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
As they stepped out of the crumbling high school and into the night air, Spike shrugged off Xander’s supporting arm, not wanting to appear injured or in need of help in case anyone was watching. He scanned the area for threats and relaxed slightly when he sensed no trace of anyone else in the immediate vicinity. Breaking his own rule about smoking around Xander, he reached into his pocket for his cigarettes and lighter and lit up, taking a deep steadying drag, letting the warm, nicotine flavored smoke fill his empty lungs and calm him.
The Slayer knew. Or if she didn’t, she would soon. If she hadn’t figured it out for herself from what had just happened, her boy toy would be happy to fill her in on the details. Let her know that, in a fight with humans, ‘Hostile 17’ was weaker than the most pathetic day-old minion. Spike felt the impotent fury that he had struggled to control since his escape from the underground cell boiling up inside him again.
He took another deep drag, yellow eyes glaring into the night as his thoughts raced. He and the Slayer had a working relationship and he wasn’t worried about her attacking him but it stung that she knew about his weakness. She was close to being his equal, a fellow warrior, and it was humiliating that she knew that he had been taken out of the game so far as the soldiers went. She would regard him with contempt, with ridicule, or worse, with pity. Warriors judged each other based on strength and the Slayer would see him as weak now, an unreliable ally, unable to carry his fair share in a fight.
Scowling, Spike thought about what to do now, grateful for Xander’s continued silence as he walked beside him, giving Spike the time he needed to think. His options were non-existent. He couldn’t leave town - his only chance in finding out what had been done to him was with the people who had done it. He knew the face of one of his enemies now, a name, a lead to pursue, but what good did it do him when he couldn’t force them to tell him what they knew?
Should he even return to the factory? The Slayer knew where they lived. If she had let it slip to her boy toy, they could have soldiers at their apartment by dawn. That would put Xander in danger and expose Spike’s vulnerability to the Court, which would be fatal one way or another. He didn’t think the Slayer would deliberately put Xander in danger, but she didn’t always think things through and certainly not when she was in love. Angelus was unliving proof of that.
Xander broke his long silence and Spike was glad for the chance to focus on something other than his own uselessly circling thoughts. “Yeah, luv?”
Xander’s brows were knit together and he looked beyond worried, almost frantic. Only the fact that Spike had been lost in his own thoughts had kept him from sensing how nervous Xander was becoming.
“We shouldn’t go back to the apartment.” Spike smiled involuntarily, Xander’s thoughts had paralleled his own exactly. “Angel’s mansion is out since Buffy knows about it and the same goes for any of my friends, plus we can’t lead the soldiers to anyone not fully human. We should hole up tonight in a crypt and figure out what we’re going to do.”
“Bit over the top, don’t you think, luv?” It surprised him that Xander was that worried about the Slayer telling her soldier everything. Personally, he didn’t think she would have, not deliberately. Spike was more worried about what she might have let slip accidentally than that she would deliberate sell them out.
“No, I don’t,” Xander answered flatly. He pulled out his cell phone and held it up in demonstration. “We’re dealing with the government, Spike. If Buffy’s boyfriend tells his superiors about you, it won’t take long for them to figure out that pulling Buffy’s phone records will lead them to me. What if they can trace the phone itself?”
Spike plucked the cell phone out of Xander’s hand and crushed it effortlessly, dropping the splintered pieces on the ground. “Problem solved.” He did the same with his own phone, the one Xander had bullied him into carrying everywhere after the week Spike had been held prisoner.
Xander gave him an exasperated look. “I wish it was that easy. You don’t exist officially in this town, Spike, but I do. My work; I’ve used both Giles’ apartment and my office as a mailing address, if they want to, they can find me. I don’t want to put you at risk, Spike. All it would take is one person following me back to the factory…”
“Xander, stop.” Spike needed to put an end to this because Xander’s next move was going to be saying he needed to leave to keep Spike safe. He flicked away his cigarette and put both hands on Xander’s shoulders, shaking him slightly until Xander looked at him, the first traces of panic lurking in the back of his brown eyes. “Only two humans in town know where our apartment is and they won’t betray you. Think about it, luv. The soldiers have been working this town for at least a couple of months, that base of theirs has been under construction for a lot longer, maybe years. You don’t build something like that overnight, especially in such complete secrecy that no word gets out. They’ve been planning this for a long time. If they had any idea what they’re doing, they’d have twigged the location of the Court a long time ago.”
The incipient panic in Xander’s eyes retreated under the weight of Spike’s logic and Spike moved his thumbs soothingly, the right one stroking over his Claim scar. Even
through the material of Xander’s shirt, he could sense how faded the mark had become since he’d been unable to renew it and that thought added fuel to the anger still burning barely checked inside him. It felt like things were slipping away from him: Xander, his status as Master, his control over his Territory, and it was all he could do not to scream his fury into the night skies.
With an effort, he kept his voice reassuring and his touch gentle. “The soldiers aren’t trying to get information out of the demons they’re taking prisoner, Xander. Bloody idiots don’t give us credit for having enough intelligence even to be worth interrogating. We’re fine where we’re at. If they knew where the Court was, they would have tried to take it out already. Too many vampires living there for them to resist.”
Xander closed his eyes, his hands moving up to grip Spike’s arms as he leaned his forehead against Spike’s and stayed that way for a long moment. Spike waited, his own hands steady and comforting on Xander’s shoulders, until Xander’s heartbeat steadied and he lifted his head, his brown eyes calm and resolved. “What do we do now?”
“We go home.” He overrode Xander’s protest firmly. “Not running from those gits, luv. Not tuckin’ my tail between my legs and giving them the victory. If they want me, they’re going to have to come for me.” Still in his true face, his lips quirked up in a smile that held nothing of humor in it. “We’ll see what those blighters can do against nearly a hundred vampires.”
Xander’s jaw tightened and he nodded slowly, accepting Spike’s decision. Spike flung an arm around his boy’s shoulders and started walking home. Whatever was coming, they’d meet it side by side. This time, he wasn’t going to even try talking Xander into staying out of it.
“Xander, I’m so sorry. I swear, I only found out that Riley was one of the soldiers the night before last. We ran into each other on patrol when I was fighting the Volvo demon.” He shot her an exasperated look. Buffy’s habit of renaming demons to something easier to say didn’t exactly clarify her references, and she explained quickly: “the one stealing the bones of the child from the crypt.”
He suspected he wasn’t looking either amused or patient and she hurried on. “Anyway, Riley was out on patrol for the Initiative and saw me. He could tell I wasn’t just your average co-ed being attacked and he was wearing his soldier suit so everything kind of came out.”
“You should have told us,” he said accusingly. That was the thing he’d kept coming back to all night. Why hadn’t Buffy told them she knew one of the mysterious soldiers?
“I was going to,” she insisted. “But - Giles hurt, world ending - there wasn’t time. I never expected Riley to show up at the school and see you and Spike.”
Fair enough, there really hadn’t been much time and they had been in the middle of at least a minor apocalypse, but still… “So, what? Were you hoping we could all just be friends?” That came out more sarcastically than she probably deserved
She gave him a tired look. “Xander, when we first met, I thought you were a complete loser.”
“Gee, thanks. And this is relevant, how?”
“Shut up and listen. You were running around, getting in everyone’s way, insisting on learning about demons and making friends with the scariest vampire in town. But, if you hadn’t gotten to know Spike and Mr. Olsen, I don’t know if we would have survived Angel losing his soul or Graduation.” Her eyes met his earnestly. “It taught me something. I’m not naïve enough to think that Spike and Riley could ever be friends but maybe we can be allies.” She gave him a lopsided smile. “After all, you made it work for me and Spike when we hated each other.”
It wasn’t the same and it worried him that she didn’t see that. He didn’t doubt Buffy’s sincerity. She was practically wringing her hands she was so upset, but he had less confidence in where she stood in this war. He didn’t think that she would deliberately hurt Spike but she had been too much on the fence about the soldiers’ activities to make him sure about which way she would jump if it came to a choice between Spike and her boyfriend and his group.
Biting back the words he wanted to say, he settled for information. “The Initiative?” he asked pointedly, wanting to learn as much as possible about what she knew.
He’d rolled out of bed first thing this morning and left the apartment, calling Buffy from the phone booth at the donut shop halfway across town. He knew he was probably being paranoid, but he wasn’t taking any chances on her phone being tapped. He didn’t care how rude it was to call someone at 6:30 in the morning on a Saturday: he wanted an explanation of just what the hell Buffy thought she was doing and he wasn’t about to wait for a civilized hour. It was obvious that Buffy had been expecting the call, she’d agreed to meet him without a word of protest about the early hour. Twenty minutes later, they’d met on the lawn in front of the library, the area deserted at this time of the morning, giving them privacy and open space around them to be sure they wouldn’t be overheard.
Now Buffy just shrugged in answer to his question. “That’s what they call themselves but that’s about all I got out of him. He wouldn’t tell me anything else, he just kept saying it was classified. I think the only reason he told me that was because he thought it would be less conspicuous than having me keep calling them ‘the Monster Squad’.”
“How hard did you try?”
“I didn’t beat him up, if that’s what you’re asking,” she said flatly. “Xander, he’s a good guy and the Initiative are demon hunters, just like me. I really thought if we could all sit down and talk, we could work something out. I still think that. If Riley has a chance to get to know you and Spike, he’ll understand that the Initiative needs to be more careful, that all demons aren’t the same, that they don’t all deserve to be killed on sight.”
Xander scowled, not liking the emphasis she put on the word “all”. “He’s a Nazi, Buffy. You don’t talk to Nazis, you fight them or you might as well join them.”
“He’s not a Nazi,” she flared.
“His group wants to exterminate demons, Buffy. They’re experimenting on them in that underground base of theirs without the slightest interest in sorting out who’s guilty and who’s not. They’re doing it because they’re not human and not for any other reason.”
“Riley’s a soldier, not a scientist. There’s no way he’s part of any experiments. He’s fighting demons just like I do,” she repeated. “They’re amateurs and they’re screwing up but that doesn’t make them Nazis. If you give them a chance, I think we could be allies,” she said persuasively. “We have a lot of the same goals. The Initiative is just trying to control the threat demons pose. I know they’ve made mistakes but we can teach them, show them that there are a lot of demons they don’t have to worry about. And frankly, we could use the help. You know how close it’s been sometimes - the Master, the Mayor, the Sisterhood of Jhe - We could have lost any of those battles and been responsible for the world ending. We could have used a bunch of trained, heavily armed soldiers as back up.”
The anxiety that she hid so well most of the time, the fear that she wouldn’t be good enough, strong enough, fast enough to stop the latest threat was showing openly for once. Buffy had had the weight of the world on her shoulders since she was 15 and sometimes that burden came close to crushing her. How tempting it must be for her to see a chance to share the burden with an official group assigned to help her. Volunteers could disappear as fast as they had signed up, friends could die or move away, but the government would be there.
Which just went to show that Buffy was a little too enamored with the idea of having professional backup to have taken ten minutes to think this through. Xander rubbed his eyes tiredly, he hadn’t had enough sleep to cope with this conversation. He’d spent most of the night staring at the ceiling, aware of Spike lying equally awake beside him, unable to sleep because of the gnawing anxiety that Spike wouldn’t survive the looming confrontation with the soldiers.
“Do you really think the military is ever going to see this as anything other than a war? Us against them?”
“When Riley has time to think it over for awhile…” she began, then hesitated. “I admit, he’s pretty upset right now but I know him. He’ll think things through and see how this will benefit all of us.” Buffy chewed her lip, her gaze falling from Xander’s for the first time as she looked away uncomfortably. “I… I know what they did to Spike, Xander. That he can’t hurt humans now.” He took a half step forward and she held up a hand to stop him. “I don’t know what they did exactly or how to reverse it, Riley went all classified on me when I asked. I didn’t know. Honestly, I didn’t take that part of Spike’s story very seriously.” Her gaze swung back to him suddenly, her eyes intent. “It would have helped if I’d known what really happened,” she said, her voice just short of accusing.
“Spike didn’t want anyone to know,” Xander said unapologetically.
“So, that’s it? If Spike doesn’t want us to know something, you don’t tell us? It could have made a difference. Xander.”
“We made the decision not to tell anyone together. I wouldn’t have allowed it to endanger anyone,” Xander said flatly, refusing to feel any guilt. He’d already considered this from every angle and he wasn’t going to second guess their decision now.
“Xander, if I had known, it would have changed things.”
“How?” he challenged. “You knew the Initiative was experimenting on demons, we even told you they’d made a vampire unable to hurt humans.”
“You didn’t tell me it was Spike.”
And that was the answer. Buffy made exceptions for the people in her circle but not for anyone outside it. An anonymous vampire wasn’t going to arouse any sympathy but Spike would have. Buffy hadn’t cared about the imprisonment and experimentation in anything more than an abstract way because she didn’t know anyone who’d been affected. Or thought she hadn’t. If she’d known it was Spike they’d experimented on, she would have been more concerned.
“Well, now you know. Do you think Riley is going to tell us how to fix it?” he demanded, already knowing the answer. He read the answer in her eyes before she looked away again.
“I don’t know,” she said after a long moment and Xander’s jaw tightened, looking down at her bent head and averted gaze. Spike hadn’t said anything but Xander knew he’d hated the fact that Buffy now knew what had been done to him. As the Slayer, Buffy tended to see things in coldly practical terms: could it help her do her job? If the answer was yes, the person or thing got a lot of attention and respect. When the answer was no, she tended to be dismissive. She’d lost a lot of that attitude with the start of college. She had a lot of friends now that didn’t know she was the Slayer and a lot more freedom from the nightly routine of patrolling. With Willow in England and Xander a townie, she’d had to reach beyond her small circle of insiders for friends. As just Buffy, she was a lot less judgmental and accepting than she was as the Slayer.
He shook his head, this wasn’t getting him anywhere. And right now, he needed the Slayer’s cold calculation of risks, not Buffy’s longing for a normal life complete with Teutonic boyfriend.
“Why do you think they’re doing it?”
“What?” Buffy looked up at him, confused by the non-sequitor.
“Why do you think the Initiative is trying to control demons?” he spelled out.
“To stop them from hurting people, of course.” Buffy said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“Really? You think the government is going to spends thousands, maybe tens of thousands of dollars on every two-bit vamp when it takes a twenty cent piece of wood to solve the problem permanently?” Xander shook his head in disbelief. “Why would they bother? What are they going to do with the vampires when they’re through with them - get them jobs as night watchmen? Use your head, Buffy. The government isn’t doing these experiments because they’re trying to reform demons and turn them into upstanding, tax paying citizens. They’re testing hardware on live subjects that no one cares about, that’s the only explanation that makes sense. So the real question is, who or what are they really trying to control and what exactly are they trying to get those people to do for them?”
Buffy stared at him, disbelief slowly turning to doubt in her eyes. “You think they’re planning on using what they learn on people?”
“Maybe. Or maybe they’re trying to learn how to control demons so they can turn them into assassins or something.”
Buffy shook her head, like she was trying to reject what he was saying. “Come on, Xander. You’re sounding like you’ve watched too many episodes of the X-Files.”
“Then explain it to me. What did your boyfriend tell you about what he was doing that could explain what they’ve done to Spike? Why they would even want to do that to him?”
“He didn’t tell me anything really,” she admitted. “He can’t, it’s classified. But, Xander, you’re wrong. I know Riley. He wouldn’t be part of something like you’re talking about. He wouldn’t hurt peaceful demons, not if he knew they were harmless, much less humans.”
“How well can you possibly know him, Buffy? He’s been lying to you the entire time you’ve known him.”
“And I’ve been lying to him. It’s not like I told him I was the Slayer. Riley is a TA in my Psych class and I’ve known him since the first day of classes. I know him, Xander.”
“Buffy, it’s not the same thing. You’re a person who happens to be the Slayer. You don’t talk about what you do because you can’t. He’s a soldier, not a civilian. You know his cover, not him.”
“You’re wrong, Xander. It is the same. I’m the Slayer. That’s who I am all the time. I lie to everyone because I have to, but that doesn’t mean people who don’t know I’m the Slayer don’t know what kind of person I am.”
“Maybe,” he said grudgingly, not really convinced. “But you don’t imprison demons and experiment on them. He may not be doing it himself but he knows its happening.”
Buffy looked uncomfortable and Xander could tell that that had hit home. There was a long silence and Xander became aware that the area was no longer as deserted. Early morning joggers, no one jogged after sunset or before the sun was fully up in Sunnydale, were passing by on the sidewalks and customers were coming and going from the bakery across the street.
“What do we do now?” she asked finally.
“You tell me. What’s Riley’s position on you knowing ‘Hostile 17’,” he used the soldier’s term bitterly.
“I’m not sure. He said he needed time to think. I told him that Spike has been helping me and that he doesn’t kill humans, and hasn’t for a long time, because of you.” She hesitated. “I don’t think they knew that Spike could still hurt demons,” she said, making an apologetic gesture. “Sorry. He asked how Spike could possibly still help me and I told him about the Gentlemen. Apparently, whatever they did to Spike was supposed to make him unable to hurt “any living thing” as he put it.”
Xander clenched his fists, fighting against the rage that flooded him at Buffy’s words. What they’d done to Spike was bad enough but it was understandable if the plan was to make a vampire harmless to humans. The idea that their actual goal had been to make Spike completely helpless against everything filled him with an inchoate fury that left him shaking with the need to strike out. It was clear the soldiers didn’t view Spike or any of their other captives as anything other than vicious animals that they had carte blanche to treat however they pleased.
Whether through malfunction or oversight, Spike had escaped that fate by the skin of his teeth. Without that bit of luck, Spike would have been left helpless, prey to every demon in town that wanted to take down the Master of the Hellmouth. That thought hardened the resolve in Xander’s heart. The Initiative had to be stopped. Spike was right, they couldn’t leave town. They were going to find out what had been done to Spike and fix it, then they were going to bring their underground base down around their ears.
Nothing had really been resolved. Buffy promised to keep them posted on anything she learned and Xander hoped she hadn’t just dismissed his concerns. With luck, Buffy would think about what he’d said and not hurry to jump on the Initiative bandwagon.
They’d parted on good terms and Xander just hoped it would stay that way. He really didn’t want to have to fight Buffy for all sorts of practical, as well as personal, reasons. He supposed it was possible that she could bring her boyfriend around but he was skeptical. Riley had seemed awfully by-the-book even in the two minutes of acquaintance they’d had. He might be a good guy but Xander wasn’t willing to bet he didn’t accept the government’s position that all demons were to be killed. He’d sure sounded like a true believer with his ‘dangerous animal’ remark.
It was almost 8 now and Giles tended to be an early riser. Xander turned his steps in the direction of the familiar apartment. He wanted to check that Giles was ok. The Watcher was tough but the Vahrall demon had left him fairly battered and between the surprise of finding out Buffy was dating one of the soldiers and Spike’s destruction of their cell phones, there hadn’t been a chance to check on him. Plus, the walk across town would give him a chance to cool the anger that still raged inside him. He didn’t want to lose the anger but he needed to control it until he could turn it loose on the Initiative.
Arriving at the apartment, he knocked quietly, belatedly realizing that Giles might be sleeping in given that he’d been injured yesterday. After a short pause, he heard movement inside and the door swung open.
“Hi…,” he broke off in surprise. “You’re not Giles.”
“No, I’m not.” The man was short and slender, with curly dark hair, an English accent and the wickedly sparkling eyes of an imp. “Ripper is a bit under the weather this morning, maybe you’d do better to come back later. Tomorrow, perhaps.”
“How is he?” Xander tried peering around the man to see into the apartment but the door wasn’t open far enough.
“He’ll survive. Ripper always does.”
Ripper. The name struck an uneasy chord in Xander. He’d heard someone calling Giles that before. The memory was hazy, accompanied by feelings of mild revulsion and strong embarrassment. Oh. Mrs. Summers had called Giles that while under the influence of the Band Candy. That was not a good association and it worried him that this guy was using the name. He’d never asked Giles, and certainly not Mrs. Summers, about the nickname. As far as he’d been concerned, the quicker they all forgot that night the better.
“How do you know Giles?” he asked suspiciously, casually wedging his foot in the door so it couldn’t be closed unexpectedly. The man blocking the door was making him decidedly uneasy and he wasn’t leaving until he was sure Giles was ok. The man saw the gesture and smirked knowingly.
“Oh, Ripper and I go way back,” he said, his voice filled with suggestive overtones.
“Ethan?” Giles’ voice sounded from inside the apartment. “Who is it?”
“He hasn’t introduced himself,” the man answered provokingly, not taking his eyes off Xander.
“It’s me, Giles,” Xander called inside. “Is everything ok?”
“Yes, Xander. Come in.”
Xander narrowed his eyes challengingly at the man, who hesitated, then shrugged, opening the door wider and stepping back.
Giles was on the couch, looking pale and tired, bandages covering the side of his face and disappearing beneath his shirt collar. “Hello, Xander.”
He perched on the chair across from Giles, acutely aware of the stranger’s presence, hovering nearby as if he didn’t want to leave the two of them alone. Xander suspected he was doing it on purpose. There was an air about the stranger as if he enjoyed causing trouble. “How are you feeling.”
“A bit like I was surprised by a Vahrall demon,” Giles said with a slight smile. “I daresay I’ll survive.”
Xander shot a surprised look at the stranger and Giles lifted an unconcerned hand. “Don’t worry about Ethan. He is quite aware of the world of demons. One might almost call him an expert.” There was more than a hint of censure in his voice and Xander looked between the two men, wondering what was going on.
“Careful, Ripper, that was almost a compliment.” The man settled down on the other end of the couch from Giles, cocking his head at Xander. “And who is this young man who you talk so casually about demons to?”
“Sorry. Xander, this is Ethan Rayne, and old…acquaintance. Ethan, this is Xander Harris, a young student of mine.”
Ethan Rayne lifted a suggestive eyebrow. “As you were once a pupil of mine, Ripper? How…intriguing.”
A wave of color flooded Giles’ face and Xander’s eyebrows shot up. “Nothing like that, Ethan,” Giles said sharply. “I’ll thank you to keep such insinuations to yourself.”
“My, my, Ripper. How stuffy and proper you’ve become. Pity.”
“Do I want to know what’s going on?” Xander asked. “Because if you’re all right, Giles, I can go. Really.” He could tell Giles about Buffy’s new boyfriend another time. Easily.
“Actually, Xander, what Ethan has to say concerns you as well. If you don’t mind, why don’t you stay and listen.” He sent a sharp look in Ethan’s direction. “Ethan will behave.” Somehow, despite the bandages and the pallor, Xander had no doubt about Giles’ ability to enforce that.
He turned his attention to the stranger, studying him. The man had assumed a more serious demeanor at Giles’ warning but he still looked put out, as if explaining something to a teenager was beneath him. Seeing Xander’s scrutiny, the man gave Xander an assessing look of his own. “So, you’re a student of the dark arts?”
“No. I study demons with Giles, not magic,” Xander returned flatly. The man couldn’t seem to help the insinuations wrapped around every word he uttered. Giles rolled his eyes but didn’t say anything.
“Tell me you’re not recruiting this boy into the Watchers, Ripper. Look what that bloody group has done to you.”
“Just get on with it, Ethan.” Giles closed his eyes wearily and leaned his head back. Ethan shot him a worried look before he saw Xander watching and the mocking amusement returned to his gaze.
“Something happening in the dark worlds, young man. Something's harming demons and it's not the Slayer. Know anything about it?”
Xander didn’t know what he’d been expecting but it wasn’t that. “I’ve heard rumors,” he said cautiously.
“Oh yes, there’s plenty of those around,” Ethan confirmed, looking interested that Xander had heard anything at all. “Demons are scared. The kind of scared that turns to angry. There’s a new outfit operating in town and it's blundering into new places it doesn't belong. It's throwing the worlds out of balance. And that's way beyond chaos, mate. We're headed quite literally for one hell of a fight.”
The man’s words paralleled Spike’s so closely that Xander could only stare at him dumbly, unable to utter a word. The fact that a human - he assumed Giles would have told him if the man wasn’t human - thought a race war was coming was a confirmation of his worst fears.
*A/N - Bits of dialog borrowed from the episode ‘A New Man’