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
From Chapter 32:
Tara’s face was white and her hands were shaking as she gasped out: “Willow’s gone.”
Spike was moving almost before the words left Tara’s mouth, shoving his chair back and brushing past her as he leapt down the stairs. He scanned the basement quickly and cursed out loud as he saw no signs of a struggle. The robot lay undisturbed on the table, same as it had all week, and the witch’s laptop was open, its screen displaying lines of gibberish. If that fucking bitch had sold them out, he was going to eviscerate her, he thought savagely.
He dropped down to the sewer entrance and stopped short, frowning as he saw the gate that they’d installed over the entrance to the Magic Box. It had been pried off its hinges, hanging twisted from the lock, the narrow gap wide enough for the witch’s slender body to pass through it, but he had to admit he doubted the redhead would have had the foresight to pry the gate off with a crowbar to cover her tracks. Something must have taken her.
“Spike? What do you see?”
Spike crouched down, snatching at the scrap of coarse wool that had snagged on the sharp edge of the lower hinge. One whiff told him what he needed to know and he looked up grimly at Xander’s anxious face at the top of the ladder.
“Glory,” he said. “Her minions anyway. One of them caught his robe here.” Glory’s minions had a distinct, unpleasant smell, like the heavy, musty odor of rotting grain, and it permeated the scrap of fabric.
Tara’s gasp sounded from behind Xander and Xander’s face went pale. “Can you track them?” he asked anxiously. “They can’t have gone far, there hasn’t been enough time.”
Spike was already on it, forcing the broken gate open wider, he stepped into the tunnels and stretched out his senses, looking, listening and smelling for any sign of which way they’d gone. No tracks and the smell wasn’t strong enough for him to follow - he wasn’t a fucking bloodhound. The tunnel was silent, except for the ever-present sound of water dripping, no sound of a hostage struggling or hurrying footsteps to follow. The only possible clue was the faint skittering sound of claws on cement as something small and timid scurried along the tunnel. Question was, did it mean something just disturbed by the passage of something larger and scarier, or was that an all-clear for that direction and they should head the other way?
He cursed his indecision and moved down the tunnel a few yards, hoping for some sign: another fragment of cloth, a drop of blood, a suspicious scuff mark on the concrete, anything for them to follow.
There was nothing.
Xander pushed his broader body through the off-kilter gate with a screech of protesting metal and entered the tunnel, human eyes scanning anxiously for clues where vampire vision had found nothing. Spike knew that his own failure to find anything showed clearly and Xander’s face hardened. “Ok, we split up and each take a direction. One of us will find them.”
“There’s another way.” Tara dropped down the ladder and joined them, Dawn following closely behind. “I can track Willow magically.”
Xander’s expression cleared. “Thank god. What do you need?”
Tara closed her eyes, holding her hands up and out, the thumb and fingers of each hand touching in a gesture that was somehow ageless and meditative. She spoke and, despite the quiet, almost conversational tone, Spike could feel the power in her voice, like the far-off smell of an approaching electrical storm: “Aradia, Goddess of the lost, hear my words. Grant me your aid and show me the path of the lost one.”
A spark lit and hovered in front of her for a moment, looking remarkably like an oversized firefly as it circled her, then darted away down the tunnel. “The light will guide us to her,” Tara told them, already starting down the tunnel after the brightly glowing light.
Xander caught her arm, stopping her. “Tara, we need more weapons than none. It’ll only take a second.” He peered after the spark anxiously as it disappeared around the curve of the tunnel. “Can you make it wait for a minute?”
A quick gesture from Tara had the spark obediently reappearing around the corner, where it hovered jerkily, almost seeming impatient as it waited for them.
“Give me three minutes,” Xander said, turning back towards the shop. He urged Dawn before him, shepherding her firmly up the ladder despite her protests.
Spike looked at Tara. “Should stay behind with Dawn, Tara. You’re not a fighter.”
Tara met his eyes stubbornly. “I’m going. It’s Willow,” she said simply.
“Getting yourself killed’s not going to help her much.” He gestured towards the animated light. “Done your bit, Glinda. Should leave the rescuing to Xander and me.” He had his doubts about whether this was a rescue mission or not but he kept silent about that. If the witch was blabbing to Glory about Dawn, he’d kill her without batting an eye. For Tara’s sake, he’d prefer not to do that in front of her.
“And what if Glory has counter-magicks set up?” Tara asked. “I may need to renew the spell or try a new one. I’m going.”
Spike had spent too much time with Angelus not to know an immovable rock when he saw one. Hopefully Xander was having more luck with Dawn than he was with Tara.
“I’m going with you.” Dawn said. She planted her feet and squared herself for an argument, looking determined and so scared it broke Xander‘s heart.
“Dawn, I need you to stay here.” He held up a hand to cut off her protest. “We don’t have time to argue about this. Call Buffy and Giles and tell them what’s happened. Get them headed this way and tell them we’ll call as soon as we come up from the tunnels.” He had no doubt the trail would lead above-ground, there was no way that Glory was living in the sewers, not with her penchant for designer dresses and strappy sandals.
“Then call your mom and have her come pick you up right now.” He fished his keys out of his pocket and tossed them to her, before grabbing two axes from the weapons chest. He hesitated for a moment, then pulled a baseball bat out as well. “The two of you go to the mansion and stay there until you hear from us.” Dawn still looked rebellious and he forced himself to take the time to explain. “It’s important, Dawn. You and your mom need to be somewhere that Glory can’t find you. We don’t know why she’s taken Willow or what’s happening.” If Glory was trying to torture the Key’s location out of Willow…
He forced himself not to think about it. Not to think about what godlike strength could do to fragile human flesh. “I know you want to help Willow, but the most important thing you can do is stay safe. If Glory gets ahold of you, the world ends. More than anything, Willow wouldn’t want that.” And if Glory learned that Dawn was the Key, the house was the first place she’d look. The mansion should be safe since no-one else knew of its existence. “Dawn? I’m counting on you. We need Buffy and Giles for backup and we can’t risk you anywhere near Glory. Ok?”
She nodded reluctantly, looking scared and a little relieved and worried sick. He smiled and gave her a quick kiss on the forehead, then pushed her gently towards the counter. “Make the calls.”
She started obediently for the counter and Xander ran back down the stairs to rejoin Spike and Tara.
He handed Spike a heavy battle-axe, keeping the smaller one for himself, and held the baseball bat out to Tara. She stared at it, then shook her head.
“Tara, if you’re going with us, you need to have something to protect yourself with,” Xander told her. “I know you’re Wicca-girl, but sometimes the enemy doesn’t give you time to do a spell. Hit them with that and it buys you time.” Well, it would buy her time against the minions. Glory would just laugh.
“I can’t,” she said, looking up at him and shaking her head. “It’s not how I defend myself.”
Xander exchanged a quick look with Spike, who just shrugged. It wasn’t likely Tara would be able to do any damage anyway, he admitted, none of the rest of them could, so he supposed it didn’t really matter. They’d just have to protect her somehow.
“Let’s go,” he said, setting off in the direction the spark was hovering, bobbing up and down impatiently as it waited for them. “Dawn’s calling Buffy and Giles and telling them to stand by. We’ll give them our position as soon as we know it ourselves.”
Tara was at his heels immediately and Spike shook his head but didn’t say anything else. He couldn’t argue with her right to rescue or revenge her girlfriend, but unless she had some serious magic up her sleeve, he didn’t see how she was going to survive an encounter with Glory.
The spark lead them through the sewers for less than a mile, then darted up to the surface through an access shaft. The three of them climbed the ladder and came out in the middle of a grassy expanse.
“This is Wilkins Park, isn’t it?” Xander said, looking around. “Big surprise. Figures Glory would be in the high rent district.”
Spike wasn’t that familiar with the area. Too many street lights and private security guards meant that demons generally avoided the area, so it wasn’t on his regular patrol schedule. Xander was already on the phone, passing the word on to Buffy and Rupert, and Tara set off across the grass, her eyes fixed on the spark of magic she’d called to guide them. Gripping his ax, Spike followed her.
Xander jogged to catch up. “They’ll be here in a minute. They’re in Giles’ car,” he told them.
They crossed the park, their eyes drawn inevitably to the expensive apartment building lining the street facing the park, watching as the flickering light headed straight for one of them. An old building from the ‘20’s with an art deco look to it.
The sound of a racing engine filled the gentile quiet of the neighborhood and Spike rolled his eyes. As Rupert’s convertible raced up and Buffy leapt out of the passenger seat, he said: “Subtle entrance.”
She scowled at him. “Which building?”
Xander gestured towards the art deco building and Rupert joined them, a tire iron snatched from the trunk in his hands.
“Let’s go,” he said grimly.
Buffy’s kick shattered the door jamb and sent the heavy mahogany door flying open to smash into the wall. She was through an instant later, Spike moving with her, with Tara, Xander and Giles at their heels.
The door opened onto an enormous room, something that looked more like a stage setting than someone’s apartment. An obscenely large living room, luxuriously furnished with plush wall-to-wall carpeting, elegant furniture, and a hellgod descending a curving flight of marble stairs. Like every other time he’d seen her, Glory was wearing a slinky silk dress, this one red with black embroidery, and high-heeled sandals, which made the three scabby minions trailing her down the steps look even shabbier and more out of place than usual.
She laughed as she saw them. “Well, if it isn’t Mousy the Vampire Slayer and her little gang of misfits. How cute.”
The minions abandoned ship, scrambling back up the stairs to the second floor while Glory stepped down into the living room.
“Here to rescue the witch? You’re a bit late. That story about her just arriving from England fooled those worthless minions of mine. Turns out, she’s just a human after all. Still, she wasn’t completely useless.” Glory smiled almost giddily, like someone who’d been drinking spiked punch. “What a mind she had. I’m still a little buzzed from eating her.”
Tara made an anguished sound, like someone had snatched all the air from her lungs and Xander felt like an iron fist was squeezing his heart. They were too late. Too late to save Willow. Too late for anything but revenge. Forgetting everything but the anger inside him, Xander leapt forward, his ax swinging in a vicious arc of shining metal, slicing through the air as he swung it at Glory with all his strength. It hit hard, jarring his arms and tearing her dress.
“Hey!” she snapped, and grabbed the axe before he could pull it back, snatching it out of his grip with effortless strength and backhanding him so hard he flew across the room, landing on a glass-topped table near a couch. The thick glass shattered under the impact, sending him sprawling to the ground in a shower of broken glass, the force of the blow leaving him stunned and barely clinging to consciousness.
He vaguely heard Spike’s roar of rage and then the sound of flesh impacting on flesh, followed by the crash of a body and wood splintering. Fear cut through his daze and he struggled to sit up, wincing as glass cut into his palms and dug through the fabric of his jeans, blinking hard to clear his blurry vision. On the far side of the room, a door had been smashed open under the impact of a body and Spike was staggering to his feet, preparing to return to the fray.
Buffy had closed with Glory, fighting in grim, furious silence without any of her usual quips‘ a rapid flurry of punches and kicks that were keeping Glory off balance, even though they obviously weren’t doing any damage. Giles was circling around the two, holding the tire iron ready, waiting for an opening to attack without risking hitting Buffy by mistake.
“Is this the best you can do, Mousy?” Glory was saying, her voice as calm as if she wasn’t in the middle of a fight. “I may have missed the mark with the little witch, but it’s only a matter of time. The Key’s hidden away in a flesh wrapper. I’ll find it if I have to rip through every human in this pathetic little town. But I suspect that it won’t take that long. How about I just start with your friends?”
She threw a punch that caught Buffy square in the face, knocking her across the room. As she did, Giles brought the tire iron around in a deadly arc, hitting Glory on the back of the head with enough force that it should have caved her skull in. Being Glory, it did nothing but piss her off.
“Watch the hair!” she snapped and grabbed the tire iron away from him with her right hand, backhanding Giles with her left in the same movement, sending him flying away from her. He crashed into Buffy, who was just getting to her feet and both of them crashed to the floor in an ungraceful tangle of limbs.
Glory spun around, the tire iron poised to throw like a javelin, just as Spike flung himself back into the fight, using the stair railing as a fulcrum to launch a powerful two-footed kick. His boots landed squarely in her stomach, the impact throwing her backwards and causing her to drop the tire iron. She slammed into the fireplace with such force the bricks crumbled into dust, and the sculptures on the mantle piece fell to the floor with the crash of breaking stone. Spike was knocked off his feet from the force of his own blow, and he bounced back up an instant later, pivoting on one foot, bringing his leg around in a vicious spin-kick aimed at the fallen hellgod’s head. Glory was already on her feet, moving with impossible speed. She grabbed his boot in mid-air before the kick could land and twisted, using his own momentum against him, tossing him across the room with that terrifying, effortless strength. Spike flipped in the air and landed on his feet with cat-like grace just as Glory snatched up a marble-topped end table and threw it at him.
The small table smashed into Spike before he could duck, and the force of the impact sent him to the floor in a crash of broken wood and marble.
Glory ignored the mess, just as she ignored Buffy and Giles scrambling back to their feet, turning to face Xander with a gloating smile.
“You. You’ve caused me more trouble than any human ever has. Took my monk, killed my snake. Let’s just find out if you’re my Key.”
She strode towards him purposely and Xander backed away from her rapidly, looking around wildly for anything he could use for a weapon. His back smacked into the wall behind him, stopping his retreat, and he braced himself for the hopeless effort of fighting her off.
Spike roared with fury, throwing himself at Glory with reckless disregard of the danger. She backhanded him away without even turning to face him, sending him hurtling across the room again as she continued stalking towards Xander.
Buffy was charging towards them, but Xander could see she wouldn’t reach him in time and he grabbed a floor lamp, swinging it wildly at Glory who just laughed and tore it from his grip.
“Skutatori!” a voice shouted and Glory’s reaching hands hit an invisible barrier barely a foot from Xander’s face.
He looked up in shock and saw Tara standing at the top of the stairs, one arm around Willow, the other outstretched towards him. Willow looked dazed and barely conscious and Tara was having trouble keeping her upright. He snapped his attention back to Glory as she cursed and threw a punch at him. The air in front of him rippled like water, stopping the blow before it reached him. Glory snarled and threw another punch and this one went straight through the barrier, her fist smashing into the wall beside his head as he ducked barely in time, flakes of plaster covering both of them as her fist buried itself halfway to the elbow in the wall. He scrambled away as she yanked her arm free, the brief delay giving Buffy and Spike time to converge on her from behind.
Xander took the stairs three at a time as Glory was distracted by Buffy kicking her in the face and Spike punching her in the kidney. He took Willow from Tara, sweeping her into his arms, then turned immediately to run back down the staircase, intent on nothing but retreat. Tara followed him, pausing at the foot of the stairs as he dodged around the three-way fight in the center of the room, heading for the door.
Glory, Buffy and Spike were pushed back away from each other by an invisible force and Glory laughed contemptuously. “Is that the best you can do? The other witch had a lot more power than these pathetic tricks.”
Tara spoke again in that powerful voice, so unlike her usual quiet speech: “Tenere!” She flung out one hand in Glory’s direction.
Glory snarled as the air thickened around her, holding her in place. She struggled to move and Xander could see that this spell wasn’t going to hold long either. Buffy and Spike looked like they wanted to attack her again while she was caught up in the spell but behind them, Tara’s knees had buckled and she was clinging to the banister, her face white, looking like she was close to passing out. Giles hurried over to her.
“Let’s go!” Xander shouted, pausing in the doorway long enough to see Giles throw an arm around Tara and pull her towards the door. Buffy and Spike retreated after them, keeping a wary eye on Glory, and Xander turned and ran for the stairs down to the ground floor, Willow was muttering to herself and Xander’s heart ached as he realized the words made no sense at all. Her body was feather-light in his arms as he crossed the lobby, hearing the reassuring clatter of the others’ feet on the stairs behind him as he shouldered the outside door open and ran out into the welcome, sheltering darkness outside.
“This isn’t over!” Glory shouted, the words echoing through the lobby after them.
Once more they were in ignominious retreat from Glory. Barely staggering away with injuries to every one of their party and nothing to show for their efforts. Glory didn’t have so much as a scratch on her and Spike was getting fucking tired of throwing everything they had at her and having it not just be not enough, but be completely useless.
Xander’s hands were bleeding, dozens of cuts from broken glass covering his palms. The Slayer had a beauty of a shiner puffing up one side of her face, one that wasn’t going to heal overnight, even with Slayer healing. The Watcher was limping heavily, helping Glinda who, though barely able to stand, had kept trying to talk to the witch still cradled in Xander’s arms, all the way to the Watcher’s car. Spike himself was going to be sporting a set of bruises on his back and shoulders for at least a day or two.
It wasn’t that he minded getting injured. Having Xander to fuss over him and tend his wounds, a process that often turned into slow gentle lovemaking, was one of the joys of their relationship. No one else in his unlife had ever worried about him and fretted over minor injuries like his boy did. It was just that he was used to having something to show for his injuries - mostly the beaten bloody pulp of his opponent. How many fights had they had with Glory now? The biggest score they had against her was one broken shoe. It was downright embarrassing.
They’d all piled into Rupert’s car. It was a tight fit, but no one complained, everyone looking shell-shocked from the fight, or, in the humans’ case, from the witch’s condition.
They’d rescued the witch, but it had been a wasted effort. She’d be better off if they strangled her where she sat, babbling nonsense and flinching away from sudden noises. There was a trickle of blood from the corner of her mouth and one cheek was swollen and discolored, but other than that, she appeared fine - physically. Mentally, she’d gone ‘round the twist, like all of Glory’s other brain-sucked victims.
They were well and truly screwed now. Glory knew the Key was human. Much as he’d like to lay that piece of luck on the witch, he had to admit that if Glory had gotten that much out of her, it was likely that she would have told Glory that Dawn was the Key. Since Glory had admitted she didn’t know who it was yet, most likely she’d gotten the information about the Key being human from someone else. Probably that Knight she’d brain sucked.
“What happened back there, Glinda?” he asked, breaking the silence that had fallen over everyone but the witch. Tara was the only one of them without physical injuries and he didn’t understand why she’d collapsed.
Tara looked up from the witch, who was seated on her lap, and who she’d been crooning reassurances to as the motion of the car made her struggle and cry out, trying to pull free.
“Willow and I have been practicing protection spells,” she explained, her voice showing the same fatigue as her white face. “It was a bit more power than I’m used to using. I don’t usually do unbased magicks.”
“It means spells that are drawn entirely from your own life-force,” Giles explained over his shoulder, his tone disapproving. “It can be very dangerous. Witches have died from doing that kind of magic, using up so much energy that their body’s can’t take it. It’s the reason witches often work in groups, to spread the power drain.”
“Not that we’re not incredibly grateful, Tara,” Xander told her, looking up from where he was awkwardly wrapping the strip of cloth Spike had given him around his hands as a makeshift bandage. Far too much of Xander’s blood was staining the witch’s clothing from where he’d carried her to the car, ignoring his own injuries. “I’d be…” his gaze flickered to the witch and he didn’t finish his sentence but they all knew what he’d meant. He’d be dead or brain-sucked if it hadn’t been for Tara.
“Not going to forget it, Glinda,” Spike told her gruffly.
Buffy snapped her cell phone closed. “Mom and Dawn are fine. They’re waiting for us at the mansion.” She looked at Willow, her eyes filling with tears and ran a gentle hand down her hair. “Maybe we should take her to the hospital.”
“No,” Tara said instantly. “They can’t do anything for her there. They’ll just strap her to a bed and give her drugs to keep her quiet.” She rested her head against Willow’s, her own eyes red-rimmed. “I’ll take care of her. I’m going to find a way to fix this.”
There was a brief, uncomfortable silence before Rupert cleared his throat. “We’ll all do everything we can,” he told Tara.
Spike suspected he was trying to be reassuring but the doubt in his voice gave him away. Tara pulled Willow closer to her, as if she could shield her from anything bad just be willing it not to happen.