Pairing: S/X, established relationship
Rating: PG13 - NC-17 Individual chapters will carry specific warnings.
Feedback & concrit: yes, please
Disclaimer: don't own them, never will, just playing with them
Spoilers: Primarily season 5, but anything from Season 1 on.
Summary: sequel to Nothing the Same , Books 1 - 3
Previous parts here
“The Watchers Council wants to interview your friends?” Xander asked incredulously. “Why?”
Buffy had asked to meet him at the coffee shop after work. When he’d arrived, she’d been sitting at a table in the back with an untouched cup of coffee in front of her, lost in thought.
Everyone except Buffy and Giles had kept well clear of the magic shop yesterday, leaving the two of them to deal with the arriving members of the Watchers Council. No one wanted the Council anywhere near Dawn, so Joyce had left work early to pick Dawn up from school and take her home. Even Ethan had prudently absented himself, murmuring something about the Council and he not seeing eye to eye on things.
Now, Buffy filled him in as they waited for Xander’s hot chocolate to arrive. The Council had sent a delegation of seven people, who’d swept into the shop and unceremoniously closed it for business, shooing the browsing customers out the door. They claimed they’d learned a great deal about Glory and the Key but had refused to disclose what they’d found unless Buffy performed to their satisfaction in a series of tests to evaluate her fitness as a Slayer.
Xander was still staring at Buffy in disbelief when she told him the Council also wanted to interview the friends.
“Not all my friends, just the ones that help me as Slayer.” Buffy scrubbed her hands through her hair before giving him a frustrated look. “It’s part of this review they’re insisting on. You’re one of the few people I can let them talk to because you’re human. I’m scared to give them the names of any of the demons who’ve been helping me - who knows how they’d react to learning that demons have been helping me patrol.”
“Good point. So you want to give them a few plausible dummies?”
“I thought you and Rob and maybe Tara.”
“Tara?” Xander asked in disbelief. “And why Rob? He’s half Kyrirtakii.”
“But he can pass for human. The Council won’t know he’s part demon. And, I know Tara doesn’t patrol, but she helps research and stuff.”
“You sure they’re going to like the fact that you have a witch helping you?” Xander asked gloomily. “I’m having a hard time understanding this review thing. You’re telling me that the Council has information about a seriously bad-ass demon - or whatever. One who’s kicked your ass more than once - sorry.” Buffy waved off the apology. “And they’ll only give it to you if, what? You pass their tests? Are they kidding?”
“They say they need to know if I’m good enough to entrust the information to.”
“What do they care if you’re good enough or not? Who exactly are they planning to have fight Glory if you flunk their tests?” Aware that his voice was rising, Xander sat back in his chair and took a calming sip of his drink. Something was up. This didn’t make any sense at all. Buffy shouldn’t be knuckling under like this. “What’s going on, Buffy? Why haven’t you told them what they can do with their review?”
Buffy gave him a haunted look. “They threatened to deport Giles.”
“Can they do that?” he asked, as soon as he recovered from the shock of her blunt statement.
“Giles says they can.” Buffy sounded almost frightened by the idea. “I can’t lose him, Xander.”
“None of us can.” Giles was the steady rock at their center, the one who kept them calm and focused when everything was going to hell - sometimes literally. He was father-figure and mentor to them all and Xander couldn’t imagine life without his presence in their midst.
“Even without that, I don’t think I can fight them over this - much as I want to punch that Travers guy.” Buffy sounded wistful at the thought. “I need the information they have. It may be my only chance to fight Glory. To protect Dawn.”
“Do you really think they’re going to withhold the information? They have to live in this world too. Problems on the Hellmouth tend to get bigger than Sunnydale.”
“I have to know what they have, Xander. I have to know how to fight her. I don’t know if she’s a big enough threat to worry them - England’s pretty far away. They might be willing to let Sunnydale be destroyed if it will get them a shiny new Slayer who’s willing to listen to them.”
“Oh.” There wasn’t much he could say to that. Now that she’d brought it up, he imagined the Council would do a lot to get a new Slayer, one they could control.
“So, when do they want to meet with me?” he asked, resigned to participating in this farce.
Buffy smiled at him gratefully.
Four of them were waiting for him in the back room of the Magic Box; three men and a woman, all in business suits and clearly out to intimidate the working guy in his dusty jeans and t-shirt.
“You’re William the Bloody’s Consort?” The dark-haired man asked. With his slicked back hair and dark suit, Xander was reminded of Wesley when he’d first shown up, straight from the Council and full of arrogant certainty that he knew best. It was not a memory that invited confidence.
He folded his arms over his chest and leaned back against the wall. Since the Watchers hadn’t bothered to introduce themselves, Xander had refused to sit down, despite the table that had been brought in for the purpose. The dark haired man who’d done all the talking so far had sat down at the table, pulling a notebook and pen out of his briefcase and laying them neatly on the table. The other two men had faded into the background, apparently there more as muscle than anything else. The woman took a middle ground, not conducting the interrogation, but standing behind the guy at the table like she was prepared to jump in at any moment. Xander just rolled his eyes at the man’s opening sally.
“No. I’m his Claimed human. What’s this got to do with me helping Buffy?”
“As I explained, we are conducting an exhaustive review of the Slayer’s methods and skills. Since she is still involving civilians in her work, we wish to interview you about your role in her slaying. What you contribute, how you view her skills, and so forth.” The Watcher stared down his nose at Xander disapprovingly - an impressive feat considering he was standing and the guy was seated. “As for my question, it is of great concern to the Council that the Slayer permits both a vampire and a vampire’s paramour in her inner circle.” He paused briefly, then asked smoothly: “Since you are not consort, how exactly would you characterize your relationship with the vampire?”
“We live together and have truly spectacular sex on a regular basis,” Xander told him, exasperated, enjoying the flustered look on the man’s face at his bluntness. “Are we through with the voyeuristic part of this conversation?”
“Bloody well hope so, unless they want a demo. That’d be alright.”
Xander turned and saw Spike leaning against the doorframe in one of his trademark poses, looking dangerous and almost unbearably sexy in black jean and a tight black t-shirt. He bit his lip to keep from laughing as the Watcher guy jumped up and hastily scrambled back away from Spike, pulling a cross out of his suit coat as he did. What wasn’t funny was the two guys by the wall pulling small crossbows out of their suits and leveling them at Spike.
“Hurt him, and I promise you won’t leave the room alive,” Xander told them grimly. He stepped forward, deliberately placing himself in front of Spike and blocking their line of fire. He ignored Spike’s attempt to move him to one side, glaring at the Watchers until they lowered their crossbows slightly.
When it looked like no-one was going to do anything stupid, Xander relaxed slightly, still standing between the Watchers and Spike, he pulled Spike’s arms around his waist and leaned back against the vampire’s smaller frame comfortably. “What are you doing here?” he asked Spike quietly.
“Thought these gits might be givin’ you a hard time.” Unlike Xander, Spike didn’t bother lowering his voice. Without shifting to his vampire features, he still managed to display a remarkable amount of fang in the cold smile he sent in the Watchers’ direction.
“No, we’re good. Right, guys?” Xander asked brightly.
The lead guy gathered himself up, settling his suit jacket and clearing his throat nervously. “I understand you also assist the Slayer?” He didn’t lower his cross but he didn’t make a move to attack either, so that was probably as good as it was going to get.
Spike shrugged. “When I’m bored. Not like I care about fighting evil.”
The woman took a step forward. “You help the Slayer?” she asked curiously, speaking for the first time. “I’d think you’d want to kill her. You’ve killed Slayers before.”
“Heard of me, have you?” Spike purred. Xander rolled his eyes. Spike was incredibly vain about his reputation among demons for pure evil and obviously loved knowing that Watchers knew of his rep as well.
The woman was almost simpering at Spike, a look which didn’t go well with her severely tailored suit and prim hairstyle. “I wrote my thesis on you,” she told him, a hint of color showing in her cheeks at the admission.
“Isn’t that neat.” Spike smirked at her over Xander’s shoulder.
“Perhaps we should return to the topic at hand,” the male Watcher suggested, giving the woman a withering look. “What precisely do you do for the Slayer?” he asked Xander, although his wary gaze only left Spike for fleeting moments.
“Not much,” Xander admitted cheerfully. “Mostly I just lend a hand in major battle situations.”
Spike stirred behind him as if he wanted to protest Xander’s belittling his contributions, then subsided without saying anything, obviously agreeing with Xander’s strategy of telling the Watchers as little as possible. His arms tightened around Xander’s waist and he pulled Xander closer against his body as the questioning continued.
“Have you mastered any fighting disciplines over the years?”
The Watcher frowned at him. “So, you have no special skills, or powers, or knowledge that you bring to the mix?” he asked.
“Just your basic self-defense skills.”
“I see.” The man studied him for a moment, then shifted his eyes to Spike, taking in the protective stance and the way Spike was eyeing the Watchers. Xander couldn’t see Spike’s expression without turning his head, but he was pretty sure Spike was giving the Watchers his “I’m evil” look.
“Why does the Slayer allow you to work with her?” he asked Spike.
Spike tilted his head and Xander hastily elbowed him in the ribs, subtly enough that the Watchers wouldn’t see, reminding his vampire that they’d agreed to this for Dawn’s sake. The last thing they needed was Spike insisting that Buffy worked for him, not the other way around. Somehow, he suspected the Watchers wouldn’t be happy with that answer.
“Not about to turn down an extra axe in an apocalypse, is she?” Spike told them, and Xander sighed inaudibly in relief.
“Why aren’t you trying to kill her?” Jeez were they trying to get Buffy killed? Xander thought incredulously. That had almost sounded like a suggestion.
“Because of me,” he said hastily, cutting Spike off before he could say anything. “She’s a friend and he agreed not to kill my friends as a favor to me.” He hoped they’d be satisfied with that. It left Spike the face-saving implication that he was only not killing Xander’s friends, not that he wasn’t killing at all.
“So you don’t care if he kills humans?” the Watcher asked, focusing intently on Xander for the first time since Spike entered the room.
“That’s none of your business. I agreed to answer questions about Buffy. You have obviously missed the point that I don’t give a damn what you think of me, or my relationship with Spike.”
He hoped he hadn’t done any irreparable damage, but from the way Spike had tensed when the questions turned to their relationship, he didn’t trust Spike’s ability to keep himself in check.
The Watcher closed his notebook stiffly. “I think we have all we need. Thank you for your time.”
Xander let his head fall back against Spike as the Council members filed out, not turning their backs on Spike until they were out of the room.
“That went well,” Spike commented.
“Only in the sense that they left here alive,” Xander told him.
“Like I said,” his vampire smirked.
“So far the only thing that’s going well is that they haven’t asked to meet with mom and Dawn,” Buffy said gloomily. “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear they’re deliberately trying to rub my nose in the fact that I’m not like other Slayers.”
They’d met at the coffee shop again, far away from prying Watcher ears, and Xander had listened sympathetically as Buffy poured out her frustrations and fears about how the review was going.
“Buffy, most Slayers don’t live more than a year after they’re called,” Xander reminded her. “You’re a lot better than other Slayers.”
“But Slayers are supposed to know stuff. Mr. Travers expected me to know the names of jiu-jitsu and karate moves. In Japanese. I’m screwing up, Xander. I’m failing this review. I’m not even getting the physical part right, and that was the one thing that wasn’t worrying me. Yesterday, I managed to kill the guy I was supposed to protect from an attacker.”
Buffy gestured dismissively. “It was just a dummy, but I managed to bury an axe in its chest. Not exactly saving the helpless victim.”
Once he got over the shock of thinking she’d killed someone for real, Xander started laughing.
“It’s not funny, Xander,” Buffy told him, glaring at him, which just made him laugh harder. After a moment, a smile twitched her lips. “Ok, maybe it’s a little funny.” Her smile died almost immediately. “What am I going to do?”
“Buffy, before he was fired, Giles used to send regular reports to the Council, right?”
Buffy frowned. “I guess. Why?”
“Well, unless they never read them, the Council has to know that you don’t speak Japanese and aren’t the best demon scholar on the planet. Why are they testing you on stuff they know you don’t know?”
“They want me to fail,” she guessed unhappily.
“Right. So the question is - why do they want you to fail?”
“I’m back to them rubbing my nose in it.”
Buffy stared at him. “But what does that do for them? Or anyone else, for that matter?”
“Well, what happens if you fail?” Buffy looked panicked at the very thought. “They aren’t going to pack their bags and head home to England without giving you the information on Glory. That would be one hell of a risk to take. Plus, they could have refused to give you the information without ever leaving the comforts of home.” He and Spike had talked about this and Xander had gotten the glimmer of an idea. “I don’t think they came all the way here from England just for the pleasure of humiliating you personally. I think they’re setting you up, assuming you’ll go crawling to them, begging for the information they have when you fail this ridiculous review. They know you, Buffy. They knew enough to threaten to take Giles away from you. And I’ll bet they know how much you care about protecting people. You’ll do whatever it takes, even kissing their asses, if necessary.”
She looked at him for a long moment, then slowly straightened. “You think this is all just a bluff. A way to bring me to heel.”
“That’s exactly what I think. You’ve been doing fine without them for - what? Two years now?” The stand-off between Buffy and the Council had begun just after Wesley resigned as Buffy’s Watcher. Right after graduation, Wesley had urged the Council to reinstate Giles, the Council had refused, and Buffy had refused to accept any other Watcher in his place. Stalemate. “But ask yourself: what the hell have they been doing for the last two years without a Slayer? Playing tiddledewinks? My guess is they’re the laughingstock of the demon fighting community.”
Buffy shook her head, but a smile was gradually widening on her face. “I don’t think there’s a demon fighting community to laugh at them,” she said.
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I do.” Buffy stood up. “Thanks, Xander. I think I need to talk to Giles.”
Xander leaned back comfortably and gave her an encouraging smile. “Go get ‘em.”
“Why are they here?” Quentin Travers frowned at Xander, Spike and Tara as they filed into the room behind Buffy.
At Buffy’s request, they’d waited in the back room while she confronted the Council. Ignoring Spike’s annoyance at missing the show, she’d pointed out that the Council was a lot more likely to back down if they could do it without an audience, particularly one that included a vampire. Spike had settled for using his vampire hearing to eavesdrop on the confrontation with Travers and his sidekicks and had gleefully given a play-by-play description to Tara and Xander as they waited out of sight. Buffy had refused to participate in the Council’s review, pointed out that, without a Slayer, they were a useless bunch of losers, and told Travers that, if they didn’t give her the information on Glory, she was going to beat it out of them. All interspersed with personal insults, critiquing everything from their personal grooming and lack of fashion sense to their stuffed shirt mannerisms.
Ok, so Xander suspected Spike was putting his own spin on what Buffy was actually saying to the Council.
Still, he almost cheered out loud when Spike told them that the Council had just agreed to reinstate Giles as Buffy’s official Watcher, and even pay him retroactively for the years of unofficial service.
“They’re here because what you have to say concerns them as well,” Buffy told Travers calmly. “They’re all risking their lives, they deserve to know what you’ve learned.”
Travers nodded reluctantly, accepting their presence. Xander supposed that, having caved on the big issues, this was a minor one. “There’s a lot to go through,” Travers began. He held out his hand and one of the junior Watchers handed him a manila folder, bulging with papers.
“For now, just tell me what kind of demon I’m fighting,” Buffy said, not waiting for him to collect his thoughts.
“Well, that’s the thing, you see.” Travers said slowly, “Glory isn’t a demon.”
“What is she?” Buffy asked, hiding her fear. Xander could tell she knew what was coming. They all did. If Glory wasn’t a demon, her minion must have been right.
“She’s a god,” Travers told her with frightening certainty, making it official: they were so screwed.
They all drifted into the magic shop the next morning, as agreed, the Council safely on their way back to England.
Giles was already seated at the round table they used for meetings when the others arrived. He’d practically snatched the file on Glory out of Travers’ hand last night and it was obvious from the lines of fatigue on his face that he’d been up all night reading it. Ethan sat at the table by his side, leafing through the contents of the file, looking as unconcerned as if it held nothing more serious than recipes.
When they had all taken seats around the table, Giles cleared his throat and began. “From what the Council was able to discover from the book of Tarnis and other sources, Glory and two of her fellow hellgods once ruled over one of the more seriously unpleasant demon dimensions,” Giles informed them.
“There’s more than one?” Tara asked.
“Thousands, actually,” Ethan told her absently, not looking up from his reading.
“The Council was unable to find anything specific about how or why Glory came here. Just vague references to chaos and destruction,” Giles finished.
“Okay, so, we know where she’s from,” Buffy said impatiently. “What do we know about her? I mean, she’s tough, but, like we’ve said before: no bolts of lightning, no blasts of fire, shouldn’t a god be able to do that kind of stuff?”
“Being in human form appears to be severely limiting her powers,” Giles told her. All we have to worry about right now is she’s immortal, invulnerable, and insane.”
“‘Cause those are such piddling little worries,” Spike commented.
“A crazy hellgod?” Xander exclaimed. “And the fun just keeps on leaving.”
Giles grimaced, looking uncomfortable. “From what the Council has been able to gather, her living in this world is seriously affecting her mental state. She’s only being able to keep her mind intact by, well, by extracting energy from us. From the human brain.”
Tara looked ill. “Sh-she’s a brain-sucker?” she whispered.
Giles tweaked a document back from Ethan. “She…,” he found the spot he was looking for and began to read out loud: “‘absorbs the energies that bind the human mind into a cohesive whole.’” He set the paper down again and looked at them. “Once drained, all that’s left behind is, well…,”
“Crazy people,” Buffy finished flatly.
“Which is, I’m afraid, why there’s been a marked increase in the ranks of the mentally unstable here in Sunnydale.”
“At least vampires just kill you,” Tara said quietly into the silence.
Xander looked around the room at the circle of grim faces. “So, bottom line, the Council doesn’t have much that we didn’t already know.”
“Except the part where we now know she’s an insane hellgod,” Giles summed up.
“But, it’s not like we didn’t know that before,” Xander reminded him. “Ok, we were guessing at the crazy part, but other than that, nothing’s changed.”
“It’s completely changed, Xander,” Buffy snapped. “It’s one thing to be told by a scabby minion that Glory is his god. For all we know he also worshipped toadstools and Britney Spears. This is the Council telling us Glory really is a god. I can’t fight a god.”
“Already have,” Spike observed.
Buffy shot him a withering look. “Not like it did us any good.”
Spike shrugged. “We’re alive, aren’t we?”
“You’re not,” she snapped, then immediately held up her hands in apology. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t…” She ran a shaky hand through her hair, pushing it back impatiently. “I’ve been telling myself that the Council would have everything we need. Instead, all we have is more useless information. We know what Glory is and where she’s from. None of that helps us fight her.”
“On the contrary, there are some rather interesting facts in here, buried in amongst the useless speculation.” Ethan said.
“What have you found?” Giles asked eagerly, bending over the papers.
“A rather intriguing description of the Beast, from the Knights of Byzantium.”
Buffy’s head snapped around in obvious shock. “Right. Them. I forgot. Well, not so much forgot as got sidetracked.” She made a face. “Sorry, Giles.”
“Buffy?” Giles asked, looking up from the documents, puzzled by her rambling non-explanation.
“The Knights of Byzantium. They’re in Sunnydale.”
*A/N - Bits of dialog borrowed from the episodes ‘Checkpoint’ and ‘Blood Ties’