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
“Books of Ascension, people. Volumes I through V.”
Spike dropped a carryall onto the library table, looking smug and pleased with himself. Giles and Wesley reacted first, unzipping the bag and spilling the books out onto the table with far less care than either Watcher usually showed towards books. Both grabbed a volume and immediately began flipping through it.
“Had an errand.”
Xander made a note to ask Spike later about the disgust in his voice as he answered Buffy but for now he was drawn to the books out of curiosity as well. Even Willow left the computer and she, Oz and Xander each took one of the remaining volumes, settling down at the table to see what they had. Buffy contented herself with roaming in a circle around the group, looking over everyone’s shoulders in turn at their books.
Spike pulled up a chair next to Xander and Xander laid a caressing hand on his thigh, nudging his book over a little so Spike could read it as well.
“Worth a thousand?” Spike asked after a moment.
Xander looked at him in surprise. “You guys paid the demon?”
Spike snorted. “Not my idea. Peaches insisted, that’s what he’s doing now. Acting like a human again,” he finished scornfully.
“Hey,” Xander protested mildly and Spike smirked at him.
“Demons don’t pay for things. It’s the principle of the thing,” he said as if it was self-evident.
“I’ve seen you paying for drinks in a bar,” Xander argued.
“Gentlemen, a little less noise would be helpful,” Wesley said without looking up from his volume.
“Sorry,” Xander apologized sheepishly. He’d forgotten they weren’t alone. Spike just laughed, rubbing his hand over Xander’s back. He too settled down to read, curious about what the books contained.
The Books of Ascension were the genuine article. Fragile, handwritten, almost transparently thin pages contained all the information you would ever want to know about an Ascension. If you were the one choosing to Ascend, that is.
Essentially, they were how-to manuals - How to Achieve Ascension in 12 Needlessly Complicated Steps. Other than telling them what Ascension was, Xander already had a sinking feeling they weren’t going to be very useful.
Not that the books weren’t a good start. They now knew that ‘Ascension’ referred to a human transforming into a demon, but the books contained hundred of different Ascension recipes for transforming into one demon or another. Apparently, different rituals were called for depending on if you wanted to become an Azrasch or a Zhyn’dahk demon.
After an hour, punctuated by occasional exclamations of interest and one or another of them reading a passage out loud to the group, Xander pushed his book away and stretched in his chair, rolling his shoulders to ease the stiffness. “Is it just me or does this not make any sense?”
“What do you mean, Xander?” Giles asked, looking up from his own volume.
“Why is becoming a demon such a big deal? I mean, it’s not like we don’t have hundreds of them running around Sunnydale already.”
“There are thousands of species of demons, Xander,” Wesley answered. “I suspect the Mayor has chosen to become a particular type of demon for some reason that we may never know. In the meantime, all we can do is try to narrow it down to the more likely possibilities.”
“Well, what does the Mayor want?” Willow asked.
Giles took his glasses off and gestured with them. “Power?” he suggested.
“He already has that, at least at the local level,” Elizabeth, as they were now all calling Miss Hartness, said thoughtfully. She had joined them a bit late and was now sharing Volume II with Wesley. “I think we can safely assume he is seeking additional power. The question is: what does that mean to him? Power comes in many forms.”
“He’s already immortal, or close to it,” Oz said quietly.
Giles leaned his head back, chewing absently on the earpiece of his glasses as he thought. “These books are very old,” he said after a long pause. “They are unknown to both the Council and the Devonshire coven, which says a great deal about how exceedingly rare they are.” Putting his glasses back on, he sat upright again.
“If we are on the right track and the Mayor intends to Ascend and become a demon, it seems likely he is using the information contained in these books. Ascension is such a rare term that none of us,” his gesture indicated Wesley, Elizabeth and himself, “had ever heard it before. Nor have we been able to find more than the vaguest reference to it despite all our research. I think we can therefore assume that the Mayor must have gotten his knowledge of Ascension either from these actual volumes or from a secondary source based on these volumes.”
He looked around the circle but no one ventured a counter argument. “Until we know more about the specific ritual he is planning to use, I believe our best course of action is to compile a list of all the possibilities, then try to determine which are the most likely demons the Mayor might choose to become. Perhaps exceptionally strong ones, or ones with unusual and useful abilities. At least that way, Buffy will have some idea of how to fight the demon if we are unable to stop the Mayor before he transforms.”
From the deafening silence, no one had any better ideas. Giles got to his feet and went to gather notebooks and pens for everyone to start listing the demons in their particular volume. Xander flipped his notebook open with a sigh. It was going to be a long night.
Giles and Wesley looked like they hadn’t slept in three days. They had taken the staggering list of 1,135 demons referenced in the Books of Ascension, which the group had compiled in that first marathon session, and begun making a graph, listing strengths, weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages, in an attempt to winnow down the daunting number of possibilities. Unfortunately, the Books of Ascension pretty much just listed impressive demons so the weeding out process wasn’t going well. Apparently, no one was interested in transforming into a small, harmless demon.
Willow had triumphantly broken through the Mayor’s firewalls only to find she must have tripped an alarm and the files were empty when she finally accessed them. After all her hard work, it was a crushing blow and Elizabeth had taken her off for a meditation session to rejuvenate her aura, or something. She’d come back the next night, ready to work, and immediately begun compiling a searchable database of the information Giles and Wesley were so laboriously charting.
“Because,” she pointed out. “If we find out what demon he’s going to become, we can pull up the information with one mouse click and that’s a whole lot easier than fumbling through dozens of pages.”
Seeing the wisdom of the suggestion, Giles had gratefully turned over their lists of demons with their strengths and weaknesses. Giles, Wesley and Elizabeth then turned their attention to the actual rituals, adding notes about which ingredients were required in each case, hoping they could track purchases of exotic ingredients to give them a clue about the Mayor’s plans.
And that was their problem: too much information. The Mayor could become one of over a thousand demons, each of which required the Mayor to perform a different ritual to become that demon. It was complete information overload. If they couldn’t stop the Mayor before he transformed, Buffy would have to be prepared to fight any one of a thousand different demons, each of which had different vulnerabilities. Some demons could be killed by beheading, others had multiple heads or could re-grow their heads; some could be stopped with fire, others were impervious to flames. There were demons that could be killed with ordinary weapons: swords and axes, and demons with skin so tough that no blade could pierce it.
“It’s like studying for the worst test in the world,” Buffy grumbled. “We have to narrow this down or I’ll have to wheel a cart with me around just to have all the weapons I’ll need.”
Wesley uncovered a disturbing fact as he read through the volumes cross-referencing rituals and demons: over half the rituals involved the person wishing to achieve Ascension becoming impervious to harm as the first step. His face grim, Wesley showed his notes to Giles and Elizabeth.
“That may be the power boost the coven sensed,” Elizabeth said, after reading about the ritual common to so many of the ascensions. She exchanged a concerned glance with Wesley and Giles. “If so, we are in serious trouble.”
“Impervious as in…” Buffy began, when Giles interrupted her.
“As in they cannot be hurt or harmed in any way.”
“Great. Anyone else think it’s time for a vacation in Bora Bora?”
“Worse, it doesn’t even help us narrow down the search,” Wesley said, taking off his glasses to rub at eyes red-rimmed from too much reading and ignoring Buffy’s remark. “First, we don’t know if that is the ritual the Mayor performed. Second, nearly half of the rituals in the Books of Ascension start with the individual becoming invulnerable. And finally, the ritual to become invulnerable must be performed at different times in relationship with the intended ascension, depending on which demon the person intends to become.” He flipped through his notes in frustration. “To become Lohash, one must perform the invulnerability ritual 40 days before Ascension. It is performed 120 days beforehand if you are intending to become H’ruushalh and 86 days if your goal is to become a Nyrtaan.” He slapped the notebook closed. “I could go on.”
“Please don’t,” Buffy muttered. She shook her head in exasperation. “We’re wasting our time. This - ” she gestured around at the charts and lists and books scattered everywhere in the usually neat library, “this isn’t getting us anywhere. We can’t prepare for this many possibilities. We have to try something else.”
“What do you suggest?” Giles asked.
“I don’t know,” she answered in obvious frustration. “Right now, I’m thinking we need to do something: storm the Mayor’s office, beat up Willie the Snitch, burn down City Hall, anything but what we are doing.”
“Maybe you should patrol with Angel and Spike,” Wesley suggested. Spike had flatly refused to spend hours every night in tedious note-taking research and he and Angel spent the hours the others spent researching out patrolling before Spike returned to take Xander home each night. Buffy had been obviously envious of them but had clearly felt duty bound to work through the information in the books of Ascension since she was the one it was intended to help.
“I’m for burning down City Hall myself,” Spike’s voice interrupted from the upper landing.
“That’s unlikely to take care of the problem.” Wesley sounded like he wasn’t sure if Spike was joking or not.
“Be fun.” Spike’s feral grin wasn’t helping, Xander thought in amusement, Wesley looked nervous.
“Spike and Buffy are right,” Giles announced, standing up abruptly.
“You want to burn down City Hall?” Willow asked in disbelief.
“No, of course not. But we all need to take a break. We’re drowning in information and are far past the time when anything is making sense. Everyone, go home, and take tomorrow off. No researching. No patrolling. No database compiling.”
“Are you sure?” Xander thought longingly of a night off but didn’t want to bail when things were this critical.
“Quite sure. The chances that the Mayor will do anything tomorrow night are remote. We will all be the better for the chance to clear our heads and approach the problem fresh.”
“Giles, you are a god. Kind of a minor, tweedy god, but one nevertheless.” Buffy stood, “What do you guys say? Who’s for the Bronze?” She suddenly looked full of energy, in a way Xander could only envy.
Spike looked at her like she was a particularly stupid insect. “Takin’ my boy home and shagging him,” he announced, pulling Xander to his feet.
Buffy made a face. “Way too much information.”
“Quite,” Giles agreed.
“How about tomorrow night?” Willow suggested. “Personally, I’m thinking of sleep for about 14 hours but I’d be up for the Bronze tomorrow.”
Although Xander really liked Spike’s plan - really liked it - and thought it was worthy of a repeat tomorrow night, his eyes went to Oz and Angel. Angel really wasn’t a Bronze kind of guy and Oz wouldn’t go because of Willow. Left to their own devices, Oz would probably retreat to the music studio in his garage and Angel would just go to the mansion. He threw Spike an apologetic look and planted himself against Spike’s efforts to pull him out the door to go home.
“Giles, Wesley, Elizabeth?” He waited until the three adults looked at him, then said: “You guys are taking tomorrow off too, right? You need the break as much as we do.”
“Don’t worry, Xander,” Giles smiled. “There is a glass of Glenlivet and some wonderful operas waiting for me at home.”
“Buffy,” Xander laced his fingers through Spike’s and chose his words carefully. “If its ok, Spike and I will give the Bronze a miss. I think Spike and Angel will want to go to a bar that serves blood. Oz, why don’t you join us?” he asked casually, pleased when Oz nodded. “I know you liked the band.” He made an apologetic gesture. “Sorry, it’s a place that isn’t big on Slayers, so do you mind if we leave the Bronze to you and Willow?”
Buffy flicked a quick glance at Oz and obviously grasped the situation. “No problem. Willow and I will have a girl’s night out, ok Willow?”
Willow nodded. “Thanks, Xander,” she said quietly, her gaze also going briefly to Oz before resolutely turning away and smiling at Buffy. “We haven’t had a girl’s night in a long. It’ll be fun.”
She and Buffy moved to the door and Xander found himself the center of attention, Angel looking surprised, Oz unreadable, Giles approving. “Well done, Xander,” he said quietly, then looked at Elizabeth and Wesley. “Would you two like to come to my apartment tomorrow for an adult evening?” he offered.
“I’m more an early rock-n-roll than classical, but maybe we can negotiate,” Elizabeth smiled, suddenly looking much less proper than she normally did.
Giles got a disturbing gleam in his eye. “I think I have just the music for you. Wesley?”
“Yes, indeed. Thank you, Giles.”
“Right, shag tonight, drinks tomorrow,” Spike agreed and Xander laughed as Buffy’s voice floated back through the door.
Arriving at the library with Spike two nights later, Xander was instantly aware that something was up. Giles was pacing back and forth agitatedly, Wesley looked deeply troubled, and Buffy looked like she was about to blow a gasket.
The night off had been great and Oz had seemed more relaxed than Xander had seen him since Willow’s return. Spike and Angel hadn’t needed the break as much as the humans in the group because they had been out every night happily killing things and not building up stress like the rest of them but they’d seemed to enjoy themselves as much as he and Oz had. Oz ended up joining the demon band on stage, admitting he’d been talking to the lead singer about a joint tour with the Dingoes. Spike and Xander played pool and Xander got fairly thoroughly drunk. Which didn’t do much for his pool game but felt really good after the exhausting week. This morning, his head throbbing, he’d decided that his classes could live without him for one day and had called in sick to Giles this morning, admitting he was blowing off his classes to sleep in but would be back at the library after school ready for work.
He’d been joking with Spike as they entered the library but his laughter died at the obvious tension in the room. “What’s up, guys?” he asked warily, his eyes moving between the humans and Angel, who appeared to be the source of the trouble.
“Oh, nothing. Giles just wants to risk Angel’s life for no good reason.”
“What are you talkin’ about?” Spike asked sharply.
“The Mayor has summoned a demon Mage to remove Angelus’ soul,” Giles explained.
Xander’s head snapped around to stare at Angel but it was Angel not Angelus, leaning against the bookshelves, hands in his pockets, head down slightly, not looking at anyone as they argued about him.
“Fortunately, the Mage is an old acquaintance and owes me a debt of honor. He approached me and let me know what was happening. I have proposed that he pretend to do the ritual and Angel, posing as Angelus, seek out the Mayor to see what he can learn.”
“No.” Buffy’s arms were folded stubbornly as she glared at Giles. “It’s too dangerous. You said yourself that there’s a good chance the Mayor is invulnerable.”
“True, but the idea is not for them to fight just for Angel to learn what he can,” Wesley pointed out. “I know there is some risk but - ”
“Some risk?” Buffy interrupted, glaring at him. “What if something goes wrong? You can’t send Angel in alone against something he can’t fight.”
Spike had been uncharacteristically silent, listening to the others and Xander could tell he’d been thinking hard, now he spoke. “Slayer, the Mayor’s a nutter. He’s just as likely to lecture you about manners as he is to attack you. Feeling invulnerable can make you slow to provoke because, since nothing can hurt you, you don’t need to react quickly. Angelus should be fine.” His eyes never left Angelus even as he ostensibly addressed Buffy.
“Buffy,” Wesley said persuasively. “This may be our best chance to find out if the Mayor is planning to ascend, and where and when he will do so. Maybe even how we can stop him. Right now we are working in the dark with nothing more than theories to go on.”
“We can stop him by just killing him. He’s not human, that makes him fair game.”
Xander winced at her flat pronouncement, thinking of all his demon friends, but this wasn’t the time to argue about it.
“We don’t actually know what he is…” Giles began but Wesley overrode him.
“Buffy, human or not, the Mayor is a public figure. You can’t afford the exposure of an act which will be investigated by the authorities and seen as a homicide if you are discovered to be the one responsible. Slayers are able to operate in the modern world because no one investigates the deaths of demons. Killing the Mayor of a town…” Wesley shook his head. “We may very well reach that point, but if we do, it will require the utmost caution and extensive planning.”
“So, let’s get with the planning.”
“Sending Angel in is a step in that direction. We must have more information before we act.”
“I’ll do it.” Angel’s quiet voice broke through the arguing voices.
“Buffy, it’s the only way. Ever since his assistant saw us together, the Mayor knows that Spike is working with you and me. He won’t let Spike get close enough to learn anything and no one else can either. I’m the only one who can do this.”
“Angel, I don’t want to lose you.”
Spike didn’t like cloak and dagger stuff, preferring straight forward attacks to skulking about in the shadows but the idea had merit. “Don’t get melodramatic, Slayer,” he growled. “I met with the Mayor several times and I’m still here.”
Buffy looked around and saw she was fighting a losing battle. “Fine,” she said reluctantly. “Where do we do this?”
“None of you can be around or the Mayor will know I’m faking it. I suspect he’ll send someone around to convince me to go to City Hall right after the Mage does the spell.” Angel hesitated, looking at Giles. “Do you trust this Mage?”
“Yes. If he wasn’t being honest about his intentions, he would never have approached me at all. You would simply already have lost your soul.”
There didn’t seem to be anything else to say. Spike watched with disapproving eyes but didn’t say anything as Buffy clung desperately to Angel. Despite how well they’d been doing in staying away from each other, it was obvious they still cared deeply for each other.
A knock on the door of the apartment in the early morning hours had Spike crossing the living room rapidly. Xander had fallen asleep hours earlier but Spike was awake and pacing the apartment, worried about his Sire. Giles had admitted frankly that the Mage had the power to remove Angelus’ soul, Giles had only his belief that the Mage wouldn’t actually do it.
Spike had to admit, it was a brilliant ploy on the part of the Mayor. Given the chaos Angelus had caused last year when his soul had gone walkabout, the Mayor had every reason to expect that Angelus would create the same kind of problems if he lost his soul again. Angelus had never been an inconspicuous demon and his presence would cause both Buffy and Spike problems, thus removing three impediments to the Mayor’s plans with one stroke.
Swinging the door open, he studied Angelus carefully, stretching his senses out and checking for any hints of blood, cigarette smoke, or alcohol. All of which were nearly permanently part of Angelus’ scent when he was soulless and a far better indicator of his status than his appearance.
Angelus waited patiently, aware of what Spike was doing, and Spike eventually pushed the door open and stepped back to let his Sire inside. “Mage do his thing?”
“The Mayor strolled into the mansion as cool as you please, saying he had a proposition for me.” Angelus couldn’t hide the faint note of resentment that someone would invade his territory in that way. “Then he threw some sort of blood and herbs cocktail at me. He was apologizing and offering dry cleaning tips when the Mage put on his light show.”
Spike couldn’t help smirking. Angelus obviously was having as much difficulty figuring out the Mayor as Spike. “Did he say what he wanted?”
Angel shot him an unreadable glance. “For starters, he wants me to get you in line,” he answered shortly. “he’s not happy about you working with the Slayer.”
“Not a surprise,” Spike said reasonably. “I’m the biggest threat to him - this is my territory he’s mucking about in.”
“Don’t let it go to your head, he wants me to take out Buffy too.”
“You supposed to do all this for him out of the goodness of your heart?”
“He’s aware that Angelus wouldn’t need a lot of incentive,” Angelus said dryly. “He’s offered me the chance to become his right hand man.”
“Big of him,” Spike commented. “Learn anything useful?”
Spike cocked his head curiously. “He just sayin’ that or did he prove it?”
“I stabbed him through the heart.” Spike grinned and Angelus shook his head. “The knife went in to the hilt and it didn’t faze him at all. Didn’t even hurt him. He just pulled it out and scolded me for being rude and said I could try again if it would make me feel better.”
“Very.” Angelus looked puzzled. “He’s an odd character. Invulnerable but he hates germs. He’s planning on killing half the town but he thinks it’s rude to swear.”
“Not quite as barmy as Dru, but close,” Spike summed up. Drusilla had been a similar odd combination of fastidious manners and bloodlust. Far classier than the Mayor, though, he thought with a sniff. “Any time table on killin’ me and the Slayer?” he asked absently.
“Actually, he doesn’t want me to kill Buffy, because he doesn’t want another Slayer called, just wants me to get her out of the way until the Ascension.”
“He is going for Ascension, then?” Spike still suspected they were missing something but he couldn’t figure out what.
“Yeah. He wouldn’t tell me anything other than he was working towards Ascension and he would tell me more when I had proved myself to him.”
Angelus was looking uneasy, his eyes shifting every so often towards the bedroom and Spike was getting suspicious. “Prove yourself how?” he demanded.
“He suggested I bring Xander to him as proof of my allegiance.” Angelus admitted. “Said it would keep you under control if he had your consort.”
Spike felt a growl rising in his throat, even though he knew Angelus had no intention of following through with that idea. Angelus let him swear for a moment, then put both hands out to stop Spike when it looked like Spike was about to charge through the door headed for City Hall.
“We’ll kill him, Spike,” he promised. “But there’s nothing you can do to him right now, remember?”
Frustration and anger pulsed through Spike at the reminder that, once more, he couldn’t avenge a threat to his Claimed. He subsided reluctantly, acknowledging that, for the moment, the Mayor was out of his reach. “Coven must be good for something,” he growled. “Maybe they can reverse the invulnerability ritual.”
“We’ll find out,” Angelus promised.