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
“Xander, can I borrow you for a while this afternoon?”
“Of course, Giles. What’s up?”
“You know that I’ve been looking for a suitable place for Buffy to train?”
“Yeah.” Xander took a quick bite off his sandwich and hoped the chewing wasn’t audible over the phone. Giles had caught him on his lunch hour.
“I may have found one and I’d like your opinion on whether the modification I’d like to make are feasible.”
Xander smiled, pleased that Giles thought well enough of his skills to ask his opinion. He swallowed quickly and cleared his throat. “I can probably handle that. Where’s it located?”
Giles read off an address and Xander blinked. “That’s right downtown.”
“Yes, it’s the Magic Shoppe. The owner has put the business up for sale,” Giles told him casually.
“Ummm, Giles? There’s a reason that store goes up for sale on practically an annual basis.”
“Yes, I know,” Giles said calmly, “but there’s also a reason it’s bought regularly.”
“Contagious insanity?” Xander suggested.
“Unusually high profit margins,” Giles responded crisply.
Xander was sticking with his own theory. “Aren’t the British supposed to be above that sort of crass commercialism?”
“Yes, but it’s not actually true,” Giles explained and Xander could hear the smile in his voice. “We just pretend that we are so no one thinks we’re American.”
“Yeah, ‘cause the accent doesn’t give it away or anything. The old owner is still alive, right?” he asked, checking.
“Of course, but he apparently had one too many close calls last week, so the price is quite reasonable.”
“Why the sudden yen for retail?”
“It’s a very promising space,” Giles told him and Xander began to worry that Giles was actually serious about this.
“This is such a bad idea,” Xander predicted gloomily but Giles was adamant. Xander arranged to meet him at the shop after work and tucked the phone back in his pocket, wondering why on earth Giles was even considering buying the most dangerous business in town.
He’d only been in the magic shop once and at the time, he’d been more worried about being caught burglarizing the place and whether Ethan was going to hold up his end of the bargain than examining the store, but he remembered vaguely that the back room where Ethan had done the spell had been a large one. Cleaned up, it might in fact make a good training space. He really hoped Giles knew what he was doing.
Sighing, he glanced at his watch and saw he still had 15 minutes left on his lunch break. Maybe he could find a structural flaw in the building, he thought hopefully. Or make one up.
Cheered by that idea, he polished off the last of his soda and got to his feet. Better to get back to work than sit here worrying about what a colossal fiasco this was sure to be.
Xander scowled impartially around the room, which had persistently refused to cooperate. No dry rot, no termites, no code violations, no sign the original contractors had skimped on materials or done shoddy workmanship. The building was annoyingly well-built.
“Much as I hate to say it, there’s some solid craftsmanship in this building.” He thumped his fist against the wall. “It’ll take pretty much anything you can throw at it.”
Giles looked pleased. “That’s wonderful, Xander.”
“Of course,” he kept going, overriding Giles, who persisted in remaining in his happy place, “you’d have to expect that, given that four previous owners have been killed” - he’d gotten that from the realtor, for god’s sake, something about having to disclose deaths on the premises to prospective buyers - “and the shop’s been trashed at least a couple of times in the past few years.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that.” Giles didn’t sound worried. He didn’t even look up from the ledger he was flipping through. Worse, he had his patient look on. The one that said he was just humoring Xander’s objections.
“He’s right, Giles,” Buffy said. Giles had asked her to meet him at the shop as well. “Most magic shop owners in Sunnydale have the life expectancy of a Spinal Tap drummer. Not to mention, what do you know about running a business?”
“I was a librarian for years,” Giles said airily. “This is exactly the same, except people pay for the things they never return. The shop will increase my resources. And it will prevent you lot from trampling all over my flat at all hours.”
Xander exchanged a helpless look with Buffy, who just shook her head. There was no way they were talking Giles out of this. Maybe Spike would agree to put the place under his protection. And Buffy could add downtown to her patrol route.
This was so going to be a disaster.
Spike stopped just outside the door of the Magic Shoppe and his fingers slipped around Xander’s wrist in warning. Xander immediately stopped and waited silently as Spike tried to understand what he had sensed.
The three of them were meeting Giles at the shop, as Buffy and he had several times before, helping him get the place ready for business. Spike had come along this time, now that Giles had officially bought the place, wanting to check it out himself. Xander and his former employees were helping Giles make the physical changes he wanted and he’d asked for Spike’s opinion on sealing the basement against unwanted intrusions. Spike had grumbled for form’s sake but Xander knew that Spike had been pleased to be asked.
“What do you mean?” Buffy demanded, surveying the nearly deserted street and closed businesses around them. “Everything’s quiet.”
Spike inhaled, then shrugged. “Might be nothing,” he admitted. “Could just be sewer problems or summat.” He didn’t look completely convinced but made no attempt to prevent Buffy from entering the shop.
Buffy froze in the doorway for one second, then threw the door open and darted inside.
“Giles! Are you ok?”
Xander would have been a step behind her but Spike held him back, his eyes swiftly surveying the store from the entranceway. Xander peered worriedly over his shoulder and saw Buffy on her knees beside Giles, helping him to sit up amid a cluster of crushed cardboard boxes.
Giles’ attacker was obviously long gone and Spike’s tense alertness relaxed. Xander tugged free and joined Buffy beside Giles.
“I feel like a complete idiot but, other than that, I’m fine,” Giles told them. “The demon was not particularly interested in me until I was foolish enough to take a swing at it.”
“Well far be it from me to say I told you so to a man who is still on the floor…” Buffy began, half exasperated, half worried.
“Oh, go ahead and say it, it’s well earned.”
Buffy’s head snapped around and she glared. Spike, having decided there was no danger, was poking around curiously among the open boxes lined up against the far wall and just smirked in response to the sarcastic comment from the open front door.
Ethan Rayne stepped fully into the shop. “I must say, Ripper, your choices continue to be spot on,” he remarked, strolling across the floor to join them after a wary glance in Spike’s direction. “You purchase a magic shop on the Hellmouth. A shop, I might add, for which the owner’s life expectancy, based on previous track records, is measured in months, if not weeks. Is it a surprise that you’ve been attacked before you’ve even opened the doors for business?” Despite the dry, sarcastic tone, Ethan’s eyes were worried as he held out a hand to help Giles to his feet.
“Well, I'm not dead or unconscious, so I say bravo for me,” Giles answered, accepting the help and steadying himself against the counter once he was back on his feet. Buffy stood with him, watching him anxiously.
“That’s the good old Blitz spirit,” Ethan retorted scathingly. “Why move to the safety of the countryside when you can paint a target on your back and stay at ground zero?”
“If Sunnydale’s too dangerous for you, Ethan, no one’s making you stay,” Giles pointed out, staring at the other man with an unreadable expression.
For one moment, something that looked like hurt flickered in Ethan’s eyes, then he spun around and stalked out of the building with a snarl.
“Harsh, Giles,” Xander said mildly. “I think he’s actually worried about you. And he’s not the only one who thinks buying the magic shop may not have been your best move.” He held his hands up in a peace-making gesture when Giles transferred his stare to him. “I know you have your reasons but you’ll have to forgive us if we can’t resist an I told you so.”
“Never mind that, what did this to you?” Only concern for Giles could have distracted Buffy from commenting on Ethan Rayne’s presence. Xander heard the beginning of the description of the demon but then slipped out the door after Ethan, signaling to Spike that he’d be back in a minute.
He wasn’t surprised to find that Ethan hadn’t gone far. He was leaning against a lamppost a short distance down the block. From the tension in his stance, Xander suspected he wasn’t kicking it only because he was aware that would hurt his foot. He strolled down to join Ethan, who gave him a sharp glance but didn’t leave.
“How did you know Giles was hurt?”
Ethan’s shoulders tightened for an instant, but almost immediately relaxed again. “What makes you think I knew anything of the kind? My arrival just now was strictly coincidence.” Ethan’s face was the picture of innocence, which automatically made Xander think he was lying.
“Yeah, right.” Xander could do sarcasm to. “Not really buying that. So, I’m asking, and if I don’t like your answer, Spike is going to be asking.”
“Master Spike and I have an agreement,” Ethan said confidently. “He won’t go back on his word.”
“You’re forgetting, I was there. Spike promised not to kill you, and to put the word out that you were under his protection. Nothing was said about Spike not hurting you.” Xander gave him a flat stare. Ethan wasn’t trustworthy and he had no compunctions about keeping to the exact letter of their deal and not one inch more.
“It was clearly implied by the terms,” Ethan insisted, looking slightly alarmed.
“Probably should have spelled it out, then. I don’t think we’re bound to implied agreements, just actual ones.”
Ethan cleared his throat. “It’s possible that there may be a minor tracking spell on Ripper. Just enough to tell me his location and general state of health, I promise.”
Surprisingly, Xander found he believed Ethan. It was obvious that he cared about Giles, even if Giles wasn’t reciprocating - yet. And a tracking spell seemed like the kind of thing Ethan would do.
“Ok.” He turned to go back into the Magic Shoppe.
“Aren’t you going to insist that I remove the spell?” Ethan asked, head tilted curiously.
Xander gave him a feral smile. “Of course not. However, there is the possibility that I might mention it to Giles if you don’t behave.”
He savored the memory of the appalled look on Ethan’s face, as he rejoined the others inside the store.
“Toth!” Giles exclaimed. “That’s the demon who attacked me.” His finger skimmed down the page as he read off the highlights: “Ancient demon. Very strong. Last survivor of the Tothric clan. It also says that for a demon he’s unusually sophisticated.”
Buffy frowned, putting down her own book thankfully. “Sophisticated? So I should discuss men’s fashions with him before I chop his head off?”
Giles threw her an exasperated look. “They are referring to the fact that he does not fight barehanded. He uses tools,” he made a gesture trying to illustrate something or other, “devices.”
Spike snorted. “That’s not sophisticated, that’s common sense. Need to stop relying on books that view demons as less intelligent than your average chimpanzee, Watcher.” Spike had refused to help research, but Xander wasn’t complaining. Spike had settled down on the step above him and had been massaging his shoulders while he read. Which made it hard to concentrate of looking for demons that matched Giles’ description but had felt really good.
“I admit, some of these medieval monks had a somewhat prejudiced view of demons,” Giles began. Spike interrupted him.
“‘Somewhat’? Wasn’t it Aelfric that said that Hai-nyrrii Shapeshifters were nothing more than clever animals?” he asked scathingly. “‘Course, have to appreciate the way the Clan leader took the time to publicly insult him in three languages before killing him.” He smirked. Spike had always enjoyed a good revenge.
Giles winced, looking vaguely nauseated and Xander made a mental note not to ask about the details of that particular incident. It took a lot to make Giles look sick.
“Can we get back to Toth?” Buffy suggested.
“Right, sorry.” Giles returned to the book. “In this case, ‘sophisticated’ apparently means he is capable of working magic.” His finger skimmed down the text rapidly, looking for other material information. “He’s also supposed to be very focused.” He looked up, gazing at Buffy. “Since he mentioned the Slayer, I think we know what that focus is.”
“Great. Where do I find this guy, so I can teach him to shop somewhere else?” Buffy asked.
Xander could tell Spike was rolling his eyes, even without turning his head. Spike had always thought that Buffy’s death threats needed work. Giles kept reading.
“There’s no mention of the types of places he might frequent..,” he closed the book and smiled grimly, “but I have an idea. He had a very specific olfactory presence.”
“He smelled like he’d been nesting in garbage.” Giles said succinctly, abandoning the big words in favor of actually communicating.
“There, you see? No demon with any claim to sophistication hangs out at the city dump,” Spike said triumphantly.
“Xander, can you and Spike come to the magic shop right away?” Giles sounded urgent. “I’m sorry to bother you but we have a demon problem and Buffy’s…. not herself.”
“What do you mean?” Xander sat up reluctantly on the couch, sliding down a little, away from Spike’s distracting hands.
They’d left the shop several hours ago and Spike had decided the Court could take care of itself for the night. They didn’t have that many nights to spend together and he had been seriously annoyed when the phone rang, interrupting them. He’d lost the brief argument about whether to even answer the phone when Xander checked the caller ID and seen it was Giles.
Buffy had said she would check back with him after she’d killed Toth. She’d turned down Spike and Xander’s offer to help, pointing out that Giles’ books hadn’t said anything about Toth being a good fighter, just strong. She was still bristling defensively about the line between her’s and Spike’s roles in Sunnydale and Xander hoped killing Toth would make up for Spike’s killing Dracula, which he suspected was the real reason Buffy had turned down their help tonight. Not that she wasn’t capable of handling most demons on her own, but he didn’t like the fact that this one surviving demon had been noteworthy enough to rate inclusion in one of the demonic encyclopedias. Buffy had been confident and Giles not particularly worried, so he hadn’t argued.
“It’s… rather hard to explain on the telephone.” Giles sounded both worried and flustered. Something more than the usual demon of the week was bothering him and Xander starting to feel a curl of unease. “I could really use both your’s and Spike’s help.”
Xander glanced across at Spike, who had his head tilted in a way that said he’d been listening to Giles’ end of the conversation. He nodded in agreement and Xander told Giles: “We’ll be there in ten minutes.”
He hung up the phone and gave Spike an apologetic kiss.
“Could have told him we’d be there in half an hour,” Spike groused, even as he headed into the bedroom for clothes. “Would have let us finish what we started.”
“Next time I’ll listen to you and not answer the phone,” Xander promised with a grin, wondering if their ten minutes gave him time for a cold shower.
The magic shop looked deserted but the door wasn’t locked. Xander pushed it open and stepped inside. “Hello? Giles?”
They’d straightened up from Toth’s visit and the previously scattered boxes were neatly stacked against the walls again, but other than that the shop appeared empty. Xander moved further into the shop, just as the door to the back room opened and Buffy appeared. Her eyes darted quickly around the room and fastened immediately on Spike.
“Vampire!” she hissed, the word sounding like an accusation.
Xander stared at her in surprise. She was practically radiating hostility. “Buffy? What’s going on?”
Buffy looked different somehow: she’d pulled her hair back in a tight, braided ponytail, she wasn’t wearing any makeup, and she’d changed into plain, dark workout clothes, the ones she’d taken to keeping in the back room of the shop in the last week. And she was glaring at Spike like he was an enemy.
He looked at Spike in confusion and saw that Spike had shifted to vampire features and was glaring back at Buffy, his whole body tense and fighting-ready. “Spike?”
“Slayer.” Spike’s low-voiced exclamation was as much an acknowledgement of a sworn enemy as Buffy’s had been.
Buffy entered the room with the light, wary tread of a born predator, her eyes scanning the space for threats and automatically taking in every detail that might be used against her or by her in a fight. It was the exact thing that Spike habitually did upon entering any room, no matter how relaxed or comfortable he was, a survival instinct so ingrained that it never left him. He’d never seen Buffy do that before.
He looked back and forth between the two of them. Even when he’d forced them both to agree to a truce, they’d never displayed this level of hostility. Dislike, yes, and a lot of antagonism, but never this kind of sheer blind hatred. Whatever was going on, they were clearly feeding off each other’s responses. Something was bringing out the instinctive hatred of vampire and Slayer and Xander was beginning to wish he’d asked a lot more questions about what was wrong before coming over here.
“Xander, Spike, thank heavens you’re here.”
Spike never took his eyes off Buffy, Xander noticed uneasily as Giles appeared in the doorway behind Buffy and slipped past her into the main shop. Buffy didn’t relax either. If anything, her tension ratcheted up another notch and she shifted position, moving to keep herself between Giles and the two of them.
Not them, Xander realized, seeing how her eyes never wavered from Spike. She was keeping herself between Spike and Giles.
“What’s going on?” he asked Giles, shifting slightly so that he was between Spike and Buffy, then moving back a step or two, forcing Spike to move with him. The tension in the room had only heightened with the addition of Giles and Xander felt like he was walking on eggshells, praying nothing would spark the atmosphere into explosion.
A third person stepped into view from the back room, then hesitated in the doorway, clearly unsure about entering. Xander flicked a wary glance in their direction and saw that it was Buffy.
What the hell?
His eyes swung back and forth between the two figures, but they were both clearly Buffy.
“What the hell?”
“As I said, we have a rather serious problem.”
Giles really was the master of understatement.
*A/N - Bits of dialogue borrowed from the episodes ‘The Real Me’ and ‘The Replacement’