DISCLAIMER: The characters are
Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet LXI.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: With Spike and Oz’s help, Giles cast a truth spell on Graham and discovered the truth about why the Initiative is after the demons, but Graham passed out when asked about who he works for; Xander ran into Havi and volunteered to help her find a new place to live; and Maggie introduced her new teaching assistant, Robin Wood, to Buffy’s psych class…
It was hard not to stare. He hadn’t seen any pictures, and he’d only had the brief document Maggie had faxed to him in New York---and he really had to have a talk with her about her prose; working with the military was turning it into tumbleweed---but Robin spotted Buffy Summers even before Maggie so discreetly made her identity known by calling on her to answer a question.
It was the way she played with her pencil that convinced him. The dexterity. The controlled power.
Which was a good thing for the Slayer, because when it came to intelligence, Robin wasn’t entirely sure why she was wasting her time in college.
Not that she didn’t try. But when Maggie ignored all the raised hands and instead called on Buffy to answer the question about how to solve problems with the scientific method, the girl had stammered out an ass-backward reply that left Maggie tapping her foot and the Slayer flushed in embarrassment. The redhead sitting next to her had jumped in to answer when the Slayer lost the thread, but it didn’t stop the blonde from sinking into her seat, eyes returning to her notebook and her mind returning to whatever daydream had been involving her when she’d first been called upon.
He’d not really had a lot of contact with Slayers over the years, except for the odd occasions when a Watcher showed up on Bernard’s doorstep needing someplace for his Slayer to spend a night. Those were rare, and always awkward, and eventually they had stopped altogether as Bernard distanced himself from the Council. But in spite of his lack of physical interaction, Robin was very well-versed in the histories, the Watcher methodology, anything that was written down about the Slayers. He’d read it all.
Buffy Summers didn’t seem to fit anything he’d ever studied. Physical looks were always deceiving; he knew that. But this distracted, California girl thing she had going for her didn’t seem like an act. It was hard to believe that she’d survived almost four years as a Slayer, when his own mother, a woman more dedicated to the mission than any other he’d ever read about, had lasted only a little over five. It was even harder to imagine that Maggie was worried about her interfering in whatever projects the military was running these days.
This was going to be an interesting puzzle to fathom out. As long as he could get himself to stop staring at her long enough to actually concentrate on the teaching part of why he was in Sunnydale.
She’d never been so relieved for a class to end before in her life. As soon as Dr. Walsh dismissed them, Buffy was twisting to stuff her books into her bag, desperate to be free of the humiliation that still shrouded her like an ethereal dunce cap. Memo to self? Daydreaming equals bad. Just say no.
She hadn’t meant to drift away from the lecture. It was just that Dr. Walsh was so boring to listen to. The woman only had one tone to her voice, and Buffy was fairly certain she only had that one on loan. It was inevitable, really. And it wasn’t like she’d raised her hand to answer the teacher’s stupid question anyway. Shouldn’t that be the first clue that she wouldn’t know it if she was called on?
She heard a ripping sound as she shoved the last notebook into the bag, and grimaced as she turned it over and saw the tear in the bottom seam. “Great,” Buffy muttered. “The perfect ending to the perfect class.”
“Actually, I thought it was really interesting,” Willow chimed in with a smile. “And I don’t know why you’re complaining. The new TA has totally been checking you out all hour.”
“No, he’s staring at the stupid girl, wondering how she ever got into college,” Buffy replied.
Willow shook her head. “Nah, I’m going with checking out.”
She winced at the sound of Dr. Walsh’s voice, but put on her best smile when she turned to face the teacher. “Yes?”
“I’d like to speak with you for a moment. Please. Stick around.”
Buffy’s face fell the second Dr. Walsh turned away. “That can’t be good.”
“I’m sure it’s fine,” Willow assured. “I’ll just wait out in the hall for you.”
The lecture hall emptied far too quickly, leaving Buffy alone with Dr. Walsh and the new teaching assistant. She fiddled with her bag strap, holding the bottom so that the contents wouldn’t spill out, while she waited for the professor to notice her. When the TA finally caught Buffy’s eye, he leaned over Dr. Walsh’s shoulder and whispered something in her ear.
“Right,” Dr. Walsh said. Reaching across her desk, she pulled out a blank sheet of university letterhead and scribbled out a quick note, folding it in half when she was done and passing it to Buffy. “Here.”
Buffy frowned. “What’s this?”
“The deadline for getting full reimbursement when dropping courses has passed,” came the terse reply. “That’s my statement for you to give enrolment requesting them to waive that for you.”
It took a moment for what she was saying to sink in. “You want me to drop?” Buffy asked, amazed.
Dr. Walsh lifted her head and stared at her with cold eyes. “You’re dead weight, Miss Summers,” she said bluntly. “Clearly, you’re not able to keep up with the class, even at this elemental level. It’s in both of our best interests if you get out now.”
“Look, I know I was out of it today, but…” She hesitated, debating if the pregnancy was a card she was willing to play. It would explain her distraction and---. No. It would likely just convince the professor that it was an even better idea for her to drop. “I haven’t been well,” she said instead. “I’ve had this stomach bug, and it’s been affecting my sleep. Please, Dr. Walsh. I can do this. Just tell me how I can prove that to you.”
The woman’s lips thinned while she considered Buffy’s words. “Tutoring,” she finally said. “Demonstrate a strong score on the first test, and I’ll drop the matter.”
She almost sighed in relief. She could do tutoring; her best friend was a brainiac. This was going to be OK.
“Arrange a time to meet with Robin,” Dr. Walsh said as she picked up her materials and started heading for the door. “I expect improvement from you, Miss Summers. Don’t let me down.”
Buffy exhaled as soon as the woman was gone, turning back to face the assistant. “You know,” she said with her perkiest smile, “it’s really not necessary for you to help me. My best friend, Willow? She’s in this class, too, and wouldn’t you know it, but she tutored me all the way through high school, and did a bang-up job of it, I might add. I graduated and everything, and this really isn’t helping my credibility, is it?”
Robin shook his head. “Look, I know Dr. Walsh can be a hardass, but trust me, inside that crusty exterior lies the heart of a real bitch.” They smiled together at his small joke, and Buffy found herself relaxing even more. “If you’re serious about sticking it out, Buffy, this doesn’t have to be so bad. We’ll set up some regular study sessions, and by the time the test comes around, you should be flying high.”
“I don’t suppose you give money back guarantees,” she teased.
“No, but I can promise I won’t bite.” He held up two fingers. “Scouts honor.”
At the very least, Giles didn’t have to put up with Spike’s annoying commentary any longer. Ever since the hostage had passed out, Spike’s mood had grown increasingly ruminative, and he’d only made a single sarcastic remark while moving the unconscious Graham back to the bathroom. He’d not even said anything when Oz volunteered to stand guard while they waited for Graham to wake up. Though it had been a welcome relief when Giles retired to the kitchen to make a pot of tea, now, nearly ten minutes later and with silence still prevailing in the other room, Giles was beginning to get unnerved.
“All right,” he said, carrying the tray to the living room. “Out with it.”
Spike stopped in the path he’d been wearing into Giles’ floor. “Not exactly the most romantic proposition I’ve had today,” he said with a cocked brow.
“Something’s clearly on your mind.” He paused, wary of asking but unable to resist the temptation. “Is this about Buffy?”
Rolling his eyes, Spike resumed his pacing. “Right,” he said. “’Cause old William’s not capable of havin’ a thought that’s not about Buffy. Be sure to remind me of that next time you’re wantin’ to pluck my brain for a spot of translation.”
Giles bit the inside of his cheek to keep from snapping back. “My apologies,” he said, his voice tight. “I shouldn’t have presumed.”
Sitting on the couch, he poured a cup of tea while pretending not to watch Spike out of the corner of his eye. It was hard to admit, but his doubts were growing about his personal opinions on the vampire. So much of Buffy and Lydia’s vehemence seemed justified at times, and then to see Oz not only accept Spike as a friend but to defend him as well…Giles had always believed Oz to be one of the more astute of Buffy’s friends. How could he discount an opinion merely because he disliked the subject in question?
“There’s something familiar ‘bout all this,” Spike said. “I’m just havin’ a devil of a time tryin’ to put my finger on it.”
“About which?” Giles asked.
“This twaddle with bureaucrats sticking their nose into demon business. If I didn’t know better, I’d say this wasn’t the first time it’s happened.”
“It’s not. You must be thinking of the Watcher’s Council.”
Spike snorted in derision, waving his hand in dismissal. “You’re givin’ that lot more credit than they deserve. Besides, don’t tell me they fuss with the rehab, because we both know that’s not true. Search and destroy. That’s their creed.” He shook his head. “It’s something else. Something about the military that sparks it.”
“It’s a shame, then, that enhanced memory isn’t a vampire trait,” Giles said, turning back to his tea.
“You try livin’ for a century and see how good your recollections are.”
“Yes, well…” At least, he now knew what was bothering Spike. It was probably best to leave him to his attempts to remember in peace.
Except said vampire seemed to have found his tongue again. “Speakin’ of Buffy…” Spike said, coming to a halt in front of the couch.
“I thought you said you weren’t?”
“I’m not. But since you brought her up, what’s to be done with her patrols now that she’s got the little one on the way?” His face was deadly serious, his eyes dark. “Demons find out the Slayer’s pregnant and they’re goin’ to think she’s weak enough to take on. Things could get a little sticky around Sunnyhell if you’re not careful.”
It was a situation Giles had considered. Between worrying about that and the Council’s reaction when they found out---because it was inevitable that they would, later rather than sooner, hopefully---Buffy’s pregnancy had occupied more time than any of the other issues at hand combined, including Willow’s magic and the hostage currently unconscious in his bathtub. It was almost reassuring to hear that the more pragmatic aspects of it were troubling Spike as well.
“I thought that was part of your purpose here,” he said, as casually as he could manage. “To…be there for the Slayer? Stand by her as a testament to your feelings for her?”
Anger suddenly flared in Spike’s eyes. “This is an old argument, mate. I’m not in the mood to debate how I feel about Buffy. Accept it, and move on.”
“Fine. But I’m correct, aren’t I? You came to Sunnydale to help Buffy patrol.”
“That was part of it, yeah. But you know as well as I do that I can’t tell her she’s not goin’ to do something. Nothin’ gets her back up quicker.”
Giles sighed. Spike was right.
“I’m going to start working with her on relearning her center of balance,” Giles said. “It will help her until she realizes that she’s putting the baby at too great a risk by patrolling so regularly. The rest of us will have to take up the slack. We’ve done it before when Buffy’s been absent; I’m sure the others will be more than happy to do so again.”
“You get Red under control, she’ll be more powerful than the lot of you. Demons won’t stand a chance.”
He didn’t need to be reminded of the extent of Willow’s powers. “I’ll take that under advisement.”
Unexpectedly, Spike sat in the chair, leaning forward to rest his forearms against his knees as he addressed Giles. “I was planning on spreading the word in the community that takin’ on the Slayer means takin’ on me,” he said. “My rep should still count for something, and it’ll keep at least some of ‘em from even tryin’.”
Giles nodded. “If you’re comfortable with such a gesture, I think that’s a splendid idea.”
“Thing is, I don’t want Buffy to know.” His fingers twisted together as his gaze fell to the floor. “She’s got a lot to be dealing with right now, and---.”
“She would try to prove your contribution unnecessary,” Giles finished. “And probably do something foolhardy in the bargain.”
“Exactly.” He leveled his eyes, dark and solemn. “I’m not goin’ to be the reason she gets hurt, Rupert. I’ll stake myself before I let that happen.”
The funny thing was…Giles believed him. “I’ll do what I can to help,” he said.
With a relieved sigh, Spike leaned back, sprawling as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. “Now, if I could just bloody well remember this business about the military,” he complained good-naturedly. “Might make this day turn out a bit of all right, after all.”
He woke up cold and achy, his head feeling like a gang of Fyarl demons had used it for football practice. It had been a long time since Baltozar had had such a bad hangover, but considering how much he’d actually had to drink the night before, it wasn’t unexpected.
What was unexpected was the fact that Havi hadn’t returned yet. Her side of the bed was unslept in, and there was no sign that she’d been in the apartment since he’d passed out. That wasn’t a good sign.
In spite of the pain in his head, Baltozar sped through a shower, getting dressed in record time, before racing out the door. She had to have been hurt, doing whatever it was she was keeping from him. It was the only explanation why she wouldn’t have come back. So what if they’d had a fight? They fought all the time. It had never stopped her from coming back to him before.
Just to be safe, he checked the hospital first. Relief flooded through him when they told her there was no one admitted under that name, but that just started his internal questions of whether she’d been actually killed before she could get medical attention. She could have bled out, unable to ask for help, while he was lying passed out in their bed. He should’ve stopped her from going. If she was dead, he was never going to forgive himself.
Cemeteries were next. The scratches she’d had could’ve come from fights, and if she was looking for violence, slaying vampires was a good way to do it on the Hellmouth. But two hours of tromping through landscaped greenery---and how many fucking graveyards did one city need, anyway?---only turned up a few open graves, and the one body he found had clearly been dead for over a week. He just kicked it to the side in his frustration.
It was when he was heading toward the demon bar he’d found that he spotted her. She was emerging from a low apartment building, wearing the same clothes she’d left in the night before, but it wasn’t the small smile he saw on Havi’s face that almost made him crash into the parked car opposite. It was the dark-haired man holding the door open for her, the one who led her to the tiny, beat-up car at the curb and then held that door open for her, that made Baltozar want to rip the steering wheel from the driving column.
He drove around the block while he tried to calm his racing nerves. By the time he was in front of the apartment building again, Havi and her unknown friend were gone, though with as small as this town was, Baltozar wasn’t worried about picking up her trail. That wasn’t what he wanted, though. Instead, he pulled into the spot they’d left vacant and proceeded to head inside.
The manager’s office was just inside the entrance, and he silently gave thanks that it was a woman behind the desk. Elderly, sure, and just a few pounds shy of hitting that three hundred pound mark, but he had a better shot at getting information from her than he would a guy.
“Can I help you?” she asked, her eyes darting to the tattoos on his arms.
He gave her his most charming smile. “I was supposed to meet some friends here,” he said, and then smiled wider when she caught his accent. Stupid Americans. “Her name is Havi Aronowicz?”
“Oh! She and her boyfriend were just here. You’ve only just missed them.”
His blood chilled at the appellation, but he did his best not to let it show. “I don’t suppose you were able to help her?” he asked, glancing at the paperwork that was littered across the desk.
“Oh, my, yes. As soon as Xander agreed to vouch for her, I put her lease application straight into my accepted pile. He’s a good boy, that Xander Harris. He was best friends with my grandson until Jesse got killed their sophomore year. Tragedy, really. But Xander pulled through. He even took over mowing my lawn afterward, wouldn’t let me pay him a nickel…”
The rest of her babbling was lost on him as Baltozar’s ire flamed within his veins. So, Havi thought she was moving out, did she? He hadn’t done all this just to lose her at this point, and no do-gooder teenager was going to take her away. He’d skip out of the Hellmouth altogether if that was what it was going to take to get Havi’s head straight again.
He barely remembered thanking the old woman and making his way back out to the street. Climbing behind the steering wheel, Baltozar stared blankly at the road ahead while he debated what he was going to do next.
She was going to need her stuff. If Havi was going to try and move out, at some point or another she’d go back to their apartment for her few belongings.
Viciously, he turned the key in the ignition. He knew what he had to do now. Wait. Not exactly his strong suit, so if Havi didn’t want her new friend to lose more than his balls when they showed up, she’d better make it quick.
Her bones literally ached by the time she reached Giles’ door, but before Buffy could knock, it opened to reveal a frowning Watcher and a triumphant Spike standing not too far behind.
“Told you it was her,” Spike said. “One of these days, you might want to start believing me.” His glee faded as he drank in the sight of her, taking a step closer. “What’s wrong?” he asked, his voice softening.
Buffy shook her head, brushing past Giles to head straight for the sofa. “I’m dumb,” she complained, collapsing into the corner.
“You’re not dumb,” Spike countered. He sat down next to her, settling his arm across the back of the couch instead of touching her. “What happened?”
Though she had been frugal with public displays, especially considering how Giles had reacted about the baby news, Buffy acted on instinct, sliding across to nestle into Spike’s side. “My psych teacher hates me,” she mumbled as she buried her face in his shirt. “College sucks.”
The soothing flex of his muscles beneath her cheek was followed by a familiar arm around her back when he drew her even closer to him. “It can’t be that bad,” Spike murmured. Strong fingers began stroking her hair, settling some of the tension that had been eating at Buffy the entire walk from campus.
“It is. She tried to get me to drop her class today because she said I was dead weight.” Pulling back slightly, she met his worried gaze with a small pout. “I’m not dead weight, am I?”
The corner of his mouth lifted. “’Course not.”
“Is this the same teacher that Riley Finn worked with?”
In the circle of Spike’s arms, Buffy had forgotten that Giles was even in the room, and twisted to see him looking down at them with a frown on his worn face. “Yeah,” she said. “But she’s got a replacement for him already. Some guy named Robin.”
Spike snorted. “Limp-wristed nancyboy, if you ask me.”
“You wouldn’t say that if you saw him. Which, unfortunately, is going to be my fate three extra days a week for the next month.”
His arms stiffened around her. “What’s that?”
Briefly, Buffy explained what had happened, glossing over just how badly she’d fudged the answer when she’d been called on. “But it all comes back to the same thing,” she ended grumpily. “This whole college thing is just one big fat mistake.”
“Now you listen to me.” Grasping her upper arms, Spike held her slightly away from him as he leveled his gaze at her. “We’ve had this discussion, yeah? And I know I was a bit of an old-fashioned git at the time, but that doesn’t change the fact that you deserve to be at that school. It’s a door, Buffy. And it can be as simple to open it as you want it to be.”
Maybe it was something in his tone, or maybe it was the fact that he’d chosen her own words against her to make his argument, but in that second, Buffy wasn’t on Giles’ lumpy couch. She was back in the park, with an injured shoulder, trying not to cry as she told a sensitive young poet about why her life was so much harder than he might imagine.
“This…Angel,” William said, his gaze speculative, “if you will pardon my saying so…he rather strikes me as a fool.”
His words took her by surprise, and Buffy took a half-step back, looking up at him with wide eyes. “What?” she asked. “Why would you… you don’t even know him.”
“I daresay I don’t need to. You say he left?”
“And he gave you no opportunity for recourse?”
“He left without discussing any options for his staying?”
“But he said he loves you.”
His hand was still on her shoulder, and gently, his fingers began to knead the knotted muscles, relaxing her so surprisingly that her eyes fluttered shut so that she could give herself over to the sensation.
“He’s a fool because he left,” William murmured. His voice floated softly down to her, coaxing her to believe him. “Were I in his shoes, with a woman such as yourself wanting to be a part of my life, I would find whatever means possible to overcome the obstacles that separated us. He’s a fool because he didn’t even try.”
And here was Spike, trying beyond anything Angel had ever done. Staying even when he found out about the baby. Helping her friends, helping her, doing so much to try and make it easier for her. Not out of obligation, but because he wanted to. Because he loved her.
She launched herself at him, knocking him back against the cushions as her arms wound around his neck and her mouth attacked his. He responded immediately, fingers digging into her hips, and vaguely in the background, Buffy heard Giles mutter something about Oz before rushing away, leaving them alone in the room.
“Thank you,” Buffy murmured when they finally broke apart. She smiled, sinking even further into the depth of his gaze when he responded in kind. “Though I still think you’re being an optimist about this.”
Spike shook his head. “Got my eyes wide open here,” he said softly. “And I see my beautiful, brilliant Buffy right in front of me.”
She kissed him again, unable to give voice to the tumult of emotion coursing through her. This was right. He was right.
And they could overcome the obstacles together.
To be continued in Chapter 27: She That Makes Me Sin…