By Estepheia and Marcee
Part 42 – Go!
Even Spike’s superior vision had no chance of penetrating the magical blackness, but he could still hear and his acute sense of smell was unimpaired. He just kept going, the reek of fear guiding him like a beacon.
A crossbow bolt whirred past him, missing him by mere inches. Several shots rang. A bullet hit Spike squarely in the chest, the invisible muzzle flash exploding less than a foot from his chest. The lightless fire burned a hole in his shirt and seared his skin, almost setting his flesh on fire. Spike roared in pain and the impact broke his stride, but he quickly caught his balance. Before the frightened man could discharge his revolver a second time, Spike descended upon him with all the savagery of a wild beast.
A sweeping blow shattered the Watcher’s wrist and sent the gun spinning away. Spike picked him up and held him in a bone-crushing feeding grip: one hand in his macassar-oiled hair, yanking back his head and exposing the jugular, one arm wrapped around the man’s torso, holding him in place. *Just like old times,* Spike thought, relishing the ineffectual struggling of the man. “God no! Help me,” the Watcher screamed. “No, please!”
Spike threw back his head and whooped with laughter.
“Marco!” the Slayer’s voice suddenly rose above the din.
“Polo!” Spike answered.
Shards and splinters crunched under Buffy’s feet as she ran towards the far end of the room, towards the screaming and the laughter, where one of the Watchers was frantically firing his gun. But mostly she was running to where she’d last seen Hartford.
There was a man with a crossbow to Buffy’s right, and two more to her left, but she ignored them, intent to take on the Council leader. They heard her pass and fired their weapons at the sound, but the missiles didn’t even come close.
“Xander, get down!” she shouted.
After kicking down the door, it had taken Buffy less than a second to take in the situation. So when the blackout came she already had a mental map in her head and a plan ready. She knew where the hostages were, and where all the Watchers were standing. *Thank you, Giles, for making me train blindfolded,* she thought as she charged forward.
She’d almost reached Hartford, when he uttered several incomprehensible syllables.
It was as if she’d slammed into a brick wall, except that brick walls don’t crackle or zap you with electric shocks. Hartford had magicked some kind of magical force field around himself. Buffy grunted as she was violently propelled backwards against one of the dinner tables. The sturdy piece of furniture splintered and collapsed under the impact and the Slayer landed on a bed of sharp wooden fragments. The crash left her momentarily stunned and still twitching from the energy discharge.
“Hey! That’s cheating!”
Buffy automatically tried to interpret the cacophony of sounds around her. The Watchers were yelling all at once: “The beast caught Roland”, “Dear god” and “Where is it?” At least they’d stopped shooting, except for one man who was still blindly firing into the dark. “For god’s sake, hold your fire,” Richard Hartford’s voice could be heard above the din.
“No! Please—“Suddenly the scream was abruptly cut off.
Everybody fell silent. The only sound was the frantic clicking of a hammer falling on an empty pistol chamber.
“Spike?” Buffy called, feeling a chill.
“Right here,” his cheerful voice could be heard, his speech slightly slurred by the fangs. His words were punctuated by the dull thud of a body slumping to the ground.
Xander had no vampire reflexes or heightened senses, only a dogged determination to throw in his weight. Maybe staying out of the way was the smart thing to do. *Yeah, and whoever said I do what’s smart?* So, when the lights went out he picked himself up from the floor where Spike’s shove had sent him and headed straight on, away from the door and towards the middle of the room where the long dining room table cut the room in half. He tripped on some unidentifiable rubble, and almost fell, unwittingly dodging a stray bullet. Behind him he heard the coachman hustle the Watcher’s son into protective cover – probably behind the overturned table. By the time Buffy called out his name and told him to get down, Xander had reached his destination and was crouching next to the table and groping around for a chair that might serve as a weapon.
He was momentarily tempted to answer her, but to give away one’s position in a room full of enemies with guns? Dumber than dumb.
Remembering the group of chairs on the other side of the table Xander quickly threw himself underneath the table. Suddenly there was a loud crash to his right. He didn’t wait to find out what it was but hurriedly crawled away from the noise, shards and rubble cutting into his knees and hands. When his hand brushed the leg of a chair he rose into a crouch and grabbed the reassuring piece of furniture with both hands, waiting for an opportunity to use it.
“Tell me you didn’t kill him, Spike,” Buffy demanded and jumped to her feet.
A shot rang as one of the Watchers fired at the sound of her voice. The bullet sang past her. He never got a second shot. Buffy hurled herself at the sound, and barreled into the man, knocking him off his feet. Both landed on the ground, Buffy on top. She didn’t waste a second. Instinctively, she swung her fist against his head, knocking him out cold.
If Spike had intended to answer her, his reply was cut off by syllables of power. “Tenebrae solvere!” Hartford’s voice boomed in the darkness. Suddenly the room was bathed in a cold blue light that drowned out the more natural lighting from the windows and lanterns. Buffy looked up from the unconscious Watcher. The Council director was hovering in a shimmering bubble of energy. Blue lightning was sluggishly dripping from his fingertips and his cane and swirling briefly on the floor like little buzzing snakes before they winked out. The man’s eyes were jet-black. Dark veins stood out from unnaturally white skin.
Willoughby staggered from the sheer force with which his darkness spell had been shattered. “Good Lord!” he exclaimed at the sight of the unleashed sorcerer. Hartford smiled.
Apart from the two Hartfords, three Watchers were still standing. They were just as startled as Willoughby. Buffy took advantage of the distraction. In a flurry of fast kicks she sent the one closest to her staggering backwards, where Harper, Willoughby’s table-leg wielding coachman, swiftly knocked him out. That left two.
One of the Watchers was quick-witted enough to raise his loaded crossbow and level it at the unguarded back of the vampire, who had his hand around another man’s throat, effortlessly lifting him into the air. “Spike! Watch out!” Xander shouted, quickly stood up and hurled his chair at the Watcher. *Score!* It knocked the weapon out of his grasp, just as the vampire whirled around. The crossbow bolt missed Spike by a mile and embedded itself in the wooden ceiling. “This one’s ours. If anyone gets to dust him, it’s us,” Xander told the stunned Watcher.
Spike grinned. He pulled his squirming captive closer, knocked him out with a quick head-butt and dropped him like a sack of potatoes. “Cheers, mate,” he smirked in Xander’s direction, then he aimed a vicious kick against the head of the third Watcher just as the man’s fingers closed around the grip of his fallen crossbow.
“Abomination!” Director Hartford shouted and aimed his cane at Spike. Cold blue lightning shot out of its tip to engulf the vampire with crackling sparks. It was like being hit by a taser. Spike never got to land that kick. Instead he collapsed, rendered help- and speechless by painful muscle cramps.
The spared Watcher hastily swiped up his crossbow and backed away from the jerking vampire. He tried to load the weapon but his hands were trembling too much. “Carter, here! Give me that,” Richard snarled and snatched the weapon out of the man’s hand. He quickly proceeded to load it, while his father focused on the Slayer.
“You don’t belong here,” Director Hartford stated coldly, his black eyes wandering from Buffy to the American and back. “Neither of you. Who are you? You’re not Maeve. I can see your real face.”
“I’m the Slayer,” Buffy said. “Just not your Slayer.”
Meanwhile, Richard Hartford had finished loading the crossbow. Buffy was ready to deflect or dodge the shot. However, the moustached Watcher had no intention of targeting the Slayer, instead he strode towards the powerless vampire.
*No!* Buffy felt a sudden dread. Wishing with all her being she had Willow’s telepathic power, Giles’ brain or just a few extra seconds, she balled her fists. “Spike!” she called out. “Please, you have to get up!”
Suddenly, Xander threw himself at Richard Hartford. The two men wrestled for the crossbow, then staggered and without so much as a flash of lightning or a sound they were both abruptly … gone!
* * *
Xander and Hartford wrestled and staggered and tumbled, then tripped over something, or rather someone and crashed to the ground. With a twang the crossbow released its bolt. It embedded itself in the counter of the Magic Box.
“Ouw! Watch it!” Anya exclaimed indignantly, then: “Xander? Oh my god, Xander, is that really you?” She let go of Tara’s and Willow’s hand and was out of the circle faster than a flash.
The portal wobbled precariously, as the connection was broken, its outline fluttering. Sweat beaded on Willow’s brow and Tara grew pale.
“Hey Ahn,” Xander grunted. “A little help here?” Hartford Junior had managed to land on top of him and was trying to choke him by pressing the crossbow handle against his throat.
“Xander, you’re back,” Anya squealed.
Maeve and Angel rushed closer to take on the Watcher. But Anya was faster.
“Get off my fiancé!” she yelled. Like a wild cat, she jumped on the man’s back, slapping, hitting, and clawing – even tearing at his hair. It took both Maeve and Angel to separate her and the stunned Watcher.
“And who might you be?” Giles asked the newcomer, who was easily held captive by Angel.
The man looked around, obviously confused and frightened by the sudden change in scenery, but there was still a certain air of superiority around him, comically at odds with the plucked-chicken look Anya’s rage had left him with. He raised his chin. “Do your worst,” he said pompously. “I will not betray my calling by talking to you.”
Xander got to his feet and brushed a hand through his hair. “His name’s Hartford,” he answered in the man’s stead. “And although he’s a Watcher he’s not really one of the good guys. Or maybe he is, but just not too choosy about his means.”
Anya was struggling against Maeve’s restraining grip. When the Slayer let go she rushed into Xander’s open arms, crying.
He wrapped his arms around that warm, sobbing bundle of joy and relief, squeezing her as hard as he dared. “God, I missed you, Anya, I missed you so much!” he muttered and kissed her lovely lips fervently.
Giles cleared his throat, more than a dozen pertinent questions on his mind, all pertaining to the hopefully swift and safe retrieval of his Slayer – but his bid for attention was ignored by the kissing couple.
“I can’t hold the portal open much longer,” Willow suddenly spoke up. Her voice was flat, almost lifeless. “I need more power.”
Cordelia took a hesitant step towards the circle.
Angel gave a small start, almost telling her not to, but he held his tongue. Cordy would do what Cordy thought best. Somehow, he always fell for the stubborn ones.
Xander broke the kiss. Anya opened her mouth to drown him with a flood of questions, but he put a gentle finger on her lips. “Later,” he said hurriedly. “Let’s just get the rest of the rescue mission under way, okay? Then we can celebrate.”
Anya nodded happily, but didn’t let go of her man.
Cordelia stepped into the circle and took the place Anya had deserted. When her hand touched Willow’s, she went rigid with shock. The fluttering slowed, but it did not stop.
It was difficult to see what was happening on the other side of the portal. There was a glowing blue sphere that filled up most of the flickering ‘screen’
Xander turned to Giles to quickly fill him in: “The good news is: Buffy and Spike are there,” he jerked his thumb at the portal. “The bad news is, they’re in the middle of a fight and that one guy is working some serious mojo. If he doesn’t run out of juice I’m not sure Buffy can take him. She needs help, Giles. I have to go back and help her.”
“No!” Anya yelled.
“But someone has to—“
“More,” Willow demanded.
“I will go,” Maeve interrupted him with calm resolve.
“I need more power,” Willow said, louder this time. “To keep this portal open I need more.” Her hair was writhing around her pale face like the snakes of a Gorgon, her black eyes were staring blindly through the portal and into the past. “Things are just getting exciting. That sorcerer sure knows his stuff. I wouldn’t want to miss this show for all the tea in China. So. Give. Me. More!”
“Quickly,” Maeve implored Giles, waiting for his consent.
But he shook his head. “Fools rush, where Angels fear to tread. What if we end up with both Slayers in the past? We have to consider--”
“I have power,” Dawn suddenly announced and stepped towards the circle. “I’m a green blob of energy, right?”
“Dawn, wait!” Giles snapped. “We don’t know what will happen if you join your power with Willow’s. If she takes too much, she might unravel the spell that binds your human form and memories together. You might cease to exist!”
“If it means getting my sister back, that’s a risk I’m willing to take,” the teenager declared and before anyone could stop her she rushed forward and put her hand on Willow’s shoulder. The effect was quite amazing.
The portal stabilized instantly, its outline became smooth and defined. The darkness in Willow’s eyes faded and the strain seemed to leave her body. Tara and Cordelia too lost their rigidity and also some of their pallor. Dawn looked strained but unharmed and as far as Giles could tell his memories of her were unimpaired.
Even so. “Doesn’t anybody heed my advice anymore?” Giles asked indignantly.
“I can see them, I can see Buffy,” Dawn said excitedly, even though her eyes were closed. “Spike’s there too. But he’s hurt.”
“Seems to be working,” Angel observed, but his habitually stony mien was showing cracks.
“That’s totally beside the point. We don’t know how long Dawn’s power boost will work. And what about that Watcher Xander brought with him? How are we supposed to deal with him and what he’s seen here?” Giles was clearly agitated, uncomfortable with all the unknown variables. “After all, we can’t just wipe everything from his memory.”
“Oh, but we can. It’s quite easy,” Anya interrupted. “All one needs is a crystal and a twig of Lethe’s Bramble. Do you want me to get some?”
“No, we do not play with people’s memories,” Giles exclaimed. “Not while I’m here to stop it. And what if we’re not supposed to send him back? What if he disappeared in 1880 without a trace? Unfortunately, there’s no time to consult my journals. Frankly, I--”
“Uh, Giles, can I—“ Xander telegraphed the ‘talk to you in private?’ with a nod of his head and headed away from the prisoner. Giles followed him. Anya stayed glued to Xander’s arm, acting like his Siamese twin.
For a moment Xander struggled with his conscience. He remembered what Hartford had said at that party: ‘I’d rather have a railroad spike through my head…’ Xander knew that if they sent the man back through the portal he’d get brutally murdered not long afterwards – one of the first victims of William the Bloody. Sending him back was as good as killing the man himself. Hartford was human, a Watcher. Not exactly equipped with what Xander considered an endearing personality, but he hardly deserved being tortured for ridiculing a man’s lousy poetry.
“We have to send him back, Giles. Keeping him here could seriously screw up history.”
His urgency and discomfort weren’t lost on the Watcher. “Do go on,” Giles said. “What is it you know?”
“I—I just think I kinda know what’s going to happen to him. I don’t think he’ll get to tell anyone. Or as Spike might put it: his number’s up.” Xander felt sick in his stomach.
Giles nodded in understanding. “You have to remember, whatever happened to him, it happened more than 120 years ago and is not your responsibility.”
“Changing the course of time is always a complicated business,” Anya chipped in. “I should know, I did it at least a hundred times, before I answered Cordelia’s wish and Giles smashed my pendant. People often wish things had turned out differently. Did you know that the Confederacy lost the Civil War just because this Colonel from Georgia lost his wife’s family baubles in a card game?”
Xander silenced her with a gentle squeeze of his hand. Whatever Giles said, Xander felt responsible. But he nodded. “Yeah, let’s send him back. But trussed up like a turkey.”
“Anya, can you quickly get us some rope, please? Then Angel can tie him up,” Giles said.
Anya pouted, not wishing to be parted from her man, but went to fetch the requested item.
“Maeve? I guess this is goodbye,” Giles told the Slayer quietly, so the prisoner couldn’t hear him. “You will have to carry our friend here through the portal. Once you are back in your time all you have to do is touch Buffy’s hand. That should reverse the spell and both you and Buffy should be returned to your own bodies.”
The Slayer nodded. “I am ready, Mr. Giles. And thank you.” She smiled shyly. “It has been a pleasure getting to know you all.” She exchanged a meaningful glance with Anya.
The ex-demon smiled warmly. “Bye Maeve. Don’t forget the things I taught you. Especially page 109.”
Maeve blushed and nodded. Then she turned around, and walked over to Angel just as he finished tying the knots around the Watcher’s wrists. “That should keep him secured,” Angel said, uncomfortable under her gaze but not enough of a coward to look away. “And this should keep him quiet.” He pushed a gag into the man’s mouth.
“Thank you,” Maeve said and hoisted the bound man over her shoulder. She paused to look at her distraught murderer. “Beannacht Dé leat!, Mr. Angel.“
With one last glance at the people she had come to see as her friends, Maeve stepped through the portal.
Continued in Part 43 - High Five
AN: “Beannacht Dé leat” is Old Irish and means “God's blessing with you”
Thank you, dear readers for your patience and loyalty. And for your lovely and encouraging feedback. Special thanks to Kimi615 and Mikelesq for their support.