By Estepheia and Marcee
Part 41 - Ready
“What business is it of yours?” Spike answered automatically, while he sized up the opposition. Three measly Watchers. He could snap one guy’s neck like a dry bone, hurl the second against the wall, and rip the moustached Watcher’s throat out for breakfast. They might not even get to fire their guns.
*Guns! They’ve got guns!* A panicky voice in Xander’s head babbled. Guns were bad news. If Spike got perforated he could just laugh it off, but what about Xander Harris, intrepid time-traveler? And what about Buffy? Even super-strong Chosen Ones weren’t bulletproof.
The Junior Watcher pursed his lips in distaste. “If you value your employment in my father's house, you would do well to remember your place, William.”
Spike’s eyes widened as he realized that the man standing before him was none other than Mr. Richard Hartford: All-Around Prick and now, it seemed, General-in-Charge Bastard…with a gun. Only the last time Spike had seen the man, he’d been nailed to a wall with a dozen or so railroad spikes, squealing like a slaughtered pig, until a spike between the eyes had silenced his screams and literary criticisms forever.
“Oh um Crawford? He’s with me,” Xander interjected hurriedly, tapping into a talent to obfuscate that had enabled him to cover up six years’ worth of scoobying and world-saving in front of classmates, parents, teachers and co-workers. “We’re friends.”
“What?” Spike whipped around to stare at his companion. Normally, disbelief and obstinacy would have coalesced into a loud and indignant “Like hell we are!” But the vampire caught on before the words slipped out. “Oh, um…Yeah, I mean, yes, old friends,” he muttered instead.
Xander winced inwardly. Considering that the vampire was evil and all, he sure was a bad liar. “So, um…do you think you can put the guns down now?” Xander asked timidly.
“Actually, I was going to ask you both to kindly lift your hands in the air.” Hartford readjusted his weapon. “Gentlemen?”
Xander and Spike exchanged a quick glance. Xander: ‘They’ve got guns!’ Spike raised his eyebrow: ‘So? Vampire here.’ A panicky look from Xander: ‘Yeah, no superpowers here. Play nice.’ An indulgent almost-smile from Spike: ‘Okay, you nit, your call.’
It was testimony to their familiarity that their silent communication took only about a second and went unnoticed by the three Watchers. As one, they raised their hands in the air.
The Watcher raised his lantern and came closer to get a better look at his captives. “What happened to your face?” he asked, noticing the half healed burn-marks.
“Oh, um…the maid,” Spike said with a sad shake of his head, slowly easing back into William’s role. “Such a frightfully clumsy girl, she dropped the sod-- the tea pot on my plate last night, ruining a perfectly good suit, not to mention Mother’s favorite china. As you can see she also scalded my face. Fortunately, it is not a serious injury…”
“Yes, quite,” Hartford interrupted the poet impatiently, fooled by Spike’s - genuine - embarrassment, then he turned to Xander who’s jaw had dropped at Spike’s suddenly cultured accent. “Mr. Harris.”
Xander recovered and smiled awkwardly. “Yup. That’s me.”
“I must confess, I am rather surprised to find you here in the company of my father’s librarian,” Hartford went on, gun still held at chest level. “You are friends, you say? Have you known each other long?” He let his gaze wander from one man to the other and back.
“Four years,” both men said without hesitation. They exchanged another look, thinking the same thing: the longer they kept the Watchers busy and distracted, the more time Buffy had to act.
“Yes indeed,” Spike continued with a sidelong glance. He raised his voice slightly, “It was after a … an evening lecture on … uh…education. Ang-- a mutual friend made the introductions and suggested to have Harris for dinner. Unfortunately, my friend backed out at the last minute.”
“Yeah, it was the beginning of a wonderful friendship,” Xander said, unable to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
“But are you not from the Americas, Mr. Harris?” Hartford asked.
“Oh, yea, uh, I was on a sabbatical,” Xander answered quickly, hoping fervently that ‘sabbatical’ was the correct word. “William,” he pronounced emphatically, “was kind enough to take me and a lady friend in when all our funds got stolen and we had no place to stay. We didn't want to impose on his hospitality, but he insisted.”
The man with the gun raised his brow.
Warming to the tale he was spinning, Xander continued in the same vein. “Yes, William was so kind. He even shared his poetry with me. He’s some great writer, huh?” It was hard for him to conceal his chuckles.
Spike gave him a murderous look, “Enough about me, Alexander. Tell Mr. Hartford about the novel you've been writing. Fascinating piece. A sort of fantasy, like the writings of Jules Verne. It's about this silly American from the future who travels through time to the present, and winds up getting into all sorts of scrapes, due mostly to his general stupidity and lack of....”
“Enough!” Hartford interrupted them. He turned to one of his hench-Watchers. “Peters? Search them.”
Moments later, Spike was relieved of two handfuls of jewelry that had made a bulge in the pockets of his coat and a considerable amount of cash, most of which was in coins.
“My winnings,” Spike lied perfunctorily. “We played cards all night.”
But the big surprise came when it was Xander’s turn. His pockets yielded a loaded gun, a cross and a wooden stake. Even Spike looked startled.
“Well well, Mr. Harris. What do we have here?”
“Would you believe me if I told you I have no idea how that got there?” Xander said with a forced smile.
Peters spotted Spike’s bag under the bed and pulled it out. A quick search unearthed burglary tools and an expensive leather folder holding deeds and other official looking documents. He showed his findings to his superior.
“Where is she?” Hartford asked, losing his patience with the two men before him.
“Who?” Xander played dumb. *Buffy, where are you? Now would be a good...*
Before he could finish his thought, the barrel of the gun hit the side of his face, shocking not just Xander but Spike and the other Watchers as well.
“I will not be made a fool of,” Richard Hartford snarled, civilized veneer gone.
Xander stumbled backwards and touched his aching cheek. There was a crimson stain on his fingers. *Blood!*
Next to him, Spike tensed, bloodlust rising, ready to break a few faces and decorate the room with splatters of bright Watcher blood.
“William!” Xander snapped. Spike stilled.
“It’s alright,” Xander said calmly and wiped his face with the back of his sleeve.
Under the watchful eyes of the three Watchers, Spike relaxed.
“Enough of this,” Hartford said, his gun aimed at Xander’s chest. “Gentlemen, let us go downstairs now. Peters? Bring their belongings. Jenkins? If they make one wrong move: do not hesitate to shoot.”
“Yes sir,” the two Watchers confirmed.
Spike and Xander were herded along the corridor. When they came past the room Buffy had chosen to sleep in, the door was open. Spike stole a quick look, but there was no sign of her. The stairs offered no opportunity to make a break for it without risking a bullet in Xander’s back, so the two companions went where the three Watchers told them to: into the big dining room downstairs.
The curtains were still drawn, keeping out the morning light and hiding the interior from anyone who might look in from outside. Several thin shafts of sunlight stabbed through little openings and holes in the curtains and painted circles of light on the filthy floor. The Watchers had brought half a dozen lanterns with them and set them on the floor, where they cast a sickly yellow light.
When the group walked in, the room was occupied by five more members of the Tweed Brigade, bringing the total to eight. Two men were armed with revolvers, two with loaded crossbows. They were holding Willoughby, his son and the coachman, Harper, at gunpoint. The fifth Watcher present was the Head of the Council of Watchers himself, Director Arthur Hartford. He stood in front of the fireplace, leaning on his cane, his thin body rigid with intense irritation.
The sight of ‘the American’ elicited a satisfied smile, ‘William Crawford’s’ unexpected presence a frown. When Hartford noted the absence of the Slayer, his face reddened in anger. Richard Hartford hurried over to his father and reported his findings.
Meanwhile, Xander and Spike wordlessly took their places next to the other three captives. Unarmed and outnumbered, there was little the five prisoners could do, except try to eavesdrop on what the two Hartfords were discussing.
“The old man wants to do a some kind of mojo,” Spike murmured. His hearing was good enough to pick up most of the conversation.
“A spell?” Xander whispered.
Spike nodded and replied in kind. “Something French, to do with a curtain, by a guy called Cloutier.”
“Cloutier’s Tirer la couture?” Willoughby asked.
A nod. “He knows she’s not Maeve. He wants to know who or what she is.”
“We cannot allow that to happen,” Willoughby said.
“Can you do a spell to change the odds a little?” Xander whispered. *And no, I haven’t forgotten that it was a spell that got us all into trouble in the first place.*
“Be quiet,” one of the Watchers snapped and the prisoners fell silent.
Director Hartford walked towards them, his son at his heels. The floor was strewn with glass shards, wooden splinters and pieces of cracked plaster that crunched ominously under their expensive shoes. The old Watcher scrutinized his prisoners before resting his cold eyes on his subordinate. “I am tired of your deceptions and lies, Willoughby. Your selfish treachery will not go unpunished. Whatever it is you are so at pains to conceal from the Council’s rightful eye - I will discover it, and then you will learn that I am not a man to be trifled with.”
“I am not a traitor, sir!” Willoughby exclaimed in righteous indignation. He turned to look at the other Watchers. “Roland, Gerald, you know me. Surely you must know that I serve the Council to the best of my abilities. It is my sworn duty to protect, advise and aid the Slayer so she may perform her sacred duties. Peters, Elliot…”
None of the other Watchers was prepared to meet his eye, to defy the Head of the Council.
“Silence!” Hartford thundered. “You are a disgrace! Who knows what hellish creatures you are in league with. Soon I will know the full extent of your treachery and then - by God - you will pay dearly for your disloyalty.”
Willoughby fell silent but stood his ground, facing the irate director squarely. It was Hartford who broke the eye-contact. He turned and moved to the cleared space on the floor, where Willoughby had previously performed his cloaking spell.
The prisoners watched Director Hartford light incense and pour out a ring of brightly colored sand on the floor. The old Watcher knelt in the middle of the circle, his cane by his side, and began to meditate. Richard Hartford stood next to the circle, ready to assist. A pungent resinous smell began to spread.
“That spell, what’s it do exactly?” Spike murmured nervously.
“It reveals the true nature of things,” Willoughby explained just as quietly.
Xander saw Spike’s lips move and recognized the expletive even without the sound: ‘Bugger!’
*They’re gonna dust him.* Xander realized. The Watchers wouldn’t think twice about taking out a vampire in their midst, even if said vamp played nice. *Crap!*
He couldn’t see Spike going down without a fight, so he let his eyes roam over the trashed dining room. There had to be something he could do once the free-for-all started. The room was dominated by a long dinner table, formed by three separate tables, one of which was overturned. Almost a dozen chairs - some rickety with previous damage - were clustered around the table, just waiting to be grabbed and used as weapons.
Next to him, Spike was growing restless. Xander could feel it without even having to look at him. Thankfully, the Watchers missed the subtle signals. Their attention was divided between their prisoners and the spell-casting Director.
The smoke from the incense holders began to waft around the old man in spiraling tendrils.
Spike and Xander flinched when suddenly a non-corporeal voice echoed inside their heads, but then they recognized the Watcher. ///Gentlemen, please, do not be alarmed, it is me, Willoughby. Can you hear me?///
The two men nodded almost imperceptibly, recognizing the same mind-speak Willow had used this past summer. ///How ‘bout you? Can you hear me too?/// Spike thought back.
///I can indeed, Mr. Spike.///
///Hartford is an experienced sorcerer. It shouldn’t take him more than a few minutes to complete the spell. Spike, If I were to create a diversion, would you be able to effect an escape?///
///Depends on the diversion, but I’ll give it my best shot./// Spike answered.
Willoughby glanced at his son, his face impassive. ///Charles, when I tell you to, I want you to throw yourself on the floor. You too, Harper.///
The boy looked frightened but nodded briefly. The coachman looked unfazed.
///Very well. Mr. Harris?///
///Yeah?/// Xander answered, barely remembering not to speak out loud.
///You’ll have to--///
“Good lord, he’s a vampire!” a voice suddenly exclaimed. Hartford! The old sorcerer stood in his magic circle, pointing his cane at Spike. “Shoot! Now, dammit!”
Then several things happened at once. Willoughby uttered three Latin syllables of power, just as the door flew out of its hinges and crashed into the room. That’s when the shocked and frightened Watchers pulled their triggers.
Less than a second later the room was plunged into darkness. Shots rang, but there was no muzzle flash. The darkness was complete.
Continued in Part 42 – Go!
Author’s Note: Many thanks to Mikelesq – because he never stopped asking for this chapter and because he helped with snarky Spike.
Sorry about the long delay. I took me ages to arrive at the right amount of familiarity between Spike and Xander. Also, at first Spike refused to pretend to be William. I had to threaten him with serious bodily harm.