Nothing the Same, Book 2
Chapter: 49/50 (really this time)
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
Burying his face in the crook of Spike’s neck, Xander stayed in his arms for a long moment, letting the familiar scent of cigarettes and leather and Spike drown out the reek of blood and smoke in the air, waiting as the adrenaline from his run through the school hallways burned itself out of his system, until his breathing returned to normal and the muscles in his legs no longer trembled and burned with fatigue. He was sick to death of dealing with the results of battle and wanted nothing more than to stay hiding in his lover’s arms without having to learn how many were wounded, how many had died.
It was the thought that he wished he could stay there in Spike’s arms forever that caused the sudden realization of imminent peril. Time was passing.
“Spike!” he yelped, reality returning in an unwelcome rush of stark fear. He pushed out of Spike’s embrace, catching the vampire by surprise with the sudden movement but all his attention was on the sky. “Spike, you need to get out of here. The sun’s gonna be out any second now.”
That got the vampire’s attention in a hurry and Spike looked up as well. Usually he was instinctively aware of the sun - no vampire could survive who wasn’t - but he’d been too preoccupied with the fact of Xander’s survival to worry about trivial details like the fact that it was still mid-afternoon. The sky was still unnaturally dark, even given a total eclipse, and the smoke from the explosion blanketed the area heavily, but the dark grey sky was already lightening and it would only be a few minutes before sunlight would break through the gradually dispersing smoke, endangering Spike.
“You’re right, pet, we need to go. I’ll just make sure Angelus is payin’ attention, then we’ll head home.”
Xander shook his head reluctantly wishing he could just leave. “I can’t, Spike. I need to stay and help with the clean up.” He kissed Spike quickly. “See you at home in a couple hours?”
Spike looked unhappy and Xander made a helpless gesture hoping Spike understood he didn’t have a choice. Guilt would keep him from resting anyway if he just abandoned the others to the clean up. “I’m sorry,” he said and Spike sighed.
“Not really surprised, luv,” he acknowledged, glancing around the devastated area. “Keep safe.”
“Hey, the Mayor is toast, almost literally. I think the worst is over.”
“Still a Hellmouth.” Spike reminded him before abruptly striding off through the drifts of smoke in search of his Sire. Xander watched him until he was out of sight, then glanced anxiously at the sky again. Spike should have at least a couple more minutes before the sun became a real issue, he told himself reassuringly. Plenty of time to get to shelter.
Forcing himself to put his lover out of his mind, he looked around, wondering what came next. Less time must have passed than he’d thought, because Buffy, Giles and Jason were still talking in the makeshift bunker, watching the secondary explosions still occasionally going off in the building. Xander walked towards them, picking his way through the chunks of concrete and occasional gory blobs of stuff he really didn’t want to look at because he suspected it was snake meat.
Jason grinned at him and gave him a thumbs-up sign as he approached. “Dude, you should have gone out for track,” he said. Jason had been on the high school track team himself before he’d graduated three years ago. “You kept up with me and Buffy, not bad for a full human.”
“Well, I would have gone out for track,” Xander answered, grinning back at him, “but they said it was against the rules to have a giant snake chase me around the track during competitions, so what was the point?”
Jason gave a short bark of laughter and Giles smiled at the byplay. “Well done, all three of you.” Giles had begun hauling in the wires to the detonator he’d used to trigger the explosives and now bent to retrieve the main piece. “If you two would scatter the sandbags as best you can so they aren’t so frightfully conspicuous, I believe the authorities are on their way. Buffy, let’s see what needs doing around front.”
Xander could hear the wail of approaching sirens and realized they would have to move quickly to hide the evidence of what they’d done. They’d always known they wouldn’t be able to conceal all trace of what they’d done but they were hoping that the usual Sunnydale blindness would cover anything they couldn’t hide. He and Jason bent down and each grabbed a sandbag, beginning to toss them into bushes and behind walls as Buffy and Giles moved around to the front of the building where most of the survivors would be. Tired as he was, Xander moved quickly until the sandbags were, if not completely concealed, at least inconspicuous to the casual eye. He needed to see his friends, reassure himself that they were alive, tally their losses and learn the full extent of the damage.
Striding rapidly through the confusion, Spike searched quickly for his Sire, finding him helping carry the wounded to a central area where people were trying to set up a makeshift first aid station. Given the complete lack of any medical supplies, right now that consisted mostly of collecting the wounded and using torn bits of fabric as temporary bandages. The first fire engine was just pulling into the parking lot and he could hear other sirens approaching in the distance as he reached Angelus’ side.
“Let’s go,” he ordered, tugging on Angelus’ arm as the older vampire finished depositing a blond girl with a broken arm on the ground. She was white faced and crying, clinging to her arm in an effort to keep it from moving as his Sire gently lowered her to the ground. A middle aged human moved to steady her, talking soothingly in a quiet voice.
“These people need help,” Angelus protested, straightening up and glaring at Spike.
“You plannin’ on helping them by doin’ your impersonation of a bonfire?”
Angelus started, glancing up automatically at the sky and Spike saw the instant realization in his eyes that the eclipse was over, the sun’s deadly rays blocked only by the thick clouds of smoke still blanketing the area. The smoke was slowly beginning to clear and the near night dark of the past 20 minutes was rapidly lightening.
“Let’s get out of here.”
Spike rolled his eyes. Like he hadn’t just said that himself. He didn’t waste time on sarcasm, breaking into a run as he darted through the milling crowd heading for the nearest entrance to the sewers.
They made it with not a lot of time to spare. The still faint sunlight was becoming uncomfortably hot, prickling along their skin with a foretaste of the immolation waiting for them as they dropped into the sheltering darkness of the sewer. Spike yanked the manhole cover shut behind them, cursing and pulling back mildly scorched fingers as he dropped lightly down to the floor beneath the access ladder.
Smirking at his Sire, he asked: “Fancy joining me at the factory? Or you prefer waiting in the tunnels ‘til sunset? It’s only about four hours from now.”
Angelus glared at him and Spike’s smirk deepened. Serve his Sire right if Spike left him to cool his heels in the sewers because the idiot insisted on living in a house with no tunnel access.
“I’ll stay until sunset,” Angelus said.
Side by side, the two moved off into the tunnels, heading for the factory.
“Good fight, eh?”
“Not bad,” Angelus admitted.
The final toll was five dead and 18 wounded.
Three bodies lay on the pavement, covered with blankets from the aid cars. There was nothing left of Snyder and Scott Ubanya, the Rhythhken who’d been killed in the fight with the Mayor’s demons had been hastily wrapped in a commencement robe and carried away by several of the demons who, like Scott, had visible differences that could not stand up to scrutiny by police and aid crews.
The bodies of the two demons killed by the snake were joined by a student who’d been killed by one of the Mayor’s demons, her skull crushed by a random blow as she’d run with the other fleeing humans through the center of the battle at the rear. Xander hated the fact that he wasn’t even sure he remembered her name. She’d played in the jazz band and she’d turned up for graduation, knowing the risks, and died holding a weapon she never got the chance to use. He thought her name was Sara.
Of the wounded, only a handful were seriously hurt, although Xander was only counting the people loaded into ambulances among the wounded. Dozens of others had bruises and minor injuries that didn’t need treatment. Wesley was limping badly from a kick by one of the Mayor’s vampires but he’d been able to behead the vampire with the sword he’d carried into the fight even as he fell himself. He’d been in more danger of impaling himself on his own sword than anything he told Xander, with a forced cheerfulness.
They’d been lucky that no one had been trampled in the panicked rush for safety. The graduates had come through for them, hurrying the civilians out of the danger zone but keeping the evacuation from disintegrating into total panic and protecting the ones who fell. Half a dozen people were nursing twisted and sprained ankles but all of them had been gotten safely to their feet and out of the area, often by the graduates who’d linked arms and formed solid barriers in front of them, forcing the crowd to go around until the fallen could be helped up and Xander blessed Sergeant Morgan who’d talked to them about watching out for and protecting fallen bodies in the crowd. The overwhelming majority of people had survived and Xander was relieved that their losses had been so relatively light even as he ached for the ones who hadn’t made it.
He and Jason had arrived at the front of the building just as Scott’s body was being carried away. Sergeant Morgan had pulled Jason to one side and broken the news to him that Scott was dead. As long as he lived, Xander thought he would never forget Jason’s heartbroken sobs as he learned of his friend’s death.
Silence had fallen over the people nearby, as the still dazed survivors heard the grief-stricken man’s sorrow and realized again how lucky they were to be alive. Family and friends embraced each other and wept, as Sergeant Morgan did his best to comfort Jason. Tears rose to Xander’s eyes as he was achingly reminded of Jesse’s death and his own sorrow was fresh and new for a moment as he shared Jason’s grief.
Jason and Sergeant Morgan followed as the demons carrying Scott’s body moved off slowly, and Xander and the others turned to deal with the authorities.
There was a sentry on duty at the tunnel entrance to the factory.
That wasn’t what was raising Spike’s eyebrow. He’d have been more than pissed if there wasn’t a sentry, since there were standing orders that guards be posted at all approaches to the factory at all times. No, what was surprising him was who the vampire on guard was. It was a very senior minion, a dark-skinned woman with a close-cropped afro. Guard duty was always delegated to middle-ranked minions, ones who had proven their loyalty and common sense but not ones with enough rank to avoid the long boring hours of keeping watch.
“Master Spike,” she said quietly as soon as he stepped into view. She moved forward to meet him, acknowledging Angelus behind him with a quick head bob. “Master Angelus.”
“Jose asked if he could meet with you as soon as you returned. May I go get him?”
Spike narrowed his eyes. The fact that Jose had clearly told her he needed to meet with Spike before he entered the factory spoke volumes. Nodding curtly, Spike watched as she scrambled up the ladder.
“Dunno. Jose’s not an alarmist.” Spike resisted the urge to pace, not wanting to show his agitation in front of Angelus.
Jose appeared in a gratifyingly short time, without the guard minion who Spike could hear taking position above them at the entrance, keeping eavesdroppers away.
“Master Spike, I apologize for disturbing you but there is something you should know.”
Jose was his usual unruffled self, nodding courteously to Angelus but keeping his attention on Spike.
“What is it?”
“A couple of troublemakers among the minions are spreading stories of a demon war in which you have taken the Slayer’s side.” Jose shrugged. “They aren’t being very successful in stirring things up, most of the minions are content with things as they are especially after the fight at City Hall, but a few are listening to them and grumbling.”
“How many’s a few?” Spike snapped, furious with himself for not anticipating this. Of course some members of the Court would have heard rumors of the Mayor’s last minute drive to recruit demons. Fyarls in particular tended to attract attention, bloody idiots didn’t know the meaning of the word subtle.
“A dozen, perhaps as many as 15, none with any seniority.”
Spike cursed, rapidly considering his options, then looked sharply at Jose. “You got ’em all marked?”
Jose nodded. “Yes, Master Spike. I have been keeping an eye on who is listening and who is walking away.”
“Right. Pull enough senior minions aside to cover them all and make each of them responsible for one of the troublemakers. When I give the signal, they’re to dust their assigned vampire. Tell them to use stakes, quick and clean, nothing flashy and no mistakes. Call a full Court session for one hour from now. You and the boys spread yourselves around the outside of the crowd, arm yourselves with hand-held crossbows but keep ‘em out of sight. Anyone misses their assigned target, take both of ‘em out with your crossbows. Any questions?”
“No, Master Spike. I’ll inform the other Lieutenants and begin choosing minions.”
“Who’s the chief troublemaker?”
Jose considered for a moment. “I would estimate that most of the trouble began with a minion who calls himself Louis.” Spike almost grinned at the faint distaste in his voice. Obviously Jose thought the name pretentious for some reason. “He joined the Court about six months ago. Tall, dark hair, flashy dresser.”
“I’ll take care of him myself. Good work, Jose.”
Jose inclined his head with dignity. “Thank you, Master Spike.”
Spike held back for a minute, letting Jose clear the area. Angelus had been silent during the discussion with Jose, now he spoke, quietly enough that his voice wouldn’t carry to the factory above. “Need any help?”
“Don’t need your bloody help to keep my own Court under control,” Spike snarled, furious at the suggestion.
Angelus held up his hands in a conciliatory gesture. “That’s not what I meant, Spike. All I meant was would it be more useful if I disappeared or if I backed you up?”
Feeling somewhat ashamed that he’d jumped to the wrong conclusion, Spike shrugged. “Might as well enjoy the show, long as you’re here already.”
The fire department and aid crews had taken over care of the wounded and Xander had touched base with dozens of people. Willow had arrived in the grassy staging area with a swirl of red hair and a fast, relieved hug for Xander, Buffy and Giles, who had put aside his habitual reserve long enough to hug her back. Elizabeth arrived just behind her, the two of them had worked the spell that had enhanced Sergeant Morgan’s voice on the opposite side of the school from where the explosives had been laid, unable to see what was happening and connected to the action only by the walkie-talkie that had let them hear Buffy’s signal to begin.
Xander had returned the hug without thought, transported for a moment to a time when Willow-hugs had been a frequent occurrence. She’d looked up at him almost shyly for a moment and he’d smiled at her as he stepped back. He’d never doubted that Willow loved him, but the emotion that had once been such a bedrock of his existence had gotten lost in the anger, hurt and recriminations of more recent times. Maybe someday they could find their way back to that once-simple truth, he thought with a tinge of optimism.
“Where’s Oz?” Willow asked, looking around anxiously.
Xander felt a jolt of worry as he realized he hadn’t seen him yet either. “I haven’t seen him,” he answered, scanning the crowd himself and wishing Oz was taller. He saw Larry grinning and waving his mace as he limped by, leaning his weight against Jonathan who had all his attention on helping Larry.
Giles had seen Larry too. “We have to start collecting and hiding the weapons,” he exclaimed. “100 students walking around armed to the teeth is going to raise eyebrows.”
“Spread out,” Buffy ordered. “Collect as many of the weapons as you can and dump them in the bushes. Yell if anyone sees Oz.”
Nodding, they scattered and began collecting weapons still clutched by dazed students, hampered by congratulations and hugs as classmates celebrated their mutual survival.
Xander was beginning to seriously freak out when there was still no sign of Oz twenty minutes later as he was dumping his latest load of baseball bats, maces, and axes into the bushes. More and more police and ambulances had arrived and it was increasingly difficult to pass weapons discretely as the officers moved through the crowd, beginning to take statements.
Oz’s quiet voice at his elbow made him jump and whirl around. “Oz!” he exclaimed, hugging the smaller man. “God, where have you been? We’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
Oz looked exhausted, his eyes haunted and he looked everywhere but at Xander. “Tell you later,” was all he said, though he returned Xander’s hug after a brief hesitation.
“Are you ok?” Xander looked him over anxiously but there was no obvious sign of injury.
“Yeah. Tell the others I’m ok, will you. I gotta bail.”
Oz looked as fidgety as Xander had ever seen him, almost as if he was about to bolt. Whatever was bothering him was big. Not that they didn’t all have reason to have their own, private breakdown after today. “I’ll tell them. Call me tomorrow?”
Oz nodded and walked off without another word, his small figure quickly vanishing into the crowd. Looking after his friend, Xander thought he’d never seen anyone who looked so alone.
Abandoning weapons duty, Xander set off to find the others and let them know Oz was alive and uninjured. At least physically, but that part he’d keep to himself for now.
An hour before sunset, the Court was always full. It was a rare vampire that went out during the day by choice, and even rare for any of them to have a reason to be out an hour before the sun set. Night was their time and most vampires were content to leave it that way. Spike himself was only as active by day as he was because of Xander.
The low murmur of voices died as Spike strode to the front of the assembled Court. Angelus had taken up position well to the rear of Spike’s own chosen spot, his normal self-effacing manner completely absent and Spike had to admit, the presence of a second Master, so clearly backing Spike up, added a certain something to the gathering as Angelus let his own Master persona out to play.
“Understand some of you have a problem with the way I’ve been running this territory,” he began abruptly. “That’s fine. You’re all entitled to your opinions.” He nodded sharply to Jose, who raised one arm and let it fall. Before his hand had dropped completely, explosions of dust began to appear in the assembled Court as the minions staked their assigned targets. Less than three seconds later, before the majority of the Court had time to react, his Lieutenants signaled that the targets were all dead. Spike was pleased, none of the senior minions had missed their targets, not one crossbow had been fired.
The Court was muttering uneasily, shifting nervously away from the senior minions who were ignoring them, their eyes on Spike, stakes still held ready in their hands. Spike himself was staring at the tall vampire near the front, that Jose had discretely pointed out to him earlier.
“You. What’s your name?”
“Louis, Master Spike.” The minion was terrified and doing his best not to show it.
“I understand you have a problem with how I handled things today.”
“No, Master Spike.”
“No? You sayin’ you weren’t talking to all those idiots we’ll be sweepin’ up in a minute?”
Louis looked around desperately, the other vampires had drawn back like a human would from someone plague-infected, as if being near him was enough to bring death. Losing his head completely, he broke and ran, pushing his way through the crowd that parted instantly before him heading for the rear doors.
He only made it three steps. Spike sent a stake whistling down the cleared space in the crowd, striking him cleanly in the center of his back. The resulting cloud of dust was curiously elongated, as if his running body was still trying to escape final death even as it happened.
It wasn’t the death Spike had planned for him but it would do. When the crowd turned back, Spike was standing casually, both hands clasping his belt buckle.
“You got a problem. Bring it to me. You don’t have the nerve to say it to my face, you shouldn’t even be thinking it.” He let the silence stretch out, his eyes meeting the eyes of every member of the Court in turn.
Once the message had sunk in, Spike continued. “I’m Master of this Territory. That means I’m smarter than you, stronger than you, and unlike most of you, I think more than five minutes ahead. And that means not wanting to share my town with an 80-foot demon scarin’ off all of our prey. So I recruited the Slayer to help me kill it. Somethin’ like that gets a toe-hold and you might as well pack your bags and follow the humans out of town, ’cause they aren’t gonna stay around to be eaten, not when the monster’s on the 6:00 news and they have to admit it’s real. Any of you have a problem with my decision, feel free to step up and say so. Otherwise, we’re done here.”
He waited, his scarred eyebrow lifted enquiringly. No one took him up on his offer to challenge his rule. Even better, the minions looked satisfied with the brief explanation. Clearly Louis had raised questions, even among those who’d had enough sense to walk away from him. The rapid elimination of the dissenters and a 30-second spot of logic they could understand and the Court was fully behind him again. As it should be.
“Right,” he said. “Class dismissed.”
Jerking his head towards the stairs, he signaled to Angelus and they left without another word, climbing the stairs together to the second floor apartment.
Xander dragged himself up the stairs to the apartment, the climb taking twice as long as usual as his tired legs protested every step. The door opened before he’d made it halfway up and Spike’s voice floated down to him. Xander smiled tiredly as Spike’s voice drifted down to him, complaining about the others leaving him to walk home alone when he was this tired.
The post-adrenaline crash was hitting him hard. He’d stayed at the school until the last of the wounded had been taken away in ambulances and the most obvious signs of their activities had been cleaned up or hidden. An hour before sunset, Giles had congratulated them and ordered them all to go home and rest, instructing them to gather at his apartment on Monday afternoon adding that, under no circumstances did he want to see any of them before then. Right now, the idea of a day and a half in bed sounded like the purest form of heaven.
Climbing the last of the stairs, Xander saw Spike waiting safely back from the last slanting rays of the sun that still imprisoned the vampire in the apartment. He stepped inside and pushed the door shut and fell into Spike’s arms, not even complaining when Spike scooped him up and carried him to the bedroom, depositing him gently on the bed.
He managed to stay awake long enough to open his eyes and see Spike bending anxiously over him. “Love you,” he mumbled. “Sleep now.”
He was asleep before Spike could answer.