orchidluv (orchidluv) wrote in bloodclaim,
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orchidluv
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NTS Book 2, Ch. 46/49?

Nothing the Same, Book 2
Chapter: 46/49?
Pairing: S/X
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

Chapter 46

Xander had slept poorly all night, his sleep troubled by dreams and Spike finally took action when his restless movements started up again not long before dawn.

“Xander, wake up,” he said quietly in his boy’s ear, shaking him gently as he spoke.

Xander’s eyes opened, coming awake and aware in an instant, unlike his usual slow waking in the morning.

“What’s wrong, luv?”

“Nothing really,” Xander answered but he looked away, unable to meet Spike’s eyes.

“Tell me.”

Xander sighed, wrapping his arms around Spike and resting his head on Spike’s chest. “I talked to Mr. Olsen last night, warned him about the Ascension,” he said.

Spike smiled and kissed the top of Xander’s head. “That was a good thought, luv,” he said encouragingly, understanding now what had been troubling Xander. His boy had been worried that Spike would be upset because Xander hadn’t cleared it with him first. Well, telling a friend to get out of town before a disaster struck was just common sense.

“It’s a bit bigger than that,” Xander admitted. “I asked him to warn the demon community too. He’s going to spread the word and get as many people out of town as possible.” Xander lifted his head and looked at Spike, his brown eyes troubled. “Don’t worry, they’re going to keep it quiet.”

“Still not a problem, luv. The fewer civilians around the better.”

Spike couldn’t help smiling mockingly to himself. Not long ago, it would never have occurred to him to think about the safety of anyone but himself and his family. In fact, screaming mobs of civilians had once been somewhat of a specialty of his and Dru’s. The scent of mass panic perfuming the air second only to the rich aroma of fresh Slayer blood on the list of his favorite smells.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Xander seemed no less troubled despite Spike’s approval, so obviously they hadn’t gotten to the real issue yet.

“Then what’s the problem, Xander?”

“What kind of a person am I, Spike?” Xander asked, his voice full of self-loathing. “I warn a friend, and ask them to tell a bunch of strangers and it didn’t even occur to me to warn my own parents that they could be in danger.”

Spike opened his mouth, more in shock than preparatory to saying something comforting but Xander harsh tones overrode his: “And when it did occur to me - hours later - that maybe I should tell my parents what was happening and try to save their lives, I decided against it.” Devastated brown eyes met Spike’s blue ones. “What kind of a person am I that I can deliberately decide not to warn my parents that they could die if they don’t leave town.”

“Oh, luv.” Spike pulled Xander tighter into his arms, rocking him gently as he struggled to find the right words. A diatribe on his parents’ shortcomings was not what Xander needed to hear. “You’re someone strong enough to do the right thing, even when it hurts. If you told your parents, would it do any good?”

“No.” The single syllable carried an astonishing variety of emotions: bitterness, regret, anger and sorrow all twisted together. “They wouldn’t believe me.”

Sensing the hurt and the years of disappointments behind that admission, Spike fought against giving in to his own outrage that Xander’s parents were so unworthy of this wonderful human they had somehow managed to raise. How Xander had turned out the way he had with those two wastes of space for parents, Spike would never understand. “They wouldn’t act on your warning, would they?” he asked softly.

Xander’s shaggy hair brushed across Spike’s bare chest as he shook his head. “No. And then they’d either tell everyone they know about how their screw-up son had finally completely lost it or, if they actually believed there was some truth to what I was telling them and they or their house might be in danger, they’d just call the police. That’s why I didn’t contact them when I finally thought about it,” he admitted.

“Did the right thing, luv. I know it’s hard, but telling them wouldn’t save them and might tip off the Mayor. You did the right thing,” he said again, emphatically. And it would almost be worth the Mayor becoming an unkillable demon if Spike could just point him the way to the Harris household.

After a long silence, Xander looked up, his face set in stubborn lines. “I’m telling Mrs. Summers to get out,” he announced. “I’ll give Buffy a heads up before I do, because it’s her mom, but I’m making her leave town even if I have to tie her up to get her to go.”

“I’ll help you,” Spike promised, wishing he’d thought of it himself. “We’ll go talk to her together.” After a second, he added generously. “Slayer can come with us if she wants.”

He was rewarded by Xander’s wan smile.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Have you completely lost your mind?” Spike asked incredulously after hearing Buffy’s proposal. “Slayer’s got no place in vampire business.”

When Xander had told him that the Slayer wanted to make another try for the Box of Gavrock, it hadn’t occurred to him that she meant during the attack. He’d assumed she meant either after it was over or the next night, before the Mayor had a chance to get new non-human guards. Later the same night after things had calmed down was probably the Slayer’s best shot. Even the next night was promising, as the Mayor’s only option would be to split his day guards into two shifts, which would drastically reduce the manpower around the building. The Mayor didn’t have a hope in hell of recruiting any more vampires after the attack. But no sooner had Spike outlined his intention to take out the vampires working for the Mayor than the Slayer had chimed in saying they could kill two birds with one stone and she’d go with him.

“Why not? It’s perfect.” Buffy folded her arms stubbornly. “Your little war would be the perfect diversion.”

The entire group settled back to listen, Oz with a hint of a smile at the corner of his eyes. Buffy and Spike’s arguments tended to be both volatile and entertaining. Once they’d grudgingly started working together, their different natures and viewpoints often led to arguments, but funnily enough, their arguments often ended up with the two of them hashing out all sides of the issue.

Spike rolled his eyes. “We’re talkin’ close to a hundred vampires, all armed, and all of ‘em thinking that finishin’ off a Slayer would pretty much be the highlight of their unlife.” Spike couldn’t believe they were even talking about this. The Slayer wanted to put herself smack in the middle of things, as usual, without considering the fact that she wasn’t exactly inconspicuous. Not even his position as Master gave him enough control to ensure her safety in the middle of a crowd of armed vampires and it irked him that the Slayer was forcing him to admit that.

Hastily moving on to the other flaws in her brilliant idea, he pointed out caustically: “If the Mayor gets wind that the Slayer’s part of this raid, you’ll bloody well bollocks up any chance we have of taking the Mayor by surprise come Ascension Day. Right now, he doesn’t know for sure that we know he’s got the Box of Gavrock or what it means. You go knocking on his door asking for it, you’ll tip your hand.”

“We’re way past surprising him,” Buffy argued. “He’s Ascending at my graduation ceremony. It’s not like he doesn’t know I’m going to be there when it happens.”

“Knowing you’re there and knowing you know what’s coming are two different things,” Spike shot back, exasperated by her obtuseness. “Me attacking him isn’t going to set off any alarms. I’m just a vampire doing what vampires do. If you’re there, he’ll know we’ve twigged his game.”

“Fun as it’s been,” Buffy retorted. “It’s worth giving up our mutual game of blind-man’s-bluff to actually get our hands on the Box. Our best chance is if I’m there.”

“Please, you’re not that good.”

Buffy glared at him indignantly but Angel’s voice stopped her before she could respond with something equally sarcastic.

“Buffy, he’s right. If the attack is seen as just a vampire power struggle, Spike and I have a much better chance at getting the Box than if the rest of you go in.”

“You?” Buffy questioned.

“I am a vampire,” Angel pointed out the obvious.

“But…”

“Buffy, unless I’m mistaken, Spike will have told the Court this is about politics.” Angel glanced at Spike who gave him a reluctant nod, not liking that they were discussing vampire business so openly. “As a vampire, I can join in the attack without anyone thinking about it twice. If you are there, every vampire on both sides is going to be wondering what the Slayer is doing there and a lot of them are going to want to see if they can take you on.”

“He’s right, Buffy,” Giles said quietly. He’d been listening silently to the exchange, his eyes moving between the speakers, obviously weighing the points each were making. Now he straightened from where he’d been leaning against the bookshelf. “Even if only a handful of the vampires recognize you on sight,” and Spike was grateful to the Watcher for cutting off the Slayer’s utterly predictable argument about how no one would recognize her before she could begin, “word will spread like wildfire in a vampire mob. Every fledgling who doesn’t feel up to tackling you by themselves will gain courage from the crowd. You’d be swarmed.”

Angel added persuasively: “Spike and I can get inside City Hall as soon as the attack begins. If we’re lucky, we’ll get there before the Mayor has a chance to move the Box somewhere safer.”

Wesley shook his head dubiously. “The Mayor will almost certainly have placed magical safeguards on the Box in addition to the physical guards.”

Spike hadn’t considered that and he cursed himself for overlooking the obvious. Not like they didn’t know the Mayor could work mojo.

“I might be able to help with that,” Elizabeth said.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In the end, they worked out a plan for a joint attack after all. Spike and Angel would go in first, then immediately leave Spike’s Lieutenants to finish the job while they did a quick sweep to locate the Box. If they were successful and there were magical safeguards, they’d call Elizabeth, who would be waiting near by, on Spike’s cell phone.

Spike’s glare had dared any of them to comment on the fact that he carried a cell phone. Xander was just grateful that no one else even understood what a concession it was for Spike to have one and he’d given Spike a private smile that caused the flickers of gold to disappear and Spike’s eyes to return to their human blue.

If it looked clear, Buffy would bring Elizabeth and Willow in to see if they could get through any magical barriers and, if successful, they would grab the Box and get the hell out of City Hall.

It sounded simple, Xander thought uneasily, but a lot could go wrong. And usually did.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Outside City Hall, Spike crouched beside Angelus, studying the movement of the Mayor’s guards and waiting for the right moment. As the guards moved away, turning their back on his position, he waved a quick signal to Marc, who was closest to him. The signal passed silently between the groups waiting around the perimeter and suddenly the air was filled with the sound of crossbow bolts being fired and the slight hiss of displaced air as they sped towards their targets as a handful of marksmen stepped into the open and fired with deadly accuracy.

Listening carefully, Spike heard similar sounds coming from the sides of the building and knew the coordinated attack had begun as planned, taking out nearly all the exterior guards before they even knew they were under attack. Of the six guards he could see from his position, five were already small clouds of dust and the sixth was staggering, too shocked to scream, clutching at the crossbow bolt in his chest that had landed just a hair off target. Even as Spike watched, three more bolts landed and the vampire exploded into dust.

Spike signaled to advance and the crowd of minions pressed forward, moving quickly but silently as ordered, closing in on the front entrance of the building. Running swiftly, Spike and Angelus reached the door first and Spike yanked on the handle, cursing under his breath when he found it was locked. Angelus shoved his fist through the decorative stained glass panels and reached inside to open the door.

Stealth gone, Spike smashed the window on the second door and both of them heaved on the heavy panels, forcing the doors open as metal screamed in protest and tore under their combined strength.

“You boys know what to do,” Spike said sharply and Anthony and Marc nodded. The two Lieutenants stepped back from the doors, the majority of the vampires moving back with them, only a picked handful stepping inside with the two Masters.

“Remember,” Spike ordered. “Vampires only. No mistakes. Any idiots workin’ late, leave ‘em be.” The vampires chosen for the inside sweep were all older, reliable, and they met his stern glance with nods and quietly voiced agreement and not a hint of rebellion.

“Spread out,” he ordered. “Check every room and don’t just use your eyes, people. I want every one of these wankers dust and us out of here in ten minutes.”

The picked squads raced up the stairs, following the orders Spike had given them before leaving the factory. They would start at the top and work down, flushing out any vampires they didn’t kill themselves into the arms of the rest of the Court, now waiting in a ring that completely encircled the building. Jose and a large group of minions were in the sewers below the building, blocking that means of escape.

Spike and Angelus glanced at each other and Angelus nodded his readiness. Then Angelus was sprinting up the stairs, following the minions up to the third floor. Spike ran beside him to the first landing then branched off, headed for the Mayor’s office. Angelus would search the building for the Box while Spike confronted the Mayor.

Xander was not going to be happy when he found out that Spike had decided to improvise a little rather than sticking to the original plan.

He’d known from the beginning that it was likely the Mayor would be at City Hall. From what he’d been able to observe, the Mayor rarely left the building these days. Discussing it with Angelus, they’d agreed that Spike should distract the Mayor while Angelus searched the building. Angelus had offered to go instead but Spike refused, wanting to confront the Mayor himself. Just his good luck that it made more sense for the Master who ordered the attack to have a word with his opponent.

Not bothering to knock, Spike announced his presence in the Mayor’s office by the simple expedient of kicking the door in. The Mayor swung around at the noisy entrance, looking remarkably unconcerned by the sounds of struggle clearly audible now in the building. Firmly closing the doors of the large cabinet he was standing at, the Mayor crossed the room to stand by his desk.

“Good evening, Mr. Spike.” He might have been at a cocktail party for all the worry he showed. “I assume you are here to explain what’s going on?”

“Thinking about explaining it with my axe,” Spike answered, lifting the weapon as he spoke.

The Mayor spread his hands in invitation. “Be my guest.”

Spike’s knuckles tightened on the handle and he had to forcibly hold himself back from taking the Mayor up on his offer. “You need work done - hire humans. Vampires are off limits,” he said flatly. “My people are handing out pink slips as we speak.”

The Mayor leaned back against his desk, hands in his pockets, as calm as if he wasn’t standing defenselessly with an armed predator in front of him. Like he knew he was invulnerable. “That’s a rather narrow attitude, Mr. Spike. After all, it wasn’t long ago that we were working together.”

Spike growled at the implication that he had ever worked for the Mayor. They had cooperated briefly when it was in Spike’s interests, that’s all. “Not having you settin’ up a rival court,” he snarled. The Mayor’s tone of fatherly scolding was seriously pissing him off.

“Fair enough, I really had no intention of stepping on your toes. I just needed a few guards who wouldn’t fall asleep on the night shift.” The Mayor had one of his smarmy smiles on his face and Spike really wanted to test how good his invulnerability was. Just another minute or two for his people to finish up and he could end this irritating discussion. “But I can tell it’s a sensitive point with you, and I always like to keep my constituents happy.”

“Not one of your bloody constituents,” Spike growled dangerously.

“Of course not. I’ve known for some time that you’re a rather impatient young man. I doubt politics is your style.”

Spike cocked his head, hearing the noise of battle moving down the stairs to the first floor. Almost done. He gave his axe a showy twirl. “This is vampire politics,” he pointed out. “Don’t interfere again.”

 

The smile dropped off the Mayor’s face and Spike caught a glimpse of the dangerous predator lurking beneath the genial mask. The Mayor’s voice hardened as he spoke: “Mr. Spike, I don’t care for your attitude. A little respect for your elders is not too much to ask. I would hate to have to reinforce that lesson in a way you wouldn’t like.”

Spike’s fragile hold on his temper snapped at the veiled threat. He was moving before he even realized what he was doing, swinging the axe with every ounce of his strength behind the blow. The blade sank deeply into the Mayor’s neck, cutting through flesh and bone like a hot knife through butter then stopped with such shocking abruptness that the handle was almost jarred loose from his grip. The wickedly sharp axe had come to a halt less than an inch away from severing the Mayor’s head from his body, stopping as suddenly as if it had run into a barrier of solid steel. Spike pulled the weapon back reflexively, all thought of having a second go at beheading the man driven from his head by what he was seeing.

The Mayor’s head was hanging to one side at an impossible angle, held on only by a thin flap of tissue and skin. There was no blood. Not a drop. Instead of the red of human meat and blood, the exposed inside of the Mayor’s neck was black, almost gelatinous looking. As he watched, stunned, despite the fact that he hadn’t really expected his attack to be successful, the Mayor’s head tilted back into place by itself, as if pulled together by an aberrant flare of gravity, the skin sealing together again until no trace of injury remained.

“Whoa! Well, that was a bit rude.” Completely unfazed by what had happened, the Mayor just looked at him reproachfully. “I expected better from you, Mr. Spike.”

Spike gaped at him speechlessly and the Mayor smiled smugly at him. “It would be a pretty useless invulnerability spell if I could be chopped into bits and have the bits separated, now wouldn’t it? After all, it’s difficult to accomplish anything when your head is in South America and your body is in California. I’m afraid you’ll just have to accept that invulnerable means invulnerable, Mr. Spike.” His genial smile firmly intact, he asked politely: “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

Spike decided it was time for a tactical retreat. Knowing the Mayor was invulnerable was one thing. Seeing it so graphically demonstrated was another. Despite Angelus’ lack of success in stabbing the Mayor when he’d tried it earlier, Spike had held out hope that cutting the Mayor to pieces would work. Scattering the pieces, at least the important ones, in several widely separated locations had been a pleasant thought. He’d enjoyed thinking about the Mayor, still able to think and feel, but unable to do anything as separated, dismembered pieces.

Time to re-group and think about their next step, Spike decided, hoping Angelus had found the Box.

“Invulnerable or not, I’m Master of this Territory.” he said flatly, no trace of his disquiet showing in his face or eyes.

The Mayor studied him for a moment. “You know, we may just have to have a talk about who is the power in this town,” he said finally. “I’m rather busy this week but keep in mind that I’m an equal opportunity employer, Mr. Spike. I’ve had vampires working for me in the past and may very well do so again in the future. Perhaps we should plan to talk again about our mutual interests next week when my schedule clears a bit.”

Spike gave him a yellow-eyed glare as if he was reluctantly considering bowing to necessity. “Send your boys to tell me when you want a sit-down,” he agreed, as if he didn’t know that it would be a whole new game next week after the Ascension.

He left without waiting for the Mayor’s response. He’d learned early in their acquaintance that the Mayor liked to have the last word and they could stand there all night one-upping each other if he let it go on.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He met up with Angelus outside the building. A rapid check showed the last of the Court leaving the area, heading back for the factory as instructed. Angelus shook his head as Spike glanced at him.

“Nothing,” he said. “I couldn’t find it.”

“Bit of an anti-climax,” Spike commented as they walked to where Xander and the rest were waiting three blocks away, far enough to keep them out of the way of the battle outside City Hall but near enough to get there quickly if they were needed.

Seeing Xander running towards him, Spike quickened his pace and let himself be swept into Xander’s arms as they closed tightly around him in relief. Xander pushed away almost immediately, scanning him for any signs of injury. “You ok?”

“Fine, luv.”

“How’d it go?” Buffy emerged from the shadows as she spoke.

“Vampires are mostly dead. Can’t swear we got ‘em all because some might not have been there, but the rest are dust.” Spike shrugged. “Doubt any survivors will return. Slip out of town tomorrow, more likely.”

“I couldn’t find the Box,” Angel admitted and Spike saw the shoulders slump on all the humans present. “I went through every room in the building but I didn’t see it.”

Xander tightened his arms around Spike, offering silent comfort which Spike appreciated but didn’t really need. The humans were the ones who looked crushed by their failure, having obviously had far more hope than Spike had ever had about the likelihood of success in getting control of the Box. For Spike, the Box had always been a side job to this mission, something to do if they had time. Stealing the Box would have been nice but it wasn’t the point of the night’s activities, not for him.

“I was afraid of that,” Elizabeth was the first to speak. “There are spells that can hide objects from sight, either the box itself or the door to the room in which it is being kept.”

“Can we do some kind of ‘show me the Box’ spell?” Buffy asked, although it sounded like she knew she was grasping at straws.

Elizabeth shook his head. “That kind of magic takes time and concentration. Not the sort of thing one can perform in the middle of the enemy camp, I’m afraid.”

“Mayor will have some kind of replacements in by tomorrow, even if it’s just humans,” Spike said. “Think we’re going to have to give up on the Box.”

“On the bright side,” Willow offered to fill the grim silence. “We only have the Mayor to worry about on Graduation, not the Mayor and 30 or so vampires.”

“Great, only one unkillable demon. What have we been worried about?” Buffy muttered gloomily.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Xander found himself staring out the window, unable to concentrate on his last final exam, wondering if he was really spending one of the last days of his life sitting in a classroom mechanically filling in answers with a number 2 pencil. Ever since Spike and Angel had been unable to find the Box of Gavrock last night, he’d felt numb inside, like his emotions were shutting down in preparation for death.

Not even making love passionately, almost violently, after they’d returned home last night had been able to bridge the barrier he felt growing between himself and the world and afterwards, he’d lain awake for hours in Spike’s arms, staring at the darkness and wondering if this was the end.

The sense of hopelessness had been growing in them all, the failure to get the Box just the last straw. Xander could see it in Buffy’s eyes, even as they still discussed ways and means to stop the Mayor. Could hear it in Oz’s silences and Willow’s frantic tapping at her keyboard as she ran the same searches over and over again, hoping to find something she’d missed. Could taste it in the despair that was seeping through the library like an invisible mist, filling the air and choking them as their meetings began to feel less and less productive, like they were simply going through the motions, knowing that they couldn’t win this fight.

“Five minutes.”

Mrs. Sundstrom’s voice pulled him from his bleak thoughts and Xander stared blankly down at the test questions in front of him. Quickly answering the last few questions, he closed his book as the bell rang and stood. Moving with the flow of the crowd of laughing, relieved classmates spilling out into the hall, celebrating the end of finals, he handed in his test booklet and found his eyes meeting Buffy’s. Falling in step together, they walked down the hall side by side, two quiet mourners in the jubilant crowd.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Giles, I’ll need every possible weapon stashed somewhere I can get my hands on it quickly. Even if they don’t hurt him, some of them will have to slow him down. If we’re lucky and he’s no longer invulnerable, then I can use them to kill him.” Buffy said, turning to the librarian. She looked frightened and desperate and determined. “If nothing else, I have to slow him down enough to give everyone a chance to get out of there.”

They were meeting in the library again after school, Spike and Angel having just joined them and finalizing their admittedly thin plans for Graduation. Xander was staring off into the distance, toying with a thought that had been on his mind since the prom, wondering if he should suggest it or if it was just his desperation that made it seem like a workable idea. A familiar voice snapped him out of his musings.

“We may be able to help with that.”

The voice from the door had them all spinning around, half out of their chairs, hearts pounding, half-afraid they’d been discovered by the Mayor. Xander was the first to recover.

“Mr. Olsen,” he said, getting the rest of the way to his feet. “What are you doing here?”

Mr. Olsen stepped inside the library and everyone else at the table rose to their feet as about a dozen people followed him into the room. Xander’s brows knitted together as he recognized most of them: a couple were his customers, one or two he recognized from the new year’s party he and Spike had gone to, most of the rest were vaguely familiar faces from around town. All of them looked grim and determined, but beneath the resolve, they also looked nervous, like they weren’t sure of their reception.

“They’re demons,” Spike identified as he studied them.

“What!?” Buffy asked sharply, her whole body tensing as she went on battle alert.

Xander’s hand shot out to block her forward motion. “They’re friends.”

“Xander’s right, we’re friends. Master Spike is also correct. We’re all demons, or part demons. All except Bob, there.” Mr. Olsen nodded towards a burly, middle-aged man in jeans and work boots off to his right, who grinned back at him.

Mr. Olsen was probably the calmest person in the room. Buffy and Giles and Wesley were tense and shocked and looked ready to attack at the first wrong move and Xander was terrified that someone would inadvertently do something to cause the situation to explode into violence.

 

“Mr. Olsen, I thought you were warning people to get out of town,” he couldn’t help saying reproachfully.

“I did. People have already begun leaving quietly so the exodus isn’t obvious. On the morning of graduation day, the rest will leave town at dawn in several buses we’ve acquired. Several hundred people will be out of town on graduation day thanks to your warning.”

Xander was relieved and met the astonished and slightly accusing stares of Buffy and the two Watchers with a calm certainty. He’d made the right decision and he wasn’t going to apologize for it. Giles nodded first, accepting his decision, and neither Buffy nor Wesley said anything, although they continued to look slightly disapproving. Who cared? It was way too late to worry about keeping secrets.

“Then, why are you here?” Wesley asked. He’d relaxed and was studying the demons curiously. Xander was reminded of when he’d first learned that Mr. Olsen was a demon and he couldn’t help looking for signs of his demonic ancestry.

“Xander told us about the Ascension and we have some information for you. One of the members of our community is Teer’ah, on his father’s side.”

Giles straightened, looking fascinated. “They’re immortal, aren’t they?”

“Very close to it,” Mr. Olsen replied, with an approving smile for Giles’ familiarity with the obscure species. “Being only a half-breed, he is mortal, but has lived for nearly 400 years. He’s the only member of our community who had heard of an Ascension and he had a critical piece of information that I believe you are not aware of.”

“What?” Buffy demanded, looking apprehensive.

“When a person achieves Ascension, they become pure demon. They’re different.” Mr. Olsen looked around at the puzzled faces and explained. “What you think of as demons are all hybrids. Pure demons don’t exist any more.”

Giles looked like his worst nightmare was about to come true. “Different?” he asked faintly, as if he was dreading the answer. “How?”

“For starters, they’re a lot bigger. They’re stronger and have much greater powers than any demon hybrid possesses.”

“The original demons that walked the earth before mankind,” Wesley murmured, almost to himself.

“Precisely.” Mr. Olsen looked grim as he confirmed Wesley’s statement.

One of the demons who’d been listening silently behind him now stepped forward.

“Sunnydale is our home,” the slender man said in a surprisingly deep voice. He looked fully human until you realized his limbs were just a trifle longer than one usually saw on humans and there was something odd about the way his thumbs bent backwards. “Our lives, our families, our homes, our businesses are here. Some of us have lived here for longer than the town has existed. We are not about to allow the Mayor to destroy the town, nor are we prepared to let children fight our battles for us. We have 37 volunteers who will be there to fight the Mayor on Ascension Day.”

Buffy and Giles exchanged glances. “That could be extremely useful,” Giles murmured, shoulders straightening as if a weight had slipped off them. Then he shook his head, denying the hope that was hesitantly entering the room. “You should all know - the Mayor is invulnerable. We’re not even sure he can be harmed after the Ascension. And we have no idea of how to fight something that is invulnerable to harm.”

“Xander told us.” Mr. Olsen assured him. “According to…” there was the barest hesitation, “my friend, the invulnerability only lasts until the actual Ascension. Once the Mayor transforms, he can be harmed. Not invulnerable but he will still be very difficult to kill.”

“Thank God,” Giles muttered, sitting down suddenly like his legs had collapsed under him. Xander knew exactly how he felt. Fighting something tough was one thing. Fighting something unkillable was what had been giving them all nightmares. Looking around, he could see they were all standing a little straighter and he found he was breathing a little easier, the fist that had been clenched around his heart easing its grip.

He hadn’t know it was possible to be so relieved and so worried at the same time. “Mr. Olsen, I don’t want anyone getting hurt because of us.”

Mr. Olsen gave him a warm smile. “Xander, because of your warning, our families will be safely out of town. And we will never forget what we owe you for that. But some of us are staying.”

“What about you?”

“Me?”

“You’re not…, you’re…”

“I’m too old to fight?” Mr. Olsen finished for him cheerfully, his eyes twinkling. Literally. They were doing the green and gold sparkly thing that Xander had only seen once or twice before. He shot a quick, worried glance at the others and saw that Buffy and Willow were entranced by the effect, as Xander had been when he first saw it, while Giles and Wesley were nodding thoughtfully.

“Lobarrrhyn demon?” Giles asked and Mr. Olsen gave him a smile, nodding.

“Well done. I see that Xander’s high opinion of you is deserved.”

Giles actually blushed slightly and cleared his throat. “So, you have the ability to spit venom?”

“Sadly, no, I did not inherit that ability. Xander’s right, I wouldn’t be of any use in a fight. I’m to act as liaison between our groups.”

“He’s only one-quarter Lobarrrhyn, Giles,” Xander explained, feeling a wave of relief that Mr. Olsen wasn’t planning on being on the front lines.

“However, Geoff here is a drill sergeant at the local army base,” Mr. Olsen nodded towards a huge man standing near the back in a position Xander recognized from movies as “parade-rest”. “He can get us anything we need from the armory.”

Wesley straightened with a pleased exclamation and Buffy looked like she’d just been given the best Christmas present ever.

“That could prove extraordinarily useful. Geoff?” Wesley asked curiously.

The man, whom Xander vaguely remembered seeing around town a few times, stepped forward and thrust out a massive hand which Xander was pleased to see Wesley shook without hesitation. “Geoff Morgan,” he introduced himself, then smiled. “Otherwise known as Gr’affm’gan. I’m part Kobarien.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Morgan. We are very grateful for your help,” Wesley said, shaking his hand enthusiastically.

And just like that, the two groups relaxed. Xander and Spike moved forward, greeting the people they knew, while Mr. Olsen, Giles and Wesley began talking strategy and abilities.

For the first time since they hadn’t been able to get the Box of Gavrock, Xander found himself wondering if he might live through graduation after all.

~~~~~~~~~

*A/N - Bits of dialogue borrowed from the episode ‘Graduation, part 1’

TBC

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