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
Spike leaned against the fireplace, arms crossed over his chest, watching sardonically as the women clustered around the little redhead exclaiming over her hair, her clothes, her presence in Sunnydale. Even Xander and Rupert were joining in the welcome fest, neither of the two looking like they had any concern over the timing of this surprise visit as they enveloped the witch in hugs.
Spike cocked his head and considered the group as the initial flurry of welcome died down and people began to sit down and talk one at a time. Far as he could tell, none of them had been aware of the witch’s intent to return. Not the Watcher, who must have seen her when he contacted the coven while he was in England. Not the Slayer, who was in frequent email contact with her. Not Glinda, who talked to her daily through various means. Certainly not the rest of them.
The witch and Glinda were just taking seats together on the couch, their entwined fingers almost hidden by the fabric of their skirts. Xander came to stand beside Spike, giving him a questioning look, as their shoulders brushed. “You ok?” he asked, too quietly for the others to hear. Spike gave him a small nod, but didn’t take his eyes off the witch.
“Willow, why are you here?” Buffy held up her hands. “Not that it isn’t great to see you, but shouldn’t you be in school? Kind of a long commute from here to Oxford.”
“You didn’t think I’d let you have an apocalypse without me?” Willow said, obviously only half joking. “When I heard what you guys were facing, I wanted to be here. To see if I could help.”
“Ok, Spike. What’s wrong?”
Spike slid a sideways glance at his boy as they walked back towards the apartment. To his relief, the party had broken up shortly after the witch’s arrival. Apparently, she’d come straight from the airport and, human-like, started showing signs of fatigue almost immediately. “Don’t trust the witch,” he said flatly. “Don’t trust her around you, don’t trust her around Dawn.”
“Spike, she’s not going to hurt anyone, especially Dawn.”
“Her timing’s bloody convenient.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? She’s here because of Glory.”
“Uh huh. Because of Glory. Not because she’s heard we’ve got a powerful magical artifact stashed?” he said skeptically.
“Powerful…?” Xander began, then stopped in his tracks, turning to stare at Spike. “No. Spike, no. She wouldn’t do that.”
“She’s a witch,” he said flatly. “Power’s what she’s all about, Xander.”
“Tara’s a witch. You trust her.”
“Call her Glinda for a reason,” Spike told him. “Girl’s so kindhearted, she’s a bloody freak of nature. Nothing like Red.”
“Not all witches are power hungry. Maggie isn’t,” Xander said, with the faintly triumphant air of someone playing a trump card.
Spike made a noncommittal sound. “Maybe,” he allowed. “Didn’t stop her from manipulating us last year.”
“She explained about that and apologized,” Xander reminded him. “The coven doesn’t usually work with others and they handled it badly.”
“So what’s Red doin’ here ‘working with others’.”
Xander smiled at him in the way that Spike hated. It was his ‘humoring the paranoid vampire’ smile. Just because Xander was too trusting and didn’t think enough about the danger that surrounded him, he thought Spike was paranoid. Spike scowled at him. Which didn’t do any good, as Xander’s smile broadened and, even in the dark, Spike could see the laughter in his eyes.
“Willow’s not part of the Coven, so she doesn’t have to follow their no interference rules,” he said patiently. “And Sunnydale is her home. Of course she’s worried when things have gotten bad enough for Buffy to quit school and move back home.” He slid an arm around Spike’s waist and started walking again. “Don’t worry so much. She did fine with the spell against Adam.”
“Had half the Coven here keepin’ an eye on her then,” Spike pointed out.
“And she’s had another nine months or so since then without abusing magic,” Xander countered. “Plus, I think Tara’s been good for her.”
Silently, Spike agreed with that assessment. Glinda wouldn’t put up with any crap from the witch, that was for sure. There was a core of steel behind the gentle exterior in that one. “Just as long as Buffy doesn’t lose her head and tell her about Dawn,” was all he said.
“It’s Buffy’s call on whether to tell her, not ours.”
“Should be Dawn’s,” Spike grumped.
“I agree, but do you honestly think Dawn wouldn’t agree to tell Willow? Anyway, I’m hoping that Willow and Tara together can maybe come up with some spells that will work on Glory. Either that, or some way to magically protect Dawn from her.”
“Wouldn’t mind if Red came up with something that blows Glory’s head off,” Spike conceded.
“Great image,” Xander said wryly, making a face.
It was a pleasant image. As they continued walking through the quiet streets, Spike pictured Glory being shredded to bits, both magically and by more hands-on methods. A vampire could dream, couldn’t he?
He’d keep an eye on the little redhead himself. Long as she kept her mojo away from Xander and didn’t spend too much time with Dawn, he was willing to see if she could come up with anything that might help them against Glory.
Xander followed Buffy, Willow and Tara inside the Bronze, nearly bumping into Willow as she stopped abruptly inside the door, looking around with shining eyes at the familiar sights, sounds, and scents of the club.
“Aren’t there any good hangouts near Oxford?” he asked, loudly enough to be heard over the band.
“Yes, but this is home,” she called back over her shoulder, and let Tara lead her to an empty table.
It was just the four of them at Willow’s welcome back celebration. Spike had refused to have any part in welcoming Willow back to Sunnydale and the fact that they were meeting at the Bronze just made the vampire even more adamant that he wasn’t going. Xander was pleased that Buffy and Tara had automatically assumed that Spike was invited but suspected it was just as well that the vampire hadn’t want to come. Given that Willow and Spike both disliked and distrusted each other, Xander preferred to keep them apart whenever possible.
Buffy and Xander went to get drinks for them all, jostling for position at the crowded bar.
Someone stumbled into Buffy just as she was handed her drinks and Slayer reflexes weren’t enough to stop her from spilling half the glass.
“I’m so sorry. I’m not usually that clumsy. Except, you know, in crowds, and anywhere else people can see me,” the dark-haired man apologized.
“No harm done,” Buffy said, smiling at the man. “I’m pretty sure the floor’s been spilled on before.”
“Don’t I know you?”
“I don’t think so…” Buffy shook her head.
Oh crap. Xander suddenly realized where they’d seen the man before.
“At the hospital,” the man suddenly exclaimed. “You were with the professor examining the bodies.” He stuck out his hand. “We didn’t get a chance to be introduced, I’m Ben.”
“I’m Buffy. And this is Xander.”
“Hi,” Xander said, lifting a hand in a half-hearted greeting.
“I barely recognized you without your hospital scrubs,” Buffy told him brightly, gesturing at Ben’s slacks and dress shirt.
“You’d be surprised at the extent of my wardrobe.”
“I actually have entire outfits that aren’t blue pajamas.”
This was not good. The two of them were settling into serious flirtation. Had Buffy forgotten that they’d been passing themselves off - badly - as biologists during their little outing to the hospital loony bin?
“Buffy, Tara and Willow are waiting for us,” he said, hoping he sounded casual and not desperate.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hold you up,” Ben said to both of them. “Can I buy you a replacement for your beer?” he asked Buffy with a charming smile that Xander was already tiring of.
Buffy started to decline but Ben didn’t give her a chance. “Please, or I’ll feel guilty for having deprived you of half your drink.”
Xander rolled his eyes as Buffy accepted. She barely took her own eyes off Ben as she handed Xander the three drinks for himself, Willow and Tara, telling him she’d catch up with him in a minute.
Giving in to the inevitable, he took the glass and left. Hopefully Ben wouldn’t ask too many questions about Buffy’s biology background. Or her hobby of investigating corpses.
Buffy was on the dance floor with Ben, and Tara was at the bar getting another round of drinks. Which left Xander and Willow alone for the first time since she’d arrived back in town. Willow was looking around the Bronze, a nostalgic smile on her lips. Xander hated to interrupt her thoughts but he was curious.
“Willow, why didn’t you tell anyone you were coming?” he asked.
Willow turned back to face him. “I should have, I know. I was worried about you guys and I was afraid you would talk me out of coming back.”
“All of you,” she said with a little smile. “I really didn’t want to drop out, mostly because I love my classes and I love Oxford, but also because of my parents. I think I was still in pre-school when I learned that quitting school was just about the worst thing I could do. I mean, you know my mom, she’d say things like: ‘underachieving’ and ‘failing to reach potential’, not negative terms hard on the self-esteem like ‘quitter’ and ‘loser’, but still, it felt really weird to even think about dropping out and I so wasn’t able to talk about it in any kind of rational way, and I’m sorry, I got a little side-tracked there.”
“A little,” he agreed. It was comforting to know that some things hadn’t changed. Willow could still ramble on with the best of them.
“I was afraid you guys would talk me out of coming, so I just came.” She shook her head, looking sheepish. “So dumb. Because now that I’m here, I find out that I may have jumped the gun a bit. With Buffy quitting school and all, I kind of thought the apocalypse was a bit closer than it’s turned out to be.” She smiled at Tara who arrived back at their table just then. “Still, it’s nice being back. And hey, party not battle, so I guess that’s good.”
Buffy came back to the table, flushed and happy and looking the tiniest bit apologetic. “Will, I’m sorry. It’s your party and I didn’t mean to abandon you.”
Willow smiled at her cheerfully. “I’m feeling very un-abandoned,” she said. “Who’s the cutie?”
Buffy glanced back over her shoulder at Ben, who smiled and gave her a little wave from the corner where he’d joined a group of friends. “That’s Ben. He’s an intern at Sunnydale General.” She looked back and smiled impishly at Willow. “He is cute, isn’t he?”
Xander rolled his eyes. “Buffy, you do remember that we told this guy we were some kind of biologists, right?”
“What?” Willow looked at him in confusion.
“Don’t ask. Long story. But still, kind of a problem because, I don’t know about you, but one question about chemistry and he’s going to know I don’t know anything about it other than how to set a bomb to blow up a school.”
Buffy looked singularly untroubled. “Xander, don’t worry about it. He didn’t ask me a single question about that night. It was just one dance.” She smiled that giggly, girlish smile again. “But he is cute, isn’t he?”
“Very,” Willow assured her. “So, there’s sparkage?”
“Maybe a little,” she admitted. “But I told him that you had just gotten back to town and tonight was your night.”
Willow looked upset. “Buffy, you didn’t have to do that.”
“I wanted to,” Buffy assured her, then her eyes crinkled in a mischievous smile. “Besides, he asked for my phone number.” She lifted her glass. “Welcome back, Willow.”
Tara echoed the sentiment and Xander lifted his own glass in salute to Willow, who beamed back at them happily.
Swallowing the last of his beer, he thought to himself that it was nice to see Buffy so lighthearted again. Since Glory first showed in town, there hadn’t been much time off, especially for Buffy and very little in the way of carefree fun. And it was good to see her interested in a guy, even casually. She’d taken Riley’s leaving hard and she hadn’t seemed interested at all in dating since he left. Ben seemed like an ok guy. How bad could he be, working at a hospital and all?
Oh, who was he kidding? A guy Buffy was attracted to? Based on her track record, they should probably just start investigating Ben right now and get it over with.
Spike stirred as Xander moved out from under his arm, leaning across the bed and slapping the alarm clock off. He let out a protesting sound, even as he stretched and sat up. “Gotta go to work,” he said around a yawn.
Spike didn’t make one of his typical complaints about the hour or the fact that Xander was leaving. Instead, he asked: “Get anythin’ useful out of the little witch last night?”
Xander shook his head in disbelief. Only Spike would assume a welcome home party included interrogations. “Yes,” he admitted. “You were right all along, Spike. She’s planning on taking over the world and Glory is just her puppet. She’s convinced Buffy to go along with her evil plan, so we’re all doomed.” He leaned down to kiss Spike. “Happy?”
“Ecstatic. Can I kill her now?”
“Sorry. Can’t let you.” Xander smirked, unable to resist. “Besides, we have a real problem.”
Spike opened one eye blearily. “What?”
“Buffy’s got a new boyfriend.”
“Oh bloody hell.”
Xander laughed as Spike pulled a pillow firmly over his face.
Willow spent the morning going to classes with Tara and the afternoon at the Magic Box, oohing and ahhing over the shop, the training room, and everything that she’d only heard about until now.
“Giles, this is great! I mean, I’ve pictured it in my head, but this is so much better than I imagined.”
“Well, it-it suits the purpose,” Giles said, obviously pleased. “Xander was an enormous help with setting it up, and Tara, of course, has been invaluable as my assistant.”
Tara blushed, smiling at him gratefully.
“Oh, please. If this gets any more sickeningly sweet, I’m going to have to leave.” Ethan’s voice drifted down from the book loft.
Willow looked up, a frown crossing her face, then glanced at Giles and bit back what she had been about to say. Xander spoke up to fill the awkward silence.
“Don’t worry about Ethan,” he told Willow. “It’s just that he’s not happy unless he’s annoying someone.”
“Is it working?”
“Sorry, Ethan, we’re still all sweetness and light. Keep trying.” Xander grinned at Willow. “Nothing makes him crazier than to think he’s not getting to you,” he said in a tone he knew perfectly well was just loud enough to carry up to the book loft.
“Think of him as a male version of Cordelia,” Buffy told Willow, smiling at Giles.
“Heaven forbid,” Giles muttered.
“Anyway,” Buffy continued, abandoning the subject. “Did I tell you? There’s a Spring Break party at my old dorm tomorrow. What do you say?”
“Shouldn’t we be researching, hitting the books, working on the whole stopping Glory thing?” Willow asked hesitantly.
“Actually, we’ve pretty much tapped out my books,” Giles admitted. “Unless you can come up with something in the magical texts, I’m afraid we’re at a dead end.”
“And what you’ll need after a hard day of research is a party,” Buffy pointed out.
The dorm’s common area had been transformed into a facsimile of a Hawaiian beach, with tiki torches, paper leis and folding beach chairs. Dipping a glass full of punch out of the giant clamshell serving as a punch bowl, Xander looked around in bemusement at the plethora of Hawaiian shirts, some of which he was convinced he’d once owned, before he’d gotten rid of all his tacky bright-colored clothes and learned how to dress better. Who knew his old clothes would have a second life at college parties?
Buffy was circulating, chatting with her former dorm-mates, obviously pleased that they had missed her. Willow and Tara were dancing together and Xander had spent the time talking with a couple of people he knew from Buffy’s old dorm. The one bad thing about having Willow back in town was that his life was being divided into separate groups again.
Which was as much Spike’s fault as Willow’s, but still… It would have been fun if Spike had come to the party. He could almost hear his lover’s sarcastic voice in his ear, commenting on everything from the music to the people doing the limbo.
Willow and Tara were threading their way towards him from the dance floor and Xander broke off his conversation with Eddie, moving to intercept them.
“I heard that Warren was here. Is Warren here?”
Xander blinked down in surprise at the woman who’d spoken and now stood blocking his way and smiling up at him hopefully. “Um, Warren who?” he asked.
“He’s… Warren. And he’s looking for me. He lost me,” she said. She turned precisely and moved off. Xander stared after her, seeing her approach another group and ask the same question.
“It’s that girl again,” Tara said, arriving at his side. “Is she still looking for Warren? Willow and I saw her earlier today. It’s weird, she’s been looking for him all day.”
“There’s something strange about her,” Willow agreed.
Xander couldn’t agree more, finding himself almost hypnotized as he watched the woman methodically work her way through the crowd.
The woman was sort of creepily perfect. Perfectly smooth hair, gleamingly white teeth in her over-broad smile. Yeah, she had the kind of figure people drooled over, but there was something almost…mechanical about her. The way she moved, the way she spoke, the preciseness of her gestures, somehow they were all just subtly off somehow, even if he couldn’t have said why.
He opened his mouth to comment, then just found himself staring slack jawed as the woman picked up a big guy wearing a purple and green Hawaiian shirt and hold him over her head as easily as if he weighed nothing. The room went quiet as people stared in shock and her voice was clearly audible over the music. “That would be wrong. You are not my boyfriend!” she said, then tossed the man through the windows as casually as if he had been one of the beach balls scattered around the room.
Xander set down his drink and pushed his way through the motionless crowd of shocked partygoers, reaching the shattered window and looking out. To his relief, he saw the guy climbing slowly to his feet. His face was cut from the broken glass, but he didn’t appear to be seriously hurt, turning to stare back inside at the woman.
“Jesus, bitch! You threw me through the window.”
“You do not make those suggestions to me,” she scolded him. I have a boyfriend. Warren is my boyfriend.”
“You know what? Fuck you and your Warren.” The guy stalked off, limping slightly and Xander couldn’t help smiling. Good choice. No way was that guy going to be able to recover from the assault to his manhood and rejoin the party. Tactical retreat was the only way to handle the situation.
The woman turned to face the staring crowd. “No one but Warren can touch me.”
There seemed to be a general consensus that the crazy woman should be left alone. Xander was relieved to see the crowd - especially the men, he noted in amusement - back away from her.
Except Buffy, of course, who had moved to block the woman from leaving.
“Excuse me. Hi. Um, maybe you and I could talk. You know, 'cause, throwing Brad through a window.., ok, I know he’s like a huge jerk once he has his third beer, but you know, generally speaking…” she began.
The woman interrupted her. “Do you know my boyfriend?”
Buffy frowned. “Okay. I think you need to take a second and stop looking for your boyfriend.”
Before anyone could blink, the woman grabbed her and threw her backwards, sending her sailing across the room to crash against the wall. Which definitely clinched the, not quite human status of the weird girl.
The woman looked down at Buffy, who was lying on the floor, holding her left shoulder. “I have to find him. If I hurt you just now, I’m sorry. And I hope that your boyfriend will take good care of you.”
Buffy had the sense to stay down as the woman simply turned and walked off, the crowd moving away from her to leave a clear space for her exit.
They gathered in the second floor tv lounge, Buffy pacing and rubbing her shoulder but assuring them she wasn’t seriously hurt. She was still rubbing at her shoulder and wincing slightly, but seemed to be able to move her arm.
“I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve had it with super-strong little women who aren’t me,” she complained.
Xander looked at Willow and Tara helplessly. There didn’t seem to be much to say to that. ‘Sorry you got your ass kicked by something else that looks just like a Slayer’ was probably not going to go over well. Fortunately, Buffy kept talking.
“So, what do you guys think she is? I mean, this may sound nuts, but I kinda got the impression that she was a…”
“Robot,” Tara said when Buffy hesitated.
Willow and Xander both nodded.
“Oh yeah, robot.”
“Yeah, I was gonna say robot,” Buffy agreed. “What do you think she wants?”
“Warren, whoever that is,” Tara said.
“It’s gotta be the guy that built her,” Xander said.
Willow tapped her fingers on the table, looking like she was already thinking of computer searches she could be running. “It’s an unusual name. There’s hardly any except ... Warren Beatty and, you know, President Harding. It-it’s probably not either of them,” she said, seeing the looks she was getting from everyone.
“Will, can you track down this guy with only a first name?” Buffy asked. She gave Willow a smile. “Have I mentioned how much we’ve missed your computer skills? And other things, of course. But Giles is just as hopeless as ever, and none of the rest of us are even half as good as you.”
Willow smiled, obviously pleased. “Thanks, it’s nice to be missed. To answer your question, given enough time, I might be able to. I can get a list of the Sunnydale students named Warren tonight, but ... then we’ll have to call them or go to their dorms, so we probably can’t start narrowing it down till tomorrow.
“She could do a lot of damage by then,” Buffy said, still rubbing at her shoulder absentmindedly.
“She was looking for this Warren guy, but it didn’t sound like she wanted to hurt him,” Xander said. “She said he’s her boyfriend. I mean, I feel bad for the guy who got thrown through the window and all, but he was drunk and obviously propositioned her. What are the chances of that happening again?”
He looked around at the circle of women looking back at him, all wearing identical looks of complete disillusionment. “Right. Men are evil. We should find her as soon as possible.”
“Darn tootin’ they’re evil,” Willow told him, giving him a mischievous smile.
“She’s got that sweet helpless look that men seem to go completely brainless over,” Buffy said. “Hopefully, she won’t have to defend herself too often. She kind of went a little overboard.”
“My laptop’s at Tara’s,” Willow said. “How about I meet you at the Magic Box in the morning with a list of suspects.”
“Sounds like a plan. I should head home anyway. Spike is babysitting Dawn and I should get home before mom gets back from her date.” Buffy got to her feet. “Spike said something about wanting to meet mom’s date. It didn’t sound pretty. I should be there to keep the violence down.” She looked at Xander. “Come with me? You can take Spike home. Otherwise, he’ll just lurk in the bushes until mom gets home with her date. And why go there?”
“Yeah, I’ll come ride herd on him, just in case your mom doesn’t want her date killed,” Xander said, shrugging into his coat.
Tara giggled. “He’s so cute when he gets all overprotective over Joyce.”
“Mom says Brian’s a really nice, normal guy. He’s not ready to meet Spike.” Buffy frowned, obviously remembering some of her mother’s other ‘nice, normal guys’. “We’ll save Spike until we see if there’s going to be a second date. They can meet when Brian’s thinking about getting handsy with mom.”
“Sure we can afford to wait until their second date?” Xander asked with a grin.
“Oh, please, they’re old. They won’t do anything but shake hands at the door,” Buffy said with complete confidence.
Willow was watching the exchange with startled eyes but didn’t say anything. Tara linked her arm with Willow’s and steered her towards the door, glancing back to give Xander a wink as she did.
He smiled. He wasn’t sure if Buffy had spoken as she had deliberately for Willow’s sake, but it sure looked like Tara was going to try and change Willow’s mind about Spike.
Xander was glad that she’d overheard the exchange. Willow had accepted that Spike was part of Xander’s life, but only reluctantly and she still had strong reservations - which she mostly kept to herself these days. It was good that she had a chance to see how thoroughly Buffy and Tara had accepted the vampire as an integral part of the group.
*A/N - Bits of dialog borrowed from the episodes ’Crush’ and ‘I Was Made to Love You’