By Estepheia and Marcee
Part 43 - High Five
But Hartford wasn’t listening. He was scowling at the space where the two men had been struggling just moments before.
“What did you do to my son?” The old man shouted. The veins in his face stood out in purple-black rage, making his appearance even more cadaverous. The electric-blue energy field collapsed with a buzz and the stench of ozone, and the Watcher floated to the ground.
Buffy didn’t hesitate, but flung herself at him. Only the old Watcher wasn’t as frail as he seemed. With magically enhanced strength and reflexes, he swatted the surprised Slayer aside like an annoying insect. She flew backwards against the wall next to the fireplace. She landed on all fours, less than a yard away from Spike who’d stopped twitching and was now groggily trying to get up.
”Okay, fine. So I guess we’re going to do this the hard way,” Buffy mumbled. She swiftly got up, offered Spike her hand and pulled him to his feet. She missed the look of surprise on his face because she kept her eyes on the black-eyed sorcerer and his two remaining henchmen, looking for an opening.
“What did you do to my son?” Hartford repeated, his whole body tense like a clenched fist.
“He’s fine. He just went on a little trip,” Buffy said. *To Sunnydale 2001 – at least I hope so.* She threw a quick glance at the empty spot where Xander and the Watcher had disappeared. There was nothing even remotely portal-y there.
“It’s invisible from this side,” Spike muttered under his breath, following her eyes. “It might still be open.”
“Where does that portal lead?” Hartford asked and pointed his cane at… nothing.
“So much for invisible,” Buffy said with a pout. “How come he sees it?”
“Cloutier’s spell,” Willoughby answered her question.
Bringing himself to the old man’s attention was a mistake. “Hold your tongue, traitor,” Hartford snapped. “Or you’ll lose it.” A lightening bolt knocked Willoughby off his feet. He lay prone where he fell.
‘Father!’ Charles rushed to his father’s side, before Harper had a chance to stop him.
“Buffy, go for the portal,” Spike whispered urgently. “I’ll keep’m busy and you go through, high five Maeve and send her back. I’ll follow once Saruman here is out of the picture.”
*Saru-who?* “Your plan has just one flaw,” Buffy said and launched herself at their opponent.
“What’s that?” Spike asked, not far behind.
“Nobody—“ Kick, punch, dodge, “gets left” left hook, block, punch, “behind.”
This time, Buffy managed to land a few direct hits but it felt like pounding a concrete wall. She wasn’t even sure the pummeling had any effect. Then Hartford thwacked her with his cane, shattering the sturdy wood on her shoulder and knocking her down again. Spike barely escaped the sharp jagged end of the cane when Hartford turned to deal with him. The man was way too fast and in his present enhanced state, his ability to take damage even surpassed the resilience of Slayer or vampire.
One of the Watchers, Elliot, still had an armed crossbow, but Buffy and Spike moved with speed and grace and synergy. A clear shot was impossible. Meanwhile, the other Watcher, Carter, was trying to load the revolver he'd retrieved from the floor, but because his hands shook so much all he did was litter the floor with cartridges.
At one time Harper made an attempt to drag the resisting Charles Willoughby away from his father’s side and to safety, but a small lightening bolt exploded in their path, driving them back into cover.
“The old fool keeps this up and he’s gonna run out of juice real soon,” Spike muttered, when yet another round of hand-to-hand had ended with both of them crashing into the remains of the room’s furniture. “We just gotta keep him busy.”
Buffy jumped to her feet. ”So who are you supposed to be again? Sigfried or Roy?”
After his last zap, Hartford appeared drained. His shoulders were slumping slightly and his pale complexion was riddled with fewer black veins. His breaths were quick and shallow.
“Too old for this, eh?” Spike remarked, as he searched for a new opening.
Suddenly, with two brisk strides, Hartford was at Carter’s side, grabbing the man’s shoulder. There was a green flash as he drained him of power. The Watcher gasped and fell to the ground in an unconscious heap. The black veins in Hartford’s face reappeared, darker and more pronounced than before. The air in the room crackled loudly. The old sorcerer took a deep breath, and…
Suddenly Buffy felt herself crushed by an unseen force. Her arms were pinned to her sides and she was lifted off the ground. She struggled: tensing and wriggling, trying to break the invisible grip that was slowly squeezing the breath out of her.
Hartford was holding out his hand, fingers clenched around thin air, squeezing, his face a frightening grimace. “You will tell me what I wish to know, insolent woman! You are no match for me.”
“You know, you could have asked nicely,” Buffy said breathlessly, never ceasing in her struggles.
Spike hurled himself at the old Watcher again. Just like before, most of his punches were blocked before they could connect, but one or two blows landed and caused the old man to stagger. Spike was forced back again, but this time he was able to remain on his feet.
“Spike… keep going,” Buffy choked out. “His strength… when you hit him… don’t stop.”
“Enough of this,” Hartford snapped. “Elliot? Shoot the accursed vampire.”
“No!” Buffy shouted.
“Shoot!” Hartford bellowed. “What are you waiting for, man?”
Spike didn’t waste any time. Ignoring Hartford, he bolted toward the armed man.
“The portal! Spike! Go!” Buffy shouted. But it was too late, the man raised his weapon…and was hastily knocked down by a man-shaped missile that suddenly landed on top of him. The two Watchers went down in a tangle of limbs.
Spike skidded to a halt just before colliding with *Buffy!?*
“Hello Mr. Spike,” the Slayer grinned.
Everybody just gaped at her, stunned. Even Spike was dumb-struck.
“Mr. Spike?” Maeve’s smile wavered then froze as the realization hit home. Shock, panic and a furious blush washed over her in short succession. In her hurry to go through the portal Maeve – and the other Scoobies – had forgotten one tiny little detail: her clothes.
“Maeve?” the sorcerer exclaimed, looking appalled, even shocked.
Meanwhile, the two fallen Watchers struggled to their feet. The ropes that had tied Richard Hartford’s hands hadn’t made the journey back either, but the sight of the naked Slayer immobilized him quite effectively. The other Watcher, Elliot, stood just as slack-jawed, whereas Charles’s blush almost equaled Maeve’s. Harper, the seasoned soldier, was probably the least impressed. He took a good look, then left his cover to search for a weapon he could use.
For a moment, Spike was unable to wrench his gaze away. Buffy. Naked. Okay, with Maeve inside, but *hell* Buffy.. He swallowed, his mouth dry.
“Good Lord!” Apparently, Richard Hartford had found his voice again, inadvertently drawing Spike’s attention to himself. Spike spun around, grabbed the two Watchers by their necks and almost absentmindedly slammed their heads together, knocking them out cold. He flashed Maeve a wicked grin. “Good timing, pet,” he finally managed to say.
“Can you two… save the hugs and puppies… for later?” Buffy choked out, oblivious of Maeve’s state of undress, as Spike was obstructing her line of sight. Sensing that the sorcerer was distracted, Buffy redoubled her efforts to break free. Hartford was indeed beginning to look drained, his face ashen. Dark red blood began dripping from his nose. He staggered and let go of the recalcitrant Slayer. She fell to the ground and remained slumped for a moment, drawing in air in greedy gasps. “In case you hadn’t noticed, Spike,” she wheezed, ”we’re still fighting <gasp> against a whacked out Houdini.”
She rose to her feet and got her first good look at the other Slayer. Her eyes widened comically. “You’re naked!” Buffy gasped. “I mean, I’m naked. I shouldn’t be naked. Spike, why am I naked?”
“Spike! Stop ogling!”
“Oh, right,” he said, suddenly snapped out of his reverie. He quickly took off his coat and offered it to the embarrassed Slayer, when she picked up a table leg and rushed off to clobber a recently recovered Watcher who was reaching for his crossbow.
Hartford, during the chaos, chose to seek out a fresh source of power, namely Edward Willoughby, who was still lying prone among the debris of broken tables and chairs, conscious but too battered to move. But suddenly the old man found himself staring down the barrel of a revolver.
“Lay one hand on my father and I’ll shoot,” Charles said. He was shaking with fear, but there was no doubt about his determination.
“You think a mere bullet will stop me, boy?” Hartford mocked him, but his breathing was becoming much more labored, and he made no attempt to touch the other Watcher.
“Does the rest of the Council know the extent of your exploration into the Black Arts?” Maeve asked, walking towards him
“Be silent,” the Director barked in cold rage. “My god, cover yourself, shameless Jezebel!”
Maeve flinched but then she lifted her chin stubbornly, remembering all the things Anya had tried to teach her. “You use black magic in front of witnesses and all you can think of is my state of undress? With all due respect, Sir, you ought to reconsider your priorities.” She chuckled, but when Spike placed his coat over her shoulders, she shrugged herself into the dark woolen fabric and pulled it closed around her.
“You dare lecture me? You… you… harlot…“
Abruptly, Hartford’s face became slack and his legs buckled. He collapsed, weakly flailing, his movements sluggish. Maeve caught him before the old man could hit his head on the floor and eased him to the ground. Hartford’s eyes were open. The oily blackness was gone. They were bloodshot, and the pupils were tiny pinpricks.
Maeve squatted down beside him and loosened his cravat. The Director tried to swat her hand away but his limbs seemed to have a will of their own and stayed limp. He was trying to talk, but it was impossible to understand what he was saying.
“Oh God, what is this? A heart attack?” Buffy shouted and ran to the prone man. She crouched down next to Maeve. “Spike, see if you can wake Richard. Where’s Harper?”
“Right here, Miss,” was his quick response.
“Get the car… I mean, coach. He needs to be taken to a hospital,” Buffy ordered as she unbuttoned the Director’s coat to allow him to breathe easier.
“Yes, right away,” he answered as he hurriedly turned to leave.
A strange quiet fell, only interrupted by sounds of labored breathing and the slaps Spike was administering to the unconscious Watcher. After two minutes he succeeded in rousing the man.
“Father?” Richard stepped up behind Buffy, rubbing his aching head. “What happened? What did you do to him?”
“Nothing. One minute he was yelling at Maeve,” Buffy answered, “the next minute he kinda collapsed.”
Edward Willoughby joined the group. “I am no doctor,” he said tiredly. “But it looks like Director Hartford may have suffered a stroke.” He turned towards his son. “Charles, as soon as Harper comes back, please assist him and Mr. Hartford in escorting his father to the coach.”
The boy nodded and pocketed the gun. A minute later Harper was back, bringing another coachman with him. Buffy and Maeve stepped away so that they could lift the paralyzed director.
After the men had made it outside, Buffy and Maeve had a moment to appreciate each other in person.
“Nice job,” Buffy in Maeve’s body said.
“You too,” Maeve in Buffy’s body replied.
“Thanks,” Buffy smiled. “High five?” She lifted her hand in the air.
Maeve looked uncertain.
“High five,” Buffy repeated. “Hit me!”
After Maeve’s first high-five ever, she found herself looking back at Buffy, in Buffy’s body. Buffy found herself…in a scratchy old woolen coat that smelled of tobacco and just a hint of something familiar that took her a moment to fully recognize: it smelled of Spike.
Buffy took a deep breath. “Okay, let’s go,” she said.
“Just one sec, Slayer, there’s some things I’d like to keep.” Spike strode to the fireplace where his bag was sitting on the floor and hurriedly went through his loot, discarding items, keeping others.
“Mr. Crawford? Quickly, may I have a word with you?” Willoughby approached the vampire. He appeared nervous, uncomfortable and utterly exhausted.
“Spike, then. Look here, I know we are natural enemies…”
“No. Slayers and vampires are natural enemies. Watchers are just a side dish,” the vampire smirked.
Willoughby nodded and tried again. “Very well. I realize that you have no cause to answer my question, but before you leave there is something I need to ask you.”
“Four and a half years,” Spike interrupted him. “That’s all she’s got. And it’s your friggin’ job to make sure they’re good ones.” He slung the bag over his shoulder and thrust the leather valise full of stolen deeds and bonds into the Watcher’s hands. “This might help,” he said. “Tell her, if she doesn’t spend it on fun stuff, I’ll come back and eat you.”
“Spike!” Buffy interrupted. “We’re on a tight schedule here. If we miss our portal because you’re dawdling I’m so gonna kick your ass.”
“Nag, nag, nag.” Spike said, but he quickly moved to her side.
“Are you finished here?” she asked impatiently.
“Actually no,” Spike said.
“Wha—“ Her question was muffled by his lips on hers. Suddenly the whole world, past and present, revolved around cool lips and strong arms.
It was only a brief kiss, but when he pulled back they were both out of breath. Buffy could feel her heart hammering wildly in her chest. Spike too looked slightly frazzled around the edges. “Sorry,” he muttered, although he didn’t feel in the least contrite, “had to do this. Before you’re back with your chums.”
Buffy opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She snapped it shut. She just snatched his hand and stepped into the portal, dragging her vampire with her.
Continued in Part 44 – Back in Town
Many thanks to Mikelesq. Again.