DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy has walked in on an unexpected visitor, someone who looks remarkably like Jenny Calendar…
It was the possessive tone of her voice that made Spike pause, his eyes glittering as they turned to see Buffy standing outside the bathroom. Her damp hair was pushed away from her face, her jaw set as she stared down the dark-haired woman, and she looked every inch the warrior she was, ready to battle their unexpected guest though he suspected that it would be a fruitless endeavour.
“I said, get away from him,” Buffy repeated. She moved as she spoke, a deliberate pace that situated her directly between him and the woman, and this time, there was no mistaking the suggestion that their guest was somehow threatening someone for whom the Slayer held concern.
Against his will, the corner of his mouth lifted. Suddenly, this just got much more interesting.
“I know---,” the woman started, only to be cut off when the Slayer took an angry step.
“Don’t!” she hissed. At her sides, Buffy’s hands were balled into fists, and the smile on Spike’s face waned as he saw the tremor in the wrist she’d broken. “And what is it with you and the Christmas theme? It’s a peace and goodwill toward men allergy, isn’t it?” Her eyes flitted to where he leaned against the counter. “Not that Spike’s a man---.”
“Hey!” he said, forgetting his momentary worry in the face of the personal slight to his gender. “Beg to differ, pet.” His thumb hooked through his jeans loop as his fingers splayed suggestively over his crotch. “Got a few body parts here that toss that claim out of the soddin’ water.”
She ignored him. “I would’ve thought you learned your lesson last year,” Buffy continued. “You couldn’t get to Angel and you know what? Spike’s a helluva lot more pigheaded than Angel is, so if you think you can try your tricks on him, you just might find yourself on the short end of that stick. A stick I wish desperately I could beat your head in with.”
The woman held her ground. “I know that this looks bad, but I’m not who you think I am.”
“Oh?” Without warning, Buffy’s hand shot out and waved in the space before her, passing through the woman as if she wasn’t there, and in that instant, Spike’s suspicions were confirmed. Ghost. Or something of that variety. It was the reason he’d sensed absolutely nothing with the being’s presence.
“Looking pretty large with the body lackage there,” the Slayer went on. “So sorry if I don’t really believe you on the who you are front.”
“I’m non-corporeal because I’m dead,” their guest replied. “Not because I’m the First.”
Spike frowned. “The first what?” he asked.
“Evil,” the two women said simultaneously.
“Oh.” Well, that explained a lot then. Only something incredibly evil could concoct the kind of plan that would leave him locked up with only the Slayer for company for days on end. He was beginning to really like this woman.
“But I’m not,” the brunette argued. “I really am---.”
“You’re not Miss Calendar,” Buffy said tightly.
“Rupert’s bird!” Spike exploded, wagging his finger at the brunette. “That’s who you are. I knew you looked familiar. You’re the one Ang---.” He stopped in mid-word, lips puckered to finish the name as the connection of what he was about to say fired inside his brain. His eyes jumped from Jenny’s cool ones, to Buffy’s furious ones, before he settled into a more noncommittal mask. “Right,” he drawled. “That’s probably why you’re not so keen on me and mine, then. Gotcha.”
The declaration that Jenny didn’t like Spike prompted Buffy’s brows to shoot up in surprise. “So the big evil’s got a problem with the killer of two slayers?” she said, folding her arms under her breasts. “Setting your standards kind of high, don’t you think?”
Jenny sighed. “Look, can we just start over? You can’t hit me, I’m not leaving until I’ve given you the heads up, and it’s not like you can just take a stroll on down to the local hangout in order to get away from me, not with the barrier that’s around this place.”
Spike saw understanding dawn in the Slayer’s gaze, and picked up another pancake from the stack at his side. He’d already heard part of the spiel, but he had a funny feeling that Buffy wasn’t going to be quite as easy a sell. Not that he’d actually heard the pitch yet, but someone who ruffled her feathers this much couldn’t be all good, right?
“You’re the reason we’re here,” Buffy said. “You caused the accident.”
“No.” Jenny was shaking her head. “We found out about the accident too late. By the time I showed up to try and intervene, Rupert was already gone.”
“OK, there is just so much wrong in those sentences, I don’t even know where to begin. Who’s ‘we’? And what’s this about intervening? Are you saying you could’ve prevented the accident? And if you know Giles was gone…” Her voice firmed, brooking no more games. “…where is he?”
The silence that followed riveted Spike to the staredown happening between the two women, both assessing the other, neither willing to back away. Finally, Jenny dropped her eyes, taking a deep breath before lifting her head back up to look at Buffy.
“We. Those of us trying to do what’s right, to fix what’s gone wrong by enlisting your aid to protect her. Prevented the accident? No. We didn’t know it was going to occur until it was too late. We just needed to get you two to safety. And Rupert…” She swallowed, her eyes bright. “We don’t know where he is. We weren’t the ones who took him.”
He saw the Slayer pale slightly at the disavowal of the Watcher’s predicament, the tremor in her hand increasing although he suspected it wasn’t so much from her injury as something else. Just as quickly as it appeared, though, it vanished, and Buffy lifted her chin as if nothing untoward had been said.
“So you’re the reason Spike pulled me out of the wreck?” she asked, calm and collected and every inch back in charge.
“I wish I could take the credit for that,” Jenny said. “But he decided to save you on his own. All I had to do was coax him toward the cabin, which, surprisingly enough, was not that difficult.”
The confused query behind Buffy’s eyes was all Spike needed to turn his attention to his drink, soaking another pancake with blood and then letting it disintegrate on his tongue. Bugger. It would’ve been nicer for her to believe that he’d been manipulated somehow in saving her. Now she was going to be all twenty questions on what exactly he’d been thinking.
He glanced up quickly through his lashes.
Fuck. Now the gypsy bint was looking at him, too.
“You were the last person I thought would help to protect her,” she was saying. “Your supporters were quite adamant, though. ‘Spike will surprise you,’ they said. ‘Don’t count him out of the game just yet.’”
“I’m not in your bloody game,” Spike growled, discomfort tightening his grip around the mug. “I only saved the Slayer because I knew Rupes would have my hide if I didn’t.” A partial lie, but who cared. Sure, the Watcher would most likely enact whatever sort of vile vengeance he wanted if Spike let something happen to the Slayer when he could’ve prevented it, but the other…well, that was really none of their business. He was his own vamp, damn it, and evil or not, this first Jenny or whatnot was starting to grate on his nerves.
“I’m not talking about Buffy,” she said. “Surprisingly enough, and don’t you ever dare tell Rupert I said this, the world doesn’t always revolve around the Slayer.”
“This her you keep talking about…” Buffy said, and thank god her attention was diverted away from him again. “Is this the same her those demons who showed up last night were asking about? I assumed they were talking about me, but now I’m not so sure.”
It was the first time Jenny looked genuinely shocked. “You were attacked?” she asked.
“You mean your all-powerful, all-knowing selves didn’t know that already? Yeah, we were attacked. Three of them. Looked like walruses, except, you know, demony.”
Jenny’s shoulders sagged. “Damn it,” she muttered. “That means Maria already knows about you two.”
“Getting really tired of the cryptic here, which, funny thing, is actually convincing me more and more that you’re Miss Calendar.” A small, determined step forward. “Just cut the crap, whoever the hell you are. I want to know what’s going on.”
The afternoon sun was on the far side of the cabin, leaving the front porch sheltered and safe for Spike as he paced along its length. A trail of ash was left in his wake, and the half dozen or so discarded cigarette butts marked better time than the length of the shadows cast by the nearby trees. He’d fled the inquisition as soon as he’d could, purposefully banishing himself to the seclusion of the great outdoors before his frustration with the situation caused him to do something that could only end at the pointy end of one the Slayer’s stakes, and now, too many hours and half a pack later, he was beginning to debate going back inside.
He was just another pawn in another game that he’d never asked to bloody join in the first place. This mucking about with his life shit had gotten old about two seconds before those damn G.I. Joes had zapped him on campus, turning him into a pathetic git begging for scraps at the Slayer’s table, and Spike was ready to fight this latest development with every non-existent breath in his undead body. Fuck her and whatever wind she rode in on. He wasn’t so far gone to start taking orders from a soddin’ ghost now.
Buffy was another matter, however. Her and her kind were the reasons he was in this mess to start with. Tagging along as the perky yet dangerous babysitter. Nattering on about her ski bunny dreams and probably distracting Rupert from his driving just enough to get in the accident in the first place. This was all her fault. If she wasn’t so tied in to every bleedin’ heart out to do a shred of good, this never would’ve happened. He could be feet up in front of a fireplace, a warm cup of blood in his hands, making her miserable by taunting her to death because she was stuck with him until they returned to Sunnyhell.
The distinction that he was almost in exactly that situation currently never even entered his mind.
His face contorted into a grimace as he flung his spent cigarette out into the snow, hearing the faint sizzle as it landed in the snow, and reached into his pocket for his pack. Five left. Great. In his haste to bugger out of there, he’d forgotten he was going to have to ration these, because something told him that not even the calendar girl would consider magicking in a fresh supply of smokes, not when she didn’t want him there in the first place.
Behind him, the door opened, and he smelled the scent of Buffy’s skin as she appeared in the doorway. “You can stop hiding,” she said. “The big bad ghostie is all gone now.”
“Hardly hidin’ when all you have to do is look out the soddin’ window to find me,” he replied without even bothering to turn. “Get what you were lookin’ for?”
“Oh, I was looking for this massive headache and sense of impending doom? Gee, I didn’t realize.”
Her sardonic tone was enough for him to toss her a glance over his shoulder. Leaning against the jamb for support, Buffy had his coat wrapped around her thin form, arms tight against her stomach as her breath clouded before her face. “You should get back inside,” Spike warned. “You’ll catch your death out here. Again.”
“Are you coming in?”
“Hadn’t planned on it.”
“Then I’m not budging. As much as this entire situation sucks, someone’s decided to invite you to the party, too, so at least you should hear the guest list.” The click of the door closing was followed by Buffy’s offbeat tread across the porch, and she stopped at his side, her hands stuffed deep inside her pockets as she leaned against the railing. “OK, so I budged a little.”
She sounded like she was teasing, and he looked down at her, meeting her upturned eyes with a confused frown. “So what’s so important that I have to get lumped into the mix?” he asked.
Buffy shrugged, all nonchalance and weary grace. “Oh, no big. Just the end of the world as we know it.”
“Then how come I’m not feelin’ so fine here?” he joked, but his heart wasn’t in it.
They stood in silence for several minutes, she facing out, he leaning against the post, the quiet broken only by the scraping of Buffy’s boot against the wood as she randomly kicked off clumps of snow to land and create mini-craters on the unbroken surface below them. When she finally spoke, her voice was low, conspiratorial, and it left a warm flush down Spike’s spine.
“You’re not the only who’s angry, you know. Being a puppet on a string has never rated high on the Buffy meter of fun.”
“Yeah, well, the difference is, Slayer, this savior gig is your bloody life. Me, I should be walkin’ down the streets of hell with a pretty girl stuck in my teeth instead of shacking it up here with you. So, if I seem a little brassed off ‘cause Rupert’s ex has decided to screw my nuts to the wall, well, that’s because I am.”
Buffy sighed. “I’m not even sure it is Miss Calendar, if that makes you feel any better. I mean, it might be. She didn’t talk like the First did the last time I saw it. With the First, it was all about how it was beyond sin, beyond death, beyond blah.” She stuck her tongue out on the last, and Spike fought the smile that threatened to curve his lips at the sight. He’d never say it out loud, but she could look impossibly adorable when she screwed up her face that way.
“Sounds like every other evil thing I’ve encountered,” he said. “Think I might’ve even used those words myself once or twice.”
“Yeah, well, if it is the First, then it’s trying a whole new tactic in getting under my skin, because sin and death didn’t come up once.” She paused, thinking. “Well, death came up once, but not either of ours so the jury’s still out on whether she’s evil or not.”
“Do we have any sort of verdict, then? What all this playing house is s’posed to be about?”
“Yep. It’s supposed to be about playing house.” At his raised brow, she went on. “She…they…want us to protect someone from these demons who are looking for her. A she someone. And if we don’t, if whoever’s after her wins, it’s end of the world time.” His pointed look around at the quiet surrounding them made her smile. “Apparently, she’s on her way. She’s supposed to be here in a day or two.”
“What, they couldn’t magic her in with the pig and wardrobes?”
“I asked the same thing. Jenny said magic doesn’t work on her. It’s got something to do with the whole why we need to guard her reasoning but she was pretty vague with the specifics. Oh, but I did get a name. Holly.”
It took a moment for what she was saying to sink in. “Are they completely off their box?” Spike said. Resuming his pacing, his body was thick with his returned frustration. “I’m evil, remember? I don’t protect innocent little misses from big bads trying to end the world. I’m supposed to deliver them bound and trussed on a blood-soaked platter! Has someone out there forgotten that fact?”
Buffy didn’t seem perturbed by his outburst. “Because someone somewhere has a sick sense of humor, obviously.” She sighed, and stepped forward to block his path, her hand coming out to his arm to keep herself steady. “I’m about as thrilled about this as you are, Spike. According to Jenny, we’re stuck here until New Year’s Day---.”
She nodded. “The barrier they put in place is made to dissolve at that point, because the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve is the deadline for whatever bad mojo these people want to do with Holly. So, we’ve got two choices. We do nothing and wait it out until the magic goes poof so that we can walk away. Or we do as they ask and help guard this Holly person.”
“Funny, I didn’t hear much askin’.”
“Neither did I.”
Her displeasure at the situation was actually calming him, their shared resentment dissipating his earlier anger. “What’re you goin’ to do?” he asked.
“You mean, what’re wegoing to do, Spike. Because like it or not, there are three sides here.” She began ticking them off on her fingers. “Jenny and her band of merry ghosts. The demons who are after Holly. And us.” Buffy paused. “It’s not like it’s the first time we’ve had to team up to stop an apocalypse, you know. And we didn’t exactly screw that one up, now did we?”
All too suddenly, Spike was aware of the weight of her hand on his arm, the warmth it added to his bare skin in spite of the bite to the air, and the urge to touch her made his other hand twitch in its eagerness to do so. She wasn’t even aware of it, he could tell. Though her breathing seemed slightly accelerated, that was easily explained by her growing fatigue; this was the most active she’d been since the accident, the trek through the woods the previous night notwithstanding.
He wanted to tell her she was wrong. He wanted to scream it out and tell her to go to hell, except that would have to wait, wouldn’t it, considering they were both stuck behind the bars of this particular cage. And like it or not, she had a point. He’d do worse than side with the Slayer on this one. She had an annoying tendency to win.
“Don’t s’pose she made any mention of gettin’ paid for this particular job?” he said, the query his unspoken agreement to her previous statements.
“Right then. There’s our answer.” He grinned. “They want us to work for them, they should bloody well pay us.”
She pulled away at that, rolling her eyes. “What about, we do it because it’s the right thing to do? If it’s the right thing to do,” she was quick to clarify.
Spike grimaced, dismissing her words with a wave of his hand, though the tone of his voice was teasing. “Load of rubbish. The way I see it, we have a service that’s in demand---.
“And the way I see it---.” Buffy cut herself off and sighed, but there was only an amused resignation in her tone. “We’re going to kill each other before Christmas. You know that, right?”
He smirked. “Yeah, but it’ll be fun while it lasts,” he commented. “’Sides, something tells me you might not mind a little anarchy every now and again, Summers. You haven’t lasted this long by always playin’ by the rules.”
“Hardly.” She was halfway across the threshold before she glanced back at him over her shoulder, a hint of a smile ghosting her lips. “Well…maybe a little.”
He waited until she had gone back into the cabin before chuckling. Not that he was any less upset about being dragged into this mess, but somehow, it didn’t seem quite so bad knowing that Buffy was just as ready to go down kicking as he was.
She greeted him before he’d even properly entered the dining room. “Mr. Giles,” she said, her thin hand extended, a warm smile on her face. “I’m so glad we finally meet.”
His eyes narrowed in scrutiny even as he matched her movement. Older than him by probably a decade, she was also nearly a foot shorter, lithe and graceful, her gray hair cut stylishly short. Dark eyes sparkled as she looked up at him, and her palm was warm and strong. “Maria, I presume,” Giles said. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Paul and Silas take their places at the table.
“How are you feeling?” Maria asked after they’d broken apart. “Silas informed me that your injuries didn’t require a hospital, but if he was wrong…”
“Are you saying you would actually let me leave should I say yes?” His voice was cold, but her friendliness was disarming him. She was most certainly not what he expected, a tiny Mother Hubbard when he’d anticipated a Viking, perhaps with horns. “I rather thought locking me in my room was to prevent my departure, or is that part of your welcoming package, as well as the breakfast in bed?”
She smiled. “No, you don’t need a hospital,” she said, ignoring his question. “I can see that your mind is as sharp as ever.” His latter words seemed to belatedly register, and she hesitated before turning to the table. “Didn’t you like the cream tea?” she asked. “Huh. I suspected you’d appreciate a small taste of home. Silas and Paul certainly do.”
“Breakfast was…lovely, but that’s hardly the point.” Giles’ feet remained rooted as she turned then, striding to take her seat at the head of the table. “I demand to know what exactly I’m doing here. What your purpose is in requiring my presence.”
There was a flicker of something in her dark gaze as Maria reached for a steaming bowl of buttered carrots. “You can always make the demand while you’re eating,” she said. “It’s a lovely dinner tonight. It would be a shame to waste it.”
For a moment, Giles watched as the semblance of supper was enacted before him, the dishes being passed around and left waiting at the empty setting. The rich smell of peppered steak made his nose prickle, and he consciously swallowed against the watering of his mouth as Silas drowned his mashed potatoes in thick gravy. “Casual dining with my captors is not something I normally deign to do.”
Maria shrugged, a fluid lift of her shoulders. “Your loss, Mr. Giles. Foolish, if you ask me. Silas told you you’d get your answers, didn’t he? So, really, being stubborn and not eating is almost childish, I think.”
He refused to be baited. “Tell me why I’m here.”
“To help me find my daughter,” came the quick response.
“Your daughter?” He frowned, taking a step closer. “That sounds like a police matter, not one that requires a trio of Watchers.”
“The police don’t care about the world of Slayers,” she said tightly. “You three do.”
His blood chilled at her bandying of the title, and Giles’ nostrils flared as he kept his temper in check. “You said this had nothing to do with Buffy,” he accused the two men.
“And it doesn’t, not directly,” Maria said. She waited until she had his attention again before continuing. “It’s about all the Slayers, and all the potential slayers, so I suppose in that way, yes, you could say that this is about Buffy Summers, too.” She waved toward the empty chair. “Do sit down, Mr. Giles. There is so much for us to discuss, and I’m sure by the time you’ve heard the whole story, you’ll understand just why it’s so important we find Holly as soon as possible.”
To be continued in Chapter 9: Marshmallows for Roasting…