DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CXXIX.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Giles and Wesley have asked for Willow’s support on the Esme issue, Havi has shown up at Giles’, and Xander has discovered that Oz has been kidnapped but when he went to get Buffy, he came face to face with Spike instead…

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

Chapter 17: Mad in Pursuit

Neither man moved.

Though there was a part of Spike that wanted to sneer and gloat at Harris about who was on which side of the door, another part remembered the fear and worry in Buffy’s face when she’d spoken of telling her friend about the new changes, not to mention how he’d agreed to stand back and let her handle this one since it would likely require a more delicate touch than the one Spike possessed. He was too soon back in Sunnydale and Buffy’s life to be abusing the privileges she granted him by going against his word.

So, he held his tongue and waited for Harris to make the first move.

He didn’t have to wait long.

The stake came from nowhere, but Xander’s lunge across the door’s threshold was clumsy and slow. Easily, Spike avoided the blow, his hand shooting up to grab Xander’s wrist, twisting the young man’s arm to turn and shove him into the open door. He squeezed until Xander cried out in pain, his fingers opening to let the stake clatter to the floor.

“Not very friendly of you,” Spike said casually. From the hallway, he could hear doors opening, feel curious eyes peek out to stare at the commotion, but he ignored them to press Xander a little bit harder into the wood.

“Let me go!” Xander rasped. He struggled to get away, but the iron bar of Spike’s forearm across his upper back pinned him like a trapped butterfly. All he could really move were his legs, and attempted to kick back at his captor with little result.

“Way I see it, you’re the one who attacked me. I’m the one who should be pissed here, and yet, do you see me takin’ it out on your neck? No.” He clicked his tongue in reproof. “Piss poor welcome party you are.”

Nobody will welcome you back,” Xander hissed. “And when Buffy finds out---.” He paused, as if suddenly realizing that Spike was inside the dorm room and the Slayer wasn’t. “Where is Buffy?” he demanded. “And how did you get in here?”

Spike couldn’t resist and leaned in to whisper his response into the boy’s ear. “Got a personal invite from the Slayer herself.”

Xander’s bark of laughter rang throughout the hall. “Like that’s even possible. Buffy warned you last time you hit town---.”

“What the hell is going on here?”

“Buffy! Help!” Somehow, the boy managed to twist enough to look at the Slayer standing behind them, two weighted down bags dangling from her hand. “Spike’s back! Stake him!”

Her eyes flickered to the few students who watched through their cracked doors. Pulling her bags a little closer to her body, Buffy pushed at both men, knocking them free of each other. “Inside. Now.”

Xander tried to grab the stake he’d dropped as he stumbled into the room, but Spike kicked it out of his way, smirking when the boy then grabbed a cross from a high shelf to brandish it before him like a shield. “I’ll hold him back,” Xander said to Buffy, his eyes locked on Spike as the vampire sauntered over to the bed. “You get another stake.”

“There will be no staking,” she announced, positioning herself between them.

“What do you mean? It’s Spike. In your room!”

“I know, Xander. I invited him in.”

Silence.

“Huh?”

With a twist of his lips, Spike dropped to stretch his lean length on the bed. “Told him that, pet. Boy doesn’t listen.”

“Shut up, Spike.”

The intent was sure, but her tone wasn’t, and it was the delicate touch of fear that she couldn’t hide from him that kept Spike from saying anything more. Instead, he laced his fingers behind his head and leaned back, watching as she rested a tremulous hand on Xander’s arm.

“There’s some…things I need to tell you,” Buffy started. “I was kind of hoping that you wouldn’t find out about Spike being in town this way---.”

“OK, now you’re scaring me.” He was trying to joke, but failing miserably, his nervous fingers finally disappearing deep into his pockets as he stepped away from her. “You knew about this? How long has he been here? Please tell me you haven’t been hiding him out at the mansion, because it was bad enough with Angel, but Spike? We hate Spike.”

“We don’t hate Spike.”

“Since when?”

“Since…” She swallowed. “…Willow and I went to London.”

Understanding slowly crept into Xander’s eyes. “I knew it,” he said, taking a step backward and pointing an accusatory finger at his friend. “I knew you two were being all secretive about something. Willow with her magic booster shot, and you with all your weird mood swings. It’s his fault, isn’t it? Willow’s Super-Sabrina now because of him?”

“No, that’s---.” Exhaling loudly, Buffy sat down on the edge of the bed as she attempted to control her frustration. “A lot happened in London,” she began again, “and yeah, Spike was kind of involved in it---.”

“Kind of?” Spike couldn’t hold his tongue on that; he wasn’t about to let Buffy lessen what had occurred between them, not now. “I was there every step of the way, luv. In fact, you could say I was pulling double duty. No ‘kind of’ about that.”

“Just tell me what’s going on,” Xander said. “Let’s start with why Spike’s in your room.”

“Could ask the same about you, Harris,” Spike shot back. “You make it a habit to show up unannounced at the Slayer’s door with a stake in your back pocket? Though maybe in your case, it might not be such a bad idea to keep it in the front. Might be your one and only chance to get any second looks from the bints in this town.”

For a moment, he looked confused. “No, I was---.” His eyes went wide. “Oz. Seeing Spike made me totally forget about Oz. See? He’s a bad influence, Buffy. He’s---.”

“What about Oz?”

Mention of Red’s boyfriend even made Spike perk up, paying closer attention as Xander related the events at Oz’s hideaway, pulling out the guitar pick to illustrate his story. It was all Buffy needed to set aside the discomfort of explaining Spike’s presence, though, as she visibly went into Slayer mode.

“We need to call Giles,” she announced, marching over to the phone. “He and Willow can meet us out there so we can try and figure out where they took Oz.” She hesitated when Spike sat up and began pulling his boots back on. “What are you doing?” she asked.

“Comin’ with.”

“Oh, no, he’s not,” Xander said too loudly.

“You need me,” he countered. He ignored the boy and focused his attention on Buffy. “Took out four of them last night, didn’t I? And who else do you have who can track the wolf’s scent?”

“So we have to take Spikey the Vamphound?” Xander said. “I don’t think so.”

“If he’s still alive,” Spike continued, “he’ll have changed already, which means there’s the potential of him bein’ dangerous if you do manage to get him away from the soldier boys. Don’t be stubborn about this one, luv. It’s what I’m here for, remember?”

He could see her brain working, the way her eyes kept jumping between the two men as she made her decision. “There’s an extra tranq gun in my weapons chest,” she finally said. “Arm up. We don’t know what we’re going to need.”

“But, Buffy---.”

“Not now, Xander.” She picked up the phone and started dialing. “If you can’t deal with Spike coming, then go home. I’ll explain everything to you after we get Oz back. I promise.”

Busying himself with the weapons, Spike watched Xander’s indecision out of the corner of his eye. He was sure Buffy was kicking herself for taking so long to get back to the dorm; if she’d been only five minutes earlier, the awkward introductions could’ve been avoided. He’d have to find out later what exactly had held her up, but for now, they had to get Oz back. Oddly enough, Spike was feeling personally involved in this one. He hadn’t saved Oz the previous night just to have the soldier boys pull the same trick right under his nose.

“I’m in,” Xander finally said. “Oz is my friend---.” He shot Spike a dirty look on that. “---and I’m not going to just stand by.”

“Good,” Buffy said. “The more hands we have in this, the better.” The muted tone of a voice on the other end of the line caused her to turn partially away from the pair as she spoke. “Hi, Wesley. We’ve got a problem. A big one.”

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

The call interrupted Giles’ interrogation of Havi, and the room hung in limbo while they waited for Wesley to get off the phone. More than once, Willow caught Havi’s eye, shuddering at the predatory gleam she thought she detected there. It wasn’t malevolent, not like she’d seen in more than one demon’s face, but there was no mistaking the fact that this woman was accustomed to being a hunter, powerful and persistent. Though nothing had been said, Willow couldn’t help but wonder if she was Havi’s new prey.

“There’s a problem,” Wesley said when he’d returned the phone to its base. He tore off the page from the pad, and looked grimly at Giles. “Buffy’s asked for us to meet her. It would seem that the vigilantes have succeeded in finally capturing Oz.”

All thoughts of her discomfort fled at her boyfriend’s name.

“What?” Willow said, jumping to her feet. “What happened?”

“He can explain on the way,” Giles said. He marched to the weapons chest and began extracting the tools they were going to need.

“Who is this Oz?” Havi asked.

“My boyfriend,” Willow replied tersely. She took the tranquilizer gun Giles offered with a familiarity from years of use.

Havi’s eyes bored into Willow’s back. “And you intend to…rescue him?”

“That’s the plan.”

“Then I shall join you.”

She’d been trying to quell the rising panic inside her chest, but hearing the simple assertion stunned Willow into gaping at the woman.

“That won’t be necessary,” Giles started, but was cut off when Havi stepped forward and took the crossbow he held, looking it over with an expert eye before slinging it over her shoulder.

“Rose would wish for me to do this,” she said. “Would you risk the safety of your friend by denying my aid?”

“My apologies, Miss Aronowicz, but I’m afraid I must insist.” Firmly, he took the weapon away from her. “Now, if you’ll excuse us…”

For a moment, Havi looked as if she was going to argue, dark eyes narrowing as they searched Giles’ face. “As it must be,” she finally said, and turned back to the door in acquiescence. “May I return tomorrow so that we may discuss my purpose here in Sunnydale?”

“Fine,” he replied, now distracted. “Tomorrow, then.”

Though she watched Havi nod to Wesley before exiting the still-open front door, Willow’s worry was quickly diverted back to the catastrophe at hand. She couldn’t believe that the vigilantes had managed to get Oz. How? None of them had survived the previous night to tell of his true identity, and his monthly hideaway wasn’t anywhere near the cemetery where they’d been jumped. How had they found him?

She didn’t have time to think about questions. She only had time to focus on how they were going to get him back. Of course, they had no idea who the vigilantes really were, or where they were located, but Willow didn’t care. They would find a way. They had to.

She didn’t even notice the sizzle that seemed to surge across her skin.

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

The trio was a somber lot as they slid into the beat-up Citroen, and though she wasn’t pleased that she wasn’t part of their group, Havi respected the Watcher just a little bit more for refusing to allow her to accompany them. She would’ve done just the same. Without the opportunity to explain her presence in Sunnydale, they had little reason to trust her, and trust was imperative in what they were about to endeavor.

It didn’t mean she couldn’t still help, though. It just meant that she had to do it from afar.

She kept the rental car at a fair distance from Giles’ as she followed their wending path through Sunnydale. When they pulled alongside a wooded section on the edge of town, she continued driving past, going a further half-mile, hidden from their view, before coming to a stop. There had been two other cars waiting for Willow and the Watchers, a van and something that looked like an Escort, but Havi could’ve sworn she caught a glimpse of platinum hair gleaming dully in the muted dusk light. She knew who that was. She’d only ever seen the vampire from a distance, when Baltozar had met up with him to discuss Rose’s whereabouts, but she’d heard quite a bit about William the Bloody.

“Don’t ever take him for granted,” Rose said. She was busy sorting through her books, looking for one in particular. “If you do, you will die.”

“He is that formidable?” Havi asked.

“He’s that unpredictable. Do you expect otherwise from a vampire in love with a Slayer?” Rose smiled as she found the text for which she was searching, and lovingly stroked its cover. “There you are,” she said to it. “I almost thought I had to replace you.”

“Why are you so convinced he’ll go to her?” She wasn’t ready to stop pursuing this topic. So much of her future hinged on Rose’s visions, it would be foolish not to be completely informed.

“Haven’t you been paying attention?” Sitting at her desk, Rose pulled out her favorite red pen and opened the book to its title page. “He loves her. Once he doesn’t have me as a distraction, he’ll have no reason to stay away.” She quieted as she scratched out a few lines. From where she stood, Havi couldn’t see the bulk of what was written, but she did see the flourish of the seer’s name as Rose signed the note. “But just in case, I’m leaving William a little nudge in that direction. He’ll go. His curiosity won’t allow him to stay away.”

Apparently, Rose had been right.

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

Nobody said a word when they saw Spike waiting with Buffy and Xander, though Willow threw both of her friends a curious look before heading toward the hideaway. It was better that way, Buffy decided. Nothing was said. There were other, more important things to concentrate on than the reasons Spike and Xander weren’t killing each other.

It was her fault, of course. All of it. She’d been delayed at the butcher’s shop, and then when she’d tried taking a shortcut back to campus after getting her sandwich, Buffy had run into a vampire snacking on a coed in a covered alley. The stupid demon had fallen and crushed her bag of blood before she got the chance to dust him, making it necessary to take another trip back to the butcher. Everything had been conspiring to keep her from getting back to the dorm in time to intercept Xander, and now he knew just enough to hurt his feelings for being kept in the dark.

She was taking the blame for Oz, too, though Spike had quarreled with her the entire trip over about that particular responsibility. She’d known he was at risk, but she hadn’t taken any extra steps to protect him from the vigilantes. It was all her fault that they’d captured him this time.

“Don’t be daft,” Spike had said. “You couldn’t have known.”

“It’s my job to know,” she’d shot back.

He’d shut up at that, though he’d watched her through his eyelashes for the duration of the ride, and Buffy had deliberately diverted her notice to the window and the lengthening night shadows they passed. Only Spike knew the extent to which she shouldered her responsibility, but it was only Spike who knew how delicate that balance really was.

Now, he walked with Willow at the front of the group, his head high, his senses sharp as he paused every now and again to inhale deeply of the night air. The first time he did it, Xander rolled his eyes, but a frown from Buffy quelled the dissension from her friend. She had no idea what was going to happen, whether they would find Oz or not, but she couldn’t afford to have any more fighting amongst her team. Their odds for success lessened if they weren’t united. She’d learned that one a long time ago.

Before they reached the hideaway, Spike stopped in his tracks, his head jerking to his left. His eyes narrowed as they searched the darkness, and Buffy followed his gaze, wondering what it was he was seeing.

“This way,” he said, his voice abrupt.

“But, Oz’s place is in that direction,” Willow said, pointing ahead.

“But he’s not,” Spike countered. His head jerked toward the far-off trees. “They took him that way.”

“Then that’s where we’re going,” Buffy said. She made sure there was no mistaking the authority in her voice. The only way to get the gang to trust Spike was to show them that she trusted him first.

They walked until they reached the edge of the forest. Nobody said a word, and every step dragged their hopes down just that much further. Even Buffy was beginning to wonder if they were on a fool’s quest.

Then, Spike pointed at the dirt road they encountered. Even in the dark light, Buffy could see the fresh tracks leading away from the forest, and her heart sank. They were going to be too late.

The silence continued, as if everyone feared that stating the obvious would shatter what little hope remained. It was Willow who pushed past Spike, crouching down in the road to press her hand to the dirt.

Buffy’s eyes widened when she saw the sparks jump from her friend’s fingers to soak into the earth. Behind her, she heard Xander’s gasp and the unmistakable sound of Giles stepping forward.

“Willow,” he said quietly, “what are you doing?”

She ignored the Watcher’s words. As they watched, Willow’s hand curled into the soil, glowing orange as if from some inner fire, and her hair began to blow from an unseen breeze. The air was crackling with power, making Buffy’s heart begin to race inside her chest. Had it been like this for Willow all along? The thought was terrifying.

“Be careful, Red,” Spike said. He was keeping his distance from her, but his eyes were fixed to what she was doing. “You don’t know---.”

The sight of golden wisps starting to trail along the road and into the distance cut him off. With a sudden exhalation, Willow collapsed to the ground.

Her tumble released the invisible bonds that had held the group still, and they rushed en masse to her aid. Being the closest, Spike was the first to reach Willow, and rolled her onto her back, stretching her out just as Buffy arrived to crouch at her side. Buffy’s fingers flew to her friend’s wrist, checking her pulse, and when she found it slow but steady, she sighed in relief.

“Did it work?” Willow murmured. Her voice was faint, her eyes closed, and her skin had taken an ashen cast that made her more pale than Spike in the moonlight. “Just tell me…it worked.”

“That depends,” Xander said. He was at her head, pushing back the hair from her face. “What were you trying to do?”

Her lids drifted upward. “Looking for Oz.” Her tongue darted out to lick her dry lips. “I wanted bread crumbs.”

When her eyes fluttered shut again, Xander leaned forward. “I’m thinking we need to get her to a hospital,” he whispered. “Whatever she’s done is making her loopy.”

“Actually,” Wesley said, “she’s making perfect sense.” He was walking along the length of the golden wisps that hovered above the road, staring at them intently. “Somehow, I believe that she’s filtered the distinguishing characteristics of the tracks and intensified those that belong to Oz so that we can follow him, regardless of whether we lose sight of the markings made by the vehicle.” He stopped, crouched, and passed his hand through the fine mist. “In short, she’s created a bread crumb trail for us. Ingenious, really.”

Xander’s eyes widened. “She can do that?”

“Apparently,” Giles said.

“She’s unconscious,” Buffy announced. She turned worried eyes up to the Watchers. “It’s just like when she did her mojo on the vamp in the cemetery the other night. The magic overloads her system and she passes out.”

Silently, Giles knelt next to Willow, his hands expertly examining her. As the seconds passed, Spike began to pace in the background.

“Tick tock, people,” he said, his voice echoing in the forest. “The longer you waffle on whether Red’s up to par or not, the further away her wolf gets.”

“Spike’s right,” Buffy said. “We need to get moving.”

“Well, Willow won’t be joining us.” Giles sat back on his heels. “Physically, she appears to be fine, but we can’t carry her with us, waiting for her to wake up. Someone needs to take her back to the dorm.”

“I’ll do it,” Xander announced. “I’ve got the wheels.”

As he worked to scoop Willow into his arms, the soft whisk of brush being pushed aside behind all of them made first Spike’s attention snap to investigate it, then Buffy’s.

“You will need another to replace him.” The words were uttered by a woman Buffy didn’t recognize, muscular and dark, with short hair that made her seem even taller. A scabbard was strapped to her back, and she was dressed accordingly for fighting in khaki trousers and a tight tank.

Before Buffy could demand to know who she was, Giles straightened, lifting his chin to stare at the new arrival. “Following us is not the way to gain our trust,” he said. His voice was ice, his eyes like flint

“It would appear that my following is fortuitous.” Her dark eyes flickered to the unconscious Willow. “She will be all right?”

“Yes,” Buffy said carefully. “She just needs to sleep it off.” Turning with a frown to her Watcher, she asked, “Who is this?”

His lips thinned as he seemed to consider his reply. “Her name is Havi Aronowicz,” he finally said. “She claims to have some connection to Rose Rhodes-Fanshaw.”

The seer’s name startled Spike, and he took a determined step forward, his eyes narrowed as he scrutinized the woman. “Don’t s’pose you and me have ever met?” he said to her. Though the words were casual, the danger dripped from his voice. “’Cause I can’t shake this funny feelin’ that I know you from somewhere.”

The fact that Havi didn’t back down in the face of Spike’s cogent confrontation scored points for her in Buffy’s book. “You are William the Bloody,” Havi said. “Rose told me much about you. She said you had been a…good man.”

Whether it was the reference to his human self or the fact that Rose would talk about him so extensively with a stranger, Spike bristled at the statement. “Not a man any more,” he said, the muscles in his jaw twitching.

“Yes, I know.” Her gaze danced between Willow, Giles, and then finally to Buffy. “Your time is running short,” she said. “If you don’t wish to lose the trail Willow has provided, you should move quickly.”

“That doesn’t mean you’re coming with us,” Giles argued.

“If you prefer, I can take Willow back to her---.”

“No!” It was the most forceful Xander had been since first spotting Spike in Buffy’s room. His arms pulled his friend closer. “No offense, but if Giles doesn’t trust you, there’s no way in hell I’m letting you anywhere near her.”

“Xander’s right,” Buffy said. “I…appreciate the offer, but this is a family thing. We’ll do it without you.” With her decision made, she turned to Xander and tucked her room key into his chest pocket before starting off down the road, not once glancing over her shoulder. Spike fell into step beside her, and with a wary look to an unmoving Havi, Wesley and Giles followed.

This was her team. She didn’t need anybody else’s help.

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

Knocking out a small man with a tranquilizer was one thing.

Keeping that man sedated when his body transformed into something larger and infinitely more dangerous was something else entirely.

Graham drove the van over the bumpy road leading back to the main drag to Sunnydale. His knuckles were white on the steering wheel, his face grim and spectral in the moonlight that trickled through the windshield. Dr. Walsh had given him this assignment because she knew how badly he wanted it; he was infuriated that this particular HST was responsible for his best friend’s death and wanted retribution in the worst possible way.

Taking him at the grungy cave he used to lock himself up during the full moon had been relatively pain-free. Though the werewolf had fought with Graham when he’d been grabbed, his human strength was no match for the soldier’s, and it was made even less so once he’d been injected with the tranquilizer. It was almost too easy for Graham. He wanted an excuse to pound the little twerp’s face in for what he’d done to Riley.

He was still debating pulling over and just giving the guy a beating before taking him into the tunnels when they heard the first growl from the back. Graham glanced into his rearview mirror, but the back of the van was a mass of inky shadows. It was impossible to see what exactly was happening there.

“Go check on him,” he instructed his partner. “Make sure he’s---.”

A ferocious roar preceded a violent rocking of the van, and the steering wheel twisted violently in Graham’s hands. Fighting to maintain control of the vehicle, he saw his teammate slither from his seatbelt to disappear into the back, but the force of his attention was fixed on the road ahead.

Another inhuman scream echoed inside the metal walls, and this time, the turbulence that buffeted the van was too vehement for it to withstand. It tipped dangerously sideways, and would’ve continued rolling off the road if it hadn’t collided with the hulking tree along the track.

Graham became aware of the sound of ripping metal, and a cool blast across his cheeks before the world faded into black.

 

To be continued in Chapter 18: Slight Air and Purging Fire