Characters: Xander, Spike (OCs and surprise guests in later chapters)
Rating: PG overall
Warnings: Angst and major character death
Disclaimer: Joss and Mutant Enemy et al own everything. I own nothing except my original characters
Summary: Five years have gone by since Xander and Spike managed to bring a string of killings to an end, but fate and an unexpected phone call turn Xander’s life on its head one more time.
Beta extraordinaire: thismaz
Thank you my dear, for all your thoughts and insights, your patience and your love.
Comments are cuddled and called George
Note to the unwary: If you haven’t read the previous stories in this series, then this story probably won’t make much sense. I hope I can tempt you to do so. They are Magpie
on my LJ. Or you can get all three at AO3, Magpie 'verse
Status: Story is complete to first draft stage. Will be posted weekly following betaNightjar: Chapter 10
They reconvened in Gabriella’s drawing room an hour before sunset. Spike and Gabriella took tea together while Xander drank coffee. The talk touched on the current state of the supernatural in both London and Venice and it was as polite as the setting demanded. As he listened to the ebb and flow of the conversation, Xander realised that this new mature relationship was definitely going to take some time to get used to.
“Do you think he’ll actually come?” he asked. “Ethan, I mean.”
“I do,” Gabriella replied. “He wants to be out of the Initiative’s power very badly. Otherwise he would not have approached us in this way. He believes we are his only solution.”
“And he’s tempting us with some goodies we don’t know,” Spike said.
“That too,” she acknowledged. “I think Mr Rayne is a shrewd negotiator and not to be underestimated. I have to believe that whatever he has to offer is equal to what he is asking in return.”
“Not going to speculate?” Spike asked.
“Speculation is rarely useful, and even less so in this case. The empowering spell took us into unchartered waters, and random conjecture is not likely to be productive.”
“Might be fun, though,” Spike replied. “But yeah, I get it. I tell you one thing that does concern me, is whether he’s come up with a good excuse to get away for a bit. Normally, I’d be all for a little dance with some soldier boys, but I’d rather do it on my own turf. What if he’s followed?”
“Fortunately, this is my turf,” she said. “The Initiative cannot breach the wards here, even with the brute force they have at their disposal, so the outcome is not an issue.”
“You think?” Spike said. “Got a chaos mage coming to give us the skinny on something the Council doesn’t know and aiming to do suicide by watcher while he’s at it.”
“I’m not a watcher,” Xander interrupted.
“Keep telling yourself that, pet. Tell that to the girls back in London, yeah.” Spike looked over at Gabriella. “You don’t think the soldier boys are going to be a tad narked that their tame magician is going off-piste. Just don’t want us to be in the firing line.”
“I understand your concern, Spike. I would not put you or Alexander in the firing line as you put it. I hoped our conversation this afternoon in the library was enough to convince you of that, but I genuinely do not think there is an issue. They kept Ethan for years, so I don’t think they are going to air their dirty laundry in public. The same is true if they try to coerce another chaos mage into interfering.”
“Coerce is a nasty word, Gabriella. But it’s not as nasty as slavery. That’s what they’ve done to Ethan, but to be honest, I don’t give a shit about him. The boy here, on the other hand - don’t want the soldier boys coming after him because he took away their favourite toy.”
“Alexander is unique to these circumstances. He and Ethan have a connection. He and Tiago had a connection. That’s not something that can be replicated.”
“Easy for you to say. I worry that the soldiers won’t appreciate the distinction.”
“Remember my toast, Spike.”
“I remember it. And I’ll hold you to it. We’ll hold you to it.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything else,” she replied. “You have my support, and the support of the other European watchers. Despite your losses, you are not isolated. Neither are your slayers.” She paused as the door chime echoed through the house. “And on that note, I believe we have company.”
“Right on time, as well,” Spike replied. “He’s keen.”
“I appreciate his punctuality.” She leaned forward and picked up the poker, using it to shift a log in the fire that had rolled too close to the edge. Then she sat back, her hands resting the arms of the chair, her legs crossed at the ankle. She looked composed, but from the way she stared at the door as the tap, tap, tap of Ethan’s cane sounded in the hallway beyond, Xander knew that she was anxious as he was.
There was a brief knock at the drawing room door, then Annunciata appeared. “Mr Rayne to see you.”
“Show him in,” Gabriella replied. She didn’t rise to greet Ethan and Xander was struck as he had been the night he arrived, how the room was staged to create the feeling that she was granting an audience.
“Dear lady.” Ethan shuffled slowly into the room, his cane tapping rhythmically on the tile as he came towards her. “I apologise if I am a trifle early, but I hope you will excuse my eagerness to see you.”
“I believe you are exactly on time, Mr Rayne, and if you were not, the only person you would inconvenience is yourself,” she replied. Xander didn’t think he’d ever heard her sound so imperious. “I trust you had no trouble on the way?”
“Nothing to speak of,” Ethan replied. He leaned forward as if he was telling a secret. “The military may have layers the public never dream of, but they are also dismally pedestrian when you act according to expectation. Their expectation is that I am milking the older Venetian families for information that could be useful to them. You are a perfect example of that ilk.”
“So they just let you come here?” Spike asked.
“Master Spike." Ethan bowed his head in a gesture that had nothing to do with respect. “A pleasure to see you. The military, as I’ve no doubt Angelus would have told you, have no real conception of the true nature of magic, or of the supernatural. They are dabblers at best. For example, they may have managed to leash you for a while, but in the end it didn’t take, as it were.”
“But they leashed you, mage. Why else have you been with them for ten years. Unless of course, you’ve just been winding us up and you’ve been working for them voluntarily and you’re setting us up for the boys in green to scoop up another couple of recruits to do their dirty work. Been there, done that, not interested in doing it again.”
“A cynic after my own heart,” Ethan replied. “But they control me through technology, not through magic. And I hardly think that I would have come here unaccompanied if I was, as you so colourfully put it, setting you up.
“I reserve judgement,” Gabriella said. “But I am interested in what you have potentially to offer.”
“And I’m interested in what you’re asking for in return,” Spike interrupted.
“Perhaps we could sit and discuss both matters in a civilized manner? I fear my legs are not what they once were.”
“By all means,” Gabriella replied. She gestured to the chair on the other side of the fireplace and Ethan lowered himself slowly, then laid his cane on the side table within easy reach.
Spike stood by the window, leaning against an antique bureau. Despite being dressed in his normal black jeans and boots, he somehow didn’t look out of place against the rich, heavy curtains that covered the windows. Xander stood near the door to the hallway, by the alcove that housed the apothecary cabinet. As with the first evening, the wood drew him and when he touched it, the cabinet seemed to hum under his fingers.
“I think the time for coyness is past, Mr Rayne,” Gabriella said. “I assume you have the time you lacked last night to discuss the matters at hand. So, what do you have for us? You indicated that you had information about the Slayer line.”
“I do indeed, dear lady. Do you have the books I requested?”
“I do,” she replied.
“Can I see them?”
“Why do you need them?” she countered. “You need to give us some incentive. As you know, possession of the books was not without price.”
“And I have expressed my condolences for your losses. These books, the family magics they describe, are interesting and the third book would have unlocked many of its secrets. It is unfortunate that both that book and the good father from Ampleforth should have come to such an untimely end. But I know that Janus has watched the chaos in the Council these last few years with some appreciation and his magic can be benevolent when he is amused. I can use it to unlock some of the secrets of the other two books.”
“And provide us with what outcome? Why would we care, Mr Rayne? And more to the point, why should we trust magic gifted by Janus? It is likely to be a double-edged sword, is it not?”
Ethan leaned forward, his paper-thin skin almost yellow in the firelight. “Magic is always double-edged,” he said. “That is one of the things that makes it so beguiling. As to why you should care? Because it’s about choice. You think you are so different in your vaunted new Council, but the girls today, the slayers, with a small ‘s’, because they are many; they didn’t choose. Miss Rosenberg, Mr Harris, Rupert, Master Spike there, they all chose. But those girls were chosen, they didn’t get to choose. Slayers never get to choose.”
“Your point, Mr Rayne?”
“I believe that I can do a ritual that will unlock the potential, and please forgive the small bon mot, the potential untapped magic in the two books. That the ritual will reveal a spell that will give future potentials a choice. A choice to accept their calling, or to decline it and carry on in their normal lives.”
Spike cocked his head. “Let me get this straight. You’ll do a spell to find another spell, and the second spell will give baby slayers the option to say yes please to the power up, or they could tell destiny to go fuck itself if they don’t fancy the offer they’re getting."
“Not how I would put it,” Ethan said. “But effectively, yes.”
“But how does it work?” Xander asked. “And why didn’t Giles or Willow know about it? I mean, Wills was powerful enough to wake the slayers. Surely she would have known about this? Gabriella, does this sound even possible, or plausible, and wouldn’t Willow have known?”
“The honest answer is, I don’t know,” she replied. “I admired Miss Rosenberg’s magical abilities, she was a supremely talented and capable practitioner. But she was not infallible. If she were, then we would not have had a number of unfortunate incidents of slayers who were in no mental state to cope with their new-found powers.” She smiled at Xander. “That is no slur on Miss Rosenberg, I am merely stating a fact.
“Yeah, I know,” Xander said softly. “We did what we thought was the right thing at the time because we had our backs to the wall and we were running out of options to beat the First.”
“And it worked,” she replied. “Never forget that.”
“So, that brings me back to my question. What Ethan’s proposing, is it possible, and if it is, should we even think about doing it?”
Gabriella leaned back in her chair. “I told you once before, when I made a study of the family magic, that the potentials were connected long before they were activated. The very fact of their potential created that magical connection. The empowering spell heightened the magic - it split like light seen through a prism. It became personal to each potential as they became a slayer, but like the light, it is also part of a greater whole.”
“I remember,” Xander said. “It was a nifty metaphor. So now Ethan is saying that he can reverse that – put lightening back in the bottle. I have to ask, do we really want to do that?”
“What I am saying, Mr Harris, is that I believe I can uncover a spell that would allow you to modify what you did on the Hellmouth,” Ethan replied. “Or at least I think I can. I need to see the books to be absolutely sure of my ground.”
“Before we get to that, I would like an answer to one question,” Gabriella said. “Putting to one side the fact that you want something from us, exactly why would you do that for these girls and for the Council?”
“Because in the end, I am a servant of Janus, even if I wish to remove myself from his tender touch.” Ethan smiled. “Imagine a world where the powers call on their servants and those servants, those slayers, turn their back. I would say that Janus and chaos as well as the slayers are served.”A/N
I first came across the idea of the potentials having the power to chose years ago the first time I read Liz Marcs epic Living History
. I was intrigued by the concept and when I was thinking about this story it came back into my mind and insisted on being used.