Author’s Note: So, here’s Aker, at long last. I hope he’s suitably menacing n’ stuff. Please let me know if you feel let down, I’ll make him more evilish.


Like always, I am spazzing out about how my action scenes are. Please review and tell me if I do a good job with the tension and excitement—is it tense? Exciting? Or did I miss entirely?


Oh, and please don’t hate me for what I do to one of them. We’ve all gotta die sometime.


Without, Part 32


Spike spent much of their brief time together going over the exact way to snap a person’s neck. Corinne, for her part, explained how he had to get the gods’ talismans away so they’d be vulnerable before she lapsed into a guilt-ridden silence, the image of Haldir’s stricken face before her eyes.


“Do you think they’ll forgive us for the deception?” she asked softly.


Spike was silent a moment. “The Nibblet will,” he said at last. “Buffy will, after Dawn nags at her a while. Haldir… might.” He heaved a sigh. “This is the price for looking at the big picture, pet. Sacrifices have to be made.”


“What if they don’t forgive us?” she asked, appalled at the idea. “Ever? What then?”


Spike chuckled mirthlessly. “Then we set out together, two outcastes.” He took a last drag from his fag, the tip glowing brightly in the gloom, and stubbed it out on the floor. “You good for anything besides studyin’, she-Giles?”


“Not really,” Corinne said glumly. “You good for anything besides killing things and making snarky comments?”


“Not really,” he admitted, equally glum as his cockiness slipped for a moment.. “Those have always been my greatest strengths.”


She slumped against the wall. “We’re doomed.”


The torches flared to life at that point. “Perhaps sooner than we’d anticipated,” Spike murmured, getting to his feet. “Remember, I’ve just given you the business, you’re shattered and broken.”


“Yeah, yeah,” she grumbled. “Emotionally traumatized, warped forever, and—holy shit!” she interrupted herself with the exclamation of surprise because, materializing before her, was not only Heka and Tayet, but the god Himself, the one who’d started it all: Aker.


He was built as massively as the minotaurs, but His skin was covered with a fine yellow pelt, like a lion’s. His face was an odd blend of human and feline features, especially in the flattish nose and thin-lipped mouth. A large medallion, of a red disc with a thick chain round his neck, gleamed dully in the torchlight. Thick, shaggy golden hair coursed over His brawny shoulders in a gleaming river that vied for brilliance with the speculative sheen of His black-rimmed tawny eyes, alarmingly feral as He bared pointed teeth in what she supposed was meant to be a smile.


“Corinne Williams,” Aker rumbled, His voice coming from His chest like an eruption from a volcano: deep, ominous, and infinitely worrisome. “You have caused me great anxiety.” He said it almost playfully, and she half-expected Him to wag a finger at her in admonishment.


“My apologies,” she said flippantly, not sorry at all. “I feel terrible, helping to thwart chaos and mayhem like that. Can you ever forgive me?”


In a flash, Aker had reached out and grasped a handful of her hair, lifting her to dangle a foot off the floor. Pain rocketed through her scalp and she reached up to try and free herself or at least alleviate some of the agony. “No, I don’t think so,” Aker murmured over the wails Corinne emitted.


“Oi, Lion King, how about you let her go?” Spike suggested, thumbs stuck in the loops of his belt as he watched from the side. “I don’t fancy my bird being snatched bald, if it’s all the same to you.”


Aker flung Corinne from him so she slid along on her butt and hit the wall. “As you wish,” he replied coldly. “I do not understand why you wish to keep her intact. Drain her and be done with it.”


“I like when they fight,” Spike replied with a rude grin at her as she rubbed her scalp with her fingertips, trying to alleviate the pain that still shot through her.


Aker gave a surprisingly delicate shudder of distaste and continued. “All is prepared? They suspect nothing?”


“Nope,” the vampire replied cheerfully. “Just that I’m fighting with you lot now, instead of with them. They don’t know—“ he made a great show of glancing nervously toward the wall, as if afraid to have their plans overheard “—how I’ve told you all their weaknesses.”


“Excellent,” Aker replied in his growly voice, and turned to the wall. Immediately, it faded to transparency once more.


Buffy and company were in varying stages of rage: She stood stock-still in the middle of the floor, eyes shut as she breathed rhythmically, clenching and unclenching her fists, totally ignoring how Dawn was trying desperately to entreat her sister to forgive Spike. The vampire forced a carefree grin to his face, but Corinne could see the bleak expression in his eyes—it was killing him to see the Summers women hurting over his actions, no matter how necessary they might be.


Arwen’s face was as beautiful, flawless, and hard as a diamond as she inspected her arrows beside Thranduil, who could not quite hide the admiring glances he sent her way, much to Elessar’s displeasure as that king sat cross-legged beside Boromir on the floor and sharpened his sword. They weren’t the only ones sharpening: Legolas and Gimli were giving their own weapons a thorough going-over, and Haldir in particular had a look of great enjoyment to come as he ran the whetstone over the already-deadly edges of his long daggers.


Radagast alone seemed separate from the barrage of emotion, apparently waiting for the wall to disappear once more, for he didn’t seem at all surprised when their opponents and Corinne became visible through it. Straightening from his slouch against the wall, he leaned on his staff and called the others to attention. One by one, they turned and got their first glimpse of the god that had tormented them for so long.


Aker stood proudly and fearlessly before them, but Corinne suspected that had much to do with the impenetrable wall between him and them.


“So, it’s Mr. Let’s-Cause-Everyone-Honkin’-Big-Buttloads-of-Pain,” Buffy snarled, stepping close to the barrier.


He gave her a thin smile. “Hm, yes. I’m just going by Aker now, actually.”


“You’re going to be going by Grease Spot on the Floor when I’m through with you,” she replied, and pounded her fist on the glass when he just threw back his leonine head and laughed.


“I am not called Yesterday and Tomorrow for naught, Slayer,” Aker said at last. The air around him shimmered, and suddenly he had two heads; “I am eternal, and far beyond your abilities to destroy.” It shimmered again, and he was back to one head, but now he wasn’t remotely humanoid, but entirely lion. He could still speak, however: “And then there is the matter of bending reality; it is my gift, my specialty, my talent.”


“I have a gift, too,” she informed him. “Death. And I’m good at it.” She whipped around and in a single, blurringly-fast move, launched a small throwing dagger at the first minotaur that rounded the corner into the huge room. It lodged between its eyes, and it sank with a sigh to the floor, stone dead.


There was a tumultuous roar, and a phalanx of minotaurs barreled in. Buffy and the other immediately moved to engage them. The elves, Buffy, Elessar, and Boromir with Satet’s bow immediately loosed a volley of arrows, taking down the closely-bunched enemy with great ease, as well as the next bunch that surged into the chamber.


“What is this?” Aker demanded, turning to Spike. “You assured me that preventing separation of the troops would disconcert them!”


“And look how disconcerted they are!” Spike protested, launching into spin-control. “They’re all confused at how easy that was! They’ll become overconfident.” His blue eyes flicked toward them; they were, indeed, looking rather self-congratulatory. “Time for the next salvo. There’s no way three women will be able to fight off the next bunch.”


Before he even finished speaking, a familiar keening sound began to echo off the stone walls, and the males began to gain that dreamy, abstracted expression, weapons falling uselessly to the floor as a fleet of sirens wafted into the room. These were faster than the others, for they were able to dodge the arrows Buffy and Arwen sent flying at them. Dawn snatched Satet’s bow from her husband’s useless hand and began to pick them off, each missile finding its elusive target without effort.


Aker seemed to swell with fury; on His either side, Tayet and Heka weren’t any happier. The goddess lifted Her arm, intended to create more of those insidious threads, but Corinne found herself darting across the room and snatching the spindle from Her surprised grasp and flinging it over her shoulder. With a muttered prayer to anyone listening that she was doing this right, she grabbed each of Tayet’s ears and, with a sudden wrench, broke Her neck. The goddess gave a single, surprised “oh” before slumping, lifeless, to the ground.


Spike’s expression of amazement was quickly replaced with feigned anger. “You stupid bint!” he shouted, and pretended to punch her before lobbing the stone spindle at her, hitting her in the stomach and knocking her backward to land on her butt in the corner. “I should kill you instead of just knock you unconscious.”


Taking it as a hint, she obligingly went limp, pretending she was knocked out, but listened carefully as Spike joined Aker and Heka in raging over the loss of Tayet, who’d been one of their aces in the hole as it were.


“Just move on to the hand-to-hand,” Spike was telling them as it became clear that, even with only one bow able to strike the sirens, it was just a matter of time before the creatures were all gone and the men could fight once more. “Elves are bleedin’ tragic in close quarters; once they’re out of the way, it won’t take long to subdue the rest.”


Corinne remembered the loving way Haldir and Legolas had been tending their daggers, and the various occasions she’d seen them wielded against the enemy, and had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing. She imagined that Thranduil and Arwen were just as talented with their blades. No, it wouldn’t take long—for the elves.


The last siren perished with a sad “oh, ohh, owwwhhhh,” and Buffy quipped, “And then there were none! Good work, Dawnie!”


But her sister was grumbling as she thrust the bow back at Boromir with a scarcely concealed glare. “Even Corinne can use that bow, Buffy. I had nothing to do with it.” Corinne frowned; that kind of cattiness wasn’t necessary, she felt, and vowed to have words with Dawn when this whole debacle was over.


Then she realized what she’d just thought—when it was over. With a growing sense of awe, she realized that she believed, with all her might, that they were going to win this. She had no idea how, or when, but somehow she knew Buffy and Haldir and Elessar and the rest would prevail. There was not the slightest doubt in her mind.


Heartened, she ventured a peep from under lowered lashes and found that another, absolutely mammoth, brigade of minotaurs had entered the room and launched itself at her friends. With no room to maneuver their bows, the elves discarded them and withdrew their daggers; the weapons sprang free of their sheaths with deadly hisses that got Heka’s snakes rather excited—both lifted their heads and gazed with interest through the window, tongues flicking experimentally.


They both drew back in surprise when Arwen, of all people, flew forward and began wreaking havoc. Her right dagger sank into the fleshy bit between neck and shoulder of one minotaur before ripping through, leaving a gaping wound where throat used to be; her left stabbed deeply into the gap between chest-armour and hip-armour of another. Then she jerked both free at the same time and rounded on the next two.


Galvanized into motion, the company set to work, and Corinne slowly inched to her feet when she felt confident that both gods were too concerned with watching the battle to pay attention to her. “Nothing to see here,” she chanted in her mind, willing Them not to notice how she was creeping closer. If only she could get her hands on that ankh-collar that Heka wore, but He had at least forty pounds of Egyptian asp draped around His neck…


Spike began, in his hyperactive way, to tap his boot on the floor, and one of the snakes slithered down Heka’s leg to investigate more closely. The other soon began to follow, disengaging from Heka’s shoulders to wind around His slender waist, and Corinne saw her chance. She ran up, soundless in her rubber-soled runners, but somehow Heka knew she was there and spun to face her.


“Your treachery has earned your death,” Heka said, voice low and venomous, and reached out a hand to her, instantly she felt a crushing sort of pain flood her and sank to her knees, unable to hold herself upright, at the same time that her vision narrowed to pinpoints. A taste like copper filled her mouth and she realized, idly, that she’d bitten through her tongue.


Then something cool, hard, and metallic landed on her. The pain stopped as abruptly as it had begun, and she realized that Spike had taken Heka’s collar and tossed it like a game of horseshoes around her neck. Blinking, she was just in time to see his face alter to its demon-visage before he leant close and ripped out Heka’s throat. Spitting out the ragged piece of flesh, he took a deep draught of the god’s blood before dropping the slight body to the floor.


Aker’s big shoulders tensed, and he slowly turned to face them. “So,” he began conversationally, “you betray me, vampire.”


Spike wiped Heka’s blood from his chin with his sleeve and offered the god a jaunty grin. “Yeah, well, we’re not known for our fidelity to manipulative sods like yourself,” he replied. “Or to anyone, really. Caveat emptor, and all that rot.”


“Indeed,” Aker replied noncommittally, a faint smile on his lips, and then his hand was around Corinne’s throat, squeezing. Again with the pain, she thought with strange irony as agony crashed over her for the second time in as many minutes and she clawed at his hands with her nails. There was only time to hear Spike snarl and feel the whoosh of air as he leapt onto the lion-god before consciousness and life faded. “Haldir,” she tried to whisper, but her larynx was crushed, and then there was just pain fading to blackness as Aker flung her from him to land hard on the floor.


In the middle of the pitched battle, Haldir felt something pass by him, a breeze or something, chill and ominous and lonely, and with one last thrust of his dagger, killed the minotaur he’d been fighting before surveying his surroundings. All around him, his companions were fighting heatedly. Buffy was, as he would expect, taking on three minotaurs at once; Legolas and Gimli fought back-to-back in the midst of a growing pile of dead bodies and Dawn was using her pike over the heads of Boromir and Elessar as Arwen and Thranduil fought on their flanks. Radagast was employing his old rock-chucking scheme as before, and seemed to be enjoying reasonable success, as a goodly number of foes lay lifeless around him, great dents in their sizable skulls.


He turned, then, toward the glass wall and found to his shock that Aker was being attacked by none other than the vampire himself, and with a ferocity that immediately made Haldir suspicious. Spike’s face was outraged, furious, and—could it be?—vengeful. What could he want revenge for? Haldir pushed his way through the throng toward the wall, and when the last minotaur between him and the glass fell to his twin blades, saw why.


Corinne lay in an untidy heap on the stone floor, hair tangled over her face but not hiding the fact that a trickle of blood ran down her cheek to pool in the whorls of her ear. The skin of her throat, which he recalled spending many pleasurable moments kissing and laving with his tongue, was mottled with bruises and looked misshapen somehow, not at all the smooth column of his recollection. In spite of the fight between Spike and Aker she was still, unnaturally so, and he realized with a jolt that she was not breathing.


“No,” he whispered, pressing his palms flat against the clear wall. “Elbereth, Iluvatar, please, no.”


The battle receded from him then; all motion and sound disappeared. Disbelief swelled within him. It was not possible that this woman, with such passion for learning and such ambition to teach and share, could be dead. That she would never frown at him again, that she would never again pepper Celeborn with questions about the earlier ages, or scribble furiously in her notebooks about some obscure and probably useless fact or measurement.


He recalled how he’d rebuffed her, recalled how soft her voice had been when she’d said she loved him. “Please don’t do this to us,” she’d begged, and then shouted that he was a coward when he’d refused her. And he had been a coward, a blind and stubborn one, fearing to trust her, fearing to show himself as weak before her in his pain. Had he not thrust her away, she perhaps would be alive now, warm and breathing, and her eyes would be soft as they glowed with her love for him. Alive, instead of the cooling corpse that lay so tantalizingly and obscenely out of his reach.


“A coward no longer,” he vowed, breath steaming the glass. “A coward, never again.”


He stepped back in preparation of—something, anything to vent the anguish and misery and rage within his soul, and it was a good thing, too, because Spike then punched Aker so forcefully that the god went sprawling back and crashed through the glass barrier, spraying shards like needles through the air before landing on His back at Haldir’s feet.


Silence seemed to reign for a moment after that; one by one, the minotaur fell to their opponents until Buffy finished off the last of them and wiped her sword clean on its clothing. “Aker,” she said, staring at him, eyes slitted. “You have no idea how much thrashing you is going to improve my day.”