DISCLAIMER: The characters are
Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet XL.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Havi has arrived at Giles to let him know why she’s there, while Graham has still refused to talk…
“Ready to go?”
It was a fake bravado that Willow forced into her voice, one that she’d had a lifetime to perfect. But Buffy had been distant for most of the day, daydreaming during class, only half-heartedly bantering over lunch. It wasn’t sparked by a bad mood---the uncharacteristic softness that seemed to linger in the Slayer’s face would’ve been stepped on and squashed by anything remotely resembling an ill temper---but Willow couldn’t put her finger on what exactly was the trigger. Part of her agonized that Buffy was fearful because of what had happened the night before, that seeing Willow turn Firestarter may have drawn some sort of line between them. If that was the case, Willow had messed up even worse than she could’ve imagined. She didn’t want to lose her best friend over the magic. It just wasn’t worth it.
“Gimme a sec,” Buffy said, her voice muffled from where she was rummaging around in her closet. She stepped back with two different pairs of slacks in her hands, her gaze jumping between each before turning to show them to Willow. “Black or blue?” she asked.
“Black,” she replied automatically. Her smile wavered when Buffy weighed the options again, and hung the black pair back in the closet. “Or blue,” she went on, determined not to let the snub get to her. “I heard it’s this season’s black anyway.”
“Since when is dressing myself so hard?” Tossing the blue pants to the side, Buffy walked back to her bed and plopped down, landing first on her stomach and then rolling hurriedly onto her back. Her hands flew to her abdomen, her eyes wide. “Crap,” she muttered. “I keep forgetting about being careful.”
“I think it’s OK,” Willow said gently. “You’re not even showing yet.”
Hormones. It had to be. Combine pregnancy jitters with all the brouhaha of the past week, stir in a little Spike, and it was no wonder that Buffy was all brou and no haha. Willow really had to stop overanalyzing everything or her head was going to go pop.
“You don’t even have to come with me,” she continued. “It’s probably going to be pretty boring. Just a lot of meditation and ohm-ing and stinky candles. That stuff can take forever to wash out of your hair.”
“No, I gotta.” Buffy sighed. “I have to know what’s going on with Graham, and if Giles isn’t having any luck getting answers, I’m going to have to have a crack at…cracking him.”
Willow only nodded. Truthfully, she didn’t want Buffy to go. This was the first time she was going to meet up with Esme, and Willow still hadn’t found the right time to tell her best friend that the new witch in her life was the same one who’d almost wrecked their summer. It was a conversation she was dreading having.
“What do you wear for an interrogation, anyway?” Buffy asked, rising back to her feet. “Do I go with pants, for that don’t-mess-with-me vibe? Or do I go the girly route and try and soften him with up a little leg?”
There was a knock at the door, saving Willow the need to answer. Letting Buffy return to her wardrobe dilemma, Willow went and answered it, opening up to a guy she didn’t recognize.
“Here,” he said, shoving a plain white envelope at her.
“What’s this?” She turned it over in her hands and saw Buffy’s name on the other side. Her heart jumped. She recognized that handwriting. It was Spike’s.
“I don’t know. Some guy gave me ten bucks to drop it off.”
“What’s the what?” Buffy asked as Willow closed the door.
“For you.” Silently, she handed it over, and watched as the question in Buffy’s face melted into something else when she saw the careful script.
Turning away, Buffy slit open the seal and pulled out a single piece of folded paper. It was impossible to see what it held, but the fact that the Slayer stood there for what seemed an eternity, reading it over and over and over again, told Willow all she needed to know.
“You might as well go on without me.” Buffy’s voice was reflective as she folded the note back up and set it on her desk. She returned to her closet and pulled out a long skirt. “Let Giles know I’ll be around later.”
“You’re meeting up with Spike?”
“Yeah. He says he’s got something to show me.”
Willow nodded. This was better. Being around Spike would put Buffy in a better mood when she showed up at Giles’. Maybe everybody would survive her encounter with Esme with body parts still intact.
The studs in her neck kind of freaked Xander out. It wasn’t that he thought he was all that uptight; body piercings on women could be the ultimate in sexy. Pierced belly buttons, for instance. He’d seen more than one flat stomach with a silver ball in it that made him want to get to his knees and use his tongue to worship the woman who wore it.
But on Havi…the studs made him squirm where he sat opposite her. Maybe it was because she just seemed so hard. He couldn’t shake the impression that those weren’t pierced through her skin; they were nailed in. And that she’d remained completely emotionless while whoever did the nailing did it. Of course, it didn’t help that she was as tall as he was, that she looked like she’d just walked off of American Gladiators after leaving a trail of unconscious bodies behind her, and that she could completely take him if it came down to a fight.
He squirmed some more. He’d just flashed on an image of a sweaty Havi, wearing one of those skimpy unitard outfits that were more spray paint than clothes, wrestling with an even more scantily clad female gladiator, and his cock had chosen that moment to practice its youthful right to go hard at a second’s notice. Well, more than a second. He’d been staring pretty consistently at Havi ever since she showed up at Giles’ door.
Hard? Yes, she was. Stoic? Most definitely.
But with a body to die for. Even if the studs still freaked him out.
Giles had tried to get him to leave when Havi had come in. “It’s likely that she’ll want discretion in what she wishes to discuss,” he’d said.
“Is this going to be about Willow?”
“Yes,” Havi had replied before Giles could intervene with another argument. “And your friend, Buffy. You are welcome to stay.”
That had been that. Giles couldn’t argue when the invitation came straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth.
“Before we start,” Giles said, “I’d like to know how exactly you’re aware of Buffy’s…condition.” He wasn’t sitting like Xander. Instead, he stood behind the couch, forcing Havi to look up to him.
She was unfazed by his obvious attempts to establish superiority. “Rose told me,” she said. “Before she died.”
“Rose?” It took a moment of playing back the story he’d heard earlier about the summer in London for Xander to have an idea about who this Rose was. “That’s who did the mojo that juiced Willow up, right?”
“As I understand it, she had no choice,” Havi said. “It was the only way to effectively neutralize the witch---.”
“This is not the time to defend the efficacy of Rose’s choice,” Giles interrupted. “It’s done, and now, it’s up to us to determine how best to aid Willow in dealing with the repercussions. Tell me, Miss Aronowicz, what exactly did Rose say to you about Buffy?”
“That she was expecting, and that the father was William Freston.”
Xander turned a confused frown to the Watcher behind him. “You said Spike was the dad.”
“He is. That’s his given name. Why would she tell you this?”
The last question was directed to Havi, and Xander sat back just in time for her to lift a curious brow. “Why wouldn’t she tell me?” she countered. “I was her Protector. If she could entrust me with her life, sharing simple details such as that would be nothing.”
“And yet, Rose is now dead. An interesting conundrum, don’t you think?”
Havi’s lips thinned, and if it was at all possible, she sat up even straighter in her seat. “That was out of my hands,” she said. “Rose said her death was both inevitable and necessary. I was instructed specifically not to intervene.”
“So you know who killed her?”
A long pause. “Yes.”
“Spike’s under the impression it was a Spaniard he was doing business with. A man named Baltozar Marroquin. Is that true?”
A longer pause. “Yes.”
“And yet you did nothing to prevent it.”
“There was nothing I could do.”
“What kind of Protector fails to do the one thing she’s supposed to?” Giles came around the edge of the couch to stand over her, his temper flaring. “For that matter, what exactly is this Protectorate you speak of?”
This was something she felt much more comfortable speaking about, and almost smiled as she addressed him. “For as long as there has been a Chosen One, there have been Guardians to help guide those who train her. They watch the Watchers, you could say.”
Giles sighed. “I know this part,” he said. “I’m interested in your role. I assume you’re some sort of bodyguard?”
“Exactly. There came a point, centuries ago, when the existence of the Guardians became threatened. The Protectorate was formed to preserve their continued survival. When Rose returned to her own time, I was assigned to protect her.”
“Where is this Protectorate?”
“They are everywhere. Evil proliferates in every corner, Mr. Giles. It would hardly do to have the most advanced security system in your home, and then leave the back door unlocked, don’t you think?”
“Yes, quite.” He was starting to pace, digesting the information she’d supplied already, but his lengthy pause grated on Xander’s nerves, driving him to speak before the Watcher could.
“What does any of this have to do with Buffy and Willow?” Xander asked. “I’m hearing guardian talk, and Watcher talk, and protector talk, but I’m not hearing any Slayer or witchy best friend talk. They don’t sound like they have anything do with you.”
Her dark gaze bored through him. “I was unsure myself until I arrived. Rose merely told me that Willow needed to be protected, that there was great danger in her future, and that I needed to come here and do what I can to keep her safe.”
Giles stopped in mid-pace. “She didn’t specify what this danger was?” he asked carefully.
Havi shook her head. “Just that I was to see you and enlist your aid in fulfilling my duty. I consulted the Protectorate upon my arrival to get clarification. They wouldn’t tell me what the specific threat was, but they did inform me why I’ve been involved.”
“And why is that?”
“Willow possesses great power now, and Rose’s death has considerably weakened the Guardians. They would like Willow to consider taking her place among their number.”
The proclamation left both men stunned. “But…Willow is just a child,” Giles stammered. “And hardly in control of her powers.”
“All the better for her to join them as soon as possible,” Havi said. She seemed unflustered by the questions. “She is young enough yet to be molded to the strictures of the Guardians. They will help her hone her magic to best serve the greater good.”
“No,” Xander announced, shaking his head. “No, no, no. Willow is not some cosmic play-doh for your bosses to try shoving into their presses. Everyone’s been saying how she’s got too much magic now. You know what happens when you shove too much play-doh into one of those presses? You break the press. And play-doh squeezes around the sides and gets all over the place. Big mess. Trust me.”
“Xander, I’m not sure that analogy is entirely appropriate.”
“Isn’t it?” He turned to Giles. “Don’t tell you’re actually considering this.”
“There’s nothing for me to consider. If this is the case, the choice is entirely Willow’s to make.”
“The Watcher is right, Mr. Harris---.”
“However...” Giles wasn’t as willing just to accept this as Xander had thought. “…there is far too much going on in Willow’s life right now for her to be confronted with such a serious decision. I will agree to support your need to protect her, based on Rose’s visions, but I would ask that you refrain from posing the other to her until she’s in better control of her new powers. She’s of little use to the Guardians until then anyway.”
“Agreed.” Havi rose to her feet. “Thank you for being so reasonable, Mr. Giles. Rose told me that you were a man of intelligence. I’m glad to see that her championship of your acumen was founded in truth.”
She was already heading for the front door, as if her business was concluded, and both Giles and Xander trailed after in confusion.
“Is that it?” Xander asked. “You drop this bomb and just go? What about Buffy? You never said what any of this has to do with her.”
She hesitated, her hand on the doorknob. “I didn’t say because I don’t know,” she confessed. “Rose only explained about the Slayer’s new circumstances, and that I was to come to the Hellmouth and give my aid when the time came.”
“And that time is…?”
“I don’t know. I only know she said I would recognize it when it arrived.”
“Willow will be here in a short while,” Giles said. “You should stay so that we can explain this to her together---.”
“No.” Pushing the door open, she crossed the threshold into the dusky evening. “Please don’t tell Willow what I’ve said. If she isn’t to make this decision now, I’d rather not burden her further when she has so much already to think about. It will only make her uneasy, and that makes protecting her more difficult.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. “If you need to get a hold of me, this is my cell number. I’m willing to give you help in demonhunting, or your problems with the men after the werewolf, or anything else. I’m more than capable. All you have to do is ask.”
She was walking through the courtyard before either man could speak, leaving them in silence.
“You know,” Xander said, “something tells me she’s someone I would want on my side in a fight.” He glanced at Giles. “You think she’s telling the truth? About just wanting to help Buffy and Willow?”
“I’d like to think so,” he replied. “But we should still exercise caution when we deal with her.”
Xander followed him back inside, but not without another inopportune mental image of Havi. Still in the unitard, but this time her long limbs were twisted in the yoga contortions he’d seen in more than one of the exercise videos he occasionally filched from his mother’s collection.
Damn it. He was hard again. And this time, he couldn’t even do something about it because that stupid Graham guy was in the bathroom.
It was going to be a long night.
She stood outside the Espresso Pump, frowning at the surprising number of people going inside. What was so special about coffee at this time of night? Buffy wondered. And why would Spike want to meet her here?
A faint tingling on the back of her neck diverted her from staring at the coffee shop, and Buffy turned to survey the street, trying to determine where the vampire could be hiding. The sun had only just set, but the sky was still streaked with flames of orange and red. Only the most suicidal vamps would be out in the open already, so what exactly was provoking her Slayer senses?
Her eyes settled on a parked car near the alley, one that had most definitely seen better days. Its windows were blacked out. There was her vampire.
As she walked up to the passenger side, Buffy’s hand slipped into her purse, curling around her stake. Up close, the paint wasn’t as thick, as though it had been applied hastily, and she leaned in to try and peer through one of the cracks.
“Gotta say, I love this particular view.”
She whirled at the sound of Spike’s voice, heat flooding her cheeks as she watched him lift his eyes from where he’d been staring at her ass. Leaning against the building at the mouth of the alley, he was shadowed from the remaining sun, a lit cigarette dangling from his lips as his eyes twinkled in amusement.
“Didn’t know you had a thing about peeping,” he continued. “I’ll have to file that one away for future use.”
Releasing her hold on the stake, Buffy crossed to join him in the alley. “What’s the big surprise?” she asked. “Your note was pretty heavy on the cryptic.”
He jerked his chin back at the car. “You were looking at her.”
Puzzled, she turned around and gave the car a closer inspection. It was a two-door, black Thunderbird that looked like it had come straight out of “American Graffiti,” but she only knew the make because of the silvery writing across its back wing. The black was being generous, though; the paint was severely chipped in more than one place, and almost faded to gray in others. Whitewall tires helped add to the Happy Days look, but when she stepped around to see its front, that effect faded. A bright and shiny new grille beamed back at her, its ornate decoration looking remarkably like fangs.
“Know she’s not much to look at,” Spike said, venturing forward from the shadows. “But the engine’s solid, and there’s plenty of room in the boot for weapons or baby stuff or the like.”
“This is, like, fifty years old.”
“Yeah.” A nostalgic grin was on his face. “They don’t make ‘em like this any more.”
For a reason, she thought, but held her tongue. He was obviously so pleased with what he’d done that she didn’t have the heart to drag him down with any snide remarks. But there was one question she had to ask.
“Where’d you get it?” Buffy said. It was too nonchalant, and the fact that she couldn’t even look at him while she asked it probably made it all too clear that she worried he’d killed someone for it.
“Oz hooked me up with a bloke who knows how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Took one look at me and knew I’d treat his baby right.” His hand shot out and grabbed hers, tugging her away from the car and into his arms. “It’s all legit, Buffy. Papers are in the glovebox if you want to see them.”
One look into the dark blue of his eyes, and she just shook her head. “I believe you,” she said. “But I thought you didn’t have much money. Of course, he probably paid you to take it off his hands---hey!”
She grinned and twisted away when he pinched her for her insolent remark. “Made him a deal he couldn’t refuse,” Spike said. “But yeah, it means I’m just about tapped out in the way of funds right now. She’s worth it, though. A lick of paint and a decent stereo, and I could probably sell her off for twice what I paid.”
Going back around to the passenger side, Buffy tested the handle and found it unlocked. To Spike’s credit, the interior was in much better condition. Black leather lined the seats and the dashboard sparkled from a recent clean. Only the smell of fresh paint detracted from it.
“Fancy a ride?” He was suddenly behind her, his arm around her waist as he pulled her gently back against his chest. “Got a full tank of petrol, just in case you might.”
She couldn’t help but relax in the circle of his arms. “You told me to dress up,” she said, plucking at her skirt. “I almost thought you wanted to go out.”
“I just want you to have the option.” His mouth was buried in the crook of her neck, his lips ghosting over her skin. “Still have enough dosh left to take you out proper, if you want.”
She sighed. “I can’t,” Buffy said. “I’m supposed to head over to Giles’ to help with the interrogation later on. And Willow’s got her first meeting with the coven witch tonight. I wanted to be there to support her.”
He stiffened as soon as she mentioned Willow’s name. “Don’t s’pose Red told you anything about who they’ve hooked her up with,” he said carefully.
“It looks like we’ll be takin’ a drive, then.” Stepping back, Spike held the door open and nodded for Buffy to get in. “Got something you need to hear ‘bout Red’s new teach, and as much fun as it might be to see you take it out on the locals, I think you might end up regretting that later.”
It had been a long, impossible day for Maggie. Minutes crawled. Her students were even more dim-witted than usual. Someone keyed her car in the staff parking lot. By the time she reported to the Initiative’s base at sundown, her temper was not just short, but completely gone, leaving her barking and sniping at any who dared to address her.
And all because of one missing soldier.
She didn’t know if Graham was dead or alive. By the time she reached her office, Maggie didn’t care. All she wanted was an answer, to know one way or another what exactly had happened.
When Graham had failed to report in at his designated hour, Maggie’s stomach had plummeted while the night of Riley’s death replayed in her head. This werewolf was costing her good people, and she was getting sick and tired of losing to it. Recon had brought in the dead body of Graham’s partner, but the fact that Miller was nowhere to be found was diminished by the knowledge that his tracking device was all too quickly located. Right at the scene of the crash.
Miller was either AWOL, dead, or taken hostage. Maggie didn’t like any of the options.
She liked even less that she was being ordered to abandon the werewolf project. According to the memo she’d been sent, “the number of deaths associated with the HST’s retrieval greatly increased the risk of exposure, and thus its benefits are outweighed by the need for security.” The phone call she’d placed to debate the merits of the memo had been fruitless as well, leaving her half a dozen men down, werewolf-less, and with a potential security leak in the missing Miller.
She hoped for his sake that he was dead. The Initiative would not take too kindly to a breach in their operations.
The only bright spot of her day came with another phone call, this time from the airport. At least one thing was according to plan. And he’d even be able to attend class in the morning for introductions. It was still possible to keep her sights on the Slayer after all.
Now, if she could only get her hands on Graham again.
To be continued in Chapter 23: Blame Me Not…