Nothing the Same, Book 3
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: Primarily season 4, but anything from Season 1 on.
Summary: sequel to Nothing the Same & Nothing the Same, Book 2
Previous parts here
Pacing furiously back and forth in front of the couch, Spike couldn’t help repeating his objections as if he thought it would actually make an impression this time. “Don’t trust the Witch. And I’m not letting her anywhere near you.”
Xander just gave him that infuriating tolerant look. The one that said he thought Spike was being paranoid and overprotective and he thought it was cute. Spike bit back a snarl, knowing Xander would just find that cute too. He was a Master Vampire. He wasn’t cute.
“You really think she’s going to be able to fool Maggie? It didn’t take Maggie 30 seconds to make you back down and you’re a lot tougher than Willow.”
“Oi! She’s the one backed down,” Spike retorted indignantly.
“Keep telling yourself that,” Xander smirked and Spike did growl at him this time.
Despite his denial, he knew Xander was right. Maggie Apsford-Burns was a formidable woman and Spike had been unwillingly impressed by her at their first meeting. Despite her physical frailty, she hadn’t been even slightly intimidated by Spike’s threats and she’d done alright by Xander in removing the memory spell. Grudgingly, he admitted that, if anyone could control the redhead, it was probably Maggie.
“Shouldn’t be bringing her,” was all he said, flinging himself down on the couch next to Xander.
“We need all the help we can get,” Xander reminded him.
Which didn’t help his mood. He hated that he had a problem in his Territory that he didn’t know how to deal with, much less one he needed outside help with. Especially outside magical help.
“Don’t trust the kind of help where people hold secret meetings behind our backs,” he complained.
“Please, like you really want to go to something like that anyway. They’re just going to sit around, talking about all the ideas they have that won’t work. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of talking about how we can’t defeat Adam - let someone else do it for a change.” Xander shifted sideways on the couch, grinning at him cheerfully. “All we need to know about is the plan they decide is going to work.”
Xander had a point, not that Spike was going to admit it out loud. The whole bleeding lot of them did way too much talking and not enough doing. But that wasn’t his only concern. Something about the planning meeting made him suspicious. It might be nothing more than the fact that a number of very powerful people, at least one of which he despised, were setting up shop in his Territory and holding meetings he was excluded from but it felt like something more. Like the magic workers were deliberately hiding things from them.
He’d been surprised and suspicious when the coven had consulted and then, a couple days later, announced that they were going to fly out to America. From what Spike understood about the coven’s history and the Watcher’s own deep surprise at the announcement, it was a very unusual move for the group. Hell, the Watcher hadn’t even thought to call them for help until someone else talked him into it, he’d been that sure they didn’t muck about in problems that weren’t strictly magical. The fact that they were coming in person meant they thought Adam was a big enough threat they were willing to help deal with it and in person no less.
Then he’d learned that the Witch was returning with them and only the spectacular set-to with three Minbarii demons he’d sought out and killed in a protracted, exhausting and satisfyingly bloody fight had allowed him to discuss the Witch’s imminent arrival calmly with his Claimed.
To top it all off, learning that the people from the coven were meeting with Giles upon their arrival, and that none of the rest of them were invited to the meeting had turned suspicion into certainty that they were up to something. Only the news that the Witch wasn’t invited to the meeting either stopped his plans for meeting the plane at the airport and killing them all on the tarmac. Ok, he’d have had to use members of the Court to do it, but it would have been worth it, he thought sulkily, except Xander had obviously recognized he was thinking along those lines and called him on it. It was fucking annoying that Xander could read him so well, Spike thought, even as he pulled Xander against him, needed to feel the living warmth of his Claimed beside him.
Bloody witches. Can’t trust any of them.
Given the lack of loud music coming from the apartment, Xander guessed that Devon was either sleeping or not there. He knocked, wondering if it was wrong to want the Initiative gone just so he could get another cell phone without worrying that the government was monitoring his calls. Having a phone sure made it easier to find out if people were home before you dropped in on them. He didn’t regret his somewhat paranoid decision to go without a phone for now, but it really made life more complicated.
He assumed that Oz had heard that Willow was returning and he wanted to find out if the other man was ok with that. Willow and Oz’s breakup had been full of almost as many emotional landmines as Xander’s and Willow’s parting of ways. Xander himself was mostly fine with the idea of seeing Willow again. He and Willow had done a lot of emailing last fall and he thought they’d do ok face to face. He wasn’t sure how they felt about each other any more but he found he was almost eager to find out. He’d been right last year when he’d thought that having Willow gone would make it easier for them to find their way back to being friends. Having an ocean between them had made it easier for both of them to communicate again, something they had lost the ability to do after Jesse’s death.
Sometimes he couldn’t help wondering: if Jesse had lived, would he and Willow have remained close? Would Xander and Jesse have jumped on the Slayer bandwagon and become loyal Slayerettes, or hopefully something slightly more manly sounding, he thought with an inward smile. Would they have simply transformed from the Three Musketeers into the Four Musketeers, integrating Buffy seamlessly into their inseparable trio?
It saddened him how scary he found the idea. He couldn’t imagine that alternate version of himself becoming Spike’s Claimed and the person he was today. It really sucked that losing his best friend was the necessary first step in the chain of events that had led to him losing Willow almost as thoroughly as he’d lost Jesse and yet, at the same time, giving him more happiness and satisfaction with his life than he’d ever known before.
The door swung open, interrupting his thoughts, and Oz nodded at him from the doorway.
“Hi, Oz. You busy?”
Oz hesitated for just a second, then swung the door all the way open in invitation. “Not really. Got some friends here.”
Xander stepped inside the small apartment, seeing two people sprawled on the couch and a third in the kitchen, pulling things out of the refrigerator.
“Everyone, this is Xander,” Oz said generally. “Xander, this is Terry,” he gestured to the tall, lean blonde woman who waved a beer can at him from the couch, “Matt” the solidly built black man in the kitchen who had the most amazing dreds Xander had ever seen cascading down nearly to his waist, “and Dean,” Oz finished, gesturing to the third person who had risen from the couch and was approaching them. “Dean’s my pack leader.”
Xander could see that Oz was watching him closely from the corner of his eye, waiting for his reaction, and he gave Oz a quick reassuring smile before meeting Dean halfway, hand extended.
“Xander Harris,” he introduced himself formally, suspecting that pack leaders had some of the same status issues that Master Vampires did. Small signs of respect for their position generally went a long way.
“Dean McNair,” the other man responded. They shook hands, each sizing the other up openly. Dean was shorter than Xander by a couple of inches, probably at least ten years older, with weather-beaten features that made Xander think of tv cowboys. He had sandy hair and brown eyes with deep-set lines around them and there was a just a hint of the wolf in the length of his sideburns and the rough texture of his hair.
Which might be just his imagination, of course.
“Thanks for coming,” he said. “We really appreciate the help.” He meant it sincerely, even though Spike was going to be furious that there was only three of them. Spike had been anticipating having thirty werewolves in town helping to attack the Initiative with a kind of murderous glee.
Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Oz relax his tense stance and knew he’d said the right thing.
“You owe us nothing,” Dean said. “We’re grateful you steered Oz in our direction.” He straightened to his full height and Xander could almost see the power radiating from him. “As Daniel Osborn’s pack-leader, I offer you formal apology for your life being placed in danger by a member of my pack.”
“Excuse me?” Xander asked blankly. He had no idea what the man was talking about. Peripherally, he was aware the other two newcomers had moved to stand behind their leader, off to one side but clearly backing him up. Xander shot a puzzled glance at Oz who stood beside his pack leader, one pace to the rear, eyes fastened unwaveringly on Xander.
“I lost control of my wolf in Adam’s cave,” Oz reminded him.
Grateful for some of Spike and Jose’s explanations of Court protocol, Xander kept his eyes on the pack-leader as he answered. “There’s no need for apology. The circumstances were unique and Oz didn’t hurt me.”
“Nevertheless, I misunderstood the situation in this town. I permitted Oz to return without truly understanding the challenges he would face here. He was not yet ready to return. The error was mine.”
“Sunnydale is different from other towns.” That seemed a fairly safe thing to say.
“I give you my word this will not happen again. When Oz explained what you were facing and what had happened, I brought only my most senior pack members.” Dean glanced at Oz. “Oz is not yet mature enough to take part in this fight. He will be allowed to remain in town but not to join in the battle.” Dean relaxed his formal stance slightly as he continued. “We three are not the only members of the pack who have come. There are four more out exploring the town.”
Xander nodded, his eyes straying to Oz, wondering how he felt about this but not daring to ask. Oz met his eyes steadily.
“Dean is my pack-leader,” he said calmly. “It’s his call.”
Xander nodded. He couldn’t help thinking that Dean was probably right, although he intended to ask about it in more detail as soon as he could get Oz alone. He’d been wondering how werewolves could help without risking attacking the wrong people, and now he suspected that Dean and the others had complete control over their wolves during the change, something that Oz hadn’t yet mastered.
He ended up having lunch with the four werewolves. Matt made up an extra sandwich and they all sat comfortably in the living room munching on sandwiches and chips, drinking beer and talking. It was clear the three newcomers liked each other and liked Oz and Oz was as relaxed and open as Xander had ever seen him.
He tried to not ask them about what it was like being a mature werewolf and about pack dynamics, worried that they might think it was rude, and for the most part, thought he had been successful in hiding his curiosity. That notion was blown when Matt laughed at him and told him to just ask his questions before he died of curiosity.
Embarrassed, Xander looked around at the others. Dean nodded permission, Terry gave him a friendly grin, and even Oz smiled.
“Just ask, Xander. I don’t think you can think of a question I didn’t ask when I first met these guys.”
Dean leaned back against the cushions behind him and grinned at Xander. “Just keep in mind, we have a few questions of our own about the Master of the Territory and the politics in town. Oz isn’t as up to date as you are.”
Xander grinned back at him. “That seems fair.”
Trading information about their groups not only seemed fair, it was a good idea. Yeah, he was curious to learn more about werewolves and Oz’s new pack but he wanted to know what kind of backup these guys could give Spike since it might very well come down to the wolves and the Court attacking the Initiative, depending on what the coven was planning.
Xander couldn’t help drumming his fingers quietly on the table as he waited nervously for Willow to arrive. He’d thought he was going to be fine with seeing her again but, as the time approached, he found he was getting more and more nervous. Unlike Oz, he hadn’t been able to put Willow behind him and move on.
Spike had gone ballistic when he found out that Xander intended to meet Willow alone and it had taken some fast talking to convince Spike not to accompany him to their meeting. In her emails, Willow had been upfront about the fact that she still couldn’t bring herself to really trust Spike and Spike was equally sure that Willow remained dangerous, especially to Xander. After a lot of arguing, Spike had grudgingly agreed that Xander would be safe meeting Willow in a public spot during daylight. Xander had carefully chosen a restaurant that he knew had sewer access in its basement so a certain overprotective vampire could be there just in case.
Xander smiled to himself, looking down at the tiled floor of the sandwich shop and the vampire he just knew was down in the basement below him pacing and smoking and muttering threats about what he would do if the witch put one toe over the line.
Willow’s voice sounded shaky with emotion and looking up, Xander saw she was as nervous as he was. He slid out of the booth, and stepped towards her hesitantly. Then he was hugging her and her arms went around him, hugging him back hard and he felt his nervousness disappear.
Willow gave a funny little laugh and stepped back. “I’ve missed you,” she said fiercely, stepping back. “You look great.”
It wasn’t just empty words. Outwardly, Willow looked a little different - her hair shorter and a lighter red than he remembered, wearing a long skirt that looked vaguely like something from the 60’s. But the real change showed on her face. Underneath the nervousness of seeing him again, she looked happy and - lighter somehow, like she’d found a way clear of all the burdens and temptations that magic had put on her and in doing so had found herself again. She looked like someone who’d learned to like themself, like she’d grown out of the arrogance and selfishness that had begun to taint so many of her actions.
“England’s been good to you,” he said without thinking and was glad when Willow just gave him a beaming smile.
“It has. The coven’s been great and I’ve learned so much, and I love Oxford and I’ve even gotten used to the rain, but it’s good to be home.”
And just that easily, they were sitting and talking in a way they hadn’t done since freshman year, and something inside Xander, an emptiness he’d almost convinced himself didn’t really exist, ached with bittersweet longing for what once had been. Willow seemed to fee it too and at times her eyes shone with what he suspected were blinked back tears as they caught each other up on their lives, staying by mutual unspoken consent to the safe areas for now, but still, communicating more in this one conversation than they had in the last three years.
There was one subject he was surprised that Willow didn’t cover and Xander couldn’t help asking curiously: “How’s Amy?” No one had even mentioned Amy in talking about the coven and Willow’s arrival.
Willow just shook her head. “She’s struggling,” she said. “She’s had some relapses. The coven’s still working with her.” She sighed, looking away for a minute. “I hope she makes it,” she said quietly.
“Are you two still…” Xander made a vague back and forth gesture, not really sure how far their relationship had gone.
“Dating?” Willow supplied, obviously amused at his circumspection. “No. Turns out we were a textbook lesson in why two people in the early stages of recovery shouldn’t get together.” She looked down again, gripping her hands together under the table and Xander regretted asking. “When she relapsed…” Willow faltered for a moment, then just said: “It was bad. I almost followed her lead.”
“I’m sorry,” Xander said, not sure what else to say to fill the awkward silence that followed Willow’s words.
Willow sighed. “We stopped seeing each other after that. It was the right thing for me but Amy took it badly and let’s just say things got pretty crazy for awhile.” Willow met Xander’s sympathetic gaze. “She’s doing better now, not great, but better. Maggie is optimistic that she’ll make it one day.”
“Sounds like it was tough.”
“It was.” She hesitated, then added quietly. “It was like looking into a mirror and seeing what you could have become. Like the Soul Mirror spell Maggie did on me, only showing the future not the present. Seeing a friend change into something I barely recognized,” her eyes were steady on his, “gave me a new perspective on what I put you through. I don’t think I’ll ever get over being ashamed for what I did.”
Below them, Spike made a scoffing sound. Leaning against the wall at the foot of the stairs to the basement, he dropped his latest cigarette and crushed it out beneath his heel. He’d been able to hear them clearly, it was late afternoon and they were almost the only customers, listening in over the clatter of dishes and running water in the kitchen, he’d shaken his head in disbelief more than once. Witch had gotten better with words, that was for sure. And there was Xander, right on cue, patting her hand and telling her that all was forgiven. Couldn’t hold a grudge worth a damn, that boy of his.
Witch sounded sincere, he’d give her that. He wouldn’t kill her unless she made a false move but he wasn’t going to trust her just because she did the big eyes and tearful apologies thing. He’d seen that before from her without it changing her behavior. He didn’t trust her now any more than he ever had. Whatever the coven was planning, he just hoped she wasn’t part of it.