Nothing the Same, Book 2
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: Anything from Season 1 on.
Summary: sequel to Nothing the Same.
Previous parts here
Back from vacation now and hopefully the next part will be up on Wednesday.
They made a motley crew, traipsing through the sewers towards the area that the Watcher thought was the most likely spot to find Lurconis: Joyce in her feathered coat and long skirts, determined to help the intended sacrifices; the Watcher doing his young Marlon Brando impression, still inclined to grope Joyce occasionally, despite the Slayer’s attempts to separate them; the Slayer, dressed as always fashionably, not practically, picking her way through the muck and complaining about demons living in non-shoe friendly places when she wasn’t trying to get her mum and her Watcher to behave; Xander, twining his fingers with Spike’s and rattling on about everything he’d read about ssrushnar demons; and Spike, bringing up the rear with Xander and thinking it would be easier to herd cats than control this lot, was wishing Xander was back to normal and hoping that somehow this night would end in a good, rousing fight that would allow him to work off some of his pent-up aggression. He couldn’t believe he’d let the chaos mage live after pulling this stunt.
Maybe the mage would ignore his warning and stay in town so Spike could kill him. The thought cheered him up considerably.
As they neared the juncture the Watcher had been leading them to, Spike could hear voices chanting. Great. Not only were these wankers paying tribute to a snake demon, they were doing it ritually. Oh, well, he’d had always enjoyed mucking up rituals - made the participants cranky.
Spike stopped his group well back from the area and signaled for everyone to be quiet. Listening intently, he struggled to sort out what was happening. “Right, then,” he told them quietly. “They’re a level below us and in what sounds like a large space. They have at least two babies - can hear them crying - and there are four or five people involved in the ritual.”
“Spike and I will go in first,” Buffy decided. “Giles, wait for a minute, then follow us and get the babies out of there.”
“What about us?” Xander asked, indicating himself and Joyce.
“Yes, honey, we want to help too.”
“Mom, I need you to stay out of this. I can’t fight if I’m worrying about you.”
“Get over yourself, Slayer.” Did she really think that was the way to handle things? “Xander, follow the Watcher down. Watch Joyce’s back and keep an eye out for Lurconis.” Spike fished a stake out of his duster and handed it to Xander. “Joyce, we’re going to need you to look after the babies. You’re the only one whose got any experience with kids. Stay close to Giles and the two of you get the babies out as fast as possible. Don’t wait for us.”
Buffy’s lips tightened at Spike’s orders but she didn’t counter them. Probably actually knew that her mother wasn’t the kind to hang back and stay out of danger, had just been hoping to guilt trip her into it. “Ready?” he asked.
Everyone nodded. Spike and Buffy took the lead, closing the remaining distance to the entrance to the room where the ritual was nearing the finish. Looking down through the circular opening, Spike disdained the ladder, jumping the 1-story drop and landing lightly, moving aside quickly as the Slayer followed suit. He took in the set-up with one sweeping glance as he heard the Watcher jump down behind his Slayer, landing clumsily and much harder than either Spike of the Slayer.
Four babies were in some sort of wheeled contraption with a robed vampire chanting over them and drizzling blood around. Three others stood nearby also dressed like rejects from a monastery. Trick was there as well, and Spike let his gaze rest on him for a moment, making a silent promise of painful final death. A human was already half way out the ground floor entrance, having turned to slip out the moment Spike appeared.
The vampires were barely worth the trouble staking, the ashes of the first pair clouding the air before Xander finished helping Joyce down the ladder. Trick ducked back against the wall, sidling around the fight and sprinting for the same entrance the human had left by in the few moments that the Slayer and he were occupied. Typical.
Mopping up the remaining vampires went quickly and was over before Lurconis showed his ugly head. Spike was reluctantly impressed by the Slayer’s use of the exposed pipes to create a makeshift flamethrower. Not a fan of open flame weapons, it wasn’t something Spike would have thought of himself, but it made quick work of Lurconis.
“Right, then,” he announced over the fading roar of the flames consuming the snake, tucking his stake away and settling his duster properly over his shoulders. “All taken care of and we’re off.” He snagged Xander, who was watching Lurconis burn with a half-fascinated, half-nauseated expression, and tugged him towards the exit and away from the smell of roasting snake. Xander was not talking him into helping return the babies to wherever they belonged. Between the squalling and the stink of messy diapers, he simply wasn’t prepared to guarantee their safe arrival if he was involved.
Xander gave him a sloppy, affectionate kiss, oblivious to the reaction of the others, and followed him without protest, apparently as willing as Spike to let the others deal with the babies.
“Let’s get you home, luv.”
Trick had repaired the door that Spike had kicked in on his last visit and Spike felt a flicker of amusement through his anger as he splintered the jamb for a second time. Trick should really consider investing in a metal door that might actually keep unwanted guests out.
He’d left Xander at the apartment, after extracting a promise that Xander would stay put and go to bed. Hopefully, Xander would be back to normal in the morning, as the chaos mage had promised. It seemed likely, given the relative silence as they walked through the quieting town back to the factory. Xander seemed far more normal as the never-ending stream of verbiage seemed finally to have dried up at the source as his boy walked beside him, leaning wearily into Spike, blessedly quiet at last. He’d simply told Xander he had some business to take care of, cleaning up the last of the mess from the spell. Xander had been too sleepy to ask many questions and Spike was confident the boy would stay put, leaving Spike free to deal with Trick.
Stepping over the splintered wood and into the foyer, Spike saw Trick leaning with studied casualness against the wall in the arched opening that led to the interior of the house. “You haven’t really adapted to the invention of the doorbell, have you?”
Spike smirked unrepentantly at the damage he’d caused. “They never put them in the same place. Got better things to do than search around for a little button.”
“Is this the part where you tell me I’ve been a bad boy and I’m no longer welcome in your little town?”
“Not exactly.” Spike strode forward into the main room, letting Trick retreat before him. He glanced around at the overdone interior, noting that Trick looked like he’d been gathering stuff up preparing to bolt. “Mind telling me what tonight’s little party was all about?” he asked mildly, still idly studying the room.
“Just a harmless diversion while a tribute was collected,” Trick replied airily. “Nothing to worry about. Whole town was affected so no one is going to be saying boo about what happened by tomorrow. Everyone is going to be so embarrassed about their own actions they aren’t going to be talking about anything except the weather.”
Spike regarded him steadily. “Interestin’ theory,” he commented, although privately he conceded that Trick’s assessment was probably right. Unfortunately for Trick, that was beside the point. “This just another little side job?”
“Just livening things up a bit. These hick towns can be so dull.” Trick’s smile was bright with feigned innocence.
“Know you weren’t the one payin’ tribute to the snake. Who you workin’ for?”
“I like to think of him as an associate, rather than as my employer. Bosses get tedious, don’t you think? All that nose to the grindstone thinking is just so sweat-shop. Not my thing really.”
“Fine. Who’s your associate?”
“Sorry,” the mock regret in his tone wouldn’t have fooled a five year old. “One of the conditions of our agreement is strict anonymity.”
Trick had obviously been lulled into complacency by Spike’s seemingly mild curiosity and Spike moved like lightning, taking the other vampire completely by surprise. His hands shot out, fisting in the maroon fabric of Trick’s suit and propelling him backwards until he slammed into the wall with a satisfying crack of the polished wood paneling.
“Apparently, I didn’t make myself clear during our last little discussion about protocol in this town.” Yellow eyes glared balefully into Trick’s own demonic ones. “You don’t pull this shite in my town without clearing it with me first.”
“Bureaucracy is so tedious. Where’s the harm? The humans won’t be fussing come morning and we all had a bit of harmless fun.”
Spike slammed him against the wall a second time. “The harm was your little diversion affected my town.” Still gripping Trick’s coat with both fists, Spike spun them both around and threw Trick away from himself, sending him flying backwards to impact against the opposite wall, crashing into the paneling and crumpling into the floor in a shower of splinters.
He was on the other vampire before Trick could regain his feet, crossing the room swiftly as Trick began to struggle upright and sending him sprawling again with a vicious kick to Trick’s side. He dodged Trick’s return kick with contemptuous ease and yanked a stake out of his duster pocket.
Trick froze at the sight of the polished wood, staying down, holding both hands up in surrender. “Now, let’s not overreact.”
“I believe I asked you a question,” Spike reminded him. When Trick didn’t immediately respond, Spike kicked him in the side again, even harder this time. Trick choked back a scream as the booted foot broke ribs, slumping down against the floor and looking up at Spike, his flickering eyes revealing his racing thoughts as he calculated the odds.
One hand pressed to his injured side, he pushed himself slowly upright and this time Spike let him get up. Leaning against the wall for support, his eyes met Spike’s. “The Mayor.” He winced as an unwise attempt at a shrug tugged at his broken ribs. “The Mayor hired me.” He dredged up a smirk at the memory. “He thought my SlayerFest idea was creative.” At Spike’s glare, he lifted a pacifying hand. “I’ve recently begun to feel that small town life has palled for me. Why don’t I just pack my things and leave you to your small town politics?” he offered. “I believe out of town by sunset is the traditional grace period?”
“Well, that’s the problem, Trick,” Spike replied with sarcastic relish. “I’m just not a traditional guy.” He enjoyed the flicker of fear that Trick couldn’t quite manage to hide as he continued, the light mockery replaced by menace: “And I may have neglected to mention that your little diversion affected my Claimed.”
He took satisfaction in the desperation that blossomed in Trick’s face as he finally realized the extent of his miscalculation. Trick exploded into motion, shoving Spike and trying to slip past him and out into the safety of the night. Spike spun to avoid Trick’s hands and brought the stake up and around in the same movement, driving it deep into Trick’s heart. They both froze for a split second, Spike’s fist holding the stake buried in the center of Trick’s chest and Trick staring at him in disbelief. Spike watched impassively as Trick’s astonished features disappeared into the cloud of dust.
Alone in the wood paneled room, Spike looked around thoughtfully. “The Mayor?” he remarked to himself.
Spike ran back to the factory, acutely aware of the lightening sky. He’d lingered at Trick’s house long enough for a rapid, thorough search, looking for any information about the Mayor. While hardly a shock that the Mayor of Sunnyhell was apparently not on the side of the angels, he was curious about what the Mayor’s agenda might be. Hiring vampires was not typical for humans. Of course, not all that many humans paid tribute to demons, either. The ones who did usually fell into two categories: ignorant amateurs who usually ended up dead relatively quickly and frequently in spectacularly messy ways and people who actually had some idea of what they were doing and could be extremely dangerous. Question was, which type was the Mayor?
He’d found nothing of use, other than a large stash of money which he’d automatically appropriated - big surprise, Trick was apparently an off-the-books employee paid in cash. Whatever Trick had been hired for, they’d been careful not to leave a paper trail.
To his surprise, Xander was up and sitting at the kitchen table with a pile of books. “Xander?”
“Hey, Spike, everything go ok?” Xander scanned him anxiously as he always did when Spike returned from “business”, relief showing when he saw no signs of injury.
“Why’re you up, luv? Thought you’d still be sleeping.” He looking searchingly at Xander in turn, relieved to see that Xander seemed fully back to normal.
“I did. Just got up a little bit ago. The SAT’s are today and I kinda blew off studying yesterday.” Xander blushed and looked down at the page in front of him, unable to meet Spike’s eyes. Unfortunately, he remembered way too clearly pretty much everything from last night. It would have been nice if he’d woken up and his memory of his magical chocolate adventures was a merciful blur. Better yet, if the spell had worn off and somehow wiped everyone’s memories of the events. No chance of that, he thought with depressing certainty. Everyone was going to remember him behaving like a bibbling idiot.
“Compared to everyone else, ‘bout a 4, I’d say,” he could hear Spike’s amusement. At least he hadn’t driven Spike insane with his impression of a 7-year old on speed. “Not like you were singing in public or snogging with inappropriate partners.”
“So, you’re still willing to be seen in public with me?”
Xander lifted his head and met Spike’s amused smile. “Sorry.”
“Not your fault, luv.” Spike looked closely at him again. “Feeling back to normal?”
“Yeah.” He looked down at the books again, wishing he could just crawl back into bed and forget the SAT’s. Wasn’t like he was going to use them to get into college or anything, but he wanted to prove something. To himself. To his parents, even though they would never know. To everyone who thought he was nothing but a hopeless loser. He wanted to do well on the test just to prove he could.
Which probably meant he was a loser anyway. He shouldn’t need numerical validation but he wanted it. Even if he wasn’t going to admit it to anyone.
Shaking his head and deciding he wasn’t going to think about why he wanted a standardized number that meant nothing outside the narrow world of college admissions so badly, he looked up at Spike, remembering what he’d been thinking about when he first woke up.
“We have to make sure all of that chocolate is destroyed. I don’t think the town could handle a repeat performance.” He thought about that for a moment and smiled crookedly. “At least I’ve got a lot of company in the humiliation department. There’s probably a lot of embarrassed people this morning.”
“Too right. Looking forward to mentioning this frequently to the Watcher.” Spike had a wicked gleam in his eye at the prospect. Xander just wished he was in a position where he could tease anyone else about their behavior last night, but given his own performance, he really wasn’t going there. Fortunately, only Spike and Buffy were in a position to mock him and Buffy had been focused on her mother and Giles. Maybe he would live through the humiliation after all.
“Why don’t you get some sleep. I’m going to study for a couple hours.” Xander snagged one of Spike’s hands and tugged him close for a quick kiss before turning back to his books. “I’ll be back early, as soon as the test is over. I’ll talk to Giles about the leftover candy and see if he’ll take care of it.”
Spike looked at Xander in frustration as his boy clearly dismissed him from his thoughts, once more burying himself in his books. He wanted to shove the books to the floor and confront Xander about what he’d let slip during his magic-fueled ramblings. Xander had been put in danger and hadn’t mentioned it to Spike. The bloody Slayer knew about what had happened and Spike didn’t. Even the Watcher knew.
Xander had lied to him. His Claimed had trusted everyone else over Spike and the hurt and anger of that fact boiled inside Spike.
Now Xander expected Spike to just let him go to school and act as if the red-head had never done a spell on him that apparently could have caused permanent damage. Spike had meant it when he’d said that he wasn’t going to let Xander be around the witch until he knew if she was a danger to Xander. Apparently, the witch had been scolded for whatever she’d done, but that didn’t mean Xander was safe around her. He couldn’t even follow Xander to school effectively, the tunnels only surfaced in a couple areas in the school and half the bloody building was flooded with sunlight during the day.
The lack of information was infuriating. The red-head had done some kind of spell that carried at least the risk of permanent damage. She’d done it to help the Slayer and everyone but Spike knew about it. Spike tended to agree that there hadn’t been any change, because he would have noticed it, but obviously the risk had been there. And Xander hadn’t said a word even though it had happened about a week ago.
Glaring down at the back of Xander’s oblivious head, Spike was torn. He knew today’s test was ridiculously important to Xander. His boy had been studying whenever he could find the time for nearly two weeks, shamefacedly admitting that he wanted to do well. Spike knew it was because Xander wanted to prove to everyone, even himself, that he was smart. His boy was embarrassed about needing the validation so badly, Spike had been able to smell it on him, seen it in the way Xander couldn’t meet his eyes when he mentioned the test, but Xander was unable to shrug it off or do more than pretend it really wasn’t a big deal.
Reluctantly, Spike realized he was going to have to let Xander go to school unprotected, even though it meant letting him be around Willow unsupervised. Oh, obviously, the Watcher had made some attempt to step up to the plate but it had been too little, too late from what Spike could tell. Fortunately, the witch was unlikely to be doing anything involving witchcraft while the test was happening.
He faded back out of the kitchen and into the bedroom. He would wait until Xander came home tonight, the test safely behind him. The confrontation would go better if Spike wasn’t tired and cranky when they discussed the situation. He’d go to sleep and he and Xander would have a calm discussion about Xander’s status as Claimed when his boy got home from school.