The three captive members of the Troika, now out of what they considered to be immediate danger, were beginning to show signs of dissatisfaction with their imprisonment. Warren, in particular, had been muttering words like ‘litigation’ and ‘personal injury’ since three o’ clock; in frustration, Buffy had finally gagged him with a pillowcase. Still, as Willow pointed out, they couldn’t keep them tied up against the living room wall forever.
They needed to break the code, and fast. The Troika weren’t their only complication – XandePierre was rapidly metamorphosing from a more-or-less-agreeable blank slate to someone much less benign. He’d shouted at Anya twice this afternoon, and once raised his hand as if to strike Tara, when she reached over to remove his not-quite-empty juice glass.
That had done it. Buffy had the Blue Tavernier in her pocket now, and XandePierre had his orders: sit, stay, and shut up.
He didn’t look happy, but so far it was working … should he show signs of restlessness, Buffy had only to curl her fingers around the smooth shiny lump in her pocket for him to lapse back into sullen, gray-eyed obedience.
Still. It was time to fix him for real.
Willow shook her head. “Some of this makes perfect sense,” she said. “And then some of it’s … well, it’s just very random.”
Buffy raised an eyebrow. “I was thinking it was ALL random.”
“Well, this seems pretty self-explanatory. ‘When one of us is lost, is not here, he must be inside us.’ The lost one has to be Xander, and we’re the ones who have the information; we just don’t know what it is.”
Willow stabbed at the page with her forefinger. “And ‘There’s no place like that anywhere in the world’ – I think that must mean that we don’t need to travel to any particular place, or have any particular equipment, for the reversal spell to work. We’ve got everything we need.”
“Some of it has to be metaphor, too,” Anya chimed in. “That business about not looking back – you see that a lot. You know. In those motivational business catalogs.” She didn’t appear to notice the rolled eyes that accompanied this statement, just looked thoughtful. “And this part, about being able to say ‘it’s nothing’ and have it really BE nothing – well, that’s just literature. Very Sartrian.”
Willow’s head came up like a napping cat who’s just heard the can opener. “Anya,” she said. “What did you say?”
“Sartre,” Anya said. “French existentialist writer. Very influential.” She sniffed. “Even vengeance demons read, you know.”
“You’re a genius,” Willow said, and pounded her forehead with the heel of her hand. “Why didn’t I see it before? It’s Sartre’s mirror theory. Has to be.”
Buffy looked at her blankly. “What?”
“I don’t know, Red,” Spike said. “Ol’ Jean-Paul came along about a hundred years too late for the French Revolution.” Willow shook her head.
“I don’t think it matters,” she said. “The idea was in the French school of thought long before he codified it. It’s worth a try, anyway.”
“Will.” Buffy rolled her eyes. “Could you please, PLEASE speak English?”
“Oh. Sorry.” Willow bit her lip. “I really don’t know where to start.”
“Let me,” Spike said, and ran his tongue over his teeth. “Okay. Basically, Sartre believed that one person’s reality is shaped by how other people view it.”
Buffy looked blank.
He tried again. “That you become what is reflected back to you by your society,” he said. “The people around you. Your mirror.”
Buffy frowned. “So we’re all just supposed to look at XandePierre and THINK him into turning back into Xander?”
“No,” Willow said. “I don’t think it’s meant literally here. It’s just a clue. We have to use a mirror for the spell.” She nodded emphatically. “It makes all kinds of sense, Buffy. A mirror’s a very powerful symbol of reversal.”
“Okay,” Buffy said. “But then, that leaves the parts about the cloth and the clothes and the pain. Which I’m assuming are pretty significant, too.”
Tara poked her head into the living room. “Dinner.”
They laid the papers aside, turned the lights out on the muffled protests of the Troika, and trooped into the dining room. Buffy was just about to dig into her rice pilaf when she heard a car drive up and stop.
“We expecting anyone?”
They all sat staring at each other. Had someone missed the Troika? Had they left a clue?
Were they about to get busted? Buffy fingered the diamond in her pocket and felt her heart sink.
Footsteps on the walk. A knock on the door. It opened.
“Hello?” Stamping feet on the mat. “Hello? Buffy? Willow? Anyone home?”
Continued in Chapter Fifteen