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 stood ready, holding the full-size axe in both hands and eyeing his target. In a sudden flurry of movement, he swung the axe up and sent it hurtling across the empty space between them, the blade making a shining arc as it spun in mid-air until it landed with a loud crack, and refused to lodge in the thick wood, dropping to the floor with a clang of metal that rang loudly in the silent room.
“Gettin’ better, luv.” Spike told him encouragingly. He hopped down from his perch on the pommel horse and approached Xander. “You’re releasing too soon.”
Xandeer grumbled and walked across the room to fetch the axe which had dropped in front of the thick wooden panel Giles had set up to absorb the shock of heavy weapons being thrown. “Why can’t I stick with the hand axe? I’m better with them.”
“Because sometimes you need somethin’ with a bit more heft. Try again.”
“Maybe I should try throwing it with a spinning motion.” Xander pictured that in his head. Spinning should give him the momentum the axe needed but…
“Too hard to control,” Spike interrupted his thoughts.
“You do it.”
“Been throwin’ axes for a century, luv,” Spike said with a smirk. “You need a bit more practice before you can pull it off.”
“A bit’?” he asked suspiciously.
“Should have it down in a year or so,” Spike told him cheerfully.
Xander glared at him. “Careful, lover, I’m the one with an axe in my hand.”
Spike grinned at him unrepentantly.
Sighing, Xander turned to take aim at the target once again. Spike had taken all too eagerly to the idea of using the back room at the Magic Shop to train and this was the third time this week they’d met here after sunset. Spike thoroughly approved of most of Giles’ plans for the room and had made suggestions of his own which Giles had received eagerly. Xander suspected that both he and Buffy were going to be working harder for awhile.
One of the suggestions had been for the thick board with the crude target painted on it that Xander had been throwing axes at for the last half hour. Spike had always been in favor of anything that kept Xander further away from his opponent and had taken full advantage of the increased space in the new training room to decide that it was time Xander learned to throw a full-size axe with the same accuracy he could throw a hand axe. Trouble was, the axe he was working with weighed a lot more than the smaller ones he was used to and the increased size and weight had thrown his aim off entirely. The axe kept hitting the board and falling to the floor, not digging in like it was supposed to. And his arms were beginning to hurt, which wasn’t helping.
He swung the axe up one more time, but the shop bell sounding in the front room gave him an excuse to lower it again and surreptitiously rub his upper arm, trying to ease the sore muscles. “Company.”
Spike gave him a look which showed clearly that he knew Xander was making excuses but didn’t say anything, turning to face the door as they heard Buffy and Dawn greet Giles.
Dawn bounced into the back room, shrugging out of her back pack and tossing it aside as she entered. Buffy followed more slowly on her heels, frowning at her like she always seemed to with Dawn these days.
“This is so cool,” Dawn exclaimed, staring around her. “Spike, we can use this when Buffy isn’t, right?”
The minute the words were out, she clapped a hand over her mouth, but it was too late.
Xander just laughed, setting the axe down. “Come on, Buffy, you didn’t think that Spike would let Dawn go without self-defense training did you?”
“And why wasn’t I told about this?” Buffy demanded, glaring at all three of them.
“Because we knew you’d freak,” Dawn told her. “Spike’s been training me for months now.” She grinned in a way she’d picked up from Spike. “Want me to show you some of my moves?”
Buffy closed her eyes and looked like she was counting to ten. Maybe 50. In Roman numerals. “I’m in hell. No, I’m in some alternate version of reality that will end any minute now.” She waited, as if hoping the reality where a Master Vampire had been training her kid sister to fight would disappear.
“Niblet’s not half bad,” Spike said, obviously completely unconcerned about Buffy’s disapproval. “Not ready to take on a Fyarl demon yet, but she’ll hold her own against vampires.”
“You let my sister fight a vampire?!” Buffy’s eyes snapped open and she looked on the verge of attacking Spike.
Xander winced. Buffy was going to blow a gasket at this rate. He shot Spike a warning look and answered quickly before Spike could make things worse - and from the look on Spike’s face, that’s exactly what he was planning. Probably going to tell Buffy that Dawn had been staking vampires for months or some such nonsense. “Of course not, Buffy. Dawn’s never been in any danger,” he said soothingly.
“Yeah, these two over-protective fraidy-cats won’t ever let me fight anything for real,” Dawn said. It had been the source of a number of arguments once Dawn had mastered some of the basics. Much to Dawn’s annoyance, Spike and Xander had been absolutely in agreement that her fighting skills were going to stay untested by real battle.
“Oi!” Spike said, outraged at being called a fraidy cat.
“It’s true,” Dawn insisted. “I’m so ready for patrol and you guys won’t let me.”
“See?” Xander said to Buffy. “Completely safe.”
Buffy crossed her arms and tapped one foot in a way that suggested she was less than convinced. “She was a lot safer when she didn’t think she should be patrolling.”
“Oh, please,” Dawn said. “Two kids in my class were killed by vampires the first month after we moved here. Everyone in Sunnydale should learn how to defend themselves.”
Xander agreed with her. It was the reason he’d gone along with Spike’s plans to give Dawn some training in the first place. Well, that and the fact that Spike was already busily setting up a training schedule with Dawn before Xander even knew what was going on.
Buffy had been adamant that Dawn should be shielded from the reality of the Hellmouth from day one, and Joyce had taken the same position, when she’d learned the truth about Sunnydale and her daughter being the Slayer. Spike had only decided to go behind Joyce’s back when he began to know and like Dawn. Xander couldn’t help agreeing with him. Dawn needed basic self-defense skills the same way that Xander had when Spike first began training him. It only made sense. In his opinion, Sunnydale’s high death rate was largely due to the persistence blindness of the people in town. If the population routinely carried weapons and had even rudimentary self-defense skills, more people would be able to fend off vampire attacks.
Of course, the town had had a not-quite-human Mayor for over a hundred years and he’d been a lot more interested in keeping the town open for business and preparing to become a giant snake than in protecting the actual people who kept voting for him, but still…
He could see that Dawn’s remark had hit home with Buffy, and relaxed, no longer worried this would turn into anything physical. Buffy would get used to the idea and Dawn would be able to train with them here in the back room under Buffy and Giles’ watchful eyes.
Now, if Buffy would just agree not to worry Joyce by telling her about this, everything was good. Anyway, Joyce would understand.
Xander opened the door to the Magic Shop and hesitated, caught off guard by the lack of people inside. Giles gave him a distracted smile and Tara gave him a shy wave from behind the counter where she was doing something with a pile of herbs.
“Giles, how’s it going?” Maybe all the customers had already been and gone and this was just a lull. Buffy and Dawn had been confidently predicting opening day would find the shop full of hordes of people shopping ‘til they dropped, but this looked more like Spike’s prediction of disaster and bankruptcy.
“It’s been a little slow, but no doubt business will pick up soon.” Giles said, his voice calm.
“You’ve been open half a day already, Ripper, and the only people to walk through the door have all been here to show their support for this asinine adventure of yours,” a familiar voice said acidly from the upstairs loft where Giles had put all his research books on shelves Xander had built to hold them. Ethan Rayne glanced over the railing at Giles, a book open in his hands. “You’d think they’d show some bloody solidarity by actually purchasing something in your hour of need.”
“It’s hardly my hour of need,” Giles told him. He looked around the empty shop with its neatly organized displays of everything from bizarre esoteric ingredients to the small section of magician’s party tricks. “No, I’ve got a good feeling about this place. Magic’s a small niche market but... well, think about it. Sunnydale... monsters... supply and demand. They’ll be lining up around the block in no time.”
“When they’re not crashing through the front window to destroy the place,” Ethan predicted, turning back to his book.
Xander smiled to himself. Despite the waspish comments, it was obvious Ethan had turned up to support Giles, in his own unique way.
“Not to mention, it might take a few days for word to spread that the store is open again,” he told Giles encouragingly.
The bell over the door jingled and Buffy and Riley came in, followed shortly by Dawn. Buffy and Riley had seen the finished store already but Dawn was impressed.
“Whoa! Mr. Giles! This place is so... wow. I mean, check out all the magic junk,” she exclaimed, looking around eagerly.
“Ah, yes. Our new slogan,” Giles murmured.
“So when’s it open? You know, for customers?”
“Since nine this morning, actually,” Giles admitted.
“Dawn,” Buffy said through gritted teeth. “Go. Browse. And…”
“‘You break it, you bought it’, I know. I heard you the first sixty times,” Dawn grumbled, moving off to explore the shelves.
There was a brief, awkward silence, broken by Riley with a too-obvious change in subject. “So, Buffy, are we on for patrol tonight?” Riley asked.
Buffy hesitated for just a second too long.
“You can't patrol. Buffy said,” Dawn blurted out, looking up from a display of crystals. Xander was torn between laughing at the looks on Buffy and Riley’s faces and wincing. Dawn really could put her foot in it at times.
“No, I didn’t.” Buffy insisted, but it was too little, too late, and it was obvious Riley didn’t believe her. Dawn forged on.
“Yes, you did. You said it would be easier if you didn’t have to look out for anybody.” She made a face and told Riley: “Welcome to the club. She’ll never let me go either.”
“I wasn’t talking about Riley,” Buffy gritted out, glaring at Dawn.
“Well, if you weren’t, you should have been,” Xander snapped. “Riley, don’t be stupid. You had major surgery less than a week ago. You shouldn’t be patrolling.”
“It was just a minor procedure. I’m fine,” Riley said defensively.
“Anything where people cut into your body and mess around with major organs is not something to fool around with.”
“Riley, he’s right,” Giles said quietly. “I know the pacemaker is temporary and you are going to be fine, but you need to give your body time to recover. Build your strength back slowly.”
Riley looked frustrated and Buffy eyed him worriedly. “I did say that I didn’t think you should be patrolling,” she admitting, biting her lip nervously. “I’m sorry I said it in front of Dawn - really sorry,” she emphasized, looking pointedly at Dawn. “But you’re really worrying me. Not patrolling for a couple of weeks isn’t a big deal. It’s just until you’re healed and back to full strength.”
Riley crossed his arms stubbornly, looking at the circle of faces confronting him. “Fine. Giles, you got that danger room set up out back? I’ll go work out for awhile, I’m suddenly feeling the need for a little physical rehab about now.” He spun on his heel and headed for the back.
Buffy started after him but Giles stopped her with a gentle hand on her arm. “Let him go Buffy. I’ll see to it that he doesn’t over-train.”
“Why can’t he be reasonable about this?” she asked, gazing after Riley’s departed form.
“Because he’s an insecure idiot who sees you slipping through his fingers,” Ethan offered, his voice carrying clearly down from the loft.
Buffy scowled. “Who let chaos-guy in?”
“No one let me in, I’m more than capable of opening doors for myself. This is a public shop.”
“Yeah, well Giles should be more discriminating about his customers.” She said automatically. It was obvious that her thoughts were still on Riley.
“I like Ethan,” Dawn volunteered. “He’s cute.”
“Thank you, I’ll try not to let it go to my head that I’m the subject of an adolescent’s crush.”
“Ewww! I didn’t say I had a crush on you,” Dawn said indignantly, staring up at the loft, hands on her hips. “You’re like way old. You’re cute like the old guys in the park who try and pick up the old ladies.”
Giles’ shoulders were shaking with silent laughter and Buffy’s initial annoyance had been replaced by a certain malicious amusement at Ethan’s expense.
“On that note, I think Dawn and I should leave.”
“What? We just got here. Can’t I look around awhile longer?”
“Five minutes,” Buffy allowed. “Don’t break anything,” she reminded Dawn again.
Dawn rolled her eyes at the repeated warning but quickly took advantage of the offer, crossing the room to explore further.
Buffy collapsed into one of the chairs at the table Giles had set up near the loft stairs, dropping her purse onto the table and wincing when it landed with a clunk. “Damn, I forgot. I hope I didn’t break it.” She fished around in the over-sized bag for a minute, then triumphantly produced a softball-sized sphere that was glowing softly. She turned it over in her hands, frowning at it. “What the hell is it?”
Giles took his glasses off and took the sphere from her gingerly, beginning to examine it. “It appears to be paranormal in origin.”
“That covers a lot of ground, Giles.” Xander peered curiously at the sphere as Giles handed it to him. “Where’s it from?”
“I found it on patrol last night. In the warehouse district.”
Xander passed it to Tara who’d left her spot behind the counter to join them in examining the object. She gave him a shy smile and studied the sphere for a moment before handing it back to Giles.
“We’ll have to do some research,” Giles said. “Right now, my supposition that it’s paranormal is based solely on the fact that it’s glowing.”
“You really are losing your touch, Ripper.” In his concentration on the sphere, Xander hadn’t heard Ethan come downstairs. Now the chaos mage tweaked the sphere out of Giles’ hands and cradled it in both of his. “It’s practically humming with power.”
Ethan’s hands moved over the sphere almost reverently as he examined it from all sides. “This is old. Decades, if not centuries, would be my guess. If I’m right, the color probably indicates some type of light magic.”
“What’s light magic?” Buffy asked.
Ethan looked exasperated, but Giles interrupted him before he could speak. “Spells that were intended to help people, for protection, or warding off evil spirits, that type of thing. Those types of spells often manifested in gold or yellow light.”
“Th-the color represented the sun,” Tara said hesitantly, “S-so people would understand that the spell w-wasn’t intended to harm anything.”
Ethan snorted. “More like the local Bishop wouldn’t burn you at the stake if you could pass your magic off as a miracle. Harder to do when the spell is black or red - the colors of Satan and darkness.”
Tara subsided, ducking her head, and Xander scowled at Ethan. She spoke up in company so rarely that Xander hated to see her shut down.
“Yes, be that as it may, we should see if we can find out what it is.” Giles took the sphere back from Ethan, giving him a hard look when Ethan seemed inclined to hang onto it. Ethan smirked at him and released the glowing orb. “Tara, can you spare an hour or two to help me research?”
Tara nodded her head and Giles smiled at her. “Thank you. Ethan, make yourself useful and fetch some books from upstairs for us to start on.”
“Giles, I’m going to leave you to it and take Dawn home,” Buffy said, picking up her purse and signaling to Dawn, who had, remarkably, ignored the discussion about the glowing sphere. She was sitting cross-legged on the floor, poking through a box of some kind of doohickeys, and now sighed at Buffy’s call and rolled to her feet, picking up the box and putting back on the shelf.
“Count me out too, if you don’t mind,” Xander said. “I’m better with demons than magic stuff and this doesn’t seem like it’s end of the world urgent.”
“You can never tell,” Ethan said darkly. Giles rolled his eyes at the dramatics.
“Of course, Xander, Tara and I are shouldn’t have any difficulty finding something. It’s more her area than yours.”
Giles gave her a warm smile. Tara had been quietly helpful as he got the shop ready to open, and she’d admitted that she’d spent a lot of time in the shop under the previous owner. Giles had coaxed her into talking about what she’d liked and disliked about the shop and had implemented a number of her suggestions. The result was a layout much lighter and more welcoming than it had been originally.
Ethan came down the stairs with an armful of books and Xander wished them luck. He headed for the back room, meeting Giles’ curious look with a grimace. He mouthed ‘Riley’ silently and Giles nodded understanding.
Stepping into the back room, Xander watched Riley on the weight machine. His jaw tightened as he saw that Riley had piled on the weight to Slayer levels and was lying on the bench struggling to lift the bar. He’d stripped down to a muscle shirt and sweat already dampened the fabric, his arms visibly trembling as he fought the weights.
Xander shook his head in disgust and walked silently over to the machine. He added his weight to the bar and sent the metal plates crashing back down as Riley gasped and let them drop under the increased strain.
“Are you trying to kill yourself?” Xander asked harshly. “In which case, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t do it in here where Dawn might stumble across your body.”
“Shut up, Xander. I know what I’m doing.”
“Really? Because from here, it looks like you’re trying to be a macho asshole.”
Riley swung his feet off the bench and stood up. “You want to start something?”
Xander rolled his eyes. “Do I want to start someone who’s only a week from major surgery and the boyfriend of someone I care about? No. I’m trying to stop you from killing yourself because it will hurt people I care about.”
“I know what I’m doing,” Riley repeated. To Xander’s relief, he stepped back, and used the excuse of reaching for his shirt to back down from the confrontation.
He should probably let this go. Riley was convinced that Buffy wouldn’t want him if he didn’t have the extra edge that Maggie Walsh’s experiments had given the Initiative soldiers and that nagging insecurity was driving him to behave like a crazy person. Only a direct order had gotten him in to see a doctor, who had spent five minutes examining Riley before telling him he would be dead inside a week if he continued to ignore the problem and who’d immediately arranged for an operating room.
From what Buffy had told him, Riley’s heart had been beating way faster than normal and that had given Riley a false burst of extra strength and stamina - similar to how he’d felt when taking the Initiative’s drugs As far as Xander could tell, Riley had been so determined to cling to the feeling of being more than human that he’d convinced himself he could handle it. Like any human could handle their heart exploding, Xander thought.
Wait a minute. A direct order.
“You’ve commanded soldiers in the field, Riley,” he said slowly. “Ask yourself this: would you let a soldier in your condition go on a mission?”
The muscles in Riley’s jaw tightened and he avoided Xander’s eyes, making a production of tucking his shirt in.
“You wouldn’t, because it would endanger not only the soldier but everyone else in the unit.”
Riley’s head lifted at that and he stared at Xander stubbornly.
“You’re endangering yourself by pulling this crap. More importantly, you’re endangering Buffy when you insist on patrolling with her when you know you are ready. If she’s injured because she’s trying to protect you, you’ll never forgive yourself. Worse, if you die on her out doing stuff you know you shouldn’t be doing, she’s never going to recover from the guilt.”
He waited, hoping Riley would show some sign that his words were getting through but the soldier just stared over Xander’s shoulder, his face unreadable.
“Personally, I wouldn’t want someone I love to have to go through that,” he said.
He turned and headed for the back door. Would the military agree to transfer Riley out of town if he continued to at like this? Sgt. Morgan might be able to pull that off. Question was, would Buffy forgive them if she found out about it?
*A/N - Bits of dialog borrowed from the episode ‘No Place Like Home’