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
Wesley wasn’t half bad once he’d settled down a bit and stopped trying so hard to shove Giles out of the loop. Either he’d taken Xander’s advice about lightening up or else he’d just realized that Giles was the loop, so to speak. Giles was the thread that tied the group together, the anchor that kept them from drifting apart. Even Spike and Angel respected him and he was surrogate father and mentor to the rest of them.
Wesley had committed the cardinal sin when he first arrived of getting into a power struggle with Giles over his role as Watcher. Which was understandable: it was difficult to step into a position still solidly filled by your predecessor. Wesley had obviously resented Giles’ presence and had acted accordingly. However, it was a power struggle that Wesley was not only destined to lose but that had completely alienated Buffy. Wesley seemed to have finally grasped that Buffy had bonded with Giles in a way that Wesley could never hope to compete with and changed his strategy accordingly.
Xander remembered hearing a saying once that the only way to win was not to fight. Einstein or somebody. Maybe Yoda. In any case, Wesley seemed to have figured out that he could either be co-Watcher with Giles or not a Watcher at all. Once Wesley had started asking for Giles’ input and opinions, Buffy had stopped freezing him out and began listening to him. Despite the spectacularly bad start Wesley had made, it soon became apparent to them all that he was really smart, brilliant even, just inexperienced. Giles had stopped sniping at him and began teaching Wesley some of the things Giles had learned in his 20-some years of experience.
Wesley had expressed interest in Xander’s demon studies and was fascinated when Xander started passing on some of Spike’s comments and addendums to the materials. Spike had never lost interest in what Xander was learning and still liked to critique the Watchers’ materials. When Giles showed Wesley the notes he’d been keeping on all of Spike’s information, Xander couldn’t help but be amused at how excited the younger Watcher had gotten at having access to a fresh source of information. Wesley really was a scholar at heart.
Usually Xander thoroughly enjoyed his demon study session in the library with Giles but today he was having a hard time concentrating. Wesley sitting beside him, methodically reading through Giles’ Watcher diaries, wasn’t the distraction, it was the letter he’d gotten from Willow. Willow was flying back from England on Saturday.
The letter made her return real. Not that he’d ever thought that Oz was lying but seeing it himself in black and white made it harder to ignore. Buffy and Giles were going to meet her at the airport and he was grateful that Willow hadn’t even hinted that he be there to greet her. She obviously understood that Xander would be cautious, just saying that she’d missed him and was looking forward to seeing him again.
He was glad for Oz’s sake that Amy wasn’t returning with her, at least not yet. According to Willow, Amy was going to stay in England for awhile longer. Willow hadn’t said, and Xander was so not going to ask, if it was because of their “experimenting” or for some other reason. It was apparent from her letter that Willow was as nervous about returning as Xander was about seeing her again and that made him feel better, knowing she wouldn’t push things.
“Check out Giles, the next generation.”
Xander looked up, startled by the sudden comment disturbing the silent library. Cordelia was standing by the check-out desk, head cocked to one side, openly studying Wesley, who leapt to his feet courteously at the sound of a woman’s voice.
“Very nice, Xander,” Cordelia purred. “I didn’t expect you’d done this well for yourself.” Her glance slid up and down Wesley, who blushed crimson at the open perusal.
Xander looked blankly at Cordy until he suddenly realized what she meant. Cordy had been reminding him frequently of his promise to introduce her to his boyfriend and obviously thought Xander had just made good on that promise. For one second, he wondered if he could get away with claiming Wesley as his boyfriend but discarded the thought almost instantly. Wesley would never be able to pull it off and, if Spike ever got wind of it, he’d kill Wesley even if it had been Xander’s idea. Plus, he didn’t really want to present Wesley as his boyfriend; the younger Watcher was improving yes but he was so not Xander’s type, which ran more to snark, and irreverent humor, and danger. Plus the leather coat, he thought with a smile.
Grinning, he made a game-show buzzer noise. “Sorry, Cordy, he’s not my boyfriend, but thank you for playing.”
“What? Oh, ah… no, indeed.” Wesley blushed again and looked apologetically at Xander, adding hastily: “Not that I wouldn’t be honored, it’s just that…”
Xander laughed. “Don’t worry, Wesley, I didn’t take the rejection personally.”
Giles came out of the office. “What do you need, Cordelia?”
“Psych class. Freud and Jung. Book me?”
“Of course.” As Giles turned to the psychology section, Cordelia’s gaze swung back to Wesley, who extended his hand.
“I like a man with two last names.” Xander had to admit, she was impressive when she swung into action. “I'm Cordelia.”
“And you teach psychology?” Wesley asked.
“I take psychology,” Cordelia corrected, her smile blinding. Wesley seemed completely dazzled, still dazedly holding her hand.
“She’s a student,” Giles said dryly, returning with the requested books.
Xander laughed at the haste with which Wesley dropped her hand and stepped back. Cordelia just continued to smile at him as she reached for the books Giles handed her without ever taking her eyes off her target. Cordy was as much a predator as Spike when she had her eye on a victim.
“So, welcome to Sunnydale.” There was a world of promise in the sultry voice and Wesley looked like he’d already forgotten the whole ‘she’s a student’ issue under the power of Cordelia’s flirtatious smile.
Cordy turned away with a last, lingering look, and stopped on her way out long enough to level an implacable stare at Xander. “Four more days, Xander.”
“Got it,” he answered automatically, amused to see that Wesley still hadn’t been able to tear his eyes away from Cordelia as she walked out the door. Xander was pretty sure her hips didn’t usually swing quite that much.
“My. She’s… cheeky, isn't she?”
Xander shook his head, amused. “Wesley, today’s phrase is an important one: first word ‘jail’, second word ‘bait’.”
He had continued to tease Wesley about his fresh-from-England vocabulary and had jokingly started a ‘word of the day’ tutoring session in Americanese. Wesley had been taking it with good grace and seemed to be trying to speak a little less formally, sort of like Giles had after lengthy exposure to his charges. Now, though, Wesley just blushed deeply and hurriedly sat down, burying himself in the book he’d been reading earlier and Xander hoped he hadn’t pushed it too far.
Turning his attention back to his own reading, Xander promised himself he would talk to Spike about Cordy tonight. He needed to get at least one of the meetings he was dreading over with or he’d be a complete wreck by Saturday.
“No way!” Cordelia’s voice rose in shock the moment she arrived at the table. “I mean I knew Buffy had gotten into necrophilia - and can I just say ‘eww’ - but no way are you dating the undead, Xander Harris.”
Xander winced, grateful the diner was almost completely empty as Cordelia really wasn’t into voice modulation, waiting for Spike to erupt. This was off to a good start.
He’d arranged for the three of them to meet at the diner because he thought of it almost as a good luck spot since he’d had his first real conversation with Spike here and Spike and Joyce had worked out their problems at one of the tables. This table. Not surprisingly, Cordy had bitched about the low rent place he was asking her to go, but she’d been too curious not to show, settling for being fashionably late. He just hadn’t expected quite this level of fireworks two seconds after she walked in the door.
“Prefer ‘living impaired’ myself.”
Xander’s did a double-take at the amusement in Spike’s voice. Not to mention the mere idea that his vampire would use a politically correct term for anything was pretty much messing with his head.
“Whatever,” Cordelia said impatiently. She crossed her arms under her breasts, pushing them up and out just a bit more than usual - purely accidentally, of course - and tapped one foot impatiently. “Are you really his boyfriend or are you just covering for his real boyfriend, who’s too embarrassing to be seen in public,” she asked suspiciously.
Spike’s eyes narrowed. “You saying I’m lying, cheerleader?” he growled.
Cordelia wasn’t impressed. “Hello - evil undead? Like you’d have a problem with lying,” she scoffed.
“Got that right.” Spike was grinning now, clearly enjoying this and Xander was beginning to wonder just when Spike had been replaced by a pod-person. Pod-vampire. Or something. Spike wasn’t reacting like he’d expected. Of course, since his expectations for this meeting had tended to veer into the gratuitously violent, that was probably a good thing.
“How long have you been dating?” Cordelia asked, eyes narrowing like she thought she could trip Spike up.
“Let’s see, first time we shagged was just after we sent Angelus to hell, right, luv?” Spike glanced at Xander for confirmation, his eyes glittering with wicked laughter. “Kind of a celebration,” he confided to Cordelia.
Xander buried his head in his arms, pretty sure he was officially in hell. Maybe he should leave the two of them alone.
“You are so not getting any tonight,” Xander threatened as they left the diner.
“What?” Spike’s voice was all wounded innocence. “I met with your little friend just like you asked. Didn’t kill her or anything,” he added virtuously.
“Oh, let’s see, was the low point of the meeting when you offered to shag me in front of her so she would believe we were a couple, or when you offered to kill the waitress to prove you were still evil even though you’re dating a human?”
Spike just smirked, not even a little repentant. “I like her,” he announced. “She’d make a beauty of a vampire - she’s more evil than half the vampires in town.”
Xander groaned. “So not getting any,” he muttered again.
Willow faced the group with composure but Xander saw the hands gripping the back of the chair with seeming casualness were white-knuckled and her voice had just the tiniest tremor as she spoke. Willow was beyond nervous but faced them all squarely without looking away, meeting each of their eyes in turn.
She’d flown into town yesterday and Giles had called this morning to say that Willow had asked if they could all meet at the school library. Spike had flat out refused to let Xander go alone but, surprisingly, Giles had said that Willow had asked that everyone be there including Spike and Angel. Giles had mentioned that a member of the coven was with her and said he thought it was important that they all be there.
Spike had reluctantly agreed and they’d set the meeting for an hour after sunset. They had all gathered around the library table with varying degrees of trepidation, curiosity, and anger. Oz was as shut down as Xander had ever seen him, Wesley just looked uncomfortable. Buffy and Giles, who’d met Willow’s plane, were worried but calm, and Spike was hovering over Xander like a mother hen with one chick.
A blood-thirsty, homicidal mother hen.
Willow had arrived with a woman in her 40’s and Xander was disappointed that it wasn’t Maggie. The woman had shoulder-length brown hair and unremarkable features. She walked in through the doors beside Willow but then stayed back by the doors, letting Willow approach the group on her own.
Willow took a deep, steadying breath and walked slowly towards them, stopping short of the table and resting her hands on the back of the chair that had been left empty for her.
“I won’t ask you to forgive me,” she began in a shaky voice. “I’m not even sure that any of you should. I’ve hurt all of you, some more than others, and none of you have any reason to trust me. I can’t promise you that I won’t ever do anything to hurt you again, but I do promise that I will try not to.”
Spike growled and the hands on Xander’s shoulders tightened unconsciously. Xander slid his own hands up to cover Spike’s, squeezing them reassuringly. No one else said anything. Xander was listening intently, Willow didn’t sound like herself, she sounded as if she’d rehearsed what she was saying. Given her obvious nervousness, that wasn’t surprising, especially since Willow had had nightmares about public speaking since grade school. Still, he wished she’d just talk to them so he could get a better sense of her sincerity. He found himself wishing Maggie had come with her instead of this other woman. Maggie had been formidable, a force to be reckoned with, and Xander trusted her judgment.
Buffy smiled encouragingly at Willow, who continued after a short hesitation: “I’m back because I need to prove myself. Not to any of you but to myself. When I did the re-souling spell last year, I opened a door inside myself that can’t be closed again.
“I know you all would probably be happier if I never did magic again but the magic is inside me now. What I’ve learned from the coven is that it doesn’t work to just stop using magic. I’m not an addict who needs to go cold turkey,” one corner of her mouth turned up a little, self-mockingly, and she looked at Giles as she continued, “I’m an amateur who abused her natural gifts out of arrogance and pride.” Xander remembered that Giles had said that to her that when he’d caught her doing the truth spell on Xander. “I need to learn to learn how to use my gifts as they were intended to be used and not for my own selfish purposes.
“I won’t try and tell you that I’m better and everything is fine now or ask you to forget what I did. I’ve just begun to get the training I need but, as much as I hate to say it, we actually have a bigger problem than me. The coven sent Elizabeth with me to help.” Willow gestured towards the woman who had been waiting by the door. “This is Elizabeth Hartness and I’ll let her explain.”
Willow sat down abruptly in the chair as if her legs had given out, head up, hands clasped in her lap to still their shaking.
The woman who’d come to Sunnydale with her moved forward to stand beside and slightly behind her, placing a comforting hand on Willow’s shoulder as she addressed the group. “The Devonshire coven is a very old, very powerful group,” she said by way of introduction. Wesley nodded imperceptibly, obviously he’d heard of them. “A seer among our number has recently begun to sense the rise of a very dark power here in Sunnydale. Unfortunately, we do not have a great deal of information about this power but what little we do know is that it carries the potential to destroy the entire town, and possibly more.” She paused to let the information settle in for a moment, then added: “I was sent to give you whatever assistance I can.”
Spike stirred. “And your solution is to send the wicked witch of the west back into the heart of the storm?” he asked, disbelievingly. “Perfect.” Xander didn’t have to look at him to know he was glaring challengingly at Willow.
Willow met the glare unflinchingly. “Spike, the harm I caused was in using magic against friends.” Spike didn’t answer but Xander felt Spike’s hands tighten on his shoulders again and knew that Spike’s anger stemmed from his fear for Xander’s safety. “I want to help with what’s coming, in any way I can. Sunnydale’s my home.”
Spike made a scoffing noise but didn’t say anything else. Xander studied Willow closely, thinking that that was the first time he’d heard Willow call Spike by name, as if he was a person, not a thing, and wondering if that was a sign that she was finally accepting his choice to be with Spike. If so, that was a huge change on her part and would bode well for other changes.
The woman from the coven looked around the circle of faces, her dark eyes catching and holding each person’s gaze in turn. “The coven made the decision that Willow is ready to return. She is strongly connected to this town and to your group. In our judgment, being here and helping you in the battle to come is the next step for her. She and I ask only that you set aside your doubts and fears sufficiently that you may work with both of us.”
Xander wondered why he’d thought her non-descript. When she looked directly at you, you could see the power and wisdom in her eyes. He began to feel a little better about this coven representative and the coven’s ability to deal with Willow in general. Obviously, Maggie wasn’t their only impressive member.
“What can you tell us about this dark power?” Not surprisingly, Giles was the first to find his voice.
“Very little, I’m afraid. There have been vague portents of trouble for some time but something changed about a week ago as if the danger had suddenly increased dramatically.” Her shoulders moved in a fluid shrug. “Unfortunately, we are not sure what caused the sudden increase in its power.”
“A literal increase in power?” Wesley asked.
Miss Hartness spread her hands in a helpless gesture. “Possibly. It could have been a power boost, or multiple entities combining, or something else entirely. That is what we must ascertain in order to act.”
Angel spoke for the first time: “The Mayor’s ritual?” he suggested.
Giles and Wesley exchanged glances. “The timing is about right,” Wesley said thoughtfully.
“I suspect we must re-double our efforts to research the Mayor.” Giles hesitated, then became the first to extend an olive branch. “Willow, we have sorely missed your computer skills. Perhaps you could assist us by researching the Mayor on the computer.”
Willow nodded. “Of course, Giles.”
Xander heard the relief in her voice but he couldn’t bring himself to say anything. Seeing Willow was twisting him in knots: the recent re-connection in their letters fighting against the fear and distrust brought on by seeing her again in person. He felt guilty but he couldn’t force himself even to offer a simple ‘welcome back’ and he was secretly grateful that Spike was bristling with the angry challenges that Xander couldn’t say either.
Oz was similarly torn, he could tell. Oz had barely looked at Willow and Xander hoped he wasn’t going to bail again. It was Oz’s way of dealing and he respected that, but Oz had only come back into town this week and Xander had missed him. He thought wistfully about going back to the bar with Oz, but he knew Spike would need to kill things tonight. It was Spike’s way of dealing.
Right on cue, Spike’s voice put an end to the meeting. “I’ll be keeping my eye on you, witch,” he promised. “You give me the slightest excuse and I will follow through on what I told you the last time we spoke.”
Willow’s hand went to her throat unconsciously rubbing at where Spike had put his hand around it and threatened to choke the life out of her if she ever did another spell on Xander. “I remember,” she said quietly. “And I hope you do.”
Spike stared at her for a long time then abruptly nodded, apparently satisfied. “We’re done,” he announced and tugged Xander gently up out of his chair. Xander went willingly, lifting his free hand in a general goodbye, knowing that Spike needed to get him safely in the lair before Spike could seek the release of violence that he needed. Seeing Willow again was almost harder on Spike than it was on Xander, bringing back Spike’s feelings about having failed his Claimed by letting a threat to Xander live. Even though he’d done it for Xander, he knew that Spike still hated that Willow was alive and unhurt.
Slipping his arm around Spike, Xander leaned into him, knowing Spike would feel better once he’d killed something. “Thanks, Spike,” he whispered, knowing Spike would understand what he was thanking him for.
* A/N - Bits of dialogue borrowed from the episode ‘Consequences’