Chapter Thirty-Four: Reunion
"Remember to breathe boss-man," said Xander with an unholy mix of irritation and amusement in his voice, "And breathe… and breathe."
Wesley of course completely ignored him and continued to kiss Fred as though it would be the last chance he got.
"Seriously, how are you doing that?" he asked, "Do you have gills or something?"
"Leave 'em alone Harris," said Spike cheerfully, lightly whacking him on the back of the head.
Fred finally broke the kiss and gently touched her forehead to Wesley's.
"It feels like I haven't seen you in years," she said quietly.
"I know the feeling," he said in reply. Fred finally parted from Wesley's embrace and reached for both Spike and Xander pulling them both into a big hug.
"It's good to have you back," said Xander, "It's not really the Fang Gang without Winifred Burkle telling us what to do." The two men paused to take a good look at her.
"You seem to have lost the highlights," Spike said, pointing a finger at her now restored brown locks.
"From what I've heard I'm not the only one who's changed," she said. "May I?" she asked, reaching out her hand towards his chest. He nodded and she placed it over his now beating heart. "It's incredible," she marvelled before turning to Xander. "And you," she said, "Your eye… You look good." Xander grinned in response.
"Careful now," he said, "Wesley looks ready to kill." Wesley smiled innocently before patting him on the shoulder good-naturedly.
"Trust me, you don't wanna get on his bad side," said Gunn, grinning as he and Lorne entered the room. Lorne's appearance had caused a stir but Wesley was able to quickly defuse the situation by drawing attention to the act that Fred and Willow were finally with them and could potentially be their salvation.
"I knew you were too stubborn to die," said Xander, shaking Gunn's hand.
"How have things been with you?" asked Lorne.
"Nothing too eventful," said Xander, "Got into a bit of a scrap on the road and I think Wesley might now be this place's equivalent of second in command but pretty quiet."
From across the room Giles watched the interaction with interest. He hadn't seen Xander act like this since before… Well, in all honesty, he hadn't seen him like since before the destruction of the Initiative. Afterwards there had always been a bitter undercurrent to his behaviour and attitude. He might have laughed and joked but it never seemed like his heart was fully into it. And after Anya died even that remaining spark was extinguished. He had become despondent and borderline suicidal. And now there he was, grinning and laughing in friendship with Wesley and Spike of all people, two men he had once shown the greatest disdain and hatred possible. How was it possible that he, Rupert Giles had failed in reaching the boy where two such men succeeded? And Angel? He was voluntarily working for Angel, a vampire he had wanted to kill for many years. What had happened to change him so much?
"… and she ended up taking over the magic shop when Giles went back to England," Buffy continued, "She basically stayed there until the end." True to her promise on the road, as soon as they had a moment Buffy had taken Harmony aside and offered to answer any questions she might have. "Why do you want to know this anyway?" she asked suddenly
"She was a big part of his life," said Harmony, "But he never talks about her."
"It's difficult," said Buffy, "Sometimes the memories are just too painful." She then chuckled softly. "You know something?" she said, "I can honestly say that this is a conversation I never expected to have with you."
"I never expected to have a conversation with you," said Harmony, "I mean, you're the Slayer and I'm… well, me."
"Why else do you want to know?" Buffy asked. Harmony tilted her head.
"I'm sorry?" I said, "I don't think I understand –"
"Why else do you want to know about Anya?" Buffy asked the former vampire. Harmony took a deep breath.
"Because I saw her last night," she said finally, "She appeared and then vanished." Two years ago Buffy might have thought that she was crazy but just over a year ago, she had fought the First Evil, an entity that could take the form of those that had died. She had also seen ghosts and zombies and other phantoms of the dead. But Anya? Why?
"Did she say anything?" Buffy asked carefully.
"She called me an homage," said Harmony.
"I don't follow you," said Buffy.
"She said that I was blonde, blunt and didn't take his…" her voice trailed off. "Anyway, she said that people might call it an inability to move on whilst she called it an homage to her."
"Well that does sound like something she'd say," admitted Buffy. "Have you told Xander?"
"No," she replied, "I don't even know how to bring it up with him." Buffy silently agreed that mentioning Anya around Xander was like playing around with a volatile substance; unpredictable, explosive and extremely unpleasant when on the receiving end.
"Fair point," she said, "If you want I could ask Giles in the morning and see what he thinks."
"Sure," she said, "If you think he can help… Wait, why are you being so nice to me?" Buffy sighed.
"I haven't exactly had a good history with some of his previous girlfriends," she said, "It damaged my friendship with him and I don't want to do that anymore. I'm tired of fighting my friends."
Dinner was a simple and quiet affair, despite the fact that some of them hadn't eaten all day, none of them could find their appetite and they only took in a few mouthfuls before retiring to bed. True to his word, d'Ibelin had found them all suitable accommodations in the fortress. There was a hall of rooms that was usually used to house ambassadors and other honoured guests. However, due to the lack of ambassadors and honoured guests, they were given over to Angel and the others for the foreseeable future. At the end of the hallway was a small balcony that could boast a view of the entire city and the wide plain before it. Xander leant on the railing and looked out at the alien night sky. He couldn't recognise a single star or constellation. Not that he was really an astronomy buff, back home that had always been Willow's department, being the resident Wicca and all that. He knew that he should call it a night and get some sleep due to the heavy workload that awaited him the next day but he was too wired to sleep. Having the whole Sunnydale gang back was really freaking him out. Yes, they had known he was alive for several days now but he hadn't really had any contact with them except for Buffy due to them being separated from one another. The only other interaction he had had with them was when Willow helped him save Fred and when he and Giles had their punch up. All things considered that was a good fight, the visit to the medical bay notwithstanding. It had given him a real cathartic feeling.
"Mind if I join you?" said a voice from behind him. He turned around to see Dawn standing hesitantly in the hallway. It was strange, he had always seen her as just a child but in the time he had been away she had clearly grown up considerably.
"It's a free country," he said, "Or is it? Given the whole "Victorian" thing, I'm not entirely sure that it qualifies."
"How have you been?" she asked.
"I've had good and bad days," he said, "What about you?"
"The same," she said, not looking at him. She looked agitated and he had a good guess on why.
"You forgave me too quickly," he said, giving her a way out.
"Yeah," she agreed, "Xander, I am very happy that you're alive but how could you do that to us? Running off like that?"
"I didn't mean to hurt you," he said quietly with the tone of voice one uses when they know they don't have a leg to stand on.
"But you did," she said, "Things have been really sucky since you left and not just with the gang. I've been at college this year and I haven't been able to make any friends because I just connect with them because of all the crazy stuff I see. Willow and Giles try but you are the guy I used to talk to about these things, you were my friend and you just left." Tears were silently running down her cheeks but she ignored them, determined to finish what she had to say. "I know you had problems but you could have talked to me. I don't know what I could have done but I would have listened. You didn't have to run away."
"Yes I did," he said softly, "I was seeing her." Dawn didn't have to ask who "her" was. "Everywhere I went she was there. I needed to get away from anything that could have reminded me of her. I went across the entire planet running away from a ghost."
"You could have talked to me," she repeated.
"Dawnie," he began, "I –"
"Don't call me that," she interrupted. His face fell at her statement.
"I'm sorry," he said, "I'm sorry for so many things." He sat down on the cold stone and leant against the railing. She sat down next to him.
"Where did you go?" she asked.
"Like the song says, I've been everywhere," he replied, "Well I left Africa in a hurry and ended up in China for about a month, that wasn't fun. After that I spent some time in the Australian outback, which was a little better. I went all over after that but the only other place of note was Peru. Going there was a big mistake. I ended up a "guest" of the police once they found out I wasn't a tourist or citizen. They found out that I knew things about the Slayers and wanted me to tell them what I knew. It was an educational experience. After I got away, I headed straight back to the States and went all over the place before I ended up in Los Angeles. That was when I ran into Angel and his team, one thing led to another and I asked him for a job. I've been with the team ever since."
"Sounds pretty intense," she said, "What about Harmony?"
"You really want to know?" he asked.
"Yeah," she said, "I really want to know."
"To be perfectly honest," he said, "I'm not really sure how that happened. It was the night I got the job, I was in this bar and she was sitting there next to me. Not sure how but I ended up back at her place and things just escalated."
"You screwed a vampire," Dawn said incredulously, "You?"
"Hey," he said defensively, "You can't judge. Didn't you used to have a thing for Spike?"
"It's not that," she said, "I just remember that you and vampires did not get on well."
"Fair point," he conceded, "With her it's just… I don't know, I feel something. Like maybe I can actually do some good for once."
"She's evil," she said flatly.
"She has a soul," he replied. She looked at him in shock. "It's this world," he said, "Something about it restores vampires to their original form; i.e. humans with souls."
"She needs help," he said, "And she's been there for me during some really patches in my life so I owe her the same." They sat in silence for a while as Dawn attempted to adjust to the new information.
"How have you been?" he asked her, not entirely comfortable with the silence.
"I started college," she said, "I'm doing a Psych degree."
"How's it going?"
"Really well actually," she said proudly, "This is something I really want to do and I am good at it."
"I always said you'd go far," he said admiringly.
"I haven't finished it yet," she pointed out, "So don't get too ahead of yourself."
"What's this about you not having any friends?" he asked gently, "I remember you being really good at that sort of thing."
"It's hard to make a connection with someone when you have to constantly lie to them," she pointed out, "Also, after you… It was hard to be close to people."
"What about a boyfriend? Girlfriend? Anything like that?" he asked.
"No and definitely no," she laughed, "Nothing like that. I almost brought a guy home that I just met but Buffy saw him off in a hurry and gave me a big lecture about appropriate behaviour around guys I just met." Xander laughed at her statement.
"What?" she asked, "I'm eighteen."
"It's not that," he said, "It's just… Okay, you didn't hear this from me but next time that happens, ask Buffy about a guy named Parker. See what happens."
"Who's Parker?" she asked.
"Not telling," he said while smiling, "You'll have to ask her."
"What happens when we get back?" she asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Do you go back to being dead or… What happens?"
"No," he said, "I haven't really thought that far ahead but I do want to be a part of your life… I-if you want me too that is." His words hung in the air.
"Yeah," she said finally, "I do want you around. We are a strange family aren't we?" They both laughed at the question.
While sitting on her bed Buffy heard a knock on her door.
"Come in," she called out and the door opened to reveal Spike.
"Hi," he said somewhat awkwardly.
"Hi back," she responded. "So you're alive too," she said, "You could have called, why didn't you?"
"I didn't think I could top Sunnydale," he said, "I thought it would be better if you saw me as a hero as opposed to… something less than heroic. I know it's silly but you thinking good of me is more important than anything else in my life. I was wrong, I do get that."
"Having two people I thought were dead coming back to life on the same day is a little confusing," she said.
"But Harris had a legitimate reason, I didn't," he said, "And I'm sorry Buffy." Buffy got up from the bed and walked over to the window. "What's wrong?" he asked.
"Nothing," she said, "With you defending Xander I wanted to see if I could catch a pig as it flew by."
"Okay," he said, "We may not be as disdainful as we were. It's not that big a deal."
"If you say so," she said.
"Did you mean what you said?" he asked suddenly. "Just before you left when I was burning, did you mean it?" She was silent for a while before answering.
"No," she said finally, "You were right the first time."
"I thought so," he said softly, "I just… I had to check. Thanks for the honesty." He walked to the door. "Goodnight Slayer."
"Spike," she called out, stopping him at the doorway, "I'm still glad you're back."
d'Ibelin scowled as he examined the statistics regarding the country's military strength. Five years ago he would have said that they were enough but after the events of the past week he was not so sure. He had not wanted this, any of it. The position and marriage had all been arranged by other people that had not taken his desires into consideration. Now he was supposed to lead an entire country into a war that they might not even win and his only source of hope was a strange group of foreigners that he literally picked up on the side of the road. Had he been in possession of greater assets, he might not have been so trusting but what else could he do? They did seem to be able to accurately describe the machine that his scouts had seen in Bendal which was something. Maybe they actually could think of something that could save the kingdom.
It was not like he had much of a choice.
Not that that was different from the rest of his life.
She had been behaving oddly all night and most of the day for that matter, not saying much and only giving short answers when someone directly spoke to her. Then as soon as they were alone in their room she led him to the bed and started kissing him rather urgently as though it would be her last chance to do so. She pushed him onto the bed and straddled him before kissing him again.
"What brought this on?" he asked between kisses.
"I have a soul," she said simply, "I want to see if it's different." He kissed her again and rolled her over so that he was now on top of her. She tried to pull his shirt off but it was trapped between their two bodies so he had to ease of slightly. He then did the same to her and they continued with the rest of their clothing.
It felt almost perfect.
There was one thing though; no matter what they did Harmony constantly looked distracted. Xander forced himself to pretend not to notice. Her breathing was heavy, the noises were right, and he was the one doing that to her. Whatever else was going on in her head, she was feeling him, and he told himself that was the most important thing.
When they were done, she rested her head on his chest, feeling his heart thump against her cheek. Her breathing slowed and she started to cry.
"What's wrong?" Xander asked gently.
"I'm happy," she said as though that explained everything.
"I'm sorry, what?" he said, thoroughly perplexed.
"I feel happy."
"I'm very confused," he said, "Isn't that usually a good thing?"
"If I'm happy," she explained, holding onto him tightly, "I can be open to other things like being sad or heartbroken which is something that could easily happen. We've been landed in the middle of a war, we could die or you could die or I could die and one of us would be alone. But right now I'm happier than I've ever been and I'm scared of that being taken away from me. And more than that, when I'm with you I'm unfocused, I'm distracted… I can only see you and when I'm not with you… I'm still seeing you and I'm scared." He smiled gently and kissed her lightly on the lips.
"Harmony," he said, "It's okay, I love you too."
Breakfast was certainly more pleasant than dinner. They were all starving and heartily dug into the food that was placed before them. Giles and Wesley were both swapping stories on what they'd both been up to since the Ascension while Willow and Buffy spoke to Fred about some of their exploits in Switzerland. Gunn and Lorne traded war stories with Kennedy who was easily able to match them for danger and intensity, although to be fair taking part in the fight against the First Evil is really difficult to top. Harmony and Xander just flirted with each other, occasionally laughing if they said something funny. Dawn watched them silently from across the table. It was strange seeing him smile like that and it was even stranger seeing Harmony be the one responsible for it. Suddenly, Harmony stopped in mid-sentence and looked behind Xander in shock.
"What's wrong?" he asked but she just ignored him and ran out of the room. He got up to follow her but Giles stopped.
"Stay here," he said, "I'll dead with this." Xander laughed derisively.
"I don't see that happening," he said, moving around but Giles blocked him.
"Xander," he pleaded, "Please trust me. I think I know what's wrong with her." Xander's expression was stony but he relented.
"Five minutes is all you're getting," he said before sitting back down at the table.
Giles followed Harmony out of the room and saw her shaking in the hall as though she had just run a marathon.
"Did you see her too?" he asked.
"You can see her?" she asked in response, "I thought I was the only one."
"No," he said, "I saw Anya as well."
"Was this the first time you saw her?" she asked.
"Yes," he said, "But Willow told us that she saw Tara appear before her. Have you seen her before?" She nodded.
"The night before last," she answered, "And she spoke to me, calling me her replacement. Why can nobody else see her?"
"I don't know," he said, "I don't even know why we're the ones who can see her."
"Why was she just standing there?" Harmony asked, "She didn't say anything, she just stood there looking at me."
In no less than twenty-four hours, the army of diggers had managed to carve a deep gash into the surface of the ground. It did not appear that they were digging for gold or any other natural resource but they continued their work without question. Claudio, one of the workers leant heavily on his shovel and gasped. In the crack that his shovel had carved into the soil he could see a bright light shining.
"IT IS DONE!" screamed a voice that reverberated around the mineshaft. "I HAVE RETURNED!"
In a single instant of clarity Claudio realised that everything that his country had fought for was nothing more than a lie. He, like the rest of the workers, died screaming.
I hope you enjoyed this one. This story arc will be soon coming to a close and it will be back to L.A. for more adventures with the Season Five storyline. I hope you have enjoyed this arc because I wanted to do some original stuff before the Fall.
Please review and I'll see you next time.