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
Willow had been quiet and cooperative as Giles questioned her, explaining the spells she had used. Buffy had walked out before the questioning had even started, saying she needed to patrol, although it had sounded more like an excuse to leave than a real concern. She’d left abruptly without a word or a glance at Willow and Willow’s tearful eyes had watched her go, before she’d bowed her head over her clasped hands. Giles had given her a moment to collect herself, then begun interrogating her relentlessly about every spell she and Amy had done, especially the memory spell and what Willow knew about Amy changing herself into a rat.
Xander and Spike remained through it all, listening silently to the questions and answers. Neither of them knew much about magic, so most of the details were meaningless to them, but Xander needed to hear it and Spike wasn’t about to leave him alone to face something like this. At one point, Xander had thought Giles was going to blow a gasket when he realized exactly what Willow had been doing. She’d taken the basic memory spells that Amy had taught her and tinkered with them, changing them until they were almost something else entirely.
Amy had used the spells for short term, straight-forward gain: having teachers remember receiving A-quality homework assignments from her when she hadn’t turned anything in at all. She didn’t need the spells to last longer than it took to register the grade and hand the assignments back to the class. It was a rare teacher who would worry about an assignment already read, graded, and given back to the student, so Amy had worked with temporary spells, lasting about a week before wearing off on their own.
Willow had wanted something permanent and a spell that would cover multiple memories. For that, she had boosted the power of Amy’s basic spells and given them a broader reach. Apparently, memory spells operated largely based on the will of the person wielding the spell. The witch concentrated on what they wanted the subject to know or believe as they worked the spell. Amy had done her spells with a simple incantation and her will alone. Willow had added herbs, such as the Lethe’s Bramble Giles had found in her backpack, to augment the original spells.
From Giles’ reaction, this was not a good thing. Xander had listened silently up until then while Giles questioned Willow, not able to bring himself to look directly at Willow, concentrating instead on the sound of her voice, grateful for Spike’s silent support as they stood side-by-side, shoulders brushing, listening to Willow’s explanations.
Willow’s voice was so familiar, even now, Xander thought numbly. So much hadn’t changed at all: her excitement in learning, her pride in mastering a new subject, the intellectual confidence she had always had that came from being the smartest person in the room most of the time, the slight hint of condescension she’d never been able to completely hide for anyone who couldn’t make the logic leaps that she could.
Willow’s intellectual arrogance had always been balanced and checked by her shyness. The stereotypical science nerd, ostracized socially but the one everyone in their class had always turned to for the answers, even while they made fun of her behind her back. He and Jesse had always been her shelter against the world, just like she had been theirs.
Willow and he hadn’t been close like that in a long time, but Xander could still only barely comprehend the idea that she would not only betray him like this but that she’d spent weeks planning it in advance. Listening to Willow getting caught up in explaining the spells she’d worked, Xander felt sick, wondering if it had really all been just an intellectual exercise to Willow. Had intellectual curiosity over whether to add one piece or two of Lethe’s Bramble to the mix blinded her to the emotional consequences, the immorality, of what she was doing? Had she forgotten it wasn’t simply a math problem - negative thoughts removed + permanence = friendship restored - but Xander’s life she was messing with?
Giles’ growing agitation was alarming and Xander broke his long silence, asking Giles what it meant that Willow had changed the spells. He didn’t really care why it mattered from a magic point of view but he was worried that it could mean that reversing the spell would be more difficult.
Giles kept his eyes on Willow as he answered bluntly: “It’s the magical equivalent of mixing two unknown chemicals together and hoping they don’t explode. It’s an incredibly rash thing to have attempted.”
Willow bristled. “I was careful, Giles. I know what I’m doing. There wasn’t any risk.” Seeming to remember she was talking about spells that she’d used to control Xander, she stopped abruptly without finishing what she’d started to say. At least she hadn’t actually been tactless enough to say that her spell had worked exactly as she had intended as proof of how careful she’d been, Xander thought bitterly. Spike growled dangerously and Willow hastily changed the subject, asking Giles if he had any more questions.
Xander’s resentment burned as Giles continued to ask probing questions and he listened to Willow talk about tampering with his memory like it was nothing more than a lab experiment. She sounded like she’d completely forgotten that she was talking about manipulating someone against their will. He was more convinced than ever that Willow didn’t really understand - or worse, didn’t care - that what she’d done was wrong.
He was relieved when Giles finally said he thought he had all the information he needed. Xander wanted nothing more than to go home, to not have to listen to Willow any more. Maybe Spike had been right about not coming back to school for awhile.
“Willow, I suggest you go home and think long and hard about what you have done.” Giles closed the notebook he’d been taking notes in with unnecessary force. “You will report here to the library at noon tomorrow in case the coven has any questions before they start work on Amy.”
Willow nodded, and Xander’s lips tightened at the longing sideways glance she sent in the direction of the cage. Nothing Giles had said was sinking in at all.
Willow pushed her chair back and snuck a look at Xander from behind the sweep of her hair. She sighed when he refused to look in her direction, staring stonily at the wall on the opposite side of the room. Her shoulders slumping slightly, she turned to leave.
Spike’s long immobility had been a predator’s deception; disarming his prey until she’d forgetten his existence. Without the slightest warning, he was suddenly in motion, slamming Willow up against the bookshelf and pinning her there effortlessly. She made a terrified sound, struggling instinctively to free herself for one panicked second before she went motionless in the face of the yellow-eyed demon glaring at her.
“Hurt my Claimed again and you won’t live long enough to regret it,” he snarled. Willow stared at him mutely, wide-eyed and terrified. Spike tightened his grip until she was gasping for air. “Xander’s the reason you’re still alive, so you better start praying he lives a long and happy life. Anything happens to him and I’m coming for you. And if you ever do another spell on him, I’ll kill you regardless of what Xander wants. You don’t get another chance.” He shook her until she was gasping for air, her hands coming up to claw futilely at his iron grip. “Are we clear?”
Spike waited until Willow nodded, holding her for a long moment as if contemplating whether or not to actually tighten his grip and end her life, then opened his hand contemptuously and let her fall. She slid down the bookshelf to the floor, her trembling legs unable to hold her up and Spike stood over her, glaring down at her as she huddled on the floor, gasping for breath.
Willow looked wildly at Xander and Giles, neither of whom had moved as Spike menaced her. Xander looked at her directly for a moment, meeting her stunned eyes with a blank stare before looking away again, refusing to acknowledge her fright in any way.
Giles cleared his throat, pulling his glasses off slowly and beginning to polish them with the handkerchief he took from his pocket. “I rather hope you take that threat seriously, Willow. Master Vampires are not known for their tolerance of people who harm their Claimed humans. To be quite honest, you’re lucky to still be alive.”
Willow pushed herself up, using the bookshelf to brace herself as she climbed slowly to her feet, her breath still coming in ragged gasps. Her face white, eyes resentful, she left the library without a word, casting one wary glance back at Spike as she reached the doors.
Xander released a long relieved breath and letting himself slump down, the tension that had helped keep him upright throughout the long, emotional confrontation deserting him suddenly. He stepped up behind Spike who was still glaring after Willow and slid his arms around Spike’s waist. “Thank you,” he said quietly.
Spike turned within his arms, his own arms moving around Xander. Their lips met for a long moment, both ignoring Giles’ sudden fit of coughing. Unhurriedly, Spike finally lifted his head. “So, Watcher, are you ready to reverse the spell?”
“If it is alright with you, Xander, I would rather wait until tomorrow. We’re all tired and the representative from the coven will be here by then. Although I can perform magic, I am well aware of the fact that I am an amateur.” His brows drew together thoughtfully. “Willow has tampered with the original spell, altering it considerably. I need to be sure I have taken all of her changes into account in attempting to reverse what she has done.”
“You can still do it, right?” Xander asked anxiously.
Giles smiled reassuringly. “I believe so. However, I would prefer to have a second opinion before going ahead. Is that alright?”
“Yeah. Makes sense.” He’d rather have it over with but double-checking seemed like a good idea when it was his brain they were going to be messing with.
Giles looked thoughtfully towards the door that had closed behind Willow. “There is something else you should know.” His expression was stern, almost harsh as he looked back at them. “It’s true that I summoned the coven for Amy but that is only part of the reason. The coven was also informed that two amateurs were abusing their powers. The representative will be assessing the situation and determining what action needs to be taken.”
When Xander was left speechless, Spike asked: “What can they do?”
“They are a very old and powerful coven. This will not be the first time they have had to step in to prevent someone from misusing power.”
“Didn’t answer my question, Watcher.”
Giles inclined his head, accepting the rebuke. “They can bind a witch’s powers and, if necessary, hold them to account.”
“What do you mean: ‘hold them to account’?” Xander asked slowly.
“If they decide it is necessary, they will take Willow and Amy back to England with them, willingly or not.” Giles smiled slightly at Xander’s uncertain look and said: “They abhor violence, Xander, and avoid it as best they can, but they feel a strong responsibility towards the world and do not stand idly by when another practitioner is abusing their powers.”
Xander couldn’t help feeling relieved that Willow might be gone, at least for awhile. It would be hard to see her around school and he wasn’t sure he could hide the fear and revulsion he felt when he thought about her. Plus, he really didn’t want to have to worry about what Willow was doing behind his back. On the other hand, from what Giles had just said, he wasn’t sure the coven sounded a whole lot better than Willow. Was Giles fighting fire with fire? Did that analogy even work for this situation - he was having trouble remembering if fighting fire with fire was a good or bad thing.
“Come on, luv. Let’s get you home,” Spike said. “We’ll call in the morning, Watcher.”
Not waiting for a response, Spike urged Xander out of the library, his arm around Xander’s waist, holding him close. Xander didn’t protest. The confrontation with Willow had been exhausting, especially coming on top of his roiling emotions. The spell could wait until tomorrow. In fact, thinking could pretty much take a hike for the time being.
The woman from the coven was old and frail looking, the wrinkled skin on her throat like crumpled tissue paper. White hair was braided and wrapped neatly around her head in a coronet. The hand gripping the cane had the prominent knuckles of arthritis. Her eyes were the only part of her that didn’t look ancient, Xander thought, as he gingerly took her hand, worried that his own, much larger hand would accidentally crush the small fingers. Her eyes were the eyes of a much younger person, sparkling with mischief and bright with curiosity as she studied him in turn.
When he’d called the school that morning, Giles had suggested Xander skip school today, saying the spell wouldn’t be ready until late that afternoon in any case. Giles told him and Spike to come to the library immediately after school to meet the woman from the coven, telling him that they would most likely be ready to break Willow’s memory spell by then.
Xander had gratefully accepted the suggestion, knowing he really wasn’t ready to face Willow again and pleased at Giles’ automatic inclusion of Spike in the invitation. Now, facing the woman the coven had sent to deal with their problems, he was curious in turn, wondering how her meeting with Willow had gone. He’d already seen that Amy-rat was still in her cage.
“So you are the young man Mr. Giles has been telling me about.” Her voice quavered a little, but was surprisingly strong for someone who looked as old as she did.
“I guess. Xander Harris,” he introduced himself.
“I’m sorry,” Giles interjected, sticking his head out from his office. “Xander, this is Margaret Apsford-Burns. Maggie, allow me to introduce Xander and Spike.”
Xander looked at Giles, puzzled by the hint of mischief in his voice as he introduced Spike. The elderly woman looked with interest at Spike, who stared back at her challengingly without offering his hand. “You the one who’s going to be messing with my boy?”
“I thought you might prefer it if I did the spell, William, given that I have been practicing magic since Mr. Giles here was in nappies.”
Xander looked at her with fresh interest. She obviously knew who Spike was and wasn’t even slightly intimidated. Not to mention the slight emphasis with which she used Spike’s human name somehow made her sound like a school teacher instructing a particularly backwards student, not a tone most people dared take with Spike. He could see Spike reassessing her as well, head cocked to one side as he studied her thoughtfully.
“Know who I am, do you? Good. Saves me from going through the whole boring litany of just how many members of your family I will hunt down, and how slowly I will kill them, if you bollocks up the spell, Maggie.”
“Spike!” Xander hissed, digging a warning elbow into the vampire’s side. That was just rude and being rude to the person who was going to be mucking around with Xander’s brain seemed like a bad idea in general.
“What?” Spike’s eyes were entirely too innocent. “Just making sure we’re all clear on where we stand.”
Mrs. Whosis-whatsis - oh hell, Xander was thinking of her as Maggie, too - just grinned in a way that made her look startlingly youthful for one second. “Don’t worry, William. Your boy won’t be harmed. I met with Miss Rosenberg this afternoon. She has a great deal of potential but is hardly capable at this stage of casting a spell that I cannot undo.”
“You met with Willow?” Xander asked, wondering how that had gone.
“Yes. She has decided to return to England with me,” she announced calmly, as if it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.
“Bloody good thing,” Spike exclaimed, obviously torn between relief that the threat to Xander would be gone and disappointment that he wouldn’t have an excuse to kill her. Xander couldn’t blame him since he was similarly torn about how he felt about Willow.
“How did you convince her?” Xander was curious and a little apprehensive. Willow hadn’t seemed very receptive yesterday to the idea that she had done anything seriously wrong and for her to just decide to go to England with someone who wanted to show her the error of her ways seemed very out of character.
Maggie smiled complacently. “It wasn’t difficult,” she said demurely, although the gleam in her eyes as she slid a sideways glance at Giles was full of wicked amusement. “Just a tried and true means of persuasion.”
Giles looked suddenly flustered and more than a little embarrassed and Xander looked between the two of them, puzzled. “Care to let me in on how you convinced her?” he asked.
“Nothing to worry about,” Giles answered quickly. Seeming to realize that Xander wasn’t going to let it drop and Maggie wasn’t going to help him, he stalled, taking his glasses off and fishing his handkerchief out of his pocket. Concentrating intently on the complex task of polishing the lenses, he continued with careful casualness: “Maggie did a spell to convince her.”
Xander frowned, not liking the sound of that. “You mean you used magic to make her think she wanted to go?” he asked. That didn’t sound any better than what Willow had done.
“No.” Maggie answered, with a firm directness that Xander really wanted to believe. “You misunderstand.” She sat down, hooking her cane over the edge of the table and looked up at him, all amusement gone from her face. “Xander, I won’t try to tell you that we never use magic that affects a person’s mind. A great deal of magic does exactly that, to a greater or lesser degree. When, for example, we ‘lean’ against a bureaucrat to produce a special visa for a student with no passport, or arrange for a parent to believe that she has known for weeks, instead of hours, that her daughter has been given a special opportunity to study abroad, we are indeed interfering with people’s mental autonomy.” She met Xander’s eyes steadily, her own eyes wide and fathomless, the eyes of a being with depths of power that were awesome and terrifying. “We do our very best to keep our interference to a minimum and only tamper when necessary. In my judgment, this situation was grave enough to warrant the tampering.”
“What did you do?” Xander asked slowly, somewhat shaken by his sudden realization that this little old lady might just be the most powerful person he would ever meet.
“Very little, as a matter of fact. I assure you that Willow is choosing to accompany me of her own free will.” With a slight smile for Xander’s skepticism, she explained: “It is almost universal, Xander, for new practitioners of magic to be enamored with their own power. Working magic can be a heady experience. Many, like Willow, are unable to resist the lure of learning a new spell, regardless of whether they trust the source of that spell or not.” She looked at Xander, her eyes serene and unreadable.
“Willow did the spell on herself. I taught her a mirror spell and she tried it without taking the time to gain a proper understanding of what the spell would actually do.” She inclined her head, her gaze sliding briefly towards Giles again. “A common, and very useful failing among young magic users, who are often too impatient and arrogant to be careful. The spell I taught her causes a person to look deeply into their own…” she hesitated fractionally, spreading her hands in an all-encompassing gesture, “soul, for lack of a more precise word. To look inside one’s self without self-deception and without our own preconceived notions of who we are. It can be very illuminating, and very humbling, to see ourselves without the careful delusions most of us maintain about who we really are.”
She regarded Xander calmly. “Willow didn’t like what she saw.” She paused as if to let that sink in. “She’s not a bad child, despite her recent actions, but she has taken the first steps down a path that could lead her to a very dark place and the mirror spell has forced her to see that without the comforting justifications she has been using to rationalize her actions to herself. It will be a difficult struggle for her to reverse what she has done to herself, to cleanse her soul of the taint from her actions. We will work with her to try and show her, and her friend, the dangers inherent in what they have been doing.”
Xander studied her, thinking about what she had said. Giles obviously trusted her and
Spike had been unusually silent, standing watchful and wary by Xander’s side, which meant that Spike thought she was powerful and a potential threat. Maggie
talked calmly, but not casually, of using magic to get what she wanted, but Xander thought he understood the distinction she was making between her use of magic and Willow’s. Getting permission to take a rat out of the country probably took weeks. Nudging a customs official with magic to make it happen didn’t seem so bad, not when it was an emergency situation.
Maybe that was the difference between Maggie and Willow: the difference between using magic when necessary for a greater good as opposed to using it selfishly, to make your own life easier.
“Ok,” he said slowly, knowing he probably didn’t have a say in this anyway. “Do you keep her until she’s better? How do you know that she’s really getting it and not just pretending to?”
“Willow has already taken the first and hardest step - admitting she has a problem. I’m sorry I can’t be more reassuring, but only time will tell if the remorse she is feeling right now is enough to overcome the temptations inherent in magic. Unfortunately, Willow is more than an idle dabbler. She has the potential to become a very powerful witch some day. As such, simply telling her to stop using magic is not the solution and binding her powers will only work in the short term. She must learn to understand and, more importantly, to respect her powers. I can assure you that we will work with her for as long as necessary.”
She picked up her cane, and pushed herself to her feet in a clear signal that the conversation was over. “Now,” she said briskly. “I understand there is a memory spell you wish me to remove.”
Spike hesitated for a bare second in the doorway, then collected himself and continued on into the small diner, his walk becoming a cocky saunter. He arrived at the table and looked down at the occupant, who was sitting with her hands clasped nervously, looking up at him.
“Joyce,” he said, with a hint of mockery in his tone. “Thought I was meetin’ Xander.”
Breaking the memory spell had been anti-climactic. The old lady had burned a small pot of herbs, recited something briefly in a language Spike hadn’t recognized and suddenly Xander had gasped and staggered on his feet for a second. Spike, who’d been banished to watch the spell from outside the office, has nearly torn the door off its hinges getting to his boy’s side. He held Xander as his boy clung to him, face buried in Spike’s neck, absorbing the impact of the rush of returned and changed memories.
When Xander had finally lifted his head, he had been dry-eyed and grim. Spike and the Watcher had both done their best to insure that Xander already knew most of what Willow had altered and removed, but it was obviously a shock to actually regain the true memories. Xander had shaken it off quickly, though, thanking the old lady and asking her about the rat. Apparently, she’d decided to take the rat back to England in animal form, shielded by a glamour rather than using magic to cover taking two minors out of the country.
Good riddance to both of them, to Spike’s way of thinking. Having the witch out of the country meant she wouldn’t be a danger to Xander any more and Spike wouldn’t have to have it constantly rubbed in his face that he had let her go without taking his rightful vengeance on her.
Xander had asked Spike if he could have a little time alone, suggesting they meet in an hour to celebrate. Should have known his boy was up to something, Spike thought belatedly, staring at Joyce sitting there nervously. Xander never sent him away like that.
“Don’t blame Xander, I put him up to this.” Joyce met his brittle gaze unflinchingly, her own eyes apologetic. “I was afraid you wouldn’t agree to see me if you knew it was me.” Before Spike could respond, Joyce took a deep breath and plunged on. “I can’t tell you how sorry I am, Spike. What I said to you was uncalled for and unforgivable, but I’m selfishly hoping that you will be able to forgive me.”
Something inside Spike, a tight, frozen knot that he had steadfastly refused to acknowledge, unclenched at her words. He shrugged his shoulders carelessly. “Not to worry, Joyce, no harm done.”
Joyce’s eyes were warm and kind as they held his. “Spike, I know better than that. I hurt you. I hope you know that you are welcome in our home at any time.”
“It was the demon,” he said dismissively. “You weren’t yourself.”
“I wish it were that simple,” Joyce said thoughtfully, her brows drawing together. “But none of you were affected, so I’m afraid I can’t just let the demon take all the blame, much as I’d like to.” She smiled ruefully. “Honestly, Spike. I don’t think of you as ‘just’ a demon, or ‘just’ a vampire. I honestly don’t know why I acted that way. I’ve been thinking about it since then, and I don’t think of you as anything but a friend. Whatever the demon did to the town, to me, that caused us all to behave like bigoted morons, what I said is not what I really feel inside. I hope you can believe that.”
The frozen knot was barely a memory, banished by the sincerity of Joyce’s words. She’d clearly thought about it, examining her motives and not finding a nugget of truth behind her actions as Spike had secretly feared she would. She hadn’t come to her senses and remembered that Spike wasn’t human and therefore wasn’t someone she could be friends with.
He slid into the booth across from her and looked around the diner idly. “Second time I ever talked to Xander was in here, at this very table.” He took a moment to admire Xander’s strategy in getting him and Joyce to meet at this diner. Undoubtedly, he had told Joyce which booth to sit at too. His boy could be downright sneaky when he put his mind to it. “He was scared but curious. First time I ever talked to a human without thinking of them as prey.” Joyce just watched him, listening intently and waiting patiently for him to get to the point. “Ended up giving him recommendations for books to read about vampires.” He shook his head at the memory of that odd little encounter. “Not many humans can accept vampires for what we are. Most see only the obvious. Your daughter is the Slayer and that means you have to worry most nights about whether she’s going to come home again.” He smiled slightly. “Don’t beat yourself up, Joyce. Demon had a lot to work with.”
He was pleased when most of the worry faded from Joyce’s face. By the time their coffee and hot wings arrived, they were talking easily again and Joyce had invited him over to celebrate Buffy’s birthday the following week.
Spike wondered if he should accept just to see the look on the Slayer’s face. It felt good to talk with Joyce again, the breach healed and already being forgotten. He’d have to thank his boy properly for setting this up.