- Keystone – Chapter 1/21
- Keystone – 2/21
- Keystone – 3/21
- Keystone – 4/21
- Keystone – 5/21
- Keystone – 6/21
- Keystone – 7/21
- Keystone – 8/21
- Keystone – 9/21
- Keystone – 10/21
- Keystone – 11/21
- Keystone – 12/21
- Keystone – 13/21
- Keystone – 14/21
- Keystone – 15/21
- Keystone – 16/21
- Keystone – 17/21
- Keystone – 18/21
- Keystone – 19/21
- Keystone – 20/21
- Keystone chapter 21/21 and epilogue
Hello everyone! Today’s my day to post and I bring you a long spuffy adventure tale. It’s 21 chapters and an epilogue, so I’m posting the first three now and then spreading the remainder throughout the day.
Thanks to enigmaticblues for hosting. I imagine it must be a lot like herding cats to get us all organized.
Word Count: 46,252 Complete-21 chapters and epilogue
Warning: explicit exsanguination scene
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.
Though the favorites of the Gods die young,
they also live eternally in the company of Gods.
The intercom buzzed insistently.
Quentin Travers frowned at the unwelcome intrusion. He set the gold Cross pen down adjacent to the pile of papers spread across his desk and pressed a key. “Yes? What is it?”
“Sir, the time is 10:15.” His secretary’s well modulated voice sounded slightly tinny floating from the depths of the intercom. “You wished to be reminded of the portal opening.”
“Thank you Emma.” Stacking the various reports into a neat pile, he slid the papers into a top desk drawer and locked it, dropping the small silver key into a vest pocket. He picked up the suit jacket draped across the back of his leather chair, shrugged into it and walked to a door concealed within the dark cherry wainscoting on the other side of the expansive office.
Pressing his hand against an unobtrusive indentation, he waited impatiently for the door to open. Once inside the private elevator he stabbed the button for the sub-basement. As the elevator began its silent descent, he glanced at the thin, elegant Swiss timepiece strapped to his wrist and scowled at the unwelcome intrusion in his normal morning routine.
The elevator shuddered to a stop and the door slid open to display a narrow, stone hallway. Pausing briefly, he allowed his eyes to adjust to the lower light level and realized he was the only person in the empty corridor. Everyone else must have already arrived. Blowing out an irritated breath, he stepped up the pace, the Kenneth Cole loafers making a hollow tap-tap sound on the worn pavers as he navigated the twists and turns of the ancient building. Rounding the final corner he stopped at two modern metal doors and hurriedly punched the correct code into a small keypad attached to the wall. The locking mechanism released with a click that echoed loudly in the silence.
Striding into a large room he blinked rapidly to clear his vision. Bright white light shimmered and pulsed rhythmically against plaster walls and bare concrete floor. The portal had begun to open. He worked his way through the crowd, the knot of waiting Council members parting to allow him access.
Arriving at the forefront, he stopped beside a blonde woman staring intently into the portal. One hand shaded her eyes while the second cradled a clipboard. She dipped her head, acknowledging his presence. At his questioning glance, she tried to make herself heard over the loud humming noise.
“It began four minutes ago.”
“Five. Three men from Security accompanied Harker, with Philips as assistant.”
The humming noise rose in pitch and volume, forcing some of the observers to wince and clap their hands over their ears.
With one final burst of sound and light the portal closed, leaving behind a chilling sight–two men sprawled unmoving on the cold concrete floor.
The blonde sucked in a breath.
Ignoring her unprofessional response, he dispassionately observed the scene, trying to make sense of the macabre tableau.
The first man, attired in a wrinkled and dirty suit, was obviously dead; his neck nearly severed from his shoulders. Blank eyes stared unseeing into the void while dark blood still pooling beneath him indicated the death blow was dealt as the portal opened. Travers recognized him– Philips, the man sent to assist Ian Harker, leader of the mission.
The second man was unknown, although his attire identified him as one of the security team. Still alive, he groaned and shifted restlessly, drawing attention to a small box clutched protectively within his arms.
A second, deeper groan galvanized the observers, several rushing forward to assist the unconscious man while the remainder– Travers and the blonde among them– watched from the edge of the circle.
Without removing his eyes from the scene playing out, he urged in a low voice, “The box, Lydia.”
Gingerly avoiding the blood, the blonde kneeled on the floor next to the security officer and pried the box from his grasp. Carefully cradling the small box, she stepped aside to allow the medical staff access.
They lifted the unconscious man onto a stretcher, his head lolling to one side with the sudden movement, revealing two jagged puncture wounds. A thin line of blood still trickled from the injury. In the harsh fluorescent light, it appeared nearly black against the pallor of his throat.
After carefully arranging his limbs on the gurney, the medical team rushed the survivor from the room. Attention shifted from the circle as the deceased man was also removed. The remaining Watchers shifted, murmuring among themselves and sending occasional furtive looks at Travers.
Intellectually he understood their growing concerns although he would not deign to address them at the moment. They’d obviously lost several men, including Philips and Harker. It was unfortunate, but everyone– including golden boy Ian Harker– had understood the mission’s importance.
Lydia gently placed the box in his hands, cutting short his thoughts. Ignoring the ornate carvings– there would be time for study later–he ran his fingers lightly along the top and sides until locating the hidden latch. He gave the unknown manufacturer a brief nod, impressed. The box was well constructed, the latch cleverly concealed.
He ignored the others silently jockeying for better vantage points until they stood arrayed closely around him–their eyes intent, breaths held in anticipation.
His own concentration focused solely on the box, he released a breath he hadn’t realized he held, and gently pressed the latch.
Making a slight noise, the lid sprung easily, revealing an unknown woven material layered within and two deep depressions that marked the fabric.
The box was empty.
He glanced at the blonde staring openmouthed at the empty box. Her look of dismay echoed across the surrounding faces.
Expression hardening, he snapped the lid closed. “Lydia, how long before the portal reopens?”
Slightly startled, she frowned in concentration before meeting his eyes. “I’d have to double check to be absolutely certain, but somewhere between twenty and thirty hours. I assume we will make a second attempt.”
“Of course. However this time we shall try a different method of retrieval.” Tamping down his abject annoyance at how the morning’s events had played out, he spoke smoothly into a small phone. “Emma, ring Rupert Giles immediately.”
12 hours later
Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean
Frowning, Spike stared at the cards triumphantly slapped down on the tray table in front of him and then back at the smug expression on Buffy’s face.
She caught his look and grinned. For maximum effect, she counted really loud. “Twenty one—no two, for a grand total of five hundred thirty-six. I win. Again.”
Resigned, he laid his own cards down and Buffy’s grin widened at all the face cards. Spike always held queens, kings and jacks to the bitter end. Every single time. No wonder he had trouble winning poker hands at home without cheating.
She liked to fancy it was her boyfriend’s optimistic nature, but knew it was probably just an ingrained bad habit. One she had no problem exploiting. After all it had taken him several hours of steadily winning earlier before he’d reluctantly explained about her “tells.” They might be dating now, but that certainly didn’t keep either of them from being competitive. In fact it made it that much more fun.
Buffy still had trouble believing that the hottie sprawled in the airplane seat next to her scowling in disbelief as he counted his point laden hand was her boyfriend of three entire weeks–ever since they’d returned from an assignment for the Watcher’s Council.
Now here they were a couple hours out of Heathrow responding to an urgent summons from Quentin Travers and the Council. For someone who had spent the last several years of her life in Sunnydale with only the occasional weekend trip to L.A. for dad-time, it was almost unbelievable–two trips back to back, this one to a foreign country no less.
Buffy Summers– jet setting Slayer. It had a nice ring. She idly wondered if it might be possible to do a side trip to Ireland. She’d always wanted to beat up leprechauns. They gave her the wiggins. You just knew there had to be some serious demony mojo workin’ in those creepy wee people with their bowler hats.
Spike finally finished counting his points, deducting them from the running total in his head and shook that same blond head in wry amusement. The Slayer had trounced him again. Even as he’d been explaining “tells” to her earlier, the little voice inside his head had insisted it was a bad idea to explain how she twisted her hair around her fingers every time she was dealt a rotten hand, winding it tighter the worse it appeared.
But in over a hundred years he’d never learned to keep his mouth shut and besides she’d looked so discouraged after losing several games in a row that he’d found himself spilling everything, just to make her smile again. Women.
Exhaling needlessly, he gathered the cards together, long, thin fingers sliding them into a pile and stacking them neatly. He was about to ask if she was ready to start another game–after all a bloke shouldn’t give up too damn easily, tells or not– when he noticed her expression. Buffy was worlds away. He paused and allowed his eyes to sweep across her face and body, using the unguarded moment just to look at her. She was so beautiful– even wrinkled and tired from travel–no one else could compare to his Slayer. Buffy was his goddess and he happily worshipped at her altar every chance possible and in his mind that meant serious ogling was allowed, even encouraged.
Spike snorted lightly. As if he needed encouragement. He wasn’t completely clear on how their relationship had happened, but he certainly wasn’t going to look too closely at the whys and hows. It was enough to know they were together and had been ever since the last night during a mission onboard a demonic cruise ship. He’d given her a strand of obscenely expensive pearls and mustered up the courage to confess that his feelings of friendship had blossomed into a whole lot more.
She’d shocked and delighted him by revealing that those feelings were definitely mutual. They’d spent the remainder of that night wrapped arm in arm on the ship’s deck under the moon, staring out at the dark water and talking about everything and nothing. It had been the best night of his undead life. So far. Although with Buffy at his side, he knew it would only get better and better.
He shuffled the cards and his eyes narrowed. Provided the Council never learned of the real relationship between their Slayer and a Master Vampire. Giles had been bad enough, initially throwing a tantrum that would have done a two year old proud, he’d finally grown weary of arguing with his stubborn Slayer and out of love and respect for her, had grudgingly thrown up his hands and withdrawn from the field of battle.
But Spike knew if Travers and the Council heard or saw even the smallest impropriety between the pair during this trip, they would make things so incredibly ugly that they’d all be begging for an apocalypse just to lighten the atmosphere.
Even Giles– in his cups one night a couple weeks ago– had admitted that Travers was the most ruthless, cold-blooded Council Head he’d ever had the displeasure to serve; the man consistently upheld the merciless position that a Slayer was merely a tool in his arsenal against evil, a means to an end. Travers held no personal regard at all for Buffy nor her welfare and would remove her permanently from the game without even batting an eye if he thought she could no longer achieve his goals.
On a lighter note, Spike knew he absolutely loathed William the Bloody. Quentin Travers considered all vampires –even the Souled Git himself–to be walking abominations upon the earth, and would eagerly, no, gleefully stake him for the tiniest infraction, no matter how much good he’d done this past year in service to the Council. Travers held tightly to the opinion that it was an absolute impossibility for a vampire to turn over a new leaf– tigers don’t change their stripes. And Spike didn’t dare give Travers a reason–like, oh say, true love for instance– to explain his firmly held commitment to the Slayer and white hat status.
This black and white world view made the Head Watcher–at least in Spike’s opinion–more than stupid, it also made him dangerous. He knew he’d never been much of a deep thinker, but he’d been around for over a century and some things a bloke learned simply from observation of the human race, not to mention a checkered past that included associations with others who were exactly like Travers.
Spike knew you just can’t trust people like Quentin Travers and the Council in the clinch, they go down mouthing platitudes and taking everyone else down with them. Every single evening when Spike woke up he vowed the diabolical old lion and his weak-willed cubs would never get the chance to harm anyone he cared about– especially Buffy–and yet ludicrous as it had once sounded, they were all about to beard the lion’s personal den and at his request yet. This trip was a cosmic joke, and Spike feared the brunt of the laughing would be at his expense. He was absolutely petrified it would be at Buffy’s.
“Earth to Spike.”
Buffy waited patiently, watching several tiny frown lines disappear as Spike returned from whatever dark place he’d been seeing within his mind’s eye. She was used to catching him like this occasionally, recognizing that there would be times when he might become overwhelmed with memories that she didn’t even want to consider, although he’d been working diligently for several months now– since they’d first become true friends in fact– to take control of his darker nature. For the most part he’d been successful.
The chip that the soldier boys had implanted had begun a transformation in his character that he’d completed on his own and happily, without losing any of his sense of self or affable but smart ass personality. With his activities–his very way of life up to that point–suddenly curtailed beyond anything he could have ever imagined, Spike could easily have become a morose, brooding sort of guy– not unlike a certain ex boyfriend–or even a mean drunk.
Buffy knew that his abiding deep love for her, his easy friendship with the others and his amusingly slavish, tender care of Empress had all played their part in his impetus to rise above both the situation he’d found himself in and his original nature to ultimately join the Scoobies as a full partner.
She was justifiably proud of him and everything he’d accomplished, and without even a soul. It was an impressive feat, and she loved him all the more for it. And although a white hat, he still retained a wicked sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye. He’d also retained an ability to get into scrapes, mainly when drinking, but a guy had to have some outlet and minor public disturbances were easily forgiven, especially when he’d show up at her door with that aforementioned twinkle and reach for her…….
“Sorry, luv, guess I was wool gathering.”
Spike’s voice broke the silence, wrenching Buffy back to the present– she’d nearly been caught daydreaming herself! She quickly gathered her wits together and smiled at him.
Spike sheepishly raked his free hand through his hair, leaving behind a swath of the blond curls she loved so much.
The corner of her mouth twitched. “Welcome back from planet Completely Oblivious.”
Pushing the dark thoughts to the farthest recesses of his mind, Spike returned the smile and drawled, “Look at who’s talkin’. You were holdin’ a ticket for that same destination and standin’ first in the queue.”
“Yeah, well, even with all the gathering of wool– and I wonder how that expression came about, I mean is it an insult aimed at sheep shearers?– anyway, I was obviously paying attention at some point; I still managed to beat your undead butt again. You know that’s three games in a row.”
“That situation can be remedied in a heartbeat.”
“Then it’s too bad you don’t have one.”
Spike snorted at her quip and she grinned. He was so much fun to tease.
Poised to deal again, he quirked an eyebrow at her.
“Let’s take a break for awhile.” Squirming on the hard cushion, she tried to find at least one spot somewhere that didn’t ache from sitting so long. Unfortunately there wasn’t one. “How much longer do you think until we land? I think I’m permanently molded in an L shape, like some kid’s Playdough that went through the extractor and then got left out of the can. ”
Trying to stretch her legs out in front of her, she accidentally kicked the bottom of the seat in front of her and popped the dozing passenger six inches in the air. Spike muffled a bark of laughter with fake coughing.
Darn Slayer strength. “Wow, that was some serious air turbulence, huh?” She smiled brightly at the furious man who had spun around in the seat to glare at her.
Her smile faded. “Um, I’m sorry?” The passenger refused to respond to her apology, instead vindictively adjusting his seat down and back as far as possible, until she was mashed against her own seat in an effort to avoid touching him.
Rolling her eyes, she scrunched closer to Spike and lowered her voice to a whisper. “You’d think the Council could have sprung for first class, since they’re making us travel all this way.”
Spike put his arm around her shoulder and whispered in her ear. “You know how bloody cheap they are. I’m just glad the twits didn’t insist on putting me in the cargo hold with Empress.”
She met his gaze and they both grimaced, picturing their Grundy unhappily stuck in a metal cage for the entire length of the trip. To say Empress would not be pleasant to be around for awhile after this was like saying that sometimes it snowed at the Artic circle during winter. Not only did Empress think of herself as a first class kind of girl, she had sulking down to a fine art. That, combined with the memory of a matriarchal elephant, made the Grundy a formidable force of nature along the lines of a category five hurricane.
Spike briefly savored the thought of Empress meeting Travers for the first time after her confinement.
Banishing that particularly enjoyable bloodbath, he needlessly cleared his throat and prepared to bring up the conversation he knew they had to have. It sucked beyond telling when he had to be the adult.
At her questioning look, he played his opening gambit. “I still can’t believe Travers requested both Empress and me to accompany you. What do you suppose he needs us both for?” And how can I keep the wanker from realizing we’re together?
Buffy heard the rarely admitted anxiety in Spike’s voice that he couldn’t quell, and realized this subject was the black pit that he’d been swimming in off and on all day.
She knew he was beyond worried– for that matter so was she. The thought of Spike and Travers in the same room working together was giving her a serious wiggins– nearly a complete meltdown in truth– especially since every time she pictured it she was firmly stuck in the middle between them, usually pushing a very large, very wooden stake away from the center of Spike’s heart by breaking Travers’ arm in several places. Not the most pleasant scenario.
It wasn’t just the playing nice part either, but the entire working-in-England for Travers sitch. Whatever the Council Head wanted to plant squarely on her shoulders, she knew it was going to be beyond difficult. But that was all part and parcel of the Slayer gig and she could deal when she had to– no matter how overprotective Spike was being right now– so she took a deep breath, jamming her own anxiety away in its compartment before trying to find some way to relieve his.
She put her hand on top of his and squeezed. “You and I both know that Giles doesn’t know anything so he couldn’t tell us more. We both know it’s serious, but nothing we can’t handle. We always do.” Staring in his eyes, she saw the worry reflected there and added gently, “You know that Giles got Travers’ solemn oath as Head of the Council that this wasn’t some sort of twisted way to get you staked or anything like that after leaving the plane.”
“’Cause Rupert could bloody well stop them.” Spike knew if something did happen to him, no matter what had been promised, Buffy’s Watcher would be the first to sign up for the parade. But he wasn’t important. She was. And if a time came, he would gladly die to save her and prayed nightly that in doing so it would be enough. But right now all he wanted was reassurance from someone he could trust that any attempt on her life wouldn’t be at the hands of one of their own. Because of him. But there was no one.
Buffy’s mouth thinned. “It’s true that Giles can’t guarantee anyone’s safety, but I can. You know I’m not going to let anything happen to anyone at the hands of the Council— not Willow, not Empress and especially not you. If Travers or any one of his ass kissers so much as looks at you cross eyed, you’ve got my permission to bite their heads off. Or better still, I’ll help you do it, humans or not. They need to stay far, far away from you.”
Spike grimaced. Buffy didn’t understand it was that very attitude that would get them both killed. But then what did he expect? Neither one of them had ever been any good at being covert. They’d done a crappy job on the cruise ship when they weren’t supposed to let the baddies know the Slayer was onboard. It was only luck that it ultimately hadn’t mattered.
Besides, Spike knew for an absolute fact that his own unguarded expression these days was of a man completely besotted. Just yesterday Clem had teasingly joked that Spike must have morphed from a vampire into a werewolf because he was so moonstruck.
And every single time Spike caught Buffy unaware she was wearing that private, enigmatic little smile. Hell, he’d even coined her Buffy Lisa in his head.
No doubt about it, they were utterly and completely doomed, just by being in the same room together. Willow termed it “serious sparkage” and had even pulled Spike away before the trip to warn him. He knew that she’d done the same with Buffy. For what it was worth.
He rubbed the spot between his eyes that throbbed every time he considered having this conversation. “Buffy, Sweetling, you’ve got to watch your back every single minute around them. Don’t look at me too often, don’t smile at me ever, and no matter what Travers says about me, don’t let him see you get angry. Better yet, let Rupert do most of the talking if I’m the subject. Stay focused on being completely uninvolved.”
At the mention of her Watcher, Buffy’s eyes automatically glanced up the aisle at Giles and Willow. Heads together, they were still staring at the laptop screen, engrossed in some obscure language that made her head hurt just to look at it.
“Fine. I’ll play nice and pretend that I’m uninvolved with the sexiness that is you.” She grinned at him wolfishly. “I also promise to try very hard– and it will take some serious concentration on my part–not to stare at your nicely muscled body when any of the suits are around.” She ran a finger lightly down his bare arm. “Now, can we stop talking about them?”
He capitulated easily–after all she’d promised that she’d try–and besides Buffy had just leered at him. Growling softly, he pulled her across the seat and into his lap. Placing a hand gently under her chin, he tipped her head, guiding her mouth toward his. Gazing deeply into her eyes, he closed the distance between them, capturing her lips with his own. She wrapped her arms around his neck as he murmured into her mouth “I love you so much Buffy.”
Relaxing completely, she melted into his embrace as he slanted his mouth over hers and deepened the kiss.
“Good evening, this is your captain speaking. We’ll begin our descent into Heathrow shortly. Please place your tray tables in the upright position and fasten your seatbelts…”
They reluctantly separated and she slid back into her own seat. “Well, at least we don’t have too much longer to wait until we find out exactly what they want.”
Spike pitched his voice lower than the chattering passengers. “A request from the Council for their Slayer, her Watcher, a powerful witch, a vampire and a Grundy to fly all the way across the pond is such an everyday occurrence that I’d willingly wait a couple of decades to find out what they want.” He reached for his seatbelt. “Unfortunately all we’ve got is a couple more hours.”
Next chapter here
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/300615.html