The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy has to stay in the hospital, the gang has decided to go rescue Xander, and Esme has given Robin a choice to make…
He made his excuses to leave as soon as Lydia came out of the kitchen. Esme’s words echoed inside Robin’s skull, the possibilities of what she was suggesting making him run alternately hot and cold as he slid into the front seat of his car.
He wasn’t a murderer. He couldn’t do what she was suggesting. Willow Rosenberg was an innocent, a remarkable young woman with a bright future ahead of her. It was impossible to consider that he could take that away from her.
And what about Buffy? She’d always seemed so happy about the pregnancy, regardless of its odd origins. What right did Robin have to tarnish that in any way?
But then, his mother’s voice filled his head, the memories flooding him with increasing dread of each and every time she’d argued with him about her “mission,” about how he had to step back, stay out of her way so that she could make killing these monsters her primary purpose. How he had hated her mission, hated that it had taken her away from him, hated that he had never been important enough or good enough to supercede the calling that drove her to her inevitable death.
Buffy’s child would always be second-best. She would make promises that she would then break because something apocalyptic would come along to distract her from the one thing that loved her most in this world.
Then she would die. And the child would be all on its own, with a legacy of confusion and an evil vampire for a so-called father.
He rubbed his eyes, trying to blot out the thoughts. The fact that he was even considering this made him sick to his stomach. There had to be limits; somewhere a line had to be drawn. If he killed Willow---an innocent---wouldn’t that make him just as much of a monster as Spike?
He needed to speak to Buffy. Glancing at the clock on the dash, Robin remembered Spike’s words, the assurance that the Slayer would be released in the morning. It was now close to ten. Odds were she was already home, and since Revello Drive was nearer than the hospital, he’d swing by there first. Seeing Buffy would clear his head.
What he actually saw sent his thoughts muddling in an entirely new direction. As he was about to turn the corner onto Buffy’s street, he glanced down in time to see a smoking form make a mad dash for the van packed in the drive. Willow and a tall woman he didn’t recognize followed right after, but it was the second pair emerging from the Summers’ house that made Robin frown.
Oz, he expected. He’d recognized the van as his. But the muscular young man at his side carried himself with the stiff posture of the military, broad shoulders back, minimal upper body movement. Robin squinted, examining him closer. He knew him. He’d seen him with Maggie a couple of times over the past semester; he was one of her soldier boys.
It wasn’t until the van had backed into the street that he remembered the name. Graham Miller. Funny, but he’d never thought they were all friends. Unless…had Maggie asked the same of Graham that she’d asked of Riley and Robin?
Since they were all leaving the house, Robin assumed that meant Buffy was still at the hospital. He waited at the stop sign for the van to pass, following at a discreet distance as they made their way into town. When they turned onto campus and away from the hospital, however, Robin’s unease returned. Perhaps one of them had forgotten something, he reasoned.
Except they drove past the dorms, past the frat houses, past any building that might’ve offered interest to them. They exited the rear of campus and joined traffic that would take them toward the large industrial park utilized by the university. He lost them at a red light.
When he finally found the abandoned van on the side of the road and no sign of its occupants, Robin reached for his phone. He had no idea where she would be, so he tried her cell first. He was relieved when she answered on the second ring.
“Well, this is a surprise,” Maggie said. “I didn’t think I’d hear from you again much before classes started up.”
“I didn’t have this on my agenda this morning, either,” he replied. “But something came up, and I wanted to talk to you about it.”
“I hope it’s not something that’s spoiling your holiday.”
“No, no. Just…how long have you had Graham Miller assigned to your Slayer business?”
There was a long silence. When Maggie finally spoke, the controlled neutrality of her voice was more revealing than anything she might have said.
“Why would you think I do?” she asked.
Briefly, he described what he’d seen at the Summers’ house, ending with his trek through campus. “As much as I’ve seen Buffy and her friends this semester,” he said, “not once have I seen them with Miller. They’ve never even mentioned him in passing.”
“It must be a recent acquaintance. He’s not there in any official capacity.” She paused. “Where did you say you last saw them?”
By the time he got off the phone, Robin was feeling marginally better. Whatever was going on had nothing to do with Buffy; he could rest easier that Maggie hadn’t switched around her plans to try a more aggressive approach with the Slayer.
Doing a U-turn in the road, he headed back in the direction of the hospital. He still needed to talk to her. At least he was assured that he wouldn’t have Spike around this time.
“This is one of our emergency entrances,” Graham said, leading them through the empty warehouse. “It’s rarely used due to its remote location, and it leads almost directly into the infirmary where security is lower.”
“I still can’t believe it,” Willow said in amazement. “The entire operation is underground? How did you ever do that much work excavating without anybody in town noticing?”
“We didn’t. One of the reasons Sunnydale was chosen as a base of operations was the network of subterranean tunnels and caverns already in place. The way I understand it, Mayor Wilkins was very accommodating about a lot of things in order to get the contract.”
Oz’s mouth twisted in amusement. “The giant demon snake approving the construction of a giant demon collection agency? This day’s just full of cosmic irony, isn’t it?”
“Where are they keeping Xander?” Havi asked.
“I don’t know,” Graham admitted. “He was being interrogated in one of the holding cells, but he was also being treated for the HST attack last night. If you’re lucky, he was moved back for observation.”
Spike suddenly kicked at an empty pallet. “Observation,” he muttered with disgust.
Oz clapped a supportive hand on Spike’s shoulder, the pair of them walking in silence until Spike pulled himself straight again.
“Just remember,” Graham said, stopping at a large grate in the floor. “This is a top-notch facility. You will be outnumbered, and you will be outgunned.”
“They got a Red?” Spike asked.
It wasn’t until Oz nodded toward Willow that Graham understood. “Oh,” he said. “No. Not really.”
“Then I’d say it’s not so mismatched as you might think.” Crouching, Spike curled his fingers through the grate and pulled, tossing it aside with ease. “Let’s get this over with. Promised Buffy I’d be back before they looked her over again and I don’t intend to go back on my word just ‘cause Harris can’t keep his ass out of trouble.”
“Oh, like he’s never helped save yours,” Willow teased.
“Takin’ movies back to Blockbuster before they’re overdue doesn’t count,” he shot back.
The banter continued as each descended through the hole in the floor. Graham just shook his head,
“They’re all going to die,” he murmured when the last head disappeared.
Getting down was easy. Getting ten feet into the compound was not.
Willow almost bumped into Spike’s back before she realized he’d obeyed the barked command. Peeking around his shoulder, she saw six armed soldiers blocking the end of the hallway.
“Knew it was a bloody trap,” she heard Spike mutter.
“I said, halt!” The soldier in front took a step closer, tilting the aim of his gun off to Willow’s side. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Havi freeze in her paces, though her crossbow remained ready.
“Lower your weapons!”
Spike held up his hands. “Do these count?” he asked. “Never can tell when it comes to you blokes.”
The lead soldier ignored the sarcasm, his eyes narrowing as he scanned the group. “Where’s Miller?”
“As a matter of fact---.”
Willow pinched Spike to shut him up. He glared at her, but stepped aside when she pushed her way to the front.
“Hi,” she said brightly, waggling her fingers in greeting. “Who did you say you were looking for?”
“Not you,” the soldier barked.
“Are you sure? ‘Cause it kind of sounded like my name you said.”
“What the hell are you doin’, Red?”
It was barely a hiss, but she kept her perky façade focused on the threat ahead of them. “Trust me, Spike,” she whispered, trying not to move her lips too much. “Oh. And step back.”
The power had been tingling in her palms since the first command, gathering strength as she waited for the right moment. As she heard the lead soldier start to issue the order about searching for Miller, she decided the moment had come.
The spell tumbled from her lips. It was one she’d been working on to use when she finally got the chance to patrol, and she’d been anxious to give it a go at something that didn’t have leaves. Maintenance was beginning to be a little suspicious about all the scorch marks on the trees around the back of the dorm. She had to alter it for these purposes, though, since these were actual people she was targeting instead of demons. She didn’t want to kill them; she just wanted to incapacitate them long enough to get by.
The flames seemed to jump from the walls. The soldiers had been wary of an attack from the front, but when fire exploded inward, it took all but Willow by surprise, making everybody in the gang jump back toward the ladder while the soldiers’ uniforms burst into a cascade of orange and red.
It only lasted a moment. The fire disappeared just as the soldiers slumped to the floor. Their clothing was charred and ragged, burns already mottling their exposed skin, and she could see the welts swelling on their hands from where they’d been holding their weapons.
“What the bloody hell was that?” Spike exploded.
“Wasn’t it neat?” Her smile was brilliant, but when she twisted to face the others, Willow was surprised to see the various looks of worry and disapproval. “What?”
“You couldn’t have just put them to sleep or something?” Oz asked.
Her delight faltered. “I didn’t have that spell ready,” she explained. “And the way’s clear now, right? That’s what we wanted.”
“Yeah, well, at least one of us is even more flammable than you,” Spike complained.
“I told you to step back!”
“You didn’t say you were turnin’ the walls into the towering inferno!”
“It worked, didn’t it?”
“Enough.” Havi shifted the crossbow in her arms and began heading toward the entrance into the compound at the end of the hall. “We must find Xander as quickly as possible. They are alert to our presence now.”
Avoiding Spike’s dirty look, Willow hurried after Havi, with the men close on her heels. They moved deeper into the secure area, following the only path they could, until they reached a t-junction.
Spike sniffed the air pointedly. “Infirmary’s thataway,” he said, pointing off to the left.
Havi’s head jerked to the right as the faint murmur of male voices became louder. “There are more soldiers coming from this direction,” she said.
“We need to split up,” Willow said. “Havi and I will hold off the soldiers, while Oz and Spike find Xander.”
“I’m not leaving you alone,” Oz argued.
“I’m not,” she said. “I have Havi. And besides, you and Spike are the two with the super sniffers. You’ll find Xander faster than I could.”
“Red’s got a point. Besides, I don’t fancy bein’ in her line of fire when she starts with the mojo again.”
A shout that was louder than the rest made everybody stiffen. “Go,” Willow ordered. “We don’t have time to fight about this.”
She didn’t even wait to watch the two men head off in the opposite direction. She raced forward, the magic already humming through her veins.
Though it hadn’t been that way from the start, Spike liked having Oz at his side when they were out. The boy wasn’t strong in his human form, and he sometimes had the grace of a newborn foal, but his instincts were impeccable, his senses so sharp and alert that he could easily match Spike when they were out on patrol. Searching for Harris was no exception.
The infirmary was unexpectedly empty, room after room bare of anything resembling life. Spike didn’t recognize much of the equipment, but technology had never been his thing. What was important was that the blocks he’d expected to find weren’t there. If Miller had set them up, there should’ve been even more than the six armed soldiers at the entrance. There should’ve been an entire fleet of them
Spike shoved aside the question of Miller’s duplicity. It was pointless to try and answer it when they still hadn’t found Harris. As long as the soldier didn’t get in their way, that was all Spike cared about. He needed to get the lot of them out of there without anybody getting hurt or Buffy would never forgive him. She had enough to worry about.
They met their first opposition in front of a bay of elevators. Jumping forward, Spike knocked out the first soldier with a left hook before any of them could take aim, listening as Oz readied his weapon behind them. He slammed a second face-first into the wall, while a third dropped a few feet away, an arrow embedded in its shoulder.
“We must be getting close,” Oz said.
Spike sniffed. Beneath the antiseptic was the musk of more than humans; there were demons, more than he could identify, also filtering through the air. “They’re not just interested in vampires,” he said, once the last of the soldiers had fallen. “It’s a veritable zoo in here.”
With a frown, Oz looked around, his gaze stopping when it landed on a door past the elevators. “I smell slime,” he said.
“Could be a chaos demon.”
“Xander hasn’t wreaked enough havoc to be called that just yet.” He jerked his head down a narrow hall. “He’s down there.”
They hurried until the scent started to fade, at which point they stopped and turned back to the nearest door. “Any clues how to get in?” Oz asked, when they failed to spot a door knob or handle.
Lifting his foot, Spike slammed the heel of his boot along the edge of the door, feeling the pressure of hinges fighting back. He shifted to kick at the opposite side, but it took almost half a dozen before the door started to buckle.
“Nobody’s home!” they heard Xander shout from inside.
“We’ll just leave you be then!” Spike yelled back.
There was a pause. “Spike?”
“No, it’s Mary bloody Poppins!” Throwing his full weight against the door’s weakness, Spike broke it open with a growl, tumbling inside with Oz right behind.
It was a room much like those in the infirmary, with equipment beeping and glowing along the wall. In the single bed, Xander was strapped down, skin pale, bandages covering his eyes. Spike hung back as Oz began undoing the restraints, his nose twitching at the distinct smell of blood that still hung in the air.
“You have no idea how glad I am to see you,” Xander said. He stumbled slightly as he swung his legs over the side of the bed. “Figuratively speaking, of course.”
“Just wait to see what we have to get through to get you out,” Spike said.
Oz let Xander lean against him as Spike checked out the hallway for signs of any more soldiers. “Don’t pirates usually only have one patch?” he commented as they inched their way back in the direction from which they’d come.
“It was either this or the peg leg,” Xander said. “And I kind of like having both feet.”
“You just want Studs to wait on you when we get you out of here.”
Spike heard the slight speeding of Xander’s pulse before the boy said, “Havi’s here?”
“Who do you think led this cavalry?” Spike asked.
“I didn’t think---.”
The sharp retort of a gun cut him off, and Spike twisted to take the bullet in the back before it could hit either Oz or Xander, throwing his arms around both men to push them to the floor.
“Why are there guns?” Xander said, his voice rising in hysteria. “Didn’t you guys get rid of the guards before you rescued me?”
“You want us to put you back?” Spike asked.
“I want there to be no shooting.”
“Me, too. Stay down. And keep your eyes shut.”
In a swirl of black leather, Spike leapt from his position on the floor, snarling as he attacked the three men approaching them. He’d been wary of killing anyone since their arrival, knowing Buffy wouldn’t be happy if she found out, but now was not the time to be delicate. They were outnumbered, just like Miller had said. It was time to play hardball.
The first’s neck snapped with a satisfying crunch, leaving the second gaping at him with wide eyes. Spike flashed a little fang, sneering around his teeth, before slamming his elbow into the solar plexus of the unsuspecting third. His foot connected with the second soldier’s balls only an instant later, and he turned back to see Oz and Xander where he’d left them with all three attackers out for the count.
Oz didn’t say a word, but the slight shake of his head was enough warning for Spike to keep his lips zipped about what had just happened.
“One of those wasn’t Dr. Walsh, was it?” Xander asked. “Because after all her questions, I think I wouldn’t mind hearing that she got a little payback for keeping me here.”
Oz hesitated in helping Xander back to his feet. “Walsh?” he repeated.
“Yeah, that’s the witch who’s in charge of this place. She really doesn’t know how to take no for an answer.”
“That’s Willow and Buffy’s psych teacher.” Oz met Spike’s gaze, and they both came to the realization at the same time.
“Buffy’s not going to be happy about this,” Spike said.
“Buffy’s going to be even less happy if we don’t get out of here alive,” Xander said.
“I don’t think she’d be the only one unhappy,” Oz said. “Let’s get Willow and Havi before our luck starts going the wrong way.”
Spike agreed and led the way back down the hall, passing the elevators and listening as the distant sound of gunfire became louder and louder. Worry began to gnaw at his gut, and when they reached the point where they’d split up, he stopped, staring down the corridor. The girls were nowhere to be seen, and the unmistakable smell of smoke was drifting closer and closer.
“What’s wrong?” Xander asked. “Why have we stopped?”
“Get him out of here,” Spike instructed. “I’ll go get the girls.”
But before Oz could move, Xander pulled away, tripping as he knocked into the wall he didn’t expect to find.
“I’m not leaving them behind,” he said. He stretched out his arms, trying to find where Spike was standing.
“Stop it,” Spike grumbled, knocking away Xander’s hands when they fumbled with his duster.
“You can’t do anything,” Oz said. “In case you haven’t noticed, Xander, you’re a little bit blind at the moment.”
“I’m a little bit rock and roll, too, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let either of them get hurt.”
“Just stay out of the way,” Spike ordered. “I don’t want to have to rescue you twice.”
Leading the other men down the hall, Spike followed the fight he could hear, hoping that it didn’t look as bad as it sounded. When he pushed open a heavy door, he found himself on a scaffolding above a large open area that looked very much like it had just come out of some sci-fi movie. The noise was louder here, the air pungent with the scent of sulfur, and it took him nearly ten seconds of scanning the area below before he saw what he was looking for.
Havi and Willow had positioned themselves behind a motorized car that had been blown onto its side. The area in front of them glowed from the magic the witch was using to protect the vehicle from being used as an incendiary device. Both girls were busy fighting off the soldiers who seemed to be crawling out of the woodwork, Havi shooting and reloading her crossbow as fast as she could while Willow was throwing fireballs every which way in hopes of hitting anything that wasn’t them.
“What’s going on?” Xander asked when neither Oz or Spike said anything right away.
It was then that the glint of light off metal caught Spike’s eye. Turning his head to the left, he saw the sniper narrow his eyes as he sighted down the barrel of the rifle he had aimed at the scene below. The trigger was squeezed before Spike could react, and he shifted his attention back to the women just in time to see the bullet slam into Willow’s back.
She crumpled like a rag doll, the fires suddenly stopping, the glow surrounding the overturned car vanishing even more quickly. Blood began pooling beneath her body, and it was already coating the floor in scarlet when Havi turned and noticed she’d fallen.
Throwing aside her weapon, Havi fell to Willow’s side, her long hands reaching to turn the witch over. Even from that distance, Spike could see that Willow’s chest wasn’t moving, and when Havi’s fingers pressed to the pulse point in the other woman’s neck, he knew before she did what she was going to find.
Willow was dead.
To be continued in Chapter 46: Ladies Dead and Lovely Knights…