplexed, perturbed, persnickety,” Xander replied. He leaned heavily against his car, the metal already hot beneath the seat of his trousers. “Last night, that was Spike I saw, crazy talk notwithstanding. That…” He gestured toward the house. “…doesn’t even walk like Spike. I don’t know who the hell that is.”
“I told you. It is William.”
“But I saw Spike.”
“Yes, you did. He is both.”
“Nuh uh,” Xander said vehemently. “I know how it works. Spike or William. He can’t be both.”
The wry twist of Hanif’s mouth was accompanied by a sad shake of his head. “I would have hoped that the new Council would not be blinding its operatives in such ways any longer.” He sighed. “It is an old song, Mr. Harris. There is no need to dance to its tune any longer.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Search your feelings. Based on what you’ve seen, based on your extensive history with the Slayer and with the vampire William used to be, can you say that you believe the human to be destroyed when the demon takes control? I think if you are honest with yourself, you will find that the two aren’t as discrete as you’ve believed.”
He didn’t wait for a response, satisfied that merely raising the question was enough for Xander. “William came to me an innocent. He had no specific knowledge of his life prior to the magic that released him from the amulet. But when he goes to sleep, it’s my belief that there is a portion of his mind that retains the memories of his time as William the Bloody. Every night, he rises from his pallet and walks toward the hills, as if he’s trying to reach something. When he wakes, he has no recollection of what he’s done. He’s left with only the residual feelings of his dreams. The same dreams which prompt him to walk in the first place.”
“Dreams of Buffy.”
“Considering what I know of his past history with the Slayer, that’s what I believe. That’s what I told him when he asked me about them.”
Some of it was starting to make a little more sense to Xander. “Did you ever find out who sent you the amulet?” he asked.
Hanif shook his head. “I toyed with the notion of contacting some of my old colleagues when I realized I had William the Bloody under my care, but I gave up on the idea once I started to get to know him.” The corner of his mouth lifted. “I know you might think this crazy, but I didn’t want to expose William to the Council’s corruption. His is a romantic soul. I feared being faced with the reality of what and who they are would ultimately destroy him.”
“Yeah, the old Council was pretty scary that way,” Xander agreed. Something that Hanif had said made him frown. “Wait a minute. If you think the Big Bad Council is so dangerous for Spike, why did you tell me that he’s the one I’m here to take back? Leave him here in his little hideaway and you don’t have to worry about anyone blowing his walls in.”
It was a sad gaze that Hanif turned back to the tiny house. “You’ve seen him,” he said quietly. “He is skittish. Terrified of what the day will bring. Every time he ventures out, it grows worse for William. Something needs to be done to stop the progression or he may not survive.”
As if he’d known he was being talked about, the front door opened and Spike stepped into the sunshine. He blinked once, twice, and then turned his head toward the car, spying the two men regarding him.
“My apologies for interrupting,” he said, taking a tentative step toward them.
“No need,” Hanif said. His voice was warm. Xander couldn’t ignore the fondness in his tone any longer.
“I was rather hoping…I could speak to Mr. Harris,” Spike stammered. Though the request was his, he seemed unable to actually meet Xander’s eyes, looking for approval from Hanif.
This made both of them start, and Xander and Hanif exchanged frowns before turning back to Spike.
“Maybe that’s not the best idea,” Xander said. “I don’t want to get you upset again.”
“Perhaps later in the day,” Hanif suggested. “After you get some rest.”
He shook his head. When he lifted his chin, there was a brief flash of Spike in his eyes before it vanished again. “I shall rest better knowing I’ve spoken with Mr. Harris.”
He was caught and they both knew it. Nodding to Hanif, Xander lowered his voice and said, “I think your theory needs a lot of work, but for now, I’ll go with it. He’ll be OK with me.”
He didn’t really believe it, but apparently that was enough for the ex-Watcher. Giving Spike a salutatory greeting, Hanif began walking up the hill and back to his own residence.
In the doorway, Spike stood stiffly, waiting for Xander to return to the house. “Would you like another cup of tea?” he asked as Xander approached.
“No, one’s about my limit. Any more, and I might start driving on the wrong side of the road.”
He’d thought Spike wanted him to join him back inside the house, so he was a little surprised when the other man closed the door behind him and joined Xander in the sunshine.
It was Xander’s third visual appraisal of a man he’d never thought he’d see again. The unforgiving daylight revealed the tiny lines around Spike’s eyes, making him seem older. At the same time, however, the blue that had always looked so turbulent before now appeared lighter, more grayish as opposed to any remembered brilliance.
He looked tired. Even at the height of his fight against the madness the soul had brought on and the torture the First put him through, Spike had never looked as tired as he did now.
Xander had an overwhelming urge to prop the guy up on a couch with about a dozen videos and ply him with beer and pizza to get him to relax. It wasn’t so hard to understand how a stranger like Hanif would want to help him even more.
“You knew me,” Spike said without warning. “You keep calling me by that…other name.”
There was no point in denying it. “Yeah,” Xander said, and then grinned. “Be thankful it’s been awhile since you pissed me off. Some of the other names I used to call you aren’t nearly so nice.”
A solemn nod. Not exactly the response Xander was looking for from his small joke, but at least the guy wasn’t cowering in terror any more.
“And you know…her?”
OK, so the cowering had moved from being physical to being spoken. Still, a step in the right direction.
“I know Buffy,” Xander said quietly. “I haven’t seen her in a while, but…yeah. The three of us go way back.”
Spike began ambling around the patch outside the house, his gaze on the dirt he kicked up with his bare feet. It drew Xander’s attention to the calluses and scrapes that marred Spike’s toes and heels, and he couldn’t help but wonder if the guy ever put a pair of shoes on these days.
“Hanif worries about me,” Spike said. His voice was a hushed whisper, almost swallowed up by the flaming landscape. “My dreams…they are getting worse.”
“He mentioned that.”
“Last night’s was…particularly disturbing.” He kicked at a large stone, ably dislodging it from the hard earth. However, when a bright spot of blood appeared on his big toe from the impact, Spike seemed not to notice. “I…heard someone. In pain. And there was…nothing I did seemed to make a difference.”
“What do you remember?”
“Very little, actually. Images. Impressions. Sounds.” He looked up, staring unblinkingly into the bright sky. “The emotions are the strongest reminder I have of them.”
That didn’t surprise Xander. Spike had always been a vampire led by his feelings. It made sense that he would be the same as a human.
“Were you my friend?”
Now, that did surprise him, and it must’ve showed in Xander’s face when Spike glanced at him because he quickly looked away again.
“I suppose that was presumptuous of me,” he said quickly, as if to cover up his own embarrassment at the unspoken answer. “I’ve never…I don’t…”
Xander couldn’t listen to the way he was stumbling over his tongue. “I guess you could say we were colleagues,” he said. “You lived with me for a while when things were a little…rough for you.”
Spike nodded, though Xander wasn’t sure he really believed him. “I asked because…I’d hoped to make a small request of you.”
“I meant, go ahead and ask.”
“Oh. Yes.” He cleared his throat. “While Hanif has been…more than kind and generous, he’s not...” A pause. “What I mean to say is, my life here is…rather static. My books have been a godsend in distracting me, but…and then Hanif does try, but he just can’t…”
It was excruciating hearing him fumble so, and, unbidden, Xander’s heart went out to Spike. “You want answers,” he said, helping him.
“Yes,” Spike breathed in relief. His shoulders sagged as if a great weight had been lifted from them. “Hanif has always said answers would come, but in all the time I’ve stayed here, you are the first person, other than his mother, that he has ever brought to see me. I think there must be great import in that.”
“I would’ve called it ironic myself, but then, I guess I have a different perspective on it than you do.”
“Do you think you can…help me?”
For a long moment, Xander regarded the slight man standing in the sunshine. These were words Spike never would’ve uttered, not to him. If ever he wanted proof that it wasn’t Spike before him, that was it.
If Spike had been the one to ask, Xander wasn’t sure he would’ve said yes.
But this wasn’t Spike. Not really.
“My kind of help means you leaving here,” he said carefully. “Do you think you could do that?”
Spike swallowed before replying. “Yes.”
“What happened to being scared of dying again?”
His voice was shaky, but his words were growing in confidence. “I think…I’m more terrified of never knowing the truth. Of the dreams growing worse instead of better. If I’m going to die anyway, I’d rather do so armed with the knowledge of what exactly happened to me.”
Xander nodded. “Being armed is always good. OK. I’ll do it. But boy, are you going to owe me.”
Willow returned the phone to its cradle, eyes thoughtful as she stared into nothing.
“Please tell me that was Andrew,” Giles said from behind the stack of books he was buried behind. “I need that delivery from the coven or I’ll never be able to finish this translation.”
“No, it was Xander.”
“Oh. Has he managed to locate Hanif Selim?”
“Yeah.” She pushed back in her chair, swiveling around to face where he was hidden. “He’s coming to London.”
“Wonderful. If the records are accurate, Hanif was quite proficient in demon lore. He’ll be invaluable---.”
“Not him. Xander.”
From behind the stack, Giles’ head popped up to stare at Willow incredulously. “What was that?”
“Xander. He’s coming back.”
Slowly, Giles from his seat, taking of his glasses to set them aside. “Did he say why?”
“He said he found something he needed our help with.” A slow smile spread across her face. “I can’t believe he’s coming. This calls for some major party planning.”
“Well, did he mention Hanif?”
She was already reaching for the telephone again. “Oh. Yeah. He wasn’t interested.”
“But…Xander’s coming to London anyway.”
“That’s what he said.”
“And he didn’t tell you why.”
“Nothing specific. He just said Hanif had something he’d been holding safe for the Council until they decided to contact him. He said we’d understand when he got here.”
Giles frowned. “And you don’t find this…unusual?”
Her fingers hesitated before punching in the Italian exchange. “Maybe a little. I guess I was just so excited about getting to see him again that I didn’t think about it too much. Does it matter why? The important thing is, he’s coming back. It’ll be just like old times.”
The look on Giles’ face as she dialed the number told Willow that he wasn’t entirely convinced she was right.
To be continued in Chapter 5: Headlights in a Rainy Street…