Pairing: S/X, established relationship
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 5, but anything from Season 1 on.
Summary: sequel to Nothing the Same , Books 1 - 3
Previous parts here
“Ok, so we know that the Temple of Sobek was big with the reptile worshiping, and their high priest was big with the mojo,” Buffy summed up after an hour’s intense research. “He made an unbelievably ugly amulet,” she slapped her hand on the picture Giles had found in one of his books, “that could change things into other things, and the markings on the bloodstone Giles sold to the demon woman says it was designed to be used on a cobra.”
Giles winced at the reminder of his mistake and Ethan glared at Buffy for her lack of tact - which was good, since Ethan didn’t know the meaning of the word.
Giles had described the customer to them and it was either the demon lady or her twin sister. Personally, he could help thinking that Giles really should have a least questioned what he was selling to a woman with long, curly dark blond hair and a tight fitting silk dress - it wasn’t like they hadn’t described her to Giles half a dozen times, and how many people dressed like that outside of Hollywood anyway? But, despite how smart he was, Giles could sometimes be fairly oblivious to a lot of normal human interaction and he’d obviously seen the woman only as a customer, not someone he needed to actually look at and form an impression of. If she had had any obvious demon characteristics, Giles would have immediately shifted into Watcher mode and not only would have noticed every detail about her, but he would have paid attention to what she was buying.
Which was stupid. And kind of prejudiced. The Mayor hadn’t looked like anything other than a human, and neither did Mr. Olsen except when he deliberately did the sparkly eyes thing, and Clem, the big demon Spike sometimes played poker with, was about as demony-looking as you could get, what with the ears and the hanging folds of skin and all, and he was just about the most harmless being Xander had ever met.
But Giles was obviously mortified about what had happened and he just didn’t have the heart to rag on him about it.
“We’re no closer to knowing what the hell she’s up to,” Buffy continued, “but I do know there’s only one place in Sunnydale where you can get a cobra. You know, between the hyenas and this, they really should close that damn zoo down.”
“Hyenas?” Ethan asked, looking amused by Buffy’s condemnation.
“The Masai Primals. Four students were accidentally possessed by hyena spirits when they interrupted the ritual,” Giles explained crisply.
“Don’t forget: Principal eaten,” Buffy added, making a face.
“Lovely,” Ethan commented, not looking any less amused.
“Is that how Principal Flutie got killed?” Xander asked, appalled. “I mean, I didn’t believe the wild dogs story but I guess I always assumed…” He stopped. “Sorry, I know it’s old news to you guys. Never mind. Back to the zoo.” He made a rolling gesture with his hands, signaling Buffy to go on with her plan.
Unfortunately, that appeared to be all of it. “I’ll check out the Reptile House and wait for the demon woman to show.” She got to her feet.
“That’s it?” Xander asked in disbelief.
“What? I’m going.”
“Yes, because getting your arse kicked is likely to be so helpful.” Xander was glad Ethan had said that, not him, because it meant that Ethan got the full benefit of the insulted-Slayer glare Buffy was gifting him with. He interrupted before it turned into a slanging match.
“Buffy, can you throw Spike 50 feet across a room?” he asked quietly. “This woman can. I saw her do it. This isn’t a one-on-one kind of thing. You need to take back-up.”
“And weapons,” Spike said from the doorway.
Everyone swiveled around to face him and Spike strolled towards them with his predator’s gait. “Take it you’ve found out where the demon bint is going to be?” he asked.
“She is probably going to the zoo. Tonight after it closes, I would imagine, given that she’s been keeping a low profile so far,” Giles said. “We believe she intends to transform a cobra into something else - something far more dangerous.”
“Well, let’s stop her then. Nasty things, snakes. Can’t have them running around loose.”
Buffy’s jaw dropped for a second, then she shook her head as if dispelling the image of an enthusiastically helpful Spike as a figment of her imagination. Xander just grinned. Spike didn’t give a damn about the snake, he just wanted another crack at the woman.
“So, weapons all around?” he asked, blithely ignoring Spike’s instant scowl and Buffy’s dubious look. “What?” he asked, spreading his hands innocently. “The woman’s all yours. I’m just going for the snake.”
In the end, five of them went. Xander, Spike and Buffy had selected weapons from Giles’ collection in the back room, Xander choosing a plain, solid axe more suited for wood chopping than the battle axes that Spike and Buffy had selected.
Giles had quietly announced that he was coming with them, insisting he was the most likely to be able to deal with the transmogrification spell. Tara offered to go to, looking willing but quietly terrified, but Giles had gently pointed out that, while she was infinitely better at magic than he was, he was proficient with a sword and she wasn’t. He’d taken one of the swords down from the wall and flourished expertly as he spoke, illustrating his point. Tara looked relieved and told them she would stay at the shop and continue researching, looking for clues about what a transmogrified cobra could be used for.
Ethan had obviously had no intention of going until he saw Giles arming himself. He made a number of cutting remarks about substandard slayers and old men who didn’t have enough sense to leave fighting to the super powered - remarks which Giles ignored completely - before stalking over to the weapons chest and pulling out a crossbow.
He straightened up, meeting Giles’ astonished stare with a sneer. “What? I’m twenty times more experienced with dark magic than you are, Ripper.”
“Thought fighting wasn’t your thing,” Spike commented idly, testing the balance of the large, double-bladed axe he’d chosen.
“Doesn’t mean I can’t do it,” Ethan retorted. He loaded the crossbow with the ease of long practice and took aim briefly at the target on the far wall, firing the weapon. “Hmmm,” he said judiciously when the bolt landed off-center in the target. “Pulls a little to the right. I’ll have to compensate.”
They piled into Giles’ convertible for the drive to the zoo. Squashed into the backseat with Buffy and Spike, Xander found himself wishing Giles hadn’t had a mid-life yen for something sporty. His old car had been hopelessly slow and frumpy, but at least the back seat had held three comfortably.
They were making an awful lot of assumptions about this, he thought worriedly. That the zoo was the only place you could get a cobra, that the woman would be alone, that she would want to do the ritual as soon as she could. On the other hand, if she wasn’t there, Xander was quite prepared to kill every cobra at the zoo to prevent them from being used in the ritual.
Not that the woman couldn’t find a cobra somewhere else, but he’d rather fight her without the distraction of a snake - big or small.
Rupert stopped the car outside the gates of the zoo and Spike vaulted out of the cramped interior. Leaving the others to sort themselves out, he inspected the locked gates. At only six feet, he and the Slayer could have jumped them easily but the other three would have a bit of trouble. Fortunately, there was a human door set inconspicuously in the wall and it was child’s play to kick that in.
He stepped through the opening, ignoring Buffy’s hissed warning to keep quiet, and looked around. “Which way?” he asked.
“I’m guessing the little picture of the snake is the right way,” Xander told him, lips twitching with barely suppressed laughter, gesturing towards a signpost with multiple arrows pointing in all directions. The arrow with the picture of the snake was helpfully labeled “Reptile House”.
Spike gave Xander an affronted glare. “Hey, not like I been to a kiddies zoo before. Didn’t know they came with bloody signs for the break-and-enter crowd.”
“And you call yourself a professional.” Xander ducked, laughing, as Spike took a mock swipe at him.
“If you two are finished,” Rupert said mildly, heading down the narrow paved walkway in the direction the arrow pointed.
The zoo was quiet, the animals asleep in their barns. If there was any security, they were either on a coffee break or in another part of the zoo. It was only a short walk of a 100 yards or so to the reptile building, but Spike found himself on edge. There was something in the air, something that sent a prickle of warning through him.
Rupert was looking around uneasily as if he felt the strangeness in the air as well, but it was the Chaos Mage who stopped suddenly, his head lifting like a hound catching a scent, then cursed vehemently.
“She’s here,” he said. “She’s started the ritual already.”
Now that the Chaos mage had pointed it out, Spike could feel it too. There was power building in the air, like a storm moving in. Ancient forces being re-awoken for the first time in millennia and filling the night with the crackle of power.
“Right, that bloody tears it,” Spike swore. He listened, stretching out his senses, and heard two voices, a male chanting something in an unfamiliar language and the demon bint reciting an incantation - surprisingly, in English. “There’s at least two of them inside,” he told the others.
“Rayne,” he ordered sharply. “You’ve got the only long distance weapon. The second we’re inside, you shoot the bitch. Whatever happens with your shot, reload immediately and go for the male who’s chanting.” Xander made a gesture of almost-protest but subsided immediately when Spike shot him an implacable look. “Slayer and I will handle the woman. You lot take care of anyone else. Clear?” He glanced Xander, relieved to see him nod agreement. Given the way the bint had tossed him around last time, he hated having Xander anywhere near her, but at least Xander wouldn’t try and go for her directly.
“Right. Let’s go.”
The Slayer was already reaching for the door, jerking it open and the rest of them streamed into the dimly lit building at her heels.
Once inside, they found themselves in a narrow, curving hallway, designed to look like a natural tunnel. They ran together around the corner, the two voices growing louder until the tunnel unfolded into a large open space, the walls pierced by glass-fronted cages.
The demon woman was standing over a large urn, holding something in both hands as she spoke the invocation. Facing her was a smaller figure in a brown robe, this one obviously a demon, with scabby, diseased looking skin and swept-back, pointed ears visible through long, greasy locks of hair.
Spike took it in with a glance as the group spread out, the Chaos Mage shifting to one side to get a clear shot. They were ignored as completely as if they weren’t there and Rayne set himself and fired the crossbow, the sound of the string’s release completely drowned out by the woman’s raised voice.
“…that it may be reborn ... that it may serve …”
The bolt landed dead center, tearing a small hole in the woman’s leather dress before bouncing off, not leaving so much as a scratch. She broke of her chanting and looked down at the hole in her dress with annoyance. “Hey! I’m in the middle of something here,” she snapped. It was bloody annoying how little concern she showed for their sudden armed presence. From her lack of reaction, she might have been a hostess facing uninvited guests at a cocktail party - a minor irritation at most.
Ethan quickly reloaded, turning to fire at the minion, who yelped in fear and flung himself to one side, as Spike and Buffy charged the demon woman., the Slayer slightly in the lead. She grabbed the woman’s arm, jerking her around so they were face to face, aiming a punch at the other woman’s face, acting like she didn’t have a perfectly good axe in her hand.
It was exactly how Spike had figured she’d play it. The Slayer had too much human in her and hadn’t been up against the woman before. Facing someone who looked completely human and weaponless, she lost her ruthless edge and went for the hurt rather than the kill.
Fortunately, Spike had no such scruples. As he’d planned, he was half a step behind the Slayer and slightly to one side, his own axe sweeping around with deadly force as the woman staggered back one step under the force of the Slayer’s punch and dropped the amulet she’d been holding. The weapon caught her square in the back and Spike almost lost his grip on the handle as the lethally sharp blade acted like a blunt instrument instead, bouncing back from the woman and doing no more damage than creating a second tear in her dress.
Spike cursed and swung again. The damn woman might be invulnerable to cutting weapons, but the force of his blow sent her staggering forward and for a moment, he and Buffy had a merry old time of it, bouncing the woman back and forth between them, the Slayer kicking and punching, too close in to use her weapon, and Spike swinging his axe like a club as the woman bitched and complained.
“No fair! Attacking when I wasn’t even looking! Ow!”
Spike grinned at the pained exclamation - at least they were finally hurting her a little. Buffy dropped her axe and grabbed the woman by the hair, slaming her head repeatedly into the concrete wall while he continued to batter at her with the axe.
It was too good to last.
“This is no good,” the woman exclaimed. “I’m out of the moment.” She shrugged them off as if they were nothing and suddenly grabbed Buffy by the arms. Ignoring Spike entirely, she threw the Slayer across the room, sending her slamming into the wall with a force that cracked the concrete. Sparing her a quick glance, Spike saw her crouched by the wall, frozen, dazed realization in her eyes. The same look, he suspected that he’d had when he first felt this woman’s strength.
He snapped his attention back to the fight a fraction of a second too late. The woman had spun around to face him, and she jerked the axe out of his hands, throwing it carelessly away. Spike heard glass break as the axe hit one of the many display windows.
“Dreg! I’m not hearing chanting!” she snapped to her minion as she dodged the blow Spike threw at her, letting it sweep harmlessly past. She was faster than he remembered, grabbing him before he could recover and tossing him across the room as easily as she had the axe. He tried to curl but the wall came up too fast and he impacted with stunning force, his head slamming back into the concrete.
Xander hadn’t expected Ethan’s crossbow to save the day, but he hadn’t expected it to have absolutely no effect either. His second bolt found a more vulnerable target as the hobbit-y looking guy in the brown robe yelped and dived for cover just in time, Ethan’s bolt hissing through the air where he’d been standing a second earlier.
Spike and Buffy charged the woman with weapons swinging and Ethan dropped the crossbow and threw himself forward, snapping: “Ripper, the scroll!”
Giles lunged after the little guy and Xander dragged his eyes away from the beginnings of a ludicrous chase in the dimly lit space, as the hobbit scrambled away, clinging desperately to the scrap of parchment, and Giles and Ethan spread out to corner them.
There was a large urn in the center of the room. A quick glance around showed that one of the display cases had had its glass broken out. No prizes for guessing which inhabitant was probably in the urn. There was nothing else in the space that looked even vaguely mystical
He winced as he heard Buffy slam into the wall and drop to the ground but forced himself to concentrate on his own job. Setting himself, he swung hard and smashed the butt end of his axe into the urn. The thick clay wasn’t pulverized as he’d expected, instead, the urn cracked badly but held its shape. He lifted his axe for another blow and brought it swinging around almost at floor level.
This time, the heavy clay exploded into fragments, shards flying everywhere as he ducked instinctively and threw one arm up to cover his eyes.
He lifted his head and straightened, fear slicing through him as he realized that Spike was down. Buffy was dragging herself to her feet, looking dazed but the woman was ignoring both of them as she stared at Xander. “You’re the one who stole my monk.”
“Yeah, sorry about that, but you were kind of torturing him,” he answered. Her hands were empty and his eyes swept the floor. He spotted the large green and gold amulet that Giles had shown them sketches of a few feet away. In the same moment, he saw the cobra, looking distinctly cranky, twisting and writhing in the flat clay bottom, rimmed with jagged shards, that was all that remained of the urn.
“What’s your point?” she said impatiently.
“My point,” Xander shifted his grip on the ax and brought the sharp edge down on the cobra, slicing deeply into the coils, “is that torturing is bad.” The cobra reared upwards at the blade bit into it, then the head flopped forward, twitching onto the floor.
Another swing and the blade buried itself in the head, cutting it in two and Xander was pretty sure this cobra wasn’t going to be able to be used in any more rituals.
For the first time, the woman looked angry and Xander fell back nervously as she advanced on him. “You little weasel, do you have any idea who I am?” She stalked towards him, skirting the mess of bloody snake and clay fragments, bizarrely terrifying in her tight leather dress and high heeled shoes.
“Umm, no,” he admitted, backing away, his hands clinging tightly to his axe. Given that weapons hadn’t done Spike and Buffy any good, he had serious doubts that his was going to help him at all. He circled away from her as he moved, throwing a quick glance to the side, trying to keep the remnants of the urn between them.
Buffy slammed into the woman from the side, knocking her away from Xander and he let out a shaky breath, tightening his grip on the axe, trying to keep his hands from shaking as he brought the butt end crashing down on the amulet, smashing it beyond repair, crushing the jewel and crumpling and twisting the metal.
Hard hands grabbed him and spun him around and he lifted the axe instinctively, then froze as he found himself staring into Spike’s gold eyes.
“Get out of here. Now! The Slayer and I’ll cover you,” Spike ordered, and pushed him towards the exit, eyes already turning back towards the woman.
He hated it, but Spike was right. It was long past time to retreat. “Two minutes, Spike, then follow us out.”
It was inevitable, of course, that Xander would wait for the Watcher and his boyfriend, who, Spike saw with disbelief, were dragging the woman’s minion out of the room between them.
“Glory!” the minion called desperately, struggling futilely against the strong arms holding him immobile.
“Hey! That’s mine!” The woman flung Buffy to one side with careless ease and stalked after the retreating figures. Spike swore, launching himself across the room at her, slamming into her with bruising force, knocking her off her feet and sending them both to the ground.
She rolled to her feet almost as rapidly as Spike did and glared at him. “Who are you people? Nobody takes my things and gets away with it. First my monk, now my minion. Interrupt my ritual, kill my snake - do you have any idea how hard it’s going to be to find another amulet?”
“Not a clue,” Spike answered truthfully, even as he spun and kicked, staggering her back a step. He kicked at her again but she grabbed him and tossed him across the room again, sending him smashing into the wall. He staggered back to his feet, just in time to see her dislocate the Slayer’s shoulder with one clean jerk.
Buffy let out a sobbing breath, crumpling to her knees and Spike pushed forward off the wall, throwing himself at the woman and knocking her away from the Slayer. The woman grabbed his arms and, for the third time that night, Spike found himself flying through the air. He hit glass this time, crashing through one of the display cases, to land in a tangle of branches and lizards.
Ignoring the pain, he rolled out of the case, dropping back to the floor, and had to brace himself against the wall for a moment as his legs crumbled beneath him. Two minutes had to have gone by. It was time to go.
“Slayer!” he snapped and saw Buffy’s head turn towards him. “We’re leaving.”
She nodded and Spike saw his own knowledge in her eyes that they were outmatched and needed to get out before the woman killed them. The woman grabbed Buffy and spun her around.
“The Slayer? I’m fighting a Vampire Slayer?” A pained expression crossed the woman’s face that had nothing to do with the fight. “How unbelievably common.” She backhanded Buffy, the casual blow sending her sailing across the room to land with a choked cry of pain.
“I just want you to know…” the woman said conversationally, walking over and staring down at her. “So not impressed.” She illustrated her point by yanking Buffy up off the ground and hurling her across the room again. She landed hard, and crumpled to the ground, lying motionless.
Spike cursed and forced his legs to obey him, taking two running steps and jumping up, grabbing an overhead pipe and swinging his legs up to slam both booted feet into the woman’s back, sending her staggering forward, away from Buffy.
Spike dropped to the ground and yanking Buffy up by her good arm, half carrying, half dragging her toward the exit.
“What is with you two?” the woman said. “A vampire and a Slayer working together? Don’t the rules mean anything to you?”
Over the woman’s comments, Spike heard the unexpected and welcome blare of a car horn and bit back a sound that would be all too close to a sob of relief. The Slayer was shaking it off and beginning to move forward under her own power, cradling her right arm that hung limply from the dislocated shoulder as she half-staggered, half-ran for the exit.
Giles and Ethan seemed to have things well in hand and Xander looked back as they turned the corner of the hall, seeing Spike tackle the woman and Buffy scrambling back to her feet. He dodged around Giles and ran to the doors, holding them open as the other two men hustled their struggling burden through them.
“Why are we taking him?”
“Information,” Giles told him tersely, freeing one hand momentarily to fish inside his pocket. He tossed his keys to Xander. “Get the trunk open and start the engine.”
“Right.” Xander ran down the path, heading for the main gate. He had the trunk open and the engine started just as Giles and Ethan manhandled the minion through the gate. They tossed him unceremoniously in the trunk and slammed the lid.
“Get in!” he yelled at them, adrenaline flooding his system.
Ethan and Giles jumped into the car and Xander floored it, the tires squealing as he took off in a long sweeping curve.
“What the hell…!” Ethan yelped as he was thrown sideways as Xander cut back sharply towards the gate.
“Hang on!” Xander put his foot down and aimed for the center of the gate where the two halves met.
There was an indescribable sound as metal smashed into metal, the gates giving way under the impact of the speeding car. Xander fought for control as the car fishtailed, then drove recklessly down the pedestrian walkway towards the Reptile House, branches scraping both sides of the car on the narrow path.
Ethan was shouting something but Xander ignored him, braking hard and jerking on the wheel to bring the car spinning to a halt, tail end to the Reptile House. He leaned on the horn, the sound cutting sharply through the night air.
“Spike! Get out here!” he yelled as loudly as he could and punched the horn again. “Spike!”
The doors slammed open and Spike and Buffy lurched through them, both limping heavily but moving fast despite their injuries. They vaulted over the sides of the car into the back seat, Buffy scrambling ungracefully, one arm obviously out of commission, Spike moving like he was unsure of his legs, both indifferent to how they squashed Ethan between them as they landed.
“GO!” Buffy yelled, twisting around to stare behind them at the entrance to the Reptile House.
Xander already had the accelerator mashed to the floorboards, heading back down the path to the gate. He caught a glimpse of blonde hair outlined in the doorway before the path curved and they were gone, speeding away through the broken gates and into the quiet night outside the zoo’s walls.
*A/N - Bits of dialogue borrowed from the episode ‘Shadow’