Title: Nothing the Same
Warnings: explicit sex and violence
Feedback: yes, please
Concrit: any and all
Disclaimer: don't own them, never will, just playing with them
Spoilers: Anything from Season 1 on.
Summary: AU from The Harvest. Xander doesn't deal well with Jesse's death and everything changes from there.
Notes: Based on the plotbunny posted awhile back by wickedchocolate. I took the first part of the bunny only: Xander never got over Jesse’s death. After he dusted Jesse, he was never the same. Xander isolated himself from Willow and wanted nothing to do with Buffy.
previous parts here
Giles sat down tiredly in one of the library chairs after making his pronouncement and looked up at Xander, who just stood there, frozen. Giles had a tendency to blurt out things like that without any warning or preparation and then seemed to expect the rest of the world to just deal with what he’d said. Not quite: “Oh by the way, I thought I’d mention that the world will end in the fires of hell tomorrow” but close. Maybe if Xander had been part of the Slayer gang for the past year, he would be used to it by now but instead he felt rather like a fish that had accidentally jumped out of the tank and couldn’t figure out why it was having such a problem breathing. Great, the world was going to end and all he could think of was one of Willow’s goldfish, lying on the desk next to the tank, gasping for breath, looking absolutely bewildered at the unexpected change of its entire world. Xander had an awful feeling he looked like that himself right now.
“I’ve spent most of the last 24 hours researching and consulting with the Watchers’ Council in England and I’m afraid there is no doubt. An artifact that was recently unearthed just outside of town is the burial place of a demon called Acathla.”
Xander sat down in the chair next to Giles, forcing himself to stop thinking of crazy things like goldfish and instead concentrating on what the librarian was telling him.
“He was a demon called forth for a single purpose: to destroy the world. Last night, the museum curator was murdered and the stone containing Acathla was stolen. Angel is obviously the most likely suspect.”
No kidding. On the creating chaos front, Angel was certainly the number one villain in town.
“I’ve already talked to Buffy and Willow about this, earlier this morning, and I wanted you to be informed as well.” Giles took his glasses off and rubbed the bridge of his nose for a moment and Xander could see how tired he was. “Given the way the last meeting between the three of you went, I thought it best to speak to you alone. Buffy and Willow are at the museum seeing if they can learn anything there.”
It was obvious that Giles was working his way up to asking Xander to persuade Spike to help them. From what Xander had seen, Giles was intensely practical about Hellmouth stuff: he was willing to work with anyone who could help, regardless of who they were. He’d certainly had no problem with Spike patrolling for Buffy, unlike Buffy who’d had major hissy fits over the idea. The question was, would Spike be willing to work with Buffy & Co., given his anger over the re-souling idea. Xander thought Spike probably would. He’d been willing to work with them before to get help killing Angel. If the goal was once more killing Angel, rather than re-souling him, Spike should be ok with it again.
“How does this Acathla guy go about destroying the world?”
“Acathla will create a vortex, a kind of whirlpool between the Demon dimension and our own. Eventually, everything in this world will be pulled into that dimension where any non-demon life will suffer eternal torment.”
Xander wondered if he’s missed something crucial or if that made some kind of sense he just didn’t get. For now, he shelved questions about why anyone would want to shift an entire world into a different dimension in the first place because why seemed a lot less important than how and how do we stop it. Senseless or not, being sucked into a demon dimension didn’t sound like something that Xander wanted to experience.
Dimly, Xander recognized that his outwardly calm questions were a tissue thin defense against his being on the edge of a complete melt down at the idea of the world ending. It was so big he was having a hard time grasping the concept. Sure, last year there had been talk of the Master rising “ending the world” but he hadn’t really taken it that seriously then. At the time, he’d been too worried about Jesse and too freaked by the knowledge that vampires existed to really understand the seriousness of the situation until it was long over. Then too, an old, powerful vampire setting up shop in town was one thing: scary but still potentially something that could be dealt with and fought. The possibility of the entire world being sucked into what sounded like a literal hell was a whole other level of apocalyptic crises. If apocalypses had levels, hell sucking had to be right up there near the top.
Trying to keep the conversation limited to manageable chunks of information that he could deal with while in complete freak mode, Xander asked: “Ok, this may be a dumb question, but you said Acathla was buried. Doesn’t that mean he’s dead, or was he buried alive or something?”
“Neither, really,” Giles answered with a small amused quirk of his lips. “When he was first defeated in the 8th Century, Acathla turned to stone. He was sealed into a stone coffin and the body was buried in a location ‘where neither man nor demon would want to look’.” He was obviously quoting from something.
Xander raised his brows in surprise. “And California meets that definition?” he asked in disbelief, getting briefly sidetracked.
“It must have seemed so in the 8th Century.”
“Why is it these people have to do everything the hard way? Couldn’t they have just dumped him in the middle of the ocean?” Xander wasn’t even sure who “these people” were but he was plenty pissed at them anyway. If they were still around, they’d better have a damn good explanation for dumping their crazy, turned-to-stone demon in his backyard.
“Unfortunately they didn’t, so we have to deal with Acathla now.”
“How was he defeated before?” Right, back on track. Hey, it had been done once, surely it could be done again. After all, what did they have in the 8th Century they didn’t have now?
Giles reached for one of the open books piled haphazardly on the table. “‘A virtuous knight pierced the demon’s heart before he could draw breath to swallow the world,’” he read out loud.
“So, where’s a virtuous knight when you need one?” Xander asked rhetorically, hoping that virtuous knights weren’t something the 8th Century had in abundance that they didn‘t have today.
“I am hoping that Buffy will be able to fill that role, if necessary,” Giles answered.
Xander thought about saying something about Buffy’s “virtuous” qualifications. If that term wasn’t just a bit of hyperbole in Giles’ often way over-written books, they might be in serious trouble. Xander had the vague notion that virgins actually were a lot more common in the 8th Century than they were in the 20th. If you believed locker room talk, there sure weren’t many around Sunnydale. If that’s what “virtuous” meant in this situation, they were screwed on the Buffy front. Well, Buffy had been, anyway, so that might leave her out for slaying the demon.
Deciding it was safe for the moment to set that potential problem on the shelf next to the ‘why would anyone want to suck the entire world into hell’ question, he summarized crisply: “So, you want Spike to help Buffy stop Angel from waking Acathla in the first place, right?” Manageable chunks, he could do this.
“Yes. It would be best if Acathla was never revived, rather than to trying to stop him once he has been.”
“Agreed. How tough is it to wake him up?”
“There is a specific ritual that must be performed.” Giles gestured towards the piles of books on the table. “It took me a great deal of research to find any reference to the ritual. We can only hope Angel doesn’t have access to the same materials.”
“Are you guys planning on stopping Angel by killing him or by trying the re-souling spell?” Xander asked flatly.
Giles looked at him steadily. “I intend to stop him however I can. If the re-souling spell appears to have the most chance of success, I will indeed use it. However, I suspect that killing Angel is the safest option at this time. There are simply too many risks with an unknown, untried spell to use it except as a last resort.”
“Does Buffy agree with you?”
“I believe so.” With unusual candor, Giles explained: “Buffy is at her best in a crisis. With the end of the world at stake, she will no longer be able to delay the inevitable with Angel and continue to hope for a miracle. She must act and act quickly. I believe she will be able to do what is necessary.”
“Good, because Spike won’t help you re-soul Angel. He will help you kill him.”
“This Acathla, he in a bloody great stone with carved runes all over it?” Spike asked.
Xander had met Spike at the entrance to the tunnels in the back of the library just after sunset. He’d quickly explained the situation and asked if Spike was willing to talk to the group, preferably without killing anyone. Spike had looked thoughtful as Xander explained that Giles thought Angelus had the means to end the world.
Xander grimaced apologetically. “Sorry, I forgot to actually ask what it looked like, but probably.”
“Yeah, Angelus has it all right. We better go talk to the Watcher.”
They made their way forward through the stacks, Xander leading, a little worried about whether Spike would be able to maintain control around the people that wanted to re-soul Angel.
“So, Watcher, what’s all this about the rock Angelus has cluttering up his foyer?” Spike greeted them, going directly to the point.
Giles looked like his worst nightmare had just come true in 3D and surround sound. “Angel has Acathla?”
“Got something. Acathla come boxed up in a big square rock? Big stone figure with a sword sticking out of him?” Spike barely waited for Giles’ confirming nod. “Angelus hasn’t woken him yet but he’s giving it a good try.” Rapidly, Spike described what he’d seen last night at the mansion: Angelus throwing crockery at the wall in a snit after failing to complete some ritual.
Spike had gone to the mansion to check on the status of Angelus’ minions and to see if he could fine tune the tentative plan for storming the place that he and Xander had discussed. He’d spent well over an hour watching the grounds, trying to see if the minions on guard had any kind of regular patrol or post. Eventually he’d decided they didn’t, they appeared to be just randomly wandering the grounds. Spike had thrown a rock into the bushes on the other side of the yard to test their sharpness. They’d reacted instantly, checking the area thoroughly. Which proved they were alert to unexpected noises but unimaginative as they didn’t check anywhere else for the possibility the noise had been a diversion. All of which meant it would be difficult but not impossible to take them out without alerting the mansion. While still prowling around the perimeter of the grounds, Spike had seen a flare of white light coming from inside the mansion, followed by flickers of blue lightening sparking along the peak of the roof like St. Elmo’s fire. The guards had hesitated, talked briefly, then run inside the mansion - Angelus must have them thoroughly cowed.
In their absence, Spike had risked getting close enough to see what was going on inside. Fortunately, Angelus had been so distracted by his temper tantrum that he hadn’t noticed Spike watching from the windows. Angelus had been ranting to the assembled minions about how whatever he’d been trying to accomplish should have worked and vowing that he would keep trying until he got it right. Spike had slipped away at that point before he was seen.
The Watcher received the information with tight-lipped concern. “That means we still have time to stop Angelus but not much time. He obviously has some idea of what he’s doing even if he’s not getting the details right.”
“Angelus is pig-headed but not stupid,” Spike concurred. “If he’s decided to go through with this, he’ll keep trying until he gets it right.”
“Then we have to stop him,” Buffy said grimly.
Spike rolled his eyes. “Brilliant, Slayer. And here I was afraid no one would come up with a solution. Got anything to back that up or are you just pissing in the wind?”
“Haven’t seen you doing much about Angelus,” Buffy shot back at him.
Xander intervened, physically stepping between the two to break the glaring match. “Ok, how about we forget all that and move on to the ‘what do we do now’ portion of the evening?”
“How are we going to stop him?” Willow asked.
“Killing him works for me,” Spike answered pointedly.
Buffy winced and wouldn’t look at anyone, staring at the far wall like it contained the secrets of the universe. “I agree,” she said quietly.
“Ok, we’re all on the same page then.” Still in the role of mediator, Xander hurried on. “Anyone got any ideas on exactly how we do that?”
“If I went to the mansion and challenged him, would he come out and fight me?” Buffy turned back to the room and looked at Spike inquiringly.
“Yeah, him and every minion he’s got would. All with orders to wear you down while Angelus stands back and watches so he won’t have to break a sweat when he finally tackles you himself.” Spike looked exasperated. “This isn’t a bleedin’ romance novel. Angelus isn’t big on fair play. Not when treachery is so much more fun.”
“You’d know about that,” Buffy snarked and Spike just gave her his best “I’m evil” smirk.
“We don’t have to play fair either,” Xander said quietly. “Potentially, at least six of us can attack the mansion.”
“You, Spike, Giles, me, and Willow and Oz, if they’re willing.”
Willow found herself the focus of the entire group’s attention, which caused her to blush and drop the book she’d been looking at. “What?” she asked nervously.
“Willow?” Buffy asked incredulously. “Why would you put her at risk?”
“Only if she’s willing. She, Oz and I have been practicing with crossbows. We could back you and Spike up. Skill-wise, I’m assuming Giles falls somewhere between us and you two.” Xander looked inquiringly at Giles as he said it.
“That’s correct. Oz is the best shot of the three of you,” Xander and Willow both nodded in agreement, “but all three of you have become quite proficient with the crossbow. A similar strategy worked on the Master last year.”
“That’s right, heard you took out old bat-face.” Spike eyed the Watcher speculatively, reminding himself not to underestimate the man. He switched his gaze to Willow. “You up for it, Red?”
Willow and Buffy exchanged a long look, which had spike narrowing his eyes in suspicion. Willow looked nervous and Xander felt bad for suggesting she go into battle. He knew she helped Buffy out from the sidelines, not physically.
“It’s ok, Willow, it was just a thought,” he said, “no-one’s pushing you.”
“I’m just not sure I could actually help,” she said apologetically, looking down at her lap.
“What about the wolf?” Spike asked. Far as he was concerned, the more bodies there, the better. Every extra person had the potential to lessen the danger to Xander. Xander had mentioned his friend, Oz, and that he envied the other boy his skill with the crossbow.
Willow looked up sharply, her pinched expression expressing volumes about how she felt about Spike knowing that Oz was a werewolf but she didn’t say anything except, “He’s in LA.” After a pause, she added, “I can call him and see if he wants to be involved.”
Xander knew that would depend on how much Willow told Oz but he couldn’t really blame her for wanting to keep her boyfriend out of something like this. “So, four of us for sure,” he summed up.
“Willow can research ways to permanently destroy Acathla. Defeating Angelus will only alleviate the immediate threat. If it is possible, Acathla must be permanently destroyed.”
Willow nodded, looking relieved. “I can do that.”
Buffy looked pleased at that solution. “When should we attack?”
“Tomorrow, just before dawn,” Spike said. “Angelus will expect us to attack in the early evening, because you lot always do. By 4 a.m., you’re all tucked up in your beds and he knows it.”
Buffy pursed her lips, exchanging a glance with Willow. “That sounds reasonable.”
“You guys on the early shift should head for bed,” Willow suggested. “I’ll stay awhile and start researching ways to destroy Acathla permanently.” Xander noticed she didn’t mention calling Oz but didn’t say anything. If Willow wasn’t willing to involve Oz, Xander wasn’t going to go behind her back. He didn’t want to put Oz in danger either.
“I agree, you three should all go home and get some sleep.” Giles’ eyes flickered to Spike but he didn’t amend his statement to exclude the vampire. “Willow, if you will help me put these volumes away, I’ll show you the most relevant sources for you to begin your research.”
“So, we all meet… where? When?” Xander asked.
“Sunrise is at 6:00. I would suggest we meet here, at the school, at 5:30, gather weapons and head out.”
Everyone nodded and Xander felt a knot of anticipation curling in his gut. Anticipation, not fear. That’s what it was.