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
Sorry this is so late being posted. For some reason, this chapter was a struggle from beginning to end but I think I've finally gotten it beaten into shape. Next chapter should be up next weekend unless the characters continue to wander off on their own without permission (eyes characters sternly).
“Oh my god! Spike!”
Dawn flung herself across the room and into Spike’s arms, her piercing shriek shattering the stunned silence that had followed Spike’s arrival. The vampire had strolled into the mansion through the front door as if the afternoon sun wasn’t lighting up the front of the house, and was now standing nonchalantly in the wide patch of once-fatal sun that streamed in through the open door behind him.
Well, almost nonchalantly. The irrepressible smirk that seemed to have permanently attached itself to his face despite his best efforts was a bit of a giveaway for his mood.
Now he just laughed out loud and swung Dawn around exuberantly before setting her down again. Dawn’s face was split with the kind of smile none of them had seen from her since Willow had been hurt, and her gleeful laugh was just another bonus that the Gem carried, as far as Spike was concerned.
Rupert was polishing his glasses furiously as if perfectly clean lenses would allow him to believe what his eyes were seeing and Joyce looked like she was barely containing a delighted squeal of her own as she followed her daughter’s example, throwing her arms around Spike and hugging him hard.
“I’m so happy for you,” she told him.
“It works! It really works!” Dawn crowed as her mother stepped back from Spike. “Lemme see!”
Spike waggled the ring at her and she grabbed his hand to examine it more closely. “Way ugly,” was her opinion. “But who cares? You were out in the sun. That is so cool.”
“Been a while,” he admitted, ignoring the laughter in Xander’s eyes as he struggled to hold on to his outwardly cool demeanor. He didn’t mind dropping his guard around Xander but he wasn’t about to act like a complete git in front of everyone, no matter how good it had felt to walk in the sun again.
“Congratulations, Spike,” Giles said, more calmly than the others but no less sincerely. “It’s wonderful to know that the Gem of Amara isn’t just a myth.”
“And now you can take me to the park for ice cream,” Dawn told him, the smile on her face faltering only slightly as she added: “Well, as soon as you kick Glory’s ass, that is.”
“Sounds like a plan, Niblet,” he told her. Even if she demanded Merry-Go-Rounds and cotton candy, it would be worth it to see her unafraid and carefree again.
“We need a plan.”
“Spike is the plan.” Buffy answered, saying the words without resentment. She was standing by the window, caught up in watching Spike sitting in the sunniest part of the garden, laughing with Dawn and Joyce. The incontrovertible evidence of the Gem’s effectiveness had gone a long way towards reconciling her to the Spike-takes-point plan.
Xander shook his head. “It’s not enough. The Gem doesn’t make Spike any stronger. It just means Glory can’t hurt him. She can still immobilize him. It’s not like she’s not going to notice that she can’t hurt him any more.”
Buffy frowned, turning her gaze from the scene outside the window as she considered that. “What do you have in mind?”
“We need to figure out how, when and where to tackle Glory. We can’t let her choose the ground. We need to set it up so it happens on our time and to our advantage.”
“I’m not sure I agree, Xander,” Giles said slowly. “Our best bet may be to do nothing.” He made a gesture that encompassed the entire house. “Ethan and Tara have both set wards here. The mansion is as safe as anywhere in town and, if we’re careful, there’s very little chance Glory will be able to find us here. Once the time for the ritual has passed, Dawn should be safe.”
“Especially since the Knights of Byzantium are apparently no longer in the picture,” Ethan said, voicing the relief which none of the rest of them were tactless enough to say out loud. The Knights hadn’t deserved what happened to them, but they were all privately glad that they weren’t going to be a threat to Dawn any longer. They had enough problems with Glory.
“Sounds good on paper, Giles, but it won’t work,” Xander argued. “Glory’s getting desperate and we can’t assume she’s doesn’t have some tricks up her sleeve.” He looked around at all of them. “Raise your hand if you think Glory massacred the Knights because she was bored.” Pointedly ignoring Ethan’s raised hand, he continued: “My guess is, there’s a couple of bodies missing, and she took at least one, maybe more, to torture for information about the Key.”
“But the Knights don’t know anything,” Buffy pointed out. “Not about Dawn, or this house, or anything that Glory can use.”
“And that will do them just as much good as it will the next group of people she starts killing to try and force us out of hiding. We’re nothing to her, she doesn’t care about human life and she has the power of a god. That’s not a good combination. We can’t just sit here and wait for her to start killing everyone in town. And isn’t that exactly what she said she would do? Something about ripping through every human in town to find the Key if that’s what it took? We can’t wait for her to decide it’s time for that plan.”
“What are you suggesting?” Giles asked. “You’re right that the Gem of Amara doesn’t change the fact that she’s still stronger than both Buffy and Spike. The robot isn’t an option any longer because Willow didn’t have a chance to finish reprogramming it and none of the rest of us have the skill to finish the work.”
“We outnumber her,” Xander countered. “You ever watch those nature shows? I’m thinking about those packs of wolves taking down a wildebeast.” He frowned, not sure if that was the right animal, then shook his head impatiently. “Anyway, Spike takes point and the rest of us jump in any time Spike gets knocked across the room. Even if none of us can hurt her, we can keep her busy until Spike gets back on his feet and attacks her again. If we do that for long enough, hopefully she’ll get tired. And then, with a little luck, she turns back into an ordinary guy.”
“You mean kill the human when she gets pulled back inside him?” Giles’ voice was even and he showed no sign of emotion.
“That’s exactly what I mean.” Xander said it unflinchingly, despite the pang of guilt.
Buffy’s eyes dropped but she nodded reluctantly, while Ethan looked as if he didn’t care.
“What about Willow?” Tara asked, appearing silently from down the hall where she’d been sitting with Willow. Despite the fatigue shadowing her features, her gaze met theirs steadily.
“We’ll have to hope that, if Glory’s dead, then what she did will be reversed,” Xander told her.
“That won’t work,” Tara told them with quiet authority. “What Glory did to Willow and the others isn’t a spell, so it won’t be reversed by killing her.” She pulled up a chair and sat down, looking unutterably weary. In addition to taking on the majority of the burden of caring for Willow, she’d been spending every free minute searching for a way to repair the damage Glory had done. “Mr. Rayne and I have an idea. We’ve found a spell that might undo what Glory did, take back from her what was taken from Willow.”
“What spell?” Giles asked.
“It’s a chaos spell,” Ethan said indifferent to Giles’ immediate and obvious disapproval.
“You can’t mean for Tara…”
“She offered,” Ethan said provokingly, but then shrugged. “But no. Ms. Maclay’s magic is about the least suited to chaos spells that I have ever encountered. Far too balanced and in touch with her inner self to appreciate chaos, I’m afraid. I was planning on doing the spell myself.”
“You?” Buffy asked skeptically. “You’re going to come with us to fight Glory?”
Ethan’s sardonic look put the lie to any recollection of himself doing just that not long ago. “Hardly, Ms. Summers. I’m not foolish enough to simply walk up to Glory and attempt to pull off a rather complicated spell in the split second before she knocks me through the nearest wall. I can perform the spell from a safe distance and have every intention of doing so.”
“The good news is that Mr. Rayne thinks the spell might restore more than just Willow,” Tara explained. “The spell should tear free anything Glory has taken not just from Willow, but from anyone. With luck, everyone she’s… hurt will be restored.”
“With luck.” Buffy repeated, still sounded like she wasn’t buying anything Ethan was selling. “You have that much power?” she asked Ethan.
Ethan leaned back in his chair and folded his arms complacently. “You do remember a rather more interesting than usual Halloween a few years back?” he asked, obviously amused.
Buffy looked torn between remembered outrage and a hint of belated respect at the reminder that Ethan was capable of casting spells that had town-wide impact. Had done it more than once, Xander recalled, remembering band candy night. The fact that he’d done spells of that magnitude for a joke - or possibly to impress Giles - made Xander wonder for the first time just how powerful Ethan really was. He’d certainly pulled off the spell to disable the chip in Spike’s head with seeming ease. Ethan’s attitude had really colored their perception of his abilities, he realized. The chaos mage didn’t have the grave seriousness and caution about his power that Tara and the coven did, treating his power as lightly as a child showing off a new stunt - something none of the other kids could do, but still, nothing more than a lark.
Looking around, Xander could see that everyone else was also adjusting their image of Ethan from somewhat annoying outsider, there because of Giles and for no other reason, to a powerful magic worker who could be truly useful, if he chose, or dangerous, if that’s what he wanted.
“Ok, good. Ethan gets set up, does the spell, then we tackle Glory,” he summed up crisply. “So, where do we fight her, and how do we get her there?” He looked around at the others hoping one of them had more inspiration than he was currently coming up with.
“What if we lure Glory into an ambush? Somewhere of our choosing outside of town where there aren’t so many people for her to kill?”
They’d been discussing options for more than an hour and hadn’t come up with anything that felt solid. All of them were tired and the reality that they were fighting a god was sinking in again after the brief euphoria of the Gem.
“I know you’re not thinking of using Dawn as bait,” Buffy said tightly.
“Of course not. I was more thinking misdirection. We waive a red flag over here while Dawn and Joyce are sneaking away over there.”
“Still, we shouldn’t underestimate Glory. Trying to get her to follow one of us to a place of our choosing…” Giles said dubiously.
“I was thinking more along the lines of planting the information with her minions,” Xander admitted.
“Might work,” Spike allowed. “Given they’re not the brightest lot, but what could you tell them that would convince them we’re out in the open with the Key? Which is the only thing that will get Glory’s attention this close to the ritual.”
Buffy sighed tiredly, scrubbing her hands through her hair and trying not to sound as worried as she actually was. “We need to find out more about the ritual. We need to know exactly when it’s going to happen and we need to know what it involves. Because I’m thinking that if we don’t know what Glory has planned, then we’re going to find out the hard way by Glory kicking in the front door.” She grimaced apologetically in Tara’s direction. “No offense, but I’m not sure the wards are going to hold if Glory gets really pissed and short of time.”
Tara just shook her head. “No, you’re right. We don’t know how long they’re going to hold or if Glory will find a way through them to find us.”
“So, all we need is to know exactly what Glory is planning and exactly when it is going to happen,” Giles summarized wearily. “Something the Knights of Byzantium attempted to learn for centuries without much success. Perfect.”
“Always someone around who knows something,” Spike pointed out. “Maybe we should find one of those scabby little minions again, ask them.”
The worst part was, no one had anything better to offer in the way of a plan.
Buffy was sitting on the couch with her head on her mother’s shoulder, Joyce’s arm around her. Watching them from the shadows, Xander couldn’t help thinking that Mrs. Summers was the only thing keeping Buffy together. Every time they got a glimpse of cabin-fever Buffy, Joyce deftly distracted her - calling her in to the kitchen to help her peel vegetables, or wash dishes, or set the table, any one of a number of mundane tasks that always ended up with the two of them talking.
Truth was, Joyce was keeping them all together. Without ever belying the seriousness of their situation, she had single-handedly managed to make their forced confinement in the mansion feel almost like a family outing. She quietly insisted that Dawn, in addition to her self-imposed Willow responsibilities and helping with research, keep doing her schoolwork, often with one of the others helping her.
She cooked for all of them, putting her foot down about them stopping everything and all of them sitting down together at the table and eating a proper meal. She allowed no discussion of Glory at the table, firmly keeping the conversation on mundane topics. After a brief resistance, all of them realized that they were better off for the break from their relentless focus on Glory, returning to research after the break, refreshed and ready to tackle the problem with fresh eyes.
Xander couldn’t even imagine how they would have made it through these past few days without her. Buffy and Dawn especially would have long since fallen to pieces without Joyce and he suspected the rest of them would have as well. Having her mother there to share the responsibility of protecting Dawn took some of the weight off Buffy’s shoulders. Joyce’s calm presence kept Buffy grounded and stopped Dawn from panicking. Without her, he suspected Buffy would have given in to her own fears and taken off with Dawn, with or without the rest of them, in a desperate attempt to outrun Glory for long enough to make a difference.
Even with Joyce there, there was a building tension in the house, all of them aware that time was running out. Willow unwittingly confirmed that fact as she periodically struggled against them, crying out that it was “time”. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to answer questions or given them any insight into Glory even during her rare lucid moments, whatever connection she had with Glory or the Key, she wasn’t able to talk coherently about it.
Giles’ raised voice could be heard throughout the mansion. “You bloody fool! Are you trying to get yourself killed?!”
“Careful, Ripper,” was Ethan’s amused reply. “I’ll start thinking you care.”
“And I’ll start thinking you’re trying to be some kind of hero if you ever pull another stunt like that.”
“No need to be insulting.”
“You endangered yourself and everyone in this house!”
“Guys? Is there a reason the whole street needs to be hearing this?” Xander asked, sticking his head in the room. He’d been sitting with Willow when the argument started. They’d been having to drug Willow more frequently, as she’d grown restless and agitated, struggling against the restraints they’d been forced to use and talking wildly about how she had to be somewhere. Trusting to the sedatives to keep her quiet, he’d followed the angry voices to the dining room.
Both men swung around to face him, Giles obviously barely clinging to his temper while Ethan looked completely unruffled. Giles took an audible breath and deliberately unclenched his hands.
“I apologize, Xander,” he said stiffly. “Ethan just did something exceptionally foolish, even for him, and I was merely expressing my disapproval. I hadn’t realized quite…”
“How loud and condescending you were being?” Ethan finished for him with a slightly resentful edge to his voice.
“What happened?” Xander asked, looking back and forth between the two of them.
“Ethan slipped out without telling any of us and went to see a highly unreliable source, looking for information on Glory,” Giles explained scathingly. “He’s lucky he wasn’t killed. The Nathryck demon he visited…” he shook his head as words obviously failed him.
“What’s Ethan done now?” Buffy asked, coming in from the garden followed by Dawn, Joyce and Spike.
“Nathryck demon?” Spike repeated. “You mean Doc?”
“Yes, I wasn’t aware that you knew him,” Ethan said, breaking off his glaring match with Giles.
“Don’t,” Spike said. “Just heard about him.” For the benefit of the rest of them, he added: “Bookish type. The kind of fellow who’s tuned in to the nastier corners of the magic world. Connected, but not exactly what you’d call reliable.”
“The kind of unreliable chap who just might be aware of Glory and her plans.” Ethan gestured to the metal box on the table.
Spike snorted. “Beat it out of him, did you?” When everyone looked skeptical, he smirked at the chaos mage. “Doc’s about 80 in human years and weighs maybe 100 pounds soaking wet. Even Mr. Heroic here could probably take him.”
“Appearances are deceiving, Spike, as you bloody well know,” Giles exclaimed. “Nathryck demons may look like elderly humans but they don’t fight like one. Ethan could have gotten himself killed.”
“But he didn’t and it looks like he got the goodies,” Spike pointed out.
Buffy was already examining the box. “What is it?”
“Nothing,” Ethan said sarcastically. “It’s what’s inside that’s important.” He gave Giles an unreadable glance, opening the box and handing him a thick book. The leather cover was dark and cracking with age and Giles opened it with cautious eagerness.
“Apparently Doc has been waiting a long time for Glory to appear.”
“Could show a bit more gratitude, Ripper.”
“I admit you pulled it off, Ethan, but why go alone? Why not take me, or someone else as backup?”
The two men had obviously not remembered the door was open and Xander paused for a moment, listening curiously for Ethan’s explanation. The trip had seemed out of character for the chaos mage, especially if the demon was dangerous - Ethan tended to avoid physical danger whenever possible.
“I’ve dealt with him safely before, Rupert,” Ethan said seriously and Giles stilled at the unusual use of his given name. “Doc is a bit iffy. He’s far more likely to tell a chaos mage what we needed to hear, rather than someone like you. Bit obvious these days, Ripper, that you only pull for the good side of the Force.” He lifted his hand and cupped Giles’ face, stroking his thumb across his cheek with a loving gesture. “Pity all that lovely darkness is so often buried these days under all those layers of tweed.”
“I’ll show you darkness,” Giles growled, taking Ethan’s lips in a savage kiss.
Xander smiled to himself as Giles pushed the very willing Ethan back against the table. He reached in and quietly pulled the door closed, giving the two men their privacy, hoping for their sakes that the folding table was sturdier than it looked.
“Watcher’s getting some, I see,” Spike commented when Xander came into their bedroom. “Good on him.”
Xander climbed into the bed beside him. “They’re just making out.” He glared at Spike when he opened his mouth to tell him exactly what the two were doing now. “And if you ever want sex again, you will not put images in my head of Giles doing it with anyone,” he said threateningly. “Got it?”
“Right, pet. The two middle-aged British guys are just sipping tea and holding hands.”
“Damn straight,” Xander muttered and Spike laughed, sliding his arms around his boy.
“Not like I’m getting any anyway,” he pointed out. “What with your ‘no doing it while surrounded by other people’ foolishness.”
“Yeah, like either of us would survive Dawn walking in on us.”
“Speak for yourself,” Spike leered, then ducked as Xander took a mock swing at him. He caught Xander’s hand and held it, pulling it against his chest. Xander sighed and squirmed a little, settling down for the night.
“I’ll be gone for a few hours tonight, luv. Back by dawn.” He smirked as he remembered the ring. “Or shortly after.”
Xander sat up quickly, shooting him a look that had more than a little accusation in it. “And why exactly do you need to leave when we all agreed we have to stay out of sight for as long as possible? Ethan’s little errand this afternoon was risky enough.”
“Gotta check in with the Court.” Spike told him calmly, knowing Xander would understand the necessity. “Been gone from the apartment three nights already. Court doesn’t see me soon and some of the minions are going to start getting ideas. Not to worry, luv. I’ll spend a couple hours at the Court, knock a few heads together, and have the Lieutenants keep things in check for the next couple of days. Tell ’em I’m going out of town or something.”
While most Masters didn’t leave their Courts, Spike had left town a couple of times with Xander for a few days or a week. Finishing off Glory shouldn’t take long enough for the Court to get restive.
Xander nodded reluctantly, then brightened. “Good. You can do something for me while you’re out. Stop by a pawn shop and pick up nine more rings.”
“What?” Spike blinked in surprise, having assumed he was about to be handed a grocery list.
“Spike, the first time Glory knocks you across the room and you aren’t injured, she’s going to figure out something’s up. She may not be the smartest hellgod on the planet, but it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that something’s different when you start the instant healing thing. She’s been around forever, what if she’s heard of the Gem? What if she decides to pull the big, ugly, obviously old ring you’re suddenly wearing off and see if that’s it? Let’s at least make it harder for her. Or wear the damn thing on your toes to hide it.”
“Toe rings aren’t exactly my style, luv,” Spike pointed out.
“Well, lots and lots of ugly rings have just become your style, Spike. Get used to it.”
“Fair enough.” It was a good thought on Xander’s part and Spike smiled. That was his boy, always looking out for him. Well, he was going to do the same for Xander, whether his Claimed liked it or not. “Need you to do something for me, luv.” Spike told him, turning slightly so he could look Xander directly in the eyes. “Need you to sit this one out.”
“What? No!” Xander began heatedly.
“I mean it, Xander. All Glory has to do to make this -” he held up the hand with the Gem in illustration - “meaningless is to threaten you. She puts a knife to your throat and the fight’s over. And it isn’t going to take her long to figure that out. Like you said, as soon as she realizes she can’t hurt me, she’s going to try something else. Can’t risk it.”
“Not open for discussion, luv. Because if it’s a choice between you and the rest of the world, the world can go hang. I’ll choose you every time.” He shrugged and the careless gesture somehow managed to convey just how serious he was about this. “I’m a demon. Not really into all that self-sacrifice for the greater good bollocks. If it’s a choice between having you by my side in hell or living without you in paradise, I know which way I’ll go. Love Dawn and Joyce, but I’d trade them for you without blinking. That’s why I need you to sit this one out.”
Xander stared at him for a long time. He’d known he was important to Spike, that Spike loved him and that he considered their relationship permanent. He hadn’t really understood that Spike would sacrifice everyone else he loved to keep Xander safe. Hearing Spike say it so calmly…that Xander’s life was worth more to him than the rest of the world, was pretty scary making and humbling and really really amazing.
“Guess I’m sitting this one out then,” was all he could think to say.
*A/N - bits of slightly mangled dialog borrowed from ‘The Weight of the World’