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16 August 2010 @ 06:56 pm
'The Frayed and Weathered Mantle' by Quinara (BtVS, R, S8 Spuffy/gen) [2/2]  
Please see Part 1 for notes and warnings! :)

The Frayed and Weathered Mantle. [2/2]

When she’d first visited Spike’s HQ, on a quick trip with Willow maybe eighteen months ago, she’d been expecting something impressive. Not quite like a Bond villain’s hidey-hole – because who really had enough money for a private army? – but nevertheless custom-built. She’d been spoilt by bad guys and good guys and their organisations over the years into thinking that wasn’t that unlikely.

What it had actually been, and still was, was a shared workshop. A hangar if you were feeling generous, but it wasn’t even owned by Spike, so much as an old and distinguished African gentleman who ran a chain of hotels and whom Spike knew through ‘family connections’, whatever that meant. His team of engineers had helped with the SS Awesome’s design, but now they were working on something new, which took up most of the workshop’s space.

“What is it?” Buffy asked, walking over to join Connor and Illyria, who were sitting on chairs by a table at the side of the room. The air-conditioning vent was right above their heads, but Buffy found the blast of cool air more than welcoming.

Pulling round a chair for her, Connor answered, “We think it’s some sort of mountain vehicle, to take vamps up Mount Kilimanjaro.” The table had a convenient water cooler on it and some plastic cups, so Buffy filled a couple, passing one to Connor and edging one towards Illyria – then taking it for herself when it was rejected. Connor continued, “The gang were telling me about the plans back when we were working on the Awesome.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised,” Buffy replied, not that she was, really, but she couldn’t be certain that wasn’t just the shock, “but is there actually a market in that? A market that leaves people generally alive?”

Connor nodded his thanks for the water. “It’s Bilali’s idea,” he said – that was the guy who owned the workshop, Buffy remembered. “Apparently he’s always done well out of vampire tourism. It’s all in the vetting, or something.”

“Well, sure,” Buffy replied and they settled into silence again.

After two more cups of water, when Buffy had finally relaxed under the cool air and the strangely comforting smell of hot metal and wood, Illyria impatiently asked, “Where is the vampire? Our plans must proceed.”

“Good question,” Connor replied, though he snuck a glance at Buffy as if he knew. “You’d think he’d be done brooding by now.”

“Brooding?” Buffy asked, surprised. “Spike doesn’t brood.” She qualified, “Much.”

With the slightest roll of his eyes, Connor explained, “Well, since he does it about you I guess you wouldn’t get the chance to see. But brooding does occur. And often.”

That didn’t feel right. She could imagine Spike thinking about her – she thought about him after all – and she could imagine him brooding, maybe, between the rants and the pity-parties. But right now, in the middle of the mission? This was more like something was up.

“I’ll go and see what he’s doing,” she suggested, not meeting any disapproval.

Whatever was going on, she thought as she headed back to the ship, they needed to get the show back on the road. Her mind had cleared up now and scanning what they’d seen for clues. Who was the ‘he’ Angel and Angelus had been talking about? An unlikely control freak? It had to be some sort of outside influence, who’d made Angel do all the things he’d done, like a puppet master – ooh, they’d met one of those – or a Bigger Bad, some higher up in the army, maybe?

It didn’t take long to find Spike’s cabin. The empty bottles by the door would have been a dead giveaway even if she hadn’t been able to see the vamp himself from the corridor. He was fervently leafing through one of several books on a makeshift desk, shifting paper and a laptop so he could hold the pages closer to an anglepoise lamp coming out of the wall.

“Knock knock,” she said, touching her knuckles to the open bulkhead. “Anybody home?”

Spike looked up, startled. “Oh, hello, love, didn’t see you there.” He didn’t rise out of his chair.

Hesitantly she took a few steps into the room – the bedroom, as she now realised it was. “Yeah, well, we were all wondering what was up with you. You didn’t come outside.” She looked at her watch. “It’s been twenty minutes.”

In an instant his eyes closed off and he looked back to the book, scanning the page then turning to the next. “Yeah, sorry – nothing for you to worry about though. Nothing at all.”

Maybe he was brooding, she thought. He certainly didn’t seem to be reading anything and maybe she didn’t know Spike that well anymore. Maybe Connor was right. “Is there anything you want to talk about?” she asked the crown of his head.

“No,” he replied, still not looking up and frowning now.

OK, enough was enough. “Are you acting weird because of the sex dreams?” she asked straight out, putting her hands on her hips. Because of the sex?

No,” he replied more aggressively, ripping a page as he turned it. “Don’t be stupid.”

Forcibly relaxing her hands, she tried to remain calm. “Oh yeah,” she said, “I’m the one being stupid. I’m the one acting weird here. I’m the one acting bitter, and petty, and…”

Petty?” Now he looked at her, his face like a stormcloud, grey with the light in his eyes threatening sparks. If he hadn’t been thinking about her and Angel before, well, that was over with. “You think it’s petty to care about you, to care about what you did with – to care how soundly you tore my heart out, you tore that poor girly slayer’s heart out? You think that’s petty?” He stormed over to her, getting in her face until she was raising her chin, clenching her jaw so it stayed firm. “I know our priorities don’t match, slayer, but that is not a trivial concern.”

“It’s not trivial to me either!” she shouted back, almost feeling her words rebound off the bones of his face. The moment her words left her throat it all came bubbling up, the embarrassment and the confusion and the sickening memory that she had enjoyed every second. “You think I don’t know what I did? Not just to your feelings – because, forgive me, but they aren’t the priority when the sky’s falling in – but what I could have done to the world? You think I don’t know?”

She looked up at him desperately, focusing only on the wide blue eyes that stared at her, at the pupils dilating in the lack of light she offered. Dimly, like it was refracted through a dozen mirrors, she thought she could remember what she’d done with Angel. But the moments before, the moments after, they were so much clearer and she couldn’t be certain that her memories weren’t the echoes of what other people had told her.

And maybe this wasn’t the mission, maybe this wasn’t what was important, but how could she move forward without knowing what had happened to her? What she’d done? Whether she’d even done it at all? She remembered euphoria, but was it coming from her or over her? Whose fault were her actions?

Were they Angel’s? Had Angel manipulated her into what she’d done? She couldn’t believe that. Even if it was her own fault and she was forced to face up to that, she couldn’t believe it had been Angel.

Backing away from Spike, she covered her eyes, willing herself back to the present situation and out of her mind. “Buffy?” his voice called, so very tender now, but she blocked it out, dismissing comfort as she tried to pull every cell of her body into regimented line.

With soft pads of footsteps, Spike was making his way towards her. She focused on him, on that sound, pulling to mind all her thoughts about him and banishing the rest. At the back of her mind was the smallest lick of anger, left from when he’d called that first time, and she seized hold of its heat, opening her eyes to glare up into his face. If she was going to accept it was her fault, then she was going to go down guns-blazing. “You let me think you were dead.”

He stalled halfway towards her, mouth opening to a minute moue. “I… That was a long time ago.”

“You let me think you were dead.” Very carefully she nursed her old anger; it felt like winning back control. “You talk to me about – heartache, but you, you were worse, you were…” She jabbed him in the chest with her fingers, all four against his breastbone, rocking him back. “You kept me in limbo, not allowed to talk to you properly, not allowed to accept you into my life – you turned me to stone, like slow, numbing petrifi-whoosit – I spent years waiting for you to – so of course I…” Staring up, she met the tears in his eyes. “You made me think you were dead.

She didn’t know how he was going to reply to that – she didn’t know how she wanted him to reply to that – but, all of a sudden, it didn’t matter, because the shadow of another thought flitted across her mind, tearing her from the pain of these particular emotions.

There was someone else to blame. Not Angel, not her, not Spike. Somebody else.

As Spike breathed out, “Buffy,” soft and apologetic, she shook her head, letting the thought blossom into life. She kissed him with old and soundless forgiveness, eyes unfocused as she thought it through. Let me think you were dead. It had relevance, but to more than just the vampire in front of her.

“I know who’s pulling the strings,” she said at last, smiling at Spike’s speechlessness. “Earth to Spike?” she tried again, waving a hand in front of his face. “Hello? Mission bell’s ringing?”

Before his rational brain could turn on, it seemed, he was kissing her again, sorry and angry and painfully in love, caressing her face with trembling fingers. When he pulled back she could feel her heart scoring SPIKE on the inside of her ribs, above all other priorities – but, still, she demanded of herself, this was more important. She spoke breathlessly, “I know who stitched up Angel – and me and everyone.”

“Who?” Spike asked, distracted, almost certainly not listening as he stared at her mouth.

She put a hand to his face, encouraging him to look up. Taking a breath, feeling her chest rise, she then said, “Ethan Rayne.”

For a moment he stared at her, frowning as he tried to recall the name. Hope lit up his eyes and then, bizarrely, he exhaled, deflated as if a secret had been torn from him. “Buffy – it can’t be.” He stepped away, the tension between them broken.

OK, that wasn’t the response she’d been expecting. “What?” she asked, confused. “But it all makes sense – with the dreams, and – and how goddamn random everything’s been?”

Turning away from her, now Spike began to pace, forcing his fingers through his hair and looking very, very stressed. “I should have told you the moment we landed – I should have told the others…” He paused. “There’s a reason I wanted to go into Angel’s mind,” he said, “specifically.”

“What?” she asked, her stomach dropping away slightly though her instinct was still telling her without a doubt that it was Ethan. This was the actual thing that had been plaguing him, she could tell that now. She wasn’t going to like it.

“I did research!” he swore, pointing to the papers and his laptop. “I should have said something, but I was hoping, so bloody…” At last, he took a slow breath and met her eyes mournfully. “Inside someone’s mind, inside their dreams, the only thing that can hurt you is them. Any outside force, any influence? Doesn’t matter – it might form barriers but it can’t act against you. It can only do what it’s been put there to do, you see?” He made it sound imperative that she saw. “That stuff trying to hurt us? That was Angel.”

She didn’t believe it, but she knew she should hear him out. Even though he was wrong – there was always a loophole – she said, “Keep going.”

“I thought…” He sounded slightly desperate. “I thought that was why we were having so much trouble getting around – some sort of mind control. But in those – dreams of you two? And at the end? The only person who could have had that much power was Angel, one way or another.” Almost like a sob, he exhaled a harsh breath of air. “It’s him doing this.”

“No,” Buffy refused, point blank. She thought out loud, “Maybe part of him is doing this, but… I told you about Ethan Rayne – band-candy-turning-Giles-into-a-demon guy? He did the Halloween costumes back when you were actually bad? He doesn’t do obvious, direct stuff, I mean, he worships chaos! He probably made Angel glowy then set him off so he could watch and gloat. Maybe it’s Angel doing the stuff, but it’s not his fault.” It couldn’t be.

The awful thing was, Spike clearly wanted to believe her.

“Look,” she bargained with him. “If Ethan’s actually dead then it’s clearly not him, and we can go from there. But it is so worth checking.”

He sighed, as if giving in. “And how are we going to do that?”

She thought for a moment. Aha! “One souped-up location spell from a witch I hope is still my friend…”




“So,” Willow reprimanded down the phone ten minutes later, sounding harassed, “are you coming back to the castle any time this week? We have kind of a siege situation developing here.”

Buffy winced; on the other side of the table Spike, Connor and Illyria collectively raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, Will, I know – I’m sorry,” she said. “But we’ve got a lead, I think, I –” Suddenly she wondered, “Is Angel OK?” Ethan could still be doing something.

“What?” There was a zapping sound, as if Willow was talking on the move. “Yeah, he’s fine; standing in the corner, mooning.”

No change there, then. Though, wait… “When you say ‘mooning’…?”

“The dealable one,” Willow replied with the slightest hint of humour (at last). “Moping and asking where you went.”

Buffy let out a sigh of relief, sinking back into Spike’s chair. “That’s good. That’s good… Look, Willow, I was hoping I could ask you a favour – we need to track down Ethan Rayne.”

There was another zapping sound. “Hang on a sec –” More zapping, and then a great moaning cry as if from a very large and terrible beast. “OK, shoot,” Wilow said finally, sounding calmer. “You know, it’s funny – I thought you said you were trying to find Ethan Rayne!”

“No, I am,” Buffy replied, frowning. Across from her, Spike rolled his eyes, frustrated.

“But he’s, uh, I mean – I thought he was dead?”

“Yeah,” Buffy conceded, “but I – we – well, I, mostly, think he might’ve been faking.”

“Oh.”

There was a long pause, through which Buffy wasn’t sure how to continue. The situation was quickly taken out of her hands, however, as in one quick move, Illyria walked around the desk and seized the phone. “Hey!” she said, unable to grab it back.

“Witch,” Illyria commanded, holding the cordless receiver like an idol she was strangling, “perform your spell. No time can be spared for these questions. Tell us whether the mage lives.”

“Who the hell is this?” now Willow’s voice came screeching, clearly audible. “I’m not being ordered by phone like a pizza; how about a please, or a –”

Buffy could only watch, cringing, but Spike deftly plucked the phone from Illyria’s fingers and visibly turned on the charm. “Sorry about that, pet,” he said. With no one else to look at, Buffy met Connor’s eyes and they shared an eye-roll. Spike continued, “I don’t think you ever met Illyria – she’s rather lacking in the manners department... If you could just do us this one quick favour we’ll be back to the battle before you know it, maybe even with some good news.” Spike could really lay it on thick, Buffy thought. Did Willow actually go for this stuff? “I can’t imagine it could take that much of your time,” he added, “not for a witch of your calibre.”

It sounded like Willow was demurring – knowingly so, but demurring all the same. Buffy shook her head, part of her wanting to throw up her hands as she sighed. Who was whose best friend now?

Spike caught her eye and winked as they waited, a stream of Willow’s burbling coming down the phone.

Eventually Spike said, “Oh, that’s marvellous,” with very little irony, nodding at something Willow was saying. “Yes, will do,” he added, with a definite phone-voice; it was like a mockery of his own. “You take care now; ta.” And then he rang off, thumb prodding the button to close the connection.

Everybody stared at him. “Did you actually just say ‘ta’?” Buffy asked. It wasn’t as if she was a world expert on British English, but, boy, did that sound strange.

“Can I help it if it you Yanks fall for that bollocks?” Spike replied with a shrug, at which point she had to roll her eyes again.

Cutting through her need to continue this conversation, Connor asked, “So, where are we going?”

“Back to bonny Scotland,” Spike replied promptly. “About a hundred miles east of the castle – though my longtitude might be off.”

“See!” Buffy said, joining the others on their feet. “He’s stuck around to gloat – that’s so like him.”

None of them looked convinced, despite the fact that Connor had, only a few minutes ago, been about as eager as her to accept a third-party cause of all this, rather than Spike’s doubts about Angel. “But it could be a body,” he said dourly.

“Yeah,” Spike replied, scratching the back of his head. “Could be his family has a tomb or something – how much do we even know about this bloke?”

“Not enough,” Buffy conceded. “But it’s practically on the way, right? Back to the castle?” No one could disagree with that.




Whatever co-ordinates Willow gave them took the ship to the middle of Aberdeenshire and a respectable grey stone house set in the middle of fields. One was a cow meadow. It wasn’t a graveyard, so all hope wasn’t lost quite yet, thought it didn’t exactly look promising. “I guess we can only hope he’s home alone,” Buffy said as they climbed out of the ship, Spike locking it behind them with some sort of magi-tronic key fob.

“If not,” Connor added, “we can always say we’re from the gas company.”

“Yeah.” Spike snorted. “And our van got waylaid by some activists missing the coal era.”

You know that joke’s on you, right? Buffy tried to say with a look as they crunched up the gravel drive. “You could have built that thing more inconspicuous, you know.”

“What?” he replied, glancing behind them to where the Awesome was parked more than a little ostentatiously. “Like a police box, you reckon?” There was some joke she wasn’t getting; after a few seconds of her staring he rolled his eyes.

By that point they’d reached the doorway, grey and weathered oak, and she was about to ask whether they should knock, but Illyria simply kept on walking, breaking the door around its bolt with a crack. “That’s one way to do it,” Buffy commented instead, following behind her.

The door gave way to a large, open-plan room, comfortably fitted out with a living area on the right and a kitchen on the left. Sitting at a large wooden dining table was one Ethan Rayne, very much alive, startled as he looked up from a scrying basin.

“Oh, hell,” he said.

Before she had time to crow about being right, Ethan half-turned, half-fell away from his bench, starting across the slate tile to the kitchen door. Buffy was about to spring after him, but surprise brought her to a halt as it was Connor who leapt over the table first, grabbing and then trapping Ethan against the wall.

“What did you do to my dad?” he demanded. OK, what?

“Jesus,” Ethan swore, panting. “Who the fuck are you?”

It was the shock that she was thinking the exact same thing that finally tore Buffy out of her silence. “Start talking, Ethan,” she said, walking sedately around the table with Spike and Illyria. Sometimes there was menace in the mundane. “Angel the visionary: you had a hand in it. Tell us what you did and how to fix it, else there’s four very angry people looking for entertainment.”

Straightening himself as Connor stepped away, Ethan proceeded to do the last thing she expected. He said, “No.”

“What?” she asked. Connor was pulling back his fist, but Spike put a hand on his shoulder, allowing them to hear whatever it was that Ethan had to say. Buffy added, “What makes you think you have a choice?”

“You forget,” Ethan replied, sardonic as ever, “one always has a choice. This just so happens to be our first confrontation where death seems a viable alternative.”

“To what?” she demanded.

He smiled, and there was a darkness in his eyes she didn’t quite recognise. “To giving you what you want.”

She had to clench her jaw to keep her from lashing out, from smacking Ethan’s head back against the beige-cream wall. Thankfully, Spike took up the interrogation. “What’s in this for you now?” he asked, quite reasonably. “You’ve had your havoc. It’s fair to say the dogs of war are well and truly slipped, so what else is it you want? And,” he added, incredulous and irritated as she was, “has Angel ever even met you?”

“We may have spoken once…” At their blank faces, Ethan sighed before saying, “You’re slower than I remember if you think that vampire is what’s of central importance here.”

Spike cut off her angry reply, “Why don’t you tell us what is, then?”

“Revenge,” he replied, quite serious, voice low. “Chaos. Your complacency.” He looked her way and she was again surprised by his fury.

“What?” she asked, controlling herself now against the bait. Spike was onto something here – it didn’t seem like it would be hard to get Ethan talking about himself. “My complacency that you’re the bad guy? Sorry, but I’m pretty sure that’s called being right.”

Again he smiled. “Not so according to your government. For them it became more than impolitic to keep me locked up after you became Terror Suspect Number One.”

“All right, now I think I’m missing part of the story, here,” Spike interrupted again, glancing at her and then back to the man at the wall. “You were a government prisoner?” He didn’t sound like he could believe it; she’d forgotten he’d been one too.

“Courtesy of Miss Summers,” Ethan confirmed. “For over five years.”

“You’re a killer Ethan,” she told him, trying to ignore the feeling creeping up her spine that something was wrong with this picture. “Maybe not with Giles, and maybe you were lucky with the candy, but I know people died that Halloween. And with what you’ve done now? You deserve to be locked up.”

“Would that it were so simple,” he replied, without elucidating.

“What the hell does that mean?” Connor asked, crossing his arms as if he had the strength to back up the threat his glare was making. Either he was very good at bluffing, or she was going to have to start recategorising the kid in her mind.

Spike had his own question: “When you say government…?” He looked at her, brows knitted as he joined the dots together. “Oh, Buffy,” he said, pleading with her, “tell me you didn’t hand any poor sod over to the Initiative.”

“I…” She looked back to Ethan, realising now that his eyes weren’t dark with evil – not evil alone anyway – they were haunted. That was where the sinking feeling was coming from. There was a reason death didn’t frighten him anymore. “It was when Riley and I just started dating; Maggie Walsh was my favourite teacher, I mean, I trusted her – I half-wanted her to come to my birthday party, for god’s sake.” She couldn’t look at Spike – he was still staring at her – so she kept her eyes on Ethan’s, trying to work out what they’d done to him. What she’d let them do. Whether she wanted to know. “Where were you, all this time?”

As if thinking back, he raised his eyebrows, leaning more casually against the wall. He looked almost… Confident? This wasn’t the Ethan Rayne she remembered. “Well,” he said, “it was hard to see where I was going, what with the hood over my head, but I believe I spent most of my time in sunny Cuba.”

What? No – he couldn’t be saying… Some sort of Guantanamo: the Sequel?

Everyone was speechless – apart from Illyria, who, Buffy assumed, didn’t care.

It was like one of those discussions she kept seeing on Scottish BBC News, about prisons leading criminals to reoffend with worse crimes than they’d committed before. If she were honest with herself she could realise that Ethan had never been in the same league as some of the vampires she’d fought, like Angelus, or even Spike – he’d never had any designs on the end of the world, even as he’d left bodies around him. All this, though, with Twilight? This was way beyond what she would have once expected.

Should she have remembered him, when the Initiative collapsed? When she’d realised there was still a special branch out there, recruiting Riley? When she’d realised they hadn’t filled in the tunnels after all? Should she have checked up on what they were doing with him? Doing to him?

“The fact that you were mistreated,” she began, swallowing an odd sort of guilt – it seemed naïve to suggest he might not have been mistreated, even though she didn’t know – “it doesn’t undo what you’ve done. What you’ve caused.” It really didn’t, even if her pity-reflex was kicking in.

At that Ethan rolled his eyes. “I’m trembling with remorse.”

“Tell us what you did!” Connor couldn’t be restrained any longer; he leapt forwards, holding Ethan by the shirt and slamming him into the wall. It was a move possible by jocks across the world and Connor certainly looked like he played some sort of sport, but she was pretty experienced in threats, and this looked like it had more than human muscle behind it. Weird kid.

That, however, was an observation for another day. “Connor!” she shouted after her moment’s hesitation. “Put him down. We’re… We’re not gonna beat the answer out of him.”

The boy relented and, just for a moment, Ethan looked surprised – relieved, grateful, confused, frightened – before the mask of indifference came back down over his features. Her stomach twisted with a twinge of nausea. Of course: you couldn’t stop someone being a physical coward, only teach them how to hide their fear.

Gradually détente seemed to settle around them, silence punctuated by glares. It was broken only by a fat ginger cat wriggling into the kitchen through the back door’s cat flap. Incongruous but presumably not bothered about that, it took in the scene, mewled imperiously, and then stalked off into the living room.

“Mr. Whiskers?” Spike asked sarcastically.

Proving he hadn’t changed that much, Ethan replied smartly, “Marmaduke Baggins.”

As Illyria sat down in the chair at the head of the table, putting her feet noisily against the wooden top, Buffy sighed. It had been a very long day, and she was more than bored with it now. “Jig’s up, Ethan,” she said. “You don’t wanna die and I don’t wanna kill you.” Well, part of her did, but that was the part that scared her sometimes and she had a rule, dammit. “One way or another this world is getting back to its regularly scheduled demon quotient, so it’s best you just undo what you did.”

Ethan stared at her for a long time, presumably weighing something up but she couldn’t tell; his expression was utterly opaque. Eventually it relaxed, haggard lines seeming to form around his eyes and mouth as he looked away, shaking his head. “Well, this is embarrassing,” he said, wryly. “If we’re going to be honest, I didn’t do very much.” She froze, but refused to process what he was saying until he’d finished. “A very minor suggestion charm and then a trip into that vampire’s dreams…” Glancing up, he seemed to reminisce, “I was talking to this bloke in a bar, not long after I got free; he said he was working on a script for a film about thieves in dreams – anyway;” He shook his head an looked at her again. “one of the funniest stories Ripper ever told was about these watchers utterly shitting themselves because of some slayer-vampire shagging prophecy. Since he and you had become the establishment, I thought it was time to give Ripper’s least favourite vampire an idea.” He sighed. “Little did I know he’d take it to such extremes.” Not that he seemed that sad about it.

She didn’t have words, but thankfully Connor found some. “If it was only a suggestion,” he said, “how come the rest of the world joined in?”

Ethan shrugged, looking for those two seconds exactly like the Ethan she remembered. “Who knows?” With a glance at her it looked like he remembered how he’d used to be – and how she reacted to that sort of non-answer. “He became the man with a mission,” he suggested with an edge of desperation, gesturing aimlessly. “Mind over matter – it’s not like that isn’t what magic is – maybe he found a way to make it so.”

“Let me get this straight,” Spike responded shortly, putting his hands on his hips in a way that seemed to crowd Ethan closer to the wall. She was glad she wasn’t the only one getting angry again. “You’re saying you fed Angel the prophecy with the intention of, what? Him brooding about it? Driving Rupert up the wall trying to work out if it would come to pass?” OK – she couldn’t help but think Spike was coming up with too many ideas, but, nevertheless, that kind of bullshit sounded worryingly more in character…

Apparently trying to defend his own taste in mayhem, Ethan argued, “You’ll be surprised what people will see when they think there’s something there.” Sighing, he shrugged. “It’s fun.”

She was going to ignore that, she was going to ignore that… “So you didn’t make him decide that it should happen?” she asked, controlling herself. She really didn’t want to hear the answer, but she had to ask – oh, god, she had to ask.

Like the tolling of some sort of bell, Ethan shook his head, looking a little shocked at the idea. “I’m not powerful enough to exert that sort of control.”

What could she say to that? Biting her lip, she knew there was one last thing she had to ask. “Fine,” she said, not really wanting to open her mind to the possibility, but asking it anyway... “Here’s the billion dollar question.” She paused for a moment, then – “What did you do to me?”

On saying the words, a bolt of adrenaline immediately rushed through her, setting her heart pounding – but Ethan just stared back, confused. “What?” he asked, not getting it at all. “When we went for that jaunt in your dreams? I just wanted you to think that I was dead – maybe have a little fun? – I don’t…”

She held up a hand, halting his flow of words. The glow hadn’t come from him. Whatever mad path he’d set Angel down, the actual journey he’d taken, the things he’d chosen… It hadn’t come from Ethan.

God, she felt sick again.

Angel, what did you do?

Trembling, she turned to Spike, not caring that she was assuming command. “Get him on the ship. We need to go back to the castle.” Catching something in her eye, Spike quickly demurred.




The siege at the castle seemed to have stabilised by the time they returned. Ignoring the scathing looks from all the slayers, Buffy led the others to Willow, setting Ethan in front of her and prodding him until he told someone who could understand the actual specifics of what he’d done.

“Oh!” Willow said when he’d finished. “That explains why he’s been acting all… Placid. Ever since he came back from Twilight.”

“It does?” Buffy asked, casting a glance at Angel who was still, conveniently, acting very non-threatening in the corner. He smiled at her goofily. She tried to smile back, but it didn’t quite come. “It’s a shame he can’t call off the troops.” Seriously, she turned back to Willow. “What happened to him?”

“Well,” Willow replied, looking at all the group in turn as she put on her teacher voice, even though Illyria seemed to cause a frown across her brow. “Ethan’s charm was to make him suggestible, but he combined that with a specific suggestion.” Then she gestured in Buffy’s direction. “But when you shook off the glow and told him you wanted to come home, you kind of put a bug in his programming, because it couldn’t keep following the path his mind had set out – you know, to ascend to Twilight as the super-slayer-vampire consorts, yadda yadda yadda blah.”

“OK…” she replied, not really getting it. “And?”

“And you kind of broke him,” Willow said, with the slightest impish smile. “He stopped being suggested and became completely suggestible, still under the charm.”

Spike looked impatient, arms crossed as he leaned against the castle’s stone wall. “You’re saying Angel went from megalomaniac to minion all because Buffy wouldn’t go along with his plan?”

All Willow did was shrug. “She stopped believing in fairies,” she replied, slightly nonsensically.

“Whatever,” Buffy said, rolling her eyes. She shoved Ethan in the back. “Remove the charm now.”

He sounded like he was about to protest, but the Willow interrupted. “Oh, don’t worry, I can do that…” She walked past them, over to Angel, then clicked her fingers twice in front of his eyes. Pink sparks flew, settling on the floor like sugar, then Angel shook his head, seeming to come out of a daze.

“Willow?” he asked blearily. “What…?” Then he paused, patting himself down. “Am I me again?” The hope in his voice almost brought tears to her eyes. “Am I back?”

Stepping out of the corner, Angel looked over Willow’s shoulders towards the group. Buffy raised her head, not sure what she was going to say to him, but his reaction to her was utterly upstaged by Connor rushing forward from her right. The young man stopped in front of Angel and they stared at each other, moving to shake hands before Angel broke down and hugged the boy’s shoulders to him.

That ‘dad’ had not been a slip. That much was obvious. But there were so many other questions, urgent ones, and though Buffy could barely stand it she cleared her throat then steeled her voice, asking, “How do we make it stop?”

Solemnly, Angel pulled back from his son and met her eyes. She hated that she shrank away from him now. “I think,” he said hesitantly, “we have to go back to Twilight.”

Buffy sighed. Spike simply muttered, “Sounds like it’s all a-bloody-board then.”

When the ship shifted this time the schematic showed nothing but a bold and simple cross. Display Error, it said, like the world wasn’t even real.




She wanted to blame Ethan for all of this. It felt like it should be so very easy to blame Ethan for this, but as the ship landed back in the ever-lovely field of Twilight, the man in question was as bemused as the rest of them, keeping a ready distance from the bunny rabbit that hopped past his feet.

“I think I made this place,” Angel said as they walked through the meadow, down the rolling slopes of sweet-smelling grass, the sun bright but not too hot in the sky. He didn’t seem to be talking to anyone but himself, yet the rest of their strangely large group let him talk, silently following. “I had this idea – I was given this idea, I guess – of how I could be happy. For years all I’ve been looking for is redemption, but after everything...” Buffy remembered the table of dead friends. “All I wanted was happiness. A moment, if nothing more.”

“Making worlds is not for earthbound creatures,” Illyria remarked, with a tone of absoluteness.

“I know that,” Angel replied absentmindedly, as if to a voice in his head, looking upwards as a bird flitted through the sky. “What I mean is, I dreamed of this place; I knew I couldn’t come here, not like I was. I needed power, I needed Buffy to assume more power.”

It seemed almost too much that she would finally understand, but she spoke her thoughts all the same. “How did you… Where did the power come from?” she asked, not as strongly as she would have liked to. There was something about this world – calming, sedating, oppressive. Could Angel really have made this?

Still in a daze, Angel replied, “You’ve been gaining power since Sunnydale, as the leader, the great demagogue.” He was still leading them towards the horizon, which now seemed to show a very distant structure, small and square. “All I needed was to transform that power into real terms, manifest its figurative existence materially.”

“Oh, I get it!” Willow said sharply, cringing slightly as though she’d disturbed the air. “Did you suggest that to him, Ethan?” She sounded mock-angry, like she knew she should be mad, but was too intrigued to really feel it. “Because that is bad, bad, kind of amazing magic…”

“Willow!” Buffy scolded, while Ethan, walking at her side, frantically tried to defend himself as she turned her glare on him. “Did you?”

“No, definitely not!” he replied desperately. Of course he hadn’t, Buffy thought dully.

“A king should know no limitations,” Illyria stated, unhelpfully, as she strode serenely through the grass. “Angel’s kingship is often worthy of my respect.”

“What about everything else?” Spike called towards the front. “The…” He didn’t want to say it, but she knew what he was talking about. The sex she couldn’t remember. The glow.

“I had to get us here,” was all Angel would say – sounding now like he was in shock. She wished she could join him.

The structure on the horizon was growing quickly. Buffy wasn’t quite sure why, but she wondered, maybe, whether this world was smaller, making the horizon come closer than it would on Earth? There wasn’t much here, after all, she could imagine it being a tiny, tiny planet.

A couple of minutes more and it became clear it was a well, old-fashioned and fairy-tale-looking, with stone bricks built in a round and wooden supports holding up a miniature roof of terracotta tiles. The only thing it was missing was a bucket and a handle. As they drew nearer Buffy felt like she could hear something screaming, or squealing, like a boiling kettle far, far away.

“What’s that sound?” she asked the group. It sounded like the sound that had repelled them from Angel’s dreams, the dreamstorm. It felt like it would make sense to be so, but then, she told herself, you didn’t get that much variation in high-pitched squeals. It wasn’t like she could remember the note or anything.

Definitely in shock, or worse, Angel said quite distractedly, “No one can see me. My face must be hidden. The greatest fear is the unknown. Power lies in hiding all your upset, showing the world a perfect face. You have to give yourself up, give yourself over to not caring.”

The group glanced between themselves, unsure what to say to that. “Are you all right, Dad?” Connor ventured.

Angel didn’t reply until, finally, they drew up to the well. The squealing sound was louder here, but still bearable, so with great care Buffy drew close to the small stone wall, looking over the edge.

It was obvious that the noise was coming from down inside the earth. Ricocheting off the walls it was violently loud and indistinct inside the shaft, horrible screaming echoes circling around and rising up to meet them. It wasn’t dark down there – that was the strange thing. It was light, white and bright to the extent that Buffy was certain now that this was what had repelled them from the dreamscape. The thing she’d nearly given herself up to, what Angel seemed to have failed in resisting.

Yet, even as Buffy recognised it, it was Willow who gasped, “Buffy! That’s the glow you glowed with. I recognise the signature.”

Immediately Buffy’s stomach clenched; she stared harder into the sound. It was making her feel sick again and she wondered, for a moment, what would happen if she vomited into the light.

“This is where I threw myself,” Angel said, a little quickly as if with nerves. “For a moment I sank into happiness, the heart of this world. The Glow Well. So that all who saw me would know the bliss I was creating – I let myself fall into the well.”

No one spoke, though the well continued to scream. Then Ethan cut in, “Can I say, before anyone starts pointing fingers, that I knew nothing about a well.”

Irritated, Buffy snapped, “You could have known the Twilight prophecy was founded on something!” Could this really have all come about because Angel was searching for happiness?

“We have to get Angel out again,” Willow said, ignoring Ethan to look at Buffy. She was taking this seriously now, Buffy could tell, and her mind was running over all the options. Buffy tried to rein in her emotions as she continued, “This place is so literal – if Angel threw himself into the well then we have to get him out of it.”

“How?” Spike asked. “This place can be as literal as it likes, but Angel’s not bloody in the well, is he? He’s standing here.” And he was, staring over the wall like the well’s light was the most important thing in the world.

“Yeah,” Buffy agreed, meeting Spike’s eyes for a nod. “And I really don’t think we should risk dunking him. We don’t wanna make things worse.”

As they watched, Angel quite unexpectedly collapsed, his hands still holding the edge of the well as he fell at its side, his shoulders shaking like he was keeping in sobs. Any noise he was making couldn’t be heard over the well’s wailing, but there was definitely breath moving through his body.

No one said anything for a long time. “I think it’s hitting him,” Connor said at last, his nerves audible though his voice was raised like everyone else’s. “Everything he’s done.”

Illyria huffed, “He should pay penance for failing in his duty.”

Watching Angel do the closest thing to crying she’d ever seen, Buffy wasn’t sure how to feel. The whole situation was a mess: Ethan had started it, in revenge for what she’d done, yet some part of Angel had taken that silly plan beyond Ethan’s wildest dreams. People were dead. She was – not happy. Things were bad and now they were stuck with a riddle about a well in a parallel dimension. The urge to sit down and cry? It wasn’t entirely unfamiliar to her.

“There’s gotta be a solution,” she said, focusing on the easiest subject to deal with. She’d had enough.

The squealing rose through the silence again as it was clear no one had any answer. Illyria was staring off into the distance, probably thinking about something else and Connor was distracted with Angel. Buffy knew she had nothing and the frowns on Spike and Willow’s faces implied they were in the same situation.

But then, suddenly, the other member of their party snorted. “Oh, I am getting very bored standing here and waiting for you lot to catch on,” Ethan said, rolling his eyes even as she glared at him. “Do you never deal with demons? Great lateral thinkers – or, even easier than that, you could try a crossword once in a while…” OK, she wasn’t sure what that was about; she did crosswords all the time – and was pretty good at them when the questions were celeb-orientated. “Let me give you a clue,” Ethan continued, mockingly. “How about – there is more than one opposite to Angel being in the well.”

“No there isn’t,” Willow began, still frowning. “There’s Angel being out of the well, which is what we’re trying to work…” She trailed off, making Buffy wonder what she’d just thought.

“The well being in Angel,” Spike said, his frown clearing – and suddenly it was obvious. “That’s an opposite.”

“We get him to drink the water?” Buffy suggested finally – and even as Ethan yawned it seemed like as good a solution as any. “Oh,” the thought crossed her mind. “But there isn’t water, only light.” She checked over the edge again, just to make certain, but sure enough there was nothing down there but the glow and its screeching.

“I can try and bring some up,” Willow said, grimacing as she too stuck her head into the blast of sound. Reaching a hand down, she made a gesture as if scooping the sound towards her, frowning harder and harder as she concentrated.

Ever so very gradually, a slender tendril of light grew from the glow, twining its way upwards towards them. Willow’s scoops became gentler, more like sculling motions as it wavered in the air, drifting towards her hand. It brought with it a purer note than the main swell, sweet and high and far more inviting than the rest of the glow.

“Connor,” Buffy whispered, feeling like it was the thing to do, and tapped the boy on his shoulder. When he looked at her she continued, “Help me get Angel up.”

He nodded and together they pulled Angel to his feet, Spike hovering behind them in case they needed help. Angel’s eyes were closed, like he was lost inside his own misery, but Willow’s tendril was near the top of the well now, so Buffy took his wrist, bringing his hand towards it. “Take this, Angel – drink it in.”

“I don’t want to,” he muttered, shaking his head like a child. “This doesn’t belong to me – I belong to it, don’t you see that? This isn’t me; I’m lost inside…”

Maybe it was true. The thought nagged at Buffy’s consciousness and she hesitated, uncertain that this wouldn’t make things worse.

Then came Spike’s voice, gentle over their shoulders. “Do you really think that’s true, mate? Do you really think it was someone else?” His voice was coaxing, careful – she remembered this was a skill of his. “It’s only you who brought us here. Say the word and we’ll head home, find another way to fix this.” Reverse psychology: it didn’t only work on kids. “If it wasn’t you, if there’s no reason you brought us here…”

“No,” Angel replied at last, shaking his head with his eyes still shut. It was the first time he’d sounded like himself again: long-seeing and certain. “This is where I came; this is what I did.”

Blindly then, Angel splayed his fingers towards the light. It seemed to recognise him, diving back from Willow to curl deftly around his hand. When it had coiled three times, Buffy carefully led Angel’s wrist back to his face – the white tendril darted to Angel’s lips, still singing its beguilingly sweet note as Angel swallowed it into himself.

With a flash of white and the blaze of a brilliant, euphonious chord, suddenly but not really unexpectedly the world folded in on itself, meadow and sky flickering away. In an instant they were back in the castle’s great hall, collapsing in a heap ten feet away from the SS Awesome, at rest in all its brass glory.

There were there maybe ten seconds before Dawn came rushing in. “What happened?” she asked, though her voice was more like a yell. “Everything just stopped beeping at me; is the world saved?”

As Buffy sat up, she caught a look at Angel’s face. The crazed, besotted look he’d sported as Twilight had vanished; it was like his inner peace had been swallowed somewhere deep inside him and he’d been left with the miserable reality of who he’d been and what he’d done. He was about to cry for real, she was sure. She couldn’t quite bear to see it.

And so she turned to her sister instead.

“The world?” Buffy said, swallowing back everything she felt. Even if nothing else… “I guess so.”

.
 
 
zanthinegirl: Sparkzanthinegirl on August 16th, 2010 07:22 pm (UTC)
“You could have built that thing more inconspicuous, you know.”

“What?” he replied, glancing behind them to where the Awesome was parked more than a little ostentatiously. “Like a police box, you reckon?” There was some joke she wasn’t getting; after a few seconds of her staring he rolled his eyes.


Hee! No trouble believing that Buffy wouldn't get the Tardis reference; I assume the comics are still set about a year after Chosen?

Very interesting part two. I enjoyed the heck out of it, though I'm still not totally clear on exactly what's happened/ happening. Still, neat conclusion. And Angel should be more focused on Connor that on Buffy; so well done.

And Ethan Rayne makes everything more fun, doesn't he?
Quinaraquinara on August 16th, 2010 07:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I have no idea when the comics are supposed to be set, though in my head they're actually in about 2006 - Buffy just doesn't watch enough TV. :D

I'm glad you enjoyed it, even if it didn't make a lot of sense. I had my fail of being unable to find a decent moment for people to naturally sit down and hash out what actually had gone on. Angel needs to get his breath back, for a start! Ethan is definitely the best though (and he isn't dead!!).
Shapinglight: Illyriashapinglight on August 16th, 2010 08:47 pm (UTC)
Oh dear! Poor, poor Angel!

I really loved this version of what caused Twilight for lots of reasons - one being that it accepts Angel's culpability (which I'm sure the comic is going to deny in a way that's not convincing at all) while making his motives for doing what he did understandable and worhty of compassion.

Also, you brought back Ethan! Yay!

Enjoyed this enormously and the character voices were great. You do a wonderful Illyria.
Quinaraquinara on August 16th, 2010 09:01 pm (UTC)
Poor Angel indeed - he couldn't really be in anything but a very bad place with everything he's done as Twilight, so I'm afraid I was quite mean to him. :(

But thank you!! I'm so so glad you enjoyed it (and appreciated Ethan - I loved making him not dead). I wanted everything to come out in a way that I could accept it, even if that involved some quite cracky convolutions. (<3 about Illyria - I wasn't entirely sure I gave her enough to do!)
curiouswombat: Flying monkeyscuriouswombat on August 16th, 2010 09:33 pm (UTC)
Oh - I did like the Alice-in-Wonderland-ness of it all; especially the voyage in the SS Awesome and the vampire trips up Kilimanjaro - even though I have no idea about the comics at all...
Quinaraquinara on August 16th, 2010 09:49 pm (UTC)
Well, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, neither of those bits were nabbed from the comic! (Maybe the Alice in Wonderland as a themette...) Thanks very much! :)
curiouswombat: Crazy Dru by Bear_iconscuriouswombat on August 16th, 2010 10:34 pm (UTC)
neither of those bits were nabbed from the comic!

I thought not - they were much too interesting!
Quinaraquinara on August 16th, 2010 10:40 pm (UTC)
What a lovely thing to say! (I was a bit sad, actually, that I couldn't foreground Bilali and his enterprises a bit more - he's a sneaky reoccurring OC of mine and it would be nice to tell more of his story.)
Shapinglightshapinglight on August 18th, 2010 11:51 am (UTC)
I remember him. :)
Quinaraquinara on August 18th, 2010 12:06 pm (UTC)
He's been doing well for himself! :D
petzipellepingo: seven season of buffy by awmppetzipellepingo on August 16th, 2010 10:03 pm (UTC)
Definitely a Kool Aid acid trip version of the original BtVS and miles better than what I understand is going on in Season Eight.

At least your explanation makes sense so kudos.
Quinaraquinara on August 16th, 2010 10:13 pm (UTC)
Heee!! Thanks very much! I can definitely live with it being a Kool Aid acid trip.

And I'm glad it made sense!
hello_spikeyhello_spikey on August 17th, 2010 02:32 pm (UTC)
Deft, light humor, an existential well, and Ethan is alive again!

Generally I have no hope the comics end this satisfactory. Alas! But thank you for taking it there.

I loves imperious Illyria and impetuous Connor and Spike having all the people skills in the family. ;)

Quinaraquinara on August 17th, 2010 07:49 pm (UTC)
But of course Ethan is alive again! It could be no other way. ;) Thank you!

I can't imagine the comics will end like this either, but the moment you bring Spike into any sort of madness my brain has a vested interest in working out a way for it to make sense. (Especially if it involves a big steampunk ship!) Illyria and Connor were utter bonuses!
brutti_ma_buonibrutti_ma_buoni on August 17th, 2010 05:52 pm (UTC)
Great job of making a (fairly) mature ending to the comics silliness. Even the Awesome can't make this version a silly fic.
Quinaraquinara on August 17th, 2010 07:50 pm (UTC)
Thanks! My soft spot for the Awesome is even deeper after all this - I'm going to be so sad when it gets ruined for me. :(
ninglorethningloreth on August 17th, 2010 07:26 pm (UTC)
“The well being in Angel,”

Clever!

I actually enjoyed this part more than the first... Not sure why. I especially liked the scene in Spike's cabin.

And, although I haven't read the comics, so there was a lot of background missing for me, the whole thing came to a satisfactory conclusion.

BTW Have you noticed how the way italics are highlighted in brown affects the dialogue? Or is that just me?

[Would this be a good time to tell you that my story is going to be at least two months late?]
Quinaraquinara on August 17th, 2010 08:02 pm (UTC)
Ooh, thanks! This part took a bit more work than the first to get right, so that you liked it more is great! I have no idea if I pulled it off exactly as I envisaged it in my head, but I kind of love the last scene (which, of course, came out of nowhere in the first instance when I was furiously late on Sunday night). I'm especially glad it worked without knowledge of the comics! Though that might mean I was able to gloss over things rather effectively... ;)

BTW Have you noticed how the way italics are highlighted in brown affects the dialogue? Or is that just me?

No, I had noticed! It was a feature of the original layout, which I kept because I thought it was an interesting way of formatting, but it's really interesting, isn't it? What do you think - I kind of like it.

Would this be a good time to tell you that my story is going to be at least two months late?

:P Sneaky! Honestly, that's no problem - though maybe it would be best to post it in your journal, rather than here? (Though, the option to open the comm 'full time' along with the annual ficathon is an option.) There probably won't be that many readers looking out for it in two months time!
annegables on August 18th, 2010 02:27 am (UTC)
Please, please, please let the comics end like this. You are amazing.
Quinaraquinara on August 18th, 2010 08:02 am (UTC)
I'd love it if they did! And thank you very much! :)
Elenamoscow_watcher on August 18th, 2010 09:44 am (UTC)
Terrific story! A true roller-coaster of action, emotions and intrigues!

I was talking to this bloke in a bar, not long after I got free; he said he was working on a script for a film about thieves in dreams –


Heeee! I knew it! I knew it was all Christopher Nolan's fault! :)))

But, seriously, it's the most amazing, consistent and convincing attempts to sort out the mess of current season 8 situation.

You won't believe it, but I also keep Ethan Rayne as one of my prime suspects to be disclosed in the last arc. Although my spec is that he currently inhabits dreamspace where he orchestrates the apocalypse.

But, as much as I want the comics to end like this, I'm sure that Joss prepared something infinitely more heartbreaking...
Quinaraquinara on August 18th, 2010 09:58 am (UTC)
Thank you very much! I'm really glad you liked it - and that you think it worked, as someone who knows the comics far better than I do.

It is definitely Christopher Nolan's fault!! ;) I refuse to accept that Ethan's dead, so I'm with you in thinking he's going to come back in the last arc. Maybe zombie!Sunnydale is actually dream!Sunnydale? Or something...

I'm sure that Joss prepared something infinitely more heartbreaking...

Oh, almost certainly. :( I kind of wish he wouldn't though, if only to surprise us all!