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
NOTE: This will be the last chapter posted until March 6, as I will be out of town on vacation. Sorry for the long gap, but I will be without computer or internet access entirely while I'm gone.
“Xander! Are you alright?” Tara stepped out from behind the counter, hurrying to meet him as he entered the magic shop.
“I’m fine,” he told her, puzzled by her reaction. It wasn’t like he’d told anyone where he was going. “Where’s…?”
“Your neck’s bleeding,” she interrupted.
“Oh, that.” Xander put a hand to his neck and felt the stickiness of dried blood. Jeez, you’d think one of the Knights would have mentioned that he should wash up before eating dinner. “It’s nothing. A… misunderstanding.”
“Well, that misunderstanding looks an awful lot like someone tried to slit your throat,” she told him, firmly steering him towards the back. “Come on, we’ve got a first aid kit in the office.”
He went willingly, hoping to get cleaned up before anyone else saw him. The last thing he needed was for Spike to find out one of the Knights had tried to stab him. Spike didn’t have a real live and let live attitude towards people who threatened him and Xander didn’t want him destroying the fragile truce with crazy vengeance schemes. Ok, truce was probably a strong word for what he had achieved tonight, but any cooperation would come to a screeching halt if Spike started slaughtering the Knights in revenge for a minor cut.
There was a small mirror that Buffy had put up for fixing her makeup after working out and Xander grimaced as he saw his reflection. The knife had left a nasty cut running just below the line of his jaw and it had bled worse than he’d realized, leaving a dark red trail down his throat and discoloring the neck of his t-shirt. A hand appeared next to his face and he jumped, then gratefully took the damp cloth from Tara, using it to gingerly clean the dried blood off.
The wound itself wasn’t deep, except at one end where the Knight had dug the tip of the knife into his neck. Other than that, the blade had just left a shallow cut, which had bled fairly heavily but wasn’t something he’d need much more than a band aid for.
He was trying to decide whether a band aid would make things look better or worse, when Tara took the decision out of his hands, taping a square gauze bandage over the worst of the damage. She gave him a stern look when he opened his mouth to protest and he subsided meekly.
“Where is everyone?” he asked, peeling his shirt off and taking it to the bathroom sink. He ran cold water over the bloody patch on the fabric and grabbed a bar of soap. Tara followed him, watching as he scrubbed at the stain.
“Willow’s downstairs with the robot. I may start treating it as a rival if she keeps spending so much time with it,” she told him, and he glanced up at her in the mirror, seeing her impish smile reflected back at him. “Giles drove Buffy to the hospital to pick up Dawn. She’s fine,” she said quickly, seeing the alarm in his face. “Ben called. Dawn was in the psych ward talking to the Byzantium Knight.”
“What?” Xander dropped the shirt and swung around to face her.
“Apparently, she wanted to ask him some questions about who she is.” Tara shook her head, though her eyes were understanding. “She thought that the mental patients might be able to tell her something since they seem to know there’s something different about her.”
“Which is a really good reason to stay away from them,” Xander said in exasperation. “Kinda missed the point about them being crazy, didn’t she?” he added more gently. Like Tara, he could understand Dawn’s need to know more about what she was. He shut the water off and inspected the shirt. Most of the blood had washed clean and he tugged the damp shirt back on over his head.
“Oh crap!” he exclaimed as a sudden thought struck him. He yanked the damp fabric into place and stepped past Tara out of the bathroom, fishing his cell phone out of his pocket and dialing Buffy’s number. He waited impatiently for the call to be answered, but the phone just kept ringing. “Damn it. She’s not picking up” When the outgoing message ended, he said: “Buffy, a couple of Knights are coming to the hospital to pick up their friend. You guys might want to clear out before they get there.”
Tara was watching him as he flipped the phone closed. “How do you know that the Knights are going to the hospital?”
“I talked to their General tonight.” He shrugged at her wide-eyed stare. “He was willing to tell me what they knew about Glory - some of which is possibly helpful - but they won’t back off about the Key. That’s their priority, not Glory, and that isn’t going to change.”
“You talked to the Knights?”
He hadn’t heard the bell over the door ring, and Xander turned in surprise to see Buffy, Dawn and Giles standing behind him. Buffy was scowling at him, arms folded over her chest. “I thought we agreed that the Knights were the enemy.”
“No, we just agreed they weren’t allies. It’s not quite the same thing.”
Xander darted a quick glance at Dawn, who looked sullen, in the way she got when Buffy had been lecturing her. Finding out she was the Key hadn’t changed the fact that Dawn resented it when Buffy yelled at her for something. Even when it was something that could have been dangerous.
“Xander, you better have one hell of a good reason for talking to those people, because I am really not in the mood for dealing with any more idiotic stunts tonight.”
Dawn’s lips tightened and she whirled away, flinging herself down into a chair at the research table, her folded arms and furious scowl a dead ringer for her sister’s.
“How about intel on Glory? That good enough for you?”
“You’ve learned something new?” Giles asked eagerly.
They all settled down at the table, listening as Xander filled them in on what the Knights had told him.
Willow, whom Tara had called up from the basement, interrupted as Xander repeated what the General had said about Glory being imprisoned inside a human male. “Wait, that doesn’t make sense. I thought you all believed that Glory was in a woman’s body.”
“According to the Knight, it’s a man’s body. When Glory escapes, we see the blond woman we’ve all come to know and hate, the rest of the time, she’s a guy.”
“And that’s not even the weird part. What’s that about Glory being forced to live and someday die, trapped in the body of a mortal?” She looked at Giles. “I thought Glory had been around forever?”
“That’s what the Book of Tarnis says, that she was cast out of her own dimension millennia ago,” Giles told her.
“So does that mean that the human she’s imprisoned inside is re-born over and over, or that Glory was somehow sent to our time?” Willow asked, looking confused.
“Who knows?” Giles frowned. “Since the Knights know the host body is male, and yet have never been able to ascertain the identity of the man, that would suggest that the prison changes every generation - the old host dies, and a new one is born.”
“B-but wouldn’t that kind of movement from body to body leave an energy trail?” Tara asked hesitantly. “I would think that could be traced magically if that was the case.”
“Good point,” Giles admitted. “But I don’t understand how Glory’s… essence can have been trapped inside a single human if she’s been in this dimension for as long as the books say she has.” He glanced around the circle at their attentive eyes. “A suitably inconspicuous host thousands of years ago might very well stick out like the proverbial sore thumb in the modern world.”
“This is all really great theoretical stuff,” Xander said, lying through his teeth diplomatically, “but the important thing is that, right now, she has only a single host. It doesn’t really matter how or when she got stuck inside him, or if it used to be someone else, we only have to deal with the one person. Which means, there’s a guy in town with a hellgod inside him. If we can figure out who it is, we’ve got our answer against Glory.”
“What do you mean, ‘we’ve got our answer’?” Willow asked. “How does it help to identify the host?”
“The Knights said that, if we kill the human host, Glory dies too,” Xander said bluntly.
“You can’t mean that,” Willow said faintly, looking sick. “We can’t kill a human being.”
Buffy shook her head. “No, we can’t. That’s not how we…”
Xander cut her off, his voice hard. “Buffy, if you finish that sentence, I will never speak to you again. We’ve already done that exact same thing, in case you’re forgetting.”
Willow stared at him, her face going white. “You killed someone?”
“No, we haven’t,” Buffy said crossly. “Xander, what are you talking about?”
“We all agreed to kill Glory’s minion in cold blood,” Xander reminded her, his eyes holding Buffy’s, the guilt that still burned inside him at what they’d done flaring into white-hot anger. “Yeah, he was working for Glory, but he was tied to a chair and completely helpless and we all agreed to first torture and then murder him. So I don’t want to hear another word about how we’re too good to kill humans, because we’re already murderers. We killed a sentient being, who was completely helpless and at our non-existent mercy. And if you tell me that it’s different because he was a demon and not human, then you’re going to have to explain to me the difference between him and someone you like, like Mr. Olsen or Sergeant Morgan. Because if they’re on your ok to kill list just because they’re demons, then you’d better tell them that.”
There was a long silence and Buffy’s eyes fell. Willow looked stunned, Tara and Dawn looked uncomfortable and guilty, and Giles… Giles was as expressionless as if he’d been carved from stone.
“Xander’s right,” he said quietly. “To prevent the destruction of this world, I am prepared to do whatever I have to. As much as I would wish to spare all of you that, if killing the host body is the only way to prevent Glory from tearing down the dimensional walls and destroying this world, then we may have to do just that.” He looked around at all of them. “Even if that host is an innocent.”
Xander got to his feet, feeling a thousand years old, and hating himself for losing it and saying all that in front of Dawn. She was smart, she’d know they’d done it to keep her safe and she didn’t need that burden. It had been their decision, theirs were the bloody hands, not Dawn’s. He hesitated, looking over at Dawn’s bowed head, but sighed and decided to finish what he needed to say anyway. Dawn should know, especially if she was going to be doing crazy things like visiting the mental ward to find out more about herself.
“The Knights aren’t going to stop looking for the Key, even if we find a way to stop Glory permanently. They’re obsessed with the Key and think destroying it is the only way to prevent its power from being used - by Glory or someone else.” From somewhere, he dredged up a smile for Dawn who’d raised her head and was looking at him with wide, frightened eyes. “It’s not an emergency, I just mean that we’re going to have to deal with them at some point. So we need to come up with a plan that covers the Knights.”
“Kill ‘em all works for me,” Spike suggested.
Surprised, Xander twisted around to see Spike standing at the door. Spike’s eyes flared yellow as they fastened on his neck and Xander only barely managed to stop his instinctive move to hide the bandage, despite the uselessness of any attempt to do so.
TBC - on March 6th