DISCLAIMER: The characters are
Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet LV.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy has admitted to Spike that she loves him, Esme has deduced what she needs to do to get her magic back, and Havi and Baltozar have had a huge fight, resulting in her walking out on him…
Buffy’d hoped to sneak back into her dorm before anybody else was up. This spending the night at Spike’s hotel was starting to make her look skanky. But when she’d tried slipping out of the bed before dawn, Spike’s arm had curled around her waist, pulling her back into his naked body and against his rock-hard erection, and the rest was just a matter of nature taking its course.
In fact, nature decided to take a couple laps. Which was why she was only now drumming her fingers on the arm rest of the passenger door, waiting for Spike to pull up to a comfortable enough stop before hopping out and making the run for her room.
“You’ve got time until your first class,” Spike said. One hand twisted the wheel to navigate closer to the curb, while the other reached across the distance between them and curled around her wrist to tug her toward him. “No reason to be so jumpy.”
“I’m not jumpy,” Buffy protested. “I just don’t want to look like a ho. Getting that kind of a rep my first few weeks will stick, no matter what I do, and that’s trouble I don’t need.”
He nuzzled his face in her loose hair, just breathing in her scent. He’d been doing that a lot since she’d let slip how she really felt about him, and while Buffy found it more than a little endearing the way he still seemed so in awe of the revelation, the smelling thing was borderline creepy.
“Could just stay with me,” he murmured. A cool hand began stroking along the exposed skin at her waist, sending shivers along Buffy’s spine in spite of the heat inside the car. “Forget this dorm nonsense and let me take care of you, good and proper.”
“Oh, because that’s an excellent way to win over Mom’s support.” Firmly, Buffy extricated herself from his embrace. “It’s too soon, Spike. You know that. Mom’ll freak if she finds out I’m bailing on school stuff, and the first person she’s going to blame is you. You want this to be even harder than it is?”
Scowling, Spike slumped back in his seat, pulling his cigarettes out from his duster pocket. “Sure,” he said, sticking one between his lips. “Throw logic back in my face.”
She plucked the cigarette from his mouth and slid back to her side of the car. “And no smoking in front of me any more,” she chided. Pushing open the door, she checked for ambient light before letting it swing wide, dropping the cigarette to the ground and smashing it with the toe of her boot. “I actually have lungs that still work.”
“Bossy bint,” he grumbled, but shoved the pack into his pocket with enough good humor to tell her that he didn’t really mind all that much.
Buffy got out of the car, then turned when a soft roar of an engine pulled up behind the Thunderbird. She watched as Oz nodded at her through the windshield, only calling out in greeting when he climbed out of the van.
He didn’t say a word as he strolled up to her side, peering inside and giving another nod to Spike. “This what Devon’s friend set you up with?” he asked Spike.
“Yeah. Owe you a pint for hooking me up with him, mate.”
“Sounds like a fair trade.” He straightened, looking back to Buffy. “Is everything all right with Willow?” he asked. “She’s usually around when I wake up.”
Her blood chilled. Oz still didn’t know about what had happened at Giles’. Crap. Why did she always have to be the bearer of not so great tidings?
But she didn’t get any further before he caught on to her reluctance. “What happened?” Oz demanded. “You didn’t just come from the hospital, did you?”
“No. Willow’s up in our room. But…things were a little shaky last night.”
In the car, Spike snorted. “Only for the old witch. Red gave her what-for, for tryin’ to pull that kind of stunt.”
“We’re not sure. Esme passed out right after. Giles was going to find out what exactly was going on.”
“But Willow’s all right?”
“She should be. I never heard from her otherwise.”
With a curt nod, Oz took a step toward the dorm and then stopped, choosing instead to bend down again and address Spike. “What’re you doing today?” he asked.
“Didn’t have any plans.”
“Feel like coming with me to Giles’?”
“So long as it’s not for tea and crumpets.”
Oz straightened. “I’m going to check on Willow before heading over and finding out what happened.”
“What about psych class?” she asked.
“I’ll get Willow’s notes later. I’ve got a feeling this is a little more important.”
No better way to start the day than with sugary goodness, Xander thought with a smile as he took the bag from the cashier. I’ll just eat my donut and then---.
He stopped in mid-turn. A bowed head at a table outside the Espresso pump had caught his attention, and the sight of the unmistakable neck studs had made his body instantly hard.
I’m a sick, sick bastard, Xander groused silently as he stared at Havi’s back. It was the only explanation why just the sight of the piercings would arouse him so. Of course, he’d spent the greater part of the previous day fantasizing about her in one way or another, so maybe it was just the fact that he really, really, really needed to get laid that was sending his body into overdrive just from seeing her back. Yeah, that was it. Had to be.
Carefully, he edged away from the counter, taking care not to spill his steaming coffee. Maybe she won’t see me. His eyes darted to where his beat-up car was parked on the curb outside, just a few feet away from she sat, and he frowned. Only if I suddenly turn into the Invisible Man.
Of course, he’d somehow managed to get in without even seeing her there, so maybe it was just a matter of keeping his eyes away and being nonchalant. In and out, like getting coffee and donuts was the most natural thing in the world for him.
His cock twitched.
OK, maybe in and out was the wrong phrase of choice here.
With his eyes downcast, Xander pushed open the coffee shop door, keeping his attention on his coffee and doing his best to look deep in thought. Even if she did see him, maybe she wouldn’t bug him for fear of disrupting some internal concentration. He’d actually taken two whole steps to his car when he heard it.
Damn it. He recognized that sound.
His two best friends were girls. There was no way on this green earth he could not know what a post-crying jag sniffle sounded like. And Havi was the only one on the outside patio, other than himself, and he knew for a fact that he hadn’t been the one to make the noise.
His feet hesitated, and he risked stealing a glance sideways.
A paper cup of coffee sat on the table in front of her, a shiny film across its surface indicating its age. Today’s newspaper was folded open to the classifieds at her side, but Havi was no longer looking at it, staring instead at some spot only she could see on the sidewalk. She still wore the clothes she’d worn the previous day, rumpled slightly as only twenty-fours of continued wear could do, but at her neck, barely visible beneath her shirt’s collar, was a sight Xander was all too familiar with.
Bruises. Hand and finger-shaped bruises so large as to only be of the male persuasion.
He was stepping forward before he could tell his feet not to, and the hand with his coffee lowered to set his own cup in front of her.
“It tastes a lot better when it’s hot,” he said. He flashed his widest smile when she turned dark eyes to stare at him. “Go on. Try mine for comparison.”
She didn’t move, just continued to look at him, her gaze unwavering, inscrutable. This close, he could see the unmistakable swelling in her face that could only come from crying, but all evidence of it was gone, the whites of her eyes clear, her cheeks free of tear tracks. Only the sniffles remained.
“Mr. Harris,” she said, in that curiously accented voice of hers.
“Xander,” he corrected. “The only time anyone calls me Mr. Harris is when they think I’m my dad, or I’m in trouble, and neither of those options has me jumping with joy, let me tell you.”
“Why are you here?”
His smile faded in confusion, and he lifted his donut bag to give it a little shake. “Same reason you are, I think.”
“No.” She looked pointedly at his coffee, and then back to him. “I meant, why are you giving me your drink?”
He shrugged. “Because yours is cold.” He waved to the other seat. “Can I sit down?”
Her nod was tentative, her dark brows thickening as they drew together. Ignoring her discomfort, Xander straddled the other chair, ripping open his bag and settling it between them. “Help yourself,” he said.
Now he knew something really was wrong. He was sharing his donut. With Havi, of all people. That was the second sign of the apocalypse, wasn’t it?
She didn’t take any, but the set of her shoulders softened, her pose relaxing slightly in the uncomfortable seat. “I’m not hungry,” she said in explanation. “But…thank you.”
Now that he was actually talking to her, Xander wasn’t so sure of what he was going to say. Mentioning the clothes was out; girls hated having wardrobe issues brought up. And he really didn’t want to bring up the bruises if he didn’t have to. How would he explain that he’d seen them? “I was staring at your neck and thinking how much I’d like to jump your bones, and gee, did some guy use you as a punching bag or something?”
Yeah. That would go over really smooth.
So, he picked the most innocuous thing he could find to start a conversation.
“Whatcha looking to get?” he asked, nodding toward the newspaper.
Her eyes flickered to her side, a shadow darkening her face. “A place to stay,” Havi replied.
“I think it must be that time of the month or something,” he joked, remembering Giles’ comments about Spike and Wesley needing to find someplace to live in Sunnydale as well. “Getting tired of the Holiday Inn party lifestyle?”
“I’m not staying in a hotel.”
“Oh. Friends kicking you out then? I hate it when that happens, though in my case, it wasn’t a friend, so much as my dad. But he did let me move back in after the summer. And charged me the rent to prove it.”
“No. I’m not…” She paused. She was having trouble meeting his eyes, he realized, but he waited as she reached and pulled a tiny morsel from his donut. “Where I’ve been staying…is no longer entirely safe.”
He wasn’t stupid. He knew exactly why it wasn’t safe. And for some reason, watching her nibble at the crumb she’d taken from his offering, Xander wanted to be part of the solution to help her get that feeling of security back.
“Let’s see here,” he said, reaching across the table to grab the paper. He scanned the columns, noting the smudges where her fingers must’ve lingered extra long. “Well, this one’s out of the question. Bad neighborhood. Lots of miscreants. Lots of mister-creants, too, for that matter.”
“What are you doing?”
He glanced up. Havi watched him, confusion clear on her face. “Helping you find a place.”
“Because you said you need a place.”
“But I didn’t ask for you to help me. Why are you doing this?”
Chewing at his cheek, Xander considered his words before answering. “You’re here to help Willow and Buffy, right?” he finally said.
“There you go then.”
She shook her head. “I still don’t understand.”
He dropped the paper to the table with a sigh, leaning forward to address her more directly. “Willow and Buffy are my best friends. That puts you and me on the same side, which, frankly, is more than a little reassuring considering I think you could probably take both Xena and Wonder Woman without even breaking a sweat.” He felt a twinge of satisfaction when her lips quirked. Maybe she wasn’t so hard after all. “So, since I happen to be a resident expert on everything Sunnydale, it only makes sense that you let me help you find someplace to live that doesn’t need anything more than the requisite stake beneath the pillow in order to be safe.”
Taking another pinch from the donut, Havi chewed it thoughtfully before giving him a curt nod. “I accept,” she announced, and then paused before adding, “Though I’d prefer to think that I would be even more effective against real warriors.”
He did a double take. “Was that a joke you just made?” Xander said, amazed. There had to be an apocalypse on the way. Buffy was pregnant by Spike, Willow was setting mysterious vigilante guys on fire, and now Havi was cracking jokes. He glanced up at the sky. Still blue. No hellfire raining down.
Might be worth it just to be careful anyway.
Spike ignored Giles’ disparaging looks as he propped his boots up on the coffee table. “What’s a bloke got to do to get some blood around here?” he complained in a too-loud voice.
“How is Willow?” Giles asked Oz, deliberately turning his back to the blond on the couch.
“Better. How’s Graham?”
“Still not speaking to me.”
“Well, that’s a bloody surprise,” Spike said, dryly. “You’re too busy serving the wanker his breakfast on a silver soddin’ tray. His mouth’s probably too full to do any talkin’.”
“I’m hardly goin’ to starve the man, Spike.”
“Well, you’re piddlin’ about with this interrogation business. He’s not goin’ to talk ‘til you give him a reason to, Rupert. Pull out the knives, show him the stakes. Do something. Buffy didn’t go to the bother of bringing him in to have you flake out on this.”
Giles lips thinned, his nostrils flaring, and for a second, Spike thought the Watcher might actually take a swing at him. “As a matter of fact,” he said, “I do have a plan. And since you’re here, you can help. I could use your particular expertise.”
Spike leapt to his feet, rubbing his hands. “That’s more like it. Show me the weapons. Let’s get this torture rolling.” He froze when he spotted the book Giles thrust at him. “What’s this?”“Your torture.”
“It’s old and dusty. Must be your datebook.”
“It’s a spellbook, actually. I believe it’s even older than you are.”
“And…what? I’m s’posed to thump him over the head with it until he spills what you want to know?”
Giles sighed, shoving the book into Spike’s hands and turning back to the kitchen. “We’re doing a truth spell. And your treat for showing up unannounced is getting to prepare the translation.”
He’d been about to sit again when the announcement came. “What? You’ve got to be bloody kidding me!” He trailed after Giles, holding out the book. “In case you hadn’t noticed, Rupert, my reputation when it comes to spellcasting is less than sterling. In fact, it’s pretty damn piss poor, so if you think---.”
“That’s why you’re not casting the spell. You’re merely helping me finish the translation while Oz fetches the remaining ingredients.” Giles held up a warning finger. “And don’t try to tell me you can’t,” he said. “I’m very well aware of your education.” He paused, his gaze calculating. “As is Buffy, I believe.”
There it was. The gauntlet. Thrown down in the form of a bloody book. There was no way Spike could refuse to help. Not without looking bad to Buffy.
Teamwork, she’d said. That was supposed to mean helping her tear the heads off the baddies out on patrol, not becoming some sort of unbreathing Latin primer for the tweed set.
He glared down at the text he still held in his hands. “Didn’t figure I’d be the one cracking the books today,” he said.
“Looks like I turned out to be the lucky one, then,” Oz said from the kitchen entrance. “Maybe you should ask Buffy to take notes for you, too.”
For a moment, Giles seemed flummoxed by the camaraderie between the two younger men, but Spike did nothing to ease his obvious questions. Let the old man stew a bit, he thought. Serve him right.
“What about Esme?” he asked instead, changing the subject at hand. It was a topic nearer to his interest, and Spike was surprised that Oz hadn’t jumped at it as soon as they’d stepped through the Watcher’s front door. Of course, Oz didn’t really seem like the jumping sort, and when Giles had immediately launched into the vigilante issue---which was just as important to Oz, for just as personal of reasons---there hadn’t been much opportunity for him to ask.
“She’s still unconscious,” Giles explained. “Wesley phoned me first thing this morning to let me know. As soon as he has the opportunity to question her, he will.”
“She’ll just lie to you,” Spike said. “That’s what she does.”
“Maybe we can do the truth spell on her, too,” Oz offered.
“Hopefully, it won’t come to that.” Ripping a sheet off his notepad, Giles handed it over to Oz. “This is the list of the ingredients I need. Hurry back so we can get started.”
“Oh, yes, do hurry,” Spike muttered. He stalked back to the living room and collapsed onto the couch, the book heavy in his hand. “Before the magic’s gone out of this relationship entirely.”
The thing about magic was that, for some inexplicable reason, it was always smelly. Spike didn’t care that he couldn’t breathe, but turning off one of his favorite senses just because Rupert wouldn’t know the right end of a bunch of motherwort from his ass hardly seemed fair.
Necessary, though. Because the entire flat stank to high heaven, and Spike was fairly sure that hell had got a good whiff of the stench as well.
The vigilante guy sat in the middle of the floor, still chained, a circle of herbs scattered around him. Oz stood near the open doorway, getting what fresh air he could, but Giles had recruited Spike to be in charge of the stinky portion of the spell, waving his little sheaf of weeds back and forth as he followed the Watcher around the circle, Rupert all the while reading the spell out loud.
He felt bloody ridiculous.
“Let no untruths be spoken,” Giles finished. He stopped where he faced Graham, tilting his head as he scrutinized the young man.
Spike sighed. “Well, get on with it then,” he complained as the seconds stretched on. “The thing about truth spells is that you’ve got to actually talk to the bloke you’ve mojo’d if you want it to be of any use.”
“Yes, quite…” Giles cleared his throat, pushing his glasses up his nose as he attempted to look stern. “I suppose we should start with some simple questions, then. What is your name?”
“Graham Dewitt Miller.”
There was no hesitation in the answer, which seemed to take Graham just as much by surprise as it did Giles. “And how old are you, Mr. Miller?”
“What town is this?”
Shaking his head, Spike tossed his herb bundle aside. “At this rate, we might get some real information ‘bout New Year’s,” he said.
“I’m testing the efficacy of the spell,” Giles explained.
“Then test it with something a little less obvious, mate. Those’re questions he would’ve answered with or without the mojo.”
Whether he would admit it out loud or not, Spike knew by the tightening of the Watcher’s mouth that Rupert recognized Spike had a point. He folded his arms across his chest and waited, blue eyes flashing in defiance, to see just whether it would make a difference.
“Mr. Miller,” Giles said, “do you know who I am?”
“No.” Graham squirmed against his chains, his stoic face creasing into probably the first expression Spike had seen on the man. “What did you do to me?” he asked, with a frown.
“It’s a truth spell.”
Graham grunted, shaking his head. “There’s no such thing as magic.”
For the first time, Spike grinned. “Well, this could be fun,” he drawled, but before he could say anything more, Giles was shooting him a dirty look, driving him to retreat to one of the stools at the breakfast bar to watch in glowering quiet.
“I assure you, magic is very real,” Giles continued. “And I’ve only resorted to such means because you’ve refused to talk to me any other way.”
“I can’t,” Graham said. “I’m under orders.”
It was the use of the word “orders” that pricked everyone’s ears. Combined with the shrinking the vigilante seemed to do within his chains, and Spike was suddenly much more interested in just what might get said.
“Orders?” Giles aped. “You’ve been instructed not to speak to anyone?”
“For what purpose?”
“It’s a top secret operation. The public can’t find out or it will create havoc.”
Graham was starting to get agitated, the sweat starting to drip from his forehead. Giles, however, seemed oblivious to the physical changes his captive was undergoing, and started pacing as he asked his questions.
“What is it exactly you’re doing?” he queried.
“We capture HST’s for study and rehabilitation.”
The room was silent while Giles waited for a reply. Finally, Spike piped in, “Forgot to phrase it in the form of a question, Rupert. Never heard of a little guy called Alex Trebek?”
“What is an HST?” Giles said to Graham, ignoring Spike’s commentary.
“Hostile sub-terrestrial. Demons.”
More silence, during which the only sounds were the chains rattling as Graham squirmed around and Giles’ quiet pacing.
“Am I the only one finding the idea of demons wearing stripes and making license plates just a little bit funny?” Oz said.
“Yes,” Graham replied.
Spike’s lips quirked at seeing the look of horror on the vigilante’s face at having answered such an inane question. “Think it’s funnier imagining a lot of these gits tryin’ to get prison stripes on a Fyarl without losin’ a chunk of flesh,” he said.
“You can’t be serious,” Giles said to Graham. “Why on earth would you capture demons instead of killing them?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is there some sort of…training program you have them undergo?”
“HST’s get implanted with a behavior modification chip. It renders them harmless to the general population.”
Something in the back of Spike’s mind triggered, and his amusement faded as he tried to grab hold of the thought. He barely registered Graham’s increasing distress, though the sound of the chains rattling was starting to reach ear-shattering levels.
“Were you under orders to capture Oz for such a chip?” Giles asked.
“And who gave you the orders?”
The scream that was torn from Graham’s throat was curdling, and before any of the men in the room could react, he had slumped to the side, unconscious.
Giles rushed forward, hands flying expertly over the body to search for signs of life. “He’s passed out.”
“What happened?” Oz asked, coming in from the open doorway.
“I don’t know. Spike, help me lift him to the couch.”
He acted without thought, crossing to lift Graham effortlessly from the ground and stretching him out as best he could within the confines of the chains. This close to him, it was impossible not to notice the smell of fear emanating from the unconscious man, or the way the blood vessels had popped in his skin around his closed eyes. He’d been straining against something, and by the looks of it, it hadn’t felt pretty.
“Mr. Miller may not have believed in magic,” Giles observed, “but I’d wager whoever he works for does. I think he was triggered in some way to black out before revealing anything too incriminating.”
“Buggered, is more like it,” Spike said.
“It would appear that Xander’s observation might’ve been correct after all.”
“What was that?”
With a sigh, Giles removed his glasses and began to absently clean them. “Xander was convinced this was somehow related to the military. I…brushed him off.”
The reference to the military set off even more alarms in Spike’s head, and he frowned in consternation. There was something innately familiar about all this, but what it was exactly, he couldn’t quite put his finger on. He’d just have to mull it over while they waited for the git to wake up, though already, he was starting to get a headache from the combination of stinky herbs and forced concentration.
He sincerely hoped Buffy was having a better day than he was.
There was something oddly reassuring about walking to class with Willow. As weird as the past few days had been, and as much new stuff as had been thrown at her to deal with, Buffy knew she could find comfort in the familiar pattern of stepping down concrete paths, books tucked in her arm, gabbing away with Willow about boyfriends and bemoaning her own ineptitude at the academic arts. It made thinking about all the mystery and all the drama just a little bit easier. Simpler. Like this was the pattern of her world and all she had to do to follow it was put one foot in front of the other.
It helped that Willow was being so weirdly supportive of Spike. Buffy had called her on that again, up in their room after Oz had left, and had got the same non-answer Willow had given the last time she’d asked the question.
“He’s the father of your baby,” she’d said. “Don’t you want me to be supportive of him?”
What was she supposed to say to that? So, she took the gift of the acceptance for what it was, and filed it away as something that they’d talk about at a much later date, preferably one after this magic business was fixed for Willow.
For her part, Willow seemed in much better spirits today, babbling away about what was coming up in class and the joys of advanced education as only she could do. It wasn’t until they were entering the lecture hall that Buffy brought up the incident with Esme.
“I don’t know,” Willow said in response to how she felt about it. “On the one hand, I’m still all freaked out by it, you know, with the not knowing what I’m doing part or what Esme wanted in the first place. And on another hand, it’s kind of empowering, because Giles is really kind of right. I can take care of myself. And then, on another hand, there’s this whole sense of awe that I’ve got all this power tucked away in me, just waiting to come out, and wouldn’t it be cool if I could just figure out how to harness it. And then, I think that I’m just a freak no matter how I look at it, because apparently, I have three hands.”
Buffy giggled at the image. “Could you see me with three hands?” she asked. “I would be so effective then. Cut patrolling time right in half, I bet.”
They were still laughing over the advantages of various extra appendages when the doors to the lecture hall opened and Dr. Walsh came striding confidently in, a tall young man a few steps behind.
“Good morning,” she said to the class, setting her folders down on the desk. “As you can see, I’m not alone today. Though Riley will be sorely missed, I have found a replacement for him, so that both you and I can make this a productive semester. You, because you won’t have to put up with me all the time, and me, because I won’t have to do all my own grading any more.” A small titter rippled through the room. “You don’t know him, as he’s not a student here, but I can assure you his credentials are impeccable. I taught him myself, back in New York, and he was one of my star pupils.
Stepping aside, she half-turned toward him for the introduction. “Ladies and gentleman, I’d like you to meet my new teaching assistant, Robin Wood.”
To be continued in Chapter 26: To Play the Watchman…