2 - Life's a Dance
Willow and Buffy were quite obviously doing their best to not laugh. As such, snickers and giggles echoed in the small room and Xander did his best to ignore them. Miss Calender was taking time out of her busy day to try and teach him the basics of dancing and he did not want to make her think that she was wasting her time.
“Not bad,” the woman in question noted as he managed to make the entire circuit of the little feet she’d laid down on the floor without tripping over his own two gunboats. “Not bad at all. Twenty more.”
His face fell a little but he soldiered on as the others went on to work.
Jenny was pleased with the minor miracle that she had just witnessed. She’d seen Xander ‘dance’ before and had asked Willow if he really was that bad or if he had been faking it (Willow had confirmed her fears of him not faking it). Of course she had known that this was going to be difficult when she had started but sometimes she got lucky. If she set it up right and explained it enough, he could do it on his own. It wasn’t a knock against his intelligence; she knew he was smart as she had seen his class load but he was also unmotivated. It was a sad reality of the current generation of both students and teachers but she could not change the system.
She’d started teaching him the basics of dance the day after Methos had left. It had been a rather rude awakening to her that he had sensed what Xander was and her rituals had entirely missed it, but her pride had made her double check him. Much to her chagrin, the salt and quartz that had only occasionally glowed an orange hue when pre-Immortal children were about had glowed again, this time indicating that he was indeed one. This had disgusted her to some extent but she did not dwell on it because, as she had been told and had seen repeatedly, sometimes your ego needed to be deflated for you to realize that you were not the best at anything. There was always someone out there better than you and even the best made mistakes.
The teaching was slow, methodical, and he was learning the basics of it all until he could do it blindfolded… literally. Muscle memory had saved her from getting her head cut off more than once and no student of hers was going to get by half-assing it. The girls had become easily amused by his doings, his trials and his failures, but both seemed inordinately pleased when he got something right. Buffy and Willow would break his heart one day, she could see this, but she hoped it was not because they could not deal with the fact of what he was, what he would become. It was a very rare thing for a mortal who had grown up with or had been good friends with a pre-Immortal to remain unchanged by the drastic shift.
Rupert, for his part, had seemed to not care at all about what she had done with Xander after she had produced the translation that Methos had given her of the book. Necromancy was a black skill set of magic to be sure but it was rare to have such a complete and easily followed set of instructions laid out before you with regards to the book they had found in the vampire’s hoard. He had asked why she was taking the time (though she was fairly sure he was going to say ‘wasting her time’) with this endeavor and she had made a somewhat pointed comment about how her time was her own and if she wanted to train Xander how to dance, she would. “It isn’t as if you care.”
A peal of laughter from the lower area made her look back and she saw Willow having finally cracked, bent over and holding her gut while Xander ran through the process again. “Is something funny, Willow?”
Willow, who was still laughing, could not give a response.
Taking note of Xander’s irritated look and his flaming ears, she decided to level the playing field a bit. “If you think it’s so funny, why don’t you show him how it’s done?”
Willow stopped laughing immediately. “Wh-what?”
“You heard me.”
“But… but… I can’t!”
Willow blushed, looked down at her feet and muttered something to the effect that she could not dance.
“So you think it’s funny that he is trying and occasionally makes mistakes but you can’t do it at all? Typical. I must say, I’m disappointed in you, Willow.” On that note, she turned around as Xander got back to work.
“Don’t you think that was a little harsh?” Rupert asked her quietly.
“No. If she could dance and he was making a poor showing of it, that would be one thing. What she was doing was inconsiderate and hypocritical.”
“You seem rather defensive of him,” Rupert pointed out, looking up from the translation. “And who translated this? The syntax is impeccable but...”
“Doctor Adam Pierson translated it. We run in certain similar circles and he owed me a favor. As for my dealings with Xander, I see potential in him that I’d rather not see wasted. With his innate self-esteem issues, he would never put forth the effort required in this on his own. I’ve found that a little cajoling and praise in the right places can do wonders to a young man’s ego and confidence.”
Rupert blinked at her a few times, as if befuddled by her commentary, and she had to again remind herself that men, mortal or otherwise, were often simple creatures. As she had learned over the years, men had stopped being a challenge to read and manipulate long ago. Granted, she was surprised every once in a while and this greatly amused her, but it also attracted her, which might be why she saw Rupert how she did. Then again she’d also always had a thing for older men, at least physically. Maybe that was why she was such a tease with certain men. She’d thought about it off and on over the centuries and was often left frustrated over the fact as she always tried to hyper-rationalize it.
Dimly she was aware that Willow had joined Xander in his movements and that she was having as little luck as Xander had at first. Buffy’s amusement had fallen off and Xander was helping the young hacker, which made her smile a bit. She wondered if he would ever notice Willow’s affection for him. Probably not.
‘Maybe I need to have a little talk with him about it.’
‘Note to self: never let Miss C bring up Willow and me ever again.’
To say that it had gone badly would have been an understatement. Willow had been in earshot and had been all happy and hopeful but that had crashed as burned quickly enough as he started talking. Buffy had been forced to go off after Willow, who had bolted for her favorite crying bathroom, and he had felt like a Grade A heel while Miss Calender had grimaced and tried to apologize. He had waived it, saying that it wasn’t him she had to apologize to, and she had thankfully not pushed.
It wasn’t that he didn’t love Willow, he did, but it was in a more familial way, like a sister or a first cousin rather than someone that he could get Biblical with. For him it was simple, but it was obvious that Willow and, by proxy Buffy, did not quite understand that.
As such, Buffy and Willow were currently in the crying bathroom, Miss Calender was working with Giles on the book that they’d found a few weeks back and he was alone… dancing. Again. To up the difficulty factor, his teacher had started to remove certain steps and transitions, forcing him to remember and to use muscle memory to get the dance right. It was a clever ploy and so far he had only screwed up on the very hardest bits because his mind was elsewhere, but it was getting easier. His legs were still sore but were getting stronger, his foot placement was surer and his speed was picking up, all of which were good, but the best part was his balance was improving.
The sudden voice made him miss the crossover and he landed hard on his right side.
“I say, are you alright?” Giles asked, looking down at hm.
This was what he got for being cocky. “Yeah, just peachy. What’s up? Besides you, because it’s obviously not me that’s up.”
The older librarian rolled his eyes and muttered something Xander didn’t quite catch as he got to his feet before responding, “Can you go get Buffy and Willow? I have something I need to tell both of you.”
He grimaced. The last time he’d gone into no-man’s land (aka the girls’ bathroom), he’d been chased out under a hail of tissues, both used and fresh, toilet paper and one of Willow’s books. It was not an experience he wanted to repeat.
“It’s important, Xander.”
As Xander tried to come up with an argument against it, Miss Calender swooped in to save the day. “Oh, fine. I’ll do it.”
“Thank you, Miss Calender.”
She gave him a level look that called him a big baby and left the library.
“Why didn’t you go and get them, Giles?”
“The last time I did that, I nearly had my head taken off by one of those bloody books Willow carries and I’d rather not have that happen again.”
Several minutes passed and Buffy and Willow came back, the former looking quite embarrassed while the latter was looking all red and splotchy, which was often the case when she cried. Miss Calender walked in and was holding a paper towel to the side of her head, looking quite irritated.
“Are you alright, Miss Calender?”
“I’ll be fine, Xander, so long as Buffy doesn’t throw anything else at my head.”
“I said I was sorry!” Buffy griped. “What more do you want?”
“Be very careful when you ask questions like that, Buffy,” Miss Calender growled. “You might not like the answer. Now that everyone is here, Rupert, what did you want to tell us?”
“Ah, yes, well, a-according to the translation provided by your Doctor Pierson, it-it appears that the vampire who had this was trying to resurrect someone.”
Everyone blinked at this and he looked around the table. Buffy looked annoyed, Miss Calender looked disgusted and Willow just looked blank. “Um… are we talking like Jesus resurrection or Necronomicon from the Evil Dead movies?”
“Um, a-actually… mummies.”
“Like Lon Chaney or Ampata?” Buffy asked before she grimaced. “Sorry, Xander.”
He wasn’t too happy himself but he let it slide.
“Actually more along the lines of the former, Buffy. I cannot say for sure but I think the intent was there.”
“But it wasn’t done, right? All is right in the world with regards to the living undead and bandaged wrapped not having been raised?” Buffy pressed.
“I… we’re not sure,” Giles allowed.
He and Buffy both sighed. Another long night was ahead of them.
“Next time we make sure nothing is on the other side of the door before we do anything.”
Xander’s gripe was an honest opinion about the situation and, as such, nobody gave him too much grief over it. It had taken them a few hours to find the vampire’s ritual circle but it had taken an additional two days to find the actual site of the mummies.
Yes, mummies. Plural.
Much to their collective irritation, the vampire had been a busy little bee and had managed to raise four of the things before he had been caught and none of the living were particularly happy about it. As such, when the door to the room had been breached, they came rushing out, bowling over both Xander and Giles in the process. Willow had been off to the side with her while Buffy had been just behind the men so she could go in first but her Slayer reflexes and strength had allowed her to pulverize the small scarab in the middle of the first mummy’s chest, causing the magics holding it to the realm of the living to vanish and for the body to fall apart into a mess of bandages, bones, rotting flesh and dust.
The other three had been far more trouble to dispatch. One of them had gone after herself and Willow and Jenny had found herself in a bit of a tight spot as the buggers were magic resistant and anything she could do would be dangerous to Willow, so they had been on the move immediately. A second had flung itself at Xander but he executed a lateral shift that ended in a slide that Fred Astaire would have been proud of, causing the mummy to charge past him and into the waiting Slayer. Rupert, though, found himself in the clutches of the mummy and being throttled. Xander jumped onto the back of the mummy, wrapping his legs around the waist and his arms under its chin, as if he was trying to choke it to death, but in reality she figured he was just trying to distract it while Rupert managed free himself. It worked, thankfully, and Rupert was able to destroy the scarab set into the chest while Buffy dealt with the one that had been harassing her and Willow, but the now-very-deceased mummy could not hold itself together and dumped Xander onto the floor, where he banged his head on the way down.
“Are you alright, Xander?”
“Alright, new rule. Only one Giles asking questions at a time,” he whined as she watched him close his eyes and clutch the side of his head. “All in favor?”
“Aye,” Buffy said quickly.
She, meanwhile, grimaced. A probable concussion. Bugger. Head wounds were always tricky. “Willow, see to him. Buffy, watch them while Mister Giles and I go into the room.”
As the redhead went to fuss over Xander and his head, she followed Rupert into the thankfully empty next room and grimaced at the stench. Gods above and below she would never get used to that. Worse, she was probably going to have to burn the clothes she was wearing. “See if you can find the circle, Rupert. I don’t want to be in here any longer than we have to.”
“Quite right,” Rupert agreed, holding a rag over his face.
It took them only a few minutes to find the actual circle that had been used to focus the magical energies in order to contain and keep up the mummies. That was when the drama began with regards to the ritual itself as Rupert wanted to take it back to the school and study the focus, to see what made it tick. She had been around far longer than he and knew that no good could come from it and had insisted on destroying it.
“The possibility of studying it far outweighs the trouble it could bring.”
“And I’m sure that they said the same thing about the atomic bomb, Rupert. What if this thing is a homing beacon of some kind? What if it draws more trouble to the Slayer or the school at large? Good God, man, have you taken leave of your senses?”
He jerked as if she had slapped him, an option that she was seriously considering, and then he shook his head as if to dislodge some foul thought. “Yes, yes, you are quite correct. I… I don’t know what I was thinking.”
She sighed in relief as he raised the crystal above his head and smashed it into the ground, shattering it and releasing the energies trapped inside into the area. They seemed to wail, to scream, a sound that put her teeth on edge, but they soon dissipated, leaving a chill in the air that seemed to seep into her bones. She hated dealing with necromancy.
“We should leave,” Buffy called from the doorway.
“I don’t know, Giles, but something is most definitely stirring up the wiggins right now. Xander’s seeing singles again but I think we should get out of here while we can.”
“Yes, quite right. Willow, you and Buffy help Xander. Xander, do try and stay on your feet.”
“Right. Next time you take the shot to the head and I get to tell you to stay on your feet,” Xander muttered quietly and then he groaned as she heard the impact of female hand on his side.
“Stop abusing him, Buffy.”
“It wasn’t me, Miss Calender. It was Willow!”
Willow gave Buffy an affronted look and growled, “Was not!”
“Was so!” the Slayer defended. “My hands are full here.”
“Can we please get out of here? You two yelling in stereo is almost as bad as two Giles’ talking at the same time,” Xander pleaded as the girls flanked him and helped him get down the hallway in a semi-steady fashion. Given their relative heights and strengths, it was a dicey proposition to begin with.
Jenny closed her eyes and counted to ten. When she had agreed to repay her favor to the clan, she had not thought that it would involve this. ‘I wonder if I can get hazard pay out of those cheap bastards.’
“How is the kid doing?” He smiled as he heard Janna sigh on the other end of the line; it as a tired, frustrated sigh that he knew well from MacLeod when dealing with Richie. Ma Bell had made many, many great advancements over the years and it let him hear the frustration in crystal clear quality. “That bad, huh?”
“No, not like that,” she assured him. “His footwork, speed and stamina are improving as far as his dancing his going. No, tonight we found the mummies raised from that book you translated for me.”
This made him arch an eyebrow. Mummies? He was tempted to ask if they were of the Lon Chaney kind but he figured from the tone of her voice that it would not be received particularly well. “Is everyone alright?”
“Xander might have a slight concussion but I think he’ll be fine. No, what worries me is Rupert. Something seemed to be overriding his good sense tonight because he wanted to keep the focus intact and take it back to the school.”
Methos knew that his own understanding of the arts arcane were questionable at best outside of rote knowledge and what he’d picked up from the telly over the past few decades but that did not sound good. “What are you thinking?”
“I’m going to check a few things to make sure that he hasn’t been influenced by anything but that can wait until tomorrow. I’m too tired and I’d rather not get it wrong.”
“I normally don’t step into your realm of expertise, Janna-“
“Since when?” she interrupted him, sounding irritated and with reason.
“-but I’m not sure that this should be something you wait on. If you are right, I would think that sooner rather than later would be better.”
The sigh he got this time told him that she knew he was right but she was not going to give him the satisfaction of saying it was true. Yes, sometimes it was good to be him. Now, where did he put his-
“I have a question about Xander’s training.”
-damn it. The beer would have to wait. “What about it?”
“When should I start him on his sword work? Or should I?”
Methos frowned and sat back further in his chair. This was a good question. “I’ll ask you a separate question, Janna: can you get away with teaching him without him wondering where you learned and why?”
“I want to say yes but he has a way of getting information out of someone that they don’t intend to let loose. Bugger,” Janna sighed and he swore he heard her flop down into a chair of her own. “That’s another thing on the list I have to worry about.”
“See if you can get the Slayer or her Watcher to teach him at least the basics. Watch while they do it and make a note of things you’ll have to change.”
“With my luck he’ll have watched far too many Saturday morning martial arts marathons or The Princess Bride,” Jenny sighed.
Methos frowned. “And precisely what is wrong with that?” He knew for a fact that badly dubbed martial arts marathons got better as he got deeper into a six-pack of beer!
Janna groaned again through the phone.
AN: I was going to leave Methos out of this one because I didn’t want to become dependent on his commentary or possibly drive Giles to drinking heavily but he just seemed to fit here. He’s not always going to show up in the chapter but he is kind of needed right now.
As for the rest of this, I’m not entirely sure I’m happy with this chapter but I’m not going to rewrite it simply because of that fact.