Previous Chapters: ONE / TWO / THREE / FOUR / FIVE.
Summary: AU from some point during Tabula Rasa, when the crystal doesn’t get broken and something else happens to it instead. Events not dissimilar to those in kallysten and kantayra’s excellent story Tabula Rasa Ad Aeternum are taking place simultaneously with this story, but off-screen.
“Slayer, we have to talk.”
“Not now, Spike.” Buffy turned away from him and folded her arms.
He caught her shoulder and pulled her round to face him. “Then when? We have to talk. In private. Everybody else is busy. Now, Slayer.”
“Get your hands off me!” Buffy snapped. She unfolded her arms and pulled herself free of Spike’s grasp. “Anything you have to say to me, you can say right here.”
“Sure about that, Slayer?” Spike challenged her.
Buffy drew in a deep breath. “Okay. In private.”
Spike walked away from the main group, who were occupied in searching the bodies of a well-armed and armored party who had ambushed them in the street and had paid the price of failure, and led Buffy to a space behind a stack of crates that one of the late attackers had used as a hiding place. “What is wrong with you, Buffy?” he asked her. “We kissed. It meant something. There was a connection, you can’t deny it. You felt something for me.”
“It was a mistake. That’s all. I had to cling to something and you were there. I told you, it will never happen again.”
“Fine. You tell yourself that. It might even be true. But how could you go from that to wanting to stake me? We had a thing. You said I was the only one you could stand to be around.”
“That was before the chip stopped working. No soul, no chip – you’re a menace, Spike.”
“I can bloody control myself! Didn’t bite any of those sodding maniacs with the ‘burn baby burn’ thing going, did I?”
“You still killed them. You didn’t use your fangs? Big deal.”
“The ones I killed were going for Dawn. Promised to protect her, I did, until the end of the world. Don’t remember there being any clause about ‘protect her as long as no crazy git with a knife gets hurt in the process’.” Spike sucked in a breath. “Can’t you see I’ve changed, Buffy? Sorkatani trusts me and she doesn’t even bloody know me. Why can’t you?”
“She doesn’t know you, Spike. That’s the whole point.” Buffy cast a glance back over her shoulder to where the other warrior girl was stripping a suit of plate armor from a corpse. “And she’s a killer. She doesn’t seem to care about human life herself.”
“Haven’t seen her kill anybody who didn’t bloody ask for it.” Spike shook his head. “Strikes me you’re being a bit of a hypocrite, Slayer. Those nitwit Knights of Hack and Slash just picked themselves up and walked away after you threw them off the top of the camper at thirty miles an hour, did they?”
Buffy flushed. She’d driven an axe through the chest of one of the Knights, killing him for certain, before throwing him from the Winnebago. “That’s different. It was strictly in self-defense. They were attacking us.”
“And those pillocks weren’t?” Spike waved his hand in the direction of the fallen ambushers. “And you’d have just stood back and let those nutters set fire to that black bint back there?”
“She’s not human, Spike. I was Chosen to protect humanity, not elves or whatever the hell she is.”
“So you’d have let her burn ‘cos she’s got pointy ears and black skin?”
“I didn’t say that!” Buffy protested.
“Meant it, though.” Spike shook his head. “Maybe you’re not the girl I thought you were, Slayer.”
“Don’t you dare lecture me on morality, Spike!” Buffy’s eyes flashed and her hand drew back slightly as if she was on the verge of slapping him.
“Strikes me that somebody bloody should,” Spike growled. “Something’s changed about you these days. You’re not the girl you were when I fell in love with you.” He took out his cigarettes, grimaced as he saw that there were only three remaining in his last packet, and withdrew one. “You came back wrong.”
The group sat around a large trestle table in the Copper Coronet tavern. The air was smoky and heavy with the aroma of roasting pig. The clamor of a score of surrounding conversations filled the air and blurred into a din from which no distinguishable words could be picked out. Giles was tuning an instrument closely resembling a guitar, newly purchased on the trip from the Government District to this teeming slum area, and he grimaced as peaks in the background noise drowned out his notes.
“Quests are thrust upon us at every side,” Sorkatani observed. “Which should we choose? The Lady Nalia’s cause seems just. The boy Delon’s mission seems also righteous. Both swear that their cases are urgent.”
“I vote for solving those murders in the Bridge District, capturing the killer, and turning him in to the authorities so that we can claim the reward,” Anya proposed.
Sorkatani nodded. “A worthy suggestion. Yet we cannot take on every task at once.”
“We should split up, like I said.” Buffy focused a hard stare at Sorkatani. “I can’t work with you any longer.”
Sorkatani’s eyebrows climbed. “When first you proposed that we separate I thought it was only that you regarded our mutual party as too large. Yet now I sense from your tone that you have some quarrel with me. In what way have I offended you? An army cannot have two commanders, true, yet I had sought to avoid friction between us.”
“You are too ready to kill humans,” Buffy said bluntly.
Sorkatani flinched. “How can you say that? I don’t kill unless I have to. Only if someone draws blade on me, or threatens the innocent. I strive for truth and justice and I always try to follow the principles that Gorion taught me as a child. I’m no wanton killer.” She looked into Buffy’s eyes and shook her head slowly. “I thought you liked me. We were sisters in arms. Why are you saying that?”
“She says, ‘too ready to kill humans,” Viconia stressed. “Is it, then, that she would have rather seen me burned than that you drew blade to defend me against other rivvin?”
Sorkatani’s eyes hardened. “If there is truth in what she says then you are less than I had thought you, Buffy.”
“That goes for me too,” Tara put in. “I never figured you for a racist, Buffy.”
“Hey, get off Buffy’s back,” Xander snapped at Tara. “Buffy’s no racist.”
“Well she can stop acting like one,” Tara riposted.
“Both of you stop it,” Willow urged, her tone hesitant rather than forceful.
“I’m not a racist,” Buffy insisted. “It’s just, I’m supposed to protect humans. Nobody ever said I was supposed to protect vampires and demons and elves and whatever.”
“If they harm no one, why not?” Sorkatani snapped. “The good in someone is not measured by the shape of their ears.”
“And I’m supposed to listen to someone who backs a vampire against humans? How do I know that you’re not a monster yourself?”
“Buffy!” Dawn gasped. “Stop it!”
“And how do I know that you are no monster? You speak like one.” Sorkatani rose to her feet. Her left hand took hold of the scabbard of her katana and her thumb rested under the guard ready for the start of an iaijutsu draw.
“And you act like a psycho killer.” Buffy clenched her fists.
“Sorkatani is righteous and just, a true hero,” Minsc rumbled. “Moderate your words, girl, or face the wrath of a man and his hamster.”
“Buffy’s the true hero, dumbass,” Xander said angrily. Minsc put his hand upon his sword. Xander stood up and reached for the Sword of Chaos.
“Oh, for God’s sake,” Giles burst out. He stood up, put his knee upon his chair, and brought the guitar to a playing position. His fingers lashed down across the strings and brought forth a crashing chord, then several high sweet notes, and he began to sing.
“Together we'll stand
Divided we'll fall
Come on now people
Let's get on the ball
And work together
Come on, come on
Let's work together
Now now people
Because together we will stand
Every boy, every girl and man.”
The roar of conversation in the tavern dropped to a buzz and then ceased altogether. Humans, elves, dwarves, and halflings turned in their seats or stood and drew closer to the source of the music. Minsc’s hand dropped from his sword hilt. Xander sat down.
“Well now together we will stand
Every boy, girl, woman, and man.”
Giles played the final notes of the song and lowered the guitar. A storm of applause burst out across the Copper Coronet. Coins were tossed in Giles’ direction.
“That was strange, but very appealing,” Jaheira commented.
Viconia licked her lips. “For an inferior rivvil he is … desirable.” She removed her helmet, pulled off her borrowed sweater, and adjusted the neckline of her gown.
“Sorry about that, big guy,” Xander said to Minsc.
“Ah, we are all heroes,” Minsc said. “You, and me, and Boo, and Sorkatani, and Buffy. To speak up for your lord is noble. Our lords are ladies, of course, but that makes no difference.”
“I’m sorry,” Buffy said to Sorkatani. “I was totally out of line.”
“I too,” Sorkatani said. “Your words hurt me, but for me to threaten violence was wrong. I am shamed.”
“I’m pretty ashamed myself,” Buffy admitted. “I don’t want to be, like, racist. I didn’t think. See, I’ve always been taught ‘humans good, demons evil’. I guess I’ve never thought about there being people who aren’t humans or demons.”
“Your world sounds strange indeed to me,” Sorkatani said. “Tell me of it.”
“Uh, okay,” Buffy agreed. “So, friends again?”
“Well, I must say that went rather well,” Giles said, and he ran his hands caressingly over the body of the guitar.
Viconia ran her tongue lightly over her lips. “Sing again, rivvil. Giles. It would … please me.”
“Aye,” a burly dwarf with a plaited beard chimed in. “Ye’re a bonny wee singer, human. Will ye nae gi’ us another song?” A score of other voices added their requests for more to that of the dwarf; with promises of further gold.
“Thirty-seven gold danter,” Anya gloated. “Fifteen of those alloyed gold ones with the centaur picture on them, twenty-eight silver taran, a couple of worthless coppers, a gold coin with two entwined eagles on it, and a weird triangular coin. Gold, though. Yes, Giles, you should definitely sing again.”
“To sing for pay here you must give ten per cent to me, bard,” the proprietor of the Copper Coronet claimed. The man, Lehtinan, wore a silk shirt that seemed too fine for the owner of an establishment in such a seedy area, although the tavern’s bustling interior indicated that it was probably a very prosperous business. A golden necklace hung at his neck, the sword at his side had a hilt set with gold and pearls, and his eyes glinted with an avaricious gleam. “And ten per cent of what you have already is mine.”
“I suppose that is fair enough,” Giles agreed.
Anya handed over an approximation to ten per cent, scowling resentfully at Lehtinan as she did so, and Giles raised the guitar again.
“And now,” he said, “for something completely different.
Just a perfect day
Drink Sangria in the park,
And then later, when it gets dark
We go home …”
“Truly there is merit in the idea of us dividing our forces into two groups,” Sorkatani said to Buffy, “yet I would have us part as friends, and gather together again on completion of our separate quests.”
“Sounds good to me,” Buffy agreed. She ran her finger around the edge of her ale goblet. “Uh, as long as the guys are happy about it, and don’t all want to be in the same group.” She suddenly had a nervous feeling that if the party divided along lines dictated by a totally free choice then she would be left with an extremely depleted force.
“We must ensure that both groups have all the skills necessary to cope with any eventuality,” Sorkatani said. “Shall we see how our comrades choose? Should it turn out that one of us falls short of some necessary skill, well, then must we seek to persuade someone to change their mind.”
Buffy gulped. “Uh, okay. Let’s do this.”
Minsc and Yoshimo were unhesitating in choosing to be part of Sorkatani’s group. Willow and Xander were as quick to choose Buffy. Anya followed Xander’s lead. Giles looked thoughtful, taking a little longer, but chose Buffy. Viconia hesitated for several moments, her eyes on Giles, before she chose Sorkatani. Spike delayed his choice too but eventually moved to stand beside the girl from Baldur’s Gate. Buffy winced as she saw Tara follow him. Dawn wavered, torn by conflicting loyalties, but eventually she stood by her sister.
Jaheira chose Buffy. Or rather, as Buffy realized once she had recovered from her initial surprise, Jaheira chose to be in the same group as Giles.
“The division is as equal in numbers as can be with thirteen,” Sorkatani mused, “yet there is an imbalance in skills. You lack clerics.”
“Uh, Jaheira said she’d be on my team,” Buffy reminded her.
Sorkatani shook her head. “Jaheira is a druid. Her healing spells are those of a cleric, but Jaheira’s powers are rooted in nature and she has little force against the undead. If you came up against such creatures without a cleric you would be at a great disadvantage.”
“Hey, Slayer here, I’ve done pretty well up to now,” Buffy told her.
“Our undead may not be the same as yours,” Sorkatani cautioned her. “You were not accustomed to a vampire turning into a mist, remember?”
“Okay, point.” Buffy turned to Tara. “Tara, look, I know I was pretty much of a jerk about some things, but I’m sorry, okay?”
“It’s not you, Buffy,” Tara told her. “I don’t want, uh, I think I need a bit of time away from Willow right now. It was okay when there was a great big bunch of us, but, with just a few, things could get pretty awkward.”
Willow forced a smile to her face. It was fixed and unconvincing, and her voice trembled as she tried to adopt a carefree tone. “Hey, easy solved. I could go with Sorkatani and Tara could go with you, Buffy.”
Buffy frowned deeply. Tara’s apparent rejection had hurt, but to lose Willow would be like losing an arm.
“I’m okay with that,” Tara said. “Willow - I just need a bit of space, is all. What you did, well, it hurt me a lot. Maybe a little later we can spend time together again and see how things work out.”
“I’m good with that,” Willow said. “All perky and good and eager to go. And ready to get with the spell-casting just as soon as we get that license.”
“But that leaves me without a witch,” Buffy complained. “Still, I guess we just have the one, so somebody has to do without.”
“You have a bard, and a one talented beyond any that I have ever heard,” Sorkatani said. “His skills should serve you just as well as if he were a wizard.”
“Hear that, Giles? You totally rock,” Dawn said.
Giles fidgeted with his glasses. “I do my best. But really, that is too high praise. I just dabble. Really I’m a librarian.”
“A noble occupation, and in truth I would have spent my own life as a librarian had I not been wrenched unwilling from the peace of Candlekeep,” Sorkatani said. “Yet you do yourself a disservice if you claim only to dabble in the bardic arts. You are highly skilled.”
“Skilled indeed,” Viconia agreed. “Your voice can melt hearts and, I have no doubt, open legs.”
“It was pleasing to me also,” Jaheira said. “My legs do not, however, open so easily.”
Viconia arched an eyebrow at Jaheira, who looked away.
“Hey, Giles, you got groupies,” Dawn teased.
“Nonsense,” Giles said, his cheeks coloring slightly.
“We must divide up our money and equipment in an equable fashion,” Sorkatani said. “Buffy, you still have no armor.”
“I don’t want any,” Buffy said.
“It certainly would be advisable for you to wear armor,” Giles counseled her.
“I know it would be sensible,” Buffy said, “but it just seems kinda wrong for me. I worry about it hampering my moves. I’d rather stick with what I know. No armor for me.”
“You are kensai,” Sorkatani said. “I suspected as much.”
“Ken size? Not Barbie?”
“Kensai. Sword Saint,” Sorkatani clarified. “Your weapons are your shields and armor. I suspected as much.”
“Know what you mean about the armor hampering you, Slayer. Thing is, I’m getting that with this chain mail of mine. Might be the Mail of the Dead, but it’s buggering up some of my moves. Think I’d be happier without it.”
“What’s this, Spike, are you trying to prove you’re as tough as I am? I don’t wear armor, so you’re not going to? Sword Saint? You’re not any kind of saint, Spike, and trying to claim you are isn’t going to cut any ice with me.”
“Not claiming to be a saint, Slayer.” Spike looked into her eyes. “You used to treat me like a man, and that was enough for me.”
Buffy’s cheeks tinged with color and she lowered her eyes.
Spike waited for a few seconds but Buffy made no reply and so he continued. “Anyway, I’d be happier without this armor. Leather’s more my thing. I’ll take one of those jerkins and pass the chain on to somebody else. Tara, maybe?”
“So what class is Spike?” Andrew asked.
“I don’t know,” Jonathan admitted. “I thought he was just, like, a friendly monster.”
“He’s a Swashbuckler,” Warren said. “When he put the chainmail on I thought that I must have got it wrong, but it’s sorted itself out now.”
“Oh, yeah, a Swashbuckler is so right,” Andrew agreed.
“You think Giles is gonna score?” Jonathan wondered.
“Probably,” Warren said. “Now that I don’t want to see.”
“Even if it’s with Viconia?”
Warren’s mouth twisted. “Hmm. Even so, probably not. I was kind of hoping Viconia would get it on with Tara.”
Jonathan’s eyes glazed over briefly. “Mmm, yeah.”
“Well, they’re not in the same party now,” Andrew pointed out. “If Viconia’s going to get it on with anybody then it would have to be Spike.”
“I could live with that,” Warren conceded.
“Or Willow. She’s in Viconia’s party,” Jonathan reminded them.
“I could live with that, too. Could I ever live with that, dudes.” Warren licked his lips. “Okay, save it now, shorty. We’re gonna have to run it on two screens to follow it all now they’re splitting up.”
“Sure thing.” Jonathan saved and quit the game. “I need a bathroom break anyway.”
Later the three sat munching on pizza and idly watching an episode of ‘Star Trek: Voyager’. “I’m really getting somewhere with the coding,” Warren told them. “I made a patch and tried it out on an old save. It worked fine, no glitches, and the cut scene at the end of Chapter One had the dust clouds, and Irenicus putting a Hold on them to plug up that plot hole, and the extra shops were there, and the mob burning Viconia was bigger, and all that stuff. And hey, guys, there’s this whole lot of really funny dialogue in the clothes shop about this cool new invention in Athkatla. The bra.”
“No clones?” Jonathan asked.
“No, no clones,” Warren said. “There’s still just the two sets of them. The ones in the game and the Randy and Joan Show here in real life Sunnydale.”
“Hey, did you ask Alex about taking the diamond back for the reward?” Jonathan asked.
Warren’s jaw dropped and his mouth hung open. He raised his hand and smacked himself on the forehead. “D’oh! Sorry, dudes. I forgot all about it.”
The characters in this story do not belong to me, but are being used for amusement only and all rights remain with Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, the writers of the original episodes, and the TV and production companies responsible for the original television shows. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (c) 2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer trademark is used without express permission from Fox. I don’t know who currently owns the copyright to Bioware’s game ‘Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn’, but it isn’t me, and characters and dialogue extracts are used without permission and with no intent to profit from their use. Lyrics from ‘Let’s Work Together’ by Canned Heat and ‘Perfect Day’ by Lou Reed used without permission and, similarly, with no intent to profit.