A/N: Lord of the Rings is property of Tolkien and all his people. Buffy is property of Whedon and all his people. I sadly have no people.
The streets below were cobbled. The stones, slippery and damp after the early showers of the day. The air was crisp and cold, though not quite cold enough to turn that layer of damp into a layer of ice. The chill in the air held a promise, though, one of snow and ice and all the things she had loved about the winter in childhood not far off.
“There’s a party heading out tomorrow, as it were.”
The dark was deep, almost empty. It hung about her like a cloak, something that sheltered her body from wandering eyes while at the same time it smothered her spirit. But she walked the rooftops of the town in the night with ease, having done it for so long that it was more natural to her than the day. She had been taught by her friend that Wiccans believed that the Goddess ruled the night. And, of course, the religion of her new family, well, Elbereth was the Queen of the Stars. It made sense to her in some ways. She was a woman, her kind was always a woman. And they were meant to govern the dark as it unleashed the unholy creatures that lived within it.
“A group o’ Men headin’ for the Northern regions.”
The silence was almost deafening. The town was by no means a quiet one. Even long into the night and well before dawn the streets were full of activity. Tonight was no exception. The main streets over on the other side of the village were filled with people, that she knew. But lately even the bravest would not dare wander into the unknown dark corners, sticking to the places with people, traveling more and more in groups. It was a sign, she had long ago realized. Even the most oblivious now knew that the world was not safe to wander alone in shadow.
“They’s a weak lot, women and children with ‘em.”
The alley was long and narrow, tucked between a row of buildings that turned towards the more respectable street and the high wooden walls that protected the small town from the dangers of the outside world. Or so the people thought. But from her perch high on the roof of one of the buildings lining the wall she could now see the large hole in this neglected portion of the wall, one large enough that the monsters people feared were able to come and go as they pleased.
“They got some pretty jewels with ‘em, an’ them’s ours!”
She could see the group before her even if they couldn‘t see her. The Men were mostly fatter than was respectable, downright slovenly by the looks. Most likely drunkards, too lazy to work for their booze money, too evil of heart to care how and where they got it. There were three of them. Another one was a small and skinny looking runt, one that seemed to be the thinker of the group. One look in his eyes and she could see the rat he was. Pure evil, hatred, the worst imaginable traits one could barely imagine were what made up his vile nature.
“Take all the meat an’ other spoils you want.”
Once again, she wished she could play by the old rules, the ones that forbade her from taking human life. But in her heart of hearts she knew that it really didn’t work then. She could think of dozens of times, so many names and faces that had been worse than some of the demonic forces she slew without second thought. Ethan Rayne. Amy Madison. Maggie Walsh. Warren Meers. Here and now, well, the rule couldn’t be applied at all. She tried to tell herself they weren’t really human. But in the end, after she had been forced to kill a person for the protection of so many innocents, she still felt dirty. But this group, she could tell these Men more than deserved it, even without the harsh words.
“But we wants them gems.”
The Orcs were practically salivating at the thought of fresh meat, the flesh of small children. She could taste a bit of bile in her throat at the thought. But the six Orcs would do what they wanted. She existed to make sure they didn’t.
She had been doing this for so many years. Going on eighteen and she still looked like she was no more than three and twenty. It was her life, protecting the young ones that looked out into the shadows in fear. It was more than a Calling. It was more than destiny.
“Up the Greenway. Easy pickings.”
Memories of a life nearly forgotten sometimes came to her. She would almost think them a dream if not for her family. She saw them all at least once every few years. Some more often than others. One in particular sometimes more often than she cared.
“The Rangers patrol the Greenway. And some say others.”
Others. She couldn’t help but smile. She had many names in this world. Most of them more infamous than the last. Most thought they were a myth, a story told to restless children that needed heroes in these dark times. But the Orcs knew better. Too many of their kind had fallen under her sword. Too often had they seen her walking through the mists that hung around the hills of Bree.
“Fairytales. It’ll be like taking candy from a Hobbit.”
She smiled to herself as she glanced down, almost sorry for the creatures below. Then, as silent as a ghost, she simply stepped off the rooftop. She landed on the cobblestone street with little more sound than a slight thwop. It was doubtful the Orcs and Men would have even notice her if it wasn‘t for the fact that she had landed right in the middle of their little circle.
“Evening, boys,” she greeted them before going to work.
It was easy. It had become so easy over the years. Sometimes the ease with which she killed worried her somewhat. But in the end she knew it was just the curse of many long years of experience. So she tried to remain careful, not become complacent. That was what made it difficult.
A knife in the gut of the Orc on her left, the Man on her right. Down onto her hands to avoid a clumsy stab from the skinny Man and then up with her legs, hook them around the Man in front of her. Snap of the neck, corpse flung into the Orcs to stall for time, circle down back onto her feet. Draw sword as she straightens, quick swipe around to take care of the two Orcs trying to close the distance. A kick to take down the remaining tub of lard, block and parry with the Orc leader, roll and take small hatchet from sheath, throw into head of other Orc further away. Finish short duel with Orc in front of her, turn and down swipe to Man she had kicked down earlier. Turn and kick down skinny Man before he can even think to run.
It was over in less than a minute, just her and the runt in front of her left. He looked up at her, beady eyes wide as she brought her sword up for the last blow. “Who are you?” he whispered before she could strike.
She grimaced, for some days she didn‘t even know the answer herself. “A fairytale.”
She hated killing Men. It was hard and turned her stomach. She always felt dirty right after. These four Men had needed to die. But that didn’t make her feel any better.
She sighed and knelt to collect her weapons. Two knives, one she had been given long ago by her family and one she had gotten a few years before from Elrond, and a hatchet, again that she had been gifted with by her family. Once she had them all in hand, she sheathed her sword at her side and rose to her feet. Only when she turned did she realize she had miscounted and that there was one lone Orc still staring at her from on down the street.
It smiled its grizzly, blood-filled smile at her and she knew the words that would come next. “Come. Join.”
Those were the two words that hunted her, hunted her family. Everytime she saw one of His minions, the offer was repeated. Though she ha yet to face that one last test, the test that only one of their number had so far faced. The Seven.
The Orc smiled at her once more, then it turned and took off.
She sighed. “Shit.”
She chased after the Orc as fast as she could, knowing the creature had but two options. It would either head out of the town and towards the forest where she would be hard-pressed to find it. Or it could head for the busier parts of town where people would probably be injured, if not killed, in the fight and her cover would be blown again for another decade or two.
It chose the forest. She followed it up and over the wall, across the fields, but it had too much of a lead on her. It reached the treeline and turned to mock her before slipping out of her reach.
“The Eldahini will be ripped from the worlds they know. The time of reckoning is--”
The Orc was rudely interrupted by the sword that hacked its head off its neck in one clean motion. The body slumped down to the ground, the head landing a few feet away from it. And Buffy found herself looking at a tall, wiry man with sparkling blue eyes that laughed at her.
She narrowed her own eyes as she glared at the man in frustration. “You know I could have handled that by myself.”
Her unwelcome supporter gave her a doubtful look as he puffed on the pipe that hung lazily from his mouth. “Buffy.”
He sauntered up to her, slipping through the night easier than even she was able to, his long black coat that was so reminiscent of the coat he had long had in their home dimension fluttered in the breeze as he walked. Of course he had centuries of practice on her. He seemed so arrogant standing there before her, wiping the disgusting black Orc blood off of his equally black blade with a rag. He sheathed his sword with ease in the scabbard he wore on his back instead of at his side. His clothing was different than that of the Dunedain, even of Aragorn‘s, opting merely for a poet-like black shirt, a red and black vest, and loose fitting pants. His hair was longer than it had been even fifteen years before and wavy and he wore it hanging down past his chin, the same dark blonde color it had been so many years ago during his crazy basement days.
Spike grinned wryly as he reached up to take the pipe from his mouth.
“What are you doing here?” she asked testily, even though she already knew the answer.
For over seventeen years, Spike had been her partner. Completely in a platonic way. Except for that one night in Rohan with the ale and the weird pipeweed that had definitely not been Shire tobaccus. But they decided a long time ago never to speak of it again. Though Buffy wouldn’t trade that night for any other in the world. It had been that night that had broken down all the walls that were still left between them after their tumultuous past, for that night they realized their love had changed into something much more familial. Now, nearly a decade and a half later, she felt as if she knew her old nemesis better than she even knew herself. The bond they shared was strong and deep and she loved having him as her brother-in-arms.
Spike himself had changed much over the years, especially as he adjusted not only to having his soul once more but being human again. The pain he felt at the memory of his demonic years was slowly fading. She still caught him brooding more times than she cared and there were some times when he got pretty bad. But the comfort that living in Middle-Earth gave him, well, she knew it was better for him there than it had been in their dimension. Something about the simplicity of living day to day, of making a life from his own two hands.
And what a life he made. Though they were unofficial partners in crime, keeping the western lands of Middle-Earth safe from Mordor’s reach, Spike had ingratiated himself more into the land than she had. He actually had made friends in a small Dunedain town up near Ered Mithrin, where they spent a lot of time dealing with the Orcs that seemed to infest the Grey Mountains. He had even built a small house for himself and everything, one that he had made clear was for the entire family though only he, Faith, Xander, and Buffy had ever used it. He was well excepted in that place and Buffy long suspected that one day he would take a decade or two and retire there to rest up before the war they knew was coming.
But for the time being she was stuck with him, hovering protectively over her every move as if she had never been a Slayer on a Hellmouth. As he approached her, she could see the concern in his eyes. “Thought you might need some help.”
She heaved a long-suffering sigh as they fell into step together, heading back towards the town of Bree. “I can handle myself.”
“Yeah, looked like,” he muttered with a roll of his eyes. “How did it know who you are?”
“How do they ever?” she asked pointedly before noticing an envelope tucked carefully into his belt. “What’s that?”
He glanced down at the letter then raised his eyes to meet hers. “Word from Faith. She and Strider want to see us as soon as possible.”
Faith. The only other family member she saw on a semi-regular basis. While she and Spike were partners, Faith was attached to Aragorn. No, they definitely weren’t in anything that even remotely resembled a romantic relationship. Instead, it seemed that Aragorn and Faith had adopted each other as the siblings they had never had. They were close, as close as Spike and Buffy if not closer.
Faith had been another of the family to blossom in Middle-Earth. Her personality, like Spike’s, was similar on the suface, but she had grown up a lot underneath. She was able to now bear responsibility, and quite well, and she had grown much less impulsive than she had been when they first arrived. Much of it was due to Aragorn’s influence, but a lot of credit had to be given to the once rogue Slayer herself. She was still fairly wild, though, and had never settled anywhere in any shape or form, besides Lorien of course.
Though the two pairs of Rangers often traveled together, they were separated at the moment and not scheduled to meet again for several months. Well, hadn’t been until now. Buffy had to admit, after a few months sepeartion it would be nice to see Faith and Aragorn again. “No problem.”
“They’re in Archet with Halbarad,” Spike explained so she wouldn’t need to trable herself over the long-winded correspondence that she knew Aragorn would have sent. But then she noticed Spike narrow his eyes and shoot her a careful look. “Adelgar is there, too.”
Buffy felt her blood thaw considerably at this news. She slowed her pace and closed her eyes. “Shit, shit, shit, shit.”
She felt rather than heard Spike‘s laughter beside her. “Thought you might be pleased.”
Of the many headaches Buffy’d had since coming to Middle-Earth, Adelgar was the cause of the most. “He just won’t take no for an answer.”
“He wants a reason,” Spike pointed out to her as they came to a stop all together.
“I don’t love him,” Buffy replied plainly, looking spike in the eye.
She wasn’t surprised to find him raising an eyebrow at this. “And? You don’t love anyone else.”
She watched him a moment, wondering if she should voice what she had known for months. Finally she decided to go for it. “You think I should say yes.”
Spike hesitated and she could see that he was choosing his words carefully. “I think we all should live in the present and not the past.”
“And what about the future,” Buffy reminded him. “How fair would it be to Adelgar to live his entire life married to a woman that can’t age? That is as young as she was when he married her when he dies?”
Spike snorted. “Didn’t seem to make much difference to you when you tangled with the immortal.”
“It would be different if I actually was in love with him,” she retorted, her patience beginning to wear thin. “Really.”
“But just bein’ your boy toy, that’s not enough for a commitment,” he said, his tone light through the harshness of the words. “Know from experience how that goes.”
She rolled her eyes, knowing that they had long ago worked past this and he was just giving her a hard time. “I wasn’t that mean to you.”
He snapped his eyes over to her and gave her a disbelieving look. “You tried to kill me.”
“You tried to kill me,” she countered easily.
Spike knew he couldn’t argue with that and shrugged. “Fair enough.”
“And I only slept with Adelgar the one time,” she pointed out as they resumed their trek back to Bree at a leisurely pace. “And I was drunk.”
Spike’s lips curled into a wry grin at the memory of Buffy’s very bad night. “You really were.”
Buffy punched him before crossing her arms defensively in front of her. “And you were what when you’ve succumbed to your countless number of whores?”
“Horny,” he replied blatantly with a smile. “And they’re not whores. I’ve never had to pay for a shag.”
Buffy hesitated, a small smile forming on her lips. “Well--”
“You’ll be calling yourself a whore so be careful,” Spike interrupted happily.
Buffy stopped and scowled at him. “Whoremonger.”
“Ice bitch,” he replied immediately.
“See, why does he get away with calling you that and not me?”
They both whirled around to find two people smiling down at them from their perches on top of their horses. Buffy’s attention was especially drawn to the dark-haired young woman on the equally dark stallion that had become her traveling companion after Hwest had been shot untimely by a random Orc arrow. She looked just as old as she had been when they had arrived, twenty-two, though her appearance was much altered. Buffy was glad to see her dark brown hair fell down in large curls to her hips, though she rarely released it from the complicated cornrow-like braids she usually kept it in, normally twirling the ends into a tight bun at the nape of her neck. But when it hung wild and free, especially considering the dark red and black corset top and tight black pants she wore, she looked like some sort of wild Amazon sex goddess, and that opinion was from the thoroughly heterosexual Buffy. Not even the dark red long coat she wore overtop of her fairly revealing clothes did much to alter the image.
“I thought you were going to wait for us in Archet,” Buffy said as way of greeting.
Faith snorted and swooped down from her perch on Gaeruil, long hair flying wildly around her. “It was easier if we came here. On the way to where we need to be. Archet isn’t.”
Aragorn was much more traditional in his greeting as he dismounted and gave both Buffy and Spike the traditional Elven bow. “Mae gavannen, my friends. Buffy, William, you look well.”
Before either of them could reply, Faith turned to shoot Aragorn a look. “If you define that as well I will beat your ass next time you say I look well.”
Buffy narrowed her eyes at her sister-Slayer. “Fuck you, Faith.”
Faith turned to Buffy and raised her eyebrows in surprised appreciation. “Listen to the mouth on Miss Trim and Proper.”
Buffy continued to glare at the other woman. “You know, I was so looking forward to not having to be around you for another eight months. What happened, need us to bail you out of trouble again?”
“I can take care of myself,” Faith said, echoing Buffy’s earlier sentiments word for word.
“Like hell,” the blonde Slayer snapped back at her dark counterpart.
“Ladies!” Aragorn broke in before the pair could come to blows. Not that they did come to blows anymore. Well, not often.
Spike pretty much ignored the two women and instead focused on Aragorn, offering the fellow Ranger a nod. “Strider.”
Aragorn, however, looked a bit put out due to Buffy and Faith‘s antics, not that he was any stranger to them. “William, how you put up with it…”
“Why you think I’m so fond of the bottle?” Spike asked, punctuating the question by drawing a flask from his hip.
Buffy ignored this exchange and instead looked beyond Aragorn and Faith, eyes searching the darkness behind them. “Is Adelgar with you?”
Aragorn gave her a knowing smile. “No. Faith sent him off with Halbarad.”
Buffy turned and gave Faith a relieved look. “Thanks.”
The dark-haired Slayer simply smiled at her softly. “Knew what it would mean to ya.”
Aragorn sighed at this sudden change at the mood between them. “How can you go from mortal enemies one moment to the best of friends the next?”
Buffy and Faith exchanged a look, then turned to him and answered in unison, “Sisters.”
Aragorn took this in and turned to Spike. “We found plans. There is a group going to sack Combe week after next.”
Spike stuck his pipe in his mouth and lit up, looking thoughtful as he puffed on it. “The week after the winter festival.”
Aragorn nodded. “The extra patrols for the festival will be gone.”
“And the profits will still be pretty ripe,” Spike continued on as the foursome started for Bree.
Buffy frowned as she considered this new information/ “Why do Orcs want money?”
“No Orcs,” Faith replied. “A group of Men.”
This got Buffy‘s attention. “Interesting. Where from?”
Faith shrugged. “I’d say the South from their clothing, but no reports have come of this group from the southern patrols.”
“Slipped past?” Spike suggested as they reached the wall of the town.
Buffy shot Spike an amused look. “If Xander heard that, he’d beat you to death.”
Spike snorted. “Like to see him try.”
Buffy turned her attention from Spike to Faith. “Do you know where these Men are?”
The other Slayer shook her head. “But we know where they’re going to be.”
“Halbarad is assembling the Rangers,” Aragorn continued, having long adapted to speaking with them in their radically different vernacular.
Buffy looked to Spike. He nodded and turned to Aragorn. “We’re in,” he told the other Ranger. “Bree’s pretty slow anyway.”
Faith smiled happily. “Cool. Think you can fit us in your room at the Pony?”
“Hope you like the floor,” Buffy said pointedly.
“Thanks,” Faith said, all too happy to be sleeping on the floor inside instead of out in the cold. “Oh, by the by. Happy New Year, B.”