Nothing the Same, Book 3
Rating: PG13 - NC-17 Individual chapters will carry specific warnings.
WARNING: This chapter contains language and some violent imagery
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 & Nothing the Same, Book 2
Disclaimer: don't own them, never will, just having fun.
Previous parts here
“This is my stop.”
Buffy’s voice broke the long silence. She’d seemed lost in thought as the three of them left the Bronze and headed home and Xander been hesitant to interrupt her silent musing. Having just found out your roommate - even one you hated - was a soul-sucking demon had to take some dealing.
“You ok getting back to your dorm?”
Buffy gave him a look. “I’m still the Slayer, Xander. Haven’t lost my touch that much.”
“Sorry,” he said sheepishly. “Just…, you know, soul-sucking, soul-returning, you might not be having your best night.”
“Yeah.” Buffy scrunched her face up at the reminder. “Sorry about the way I’ve been acting. I’m just glad it was Kathy causing me to be no-fun Buffy.”
“Way I figure it, you’re supposed to have a soul. Being without one, even part of one, made you cranky,” Xander said with a grin, although he was a lot more relieved than he let on. It had not been fun being friends with Buffy these past few days.
“Well, in any case, I owe you one.” Buffy gave them both a wave, “see you around.”
“Don’t forget to call Giles when you get to your room and tell him what happened. He’s probably still researching, looking for your demon.”
“Will do,” Buffy promised cheerfully as she walked off.
Xander watched her until she was out of sight, then looked over at Spike. “You’re being awfully quiet. Is something wrong?”
Spike looked at Xander in disbelief. His Claimed was actually asking if something was wrong, as if Xander was completely oblivious to everything he’d done tonight to drive Spike out of his fucking mind.
Knowing he was on the fine edge of losing his temper completely and doing something he would probably regret and Xander might never forgive, Spike gritted his teeth and forced himself to say calmly: “What kind of a demon was that, luv?”
Xander shook his head. “I didn’t recognize the species. Any ideas?”
“No. And that is exactly my point.” When Xander just looked blank, Spike closed his eyes and fought to keep his hands at his sides. “You deliberately put yourself front and center in the middle of a confrontation between the Slayer and a demon you didn’t even recognize, that you knew nothing about except the fact that it was capable of pulling the soul out of a human’s body. Then, when its even larger cousin showed up, you deliberately attracted its attention.” Spike’s voice had risen as he spoke until he was almost shouting. “Xander, you didn’t even have a weapon in your hand, you weren’t in any way prepared to deal with the thing if it attacked you.”
“No! You’ve bloody well got to stop doing that. You’re going to get yourself killed one of these days.”
“Spike, she ran away from home to go to school. How dangerous can something be that just wants to go to college?”
It infuriated him that Xander, far from looking apologetic, was smiling at him with what looked suspiciously like fond tolerance for Spike’s little foible of worrying about his Claimed.
“You can’t use human logic to predict the reactions of a demon, Xander. We don’t think like humans. We don’t react to situations like humans do. We don’t follow the same sets of rules. Maybe a human wouldn’t kill to remain in school but a demon might. Not a vampire, or a Tralk demon, yeah, but you don’t even know what species it was. It’s not even from this dimension, goin’ by the fuckin’ portal. Stop treating demons like we’re humans, because we’re not.”
Spike’s own demon had come fully out to play. He glared at Xander, knowing he’d shifted to his true face. “Xander, my demon is telling me to take you back to the lair and chain you to the bed and never let you leave again. Not tomorrow, when you’re feeling bad about what you did. Not next week, when you’ve apologized a thousand times. Not in ten years, when you’ve given in and stopped even asking for your freedom. Never.”
“You wouldn’t do that.” Despite the calm certainty in Xander’s voice, there was a flicker of unease in his eyes and Spike knew Xander had finally gotten the message. If Xander pushed too far, Spike might be forced to do something they’d both regret.
“Love you, Xander. More than you’ll ever know. But I’m a demon. If necessary, I would do that. If it’s a choice between losing you and keeping you by force, I know which I’ll choose.”
Part of Spike was terrified of what he was saying, that he was revealing too much and Xander would run. It was something he’d been afraid of all along, ever since he’d admitted to himself just how important Xander was to him.
This hadn’t been an issue with Drusilla. When Dru had strayed too far in her mad flitting from whim to whim and his need to possess her had risen up uncontrollably, Spike had simply dragged her back to the lair, tied her up and beaten her until she’d reaffirmed their bond. Until she remembered that she belonged to him as much as he belonged to her. Afterwards, lying sprawled and sated across her slender body, he’d drag his tongue along the lash marks decorating her body, tasting the blood and the submission until his demon was purring in contentment.
Picturing that with Xander now, Spike fought back the surge of lust and the need to dominate his Claimed, to teach Xander his place, to get him to bloody obey for once.
Under control again, he met Xander’s wide-eyed stare with one of his own. His jaw tightened as he saw the hesitation and his heart sank. “Xander…” he began, not wanting to back down but afraid he’d gone too far.
“No, Spike, it’s ok. I understand what you’re saying. It’s just…” Xander’s voice trailed off and he made a helpless gesture. “I know you’re a demon. I didn’t become friends with you lightly or without thinking it through.” Unwillingly Spike remembered the nights when he’d waited in angry, hurt vigil outside Xander’s house for Xander to decide if he could be friends with a vampire and a shaft of the same pain and resentment he’d felt then went through him again at the reminder. “And I know you didn’t become friends with me without considering how crazy it is,” he added with a lopsided smile. “But Spike, I’m human. I don’t think like a demon and I won’t ever think like a demon. You have to accept that about me. I don’t deliberately put myself in danger… ok, sometimes I do, but only when it’s necessary.”
“Tonight wasn’t necessary, Xander,” Spike growled.
“It wasn’t dangerous either.”
“You can’t look at a situation after the fact and say: ‘see, it turned out ok, so there wasn’t ever any danger’,” Spike shot back, exasperated.
“I’m not,” Xander insisted. “Spike, you and Buffy were there. All I did was…”
“Was wave a red flag in front of a 7-foot tall bull and hope he didn’t take offense,” Spike finished for him grimly. “You were lucky, not careful.”
“He was opening a vortex. They were going to leave with part of Buffy’s soul.”
“Her problem, not yours.”
“She’s my friend.”
“She’s the bloody Slayer. It’s her fucking job.”
“You saw what she’s been like these past couple of days. She wasn’t thinking straight. It worked. Nobody got hurt. And I am not losing another friend when I can do something about it.” Xander’s voice broke and Spike felt the anger drain out of him at the raw pain in his Claimed’s voice.
“I love you, Spike. And I’m sorry I can’t be what you want. But I can’t go through that again, not when there’s something I can do to stop it.”
Spike barely realized he’d moved before he found he had Xander in his arms and was holding him tightly, so tightly it had to hurt as he clenched one hand in Xander’s hair and crushed their bodies together. Xander didn’t protest, clinging to Spike like a drowning man to the only hope of rescue. Like he was as terrified of losing Spike as Spike was of losing him.
Xander had lost so many people: the friend he’d staked, the witch, all of the classmates he’d cared about who’d left town over the summer, each one tearing a piece of Xander’s heart out as they left. He’d made new friends but his boy wasn’t one who let go easily or at all. He hadn’t even been able to write the witch off, despite everything she’d done to him, far less the werewolf or the replacement Watcher, all of whom Xander was working to keep in contact with, as if he could will them back into his life by sheer wanting it so.
“You’re everything I want, Xander, except careful,” he said after a long moment. “Careful we can work on. Dead is a bit more of a problem.”
Xander made a sound that might have been a sob or a short bark of laughter. “So says the dead man.”
“Let’s go home, luv.”
He’d increase their training sessions which had slacked off recently because Xander had been so busy and work with Xander on letting his guard down. That would help appease Spike’s demon and keep the delicate balance they’d been maintaining successfully for so long. He’d meant what he said: he’d keep Xander by force if there was no other way. He just didn’t want that to be his only choice.
Spike hated wasting his time on administrative trivia. That was why a Master had Lieutenants, so they could deal with the piddling shite that wasn’t worthy of the attention of the Master of a territory. It was for that very reason that he only rarely met formally with his Lieutenants. He continued to hold formal Court once a week and expected his Lieutenants to approach him with anything he should be aware of. It was a rare night when he didn’t spend at least a few minutes at the Court and often he was there for a considerable time - sparring, listening, and just generally making his presence felt. An absent Master was a quickly replaced one.
Spike had visited Courts that had endless layers of bureaucracy shielding the Master from unwanted interruptions and he had nothing but contempt for Courts run in that fashion. Sign of a weak Master, was all it was. Any minion in the Court was free to approach Spike at any time. Of course, if they bothered him unnecessarily with trivial problems and petty troubles, they learned from their mistake. Or at least the other minions learned from the mistake when they saw the swift, and frequently fatal, punishment that followed the sin of wasting Spike’s time.
It tended to cut down on the number of minions who dared to approach him.
Mostly, they went to his Lieutenants. Anything short of an impending apocalypse tended to make minions worried it wasn’t important enough to bother Spike. Which was as it should be: most minions were too stupid to see a good apocalypse approaching anyway and rarely had any news Spike was interested in. His Lieutenants filtered out the crap and brought anything significant to his attention, which kept Spike well informed about his territory. Being the conduit to Spike gave his Lieutenants a certain degree of power and status of their own, which made being his Lieutenant a desirable position that they enjoyed and worked to earn.
He had five Lieutenants now, having promoted an additional one about a month ago. Arkady was a quiet, reliable vampire, about 60 years old, a dark-skinned woman with close-cropped black hair. She was tall and rangy and one of the best knife fighters Spike had ever known - he’d picked up a trick or two from her himself, watching her in practice bouts with other minions.
She faced him now, having approached him as he’d entered the Court and asked for a moment of his time.
“There are hunters in town, other than the Slayer, Master Spike,” she informed him quietly. “There have been rumors for several weeks now, talk of hunters who patrol the town like the Slayer but who aren’t human, but this past week they have been seen several times by reliable sources.”
Spike had been expecting this ever since the volunteers had begun patrolling a little over a month ago. He was actually surprised it had taken this long for people to notice. Vampires were mostly killed by other vampires and, much less frequently, by the occasional hunter or Slayer who happened across them. A century ago, that hadn’t been true. Humans had believed in vampires back then and, when they suspected one was in the area, knew where and how to hunt them. Many vampires had met final death at the hands of the family members of their victims, as grief turned to anger and the determination to hunt down the killer. Nowadays, humans didn’t believe what was in front of their eyes, preferring to rely on “rational” explanations instead of the truth and, as a result, very few humans became vampire hunters. There was always Slayers, but the world was wide and a vampire could always be somewhere the current Slayer was not.
Having decided to let things lie and deal with it when it arose, Spike answered instinctively, giving a disdainful sniff. “Took people long enough to notice what was happening under their noses.”
Surprise showed on her features and Spike tilted his head, regarded her curiously for so long that she stiffened and threw her shoulders back, coming to almost military attention before him. Good, she was worried she’d failed him. Until they’d been tested, Spike liked his Lieutenants to always be a little on edge around him.
“What are these ‘rumors’ that have been going around?” he asked silkily, leaving her in doubt as to whether she should have brought them to his attention when she first heard them.
“Just that the Slayer hasn’t been seen as often, that somehow she has recruited others to do her work for her. There has been much speculation as to whether this means she is weaker than most Slayers, or stronger,” she reported crisply.
Spike nodded thoughtfully. “Doesn’t mean either,” he answered. “Just means she’s different. What’s the reaction to the new hunters?”
Arkady hesitated, obviously not sure exactly what he meant. “Reaction?”
“Fear? Worry? Anger?” he prompted impatiently.
“I would judge the main reaction in the Court is curiosity,” she said after a short pause. Spike was pleased that she had taken a moment to gather her thoughts before answering. “Although there are rumors that there are a dozen or more hunters, they seem to hunt alone, or in pairs, and only one or two on any given night. They do not concentrate on any species of demon, and certainly not on members of the Court. Instead, they haunt the cemeteries and appear to be doing random patrols, rather than focusing on any particular targets.”
That was Spike’s understanding as well: that the volunteers were doing general patrols and, when necessary, would act as back-up to the Slayer if there was a particular nest or hot spot that needed clearing out. From what Xander said, they had staked a few newly turned fledges and some of the small, scavenger demons that lurked on the fringes of the human areas of town. Humans often mistook the scavengers for stray dogs and cats, but in truth they were savage predators of the weak and accounted for a large number of deaths among the homeless population of larger towns and cities. A number of kills blamed on vampires were actually accountable to the small, vicious creatures, who would swarm the dropped prey and finish it off.
He briefly considered having his Lieutenants spread the word about what was happening, thus relegating it to something too unimportant for the general Court but discarded the idea in favor of controlling the message.
“Not quite business as usual, but nothing to worry about,” he told Arkady. “I’ll mention it to the Court at the next session.” Which was in two days and the Slayer was patrolling this weekend after her week off.
She nodded in acknowledgement. “Yes, Master Spike.”
He let her get three steps and then stopped her with a softly spoken command. “Next time, don’t wait so long before bringing news of organized hunters in town to my attention.”
She turned to face him and he crossed his arms over his chest, his gaze disapproving. “If this had been something I wasn’t already aware of, it could have been a problem.” He kept his voice quiet enough that the reprimand wasn’t audible to the nearest minions but his tone was blistering. “I expect more from my Lieutenants than from the average minion. I expect them to be able to think.”
She bowed her head contritely. “It won’t happen again, Master Spike.”
“See that it doesn’t.”
Spike suppressed his smirk until she was on the other side of the room. She’d be all right with a bit of seasoning.
Xander circled warily, bare feet shifting sideways on the training mats, his hands out from his side, one of them holding a knife with a firm grip. He was watching Spike’s every move, waiting for the rush that was sure to come.
They were using Angel’s mansion again and Spike had re-outfitted the rooms with equipment: tumbling mats, targets, and a variety of weapons. Apparently Angel had not been consulted about Spike using his mansion but he probably knew about it anyway. Given the territorial nature of vampires, it was unlikely that Angel had actually given Spike permission to take over his property, even a building he no longer intended to use.
When Xander had asked, Spike had told him in disgust that Angel had bought the house. Unlike Spike’s squatter status in the factory, Angel had the distressingly human tendency to actually buy property. Having learned from his Sire, Darla, how to manage money, vampire-style - meaning extremely long-term investments - Angel did not lack for cash but that wasn’t the point. To Spike’s way of looking at it, it was another thing that vampires didn’t do.
Of course, Spike liked using the mansion as a dojo for all sorts of complicated, vampire reasons. In some obscure way, it was both pissing on his Sire’s turf and a connection with his absent Sire. Plus, the very faults that made Spike deride the house as a living situation for vampires: no tunnel access, big windows everywhere, and in a swank, completely human part of town, meant that it was perfect for occasional use as a place to train. No other demons would covet the empty house and every vampire that had known its location during Angelus’ attempt to take over the Hellmouth had been staked during the war between the two vampires.
Spike had been a bit too firm in insisting they start their workouts sessions again, immediately, and Xander smiled to himself thinking about it. Spike reacted absolutely predictably to Xander being in danger, putting himself in danger, or just because he might be facing danger soon - Spike’s knee jerk reaction was wanting to train Xander, hoping to impart enough of his own skills to help Xander survive.
He didn’t mind. He was big on survival too. Having lived through graduation, which wasn’t as common in Sunnydale as it was in most other towns, he was all for living to reach 30 one day. He enjoyed their workouts and the skills he was learning and it was an unspoken statement of Spike’s love, which Xander was smart enough not to comment on.
Spike feinted and Xander shifted his weight, not committing himself until Spike suddenly pounced from the other direction. He dropped as Spike reached for him, ducking under Spike’s arms and coming up quickly behind him, spinning to face Spike and using the momentum of his turn to power a backhanded blow at Spike’s side. His knife hand was seized in a two-handed grip and Spike twisted with inhuman strength. Xander gritted his teeth as they wrestled silently over the knife, only his own loud breath disturbing the intent quiet.
Knowing he was losing the unequal struggle, Xander dropped the knife and wrapped his own arms around Spike’s arm, holding him as he let himself fall to the floor, the mats absorbing the shock of landing. Spike was pulled off balance by the unexpected move and Xander brought his legs up, powering them into Spike’s stomach and flipping the vampire over his head to land with a satisfying thump on the mats. Xander rolled clear immediately, even as Spike bounced to his feet in that annoyingly quick way he had. Knowing he wasn’t going to be able to get to his feet in time, Xander reached out with both hands and jerked hard on the mat Spike was standing on.
Spike cursed and jumped clear as the mat moved underneath his feet. Growling, he launched himself at Xander who was still on the floor but had used the extra second he’d gained to snatch the knife up from the mat where it had fallen and brace himself. As Spike landed squarely on top of him, Xander smacked the handle into Spike’s sternum, hard enough to bruise a human, and said breathlessly: “tag, you’re it.”
Spike smirked down at him. “Not bad, luv. Try not to let your opponent close with you. Always assume that a demon is stronger than you are. Any species aggressive enough to attack you probably is.”
He rose to his feet with the effortless grace that was so much a part of his every movement and put out a hand to help Xander up. Climbing slowly to his feet, Xander saw with relief that Spike had let go of the tension that had been thrumming through him since the start of their session. He’d obviously acquitted himself well enough that Spike had been reminded that Xander wasn’t completely helpless.
Stretching his head back and rolling his shoulders until they cracked, Xander smiled as he saw Spike’s hungry gaze go to his neck. “Got time for a hot shower and maybe messing up Angel’s couch before you have to patrol?” he asked.
Spike’s eyes flared yellow and he smirked. “Think I can make time for that, luv.”