DISCLAIMER: The characters are
Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet XXVIII.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy and Spike have talked some more, Maggie has decided she knows who the werewolf is, and Giles has decided to have Spike room with Wesley and Esme with Lydia in order to make it easier to keep track of them…
Oz always seemed edgier on full moon days, a crispness to his movements that barely hinted at the restlessness laying siege to his flesh. Even now, just lying sprawled on his bed reading one of his textbooks, Willow could see the telltale signs---the tense poise of his fingers as they hovered to turn a page, the deliberate inhalations of his chest. The time was nearing, and it was impossible for his body to deny it.
“You know I wish I could be there, right?” she said, shattering the quiet.
He gave her a small smile when he turned to meet her eyes. “I know.”
But after he resumed his studying, her certitude returned, and Willow shook her head. “That’s it,” she declared, putting aside her own text to reach for the phone he had on his nightstand. “I’m going to call Giles and tell him we’ll meet up tomorrow instead.”
His hand on hers prevented her from picking up the receiver. “I’m going to be fine,” Oz stressed. “Xander’s going to meet me at the cage, so there’s no reason for you to cancel.”
She chewed at her lip. “You’re not worried about more of those vigilantes showing up again?”
“Why should they? It’s not like they know who I am.” Tugging at her hand, he pulled her onto the bed, pushing aside his book so that she could lie down next to him. “You’re not worried about me,” he said quietly. “You’re worried about Buffy. Want to talk about it?”
Her lashes drooped in deference to his astute observation. She had been hiding out with Oz ever since leaving Buffy at the dorm with Spike, and not knowing what was going on was eating at her. “It’s not that I’m worried,” Willow said. “I mean, I am, but Spike’s not going to hurt Buffy if he can help it. It’s just…she wasn’t too glad I took Spike over to Giles’.”
“You did the right thing. Spike needed to be there.”
“You think so?”
Oz nodded. “He’s taking this baby pretty seriously, which is weird in a Vampire Knows Best kind of way. But Buffy needs all the support she can get right now, and that means Spike has to be part of the picture.”
“I never figured you’d be so gung ho about him,” Willow admitted. The memory of how it had been Spike who’d been the catalyst for their break-up the previous year was all too sharp when she saw the two of them together. She wouldn’t voice that, though. The ghosts of those days lived strongly enough with them already.
“Let’s just say I’m keeping an open mind on the subject.”
“Too bad Xander probably won’t. He’s going to wig big time when he finds everything out. I know Buffy didn’t want to get it to this point, but I don’t think he’s going to buy the freshman forty excuse once she starts showing.”
“You never know. He might surprise you. Spike did.”
Smiling, Willow rested her head on his arm, relishing in the soft whisper of his fingertips over her cheek. “How’d you get to be so smart?” she teased.
“Pez.” Leaning in, he gave her a quick kiss before sitting up. “C’mon. If we leave now, I’ve got time to drop you off at Giles’ before I go out to the cage.”
“Swapping the ball for the chain, huh?” she said with a smile.
His hand was comforting where it settled in the small of her back. “Just promise me you’ll tell Giles and Wesley everything that’s been going on. They can’t help you if you hold back on them”
The words were automatic, but as they came from her lips, Willow wondered just how much she actually would reveal to the Watchers. Part of her was terrified by the powers that seemed to be burgeoning beyond her control---the incident with the vampire in the graveyard was more than alarming, just on its own---but part of her was kind of thrilled with the newfound strength it gave her. The lengths she could go to if she could just learn how to harness what she’d been given…the possibilities were astronomical.
Scary, but huge.
Like her whole life ever since Buffy had come to the Hellmouth.
Her head fell forward onto the desk, her eyes closed against the encroaching pain that was settling between her temples. “Tell me again why higher learning is such a good thing?” Buffy complained.
“Because it gets Rupert off your back about livin’ up to your full potential,” Spike replied.
She groaned out loud when his nimble fingers began massaging the base of her neck, spreading with molten ease to her stiff shoulders. “Ohhh…” she breathed. “More of that.”
A delicious languor seeped into her muscles with every firm caress, driving away memory of the words that had been swimming before her eyes. Until she’d stopped, Spike had remained a respectful distance, lounging on the bed while she worked at the desk. It had surprised Buffy, but she didn’t question it, taking the gift of his aid as further indication of his desire to find his place in her life. With her back to Spike, she had quickly slipped back into the rhythms of her weeks with William, yet even when he slipped in some classic Spike-ism, it didn’t jar. This was becoming far too simple to accept.
The tips of his fingers skimmed the sides of her breasts as he worked his way down her sides, and her body’s instant flushed reaction made her want to whirl around in her chair and straddle him then and there. When his cool lips pressed to her nape, her resolve to keep this thing between them slow and simple dissipated even further, and she had to grab on to the edge of her desk in order not to sink them into his curls.
“When’s Red comin’ back?” he whispered.
The breath from his words ruffled the tiny hairs on her neck, and Buffy involuntarily shivered. “Later,” she whispered. “She’s meeting with Giles and Wesley about the magic thing.”
“So…it’s just us, all on our lonesome? And you with your homework done. Whatever shall we do?”
His hands slithered forward, cupping her breasts, his fingers finding the hard peaks of her nipples through her blouse and pinching just hard enough to make her gasp. “Stop,” Buffy protested.
When his palm slid down to hover over her waist, her breath hitched in her throat, waiting for him to go even lower. He didn’t, though. Instead, his touch sneaked beneath the fabric of her top, settling along her skin, stroking the smallest of circles against the muscles of her stomach. It seemed to be his new favorite spot on her body.
“Stop,” she said more forcefully. Taking his hand in hers, Buffy straightened and stood, leaning against the edge of the desk as she met his eyes. “We can’t be doing this every time we’re together.”
Spike tilted his head. “We’ve been together a grand total of three times since I blew into Sunnyhell,” he commented. “And two of those times have been spent either talkin’ or studying. Hardly constitutes every time, pet.” With his free hand, he reached to caress the pounding of her pulse in her throat. “’Sides, it’s not like you don’t want it.”
“So not the point.”
“You got a better suggestion, then?”
She nodded. “I’m thinking food. I don’t know about you, but I’m starved. I haven’t eaten since my not-really-a-breakfast.”
He cast a look at the sunlight that was still visible around the edges of the drawn curtains. “Only problem with that is I’m not goin’ anywhere for another hour or two.”
“So, I’ll go.” This gave her renewed purpose, and Buffy bustled to get ready to go out. “Did you get around to the butcher yet, or do you need me to get some for you?”
“So, I’ll get enough for you for a couple days. At least until we get you settled.”
His hand on her shoulder stopped her from opening the door. “You’re running again,” Spike commented.
“No, I’m getting dinner,” she said. “Eating for two now, remember? A girl’s got to take care of herself.”
“Looks like tryin’ to avoid me from this angle.”
The doubt in his voice made her soften. “You have to eat. I have to eat. If I was trying to avoid you, I wouldn’t have let you stay in the first place.”
“You’re comin’ back?”
“Where else would I go, Spike? Everything I have is right here.” Impulsively, she stretched to kiss him lightly. “That means you, too.”
The look of grateful amazement in his eyes made her smile as she turned to grab her purse. “I shouldn’t be more than an hour. If you get bored, you can always start my poetry paper. It’s not due for another two weeks, but considering you’ve had a hundred years more reading experience than I do, it should be a piece of cake for you.”
She left him standing there speechless, and couldn’t help grinning all the way down the hallway. It probably wouldn’t be often he’d let her get in the last word, and be dumbfounded to boot; Buffy was going to enjoy this one for as long as she could.
Even if it was just with Wesley and Giles, this was very much not what Willow considered a night of fun and frolicking. Sitting on Giles’ couch, she folded and unfolded her hands in her lap nearly a dozen times while she waited for him to come out of the kitchen with the tray of drinks. For some reason, he’d insisted on making a pot of tea when she’d arrived just a few minutes earlier; Willow suspected that having Wesley and now Lydia around was bringing out even more of the British in him.
Nobody said a word until they were all seated, and Giles had poured out three cups and passed them around. “How was your day?” he asked, all politeness.
Willow frowned. Something was very off about this. Not only was Wesley having problems meeting her eyes, but this too-controlled gentility from Giles was way off considering the events of just that morning.
“You should know,” she replied. “You were there for the exciting part.”
Giles nodded as if that was just what he’d expected her to say. “Is Buffy all right? I haven’t heard from her since she…since she left.”
“As well as can be expected, I suppose.” She wasn’t going to bring up the fact that she’d left Buffy with Spike. Willow figured she’d done enough already that day by showing up with Spike in the first place.
“And you?” Wesley was leaning forward, blue eyes bright as they peered at her through his glasses. “How are you doing?”
“Fine.” Her frown deepened. “OK, what’s going on? Not that I don’t appreciate the concern, but I’m not the one who announced she was pregnant with a vampire’s baby today. I think that puts me pretty low on who should be worried about who here.”
The two Watchers exchanged a long look before Giles cleared his throat. “I’ve met with the witch the Council has sent to advise you on how to deal with this new magic, Willow,” he said. He was picking his words carefully, a tempered pace to his speech that always betrayed his truer intents. “She’s here in Sunnydale now, in fact.”
“Then, why isn’t she meeting with us tonight?”
“Frankly, because we wanted to speak with you first,” Wesley interjected.
“Because the Council sent Esme,” Giles said. “Travers seems to believe she is the one best equipped to help you with this.”
It wasn’t what she expected to hear. All of a sudden, Willow’s throat was dry, memories of how she’d felt when Esme’s magic had been pumped into her thrumming through her body with the liquid burn of a raging fire. “But…but…she hates me,” she managed to say. “I don’t…get…”
“First of all, she doesn’t hate you. She hates that she lost her powers, yes, but you had nothing to do with that.”
“Are you kidding? I had everything to do with it.”
Wesley shook his head. “You were just the vessel for Rose’s intervention,” he said. “Esme understands that.”
“And so she’s here to get them back? Have you forgotten what she did when she had them the first time? Buffy sure as heck hasn’t, and I’m pretty sure you can put Spike on that list, too.”
She had risen to her feet midway through speaking, her tea sitting forgotten on the coffee table. Opposite, Wesley rose as well, and he placed his hands firmly on her shoulders to force her to look at him.
“It’s not like that,” he insisted. “Giles and I have spoken extensively with her about her intent in getting involved. If we thought there was any reason to be suspicious, we wouldn’t be putting you in this position in the first place.”
“In this…?” She turned shocked eyes to Giles. “You don’t really expect me to go along with this, do you? How can you possibly think this is a good idea?”
“Sit down, Willow.” The restraint was gone from his voice, his tone commanding. “All we ask is that you hear us out. I think if you understand the full ramifications in having Esme as your mentor as we deal with these changes, you just might change your mind.”
She sat. She had no other choice. It seemed pretty clear that Giles had already made up his mind about this. She just wondered how long they would take to try and convince her of the same.
After parking behind Oz’s van along the street, Xander ambled through the trees toward his friend’s monthly hideaway, his stack of comic books tucked beneath his arm. Werewolf duty wasn’t necessarily his sport of choice, but Oz had made it clear how important Willow’s meeting was with the Watchers. With the vigilantes showing up all over town, he preferred being safe than sorry, and wanted someone to keep an eye out when he couldn’t. For his friend’s sake, it was a responsibility Xander was more than willing to shoulder in Willow’s absence, and he had the night’s entertainment to help it go even faster.
It wasn’t dark yet, though the sun was very low on the horizon. In the thick of the forest, long shadows cast across his path made Xander quicken his pace. He had a stake in his back pocket, but he wasn’t stupid. The faster he got to the Oz’s little hideaway, the safer Xander was going to feel.
The dull roar of an engine permeated the close air, drifting from somewhere ahead of him, and his step faltered. It was hard for a vehicle to get back here---it was one reason why Oz parked on the street---but it was possible if someone was determined and didn’t care about going over some rough terrain. The why of it, however, was another matter completely. There was absolutely nothing of interest in the forest; that was one reason why Oz had chosen it. If anything, Oz was its sole attraction---.
Xander broke into a run. He didn’t really believe it could be, but he wasn’t about to drag his feet in case he was wrong.
Twenty feet away, he skidded to a halt. Tire treads smashed down the undergrowth, and if he squinted, he could see the glint off black metal disappearing in the distance. His gaze slid to the entrance. Gaping open like a black maw, it taunted him with an ever-increasing sense of dread as he stepped closer.
“Oz?” he called out as he stepped from the gloom into the near-black of the hideaway.
Silence echoed back at him. It was empty.
Taking another step, Xander felt a crunch under his heel, and lifted his foot to see a triangular piece of plastic poking up from the dirt. He leaned down and picked it up, his skin going cold when he recognized the Star Wars guitar pick Willow had given Oz for graduation. The dirt was scuffled, and there were the distinct markings from several sets of feet. Man-sized feet.
As he turned and ran back for his car, only one thought was cutting through Xander’s panic about the missing Oz.
Their ardor in pitching Esme as her mentor was commendable; by the time Giles and Wesley stopped talking, Willow would’ve likely said yes to about anything they might have suggested when it came the witch.
Except for one thing.
“Have you forgotten she brought April back because she needed a Slayer for whatever it was she had planned?” she asked Giles. She didn’t bother addressing the question to Wesley; he hadn’t been around in London when everything had gone down so it was pointless to remind him. “How can you trust her anywhere near Buffy after that?”
“She won’t be working with Buffy,” Wesley started, but was cut off by Giles’ upturned hand.
“Because I’d prefer to put my faith in an ill-intentioned, powerless witch, than I would Quentin Travers,” Giles said quietly.
“Shut up, Wesley. We were foolish to consider she would agree without all the facts.”
Willow sat and listened as Giles told of their fears for Buffy, how pregnant Slayers were treated by the Council, how those who actually bore their children subsequently found themselves bereft of many of the Council’s resources. As he explained his wishes to protect Buffy, she began to understand why he’d been so vociferous in pitching Esme in the first place. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Giles was doing his best not to have Buffy get smashed flat.
“Buffy’s not going to like it,” she said when he was done. “And I think Spike might get a little cranky if he finds out, too.”
“Yes, we’re aware of that,” Giles said. “But tell me which would be worse. Buffy being slightly disgruntled or Buffy being dead?”
Her eyes widened. “They would really kill her? After everything she’s done for them?”
“The issue is, we’re not sure what they would do to her. But yes, I think that might be an option they’d consider, especially if they were to discover Spike is the father.”
“There’s also the possibility that they’d wish to study her,” Wesley suggested. “To my knowledge, no Slayer has ever been impregnated by a vampire before---.”
“For the last time,” Giles snapped, his head jerking to level a glare at the other Watcher, “he was not a vampire when the child was conceived!”
“The Council won’t care,” came the rejoinder. “They’re going to see the baby, and they’re going to see Spike protecting that baby, and they’re only going to be interested in trying to understand both of them.”
“OK, time out,” Willow said. “I get the picture. Council finding out equals bad. But how are you going to keep Buffy and Spike from wanting to get rid of Esme? Their grudge is more than a little personal, and if you don’t want them to end up getting physical, you’re going to have to tell them something.”
The two men exchanged a long look before returning their attention back to her. “I’ve already expressed my concern about the Council’s interference to Spike,” Giles said carefully. “If he were to be convinced that Esme’s wellbeing is in Buffy’s best interest, I believe that Buffy would follow his example and leave her alone for the duration of her stay.”
“But how?” She couldn’t help her jaw dropping as it dawned on her what they were asking. “No,” she said, shaking her head. “No, no, and no. First of all, he’ll never listen to me. And secondly, have you seen how scary he can be? Broken bottle in the face, remember?”
“You didn’t seem so frightened of him when you brought him here to interrupt Buffy’s announcement this morning,” Wesley observed.
“And you worked quite extensively with him in London,” Giles said.
“Under duress. He thought he was getting Dru back.”
“You wouldn’t have gone to him this morning if you thought him to be dangerous, Willow. It’s pointless for you to try and make us believe you’re truly afraid of Spike when your actions contradict that very notion.”
She pressed her lips together. “I still don’t think he’ll listen to me,” she said.
“You’re the best choice we have. This is about protecting Buffy, Willow. This is about protecting the baby.”
Dirty pool, she wanted to say. What happened to this being about helping me control the magic?
But she didn’t get a chance to say anything before a knock at the door diverted their attention. Rising from his seat, Giles rose to answer it, leaving Willow trying to digest this new information.
“Are you Rupert Giles?”
Her head whirled at the familiar accent, and Willow saw the tall woman she’d encountered in the courtyard the previous day standing in the doorway. All thought of Esme fled as the odd conversation she’d had with the stranger was brought back to the fore, and she straightened in order to better see what was going to transpire.
“Yes,” Giles replied. “May I help you?”
Reaching into the bag that hung at her side, she extracted a small box and held it out to him, remaining silent as he took it with a frown. Willow’s view was blocked by his shoulder when he opened it, but she didn’t need to know what was in it to witness his reaction.
“Where did you get this?” he demanded.
“From my employer,” the woman said. “Upon her death, I was instructed to bring it to you.”
“Why? Who are you? And who in blazes did you work for? This is Council property. Only Watchers are given these.”
Mention of the Council made Wesley rise and move closer to the pair at the door. The direct addition of the second man made her bristle, dark eyes darting between the two like a cornered animal, but the arrival held her ground.
“My name is Havi Aronowicz. And my employer was married to a Watcher prior to his death. You never met him, but I was told you were acquainted with his wife.” She held herself even straighter, eyes level with his. “I am part of the Protectorate for the Guardians. Until a few days ago, I worked to guard the seer, Rose Rhodes-Fanshaw.”
The sun was low enough that he could get out and look for the Slayer without any negative consequence. She had been gone for almost two hours, and it had dawned on Spike after she’d left that he hadn’t given her any dosh to help pay for his blood. He should’ve had her pick up some smokes as long as she was out, but he wasn’t convinced that that was something she’d be as agreeable to as she was the trip to the butcher’s.
Money was just one consideration he was going to take a little more seriously now that he was in town. He wouldn’t have been as fussed if there wasn’t this baby now in the picture, but the current circumstances meant his days of five-finger discounts were limited. Buffy wouldn’t stand for anything remotely resembling theft being associated with her child; he was going to have to consider other means for staying flush.
There was also the matter of transportation. The DeSoto was down in South America; he didn’t really fancy having to hoof it all over town, nor did he like the idea of not having something to help Buffy out with. There was going to be the matter of doctor appointments soon, and then after…
His fingers stopped tapping at the book of poetry that sat in his lap. He was going to be a father. Would the rush of it ever stop amazing him?
He was still lost in thought, fantasizing about Buffy chasing after a little girl with blonde pigtails and skinned knees, when he caught the rhythmic pattern of footsteps approaching the door. It slowed as it came closer, and though it was heavier than Spike usually heard with Buffy, he decided that she must have her arms full, and hopped to his feet to clear the path for her.
“Took you long enough,” he said as he opened the door.
Xander’s surprised countenance stared back at him.
To be continued in Chapter 17: Mad in Pursuit…