DISCLAIMER: The characters are
Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Baltozar’s attempt to kill Willow was thwarted by both Havi and Willow, leaving him burned and bleeding and thrown in Spike’s trunk, while a skewered Spike is being tended in Buffy’s dorm room…
It was probably the last scene she would’ve expected to walk in on. Well, maybe not the last scene. The dream Buffy had had about Giles and Xander playing pick-up-sticks on her dorm room floor while Willow danced in the background to Madonna’s “Vogue” would probably qualify for that spot.
Still, opening her door to see Spike lying on his stomach across Willow’s bed, his t-shirt in pieces on the floor while Havi stitched a gaping wound in his back with fluorescent thread rated as fairly unusual. Even for her.
It took a second of gaping to realize that a wan Willow was lying on Buffy’s bed, and currently waggling her fingers to her in greeting.
“How was class?” she asked. Though she was obviously trying for chirpy, she was failing miserably.
“Apparently not nearly as exciting as what happened here,” Buffy replied. She walked around to Spike’s head, crouching down to look him in the face. “Are you aware of who exactly is sewing you up?”
“Don’t remind me,” he groused, and then winced when Havi pulled a stitch particularly tight. “Hey! Told you to watch it with the pointies back there, Studs!”
Buffy’s brows shot up. “Studs?”
“Bride of Frankenstein doesn’t roll off the tongue quite the same.”
Her gaze flickered between the two of them before deciding it was unlikely she’d get an easy answer from either. “Willow?” Buffy asked. “Care to share why we’ve become triage central?”
“Havi’s boyfriend showed up and tried staking Spike when he was fighting with Havi.”
Well, that certainly made more sense than any of the scenarios she’d been contemplating.
“Tell her the rest of it, Red.”
Spike’s unexpected intervention made Willow flush. “Oh, it’s no biggie,” she said to Buffy’s expectant face. “I just kinda, sorta, maybe…set the guy on fire.” She gave her friend a brave smile. “Oops?”
“What?” Buffy looked around the room for burn damage, but found nothing out of place. “You didn’t…kill him, did you?”
“Baltozar is still alive,” Havi offered. “We’ve contained him in Spike’s trunk, waiting your return.”
“Well, I’m as returned as I’m going to get,” Buffy said. Dropping her bookbag to the floor, she grabbed the keys she recognized as Spike’s from the nearby desk. “Let’s get him out of there. He’s probably going to need medical attention.”
She turned at Spike’s call, folding her arms across her chest. “Something tells me this is going to be an attempt to stop me from getting the crispy critter out of your car.”
“The tosser showed to try and have a go at Red there,” he said. He batted at Havi’s hands, wincing slightly as he rolled into a sitting position on the edge of the bed. “Just think maybe we should suss out what we’re goin’ to do with him before we start healing him up, is all. Or have you forgotten that this is the same bloke who skewered Rose not too long ago? You really want him doin’ the same to your best bunkmate?”
Buffy paused. She hadn’t made the connection between Rose and the fact that this was Havi’s ex. That changed things a little bit.
“We’ll have to interrogate him,” she said. She chewed at her lip. “Normally, I’d say, let’s take him to Giles’, but he’s already got his hands full with one interrogatee.”
“Actually…” Havi straightened from the first aid, looking pensive for the first time since Buffy’s arrival. “…that’s no longer true.”
Buffy listened with growing amazement as Havi related the story of finding the Watcher unconscious and his hostage missing. “And you were going to tell me this when?”
“Well, we got a little distracted,” Willow said. “Plus…” She gestured toward Spike. “…ouchies.”
When she glanced at Spike, he affected such an obvious pout of pretend pain that Buffy just had to smile. “Fine,” she said. “But you’re better now, right?”
Carefully, Spike stood up, and though his back still looked a mess in spite of the stitches, he nodded. “Take more than that wanker to put me down,” he said.
“Sometimes, I think it would take a whole army of Slayers to take you down,” she shot back.
Spike grinned. “Well, yeah. That’s what comes from bein’ the best.”
“With an ego to match, apparently.”
“And don’t you love it.”
She turned away before he could see the amused grin she couldn’t hide. “Let’s get over to Giles’ then,” Buffy said. “Obviously, we’re going to have some talking to do.”
“I’ll call Oz and tell him to meet us,” Willow said, rising from the bed.
“And I shall call Xander.”
Everybody stopped in their paces to stare at Havi, but she only lifted her chin higher.
“He is your friend as well, isn’t he?” she said. “He will wish to know what is going on.”
“Well, yeah,” Buffy said. “I just---.”
“Then, he should be contacted.”
They were left gaping as Havi went to the phone first, pulling out a piece of paper from her pocket and starting to dial. Willow edged closer to Buffy’s side and whispered, “At least this one’s not a demon.”
Spike’s snort of derision rang through the room. “Think the jury’s still out on that one, Red.” He grabbed his coat before snatching the keys from Buffy’s unexpecting hand. “And nobody’s drivin’ my baby except for me. Get what you need. I’ll pull the car around.”
It was a ragged bunch that came together in Giles’ living room. Wesley regarded them with fascination, wondering if they were completely aware of the picture they presented. Buffy and Spike had taken over Rupert’s big chair, and she was fussing over his disinterest in his recent injury. Willow was curled against Oz in the corner of the couch, while Havi sat next to Xander, who apparently was having difficulty figuring out what to do with his hands, alternating between folding them between his knees and aborting touches of the woman at his side. While Joyce fussed in the galley kitchen preparing drinks and snacks for everyone, Rupert leaned against one of the stools, holding a compress to his head.
The only one missing from the scene was the unfortunate would-be assassin. Apparently after discovering that he’d lapsed into unconsciousness, Buffy had insisted that they take him to the hospital before coming to her Watcher’s flat. His burns had been more extensive than the young people had realized, and coupled with some malodorous stench from being locked in Spike’s boot, he was immediately placed into critical care by the emergency room staff. They had left him there with their contact information should there be a change in his status, but the doctors were not optimistic.
“There is a bright side to your encounter this morning,” Wesley said to Willow, drawing everyone’s attention back to the matter at hand. “You didn’t suffer from any sort of blackout this time, correct?”
Willow’s eyes widened. “Oh! No, you’re right. I didn’t. I mean, I got all woozy, and it’s probably a good thing I didn’t have to operate any heavy machinery, but, yeah, I was all awake girl this time.” She turned a bright smile to her boyfriend. “Go me!”
“She needs to learn to control her powers, though,” Havi interjected. “I was not a threat to her, and still she lashed out to me.”
“Not a threat,” Spike said. “Bugger that. That’s why you wouldn’t take no for an answer, right? Even when Red told you to back the fuck off.”
“I didn’t actually say the ‘fuck’ part,” Willow said hastily to Oz.
“I figured that,” he replied. “It’s OK. I’ve got my Spike filter turned on.”
“It doesn’t matter who said what,” Buffy intervened. “We have to draw some boundaries here. Like, knowing who’re the good guys and who’re the bad guys and living with those choices.”
“Let’s do a show of hands,” Xander said. He stuck his right up in the air. “All those against the powers of evil, say aye.”
Though nobody spoke up, people around the room followed Xander’s innocent example and raised their hands.
When Spike just sat there, unmoving, Buffy poked him expectantly in the side. He looked at her, startled, until, very deliberately, she raised her hand a little higher.
“Oh, right,” he said, lifting his left hand to join the crowd. “Still manage to forget that sometimes. Must be all those years of…” His voice trailed off at her raised eyebrows. “Let’s go fight that evil,” he added with fake enthusiasm.
“Yes, well, as…enlightening as it is to see that we agree we’re all on the same side here,” Giles said, “it doesn’t tell us what we should do next. There’s the problem of the missing vigilante, not to mention Willow’s power---.”
“Buffy’s pregnancy,” Joyce offered.
“Hey!” Buffy protested. “I don’t think my baby---.”
“Our baby, pet.”
“---qualifies as being as dire as GI Joe gone bad or Willow’s mojo control issues.”
“I wouldn’t call it dire,” Willow grumbled. “Important maybe, or even serious, but not dire.”
“Regardless of our definitions,” Wesley said, “Rupert is right. We need to sit down and reflect on just how we plan to proceed.”
The room lapsed into quiet as everyone pondered his declaration. Joyce wove between the furniture, passing out drinks, and then returned to sit next to Giles.
“Personally, I’d like to make sure the issue of Havi and Spike is resolved,” she said. “I have to say, I do feel better about believing Havi’s story now, but if Spike is going to move into my house---.”
“What was that?” Giles exclaimed.
“I offered Spike a place to stay,” she said evenly.
“Uh, Joyce, I haven’t actually said yes to that yet,” Spike said.
Buffy frowned down at him. “Did you change your mind?”
“Wait a minute.” Setting aside his compress, Giles pinched the bridge of his nose, his eyes closed as he spoke. “Let me get this entirely straight. You are suggesting that both Spike and Havi live with you, under the same roof, indefinitely? Have you gone completely mad?”
“I don’t think---.”
“No, I didn’t think you had.” He cut Joyce off without pause. “Neither is exactly a known variable, and yet you seem ready to just accept everything they say as gospel, without thought as to what the repercussions might be.”
It was said simultaneously, though not by the injured parties themselves. Buffy and Xander exchanged a quick glance, gathering strength from their solidarity, and then Xander rose to his feet.
“You didn’t see that Baltozar, Giles,” he said. “You have no idea what he’s capable of, so don’t go jumping on the wrong opinion bandwagon about Havi just because she’s new in town. Doesn’t the fact that she helped protect Willow against him just this morning mean anything?”
“Xander’s right.” Buffy stood to stand beside him. “She’s done nothing but help since she got here. I have to admit, I’m not that thrilled she wants to sleep next to my old room, but if there’s a fight coming, there’s no way I’m going to turn down extra muscle. Especially if mine are busy with babymaking.”
Wesley caught Giles’ wince of discomfort at Buffy’s cavalier mention of her pregnancy, and stepped away as she confronted her Watcher even closer.
“As for Spike, we’ve had this discussion, Giles. And we’ll keep having it until you start believing me. He’s here, and he’s not going anywhere. This baby? As much his as it is mine, and if he wants to be even closer to us by moving into my mom’s basement, then so be it. Would you rather he and I were sharing an apartment someplace?”
The idea seemed to shock both Giles and Joyce, and there was a glimpse of something resembling awe in Spike’s eyes as he regarded the Slayer. Her Watcher might not be ready to accept the inclusion of the vampire into the group, but between Lydia’s repeated stories about Spike’s search for Rose and the obvious love he exhibited for Buffy, Wesley was inclined to place his faith in their repeated avowals. After all, he’d learned his lesson about going against Buffy the hard way the previous year. He was not a stupid man.
“My suggestion is we just take this one day at a time,” Buffy went on. “Willow keeps going with whatever meditation techniques you and Wesley can teach her, and Spike and I keep an eye out for these vigilantes. When this Baltozar guy wakes up, we talk to him. Until then, we don’t even know what we’re fighting. Havi doesn’t even know, and she had a seer to help her out. Getting all worried isn’t going to accomplish anything except get somebody else hurt. None of us wants that.”
“I would still like Spike’s assurances that his problems with Havi are in the past,” Joyce said. “I won’t have the same kind of displays I saw last night repeated in my house.”
Spike shot Havi a black look, but slumped back in his chair in defeat. “You got my word,” he said. “So long as Studs plays nice, I’ll do the same. But if I find out she’s even looked at Buffy cross-eyed, all bets are off.”
“That’s that, then,” Buffy said brightly. She glanced at the empty tray her mother had set down. “Were you doing any food to go with those drinks, Mom? Maybe something without any redeeming nutritional value whatsoever?”
Joyce and Giles exchanged a look. “I have some…chocolate McVitie’s I brought back from my last trip to England,” he said warily.
Spike immediately brightened, leaping from the chair to head for the kitchen. “Why didn’t you bloody well say so?” he said loudly. They heard the sound of the refrigerator opening. “Don’t suppose you have any bags of blood lyin’ around, too? Something about dunking a digestive in a mug of A-positive sounds too good to pass up right about now.”
“Digestives?” Buffy said, with a small wrinkle of her nose.
“It’s a kind of…cookie,” Giles explained.
With a sudden burst of energy, she bolted to join Spike in the kitchen.
“I thought only the pregnant woman got the cravings,” Willow commented.
“Myth,” Joyce said with a knowing nod. “When I was pregnant with Buffy, Hank gained almost as much weight as I did. Of course, that could’ve been because I refused to eat alone every time I had a craving.”
“Does that mean Spike’s going to swell up into our very own Goodyear Vampire?” Xander asked with far too much excitement.
A crash came from the adjoining room.
“Buffy did it!” Spike called out.
“Tattletale,” she hissed, and then, louder for the others in the flat to hear, “Sorry!”
“Dear lord,” Giles muttered. “How on earth are we going to survive another nine months of this?”
“It could be worse,” Havi said, completely deadpan. “They could be living with you instead of Mrs. Summers.”
It took a moment for the sentiment to sink in, but all too quickly Willow was giggling, Oz was smiling, and Xander was proudly declaring that his comedic influence was finally rubbing off on the stalwart Havi. Wesley took the opportunity to pull Giles aside, lowering his voice so that his words couldn’t be heard by the others.
“What about Esme?” he asked. “How do you feel we should proceed in Willow’s teaching?”
“Frankly, part of me is hoping that the next person she sets on fire is that blasted witch,” Giles said with more malice than he probably intended. “I can’t help but think that there’s something else going on there that we just don’t haven’t fathomed yet.”
“I can go back to the hotel and speak with her. String her along, perhaps? If I play up the events of this morning, it’s possible she could tip her hand.”
“Do you have a better solution?”
Sighing, Giles turned away from the conversation to see the various young people chatting in the room. “No,” he admitted. “Willow seems more than willing to continue.”
“Well, we were the ones who convinced her Esme wasn’t a threat.”
“Please don’t remind me.” He shook his head. “We’ll just have to go on as we have been. Until something more definitive turns up, I don’t see as we have much of a choice.”
Wesley nodded. “I’ll speak with Esme anyway. The fact that Willow didn’t lose consciousness this morning might mean something, and if it does, it’s better if we hear it first.”
She hid her troublesome emotions until after Wesley had left her room. Somewhere in the pit of her stomach, Esme felt the first fingers of true fear creep into her consciousness, bile rising in her throat at the prospect that all her hopes would go with her to her grave.
Baltozar had failed. What was worse, he was now in the hospital, courtesy of a coma and third degree burns, and the Slayer was ready to interrogate him once he was well enough to be subjected to such a thing. Any means to accomplish the more physical aspects of her tasks had just been snatched out of her hands by a foolish, lovesick Spaniard.
She really detested Havi.
And she hated the Slayer even more.
The news about Willow was worrisome as well. During the most recent outburst, the young witch had managed to maintain enough control not to lose consciousness and to stop when requested. Granted, neither consequence was without its problem, but the sheer fact that the magic protecting her from physical harm was already starting to mold to her psyche meant that it would be that much more difficult to separate from her later on. The longer Willow had to grow accustomed to the magic, the harder it would be for Esme to take it back.
She’d lied to Wesley, of course. He didn’t need to know that this new turn of events meant that the magic was starting to settle on its own. It was still going to consume Willow, but they wouldn’t know that until it was too late. To them, it would just look like she was starting to control it. They’d think that Esme was redundant and ship her back to the UK to die under the Council’s aegis, a shadow of her former self.
So, she told Wesley what would guarantee her prolonged presence.
“It’s growing erratic,” she’d said. “The longer she contains it, the more difficult it’ll become to predict.”
“But that doesn’t make sense,” he’d argued.
“That’s because you didn’t live with the power your entire life. Think of it like a pot of boiling water. Every time the power gets used, it makes it boil harder. But water doesn’t boil consistently. Sometimes the surges are big, and sometimes they’re small. Willow was lucky today. She had a small surge.”
The Council idiot believed every word. It was the only good thing Esme could muster from the entire conversation.
She would have to do everything she could to derail Willow’s assimilation of the magic. At the same time, she had to do something about Baltozar. When he woke from his coma, he might be a liability, though Esme didn’t think he would talk very easily. To top it all off, she needed to find someone else she could manipulate in the meantime. Someone either mercenary enough or with a strong enough reason to wish to join her side.
That would be the hardest part. She had no contacts in Sunnydale. She didn’t have her magic yet. If she ever hoped to retrieve the power of the Slayer artifacts, Esme would have to start getting creative.
She just hoped it wouldn’t take too long to come up with a good idea.
Dr. Walsh wasn’t going to wait long before interrogating him for real, Graham knew. When she did, there was even the possibility that the magic that had been utilized to keep him from spilling too much to strangers would be turned around to force him to tell them exactly what he knew. Then, they’d find out he lied to them. His situation would go from bad to much, much worse.
Shifting in his hospital bed, Graham felt his healing body protest at the slight movement and had the stirrings of an idea. Dr. Walsh had made it clear that they wouldn’t question him until he was stronger, but if for some reason he was forced to stay in the hospital a little longer, maybe enough time would lapse that their attentions would be diverted. Or maybe, they’d decide it wasn’t important after all, and take him at his word. After all, he’d been a star soldier up to this point. They really had no reason to doubt him.
Well, except for the fact that he was lying through his teeth about what had happened to him.
He was still staring at the ceiling, contemplating how he was going to proceed, when the door opened and Dr. Walsh came walking confidently in. She held a file folder in her hand, but kept it closed as she stepped to his side.
“How are you feeling?” she asked without preamble.
“Better,” he replied carefully. His gaze flickered to the folder but he held his tongue. She would tell why she was there soon enough.
“We’ve had an interesting report from Sunnydale Memorial today,” Dr. Walsh said. “I’d like for you to take a look at a photograph and tell me if you recognize someone.”
Graham waited as she pulled out a shiny eight-by-ten and held it out for him to examine. Though nothing was betrayed on his face, the sight of the burned body made his stomach turn. Additionally, there were bruises on the swarthy man’s face that indicated a vicious fight, and one in particular near the left eye was so dark as to be black. Someone, or something, had had its own angry way with the man; he could only hope that whatever he’d done had been wrong enough to merit such an attack.
Dr. Walsh was watching his reaction intently. “Do you know him?” she asked. “Have you seen him before?”
That’s when it clicked. This was a test of his earlier declaration. Dr. Walsh wanted him to either identify this man as one of the demonhunters or catch him in his lie.
He took a gamble.
“The injuries make it hard to tell,” Graham said evenly. It still surprised him how easily he found it to lie. “But he does look familiar.”
“Is he one of the men who held you hostage?”
At least she wasn’t beating around the bush.
“He could be,” he said. “Like I said, his injuries---.”
“His name is Baltozar Marroquin,” Dr. Walsh interrupted. She slid the photograph back into the folder. “He’s a Spanish mercenary, renowned in Europe for some of his more bloody involvements. This morning, he was admitted to Sunnydale Memorial in a coma, with third degree burns covering most of his back. The person listed in his contact information is Willow Rosenberg.”
Graham’s lips thinned. That was the werewolf’s girlfriend. What had happened?
“We’ve backtracked Mr. Marroquin’s presence in Sunnydale,” Dr. Walsh continued. “His arrival coincides with this month’s full moon. Considering the retribution that seems to have been paid, we think it’s highly likely this is one of the demonhunters currently in town to try and catch the werewolf ahead of us.”
“He’s not the one that I was left with,” Graham answered truthfully. Now came the lie. “But I heard the name mentioned once or twice.”
“You didn’t mention that your captors were foreign.”
“I don’t know if all of them were. The one I dealt with the most was British. He was the one I knocked out in order to escape.” Better to pepper his story with enough truth to make it more realistic. It would make any future interrogation easier to manipulate.
Dr. Walsh seemed satisfied with his response, and something inside Graham loosened. “We’re going to keep an eye on this situation,” she said, moving back to the door. “I’ve decided not to pursue our capture of the werewolf until we’ve better assessed what the threat actually means to us. If such a well-known mercenary can suffer such an attack, I’m reluctant to lose any more good men.”
When she finally walked out of the room, Graham was left with a sense of relief. Somehow, he had a feeling that his debriefing had just taken a backseat to finding out more about what had put the demonhunter in the hospital. He wasn’t going to argue. Any respite he got from imminent death was a good one.
Maybe it was because he was wounded that Joyce gave in so readily to Buffy’s demands to be allowed to spend the night. Spike didn’t care. The end result was still the same. He was stretched out on the cot in the cluttered basement, a mug of warm blood on the floor beside him, Buffy bustling around to try and bring a sense of order to the space.
“OK, remind me to have a talk with Mom about this newfangled fad going around called garage sales,” she said as she shifted yet another box. Stopping, she sat back on her heels and turned curious eyes to him. “How is it you don’t have this much crap? You’ve been around way longer than Mom has.”
Spike shrugged, ignoring the twinge of pain in his back from the movement. “Left a lot of stuff behind in South America when Willow mojo’d me to London this summer,” he said.
“Do you miss it?”
“Some. Not like the lot of it can’t be replaced, though. Just need to find a decent music store in this hellhole.”
She looked thoughtful. “So, you don’t have any Freston heirlooms you’ve been toting around for the past century? Nothing we can pass on to Schmoo?”
“Schmoo? Please tell me that’s not your first choice for a baby name.”
“What? You keep calling it the little one. Why can’t I call it Schmoo?”
“Because that’s the name of a bloody cartoon.”
“But a cute one.” She paused. “And how is it that you know that?”
In spite of his initial horror at the nickname, Spike grinned, even as he shook his head. “This is goin’ to be a nine-month battle with you, isn’t it?” he asked, rolling onto his side to make more room on the cot. He curled his arm around her waist when she snuggled in beside him, spooning against his front as naturally as if she’d been molded specifically for the purpose.
“What is?” Her voice was already getting sleepy. It had been a long day for both of them.
“The little one’s name.” Sliding his hand beneath her shirt, he splayed his fingers across her stomach, taking warm comfort from the twin echoing heartbeats he could feel beneath his touch. It was impossible not to lean forward and nuzzle the exposed skin of her neck. “You know, I like it better when we’re like this. Much better.”
“You mean, all cuddly?”
“No, not fightin’ ‘bout…” Spike stopped. He didn’t want to spark another argument like the one from the previous night.
Buffy caught onto his meaning anyway. Carefully, she placed her injured hand over the one he had on her stomach. “I’m working on it,” she whispered. “Accepting…all of it. You’re not the only one who can love so much that it hurts, you know.”
It was a good thing she couldn’t see his face. Spike’s eyes fluttered closed as the emotion overwhelmed him, and he buried his nose in her hair, inhaling the scent of her until it seemed to flood through his pores. “I’ve got time,” he said. “Just…don’t shut me out, OK? What was said last night…it’s still there, Buffy. Know we haven’t talked about it today, but…that doesn’t mean it’s gone.”
Her breathing was slow and even, and as the silence stretched out, Spike began to wonder if maybe she’d fallen asleep. It was all right if she did. It had been a long day for both of them, and there was more than enough time ahead of them to---.
“What about Phoebe?”
“Who the hell is Phoebe?”
Shifting slightly in his arms, Buffy looked over her shoulder at Spike. “For the baby. If it’s a girl. Phoebe Noelle.”
He frowned. “Isn’t that that dozy bird on the sitcom about the coffeehouse?”
“Well, yeah, but---.”
Her lower lip jutted into a pout before she brightened again. “What about switching it around? Noelle Phoebe?”
The pout returned, and Buffy settled back into his embrace. “You’re going to be a stick in the mud about this naming business, I can tell,” she complained.
“Since when has my stick ever been a problem?” he teased, thrusting his hips slightly into hers.
She slapped at his hand, but snuggled in deeper. “Go to sleep, Spike,” Buffy said.
There was a lot that was still wrong, that still needed to be talked over and fixed and worked at. There were issues of ex-Protectors living under the same roof as him and comatose demonhunters in the hospital and Red’s increasingly scary mojo. There was Joyce and Giles and Xander and Oz and that Esme bitch and all Buffy’s profs at college who were giving her such a hard time. There was a lot of shit that just didn’t want to be ignored.
But there was a lot that was right, too. And in that moment, Spike knew that though it was going to take time, he wasn’t going to have to skirt those hazards all on his lonesome.
“Love you, too, pet,” he murmured. His fingers brushed along her stomach. “Love both of you.”
Like Buffy said…all it was going to take was just a little time.
To be continued in Chapter 34: Brief Hours and Weeks…