Nothing the Same, Book 3
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 & Nothing the Same, Book 2
Previous parts here
Joyce Summers stood up and began gathering the plates off the table.
“I can do that, Mrs. Summers,” Xander offered, half rising from his own chair.
“Don’t be silly, Xander. I’ve got it.” She smiled warmly at him and carried the small stack of dishes out to the kitchen.
“Do you boys want coffee?” she called back into the room over the sound of plates being rinsed.
“Not for me, thanks,” Xander answered. Coffee was emergency caffeine, not something he drank regularly.
“I’m fine, Joyce.”
Spike leaned back in his chair with an air of smug satisfaction, convinced he’d just thoroughly bested Joyce in their argument over the relative merits of two different styles of painting, only one of which Xander had even fleetingly heard of. Despite that, he liked it when Spike and Buffy’s mom went at it in one of their protracted debates over stuff like that. Even when, like tonight, he didn’t have any idea of what they were talking about, he enjoyed listening to the two of them.
Spike sometimes got so engrossed in the argument that he forgot himself and the hard edges of his accent slipped into something more refined, more BBC and less street punk. No one who knew Spike questioned his intelligence but Xander enjoyed these glimpses into the educated person behind Spike’s mask. The Spike who read literature in the privacy of their apartment, who knew about art and poetry, was carefully hidden from most of the world. It said a lot that he was willing to show that side of himself to Mrs. Summers.
And she was in her element during their debates: defending her position vigorously and backing up her arguments with specific examples. Like tonight, she’d named and described a dozen painters that Xander had never even heard of, and was obviously very familiar with their paintings, mentioning specific details in a number of paintings to illustrate a hotly contested point about brush strokes. Unlike Spike, Xander hadn’t really understood the point she was making but it had made him curious to look up the paintings she was talking about and he’d made a mental note to borrow some of her art books one day.
“Why don’t you two move into the living room and I’ll be right with you,” Mrs. Summers suggested and Xander and Spike obediently shifted to the more comfortable furniture in the living room, Spike tugging Xander down to sit next to him on the couch.
Mrs. Summers joined them shortly with a cup of coffee and some pumpkin shaped cookies. “They’re from the store,” she apologized. “I can never get much done on Halloween night. The doorbell just keeps ringing.”
Which was undoubtedly the reason for the Chinese takeout that they’d eaten for dinner. Mrs. Summers had poured the contents of the boxes into a couple of serving bowls, saying lightly as she set the bowls down on the table for them to serve themselves that she was glad they were close enough to family for her to get away with serving takeout food.
She’d invited them over tonight for a late supper earlier that week, somewhat spur of the moment when Xander had answered her innocent question about their Halloween plans with an explanation of how vampires viewed the holiday as tacky and, as a result, he and Spike didn’t go out on Halloween. Mrs. Summers didn’t go out on Halloween either, she’d said, handing Xander the wrench he asked for, confessing that she was hopelessly sentimental about seeing all the little kids in their costumes. It took her back to when Buffy was little, she admitted, when she would make Buffy’s costumes and her father would take her trick-or-treating around the neighborhood. So she stayed home every Halloween with a big bowl of candy and nostalgia.
The net result of that conversation was that Xander had fixed the leaky pipe and Joyce had invited them over for a late dinner, after the trick-or-treaters would be safely off the streets.
Spike had grumbled for show about not going out on Halloween but he caved immediately for Joyce’s sake. “Not like the Slayer’s going to keep her company,” he’d said caustically.
Xander rolled his eyes. “She’s in college. Her mother doesn’t expect her home every night. And Halloween is apparently a big deal on campus.”
“Bunch of twits with nothing better to do, dressing up like their betters,” Spike countered, “is not a big deal, it’s embarrassing.”
“Which, I’m sure, is why Buffy didn’t invite you to her dorm’s party,” Xander responded mockingly.
“Like I’d go,” Spike said indignantly.
The rumors were frustratingly difficult to pin down: a couple of Vulsik demons whispering together in a bar about a close call with something that threw lightning; his newest Lieutenant, possibly overreacting following his lecture about not bringing things to his attention, reporting an overheard conversation between two distraught Drak’taash parents about a missing cub taken from the nest; a general unease hanging over the town, like the feeling of a storm approaching.
Still… Vulsik were unreliable braggarts, always making something out of nothing, and Drak’taash demons were always losing cubs to one thing or another - they were careless parents, leaving their nests unguarded for hours at a time; and the Hellmouth often felt like a storm brewing - the energy ebbed and flowed, sometimes retreating, sometimes crackling in the air almost visibly, so strong that even people normally unable to feel it shifted uneasily and grew irritated for no reason they could explain. There was a possibility that something new was in town, something disrupting the balance but, if so, it was proving irritatingly difficult to locate.
Spike had spent more time than he cared to investigating the rumors, especially the ones pointing towards a new group hunting the town, one that seemed to be preying on demons who ordinarily caused little trouble and steered well clear of conflict. It wasn’t the volunteers helping Buffy - they would never have taken a Drak’taash cub - but whoever they were, they were elusive - if they even existed.
Spike was inclined to put half the reports down to human hijinks surrounding Halloween. Past experience showed that humans would celebrate with costumed antics for days before and after, depending on if the holiday fell conveniently on a weekend or not. Still, there were a disquieting number of reports of demons going missing. Either someone was starting a feud or an improbable number of fairly innocuous demons had run into accidental trouble in the past couple of weeks. Without any bodies, it could simply be that the demons had left town for whatever reason but something about the situation felt off to Spike and it annoyed him that he couldn’t pin down whether or not something was even happening or if it was just a string of coincidences and bad luck.
Unable to find any solid evidence of a new presence in town, Spike settled for increasing the number of patrols he was doing. Until he discovered whether the rumors were false or true, he would keep a close eye on his territory.
Tonight, there was a faint taste of chaos magic in the night air, just a hint of acrid bitterness underlying the normal smells, a trace of something off that prickled along his nerves and had sent him tracking down the source. A chaos mage could possibly explain what had been happening, they were notoriously unpredictable and often caused trouble randomly for the sheer joy of it. Spike could relate, but not in his town.
The chaos energy he was sensing was nothing active from the feel of it, a passive spell more like, magic already worked and done but still lingering in the subject.
Which probably explained the group of four… things tearing the limbs off trees and looking not unlike those ridiculous ape creatures in that dreadful movie Xander was so fond of. Joining the small crowd gathering at a safe distance from the disturbance, Spike cocked his head to one side curiously and settled in to watch the show. Generally, he avoided magic but this promised to be more than a bit entertaining.
He was on one of his regular sweeps through the campus. The Slayer complained that there were too many people around to hunt properly but Spike wasn’t really hunting when he made his rounds of the college campus, he was just keeping an eye on things. Xander went up to the campus at least once or twice a week and Spike liked to reassure himself that the area remained safe. The Slayer wasn’t nearly as good as Spike was at sensing demons hanging about; her usual technique was the tried and true method of hanging out in unsafe areas acting like bait and waiting for demons to attack. Worked efficiently enough on the stupider demons and just risen fledges but not so well on the smarter, more experienced, and generally more dangerous demons.
The students around him were shifting nervously and giving off a strong odor of nervousness and fear as the half-naked creatures brandished their tree-limb clubs and settled the dominance issue between them by one of them knocking the others to the ground and standing over them, posturing. That settled, the others scrambled back to their feet and turned their attention to the crowd, who came to their senses and belatedly tried to run.
Spike lit up a cigarette and leaned against a tree, grinning at the show. He hadn’t had any idea the college campus was capable of this kind of entertainment. The creatures looked to be selecting mates from the crowd, cutting women out of the screaming herd and dragging them back to where the leader waited with his own chosen mate. That is, when the half-wits managed to remember what they were doing for long enough to capture a woman successfully.
The things resembled nothing so much as cavemen, Spike decided, his eyes narrowing as he studied them. Scratching and hooting and threatening each other and everyone around them, they clearly had the attention span of particularly stupid insects. One minute, one of them had bashed a girl in the crowd over the head with their club, the next they were shoving each other and hooting angrily, oblivious to the fact that the girl’s friends were pulling her to safety.
After watching three of the four finally manage to capture a mate successfully, Spike flicked his cigarette away, and stepped away from his tree.
“Gentlemen, and believe me I use the term in the loosest possible sense, it seems to me that you four are in serious need of a lesson in manners. No true gentleman accosts a lady while half dressed and de-evolved into a Neanderthal.”
As he suspected, the pseudo-cavemen just looked puzzled by his words. Reacting to his approach, they dropped their victims and waived their make-shift clubs, grunting what he presumed were threats.
This should be fun.
“Come on then,” he told them, almost bouncing on his toes as he waited for their all-too predictable attack. “Don’t have all night.” Actually he did, but he was betting he could take this group of morons out in five minutes or less. A quick glance around and he sighed in disappointment. None of the frightened students looked willing to place wagers on the outcome. Humans took these situations way too seriously.
All four charged him at once, forgetting their moaning, half-conscious prey, swiping at him with their clubs and jabbering incoherently. There was no sense of coordination about their attack and Spike spun around on one foot in a swirl of leather and brought his other leg whipping around to smash into the side of the closest caveman. There was the satisfying crunch of ribs breaking and Spike followed through immediately with a punch to the next one’s jaw before the first one had even hit the ground.
The blow felled the second one and Spike dropped to the ground to avoid a vicious slice at his head with a tree branch. He bounced back to his feet instantly and drove the third one back with a flurry of blows, letting up only long enough to slam a kick backwards into the gut of the fourth who’d tried to sneak up on him from behind. A tree branch cracked with stunning force into the side of his head as he was momentarily knocked off balance. Recovering, he snarled, shaking his head to clear it and letting himself slide into his true face.
Dodging another blow, he caught the branch as it descended and found himself wrestling with the caveman as he tried to wrest the branch away. The creatures were stronger than humans with powerful arms and shoulders but had the brains of a Laorg demon. Given their strength, the four of them could have caused him some trouble if they’d coordinated their attack. As it was, the two he’d first taken out were down for the count and the last two were rapidly losing their enthusiasm for the fight.
Giving up the struggle over the branch, Spike dropped to the ground and used the branch to jerk the creature towards him and off balance. Too stupid to release the weapon even when it became a liability, it clung to the branch stubbornly, as Spike kicked upwards savagely with both feet and let go of the branch at the same instant, sending the caveman flying over his head to land a good distance away with a satisfying crash. Rolling quickly to his feet, Spike pounced on the fourth caveman before it could retreat and grabbed it by its unkempt hair, yanking down hard to meet the knee he brought up to smash into the thing’s jaw.
Dropping the unconscious body to the ground, Spike glanced around. The scattered crowd had stopped running and edged closer to watch the fight. The four cavemen were finished, either unconscious or clutching their wounds. The women they’d collected were being helped to their feet and away and Spike smirked around the field of battle in satisfaction and shook his had, returning to human guise. Three minutes tops was all it had taken.
Still grinning, he turned to face the Slayer who was pushing her way to the front of the crowd, looking a trifle disgruntled that he’d handled the situation without her.
“Bit late, Slayer,” he said cheerfully. Although far too short, the fight had been fun while it lasted. “Interesting games you kids are getting up to these days. In my day, we were too busy studying to spend time messing around with spells.”
She leaned over to peer at the closest body and her eyebrows drew together in a frown. “These are people?”
“Direct ancestors of yours, no doubt,” he answered flippantly. “Looks like someone decided to get an insider’s perspective on pre-history.”
“Well, given the Dockers and the expensive shoes, I’m guessing these were frat boys. Do you suppose whatever’s wrong will wear off?”
“Dunno, don’t care. My part’s done,” he pointed out. He wasn’t big on clean up. Clean up was for minions.
“You willing to help me get them somewhere a little less conspicuous?” As she spoke, the Slayer pulled a cell phone out of her pocket and hit a number. She tapped a foot impatiently as she waited for an answer.
“Giles, I’ve got four unconscious bodies here. Spike says they have some kind of spell on them.” There was a pause during which Spike could just make out the flurry of questions from the Watcher. “They look like extras from Planet of the Apes - we’re talking seriously ugly and hairy. Should I shove them in the bushes and hope whatever it is wears off, or what?”
Giles obviously didn’t approve of that idea and Buffy idly nudged one of the bodies with her toe. “Fine, Giles. We’ll be here.”
Snapping the phone shut, she looked at Spike. “Giles thinks we should lock them up somewhere until we know if the spell is going to wear off. Give me a hand?”
Rolling his eyes, Spike reached down and grabbed two of the bodies, dragging them across the grass towards the bushes with utter disregard for their injuries. Behind him, the Slayer was doing the same with the other two bodies and Spike was amused to realize she wasn’t being any more careful than he was. “Fine but I’m not on babysitting duty. Once they’re in the Watcher’s trunk, I’m done with my good deed for the week.” He’d already decided that this was a side-show, nothing to do with the rumors he was tracking down. These creatures weren’t capable of subtlety. If they, or someone else under the same spell, was behind the incidents he was investigating, he would have learned of it the first night they attacked someone. At worst, they were a symptom, but Spike thought it unlikely that a chaos mage was responsible for the unease in town. Chaos mages generally announced their presence through conspicuous stunts like this one, not in ways that left you in doubt as to whether something was even really happening.
Buffy gave him a surprisingly conspiratorial grin, dropping her two bodies near the bushes and taking up position in front of them in an attempt to block them from view. “I figure Giles has a lot of time on his hands these days. Babysitting sounds right up his alley.”
“Hey, Xander,” Buffy had picked up the phone just before the machine cut in and answered his greeting, sounding distracted. Again.
He’d thought she was finally getting over that jerk but unfortunately, it sounded like she was moping over him again.
Buffy had been up and down like this for a couple of weeks; one minute partying with her dorm like nothing was bothering her, the next angsting over what was wrong with her that caused people to treat her this way. He’d kind of hoped the disruption caused by the resentful bartender who’d been home-brewing beer and chaos magic would snap her out of it but she had slipped right back into depression after it was over when she’d seen charm-boy flirting in class with yet another girl.
Spike had suggested slipping the guy some of the magicked beer and Xander had been tempted enough that he was glad that Giles and Buffy had destroyed all of it. And hadn’t that been a fun weekend? Two more beer-swilling groups of cavemen frat boys had been roaming the campus causing serious property damage and minor injuries before Buffy and Giles had backtracked the source of the spell to the campus pub. Giles had been stuck monitoring nearly a dozen Neanderthals for almost two days before they sobered up and changed back into something almost as obnoxious but far less hairy. Fortunately, they remembered exactly what had happened and what they’d done and had sheepishly slunk off, metaphorical tails between their legs. Only one of them had had the nerve to threaten a lawsuit for waking up in a cage, half-naked and very sore. Apparently Giles had simply looked down his nose over the top of his glasses and pointed out in his most proper British tones that the videotapes he had taken the precaution of filming should answer the question for a jury about whether his actions had been justified or not.
“Did you actually have videotape?” Xander asked, thoroughly amused when Giles told him about it.
“Of course not. Pretentious git didn’t dare ask for proof, just begged me not to ever show anyone the tapes.”
“Pity you didn’t actually take videos, home movie night would have been fun.”
Giles gave him a withering look. “I assure you, the whole distasteful incident was not worth preserving for posterity.” Still, Xander had been sure there was a gleam of humor in the back of Giles’ eyes as he said it.
Buffy’s questioning tone drew him back to the present and he braced himself for another session of Buffy bemoaning her travesty of a love life.
He shook his head. Buffy had the worst taste in men. Granted, after the monumental fuck-up that had resulted from her one and only night with Angel, he supposed Buffy was entitled to some issues about her sexuality. It wasn’t everyone who could appear on Jerry Springer’s “One Night with Me and My Boyfriend Tried to Destroy the World” themed show - Xander was pretty sure he’d caught Spike watching that very episode last week - but what on earth had made Buffy fall for a guy who, from the sound of it, was shallow, vain, and into carving as many notches in his bedpost as was humanly possible? It was all well and good for the jerk to tell her that it was a one night stand after the fact, but that sure hadn’t been Buffy’s impression when she hopped into the sack with him. It had been hard to see Buffy go from being all bubbly, glowy happiness to deep depression in the space of a couple of days.
In hindsight, Xander felt kind of bad about some of the things he’d said to Buffy during the Angel/Angelus fiasco. Of course, they hadn’t been friends at the time and she had been equally rude about his relationship with Spike, but he probably hadn’t helped bolster her self-confidence in dating relationships. So, he was trying to be supporto-guy for her now but it wasn’t the easiest thing he’d ever done. Mostly he wanted to tell her to snap out of it: that Parker Abrams was a world-class jerk and she should stop mooning over him, but he had gone with the kinder, gentler “hey, you’re supposed to make mistakes in college and you’ll meet someone who deserves you, and by the way, Parker Abrams is a world-class jerk and you’re worth ten of him.”
Fortunately, he and Spike could be as sarcastic as they liked about Buffy’s taste in men behind her back without hurting her feelings. Spike had been all for sharing his feelings on the subject with Buffy and it had taken the threat of Joyce to stop him, which Spike was still pouting about, no matter how hard he tried to deny it. Spike wasn’t real big on helping Slayers through relationship-angst. Having had to put up with the Angel and Buffy drama-fest, he seemed to feel he was owed the chance to tell Buffy in loving detail just how thick she’d been to fall for what he referred to as Parker’s “sensitive lad” routine, in which he’d actually gotten Buffy to believe she was seducing him.
“You want to go out with me and Spike tonight?” he offered, when it didn’t sound like Buffy was going to say anything.
“I can’t, I’ve got patrol.” Her voice sounded troubled as she continued. “Xander, something attacked one of my professors last night. She thought it was a wild dog.”
“And last night was the night before the full moon,” Buffy prompted and Xander felt his heart sink.
“You think it’s a werewolf.” Werewolves were difficult. They needed to be contained without being killed and without anyone getting bitten. Buffy was better at straight kills than capturing things. Having to hold back often meant she got at least minor injuries and there were no minor injuries with a werewolf. One nip and it was hello hairy chest once a month.
“Probably. There’s no chance it’s Oz, right?”
“No way. First off, Oz would have told us if he was back in town. Second, Oz would never let himself be caught outside during a wolf-moon. Third, just… no.”
“Yeah,” despite her agreement, Buffy sounded relieved. “That’s what I figured.”
“Werewolves aren’t all that uncommon are they?”
“I don’t know. I mean, that creepy werewolf hunter who tried to kill Oz had killed about a dozen, so there’s obviously a few around.” There was quiet on the other end of the line for a moment except for Buffy’s nails tapping on the side of the phone as she thought, then she asked: “The kid who bit Oz, it couldn’t be him, could it?”
“Geordie?” Xander asked, surprised. “No way, he’s like two years old. His wolf is probably the size of a dachshund. Plus, since Oz got bit, I think his parents have been a lot more careful.” He’d always been stunned by the idea that Oz had been bitten by a teething, baby werewolf. He’d never heard the full story about how Oz’s nephew became a werewolf and he wondered again what had happened. Obviously, the family hadn’t been able to help Oz, that would have been the first place he tried before ever leaving town.
There was a sigh on the other end of the phone. “Werewolves are a lot easier when we know who they are,” Buffy grumbled after a minute.
“Need any help?” he offered.
“It’s ok. I’ll see if Sgt. Morgan can get me a second tranq gun and I’ll take whoever’s the best shot among the volunteers out hunting with me.”
“Ask Sgt. Morgan if he’ll go with you. He’s probably the best shot of anyone we know,” Xander advised. “Plus, I think he likes field work. He doesn’t get to see a lot of it anymore, too busy training everybody else.”
“Good idea. Maybe we can Bronze it after the full moon is over.”
He could tell that Buffy was already working out hunting strategies in her head and Xander let her go. Hanging up, he was relieved that her distraction had been because of her Slayer duties not because of Parker. He worried sometimes that she still didn’t have a replacement roommate to do the female all-men-are-scum thing with her, but there were some definite advantages to her living alone. Not having a roommate cut down on some of the complications of getting out of the room to patrol and having to hide her weapons in the room. She’d made a lot of friends in both her classes and the dorm now and finally seemed to have gotten over the fact that the guy she’d slept with hadn’t been looking for a relationship, just a trophy.
Maybe Buffy should follow Willow’s example and go lesbian. She couldn’t possibly do worse with a woman than with the men she was attracted to, if Angel and Parker were anything to go by.
Which reminded him, he needed to email Willow.
They had been emailing a lot in their mutual concern over Buffy, starting back when Buffy was freaking out over her roommate Kathy and it had them communicating again in a way they hadn’t since before Jesse died. Willow had shared with him that she and Amy were dating, something she hadn’t even told Buffy yet. She said it was easier to tell him because he was a guy and wouldn’t second guess their entire relationship, wondering if Willow was attracted to him, which she was afraid Buffy would do when she found out.
After a long period of indecision, he’d been up front with Willow about his concern over two magic abusers getting together. It just seemed like a bad idea. Willow’s answer had done a lot to put his mind at rest. She’d talked very candidly about what she and Amy had done and about their work with the coven.
Xander hadn’t really been aware of what Amy had gone during through their Sophomore year. It had been right after Jesse died and he was barely attending classes and not taking any interest in what Buffy and Giles were doing at the time. Willow told him now about Amy’s mother switching bodies with her and trying to kill her. Apparently Amy had begun dabbling in magic soon after her mother disappeared, looking for a way to defend herself if her mother returned and tried something like that again. She’d learned magic on her own, from her mother’s books, and they were full of dark magic. Amy had gotten hooked on the power of what she could do. Like Willow, she had better teachers now, and Willow and she were working together as they wrestled with the ethical issues they both had ignored back in Sunnydale. Amy was still with the coven and she and Willow saw each other only on weekends. Like Willow, Amy had a lot of magical ability and Willow said that the coven was pleased with her progress. She had gone further than Willow into magical abuses and was working hard to cleanse the taint from her magic.
Talking about it had done a lot to dispel his lingering doubts and resentments and Xander decided to just be happy for them. Between Oxford, Amy and the coven, Willow’s life sounded full and happy. She loved school and was being intellectually challenged in a way she never had been before. For pretty much the first time in her life, she wasn’t necessarily the smartest person in the room and, after the first shock, she’d taken it as a challenge and was relishing the need to work hard to keep up in her classes. Amy and she were in the blissful first stages of being in love and Willow was in frequent communication with the coven.
He’d been right about distance making it easier. He suspected that, if and when Willow ever came home, he and she could finally be friends again. And that made something inside himself that had never seemed quite whole since the rift between himself and Willow feel like it was finally healing.