Pairing: S/X, established relationship
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 5, but anything from Season 1 on.
Summary: sequel to Nothing the Same , Books 1 - 3
Previous parts here
Wesley was waiting in the lobby as they pulled up to the patients’ entrance at the clinic, smiling and greeting them as casually as if he’d seen them all last week, instead of last year.
“I don’t know how you did it, Wesley,” Xander said, clasping the ex-Watcher’s hand firmly. “But I can’t thank you enough.”
Wesley shook his hand warmly in return. “I was happy to help. Did you leave your car outside the door?” Xander nodded. “I’ll walk out with you and show you where the parking is.”
Taking the unspoken hint, Xander looked over Wesley’s shoulder and saw that staff were already talking to Buffy and Joyce. He gave Dawn an encouraging smile and told her he’d be right back, holding up the car keys in explanation. She nodded, and turned back to listen to what the clinic people were saying to Joyce.
Outside, Xander repeated his thanks, which Wesley brushed off as unnecessary.
“I may have resigned from the Watchers Council, Xander, but I haven’t been declared persona non grata. I can still call in favors, especially when that favor involves the Slayer. The Council may not know quite what to do with Buffy and Mr. Giles, but they do recognize the need to help keep Buffy doing the work she does. They aren’t happy with her being so independent, but they are rather stuck with her. Since they aren’t aware that there is an organized group patrolling the Hellmouth in her absence, they are willing to do what it takes to get her back on the job as quickly as possible.” Wesley’s grin was conspiratorial and Xander couldn’t help thinking that Wesley just continued to grow and mature in impressive ways. He was barely recognizable as the annoying, uptight, know-it-all he’d been when they’d first met him.
“How is it we got so lucky, with first Giles and then you?” Xander asked, leaning against Joyce’s SUV. “Frankly, the rest of the Council always struck me as worse than useless. And I don’t think it’s coincidence that the only two decent members of the Watchers Council both aren’t members anymore.”
“Thank you, Xander, but I haven’t forgotten how useless I was when I first arrived in Sunnydale.”
“Yeah, but you were only temporarily useless,” Xander said with a grin. “You just needed a little experience. A couple of Illuminati, one giant snake, and you were good to go.”
Wesley laughed and was quiet for a moment, a nostalgic look in his eyes, before he shook his head as if shaking off the past and changed the subject. “I’ve taken the liberty of renting hotel rooms for you while you’re here. I suspect Mrs. Summers is in for a long day of tests. Whether it’s good news or bad, I don’t think she’ll be up to driving back to Sunnydale tonight.”
Wesley handed him an envelope. “That has all the hotel information and some suggestions for restaurants nearby. Tell them not to worry. The Council is footing the bill for whatever happens. The clinic will send all the bills straight to the Council, so Mrs. Summers won’t have to worry about anything. The hotel rooms are available for as long as you need them.”
Xander looked down at the paperwork, a lump forming in his throat. “God, Wesley, this is just…” Words failed him and he just shook his head. “I don’t even know what to say. Not to mention how fast you set this all up. ‘Thank you’ just isn’t enough.”
“I got some sense of how important Mrs. Summers is to all of you at Thanksgiving last year,” Wesley said quietly. “An amazing woman, welcoming us all into her home the way she did. I was happy to rattle a saber at the Council on her behalf.”
Wesley left, saying they didn’t need outsiders hovering while they waited, and to call if they needed anything at all. Xander couldn’t think of anything that Wesley hadn’t already taken care of, but it was nice to know he was there.
He stepped back inside and found Dawn waiting alone for him.
“Where’s your mom and Buffy?” he asked.
“Getting mom settled in a room,” she told him. “They said I should wait here so you knew what happened. Who’s the cutie?”
“Where?” Xander asked, glancing around the waiting room.
“The guy you were just with, dummy,” Dawn said, rolling her eyes at his stupidity. “Jeez, you are the straightest gay guy I know.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked, amused.
“You never talk about how cute other guys are,” she complained, like it was a huge character flaw. Given Dawn’s burgeoning interest in the opposite sex, it was a subject that had come up more than a few times, usually when Dawn saw someone cute on tv and wanted Xander to express an opinion.
“Well, it’s a problem when your boyfriend is the homicidally jealous type,” he told her.
“Spike wouldn’t kill someone just because you thought they were cute,” she argued. “And you didn’t answer my question.”
Xander thought Spike probably wouldn’t kill any of the various boy band members that Dawn usually raved about, but that might just be because Xander didn’t find any of them worth even a second look. Too young. Too cute. Too not-Spike.
Wesley, on the other hand... The former Watcher had developed sharp edges, an unmistakable air of confidence and competence, and just a hint of the dangerousness that Xander found so unbelievably sexy in Spike. Now that Dawn had pointed it out, Xander was willing to admit, privately, that Wesley was good looking. Not that Spike was ever going to hear about it.
“That was Wesley Wyndham-Pryce,” he told Dawn. “You remember, the Council made him Buffy’s Watcher for a while.”
“Him?” Dawn asked, astonished, twisting around to stare out the doors like Wesley might still be there. “The guy Buffy always described as the world’s biggest dork?”
“Well, he’s improved since then,” Xander told her, grinning. He absolutely refused to think about the fact that Dawn wasn’t actually there during the brief, disastrous weeks when Wesley had been assigned as Buffy’s Watcher in their senior year.
“So soon?” Buffy asked faintly, which was more than Xander could do. He felt completely incapable of speech, his whole body frozen in fear since the doctor had come out to tell them the results of the tests. Xander had heard the words “tumor” and “brain” and it was like he was stuck there, unable to breathe or think coherently.
Joyce had a brain tumor.
The doctor nodded. “Even a short delay can be critical in these cases.”
Buffy’s eyes were huge and frightened in her chalk-white face as she listened silently as the doctor patiently explained something about an operation to remove the tumor. Xander kept his arm around Dawn’s shoulders reassuringly as she clung to him, shaking with confusion and fear.
“You did the best possible thing, bringing her here.” The doctor continued. If it had been anyone but Joyce, Xander thought he might have found the man reassuring. “We have equipment here that can detect these things in their very earliest stages. Not to blow our own horn, but we have some of the best doctors in the world here, and one of them is in charge of your mother’s case and will be doing the surgery. Your mother has a very good chance of coming through this and making a complete recovery.”
There was a lot more: statistics and reassurances and details about what exactly was wrong. Buffy kept nodding in all the right places, like she was actually following what the man was saying. Xander knew she was only keeping it together for Dawn’s sake, knew she was on the knife-edge of tears, but none of that showed, except in her pale face and stunned eyes, and the white-knuckled grip she had on her purse.
They were keeping Joyce overnight and would be operating first thing in the morning, the doctor told them. They could see Joyce now, then she would need to rest, for tomorrow.
Buffy and Dawn clung together for a long moment, and Xander stepped back, leaving the Summers women to find their comfort together. They walked off, arms around each other, Dawn drawing strength from Buffy, as they went down the hall to visit Joyce.
Xander sat down numbly in the waiting room that had become drearily familiar as they had sat there together all day, talking, reading magazines and waiting. Waiting for this.
Joyce had a brain tumor.
He buried his head in his hands and fought back his own worry and fear. He had to be strong for Buffy and Dawn, had to be ready to do whatever they needed; whether it was jokes and reassurances, strong, silent support, or just to quietly fade away and give them privacy to grieve and rage against fate. Joyce and her girls were what was important here, not his own need for comfort and reassurance.
He wished fiercely that Spike was here, wanting his lover’s presence so badly, he could barely stand it. But Spike was in Sunnydale and Xander had to find the strength to do this on his own. He couldn’t even call Spike, and felt a flash of irritation that Spike hadn’t yet gotten a new cell phone to replace the one he’d smashed. Not that this was telephone news. He needed to tell Spike in person, break it to him gently, because Spike was going to be devastated by the news. All of them had been desperately hoping Joyce’s illness would turn out to be a two aspirin type of problem and it was going to take awhile to learn to deal with the fact that this was so much more serious than they’d hoped.
“Buffy, what do you need?”
Xander had taken them out for a dinner they’d all just picked at, too shell-shocked to be hungry. Now, back at the hotel Wesley had found for them, Dawn was in the room she was sharing with Buffy, pretending to watch tv, and Xander had brought Buffy into his own room across the hall to talk.
Buffy looked at him with red-rimmed eyes, swimming with tears that she had not allowed herself to shed, and shook her head helplessly. “Xander, you’ve been great…” she began and he interrupted her gently.
“What do you need?” he repeated. “Don’t worry about me, or anyone else. What do you need to get through this? Do you want people around, or for everyone to just leave you alone? You and Dawn are the only important things right now. What do you need to help you get through this?’ He managed a crooked smile. “Be as selfish as you need to, because you have to be there for your mom.”
Buffy stared down at the rug and Xander helplessly watched her bent head, not knowing what else to say. It was a long minute before he saw the tears, dropping silently down to the carpet. Without a word, he pulled her into his arms, letting her bury her face in his shirt and cry silent, bitter tears as he stroked her hair, wishing he could promise that everything was going to be alright.
She only let herself go for a minute, then straightened, giving him a watery smile as she wiped the tears away almost angrily. “I’m fine.”
“Did you really…?” she said hesitantly, her voice so quiet he almost couldn’t hear.
“Yes,” he said firmly.
“Giles. Do you think…?” she asked, sounding almost like a little girl.
“Giles would do anything for you,” he said, knowing it was true. “Do you want me to go get him?”
“I don’t want…”
“Buffy, he’ll be glad you asked. Trust me.”
He glanced at the time and made quick plans. “Buffy, I’m going to drive back to Sunnydale tonight. I’ll call Giles and he’ll be here first thing in the morning.” He smiled, seeing the relief on her face. “We’ll take care of everything back home. Forget about us, unless you need something. Then call immediately. Promise?”
She nodded. “Thank you, Xander. For everything.”
“You guys are going to be alright. Summers women are tough.”
Her smile was wobbly. “Not so tough,” she said, reaching for a tissue and blowing her nose.
“Let’s go tell Dawn what we’ve decided,” he suggested.
She nodded, and got to her feet with a tired sigh, crossing the room to the door. Halfway there, she turned back to him with a horrified look. “Oh, god. Riley. I didn’t even tell him we were leaving.”
“You had a lot going on and not much notice,” he pointed out. “Give him a call, he’ll understand.” Privately, he thought that if Riley gave her any grief about this, he was going to kill him.
Buffy just stood there for a moment, looking exhausted and guilty. It didn’t take much to work out the cause.
“Would you like me to call him for you?” he asked gently. “I can explain everything and let him know you’ll be in touch in a couple of days, when your mom’s better.”
She flashed him a grateful look. “Would you? I’d really appreciate it. I’m just so tired, I can’t stand the thought of explaining to anyone.”
“Of course. I’ll explain things to Giles so he doesn’t have to ask any questions.”
Buffy hugged him, hard. “Thank you. It’s not enough, but thank you.”
“We’ll talk to Dawn for a minute, then you two get some sleep. You need it. Giles will be here when you wake up.”
Giles dropped him off at the apartment and waited until Xander opened the door at the top of the steps, before driving off in Joyce’s car. He would be driving it back to LA in the early morning, timing his arrival to be there when Dawn and Buffy woke up.
Calling him from the road, Xander had told him about Joyce’s surgery and that Buffy had asked if he could be there. It hadn’t surprised him that Giles had immediately agreed, making plans to close the magic shop so he could go to Los Angeles.
When Xander arrived back in Sunnydale, around 11 p.m., he drove straight to the shop where Giles was waiting for him with a to do list that he’d checked off most of the items on already. He’d arranged for Sgt. Morgan to keep the demon volunteers patrolling for the immediate future, and surprised Xander with the news that Tara was going to keep the magic shop open.
“She was worried that it would hurt business to close indefinitely so soon after opening,” Giles told him. “I think it’s too much work for her, but she insisted she could handle it. We’ve compromised on keeping the shop open half days until I get back. That way she won’t miss many classes. We’ll post signs,” he gestured toward a couple of hand lettered signs waiting by the cash register, “about there being a family emergency.”
“I can stop by every day after work to make sure she’s not overwhelmed,” Xander offered immediately.
“Thank you, Xander. I’m sure Tara will appreciate the support. Now, tell me everything I need to know about Mrs. Summers.”
Entering the apartment, Xander was disappointed but not surprised to find that Spike wasn’t home. It was nearly midnight now, and Spike had known he might need to stay over in LA, depending on how late they kept Joyce at the clinic. Spike would be dealing with his worry in his own way, out wreaking havoc with the local demon population, most like, finding his release from frustration and uncertainty in violence.
Xander had found his own release in the solitary drive through the night, letting his emotions spill out where no one could see him scream and curse and cry, raging against fate and whoever decided to dole out suffering and illness where it wasn’t deserved. The journey had given him back his calm surface, allowing him to discuss plans calmly with Giles.
Sighing for what couldn’t be helped, he stripped down and slid into bed. Tomorrow, he promised himself tiredly, he was going to get a new cell phone for Spike. He was not going to be out of touch with his lover again, just because Spike hated carrying a phone.
Xander was sleeping in their bed, Spike discovered, when he returned to the apartment shortly before dawn. When he hadn’t returned at the end of the day, Spike had assumed he was spending the night in Los Angeles, before returning with Joyce and her daughters.
He’d cursed himself for his stubbornness in not getting a new phone, which had carried its own punishment by leaving him stranded without information and Xander unreachably out of touch. Rather than wearing a hole in the carpet pacing, he’d gone looking for trouble, retaining just enough caution about his recently healed wounds to limit himself to drinking and a bar fight. Still, thrashing a half dozen demons and breaking a great deal of furniture had helped him forget his worry over a middle-aged human he never should have become fond of.
Getting soft, he told himself, but couldn’t find it in himself to care. Joyce was a good woman and one of the very rare beings he’d felt any affection for in his entire existence. Only natural he was worried about her.
Still, Xander being home must mean that Joyce had felt up to a late night drive home. Had to be good news, then. He slipped between the sheets and snuggled next to the warmth of his Claimed. Good news could wait and his boy looked tired. He’d let Xander sleep.
“Yeah, luv. Go back to sleep,” he murmured, long used to Xander’s habit of surfacing just enough to register Spike’s presence before falling back to sleep again.
This time, though, Xander didn’t go back to sleep. He rolled over in Spike’s arms and Spike tensed as he saw the wide-awake dark eyes, shadowed with trouble, looking back at him. “Xander?”
“They found something,” Xander said, answering his unspoken question. “There’s a tumor. It’s small but it’s growing and it’s what’s been causing the headaches.”
Spike stared at him, fear swelling inside him until it would have choked him if he were human. Humans were so fragile and even he knew that tumors were very bad news. “What are they going to do about it?” he asked, fighting to sound normal.
“They’re operating on her. Tomorrow. Giles is going to drive to LA in the morning to be there for Buffy and Dawn. They say they’ve caught it early and there’s a really good chance she’s going to be fine.”
Xander’s fear, echoing Spike’s own, hovered just beneath the encouraging words, and Xander reached out and wrapped his arms around Spike, clinging to him desperately.
“Shh, luv. She’ll be fine. Not losing her,” Spike crooned, wrapping Xander in his arms, giving and taking comfort, and wondering if he said the words often enough, he would come to believe it himself.