The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CXXVI.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Havi went to the Well to get their permission for aid in getting Willow and Buffy there, but when the Guardians teleport the girls themselves, Spike shows up as well…
She felt like she was going to throw up, but Willow knew that was just as much a part of the surprise teleportation as it was from everything else. However, seeing the fear suddenly spring into Havi’s face at the sight of the unconscious Spike at her feet was nothing compared to the roar of the water in the Well behind her.
“Abomination!” the voice of the Guardians hissed. It seemed to come from both the water and all around her, everywhere and nowhere all at once. No more nice guy like they’d been during her first visit, Willow realized. As the water in the Well began to bubble and surge, she knew nice was the last thing on their mind.
“You’re the one who brought him here!” she called out, stepping up to stand in front of his prone form. She didn’t really think it would do any good in the way of protecting him, but it made her feel like she was at least doing something.
“No,” the voice replied. “We complied with the Child of Life’s wishes and brought you and the Slayer. Having the demon in our presence is blasphemy to everything we represent.”
“They are right.” Havi was pale and rigid, dark eyes darting from the Well to Spike as if she was unsure about what she might have to do. “I made the request for leniency as I said I would, and I was denied. They were very firm on this.”
“Obviously, not firm enough.” Willow crossed her arms over her chest, displaying more bravado than she actually felt. “What? You think I had something to do with this? All my juice has been poured into fixing this tea thing. You know I’m not up to any teleportation spells.”
“It was not our desire to bring the vampire,” the voice said.
“Well, maybe you should’ve taken a sec and asked before picking us all up. Because if you had, you would’ve found out that Spike had already drunk some of the tea.”
“Oh.” Havi’s eyes went wide with understanding. “He dreams, then. With Buffy.”
Willow sighed in relief. “Exactly. He wasn’t going to let us test our rise and shine spells on Buffy, so he drank some of the tea before any of us could stop him. Their psyches are linked now.”
“You must separate them,” the Guardians ordered. “His presence---.”
“Blasphemy, yeah, I got it the first couple of times you gurgled it at me.” Taking a step closer to the Well, Willow gazed through the roiling surface, trying to find something, or someone, to address directly. “It’s not as easy as it sounds. Without knowing Esme’s spell, we’re flying blind here. The original incantation I used last summer on Spike didn’t work. Giles, Wes, and I were working on variations to start testing before you zapped me out of there.” She glanced back to Havi. “You do know they’re probably freaking out, don’t you? They’re going to think that Esme got us.”
Havi shook her head. “That is not good.”
“You’re going to have to go and tell them we’re safe,” Willow continued.
“And you must take the vampire with you,” the voice added.
“I can’t.” Havi stepped up to Willow’s side to address the Well. “I could barely climb down on my own. I would never be able to get out again with him on my back. He will have to stay until Willow is able to wake him.”
The way the water continued to bubble and churn told Willow all she needed to know about how much the Guardians didn’t like that idea. Leaning toward Havi, she whispered, “What happens to people who aren’t supposed to be here?”
That’s what she’d been afraid of. “You’re going to have to zap Buffy and Spike back then,” she said, this time to the Guardians. “Nothing can happen to Spike---.”
“Nothing will.” If it was possible for water to sigh, it did, a sound weary and disgruntled that filled the cavern. “He is here of our power, our…invitation, as inadvertent as it was. No harm will befall him under those circumstances.”
“Oh.” Some of her fear dissipated. “Well, then, that’s OK. Except for, you know, the not being OK part because of him being a vampire.” She caught Havi by the arm before the other woman could leave. “What’s going to happen to him?” she asked. “He’s not messing up some karmic thing by being here, is he?”
“I don’t know,” Havi admitted.
“The baby is of Slayer blood. It is welcome, just as Buffy is.”
“Good.” Willow’s eyes fell to the sleeping blonds. “After everything…I’d hate for anything to happen. Buffy and Spike are so in love with Schmoo already that I think it’d kill them if it got hurt at this point.”
Havi only nodded in agreement. As she left the cavern, the waters stilled within the Well, leaving Willow to her now booming thoughts. Maybe it was a good thing Spike was here, she reasoned as she sat down and got comfortable. This way, he was safe as well. And he and Buffy could enjoy their few stolen moments of peace together.
He knew the moment he opened his eyes that he should go look for Buffy. But the heat of the sun overhead and the flush of perspiration along his skin made Spike pause, throw his head back, squint up at the sun with wonder usually reserved for the little one. This was unexpected. He’d swallowed the tea not really thinking about what visiting the dream park as a vampire would mean. He could never have anticipated that he’d be allowed to walk around under the sun like a man, to breathe and sweat and everything else that came with the human package. It seemed wrong not to take a few seconds and enjoy it.
When he finally started walking down the stone path, he noticed his clothes. The white shirt and old-fashioned trousers were near duplicates of his costume the first time around, but when he reached a hand to his head, he could tell that it was his twentieth century hair, minus the gel to straighten the curls. How would Buffy take the new look? he mused. Would she see William or Spike?
He spotted her first, rounding the bend in the path to see her stretched out on the stone bench. With her hair flowing over the edge, trailing along the ground, she stared up into the cloudless sky, absently playing catch with one of her shoes. His mouth curled into a smile. She looked absolutely radiant.
The crunch of the pebbles beneath his boots drifted to Buffy, and she turned her head to see who was approaching. Her eyes immediately lit up as she called out, “Spike!”
He chuckled as she struggled to sit up, reaching her side in time to slide a hand beneath her elbow and assist her in standing. Her arms went around his neck in a powerful hug, and he lowered his nose to her hair as he held her in return.
“You have no idea how glad I am you’re here,” she said against his shirt. “I was going out of my mind---.” She stopped, pulling away to look up at him with a frown. “Did Esme fool you, too? Is that why you’re here?”
Spike shook his head. “Volunteered for this, pet. I didn’t want Red mucking about with the mojo if she wasn’t sure how it was goin’ to affect you.”
“Why would Willow be messing with magic? I’m just asleep.”
“Not exactly.” Her eyes grew ever wider as he told her was happening back at the house, and then saw the line of her lips thin as anger replaced her surprise.
“I’m starting to think killing is too good for Esme,” she said when he was done. “Our lives would just be so much easier if she’d never shown up in the first place.”
Though he knew she was just furious at their situation, it still stung that she’d be so quick to wish everything they had away. Hormones and frustration, he had to remind himself, but some of his ill temper must have shown on his face.
“I meant this last time in Sunnydale,” she said with a small smile. “You really think I’d want to have a life without you or Schmoo in it?”
He kissed her before he could stop himself, hands splayed flat against her back as he got lost in the heat of their bodies. When they broke away, she pressed her palm against his chest, over his now-beating heart.
“I’d forgotten…” Buffy murmured.
Slowly, Spike covered her hand with his. “Do you miss it?”
Her eyes were bright with more than delight in seeing him. “The only thing I miss is having uninterrupted time with you,” she said.
He kissed her again. There was no telling how long it was going to take Red and the Watchers to find the right spell. He might as well make this little reprieve worth every second.
It was impossible to sleep. Every time he rolled over, Maggie’s words came back into sharper clarity, so smooth, so promising, the answer to everything, it would almost seem. There had to be a catch---there was always a catch---but for the life of him, Robin couldn’t find it. All he could see was the allure of finally being able to make a difference. It’s all about the mission, his mother used to say. Maybe he could make her life mean a little bit more by taking up the mission more directly.
The phone was in his hand, the numbers punched from memory, before he could talk himself out of it. Sitting on the edge of his bed, Robin listened to the other end of the line ring, his head resting in his free hand. His skull felt ready to implode from the force of his arguments on why this was such a bad idea.
But still, he stayed on the line.
She sounded tired. He’d woken her up.
“It’s me. I’ll do it.”
There was the sound of fabric rustling, and he envisioned Maggie pushing back the blankets to get out of bed. The brief thought of what she wore to bed flickered across his mind, but he shoved it aside and blamed it on exhaustion.
“Are you certain? You don’t have to make a decision so quickly, you know.”
Everything in her voice told him that she was more than thrilled about him making such a hasty choice. He hated that she was going through the motions of mollycoddling him.
“We both know this is what I want,” Robin said. “Unless you can give me one good reason why I shouldn’t.”
He thought she might’ve paused a little too long before replying. “No, of course not. I would never have made the suggestion if I didn’t have complete faith in your ability to do it.”
It was oddly worded, but he took it and ran. “Then there’s your answer. I’m in.”
A drawer opened and closed. “I’m going to have one of my men come by in the morning to pick you up,” Maggie said. The scratching of a pen across paper told him that she was writing something down. “Is oh-eight-hundred all right for you?”
“Oh-eight-now is better.”
The scratching stopped. “Have you gotten any sleep?”
“Enough to know I want this done as soon as possible,” Robin replied.
“I need you at the top of your game---.”
“And I will be. Is there a problem with this, Maggie?”
Another pause. He wished he’d done this face to face so he could see what she was thinking. “Of course not. As long as you’re certain you can do this. It’s not going to be easy.”
“I’ll have my men there in fifteen minutes then. And…Robin?”
Graham and Oz were on the front walk when Lydia appeared in the doorway, waving them inside.
“They’re gone,” Wesley told them once the door was closed firmly behind them. “Buffy. Spike. Willow. All three of them.” He snapped his fingers. “Just like that.”
“Without the sound effects, of course,” Giles said. The look he shot Wesley was withering. “It must be Esme. There’s no other explanation.”
“What do you want us to do?” Oz asked.
“Is there anything we can do?” Graham countered.
“Not really,” Giles admitted.
Mrs. Summers was hovering in the background, looking very disgruntled about the proclamation. She didn’t say a word, though, which told Graham that she’d already argued her case with the Brits and lost.
“We have no idea where Esme is,” Giles went on. “Wesley and I are going to do a locator spell, but frankly, I have little hope that it will actually work. Esme has likely taken the necessary measures to protect herself from us.”
Oz’s brows were drawn into a thick line. “I don’t get it,” he said slowly. “Why would she take Willow and the others when she’d already stopped by to give Buffy the tea?”
“It does seem like overkill,” Graham offered.
“Esme’s the only person with the necessary magical skills who has a personal interest in all three of them,” Wesley said.
An idea sparked in the back of Graham’s mind. Though normally he wouldn’t have been so quick to make the suggestion, these weren’t normal circumstances. This was Oz’s girlfriend, and the Slayer. He owed these people to at least voice it.
“There is one other possibility,” he said carefully. He didn’t flinch under their gazes when everybody looked to him. “The Initiative. According to what I understand with what happened, Spike and Willow were right in the middle of the fight getting Xander out. And Buffy’s tutor was working for Dr. Walsh.”
Obviously, the possibility had never occurred to the older men. “Do you really think they would do something like this?” Giles asked.
“Do I think they would? Yes. I’m not so sure they would’ve used magic to get it done, but since we can’t really do anything about the witch right now, isn’t it worth it to look into? Just in case.”
“Could you do that?” Wesley asked warily.
Graham nodded. “I know some guys. If the Initiative has Willow and the others in custody, I can find out for you.”
“I’m reluctant to send you on such a dangerous errand, though.” Giles rubbed at the back of his neck, his weariness bowing his back and making him appear even older. “After what happened with Willow---.”
“It’s not the same risk,” Graham interjected. “It’s just gathering intelligence. And I wouldn’t have volunteered if I didn’t think I could handle it.”
“Is this a one-man operation?”
Oz’s question took him by surprise. “Doesn’t really matter.”
“Then I’ll go with you. Safety in numbers.”
Both young men looked to Giles for approval. After a long moment, he nodded. “All right,” he conceded. “It’s better to rule out Dr. Walsh now, rather than ignore the possibility.” He raised a warning finger. “But no unnecessary risks. We’re already short-handed enough in this. I don’t wish to lose the two of you as well.”
Their agreement had them out the front door in record time, bundled into Oz’s van before anybody could change their minds. Neither man spoke until they reached the corner.
“Where to?” Oz asked.
It continued to surprise Graham that after everything that had happened between them, Oz so willingly gave him the lead. There was no deceit in the other man’s face, no mistrust. Just expectation. Patience. Graham respected that.
“Lowell House,” he said.
Honestly, he didn’t expect anything to pan out. Magic wasn’t Dr. Walsh’s thing. But this would allow him the chance to grab his things before they disappeared. He still had no idea how he was going to handle the whole being AWOL matter, but Graham figured that in light of everything else that was going on at the moment, that was minor.
What was one more soldier when you were facing an army?
Willow shivered in the cool air of the cavern. Ever since Havi’s departure, the Well had been deathly silent, the water still and dark. It left her to her thoughts, which in the aftermath of her so-called resurrection, Willow had decided was not a good thing. When she started thinking, she started remembering, and the memories carried with them recriminations that made her bleed. If she’d never lost her powers, if she’d only been a little more careful in rescuing Xander, none of them would be in their current predicament. Esme wouldn’t be an uber-witch, and Buffy and Spike wouldn’t be locked into another one of their tea dreams, and she wouldn’t currently be sitting in a big hole underground wondering how she was ever going to get out again. It was all a big mess and it all came back to her. Again.
In a vain attempt to distract herself, Willow tried the few variations of the incantation she and the Watchers had come up with prior to her departure from the Summers house. Not surprisingly, none of them worked. She couldn’t even feel the familiar surge of the magic in her feeble attempts. It was almost like the cavern was sucking what power she had right out of her, though she knew that wasn’t really the case. She just lacked the energy to focus.
As much as she hated the thought of disturbing them, Willow gradually edged closer and closer to Buffy, stealing what body heat she could. Spike was useless in that regard, and anyway, the notion of snuggling with him was so far off the wiggy scale that she shuddered to consider it. Just what she needed in case either one of them woke up on their own. There was no way she could explain that away.
Sleep eventually won, and she fell into a light doze, plagued with dreams of water monsters wielding tea as weapons. They chased her through endless corridors, trying to convince her to drink, so that when she suddenly jerked awake, Willow’s heart was pounding inside her chest, desperate for escape. Wiping at the sweat that filmed her brow, she struggled to sit up, wondering why it was she’d been startled from her sleep.
Then she heard it.
A scratching. Against rock.
Her gaze jumped to Buffy and Spike. Both were still out for the count, and a glance at her watch told Willow that Havi had been gone for less than two hours. Dawn would be breaking in Sunnydale, the town rising to face its day, but down here at the Well of Guardians, it might as well be midnight. Time didn’t exist. Except to stretch into forever while she debated what to do.
It had to be Havi. That was all there was to it. Nobody else could move safely within the cavern.
Slowly, she rose to her feet. The scratching was growing louder, but it was still muffled by the dense walls lining the cavern. “Havi?” she called out, her voice more tentative than she would’ve wanted. She walked a few feet closer to the tunnel that led to the main exit, every step creating hollow echoes. “Is that you?”
Willow stopped. Listened.
The scratching continued.
The quiet that had driven her so crazy after Havi’s departure now was lost to the thunder of her blood in her veins. Looking around, Willow searched for something she could use as a weapon, but the smooth walls refused to yield anything helpful. She closed her eyes. Focused her attention inward. The only weapon she had was the remnants of her magic.
Her eyes shot open at the male voice. From the narrow opening, Robin Wood emerged, slightly dusty but looking no worse for wear. Over his shoulder was slung a backpack, but it didn’t look like it had anything in it.
“What…?” Her eyes jumped behind him but she could see nothing else in the dark that yawned in the corridor from which he’d come. “What’re you doing here?”
His dark eyes were inscrutable, and there was no mistaking the way they settled on Buffy and Spike. “The same thing you are, I imagine,” he replied.
When he stepped toward the sleeping couple, Willow automatically moved between them. “Did you see Giles?” she asked carefully. Memories of how worried Buffy had been about Robin made her wary.
His gaze swept back to her, and for a second, her fears felt foolish. Something sympathetic lurked within the brown depths, and the curve of his mouth was almost gentle. “No,” he admitted. “I didn’t.”
She never saw his hand move. She just felt the electric shock of the taser before she crumpled to the floor.
To be continued in Chapter 56: Thy Scythe and Thee…