"It would have been nice to know that I'm on the same floor as Miss Calendar before she saw me with my ass out," Xander grumbled.
Laughter bounced off the hospital room walls. Sunlight was coming in through the window, giving Xander's messy hair a bit of a golden halo look. It was bright enough that they didn't need to turn on the harsh fluorescent lights in the two person room. The bland mint green curtains dividing the room were open, showing the empty bed beside Xander's. Empty of an actual patient, that is: Buffy, Willow and Oz were sitting on the bed while Cordy had started in the chair beside Xander but had ended up sitting on the edge of Xander's bed.
"Oh yeah, laugh it up," Xander said with a smile.
"Whaaat? You gotta admit that's hilarious though. Oh my god, I wish I was there to see your face," Buffy teased.
"And why wouldn't you want to look at a face as beautiful as mine?" he said. Buffy and her younger self resisted the urge to wince; his face was anything but. Xander’s face was a disaster. His nose was swollen and looked mostly like a very large purple bruise that was off-centre. There were quite a few cuts on his face and he had a split lip that sometimes would start to bleed again. His entire right eye was covered by a bandage that had some bloody looking drainage on it.
The soul felt sick looking at it. Xander ‘losing’ his eye was just like her original timeline. It was something that had gone wrong, that shouldn’t have happened. It was one of the many, many things she had hoped to prevent but now here was Xander at seventeen with only one usable eye.
A sick thought overtook her: what if this was something that couldn’t be avoided? Were there things that were fixed events? Was Xander always destined to only have one usable eye? Or was this just a cruel coincidence, born from her failure to take down Angelus already?
She wasn’t quite sure which option was worse.
“Beauty is definitely subjective,” Oz remarked.
“Shut up, Oz. Xander looks all...tough or whatever. Very manly. Though you did go a little overboard with the look. Subtle can go a long way,” Cordelia said. She gently brushed Xander’s hair behind his ear and let her hand linger on the side of his head, letting her fingers card through his hair.
Xander rolled his neck and gave a deep exhale. “I think the pain meds are kicking in now,” he said. “I’m ready to go.”
“You sure? You don’t have to push yourself. We can wait,” Willow said.
Xander shook his head. Very carefully and slowly he moved his legs from under the bed sheets and to the edge of the bed. His legs dangled. Like a little kid, the soul thought. And there was something about seeing Xander like this that made him look so much younger than he already was. Softer. He looked so vulnerable in his hospital gown. Cordelia placed a hand on his knee.
“Take your time,” she whispered.
Xander nodded and waited a few moments more before sliding more of himself halfway off the bed, placing his feet on the ground. He swayed slightly as he stood upright making Willow, Buffy, and Cordelia all move forward in anticipation. Xander shook his head to say that he was fine.
“So. Let’s go visit the old folks, shall we?” Xander said with a grin. The rest of the Scoobies smiled and walked slowly beside Xander out of his room and into the hall. A few nurses were zipping about in and out of the various rooms but careful not to bump into the gaggle of teens. They made their way to room 413 at the end of the hall.
They opened the door to the private room to see Giles sitting in the chair beside Jenny’s bed. The computer teacher had a large book on her lap and various notebooks and papers on her bedside table. Giles’s bag was open and Buffy could see a few books peeking out. Clearly they had caught the two in the middle of a research date of sorts.
“Xander! Fancy seeing you here,” Jenny welcomed.
“I brought friends,” he said.
“I can see that. Please, find somewhere to sit, or lean on or whatever. We have something to tell everyone,” she instructed. Cordelia and Willow helped Xander carefully into one of the chairs. Buffy ended up leaning against the window sill.
“Exciting new venue for a Scooby meeting,” Xander said.
“Quite,” Giles mumbled. Then he cleared his throat and took off his glasses to clean them. “Jenny here has ah, something to share with you all.”
“Thank you, Rupert. So as you guys know, I had almost finished translating the ritual to restore Angel’s soul to him before he so kindly attacked me at school. And destroyed my computers, that was just the cherry on top, wasn’t it?” Jenny let out a deep sigh and flipped her hair back.
“Anyway, while I’ve been recovering here I got back to work and I have finally finished it. Completely.”
“Really? Already?” Willow asked. Jenny nodded.
“Yup. Even got Rupert here to double check my work. It’s all done,” she said.
Silence fell upon the room. The soul could feel her younger self’s mind reeling. She was so uncertain about her emotions regarding Angelus and resouling him. The soul sent a soothing wave to wash over her younger self. She already knew her own thoughts on the matter but she didn’t want to force it on the seventeen-year-old. It felt wrong.
“And why, if I might ask, would we want to do that?”
Everyone whipped their heads to face Xander who had broken the silence.
“Xander?” Willow whispered.
“No, seriously. I want to know: why are we going through all of this effort to try and give Mr Tall Dark and Murderous his soul back? What, are we just going to pretend that nothing happened, that it was some other person who tortured me, and just hope that he never gets happy again?”
“Xander—” Buffy started.
“No, let him speak,” Jenny said. Her voice was calm but firm, much to the soul’s approval. Jenny turned back to the brunet who took a deep breath, in and out.
“Buffy. Look at me. Look at me!” Xander gestured aggressively to his bandaged eye. “He and his fucked up girlfriend did this to me. I can barely feel my face because if I’m not on a stupid amount of painkillers I can’t stand being awake. The doctor said that I might not be able to use my right eye anymore. He destroyed my eye! And I’m supposed to just what? Say ‘oh well that was you when you were evil’ and pretend it’s just okay? Because it’s not! It’ll never be okay! Angel is a vampire, in case you all forgot. And at this point I don’t care if you are in love with him! He doesn’t deserve a soul, he deserves to be dust!”
His words lingered into the room like a thick fog. Buffy looked at her feet. Xander had a point. No, Xander had more than just a point. Angelus was evil, plain and simple. He killed Jenny and tortured Giles in the original timeline. He tortured Xander, a fucking child, in this timeline. He was a sick monster. What teenage Buffy still hadn’t quite realized, though, was that he was a sick monster even with his soul. He just had a much different MO. The older Buffy’s strong opinions on Angelus and Angel caused nausea to bubble and the younger Buffy could taste bile in the back of her throat.
The younger Buffy felt guilty when she looked at Xander’s eye. She kept on thinking ‘if only I was faster, if only I realized sooner, if only’. Of course she felt guilt when it wasn’t her fault. It was Angelus who did this, not her.
The soul grimaced; maybe it was her fault, though, because of her changes to the timeline.
The teen gave a sense of confusion towards the soul’s radiating guilt and remorse.
‘This isn’t your fault. Xander’s eye isn’t your fault, Buffy. It was Angelus who did it. And if fault lies on anyone else, it would be me,’ she said.
Buffy furrowed her brow in response. She didn’t understand what the soul meant, especially about it being more her fault that Buffy’s. She made a point to make her frustration towards the soul’s ambiguity and half-truths very obvious. ‘Joan’ sighed. Even if she could tell her younger self everything, she wouldn’t. There were things that were better let in the dark and in a time that would no longer come to pass.
The soul was pleased to listen to Buffy’s thoughts move towards her feelings towards Angel. She was unsure if she was really in love with Angel. She was at one point, but was she still? The teen bit her lip. When she pictured Angel—not the soulless Angelus, but the man she knew before she turned seventeen—did the teenager feel love?
She wasn’t quite sure anymore. The soul felt it best to let her figure out her feelings on her own.
“Well.” Both Buffys were brought out of their thoughts by Jenny’s voice. “I think we all need to do some thinking before we make a decision either way.”
“I concur. It would do well for us to sit on this,” Giles said.
Willow frowned and tilted her head. “Even if Angel doesn’t deserve a soul, why not give it to him anyway and stop him from being all with the badness?”
The comment sent a jolt of anger and fear within Buffy. Surely Willow wasn’t still willing to be so careless towards magic, especially magic of this magnitude, was she?
Thankfully she was not the only adult present as both Jenny and Giles shook their heads.
“Magic is not something to be taken lightly, especially dark magic like this,” Jenny said. Giles pointedly looked over at Xander who gave a cough. Buffy was pleased that they weren’t about to forget about what Xander had done, unintentional or not.
Cordelia gave a huff. “I don’t get it. You people are always going around talking about ‘dark magic’ this and ‘dark forces’ that. But like, what does that even mean?”
“Really Cordelia?” Willow chided, an eyebrow raised.
“No, Cordelia’s got a point. I mean, what really does make magic ‘dark’ as opposed to not dark. Is it because you have to do it in the dark, or it turns off all the lights in a room?” Oz asked.
“That’s actually a bit of a fascinating point and question,” Giles started. He pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose and cleared his throat. “When one accesses magic, one channels it from a source. Most magic is accessed from benevolent sources, such as the earth or a god of water.”
“Benevo-what?” Cordelia asked.
“Benevolent. It means like, chill. Good vibes,” Oz said.
“Quite. Anyway, dark magic is when a dark entity such as a demon or a death god or hell itself is the magic’s origin. Do you remember my past associate Ethan Rayne?”
“The Halloween shop guy?” Xander asked.
“Yes, well. Ethan was once a very good friend of mine. We were close, the two of us. With some other friends of ours we began to dabble in magic. First it was nothing too heavy. Levitating pencils, lighting up dark rooms, creating fires, manipulating water. It was all fine and dandy. Fun, really.” Giles looked out of the window briefly remembering his youth.
The soul was intrigued. She knew a bit about Giles’s past, yes. But he had never gone into much detail about his time with Ethan. It was obvious that it was something he regretted, but now that Buffy was hearing about his foray into magic she couldn’t help but recall Willow’s introduction and growth as a witch.
“But then it wasn’t quite enough anymore. And I…” Giles paused and took off his glasses. He polished them, refusing to make eye contact with any of the Scoobies. The air felt thick and heavy. Buffy noticed Cordelia biting her lip but staying silent, waiting for Giles to continue. Jenny placed a hand on the librarian’s back and began to rub slow circles. Giles took a steadying breath and released it, still staring at his glasses.
“I suggested we venture into darker magic. I had found a book with beautiful, dangerous spells. They were intoxicating and we were but young thrill seekers, drunk on the adrenaline and power that dark magic begot.”
Xander wrinkled his nose.
“Drunk on magic? Like, in the literal sense? How does that work?” he asked.
Giles narrowed his eyes at the teen. There was a dark shadow over his features; a glimpse of Ripper.
“Xander, look me in the eye and tell me you didn’t even in the slightest relish the power you had over the women of Sunnydale. Tell me that there was not even a tiny part of you that enjoyed the importance and the influence you weld.”
Xander swallowed hard and looked down at his hands in his lap, saying nothing. Giles exhaled deeply through his nose.
“That’s what I thought.” He cleared his throat and brought his attention back to the rest of the room. “If I may continue, I took my friends down a dark and winding path. We became more powerful, more skilled, and much more reckless. What none of us realized was that when we accessed dark magic, we were letting the malevolent energies use us. We were conduits for their power, after all, and soon they began to poison our minds.”
“Why would they want to poison your minds? What was the end goal?” Willow asked.
“To use us as puppets,” Giles answered simply.
The soul thought back to what she had dubbed ‘Dark Willow’, when she had almost destroyed the world the year Buffy was resurrected. Had the dark magic that Willow had been so heavily consumed by wanted her to destroy everything? Was it weaponizing Willow’s grief and jealousy and insecurities for its own goals? Buffy had never fully understood magic. She knew it was kind of a living thing, of sorts, but had never really thought about it.
While Giles’s explanation helped her understand a lot more, Buffy was finding herself left with even more questions, questions that she had never even known to ask.
“Which is why,” Giles said, finally putting his glasses back on his face, “I don’t particularly like the idea of Jenny opening herself up to such things unless we deem it necessary.”
“An idea I also don’t love,” Jenny added.
Cordelia narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms.
“You never explained how you got out of your magic addiction, dark-magic-peer-pressure thing or whatever,” Cordelia said.
Giles looked away from her and back out the window. He was silent for a minute before shaking his head. “No, I didn’t. And I don’t owe that answer to any of you,” he said softly.
The soul didn’t want to say that she wasn’t interested as well, but Giles was right. Before her younger self could speak up she mentally placed a hand on her.
The teenager gave an eye roll but said nothing.
“Anyway, so that’s why we should be on the same page before I go through with the soul curse,” Jenny explained. The group nodded.
“When should we decide by? It should be sooner than later,” Willow said, her voice small.
Buffy nodded. “Definitely. We need to think about it, but I don’t want to give Angel more time to hurt people.”
“Okay, but then what should be our deadline? A month from now? A day? Tonight?” Xander asked.
“We should have a few days to really think it over. Perhaps we could reconvene at the end of the week, on Friday? We will discuss what conclusions we have all come to and then decide from there,” Giles suggested.
The rest of the Scoobies nodded in agreement.
Buffy took a deep breath, letting the cool night air enter her lungs. It was a clear night and she could see a few stars surrounding the half moon. The teen walked along the graveyard spinning a stake in her hand idly. She was thinking about what they had discussed in the hospital earlier that day and wanted to get Spike’s opinion on it.
That is, if he wasn’t too mad at her for what happened with Dru.
The Slayer rubbed the back of her neck. Like, okay, fine: it made sense if he was upset with her. He did say not to hurt Dru, and Buffy did agree to it. But she was also like, a crazy bitch and what was Buffy supposed to do? Just let her hurt Willow? Um, nooooo. Plus it wasn’t like she killed her! And it was really Drusilla’s fault, if anyone thought about it. If she had just stayed out of the fight then she never would have gotten hurt!
Feeling confident, Buffy nodded to herself and swung by the next graveyard. It was a slow night which she wasn’t unhappy about. She had some nerves, yes, but she mostly wanted to think her way through her thoughts before talking to Spike. She had to actually figure out what she was thinking and all that stuff. Have it all put into words instead of vague ideas and hand gestures. As much as she enjoyed slaying it didn’t really give her much time to reflect on her emotions or whatever.
Something in the air shifted and Buffy felt him the same time she heard his boots on the sidewalk behind her. She whipped around to see Spike standing at the other end of the block, leather clad arms crossed. She ignored the way her heart sped up at the sight. She had hoped for a little bit more time before she saw him but honestly, Buffy was just happy that she did end up seeing him. There was a very real possibility that he wouldn’t appear.
“Spike,” she almost whispered, a smile tugging at her lips.
The vampire didn’t make a move, however. He continued to stand there like a statue, staring her down. Buffy’s smile began to fade and her heart started to slowly drop to her stomach. A dread crawled up her legs and clawed deep into her chest cavity.
“Spike?” Her mouth felt as if it were full of cotton balls.
Spike finally moved, putting his hand in the pocket of his duster and fishing out a box of cigarettes. In a fluid motion he flicked one out and placed the box back in his pocket. He placed the cigarette in between his lips and took out his lighter. Buffy felt hypnotized by the sight. His face was lit up in the darkness from the lit cigarette and he took a long drag.
“Spike, if you’re a bit upset about Drusilla—” Buffy began, but was quickly cut off.
“Upset? Oh, you think I’m just a little bit upset about you attacking my girlfriend—”
“Girlfriend? She broke up with you!”
Buffy couldn’t believe it; Spike really, seriously thought of that ho-bag as his girlfriend? Still? After having sex with Angel in front of him, after effectively breaking up with him? Disgust and envy felt like bile at the back of her throat, though she wasn’t quite sure about the reason for envy. She wasn’t envious of Spike having such a shitty partner. If anything she pitied him. Her mind tried to ignore how Joan was softly pushing that she understood Buffy’s emotions.
“You broke your bloody promise to me,” Spike spat at her.
“It’s not like I had a choice! She was going to kill Willow!” Buffy exclaimed. How could Spike be so blind? So stupid?
“Didn’t have a choice? You could have just pushed her out of the way, or knocked out your stupid friend. You didn’t have to drive a bloody crossbow bolt through her fucking skull!” Spike screamed, throwing up his hands in frustration. Buffy narrowed her eyes.
“I’m not the one who shot it,” she said.
“That doesn’t matter and you know it,” he growled.
Buffy crossed her arms, pushing down her tears and rage. She could feel her muscles twitching in her calves.
“It does so,” she mumbled. Spike gave a bark of a laugh.
“Does it? Oh, so it wouldn’t have mattered if some other vampires ended up killing your friend? Because ‘oh, it wasn’t me!’” Spike said, his voice one of mockery.
“Making demands now, are we? Because of course, I forgot! Everyone has to do what the sodding Slayer says! Because if the Slayer breaks her word it’s fine. It’s not like she’s one of us lowly, soulless, evil vampires.” Spike’s nose twitched in disgust.
“You’re not evil,” Buffy mumbled, surprising herself. Not that she didn’t think that Spike was evil, because she didn’t; it was hard to think of the guy who sat down and laughed at her lame jokes while working on homework as evil. It was that she effectively just said that being without a soul didn’t mean evil.
And if she let herself start to go down that road of thinking well...what did that mean when it came to Angel?
Spike turned away from Buffy. There was a finality seeing the back of his leather duster that made Buffy feel sick.
“I have to take care of my dark princess, god knows Angelus won’t. Our truce is done, Slayer.”
The lump in Buffy’s throat only continued to grow as she watched him walk down the sidewalk. What had just happened? What had just happened!? She was furious and devastated and distraught all at once. Her emotions were a raw, open wound that seemed to come out of nowhere. She vaguely appreciated Joan’s comfort but all Buffy really wanted was her mom.
Before she knew it Buffy was sprinting home, the rest of her patrol forgotten. Her relief at seeing her front door was instantly destroyed: there was a note on her front door. Her veins became ice and the Slayer looked around. There wasn’t a living soul to be seen which did nothing to slow her breathing. Everything was too still, too quiet.
Buffy opened her mind as much as she could in such a state but again, she couldn’t feel any vampires nearby. She was alone in the dark, staring at a single paper illuminated by the outside light. Carefully, Buffy made her way to the front door and ripped the paper off of the door. Familiar handwriting stared back at her.
It was so nice to catch up with Xander! I’m sure you know, I never would have even thought to get to know him if it wasn’t for you! You’re really great at introducing new people to me. All because of you. My time with Xander was limited though, thanks to your interruption. It’s too bad we just didn’t quite see eye-to-eye.
I know just how you can pay it back to me, though! Yes, I figured the best way would be to spend some quality time with Joyce. It’s because of you that I want to get to know her inside and out.
See her soon!