DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: At the first sign of Maria’s arrival, Spike took off with Holly in order to keep her safe, but the witch teleported out into the forest after being driven off by Buffy…

*************

Chapter 53: She Didn't See Me Creep

Storming from the bedroom, Buffy marched straight for the prostrate Watcher, and hauled him into the warmth of the room, kicking the broken door as closed as it was going to get behind her. He groaned, clutching at his stomach, but she pushed his hands out of the way to expose the wound.

“Get the first aid kit from the bathroom,” she instructed her mother.

“It’s…too late,” Silas said.

“It’s never too late,” Buffy shot back. “But if you’re going to keep the negative attitude, I might just let you bleed to death after all.” She grimaced, looking down at her now bloody hands. “Well, maybe not. You’re getting it all over the floor and it’s going to be a bitch to clean up.”

He squinted as he looked up at her, as if he couldn’t believe what she was doing. “I’m sorry,” he rasped. “I had no choice---.”

“OK, you’re going to have to stop right there,” she interrupted. “There’s always a choice and if you’re about to tell me Maria was blackmailing you or something into helping her, you’re only going to piss me off even more. I suggest you shut up.” She glanced up when Joyce approached with the kit. “Thanks, Mom,” she said, taking it from her.

The edges of the wound were clean, and Buffy chewed at her lip as she decided if it was worth taking the time to stitch him up. She wanted to get out and find Spike, let him know it was OK to come back to the cabin for now. She hadn’t anticipated having to spend time taking care of the man who’d helped Maria find them.

In the end, she merely staunched the flow of blood and bound him as tightly as she could. For his part, Silas held to her request and stayed silent for the duration of her tending, but she was very aware of his eyes on her while she worked.

“There,” she announced, sitting back on her heels. “All done.”

“Thank you,” he said. Then… “Is it true, then? Have you been harboring Maria’s daughter?”

Joyce snorted. “I can’t believe you fell for that story,” she said to him contemptuously.

“What? What story?”

“Holly’s three,” Buffy said. “She’s not any relation to Maria.”

“But…the ritual…”

“You mean, Maria’s little game to kill all the Slayers? Hate to disappoint, but you guys had it all backwards. The only thing Holly’s a threat to is chocolate.”

His eyelids fluttered shut at the pronouncement, his breathing shallow. “Should’ve known,” he murmured. His voice was heavy with self-recrimination. Then, his eyes shot open again, more bright and demanding than they’d been since his arrival. “Remove the bandages, Miss Summers. You must kill me.”

“What? Why? And this isn’t something you could’ve told me before I wasted all that time patching you up?”

“The ritual…it requires Watcher blood in order for it to work. Something about…completing the circle, Maria said. That’s why she saved me. She needs me in order to complete it. I’d thought…she’d said Watcher blood would counter Holly’s intent, but if what you say is true---.”

“You’re the last ingredient in Maria’s Slayer stew,” Buffy finished. Her lips thinned. “Well, I’m not going to kill you, so you’re out of luck there.”

“But you must!”

“We’ll find another way. If Maria does come back, we’ll just stop the ritual using good old-fashioned violence.” Standing, she went behind his head and grabbed beneath his armpits to drag him toward the bathroom. “For now, you’re going to hide while I go get Spike and Holly back here. He doesn’t know Maria’s on his side of the wall now, and I can’t risk her finding him without having some back-up.”

Joyce hovered near the entrance with Buffy’s coat. “What do you want me to do?” she asked.

“I’m thinking hiding is a good strategy right now,” Buffy replied. “I don’t know if Maria’s been contained by the magical fence or not. If she hasn’t, we might have a little more time, but if she has…”

She left the thought unfinished. They both knew this was the only shelter within the confines of the forest. A hurt Maria would likely return if she had nowhere else to go.

“I won’t be long,” Buffy promised, shrugging into her coat as she headed for the door. “Just stay put, OK? I don’t want to have to go looking for you, too.”

With that, she vanished into the cold winter night.

*************

Doyle had warned them about the barrier that prevented Buffy and Spike from leaving, but they didn’t have much choice but to hope that they were able to stay on the right side of it while they searched the forest. Splitting up meant they covered more ground, though Giles was beginning to suspect that just meant more spinning of their wheels. So far, he’d found only a dead squirrel. When it came to tracks, the forest looked very much like it had been swept clean.

He ran into Doyle near the lake he’d been circumventing, but the ghost only shook his head as they approached each other. “Damn,” Giles muttered, and squinted into the darkness. “Do you have any clue how Paul is doing?”

“I haven’t seen him since we left the road,” Doyle replied. “I’m about to head off to the cabin. I think we might’ve been too late.”

“I haven’t encountered the barrier you mentioned. Have I managed to cross it without realizing?”

“No, you’re still on the civilization side.” He pointed out to the middle of the lake. “It cuts through there and makes a circle around the house. If you---.” He stopped in mid-sentence, his eyes narrowing. “Uh oh,” he said, and then sighed.

“I hate that sound,” Giles complained, but turned to see what Doyle was watching.

On the other side of the lake, a rustle of shadowed movement emerged from the trees. It was man-shaped, though any features it had were indiscernible from that distance. Only the glow of the moonlight of the man’s white hair gave Giles any indication who it was.

“Spike…” he said.

“And Holly,” Doyle added.

Giles peered more closely, then shook his head. “Where?”

“He’s carrying her. I can see her hair poking out from the blanket he’s got her wrapped up in.”

“What in blazes is he trying to do?”

“I don’t know,” Doyle admitted. He jerked his head toward the lake. “I think we need to get a closer look.”

*************

It was the scent of blood that he caught first. Fresh and heady with heat, it called to Spike through the dark, taunting him with its growing proximity, offering him a quick meal if only he’d turn around. It was human, and maybe any other time, Spike would’ve succumbed to its lure, but not now. Now, he had to keep Holly away from the bitch back at the cabin.

They stepped from the cluster of trees to look out over the still-frozen lake. Moonlight sparkled across its crusty surface, and even Holly took a moment to appreciate its beauty.

“Pretty,” she murmured, her small face turned to the horizon.

“Always been a little partial to this, haven’t you?” Spike asked softly.

“It looks like home.”

The ensuing silence heightened the sounds of the forest behind him, and Spike heard footsteps whispering across the snow at his back. It was the source of the flowing blood, strange and piquant, but the mystery of who it could be only brought a surge of fear to Spike’s mind.

“Want you to do something for me, moptop,” he said. Slowly, quietly, he crouched on the shore, setting the child down to stand in the snow. “Want you to take a little walk, maybe go see if you can catch any of those moonbeams for me.”

She didn’t look to where he gestured toward the lake, her eyes dark as they stared intently at him. “What’s wrong?” she whispered.

“Nothin’,” he replied. He unwound the blanket from around her, glancing down to her feet and praying that they were protected enough from the cold. There was no way for him to know if he was doing the right thing---the ice looked like it was going to hold, but that just might be a trick on his eyes---but if it really was Maria behind him, the more distance between her and Holly, the better.

“Are you coming with me?”

“Not just yet, pidge. Got some business to take care of first.” Grasping her shoulders, he met her eyes with all the love and power he could muster. “I need you to make me a promise, though. Until we get back to the cabin, I need you to do whatever I tell you, no questions asked. Understand?”

“OK.”

He started to stand, but was startled when tiny arms wrapped around his neck, her warm breath tickling in his ear.

“I love you, Spike.”

Squeezing his eyes shut against the rush of emotion that her simple words evoked, Spike hugged her back, careful not to hold her too tight. “Love you, too, pidge,” he whispered, and then pushed her gently toward the ice. “Now go.”

She was ten feet out onto the ice when he heard a dry stick crack in half behind him. “Stealthy’s really not your thing, is it?” he drawled, slowing turning around to see the new arrival.

She wasn’t what he was expecting. Short gray hair, a slim form only slightly larger than the Slayer. This was the witch that had the Powers running so scared? His respect for them had just dropped even more.

But it was her blood he’d been smelling, and he saw how one of her shoulders drooped more than the other. Buffy’d probably got a good piece of her before the witch had scarpered off, which meant that she could be hurt. Maybe this Maria bitch wasn’t as powerful as everyone kept saying.

She frowned, her eyes narrowing as they scrutinized him closely. “You’re a vampire,” she said, and the fact that it was the last thing she’d expected to find rang clearly through the night air.

Spike snorted. “Not so bright either,” he commented. “How is it the likes of you has got half the county runnin’ so scared?”

Ignoring his question, her eyes slid over his shoulder. He almost groaned out loud when he saw the delight shine there; she must’ve caught sight of the little one.

“You didn’t kill her,” she commented, turning back to him with even more confusion. “Why go to all the trouble of getting her away from the Slayer and then not kill her?”

She didn’t know he and Buffy were in this together. Throwing back his shoulders, Spike decided to see how far he could take this new twist.

“Because the daft chit’s not scared of me,” he said, with mock annoyance. “What fun is the kill if I can’t taste the fear in her blood?”

Maria’s lips quirked. “They broke her sense of right and wrong, keeping her around all those vampires all the time,” she said. “It’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to overcome that without some sort of aid.”

“Yeah, well, I would’ve thought the Slayer would’ve taught her otherwise.”

“The Slayer is just a temporary guardian for her.”

He took a step nearer. “Sounds to me, you’ve got more than a little knowhow on this particular meal of mine,” Spike said. “Care to share?”

“Not really.” When he took another step, her palm came up, poised for an attack. “I suggest you stop there,” Maria said, her voice cold. “Any closer, and I will kill you.”

It was a stalemate. While Spike knew that she held all the power in their current struggle, he also knew that the witch apparently had no clue he couldn’t do a thing to harm her directly. She was still treating him like a threat, which definitely worked to his advantage at the moment. He had a sneaking suspicion it was the only reason he wasn’t already dead.

“What’s a tasty morsel like you doin’ all the way out here, anyway?” he asked. Experience told him the charm worked regardless of the age or sex of the intended party, and he was willing to play it for as long as he needed to. He gestured toward her shoulder. “And should I be worried ‘bout whoever it was who already got a taste?”

“I’m here for the child,” she said. “The Slayer proved…uncooperative.”

“That’s funny. I found her a right doddle.”

Her chin jerked toward the ice behind him. “It would appear that Holly’s not nearly as accommodating. You’re letting her get away without even blinking.”

“Holly? Is that her name? I was just callin’ her ‘dinner.’”

“Then, your dinner is getting away.” She paused, eyes narrowing. “I’m beginning to think that maybe this situation isn’t as I originally thought.”

He was losing her, but before Spike could get her back to her misconception, there was a crash from the forest.

*************

The rumble of a man’s voice pulled Paul back in the direction of the lake. He’d already walked by it once with no results, but apparently someone was out there now. Since the voice was male, he assumed it was Giles or Doyle, and with Paul’s hands and feet currently numb from the cold, he was eager to reunite with his partners and get back to the car. He desperately needed to warm up.

When he heard Maria, her tone calm, he froze in his tracks. She was here. Every instinct in his body told him to flee, but Paul swallowed down the lump of fear in his throat and forced his feet to remain still, listening to the conversation playing out on the other side of the trees.

“…a right doddle.”

Who was that? Paul wondered. An accent from home, coarse but with a hint of refinement beneath its veneer. Was there another Watcher involved in this that he didn’t know about?

Maria seemed to be unclear as to who he was, as well. As Paul listened to the conversation, his body pressed forward, inching around the tree that provided him shelter from being seen too readily. First one foot, and then the other, but when he took the third step, his heel found a hole beneath the snow and slipped. His ankle twisted, sending him crashing into the scraggly bush at his side, and he swallowed a mouthful of snow as his face was buried in a drift.

Strong hands pulled him from the cold, but when he was righted, he found himself staring into a set of golden eyes instead of Maria’s. Paul shrieked in fright, prompting the vampire to clamp a hand over the Watcher’s mouth to silence him, but surprisingly, none of it hurt. It was almost as if the demon was just doing his best to keep him in check.

“Paul. What an interesting surprise.”

His gaze flew past the vampire to see Maria approaching. There was an odd tilt to her body, as if she’d been hurt, and then he saw the unmistakable stain along her shoulder. His eyes widened.

“You know this wanker?”

“Apparently, not as well as I thought I did,” Maria replied. She was obviously amused by the situation. “You’ve shown more fortitude than I would’ve imagined, Paul. When exactly did you grow a spine?”

He didn’t answer. How could he? His tongue was lodged somewhere in his throat, his panic rising. All he could do was stare at her in growing trepidation.

“Can I get back to my dinner now?” The vampire sounded bored. In Paul’s experience, a bored vampire was never good. “This one’s likely to be a tad stringy for my tastes.”

“Not yet,” Maria said. “I have a use for him.”

The knife appeared from nowhere, and Paul’s heart hammered inside his ribcage as she stepped closer. For a second, he thought the demon’s hold on him loosened, but quickly dismissed the thought as ludicrous.

Especially when Maria grabbed his hand and ran the blade across his palm.

“Ow!” The cry was muffled behind the vampire’s hand. Tears of pain stung Paul’s eyes and he began to sob as Maria sliced his flesh again, this time perpendicular to the first mark, creating a deep X across his skin.

“What’s that for?” the vampire asked.

Maria took Paul’s hand in hers as if to shake it, and an electric tingle made the blood he could see flowing sizzle. “He’s just made my life much simpler,” she said. Her smile was a virulent gleam in the darkness as she tucked her blood-soaked hand inside her coat as if to protect it. “Now, let’s go get your dinner back.”

“Don’t need your help,” the demon said.

“You’re getting it. You said it yourself, the child’s not scared of you. I need her, which means I need you.” Her free hand angled off to the side and a blast of magic set a small tree ablaze before swinging back at the vampire again. “And you’ll allow me to come with you to retrieve her or find yourself in flames. The choice is yours.”

Paul collapsed to the ground when he was suddenly released. The vampire was muttering under his breath, a collection of colorful invectives that were impossible to ignore, but he was already striding back toward the lake in accordance with Maria’s wishes.

Her dark gaze fell with disdain on Paul where he was huddled in the snow. “When I’m done with Holly,” she said, “be prepared to feel the extent of my anger, Paul. You’re only alive now because I want to ensure that you’re punished to the full scope of my powers for your treason.”

With a malevolent smile, she turned and followed the bleached vampire.

*************

Her feet were starting to get cold, but Holly knew that she had to keep walking. Spike hadn’t called to let her know it was time to come back yet. Until he did, she would do as she was told. She had been taught well. There were times for playing, and there were times for being serious. This was a serious time.

The ice was making funny sounds every time she took a step. It was solid, and the surface was roughened from the frost, but each step Holly made caused the ice to sound like it was angry at her for walking on it, whining and high-pitched as it scolded her for daring to cross. She stopped more than once, kneeling to pat at the scattered moonlight that danced across the shine, and that was better. If it wasn’t so cold, she could do this all night.

She only halted when she heard the footsteps behind her.

“Told you she wasn’t scared of me,” she heard Spike say.

Turning, she saw him approach her slowly, his eyes focused on her. Behind him, a woman older than Buffy’s mom watched her just as obsessively, but the look on her face wasn’t anything like the warmth on Spike’s. It made her tummy feel all squishy, like the woman wanted to eat her up. For real, not like Spike played at.

Automatically, Holly shrank away.

“Hey now, none of that.” Spike’s hand shot out and curled around her wrist. It didn’t hurt, but nothing he did ever hurt. She let him pull her closer, snuggling into his chest when his strong arms encircled her.

“It would appear you were correct,” the woman said. She stepped around to get a closer look at the pair, and Holly saw the blood stains adorning her coat. A knife dangled from the hand she didn’t have tucked into her pocket. It looked scary. But not as scary as the woman.

“I think the little one would do just about anything I told her to,” Spike said, but it looked like he was almost directing that more at Holly than he was at the other woman. He released his hold on Holly and stepped back. “Like, if I said jump, my gut tells me she’d do it without giving it a second thought.”

She saw the request in his eyes and nodded, proceeding to start jumping up and down. Every hop made the ice shudder beneath her, making that squeaky sound she hated so.

“Stop!”

Even though it was the woman who ordered it, Holly complied. This wasn’t someone she wanted any angrier.

“You’ve made your point,” the woman continued. “Now, bring her to back to the shore.”

She disappeared from Holly’s view when Spike crouched again, blocking out anything but the sight of him. His eyes were dark and serious.

“You heard her,” he said. “Time to go back to the shore, little one.”

His arms were around her again, but where she expected him to pick her up again, Spike instead turned her around so that she faced the opposite shore. It was the same direction she’d been headed in prior to his coming out on the ice. It was away from where she thought the woman wanted them to go. It was away from him.

“Don’t fuss about me,” he murmured. “I promise I’ll be the one to tuck you in tonight.”

His hands grasped her upper arms and he pushed her forward. Though he said it in a very low voice, Holly heard the simple order Spike uttered as clearly as if he’d whispered it right in her ear.

“Now run.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 54: The Wrong Shall Fail, the Right Prevail