DISCLAIMER: The characters are
Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Giles and Doyle got to Maria’s car too late, and Maria has shown up at the cabin while Spike is putting Holly to bed…
He’d been too busy telling the story of what had happened at Thanksgiving to notice the footfalls on the front porch. It wasn’t until the faint knock at the door had stilled all action from the outer room that Spike hesitated in his tale, lifting a finger to his lips to indicate Holly should remain quiet while he crept to the closed bedroom door to listen.
The closer proximity was a waste, however, when the walls reverberated from the blast of the front door being slammed open. Spike’s hand was already on the knob to lunge into the clash between the new arrival and Buffy when he made the mistake of glancing back at the bed.
Only the top of Holly’s head and her eyes were visible from where she’d burrowed beneath the blankets. Staring at him in silent terror, the child was quivering from the force she was exerting over her body not to respond to the obvious threat on the other side of the door.
As much as he wanted to go out and see what the hell was going on, he’d made a promise. Two of them, actually, though they were essentially the same. He’d sworn to Holly that he wouldn’t let any harm befall her, and he’d vowed to Buffy to protect the little girl, no matter what. He couldn’t just abandon her now.
Quickly, he assessed the situation. If the fight moved into the bedroom, there were few places for the little one to hide while he and Buffy took care of business. Spike didn’t like the fact that anything that happened in there would leave Holly so vulnerable, but being cornered in the room like they were didn’t leave him much of an option, either.
His eyes fell on the two windows. One pointed to the front of the house and was clearly visible from anyone who stood on the porch. The other, however, was on the side, facing the direction of the lake. It would be possible to climb out of it without being detected, as long as whoever it was at the door---and he strongly suspected that it was that bitch Maria at this point---didn’t have a perimeter of guards stationed around the house.
Silently, Spike began scooping up the clothes that were scattered about the room, grabbing anything he could add as a layer to Holly to shield her from the winter cold. Her shoes were in the outer room, but if he put a few pairs of socks on her and carried her instead of letting her walk on the snow, she should be safe enough from frostbite.
She seemed to understand what it was he doing without having to be told. Pushing back the blanket, Holly rolled off the bed to keep it from creaking and landed with a whisper onto the floor. She stood still as Spike dressed her, only helping when he caught her little toe on the first sock. By the time she was done, she might as well have been papoosed, with the only exposed part on her body her tiny little face.
He could hear voices in the outer room, but he didn’t have time to dwell on who they were or what they were saying. Picking Holly up in his arms, he grabbed the blanket off the bed and managed to looped it over his arm as he walked silently to the window.
“Where are we going?” Holly’s whisper was barely a breath in his ear.
“Somewhere safe,” he replied, just as quietly.
She stayed silent as he undid the latch. Praying that it wouldn’t creak, Spike pushed it open just enough to allow them to slither through.
“Spike…” Holly whispered before he could throw a leg over the sill. “I don’t do down.”
“You do with me, pidge.” He tightened his grip and flashed smile he didn’t feel. “Now hang on.”
A blast of cold air swirled around Buffy’s ankles as she glared at the new arrival. “Rude, much?” she snapped. “You’re going to have to pay for a new door, you know.”
The woman’s eyes slid past Buffy to settle on Joyce, narrowing slightly at the recognition. “I see you found your daughter after all,” she said. “How charming.”
A rustle of movement behind Maria---who else could it be, considering that she knew Buffy’s mom---made all the women start in surprise, though neither Maria nor Buffy lowered their hands.
“My apologies,” the heavy man stammered as he stooped to pick up the weapon he’d been carrying. His breath was huffing in white clouds around his head, and his cheeks were crimson from the cold. To Buffy, he looked very much like he was going to drop dead on the front step from a heart attack, and briefly, she wondered just who the man really was in all this.
“I asked you a question, young lady,” Maria said.
“Yeah, right after you barged in here uninvited. Did I mention rude? I’m not so sure that deserves any special treatment, to be honest.”
“Considering I can kill you as easily as look at you, I would think you’d be a little more interested in being nice to me.”
Buffy smiled. “I think you’d be surprised just how often I hear that.”
She acted with Slayer speed.
With deadly accuracy, Buffy threw the knife she’d been holding straight for Maria’s chest, before grabbing her mother and tossing her to safety behind the couch. Before she could join her, though, she saw Maria flick her fingers at the oncoming weapon, slowing its path in mid-air just long enough to step out of its way. Instead of the witch, the blade embedded itself in the heavyset man’s gut, and he fell to his knees with a startled shriek, clutching the wound.
“Damn,” Buffy muttered. Diving to join her mother behind the sofa barricade, she said to her, “Please tell me that was a bad guy.”
Joyce nodded. “That must be the other Watcher,” she said. “The one Rupert and Paul were so wary of.”
“It’s a good thing I don’t work for the Council any more, then,” Buffy said as she reached under the couch for the weapons bag that was stowed there. “Something tells me they might not be so excited about me stabbing one of their own guys.”
“You weren’t aiming for him. Maria ducked.”
She couldn’t help but grin. “Go Mom, on the justification for my senseless violence.”
“Just as long as you start aiming some of it at that bitch. I don’t want her to get her hands on---.”
The couch was flipped forward by some unseen force, cutting off the conversation and leaving them exposed to Maria again. “Get my hands on who?” Maria asked. “You wouldn’t be speaking of Holly, now would you?”
“I don’t know who you’re talking about,” Buffy said. Slowly, she eased her bottom over the open end of the bag, her hand moving carefully in its interior to wrap around a stake. Maria wasn’t a vampire, but it would do in a pinch. “But Mom was talking about me. Prized daughter and all.”
“Yes. Prized, indeed.”
“Maria…” The man at the door lifted his head to gaze helplessly at his partner. “Help me.”
“Shut up, Silas.” She didn’t even look at him, her venomous gaze locked on Buffy. “Give me the girl, Miss Summers, and I’ll spare your life. It’s a fair trade. I strongly suggest you take it.”
She rolled her eyes. “Except whatever you do to her is going to kill me. I may be blonde, but I’m not stupid.”
“Maria…” Silas’ voice was even more insistent. “You must…help me.”
“And I told you---.”
“I’m bleeding out on the floor,” he interrupted. He coughed, and a spattering of crimson sprayed from his mouth to speckle the wood beneath him. “If I die…”
But the rest of the thought went unsaid as another paroxysm took control of his body, and he wheezed and panted as he tried to regain some semblance of peace.
Maria hesitated, clearly caught in some dilemma that was known only to her. While Buffy watched, the woman edged back until she was within arm’s reach of Silas, and then rested slim fingers on the pulse point in his neck.
“Damn it,” Maria said. Her gaze was black again when she turned to look at the two Summers women, and the single word that came out of her mouth was quiet and grim. “Impedio.”
Buffy saw nothing, but she felt it, most definitely. A molasses taking control of her muscles and making them leaden, impossible for her to move with any dexterity. Her grip on the stake slackened, the wood tumbling to the floor, and it took all her strength simply to rise to her feet.
“What…did you…do?” she demanded. Well, she tried to sound demanding. With as much effort as it was taking even to speak, she sounded more like a broken-down wind-up doll.
But Maria ignored her, content that she’d slowed the Slayer enough to tend to the task at hand. Shoving Silas onto his back, she moved forward to kneel at his side, oblivious to the fact that he was now half-in, half-out of the open doorway. She grimaced when her foot slid in the blood that had pooled on the floor, and began undoing the buttons of his jacket and shirt in order to get to his bare skin beneath.
Though she couldn’t move with anything remotely resembling her usual grace and speed, Buffy knew this was her one shot to gain an advantage. Maria wasn’t holding back on using her magic, and once she got around to doing whatever it was she was doing with the Watcher, she wouldn’t refrain from turning that magic back on the occupants of the cabin. Briefly, Buffy wondered whether or not Spike was listening on the other side of the bedroom door. It was impossible for him not to have heard the door being forced open, but so far, there was yet to be a peep made from the adjoining room.
She didn’t have time to dwell on that, though. She had to trust that Spike was doing his best to protect Holly. All that mattered was that neither of them was out in the middle of all this.
Her hands weren’t going to work with a fine weapon; the fact that she’d been unable to hold onto the stake was testimony to that. Something bigger, then. Something within easy reach. Something deadly.
The heat from the fire just behind Buffy was starting to get just a tad too uncomfortable on the backs of her legs. She started to edge away from it, when a sudden picture of what exactly she was walking away from sprang before her mind’s eye.
Buffy smiled, in spite of the seriousness of the situation. It would actually be kind of funny if it worked.
The instant she saw Buffy glancing at the mantle, Joyce knew what her daughter had in mind.
Watching from where she’d been locked frozen by the spell, Joyce saw Buffy edge backwards toward the fire, the upended couch serving to obscure her from Maria’s sight. As if in slow motion, Buffy’s arm lifted, stretched, came into contact with one of the antlers of the deer head mounted above the fireplace. She didn’t settle there, though. Instead, Buffy curled her hand around the animal’s stuffed nose, a larger target that didn’t require the finer motor skills she seemed to currently lack.
Their eyes met. Understanding passed between them, and Joyce held her breath as she waited for Buffy to make the move.
In the doorway, Silas groaned in pain. It was that moment Buffy chose to tear the deer head from its mount, the sound masked by the Watcher’s grunts of discomfort. Swinging it forward, she aimed directly at Maria’s back. The arc of her arm was languid and definite, but the moment Buffy opened her hand to let it go, the animal took on its own energy, free from the fetters of the magic, and soared through the air.
It collided with Maria’s back, one of the antlers embedding in the witch’s shoulder and sending her tumbling forward onto Silas’ torso. As soon as contact was made, the spell around Buffy and Joyce was shattered, sending them lurching sideways and to the floor, off-balance from the sudden freedom.
Silas began shrieking beneath Maria, and pushed at the weight that held him down. The witch’s eyes were still open, and the jarring movement of Silas’ scrambling was enough to dislodge the precarious hold the antler had in her flesh.
“You…” Maria hissed. She turned black eyes to Buffy, her hand reaching around to the bloody wound on her shoulder. Sparks jumped between her palm and the injury, glowing brighter as they made contact, and the witch growled in pain.
“This isn’t over, Slayer,” she said. Somehow, she rose to her feet, and in a blinding flash, disappeared.
OK, so that hadn’t gone exactly as Buffy had intended, but the fact that Maria was nowhere to be seen had to be better than having her around.
“Spike!” Buffy called out, rushing for the bedroom. She leapt over the injured Watcher in her haste, knocking him back to the floor with a groan, and threw open the door.
The bedroom was empty. The blankets were pulled from the bed, and the curtains on the far window billowed from the slight breeze drifting from outside.
“It looks like Spike got her to safety,” Joyce said, suddenly behind her.
“Yeah, for as long as Maria was here,” Buffy replied. She turned her heated gaze back to Silas. “Problem is, we don’t know where she went to. And worse, Spike doesn’t know she’s out there now.”
He just wanted to get some distance between them and the cabin. Wrapped up in the blanket, Holly was trembling against him as he ran, but Spike knew it wasn’t from the cold. Pidge was terrified, and even with his strong arms keeping her close, she was having a hard time not panicking about the situation. It was probably too similar to other close encounters the little one had had with this Maria; Spike just hated that he couldn’t do something more than he already was.
His range was limited with the magical perimeter hemming them in. Angling himself toward the lake, Spike kept crooning under his breath in a vain attempt to distract Holly from the moment, but he held little hope that it was actually working. He wasn’t even sure how long he could keep her out there. Buffy wouldn’t mess around in delaying to kill the witch, but what if the bitch pulled some mojo of her own?
Spike stopped. What if the Slayer needed him? Here he was running away, and she could very well be lying dead or dying back at the cabin.
The edge of the blanket fell back and Holly tilted her head to look at him. “Why aren’t we moving?” she asked in a tiny voice.
His doubt vanished when he saw the trust gleaming from her eyes. Buffy was an amazing Slayer; she would be able to hold her own. And she’d given him a task, a very important one. Spike wasn’t about to let her down now.
“Just gettin’ my bearings, moptop,” he replied. He pretended to peer into the darkness, and then nodded. “Fancy takin’ a look at the lake?”
She’d expected to appear back at the car. That was how she’d configured the teleportation spell to work. Instead, Maria found herself standing in the middle of the forest, her shoulder aching in spite of the magic balm she’d placed on the injury. When she took a step forward, she was met with an electrical charge from some unseen force, and fell onto her ass from the impact.
A barrier. Meant to protect Holly, no doubt. And now it kept her from leaving.
Damn interfering Powers.
However…if there was a wall, there was a reason for that wall. Holly had to be here, just as she’d originally thought.
Slowly, Maria rose back to her feet, ignoring the throbbing of her shoulder as she turned around and surveyed the dark forest. She and Silas had traipsed through the trees, stumbling across the cabin completely by accident. Could she find it again so easily?
“…my bearings, moptop.”
She stiffened at the man’s voice, her head jerking toward the sound. She couldn’t see anything in the murk, but after a moment of silence…
“Fancy takin’ a look at the lake?”
Then, footsteps. The crunch of snow under heavy feet.
Perhaps finding the cabin wasn’t necessary, after all.
To be continued in Chapter 53: She Didn’t See Me Creep…