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 violence and some swearing
Previous parts here
Riley had appeared reluctantly convinced by their arguments and had agreed to ask questions inside the Initiative, both about Maggie Walsh’s death and about 314. With one of the Initiative’s own asking, Xander was hopeful they might actually learn something useful about what really going on. It had been a struggle, but he hadn’t demanded that Riley produce the Initiative files on Spike and the chip. He didn’t think Riley was ready for that step yet but Xander thought Riley might get there, once he’d proven to his own satisfaction that the people he worked with had been concealing information from the soldiers on the team.
Buffy put a stop to the conversation at that point, insisting that Riley go back to bed before he passed out. By then, Xander felt a lot better about Riley and Oz remaining under the same roof even if only because Giles promised quietly, as soon as Buffy had helped Riley back up the stairs and out of earshot, to make sure to keep an eye on both of them.
Buffy asked them to wait for her and Xander used the time to fill Spike in on what he’d missed: Riley’s breakdown at Willy’s bar and the details of what he and Oz had found in the caves. Hoping Giles and Buffy would have enough sense not to mention it themselves, he left out the part where Riley had pointed a gun at him, knowing Spike would tear Riley apart for that, chip or no chip, at destructive cost to both himself and their tentative alliance with Riley.
“Spike, you up for a monster hunt?” Buffy asked, reappearing at the top of the stairs.
“Thought you’d never ask,” Spike drawled, getting to his feet.
“What?” Xander demanded in disbelief. “No.”
“Xander, it’ll be fine.”
The amused condensation in her voice infuriated him. “Like hell it will. Weren’t you listening when I described that thing?”
“Not to worry, pet. Just because it tossed your mate around like a nine pin doesn’t mean it can do the same with me, or even the Slayer,” Spike said complacently. “Both of us are a bit stronger than a werewolf.”
Xander was going to kill them both.
“I’m inclined to agree with Xander,” Giles interjected. “We’re dealing with a complete unknown.”
“Dealing with somethin’ half human and half demon,” Spike pointed out, cutting Giles off. “Neither one is really a problem.”
“Giles, we know where it is. We could lose it if we don’t go after it now.” Buffy was already rummaging around in Giles’ weapons chest and now she straightened, tossing an ax to Spike, who fielded it easily, and taking a second one for herself. “I am not letting that thing kill another little kid.”
There was nothing but grim determination and bitter regret in her eyes. She was taking the boy’s death personally, blaming herself because a demon had killed him. As a result, she wasn’t thinking clearly, acting on emotion and her thirst for revenge.
“Buffy, will you excuse me and Spike for a couple of minutes?” Xander asked tightly. Not giving anyone time to object, he snatched the ax out of Spike’s hand and set it down on the table, hauling Spike out the door after him, hoping Giles would take the opportunity to talk some sense into Buffy while he tried to do the same with Spike.
He didn’t stop in the little sunken courtyard outside Giles’ door. He had a feeling this conversation was going to involve some yelling, so he kept walking, marching up the stairs and across the street, where he turned and confronted Spike, folding his arms over his chest and glaring at his lover.
“You can’t go after that thing without more than just the two of you,” he said flatly. “and don’t give me that crap about being able to take it because it’s half human. That thing isn’t more than about 20% human. The rest is demon and machine parts. No way are the human bits in control of that thing. It’s some kind of reanimated corpse and I for one would like to know what the hell is keeping that thing alive before we try and fight it.”
“Reanimated corpses aren’t exactly something new, luv. I’m one. So are zombies and they’re barely worth fighting.”
“Yeah, but your demon is providing the power that has you up and walking around. There’s no way that bits and pieces of demons sewn onto a human corpse are keeping that thing going. Maybe it’s magic, like zombies but what if it isn’t? I seriously doubt that thing is running on two AA batteries. We have no idea what’s powering it or why it’s even alive. Don’t you think we need some answers before you guys go off and try and kick its ass?”
Spike glared right back at him, his voice a low, dangerous purr. “Seems to me someone isn’t following his own advice.”
“What?” Spike’s accusation threw Xander off track. “What are you talking about?”
“Talking about you following that thing into the middle of nowhere without weapons or backup,” Spike growled angrily.
“Don’t you dare start with me over that, Spike. I am not listening to a lecture from you when you are on your way out the door to do the exact same thing you’re mad at me about.” Spike began to say something and Xander practically snarled as he cut Spike off. “You even think about saying it’s different for you, and I swear to god I am walking away and not coming back.”
Spike snapped his mouth shut so quickly it was obvious that that had been exactly what he’d been about to say, even as he closed the distance between them and grabbed Xander by the shoulders, gripping so tightly he was just shy of hurting Xander. “You’re not going anywhere,” he snarled.
Even in game face, his eyes were stricken and Xander felt a wave of shame that almost drowned out his anger. Spike would rather be dunked in holy water than have Xander leave him and Xander knew it. He’d been lashing out, angry that Spike wasn’t listening to him, pushing Spike’s buttons, and now Spike was on the verge of losing control because of words spoken in haste and anger. He wouldn’t leave Spike, never - not for longer than it took to calm down. Spike had to know it was an empty threat but the words had hurt him more than Xander had ever intended and he regretted saying them.
He forced himself to relax, unclenching his fists and taking a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”
Spike wasn’t even slightly mollified, his grip didn’t slacken in the least. “You’re mine, Xander. My Claimed. It’s my responsibility to protect you.”
“I understand that, Spike. I know you want to protect me, I know how important it is to you but you can’t wrap me in cotton wool and keep me safe from everything. We live on the Hellmouth, things are going to happen. Sometimes you just have to trust me to do what I think is necessary.”
“I trust you, Xander.”
“Then stop treating me like I’m helpless! You have to let me protect you, let me watch your back, as much as I trust you to watch mine. If you’re going after this thing, then I’m going with you.”
“Why not? If you and Buffy can take it down with no problem, then there’s no reason for me to stay behind.”
Spike glared in yellow-eyed outrage at having his own words thrown back at him. Xander stared adamantly at his lover, not willing to back down. They either did this together or neither one of them went.
After a long moment, Spike relaxed his grip on Xander’s shoulders and pulled him in for a hug, clinging to him fiercely. “Couldn’t bear to lose you, Xander,” he said, his voice muffled in Xander’s hair as he buried his face in the crook of Xander’s neck.
“You can’t have it both ways, Spike,” he said softly into Spike’s ear, his own arms coming up to hold Spike close. “Either this thing is too dangerous for any of us, or I’m going with you.”
He counted it a victory when Spike didn’t immediately refuse, although he could feel Spike’s body tense and knew Spike was struggling against his own instincts. Xander pulled back just enough that he could see Spike’s eyes, seeing the conflict in them. He put his hands on Spike’s face and met the yellow eyes squarely.
“I love you, Spike. You make me happier than I have ever been in my entire life but you can’t always protect me, no matter how much you want to.”
As the trail got steeper and they got close to their destination, Xander finally figured out who was to blame for this situation.
If Hollywood had, even once in its entire history, been able to make a scary Frankenstein, they wouldn’t be in this fix now.
It was a lot more comforting than the thought he’d started out with, which was that this was his fault. Somehow, he’d been unable to convey the overwhelming sense of menace he’d gotten from the Initiative’s version of Frankenstein’s monster. The thing should have been a joke - a side-show monster as bad as any every dreamed up by Hollywood. Between the randomly grafted bits of shiny metal, the mismatched arms - one green and one almost flesh-colored, just enough off to be clear that it wasn’t human flesh even if the bulky but slightly odd distribution of the muscles hadn’t already given it away, but instead it had been terrifying. Xander couldn’t remember ever seeing a demon that had frightened him more and it was seriously ticking him off that Buffy and Spike weren’t taking him at his word about the threat level.
Of course, Giles hadn’t done any better than Xander at convincing Buffy to wait for more information about the thing’s capabilities. Buffy was on a mission: she wanted to kill the creature responsible for the little boy’s death. Between Slayer arrogance and her burning need to avenge the mutilated child, Buffy wasn’t listening to reason. Spike was more difficult to figure. He wasn’t much affected by the child’s death - Xander knew that the death of most humans didn’t mean much to Spike, Spike hated to see Xander upset but it was strictly for Xander’s sake. He suspected that Spike just needed to kill something. The vampire was still upset and angry after their confrontation and the thing that had endangered Xander was the closest target. He wouldn’t take his anger out on Xander and he couldn’t take it out on Oz - not with Oz unconscious and injured and being Xander’s friend. Which pretty much left the monster in the caves for working off his unresolved issues with a spot of heavy duty violence. Which officially made this a sucky time for them to have gotten into a fight.
Admittedly, Buffy and Spike hadn’t completely disregarded his warnings, it was just that they were overly confident the thing wasn’t a match for them. Xander was clinging to the hope that he was being over-cautious and this wasn’t going to end in disaster. Giles had been overruled when he planned to accompany them, and had reluctantly agreed to remain behind to keep an eye on Oz and Riley. Xander had simply picked an ax out of the weapons chest and, ignoring Buffy’s arguments and Spike’s disapproval, had led the way out of the apartment.
Reaching the entrance to the caves, Spike pushed in front of him, giving him a look that brooked no argument as he and Buffy entered the cave first, moving quietly and cautiously into the dimly lit interior, Xander treading close on their heels.
“How far in?” Buffy asked quietly.
“Maybe a dozen rooms,” Xander answered, equally quietly, gesturing in the direction he and Oz had gone.
Maybe the thing had privacy issues, disliking having people enter his lair without knocking, maybe it was just out for a stroll, but they had barely left the connecting tunnel into the fourth cave when Buffy came to an abrupt halt.
Buffy and Spike hadn’t exactly been talkative as they were journeying through the caves but the dead silence now as they both, more or less obviously, gaped at the Initiative’s monster made Xander think he was so going to say ‘I told you so’ - if they survived this. Because now, seeing the thing again, Xander was as struck dumb as both of the other two. You’d think he’d have an advantage, him on his second viewing and all.
The thing faced them calmly from across the cave and Xander got the impression it was cataloging them in some way. Filing them away for future reference. And wasn’t that a lovely thought.
“You returned. Interesting.”
That same eerily calm voice, simply noting the fact that it recognized Xander.
“He brought friends,” Buffy said, hefting her ax with hands that gripped a little too hard.
“Human. And vampire.” The mis-matched eyes returned to Xander for a moment. “You are human as well.” The eyes swung back to Spike, who was studying the creature intently and without the horrified disgust that neither Buffy nor Xander could hide. “Hostile 17, I believe.”
Oh, that couldn’t be good. How much did this thing know about them?
“I’ll show you hostile,” Spike snarled and launched himself in a blur of motion, Buffy a split second behind him.
He despised being called that. ‘Hostile 17’ was the Initiative’s prisoner, the helpless, chipped vampire. He was Spike, William the Bloody, Master of the Hellmouth, and he was going to take this thing’s measure.
He leapt forward, peripherally aware of the Slayer a half step behind him and they moved in a coordinated attack, spreading apart slightly to take the thing from both sides. Xander was right, this thing was an abomination against demon and human and needed to be killed.
He swung his ax in a low deadly arc, perfectly timed to strike the thing’s side just before Spike was on it. The Slayer had her own ax swinging, cutting through the air in a shining blur on the edge of his vision and Spike was already tasting victory when his ax was blocked, a thick forearm lashing out and meeting the wooden handle, stopping the ax seemingly effortlessly, as Spike was sent stumbling to the side, struggling to stay on his feet as his momentum was so abruptly knocked off kilter. He heard the clash of metal on metal and saw the Slayer’s ax blade had been blocked by the metal plate on the thing’s right forearm.
In the half-second that followed, the creature snatched the ax from the Slayer’s grip and back-handed her with it, flinging her across the cave with one sweep of its arm. Using its momentary distraction, Spike swung his weapon again, aiming for the thing’s unprotected back. The blow landed, hard enough to briefly stagger the creature, but Spike cursed as he saw the blade had been stopped by the ragged line of metal staples marching up the thing’s back like an enormous centipede. The two-inch, heavy metal staples connected two different types of flesh, neither human, and the blade barely penetrated the tough scaly hide of either.
In his surprise at the failure of his attack, Spike made the amateur mistake of stopping to assess the damage for a fraction of a second too long. The thing twisted sharply and Spike clung to the ax handle, his feet leaving the floor as the blade pulled free of flesh and he was flung to one side with contemptuous ease. He landed on his side and was back on his feet in a blink, the demon turning to look at him curiously.
“It seems the files were wrong. You are able to hurt other living things. The chip would appear to not be functioning properly.”
“Bugger the chip. No one controls me!”
The Slayer was back on her feet, a thin trickle of blood running down from a cut above her eye attesting to just how hard she’d hit the wall. Slayers were almost as hard to mark as vampires. This thing was bloody strong and Spike had the uneasy feeling that Xander had been right and they should have waited before attacking it. The Slayer was disarmed, the creature now examining her ax with curious interest, and Spike saw that Xander had taken advantage of the thing’s back being turned and was charging across the cave, his own ax raised.
He was fucking killing the Slayer for that, Spike thought viciously. Her yell did nothing but warn the thing that it was about to be attacked. He sprang toward the creature, determined not to let it hurt Xander, and saw with disbelief that Xander wasn’t attacking the monster. His boy was attacking the computers.
What the hell?
The thing met Spike’s blow with the Slayer’s ax, the two blades meeting and Spike’s blade shattered at the impact, splinters of metal spraying outward as the blade snapped in half, almost drowning out the sounds of smashing glass and plastic as Xander used his ax to destroy the computers, smashing the heavy weapon down on the putty colored boxes over and over again.
As a distraction, it worked beautifully. Too well. The thing swung away from Spike and the Slayer at the sound, and made an annoyed sound, dropping the Slayer’s ax and striding across the room, even as Xander’s ax reduced the second computer to useless scraps.
Xander spun around at Spike’s yell and threw himself to the side just as the creature swung its arm up, a familiar skewer appearing suddenly from its wrist. Running flat out, Spike was too late to stop what happened next and Xander screamed as the skewer caught him in the side, slicing along his flesh, missing the center of his body only because of his sideways momentum. The skewer was sliding back into the thing’s forearm as Spike slammed full tilt into the creature’s back.
The creature lurched forward a single step and Spike was almost stunned by the impact. It had been like crashing at full speed into a solid wall. Spike snarled and grabbed one of the thick metal staples protruding from the thing’s mismatched flesh, yanking on it, trying to tear it free, willing to tear this thing apart, metal stitch by metal stitch if necessary.
The u-shaped piece of metal was solidly lodged and didn’t come free.
What the fuck was this thing made of?
Riding the thing’s back, it was having trouble reaching him, but Spike couldn’t find a vulnerable spot and wasn’t doing any damage. The Slayer was there, kicking the thing, landing a solid punch in its mid-section, just where the jagged seams of flesh met together and the creature didn’t even flinch at the blow. It smacked her away like a human slapping at an annoying insect and Spike gave in to desperation, burying his fangs in the thing’s neck, nearly gagging on the chemical taste and stench as his fangs penetrated, even as the Slayer was sent flying across the cave to smash into the wall for the second time.
The thing growled and reached up, grabbing at Spike’s head and shoulders and tearing him free, tossing him across the cave with effortless strength. Spike tucked his head in and tried to judge his landing but there wasn’t time. He slammed into the wall and slid down to the floor. Only his fear for Xander, lying motionless and unprotected on the floor, the smell of his blood strong in the room, got Spike up and moving, swaying drunkenly as he lurched back to his feet.
The thing had turned to its computers, crossing to the makeshift table and surveying the damage as Spike limped quickly across the floor towards Xander. He bent down and pulled Xander up over his shoulder, something that should have been easy but wasn’t as Xander’s limp body rested heavily on Spike’s battered torso.
The Slayer was stirring but Spike had no time for her. He needed to get Xander out of here while the creature was ignoring them. He pushed his aching body, moving as fast as he could out the door of the cave, ignoring the pain, ignoring the screaming of torn muscles, not stopping or looking back until he was clear of the caves entirely.
At some point, the Slayer caught up with him, moving almost as stiffly as he was. Limping heavily, blood still dripping down her face and onto her shirt, she was as grimly silent as he was. Spike felt a surprising kinship with her in this moment - neither of them were used to fleeing the scene of battle, neither used to being beaten, much less defeated so easily it had made them appear weak as normal humans.
Xander had done better in the encounter than either of them, Spike thought. For whatever reason, Xander’s destruction of the computers was the only thing that had seemed to faze the creature, even for a moment. The Slayer and he had been nothing to it and Spike burned with humiliation at the thing’s obvious contempt for their fighting abilities.
He could still smell a worrying amount of blood and there was no sign of pursuit. Spike gently lowered Xander to the ground, ignoring the pain in his own body as he concentrated on not hurting Xander any further. He leaned Xander up against a tree and checked him over quickly.
The skewer had grazed Xander, carving a deep trench in his side but not actually penetrating his flesh, Spike saw with relief. The wound was bleeding messily but wasn’t life-threatening. Spike tore his own shirt off, and quickly ripped it into strips, wrapping the longest around Xander’s lean waist in a makeshift bandage. Xander had blood in his hair and the beginnings of a lump, Spike found, running gentle fingers over his scalp. Like both Spike and the Slayer, he’d hit the cave wall but, unlike them, he’d been knocked unconscious and Spike was once again reminded how fragile humans were.
This was what Xander never understood. That it tore Spike apart to see his love injured and bleeding and so frighteningly still and pale. Xander was so easily hurt, compared to a vampire, and he didn’t heal as quickly or completely. Xander could have easily been crippled in the fight, something he never seemed able to make Xander understand, no matter how hard he tried. He should never have permitted Xander to come along and he cursed himself for his own over-confidence that had caused Xander to be hurt.
“How is he?”
“Don’t know,” he said worriedly. “He needs a doctor.”
To his overwhelming relief, Xander stirred, his eyes opening slowly and gazing blearily around the dark woods.
“Xander? You ok, luv?” Spike put a shaking hand against Xander’s face, watching the confused gaze turn in his direction.
After an endless moment, Xander’s eyes cleared slowly and he focused on Spike. “Did we win?” he asked dazedly after a minute.
“We got our asses kicked,” the Slayer reported truthfully, bitter self-recrimination in her voice. “Sorry, Xander, we should have listened to you.”
“Bit tougher than I thought it would be,” Spike admitted, his finger caressing Xander’s cheek with gentle fingers. “Nice work on the computers,” he complimented, although still puzzled by why Xander had chosen that target.
“Guess, I’m the only one here not stupid enough to attack that thing,” Xander said with the ghost of a smile.
Spike could tell he’d meant it as a joke, but he couldn’t help feeling the sting of the unspoken accusation. Xander had warned them, told them he had a bad feeling about the Frankenstein monster in the caves, and they had ignored him. Xander shouldn’t have had to pay for their arrogance and overconfidence.
Xander tried to move and winced, looking down in puzzlement at the bandage around his midsection. Spike shook off his bitter thoughts, as he steadied Xander.
“Easy, luv. Got a bit skewered.”
“Oh. Yeah. Think we found the polgara,” Xander said.
“Bits of it anyway,” the Slayer put in, wrinkling her nose in disgust. Spike shook his head at her squeamishness.
It was just one more humiliation that he didn’t dare carry Xander. No matter how gentle he was, movement would hurt Xander now that he was conscious. He would have to recruit the Slayer’s help getting his boy safely back home.
“Can you walk, luv?” he asked quietly. “Need to get you to a doctor.”
“And getting further away from that thing seems like a good plan,” the Slayer put in. “You up for it, Xander?”
He nodded. “Yeah.”
Surprisingly, the Slayer took the lead, helping Xander to his feet. Watching helplessly as his boy winced and bit his lip to keep from crying out, Spike wondered how much she knew about the limitations imposed on him by the chip. With relief, he found he could sling Xander’s arm over his shoulder and, careful to keep his hand away from the wound on his side, take most of Xander’s weight as they made their slow retreat out of the woods and away from the abomination in the caves.