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Nothing the Same, Book 4, Ch. 17

Nothing the Same, Book 4
Chapter:  17/?
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

Chapter 17

“So, even though Cordelia told us that only losers shopped on Rodeo Drive, we made her drive us down the street anyway, and guess what?”  Dawn looked around the group excitedly.  “We saw Lance Bass!”

“Who?”

Xander wasn’t sure if the blank question came from himself or Giles.  Sheepishly, he had to admit from Dawn’s glare and Giles’ amused look, that he was probably the culprit.  Although, if Giles knew the name, it had to be because he’d already heard this story.

Enduring Dawn’s exasperated sigh for his complete ignorance and listening with half an ear to her explanation of just who the “incredibly cute” guy that apparently everyone on the planet but him had heard of, Xander suspected with an inward grin that Dawn thought he was letting the gay side down again.  Untroubled by her lecture, he looked around the room with a feeling of deep contentment.

The Summers women had arrived back in Sunnydale early that afternoon and Spike and Xander had showed up at sunset, arms laden with boxes of Chinese take-out.  Giles, Tara, Riley and even Ethan had joined them for a quiet celebration in which so far everyone had behaved themselves and no one had mentioned hospitals, illness, or Hellmouthy activity.  Xander couldn’t think of any previous gathering he’d been to where all those subjects were off limits.

Joyce wore a brightly patterned scarf that covered most of her hair, but otherwise looked completely normal, laughing with the rest of them at Buffy’s and Dawn’s description of the horror of Giles’ ideas of ways to amuse themselves in Los Angeles.  Apparently Giles had thought they should visit the museums in town, a suggestion that had been rejected emphatically with the scorn it deserved.  

Leaning back against Spike as they sat together on the couch, Xander smiled to himself, admiring the way that Joyce had effortlessly made everyone feel welcome and at ease, yet at the same time managed to have everyone on their best behavior.  Spike’s hands hadn’t strayed to naughty areas even once - the time they were briefly alone in the kitchen really didn’t count.  Tara was smiling and talking quietly with Giles, as relaxed and comfortable as Xander had ever seen her.  Ethan hadn’t cut loose with his trademark biting sarcasm, and if Riley and Spike were acting as if the other wasn’t in the room, at least they weren’t insulting or attacking each other.  Buffy looked relaxed and carefree, perched on the arm of Riley’s chair, feeding him bites with her chopsticks from the box of lo mein noodles she was hogging to herself.

Xander caught Joyce’s eyes on him and smiled, digging his chopsticks in to his own container of Mongolian Beef, he mouthed ’welcome home’ across the room to her before popping the spicy meat into his mouth.    

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 “Ok, Xander, what’s going on?”

Yeah, he totally deserved the puzzled look Buffy was giving him.  He’d really thought he was ready to do this, god knows he’d practiced enough but, every time he opened his mouth, he completely lost his nerve.  If anything, Spike’s non-reaction to the news that Dawn wasn’t human had made it harder to tell Buffy.  Whatever else happened, he was positive it wasn’t going to be calm, almost bored acceptance.

“There’s something I need to talk to you about,” he said finally.  He really needed to do this.  Buffy had been home for several days now and he was still trying to work up the nerve to broach the subject.  He’d gotten further today than before, asking her to talk to him in the back room of the magic shop.

“Figured that,” she told him, smiling a little.

“Do you remember the monk who told us about the Key?” he began.  Buffy nodded, looking a little surprised, obviously wondering why he was bringing up such old news.  “I didn’t tell you everything that happened.”

Haltingly, he described again how badly injured the man had been, how much pain he was in as they fled the building, how the monk had fought for breath as he tried to speak, to convey the information he had been tortured for.  He tried to make his words as vivid as possible, trying to recreate the intensity of the moment - the intensity that had convinced Xander the monk was telling the truth.  Buffy listened silently, letting him get to the point in his own time.

“He said they sent the Key to you, Buffy, knowing that, as the Slayer you were the best person to keep it safe.”

“To me?” she interjected in surprise, interrupting him for the first time.  “I think I’d have noticed a glowing ball of energy if I’d been given one.”

“It’s not that simple.”

“Of course not,” she muttered sourly, and Xander couldn’t help giving her a flicker of a smile.

“The monk said they disguised the Key and tampered with our memories so we wouldn’t notice it had just appeared.  So we’d remember it as having always been there.”

“As what?” Buffy prompted when he faltered.

“He said they made the Key… into a person.”

Buffy looked not so much blank as completely uncomprehending.  “What?”

Xander found himself quoting the monk’s words.  It wasn’t hard, they’d haunted him for days after the monk died.  “For centuries, it had no form.  Then the abomination came and the monks hid the key.  Gave it form.  Molded it into flesh.  Made it human, and sent it to the Slayer… in the form of a sister.”

Buffy stared at him, mouth open in shock.  Slowly, she began shaking her head in denial.  “You’re lying.”

Aching for her, for Dawn, Xander just shook his head.

“You’re full of it, Xander!” Buffy jumped to her feet furiously.  “I’m not listening to this.”

“Buffy, I’d give anything if it wasn’t true, but I believed him.”

“What the hell is wrong with you?  This is DAWN you’re talking about.  I remember when my parents brought her home from the hospital, for god’s sake.  She’s my SISTER.”

“The monks created our memories,” Xander repeated quietly.  Buffy was standing over him threateningly and he just looked at her with a calmness he wasn’t feeling.  “It doesn’t make her any less real.  She’s just… a little younger than we thought.”

“I don’t know what the hell you’re trying to do, Xander Harris, but I’m not buying a word of this.  Tell me what’s really going on, right now.”  She glared at him furiously, fists clenched, her whole body shaking with the effort it was taking to keep from attacking him.  Xander made no move to defend himself, just continued to sit there, looking up at her.

“Fine!  If that’s the kind of friend you are, then stay away from me.  Stay away from my whole family.  And if I hear you’ve said one word to Dawn about this bullshit, I’m going to forget that Slayers aren’t allowed to kill humans.”

She spun around and almost ran for the back door, slamming it behind her with a crash that echoed in the empty room.  Xander sagged, feeling suddenly exhausted, wondering if it was possible for things to have gone worse.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Spike stepped into the magic shop, nodding briefly to Glinda behind the counter, his eyes scanning the room for Xander.  Rupert was helping a customer and there was no sign of his boy, though his scent lingered in the shop.

“H-He’s in the back,” Tara said, her eyes worried.  “Buffy yelled at him and stormed out, but he said he was fine and asked us to leave him alone.  We haven’t heard from either of them since.”

Spike’s jaw tightened.  Xander had insisted on talking to Buffy alone and look what it had gotten him.  He jerked his head in acknowledgement of her words.  “I’ll take care of it,” he said, striding rapidly across the store to the back room.

He opened the door quietly.  Xander was sitting on the floor, crossed arms resting on his knees, face buried in his arms.  His whole posture spoke of unhappiness and defeat and Spike felt a shaft of pure anger go through him at the sight.  The Slayer had no right to treat his boy like that.

“You alright, luv?” he asked quietly, closing the door firmly behind him and crossing the floor to crouch down in front of his Claimed.

Xander raised his head and managed a crooked smile.  “I’m fine, Spike.  I should have expected this.  It took me a couple of days to believe, and I heard it first hand.”

Spike snorted contemptuously.  “Way I see it, Slayer should trust her friends more.  Knows you love Dawn, doesn’t she?  Knows you’d never hurt her.  Makes you a much more believable source than some stranger who just happened to kick it in your arms.”

“Maybe, but it’s a lot to swallow, Spike.  You know what they say about killing the messenger.  I just happened to be the messenger.”

“Trust the Slayer to go for the cliché,” Spike growled.  “Never been the brightest bulb in the lamp.”

Xander just shrugged, still looking miserable.  Spike narrowed his eyes suspiciously.  “What did she say to you?”

“Nothing.”  

“Don’t lie, pet.  A lot more’s wrong than just the Slayer bein’ an idiot.”

Xander looked at him with wounded eyes.  “She told me to stay away from Dawn and Joyce.  I never thought she’d react that badly, that she wouldn’t trust me any more.”

Spike cursed to himself and pulled Xander roughly into his arms, rocking him comfortingly.  “Don’t fret, luv, she’ll come around.  Dawn and Joyce are your family, Slayer tried to keep you from seeing them before and they wouldn’t have any part of it.”  He smirked, remembering when Buffy had returned from her cowardly runaway after she killed Angelus to find that Xander and he were welcome guests in her home.  That had been a bit of good fun, watching Joyce give her daughter what for.  “She’ll come to her senses.  Or I’ll kill her,” he said matter-of-factedly.  

“Great, that’ll help keep Dawn safe.”  But Spike felt Xander’s lips curl reluctantly against his skin as he said it.

“Like she cares about her sister, not even listening to the person trying to help her get ready for what’s coming.  Bloody idiot.  Had no right to say that to you.”

“I’m sorry.”

Xander’s head jerked up and he looked around Spike to see Buffy standing in the doorway.  Spike had known she was there listening, but it was obvious that Xander hadn’t heard her come in.

“Spike’s right.  I know you would never hurt Dawn, or me.  I had no right to say that to you.”  She stepped further into the room and Spike could smell the confusion and fear on her.  “I’ve been trying to convince myself that you were making this up but I haven’t been able to come up with even one good reason why you would.”

“It’s a lot to accept,” Xander said, and Spike scowled at the forgiveness in his voice.  “I freaked out for days when I heard it.  What made me believe was that the monk died to protect the Key.  He used the last of his strength to tell me it was Dawn.  I just couldn’t convince myself he was lying, not when he paid such a high price.”

Buffy nodded soberly.  “Part of me is completely wigged and wants to run home and throw Dawn out of the house.  But most of me just knows she’s my kid sister and I love her.”

“Throw her out and I’ll come for you, Slayer,” Spike snarled, appalled she would even think about it.  “Who gives a fuck what she once was.  She’s human now and under our protection.”  He was started when Buffy smiled at him.

“I can live with that.”

~~~~~

They talked quietly for a long time, the three of them.  Buffy was in full Slayer mode, listening intently as she had both of them repeat everything they knew about the monk, the Key, and the demon woman.  Xander repeated his conversation with Mr. Okolo and Spike described his fight with the woman, his estimate of her strength and his assessment of her fighting skills.  

Buffy looked worried, almost frightened, when they finished.  She’d always protected and looked after Dawn, but learning she was the focus of at least two groups actively seeking to harm her was another thing entirely.  

“I need to take Dawn and mom out of town,” she announced.  “Like now.  Tonight.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Spike began harshly but Xander clamped down warningly on his arm, cutting him off.

“Buffy, you can’t.  Your mom needs to stay near her doctors and you don’t even know what you’re running from, or if they know that you have the Key.  If the Slayer suddenly leaves her post without any reason, it’ll be a big red flag to anyone searching for the Key.  You’re the most logical person to be protecting it and, if you leave, they’ll know you have to have the Key with you.  You’d never leave it behind for someone else to protect.  

“As long as you’re here, at home, they’re going to be looking for a thing - a mystical ball of energy.  Something the monks sent to you to hide.  And where better than the Hellmouth, with all that Hellmouthy energy floating around.  If you leave and don’t take anything but your family with you, they might put two and two together and come up with the right answer.  As long as you’re here, if you treat Dawn just the same as you always have, how would anyone ever guess she’s anything but your sister?”

Buffy looked torn.  “I don’t know.”  She ran her hands through her hair impatiently.  “I need…”

“Listen to him, Slayer.  Don’t do something without thinking, just for the sake of taking action.  If you run now, without any information, you might just run straight into their arms.”

“Take at least a day or two to think about things,” Xander suggested quietly.  “You can’t make rational decisions in the state you’re in.”  He smiled.  “Believe me, I know.  Besides,” he added, trying to lighten things up a little.  “What do you think would happen if you went home and told your mom the three of you were leaving town tonight, no explanation?”

“I’m pretty sure I’d still be explaining things two hours later,” Buffy admitted, her lips quirking in a tiny smile.  “Thank, you’re right.  Any decision I make right now is going to be out of panic and not sense.”  She looked at them both.  “Does anyone else know.”

Xander shook his head.  “Just the three of us.  We figured, it was your right to decide.”

Buffy nodded sharply.  “I’m not telling mom.  Not yet.  Not so soon after…”  She stopped without finishing, as if mentioning the surgery was still beyond her.  “I’ll have to decide about Giles.”

Xander didn’t push but he thought she should tell Giles.  On the other hand, it had taken him days to decide to tell anyone at all, so he understood the need to process.  

“Should tell Bit,” Spike said flatly.

“Dawn?  Yeah, right.  That’s the last thing she needs.”

“Has a right to know what she is,” he insisted.

“We don’t even know what she is yet.  I’m not going to tell her that she’s not real.  Not unless I have to.”

“Be worse if she finds out on her own.”

Xander nudged him, signaling him to let it go and Spike subsided unwillingly.  It could wait for now.  Dawn didn’t have to know yet.  Better if Joyce knew first, so Little Bit could go to her mum for comfort.  But he wasn’t going to let it go indefinitely.  He’d tell Dawn if no one else did.

Not like it was that big a deal anyway.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Buffy was laughing as Xander entered the magic shop and he stopped in the doorway to watch for a moment.  It was the first time he’d seen her look relaxed since he’d told her about Dawn.  She was describing a vampire she’d staked on patrol last night to Tara, her eyes sparkling, gestures animated, as she told the story.  Tara looked like she was gamely trying to get into the spirit of the tale.

“Seriously, Tara.  This guy had the worst hair I’ve ever seen.  It wasn’t so much dred locks as a dirty mop on his head.  And his smell…”

Xander smiled at Tara sympathetically and left her to her fate, strolling over to join Giles at the round ‘study’ table that had been piled with books all week as Giles continued to try and find something that would shed light on the identity of the “demon woman” as Buffy referred to her.  Xander was just glad that Buffy told him Giles really had taken the week off in Los Angeles, not opening anything more serious than a novel the entire week.

“Still nothing?” Xander asked sympathetically.

“I’m afraid not,” Giles told him.

“Giles, I know you like to be prepared, and that’s good, but this time you’re trying to look up something we don't know the name of and know next to nothing about,” Xander pointed out.  “I’m just afraid you’re wasting your time.”

“I confess I am rather out of ideas.”  He gestured wearily at the piles of books.  “I don’t think there is anything in any of these that is going to help us.”

“Maybe she’s not in the books,” Tara said quietly from behind them.

Giles looked up.  “What do you mean?”

“I mean, what if she’s not a demon, or sorceress, or spirit, or whatever these books cover? What if she’s something else altogether?”

“Something new, you mean?” Giles asked, looking intrigued.

Tara shook her head.  “Something old.  So old it pre-dates the written word.”

“Giles, the Dagon sphere,” Buffy reminded him, having joined them at the table.  “You said that was created to repel -”

“That which cannot be named,” Giles finished for her.

Xander frowned.  “So, you’re saying that maybe she -” he stopped, not sure what he was trying to say.

“Predates language itself?”  Giles filled in his half-formed thought.  “If you’re right, Tara, then we’re blind.  There’s…, there’s no way we can determine her moves, her habits, where she’ll turn up next…  She could be anywhere.”

The troubled silence went on for what felt like a long time, and Xander wished there was something he could say to make Giles feel better.  Giles had always relied on research to give him the answers he needed to protect Buffy.  Now he looked helpless and almost frightened at the thought that his Slayer might soon be facing an adversary that Giles couldn’t prepare her for.

“What I want to know is why haven’t we heard from her?” Buffy asked.  “Most new big bads in town don’t lay low for this long.  It’s been - what?  Almost three weeks since she and Spike fought?”

“If she’s as powerful as Spike says, I imagine it won’t be long before she makes herself known, one way or another,” Giles told her gloomily.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ethan made a practice of sorting through the invoices kept neatly stacked under the cash register.  He liked to comment scathingly on the cost, worthlessness, etc. of the items sold in the shop that day.  Xander wasn’t sure exactly what that was about but he’d learned that Ethan always had a reason for the things he did - even if sometimes that reason was the pleasure of just being annoying.  Actually, now that he thought about it, Ethan was probably just confirming his low opinion of most of the Magic Box’s customers.  As an experienced warlock, Ethan had nothing but contempt for dabblers.

Now, however, Ethan was staring at a particular invoice, a look of something like alarm on his face.  “Ripper, old man.  You may have a bit of a problem here.”

“What is it now, Ethan?” Giles asked impatiently.  Ever since Buffy told him about Dawn, he’d been going through his books looking for information about the Key and checking out the entire list of possible Keys that Mr. Okolo had given them - all 27 of them - afraid to just accept the assumption that the Key the Knights of Byzantium were looking for was the right one.  He’d taken the news with his usual unflappable calm - not quite Spike blasé, but close.  Xander was grateful that he’d continued to treat Dawn the same as always:  like his Slayer’s younger sister, not something Hellmouthy and weird.  He was embarrassed to admit that Giles had done better than he himself had when he first found out.

“It appears that you sold someone a Khul's amulet and a Sobekian bloodstone.”

“Yes.  Yes, I believe I did,” Giles answered distractedly.  “I’m rather busy, Ethan.  Can’t it wait?”

“That depends.”

“Depends?” Xander asked, looking up from his own dry tome and closing it with an emphatic thump.  He was pretty sure the Key of Mhynindok wasn’t their Key.  Not when it was described as a physical object used to open the treasure vaults of the Mhyrtoshiin Clan.  Apparently, it was spelled so that only members of the royal family could touch it without being killed, or “incinerated by the wrath of the gods” as the book put it.

“On who he sold them to,” Ethan told him crisply.  “The two items together can create things that make Eyghon look like a Sunday school teacher.”  Giles flinched at the name and shot Ethan a harsh look.  Glancing between the two, Xander decided he was not going to ask about that particular reference.  

“Create?” Xander asked, not liking the sound of that.

“The Sobekites were an ancient Egyptian cult, heavy into dark magic, Xander,” Giles explained.  “They were able to use Khul’s amulet as a transmogrification conduit.  However, there is no reason for concern.  The Sobekian transmogrification spells were lost thousands of years ago.  And they required someone with enormous power to successfully incant the spells.”

“Enormous power such as might exist in, oh, say an unknown being of indeterminate, possibly ancient origins, able to kick a Master Vampire’s arse without breaking a sweat?” Ethan asked, raising a sardonic eyebrow.

“Oh, dear lord.”  Giles rose to his feet abruptly.  “I sold them to a young woman.”  He looked horrified.  

“Give the man a kewpie doll.”  Ethan’s satisfaction at Giles finally getting his point seemed to greatly outweigh his concern that they’d just given the enemy of the week something that could -

“So, what exactly can those things be used for?” Xander asked.

“Transmogrification spells change a living thing into something else,” Ethan supplied.  “Think Bambi becoming Godzilla,” he added helpfully when Xander still looked blank.

“There’s a wonderful image,” he muttered.

“Thanks, I rather liked it myself.”  

Xander ignored him.  “Why would someone want to do that?”

“For fun?” Ethan suggested.

“Someone other than you,” Xander said pointedly.

Giles made a helpless gesture.  “We need to know more about the Sobekian rites to answer that, I’m afraid.”  

Xander pushed his book aside, knowing they were going to have to shift focus.  “Where do we start?”

~~~~~~~

*A/N - Bits of dialog borrowed from the episodes ’No Place Like Home’ and ‘Shadow’


TBC
 
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