Nothing the Same, Book 2
Rating: PG13 - NC-17 Individual chapters will carry specific warnings.
WARNINGS: This chapter contains violence
Feedback & concrit: yes, please
Disclaimer: don't own them, never will, just playing with them
Spoilers: Anything from Season 1 on.
Summary: sequel to Nothing the Same.
Previous parts here
Buffy was sitting on the steps in front of the school when they arrived. She was playing with a stake, flipping it up so it spun around then catching it, and Spike snorted at the posturing. Hearing them coming, Buffy jumped to her feet and stood ready, the stake now clenched in one hand, down at her side but ready.
“Thought we were here to talk, Slayer,” Spike drawled. “Since when do you come to a sit-down with weapons drawn?”
“I told you last year I didn’t trust you, Spike. Nothing’s changed.”
“Spike isn’t the one who went into that last fight withholding information. I’d say he’s proved more trustworthy than you have.”
“Of course you’d say that. Willow tells me you two are dating now?” There was both scorn and disbelief in her voice which, considering her dating history, was a bit much.
“Anyone here who’s not had sex with a vampire, raise your hand.” Xander looked around facetiously. “Oh, look. No one’s hand is up. Guess we’re all equals here.”
“If you think for one minute that Spike and Angel are in any way the same…” she had just begun when Xander interrupted.
“They’re not the same. Spike isn’t the one who went on a killing spree,” he said heatedly, then forced himself to stop. “Sorry.” He held up both hands. “Just…sorry. Let’s not go there.” He shot Spike a look. “And you can stop grinning.”
“Havin’ fun, luv.” Spike said, unrepentantly. “Don’t stop on my account.”
“Yeah, well, let’s move on to the useful part of the evening. Assuming there’s going to be one.”
“You asked for the meeting, Slayer.”
“I just thought we should get a few things straight while you aren’t hiding behind my mother.”
Their exclamations sounded in tandem.
“What else would you call it? Ingratiating yourself with my mother the second my back is turned.”
“Your back was a little more than turned. Your back was in Splitsville, USA. Did you even think about what your mother was going through while you were gone?” Xander abandoned diplomacy at the unfair accusation.
“That’s none of your business.”
“The hell it isn’t our business. Unlike you, your mum’s a classy lady. Xander here kept her from going crazy worryin’ over you.”
“And your idea of the best way to reassure her was to tell her that every nightmare she’s ever had is true? That her daughter’s destiny is to fight for her life every night?”
“Your idea of the best way to keep her alive on a Hellmouth is to leave her in complete ignorance of even the most basic precautions?” Xander shot back.
“Not much of a Slayer if every fledge causes you to fight for your life,” Spike added with a smirk.
Buffy glared, her fist tightening on the stake which she half raised. “All I’m saying is stay the hell away from my mother. Both of you.”
“An’ I’m saying: piss off, Slayer. Visit your mum any time I like.”
“Not if you’re dust you won’t.”
Xander stepped between them before Spike could stop him and Buffy checked her movement as her target was suddenly shielded. “Both of you knock it off.” He waited until the tense readiness in both vampire and Slayer had eased off a fraction, grateful that neither wanted to kill him so he could stop them both from going too far. Directing his glare at Buffy, he said, with forced calm: “Buffy, you don’t have the right to decide for your mother. If she doesn’t want us around, she’s perfectly capable of telling us so.”
Buffy’s jaw set stubbornly but she looked away, tacitly ceding the point. Xander suspected that she had already had this argument with her mother and lost. He felt a pang of guilt that they were the cause of so much friction in Buffy’s homecoming. Of course, that pang was more than matched by the smug feeling that Mrs. Summers liked them enough to face down her daughter over the issue. “Is that the only thing you wanted to talk about?”
“No.” Buffy didn’t say anything for a long moment and Spike got impatient.
“Time’s wastin’, Slayer. I got things to do, even if you don’t.”
Her eyes snapped back to the vampire. “Things like killing people?”
Spike opened his mouth but stopped when Xander clamped a hand on his arm. “Spike hasn’t killed a human in nearly a year.”
Spike shot him a disgruntled look, not happy that his promise had just become public knowledge. “Always willin’ to make an exception for a Slayer,” he snarked.
“We’d be sweeping up your dust right now if I hadn’t promised my mother I wouldn’t stake you,” Buffy snapped back.
“Big talk from someone who couldn’t even kill her boyfriend.”
“Stop! Both of you. Jeez, you’re like a couple of five year olds.”
“That’s rich, coming from someone who’s trying to get back at me by sucking up to my mother and Giles.”
“Oh, for God’s sake, not that again. I’m friends with Giles and your mother because I like them. It has nothing to do with you. I like them in spite of you. Get over yourself already, you’re not that important to me.”
He sighed, struggling to get his anger under control. Why had he ever had the crazy notion that they could have a civilized conversation, hopefully with the end result being a mutual agreement to continue the truce? He should have brought Mrs. Summers and Giles to mediate at this meeting.
“Look, you guys had a truce last year. It wasn’t perfect, but you’re both still here and alive. Can we just agree that the truce should continue and then go home? ‘Cause I gotta say, this is not my definition of a good time.”
Spike and Buffy eyed each other mistrustfully.
“Fine.” Buffy was the first to agree. “You stay out of my way and I’ll let you live.”
“You don’t attack me and I won’t pull your arms off and beat you to death with them.”
“Great,” Xander said hastily. “We’re all agreed. Nobody attacks the other and we all live happily ever after. We’re done now. Bye.”
He tugged Spike away before either he or Buffy could say anything else. Separately, the two were both prickly by nature. Together, they were like a pair of wild dogs, snarling and snapping at each other with the ever present danger of a real fight developing.
“Not sure this truce is worth giving up my third Slayer,” Spike grumbled as they walked away.
“Hey, you said yourself that she wasn’t worth fighting. Maybe the next one will be more worthy of you,” Xander said reassuringly.
Maybe Senior year wouldn’t be so bad, Xander thought, as he checked the slip of paper with the locker combination for his newly assigned locker. Shifting the books he was carrying to one arm, he spun the lock to clear it and began dialing the combination. Seniors had a lot more freedom to choose which courses they took and since he wasn’t on a college-prep track, he didn’t have to take any more math classes. Plus, Seniors were allowed to have a study period with any faculty member willing to work with them and he’d set it up with Giles for an official study period they would use to continue his demon studies. It made Xander laugh when he thought about the rigidly proper Librarian he’d first met, who’d thought that the solution to Xander’s curiosity was to tell him to mind his own business. Was it Giles who’d changed or himself? Probably both, he thought, smiling again as his locker opened on the second try.
He’d signed up for wood shop as he’d planned, even though the class was generally considered to be a joke; a haven for jocks too dumb to pass regular courses. The shop had decent sets of both hand and power tools, so even if the rest of the class coasted along satisfied with creating one simple picture frame over the course of a semester in order to get their passing grades, Xander figured he could actually work there, practicing using the tools and seeing what he could do with them. He had a hodge-podge of other classes to fill out his schedule: English and Social Studies and the required California History class.
He’d just finished stowing his new books, including the demonology text he and Giles were working with this week, when a slender hand ran teasingly down his arm and a familiar voice said: “A man who can wear silk well in this haven of badly dressed fashion-victims. You must be new here. Well, it’s your lucky day. I have a free period and I can show you around.”
Actually, it was amazing he recognized the voice. The bright charm had never been aimed in his direction before. Xander bit back the laugh that was threatening to erupt and deepened his voice, trying to disguise it. He kept his face averted, pretending to be searching for something inside the locker as he answered.
“I don’t really need a guide. The layout seems pretty straightforward.”
“But you’ll miss some of the more interesting places without a knowledgeable guide. And that’s me.”
Xander couldn’t hold back his laugh any longer, not to mention that his attempt at portraying a sexy mystery man would be blown if he didn’t get his face out of the locker soon. Turning, he grinned at Cordelia. “Honestly, Cordy. It’s nice of you to offer but I’ve been getting around just fine for two years without your help.
“Xander?” He honestly didn’t think he rated that level of shock in her voice.
Cordelia stepped back but, to his surprise, didn’t immediately leave. She stood there, hands on her hips, deliberately checking him out. Wait - Cordelia Chase was checking him out? Damn, he must have missed the jump to the alternate dimension. “Well, I must say. For a hopeless loser, you’ve suddenly got potential.”
“Potential?” he echoed. She had to be messing with him but it sure wasn’t her usual way of messing with him.
Crossing her arms under her breasts, Cordy gave him a front seat view of why so many of the boys at school were willing to put up with her. She smiled triumphantly as she saw him scoping out two of her best assets. “Play your cards right and maybe I’ll let you buy me coffee,” she said, tossing her hair back and smiling the smile he’d thought she reserved exclusively for jocks.
“That’s really nice of you to offer - again - but I’m taken.”
“All this and dating too. Who’d have thought it?”
She sauntered away and Xander shook his head. Cordelia Chase had just flirted with him. Damn, Spike was right. He must look good in these clothes. Either that or Cordelia had been possessed over the summer. Naw, not possible. Anyone trying to possess Cordelia would have been sliced to pieces verbally and would have long since abandoned her body for easier prey. He was sticking with his alternate dimension theory. Could there possibly be an alternate dimension where Cordelia was tolerant of the poor and unattractive? He shook his head, hastily abandoning that thought before his brain seized up trying to fathom the incomprehensible idea.
“Giles! What is that?” Xander was barely inside the library and he was already practically gagging on the smell. It was Friday and he was so skipping their study session and leaving early unless there was a really good explanation for the smell. And a face mask.
“That is what I am trying to ascertain, Xander.” Giles looked like distaste had long since won out over interest. It had to suck being a Watcher at times.
“Can’t you ascertain without exhibit A? It smells like it died a week ago.”
“It probably did.”
Giles gestured towards a small cage set up on the central table. From what Xander could see, there was a really grubby cat inside but he sure wasn’t going closer to check it out.
“It appears to be a dead cat that has been reanimated.”
“That does seem to be the general consensus,” Giles sighed. Xander got the distinct impression he was not the first to comment negatively on the disgusting thing. “I assure you that as soon as I know what caused this phenomenon, I will dispose of the creature.”
“I would be grateful. Neither Buffy, Willow, or Oz were available, due to the dinner at Buffy’s house to celebrate her return.”
“If you promise to get rid of that thing first, I’m willing.” They both turned to regard the cat which glared balefully back at them, beginning to make a moaning kind of a growl that was half pathetic, half scary.
“Maybe we can put it in the basement,” Xander suggested.
After stashing the cat in the basement, Giles and Xander returned to the library. Giles turned down Xander’s offer to research alone so that Giles could go to Buffy’s welcome home dinner, saying that he expected it wouldn’t take long. He’d seen something at Buffy’s house when he’d gone there to pick up the cat that had looked vaguely familiar. Some kind of mask Mrs. Summers brought home from the gallery and he thought it might hold the key to whatever had caused the cat to be resurrected.
Xander made a quick call to Spike, smiling as he always did that Spike was willing to carry a cell phone so that he and Xander could get a hold of each other. Xander had broached the idea hesitantly the weekend before school, knowing how Spike felt about telephones. He’d been touched that Spike had actually been enthusiastic about the idea, although he’d tried to hide it behind false reluctance. It would help them keep in touch when they were apart. Given how fast problems could arise on the Hellmouth, it had seemed like a good idea.
He quickly briefed Spike on the situation and let him know he’d be at the library for awhile. Spike said he would meet Xander there shortly after dark. Disconnecting, Xander smiled again. Spike liked to walk him home after dark, especially when anything at all unusual was going on in town.
It only took a little over an hour for Giles to find what they were looking for. His low exclamation of triumph caused Xander to look up from the book he was reading, trying to find anything useful about how to destroy an already dead thing that wasn’t a vampire.
Giles looked worried. “It would appear that the mask in Joyce’s room holds the power of a zombie demon, called Ovu Mobani-- the Evil Eye.”
“That doesn’t sound good.”
“No, it’s not. As we have seen, the mask has the power to raise the dead.”
“And since dead cats are in such demand, I take it that it’s power isn’t limited to animals?”
“No. I suspect the proximity of the dead cat, which Buffy said they found in their basement, awakened the mask.”
That made sense, otherwise they would have been knee deep in resurrected dead things already, given the number of cemeteries in town. “What is Mrs. Summers doing with something like that?”
“She thought it was interesting.” Giles’ sounded exasperated and Xander looked at him in surprise. “Apparently, she brought it home from the gallery to decorate the house. So unbelievably careless.”
“Well, it’s not like she knew what it was,” Xander said reasonably.
“Art dealers should know enough to research the provenance of the artifacts they import. Joyce seems to know nothing about it beyond the fact that it’s from Nigeria. But that is beside the point. We need to destroy the mask immediately. Now that it is active, it will be calling zombies to it. If one of the zombies puts the mask on, they become the demon incarnate.”
“Perfect.” Spike’s voice at the top of the stairs made them turn. “Zombies, eh? Disgusting things and bloody hard to kill.”
“And I’m afraid we may be facing rather a large number of them in fairly short order. According to the book, the mask has a formidable range.”
“Wonderful. So, anythin’ that’s freshly dead enough to still be in one piece is going to be converging on Joyce’s house?” It was obvious Spike had been listening for long enough to grasp the gist of the problem.
“That about sums it up, I’m afraid.”
“Never have liked zombies. Nasty, putrid things. They aren’t natural.”
Giles stared. “And vampires are?”
“’Course we are,” Spike answered, sounded affronted. “Don’t see vampires wandering around dropping rotting bits of themselves off where people can trip over them, do you? Vampires are stronger, faster and better healers than humans. Zombies are only stronger. They don’t heal when you injure them and they can’t think their way out of…well, out of the grave, now can they? Without the zombie demon controlling them, they’d just lay there in their coffins ‘til they rotted. Not like vampires. We get up and out on our own.”
“Thrilling as this little compare and contrast session is, maybe we should call the house and warn them.”
“Quite right.” Giles looked mildly embarrassed at having gotten caught up in Spike’s opinion of zombies versus vampires. He hurriedly crossed the room to his office and picked up the phone. Xander slid the book Giles had shown him over to Spike, who quickly scanned the short entry.
Dammit!” They both looked up as Giles slammed the phone down. “There’s no answer.”
Xander rose to his feet in alarm. “They should be there.”
“I quite agree.”
Giles strode to the book cage and opened it quickly. Stepping inside, he continued. “The zombies will be irresistibly drawn to the mask which, unfortunately, is hanging on the wall in Joyce’s bedroom.” He emerged from the cage, holding several axes. “Are you two willing to help? If one of the zombies gets their hands on the mask, all hell will break loose.”
“Yeah, mate. Toss me an axe.” Giles did and Spike effortlessly fielded it, giving it a quick spin to test the balance. Giles handed a second axe to Xander who took it hesitantly, not liking the idea of using an axe on people, even already dead ones. Spike saw his queasiness.
“Xander, you can’t be delicate with zombies. Only way to stop them is to chop them to pieces so they can’t come after you. Can’t kill them because they’re already dead. Chopping their heads off just means you have a headless body stumbling around getting in your way. So aim for the legs and the arms.”
Xander felt sick but nodded his understanding. Mrs. Summers, Willow and Oz were all at the house. If zombies arrived en mass, they would overwhelm Buffy. The other three would try to help but Willow and Oz were only skilled with crossbows and those wouldn’t do them any good against zombies, from what Spike had just said.
“Right. Let’s go.”
They burst through the door - or they would have if someone hadn’t beaten them to it. Instead they burst through the splintered pieces of the jamb where the door should have been, throwing themselves into the melee. Xander set grimly to work with the ax, concentrating on trying to immobilize the zombies nearest to him. Giles had explained on the drive over as he weaved his small car through an obstacle course of staggering dead things all heading in the same direction that, once the mask was destroyed, the zombies would return to being nothing more than corpses.
It was ugly, disgusting work, almost like chopping moving, struggling logs. These things weren’t vampires or humans, they were grotesque parodies of both: rotting flesh summoned unwillingly from the grave. Xander had no further qualms about stopping them, there was no way anyone would ever want to be one of these things. If they had any awareness of themselves at all, he couldn’t imagine they wouldn’t be grateful for being sent back to the peace of the grave. They were clearly almost mindless; just dead flesh controlled by the zombie demon. Which meant they weren’t exactly skilled fighters, relying on numbers and sheer mass to pull people down.
Swinging his ax, Xander gritted his teeth and forced himself to ignore the smells and the gore and the revulsion he felt as the blade cleaved through flesh and severed limbs. Spike and Giles were right there, their own blades leaving body parts strewn in their wake as they pushed through the mass of zombies trying to reach the stairs. Giles had said the mask was upstairs and the zombies appeared to be headed in that direction, possessing barely enough sense of self-preservation to turn to face the people attacking them from behind with sharp objects.
Spike wasn’t showing any of his usual glee for battle. His face was…businesslike, as his blade rose again and again with the nearly tireless strength of a vampire. Giles was transformed, his ruthless streak apparent as he fought his way savagely through the massed bodies, determined to reach his Slayer.
They made it to the staircase and Spike fell back a step to guard their rear from the zombies trying to climb up behind them. Xander and Giles took point, clearing the stairs ahead of them through the simple expedient of pushing the things over the railing. Hands clawed at their legs through the railings as they struggled their way upwards and Xander was terrified of losing his balance and falling in the midst of the dead flesh all around them.
Finally, reaching the top of the staircase, they could see that the bedroom door had been broken open and hear the sound of fighting from inside the room. The few zombies in the hall ignored them, intent on pushing their way into the bedroom. Giles threw himself recklessly after them, yelling for Buffy. “Buffy, destroy the mask! It controls them. You must destroy the mask!”
Somehow, he forced his way through the packed bodies, disappearing through the bedroom door, a half stride ahead of Xander, who grimly followed him through the small gap that Giles had wedged his way through. Using his axe to clear the way, Xander followed him inside and found himself in bedlam. The room was a seething mass of bodies, struggling and fighting with each other indiscriminately. Xander tried to use his axe, but there were too many bodies, the quarters too tight to use it effectively. Shifting his grip, he used it as a battering ram, trying to shove the bodies away from himself. Hands clawed at him and the smell of rotting flesh almost overwhelmed him. He found he was yelling wordlessly, a defiant scream in the face of horror as he struggled to remain upright and to continue fighting.
Above the yammering of the dead people surrounding him, Xander heard Giles’ voice, shouting triumphantly even as he heard the crash of an axe burying itself in wood and plaster. There was a blinding flash of light and the zombies he’d been pushing against stopped grabbing and clawing at him and Xander stumbled forward to his knees at the unexpected lack of resistance.
Ears ringing in the sudden, deafening silence, Xander blinked rapidly until his vision cleared, hearing only a harsh panting that he gradually became aware was his own ragged breath. The room was empty except for Giles leaning tiredly against the wall and Buffy in the corner with a baseball bat, her back against another door.
Numb, Xander looked around, seeing Willow and Oz beginning to crawl out from under the bed, and Spike appearing in the doorway.
“What the bloody hell?” Spike didn’t sound like himself, his voice filled with bewildered shock.
“Apparently, the zombies fought with each other for the privilege of putting on the mask, so none of them had been able to put it on yet.” Giles gestured towards his axe, buried deeply in the wall, fragments of a dark, polished wood on the floor beneath it. “I was able to destroy the mask, which ended the demon’s hold over the zombies.”
Looking around in dazed surprise, Xander couldn’t help but be relieved that the bodies had inexplicably disappeared with the destruction of the mask. Even his axe blade was clean, showing no trace of the gore that had coated it a moment ago. He had not been looking forward to trying to figure out where the bodies belonged and getting them back there. Even Sunnydale’s cops would have to have noticed a pile of corpses 30 deep on the front lawn.
The house was trashed. Windows broken, furniture smashed, gashes gouged in the wall from misplaced blows - it was going to take a while to get things back in order. Tiredly, he wondered if Mrs. Summers’ insurance covered zombie attacks.
There was a sudden pounding, which broke Buffy out of her frozen immobility. “Mom!” Stepping away from the door she’d been leaning against, she yanked it open, revealing a closet with Mrs. Summers inside.
Stepping shakily into the room, Mrs. Summers stared at them, her eyes wide with terror. Buffy flung her arms around her and the two of them clung together for a long moment.
“Is everyone all right?”
Thank god, Giles was taking things in hand. Xander didn’t think he could speak to save his life.
“There were so many of them.” Willow sounded dazed. “They just kept coming and we couldn’t stop them.”
Oz pulled her down to sit on the bed when it looked like her legs might collapse under her.
Xander heard a quiet voice in his ear. “You all right, luv?”
He nodded speechlessly, and submitted as Spike pulled him to his feet and checked him out. “Looks like just a few scratches, luv. We’ll get them cleaned up when we get home.”
Somehow, that snapped Xander out of his daze and he quickly began to check Spike for injuries. “’m fine, luv. Buggers can’t fight worth spit.”
Xander leaned gratefully into Spike’s strength, vaguely aware of Giles explaining the situation to the others.
“My mask caused this?” Mrs. Summers’ voice was shaky but at least she was talking. Which was more than Xander had managed yet.
“I’m afraid so.” Giles’ voice seemed very far away as he explained again about the zombie demon.
“See, mom. I told you the mask was angry.” Typically, Buffy was recovering first. “Thanks for the assist guys, things were getting a little tight there.”
Buffy didn’t look at them when she said it, but her words included them all. Frankly, it was more than he’d expected and he was too tired to care one way or the other.
“Let’s go home, Spike,” he murmured quietly, for Spike’s ears only.
He felt Spike take the axe he was still mindlessly clinging to from his hands then lead him out of the room. Tomorrow would be soon enough to return and help clean up. Right now, it was too much to ask.
He was sickened to the bottom of his soul at the violence that had rampaged all around them, that he had participated in. It didn’t matter that it had been the right thing to do, he hadn’t seen violence on that scale before, much less been part of it. He stumbled after Spike, clinging desperately to his hand, fighting the nausea that threatened, afraid that if he started puking, he wouldn’t stop until his insides were as shredded as his emotions. He was shaking with reaction and so tired he could barely stand. And unbelievably grateful to Spike for his silent support as they walked slowly back to the factory.
“Love you, Spike.”
“I know, Xan. Love you, too.” Cool, firm lips on his forehead seemed to chase away the nightmares that threatened and strong arms held him as he slept.
* A/N - Bits of dialogue borrowed from the episode Dead Man’s Party.