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
Ethan Rayne. That was all they needed, someone who enjoyed causing trouble for no other reason than because it was fun.
Ethan smirked at them, strolling towards them as if the idea that they might not welcome his presence hadn’t even crossed his mind. He was wearing a black and grey silk shirt that shimmered under the glow of the streetlights, tight black jeans and a smug air of knowing more than everyone else - of course, as far as Xander could tell, that was how he always looked.
Spike’s arms dropped from around him and Xander cursed bitterly, recognizing what was happening one second too late. He tried to grab Spike as the vampire launched himself at Ethan with a furious roar, crossing the space between them in two leaps. Ethan’s expression showed only astonished terror as Spike crashed into him, hands closing around Ethan’s throat as they hurtled to the ground, slamming down onto the concrete sidewalk with Ethan underneath.
Spike screamed as the chip activated, his body convulsing, muscles straining, yellow eyes blazing fire as he fought to keep his grip on Ethan’s throat, trying to snap his neck with hands that wouldn’t obey him. He screamed again and his arms dropped nervelessly to his side just as Xander reached them, pulling Spike clear of Ethan and into his arms, holding him as he spasmed through wave after wave of pain.
He was peripherally aware of Ethan’s shuddering gasp, as the man hitched his body out of reach, then collapsed back down onto the sidewalk, cradling his head in his hands and complaining bitterly about being attacked for no reason. Xander ignored him.
“Spike? Are you ok?”
Shielding Spike in his arms as the pain ebbed, Xander simply waited for Spike to recover, hating how many times he’d had to sit there helplessly while Spike was in agony, unable to do anything to ease Spike’s pain. This time, given the way Spike had fought the pain, still trying to kill Ethan even after the chip fired, he suspected that Spike hadn’t just lost it and forgotten about the chip, . He was worryingly aware that Spike was on edge, facing too many enemies, with too many things he couldn’t control being thrown at him at once. Ethan had been the proverbial last straw and it had obviously infuriated Spike beyond caution that Ethan had defied him by reappearing in town.
Spike stirred, lifting his head and glaring at Ethan. Xander helped him scramble to his feet, being as unobtrusive as possible, knowing Spike wouldn’t want to appear weak in front of an enemy.
Ethan obviously had no such concerns, gingerly checking his head for blood and continuing to mutter about the unfairness of people who shot the messenger. Fortunately, the ludicrous sight amused Spike and he relaxed his wary stance, pulling out a cigarette and sneering down at Ethan over the flame of his lighter.
“Don’t be a baby. I barely touched you,” he said smugly obviously pleased that, even with the chip, he’d been able to take Ethan down.
Granted, from everyone’s descriptions of past encounters, Ethan wasn’t big with physical courage, but it was a testament to Spike’s strength of will that he could deliberately act against the chip when the situation called for it, despite knowing in advance he would pay for it in unbearable agony.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Xander asked. Ethan had obviously not expected Spike to attack him, which meant he knew about the chip. It wasn’t like Ethan had any illusions about Spike’s peaceful nature.
Ethan climbed to his feet and brushed himself off, fingering a tear in the sleeve of his shirt with irritation. “Believe it or not, I’m here to help you.”
“Try another one,” Spike scoffed. “And I thought we were clear on what would happen if you ever came back to town.”
“Ah, but the situation has changed since then, hasn’t it?” Ethan smirked, recovering some of his normal cockiness. “You’re no longer capable of eviscerating me or we wouldn’t even be talking.”
Spike didn’t react beyond giving Ethan a narrow-eyed glare through the smoke of his cigarette. “Still Master here. Don’t need to kill you personally,” he said flatly.
While it was true that Spike could easily send a member of his Court to kill Ethan, it would lead to awkward questions that Spike really didn’t need right now. Ethan held up placating hands, losing a little of his confident air as he said hurriedly:
“Which is why I thought we might be able to come to an agreement. Especially since I have something you rather desperately want.”
“Yeah? And what would that be?” Spike asked, his tone making it clear he didn’t care what the mage was peddling.
Right on cur, Ethan’s smirk reappeared. “I can take care of your little evisceration problem, mate.”
Without having moved in the slightest, Spike felt like he’d turned to stone beside him and Xander’s hands tightened convulsively around Spike’s arm as he realized that Ethan was talking about the chip. He felt his heart beating faster and fought to keep his expression neutral, even as he wondered if there was any chance that Ethan was telling the truth. For a long frozen moment, the three of them just stared at each other. Xander was the first of the three to break.
“How?” he burst out unable to play it cool even a second longer as hope flooded through him.
“My dear boy, I am a wizard and a very experienced one. Ask Ripper if you don’t believe me.”
“You know a spell that can remove the chip?” Spike sounded no more than mildly curious but Xander could still feel the rigid muscles under his hands.
“You mean none of the coven members offered to help?” Ethan’s attempt at astonishment was patently unreal, his smirk growing as he made a disapproving tsk-ing sound. “Not very friendly of your allies, is that?”
“What are you talking about?” Xander demanded after a moment. Did Ethan know the coven was in town or was he fishing?
Ethan raised a mocking eyebrow. “You don’t think a group as powerful as the Devonshire Coven can arrive in town without every magic worker for a hundred miles being aware of it, do you? We do tend to keep track of each other.”
“Are you saying they could remove the chip if they wanted to?” he asked faintly. Willow had lied to him, he thought numbly. She’d told him she’d been researching ways to get rid of the chip and hadn’t found any. She’d lied to him. He fought for control, forcibly shoving thoughts of Willow to the back of his mind. That wasn’t the issue right now. He’d deal with it later when he didn’t need to concentrate on what was happening now.
“Powerful group like that one? I’d think it would be child’s play for them, wouldn’t you?”
Xander was getting really tired of Ethan’s smarmy smile.
“You’re offering to take the chip out?” Spike asked, still absolutely calm to all outward appearances. “And why would you be willing to do that?”
“As I said, I think we can come to a mutually beneficial agreement. I remove the chip, and you lift your ban on my visiting Sunnydale.”
“That’s it?” Xander asked suspiciously.
“That’s it.” Wow, even Ethan’s sunny smile was smarmy. “Free and clear access, no killing me yourself, a word in the right places that I’m not to be touched and that I’m under your personal protection,” he shrugged. “The usual.”
“And it’s just coincidence that you happen to show up in town now?” Xander asked.
“Of course it’s not coincidence. You think I’d miss a magical showdown between Adam and the coven? With that much power being tossed about, there’s bound to be plenty of spillover for innocent bystanders to tap into.”
“What do you know about Adam?” Xander asked, relief swamping him as Spike stirred beside him. Spike had been too quiet for too long, which just showed how shaken he’d been by Ethan’s offer.
“Enough to know that you people had better get this right, or we’re all going to be in a world of hurt.”
“You people may be all noble and self-sacrificing,” Ethan continued when neither of them said anything, “but I do value my skin. If Adam has his way, there won’t be much left of this world. As I said before, that’s way beyond chaos, mate.”
“Got something useful on Adam, or you just pissing in the wind?” Spike challenged.
The offer to remove the chip had made him feel like a human who’d been hit over the head, dazed and barely able to, and he was grateful that Xander had covered for him. Well, he was over the shock and thinking clearly again, and he wouldn’t trust Ethan Rayne if the Founder of his Line himself returned from dust to vouch for the man.
Ethan smirked. “I’ve heard things around town,” he said. “Demons like to talk. Adam’s convinced them to do a Trojan horse on the Initiative. Trouble is, they don’t know what they’ve really signed up for.”
“And what would that be?” Spike asked, deliberately letting his skepticism show.
“Adam’s going to set them all loose, inside the Initiative. Let the soldiers and the demons tear each other apart.” Rayne didn’t seem very troubled by the idea but then, he was a chaos mage.
Spike shrugged. “Why would I care about that?” he said indifferently, watching the mage intently while seemingly occupied with staring at the glowing end of his cigarette. “Kill all the soldiers myself if I could, and any demon stupid enough to follow Adam deserves what they get.”
“Unfortunately, it’s what comes after the massacre that the real problem.”
Spike just lifted an eyebrow and waited, wondering where the mage was going with this.
“Adam is going to take all those lovely body parts and create more hybrid monsters like himself,” Ethan told them, folding his arms and staring at them challengingly. “Now I don’t know about you, but I really don’t fancy living in a world where there are fifty or a hundred Adams running things. Wouldn’t be my cup of tea at all.”
Obviously sure he had them with that piece of information, Ethan lifted his eyebrows and waited smugly for their verdict.
If that really was Adam’s plan, the mage was right. Even if it meant rescuing every living being from the Initiative base to avoid giving Adam body parts to work with, they would have to do it. Of course, Spike thought more cheerfully, if Adam was dead, a nice pile of mixed bodies was still a highly satisfactory answer to the Initiative problem.
Question was, was the mage telling the truth? Rayne lied so frequently, his scent didn’t change much. And really, what were the chances that Adam could lay his hands on fifty, much less a hundred, nuclear power cores? As far as Spike could tell, without his power core, Adam was just a collection of spare parts, half of them probably rotting by now. The power core was the key, it was what made Adam dangerous, made him even possible, given the lack of mojo in creating him.
Spike flashed a look at Xander, wishing they’d worked out a signal for “hurt this wanker for me” and furious that they even needed that kind of signal. To his complete disbelief, Xander nodded slightly, then, with no warning of any kind, stepped forward and landed a solid punch on the chaos mage’s jaw, dropping him almost as neatly as the Slayer could have done. The effect was only slightly ruined by the way Xander shook his sore hand afterwards, cradling it for a moment in his other hand as Ethan gaped up at him like a fish.
“Care to try that again, mate?” Spike told him, letting a feral smile cross his lips. “Had my Lieutenants covering this town recently. You didn’t get that kind of information from a few drinks in the local bars.”
“Oh my god,” Xander exclaimed in sudden realization. “He’s working with Adam.”
You’d think a chaos mage would be better at keeping a poker face, Spike thought idly.
Ethan’s sudden appalled silence didn’t last longer than it took to scramble back to his feet.
“‘Working with’ is a bit harsh,” he said, having obviously decided that denying it was a waste of time. “Coerced labor more like. After all, when something that can kill you as easily as swatting a fly asks you to do a job for him, a prudent man does what the monster wants.”
“And what job would that be?”
“He wanted me to nudge you lot in the right direction. Make sure the Slayer was there for his little dust up in the Initiative.”
“And it didn’t occur to you to warn us instead?” Xander asked in disbelief.
Ethan shrugged. “Like I said, long as I’m not caught in the middle, I don’t really care if a bunch of soldiers and demons kill each other.”
“What about Giles?” Xander asked pointedly and something flickered in Ethan’s eyes for just a second.
“Ripper can take care of himself,” was all he said.
“If Buffy’s the one Adam wants inside the Initiative, why come to us? Why not go to her directly, or Giles?”
“Now, don’t feel insulted. Adam wants Master Spike there as well.”
“That doesn’t answer my question,” Xander told him.
“Believe it or not, I thought you two would be the easier sell.”
“Because of the chip,” Xander finished flatly.
Ethan smiled. “That’s right. Didn’t have anything to offer the Slayer. Or Ripper. And Ripper’s gotten very cynical these days.”
“So, you dangle the chip in front of me and you think I’ll dance to whatever tune you play, is that it?” Spike said in a low, dangerous voice. He shifted slowly to his true face with unmistakable menace. “Counted on me being so desperate I wouldn’t ask questions, were you?”
Ethan looked like he was trying to figure out which answer wouldn’t get him killed and didn’t say anything.
“Well, since that plan’s out, I think it’s about time you picked which side you’re on. And believe me, you don’t want to choose the wrong side.” Spike’s quiet, deadly anger was more terrifying that any screaming, cursing rage could ever hope to be and Ethan swallowed hard.
“I tend to prefer the winning side, in general,” he admitted frankly. He gave what Xander supposed he thought was a disarming smile. “With the coven here, I’m guessing that will be you lot.”
“Convenient,” Xander muttered snidely. He forced himself to stay away from the subject of the chip for now, despite desperately wanting to know if Ethan had been telling the truth about being able to remove it. There were others questions that had to be answered first. “Why does he want Buffy there? Isn’t he afraid Buffy will kill him instead?”
Ethan looked at him in disbelief. “It’s going to take a lot more than Slayer strength to hurt Adam, much less kill him. He’s not worried about her at all. Adam thinks she’ll even the kill ratio. Make sure as many demons as humans are killed. He wants as wide a choice of body parts as possible.” He shrugged, indifferent to the carnage he was describing so blithely. “If Adam wins this, he’s going to be busy for quite some time stitching bodies together,” he mused with a malicious smile, then looked pointedly at them. “Understand, if it saves my neck, I’ll be first in line to volunteer to help him create his hybrid monsters. However, I’d really prefer to be given another option.”
“Like, you help us and we let you live?”
“And what do you think you can do for us?”
“You mean in addition to all this lovely information I’m giving you?” Ethan looked disappointed at their lack of appreciation. “Well, I suppose that just leaves us with the chip.”
“You telling us you weren’t lying about the chip removal spell?” Spike asked scathingly. “Why would I believe you? Not been exactly truthful so far, ‘cept when your life is on the line.”
“Are you saying my life isn’t on the line now?” Ethan asked hopefully.
“Oh, it’s very much on the line,” Spike told him, wondering again if there was any chance this would work.
According to Ethan, the spell wouldn’t remove the chip, it would just permanently scramble the signal. “The chip itself doesn’t actually hurt you, you know that right? It just sends a signal directly into the pain receptors in your brain.”
“And how do you know that? Drinking buddies with one of the scientists, I suppose?” Spike scoffed, fighting against the hope that was rising in him.
Ethan gave him an exasperated look. “Adam told me, of course.”
Xander’s jaw dropped and he stared in open outrage at Ethan, who just shrugged. “I had to have something good to offer you if I was going to convince you to listen to me. Adam told me about the chip and I pointed out that I needed to know how it worked before I could sell you on my ability to remove it.” He smirked oblivious to Xander’s growing anger at his cavalier attitude. “Adam’s been watching you, trying to understand why your chip doesn’t work and he figured out that it did work but only on humans.” He lost his smile for a moment, scowling as he rubbed his head again. “He didn’t mention you were stubborn enough to attack humans anyway.” he complained then continued.
“Seems Adam used to have a chip of his own. When he left the Initiative, he deactivated his control chip, which is how I know it can be done.” He smiled triumphantly at them and Spike and Xander exchanged looks.
It actually sounded plausible. If they could trust Ethan.
“You figured out what to do because of the information you got from Adam?” Xander asked. “So the coven doesn’t know how to get rid of the chip?” He wondered if they could ask the coven to do it. They were certainly more trustworthy than Ethan despite their recent actions. On the other hand, he was pretty sure they could be trusted not to do the spell. What had been done to Spike wasn’t magical and it stopped Spike from hurting humans. He had a sinking feeling the coven wouldn’t lift a finger to help.
“It’s possible I may have exaggerated a bit on that point,” Ethan said without the slightest hint of apology. “Even if they were willing, I doubt they could help. Surely Ripper has told you that earth magic doesn’t tend to work on vampires.”
Xander nodded, ashamed that he had so readily believed that Willow was lying. He remembered both Giles and Spike explaining that earth magic worked by drawing on the interconnectedness of living things and how vampires weren’t part of that, so spells reacted unpredictably on them. “So how come you can do it when they can’t?” he asked suspiciously.
“I’m a chaos mage,” Ethan reminded him. “Scrambling signals is almost a specialty of ours.”
“And we’re supposed to trust you, just because you say so.”
“Well, there is the fact that I’m all you’ve got.”
Spike was going to agree. Xander was sure of it. Despite the fact that Ethan was about as untrustworthy as it got, despite the fact that they wouldn’t know if he was doing this on Adam’s orders until after it was too damn late, Spike was going to agree.
And there was nothing he could do to stop it. It was Spike’s decision. He didn’t even have the right to ask Spike not to go through with it. He’d known for a long time that Spike would rather die than have to bear the chip for the rest of his unlife. The chip was a continuous presence effecting everything he did and a constant reminder of his defeat and humiliation by people he considered unworthy opponents. It was one thing for Spike to voluntarily give up killing humans to please Xander, it was another thing entirely to have that choice taken from him. With the chip, Spike was a leashed predator, a chained prisoner - not because Xander saw him that way but because Spike saw himself that way. Spike had been surviving on hope ever since he’d escaped from the Initiative, the hope that something would turn up and he’d find a way to remove the chip, and Xander had been afraid for a long time, that Spike wouldn’t want to go on if he ever lost that hope. Spike had been counting on the Initiative scientists, hoping that one would be captured in the attack on the Initiative, someone who could be forced to undo what they had done.
If that didn’t work… Xander had been scared for a long time about what would happen then.
He met Spike’s eyes steadily, knowing his own eyes were showing both his fear and his support for whatever Spike chose, and Spike gave him a tiny nod.
Only one thing left to do.
Xander took a long step forward and his hands shot out, grabbing Ethan with both hands, fisting them in the front of Ethan’s shirt and hauling him closer until they were almost touching.
“Let’s get one thing perfectly clear,” he said coldly, staring directly into Ethan’s slightly pop-eyed gaze. “If you are lying, if you mess this up, if you harm Spike in any way, there will be no place in this world you can hide. I will hunt you down if it takes me the rest of my life. And I won’t just kill you, I will obliterate you. And it will be long and excruciatingly painful.” He gave Ethan a shake for added emphasis, then released him, shoving him away contemptuously so hard that Ethan staggered. “Are we clear?”
“Bloody hell! Thought you were supposed to be the good one in this crowd.”
Xander gave him a tight lipped smile. “As long as we’re clear.”
“Oh, we’re clear. Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing.”
Stepping back, Xander slid an arm around Spike, who looking over at him, a hint of a smile showing. “Nicely done, luv.”
Maybe other couples didn’t measure the strength of their love by the seriousness of their death threats, but it worked for them.