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
WARNING: THIS CHAPTER CONTAINS EXPLICIT VIOLENCE, plus some swearing
Previous parts here
Xander neatly stowed his tools in the on-site storage building for the night. The familiar sounds of the job site shutting down for the day surrounded him as he worked: car doors slamming, joking banter as people headed for the parking lot, one-sided conversations as others called home on their cell phones.
Being back at work had helped everything settle down, as if he unconsciously felt that nothing could be too crazy if he was still getting up and going to work, and he was so glad that Spike had insisted. The concentration needed for the detail finishing work he was doing kept him from constantly worrying over what to do about the multitude of problems facing them and the on-going danger to Spike from the military goons.
He’d called Buffy on his morning break both yesterday and today, catching her between classes and getting reports on the previous night’s patrol. Nothing that seemed to fit Doyle’s warning had been spotted but they had caught glimpses of soldiers around town several times and Xander could only assume they were still looking for Spike. Both nights, Buffy and her patrol partner had steered clear of the soldiers, shifting immediately to a different part of town as soon as they saw them, not wanting to risk the soldiers finding out that the person accompanying the attractive blonde was a little less than fully human. Xander was just glad they were being so cautious. The last thing they needed were more of their friends disappearing.
Snapping the storage shed’s lock closed and double-checking it, he waved at Jim and Rick and turned down their invitation to join them for a beer. Spike had been patrolling the territory every night and the early evening was the only time they had together.
It was driving him quietly insane, letting Spike leave every night without protest, knowing that his lover wasn’t just risking danger, he was actively seeking it out. Oh, Spike wasn’t taking on the soldiers - Spike knew all too well that was a lost cause right now. But Spike seemed driven by a need to prove himself, to show everyone that he was still the same bad-ass he’d always been. The problem was, Spike was mostly proving it to himself. Spike hadn’t known what fear was for over a century and he was not dealing well with having been reintroduced to it now. Both his pride and self-confidence had been shaken to their foundations and, no matter how much he hated it, Xander knew he had to let Spike find them again in his own way. Even if that meant Spike risking his life every night, looking for trouble.
His cell phone rang and he checked the display, frowning when he saw it was Buffy. He’d talked to her only a few hours ago and that made him wonder if something had happened.
“Hey, Buffy,” he greeted, “What’s up?”
“You up for some detective work?”
Ok, that wasn’t what he’d expected. “What kind?”
“The kind where we break the law by crossing police lines trying to find out if we should let the police do their job or if it’s my job.”
“Professor Gerhardt from the anthropology department was murdered last night.”
“Not wanting to sound callous, because murder is bad, but why is that your problem?”
“Among other things, her ear was cut off,” she reported and Xander winced. Yeah, that image wasn’t going away soon.
“Ok, gross, but it still sounds like a police thing to me.”
“I think so, too but Giles wants me to check it out and find out if it’s a normal sicko or something a little more demonic.”
“Why does a missing ear make it demonic?” Off hand, Xander couldn’t think of any demons that had a thing for ears. “I’m still kind of stuck on gross.”
“Professor Gerhardt was the one responsible for the new Cultural Center, you know, the one you weaseled your way out of working on so I couldn’t make fun of you when I walked by the site on my way to class.” Xander could hear her grin.
“My boss needed me here.” Xander felt a surge of pride even as he said it. His boss had really been pleased when Xander had called him and told him he was coming back to work. The guys on the crew had also been glad to have him back and it was great to be appreciated. Getting back to the subject, he asked: “You said ‘other things’?”
“Yeah. Her body was found in the old mission you guys dug up.”
“Hmm. A little weirder but that’s what anthropology people do, right? Poke around in ruined buildings someone dug up by accident?” And boy he’d been disappointed to learn that it was just an old church not a military base they’d stumbled over. For one moment, hearing the news anchor talk about the ‘surprising discovery’ under the UC Sunnydale campus, he’d thought the construction crew really had dug up the military base and their troubles were over. Covert ops types tended to relocate when accidentally exposed in front of television cameras. Pity that all John had fallen into was the crumbling remains of an old mission.
“They don’t usually get murdered and have parts of their bodies hacked off after they’re dead.” Buffy sounded like she was trying to convince herself that this wasn’t just a waste of her time. “So anyway, I’m going to poke around tonight and see if I can find anything.”
“Sounds like lots of fun. And I would go along because…?”
“Because you’re bored?” Buffy suggested hopefully.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever been that bored. What exactly will you be looking for?”
“Clues, I guess.” Buffy sounded vague. “I think Giles is mostly just still wigging about Doyle’s warning and jumping at shadows. I mean, didn’t Jack the Ripper cut off someone’s ear? Like you said, it’s disgusting but unfortunately human.”
“Wasn’t it Van Gogh who did the ear job?”
“Van Gogh did that to himself. I’m pretty sure Professor Gerhardt’s in the clear on this one.” Buffy was silent for a second and Xander could almost see her little grimace. “Sorry, that came out a bit more insensitive than I intended. It’s been a hard week.”
“I can imagine.” Between Angel being in town and personalized warnings from beyond, Buffy had to be stressing. “I don’t know what I can do, but if you need a second pair of eyes, I’m happy to tag along.” He was lying through his teeth about the happy part because if he went, Spike would insist on going with them, and he really didn’t want Spike getting on anyone else’s radar and violating crime scenes was probably a good way to do that. Spike and the Sunnydale police were just not a good combination.
“No, it’s ok. Like I said, it’s been a bad week. I just needed to bitch to someone. Much as I appreciate a warning, this one is so vague it’s not helping at all.” That was sure true. Xander liked Doyle, he seemed like a good guy, but frankly the Lost in Space robot’s “Danger, Will Robinson” had been a more useful warning than Doyle’s vision. At least the robot only said it when the danger was two seconds from attacking.
“You sure? Seriously, if you need me, I’ll be there.”
“One person is probably better than a crowd,” Buffy said judiciously. “But I’m counting on you for bail money if I need it.”
“You got it. Be careful. Call me when you get back, would you?” He was spending enough time worrying about Spike, he didn’t need to worry about Buffy too. Although, he was pretty sure she was mostly at risk of being busted by the police. Dead Anthropology professors seemed pretty mundane, not the kind of thing that lead to mystic warnings from beyond.
“Will do,” Buffy promised cheerfully and hung up.
Xander looked around the dining room, at the white tablecloth and the candles and the little pilgrim dolls that Buffy had set on the table with such loving hands. The rich aromas of roasted turkey and homemade gravy filled the air and Giles and Mrs. Summers were presiding over their motley collection of charges like proud parents. He’d never seen a Thanksgiving like this outside of tv shows. For as long as he could remember, Thanksgivings at his house had consisted of his mother plunking a frozen turkey dinner down in front of each person at the table. On the rare occasion when someone like his Uncle Rory joined them, the alcohol flowed freely during the inevitable football games on tv and, more often than not, the evening ended in a loud argument.
Angel’s people had stayed in town at Mrs. Summers’ insistence, and they were all seated around the table now, laughter and the tangled snippets of multiple conversations filling the room. Xander smiled as he watched Doyle shamelessly flirting with Cordy, who had chosen to have dinner with them rather than endure the dismal atmosphere at her parents’ house. Earlier tonight, she’d told Xander that her father had lost all his money and her parents’ marriage was disintegrating as a result. She’d put a brave face on the situation, as if it really had nothing to do with her, but she hadn’t quite been able to hide the fear and uncertainty in her eyes. Xander had to give her credit; she’d had more money than she could possibly spend - and that was saying a lot for Queen C - all her life and now she was starting over in Los Angeles, without the comfortable safety net her father’s money had always provided. Although she insisted she was just temping with Angel until the right acting job came along, Xander could see the bonds of friendship that were already knitting the unlikely group together. Xander grinned, listening as Doyle called Cordelia “Princess”. Doyle had his work cut out for him if he hoped to date Cordelia but he was making her laugh and it looked like there wasn’t enough of that in her life these days.
Wesley had been amazing this past week. He’d spent days wading through volumes of California history, reading about the Chumash Indians and had done more than anyone else to figure out what was happening: that the accidental discovery of the old Sunnydale mission had released a vengeful Chumash spirit trapped inside.
He looked down the table at Spike, glad to see that he was talking with Mrs. Summers and finally seemed to be enjoying this patched together dinner/welcome home/survival celebration. Mrs. Summers had diplomatically seated Spike and Angel as far apart as possible but that hadn’t stopped Spike from glaring at his Sire, although it had cut down on the number of cutting remarks Spike could make. Spike was furious with Angel for “forgetting” to call him to let him know that the big fight was happening. Personally, Xander didn’t mind having missed the ridiculous showdown. Ok, potentially lethal but any fight involving a dozen spirit warriors, a bear, and a lot of crawling around on the floor to avoid arrows had a certain ludicrousness to it that Xander was just as happy to have not had to participate in. Cordelia was still complaining about the damage to her sweater from a close miss with a knife and Doyle had kept them all laughing as he described his attempts to take out an unkillable spirit with a shovel. Xander found himself grinning again as he pictured it: Doyle flailing away, repeatedly knocking down a guy who just kept getting up again. He’d have to remind Spike that it wasn’t exactly a fight that would go down in the record books for style.
Xander’s gaze lingered on Angel, who was regarding the plate of food in front of him dubiously, gingerly poking at it with his fork like he had no idea what to do with mashed potatoes and string beans. Why had Angel “forgotten” to call them? Xander didn’t buy Angel’s explanation that he’d gotten distracted trying to get to Buffy in time and simply forgotten to make the call. He couldn’t help wondering if Angel suspected that something had happened to Spike. It seemed unlikely - Spike had pounded on Angel without any difficulty the first night he was back. Spike himself hadn’t realized that what they’d done to him only applied to humans until later on, so how could Angel have figured it out?
No one else seemed to have any suspicion that anything was wrong. For which Xander was both grateful and guilty. Buffy certainly didn’t. She was treating them both normally: snarking at Spike and talking casually with Xander about her classes and the guy she’d just begun dating. When Spike had been missing, Buffy had known Xander wasn’t interested in trivial stuff and she’d stuck to the issues at hand. Giles, too, had reverted to his normal self, no longer giving Xander sympathetic looks and awkward reassurance. No, as far as he could tell, everyone was treating them normally.
Still… If anyone was going to figure it out, it was Angel. Angel had known Spike longer and better than anyone and had those damn vampire senses. Spike was trying to behave normally but he was seething with suppressed rage and had no outlet for it. He was still going out every night, finding some comfort in killing the largest, most dangerous demons he could find. If Angel had deliberately kept them out of the fight this week because he was protecting Spike, Xander was grateful. But he was also glad that Angel and company were going home tomorrow. He really appreciated that Angel had come when he’d asked, and he’d enjoyed seeing Wesley and Cordelia again but he selfishly admitted he was glad they were leaving. Spike was having enough problems dealing right now, the last thing they needed was for Angel to figure out what had happened.
Spike already wasn’t being careful, he was deliberately seeking out the largest, most dangerous demons he could find and challenging them to fights. Worse, the soldiers were out in force, apparently still hunting for Spike. They’d been spotted several times by the doubled patrols that had gone out every night until they’d discovered that the murder of the professor was the danger Doyle’s vision had predicted. Xander was just grateful that so far he’d woken each morning to find that Spike had come home and was in their bed, relatively unscathed. He would wrap his arms around Spike, holding him and thanking whoever was listening for bringing Spike home safely.
Spike gave up on the factory district and headed for the nearest cemetery. He hadn’t been to Shady Hill in a couple days, maybe something would turn up there.
He’d gone out hunting most nights since his escape from the soldiers, driven by the need to vent his frustrations and to remind himself that he wasn’t completely crippled. The Slayer had complained half-heartedly that he was doing her job for her and the demons who were backing her up had done the same, but he didn’t care.
Xander had been telling his demon friends to lie low until they knew more about what the soldiers were up to, and pushing the ones who patrolled for the Slayer to stop for awhile, especially now that they’d figured out the half-breed warning and the number of people patrolling had dropped back down to their normal level. His boy was worrying himself sick about anyone who went out hunting demons and put themselves at risk. Xander had even had a talk with the Slayer about how exactly she was going to prove she was human if someone saw her using her Slayer skills to fight demons. As concerned as he was about the Slayer and his demons friends, it wasn’t a 10th part of how much Xander worried whenever Spike left the safety of their apartment. It showed in his eyes, in the casual “be careful” that was the last thing Spike heard every time he left the apartment. Xander’s knuckles might show white from his convulsive grip on whatever he was holding and his whole body be rigid with carefully-hidden tension whenever Spike left, but he never asked Spike not to go, knowing, without Spike ever having to tell him, how much Spike needed to be out patrolling his territory.
After the first few nights, Spike had taken to going out well after midnight, after the Slayer and her sidekicks had gone home. He was out later even than the soldiers who, like the Slayer, seemed to do most of their work in the early part of the evening judging from the fact that Spike hadn’t had so much of a glimpse of them even though Xander reported that the Slayer had spotted them several times while on patrol. Leaving Xander asleep in their bed, and avoiding awkward leave-takings, Spike would leave the apartment in the wee hours, restlessly patrolling his territory and seeking out fights until dawn threatened.
Even in that, the soldiers were interfering. The territory was abnormally quiet: the demon bars mostly empty, all but the stupidest demons keeping a very low profile. The rumors Spike had been tracking before he’d learned first hand the reason for the disappearances in town had only grown in the intervening time. The peaceful demons were keeping their heads down, much more so than usual. Granted, Spike didn’t usually hunt every night, but the aggressive demons he sought were either making themselves scarce or had decided to visit the hellmouth some other time. All of which was bloody inconvenient for a Master Vampire actively looking for trouble.
Shady Hill wasn’t quiet and Spike felt a feral grin quirk his lips. There was an Entakkin demon gleefully tearing apart a crypt, tossing the stones around like they weighed nothing, and that was enough of an excuse for Spike.
Provoking a fight was as simple as a few pointed insults. The Entakkin were known for their hot tempers and within moments of first encountering it, Spike was concentrating on not getting his own ass kicked. Losing himself in the joy of battle, Spike spun and dodged and kicked, battering away at his opponent, rejoicing in the strength and speed of combat and the sharp-edged awareness that comes from the effort to survive and triumph over a stronger opponent.
The Entakkin was good. Larger and stronger than Spike, with tough scaled skin and a love of fighting that almost equaled Spike’s. Ducking under the blows the Entakkin was throwing, bouncing back to his feet when one of the blows connected, Spike taunted the creature, insulting its looks, its fighting prowess and its personal hygiene, relishing the anger he was provoking and letting his own bottled up rage and frustration come out with every blow he landed on the lizard-like skin.
The Entakkin swiped at him with a roundhouse swing, its claws glinting in the moonlight and Spike jumped back just in time. The blow missed him by a hair’s breadth and he laughed recklessly, launching a two-footed blow at the demon’s side as it opened itself up to him. His booted feet slammed into the thing’s side, the impact jarring his legs all the way up and knocking him off his feet, even as the Entakkin stumbled back several feet, only barely managing to remain upright. Spike bounced back upright, grinning like a madman as he spun around, aiming another kick at the creature.
This was more like it. This was strength pitted against greater strength, speed and skill against something with greater mass and a longer reach and the outcome in serious doubt. This was what he’d been seeking: a truly epic fight. One that would quell his own doubts and remind him of who he was. Let him know those bastards hadn’t taken anything from him he couldn’t take back.
Spike was panting like a human and both fighters were riding the edge of exhaustion, their blows coming more and more slowly as they both tired. The Entakkin was staggering, still on its feet and fighting but growing less and less coordinated as it tired. Its blows were increasingly going wild even though Spike’s own ability to dodge had slowed to little more than human levels. No longer bouncing back to his feet when the Entakkin connected with one of its massive paws, by now Spike was scrambling slowly and painfully upright, his ribs bright slashes of pain from a lucky blow that had slammed him back into a tree a few minutes earlier. Blood dripped from his arm where the claws had connected and his shirt hung in tatters, shredded by the razor-sharp tips of those same claws.
A wisp of… something shivered through him for a moment, and he shook his head sharply to clear it, forcing himself to focus. The Entakkin lumbered forward clumsily, clearly intent on overwhelming Spike by sheer mass and Spike stumbled backwards away from it, struggling to stay on his feet. The Entakkin snarled silently and mouthed what looked like curses.
Spike laughed. “Cat got your tongue?” he asked tauntingly, and almost got killed for his pains, completely distracted for an instant when no sound emerged from his throat as he spoke. Swearing silently, he threw himself down, under the reach of the massive arms, and rolled away ungracefully, tumbling over the uneven ground until he was clear, then pulling himself upright by means of a handy tree branch and cursing himself for an amateur for letting himself get distracted during a fight.
The Entakkin was looking surprised, still opening and closing its mouth uselessly, obviously trying to form words. It had backed away after its last failed attack and was watching Spike warily while it tried to force volume back into its voice. Spike growled silently and swung his full weight against the branch, breaking it off with a loud crack that was doubly loud in the artificial quiet. Roaring with silent fury, putting every once of his flagging energy into it, Spike charged the demon, bringing the branch down in a series of punishing blows, battering at the Entakkin until it dropped to its knees, shielding its head with its arms.
Spike heard the massive bones cracking under the force of his blows and snarled triumphantly, shifting the angle of his attack so that the punishing blows fell on the demon’s back and sides. A minute later, he stood panting over the limp body, only keeping himself from collapsing to the ground by leaning against the blood-soaked branch.
For a long moment, he did nothing but stand there, waiting for his strength to return and listening to the harsh rasp of air as his body reverted to old instincts for how to handle exhaustion. He straightened up at last, muscles trembling with fatigue and prodded the unmoving body at his feet. He tried to speak, to sneer his defiance at his defeated enemy one more time, but no sound emerged.
“Bloody hell,” he mouthed silently. “What the fuck is going on?”