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
As the group of demons and demon hybrids filed out of the library, Xander lifted a hand in farewell to Mr. Olsen, still stunned and grateful that the old man had done this, had brought them desperately needed help against the Mayor. He turned back towards the others and found every eye fixed on him, Spike’s warm with approval, the others either unreadable or with mixed emotions.
“Xander,” Buffy began, then stopped as if she wasn’t sure what she wanted to say.
“Look, I met Mr. Olsen last year and we became friends. I didn’t even know he was part demon for almost a year. And, hey, here’s an idea, why don’t we just put any trauma, issues, or accusations on the shelf for now. If we survive the Ascension, we can talk about my friends then. Ok?”
“Very sensible,” Wesley said approvingly. “We have a great deal to do and not a lot of time.”
“It’s not like I’m the only one here with demon friends,” Xander couldn’t help muttering under his breath even though he knew it would just lead to an argument. Fortunately, only Spike heard him, sliding him an amused sideways glance.
“We have less than two days before the Ascension,” Buffy said crisply, “that’s not enough time for us,” she gestured around at the nine of them. “We need more help. Who can we bring in on this who won’t freak?”
She’d obviously decided to let it go for now. Xander couldn’t tell if she was upset because there was a community of peaceful demons living and working in Sunnydale or because he hadn’t told her he knew about them. Probably both. As the Slayer, Buffy wasn’t big on grey areas as far as demons went. It had to be making her twitchy that there was a large group of demons that knew her supposedly secret identity and that she wasn’t going to be able to kill them. But she’d adjusted to Spike, Xander thought optimistically, she’d learn to deal.
As long as they were all still looking askance at him, he might as well go for broke. “I’ve been thinking about that,” he said. “More help, I mean. We need to tell the entire senior class what’s going on.”
“Xander, we can’t,” Willow protested, startled by the suggestion.
“Why not? You all heard Jonathan at the Prom,” Xander looked at Oz, the only Sunnydaler who hadn’t been there. “Oz, it was incredible. Jonathan stood up in front of the entire senior class and talked about Sunnydale and how things weren’t normal here. And people were yelling out examples of things that have happened.” He turned back to the others. “Everyone knows there’s something wrong with this town even if they don’t talk about it. Let’s tell them what’s going on and get their help.”
Giles and Wesley exchanged glances. “Xander,” Wesley began slowly. “The Slayer works in secret, we can’t reveal her identity to dozens of people en mass.”
“Hello? ‘Class Protector’? Sounds a lot like Slayer to me.”
“Xander’s right,” Buffy said abruptly. “They’re going to be there at graduation, they have a right to know what’s coming. Besides, finals are over and a bunch of people helping would make things a lot easier. Maybe even possible.”
“I agree,” Oz said quietly.
Giles nodded. “We can certainly use the help in getting things ready.”
“How do we tell everyone without it taking all day?” Willow asked.
“You and I can take care of that,” Elizabeth said. “If you can stay a bit later tonight and work with me we should be able to come up with something.”
Spike and Xander followed Buffy out of the library as the group broke up.
“Slayer, we need to talk.”
Buffy looked back at them tiredly. “I swear, if there’s something else you two have been hiding…” she began but Spike cut her off impatiently.
“It’s about Joyce.”
“What about her?”
“Get her out of town, Slayer,” Spike growled. “If you don’t, I will. Not having her at risk when this goes down.”
Buffy’s expression softened. “I’ve been thinking the same thing,” she said. “I can’t do this while if I have to worry about her.”
“Will she go?” Xander asked. Mrs. Summers was stubborn, she wasn’t going to like being told to leave.
“She’ll go,” Buffy promised. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.”
“You tell her if she’s not gone by this time tomorrow, I’ll drag her out of town personally,” Spike said, without a hint of joking in his voice.
Buffy smiled involuntarily, obviously picturing that confrontation. “I’ll tell her.”
Spike nodded, satisfied. “See that you do,” he said shortly as they walked down the front steps of the school. He and Xander turned left, heading for the apartment, while Buffy turned in the opposite direction, heading towards her home.
“Guys?” she called after them. “Thanks.”
Xander turned and saw her smiling at them. He smiled back. “Tell your mom we’ll see her as soon as this is over,” he said, hoping they’d be able to keep that promise. He waved for both of them since Spike was staring intently at a clump of bushes that were completely devoid of anything interesting to look at. Spike hated to be caught acting sentimental.
At school the next morning, things went off without a hitch. Willow and Elizabeth did something so that the school administration somehow didn’t notice that a mandatory senior class assembly on the last day of school wasn’t a normal yearly event. Giles simply used the PA system to announce the assembly and the senior class filed into the gym as ordered, looking curious but not in the least suspicious.
Once inside, Willow and Elizabeth cast a ward, sealing the doors and preventing anyone outside the room from hearing what went on inside. Buffy stood in front of the class, flanked by Angel, who’d entered through the sewer entrance in the locker room, Giles and Sgt. Morgan, who looked even bigger and more impressive dressed in his army fatigues than he had last night in the library. Xander had called Mr. Olsen last night and he’d agreed to ask Sgt. Morgan to meet with the senior class.
Buffy looked surprisingly nervous as she began speaking but Xander could relate. Public speaking was one of his least favorite things as well.
“Most of you were at the Prom,” she began. “And you heard Jonathan Levinson talk about how Sunnydale isn’t like other towns.” People automatically looked around for Jonathan, sitting off to one side next to Larry, and Jonathan blushed, looking like he wanted to crawl under the bleachers. Buffy smiled at him. “Jonathan was right. So it won’t surprise you to know that our graduation isn’t going to be like everyone else’s graduation. You’ve probably heard by now that the Mayor is going to be our graduation speaker. What you don’t know is why he’s going to be there.”
Xander watched the students as Buffy laid it out for them: the Ascension and the fact that they were all intended to die. There was disbelief, nervous laughter, denial, fear and reluctant acceptance showing on the faces of the students. People were shifting on the wooden bleachers, some looking on the edge of panic, when Buffy stopped speaking. Before they could recover from their shock enough to respond, Giles stepped up to the microphone, his familiar presence as a member of the school faculty quieting the students enough to keep them listening.
“We intend to fight the Mayor and we need your help,” he said, his voice carrying clearly to the back rows.
“This is bullshit!” a student shouted from the back. “You’re talking about the fucking Mayor. Is this some kind of sick joke? He’s a politician, not a demon.”
Angel stepped forward, having been volunteered for this. Xander had pointed out to the others that Spike would enjoy scaring people far too much and get carried away. He’d actually thought that Spike would be much better at this than Angel, whose guilt-meter wouldn’t allow him to make a very impressive display - terrifying students and little old ladies probably ranked high on his ‘given up because of his soul’ list. But Spike had done the show-and-tell thing once already for Joyce and Xander couldn’t ask him to do it again.
“You think you can always tell when someone’s a demon?” Angel asked quietly.
“What? You going to claim you’re a demon now?” the student scoffed. Xander couldn’t see who it was but suspected it was one of the jocks. Larry was looking seriously pissed off, the same way Cordelia did on the rare occasions when one of her minions disobeyed her.
Angel vamped out and a handful of students screamed, the ones in the front row scrambling backwards out of their seats, trying to get some distance from him. “Demons walk among you every day,” he said calmly. Yeah, Spike would have been much better at this, Xander thought critically. Angel was way to calm, not nearly enough snarl in his voice. “Not every one of them is someone you have to worry about, but the Mayor is.”
“Don’t be stupider than you have to be, Brad.” Unexpectedly, help came from another source. Cordelia’s voice rose scathingly, slicing cleanly through the frightened, arguing sounds of the crowd. “He’s planning on eating us to get more power. You ever known any politician who wouldn’t do just about anything to get and keep power? Well, the Mayor is a demon politician, the worst of both worlds combined.”
Xander found himself wondering what exactly Cordy and Spike had talked about while they were dancing at the prom. Cordy sounded like she already knew all about the Mayor’s Ascension. When graduation was over, he’d have to ask Spike.
Angel shifted back to human features and stepped back from the crowd before he caused a complete panic. Sgt. Morgan stepped forward.
The shouted command brought complete silence to the room. Xander could really believe he was a drill sergeant, not that he’d doubted it, but that impressive parade-ground voice had obviously been honed to perfection on unruly recruits.
“I’m Sergeant Morgan,” he introduced himself, now that he had everyone’s attention. “These people are telling you the truth. I’ve lived in Sunnydale my whole life and many of you know me. We need you to stay calm and to trust us. We’re telling you this because we need your help. If we work together, we can stop the Mayor.”
Larry stood up. “What do you need us to do?” he asked simply, his voice carrying to every corner of the now quiet room. After a moment, Jonathan stood up beside him.
“How can we help?”
Cordelia was next. “Just tell me it won’t mess up my hair and I’m in.”
The wave of laughter that followed was just what they needed and Xander grinned at Cordy as the fear and uncertainty drained out of the crowd at her words, knowing she’d said it for just that reason. Suddenly the gym was filled with students asking eagerly how they could help.
Sergeant Morgan let it go on for a minute, letting the students infect each other with willingness to help, before he held his hands up for silence.
“We appreciate your willingness and can use each and every one of you. But make no mistake.” He looked around the room and it was as if his eyes met and held the eyes of every person in the gym. Xander couldn’t help wondering if that was a demonic ability or if he was just really good with recruits. “You could die if you help. I want everyone to take a minute to think before we go further. There is no shame in deciding to stay home. All we ask is that you not tell anyone what is happening.”
Uneasy silence fell as the students slowly sat back down, having been shocked to seriousness by the mention of dying. Sgt. Morgan folded his arms over his chest and deliberately turned his gaze away from the bleachers, giving the students privacy to reconsider. Buffy and he exchanged a long look and Buffy nodded at something she saw in his face.
Buffy and Sergeant Morgan had connected immediately last night in the library, both recognizing that they were fellow warriors, although in very different ways. It was the same unspoken connection that she and Spike had, even back when they’d hated each other. Completely unrelated to their mutual antipathy back then, they had both recognized something in the other, something they shared, even if they never said it out loud.
If the students had any sense, they would unanimously vote to stay home, hiding under their beds until the Ascension was over. But Xander already knew, looking over at the students in the bleachers, some lost in thought, some talking quietly with their neighbors, that most would volunteer to help. His gaze roamed over the familiar faces, knowing some might die tomorrow. Would it be Andy from shop class, who couldn’t cut a straight line to save his life but who had a knack for mixing stains and varnishes that gave his projects a finish that no one in shop could compete with? Or Linda from his California History class who was actually interested in the subject and had made the class bearable by her in-depth questions that had embarrassed Mr. Newman when he didn’t know the answers? Could he stand it if Cordelia died? Larry? Jonathan? And that wasn’t even considering Oz, Buffy, and Willow who were already committed to this fight. He wasn’t responsible for them, not in the way he was for the others. They were here on their own and not because of Xander. But this meeting had been his idea and the demons had come to help because he’d talked to Mr. Olsen. If any of the students or demons died, it would be on his conscience.
Could he live with it if any of them died? Xander had an awful feeling he was going to find out. If they failed, it wouldn’t be an issue, unless guilt continued to bother you after you died. In failure, he would at least have the comfort of knowing that Mrs. Summers was leaving town tonight and that Mrs. Olsen and nearly 200 other people wouldn’t be at ground zero. If they succeeded, maybe the lives saved would balance their losses. He hoped so.
Reminding himself that he would not have chosen to go into the minefield of the Graduation ceremony without warning, he told himself that this was the right thing to do. At least this way, the students would know what was coming and have a chance to fight back. With that thought, he waited with the others for the Senior Class of 1999 to make their decision.
Xander stepped out of the bathroom, still toweling his hair dry, the steam from his long soak under the spray escaping past him into the room as he nearly collided with Spike who was waiting for him outside the bathroom door.
“Hi.” He yawned as he greeted his lover, tired from the over-long day to the point where he had almost fallen asleep under the spray and wanted nothing more than to collapse on the bed.
From Spike’s expression, that wasn’t going to happen in the immediate future.
“What’s this I hear about you bein’ on the front lines?” Spike growled, his hands tightening on Xander’s arms, yellow eyes glaring into Xander’s.
Damn Angel. Xander should never have entrusted him to explain the tweaking of the plan to Spike. Probably hadn’t occurred to Mr. Diplomacy not to worry Spike unnecessarily. But Angel and Spike had spent the afternoon and evening making their own preparations for tomorrow and Xander hadn’t seen Spike since he’d left the apartment this morning, with Spike still asleep. Angel had been at the school first thing for the meeting with the senior class and had been there when they’d finalized their plan so he had notified Spike.
“Only as a token sacrafice,” he answered flippantly, then could have kicked himself as Spike slid fully into game face, a low growl starting in his chest.
“Not sacrifice in the sense of actually being eaten, pretend sacrifice was what I meant,” he corrected himself hurriedly. Spike didn’t look appeased and Xander sighed, shrugging free of Spike’s grip and wrapping the towel around his waist. “Let’s sit down and I’ll explain, ok?”
He lead the way to the couch and collapsed onto it, too tired to deal with this but left with no choice but to deal. Spike refused to sit, pacing up and down in front of Xander, somehow managing to never take his eyes off Xander as he moved.
“Buffy has to be front and center when it begins,” he reminded Spike. “If the Mayor doesn’t see students in the front row, he’s going to know something is up.” He reached up and caught Spike’s hand, stopping his agitated pacing. “I’m not going to ask someone to take my place, Spike. Not even for you. I couldn’t live with myself if someone died because they were standing in my place.”
“Don’t care if the whole bloody rest of your school dies so long as you live,” Spike growled. “Don’t want you there.”
“I know. But the Mayor will be looking for familiar faces. We can’t let him suspect anything until the last possible second because if he has a chance to think, this won’t work.”
The anger seemed to drain out of Spike and he allowed himself to be tugged down beside Xander. He pulled Xander into his arms and buried his face in the crook of Xander’s neck, where Xander could feel him inhaling deeply, drawing in Xander’s scent. He stroked Spike’s short, gelled hair soothingly. “You’re the one who’s in real danger, Spike. I’m just diversion guy, you’re the one who’s going to be in the thick of things.”
Spike didn’t answer and Xander knew his words weren’t as comforting as he’d hoped. They didn’t really know what to expect: just how big the Mayor was going to get, how fast, how deadly. They were still guessing about so many things. Spike had it even worse. If they were wrong about the eclipse, Spike would be condemned to sitting on the sidelines, unable to help because of the afternoon sun. They’d planned as best they could but Xander already knew from bitter experience that plans didn’t always work out the way they were supposed to.
Arms wrapped securely around his vampire, Xander leaned his head back against the couch and felt himself nodding off despite his efforts to remain awake for Spike’s sake. It had been a long day and tomorrow would be worse, but at least it would be over tomorrow, one way or another.