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
Two days after the coven arrived, everyone gathered at the Olsens’ house to learn what the magic workers had come up with. Giles’ apartment was far too small for the size of the full group and Mr. Olsen’s house was as close as it got to neutral territory in Sunnydale. There was a reason Mr. Olsen had been chosen to be the liaison between the demons and Giles, Buffy and the rest of them - because everyone who knew him liked and respected the elderly man and, although he was something of a leader among the friendly demons in town, he didn’t have the touchy sense of pride and territoriality that Buffy, Spike and even the pack leader, Dean, did. Plus, he had a large basement room that could hold all of them without the kind of crowding that could lead to problems.
Glancing around the room, Xander saw they were almost the last to arrive. Mr. Olsen had produced a collection of mismatched chairs and set them in a loose circle around the large, nearly bare room.
Spike was practically vibrating with tension as he stalked across the room, although he his it so well that Xander was sure hardly anyone in the room would be able to tell. The vampire had been on edge ever since learning that the magic workers had met for a second time and Xander could tell Spike was regretting having let Xander talk him out of renewing his Claim Mark before this meeting.
His arguments had made sense or Spike wouldn’t have agreed - the actual attack might still be days, possibly even weeks off, and Xander hadn’t wanted Spike to have to go through the pain of renewing the mark twice. He’d pointed out that the members of the coven were human and wouldn’t be able to sense the mark, and anyone like the werewolves who could, accepted and honored Spike’s Claim, with or without a mark.
Of course, logic failed in the face of a roomful of allies, many of whom Spike didn’t trust. Xander really wished the coven hadn’t thought it necessary to have their secretive meetings. Either they didn’t know, or maybe they just didn’t care, that it would drive Spike, and to a lesser extent Buffy, crazy, feeding paranoid thoughts that really didn’t need to be fed.
Xander obligingly stayed close, knowing Spike needed his solid backup when he was this twitchy, letting Spike’s possessive hand on his back steer him towards a defensible corner of the room without pausing to greet any of the assembled people.
The corner Spike had chosen was already occupied by Oz and Dean, who were there representing the Pack. Spike’s quiet “shove over, mate” to Dean, allowed them to settle into the chairs the two werewolves had been sitting in without fuss. Xander gave them an apologetic smile but Dean just inclined his head, obviously understanding Spike’s need for a secure location where he could protect his Claimed, if necessary.
Spike had been disgruntled to realize that only seven wolves had arrived in town to help but fortunately, he’d been impressed by Dean when the two of them had met earlier to discuss strategy and how to coordinate their fighters. Unlike Xander, Spike didn’t really get that having younger wolves, who might lose control during a battle, was a liability. Spike thought it would be fun to watch them rampage.
Xander unobtrusively edged his chair closer to Spike’s, so that their legs and shoulders touched, then glanced around the circle.
Maggie Apsford-Burns looked the same: still tiny and frail, her braided white hair wrapped around her head, her bright eyes belonging to a much younger person. Willow and three strangers were sitting next to her, two on each side of Maggie and Xander eyed them curiously, wondering why Elizabeth hadn’t come back with them. Elizabeth, who’d helped them stop the Mayor, had the advantage of being familiar to the core group from Sunnydale and they were dealing with far too many unknowns already. Willow had told Xander the coven members’ names but they’d pretty much gone in one ear and out the other and he couldn’t remember them right now. None of them were nearly as impressive as Maggie, he thought, studying them critically, but then few people were.
To his surprise, Mr. Okolo was there, sitting quietly next to Sgt. Morgan, gazing around the room at the others with mild curiosity. Xander’s brows shot up and he nodded respectfully to the dark-skinned man who could pass for someone in his 60’s, not the 400-some years he actually was. Mr. Okolo, more than most of the demons in town, kept to himself and guarded his privacy carefully and Xander wondered how bad a sign it was that the reclusive Teer’ah demon was here. He reminded himself to tell Oz that Mr. Okolo was the one who’d given Xander the information about the werewolf pack. He suspected Oz would like to thank the man.
Sitting on Mr. Okolo’s other side but half behind him, almost as if she was trying to hide from the rest of the room, was a young woman, probably about his own age, head bent so that her dark blonde hair swung forward over her face, everything about her just screaming that she wished she was invisible. Her bowed head was giving Xander a good look at the odd zig-zag part in her hair and he couldn’t help wondering why someone who seemed so shy would want to do something like that to her hair, something that seemed designed to make people to look at her.
Just then, Mr. Olsen came down the steps, Buffy and Giles following behind. Xander watched as they took the last vacant seats, completing the circle. Giles smiled impartially around the circle, nodding in greeting to everyone while Buffy’s wary eyes and tense posture betrayed her on-going annoyance with Giles and the coven. Buffy had been nearly as paranoid as Spike that the magic workers were so obviously not sharing their thoughts with the rest of them. From the way she shifted her chair a bit further from Giles’ and the fact that she gave Willow only a single, brief glance, Xander assumed she hadn’t been able to wheedle any information out of either of them and was not happy about that fact.
Frankly, he sympathized and thought that the coven had blown it big time with that stunt. He’d reserve judgment for now since it was possible they had a good reason for their actions, but pissing off your allies immediately after arriving in town was just not a good move on their part.
As Buffy, Giles and Mr. Olsen took their seats, Sgt. Morgan glanced at Mr. Olsen, then rose to his feet, commanding silence with one sweeping glance around the circle. “Most of us know each other,” he began, “but I think it would be wise to begin by introducing ourselves so that the newcomers have some understanding of who we all are.” He squared his shoulders, drawing himself to his full, impressive height, and began:
“I’m Sergeant Geoff Morgan, half Kobarien demon. I’m a sergeant in the US Army, stationed here in Sunnydale for the last 12 years. I am not a member of the Initiative, nor are they affiliated with the regular army base here in town.”
He sat down then and nodded to Mr. Olsen and the introductions began to circle around the group, each person rising to introduce themselves in turn. The only interruption in the smooth flow was when Mr. Okolo introduced first himself and then the shy blonde woman beside him. “This is Tara Maclay, she is a student at UC Sunnydale and a powerful witch, although her training is not yet complete.” The woman lifted her head and gave them all a quick look and a nervous smile before subsiding into near invisibility again. Xander wondered why Mr. Okolo had wanted her here. She didn’t seem like someone who was going to be able to work in a group.
The coven members introduced themselves as Abigail Hartness, Helen Bridge, and Michael Stafford, listing their magical proficiency levels and how long they’d been practicing and that pretty much completed the introductory phase.
Not surprisingly, it was Maggie who began the meeting in earnest. She rose to her feet, one hand gripping her cane tightly, her voice carrying easily to all of them.
“Some of you are familiar with our group and no doubt you were surprised when we agreed to come here. This creature who calls himself Adam is not a magical being and we do not usually become involved in issues that are not strictly magic related. However, only fools bind themselves to inflexible rules that cannot be altered to meet new situations and I do not consider myself a fool. As Mr. Giles pointed out when he first contacted us, Adam is an unnatural being and worse, he is threatening to cause a war between demons and humans. Such a conflict would not remain confined to this small town and the coven has chosen to act because we view this as a serious threat - one that could spread beyond Sunnydale and potentially activate the Hellmouth itself.
“As you are all aware, you are confronted with two issues: the second being the group that calls itself the Initiative.” Maggie paused, and her voice grew even firmer. “The coven will not provide magical assistance against them.” Xander could feel Spike growling almost inaudibly and slid his hand over to rest on Spike’s thigh, hoping to forestall an outburst as Maggie continued.
“The Initiative is a strictly human group, no matter how misguided, and we will not use our power directly against them. However, recent developments indicate that the two problems are becoming one and we are willing to provide assistance against Adam, despite the fact that it may lead to magic power being used against humans.”
“As many of you know,” her gaze swept the room and Xander had no doubt she was aware of the suspicion and resentment their private meetings had caused. “We have held meetings since our arrival in town and, among other things, we have learned that your suspicions are correct: the Initiative’s holding cells are dangerously crowded with demons.”
“How do you know?” Buffy asked sharply.
“There are spells that can track the location of demonic energy, even pinpoint specific life signatures.” For some reason, she shot an impish look at the shy blonde standing by Mr. Okolo, who blushed crimson, ducking her head even lower and hunching in on herself. “From the patterns of demonic energy signatures, it was easy to track the locations of the underground cells and many of them appear to have two and even three demons in them, often of different species.”
That information brought a flurry of low-voiced comments and exclamations, primarily among the demons in the group. Considering that Xander had been worried about overcrowding at this meeting where everyone was at least nominally allies, he could only imagine the kind of fights that were going on inside the Initiative’s cells right now. If Adam wanted to use the demons he’d sent out to be captured, he would have to act quickly or his recruits would end up tearing each other to pieces. They didn’t have weeks, or even days, they had to move now despite the fact that they still had no idea what Adam was up to.
“We also believe we have located Adam,” Maggie said, her voice carrying over the others and commanding their attention again. “There is a single, highly unusual energy signature, very close to the holding cells, but apart. Given that none of us have ever seen this type of signature before, we believe this to be Adam,” she said dryly.
Maggie’s eyes touched briefly on Spike and Buffy. “Adam has strength substantially beyond that of a Slayer and a Master Vampire. Mr. Giles asked if there were spells which could enhance a fighter’s strength so that they could defeat something otherwise too strong and seemingly immune to weapons. There is such a spell. Put simply, the spell gathers power from other sources and temporarily re-directs that power into another. That other serves as a vessel, and for the duration of the spell, has access to that power as if it was truly their own.”
Buffy’s eyes were shining, looking like a kid on Christmas who had just been told that every present under the tree was theirs and Xander smiled, knowing without looking that Spike would be scowling at the idea of the Slayer getting more power. They were more evenly matched now than when Spike had first arrived in town, Buffy had grown stronger as she got older and, although Xander would still bet on Spike if it came down to it, he suspected Buffy would give Spike a serious run for his money these days. With a power boost of the kind Maggie was talking about, Buffy would definitely be able to kick Spike’s ass. Even if it was temporary, Spike clearly hated the idea.
“Mr. Harris, are you willing to be the vessel and fight Adam?”
Spike shot to his feet with an outraged roar before Xander had gotten over his astonished disbelief. “No. Fucking. Way.” His voice was cold and deadly, matching the anger inside him. He pulled Xander behind him, putting himself physically between Xander and the rest of the room. “Get yourself some other sacrificial prat. You’re not using my Claimed as your cannon fodder.”
He was beyond furious. This was what they’d been planning in those secret meeting, to sacrifice Xander for the greater good. No doubt the Slayer was too important to risk. Well, they weren’t getting near Xander with their fucking spells.
Looking infinitely regretful, Maggie met his eyes squarely. “We did not come to this conclusion lightly, William. Nor was it a random decision. And I can assure you, we are not intending to use Xander or anyone else as ‘cannon fodder’.” She gestured around the room at the diverse group gathered there. “Xander is the focus. The heart of the group. He is the one who has consistently drawn you together, and the energy of the group flows toward him. It must be him.”
The Slayer jumped to her feet, shoving her chair back out of her way as if preparing for action. She looked furious and betrayed, like someone had taken her toys away from her. “No! Xander’s good but he’s not our best fighter by far. We can’t put him on the front lines, Adam will kill him. I’m the Slayer, it’s my job. I’ll do it.”
The witches and the Watcher exchanged glances and Maggie silently deferred to Giles. “Buffy,” Giles began, then hesitated. His eyes sought Xander but Spike shifted, preventing him from making eye contact. Rallying, Giles again addressed Buffy. “There is a spell which can draw on the power of the Slayer line,” he admitted.
“Problem solved then.” “We’ll use that one.”
Their voices overlapped but the Watcher just shook his head.
“We can’t. The source of the Slayer’s power is demonic.”
“What?” The Slayer’s shocked question interrupted her Watcher.
“The Slayer line was created by tapping into the power of demons, their energy, and feeding that power to the original Slayer. Strength, speed, enhanced reflexes, healing powers; those are all demonic traits. The ones who created the Slayers intended to fight fire with fire.” Mr. Okolo explained with the authority of one who’s grandfather had been there to witness it. Unlike the others, he remained seated, a calm, commanding presence in the stormy room.
“Adam has power over demons,” the Watcher reminded them all. “Whether it is a power that was built into him or simply that of a charismatic leader, we don’t know. But there is a risk that, if we use the power of the Slayer line, then Adam may be able to control that power. In addition, the coven has found irrefutable evidence that the Slayer power is in some ways almost a living thing. Invoking the essence of the first Slayer would be taken as an insult to the source of that power and there would be dire consequences.”
“Like what?” Buffy pressed, still not looking happy. “You say that about a lot of things.”
“And I’m generally right,” Giles answered waspishly. “In this case, it appears likely that anyone participating in such a spell would be hit with a magical backlash that may very well kill them all.”
That silenced the Slayer but it wasn’t going to satisfy Spike. “So, you’re settling for just killing Xander, is that it?” he snarled.
“Of course not,” Willow burst out, then lapsed into silence when Maggie put a staying hand on her arm and Spike growled at her. Only the need to stay between Xander and the rest of the room, all watching the confrontation intently, kept him from attacking the red haired Witch. Invited to the secret meetings or not, she’d clearly known about this plan to put Xander on the firing line before now and she hadn’t seen fit to warn him.
“The spell we intend to use calls on the power of the earth. Instead of fighting fire with fire, we intend to fight fire with water,” Maggie explained. “If you will pardon the simplistic metaphor,” she added with a small quirk of her lips. “While invoking the power of the Slayer line might very well work, as Rupert has said, there are unacceptable risks involved. This way is much safer for everyone, including Xander.”
“Guys?” Xander had been gripping Spike’s arms tightly, restraining him and providing a welcome bulwark against the reckless fury that made him want to attack them all, consequences be damned. Now he spoke for the first time since Maggie’s astonishing request. Hearing the determination in his Claimed’s voice, despite the nervousness he could sense in his boy, Spike reluctantly moved so he was beside Xander, no longer blocking everyone’s view of his Claimed, including his own.
Xander had used the confrontation to steady himself but Spike could hear his thundering heartbeat and see the fear in his eyes. It wasn’t physical fear, Spike was certain of that. Xander had never let fear of being injured, or even dying, stop him. But magic had rarely done anything good for him, and his boy associated magic with the Witch’s violation of his mind and memories. Spike slid one arm around Xander’s waist, pulling him close to his side and glared around the circle, making it clear that no one touched his boy except by going through Spike first. He felt and heard Xander take a deep, shaky breath.
“I think you guys got something wrong. I’m pretty much backup guy. Really not point-man material.” He looked around the room. “I mean, this is me we’re talking about. Not a great fighter, not a magic worker, not our best thinker. I guess what I’m saying is: have you all completely lost your minds? Do you really see me as someone who can handle superpowers?”
Spike growled at Xander’s description of himself but didn’t contradict him. Now was not the time to be singing Xander’s praises, given that he wanted this idea squelched as quickly as possible.
“Xander,” Willow said earnestly. “That’s actually one of the main reasons why you’re the best choice.”
“What? Because I’m not good at anything?”
Willow smiled at him fondly. “No. Because you don’t want it. You can be trusted with power, especially the level of power we’re talking about.”
“We’ll all be there backing you up, Xander,” Giles added reassuringly. “Every one of us has a role to play.”
Xander knew he was being a wuss about this, knew he should probably be excited about getting a power boost, even a temporary one, but all he felt was dread. The spells Willow had done on him last year had made him extremely leery of magic in general and not bit with trusting people who used magic. The idea of having a bunch of foreign stuff dumped into him was too much like having his mind and memories tampered with and he was feeling sick at the mere thought of going through that again.
“Tara,” Mr. Okolo said quietly, glancing down at the shy girl beside him. “Would you be so kind as to explain.”
The new girl shot her head up in alarm, looking wide-eyed around the circle of strangers, her gaze flinching away from Spike’s yellow-eyed glare. Ordinarily, Xander would have elbowed him for intimidating the obviously frightened woman but right now he was too freaked out to care. Willow gave Tara an encouraging smile, and she swallowed nervously and began to speak.
“P-p-power isn’t stationery,” Tara began hesitantly, seeming to draw courage from Willow’s gentle smile. “It’s m-more like a river. It has a, a flow to it, a direction, c-currents and eddies.” She faltered, her eyes flicking in Xander’s direction before dropping to her clasped hands again. “W-w-we charted the f-flow of power in the group.”
Maggie gave her an approving look and took over, to Tara’s obvious relief as she immediately ducked her head and slipped into the background again.
“Xander, I’m afraid we’ve charted the power three times already, both here and while we were still in England. Not,” she said tartly in Buffy’s direction, “because we had doubts but because we wanted to be absolutely sure we hadn’t overlooked anything. The power in this group all flows in your direction.” Buffy opened her mouth and Maggie held up a stern hand. “It has nothing to do with physical strength or fighting abilities, Ms. Summers. It has to do with cohesion. Xander is the one who keeps this group together and functioning.”
“No, I don’t.” Something had to be off with their magic. Xander was sure of it. “Buffy and Giles , they’re the center of this group.” Spike’s outraged growl brought a tiny smile to his lips as he glanced at his lover. “Spike is my center and the focus of his Court. Oz is tied to the pack now, and Mr. Olsen, maybe, for the demon community,” he wasn’t really sure who the demons looked to as a leader, they had different people for different tasks. “And Willow…” he looked at her, still feeling guilty, despite her ready understanding of his long email silence. “She’s connected to Buffy if anyone…”
It really annoyed him that Maggie, Willow and, hell, even the new girl from behind the curtain of her hair, were all smiling at him indulgently.
“Xander,” Maggie said, her eyes conveying both amusement and sympathy, “those are eddies, as Tara put it so aptly. Places where power circles around different, lesser focuses. You are what brings the entire group together - humans, demons, magic users, werewolves,” her eyes went to each one as she named them and Xander was horrified to see them all nodding in agreement. Her smile was mischievous as she looked lastly at Spike, “even the Master of the Territory is brought into the group because of your influence.”
“But…” he began helplessly.
“Xander, she’s right,” Buffy said reluctantly. “I hate it because, well for both good and bad reasons,” she admitted, “but you are the one who ties us together. You’re the reason Oz is back,” she smiled at the werewolf as she spoke, “without you, none of the rest of us would ever have even met all the demon-hybrids in town, and god knows Spike wouldn’t be part of the group if you hadn’t dragged him with you.”
“Damn right,” Spike agreed, arms tightening possessively around Xander. “I’m not anywhere near convinced this is the way to go, but you are the center of this mismatched group, luv,” he admitted quietly with obvious reluctance. Then he lifted his head and glared challengingly around the room. “Gonna have to prove it’s safe before I allow this,” he said flatly.
He needed to stop this, right now, before it went any further.
Damn them for springing this on them. He could tell that Xander was going to agree to this, going to let them mojo him despite his fear, going to volunteer to tackle something they didn’t even know could be killed just because they said he was the only one who could do it. No explanations, no research into other possibilities, just putting this burden on Xander because they knew his boy would shoulder it without complaint.
Didn’t even have the decency to tell them in private. He glared furiously at the Watcher, who was looking everywhere but Spike, then at the Witch, shifting to his true face as her green eyes met his. He didn’t fucking care if she was under the authority of the coven, she claimed to be Xander’s friend and she should have warned him what was coming.
Xander was going to agree any second if Spike didn’t do something and Spike was not willing to talk about this with his Claimed in front of everyone. And they were going to talk about this before Xander did the stupidly heroic thing and agreed to this latest piece of insanity.
He stepped forward abruptly, one hand sliding down Xander’s arm to wrap his fingers around Xander’s wrist in a firm grip that was a long-time signal that Xander was to follow him without question.
“I’m taking my boy home,” he said flatly. “You fucking people had no right to just spring this on us and now you can bloody well wait for my decision.”
Without waiting for an answer, not caring if anyone protested, he strode forward, tugging Xander behind him, not surprised to see that people were moving out of his way. He wasn’t sure how many people in the room were aware of the chip, but at least half of them weren’t human and he almost hoped someone tried to stop them so that he could vent his fury on them.
Xander didn’t say a word until they were outside, following Spike obediently as he walked with long agitated strides away from the house and everyone in it. Grateful for his Claimed’s silent understanding, Spike released his grip on Xander’s wrist and fished around for his cigarettes, desperately needing the calming sensation of the warm narcotic smoke inside him.
He didn’t break stride as he lit up, inhaling deeply as he angled their steps towards the human section of town, the quiet residential streets where the soldiers never hunted.
“Bastards,” he said finally, after they’d walked in silence for nearly a half mile. He stopped and turned so he and Xander were face to face, dropping his cigarette butt. “You ok, luv?”
Xander nodded but Spike saw the fear hidden in his eyes and cursed Maggie and the rest of them as Xander wrapped his arms around himself, looking vulnerable and frightened despite his attempt to look fine.
“Don’t have to do this, Xander. They have no right to ask you to be the subject of a spell, not after what the Witch put you through.”
“I don’t like it. It scares the crap out of me to think about having people do magic on me,” Xander admitted. “And I don’t know if I really am the heart of the group. I mean, sure, I’m the one who met Mr. Olsen, and you and me, but..”
“No, that’s the one thing they got right,” Spike acknowledged reluctantly. Because if they were right about that, Xander probably would end up agreeing to do this. “Remember when me and Joyce had our falling out? Wasn’t the Slayer who tricked the two of us into meeting so we could patch things up.”
“Well, yeah, but…”
“It’s what you do, luv. Drives me crazy at times, but you don’t let people fall away from you. You’re the one who kept in touch with the Wolf and Watcher Junior when they left town. Hell, you even managed to drag Angelus’ enormous arse back here when he was needed. No, they got that bit right, like I said. I’m just not convinced that they haven’t picked this particular spell because it’s convenient. And I want to know a lot more about what exactly ‘gathering power from other sources’ means before we agree to anything.”
“Maggie said it was safe.” Xander sounded like he was trying to convince himself.
Spike snorted. “Safe means she doesn’t think you’ll die. Doesn’t mean you won’t be changed. Like you the way you are, pet. Got long terms plans for you. Not going to let them muck about with that by using you as a power dump.”
“Long term plans?” Xander smiled at him, a shadow of his sultry, heated smile that said he wanted to go to bed. Now. Spike opened his mouth to answer and was interrupted by a slyly familiar voice.
“Sounds like you two are in need of some expert advice from a neutral party.”
Furious at the interruption and furious with himself for allowing himself to get so distracted he hadn’t noticed there was anyone nearby, Spike whirled around, pulling Xander behind him instinctively.
A slender figure stepped out from behind a tree, moving to the sidewalk where the glow from the streetlight down the block illuminated the dark hair and arrogant smirk of the Chaos Mage Spike had ordered out of town last year.
*A/N - Slightly mangled bits of dialogue borrowed from the episode ‘Restless’