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: Primarily season 4, but anything from Season 1 on.
Summary: sequel to Nothing the Same & Nothing the Same, Book 2
Previous parts here
Xander hung up the phone with a sigh and stood leaning against the kitchen cabinets for a minute, wondering if he should take a shower or just go back to bed. His boss was not a happy camper. He hadn’t taken the news well that Xander wouldn’t be in to the job site this week either. Apparently, the company was starting a new job at the college campus tomorrow, finally breaking ground for the long talked about new community center and splitting the crew between two major job sites was leaving them seriously shorthanded. His boss had been upfront about the situation, telling Xander that he might not be able to hold Xander’s job any longer if Xander didn’t come back to work immediately.
It wasn’t a surprise. He’d known the company wouldn’t wait for him indefinitely but Spike was the important thing here and Spike needed him right now. If his job couldn’t wait a little longer, he’d just have to find another job.
One more problem to deal with later, he decided and found himself wondering idly if the excavation work at the college campus would dig up the underground military base. Probably not, he decided. It would be a pretty stupid covert government operation that couldn’t manage to delay or halt planning permission for a job that was going to dig up their secret base.
Glancing at the clock, he reluctantly decided on a shower over returning to bed. His first call of the afternoon had established that Angel had been busy. They were expected at Giles’ shortly after sunset for a planning meeting and that was only a couple hours from now. He wanted to get something to eat and he needed to get more blood for Spike. Now that Spike was completely dependent on bagged blood, Xander wanted to make doubly sure they always had a good supply on hand. And how wrong was it that he hated that Spike couldn’t feed normally and despised the people who’d done this to him, even though what they’d done was ensure that Spike had lost all capability to hurt humans and only humans. He’d long ago accepted the guilt of loving someone who frequently harmed other people, living with the unspoken compromise that Spike fed from humans but didn’t kill them for Xander’s sake.
What kind of person did it make him that he wasn’t happy that Spike could no longer hurt people? And how much of his anger at what they had done to Spike was because of he resented being reminded of ethical issues he’d allowed himself to put behind him?
Xander gave himself a mental shake. Spike was a vampire, he’d accepted that a long time ago, accepted that he lived in a world inhabited by demons and humans and each had a right to exist. Every time Spike voluntarily drank bagged blood instead of hunting was a gift and a silent declaration of his love for Xander. It was meaningless now because it had been forced on Spike and they’d taken away his ability to choose what he did and why. They hadn’t even left Spike the ability to defend himself when attacked, leaving him completely defenseless against humans. When it came down to it, he didn’t trust that the military was doing this for the benefit of humanity and he was going to do everything he could to make sure that Spike was restored to his old self.
Feeling somehow lighter for having admitted his doubts and having settled the issue once and for all, Xander straightened up and headed for the bathroom only to stop short at the sight of Spike, arms folded across his chest, leaning naked against the door jamb. He wasn’t surprised by the nudity - Spike never wore clothes to bed - but because the vampire was out of bed and had obviously been eavesdropping on Xander’s call.
“Not goin’ to work tomorrow?” Spike asked, far too casually.
“Nope. I'm spending the day with my vampire,” Xander answered cheerfully.
Spike's eyes narrowed. “Thinkin' I need a babysitter?”
“Of course not. Where did that come from?” How had the conversation gotten off track so quickly? Spike hated Xander being gone during the days and now he wanted Xander to go to work?
“Xander, your job is important to you. Don’t want you losing it because of me.”
“You’re more important than my job,” he answered simply.
Spike just gazed at him levelly, still planted immovably in the doorway, clearly not intending to budge until he’d made his point. “Gonna call your boss right back and tell them you’ll be there in the morning,” he ordered flatly.
“Why would I do that?” Xander could do stubborn too.
“Because you’ll regret it if you don’t. You’ll wish you hadn’t lost the job for no reason.” Spike cocked his head, seeing Xander wasn’t making a move to pick up the phone. “Best way to keep a secret, luv, is if no one knows you have one. You start hovering over me like I can’t take care of myself anymore, everyone’s going to wonder why.”
Xander sighed, conceding the point. Plus, staying at home obviously wasn’t the right move to convince Spike that he didn’t see Spike as any different now, which wouldn’t help either of them. “Ok,” he said, picking up the phone again and hitting re-dial. Listening to it ring, he looked back at Spike, smiling in relief. “Thanks, Spike.”
“I thought she was going out of town for Thanksgiving?” Xander asked in surprise as Spike hung up the phone. He was sure he remembered Mrs. Summers saying something about that but he had forgotten that Thanksgiving was this week. At least it would be a short week at work.
Despite knowing that Angel had begun to spread the word already, Xander had spent a chunk of time after his shower making calls to let people know Spike was back, stressing that Spike was fine and thanking them for their help in searching for him. He’d deliberately waited until last to call Mrs. Summers, knowing she would already have heard the news from either Giles or Buffy, and had happily passed the phone over to Spike after a short conversation. Spike had actually settled down to talk, something he didn’t do with anyone but Xander and Mrs. Summers. Spike had little use for telephones, grudgingly using them when necessary and generally limiting his conversations to bare essentials. When asked, Spike just said that phones were human things but Xander suspected it was because he liked to see the person he was talking to, watching their eyes and body language and testing their scent. Without the input of his other senses, Spike didn’t feel he could read the person on the other end of the line. With Xander and Mrs. Summers, that wasn’t an issue. Spike trusted both of them and could rely on what their voices were telling him.
“Said she changed her mind.” Spike seemed inordinately pleased by that fact and Xander hid a smile, realizing that Mrs. Summers had undoubtedly changed her plans because of Spike and Spike knew it. Now that he thought about it, of course Mrs. Summers wouldn’t have left town without knowing if Spike was alright.
“So, Thanksgiving at the Summers’ house,” he said, pleased that Mrs. Summers had invited them. “Buffy will be thrilled.”
Xander’s steps slowed unconsciously the closer they got to Giles’ house. He hated the fact that they were going in planning to lie to everyone, especially considering how angry he’d been with Buffy and Willow when they’d lied about the re-souling spell and had almost gotten Spike killed. This wasn’t the same thing, he told himself uneasily. They were going to tell everyone everything they knew about the soldiers and the secret base and the experiments on demons, they just weren’t going to mention that Spike had been a victim.
Yeah, right. He couldn’t even convince himself that it wasn’t the same thing. Knowing Spike couldn’t hurt humans right now was significant information that they were going to conceal from their allies. Which was exactly what he’d been so angry with Buffy and Willow for doing.
“You ok, luv?” Spike looked over at him and Xander realized his arm had tightened around Spike as his steps lagged.
“I’m good,” he said. “Just thinking about the meeting.”
Bottom line, Spike’s welfare was the most important thing. If he thought they were putting the group in danger by not telling them about Spike’s vulnerability, he and Spike would find a way to stay out of the fight but he wasn’t going to humiliate and endanger Spike by letting people know what had happened to him. Besides, he reminded himself, Spike was incredibly valuable to the group as unquestioned Master of the Hellmouth. If they were going up against the government, they really didn’t need a demon war on top of everything else and, if word got out that Spike couldn’t hurt humans, Spike would be vulnerable; too busy fending off threats to be of any use to anyone.
It didn’t help. Giles and Buffy and Sgt. Morgan needed to know the truth, needed to know the capabilities of the people they would be relying on and, right now, Xander wasn’t willing to tell them the truth. He’d just have to keep track of the situation and somehow get himself and Spike out of things if they were putting the others at risk. It wasn’t perfect but it was the best he could do for now.
Giles’ warm greeting to Spike earned a grateful smile from Xander as the Watcher stepped back from the door, letting Xander and Spike in to his apartment. Xander stopped short in surprise as he entered the room, seeing who all was inside.
“Wesley? Cordy? What are you guys doing here?”
Cordelia gave him a quick, hard hug then abandoned him immediately to hug Spike. Wesley met him halfway across the room, hand outstretched. “Xander, it’s good to see you again.”
They shook hands in the slightly awkward way of guys who weren’t quite good enough friends to hug. “It’s good to see you too, Wesley. Are you back to stay?” Behind him, he could hear Cordelia’s scathing comeback to Spike’s insinuating question about whether she liked working under Angel. Nothing had changed between those two.
Wesley looked different. More confident, not nearly so prim and buttoned down and, best of all, like he finally was becoming comfortable with himself. He was dressed almost casually in jeans and a dress shirt, not wearing one of the three piece suits that had seemed to make up his entire wardrobe last year. His trip must have been good for him.
“No, no. I’m working with Angel now. He didn’t mention it?” Some of the old uncertainty was in Wesley’s voice as he glanced at Angel.
“Angel and I haven’t really had the chance to talk about anything other than Spike,” Xander told him diplomatically, although he wondered why Angel hadn’t said anything, he’d certainly found the time to mention that Cordelia was working for him. He hoped that didn’t mean that Angel wasn’t giving Wesley the credit he deserved.
“Well, I’m a rather new addition to his team,” Wesley said philosophically. “I stumbled across Angel in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago and have been helping him out doing research. Oh, I’m sorry. Xander, you haven’t met the last member of Angel Investigations. Xander, this is Doyle.”
Behind Wesley’s taller form, a small man with curly hair and bright, curious eyes stepped forward. He shook Xander’s hand, studying him with interest. “So, you’re the Xander that can order Angel around. You’ll have to tell me your secret.”
The Irish accent was familiar. “You’re the one I talked to on the phone when I called Angel, right?”
“One and the same.”
“You all work for Angel?” Angel had said something about people who needed him when Xander had forced him to return to Sunnydale but Xander hadn’t realized he’d meant employees. “Sorry about hijacking your boss.”
“Not at all, Xander. I’m just glad he was able to help.”
“Gave me a chance to show Wes here around the bars,” Doyle said cheerfully. “He needed to loosen up and learn how to have fun.”
“Yes, well…” Wesley looked embarrassed and Xander helped him out by changing the subject.
“How come you guys are all here?”
“Ah, that’s a story for the entire meeting, if you don’t mind, Xander,” Wesley interjected. “It will save us from having to repeat ourselves.”
Giles cleared his throat, attracting everyone’s attention. “Now that we’re all here, why don’t we get started.” Giles remained standing while everyone else obediently found seats. Spike flung himself down in a vacant armchair, his eyes watchful as he studied the others in the room but otherwise the picture of idle unconcern. Xander perched casually on the arm of the chair Spike had chosen, wanting to be near him and hoping he didn’t look like he was hovering. To his surprise, Giles nodded to Doyle. “Mr. Doyle, perhaps you should begin?”
Looking around, Xander saw that only he and Spike were clueless about what Angel’s group from L.A. had to say and he wondered what could be more important than Spike’s information.
Angel’s little Brachen hybrid was prattling on about visions and Buffy being in danger. The whole thing seemed unbelievably vague to Spike and he wondered why they’d felt it necessary to make the drive to Sunnydale to deliver the message in person and why the Watcher was taking it so seriously. Not like the Slayer wasn’t involved in fights most nights of the week.
“I know it sounds pretty vague, but the visions don’t come to order. More like come, deposit general information, then leave me with a killer headache,” Doyle explained, seeing the skeptical expressions on the faces of the Sunnydalers.
“Actually, if Mr. I-Don’t-Understand-Technology over there was willing to join the modern world, we would have just called him with the information on the cell phone he refuses to buy,” Cordelia said, ostentatiously examining a perfect nail for flaws. Spike smirked, noticing she hadn’t explained why she had felt it necessary to make the drive with the others.
Wesley put in hastily: “Actually, Angel had not had a chance to let us know if Spike had been found, so we wanted to come in person to offer assistance.” He smiled at Spike and Xander. “We’re all very pleased to find that Spike has returned and is obviously in good health.”
“Worried about me, were you?” Spike purred, lifting a mocking eyebrow at Cordelia.
“You wish,” she shot back. “I just tagged along because my parents wanted to see me.”
Angel cleared his throat, looking like he’d already had a lot of practice at cutting Cordelia off. “The visions Doyle gets are accurate, even if they aren’t very specific. He only gets them about situations that are serious enough that the Powers want me to intervene. Don’t dismiss this as just another Tuesday night in Sunnydale. Buffy, you need to be careful.”
“Got it. I’m careful girl, although it would be nice if I knew what I was being careful of.”
Buffy answered, obviously torn between frowning at Cordelia and smiling at Angel’s concern. She looked at Doyle. “Danger? Fighting? Nothing else?”
Doyle shrugged. “Sorry, believe me, I’d rather the Powers just faxed me the information.”
“Since the Powers obviously want me to be involved,” Angel declared. “I’ll stay in town until whatever it is has happened. Doyle’s visions tend to be in fairly close proximity to the event, so we’ll know soon.”
“We’ll stay as well,” Wesley said, getting a nod from Doyle. “In case there’s anything we can do to help.”
Cordelia gave a put-upon sigh but didn’t contradict them, which was Cordy-speak for agreement.
Sgt. Morgan spoke for the first time. “If the danger is specifically directed at Buffy, as your vision suggests, perhaps we should take over patrolling entirely this week.”
Buffy sat up straight, shaking her head. “I’m not going to hide from this,” she began when Xander interrupted.
“Why do I get the feeling that whatever we do will just make the vision come true?” he said gloomily.
“Because it’s the Hellmouth, pet,” Spike answered, “Murphy’s bloody Law was written on a Hellmouth.”
“Xander and Master Spike have a point,” Mr. Olsen interjected. The cheerleader gave a little snort of derision at Mr. Olsen’s use of Spike’s title and Spike glared at her. “Instead of trying to avoid the situation, I would suggest someone patrol with Buffy this week, doubling our forces and giving fate less chance to play games.”
Giles looked relieved at the suggestion and Buffy nodded her agreement.
“I suspect that all we can do is stay alert until we know what exactly the danger from Mr. Doyle’s vision is,” Giles said. “Thank you, all of you,” he added, looking around the circle. “Your help is greatly appreciated.”
Spike shared the Watcher’s obvious dubiousness about the usefulness of Angel’s team. The replacement Watcher had been fairly useless last year and the Brachen-hybrid was an unknown quantity. Advance warning of danger was only helpful if there was enough information to act on. The cheerleader had hidden depths but Spike still thought it would take turning her to bring the strength he could sense in her to the surface.
Giles had remained standing during the discussion and now he addressed the three from Los Angeles. “As you three know, Spike went missing last week. He’s returned with some disturbing information.” He turned to face Spike: “Spike, what can you tell us about what happened to you?”
Not surprisingly, all eyes shifted to Spike as Giles sat down, yielding the floor, the LA people curious and the Sunnydalers, who had some idea of the size of the problem, worried, especially Sgt. Morgan and Mr. Olsen, the representatives of the demon community.
“Bunch of soldiers in town are hunting demons and have some idea of how to go about it. They have tasers that can drop a vampire in his tracks and they can tell the difference between humans and vampires from a good distance off.”
“Angel and I saw them scanning the cemeteries with some kind of equipment,” Xander filled in. “My guess is they’re checking for body temperature or heart beats or something. It was obvious they were hunting vampires and they could tell I wasn’t one from over a block away.”
“Got a big facility under the college campus,” Spike continued. “Holding cells and laboratories. They’re doing experiments on demons.”
“What kind of experiments?” Sgt. Morgan asked, frowning at the mention of a military base in town. A soldier himself, he’d take it personally that there was a hidden base he didn’t know anything about.
“Not sure.” Spike was aware of Xander listening tensely beside him but he kept his own voice casual, as if this had nothing to do with him personally. “There was a demon that made a run for it and was screamin’ in pain when he tried to fight the soldiers.”
“What kind of demon?”
“Vampire,” Spike answered truthfully, having expected the question.
“Spike said they had a bunch of different kinds of demons in the cells, including a werewolf and a baby Drak’taash demon,” Xander added, getting the pronunciation almost right.
Mr. Olsen, Giles, and Wesley all looked deeply troubled by that piece of information, trading worried glances.
“Why would anyone imprison a Drak’taash cub?” Wesley asked the room at large. “They aren’t capable of hurting anyone and the parents only cause trouble if their cubs are in danger. And last week wasn’t a full moon - why imprison a werewolf during the human part of their cycle?”
“Didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the prisoners,” Spike answered. “There were twenty or so that I saw and half of ‘em weren’t particularly dangerous. Yeah, they had four or five vampires in the cells, but they also had a couple demons known only for their stupidity: a Reet’tahk and a Laorg. Not worth fighting, either one of them.”
“Why would anyone want to keep demons prisoner?” Buffy asked, not surprisingly. Her world was as black and white as Spike’s. You kill your enemies, you don’t keep them prisoner. That didn’t stop Spike from giving her a withering look.
“Seems pretty simple to me, Slayer. Someone’s got themselves funding for a private little lab, wantin’ to know what makes demons tick. Slice and dice has always been the government’s style.”
There was a brief silence as everyone worked through the implications of that. Spike glanced around the room: they were evenly split, five humans and five demons. The demons looked downright alarmed. The humans were more uneasy than frightened - they weren’t going to end up prisoners in that little hell-hole.
Xander was the first to break the silence. “If the government’s behind this, they’re either finding ways to kill demons or trying to figure out how to make use of them, probably both, and they obviously aren’t distinguishing between peaceful demons and dangerous ones.” He looked grimly around the circle of faces. “We have to find a way to stop them.”
“Xander, that’s a little over the top, don’t you think?” Buffy said hesitantly. “I mean you’re talking about fighting the U.S. army. That’s a bit out of our league.”
Spike couldn’t help wondering if the Slayer had gone soft, turning over half her job to the other demons the way she had. “Getting’ soft, Slayer?” he challenged.
“No, it’s a fair question,” Mr. Olsen said. “This sounds both bigger and more organized than the Mayor who, no matter how dangerous, was only one demon. He never used the power of his office against us.”
“Sheesh, let a guy blow up one high school and next thing you know he wants to take on the entire government,” Cordelia mocked almost absently, her brows drawn together in thought.
“Not the government, just one covert base. If we succeed, they’re never going to admit it existed in the first place,” Xander countered.
Sgt. Morgan shook his head. “That’s a bit simplistic, Xander, although not entirely inaccurate.”
“At the very least, we need a great deal more information before we decide what to do,” Giles put in. “Spike, you said they were experimenting on demons? What, exactly, did you see?”
Xander shifted unhappily on the arm of his chair and Spike casually laid on hand on his leg, stilling him. He knew Xander didn’t like lying to his friends but he knew Xander wouldn’t betray him deliberately. “Demons were taken out of the cells unconscious by humans wearing lab coats. Most of ‘em were brought back a few hours later smellin’ of blood and chemicals. The lab coats would walk the aisle takin’ notes. The one vampire who got out of his cell was fighting two soldiers. The vampire would scream in pain and grab his head every time he hit one of the soldiers. The soldiers were caught by surprise when he got out. They didn’t have any weapons out that could have caused that reaction in a vampire.” He shrugged. “Looked to me like they’d done something to the vampire so he couldn’t hit people anymore.”
Xander was looking down, studying his toes. Angelus was watching the two of them, frowning, and Spike gave him a bland look. Everyone else was silent, considering the new information and Spike added one more detail. “The place was big. I only saw one section of it but everything was brand new, like it had only just opened for business. Across from the cell I was in was a row of empty ones. The cell block I was in was less than half full. Whatever they’re up to, they’re plannin’ on expanding.”
Xander looked up, scanning the circle of faces. “When Angel and I were following the soldiers, we heard them talking about hunting something they called “Hostile 17”. That says to me that they think they’re at war. At war with demons.”
Giles raised a cautioning hand. “You may be reading too much into that, Xander, but I agree that it’s a very disturbing term.” He sighed, pulling his glasses off and rubbing at the bridge of his nose, looking very tired all of a sudden.
“See, in general, I don’t give a piss if a bunch of tossers want to declare war on demons,” Spike said into the silence. “Demons and humans have been killing each other for thousands of years. It’s the way it is. Killing your enemies is natural and let the best demon win and all that rot.” Cordelia scowled at him and Wesley’s eyebrows had long since hit his hairline during this speech. Spike just grinned ferally and continued. “Difference here is that they’re playing at science, cuttin’ demons open to learn what’s inside. Now, I’ve never been one to turn my nose up at a spot of torture now and then,” he ignored Angel’s ostentatious sigh, “but torture should be a free-lance thing, not organized and sterile and in the name of science.”
Angel was the first to break the appalled silence and Spike thought with an inward grin that he was certainly going to hear about this from Xander tonight.
“I think what Spike is trying to say is that the military getting involved in demon hunting is a threat to every demon in town, not just the dangerous ones.”
“Especially when they aren’t distinguishing between good and bad demons,” Xander said grimly. “From what Spike saw, nearly half the demons they’re keeping prisoner aren’t a danger to anyone. And I can’t think of anything good coming from the government experimenting on demons.”
“That went well,” Spike said cheerfully, hoping to provoke a reaction from Xander who had been silent for far too long.
The meeting had broken up not long after Spike’s little summation. Not much had been accomplished except that everyone had agreed they needed more information about what was going on. Sgt. Morgan promised to see if he could learn anything about the base, find any official record of its existence. Spike had very little hope that would turn up anything. Xander was going to ask around at his job to see if he could find anyone who’d been involved in the massive construction work needed to build a base that size. Everyone else was going to “keep their eyes open” which meant that they would probably have squat to show for it when they met as agreed in one week.
“After your little Ode to Torture, I’m surprised we were invited back.”
Spike looked over at his boy. Xander had a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth and Spike could tell he wasn’t really upset.
“Slayer was halfway to thinking that the government fighting demons was a good thing,” he pointed out.
“So - what? You wanted to push her from halfway to all the way?”
“Needed to remind some of ‘em that if demons torturing humans for fun is a bad thing, then humans doing it for science isn’t any better.” He stopped and pulled Xander around to face him.
“Xander,” he said seriously. “There’s a lot of humans who won’t see anything wrong with the government trying to solve the ‘demon problem’. There’s going to be even more who don’t like what’s happening but aren’t willing to kill humans to save demons. This could come down to demon against human and I don’t know which side the Slayer and her Watcher are going to end up on. If this comes down to a war between demons and humans, a lot of people will side with their own species. I’d rather know right now who’s going to take which side. Don’t want to count on someone who won’t be there at the final showdown.”
Xander searched his eyes for a long moment. “So, you were trying to provoke a negative reaction?”
“I’m a demon, Xander. Humans have crossed a line that shouldn’t have been crossed. If we don’t find a way to shut that place down, I’ll take care of the problem myself by declaring war.”
Spike was deadly serious. This wasn’t even about revenge - not entirely. He’d meant it earlier when he’d said that humans had just as much right to kill demons as demons had to kill humans. But humans didn’t have the right to use demons as lab rats, altering them chemically or electronically until they weren’t demons any more.
Xander closed his eyes, taking a deep, steadying breath and Spike watched him worriedly, wondering if he’d gone too far. But Xander’s eyes were filled with determination and anger when they finally looked at him again.
“I’m with you, Spike.” There wasn’t the slightest hesitation or doubt in his voice or eyes. “They aren’t making any distinctions between demons. They can’t justify keeping fifty demons prisoner because twenty of them are dangerous and they’re too lazy or stupid to know the difference. Next week, it could be Mr. Olsen, or Sgt Morgan, or Oz being held prisoner and experimented on. We have to shut them down.”