DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet XVII.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Robin thought Buffy in danger and arranged to have her taken away, only to have Maggie refuse to let him see her; Oz and Graham learned more about the Slayer artifacts and that Buffy was no longer safe, while Buffy has received a visitor…
Robin’s arrival did what Giles’ raised voice couldn’t. It stopped the arguing about how to help Buffy and re-focused everybody’s attention on the man in the doorway. The only thing that Giles regretted was that he wasn’t the first to reach Robin.
“You selfish bastard!” Wesley’s forearm was pressed violently against Robin’s windpipe, his extra inches allowing him an advantage in spite of the other man’s larger muscle mass. “You, of all people, should know what she goes through. What she has gone through. Did your mother’s death teach you nothing?”
To his credit, Robin didn’t fight back, though Giles strongly suspected he could take Wesley if it came to hand to hand combat. “She taught me to treasure life,” he said tightly. “I was worried about Buffy’s baby, which was why I got her out of there. I did it for her own good.”
“And calling 911 never occurred to you,” Xander commented.
“I thought Maggie would be better prepared---.”
The end of the sentence was choked off when Wesley pushed harder against his throat. “Because of you, Buffy’s now in even greater danger.”
Carefully, Giles grasped Wesley’s arm and pulled it away. “And as satisfying as it would be to take our frustration out on Robin, we still have the problem of getting Buffy back to safety before Esme finds her.”
Robin stiffened at the witch’s name. “What does Esme have to do with anything?”
“She has her powers back,” Giles explained. “And she’s targeted Buffy again. We think it’s because she’s interested in the Slayer artifacts.” His eyes narrowed, his anger only barely concealed. “Just as your friend—Dr. Walsh—is.”
“But she can’t have her magic back,” Robin argued. “I just saw Willow. She was fine.”
Oz stepped forward. “She wasn’t earlier. How did you know she needed to get hurt in order to lose the magic?”
Robin looked like a cornered animal, intelligent eyes darting around to the various men in the room. He realized quickly that avoiding the answers they sought would do him no good and sighed in resignation.
“Esme told me. She wanted to make a trade with me, though we never really agreed on it. But she said Willow had to die in order for her to get her power back. When I saw her, Willow looked more than alive.”
“She was dead.” Wesley’s voice was ice. “Obviously, she’s not any longer.”
Unexpected panic made Robin dart forward, only to be slammed back against the wall again by Wesley. “She’s going to think I had something to do with that,” he said quickly. “We have to stop her before she gets to Buffy.”
“Not that I don’t agree, but why are you so adamant about this all of a sudden?”
Giles’ blood ran cold when Robin explained, but it served to fuel the group into action again, returning their arguments to getting someone into the Initiative in order to create the diversion necessary to find Buffy and get her out.
“I can get to her,” Robin asserted. “I know I can.”
“That doesn’t solve the problem of an army that outnumbers us,” Oz said.
Graham nodded. “We need our own army.”
“I know this is bordering on suicidal,” Xander said, “but what about all those demons you guys kept kidnapping? You didn’t kill all of them, did you?”
“They’re being contained.”
Giles caught Xander’s germ of an idea, his eyes almost gleaming. “Then perhaps it would be in our best interest if they weren’t,” he said. “If we can’t fight the soldiers, the demons will.”
“What’s to stop them from fighting us?” Xander asked.
“That’s for us to figure out.” With one last deadly glance at Robin, Giles bent over the dining room table, grabbing a pen to start sketching out the plan. “Let’s do it.”
It was ridiculous how trusting some of these people could be, Esme thought as she looked over the equipment in the Slayer’s room. Of course, some of it had to do with the glamour she adopted. Obviously, Dr. Walsh was a woman of power and respect. Using that was the smartest thing Esme could’ve done in getting to Buffy.
Thankfully, the Slayer still slept, the effects of the tea working just as Esme had prescribed. Her color was good, as was her breathing, and when Esme put away the chart that said just how little they’d been able to do with Buffy, it was all she could do not to laugh out loud with glee at how easily this was turning in her favor. Once Buffy was awake and under her control, the rest of it would be simple. Eternal life was finally going to be Esme’s.
Resting a single hand on the Slayer’s chest, Esme closed her eyes and uttered the incantation necessary to break the effects of the tea. The power crackled through her veins, burning in a rage to be released, but as it attempted to flow free of Esme’s control, a violent tide swelled back toward her, frightening her enough for her to snatch her hand away and break the spell.
Her dark eyes flew to the Slayer’s face, searching for any hint of what might have caused the backlash. Buffy slept on, peace still evident in her lax features.
Carefully, Esme tried again, exerting more control along the lines of the incantation as she attempted to wake the girl up. This time, she saw the swell as the blockade it actually was, stopping again in time to prevent any harm to herself.
She couldn’t break the effects of the tea. Something was anchoring the Slayer within the dream world the magic constructed.
When Esme had altered the spell, she’d done it using the only catalyst she had on hand---the unborn child. It carried with it both Buffy and Spike’s DNA, creating the bridge through which Buffy could cross. But if Esme was now being stopped from drawing the Slayer back over that bridge, that meant there was something on the other side holding her there.
There was only one possible something for it to be.
Fury welled inside Esme, and she took a step away from the bed before it leaked through and hurt the Slayer. Spike had taken some of the tea. Even if he was present, she wouldn’t be able to wake Buffy. A circuit had been closed with his arrival within the dream world, and there was no way for Esme to breech that now.
She stilled. Well. There was one.
In the present circumstances, Buffy was untouchable. What Esme needed to do was take away one of the factors that had closed that particular door. Her eyes drifted to the swell of the Slayer’s stomach.
It appeared that young Robin would be getting his wish after all.
As she leaned back against Spike’s chest, Buffy sighed, letting her muscles melt into his lean frame. She felt guilty for being in such a good mood. Spike had told her about everything that was going on back at the house, and while she was desperate to return and get everything fixed, she was also enjoying this brief respite for the luxury it was.
It was weird seeing Spike in the sunlight. The pallor of his skin was even more pronounced in the golden ambience of the park, and the white shirt he’d always worn didn’t help make him look any healthier. His hair was brighter, too, but after an amused comment about needing sunglasses, Buffy had let that tease go. Still, in the pretend daylight, a softness seemed to return to Spike’s features that she had to admit she saw very rarely any more. It reminded her so much of William that, more than once, she had to stop herself from calling him that out loud.
“Is it me or does it seem to be taking them an awful long time to figure out how to wake us up?” she mused, her fingers toying with stray blades of grass.
“It’s you,” Spike replied. He chuckled when she slapped at his knee and wrapped his arms more tightly around her. “Red will suss it out,” he added. “The girl’s not nearly as powerless as she’d like to think.”
“This should give her confidence a boost. As long as it doesn’t take too--.”
She stopped, a sudden tightening around her abdomen sucking the air from her lungs.
Spike noticed the change in her body language right away and helped her sit up. “What is it?” he asked, his voice laced with concern.
Buffy frowned, and her hand automatically strayed to her stomach. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “It’s--.”
It ended with a scream. The agonizing pain rippled through her.
Bracing his arm around her back, Spike laid her out onto the grass, though it took all of Buffy’s will not to curl into a ball and protect the baby. His hands drew up her tunic to rest upon her stomach, and she could feel Schmoo lashing out against his palms. Fighting.
That’s my baby.
“What’s goin’ on?” Spike kept repeating. Every utterance grew more desperate.
“I don’t know.” She squeezed her eyes shut against the pain. “It feels like…”
“Red!” he snarled. “I told her she shouldn’t--.”
“No. It’s not the same.” Buffy gasped, every stab making it even harder to breathe.
“Is it the little one? Or something else?”
She could hear it in his voice that he almost hoped it was the latter. Because they both knew that Buffy was in a better position to fight for her life than the baby was. She hated having to take that away.
“It’s Schmoo.” She sucked in air to try and steel against the pain. “Something’s wrong.”
There was a dull ache behind Maggie’s eyes, and she gripped the edge of her desk in order to pull herself upright. Her fingers scrambled across the smooth surface, scattering papers and pens as she reached for her telephone. The old woman had packed a wallop; Maggie’s men needed to be alerted to the witch’s presence, though she wasn’t entirely sure how they were going to be able to stop her.
The bitter taste in her mouth was unexplainable. When the old woman had released the magical blast that had knocked Maggie out, there had been a searing pain within her chest, followed by a certainty that she was having a heart attack. Falling unconscious had been a welcome relief. It was interesting to note the other effects of the attack, though she would have to make a note of them later.
Her hand was shaking as she punched in the extension for the secluded infirmary where the Slayer was being held. The guard’s greeting was interrupted by her curt tones.
“Buffy Summers is to be moved to isolation,” she ordered. “And I want her guards tripled until further notice.”
“Yes, ma’am.” She held the line while she listened to him repeat her instructions to another soldier, but a new voice—one of the doctors, she thought—kept him from returning right away. When he did, there was a hesitancy in his voice.
“Ma’am? Dr. Wilson says I’m going to need your level five security clearance in order to do as you request.”
She barked it out, and then added, “Now tell me. What’s going on?”
The phone was handed over. “Maggie?”
“Are you going to tell me what’s happening here, Wilson?”
He cleared his throat. “I needed to be sure it was you. Where are you?”
“In my office.”
More voices in the background, and then the shrill ring of an alarm began to sound.
“Tell me what’s happening!” she snapped.
The guard came back on the line. “The monitors have gone crazy in Ms. Summers’ room,” he explained. “Dr. Wilson’s run to see what’s going on.”
“I’ll be right there!”
She’d almost hung up the phone when she heard, “But…you were just here!”
Maggie blocked out the fear his protestation elicited as she bolted for the doorway. She had to get to the Slayer before it was too late. Any hesitation, and she was convinced that all would be lost.
Esme hadn’t considered the monitors. The sudden shock of hearing them go off made her jerk away from where she’d been touching the Slayer’s abdomen, her gaze sliding to the flashing lights at the side of the bed. All it took was a quick charge to turn them off, but already, she could hear the running of feet in the hallway.
The door flew open and a young dark-haired doctor came racing in, followed by the guard who’d been on the door, as well as a few others. The doctor did a double-take when he saw her, eyes narrowing as they swept over her, but his next barked order held no hesitancy.
“Arrest her!” he commanded the guards. “She’s a fake. I just got off the phone with Dr. Walsh myself.”
Three of the soldiers rushed toward Esme, but a blast from her palm sent two of them to the floor. The doctor stopped where he’d been advancing.
“Who are you?” he asked. “What did you do to my patient?”
Her lip curled into a malicious smile. “Waking her up, which it would appear is more than you’ve been accomplishing.”
He jabbed a finger at the now-silent monitors. “Those were on the baby, so I’m only going to ask you one more time. What did you do?”
“I believe I answered that question already. No wonder you’ve failed so abysmally.”
The doctor didn’t even blink as he uttered the order to shoot. Esme had no choice but to teleport herself out of the room if she wanted to survive. It was too soon for her to be exhausting her magic so thoroughly, and she’d already expended quite a bit doing what she could to take care of the issue with the baby.
After all, destroying a creature’s soul was never an easy thing to do.
Willow felt like she was going to cry. Nothing she was doing with Spike was doing any good, and now, all of a sudden, his peaceful slumber was far from peaceful. Only minutes earlier, his brows had drawn into a straight line, his eyes flickering ever more violently behind his closed lids. He was dreaming—well, he’d always been dreaming, but it looked like what had been a calm walk in the park was now a nightmare.
Nightmare plus Buffy’s absence equaled a whole lot of fear and panic in Willow.
The permutations on the incantation fell from her lips, one after another, faster and faster until the words became a blur, her tongue increasingly numb as it tripped and stumbled. Spike began to grow agitated, his muscles twitching. He even knocked her over at one point.
“This isn’t working!” she shouted in frustration. She’d heard very little from the Guardians since their aborted attempts to bring Buffy back, but that didn’t mean anything. She knew they were just lurking on the periphery, waiting…for what, she had no idea.
“You have to help me!” Jumping to her feet, Willow rounded the Well to stare down into the water, watching it percolate and come back to life. “Something’s wrong. Spike shouldn’t be getting this upset if he’s just asleep. I have to wake him up.”
“We do not know how to counter Esme’s spell,” the voice of the Guardians said. She hated that it sounded so calm. “You know this.”
“I’m close. I can feel it. I just…” She blinked. Hard. She was not going to cry. “If I had Esme’s power back, I know I could do it. I wouldn’t even have to try.”
“You have your own power, Willow. Use it.”
“Don’t you think I’ve been trying that?” Her voice echoed against the walls as it rose in volume. “Nothing’s working! It’s like…it’s like I’m pushing against saran wrap. There’s give, and I can feel it wanting to yield, to break, but it’s too strong for me to punch through. If I just had a little more power, I could do it.”
For a long moment, the only sounds within the cavern were the gurgling water and the occasional shuffle of Spike’s twitching body.
“We could give you the power you seek,” the voice finally said.
Willow leapt forward. Her blood was roaring in her ears. “What do you mean? How?”
“Join us. Become a Guardian and you will have all of our resources at your command.”
“You can fix this? Why didn’t you say so?”
“We did not say so because we cannot. But if you were to agree to join our ranks, we would be able to augment that which you already have. If you are this close already, our combined strength could be enough to help you find the answers for which you seek.”
She didn’t have a choice. She knew she didn’t. And though Willow was terrified about what becoming a Guardian might mean, the possibility about having even a fraction of the power she’d had with Esme back was too alluring to resist.
Willow knelt at the edge of the Well, just as she’d seen Havi do. “What do I have to do?”
If she never saw the park again, Buffy thought it would be too soon. It was just definitive proof of what was keeping her from helping her baby, and the longer the pains went on, the more terrified she became that it was going to be too late. Spike’s arms held her close, but not even his preternatural strength was enough to fight against what was going on. Whatever it was.
“Talk to me, luv,” Spike crooned. “Don’t close me out. Tell me what to do.”
Her arms were wrapped around her stomach as she leaned into his chest. The thing she was afraid to tell him was how the pain was changing. The pangs were still as strong as they’d been when they started, but over the past few minutes, the focus of them had shifted, burrowing deeper and deeper into her body until it felt like they were radiating from the base of her diaphragm, from inside the lower part of her chest. What was worse was that Schmoo’s kicks were growing weaker. She wanted to think that the baby was just getting tired, but part of her feared that was wishful thinking.
She’d been so lost in her thoughts that she hadn’t realized that Spike’s arms had grown rigid around her. Craning her neck to meet his worried gaze, she instantly regretted it.
“You know something,” she whispered, and then winced when another pain shot through her body.
His eyes were almost black. “The little one’s heartbeat…”
The clutch of her hand stopped him from finishing the sentence. Buffy didn’t want him to put voice to what was scaring the life out of her.
“No, no, no,” she breathed. She squeezed her eyes shut and bent her neck. She wasn’t going to consider the possibility that anything could be wrong with Schmoo. All she was going to do was believe that Willow was going to wake them up in time in order to stop whatever was happening.
And then her world disappeared. She tumbled against the soft grass as the hard arms holding her went away.
The first thing he saw was Red’s wide eyes. Spike almost shouted in relief. The witch had finally come through.
Then he realized he wasn’t in the Summers house any longer. Even worse, he could only hear a single heartbeat in the room around him.
“Buffy…” he gasped, but when he tried to push himself upright, a wave of nausea swamped over him, driving him to his side to retch into the dirt.
Willow’s warm hands came to his shoulders, and he was mildly surprised at the nimble strength within her fingers. “What was happening?” she asked in a rush. “I know you were upset. Was…Buffy still with you?”
He wiped at his mouth, shaking his head to clear it. The room still spun around him. “Yeah.” With his eyes closed, it was impossible to deny the sounds pulsing through his body, and Spike forced his nausea down to rise to his knees, waiting a moment before looking around him.
It was a cavern, but the rushing water of the well in its center was all he needed to know where he was. He also knew it was where Buffy wasn’t.
“Spike…” Willow cut him off before he could ask. When he turned his head to look at her, he noticed for the first time the white streaks in her hair, how black her eyes were. “I need you to tell me exactly what was going on in the dream. It’s the only way I can help.”
His stomach clenched as her words forced the memory to return. “It’s the little one,” he murmured. “Buffy…was in pain, and then…” All of a sudden, his eyes burned from the sudden rush of angry tears. “I think the baby’s dead.”
To be continued in Chapter 58: His Tender Heir…