The levels of tension in the group had dropped substantially, Xander saw with relief as he and Spike entered Mr. Olsen’s basement. People were standing around, chatting casually, not sitting stiffly silent, watching everyone else with cautious eyes like last time.
Which just went to show how badly the coven had miscalculated by not being more open. Everyone had been on edge at the last meeting, egos bruised, suspicions aroused by the coven’s secrecy. Granted, some of the change was probably due to the fact that they had the beginnings of a tentative plan - even if Buffy didn’t know yet that it had been changed a bit behind her back, Xander thought with an inward smile. Having some sort of a plan was making them all a little less stressed.
Word had obviously spread that Xander was going to do the spell and Xander wasn’t sure whether to be pleased or annoyed at the lack of surprise. Granted, they’d kind of backed him into a corner by telling him he was the best candidate but still - he hadn’t known whether he was going to agree to the spell until after he’d left the meeting yesterday. How could everyone else claim that they’d been sure what his answer would be?
Stopping briefly to talk to Willow and Maggie, Xander was pleased when they echoed Giles’ apologies, admitting candidly that they had misjudged the situation. Even if Spike dismissed the apology with a cutting remark, Xander appreciated the fact that they directed their apologies to Spike as well as him.
For almost ten minutes, it felt more like a party than a war council and Xander moved around the room, touching base with people he hadn’t had a chance to talk with recently. Even Spike was relaxed enough to chat with Dean. Now that the vampire knew what the coven had been up to and they’d made their own plans, Spike’s nervous energy was focused past this gathering, concentrated on their meeting with Ethan Rayne later tonight. Something Xander was absolutely refusing to think about yet.
Sgt. Morgan finally called them to order and everyone found seats around the big room, drifting back to their own groups now that they were getting down to business.
Spike listened with malicious amusement as the Slayer outlined her plan. It hadn’t improved much in the past twenty-four hours. A picked group to go inside the base, find Adam’s exact location using the Initiative’s own computers, protect the magic workers while they did the spell that would allow Xander to fight Adam. Then rescue the soldiers from the demons and get as many as possible safely out of the underground facility. Good work team and home to shag your loved ones by bedtime.
You’d think with a full day, someone would have pointed out to the Slayer that her plan was a bit optimistic and had serious flaws. Did she actually think she was going to get inside the base without the soldiers noticing? And just how long did she think she was going to have free access to the Initiative’s computers without anyone catching on? No contingency plans in case things didn’t go quite as planned. Not to mention they apparently weren’t going to actually do anything about the Initiative itself - but then, he’d always known the Slayer wasn’t going to be much use there.
He watched Sgt. Morgan as the Slayer talked and was pleased to see the man was merely biding his time. From his expression, the sergeant at least was not on board with this piece of lunacy. Some of the others were looking dubious as well.
The Slayer finished her spiel and looked around the circle, asking if there were any questions.
Her mistake, Spike thought cheerfully.
“How exactly do you plan on getting inside the Initiative in the first place?” he asked, cocking his head to one side with amused condescension.
“We go in through Lowell House,” the Slayer answered, apparently having at least thought that far ahead. “Riley said there’s an elevator inside the fraternity that goes down to the base. The House been nearly deserted ever since the soldiers attacked Adam. There haven’t been more than a couple people inside and they’re telling people some story about fumigation or something. We go in, take out the guards, and go down the elevator shaft to avoid the Initiative’s security.”
“Right. And you think they won’t see you comin’?”
“You got a better idea?” she challenged.
“Could plan to walk in dressed as a pizza delivery boy and it would have more chance of success than that plan,” he drawled and smirked at her outraged glare.
He got to his feet, his casual sprawl vanishing as if it had never been, suddenly every inch the Master of the Territory. His voice went from an insolent drawl to commanding as his eyes swept the room.
“First off, we have two new pieces of information that change things a bit. One, the werewolves were able to track Adam this afternoon and they found the entrance to his lair.” He nodded respectfully to the pack-leader and Dean inclined his head in acknowledgement. “Second, Adam is waiting for us to make the first move. He’s planning on using the fight between the demons and the soldiers to give him enough parts to create more creatures like himself and he wants the Slayer there so the fight’s not completely one-sided.” He deliberately left out the fact that Adam wanted him there as well. He would need the Slayer on board and if Adam was waiting for the Slayer before making his move, that boxed her in to Spike’s plan as neatly as they’d pushed Xander where they wanted him.
He silenced the muttering that broke out around the room with one look - time enough for explanations later. Ignoring the Slayer, who looked stunned and furious at being out of the loop, he began outlining the plan they had worked out earlier this afternoon:
“We go in in three groups. First group is demons, werewolves, vampires. We go in through the back door - that bunker in the woods. Our first priority is to take care of the demons in the containment cells.
“Second group is Xander and the magic workers. They go in through the caves and tunnels, set up shop just outside Adam’s lair and do their mojo. Adam should be watching the fun inside the Initiative and hopefully won’t see them coming until too late. They take care of Adam then get the hell out.” He shot Xander a stern look. They’d had a lot of words about that after the werewolves had left. Xander didn’t see why they shouldn’t keep going after tackling Adam, into the Initiative proper to join the main fight sure to be in full swing by then. Only by reminding him that the magic workers refused to be involved in the fight against the Initiative did he convince Xander that his group would have to retreat after they defeated Adam. Xander had muttered something about getting radios so he’d know what was happening but had reluctantly agreed to be responsible for getting the magic workers out safely. Not that Spike cared about them particularly, but giving Xander responsibility for other lives meant his boy wouldn’t do something foolish.
“Third group, the Slayer and humans. You go in the most obvious way you can.” He glanced at the Slayer briefly, “through the fraternity seems like as good a way to attract attention as anything else. You’re going to keep the soldiers occupied as long as you can, then get them out of there when Adam opens the cell doors.” Again, it wasn’t that he cared about the soldiers but Xander, Dean and Oz had all pointed out that, once the fun began, the soldiers were going to be shooting at anything that wasn’t wearing an army uniform and that would put every one of them in danger. Spike wouldn’t be at risk from random bullets but the demons he was leading inside would be.
“We’re going to need to coordinate our timing on this. The human group is going to have to go in first, draw the soldiers’ and Adam’s attention. Demons move in second, only a couple minutes behind the humans. Magic workers, you’re last. Once the cell doors open, Adam won’t be watching the caves at his back, he’ll be watching the fight. That gives you the chance to do the spell and take him by surprise.”
Behind his librarian glasses, the Watcher’s eyes were narrowed. “How do you know all this?” he asked. “What makes you think Adam is waiting for Buffy before he attacks?”
“Stands to reason, don’t it?” Spike answered impatiently. “We know Adam’s been tapping into the security cameras around town. We know he’s got access to the Initiative’s security systems. He’s going to see us coming. It’s what he’s waiting for. If he just wanted to create merry havoc inside the base, he would have done it before now.” He gestured toward the coven members. “We know the cells are full, what else is he waiting for? We all know if he lets those demons loose now, the soldiers won’t just be killed, they’ll be eaten - and that doesn’t get Adam his pile of useable body parts now does it?”
“Why do you want only humans to go in the front door?” the Slayer asked suspiciously, interrupting her Watcher.
“Because humans aren’t going to be killed out of hand by the soldiers. Demons would be tazered on sight and useless, but a bunch of civilian humans are going to be questioned and imprisoned at worst. If they throw you in a cell, you’ll be released with all the other prisoners when Adam makes his move.” Spike glared at her. “You’re the one wants the bloody soldiers to live. I’d as soon the whole lot of them were killed by their prisoners. Your job’s going to be getting them out before we blow the place up.”
“What?! Who said anything about blowing the place up?” the Slayer exclaimed, jumping to her feet.
“Not leavin’ that place standing,” Spike said flatly. “My team’s gonna bring in enough explosives to level the place. Don’t worry,” he smirked at her. “We’ll leave enough time for everyone to get out. But once Adam’s dead, we’re destroying the entire base.” He matched the Slayer stare for stare, daring her to fight him on this.
“Once we’re inside,” Dean said quietly. “My wolves will be working to evacuate the peaceful demons that have been held prisoner. I suspect there aren’t that many left, given the information about how crowded the cells are,” he finished grimly.
The wolves had been adamant about checking for the imprisoned werewolf. Despite the fact that Spike would have liked to see them on the front lines, they were the best for the job of evacuating victims. Other than Xander’s friend, the wolves the pack-leader had brought to Sunnydale were all over 50 years old and most of them knew a bit about other demons. The ability to phase back and forth to human form at will would come in handy if any of the harmless demons had actually survived Adam’s recruits being packed in with them.
Spike looked around the room, seeing who was with him and who was looking uncertain. Not surprisingly, it was the full humans who looked like this was a bit more than they’d bargained for. “I heard your plan,” he said, meeting the Watcher’s eyes. “Even if it works and you kill Adam,” his tone made it clear how unlikely he thought that was, “it leaves the Initiative base intact and the soldiers can just move back in and pick up where they left off imprisoning and torturing demons randomly. Before I let that happen, I’ll take the Court in and wipe them out myself.” He morphed into his true face to emphasize how serious he was. “This way, the soldiers get to live but they won’t have a base in town and all their records and equipment will be destroyed. Your choice.”
His Court was going to be pissed at missing the fun, but the pack-leader had pointed out that a single coordinated attack on both targets was their best chance of destroying the base entirely and Spike had been forced to agree. He couldn’t help smiling at all the training he’d put his minions through for no reason but had just shrugged. It made them more useful, better fighters and that was always good.
The Watcher nodded slowly. “I see your point, Spike.” He glanced around the room, obviously seeing the lay of the land and recognized that the majority was with Spike.
“However, I think we all have some questions. Where are you getting your information about Adam?”
Spike shot Xander a disbelieving look before controlling himself. They’d agreed to leave the mage out of this. Xander was looking at the Watcher, avoiding Spike’s eyes.
“After we left yesterday, Ethan Rayne found us. He knew the coven was in town.”
Everyone looked at the coven and Maggie nodded ruefully. “He would,” she said quietly.
“Adam told him to push us in the right direction, to make sure Buffy was there when the fight began.”
“Ethan’s working for Adam? Oh, that’s just perfect,” the Watcher exclaimed.
“He’s not happy about it either. He gave us the straight story - hopefully.” Xander said, with a shrug. “He doesn’t want Adam to win, that much we can be sure of. And his information fits with what we know from more reliable sources. Even if Ethan’s lying and Adam isn’t planning on creating more things like himself, he’s obviously waiting for something or he would have acted by now.
“Why did he go to you?” the Slayer demanded.
“He thought we would be the easiest to convince, because Giles, especially has history with him and you’ve tangled with him a couple of times,” Xander answered smoothly. “It probably helped that we beat him up,” he admitted, “and he thinks that the coven being here means we’re going to be the winning side.”
“Ethan has always had a strong streak of self-interest,” Giles said thoughtfully. “And he did warn us about the Initiative before anyone else.”
“When exactly did you decide to come up with a completely new plan?” the Slayer asked.
“When I heard yours,” Spike told her flatly. “Among other things, your plan leaves Xander and the witches in the middle of a firefight, hoping they can find a place to set up the spell before they are all killed. I’m guessing everyone involved in the spell going to be pretty helpless while they’re working their mojo?”
“My way, we keep the most vulnerable of our people out of harm’s way until they can do their part.”
The Slayer’s nodded. “You’re right about that. But nothing’s ever been said about blowing up the Initiative.”
Spike couldn’t resist. “It’s called a contingency plan, Slayer. You’re powering Xander up to fight something we don’t even know can be killed. Spell don’t work, we see if burying Adam under 100 tons of concrete will slow him down. But we are not putting Xander in the middle of a race war and then finding out if you know what you’re doing.”
That was the only reason Spike was willing to be separated from his Claimed. If the spell didn’t work, Xander and the others would be left sitting outside Adam’s lair, unable to do anything but feel foolish. If they tried the spell inside the Initiative and it didn’t work, Xander would be picking up a weapon and getting in the middle of things. This way was safer.
“How are we getting inside the bunker?” Sgt. Morgan asked. “I thought that entrance had pretty solid internal locks?”
Spike relaxed, hearing the acceptance in the Sergeant’s voice. With the big Kobarien demon on his side, everyone else would fall in line. He wasn’t surprised the sergeant had immediately put his finger on one of the stickier bits. Explosives might do the job in getting the door open, but that would alert everyone to their presence.
“Hoping one of you witches can help us out with that,” he said, looking at the coven.
“I believe we can find a way to get your group inside,” Maggie said, trading looks with the other members of the coven and receiving confirming nods.
Spike smirked, pleased at how things had gone, as the discussion became a general one, hashing out the remaining details, assigning jobs and setting a time table for the attack. The Slayer could have been a serious problem with her reluctance to actually do anything about the Initiative. As Xander had suggested, phrasing it in terms of saving the majority of the soldiers - including that boyfriend she was so worried about - made it something she was willing to go along with.
Ethan appeared at the entrance to the alley right on schedule. Which surprised Xander as he’d about half convinced himself that Ethan would simply leave town rather show up tonight. Showing up pretty much put Ethan squarely in the middle of the fight with Adam and was a clear declaration of whose side he was on and Xander had serious doubts about whether Ethan was really prepared to take that step.
He and Spike had arrived at the meeting point well before the set time because Spike didn’t trust Ethan and wanted to be sure they weren’t walking into a trap. Be just like Ethan to lure them here to turn them over to Adam or the soldiers or the Great Pumpkin - Xander had no illusions about Ethan drawing any moral lines about who he’d work for.
Well, maybe not the Great Pumpkin.
“Gentlemen,” Ethan greeted them, inclining his head with a mocking smile, “right this way.”
He led them halfway down the alley and stopped at one of the doors. The sign read ‘The Magic Shoppe’ in plain, business-like letters unlike the gothic-style ones on the front door.
“Why here?” Xander asked curiously.
“Where else?” Ethan answered. “I’ll need to pick up a few things for the spell and they have a nice combination of a large storage room and extremely poor security.”
Great. Not only was Ethan a chaos mage, he was a chaos mage who stole his ingredients.
He wished he could even pretend to be surprised.
Ethan produced a set of keys and began trying them in the door. After the tenth or twelfth try, he gave a small exclamation of satisfaction and pushed the door open. “After you, gentlemen,” he said, waving them inside as grandly as if they were guests and not fellow burglars.
Xander stepped inside, letting Spike’s hand on his back guide him in the darkened interior. To Xander’s eyes, even after the long wait in the dark alley, the room was nearly pitch black, only the faint glow of streetlights through the front windows allowing him to see at all. Spike’s eyes glowed yellow next to him, almost startling bright in contrast to the black interior.
A sudden flare of light blinded him as Ethan produced a flashlight, and began shining the beam around the room, illuminating the shelves of herbs and potions, the bins cluttered with amulets, and row after row of books.
He’d never been in the store before and had no idea what Ethan was looking for, so he told Spike quietly that he would keep a lookout and picked his way carefully across the room, the flashlight providing just enough ambient light to let him avoid the shadowed lumps of display shelves and other hazards that loomed suddenly in his path.
His heart was pounding, both from the unexpected breaking and entering they were doing and in anticipation of the spell. Watching the quiet street outside, searching for any sign they’re presence had been noted, he concentrated on taking slow, deep breaths, shoving his hands in his pockets to conceal their nervous shaking and wishing this were over.
“All set, luv.”
Spike’s voice in his ear made him jump, and he turned to see Spike standing beside him, his golden eyes and white hair shining in the faint light, the rest of him no more than a dark silhouette. He nodded and let Spike steer him across the sales floor towards the storeroom, where Ethan was crouched down, lighting candles.
Closing the door behind them, they waited together, watching Ethan closely, although Xander was depressingly aware that Ethan didn’t even have to be subtle. He could do anything he wanted to muck up the spell and they would have no idea it wasn’t legitimate. Once again, he wished desperately they had had a chance to research the spell on their own and didn’t have to place their trust in Ethan.
Ethan glanced up at them. “Are you two planning on helping, or are you just going to stand there and let me do all the work?” At Spike’s hostile stare and Xander’s blank one, he gave a put-upon sigh. “I meant with the candles.” He gestured to the small forest of candles around him. “Could use a bit more light in here. We’re not all vampires.”
Xander moved forward to help, picking up the already lit candles and setting them up on boxes. As the room gradually brightened, he couldn’t help wondering whether there really was a problem with magic and electricity or if magic workers just liked the effect of using candles instead of real light.
It certainly made sleight of hand and treachery easier to mask, he thought grimly.
Ethan kept eight dark red candles near him and began drawing on the floor with chalk, sketching out a circle, then adding symbols around the outside at regular intervals. He didn’t use a reference book, his hands sketching the symbols with the ease of long practice. His studies with Giles had given Xander a passing familiarity with some of the more common non-human alphabets and runes and it wasn’t exactly reassuring that nothing the Ethan was drawing was even slightly familiar.
Ethan settled back on his heels and checked his work, then picked up a ceramic bowl and several packets of herbs he’d obviously taken from the shop. Mixing them in the bowl, he looked over at Spike, who’d remained leaning against the wall, motionless as a statue except for his watchful eyes gleaming in the flickering light.
“I’ll need a few drops of your blood.”
Spike pushed off from the wall and stalked forward with his predator’s stride, all power and deadly grace, and Xander was glad to see Ethan swallow hard as he approached. Good, they needed Ethan to remember that he was more afraid of Spike, even chipped, than of Adam.
Spike loomed over Ethan, staring down at the mage for a long moment, then, ignoring the knife Ethan was offering, reached one hand up to his mouth and sliced a finger open against one of his fangs, holding it out for Ethan to catch the drops in the bowl.
“…six…seven…eight,” Ethan counted quietly, then pulled the bowl away. “That’s enough. Don’t get any blood in the circle,” he ordered. Spike ran his tongue over the already almost healed wound and watched with hooded eyes as Ethan stirred the mix in the bowl with two fingers, then set the bowl down in front of him.
“In the middle, please,” he said, gesturing to the circle. “Don’t touch the lines.”
Spike stepped over the chalk lines and into the circle, his eyes lifting to Xander’s in a long intent stare before turning to look down at the mage.
Ethan, still crouched on his heels, lit the herbs in the bowl on fire, then held the bowl up to eye level, beginning to chant in a language Xander didn’t recognize, something guttural and harsh, the words filling the empty room until Xander thought he could almost see them in the air.
The small fire inside the bowl grew brighter, flames beginning to leap over the rim, sparks beginning to dance in the air above the bowl. The sparks leapt higher and higher, swirling together in intricate patterns in mid-air, glowing orange and red and yellow, until their light dwarfed that of the candles, brightening the entire room.
More and more sparks joined them, until they formed a dense mass that moved together, looking almost like a comet’s tail as it began swirling around the boundary of the chalked circle. The sparks rose higher, whirling more and more rapidly, until they were circling around Spike’s head and shoulders in a dizzying blur of motion.
Ethan’s chant was louder now, no longer cajoling but commanding, and suddenly there was a net of energy encompassing Spike as the sparks crackled and spat tiny bursts of lightning at each other, until Spike’s upper body was lost in the storm of power within the circle.
Xander clenched his fists, forcing himself not to move, even though every instinct was telling him to get Spike out of the circle. To his horror, he saw that Spike had been lifted off his feet by the energy around him, his body frozen stiff, every muscle taut as he dangled in mid-air.
Xander tasted blood as Spike screamed in agony, the energy seemed to be passing through him now instead of circling around him. He screamed again and Xander knew he wouldn’t be able to take it if Spike screamed again. This was worse than the chip and he was standing here and letting it happen.
Ethan shouted one last word and the fire in the bowl died instantly, followed a second later by the sparks, which flared together in one last burst and vanished, leaving nothing but dark spots in his vision and Spike’s body crumpling bonelessly to the floor, landing half in and half out of the circle.
Xander crossed the distance in two steps, sliding to his knees and pulling Spike up into his lap. “Spike?”
Spike stirred slowly, tremors shaking his body, then looked up at Xander with dazed eyes that didn’t recognize him.
“Spike?” Xander asked anxiously, terrified by the blankness in Spike’s eyes.
For a heart-stoppingly long moment, Spike didn’t answer. Xander bit his lip again to stop himself from shaking Spike in an effort to get a response, giving Spike a minute to pull himself together. Please god, that was all this was. He breathed a shaky sigh of relief as Spike sat up, moving with arthritic slowness, shaking his head like he was trying to clear it. He looked at Xander. “I’m fine, luv.”
He helped Spike to his feet. Spike’s muscles were still twitching in sudden spasms but he didn’t seem to be in pain anymore, as he tested his limbs, making sure they were working.
“Well, there you are, back to your old self. Now, remember: no hurting me, no ordering me out of town, and most important, no killing of me,” Ethan said briskly, getting to his feet and dusting his slacks off.
Spike put a gentle, still slightly tremoring hand on Xander’s cheek, and Xander gave him a shaky smile. He was torn between telling Spike to pinch him or something and wanting to wait until Spike was a little steadier before risking the chip firing if the spell hadn’t worked.
Spike obviously had other ideas.
Turning abruptly, Spike’s fist shot out and he decked Ethan with one swift brutal punch.
Everything froze and Xander held his breath, waiting to see what would happen.
“Bloody hell! What was that for?” Ethan complained, scrambling back to his feet and moving a wary distance away.
Spike’s smirk was barely contained and Xander’s own disbelieving smile just kept growing. It worked! It worked! It worked! He chanted to himself giddily.
“Not going to test your spell on my boy here, now am I?” Spike said. “Didn’t want to be the test subject, should have brought a volunteer. Now I know you’ve kept your side of the bargain, I’ll keep mine.” Spike looked at Xander. Only the fact that his hands lighting the cigarette were shaking just the tiniest bit showed his emotions. “Shall we go, pet?” he asked casually.
Xander nodded, not trusting his own voice, afraid that nothing but insane repetitions of “It worked!” would come out of his mouth.
Pulling himself together, he managed to ask: “Adam?”
Both Spike and Ethan looked at him blankly and he clarified. “Did you tell Adam you convinced us?”
“I will tonight,” Ethan assured him.
“Anything new?” Spike asked sharply.
“He’ll wait another day or so for the Slayer, then figure something else out, is my guess,” Ethan shrugged like it didn’t matter to him. “Better tell Ripper to get a move on if he wants in on this party.”
“Tell Adam we’re moving in 48 hours,” Spike ordered. “If we survive, I’ll spread the word you’re not to be touched by anyone and you have free access to Sunnydale.” He gave Ethan a pointed stare. “Pull any more town-wide stunts and I’ll reconsider our agreement.”
Spike strode out, catching Xander’s wrist as he swept out the door. Xander cast one backward look at Ethan then shrugged, trotting after Spike. Wasn’t their mess. Ethan could clear it up himself.
“We’re attacking tomorrow night,” he said when they were outside the shop and well away from Ethan. It wasn’t quite a question.
Spike grinned at him, an expression Xander had only seen once before on his face - the same giddy, incandescent joy that he’d seen the night Spike had escaped from the Initiative and finally made it home. “Don’t want either of them to have too much information, eh, luv?”
“Right,” Xander agreed, barely able to keep his brain focused on the conversation. “Untrustworthy gits, both of them.” He pulled Spike to a stop, putting his hand on the cool alabaster cheek of his madly grinning vampire. “Want to celebrate?” he suggested huskily.
“’Til the end of time, luv.”