The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet XX.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: A shadow showed up on Buffy’s ultrasound, Xander went off in search of distraction after his fight with Havi, while Havi took Willow to see the Guardians…
He caught himself brooding on Havi more than once. I’m not Angel, I’m not Angel, I’m not Angel, Xander chanted silently. I don’t brood. His knuckles were white where he gripped the steering wheel, his jaw clenched from the efforts of trying not to think about her too much. The sheer determination to divert his thoughts away from her, however, was actually cementing her place in his head, no matter how much he tried otherwise. It was frustrating as hell.
So caught up with his own drama, he almost missed the flurry of activity at the side of the road. He was on the edge of town, wandering aimlessly through the perimeter roads that separated Sunnydale from the surrounding deserts. At one point, he’d debated getting out and taking a walk through the forest for a change of scenery, but sundown’s impending approach made him realize what a stupid idea that was. He was depressed, not suicidal.
But a glint off something metal caught his eye as he drove along, and Xander slowed the car down to try and see what it was. His eyes widened when he saw the vigilante guy drag the unconscious body of a horned demon into the bushes, and his brows nearly disappeared into his hair when he realized the guy in black was Graham Miller. Nobody had seen Graham since he’d disappeared from Giles’ apartment. This was huge.
He passed the bushes and rounded a bend in the road before pulling his car over to the side. There wasn’t time to get the rest of the gang, but if he could follow Graham and see where he went to, Xander figured they could always go after him later. Maybe the day wasn’t completely shot after all.
Grabbing a stake from his weapons bag, Xander got out of the car and headed back to where he’d seen Graham vanish. He stepped as quietly as he could, but the dry brush crackled beneath his feet, and he paused more than once when he thought he could’ve been heard. Only when he was sure that he was still safe did he continue, but it took longer than he’d hoped to reach the spot in the bushes.
Something clear and sticky was smeared along the ground, leading through the crushed foliage and deeper into the woods. Carefully, Xander walked along its edge, his gaze jumping around for any other signs of movement. He didn’t see the dried branch until it snapped in half beneath his toe, and he froze as the sound echoed through the trees.
A growl came from his left, making the hair stand up on the back of Xander’s neck. “Please be a rabid dog, please be a rabid dog,” he whispered as he slowly shifted to look at the new arrival.
It was much larger than a dog. Standing nearly a foot taller than Xander, the demon was covered in iridescent blue scales, a row of spiky horns over its heavy brow. Instead of two eyes, however, it had four, all blinking at him simultaneously as drool dripped from its fanged mouth. The growl coming from its throat was so powerful that he could see the creature’s chest vibrating from the force of it.
“Looking for your friend?” Xander asked with a quick smile. He pointed deeper into the forest. “He went thataway.”
The demon didn’t move, but the razor-sharp claws it sported for hands clenched into fists. Clear liquid oozed from between its so-called fingers.
“Obviously, what we have here is a failure to communicate,” Xander went on. His heart was pounding in his chest; he really hoped this particular species couldn’t pick up on that kind of thing. “So, I’m just going to go with the international symbol for ‘I’m a big chicken’ and run like hell, OK?”
He’d already started to back away as he spoke, but the same stick he’d stepped on the first time rolled beneath his heel, making him lose his balance and fall backwards onto his ass. The demon charged at the same time, the growl erupting into a roar, and Xander screamed in fear as he tried to scramble out of its way.
A brilliant flash exploded in the corner of his eye. Just a few feet away from him, the demon’s chest burst open from the artillery that slammed into it, drenching Xander in the clear fluid that he’d seen on the bush. Instinctively, he reached up to try and wipe the liquid away, but it was already stinging where it had landed in his eyes.
“We’ve got a civilian down,” someone said.
A man in black fatigues appeared at Xander’s side. “The HST’s blood is all over him,” the man said to someone still behind Xander. “What do we do?”
“He’s going to need medical attention.” That one was Graham. Even as little as he’d spoken when he’d been chained up in Giles’ tub, Xander would’ve recognized the voice anywhere. “The blood is toxic.”
“Toxic?” Xander struggled to sit up, but his slick hands couldn’t get a grip on the ground. His vision was getting blurry, but he could still see well enough when Graham stepped in front of him. “Is this your idea of payback?” he demanded. “Splatter me with evil demon goo so that I can’t run and get help? What demons are you taking in this time?”
There were now three of them, but the others were looking at Graham in confusion. “What’s he talking about?” the first one asked. “Do you know this guy?”
Graham’s eyes bored into Xander’s. “Never seen him before,” he said tightly.
“He knows us, though,” the second argued. “That makes him a threat.”
Xander didn’t like the turn this conversation was taking. “Hey, not a threat here,” he said. He tried again to sit up, but his muscles seemed to have turned into jello. “I’m about as non-threatening as you get. Just ask my friends. Or my enemies. Not that I have a lot of enemies because you’d have to be threatening for that, which I’m not.” When he realized he was babbling, he shook his head, letting it fall back onto the grass. “The hole I’m digging just keeps getting deeper, doesn’t it?”
“We’ll take him in,” the first man said. “Dr. Walsh will know what to do with him.”
Though the world seemed even fuzzier now, a renewed sense of fear gave Xander fresh strength. “I’m sure I can find the hospital all on my own---,” he started to say, but the vigilante was already pressing a small weapon against his arm.
Everything went dark.
Though the silver and lavender light was hypnotic, Willow was feeling anything but soothed. “What are you saying?” she asked. “What did Rose choose me for?”
“To be her replacement, of course.” The voice almost sounded amused. “She was greatly impressed with your creativity in harnessing Esme’s power. That was her first inkling that you could be molded to our purposes.”
“No, no molding,” she said quickly. She waggled a warning finger at the pool, though she knew how silly that had to look. “I’m not some lump of play-dough you can play with. And besides, Rose was the one who gave me Esme’s magic. I didn’t have anything to do with that.”
“But you did. It was your original spell that caught her attention. It was quite ingenious.”
“It…was?” In spite of her trepidation, being flattered for her expertise always managed to push Willow’s buttons. She hated that they could manipulate her so easily, but at the same time, it was nice not to have somebody shouting at her for not knowing what she was doing.
“Of course. Your innate finesse was a wellspring just waiting to be tapped. Rose saw that. That’s why she advocated your union with the Guardians. It’s why she sent the Child of Life to watch over you, to guide you to us.”
It was the first time she’d heard the term. “The Child of Life?” she asked. “Do you mean Havi?”
“Yes. She was selected to become a Protector when we learned she would not be Chosen. Her destiny is much more important now.” The rippling water seemed to sigh. “These are not the questions you wish to ask, though,” the voice said. “Don’t be afraid, Willow. We have never wished to coerce you into a life that would make you unhappy, but at the same time, we hate seeing power such as yours wasted. Tell us what we may say in order to convince you to join us.”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I mean…it’s flattering that you want me and all. I guess I know how Buffy felt when she was Chosen, except, you know, this is for the magic set and not the slaying set.”
“We are all on the same side,” the voice said. “Guardians have been protecting the Slayers’ interests for centuries. Becoming one of us is a natural extension of what you’ve been doing at the Slayer’s side for years.”
“So, I’d be protecting Buffy?”
“Well, no. Guardians are more invested in the Watchers’ Council. We look over them and ensure that they do what they must. That was how you met Rose. She was sent back to alter the timeline because of what a Watcher had done.”
Willow frowned. “No offense, but I’m really not interested in doing something as drastic as that. I kind of like my timeline the way it is.”
The voice chuckled. “Rose’s was an extreme case. It is only the third time in the history of the Guardians that we’ve been forced to take such a strong measure to rectify a wrong that was made against the Slayers. Our normal responsibilities are usually much more benign than that.”
“Then why do you need the big mojo?”
“Because it’s better to be over-prepared than under,” came the reply. “Surely, that’s a philosophy you understand?”
She did, but nothing they were saying was making her want to join up. She wasn’t so sure what they really needed her for, and she said as such.
“Because our numbers are dwindling,” the voice said. There was a touch of sadness beneath the sound of the waves. “Without fresh, strong blood, we will be extinct within a century. Who will watch over the Watchers then?”
It was a guilt trip, and Willow knew it. It didn’t make it any less effective though. “Can’t you expand your recruiting, though?” she asked. “There are covens all over the world. What’s so special about me?”
“The type of power you possess has the ability to corrupt beyond even your experiences. Look at what happened with Esme. We cannot take the risk of bringing someone into the fold who cannot be trusted to follow our tenets.”
“And you think I can?”
“We know you can.”
Willow sighed. Her head was starting to ache from the possibilities bouncing around in it, and the effects of the teleportation spell she must’ve done were making her tired. “I can’t give you an answer now,” she said, rising to her wobbly feet. “I need time to process all this.”
“We are patient. We will wait.”
She got the feeling, though, that they wouldn’t want to wait long. “Thanks,” she said out loud, though she knew it was superfluous. “I guess I’ll just be going then.” She scanned the circular room, a frown wrinkling her brow. “As soon as you point out which way is the exit.”
The water in the pool started to ease. “Good bye, Willow,” the voice said, growing ever fainter. “And be well.”
The magic swelled around her, sweeping through just as it had outside. Before Willow could react, she was standing back at the edge of the chasm, staring at Havi outlined against the darkening sky.
“You saw them,” Havi said without preamble.
“More like heard,” Willow replied. She felt the faint trickle of blood touch her upper lip, and reached to wipe it away. “Do they actually have a physical form, or are they just playing shy?”
“They can manifest, yes,” Havi said. “But they are scattered across the world. The well acts as a conduit for them to communicate.” She grew hesitant. “Did you…reach a decision?”
“Yeah.” Willow shot her a broad grin. “I’ve decided I could really use some ice cream therapy right about now. Let’s go home.”
He only moved when he heard Red and Havi arrive back at the house.
Buffy had been asleep for well over an hour, curled on her side with her arm protective around her stomach. Because of the news at the doctor’s, Joyce had allowed Spike to stay with Buffy without argument, knowing her daughter needed that more than anything else at the moment. Buffy hadn’t actually said a word. She hadn’t needed to. All that was necessary had already been said.
So it was with reluctance that Spike peeled himself away from her sleeping form, pressing tender lips to the bare skin of her midriff before slipping out of the room. He hated leaving her, hated the thought that she might wake up and not find him there even more, but this had to be done. He was going to have Willow take off that damn spell once and for all. Buffy didn’t need to be worrying about something that wasn’t even there.
He found her in the kitchen, standing at the island with Havi, hunched over a tub of chocolate ice cream. She looked pale and worn, and Spike could detect the slight scent of her blood, as if she’d cut herself while she was out. There were no blemishes on her exposed skin, though. Just a few grass stains and dirt smudges on her clothing.
“How’s Buffy?” she asked as soon as she saw him.
“Asleep.” He avoided looking at Havi as he stepped around to face Willow directly. “Joyce fill you in on what happened?”
Willow shook her head. “Just that there were some inconclusive anomalies on the ultrasound. She said it wasn’t anything for us to worry about, that you were taking care of it.”
“We’re both takin’ care of it. C’mon.”
The moment his hand curled around Red’s arm, Havi stepped forward.
“Where are you taking her?” she asked.
He had to bite the inside of his cheek not to lash out at her. “None of your business, Studs,” Spike said tightly. “This is about Buffy and none of that Guardian shit you keep nattering on about.”
“It’s OK, Havi,” Willow said. “I’ll just be a couple minutes.”
He pulled her into the basement, away from prying ears and the possibility of Joyce walking in on their conversation. Only when he was satisfied that Havi wasn’t listening at the top of the stairs did Spike start talking.
“We’re takin’ off the protection spell,” he said. When her mouth opened to protest, he held up a hand to cut her off. “No arguments, Red. Either you take it off, or I come clean with Buffy. It’s showin’ up at the doctor’s and she’s a right wreck worrying about all of it. I’m not goin’ to let that happen any more.”
Willow’s frown was deep. “What do you mean, it’s showing up? It can’t show up. It’s magic.”
“Well, something’s showin’. Like a shadow that follows the little one around.”
She still seemed skeptical, but Spike wasn’t budging on this and he knew she could see it in his face. “Just give me a couple minutes,” she said. “It’s not like a light switch I can turn on and off. I’m going to need a few things.”
“Get whatever you want.” Relief flooded through him. He’d thought he might have to argue with Red a little bit more about this, but she seemed fairly open to suggestion at the moment. He was going to have to ask her afterward just what had happened when she’d been out with Havi.
The only thing Willow said to her when she came back upstairs was, “It’s OK.” Havi wasn’t sure what she meant by that, but the certainty in her tone was enough to allay any residual worry she’d had about Spike’s intentions in the basement. She didn’t actually believe that Spike would hurt Willow, but he was still a vampire and when it came to Buffy, he was known to be more than a little unpredictable. It was always better to be cautious around him.
Joyce sat at the desk in the living room, writing out checks to pay the bills. When Havi hesitated in the entrance, Joyce looked up and smiled, though there was more sadness than pleasure in her eyes.
“Feeling better?” she asked.
For a moment, Havi debated telling her the truth about the fight, but the fear that Joyce would react in the same manner as Xander had made her keep her silence. Instead, she just nodded.
“If you ever want to talk about it,” Joyce said, “all you have to do is say the word. I might even have some advice that might come in handy. That’s one good thing about being the oldest female in the house. I’ve got experience that deserves to be put to good use.”
She didn’t know what to say to that. In so many ways, Joyce filled a hole in Havi’s life that she hadn’t even realized existed until she’d come to Sunnydale. She hadn’t been with Rose long enough for the Guardian to be truly invested in her life, and besides, Havi had spent so much time focusing on helping Rose run from Spike that there had been little room for thought elsewhere. That’s why it was going to hurt so much when she moved out. Even if she wasn’t going to be living with Xander now.
“I think---,” she started to say, but a crash from upstairs cut her off.
Joyce was the first to react.
“That’s Buffy’s room,” she said, rushing toward the stairs.
Havi followed her up, but halted at the top when she saw Buffy standing in her open doorway. One hand was on her swollen belly, the other on the jamb keeping her steady, but the eyes the Slayer turned to her mother were dark with fear.
“Something’s wrong,” she breathed.
He heard the crash from somewhere else in the house, but Spike’s attention was riveted to the witch sitting in the middle of the floor. She’d gathered the few ingredients she needed to cancel the spell on Buffy, but the moment she’d started the incantation, Willow had stiffened, her hair charging with electricity, her heart pounding within her chest. Sweat immediately beaded on her brow, and her voice faltered over the words.
“What is it, Red?” he demanded. “What’s goin’ on?”
“I…I…don’t know,” she breathed. Her tongue darted out to lick her suddenly dry lips. “It’s…fighting me.”
“It?” His mind raced before his eyes widened. “The little one?”
“I just…I have to…” Her lashes dipped, closing for a long second during which time Spike heard footsteps echoing from above his head. “…harder…”
The incantation started again, though this time, her voice was rougher.
Havi had her arm around Buffy’s back, helping her stand upright. She could feel the heat radiating from the Slayer’s flesh, so much higher than normal, but what was more frightening was the uncontrollable quivering that seemed to be attacking the smaller girl’s muscles.
“Get her in the car,” Joyce ordered, already moving down the stairs. “I’m taking her to the hospital.”
They only made it a few steps before Buffy cried out, her knees crumpling beneath her. She pulled Havi down with her, letting her go to curl her fingers into the carpet.
“Get…Spike…” she rasped. Her eyes blazed when they met Havi’s. “Now!”
She didn’t need to be told twice. Pushing past Joyce, Havi ran down the stairs, through the dining room to the basement door. She slammed into the vampire himself as he came bolting upward, knocking both of them off-balance.
“I heard Buffy,” Spike growled.
“Something’s wrong with the baby,” Havi said. “Joyce is taking her to the hospital, but Buffy asked for you.”
Then, Spike did something completely unexpected. Instead of breaking in a dead run for Buffy, he glanced down into the basement. “Tell her I’ll be right there,” he said, but before Havi could ask what was wrong, he’d disappeared downstairs again.
She could feel the barrier preventing her from completing the incantation start to give. It pulsed, like it was alive, like it could literally fight her back, but Willow knew better. This was her construct. This was her spell. What she had created, she would now destroy.
Her eyes were closed, her efforts forcing her to direct all her attention inward, so she didn’t see Spike come back down the stairs until it was too late. A strong hand clapped over her mouth, choking the incantation in her throat, while another banded across her chest so tightly that she couldn’t breathe.
Her reaction was instinctive. Heat surged beneath her skin, and she heard Spike curse as she struggled in his hold. The contact she’d had with her reversal spell shattered, leaving a gaping hole somewhere in the pit of her stomach, but all she could think of was her desire to breathe, her need to break free. If she could just---.
His snarl of pain came seconds before she fell to the ground, gasping and panting for air. When she lifted her burning gaze up to glare at him, she saw where his shirt had charred from contact with her, the scorch marks that lined his arms. They were nothing compared to the feral anger in his golden eyes.
“What did you do that for?” she spat. “You asked me---.”
“We can’t break it,” he said, his voice a growl from deep inside his chest. “It was doin’ something to the little one.”
“What?” She stared at him in disbelief. “But that’s not possible!”
“Don’t care what you might think, but that’s the way it is. Joyce is takin’ her to the hospital ‘cause Buffy said something was wrong. You don’t think that might not be just a little bit of a coincidence?”
The door at the top of the stairs opened, and Havi appeared in the entrance, making both of them turn their heads at the same time.
“Buffy is asking for you, Spike,” Havi said. She descended enough stairs so that she could meet their eyes. “The pains have stopped, but they are still going to ensure the baby is all right. She would like for you to go with her.”
Willow quailed when Spike shot a knowing glance at her before bounding up the stairs, nearly knocking Havi over on the way. He’d been right after all. What had she done?
“Did he hurt you?” Havi asked. She’d descended the rest of the way, and held on to the railing as she regarded Willow.
She shook her head, though her body was still fighting to come down from the panic of fighting off Spike. “Buffy’s OK, right?” Her voice sounded wavery, the last vestiges of her adrenaline fading. “There wasn’t anything like…bleeding, or stuff like that, right?”
“No bleeding. She was just having abdominal pains. And she was…very warm.” There was a pause. “Did you…do something?”
Willow sagged, unable to answer. How could she even consider becoming a Guardian when she’d almost killed an innocent baby? Bile rose in the back of her throat, and she had to fight not to vomit right there in the basement. She could only hope that everything would be all right.
It had to be. She’d never forgive herself if it wasn’t.
He woke up to the jostling of a moving vehicle. Something cold was beneath him, but when Xander tried to move, a strong arm suddenly pushed him back until he was lying down again.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
Xander froze at the sound of Graham’s low voice. “What’s going on?” he hissed. “Where are you taking me? And what’s with the blindfold? Don’t want to risk me seeing where you’ve been hiding out?”
Though Graham didn’t answer, he didn’t move, either, continuing to hold Xander down. “The blindfold is to protect your eyes,” he finally said. “It wouldn’t make a difference if I took it off or not. You wouldn’t be able to see anyway.”
His voice was rising, but Graham’s arm pushed him harder against the bench, making him squeak in protest. “The HST,” Graham said. “I told you. It’s toxic.” Xander felt his breath on his cheek as he leaned in closer. “If you want to get out of this alive, you’re going to listen to what I’m about to say without saying a word. Understand?”
He didn’t, but something hard in Graham’s tone told him it would be worse to argue.
“You’re being taken in for my superiors to interrogate you,” Graham continued. “You should’ve kept your mouth shut back there, but since you didn’t, you’re stuck with this. They’re also going to try and take care of your injuries. That includes your eyes. The thing is… my superiors don’t know anything about you. They’re under the impression I was kidnapped by foreign demon hunters, so if you’re smart, you’re going to pretend you don’t know me. Do that, and I’ll get you out as soon as the docs are done with you. Don’t, and we’re both dead men. Do we have a deal?”
“Everything all right back there, Miller?” one of the guys in the front seat called back.
“Affirmative,” he replied. There was a long silence during which Xander jostled around on the bench, waiting for whatever was going to come next.
“Why did you lie about who I was?” Xander hissed when nothing was said.
Graham sighed. “I have my reasons,” he said. “Now, do we have a deal, or do you want to say goodbye to ever seeing your friends again?”
He didn’t really have a choice, not until he could think of a better plan. Or see, for that matter.
“Deal,” Xander whispered.
To be continued in Chapter 43: When Hours Have Drain’d His Blood…