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
From Chapter 30:
“I’m here to negotiate a truce,” Xander said as calmly as he could, although his heart was pounding madly in his chest.
“Ours is a holy war.” The man growled out in a deep, gravelly voice that went well with his size and armor. “We do not make deals with the enemy.”
“Well, good, because I’m not your enemy. We want to stop Glory and...”
“You know of the Beast?” A new voice interrupted and a second Knight loomed into view. Xander wondered if the Knights were all big or if it was just their armor making it seem like they were.
“It’s a small town, she’s a little hard to miss.”
“You work with the Slayer.” A hand suddenly fisted itself in his hair, yanking his head back and the tip of a knife pressed into his throat, taking the place of the sword that dropped down to rest threateningly against his chest. “She protects the Key.” The Knight pulled him back against his body and dug the tip of the knife in harder until it broke the skin. Against every instinct, Xander forced himself to stay motionless and not struggle against the hold, letting the Knight manhandle him even as drops of blood began to trickle slowly down his throat.
“You will tell us all you know of the Key,” the Knight said with deadly intensity, his voice loud in Xander’s ear. “Or we will flay the skin from your body.”
“I know it exists and that’s all.”
“Where is it hidden?”
“I have no idea. And neither does the Slayer.”
“And you have no honor.”
It was a calculated gamble and, for one heart-stopping moment, Xander thought he’d lost. There was a hiss of anger in his ear and the blade pressed more deeply into his neck and Xander exploded into motion. Both hands shot up, grabbing the Knight’s wrist from the inside and pushing hard, stopping the knife before it could do any more damage. As they each fought for control of the movement of the knife - Xander trying to force it away and the Knight struggling to bury the blade in his neck, he shoved back hard against the Knight’s body, gaining a precious inch of distance from the sword at his chest and forcing his captor to step back to maintain his balance. Using the body behind him as support, he brought both legs up and landed a double-footed kick in the mid-section of the sword-wielding knight, staggering the man back but not knocking him off his feet as he’d hoped. Fire scored along his jaw as the knife carved a line across his skin and the knight behind him struggled to regain his balance as Xander’s weight shifted. He seized on the momentary imbalance and shoved the knife-arm away from him with adrenaline-born strength, lunging forward as he did so and yanking free of the grip on his hair. He spun to face the knife-guy, then stopped abruptly, hands held out in a gesture that was half readiness and half showing he had no weapons. His breathing was harsh in the momentary silence that followed in the wake of his attack.
“I came unarmed among you to speak with your leader. I have threatened none of you, yet you would kill an envoy unheard.”
He wasn’t sure where the wording came from, but suspected an old war movie was to blame. Or maybe Sergeant Rock.
Xander turned his eyes from the knife-guy, seeing another Knight approaching. Shorter than the others but still powerfully built, this one was a goateed black man, his forehead tattoo difficult to see in the increasing shadows.
“He is right to chide you, brother,” he said to the knife-holder who hastily slid the knife away somewhere in his armor, and made a gesture that appeared to be some kind of salute - his arm brought up with his clenched fist to his breastbone. “This is a matter for the General.”
As the new guy gestured courteously for Xander to proceed him, Xander let out a long shaky breath. He was so never complaining again that Spike spent too much time training him how to get out of situations where someone had a weapon to his throat. Thank god what worked with teeth also worked with knives.
They brought him to the center of the encampment, the black man leading and the two sentries following Xander with swords still drawn - which might have been flattering if it weren’t so nervous-making. Quick orders had sent a half-dozen knights out on a sweep of the surrounding woods, checking for anyone waiting in ambush and Xander was glad he hadn’t lied to them about coming alone.
There was a campfire at the center of the clearing and a cluster of tents. Outside one of them, the stocky figure of a man about Giles’ age was seated at a table, going through some papers. One side of the man’s face was heavily scarred - an old wound of some kind, long-healed. He wore the same chain mail the other Knights did but his forehead tattoo was more elaborate than the one the others wore and he had a metal chain studded with dark red stones around his throat and Xander wondered if they were rank insignia of some kind. He didn’t need an introduction to know this was the General. Command radiated effortlessly from him, even seated and distracted.
“Who is this?” he asked, looking up, his eyes sweeping over Xander in a way that made him feel as if the man had catalogued everything about him.
“He approached our sentries openly, General, and asked to speak to you,” the black man said. “He was unarmed.”
“You know us?” The General regarded him curiously.
“I heard you were in town. I wanted to talk to you before things get out of hand.”
The general folded his papers away and sat back in his chair. “The Beast is close to escaping her prison entirely,” he commented. “Things are already ‘out of hand’, as you say.” His English was perfect but somehow old fashioned and the modern phrasing sounded subtly wrong when he said it.
“We have a common enemy - Glory,” Xander pointed out. “I hoped maybe we could help each other.”
“I have as many reliable soldiers as I need. In what way could you possibly assist us?”
“I have the current Slayer and the Master of the Territory, as well as a number of additional fighters. We’ve successfully defended this town together for nearly five years, ever since the Slayer arrived.”
The general frowned. “We do not work with outside forces, especially those tainted with evil.”
Xander let the evil bit slide without protest. “Not even against a common enemy?”
“Not even against a most uncommon enemy,” the General answered dryly. “Your fighters are useless against the Beast. She cannot be stopped even by a Slayer. My warriors are prepared to die, but their strength is useless against her. Our only hope is to find the Key before the Beast does.”
“With all due respect,” Xander said carefully. Given the number of armed men surrounding him, he suspected pissing off their leader would be a bad idea. Especially since Giles had said something about these guys being fanatically loyal. “You’ve been searching for the Key for hundreds of years. Are you any closer to finding it now than you ever have been?”
The General leaned back slightly, regarding him impassively. “The Key is here.”
“Do you know that, or are you just guessing because Glory’s here?” Xander shot back. “We’ve been looking for several months now and are no closer to finding out what it is than you are. And we’ve been looking in one small town.”
“The monks sent the Key to the Slayer.”
“Maybe, but they didn’t tell her they were sending it and they sure as hell didn’t tell her what it looks like, or where it’s hidden,” Xander said calmly. “They did a good enough job hiding it that it may be that no one will ever find it but, in the meantime, Glory’s out there now and, whatever else she’s planning, she’s sucking the brains out of the people who live here even as we speak.”
“That is regrettable but not our concern.”
Xander bit back an angry reply, saying instead: “The man currently strapped to a hospital bed might feel a bit differently about that. He used to be one of yours.”
There was a stirring behind him, as the Knights that had been gathering around to listen reacted to the news. The General’s face remained carved from stone but there was a flicker of concern in his eyes. “One of my men is in the hospital?”
“Yes. Tall, slender, dark hair, grey eyes. Forehead tattoo.” He looked around. “Not that that last is particularly helpful.”
“Orlando.” The Knight who’d brought him to the general spoke grimly. He’d moved to stand behind the General, and Xander guessed from his position at the General’s shoulder that he might be the second in command.
“Yes. See to it, Dante,” the General ordered. The black man bowed and backed away, signaling for two other men to follow him as he moved away, the Knights parting to let him through the crowd. Spike’s numbers had been off, Xander thought uneasily, or else more Knights were still arriving. He estimated there was close to fifty of them in the camp.
“What’s he going to do?” he asked, taking a half step forward, then freezing when the Knights half-drew their weapons.
“Rescue our brother from captivity,” the General told him.
“Oh. Good.” Xander relaxed, turning his attention back to the main problem. “Since none of us have been able to find the Key, don’t you think we should focus on Glory instead? I’d say our only chance is to stop Glory from finding the Key before the proper time and place for it to be used.”
“Stopping the Beast in this time and place would be a worthy achievement,” the General acknowledged. “It is not enough. The Beast will go on, waiting for another opportunity. Do you think that, throughout all millennia, this is the only moment in which the Key can be used?” He shook his head. “There have been times in the past and will be more in the future. The only way to ensure the Beast is stopped forever is to destroy the Key. With the Key destroyed, the Beast will lose hope and will wither and die.”
“And again - you’ve been searching for the Key for a long time. I don’t like your chances of finding it before the ritual. Aren’t your efforts better focused on stopping Glory this time and buying us - well, you - another couple hundred years to look for it?”
“The Key is too dangerous to be allowed to exist.”
“So is Glory,” Xander shot back. “Since our chances of finding the Key or stopping Glory seem equally impossible, I’ll settle for putting her back in hibernation for another century.”
“The Key is the link. The link must be severed. Such is the will of God.” The General’s eyes bore into his. “That is our credo. Our sacred trust. We must destroy the Key. It is the will of God.”
“Will you at least not interfere with our efforts to stop Glory?” he asked, defeated by the utter certainty of the Knight. “We could use your help, but at the very least, it would be nice if your men weren’t trying to kill the Slayer, because we need her - and not just against Glory.”
The General tilted his head and regarded him steadily for a long moment. Finally, he gave a short nod. “We will not deliberately seek the Slayer’s death, so long as she does not interfere with our quest for the Key.” He stood up, revealing himself to be a short, powerfully built man. “But know this, if the Slayer knows where the Key is hidden, we will do whatever it takes to wrest that information from her. There is no honor in making war upon women, but all other considerations are as nothing before our duty to our god.”
Xander nodded. “Understood.” Buffy wouldn’t care about making war on women part - if anything, she’d probably be insulted by it. But obviously these guys weren’t going to be deterred by the fact that the Key was now human. They would destroy Dawn and think they were doing the right thing.
“Would you be willing to share what you know about Glory? Anything that might help us.” The corner of his mouth turned up wryly. “I suspect you know everything we know, but I’m willing to share what little we’ve learned, if it can help you.”
“A fair exchange,” the General agreed.
To Xander’s surprise, the General signaled for his men to bring chairs to the table and Xander found himself being served a large bowl of stew, and eating in company with the General and three of his men while the other Knights drifted away to eat at their own tents.
There was something decidedly surreal about the meal. Xander couldn’t decide if the Knights were as uncomfortable as he was or if they were just naturally quiet. Very few words were exchanged during the brief meal and Xander was relieved when a young Knight appeared to pick up their dishes.
“What do you know of the Beast?” the General asked him after the table had been cleared.
Xander thought for a moment about their encounters with Glory. “She’s a Hellgod. From another dimension. Nearly invulnerable. And she’s trying to find the Key so she can get back home.” He shrugged. “That’s most of the important stuff.”
The General nodded. “The Beast is from a dimension of unspeakable torment, where she ruled with two other hellgods. Along with the Beast, they were a triumvirate of suffering and despair, ruling with equal vengeance. But the Beast’s power grew beyond even what they could conceive, as did her lust for pain and misery. They looked upon her, what she had become, and trembled.”
He broke off his recital, looking at Xander soberly. “Such was her power. They feared she would attempt to seize their dimension for herself, and decided to strike first. A battle erupted. In the end, they stood victorious over the Beast. She was cast out, banished to this lower plane of existence.”
“She’s imprisoned in a human body, right? Any ideas about who that is?”
A flicker of surprise crossed the General’s face. “You have done well. We believed we were the only ones who knew that fact. Yes, in casting her out, the Beast was forced to live and eventually die, trapped within the body of mortal. A newborn male, created as her prison. That is the beast’s only weakness.”
“So, if we kill the human she’s imprisoned inside, she’ll die too,” Xander said, half statement, half question. The General’s nod confirmed it.
“Unfortunately, the identity of the human vessel has never been discovered.
“Are you sure about the newborn male part? I've seen Glory and trust me, she’s full-grown and she’s not a guy.”
“You have seen a glimpse of the true Beast. Her power is too great to be completely contained. She has found a way to escape her mortal prison for brief periods before her energies are exhausted and she is forced back into her living cell of meat and bone.”
“So the human wouldn’t necessarily know his body is being hijacked?”
“That I cannot answer. There is much about her prison that remains unknown.”
Xander hesitated, then asked: “Are you willing to share what you know about the Key?”
The General studied him silently for what felt like a long time before answering. “The Key is almost as old as the Beast itself. Where it came from, how it was created, is the deepest of mysteries. All that is certain is that it’s power is absolute. Countless generations of my people have sacrificed their lives in search of it. To destroy it before it’s wrath could be unleashed.”
“And Glory needs it to get back home,” he said.
“Yes. The Beast will use the power of the Key to return home and seize control of the Hell she was banished from.”
“Um, just hypothetically - is that bad? I mean, it would get rid of Glory, which seems like a good thing.” Giles and Ethan had been pretty clear that opening dimensional doorways was not a good thing, but he was curious what the Knights thought about it.
The General gave him a look, the kind a teacher leveled on a student who’d just asked a particularly stupid question. “Once the Key is activated, it won’t just open the gates to the Beast’s dimension. It’s going to open all the gates. The walls separating realities will crumble, dimensions will bleed into each other. Order will be overthrown and the universe will tumble into chaos. All dark. Forever. That is why the Key is too dangerous to be allowed to exist.”
Put that way, Xander could see why they’d spent thousands of years trying to find and destroy the Key. Under other circumstances, he’d be right there with them. If the Key was a toaster, he’d be first in line with a sledge hammer. Which was the problem. The Key wasn’t a toaster. It was a living, breathing, sometimes irritating teenager that he loved.
“Do you know how long we have? When the mystical convergence, or whatever, happens?” he asked.
“Not the exact moment, but the time draws near. It could be hours, or days from now. A few weeks at the most.”
Walking back to the Magic Box, Xander wondered if they should re-think the whole take-Dawn-out-of-town-immediately idea. If Glory only had a few weeks to act, could she find the Summers women if they got on a plane and just left? And what about the Knights? Would they figure it out if Buffy took her mother and sister with her? Because they weren’t going to stop trying to find the Key, not when they’d been looking for - what was it the General had said? “Countless generations”. Those guys weren’t going to give up any time soon.
He didn’t know what to make of the Knights. On the one hand, someone seriously needed to drag them kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. On the other, half the people he knew used swords and axes regularly and complaining about the Knights’ being old fashioned was probably hypocritical. A reluctant grin creased his face at the thought, at least he knew how to drive a car in addition to his medieval weaponry skills. In any case, it probably didn’t matter anyway because he had a depressing feeling that even firing a rocket launcher at Glory at pointblank range wasn’t going to do anything except make her bitch about her dress being singed.
There were nearly fifty of the Knights here now. Given that Spike’s minions tended to get dusted for failing Spike, he was pretty sure the minion who’d counted them the other night had done a good job. Which meant more were arriving in town. The one Knight had told Buffy they had a thousand warriors. The guy may have been bluffing, but obviously they couldn’t rely on that comforting thought. And that was a lot of people to go hunting if Buffy suddenly left town with her family. Even without knowing about Dawn, the Knights were bound to assume that Buffy had taken the Key with her if she left.
As if they didn’t have enough problems, they needed a long term solution to the Knights. Otherwise, Buffy and Dawn would never be able to have a normal life. Because, even if Glory conveniently disappeared for all time in a puff of smoke, the Knights wanted to destroy the Key. They thought it was inherently dangerous and wouldn’t be satisfied to just let things go on as they were, even if Glory was out of the picture permanently.
He shook his head impatiently. The Knights could wait. Glory was the immediate problem and getting past the time when she could use Dawn to open the gates between dimensions was the priority. And for that, all they needed was to keep Dawn hidden until after zero hour. And they had a chaos mage on their side.
Would it be possible for Ethan to work some sort of spell to cover Buffy leaving town with Dawn? To make it look like she was still here after she’d left?
Pleased with the idea, Xander quickened his steps, hoping Ethan would be at the shop when he got there. Running away and waiting it out seemed like two things they could actually do against Glory. Sure beat the hell out of their current plan which mostly involved bleeding and dying and losing Dawn.
*A/N - Bits of dialog borrowed from the episode ‘Spiral’