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
Xander made it through the day by frequently reminding himself that Spike had been fine the only other times he hadn’t come home at dawn. He’d lecture Spike about forgetting his cell phone and Spike would make it up to him - preferably with a naked, sweaty apology, and everything would be fine.
He’d called Buffy mid-morning and asked with seeming casualness about patrol last night but it had apparently been routine - one just-rising vamp still waist-deep in the ground and home to study. No soldier sightings, nothing unusual, a quiet night. He’d made an excuse and hung up before Buffy could really get started on how great school was - her recent topic of choice, so he used the excuse of his break ending to cut her off. Ordinarily, he enjoyed listening to her ramble on excitedly about how much she liked her classes, how much better they were than high school, especially her Psychology class. If he hadn’t been sure Buffy was straight, he would almost have suspected she had a crush on her Psych teacher, Maggie Walsh. Buffy quoted her repeatedly and had gone from thinking she was scary and tough to thinking she was the greatest teacher on earth.
Hanging up, he’d been forced to realize again that there was nothing he could do right now. If there was, he wouldn’t be at work trying his best not to let his distraction get himself or anyone else hurt, he’d be out doing it. There was nothing he could do until sunset. If Spike wasn’t home shortly after sunset, well, he’d cross that bridge if he came to it. Hopefully Spike would come home with a hair-raising tale of a narrow escape and they could get to the naked, sweaty apology part of the evening.
If Spike strolled in the door tonight without a care in the world, he thought grimly more than once, he was going to kill him.
Spike didn’t come home at sunset.
During the hour or so of lingering twilight after the sun had slid below the horizon, freeing vampires to move about now that the deadly rays of direct sunlight were gone, Xander had waited tensely in the living room, listening for the sound of Spike’s boots on the stairs, for his greeting at the back door as he came in from the factory side. But there was only silence.
He’d checked the mansion on his lunch break, kicking himself because he hadn’t thought of it sooner. Its non-vampire friendly amenities had made it a perfect place for Spike to hole up once before when he was hurt and Xander had raced across town, terrified he was going to find Spike, badly wounded and suffering in the phone-less building, only to discover the mansion was as deserted as the apartment. He’d run through the rooms, calling for Spike and checking every nook and cranny until he was forced to admit that Spike wasn’t there. Standing in the empty bedroom he’d once shared with Spike, he’d fought for calm, telling himself that he’d known the mansion was a long shot and that Spike would be home as soon as it was dark.
When full dark had fallen outside the windows of the apartment, Xander felt as frozen inside as if it was mid-winter in the arctic instead of a mild fall evening in southern California. Numbly, he reached for his phone and dialed.
“Buffy, are you patrolling tonight?”
Buffy’s voice sounded obscenely cheerful against the quiet of the apartment. “Nope, I’m off. I think Rob’s got patrol tonight. What’s up?”
“I need your help. Spike didn’t come home this morning.”
“This morning?” Buffy’s voice broke off as she obviously converted to vampire hours. “Oh, Xander, I’m so sorry.”
He shook his head furiously, rejecting her sympathy even if she couldn’t see the gesture. “Will you help me look for him?”
“Xander…” she began, the sympathy clear in her voice.
“He’s in trouble, he’s not dead,” he said sharply. “Will you help me or not?”
“Of course, I’ll help. What do you need?”
“Meet me outside the main library in 30 minutes,” he said. The city library was about halfway between her dorm and the factory.
“I’ll be there.” After a moment, she added: “We’ll find him, Xander.”
He wondered if she knew of how fake her encouragement sounded. He didn’t care, he had calls to make.
Twenty people were waiting outside the closed building when Xander arrived. He’d called Mr. Olsen and Sgt. Morgan and they’d started a phone tree for him, calling in all the volunteers and a number of others to help him.
Xander had hoped that Spike would come back while he was mobilizing the search party but the apartment had remained worryingly empty. Now he stood at the top of the steps so everyone could see him.
“Thanks for coming, everyone. I think you all know what’s happening: Spike’s missing. I need help finding him. His regular patrol areas are the cemeteries, the major tunnels, the business district, the college campus, and the demon areas of town. Pretty much everything but a few of the residential areas. It’s a lot of ground to cover.”
Sgt. Morgan stepped up beside him and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. “We’ll coordinate our efforts and be able to cover them all. Fifteen minutes of planning while we wait for the others to arrive will save us a lot of wasted effort.”
Xander nodded. He’d known that running around town blindly wasn’t going to get him anywhere and it was a relief to watch Sgt. Morgan go into action: unfurling a gridded town map onto a folding table and distributing flashlights and spare battery packs to people who hadn’t thought to bring their own. The Sergeant drafted helpers and set to work making lists of everyone present and assigning map sections to two-person teams and making sure at least one member of each pair had a cell phone. Teams without cell phones were assigned to the human areas where they would be able to find a phone to check in.
Xander watched with stifled impatience, knowing that this was necessary preliminary work but itching to get out and start looking. When everyone had been assigned areas and done an equipment check, Sgt. Morgan addressed them in his parade-ground voice that easily silenced the small crowd.
“Remember, people, you are searching for a vampire, not a human. That means you’re checking places a vampire can hole up during daylight hours. Don’t bother with anything not sheltered. Check the crypts if you’re assigned to one of the cemeteries, and basements if your in town. Look for signs of forced entry and crypt doors barred from the inside.”
“Don’t call his name when you’re searching,” Xander ordered. “Use his human name: William Pratt. A bunch of people searching, calling the name ‘Spike’, is going to be overheard by vampires from the Court. If they find out he’s missing, they’ll be a war over the territory and that’s the last thing the town needs.” He looked around for emphasis and saw grim understanding on the faces. “Spike will answer if he hears people yelling his human name,” he assured them. Spike would be annoyed, he acted like his human name was this big, shameful secret, but he’d answer. “And thank you. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your help.”
“We’ll find him, Xander,” someone called and there was a general murmur of agreement from the crowd, now nearly 40 strong.
“Everyone know their assigned areas?” Sgt. Morgan asked. “Good. Let’s move out. Everyone checks in every 30 minutes, no exceptions, and stay in your assigned area. If we don’t hear from you, we’re going to assume you’re in trouble and we’ll want to be able to get to you quickly. Report in immediately if you find anything. Remember, people. This is Sunnydale. Be careful.”
The crowd dispersed at Sgt. Morgan’s command and Xander lingered for a moment by Sgt. Morgan’s command table. “Thanks, Sergeant.” Words failed him and he gripped his flashlight convulsively as he struggled for control. “Thank you,” he said again, not knowing how else to express his gratitude.
Sgt. Morgan gave him a confident smile, looking up from organizing his materials, preparing to keep track of the pairs checking in with him. “Just glad I’ve had a lot of practice at this, Xander.”
Buffy moved quietly to his side. “Let’s go, Xander, the sooner we head out, the sooner we find him.”
He nodded, and spun on his heels, heading for their assigned section of town. He wished they were better liars. Their voices and smiles were confident but their eyes said they thought Spike was dead.
“Come home with me, Xander. You shouldn’t be at the apartment alone.”
The sky was heavily streaked with pink and yellow and the sun would be up any minute now. The searchers had packed it in after a long, unsuccessful night. Most of them had gone home directly from their assigned sections which had been searched two and three times as Sergeant Morgan rotated the pairs to cover the same ground with fresh eyes and ears. Xander, Buffy and Giles had returned to the command post where Xander had watched silently as the final parties checked in one last time and were sent home. Standing silent and numb until Sergeant Morgan packed his equipment, laid a sympathetic hand on Xander’s shoulder, spoke quietly to Giles and Buffy and left for his own home.
Xander shook his head. “Thanks, Giles. I’ll be fine. I’ve tried Spike’s cell phone a couple of times but he might not be able to reach it.”
“Mom would love to have you stay at our house,” Buffy offered quietly.
“No!” Realizing that had come out way too sharply, Xander scrubbed his face with both hands, trying to force back the exhaustion of the long, fruitless night. “Sorry. I appreciate it, but I need to be home in case Spike tries to find me.”
He wished he didn’t see the look Buffy and Giles exchanged. They really needed to work on their subtle.
“Xander…” Buffy bit her lip and it was obvious that she’d changed her mind about what she’d started to say. “Spike knows you have your cell phone. He’ll be able to reach you on that.”
“I appreciate it, guys, but I’ll be fine.”
“Xander.” Giles hesitated like Buffy had just done, but he continued on after the briefest pause, “I’m not sure it’s safe for you to remain in the apartment with Spike… away. Like it or not, Spike’s presence is what keeps you safe from the vampires of his Court. If Spike isn’t there, you could be in danger.”
“The other vampires don’t know he’s missing,” Xander answered with more confidence than he really felt.
“You don’t know that. Even if it’s true, you won’t be able to keep his absence hidden for very long.”
Xander refused to meet their worried eyes. “Yeah. I’ve got a backup plan for that.”
“A backup plan? Why don’t I like the sound of that,” Buffy said suspiciously.
Climbing the apartment stairs wearily after Giles dropped him off, Xander couldn’t help calling Spike’s name as he entered but silence was the only response. Despite the fact that he hadn’t really expected an answer, it was the final crushing blow of the long day and night of worry. He’d been up for over 24 hours now and he had to get a few hours sleep or he wouldn’t be able to function. And Spike needed him to be thinking and functioning.
Setting the alarm for noon, Xander shucked his shoes and gave up on the rest, falling fully clothed on top of the bed and giving in to desperately needed sleep, grateful that it was Saturday and he wasn’t expected at work.
He made the call in the late afternoon. He’d spent the early part of the afternoon answering calls from people asking about Spike but he had no news and they had nothing to offer but unwanted sympathy. It was clear that everyone else was giving Spike up for dead and just waiting for him to admit it so they could express their own sorrow and sympathy.
It made him want to scream and only the desperate hope that Spike would call kept him from pitching the phone through the window. Spike had only been missing for a day and a half. The police wouldn’t even take a missing persons report until a human had been gone for 48 hours and people were already writing Spike off as dust.
And that was the problem. Dead vampires disappeared. Their ashes blew away in the breeze that cooled the fall nights, leaving no trace behind. Not even a handful of fine-grained ash to bury in a blue vase in a park on the edge of town. Nothing. Nothing left behind to help remember a pair of vivid blue eyes that sparkled with wicked laughter, or a trademark smirk, or the way a vampire cocked his head to one side when he was curious or puzzled by something.
“Stop it.” His own voice, loud in the silent apartment, shocked him out of his thoughts. “Knock it off, Xander. Spike will be home soon and he’d be pissed as hell to find you sitting here like a useless, depressed lump.”
Throwing his shoulders back and straightening up defiantly, he fished a scrap of paper out of his pocket and dialed the number he’d gotten from Buffy last night.
“Angel Investigations, we help the hopeless.”
Too worried even to roll his eyes at the pretentious greeting, Xander just said: “I need to talk to Angel.”
“Angel doesn’t usually talk to people on the phone. He’s more an in-person guy. That’s why he has me to screen his calls.” The man had a slight Irish accent and Xander wondered who he was. “What’s the problem?”
“I need to talk to Angel,” he repeated. “Tell him it’s Xander, he’ll talk to me.”
“Confident, aren’t you?” the man said cheerfully. “I’ll see what he says.”
The phone was set down with a clunk and Xander could hear footsteps moving away. He waited, tapping his fingers nervously, for what seemed like forever.
“Xander?” Angel sounded doubtful, like he didn’t really believe it was him.
“Yeah, it’s me. Spike needs your help.”
He thoroughly resented the sigh that carried clearly over the line. “Why are you calling?”
“Because Spike’s missing and can’t call for himself,” he snapped. “I need you to get back here and help find him.”
There was a brief silence before Angel answered. “Missing?”
“He didn’t come home yesterday morning,” Xander told him flatly. “We’ve searched but you’re a vampire, you have a better chance of finding him than anyone else.”
“Xander,” Angel’s voice was surprisingly sympathetic. Sympathetic in a way Xander didn’t want to hear and refused to accept. “You have to face the fact that Spike’s probably dead. When vampires disappear…”
“He’s not dead. I’d know. So stop making excuses and get back here. Your Childe needs you.”
“Xander, I can’t just drop everything. I have people who are depending on me here.”
“Angel, I don’t give a damn what you’re doing or how important you think it is. Get your ass back here now. Spike needs your help.”
“Angel, you owe me. Never mind what you owe your Childe, you owe me. You kidnapped me and held me prisoner and bit me. You owe me. Now get back here and help find your Childe or so help me, when this is over, I’m coming to Los Angeles and staking you myself.”
There was silence on the other end of the line. Xander knew his desperation had come through clearly and he didn’t care. He clung to the phone, concentrating on getting his breathing under control, and waited. Finally, there was a long sigh.
“All right. I’ll be there by midnight.”
Relief washed over Xander in a wave, until his knees almost buckled and he had to cling to the counter to stay upright. “Thanks, Angel.”
“If he’s alive, we’ll find him.”
“Good, because he’s alive.”
Xander hung up before Angel could say anything else. He knew it wasn’t fair, pulling the guilt card on Angel. It’s not like Angel had known about that ridiculous happiness clause on his curse and it had been Angelus, not Angel, who had kidnapped and terrorized Xander. He didn’t care. He’d do a lot more than that to get Spike back.
Running his fingers over his Claim mark, he wished there was some way he could use the mark to locate Spike. He’d asked Giles last night as Giles was driving him home if there was any way to find Spike by magic. Giles had reminded him with the careful patience that everyone was starting to treat him with that magic didn’t work well on or around vampires because they were non-living beings and magic was tied to life forces. There were no effective spells that Giles was aware of for locating a particular vampire although he had promised to look into it.
It was another few hours until dark. He couldn’t call out the entire demon community to help him search the same ground all over again. He needed to think of new places to search, something else to do. Not that his friends wouldn’t help, but they would just be humoring him. It always came down to the fact that vampires turned to dust and no one expected to find a body. To them, a missing vampire was a dead vampire. Xander was stubbornly clinging to the hope that Spike had just disappeared, like the rumors Spike had been tracking down, the rumors of mysterious hunters who captured rather than killed.
“You want me to do what?”
Angel had arrived at the apartment well before midnight and Xander, hearing booted feet climbing the outside stairs, had felt his heart lurch. He’d run for the door and flung it open, forgetting every ingrained rule about safety in Sunnydale, only to have his wild hope sent crashing to the floor at the sight of Angel’s bulky figure climbing the last few steps.
Having asked Angel to come, it wasn’t exactly kosher to slam the door in his face but that was exactly what Xander felt like doing. Gritting his teeth, he reminded himself sternly that it wasn’t Angel’s fault that he wasn’t Spike or that Xander had just returned from hours of useless searching. So, instead of slamming the door, he stood back from the threshold and invited Angel in. It was a formality because it was Spike’s apartment and Angel didn’t need an invite to enter, but it seemed only polite. Fortunately, Angel had never been one for pleasantries because Xander so wasn’t in the mood.
Leading the way into the kitchen, he outlined his idea to Angel, who didn’t take it well. In fact, Angel was staring at him like he’d lost his mind. Having had time to think this through, Xander just repeated calmly: “I want you to stand in for Spike at the Court until we find him.”
Angel’s mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water and his dumbfounded expression was beginning to tick Xander off. Crossing his arms stubbornly, knowing he was right about this, Xander glared right back at Angel.
“You know as well as I do that if Spike doesn’t make an appearance soon, the Court is going to assume something’s happened to him. The first step is probably the minions storming this apartment. Then there’s going to be an all-out fight over who’s going to be the next Master. You need to get down there and take over for Spike before that happens. The last thing this town needs is a vampire turf-war. Who knows what a new Master will do but I doubt they will be as human- and Slayer-friendly as Spike is,” he finished pointedly.
Angel finally seemed to get over his stunned disbelief and was shaking his head. “Xander, vampires don’t babysit each other’s Courts.”
“Vampires don’t have souls or help Slayers either. You and Spike aren’t exactly traditional vampires, so why is this any different?”
“If I take over the Court, the vampires will assume that I’ve dusted Spike and am taking over as his replacement. He won’t be able to step back in and run the Court again, Xander. The Court vampires will know he was defeated and won’t accept him.”
Xander waved a dismissive hand. “We can deal with that when Spike’s back,” he said confidently. Spike could defeat any vampire in the Court. He’d kill every minion there and start all over if he had to. The minions knew that, that Spike was absolutely ruthless when he had to be. They respected that about him. Spike would dust a few troublemakers and be back on top in no time. Xander had no worries about that. “For now, tell them anything you want. Tell them Spike is out of town on business, tell them your doing your Childe a favor while he’s off fighting demons in Florida, tell them he’s questing for the Holy Grail - or whatever it is that vampires might quest for. Spike doesn’t let them question him, he just tells them how it is. You can do the same thing.”
He could tell Angel was thinking about it. His eyes shifted away and his brows drew closer together as he scowled, not at Xander but at whatever he was thinking.
“It might work,” he said slowly, obviously disliking the idea. “I thought you wanted me to search for Spike.”
“I do,” Xander said promptly. “We’ve searched the tunnels, the cemeteries, everywhere Spike usually patrols, but we don’t really have anyone who can listen in on the gossip in the demon bars and you have a much better sense of smell than anyone we had on the search teams.” He bit his lip, knowing his anxiety was breaking free of the tight control he’d been keeping it under. “I’m hoping you can find him even if we couldn’t.”
Angel’s face had gone expressionless as Xander spoke. Granted, the vampire didn’t exactly like to give his facial muscles a workout but Xander knew what it meant and he kept talking before Angel could say anything. “Angel, if someone killed Spike, the Court would know about it. If it was a vampire, the one that killed him would have been down there taking over and I’d have been dead before I woke up to learn that Spike hadn’t come home. If it was another kind of demon, the whole town would be talking about it. He’s not just an anonymous vampire, he’s Master of the territory.”
Angel nodded thoughtfully, and his shoulders straightened slightly as if a burden he didn’t know he was carrying had just quietly slipped off his shoulders. He studied Xander intently for a minute. “You could be right.”
Xander closed his eyes, almost sagging in relief, grateful beyond words for the slight encouragement. He had been fighting a silent battle against everyone else, everyone who was busily writing Spike off as dead, and having even one person on his side was a relief.
“I’ll do a sweep through town for the next couple of hours. By myself,” he added sternly, but with understanding when Xander opened his mouth to volunteer. “I’ll be able to cover more ground alone.” Which was true. “I’ll be back an hour before dawn and will talk to the Court then. Most of the vampires will recognize me from the fight with the Mayor. That will help. No point in going down now,” he explained, somewhat unnecessarily in Xander’s opinion. “Most of the vampires won’t be at the Court until much closer to dawn. I’ll think of something to tell them while I’m gone. Wait here until I get back.”
Despite his resentment at being given orders, Xander just nodded in agreement. He could use a few hours sleep and, for now, he’d done all he could do. With Angel’s help, Spike would have an intact Court to come back to. If he had to, Xander would take Jose into his confidence, but he wanted to wait until he had no other choice before he took that step. Right now, the less the Court knew, the better.