DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Sting’s, “History Will Teach
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Angel has agreed to see what he can do for Buffy…
When Spike excused himself to use the bathroom immediately after Judd left to go look for Buffy, Xander knew what was up. The others might be willing to accept the bumbling fear at face value, but he sure as hell wasn’t.
He caught up to him in the hallway. The opposite direction from where Spike had been told the bathroom was located.
“Don’t do it,” Xander warned, grabbing the other man’s arm and forcing him to a halt.
“Do what?” Spike said. He was suddenly the voice of innocence again.
Xander wagged a finger in Spike’s face. “Judd’s her boyfriend. He’s got every right to be worried about her.”
“But you heard the others. Buffy needs privacy. He shouldn’t be intruding on her at a time such as this.”
“Which is why you’re descending on her like your own little locust swarm, right?” Xander shook his head. “I know you don’t like Judd, but you can’t interfere with this. It’s not your place.”
Spike’s face fell, the temporary bravado he’d displayed while he stood up to Xander fading. “He will press,” he said quietly. “And on this, I fear…she is not as strong as she appears. I do not wish to be the cause of more grief. For anyone.”
“I know.” What compelled him to put a comforting hand on Spike’s shoulder, Xander had no idea, but he did. Oddly enough, it didn’t feel that wrong. “But trust me. You go in there now, and you’ll just make it worse. Buffy’s the Lone Ranger when it comes to relationships. And unless you’re Tonto, smart money is to just back off. Take it from someone who learned that lesson the hard way.”
Slowly, Spike swiveled his gaze over his shoulder and stared down the empty corridor. “Why did you not tell me?” he asked.
“Tell you what?”
“That she died as well.” His eyes returned to meet Xander’s. “Why did you not tell me all of it?”
There was no good answer to this. He was relieved when Spike didn’t wait for a reply.
“Is it because of your own pain? Are your memories just as upsetting that you chose not to address them with me?”
His relief fled.
“I’m not talking about this with you,” Xander said tightly. He turned to walk away, and then thought better of it, whirling back to face Spike with barely restrained anger. “Just for the record, though, Buffy’s death was two years before yours, and had nothing to do with you or what happened with the First, so if I didn’t walk around the desert spouting off about how you two had that in common now, I think I can be excused. In case you didn’t notice, I had other things on my mind, like getting some answers for your skinny ass. But you’ve been too wrapped up in all your woe-is-me to even see that, haven’t you? You think you’re the only one who lost something that day, Spike? Well, think again.”
He was gone at that, marching down the hall with a heavier tread than when he’d arrived. He couldn’t stand to look at Spike now, not with so many other specters hovering between them. If Spike wanted to piss Buffy off by interrupting her and Judd, then so be it. It wasn’t going to be on Xander’s conscience.
He almost knocked Dawn over in his determination to get to the front door. Automatically, his hands shot out to grab her elbows, pulling her straight again as he eased his way past her in the hall, but she easily blocked his path, lifting her chin to gaze at him in concern.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. “Where’s Spike?”
“Hopefully digging his new grave,” Xander retorted. “If you hurry, I’m sure you can get a ringside seat.”
“Nothing a muzzle wouldn’t fix. Isn’t it nice to know that some things never change?”
The last was said with more than a tinge of bitterness, and Xander almost regretted it when he saw something dark pass behind Dawn’s eyes. He changed that almost to a definite as soon as she spoke again.
“This is about what I said at the table, isn’t it?” she said. “I didn’t mean it. I just wasn’t thinking---.”
“Stop it. This doesn’t have anything at all to do with you.”
He was suddenly weary, and slumped back against the wall, bowing his head as he stared down at his scuffed shoes. “Why does everybody keep trying to get me to talk?” Xander complained. “I’m fine. At least, I was fine until I had to deal with the Walking Wonder coming back from the dead and completely disrupting what was a perfectly satisfying life I had going. I should’ve just left him in the desert. Coming to London was a mistake.”
“Don’t say that.”
“Why not? It’s the truth.”
“It’s not. Because you’re not fine, Xander. You can lie to yourself as much as you want, but it still doesn’t make any of it real. Do you think Anya would think your life is just hunky-dory now? Wandering around from place to place, not making friends, not finding roots, ignoring the people who love you?”
It was the first time anyone had uttered Anya’s name in his presence in years. When Xander glanced up, he saw a furious Dawn standing in front of him, her arms folded across her chest as she glared at him. There wasn’t an ounce of contrition in her demeanor to suggest that she regretted bringing up the past like she had, but he just couldn’t find the strength to get angry with her, too. After all, she had a point.
Spike appeared from around a corner before Xander could respond, causing both of them to stiffen. The effect wasn’t lost on him, and he seemed to fold in on himself as he slowly approached.
“I wished to…apologize for my…inappropriate questions,” Spike said. “I did not mean to upset you. I…I…should have realized…”
Xander waved a hand to cut him off. “Apology accepted,” he said. “Now, just drop it.”
“Of course, I just thought---.”
“Dropping means stopping, Sp---William. Drop. Stop. If you can’t do that, maybe you and Dawn should scamper off and spend some quality time together. I’m sure she’s just dying to hear about how many different colors of sand you saw over the past three years.”
Both Dawn and Spike flushed, though the way she seemed to shrink behind Xander took him by surprise. Without another word, Spike brushed past both of them and disappeared back toward the kitchen.
The soft touch of Dawn’s hand on his arm made Xander sigh. “You should head on back to breakfast, too,” he said. “I’m sure Spike’s a lot better company than I am right about now.”
“Spike’s company wasn’t what I was looking for when I left.”
He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. “I thought you were glad to see him.”
“I am. For Buffy’s sake. He…we never really got the chance to fix what went wrong between us.”
“So, now’s your chance.”
Dawn shook her head. “I can’t do it if he doesn’t remember me, or what happened. Why he…did some of the things he did. I’ll just…wait. It’ll be better that way.” She let her hand slide down his arm to meet his warm fingers, tugging at them until he was forced to straighten from where he leaned against the wall. “Let’s get out of here,” she said. “You need a break from everything, and I’m just in the way as usual anyway. Let’s go be tourists.”
“Dawn, I really don’t---.”
“I’ll buy you one of those big annoying British flag hats,” she cajoled. “Then we can go to the movies and you can piss off everybody sitting behind you.”
His grin was unbidden. “You’re just bound and determined I’m going to have fun on this trip, aren’t you?”
“Will you help me find one of those red phone booths so I can pretend to be Dr. Who?”
“Of course, but you know that’s not hard, don’t you? They’re like, on every corner.”
“It’s the principle of the thing,” he teased. They took a few steps before he added his last condition. “No mentioning of Anya, either. I don’t want to encourage her overhearing from the other side about how much money we’re going to blow on pointless souvenirs.”
Though he kept his tone light, he felt the slight hitch in her hold as she pulled him along. “If that’s what it takes,” Dawn said. “This time.”
He tried not to stare when she returned to the kitchen alone, but the puffiness around Buffy’s eyes was impossible to ignore. She didn’t even look at William, though, just settled back into her seat and began playing with her cold pancakes.
“Where’s Judd?” Willow asked.
“He left,” Buffy replied. She kept sticking the tines of her fork in the congealing syrup remaining on her plate. “We had a fight.”
“And…Angel?” Giles prompted.
“…is going to help. Well, he’s getting Wesley to help. Angel’s just…helping through proxy.”
None of these names meant anything to William, except for that of her boyfriend. But the resigned sadness that hung around Buffy like a cloud told him all that he needed to know. This was all his fault.
“I regret I’ve been such a nuisance for you,” he said softly.
She just shook her head blindly, still not looking up to meet his eyes. “It’s not anything that hasn’t been a long time coming. If it wasn’t you, it would’ve been something else, though, admittedly, I much prefer having you come back from the dead then, say, Adam, or Glory.”
More names that he was certain should resonate, but William was left with only the feelings that Buffy had gone to great pains to secure information for his sake. Xander had asserted that William---or Spike, rather---had loved this woman, and that she, in turn, had cared for him. How deeply had she done so? he wondered. How could it be she would abandon him to a certain death, but still be willing to go to such lengths upon his return? What was the part of the puzzle he was missing?
Tentatively, William reached across the table and settled his hand over hers. “I seem to be doing this quite a bit today, but…I wanted to apologize for my behavior last night. If I’d known…still, it was inexcusable, and I’m sorry.”
She finally looked up. Though her eyes were still slightly bloodshot from the tears she’d shed, the burden behind them seemed lighter than when she’d first returned. “Thanks,” Buffy said, and then frowned, as if noticing for the first time that the table was short more than just her boyfriend. “Where’d Xander and Dawn go?”
“Out,” Giles said. “Dawn was rather insistent that she take Xander sightseeing.”
“I think she’s just trying to get out of research,” Willow joked. “She made a joke about seeing enough dusty old books back at school.”
William’s ears pricked up. “Research?” he said. “I thought you were waiting for answers from this…Angel.”
“We are,” Willow explained. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t crack a few books on our end, too. We’ve got the amulet as a cross-reference now. There’s no reason we shouldn’t keep trying in case Wesley can’t come through for us.”
“Perhaps…” His eyes stole a peek at the woman whose hand he still held, noting her reluctance to pull away either. He cleared his throat. “Perhaps I could help with that,” he continued. “My only recourse for recreation since my…return has been that of books. And, since this concerns finding answers for me, it seems only proper that I contribute any way I can.”
For whatever reason, the suggestion seemed to take them by surprise, but it took only seconds for all three to begin vehemently voicing their approval of it. He tensed amongst the sudden warmth that surrounded him as they shepherded him from the kitchen to the main library, unsure of what they truly expected. It was just a bit of reading. He’d been perusing books for three years looking for any semblance of an answer, and while he agreed that they should continue their search, he didn’t for a moment believe that they would find what they were looking for.
But he would trust them.
He had little other choice.
If he gave up on these people, he would be forced to return to his half-existence back in Cairo, a prospect that filled him with even more dread than what they might find. True, he’d been willing to run just the night previous, but that was before Xander had revealed those precious details.
That William had loved the woman he now feared.
That the object of William’s sleepwalking was that same woman.
That his last nocturnal flight had been cut short upon finding her out on the street.
He glanced at Buffy as he settled with the first of the books Willow provided. He did not understand her, and even more bewildering, he did not understand his mixed reactions in her presence. His concern when Judd had left to check on her had been genuine; yet, it still made him nervous thinking of her role in his dreams.
Memories, he corrected.
Buffy was not a memory. Buffy was real. Flesh and blood.
Am I flesh to you?
The answer was no longer relevant. He could cut and bleed and burn, just like she could. The world was filled with sharp edges that could catch on fragile, unsuspecting skin, and if he wasn’t heedful of where he stepped, William was convinced it would swallow him whole again.
He did not wish to die. Neither, it would seem, did Buffy and her friends wish for that to happen.
So…he would have faith.
In a life that had offered him little else but fear and dread, it made a welcome change.
To be continued in Chapter 12: Dance with the Invisible Ones…