Disclaimer: I don't own Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Witchblade. Buffy belongs to Whedon, and Witchblade belongs to TNT network and Top Cow comics. No money made.
A/N: This one is related to a story I did last year called One Plus One. The two are only loosely related—with this one taking place before that one, so this one can totally be read as a standalone. The setting for this is Post S7 of Buffy and somewhere pre-S1 of Witchblade. Also, I have some art that goes along with this. If you'd care to see it, check out my LJ at patriciatepes dot livejournal dot com (remove spaces and replace with actual periods). Also, if you'd like to read One Plus One, you can find it on my profile. Anyhow, Please enjoy!
Torn from the Same Bough
"It is written that there is a third," Kenneth Irons said, gazing down at the magnificent hall filled to the brim with people in formal wear.
They were in his private manor, and these people were his guests, celebrating some annual event that he celebrated every year. To be honest, Irons could not remember what the party was supposed to be about, but at the moment, he found that he didn't care. He turned to his young servant, Ian Nottingham—his servant, his son, his apprentice… in truth he was all of these things and more.
"A third wielder?" Ian asked, following the white-haired Irons' steely gaze.
Both pairs of eyes were resting on a red-haired woman who was dressed in the typical little black dress—strapless, and it flared out just past her knees. Her hair was short, and styled to messy perfection. She was holding a thin champagne flute, laughing at something the mayor of New York had said. Irons nodded, his gaze not leaving the face of the woman.
"Yes. There is much lore written on the Witchblade. It is also said that it has a sister weapon, forged from the same power source. But there are three branches on the tree—one for the Witchblade, one for the sister weapon, and one more."
Ian cocked his brow, turning back to his master. "Another weapon?"
Irons shook his head. "No. The third wielder, one who can bring balance to both weapons if necessary."
This did nothing to elevate Nottingham's curiosity, so Irons continued.
"Can you feel the power coming from her?" he said.
Unconsciously, he began to rub the twin, circular scars on the back of his hand—his connection to the Witchblade, from his single glorious union with the weapon only a woman is destined to wield. His tongue snaked out, wetting his lips.
"It's more than the power she has. It's the power she craves as well. Oh, yes, she tries to hide it, but it's there. She longs for more knowledge… and the power that it comes with."
Irons turned on heel, facing the wrought iron staircase. He waved to Ian, motioning for him to follow.
"Let us go introduce ourselves," he said.
Her name was Willow Rosenberg, and she was here on behalf of an organization known as the ISO. She did not elaborate on what that meant, and Irons did not ask. Instead, he offered her a tour of his manor. The better to get her away from the crowds and the better for him to get what he wanted. Ian stayed behind as the two worked their way into Iron's portrait gallery. Willow seemed instantly fascinated, pausing for several minutes at a time at each oil painting. And Irons was more than happy to prattle on about each one in turn.
"Why are their faces hidden?" she asked, pointing to the painting of Joan of Arc.
The bait was out, the trap laying in wait. Irons grinned and forced a tiny chuckle out of his throat. He turned away from her, walking a bit farther down the hall.
"Oh, you wouldn't believe me if I told you," he said.
If he had read her right, she would bite. Such a tantalizing mystery made even more so by a quick dismissal. Irons arrived at the last portrait that hung on the wall's dead end—a blank canvas, for now. He heard the clack of her heels as she came to stand beside him.
"I might. Try me," Willow said.
Irons fought hard to keep his grin in check. He eyed her without turning, sighing. He nodded, as if he did not believe what he already knew to be true. All part of his very carefully crafted plan.
"They say that the paintings here are tied to a mystical weapon, and that when one destined to wield it steps forward, then they shall reveal themselves," he explained.
Willow arched a fiery brow. "A mystical weapon?"
Her voice was the furthest from "disbelieving" as a person could get. It caught Irons off guard, that she would be so readily accepting of such an item existing, but he recovered quickly. This would only make it easier.
"Yes. It is called the Witchblade. All of these women, warriors as you could guess, are said to have wielded it. A gauntlet capable of changing shape to adapt and protect and be the instrument of its wielder."
"You know an awful lot about this weapon, Mr. Irons," Willow said.
She sounded different now. Concerned, a bit wary of what he might know—what he might be capable of. So he turned, giving her his most dazzling smile.
"Only a woman can wield it, but it has fascinated me all these years. I could never begin to hope to know such powers," he said.
Willow crossed her arms, careful not to spill her drink. She turned her head to the side, staring the billionaire down.
"Any hints in these legends about where this weapon could be?" she asked.
She was defensive, like this was a mission she needed to complete. The reaction intrigued Irons. Perhaps this ISO, whatever it was, was something to give thought to. He would have to tread carefully.
"Actually, I'm a bit of a rare artifacts collector. I've currently got a gauntlet that is supposedly Joan of Arc's on loan to a local museum."
"And it's supposed to be the Witchblade? The one you were telling me about?"
He nodded. There was a moment where neither moved, and they were just staring at one another, waiting to see who would break first. Finally, Willow smiled and gave a little laugh.
"Wouldn't that be nice?" she said, sighing and shaking her head. "But, we can't believe everything we're told, right?"
Irons grinned. She was up to something. And he had a feeling just what it was.
"Of course," he said.
Another moment of silence that was played off as Willow trying to control her chuckles. And then, she jerked a thumb back toward the hall they had left.
"Better get back," she said.
Irons gestured forward. "Lead the way."
She had left almost immediately, talking all the while on the phone to a woman named Buffy. Her destination was clear from the moment she stepped into the taxi she had summoned. She was going to the museum, and fast. Thankfully, Irons was faster. He stood in the shadows of a pair of columns, patiently awaiting Willow's delayed arrival. And, again, Ian was there with him, watching just as intently.
"What do you think she intends to do?" he asked.
Irons smirked. "Exactly what I want her to. You'll have to be the push, Ian. I'm counting on you to bring her, while she wields the blade, to me."
Ian bowed his head deeply. "Yes, sir."
Slipping on his gloves, the older man nodded.
"It's all in your hands now," he said as he exited the museum.
"I don't know what kind of power this thing has," Willow muttered into the phone as she approached a side entrance to the museum. "It might be nothing at all. But that Irons guy seemed to believe it, so I'm going to check it out, make sure it's not gonna bring about the apocalypse for the millionth time before I leave."
"Sounds like a plan. Keep me posted," Buffy said.
Willow could tell that her friend had desperately wanted to remain on the line, but anyone knew that breaking and entering was not exactly an easy thing to do—especially if you didn't want to get caught. So Buffy's end disconnected, and Willow let a hand hover over the metal doorknob.
"Aperire," she muttered as she heard the locks click open.
She opened the door, silencing the alarms before they could even sound with another muttered word. As she passed by the Visitor's Desk, she picked up a pamphlet. She thumbed it open as she stood in a sliver of moonlight, trying to locate where Joan of Arc's gauntlet would be in the museum. As it turned out, had she kept walking, she would have come across it anyway. It was sort of the main attraction.
"Well, all right, then," she said, taking off toward the center of the building.
She wished she had switched shoes—and clothes—before she had decided on this little excursion. She felt like the clicking of her heels on the polished floors could be heard miles away. She tried to walk a little faster—the sooner to arrive at her destination and be gone—but that only seemed to amplify the sound. She huffed, finding herself entering into a rotunda room. She paused to gape at the ceiling—painted with beautiful frescos—before arriving at the glass case in the very center of the room. She leaned forward, gazing down at the lit piece of armor. It seemed to be a gauntlet just like any others… save for the wave of power it sent over Willow's body.
She shuddered just to stare at it, finding her eyes focused on a raised section of metal, just at the wrist, that seemed to be hiding something more. Her hand rested on the top of the glass, and try as she might, she could not tear her eyes from it. Suddenly, the raised metal opened, just like an eye, and a beautiful jewel, the colors of fire swirling within it, was revealed to her.
The voices were many and loud. The only thing louder was the pounding of her own heartbeat as it beat on the inside of her ears.
They weren't menacing, quite the opposite. The voices seemed inviting, like this weapon was calling to her, telling her that it was hers and hers alone. Willow curled her hand up until it set on top of the glass case like a claw, her nails scraping at the surface. She had never had anything like that. Not a power that was hers and only hers. Sure, she was powerful in her magicks, on level with that of a goddess… but this was different. This was a gift, something she wouldn't have to work at. It was like Buffy's scythe, something that no one else could feel but the owner. Like it was made for Willow, and Willow alone.
"It's calling to you," said a voice from the shadows, and Willow jumped, moving at least a foot away from the glass.
A man, dressed all in black, with his long dark hair pulled back in a low pony tail underneath a black knit cap stepped into the moonlight. He raised two gloved hands into the air.
"I mean you no harm, Miss Rosenberg. My master only bids me to speak with you," he said.
Willow lowered her hands to the sides, flexing her fingers and feeling her power flow through them.
"Your master? And who is that?" she asked.
"Do you not recognize me? We met just earlier this evening. My name is Nottingham, and my master is Kenneth Irons."
Irons. Willow pursed her lips, her eyes trailing away from the newcomer to land back on the gauntlet. The jewel was still visible, and it felt like it was staring right into Willow's soul.
"Take it," Nottingham said, gesturing to the Witchblade. "It is yours."
Willow took a half a step forward. She only just managed to stop, shaking her head.
"No. How do you know that?" she said, forcing the words out.
It was hers. She could feel it. She could still hear it calling her name. Willow… Willow…
"You are the third wielder, the one destined to keep the balance. That time has come, Willow. Take the blade as your own."
Nottingham closed the distance between himself and the case. He withdrew a set of keys from within his coat, and a moment later, he had the case opened. He stepped back again, holding his hands out toward the weapon, as if offering her Excalibur.
Willow swallowed, moving forward once again. There it was, ready for the taking, the whispers even louder now, as she moved to stand over the weapon. Her eyes flew up to Nottingham, but he made no further movements.
Shaking, she lifted her right hand over the gauntlet. Her breath seemed to be caught in her throat as she lowered her arm to the weapon. In the blink of an eye, the weapon went from resting on a red velvet pillow, to encasing her arm all the way up to her elbow. She smiled, her lips quivering, as she held her hand aloft.
Nottingham smiled, and he bowed on one knee.
"I serve she who wields the blade," he said reverently.
Willow barely registered the words, her eyes locked on the beautiful weapon. She inhaled, bliss engulfing her… until a wave of pain caused her to cry out and double over. Nottingham shot to his feet as Willow wrapped her arms about her stomach. She could feel the change.
"No, please… no," she groaned as Nottingham approached her.
Her hair became engulfed in ebony, and she could feel the blackness spread to her eyes, turning them into nothing more than voids. Veins pressed against the underside of her skin, making them far more visible then they ever should be. The pain was intense, like something was trying to forcibly remove her stomach through her back.
"Get… it… off!" she said, screeching the last word.
The gauntlet suddenly felt like a vice, and she whirled, aiming the weapon at a nearby suit of display armor. She cried out again, a ball of mystical energy shooting out and blowing the armor to smithereens. She screamed, turning the weapon back on Nottingham and firing another ball. He dodged it, rolling closer to the witch.
"Please!" she screamed, turning the Witchblade skyward.
The fresco ended up destroyed under another mystical assault. Meanwhile, Nottingham gripped the end of the gauntlet, digging his fingers as far underneath the seam between the metal and Willow's flesh as he could. He yanked on the weapon, finding it very unwilling to budge while Willow shot another ball of energy, followed by another screech.
"It hurts!" she yelled as Nottingham gripped the end of the gauntlet even tighter.
With a cry himself, he pulled with all his might and more, finally pulling the weapon off of Willow's arm. It went flying out of his hand, landing safely—and neatly—back onto the pillow in the case. He lost no time. As Willow collapsed, unconscious, to the floor, he launched himself at the glass, locking it back in place over the weapon. He watched as the jewel became covered by the metal lids once more.
Huffing, he turned, staring at the unmoving witch at his feet. Her hair was back to its natural red, and the veins on her face were gone. Whatever had happened, Nottingham was sure that no one—not even Irons—would want it to happen again.
"She wasn't the third," Nottingham said as she stood before his master.
Irons snarled, rising up out of his winged back leather chair to backhand his servant. Nottingham took the blow, his face the only thing that moved, as Irons moved to stand by the fireplace. He leaned over the roaring flames, his hands rested on the mantel.
"You said she couldn't control it? That it would have killed her?" Irons asked.
"And you are sure of this?"
"She almost destroyed me, the building, and all the while she was crying for it to be removed."
Irons nodded, pushing himself of the fireplace. It was a long moment, but he finally turned, running a hand through his slicked back hair.
"Very well. It doesn't matter. The time is almost upon us for the destined wielder to reveal herself. We do not need the third. I will have the woman who has the blade in due time, of that you can be sure," he said.
Irons turned, making his way toward the staircase at the back of the room. Nottingham nodded as he watched him go.
"Of course, sir."
"In due time. All in due time," Irons muttered, not paying any attention to his servant as he made his way out of the room.