Chapter 7: Blinded Eyes and Burning

Buffy decided to walk to the Magic Box; it was a lovely day, crisp, bright, and breezy. Dawn was with Janice, and would likely return with green toenails, the latest amongst Sunnydale teens, and Xander had shuffled home to his empty apartment. She had a few hours to herself, and she needed to talk to Anya. Perhaps it was none of her business -- okay, she knew perfectly well it was none of her business -- but she thought Anya should at least know what kind of shape Xander was in. She'd want to know if -- well, if anyone she cared about was in trouble.

Since getting to know her better at last, Buffy liked Anya. (One thing that kept her from liking Anya before was a reluctance to upset Willow; strange, but true.) Sure, she was a little weird, but which of them wasn't? Among her other admirable qualities, Anya was honest, which was a refreshing change from the denial-loving Scoobies. Maybe that was a demon thing, but instead of feeling threatened, she'd come to value it.

It was true, advice to the lovelorn wasn't exactly her forte. What did she know about relationships, except how to shatter one into a million irretrievable pieces? Her record of sending lovers running for the exit, however devoted they might be at first, was quite evidently unbroken. But if Xander wanted Anya, and Anya wanted Xander, Buffy was ready to do anything in her power to help them. Because she wanted to see someone happy, sometime. It must be possible, even in Sunnydale.

"So we'll be needing some muscle," Spike concluded, "but we need brains, too. Things don't add up. This bint has her tentacles spread throughout the Sunnydale underworld; she knows everything, has power over everyone, but never goes anywhere herself -- why?"

"I dunno; nobody ever sees her," said Eddie. Eddie was the bouncer at the Red Sunset Club, a powerful, green-skinned Savra demon with a rasping voice. "Her boys never report right to her, and they get orders second hand. Even the hard guys from out of town are scared."

"Is there something wrong with her?" Spike wondered. "Maybe she can't get about, or needs a special environment, or something."

"And how does she get her henchmen to do her bidding if she can't threaten them?" Clem said.

"Thrall," said Zevra, her orange eyes flashing. Zevra was an Amazonian Zantip, with glossy black skin and a mane of white hair. She wore the traditional garb of her clan -- scanty, skin-tight leather (this was one tradition Spike, a professed iconoclast, approved of, as did male demons of many species and indeed any male human who became aware of it); she was also heavily armed. "One of our sisters was taken once," she continued, "though she escaped eventually. But she told us that the Terrible One keeps her followers in thrall. The will is overcome."

Abner cleared his throat. He was a strapping young Minotaur, barely out of his teens; he and his identical twin brother Abel, also present, were a bit shy but eager for their first battle. "I heard no one ever leaves; either they work for her until they're killed, or they disappear and are never seen again," he said.

"Interesting." Spike stubbed out his cigarette. "So how'd your girl get away, Zev?"

Most uncharacteristically, the Amazon looked flustered. "Well..."

"Come on, love - takes more than willpower to overcome the old hey!presto."

Zevra traced a pattern on the crypt floor with her spear point, not meeting his eyes. "Between ourselves?" she said. The others, barely able to contain their curiosity, made sounds of assent. She took a breath. "She's part human. It doesn't work on humans."

"Zevvie, I AM shocked," Spike said, suppressing a grin. Amazons were notoriously fastidious about interbreeding (not sex - they loved sex); obviously some lucky bloke had slipped in under the fence, so to speak. However, this raised an interesting question. "Does it work on vamps?"

"I don't think so," she said slowly. "I've never heard of a vampire serving her. I think you're too human. Sorry, Spike."

"That's all right, love, no offense taken."

"I didn't want to have to break it to you this way, but he's not good, and I think you have a right to know," Buffy said. Anya sat at the makeshift table in the Magic Box, her brown eyes filled with pain, and tears.

"What right do I have? Xander didn't want me to be a part of his life." She dabbed at her eyes with a lace-edged handkerchief -- trust Anya to be sad and feminine and conventional, all at the same time, and also to go just a little bit overboard.

"Look, I know it's not my place to say anything. But I think -- I know -- he still loves you. In his mind, what he did to you is the worst thing he's ever done, and he just can't live with himself because of it. He thinks you'll never forgive him, and he can't forgive himself." Suddenly Buffy felt she just had to make Anya see before it was too late.

She went on passionately, "But he DOES care. He's keeping away from you and being all casual because he thinks you'll never want to see him again, but it's hurting him -- and I think it's hurting you. You might lose something really precious if you can't -- " she stopped all at once, her voice suspended by tears.

Anya reached over and took her hand. "Are you sure it's just me and Xander you're talking about?"

"Maybe not," Buffy said, sniffling. "But hey, call me the queen of missed opportunities -- also queen of regrets. It's not worth losing what you're losing just for pride."

"What do you think I should do? To let him know I still -- I don't -- " She twisted her pretty handkerchief.

"Well, I probably shouldn't be giving advice," Buffy temporized. Maybe I overdid this, she thought. What can I say -- be like me, clumsy and inarticulate; that'll get him back! "I'm not exactly Ms. Big Success in this area. I'm just saying, if you care -- don't give up."

"Right," Spike said briskly. "We're getting a handle on this. If we can cut off this thrall thingy, and liberate the minions, we'd be well on the road to bringing the Doctor down for good. But I think we should consult one more expert."

"Who? Ahn Jung-hwan the Sorcerer?" Abel said. "Sukar the Sage?

Spike grinned. "Not exactly."

"No, it's my mom!" Clem said proudly. "She's got tons of old-world knowledge about spells and stuff, she can diagnose all kinds of magic, and she knows about potions, too."

"It would help if we actually got hold of a minion, but I suppose that's too much to ask," Spike mused.

"We might be able to grab one," Eddie said. "These boys can help me." Abner and Abel nodded their massive horned heads, their great dark eyes glowing with enthusiasm.

"Brilliant. See what you can do." He rose to signal the meeting was ending, saying, "Zev, we should talk to your sis directly. And I've got one more source that might have something to tell us. So let's connect up tonight at Mrs. C's house, compare notes, work out our strategy."

With that the demons went off on their various assignments, and Spike strode off into the dusk toward the Magic Box. Anya would know something about thrall, or at least where to look for more information. Fortunately, she was a sensible type of girl; they'd met a couple of times since the little incident between them last spring, and after a few minutes any hint of awkwardness disappeared. Now they were just acquaintances again -- possibly even friends.

He was pumped, in fact. His idea for getting the gen on the Doctor was working out, he could see the prospect of revenge and a lively fight, side by side with his mates, and -- to top it all -- he was helping people. Well, not exactly people, but peaceful, law-abiding folks, anyway. It felt all right. This, he could do.

"You're right," Anya said, with a determined set to her chin. "I've been moping too long; it's time to take action. Next time I see Xander, I'll -- "

The shop doorbell interrupted her. Xander stood in the entrance, looking spruced up, but uncertain and still rather unwell.

"Buffy, I came because I thought you'd want to -- I had to tell you -- " His eyes locked with Anya's. "Hey, Ahn," he said softly.

"Hello, Xander," she said, her lips curving into a smile. She rose from her chair, and they stood there wordlessly gazing at each other.

"Hi there," Buffy said after a few moments. "I'm another person in the room. I'll just sit here until someone notices me."

"That's nice," Anya said.

But Xander suddenly roused himself. "Oh, right; Buffy. I was going by your house and I saw something - I don't know, bizarre. I just thought you'd want to know. It was Amy. She was sort of skulking, or possibly slinking. Whatever it was, she looked really bad. And not un-ratlike."

"Amy!" To tell the truth, what with one thing and another, Buffy had completely forgotten about Amy. "What could she want? I don't even know where she lives now."

"It's not like we sent out announcements when Willow went away; maybe she's looking for her," Xander said. "But she seemed - stealthy, somehow."

"She used to hang around Rack, but he's, well, gone -- " Buffy reflected. She so did not want to spend her time searching for Amy, of all people; it's not like the girl posed a threat. But there might be more pushers out there, she guessed. Oh, darn. "I suppose I'd better see what she -- "

The bell sounded again.

"Hey, Buffy; hey, Anya!" Dawn said with a cheeriness that instantly roused Buffy's suspicions. But on the other hand, maybe she did it to torture Xander, because instead of offering a greeting she just rolled her eyes at him.

"Weren't you at Janice's house?" Buffy said.

"Yeah, but she wanted to go to the mall and I'm like not allowed yet. So I came over here to help Anya." She smiled seraphically.

"Well, that was nice," Buffy began.

"But you know what? I dropped by Spike's first and he's working on this plan -- " she added in a rush.

"Dawn, I don't want you imposing on Spike," Buffy interrupted, switching instantly to firm guardian mode, "he could have things to do - "

"Oh, yeah, right," Xander said, flushing, "like what?"

Buffy rounded on him, "Oh, I don't know, Xander; how about saving your LIFE? Or isn't that -- "

At this inauspicious point, the bell rang AGAIN. Four faces swiveled automatically toward the door -- followed by four varying expressions of shock, dismay and apprehension.

Buffy found her voice first.

"Hi," she said unsteadily. "I didn't expect to see you again."

Spike swung jauntily around the corner. Anya would have the shop all organized again by now; she'd be able to put her hand right on the books and references he was looking for, he was sure. She was a smart girl -- pulled herself together and got right back to work. That was the best remedy, or so he'd always heard.

He let himself wonder if he should ask about the Slayer. Just casually. Who knew how long it would be before he saw her again?

But as he neared the Magic Box, he slowed suddenly, sensing Buffy's presence. She was there. Well, she'd made every effort to be civil last night, even apologized. And it wasn't as though he'd just come 'round to bother her; this was different. He was on a legitimate errand.

And he'd be near her, even for just a few minutes.

He stood at the shop door and straightened his shoulders, taking a deep breath. Then he opened the door. That little bell tinkled.

And he saw Buffy. She was there, all right.

With her arms around Riley Finn.

"LOOK, O blinded eyes and burning,
Think, O heart amazed with yearning,
Is it yet beyond thine earning,
That delight that was thine all?-
Wilful eyes and undiscerning,
Heart ashamed of bitter learning,
It is flown beyond returning,
It is lost beyond recall."

Frederick William Henry Myers

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