The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CXXXIV.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Graham has gone to see Oz, Robin has run into Spike at the hospital, and Buffy is being forced to stay in for observation…
Her sleep was restless, dreams of deformed babies and vampires hunting her down in her pregnant state keeping Buffy from getting the rest she needed. She woke with eyes that ached and nerves that refused to calm in spite of the fact that she could no longer feel any of the residual pains that had plagued her the previous night. The danger to the baby seemed to be past; everything else, she told herself, was inconsequential.
She was lightly dozing when she heard her door open, but when she cracked her eyelids to see which doctor was coming to poke at her now, Buffy was mildly surprised to see Spike hovering just inside the entrance.
“What time is it?” she asked, her voice still thick from sleep.
“Just gone eight,” Spike replied. Closing the distance between them, he sat on the edge of her bed as she rolled onto her back, his eyes darting to the swell of her stomach beneath the blankets. “How are you feelin’?”
She couldn’t help but smile softly when his hand came to rest automatically on her bump. “Physically, like I’m ready to get out of this place,” she said.
“No more pains?”
“Not a one.” What he’d said suddenly sunk in, and Buffy frowned. “I thought visiting hours didn’t start until nine.”
“They don’t. Couldn’t wait any longer.”
“Is Mom in the waiting room then?”
His eyes shuttered at the question. “I reckon she’s still at home,” he said. “I didn’t exactly go with her last night.”
His meaning made her eyes widen. “You stayed?”
Spike’s smile was shy. “’Course I did. You really think I’d get more than a few feet from where I could help if something went wrong? You and the little one are the two single most important things in this unlife of mine. You know that.”
“Well, yeah, but…” Buffy’s voice trailed away. The sudden rush of emotion from his simple testimony constricted her throat, and she could feel the distinct burn of tears in the back of her eyes. Stupid hormones, she thought, ducking her head to avoid letting him see her weakness. She hated looking like such a baby in front of him when she knew how much he valued seeing her strong. It was hard not to be touched by the sentiment of his words, though.
“Soon as I get you home again,” Spike was saying, “I’m all set to pamper you until you’re begging me to stop. I’ll even sit and watch that Steel Magnolias with you if you want. You just have to promise me not to get stroppy if all that treacle makes me heave.”
The mention of pampering pushed her over the edge. Sitting up, Buffy took Spike by surprise by throwing her arms around his neck, tugging him as close as she could in a powerful hug. “Have I mentioned yet how much I love you?” she murmured.
She felt his nose bury in her hair, his strong hands splaying across her back to hold her just as close. “Never get tired of hearing that,” he whispered. His lips moved across her shoulder, sending ripples of pleasure down her spine in spite of her lethargy. “Love you, too, pet.”
Buffy closed her eyes, letting herself sink into the safety of his embrace. If the doctors didn’t give her the green light to go home, she had a feeling both she and Spike would have words to say about that. Neither was pleased about her situation, and if the pains were gone, staying in the hospital was just keeping them apart.
More than anything else, Buffy wanted him near. She needed Spike near. Regardless of what she’d said to him the previous night about not being able to help with the baby, she knew that he did other, just as important, things to keep her and Schmoo safe. That’s what she wanted right now. She figured she had it due.
Half of Willow was desperate for Buffy to get home from the hospital; the other half was terrified of facing Spike when it happened. Though she’d waited anxiously for them to come back the previous night, she’d also been relieved when Joyce had arrived alone. Things were not going to be pretty. Spike was going to want answers that she just couldn’t give him. She couldn’t even give them to herself.
Though she’d camped out with Havi for the night, Willow was the first one up and around in the morning, bustling in the kitchen with the fixings for pancakes. She was in the middle of looking around for something sweet to put in them when the phone rang, sending her skittering to answer it before it could wake up anybody else in the house.
“Summers’ residence,” she said, breathlessly.
“Willow.” There wasn’t even surprise in Oz’s voice that she’d picked up the phone. “How’s Buffy?”
“Fine, last I heard. They kept her in for observation last night. Mrs. Summers is going to go over after breakfast and see if Buffy can come home today.”
“Good. Listen, can you put Spike on the phone? I kind of need to talk to him.”
Cradling the phone in her shoulder, Willow went back to her search of the cupboards. “He’s not here,” she said. “He spent the night at the hospital. Something about keeping guard.”
Something about Oz’s tone made him seem disappointed in the response, and Willow froze in mid-reach for the chocolate chips. “Is something wrong?” she asked.
“Sorta. Well, no, definitely, but it’s more of a cosmic irony kind of wrong. Interesting, actually. Is Havi there?”
“Yeah, you want me to get her?”
“No, just…keep her there, will you? I’m on my way over. I’ve got somebody who needs to talk to her. I’m just going to swing by the hospital and pick up Spike first.”
He was gone before Willow could question him further, and she stood to hang up the phone with a frown back on her face. She knew it was bad, but she kind of hoped that whatever was up was enough to distract Spike and Buffy from the question of what exactly had happened with the baby. Willow was sure that all she needed was time to sort out where the spell had gone wrong. Then, she could fix it.
When the docs kicked him out of Buffy’s room so that they could look her over in private, the last person Spike expected to run into in the waiting room was Oz.
“Joyce send you over?” he asked.
“Actually, I came looking for you.”
Spike immediately stiffened. “This isn’t about---,” he started, but Oz was swift to cut him off.
“I’m pretty sure there’s no way in hell you could ever guess,” he said. “Remember Giles’ little houseguest a few months back?”
It took a few seconds for Spike to understand what Oz was referring to. “He hasn’t had another surprise visit, has he?” he asked, stepping away from the busier part of the room so that their conversation could continue without the benefit of eavesdroppers.
“No. I have.”
Spike listened as Oz detailed what Graham had shared, the story of Xander’s capture and subsequent interrogation, ending with Graham’s arrival on Oz’s doorstep. When Oz was done speaking, Spike shook his head.
“He’s got stones of steel, I’ll give the wanker that much,” he commented.
“Actually, I think I kind of believe him.”
“You’re kiddin’, right? You lot kept him in chains in Rupert’s bathtub. You really expect a fella to have your best intentions at heart after something like that? I know I’d be lookin’ to rip out a few throats if it was me.”
“I know. I think it would make me a little cranky, too. But I called Xander’s mom and she confirmed that he didn’t come home last night. That jives with what Graham claims.”
“Oh, I’m not sayin’ he’s not on the up-and-up about Harris gettin’ snatched,” Spike said. “I just think it’s a set-up and your glasses are just a bit too rosy to see it properly.”
Oz stuffed his hands in his pockets, his eyes unwavering. “Is this your way of saying you don’t want to help us get Xander back?’ he asked. “I mean, if you’d rather hang around here waiting for Buffy, that’s cool. I’m sure Buffy would appreciate that.”
It took all of Spike’s control not to roll his eyes in disgust. The wolf knew exactly what buttons to push, and if it was anybody else, Spike would rip his head off for even trying such a tactic. But Oz also had a point. If Harris really was in trouble---and knowing him, he probably was---Buffy would’ve been the first in line to help him if it wasn’t for her condition. Hell, she’d likely do it even being pregnant. Spike would come out with the short end of the stick if he didn’t at least offer to lend a hand.
“Lemme find out what’s goin’ on with Buffy first,” Spike said. “If the docs make her stay on, we can go after Harris then.”
“Are you going to tell her about Xander?”
“And give her even more rubbish to fuss about?” He shook his head. “She’s got enough on her mind without worrying about Harris, too.”
Together, they waited until the doctor emerged from Buffy’s room. Once Spike heard the news that they wanted to keep her in at least through the afternoon, he nodded to Oz before slipping in to see Buffy.
In spite of her swollen belly, she looked tiny in the sterile bed. “Doctors can be incredibly unreasonable, you know that?” she commented when she saw it was Spike. Reaching for the TV remote, she edged to the side to make room for him to come join her. “I’m counting on you to tell me where the good stuff is,” she said, turning the set on. “But no soaps. Or Jerry Springer. I don’t care how much you love the fights.”
“Actually, luv, I have to step out for a bit.” The announcement took her by surprise, and he hastened to fill the silence before she started asking questions he didn’t want to answer. “Oz needs me to help sort a situation for him. Shouldn’t be too long, and your mum will be around in just a few anyway. I’m sure she’ll chatter more than enough to make you forget I’m not even here.”
But her disappointment was more than evident, driving Spike to her side to pull her into his arms. “I’ll be back before the doc comes by to check on you this afternoon,” he said, brushing a kiss across her temple. “And I’ll make it up to you tonight. I promise.”
“I’m going to hold you to that promise,” she murmured. She was soft and pliant in his arms, making it even harder for him to let her go. “Can the promise come with ice cream, too?”
His lips quirked. “I assume chocolate will suffice.”
“It will suffice just nicely, thank you.”
With one last kiss, Spike broke free, ambling to the door and back out to Oz. Neither man said a word as they headed for the parking lot, though Spike imagined that would change once they got to the Summers’ household. Even if he didn’t really care for Havi, he knew one thing for sure. She was protective of her own, and if there was one thing she’d taken possession of since coming to the Hellmouth, it was Xander Harris.
Maggie wasn’t entirely sure what to do with the young man. His answers had been thoroughly useless, and she was fairly certain that he’d been mocking her more than once with references she didn’t quite get. If he’d been one of her students, she would’ve failed him without blinking, or made him so miserable that he would’ve dropped out of her class and made her life infinitely easier. He wasn’t, though. He was a potential threat if he leaked what he suspected to the public. She just wasn’t sure yet what he knew exactly.
She was still lost in her decision-making when the knock came at her door. Bidding the visitor to come in, she closed the file in time to look up and see the private hovering in the entrance. “Yes?” Maggie prompted.
“I checked everywhere but Miller isn’t in the compound,” he said.
“Try him at the frat house, then.”
“I already have. He hasn’t been seen since dropping off the prisoner last night.”
The announcement puzzled Maggie, and she dismissed the soldier with a frown already marring her features. It was unlike Graham to behave in this manner; ever since his unfortunate experience with the demonhunters, his deportment had been exemplary. Perfect, even.
The correlation made her pause. Hadn’t one of the other soldiers said that he’d thought Harris knew Graham? The other two had denied hearing such a claim, and nothing Xander had said during his interrogation hinted that the claim held any validity. Maggie had dismissed it out of hand.
But what if the soldier had been right? Was there somehow a link between the two young men? Why else would Graham disappear so thoroughly?
Picking up the phone, she punched in the extension she wanted and opened up the file as she waited for someone to answer. “Prep Exam Room Four,” she ordered. “Has our new guest been given medical clearance for further examinations yet?”
“Not yet, ma’am. Another eight to ten hours, the doctors say.”
Maggie sighed. “Fine. Just have the exam room ready for then. I’ll be conducting an additional interrogation with Mr. Harris. Make sure the doctors know that I expect him to be in the proper condition for it.”
She hung up without waiting for a response. Though she wasn’t happy about having to wait, she also knew that she could make the situation worse if she used what few drugs they had before Harris’ body could handle it. She wanted the young man able to speak, not in a coma. More importantly, she wanted to know what the connection between him and Miller was, once and for all.
For once, Spike didn’t hold Havi back when she acted out.
Lounging against the door jamb, he watched with amusement as she slammed Graham into the wall, creating a new crack in the plaster, with Willow and Oz scrambling to pull her off.
Havi wasn’t budging.
“If he is hurt,” she hissed, “you will never know such pain as that I will cause you. I will---.”
“We really don’t need the visual,” Willow interrupted, tugging at the arm Havi had pressed against Graham’s throat. “And besides, if you rip out his vocal cords, he can’t tell us how to get Xander out, now can he?”
“But I will feel much better,” Havi said. But her grip eased enough for Oz to pull Graham away from the wall, letting Willow guide her to a stand a few feet away.
“He didn’t have to come to us,” Oz said.
“Anyone thought to ask yet just why he did?” Spike commented. When all eyes turned to him, he shrugged. “I know I’m not the only one thinkin’ set-up here. And if you’re not, then shame on you for bein’ just this short of stupid.”
The room fell silent, attention shifting back to Graham. The focus didn’t ruffle his composure, and he leveled a clear gaze to Havi.
“I’m not going to lie,” he said. “I think you guys are crazy for trusting HST’s like you do.” His head jerked in Spike’s direction. “He’ll turn on you. People you care about will die. That’s a given. It’s what vampires do.”
“He’s a friend,” Oz said.
“That doesn’t change what he is.” Something fleeting passed behind Graham’s eyes. “But…that doesn’t have anything to do with why I came here. I made a deal with Xander to help him get out if he didn’t let anybody know that he was part of the group that kidnapped me in September. He kept his word. It’s time for me to keep mine.”
Willow frowned. “If you knew who was holding you,” she asked, “why would you lie about it to your bosses? I would’ve thought you’d come after us the first chance you got.”
Spike saw the way the soldier glanced at Oz and remembered the day soon before Graham had escaped that Oz had spent hours in the bathroom. Something had obviously been said between the two, something that inspired trust on either end, but he had a funny feeling that the details of that meeting would forever remain a mystery.
“Let’s just say, I came to believe that what we’d done in taking the HS---Oz, into custody wasn’t exactly in anyone’s best interest,” Graham said. “I told my superiors that I’d been kidnapped by demonhunters who were after the werewolf as well. When one got hospitalized soon after that in a coma, they decided to believe me.”
Havi blanched at the indirect mention of Baltozar. “Why come to us to help free Xander?” she asked. “You went to great efforts to keep your organization a secret. Why are you risking discovery by coming to us now?”
Spike might not like Havi, but he couldn’t help but admire her shrewd mind. She was the only one of the other three treating the situation with the gravity it required. He would’ve preferred watching her beat the soldier to a bloody pulp, but at least the questions were getting put onto the table now. It was about time.
“Because I can’t do it on my own,” Graham said. “The place is a fortress. It’s designed to be that way. It’s been operating under your noses for months now, and not once has a civilian stumbled across what we haven’t wanted to be found.”
“Well, that’s not exactly true,” Willow said. “We saw you snatching the vampires more than once.”
“But you never found our base of operations. And you wouldn’t have had me in your custody so long if you hadn’t had outside help. Getting your friend out isn’t going to be easy.”
“Are we talking spooning salt into a glass or a lake?” Oz asked.
Spike’s mouth twitched into a half-smile when he saw the confusion in Havi and Graham’s faces. He doubted either had ever even read Siddharta to recognize the reference; it was one of the many reasons he liked the werewolf so much.
“I can get you into the compound through one of the back ways,” Graham said, ignoring Oz’s question. “From there, though, you’re going to have to be on your own. I can’t risk my superiors finding out about my involvement.”
“You would trust us with that?” Havi asked.
“You’re trusting me,” came the reply. “It works both ways.”
“I can use my magic to find Xander,” Willow volunteered. “And a sort-of glamour to shield our presence once we’re down there.”
“S’pose that makes me and Studs your muscle then,” Spike said.
Graham’s head snapped to the side, his eyes wide as he stared at Spike in disbelief. “You’re not going,” he said.
“I told you---,” Oz started.
“I don’t care,” Graham interrupted. “He’s a vampire.”
Spike shrugged. “You think you can get him out without my help, be my guest. It’ll make for a good laugh after when you get your ass kicked.”
“We need him. He comes.”
Nobody was more shocked than Spike to hear Havi sound out so adamantly about his contribution to the team. He’d certainly never given her a reason to welcome his aid, and though they’d had their moments of détente over the past few months, they’d had even more friction. When he quirked an eyebrow at her in question, however, her face remained impassive.
“Xander is his friend as well,” Havi continued.
“Well, I wouldn’t go that far, Studs---.”
“---and we will require as many allies as possible. He comes whether you care for him or not.”
Graham clearly didn’t like the ultimatum, but the determination in the faces around him seemed enough to keep him from arguing further. Pressing his lips together, he just shook his head, folding his arms across his chest as he said, “You’re all crazy, you know that?”
“Yeah, but it's OK,” Willow said with a bright smile. “Pretty soon, you don’t even notice the crazy.”
“We should go,” Havi said. “We’ve wasted enough time already. We need to get Xander back.”
Graham’s gaze flickered from Spike to the drawn curtains. “But…it’s daylight.”
“You think I let a little thing like that stop me?” Spike drawled. He grabbed his blanket from where he’d draped it over the banister. “Studs is right. Let’s go.”
The one advantage to working for the Council---if Robin could call being co-opted against his better judgment working---was that it gave him an excuse to go see Lydia at the house and hopefully run into Esme again. Her words from their first meeting still haunted his waking thoughts and some of his sleeping ones as well; he needed to see just how far she was willing to go or the possibilities would never stop offering themselves.
Lydia came out when he pulled up in front of the house, her arms hugging her slim body. “Wesley has gone to visit Rupert,” she said when Robin approached. “But we must still be discreet. The…woman we’ve been assigned to watch over is rather inquisitive.”
Robin nodded, though he was slightly disappointed when Lydia lingered outside instead of inviting him in. “Did he go in because of Buffy?” he asked.
“Do you know something? Mr. Travers said---.”
“Buffy’s fine. As much as I can tell, it really is false labor. Nothing for the Council to worry about.”
“Wesley and Rupert will be glad to hear that.”
When she stiffened at his casual use of the Council Head’s first name, it took all of Robin’s will not to shake his head in annoyance. He wasn’t as intimidated by the old man like those who worked directly in his employ, and he knew that Lydia was more than a little miffed that he’d been pulled in to help with the Council’s plans. She’d seen this as her way to wheedle herself back into Quentin’s good graces, and now it appeared as if Robin was thwarting those efforts. He had little tolerance for such childish behavior.
“We need to discuss our next step,” she said, sidestepping his question. “Mr. Travers is very eager for our guarantee that he’ll be able to control the Slayer before she can give birth.”
Robin gestured at the surrounding area. “And you want to do it out here when you’ve got a perfectly good indoors where we won’t get windburn and chapped lips?” he asked.
“Well, I thought---.”
“That’s your problem, Lydia. You think too much.” Pushing past her, his hand was on the doorknob before she could stop him, turning it and pushing the door open to step off the porch.
“We can’t,” Lydia hissed, close on his heels. “Esme---.”
“Is right here.” The old woman’s voice made Lydia stop, but Robin’s gaze was unwavering when he met the witch’s dark eyes. “She does so like talking about me as if I wasn’t a real person. It’s frustrating, actually.”
The question of how Esme was going to react to his presence was answered when she stepped forward and stuck out her hand. “I don’t believe we’ve met,” she said. He saw the cunning flicker in her eyes and wondered how Lydia could be so blind to it. “I’m Esme. Lydia’s…aunt. You must be the young man she keeps talking about.”
He decided to keep up the charade and gave her his most gracious smile. “Just call me Robin,” he said.
“Why don’t you go put some tea on, Lydia?” Esme said. “It’ll give me a chance to talk to your young man.”
“I hardly think---.”
“Tea sounds lovely,” Robin interjected.
Lydia looked less than pleased, but after a worried glance between them, she disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Esme to pull Robin over to the couch.
“Well, this is certainly interesting,” she said in a voice he was certain couldn’t be heard from the other room.
“You know about Lydia’s…project?” he asked.
Esme smiled. “I know enough. She’s explained you to Wesley by calling you her boyfriend. He’s not aware of your heritage.” Her eyes gleamed in anticipation. “Does your presence here mean you’ve given some thought to what I said to you?”
His mouth went suddenly dry. He hadn’t really thought after he’d left the hospital; he’d just gotten into his car and driven until he found himself on Lydia’s doorstep. “I suppose it means I have,” he said carefully.
Something in her face softened, but he had no clue as to why. “It must sting to know that William the Bloody is leading such a gratifying existence now,” she said. Her tone was soothing, and Robin couldn’t help but nod. It was the truth, after all. “If I had my powers back, I could make it so that he paid for eternity for what he did to your mother. That kind of loss deserves some kind of retribution, don’t you think?”
“But you don’t,” Robin said.
“I could. If you helped me. And then I’d give you what you wish for the most. For Spike to hurt just as much as you do.”
And there it was. The offer he’d been refusing to consciously acknowledge ever since he’d left her the first time. The promise of it was a double-edged sword, an allure that could potentially damn him forever.
“I don’t…” he started, but then he did. He saw Spike’s face in the hollow light of the hospital, heard the devotion for a child not yet born, and the potential of how much grief he could cause made his heart beat even faster. “The baby…”
Esme smiled, a slash of malice that would’ve chilled him at any other time. “Of course,” she whispered. “Tit for tat. He killed your mother, and you would take away his child. I do like the symmetry of that.”
So did Robin. Too much.
“You could have that,” she was saying. Her hand clawed into his thigh, and she was suddenly so close that Robin could see the individual flecks in her eyes. Some of them gleamed gold; he couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen that before. “All I need is my magic back. You do that for me, and I’ll make sure Spike suffers more than you could ever dream.”
Her next words were barely a breath. “Kill Willow Rosenberg, and it’ll all come true.”
To be continued in Chapter 45: Against Myself I’ll Fight…