DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Sting’s, “Be Still My Beating Heart.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy has had an unfortunate encounter with Spike/William, sending her to Willow and Giles with a potential solution, while Xander has spent some time with Dawn…

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Chapter 9: The Blood Runs So Red to My Face

Xander insisted on leaving the pub when he realized his body temperature was spiraling out of control and that it wasn’t completely the fault of all the Guinness he drank. After the dance with Dawn, she’d completely dropped any mention of Spike, or Buffy, or the past and future, and coaxed him to play pool with her, distracting him with stories of Rome and the stupid guys she kept meeting at university there. Xander laughed, and played along, and for over an hour, he was lost in a cloud of their own creation, one where ghosts were barred from entering, one where responsibility was lifted from his shoulders. For seventy glorious minutes, Xander was free.

He hated that it had to end. Then again, the good things always did in his world.

What broke him was when Dawn asked him to dance again. He couldn’t say no. She wouldn’t take it as an answer anyway.

But then she’d rested her cheek on his shoulder. And sighed.

Xander felt like such a fraud.

“We better get back,” he said, peeling away from her tall form and turning toward the door.

“What? Why?”

He didn’t look back. He knew what he would see. Xander didn’t have the strength in him right then to meet Dawn’s disappointment, too.

“Because I left Spike all alone when I knew I shouldn’t,” he said. Holding the door open for her, he waited until she’d joined him on the sidewalk before moving again. Thank god the rain had finally stopped. “He’s never done the sleepwalking twice in one night, but there’s always a first time for everything.”

“You know Buffy went to see him, right?”

Even through their clothes, Xander could feel the heat of Dawn’s shoulder brushing up against his as they walked. “That’s what I’m afraid of,” he murmured.

He kept his manner brusque the short trip back to the hotel, only nodding when she said good night to him in the elevator. His head was already starting to pound from the alcohol; it had been a long time since he’d imbibed so freely. All he wanted was to get back to his room and become intimately acquainted with his pillow. Thank god his roommate was the mostly silent type.

He walked in on a flurry.

Coming to a halt just inside the doorway, Xander watched as Spike shoved his few clothes into the duffel Hanif had provided, heedless of the wrinkles he was causing with every thrust. Incoherent mumbling accompanied the packing, much like the mutterings Xander had witnessed during Spike’s nocturnal sojourns, and he wondered for a moment if the guy was sleepwalking again.

“Do not stare at me,” Spike said suddenly. Though the request was specifically targeted at Xander, he didn’t break from what he was doing, pivoting and turning between the dresser and the bed as he finished stowing his belongings.

Nope, that was still William. Spike would’ve probably made it rhyme from the poetry or something.

“What the hell are you doing?” he demanded.

“I wish to quit this place. I’ve seen enough.”

Xander’s strong grip wrapped around Spike’s wrist, stopping him from closing the duffel. “You’ve seen squat,” he said. “And you’re not going any place until we get some answers.”

Dark eyes turned up to Xander’s face. “I’ve decided…I don’t care for the questions any longer. Thus…answers are irrelevant.”

“I don’t believe that for a second. Something’s happened. Tell me what’s going on.”

Seconds ticked by. Almost every emotion imaginable flitted across Spike’s face. Then, he said in a voice that could barely be heard, “Coming was a mistake. I do not wish to be the cause of any more discomfort. To…anyone.”

Understanding made Xander ease his hold. “You saw Buffy,” he said. When Spike didn’t respond, he shook his head. “You can’t do this to her. I don’t care what she might’ve said, but Buffy still cares about you, William. Running away without giving her the benefit of some answers is going to rip her heart out. Again.”

“She doesn’t need me in order to find those.”

“No, she needs you for---.” Exasperated, Xander exhaled loudly and pulled away, grabbing the duffel bag before Spike could stop him. “It doesn’t matter. You’re not going anywhere.”

“Why are you doing this?” Spike asked, hovering behind him as Xander threw the clothes back into the dresser. “I’m not blind. I can see that you don’t wish to be here any more than I do. Why would you insist that we stay?”

It was so tempting to yield to the other man’s pleas. Forget tight Willow hugs that reminded him of more halcyon days. Forget big blue eyes that didn’t understand why he just wanted to go back to a sunlit world that didn’t ask him to be anything more than the man he presented. Forget it all.

But Xander already knew he would never be able to forget the look on Buffy’s face when he’d seen her in the street. Seen the anger floating on the surface as she gazed at Spike, unsuccessfully masking the other emotions that seeing someone she’d long since buried now standing before her created.

The betrayal.

The relief.

The ache.

The joy.

He could go back to Africa, and he could let Spike go back to hiding from the mystery of why he’d been resurrected, but none of that would erase those seconds of sheer pleasure Xander had felt when he realized that he’d been the one to give this to Buffy. He was the only one to know the depth of what Buffy had lost that day the Hellmouth collapsed. He knew that if there was any way she could give him back Anya, even for a day, she would do it without hesitation.

“Did Buffy talk to you about what your life was like before?” Xander asked.

Spike flinched. “We…discussed the events of…my death,” he said carefully. “She told me how she left me to die---.”

“No, she didn’t.” It came out even more harshly than he’d intended. “Buffy cared about you. If it would’ve been possible to save you, she would’ve.”

But Spike was shaking his head in denial. “I don’t…that’s not how I…my dreams…”

“I don’t care about what you think you know. For someone whose memory is so Swiss cheese, you sure as hell are making a lot of assumptions about what is and what isn’t true. But I’ll give you one truth. You loved Buffy. It took me a long time to accept that, but…you did. You loved her so much that, for whatever reason, you spend your nights trying to find her again. I don’t doubt for a second that you told her to get out of the Hellmouth before it collapsed in on her, too, because that’s just the kind of over-the-top gesture you used to make. You never did anything by halves, Spike---.”

“William,” he corrected automatically.

“You know what? You’re right. William. Because Spike would never have given up this easy.” He jabbed a warning finger into the other man’s chest. “But I’m still not letting you tuck your tail and run. Buffy deserves better than that.”

Taking a step away, William reached up to rub at the spot Xander had poked, his eyes dark with confusion. “What did you say I do?” he asked.

“Nuh uh. I know you know about the sleepwalking. Don’t try pulling that shit with me.”

“But…you said I…look for her? Why would I seek out the woman who haunts my nightmares?”

Xander sighed. “Because you loved her, you nitwit. How many times do I have to tell you that?”

A knock at the door stopped either of them from continuing the conversation, and with an annoyed glance at Spike, Xander stalked over to answer it. He straightened when he saw the man on the other side, biting back the smile when his gaze flickered to Judd’s legs and confirmed Dawn’s earlier observation.

“Xander, right?” he quizzed.

“Right. And you’d be Judd.”

Judd looked like hell. Xander had seen the way he’d been holding his nose out on the sidewalk, and known that Spike must’ve punched him. Probably for trying to interfere. Xander had experienced that reaction firsthand. Now, Judd’s nose was swollen and bruised, marring his intelligent good looks.

The petty side of Xander took a small measure of satisfaction that the present leader in the Buffy Boyfriend Brigade looked less than perfect.

“Buffy said she was meeting with you,” Judd said. His dark eyes flickered over Xander’s shoulder, widening slightly as they must’ve noticed Spike, and he took a slight step back, straightening to his full height at the same time. “But I haven’t heard from her since she told me. Dawn said she might be with you. But if you’re here and she’s not---.”

“She was here.”

Spike’s interjection took Xander by surprise, and he shifted enough to see him warily approach the door.

“She…wished to get some fresh air,” Spike continued. “She left some time ago.”

“What did you do to her?” Judd demanded.

The question threw Spike for a loop, and he faltered, his eyes darting between the other men and the mirror above the dresser at his side. “I…I…we merely talked,” he managed.

Judd’s jaw hardened. “If I find out you’ve hurt her,” he said, “you’ll be the one on your back next time.”

“I wouldn’t---.”

“I’m sure Buffy’s fine,” Xander interrupted. “She’s a big Slayer. She can take care of herself.”

Judd seemed reluctant to break off from whatever imagined pissing contest he had going with Spike, making Xander wonder just what had been said before he’d shown up on the group out on the sidewalk. “I just worry about her going out on her own,” Judd said. “She’s got a lousy sense of direction. She’s always getting turned around when she’s out on patrol. Sometimes, she doesn’t get back to her apartment for hours.”

Xander bit his tongue. He had a sneaking suspicion that Buffy’s missing hours were more to do about losing the boyfriend than getting lost herself. He was starting to get why Dawn’s comments about this one had been so caustic.

“If you see her, can you let her know I’m looking for her?” Judd directed the question to Xander, pointedly ignoring Spike now.

“Will do.”

“Thanks.”

“I don’t like him,” Spike said once Xander had closed the door.

“Well, blow me over with a feather,” Xander replied with mock seriousness. “You don’t like Buffy’s boyfriend? I don’t think that’s ever happened before.”

Spike’s frown deepened, his head tilted as he regarded Xander. “But…you don’t like him either.”

“Well, no, but then, I’ve always been of the opinion that nobody’s quite good enough for Buffy. One of my few foibles.”

“Is that why you didn’t like me?”

Xander’s lips pressed thin. He really didn’t have the energy for this right now.

“If you’re done with trying to run away,” he said instead, “I think we should both get some sleep. It’s been a bitch of a long day, and I just want to be dead to the world for the next twenty-four hours.”

He waited just long enough to confirm that Spike wasn’t going to make a run for it. “Good. Don’t snore. I’ll have to beat you with my pillow.”

*************

Giles and Willow spent over an hour trying to talk Buffy out of her suggestion.

“He won’t do it,” Giles said.

“And even if he did, what’s he going to be able to tell you?” Willow asked. “He didn’t know anything about the amulet when he gave it to you, you said.”

None of it was enough to sway Buffy. Not even when Giles resorted to the last tactic she would’ve thought he’d use.

“Do you honestly believe he’ll speak with you after what happened with The Immortal?” he said, his voice even but his tone gentle. “Our scars from that particular battle aren’t nearly as…permanent as his.”

“I have to try,” Buffy said. She shoved aside the memory of Angel’s twisted body when she’d found him. If she dwelled on it, she’d never have the strength to do this. “For Spike’s sake. Angel is our best chance to get the information we need.”

They’d let her be at that. If bringing up the fact that Angel had suffered for months at the hands of her ex wasn’t enough to sway her, they were astute enough to know that nothing would.

She insisted on making the call in private, and followed Willow to the tiny office down the hall. “If you need anything,” Willow said, “just give us a shout.” Her eyes were luminous in the brief seconds Buffy met them. “Anything.”

Alone, Buffy ignored the racing of her nerves to march determinedly to the phone on the desk. Though she’d never used it, she had the number memorized. The rift between her and Angel had always been one of those things she thought she’d get around to fixing. Some day.

Why was it that all the things she’d hoped to deal with later were showing up now in her life marked payment due?

It was answered on the third ring. The woman’s voice was unfamiliar, but Buffy wasn’t surprised. She’d only met her the one time, when she’d arrived to take Angel away after The Immortal had been defeated.

“Nina?” she queried. “It’s Buffy Summers.”

Silence. At least it wasn’t a dial tone. If Nina had automatically hung up on her, Buffy wasn’t sure she’d have had the will to try the call again.

“What do you want?” finally came the reply.

“I need to speak to Angel. Is he there?”

A short, derisive laugh echoed down the line. “Where else would he be?”

“So, can I talk to him?”
“No.”

“Why not?”

“The fact that you even have the nerve to ask that question is exactly why I’m not putting you through.”

Buffy rubbed at her tired eyes. She’d known it would be difficult to get past Nina, and to be honest, if she was in the other woman’s shoes, Buffy was fairly sure she’d be doing close to the same thing. Angel had been through a lot because of his association with Buffy, and the fact that the last round between him and The Immortal had been started because of Buffy’s instigation only made it sting even more. It didn’t matter that she’d thought she was helping him. She should’ve known about the history the two men shared. She should’ve known that every supposed rescue came with a price.

She should’ve known about a lot of things.

“If you won’t put me through,” she said, “will you at least pass along a message? It’s important.”

“Let me guess. Another end of the world crisis? Is there anything that isn’t the end of the world with you, Buffy?”

She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from lashing out at Nina. “It’s not…” She exhaled loudly. It wasn’t worth it to get into this now. “Tell him Spike’s alive. Will you just do that for me?”

A pause, and then, “What was that?”

“You heard me. Spike’s alive. If Angel wants anything more, he’s going to have to call me.” Quickly, she rattled off the Council’s phone number, wondering if Nina was even bothering to write it down. “Did you get that?”

It was a reluctant affirmation that followed, and the two women soon ended the call, leaving Buffy shaking and cold as she leaned against the desk.

All she could do now was wait.

 

To be continued in Chapter 10: The Wounds of the Past