Nothing the Same, Book 2
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
“Xander, these scores are impressive. You should be proud of yourself.” Joyce Summers looked at Xander seriously. “What are you planning on doing with these results?”
Despite the seriousness in her eyes, Mrs. Summers’ smile was warm and Xander felt the grin that had curved his lips every time he thought about his SAT scores starting to form again. He hadn’t been able to stop smiling since the test results had been handed out this morning. He’d taken the test for a validation he knew he shouldn’t need but it still felt good to have done so well. It was a matter of official, numeric record now, that Xander Harris wasn’t stupid.
Fighting back the grin, he just shrugged, pretending a diffidence he didn’t actually feel, looking down at the plate on the table between them, considering his choices. “Not much, I just took the test for the hell of it.” Choosing a cookie with a chocolate kiss in the center, he bit into the still-warm, just-from-the-oven goodness, mmm-ing in pleasure at the taste. Mrs. Summers had the best cookie recipes.
Mrs. Summers raised an eyebrow at him in a way that said she wasn’t buying it but didn’t verbally challenge his claim of indifference, just tapping one nail against the test results sheet that Xander had produced from his backpack for her at her insistence. “Even so, with results like this, you should be thinking about colleges.”
“Don’t have the money,” he mumbled around the last of the cookie.
“Have you thought about a scholarship? There are a lot around and they’re meant for people with good test scores and few resources.”
“Well, it’s not just the money. I’ve never really planned on going to college, and recently I’ve been thinking about a career in construction or carpentry and you don’t really need college for those.”
“I don’t want to push you, but you could try it for a year and see if you like it.” Mrs. Summers said slowly. “There’s nothing wrong with working construction - you’ve certainly been a godsend around this house with your skills - but I don’t like the idea of you settling for something because you don’t think you have options.”
“I like working with my hands. I like fixing things and building stuff. I wouldn’t be settling.” It was true. He had more than enough work from his regular customers to keep him busy in his spare time and it was flattering that most of them were willing to wait for him to have the time to do their job, rather than having the work done by someone else. Realistically, he knew that it was because he charged less than an established professional and didn’t mind working with demons, but still, it made him feel good that his customers appreciated him and many of them had become friends.
“All right, Xander, I’ll let it go. It sounds like you’ve already thought it through. I just wanted you to know that there were options open to you.”
Xander smiled at her, once again wishing his own parents had ever shown even a fraction of the interest in his life that Mrs. Summers did. She treated him like a member of the family, like her own kid: praising him, scolding him, and, above all, accepting him. She always brushed off his thanks as unnecessary and it made him wonder if she would ever really understand how much she meant to him. “Check. Options noted.” He snagged one more cookie from the plate and stood up. “How about I get started fixing that shutter.”
Mrs. Summers accepted that as a tacit signal that the conversation was over. “I’ll put the rest of the cookies in a bag for you to take home with you when you’re done, Xander. Does Spike like cookies?”
“If not, I’ll eat them,” he admitted with a grin. “But I promise to let him know I have them.”
She gave him a mock stern look. “I’ll be checking with him when I see him next to make sure you did.”
The Hellmouth was quiet enough that Xander found himself joking with Spike about demons taking the holiday season off. He and Spike had a mutual, satisfactory agreement that Christmas had been commercialized to the extent it no longer meant anything and they had agreed to ignore it.
Xander had shared with Spike his holiday “tradition” of camping outside to avoid his family’s drunken Christmas fights. Spike offered to start a new holiday tradition for him in which Spike would present him with a gift of the eviscerated body of his least favorite relative every year. Even though he had declined the offer, it probably said bad things about himself that he thought it was sweet of Spike to offer.
In turn, Spike had told him about some of Drusilla’s madder ideas about the holidays: when Clement’s Visit from St. Nicholas became so popular that the familiar phrases of the poem filtered down to the demonic world and Angelus and Darla had woken one Christmas morning to find the lair strewn with dead mice - Drusilla had taken the “not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse” as a guideline and set herself to hunt down every mouse for a block around. Spike had laughed himself sick because Drusilla had taken the trouble to arrange the tiny corpses into evocative poses. Darla had not been amused. With a reminiscent grin, he told Xander: “Took two days to get the last of them out of the lair. ‘Course, didn’t help that I kept sneakin’ ‘em back in after Angelus had thrown them out into the alley. He’d clean them out of one area and I’d be fetching them back inside again and hiding them under his pillow.”
Xander had laughed his head off at the image of Spike as a mischievous kid and Spike added sheepishly, “’course, I was just a fledge then.”
Spike had vetoed Xander’s offer to re-enact the Great Mice Caper on Angelus for Christmas this year and they settled on spending the holidays in Los Angeles, doing a repeat of the club-hopping, nocturnal weekend they’d spent the last time they’d gone to Los Angeles. For the four day holiday weekend, Xander and Spike gotten a luxurious room in an expensive hotel and spent the days sleeping and the nights partying until dawn in both demon and human clubs.
It was great to leave Sunnydale and all its problems and issues behind them and Xander felt like a weight he hadn’t even realized he’d been carrying had slid off his shoulders. Drinking beer, dancing and making out in dim corners of the clubs, before going back to the hotel for hot sweaty sex was just what he’d needed and it was the best Christmas holiday he could ever remember. The night before they returned to Sunnydale, Spike rented them a hot tub suite, and thoroughly debauched him in the tub with his willing cooperation, leaving him boneless and sated and sure he was going to drown. As he’d told Spike the next day, when his brain was working again: “Just so you know - that’s what I want on my tombstone: ‘Drowned while having incredible sex in a hot tub’.”
Returning to Sunnydale should have been a let-down, but somehow wasn’t. One of his clients invited Spike and Xander to a traditional Z’bat’rryth birthday party, which fell on the first new moon of January. Z’bat’rryth didn’t celebrate birthdays individually, or with presents, they simply held a blow-out party once a year to rejoice in all of the births in the community for the previous year.
Xander was excited because it was the first time that Spike had been invited to a gathering of his non-human friends. They had long since accepted that Spike was his lover and had been dealing with Spike as Master of the Hellmouth, but they’d remained wary of associating with him because he was a vampire. The invitation was the first sign that the peaceful demons saw Spike as something more than just a vampire and Master of the Hellmouth.
The party was a blast. Xander knew a number of the people there, not just B’rryn, known locally as Brian Smith, who’d invited them. There was a band, a pot-luck, and an open bar and, best of all, no-one had looked twice at Spike or been upset at his presence. Spike had enjoyed himself as much as Xander, even approving of the music - the band played instruments Xander had never seen before, loudly - and spending the evening dancing and drinking.
As the evening wound down, Xander and Spike ended up sitting snuggled together on one of the couches scattered around the periphery of the room, talking and joking with a small group of die-hard party-goers who seemed to appreciate Spike’s wicked sense of humor. Xander was so proud to finally be able to show off his vampire and ecstatic that some of the disparate parts of his life were finally meshing. There were times when it felt like everything in his life was compartmentalized and needed to be kept rigidly separate, it was a relief to be able to talk to his friends with his boyfriend’s arms wrapped around him and all of them involved in easy conversation.
Cuddled sleepily against Spike in the car on the drive back to the factory that night, Xander found himself wishing drowsily that all the parts of his life could find a way to fit together like they had tonight. It was tiring and nerve-wracking at time trying to keep track of what he could say to one person and how he had to behave around another. Not that he really thought that Buffy would ever be invited to a demon party, but maybe Giles…
The first day back at school should have been a bit of a let-down after the two week holiday break, but his good mood and the sense of a crushing weight gone from his shoulders stayed with him. Rather than being exhausted from all the holiday partying, Xander found he was energized and even his dullest classes seemed not as bad as they had been in December. Maybe everyone had been able to avoid the post-holiday blues, it certainly seemed like it when he and Larry had managed to disrupt the entire shop class with their laughing over their respective holiday stories and Mr. Harding didn’t even reprimand them. Instead, he’d declared a ‘no work’ day and they’d all spent the hour telling jokes and goofing off. They’d been told that it was a one-shot and they would be expected to work twice as hard the next day, but it had been fun while it lasted.
Back at his locker after woodshop, Xander heard footsteps coming to a stop behind him and a familiar voice said: “Oz and I are going bowling tonight. Would you like to join us?”
Xander smiled involuntarily. If she wanted to tempt him, Willow couldn’t have picked a better way of doing it. Jesse and Willow and he had gone bowling once a week all through Junior High. Willow had been better than both of them, kicking their butts regularly and gloating good-naturedly about her superiority. Their bowling nights had petered out during their freshman year from a combination of things: the complete un-coolness of bowling had been a big part of it, especially when Jesse’s hopeless crush on Cordelia had him pushing them to change bowling night into movie night; Xander suspected it had been Jesse’s hope of seeing Cordelia at the movies despite her stud-of-the-week. Cordelia Chase wouldn’t enter a bowling alley if it was the only refuge from a tornado.
The smile was still on his face as he turned around to see Willow and Oz, fingers entwined as usual, facing him. Willow looked painfully hopeful and Oz was his usual impassive self. His rift with Willow really did mean he saw far too little of Oz, Xander thought, not for the first time.
“Sounds like fun,” he answered impulsively, surprising himself with his agreement.
Willow’s glowing happiness at his acceptance of the invitation made him feel churlish for not having been willing extend an olive branch before now. Oz looked surprised but pleased and Xander gave him a crooked smile. “I haven’t dusted off my bowling shoes in awhile, so no guarantees on my skills, but I’m in.”
“That’s great!” Willow enthused. “We can meet up right after our last classes, if that’s ok, or we can go later if that’s better for you.”
For a fleeting moment, Xander thought about asking whether they would mind if Spike joined them. It wasn’t so much the thought of Willow’s reaction as Spike’s that squelched the idea almost as soon as he’d thought of it. He couldn’t even wrap his own mind around the image of Spike in bowling shoes, although he did grin at the thought of Spike’s horrified reaction to the idea of a bowling date.
Maybe he’d invite Spike later just for the amusement of seeing Spike’s reaction to being invited to go bowling.
Surrounded by the familiar sounds and smells of the bowling alley, Xander couldn’t help thinking that the evening was an object lesson in not being able to recapture your past. Jesse had always had a penchant for extreme bowling. If he wasn’t bowling left-handed, despite being right-handed, he was trying to bowl facing backwards, or with the wrong fingers in the holes, just to see if he could.
Tonight, instead of Jesse’s clowning and frequent gutter balls - he’d never accepted that bowling backwards wasn’t his forte - there was Oz, who bowled seriously and with skill. It wasn’t that Oz wasn’t fun, it was just that he was quieter than Jesse had ever been and Xander’s memory of Jesse’s laughing commentary on every aspect of the game and the people around them was so different from Oz’s quiet presence.
Nor was it the same easy friendship with Willow. Willow was anxious and trying too hard. She seemed to be having a hard time remembering that he and Oz were friends, monitoring and directing the conversation like a nervous host trying to get strangers to get along. Xander wanted to tell her to just relax, but didn’t want to actually talk about why this was so difficult for both of them, so let it go. He and Oz communicated silently when it was Willow’s turn to bowl, exchanging understanding glances and both working hard to keep the conversation on neutral subjects.
All in all, it wasn’t a wildly successful evening, but it was a try at a fresh start and one more piece of the separate parts of his life that might eventually fit together. Even if Willow and Spike never got to the point where they liked each other, it would be a relief if he and Oz weren’t forced to be friends without including Willow. She and Oz were pretty inseparable and finding Oz-time not already committed to either Willow or the Dingos was nearly impossible.
Helping Giles unpack a new box of books two days later, Xander was surprised when Giles mentioned his bowling date with Willow and Oz. Giles had co-opted their study period, asking Xander if he would mind helping him shelve the new books. Xander had eagerly accepted, always interested in Giles’ new acquisitions, using his pocket knife to slice open the boxes and pull the books out. Seeing the titles, his face fell and Giles laughed.
“Sorry, I neglected to mention that these are for the regular collection,” Giles said in amusement.
“Sneaky, Giles. You are so owing me for this.”
The books ranged from poetry to biography and they’d worked in comfortable silence, Giles cataloguing the new books and Xander shelving them in the proper sections. He was actually glad for the chance to mull over whether or not he should talk to Giles about his demon friends and the numbers of peaceful demons on the Hellmouth. He’d always sort of assumed that Giles knew about them, even if not in a lot of detail. But he was hesitant. The demon community in town had accepted him and given him their trust, he didn’t want to do anything to violate that or risk bringing any harm to them. While it would be nice to not have to sensor his conversation when mentioning his demon friends, it wasn’t worth the risk to them. While he was sure Giles wouldn’t do anything harmful to his friends deliberately, Giles did tend to see all things as a resource to help him be a better Watcher for his Slayer. He couldn’t take the risk that Giles might use the knowledge in some way detrimental to his friends in order to help Buffy. That part of his life would just have to stay separate.
“Xander,” Giles’ voice broke the long silence bringing Xander’s straying thoughts back to the library. “I understand that you went bowling with Willow and Oz the other night.”
“Yeah.” Xander glanced over at him and saw Giles smiling at him. “I’m pleased that you and Willow have been able to get past your differences. I assure you that I’m continuing to work with her so that she has the proper training.”
“Umm, ok,” Xander wasn’t quite sure what Willow’s magic lessons had to do with a bowling date but the first part of Giles’ comment was what really caught his attention.
“It was… awkward,” he admitted, sitting down heavily in the chair next to Giles. “We’re such different people now that maybe it would have been better if we’d done something we’ve never done before, because bowling just showed how much things had changed.” He made a vague gesture, not sure how to express how it had felt. “I can’t really say we’re past our differences, but it may have been a start.”
“I wouldn’t expect that everything would be perfectly fine as if nothing had happened,” Giles responded. “But I know how much Willow has wanted to reconcile with you even when she thought it might never be possible. She’s missed you very much.”
“I’ve missed Willow too. Almost losing her kind of cleared that up for me.” He sighed. “I don’t know if we will ever be as close as we once were, but maybe we’re both ready to give it a try.”
The lines at the corners of Giles’ eyes deepened in that way he had of smiling without moving his lips. “I hope things go well for the two of you.”
“Joyce did what?!”
Spike was outraged and it showed. When he’d arrived home after school, Xander had immediately informed him about Mrs. Summers’ impromptu field trip to watch Buffy at work last night.
“Slayer LET her? I’ll kill her. How dare she risk Joyce like that?”
“Calm down. It’s not like that. Buffy was as upset about it as you are. Mrs. Summers didn’t tell her what she was planning. Apparently, she just showed up unannounced and said she wanted to watch Buffy patrol.”
“Not buyin’ it, luv. How would she have known where to find her daughter?” Spike was pacing agitatedly.
“Buffy said she asked where Buffy was going to be patrolling that night, passed it off as idle curiosity.” Xander sighed. “Worst part about the whole thing is that Mrs. Summers found the bodies of two kids who’d been murdered. She was devastated.”
Spike looked at him sharply. “Vampire victims?”
Xander shook his head. “No. Probably not even demon related. There was some kind of symbol on the bodies that Giles says suggests some kind of satanic cult or something like that. As if we don’t have enough problems in this town. What kind of moron would try to raise Satan on the Hellmouth?”
Spike snorted. “Someone too bloody stupid to even know it’s a Hellmouth, that’s who. Satanic rituals tend to go wonky on the Hellmouth. Start pouring goat’s blood around and you’re likely to accidentally summon a demon and get eaten for your pains. Pro’ly explains why there’s so few black magic practitioners in town - they’ve all been eaten.” He looked like the thought of demons munching on witches was cheering him up.
“As charming as that thought is, this one’s not really on either your’s or Buffy’s turf. Not if people did it.”
“Not worried about that, luv. I’m going to have a talk with Joyce. If she wants information about slaying vampires, she could have come to me if the Slayer won’t help her out.”
“Umm…speaking as someone who’s been there and done the stupid thing, be gentle, Spike. Having your world view shaken up can lead you to do incredibly stupid stuff that seemed like a good idea when you thought of it.”
“Rememberin’ spying on vampires in their lair, are we?” Spike asked, eyebrow raised mockingly.
“Yeah. Like I said, it seemed like a good plan at the time I thought of it. It was only when I was actually there that I realized what an idiotic idea it was.”
“Lead to you meetin’ a certain handsome vampire, so it wasn’t a total loss.” Spike leered at him.
“Hmmm, maybe I should do it more often.”
“Not if you want to leave the lair anytime in the near future,” Spike growled. He kissed Xander and headed for the closet. "I’m going over to Joyce’s. Risky enough bein’ the Slayer’s mother without wandering around the Hellmouth at night followin’ her daughter. Can’t believe the stupid bitch didn’t know her mother was following her,” he grumbled, sliding into his duster. “Wanna come, luv?”
“Yeah, but Mrs. Summers isn’t going to be at home for awhile. She’s set up this rally-slash-vigil at City Hall for tonight. Should be starting in half an hour or so. Should we meet her there?”
“City Hall?” Spike looked thoughtful. “Why don’t we wait and meet her after it’s over, pet. We can walk her home and talk to her. She won’t want to talk during her gathering.”
“Good idea. I’m really worried about her, Spike. I’ve never seen her so freaked out, even when you outed yourself and the entire demonic community to her without any warning.”
“Hey!” Spike protested automatically, “that turned out fine.”
“Only because she didn’t actually drop dead of a heart attack at the time,” Xander said gloomily.
A/N - for anyone who's curious, I somewhat arbitrarily decided the events of Amends (where Angel is haunted by the First) don't happen in this 'verse. Amends was all about Buffy & Angel and not so much the Spander. Obviously the Fluke never happened, so the events of Lover's Walk and The Wish don't happen either.