Equinoxium: Chapter 1
Legalese: The television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all related characters and material belong to Joss Whedon and UPN. All things The Lord of the Rings belong to JRR Tolkien. I claim ownership solely of the story idea - no profit will be made by this.
Author's Note: This story is Buffy-character-centric and starts off during the BtVS Season 7 episode "Get It Done," which is why you're going to see quite a bit of familiar dialogue. As you'll see, things are going to go quickly AU. While there will be heavy spoilers for this episode, the rest of the season will never take place in this universe. As for the LoTR side of things, this story takes place nine years after the events of Return of the King, the third book in the Lord of the Ring series. As I've read all of the books, I'll be trying to stick as close to canon as I can. However, Tolkien leaves many things very vague which allows me to 'stray' a bit to fit things into my own interpretation. In addition, I want to give a huge thank you to my beta, Nightwing, for all of her hard work on this story. It wouldn't be half the story it is without her help.
Brief Description: BtVS/LoTR – For the Powers That Be, the Balance is the Key and the Slayer is their tool. As such, they will do anything to restore the Balance on one world and retain it on another - no matter the cost.
Rating: PG-13 for Language, Violent Content
Equinoxium: Medieval Latin for either of the two times each year (about March 21st or September 23rd) when the sun crosses the equator and day and night are of equal length.
- Merriam-Webster's Dictionary -
The bright sun shone high above all of Arda, bathing the golden wood with her gentle, golden light as a solitary figure wended their way through the slender trunks. Stilling, one pale hand settled lightly over the bark of a tree that he had seen grow from acorn to towering oak, the long branches, laden with offerings of bright orange and reds, bent with unending grace, extending its leafy boughs towards him like the arms of a parent that welcomed home their wayward child. Smiling softly, he slowly arched his neck, his pale, golden hair cascading around slender shoulders as his brilliant blue eyes traced the heavens above, the song of the trees soothing his weary soul. Drawing a slow breath into his lungs, he closed his eyes, dark lashes shadowing pale cheeks, and allowed the song to sweep over his senses, tantalizing them with whispered words of love and peace and... danger.
A frown pulling at his lips, his eyes slipped open as the bright blue orbs swept over the golden wood and froze upon the cloaked figure that moved as a phantom before him. Pulling his body tall and straight, he narrowed his eyes upon the stranger's turned back, the white hood hiding the creature's shadowed face as it picked its way through the forest. Reaching instinctively for his weapons, he was dismayed to find himself unarmed. Frowning, he turned and cautiously began to trail after the slight figure, his feet making no sound nor impression upon the soft leaves that blanketed the forest floor as his eyes remained locked on the stranger that caused the trees to moan in distress - a moan that became hitched and frightened as the light around him fractured and as a voice began to echo through the trees, chanting in a language that he knew not.
Freezing, he quickly tilted back his head and looked for the sun's warm rays, and felt his veins fill with ice as the sun shuddered before it lurched to the West, revealing the full moon that had been hiding behind it in all of its dark glory. Lithe limbs growing tight with tension, he watched as the sun and the moon parted ways in the clear skies above him, the sun arcing towards the West as the moon began to slide irrevocably towards the East.
Blue eyes lost in the heavens, it took the sharp crack of a breaking branch to remind him of the stranger that moved through the dark woods. Blond head snapping forward, he took two hurried steps towards the stranger's back as the song of the trees shifted once more until the ancient wood was crying out to him, begging him to save them from what was to come as the fell voice increased in volume, the dark twisted language grating his sensitive ears. Fair features tightening in confusion and pain, he quickly pressed the palms of his hands beneath the pointed tips as he danced across the blanketed grounds, his eyes never once leaving the cloaked figure that drifted before him.
Which was when the first drop fell.
Startled from his pursuit, he paused mid-step as one hand lifted from his hurting ear long enough to wipe at the moisture that had dotted his cheek. Confused, he slowly held the digits before his wide, unblinking blue eyes as he stared uncomprehendingly at the red crimson stain that wet the tips of his long, pale fingers. Slowly, he brought the stained fingers towards his lips and tentatively touched his tongue against the liquid - and gagged at the unmistakable coppery tang of blood - the blood that had fallen from the Heavens.
Horrified, he quickly looked into the fractured sky as the sun and the moon each neared the horizon opposite one another - driving each other towards a singular celestial event. Yet even as a dark gloom settled over the once golden wood, the sky chose that moment to let loose its torrent as the liquid fell from the sky, tears of blood splattering against his skin and running in thick rivulets into his tangled hair and down his pale features. Crying out, his voice mingled with the voices of the trees as their cries turned into screams of untold agony and horror, screams that drove through his sensitive ears like sharp spikes that fractured his thoughts and sent him tumbling to his knees as the chanting voice reached a booming crescendo. Eyes pressed closed, he pressed his hands against his ears as he tipped back his head, allowing the crimson deluge to pour down his upturned face as he opened his mouth and screamed his torment aloud - and then froze as his single scream pierced the night and shattered the song of the trees, allowing a thick silence to fall upon him.
Startled, he quickly pulled his hands from his ears as his eyes flew open, only to find that the wood had been replaced by the vast Pelennor Fields that spread out from the base of Minas Tirith of Gondor. Confused, he looked upon a world that was shrouded in shadows, the sun and the moon set at opposing points on the horizon... yet he was not alone. Slowly coming to his feet, he found himself standing between Aragorn and Gimli, his good friends dressed for battle and their faces tense and set. To either side of them stood Faramir, Imrahil, Éomer, Elladan and Elrohir. And behind them stood an army. No, more than an army. Behind he and his friends stood ready and waiting for battle the combined armies of Gondor, Belfalas, and Rohan, as well as his own elves from Ithilien, Gimli's dwarves from Aglarond, as well as the Rangers of the North that ran with Elrond's twin sons. And all were silent as they stared across the dark fields that spread out before the White City.
Turning, he quickly cast his sharp sight across the vast fields and gasped aloud at the dim makings of a dark army that stood before them. It was an army borne out of shadows, one that he could not clearly discern their make, yet an army all the same. And by the grim countenance of his friends, he knew without doubt that it was an army that threatened all free people of Middle-earth, and therefore, his enemy.
Suddenly, the troops around him came alive as they began to shift uneasily, their hands tightening around their weapons as their voices carried softly to one another. Curious, he turned towards the shrouded army of darkness and felt his breath hitch in his throat, as exactly half way between their army and the enemy stood the slight, cloaked figure that he had been tailing in the woods.
"Bring it down, Legolas," Aragorn whispered as his friend turned towards him, his gray eyes as flat as steel. "Kill it. Kill it!" he hissed, his words somehow striking a memory that seemed just beyond his reach as Legolas once more went for his weapons, only to have his lean hands slide around the comforting weight of his long bow.
With ease borne from over five centuries of experience, he quickly fit the thin shaft of an arrow to the bowstring and pulled it taut against his cheek, his eyes never straying from the cloaked figure. Then, with his next exhalation, a moment that stretched for an eternity, he released his hold and watched as his arrow flew true, soaring across the vast fields and imbedding itself in the creature's back, directly over its heart. Yet with that single strike, the unmistakable sound of a woman's voice cried out in agony as the figure stumbled in pain, the hood finally falling to the side to free a torrent of long, blonde hair that pooled around the woman's shoulders as she slumped lifelessly to the ground.
Gasping in dismay, his bow fell from numb fingers as a lake of crimson spread from the fallen form to wash over his feet in a small wave, soaking through his leggings and drenching his skin with the warm, sticky fluid. Shaking his head, he took a tentative step forward, his heart hammering in his chest as for an ageless moment, he realized the horror of what he had done - a moment that was shattered by the cheers of his allies, the dismayed shrieks of his enemies, and the bright, blasting light of the sun as it shunned the moon and rocketed into the sky above him, bathing their world with blessed light and fully illuminating the lake that spread before him... the lake of blood.
The moonlight was bright and fierce this night, blinding in its intensity as it shone down upon her messy blonde twist as she bent and dug into the earth before her. Too bright and too fierce, as for the first time in as many years as Buffy could remember, she wished that she didn't have the moon to light her way.
She wished that she didn't have the moon to illuminate the dark hole that was slowly opening before her like a gaping maw by her unwilling hand, as she slowly worked the shovel into the hard, unresisting earth.
She wished that she didn't have the moon to wash the shrouded body in a luminescent flare of white as she pushed the limp form into the deep hole, the girl's slender arm falling free of its tight wrappings and hanging twisted at her side.
She wished that she didn't have the moon to illustrate each and every shovelful of dirt as she packed the brown earth on top of the unbelievably small form, pressing it down in a smothering wave that she remembered far too well.
Panting, twin streaks of tears trailing down pale cheeks, Buffy looked at her finished work with haunted green eyes as she angrily threw the accursed shovel to the side. If this was the fate that the Powers That Be had seen fit to set out for their slayer, their Chosen One, then they were even crueler than she had ever imagined. To come home to find a young girl, one of the Potentials that had come to her for protection, hanging by a bed sheet in a bedroom in her own house... it was another example of the hell that had become her life.
Buffy couldn't remember the last time that she had truly felt at peace. While it was such a simple thing for so many others, it was something that had been stolen from her years ago. Oh, she had been offered glimpses and snatches of it along the way, like when she and Dawn had crawled out of that hole last spring, only to realize that for the first time since she had been brought back, she not only wanted to live in this world, but she wanted to show Dawn everything that it had to offer. She had even come so close to feeling that peace in the moment before she had sacrificed herself for Dawn in their fight against Glory, when she had realized that she was finally going to be able to stop and rest. There was even that day at the beach even before that, before her mother had ever gotten sick... that one perfect day before they had even realized Glory existed... before Dawn existed. There had been so many chances and so many glimpses of peace - of perfect absolution. But never bliss. Never that peaceful bliss.
As Buffy bent to retrieve the dirty shovel, she couldn't help the dark twist of her lips as she once more silently cursed the fate that had been handed to her. For even when presented with a bit of happiness, there had always been something dark and twisted that had forever been lying beneath the surface, pulling at some part of her awareness and tainting even the most perfect of moments. And she knew exactly what it was that caused that darkness, for in the end, she knew that she hadn't experienced a single moment of perfect bliss in over seven years - not since before she had been called as the Slayer.
Turning, the petite blonde began the slow walk back towards her crowded house - a house that would be somber and filled with terrified and hurting girls that would inevitably look to her for assurances. But not just girls. No, there would also be her friends, her mentor, and her sister... all looking to her for answers that she no longer had. Perhaps answers that she never had. She was only twenty-two years old - more girl than woman. How did anyone expect her to lead an army? Especially an army of confused and frightened girls?
In a way, it was so easy for Angel. They all knew the last time that he had last experienced his moment of perfect, blissful happiness - a moment when the rest of the world had melted away - and the price for that moment had been his soul. Yet even though the cost had been unimaginable, at least he had been offered that one perfect moment. Deep down, Buffy knew that as the Slayer, she would never again be offered such a moment of peace. For as the slayer, nothing truly existed outside of the death and destruction. It always came back to the fight, and now they faced a fight that was truly beyond them all.
They faced Evil itself.
Was it even possible to defeat something that called itself the First Evil? Was it possible to really, truly defeat Evil? And if they couldn't ever defeat Evil, if they could never vanquish their foe... what was the point of fighting? They were fighting something so intense and so frightening that her own troops, those that she was to be protecting, would rather die by their own hand than the hand of their enemy. And that, she realized, as the backdoor finally came into view, was the real crux of the problem. For these girls were coming to her for protection and instead they were dying - and Buffy was powerless to stop it... to stop them. How did she save those that didn't want to be saved?
Stilling with one foot planted on the porch and the other resting on the stair behind her, black skirt parted around her long black boots, Buffy slowly shook her head as the enormous weight of it all pushed upon her small shoulders. For so long she had been a soldier who looked to her watcher as her commander, as her leader who always had all of the answers. But now... now they all looked to her for the answers, including Giles - when he was even there. After all, her watcher hadn't been seen in days. He wasn't there when they had found Chloe's body, the young potential hanging by a noose in one of the bedrooms. He wasn't there when Buffy had given the order to cut the young girl down. And he certainly hadn't been there when she alone had borne the girl's dead weight as she took her into a field to bury her with the others. He hadn't been there because apparently now it was her weight to carry - and to be honest, she was sick of it.
The house was quiet, dark, and filled with shadows as she slipped through the backdoor, dirty shovel in hand as an angry flush burned her pale cheeks. Turning, the slayer moved stiffly through the familiar house on silent feet, her eyes peeling back the layers of darkness and allowing her to navigate the shadowed hallway like one born into darkness. An idea that didn't seem too far from the truth. Barely twenty-two years old, and yet she was a veteran of the night. Seven years spent prowling the darkness in order to keep the world from harm. Seven years of pain, turmoil and sacrifice... and for what?
The Powers That Be had given her an army, alright. An army of frightened girls, a watcher that was barely ever there, a powerful witch afraid to use her own magic, an ensouled vampire that was half-crazy because of a past that he couldn't control, a bitter ex-vengeance demon who had grown a semblance of a conscience, a school principal with personal demons a plenty, a carpenter who had been fighting the fight for as long as she, a kid sister that didn't even exist two years ago, and a nerd that had been used to kill his best friend. Oh yeah - she was quite sure that the First Evil was quaking in whatever non-corporeal form it took next. These were her soldiers in the war against an Evil that predated everything.
"You think you can fight me? I'm not a demon, little girl. I am something that you can't even conceive. The First Evil. Beyond sin, beyond death. I am the thing the darkness fears. You'll never see me, but I am everywhere. Every being, every thought, every drop of hate-"
"Alright, I get it," a much younger Buffy cut in as she glowered at the apparition. "You're evil. Do we have to chat about it all day?"
Smiling, the First Evil slowly twisted Jenny Calendar's lips in a small smile. "You have no idea what you're dealing with."
"Lemme guess. Is it... evil?"
How innocent she had been then... how inexperienced and untrained. That day someone had saved Angel from stepping into the sun as they hid the fiery orb beneath a blanket of snow, and that day she had foolishly pushed aside all thoughts of the First Evil as she reveled in Angel's cool hand in hers. Because of that naiveté they had all been unprepared for when the First Evil began to slowly kill off innocent girls around the world, linked only by the smallest of chances that someday they could be called as the next slayer. And now those innocent girls had come to her for protection and to help in the fight.
They had come to her as sacrificial lambs for the slaughter.
Slipping into the crowded living room, Buffy allowed her eyes to wander over the desolate faces of the spattering of Potentials that were tucked into every stray corner, to gaze upon the grieving faces of her friends and allies - and instead saw that simple white funeral shroud as it slowly disappeared beneath a mound of dirt. And in that moment, Buffy's resolve broke as she felt her furious anger explode as she threw the shovel onto the floor before her, small clumps of dirt falling free and spraying the dark carpet.
"Anyone want to say a few words about Chloe?" she asked, her voice ringing in the quiet room, the tear-stained eyes of her friends and allies instinctively turning towards her for guidance. When no one answered, Buffy's eyes narrowed as she took a slow step forward, her black skirt swirling around her lean frame. "Let me," she stated as she leveled her eyes upon them. "Chloe was an idiot," she hissed, the silence deepening as her troops looked at her in shock. "Chloe was stupid, she was weak, and anyone in a rush to be the next dead body I bury, it's easy. Just think of Chloe and do what she did, and I'll find room for you next to her and Annabelle," Buffy stated, her voice as hard as steel. "I'm the slayer, the one with the power, and the First has me using that power to dig our graves," she continued, slowly shaking her head from side to side as a loose strand of hair fell free of its twist. "I've been carrying you - all of you - too far, too long. Ride's over."
Turning, the small slayer allowed her furious gaze to fall upon her Watcher's aged frame from where he leaned against the mantle place, idly wondering when he had showed up, even as her anger boiled over. "No, Giles, I'm through with this!" she returned, her words lashing at the man that she loved as a mentor - a father.
"We are on the verge of war," Giles cut in, his voice calm and composed in the face of her blinding anger. He pulled his glasses from his nose, only to dangle them by one hand as he wagged them in her direction. "It's time you looked at the big picture."
Eyes growing wide, Buffy could only mutely shake her head in stunned silence. Didn't he know what had happened in his absence? Hadn't anyone told him about Chloe's suicide? "All I do is look at the big picture," Buffy murmured, her anger quickly deflating as it was replaced with an icy chill that she couldn't quite place. There was something not right... something off about all of this.
As though he hadn't heard her muttered words, Giles slowly lifted the hem of his sweater and began to patiently polish the smooth glass tucked within the thin wire frames. "If you are going to be a general, you need to be able to make difficult decisions regardless of cost," he stated as he pointedly lifted his head and looked from Buffy to the others that were watching the exchange with rapt attention.
"Giles... we had this conversation already," Buffy slowly reminded him she felt the cold begin to build within her small frame. There was something wrong. Her slayer senses were whispering at her, tickling the back of her mind with warnings.
"Yes, when you told me that you wouldn't sacrifice Dawn to stop Glory from destroying the world," her watcher agreed as he replaced the glasses upon his nose, his gaze darting briefly to the young girl in question before returning to his slayer. "But things are different now, aren't they?" he persisted, his gaze growing soft as he took in the dark dirt that stained her white sweater and muddied her jean jacket. "After what you've been through, faced with the same choice now, you'd let her die."
For the briefest of moments, Buffy could only stare at her watcher in shock, not quite understanding how her loving mentor could say those words before a room full of frightened and scared girls. How he could say them before her little sister. Turning, she let her gaze slip from Giles as she looked to where Dawn was perched on the edge of the large couch. Her sister looked so young then as the tears glimmered in her large brown eyes - so young as she looked to her sister for reassurances; reassurances that Buffy no longer had the heart to give.
Two years ago Buffy had been so beaten down by the death of her mother and by the fruitless prospect of fighting a god, of suddenly being thrust into the roll of mother and protector to her sister that she had not only been willing to sacrifice everyone in order to keep her sister safe, but when that option had been cruelly taken from her, she had been eager to take that final plunge for Dawn. She had been only too willing to die so that she could finally be at peace, but her friends had brought her back. They had ripped her out of Heaven in order to see this world set right, and for a time, Buffy had been convinced that she had come back wrong. Well, maybe she had really come back right. More right than ever before, because she finally understood the truth: none of them were more important than their cause. Not the girls that came to her for protection, not Dawn, not Xander, not Willow, not Spike, not Giles... and especially not Buffy herself. None of them were more important than seeing the First Evil defeated and Buffy was willing to sacrifice them all to see it done. "If I had to in order to save the world," Buffy finally murmured, her words as hollow as the thudding of her own heart as her eyes never once looked away from Dawn's red-rimmed eyes. "Yes."
"So you really do understand the difficult decisions that you'll have to make?" Giles persisted, gaining his slayer's attention as he shifted against the mantle. "That any one of us is expendable in this war?"
"Yes," Buffy returned, her voice filled with stark realization as she stared at her watcher with new eyes - eyes that wished that they didn't see the truth so clearly. The truth that was standing before her. "I get it."
"But... you said we could all get through this."
Without turning to acknowledge Andrew's hesitant plea, Buffy felt a single tear break free to drift down her cheek as the answer became so clear. "I made it up," she returned, her words as dead as her crumbling heart. "I'm making it all up. What kind of hero does that make me?"
"One that's still human."
Not expecting that answer, especially from that particular voice, Buffy turned from her watcher to meet the dark eyes of the girl that had been standing quietly near the front door, unnoticed by all. "Faith," Buffy returned, her eyes taking in the rogue slayer's tangled brown locks and the plain, unassuming clothing that she wore. "What are you-"
"Giles broke me out this afternoon - filled me in," the slayer shrugged as she stepped further into the room, her dark eyes lighting from one unfamiliar face to the other while doing her best to ignore the heated glares from the faces that she did recognize. "Figured you could all use the help... though I didn't think that you'd beat me here," Faith continued as she nodded back towards the watcher that had once more captured her attention. "Thought you were going to look for B at the school."
"I did," Giles agreed, a small smile pulling at his lips as his eyes locked on Buffy once more. "And I found her."
"How long?" Buffy returned as she finally, openly acknowledged the painful truth that her senses had been screaming at her all along.
"Just a few minutes now," Giles murmured, easily following her question while the others turned to each other in confusion. "Long enough for me to catch the tail end of your... well, I hesitate to call it a motivational speech," he explained, his smile lifting once more.
"Giles?" Willow murmured, her brow creasing as she looked between the watcher and her best friend, the tiny slayer's green eyes filled with so much sorrow and pain.
"That's not Giles," Buffy returned as another single tear burned at the corner of her eye - searing her vision as if that lone tear was trying to match the pain that mounted in her heart.