The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CL.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Spike and Willow have had a talk about her lack of magic, Graham and Wesley walked in on the middle of the Council taking Esme, and Buffy has decided that enough is enough when it comes to Quentin Travers…
It took very little time for the atmosphere at the Summers house to charge. In fact, it only took the time for the wounded and captured to enter. The moment Spike saw Buffy pushing Lydia across the threshold, he bolted from his seat in front of the television and slammed the Watcher to the wall.
“Should’ve known you’d be the first to Judas,” he snarled, his hand tight around her throat.
Buffy pulled at his arm, forcing him to loosen his grip though Lydia stayed pinned in place. “We don’t have time for this,” she said. “And if anybody gets to be the one to smack the bitch around, it’s going to be me. I’ve more than earned it.”
“Leave her be, Spike.” Giles’ calm voice accompanied an equally firm clap on Spike’s shoulder. “As gratifying as I’d find it to be a part of Lydia’s torture myself, we have greater enemies to worry about.”
Spike squeezed for just a fraction of a second before releasing his grip, scowling as Lydia slumped and gulped for air. “Should never have dragged her into this mess,” he muttered. “Things wouldn’t be goin’ pear-shaped if I’d just looked for Rose on my own.”
“I’m thinking Lydia would’ve found a way to stab us in the back anyway,” Buffy commented. Glancing over her shoulder, she watched Oz help a groggy Graham come staggering into the house, Wesley close at their heels. “Are you guys all right? Are we going to need any more first aid kits?”
Oz looked to Graham, who shook his head. “I’m fine,” he said. “I just need a glass of water.”
“That’ll keep you from losing your voice while you’re telling Giles and Spike everything you know about Dr. Walsh, then.” She didn’t wait for anybody’s response. She’d been running on adrenaline ever since she’d called ahead to the house to let Spike know what was going on, and she needed to have her talk with Willow before Schmoo started putting up a fight.
Spike stopped her on the bottom step. When she met his eyes, they were dark with more than worry, and he leaned toward her to keep his words private.
“Red’s in a pretty bad way,” he said quietly. “I let her get some of it off her chest, but…”
Buffy frowned. It wasn’t like Spike to try and so obviously protect any of them other than her. If he felt the need to stand up for Willow, it was probably even worse than he said. “Thanks,” she murmured, and continued up the stairs.
The door was closed, but the sniffles she could hear from the other side were all Buffy needed to know she wouldn’t be waking Willow. She rapped once and waited, pushing it open when the soft, “Come in,” echoed from within.
“Hey,” Buffy said. She was trying for perky, but Spike had been right. Willow’s face was swollen from crying and she looked like she might start up again if somebody said the wrong thing. Buffy was going to have to tread carefully.
“Did you find her?” Willow asked.
“No.” With a sigh, Buffy sat on the end of the bed, drawing her legs up Indian-style so that she could face the other girl. “But Graham confirmed that Spike and Oz were right. Psych prof Dr. Walsh is our psycho soldier Dr. Walsh.” She scowled. “Isn’t that illegal or something? It’s like moonlighting, right? I mean, unless the university knows about her little recruitment program, which I highly doubt. Nobody gets a varsity jacket for demon hunting. If they did, I’d be my own damn team.”
In spite of her obvious distress, Willow’s lips twitched as if she wanted to smile but wasn’t sure it was appropriate. “It makes sense now about how she covered up Riley’s death, though,” she said. “He was working for her.”
A worrisome thought popped into Buffy’s head, but before she could voice it, Willow was speaking again.
“When did you guys convince Graham to talk?” she asked. “Last time he was around, Giles had to resort to the truth spell because he was tighter than a clam.”
Briefly, Buffy regaled the story of what had happened with Esme, watching as her friend’s face grew increasingly pale. “Whatever Travers wants her for,” she finished, “it can’t be good. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been so sneaky about getting her out of Sunnydale.”
Willow swallowed, and her eyes began looking everywhere but at Buffy. “I think I know why they want her,” she said. “She’s got her magic back.”
Though Spike had been adamant about Willow’s power drain, hearing it come from her lips was a different thing entirely. “Are you sure?” Buffy asked carefully.
“Positive. I’m back to being as much of a magical screw-up as Aunt Esmerelda.”
“What?” This must’ve been what Spike had been referring to, but frankly, Buffy had been expecting resurrection angst, not witchy angst. “You’re hardly a screw-up, Willow. Look at what you did last summer, and that was before you got a magical booster shot. And Angel’s soul? You didn’t need anything from Esme to do that. And I’m not even going to mention the dozens of times you helped me with my slaying stuff.”
“Don’t forget my wonderful de-lusting spell,” Willow said bitterly. “Or the fact that I’ve never been able to turn Amy back from being a rat, or---.”
“Those don’t count.”
“Magic isn’t like horseshoes, Buffy. Getting close to the result you want is usually just as bad as missing by a mile. And without Esme’s power---.”
“You’re going to be just fine.” Clambering to the head of the bed, Buffy stretched out beside Willow so that they were shoulder to shoulder. “Remember how impressed Rose was when she heard what you did? And these Guardians must really think you’re something if they’re willing to bring you back from the dead.” She gave her a bright smile. “Hey, we can form a club now! The Dead Scooby Society. I’ll be president, and you’ll have to be treasurer/secretary because you’re way smarter than I am about that kind of thing. We can use one of the caves outside of town for our meetings, and maybe if we’re really nice, we can convince Spike to read some of his poetry.”
By the time Buffy was done, Willow was even giggling. “Spike’s going to be a member?”
“Sure. He died. He came back. OK, as a vampire, but as club president, I say that counts.”
“And you’re not biased at all.”
“You know Xander’s going to be jealous about being left out.”
Buffy waved a hand in dismissal. “He’s going to be too busy making googly eyes at Havi. He’s not even going to notice.”
They shared smiles at the little game, but all too quickly, Willow’s began to fade. “I don’t know, Buffy,” she said. “You don’t know what it was like, having all that power. Being able to do just about anything I wanted. Some of the spells I was researching…it was serious stuff. Stuff that could’ve made your job a heck of a lot easier. I could’ve made a huge difference.”
“But you already do. Who is the biggest brainiac to ever come out of Sunnydale High? Or ever will, since we kind of blew it up?” She poked Willow in the thigh. “You are. And who says you can’t still use the spells? So what if it’s a little bit harder now to cast them? That’s never stopped you before. I think you like it even more when things are hard. In fact, I seem to remember a certain redhead who nearly fell over from excitement when Jonathan accidentally set fire to all of Mr. Lundy’s notes for the senior physics projects. Didn’t you volunteer to be the one to completely reorganize all his stuff from scratch?”
Willow flushed. “Yeah, but that’s different.”
“OK, for those of us who think better with their hands than their brains, how exactly is that any different? Call me Helen Keller, ‘cause I’m just not seeing it.”
The silence that followed was all the answer either one of them really needed. Satisfied that she’d at least put the bug in Willow’s head, Buffy decided to switch tactics to something a little more immediate.
“This stuff with the Council…if Esme does have her power back, it’s going to be on our shoulders to stop her, because there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell Travers will be able to. They couldn’t do it last summer, so why they think they can do it now when she’s going to be pissed off at all of us is beyond me.”
“Graham said she was unconscious?”
“Yeah, but then again, so was he when the rest of the fight went down. It’s possible Esme came to.”
Willow shook her head. “I don’t think so. Not to be a gloomy gus, but the first thing she’s going to do when she wakes up is come after us. Me, for having her magic in the first place, and you, for whatever reason she wanted you last summer.”
Buffy had completely forgotten about that. They still had no idea why Esme had been so desperate to get her hands on a Slayer the previous summer. If she chose to try something again, she was going to have an advantage. Schmoo meant Buffy wasn’t at the top of her act this time around.
“Even more incentive for us to get to her first,” she said, putting on her best brave face. “I don’t suppose there’s any way you can…I don’t know…track where the magic went, can you?”
Willow chewed at her lip. While she wasn’t smiling, some of the sorrow that had been plaguing her features when Buffy had walked in was fading, replaced by the more familiar fervor of having a problem to solve. “I don’t think so,” she said slowly. “But…there might be something else we can do.”
Buffy perked up. “Really? What?”
“Now don’t be making me your only basket,” Willow said, holding up a warning finger. “It might not work. It’s just an idea I had. Half an idea. Not even half. A smidge of an idea, and it might not even work because I never could get the math completely right---.”
“You already said that. What is it, Will?”
Though his body ached, Graham answered their questions with only minimal hesitation. It was different this time; apparently, the Initiative’s preventive magic only worked if a subject was coerced into telling the truth. Volunteering information didn’t have the same blinding effects.
It also helped that the group seemed a lot nicer to him this time around. Yes, Mr. Giles seemed pissed that he and Wesley had left the apartment, but the fact that they’d interrupted something so big seemed to sway him in Graham’s favor. There was still the issue of Spike hovering in the background, pacing around like a caged lion, too. Graham just ignored him and focused on those who were actually asking the questions. He didn’t want to have to deal with a hostile anyway.
“Extraordinary,” Mr. Giles kept murmuring.
“I just can’t believe that something of this magnitude was happening right under all our noses,” Mrs. Summers said.
Graham didn’t respond to that. Frankly, Mrs. Summers made him a little uneasy. Other than being the Slayer’s mother---and finding out Buffy was the Slayer had been a bullet of information he definitely hadn’t expected---he didn’t see what she had to offer the group. If anything, she was a distraction. She was smart, beautiful, and it was obvious that Mr. Giles was more than a little interested in her. That could only be a liability in the long run.
“We’ll just have to make sure it doesn’t get any bigger,” Wesley announced.
Graham rolled his eyes. The guy had scored some points by shooting the woman who helped the witch escape, but this pomposity was more than a little hard to stomach. “This is the American government,” he reiterated. “You can’t stop them. You can’t slow them down. All you can hope is that you don’t get steamrolled in the process.”
“And yet, you didn’t have any problems selling them out,” Spike commented from the rear of the room.
“I didn’t sign up to hurt civilians,” Graham shot back. “They tried to make me cross a line that I just can’t believe in. And who are you to question my loyalty? Last time I checked, vampires were evil, soulless monsters---.”
So wrapped up in the conversation, nobody had heard Buffy return to the group. Now she stood in the doorway to the kitchen, chin held high, eyes bright and alert in spite of the toll the day must’ve had on her. Spike immediately went to her side, his hand coming to rest on the top of her swollen stomach, and it took all of Graham’s self-control not to curl his lip in disgust. He didn’t understand this need to have a pet vampire hanging around, and he really didn’t want to know what his involvement was with Buffy’s baby. Right now, though, he didn’t have a choice but to accept the situation until he could safely move on.
“We don’t have time for this kind of bickering,” she said. “If you’re here, you’re part of the team, so start acting like one.”
Spike scowled, but Graham nodded in reluctant agreement. It was hard not to respect someone who knew how to take charge; he didn’t need to see any more to know that Buffy Summers wore the mantle well.
“Good. Now. We have two problems, both big, but one is definitely a little more wigworthy. As much as I’d like to kick Dr. Walsh’s ass right now, we have to concentrate on taking care of Esme before she wakes up and realizes she has her magic back.” She waved a hand to ward off the startled glances from the Watchers. “Willow’s sure. And we’re both sure that the first thing Esme will do is come after us, which means she’s just been moved to the top of the priority list.”
“I can call Mr. Travers,” Wesley offered.
“No,” Buffy said. “I don’t want to tip him off that we know what he’s up to. I want Lydia to call and pretend everything went according to plan, while Spike, Oz, Graham, and Wesley sniff around Sunnydale to try and find out if Esme’s still here.”
“I get why me and Oz,” Spike said, his brows drawn together. “What’s with the other two?”
“They’re the only ones who’ve seen the Council’s team. Plus, with all the sneaking around he’s done, I’m going to bet Graham knows corners of Sunnydale I could only guess at.” She looked to Graham. “Am I right?”
“If she’s here, I can find her.” He ignored the look of death Spike shot him.
“Giles and I are going to talk to Lydia,” she continued. “And I’m sending Xander and Havi over to the dorms to pick up some stuff for Willow. She thinks she might be able to figure out a way to track where Esme is.”
“Was that Red’s idea?”
“We’re calling it a collaborative effort.” Buffy smiled. “Remind me to tell you about our new club.”
For the first time since they’d shifted interrogations to Graham, Lydia spoke up. “Mr. Travers will already be aware of your involvement. I’m sure that as soon as they reached their destination, his men contacted him about what happened.”
Some of the certainty softened from Buffy’s features. “Damn,” she muttered. “I didn’t think of that.”
“We’ll wait to contact Travers, then,” Giles said. “But Spike and the others should leave immediately if we don’t wish the trail to go completely cold.”
“Let’s weapon up.”
Buffy hung back as Spike led the others to the living room, grabbing Giles’ arm to prevent him from leaving as well. “Something Willow said made me think of something.” She kept her voice low, though she was more than aware that complete privacy right now was out of the question. “Remember Riley? And how Dr. Walsh lied to her classes about how he died?”
Giles frowned. “Yes. What does that have to do with anything?”
“Riley’s replacement. Dr. Walsh brought him in out of nowhere. What if…what if Robin was doing more than grading papers for her? What if he was stepping into Riley’s shoes for whatever he was doing for Dr. Walsh, too?”
When Lydia visibly started, Graham frowned, more interested in this turn of conversation than which crossbow Spike was going to hand him.
“Did you say Robin Wood is working for this government woman?” she asked.
“Yeah, but…” Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “How do you know his last name?”
It was obvious the Watcher didn’t want to reply, but after a wary glance to the men surrounding her, she sighed. “Mr. Travers asked me to work with him. But I wasn’t aware of his connection with this other agency.”
“Why would Travers know about my psych TA?”
“Through his mother, of course.”
Understanding appeared on both Giles and Wesley’s faces at the same time, and they looked to each other first to confirm their suspicions. “Nikki Wood,” Wesley said. “Of course.”
“It’s just like Quentin to send the son of a Slayer to watch over the pregnant one,” Giles said wryly.
Now everyone in the room was interested in the conversation. Even Spike had stiffened at the mention of this Nikki.
“Robin’s mom was a Slayer?” Buffy’s amazement was palpable. “That means he knew all along who I was. And if he’s working with Dr. Walsh…”
“She knows who you are, as well,” Giles finished.
“That’s it,” Spike said. “I’m bringing the wanker in.”
“No. Spike. I’m going to do it.”
Spike wasn’t the only one to explode at Buffy’s suggestion. Murmurings of too dangerous and you can’t echoed in every possible permutation while the Slayer waited for the outbursts to calm. Only Graham remained silent. He wasn’t sure what he would say wouldn’t turn Spike against him for good.
“Robin’s been only nice to me,” Buffy said once the room had quieted enough for her to speak. “And if he hasn’t done anything up to now, I don’t think that’s going to change.”
“That was before we discovered his involvement,” Giles said.
“But Robin doesn’t know that I know.”
“Unless Mr. Travers has already contacted him.” Lydia cowered slightly under the onslaught of eyes turned upon her. “They’ve been in direct communications since before I knew he was in town.”
“Somebody needs to find him, though,” Buffy argued. “He’s playing both sides, and we need to know why.”
“I still say I’m the vamp for the job.”
This time it was Giles who voiced the dissent, though Graham found his careful wording to be curious.
“We need someone more…impartial to speak with Robin,” he said. “And considering your history, Spike, you are the last person I think qualified for this task.”
“It would seem that I’m the only logical choice,” Lydia said.
“Maybe on the planet of you’ve got to be kidding,” Buffy commented.
“Actually,” Wes interjected, “I think Lydia’s right. She already has a relationship with Wood. He won’t suspect her if she shows up. Everyone else would cause suspicion.”
“That’s great, except we can’t trust her.”
“I give you my word, Buffy. If you promise my safety, I’ll do whatever you ask.”
The Slayer rolled his eyes. “No offense, Lydia, but you’ve switched sides so often, I’ve got whiplash.”
“Perhaps we could put a bodyguard on her,” Wesley suggested. “Surely you don’t need both Xander and Havi to fetch Willow’s things.”
“Except for the fact that Harris is still doin’ his bloody awful Ray Charles impression.”
“I can take Xander.” The new voice surprised everyone, but Joyce remained unfazed by the sudden attention. “If Havi feels strong enough to act on her own, I don’t see any reason why I can’t drive Xander over to the dorms and help him find what Willow needs. It’s better than sitting around here feeling useless.”
Though it was clear that Buffy wanted to disagree, the Slayer merely nodded. “I think that’s the only way we’ll get everything done as safely as possible,” she said. She rubbed at her brow as if she had a headache. “I’m beginning to think we need some of Willow’s flow charts to keep track of what everyone is doing.”
“Oh! I’d be more than happy---.”
“I was kidding, Wesley.”
She suddenly looked really tired, and it wasn’t a surprise to Graham when Spike dropped the sword he’d been holding to cross worriedly to her side.
“Why don’t you go get some rest, luv?” he said. “If you want to be at the top of your game, you don’t want to be pushing yourself this hard. Keep Red company while the rest of us see what we can do.”
The way Graham figured, she didn’t really have much of a choice. There wasn’t a person in the room who couldn’t see how exhausted she was, and most of them were prepared to physically stand in her way if she tried to argue with Spike. It was a relief to see, almost. They cared for the Slayer in ways that were admirable, reminding him of some of his early expectations about the Initiative. This was a group who fought for all the right reasons, and though he thought their methods could use a lot of work, there was no discounting the passion they brought or their dedication to doing the right thing. He’d had glimpses of that before, heightened when Oz had instigated their little chat, but this made it all the more real.
He was suddenly very glad that this was the side he was on. Even if he was convinced they were all going to lose anyway.
The call came when she was packing up to go home. If Maggie hadn’t been so desperate to get news regarding Graham or the intruders, she would’ve just ignored it and taken the message the next morning. As it was, she was never so glad to have answered a call in all her time in Sunnydale.
“Are you sure?” she demanded, scrambling for a pen in her drawer. She began scribbling down the coordinates the technician was reciting over the phone, repeating them back to him after every few digits to make sure she was getting it right. There was no way she was going to make a mistake at this juncture; this was the culmination of everything she’d come to Sunnydale to do.
“Thank you,” Maggie said when he was done, and replaced the phone on the base. She sat back in her chair with a heavy sigh, the beginning of a smile creeping over her face. They’d found it. After all these months and all their false starts, they’d finally managed to find the artifacts she’d been convinced were hidden here. They were located outside of town, underground, and there was going to be work in getting to them, but the hardest part of her goal was now over. The Slayer artifacts were nearly in her hands.
The Slayer, however, wasn’t. That made the artifacts useless. According to her research, only those of Slayer blood could wield the weapons, and Maggie’s plans to recruit Buffy Summers had failed at every turn. Short of kidnapping the girl, she wasn’t entirely sure how to proceed next. She needed to find a Slayer.
The solution that suddenly presented itself made her feel foolish for not seeing it sooner.
Maggie didn’t have a Slayer, but she did have a Slayer’s son.
The artifacts could only be used by those of Slayer blood.
Robin Wood just solved all her problems.
To be continued in Chapter 52: Renew Thy Force…