DL 1.12

Aug. 13th, 2005 01:34 am
[identity profile] eee1313.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] dancing_lessons_archive
Lesson the Twelfth: Desperate Measures

by Abby
Touched by VAST

Shout-outs to the redemptionistas, for being an amazing, inspiring group of people and to all of the DL authors-- you guys blow me away. Special props to alki, for coming up with the theory on Glory, Ben and the Key; to cj for requesting the final scene and being a great beta-reader; and to adjrun, because I love feedback, especially when it's useful.


Buffy’s feet flew. She didn’t know where the hell she was going, she just needed to go. She wanted the hunt, and the fact that she was hunting humans didn’t bother her. That house was supposed to be her safe haven, and a bunch of medieval idiots had just destroyed it. They were going to pay.
As if it wasn’t enough that one of her best friends had been reduced to a five-year-old. As if a crazed hell-bitch wasn’t trying to kill the only real family she had left. As if she didn’t need time to sort out the mess that Spike had left behind him. Now, there were knights, burning the last evidence of her mother’s life that existed outside of her heart. And she wanted to kill every last one of them.
She stopped outside of The Magic Box. What am I doing? There’s a whole big cavalry of knights on horseback, hiding out god-knows-where, and I’m going to... what? Threaten them to death? I don’t even have weapons, she reasoned. A stake wasn’t exactly enough to take them down. Think, Buffy. Weapons. She couldn’t get into The Magic Box without a key. She could go back to Xander’s and get the guns, but that would take too much time. They’d be long gone. Of course, dummy, you could just go home. Yeah, go home. She started off, but her heart sank when she remembered the reason she wanted weapons in the first place. It was better to do it now, she decided. She could see how bad it was, and maybe prepare Dawn for the shock. Plus, weapons. Hopefully.
With a determined sigh, she set out through the rain for what was left of her home.
“...It’s believed that the house was empty at the time. Fire officials have yet to be in contact with the homeowners, and have asked the public to stay away from the scene until further investigation can be completed. We’ll have updates for you as this story breaks...”
“Fire bad,” Xander said. Willow turned her attention from the news to the boy sitting on the floor behind her. He was grinning, watching the television intently.
“Glory bad,” she muttered. She looked up at Dawn, who still appeared to be in shock.
“Every channel has the same coverage,” Giles said. “We’re not going to find out anything this way.”
“Maybe it’s time for me to make some more tea,” Anya said.
“Anya, I really don’t think that’s necessary--”
“Actually, Mr. Giles, I think we could all use some,” Tara said. “I’ll help her.” She looked to Willow, who nodded.
“Yeah, that’s probably not a bad idea. Xander? Do you want to help them in the kitchen?” Xander looked confused for a moment, and then smiled happily.
“Turtles are nice,” he said.
“Guys, I get what you’re trying to do, but it’s okay. I’d really rather keep coloring than have a heart-to-heart about my feelings,” Dawn said. “If that’s okay with Xander,” she added. He looked to Willow for approval before nodding. “See? We’ll color, and if you guys really want to make tea, go ahead.” She sat back down beside Xander, who was already intent on another drawing.
Tara, Anya, and Giles left silently. Willow hung back, wanting to help the girl. “Dawnie, are you sure you don’t want to talk? Everything’s just been piling on you and Buffy...”
“Thanks, Willow, but no. I really don’t want to talk,” she said, without looking up.
“It’s okay. I-I understand,” Willow said softly. She followed the others into the dining room, and lowered her voice. “I’m really worried about Buffy and Dawn, you guys. I mean, they’ve been through so much already, and now this...”
“Buffy’s a very strong girl,” Giles said, “and that’s putting it mildly. Although I do see your point, especially about Dawn.”
“She wouldn’t talk to you?” Tara asked, and Willow shook her head.
“Nope. All I got was a big old teenager eye-roll. Well, I didn’t really see it, but I felt it. It was a very eye-rolly vibe,” she said, as Tara patted her hand. “At least she doesn’t know--y’know-- about Glory.”
“Should we really be keeping that from her though?” Tara asked. “I mean, you remember what happened when she found out she was the Key.”
“Yes, that’s true,” Giles said, “but Buffy doesn’t want to tell her, and I think she’s right. Telling Dawn now would only upset her even more.”
Anya sighed. “Well, what do we do now?”
“I don’t know,” Giles said. “We should get back to the research, I suppose. There’s not much else we can do, really, until Buffy gets back.”
“Uh, about that... does anyone know where Buffy went? Or when she’ll be back?” Tara asked.
“I’m sure she’s tracking down the Knights of Byzantium as we speak,” Giles said.
“Is that smart? I-I mean,” Tara hedged nervously, “if she finds them, won’t there be too many for her to fight alone?”
“Yes, however, it’s highly unlikely that she’ll find any of them. They could be anywhere. They did burn her house, after all. I think she just needed to feel like she was doing something other than sitting around and waiting to be attacked.”
Buffy sat on what was left of her couch and surveyed the scene. It wasn’t as bad as she had expected. The firefighters on the news weren’t kidding about the smoke and water damage, but with some work, it could be livable again. She didn’t want Dawn to see it yet, though. The living room through the kitchen was a mess. Windows were broken, the furniture and carpets were ruined, and the ceilings were blackened with smoke. The electricity was out, of course, and going through, she had found that the whole house reeked of smoke. The yellow police tape outside almost amused her. She didn’t really need a police investigation to figure out what had happened.
“At least I’ve got some weapons,” she said aloud, trying to be cheerful. Most of the stuff in the trunk downstairs was burnt, but she’d been able to salvage a crossbow, and a couple of her stakes had actually survived the blaze.
She rescued what she could, searching through the ashes until she came up with some things that weren’t completely destroyed: a picture of her and the gang, a book, one of her mother’s favorite paintings. Finally, knowing she couldn’t carry any more, she fell onto the couch, exhausted.
Something at her feet caught her eye–- a pretty face smiling up at her from the floor. She picked it up carefully. It was a picture of Dawn, her mother, and herself. The glass was broken and the frame was charred black, but the picture itself was in remarkably good shape. Buffy stared at it numbly in the darkness. Three happy faces looked on as a lonely, broken girl sat in the dark and cried for the third time that day.
“Xander, no!”
Anya and Willow came running at Dawn’s shriek. “What’s wrong?” Willow asked.
“He was trying to eat the green crayon,” she sighed. Anya moved to Xander, who cried quietly, rocking back and forth on the floor. Sure enough, his mouth was covered in dark green.
“You can’t eat them, Xander! They’re not food!” Anya yelled, as Xander’s wails got louder.
“Anya, it’s okay.” Willow knelt next to the girl, who stared helplessly at her boyfriend.
“It’s not okay, Willow,” she said. “I don’t know what to do!”
“We’re here to help you,” Willow said. “Dawn, did he actually eat any of it?” she asked, trying to be heard over Xander.
“I-I don’t think so,” she said softly. Willow could see that she was shaken.
“Dawn, why don’t you go to the kitchen and get yourself something to eat.” Dawn nodded and left mutely. “Anya, you go get something to clean Xander up with. Giles, Tara, you guys can get back to the books. I’ve got it covered,” she said.
“Thank you, Willow,” Anya said softly.
“Hey, no big. Xander’s my best friend.” She waited until the room had cleared before turning her attention to him. He was rocking violently, alternately wailing and muttering to himself. “Xander? I need you to stop, okay?”
“No!” he yelled. She put her arms around him as best she could and hugged him.
“Xander, it’s me, Will,” she said. The sobs subsided gradually, and he stopped rocking.
“Yeah, it’s me. Are you okay?” He hugged her harder.
“Love you, Willow.”
Willow sighed. “I love you, too, Xander.”
Buffy sat, still studying the picture. When had this been taken? Last year? The smiles were so honest. She’d been exploring a new relationship with Riley. It was hard to believe that life could be that simple, and happy.
“Probably because it wasn’t simple,” she said to herself, remembering the Initiative and everything that it brought. Never mind that Spike had been blatantly double-crossing her. But she had still had her mother, and she had still had more than half of a house.
The creak of a footstep brought her to her feet, and she reached for her stake. It came again, and she headed for the back porch. She peeked out through the dark, catching a profile, it’s back turned to her. She leveled the cross-bow at it.
“Don’t move, or you’re dust,” she said.
“Buffy?” The voice out of the dark was unmistakable, and she slowly dropped the crossbow.
“What are you doing here?”
“I just don’t understand,” Willow said. “I can’t find any spells to help with Xander. I can re-soul a vampire, I can tele-transport a super-strong hell-goddess, but for my best friend, I’ve got nothing? How is that fair?”
Giles removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “It’s not fair at all, I’m afraid, but there’s not much we can do about that.”
“I know,” she said. “It’s just, I hate seeing him like this, Giles. I mean, he might not ever be normal again! I know we should be worrying about the Knights of Whateverdom and Glory, but all I want to do is fix Xander.” She looked up as Tara and Anya came into the dining room with tea.
Tara sat beside her and smiled sadly. “Honey, we will fix Xander, I promise. It’s just a matter of time.”
“Well, I certainly hope so,” Anya said quietly. Willow nodded, not wanting to think of what would happen if they couldn’t. She looked around the table and knew everyone was thinking the same thing.
Giles cleared his throat. “We really need to focus on these knights, for the time being. Perhaps they can shed more light on what Glory is trying to accomplish.”
“She sure has some ugly clothes,” Anya volunteered.
Willow smiled in spite of herself. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“Well, there are many alternate universes. I told you about some of them when the troll came. The world without shrimp, remember?”
Willow nodded. I have to hear where this is going, she thought.
“Well, I obviously don’t know about all of them. Perhaps she comes from the land of bad fashion sense, and she just wants to go home.”
“I’m not entirely sure about that, Anya, but uh, we’ll look into it,” Giles told her. Off her satisfied smile, he continued. “It would probably be best if we concentrated on other methods right now. We need to know who’s sent these knights, and why. What possible interest could they have in Glory’s cause?”
“Maybe they’re working for her?” Tara asked.
“Well, it certainly looks that way, but we can’t be sure that they aren’t a completely separate problem. They might want the Key for some other reason that we know nothing about.” Giles sighed. “Somehow, a god, a Key, a prophecy, and a group of knights don’t make me too enthusiastic.”
“I know what you mean,” Willow said. “I think we can all agree that we’re not going to be safe here much longer.”
“Believe me, I agree,” Giles said. “As soon as Buffy gets back, we’ll--” He was cut off by Xander singing off-key in the living room, getting increasingly louder. “What?”
“Shh,” Willow said. They listened intently.
“The light’s all gone, all gone. The pretty light’s all gone...”
Willow’s eyes widened, and she bolted to the living room. She was quiet for a moment, her eyes scanning the room until she was sure.
“All gone, all gone...” Xander sang.
“Oh. No.”
“Dawn? I said, what the hell are you doing here?”
“I– I slipped out when no one was looking. It’s not their fault, Buffy. They’re really busy, and they’re worried about Glory, and the knights, and Xander, and you--”
“Well they should be worried about you, Dawn. And you should know better! It’s bad enough to sneak off to Spike’s crypt in the middle of the day; now you’re going out after dark. Do you happen to remember that big bunch of knights that was spotted here? Looking for you? Burning down our house? How about the time they tried to snatch you off the front lawn? Not to mention the vampires– dammit, Dawn! Are you trying to get yourself killed?”
Dawn was near tears. “No, Buffy, I just wanted to see the house--”
“You could have waited for me, Dawn! You could have told someone where you were going. Now they’re worrying about you...”
“I’m sorry...”
“Sorry’s not good enough! What am I supposed to do, Dawn? How am I supposed to protect you if you keep running off on your own?” Buffy was shaking, but she couldn’t stop. “I can’t protect you. I can’t fight Glory. I can’t fix Xander. I can’t find the assholes that burned our house. And, it just won’t stop raining...”
“Buffy.” Her sister’s voice trembled, and Buffy turned to her.
“I’m sorry, Dawn,” she said, “but it’s just too much...” Dawn came to put her arms around her, and Buffy held on to her tightly.
"Come on, Buffy. You've made it this far, haven't you? You're not going to let some of King Arthur's rejects or a skanky hell-god stop you now." Buffy felt herself smiling.
"She is pretty skanky," she said, sniffling. She hugged her sister tightly. "Thank you, Dawn."
"No problem." After a minute, Dawn pulled away. “Wow. They really trashed the house,” she said sadly.
“Yeah. It could’ve been a lot worse, though. Good thing the neighbors are home, huh?”
“Um, actually, they said on the news after you left that the 911 call came from inside the house.”
Buffy eyed her sister carefully. “You’re not making that up to creep me out, are you?”
“Nope,” Dawn said.
“Then why are you grinning like a maniac? Someone or something was inside our house, and you find that funny? Of course it couldn’t have been a something without an invite, right?” Her eyes widened. “Oh god. What if it was Glory?”
“Why would Glory call 911?”
“I don’t know, Dawn. I just can’t believe you think it’s a funny or good that–- wait.” She stopped and glared at her sister. “I know what this is about. You think it was Spike.”
Dawn grinned and kept silent.
“How many times do I have to tell you, Spike’s gone. For good. Not coming back?”
“Buffy, you know that’s not true! He was here, and he stopped our house from burning to the ground.”
“No, he didn’t, Dawn. It’s impossible,” she said. “But–-oh, my god. Did you come home because you thought Spike would be here?”
“No! I--” Dawn stopped. “You miss him, don’t you?”
“Dawn, how does that have anything to do with anything?”
“That’s why you’re so mad! You think if he’s still in town then he should come to apologize or something. That’s it, right?”
“Dawn, I... I don’t know,” she said honestly.
“You can tell me, you know. I’m not a kid anymore.”
“Yeah, I know. Why you keep acting like one is beyond me,” Buffy said, rolling her eyes.
“So... have you guys had sex yet?” Dawn asked.
“Sorry! Just, y’know, making conversation.”
“Yeah, well that conversation is strictly labeled ‘none of your business,’” Buffy said.
“So you have,” Dawn said triumphantly.
“Enough! No, I have not had sex with Spike. I don’t plan on ever having sex with Spike, okay?” She saw the eager curiosity in her sister’s eyes. “Dawn, sex is bad, okay? You have to really love someone,” she said, “preferably someone with a permanent, human soul. And... you have to be twenty-one, or it’s punishable by law,” she finished nervously.
Dawn laughed. "That's the lamest thing I've ever heard."
"Yeah, well, I'll do better next time," Buffy said defensively.
“Relax, Buffy. I know about sex. I have to say I never thought I’d be getting that talk like this, though.” She gestured around her at the scorched kitchen.
“Yeah, me either.” They stood in silence for a moment.
“Do you love him, Buffy?” Dawn asked quietly.
Buffy sighed. “I don't know. Maybe,” she said truthfully. “Fighting with him today... it hurt a lot.”
“He loves you, though,” Dawn said.
“Yeah, but it’s not as simple as that. Good lord; am I actually telling you these things?”
Dawn laughed. “Yeah, but don’t worry,” she said. “I won’t tell.”
Buffy smiled. “Doesn’t this remind you of the way it used to be? With mom, I mean? Talking about boys in the kitchen,” she said, wistful.
“Yeah,” Dawn said quietly. “Except for all of the... burnt.”
Buffy smiled and touched her sister’s hair. “C’mon. Let’s get some clothes and weapons and get out of here.”
“Where are we going?” Dawn asked.
“To Xander’s first. Then to Giles’. We’ve got to keep moving.”
Spike watched from a distance as Buffy and Dawn came down the back porch. Really, he’d only wanted to check on the house and make sure it hadn’t burned to bits. The girls were laughing, so he supposed it couldn’t be that bad.
He knew he should go before they saw him. Buffy would probably still stake him in a heartbeat. Still, he felt stuck in place, watching them laughing together in the face of yet another disaster. There was nothing he wanted more than to be a part of that family. Except Dawn’s life, and he wasn’t sorry about that trade-off.
Spike caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. Someone was there with him, he realized, watching Buffy and Dawn from the shadows. Why hadn’t he noticed that before? Careful to be quiet, Spike snuck up behind the person and grabbed him by the neck. “Don’t make a move, Spike said, “or I’ll rip your sodding head off. Now, we’re going to move away from these here girls nice and slow, and then you’re going to tell good old Spike why he shouldn’t kill you.”
“He’ll tell you nothing,” said a voice from behind him. Spike stiffened as the sharp edge of a sword cut into his neck.
“All right mate, let’s not get crazy now...” he said quietly. When he felt the blade relax, he whipped around, pushing away the sword and the other man in the process. Spike landed a sharp left before being attacked from behind.
“Wait! You’re Ben’s bleeding knights! What the hell are you doing here?” he asked, ducking out of the way as the first knight swung at him.
“We’re here to destroy the Key. How do you know Lord Benignus?” The second knight asked, finding and brandishing his sword at Spike.
“Hello? I was there with you guys not a few hours ago. Benny’s calling off the Key-hunt, didn’t ya hear?”
“I don’t know who you are, or why you’re lying to us, but the Key will be destroyed as soon as possible.”
“No, it will not, Spike replied. “He’s giving orders right now to stop the search. He found a better way.”
“As soon as we get to Giles’...” Buffy was saying, and Spike glanced behind him, panicked.
The knights nodded to one another, and Spike felt his heart sink. Instead of running after Buffy, however, they returned their attention to him.
“Who are you to know this kind of information?”
“I’m– I’m an honorary knight of the, uh, highest sort, and Lord Benny told me that we’re calling off the search.” Spike winced internally. He had used to be a pretty good liar, at least.
“You certainly don’t look like one of us,” the knight said, “but if any of what you say is true, then Lord Benignus is wrong. The Key must be destroyed. We’re attacking as soon as possible, and even he cannot stop us. We work for the greater good,” he said, before they both walked away.
Spike watched them go. There was still a lot to be done, and there wasn’t much time left.
Buffy knocked on Xander’s door for the third time.
“It’s me, Buffy! Y’know, slayer-gal? Open the door!” She felt a familiar finger of fear creep up her spine at the silence inside. What if the knights, or Glory, had gotten to them?
She knocked again, feeling the wood crack under the force of her fist. “Please be okay,” she whispered. Finally, the door opened a crack, and Willow peeked out. “Willow! Thank god, I was starting to think...” Buffy trailed off at her friend’s face. “What is it?”
Willow edged out into the hallway. “Buffy, I-I think we need to talk,” she said.
Oh, no. “What about?” She asked, trying to keep her voice calm.
“Um, we, uh, kind of lost–- her!” Willow pointed to Dawn, who was coming down the hallway, dragging an armful of weapons. “You!” she said, hugging Dawn violently. “But, what’s going on?”
“She snuck out on you, and she should know better. Lucky for her, she ran right into me.”
Dawn smiled sheepishly at Willow. “Sorry.”
Willow smiled back. “That’s okay. We all need a good panic attack every now and then, it keeps the blood pumping. Oh, but we should really get inside and let the others know. Giles doesn’t see the health benefits of panicking,” she said, opening the door.
“Will, wait!” Buffy said. “Aren’t you going to tell me what’s wrong?” Willow and Dawn fixed her with a look that clearly said ‘duh.' “Right. Kidding,” she said weakly. Dawn snickered. “What? You’re going to blame me for being paranoid?” She shook her head and followed them inside.
“Thank heavens, you’ve found her! Or you’ve come back,” Giles said, gesturing to Dawn. “Now, when Buffy gets back--” he stopped as she came through the door. “--We’ll obviously tell her all about it.”
“Right," she said. “Look, there was no harm done tonight, okay? But if this happens again, I’m not going to be so forgiving. Especially of you,” she said, looking at Dawn. “And you really do have to tell me these things, Giles,” she said, glancing disapprovingly at her Watcher.
“I most certainly intended to,” he said.
“Buffy!” Xander squealed. He was still coloring, and he beamed up at her as she sat down beside him.
“Hey there, Xand-man. How are those pictures coming along?”
“I’ve got a girlfriend,” he giggled. Buffy looked up at Anya, who smiled weakly.
“Is that right? Well, you and your girlfriend, and all of us, are going to go to Giles’, okay?”
“Nope,” he said, smiling, and went back to work on his picture.
“Um, Buffy? Are we really leaving?” Willow asked.
Buffy stood. “Yeah. It’s best if we keep moving. Those knights got to our house without too much trouble. We don’t have any game plan if they decide to attack us here, and besides, there are too many people in this building. It’s not safe, any way you look at it.”
“So, you’re saying that we should move to a place that they can burn without conscience,” Giles said dryly.
“It’s either there or The Magic Box, Giles. You pick,” she said.
“We could always hide out at Spike’s crypt,” Dawn said.
“Dawn,” Buffy started.
“Probably not a half-bad idea,” Willow said quietly.
“Look, we’re not going to Spike’s, okay? I don’t care if he’s not in town!” She yelled, cutting off their argument. “We need to be someplace that’s not-- distracting. I’d tell you to go on to Spike’s, but we really need to stick together. I’m going to Giles’. We need to be at Giles’. Okay?” The others nodded their agreement. “Good.” She picked up the bag of weapons and walked to the door. “Come on.”
She heard Willow whispering to Dawn as she left.
“If he’s not in town?”
Buffy threw the bags and weapons down in the foyer. “Okay, if anything happens, here’s what we do. Willow, Tara– do whatever you can to stop them. Giles, Anya, you’re with me--”
“I’m not much of a fighter,” Anya said.
Buffy tossed her a crossbow. “Let’s pretend that you are,” she said.
“Dawn--” Buffy saw the fear in her sister’s eyes. “You’ll take Xander. Go upstairs and hide. Actually, I think you guys should just go up now.”
“Okay.” Dawn flashed a smile at Xander, who returned it adoringly. She tried to take his hand, but his smile disappeared.
Buffy sat beside him, stroking his hair. “Yes, Xander. You have to go upstairs with Dawn. You have to be really quiet, okay?” She searched his eyes for some understanding, but there was only fear. “What? What is it?”
“Bad. Dark,” he whimpered, recoiling from Buffy’s hands. “All dark.” He sat up suddenly and stared off into the distance. “Horsies,” he said, and a shadow of a smile returned to his face. “Horsies?” He asked, staring at Buffy intently. She held his hand and tried to grasp what he was talking about.
A sudden rumble from outside stopped her from responding. No one needed to look, they all knew.
“Horsies,” Xander said with a grin.
“Get down!” Buffy screamed as a flaming arrow narrowly missed her. A heavy shoe stomped the fire out beside her, and she looked up to see Giles staring intently at the door.
“I’ll be damned if those delinquents will burn down my house,” he said. He threw open his door. “You want a fight?”
“Uh, Giles...”
He ignored Buffy. “You’ve got it!”
There was a roar as the knights charged the house. “Oh, dear. Who knew there would be this many?”
“Me. I knew,” Buffy sighed, as he was immediately set upon by three knights. “Dawn, get upstairs. Now!” She watched her sister drag Xander upstairs before turning to face the battle in Giles’ courtyard and foyer.
Actually, it was more like mass confusion. Knights overran Anya and Giles, trying to find the enemy. Buffy dragged one of them off of Giles and punched him in the nose, sending him to his knees and his sword clattering to the floor. She kicked him in the jaw, grabbing the sword and throwing an elbow behind her at the same time. She could see Giles decking them just to her left, and Anya alternately putting out fires and whacking knights with the crossbow to her right, but it wasn’t enough.
“Will?” She shouted, trying to be heard above the din.
“We’re trying!”
Suddenly, a thought struck her. “Giles!” she called, and pointed to the duffel bag sitting back on the floor, and he nodded. She fought two knights with the sword, running them together and to the floor. She took the chance and ran for the bag, only to be grabbed from behind.
“Give us the Key,” the knight said, “and no one has to die here.”
Buffy’s fingers found a gun and she whipped around, holding it to his throat. “Call off your men, or a lot of people will have to die here,” she said.
“I can’t--”
“Do it!” she yelled, and watched as the resignation cross his face.
“Never,” he said.
The blast rang out, momentarily stopping everyone. The knight slumped to the floor, and Buffy stood over him, eyeing the others. “This doesn’t have to happen,” she said quietly, grabbing another knight and leveling the gun at him. “But if you don’t get the hell out of here, it will.” Holding the knight steady, she bent to grab two more guns and tossed them to Anya and Giles.
The knights backed off warily, some dragging the wounded out with them. “Don’t. They stay here,” Buffy said. “And if you try anything funny, they all die.”
There was a blue flash, and the knights were thrown out into the street. Willow and Tara came running.
“Energy barrier,” Tara said. “They can’t get back in.”
“Good.” Buffy moved as close as she could get to the barrier, still holding the knight as gunpoint. “Listen to me,” she said, addressing the throng outside. “You go back to Glory, or whoever sent you, and you tell them that they’ll get the Key over my dead body.” She turned and went back inside, stepping over the bodies on the floor. Without a word, she cracked the gun over the knight’s head, and sighed as he fell. “Let’s get these guys nice and cozy,” she said. “Giles, do we have any rope?”
Buffy and the others sat waiting while one by one, the knights stirred.
“Good. You’re all awake and ready to spill,” she said.
“Just give us the Key. No one needs to be hurt here,” one said.
“Funny how I keep hearing that,” Buffy said. “Let’s try this. You tell me who sent you, and we’ll see about who gets hurt. Now, who’s the lead man here?”
“I am,” he said. “We will find the Key, no matter where you’ve hidden it. This is pointless and time-consuming.”
“I’m the Key,” Dawn said, coming around the corner.
“Dawn! Get the hell out of here!” Buffy shouted, but her sister didn’t move.
“No,” Dawn said quietly. “I want to know why I’m here. Why they want me.”
“You cannot be the Key, you are a human being...” The knight shook his head.
“I am,” Dawn said, unflinching.
“This is impossible! The Key... it is a human? Entirely?”
“Yes. She is my sister, and she’s an innocent in whatever twisted plan Glory has.”
“But, a human,” he repeated. He studied Dawn in awe.
“Yes. Human,” Buffy said impatiently, “and innocent. She doesn’t remember anything about being your stupid Key.”
“We do not condone the killing of innocents,” a knight said from across the room. The men exchanged looks with him. “If you let us go, we will not harm the girl. We will tell Lord Benignus that we cannot complete the task, despite the consequences.”
Buffy looked at him. “Lord Benignus?”
“I will tell you nothing about him,” the knight said. Buffy punched him in the nose.
“Oh, you’re going to tell me everything,” she said. He squirmed as she raised her fist again. He sighed in defeat, and looked to his men. They nodded to him.
“You want to defeat the beast?” He asked suspiciously.
“Glory brain-sucked my best friend, and she’s trying to kill my sister. I’d say wanting to kill her is a safe bet.”
“How do we know we can trust you?”
“You don’t. But you can,” she said.
The knight looked at Buffy, the conflict obvious in his face. Finally, she saw surrender there, and suppressed a sigh of relief.
“The man that you call Ben– he is Lord Benignus, and it is he who has rallied our forces. He threw away the Key, and he does not want the Beast to find it again. If she does...” he trailed off. “If she finds it, terrible things will happen.”
“Wait. How are Ben and Glory connected, exactly?”
“Lord Benignus and Glorificus, along with another, Opprimus, were hell-gods who ruled their dimension as a triumvirate.”
“Ben’s a god?” Willow said. “And here I just thought he was a less-than-attractive human.” Giles and Buffy shot her a look. “Sorry.”
“Benignus means ‘kind,’ Glorificus, means ‘full of glory’ and Opprimus means ‘overpower,’” Giles supplied. “Correct?”
“Yes. Benignus was the lesser of the three, but necessary. Without him, there would have been nothing to contrast the terrible selfishness of Glorificus or the sadism of Opprimus. Lord Benignus’ semi-goodness made their hell-dimension more unbearable, for with him came the hope that things might improve, and they never did.
“Problems arose when Opprimus became ambitious. He decided he wanted to rule not just one Hell dimension, but all of creation. To do this, he schemed to steal the powers of the other two by merging with them and destroying their personalities. He was successful in merging Lord Benignus with Glorificus, in part because the beast suspected that if she could rule Benignus in such a merger, she might obtain the power to destroy creation and remake it in her image. Realizing the potential for disaster, and that his chances in a three-way battle to the death were next to nothing, Benignus managed to take control of the combined being he had become, flee his home dimension, lock it behind him, and throw away the Key. The beast, of course, has been trying to go back ever since, and Lord Benignus has been working against her, using us and the monks to keep the Key safe from her.”
Buffy stared openly at the knight. “So Ben’s trying to destroy the Key now, too. And Glory just wants to go home,” she said, incredulous. “Alright, but what about the other one, Opprimus? Did he get left behind?”
“Yes. The absence of the other two means that Opprimus has not been able to enhance his own power. He does still rule the Hell Dimension, however, he's no more of a threat than he ever was.”
“So what happens if Glory gets the Key?” Giles asked.
“The gods are in a three-way war. If Glorificus get the Key, it will open the portal back to her dimension. Lord Benignus would no longer share a body with the beast and Opprimus would be unleashed.”
“Which means?” Buffy asked.
The knight lowered his voice. “It means that either the whole universe gets taken over by Opprimus or destroyed by Glory, depending on who wins.”
“What about Ben?”
“Benignus is not strong enough to conquer either of them, which is why we are trying to destroy the Key.”
Buffy exchanged a look with Giles. “How do we avoid this, exactly?” she asked.
“Killing the beast or Lord Benignus ends the threat,” he said.
“For Ben, the only alternative is to kill the Key,” Giles said.
“Yes,” he answered, glancing ashamedly at Dawn.
Buffy sat and dropped her head into her hands. “We just can’t beat her alone,” Buffy said wearily.
The knight exchanged glances with his men. They nodded to him. “We do not want to kill an innocent,” he said.
Buffy looked up, afraid she’d misunderstood. “Meaning what?”
“Meaning that we will help you.”
“You’ll turn your back on Ben?” Buffy held her breath.
“Benignus’ tactics have not been favored among many of the soldiers. He is good to a degree, but he is also selfish. He would not kill himself to save the universe. He also shares a body with the beast, and there has been fear among our ranks that she may control his actions, and destroy us all.”
“If you’re turning on Ben, how do we know we can trust you?” Giles asked.
“We are honorable people. We only sought to destroy the Key because we believed that it was for the benefit of the universe. Killing an innocent is unacceptable when there is a better way, and we want no part of it. Besides, we have no proof that we can trust you, either.”
“How do you know that the rest of your men will agree?” Buffy asked.
“Most of them would not, so they’ll know nothing of it. They will assume that you killed us and go on searching for the Key.”
Buffy moved to untie him. “Alright. You saw what happened here tonight. If I trust you, and you turn on me, I’ll kill you. If you do anything to endanger my sister, or my friends, I’ll kill you. If you try to burn anything of ours again--”
“Buffy, I think he gets it,” Willow said.
She untied him and the others, and stood back. “We’ve got some serious work to do.”
Spike sat in the grass, watching the rain rolling down her headstone. Joyce Summers. 43 years old, and resting in peace.
There was something profoundly sad about this. If only he could die and go to a place that had light, and music, and people like Joyce.
He laid a bouquet of white roses by the stone. “Uh, Joyce. I know it’s a little too late to be saying sorry for everything I’ve done to Buffy, so I’m not even going to try. I need your help, though.” He fidgeted, searching for the right words. “I’ve got to die tomorrow,” he said frankly, looking up into the sky.
“Can’t really wrap my brain around that one, y’know?” he said, attempting a laugh. “I mean, I’ve seen an awful lot of death in my days, and you’d think I’d understand what I was getting myself into.” He looked down. “But I don’t. Thing is, Joyce, I’m sort of scared.” Spike shot a look around the graveyard, making sure no one had heard. “That’s not something I like to admit, now,” he said, lowering his voice, “so you don’t have to ‘round telling all your angel mates about this, a’right?” The thought made him smile.
He squinted up into the rain. “I need you to give me the strength to do this,” he said. “I know you probably didn’t have too high of an opinion of me when you died, but I’m going to save the niblet,” he said softly. “I’m not gonna let Glory or any of her crusty little friends hurt a hair on her head, I promise.” He sighed, dropping his head into his hands. “Thing is, I don’t know if I’m strong enough to go through with it,” he said.
The rain stopped, as suddenly as it had started. Spike looked up and let a smile slip across his face, in spite of everything. He nodded to himself, satisfied.
“Goodbye, Joyce,” he said softly. He stood and stared at the sky thoughtfully for a moment longer before turning on his heel and heading off into the night.


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