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.
Summary: sequel to Nothing the Same.
previous parts here
Xander sat back on his heels and looked at his work with satisfaction. The rotten porch boards had all been replaced with new ones and the rest had been securely nailed down. All he had left to do was paint and the job was done. Mrs. Hall had been using her side door all year because she was afraid of the front porch giving way beneath her.
Most of his jobs had been things like this, involving nothing more than basic carpentry skills and easy finishing work. He’d found that he really enjoyed the work. It was gratifying to be able to make something as good as new with just a few hours of work, especially since most of his jobs were simple repair work but stuff that really needed to be done. Like Mrs. Hall’s porch. She’d talked to him while he worked and told him how worried she’d been that someone would ignore the sign and the tape across the porch and hurt themselves. Plus, it was obvious that she was embarrassed by the state of the porch. Apparently, she’d gotten estimates from some regular contractors who had quoted her figures too high for her to afford. She’d been delighted when Mr. Olsen had mentioned Xander.
He had a regularly hourly fee now and the customer paid for the materials. He only charged for the time he actually worked, because he was learning, and sometimes he had to spend a fair bit of time at a job site figuring out how to do the work. He’d found that if he just studied a problem for awhile, he could usually figure out how to fix things. He wasn’t tackling plumbing or wiring problems and Mr. Olsen had obviously passed that on to the referrals he was still sending Xander’s way so he hadn’t had to turn down any work at all because it involved things he couldn’t do.
When Xander had tried to express his gratitude, Mr. Olsen had just laughed and said that he was considered a public benefactor among his circle of friends for finding such a reliable handyman. Xander even had two regular customers now, both demons, who had asked if he could come over once a week, whenever it fit into his schedule and help them maintain their yards and the outside of their houses. Both families had visible differences and yard work was both difficult and conspicuous when done at night. Both families had also admitted that an unkempt yard was something that called attention to them, which they couldn’t afford, so finding a way to get it done was an annual struggle.
About half of Mr. Olsen’s referrals were demons, the rest were elderly humans who couldn’t physically do the work that needed to be done to keep their houses in good shape. Xander had particularly enjoyed meeting the demon families. They were often very shy when they first met him and it was obvious they would never have contacted a human if it weren’t for Mr. Olsen’s recommendation. When they found Xander to be curious but not judgmental, they had warmed to him and he had gotten to know them a little.
He’d taken to asking Mr. Olsen what species the demons were and then eagerly looking them up in the books Mr. Olsen had leant him. Giles’ books were overwhelmingly about the dangerous demons, the kind that Slayers fought. Which made sense, after all, that was what the Watchers Council had focused on for like a thousand years. Only Giles’ most basic, introductory texts covered the harmless types of demons and even those gave them pretty cursory treatment. The entire Skree’tnkk’hr tribe (and that had taken him a week just to learn how to spell it) had been covered in a single paragraph in one of Giles’ books, despite there being 372 sub-tribes, of which Sunnydale had eight families from seven different sub-tribes. The Dosh’tua’bii family had an entire 3-volume set on the languages and customs of the different sub-tribes. Xander had turned down their offer to loan the books to him - he was curious, not insane.
As the August days and weeks slipped past, Xander thought he might have found what he wanted to do for a living. He sometimes thought back in disgust to the Career Day the school had put on. The questionnaire had asked all sorts of questions about computers and math and even shrubs, for whatever bizarre reason, but not one single question about whether you liked working with your hands, or whether you found satisfaction in shaping wood to fit together so neatly the joint barely showed. He’d even tried his hand at simple carving and wood turning while fixing a broken banister, and was already planning on taking wood shop next year. He’d never realized how much he liked construction work and carpentry, but he’d learned that this summer.
Of course, Spike gave him shit about it, telling him it wasn’t proper for a Master vampire to have a Claimed Human who wanted to learn to carve stakes better. He knew Spike was mostly joking but he also could tell there was a hint of genuine uneasiness in the vampire about Xander’s enthusiasm for his job. Like he was afraid Xander wanted to leave him or something. Xander had hoped he’d settled that question for Spike permanently when he’d taken Spike out to thank him for getting him the phone.
Despite Spike’s protests, Xander had insisted on repaying Spike for the phone. He’d simply checked how much the phone cost and handed the money to Spike when he had it saved up. Ok, he’d tucked it into Spike’s pocket while distracting him by kissing him and rubbing his thigh between Spike’s legs, but it got the job done. By the time Spike figured out what he’d done, he was too sated and happy to put up much of a protest over the money. Xander grinned at the memory, as he gathered up his tools. He was not only getting to be a responsible adult, he was getting pretty good at being sneaky.
He’d thought long and hard over what to do for Spike as a special treat. He’d considered taking him to the same restaurant that Spike had taken him to once - he’d really enjoyed that night - but had decided against it. Although he’d love to go back there some day, he wanted to do something different as a surprise for Spike. Plus, although Spike enjoyed eating, he didn’t need to and mostly ate with Xander, so restaurants were mostly about Xander and he wanted to do something for Spike.
He’d consulted with Mr. Olsen, asking him for recommendations on where to take Spike but he hadn’t had any good suggestions. One thing Xander had learned after finding out about the peaceful demons living in Sunnydale was that most of them were wary about vampires and other violent demons and tended to avoid them when they could.
He’d finally settled for a weekend away from Sunnydale. He’d found a nice, but not extravagant hotel he could afford and treated Spike to a weekend in Los Angeles. Just the two of them and an entirely nocturnal weekend. Unlike Sunnydale, Los Angeles didn’t shut down at night, there were clubs and bars that stayed open till dawn. Spike knew Los Angeles better than he did and took Xander to some of his favorite clubs and for 48 hours, they spent every minute together; sleeping during the day and club hopping all night.
It had been an eye opening experience for Xander. Spike had taken him to punk clubs and demon clubs and gay clubs. The vampire was equally at home in all of them, not really blending in with the different crowds - Spike pretty much defined conspicuous, no matter where he was - more like letting different parts of his personality out, depending on the venue. Xander had had a great time, dancing to ear-splitting music, drinking and eating things he couldn’t even pronounce, walking hand-in-hand with his vampire late at night through parts of the city he would have been afraid to set foot in at noon without Spike, and sleeping through the days, curled up in the enormous bed with Spike’s strong arms around him and the vampire’s contented purring sounding as he fell into exhausted sleep.
It had been a break from reality, a glimpse into Spike’s world before Sunnydale, exhilarating and terrifying and fun. Xander couldn’t imagine living that way for weeks and months at a time, he didn’t have the stamina, but it was fun for a weekend. Most importantly, Spike enjoyed it and they were together.
Xander made an exasperated noise and set the guitar down. “It’s hopeless, I’ll never get it right.”
Oz looked at him in amusement. “It does seem like music isn’t your strong suit.”
“That’s putting it mildly.” Oz had been trying to teach him to play some easy chords, but Xander’s fingers didn’t seem to want to get with the program. “Maybe I should just stick to listening.”
“Probably a good plan.”
They were in Oz’s practice room, as usual. Willow did the groupie thing at the Dingo’s gigs but didn’t spend a lot of time listening to Oz practice. Oz slept late most days and, when the band wasn’t playing anywhere, spent an hour or so every afternoon practicing in his studio. Sometimes Devon joined him but mostly it was just Oz and his guitar. Oz wrote a lot of the music the Dingoes played but it was a slow process and he never seemed to mind Xander dropping by to talk.
“Oz, does Willow know you’re not going to summer school?” Xander asked hesitantly, not wanting to overstep his boundaries but plunging in anyway. He’d figured out awhile ago that Oz wasn’t going to the classes he needed to make up his incompletes and get his degree.
Oz just shrugged, his sideways look confirming of Xander’s fears.
“Ummm, you might want to tell her about your plans before just showing up for the first day of school.” He spread his hands helplessly. “Not my business, I know, but Willow doesn’t handle change real well, not unless she’s planned for it. Good surprises, yes. But she’s going to need to some time to adjust to her boyfriend the not-graduated. Once she’s adjusted, she’ll find some weird way to be proud of it, and you, but until then, she’s not going to like you springing it on her.”
Oz listened in silence until Xander’s words ran out. “You think I should tell her,” he summarized.
“In Oz-speak - yes.”
Oz looked thoughtful, which he often did, but on the other hand, he usually was thinking when he looked that way, so it was fair. “I didn’t want to tell her why I want to stay at Sunnydale High another year,” he said finally. He shot Xander a quick glance, a small worry line etched between his brows. “If Buffy doesn’t come back, she’ll need me there at school.” There was no blame in his eyes as they held Xander’s, just an acceptance of the situation - that Willow would be lost if Buffy didn’t return and she had to face senior year alone, that Xander wouldn’t be there for her.
“I’m worried about her,” Oz continued, looking down at his guitar and fingering the strings with seeming idleness. “Since Giles told her she won’t be able to find Buffy magically, she’s been trying to find a way to re-open the portal and rescue Angel so he’ll be here when she gets back. Instead of dealing, she’s obsessed with finding a way to fix things.”
Xander’s jaw tightened. Same old Willow, she’d always done guilt really well but he didn’t like the idea of her thinking magic was the cure-all for things that had gone wrong. “There’s this Voyager episode where this crazy alien has spent like 200 years trying to fix something that went wrong by changing history,” he commented indirectly. Oz actually knew what he was talking about most of the time when Xander mentioned Star Trek. Which Xander figured meant that, at heart, Oz was a sci-fi geek too, he was just too cool to ever talk about it. “He never gets it right, just keeps screwing up the present in a different way each time. Fixing things by magic seems like it would be the same problem - I doubt it ever works the way you want it to.”
“Hmm.” Oz appeared to be thinking that one over. Eventually, he said: “You may be right. If it was easy to fix things with magic, I suspect there would be a lot more people trying it. Bringing back dead people, fixing the lottery, that kind of thing.”
“Maybe there are. Maybe we just don’t know about it because we’re changed magically too.”
Oz shook his head. “You’re thinking time-loops. Spells wouldn’t necessarily effect everything around them that way.”
“A good spell would,” Xander countered. “I mean, if you brought someone back from the dead by magic, it would be a lot more efficient to erase everyone’s memories that they’d ever been dead, or else they’d spend their first few resurrected months getting a new driver’s license and explaining to distant relatives that it was all a misunderstanding and that they didn’t really die.”
They continued debating the relative merits of time travel versus magic until the sun set and Xander left to meet Spike.
He was still studying with Giles but they had cut back to three hours a week since Giles was traveling to LA most weeks, looking for Buffy. He’d return from the trips tired and depressed as whatever will-o-the-wisp rumor he’d followed this time had again proved to be nothing. The end of the summer was rapidly approaching, Labor Day and school were only a little over a week away, and there had been no word from Buffy. Xander knew that Giles was pinning his hopes on Buffy returning before school started.
Xander wasn’t sure how he felt about Buffy coming back. His resentment of her leaving had only grown as time passed and there was no word from her. Mrs. Summers and Giles didn’t deserve what she was putting them through and Xander’s opinion of Buffy as selfish and self-absorbed had been thoroughly confirmed. On the other hand, Giles and Mrs. Summers really needed her to come back so they could go back to their normal lives.
Xander wasn’t looking forward to school starting. He’d miss his customers, although he was planning on trying to fit some work in on the weekends, and he wasn’t looking forward to having to deal with classes and all the petty garbage that came with school. Oh, yeah, and seeing Willow every day was going to be fun. It would be awkward with Oz, too. He didn’t know what was going to happen with his friendship with Oz once Willow was unavoidably in the picture. Would Oz be willing to talk to him at school or would he feel like he had to stay away from Xander for Willow’s sake? Willow knew that they were friends and had hung out together over the summer, but that was different than seeing it for herself.
He sighed. Just have to cross that bridge when he came to it, he figured.
Xander had continued to stop by the Summers’ house to help out a couple times a week even after he’d become a professional handyman. He’d hesitated at first to tell Joyce Summers about the work he was doing, afraid she would think he wanted her to pay him for helping her out. She’d seemed to understand though that the work he did at her house was different.
Maybe because she was the first person in a long time that he’d talked to about Jesse.
After Spike had spilled the beans that first time, she’d talked to Xander and Spike about vampires on several occasions, asking questions about their strengths and weaknesses and the role of Slayers and vampires. It wasn’t like it was the only topic of conversation, she was an easy person to talk to and she was lonely. She’d laughingly told Xander that he had saved her sanity this summer: confessing that she’d been so lonely that she’d been on the verge of accepting an invitation to join a book club, just for the sake of having someone to talk to, even knowing that the members read depressing novels and then spent hours dissecting them. Xander was secretly amused that she and Spike had become friends, since on the surface they had nothing in common. Spike had taken to dropping by the house at least once a week, sometimes on his own and sometimes with Xander. He and Mrs. Summers would argue amicably about everything under the sun, they seemed to hold different opinions about everything: music, art, movies, you name it. Xander couldn’t join in the conversations about art and theater, but he put in his two cents about music, enjoying the way the other two would immediately join forces to belittle his country music favorites. Not even the great Patsy Cline was safe from their mockery.
When the talk turned to vampires and demons, Xander could see that Mrs. Summers was re-evaluating everything she thought she knew about her daughter and Sunnydale, holding it up to the litmus test of this new knowledge of what had really been going on, placing some of Buffy’s “troubled child” history in context with her duty as a Slayer.
He hadn’t planned it, but one day, Xander found himself telling her about Jesse, about their friendship and about his death. Mrs. Summers had listened quietly as the words spilled out of him, her eyes clouded with sympathy. As he finished telling her about Mrs. McNally, they fell silent, Xander feeling like the flood of words had been a catharsis, Mrs. Summers obviously not sure what to say.
Xander looked at her searchingly. “Would you be happier if we hadn’t told you about Buffy being the Slayer?”
Mrs. Summers didn’t answer immediately. “Yes,” she said finally, looking off into the distance. “I wouldn’t be worried about Buffy fighting for her life every night like I am now.” Xander’s heart sank, he shouldn’t have told her, he’d been wrong.
She looked back at him then and continued: “But I’m glad you told me.” She smiled at his confused expression. “Xander, the best way I can explain it is…” her brow furrowed for a moment before clearing. “It’s like a doctor telling me that Buffy has a terminal disease. I would be happier not knowing that my daughter might die soon, but because I know what we are facing, I know to cherish every day we have, because there’s a very real possibility it may be the last time I see Buffy.”
She put her arm around him as they sat together on the porch steps and hugged him. “Thank you for telling me.”
They sat for a long time, each lost in their own thought, until Mrs. Summers stirred and looked at him. “You’re wondering if you should tell Jesse’s mother the truth,” she said. It wasn’t a question.
Xander nodded. “I told her that I was afraid he might be dead because he would never run away like that.” He grimaced apologetically after the words were out, he hadn’t meant to comment on Buffy, even indirectly. “She’s obviously still thinking he might be alive, or at least hasn’t accepted that he must be dead. What do you tell someone when you can’t produce a body or any official explanation? I can’t exactly drag Spike to Ohio for vampire show and tell.”
“Sometimes there isn’t an answer, Xander. You did the best you could to tell her that Jesse was gone. By now, she knows its unlikely he’s ever going to come back. It’s not fair, but life isn’t always fair. Good people get hurt and you can’t always fix things.”
“So I should just leave things be?”
She patted him on the knee. “Why don’t you send her a letter telling her that you miss her and that you will never forget Jesse. The kind of note you would send after hearing that someone you loved died. That will let her know that you’ve accepted that Jesse is dead.”
That made sense. “Mrs. Summers, can I buy you an ice cream cone?”
She smiled. “That sounds good.”
They hadn’t talked about it again, and Xander had written the letter. He used Giles’ address, with his permission, for a return address, since the post office didn’t deliver to the factory. Mrs. McNally hadn’t responded, but Xander felt better after writing the letter.
Mrs. Summers had long since given him and key and told him to simply come in whenever he stopped by, whether or not she was home. In the last week of August, Xander began working on painting the trim on her house. The old paint was beginning to peel and Mrs. Summers bought the pain the needed for the job when he offered to paint it for her. Seeing her car in the driveway, Xander tapped on the door and called out a greeting as he entered. He could hear voices coming from the kitchen and headed towards the rear of the house.
“Hey, Mrs. Summers, sorry to interrupt,“ he began as he walked into the kitchen. Mrs. Summers’ broke off what she was saying and looked at him over the top of her guest’s head. “I’m just going to grab the ladder and start working on the back,” he began, when the visitor swung around to face him.
It was Buffy.