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 mumbled sleepily as Spike slid under the covers shortly before dawn. Long used to Spike’s early morning returns, he didn’t really wake up, just stirred and shifted position as Spike wrapped himself around the living warmth of his lover.
Sighing happily, Spike snuggled close. Xander’s warm body in their bed was a never ending source of pleasure. Even if they didn’t have sex nearly as often as Spike had been used to or would like - human stamina simply wasn’t up to vampire standards, plus Xander’s foolish insistence on leading a normal, high school life cut seriously into their hours together - his boy’s mere presence in the bed, even unconscious, gave warmth and a sense of home to the lair.
Spike didn’t let himself fall asleep, as he lay there listening to the comforting sound of Xander’s heartbeat. He waited patiently, sensing the approaching daylight from behind the light-proof blinds and hearing the small movements as the last of the vampires settled in for the day on the floors below, waiting for Xander’s normal waking time so they could talk.
“Giles did what?”
Spike sighed. He’d already explained once, but Xander still looked like he couldn’t believe his ears. “You heard me, pet.” He took a long drink of the beer he’d snagged when he’d realized this needed to be an awake and out of bed conversation.
“But we spent all that time researching what was wrong,” Xander protested. “And Giles kept saying it was just the flu.”
“He lied. Says he was under orders from the Council.” Spike shrugged. “Not excusin’ him, luv, because he was an idiot for not taking two minutes to think about what he was getting himself involved in. But tests are part of most occupations and some of ‘em are dangerous. Watcher just got followin’ the party line and didn’t think about what he was actually doin’.”
Xander looked at him curiously. “You don’t have a problem with him lying to Buffy like that?”
Spike cocked one eyebrow at him. “If he’d put you in danger, you can believe I’d’ve had more than words with him. As it is,” he shrugged again. “He pulled out of it before anything went seriously wrong so I’m not fussing. Just thought you should know what happened before you saw him or the Slayer again. Bound to be a sore point between them, no sense in you getting in the middle by mistake because you don’t know what’s happening.”
“Thanks,” Xander said wryly. “I appreciate the heads up.”
“‘Less I can persuade you to join me,” Spike shot him an ever-hopeful lecherous look, “I’m going to sleep.”
Xander shook his head. “No, I’ll go to school.” He kissed Spike absently and headed for the bathroom as Spike padded barefoot back to the bedroom.
“What do you mean ‘you’ve been fired’?”
Xander looked quickly at Buffy, who was studying her folded hands with every appearance of interest, then at Oz, who looked as surprised as Oz ever did. When Giles had asked them all to stop by the library after school, this hadn’t been what he’d been expecting.
Xander had avoided the library all day, still not sure what he thought about Giles lying to them, about him actively helping with a test that could easily have gotten Buffy killed. Yeah, he could appreciate the need for skills testing, but there was a difference between a pop quiz in math and your Watcher arranging it so you lost your Slayer powers so you could prove you were good enough to kill a vampire using only normal human strength even while you were freaking out because everything you thought you knew about yourself was suddenly wrong.
How had Giles arranged for Buffy to lose her powers anyway? Spike hadn’t known and Xander wasn’t sure he wanted to ask. Part of him couldn’t help thinking the whole thing was a bit too much like what Willow had done to him. It made him uncomfortable to think about the parallels and he’d been worried about what he would do if Buffy was angry with Giles and wanting his support against Giles. It would be pretty damn hypocritical of him to say everything was ok and he would stand by Giles no matter what, especially when it didn’t seem like Giles had really had any better motives than Willow.
So, he’d reluctantly trailed into the library, thinking Giles wanted to explain what had happened and hoping he’d hear something that would make the whole episode sit better. Instead, Giles had dropped a completely different bombshell on them. Well, on him and Oz, Buffy obviously had already heard it.
“I’m afraid the Council is less than happy with my performance as Buffy’s Watcher, particularly when Mr. Travers found himself on the receiving end of a lecture from Angel on the topic of Slayer tests.”
Buffy’s lips twitched slightly, obviously pleased that Angel had gotten in the council’s face in her defense. Xander hadn’t heard about that from Spike, just about the half-baked test the Council had been trying to run.
“The Council will be sending another Watcher to take my place. However, I wanted to assure you all that I am not going anywhere. Xander, I am hoping you will still continue your demon studies with me. Oz, you have been of tremendous help in a number of ways and I want you to know you are always welcome in the library, whether at the full moon or any other time.”
Oz nodded, looking pleased but troubled but didn’t say anything.
Xander was still stuck on the whole being fired part of the conversation. “Can’t we do something about it? Buffy? Do you want another Watcher?” Xander couldn’t believe she did but she wasn’t saying anything.
“Of course not,” Buffy said quietly. “The Council didn’t give me a choice.”
“I’m afraid that traditionally, Slayers are not given any input into who their Watcher is,” Giles put in.
“Big time,” Buffy agreed. “The only good news is that Giles invalidated the test by telling me about it and then Angel killed their test vampire, and apparently they don’t have a spare handy.” She smiled, obviously pleased that the test had fizzled before it got anywhere.
“They can’t find a vampire on the Hellmouth?” Xander asked disbelievingly, temporarily sidetracked.
“It’s more complicated than that,” Giles said. “They were not appreciative of the fact that I disclosed their presence to two Master Vampires. I’m not sure if they are more upset by the fact that they believe I put their lives in danger or because I exposed Council secrets to vampires.” His eyes gleamed with malicious amusement although he seemed to be trying to hide it. “In any case, they felt I was a poor influence on the Slayer.”
Buffy made a disgusted sound at that idea and Xander could tell that everything was good between her and Giles. Which meant he didn’t have to choose sides, and if Buffy was ok with whatever Giles had actually done, Xander probably didn’t have any right to take issue with it. Which was an incredible relief. Having lost Willow, he really couldn’t bear to lose Giles as well.
“In the meantime, I suggest we all just carry on normally,” Giles suggested.
Buffy stood up. “Well, I’m off patrol for another night, so I think I’m going to go home.”
“Can I drive you?” Oz offered quietly.
They left together, and Xander lingered behind. “Giles?”
“Are you ok?”
Giles gave him a quick smile. “I’m fine, Xander. Being fired is rather a blow to one’s ego but I’m proud that it was because I tried to stop something that I should never have been part of. My biggest regret is that I ever agreed to be part of the test to begin with.” The smile didn’t quite reach his eyes but that was hardly surprising. “Please thank Spike for me, will you?”
“For killing the vampire?”
“Among other things.” Giles answered enigmatically. He had a feeling Giles wouldn’t explain even if he asked, so he let it go. “See you tomorrow, Giles.”
“Good night, Xander.”
Xander looked back once as he walked out the doors. Giles stood in the center of the room, gazing up at the upper stacks, looking tired and a little lost. Xander looked away quickly, letting the door close quietly behind him.
Strange that Giles should look like he was carrying the weight of the world now, when he’d just been relieved of his responsibilities.
Despite his misgivings, nothing really changed over the course of the next week or so. Buffy got her powers back and went back to patrolling regularly. She and Xander and Oz were spending more time together lately. Buffy and Oz were both still really missing Willow but they couldn’t seem to talk about her to each other. With Xander, they had an excuse not to talk about her and the three of them were getting along well. He and Oz had been friends for a long time, and Buffy seemed to be adapting to their humor, poking fun at their off-the-wall debates about science fiction trivia, and dragging them to school events. Buffy and he spent some time studying together and she even joined him in some of his demon study sessions with Giles. Xander kind of thought it was to help Giles through his initial shock over not being officially her Watcher anymore, but no new Watcher had shown up, so it was easy for them to ignore Giles’ firing. Buffy still checked with Giles for patrol assignments, although he frankly admitted he had less information for her now that he wasn’t officially her Watcher anymore, apparently he’d gotten a fair bit of his information through Council sources which were all refusing to help him now.
Weirdly, Spike and Buffy met on patrol once or twice and occasionally fought side by side. Spike glossed over it, saying it was just a coincidence, the Slayer horning in on a good fight, but Xander was glad that they were getting to the point where they hardly even insulted each other any more, except sort of automatically - like two siblings who liked each other but were so used to bickering they couldn’t help themselves.
It was a bit of a shock in all this quiet getting along when the letter arrived.
It arrived nearly a month after Willow had left, sent to him in care of Giles who handed it to Xander without a word. Staring at the envelope with its familiar handwriting, aware of Giles’ sympathetic gaze, Xander realized that Willow didn’t know his address. She’d never even asked. Why that should cause such mixed feelings after all this time, he had no idea.
Leaving the library abruptly, he’d seriously considered just throwing it out without reading it. Unable to make up his mind, he’d stuffed it into the back of his locker and spent the next several days trying to pretend it didn’t exist. He’d finally opened it after reminding himself that Willow was going to be back someday and it would probably be a good thing to have some idea of who Willow was now.
Reading the letter hadn’t answered the question and it rattled him badly. The eight pages in Willow’s familiar handwriting hadn’t asked for forgiveness, or tried to explain or justify what she had done. Instead, Willow had written about the English countryside and how different their cool, misty spring was from California. She’d written about the members of the coven, awe and respect in every word for how such powerful people could be so down-to-earth and ordinary; how they’d returned Amy to human form and the two of them were now studying magic together. She’d written about how much she was learning and how much she missed everyone in Sunnydale. And she’d written about Jesse, how she’d been thinking about him and how much she missed him: his laughter and his solid presence in their lives, his desperate, hopeless pursuit of Cordelia sophomore year, forever forsaking his status as Vice President of the ‘We hate Cordelia’ club they’d briefly formed in second grade after a particularly devastating exchange in which Cordelia had successfully humiliated all three of them in front of the entire class.
Reading the letter, Xander had found himself smiling, remembering that afternoon at Jesse’s house. Willow had proposed the club, nominated the two of them as officers - taking the presidency for herself because neither of them would take it - and drafted a motto and a mission statement before Xander and Jesse had even realized what was happening. They’d never met formally as a club, it had been a private joke between them for years, their shield against Queen C.
In those few pages, Willow talked more about Jesse than she had since he died and something inside Xander - a tight knot he hadn’t even been aware was there - melted. All of his problems with Willow had started with Jesse’s death; a long and twisted road that had led to places neither of them could have foreseen when Xander lost himself in his grief and Willow buried her own grief in denial.
Even after re-reading the letter three times, Xander still wasn’t sure how Willow had managed to convey that she understood that what she’d done was too big for an apology, that a casual “I’m sorry” wouldn’t mean anything. It wasn’t even that she was ignoring it, it was almost as if she was simply trying to re-open communications between them before they could even begin to talk about what had happened.
Xander hadn’t known what to do, but he desperately needed to talk to someone about the letter. Somehow, Oz was the logical candidate. Xander was sure he would be better than either Buffy or Spike at being honest about Willow. Oz loved her but he also saw her with clearer eyes than either Buffy or Spike.
He’d tracked Oz down in the music rooms, as usual. He knocked quietly and Oz looked up and smiled, waving him in. Xander opened the door and took a seat, not saying anything. Oz started playing again, something quiet and sad, as a lot of his music was these days. Xander sat and listened, letting the notes wash over him, enjoying Oz’s quiet undemanding presence.
“I heard from Willow,” he said finally, after sitting silently for a long time. Oz was great that way. He could wait forever until you were ready to speak.
“Me too.” Oz stopped playing but his hands still caressed the guitar, as if he was drawing strength from it. “Sounds like things are going well.”
“It surprised me. I didn’t think anything could ever make me forgive her but it was like hearing from the Willow of two years ago.” Xander rested his chin on his folded arms. “It wasn’t so much what she said, it was more the way she said it.”
Oz seemed to get what he was trying to say. “I think the coven has been good for her.”
“Did you get a chance to meet Maggie Whatshername, from the coven?”
Oz shook his head.
“She was this really great old lady. She said she got Willow to agree to go to England by doing something that made Willow look at herself and really see herself.” Xander had thought about that a lot over the past few weeks. It sounded like a really cool, but really scary spell. He wasn’t sure he’d want one done on himself.
“For the first time, I think maybe there’s hope.”
Oz was quiet for a long time. “I miss her. All the time.” The quiet declaration didn’t surprise Xander. He didn’t talk about her much these days, but it was like Oz couldn’t get over Willow not being there, like her absence had left a wound that was refusing to heal.
Oz turned his head and looked at Xander. “If she’s found a way back to the person she used to be, I still want to be with her.”
“If she’s Willow again, maybe she and I could be friends again.” Xander was surprised to find he meant it.
They sat in the room for a long time, lost in thought, as Oz’s hands plucked soft, random chords on the guitar.
“Mr. Spike, there’s a rather troubling situation developing that I thought you might be willing to help me with.”
“PTA giving you lip?” Spike asked flippantly. The summons to the Mayor’s office - and despite the polite request of the nervous human minion who’d presented himself at Court as per their agreement, it had been a summons - had been a surprise. Enough time had passed without a word from the Mayor that Spike had thought the Mayor had decided that Spike wasn’t going to be useful to him. Given that the Mayor had found Trick useful, Spike wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or insulted by that judgment, but he’d pretty much avoided thinking about the Mayor entirely.
Hopefully, he wasn’t about to regret that oversight.
“No, I have a very good working relationship with the school board,” the Mayor answered with that weird genial sincerity of his. “This is more an under-the-table sort of problem. Something that needs unofficial handling.”
“What might that be?” Spike shoved his hands in his pockets and concentrated on looking bored, not wanting to give away exactly how curious he really was.
The Mayor rested his elbows on the desk, bringing his steepled fingers to his pursed lips. “I have it on rather good authority that the Sisterhood of Jhe is in town and are hoping to open the Hellmouth.”
“Never heard of them.” Despite his casual answer, Spike tensed. Anything that wanted to open the Hellmouth was bad news on an apocalyptic scale.
“That’s not surprising - they’re a rather obscure cult. They exist solely to bring about the world's destruction. Very single minded about it.” The Mayor shook his head disapprovingly. “In any case, I have plans for this coming year and don’t really want the Hellmouth opened just now. I was hoping you could help me with that.” He smiled brightly at Spike.
Spike lifted his scarred eyebrow, staring at the Mayor challengingly. “What’s in it for me?”
“Really, Mr. Spike, on this occasion, I think our interests coincide. You’re friends with a number of the children at the school. If the Hellmouth opens, it does so in the middle of that library those children spend so much time in. It could get rather messy.” He let a beat go pass before adding pointedly: “It would be a shame if any of those children, particularly one of the less… unusual of them, were hurt. Even killed.” The genial smile suddenly seemed very shark-like.
Spike worked hard to control his reaction to the oblique threat to Xander. Although it was clear the Mayor had a lot of information about Spike and Xander and the group at the school, still it would be an amateur’s mistake to confirm anything by letting himself react. “Plans for this year?” he countered.
“This and that,” the Mayor replied evasively. “Being Master of the Hellmouth doesn’t mean much if the town doesn’t exist anymore, Mr. Spike.”
“Neither does being Mayor.”
“You see? Common interests. Which is why I was hoping you would see what you could do about these demons.” The Mayor’s toothy grin was back. “After all, as Master of the Hellmouth, they do fall within your jurisdiction.”
“What do you know about them?”
The Mayor pressed the call button. “Alan has a complete file for you.” He rose to his feet, extending his hand, which Spike ignored. “I appreciate it, Mr. Spike. I just knew you were the right man, so to speak, for the job. The Sisterhood has quite the reputation, they are quite a feisty bunch I understand, but I’m sure you’re more than up to the challenge.”
Somehow Spike found himself ushered out of the office, a thin file of papers pressed into his hand by the flunky in the outer office.
Great, he’d just accepted an assignment from the Mayor.