The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CXXXIX.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Willow and Spike are worried about the something going wonky with Willow’s protection spell, Travers has discovered the truth of Buffy’s pregnancy and taken action, and Robin has met Esme for the first time…
Crisp sunlight made the world seem sharper around the edges as Buffy and Joyce walked up the path to the doctor’s office. Fading Christmas decorations still hung from the streetlamps, ready to be removed and mourn the passing of another holiday, but already a handyman was dragging a ladder around the building to get to work on it, the faint whistling of Jingle Bells under his breath.
He reached the front door before the women did and set aside his tools to pull it open for them. “Good morning,” he said brightly, nodding in greeting as they entered past him.
“Good morning,” Joyce replied in kind.
Buffy just smiled. Her thoughts and emotions were elsewhere.
“Do you think Spike’s been acting a little weird since we got back from LA?” she asked her mom after they’d checked in with the receptionist.
Joyce sighed, picking up a dog-eared copy of “People” from the coffee table. “Oh, no,” she said. “I am not going through this again. If you’re having issues with Spike’s behavior, honey, tell him, not me.” She shook her head. “I swear, you two are going to have me gray before this baby ever shows up.”
Buffy scrunched up her nose in confusion. “What are we doing?”
“You mean, other than trying to second guess every thought and issue the other has without bothering to ask each other what might be going on? If you two are serious about making this relationship work, Buffy, you have to start being serious about communicating. With each other.” There was a pause, and when her mother spoke again, there was something sad in her. “Take it from someone who’s got firsthand experience with that. Communication is the key.”
Guilt flooded through Buffy. “You’re right,” she conceded. “But…did you hear him pushing me to make this appointment? It was way weird.”
“You’re six months pregnant and you were in a major fight on Christmas Eve. That’s not weird. That’s being concerned about you and the baby.”
“And the hanging out with Willow and Oz?”
This time, Joyce set the magazine down in her lap, her finger marking her page. “Spike has friends now,” she said. “Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“Let it go.”
They lapsed into silence. Buffy knew her mom had a point---well, actually, she had a lot of them---but she still couldn’t shake the feeling that something was going on. There was something Spike didn’t want to talk about. He’d alternated between fiercely protective and distracted ever since they got back from Los Angeles, and not even a phone call from Angel to check on how Buffy was doing had managed to shake Spike out of it. To top it off, he’d been gone before she had even gotten up this morning, leaving a note saying that he hoped the appointment went well and that he’d be over at Oz’s if she needed him.
He was up to something. She recognized sneaky when she saw it. She just had to figure out what exactly the sneaky was all about.
Automatically, she rose to her feet, following the nurse who’d called her name down the hall to the examination room.
She’d figure it out right after Schmoo let her know everything was OK.
“It’s not the spell,” Willow said. She sat cross-legged on the floor, Oz perched on the edge of the bed behind her. Though her face was pinched, her eyes were huge and followed Spike as he paced around the room.
“You sure about that?” Spike asked. “You checked everything that could’ve gone wrong?”
“Checked, double-checked, and triple-checked. The spell is doing exactly what I told it to. It has to be something about the baby.”
“But the bloody thing’s not due for three more months!” he raged. Without thinking, his fist slammed into the wall, shattering a jagged hole in the plasterboard.
“You know I’m out of Jimi Hendrix posters to put up over the holes you keep making,” Oz commented.
Spike mumbled an apology under his breath, shaking the loose dust from his hand, but Willow was more concerned with the agitation that was still wound through him. She watched him resume pacing, muscles so tightly corded in his forearms that she sat rigid, expecting more blows to fall on Oz’s unsuspecting furniture.
“What about what Angel’s vision girl said?” Spike demanded. “Buffy complains about the light fizzling out in it, and you used the exact same word to describe what the spell wasn’t doin’. What the hell does that mean?”
“It means Buffy actually listens to me sometimes,” Willow countered. “It’s just a word, Spike. There’s nothing significant about it.”
He was already shaking his head before she finished. “There’s no such thing as a coincidence on the Hellmouth,” he said.
“Well, technically, Cordelia’s in LA,” Oz offered.
“Why don’t you wait until you hear from Buffy?” Willow suggested. “Maybe it’s something simple like…her blood pressure is up, or the baby’s growing too…” Her voice trailed off when Oz’s hands tightened almost imperceptibly on her shoulders, and she realized she wasn’t helping matters any. “Let’s just wait and see,” she finished.
“All I do any more is wait,” Spike muttered. He collapsed into Oz’s lone chair, slouching so that his neck rested on its back and he was staring blindly up at the ceiling. “Bloody useless, I am.”
“You’re not useless.” She said it without thinking, but even without his snort of disbelief, Willow knew it was the truth. “We both know that’s William talking.”
“Yeah, well, William wasn’t always wrong, Red.”
She didn’t know what to say to him when he got like this. More and more, as Buffy’s pregnancy progressed, Spike was obsessing about his effectiveness in her life. Their issues with Christmas had just been symptomatic of the greater problem, but Willow had hoped that their getaway to Los Angeles would give them the time to work it through. All it had done, however, was introduce even more worry. Worry that was partially her fault because it was her spell that wasn’t acting the way anybody expected.
“Not that sloth isn’t my favorite deadly sin,” Oz suddenly said, “but maybe we want to consider doing something other than sitting around talking about all of this.”
Spike looked up at that, dark brows drawn together into a thick line. “Thought we’d already sussed there wasn’t anything we could do about Buffy right now,” he said warily.
“Maybe not directly.”
As Oz spoke, Willow twisted to look back at him in amazement. She’d known he and Spike were making certain deals in the demon community to help Buffy out, but they’d always been recalcitrant in sharing details. Now, hearing some of her boyfriend’s suggestions---and worse, seeing Spike’s reactions---made her more than a little nervous.
“Buffy won’t like that,” she interrupted before Spike could give his yay or nay. Actually, she was fairly sure it was going to be a yay. He was leaning so far forward, rapt with Oz’s words, that his butt was barely on the chair anymore.
“You mean, like she probably wouldn’t like knowin’ about your little protection spell?” Spike countered.
“Oh, no, you don’t.” She wagged her finger at him. “You liked that idea just as much as I did. I’m not the only culprit there.”
“Still your mojo that did the work.” He grinned. “And you’re the one with the soul. It’s your job to talk me out of such daft ideas when I come up with them. I’m the morally ambiguous one of the bunch, remember?”
He was so proud of his logic, he was preening. Willow had to curl her hands into balls in order to stifle the itch to zap him with a little fireball just to knock the smug smile off his face.
“Fine,” she said tightly. “I won’t say anything. But I still think that if she finds out you’re actually encouraging the demon community to find the vigilante guys, she’s going to skin you alive. And don’t try telling me your insides are just as pretty as your out, because that’s just gross.”
“You know we’re going to need Xander’s help,” Oz said to Spike, getting back to the topic.
That did the trick to destroy the return of the vampire’s good mood. “Why’s that?” he demanded. “Harris will just bugger up anything we do.”
“He has military experience.”
“He’s human. Demons’ll be all over him.” Spike paused, considering. “That part’s not so bad.”
“You’re a werewolf. The community can sniff that out on you. Why do you think you’ve got as far as you have in our deals?”
“I still think we need him.”
Willow watched the rest of the argument between the two rage on in silence until finally Spike sighed melodramatically and slumped back into his chair.
“Fine,” he grumbled. “But the first time he makes a crack about the color of my car, I’m tossin’ him out the window.”
It was a truce only Oz could’ve orchestrated. As Willow settled back against his legs again, she let her thoughts stray from the plans they went on to make to the proposal Havi had made about meeting with the Guardians. If Xander was going to be off with the guys on their demon duties, maybe that would be a good time for Willow to take her up on the hiking trip. It wasn’t making a decision, she told herself; it was getting answers. Answers were always good.
Even with the Cartoon Network blaring on the Summers’ television, Xander couldn’t keep his eyes from straying to the front door of the house. When it finally opened inward, though, he slouched back into the couch and pretended that he hadn’t noticed.
Havi frowned as she came into the living room. “Xander?” she asked. “What are you doing here? I thought we wouldn’t be meeting until later.”
“I got some news about the apartment,” he replied. Casually, he hit the power on the remote and shifted so that he faced her, though he didn’t rise to his feet. “Where’ve you been?”
It was asked with careful nonchalance, but the moment the words came from his mouth, he saw the flicker in her dark eyes. “I had errands to run,” she said. Turning on her heel, she headed for the kitchen. “Do you want something to drink?”
What he wanted was a straight answer. “No, I’m fine.” As Havi left the room anyway, Xander realized that his voice sounded like his dad’s, right before he was going to blow. He buried his head in his hands. This was already going both exactly like he’d thought it would and how he’d wished it wouldn’t. He didn’t want to make it worse by losing his temper.
It had started when he’d come over to tell Havi that he’d heard back from the apartment manager. The prospect of sharing a place with her was both thrilling and terrifying, but he was steaming forward on the plan, full speed ahead. Even his dad was on board, though Xander had had to listen to his derogatory remarks about Havi’s questionable moral ethics for “shacking up” with a guy so quickly for over two hours. Mom had cried, and then came down to the basement after his dad had passed out to give him an envelope of cash.
“Don’t tell him I gave you this,” she’d warned, referring to his father.
“Mom, I don’t need---.”
“It’s yours anyway,” she’d insisted. “When we cleaned out…” She’d paused, guilt making her soft face seem even softer. “…last summer, we couldn’t get all those comic books of yours up into the attic so your father took them down to the store and sold them. The money’s yours, honey. Just take it.”
So he did. Though Havi was insistent that she had enough money until he was working more steadily, Xander liked that he wasn’t completely reliant on her finances for this new direction in their relationship. Then, this morning, the call had come that they could have the apartment after the first if they wanted.
Except when Xander came over to give Havi the good news, she was already on her way out. He’d seen Joyce’s SUV disappear around the corner and followed, thinking he would meet up with her wherever she was heading.
The last place he’d expected it to be was the hospital.
His hands were knotted together in front of him when she returned from the kitchen holding two Cokes. “I thought---,” she started, but then stopped when their eyes met. Though he didn’t say a word, he could see her recognize his mood, and she took a step backward, setting the cans of soda down.
“Is the news bad?” she asked.
The innocent question made him want to laugh. “We’ve got the apartment,” he said, and then added, “If we want it.”
Havi brightened. “But that’s…” Her smile faded just as quickly as it had appeared. “If we want it?”
He couldn’t do the tiptoeing around the subject any more. He’d given her a chance to tell him on her own, and she’d deliberately chosen to avoid the truth.
“You went to the hospital,” Xander said. It hurt to look at her. After everything he’d done defending her to Spike and everybody else, he felt like a fool for believing her so blindly. “Was it to see him?”
Her dark eyes went wide at the bitterness of his tone, and she slowly folded onto the couch behind her. “It’s not what you think,” she said.
“And you’ve got special x-ray vision that lets you get my thoughts in Technicolor and surround sound, is that it?”
“You’ve just been sneaking around to your abusive ex-boyfriend while pretending to care about me and the rest of us,” he interrupted. “Gee, I can’t imagine why you and Buffy don’t get along better. The two of you are exactly the same.”
It was clear she didn’t understand what he was talking about, but Xander didn’t care. He just had this overwhelming urge to make her hurt as badly as he did.
“You said it was over between the two of you,” he continued. His voice was rising, and he was really glad Mrs. Summers wasn’t around to hear him. “Obviously, you were lying---.”
“So, this was just a little Christmas present for him, is that it?” He shook his head. “Don’t lie to me, Havi. Not any more. I called the hospital. They said you’ve been coming to see him ever since he got admitted.”
Xander’s rising anger wasn’t quailing Havi. Instead, she bristled under the attack, standing up stiffly to stare down at him at her full height.
“I am not discussing this with you,” she said. “You fail to understand the depth of the situation here.”
He grabbed her before she could leave, forcing her to turn around and face him. His face was hot, and Xander could feel sweat starting to trickle down the back of his neck. It made his collar itch.
“You’re right,” he said. “I do fail to understand. I fail to understand how you could keep me in the dark about this when I’ve been busting my tail making sure you got an even break with the gang. I fail to understand why you’d feel any kind of sympathy for that guy at all after what he did to you. But most of all, I fail to understand why you thought you had to lie to me about this all these months when I was the first one to believe in you, Havi. What happened to all those things you said? The feelings? I thought…”
His plan to make her ache as badly as he did was failing. Xander couldn’t get past the tightness in his throat to finish what he wanted to say.
The silence that separated them was the deepest gorge he’d ever felt. “Baltozar is alone in this world,” Havi finally said. Her voice was lower, all emotion stripped from her face. She was closing off. That was never a good sign. “I merely…I had to know. That he was being taken care of.”
“He’s in a hospital. Surprise surprise, that’s their job, Havi.”
“I told you that you wouldn’t understand.”
“Oh, I understand, all right. I understand that you used me to get Willow to trust you.”
“Then tell me I’m wrong.” Beneath his anger, a note of pleading crept into his voice. “Tell me what I’m not getting here. Tell me that you care about me enough to stop seeing him. ”
She didn’t answer him. She just stared at him with those dark, dark eyes. He’d always thought he could drown in those eyes, but now, all he could see was the wall she’d put between them.
“Don’t think I’m going to let you hurt Willow,” Xander said. Letting Havi go, he slid around her without touching, heading for the front door. “Just because I fell for your act, doesn’t mean I’m going to let her do the same thing.”
“It wasn’t an act,” she said, but it was so quiet that he almost doubted he heard it right.
With his hand on the door knob, he paused, shaking his head. “You know what the worst of this is?” he said, unable to even glance in her direction. “Spike was right. There’s no way he’s ever going to let me hear the end of this when he finds out.”
He made sure the door slammed shut behind him.
The quiet knock at her door surprised Maggie. The campus was deserted; she’d deliberately chosen to work in her office for the privacy she knew she would get. So, to have someone arrive unannounced was surprising to say the least.
Rather than risk letting just anybody in, Maggie closed the Initiative file on the Slayer she’d been reviewing and tucked it inside a drawer before rising to answer the door. Her brows lifted when she opened it and saw Robin on the other side.
“You weren’t at home,” he said as if in apology.
“Because I’m here,” she said with a smile. She stepped aside to allow him to enter, locking the door behind him once he was in. “What can I do for you?”
“I wanted to talk to you about Buffy Summers.”
Excited anticipation made her step more brisk, and Maggie slid back into her chair with a bright gleam in her eye. “You’ve been able to get through to her? I knew using your heritage---.”
“Actually, I haven’t seen Buffy since finals.” He hadn’t taken the seat she’d offered. Instead, Robin hung near the door, his hands stuffed deep into his pockets. She could see him playing with his pockets’ contents as he looked anywhere but at her. “I hate to do this to you, Maggie, but---.”
“You’re backing out.” Disappointment made her deflate, and she leaned back, wishing that he would just look at her. She was infinitely more convincing when people made eye contact. “Why are you having second thoughts? Did something happen?”
Robin shook his head. “I just don’t think I’m your guy for this,” he said. “She’s got her own little world, and I wasn’t able to find a place where I could slide into it like you wanted me to.”
“Because of the baby.” Ever since Buffy had started showing, Maggie had felt her hopes fade. She needed a warrior, not a milk machine, and she was terrified that the time would come for Buffy’s aid only to have the Slayer be in labor. “Has she said anything to you about it?”
There was no mistaking the tightening of Robin’s jaw. “No,” he said. “Just…no.”
He was holding back on her. Why did all these young people think they could fool her so easily? “I find that hard to believe,” Maggie said evenly. “Surely the subject came up. Is she keeping it? Does she plan to give it up for adoption? Where does the father fit into all this?”
This time, she could see the outline of his fists inside his pockets. Something she’d said had provoked him even further. Interesting.
“It’s like I said. We only ever talked about her classwork. Sometimes, Willow would come and pick her up, but I never saw Buffy with Spike. I have no idea what they’re planning.”
“Spike?” The name made her shake her head. “A nickname like that doesn’t bode well. I’ll bet he’s not a student, right? Some bad boy archetype she’s trying to use to rebel against her calling?”
“Something like that,” he muttered. For the first time since coming in, he looked up, and the bleak anger in his eyes took her breath away. “Maybe you should rethink your whole strategy to get her to help you with those artifacts, Maggie. The next few months are going to be…momentous for Buffy, and I’ve got this feeling that baby of hers is going to be right at the middle of it all. It wouldn’t make a difference if you got God himself to come down and tell her she needed to pick up arms for your fight. The only thing she’s going to be interested in is that baby.”
He was already halfway out the door before she could stop him. “I’m going to fulfill my contract with the university,” Robin said. “So you won’t have to worry about that. And you have my word that none of what we’ve discussed will ever be disclosed. Just…think about what I’ve said, OK?”
With that, he was gone.
To say she was disappointed about losing Robin’s help with the Slayer was an understatement. However, the warnings he’d posed didn’t stem from ignorance. They came from some unknown knowledge, secrets that he had that he wasn’t sharing with Maggie. Part of her was angry at him for that.
Another part was insanely curious. As the semester had progressed, she’d sensed Robin’s growing disaffection for his assignment. Though his reports were never less than glowing about Buffy Summers, they didn’t offer anything but the most cursory of insights, details Maggie could’ve gotten from just about anyone on campus who’d spent five minutes with the girl. Her visit just before Christmas had been a last attempt to try and spur him into action, but obviously, that had failed. Why remained a mystery.
She pulled out her file again and picked up her pen to make the note about the boyfriend. Spike. That one was going to require research. It wouldn’t be difficult to find out more; Buffy’s medical records would most likely yield enough information for Maggie to track the young man down and learn his role in the Slayer’s life. Perhaps he was someone she could use to get to Buffy, instead. Someone with such an unfortunate nickname was most likely mercenary enough to have a price she could meet, or a secret she could exploit.
If that failed, she would just have to start getting a little more creative.
To be continued in Chapter 41: Millions of Strange Shadows…