orchidluv (orchidluv) wrote in bloodclaim,
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Nothing the Same, Book 4, Ch. 23

Nothing the Same, Book 4
Chapter: 23/??
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

Chapter 23

Spike and he had gotten pretty good at leaving for the Magic Box by different routes and arriving at the same time. On afternoons like this, when Xander was going to the shop straight from the job site, Spike would hit the tunnels, usually climbing the steps up from the basement just about as Xander walked through the front door.

Spike had beaten him there easily this time, Xander saw as he pushed open the door, setting the little bell above it ringing. Not surprising, considering he hadn’t been able to resist buying a newspaper on the way and had walked the last four blocks avidly reading the main article. That had slowed him down and nearly gotten him killed as he absentmindedly crossed a street against the light.

“Hey, did anyone else see this article about a meteor strike last night?” he asked the room at large, holding up the newspaper in illustration.

The shop was quiet, with no customers in shopping at the moment. Buffy was leaning against the counter, talking to Giles, and Spike and Tara sat at the table with Dawn. Judging from the smell, Ethan was still playing mad scientist in the training room, but Dawn looked up from her homework at his comment. “It’s all over my school,” she said excitedly. “I heard there was something inside it.”

“Inside the meteor?” Xander asked. “Dawn, you know I’m totally on board with the idea of alien invasion, but do you really think they’d travel in something that small? It’s probably the size of a baseball, maybe a basketball tops.”

“There was so something inside,” Dawn insisted, ignoring the indulgent smiles from everyone else. “Janice’s sister knows a guy who’s friend saw it.”

“And what exactly did Janice’s sister’s friend see?”

“Janice’s sister’s friend’s friend, Rupert, keep it straight,” Spike corrected, somehow managing to sound serious.

“Well, they were making out in the park, and they saw the meteor hit, so they went to investigate. They said it was hollow. And,” she finished triumphantly. “They found a dead body nearby, so something obviously came out of the meteor and killed the guy.”

“H-how did he die?” Tara asked, looking concerned.

“Janice didn’t say. I think they ran away, the big chickens.” Spike smirked at the condemnation in Dawn’s voice for the hapless couple.

“Did the paper say anything about a dead body near the meteor?” Buffy asked, frowning a little.

Xander gave her a look. “This is the Sunnydale Press,” he pointed out. “They gave less than three inches to the hospital deaths, which, I might add, they put down to…” he turned to the article and read out loud: “‘an unknown virus or toxin which appears to have been the cause of not only the mysterious deaths but also of the victims’ unusual symptoms which mimicked psychosis.’” He shut the paper and dropped it on the table. “You’ll all be delighted to know that the hospital reports there is no cause for alarm and they are looking into the problem and expect to have answers shortly.”

“And once again, the stunning incompetence of the medical profession in this charming village is on display,” Ethan said. He entered the main room, wiping his hands on a rag and bringing with him the faint whiff of chemicals. “The patients suffocated. The substance is toxic but only at a very low level. You could feed them that stuff for a week before it would show any effects.”

“Gross,” Dawn said, making a face.

Ethan looked down his nose at her. “In any case, it certainly wasn’t the cause of their insanity. For a virus or an unknown toxin to even be considered as the cause of their symptoms, they would have all had to have been infected at different times, which makes the probability of simultaneous deaths a statistical impossibility.”

“Wankers.”

Xander wasn’t sure if Spike meant the doctors or the newspaper reporters but, in either case, he had to agree, although he was too busy boggling at Ethan’s crisp summary to comment himself.

“I quite agree,” Giles said. “Extremely irresponsible of them to put out that reassurance, even when they don’t have the true facts.”

“Umm, do we?”

“I’m sorry, Xander, I forgot you’d only just arrived.” Giles removed his glasses and began polishing them in the way that meant he was preparing for a lengthy explanation. Buffy got there first.

“The soldiers killed the thing responsible last night.” She gave a mock shiver. “From the sketch they made, I’m glad they took care of it. Three foot long worms with arms and way more teeth than normal are not my thing.”

“Yeah?” Spike asked with mild curiosity. He never got as worked up about human deaths as the rest of them.

“Yes,” Giles confirmed. “It attacked the mental patient we saw being admitted, not long after we left. Apparently it was hiding in the ductwork somewhere. Fortunately, the soldiers had already arrived and they were able to kill it before it harmed her.” He glanced at Xander. “Your friend, Mr. Okolo, identified the creature from the drawing the soldiers made. According to Mr. Okolo, it’s known as a Queller demon. Apparently, they are extremely rare. The name comes from the primitive belief that the demon could be summonsed to ‘quell’ madness.”

“This one certainly ‘quelled’ the local mental population,” Buffy commented bitterly.

“See, I was right,” Dawn said. “The demon got summoned to kill the crazy people.” She sighed in exasperation at the blank looks on everyone’s faces. “Hello - it came here in the meteor.”

“While that is a possibilty,” Giles said tactfully. “I suspect it’s far more likely that the demon is drawn to areas where the mentally ill population reaches a certain level. It’s likely the patients put out some chemical or pheromonal signal that we are not aware of that the demon picks up on.”

“Don’t you have homework?” Buffy asked Dawn pointedly.

“Fine. But I’m right, you’ll see.” Dawn turned back to her schoolbooks with a huff and Spike leaned over to whisper something to her that made her giggle.

“We still don’t know what’s causing so many people to go crazy,” Tara said quietly. “If new patients keep showing up, we m-may end up dealing with another one of the demons.”

“That’s a very good point, Tara. I’ll see if Sgt. Morgan can arrange to have a soldier guard the mental ward at the hospital until we know if another demon is likely to appear.”
Giles sighed and slipped his glasses back on. “I’m very troubled by the sudden appearance of these mental patients. I haven’t been able to find any reference to a demon that causes insanity, and that is yet another reason to ask the Council’s help.”

Buffy scowled. “I still hate the idea of talking to them, but we do seem to be piling up a lot of mysteries lately. Maybe we do need the extra help,” she admitted reluctantly.

“Gotta admit, Sunnydale is big into denial, but until the last month or so, people haven’t been coping with the weirdness by going crazy,” Xander said, more thinking out loud than making an actual conclusion.

“They’re creepy,” Dawn said flatly.

“Dawnie, that’s not very nice,” Tara told her gently. “They can’t help how they’re behaving.”

Dawn just made a face. “I bumped into one of them last week and he kept saying all this crazy stuff to me.” She shivered at the memory and Spike put an arm around her.

“Don’t you worry, li’l Bit. He’s prolly one of the loonies got killed yesterday.”

SPIKE!”

“What? Man’s got no business bothering helpless young girls,” Spike shot back indignantly.

“I think the operative word is ‘crazy’,” Buffy reminded him, rolling her eyes.

Spike just shrugged.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Slayer, we need to talk.” Spike closed the door firmly behind him and pitched his voice deliberately low, not wanting the rest of the group to hear him. The others were still prattling on about when and how to approach the Watchers Council and he’d slipped away to follow Buffy into the training room.

“What about?”

“About you doing what you promised.”

From the slightly guilty look on her face, Buffy knew exactly what he was talking about.

“She’s going to find out for herself one of these days. She’s going to overhear something, walk into a room at the wrong time, something.” Spike leaned against the wall and pinned her with a hard look. “You can’t let her find out that way. Either one of them.”

“I know. It’s just… Things keep happening.”

“Do you know what that lunatic said to her? Something about nobody being in there.”

Buffy looked blank. “He was crazy, Spike. I wouldn’t expect him to make any sense.”

“Made more sense than a lot of humans. There’s a reason people like that used to be considered touched by the gods. Sometimes they can see things normal people can’t. Not impossible that some of the crazies the Hellmouth is turning up so regular these days might be able to tell she’s not quite what she seems.”

“You’re just guessing,” she said uncertainly.

He raised one eyebrow at her. “Bit more than a guess. Lived with a mad seer for nearly a century, didn’t I?”

Buffy sighed, her whole body sagging slightly. “You’re right. I’ve been finding excuses to put it off.”

“Know that,” he told her. “But if you don’t tell them, I will. Not having Niblet find out from some random loony on the street.”

He spun on his heel and strode out of the room. After a moment, the sound of Buffy pounding the punching bag started up and Spike nodded in satisfaction, moving to collect Xander and head out. She wouldn’t risk Spike breaking the news. She’d tell her mum, and then Dawn.

And not before bloody time, he thought.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“So, what do you think? Will she tell Joyce?”

“Yeah.” Spike was supremely confident. “Knows if she don’t, I’ll do it for her and she won’t let that happen.”

Xander gave him a sideways look. “I hope so. It’s probably best coming from her.”

“Maybe. Only if she gets around to doin’ it.”

“True. Still, it’s hard to blame her,” Xander said fairly. “It’s not exactly easy to find a gentle way to bring the subject up.”

“Joyce is tough. She’ll handle it.”

“I know. But it’s a pretty hard sell.”

He could tell from his boy’s voice that Xander was remembering how hard it had been for him to tell Buffy. Slayer hadn’t taken the news well at all. Still, Joyce had a lot more sense than her daughter. She’d understand that Dawn was still Dawn. “Don’t fret, luv. It’ll go alright. Then Joyce will tell Dawn, and that’s how it should be.”

“Yeah, I hadn’t thought that one of the crazies might give the game away.”

Spike snorted. “That’s ’cause you’ve never spent much time around them. Dru was mad as a hatter but she saw things real clear sometimes.” He couldn’t quite hide his smile as he thought of his Dark Princess. Took patience, but when you sifted through her rambling words about stars and flowers and dolls, there was usually a core of insight to be found. He slung an arm around Xander. “Ever tell you how she told me I was going to find you waiting for me here?”

Xander gave him a patient look. “Spike, she died before we ever met.”

“’s what I mean. She knew. Told me I would find my destiny on the Hellmouth.” Spike smirked at Xander’s pleased smile and was unable to resist. “Called you a wounded kitten.”

Xander rolled his eyes. “I’m touched, Spike. Real manly image there.”

“Were younger then, pet. An’ I hadn’t been training you up yet, teachin’ you to be a tiger.”

Xander ducked out from under his encircling arm, moving so quickly that, if Spike hadn’t been expecting some kind of retaliation, he would have been caught off guard as Xander spun around, bringing his left arm up and around in a swift blow aimed at his back. Spike was already turning towards Xander and own arm shot out, blocking the elbow strike and knocking it to one side. Xander didn’t hesitate for an instant, absorbing the force of Spike’s block and throwing a punch at his midsection.

Spike seized Xander’s wrist and halted the blow before his knuckles got close enough to do more than graze his abdomen, then used Xander’s momentum against him, yanking hard on his arm, forcing Xander’s body to turn until his back was to Spike’s chest. Xander slammed his head back and Spike had to jerk his own head backwards to avoid having his nose broken. Xander used that one second of distraction to slam his foot into Spike’s calf, causing his leg to buckle momentarily.

Snarling, Spike tightened his grip as Xander tried to break free while Spike was off-balance. He swept his boy’s legs out from under him and shoved him to the ground in the same moment, pouncing on top of him and pinning him down.

Xander was grinning up at him, his breath coming just a little heavier than normal, and Spike tightened his legs, trapping Xander’s hips between his strong thighs and grinding down against him. Xander took a deep shuddering breath and Spike smirked down at him, feeling Xander’s cock begin to harden under the layers of denim separating them. “Gonna purr for me, kitten?” he asked, his own voice deepening to a throaty purr.

“Oh, yeah.”

Reaching up with both hands, Xander tugged him down and into a passionate kiss.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A loud wolf-whistle sounded and Xander looked up from the piece of wood he was sanding. Joyce was picking her way across the job site, following the directions of one of his co-workers. There was a slight flush of color in her cheeks, but otherwise she ignored Darren, concentrating on keeping her footing on the uneven ground. Xander pulled his goggles off and glared at Darren and his cronies, sweeping his fingers across his throat in a cut-it-out gesture. Grinning good naturedly, Darren just shrugged unrepentantly and turned back to his work.

Just then, Joyce glanced up and spotted Xander, and one look was enough to tell Xander why she was there - Buffy had obviously done what she’d promised and told Joyce about Dawn.

“Hi, Joyce. Give me a second and I’ll be right with you,” he said, glancing at his watch.

The shift was almost over. Xander unplugged the sander and stowed it away, then gave a brief word of explanation to the crew chief, before following Joyce back to her car. “I’m sorry to catch you at work, Xander,” she said as she unlocked the doors. “I really need to talk to you.”

“Not a problem,” he told her, then asked with careful casualness. “Is this about Dawn?”

Joyce shot him a sideways look as she turned the key. “Yes, but let’s wait until I’m not driving.”

They were both silent as Joyce drove them away from the job site, pulling over after a minute into the parking lot behind the movie theater. She stopped in the far end of the lot, well away from any other cars, and shut off the engine, turning sideways in her seat to face him. “Xander, are you sure?” Her eyes held his intently. “There’s no possibility that you misunderstood?” Xander almost smiled, not surprised that she’d gone straight to the heart of the matter.

He shook his head slowly, wishing he could lie, wishing there was some way he could tell her that the dying monk had been babbling nonsense and he didn’t believe a word of it. “I wish I could tell you I wasn’t sure,” he said. “But I haven’t been able to come up with a single reason why the monk would have lied.”

“Will you tell me about it?” She made a vague apologetic gesture. “Buffy told me the general facts but she wasn’t there. Please don’t think I doubt you, Xander. It’s just that
I can’t even begin to grasp this. She’s my little girl, I…” Her voice trailed off and her eyes filled with tears.

Xander reached out and took her smaller hand in his own big, calloused one. “She’s still Dawn. She’s just…not quite as old as we thought.”

Joyce squeezed his hand, closing her eyes for a long moment. Then she took a deep ragged breath and looked at him again. “Thank you, Xander.”

He took a steadying breath of his own and, as he had done for Buffy, he described his encounter with the monk, reliving again the pain and horror of that night, the monk’s suffering, his desperation to impart the vital information before he died, Xander’s own rejection of the idea, and finally, his reluctant acceptance. Through it all, Joyce sat silently, watching him with steady eyes, absorbing every nuance of expression in his face and voice.

When he finished, there was a long silence. Finally, Joyce sighed. “As much as I don’t want to believe it, I suppose it must be true.” She stared out the window across the parking lot. Cars were gradually arriving, and small groups of people were converging on the box office, forming a short line. The sound of their cheerful voices drifted across the expanse of asphalt, an almost obscene contrast to the heavy atmosphere inside the car. Xander found himself watching the oblivious movie-goers, envying them their carefree evening.

“Buffy tells me you and Spike think Dawn should be told.” Joyce’s voice pulled his attention back to the conversation and he hesitated, not sure if it had been a question.

“Yes,” he said finally, when she didn’t say anything else. “I think she’s going to find out anyway, sooner or later.” He lifted one hand in a helpless gesture. “If nothing else, Murphy’s law will make sure it happens. It’s better if it comes from you and Buffy.”

Joyce frowned, biting her lip indecisively, in a way that was unlike her usual brisk confidence. “I don’t know…” she began. “She’s still just a baby. Maybe when she’s a little older…”

“We’re lucky she hasn’t found out already,” he told her bluntly. “Did Buffy tell you about the crazy guy Dawn ran into?” Joyce nodded and Xander continued: “Spike thinks that some crazy people might be able to tell she…different. And right now, Sunnydale is crawling with crazy people. Even without them, there’s Glory hunting for her, and possibly others as well. Dawn will be safer is she knows she has to be careful.”

He gave Joyce a tiny smile. “You know Spike has always protected her, right? I think Dawn knows it too, that she’s just a little safer on the Hellmouth than most kids her age. And that may have been true six months ago…” he stopped, realizing what he was saying, then shook his head impatiently. “Dawn needs to know that there are things out there looking for her. Things that won’t worry about angering Spike. I know it’s a lot for her to handle, but better freaked out than dead. She has to be careful until we figure out how to handle Glory.”

“But Buffy tells me Rupert is going to England soon. He might find the answers you’re looking for. If he does, then Dawn doesn’t need to know. Surely we can wait, at least until he comes back.”

“He’s leaving Friday night and expects to be back on Monday,” Xander told her. “But he’s just going to ask the Council and the Coven if they can help. He’s just setting things in motion. He’s not going to tell them anything about Dawn, or that the Key is human now, but he is going to ask them to research both Glory and the Key. What if they find something that leads to Dawn?”

“That’s what Buffy is afraid of.”

“We all are,” he said.

It was true. They’d talked about it - what they would do if the Council found out about Dawn somehow. Running away was the best answer they’d been able to come up with so far.

Well, the best answer after Buffy, Giles and himself had all vetoed Spike’s suggestion that they kill every member of the Council if they figured out that Dawn was the Key. Afterwards, Xander had pointed out to his sulking lover that they had no way of ensuring that the Council wouldn’t pass the information on to any of their field agents, and tracking them all down was simply not feasible.

“I know it’s your decision,” he said. “Yours and Buffy’s, but something could happen at any moment: the Council, Glory; hell, one of the crazy people could spill the beans to Dawn. I’m worried about what will happen if she finds out by accident.” He sighed. “And I’m worried that, if you and Buffy need to act quickly to keep Dawn safe, Dawn will slow you down with questions. Unless she knows what’s going on already.”

Joyce nodded thoughtfully, then shifted in her seat to face front and started up the car. “Thank you, Xander.” She gave him a fleeting smile. “For letting me kidnap you, and for… everything else. I know you and Spike want what’s best for Dawn. I’ll think about what you said.” She put the car in gear but kept her foot on the brake, turning to give him a stern look. “Please tell Spike that this is a family decision. I appreciate his concern, but if he takes action on his own without talking to me first, I will be very angry.”

“I’ll tell him,” he promised.

~~~~~~~~~

*A/N - Bits of dialogue borrowed from the episodes ‘Triangle’

TBC

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