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 slept restlessly, waking time and again from bad dreams. Nightmares of losing his identity entirely, of Willow doing spell after spell on him, of magic crawling over his skin and inside his head, stripping him of everything that made him Xander, had him jerking awake, breath coming in harsh gasps in the quiet dark of their apartment, feeling Spike’s arms tightening around him and his voice murmuring sleepy reassurances.
Finally giving up on sleep entirely, he eased his way out from Spike’s entangling arms and slipped out of the bed, trying not to wake Spike. Spike slept lightly, but he was used to Xander’s movements and usually didn’t wake completely if Xander left the bed to go to the bathroom, or whatever. Sliding into his robe and padding barefoot into the kitchen, Xander closed the door softly behind him and crossed the dark kitchen to the cupboard. He turned on the stove light, using the dim glow to see as he made himself a cup of cocoa.
Sitting at the counter, sipping the rich warmth of the hot chocolate, he tried to let the comforting taste and the peaceful silence settle his nerves but his thoughts wouldn’t cooperate. The worst part of what Willow had done to him was that he hadn’t even known she’d done something. He didn’t trust himself anymore, didn’t trust his memories, didn’t even know who he was: Xander, or some Willow-ized version of Xander.
Coming to a decision, Xander got a pad of paper and a pen from the alcove where he kept his homework supplies. Settling down at the kitchen table, he began writing.
Spike woke abruptly, some internal alarm telling him that Xander had been gone far longer than an ordinary nighttime errand. He’d long since learned to sleep through Xander’s movements around the apartment, but now something felt off. The sheets where Xander had lain had cooled, no longer holding the warmth of Xander’s body, and that told him Xander had been gone for a good long time, far longer than it took to use the toilet or get a midnight snack.
Light shone dimly through the crack under the kitchen door and Spike threw back the covers and crossed the room to see what was happening. Xander had obviously been deeply troubled last night, but he’d been exhausted and Spike had put him straight to bed. At the time, he’d thought that talking about whatever was bothering his boy could wait ‘til morning but now he wondered if that hadn’t been a mistake.
Pushing the kitchen door open silently, Spike saw Xander hunched over a pad of paper at the kitchen table, writing furiously in the dim light from the stove lamp. He’d written a dozen or more pages already and Spike’s brow furrowed in puzzlement. There was no way Xander had gotten up to do a bit of homework in the middle of the bloody night, not given how exhausted he’d been.
Studying his boy in the dim light, Spike saw the tension in the way he held himself, the white-knuckled grip on the pen he was using. He was concentrating so hard on his writing that he didn’t notice Spike standing there, which was unusual for Xander. Whatever his boy was doing, he had an air of it being of life-or-death importance.
“Xander.” He said it quietly, but Xander still jumped, gasping in shock. Seeing Xander’s face as it turned up to look at him, Spike’s worry increased. Xander’s eyes were shadowed, dark circles of exhaustion under them, the laughter completely gone from the troubled dark eyes.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Nighttime, pet. Usually up and about now,” Spike reminded him and was rewarded by the faintest hint of a grin, but it didn’t reach Xander’s eyes.
“What’s wrong, luv?”
Xander’s gaze dropped to the pages in front of him, his hands nervously smoothing them, straightening the edges and folding them in half with a mathematical precision. “Spike, I need you to promise me something.”
“Anything, luv. You know that.”
“I’m going to put these in the desk. I need you to ask me every night if I’ve read them.” Haunted eyes looked up at him, like he was a lifeline for a drowning man. “Will you do that until I tell you to stop? Every night?”
“What’s this about, Xander?” Spike studied him. The promise was nothing, easily done, but he wasn’t going to give it without having more information. He stepped forward, holding out one hand for the papers. “What’s in them?”
Xander didn’t answer. He buried his face in his hands but didn’t move to prevent Spike from quietly sliding the papers off the table and beginning to quickly read through them.
If anything, the papers increased Spike’s puzzlement. Xander had hastily summarized a number of events from his life: his friend’s death, his estrangement from the redhead, that he loved Spike - Spike smiled involuntarily, despite his uneasiness, when he read that section. Although he knew Xander loved him, it was nice to see in black and white: “I love Spike and trust him completely. He’s the most important person in my life. I live with him and we’re lovers.”
There was more of the same: mentions of his demon friends and the truth spell the witch had done on him.
“Xander,” Spike crouched down beside his boy, “what’s going on, luv? Talk to me.”
Xander lifted his head and looked at Spike for a long moment. Spike was struck by the bewildered hurt in his eyes; like a wounded animal who couldn’t comprehend why someone was hurting it. “Willow did another spell on me,” he said at last. “A memory spell, so I wouldn’t remember the truth spell she had done. I found out about it yesterday, by accident.”
Rage tore through Spike as he grasped what Xander was saying.
That anyone would dare do that to Xander, much less his so-called friend. She would learn what it meant to touch a Master Vampire’s Claimed. She would pay for every moment’s pain she had caused his boy. Spike shook with the force of his anger. It was all he could do not to howl his fury into the night sky, not to leave his Claimed’s side to exact revenge this very moment.
Spike came back to himself after a moment, little surprised to find he was still crouched, unmoving, beside Xander. He forced himself not to show any reaction. Xander was shivering slightly as he sat on the kitchen chair huddled in his bathrobe, although the apartment was kept fairly warm at night, and he didn’t need Spike’s anger and vengeance threats now.
Standing, he tugged Xander gently up from his chair, pulling him against Spike’s own cool body, holding him tightly as Xander clung desperately to him, crooning softly in Xander’s ear, not moving until the tremors shaking Xander’s whole body gradually faded into stillness.
“Let’s get you back to bed, luv,” he said quietly and Xander nodded.
Grimacing, Spike noticed the pages in his hand, now crumpled into a tight ball inside his fist. Unnoticed, he set them back down on the table. Xander wouldn’t need to check his memories if the witch was dead, he thought grimly.
Spike held Xander through the remainder of the night, sitting watchful in their bed his strong arms enfolding Xander in a secure haven as his Claimed at long last fell into troubled sleep. Through the early morning hours, he soothed his boy when he moved restlessly, as dreams continued to plague his sleep, and thought hard about what Xander had said and what he was going to do about it.
When Xander had promised to tell him about things like this, he’d promised Xander he wouldn’t kill any of his friends unless it was a matter of saving Xander’s life and he struggled with that as the hours ticked away towards dawn. Weighing his promise against the need to avenge his Claimed.
It didn’t help that he knew that, even now, Xander wouldn’t want Spike to kill the witch. Much less have her death take the days it deserved to. Xander also wouldn’t be happy if Spike kept him out of school, but the thought of his Claimed being anywhere near the witch when Spike wasn’t there to protect him, made Spike’s skin crawl and his demon rage.
He was no closer to a solution when he felt the dawn approaching and heard the distant sounds of the vampires of the Court returning from their nightly outings. Their bottom lines were irreconcilable and mutually exclusive: the witch needed to be killed and Xander wouldn’t let Spike kill her.
Spike sighed. He and Xander were going to have to talk about it, which went against his instincts which were screaming for punitive action. Fortunately, Xander wasn’t going anywhere near the school until the witch was taken care of, so they would find some way around the impasse.
“What do we do now?”
Xander’s voice was unlike his usually groggy state first thing in the morning. He’d been awake for some time and Spike had continued to hold him without letting on he knew Xander was awake, not pressing him to talk until he was ready.
“We start by you telling me exactly what happened.”
Spike listened carefully as Xander explained how the Watcher had figured out that his memories had been altered. The extent of what the witch had done, based on Xander and Giles comparing memories. The initial reaction of the Slayer and the wolf - which pleased Spike - and finally, Xander’s bitter conclusion that the others were going to forgive Willow.
Spike made a mental note to add them all to the kill-on-sight list if that were true.
For now, he concentrated on not reacting, on keeping his anger so firmly controlled that his body remained relaxed and his arms only tightened comfortingly around his Claimed. Xander needed Spike calm, not raging out of control over the wrongs Xander already knew had been done to him. As soon as Xander didn’t need him anymore, he was finding the largest, toughest demon around and he was tearing it to pieces with his bare hands.
When Xander finally ran out of words, Spike considered his reply carefully. “What do you want to happen, luv?” It was obvious that Xander felt completely out of control right now, he needed to get that feeling back.
“I want this to have never happened,” Xander answered after a long silence. “I want Willow punished. I want Giles and Oz not to forgive her. And I want my memories back, no matter what they are.”
“Watcher’s got that last one under control, from what you tell me,” Spike answered reassuringly. The Watcher had better. He’d helped create this mess in the first place. Supposed to be supervising the witch, wasn’t he?
And that was a truly annoying thought. Spike knew enough about magic and about the Watcher to know that Giles would need to consult with the witch about what she’d done. He couldn’t kill her for practical reasons, not until the spell reversal was finished.
He wondered if Xander would buy that she’d been accidentally torn to pieces by wild dogs immediately after the spell was reversed. Probably not, more’s the pity.
“He says that memory spells are pretty easy to reverse.” Xander sounded like he was trying to convince himself. “He couldn’t do it yesterday because all his books were taken in the raid on the school.”
“He was right. Don’t like someone mucking about using magic on you, and I’m not letting them do it half-cocked.”
“Yeah, I didn’t like that idea either.” Xander sighed and sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. He kissed Spike and stood up. “Thanks, Spike. I’d better get ready.”
Spike was so caught off guard for one moment, that Xander had gotten several steps towards the bathroom before Spike shot to his feet.
“You’re not goin’ to school today, luv,” Spike said flatly.
“Why not?” Unbelievably, Xander looked surprised. A little relieved, but mostly surprised.
“Xander, you don’t know if your friends are going to stand by you and you’re making reminder lists so you can check if the witch tampers with you again. You are not going to school.”
Xander wrapped his arms around himself. “I don’t want them to think I’m scared,” he muttered, like he was trying to convince himself.
Spike crossed the floor in one quick stride and put his arms around his boy. “Not about being scared, luv. It’s about not being able to trust the people around you.”
There was a long silence. “I have to know, Spike,” he said finally, leaning against Spike as if he could gather strength from him. “I have to know what they are going to do about this or if they are just going to sweep it under the rug. And I need to know how soon Giles can break the spell.”
Spike growled. He couldn’t stop himself. The thought of anyone doing more magic on Xander infuriated him and filled him with dread. It hadn’t escaped his notice, once he’d realized why Xander had written those reminders last night, that Xander was afraid someone would tamper with the memory of his relationship with Spike. Given how they all felt, in varying degrees, about their relationship, that was a reasonable fear. Witch probably had it in mind and just hadn’t figured out how to cover her tracks yet.
“No one’s doing magic on you without me there.” He thought for a moment. “We’ll go together, luv. Call the Watcher and tell him we’re meeting him after school. He can explain himself to us both. Xander, if they don’t back you, you aren’t ever going back to that school. It won’t be safe.”
He could see from Xander’s sorrowful nod that Xander was less worried about his safety and more thinking that school would be unbearable if his friends turned against him. He hugged Xander hard. “Get you a tutor, luv. Home schoolin’ they call it now. You’ll graduate just fine. Probably with more education than if you stayed at that school.” His contempt for the American education system hadn’t abated in the slightest.
He hadn’t thought of it before, but now that he had, he liked the idea. A lot. Xander at home all day, a tutor who would discretely leave whenever Spike told him to. Spike found himself smiling as he pictured the arrangement. Of course, it meant finding someone he could trust to spend hours every day with his Claimed, but Spike would be right there, so it shouldn’t be that difficult. He should have thought of this last summer, it was a bloody brilliant idea.
“Yeah, luv?” He answered absently, still working out the details of the tutoring arrangement.
“I don’t want them to choose me because they’re scared of you.” Xander’s voice was very quiet but determined.
“What do you mean?”
“I need to know what they say without you looming over my shoulder threatening them.” Xander smiled at him. “You intimidate without saying a word, Spike. You know you do.”
Spike couldn’t deny it. Didn’t want to. He’d worked hard to make his mere presence threatening. Very useful for a Master Vampire.
“If they choose me, I don’t want to worry about whether it was only because they were afraid of you.”
In the end, they compromised on Xander going to school after lunch. Spike would meet him at the library, using the tunnels, immediately after Xander’s last class, waiting until Xander had had a chance to confront his friends alone first.
It was obvious that Spike approved of the ambush tactics and that was the only reason he’d agreed to the plan. It wasn’t mentioned that Xander knew that Spike would be lurking in the tunnel entrance for a long time before the appointed meeting time. While it was clear that Spike understood Xander’s need to confront them on his own, it was equally clear that Spike hated the idea.
It had been weirdly comforting knowing that Spike would kill anyone Xander asked him to, without hesitation or remorse. Comforting and nerve-racking, because Xander wasn’t entirely sure he could be trusted not to ask it of Spike.
Several hours later, having showered and walked to school, Xander acknowledged to himself that it had probably been a mistake not to follow Spike’s original plan. He’d been thinking vaguely that he could talk to Giles, Buffy and Oz separately, but he hadn’t seen any of them. He didn’t have Buffy or Oz in either of his last two classes, and any idea of actually learning something was a joke, he couldn’t concentrate at all, his thoughts unable to stop worrying about the coming meeting with Giles and worried about the spell.
When he was summonsed out of his last class at the start of the period, Xander almost panicked. He seriously considered just leaving the school grounds instead and waiting for Spike just off campus. He didn’t want to hear Giles explain how Willow was sorry, how she wouldn’t do it again, how he would keep a close eye on her in the future. He knew Willow was really good at research, especially in Giles’ weakest area - computers - and that it had been very helpful to Buffy and Giles to have her working with them. It didn’t help that Xander had spent over an hour yesterday demonstrating to Giles that he was pretty near useless on a computer and no replacement for Willow. He knew that Willow was Buffy’s best friend and Oz’s girlfriend. It was just that he’d thought they were his friends too. Not so much Buffy, although he’d thought they had at least arrived at mutual respect, but Oz and Giles were his closest friends at school and he really didn’t want to hear that they were going to choose Willow over him. He’d seen enough last night to know which way that particular wind was blowing.
It was only the thought that Giles might be ready to break Willow’s spell that got his feet moving toward the library at all.
Pushing the door open with reluctant slowness, Xander froze on the threshold and almost retreated as he realized the entire group was there: Giles, Oz, Buffy, and Willow. His eyes skittered away from the sight of Willow sitting at the table, dropping to the floor at his feet as his emotions threatened to get completely out of control.
Giles had obviously been watching the door and, before Xander could slip away, he called out: “There you are, Xander. Good, we can get started.”
“Started on what?” Willow asked. “You never said what the emergency was. Is it Amy?” Xander could hear the slight nervousness underlying her tone, the anxious edge to her question and he made himself stop studying the linoleum. Now that he was in for it, he wasn’t going to play the nervous supplicant. He was the wronged person here. If they were going to let Willow get away with this, they were going to do it to his face.
He stopped hesitating by the door and walked forward, his steps as firm as he could manage. Chin up, he looked at them all, concealing his hurt and anger behind a hard mask. “I assume he meant getting started on fixing the memory spell that you did on me,” he said coldly, going directly into attack mode. He wasn’t going to play nice about this and pretend nothing major had happened.
If he wasn’t quite able to look directly into her face yet, well, that was his problem and nobody else’s business.
“Memory spell?” Willow repeated faintly.
“We know, Willow,” Giles said. “You have apparently learned nothing from our sessions since the last time you abused your abilities.”
At Giles’ scathing tone, Xander’s eyes shot to his face. Giles was angry. Actually, he was livid, not even attempting to hide his anger. Confused, Xander looked at Buffy and Oz, who were both staring in Willow’s direction like they didn’t recognize her.
For the first time, he took in the positions around the table. Oz wasn’t sitting next to Willow, which was almost unheard of. He was at the end of the table, well separated from Willow who was sitting alone on one of the long sides of the table. Giles and Buffy were also seated across from her.
They weren’t supporting her. They were confronting her.
Xander felt the hand that had been constricting his breathing and his heart since yesterday loosen and he took a deep, steadying breath. Maybe… maybe he had been wrong yesterday. Maybe they were just focused on the moment. Giles, especially, had never believed in kicking someone when they were down, all that British public school upbringing a part of his nature. Xander had to admit, it was hard to think of how someone could be more down than a person who had just had a near miss with burning to death. Maybe they had just been reacting to their relief at saving her from that.
“Sessions?” he asked, clearing his throat before he could get the words out.
“Didn’t I tell you about that yesterday?” Giles furrowed his brow for a moment, then shook his head. “Sorry. After the truth spell, I spent considerable time” - that was definitely a shot at Willow from the look Giles gave her as he said it - “attempting to teach Willow the ethics required of magic users and the peril of ignoring those ethics. Sadly, it appears my efforts were completely in vain. Once again, Willow, you have willfully misused your power for your own ends. Quite apart from the moral repugnance of your actions, you have again risked inflicting permanent harm on someone you claim to care about.”
“Willow, how could you do this?” Buffy’s anger and disgust showed clearly in her question, though her voice stayed flat and even.
“I didn’t mean any harm,” Willow insisted. “I didn’t. I just wanted Xander and me to be friends again. I’ve missed him.”
“So you invaded his mind.” Oz’s quiet condemnation wasn’t a question and Willow’s tear-filled eyes went from him to Xander.
“Xander, you said that you couldn’t forget what it felt like to have me do the truth spell on you. All I wanted was to help you forget that so we could be friends again. It wasn’t to hurt you. You were hurting because of what I’d done and I just wanted to help. I wanted us to be friends again.”
“And your idea of helping me is to do the same thing again? Only this time, you made sure I didn’t know about it. Who the hell do you think you are? You have no right to do that to someone. You don’t get to decide what’s ok for me to remember or whether or not we’re friends. You haven’t learned anything, except to hide your tracks better.” He stared at her bitterly. “I don’t buy it, Willow. You knew I wouldn’t let you do that to me, or you would have asked me for permission. You did it for yourself, not for me. You’re no better than a murderer who burns the house down on top of their victims. You were just trying to erase the memory of your crime, not make my life better. Don’t you ever claim this was for me.”
Willow was silenced by the raw fury in his voice, the anger in his eyes. She dropped her gaze to her hands, fiddling with them nervously in her lap. Once or twice, she opened her mouth as if she was about to say something, but each time she closed it again without saying anything.
Giles finally broke the silence.
“I assume that the person assisting you in learning black magics was Amy?” Giles lifted his gaze to the rat sitting in a cage on the bookshelf behind them.
Xander had had a panicked moment this morning before Spike told him he’d dropped the bag holding the rat next to Giles on the way out of the room at City Hall with a terse instruction to deal with the rat himself. “Not takin’ care of a bloody rat, luv,” he’d told Xander, which was fair, Xander hadn’t known what to do with it either.
“The one you refused to identify so she wouldn’t get in trouble?” Giles continued. For such a mild-sounding reproof, Giles managed to convey the clear message that he blamed Amy’s current predicament squarely on Willow’s silence.
Giles stood and crossed the room to stand looking down into the small cage he’d dug up somewhere, Xander thought it was probably the same cage he’d put the zombie cat in a few months ago. Amy-rat looked unhappy, crouched in a corner and eyeing them warily. “Amy will be turned over to a Devonshire coven that I am familiar with. A member is flying here as we speak and they will take charge of returning her to human form.”
“Really?” Willow breathed, curiosity and speculation in her eyes. “They can fly?”
Giles sent a withering look in her direction. “British Airways is rather good at that sort of thing,” he said caustically.
\Xander’s jaw tightened at Willow’s reaction. She wasn’t going to give up magic. Not for him. Not for anyone. Two seconds after learning they knew what she’d done, she couldn’t hide her first reaction of eager interest. Seeing Buffy and Oz watching her reaction with grim faces, he was grateful that they weren’t making excuses for her any more.
Willow flushed with anger and embarrassment at Giles’ biting words. “Giles, I can de-rat her. Amy and I have been working together and I’m familiar with the kinds of spells she does. I think I can figure out how to reverse the spell.”
“Yes, I gather that you and Amy have been experimenting. I understand that she’s been dabbling in mind-control spells for some time now.” Giles folded his arms and glared pointedly at Willow from his position by Amy’s cage.
“What? No!” Willow looked shocked. “She hasn’t been doing anything like that.”
“Hasn’t she? Buffy gave me to understand that you told her that Amy has been avoiding homework assignments through the use of magic.” Willow faltered under Giles’ accusing glare. “How would you describe making a teacher believe a student has turned in non-existent homework? Or did I misunderstand the situation?” he finished coldly.
“But…” Willow couldn’t finish. “I... I never thought about it as mind-control, it was just…”
“Just tampering with another person’s mind so that they believed reality to be different than it was?” Giles finished for her.
Willow bowed her head, color burning in her cheeks and didn’t say anything else to defend Amy’s actions.
Giles waited a long moment for his point to sink in before returning to the subject of Amy. “As for Amy, was it your intent to leave the idiotic child in a cage until you stumble across the right solution?” he asked sarcastically, waiting, brows raised inquiringly but Willow had no answer. “Just how long do you think it would take you? Days? Weeks, perhaps? Would you honestly leave a person you consider a friend in this situation for that length of time, just to satisfy you own ego that you can reverse the spell of someone who has been practicing magic for years longer than yourself?” Again, he waited for an answer that wasn’t forthcoming.
“She’s a human being,” he finished, his voice ice-cold. “She’s not a magic experiment for you to play with. Amy will be turned over to the coven. They have been practicing magic for decades longer than you have been alive, Willow, and have a far greater chance of succeeding in reversing the spell. You will tell them everything you know about what she has been dabbling in to assist them.”
Willow nodded and Giles continued: “We can only hope that they will be able to teach Amy something about the unbelievable stupidity of turning oneself into an animal. She seems to have had no plan for turning herself back into a human.”
“She didn’t want to be burned to death.”
“I understand that. But it is hardly the kind of spell that even a seasoned magic user will come up with out of thin air. Amy has obviously practiced that spell for some time. Which means she either intended to use it on herself or, more likely given the difficulty in reversing that spell once performed on oneself, on someone else.” Giles pinned Willow with a hard stare. “Were you aware that she was practicing animal transformation spells?”
“No,” Willow said quickly. “We did other things, smaller things, stuff that wouldn’t hurt anybody.”
“Like memory and mind-control spells,” Giles finished sarcastically and Willow flushed, looking away from him nervously.
“Willow,” Buffy said, having sat silently throughout Giles’ angry lecture. “I don’t understand how you could have lied about all of this. Lied to me. You said you weren’t doing any magic.”
“I know and I’m really sorry. I didn’t think you’d understand.”
Buffy’s lips tightened. “Good call. I don’t. So explain it to me.”
Willow looked helplessly around the circle of hostile eyes. “I’m good at magic. It’s like it comes naturally to me. It feels right to work spells, like it’s what I was meant to do. But everyone kept telling me I was wrong and I had to stop.” She looked at Xander, her eyes pleading. “I know I was wrong. I shouldn’t have done the truth spell on you. But that didn’t mean I should stop doing any magic at all. And Amy knew all these spells and I was learning so much from her…” her voice trailed off.
“It won’t happen again,” she finished, looking at them all earnestly. “But I can help Buffy with the spells I’ve learned. I’m good. Giles, you can test me and I can show you what I can do.”
“Willow, how can I trust someone who would do a spell like that on a friend?” Buffy asked, crossing her arms and leaning slightly away from Willow, her whole body signaling rejection of the offer Willow had just made. “I can’t do my job properly if I can’t trust the person who’s backing me up.”
“I would never do anything to hurt you!” Willow exclaimed.
“But you did hurt Xander,” Oz said quietly, his face unreadable.
Willow’s head jerked around to face him. “Oz…”
Oz shook his head. “Willow, Xander is my friend. I told you the last time that if you ever did something like that again, we were through. I love you, but I can’t be with someone who treats people like you do.” He pushed his chair back and stood, sorrow visible in every line of his tightly controlled body. He stopped for one moment near where Xander still leaned against the bookcase and looked up at him. Xander nodded, hoping his gratitude showed in his eyes.
There was a flicker of something on Oz’s face that Xander couldn’t quite read and he nodded to Xander, before walking out of the library without looking back, Willow’s sobbing cry following him out the door.
“And then there were two,” Giles murmured, so quietly Xander barely heard him. He seemed to be speaking almost to himself. “You see, Willow, there are consequences.” Taking his glasses off, he polished them for a long moment. “Xander may never forgive you and, offhand, I can’t think of a reason he should. You and Oz may never be together again, Buffy…”
“Buffy may never trust you again.” The Slayer spoke for herself, her harsh words overriding Giles’.
“Willow, if you can do something like that to Xander, how can I trust you not to do it to me? I’m sorry, but right now it creeps me out to even be around you.” She jumped to her feet, beginning to pace restlessly around the room. “You’ve been my best friend since I moved here but right now I feel like I don’t even know who you are anymore.”
“Was it worth it, Willow?” Giles asked harshly. “Was it worth using magic for your own gains when you lose all your friends as a result?”
Willow bowed her head, tears falling unchecked into her lap but any sympathy Xander might have felt for her was long dead.
“Like to hear the answer to that,” Spike’s voice cut in from the top of the stairs, startling them all as they jerked around to face him. “The only reason you’re still alive is because of Xander. Even after everything you’ve done to him, he’s not willing to let me kill you. After sitting up with him all night, holding him through his nightmares about what you did, I don’t need much of an excuse to kill you. Love for you to give me one.”
Glaring at the witch, Spike couldn’t decide if he wished she had burned last night. It would have been extremely satisfying. Unlike vampires, humans burned slowly, leaving them in excruciating agony for a long time. But it would have lacked the hands-on vengeance he wanted so badly.
Listening to the conversation from the upper levels, standing quietly in the stacks, Spike had heard every one of the witch’s excuses and justifications. She didn’t understand and she never would. The only thing that balanced his fury at her arrogance and self-centered view was that the others were not letting her get away with it.
The witch was a lost cause, too deeply caught up in the intoxication of power, reveling in what she could do with the power magic gave her, to come back from the dark place she was in. She didn’t even know it herself. She sold herself on her excuses, long before she’d tried to sell them to anyone else. Stupid bint couldn’t even see what she was doing to herself, much less how her actions affected anyone else.
“Xander loves me,” she answered him defiantly, latching on to the one part of what he’d said that justified her actions. “He hates not being friends with me, I know it. Why else would he have rescued me?” she asked triumphantly.
“He didn’t do it for you, you half-wit.” Spike’s glare intensified. How dare she use Xander’s compassion to justify her actions? “He did it for Joyce. And because that’s who he is. Xander wouldn’t leave anyone, even someone he hates, to burn to death. He’s not like you and me,” he added pointedly pleased when color burned in her face and she momentarily was lost for words.
Xander’s voice dropped into the room like a rock into a pond, stopping Willow before she could gather her wits for a heated response to Spike, and the echo of the single word seemed to fill the sudden silence as they all turned to face him.
“I loved you, Willow. Past tense. I wouldn’t be friends with you now if you were the last person left on earth.” Xander’s voice rose as his stare bored into Willow. “Friends trust each other. They don’t invade each other’s minds and plant ideas and memories that they want there. They don’t coerce people into being friends by lies, by misusing power they happen to have.”
Spike watched Willow’s face crumple, fresh tears falling from her eyes, and was surprised to feel a momentary flash of sympathy. He could only imagine the pain of losing Xander, she was experiencing it first hand. She knew what she had done and there was no trace of forgiveness or of his ever relenting in Xander’s eyes.
Good. She deserved every bit of pain that her own actions had brought down on her head.
“I will never forgive you for this, Willow.”
Xander stepped past her, ignoring her as if she had ceased to exist, crossing the room to stand by Spike, putting his arms around Spike and leaning into him.
“Love you, Xander,” Spike whispered into his ear, for Xander’s ears only. “Proud of you.”
Lifting his head to face the room, Spike felt Xander moving, turning in the circle of his arms so that he was facing the others as well. Spike’s eyes met the Watcher’s and he was surprised and pleased by the approval he saw there. Approval for his boy. His eyes held the Watcher’s in a long, measuring stare.
“What’s being done about reversing the spell?” His gaze dropped briefly to the witch and his voice slid silkily into naked menace. “Need any help persuading someone to tell us exactly what she did?”