DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet XXV.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Maggie has put Graham into isolation in order to determine what has happened to him, Baltozar is planning to kill Willow at Esme’s request, and Spike and Buffy have had a fight about how she’s treating him…

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Chapter 31: The Painful Warrior Famoused for Fight

Six hours of brawling later, and Spike felt like a new vamp. Truth be told, he hadn’t really killed that many of the demons he’d found at Willy’s, but the fear he’d instilled by ripping apart the few he had was more than enough to accomplish what Buffy wanted. He’d colored the truth a little, making it look more like Buffy was granting him amnesty in return for a little help keeping the demon population under control. It wasn’t that he was ashamed of his feelings for her, but that was a weapon he didn’t want to just hand over to anyone who might feel inclined to use it. This way, Spike figured he looked like he was using the Slayer to return to power in Sunnydale, and Buffy got a brief respite from having to look like she had a weakness in a new relationship. It would be hard enough when news of her pregnancy leaked out.

It wasn’t the way she’d probably envisioned him going to work for her, but Spike was more concerned with getting the necessary results. Besides, she would likely never find out about his little tall tale. Buffy wasn’t known to sit around having lattes and chitchat with the demon set.

He went back to the hotel to shower. There were more cuts and scrapes to add to his current black-and-blue palette, but nothing extraordinary. Most of it washed away beneath the spray, turning the water to pink before Spike emerged feeling more refreshed than he had in days. He looked better, too, he wagered. Good enough to head over to the Summers’ house and take Joyce up on her offer.

The fight he’d had with Buffy still rankled slightly. Yes, she’d given him the green light to accept the housing offer if he wanted, but the fact that they’d had to have the blowout in the first place tarnished it. He wasn’t sure what he expected. Part of him understood this was a tumultuous time for Buffy, that between the mess about the baby, his arrival in town, and everything else, he couldn’t really expect that she’d be able to deal with it so easily. Another part of him wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her, tell her to snap out of it already.

Spike kept flipflopping about which part he should pay attention to.

He was checked out of the hotel, the few measly dollars he had left stuffed into his pocket, when he remembered what Joyce had said the night before. She was taking that Havi bitch over to the Watcher’s to confirm her story. She wouldn’t be home. Bugger. Without knowing when she’d be back, Spike was reluctant to head over and wait; he’d bake sitting in the T-bird all day.

He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel while he debated what he could do.

He was going to have to find a job sooner or later. His cash was close to gone and while he felt no compunction about nicking what he’d need, he knew there would be hell to pay if Buffy found out. Things were on enough of a tight rope as they were; this was one thing he’d always been prepared to cave on for her anyway.

Trouble was, he didn’t feel like looking for a job. He felt like seeing Buffy.

Right then. Decision made.

Humming, Spike spun the wheel of the car and headed for campus.

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

It had been an unsettling night, Xander staying long after Buffy and Spike had left, longer even after Mrs. Summers had gone to bed. He didn’t ask questions about what had been said, and he didn’t make any attempt to trick her into talking about it. Instead, he’d just turned on the TV and settled next to her on the couch, extolling the virtues of some program called “Mystery Science Theatre 3000.”

Havi fell asleep on his shoulder. She woke up to Mrs. Summers gently prodding Xander awake, the morning sunlight already filtering through the curtains behind her.

The sheer niceness of it all kept her on edge. Havi had known William the Bloody would react as he did, and had been prepared for it. She hadn’t been prepared to be believed by strangers, though, nor for Xander’s continued offers of friendship. He got nothing from helping her; it made no sense for him to go on doing so.

Yet he did. And he’d left that morning looking decidedly rumpled but grinning nonetheless, as if he’d been given some great gift.

Mrs. Summers was the epitome of graciousness, cooking Havi breakfast and lending her some toiletries for the shower. While it was impossible to completely relax---she kept expecting Buffy or Spike to come barging in to finish what had been started the night before---the chance to wash away the past twenty-four hours was as close to nirvana that Havi could hope to get these days.

It left her ready to face the Watcher as Mrs. Summers had requested.

There was a moment when Havi hesitated before getting out of the car, but the questioning glance from Mrs. Summers was all she needed to re-gird her strength. There was nothing to fear with this encounter. She had already spoken with Mr. Giles and walked away empowered, believed. She had revealed everything she knew to the Slayer. She had no more secrets to hide.

Why, then, did Havi have this sense of impending doom weighing her steps as she followed Mrs. Summers to his apartment?

The crushed flowers at his front window and the few inches the door stood ajar only confirmed it.

Without waiting for Mrs. Summers’ social niceties, Havi hurried past her to shove the door open the rest of the way, sending it crashing into the wall with a greater force than she intended.

“Wait here,” she ordered the older woman, holding up a hand to stop her from crossing the threshold.

Mrs. Summers nodded. It was as if she could see that Havi was completely in her element.

And she was. This was the life Havi had always trained for. This was the life she’d led as a Protector, first for the Guardians as a whole and then later for Rose. She was accustomed to seek out the danger that threatened those in her charge, and for the first time since coming to Sunnydale, Havi felt utterly in control.

The main room appeared untouched, a half-empty tumbler of whisky sitting forgotten on the coffee table. The light was still on in the kitchen. It was as if the Watcher had either been cleanly interrupted, or left with every intention of returning.

Havi stopped.

Listened.

The apartment still breathed.

Picking up a sheathed dagger from a nearby shelf, she held it at the ready as she crept forward. Dark eyes flickered upward to the loft. If someone was up there, she’d be able to turn and fight them the moment they started moving. Better to check the bathroom first.

She noted the open door just seconds before seeing the top of the Watcher’s head. He was on the floor in front of the sink, sprawled as if he’d collapsed on the spot. Rushing forward, Havi pushed the door open the rest of the way, revealing nobody else in the room, and then crouched at his side.

“Mrs. Summers!” she called out. “Come here!”

Her long fingers flew to Mr. Giles’ wrist. Though there was dried blood on his brow from some kind of blunt force, his pulse was steady and sure. Quickly, she looked around for the weapon and almost immediately spotted the red smear on the outer edge of the porcelain sink. Ah, now it made sense. He’d hit his head and been knocked unconscious.

The empty tub made Have amend her conclusion.

The captured soldier had been the force behind the blow. And now, he was gone.

“Oh, my god, Rupert!” All of Mrs. Summers’ fear vanished at the sight of the Watcher, and she bent to join Havi in looking him over for more injuries. “What happened?”

“He’s been hurt.”

“I can see that,” Mrs. Summers said, annoyed. She looked up and noticed the chains on the floor behind Havi. “What’s he doing with those?”

“Mr. Giles had a young man here.”

Mrs. Summers’ brows shot upward. “Really? But I always thought Rupert was straight.” Her gaze returned to the chains. “Though, oddly enough, those don’t come as a surprise.”

It took a moment for Havi to understand what the other woman was implying. “Oh. It’s not what you think. He brought the young man here the other night to chain him in the tub.”

“Somehow, that’s still what I’m thinking.”

“For interrogation purposes. Mr. Giles and the Slayer rescued the werewolf from him.”

Mrs. Summers began to relax. “Well, that does make more sense.”

Havi straightened. “The prisoner obviously escaped. Buffy will want to be told what’s happened. Can you tend to Mr. Giles while I go and get her?”

“You can find your way from campus from here?”

She kept her chin high. “I am familiar with where Willow and the Slayer reside. I needed to be in order to fulfill my orders to protect them.”

The room was silent. Then, Mrs. Summers reached into her pocket and extracted a thick keyring.

“Take my car,” she instructed. “You’ll get there faster.”

Havi faltered, but took the keys anyway. “How do you know I can drive it?”

Mrs. Summers smiled. “The way I figure it, even if you don’t, you still can’t be as bad as Buffy.”

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

Spike could only blink at Willow in dismay. “She’s in class?” he said, repeating her last words. “What in bloody hell is she doin’ there?”

Her smile was nervous, and she fidgeted with the hem of her sweater, her fingers unable to keep still. “Hopefully, not falling asleep like last time,” she said brightly. After a moment of awkward shuffling, she half-turned and gestured broadly toward the empty room behind her. “Wanna come in and wait for her to get back?”

He stalked across the threshold, his boots clomping heavily against the floor. When Buffy had given the excuse of an early class last night to get out of quality bonding time with Havi, Spike had thought she was kidding. He was going to have to get her to write down her schedule so he didn’t show up like such a fool any more.

Scurrying around him, Willow rushed to the window to pull the curtain against the morning sun. “Is something wrong?” she asked. “The way Buffy was talking over breakfast, it sounded like you two had patched things up.”

Bollocks. He’d forgotten the rule about best friends sharing everything they could about men. Drusilla had only ever really had Darla for the girly stuff, and he’d had Buffy all on her own back in the day. Or this past summer. Or both.

Bollocks. He hated trying to keep the timing shit straight.

“Just had a few hours to kill,” he said. He sat on the edge of Buffy’s bed, leaning back on his elbows to watch Willow flit around the room. “Think the better question is, how are you doin’, Red? Can’t say you’ve been frolicking in your usual annoying way since I hit town.”

“I’m dealing. It’s actually a little better now after Esme tried to voodoo me.”

“How’s that?”

She perched on her bed, facing him. Spike could practically see her need to talk about it pulsating beneath her skin.

“Because I’m not afraid of it any more,” she admitted. “Up ‘til then, everything about the magic wigged me out. It was always right there, bubbling away, and I was scared about it boiling over.”

“Smart thinkin’. That’s a lot of juice you’ve got there.”

“And it totally changed the way I was seeing people, too.” She was speaking faster now, like a locomotive gaining speed going down a sharp incline. “Everywhere I look, power just blinks back at me. Most of the time, it’s nothing, but sometimes, like when I look at Buffy, it’s blinding.”

While Spike had dabbled in his own magic a few times over the years, he was just a dilettante. He knew his limitations, and he’d learned enough to know there was a lot more to this mojo business then waving a few stinky herbs and chanting some bad Latin. What Willow said made sense.

“What do you see when you see Esme?” he asked, suddenly curious.

Her glee in being able to talk about this faded. “Dark,” she replied. “Like a…black hole. Like there had been great power there and just got…sucked away.”

Spike grinned. He couldn’t help himself. “That’s ‘cause it did, Red.”

She had the grace to blush. “I know, but…” She bit at her lip, contemplating her next words. “When she showed up at Giles’, I just wanted to run away. Not me, Willow---well, yeah, me too, but…something inside me. The magic, I think. I had to fight just to be in the same room as her.”

“Why fight it? Nothin’ good is goin’ to come of her bein’ around. Mark my word.”

“Maybe.”

“No maybe about it.”

She fell silent at that, obviously weighing the certainty in his voice against her own experience. “You know what it was like?” she finally said.

“Pray. Enlighten me.”

“Like two positive ends of a magnet. Or two negative ends. Doesn’t matter which.” She held up her hands in front of her, palms facing each other, and simulated trying to push them together but failing. “As long as they’re both charged the same, they repel each other. It felt like that.”

“Your mime act needs a spot of work, pet.”

“But you see my point, right?”

“Yeah. Now let me make mine, all right?”

“OK.”

He nodded toward her right hand. “Make that negative while the other stays positive. What happens then?”

Frowning, Willow regarded her hands for a moment. “They---.” She clasped her hands together, and her eyes widened. “Oh. Oops.”

“Rest my case, Red.”

Hastily, she separated her fingers and slid them beneath her, as if sitting on her hands would make his analogy less tangible. “Doesn’t matter,” she said. “Giles was right. She’s an old lady who can’t hurt me now. What happened the other night only proved that.”

Spike shook his head. “You’re askin’ for trouble, you know that, don’t you? Didn’t you learn anything this past summer?”

“You’re just paranoid because of what she did to you and Buffy.”

“Bloody right, I’m paranoid!” He shot up, indignant at her casual dismissal of his worries. “What’s it goin’ to take for you to realize you’re playin’ with fire here, little girl? Magic or no, you’re still a fuckin’ child compared to that old bitch. She’s had a whole lifetime to get around the track, and you’re just gettin’ out of the starting gate. There’s not a chance in any hell dimension you wanna name that you can suss out what evil plan she’s hatching, and by the time you do find out, someone’s goin’ to get hurt, or be dead already. You want that on your conscience?”

She’d gone increasingly pale during his rant, and vehemently shook her head at his final question.

Spike relaxed back onto the bed. “You’ve got something of hers, and if she doesn’t want it back, I’ll eat my coat. Take it from the evil one in the room here. Give the old witch even a fraction of an inch, and there’ll be hell to pay.”

His words cast Willow into a deep, contemplative silence that weighed heavy in the small room. Frankly, Spike couldn’t believe that she was being so blind as to not see what looked so obvious to him. What was it with this lot and their second chances for people who fucked them over? Didn’t they see how it would only mess with them in the end?

He, of course, was the exception to that little observation. Spike considered himself the exception to a lot of things.

“What would you do if you were me?” she asked all of a sudden.

He snorted. “Thought I’d made that pretty clear. Get rid of her.”

“But…” She chewed at her lower lip. “…I think I need Esme. For a little while, at least. She really is the only person who understands the magic. She can help me get it under better control.”

“So, then, why are you askin’ my opinion?”

Willow ignored his annoyed observation, rising to her feet to begin pacing the room again. “If you’re right,” she said, “it’s probably safe to say I can’t anticipate what she’ll do next. I didn’t see the pricking coming, and god knows she took everybody by surprise this summer.”

Spike didn’t say a word. He just narrowed his eyes, watching her closely as he waited to see where she was going with this.

“So, if I can’t do anything about Esme, that means my only choice is to do something about people she might want to hurt. Me. Buffy. You. Any of us, really. I can do that. That shouldn’t be hard at all.”

“What the hell are you talkin’ about?”

Her eyes gleamed in delight as she lifted them to meet his. “A protection spell,” Willow said. “It would have to be something generic, because I don’t know what the specific threat could be, and that would mean it wouldn’t be all that powerful, but anything is better than nothing. It could at least give us all a heads-up if something was wrong. Give us an added means of defending ourselves against her if she decides to try something like you think she will.”

Somewhere in her convoluted reasoning, Spike was sure there was a flaw to this. There had to be. The solution seemed too simple for it to really work.

“You can do that?” he asked instead, his tone wary. “Without mucking it up?”

Willow bristled at the accusation. “Sure,” she said. “I mean, I’d have to do a little research, but it couldn’t be that hard. And it’s not like I don’t have the means. I just need to find the way.”

“Buffy won’t like it. She’s got this thing ‘bout people overprotecting her, remember?”

That stopped her only for a moment. “Then, maybe Buffy shouldn’t find out.”

A single brow shot up. “You’d try to pull one over on your best friend?” he said, disbelievingly. “Thought you two were joined mouth to ear.”

Willow rolled her eyes. “Yeah, right, that’s why I had to use magic to find out what you wro---.” Her eyes went wide, and her lips clamped shut as she realized what she’d been about to reveal. Spike’s estimation of the little witch went up a full notch.

“Pulled a little peekaboo, did you?” he said with a smirk. He shrugged. “Doesn’t make no never mind to me. I’ve never tried to hide how I feel about Buffy.”

“You love her.”

“Well, yeah. Thought that was obvious with the whole comin’ over to join you white hats.”

“So, you’d do what whatever you could to make sure she was safe.”

“’Course.”

“Using whatever means were at your disposal.”

It was the repeat of the word “means” that brought Spike up short. Willow watched him, waiting for him to respond, but he knew that behind her seemingly wide-eyed innocence, lurked a mind ready to trap him into a logical corner if he let it. Hell, she’d already done it, and the thing of it was…he agreed with her. Hadn’t he done the same thing with Rupert in regards to Buffy’s patrols? And he’d spent half the night tossing a lot of demons with half-truths and all-too-real threats just to accomplish the same thing Willow wanted.

“She finds out, it’s on your head,” he warned.

“I know. I’m going to talk to Giles about it. I don’t want to screw it up.”

He didn’t say anything more, just let her prattle on about the possibilities of what the magic could do for them once she had it under control. He was all for using what tools were at hand as much as the next guy, and the fact that Willow had such power at her disposal was certainly reassuring. But magic always had consequences, and whether or not he was growing fond of her and Oz, Spike remained wary about the wisdom of her growing reliance on it.

He’d have to keep an eye out on her, too. If it looked like she was going a little too far, they’d just have to have a little chat.

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

The little witch was supposed to be leaving for class soon. Baltozar had gotten her schedule and according to what he’d learned, she wasn’t the type to be tardy or skip. Within the next half hour, she should be walking out the front door of her dorm, her stack of books tucked in her overachieving arms, and the rest would be history.

He found the perfect vantage point on a rooftop across the street. After getting Esme’s instructions, he’d decided the best way to kill the witch was with good old-fashioned artillery. A single shot through the brain and the job would be over. It lacked flair, and personally, he liked a little bit more blood and panic when he killed someone, but this wasn’t the time for catering to his own tastes. There would be time enough for that later.

He just had to be careful not to hurt the blonde roommate if she was with Miss Rosenberg. After he’d learned of the connection, Baltozar had rung Esme up to see what was going on. Esme had made it very clear that no harm could come to that one; apparently, she had other plans for the blonde that required her to be alive.

Shame. He would’ve liked to put the screws to the vampire just one more time.

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

Graham knew when he opened his eyes and saw the sterile ceiling of the isolated hospital room that his fall out of the frying pan could very well have landed him straight into the fire. He was back on Initiative territory and the fact that he couldn’t move but couldn’t see any restraints holding him down had to mean that they were using every pharmaceutical means within their power to keep him under their control. That wasn’t good.

“You’re awake. I’m glad.”

He couldn’t move his head to see Dr. Walsh, but her voice was neutral which could mean just about anything. “It’s not that bad, is it?” he croaked. His throat was dry. It felt like he hadn’t had anything to drink for days.

“Just precautionary measures,” she said. “Until we’re satisfied you’re not a threat to the organization.”

Graham’s eyes fluttered shut again. That was what he’d feared.

“Someone tried interrogating you,” Dr. Walsh continued.

“They didn’t succeed.”

“We know. Can you tell us who it was who abducted you?”

This was the question he’d been dreading. He’d known it would come, and he’d known it would come very quickly. Until the werewolf had come into the bathroom and spent so long talking to him, Graham had had every intention of giving up the people who’d gone to such lengths to find out who he worked for.

But some of what the young man had said had struck a nerve. Stuff about honor. Stuff about friends. Stuff about doing the right thing. Graham didn’t want to believe the whole story about how the werewolf tried to secret himself away, but he’d seen the cage when they’d grabbed him. It was hard to discount what he saw with his own eyes.

“I asked you a question, Captain Miller.” Dr. Walsh’s voice had hardened. “Who did you escape from?”

When he opened his eyes again, she was standing at the side of the bed, her face implacable as she gazed down at him. “Demonhunters,” he said without pause. “They were watching the werewolf. When the sedative wore off the HST, they took advantage of the chaos. They thought I’d be able to lead them to more hostiles, which is why they kidnapped me. Apparently, they capture hostiles for profit.”

Her ensuing silence made him wonder if his lie was just going to get him into further trouble. He’d always had a good poker face; Graham was hoping it wouldn’t fail him now.

“What changed in your captivity last night that allowed you to escape?” she finally asked.

“I was left with one of the weaker members of the team,” he said. “I neutralized him and freed myself.”

Dr. Walsh nodded. “There has been some new activity in town that we haven’t been able to account for,” she said. “Last night in particular, there was a rash of fights reported amongst the HST’s. That seems to fit with your circumstances.” For the first time, her face softened, and she patted Graham’s arm in what was supposed to be a maternal manner but was actually stiff and awkward. “Rest, soldier. We’ll need to debrief you on these demonhunters as soon as you’re up to the task.”

He closed his eyes again once she left the room.

His hope was that it would take him a long time to mend. He wanted his lies firmly in place before the Initiative started their own interrogation.

 

To be continued in Chapter 32: Power to Hurt