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TITLE: Spike And Ethan - Two Ships That Pass in the Night
AUTHOR: estepheia
SPOILERS: BtVS and AtS - nothing serious
WARNINGS: occasional use of strong language

Basic Recipe for a Spike/Ethan PWP

Take one lean Spike, peel until naked, then take one pickled Ethan, sprinkle with magic and wit, strip off hideous shirt, place next to Spike, add a few cups of bourbon, stir up trouble, leave to simmer. Season with wantonness and strife for added spice. Leave to mature or serve while fresh on a bed of satin sheets. Bon appetit.


They could just fuck like crazed weasels.

Okay, I suppose the recipe above is a little too short to pass as an essay on the Spike/Ethan ship. Besides, it doesn't cover many angles, only the "sexy Spike + sexy Ethan = Yum" approach (which is entirely subjective). And there's more to this unconventional pairing than meets the eye. Read on in this essay:

1. The Vampire and the Mage
Who the fuck is Ethan?

1.1. Spike AKA William the Bloody - The Vampire Who Broke the Mould

"So, who do you kill for fun around here?" - Spike, School Hard.

Spike, played by James Marsters, is probably one of the most vibrant and best known characters of the Whedonverse. Initially introduced as a disposable vampire villain, he lasted 7 seasons, six on BtVS, one on AtS.

Spike is the perfect bad boy, brash, bad-ass, fun-loving, vain, with a huge chip on his shoulder, but a vulnerable core. Depending on the situation or who he's with, he can be cruel or kind, cowardly or brave, smart or dumb, selfish or noble. Plus he's pretty. And looks good in chains. *cough* But Spike's most redeeming qualities, even when evil, are his capacity to love and his joie-de-vivre:

"The truth is, I like this world. You've got... dog racing, Manchester United. And you've got people. Billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs." - Spike, Becoming (Part 2)

As his character evolves, Spike's pursuit of "fun" is curbed first by a behaviour modification chip and later by a conscience, but he never fully loses his appetite for life. His story arc is over when he no longer saves the world because he wants to enjoy its pleasures, but because he wants others to enjoy them.

"Hello Junior. The name's Spike. And lucky for you, I'm on a strict diet." Spike, Not Fade Away

The internet is full of sites devoted to Spike, and heaps of fanfic have been and are still written about him. Fanfic author Anna S. AKA eliade once called Spike "a little black dress. He goes with everything. Everyone."

1.2. Ethan Rayne - Acolyte of Janus

Buffy: "Honesty. Nice touch."
Ethan: "It's one of my virtues. Not really." - Ethan, The Dark Age

Ethan Rayne, played by Robin Sachs, is a recurring villain, memorable for his snark and his joie-de-vivre. He appeared in only four episodes that span three seasons: Halloween, The Dark Age, Band Candy, and A New Man.

Ethan is a chaos worshipper, who uses magic for gain and pleasure. Wielding truth like a weapon, Ethan gleefully drags Giles's skeletons out of the closet or unleashes people's repressed desires. He has no evil agenda like world domination or causing an apocalypse, he just likes causing trouble and watching it unfold. His god, Janus, is a god of change and disorder, not of full-scale destruction.

Giles: "We gotta face it, we've changed. Well not you . . . you're still sadistic and self-centered."
Ethan: (toasting himself) "Here's to me." - A New Man

With his sadistic streak and his healthy sense of self-preservation, Ethan is not the most likeable character, but his wit and his joie-de-vivre make up for some of that. There are a handful of evil spell-casters in the Whedonverse: Amy Madison, Rack, Spanky, Hainsley and Vail, but Ethan is the only one with a certain rakish style. He's a smarmy weasel, the kind of villain one wants to see foiled but not destroyed.

Ethan's short story arc ends with less closure than many of us would like, when he gets captured by the Initiative:

Riley: (as Ethan is cuffed by MPs) By the authority of the US military, you're being taken into custody pending a determination of your status. (to MP) Take it from here. (Ethan is led out.) They'll, uh, take Mr. Rayne to a secret detention facility in the Nevada desert. I'm *sure* he'll be rehabilitated in no time.
Giles: (grinning) Uh, if you don't mind, I'm just gonna --go and watch them manhandle him into a vehicle.

There is not a lot material available on Ethan. Fanfic is comparatively scarce. He is almost exclusively paired with his former friend and co-dabbler in the dark arts, Rupert Giles.

2. Spike and Ethan - Ships That Pass in the Night
Subtext? What subtext?

Spike: (suave) "Two of them. English like me. But older, less attractive. One of them gave you his number."
Waitress: "I threw it out. I mean, I took one look and saw that he was staying at that rat trap. No thanks."
- Spike looking for Ethan, A New Man

This is the chapter in which I'm supposed to list canon or subtext evidence for why my characters work in a pairing. Subtext? What subtext? *Cue for hysterical laughter.* The thing is, Spike and Ethan never met.

They appeared in two episodes together, Halloween and A New Man, their actions even affected each other, but their paths never actually crossed.

Spike and Ethan never drank together at Willy's, never got locked into the same Initiative cell, they never played kitten poker together, or made deals involving demon eggs, they never worked for the same Big Bad, never fought side-by-side, never fought each other, never pursued the same woman (or man), never searched for the same magical artifacts, never woke up side by side with a hangover and only a dim recollection of how they've gotten there, They could have, but never did.

These things never happened because Spike and Ethan's were conceived as flawed versions of other characters of the show. Their sole function was to act as dark mirrors (in Jungian terminology Shadows), representing a buried past or a path not taken. Spike starts out as Angel's Shadow, Ethan as Giles's Shadow. Spike evolves into a hero, Ethan never does. As Giles's presence in Buffy's life wanes, there is no need for the return of his dark mirror.

However, the whole point of fanfic is: What if.

What if?

All these situations could work. Why bother, you ask? *weakly points at PWP-recipe, then bangs head on desk.*

3. Birds of a Feather Flock Together vs Opposites Attract
How on Earth am I Supposed to Get Them Together?

There are many easier pairings to ship. Open animosity can be interpreted as repressed attraction, glances can be re-interpreted, subtext can be turned into text. But what if the characters never met? If we never saw them interact on screen?

Then we don't have a lot to work with. Bugger.

However, we do know if two characters have something in common, something that helps them connect, should they ever meet. Something to talk about over a glass of beer maybe, or something to join forces against, like a common enemy.

As it happens, Spike and Ethan have a lot in common: Both are British. Both are educated. They enjoy their booze, like to gloat, are selfish, pleasure-seeking, funny, foolish, nostalgic, vain, resentful, angry, and jealous. Both crave attention; they seek validation through others. Both have a hankering for chaos and a definite voyeuristic streak.

When it comes to romance, both obsess over someone they can't have. Spike's turbulent and intense romantic history is no secret, but Ethan's feelings are less obvious. They flourish in the subtext between him and Giles:

"I think they were just friends - but one of them wants it to be more" (Robin Sachs, when asked about the sexual tension between Giles and Ethan (and slashfic), Eclipse convention London 2002.)

"Somebody asked what exactly Ethan's motivation was for turning Giles into a Fyarl demon in A New Man. [Jane's] response was that Ethan loves Giles more than Giles loves him, that she's envisioned a complex past for the two of them that includes public school and all that entails. That Ethan's motivation was a combination of being upset that he wasn't more to Giles and the fact that he's inherently a Trickster character, similar to the Tricker characters in Norse mythology [...] Ethan likes to stir up trouble just because he can, and Giles is a good target because he's already the focus of a lot of Ethan's emotions." (From a transcript of Jane Espenson's Q & A at writercon, Vegas 2004)

So, two needy men, isolated and rejected, without friends or hope, hedonists with a healthy sexual appetite and few scruples - what's to stop them from hooking up for a night or two? One-night-stands might even evolve into friendship.

Could romantic love spring up from such a friendship? Nuh, probably not. At least not in the violins-and-candle-light vein, but in times of need they could be good for each other. Or bad, depending on what an author wants.

And what is to keep them from getting bored with each other? One is a vampire, one is a mage. Spike is more aggressive than Ethan, leaning towards physical violence, while Ethan is more devious. If they were involved with each other there would be power struggles and misunderstandings, because both are just waiting for a sign of rejcetion or insincerity.

I have to admit that they probably work best in a story that involves some kind of plot. Both attract stupendous amounts of bad luck and are masters of bad timing. Add to that poor planning skills and impatience, and you have a story in which inevitably things will go wrong. Which is good, because then we can see them scramble and squirm, trying to dig themselves out of the mess they've gotten themselves into. And THAT is actually the reason why I ship this pairing: because I like seeing THEM scramble and squirm. Together.

Together they're just neat.

4. Fandom? What fandom?
Wow, do I sometimes feel alone.

How did I get attracted to this fandom? When did I discover that I'm attracted to this pairing?

Well, the sad truth is: There is no Spike/Ethan fandom. I wish I could say that I read lots of great Spike/Ethan fics and that they won me over. But there are only a handful of stories around, and I only started looking for them after I developed a taste for this ship.

I read and wrote a lot of Spike/Xander and Spike/Angel. I honestly don't know where the hankering for Spike/Ethan comes from. It's like an itch I can't scratch. There simply aren't enough stories around. Just enough to whet the appetite.

I keep asking for the pairing in ficathons (and everywhere else), but that hasn't exaclty led to a flood of new stories. Maybe I like Ethan because he's an adult, or maybe I like him because he's a wicked slut.

I know that at least one other person has Spike/Ethan listed as an LJ-interest, so I'm not entirely alone here. Hi miniera. *waves*

This then is the part where I shamelessly beg writers to give this pairing a shot. Come on, people, just to please me. *makes puppy eyes* Think of the karmic payback! Do it for Christmas and puppies and....

5. The Hero and the Trickster - Characters in Motion
The Chapter Wherein I go Meta and Talk About Archetypes And Stuff

For me the most interesting character journeys are those that take the protagonist from one end of the moral spectrum to the other. Watching the downfall and destruction of a character can be like watching a train wreck, both depressing and mesmerising. Alternately it is fascinating to behold a character rise above his past mistakes and redeem himself. Characters who stand still are boring.

Regardless of whether we all agree on the hero's path Mutant Enemy devised for Spike, he's a character who is always in motion. He changes: adapts, grows, evolves, transmutes. The vampires of the show are a metaphor for arrested development - yet Spike changes again and again, while always staying true to a handful of key traits. He changes from a disposable villain to a hero in his own right, changes from evil to good, changes from an essentially self-centered person to a team player. Changes from monster to man. Every one of these changes is dearly paid for in suffering and loss - and not always willingly, but like a true hero Spike never stays down for long.

What does this have to do with Ethan Rayne, who only appeared on the show four times and who did not change over those four episodes? Ethan is a sorcerer and chaos worshipper; he appears as a disposable villain, but unlike Spike he never redeems himself or gains hero credentials. He just passes through, stirs up trouble, and sets things in motion, then gets the hell out of Dodge - but not before he's taken the time to gloat - at least that's the theory.

"I really got to learn to just do the damage and get out of town. It's the "stay and gloat" that gets me every time." - Ethan Rayne, A New Man.

After one of his dangerous pranks he's finally manhandled away into Initiative custody and never heard of again. But until he gets carted away into a future of deprivation and indignity, we catch a glimpse of something that transcends traditional cardboard villains: Ethan Rayne never stays down either. Giles beats the crap out of him and runs him out of Sunnydale, but a few weeks later Ethan is back. He caves under pressure, but once he's had time to lick his wounds he comes back. And back. And back. (But not like your standard Jack-in-the-box bullet-riddled psychopath who has one more knife attack in him. When Ethan comes back it's with a smarmy smile and a new prank up his sleeve.)

Ethan is a typical Trickster character, a rebel who breaks both the laws of men and/or nature, He is both cunning and foolish, malicious and funny, truth-teller and deceitful. He points out flaws in carefully constructed systems - whether they are societies of men or an indivdiual's belief system. A Trickster triggers change in others. He sets out to destroy, but may inadvertently create. Inevitably, Giles comes out strengthened from his encounters with Ethan.

So, if Spike is an evolving hero, but one who's growth is hampered by his intrinsically change-resistent vampiric nature, and if Ethan is a catalyst for change, they are practically like lock and key. You can just stick 'em in a room and see what happens. You want Spike good or evil, broken or whole? Ethan can put him there. Anything goes - unless we're talking hand-holding. That probably takes some doing.

And not only that; even tricksters may evolve into heroes. Famous mythological tricksters are Loki and Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods, but also Pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, Q (Star Trek, not Bond), and Smuggler Captain Han Solo. Sometimes they don't take the spotlight themselves but are the hero's sidekick or buddy. They suffer for their crimes but in the end they usually land on their feet and become the saviour of many - often employing skills they've acquired in less noble days. We never see Ethan reach that stage, but we do see him imprisoned by the same people whose interference shoved an unwilling Spike towards redemption.

The Initiative is for me the point where both plot lines intersect, Spike's long journey and Ethan's short trip. Even though Ethan and Spike never physically meet in canon, this is where their destinies meet. This is one of the places where Spike is thrown into the furnace to either perish or come out purified (something that happens to him again and again). Ethan is thrown into the same furnace, but we don't know if he perishes or not. What price does he have to pay for his past crimes? Does he escape? Unscathed? Or does imprisonment change him, maybe even redeem him?

This is where these two characters with their respective evil pasts can mirror each other. This parallell is what fascinates me most. This is what I'd like to read about.

6. Reading List
What? Is That All There Is?

Bloody Christmas - by Rune
Brass - by Te
Different now - by itsabigrock *
Drunk and Disorderly - by janedavitt *
Hello London - by Sofie K Werkers
In The Pale Moonlight - by Sigrina
The Exchange - by entrenous88 *
True Love - by Isabeau
What Almost Was - by flaming_muse *
Untitled Drabble - by inlovewithnight *
Drabble - by elinora *
Drabble part 1 and part 2 and part 3* - by stakebait

UPDATE! New links:

Ethan/Spike story with a book and smut by wesleysgirl *
Ficlet by ladycat777 *
Another ficlet by ladycat777 *
Human AU Slashed Sonnet by willshenilshe *
Chaos Bringers by moodfic aka Voleuse
Ethan and Illyria by itsabigrock *
Thank Heavens for Little Girls by spiralled3

* means the listed fic was written for me or at my instigation

I find it hard to believe that I should be indirectly responsible for three quarters of all existing Spike/Ethan fics. There must be more. If you know any more stories featuring these characters either as friends, enemies, allies, or lovers, please let me know.

Recommended stories featuring Ethan with someone else:

Anywhere But Here - by Sarah T (with Dawn)
Right as Rayne - by SpikNdru (with Giles)
Silent Upon a Peak in Darien - by doyle
Divine Possession - by The Spike (with Xander)

My own Ethan-fics:

Dealing by estepheia - (Ethan/Lindsey - WIP)
Candy Man - by estepheia - (Ethan/Spike - WIP)
Room With No View - by estepheia - (Ethan, darkfic)
ladycat777 and I also wrote an encounter between Ethan and Spike for our Advent Calendar Fic last year.

7. Summary
Ten Reasons Why The World Needs More Spike/Ethan Fics

Spike and Ethan are

  1. sexy

  2. British
  3. snarky
  4. flawed
  5. bad
  6. plotty
  7. talky
  8. vibrant
  9. and have I mentioned sexy?
  10. And I want to read stories in which they fuck like crazed weasels. Is that too much to ask?

So I am shallow? Sue me. :-)