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 was worried about Joyce and Spike agreed. Joyce didn’t seem like the kind of person to waste her time on meaningless rallies or vigils or whatever it was she’d set up at City Hall. Xander hadn’t sounded exactly sure what it was supposed to be, which probably wasn’t his fault. Personally, Spike thought that candle-lit vigils had evolved from good old-fashioned, torch-wielding mobs which, whatever else you had to say about them, were usually a good sign that the peasants were well and truly pissed off about something. Nowadays, everyone was too civilized to burn the local manor house down in protest, so they just gathered with their candles and held hands and complained about how the world was going to pot. Bloody pointless, as far as Spike was concerned. At least the peasants had had the fleeting satisfaction of seeing their tormentor’s house in flames and the possibility of making off with the lord’s silver in the ruckus.
Spike drove them to within a few blocks of City Hall, parking his car far more discretely than was his normal practice. It wasn’t that he was really worried about trouble, but he wanted to keep a bit lower profile than usual when bringing Xander onto the Mayor’s turf. At least until he knew what was going on with The Somewhat-Less-Than-Honorable Mr. Wilkins.
The drive over gave Spike a few minutes to think, which he needed. The last couple of weeks, he’d let everything slide, delegating all his responsibilities to his Lieutenants. Having Xander all to himself for the school break had been a taste of what their life should be like. For two entire weeks, Xander had been at his side almost constantly and Spike had loved every minute. It was how they were meant to be, not putting up with daily separations, and it was only with great reluctance that he’d let Xander return to school when it started up again.
Joyce’s little party at City Hall had reminded Spike of his unfinished business with the Mayor. Angelus hadn’t known anything about the Mayor, but that was all the additional information he’d learned since his summons to the Mayor’s office. Now, he cursed himself for relaxing his guard and not following up like he should have. He, and more importantly Xander, were walking onto the Mayor’s turf without sufficient knowledge of even what he was, much less what his agenda was.
Well, there was one thing he could remedy.
“Xander, there’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.”
Looking around at the milling crowd of humans, Spike kept Xander close by his side, his strong fingers wrapped around Xander’s wrist in an unmistakable signal to anyone with eyes that Xander was his. Xander had been startled but un-protesting when Spike’s fingers had closed around his wrist firmly just outside City Hall before Spike led him inside, keeping half a step in front, his eyes sweeping the unexpectedly large gathering for signs of danger. Despite Xander’s desire to join his friends near the podium, Spike had kept them firmly on the edges and near the door.
It wasn’t that the crowd of bankers, school teachers and lawyers worried him, but he didn’t want Xander caught in the middle if things turned ugly. And in Spike’s experience, crowds with fire could turn ugly quickly. Even though this lot seemed harmless, crowds could turn into mobs far too easily.
Typically, Xander had been more intrigued than worried to learn that Sunnydale’s Mayor was not quite human. He seemed to think it was kind of appropriate, in a Hellmouthy way, to have a demon officially in charge of the town. Spike had not been happy that Xander’s main interest after Spike told him about his meeting with the Mayor had been what kind of demon Spike thought the Mayor was and not Spike’s concern about keeping Xander off the Mayor’s radar. Still, he accepted Spike’s warning to be cautious, given the Mayor’s history of hiring vampires. Knowing that most peaceful demons didn’t associate with vampires, Xander had taken that for the warning sign it was. He’d promised to follow Spike’s lead at City Hall, and told Spike he’d ask Giles to look into the Mayor the next day.
Of course, all that reasonableness had come after Spike had had to dissuade Xander of the ridiculous notion that Xander should go inside to the rally alone while Spike kicked his heels outside out of harm’s way and out of the Mayor’s sight.
The Mayor had spoken briefly, then turned the gathering over to Joyce. Spike would almost have thought that he and Xander had remained unnoticed except for the brief flash of the Mayor’s eyes in their direction at the end of his speech. Spike didn’t like the way the Mayor had deliberately met spike’s eyes across the room as he ended his brief speech by holding up one of the posters of the murdered kids that they were handing out by the dozens at the rally while cheesily intoning his new motto: “Never again.” Xander was watching his school friends and missed the brief exchange which was just as well. Spike knew he might be over-reacting, but he took it as a veiled threat.
Before he could decide what, if anything, to do about it - it really wasn’t the time or the place to kill the Mayor - Spike had been diverted by Joyce stepping to the podium. Even as she thanked the Mayor and prepared to speak, Spike couldn’t help but wonder why no one had gotten worked up like this about deaths in Sunnydale before now. Joyce especially seemed an unlikely person to go into a tailspin over a couple of deaths. I mean, the woman had handled dozens of zombies in her bedroom without batting an eye, so why did two bodies in a park bother her enough to lead to this? Spike shrugged, setting it aside. Undoubtedly it was nothing more complicated than the fact that the bodies were two little kids. Joyce was nothing if not a good mother.
Spike eyed the Slayer, who was standing near the front of the crowd listening to her mother. He was wondering whether he should actually speak to the Slayer first about letting her mother go wandering around at night following her on patrol, when Joyce’s words caught his attention.
He listened in amused disbelief as Joyce outed her daughter, saying the town belonged to the monsters and the Slayers, even as he tugged Xander closer to him as Xander tensed and made a half step forward at Joyce’s words. The Slayer looked like a deer in headlights as her mum dissed her in public and Spike couldn’t stop a malicious grin from spreading at her discomfort.
Sitting in the student lounge, talking with Buffy, Willow and Oz about the vigil last night, Xander found himself almost grateful for uninvolved parents. Mrs. Summers was completely freaked out and had said some really hurtful things to Buffy about how she didn’t do any good and Mrs. Rosenberg was viewing the whole thing as a creepy research topic, questioning Willow relentlessly about her knowledge of students who were into the occult, seeking first hand anecdotes to flesh out her statistical data.
Spike and he had ended up simply going home after the rally because Mrs. Summers had been distracted, and had actually told them, gently but firmly, that she was too busy and too tired to talk to them tonight. For a wonder, Spike had accepted that, although Xander had a sneaking suspicion it was because Spike had so thoroughly enjoyed hearing Mrs. Summers dump on Buffy in public the way she had, even if most of the crowd didn’t realize she was talking about her own daughter and lumping her with the “monsters”.
Willow’s voice, still complaining about her mother, brought his wandering thoughts back to the student lounge.
“I mean, what am I supposed to do? Tell her about Amy and her mother, or Michael and his dabblings? They have enough problems fitting in already. They don’t need to be featured in a Sheila Rosenberg psychology paper on the alienation coping strategy of dabbling in the occult.”
“Amy’s messing with magic?” Buffy asked, surprised. “After what her mother did to her sophomore year? I would have thought she’d stay as far away from magic as possible.”
Willow looked uncomfortable, her eyes flickering nervously to Xander for a brief instant before looking back at Buffy. “She and Michael have been dabbling in stuff, but it’s all harmless. Worst thing she’s done is get out of the occasional homework assignment.” She bit her lip anxiously. “Don’t tell Giles, ok? I don’t want Amy to get in trouble.”
Xander watched the growing tension between the other three in puzzlement. Oz had gone stiff, shifting away from Willow slightly, his hand dropping from around her shoulders and Buffy looked like she was on the verge of an angry outburst. “Guys, come on. You can’t possibly think that Amy was involved in killing those kids, and now is really not a good time to be mentioning anyone who’s dabbling in magic, given the way people were talking last night.”
Oz looked at him in surprise. Well, with both eyebrows raised, which was almost the Oz-equivalent of shocked astonishment. “You’re… ok with this?” he asked, studying Xander intently.
“Well, dabbling in magic on the Hellmouth is probably never a good idea, but I’ll take Willow’s word for it that what Amy’s doing in harmless.” Xander didn’t understand what he was missing - why Oz was now looking absolutely dumbfounded and Buffy was on the verge of boiling over.
“What I want to know is how you know about Amy and Michael?” Buffy had stood up and crossed her arms, staring down at Willow with her most intimidating Slayer-glare.
“Amy and I are friends, you know that,” Willow said defensively. “She and Michael do stuff together…” she blushed and clarified hastily: “magical stuff. She told me about it.” Willow ducked her head, avoiding Buffy’s eyes, letting her hair swing forward over her face.
“Look at me, Willow,” Buffy demanded.
“Buffy, back off a little. What’s your problem?” Xander interjected, incredulous at the way Buffy was confronting Willow.
Buffy turned to stare at him in surprise, her mouth opening to say something when they were interrupted by a sudden loud ruckus in the hallway behind them. A voice called out sternly: “Police business, stay back,” and Buffy’s intended words died unsaid.
They all turned as one to see what was going on, getting to their feet as a growing noise assaulted them - the sound of raised voices and an angry crowd. Worried and curious, the four of them walked quickly towards the sound.
The main hallway was filled way beyond normal. Upset students were muttering protests and insults at a line of police officers preventing them from reaching their lockers. Principal Snyder was standing in the middle of the cleared area around the lockers, smirking openly and thoroughly enjoying the students’ ineffectual anger.
“What’s going on?” Buffy asked. The four of them threaded their way towards the front of the crowd, curious about the cause of the uproar. Police officers were going through the lockers, rifling through the contents and occasionally pulling items out.
“This is a glorious day for principals everywhere. No pathetic whining about students' rights. Just a long row of lockers and a man with a key.” Snyder clearly meant that literally, a member of the custodial staff was moving down the line of lockers, methodically opening each of them in turn with a master key. Behind him, came police officers, rifling through the lockers and placing anything unusual onto a wheeled cart: books, someone’s marijuana stash, a voodoo doll that looked suspiciously like Snyder, and other stuff he couldn’t make out.
Amy Madison was near the line of police, incipient panic on her face. “They’re searching the lockers for ‘witch stuff’” she informed them quietly as they arrived beside her, the sarcastic quotes obvious even through her tense nervousness. “My locker’s just about next up. They’ve already taken two kids away for suspicious stuff. They’re going to love what I have in my locker.” She was trying to make light of it, but failing miserably.
“But… it’s not illegal to have books on witchcraft in your locker. They can’t even suspend you - it’s a recognized religion. You can claim religious freedom, right?” Willow suggested nervously.
Xander watched as the officers started on the next open locker and began rummaging through the contents quickly. Watching them pull out two books, holding them as if they were poison, he shook his head. “I don’t think Snyder is interested in constitutional rights just now. This is looking an awful lot like how Nazi Germany got started.”
“Miss Madison, come with me.” The Vice Principal had approached them unnoticed, and Amy bit her lip, throwing them a scared glance as she was escorted away.
“What am I going to do?” Willow whispered nervously. “There’s stuff in my locker.”
“What kind of stuff?” Xander asked, keeping his voice low and a wary eye on the search party.
“A spell book and some herbs.”
“Willow, why do you have stuff like that in your locker?” Buffy asked sharply, then shook her head impatiently as the guy with the key opened the lock on Willow’s locker. “Never mind, it’s too late to worry about that. Your locker’s next.”
Willow looked terrified as the janitor opened her locker. The police were already moving in behind him to check the contents. Her hands tightened convulsively around the straps of her backpack and she looked in panic at Oz. “Oh, god, I have stuff in my bag, too. What am I going to do?”
Xander acted instinctively. Reaching casually up to slide the straps of her backpack off her shoulders, just as Snyder pointed to Willow in the crowd. For one moment, Willow resisted, clinging to the straps, before her hands relaxed and her arms fell to her sides, allowing him to pull the backpack off. She threw him a desperate look over her shoulder and Xander just shook his head at her, melting back into the crowd, taking the backpack with him as a stern looking policewoman planted herself in front of Willow.
Slipping through the crowd, Xander wondered how things had gotten this out of hand so quickly. Sunnydale had the highest death rate in the entire country for a town its size. Multiple murders weren’t even uncommon. Why was one more double murder, no matter how awful, causing this kind of reaction? Students and teachers, hell, the last principal had all been murdered on campus in the last two years and it had never lead to locker searches. Something weird was going on.
He headed directly for the library. It was the safest place he could think of to stash Willow’s backpack and he wanted to alert Giles to what was happening.
“Giles?” Xander pushed open the library doors, looking around for the librarian as he entered.
Giles came out of his office, absently holding a book, as always. “What is it, Xander?”
“Giles, the school’s gone crazy. Snyder’s searching lockers and anyone who’s got anything suspicious is being taken away.”
“Suspicious? You mean, like drugs?”
“No, I mean like witch stuff. I’m not sure if they even know what they’re looking for, but Willow and Amy Madison both had spell books in their lockers and they both got hauled into the principal’s office, along with some other kids. Of course, the police apparently threatened Cordelia’s hairspray, so they may not know what they’re looking for.” He held up Willow’s backpack. “I need to stash this in your office, Willow said she has some stuff in it that it’s not a good idea for her to be caught with right now.”
Giles set the book he was carrying down on the counter, looking at Xander sharply. “Willow had a spell book in her locker?”
Xander shrugged. “I guess. But, come on, this is Willow. There’s no way she was involved in killing a couple of kids.”
“That wasn’t my concern.” Giles took the backpack from Xander and opened it.
“Giles! Geez, does the word ‘privacy’ mean anything to you? Maybe you should join Synder.”
Giles had pulled out a spell book and a ziplock bag with a small dried plant in it and his lips tightened as he studied the plant. “Under the circumstances, privacy means a great deal less to me than safety, Xander.”
“Safety? It’s not like you didn’t know she was studying witchcraft. You’ve been working with her. What’s the big?”
If anything, Giles’ stare increased in intensity, boring into Xander as if he was trying to read his mind. “Xander…,” he hesitated and seemed to change what he’d started to say. “Xander, doesn’t it concern you at all that Willow has spell books that I did not lend her?”
Xander just shook his head, puzzled and a little uneasy under Giles’ scrutiny. “You’re teaching her magic, right? Are you sure they aren’t books you loaned her?”
Anger flared in Giles’ eyes and he swore sharply, shocking Xander who didn’t think he’d ever heard Giles use profanity before. Before Giles could say anything further, the library door was pushed open and Giles turned impatiently towards the entrance. “The library is closed. Please come back in an hour,” he snapped, before realizing it wasn’t a student at the door.
Four uniformed police officers entered, the last two carrying stacks of empty cartons. The sight of them broke Xander out of his shocked paralysis at Giles’ behavior and he moved quickly to block their view as Giles instantly swept the two books and the ziplock bag out of sight under the counter.
“Can I help you?”
Under other circumstances, Xander would have smiled at the way Giles drew his mild-mannered, British librarian persona around him like a cloak of invisibility. Unfortunately, today it wasn’t going to work. The invading bodies just pushed past Giles, ignoring his protests, and began yanking books off shelves without regard for their age or fragility, throwing them into the boxes they’d carried in with them.
Giles tried to block them physically. “Stop! Some of those books are extremely rare. Irreplaceable. You cannot do this.”
“They not only can, they have the legal authority to do so.”
Snyder’s unwelcome voice brought a halt to Giles’ attempts to physically stop the seizure of his library. The principal sauntered into the room, radiating pleasure at Giles’ consternation, his eyes sweeping over the activity in the room with obvious pleasure. “I love the smell of desperate librarian in the morning.”
“Get out! And take your marauders with you,” Giles spat, long past any pretense of civility.
Snyder just smirked at him, reaching into one of the boxes and plucking a book out. He studied the title for a moment before looking back at Giles with his eyebrows raised mockingly. “Mr. Giles, just how is… ‘Blood Rites and Sacrifices’ appropriate material for a public school library? Chess club branching out?”
Giles’ expression hardened and, for a moment, Xander was afraid he was going to physically attack Snyder. The moment passed and Giles closed his eyes, breathing deeply as he sought to calm himself. Xander watched helplessly, not knowing what to do and afraid that doing anything at all might makes things worse. The door slammed open again and he turned and saw Buffy enter, stopping abruptly just inside the door as she saw the police officers.
Snyder was clearly enjoying the moment, his gaze swinging back and forth between Buffy and Giles. “This is just the beginning. You’ll find a number of things changing around here. Fight it, if you want, but just remember, lift a finger against me and you'll have to answer to MOO.”
Buffy repeated incredulously: “‘Answer to MOO’? Did that sentence just make some sense that I'm not in on?”
“‘Mothers Opposed to the Occult,’ Snyder translated. “A powerful new group.”
“And who came up with that lame name?” Xander had to agree with Buffy on that one, even though it really wasn’t the issue.
“That would be the founder. I believe you call her ‘Mom’.”
He smirked at them one last time, then swept out of the library, leaving the officers to finish packing up any even remotely questionable books. Giles watched them seizing his books helplessly, still distraught over the way the books were being handled. Xander suspected that that was actually the thing that was freaking him out the most, not the confiscation. Confiscated books could be returned. Damaged ones were another matter entirely.
“Come on,” he said roughly. “There’s nothing we can do here. Let’s go somewhere we can talk.”
“I agree.” Buffy tugged gently on Giles’ arm, physically turning him away from the sight of his books being manhandled. She shot Xander a look he couldn’t read. “On top of everything else, we’ve got a Willow problem.”
“It’s just a summons to the principal’s office, right? They can’t expel her or anything, can they? It’s not like she had anything illegal in her locker,” Xander asked worriedly.
Giles tore his attention away from the plundering of his library but, if anything, his anger seemed to grow until his whole body was tense with barely-checked rage. The minute they were outside he library, he pinned Buffy with a hard stare. “Buffy, did you know what Willow was doing?” he asked, his voice deadly quiet, bitter knowledge in his eyes.
“No! I swear, Giles. I had no idea.” Buffy looked across Giles at Xander. “Xander, I’m sorry, I didn’t know she was using magic again. I would have told you.”
“What are you guys talking about? Giles has been teaching Willow magic since last summer. Why are you freaking out about it now?” Xander was utterly baffled by Giles’ anger, by Buffy’s apology, by the entire situation.
Giles steered them into an empty classroom and closed the door. He looked at Xander with sincere regret. “Xander, I apologize. I promised you that I was monitoring Willow closely and I’ve obviously failed you.” He held up a hand to stop Xander from answering and continued, his gaze turning to Buffy. “Willow had Lethe’s Bramble in her backpack. It’s an herb used for spells of memory and mind control.”
Buffy’s eyes went wide and she looked at Xander in horror. He was beginning to get a creepy feeling about the situation himself as Giles asked him: “Xander, what do you remember about Willow using a truth spell on you?”
Xander stared at him, unable to utter a sound. His gaze swung to Buffy and he saw she was looking at him with the same look Giles had, one of mingled horror and pity. “Willow did a spell on me? When?” he finally managed to ask faintly.
“You don’t remember it at all?”
He shook his head numbly and opened his mouth to say something, anything, but no sound came out. He just kept shaking his head slowly, in utter denial of what he was hearing. It felt like the air was being squeezed from his lungs and his breath started coming in short, hard pants. Willow would not do that to him. She wouldn’t. It wasn’t possible.
There was a roaring in his ears and suddenly he was being pushed into a chair, his head shoved down between his knees.
Giles’ sharp order broke through the roaring noise and he began gulping in great lungfuls of air, fighting for control. After a long moment, he raised his head. Buffy and Giles were watching him anxiously but anger was beginning to replace his shock.
“Are you telling me that Willow has done some kind of spell to make me forget things?” He kept his voice steady with an effort.
Giles nodded. “That appears to be what she has done,” he said quietly, though it was obvious he was still furious. Xander felt something inside of himself turn to ice.
“I want to know exactly what Willow’s done to me and how I get my memories back.”
“Of course. I can fill you in on the basic information, and fortunately, memory spells are usually fairly easy to break.” Giles hesitated, laying a sympathetic hand on Xander’s shoulder. “It’s not something that I can take care of at this moment, Xander.” He made sure Xander was looking at him as he continued. “I’m going to have to find out exactly what Willow has done in order to be sure I use the correct method of reversing the spell. I promise you that this will be my top priority, but…” his voice died and he looked infinitely regretful. “Xander, I’m going to need my books to do this properly, and I will not endanger you by going about it haphazardly. I’m sorry, but that means it may take a day or so before we can undo what Willow has done.”
Xander nodded grimly. He was surprised when Buffy crouched down next to his chair. “Xander, we’ll fix this, I promise. But Giles is right, we’re going to have to do something about what’s going on here at school first. We’ll get the books back if we have to break into the police station and steal them. Ok?”
“Ok,” he agreed, pleased that his voice came out sounding normal. Sort of. “I guess I don’t really want anyone messing with my mind unless we have all the information. Just answer this: as far as you can tell, how much of my memory did Willow tamper with?”
“Xander, we don’t have any way of really knowing that. However, I haven’t noticed anything different about you recently, except…” Giles took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes tiredly, looking almost as devastated as Xander felt.
“Except your renewed friendship with Willow,” Buffy finished for him. “You and she were pretty much not speaking after she did the truth spell on you and then, all of a sudden, it seemed like you were ok with her again.” She looked stricken. “I’m really sorry,” she said again. “I just thought you weren’t mad at her any more. It never occurred to me that she’d done another spell on you.”
“I’m afraid I came to the same conclusion, Xander. If it helps, the night that you went bowling with her and Oz was the first time I was aware that you and Willow seemed to be friends again. I don’t believe that Willow could have done the spell much before that or we would have seen signs of changed behavior before then. I think we can assume, for now, that Willow’s spell was probably limited to removing your memory of the truth spell she did on you. I apologize, Xander. I thought I was monitoring her too carefully for something like this to happen.”
“So start by telling me about the truth spell,” Xander said harshly. He wanted to know what was missing, what Willow had taken from him, no matter how bad it was. It was his life, his memories, and she had no right to tamper with them.
Buffy sighed. “Do you remember when Angel first came back?”
Xander was relieved that he knew exactly what she was talking about. “Yeah.”
“I thought Spike had killed Angel, and I was trying to get you to tell me what Spike had done with him. Willow used a truth spell, something that forces people to tell the truth whether they want to or not, to get the information out of you.”
“You were understandably furious with her, Xander,” Giles continued when Buffy fell silent. “You barely spoke to her after that until… earlier this week. I’m so sorry. I’ve been monitoring her but obviously not closely enough. I wasn’t aware that she was doing any magic at all.” He looked guilt stricken.
Xander was trying to fit what they were telling him into what he remembered. No matter how hard he searched his brain, he couldn’t find anything wrong. He remembered Angel coming back, remembered Willow had done a spell to bring him back, remembered her and Giles studying magic together and how proud Giles had been of her accomplishment in doing such a tricky spell. Remembered the long breach in their friendship and the slow, gradual healing, culminating in their bowling night, when it had seemed like they had finally gotten back on track, or at least were beginning to. He remembered returning to Sunnydale after he and Spike’s long weekend in Los Angeles and feeling like a huge weight had been lifted from him. Had that been when she’d done the spell?
“Let’s keep things straight, Giles,” he said finally. “Willow’s the one to blame, not you. From what you tell me, first she did a spell to force me to tell her something I apparently didn’t want her to know, then she used a second spell to erase my memory of what she’d done.” His voice was tired and bleak, the ashes of a nearly life-long friendship a bitter taste in his mouth. “I will never forgive her for doing this to me.”
“I don’t know if any of us can, or indeed should, forgive her,” Giles agreed quietly. “Once, we could perhaps excuse her because of youth and inexperience. Twice…” he shook his head, words failing him.
“Twice is too much to forgive,” Buffy finished for him, her own voice hard.
Xander stood up abruptly, feeling the need to do something. Anything. He needed to find an outlet for the anger churning inside him before he exploded. Attacking people physically actually sounded like a good plan, but he forced himself to push his anger down, reining it in tightly for now. He couldn’t afford to lose it until they had reversed what Willow had done. “So, how do we get your books back?” he asked, focusing on the next step.
Get the books back, break the spell, confront Willow. It was a good enough plan to start with.
“Much as I hate to say it, the indirect approach may be best. If Snyder is answering to ‘MOO’,” Buffy’s distaste in saying the acronym was palpable, “we should probably go talk to my mom.”
A/N - Bits of dialogue borrowed from the episode ‘Gingerbread’