The Letter

Chapter 21:
Desperate Measures

The Letter
The  Coat
The Man
The Truth
The Talk
The Visit
The Dinner
Friends Come Visiting
Epiphany
Making Contact
Back in the Saddle Again
Pennies from Heaven
The Prodigal
Revelation
Reconciliation
The Salon
A New Beginning
Tea and Sympathy
Convergence
Encounters and Interludes
Desperate Measures
Dancing in the Dark
The Vampire, the Witch and the Watcher
A Week in the Death of William the Bloody
Phoenix Rising
Picking Up the Pieces
I Love a Parade
Mr. and Mrs. Summers

"I think I've got a way to get in touch with Anya," Xander said without preamble, as Buffy held the door for him to enter. He set down a large paper bag, and then shrugged out of his jacket and hung it on the rack by the door.

"That's great news," Dawn said as she came into the living room. "How are you going to do it?"

"I'll tell you in a minute," Xander said to her, but still looking at Buffy. "But first, we need to - I need to clear the air a bit between us.

"Buffy, I know I haven't always been the best of friends the past couple of years," he said, as he took her hands in his. "Starting with deciding to bring you back. If I'd had any idea how much we'd be hurting you..."

She smiled gently. "I know. But I am glad to be alive again, and among friends and family. Really." Behind her, she could sense invisible tension draining out of Dawn. After all this time...but I suppose you have a right to be worried that I might still want to leave you. "So tell us the big plan."

Xander let go of her hands and began to pace, gesturing emphatically as though trying to sell a client on something he feared might be a little questionable.

"I want her back. I knew what she'd done before, and I loved her anyway. I don't care what she's been doing for the past year - I still love her, and I want her back." He pressed on before Buffy could protest. "And before you say anything, I know exactly how much of a hypocrite that makes me. I'm in love with a demon - and I don't care." Xander laughed - a more true and easy laugh than she'd heard from him for some time. "So I guess what I'm saying is, if something - or someone - was making you happy, you had every right to have what you wanted. Listen to your heart, grab it with both hands, and don't let the idiots around you take it from you. Even if the idiots are your friends - or yourself."

He stopped pacing, and turned to face Buffy directly, catching her eyes with his. " I know it's partly my fault that you couldn't tell us about Spike. You would have been right if you thought I couldn't deal with it. I've said and done a lot of things - cruel things - without thinking. I want you to know that I'm sorry. What happened between Anya and Spike that night... I've come to terms with it. The fact that he tried to rape you still makes me crazy - but I can accept it now when you tell me that it's none of my business. If it helps you to forgive him, then that's what you should do."

Buffy felt perilously close to tears, but swallowed the harsh lump that had suddenly formed in her throat. No. I made the right choice. I have to believe that, or everything comes undone.

"So how can we help?" she asked, ignoring Dawn's troubled expression as she forced lightness into her voice that she didn't feel, to turn the conversation away from this emotional pitfall.

Xander seemed to sense her discomfiture, and returned to his original subject. "I got Giles to find me a spell to summon her. To summon Anyanka, I mean. I need you to perform it."

"Did you see Willow?" Dawn demanded, leaving Buffy grateful for a momentary chance to collect herself again. "How is she?"

Xander sighed, his earlier hopefulness dimmed as he reflected on his oldest friend. "We talked, a little, the few times I was there. She's still taking classes, and I think she's enjoying having a huge load of homework again." He ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "But god, it hurts so much to watch her trying to have an ordinary conversation. The slightest slip seems to set off that damn geas spell. And yet, it's like she wants it to hurt her, as if somehow that will punish her enough for what she did. I still think it was wrong to let Giles take her away."

"You see?" Dawn grumbled. "Even Xander agrees with me. We should make him lift the spell."

Buffy shook her head unhappily. "Dawnie, I don't like it any better than you do, but if it's what Willow has decided she has to do, it isn't up to us to interfere."

"How do we know it's really what she wants?" her sister demanded. "For all we know, that coven is just as bad as the Watcher's Council. Maybe she's been forced into it. I say we demand to talk to her and find out what's really going on."

"Maybe demand is a little strong," Xander said. "But we really should do something for her, Buffy."

"All right," Buffy said, waving one hand to signal surrender. "You win. Tomorrow we'll all go to see Giles and Willow, and tell them how we feel. But before then we've got this spell to work on. Tell us what we have to do."

**********

"And this can't be done on the stove in the kitchen... why, again?" Dawn asked, surveying the living room with a critical eye. The coffee table, with a brass brazier set in the centre, had been pulled into the middle of a hastily cleared space that only served to let her see how much more cleaning she would have to do. Bits of tinsel, wrapping paper and dried pine tree needles were revealed where the rug had been pulled back to make room. Christmas tree dandruff; the gift that keeps on giving. I just hope it doesn't catch fire.

"Because if it does work and summons Anya, she's likely to be pissed off," Buffy pointed out, looking up from where she knelt to arrange various pouches and plastic zipper bags of powders and herbs. "Not something I want to face in a confined area."

"Not to mention that if it goes wrong and just gets all stinky, it isn't something you want near your food," Xander added, practically.

"Right. Point taken," Dawn replied.

Buffy sighed. "Not that I don't feel it every day, but it's times like this I really miss Willow. I'm afraid I'm going to blow something up."

Xander looked alarmed. "You're the only one who can do the spell, Buffy," he insisted. "Because you're the only one who'll have the right vengeance-y vibe."

A frown creased her features. "I told you before, Xander, what happened between Spike and me is in the past now. I forgave him, and it's over. I'd like to forget it. If a 'vengeance-y vibe' is what's needed, maybe you should be the one doing the spell. You certainly have something against him."

Xander had the grace to look somewhat shamed. "I still think he should pay for the things he's done - maybe he should still die for it all - but I don't have to be the one who does it any more. If he comes near you, I think you should deck him, but I don't need to. He's suffering more from his conscience than from anything I could ever do to him."

"What do you mean? He seemed fine the last time I saw him."

"Are you nuts, Buff? The guy's tortured. I never realized... Angel never seemed to show it. But then, he had a hundred years to learn how to deal with it. Spike's had what? A couple hundred days?" He shook his head. "Poor bastard. Not that I care, or anything," he was careful to add.

"Whoa! Stop. Rewind," Dawn exclaimed. "When did you go to see Spike?"

"I went to kill him about a month ago," Xander admitted. "For everything - but mainly because of Anya. Imagine my surprise when I found out he'd become human." Buffy and Dawn only nodded, each recalling how they had learned of the former vampire's transformation.

"Then somehow instead of killing him, I ended up talking to him. And he - he really listened. And suggested I try a summoning spell..."

"This whole thing is Spike's idea?" Dawn interrupted, incredulous.

Xander nodded. "He seemed to think that you'd be the best one to pull it off, Buffy."

She collapsed into the couch. "Yes, he hurt me, but... we hurt each other. I don't understand. Does he want me to hate him? Because I'm tired of that. I don't want to be that person any more." Don't want to be the person who used him... blamed him... beat him. "Maybe Dawn has an unfaithful boyfriend she hasn't told us about."

"You wish," Dawn retorted. "Nope. Unless you count creepy Phil Letourneau, who's always after me to borrow my algebra notes - but I don't think he deserves to be eviscerated just for that."

Xander began to look panicked. "Buffy, please - you're my only chance."

She sighed, and held out her hand. "Give me the spell. I don't promise anything."

He handed over the much-crumpled paper he'd coerced Giles into writing out for him, and the two of them sat back to let Buffy work.

She took a small bunch of herbs from one of the plastic bags and crumbled them between her fingers into the brazier. Consulting Giles's handwritten instructions, she then pinched small amounts of various powders in with them and lit a match. The dry materials caught instantly, and the room soon filled with a sweet, pungent smoke.

"Okay everybody, cross your fingers. I hope this works." She took a deep breath, and began the invocation. "O Anyanka... I beseech thee... In the name of all women scorned..." Buffy paused for a moment to add another bit of the crumbled herbs to the fire. "Come before me."

Nothing happened.

Xander and Dawn looked around expectantly. "Is that it?" Dawn asked, confused.

"That's all that Giles gave us," Buffy replied, equally puzzled. "I don't know what else to do."

"Maybe you have to say it more than once," Xander suggested.

"Do you know what I do to men who use that spell?" the demon Anyanka asked, as she walked through the door from the kitchen. "Shall I describe all the excruciating steps it takes to disembowel them?"

"Anya!" Xander exclaimed, on his feet in a moment.

"Anyanka," she corrected coldly. "It's who I am, after all."

"Anya," he repeated, stubbornly. "I didn't--"

"Oh, I know. You had Buffy do it. But there isn't an ounce of vengefulness towards Spike in her - she's halfway to being in love with him. Only a fool wouldn't see it." She looked Xander up and down impersonally. "So I understand your problem."

Later, when the adrenaline subsided, Dawn would reflect that whatever real faults Xander might have, cowardice wasn't one of them. With only a glance aside to Buffy, he strode past her to take Anya's veined hands in his own. She didn't seem welcoming, but she didn't pull away, either.

"I asked her to summon you because I didn't know any other way to reach you. I just needed to be able to tell you myself how sorry I am - and that I miss you."

"Sorry? You're sorry? Oh, that's just wonderful. That makes everything all better. It completely erases the humiliation and emotional anguish I experienced." She leaned forward, letting the demon's face drop away, the better to sneer at him. "Notice my use of a sarcastic tone of voice to convey a meaning opposite my words."

Buffy started forward, but stopped when Xander didn't flinch.

"I deserve that and more, I know," he said. "And while I don't have any right to ask... I believe I can do better. Give me a chance, and let us start over, because... I'm a better man when I'm with you."

"Yes, and you proved that so admirably when you left me alone only minutes before our wedding," she snapped - but she still didn't pull her hands out of his gentle grip.

"Anya, I was scared, and I was wrong to wait so long to tell you - but I don't think I made the wrong decision. Maybe I'll never understand how much I hurt you, but I knew if we went on I'd end up doing even worse to you." Xander held her hands tightly, desperately willing her to feel his remorse, to know how much he wanted another chance.

"If you'd really loved me, you would have trusted me enough to tell me." Her voice now held only a trace of anger, and more than a little sorrow.

"I know. I should have. I don't know if I can ever make it up to you, but I still hope you'll let me try." Xander reached to caress her cheek, and Anya leaned into his hand. "Let me be the man I should have been. I don't ..." --his voice broke-- "don't care anymore that you've become a demon again."

"Not for long," she murmured, almost too low to hear, before looking up at him again. "You even took that from me. I haven't been able to kill anyone. All I can see is your stupid, earnest face, promising you'll love me forever - and I can't do it. Halfrek tells me D'Hoffryn is going to have me removed from the ranks. Demoted." She pulled away from him and wrapped her arms around herself for solace. "If I can't even have that, then what good am I? Vengeance... is who I am. I don't know who I would be without it."

Xander came up behind her and enfolded her in his embrace. "I don't know - but I'll bet you're someone wonderful. I'd like to be there when you find out."

When it became clear that Xander wasn't going to be in mortal danger - except maybe to his heart again - Buffy motioned silently to Dawn and the two of them withdrew into the kitchen.

"It'd be hard to be an ordinary person in a relationship like that, don't you think?" Dawn observed idly, peering back at the couple through the open doorway. "You'd always wonder if your partner was holding back, trying to protect you or keep you from finding out the truth about them."

Buffy felt as though a hot and heavy stone had lodged deeply in her chest, squeezing her heart. Her lungs seemed suddenly starved for breath. I know. It would make you resentful, finally, and tear the two of you apart - no matter how much you wanted to love each other. Nobody understands what it's like to have to make the kind of decisions I do - to go out at night and hunt, and kill, and kill again - every night, over and over to keep the world running the way it should. You become Death...

"Death is your art. You make it with your hands, day after day."

She closed her eyes. He understood. He's always understood. "But now he's just another ordinary man," she whispered, not intending to be heard.

Dawn looked at her sharply. "You always said you wanted an ordinary boyfriend. There's nothing ordinary about a guy who used to be a vampire."

Buffy snorted laughter in spite of herself. "Ordinary's overrated. And since when have you tried to steer me away from Spike? You've been his biggest ally since he's been back - getting him to give you fighting lessons, setting us up for dinner..."

"Just playing devil's advocate for a minute. A little reverse psychology. Is it working?" 

"I am really regretting getting you into that course," Buffy sighed.

"So... both hands?" Dawn asked, pressing her for a definite response one way or the other.

"Both hands," Buffy nodded, feeling more peaceful than she had in some time. "I have to talk to Spike."

As if in answer, the phone rang. Buffy frowned, and reached for the handset. I don't believe in ESP - and Spike doesn't have a phone anyway. "Hello? Hey Giles... no, we were just... oh god..." Buffy shut her eyes and just let him talk.

Dawn hovered impatiently until Buffy set the phone back in its cradle and turned to her, her eyes huge in a face gone suddenly waxen and still.

"We won't be going to see Willow and Giles at home tomorrow," she said, her voice breaking. "They're at the hospital. Willow tried to kill herself tonight."

Buffy had paled so dramatically under her tan that Dawn was afraid she might collapse on the spot. Slipping a supportive arm around her sister's waist, Dawn led her back into the living room where Xander and Anya remained deep in now only occasionally acrimonious conversation.

"Uh, guys?" Dawn ventured, trying to gain their attention. "Major bad news." She settled a near-catatonic Buffy on the couch and explained - at which Xander dropped his face into his hands.

"Look on the bright side," Anya observed with jarring cheer. "At least she's not trying to take the world with her this time."

Dawn wondered if Xander might be having second thoughts at this point.

"I don't understand" Xander cried suddenly, throwing up his hands. "Why would she do this? Why now?"

"Maybe she thinks she deserves to die," Anya put in, eager for conversation with former friends after so many months of self-imposed banishment. "After all, she did destroy my entire store... and nearly the world," she added after Xander's admonishing glare, clearly confused as to what exactly she had said this time that might have triggered it.

"As much as it weirds me out," Dawn said, "I have to agree with Anya. Willow's been carrying all that grief for Tara, and I doubt she's ever really dealt with it." She began to tick off points on her fingers. "She's never been able to deal with loss - remember all the wackiness when Oz left? When she pulled all that power from Giles last year and experienced the pain of the entire world, her solution was to destroy everything so she wouldn't have to feel it anymore. And on top of that, there's the guilt over killing Warren and that warlock guy. Maybe she thinks she'd be doing us all a favour by killing herself."

"How can she think that would make anything better?" Buffy protested, finally emerging from her shocked silence. "Doesn't she know what she means to us? Doesn't she care what losing her would do to us?"

Long seconds ticked by before Dawn replied.

"Did you?"

Buffy gaped as though Dawn had sucker-punched her.

"Last year all you could think about was how terrible it was to have to be alive again; how much you missed heaven. You even thought that a delusion of being in an asylum was better than reality." Dawn bit down hard on the inside of her bottom lip before she could go any further. This is supposed to be about Willow. Speaking of still not dealing well...

She softened her tone. "My point is, when you were feeling your worst, how much were you able to think about what it was doing to the rest of us? Willow isn't going to be, either. Suicides rarely think about the people they leave behind."

"Will you both stop talking like she's already dead!" Xander rebuked them. "There has to be something we can do. Can we go see her?"

"They're only keeping her overnight," Buffy said, glad to have a reason to direct the conversation away from her own distraught behaviours of the previous year. "But you're right. We've spent way too long letting Giles handle this. Willow is our friend, and she needs to be reminded how important she is to us." Her face lit with sudden resolve. "I'm going to ask them to come and stay here when she's released, so we can spend more time together. After that... we'll see what happens."

Their mood marginally improved by the promise of finally taking some action, the three of them made plans to meet again once Willow was home.

Even Anya grudgingly agreed that forgiveness and an offer of help would be the human thing to do - even if she herself wasn't quite, any more. She vanished back to wherever she'd been keeping herself... but not before promising to meet Xander again in some neutral location. "But only to talk," she insisted. "Don't expect me to have sex with you again for some time."

After closing the door on Xander's retreating form, Dawn joined Buffy on the couch. "Buffy..." she began, then paused. Buffy looked up, but didn't speak. She tried again. "About what I said earlier..."

Buffy shrugged reservedly. "Don't apologise. You were right about how I behaved." She let a small smile cross her lips. "Though if you keep it up, I may decide to abdicate the position of responsible older sister, and send you out to be wage-earner girl. At this point, returning to high school is actually starting to seem appealing."

"You can have it," Dawn replied, relieved that they hadn't strained the bonds of their relationship beyond bearing. They sat quietly together for some time after that, until Dawn finally had to ask: "So what are we going to do? About Willow?"

"I don't know," Buffy admitted. "All the time last year that I was regretting being alive, I never once thought about ending my life myself. I'm not sure I can understand what she's going through." Her expression grew thoughtful. "But I know someone who might."

She got up and pulled her coat from the rack, shrugging into it. "I'll probably be pretty late, so lock the doors and don't wait up."

**********

Buffy stood at the door to the crypt, hand poised to knock, lost in memories. He always knew when I was here. But that was before... Logically, she knew that nothing remained of the Slayer/vampire link, but she could almost feel his presence, restlessly fizzing along her nerves as though transmitted by the very stones themselves. If she held herself just so, and listened...

Buffy shook her head. Now I'm just being foolish. But the sense of him persisted. Before her conscience could tell her it was a bad idea, she had pushed open the heavy door and stepped into the crypt's cool interior. The last light of the winter sun slanted through the frosted windows, fashioning dim bars of gold in the dusty air before fading into the gloom.

"Spike? Clem?" She wasn't sure if she was relieved or annoyed when neither of the crypt's occupants turned out to be at home. A prudent inner voice suggested she wait outside for one of them to return, but she ignored it and ventured further in, telling herself she was only looking for clues to Spike's whereabouts.

Her eye was immediately drawn to a set of makeshift shelves stacked with a neat array of canned and packaged foods. Next to this stood a compact camping stove. A fat blue sleeping bag and a pillow were neatly laid out on top of one of the crypt's two tombs, and she smoothed the pillowslip absently with one hand. I guess he never felt like restoring the lower level.

A cold sliver of sensation slipped through her, and she spun around. Vampire? Spike?

"I told you, I smelled a girl over this way," a rough voice insisted from somewhere outside.

"Aw, you're just thinking with your stomach again. I told you; we have to head over to the bars to get anyone good," came the retort. "No one hangs around the graveyard at night."

Buffy slipped the stake from the waistband of her jeans and moved out of the confines of Spike's makeshift living space. Won't you be surprised.

She'd left the door open wide behind her for the sake of the light it gave, and so was quickly spotted by the two vampires out for an early evening snack.

"See! I told you!" the first one crowed triumphantly, and they advanced, growling with menace. She stood poised with her stake, ready to meet them and silently promising them the surprise of their unlives. Buffy wasn't sure who was more surprised, then, when they collided headlong with an invisible barrier in the open doorway.

Not the stock of food, not the sleeping bag... not even having felt the new warmth of his skin and the pounding of his beating heart had brought home the changes in Spike so much as this. Vampires couldn't enter where he lived without an invitation. Whatever powers presided over the affairs of the world, they now recognized Spike's humanity.

As human as the rest of us. Maybe even more so than some of us, she wondered. Because I've been having some doubts lately about Slayers.

A wicked, humourless smile curved her lips. "Hello boys. You picked the wrong night, the wrong place, and definitely the wrong girl this time. I'm in the mood for a good fight." And with that, she charged.

**********

Didn't even break a sweat, she complained to herself, surveying the dust now strewn around the stone steps. How am I supposed to work off all my angst and frustration and fear if the bad guys are so easy to dust these days? Tucking the stake away again, she turned for the open doorway.

"Oh, hello Buffy," said the cheerful voice form behind her, and she jumped as though she'd been goosed.

"Clem!" she exclaimed, recognizing the figure approaching in the gloom. "You startled-- um, I was just--" Did he see me coming out of the crypt earlier?

"Looking for Spike?" he asked, not seeming to notice her nervousness. The loose-skinned demon, with his lidded basket slung over one arm, looked like some melted wax impression of a European villager back from a shopping trip. The occasional muffled mew could be heard penetrating the dense wicker. "This is one of his work nights, I'm afraid. But he'll be back around three a.m. or so, if you wanted to wait."

"Three a.m.?" she echoed, bleakly. I can't wait that long. We need his help - and I think I might finally have the courage to say what I should have said the last time I saw him. But I don't know if it will last even that long.

Clem hefted his basket suggestively. "I'm having a few of the fellows over for a friendly game, if you'd like to sit in. I could even spot you a tabby."

You might be a few players short tonight...she thought, with a manic internal laugh, not able to frame a coherent reply.

He waited patiently for her to respond. "It's kind of a joke, you see. Tabbies usually have stripes--"

"Clem, where?" Buffy interrupted impatiently. "Where is he working?"

"Somewhere across town at a country-western bar. Rushmore or Roosevelt... or Republican... one of those streets." He sighed. "I keep telling him he should find himself a nice apartment over there, but he says he's trying to save money. Hey, maybe you can talk him into letting me buy him out of the crypt here. It's a sweet piece of real estate--" Clem found himself addressing Buffy's retreating back.

"Thanks Clem," she called back over her shoulder. "I owe you one."

"Make it a Persian!" he shouted after her, before turning to open the door, shaking his head. "Humans." 

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