The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet LIX.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Maggie’s officially asked Robin for his help in retrieving the Slayer artifacts, while Esme has shown up at the Summers house and had Buffy drink the magical tea, which unfortunately has the side effect of her not waking up…

*************

Chapter 54: Our Brains Beguiled

They were congregated in the kitchen, too many bodies taut with worry and fear pressed into a space that was supposed to be about warmth and family. Individual rhythms pounded against Spike’s eardrums, blocking out the hearts he would much rather have listened to, but all he could do was stare at the various items scattered across the counter.

“You have got to be fucking kidding me!” he exclaimed. “It’s not so bad that the bitch got in here without a one of you even noticing, but she was here long enough to make a pot of bloody tea? What the hell were you people doin’?”

The women had the good grace to look embarrassed, but Xander and Giles bristled at the attack.

“Have you forgotten about blind man walking here?” Xander said. “And I was asleep. No way is any of this my fault.”

Spike glared at him. “You’ve got a nose, don’t you? And ears? Ever thought of puttin’ those to use, Harris?”

“Esme’s very powerful,” Wesley intervened. “She could’ve used any number of tricks to mask her presence.”

“How they can bloody sleep---.”

“Enough.” The edge in Giles’ voice only tightened the wrought nerves. “Suffice it to say, we’re very well aware that we’ve failed Buffy in this regard. What we must do now is rectify it.”

Willow began picking through the ingredients. “What I don’t get is how she got Buffy to drink it,” she said. “Buffy’s been careful ever since last summer. And she knew Esme was out there as a potential threat.”

“There’s no evidence of a struggle, so I’d assume Esme utilized some sort of glamour to fool Buffy. Impersonating one of us, most likely.” Giles frowned as he picked up a bottle and reads its label. “Are we certain that it wasn’t some other potion she gave Buffy? I don’t remember seeing this at the flat last summer, Willow.”

“That’s because you didn’t. I’m not sure what she was trying to do with that.”

“All right, I’m confused.” A small line appeared between Joyce’s brows, and she took a moment to gather her thoughts before speaking again. “I thought both Buffy and Spike drank the tea. That that was how they were able to meet in the first place. In those dreams.”

Spike came up short where he’d been pacing. “That’s right,” he said carefully. He cocked his head as he searched his memory. “And other than what happened to us last summer, I don’t remember ever seein’ Buffy again when I was human. Or any more dreams since, for that matter.”

“Maybe this is something else then,” Oz suggested.

Willow shook her head. “This smells almost exactly like the tea I made for Buffy. There’s only that one ingredient that looks to be different.”

“That is something to consider, though,” Giles said. “Without Spike consuming the tea, there’s no way Buffy could be transported back in time. There’s nothing to call her there.”

“There’s still the park,” Spike offered. At Joyce’s frown, he added, “Where we went during the dreams. Before Buffy came back in the flesh. But even then, there were two of us drinking. And she woke up from those all right.”

“Eventually,” Willow muttered.

“If it’s a tea for two, we don’t have anything to worry about,” Xander said. “There’s nobody else to drink it to make the magic work.”

“Yes, there is,” Oz offered. All eyes turned to him. “The baby.”

Understanding almost visibly rippled through the group.

“Of course,” Giles murmured. “What’s consumed by the mother is passed along to the fetus.”

“So instead of a crack baby, you got a tea baby. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.”

“Shut it, Harris.”

Willow was growing excited with this new revelation. “And since Schmoo is just as much a part of Spike as it is of Buffy, it provides the closure the spell needs.”

“But the baby is still here,” Joyce argued. “Buffy’s still pregnant.”

“Which means that we’re fortunate in that Buffy hasn’t time traveled again,” Giles said.

Spike nodded. “She’s dreaming of the park. And I’ll give you odds that that new ingredient is the reason we can’t wake her up.”

“But why would this Esme just put Buffy to sleep?”

“It’s very likely a stalling tactic,” Giles explained to Joyce. “She had to expend a great deal of energy to kill the Council’s team.”

“And when I first got the magical booster,” Willow chimed in, “I was wonky for days. Esme’s old. Her turnaround time isn’t going to be great. She probably did this to keep Buffy out of the picture until she’s back to full strength.”

“How long could that take, Red?”

She shrugged. “She woke up after only a few hours. There’s no way for us to tell.”

“That means you have to wake Buffy up now.” When Giles and Willow exchanged a worried look, Spike stiffened. “Don’t tell me you can’t do it,” he said. “You brought her back last summer. You can do it again.”

“It might not be that simple---.”

He whirled and started heading for the stairs, not wanting to listen to any more of the Watcher’s excuses. “Then you make it simple,” Spike snapped.

He drew up short when Havi appeared in the doorway, blocking his path. Lydia hovering just behind her made him clench his hands into fists, shoving them into his pockets before he did something Buffy would regret.

Havi’s gaze jumped around, taking in the pale faces and worried expressions. “What happened?” she demanded.

With a careful glance at Spike, Willow explained the situation. He only heard half of it, lost in memories of his own time in the mystical park. While he was worried about their inability to snap Buffy out of this tea-induced sleep, part of Spike was jealous that she had the opportunity to go back. Those hours had been some of the best of both his human and vampire lives. Peaceful. Joyous. He would give almost anything to get even a few more stolen minutes with her there.

“If Esme could breach your security here,” Havi said when she was done, “then Willow and Buffy must not stay.”

“Thank you!” Spike exclaimed. It was about time someone saw a bit of reason, even if it was Havi. “Good to know not everybody’s so thick to see what needs to be done.”

“We considered that,” Giles said, ignoring Spike’s outburst. “But, really, where would we take them? Esme can just as easily walk into a hotel as she can here. There’s no point in weakening our position unnecessarily.”

Havi grew silent for a moment, her eyes dark with contemplation. “There is one place she could not go,” she said. “The Well.”

The suggestion made Willow’s eyes light up. “Oh! That could work! It’s hallowed ground. No Esmes allowed.”

“Who would be allowed?” Joyce asked.

“Myself, Willow, and Buffy,” Havi explained. “If Buffy is asleep, I will need help transporting her, but once she’s there, there is no way Esme can come into close proximity to her again. Not until she leaves.”

Spike’s gaze was calculating. “Didn’t you say this Well was underground? You have to climb down in order to get to it, yeah?”

“Yes.”

“So tell me how you manage to get a pregnant, unconscious Slayer down the rabbit hole without dropping her on her head.” He was shaking his head before she could answer. “Can’t be done.”

“Hold on,” Xander said. “Maybe it’s not that bad.” He turned in Havi’s direction. “How far down would you have to carry her? Five feet? Ten?”

“Twenty.” She paused. “Meters.”

The room exploded with noise, arguments being tossed back and forth about the few choices they had. Someone’s suggestion that Willow teleport Buffy had the young witch spluttering in protest and turning bright red, while others began bandying about alternatives to the Well as a potential hideaway. Only Graham and Lydia remained silent during the discussions.

“There’s only one way to get Buffy to the Well in one piece,” Spike cut in. “I take her.”

“Unacceptable.” Though there had been moments when it had seemed that he and Havi might be coming to an understanding about this situation, she was now cold and stiff at his suggestion. “Your presence will defile what the Well embodies. Vampires are---.”

“Good enough for Buffy,” he finished. “But look around you, Studs. Do you see anybody else in this room who can do the deed? No. There’s just me.”

“I can do it.”

It took all of Spike’s control not to growl at the soldier, and his eyes were like ice when he swung them in Graham’s direction. “Nobody asked you, mate.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Havi said. “Neither of you may come. It is prohibited.”

“Perhaps the Guardians would be willing to make an exception,” Wesley said. “These are extenuating circumstances, and they’re more than aware that Esme is a tangible threat. After all, they’ve dealt with her before. Wouldn’t it be possible to strike some sort of negotiation with them? Because, really, I believe the Well is our best means to keep Buffy and Willow safe until Esme is neutralized.”

Everybody waited expectantly as Havi contemplated the proposal. She finally gave them a brief nod.

“I will try,” she said. “But I make no promises about what they might say.”

“That’s settled, then,” Giles said. “Willow, Wesley, and I will attempt to recreate the tea Buffy drank so that we can determine how to break its effect, while the rest of you stand guard against any other attacks.”

“No rest for the wicked,” Spike muttered.

“I thought we’d already decided Esme was out sleeping all this off,” Xander joked.

Spike didn’t stick around after that. He just wanted to try one last time to wake Buffy.

*************

Everything looked exactly as she remembered it.

The stone path that wound its way through the closely shorn grass beckoned her to follow, tempted her to explore even though she knew already what she would find.

There was the bench upon which William had written his poetry.

And there was the small hill where they’d first kissed.

And over its crest was the small pond she’d dipped her feet in while he read her some of his poetry.

If she closed her eyes, she could still feel the warm caress of his fingertips along her arm. How he’d trembled the first time they’d made love. Hear his whispered confessions, desperate and lonely and oh so earnest.

But she didn’t. Because back in Sunnydale, she had Spike. Who was harder, cooler to the touch, more cynical than the poet who’d first stolen her heart. He was just as devoted, though. Just as passionate. And beneath the mask he wore was the spirit of the same lonely young man. Everything he did sprang from that. He was a creature hungry for acceptance but wary of the pain that it evoked. She liked to think that being in Sunnydale with her was starting to break through that, but Buffy wasn’t so foolish not to realize that he still had a long ways to go.

And she would be there every step of the way. Because she loved him.

And right now, she was missing him like hell.

With a heavy sigh, Buffy returned to the stone bench and sat down. The park was just as beautiful as it had been the first time, but without company, boredom was already starting to creep in and threaten her with its deceptive calm. She really hoped she woke up soon. Maybe something would attack the house and force Spike or Willow or her mom to come and get her. She could only be so lucky.

Her hand fell to her stomach, caressing the firm swell. “Looks like it’s just you and me, Schmoo,” she said. The baby kicked back in response, drawing a smile to Buffy’s face. “You just better not get any stupid ideas about showing up before I get the hell out of here. That would be too weird, even for Sunnydale.”

Carefully, she stretched out on the bench, letting the heat prickle along her exposed skin. “Oh, look, I’m wearing flats,” she observed when she spied her feet for the first time since arriving. She lifted her leg in order to inspect them closer. “Cute.”

But the fashion commentary only served to distract her for a few minutes. All too soon, the boredom had returned and Buffy was left staring at the blue along the horizon, her fingers absently stroking along her tummy.

“Remind me never to drink tea again,” she said to nobody in particular.

She had a feeling it was going to be a very long night.

*************

Maggie got the call as she was driving home.

“I know it’s late,” the soldier said. “But you asked to be kept updated on the dig, especially if something unusual happened.”

Her left hand tightened around the wheel. “Unusual?”

“We’ve got two men in the infirmary. Unconscious. Docs don’t know why or how or even if they’re going to wake up.”

“What happened?”

“We don’t know. We’d just broken through to the tunnels we told you about. Holt started climbing through, screamed, and then Rodriguez stuck his head through to see what the matter was. The next thing we knew, they were both out cold. We had to drag them back through the hole to get them out of there.”

Maggie’s stomach knotted. “Did anybody else try entering the tunnels?” she asked.

“No. Your orders specifically said to retreat if anything unusual happened.” There was noise in the background, and Maggie listened as the soldier spoke with someone who’d obviously just entered. When he returned to the line, his voice was grim. “I’ve just been informed that Holt is dead, ma’am. He flat-lined without waking up.”

It was just as Maggie had feared, but she kept her voice markedly neutral as she spoke. “Send a team to temporarily block the entrance to the tunnels,” she said. “I want it possible for a single man to be able to move it out of the way, but I don’t want it obvious should somebody accidentally stumble across our dig.” She was about to disconnect when she thought of something else. “And make sure nobody else tries to enter the tunnels. I don’t want to lose any more men on this.”

Tossing the phone to the passenger seat, Maggie eased her foot off the gas as she considered the ramifications of this latest development. She’d suspected there would be some sort of protection set up around the artifacts, and this was now proof. The only person who was going to be able to get into the tunnels to retrieve them was going to be Robin.

She just had to keep her fingers crossed that he would agree to help her.

*************

Spike had taken sentry point on the upper story of the house. “Unless you want to give jumping from a second floor window a go,” he’d taunted Harris. “Might be funny.”

Nobody had questioned the wisdom of that choice. Graham and Oz split the front and back porches, while Xander tried not to get in anybody’s way. Spike didn’t expect a lot to happen, but at least his post gave him the opportunity to keep a close eye on Buffy. The second anything changed with her, he wanted to be the first one at her side.

He turned his head when he heard Red’s light step on the stairs. Though still pale and fatigued, she was looking better than she had earlier. Having purpose seemed to be doing the trick.

“Any change?” she whispered, though the tone of her voice told him she had little hope he’d answer in the affirmative.

Spike shook his head. “How’s it goin’ with the gallopin’ gourmets? Any luck makin’ up the tea?”

“We think so.” She waved the piece of paper in her hand. “I thought I’d try the incantation I used on you last summer with Buffy before we start messing with other spells. We might get lucky and wake her up on the first shot.”

He was blocking the doorway to the bedroom before she could move. “Is this that same spell that made me feel like I was about ready to burst into flame?” he quizzed, his eyes narrowing.

“Well, yeah, but---.”

“Do you have any idea what this is goin’ to do to the little one? Or are you lot just keepin’ your fingers crossed you don’t muck it up?” Just as he’d jumped on Havi earlier, Spike kept on talking, refusing to give Willow the chance to answer. “If you think I’m goin’ to let you use Buffy as some sort of guinea pig while you try to get this hocus pocus right, you don’t know me at all, Red.”

She clearly wanted to argue, but Joyce’s sudden presence on the stairs behind her kept her from doing so.

“Is Spike right?” Joyce asked. “Could this be harmful to Buffy?”

Willow’s gaze jumped between the pair, her shoulders slumping. “We don’t know,” she admitted. “I really want to say it won’t hurt her at all, but with the pregnancy, I can’t be sure of that.”

“So you need to test it to make sure,” Spike said. “Which means I’m the vamp for the job.”

“What?” The suggestion shocked Red. “No! What about all that ‘nobody’s as strong as me’ stuff you were spouting downstairs? We need you here, Spike.”

“All the more incentive to do this quick, then.” With a firm step, he pushed past her and started heading downstairs. There was no way he was going to take no for an answer on this, not with her concession that it could hurt Buffy or the little one. Red had said there was tea already made up; if they weren’t going to give it to him willingly, he’d just have to nick it and drink it down before they could stop him.

*************

When she fell the last few feet and landed hard on her hip at the bottom of the chasm, Havi began to think that just maybe Spike had a point. She was exhausted, pushed nearly to her breaking limits, and if she couldn’t make the climb down to the well on her own, she didn’t know how she was going to do with it the dead weight of the Slayer over her shoulder. She was going to need help. There was no question of that now.

She took a moment for the pain in her hip to ebb. Sweat stung her eyes, and when she wiped it away, her hand came back with a streak of red along its heel. Reaching tentatively, she found the scratch that was still bleeding on her forehead and held her fingers there until the flow had stopped. Yet more proof she would need aid, Havi thought as she wiped her hand on her trousers. The Guardians couldn’t ignore the extent of her injuries just on a simple climb.

Carefully, Havi stepped through the carved-out cavern that led to the Well’s inner chamber. More than once, she stumbled, catching herself on the smooth walls before she could fall. By the time she reached the circular room, she was so battered and bruised that she felt like she was going to collapse.

Her chant at the water’s side was barely loud enough to be heard. It took only moments for the Well to come to life, the surface rippling, lapping against the side to spill out the occasional drop.

“This is unexpected, Child of Life,” came the chiming voice. As every other time, it emanated from the water’s surface, reaching out into the chamber to hold and caress Havi with its power. “You are unwell?”

“I am tired,” she confessed. “My strength is not as it should be.”

“This is the effect of Willow’s resurrection.”

“This, and more.” As briefly as she could manage, Havi detailed the events of the day, chronicling just what Willow’s death meant for their nemesis. The air grew heavier with each detail she gave them, until by the time she was done, it felt as worn as she did.

“This is…regrettable,” the Guardian’s voice said. “We were not aware that Rose’s work could be undone by such a simple stroke.”

“Neither did we,” Havi said. “And now Esme has turned her attention back to the Slayer. It’s only a matter of time before she returns to finish what she has started.”

“She is gathering strength. She will not wish to fail at her task again.”

She paused. Rose had spoken to her a little about what Esme’s intent had been, but other than generalities, Havi knew no more than the others. “I do not understand what Esme can hope to gain from the artifacts,” she said cautiously. “Buffy would never willingly help her, so how can she hope to use them for any personal gain?”

The water grew more agitated, and Havi began to fear that she’d overstepped her bounds in asking the question. It wasn’t her place, but so much time spent with Xander and the others had her reconsidering the utility of following so blindly. She had yet to decide if that was a good thing or not.

“Esme wishes to thwart death,” the Guardians finally said. “She believes the artifacts will help her with that.”

“And will they?”

The voice sighed. “You are not here to seek answers to Esme’s motivations, are you, Child of Life? If you come with this purpose, you will be disappointed.”

“I come to ask for your help in protecting Willow and the Slayer.” There was no more time to be wasted on finding answers the Guardians weren’t going to give. She had to focus on what she’d promised the others. “Since she sleeps, the Slayer is unable to protect herself. I wish to bring her and Willow here until she awakens or Esme is defeated.”

The air grew hesitant. “You do not need our help in such a matter, Child. We would welcome both. You know this.”

“I do.” Havi took a deep breath. “But in Buffy’s current state, I would be unable to bring her directly to you without help. I could not come myself without getting hurt. I would be unwilling to risk hurting the Slayer unnecessarily.”

“A simple teleportation spell will work. Willow knows this.”

“Yes, but without the magic she used to have at her disposal, Willow is unwilling to take the risk.”

“What is it you ask of us, then?”

Here goes nothing, Havi thought.

“To allow someone else to come to the Well. Someone who could help me with Buffy.”

“No.” No hesitation in the response, though at least, they didn’t sound angry with her for making the request in the first place. “You know the rules, Child. Only those of Slayer blood or within the Guardians circle may come to the Well uninvited.”

“I know, but---.”

“There will be no argument. On this, we are firm.”

She’d promised the others that she would ask, and when she’d made the promise, Havi had thought she was just going through the motions. Now, however, she knew she had to fight for this.

“Esme will return for the Slayer,” she said, rising to her feet. “Without your intercession, Willow and Buffy will be unable to stop her. You cannot allow that to happen. Why else would you bring Willow back from the dead? I know you must still wish her to join the Guardians’ ranks, even if she doesn’t have the full force of Esme’s powers. But she can’t do that if Esme is allowed to exact whatever revenge she has in mind for them. For that, they must be safe.”

“We agree. The Well is the ideal place for the Slayer and Willow to recuperate. But you will not bring anyone else here for that to happen.”

“Then how---?”

The words were choked in her throat as the light from the water grew blinding, and Havi took a step away, lifting her arm to shield her eyes from the brilliance. It bled around her flesh, forcing her to squint in order to see, and when it disappeared almost as quickly as it had come on, she was left with spots dancing in her vision.

It took a few moments of steady blinking to get them to stop. When they did, she was fairly certain her sight was still impaired.

Willow stood on the far side of the well, looking around the chamber in confusion. At her feet, Buffy was curled onto her side, fast asleep, just as she’d been when Havi had last seen her at the Summers home. But it was the other body, the one not breathing with the fading injuries from his fights earlier that day, that gave her pause.

Willow brightened when she spotted Havi, but when her gaze followed Havi’s to Spike on the packed floor, her eyes went wide. “Oh…” she breathed, her head snapping back to Havi. “That’s not good, is it?”

 

To be continued in Chapter 55: Minion of Her Pleasure