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
He hadn’t thought that Angel would be sitting up, waiting for him, when he got back to the apartment. Actually, he didn’t really know what he’d expected - it wasn’t like Angel could stay up in the third floor rooms with the minions. Even taking one of the second floor rooms reserved for Spike’s Lieutenants would be a problem, given how status conscious vampires were. While Angel was standing in for Spike, he probably really had to stay in the apartment, Xander realized, even if it made both of them uncomfortable.
“How did it go?” he asked. Angel wasn’t showing any obvious signs of injury, which had to be a good sign. He was sitting at the kitchen table and barely even turned his head when Xander walked in. Brooding, Xander thought uncharitably. Angel seemed to feel that the only way he could convince people he had a soul was to spend most of his time acting depressed. He was the polar opposite of Spike, who enjoyed unlife to the hilt, sometimes in ways that squicked Xander but at least Spike was always fun to be around. Unlike Angel who lurked in the shadows and never seemed part of any group, Spike inhabited his world in a way Angel never did.
“Better than I thought,” Angel said. “A couple of the minions asked questions and I channeled Spike and dusted them. Everyone else decided to accept that Spike was being Spike and had wandered off for a week.”
Xander’s jaw dropped. Had Angel just made a joke? Not to mention knowing about channeling - a new age concept that seemed way too modern for Mr. I-Don’t-Live-in-the-Human-World. “Angel?” he asked suspiciously, one hand going surreptitiously for the stake he always carried as he took a cautious step backwards.
Angel saw the doubt in his face and sighed. “It’s me. I think some of Cordelia’s LA-speak has rubbed off on me.”
“Cordelia?” Off-hand, Xander couldn’t remember Cordy ever talking to Angel.
“She’s working for me.”
“Cordelia Chase?” Xander clarified, just to be sure. At Angel’s nod, he repeated incredulously: “Cordelia Chase is working? For you? In what alternate dimension?”
Angel gave him an exasperated look. “We ran into each other while I was on a case and she decided I needed an office manager.” He frowned. “Maybe a keeper,” he admitted. “Actually, I’m not really sure how it happened but yes, she’s working for me.”
Xander laughed. “That sounds like Cordy. One minute, she’s insulting you and the next, you’re doing whatever she wants.”
And did Angel really just mutter something about him getting that right?
“Getting back to the subject,” Angel said pointedly and Xander’s smile died. “This is just a stopgap measure. It won’t work for long. Now that the Court knows that Spike isn’t here, they’re going to be watching. They’ll accept a short absence, but not anything longer. Vampires just don’t leave their territories and expect to return and still be Master.”
“Spike will be back before then, if we’re lucky,” he said, with more confidence than he was actually feeling.
He filled Angel in about the soldiers and his plan to follow them and find out if they had some sort of base in town. Angel listened silently, his frown growing steadily deeper.
“Clandestine groups don’t generally like being spied on,” he said when Xander was through.
“So, I’ll be careful. If they see me, I’ll just be a dumb local kid out late.”
“You could find yourself a dumb local kid being held in a military stockade,” Angel warned. “I’ll go with you.”
Xander shook his head. “No. If they’re hunting vampires and I’m seen with one, I really will end up in prison. I’m better off on my own. I can wander around, clutching a half-empty beer can, and pretending to be lost if anyone sees me.”
“That will just get you killed the old-fashioned way,” Angel disagreed. “By vampires.”
“I’m not helpless, you know,” Xander snapped. “Spike’s spent a lot of time training me so I can take care of myself.”
Angel opened his mouth to object again but Xander got there first. “Besides, you can do something about that. Can you keep the vampires in the Court off the streets tonight? Ordinarily, none of them would touch me because they know Spike would kill them in ways I don’t even want to think about but I think it would be better if we didn’t give any of them a chance to get any ideas while they think Spike’s out of town.”
Angel looked thoughtful. Or maybe constipated. It was sometimes hard to tell with him. “I can call for an inspection - a demonstration of their skills. That wouldn’t be unreasonable, since I’m not familiar with them and don’t know their strengths and weaknesses.”
“Get the Lieutenants to help you organize it and make sure everyone’s there for at least the first part of the night,” Xander suggested. After a moment, he added: “I’ll make sure I’m back here by 2 a.m., can you keep them occupied that long?”
Angel nodded absently, looking like he was already working out what hoops he was going to make the minions jump through. After a moment’s silence, Xander guessed the conversation was over.
“Thanks, Angel,” he said quietly. “I’m going to get some sleep. Are you ok on the couch?”
“I’ll be fine.”
It would be politer, he supposed, to offer the guest the bed but Spike would go ballistic if Angel slept in their bed, even with Xander safely in another room. Vampire territoriality trumped Miss Manners every time, otherwise furniture tended to get broken.
The moron in the next cell didn’t know much, despite having been here for a couple of weeks. He was about the least observant git Spike had ever had the misfortune to question. As Spike had guessed, the place was run by humans. His neighbor had seen Spike and some others brought into the facility by soldiers. He’d seen two types of clothing in the facility: military uniforms and lab coats. Sometimes humans came for a prisoner, and after a great deal of prodding, Spike was able to get the idiot to remember that it would either be a mixed party of soldiers and lab coats or, rarely, just a couple of lab coats who did the fetching. Some of the demons didn’t come back, others came back unconscious and stinking of chemicals but the vampire had never tried to find out what had happened to him.
Pacing agitatedly up and back in front of the glass wall of his cell, Spike made a note to kill the complete git as soon as he got the chance. He was giving vampires a bad name, cowering in his cell and not trying to escape or even learn about his surroundings. Not like there was anything else to do except study the humans, trapped in their tiny cells without even room to get a decent pace going. Periodically, humans in white lab coats would walk the length of the corridor, occasionally taking notes on pads of paper as they paused in front of one cell or another. Spike could hear the vampire next to him moving to the rear of his cell every time the humans walked by and smell the fear that rolled off him. If he was human, he’d have been pissing himself, Spike thought in disgust.
His neighbor on the other side was a Klantosh demon. They were impressive looking - enormous, hairy things with huge curving horns - but they weren’t fighters. Unfortunately, he didn’t speak the language, so he couldn’t learn anything useful from it.
He eyed the packet of blood he’d kicked to the corner, wondering if he should empty it and pretend to be drugged. It was a ploy that he’d prefer to save until there were no other options. The idea of lying sprawled on the floor of the enemy camp, faking helplessness, didn’t exactly appeal, especially when he knew so little about what went on here. He’d save that for a last resort.
And he was nowhere near that level of desperation yet.
When the soldiers came for him, Spike was on his feet at the back of the cell, waiting for them. He’d removed his coat and set it down on the floor while he paced the confines of his cell restlessly, waiting his chance through the long hours. The bright, never-changing white light was throwing off his sense of time and he wasn’t sure how long he’d been here or even if it was day or night - a serious handicap to any escape attempt but one he’d just have to deal with when the time came.
Booted feet strode down the hallway, the steps echoing loudly down the hall. Not the quiet steps of the slow moving lab coats, these were likely the soldiers. Spike could hear both of his neighbors moving towards the back wall, the vampire whimpering in fear as he retreated to the false safety of the rear of his cell confirming his estimate. He wasn’t suicidal enough to call attention to himself deliberately, but he scooped up his coat in one hand and waited tensely to see if the approaching steps were going to walk past. Either way, they were his first chance to see the enemy face to face. The lab coats were minions, these were the real danger.
Two soldiers stopped outside the glass wall of his cell and he glared at them, letting his features slide into his true face. They stared unemotionally back at him, both holding guns at the ready.
“An armed escort. I’m flattered. Is this the point where I’m supposed to say ‘take me to your leader’?” Spike asked flippantly. “I only ask because I never watch those kind of movies except under duress, so I may have got the timing wrong.”
The soldiers exchanged glances, the taller one looking surprised. The short, stocky one just shook his head and ordered quietly: “Open it.”
The taller one nodded and stepped towards the lock. Spike got ready, his eyes watching carefully as the soldier took a card that was hooked to his uniform shirt and swiped it through the electronic lock on one side of the cell. The soldier immediately jumped back to where his partner waited and Spike continued chattily: “Of course, I could just stick to ‘piss off, wankers’. Nice saying that one, gets the job done every time.”
As he spoke, the lock beeped and the door began to slide open, moving at a smooth, steady pace that was faster than Spike would have preferred. He moved quickly, darting the two steps to the side wall, drawing the soldiers’ eyes and guns in that direction, so they remained pointed at him through the glass, trying to make it look like he was desperately trying to shelter behind the thick glass panes.
He’d no sooner reached the side wall then he reversed direction with a speed no human could manage, launching himself at the now fully open door. His left hand, still clutching his duster, came up and he threw the coat ahead of him through the opening. As he’d hoped, the leather opened up, giving him at least the illusion of shelter for one second as he dove through the doorway.
He swept his arms out, hoping to take both of the soldiers down, but only managed to hit one of them. Unfortunately, the taller one had realized what was happening and jumped back as Spike moved. Spike crashed to the floor in a tangle of black leather and flailing limbs, hearing the whoosh of air that said a human had just had the wind knocked out of them. He was grabbing for the soldier’s gun when lightning hit him from behind.
As before, his whole body seized up, muscles twitching uncontrollably, unable even to keep his grip on the gun as he slumped unconscious to the tiles.
Buffy was waiting for him two blocks from the factory. She was perched on a crumbling concrete wall, looking like she’d been there for a while when Xander left the apartment a half hour before sunset.
“Thought you’d be leaving about now,” she said, jumping down and dusting herself off.
“What are you doing here?” Buffy had long ago accepted that it wouldn’t be a good idea for the Slayer to hang out at the apartment or even to stop by. A Slayer visiting would just not go over well with the Court. Now, Xander quickly urged her away, not waiting for an answer to his question. Buffy went willingly enough, and Xander relaxed when they had moved a couple blocks farther, into a more populated section of the warehouse district where she didn’t stand out quite so obviously.
“Mom called,” Buffy said. “She told me what you were up to. And can I just say: this is not a good plan.”
“You got a better one? ‘Cause this is all I got right now.” Xander couldn’t stop the desperation from showing in his voice as he stared her down.
“No,” Buffy admitted, after a long tense silence. “Ok, let’s try and scare up some soldiers.”
She turned and headed out in the ground-covering stride she only used when out on patrol. Xander took a moment, breathing deeply and getting himself under control before he moved to follow her.
Dragging himself up the stairs to the apartment, disappointment and fatigue dogged his steps until the climb felt like an impossible obstacle. He was almost unbearably tempted to just sit down half way and give in to it and was grateful for the knowledge that Angel was in the apartment. He’d done a lot of things in his life that he was embarrassed about but he was damned if he was going to break down in front of Angel. And yeah, he was an ungrateful asshole because Angel was trying to help and it was probably way past time that Xander got over his Angel issues but he didn’t like the guy and never had and he was way to tired to deal with this now.
Rubbing a hand over his face, Xander thought wearily that he would have to call in sick to work tomorrow. He could hardly believe it was only Sunday - Monday morning now. It felt like weeks since he’d woken to find Spike gone but it had only been Friday morning. He hadn’t slept well since then and his brain felt like it was functioning at half speed just when he needed to be able to think clearly.
Buffy and he had swept the usual hot spots and come up empty. Buffy had staked a couple of fledges more or less in passing but there had been no sign of the soldiers they were looking for. He needed to figure out a way to flush them out so he could follow them.
Angel left almost as soon as Xander arrived, saying he would do a sweep of the town, looking for both Spike and the soldiers. Xander just thanked him, heading for the bathroom and a hot shower.
Something was nagging at him. He couldn’t put his finger on it but it felt like he was missing something. He let his mind drift under the warm spray as he soaped himself up, hoping whatever it was would make itself known.
The water felt good and Xander found himself almost nodding off in the shower. He shook himself awake and finished shampooing his long hair, scrubbing vigorously at his scalp to keep himself alert. Stepping out of the shower, he toweled himself off and suddenly froze, hair dripping around his shoulders, staring at the mist-covered mirror.
He swore sharply and automatically wrapped the towel around his waist, leaning against the counter as he thought furiously. The only night the soldiers had been out in force had been the night after the attack on one of Buffy’s professors, the attack that Buffy thought had been a werewolf. Not Oz, of course, but another werewolf, the one they hadn’t found even though werewolves weren’t exactly inconspicuous. Buffy had seen soldiers on campus Halloween night - or thought she had, although she admitted it could have just been costumes, and maybe one other time.
If the soldiers were protecting the campus… No, that didn’t seem right. Spike had been patrolling the campus regularly this year and said there wasn’t much demon activity in the area. But if the soldiers responded in force to an attack on one of the professors, maybe he could stage a show that would draw them out.
Turning the idea over in his mind, he stepped out of the bathroom and padded towards the bedroom. He didn’t want to put any of his demon friends in danger but maybe someone could do a “wild dog” type attack with a running, screaming victim then wait and see if soldiers responded. It was something at least and a better shot than just waiting to get lucky and stumble over them, especially if the soldiers weren’t patrolling or whatever it was they were doing every night.
There was a knock at the back door, the one no one but Spike ever used, and Xander swung around, heart pounding as he stood frozen, not sure what to do. The door had been bolted as a precaution ever since Spike disappeared and it was the wild hope that it might be Spike that finally got him moving.
“Who is it?” he asked cautiously through the door.
“It’s Jose, Xander. I apologize for disturbing you. May I speak with you?”
Xander hesitated for a long moment but, bottom line, he trusted Jose.
“Yeah, give me a second.”
He ran into the bedroom and yanked a pair of pants on. He hesitated, then shrugged into a shirt and tucked a stake into his pocket. Spike would kill him if he didn’t take at least minimal precautions. Returning to the back door, he struggled with the bolt until it slid back, opening the door to see the familiar figure of Spike’s senior lieutenant waiting on the other side.
Jose dipped his head in the half bow with which he always greeted Xander, no matter how many times Xander had told him it wasn’t necessary, and stepped into the apartment. As always, he was in human guise and, despite his surface calm, Xander could see the tension in his frame. Jose came directly to the point, seeming a bit uneasy about being in the apartment, even though he’d never seemed nervous before on the rare occasions when Spike had permitted him to come inside. Jose was the only one of Spike’s lieutenants who had ever been allowed inside the apartment.
“Xander, allow me to be blunt. I’m aware that Master Spike is missing and that you are covering his absence.” He smiled reassuringly as Xander went still and pale, continuing on with his usual calm deliberateness. “I can’t be positive but I don’t believe any of the other vampires in the Court are sure that Master Spike is not, as Master Angelus says, temporarily absent for his own reasons. However, they are suspicious and the deception cannot last for long.”
“Do you know what’s happened to Spike?” Xander asked, his voice hard.
Jose shook his head with genuine regret. “I’m sorry, I know only what I have just told you. I have been aware that you are searching for him, although you have done well in concealing your efforts.”
“What do you want?”
“You misunderstand. I have given my allegiance to Master Spike. That duty includes protecting his Claimed. I am concerned for your safety if the Court decides that Master Spike is no longer around to protect you.”
The tension fled at the genuine concern in Jose’s eyes and Xander mustered a bleak smile. “I figure I have at least two more days. Angel will keep them busy until then.”
Jose nodded. “I concur. However, it would be wise to be gone from here before suspicion becomes certainty. I will protect you to the best of my abilities, but I am far from being the most able fighter in the Court.”
“I hope Spike will be back before it comes to that.”
“You and me both, Xander. Can I help in any way, other than assisting Master Angelus to keep the Court under control?”
Xander hesitated but only briefly. “Did you know that Spike was investigating reports that demons were disappearing in town?” Jose nodded. “I’m working on a theory that the soldiers that have been seen around town are responsible. I’ve been trying to track them but so far haven’t had any luck. Have you heard anything?”
“Nothing of any use, I’m afraid. Master Spike was tracking down the rumors himself. To my knowledge, he hadn’t learned anything useful.”
Which fit with what Xander knew but wasn’t exactly helpful. “Thanks, Jose. If you could keep an eye out for Spike, I’d appreciate it. Let me or Angel know if you find anything.”
“There is one more thing,” Jose said slowly, almost as if he weren’t sure whether he should be saying anything. “Are you aware of what Master Angelus is doing?”
“What do you mean?”
“Forgive me, but it is apparent to me that Master Angelus is attempting to determine who would be the best vampire to inherit the Court.”
“What?!” Xander felt a wave of anger. How dare he? Spike was his Childe. Angel could give him the benefit of the doubt for more than a few hours.
“It it the logical step if Master Angelus doesn’t wish to take over the Court himself,” Jose pointed out reluctantly.
“Only if Spike’s dead and he’s not,” Xander said stubbornly.
“Master Angelus is asking many questions of the minions and the Lieutenants. He is watching sparring sessions closely, all under the guise of evaluating the Court he is temporarily in charge of. The presence of Master Angelus is unusual enough that the Court is uncertain of his motives. Keeping them off balance and seeking to impress him is helping to prevent them from speculating too much about Master Spike’s absence.” Jose shrugged apologetically. “Again, the situation will come to a head sooner rather than later.”
There wasn’t anything he could do about it and, if Spike didn’t return, Angel was doing the best he could to prevent a war over the territory. Xander looked away from Jose’s sympathetic eyes. “Thanks for telling me,” he said quietly. “Angel’s right. We have to keep things under control at the Court. If…” he faltered, his throat closing on the words. He couldn’t say it, couldn’t give his fears substance by putting them into words. He cleared his throat and continued: “If Spike’s gone too long, we’ll figure out what to do about the Court then.”
Jose left as quietly as he had come and Xander leaned against the again bolted door leading to the factory. The longer Spike was gone, the more things were spiraling out of control. “Damn you, Spike. Where the hell are you?”
This was getting old. Coming to once on the cold tiles of the white prison cell had been more than enough. He really didn’t need to experience it again. He’d told Xander once that vampire bodies weren’t very conductive but apparently if you shot them with enough electricity, it worked just fine. The guns the soldiers were using were going to be a problem. With bullets, he could ignore the pain and keep going, but the tasers left him with no muscle control in the few moments before consciousness fled.
He rolled over, more slowly than he’d intended and only just managed to suppress a groan as he became aware of aches that shouldn’t be there. Vampires didn’t get the aches and pains that humans got from sleeping on hard surfaces or working too hard. Strained muscles and joints healed instantly, if vampires got them at all. Spike wasn’t sure which and didn’t much care. But now, his muscles were trembling and spasming in a way he hadn’t experienced since he was human and he ached all over like Xander had complained about when he’d gotten the flue that one time.
Staggering clumsily to his feet, Spike leaned against the wall and waited for the tremors to die down, not trusting his legs to hold him up without the wall’s help. He didn’t remember anything since the soldiers had taken him out of his cell. He was still wearing his clothes, which were undamaged and he could find no sign of injury on himself that could cause this weakness. He moved his arms and legs cautiously, testing them for injuries but there was just this over-all weakness and twinges of pain from over-stressed muscles.
His strength gradually returned and slight tremor that shook his limbs faded, much to his relief. Spike found himself fishing around in his pockets, looking for his smokes. He could really use a steadying drag of warm, nicotine-laden smoke in his body right now. He cursed when he realized the pack had been in his coat and his coat was gone, tossed out into the hall in his useless escape attempt.
Fucking hell. They’d stolen his duster. Bastards were going to pay for that.