Nothing the Same, Book 2
Rating: PG13 - NC-17 Individual chapter will carry specific warnings.
Feedback & concrit: yes, please
Disclaimer: don't own them, never will, just playing with them
Spoilers: Anything from Season 1 on.
previous parts here
Xander had just entered the courtyard outside Giles’ apartment for his daily visit with the librarian when the apartment door swung open and Willow stepped out. Saying something over her shoulder as she exited, she didn’t see him at first, but it was already far too late for Xander to retreat. Pulling the door closed behind her, she turned and saw Xander standing there. They both hesitated, startled and uncomfortable at the unexpected meeting and Willow’s tentative smile died when Xander simply looked at her impassively.
“How’s Giles?” he asked, seizing on a neutral subject to break the awkward silence.
“He’s fine,” Willow looked like she was about to say more but Xander just nodded and started to walk past her towards the door.
“How long are you going to keep this up?”
Xander dropped his hand from the doorknob and turned back to face her. Willow was staring at him, baffled confusion and anger in her eyes. “Willow, do you even get why I’m angry?”
“Because I did the re-souling spell and you didn’t want me to.”
“No, that’s not it. Well, that’s part of the problem, but it’s pretty far down the list. Willow, you almost got Spike killed.” Her expression didn’t change in the slightest and Xander shook his head, wondering if there was any point to this conversation. Looking at Willow’s closed expression, he didn’t think so but, remembering what Oz had said, he gave it a shot anyway. “If I did something that put Oz in the hospital and almost killed him, would you be angry?”
“Of course, I’d be upset but that’s different.”
“Why? Because Oz is human and Spike isn’t? Or because you don’t care what happens to Spike?” Willow’s eyes fell and a trace of shame crossed her face. “Tell you what, I’ll answer for you. I don’t think it’s because Spike isn’t human, that’s just your excuse. Let’s face it, Oz isn’t completely human anymore and you put Spike in danger to try and save Angel, who lost his humanity card a long time ago. So, that just leaves Door Number Two: you don’t like Spike, so you don’t care if he gets killed. Hell, it might even be a bonus for you. That’s why I’m mad.” He crossed his arms and pinned her with a cold stare. “Tell me that you’re not going to hold a grudge if I try and kill Oz because I don’t like him.”
“I didn’t try to kill Spike,” Willow protested.
“From where I’m standing, not a whole lot of difference in where it ended up.”
Willow looked away again and Xander waited. Finally, she sighed and looked back at him with tears in her eyes. “It didn’t go the way it was supposed to. We just thought that, if we could re-soul Angel, there wouldn’t have to be a fight at all and no-one would get hurt. I didn’t mean for any of this to happen.”
“I know you didn’t. Why didn’t you tell Spike and me what you were doing?” That was the crux of the problem for Xander.
“You would have tried to stop us.” It was said in a barely audible whisper.
Xander reached out and pushed a lock of the shining red hair back from her downcast features so he could see them more clearly. “See, that’s kind of the problem, Willow. How can I be friends with someone who is always going to place someone else’s interests over mine?” he asked gently.
“I don’t,” she protested, looking up at him sharply, “but Buffy loved Angel. The spell was important to both of them. I had to try.”
Xander’s eyes hardened and he pulled the hand that had lingered in her hair back sharply. “Then you shouldn’t have a problem living with the consequences either.” Giving up, he turned away.
“So you’re just going to stay mad at me? Why? You told Oz that Spike is all better, so why can’t you forgive me?”
“Spike almost died. The fact that he didn’t doesn’t make it ‘all better’. And you haven’t said anything to make me believe you wouldn’t do the same thing all over again.”
“You say I chose Buffy over you? Well, you seem to be choosing that vampire over me.”
The words dropped like pebbles into still water, sending ripples of shocked silence reverberating outward.
“How can you?” Willow had the betrayed look in her eyes that had become so familiar in the past year.
“Because I love him.”
“What? Are you saying you… You can’t be. He’s a vampire.” Willow’s stunned protests tumbled over each other incoherently. Xander didn’t worry about her knee-jerk “you’re not gay” reaction, just answering her last statement. He knew that was the real problem for Willow, not her surprise at him being in love with another guy.
“You didn’t have a problem with that when it was Buffy.”
“Angel had a soul.”
“So what? As far as I can tell, he’s a jerk with the soul and a monster without it. I’ll take Spike any day over that.” Xander effectively ended the argument by pushing Giles’ door open and stepping through, shutting it firmly behind him.
Which brought him face to face with Giles.
“There’s probably no chance you didn’t hear that, is there?’
“Sorry, I’m afraid not.” Giles’ gaze was sympathetic. When Xander seemed at loss for words, Giles admitted, almost sheepishly: “I had noticed that the two of you were very careful to not be here at the same time. There’s only so long that can happen before it has to be deliberate. I’m afraid I intentionally delayed Willow today, hoping you two could work things out. I apologize, it was obviously the wrong thing to do.”
Xander couldn’t help noticing that Giles was not mentioning the revelations at the end of the argument with Willow. Wondering if he should just leave it alone, he still found himself saying: “So… are you going to tell me I’m crazy for being with Spike?”
“Would there be any point?”
When Xander just smiled faintly at him, Giles nodded thoughtfully. “If there is one thing I learned in my youth, it is that the absolute worst thing to tell a teenager is who they can or cannot have for a friend. It certainly proved true in my case.” Xander opened his mouth and Giles gave him a stern look. “And no, I will not discuss the details of my hypothetical misspent youth with you.” Xander shut his mouth, mildly disappointed as Giles continued with a small smile. “After all, as a faculty member, I am supposed to be a role model for the students. It wouldn’t do to tarnish your undoubtedly shining image of me.”
It took a moment for Xander to realize that Giles was joking. His tone was as dry as it usually was and only the deepening lines around his eyes betrayed the librarian’s inward laughter. Relieved, he gave Giles a broad smile. “So, you of the mysterious misspent youth, what’s on the table for today?”
“The Dakram sub-group,” Giles answered readily. He gestured with his still-splinted fingers towards the books spread out on the table.
To the Watcher’s vast relief, his hands had healed sufficiently for him to be able to live independently again, although he was relying on microwave-able food and non-buttoning clothing. Somehow, spending time with a Giles wearing t-shirts and sweat pants had shifted their relationship subtly. In putting aside his armor of tweed, Giles had relaxed considerably, and allowed Xander to catch glimpses of the human behind the mask of librarian and Watcher.
That said, he expected Xander to read the assignments he set, no matter what, and tested with the zeal of a… a… a really zealous thing. Xander couldn’t actually think of an example a crazed tester, but he was sure there was something sadistic in Giles’ love of quizzes. Luckily, Xander found reading about demons fascinating. There were a gazillion different types: from harmless to lethal, nearly microscopic to gigantic, and the range of powers and weaknesses was dazzling. Spike enthusiastically assisted Xander in his studies, feeling it would help keep Xander alive on the Hellmouth if he knew more about potential opponents. He supplemented the book knowledge Xander was slowly accumulating with his vast personal experience with different demons, frequently regaling Xander with stories that were as appalling as they were hysterical. He would have suspected Spike of pulling his leg, but every time he checked, Giles’ dry volumes supported Spike’s frequently lurid descriptions. Even if Spike hadn’t actually fought/shagged/eaten or whatever all the demons he claimed to have, he certainly knew his demon trivia. If Jeopardy ever offered a demon category, Spike would so rake in the money.
His straying thoughts were interrupted by the phone ringing. He answered as usual, it was still difficult for Giles to pick up the phone without fumbling the receiver and he had asked Xander to answer it whenever he was there.
“Mr. Giles’ house.”
“Is Mr. Giles there?”
“Yes, may I tell him who’s calling?” Despite his bland receptionist tone, Xander recognized the voice. It was Mrs. Summers, calling as she did every day, desperately hoping for news. Giles was spending hours every day on the phone, contacting police departments, shelters, hot lines, hospitals and crisis centers, hoping for leads on Buffy. So far he’d drawn a complete blank.
Xander handed the phone to Giles and tried to concentrate on the faded ink of the hand-written book he was reading. He heard Giles reporting his findings, or lack thereof, to Mrs. Summers and clumsily trying to reassure her. It wasn’t the first time he’d overheard this conversation and it sounded depressingly similar each time. Buffy had been missing for almost two weeks now and Mrs. Summers was absolutely frantic.
Although he tactfully kept his mouth shut on the subject, Xander personally thought that Buffy was fine and would return when she had gotten over the shock of needlessly sending her boyfriend to hell. He didn’t miss her frequently grating presence and near constant disapproval of him at all.
Mrs. Summers, on the other hand, troubled him a lot. The position she was in was so similar to what Jesse’s mom must have gone through, that Xander sometimes thought the universe was trying to teach him some cosmic lesson about how what goes ‘round comes ’round. He’d never met Buffy’s mother but it was impossible not to equate her with Mrs. McNally in his head and he was feeling almost unbearably guilty for withholding information from her.
Giles was going the secret society route, pretending to be only a concerned teacher helping to look for a favorite student. Mrs. Summers was obviously grateful for the help, but Xander could hear the worry and despair growing in her voice as time passed without any word.
When Giles let the phone drop to his lap, Xander silently put the receiver back on the cradle and waited as Giles put his head down, his forearms resting on his thighs, his still mostly useless hands dangling limply. After a long silence, Giles raised his head, his eyes suspiciously bright, and said with determination: “Where were we?”
With Mrs. McNally’s unused address weighing heavily on his conscience, Xander finally broached a subject he’d been avoiding. “Giles? Do you think it would help if we told Mrs. Summers about, you know, the Slayer, and Angelus, and everything?”
Giles drew himself up until he was sitting stiffly in his chair and, for an instant, Xander had the confused impression that the Englishman was suddenly wearing one of his three-piece suits. The Watcher persona was front and center as Giles answered stiffly: “I hardly think that trying to explain vampires and Slayer lore would do anything to relieve the poor woman’s anxiety, Xander. More likely, she would think, either that I had gone barking mad, or that I was playing some dreadful practical joke on her. Neither would provide much comfort.”
Ok, there was that. “But I keep thinking that knowing why Buffy ran away would at least help a little.”
Giles shook his head emphatically. “I can’t see how knowing the reason that Buffy is missing would make anything better. Unfortunately, only her return will do that.”
With that, Giles firmly turned the subject back to the demon texts, assigning Xander several chapters to read and bringing their day’s session to a close.
As a vampire in his prime, well over a century and with two Slayers under his belt, Spike should have been long past these ridiculous feelings. The kind that humans called “butterflies in the stomach.” Since the splintering of his family, he’d rarely been one to care about other’s opinions. For the most part, he did what he wanted and the rest of the world adapted to him.
Of course, Drusilla had been the exception. From the night he first opened his eyes after mortal death, he had gladly danced attendance on her, catering to her every mad whim, and following where her visions led them. Sire and lover, seer and madwoman, Dru had been Spike’s world for over a century.
Humans who said vampires couldn’t love spoke from ignorance and arrogance, their denials a flimsy justification for extermination. Demons of all sorts loved and hated indistinguishably from humans. The airs and pretensions ‘Angel’ had laid claim to, after he’d stopped bemoaning the soul he’d been cursed with and begun to take pride in it, had both amused and infuriated Spike. There were vampire couples who had stayed together for centuries and Masters who cherished human pets for decades. Even a pair of brainless gits like Lyle and Tector Gorch shared loyalty and brotherly affection that many humans could envy. Most human couples didn’t last a decade.
No, Spike reminded himself, he wasn’t unusual because he was capable of love, he just had the bad luck to fall for partners who needed a bit more caretaking than your average vampire. Dru’s strength, like forgery-flawed steel, had been shot through with weaknesses, and Xander was a human. It had taken time and energy to keep up with Drusilla’s flighty moods and sometimes dangerous whims. Xander was far less likely to suddenly go dancing off a precipice but he had human needs that had to be considered. Actually, Xander’s human moods and sensitivities were delightfully easy to fathom. Drusilla’s hypersensitivity to slights grew out of her insanity and were frustratingly unpredictable.
Xander was not likely to wander vaguely into the middle of a group of minions and ask them to make tea for his dolls, so he should be a snap to protect from minions. With that comforting thought, Spike found some of his nervousness fading as he brought the DeSoto to a stop in front of the factory with his usual flair for the dramatic.
“This is it, luv.”
Xander climbed out of the car in the early twilight. The block was an industrial one, the buildings that weren’t boarded up were already closed for the night. Despite that, it was surprisingly well lit and the wide streets had been designed for truck traffic. Spike watched with concealed anxiety as Xander studied the building and the neighborhood, and relaxed as Xander turned and smiled at him.
“We’ve got a separate entrance in the back,” Spike said, and led Xander around the east side of the building.
Three minions were staying in the old building already, having been given their choice of third floor quarters in exchange for doing the grunt work of cleaning the place up. Seeing the puzzlement they didn’t dare express, Spike had pointed out that they could do anything they liked with the third floor, but he wasn’t a minion to live in his own, or anyone else’s filth.
He’d warned them that he was planning on moving in today and the place had better live up to his explicit instructions if they didn’t want their dust to be swept up by a fresh batch of more satisfactory minions. Young enough to be easily intimidated and eager to be part of a new Court, the three were also mature enough to follow instructions. After his experience with the Annointed One’s largely useless minions, Spike wasn’t about to let any Tom, Dick, or Lestat into his Court. After these three, minions would have to prove themselves before being accepted.
Leading Xander up the back stairs, Spike pushed the door open and let Xander enter first. The door was unlocked. No point in locking it: a deadbolt wouldn’t keep any demon worth worrying about from entering and any human burglar would be a snack for the minions. The back door opened into the kitchen and Xander glanced around with the mild curiosity of a non-cook, walking out through the opposite door to the living room. His eyes widened appreciatively when he saw the oriental rug, the leather couch and loveseat, and the big screen tv. “Wow! This is great.”
“Bedroom and bath are back through there,” Spike said casually, as if relief wasn’t pouring over him in a wave. It was obvious that Xander liked the place - as Spike’s sharp eyes surveyed the dust-free corners and the new drapes covering the windows, he judged that the minions had earned their keep. Relaxed now, he followed Xander into the bedroom and found him bouncing experimentally on the mattress of the king-sized bed. As ordered, it was made up with cotton sheets in bold geometric patterns. Spike had heard enough disparaging remarks about Angelus’ red satin sheets that he wasn’t about to admit that he had slept on similar sheets for years.
“Thought we’d finish the tour first, pet, but if you can’t wait to try out the mattress…” he shot Xander a salacious look, reaching for his belt buckle. Despite his joking, Spike knew this wasn’t the time. Until he had spent a night or two under the same roof as the vampires of his new Court, he couldn’t afford to let his guard down that much around them. While he had no concerns about being able to take all three of them, even simultaneously and weaponless against their armed ambush if necessary, it was asking for trouble to give them a naked and vulnerable target to get ideas about, the kind of ideas that could get Xander hurt.
“You wish.” Xander jumped to his feet and went to check out the bathroom. Given the era of the building, the bathroom was nothing spectacular but everything worked, Spike had made sure of that. Xander just poked his head inside curiously before returning to where Spike stood watching him. He threw his arms around the vampire in a quick, hard hug. “Thanks, Spike. This is great.”
Spike cupped his face in both hands and looked searchingly into the dark eyes. “You alright with living here?”
“Spike, I am way more than alright living anywhere with you. It’s just a bonus that you found such a nice place. Can I see the rest of it?”
“Sure, luv. Want to introduce you to the minions.” Xander’s recently renewed Claim mark would be obvious to the most dull-witted vampire but Spike wanted the added assurance of personally introducing his Claimed to the fledges. They had been told he had a Claimed human who would be living at the factory and that letting his boy come to harm was a guarantee of a long, painful death but it never hurt to reinforce the message personally.
Opening a door tucked into a niche in the far corner of the living room, Spike showed Xander the narrow hallway that led to the original manufacturing business. The hall ended in a second door that opened onto another, shorter hall at right angles to the first. That hall intersected a broader one which bisected the length of the building, the former offices and conference room of the business on both sides.
“Minions will have to earn the right to live in these, luv,” Spike explained as he walked swiftly to the other end. Once their suite was finished, he’d told the minions to concentrate on cleaning out the downstairs and the former offices were still shrouded with dust and cluttered with the remnants of battered office furniture. “Main stairway up and down is at the other end of the building,” he continued. “Upstairs is small bedrooms, downstairs is pretty much one big room.” He listened for a moment. “Minions are downstairs. Want to meet them or see their quarters first?”
Xander’s eyes were bright with curiosity. “Let’s go down and meet them.”
Xander trailed him eagerly down the stairs to the main floor. The minions had made a start at clearing it out, pushing the old manufacturing equipment against the walls and leaving an empty space in the center. Spike was amused to see they had found a high-backed wooden chair, the back and arms carved heavily, the seat padded with leather, and set it up conspicuously towards one end of the room. Fledglings were so predictable. There wasn’t a vampire turned who didn’t love being near the center of power. Some never got over their love of bowing and scraping before a superior. Others, like Spike, tired of it quickly and either struck out on their own, or took over a Court for themselves. Spike liked the power and recognition of being the acknowledged Master of a territory but he didn’t need the pomp and ceremony that some vampires couldn’t get enough of.
“Oi!” he called, his voice ringing sharply in the large room. “Winkum, Blinkum and Nod, show yourselves.” As far as Spike was concerned, knowing a minions name was a mark of respect that these hadn’t earned yet. Although they’d done well with the upstairs apartment, he couldn’t let them feel their place was secure yet.
There was a gratifying scramble as the three dropped - in one case literally from the sound of it, what they were doing and ran towards him. They came to a halt a respectful distance from himself and his Claimed, Spike noted approvingly. These three had real promise. Maybe he would learn their names.
He pulled Xander to his side. “This here’s my Claimed. Not only is he off limits, he is to be treated with the respect you’d treat me. If he comes to harm anywhere in town, from any source: demon or human, you three will pray for final death. Got it?”
“Yes, Master Spike,” they chorused.
He saw Xander studying them curiously and added, for Xander’s sake: “Go ahead and introduce yourselves to him.” He didn’t bother to conceal that he didn’t know their names to introduce them himself.
The oldest of the three, a short, stocky vampire with a shock of hair almost as white as Spike’s, glanced at Spike hesitantly, and seeing that he was sincere, bobbed his head slightly, more in Spike’s direction than Xander’s. “I’m Michael.”
“Rafael.” That was the youngest of the three. Spike intended to keep a close eye on him. He was the most likely of the three to try something foolish. Spike would bet a lot of money he’d been named Ralph in his human existence. Pretentious git.
“Jose.” That was the quiet Hispanic one. He’d been turned when he was in his 40’s probably and was physically older looking than the other two vampires. Between the other two in age, he was the most promising to one day become a lieutenant.
“Xander.” That was Xander’s contribution to the introductions. Spike was pleased that Xander was cautious but not scared. He could smell curiosity but not even a hint of fear. Which was good, as the minions would be able to smell the same thing.
“Were your rooms acceptable, Master Spike?” Michael’s tone was courteous but not fawning. Good.
“They’ll do. My boy and I will be moving in tonight. From now on, no-one enters them without my direct permission.” Quick nods all around. “You need me for anything, knock on the outer hall door. The hall that connects to the apartment is off limits as well. Same goes for the outside staircase. Any questions?”
Not surprisingly, there were none. “Good. You can go back to whatever you were doing.”
Spike turned and strode off without another word. Xander fell into step beside him as Spike walked across the room towards the outside door. He’d take Xander up to see the third floor later. For now, they’d head back to the factory and pack their stuff. It would give the three time to talk about them and Xander probably had questions it wouldn’t be wise to let the minions overhear. Until he was firmly in control, Spike didn’t want them finding out that Xander was anything more than a favored pet. Thinking they could use Xander as leverage would lead to stupidity that Spike would rather not have to deal with.