Keystone – 3/21

This entry is part 3 of 21 in the series Keystone
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Keystone

Author: Winsomeone
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 46,252  Complete-21 chapters and epilogue
Warning: explicit exsanguination scene
Beta: EnigmaticBlues

Summary: Sent to retrieve artifacts from another dimension the Slayer and her team become deeply embroiled in a twisted plot that places them in dangerous opposition to the Watcher’s Council.

A/N: AU Adventure. Set within the Grundyverse this story stands alone, a separate endeavor for this community, and although there is humor and romance, the plot is darker than what I usually write to suit our community theme of obstacles. Our poor beloved characters- they’ve certainly got ‘em in spades.

Disclosure: These characters belong to Joss, ME, Fox and anyone affiliated with same. Only Empress and the plot are mine.

Chapter 3

After the Council’s disclosure and since there were only a few more hours until the portal would open, the meeting was adjourned. Giles left with Lydia to check on the status of the portal while Travers returned to his office to see if any other information had arrived from Serbia.

The older gentleman, who had sat quietly throughout the meeting, walked up and introduced himself as Professor Simms–a Council consultant on mystical objects brought in by Lydia to fill in for the missing Harker.

She’d requested earlier that he accompany Willow and Spike to the suite prepared for them by the Council and help with preparations for the trip and the handling of the idols. He offered to have their driver drop Buffy at the hospital on the way so she could speak with Adams. She accepted and together with Willow, they walked out into the hall.

Spike stretched, glancing down at the space beside his chair. He reached for a chain leash which had miraculously appeared in its original location along with its nonchalant owner. “Don’t think I didn’t notice that disappearin’ act, Empress. I’m not as oblivious as the wankers and neither is Buffy.”

The Grundy offered him her best wide eyed innocent expression.

Shrugging, he stood up. “You’re just lucky the Slayer and I can’t stand the lot of ‘em either.”

He headed for the hall with a sedate Grundy at his heels and joined the others waiting for the elevator to make its way ponderously up to the third floor.

Which is really the fourth floor. Buffy was idly contemplating the British way of naming floors– did this mean the sub-basement was the basement or the sub-sub-basement?– while she listened to Willow and Professor Simms make small talk.

One of the Juniors–crowded together as far from Spike as possible in the small corridor– raised his head and sniffed. “Does anyone else smell smoke?”

Spike shot a quick look at Empress and she met his gaze with a definite smirk. So it was a much more involved plan for vengenence.  Biting his lip to keep from laughing, he settled back against the wall and crossed his arms; he didn’t want to miss a second of this.

Buffy caught his look and rolled her eyes. She turned to watch, too.  

After deciding among themselves that something was definitely wrong, Huey, Dewey and Louie rushed back into the conference room, propping the door open and allowing a slightly acrid smell to waft into the hall.

A moment later, an excited voice spoke loudly– Buffy decided it was Huey; he seemed to be the leader– the sound of his voice easily carrying through the open doorway into the hall. “There is a fire! I’m going to call the fire department!”

A second voice–Dewey?– calmer than the first, replied, “No need to make a fuss, somehow a few papers in the trashcan caught on fire. It’s very minor.”

“Use the rest of the water in that large teapot to douse it,” added the third.

A moment later there was a terrific crash accompanied by the sound of breaking china and several voices babbling excitedly, the cacophony nearly drowned out by the sound of a fire alarm.

Spike shot an amused look at Buffy and mouthed the word “timber.” She collapsed against the wall, shaking with silent laughter.

Willow surveyed the couple and raised an eyebrow.

Wiping her eyes, Buffy pointed at the Grundy.

Empress winked at Willow.

She turned away to hide a grin.

“My Goodness, what do you suppose caused all of that noise?” Simms asked, still staring at the conference room door. The fire alarm was still going off, but everything else was eerily quiet. “Do you suppose they could have been overcome by the fire? Perhaps we should go and check on them.”

The elevator arrived and the door slid open.

“Oh, I think they’ll be able to take care of whatever happened. After all they’re Watchers—trained for every contingency.” Buffy said airily, stepping into the elevator.

“They can handle anything,” Willow added, taking the professor by the arm.

“Except for a Grundy with a grudge,” muttered Spike under his breath. He followed the others into the elevator, Empress bouncing along happily at his side.

******

“We had no idea how bad it was going to get when we grabbed those idols.” Cyrus Adams, an overly large muscular man, was lying in the Council’s ward, propped up with several pillows, an IV still attached to his arm. He touched the gauze taped to his neck and added wryly, “I guess I do now.”

“How did you end up giving the idols back to them and survive?” Buffy asked.

He looked perplexed for a moment before his expression cleared. “The Council didn’t explain any of what was in my report, did they?  You see I never touched the idols, only the box. I was acting as decoy.”

At Buffy’s raised eyebrow, he shrugged. “I’ll start at the beginning. Professor Harker was in charge— it was his show. He had Philips, his lab assistant from the Magical Objects Department along with him. Then there was Grange, my superior in the security department, Walters and me.

“Once we’d done some recon and saw what we were up against, we all tried to convince Harker to wait until everyone was asleep to steal the idols. They sleep during the day just like here.

But he was worried that we’d run out of time and the portal would close before we could escape and we’d all become trapped, so we went in way too early. A couple of the vamps acting as guards were still awake and all hell broke loose. Grange and I managed to kill them— we still had the advantage of surprise at that point.”

He leaned forward to stare into Buffy’s eyes. “Between you and me, I don’t think the vamps expected anyone to ever try for those idols—no one in that dimension ever challenges them. They had the idols in an obvious spot right out in the open and there were only the two guards anywhere near them.  I’d say you’re going to have a much harder go of it this time around.”

Nodding thoughtfully, she gestured for him to continue. He lay back against the pillows once again, took a deep breath and continued the story.

“So Harker grabbed the box with the idols, and we shot out the door and down the road, but then the rest woke up and came after us. We were still far enough ahead to stop for a breather and to figure out what to do. That’s when Grange came up with the idea to split up.

Harker would keep the idols–he was the only one who knew how to keep them inert– and with Grange along for protection, they’d use this rocky path high up on the ridge. We figured it wouldn’t be as easy to track anyone through there. Walters and I would take the empty box and stay on the lower main road, and we’d all meet up at the portal. Philips, poor bastard, volunteered to go with us so it would seem more on the up and up, since we weren’t sure if they knew how many of us there really were.” Adams grimaced. “He probably figured he was safer with the two of us.”

Buffy gently laid her hand on his arm. “What happened then?”

He shook his head and winced at the pain that shot through his neck. “Damned if I know. The three of us made it safely to the portal before it opened, but Harker and Grange never showed up. We waited and then got jumped five minutes before the portal opened. Walters and I held them off– we were doing pretty well, too, although we sure could have used you there.

Then Walters went down. The portal was beginning to open by then, and I had one on top of me. I could barely see Philips anymore. I remember somehow finally throwing the vamp off and reaching for Philips’ arm. I staggered into the portal, dragging Philips behind me. I couldn’t see anything the light was so bright.” He stared down at his hands and murmured, “I didn’t even realize Philips was already dead.”

“Things happen fast during a fight. It wasn’t your fault.”

“You’re right.” Adams’ eyes hardened. “It was Ian Harker’s fault completely. If we’d waited like Grange and the rest of us wanted, we would have had a much better chance of success and keeping everybody alive.”

“Is there any possibility Harker and Grange escaped, but just couldn’t reach the portal in time?”

He stared up at the white ceiling. “I’ve been asking myself that same question. Anything’s possible of course; there are a lot of caves in that area—I scouted around there myself. But unless they’ve found food and water somewhere, they’ll die of starvation pretty soon.

“The time is different there. One of our twenty- four hour days appears to be a full week there. Their days are shorter, too. They’ve only got four hours of real sun, with maybe two hours of dusk and ten hours of full-on dark. It’s a pre-industrial society without oil or electricity– think medieval Europe or even more primitive. I personally believe that’s why the vamps are so powerful– they can run around safely a whole lot longer than ours, so they’ve gotten stronger through the years. They’re a little different in other ways, too.”

“What do you mean–different?”

“Well, for one thing they cast a reflection. I saw that myself. They seemed faster, too. I’ve been fighting vampires for the last ten years–six of them for the Council– and when they jumped us I had a hard time staking them.” He shrugged again. “Or maybe I was just off my game. It was a pretty chaotic situation.”

“Would you tell me anything you can remember about the caves and the surrounding terrain?”

“I can do the Slayer one better. Find me a pencil and paper and I’ll draw the entire layout for you.”

*****

“These are the caves here. And over this way is their stronghold. They’re about three hours walking distance apart.” Buffy watched Spike lean over Adams’ sketches spread across the table in the Council’s suite to see where she was pointing. He still held the mug of blood that he’d been drinking when she’d returned from the hospital. “So what do you think?”

Spike followed the line with his finger. “About what?”

Buffy nodded at the drawings. “I’m thinking we try to use this trail from the caves. Adams said they didn’t patrol there.”

“Wouldn’t you start a patrol if you’d had an attempt to steal somethin’ valuable and the thieves used that route for their escape?”

Giles walked into the kitchen in time to hear Spike’s comment. “I agree. I don’t think that will work twice. What about a spy on the inside? I’ve figured out that’s what Travers had in mind when he requested Spike– and I can’t believe I’m saying this– but it’s a fairly good idea.”

Buffy placed her hand over Spike’s. It was his call. “How do you feel about joining the baddies long enough to check things out?”

Spike nodded thoughtfully. “While I’m playin’ 007– you lot can look for the Watcher in the caves.”

Wagging a finger, Buffy playfully pushed Spike. “Just don’t be falling for any cute vampire bond girls while you’re in there– that kind of 007 playing is strictly off limits.”

Eyes twinkling, he pulled her close and said, “Never. Besides no bond girl, alive or dead, holds a candle to you. Well, except for maybe Jill St. John. No wait, Maud Adams. Oh, I forgot about Carole Bouquet. I think she was even better with a crossbow than you, too.”

Grinning, he ducked the playful slap.

In the living area of the suite, Willow rubbed her temples. She and Giles had read everything provided by the Council on the flight over and she still didn’t feel really ready for this. The containment spell fell to her and it was exceedingly tough. It didn’t help that any tiny mistake and the entire spell would fail. Focusing her tired eyes, she tried to translate the symbols scribbled on the paper in front of her for the third time.

Professor Simms smiled at her kindly. “Jet lag’s a bugger, isn’t it? I remember”–  He abruptly stopped talking.

She looked up and followed his gaze. Spike and Buffy were standing together in the kitchen, her arms wrapped tightly around his shoulders while he nuzzled her neck tenderly.

When Buffy whispered something in Spike’s ear that made him smile, Willow swore under her breath. She turned back to the elderly man. “We’d greatly appreciate if you didn’t say anything to the Council about this, Professor. Obviously, it would create all sorts of problems and the Slayer has more than enough to worry about right now.”

His eyes still on the couple, he murmured, “Extraordinary, isn’t it? The Council’s  Slayer and one of the most notorious vampires in history, obviously very much in love with each other.” He met Willow’s eyes. “Don’t worry Ms. Rosenberg, I’m quite the romantic and your secret is safe. You have my word as a gentleman.”

He looked at the couple briefly once more and added, “You’ll think me melodramatic I’m sure, but everything about this situation reminds me of Romeo and Juliet.”

Willow smiled, relieved. “Thank you professor Simms. We’re all very much in your debt.”

Willow had already escorted the older man to the hall and closed the door behind him before his words sunk in. She remembered the tragedy that ultimately befell the star-crossed lovers and a shiver ran down her spine.

Next chapter here
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/301279.html

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