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
Chapter 24 -
The polgara launched another roundhouse swing and Spike ducked under it, the massive arm brushing the top of his head before he bounced back up and swung his doubled fists into the thing’s back, careful to avoid the sharp growths that jutted from the bones of its shoulder blades, spine and hips. Fighting a polgara required more stamina than finesse, their scaly hides and solid bones made it hard to land a blow the damn things even felt, much less something that would actually hurt them. If the ridiculous looking things had possessed even half a brain, Spike thought, dancing backwards out of its reach as it swung at him again, they’d be unstoppable. Fortunately, they were dumber than shit, barely sentient, and relied completely on their strength and mass to overpower their opponents.
And speed, he reminded himself, forced to drop and roll away as it moved with the startling quickness of its species, nearly catching him with one of the two-foot skewers it was waving about like a human flagging down a taxi. Too bloody stupid to even use a stake properly, he thought, reaching up and grabbing the skewer, using it to pull himself back to his feet and then forcing the skewer down toward the ground, stomping on it with his boot and breaking off the lethally sharp point.
He let go immediately and leapt clear - the polgara was too strong for close quarters fighting, if he got caught where it could grab him, it could tear his head off as easily as Spike could a human’s. Not to mention, it could still power the jagged end of that broken skewer straight through his body, Spike reminded himself as the demon sought to do just that.
He circled it warily, shifting sideways to keep it moving, needing a breather before he attacked again. They’d been fighting for a while now and the broken arm skewer was the first significant damage he’d done to the massive demon. Knocked it sprawling once or twice, he thought in satisfaction, but it had done the same to him more than once and it still looked fresh as a daisy - well, a 7-foot tall, grayish-green, smelly daisy anyway.
Polgara reminded him of nothing so much as the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the monster in a science fiction movie that he and Dru had watched back in the fifties. He grinned, remembering that night, even as he continued to circle the demon cautiously. He and Dru had slipped into the theater and drained several teenagers, their actions completely ignored by the rest of the audience sitting mesmerized by the movie, wearing those ridiculous 3-D glasses. Drusilla had put on a pair of the cheap cardboard glasses and clapped her hands in childish glee, exclaiming rapturously along with the rest of the audience over the 3-D effects, finally standing on the chair, as she tried to touch the fish that seemed to be swimming off the screen above the audience’s heads. Watching her standing tiptoe on the armrests, balancing with effortless grace, her long black dress drifting around her slender form as she reached above her head, her lips red with the blood of her victims, not even the ridiculous glasses able to disguise the wonder on her face, Spike had loved her so much he’d thought his non-beating heart would burst.
Almost made him want to let the polgara go, for reminding him of that night.
Still, he needed to take the thing down. Polgara fed too often and too conspicuously to have one wandering his territory and he’d tracked this one from the messy remains of its last kill, something he suspected had been a large dog before the polgara ate all the meaty bits. If too many German Shepherds and what not went missing in town, that would draw the attention of the authorities. More so than if the thing stuck to eating demons. Polgara weren’t fussy, animal, demon, or human: if it moved, they’d eat it.
Right, back to business.
He kept moving, staying out of the thing’s reach, and made a note to do some research on how to kill polgara demons when he had the chance. Because as far as he could tell, the damn thing had very few vulnerable spots. Trying to knee-cap it had almost crippled Spike: the polgara’s joints were protected by solid bone spurs. Ditto the groin. Its bony chin shielded his neck and hitting its chest with both feet in a kick that had the entire weight of his body behind it had been like crashing into a solid concrete wall. Spike had felt the shock of impact all the way from his heels to the top of his head and the thing had staggered back two steps as a reward for his efforts. Yeah, it had gone down but only because there was a fallen tree behind it when it staggered backwards.
He smirked to himself. When he was describing how he’d kicked this demon’s ass, he probably wouldn’t mention that the damn thing had just tripped, not actually knocked off its feet.
And that’s what he got for letting his own thoughts distract him. Spike spun away as the polgara lunged for him, slamming the remaining length of the broken skewer into his side. Swept off his feet by the force of the blow, Spike was hurled backwards across the clearing, crashing into the thick bushes and thankfully missing the tree trunks as he landed.
He rolled instinctively, struggling to get clear of the bushes and back on his feet, knowing that to stay down was to die. The ground dropped out from under him unexpectedly and he cursed as he found himself tumbling down a hill, unable to stop, completely out of control as he crashed through bushes and bounced painfully off a tree.
There were shouts from above and a sharp buzzing sound and the smell of ozone in the air as he came to rest at the bottom of the small ravine. Ignoring the pain in his side, he scrambled to his feet and moved for deeper cover. Looking back up the slope, the darkness was split by a flash of blue lightening and that crackle of electricity sounded again. There was a moment’s silence, then voices called to each other, clearly audible in the otherwise quiet woods.
“Good work. Bag and tag it.”
Spike melted back into the black shadows under the trees, sliding down along a trunk until his white hair was under the cover of the waist high undergrowth.
Figures appeared at the top of the slope and powerful flashlights shone down in his direction, playing along the walls and floor of the ravine.
“Did you see what it was fighting with?”
“Negative. Shall we pursue?”
There was a pause as the flashlight continued to search the bushes. Spike held his position with the unblinking, unbreathing stillness of vampires until the flashlight finally snapped off.
“Too risky,” the second voice declared. “Let’s get this thing back to base.”
The figures at the top of the ravine disappeared and Spike listened as the soldiers readied the polgara to be carried back to the command center. He smiled mirthlessly as he heard them talking. Apparently “mother” wasn’t going to be happy that one of the arm skewers was damaged. When it was clear that the soldiers were occupied and truly not interested in the second fighter, Spike slipped away moving silently along the bottom of the ravine until he was well clear of the area.
The polgara was taken care of and that was one demon he didn’t give a rat’s arse if the soldiers played with. With luck, the damn thing would wake up on the way to the base and take a few of them out.
Sitting at the kitchen table late Sunday morning, Xander frowned over his notes for the upcoming week. Which was more important: Mrs. Walter’s paint job or the Johnsons’ yard work? The Griffins’ fence was the top priority for the week, but which job should come next?
He still had the same three high school kids working for him and he was seriously considering upping it to four. All of his demon customers were nervous, wanting everything about their houses and businesses to be “normal” looking, afraid to let things go even a little in case it called attention to them. As a result, Xander’s business had nearly doubled in the last couple months and he hated the fact that the demons in town were so frightened of being conspicuous that they were having work done that ordinarily they wouldn’t have bothered with.
He hated that he was profiting from their very justifiable fear and tried to compensate by factoring it into his bidding process. If he was sure the job would have been done regardless of the Initiative, he bid it as a normal job. If he thought that the customer was having work done because they were afraid that it was something that might call attention to them, he bid those jobs at cost, like he had when he was learning. The customer paid for the materials and the exact amount it cost Xander to pay his employee to have the work done. His workers were good kids. This was their family and friends they were working for and they knew the score. All three of them were consistently turning in fewer hours than they could possibly have actually worked on jobs where the customers were having work done because they were afraid and not because they could afford it or it really needed to be done.
Just one more reason to hate the Initiative, he thought grimly, deciding the Johnsons’ yard work should be the second job his crew tackled. People got weird about their neighbors’ yards. Plus, they should be able to at least start painting Mrs. Walter’s house this week and getting the front painted would ease Mrs. Walter’s mind. She’d been almost shaking with fear when he’d gone to her house to bid the job, ashamed because she couldn’t control the bristling spikes that flared on her arms as she served him tea. The spikes were a defense mechanism, a way to make the small Q’oniik demon look bigger and scarier than they were, like a cat arching its back and puffing up its fur when faced with a dog. He’d been glad to see she was finally able to control the reaction by the time he’d left, promising to do the job as soon as possible.
It really made him wish he could introduce her to the Initiative soldiers and see if they still felt good about themselves knowing that they’d terrified the tiny widow to the point where she was afraid to leave her house. Mrs. Walter had lived in Sunnydale her entire life and she was just a nice lady who made killer brownies and grew weird vegetables in her backyard garden behind the privacy of the tall fences.
Almost growling to himself, Xander finished filling out the schedule - which of the guys to which jobs according to their skills and their availability for the week. He used to like this part of his business, it was like fitting a jigsaw puzzle together but now, having to balance the clients’ fear level against how much the job actually needed to be done, the fun had gone out of the weekly chore. With a relieved sigh, he set the papers aside. He’d take them to the office later this afternoon and call his workers and give them their assignments. The phone in his office was now the only one anyone could reach him on, thanks to the Initiative, and it was annoying that he had to stop by the tiny converted storage shed that served as his office several times a week to pick up messages now that he no longer had a cell phone.
Stuffing everything into an envelope, Xander headed for the fridge. He’d have lunch, then go to the office. As he contemplated the interior of the refrigerator, someone knocked on the outside door.
It was so rare for anyone to come to the apartment that he almost didn’t recognize the sound at first. For one second, his heart raced and panic flooded him. Then he forced himself to calm down. If it was the Initiative, he doubted they would have the courtesy to knock. Moving slowly to the door, he checked through the peephole.
There was a single figure on the other side, someone wearing a heavy buckskin coat lined in wool, the kind of thing designed for much colder climates than southern California. He was partially turned away, apparently looking out toward the street and the abandoned buildings surrounding the factory. As he turned back toward the door, raising his hand to knock again, Xander gasped in shock and flung the door open.
Oz looked the same. Standing there on the landing, hands thrust deep in his pockets, a smile lurking in his eyes, he was still the same quiet, self-contained individual Xander had known. Recovering from his surprise, he stepped forward and hugged the smaller man. Oz gave him a brief, tight hug in return and they stepped back again, studying each other.
“When did you get back in town?”
“Pretty much now,” Oz answered with a slight smile. “I was worried about you.” His eyes still watched Xander intently as he continued: “I haven’t heard from you in nearly two months.”
“Oh god, Oz, I’m sorry. Things got kind of crazy in a Hellmouthy way and I stopped checking my email.” He made a face, realizing how lame it sounded. “I guess I never got back into the habit of checking it - email’s kind of a new thing for me. I’m really sorry. I mean it’s great that you’re here but I’m sorry I worried you.”
Oz shrugged. “Not the issue. Just wanted to be sure you were ok.”
“There’s a lot going on, but mostly I’m ok.” Remembering himself, he stepped back. “Come in. Spike’s…”
“Awake.” Spike’s voice finished for him from the bedroom door as Oz stepped inside the apartment. Xander spared a quick glance behind him and was relieved to see that Spike had pulled on a pair of jeans. The vampire was leaning one shoulder against the wall, arms folded across his bare chest, his head tilted to one side as he studied Oz curiously. “Wolf,” was all he said in greeting.
Oz dipped his head slightly in response. “Master Spike.”
Xander’s eyebrows rose. No one except members of the demon community used Spike’s title. Oz certainly never had. He looked curiously between the two, wondering what he was missing.
Oz gave him a slight, reassuring smile. “I’ve learned a lot while I’ve been away,” he said.
Xander was reeling. Oz was the same and yet, completely different.
Spike had sat with them for about twenty minutes, spending the entire time silently listening to their conversation and studying Oz intently. Finally, having obviously decided that Oz didn’t pose a threat, he’d simply gone back to bed, leaving them alone to catch up. As he’d left, he’d given Oz a long, warning look and Oz had dipped his head again, deliberately. Xander made a note to ask about it later, because it was obvious there was a great deal of unspoken communication going on between his friend and his lover.
Oz had gotten control of his wolf. The woman in Colorado recommended by Mr. Okolo had turned out to be, not a werewolf herself but mated to one. Xander cocked a curious eyebrow at Oz for that term, wondering why he didn’t just say they were married or living together. Oz just did that mysterious thing where he smiled without moving a single muscle in his face and continued his story. Her mate - Oz repeated the term deliberately - was the leader of the local werewolf pack and Oz had spent the last few months learning how to be a werewolf.
“Ok, seriously confused. How do you learn to be a werewolf? You kinda just change at the full moon, right? I thought you didn’t remember anything about what happened when you changed so, what’s to learn?”
Oz smiled at him, showing teeth this time, his eyes going black as he held out one hand. Xander watched in fascinated horror as the fingers lengthened and claws grew and the shape of the fingers changed, the bones longer and more slender and the knuckles more prominent before coarse brown hair covered them.
Heart pounding, he scrambled to his feet. “Oz?” he yelped.
The hand shifted back to human and Oz’s hazel eyes looked back at him, a hint of a smile in them. “As I said, I learned how to be a wolf.”
“And that means scaring the crap out of me?” Xander asked, only half jokingly.
“No. Sorry.” And Oz did look apologetic.
“You’ve been around a lot of people where changing is normal, haven’t you?” Xander guessed, sitting back down.
“Yeah. Turns out, werewolves live a long time, if they make it through the first couple years, and the pack I’ve been staying with is an old one. I’ve learned a lot from them, but mostly, I’ve learned to accept the wolf.”
“What does that mean, exactly?” Xander asked curiously.
“It means I don’t lock myself in a cage anymore.” Xander frowned, wondering if Oz resented them for keeping him locked up every month. Oz shook his head fractionally. “My choice. It was the right thing to do - then.”
“What about now?”
“If I’m somewhere safe, I change. If I’m not, I control the change until it’s safe to let the wolf out.” Oz looked at Xander and a hint of a smile appeared in his eyes at Xander’s calm acceptance of that statement. “When I left, I thought the answer was learning how to suppress the wolf. Turns out suppression and control are two different things.”
They talked for a long time, and Xander learned more about werewolves than he had in all their research sessions back when Oz had first become the wolf. Like vampires, Giles’ books didn’t know the half of it when it came to werewolves and he was fascinated by the glimpses he got into Oz’s new world.
Oz was no longer afraid of his wolf, that was the biggest change. He’d left Sunnydale looking for answers because he was afraid he was going to hurt someone and he’d found those answers in Colorado. The pack he’d joined let their wolves run free in the mountains, far from any humans. In freeing the wolf, Oz had learned control even when changed.
“I’m still learning,” he admitted. “My control isn’t perfect and full moons will be difficult for a long time but getting to know the wolf has been… amazing.”
“How so?” Xander asked. Oz’s tone had been almost wondering.
Oz smiled. “I can… ‘borrow’” he sounded hesitant, like that wasn’t the right word but as close as he could get to the concept, “the wolf’s attributes in human form.”
“You mean like strength, speed, that kind of thing?”
“Some. That will mostly come later as I mature as a wolf. For now, I can tap into the wolf’s hearing, scent, eyesight, even taste, as a human.” He looked amused. “Taste can backfire, I don’t use that one very much.”
In turn, Xander filled Oz in on the Initiative and everything that had been happening since he’d left town, ending with the warning that Sunnydale wasn’t safe for anyone with any demon in them.
“It’s great to see you, Oz but I gotta warn you. These guys aren’t fussy about what makes a demon. There was a werewolf in their cells when Spike was there and it wasn’t a full moon.”
Oz’s eyes darkened, literally, his eyes going solid black and the bones around them seeming to shift a little until his face was almost alien looking. “They’re holding a wolf prisoner?” he growled.
“Yeah. A female, that’s all I know.”
“What are you doing about them?” Oz was gripping the table with fingers that were just a little longer than normal.
Xander shrugged uncomfortably. “Not nearly as much as we want to. We still don’t know what they’re up to, how many of them there are, you name it. We’re flying practically blind.”
Oz shivered convulsively, then his death grip on the table relaxed and he was suddenly Oz again, all traces of the wolf hidden. “Sorry. The wolf’s emotions sometimes catch me off guard and he does not like the idea of a werewolf being held prisoner.”
“I don’t blame him,” Xander offered. “We’re not ready but we do plan on doing something -as soon as we can figure out what,” he finished candidly.
“You need help?”
Xander hesitated. “Are you sure, Oz? Sunnydale’s dangerous right now and, like I said, we’re still at the trying to find a way to fight back stage.”
“I’m sure,” Oz answered grimly. “And I can bring nearly 30 wolves to the fight, if it comes to that.”
He wasn’t surprised when Oz stood to leave shortly afterwards. It had been a draining conversation for both of them.
“Do you need a place to stay?”
Oz gave him a raised eyebrow look of surprise and Xander finished with a slight grin: “because I’m sure Giles wouldn’t mind letting you stay in his spare bedroom.”
Oz shook his head. “I’m good. I’ll crash at Devon’s place.”
“How is he?” Wow, he hadn’t even known Devon was still in town. Not that he’d ever really hung out with Devon, but still.
“He’s Devon.,” Oz said, which pretty much seemed to cover it.
Xander hugged him at the door. “God, it’s good to see you again, Oz.”
“You too, Xander.”
“Be careful. Seriously, Oz. Don’t let anyone know you’re a wolf while you’re here in town.”
Oz just nodded, pulling on his coat and giving him an unreadable glance. Xander watched him go, torn between gladness and worry at his return.
Spike’s voice sounded from behind him. “Thirty wolves. That will come in handy.”
*A/N - Bits of dialogue borrowed from ‘New Moon Rising’