Happy holidays all!
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
There were soldiers and technicians crawling all over the crypt. Watching from his vantage point a hundred yards away, Spike had at first wondered if the Watcher had gotten his dates wrong, but the soldiers were standing guard, most of their attention focused outward on the cemetery and not toward the crew working inside the crypt. They were there to prevent interruptions, not defending against a newly risen demon.
Lying motionless, full-length on the marble roof of a crypt, Spike had been watching for over an hour as the technicians went in and out, hauling equipment and lights. Bright light streamed from the interior of the crypt and the whole operation was surprisingly noisy as they broke through the stone floor and began digging underneath. Spike had been straining to hear what was being said over the noise the workers were making unearthing the demon before he was ready to rise. It was the middle of the night and the crypt they were interested in was deep inside Fairhaven Cemetery. Under cover of the hour and the remote location, the crew wasn’t making any effort at being discrete. They weren’t even being professional. He’d already overheard far more than he was interested in about one of the lab coats’ girlfriend’s excess spending habits and one of the laborer’s futile efforts to quit smoking.
It was with relief that he heard the excited exclamations of having reached their goal. The soldiers rearranged themselves, the majority moving inside the crypt and only a few remaining on guard outside. Spike considered moving closer but discarded the idea. He had a fairly good view from where he was and none of the closer crypts offered the cover and vantage of this one, especially with the bloody soldiers lighting up the joint like it was a disco.
Finally, the Initiative people stopped talking about their personal lives and started saying things worth hearing.
“Careful! Professor Walsh wants it undamaged.”
“No one said anything about moving a two-ton sarcophagus. We don’t have the equipment to move something that heavy. We’ll just have to open it and see what happens. B-Team, stand ready.”
“Everyone not involved in lifting - get back.”
The sound of stone grating on stone followed and Spike wondered idly whether the demon prince was going to sleep through his early wake up call. Demons that had a particular, mystically significant date for rising tended to be unwakeable before that date.
Pity. Here he was with a front row seat and the chances of mayhem were slim to none.
The whole operation was a huge anti-climax. The technicians succeeded in placing the slumbering demon into a large steel box without so much as a fluttering eyelid to alarm them. The humans chatted happily about how well the new sensors had performed in finding this spot and how pleased Professor Walsh was going to be with the night’s work. A crew remained behind to erase all traces of their work and Spike slipped away into the dark.
Once well clear of the area, Spike lit a cigarette and considered what he’d overheard. This Professor Walsh seemed to be in charge of the lab coats, which made sense. Civilians on the science side of things, Spike figured, and a military unit to back them up and do all the collecting/protecting. Probably a military commander at least nominally in charge of the base and the soldiers, but the mission directed by the civilian side. Given the base’s location on top of the college campus and the Slayer’s boy toy being a Teacher’s Assistant, it was likely a lot of the soldiers and lab coats had cover jobs on the campus. Shouldn’t be too difficult to find out if there was a Professor Walsh on campus.
The lab coats had been speculating about the demon’s physical makeup in a way that reminded Spike of the mad scientist movies from the 50’s that Xander sometimes watched. Like they couldn’t wait to get the demon back to their lab to dissect it. Too bloody scientific about their torture plans for Spike’s taste. You didn’t cut things to pieces to find out what made them tick, you did it because it was fun. There was just something unnatural about the whole business.
Probably the mysterious ‘314’ the Watcher’s friend had mentioned. He grinned, remembering Xander’s description of his encounter with Ethan Rayne. It was gratifying to learn that the man had nearly wet himself at finding out he was talking to Spike’s Claimed and how hastily he had left town again, not having had Spike’s permission to return. He might give that permission, he thought now, wondering what kind of havoc a chaos mage could wreak on the Initiative. He’d have to think about that.
Didn’t take a chaos mage’s warning to know that the Initiative had a hidden agenda. No one captured demons, held them prisoner and experimented on them without some kind of plan, no matter how harebrained and crackpot it might be. He and Xander had talked about it a lot, picking away at the scanty evidence, searching for the real purpose behind the seemingly meaningless activity. Xander was sure they were using demons as test subjects, intending to use what they learned on humans. Spike disagreed. For one thing, demons and humans had very different physiologies for the most part. Even ones that looked human didn’t work the same way as humans.
Vampires might look human but they weren’t just animated corpses - that was a zombie, and they were a whole different thing. Vampires were demons that inhabited once-living human bodies. Once the demon took over, the entire physiology changed. The demon made the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and what not obsolete. Vampires didn’t age, didn’t need any food but blood, didn’t sweat, didn’t shit. How could anything learned about their physiology apply to humans?
It was clear that the lab coats were studying demons. Know your enemy was one thing and Spike approved of someone who studied their opponents. But these gits didn’t seem interested in learning anything about demons other than how their bodies worked. That wasn’t studying your opponent. Yeah, sure, learning what an enemy could do physically was important but it was even more useful to figure out how they thought, how they reacted. Knowing if an enemy was going to attack in groups or alone, whether they were cautious by nature or reckless, if they were someone that defended territory or a nest, was all significant in knowing an opponent. These humans were so oblivious to anything except the physical, they didn’t even distinguish between harmless and dangerous demons.
The Initiative did have gadgets they were relying on and that might be something that could be used against them. They’d obviously known about the demon’s scheduled rising in a few days. Given what he’d overheard tonight - and the fact that so far these idiots didn’t seem to have any real idea of how the demon world worked - somehow they’d been able to scan for… something. Something that told them Barvain was due to rise. No way these wankers had figured it out the way the Watchers did: with research and laboriously compiled volumes of information and prophecy. And that was something they could use. Get the soldiers where and when they wanted them.
Dropping his cigarette butt, Spike strode out of the cemetery intending to finish patrolling his territory. Tomorrow, he’d follow up on Professor Walsh and sound out the Watcher about that friend of his. A tame chaos mage might come in handy in the days ahead.
He might even tell the Watcher the soldiers had taken care of Barvain for him, he thought with a grin.
It felt almost like he was arranging to meet Buffy on neutral territory, like they had in the days before they were friends, when they had only a fragile truce keeping them civil to one another.
This time, his concern wasn’t so much meeting on neutral ground so much as it was meeting somewhere where they wouldn’t be overheard. Living without a phone again sucked but having a potentially traceable phone was a risk he wasn’t willing to take right now. It had never been a good idea to have Buffy come to the apartment, even Spike could only ad lib his way around his relationship with the Slayer to the Court for so long. Now, worried that the Initiative might follow Buffy to Spike, Xander had arranged to meet her at the Bronze, probably the last place in town anyone would expect to see him.
Sitting inconspicuously at a small table on the far side of the dance floor, Xander kept a wary eye on the customers but, to his relief, no one seemed to be paying attention to him. Buffy was late, which was no surprise. Give her an apocalypse and she was Miss Punctuality, otherwise she was a bit less reliable. Which was fine, he was still working out what he was going to say to her.
“Xander, there you are.”
“Hey, Buffy.” He gestured with his own glass. “Can I get you something?”
“I’m good.” She slid onto the stool across from him, wearing jeans and an orange halter top, her hair carelessly pinned up. Xander wondered vaguely how Buffy managed to always look good even when it looked like she’d just gotten out of bed and had dressed in the dark.
“How’s it going?” he asked, settling for the small talk approach.
“I’ve had better weeks,” Buffy admitted.
“Me too.” They both fell silent, watching the couples dancing, Buffy wistfully, Xander searching for something to say that wouldn’t sound incredibly awkward. So much for small talk. “How’s it going with Riley?” He asked finally, proud that he’d managed to sound casually interested and not paranoid on the subject of her Initiative boyfriend.
“It’s not.” Buffy shrugged her bare shoulders, trying to appear indifferent and failing miserably. “He won’t even talk to me.” She leaned her elbows on the table, looking tired and defeated. “It didn’t faze him at all finding out I was the Slayer, I don’t understand why he’s having such a problem with my defending Spike.”
“Because he doesn’t believe that there’s any such thing as a good demon,” Xander said flatly, hoping Spike never found out he’d called him a ‘good demon’. “Buffy, that’s what’s wrong with the whole program, that they don’t see that there’s different kinds of demons. They’d kill Mr. Olsen, or Oz, without any more concern than if they were the Mayor in full snake mode.”
“Don’t start with the Nazi comparison again, Xander. You don’t know Riley. I’ve met some of his friends that I’ll bet anything are Initiative soldiers and they’re just normal guys as well.”
Xander stiffened and sat back, shocked that she hadn’t told any of them about knowing other Initiative soldiers. Before he could gather his wits to say anything, Buffy continued: “They’re just a little too…you know?” A vague gesture finished her sentence.
“Clean cut, buff, old.” Buffy enumerated. “I thought they were just, you know, TA’s, grad students. That Riley just happened to have some really hot friends, but now that I know that Riley’s in the Initiative…” her expressive face finished the sentence for her.
Might as well get all the bad news out at once, Xander thought. “Yeah. I meant to tell you. Um, looks like Professor Walsh may be the person in charge.”
“Professor Walsh? My Psych teacher?” Buffy groaned. “This is not happening.”
“Spike overheard them talking,” Xander explained. “She’s the only Professor Walsh on campus and, what with Riley being her TA…”
“Great, the evil, bitch monster from hell is in charge of the secret military operation.”
“The what?” Xander couldn’t believe she’d just called Professor Walsh that. Buffy had been raving about how great her professor was all semester.
“She called herself that on the first day of classes,” Buffy said carelessly. She frowned at his shocked look. “It was a joke, Xander. All the profs try and scare their students during the first class.”
“Nice. This happen everywhere or just on the Hellmouth?” he asked.
“Just on the Hellmouth,” Buffy assured him.
They both relaxed at that, grinning at each other, the unspoken tension from their last meeting dissipating, the initial awkwardness between them fading.
“So, you think you know some of the other Initiative soldiers?” Xander asked, getting back to her surprising announcement.
Buffy nodded. “Pretty sure. They’re all in Lowell House with Riley.” She hesitated. “Xander, they’re good guys. Normal. Funny. Nice.”
“And if you’re right, they spend their nights hunting demons indiscriminately.”
“I didn’t say they weren’t idiots,” she pointed out. “Well, not dumb so much as ignorant. If they knew how many demons there are and how many are harmless…”
“You think they’d come around?” he asked skeptically. Her own boyfriend didn’t seem to be able to deal with her being friends with Spike. Granted, there was the whole helping an escaped prisoner issue there as well, something that never went over well with law enforcement types.
“It’s worth a try.” She sighed. “I’ll try and talk to Riley again. See if I can make him listen.”
She looked so unhappy at the idea that Xander felt a pang of guilt and abruptly changed the subject. “Hey, this is supposed to be a birthday celebration. Late, true, but still a birthday thing. Want to dance?”
Buffy perked up at his suggestion, probably because she’d never seen Xander dance, and he gamely led her out onto the floor despite knowing he was about to make a fool out of himself. She was soon laughing at his ungainly moves, shouting over the music that she was avoiding injury only because her Slayer reflexes let her duck his flailing limbs. He was glad to see her lightening up, not wanting her to suffer through yet another boyfriend fiasco, and wondering how she could have such awful taste in men.
“What do you think?” Xander looked at Mr. Olsen. “Am I crazy?”
His talk with Buffy had started him thinking and he’d spent all day at work turning the germ of an idea over in his mind, wondering if there was any point and struggling with his own admitted prejudices against the tentative plan.
He’d needed a sounding board, someone he could bounce the idea off of and Spike was out. It wouldn’t be fair to even ask him about it since the whole concept went against Spike’s nature. Instead, he’d gone to see Mr. Olsen after work. The elderly man was unflappable by nature and would tell him what he thought without a lot of dramatics. If Mr. Olsen turned thumbs down on his vague plan, then Xander would drop it. He’d been meaning to visit Mr. Olsen anyway - Giles had taken responsible for keeping the demon community apprised of anything they learned about the soldiers and Xander hadn’t seen Mr. Olsen since their last summit meeting.
“Crazy is a bit strong,” Mr. Olsen said with a smile. “Overly optimistic perhaps.” He looked curiously at Xander. “Why are you asking me?”
“Because you have to have dealt with this before. I mean, you were nervous when you told me you were part demon, right? You were worried I’d freak out.”
“Which you didn’t.”
“Actually, I did, it just didn’t last very long,” Xander admitted. “Something Buffy said the other night got me thinking. She made me wonder if we could make the soldiers listen. I’d known you for…, what? about a year when you told me and my first reaction was still to be kind of scared of you. Jut for a second,” he added hastily, relieved when Mr. Olsen just twinkled at him, showing the little gold sparks in his eyes for a moment.
“Maybe these guys aren’t as hopeless as I’ve been thinking,“ he continued. “If Buffy’s right and the soldiers are just ignorant, or brainwashed into just seeing one side of things… What if we showed them some of the most harmless demons around and tried to explain that not all demons are something to be afraid of?”
“How are you planning on doing that?” Mr. Olsen asked, looking at him over his glasses, his bushy eyebrows raised.
“I haven’t really worked that part out yet. No point if this is a really stupid idea. What I was thinking was doing a show and tell with some of the soldiers. Show them a
Bryjuul demon, or a k’thyssn or a Mimtoi, or something similar.”
Mr. Olsen began to look slightly less skeptical. “A show and tell of clearly harmless demons?”
“Exactly, the fluffy bunnies of the demon world. The kind of demons you can tell immediately couldn’t hurt a fly. I mean, no one could be afraid of a k’thyssn and Bryjuuls look like little girls.” He looked at Mr. Olsen hopefully. “It might at least get them to think about what they’re doing and that’s half the battle.”
It was working with Greg hauling supplies together this afternoon that had finally convinced him that his idea might be worth a shot. It had gradually become known on the construction site that Xander was gay. He didn’t flaunt it, Spike had never visited the site, and he certainly didn’t talk about his male lover, but he talked about his roommate and his co-workers had figured it out eventually. Most of them had accepted it without much of a problem, a few, Greg in particular, had given him a hard time until the foreman and some of the others had forced them to back off. Greg had been the worst: belittling Xander whenever they were working in the same part of the job site, calling him names and making veiled threats when no one else was around. Xander had avoided him as much as possible and been relieved when Greg gradually seemed to lose interest in harassing him. They’d worked together silently and efficiently today and Xander had realized how long it had been since Greg had insulted him and felt a reluctant stab of shame. If Greg could get over his prejudices about fags, at least to the point where he could be civil, maybe Xander should get over his prejudice towards the soldiers. Wasn’t he lumping them all together in just the way he despised them for treating demons?
Mr. Olsen had been silent for awhile, sipping his coffee and turning the idea over in his head. Xander shook off his own thoughts and waited patiently for Mr. Olsen to be ready to talk.
“What does Spike think about this idea of yours?”
“He doesn’t know yet.” Xander admitted sheepishly. “I didn’t want him to get upset for nothing if you think it’s a stupid idea.”
“Translation: he’s going to hate it.” Mr. Olsen filled in.
“Well, he’s not real big on the diplomacy side of things.”
“I can imagine,” Mr. Olsen said with a short laugh. “Tentatively, I think that it’s an idea worth pursuing. Cautiously, however. I haven’t told all that many people over the years about my heritage and the reactions have been mixed. Somewhat similar to a person coming out as gay, I imagine.” He gave Xander a pointed look, reminding him that he’d never really come out to Mr. Olsen, it had just gradually become obvious that he and Spike were a couple. “Even long term friends can react in ways that surprise you. However, in general, people have been very understanding.” He set his coffee cup down, sitting back in his chair. “You know who you really need to talk to? Sergeant Morgan. He’s military, he knows how soldiers think. He could give you a better idea than I can about whether this is a good idea or not.”
That made sense. “Thanks, Mr. Olsen. I’ll do that.”
As he got up to leave, Mr. Olsen added one note of caution. “Xander, I would strongly recommend telling Spike what you are considering before you talk to anyone else about it. You really wouldn’t want him to find out about this from anyone but you.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Xander answered, having intended to talk to Spike anyway and knowing that Mr. Olsen would never mention he’d been consulted first.
“Are you out of your fucking mind?” Spike couldn’t believe what Xander was suggesting.
Spike glared, not mollified in the least by Xander’s agreement. “You want to have a friendly little sit-down with the enemy and explain the error of their ways?” He had to have heard that wrong. Not even Xander would suggest something that insane.
“Well, I was more thinking of luring them somewhere and forcing them to listen, but yeah, pretty much.”
“And just who are you planning to endanger with this little stunt? Yourself?” Spike seethed.
“Hey, no danger….” Xander began when Spike cut him off.
“You’re talking about capturing soldiers and holding them prisoner while you parade demons in front of them. That’s going to endanger everyone involved.” Not that Spike cared about the danger to anyone but Xander but he knew Xander would insist on being in the thick of things.
“Spike, we need information. We need to know what these people are up to. The only way we’re going to get it is to get at least one of these guys on our side. I know it’s a long shot but, if it works, maybe we can find out what they’re up to.” Xander argued, keeping his voice calm. Spike just needed some time to think this through. “I really think we can do this safely.” Actually, he hadn’t really worked out the mechanics yet, but he was sure they could come up with something.
Spike scowled. “’m not against taking the soldiers prisoner. I like that part. But if we’re going to capture them, should just torture them and get the information the old fashioned way.”
Xander grinned at him. “We’re trying to convince them demons are harmless, Spike,” he pointed out.
Spike’s sniff said what he thought of that idea. “Why don’t you invite Buffy’s professor for tea while you’re at it?” he asked sarcastically.
“I think we’re better off starting from the bottom,” Xander answered seriously. “I was thinking more along the lines of inciting a mutiny, not converting the command structure.”
Spike made a scoffing noise but didn’t object immediately, which was a good sign.
“Come with me to talk to Sgt. Morgan,” Xander said. “If he vetoes the idea, that’s fine, we’ll think of something else. I know this goes against the grain, Spike,” he added more softly. “And I know you deserve the right to take revenge on them for what they did to you. But, if it comes down to it, I would trade your revenge in a heartbeat for the chance to find a way to undo what they’ve done.”
He knew Spike would make that trade as well, even if he didn’t want to admit it. Xander hurried on, not giving Spike the chance to say anything. “I really think this is our best shot at getting some answers, getting someone on our side. Even one could make a difference. Let’s at least see what Sgt. Morgan thinks, ok?”
“Only you, Xander,” Spike said, shaking his head. “Fine, we’ll talk to the Sergeant. If he thinks it’s worth trying, we come up with a safe way to do this, or it doesn’t happen. Got it?” Spike gave him a steady, warning look. “We’re talking about trained soldiers with lots of fancy weapons, not your average prat off the streets. Lot easier to kill them than to capture them safely.”
Xander nodded. “Got it.” He blew out a silent sigh of relief hoping that, at worst, this would be a waste of time, not an unmitigated disaster. The fact that Spike hadn’t pointed out any flaws except the soldiers’ not listening made a curl of optimism go through him. There had to be some among the soldiers who would be appalled at murdering something like, say a hr’ashlek demon, with their soft, silvery-grey fur and enormous black eyes. Of course, given their tusks and claws, maybe they weren’t the best demon for show and tell.
They’d have to plan this carefully, like an advertising firm pitching to a client, nothing half-assed and slapped together at the last minute but a fully choreographed presentation. Giles and Mr. Olsen would be good at picking the best demons to be show and tell material. He thought Buffy would get on board with the plan if Sgt. Morgan gave his approval. She was the one who’d kept saying that the soldiers would listen to reason.
They’d have to figure out a way to do this safely for everyone, soldiers and demons alike, or it wasn’t worth the risk. Injuring the soldiers while trying to get them to listen to reason wouldn’t help their case and he didn’t want anyone on their side to get hurt either.
Still, if he could convince Spike, Xander thought with unwarranted cockiness, conveniently ignoring Spike’s obvious opinion that this was going to be a complete waste of time, the soldiers ought to be a snap.