This is the second of three thank you fics to the subscribers of my update list. All thanks to houses for the beta.
The BtVS storyline went AU shortly after the Initiative captured Ethan in A New Man
. This story is set some two and a half years later.Disclaimer:
Joss Whedon & co. own the characters and world of the Buffy-verse. Paramount and various others own the characters and world of Star Trek. I own an iBook with a brand new keyboard. Boring, I know, but it makes me happy.
When he entered the dining area, Giles made his way to the far wall, taking care to avoid those who erroneously thought they had a claim on his time and to acknowledge those who truly did have a claim. He begrudged the energy required by this political two-step, despite the good it did the community to see him making regular appearances. Still, no matter how silly he felt in the role he’d been given, he would play it until the end.
It was with a certain amount of relief that he spotted his dinner companion.
“You have the look of a wanted felon, Ripper. What have you been up to since I’ve been gone?” Ethan poured a cup of tea and handed it to Giles after he sat down.
“Very little that I actually wanted to do,” he answered before taking a sip. “This is horrible.”
“Of course it is. You don’t think they’d actually spare the resources to get decent tea, do you?” Ethan sat back, toying with the food on his plate. “That was a marvelous dance across the room, by the way. What makes you so certain they won’t come to chat you up, now that you’re sitting in one place?”
“The fact that no one wants to be the next Mahoney,” he said after stifling a yawn.
Ethan’s lips twitched in barely suppressed amusement. “Ah yes. Poor Mahoney. How is the lad — excuse me — how is the lass doing these days?”
“He’s back to being a lad again, thanks to Jonathan’s efforts.” Giles took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “As much as I deplore your methods, I have to admit they’re effective.”
Ethan pouted. “They’re even more effective when left alone.”
“You’d made your point,” Giles said on a sigh. “There was no need to rub it in deeper.”
“Perhaps.” He took a closer look at Giles. “You look as though you’re bordering on exhaustion. Haven’t you been able to make the Council and the U.S. military play nicely together in the sandbox?”
“I’m a liaison, not a bloody miracle worker,” he said, his face mirroring the disgust in his voice. “After two and a half years of working together to defend the bloody planet, you’d think they’d get to the point where they cared sod all about turf wars.”
“Well, we are
a grouch this evening,” Ethan said.
are, Nanny Ethan,” was his sarcastic rejoinder.
Openly amused, Ethan said, “Now there’s a job I never considered taking. Do you think they have an opening for a mildly debauched sorcerer in the child care facilities?”
“I think you’re past mildly debauched and well into the territory of deeply depraved,” he answered, playing with the fork and knife in front of him.
“So much for that pipe dream.” Ethan looked at him for a moment before giving him a sly, knowing smile. “So do tell me, Ripper, how is our plucky girl savior?”
Giles was too tired to give him a full glare, so he settled for a half-hearted dirty look instead. “You know she hates it when you call her that.”
Smiling broadly at the point scored, he asked, “And your point is?”
Giles closed his eyes and shook his head. “Are the two of you ever going to give me a moment’s peace by getting along?”
“Unlikely, love,” he said. “We enjoy baiting each other too much.”
Giles gave him a pained look. “Yes, but —”
“But nothing. There’s little enough entertainment these days as it is, and our spats do tend to break up the monotony.”
“As well as nearby tanks and buildings,” Giles said, still playing with the fork as he eyed Ethan’s plate.
“It wasn’t a tank, it was a Humvee,” he answered primly. “And you can hardly describe a Quonset hut as a building. As flimsy as they are, they barely qualify as structures. The two we broke should have been recycled months earlier, and you know it.”
“You destroyed three, not two, and you weren’t the one to have to explain to General Halloway that —”
“He’s a blowhard and completely unworthy of your attention,” Ethan said, waving his hand airily. Before Giles could answer, he added, “It’s history, Ripper. Put the incident away, and talk to me about our brave new future.”
Giles looked at him suspiciously. “You’re entirely too cheerful. What have you been smoking?”
He lifted an eyebrow. “Smoking? Is that my only option?”
“Ethan,” he said in a warning tone.
“This war is turning you into an old man,” Ethan said, sounding serious for a change. “I’m tired of it, and I propose we end it post haste.”
have something,” he said accusingly.
“I haven’t done anything of the sort since before I left,” Ethan answered in a dismissive tone. “Speaking of leaving, would you like to hear about my trip?” Without giving Giles room to answer, he said, “Of course you would. I met a most intriguing group of people in Romania.”
Giles looked across the table for a moment before snatching a piece of pork from Ethan’s plate. Between bites, he said, “Not gypsies, I hope.”
In mild reproof, Ethan said, “You never used to steal food from me.”
“You never used to get just one serving for a dinner meeting,” he answered in between bites. “Tell me who you met and how they cheered you up so much. Oh. And move your plate closer to me. I want some of those mushy peas.”
“Have the whole thing, Ripper,” he said, pushing the plate across the table. “I got it for you to begin with.”
About to scoop up the peas, Giles paused to ask, “And your reason for the accusation of theft was —?”
“I was curious as to whether or not your conscience still functions.”
“What’s the verdict?” Giles cut into a second slice of the meat.
“Just barely. And now that your mouth is otherwise occupied, I might actually have a chance to tell you all the latest gossip,” Ethan said, leaning forward.
Giles simply grunted as he continued to eat.
“Did you know that monks at a small, little-known monastery have been protecting something extremely valuable?”
After taking a drink of tepid tea, he answered, “Monks always claim to be protecting something of value. Usually ends up being a medieval saint’s dirty underwear or something equally useless.”
“If your grandfather could hear you speak like that, I’ve no doubt he would be turning in his grave. I honestly don’t know how you could be the grandson of a respected vicar and have so little faith.”
Giles took a deep breath before looking up. “Start giving me details on your meeting, or you won’t get your usual welcome home this evening.”
“I can’t believe you’re threatening to withhold sex —”
“— Then I stand by my original assertion that this war is turning you into an old man.” When Giles’ scowl deepened, he said, “Have you ever heard of something called, ‘The Key?’”
“The Key? Doesn’t sound familiar. What does it open?”
Ethan lowered his voice. “The doors between dimensions.”
Giles put his fork down and stared at Ethan for a full minute before asking, “Are you serious?”
Giles looked up when she entered their rooms. “There you are. I was beginning to worry.”
“I thought you agreed not to do that anymore,” she said, dropping her duffel near the door.
“I only agreed not to call the Marines when you’re late. I said nothing about not worrying.” He set aside the book he’d been reading and stood up. “Bad day?”
Buffy reached up to rub her neck. “On a scale of one to ten, it sucked.”
He walked over and put his hands on her shoulders to start rubbing out the tension. “Did Halloway show up?”
Her head fell forward, the crown resting against his chest. “I wish. A surprise inspection would have been a hell of a lot more fun than what really happened.”
When Giles started to pull away, she said, “Don’t stop. Feels good.”
He resumed his massage, asking, “What happened?”
“Pac Man sent a couple dozen minions to grab me.” Buffy rolled her head to the right to give him better access to her left shoulder.
Ethan came out from the bedroom. “Pac Man?”
Buffy groaned, but she didn’t move. “Thought you were gone for good.”
“Not a chance, my dear. I’m worse than the proverbial bad penny,” he said as he approached the other two. “Who’s Pac Man?”
Giles answered, “She means Patuman.”
“Pac Man,” she grumbled.
Alarmed, Ethan asked, “Drones broke through?”
At that, she lifted her head enough to look at him. “That implies there was a barrier of some kind. We were testing the latest Adams and Finns at the old airbase down the coast, and the idiot they hired to do the wards chose not to include the firing range.”
“Chose?” Giles stopped rubbing, aghast at the implication of what she said.
“Chose,” she said firmly. “And don’t stop the massage.”
As Giles started in on her shoulders again, Ethan asked, “Which mage was responsible?”
“Doesn’t matter. As soon as he was infected, he exploded all over everyone.” Buffy directed a glare at Ethan. “You want to know why I’m so late tonight? It’s because I had to spend an hour cleaning dried guts and brain out of my hair.”
“You can hardly blame me. I’m not responsible for his defection,” Ethan said. He moved behind Buffy and started rubbing her back in counterpoint to Giles’ efforts.
“The self-destruct spell was your bright idea,” she said, relaxing again as both men worked in concert to loosen her stiff muscles.
“She has a point, Ethan. I never did understand why you had to make that spell so messy.”
“I just wanted those responsible for our magical defenses to be clear on the concept of what would happen should they become infected,” Ethan said. “In any event, I didn’t think anyone really wanted a repeat of what happened after young Miss Rosenberg was taken to the Cube. Unless I’m mistaken?”
Both Giles and Buffy stiffened at the reminder, but neither of them argued his point. Instead, Giles focused on more immediate issues. “Buffy, lift your arms. I want to get this shirt off you.”
She did as he asked, grimacing when Ethan said, “Nasty wound back here. You’re certain there was no infection?”
“Positive.” She made small noises of approval when Ethan started his gentle massage again. “That scratch —”
“Gouge, my dear,” Ethan said, frowning as he examined the injury.
“— whatever — was courtesy of a Finn. You know what kind of crap aim they all have.” She flinched away from Ethan’s probing fingers, then relaxed as he left it alone.
Giles tutted as he unsnapped the front clasp of her bra. “With all the trouble the Initiative has had with that model, you would think they’d have given up by now.”
“As long as the Adam prototype is still around, I’m the only one who has the balls to say the Finn line is a failure,” she said, carefully shrugging her bra off her shoulders.
A quick look between Ethan and Giles left Ethan with the task of asking, “Do you ever see the Finn prototype around?”
Buffy closed her eyes for a moment, then said, “It was there today.”
Giles paused before he unsnapped her jeans and said, “How did it do?”
“It was blown up.” She quietly added, “Not even Adam can put it back together again.”~*~*~
Several hours later, Buffy crawled out of bed and went into the space that passed as a living room. Curling up next to Ethan on the couch, she said, “You disappeared. I got cold.”
He reached behind her for the quilt on the back of the sofa. “I had too much on my mind and didn’t want to keep you and Ripper awake with my restlessness.” He settled the quilt around her. “You know, there’s a marvelous invention called a ‘robe.’ It’s for people who don’t want to get fully dressed, yet who need to stay warm.”
Buffy snuggled in closer. “I have you and Giles to keep me warm when I don’t want to get dressed. Why would I need anything else?”
“Tell me, are all Slayers as self-absorbed as you?” Ethan finished tucking in the edges of the blanket and settled his arm around her shoulders.
“If you’d ever talk to Wesley, you’d know that Faith is way more selfish than I am,” she said decisively. She rubbed her head against his chest. “Why can’t you sleep? You’re home and safe, and the welcome-back sex was on the spectacular end of good, even if I do say so myself.”
“Such a modest little Slayer,” he said, trapping her hand before she could hit him. “Your humility serves as a shining example to — Ouch! No biting!”
She gave him a sly glance. “That wasn’t what you said a couple of hours ago.”
“A couple of hours ago, Ripper was around to leaven your more cannibalistic tendencies,” he said, rubbing the nipple she bit into.
“Who’s a cannibal?” Giles appeared in the doorway to the living room, his robe on, but untied. Yawning at the two of them, he absently scratched his balls.
“Your Slayer has an unhealthy fixation with biting me,” Ethan said as he glared down at Buffy. Unrepentant, she grinned up at him and licked her lips.
“Tried to warn you what she was like two years ago,” Giles said as he moved to the couch. He sat next to Buffy and lifted the end of the quilt so it covered his legs. “But did you listen? No, of course not.”
“No one likes to hear ‘I told you so,’ Rupert,” Ethan said acerbically.
“Ooh! He called you ‘Rupert.’ I think you pissed him off, Giles.”
“Watch me quiver in terror.” To Ethan, he said, “Have you told her yet?”
“Told me what?” She frowned at both men. “You’re not leaving again, are you?”
Ethan answered, “I can dimly recall a time when you couldn’t wait to see my back as I was run out of town. What changed?”
“You, for one thing,” she said bluntly. “Is that it? You’re leaving again?”
Giles caught the note of genuine distress in her voice and said quickly, “No, he isn’t. And I would be much obliged, Ethan, if you didn’t wind her up this late at night.”
Uncomfortable, Ethan said, “Really, Buffy, you were much better off despising me.”
“Tell me about it,” she grumbled. “It was way nicer when I could just punch you in the nose.”
“And remember when I tattooed you in order to dedicate you to Eyghon, just so I could save myself?” Ethan sighed at the memory.
“Oh, for god’s sake,” Giles said. “If you two don’t stop this maudlin walk down Memory Lane, I’m going back to bed.”
“No way are you getting up.” Buffy quickly put her feet on his lap and pressed down. “At least, not before you tell me what you just asked Ethan about.”
His tone mild, Giles said, “If you keep pressing down like that, I’ll be up whether you will it or not.” It was good for a laugh, and when she obliged, he said, “Ethan brought something back from his travels. It might help.”
She sat up a bit so she could get a better look at Ethan’s face. “What kind of something?”
“A mystical something.” When Ethan moved to stand up, Buffy held him in place. “I’d planned to show you, but clearly, you aren’t in the mood to see,” he said, looking pointed at her hand where she gripped his thigh.
Buffy blushed slightly and let him go. “No more joking about going on trips.”
Ethan looked at her for a long moment. “No more joking. I promise,” he said before dropping a kiss on her forehead. He stood and went to the bookshelf, pulling down a small iron casket.
Sitting up straight, Buffy frowned. “I didn’t notice that when I came in earlier.”
Giles answered, “We spelled it to keep it from being particularly noticeable to most people. Once someone knows about it, they can see it. Until then, however —”
“— It’s fairly unremarkable,” Ethan said. He put the casket on the floor at Buffy’s feet and sat next to her again.
After studying it for a moment, Buffy asked, “Okay, I’ll bite —”
“Surprise, surprise,” murmured Ethan.
“— What’s in it?” she finished, not even sparing Ethan a glance.
“The Key,” Ethan said.
When he didn’t explain further, Buffy sighed and looked at Giles. “What the hell is he talking about?”
“It’s an item that can be used to open the doors between dimensions,” he answered quietly.
She thought for a moment, then said, “I’m gonna take a wild guess that boy wonder here brought it back so we can get rid of the Borg.”
Speaking quietly, Ethan said, “I did, in fact, bring it here to send the Borg packing.”
Buffy glanced at Ethan. “You have ‘but’ face. Why do you have ‘but’ face?” When he didn’t immediately answer, she said, “You want Giles to tell me the worst of it, because you think I won’t hurt him as much as I’ll hurt you.”
Ethan cast a sour look at Giles. “Tell me, Ripper, when did our little girl learn to read me so well?”
In response, Buffy elbowed him. “Don’t call me that.”
“She’s always been able to read you that well. It’s just that until recently, you didn’t want to admit to the possibility.” Giles leaned forward and ran his fingers lightly over the crude designs that covered the casket. “The problem Ethan is skirting around is that in its present form, we can’t use The Key as we intend.”
“Giles, you’re killing me here. Ethan finds this nifty thing, but we can’t use it? Why bother to bring it back at all?”
“We can use it,” Ethan said. “Just not as it currently exists.”
Buffy turned to Giles. “I can hit him now, can’t I? ‘Cause he’s dragging this thing out way longer than he needs to, and he’s not allowed to torture me anymore, remember?”
Giles patted her arm soothingly. “It’s not torture, Buffy. It’s genuine reluctance.” He took a deep breath and said, “The Key must be converted to human form in order to use it against the Borg, and before you ask, yes, Ethan has the appropriate spell.”
“Okay,” she said after a long pause. “We make it human, Ethan does whatever mojo is necessary, then we send it out to get captured.”
“The spell —” Ethan bit off his words, then continued reluctantly when Buffy scowled at his reticence. “The spell will make The Key into your sister.”
She stared at him. “Huh?”~*~*~
“Let’s do it,” Buffy said, decisively, several hours later. They were all dressed by this time, having given up on the notion of further sleep for the night.
“Giles —” She paused when she saw just how angry he was. “I don’t get it. What’s the big deal? It’s not like she’ll be real.”
Ethan put his hand on Giles’ shoulder, as much to shift him as to calm him down for the discussion. “It isn’t as simple as that. When finished, the spell will be absolute, and the child will be as fully human as you or I.”
She shook her head impatiently as she paced. “It won’t be, though.”
will, and you’ll be condemning her to a horrifying death,” Giles said. “You will be losing your sister
, Buffy. A member of your family.”
Frustrated, Buffy turned on him. “It won’t be the first time. I killed Xander —”
he’d already been infected and was well on the path to assimilation,” Giles said. “Even if he hadn’t begged for death, killing him was the kindest thing you could do.”
“Died of an aneurysm. It was painful, but there was nothing you could do about it.” Giles stepped forward, implacable in his determination to make her understand. “Do you remember what it was like to kill Angel?”
Buffy jerked back, as though she’d been slapped. “Of course I do,” she said in a low, angry hiss.
“Deliberately sending the child out to be captured by the Borg will be a hundred — a thousand times worse.” Giles held up a hand when Buffy started to speak. “The spell is thorough, Buffy. Knowledge of her will start to form in everyone’s mind even before we’re finished. It will be far worse for you when the time comes, because you’ll have a lifetime of memories involving her. You won’t want to let her go.”
“But it won’t be real,” she said. “Don’t you get it? It’s a spell, and I’ll know it’s a spell. None of it will matter, because I’ll know it’s just a blob of green energy.”
“The spell will use your blood as a template to create the human form — and make no mistake — the child will
be human, no matter how often you try to deny it.” Giles raked his hands through his hair. “Don’t you see?”
“Buffy.” Ethan waited until she was looking at him then continued gravely, “Ripper is right in this. When you look at Dawn, you won’t see a ball of energy, you’ll see your sister. Your human
She frowned at him. “Dawn?”
“Her name is part of the spell.” Ethan watched her absorb that information, and after a moment, he said, “She’s about six years younger than you. Her hair is long and brown, and she favors your father in appearance rather than your mother.”
Buffy shook her head as she backed away. “Don’t —”
Ethan deliberately followed her. “When we do the spell, it won’t matter to you that your memories are false. You’ll look at her, and you will see family.”
“Why? Why does it have to be like that? Can’t you just fiddle with it so she’s just a friend? And why did the monks write the spell like that to begin with?”
“They needed to protect it from being found.” Ethan rubbed his eyes before looking at her again. “They’d been protecting it from a hell god by the name of Glorificus, and up until about two years ago, they expected to send it to you as your sister.”
Buffy stared at him in confusion. “What happened two years ago?”
“It appears that the human to whom she was bound was assimilated,” he said delicately.
“Bound? I don’t get it.” With her arms crossed in front of her, Buffy stared at him as she waited.
Ethan sounded casual when he answered, “In order to imprison her in this dimension, she was bound to a male infant — human, of course — in the expectation that when he died, so, too, would she.”
“And the monks told you all of this?”
Ethan blushed under her questioning gaze. “They didn’t, exactly. I, er, learned the story from the Knights of Byzantium.”
Giles looked sharply at him. “You said nothing about the Knights earlier. What did you do, Ethan?”
Wilting a bit under the twin glares of his lovers, Ethan said, “The monks didn’t actually give me The Key and the spell. I —” He paused as the scowls intensified, then said, “Enough, already. I stole both, if you must know, though since the monks originally intended to send The Key here to begin with, I don’t understand why either of you should be so upset.”
“The Knights — you still haven’t explained how they’re involved,” Giles said with a stony expression.
After heaving a great sigh, he said, “They were the ones who hired me to steal it in the first place.”
“Great!” Buffy shook her head in disgust. “So does this mean that on top of everything else, these Knights of whozzits are gonna show up here looking for it?”
“Unlikely,” he answered, with a hint of mischief in his eyes. “I led them on a wild goose chase. I doubt they’ll find us any time before next year or three.”
“Will you ever
stop playing your life by the skin of your teeth?”
“Don’t be so angry, Ripper.” Ethan approached him and gingerly laid a hand on his chest. “I did it for the best of reasons. You know that.”
He held off for a long moment, but eventually, Giles covered Ethan’s hand with his own. “I know you did. But the consequences —”
“Yeah. Consequences.” Buffy stepped up to the other two and put her arms around them. “You never did get around to telling me why she can’t just be a friend.”
Giles answered. “It’s too complex, Buffy. He’ll have a hard enough time building in the spell that will send the Borg to another dimension once the child is assimilated. If Ethan tinkers with it too much, he runs the risk of either destroying The Key or himself.”
“More likely myself and half the planet,” said Ethan dryly.
Buffy looked at Giles. “Why don’t you want this? It will mean the end of the invasion and a chance to have a normal life again.”
“Trust me — I want to eliminate the Borg more than you can possibly know,” he said. “What I don’t
want is for you to suffer any more than you already have.”
“I’m not really seeing a choice here, Giles. If Ethan can set it up so that they disappear as soon as they infect the fake chick, our problems are pretty much solved, right?”
He sighed. “And then a host of new problems will arise. Buffy —”
“It’s settled, Giles. I want the two of you to arrange to do the spell as soon as possible.” ~*~*~
One month later, Buffy stood next to the wall as Giles, Ethan, Jonathan and Tara began the ritual. Halfway through it, memories started forming, displacing what she knew to be true. She recalled her parents bringing Dawn home from the hospital, then paused, recalling that her mother had been in for an appendectomy, not a baby. Memories started coming faster and faster as the sister was slipped into her life, and Buffy did what she could to retain as much of the original history as possible. She almost burst into tears, though, when she remembered Dawn getting upset over the funeral arrangements for their mother.
She clenched her jaw hard, and when Ethan finished the last of his spell, Buffy breathed a sigh of relief.
“Well?” Buffy turned around to face her sis — The Key. “Can I go over to Janice’s or not?”
She started to answer, but all she could choke out was, “Dawn.”
~ fin ~