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.
WARNING: THIS CHAPTER CONTAINS VIOLENCE
Summary: sequel to Nothing the Same.
Previous parts here
Spike strode into the bar and, without thinking, ordered a beer. A moment later, glass of beer in hand, he turned casually, leaning back against the bar and lifting the glass to his mouth, watchful eyes sweeping over the patrons and learning the layout of the place.
The Mayor summit meeting had been a complete waste of time. Mayor Wilkins had just been leaving City Hall when Angelus got there the previous night and following him had proved useless as he’d simply gone home to a normal suburban house. Angelus had doubled back to City Hall and found the remnants of a spell circle in the Mayor’s office and a deeply disturbing cabinet that contained equipment and supplies for dark rituals. The two Watchers were currently deep in research mode trying to figure out what ritual the Mayor had performed from the few clues they had - a task Spike suspected would prove fruitless. He’d shared what little information he knew about the Mayor and that had ended the meeting. After escorting Xander home, Spike had immediately left again to take care of the business that had brought him to the bar.
He hadn’t told anyone, not even Xander, where he was going. They would have insisted on accompanying him and Spike didn’t want that. If the Mayor’s information was right, this was Spike’s business and no one else’s.
The taste of the weak, cold swill Americans called beer made him grimace and hastily set the glass back down, wishing he’d ordered a shot of whiskey. Not that it really mattered, he wasn’t here to drink.
The folder he’d gotten from the Mayor at their last meeting said that the bomb at the school had been planted by a small group of zombies that had been running around town recently. That had been surprising enough that Spike seriously doubted the information. The only zombies he’d ever dealt with were mindless, rotting things, incapable of planning anything, even something as rudimentary as the bomb he’d found in the school basement. The zombies had apparently been hanging out regularly at this bar and Spike was going to make sure they were the right target and not just a false lead the Mayor had sent him chasing after for whatever reason.
The bar was on the outskirts of town, disreputable even by demon bar standards, an establishment that allowed anyone and anything inside. The demons who came here tended to be slimy, smelly, or otherwise disgusting even to other demons, and not welcome in other bars for that reason.
Even in this crowd, the zombies were easy to spot.
There were four of them, drinking and talking, their loud laughter disrupting nearby conversations. One could pass for human, dark blond hair and the glittering eyes of a sociopath, the other three were obviously re-animated corpses - two of them had been dead a long time, from the expanses of bone revealed where the flesh had rotted away. The last was between the two extremes - obviously dead, even aside from the bullet hole in his forehead, but the flesh still mostly intact.
Spike wondered briefly what made these zombies so different from the others he’d seen, then shrugged it off as unimportant. As long as they could be killed, he didn’t really care what made them different.
Deciding on the direct approach, Spike picked his way across the bar’s sticky floor to their table, carrying his barely touched beer as cover. Arriving at the punch line of a joke, Spike waited for the roars of laughter to die down before pulling up a chair and settling down in it in a comfortable sprawl a careful distance back from the table.
“You boys new in town?”
“Who’s asking?” The most recently dead one asked challengingly.
“Name’s Spike.” There wasn’t a flicker of reaction, which didn’t surprise Spike. Zombies like these weren’t likely to be accepted as part of the demon community. Neither human nor truly demon, as far as Spike could tell, they wouldn’t be accepted by either group - too dead for humans, too human for demons. Spike wouldn’t expect them to know who the Master of Sunnydale was.
“Great name, dude,” one of the more rotting ones said enthusiastically. “Hey, Jack, wha’dya think, maybe we should change our names?”
“What, you wanna be ‘Dead Dickie’ officially?” Bullet-hole-in-forehead slapped the smaller zombie on the back, knocking him into the table. Spike watched in disbelief as the two of them started a friendly pushing-shoving match, yelling insults that a seven year old would have thought childish. These guys were an embarrassment to respectable dead people, Spike decided. Even if they’d had nothing to do with the bomb, he was going to have to kill them.
The freshest dead guy was watching the others with a tolerant amusement that clashed oddly with his serial killer eyes. “Don’t mind my boys, they’re just blowing off a little steam.”
“This is your idea of blowing off steam?” Spike asked with more than a touch of disdain.
“Hell no!” the fourth zombie said proudly. “We’ve been raising hell in this town since Jack raised us.”
Spike lifted his scarred eyebrow skeptically. “Like what? Haven’t heard about much hell being raised recently.”
“Well, we had some catching up to do,” the zombie began defensively, only to be interrupted by Bullet-hole-in-forehead.
“Walker, Texas Ranger!” he hooted, ending the wrestling match and turning back to the table. Spike had no idea what he was talking about and even less interest in finding out.
“That your work in the school basement a couple weeks ago?” he asked casually, forcing himself to sip his beer again.
“Sure was!” Dead Dickie exclaimed, then his face fell. “Didn’t work right though. Hey Jack, how come we never baked another cake?”
“Hardware store put in bars when they fixed the window.” The answer came absently, the alive-looking one kept his eyes on Spike even as he responded to the question.
“Oh, yeah. Then Bob had to have his non-stop Walker marathon. Hey, we should go back and try again!”
Jack leaned forward, staring at Spike. “You seem awfully interested in our plans.”
Spike rolled his eyes as the zombie pulled a huge hunting knife out and began toying with it, flashing it under the lights in a way that might have intimidated a human. “I’m thinking it might be time for you to move along.”
Spike had learned what he needed to know - that these were in fact the idiots who’d planted the bomb - and wasn’t about to put up with these morons for another second. His hand flashed out, grabbing Jack’s wrist and yanking it to one side even as he sprang up from his deceptively casual sprawl, sending the chair he’d been sitting in sliding back and away from the table. With his other hand, he smashed his glass of beer over the head of one of the other zombies, then snatched the knife away from the zombie and sent it flying across the room to imbed itself in the far wall.
His foot shot out, catching another zombie in the stomach and sending him crashing to the floor. A split second later, and a blow with the entire weight of his body behind it dropped a second one. The deadest one had finally recovered from the impact of the beer glass, jumping to his feet and yelling as Spike turned his attention back to Jack who was struggling to free himself from Spike’s iron grip on his wrist. Surprised that the zombie seemed to have little more than ordinary human strength, Spike found he could hold the zombie easily - however these zombies had been made, it wasn’t the typical process. These were just humans whose corpses had been brought back to life, no extra strength added, as far as Spike could tell.
With a quick, vicious snap, he broke the zombie’s arm and, as Jack doubled over, curling around the wounded arm and screaming in pain, Spike brought his knee up, connecting solidly with the zombie’s chin. Kicking the table over, he slammed Jack into the wall then jumped back to give himself room and freed the small battleaxe he’d strapped to his back under his duster, bringing it up and around in one clean sweep and beheading the
last zombie who was still sitting frozen at the table. Spike took a moment to watch the results clinically, as the head bounced across the floor and the body slid out of the chair, landing with a wet thump on the ground and staying down. Yep, beheading worked on these zombies.
A hard blow from behind momentarily staggered him and he heard the familiar sound of wood crunching as Bullet-hole-in-the-head broke a chair over his back. Un-fucking-believable. Where did these idiots learn to fight? he thought, executing a spin kick that dropped the zombie to the floor again before he could even lower the remnants of the chair he still held raised over his head. Spike kicked him viciously in the head while he was down, just for being such an idiot, and the zombie raised its arms pleadingly.
“Don’t kill me, please.”
“You’re already dead, nitwit,” he snarled, and brought the ax down in a shining arc, severing the zombie’s head and unintentionally burying the blade in the floor.
“What the hell’s your problem, man?” Jack asked, scrambling painfully to his feet, still clutching his broken arm. The fourth zombie joined him, looking a bit worser for wear than he had a few moments ago and Spike smirked at the fear and uncertainty the two were showing.
“My problem is that your bomb threatened my Claimed,” he snarled furiously, yanking the ax out of the floor and turning to face them again.
“Your what?” the rotting one asked in confusion.
Enough talk. Spike was on him before his mouth had a chance to close, swinging the ax savagely until it cleaved through flesh and bone, making the score Spike 3, zombies 0. Jack was backing up, cradling his broken arm and looking around desperately for help. Other than shifting in their chairs for a better view, none of the other demons in the place had moved.
Stalking forward, Spike didn’t bother with threats or taunts, leaping up as soon as he was within range and planting both feet squarely in the zombie’s chest. Jack staggered back from the force of the blow, screaming in pain as Spike’s boots smashed into his broken arm, splintering the already cracked bone. As Jack slid helplessly down the wall, Spike brought the blade around one last time, making it four out of four.
Straightening, he looked around the bar, twirling the ax in a move that was as threatening as it was showy, but the patrons were still simply watching motionlessly and clearly had no intention of taking him on. He wiped the ax blade clean on Jack’s clothing, noting without surprise that these zombies didn’t vanish into thin air when they died and shrugged - not his problem. Wasn’t his bar to clean up.
The frustration and rage that had been growing inside him since he’d found the bomb, since he’d been cheated out of his rightful revenge on Balthazar, dissipated as if it had never been and Spike felt like roaring in triumph, felt like pissing on the corpses, felt like returning to burn Balthazar’s warehouse down just so he could dance on the ashes in celebration. The ones who’d endangered his Claimed were dead and Spike had been able to take his revenge personally this time. The sense of failure that had been haunting him recently had been erased by the violent end of the zombies at his own hands and replaced with a glow of satisfaction.
“Hope you all enjoyed the show,” he said flippantly, then simply turned and strode out the door, the ax held ready in his hand. He smirked as he heard himself being given a brief round of applause as he left, resisting the temptation to stop and take a bow. It was Xander he wanted to tell the tale to and whose thanks he wanted to receive. Especially considering how Xander had thanked him last time, he thought with a grin, quickening his steps towards home.
The quiet “hey” was a welcome intrusion on his Shakespeare assignment and Xander looked up with a grin, sitting up straighter in his chair and slapping his book closed.
“Oz! Where’ve you been? I haven’t seen you in… forever. I finally decided you’d given up on the whole crazy high school diploma thing that us mere mortals are striving for.”
“Just the attending classes part. Piece of advice - getting held back a year, not the laugh riot you’d think.”
Xander nodded with mock sympathy. “I can imagine.” Sobering, he looked searchingly at his friend. Oz looked tired, with a bone-deep weariness that made him seem almost old. With a feeling akin to shock, Xander saw that Oz had light brown roots showing in his black hair. Oz never let his die jobs show roots, even if it was mostly because he dyed his hair so often there was never a chance for it to grow out. More quietly, he asked: “Are you ok?”
“Had better years,” Oz said, looking away. After a long pause, he added: “I heard from Willow.”
“Yeah?” Xander felt his shoulders tense, wondering what Willow had done now.
“She’s coming home.”
“Oh.” Xander didn’t think he could have said anything more if his life had depended on it. Even though he’d known it was going to happen sooner or later, the shock was like a punch in the gut. He wasn’t ready. Not that it was all about him but - he wasn’t ready.
“She’s been seeing someone else.”
That brought his head snapping around in shock. Oz’s voice was matter-of-fact but his eyes were devastated. “My god, Oz, I’m sorry.” How could that have happened? Willow loved Oz and Oz was perfect for her. How could she possibly want someone else?
“She says it’s over, that it was just… experimenting.”
“Experimenting?” Even as he repeated the word blankly, Xander wondered if he really wanted to know.
Oz glanced at him briefly, then turned his gaze back to the far wall. “It was Amy.”
“Oh.” And again with the one syllable but he couldn’t think of anything else to say. Hadn’t seen that one coming.
“Yeah. Hence the need to bail.”
Well, that was understandable. Finding out your girlfriend was cheating on you was harsh. Finding out she was cheating with someone of a different gender than you… took some dealing.
“Anything I can do?”
Oz shook his head. “Nothing to do.”
Xander could appreciate that. His own stomach was graphically demonstrating the meaning of the phrase about having butterflies, he could only imagine what Oz was going through. Willow’s return meant finding out if she’d really changed. For Xander, it meant they would have to actually talk about what had happened, not just tiptoe around it like the proverbial elephant in the room. For Oz, he had that plus infidelity and sexuality issues. Xander didn’t envy him.
On impulse, he asked: “Want to go to a club with Spike and me tonight? Beer, dancing, maybe a game of pool?”
Oz shot him a surprised look and suddenly he was smiling in that mysterious way he had of smiling without his lips ever moving. “Yeah, that sounds really good.”
Xander had debated whether to warn Oz that they were going to a demon bar but had ultimately decided not to tell him. Oz was Mr. Unflappable and Xander was sure he wouldn’t freak out or anything, especially since Oz wasn’t 100% human himself these days. So, he and Spike simply roared up to Oz’s house in the deSoto and headed out for the bar in a squeal of tires.
Ok, he probably should have warned Oz about Spike’s driving.
Xander himself had gotten used to the white-knuckled thrill ride that was Spike even at his most conservative behind the wheel, but he knew from personal experience that Spike’s driving tended to bring on worrisome thoughts of imminent death by mangled metal. Oz was looking startled and alarmed and was openly clinging the door handle as Spike careened through town headed for the bar he and Xander usually went to when they went out.
“Don’t worry,” Xander shouted over the blaring radio and the sound of squealing rubber as Spike dodged around a car that was actually observing the speed limit, one hand on the wheel and the other tapping to the beat on the driver’s side door panel. “He never actually hits anything.”
He had a feeling that didn’t sound quite as reassuring as he’d hoped it would.
Oz’s hair was dark blue tonight and no-one watching him would ever know that he hadn’t spent most of his life in demon clubs. Xander had still not figured out how Oz managed to do that. Oz never dressed in anything that resembled fashionable clothes - between Spike and Cordelia, Xander had gotten far more of an education in style than he’d ever wanted to have - he never made any attempt to blend in with any crowd, he simply was Oz, so comfortable in his own skin that he fit in everywhere. It was a two-way street. Oz never judged anyone, he accepted them on their own terms, and if some of the people here tonight had horns or warty skins or tails, well, that was their business and not a problem for Oz.
Watching Oz listening to the demon band on stage, his eyes bright with interest at the non-human instruments and music being played, Xander was really glad he’d thought of this. When the band took a break and Oz went to talk to them about jamming with them sometime as easily as if the lead singer had been Devon and not a Yngana demon, Xander let Spike drag him over to the pool tables without guilt, knowing Oz had found his own way of dealing with his emotional turmoil.
Inserting the two pieces of wood into the clamp, Xander nodded and Larry began slowly tightening the screw as Xander held the pieces steady, watching the narrowing gap closely. If they didn’t do this right, the glued joint he was trying to hold together would slip and he’d have to start over. Ok, the copious amounts of beer he’d drunk last night with Spike and Oz might have something to do with how slowly and carefully he was moving, but he really didn’t want to have to start over.
“Steady,” he said warningly as the gap closed to a hair’s width. “Ok, that’s enough.”
Larry stopped and Xander gingerly let go of the wood, his hands hovering for a moment to make sure it wasn’t going to slip. The piece held steady and he grinned at Larry.
The piece was part of a weapons chest he was making for Spike and Xander was pleased with his progress on it.
Glancing at the clock, Xander saw they had five minutes left in the class period. “Can I talk to you for a second?”
“Sure, help me clean up.”
Shifting to Larry’s work area, Xander helped him gather up the scattered tools while Larry stored the pieces that would eventually become a carved tray. Xander was more into inlay work, enjoying the delicate precision of working with small strips of contrasting wood, creating designs on flat surfaces. To his mind, it was the best of both worlds: flat planes that gave a chance for the beauty of the wood grain to show and the inlays allowed him to work with many different kinds of wood. He was modeling his designs on some of the mission furniture he’d seen pictures of, hunting down samples on the internet when he needed inspiration. Larry, on the other hand, had gotten into carving, liking the power and control of chisel work. The two of them often helped each other with their projects when another set of hands was needed. The wood shop teacher was good, insisting that the class members try all different kinds of projects to see which they liked best.
Grabbing a dust pan, Xander swept the wood shavings off the bench, dumping them into the garbage can that Larry fetched.
“I’m wondering if you could help me out with something.”
“Sure thing.” Larry was remarkably easy going this year, especially considering what he’d been like for all of junior high and high school, up until this year. Early last fall, he’d straightforwardly apologized to Xander for how he’d treated him over the last few years, telling him that he’d been overcompensating, terrified someone would figure out he was gay. He’d thought that acting like a stereotypical macho jock would keep anyone from guessing his secret. Since coming out openly early in the fall, he’d gone back to being the person Xander vaguely remembered from grade school - friendly and funny and unpretentious. Sometimes, Xander wondered if Larry-the-obnoxious-jock had been a figment of his imagination.
“It’s Jonathan Levinson.”
“The little guy?”
“Yeah. I’ve gotten to know him recently and I hate the way everyone picks on him. I feel bad because I never really noticed it before but he really is the number one target of the jocks. He’s ok once you get to know him, he’s just never really learned how to make friends.”
“You’re asking me to be his friend?”
Xander shook his head and immediately wished he hadn’t as his headache came throbbing back. “I’m wondering if you can get the jocks to back off.”
Despite coming out as gay, Larry still ruled the jocks. He’d settled the issue last fall with a couple of spectacular fights, taking on four and five guys at a time and emerging battered but victorious. Since then, the jocks had apparently accepted that Larry wasn’t going to hit on them and his gay cooties weren’t going to infect them and just decided to ignore the whole issue. Xander had thought at the time that it probably didn’t hurt that Larry could pummel any guy in school and had proved it more than once. Apparently, gay bashing wasn’t much fun when your target could flatten you without breaking a sweat.
It hadn’t hurt that Larry was the football team’s star fullback and was being actively recruited by several college teams. Anyone on the team who gave him flack had found themselves benched during the games that college scouts attended as Larry simply told the coach that they were having an off night and, if the other guy wasn’t benched, Larry was going to sit the game out. As a result, the team had done a rapid about-face and had become remarkably sensitive, open guys, and amazingly politically correct. The really great thing was, some of it seemed to have actually sunk in and stuck around after the season ended and Larry lost his terrifying power to bench the homophobes. Well, it had either sunk in or they were just still afraid to cross Larry.
“That’ll only take care of some of the problem,” Larry pointed out.
“I know. Cordy’s promised to get the Cordettes to back off. If those two groups leave him alone, that’s 90% of the problem.” And hadn’t getting Cordelia to agree been fun? Xander had eventually had to promise to introduce Cordelia to his boyfriend. He’d never given in to her efforts to find out who he was dating and she’d refused to admit she couldn’t find it out from Xander, so she wouldn’t ask anyone else who might have told her. Now, she’d made it a non-negotiable condition to helping out with his “be kind to losers” project, as she insisted on calling it. Xander had a week to arrange the meeting and he was not looking forward to finally having the answer to his question about whether Spike would like or hate Cordelia. Cordelia was going to flip when she learned that he was dating Spike. Xander just hoped the meeting wasn’t going to end up actually being fatal.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Larry said.
Xander gave him a grateful smile. “Thanks, Lare. I really appreciate it. Like I said, Jonathan’s an ok guy once you get to know him.”
He meant it. Jonathan had taken to hanging around with him a bit and Xander had sat with him several times at lunch. Jonathan was painfully insecure and wouldn’t approach Xander if he was with anyone else, but they’d had some fun conversations about comic books and sci-fi movies and the other geeky stuff he’d used to talk about with Jesse. While that stuff was no longer nearly as big a part of Xander’s life as it had once been, he still enjoyed a good debate over the relative merits of Kirk vs. Picard. Xander had coaxed Jonathan into sitting with him and Oz at lunch one day and it had been nice to see Jonathan opening up just a bit.
Giving Larry a thoughtful glance, Xander wondered if Larry’s good nature would stretch to having lunch with Jonathan and Xander. Larry’s deepest secret, now that he was out, was that he was a total X-Men fanatic. It would do Jonathan a world of good to find out that he had something in common with the school’s reigning jock.
Xander was sitting at the kitchen table, nervously fiddling with a sheet of paper when Spike shuffled out to the kitchen, barely awake at the godawful early afternoon hour. Moving on autopilot, he pulled out a bag of blood and stuck it in the microwave, punching in the time and fumbling for a mug.
Sitting down across from Xander, Spike glared at his boy. “One word about the hair and you will pay in ways you’ve never even dreamed about,” he muttered, draining the mug and fighting the need to go straight back to bed.
Xander gave him an innocent look that didn’t go well with the smile lurking at the corners of his mouth and Spike growled at him under his breath. Xander had a nasty habit of telling Spike that his just-woken-up, pre-shower bed-head was “adorable”. Made a vampire grumpy, Spike thought righteously.
Too bad his early afternoon grumpiness - legendary in some circles - had no effect on Xander who thought it was cute and wasn’t afraid to say so.
This afternoon, though, Xander didn’t tease Spike with his usual sappy compliments which he claimed were all part of a sincere effort to help Spike wake up. Instead, Xander went back to fidgeting nervously and Spike drained the mug of warmed blood, and shook his head vigorously, shaking off his sleepiness.
“Somethin’ wrong, luv?”
“Sort of… not really… kind of…” Xander said unhelpfully, obviously nervous. He looked down at the paper on the table. “Willow’s coming back.”
Spike stiffened at Xander’s quiet words, the last traces of sleepiness vanishing in a tidal wave of emotion: anger, worry, fear for Xander, need for revenge, all those and more surged through him, robbing him of speech for a moment.
“It’s not like I haven’t known she was going to be coming back eventually,” Xander went on. “It’s just that… I’m not ready to see her yet.”
“Then don’t. Tell her to stay where she is and leave you the hell alone. Tell her if she comes within a mile of this town I’ll tear her apart.” Spike was already making plans to meet the witch’s plane and eviscerate her in the terminal.
“I can’t do that,” Xander objected. He looked up and smiled wryly. “And whatever you’re thinking, you can’t do that either.”
“Witch so much as looks at you cross-eyed and I can and will do exactly what I’m thinking.”
“Spike, do you honestly think that Maggie would let Willow come back if she wasn’t better?”
Spike scowled. Maggie had been impressive and any coven that the old woman was part of was undoubtedly on the ball. Xander had a good point but it wasn’t one that Spike wanted to accept. He resented the witch coming back, hated her for what she’d done to his Claimed, and hated being denied the right to take vengeance on her. Xander was still looking at him, his brows raised pointedly and Spike finally said grudgingly: “Not deliberately. Doesn’t mean the witch can’t pull the wool over Maggie’s eyes.”
“Willow’s written me some letters,” Xander admitted, ignoring Spike’s darkening look at that revelation. “She really seems like she understands what she did wrong.”
“Full of apologies, was she?” Spike asked scornfully.
Xander shook his head. “No, and for some weird reason, that’s why I think she finally gets it. Like she knows that it’s too big for an ‘I’m sorry’ to make everything all better now.”
“Clever of her,” Spike commented sourly. Xander was too trusting, too loyal, even to someone who’d betrayed him not once but twice. Someone who’d hurt him over and over and thought she was doing it for Xander’s own good.
“Can’t stop her from coming back,” he said flatly, “but you let her know that I’ll be watching her.” He stood, feeling a sudden need to spar with his Lieutenants to work off the anger inside. “And I will kill her if she hurts you again.”
Xander smiled. “I love you too.”