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 the slivers of light escaping through the blinds and lessening the darkness of the room, Xander could tell the sun was well up. He smiled to himself, not surprised he’d slept late after last night’s gymnastics.
For a long interval, he just lay there, feeling utterly content. Spike’s wiry frame was nestled behind him, one arm thrown around his waist possessively, holding him close even in sleep. With lazy detachment, he watched the dust motes suspended in the angled beam of light from the largest gap in the blinds. He’d never bothered to fix it since the light that spilled through fell high up on the wall and didn’t endanger Spike, and he liked having some sun in their home, lighting up the perpetually gloomy interior. Soon, he thought, they might be able to get rid of the heavy blinds and thick curtains, letting the morning sun fill the room, be able to see Spike’s pale skin lit up with the sun’s glow.
He couldn’t stop the laughter that bubbled up inside him at the image, wondering what Spike would look like after a day at the beach. Would his lover’s pale, cool skin become as sun-warm and darkly tanned as Xander’s own? Or would the Gem prevent even that harm from happening, leaving Spike with his ivory-colored perfection intact?
“Somethin’ funny, luv?”
He turned and met Spike’s sleepy gaze. The vampire’s hair was tousled and his eyes heavy-lidded with the unnatural hour. No, even with the Gem, Spike would remain a nocturnal creature. He was a night predator, his entire existence adapted to darkness.
Still, if Xander could take the occasional week off and lead an entirely nocturnal existence, Spike could do the same for him - take a vacation and spend a week in the sun with Xander. He knew Spike missed the sun.
“Just wondering if you’ll freckle,” was all he said, surprising a laugh out of the vampire.
“Won’t take up sunbathin’ until I see if the thing’s real,” was Spike’s cynical answer.
Reluctantly, Xander untangled himself and rolled off the bed. He’d phoned his boss last night and told him he wouldn’t be able to come in to work for the rest of the week but he should pick up some additional supplies and weapons and return to the mansion. Last night had been pure indulgence, time out from the apocalypse. He didn’t feel even a smidgen of guilt, but it was time to remember their responsibilities. They needed to work on the plan for taking on Glory. As plans went, giving Spike the Gem and a good luck kiss before throwing him to the hellgod seemed a little sketchy.
“I need to check on the others, talk strategy,” he told Spike. “Join us after dark?”
“Got an errand to run first,” Spike said, shutting his eyes firmly. “Be there about midnight.”
“What errand?” Xander asked suspiciously.
The woods reeked of slaughter.
The smell of blood hung heavily in the air, the metallic taste of it filled his senses, along with the fading scents of fear and pain and the stench of bodily wastes. Death had come and gone, leaving a crimson-splashed swath behind it, but this was no battlefield. Charnel house, more like.
Spike picked his way cautiously towards the clearing where the scents lingered most strongly, his senses stretched out, listening for any hint that anything remained alive in the woods around him.
Emerging into the clearing, he looked around at the carnage with expert eyes. Something had swept through here, dealing death with pitiless hands, leaving nothing but scattered corpses behind. Bodies lying where they’d fallen in the sprawled indignity of death.
There was absolutely no doubt in his mind that Glory had done this. There was nothing else in town with the strength to kill this many people that wouldn’t have savaged the bodies after death with teeth and claws.
Spike crouched down beside the closest body. The Knight had been left lying in the dirt, eyes staring up sightlessly at the night sky. The man’s head had been twisted nearly off, before he’d been dropped, limbs splayed, like a child’s broken toy abandoned on the damp ground. His sword was still in its sheath, less than half drawn. Death had taken the Knight almost unaware, too swift for him even to defend himself.
He rose to his feet and surveyed the Knight’s campsite, his eyes counting the scattered bodies. The campfires had long burned to ash and he estimated from the smell of rotting flesh that was beginning to permeate the air that the Knights had been killed sometime the previous day.
Lighting a cigarette, he walked through the campsite, tallying the dead. Thirty-seven bodies in all, including two black-robed priest types. Question was, had Glory gotten them all?
The Knights of Byzantium were fanatics and Spike didn’t give a piss if they were dead. Made his job easier. He had not intended to leave them alive to threaten Dawn. He’d planned to bring the Court down on the camp to take care of the problem. Only reason he was here instead of the Court was because the minion keeping an eye on the camp hadn’t returned at sunrise as ordered. No doubt there was a scattering a dust somewhere in the wood to account for that disobedience.
Problem solved, hopefully. If there were any stragglers that had missed the massacre, his minions would find them and take care of them.
He dropped his cigarette butt and spun on his heel. He’d return to the Court and set the minions hunting for any surviving Knights, make sure none of them lived to see another sunrise.
He wouldn’t even have to lie to Xander and hadn’t had to break his promise to his boy since none of the Knights had died by his hand. The fact that he’d been prepared to kill them all, well, no reason for that to ever come up.
Stepping into the mansion, Xander toned down the cheerful greeting he’d been about to give as Dawn looked up from her book with red-rimmed eyes that had nothing to do with too much reading and everything to do with blaming herself for things that weren’t her fault. Everyone else, even Ethan, was gathered around the table with books piled around them, in the midst of a full-blown research session.
“What’s up, guys?” Xander asked.
“We’re trying to find something that might help Willow,” Buffy answered, sitting back and stretching like she’d been bent over the books with unusual dedication. Buffy was never their best researcher but she was clearly doing the work this time.
Giles glanced at Tara quickly, then shook his head. “Nothing yet. We’ve been trying to find a way to return what Glory took from Willow, but the problem is this isn’t really about restoring balance. Essentially, we hope to steal back what was stolen from Willow and that’s more dark magic than light. It could have unpredictable results.”
“Like…?” he asked, not liking the sound of that.
“Glory ‘feeds’ on mental energy. That implies that she is digesting what she takes, in some form or another. We cannot assume that Willow is her last victim. What if the spell takes the mental energy of a more recent victim? At best, it could result in an entirely new personality. At worst, mental breakdown and rejection of the restored energy, possibly death. And not just for Willow. Dark magic of that kind can affect the spell caster’s power, tainting their natural magic, perhaps permanently.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” Xander said slowly.
Ethan gave him a withering look. “Bloody do-gooders. Always worrying about being contaminated by what’s already inside you,” he muttered.
“Fine, so what does the dark side of the Force have to offer?” Xander snapped back.
“For starters, not wasting our time trying to find a spell that will do what you want without getting your hands dirty.”
Giles’ face tightened but, before he could say anything, Tara asked: “Is there a way to do this by getting our hands dirty?”
Xander wasn’t sure who was the most shocked by her calm question. Tara met their eyes steadily. “If it will help Willow, I’m willing to take the risk.”
“Tara…” Giles began helplessly, but Ethan’s laughter cut him off.
“Bravo, little girl. We’ll bring you around to the chaos view of things in no time with that attitude.”
“God forbid,” Giles muttered, but didn’t say anything else as Ethan began enthusiastically outlining theories and possibilities.
Xander and Buffy exchanged dubious looks, then Buffy just shook her head helplessly. They didn’t have the right to tell Tara what she could and couldn’t do, they would just have to hope her usual good sense prevailed and she didn’t agree to anything crazy. A quick glance at Giles showed that he was listening carefully to Ethan. Most of what they were saying wasn’t making a lot of sense to Xander but he trusted that Giles would make sure that Ethan didn’t go too far.
Xander excused himself from the session to relieve Joyce, who was on Willow-sitting duty. Tapping quietly on the door, he pushed it open and stuck his head in. Joyce put a finger to her lips and came out to meet him, shutting the door behind her.
“She’s still asleep,” Joyce reported. “She probably won’t wake up for awhile yet, because of the sleeping pill, but I’d rather she slept as long as possible.”
“Do you mind if I sit with her for awhile?”
“Of course. I’ll just check on Buffy and Dawn.” Joyce smiled at him and patted him on the shoulder reassuringly. “We’ll get through this, Xander.”
“I hope so.”
He tiptoed into the room and took Joyce’s chair, pulling it closer to the bed. Willow was lying on her side, breathing deeply, her hair falling across her face as she slept. With gentle fingers, he stroked the wayward strands back from her face.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “You came back to help us and this shouldn’t have happened. We’ll get you back, Willow. Everyone’s working on it and we’ll find a way. So you hang in there.”
He sat by her side for a long time, holding her small hand in his much larger one, remembering, not the recent past, but the years growing up with her and Jesse. Back when they were the three musketeers, inseparable friends. Back before they’d known about vampires and hellmouths and death and loss. Remembering the funny, smart little girl with long red hair who’d been his friend and playmate for as long as he could remember. Remembering the tall, lanky boy who’d been his best friend. Remembering movies and baseball games and shared comics. Laughter and study sessions and picnics at the beach.
“It’s been a long road, Willow. You and Jesse were my best friends, and for a long time, I thought I’d lost you both. And I’m not losing you, now that we’ve found each other again, you hear me? So, you’re just going to have to get better.”
He hoped it wasn’t a bad sign that Willow didn’t respond, not even shifting restlessly at the sudden sound of his voice in the quiet room.
“She killed them all?” Buffy said, her voice rising incredulously.
Sometimes it just wasn’t worth telling humans anything. They spent far too much time being shocked and repeating what you’d just said.
“Got the boys doin’ a sweep for stragglers,” Spike admitted, “but looks like.”
Spike rolled his eyes. The Slayer obviously wasn’t moving on any time soon. “Dunno. Don’t care. Solves our problem pretty neatly though.”
“What? We’ve all known it might come down to this. Just be glad someone else did the work for you.”
“We wouldn’t have…” Buffy stuttered to a halt at his lifted eyebrow and disbelieving look. She sighed and didn’t continue protesting that it wouldn’t have come down to killing the Knights to protect Dawn. They both knew she’d have done it if she had to.
“Why would Glory kill the Knights?“ she asked instead. “What do you think it means?”
“Doesn’t mean anything, Slayer, except what we already know: she’s a nut job with an impulse control problem.”
“Not like we know anyone else who fits that description,” she muttered under her breath. Spike just smirked at her and she grimaced, looking embarrassed. “I’ll tell the others,” was all she said.
The box was small and made of age-darkened wood. Xander’s shocked inhale was audible as he saw that the surface of the box was entirely covered with crosses, carved deeply into the wood.
“We have taken our guardianship seriously,” Tiirpok said. “To the best of our ability, the Gem is protected while it remains within this box.” His hands caressed the wood absently as he continued. “The box itself is spelled to be impervious to magical detection and, in addition to the obvious,” he traced the carvings on the lid with a single finger, “the wood itself was soaked for weeks in holy water prior to be used.”
Spike was getting impatient but held it back, not wanting to reveal how eager he was. Damn Inajii was being tighter than a father with his underage daughter’s chastity, obviously still having second thoughts about showing the goodies.
If this turned out to be a fake, he was going to kill something very dead.
Finally, Tiirpok opened the box and took out a small object, setting it on the table. Both Spike and Xander stared at it as the demon carefully set the box down behind him, well away from Spike.
It was a ring. Nothing unusual about it except for the ugliness factor. Gold, with a green gem that vaguely resembled an emerald. Spike felt a rising excitement as he looked at the heavy gold, worked by hand in a way that hadn’t been common since the Middle Ages. Damn thing looked old enough to be real.
“That’s it?” he asked. “‘expected somethin’ a bit more impressive.”
Xander’s elbow dug into his side in reprimand for his rudeness but the frail looking demon was indifferent to it.
“The Gem has mystical properties that no one has ever been able to duplicate - even under torture. So far as we can tell, it is not from this dimension.”
“Has a vampire ever worn it?” Xander asked.
“Wars have been fought over it, and vampires have spent their unlives searching for it. None have been able to keep and hold it for more than a few days.”
Xander looked at him unhappily. “Maybe you should think about this, Spike. It sounds like every vampire in the world will be after you if they ever find out you have it.”
“Not worried about that, luv. If this is the real deal, I’ll be invulnerable.”
“Only if someone doesn’t pull it off your finger,” Xander pointed out, still not looking happy.
“Goin’ to have to defeat me first to do that,” he shrugged.
“And if 50 vampires pile on top of you, you won’t be in a position to argue,” Xander muttered but didn’t object when Spike put out a hand to pick up the ring and slide it on his finger.
He waited, thinking something this momentous should be marked in some way. A tingle of magic, a mystical light, a fuckin’ mariachi band, something. Instead, he felt nothing, not taller, stronger, or in any way impervious to harm. “Sure this thing works?” he asked. “Shouldn’t we be seein’ a light show about now?”
The Inajii didn’t answer verbally. Instead, with a movement to swift for even Spike to follow, he reached into his pocket, produced a stake and drove it hard into the center of Spike’s chest.
“What the hell are you doing?” Xander yelled, grabbing Tiirpok’s arm and yanking it away from Spike. Or trying to. He was obviously shocked when the demon - who resembled a frail elderly man - didn’t budge an inch.
Spike was feeling pretty shocked himself as he looked down at the stake buried in the center of his chest in what should have been a killing blow. For a long moment, no one moved as they waited for the explosion of dust that should have ended Spike’s unlife.
Finally, point made, the Inajii yanked the stake back out and Spike watched in disbelief as the wound closed over immediately. There’d been no pain, he realized belatedly. He’d felt nothing but pressure as the wood sank deeply into his flesh. Xander’s shaking hand touched the hole in his black t-shirt, confirming by touch what his eyes told him: that Spike was completely healed, without so much as a mark or a drop of blood to show what had just happened.
“Hey!” Spike complained. “That was my favorite shirt.”
Spike closed his eyes and tilted his head back, forgetting everything else for the moment, lost in the sensation of warm heat on his skin, the nearly forgotten pleasure of the sun’s rays pressing against him with an almost tangible warmth. It was only with an effort of will that he stopped himself from spinning around like a child, laughing out loud at the return of something he’d known he would never experience again. For more than a century, the sun had been an implacable enemy, it’s slightest touch bringing pain and the risk of final death.
He opened his eyes, feasting them on the sight of the perfect spring day, the intense colors under the bright light of mid-day, colors that were muted and pale under the moon’s dim light were intense and sparkling by day - a sight denied to him except from a distance for so long he hadn’t even realized he missed it.
Xander’s brown hair shone in the light, he noticed, the sun picking out highlights he’d never seen before. The glow in the brown eyes was pure happiness though, owing nothing to the sun and Spike basked in it even more than the light of the sun, knowing Xander was simply and purely happy for him.
“Not bad,” he managed to say calmly although he could feel the out-of-control smile spreading across his face.