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 untangled himself from Spike’s arms and slipped out of the bed, unable to ignore the demands of his bladder any longer. After taking care of necessity, he hesitated over his choices then opted for returning to bed rather than studying for finals. Opportunities to spend lazy mornings in bed with his vampire were far too infrequent.
Sliding back under the covers, Xander wasn’t surprised when Spike stirred without opening his eyes and pulled Xander firmly back into the curve of his body. Even mostly asleep, Spike was aware of Xander’s presence and his movements around their apartment. Spike had tried to explain how he did it, but it was one of those things that, if you didn’t have vampire senses, you couldn’t really understand. Xander had long ago decided that Spike’s ability to sense his surroundings even while asleep was the origin of the phrase ‘sleeping with one eye open’ and had stopped trying to understand the mechanics of being both awake and asleep at the same time.
Two hours later, when Xander woke again and reluctantly decided he couldn’t put off studying for finals any longer, he was prevented from leaving the bed by Spike’s arms tightening around him. Turning in Spike’s embrace, he found Spike fully awake, which was unusual enough at this time of day to be worth comment.
“Need to talk to you, Xander,” Spike said, and released his hold, letting them both sit up. Xander took a moment to stretch and work the kinks out, before settling back against the headboard to listen to what Spike had to say.
“You remember when I sent the boys out the other night to see what the Mayor was up to?” Xander nodded and Spike continued. “Mayor’s recruiting a lot of vampires. He’s got 30 or so working for him already and he’s trying to get more.” Spike grinned w[ith feral satisfaction. “He’s not havin’ much luck getting more recruits because we’ve got the word out that it’s final death to work for him.” The grin died as he admitted: “Problem is, we haven’t been able to take out the ones he’s already got because he’s keeping ‘em close and they aren’t showing themselves around town much so we can’t get at ‘em.”
Xander nodded. Spike had told him all this already and the rest of them had been keeping an eye on City Hall during the days themselves, hoping the Mayor’s would let his security lapse and they could get at the Box of Gavrock, so they were aware the place still swarmed with police and human security by day and with vampires at night.
“Him having that many vampires workin’ for him; it’s a direct challenge to my authority, luv. Can’t let it go on much longer or I’ll look weak.”
“What are you planning on doing?” Xander felt his stomach tie in knots and the worry must have shown on his face because Spike slid his arm around Xander’s shoulders and pulled him close. Leaning into the comforting strength of his lover’s cool body, Xander listened as Spike explained.
“’m declaring war, Xander. Nothing else to do. If the Mayor was a vampire, we’d have been at war the day after I found out what he was doin’. Since he’s not a vampire, I could overlook a couple vampires workin’ for him but he’s gone way past that.”
“What does declaring war mean, exactly?” Xander asked warily, not liking the sound of it.
Spike sighed. “Bit difficult in this case,” he admitted. “Usually, I’d just challenge the vampire settin’ up the rival Court and we’d settle it one on one.”
“But the Mayor…” Alarmed, Xander struggled to sit up but Spike tightened his arm, holding Xander in place, his other arm running soothingly over the bare leg Xander had draped comfortably over Spike’s leg.
“Don’t fret, luv. I don’t have to challenge the Mayor directly.” Spike shrugged as Xander relaxed again at that reassurance. “Because he’s not a vampire, I can get away with not fighting him one on one. Means we’ll do it the way it was done in the Middle Ages: minions against minions. I’ll take my Court up against the vampires working for him.”
“When are you planning on doing this?”
“I’m meeting with the full Court tomorrow night and telling them what I’m doing. Probably the night after unless I learn something from the boys tonight to change my mind.”
“You’re just going to attack City Hall?” Xander asked, wishing his voice didn’t sound so faint.
“Probably. Not worried about it, pet, we more than double their numbers and none of them are much of anything to worry about. When we’re done, I’ll have a try for the Box but we’re not going to be exactly subtle about moving in, so I’m not real optimistic about the Box still being there by the end of the fight.”
Xander digested that for a long moment. Spike was right, the Court had nearly 100 vampires, which should make taking on the Mayor’s vampires pretty easy. Except for the Mayor who was definitely the wild card in the game. “Why do you think he’s got that many vampires working for him?”
Spike shook his head. “Dunno, luv. Don’t think it’s just to guard the Box, feels like more somehow.”
“Something to do with the Ascension?”
“Probably, timing’s right. Question is: what?”
“We know so much about the Ascension but none of the important bits,” Xander exclaimed in frustration his hands tightening around Spike. “Not where, when, or why he needs 30 or so vampires.”
“Knowing only part of the riddle is the way the game is played, luv,” Spike said comfortably. In the same way that Spike lived in the moment without a lot of worrying about what happened yesterday, so he was far less nervous and tense than any of the humans were about the impending Ascension. Spike had a way of dealing with the variables in front of him and not spending a lot of time fretting about the intangibles. Xander really envied him that ability.
“No, we cannot make an attempt to retrieve the Box while it remains so heavily guarded,” Wesley was insisting as Xander entered the library, Oz on his heels.
Buffy was there with the two Watchers and it was obvious that she and Wesley had been arguing again. As both the Ascension and the end of school got closer, they were all showing classic signs of stress. Between preparing for finals and worrying about imminent death, all of them had said things they regretted on more than one occasion. The friction between Buffy and Wesley had been noticeably increasing as they remained deadlocked on the issue of Buffy going to college. It hadn’t helped that Buffy had made what she thought was a compromise decision: she had accepted her admission at UC Sunnydale, allowing her to both stay on the Hellmouth and attend college. The problem was going to college at all was against the Council’s orders and she hadn’t told them before sending off her acceptance. Wesley obviously sympathized with her wish to continue her education but felt he had to be the voice of the Council in this situation. Giles, having been fired, felt no such obligation to back the Council and was whole-heartedly supporting Buffy’s right to attend college.
Now Buffy said heatedly to Wesley: “Well, we can’t just sit around doing nothing, waiting for the Mayor to change. We have to do something and the Box is our best shot.”
“Buffy, you know the Mayor is still keeping the box heavily guarded day and night.” Giles glanced down at the newspaper in front of him, frowning in distaste at the lurid headline about the brutal murder of a professor in his own home. “Despite the increase in crime due to the lack of police presence, he is keeping nearly the police force at City Hall guarding the box. You simply cannot take on the police directly.”
“I know,” Buffy snapped impatiently, “we need to reconsider going in at night.”
“With 30-some vampires…” Wesley began.
Xander interrupted: “That won’t be an issue for long.”
“Yes, Xander,” Giles said testily. “We all know the Ascension is rapidly approaching.”
Xander ignored the flicker of hurt at Giles’ reproof. He knew Giles hadn’t really meant to imply that Xander was wasting their time, he was just tired and stressed out and had been snapping at everyone. “Maybe more rapidly than we’d hoped. Guess who our commencement speaker is this year?”
Alerted by his tone, the three of them gave him their full attention.
“I’m guessing it’s not somebody young and cute?” Buffy answered.
“Neither of the above. Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think that, in his entire 80-some years in office, Mayor Wilkins has ever spoken at a high school graduation before. Anyone taking bets that this year’s graduation date of May 25th isn’t just a coincidence?”
“Bloody hell!” Giles exploded, for one second sounding remarkably like Spike. “No wonder they’ve been keeping the identity of the Commencement speaker a secret.” He braced his hands against the table and visibly fought for calm. “May 25th is the Ascension date for the demon Olvikan,” he said, regaining control. “It makes a horrible kind of sense. The Books of Ascension mention that the newly created demon must feed heavily immediately after the transformation so as to replenish their energy.”
“And a graduation crowd would be a guaranteed meal,” Buffy finished grimly.
“Olvikan’s the big snake, right?” Oz asked. He and Xander had been in the student lounge when Snyder and the woman in charge of the commencement ceremony had walked by, discussing the Mayor’s requirements as this year’s keynote speaker.
“Right, Tutu is the one with all the heads and Warussky is the horns and slime,” Buffy confirmed.
“Daratuu and W’rrruss’kha,” Giles murmured, rubbing at his eyes, distracted as always by Buffy’s nicknames for the demons.
Wesley came out of his frozen shock, saying urgently: “We cannot allow this to happen. Can we cancel the ceremony? Starve the Mayor by depriving him of his food source?” Even as he said it, he winced apologetically for labeling the students a ‘food source’.
Giles shook his head, slipping his glasses back on. “Not without giving away the fact that we know what’s happening and when. As far as we know, the Mayor doesn’t realize that we have the Books of Ascension, so hopefully he assumes we are working blind: knowing he is up to something but not knowing exactly what it is,” he answered slowly.
“Sounds like what we are doing.” Xander wasn’t actually sure where that sotto-voice mutter had come from but it sure summed up their situation.
“They’re really pushing attendance this year,” Buffy said thoughtfully. “Caps and gowns aren’t usually free and they are this year because of an anonymous donation.” She brightened a little bit, looking around at them. “This is good. Unless it’s a coincidence, then we now know where and when it’s happening.”
“The ceremony is mid-afternoon,” Oz said. “Spike and Angel won’t be able to help.”
“Actually, that might not be an issue,” Giles said. “There are repeated references in the Books of Ascension to ‘darkness falling’ and ‘day becoming night’ during the transformation.”
Wesley nodded, adding: “It appears that an eclipse is standard procedure for an Ascension. That will leave Angel and Spike free to help.”
“Well, thank god something is finally going our way,” Buffy said, “but, unless we can get the Box from the Mayor before then, we have less than a week to find a way to kill a big snake.”
“Wesley and I will redouble our efforts to learn more about Olvikan but the Mayor’s invulnerability remains the key problem. We cannot assume he won’t remain invulnerable past the transformation and the Books of Ascension are silent on that point. I’m afraid we must continue to seek a way to deal with an invulnerable demon.”
“We’ve got to find a way to make the Mayor killable, either now or post-demon,” Buffy said, frustrated by the seemingly insolvable problem. “Are you sure there isn’t a spell to reverse his invulnerability?”
“We have been looking into it but we’ve found nothing,” Giles reminded her tiredly. He, Wesley and Elizabeth had been researching non-stop, spending hours in the library desperately searching for anything that could help and mostly coming up blank. Giles was so tired that sometimes his usually urbane demeanor deserted him, Xander had overheard him complaining waspishly one morning that they had ‘sod all’ to show for it after pulling yet another all-nighter in the library.
“If we can’t kill him, can we control him?” Xander asked. Seeing the questioning glances, he continued, thinking out loud. “Snakes just have fangs, right? You pick them up by their heads and they can’t do anything to you.”
“Olvikan will be much bigger, of course,” Giles answered, looking interested. “But it might be possible to get some sort of rope around its neck.” He sighed, shaking his head. “I doubt that even a Slayer will be strong enough to hold the demon.”
“Tie the rope off. Lots of trees in the courtyard,” Oz contributed.
“I’m not sure that would work, even if we could put some sort of spell on the rope,” Wesley said, tapping his fingers thoughtfully on the table. “But it’s an interesting idea. We must all try and think of any plan, no matter how insane or desperate, if we are going to stop the Mayor.”
“We attack the Mayor with hummus,” Oz suggested with a completely straight face.
For one moment, Wesley stared at him like Oz had lost his mind, until Giles chuckled and Wesley belatedly smiled, realizing it was a joke. Oz could be hard to read that way, Xander thought in amusement, glad for the momentary break in the tension.
“Perhaps not quite that insane,” Giles said, the laughter reaching his eyes for the first time in days. He glanced at the clock. “Wesley and I will check the security at City Hall and see if there has been any change.”
“About that,” Xander began slowly, thinking furiously. “Spike decided this morning that he needs to take out the Mayor’s vampires,” he said, editing things slightly.
“What?!” The exclamations came from all sides and Xander held up his hands.
“Don’t shoot the messenger. Spike told me this morning that the Mayor has essentially set up a rival Court because of the number of vampires he has working for him. Spike intends to attack the Mayor’s vampires and kill them all.”
Buffy looked torn, like she wasn’t sure if she was pleased or seriously ticked off. Giles and Wesley were both thinking hard, Oz was unreadable but Xander didn’t sense any disapproval from him. “I’m going to call him and let him know about Saturday and see if that changes his mind. He was planning on making a try for the Box after he’s killed all the Mayor’s vampires but doesn’t really expect to be successful. But if the vampire guards are gone that means we can try again at night.”
“The Ascension Ritual for Olvikan calls for the Mayor to consume the contents of the Box 24 hours before the Ascension,” Giles said slowly, obviously working it out in his head as he spoke. “When does Spike plan on attacking?”
“Tuesday,” Wesley mused, “that would give us Wednesday and Thursday nights to make our own attempts.”
“Why not simultaneous attacks?” Buffy suggested. “We go in while Spike is taking out the vampires. If Angel and I go in and make directly for the Box, maybe we can get to it before the Mayor knows what’s happening.”
“That’s probably our best chance,” Wesley agreed.
“We need time to plan,” Buffy said. “Xander, can you ask Spike to hold off his attack one night? We need to coordinate things with him before going in.”
Buffy really had learned about not holding out on your allies. Remembering the disastrous events last year when Buffy had held back crucial information about a supposedly joint attack on Acathla, Xander smiled at her. “Sounds good. I’ll call him and let him know.” Spike shouldn’t mind Buffy and Angel using Spike’s attack as cover for one of their own, he thought hopefully.
“Much as I hate to say it,” Giles said, glancing at the clock. “I suspect you all have exams waiting for you. Let’s meet again tomorrow after sunset.”
Buffy grabbed her book bag and swung it over her shoulder. “All right, but if I graduate posthumously, I’m going to regret wasting last night studying.”
Xander said flippantly as he and Oz followed her out of the library: “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want ‘high school dropout’ carved on my tombstone.”
Xander left school immediately after last period and his second final exam for the day. Three more finals over the next two days and he was done with classes. Despite the looming Ascension and the fact that he wasn’t going to college, he wanted to do well on his exams. It was the same need to prove himself that had made him study like a nut-case for the SAT tests, despite the fact that they were meaningless if you weren’t planning on going to college.
Sighing at his own ridiculous insecurities, he knocked on the familiar door, regretting how long it had been since he’d had a chance to visit. As the door swung open, he said cheerfully: “Hey, Mr. Olsen, long time.”
“Xander. It’s good to see you. Come on in.”
He stepped inside readily, following Mr. Olsen into the living room. “Is Mrs. Olsen here?”
“Out shopping, I’m afraid. I may have to go back to work soon,” Mr. Olsen answered mournfully. It was a running joke between the two elderly people that Mrs. Olsen’s spendthrift ways were going to require Mr. Olsen to spend his twilight years working.
Xander grinned. “Not more shoes,” he said with mock horror, settling down on the worn couch to catch up on the news.
Twenty minutes later, having covered all the non-life-threatening updates on his life under Mr. Olsen’s interested questions, Xander plunged into the reason for his visit:
“Mr. Olsen, I need your help.”
The old man smiled. “Of course, Xander. What do you need?”
Xander had thought about this off and on all day, ever since he’d learned the probable date for the Ascension. He didn’t want to spread false alarms but he didn’t want to just sit on the information either. What had finally decided him was the thought that he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he didn’t tell people something that could maybe help save their lives. If they chose not to act on it, at least he would have done all he could.
“Have you ever heard of something called an Ascension?” he asked without preamble.
Mr. Olsen shook his head. “It doesn’t ring any bells.”
“We don’t know everything about it yet but we know that it’s going to be big. Like possibly the whole town being destroyed big. The Mayor is doing this spell to change himself into a demon.”
“Although it may seem a little odd coming from me, that doesn’t sound good,” Mr. Olsen said after a moment. “On the other hand, he’s been Mayor for nearly a century, so he can’t be fully human.”
“You know about that?”
Mr. Olsen smiled impishly at him. “I’ve lived in Sunnydale for over 70 years, Xander. No one with any sense ever believed that Mayor Wilkins the III wasn’t the same as Mayor Wilkins I and II.” He shrugged, looking remarkably unperturbed. “He’s been a good Mayor. It never really bothered anyone that he was passing himself as human. There are a lot of demons and demon-hybrids who do that.” He smile broadened and for a moment he looked like a mischievous boy despite the thinning white hair. “In fact, I’m one of them.”
Xander shook his head, not letting himself be put off track. “We’re not really sure why, but this is more than just an ordinary evil demon. We’re still researching it but, from what we’ve learned, the Mayor’s going to do a lot of damage when he changes.” Xander told Mr. Olsen what they knew, which took depressingly little time. There was so much about the Ascension they were still guessing at, including the date but graduation remained their best guess. It was just too much of a coincidence otherwise.
Mr. Olsen listened in silence, although his eyes narrowed and his lips pursed in a silent whistle when Xander mentioned the coven in Devonshire sensing the rise of a dark power in Sunnydale. “That far away,” he murmured, almost to himself. Shaking off whatever he was thinking, he looked at Xander, sharply focused again. “What do you need?”
“Can you get the word out, quietly, in the demon community to get as many people as possible out of town before graduation day?” Xander looked anxiously at the old man. “I wish we could somehow evacuate the entire town but, if the Mayor gets wind of that happening, it could blow our one chance to stop him. You know just about everyone in the demon community. If you can warn the friendly demons and the humans who know about demons to get out of town before graduation, I’d feel a lot better about what’s coming. Any evacuation has to be quiet so no one knows it’s happening. People who don’t know about Sunnydale and what goes on here will never believe us if we try and warn them and we can’t risk anyone telling the authorities about a mass exodus because the Mayor will hear about it. But the demon community knows it’s a Hellmouth and that bad stuff happens here. If we can’t stop the Ascension, we want as many people out of town that day as possible.”
That was stretching it, because he hadn’t told anyone what he was doing here but he was sure, pretty sure, that no one would object. He studied his clasped hands for a second before looking up anxiously. “It could be for nothing. It might not be as bad as we think, or we could have the wrong day, but…”
“Better safe than sorry, don’t you think?”
“That’s pretty much what I’ve been thinking.”
Mr. Olsen ran a hand through his thinning hair, looking thoughtful and worried. “I’ll get the word out, Xander,” he promised. “Quietly. Graduation is this Saturday, right? That gives us almost a week to organize things.”
“Thanks, Mr. Olsen,” Xander said gratefully. “I really hope this is a false alarm.”
“I agree. Still, it is a Hellmouth we live on. Having an organized evacuation plan for emergencies is probably a good idea in general. If this is a false alarm, we’ll be ready for the real thing.” Mr. Olsen studied him for a minute, his faded blue eyes intent on Xander’s. “Will you be coming with us?”
Xander shook his head. “We’re working on a plan to fight the Mayor. We’ve got Buffy and Angel and Spike on our side, so we should be fine,” he lied, knowing that they didn’t have a hope in hell of stopping the Mayor if he remained invulnerable after becoming a demon.
Mr. Olsen looked skeptical but didn’t call him on it, just saying: “Be careful. I would hate it if anything happened to you.”
He felt much better as he left Mr. Olsen’s house, as if a little of the weight had slipped off his shoulders. Even if they all died this Saturday, maybe he’d helped save the lives of other people by what he’d just done.
Spike let his eyes sweep the Court as he stood silently just long enough for anticipation to build up in the crowd. His four Lieutenants were standing spread out in a line across the back of the room, more for show than any real concern that anyone would try to leave, but the unusual arrangement had been noted and was causing a stir.
Good, Spike wanted them to take this seriously.
Meeting with his Lieutenants yesterday, he’d gotten their reports on the Court’s state of readiness. His Lieutenants had felt it necessary to stake only three minions, which boded well for the battle to come. The weapons inventory had pleased Spike, they had more weapons on hand than he’d realized. Anthony and Marc had reported that the weapons were in good condition and Spike was glad to learn that they’d assigned a couple of minions to the job of sharpening anything that looked even mildly in need of it. Jose and Michael’s report had given Spike a clear idea of what skills he could rely on and which minions had them. Most of the minions had at least moderate skill with one or more weapons but there were a few who had specialized in one weapon or another and Spike had noted their names for future reference.
Xander’s information that the Ascension was most likely going to occur on Saturday at the High School Commencement ceremony was the one point of uncertainty for Spike and he wished he’d had a bit more time to consider what that meant. Since he’d heard the news, he had been assessing his options: whether to delay the attack until Graduation and fight the Mayor and his vampires then or to go ahead and attack before then as he’d planned. Involving the Slayer and Angelus in a side-job was also something he needed to think about. Moving the attack back one day was a good idea for that reason alone.
The eclipse Xander had mentioned finally decided him. If the Mayor could count on enough darkness to allow his vampires to move freely, then the most likely reason he’d been recruiting was to use them as a perimeter line at the Ascension. The Mayor would keep his vampires behind the students and use them to pin the students between himself and the vampires. No way out and the students would be eaten whichever way they ran.
“Right,” he said loudly. “Got a piece of business we need to take care of. There’s a human in town recruiting vampires. Now, ordinarily, I don’t give a piss what humans do: they’re food, not equals but this one has convinced a bunch of idiots to follow him. He’s got thirty or so vampires takin’ orders from him and that is something I’m not going to put up with.”
He paused, letting the slight growls from a number of minions fill the room. Good, they were irritated at the idea of vampires working for a human.
“The vampires who are working for this human are giving all vampires a bad name. We kill humans, we don’t work for them.” There was a rising tide of agreement in the room and Spike let them mutter to each other for a moment before continuing, his voice rising. “If it was another vampire, I’d challenge ‘em and that would be the end of it. But I am not giving a human the status of a vampire, so we’re going to handle this a bit differently.” He let his eyes sweep the Court again and say he had their eager attention, many obviously sensing what was coming.
“We’re going to kill every one of the idiots who are working for this human. We’re doing it two nights from now and we’re doing it as a Court. Night after tomorrow night, I want every one of you armed and ready to go one hour after sunset. Make no mistake, people, I want this cold and business-like. No playing with your victims, just kill them and move on. I realize that means that a lot of you won’t get a chance to kill one of them because we outnumber them, but this isn’t sport, this is war. Humans don’t own or control vampires and vampires who act like they do deserve nothing more than a quick, final death.”
He saw nods of agreement around the hall and gave his final orders: “The Court is in lock-down until the attack. No one goes in or out. If you haven’t fed, too bloody bad, you’ll have to wait until after the attack. That’s all, people.”
He didn’t wait for questions or comments, simply striding forward rapidly through the crowd, which parted to let him through, heading for the main door. His Lieutenants would see his orders were followed and the Court would be ready to go as scheduled. In the meantime, it didn’t hurt to remind them that he was Master here and not confined to the bloody Court like a minion.
*A/N - Bits of dialogue borrowed from the episode ‘Graduation, part 2’