The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet LXIII.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Xander has been captured by the Initiative but struck a deal with Graham to escape, while Willow tried to remove the protection spell from Buffy only to have the baby go into distress, forcing her to abort her attempt and Buffy to go to the hospital…
The ringing phone woke Robin from a dead sleep, and he stretched wearily to pick up the receiver on the nightstand. “Hello?” he mumbled.
“Buffy Summers has been taken into hospital.”
There was no greeting, no attempts at niceties, but hearing Quentin’s stiff accent was enough to jolt Robin awake.
“And you’re calling me about this because…?”
“I want you to find out what exactly has happened,” Quentin said. “Be our eyes, so to speak.”
“Sounds to me the eyes you already have are doing just fine if you know she’s been admitted.” Falling back onto his pillow, Robin sighed as he tried to gather his wits enough to deal with the Council Head on a level footing. “Ask Lydia to do this. I haven’t even agreed that I’m going to help you yet.”
“Lydia is otherwise occupied. As for our sources…” The rustle of papers came over the line. “I’m interested in a firsthand account, Robin. Sterile facts don’t tell me how her family is reacting or what might have happened to induce her admittance. These are details that I need to know if I’m to proceed as I need to.”
“You could just leave her alone, you know. It’s not like she hasn’t done her job for you.”
Quentin’s chuckle sent chills down Robin’s spine. “You, of all people, should see the Council’s need to monitor this situation,” he said. “I’ll give you until noon your time to get back with me about what you find out. That should be sufficient time for you to discover at least some preliminary information. Good day, Robin.”
The line went dead before he could respond, and he returned the phone to its base with a leaden drop. He couldn’t say no; Travers knew that. Robin just hated being manipulated so blatantly. Hopefully, he would find out that Buffy’s troubles were benign. For her sake, it would make everybody’s life a hell of a lot easier.
Nobody wanted to approach him, but frankly, Spike didn’t care. He was too busy fuming about what was taking the hospital staff so bloody long to get back with some news. It had been over an hour since Buffy had been rushed into a private room, leaving him and Joyce waiting outside twiddling their thumbs while she was getting examined. He’d not sat down for a second of that, pacing the length of the sterile corridor with heavy steps that forewarned anyone of his darkening mood.
When the doctor finally came out, Spike leapt forward, reaching him before Joyce could.
“Well?” he demanded. “How’s Buffy? Is she OK? What about the baby? What the soddin’ hell has taken you so long to get your---?”
“Spike.” Joyce’s hand was light on his arm, but her tone was firm. “Dr. Calder can’t tell us anything if you’re too busy yelling at him.”
The older man fidgeted under Spike’s glare. “Buffy is just fine,” he said. “She and the baby are stable, she’s not dilating, and the baby’s heartbeat is strong. We’re not sure what exactly happened, but considering the results she got at her ultrasound earlier today, I’m going to keep her here for observation just in case.”“Can I see her?” Spike asked.
Dr. Calder nodded. “But just for a few minutes. She needs her rest and it’s well past visiting hours. You’ll be able to come back in the morning for a more extended visit.”
“I’ll wait here,” Joyce said, patting Spike’s arm. “Just tell Buffy I love her.”
“Will do.” He followed the doctor through the hall, trying to stifle the desire to rush past and run for Buffy’s room. When they reached her door, Dr. Calder paused before pushing it open.
“You have five minutes,” he reminded.
The room smelled like sickness in spite of the layers of disinfectant the hospital had used to try and cover it up. He hated that smell. It reminded him too much of less than happy times, those awful days with his mother after he’d turned her, too many incidents with Dru to number. Buffy was stretched out on the lone bed, pale and tired, and Spike had to fight to smile when she met his eyes.
“Have I mentioned how much I hate hospitals?” she complained.
“Necessary evil,” he replied. Crossing the distance to the side of the bed, he had her cradled in his arms before she could blink, letting the echoes of hers and the baby’s heartbeats pound into his flesh. “Doc says that it’s just routine. To make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
“Yeah, except they don’t even know what happened in the first place.” Her sigh warmed his chest, and her arms tightened around his waist. “I’m scared, Spike. What if something is really wrong with the baby? What happened---.”
“Nothing’s wrong.” His voice was fiercer than he meant it to be, and he took a stabilizing breath before continuing. “I can hear it for myself, Buffy. There’s nothin’ wrong with the little one’s ticker.”
“But you didn’t feel how much it hurt,” she said. Extricating herself from his embrace, Buffy turned haunted eyes to face him. “It felt like I was being cut in two, Spike. It felt like part of me was dying. I’ve been stabbed, drowned, punched, kicked, and nothing has ever hurt like that. So, don’t tell me nothing’s wrong. Pain happens for a reason.”
“Maybe it was one of those Braxton-Hicks you were readin’ about,” he suggested. “Your body’s just doin’ a dry run for the real thing.”
“It’s too early for a dry run. There’s no way Schmoo would survive if I went into labor now.”
“Which is why they call it false labor, luv. It’s perfectly natural.” Pushing back the hair that hung in her face, Spike maintained a calm façade, desperate for her not to see the fear that was roiling inside. “I’m not goin’ to let anything happen to you or the baby, Buffy. How many times do I have to tell you that?”
“I know. It’s just…” She shook her head, sagging back against the pillows. “You’re going to think I’m silly.”
“Too late for that.”
She slapped at his arm. “I’m serious here. But…OK, it’s like this. When I’m slaying, I know what I’m fighting. I can see it. And I know who I’m fighting for. Mom, Willow, Xander, Giles. You. But this with Schmoo…it feels like it’s completely out of my control, that whatever I do, it doesn’t matter. And what’s worse, if I screw up, that’s it. Game over. Willow and Giles can always try and defend themselves if I make a mistake, but I’m all Schmoo’s got.”
“But you’re not. I’m here.”
“No offense, Spike, but if my blood pressure decides to go into outer space, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.”
The opening of the door behind him made him shut up, shifting to see the nurse hovering in the entryway with a wheelchair. “I need to move Ms. Summers to her room now,” she said. “Visiting hours start again at nine in the morning, sir.”
Spike scowled at the label, but swallowed the rejoinder that automatically rose to his lips. Turning back to Buffy, he leaned forward to brush a light kiss across her mouth.
“I’m goin’ to be waiting outside until they let me back in again,” he said softly. “You need anything, you just give me a shout. I’ll come runnin.’”
“You need to go home,” Buffy insisted.
“I need to be where you are,” he shot back.
She glanced at the nurse before whispering, “You can’t risk the sun, Spike.”
He gave her his slyest grin. “You think I don’t know how to get into the biggest blood supplier in the city at any hour of the day?” he teased. “I’ll be fine. You just make sure you rest so that I can take you home when they say I can.”
Rising from the bed, Spike stood out of the way while Buffy moved from the bed to the chair, maintaining his best cheer until she was gone. Only then did his shoulders slump, the fear start trickling back.
He was going to call Willow and find out just what had gone wrong with the spell. And then make her swear not to touch it until they sussed it out.
Maggie hung in the background, waiting for the soldiers to disperse before approaching Graham at the door. “What can you tell me about the civilian?” she asked.
He stood at attention, even though she hadn’t said a word about it. He had been extra-careful with protocols ever since his kidnapping incident. “He’s a local, ma’am. Nineteen years old, works with Sunnydale Construction.”
“Does he have any associations with the university?”
“Not that we were able to find, ma’am.”
She nodded in approval. “Good. I’d rather interrogate him myself. I don’t like the thought that the locals are aware of our operations as his statement suggests. What’s his name again?”
“Harris. Alexander Harris.”
“Thank you. Dismissed.”
She didn’t wait to watch him leave, sliding her pass key in the lock of the cell that held the prisoner. The door opened with an electric swoosh, and she stepped inside to see the young man strapped down to the gurney.
The doctors had already done their work on him, but bandages now covered his eyes instead of the blindfold. She’d been told the blindness would be temporary, which worked in their favor. He wouldn’t be able to find their base when he was released. Maggie wasn’t certain she wanted to let him loose back in the population until she was satisfied he wasn’t a threat, though.
“Hello?” he called out. His head lifted off the small pillow, as if he could see who might have entered. “If you’re here to clean the room, I’d just like to say I’m ready to check out now. I think I’m starting to overstay my welcome.”
“I’m afraid you won’t be leaving just yet.” She stepped closer, examining his other injuries. Superficial, all of them. The burns along his shoulders were barely second degree; his clothing had protected him from the worst of the demon’s blood. “How are you feeling?”
His head fell back with a soft thump. “How am I feeling?” he repeated. “How do you think I’m feeling? My civil rights are pretty much in tatters, I have demon goo in orifices that shouldn’t ever have any kind of goo in them, and your doctors keep all their instruments in the freezer. I’m doing just jim dandy, thank you.”
Ignoring his sarcasm, Maggie scribbled down a few notes on her clipboard. “Do you know where you are, Mr. Harris?”
“The seventh circle of hell? Oh, wait, that was fourth period math class.” He paused, his brow wrinkling. “How do you know my name?”
“Through the very sneaky way of looking through your wallet. Now, I’d like to talk about…”
Graham hung around outside Xander’s cell, doing his best to look inconspicuous as he strained to listen to the conversation going on inside. Dr. Walsh was the last person he wanted questioning Xander, but he couldn’t very well march in and tell her to stop. She was already watching him with an eagle eye that made him feel like the bad boy among the nuns; any day now, Walsh was going to crack and let him have it.
From what he could tell, though, it sounded like Xander was holding up his end of the deal. Graham couldn’t afford to have his secret revealed; he’d be court-martialed for sure. Worse, he wasn’t convinced that Xander was really a threat to their operations like the others seemed to think. Maybe it would be a good thing if the locals knew some of what they were doing. It would be easier to do their job, and fewer people would end up getting hurt. But that wasn’t his decision to make. His job entailed doing what he was told, rounding up the demons to bring them back for the studies, and to kill whatever was left over. His job was simple.
He was beginning to really hate his job.
When he heard Dr. Walsh’s voice get louder as she approached the door, he bolted, marching quickly away before she could catch him lurking around. He had no idea how he was going to get Harris out of the compound; the place was too heavily guarded and his movements too closely watched. Keeping him around, however, put Graham’s safety at risk, so he had to come up with something.
The something that presented itself almost made him stop in his tracks.
It was potential suicide, but considering the rock and hard place he was stuck between, Graham didn’t think he had much of a choice. This way, too, he would be exonerated should Xander’s escape fail. It was the only solution that ultimately made sense.
Even if he hadn’t been smoking, the red flare of his cigarette illuminating the harsh planes of his face, the yellow of the streetlamps above him betrayed Spike’s presence at the front of the hospital just as readily, halting Robin in his steps. He watched the vampire sit hunched against the building wall, knees drawn up, head bowed once he’d flicked away the butt. He looked like a man lost. Robin’s lip curled in disdain.
He didn’t want to be here, but maybe Spike’s presence would save him an awkward trip inside. He had yet to figure out how to get the information Travers wanted; this was as likely a method as any.
Resuming a steady pace, Robin walked up to the doors of the Emergency Room, only pretending to hesitate when he passed the black leather form. “Spike?” he asked, as if he didn’t know who the man was.
Spike lifted his head. The blue eyes were bloodshot, but Robin knew right away that it wasn’t due to alcohol or drugs. The dried tracks on his cheeks told the true story. A long minute passed where Spike just stared at him blankly, but then the eyes narrowed, the head tilting as recognition dawned.
“Buffy’s psych prof,” he announced.
“Teaching assistant,” Robin corrected automatically. He nodded in the direction of the hospital. “Kind of a funny place to be hanging out in the middle of the night, isn’t it?”
“Could say the same for you.”
Robin was ready for that. “A friend of mine was attacked tonight,” he said. “He called me to come pick him up and give him a ride home.”
“Well, they don’t call it the Hellmouth for nothin’,” Spike muttered.
He wiped wearily at his face, straightening to his full height. As it had the first time he’d seen him, Robin was surprised at how much smaller Spike was than him. In his memories, his mother’s killer had always towered over her. This demon only hit five-ten because of his boots.
“You’re not here because of Buffy, are you?” Robin asked carefully.
“Had a bit of a scare with the baby,” Spike admitted. His lashes were lowered, his gaze continuously drawn to the closed doors as if he wished he could be inside rather than out. “They’ve got her in for observation to make sure her and the little one are all right.”
“Not too serious, I hope.”
“Nah. Docs figure it’s just false labor.”
“But she’s OK?”
“She’ll be better once they let her out of this place.” At Robin’s frown, he elaborated. “She’s not right fond of hospitals. She’s not so pleased about havin’ to stick around if all they’re goin’ to do is keep an eye on her.”
“For some reason, that doesn’t surprise me,” Robin said. “Buffy’s always struck me as the independent type.” He paused. “That must drive you crazy.”
“Are you kidding? Love it. Well, most of the time. But it’s part of why I fell in love with her in the first place. She just has this way of makin’ everybody else around her…better.”
It wasn’t a confession that he wanted to hear. The ache in Spike’s voice was real, and if he hadn’t known the truth about his being a vampire, Robin would’ve been convinced that this was a man desperately in love. “That sounds like a true gift,” he murmured, unsure of what else to say.
Spike’s eyes were solemn when they looked back to Robin. “You don’t know the half of it,” he said. There was a moment of quiet contemplation, and then he asked, “You have kids?”
Robin smiled, trying to lighten the mood. “Gotta have a girl for that,” he said. “Why do you ask?”
“Just wondering if all this is normal,” came the reply.
“The false labor?”
Spike shook his head. “No, know enough ‘bout what’s goin’ on in her body not to be fussed about that. It’s the other part. The part I can’t touch.”
“OK, you’ve lost me.”
Reaching into his coat pocket, Spike extracted a crumpled pack of cigarettes, shaking his head when he found only one more remained inside. “Should quit,” he said to nobody in particular. “Don’t know why I keep it on when Buffy and her mum give me the evil eye every time I reach for a pack of fags.”
“Because it’s comfortable,” Robin replied. “Holding onto something you can control while the rest of the world changes around you.”
Spike grinned around the cigarette that hung from his bottom lip. “Guess I asked for the psychobabble, eh?” he said, fumbling for his lighter. A long second passed as he lit the tip, taking a deep drag and exhaling into the cool night air. “It’s just…” And Robin realized that he’d gone back to clarifying his earlier comment. “…little one’s not even born yet, yeah? Got another three months before we even know if it’s a boy or a girl. And still, it almost killed me tonight thinking something might’ve happened to it. I guess I didn’t realize just how attached to it I am already.”
Robin waited for him to continue, but that seemed to be all Spike was going to say on the matter. “I could slip into psychobabble mode again and say that mothers aren’t the only ones to bond with their unborn child, but something tells me you already know that,” he said. He shoved his hands into his pockets and took a step closer to the doors. This touchy-feely sharing session with Spike was the last thing he’d wanted when he’d stopped to talk to him, and it was leaving him with a sour taste in the back of his mouth.
“I better get going,” he said, edging even further away. “Give Buffy my best, OK?”
Spike only nodded, turning to stare into the night sky.
Robin’s hand was on the door when he paused. “Spike?” he called out.
“If Buffy’s fine, why are you still here?”
The vampire grinned. “Gotta be here when my girl wakes up, don’t I?”
He made the explanation sound so much like it should be common sense that Robin felt embarrassed for having asked. He just gave Spike a curt nod and disappeared into the hospital.
Though he never saw her face, Xander couldn’t shake the feeling that he should know the doctor who kept bugging him with questions. She was relentless, going back over the same ground again and again, never once raising her voice or making it sound like she was frustrated with his non-answers. Even when Xander made the joke comparing the vigilante demon hunters to the Keystone Kops, she didn’t crack. She just changed the subject back to why he’d been out on the edge of town in the first place.
Briefly, he wondered if he was making a mistake trusting Graham. If he told the stoic Dr. Walsh exactly how her soldier boy had lied to her…but no. That would open a can of worms that would very likely get him into worse trouble. She’d want to know how he knew what he did, and that would definitely get him stuck in a cell with someone called Moose telling him how pretty his mouth was. Growing up on a Hellmouth or not, Xander wasn’t quite ready to deal with something like that.
It also didn’t help that he couldn’t see a damn thing. Dr. Walsh and the others kept saying that the treatment had been successful, but Xander wasn’t seeing that, every pun intended. So, until he could walk out of wherever it was they were holding him without bumping into the wall instead of the doorway, he was going to have to play by their rules. Or Graham’s rules. He really hoped that Graham was going to stick with his end of the deal, though how that was going to end up happening, Xander had no idea.
He heard her flip some more paper, the scratch of a pen as she wrote something else down. He had no idea what it could be; the most interesting thing he’d thought he said was that the demon goo had made his nose feel like it was running.
“You’re looking tired,” Dr. Walsh said. “I’ll be back in the morning to talk to you again. Perhaps some sleep will make you a little more…responsive.”
“You really expect me to sleep strapped down like this?” he asked. “You people have heard of bed sores, right? I happen to have extra-sensitive skin here. Keeping me in one position like this is just asking for trouble.”
She ignored his really bad lie. The next thing he knew, there was a sharp prick in the crook of his elbow, and he jumped as much as his restraints would allow.
“You didn’t get enough out of me already?” he complained. Why the hell were they taking a blood sample?
“Have a good night, Mr. Harris,” she said. The next thing he heard was the soft electronic whoosh of the door. He was alone.
Fear began to bubble inside his stomach. Nobody had known where he was all day; odds were very good that Buffy wasn’t going to come marching in for the grand rescue any minute. Even if she wasn’t pregnant, she still had no clue as to where the vigilantes were based. She would have no idea where to start looking for him.
The only person he’d even seen before going off on his brood session was Havi, and he’d been too harsh with her to think that she’d be worried about his absence any time soon.
Xander sighed. Yeah, it was all coming back to Graham. He was starting to wish he’d been a little nicer to the guy when he’d been chained up in Giles’ tub.
Having Devon knock at his door in the dead of night was nothing new to Oz. Rubbing wearily at his eyes, he pushed aside the blankets and rolled off the bed, padding silently across the room to answer it.
“I hope you remember where you left your car this time,” he commented when he opened the door. “I’d hate to run out of gas like we did last time looking for it.”
Devon just stared at him for a long moment before shaking his head blankly. “There’s some dude out front who says he needs to see you,” he said. “Says it can’t wait.”
“Is it Spike?” Oz asked.
“You think I’m so stoned I wouldn’t recognize Spike if I saw him? It’s some other dude. Not Harris, either, before you ask.”
With a frown, Oz followed Devon down the hall, continuing on to the front door when his buddy flopped back onto the couch. The door stood slightly ajar, and he pushed it further open, peering around to see the stiff form of Graham Miller waiting at the edge of the porch.
A minute of silence passed between the two men as they regarded each other.
“Huh,” Oz finally said.
To be continued in Chapter 44: Him Have I Lost…