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
Giles held up his hands to halt the jumble of questions that greeted Buffy’s announcement. “One at a time, please.” He dropped his hands as everyone quieted down and took his glasses off, beginning to polish them absentmindedly. “Buffy, what do you mean the Knights of Byzantium are here in Sunnydale?”
“As in three of them attacked me on the way to the Magic Box last night.” She gestured apologetically. “It wasn’t much of a fight, and I was more worried about the Council than them, so I kind of forgot to mention it. And what is with those guys? Chain mail and swords?” She gave Giles a slightly accusing look. “I mean, I just assumed they were normal people with a stupid name. Suddenly, it’s like I’m in the middle of the Crusades.”
“Look who’s talking,” Xander raised his eyebrows, gesturing towards the back room where Giles kept the weapons out of sight of the customers.
“I have never worn chain mail.” Buffy told him indignantly.
“Only because it doesn’t go with your outfit,” Ethan murmured, which earned him a glare from Buffy.
Giles cleared his throat. Xander suspected it was to conceal the fact that he’d almost laughed at Ethan’s comment. “The Knights may cling to tradition in a way that defies rationality,” Giles conceded, “but they are trained warriors. From what I understand, they adopt very young boys and raise them in complete isolation from the modern world, instilling fanatic loyalty to their quest in them.”
“One of the them claimed he could bring thousands of Knights into Sunnydale. Any chance he’s telling the truth?” Buffy asked worriedly. “’Cause I gotta tell you, three of them - not that hard to deal with, but I don’t think I can take a thousand of them.”
“I’m not really sure,” Giles said hesitantly. “The Knights shroud themselves in secrecy. Thousands does seem unlikely but I would venture that their numbers are certainly more than just a handful. There could be a hundred of them or even more possibly, and I suppose a thousand is not beyond the realm of possibility,” Giles answered, looking troubled.
“On the other hand, a thousand guys could come in handy against Glory,” Xander said thoughtfully. “They’re here to kill her, right? Maybe we can join forces.”
“No. They want to destroy the Key, not kill Glory,” Buffy said flatly. “And they want to kill me because I won’t tell them where the Key is. They know I’m the Slayer and they don’t care. That’s when the Knight claimed he could bring an army of a thousand soldiers to fight me.”
“Great. Haven’t these guys ever heard of ’the enemy of my enemy is my ally’?” Xander grumbled. “Why are they so hot to destroy the Key? Shouldn’t they be worrying about Glory instead?”
“I suspect they realize they aren’t a match for Glory, so they prefer to concentrate on the Key. From what little I’ve been able to learn, the Knights believe the Key is too powerful to be allowed to exist,” Giles explained.
“That’s obvious from their rather dull creed.” Ethan lifted a document from the stack and began reading aloud: “‘The Key is the link. The link must be severed. Such is the will of God.’”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Buffy asked impatiently.
Ethan set the paper down and regarded her steadily. “It’s the statement of their deepest purpose. As for it’s meaning..,” He shrugged. “Given that we already know that Glory intends to use the Key to return to her home dimension, I presume the term ‘link’ refers to the Key being the link between Glory and her home. Severing the link undoubtedly means destroying the Key. The last bit is the one all religious fanatics use to justify their actions,” he finished snidely.
“So, we can’t look to the Knights for help,” Buffy summarized. “Already knew that actually.”
Ethan shot her a sly look. “Not unless you want the Key destroyed.” Buffy bristled immediately and Ethan smirked at her. “In any case, the monk told Xander that the Key was both energy and a portal. Energy used to open a portal is often consumed in the act of opening. The only way to preserve the Key is undoubtedly to ensure that it is never used. And that the Knights don’t get their hands on it.”
“Not to mention that who knows what would happen if that kind of portal between dimensions is opened,” Giles said quietly. “It could be disastrous for this dimension.”
“There is that,” Ethan acknowledged. “Still, protecting the Key from a thousand of those fellows isn’t going to be easy. You might want to re-consider that idea about taking your sister out of town.”
For a long moment, none of them breathed, frozen into immobility by the shock. Then, almost as one, they turned slowly to stare at Ethan, who simply raised a mocking eyebrow in return. “I’m not stupid. I’ve known about the Key for some time. And I don’t really fancy being caught in the middle of a pitched battle involving an army of medieval warriors wielding swords.”
Spike moved like lightning, the sound of his chair overturning completely drowned out by Ethan’s cry of pain as Spike slammed him back against the wall, pinning him there with one hand around Ethan’s throat.
“Spike!” Giles yelled, even as Buffy moved, grabbing Spike’s free arm and stopping it in mid-motion as it drove forward with lethal intent. Spike snarled furiously and tightened his grip on Ethan’s throat. Ethan clawed frantically at Spike’s fingers, struggling and kicking as Spike slowly and inexorably tightened his grip, cutting off Ethan’s air.
Xander moved quickly, both hands closing around Spike’s arm, even as Buffy still clung to the other. “Spike,” he said with quiet urgency. “Please. Don’t kill him. We need to know what he knows.”
Slowly, reluctantly, Spike tore his yellow-eyed glare away from Ethan, turning his head to look into Xander’s pleading eyes.
“Please,” he said again, and tugged gently on Spike’s arm.
With a growl, Spike shoved Ethan back against the wall one final time, then released his grip, watching with satisfaction as Ethan sagged, beginning to slide down the wall until Giles grabbed him and stopped his downward movement. Ethan was sucking in air with loud whooping breaths, one shaking hand going to his throat.
“Bloody hell! I wouldn’t hurt her,” Ethan complained, his voice little more than a hoarse whisper.
Spike snarled something inarticulate and started forward again. Buffy tightened the grip she still held on his arm and Giles stepped between Spike and his intended prey, shoving Spike backwards.
“Enough!” he shouted. “Back off, Spike.”
“You heard what he said, Watcher,” Spike snarled. “He’s not leaving here alive.”
“How long have you known?” Buffy asked, finally releasing her hold on Spike’s arm, her voice a stunned whisper.
Ethan shrugged, trying for insouciance but his wary gaze didn’t leave Spike as he rubbed gingerly at his neck. “A while. Wasn’t that hard to figure out. You lot aren’t very good at hiding things.”
“He n-n-not the only one,” Tara said hesitantly, from the other side of the table. “I-I know about Dawn too.” She ducked her head, color flaring in her cheeks as they all turned to stare at her.
“How?” Xander asked gently, when it looked like Buffy was too stunned to speak.
“The spell,” Tara told them. “You remember? Th-the one to see other s-s-spells.” She flicked a quick glance at Buffy before ducking her head again. “There w-w-were some things in your house that seemed…off while I was in the t-trance,” she said, her nervousness making her stutter worse than any of them had heard in a long time. “Later, I figured out it must have been because Dawn was the Key.” She looked earnestly at them all. “I haven’t t-t-told anyone. I w-w-would never hurt Dawn.”
“I know you wouldn’t, Tara,” Buffy said. “But I’m not so sure about him.” Her gaze swung back to Ethan accusingly.
“Known for a couple weeks. Haven’t sold her out yet, have I?” Ethan reminded them stiffly. “You think Ripper would ever speak to me again if I betrayed that little girl?”
“Buffy,” Giles said quietly. “Now that the cat is rather thoroughly out of the bag, I’m asking you to trust Ethan. For my sake. It know you would rather he didn’t know, but you must admit, it appears he hasn’t acted on that knowledge.”
“May not have had the chance yet,” Spike pointed out. Despite his words, he relaxed slightly, stepping away from Ethan and leaning against the wall, where he gave Ethan an intent look. “Dawn comes to any harm because of you, not only is my protection withdrawn, but I will kill you myself,” he said with deadly calm.
“If I don’t get there first,” Buffy said with equal grimness. Seeming to accept the situation, although clearly not happy about it, she picked up her own overturned chair and sat back down at the table.
“Thanks for the warning,” Ethan said, but subsided at Giles’ pointed look.
“Right then,” Giles said. “We were discussing the Council’s information. Ethan, you said you found something I missed in the Council’s documents?” He picked up Ethan’s overturned chair and gestured for him to sit, his hard stare not giving Ethan a choice in the matter.
“Yes,” Ethan sat down carefully, wincing slightly as he did, and gathered up the scattered papers in front of him. “There was a passage I found rather intriguing.” For a moment he shuffled through the papers, then pulled a particular one out of the stack.
“‘The Beast shall be bound, though none shall know the name of its prison, mortal flesh shall be its only weakness,’” he read out loud.
“Huh?” Xander said blankly.
Ethan shrugged, already returning to his usual sardonic self. “Medieval priests weren’t known for the clarity of their writing.”
Giles slid the paper over and read the passage himself. “‘None shall know the name of its prison.’”
“Her mortal flesh hasn’t been much of a weakness so far,” Spike pointed out from where he still leaned against the wall, the only one of them who hadn’t returned to the seat at the table. “Swords and axes just bounce off her.”
“Yes, but consider that description in context with Glory’s pattern of disappearing. If she is bound in some form of prison, then it may be that we are seeing her in moments when she escapes that prison.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Buffy objected. “If she escaped her prison, she should be out.”
“Thinking like a human again, Slayer,” Spike told her. “Not talkin’ about San Quentin here. Bound to be some kind of mystical prison to hold somethin’ that strong.”
“And that may mean that she can only escape for short periods of time,” Giles said slowly. “She must expend a tremendous amount of energy to escape and therefore becomes trapped inside her prison again whenever she tires.”
“But what does it mean about no one knowing the name of her prison, and mortal flesh being her weakness?” Xander asked.
“Perhaps a spell that requires a ritual sacrifice,” Giles said, obviously thinking out loud. “Or it could be that her need to feed off humans is her weakness.”
“Cut off her supply of human brains, you mean?” Buffy made a face. “Much as I’d love to, because brain sucking - just euuwww. But if we don’t even know where she is, how are we going to stop her from getting any victims?”
“Interesting as all this speculation is,” Ethan said. “I was actually thinking that her prison may be an actual human.”
“What?” Buffy asked for them all.
“Well, what other kind of prison has a name and mortal flesh?”
“You mean, she’s somehow imprisoned inside an ordinary human body?” Giles asked slowly. “That’s quite a stretch.”
“No more than it is for demons to live inside human bodies,” Ethan gestured towards Spike. “And vampires are certainly a dime a dozen.”
Spike tilted his head as they all turned to stare at him. “Bit different with vampires. My demon can’t go strollin’ ‘round town without this body.”
“It might be possible with magic,” Tara said. She’d been so quiet that they’d almost forgotten she was there. Giles smiled at her encouragingly.
“What do you mean, Tara?”
“I-I was thinking about what Glory looks like. A hellgod from another dimension d-doesn’t seem like it should look like a normal person. But humans can be p-possessed by energy. Like the vessel spell we used last year to fight Adam. Xander s-still looked the same, but he was able to do things under the spell that he w-wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do.” She took a deep breath and looked around, seeming to gain a little confidence from their attentive faces.
“If Mr. Rayne is right, then Glory’s energy, her… life-force, could be trapped inside a human body. When Glory escapes and takes over, the woman who’s body it is may not remember anything. The rest of the time, she could be just living a normal life, going to work, and not even knowing anything is wrong. M-maybe that’s why we haven’t been able to find her.”
Once again, they were left with too much speculation and nothing concrete to go on, waiting for Glory to show herself. Ethan and Tara’s theories about Glory’s prison were certainly plausible but they had no way of testing them. As Spike pointed out, they couldn’t exactly tie Glory up and wait to see if she manifested a split personality.
Giles continued to pour over the Council’s materials, reading them over and over again, trying to glean additional facts that could be used to help defeat Glory. They passed the Council’s information on to the demon community, and Mr. Olsen promised to re-check their sources for anything new.
Buffy was tense and irritable, wanting to do something, anything, about stopping Glory. Surprisingly, some of her antagonism towards Ethan seemed to be fading - probably because he continued to ignore Dawn and there was no sign he intended to exploit his knowledge of her nature.
Buffy was unenthusiastic when the topic of her impending 20th birthday came up, raised by Dawn and Giles several days after the Council left.
“Look,” Buffy said. “I know Mom wants to gather and make with the merry tomorrow night, but with everything that’s going on…”
“A party is exactly what you need,” Tara said quietly.
“You are so having a party, Buffy,” Dawn chimed in. “Mom made me clean the living room for like two hours yesterday getting ready for it.”
“Which is what you’re supposed to do every week,“ Buffy told her unsympathetically. “I just don’t think this is the best time to break out the party piñata. We need to stay focused if we’re going to find a way to stop Glory.”
“Sorry, Buff,” Xander said cheerfully. “The rest of us want cake, so we’re gonna have to overrule you on this one.”
And it had been fun. Gathered in the familiar living room, with a pile of colorfully wrapped presents, Buffy had relaxed for the first time in days, becoming gleefully girlish over the stack of boxes waiting for her.
“Prezzies!” she exclaimed.
“See?” Xander told her. “Just what you needed.”
“You are very, very wise,” Buffy said, laughing. “Now gimme, gimme, gimme!”
“It’s a good thing turning 20 has left you so mature,” Joyce said, shaking her head and handing her a neatly-wrapped box. “Otherwise I’d worry you were getting too old for presents.”
“You’re never too old for presents,” Buffy told her, ripping the wrapping off the box.
Xander followed Dawn out onto the porch carrying two plates. “Hey, Dawn. Brought you a piece of birthday cake.”
She turned to look at him, but didn’t make a move to take the plate he held out. “I’m not hungry.”
He set the plate down on the porch railing, along with his own. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
Dawn shrugged. “The present I got Buffy,” she said.
Xander frowned. “The sweater? She seemed to really like it.”
“Mom picked it out.”
Dawn scowled. “Stupid. I’d never pay that much. Buffy knows it’s from mom.”
“I think it’s still legal to get financial help with presents at 14,” he told her helplessly, not following the conversation at all.
“I made her a picture frame. Dumb - just a bunch of shells glued to a cheap frame.”
Xander tilted his head curiously. “What changed your mind?”
“I had a picture of the two of us - me and Buffy at the beach, from when we visited Dad that summer in San Diego. We’d picked up the shells on the beach.”
“Sounds kinda nice,” Xander told her. “Why the sweater?”
“It wasn’t real. It never happened,” Dawn said bitterly.
“Oh, Dawn.” Xander wrapped his arms around her as she stood staring out over the lawn, looking so lost and scared. “It’s real, honey. The memories are real and so are the feelings. That’s all any of us have: things we remember and cherish about our past. We can’t touch them, or recapture them, any more than you can, but it doesn’t make them any less real.”
He turned her around to face him, his hands on her shoulders as he stared into her eyes. “When I moved in with Spike, I didn’t take much with me from my parents’ house. But I took the t-shirt you bought for me when you and Buffy went to Disneyland.” He smiled at her. “Even though I’ve never worn it, because it made me feel like an idiot to wear something that said ‘I love Mickey Mouse’. But I kept it and it’s still in my drawer because you gave it to me. I love you, Dawn. And it doesn’t matter when we actually met for the first time. Think of it, like… being a pen-pal from another dimension. We already knew all about you when you got here, so you were already a part of our lives. It just happened to be the first time we met you in person.”
Dawn gave him a shaky smile, blinking hard. “Pen pals are lame.”
“Probably. Willow had one for awhile. And believe me, she knew everything about her pen pal.”
Dawn looked like she was thinking about it, though her eyes were still troubled.
“So, what’d’ya say? How about we go back inside and eat cake with your sister.”
“Ok.” She still sounded subdued as she collected the plate he’d brought out for her off the railing, but then she looked at him sideways with a hint of a smile. “I can’t believe you never wore the shirt I gave you. Unappreciative much?”
He laughed. “You’re alright, kid.”
The cake was history. Tara and Joyce were washing the dishes in the kitchen and the rest of them were lounging lazily around the living room. Buffy looked around at the small group. “Thanks, guys. It was really great to have a night off. Just food and fun, and nothing Hellmouthy.”
“Careful,” Dawn warned her, looking up from checking out the blouse Tara had gotten Buffy. “You’ll jinx it.”
“No, I’m feeling too good to care. Trouble can just keep on walking tonight,” Buffy told her, stretching in her chair like a contented cat.
And almost gave herself whiplash when the door knocker sounded and she snapped immediately back into tense readiness.
“Relax,” Giles told her with a half-smile. “I’m sure it’s nothing.” He rose to his feet and went to the front door just as Joyce came through the kitchen door, wiping her hands on a dish towel. “I’ll get it, Joyce,” he told her, opening the door as he spoke.
Both Xander and Buffy froze at the familiar voice and Tara appeared in the kitchen door behind Joyce, her eyes wide with surprise.
Xander wasn’t sure which one of them breathed her name as Willow stepped inside the house, smiling a little nervously at the circle of stunned faces turned her way. “Surprise.”
*A/N - Bits of dialog borrowed from the episode ‘Blood Ties’