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
The werewolf hunt had been a bust. With luck, the attack on Buffy’s professor had actually been a wild dog - maybe he was being foolishly optimistic but surely actual wild dogs had to exist somewhere given the number of time they featured in bad movies and where better than Sunnydale for them to hang out? - or, more likely, the wolf had only been out because of a fluke, a cage door giving way or something. In any case, the good news was that there hadn’t been any more attacks reported on the last two nights of the wolf moon.
“The weird thing was, there were a bunch of soldiers around town the last two nights,” Buffy told him, the puzzlement clear in her voice over the phone. “I saw some people dressed exactly like them on campus on Halloween night but I just assumed they were costumes. Now I’m wondering if something is going on. They were toting some serious hardware and prowling around in the woods like they were hunting for something. Sgt. Morgan says it wasn’t anyone from the local base. They don’t do maneuvers in town and these guys looked like they were playing war games.”
“Did they see you?”
“I don’t think so.” He could almost see the frown on her face as she considered. “I had the tranq gun which isn’t exactly standard issue for students, so I ducked down the moment I saw them and they just kept going right past me.”
Xander chewed his lip for a minute, thinking quickly. “Spike’s been worried that something’s going on. He’s overheard comments about demons going missing and there’s a lot of rumors floating around about something new and dangerous in town. He hasn’t been able to pin anything down though.”
“Why would soldiers be hunting demons?” Buffy’s skepticism was clear.
“Think about it, Buffy. If the government found out about vampires and demons, wouldn’t they try and deal with it without letting anyone know what was going on?”
Buffy groaned. “Oh, God. Admit it, you were a fan of the X-Files, weren’t you?” she accused.
“Hey, that was a great show,” Xander protested, letting himself be distracted.
“Xander, it was just one crazy conspiracy theory after another. And their demons were totally fake looking.”
“Well, sure, to someone who fights the real thing every night. But they weren’t bad for Hollywood.”
“If you tell me Mulder was hot, I’m going to have to hurt you.”
“Mulder was cool,” he corrected, enjoying the bizarre exchange. It was just like the conversations he and Oz used to have. “Scully was hot.”
Buffy made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a whimper. “Do I have to remind you that you’re gay?”
“Gay doesn’t mean blind. Plus, I’m probably bi, given my Angelina Jolie fetish.”
“Way too much information, Xander.”
Xander grinned. Buffy had bounced back to her usual self, finally putting the Parker Abrams debacle behind her and had been a lot more fun recently. “Getting back to the subject, where were the soldiers?”
“Mostly in the cemeteries but I thought I saw a couple on campus as I was heading out.” Buffy said. “Was the attack on Professor Walsh in the paper? Maybe they were looking for the werewolf,” she said tentatively.
“If they thought it was a wild dog, wouldn’t they just have Animal Control out hunting? That’s kind of what they do, right? I mean, why bring in the military for one dog? Especially since it wasn’t from the local base?”
“I don’t know - does Animal Control carry weapons? Maybe they thought they needed more firepower and called in the National Guard or something.”
“I’m with Spike - something doesn’t feel right about this. Maybe you guys shouldn’t patrol until we know if something’s up or not,” Xander suggested. “I’m thinking the Slayer and the government should stay as far away from each other as possible.”
“Maybe I’m just having a Mayor flashback but - oh, yeah,” Buffy answered. “I’ve got enough problems ducking students when I’m patrolling without having to hide from a bunch of soldiers playing soldier…or something.”
Xander laughed and could picture the face she was making. “Soldiers playing soldier,” he said with mock solemnity. “I can see where that would worry you.”
“Ok, that sentence didn’t come out the way I wanted.”
“I’ll check with Spike and see if he’s found anything concrete,” Xander told her as they hung up.
He wondered if he could convince Spike to stop patrolling his territory for a few days until they figured it out. Probably not, he thought with a sigh. Spike hated not knowing what was going on and it was dangerous for him. He’d explained to Xander several times how important it was to appear to be on top of things at all time. A Master’s Court was always filled with vampires watching for any sign of weakness in the Master, anything they could exploit to better their own position. His Lieutenants were loyal but they were the only ones he could rely on and, if Spike looked weak, likely one or more of his Lieutenants would turn on him if they thought they could defeat him and take over. Power in vampire Courts was a balancing act and the smallest thing could tip the scales against an unprepared Master.
Spike kicked backwards, staggering the second vampire backwards and keeping her from closing as he grappled with the first one. The vampire he was struggling with was big enough to give him trouble, towering over Spike and outweighing him by a considerable amount. He lacked skill though, obviously being used to simply overpowering his opponents with sheer mass. Currently, he was apparently trying to strangle Spike into submission - a ploy that had obviously worked well in his human days and which he hadn’t quite gotten over using.
Well, Spike didn’t need oxygen but he did need to get out of the vampire’s grip. A lucky blow from behind by the second vampire, as he was finishing off the one who now lay limply on the floor a few yards away, had send him crashing into this monster who had seized the opportunity, grabbing Spike into a wrestling hold. Well, the old wrestling axiom about ‘control the head, control the body’ only went so far. Spike had worked one arm free and now used it to smash a vicious fist into the vampire’s groin.
The vampire grunted and his grip slackened just enough for Spike to yank himself free. He danced backwards immediately, getting some distance and spun to face the second vampire who’d regrouped and was already rushing him again. Ducking her rush, Spike pivoted around in the same movement and brought one leg around, smashing it into the woman’s back as she passed and sending her sprawling forward into the larger vampire.
The vampire caught her easily, which was a mistake because it gave Spike time to snatch up a wooden pole from where it had fallen earlier and bring it down swiftly at the woman’s unprotected back.
He stopped the blow just as the pole hit flesh and both of his opponents froze, the woman with her back arched in pain as the pole dug into her flesh, the man with an expression of shock on his face and Spike saw the realization dawn that the pole was long enough to go through the woman’s body entirely and straight into his own heart, neatly staking them both.
Spike raised a mocking eyebrow and leaned on the pole suggestively for just a second. The woman whimpered as the pole dug deeper and blood spread over the back of her shirt. Sure he’d made his point, Spike let up, pulling the pole free of her body with a clean jerk and tossed it away carelessly.
“Chivalry gets you dead, mate. Next time, let her fall and worry about the enemy. You’ll both live longer.”
“Yes, Master Spike,” the minion said.
Spike had deliberately picked the minion to spar with for two reasons. He was young and holding on to too many human habits and needed to begin thinking like a vampire. And it never hurt Spike’s reputation that he was able to handily defeat the largest vampire in his Court - even an inexperienced one - in a 3-on-1 fight. The minion had the potential to be a powerful vampire one day if he survived his early years.
He’d chosen two female vampires as his other opponents because he’d noticed that the big minion had a tendency to view female vampires as less able to hold their own than males. While it was true that females often had their own ways of hunting that was because the seduction of female to male was different among humans not because they were weaker. Vampire strength had little to do with the amount of muscles present in the human body. Granted, an extremely muscular body was always a help, but the preternatural strength of vampires came from their demon not the human shell they inhabited. Human strength was an adjunct to the demon’s, not the other way around.
Lesson imparted, Spike decided to call it quits for the night. The night was waning and he’d been out patrolling the down since sundown before returning to the factory an hour ago. Xander would be warm and fragrant in their bed and wouldn’t be leaving for work for another couple of hours.
He had an office now, and the only thing that kept Xander from completely freaking out about that was the saving grace that his office was a converted storage shed behind a customer’s house that he mostly used to store his tools. He liked to pretend the small metal desk and filing cabinet weren’t really there, despite having bought them from the thrift store himself, because having office supplies meant he was in business and running his own business still scared the pants off him.
Mr. Jenkins had been better than his word. He’d set up everything and Xander only had to spend about half a day per week at the office - just long enough to schedule jobs and assign one of the three high school kids he had working for him to do the work. He checked every job himself, before and after, both to size it up and to make sure it had been done properly, which took another eight hours or so, spread out over the week and that was it. Mr. Jenkins did his books and all Xander had to do was save every scrap of paper and keep track of which jobs they went with. Taxes, paychecks, money, all the scary stuff was being handled by Mr. Jenkins. The business wasn’t making any money, just breaking even, but that was fine, now that he was working full time, he thought of the business as almost a community service. A lot of his customers were on fixed incomes and he charged just enough to cover the wages of his three part-time employees.
Two of the kids working for him were from the demon community and the third was a human in the know. He’d had to restrict his employees to kids who were able to pass as humans since a good third of his customers were elderly humans unable to do the upkeep on their houses and didn’t know about demons. His demon customers were mostly the ones with visible differences who couldn’t do outside work for themselves without drawing unwanted attention, which had been the point in hiring Xander in the first place.
Mr. Jenkins was enjoying “keeping his hand in” as he put it, and had confided to Xander that he was negotiating with his wife about doing a little part-time work to stave off his boredom with retirement. “It’s delicate,” he’d admitted with a conspiratorial twinkle, “she has plenty of hobbies to keep her busy and active but they aren’t things I’m interested in. She wants me to relax and enjoy retirement but I miss the challenge of keeping up with the tax code, of finding that one extra deduction for a customer.” His smile had broadened and Xander realized he hadn’t been successful in hiding his reaction. “Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. Everyone who’s not an accountant has the same reaction - you all think we’re crazy because we love numbers.” Xander had laughed, sheepishly admitting that was exactly what he’d been thinking.
The great part was: everyone was happy with the new setup. Xander’s customers were getting their work done quicker without having to wait for Xander to have time to do it himself. His employees were happy to be earning money and because they could schedule their hours any way they wanted as long as they got the work done. Xander was grateful that he was still able to help his customers out because he’d really felt he was providing a necessary service and he enjoyed being able to keep in touch with them, since so many had become friends. Spike was ecstatic that Xander had been able to cut back his hours and spend more time with Spike - which Xander was happy about as well.
Something was definitely up. Spike was sure of it now. Too many of the rumors around town had proven to have a core of truth behind them and a few too many demons had disappeared. Spike had sent minions out asking questions and the reports they brought back were disquieting. Even looking at the reports conservatively to take into account exaggeration, at least 20 demons had gone missing in the last three weeks with no bodies found. There weren’t any known kills that couldn’t be accounted for by backtracking the Slayer and her helpers, plus Spike’s own tally. Spike didn’t dispose of the bodies he left, other than dragging them somewhere they were a bit less conspicuous, relying on the scavengers in town to take care of the corpses, and the Slayer was a lazy grave digger. When she killed a demon she did little more than scratch a shallow layer of dirt over the body, the corpses were easily found by anyone who cared to look. It was harder to tell if vampires were missing because they didn’t leave inconsiderate corpses cluttering up the landscape but Spike had to assume that some were falling victim to whatever was going on.
What troubled him the most was that this didn’t feel like a demon power struggle. Few demons had the patience or subtlety to be this covert about trying to take over. The Mayor was the only demon Spike could think of who had spent 100 years building up to a takeover and he hadn’t really been a demon. All in all, this felt more like a human operation than a demonic one.
Xander had passed on the Slayer’s news about seeing soldiers around town and Spike had been on the lookout for them ever since without no success. If they were hunting, it wasn’t a regular nightly patrol.
A government agency being behind what was happening made sense in a way that nothing else Spike had theorized did. Governments had the resources to hide bodies where they wouldn’t be found and the motives to go to that kind of trouble. If the government had learned about demons, they wouldn’t want to alarm citizens and consequently would both keep things quiet and hide all traces of what they were doing.
And wasn’t that just a pisser of a thought? That’s all demons needed, the government sticking their noses in and disrupting a perfectly workable balance between predator and prey. If that’s really what was happening, it might be time to leave town. Demons he could fight but the whole fucking army? Those odds were a bit much.
Glancing up at the sky, Spike decided to sweep the college campus on his way home. Maybe he’d take tomorrow night off like Xander had been urging him to. He and his boy deserved a night on the town, it had been awhile since they both relaxed and took a night off. Xander needed the break too. His boy worked too hard.
Xander slapped blindly at the alarm clock, switching off the quiet buzz and rolling back over in his usual brief denial of the need to get up.
The main problem with working construction was the early hours. He had to be on the job site by 7 a.m., which meant getting up at 6 every morning. It didn’t help that Spike didn’t have to get up. Dragging yourself out of bed in the mornings while your partner slumbered blissfully on was hard. Granted, Spike had usually only been in bed for an hour or two by the time Xander was getting up but it was hard to remember that when the alarm was blaring in his reluctant ear.
His questing hand didn’t find Spike this time though, and Xander opened sleepy eyes to find the other side of the bed empty. Surprised, he looked at the alarm clock, wondering if he’d set it wrong somehow last night.
There was a faint hint of light around the edges of the blackout curtains and Xander sat up in bed rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “Spike?”
The was no answer from the silent apartment and he threw the sheets back and rolled out of bed. Padding into the kitchen, he felt the first faint trace of unease. Spike wasn’t there either. Frowning, he reached for his cell phone and hit the speed dial then made an annoyed grumble when Spike’s phone rang in the bedroom. Spike had a tendency to regard his cell phone as something he used to get ahold of Xander, not something necessary for Xander to reach him.
Frustrated, he slapped the phone closed and dropped it back onto the counter. It wasn’t the first time he’d woken in the morning and found Spike not there. There had been a few previous occasions when Spike had misjudged his timing and been trapped by the sun, having to hole up for the day in whatever shelter he could find - the sewer tunnels, a handy crypt, or something similar. It was rare though and it always worried Xander when he woke to find Spike gone. For all his outspoken contempt for vampires who lived like humans, Spike liked his comforts. When he wasn’t sleeping, he would while away the long daylight hours watching television or reading one of his surprisingly eclectic collection of books that overflowed the apartment’s bookshelves. Anyplace that Spike stayed in for any length of time quickly became filled with comfortable items and things to help stave off boredom.
With no way of contacting Spike, there was nothing Xander could do until dark. He’d learned that the hard way the first time Spike hadn’t made it home before dawn. After worrying and fretting for hours, he’d been forced to see that looking for Spike during the middle of the day was not only likely to be pointless, but was also potentially dangerous. Images of himself opening a crypt door and the resulting sunlight streaming into areas that had been safely dark had stopped him cold. He could kill Spike accidentally that way and he had reluctantly forced himself to wait till dark before doing anything. Sure enough, Spike had come home shortly after sunset, mildly irritated with himself for letting a fight with a Nyntakki demon drag on for so long that he’d had to spend an uncomfortable night in a crypt. Spike had been surprised to learn that Xander had spent the day pacing and worrying himself sick.
That had been before they had gotten cell phones, Xander thought grimly. Spike kept everything else in the world in the pockets of his duster: cigarettes, weapons, balls of twine, the kitchen sink, you’d think he could remember to take his cell phone so he could call and let Xander know he was ok. Spike was going to hear a little something about inconsiderate lovers who forgot their damn cell phones when he got home.