By Jemima Pereira (
© December 13, 2001
Episodes: Once More With Feeling, Wrecked
Pairings: Buffy/Spike
Rating: PG
Series: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

A post-"Wrecked" pseudo-episode and OMWF reprise. You can never get enough show-tunes.

Lyrics to "Ghost" copyright 1992 the Indigo Girls. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is the creation of Joss Whedon.

I'd like to thank Jintian for betaing this story. It was my first Buffy fic and she helped me keep the characters in character, the factoids factual, and the POV under control.

Buffy was fated to be torn between two worlds--last week, heaven and earth, this week, earth and hell. This soul-division made her more sympathetic, and perhaps too understanding, about Willow's ongoing magic problem. The challenge was getting the others to see things her way.

When her sister stormed into the house after school, Buffy followed the stomping up to her room. Some of the clutter in Dawn's deceptively typical teenager pad was unfamiliar, but her older sister went on not noticing the remaining pack-rat of the household. She had bigger things on her mind, as usual.

Buffy leaned against the doorpost and said, "Will wants to cook dinner for everyone tonight."

"I'm not hungry." With her good hand, Dawn dumped her backpack out on the bed, scattering a few more possessions than were actually hers, and plopped down among them. She started her math homework, to emphasize her indifference to the Willow issue.

"Dawn, if we don't help Willow through this, we may lose her." And if Buffy didn't throw herself into the Willow reclamation project, she might lose herself.

"No great loss."

It wasn't, was it? Dawn might as well be writing off her own sister - with a double vision of the mind, Buffy identified herself with Willow and her dark temptations, not to mention actual lapses. Dawn furious at Will, Tara leaving Will, was just a frightening preview of the movie that would be playing once they found out Buffy herself was equally guilty, if not more so.

Yet it was all so clear to Dawn - so easy to draw the line, but harder than her little sister could possibly know to live here on the right side of it. How could Buffy convince Willow to toe the straight and narrow when she wasn't sure she could do it herself?

By sheer force of will, perhaps. Buffy played her trump card: "Tara's coming."

That distracted Dawn from math. "Fine, I'll be down."

The dinner was a qualified success. The food was better than the dinner conversation--Willow claimed she'd cooked it, and Buffy tried to believe. Amy had been too ill to come. Dawn and Tara didn't say much to Willow, but Xander and Anya kept the conversation limping along. Buffy felt almost normal, which was to say, she was getting close to that post-heaven daze of the past few weeks.

To think she'd complained about it--her bitching so whiny in prose, yet immortal in song... Being a celestial junkie shivering in withdrawal and begging for a chance to be re-martyred sounded just peachy to her now that she was a hell-junkie burning with the longing to sin again.

And not the only one in the room. Even her little sister had gone parking with a vampire she hardly knew - it must be in the genes. At least Dawn had the nerve to stake him afterwards.

"Coffee, anyone?" Buffy asked in her best cold-cheery tone. Cold cheer--now that was a phrase she'd never really understood until now. Maybe a slayer had come up with it.

It was probably a vampire, she realized.

"Sit down, Buffy," Dawn was saying. "I put it on already."

Put what on? Oh, yes, coffee. Take a stroll down here on earth, Buffy Summers, she told herself, and did her best to obey.

"So what's the plan?" Xander asked. Giles being so obviously missing, they all turned to Buffy for an answer.

Open mouth. Speak. "Maybe a little light patrolling before bed," she said. Is that what they're calling it now? her inner junkie--which one she wasn't sure--asked.

Tara emerged from the kitchen, a dishtowel still slung over one arm. "I should get going."

Dawn followed on her heels with a pot of coffee. "Don't go, Tara. Let's watch a movie or something."

Willow agreed. "Stay and spend some time with Dawn," she said, giving them all a genuinely warm, if disturbingly optimistic, smile. "You, too, Buffy. You look stressed. I'll just go visit Amy for a few hours."

Everyone got that concerned-but-unwilling-to-say-so expression. Tara turned away, Dawn frowned. Anya bravely asked a neutral question, "How is Amy?"

"Not good. Rack won't see her anymore." Something that might have been guilt flashed across Willow's face, but she recovered quickly.

Buffy said, "I'll come with you." One step down, eleven more to go...

Willow smiled a smaller smile.

"Can we see Amy?" Willow asked Mr. Madison.

He took the chain off the door just long enough for the two of them to slip inside. "She has the flu."

"We heard."

Amy's room faced the street. The air was hot and sour, just like that of less magical sickrooms. The lump on the bed twitched when her visitors spoke.

"Amy? How are you doing?"

An arm emerged and pushed the covers down, and a jaundiced eye focused on Willow. "I don't suppose you've come to take me back to Rack's."

Willow winced and said, "I'm sorry." Again. Just some girl who'd screwed up the whole magic thing... "Really sorry."

Buffy stepped into Amy's yellowed field of vision. "You're not serious about giving up magic, are you?" Amy asked, ignoring Buffy. "How do you go from resurrecting people to flipping burgers?"

Tara didn't even know that girl. Willow turned away, saying, "Let's talk about something else."

Buffy changed the subject quickly. "So how is your father adjusting to having you back?"

"He likes having someone to boss around again. He's after me to get my GED and a job." Amy shook her head at the prospect, as if trying to loosen some old and dusty dream. "At least he's not charging me rent."

A few years of free sunflower seeds and cedar chips, no strings attached, could be habit-forming, Willow supposed.

Amy the ex-rat waved lazily at the window, parting the curtains and lifting the sash. She jumped out of bed, like someone running fast on empty, to get a whiff of the fresh air.

"There's a world of magic out there," she said. When Willow joined her by the window she asked, "If you were still casting spells, what spell would you cast?"

"Amy..." Buffy said in a tone she must have picked up from her mother.

Willow, however, figured talking about magic was harmless compared to doing it. "Well, there was this demon Xander summoned to Sunnydale who got the whole town singing and dancing." Powerful magic, but cheery. "I was wondering whether his spell could be reverse-engineered. I had an idea..." She stopped herself, barely, from speaking the spell aloud.

"What demon?" Amy asked hopefully.

Willow felt faint. "Sweet, Lord of the Dance," she answered, then staggered, catching herself against the windowsill.

"Will, what was that?" Buffy asked, glaring at Amy.

"Power," said Amy--a junkie knew her drug. "Don't you know better than to mention demons by name?"

Willow hardly heard her--her attention was fixed on the window. "Look!"

Below them in the street, a vampire disguised as a hooker was dancing Swan Lake. When she passed beneath a streetlight, they could make out her forehead ridges and fangs clearly. Willow frowned, though she admired the skill required to go en pointe in high-heels.

Amy laughed out loud. "She must have been a ballerina in life."

"That's pathetic," Buffy said.

Willow cleared her throat. "Is anyone else experiencing some heavy deja vu here?" Please tell me I didn't just summon a demon, she thought, looking to Buffy for reassurance.

Buffy's eyes were on the vampire.

"Aren't you going to go down there and vampire-slay her?" Amy asked.

"I'm sure Evelyne Heart there will leave town as soon as possible," Willow answered for Buffy. "She won't be able to face the other vampires after this little production number. We have a bigger problem here." Like becoming Sweet's next queen of the underworld...

Buffy made no move as a vampire in a sportsuit ran past the ballerina singing loudly enough for them to hear all about the five kittens he'd swindled a loan shark out of.

"And the shark will take care of that one," Amy said, still chuckling.

Buffy finally met Willow's eye. "We have a problem," she agreed.

Tara, Dawn, Xander and Anya adjourned to the living room.

Dawn had spoken too soon--their small, eclectic video collection wasn't up to the challenge of pleasing four people at once. Dawn read out the titles and the others shot them down. "The Sound of Music?"

"No musicals." Xander hadn't yet recovered.

"The Big Chill?" No response. "Forget I asked. How about a horror flick? We have Harvey." Dawn held up the tape with the six foot rabbit star figuring prominently on its case.

"No bunnies!" Anya would never recover.

"Fantasia?" She was scraping the bottom of the barrel.

"No magic," Tara said.

Dawn gave up. "Let's see what's on TV." She took charge of the remote.

The news was Sunnydale-exotic as usual. In the segment normally reserved for acupuncture, pagans and other topics the local news covered for the sake of the ratings though they weren't respectable news, the anchorwoman reported that the ice-demon was at it again, freezing wildlife in the woods near town. The experts were speculating about freak weather phenomena.

"We have to get to the bottom of this," Xander said over Anya's muttered hopes that the ice-demon had freeze-dried a few bunnies.

"Look," Dawn said, attracting their attention to the TV after a few commercials, "Buffy's on TV." Her big sister was crashing into a condemned building, flinging a familiar figure with her across a dusty room.

"Why would someone film Buffy beating up Spike?" Xander asked.

The on-screen Buffy said Spike hadn't come close to hurting her.

"There!" Anya exclaimed, "Buffy should be getting residuals for that. She could make a killing in syndication--"

"TV demons don't pay residuals, Anya," Xander said, "no matter how many lines you get."

"Maybe it's not magic," Tara suggested. "The local news might just be taking an interest in the Slayer."

"Like Buffy wouldn't notice a TV crew filming her beating up Spike." Xander shook his head.

"The production values are too good for TV news," Anya informed them. "Anyway, Buffy never thinks about her position. She needs some good short-term life insurance"--she could have already collected--"and she's not getting paid nearly enough for this slaying business."

Anya didn't hear Xander's snappy comeback; she had that creepy-crawly feeling you get when bunnies are in the room. The other two weren't paying attention to their premarital banter either--they were deathly silent.

"Merciful Zeus!" Xander covered his eyes.

"Are they allowed to show that on television?" Anya asked. "If they're not careful, they'll get boycotted."

"Give me the remote," Tara said quietly. Dawn's eyes were as wide as her sister's, her face almost as red, as she handed it over. Tara shut the television off. "What was that?"

"It's obvious," Xander said. "Someone got a hold of Spike's home movies with the Buffybot and is doing a United Vampire Network broadcast with them to embarrass the Slayer."

"We have to stop them." Anya was on the warpath. "They're damaging Buffy's image." She was sure there was a look-and-feel lawsuit somewhere in this, too.

Tara called Amy's house.

The phone rang downstairs, and Amy's father called up for Buffy.

"One guess what that's about." Buffy left the door open behind her.

When she was out of earshot, Amy said, "Not to harsh on your spell or anything, Willow, but Buffy's just not the girl she used to be. It's like she's not all there."

"She just needs some time to adjust."

"I adjusted quicker than that, and I was a rat."

"I offered to help her forget..."

"Forget what?"

Willow looked away as she answered, "Heaven."

"Tough one," Amy said, "like trying to give up magic."

A week, a month, without magic - that's easy. It had been easy so far, Willow thought, hadn't it? Nobody was forgetting a thing.

They waited in silence for Buffy.

She ran back into the room, looking pale, or rather, paler than usual. "Tara says they saw something strange on TV."


She opened her mouth, but the words wouldn't come out. "Never mind," she said instead. "I'm going to find Spike. Can you meet Xander and Anya at the TV studio?" Willow nodded. "Sorry to run out on you like this, Amy."

"I'll just burrow back under the covers. Thanks for stopping by."

Spike was flat on the bed, staring at the damp ceiling of his crypt and still expecting to wake up from the dream. He'd lost the thread of time, doing one of those living-in-the-past things that dead people so often do--though usually they picked a happy moment of life to relive, rather than...and he was gone again.


The sound of her voice slipped easily into his dreamscape.

"Spike, are you ok?"

He felt someone shaking him and opened his eyes. " nice to see you again. Pull up a pillow."

She backed away and said, "Outside."

He smiled. "Later, then."


"That's what you said about the kissing. Twice."

"Third time's the charm," she said, but he deflected her assurance with a smile. Twisty and evil, him.

But she didn't seem to be in the mood to argue. She turned and left his crypt, and of course he followed. When they'd reached a quiet spot at the edge of the misty graveyard, she stopped and faced him. "You didn't do it, did you?"


She leaned against a stone wall and watched his eyes. "You. Me. On television."

"I'm not following you, love."

"The whole thing was on TV tonight--you and me, the house falling down..." Her voice trailed off.

He was puzzled for a few seconds, then made a very round "oh" of realization. "I don't suppose you taped it."

"Don't be vile."

"It was the high point of my death," he protested.

"I take it you're not responsible."

"Of course not. Are you sure it was real? You weren't just projecting?" She did look a bit dazed.

"Thank you, Dr. Spike. I didn't see it--they did."


"Dawn, Tara, Xander and Anya."

"Dawn?" he choked.

"I think Tara shut it off before--never mind. We have to do something."

Set the VCR to record, for one thing, Spike thought. There was no guarantee that that particular pilot would be picked up for the season. "I say we catch them in the act of taping us."

"In your dreams, Spike." She chewed on her lower lip provocatively for a moment. Don't stop, he thought, but she did.

"Do you think my chip's bugged?"

"No, there was a camera. Several cameras. Or magic."

"It must have been magic. I wouldn't have shown up on film."

"Right," she said sheepishly.

Basic Vampires 101 stuff, and the Slayer hadn't thought of it. If he wanted to take advantage of her, this would be a good moment - but for some strange reason, most of his concentration was going into not serenading her.

"But why?" Buffy asked. "Are they trying to get to me, or to you?"

"It wouldn't exactly ruin my reputation." Which was to say, everybody knew who the Slayer's puppy-dog was.

"They thought it was the Buffybot - I doubt they'd believe me if I told them."

"I'm not sure I believe it, and I was there." He tried to catch her eye, but found it as elusive as Willow had. Like her mind, it was always somewhere else these days.

She started walking, and of course he fell in step behind her.

Tara and Dawn saw some strange things on their way to check the broadcast tower, but when they arrived, all they found was a bare control room--neither demons nor bunnies haunted the automated facility.

Tara had a Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit, which she'd gotten some time back in order to do a weekly New Age music hour for the college radio station. So she had some idea of how to take the television station off the air, and a pretty good grasp of how illegal it was for her to do so.

While Tara busy was breaking FCC laws, Dawn collapsed onto a battered folding chair. After half an hour she got bored, but she knew better than to ask why Tara didn't just cast a spell. Instead, she found an old radio in a closet and turned it on.

A hollow voice was saying, "Vampires are consumers, too, if you'll pardon the pun. Capitalism can only lead to more rights for the undead." And he had a tape series to prove it.

Tara dropped the dusty station log, in which she'd been recording her action and reasons, unsigned, in a last-ditch bid for legality. Dawn turned the dial, listening for more snatches of the Westwood Undead Radio Network: "...government spy and traitor to his own kind, Spike of Sunnydale..." "...a few dollars a week in your 401k plan can really add up after a few centuries..." "...the alabaster pillar of her neck..." "...remember, blood and wine don't mix."

Tara switched to the FM band.

"This one goes out to Amanda from Chet, with his ambivalent thanks for turning him." The dj chuckled appreciatively. "Immortality: the gift that keeps on giving." The opening strains of "A Whiter Shade of Pale" followed, and Tara shut off the radio.

"Let's get going."

Buffy and Spike spotted the mime in the spotlight of a streetlight, making those annoying boxed-in motions. As they approached, however, the figure resolved into something even stranger than a midnight mime. Buffy thought it would have passed for a cross between Lucifer and a howler monkey if it weren't for the disturbing black tights.

Spike tossed a coin in the bowler on the sidewalk just outside the mime's invisible box.

"Do you know him?" Buffy asked.

"You could say that." She frowned at him and he added, "It's the Imp of the Perverse--though he's not usually a mime."

"The what?"

"The Imp of the Perverse."

"Could you hum a few bars?"

"Haven't you read Poe?" he asked. "He was an American, you know. What do they teach you kids in school these days?" The Mime of the Perverse turned the pages of an imaginary book, shuddering all the while.

"I must have been out staking something that day."

"The Imp of the Perverse," Spike explained, "is the demon that makes people want to do crazy, suicidal things."

"Like sleep with vampires?"

"No, that's love." He gave her a grin that made her want to slam him into the nearest wall. She resisted the urge. "Haven't you ever looked down from the top of a building and wanted to jump? Hmmm?" He paused for a beat. "Oh, I forgot--you actually jumped."

She frowned back at him, wondering what had turned his eyes so dark. The Imp pantomimed falling to its death, its mouth open in a silent scream. Suddenly she could feel the air rushing past her, the short-lived high of terminal velocity...

"Let's go," she said, blocking out the memory of her all-too-impermanent death. "They're waiting."

Buffy stalked off, expecting him to follow at her heels as usual. Tonight he was unusually quiet, and though she was afraid he was doing some lewd mime trick behind her she eventually turned around.


He was gone.

Xander and Anya found a mostly-human crew at the television station, who were as mystified as the Scoobies about the demonic turn their prime-time lineup had taken. Buffy was off the air, having been replaced by cheesy old Dracula movies.

A cameraman came up to Xander and said, "Those movies are degrading--they're a tissue of lies and anti-vampire propaganda, but I love them anyway. And I don't know why I'm telling you this."

Xander asked him, "Are you really a cameraman?"

"I was when I was alive. I miss the lights."

Anya, who'd been consulting with a makeup artist, ran up to Xander with a long eye pencil grasped threateningly in her fist.

"Don't, Anya," he said, fending her off the vampire with one arm. "He was telling me what's going on."

The vampire-cameraman faded back into the set before Xander could ask him any more questions. "Thanks, pal," a hollow voice echoed over the studio sound system.

"You scared him off."

"You're welcome."

By the time Willow arrived they were ready to head for the magic shop, where they found as little helpful information in the musty old magic books as they had found when the Lord of the Dance was in town.

"It can't be Sweet," Anya concluded. "He can only be summoned with the scroll and the necklace, and they disappeared with him."

"Amy said--"

"Amy the rat doesn't have a thousand years' experience with demons," Anya replied airily.

"Ladies, ladies," Xander interrupted them, "let's not argue. If it's not Sweet, it must be some other bad guy." He cracked another book.

Tara stopped by to drop Dawn off, then headed home with hardly a word to the others. Buffy checked in soon after to tell them about the Mime of the Perverse and Spike's disappearance. They agreed that the vampire population of Sunnydale was too busy singing and dancing to make much trouble that night. For once, they could get a good night's sleep.

Buffy walked Willow and Dawn home, then decided to look for Spike. She wouldn't admit to being worried about him--she just liked to know where he was and what he was up to, for the safety of greater Sunnydale. She checked his crypt, his favorite alleys and condemned buildings - everywhere, with no luck.

Maybe he could find her--that was the way it usually worked, anyway. So she stopped by the Bronze and sat at her new favorite barstool, but no vampire lover disturbed her gloom this time. There was an all-girl vampire cover band singing Indigo Girls songs on stage, and as she glanced around for easily-detachable stakes she wondered why all vampires were trapped in the past. She hummed along to the music, so that before she knew it, she was crossing the dance floor, stakeless, and stepping onto the stage.

A vampire handed her a microphone and she joined in the next verse:

The Mississippi's mighty, but it starts in Minnesota
At a place where you could walk across with five steps down.
And I guess that's how you started--like a pinprick to my heart,
And at this point you rush right through me and I start to drown.

And there's not enough room in this world for my pain.
Signals cross and love gets lost and time past makes it plain,
Of all my demon spirits I need you the most.
I'm in love with your ghost...

Dark and dangerous like a secret, it's whispered in a hush.
When I wake the things I dreamt about you last night make me blush.
And you kiss me like a lover, and you sting me like a viper,
I go follow to the river, play your memory like the piper.

Yellow eyes scattered through the audience bored into her soul, as though they knew better than Buffy herself what, or whom, she sang about. Her voice failed her, and the girl with the guitar and the fangs took over.

They performed all night, everything from "I Am Stretched On Your Grave" to "Solitude Stands." The humans gradually left, and more vampires came in. No one bit anyone, or waved any stakes around--Buffy felt a kinship with the vampires beyond their unspoken truce. They all knew what it was like to be dead and still performing.

Though she watched the crowd for Spike, he never showed up. As dawn approached, her audience went home to their graves and she was left, solo and a capella, singing that traditional final number, "Stairway to Heaven."

Willow hadn't slept well; she went downstairs early to watch TV for clues. She had the funny feeling she was forgetting something, but unlike the other Scoobies, she still considered amnesia a blessing.

"It's Buffy again," she told Dawn when she peeked in on her way to school.

"When did the building fall down?" a bare Buffy was asking a similarly undressed Spike, amid the rubble of what Dawn said was probably the building they'd seen collapsing the night before. So Tara's efforts at the television tower had all been for naught.

A little lethe-spell would have done the trick, Willow thought.

Dawn left in a hurry, and Willow called Xander. "Buffy's back on TV," she said, instead of "hello."

Willow could hear the distinctive sounds of the local United Vampire Network affiliate as Xander turned on his television. A sleepy groan from Anya followed.

"I'm not old enough to watch more of this," Xander complained.

It didn't take long for Spike, who was just as blond in technicolor, to say something stupid about the only thing better than killing slayers and drive Buffy away.

"Only Spike could be that stupid," Xander told Willow. "If he'd just kept his mouth shut he would have--" There was a muffled grunt and he said no more.

"I always assumed it was because he's blond," Willow told him.

"She says it's because he's blond," she heard Xander relay to Anya.

"No, that's not it," Anya replied.

"Since when are you Spike's shrink?"

"Jealous, Xander?" Willow asked. She heard the front door open. "Hold on, someone's here."

Anya, meanwhile, was psychoanalyzing Spike. "If you'd been around in the nineteenth century, you'd understand. People didn't beat around the bush back then--you could die of plague or smallpox or syphilis at any moment, so--"

"So you let it all hang out?" Xander asked.

"So you told it like it was."

"What about that whole Victorian covering-the-furniture-legs thingy?"

"That was the bourgeois."

"I think it's because he's blond - ouch!" Xander was quiet for a moment, then said, "Hold on - that's not the Buffybot."

"How do you know?" Anya could never tell the difference.

"Listen--she was talking about Angel."

But Anya had missed it.

Willow hadn't missed it. She heard noises in the kitchen--the refrigerator door opening, something pouring. On television, Spike said something about rolling in the dirt. Xander groaned over the phone.

Willow didn't notice the silence behind her; for the first time in this little showing of Buffy Does Dallas, one of the Slayer's lines had rung true: "I swear to God, if you tell anyone about last night, I will kill you."

"Willow?" a voice said behind her.

Willow jumped, and the phone...disappeared. "You're on TV again, Buffy." Maybe that wasn't the best way to put it...

"Oh." Buffy sat down on the couch, nursed her orange juice, and gave no indication of what she had or hadn't seen. Her small-screen counterpart showed up at home, claiming to have been out all night staking the nasties.

Or something like that.

"Did Dawn leave for school already?" the real-time Buffy asked.

Willow nodded. "Did you find Spike?"

Buffy's eyes narrowed. "No," she said.

"I hope he's ok."

They lapsed into silence as the Buffy Hour closed and the credits rolled. A vampire game show, with kittens for prizes, followed. Willow got up for a snack, but Buffy didn't move an inch. Whenever Willow tried to start up a conversation, she gave one-word replies.

After the game show came "Planet of the Vampires," starring Buffy in Charlton Heston's role, and Spike as the lusty researcher who takes an undue interest in his human lab animal. As far as Willow could tell, Buffy hardly reacted; she only shuddered at the bit about God taking the breath of life, which is the soul, away from the humans and giving it to the vampires.

Xander showed up as the movie Buffy was beating her fists on the sand, beneath the rusting bust of the Statue of Liberty.

"Why didn't you answer the phone?" he asked.

Damn, the phone. Willow concealed a hand motion under a pillow, and the missing phone reappeared in the kitchen. She gave Xander an ix-nay on the one-phay look, and he changed his question to, "Why is Buffy on all the vampire shows?"

Willow glared at him for his trouble, but Buffy said, "I wasn't on the game show. Pity--I could have used the kittens."

"It doesn't make sense," he said. "Vampires, a few imps, and you."

"I think the demons were smart enough to get out of town," Buffy said.

"Buffy's always on with Spike," Willow explained. "It must have something to do with him. Maybe this is his spell."

"Spike's not a witch."

Willow's eyebrows shot up, though she couldn't read a thing from Buffy's flat tone. "Did you ever find him?"

"You already asked me that."

"So what were you doing all night?"

"I was singing with a vampire band at the Bronze."

"Not again," Xander moaned.

"Like you said, it's just me. You're all safe."

Xander cleared his throat. "Anyway, Anya has a lead. She sent me over for one of Will's books."

"I'll go back with you," Willow offered. She wanted out of that living room even more than Xander did. "Get some sleep, Buffy."


But she needed more than sleep, and she was starring in the next movie--the credits even listed Buffy Anne Summers, as herself. On a perverse impulse, she stuck a blank tape in the VCR and hit record.

And thus "The Silent Movie of the Soul" began with her botched resurrection and traced her slow and steady decline in the sharp gestures and expressions of the silent and the undead. She came barrelling out of her grave like a force of nature--or a demon--but she'd been slowing down ever since. The world was sharp and cold and froze the tears on her cheeks, as some impossibly snowy scenes dramatized.

A movie of a movie, Buffy playing Buffy playing Buffy - she was too far removed from the black-and-white scenes to be disturbed by them, though her silence had clearly bothered Willow earlier. That was, until she saw her expression change completely when she became Joan the Vampire Slayer--almost like the real Buffy, the Buffy all the other Buffys were playing, the one who was still dead. That hurt to see.

How could she blame Willow for those few short hours of peace? Tara managed somehow--that much was clear from her sparkling, monochrome tears when she realized that Willow had broken her promise. If a little magic could solve her Spike problem--every minute of which was there in the movie as well--she'd be the first to snap her fingers. Wouldn't she?

How hurt he looked, when she left him in the morning, saying something untrue about Spike being merely "convenient" - or rather, a placard said it for her in its old-fashioned font. It was crueler in print; perhaps that was why he seemed even sadder in black-and-white. She felt guilty. And it was a nice feeling, somehow.

"The real secret isn't that I slept with him," the placards reported, getting wordy now near the end. "The real secret is that I love him."

Buffy shut off the TV. She didn't want to know where it went from there. It was midday--time for undead girls to be in bed.

After dark they all assembled at the magic shop and compared notes until Spike walked in, sweaty, glowing and exhausted. Buffy briefly wondered if he was seeing another corpse.

"Where have you been?"

"There was a Vampire Street Theatre production of Les Miserables at Fourth and Elm," he said. "Last night was our dress rehearsal, and tonight we opened. It's the tragic story of a recently undead man who steals a pint of blood to survive and is hounded for it for years by a French slayer." To Buffy in particular he added, "You should take note of the moral."

"Somehow I doubt that vampire plays have morals."

"You just think about it for a while, Slayer. My bakery is always open."

Unwilling to parse his cryptic comments, which always came back to the same thing, she asked, "Did you play the hero?"

He laughed. "They made me play the slayer, of course."

"Of course."

"Anyway, during intermission we discussed the current vaudeville problem."

"Do tell," Xander said, interrupting their banter.

"It's definitely a spell, and a powerful one. A human one, in fact, but no one knows who cast it."

"We have to find out who it is," Buffy said, with a reasonable facsimile of her old intensity.

"Why?" Willow asked. Dawn glared at her. "I mean," she backtracked, "where's the harm in vampire talk-radio and street theater?" Xander blushed. "I mean--" Willow tried to explain again, but was cut off by Dawn.

"Buffy doesn't want to be on demon TV."

"We had some humans in the audience for Les Miserables," Spike told them. "They cried at the end--a few more showings and we may start making converts."

"Or at least promising people eternal life if they mail you all their kittens," Buffy said.

"It's a shame we couldn't film ourselves." That smile again. "Anyway, if you want to track down this spell, your best bet is to ask Rack. It's about his speed."

"Fine, Willow and I will go talk to Rack," Buffy said. "Lead the way, Will." Willow blanched.

"Is it really a good idea for Willow to go back there?" Xander asked.

"She can find the place."

"I can find it," Spike said.

"Don't you have to go rehearse or something?"

"Fine, blow me off, but at least take the Bobsey twins with you," Spike protested. Xander and Anya stood up.

"Willow and I need to handle this ourselves."

Willow put on a brave face as Xander and Anya sat back down.

"Don't you think you need a little more backup than a witch who's sworn off magic?" Spike asked. Xander half-stood again.

"We'll be fine."

"Yes, we will," Spike agreed.

Buffy sighed. "Don't wait up," she told the others.

Xander sat down again with a sigh.

Willow led the way, keeping some distance ahead of Buffy and Spike to help her sense their destination--or so she said.

Spike filled her in on the word on the street. "While you and I own the airwaves, all the vampires in town have been spotted in various compromising yet entertaining positions. That's the only pattern, really. Even vampires from out of town have been heard on the radio or seen on TV. Imps and demigods too, though no one has seen Ang--" Spike bit the word, but he couldn't call it back. Never, never mention the ex, he scolded himself.

"Angels?" she asked. "Oh, Angel. Funny, when I hear his name nowadays, I think of wings and harps, not the..."

"Thing," he prodded her.

"Not Angel," she rephrased. "He's like a dream," she explained, "it's all like a dream I dreamt before Willow woke me up. I remember the words and the scenery, but--you know how a dream makes no sense after you wake up?"

"I dimly recall."

"I can't remember the feelings--the whys. Is that what it's like to be undead?"

Spot on, Slayer. The girl was a little too sharp for her own good. There were special exemptions for rage, bloodlust and, apparently, true love--but best not to go into any of that. Waffle, Spike me lad.

"It's what it's like to be alive, or so I've heard. Memories fade. Yours just faded a little faster, is all."

"Is that what Willow told Tara?" she asked, so softly he barely heard.

Spike didn't care what the witches did in their free time. He brought the topic back home to Buffy herself - somebody had to. "For example, you remember how it felt when we--"

"Yes," she cut him short. "Don't make me hit you."

"But it worked out so well the last time."

She hit him, but nothing came of it, for the witch had found something.

Rack's place was three blocks away from its previous location. A few junkies in the foyer protested when the three of them cut the line, but Willow said to ignore them. She hesitated in front of the inner door--she had a bad feeling about all this--before she opened it.

A familiar ugly face under a frazzled head of hair was the first thing Willow saw. He invited them in; the room was heavy with incense and the ionized smell lightning leaves behind. She could feel it in the air - not good or bad, but something at right angles to it: raw power. His, and hers. Enough power to--

Rack reached for her but she stepped back and Spike moved in between them.

"What brings you and your undead friends here so late, witch? I thought you'd be flipping burgers somewhere, and they'd be out ice-capading or...something."

Willow looked at Buffy, who had turned an even whiter shade of pale. She shook her head, as if to get an unwanted idea back out of it, then slid around Spike to confront Rack. "We're trying to trace a spell."

"You can do that yourself--you don't need me, witch. But just out of curiosity, what spell?"

Spike answered, "The one that has all us vampires doing improv."

He laughed a classic evil laugh. "And the Slayer doing soft-core porn?" Rack asked. "I don't normally watch television, but I made an exception for that one. Now that's what I call a vampire slayer."

"I don't suppose you taped it," Spike said hopefully.

"Shut up, Spike," Buffy and Willow said in unison.

"Yes, I know the spell," Rack told them. "I heard it being cast."

Willow's bad feeling about this was getting worse by the minute.

"Who cast it?" Spike asked. "I'll kill him." Then I'll search his house for tapes.

Rack ignored him. "I believe it went like this:

Undead creatures here below,
Of all your secrets make a show.

"Nice bit of work, especially under the circumstances," Rack critiqued. "You did hit a few imps as well, but overall--"

Willow moaned "no" and backed away until she hit the door.

"Willow?" Buffy said, touching her arm.

"I didn't cast that spell. I didn't." Her eyes were pinned on Buffy. "I swear, I didn't!"

"Reverse-engineering, wasn't it?" Rack asked. "I could counteract it, but I think it's been quite an improvement to the entertainment industry. And, of course, you could reverse it...witch."

Willow was shivering. "I just thought the words..."

"At Amy's?" Buffy asked. Willow nodded. But it was a spell that needed to be spoken aloud, with a few spices and a jug of yogurt...or so she'd thought. She didn't know her own strength, or rather, she hadn't wanted to know.

"Now that's power, though I don't expect you to thank me for it," Rack added. "Go ahead, reverse the spell."

Willow looked at Buffy, who nodded. She waved her hand like a dying queen blessing her subjects, and said, "Voltare."

"Thanks for your help," Buffy said to Rack, and hustled Willow out of the room, assuming Spike would follow at her heels.

They'd hardly made it into the apparently empty street outside Rack's when Willow's legs refused to take her any farther. "What are we going to tell everyone?" she asked Buffy.

"That Rack knew the witch and convinced her to reverse the spell."

So simple, the absolute truth, and yet more deceptive than a forgetfulness coming home after dawn and saying, "I had a fight, you know, the all-nighter kind." Was that what this was, a pact of silence? Willow couldn't ask, because...well, that was how pacts of silence went.

Though she was grateful, she was also afraid--she had always been the confessing sort, not the eating-it-in-stony-silence sort. She felt as though she were being sucked into some inescapable whirlpool of secrecy along with Buffy, spinning down and down silently with the girl who'd gone to heaven and called it hell.

The overwhelming desire to go off-Broadway left Spike suddenly. He shook his head. This Willow thing was not going to end well.

"You did this to her," he said to Rack. "Willow wasn't this powerful before she met you."

"I give people what they ask for--nothing more." Rack held a hand out to Spike, in which a videotape slowly materialized.

His fangs came out, but sometimes you just couldn't say no, no matter how badly things were likely to end up. Willow knew it, Buffy knew it, and even Spike the vampire knew it.

He stormed out of Rack's, one deep duster-pocket fuller than usual, and almost tripped over Buffy and Willow.

"What were you doing in there?" Buffy asked.

"Let's go," he growled, but she stood her ground. Willow took the opportunity to walk away from both them and their arguments; the others had gotten enough of that on television, he realized.

"So she knows about us?" It was half a question, half a statement.

"There is no 'us'," Buffy replied.

"You can't go on closing your eyes to everything around you, Slayer."

"Yes I can. It's one of the advantages of being dead." One, apparently, she wouldn't give up willingly. She raised a hand to her forehead and slid it down her face slowly, closing her own eyes.

He took the opportunity to kiss her. She kissed him back for a moment in her surprise, then shoved him away and ran after Willow.

Spike sang one last refrain as he walked home alone:

The curtains close
On a kiss - God knows
We can tell the end is near
Where do we go from here?