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
Xander looked up from his book, surprised to see Jonathan Levinson standing next to his table. “Hi.”
Jonathan fidgeted nervously. “I just wanted to say thanks for the other day. You know, with Jack.”
Xander closed his book, leaning back in his chair and using his foot to push out one of the empty chairs at the table in invitation. “Have a seat. Just glad I could help.” Looking more closely, he saw that Jonathan looked uneasy and embarrassed and he could guess why. Universal guy code - it was almost worse being rescued from a bully than to be beaten up. “A friend has been teaching me self defense this past year,” he offered. “I’m just happy I finally got a chance to use it.” A diplomatic lie but Jonathan looked a little less uncomfortable and actually sat down.
“Maybe I should take some lessons too,” he said after a moment.
“They’ve really helped and not just with the Jacks of the world.” Jonathan looked interested and Xander explained: “I’m not as clumsy anymore - it’s like I finally know how to handle my body.” He grinned. “I think it’s the jocks’ secret. It’s not just the extra testosterone, it’s knowing how to move.”
Jonathan smiled at him tentatively and, for a moment, the loneliness retreated from his eyes. As they talked, awkwardly at first, but then the words gradually beginning to flow more easily, Xander tried to remember if he’d ever seen Jonathan just sitting and talking to someone like they were friends. In all the years he’d known Jonathan, he couldn’t think of a single time he’d seen Jonathan just hanging out with a friend.
Spike swung his quarterstaff around and down, blocking a vicious blow aimed at his stomach and knocking his opponent’s weapon aside. He let the momentum carry him around and his grip shifted as he spun until he was holding the pole at one end, bringing it around in a savage blow that connected with his opponent’s midsection in a whoosh of displaced air and knocked her off her feet. The other vampire was thrown halfway across the room by the force of the blow, her own quarterstaff sent flying as she lost her grip. She crashed into the wall with a sickening thud and crumpled to the floor unmoving as her weapon clattered to the cement floor a long distance away.
Spike laughed, spinning his own quarterstaff in a flashy move, then resting the tip on the ground and subtly leaning against it. He hadn’t let it slow him down but his side had ached fiercely during the fight and he’d known that, in another minute, he would no longer be able to hide his weakness. He’d brought the fight to a sudden, decisive end for just that reason.
“Someone check on her,” he ordered the room in general. “If she’s still alive, I want her kept alive. Fetch as much blood as she needs.” He saw Anthony signaling two of the minions to take care of the fallen vampire and tossed his quarterstaff to Michael, nodding to him in acknowledgement as Michael raised it in salute. He started to walk towards the stairs to his apartment, concentrating fiercely on not limping, then turned back as if at a sudden thought.
“And boys? No take out. She drinks bagged until she can hunt for herself again.” He smirked, “that’ll teach her to leave her guard down like that.” He didn’t wait for acknowledgement, knowing his Lieutenants would see his orders carried out, just began the long climb up the stairs.
Only Jose knew he’d been injured, or at least knew for sure. The others might guess that there was some reason Spike hadn’t been seen on the factory floor in three days, but Spike could live with speculation. Sure knowledge of his weakness could have seen some of the more ambitious minions storming the apartment but none of them would risk taking on Spike unless they were absolutely certain he was vulnerable. Despite his fatigue, Spike smirked as he climbed the stairs. His minions were terrified of his wrath and that was how it should be.
Xander would fuss if he heard about it, but Spike had known he had to show himself and prove he was still in control. He’d simply appeared on the factory floor in late afternoon while Xander was at school and “volunteered” one of the newer members of the Court for a sparring session. He’d seen her practicing with a quarterstaff a few weeks earlier and knew she understood the rudiments of fighting with the weapon but had nowhere near his skill level. It made her a safe opponent, one he could defeat handily under the guise of teaching her, but it wouldn’t look like he had deliberately picked a weak opponent to spar with. It wasn’t unusual for Spike to work out with both his Lieutenants and the Court minions with a variety of weapons, so the members of the Court had seen nothing unusual in his actions.
Slowly mounting the stairs to the third floor, Spike knew he was going to need blood himself. His wound was almost fully healed but neither his stamina nor his full strength had returned yet. Fighting with a quarterstaff involved a lot of twisting moves and the muscles in his side had let him know in no uncertain terms they weren’t quite up to the task. More blood and another day should have him back on top of his form, he thought, resigning himself to another night in the apartment.
It wasn’t that spending the night in the apartment with Xander was a hardship - far from it - but he was itching to patrol his territory again. He hadn’t heard from the Mayor yet about the bomb at the school and Spike needed to follow up on the problem. Despite knowing that Xander and Giles were checking the school basement twice a day, he was nervous and tense all day until he heard Xander’s footsteps on the stairs at the end of the day, signaling his boy was home safely. After two days of that, Spike was feeling the need to kill something, preferably the cause of his upset. Surely Xander wouldn’t mind if he tortured and killed a human capable of planting a bomb in a school. Practically a public service, he thought, even though he knew Xander would never see it that way.
If he knew about it, Spike reminded himself, cheered considerably by the thought.
Sitting in one of the private study rooms, Xander stared at the blank piece of paper in front of him and wondered if this was what they called writer’s block. No matter how he tried, words just wouldn’t come and the paper remained stubbornly blank. Sighing, he put down his pen and fished around in his backpack for the three letters Willow had sent to him. Pulling them out, he settled down to re-read them.
He hadn’t answered any of them yet, but Willow continued to write to him. The letters were arriving once a week and they were the same as the first one: friendly and reminiscent, describing England and her lessons and their mutual past. Nothing in the letters called for a response - Willow never asked questions or urged him to write back to her. Instead, it was like she was sitting in the same room, just talking to him like they hadn’t talked in over two years. He could hear her voice in his head as he read the letters and it made him miss the Willow he’d once known with an aching sense of loss he’d thought he’d put behind him.
Talking with Jonathan today had made him think. If he hadn’t had Jesse and Willow in his life, would he be Jonathan today? A hopeless geek, friendless and picked on by everyone? All too clearly, Xander could picture that life. Why hadn’t Jonathan ever seemed to find even one friend to band together with against the world?
Remembering his years of friendship with Willow, when she had been there for him on a daily basis, before the misunderstandings and the mutual hurt, before they’d gone their separate ways, had made him long to reclaim even part of that past. At the very least, he’d decided to make a start in that direction by writing back to Willow. The Willow in the letters sounded older and finally wiser but so like the girl he’d once known it made an empty place inside his heart ache - the place that Willow had once occupied. The wound he’d thought was finally scarred over and healed turned out to still be there.
Holding the image in his mind of the small, red-headed girl he’d grown up with, Xander began to write.
Spike had made a quick pass through four cemeteries when he caught scent of the Slayer and Angelus. Having not patrolled his territory in almost five days, he wanted to do a swift, thorough overview of the entire town. Although eager to work off his tension after three days of worry over his Claimed being in danger at school, he wasn’t really looking for a fight, knowing he would be better waiting one more day before mixing it up with anything too tough. His side only made its presence known when he put too much strain on the muscles but it remained a vulnerable spot in a fight.
His semi-peaceful intentions vanished as he caught wind of the Slayer and Angelus together, alone, in a cemetery. Swearing, he altered course. If those two were snogging, he was going to kill them both, he thought wrathfully. He’d thought he’d finally gotten them well and truly separated, only in each other’s company when there were others around but obviously they still hadn’t learned. Bloody idiots.
He slowed his pace when he was almost upon them and sauntered into the clearing where the two of them were crouched, watching a crypt.
Angel held up a warning hand for silence and the Slayer and he exchanged glances, then melted back from their target, joining Spike and signaling him to walk further away with them. When they were sufficiently far from the clearing that vampire ears could not have heard them, Angel asked quietly: “How are you?”
“Better,” Spike answered briefly. His anger had cooled when he saw they appeared to be on business but he still wasn’t happy the two of them were alone together. He didn’t really trust either of them to keep their hands off each other, when it came right down to it. “What’s up?”
“Ever heard of El Eliminati?” Buffy asked quietly. “They’re some sort of duelist cult of vampires,” she continued when Spike shook his head. “Apparently a bunch of them are in town looking for some amulet. I was supposed to get it first but they beat us to the crypt.”
“Buffy asked me to back her up,” Angelus explained. The Slayer might not be able to read Spike’s impassive features but Angelus had obviously seen Spike’s anger at finding them together. “I didn’t realize you were healed. Are you up for a fight?”
“How many are there?”
“Six. We thought we’d hit them as they came out of the crypt.”
Unwilling to admit he hadn’t completely healed yet, Spike nodded curtly. “Sounds good.” Six vampires shouldn’t give the three of them any trouble, he thought optomistically.
They moved back to the clearing just in time to see the last two vampires drop down through a sewer entrance.
“Damn it!” Buffy exclaimed. “we missed them.”
Spike kept striding forward into the clearing without pausing. “What are you talking about, Slayer? Know exactly where they are, don’t we? You coming or not?”
Without waiting for a response, he dropped down through the open manhole cover, behind the last of the vampires, grinning as he heard Angelus’ exasperated shout behind him. They’d follow him and Spike was itching for a good fight.
“Now that was fun!”
Spike’s exclamation coincided with the last of the Eliminati exploding into a cloud of dust. Despite herself, Buffy grinned back at him. “Didn’t suck,” she agreed.
Angel shook his head in mock disapproval. “Don’t let him corrupt you,” he advised Buffy.
“Oi! ‘s not corrupting to enjoy a good fight,” Spike protested. “C’mon Angelus, you can’t tell me you didn’t enjoy this?”
Typically, his Sire just shrugged, not willing to admit that he still got off on a life and death struggle against a dozen foes.
It had been a sweet fight. Dropping in on the surprised vampires, outnumbered and out-weaponed, they had only the element of surprise and superior fighting skills on their side. The three of them had functioned well as a team, watching each other’s backs and dividing their opponents. Next time, Spike thought, feeling the ache in his side, he’d rather have a few more weapons, but he’d take on this lot of medieval morons any night. If any of them were left, that is.
The amulet had been yanked free from one of the Eliminati during the fight and sent spinning into a corner of the cave. Buffy picked it up now, examining it curiously. “We sure this is it? Doesn’t look like much.”
Spike shrugged. “If not, they put up a hell of a fight over a cheap bauble.” Not particularly interested in the amulet, he picked up a couple of the swords that members of the cult had dropped before being dusted. “Bit showy, but not bad,” was his judgment as he examined the jewel-encrusted hilts deciding to keep them.
Buffy tucked the amulet into her pocket. “Giles will know if it’s real.” She made a face, remembering. “If New Guy lets him see it, that is.”
“Who?” Angel asked.
“My new Watcher,” Buffy explained. “Wesley Wyndham-Price. He got into town yesterday and I’m already trying to find ways around that whole ‘Slayers don’t kill people’ rule. You should come meet him, he’s a real prince.”
“Yeah, so Xander tells me,” Spike observed. From Xander’s description, the new Watcher was a complete twit.
Angel frowned. “What’s so bad about him?”
“How long do you have?” Buffy asked wryly. “Let’s just say he makes a really bad first impression. He claims he’s studied up on Sunnydale and knows everything about it.” She sounded skeptical.
Spike turned and looked at her. “Really?” he asked with interest, wondering if the Watcher knew anything useful about the town. Or the Mayor.
Buffy shrugged. “He did know about the amulet and where it would be and Giles didn’t,” she admitted reluctantly. “Says it originally belonged to a demon named Balthazar who died a long time ago. He sent me out after the amulet saying we should deprive the Eliminati of it even if it’s useless now that Balthazar is dead.” She tapped her pocket over the amulet. “I’d give him points for knowing about the amulet but, among other things, when he gave me this assignment, he said these Eliminati guys were nearly extinct. I wasn’t expecting quite this much of a party with the ‘few remaining Eliminati’.”
She was obviously quoting and Spike grinned, cocking his scarred eyebrow at her. “They’re extinct now,” he pointed out with satisfaction.
“Well, yeah, but he said there were only a few of them before we killed these guys. I don’t think that counts. Makes me wonder how dead the main demon is.”
“Good point,” Angelus put in, “Maybe we should check on that. Vampires aren’t usually into sentimental souvenirs. They wanted the amulet for a reason.”
Spike had his mind on other things. “Why don’t we go meet this new Watcher of yours?” he suggested.
Buffy’s slow smile was pure evil. Oh, yeah, the Slayer was coming along fine, Spike thought as the three of them headed out of the cave.
“It appears to be genuine but I’ll have to run some tests.”
Standing next to Xander, Spike studied the new Watcher through narrowed eyes. Young and painfully inexperienced, he hadn’t even questioned the presence of Spike and Angelus yet. Instead, he’d snatched up the amulet and begun examining it through a magnifying glass without even a token acknowledgement of the Slayer’s efforts in retrieving it. Giles had quietly questioned Buffy about her well-being, showing a concern blatantly missing in the other Watcher.
Spike shook his head in disgust. Didn’t this idiot realize that the Slayer was a 17-year old girl? An adolescent? Never mind that she was a warrior, she was still young enough to need the approval of the adults around her. Over the past year, Spike had seen how the Slayer responded to Giles’ fatherly concern and attention, blossoming under it and working twice as hard to be sure she never let him down. The new Watcher would never earn that kind of loyalty from the Slayer and the Slayer would have a shorter life for it.
“Where’d they come up with this idiot?” he asked Xander, who gave him a fleeting grin in return.
“He’s the new breed of Watcher, didn’t you know?” Xander’s response was just as quiet but Giles caught it, flicking an amused glance in their direction.
Looking up from the magnifying glass, the new Watcher seemed to realize for the first time that there were two more people in the room. Drawing himself up to his full height, he shot a disapproving glare at Giles. “More people who know about the Slayer?” he asked frigidly.
“Not exactly,” Spike answered. Unable to resist, he shifted to his true face, thoroughly enjoying the frightened squeak as the new Watcher jumped back.
“Great, Spike. If he pees his pants, you’re cleaning it up,” Xander said, with just the right note of exasperation in his voice. Spike shook with silent laughter and even Angelus let out a short bark of surprised laughter at the comment.
“Spike, Angel, this is Wesley Wyndham-Price,” Giles performed the introduction with aplomb, as if they were strangers meeting at a tea party.
“Spike? Angel?” the new Watcher gasped, his face turning even paler. “Angelus? And…and William the Bloody? Oh, dear Lord,” he said faintly.
“They have both helped Buffy on occasion,” Giles filled in helpfully but Spike was already tired of the conversation.
“Slayer says you’ve researched the town’s history. What can you tell me about the Mayor?” he asked flatly.
For a long moment, he thought the man was too frightened to answer, but he finally gathered himself and took a deep breath, throwing his shoulders back and looking down his nose at Spike.
“Nothing at all.” He cleared his throat and continued: “And I don’t think I would tell you anything even if I had information on the Mayor. You are a vampire, you know and the enemy.”
“Spike’s a vampire?” Xander asked in mock astonishment, twisting around to stare at Spike.
Spike smacked him lightly and Xander grinned at him unrepentantly. “Yeah, known I’ve been a vampire for awhile now. I’ve gotten over the shock,” Spike said dryly. “Thought you were supposed to know everythin’ about this town,” he needled.
Wesley sniffed loftily, having apparently decided that neither Spike nor Angelus were going to kill him. Pity. “I’ve been researching the demonic history of the town, you realize, not the local politicians. That’s a bit outside my purview.”
“Good work. Missed the fact that the Mayor’s not entirely human, did you?”
Wesley’s lips tightened at Spike’s sarcastic response and he turned to Giles. “I cannot tell you how unbelievable it is to learn that you have not only allowed your Slayer to associate with Angelus but with William the Bloody. You’ve really gone beyond the pale, Mr. Giles, and I must insist that this association cease at once.”
“Fat chance,” Buffy muttered.
Angel just scowled at him, his brows lowered threateningly. Spike knew he hated it when anyone called him Angelus, Spike himself was the sole exception to that rule and that was only because Angelus had given up on the issue, just grateful that Spike no longer referred to him as “Peaches” and “Captain Hair Gel” and the myriad of other names he’d come up with over the years.
Spike opened his mouth to add his two cents worth and Xander elbowed him sharply, cutting him off before he could even start. They had enough problems already. Xander stepped forward as Spike subsided unwillingly. Grateful in hindsight for all the practice he’d had last year in keeping Spike and Buffy from killing each other, he put himself bodily between Wesley and Spike. “Look, Wesley, you need to understand something. Spike is Master of the Hellmouth, he does a lot to keep the demon population from wreaking havoc in this town. Thanks to Spike, the death rate has dropped 20% in the last two years.”
Ok, he was making that part up, but a solid statistic sounded much better than a vague generality. “And if you knew what you were talking about, you’d know that Angel has a soul, which makes him different from other vampires. He patrols with both Spike and Buffy and is one of the reasons Buffy is still alive today.” And wow, he never thought he’d be spouting the “Angel has a soul” party line. He felt really hypocritical, considering the stance he’d taken on the subject last year, but this wasn’t a good time to explain his issues with Angel to Wesley.
“If you can’t deal, then get the hell out,” he finished emphatically, despite knowing it wasn’t really his call.
“Well said, Xander.” Giles put in and Buffy gave him a warm smile, probably for the compliment to Angel.
Xander crossed his arms and leaned back against Spike, who slid his own arms around Xander’s waist, clasping his hands over Xander’s stomach. “It ain’t broke, so don’t try to fix it, is what I’m saying.”
“You tell him, pet,” Spike said, kissing him lightly when Xander turned his head towards him.
“Wesley, this is a take it or leave it situation,” Buffy added, stepping forward in turn. “Angel and Spike are part of the team. So are Giles, Xander and Oz. If you can’t work with them, I won’t work with you. Got it?”
Looking around at the circle of hard eyes staring at him, Wesley seemed to wilt. Obviously unwilling to call Buffy on the stand she’d taken - probably afraid of losing his job, Xander thought cynically - he nodded his head and retreated to the office, closing the door firmly behind him. Not quite a slam, but close, Xander thought with a grin.
“Let me know when I can kill him,” Spike volunteered.
Buffy shook her head. “No way, I’m doing it personally if he pulls this kind of crap again.”
Xander almost felt sorry for Wesley.
The end result of their discussion was that Buffy, Spike and Angel agreed to meet up the next night and do a joint patrol. All of them wanted to know if there were more Eliminati around. Despite Wesley’s reassurance, none of them were really confident that Balthazar was actually dead. As Angel had pointed out earlier, the Eliminati wouldn’t be hunting for the amulet for sentimental reasons. That meant that either Balthazar was still around or the amulet had other uses. Either way, they needed to figure out what was going on.
Giles and Xander had agreed to research Balthazar and the amulet while the other three patrolled. In the meantime, Giles assured them he would put the amulet somewhere safer than Wesley’s breast pocket.
Wesley had emerged from the office at some point during the discussion, but had remained silent, listening to the others talk. He’d barely resisted when Buffy demanded that he turn the amulet over to Giles for safe-keeping, handing it over with only a token protest. Hearing their plans, he’d simply murmured quietly that, while he may have underestimated the remaining Eliminati’s numbers, surely they must all be as dead as Balthazar now.
Xander just hoped he wasn’t going to tattle to the Council on the situation. God knows what those guys would do. Granted, it was hard to imagine a worse replacement for Giles than Wesley, but who knew what the Council would do if they learned of the near mutiny in Sunnydale.
Walking home with Spike’s arm around his shoulder, Xander asked quietly: “Are you really up for this?”
“I will be by tomorrow,” Spike answered honestly. “I’ve been working out during the days while you’re at school, getting my strength back. I’m not there yet, but close to it.”
“You haven’t been overdoing it, have you?”
Spike almost made a flip reply but the worry in Xander’s voice made him answer seriously. “Maybe a little, but nothing that will set me back.” He stopped walking and turned so they were facing each other. “I have to do this, luv. Can’t be seen as weak or someone might try and take advantage of the moment. I just put on a little show for the minions, that’s all. Nothing to worry about.”
Xander nodded, pulling Spike in for a long kiss. “I do worry about you, Spike.”
They started walking again and Xander added, more lightly: “So, what was your idea of a small show? Taking on ten of the minions at once? How many survived?”
Spike just laughed.
If Xander had to listen to Wesley and Giles snipe at each other any longer, he was going to kill Wesley. The guy just wouldn’t let up and he seemed to have completely forgotten Xander was there in the library. Either that, or he was just oblivious to the fact that his voice carried easily through the closed door of Giles’ office.
Granted, Wesley was smart, almost as smart as Giles, but he was obviously insecure about replacing the older Watcher. Not that Xander could blame him; none of them had exactly rolled out the welcome wagon for the new guy and Xander was as guilty as the rest, but jeez, you’d think the guy could acknowledge that Giles had a strong relationship with Buffy and try to work with him. But no, not Mr. by-the-book Wyndham-Price - paying even lip service to Giles’ nearly three years of service was obviously too much to ask.
Xander was seriously regretting his decision to wait for Spike in the library. It had seemed like a good idea yesterday - Buffy would need to stop at the library after patrol to report anyway and he would use his time productively, researching Balthazar and the Eliminati. But that had been before the Wesley and Giles snipe fest started.
Sighing, Xander tried to concentrate on the chapter discussing Balthazar that he’d been trying to read for an hour. Between worrying about Spike and the on-going snark-fest going on in the office, he hadn’t gotten very far. Shaking his head, he flipped back to the beginning of the chapter. Maybe if he started over, he’d remember some of what he’d read this time.
He had barely turned the first page when the sound of booted feet walking through the stacks on the upper level caught his attention. Relief flooded him. They were back and so quickly they must have had no trouble with the Eliminati. Looking up with a smile, he froze as five vampires in medieval-looking tunics appeared at the top of the stairs. From Buffy’s description, he had no doubt these were the Eliminati.
He shot to his feet, his chair clattering to the floor behind him. “Giles!” he yelled, even as he ran for the weapons cage. He fumbled with the latch in his haste, hearing something land on the floor behind him with a thud then a thick hand slammed the barely-opened cage door shut again.
Xander spun around and found himself facing the business end of a sword. Before he could move, the vampire shoved him back against the cage with one large hand to his chest, pressing the point of the sword against his throat.
Xander froze, hardly daring to breath, arching his head back as far as he could, trying to relieve the pressure on his throat before the sword broke the skin.
“Leave him alone!”
Giles’ voice rang sharply across the room and the vampire fisted his hand in Xander’s shirt to hold him in place as he glanced over his shoulder at Giles. Behind the vampire, Xander could see Giles and Wesley surrounded by vampires, all with drawn swords.
“Which one of you is the Watcher?” one of the vampires demanded.
“I am,” Giles answered, shooting a quick, silencing look in Wesley’s direction. From what Xander could see, it wasn’t necessary; Wesley looked beyond speech, white-faced and terrified.
“Kill the others,” the vampire ordered.
“No!” Giles lunged forward but the demons surrounding him grabbed him and held him despite his struggles.
“You’ll regret it, if you do,” Xander told the vampire holding him. He was fighting his own fear and tried to make his voice as urgent and convincing as possible. “We’re his assistants. You obviously need him for something. If you kill us, he won’t cooperate with you.”
The vampire hesitated and looked to his leader for guidance. The leader of the group strode across the room in their direction. “A bargaining chip, eh? Maybe, but why do I need two of you?” He smirked at Xander, enjoying his fear.
“Because one hostage is worthless. With two, you can kill one and still have a spare. With only one, you can barely start working them over before they’re dead and then they’re useless. You know how weak humans are.” One thing Xander had learned from Spike was that vampires all thought humans were weak. Even Spike thought that, he just tried not to say it around Xander.
The vampire laughed. “We’ll be sure to use you first,” he said. Jerking his head at the vampire holding Xander, he ordered: “Bring them along.”
The sword retreated from his throat and Xander barely had time for one relieved breath before he was spun around and slammed face first into the metal door of the cage. Rough hands tied his hands behind his back and then he was sent stumbling forward to join Giles and Wesley, the three of them propelled out the door by a lot of unnecessary shoving from behind.
*A/N - Bits of dialogue borrowed from the episodes ‘Lover’s Walk’ and ‘Bad Girls’