Surprise / Innocence, part III
A/N: Disclaimer, author’s notes, etc., are at the beginning of chapter 1; spoilers are through “Surprise” and “Innocence”.
School was okay, for the most part. With Willow’s bruise all gone, she had let him off the hook, even if he wasn’t sure she had really forgiven him. But they were back to being friends, even if she was kind of uncomfortable around him some of the time. But she wasn’t willing to get boyfriend-girlfriend again, and he didn’t know what to do about that. Considering he hadn’t wanted to do the boyfriend bit with her for like ten years, he probably deserved it. That didn’t mean it didn’t suck, but life in Sunnydale was pretty sucky all the time.
Joyce was always happy to have him drop by, because he was like the only guy friend that Buffy had, as far as Joyce knew. Okay, he was pretty much Buffy’s only guy friend as far as he
knew, unless you counted guys that Buffy was no longer dating but was still speaking to. Joyce was also really happy to have Willow drop by, because Willow was helping Buffy with schoolwork, and making Buffy’s GPA so much better, and watching lame movies with the Buffster, and sometimes even shopping with Buffy. Xander just had to be really careful not to give anything away about his parents drinking too much, or Willow’s parents not being home much, because Joyce was on this ‘good parenting’ thing. And when Joyce made him his very favorite cookies, it was pretty hard not to spill the beans. Man, the CIA should hire Joyce as an interrogator to break terrorists and stuff. ‘Come on dear, if you tell me the location of the bomb, I’ll let you have some of these delicious… wonderful-smelling… fresh from the oven… chocolate chip cookies!’ Terrorists would be selling out al Qaeda right and left, just to get care packages of cookies from Joyce.
The classes were going okay. He was really glad to be out of health class, what with bezoars and all. He just wished he didn’t have to take Phys. Ed. instead. P.E. was just an excuse for the bullies who were either sadistic teachers or else sadistic fellow students to pick on the less athletic, less physically mature, and less endowed. He was in way better shape than half a year ago, but he was getting picked on by everyone who still thought he’d saved Snyder’s hide. And even though he was still not bulked up like a football player, he had enough hair and enough muscle not to get harassed about his looks in the showers. No, the guys like Jonathan were the ones who got verbally abused in the locker room.
He started using Willow as his point man between classes, going ahead between classes and warning him when Snyder might pounce on him, in which case he made sure he was with a teacher so Snyder had to act like a human being. And it wasn’t like Snyder was good at the acting thing. No, he was good at the ‘creepy little troll’ thing and the evil ‘Xander persecuting’ thing. At least Willow was so busy being his bestest friend again that she was willing to play lookout for him, even when she had her own classes to get to.
And Xander was still working on swordsmanship, even if Buffy called it ‘swordswomanship’ in their lessons, while she was whacking the snot out of him. It totally wasn’t fair that Buffy could wield Giles’ biggest claymore one-handed and snap it around like it was an epee. The only good part was Giles made Buffy switch to twice a week lessons when he saw how many bruises Xander was getting. That meant that Xander did two more days a week of sword practice all by himself, just moving through the motions and practicing the drills and not getting beaten within an inch of his life in a training class. He was pretty happy with the getting better without getting pounded.
The only downside of Willow talking with him and being his bud again was she wanted him to help plan a surprise party for Buffy’s seventeenth birthday. Even after Buffy made it pretty clear she didn’t want a big birthday party. Was he just missing something important going on with that? Because he’d even spent a couple hours racking his brain for Xena memories about birthdays, and he hadn’t come up with anything useful. But he was pretty sure if he said ‘no big b-day party for the Xan-man’ he would have meant it and not wanted everyone sneaking around behind his back planning one.
And seriously, how did Cordelia go from ‘I hate you because you punched me while I was possessed by a baby bezoar’ to ‘coming to your surprise party and complaining about it’? And he was probably never going to find out if the weirdnesses of teenage girls were due to them being on a Hellmouth or not.
Okay, teenage boys were pretty darn weird, too. Pete was starting to treat Debbie like she was his personal property, and like maybe any other guy who even looked at her was engaging in Debbie-rustling. But Debbie seemed to like all the attention he was giving her, so maybe it was just another match made in Hellmouth. And Cameron was starting to growl at people who bugged him. Actual growling and hissing. Maybe Xander needed to warn some of the other swim team guys that Cam was likely to go postal on them in the showers or something. Or not, since maybe half of the swim team was being just as big a jerk as Cameron usually was.
So that was how he found himself sitting in the library in between Willow and Cordelia, who were arguing about Buffy’s surprise party. Cordelia complained, “Well, just because she’s Miss Save-The-World and everything, you have to make a big deal? I have to cook! And everything!”
Really? He asked, “You? Cooking?”
Willow said, “I’m the one who’s cooking. And baking. And frosting.”
Cordelia insisted, “I’m chips and dip girl.” Like that was impressive.
Xander did a big fake gasp. “Horrors! All that opening! And stirring!”
Cordelia agreed with him, like she had no sense of sarcasm. Or didn’t care what he thought, which was way more likely. “And shopping and carrying.”
Like Cordelia hated shopping. Or like she would be doing the carrying, when there were perfectly usable minions or boyfriends to carry anything heavier than a purse. Xander even doubted there would be stirring after the lids came off. And if she could get someone else to open everything, she would.
Why again was Cordelia even showing up at Buffy’s party? Maybe she was just trying to stay on the right side of the alpha predator of Sunnydale. Or maybe she was teaching Harmony and Aura some wacky lesson about who’s the Queen C around town. Or maybe she still had a concussion from the thing with the bezoar. He was pretty sure Cordelia wasn’t doing it because on Christmas Eve she had been visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, and she turned over a new leaf. Cordelia Chase would have sent the ghost of Marley home in tears. ‘Are you supposed to be scary? Please. I go to Sunnydale High! And those chains? Who picked out your wardrobe? Roger Corman?’
They walked into the library. Giles peered out into the hallway to see if someone with Slayer hearing might be around. He quietly asked Xander, “Is everything ready for the… ahem… party?”
“We’re at Defcon three, general,” Xander smarted off. He even threw in a salute just to be a pain. Okay, a bigger pain.
Giles twitched and whispered, “Here comes Buffy. Now remember, discretion is the better part of valor.”
Man, what was it with these Brits? Okay, he’d only met Giles and that jerkhead Ethan Rayne, but he’d heard Quentin Travers and Q-Tip’s secretaries. They were all long-winded and Masterpiece Theatre-y drama queens. Maybe it came from actually having dramas. And queens.
Okay, time to put Operation Disinformation into action! That just meant he was gonna be his usual dopey self, so Buffy wouldn’t suspect anything. He stepped over to where Buffy was walking in with Miss Calendar, and he said, “Hey Birthday Buffy! I feel… a pre-birthday spanking comin’ on…”
Naturally, Miss Calendar had to be teacherly. “Xander, I’d curb that impulse if I were you.”
Well, if you were me, you’d have to stop wearing the skirts and heels, for one thing. Not that he said that out loud. He got in enough trouble already, and Snyder was still stalking him like some sort of deranged miniature troll. Plus, Miss Calendar even believed him about his over-Christmas-break homework assignment in her class when he got an ‘A’ on it. Although that might have been because Willow told her how she’d made him re-do it three times. He still didn’t think the grade was worth all the aggravation and wasted time, but he hadn’t really had much else to do over break until Cousin Lily took her jerkface family home. Then he had to spend most of a week fixing his bed where his cousins had busted it, and fixing the walls where they had knocked holes in them, and fixing the two broken dresser drawers, and fixing the closet doors. His mom had just insisted they were all accidents, and his dad had just laughed that it was his own fault for being so dumb that he let those goons sleep in his room. Thanks for your support!
So, just because the Hellmouth was too quiet over Christmas this year, Buffy was starting to have Slayer dreams about Drusilla coming back and killing Angel. Or whatever the dreams actually meant, because Xander had decided half a year ago that these dreams and prophecies were just a way for the Powers That Be Creepy to mess with their side of the battle. What was the point of a dream so weird and vague that you couldn’t interpret it until it was too late? What was the point of a prophecy that was too vague to use, or too unhelpful? ‘Your Slayer’s gonna croak. The End.’ Thanks, guys!
Okay, so the prophecy hadn’t said she would stay dead, and he had remembered his CPR lessons. Take that, Powers That Be Jerks! In your faces! Assuming they had faces…
But it sounded like Drusilla was on the loose, and was going to be coming for Angel and destroying him. Or something like that. Or maybe it meant she was going to fix him some pork flambé. But what was the point of having the dream be in Buffy’s house? He really didn’t like the way that sounded. Not after Joyce had been so nice to him and Willow.
And then, even worse, he was going into a Latin class. Voluntarily. He’d say that he needed to have his head examined, but with Xena still lurking in the dark corners behind the spiderwebs, he pretty much needed not to have his head examined, because he didn’t want to get locked up in a nuthouse.
And Giles spent the whole period talking about English. Xander had to hand it to the man. The G-man knew his stuff. In under an hour, Giles covered all the parts of speech, diagramming sentences enough to know when a word was which part of speech, and how all that applied to Latin cases when you did declensions.
Ugh. There were a ton of different declensions, and nouns could be masculine or feminine or neuter, and the rules were just freaksome. If the noun ended in ‘a’ it was probably feminine unless it was an occupation, in which case it was probably masculine? Who made this weirdosity up? Okay, he was already cheating, because Xena remembered a lot of these nouns and adjectives, so that helped a ton.
But why was ‘mensa’ a table instead of a room full of smart people? Could it be a table full of smart people?
And why were tables feminine in Latin? Willow said that ‘table’ was masculine in Hebrew, so did the feminine tables in Rome have to go to Jerusalem to get a date? Did the tables that stayed behind in Rome have hot lesbian table sex? With lots of furniture polish?
At least the homework Giles assigned made sense. And Xander could get it done in the library. And if he asked the librarian for help, he didn’t get fussed at too much.
The next day was cranking up the freaksome, because Buffy was even more wigged out. A part of her dream already came true the night before. Not one of the bad parts, but a big part, where Joyce said a sentence and then a china plate got busted. But it all meant that Happy Birthday Buffy was about as happy as Root Canal Dentist’s Visit Buffy.
After Giles sent Buffy off to do normal stuff like classes and then going home for homework and dinner-type things, Xander watched Buffy’s sad retreating back.
Okay, Xander was looking at Buffy’s perky retreating tush, but he was going to claim he was watching her back. He was a teenaged boy. He had hormones! His eyeballs were completely out of his control. It wasn’t his fault! Much.
He said, “Well, that’s not a Happy Birthday Spanky Buffy.”
Willow sadly said, “And I really wanted to throw her a surprise party. I mean, I baked a cake! And I made Cordelia go buy chips and dip. And I bought these cute little party hats.” She sighed, “Well, you know Cordelia kept the receipts, so I’ll tell her the party’s off, and…”
Giles said, “No you won’t.”
Xander was so surprised his eyeballs completely forgot about Buffy’s perky parts, and they jumped over to stare at an old tweedy guy, which wasn’t nearly as much fun.
Giles added, “We shall still have that party tonight.”
Xander turned to Willow and pretended that he was whispering, but he made sure he was plenty loud enough for Giles to hear. “Wow, he looks like a stuffy tweedy guy, but he sounds different.”
And Willow actually played along! His Willow was back! Okay, maybe she was only partly back. But she definitely played along. She looked at Giles with a big frown, and she nodded eagerly at Xander’s words.
Giles pretended he hadn’t noticed them acting up. He staunchly said, “Buffy’s surprise party will go ahead as we planned. Except that I shall not be wearing the cute little party hat.”
Willow asked, “But Buffy… And Angel…”
Giles got all stuffy and British. “…May well be in danger… as they have been before, and, I imagine, will be again. But Buffy is turning seventeen, and she deserves an appropriate celebration.”
Xander led Willow out of the room. He couldn’t wait to tell Cordelia that she not only had to stir each tub of dip, she also had to open the bags of chips herself.
The best part of the party was Xander managed to get a good dinner at Willow’s house with Will, while he helped her frost the cake and slice up the fruit for the fruit plate. Because his Willow wasn’t going to have a party with nothing good for you. And Xander wasn’t exactly a great cook, but he could slice apples and oranges.
Okay, he stunk as a cook. He could follow directions and bake a pizza, and he had some Xena memories on how to hack up a wild boar for cooking over a fire. But that was about it. He didn’t think inventing the Captain Crunch sandwich counted as great cooking skills. Now the chocolate-dipped Twinkie… That might count as great chef-iness. Maybe he should ask Willow if she could help him test out the invention of the deep-fried Ho-ho.
They even took Willow’s car. Well, Willow’s dad’s car, which Willow had permission to drive, but she didn’t like driving it. She was always worried she’d get into an accident, or someone would bonk into it in a parking lot, or someone who didn’t like giant science-brain nerds would key it in the school parking lot. But it was going to be pretty tough to carry a really nice birthday cake and a big fruit platter and everything else if they were walking all that way.
And there was a lot of ‘everything else’ besides the party hats. Willow had party tablecloths for the tables, and party plates and party dinnerware and party hats and party noisemakers and party streamers. She had hair tape to put up the streamers so the tape wouldn’t peel the paint off the walls or anything. She had a breadknife and two spatulas to cut and serve the cake. She had three birthday presents to bring: one from her, one from Xander, and one from her mom, which said ‘Happy Birthday, Bunny’ on it.
Xander was pretty surprised Sheila had bothered to buy a birthday present for Buffy, when she couldn’t even remember Buffy’s first name. But Sheila had these tiny spurts of mom-ness once in a while when she was home. Privately, he thought it was guilt. Or maybe suddenly remembering she even had a daughter. Sheila probably bought a year’s worth of presents for Willow and some birthday gifts for Willow’s friends in one big shopping effort that probably took her a small part of one afternoon, and then had the stores wrap them, and just told Willow where the gifts were so Willow could dig them out when it was the right time of year. Xander’s mom wasn’t exactly Mother Of The Year material, but she tried. And she tried to be there for him, when she wasn’t drunk, or hurt, or buried underneath more problems caused by his dad, or having to work crappy hours to make money so they had food and a house and stuff. Willow’s folks? Just gone like ninety percent of the time.
Okay, that wasn’t fair. Willow’s dad was gone a hundred percent of the time, and Willow’s mom was gone eighty percent of the time. Willow deserved so much more than that. Willow deserved a mom like Joyce, who would be there for her, and tell her how great she was, and encourage her to be all that you could be, even if there wasn’t going to be any Army in Willow’s future. Although Joyce wasn’t going to be able to afford to send Buffy to a great college, and Ira and Sheila could afford any college on the planet, even some amazing university in Switzerland for the most genius college students on Earth, which would definitely be the kind of place where Willow would end up. He could totally see Willow going to Harvard or MIT or Oxford, where she would hang out with the other smartest people in the world and do important genius-people stuff… and never come back to Sunnydale.
He just kept telling himself that Willow deserved that kind of life. Not staying in Sunnydale and being afraid every night that demons or vampires might kill her and all her friends. Not dating a loser like Xander and knowing that Xander’s dad still thought of her as ‘that little kike who was too smart for her own good’. Not having to put up with Queen C and Larry and all the other school bullies who weren’t good enough to carry Willow’s bedpans for her. If it was Cordelia, Xander was rooting for a really overly full bedpan at that, and no gloves. And maybe Cordelia could sneeze really hard while carrying the full bedpan.
He and Willow had to unload all the stuff from the car, and then go hide the car like a block away, so Buffy wouldn’t see Ira’s car and figure out Willow was here with a ton of junk. And Giles had his car hidden over there too, because Buffy would definitely spot that. Letting everyone know just where to hide their cars and making sure Miss Calendar would drive in from a different direction so Buffy wouldn’t get a chance to spot anything? Definitely a Willow plan. Xander was pretty sure Willow printed off a map so Miss Calendar would drive exactly the route Willow wanted. And there was probably a timetable, and backup plans, and all kinds of stuff that Willow would worry about.
Giles suddenly perked up. “I believe that is Miss Calendar’s auto.”
Xander decided not to say anything about that, but if the G-man was hanging with Miss Calendar enough that he could recognize the sound of her car’s engine from half a block away, there was probably something pretty juicy going on there.
Willow hushed everyone. “Okay! Shh! Hide!”
Xander ducked down behind a big speaker system. He waited for a few seconds, and then he heard what was definitely a big fight going on out there. That wasn’t part of the Birthday Fun Surprise! Well, if it was, it was a part he hadn’t agreed to. He started to get up and go rush out to help, but a hand came up and grabbed him by his back pocket.
Willow tugged him down beside her and hissed, “Don’t ruin the surprise!”
He pointed at the noise outside, and made a ‘stake the bad vampire’ gesture, but Willow just shook her head no.
He was gonna say something dramatic and persuasive – assuming he had time to think of something drama-like and persuade-y – but the window exploded, and two figures came crashing through to smash into the floor hard enough to make him wince.
It was Buffy and a vamp. Duh. Why was it always vamps? Okay, it could also be demons. Or zombies. Or plenty of other creepiness.
It took Buffy about three seconds to kick the snot out of the vampire and stake it with a drumstick off the drum set on the stage.
Buffy stood there, fiercely glaring at the settling dust, and Cordelia jumped out from behind a chair, yelling, “Surprise!”
Honestly, why couldn’t a vampire eat her instead? It was probably all Buffy’s fault for being an equal-opportunity throat protector. Xander sought out Willow’s eyes, and he gave her an eye roll to show her what he thought of Cordelia’s smooth move over there.
Angel rushed over to Buffy and hugged her, worrying, “Are you okay?”
Amy walked over to Willow and grumbled, “It’s always the vampires. At least most of the demons in town have an IQ above room temperature.”
Willow said, “Didn’t your mom do something about the vampiness?”
Amy shrugged, “Oh sure. It was my mom’s mom’s mom, but yeah.”
Xander whispered to Willow, “Wait! Anti-vamp stuff? Is it a lotion, or a suppository?”
Willow gave him a little pretend smack on the arm. “No, it’s nothing like that. I think it’s her fence at her house.”
Xander just remembered some totally creepy faces stamped in the metal for the fence around Amy’s house, and a door knocker that he was going to make with the not-touchies if he ever had to go over to Amy’s house again. But that fence was creepy enough to scare away pretty much anything, not just vampires, if you asked him.
Meanwhile, Giles and Buffy were over on the other side of the room talking Slayer-Watcher business, and Buffy giving Angel a big hug, like he did any of the stuff for the surprise party.
Miss Calendar came in, lugging a big box. Xander whispered to Willow, “So how come she’s got to show off with a huge present?”
Willow whispered back, “Stop it! Her present is that little gift-wrapped book next to Giles’ present.”
Jenny griped to Giles, “Those creeps left this behind.”
Xander instantly looked over. Because he didn’t think vamps were likely to leave Buffy a birthday present. Unless it was a keg of gunpowder with one of those cartoon burning fuses.
Buffy flipped open the release on the box and looked in.
A massive blue armor-clad arm snapped up from the box and grabbed Buffy by the throat.