Eldre Koh lives by essential laws, ones that have never occurred to him to defy. The Nitobe code guides his lifestyle, his customs, even in this strange dimension that is new still after years of imprisonment.
Bind yourself to the one who saves you. Take human lives only if they pose a threat. Never mate with a human.
He endures because of these principles, even in a distant land where none of his people can force them upon him. He doesn't doubt their wisdom or seek to enhance it, and he's absolutely certain of them up until the moment that Buffy Summers falls into his life.
She stares up at him. She’d spun around and made a running leap at him out of nowhere, and he’d barely managed to step aside and send her crashing to the ground in time. “Please tell me you’re a good demon.” He blinks, and she moves so swiftly that he barely has a moment to step forward before she’s on her feet, stake in hand and smirk firmly in place. “Or explain why you’ve been stalking me and I’ll make it quick.”
This is a warrior , he thinks, and his gratitude is elevated to respect for the woman in front of him, the slayer to whom he owes his freedom. “Spike did not mention me, then.”
“Spike?” She squints at him. “You’re not one of his poker buddies, are you? He doesn’t have any kittens and he doesn’t want any more. Not even if you owe them. Because it’s cruel and inhumane and he’s learned his lesson about gambling with fluffy things. Got it?”
“I do not- kittens?” He’s flustered for the first time since he was a childling. “I don’t understand.”
“Yeah, well, my patience is wearing thin,” she says, folding her arms together impatiently. “Talk. Now.”
“I- I owe you a debt of gratitude,” he says, raising himself to his full height and regaining his composure as he speaks. He tells her of his dimension briefly, of his captivity, of his freedom and the danger that the Siphon poses toward her. She watches him silently throughout, odd, green human eyes fixed on his own, and his pride does not allow him to look away.
When he has completed his story, he stands at attention, awaiting her demands for proof or her dismissal altogether. Instead she turns to walk away in the direction of the closest cemetery without a single word in response.
But he’s underestimated her, this slayer who can make a vampire fall in love with her so devotedly, and she turns after only a few steps to ask, “Coming?” before she continues.
She’s too trusting. It’s what Spike tells him after he arrives a bit later, when the three creatures of the night stalk zompire prey through the streets of San Francisco. “It’s how dear old Sev got to her in the first place. She’ll just go home with any good-looking wanker she meets on the street.”
Koh nods sagely, mentally filing the new information away. To know his charge is to best protect her, and this flaw is rather glaring.
“I’m standing right here!” Buffy snaps, and her cheeks are flushed red with irritation as she rounds on Spike. “And you know, I had nowhere else to go! What was I supposed to do, curl up on a bench and hope that I wasn’t killed in my sleep?”
“Better than sleeping with the enemy!” Spike retorts, and Koh notes the heat in his eyes, the building irritation in Buffy’s, and the dark glares that pass between them before Buffy softens.
“I can take care of myself, Spike,” Buffy says finally.
“Like you did yesterday?” Spike’s voice gentles as swiftly as Buffy’s does, even as his words flatly criticize.
Buffy looks away. “That was different. No, it wasn’t,” she says suddenly, shaking her head. “You’re right. I need backup. Someone I can trust.”
“Good.” He opens his mouth again, but she cuts him off.
“Koh?” A slim arm slides through Koh’s, and he can see the sardonic smile on her face before she tugs him forward. “Don’t we have some zompires to kill?”
Koh glances back at Spike apprehensively. He’s come here to aid a warrior, not get involved in her lovers’ spats. And from what he knows of Spike, the vampire will not be halted by anything to fight for Buffy; and while Koh is certain that that’s a battle he would win, he has no desire to harm either of the two.
He can see Spike’s jaw muscles grinding, his eyes narrowing, and there’s at last a moment when he settles on spinning around and stalking off.
“Spike!” Buffy detaches from Koh and runs to catch the vampire. She murmurs words in his ear, words that Koh can hear easily from a few feet away. “I trusted him because I saw him with you yesterday. Saving me. And then, by the way, running off before I could make sure that you were okay? What was that?”
Spike doesn’t answer. Buffy steps away from him, a hand lingering on his shoulder, and Koh suddenly feels as though he’s interrupting something intimate, something beyond his task and utterly incomprehensible. “Okay. Okay,” Buffy repeats helplessly, and perhaps Spike can hear it in her voice, because his shoulders loosen and his hand moves to touch the one resting on him still.
But he doesn’t join them when they move on.
“Have you seen Dowling’s partner?” Buffy asks abruptly later that week. They’ve reached a certain rhythm after that first tense night, after which Koh had insisted on joining her in her home and she’d insisted, equally as implacable, that their relationship be one for the night hours. He’d eventually surrendered to her whims, a grudging admiration for her stubbornness the only remainder of his frustration at being unable to keep her fully protected from the Siphon.
Now he keeps a vigil by her apartment at sunset, waiting for her to emerge for patrol. She never pauses when she sees him, just continues walking until he catches up to her and she can speak to him.
Today is no different, and she’s telling him about a true demon she once exploded when she changes the subject out of nowhere.
He struggles to keep up. “I believe so. The woman ordering the Dowling’s armies?”
“Troops, Koh,” and he can see that she’s hiding a smile. “We call ‘em police troops. Or SWAT teams. It’s kind of a blur.” She pauses. “She’s pretty, right? And kind of tough. Spike likes the tough ones.” There’s a sudden, fond glaze to her eyes.
“Ah.” This is about Spike, who’d been approached by Dowling the day before and asked to aid in countering the zompire threat. Yesterday, Buffy had been heatedly offended at the notion that Spike would be the one selected by the authorities, not she. Today, it seems, she’s concerned about Spike’s sexual life.
He’s forever grateful that mating with humans is forbidden. It seems a kindly directive now.
“Ah?” Buffy repeats. A zompire rushes her and she stakes it without a second thought. “Ah what?”
“Is Spike particularly promiscuous?”
“What?” She frowns. “No. I mean, he likes to give off that impression, but he isn’t a one-night stand kind of guy. Oh god, he’s in it for the long haul!” She lets out an unintelligible sound and sinks down on the closest bench. “You don’t think that he and Cheung-“
“I think you are seeking too deeply into matters that require no seeking at all,” he allows.
He notices the moment she calms, small shoulders slumping and the crinkles on her face smoothing out. “I hate this,” she mutters. “It’s been way too long since we went out- and went out isn’t even the right term, is it?- way too long for me to be acting like the jealous girlfriend. You must think I’m just a clingy idiot.”
“I think that you’re concerned that you’re losing a friend,” he says diplomatically.
“I think that you’re humoring me,” she retorts, but she’s grinning, arms swinging freely at her sides, twirling a stake as she walks. “So, tell me what Dimension Koh is like. Were you a clingy boyfriend?”
“The Nitobe code does not allow for mating with humans,” he says, then feels immediately foolish for the presumption.
Buffy blinks. “Oh. No, I meant with other…Nitobe? Is that your species?”
“It is what I live by,” he acknowledges. Why had he gone straight to thoughts of humans? It must be all these new associations, this exposure to a world he had never felt desire to learn of in the first place. And perhaps, this small creature beside him, her own simple desires from a man who loves her with simple ardor. Never had the ones who had held him captive seemed as real as Buffy and Spike, as grounded and capable of duty and love and joy as his new allies.
He struggles to find purchase in his thoughts. “There were…liasons, yes. But my interests lay elsewhere. I fought for my people until I was lost here and accused of a crime I did not commit. There was no place for love.”
“Oh. That sucks.” She says it with a quiet wisdom, and he blinks once and nods, awareness flooding him. Warriors keep themselves apart from the herd, aloof because they must, and Buffy Summers is a worthy enough warrior that he doesn’t doubt that she’s done the same, more than once.
“There was one,” he confesses, unsure why he’s sharing so readily. “Yfra Kel. Had I been home for longer, perhaps, she would have birthed my spawn. She was…suitable.”
Buffy frowns. “Just suitable?”
“Eminently suitable,” he amends, recalling dark skin and round eyes and soft breath. “Another will have had her by now, I presume.”
“I’m sorry,” Buffy says, and it takes him surprise when she reaches out to enfold him in an awkward half-embrace, an arm tight around his back. Her soft yellow hair is pressed to his shoulder, blowing in the wind to wisp against the curve of his neck, and he trembles at the fragility of the moment.
She mistakes it for discomfort and pulls away, offering him a half smile. “Just thought you could use a hug. Let me know if I’m stepping over a line.”
“Thank you.” He tries to match her smile. It feels odd and grotesque, as though stretching his lips in torture, but her grin widens and she pats his arm companionably before they continue walking.
She’s always asking about his home dimension, and he tries to oblige, telling her of the battles he’s fought, his early beginnings in a nomadic tribe, learning the code of Nitobe from a protector of the tribe. He talks about battling humans and other demons and half-demons to keep his people safe, and eventually becoming a warrior of note and joining the Nitobe fighting to keep the others of his kind safe as well.
Buffy shares freely as well, speaking of her innocent childhood and her first forays into battle, of the death of her mentor the year before and the mourning that followed, of her own deaths and her sister and her brief stint as general. She’s sorrowful and eager and he finds himself intrigued by her words, by the wisdom and innocence she still displays.
“My task ended in scandal,” Koh finishes. “I was branded a traitor for killing another of my kind dishonorably, and handed over to the ones who had committed the crime. If I did return home, I would have nothing left there.”
Buffy shakes her head. “There must be some way you could get back there. That’s screwed up, but not beyond repair, right?”
“Perhaps not. Here, I have the Nitobe code and a mission. That is enough for me to subsist.”
She tosses him a warm smile. “I’m glad.”
That smile is sometimes enough for him to subsist, her kindness a refreshing reason to go on, but he doesn’t tell that to her.
He’s begun noticing little things about her. The rapid way she walks when she senses danger. The tiny wrinkles that appear in the corners of her eyes after a kill. The downward turn of her lips when she hears something she doesn’t want to.
All of them are at work now, and he watches silently as she argues with Spike over the last kill. “That was mine!”
“You called the first one,” Spike points out. “Not the second. And I have the right-“
“What, to show up once a week and tell me what to do?”
“I’ve been trying to keep you safe!” Koh winces with preemptive sympathy for Spike.
Buffy’s eyes flash dangerously. “I’m sorry, you’ve been what ?”
“Well, what do you think I’ve been doing with Detective Vanilla for the past few weeks? S’not like you can do anything about the Siphon,” Spike says stubbornly.
“Oh, and you can?” She throws up her hands in frustration. “I’ve been wasting my time trying to get answers from zompires, and you’re working behind my back ?” Buffy demands. “What, am I a delicate little flower now? Do I need to be saved?” She turns on her heel, and Koh can see her petite frame shaking with anger and frustration. “Get the hell away from me.”
“I just don’t want to see you hurt! Is that a crime?” Spike hollers after them as Koh hurries to catch up to Buffy.
She’s scrubbing furiously at her eyes when Spike finally disappears from view. “I’m sorry. This is dumb. I just…”
“You trusted him,” Koh says gently, and he dares to touch the backs of his knuckles to her cheek.
Her lips part in a voiceless sigh. “I’m too trusting,” she murmurs, and it’s a wry observation, but not one that Koh can process when he’s this focused on how smooth her skin feels against his hand when she talks.
He tears himself away from his thoughts. “Buffy.” She lowers her hands and leans in to his. “Is it not better that this Dowling challenge the Siphon? He lacks powers to lose. And he has incapacitated the Siphon in the past.”
“Probably,” she admits. “But Severin…he wants me. Not Dowling, not Spike, me . And that’s something that I have to deal with. I don’t care how afraid for me Spike is, he shouldn’t have tried to keep me out of it.” She chews on her lip, at once troubled. “It’s a vendetta thing. Not an evil thing. Not exactly. Just a spoiled kid who’s looking for someone to blame, and he’s zeroed in on me- and how did he know about me in the first place?” she says suddenly. “Someone- some thing must be feeding him information. Siccing him on me.”
She shifts away from him, and he wonders at the loss he feels when she moves. “Come on, Koh. Let’s go find some answers.”
No answers are forthcoming, not in regard to the Siphon. And more troubling matters have cropped up, one in specific.
It’s impossible for him to say when he’d first noticed that he was attracted to her. Perhaps on that second night, when she had looked at him and he had seen a warrior. Perhaps when she listened to him, when she trusted him, when they’d become confidants. But the attraction is there, the affection is strong, and while he hesitates to call it love, the code of the Nitobe is foremost on his mind now each time he sees her, a cautionary measure to remind him that he answers to a greater law than himself.
She is all too tempting. And he is all too tempted, even knowing that she considers him only a friend, even knowing that Spike is far too much of her world for her to think of Koh. Fighting alongside her heightens the desire, builds the respect and the want and the still-growing affection, and he aches for her as often as he aches for the loss of his people.
He is Nitobe. It means more than the human girl who has won his heart and never known it, and it means more than anything else in the cosmos. And being with Buffy strips even that from him.
He never feels more isolated than when he’s fighting by Buffy’s side.
Spike and Buffy mend fences a couple of days later, and Koh watches them squabble over Buffy’s last kill with a measure of satisfaction. There is no space for envy in the Nitobe code.
A zompire moves toward the duo and Koh beheads it with a flick of his hand, unwilling to allow it to disturb Buffy’s happiness. This is what she deserves , he muses. Joy . Not the ‘normal’ Spike had once insisted that she needed.
If things were as they should be, if slayer and vampire were willing, Koh is certain that the temptation would be gone. He finds himself questioning the basic tenets by which he’s lived for his entire life all too often, but not the mating code. Humans are not allowed. The attached of his kind even more so. He may dream of violating the first, but the latter is far greater anathema to him.
But they don’t, just share quiet smiles and meaningful gazes, and Spike watches Buffy with naked longing only once she turns away to slay a demon.
They part ways after Dowling phones Spike with two potential locations where the Siphon might be hidden, Spike to the docks and Buffy and Koh to the west side of town.
“He’s going to be reckless, isn’t he?” Buffy’s fingers are dancing along the side of her stake almost dizzyingly, and Koh has to tear his eyes away to listen to her. “You know how he gets. He just…jumps into everything.”
“He cares about you a great deal.”
“Not enough.” It’s a mutter, one meant only for her own ears, so Koh says nothing. She shuffles a bit, staring blankly into the darkness in front of them, even as the high-pitched sirens of the police begin to rise in decibel behind them.
He focuses on a figure, deep in the alley across the street from them. “Dowling’s soldiers are nearly here.”
Buffy shakes her head. “Well, they’re going to be wasting their time, because-“
Three shots ring out in rapid succession, and Koh slams forward, knocking Buffy to the ground as he gathers the energy needed for a return blow. He ducks the next bullet and grabs hold of a green tunic before the woman who had made the attacks throws him off and flees.
He gives chase for a moment before losing her scent completely and returning to Buffy. “I saw a woman with strength that matched yours. A single tuft of purple hair, sunglasses.”
“Simone,” Buffy says, sitting and rolling up a sleeve. “That explains so much. Or nothing at all, really,” she amends, frowning. “At least now we have someone to look for?”
She grimaces suddenly, and Koh’s eyes narrow at the cut now visible on her upper arm. “You were hurt.”
“The bullet just barely grazed me,” she corrects him. “Thanks to you.”
“I was merely doing my duty. And not very well, it seems,” he says, inspecting the wound. “We must get you to a house of healing.”
“It’s called a hospital . And no. I can just bandage this at home. No big.” She reaches out with her uninjured arm and pulls herself up, ignoring the concern on his face.
It hasn’t abated once they’ve made their way to her apartment, and Koh insists that he dress the wound, at least, if she won’t seek proper healing. He feels as though he’s failed her, even though she’s survived, even though it’s already beginning to fade.
“You did better than your duty,” Buffy says softly when he kneels in front of her bed to rub a salve into her skin. His palm is rough, calloused, and he can’t cease its trembling when he moves his hand over her. “You saved me.”
Her face is just above his, so close that he doesn’t dare move, and then he can’t restrain himself anymore. He pulls her to him and kisses her, his hand moving upward to cradle her face, a second hand tugging her closer.
She responds with enthusiasm he’d hardly expected, and it breaks him further, erases thoughts of duties and moral codes from his mind, consumes him with nothing more than a kiss. She’s tracing the ridges of his forehead, cupping his cheekbones as she moves with the kiss, sliding down his body to kiss his muscled chest. And he dares to slide his hands under her shirt and lift it from her head, and he embraces his own destruction with a shuddering groan.
After, she shifts off of him before she sits up, her eyes dark with regrets he knows all too well.
“We shouldn’t…” Buffy’s voice falters for a moment. “I shouldn’t have done that.”
“Nor I,” he says numbly, the memory of her skin on his still burning him with equal parts desire and shame.
“I don’t mean to be…I’m in love with Spike,” she finally confesses.
“I know.” He’s more and more certain of it every day, every time he sees her and his own adoration grows. She loves Spike with the same purity with which Spike loves her, and Koh has no desire to taint that for either of them. No more than he already has.
His thoughts rove elsewhere, to the taboo he’s broken and the line he’s crossed. He’s been in this dimension for too long, found too much worth fighting for- and a great deal of that revolves around the slayer standing before him, tiny and deceptively fragile-looking, wrapped in nothing more than a blanket.
It’s far too tempting. She’s far too tempting, too easy to betray everything that makes him who he is but for the radiance of her smile. And he doesn’t begrudge her her love for another, not even when he’s shattered a piece of what defines his essence because she’s enthralled him so thoroughly.
No, she deserves the happiness that Spike gives her, just as surely as Koh deserves to lose everything for violating a basic tenet of his people.
“I’m sorry,” Buffy blurts out, and her hand scorches his shoulder with her soft touch. “I know what it meant for you to be with me.” He brings himself to meet her compassionate gaze, to see the genuine sorrow in her eyes. “I really do care about you,” she whispers, and her hand moves along his arm to squeeze his wrist. “But not…it’s Spike .”
“Yes.” His own eyes are soft as they regard her, clear and understanding.
“Are you going to go? Back to your dimension, I mean?” The fingers wrapped around his wrist tense, and he gently removes them. She flushes, looks down. He closes his eyes.
“I must. This world is destroying me,” he admits, and it feels too accurate to be incorrect. “I can no longer protect you.”
She half-smiles, half-scowls, and he dips his lips to kiss her one last time, slowly, savoring every forbidden touch before he takes a step back. “Farewell, Buffy Summers.”
“Farewell, Eldre Koh,” she says gravely, and he’s suddenly afraid that if he looks at her any longer, he’ll lose all desire to leave.
He turns abruptly, throws open the door, and flees her apartment with all the speed he can muster.
And there’s a part of him that’s certain that it will never be enough.