DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CXIV.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Giles has admitted to Wesley that he’s responsible for Lydia’s continued contact with Spike, Spike is on his way to California, and while on a routine patrol, Buffy encountered the mysterious vigilante men while Willow fended off a vampire attack…

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

Chapter 7: Doth Prepare the Cup

She was late, but as Buffy quickened her step toward the cemetery, the explanations---OK, excuses, but Xander and Oz were the last two people on this earth to sit in judgment on her tardiness---tumbled around inside her head, fighting for the grand prize of her accountability in showing up more than an hour later than had been agreed on the phone that morning. Well, actually, it wasn’t much of a fight. If anything, each of the reasons was just half-heartedly girly-slapping at another while she tried to decide which tack to take.

“Sorry, guys, but you know that bug I had yesterday? Back. My breakfast is currently doing the back stroke on its way to the Pacific.”

“I know Willow was supposed to come with, but believe it or not, she’s still out for the count and I was just sticking around to see if she was going to snap out of her Sleeping Beauty-ness.”

“The mail doesn’t show up at the dorms until ten, and I had to wait for it so that I could get Spike’s latest letter. I know it’s Sunday. I forgot, OK?”

Even if they were all true, none of them were any good. Mention of being sick would elicit more condescending worry when really, she was feeling much better now. If she used Willow as the excuse, Oz was going to freak out in his non-freaking out way and probably abandon the recon she wanted to do and she’d lose her second biggest asset in the search. And as for hanging around for word from Spike without realizing that it wasn’t going to show…after the previous day’s exhibition, there was no way Buffy was ready to try and explain that one to Xander.

As she rounded the corner, she saw both young men lounging around the cemetery’s front gates and affected her widest smile as she approached. Their joking conversation halted on her arrival, and she did her best to ignore the puzzled glances both of them cast behind her.

“I wasn’t sure you’d still be here,” she said brightly as she pulled open the gate. “With the kind of day I’ve been having, it would’ve served me right if you guys had bailed and just gone on home.”

“Not to be the master of the obvious,” Xander said, “but aren’t you minus one redhead?”

“Yeah,” said Oz. “Where’s Willow?”

They were both waiting on the exterior of the gate, and Buffy steeled herself to turn around and face them. “Back at the dorm. She’s still asleep.”

Xander frowned, glancing at his watch. “What’s wrong? It’s almost noon. Don’t tell me her Hello Kitty alarm clock is broken again.”

“No, I just decided she was better off catching up on her rest. We don’t really need her to look around anyway, and between patrolling with me last night and going to the Factory on Friday, she can use every second of shuteye she can get before classes tomorrow. She’s already got a test, I think.”

It was only half-true. She might still be asleep, but all attempts to wake Willow had been completely ineffective. Short of throwing cold water over her head, it didn’t look like she would be ready to get up for hours yet, and Buffy had decided to just let nature run its course. She’d tried reaching Giles to see what he thought about the matter, but there had been no answer at his apartment. That left the decision to leave entirely in Buffy’s hands. It hadn’t been easy.

Oz just nodded. “If she’s got a test, she’s going to want to study, too,” he said.

“That crazy little whizkid,” Xander said, shaking his head. “What will she try next.” He took the few steps forward to stop at Buffy’s side, his dark gaze twisting to survey the deceptively placid greenery of the graveyard. “So lead on, MacSlayer. Didn’t you say something about a vigilante group to track down?”

As she led them toward the spot where she’d spotted the van the night before, Buffy tamped down the guilt that threatened to loosen her tongue. Neither guy thought for a second that she was lying, or even coloring the truth in her favor. What would they think if they discovered the truth?

And then there was the whole Spike issue with Xander. So far, he hadn’t brought it up, but as she repeated the story about running across the commandos again, Buffy couldn’t help but notice that every once in a while, Xander would look at her with a thoughtful, assessing gaze, like there was something he wanted to say but didn’t know how to go about saying it. Would it be better if she brought it up? Maybe if she took the first step, it wouldn’t necessarily be one that led over a cliff.

Then again, waiting until she had Willow for back-up might be better. Willow didn’t think Spike was a threat; she’d witnessed much of his behavior over the summer firsthand. If anyone could vouch for him, she was the one. Plus, there was the bonus in being the one person Xander trusted most in this world. If Spike had the Willow stamp of approval, Xander could quite likely fall into line behind her. Eventually.

That settled it then. She would wait. And she’d make sure she had pizza on the side as bribery when it happened.

The trio came to a stop at the foot of the grave Buffy had seen the van driving away from. The soil was broken where a vampire had obviously risen, but as she scanned the ground, Buffy frowned. “Am I the only one who doesn’t see vamp dust?” she asked.

“You sure this is where it all went down?” asked Xander.

“Positive.”

They turned their heads to see where Oz had wandered away, his gaze intent on the ground as he crouched to look at it more closely. “Tire tracks,” he said. “The grass is smashed, and there’s a pretty good impression where the ground’s soft. It’s fairly deep, too. Could’ve easily been a van.”

“People use vans to haul things,” Buffy said. “Like non-dusty vampires.”

“But that’s stupid,” Xander interjected. “Why would anyone try and capture vampires when they could just kill them and get rid of the threat? It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Hence the fact-finding mission. To make sense of the non-sensical.”

Oz straightened from where he’d been examining the grass, something metallic in his hands. “Hey, guys,” he said, holding out the object. “Any idea what this might be?”

Xander took it and turned it over. “Looks like some kind of communicator device.” He pressed a button on the side and a small red light began blinking on the console. “One of your military guys must’ve dropped it last night.”

“Looks pretty high-tech,” Oz said.

“Wow, I guess you were right about the funding.” Buffy took it from Xander and began playing with the knobs. “Maybe they’ll come back for it. We could probably use it as bait. Try to corner one of the guys and make him talk about what exactly they’re doing.”

“Is it just me or is this whole commando thing starting to look just a little too much like a Van Damme movie?” Xander said. He assumed an exaggerated pose, using his finger as a pretend gun and mimicking aiming it at a target. “Halt! In the name of bad acting everywhere, I order you to put those fangs away!”

“That’s actually scarier than thinking it’s just a fancy walkie-talkie,” Oz commented dryly.

“Maybe Giles can figure it out,” Buffy said.

“Because the fact that he still can’t figure out how to turn on his computer without Willow’s help means absolutely nothing.” Xander shook his head. “This is Will’s territory. If anyone can crack it, she can.”

“I could come back and see if anyone shows up,” Oz offered. “I’m going to be out this way tonight anyway.”

“How come?”

“I’ve got new chains. Since tomorrow’s the full moon, I want to make sure everything’s in place. I can take the first shift, no problem.”

Buffy nodded. “We’ll go with that. This looks way too important for someone to just forget about. And I haven’t seen them in the daytime yet, so odds are good they won’t come back until evening or later anyway. That camouflage paint they wear is probably just a little too obvious by the light of day.” She walked over to the tread marks. “Let’s follow these as far as we can. Maybe we’ll find something else.”

The three marched off, silent as all eyes stayed alert on the ground and their surroundings. At one point, the tire tracks disappeared when they hit a path, but Buffy darted up ahead and found the trail again, veering off toward the part of the cemetery where she had found Willow.

“Wait,” Oz said, after they’d walked another hundred yards. He sniffed at the air, his gaze sliding to the left to stare into the distance. “You said Willow got attacked?”

Buffy nodded. She’d been vague on the details, primarily because the ones she had didn’t make too much sense until Willow woke up and clarified them for her. But she’d never expected Oz to bring the issue up unsolicited.

“You didn’t tell us she got hurt.”

Her eyes widened. “How’d you know that?”

He sniffed again, as if to confirm his next statements. “I can smell her blood. Not a lot, but…it’s there.”

“She fell. When she was being chased. Her tights were ripped, so she probably skinned her knee.” She didn’t want to bring up the blood that had been on Willow’s hands, or the fact that the witch had been clutching at her neck like she’d been bitten. As Buffy had been washing away the blood before putting her friend to bed, she couldn’t help but wonder just how it had gotten there. It was a question that still waited for Willow to answer.

Oz seemed unsure of the response, but after a moment, just shrugged. “That must be it,” he said, and resumed walking along the trail. He didn’t say another word, not even when the tire tracks merged with the concrete of the road out of the graveyard.

“I think this is our usual dead end,” Buffy said. “No way can we follow what we can’t see.”

“But at least it wasn’t for nothing.” Xander gestured toward the device she still carried. “That looks like a bona fide lead to me.”

She played with the buttons on it again, this time causing the little red light to go out. “I just hope Willow can tell us how it works.” She looked to Oz. “Is eleven OK to relieve you? That gives me time for a quick patrol before I park my caboose for the night.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

With promises to meet up the next day after classes, the three parted ways, and Buffy began rambling back toward the dug-up grave alone. Not one word from Xander about Spike. Had he forgotten the subject already? Somehow, she doubted it. The topic had an insidious way of showing up at the most inopportune moments.

Her stomach clenched, and for a moment, Buffy thought she was going to throw up again. Maybe it was the school food that was getting to her so badly, she mused as she walked. Why else would her stomach be so sensitive lately?

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

The moment they lost audio, she leaned back in her chair. Her watery blue eyes were thoughtful as they fixed on the blank monitors, and her voice was even when she finally spoke.

“Get me Riley Finn,” she ordered the young man who stood at attention behind her. “I have a special assignment I’m going to need him to handle.”

It wasn’t until they were alone that the lab-coated man at her side spoke up. “What’re you planning?” he asked. “You’re not seriously considering setting off their trap?”

“I’m considering it, and more,” she replied. Rising to her feet, she began walking toward her office, her sensible shoes echoing against the concrete floor in the cavernous stronghold. She didn’t wait for the man to join her; she knew without having to look behind that he would be on her trail.

“Close the door,” she instructed when he followed her into her office. The hinges squeaked as he did so, prompting her to visibly react for the first time since listening in on the conversation in the graveyard. “Remind me to have maintenance come up and fix that,” she said with a frown.

“Are you going to tell me what’s going on, or do you plan on playing Twenty Questions, Maggie?” His voice was irritable, his expression more so. “Frankly, I have better things I could be doing with my time.”

“This will be worth it.” Extracting a thick folder from a tall filing cabinet, Maggie carried it behind her desk, opening it as she sat down. “I would suggest you get a special examination room ready, Gil. You’re going to need one after Riley completes the mission I give him.”

“What for?”

The room was silent for several minutes while she flicked through the pages of her file. Her patience was one of Maggie Walsh’s greatest attributes within the organization. It fuelled her brilliance and made her research all that more fruitful, because, unlike her colleagues who failed to persevere, she was willing to wait for the results that could likely change the entire world order. It gave her vision where others lacked, and it had made the entire move of their operations to the Hellmouth possible, because her superiors were smart enough to give her leeway when she felt circumstances demanded it.

“How would you like to study a werewolf?” she finally said, sliding the open file across her desk toward him.

Gil glanced down at the page she’d indicated, scanning the terse column of statistics with a frown. “We haven’t been able to locate one,” he replied.

“Yes, we have.”

“All the preliminary scouting reports said there was evidence of werewolf activity on the Hellmouth but no physical links could be found to find it.”

“Until now. Riley is going to bring you back your werewolf tonight. Well, he’ll be an actual werewolf tomorrow night, but you get the idea.”

Gil’s unspoken disbelief made Maggie want to sigh aloud in disgust. It amazed her how short-sighted so many of her staff really were, but that was an unfortunate symptom of most government workers, she’d long ago discovered. Only explaining what to her was so obvious could get through to many of them.

“Did you actually listen to the young people when they turned on the transceiver?” she asked. She already knew the answer, and didn’t wait for a reply. “The young man who’s coming back made a point of mentioning that tomorrow is the full moon. Combine that with his tracking the scent of blood, and I believe we’ve found our werewolf.”

“That’s…an awfully large leap you’re making there, don’t you think?”

“Leaping is what I do best. It got us here, didn’t it?”

“And that’s another thing. I thought the whole purpose in moving base to the Sunnydale was because of the artifacts. Don’t tell me you’ve changed our mission objective.”

“Our objective is, and always has been, to gain whatever information and tools we can in order to eradicate the threat of HST’s. That has hardly changed. It doesn’t matter if the method is studying a werewolf or seeking weapons to forge in our fight. It would be wise for you not to forget that.”

The first smart thing he’d done since listening to the graveyard conversation was hold his tongue. Merely nodding, Gil rose to his feet and crossed to the door, only hesitating when he reached its threshold. “The room will be ready,” he said.

Giving him a curt nod, Maggie contained her sigh until she was alone, shaking her head upon his absence. She was surrounded by fools. It would be a joyous day when they found the artifacts and she could leave the Hellmouth. She was finding its smalltown mentality unexpectedly contagious among her staff. A change of location was necessary to shake them from their lassitude.

Hopefully, the capture of the werewolf would prove a valuable distraction in the interim.

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

She knocked at the door one last time, but even as she did so, Willow knew the response was going to be the same. Nobody was home. She’d picked the one day it looked like Giles might actually have a life to show up unannounced on his doorstep.

If she’d known where Wesley was staying, she would’ve called him, but that was a detail Willow had forgotten to have filled in during their conversations the previous day. I’ll have to fix that, she thought as she turned away from the door. If he’s going to be around to help me, it might help if I can actually find him when I need him.

She’d woken to an empty dorm room, the silence shattering. The details of the vamp attack were razor-keen in her mind’s eye, and rising to the sunny light of day had only cemented them in her consciousness.

The fangs descending as he leaned to bite her.

The fire that had burned through her veins the moment she felt the fragile skin of her neck tear.

The raw scour of her throat as her screams had cracked the night.

One of the first things Willow spied upon sitting up in her bed was the scorched remnant of her top folded carefully over the back of her desk chair. She could still feel the fire that had leapt from her flesh, the flames that had incinerated the vampire, taking both of them by surprise as he burst into ash. Yet, when she peeked beneath the covers to look at her chest, she wasn’t surprised by the complete lackage of burns. As quickly as she’d become the vamp’s pyre, as soon as the deed was done, all fire was gone, leaving behind only the sooty reminder on her clothing.

Tentatively, she’d risen and crossed to her full-length mirror, bracing herself for what she would discover. It was the absence of what she wanted to find that had driven her to Giles’ aid. Though she knew for a fact that the vampire had bitten her, and though she had the proof of her fall evidenced by the nasty tear in her tights, Willow’s body remained completely unmarked. It was as if she’d never been hurt in the first place.

And she knew the reason for it.

And it terrified her beyond belief that the magic would leap to defend her so primitively.

Giles had to know. As much as she’d kept hidden from him about the other, this was too large on the freaky scale to tuck away into the corner of her closet and pretend wasn’t an issue. He had to be made aware of just how out of control the magic really was. She couldn’t do this alone. She couldn’t handle this kind of raw energy at her fingertips, no matter what she said to Buffy about wanting to help.

She needed him.

Or Wesley.

And neither of them were around.

She wanted to cry.

Taking a deep breath, Willow quelled the rising instinct to sob and focused her thoughts on what to do next. Buffy was out, probably doing something Slayer-y. She could call Xander, but other than give her a shoulder to cry on, she didn’t know what else he could do.

Oz. She’d go see Oz. He always seemed to know just what it was she needed. And he’d be able to keep her grounded until Giles got back from wherever he was. That was one of the things he did best.

With her new plan firmly in mind, Willow began walking through the courtyard to head for Oz’s place. She almost didn’t notice the tall woman who walked past her, but when, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted the same stranger knocking on Giles’ door, she stopped.

“He’s not home,” she called out.

The woman jerked, her lean body silently alerting as if Willow’s voice was a sniper bullet. Her head whipped around as she searched for the source, and Willow shrank at the dangerous glint she could spy in the woman’s eyes, even at that distance.

“You know Rupert Giles?”

The woman’s voice was accented, but Willow couldn’t place where it might be from. Already wishing she’d kept her mouth shut, Willow swallowed before replying, “I just tried knocking, too. He must be out.”

“Do you know when he’ll return?” The woman took a step closer. She was tall---boy, was she tall, someone could get a severe neck cramp trying to look up at her---and her long features were sharp with feral intelligence. “It’s important that I see him.”

“No. Are you a friend?”
“I’m a…friend of a friend.” As the woman neared, her eyes narrowed, as if she was suddenly aware of something she hadn’t been before. “You’re the witch. You’re Willow.” Her hand appeared from nowhere, fingers rigid as she offered it in greeting. “My name is Havi.”

Slowly, Willow shook her hand, and then winced from the strength that was housed in the other woman’s grip. “How do you…have we met?”

“Not formally. My…friend spoke of you. Very highly.” Havi twisted to glance back at the closed apartment door, and Willow saw the metallic studs that adorned the nape of her neck. “Are you sure you don’t know when Mr. Giles will return?”

“Positive. I can tell him you were looking for him, if you want.”

“No. That won’t be necessary. I will find him soon enough.” Brushing past, Havi took long, powerful strides to exit the courtyard, and then stopped before disappearing down the path to the street. “It was a sincere pleasure to meet you, Willow,” she said, and offered a stiff smile that looked completely alien on her strong features. “Late ignis lucere, ut nihil urat, non potest.”

Then, she was gone.

Havi’s parting words jumbled inside Willow’s head, mishing and mashing in a big Latin mess that left her fervently wishing she didn’t suck so much at the dead language. What in heck just happened here? she thought with a frown. Somehow, she had a sickening feeling that whatever Havi had shared as a last hurrah was supposed to mean something to her, but if it was so godawful important, couldn’t she at least have said it in English?

Willow shook her head, as if that would clear out some of the cobwebs that had clearly taken up residence. Well, at least she had something to do while she waited for Giles to get back. Time to hit the library to translate what Havi had told her.

And pray that Giles would be swift to return.

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

A frustrated Lydia snapped her cell phone shut, slipping it back into her purse and glancing at her watch for the fourth time since entering the customs queue. Rupert needed to be informed of her arrival in Los Angeles and yet, he was not home to be told. If she and Spike arrived in Sunnydale without appropriate warning, she held no doubt that the senior Watcher would voice his displeasure. It would likely get back to Mr. Travers as well, and all her hopes for reinstatement to the Council could be forgotten. She had to get a hold of him.

Waiting to clear customs was another headache entirely. The special treatment she’d received in Barcelona stopped as soon as she’d relinquished control of William’s care to the flight staff, and she was now being forced to go through the motions of entering the country that everyone else was. She rather missed the extra attention she inevitably gained through her association with William. Among demon circles, he was a legend, a force to be reckoned with, while among the humans combating his kind, he stood much taller than his five-feet-ten, inspiring fear and awe even amongst those who’d seen the worst.

She didn’t even want to consider what his mood was going to be like once they met up again. It had been a devastatingly long trip; William would likely be short-tempered from the lack of amenities to which he was accustomed.

A half hour later, Lydia was finally through the immigration process and scurrying to meet up with the rental company. She had hired a van to protect William from the afternoon sunlight; hopefully, the other unusual requests she had made would be filled as well. It would save them time in their travels if they didn’t have to stop for blood supplies.

Her pace slowed when she saw the airline attendant waiting with the chauffeur. The back doors of the van were thrown wide open, but there was no sign of anyone---or anything---waiting to be loaded.

“Is there a problem?” she asked as she approached.

The attendant smiled, but it was the practiced smile of one skilled in the art of appeasement. “It’s about your traveling partner,” she said.

“What about him?” Sudden visions of arriving at Rupert’s with a bagful of dust sprang into Lydia’s head. Her throat went dry, and she swallowed convulsively to bring back the moisture. Had she been so careless as to get William killed?

“He…well, I suppose there isn’t an easy way of saying this---.”

“Just say it already!”

It was unlike Lydia to lose her cool, and the sharp tone in her voice wiped the smile from the attendant’s face. “It appears he’s made other arrangements to leave the airport,” she said coolly. “I was informed that another agent assisted in him in procuring transportation. He left about fifteen minutes ago.”

While she’d been in the immigration queue. But at least he wasn’t dead, and the relief she felt at that was almost enough to counter the anxiety in having to explain this latest development to Rupert.

She already knew the answer to her next question, but she asked it anyway.

“Did William indicate where he was going?” Lydia quizzed.

“Sunnydale,” came the reply.

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

The van jolted along the highway, its suspension obviously shot as Spike jostled around in its dark hold. He probably could’ve paid for something a little more posh, but he didn’t want to run out of the money he’d nicked from Lydia’s cases before he lined up a way to replenish his stocks. He’d just settle for a few hours of bruised bum; considering where he was headed, it was a minor discomfort to stomach.

It hadn’t been completely necessary to ditch the female Watcher entirely; she’d proven more resourceful than he’d ever imagined as they’d searched for Rose. But with his feet firmly back on Californian soil, her usefulness was at an end. This was his turf. He hardly needed her to navigate his way back to Sunnydale, not after decades of moving around the globe with Dru. So, he’d taken the case with Rose’s effects, his few belongings and the bits from their travels that would prove most valuable in his new life on the Hellmouth, and he’d hightailed it out of the airport as fast as he could manage.

Besides, Spike had a sneaking suspicion that Lydia was dragging her feet in returning to Sunnydale. She’d been negative about the entire trip ever since he’d waved Buffy’s letter in her face. Jealousy, he figured, but that was her problem. Not once had he given her even a smidgeon of hope that something could develop between them. If she wanted to nurse her schoolgirl crush, that was her problem now, not his. He had a girl waiting for him to return to her side.

The clincher had been finding Buffy’s second letter in his box just before they’d landed. He’d checked it on a whim, not really expecting to find anything so quickly after the first note. But when he’d seen the envelope, and pulled out what was a real missive detailing her thoughts and life, Spike knew he was lost to her.

She’d actually apologized to him for taking so long to write. He wasn’t so blinded by his feelings not to recognize the magnitude of the gesture she was making, especially when nearly the last thing she said in the letter was that she still missed him. She didn’t bury it in the middle of her ramblings where he might overlook it. No, she put it right where he wouldn’t; that had to mean something.

What meant so much to him, though---outside of her ramblings about being jealous, which was another good reason for ditching Lydia before he stepped foot in Sunnydale---wasn’t so much what she said, but how she said it. Scattered throughout her letter, Spike felt the same tug in his gut that he remembered from William’s encounters with Buffy. She spoke of more than just the superficial. She admitted to weakness, to her days being hard, to her inability to stand up to her friend’s narrow-mindedness. This wasn’t the cocky Slayer he’d known prior to her journey to England. This was the young woman who found a confidant and lover in the shell of a scorned poet, and was attempting to find the man behind the demon now.

She may not have said the words, but there was little doubt in Spike’s mind that she loved him. Buffy was making the effort to merge their lives, and though she had no clue he was so near, he was convinced she would be pleased when he showed up. She wanted him. He wanted her. The equation seemed simple.

It was up to him to ensure it stayed that way.

 

To be continued in Chapter 8: All Those Friends Which I Thought Buried