[identity profile] ice-tealc.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] remix_redux
Title: Tripartite (The Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex Remix)
Author: Trekker ([livejournal.com profile] 47_trek_47)
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Fusion With: Star Trek
Pairing: Rupert Giles/Ethan Rayne
Character(s): Buffy Summers, Rupert Giles, Ethan Rayne, Dawn Summers
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Violence, implied sex, slash, character deaths
Disclaimer: Buffy and Co. belong to Joss. The Borg belong to Paramount.
Original story: "Tripartite," by Tara Keezer, http://www.elementalvision.org/tripartite.html
Story Notes: The remix subtitle refers to the region of the brain recently shown to be involved in the emotional side of moral decisions. Much love to the original fic. It's always been a favorite of mine. Also, my beta, [livejournal.com profile] kindkit, really went above and beyond for me with this fic.

Note: The only thing in this fic that comes from Star Trek is the Borg. You don't need to know anything about Star Trek to read this.

Summary: They have one chance to save the world.

Tripartite (The Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex Remix)

Times like these, it was hard to believe the world was on the verge of ending.

A warm spring breeze fluttered the curtains and played over Ethan's skin, cooling his post-coital sweat and bringing the scent of plants and damp soil into the loft bedroom of Rupert's flat. Mid-afternoon sun filled the area with a soft, yellow glow.

Beside him, Rupert sighed and shifted to settle closer. His hand was splayed across Ethan's chest, fingers slightly clenching and releasing in his chest hair.

Only the absence of things hinted at the situation outside. The dark clock on the bedside table. The lack of cars passing on the street outside. The missing hum of the modern world's many electronics.

Absences, though, were easy to ignore.

Ethan had just shut his eyes when Rupert spoke words that ended the illusion.

"I've learned where the Key is."

For a moment, Ethan didn't move or respond.

"Ethan, I--" Rupert said.

With a huff, he snapped open his eyes. Any sense of peace was gone. "Yes, I heard you the first time."

Then Rupert was sitting up, breaking the contact between them. With a sigh of resignation, Ethan sat up as well, scooting back to lean against the headboard and turning to find Rupert had even gone so far as to put his glasses back on. Which, given he was still otherwise naked, looked fairly ridiculous.

"So, then? Where is it?"

Rupert had touched two fingers to his lips and directed his gaze somewhere behind the far wall, lost in thought. Then, as though a statue brought to life, he turned his head and focused on Ethan. "There's a catch."

"It's magic, Rupert. There's always a catch."

Rupert swallowed hard, then looked down at his hands. "The Key has already been prepared to take its human form. And that form will be Buffy's sister."

"What? Why?"

"The monks that have it were protecting it from a hell goddess by the name of Glorificus. They had planned to send it to the Slayer, as a sister, to ensure that she would protect it-- with her own life if necessary."

"Ah," Ethan said, the one word covering his racing thoughts. They'd been tracking this thing for almost a year now, ever since they'd found a reference in a text to an interdimensional portal powerful enough to send the entire Collective to another dimension. As the Borg had oozed inexorably down the California coast and across rural China like a spreading bloodstain it had become clearer and clearer that a direct confrontation would be useless. The Borg could just continue to assimilate and send down reinforcements from their mothership. Like a hydra, cutting off one head would only leave you with two more growing in its place. He thought of the tramp of their feet and the echo of their joined voices and felt suddenly cold in the warm room. He tugged the sheet up and pulled it around his shoulders.

"We have to go through with it," he said. They'd discussed this, too. With each other and with Buffy. The necessity of choosing to send a human to a horrific fate to save the world. Buffy had hardly blinked.

"I know," Rupert said, but his brow was still furrowed. "I'm just not sure if she'll be able to do it. I don't know if I'll be able to tell her to do it."

Ethan felt his jaw tighten with anger. It wasn't like Rupert to be a fool, and it wasn't like him to resist doing what had to be done. He'd been the one to grab the sword from the couch and slice through Randall's neck, after all. It had been feasible enough for him then. "Don't be absurd. There are bigger things here than one fake sibling."

"She won't seem fake. She won't be fake, in any way that really matters. You know as well as I that the ritual is thorough... and it's already begun."

"She is a tool, Rupert. A fragment of energy to be forged into human form and used. Nothing more. Your Slayer is the practical type. She'll understand."

Rupert lifted his eyes, finally meeting Ethan's. "She's human, herself. And the reason she fights, every day, is for those she loves. Not for the world." He paused, curling his arms around his chest and looking down at the covers again. "Ultimately, isn't that what we all fight for?"

Ethan glanced at Rupert, at the strands of silver in his hair catching the sunlight and the dark tattoo nestled in his elbow, and felt--as he did every time, even now--the slow stirring of something large and unstoppable somewhere inside him. Something that whispered that if anything hurt this man, he'd destroy it.

Failure was not an option. He knew that, and he knew Rupert knew that and Buffy knew that. They were fighting for simple survival, and there wasn't an alternative to that.

"We have to do this," Ethan said. "Otherwise, there won't be anything--" anyone "--left to fight for."


The only sounds Buffy could hear in the house were the occasional rustle of pages, the quiet scritches of her pencil, and the constant, low chatter of the hive mind. It was dark and cool. The white shine of the flashlight propped in the crook of her arm and the glow of three tall candles on the side table next to Giles melded with the green pulse of the light on the Borg transmitter sitting on the small weather radio. Buffy worked on sketching out Borg locations and objectives on a map, her full focus on the babble of voices from the rigged radio. She scurried her pencil into motion each time a mention of a new unit or goal came through in.

It felt good to focus on the mindless task. Even the monotone, emotionless voice of the Borg was almost soothing in its regularity and simplicity. The last few weeks, since Ethan had left to get the Key, her "sister," she'd found it hard to concentrate on much of anything.

"They're quiet tonight," she said, suddenly wanting a real human voice to respond.

Giles glanced over. "Yes. All for the best, considering."

She nodded. The time-stretching tension of waiting had stolen over the place as soon as night had fallen. Last they'd heard from Ethan, he'd expected to be back tonight. That had been several days ago, however, in a letter slipped through the front line by a few of their supporters among the Marines stationed outside town, so the estimate was at least a week old.

Buffy looked down at the papers in her lap. The dots marking Borg units were farther out than they'd been even last week, and the zone of new construction had spread as well.

On the floor, just catching a stray sliver of the flashlight's beam, last week's newspaper proclaimed in bold "PRESIDENT DENIES RUMORS OF DOMESTIC NUCLEAR STRIKE PLANS: Says Use of Nuclear Weapons Against Ca. Seaboard Remains 'Out of the Question.'"

She shifted her stack of papers off her lap, uncaring where they fell, and scooted across the couch. Giles simply lifted his arm and pulled her in close as she curled against his side. "Maybe they should just nuke them," she said. "Just take them out, get rid of 'em. Maybe it's worth it."

Giles sighed deeply. "Perhaps. Though knowing their level of technology, it's likely they could simply repel the warhead. And even if it did damage them, they're so widespread now, it wouldn't eliminate them."

"Yeah, yeah, I know." Buffy said, pulling her knees up and shifting a bit to settle deeper into his side. She shut her eyes. The Borg mind continued its constant drone. Giles' cotton sweater was soft against her cheek and he smelled like aftershave and scotch and himself, familiar and homey and safe. These days, he was all the family she had left. It was hard to even comprehend the idea of sister, and in that moment, warm and cozy, that concern and the Borg all seemed far away. The comfort of light sleep settled over her, making her limbs heavy and her mind muffled.

And then, a phrase in the babble went straight to her spine.

"Land-based vessel entering zone 047-0012. Unit 564 is transporting to intercept and assimilate."

"Shit," she said, wide awake.

Giles was already tossing his book aside. "Let's go," he said.


At first, Ethan almost believed he'd imagined the brief, green flicker up around the curve in the freeway. He pressed his foot to the brake pedal, his heart already hammering harder in his chest and his mind spinning into a whirl of denial. He could have sworn the Borg's sensor net didn't start for another couple of miles after the first dead power grid. He should have been in the clear.

But then the car's engine died and there was no way to deny it.

Five spots of all-too-familiar red light approached down the dark, empty freeway in front of him.

He reached back, sliding his hand across the smooth upholstery of the back seat. He felt one single, dizzying moment of heart-dropping horror--where was it?--and then, thankfully, his fingers found the cool, metal barrel of his shotgun. He clutched it, white-knuckled, and pulled it into the front seat with him, holding it to his chest like a demented security blanket. He left the headlights on and got out, taking a long, deep breath, trying to calm his already-shaking muscles.

The slam of the car door closing seemed to echo for miles, and suddenly he wondered what the hell he thought he was doing. Facing down dangerous creatures was Rupert and his Slayer's gig, not his.

And then he could hear them, clanking over the asphalt, their metal and plastic bits creaking rhythmically as they moved. They were still fifty meters away, not yet speaking and not yet fully illuminated by the headlights. The red laser that marked where their missing eye should have been was still the clearest indicator of their location and numbers.

He realized his hand had dropped down to the pocket of his overcoat, fingertips trailing over the cool, raised designs on the iron box there. He watched the red lasers bob closer as he lightly touched the latch of the box, and then he felt the barest beginnings of a smile on his lips and a brief moment of smugness in the face of the most vile creatures known to man. He'd get out of this. And then they would destroy these monsters.

You'll never know what hit you, he thought, as the smile grew into a cold sneer.

He checked that the gun was loaded, then reached into the other pocket of his overcoat to check for the extra ammunition he kept stashed there. He raised the gun and aimed, his hands only shaking slightly now.

Twenty meters away, they began their chant, "We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Your technological and biological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile."

"Bugger that," Ethan muttered, "Never was much of a joiner."

Then he fired.

The explosion of the shotgun blast echoed and rang in his ears. A bright flash of green spreading over the chest of the leftmost cyborg and a ping of a ricochet told him all he needed to know, even before the thing recovered from the small stumble the impact had caused.

Shit. These were the shielded variety.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck." All his confidence abandoned him, and one tiny little box wasn't going to bring it back now. "Fool," he said to himself, "Could have stopped a few miles back, but no, didn't want to walk. Brilliant."

Tamping down the panic that was threatening to take over, he looked around for somewhere to go. There was nowhere to hide, just a high sound-breaking wall on each side of the freeway and a concrete barrier down the center.

The things were in the full glare of the headlights now. Their metal parts gleamed and their skin shone, moist and grey and lined with veins that pumped oil or something rather than blood.

He ran.


"Hate... Hor... ses..." Buffy ground out into Giles' back, as they thundered down the freeway. She dug her fingers deeper into his shirt and cringed as her tailbone crashed down on the horse's spine with each stride.

Giles didn't seem to hear; he was leaned low over the darn thing's outstretched neck, talking to it.

The moon was near full, so the road was easy to see. The sound-buffering walls stretched up and gleamed pale around them, and far up a curve in the road, there was a pair of headlights, unmoving.

A shotgun blast echoed down the freeway. She felt the horse surge as Giles dug in his heels. Now there was almost no doubt Ethan was still alive-- for the moment.

Once around the bend, Giles pulled up hard. Buffy vaulted immediately off the horse. It only took a moment to catch her bearings and find the circle of five Borg advancing on Ethan in the center of the lane.

Buffy hefted her axe and charged. One swing took out the nearest creature's shield generator and took off its head, then carried through to knock another off its feet. Ethan leaped over the fallen Borg and made for the concrete barrier, throwing a quick, "Impeccable timing," over his shoulder as he went. She barely spared him a glance before beheading the downed Borg and turning to find another adversary.

Giles had impaled one from behind and was reaching to slit its throat with his dagger. The other two were closing in on him. She threw herself between him and them, kicked one in the chest to down it, and then slammed the axe into the side of the other's head. Metal-on-metal squealed as she pulled the axe free and stepped forward to finish off the one she'd kicked.

That dealt with, she dropped the axe and turned to check on Ethan.

He wasn't there.

Confused, she swung around to look to Giles. But then, her throat froze.

Ethan was on his knees next to Giles, who sat on the road with the dead Borg sprawled across his legs. Giles had one hand pressed to his throat. The Borg's arm flopped on the road, assimilation tubes still extended.

"Giles?" she said. Maybe it was just a scratch. Had to be a scratch. Not Giles. No, no, no, not-- "Giles?"

"I--" he said. "I think--"

She ran to him, hauled the dead thing off of him, and shoved it aside. "Giles!"

Ethan didn't move. He seemed frozen, staring.

Buffy grabbed Giles' hand, pulled on it, "Let me see. Come on, let me--"

He jerked his hand away and her hope vanished. On his throat were two pinhole punctures, so much like a vampire bite. Streaks of grey were already oozing away from the marks, spreading the infestation through his tissue and blood.

"Oh, god," she said.

"Kill me," he said.

She jolted her gaze from his wound to his eyes. He wasn't looking at her. For a moment, that made her go weak with relief, before that feeling was chased with a rush of guilt.

"Ethan, please. Please, while I'm still... me. Still human. Please."

He'd reached for Ethan, into his coat, his hand out of sight, but she knew it was touching the grip of the handgun Ethan always wore on his chest. She realized her own hand was still wrapped around Giles' wrist and she couldn't seem to let go. It felt as though she could feel the weight of the entire atmosphere pressing down on her skull.

Ethan jolted away as though burned.

"No. No, no. Rupert-- no. We can't-- I can't-- No."

The spreading grey, now reaching in tentacles up around Giles' face and throat, looked like a misplaced shadow in the moonlight. His eyes were still locked on Ethan. "It's over. You know that--"

"I know. I know." Ethan was hanging back, out of reach. "I can't."

And then, even before Giles turned to her, Buffy knew what she would have to do. And then she knew she could do it. There was no choice. It was that simple.

When he turned to her, she saw a flicker of silvery metal behind his right iris.

"Giles--" her voice broke on his name and her vision blurred as the tears came.

"Buffy--" he said, and then coughed.

She threw her arms around him, hugging him almost too tightly, and he returned the embrace as fiercely. She nodded into his shoulder. "Ok. Ok."

"All right," he said, meeting Buffy's eyes.

If I can do this, she thought, I can do anything.

She took a hard breath, said, "I love you," and snapped his neck.


Rupert is dead.

He couldn't stop thinking it. It just echoed and echoed on a repeating loop in his brain. Rupert is dead. Nothing was the same. The once-familiar, shadowy houses on Revello drive seemed alien and strange. Nothing would ever be the same.

Ethan couldn't shake the whirl his mind was in. He unlocked the front door of the house automatically, his mind still locked in a broken-record repetition of dead, dead, dead. The rattle-bang of Buffy opening the shed door to stable the horse grated on his ears, but he couldn't flinch. He pulled the door shut behind himself and walked into the dark living room. He didn't light the candles, he just dropped down on the couch with his overcoat still on.

Dead. He's dead. Rupert's dead.

The words were losing all meaning. His gaze was focused across the room, but he couldn't see anything but the desperation in Rupert's eyes when he'd looked at Ethan and begged to be killed.

They should have been able to save him. There had to have been another way, there had to be an out. Rupert wasn't supposed to die. Not now, not like this. Perhaps they could have saved him, had they not--

Killed him.

Oh, god.

The couch dipped and he realized Buffy had come in and sat down beside him.

Out of the corner of his eye, though he didn't turn, he could see her hands folded together at her knees. Her hands, pale against Rupert's stubble. The unmistakable, deeply awful crunch of a human neck breaking.

"Did you get it?" she said.

He couldn't answer right away. It seemed to take a great deal of effort and concentration just to remember how to speak and to force his lungs and larynx and lips to form the words.

"Yes." He cleared his throat, which felt ragged, as though he hadn't spoken in years. "Yes, I have it."

Too late. Too late, they would succeed where the world's armies had failed. Where the Council and the Initiative and every other agency had so far not even made a dent, they would blow these creatures to metaphorical rubble. All with one small, newly-human girl.

It wouldn't save Rupert, but it would avenge him, and it would mean he hadn't died in vain. And that was suddenly, desperately, urgently necessary.

He pulled the box out of his pocket and handed it to Buffy. He could hardly feel the iron against his numbed fingers. She took it and cracked it open, just enough to let the green glow shine on her chest.

"So this is it, then. My sister," she said. Her tone was flat.

"The Key," he said.

"Great," she said, still monotone. She shut the box and handed it back to him.

He saw Rupert's eyes again, and felt again the surge of denial--of hope--that wouldn't let him draw his gun. Buffy was looking down at her hands twisting together in her lap.

The Borg were spreading even as they sat here. Slowly, steadily taking over every inch of the Earth, exterminating, absorbing humanity as they went. Bombs, guns, tanks, none of it mattered. Pleas for mercy, cries of fear all fell on indifferent ears. They moved with the singular, selfish, emotionless progress of a virus, devouring victims and moving on, unthinking.

This box, small enough to hold in one hand, contained the one hope for stopping them.

But one thing stood to foil it.

"Can you do it?" Ethan said, finally feeling some clarity returning to his mind. He watched her intently. She breathed in and then looked him in the eye.

"I killed Giles," she said, her face set like stone. "I can do this."

"I couldn't," he said. His voice was even and he was almost surprised by that. He felt as though he had detached from himself, and the further he moved from his emotions, the more clear-headed he became. All he knew was one thing: this had to work. It had to work.

She stood up abruptly and paced to the fireplace, taking down a bit of sculpture from the mantle and turning it in her hands.

"You're a coward, Ethan." Her voice was quiet and steady, but burning with rage. "I never trusted you, and that's why," she said, turning back to him.

Ethan stood as well, feeling a surge of pure hatred, a bright flicker of feeling against the numbness, in a way he hadn't since Rupert had allowed him back into his life. "Well, then. We're even. Because I've never trusted you, either. And I certainly don't now."

She put the sculpture back down with a bang. Her jaw was tense and her eyes narrow. "Just do the spell. Let's end this."


She watched him and he watched her, both of them bathed in the green glow. He chanted in something like Latin. She caught a word here or there, remembered from Giles' lectures and books, but mostly, the flow of sounds meant nothing to her. It seemed as though it meant nothing to anything: no wind moved the air, no magic tickled the back of her neck, no voices murmured from nowhere, no sparks danced in the green light.

It wasn't working. It had to work. She felt a flicker of panic, one of the few hints of emotion she'd felt at all since the fight with the Borg. It had to work. It was the only way. They had to stop them. She had to avenge all the lost lives--Willow's, Xander's, Giles', so many others--and save the lives that were left. This couldn't not work.

And then Ethan slashed a knife across his palm. A few drops of red blood fell into the green light, and something began to happen.

It was a strange and vague feeling, the kind you got when there was something you were supposed to remember, but you couldn't recall what. It was aimless, but somehow urgent, tugging at the back of her mind.

A breeze rose inside the room, fluttering the flames of the candles and tickling her skin. Ethan continued to chant, but he raised his head, and suddenly his eyes were fixed on hers.


That word came unbidden, and a moment after, she knew it was a name, her sister's name. Of course it was her sister's name, how could she have forgotten the name of her sister?

But no, it wasn't real. Not real. There was no Dawn. Never had been.

Ethan's eyes were dark, still drilling into her own. He must have seen the momentary uncertainty on her face.

Their childhood came first, flashes of memories of the hospital, the balloon she gave her mother, the pink T-shirt proclaiming she was the Big Sister. Summer days, running outside, the sprinkler, the beach. Dawn sobbing over a dropped ice cream cone and Buffy hugging her and offering her own to replace it.

Not real, not real.

But then what had happened that Christmas, when they hadn't been able to go to Grandma's because Dawn had the flu? She couldn't remember. She couldn't even remember if there really had been a Christmas they hadn't gone. And then she couldn't remember a Christmas without Dawn. Not even last Christmas, that they'd spent huddled around the fireplace, while Giles had whispered the Nativity story to them all as they'd listened to the Borg patrols tramp past outside. She'd risked her life to get Dawn a gift, as though that would compensate for it being their first Christmas without their mother.

And then there was a girl beside her, wrapped up in her arms, crying inconsolable tears, and all Buffy could do was hold her tighter and say, "Shh, shh. Dawn. Honey. It's ok. I've got you. I'm here."

Then she looked up at Ethan still standing across from her, and he narrowed his eyes and tilted his head, and she knew what it meant, what he wanted her to do.

She shook her head, just slightly, trying to not jostle her sister. She couldn't. Of course she couldn't. This was Dawn.

She saw his jaw tighten.

"No," she said.

Dawn sat up slightly, "What?" she said, wetly.

"We have to," Ethan said.

They didn't. They didn't have to. It wasn't possible. "No. There's another way."

"There is no other way!"

Dawn was sitting up now. "What are you talking about? Guys--"

She couldn't face it. Not after Giles. Not Dawn. She couldn't do it. The world wasn't worth it if that was the price. "We'll find another way!"

Then Ethan drew his handgun, pointed right at her. She saw his finger tightening on the trigger and then she was across the room, kicking it out of his hand, before she knew she'd moved. A heartbeat later, the gun was in her hand, trained on him. "Get out. Get the hell out."

"No." He went for Dawn.

She fired three shots. Dawn screamed.

Then there was silence.

Buffy shut her eyes for a moment, then knelt and placed the gun on the floor. It was over. That was it. Dawn was saved. That was all that mattered. Buffy went to her. Ethan's body sprawled awkwardly across the floor, a puddle of dark blood spreading across his shirt and the pale carpet underneath him.

"Buffy, you-- you--" Dawn was hyperventilating.

Buffy pulled her sister away from the body. "I had to, Dawn. I had to."

"Why? What... what even happened? I don't understand!"

"You don't need to." She never had to know.

Dawn was still staring back as Buffy lead her towards the door.

"Come on," Buffy said, "Let's get you somewhere safe."


(no subject)

Date: 2007-04-22 03:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elementalv.livejournal.com
I thought *I* had been mean to them, but you've taken the basic story to whole new delicious and agonizing levels. You did an absolutely incredible job with one of my favorite stories, and I'm thrilled.

[twirls you]

Thank you!!

(no subject)

Date: 2007-04-22 03:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] booster17.livejournal.com
Wow. And ow. Very dark, very painful and interesting that the harder, colder, more alone Buffy whose last contact with her previous Sunnydale life had just died at her hands, couldn't bring herself to kill that one last person. Even to save the world. So very, very different from the timeline we know.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-04-22 04:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fuzzyboo03.livejournal.com
That was awful, in a deliciously wonderful way.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-04-23 01:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kivrin.livejournal.com
That's awesome. Chilling and spare and vivid and heartbreaking and so damn cool. I particularly admire the showdown with the Borg and the description of Buffy feeling the constructed memory taking over.


(no subject)

Date: 2007-04-28 08:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] antennapedia.livejournal.com
This was fantastic. Wrenching and gutty, and you did what you had to do with that storyline-- while connecting this so much harder Buffy with the Buffy that canon gave us.


remix_redux: (Default)
We Invented the Remix...Redux V

May 2007

  12 345

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios