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.
WARNING: THIS CHAPTER CONTAINS VIOLENCE
Summary: sequel to Nothing the Same.
Previous parts here
“Bloody hell!” Spike’s exclamation was full of shock and genuine outrage. “’m not wearing that.”
Xander glared at him, hefting the orange safety vest threateningly. “You’re wearing it or you’re not leaving this apartment.”
“Yeah? You and what army gonna to stop me?”
“Spike, everyone who’s not a student is wearing one of these and you are too. I’m not having you killed because someone couldn’t tell the difference between a bad guy and a good guy.” Xander wasn’t going to budge on this. The vests were a good idea, extremely visible even to panicked students and parents and Spike wasn’t going to get out of wearing one just because he thought it was tacky. It was tacky, but he wasn’t losing Spike to friendly fire.
“You saying I can’t defend myself against a bunch of high school kids?” Spike’s outrage cranked up a notch and Xander sighed.
“Of course not. But Spike, you know better than I do that things happen in battle. There’s going to be a hundred scared kids with weapons running around and I’m not having someone stake you from behind by mistake. So put it on.” He shoved the vest into Spike’s hands. Spike just looked at it with distaste and Xander had to keep hold or it would have fallen to the ground as Spike refused to actually close his fingers around the orange fabric.
Desperate times called for desperate measures. “Afterwards, I’ll wear it and nothing else for you,” he offered, trying to look sexy.
Spike shot him a disbelieving look. “You think I could get it up with you wearing that monstrosity? Please.”
Ok, bad plan. “Angel has to wear one too.” Ah, better, Spike’s lips looked like they were trying to form a smirk. “I promise, Spike. I will never mention it again. Not one joke. Ever. All the friendly demons are wearing them. We have to have a way to tell people apart in the heat of the moment.”
“Fine,” Spike grumbled reluctantly, knowing it made sense. He was going into battle with a bunch of amateurs sure to be frightened out of their tiny little minds and swinging at anything that moved. Even amateurs got lucky sometimes. “But we’re burnin’ it afterwards.”
Xander’s relieved smile rewarded him for his forbearance. Anything that kept Xander from worrying about him and kept his mind on his own safety was good. Even a fluorescent orange vest that Spike would almost rather be staked than caught wearing.
The Graduation committee had set up rows of folding chairs in the school’s central courtyard in two distinct groups: one for the graduating class in front and a larger section in the rear for family and friends. A wide gap separated the two groups and Xander couldn’t help smiling as he stood at the head of the line behind Buffy, waiting for the music that was their signal to begin filing into the courtyard. Obviously, the committee had felt it necessary to make clear the difference between the have’s and have not’s in this ceremony. Like the robes wouldn’t do that.
The music began and Xander took a deep, steadying breath as he followed Buffy up the red-carpeted center aisle, leading the members of their class towards the front. He couldn’t help thinking that any sensible person would be running for the hills about now and he was stunned at how many of the graduates had shown up despite knowing what they were facing.
Buffy branched off to the left and took the sat down in the farthest left hand seat. Xander took the chair next to her, looking up at the stage and the people sitting in the single line of chairs behind the podium. Principal Snyder, a couple of administrators he barely recognized, a favored teacher or two, and the Mayor, sitting looking completely at ease and beaming genially at the audience. Not at all like someone who planned to kill everyone there in just a few minutes.
Xander dragged his eyes away from the Mayor and looked back at his classmates filling in the rows with orderly precision, looking astoundingly calm considering what was about to happen. He just hoped his own face was as resolved as their’s and not as sickly pale as he felt. He let his eyes sweep over the familiar faces as he wondered how many of them would survive the next hour. Cordelia flashed him her Hollywood smile, one of the few students who actually looked good in the red commencement gowns, and he smiled back at her. Larry gave him a thumbs up and Oz nodded at him, only a slight extra stillness to his face giving away his nervous tension.
Snyder advanced to the podium as the last of the graduating class sat down and spoke briefly and stiffly, saying that they had proved more or less adequate. Maybe he would change his mind before the day was over, Xander thought with a brief inward smile which vanished when the Mayor stood up and moved to the front of the stage to begin the keynote address.
Beside him, Buffy stirred restlessly as the Mayor greeted them and congratulated them, showing no sign of being anything other than another boring Commencement speaker. “Oh my God. He's going to do the entire speech,” she whispered in disbelief as the Mayor pulled out a set of notecards.
Xander glanced sideways at her with a fleeting smile: “Well, we always knew he was evil,” he said under his breath and was rewarded by a brief answering smile.
As they listened to the Mayor drone on about journeys, Xander was hard pressed not to nervously check that everything was in place. Too much fidgeting would draw unwelcome attention so he gripped the edge of his chair and forced himself to remain still as the Mayor continued his speech, reading off his cue cards. You’d think someone who’d had as long to prepare for this as the Mayor had would have memorized his speech by now.
“Today is about change. Graduation doesn't just mean your circumstances change, it means you do. You ascend - to a higher level. Nothing will ever be the same. Nothing.”
What the hell? Was the Mayor going to admit what was about to happen? Xander’s wandering attention sharpened and he began to pay close attention, scrutinizing the Mayor for any sign that he was about to change. It was really annoying that no eclipse was actually predicted for today or they would have known exactly when during the ceremony the Mayor expected to transform.
Spike waited impatiently inside the school, only the threat of immolation keeping him inside the building as the ceremony dragged on and the Ascension grew closer. Spike could feel it in the air, crackling along his nerves like electricity - a magical storm rapidly building power. Xander was out there, waiting for the Mayor to transform, and Spike was prevented from being at his side by the deadly rays of the afternoon sunshine filling the courtyard where nearly 300 people waited to die.
Oh, most of them didn’t know that’s what they were doing. But the entire graduating class did and Spike felt a reluctant admiration that so few of the students had chickened out. Only about a dozen in a class of nearly a hundred students had not shown up for the ceremony. The rest had simply arrived as scheduled, chose a weapon from the piles waiting for them and slipped it over their heads like it was a normal part of an ordinary Saturday. Their faces may have been as pale as Spike’s but they received their final instructions without fuss or panic, as determined as they were frightened.
Of course, those instructions had mostly been to stay alive, stay ready, and get themselves and their families out of harm’s way as quickly as possible, but it was still an impressive performance.
Waiting, watching the sky for the first sign of the promised eclipse that would free him to act, Spike glanced sideways at Angelus, who was waiting beside him. A dozen of the more obvious demons who’d come to help were with them, all of them held in reserve in case the Mayor had a back up plan for the vampires Spike had killed. With two days in which to act, and a desperate need to keep his food supply from bolting, Spike was betting they would see action in the rear.
It was just the waiting that was killing him.
A shadow moved across the courtyard and Xander looked up at the cloudless sky and caught a brief glimpse of the disc moving with unnatural speed across the face of the sun before he belatedly remembered you weren’t supposed to look directly at an eclipse. Dragging his gaze back to the stage, he saw the Mayor grimace as if struck by a sudden pain. He shook it off and continued speaking and Xander looked at Buffy who was poised on the edge of her seat, waiting tensely for the exact moment.
“And so as we look back on…” - was that a flinch? - “on the events that brought us to this day…”
“Come on, come on,” Xander muttered, urging Buffy on, not the Mayor, barely able to stop himself from jumping up and giving the signal himself.
“We… we must all…” the Mayor’s voice broke off and he gave a stifled scream, doubling forward over the podium for a second before he recovered. An uneasy murmur was running through the audience behind the graduates as people asked each other what was happening. The graduates were silent, waiting tensely for the promised signal.
“Now!” Buffy shouted, her voice over-riding the Mayor’s as, unbelievably, he continued speaking, saying something about his destiny beginning. He was clinging to the podium with both hands now, looking more like someone about to hurl than someone on the verge of becoming a different species.
The school’s fire alarm sounded in response to Buffy’s yell and the red-gowned graduates leapt to their feet and began tearing their commencement robes off. Underneath the concealing robes, every student had a weapon tied around their necks: battleaxes, maces, baseball bats; anything and everything they had been able to supply that could be used without skill or training.
The front row was the exception. As their caps and gowns came off, the demons who’d been concealed beneath the robes bent to pick up the weapons taken from the military base that had been stashed under their chairs, waiting for this moment.
The Mayor screamed in what sounded like pain, his eyes rolling back in his head, totally focused on what was happening with his body and Xander prayed they had one more minute.
Sgt. Morgan’s magically enhanced voice boomed through the courtyard, overriding the shouts and exclamations of the audience, the alarm bell, and even Snyder’s shouts for order.
“Evacuate the school immediately. Move as quickly as you can off the school grounds. Do NOT take shelter in the school buildings. I repeat: Evacuate the area immediately.”
“Go!” Buffy yelled. She was standing on her chair to make herself visible above the crowd. “Go!” she commanded again. “Get them out of here!” She gestured with a small axe towards the spectators at the rear of the audience, the families and friends of the graduates who were now milling about uneasily, puzzled and frightened by the announcement and the actions of the graduates. Some were starting to leave in response to the announcement, beginning to move out into the aisles, but they were moving far too slowly, looking back, waiting for their family members and the students they had come to see graduate.
The graduates moved immediately as they had been ordered, running down the aisles towards the audience, hustling people along, urging them to move faster, to not look back, to go, go, go.
Turning back to the front, Xander saw the Mayor clinging white-knuckled to the podium, his body twisting and writhing, moving and stretching in ways impossible for human flesh and bone as his clothes shredded, unable to fit his rapidly changing contours. It was grotesque and terrifying and Xander froze, staring in fascinated horror at the sight.
“Xander!” Buffy’s voice snapped him out of his shock and he ran to join her as she stood at the edge of graduates’ area, clear of the chairs and off to the side just behind the line of demons, having moved while he gaped at the Mayor. The demons formed their first line of defense, hands working with hastily practiced skill on the triggers of the flame throwers stolen from the military base.
Throwing a quick glance backwards to check the status of the crowd, Xander saw a handful of people riveted in place, staring stupidly at the Mayor, as frozen as he had been. Swearing, he ran back towards them, shoving chairs aside as he pushed directly through to the nearest person. “Harmony! Fred! Richard! Snap out of it! Get the hell out of here!”
Reaching Fred Nakamura three rows back, Xander grabbed his arm and forcibly turned him away from the sight of the Mayor in mid-change. “Fred!” he yelled again. “Get out of here.”
Fred snapped out of his frozen trance and took two steps backward, stumbling blindly over the scattered chairs, before scrambling to his feet and racing after the rest of the crowd. The other kids who’d frozen in place had also begun running for the rear and Xander turned back to the stage just as the transformation finished with shocking suddenness and a fanged serpent rose from behind the podium with a squealing roar as its head stretched towards the sky until it almost reached the tops of the palm trees lining the courtyard, 30 or more feet over their heads.
A dozen flamethrowers roared to life and spat fire into the still-darkening sky and Xander heard Sgt. Morgan’s voice in his head from his speech at their planning sessions: “Forget guns, crossbows, and anything else that requires precision aiming. You’re not going to kill this thing with projectile weapons. Most of the ammo isn’t even going to hit it and anything big enough to make a dent has the potential to kill people 10 blocks away.”
Xander could see he’d been right. The snake moved with a quick, fluid grace that was eerily beautiful even under the circumstances, its head weaving back and forth as it seemed to survey the area and its fleeing prey. The head darted down time and again snapping at the guests on the stage who’d been slow to move, only to rear back in frustration as the tongues of flame arced towards it.
“This is unacceptable!”
In disbelief, Xander heard Snyder’s voice. Showing all the survival instincts of a suicidal lemming, Principal Snyder was standing on the lawn near the edge of the stage, glaring up at the giant snake as if it was nothing more than another unruly student. “You're on my campus, buddy!”
“Snyder! Don’t be such an idiot! Get the hell away from there!” he yelled desperately but Snyder didn’t move.
“This is not orderly. This is not discipline! When I say I want quiet, I want…”
His ranting was cut off with shocking suddenness as the serpent moved with unbelievable speed, its enormous mouth completely engulfing Snyder before quickly rising again as the closest demons swung their flamethrowers a fraction of a second too late. Where Snyder had stood, nothing was left but empty lawn.
Sickened, Xander wondered what the hell was wrong with him when the only thing he could think of was that he would never be able to watch Jurassic Park again. Shaking off his paralysis, he looked towards the rear. The graduates and their families were almost clear of the area but Xander could see there was a pitched battle going on in the rear. Unconsciously, he took a step in that direction but Buffy’s grip on his arm stopped him.
“No,” she said, but her eyes were worried as she looked back towards the fighting in the rear. “Stick with the plan.”
The courtyard darkened and Spike moved forward instantly, only to be held back by Angelus. “Wait for it,” he said and Spike swore but forced himself to wait.
There were over a dozen demons waiting with Angelus and himself, gathered inside the school, all wearing Xander’s bloody orange vests. Sgt. Morgan looked as calm as if this was nothing more than a field exercise, only his hands tightening convulsively over and over on the handle of the enormous battleaxe he was carrying betrayed his tension. With his size and his short-cropped grey hair, he’d been condemned to wait here with the others who were too big, too old, too demonic looking, or too daylight-challenged to pass themselves off as students, even concealed beneath the ridiculous red gowns that the graduates were wearing.
“There!” One of the demons, a half-Ferschiff, exclaimed, the retractable claw on her finger extending and tapping against the glass as she pointed across the courtyard.
Emerging from the building on the opposite side of the courtyard, the Mayor’s replacement herd dogs were appearing: a dozen or so altogether; a mixed bag of vampires and other demons, including two Fyarl demons. Spike grip tightened on his own weapon, a small, wickedly sharp axe he’d somehow never gotten around to returning to the Watcher, and he swore bitterly.
“Who’s got a silver weapon?” he demanded, scanning their group.
“This is silver.” The blue-skinned Rhylto’k demon fumbled at his waist for a moment, then displayed a 4-inch dagger. Spike held out an imperious hand.
“Give it here.”
The Rhylto’k handed it to him wordlessly and Spike took a bare second to examine it. It was silver but that was about all that could be said for it. “Anything else?”
Seeing headshakes all around, Spike hefted the knife, checking its balance. “Right, then. I’ll handle the Fyarl demons since nothing but silver will kill them. The rest of you lot, concentrate on the others.”
Any reply was lost as the fire alarm sounded shrilly over their head and they moved as one, bursting through the doors and moving to intercept the Mayor’s demons who were heading for the stairs leading to the upper courtyard where the students and guests were even as the witches did their bit and the Sergeant’s previously recorded order filled the courtyard ordering the humans to evacuate.
“People respond to authority in a crisis,” the sergeant had pointed out yesterday. “If ordered to leave the area, at least half of them will start to move, which makes it easier to get the rest moving.”
Spike had just enough time to see that it was working and the humans were beginning to move in their direction, before turning his attention to the Fyarl demons. He concentrated on the nearer one, spinning and dodging to avoid the mucous it shot at him, his axe hammering at the demon from every angle as he darted back and forth in front of it. The steel blade wouldn’t kill the Fyarl but it would keep it off balance and unable to draw enough breath to spit the paralyzing mucous that was the characteristic of its kind.
A blow from one rock-like fist hammered into his side, lifting him off his feet and throwing him ten feet through the air to land with a pained grunt on the tile pavement. He ignored the pain and rolled to his feet in one swift movement, launching himself at the demon again.
There were people everywhere as students and the audience poured past them in blind panic, running from the giant serpent that Spike caught glimpses of out of the corner of his eye. The orange light of the flamethrowers added to the nightmare scene straight from Dante’s Seventh Hell, as the serpent roared, the alarm bell continued to sound its shrill chorus and the humans ran screaming through the center of the demon battle that was taking place in the middle of their escape route.
It was like fighting to cross a river in spate and Spike swore and shoved his way through the flood to where the Fyarl was growling and flailing enormous fists, knocking terrified, screaming humans off their feet where they were in danger of being trampled by the press of bodies struggling to reach safety.
Snarling, Spike reached down and yanked two people to their feet, a plump, grey-haired, grandmother-type and a short, dark-haired wildcat with a baseball bat who swung wildly at him. He snatched the bat out of her hands before it smashed into his face and saw she was staring wild-eyed at his chest.
“Orange vest!” she gasped. “Sorry, sorry.”
“Just get out of here,” he growled, shoving the bat back into her hands and forgetting her immediately as he took another step against the current, then dove across the remaining distance in a rugger tackle that knocked the Fyarl back away from the student it was mauling. The Fyarl went down and Spike used the momentum of their fall to spring-board off the larger demon, landing on his feet, crouched and ready. As the Fyarl climbed back to its feet, Spike spun in a circle, bringing the silver knife around in a shining arc and slamming it into the center of the demon’s massive chest, piercing the tough hide and burying the blade to the hilt.
The demon roared and clawed at the blade but Spike ignored the scrabbling hands, yanking the knife out and slamming it in a second time, making doubly sure he’d gotten the heart. The Fyarl crumpled to its knees and Spike snatched the knife back, already searching the battle for the second Fyarl.
“Spike! Over here!”
Four demons had the Fyarl pinned to the ground but were unable to finish it off without a silver weapon. Spike sprinted to where the small clump of bodies heaved and twisted as the battered fighters struggled to keep the Fyarl pinned dropping to his knees and bringing the knife down in a two-handed blow that landed hard enough to crack bones. Again, he yanked the weapon out and stabbed for the heart a second time and the Fyarl died, its struggles ending as blood spurted over the small group.
Leaping to his feet, Spike looked around. The Fyarl was the last of the Mayor’s demons to die and only a handful of stragglers among the humans were still on this side of the street. His anxious gaze turned towards the stage only to see the line of demons drop their flamethrowers and run as the snake’s body disappeared inside the school.
“Let’s go! Everyone fall back!”
Spike hesitated, his eyes scanning the area for Xander, praying he wasn’t among the wounded or, unthinkably, one of the handful of unmoving bodies scattered throughout the courtyard. Demons were racing past him, intent on clearing the area and Spike reluctantly ran with them, pausing only long enough to help a T’loncit demon with a leg wound who was falling behind, pulling the woman’s arm over his shoulder and taking most of her weight as they ran to reach minimum safe distance.
“Stick with the plan.”
Right. The plan. It had seemed so easy when they’d laid it out yesterday. Step 1: Evacuate the area Step 2: Contain the demon. Step 3: Kill the demon. Xander forced his eyes away from the struggle in the rear and nodded acknowledgement of Buffy’s words.
He and Buffy edged further towards the school, staying behind the line of flamethrowers as the demons kept the snake from moving towards the prey it needed to feed on. The serpent reared its head, black against the midnight sky and screamed in frustration, as time and again the flamethrowers roared and the fire licked across its skin, keeping it from closing with the puny defenders.
They were watching tensely, ready for their part, when disaster struck. The snake’s tail lashed forward, slamming into two of the defenders, sweeping them off their feet and flinging them high into the air, until they dropped a moment later, crumpling like smashed toys onto the pavement.
Xander heard a choked sound and wasn’t sure if it came from himself or Buffy. Her grip on his arm tightened to the point of pain as she bit her lip and blinked back tears. Urging him forward, she moved them up behind the closest demon, a guy named Jason that Xander had met at New Years, who was the far left flank of the defensive line. Once they were sheltered behind his weapon, she set the next phase in motion.
“Fall back!” Her voice carried above the continuing roar of the flamethrowers. “Fall back!”
The demons began a slow orderly withdrawal, walking backwards, covering their retreat with the flamethrowers, still preventing the Mayor from closing with them as they swept the air with fire. The right flank lagged behind, one of the demons had dropped his weapon and, covered by three others, grabbed the two bodies with inhuman strength and began dragging them out of the area, refusing to leave them behind to become snake food.
Step by step the line retreated, cautious of the tangle of chairs and robes that made footing treacherous, Xander and Buffy sheltering behind Jason, relying on him and his weapon for cover.
Jason tripped suddenly, stumbling over a tangle of fabric and his hands flew out, the flamethrower clattering to the pavement. Buffy and Xander grabbed him, pulling him back upright before he could fall and become prey. In the process, the three of them dropped out of the retreat formation, no longer behind the line but in front of it and the snake’s head swung towards them instantly.
“Run!” Buffy yelled and the three of them took off at an angle, aiming for the shelter of the building as the demon screamed in triumph and snapped at them, so close that Xander could feel the thing’s hot breath. The other demons were yelling after them but couldn’t break formation, the solid line of flamethrowers their only chance for survival as they continued to fall back through the courtyard.
Bursting through the school doors, Xander ran as fast as he could, Buffy and Jason at his side.
“He’s coming,” Buffy panted urgently and the three of them buckled down and ran harder, arms pumping, putting every ounce of energy into speed, hearing the snake smashing through the doors as it followed them, paralleling their course as it simply broke through concrete and masonry like it was tissue paper.
They ran through the familiar hallways, sprinting around corners as the serpent took the direct route, smashing through walls as it mindlessly pursued the only food left to it.
Bursting through the library doors, the three of them ran straight through the room without hesitation, vaulting up the stairs to the upper level. They tore through the stacks and out the other side where the windows had been broken open in preparation for their retreat. Buffy and Jason were ahead of him now and Xander concentrated on keeping up, hearing Buffy call to Giles who waited across the street, standing anxiously behind a hastily erected sandbag bunker: “Five seconds!”
Buffy and Jason dove behind the shelter of the sandbags as Giles squatted down behind them again. Xander was two seconds behind, hurling himself over the edge with reckless disregard for anyone lying on the other side. As he cleared the top, landing in a belly-flop that drove the wind out of him on the ground inside the tiny shelter, the world exploded into fire behind him.
Shoving his way roughly through the milling, awe-struck crowd as the fireball from the enormous explosion grew and expanded, Spike raced around the building, ignoring the secondary explosions that still rocked the building. The library was on the far side of the building and Spike cursed the distance as he rounded the second side of the building, leaping over bits of concrete rubble that littered the area, making walking hazardous, never mind the flat-out sprint Spike was employing.
The far side of the school was almost quiet, only a handful of people there, all of whom were watching the fireball dissipating in the sky. Spike had eyes only for the tall, dark-haired form slowly rising from behind the sandbag bunker they had erected just before the ceremony. Xander bent over double and Spike’s unbeating heart lurched until he realized that Xander was still catching his breath from his dangerous sprint through the halls of the school.
Xander stood and looked around, a grin splitting his face as he saw Spike running towards him. Spike caught his boy in his arms, feeling the ragged breath and the thumping heart as Xander clung to him in turn, holding Spike hard enough to bruise a mortal and Spike relished the strong hold that told him his Claimed had made it through the battle alive and unharmed.
*A/N - Bits of dialogue borrowed from the episode ‘Graduation, part 2’