DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: A demon has attempted to kidnap Joyce per Maria’s orders but was thwarted by Doyle and Joyce, while back in the cabin, Christmas lunch was followed by Holly getting hurt and Buffy passing out while tending her…
When it came to the hunt, vampire hearing was excellent for detecting the faintest of clues to the prey’s location. A reedy heartbeat. The quiet hitch of fearful tears. An inhalation while the victim held its breath.
When it came to babysitting, however, vampire hearing was excruciatingly disastrous, as it seemed small girls’ piercing cries were designed especially to bypass any sense of tolerance and drive with unerring accuracy into the center of his brain. Frankly, Spike would’ve preferred being on the wrong end of red-hot pokers than listen to the wails that filled the room behind him. Proof positive that he hadn’t gone completely soft yet, in spite of the Slayer’s protestations to the contrary.
Muttering under his breath about possessed children and the worthiness of gag therapy, Spike grabbed the first aid kit from the kitchen cupboard without looking back at the two females. Unexpectedly, the scent of fresh blood made his mouth water, and he bit down on the inside of his cheek in order to prevent the coppery heat from going to his head. It wasn’t a reaction he anticipated. He’d lived with the aroma of Buffy’s blood in the air for days now, though it got fainter as she moved past her injuries.
This was different.
Not from the fact that he hadn’t eaten a human in weeks, though that was probably a contributory factor.
It smelled like…
Deep, cabalistic, ravenous power. Like he hadn’t experienced since Prague and the mob so determined to subvert Drusilla’s inherent talents for their own evil-doing.
It made him hard. Expeditiously, abruptly, dizzyingly hard, and he had to tighten his grip on the box in order not to succumb to the sudden desire to shift into gameface. The instinct was that primal.
Just beg off and hide in the shower until the chit’s cleaned up, Spike decided as he turned to give Buffy the first aid kit. Get away from the temptation and try to suss out exactly why it had gotten to him as strongly as it had.
That decision went straight out the window when he saw her slumped on the floor.
“Buffy!” Flying forward, Spike rolled her off Holly’s lap where she’d obviously collapsed, scooping her into his arms to set her on the couch. Buffy’s eyes were closed, her breathing shallow and rapid, and there was a bluish tinge beginning to creep up her arms.
“What did you do?” Spike raged, turning back to the child.
The viciousness of his question silenced Holly, driving her to stare at him with huge, tear-filled eyes. It lasted only a moment, though, before her crying returned, and she retreated to the corner to sob hysterically, leaving him in raucous confusion as he reverted his attention to Buffy.
The scent of Holly’s blood was still strong, in spite of the increased distance, and Spike quickly spotted the fluid staining the Slayer’s hands. This was where the bluing began, and when he picked one up to examine it closer, the iciness of her flesh almost prompted him to drop it again.
Right. Simple problem to solve. Get the blood off so it stopped doing…whatever it was doing.
Doing his best to block out the crying in the corner, Spike dashed to the kitchen and grabbed a towel, giving it a quick rinse before going back to Buffy. Swiftly, he washed her hands of the blood, not stopping until the last trace was gone, and then sat back on his heels to look up into her face.
His eyes drifted downward.
And her hands are still blue. Bollocks.
“Don’t do this to me, pet,” he said. Resting his hand on her chest, he felt the skittering of her heart as it fought whatever poison had leaked into her system. The chill that he’d felt in her hands didn’t reach here, and a quick inspection told him that it wasn’t advancing further than it already had.
“Open your eyes, Buffy,” Spike coaxed. He wanted to shake her, but fear of hurting her kept him motionless. His gaze, however, wasn’t content to settle, darting in desperate pursuit of another symptom to treat. Finding…nothing.
He tried again. “Luv, you gotta let me see those beautiful eyes of yours. Let me know you’re goin’ to fight this with me.”
Not even a twitch.
His fingers were shaking as he brushed back the hair from her face, searching for any other signs of the toxin. The bliss that had been his Christmas morning had been shattered so easily, all because of the damn toys he’d been such a sop for making in the first place. All because of the kid. The same kid who was still crying in the corner---.
“Will you bloody well shut up!” Spike’s head whipped around to glare at the huddled girl, his brow ridging from the force of his anger. “I can’t fuckin’ think for all that caterwauling!”
She gulped before putting a hand over her mouth, as if that simple gesture would silence the sobs that still tore from her throat. It was better, but when Spike turned his back to her, the memory of the haunted look in her eyes stayed with him, the fear mingling with the pain to create an elixir that ate at his heart.
She was just a child. She didn’t know better.
And he hated being the reason for the suffering when only minutes earlier, she’d worshiped the ground he walked on.
“Come here,” he ordered, deliberately calming his voice and shifting back to human before looking at her again. At the silent query in Holly’s aspect, he picked up the towel he’d used on Buffy and waved her forward. “Need to get you cleaned up.”
She did as he commanded, a cowed hesitancy to the way she scooted on her bottom to get to his side. He was careful to keep himself situated between her and the unconscious Slayer; the last thing Spike needed right now was more of her blood getting into Buffy’s system. Grasping the child’s ankle, he pushed her trousers leg up to expose her scrape, and was immediately assaulted by the fresh scent of the crimson fluid responsible for their latest quandary.
His grip tightened instinctively, and both he and Holly cried out in pain as a result. Spike pressed the heel of his hand to his brow to try and force the headache away, and then shook his head to regain control.
Just a bit of blood. Nothin’ he hadn’t seen or tasted countless times before. Not anything to be writing home about.
Except just a few drops of it had knocked out one of the strongest Slayers he’d ever seen.
The urge to taste was overwhelming, but with Holly staring up at him, half-afraid that she was going to be the brunt of another verbal attack or worse, Spike knew he couldn’t. It wasn’t just that he couldn’t predict what effect the blood would have on him. It was the desire to not hurt the child any more than he had already that made him grit his teeth and try again.
“Pretty powerful stuff there,” he commented as he dabbed at the wound.
Every time she winced from the sting, Spike flinched from the stab of electricity the chip shot into his brain. It did not stop him from cleaning up the blood, though it did slow him down, and he was never more relieved than when the worst of it was gone and Holly was sitting back watching him finish the job.
The single whispered word echoed within the room, bouncing around to whittle away the last of Spike’s resolve to stay angry with the little girl, and he paused as he met her eyes. “You know what happened here?” he asked carefully.
There was a slight hesitation, and then the smallest of nods.
“What was it?”
“I hurt Buffy.” Pause. “Is she dead?”
“No, pidge.” The Slayer’s still elevated pulse throbbed behind him. “Just a little poorly, is all.”
“She’s going to die.”
The calm matter-of-factness of the statement rattled Spike, and he swallowed convulsively to quell the rising anxiety in his gullet. “Why do you say that?”
“The others did.”
He wanted to barrage her with questions, but he knew that was the surest way to get her upset again. Instead, he finished wrapping the thin leg in gauze, securing the edges to keep any more blood from escaping, and then sat back on his haunches. “You’ve seen this before then, have you?” Spike said. “You know how to fix it?”
Holly shook her head. A fresh set of tears were finding their way down her reddened cheeks, but these were mute, as if all her energy had been sapped by her previous tantrum.
He didn’t want to hear that nothing could be done. He wanted answers. He wanted Buffy well. He hadn’t gone to so much bloody trouble saving her life and getting the differences sorted between them once and for all to have her die on him now.
He’d just found her.
“You go play,” Spike instructed Holly gently. “I’m goin’ to see to Buffy. Understand?”
“What…what are you going to do?”
“Anything I have to,” he replied. He glanced back and saw the blue tinge still shading Buffy’s hands. “Anything I have to.”
Though he knew he must, Giles couldn’t concentrate on the text before him, the symbols swimming in sympathetic resonation with the words that echoed inside his skull. Maria’s threat to Joyce Summers was far from idle; he had no doubt his hostess was sincere in her intent to use whatever means necessary to keep her Watchers in check, so, really, this was all his fault. If he’d only refrained from contacting Joyce, she would be safe back in Sunnydale and he wouldn’t be sitting here worrying that he’d led an innocent woman to her death.
Well, potentially. Without contact from her daughter, Giles had little doubt her anxiety would’ve soon got the better of her. Perhaps Joyce would’ve stumbled upon the truth on her own. She was certainly intelligent enough to solve the mystery of the disappearance. Really, he had only sped the investigation along.
However, that didn’t make what he was facing any better.
To his knowledge, no actions had been taken toward either Paul or Silas, which could only mean that Maria was unaware of the uprising within her ranks. Perhaps the surveillance of which she spoke didn’t cover the entire house. She could merely be protecting the territories she considered most vulnerable. But wouldn’t her private study fall within that realm? Surely, she had to know of Paul’s theft. But if she did, then she would most definitely have taken some sort of recourse. She’d reacted to a threat that was hundreds of miles away---as much as Giles knew---with greater force. That would dictate equally---if not more---stringent attention to a more localized threat.
His head ached. Giles had too many questions and not enough answers, and still the problem of Maria’s missing daughter to solve. He no longer was entirely convinced that Maria’s intentions were as benign as she wanted them to believe. A woman who would endanger the life of someone who merely presented a potential danger could be capable of much more.
Much, much more.
He jumped when a sharp knock at his door resounded through the library. “Come in,” Giles called, and waited to see who wanted to bother him. Please don’t be Maria, he thought with a tinge of desperation. I simply can’t stomach that woman right now.
The door opened and Paul slipped inside, immediately closing it shut behind him. A sheaf of papers was tucked beneath his arm, and a bright glint in his eye gave him the appearance of a professor gone mad from some secret experiment. Perhaps that’s not too far from the mark.
“I do hope you’re not terribly busy,” Paul said quickly as he rushed forth to Giles’ desk. “I’ve just found the most exciting translation---.”
He stopped when Giles held a finger to his lips. “Take a seat,” the elder Watcher said quietly, and rose just enough to pull over the spare chair so that it butted up against his own. He waited until a frowning Paul was sitting before leaning in to keep his words as private as possible.
“There’s the possibility we’re being recorded,” he said. Carefully, he waited for the reaction, but when Paul jerked back and began staring into the ceiling’s corners, Giles wrapped his hands around his junior’s forearm and squeezed just enough to get his attention.
“We must appear as if we’re collaborating on the text,” he continued. “Act as naturally as possible.”
Paul’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. “Are you certain?” he whispered. There was more than a hint of panic in his voice. “How do you know this?”
“Because Maria recorded a telephone conversation I had a few nights ago. She told me herself.”
“Are our quarters under surveillance as well?”
“I don’t know,” Giles admitted. “I haven’t been able to actually discern any recording equipment. But I think it’s better to be safe than sorry, don’t you?”
In spite of the assurance, Paul looked stricken, ready to bolt as swiftly as a wild foal. The papers he’d brought in with him rattled from the trembling that seemed to be overtaking his body, and it was all Giles could do not to slap some sense into the boy right there.
“I should go,” Paul said, but Giles’ grip on his arm prevented him from rising completely, and he sank back into his seat when the older man tugged.
“You came in here for a reason,” Giles said. “Is it related to the text you showed me?” He was careful not to mention anything specific. On the chance Maria was watching, it should appear that they were merely consulting on more of the same translations that had consumed them all along. As long as neither of them spoke of it directly, she may not realize what exactly they were discussing.
Instead of verbalizing his response, Paul nodded, setting the papers down onto the desk. The top sheet had a copy of the sketch that had been in the book, notes scribbled alongside the glyphs that had already been translated. The second and third pages were merely a series of passes given to the indecipherable aspects of the drawing, but the fourth was the one that made Giles pause.
He felt the eyes on him as he read and re-read the text. The younger Watcher had made considerable progress on the rendering, but the significance of even part of the translation would’ve been exciting.
“Is this correct?” Giles asked. Shuffling back to the first page and the full drawing, he rested his fingertip on the group of glyphs to the right of the altar. “These are us?”
“Most definitely.” The vote of enthusiasm from his superior seemed to be all that was necessary to return Paul to his previous enlivened state. He fumbled with his notes to extract the page he wanted, pointing to various sections as he spoke. “It was quite curious, actually,” he said. “The transitive didn’t match the other symbols, even after I found what I suspected was the key. I even attempted subjugating it, which really shouldn’t be necessary for such a labored---.”
“The point, Paul.”
“Right. Well, I decided to try it with the nominative, and it fell into place. Literally, these mean ‘seers,’ but I extrapolated our circumstances and---.”
“’Seers’ became ‘Watchers’,” Giles finished. He became thoughtful. “So, it would appear that we are to play some part in this ritual.” He pointed to the third set. “Do we know what, or who, these are?”
For the first time, Paul hesitated. “I think I may need to examine those further,” he said.
“Why? Is your translation incorrect?”
“It has to be. It says that the ritual is haunted.”
The young Englishman was right; it had to be a mistake. A haunted ritual that he and his comrades would be partially responsible for? It was preposterous. And he said so.
“I know,” Paul agreed. “I can’t imagine why any of us would be party to such a barbaric practice. The text delineates a ceremony to bleed a child in order to summon the powers necessary to destroy the Slayer line---.”
“That’s what Maria said her daughter was planning. I’d hoped she was lying about that.”
“The text supports her argument, unfortunately. She very well could’ve been telling us the truth all along.”
Now, Giles understood Paul’s excitement. It had unnerved the younger man to consider duplicity on the part of their hostess. His discoveries made it more difficult to discount other things she might’ve said.
“Let’s go over what we’ve learned,” Giles said. After the disaster with Joyce, he couldn’t fathom Maria being anything but evil in this scenario. “According to Maria---.”
“And the text. Don’t forget the text.”
“---and the text, there is magic that could drain all Slayer power into the person casting the spell, destroying the Slayer line and killing any person with Slayer ties.” That had been the clincher for Giles’ involvement. It was one thing to want to rid the world of a Slayer; it was something else entirely to lose Buffy in the arrangement.
“The text states that the spell requires a blood sacrifice,” Paul continued. “A child whose function seems to be as a conduit through which the power is to flow.”
“But what of the warriors?” Giles pressed. “Those were the first glyphs you deciphered. Are you wrong about those?”
“Definitely not. Perhaps they’re necessary to subdue the child.”
“Or they are its protectors.”
“Then what does that make us?” Paul queried.
“I don’t know,” Giles admitted. Tossing his glasses onto the desk, he leaned back in his seat and wearily rubbed at his eyes. “I believe I’ll need to think on this,” he said quietly. His voice was exhausted, his mind reeling. “Alone, if you don’t mind. There are too many variables that still don’t seem to fit.”
Giles remained silent while Paul gathered his work papers and hurried from the room. He didn’t know what to think any more. His suppositions regarding Maria were in chaos in light of the new information, but he refused to acknowledge that his gut instinct about her were false. It was a puzzle, just waiting to be solved, but…where was the piece he was missing?
Something didn’t fit.
Her leg hurt. She was hungry. She really had to pee, but Holly was too terrified to act on any of her needs. She was too scared of inducing another round of Spike’s wrath.
The vampire hadn’t said another word to her since he’d told her to play. The sun was dipping down behind the horizon, and Holly’s stomach was grumbling, but all Spike would do was sit at Buffy’s side and talk to her as if she was awake.
He touched her a lot, too. He didn’t seem to want to let go of her hands.
With all her heart, Holly believed that Buffy was going to die. That’s what happened when her blood got out. Each and every time, the girl had died, though the little girl knew it hadn’t been intentional. Doyle had said that they’d just been tests, that the Council was trying to make it so that Holly could have a normal life without being a risk to anyone.
That didn’t change the fact that they were all dead, though. Or that it was Holly’s fault.
She didn’t want Buffy to die. She liked Buffy. She smelled nice and she was fun to play with when Spike wasn’t around. When Spike was around, Buffy seemed to get all flustered and forget things, but Holly figured that was because they were in love. She hadn’t seen much of it in her short span on this earth, but she’d seen some, and Doyle had told her the truth on their way here. Plus, Spike was always touching and kissing Buffy. That’s what people in love did.
And now Spike was going to hate Holly because she was the reason he was going to lose Buffy.
She held Baby tighter in her arms, and watched Spike tuck the blanket in around the Slayer a little bit tighter.
Please don’t die, Buffy.
To be continued in Chapter 31: Children, Go Where I Send You…