Rating: PG13 - NC-17 Individual chapters 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
Spike lay awake through the night as Xander slept restlessly, holding his boy and soothing away the nightmares each time they began. Eyes watchful in the darkness of their bedroom, Spike worried about whether he’d done the right thing, letting Xander go into battle like that.
His boy had acquitted himself well in the battle, as Spike had known he would. What he hadn’t anticipated was Xander’s reaction in the aftermath. Humans took things so seriously, fretting over decisions made and actions taken in a way that vampires simply… didn’t. For Spike, the battle was over and done - they’d survived, they’d suffered only minor injuries and what was on for tonight. You wouldn’t ever find a vampire worrying today over last night’s victim.
He grimaced. Except Angel, of course. But he wasn’t even an exception to the rule, he had been an aberration and couldn’t really be counted as a vampire, not since he got the bloody soul.
Humans, though. Spike sighed silently. Humans worried themselves sick second guessing their own actions. Rehashing their justification over and over again, debating whether they were right to have killed the thing that had been doing its level best to kill them at the time. He didn’t know how to comfort Xander, how to reassure him that kill or be killed really was as simple as it sounded.
Spike dimly remembered his human existence, remembered being so overwhelmed by ordinary things that he could barely function; worrying if people liked him, if he was going to be thought foolish, what to wear, what to say, how to act. Even for a human, he recognized, he’d been a fairly extreme example of a life wasted on petty worries.
Maybe that’s all he was doing now. After all, Xander hadn’t actually said anything and his boy had been extremely tired. He would see how Xander was when he woke up before borrowing trouble.
Xander put down his tools and went to sit on the porch steps, too tired even to finish the job properly by reattaching the baseboard. Two days hard work had gotten all of the major damage to the Summers’ house fixed. There was still finishing work left: plaster and painting, but nothing that couldn’t wait. The broken door and shattered windows had all been replaced, the banister repaired, and the holes in the walls patched. It was enough for now.
He woken up Saturday morning, so stiff and sore he thought he’d never be able to crawl out of bed. Spike had gotten him up and into the bathroom, running a nearly scalding hot tub for him then sitting beside the tub as he soaked, gently massaging the muscles strained from the all-out effort of the fight. Xander had been in heaven by the time the water cooled, his soreness eased into nothingness by the strong fingers and hot water.
He wished he could have stayed there all morning, topping off the water to keep it hot and pulling Spike into the tub with him. They’d had sex in the bathtub before, and it had been slippery and sexy and fun: water splashing, Xander laughing and Spike cursing, his usual graceful balance deserting him under the fatal combination of slick porcelain, slippery skin and a deliberately wriggling partner. But guilt for just leaving the others like that last night, abandoning ship and leaving everyone else to clean up, got Xander reluctantly to his feet. He’d kissed Spike, trying to show just how grateful he was for the way Spike had taken care of him, then had made himself leave for the Summers’ house to see what he could do.
Arriving at the house, he’d found Buffy and her mother sweeping up broken glass. From the lack of progress made, apparently everyone else had just gone to bed too, leaving the clean up for this morning. Finding another broom and pitching in, Xander found himself wondering if the lack of bodies really was a good thing.
There should be bodies to clean up after a major battle, should be visible, tangible reminders of the violence and death. It was too clean and easy otherwise, too easy to forget that the creature you had just killed had once been a human being. Maybe that’s why Buffy was able to kill vampires so easily because they vanished into dust and left no trace, nothing to feel guilty over. Nothing to remind you that you’d killed a sentient being.
Xander forced himself to stop thinking about it, the zombies had not been sentient, that much had been all too painfully obvious. Dealing with dozens of grotesque, rotting, no longer animated corpses would have been a burden he wouldn’t wish on anyone. Just this once, he was simply going to be grateful that the evidence of what had happened had all vanished with the destruction of the mask.
Ok, not all of the evidence, he thought ruefully as he dumped yet another dustpan full of glass shards into the garbage can they’d brought into the living room for that purpose.
He wasn’t alone in working to clean up the house. The entire group who’d survived the zombies had spent much of the weekend at the house helping clean up the mess and put the house to order. Even Spike had come over last night and helped, shifting some of the heavier things back into place and helping Xander replace the windows. Buffy had been surprisingly quiet the entire weekend, rarely speaking to Xander and when she did, her voice had been carefully neutral. She’d deliberately avoided whatever room Spike was in at the moment, going out of her way not to be anywhere near him. As far as Xander knew, she hadn’t said a single hostile word to, or about, Spike all weekend. Which was a small miracle in itself.
When Spike wasn’t there, she’d helped Xander with the heavier jobs wordlessly, holding boards in place as he nailed them and lifting the new door for him as he slid it onto its hinges. In turn, he had limited his conversation to necessary talk about the repair they were currently working on. Amazingly, they had gone two whole days without exchanging one unpleasant sentence.
In similar fashion, he and Willow got through the weekend. He could see the hurt and jealousy in Willow’s eyes whenever she walked into a room and found him talking easily with Oz or Giles or Mrs. Summers but that was nothing new. Willow’s eyes had followed him silently all week at school, seeing how Xander was no longer a moody loner, how others were approaching him and how Xander had been willing to talk to anyone. Anyone but her.
He’d thought Willow was going to lose it when she’d seen him talking to Cordelia and her minions, as he’d taken to calling them, even to their faces - they reminded him of the minions at Spike’s Court in the way they fawned on Cordelia and did everything she said, the comparison was irresistible. It wasn’t like he wanted to be friends with Cordy, much less any of her hangers-on, but he was apparently a novelty to Sunnydale’s unofficial queen - someone who snarked right back at her and didn’t give a damn what she thought of him. Apparently, no one else challenged her the way he did, and they had had several highly entertaining sessions, walking through the halls exchanging barbed remarks about each other’s taste in dates, clothes, and friends. It was driving Cordelia crazy that she couldn’t figure out who he was dating. Xander was still trying to decide if he should introduce her to Spike. He hadn’t been able to make up his mind about whether Spike would be entertained or homicidal at meeting the cheerleader, so he was holding off for now.
He didn’t care what Willow thought about him talking with Cordelia, or Michael from his English class, or even - bizarrely - Larry, who had apparently seriously mellowed over the summer and decided he liked Xander, for reasons that totally escaped Xander. Larry was one of the jocks taking wood shop but he not only hadn’t given Xander a hard time, he’d been asking Xander to show him how to work some of the power tools, saying he wanted to do more than just the minimum required to pass.
Xander had had enough of being a friendless loner to last him a lifetime. He would rather walk through the school halls with people, talking and joking about meaningless things, than walk alone with his head down avoiding everyone like he had last year. He’d learned who he was and what was important to him and, thanks to Spike, he was now dressing in ways that apparently said “confident and sexy” not “loser” and, once he got over his surprise, it amused him no end that people who had thought he was beneath them all their lives suddenly found him worth talking to. He wasn’t taking the new attention he was receiving seriously, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t enjoying being somewhat popular for the first time in his life.
What Willow couldn’t seem to grasp was that she was responsible for Xander’s unwillingness to forgive and forget. If he was ever convinced that she wouldn’t put Spike in harm’s way without a second thought, that she wouldn’t be happier if Spike was dead, he would be willing to see if they could salvage something of their one-time friendship. It would never be the same again, but he had long since mourned that fact and accepted it. The Willow he’d been friends with throughout his childhood was tucked safely away into a corner of his heart alongside Jesse; always cherished and remembered, but gone irretrievably. The person who wore Willow’s face was someone he would be willing to get to know, if she in turn was willing to accept Spike. Until he was convinced that she was doing more than mouthing the words she knew he wanted to hear, he wasn’t going to bend. It annoyed him that she still seemed to think he was friends with Oz and Giles and Mrs. Summers to get back at her and Buffy somehow but he wasn’t going to not be friends with them just because she was paranoid.
Mrs. Summers had been embarrassingly grateful to all of them, insisting on cooking dinner for everyone on Saturday night, to both thank them and to celebrate their survival. Amazingly, no-one had been seriously hurt in the battle although everyone had bruises and scratches from the zombies. Mrs. Summers herself hadn’t been injured at all. Apparently Buffy had shoved her into the closet as soon as everyone had made it upstairs. Buffy had taken up position in front of the door, even as Oz had pulled Willow under the bed, defending it with the baseball bat her mother kept by the bed for burglars. Knowing that Mrs. Summers was the kind to have waded into the battle unarmed, trying to protect her daughter, Xander was deeply grateful that Buffy had kept her mother safe.
They were all tired from working to clean and repair the damage and the dinner was a subdued gathering. Thankfully, everyone had behaved themselves and their deliberate politeness seemed to have bled some of the simmering animosity out of the group. Even Spike had not been deliberately provoking towards anyone despite how he felt about Buffy and Willow. If seeing Spike sitting with his arm around Xander on the couch caused Willow’s lips to tighten, no one else reacted at all. It was only later that Xander realized they had just quietly come out to Mrs. Summers without any fuss. He’d suspected she’d already guessed but now he didn’t have to worry about telling her officially.
“Xander, can I talk to you?”
Xander looked up at the sound of Buffy’s unusually tentative voice. He shrugged. “Sure.”
She led him to an empty classroom and leaned against the teacher’s desk, facing him. “I wanted to apologize.”
“Huh?” Whatever he’d been expecting, that hadn’t been it.
Buffy looked at him and repeated: “I’m sorry.”
“Ok, why?” He wasn’t being sarcastic, there was such a long history of issues between them, it could be for almost anything. And he probably owed her some apologies as well. Make that definitely.
“When I first got back into town, I really resented what you’d been doing over the summer.” She held up a hand to stop him and he obediently closed his mouth, letting her finish. “Pretty much everything you’d been doing. That you’d told my mother about me being the Slayer, that’d you’d introduced her to Spike, even that you were working at the house all summer.” She stopped, her eyes ashamed. “It felt like everything you’d done was criticizing me: I hadn’t told my mother about being the Slayer, I wasn’t there to help her do the yard work, I’d run away and left her all alone. Every time I turned around, my mother was telling me how great you and Spike were and it really pissed me off.”
She looked away and Xander waited, since it was obvious she wasn’t finished. Her voice was quiet and desolate sounding when she spoke again. “I thought when I came back, everything would be…simple again.” She glanced at him briefly, her eyes baffled and hurt, before she looked away again. “But nothing went like I thought it would. It’s all… wrong, somehow.” She sighed and seemed to almost be talking to herself. “Willow wouldn’t admit that she was mad at me, she just kept saying we were fine, and we weren’t. Giles was happy I was back but so disappointed in me he couldn’t help showing it even though he tried not to. And Mom wasn’t sure how to behave around me, so she was either trying too hard to be normal or freaking out every time I was out of her sight. I didn’t know how to convince her that I wasn’t not going to leave again.”
She sighed again and Xander couldn’t help feeling sorry for her. She’d run away from facing her problems and found they were all still here, plus twice as many new ones when she returned.
“And everywhere I turned, you were being shoved into my face as a shining example of just how badly I screwed up.” Her eyes met Xander’s steadily. “I know I screwed up. I shouldn’t have run away. But it was easier to blame you than accept that. I’m sorry,” she said again. “As much as I’d like to, it’s not right to blame you for problems I created. I wanted you to know that I appreciate what you did to help her out.”
It was the most honest Buffy had ever been with him and Xander tried to reciprocate. “It wasn’t a criticism of you, Buffy. I mean, yeah, I didn’t understand how you could run away like that, but I wasn’t helping your mom out to show you up.” He really didn’t want to explain the guilt that had originally sent him to the Summers’ house. He barely understood it himself.
“I know. It just took me awhile to see that.” For the first time, a hint of a smile crossed Buffy’s face. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m still pissed off that you told her about me being the Slayer but I can deal. And honestly, it’s kind of made things easier not having to sneak out all the time. Plus, mom washes the bloodstains out now, and that’s really of the good.”
Xander was shocked for a moment until he realized that she was joking. “I did wonder about that. Not the bloodstains but why you wouldn’t tell her just so you didn’t have to climb out the window every night.” He grinned to let her know he was joking too.
“I’ve gotten so used to it, it seems normal. Once, I even climbed in the window when she was out of town. I forgot I could just walk through the door.” A shadow crossed her face and her smile died.
Xander thought about telling her that he still resented her endangering Spike but decided to let it go. With Angel out of the picture permanently, it wasn’t like the situation would come up again with her. With every other demon, Buffy had always been more than ready to fight her hardest.
Buffy pulled herself out of her solitary thoughts first. Shaking her head, dispelling whatever memory had caused the momentary sadness, she said: “I’m still not sure about the thing you’ve got going with Spike but I guess it’s not really my business. So long as he honors the truce, we’re good.”
“He’ll honor it.” Xander had no doubts about that.
“I can’t honestly say that I like you, Xander, but you really helped out with the Invasion of the Dead People and over the summer. I know I can get kind of cranky with people I don’t like and I’ll try not to with you. But just so you know - that doesn’t go for Spike. I’m sorry, but he really gets on my nerves.”
“Spike can take care of himself. Hit back at him verbally all you want; he enjoys it. As long as you don’t try to hurt him, we’re good.”
“You guys come in handy, sometimes. Any time you want to join in research or whatever…”
Xander recognized a olive branch when he saw one. “Thanks. I don’t know about the daily stuff, but if you need us for anything major, just ask.”
Buffy nodded and hesitated. Finally, she just said, “see you,” and walked about of the classroom. Xander was glad he wasn’t the only one who didn’t know how to gracefully leave an awkward conversation.
He had to give Buffy points, though. Once she’d finally gotten her head out of her ass, she was as straightforward with an apology as she was about her antagonism.
The weekly Court was winding down when Anthony indicated that there was a vampire who wished to present himself to the Master of the Territory. Both Jose and Anthony had become adept at sorting out which vampires wanting to present themselves to the Court were worth bringing to Spike’s attention and which ones they should deal with themselves. Not surprising, really, Spike’s criteria were pretty simple: if the vampire was less than a century old, they almost certainly weren’t worth wasting his time on.
The slender, black vampire who entered the Court was a surprise. Wearing a silk suit and sporting a thin mustache and earrings in both ears, the vampire was not so much elegant as slick. More to the point, he was familiar.
“Trick. Long time.”
“Spike.” Trick inclined his head with something less than genuine respect. “I hadn’t heard you’d set yourself up here in suburbia.”
“Thought you were still Kakistos’ lackey.” If Kakistos was in town, that would mean trouble.
“Past tense, my friend. Kakistos is old school. Which means boring to you and me. I decided it was time to leave him and move on. The modern vampire can live globally now, we don’t need to be tied down to a territory, to the old ways, any longer.”
“So you just happened to choose my town in your global unlife?” Spike didn’t believe that for a second.
Trick was an odd vampire in many way. Turned shortly after the American Civil War, he was about the same age as Spike. Trick had been ruled for his first decades by human racial concerns that should have stopped being an issue for him the moment he stopped being of the human race. If legend held true, Trick had systematically hunted down and killed every member of the family that had held his own family in slavery for three generations. Spike shook his head at the idea. Most vampires fed off their own families and friends in the first weeks and months after being turned - sometimes to kill off the reminders of their life as a human, sometimes getting revenge for real or imagined slights against themselves, sometimes just because they were the easiest prey available. Fledges didn’t generally go around avenging social injustices committed against their families. It was too abstract a concept for creatures still adjusting to a world where the taste of blood and the scent of fear were a drug to their newly hypersensitive senses. Spike had never been able to decide if that made Trick more or less dangerous than the average vampire, although he did know that Trick generally avoided violence these days, relying on his intellect rather than his muscles to solve problems. Part of his “modern vampire” shtick, no doubt.
“When I decided to head out on my own, I ran a nationwide statistical analysis and hello darkness. Your little town makes DC look like… Mayberry. And ain’t nobody saying boo about it.” Trick was studying the Court as he spoke, eyes darting around the room and cataloguing the vampires inside. “Thought I might fit in here, have some fun. I mean, admittedly, your quaint little burg is not a haven for the brothers, strictly the Caucasian persuasion you’ve got here in the Dale but you’ve just got to stand up and salute that body count.”
Spike had forgotten how Trick loved to hear himself talk and he hadn’t missed the little digs hidden in Trick’s seemingly aimless ramblings: referring to Spike’s territory as small and quaint and that he hadn’t heard that Spike was Master here. Not to mention the remark about modern vampires no longer holding territory. There spoke a vampire who had no hope of ever fighting for, and winning, a territory of their own.
“You askin’ to join the Court?”
Trick shook his head. “No, just introducing myself to the local Master, like a proper vampire. If I’d wanted to be a part of a Court, I’d have stayed with Kakistos.”
“Fair enough. Got plenty of minions as it is.” Spike smirked at the look on Trick’s face as Spike blithely lumped him with all the other useless minions falling all over themselves to join his Court. Ignoring Trick’s glare, he got to his feet. “The rules are simple in my territory. Don’t get involved in anything that will call attention to yourself or cause trouble for anyone but yourself. If you intend to tackle the Slayer, do it one-on-one, and don’t start a war. Clear.”
Trick nodded and Spike studied him narrowly. He’d have to keep an eye on Trick, make sure he didn’t bring trouble down on Spike. Maybe he’d put Michael on it. If the minion did well, it would show he was ready to become a Lieutenant. The Court had grown enough for a third Lieutenant. If he failed again, like he had with Ares, there wouldn’t be another second chance for him.
*A/N - Bits of dialogue borrowed from the episode Faith, Hope & Trick