TITLE: A Symphony of Echoes
DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet I.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Robin crashed the Summers house only to alert them to the added problem of Esme; Esme got to Buffy, only to realize that she couldn’t wake her up, forcing her to get rid of the block; in the dream, Buffy felt the effects of Esme’s spell and Willow joined the Guardians in order to get the power boost she needed to wake Spike up, just to discover that he thinks the baby is dead…
WARNING: There is sensitive subject matter regarding an unborn child within this chapter. I will freely admit that I cried when writing out Spike's early reactions in this. As was indicated in the chapter previous, Esme has cast a very bad spell on the baby and that just doesn't go away. It has consequences. Those consequences are clarified in this chapter and could be disturbing to some. However, ultimately, this story is not a tragedy. I brought Willow back, didn't I? :) Still, some might choose to skip this chapter, and that's all right. The "previously" on the next chapter will explain what is necessary for the story to proceed without the emotional impact of having to read it directly. My sincerest apologies to anybody who might have read already and been very upset. This was never my intention. *hugs*
Without Spike, it was a lot harder to stay calm. Buffy’s fingers clawed into the soft grass, breaking through the surface of the soil as wave after wave of pain rolled through her abdomen. She could feel the dirt driving beneath her nails, felt the sharp sting of a tiny stone scraping over her cuticle, but none of that did anything to distract her from the panic mushrooming inside her flesh.
“Don’t do this,” she said to nobody in particular. “Please.”
Promise after promise tumbled from her lips, vows to be better, be stronger, be nicer to skeazy informants, anything that would appease whatever was doing this to Schmoo. Desperation drove her to pledge her life itself, but when begging didn’t work, Buffy grew angry.
“It’s just a baby,” she spat. She had to roll onto her side to ease the freshest assault. “What harm did it do to anybody? It didn’t, that’s what. It’s an innocent, and so help me god, if anything happens to Schmoo, I swear I will hunt down whoever is responsible and beat them to death with their own spine.”
Violent threats made her feel mildly better.
He lashed out before the nausea had abated, his fist slamming into the smooth stone of the walls. While the impact created a nice shower of dust around his bleeding knuckles, the sudden vehemence of the water behind Spike distracted him from fully appreciating the respite.
“He must leave now,” a lyrical voice emanating from the water said. “His presence taints everything that we are.”
Spike met Willow’s black eyes, but the support he expected to find there was missing. “They’re right,” she said. When he took a menacing step toward the well, she sidestepped to block his path. “We have to go help Buffy anyway. It’s better this way.”
“Go help her?” he repeated. “Why isn’t she here, Red? What the hell is going on?”
“I’ll explain later. But if we’re going to save the baby, Spike, we have to leave now.”
His instinct was to argue. The need to protect the little one superceded that.
Tamping down the residual effects of waking up so suddenly, Spike whirled on his heel and marched toward the only exit in the cavern. He was stopped by Willow’s hand on his arm, stronger than he would have expected.
“Not that way,” she said. “Brace yourself. I’m going to teleport us back to Buffy’s house.”
“What happened to you not having that kind of power?” he asked.
Her guilty glance back at the well gave him his answer.
“You said you were goin’ to give more thought before throwing your lot in with them,” Spike accused. “Have you gone completely off your bird, Red? How long was I fuckin’ asleep?”
“It was the only way.” Power crackled around her at the sharpness of her voice, and Spike took a wary step away, eyes narrowed as he watched to see what she might do. “I needed to wake you up and I couldn’t do it on my own. It was the right decision, though. I don’t regret it. Not in the slightest.”
“You say that now--.”
“And I’ll say it tomorrow, and the day after that.” Her hand returned to his arm, and the magic he could feel charging between her fingers made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Now that he knew she was juiced, it was impossible to ignore. “Right now, though,” Willow continued, “you’re going to shut up while I get us somewhere we’ll do a little more good.”
He was helping Graham carry weapons out to the van when Oz heard her voice come from the kitchen. His heart started pounding in his chest as he rushed through his trip, each pace faster than the one previous as he ran back to the house, and by the time he saw the familiar fall of her hair as she bent over Giles’ plans on the dining room table, all Oz could think of was scooping Willow into his arms. He didn’t even notice that anyone else was in the room until after he was hugging Willow.
“You’re awake,” he said to Spike when she’d pulled away. The blood on the vampire’s knuckles made Oz’s nose twitch. “What happened?”
“It’s the little one.” Oz had never seen Spike look so bleak, even when Buffy had been in the hospital. “When I was with Buffy…its heart stopped beating.”
“It’s got to be Esme,” Willow said. As she spoke, she turned to look at Oz, startling him with the blackness of her eyes and the white streaks in the hair at her temples. “When the Guardians looked, they couldn’t find Buffy, but I’ll bet she did. She’s got resources they can’t even imagine. It’s one reason why they were so eager to bring me in.”
Slowly, he lifted a hand and touched her hair. “Are they responsible for you going Rogue?”
She blushed but didn’t back down. “It was the only way to get the power I needed to wake up Spike. I’m not up to the level I was with Esme’s power, but still…it’s good. It’s…different.” She squeezed his arm reassuringly. “It’s different good.”
“What are you planning on doing?” Oz asked.
Willow and Giles exchanged a quick look. “The only thing I can,” she said. “Find Buffy and help her.”
He tensed. That meant only one thing. “You died the last time you went there.” His voice was uncharacteristically sharp, his words fast. “And you said it yourself. You’re not as strong this time as you were before.” Pulling her into his arms, his hand came up to the back of her neck, holding her still while he breathed in her scent. Though there was something new in her smell, a soft earthy tone that hadn’t been there before, it served to calm him enough to say, “I can’t lose you again.”
“You won’t.” Her lips skimmed over his jaw and then she was pulling away. This close, he could see that her eyes weren’t completely black like he’d thought. Hints of hazel peeked through the ebony. “Spike’s going with me.”
“As am I.” Havi’s voice rang out from the doorway. She’d been preparing to go with him and Graham, but Willow’s arrival had obviously changed that plan. “She is my responsibility, more than ever before. I will die before I allow anything to happen to Willow this time.”
“So, see? All good.” Willow smiled brightly. “Now shoo. If we’re going to save the baby, I can’t be trying to convince you that I’m really not the Wicked Witch of the West.”
Oz retreated to the doorway, watching Havi, Spike, and Willow argue between themselves about the plans spread out on the table. Before he could speak up again, they disappeared.
A strong hand came down on his shoulder, prompting him to glance back at Graham’s solemn face. “The van’s loaded,” he said. “We need to go.”
Though he would drive like a maniac to get to the Initiative entrance Graham wanted on campus, Oz knew it would be nothing compared to what Willow was doing. She was there already, fighting for the one thing that could help Buffy the most.
Oz only hoped they weren’t too late to save the baby.
It was taking all of his power to concentrate on Willow and not let loose the rage that boiled in the pit of his stomach. She’d teleported them to the same entrance they’d used to rescue Harris, and now they stood within the belly of the Initiative, staring at the same hallways, plotting another search mission. It was too quiet, and the silence made his skin crawl.
Buffy was here. All their evidence had given the underground station as her location, and Spike knew he couldn’t argue with it. But there wasn’t even a whiff of her sweat lingering on the air, not a familiar pulse to make his body sing. He was left feeling handcuffed, only able to follow Willow like a puppy dog and hope that she found Buffy in time.
Time was tunneling around them. Though he’d been in the cavern just a few minutes before, Spike was convinced that each second was stretching longer than the one previous, weakening their chances of helping the baby before it was too late. He followed after Willow as she led them through empty corridors, hating that each step was so careful, so methodical, knowing that they had to be if they wanted to escape detection. All he could hear was his heavy boots echoing against the cement.
She stopped before a steel door marked “Restricted.” From the other side, Spike could hear the distant wail of alarms and muffled masculine shouts, and he shouldered past Havi to reach for the curved handle, determined to snap it off and get through to Buffy.
Willow’s fingers were hot against his hand, and he froze as she guided it to the control panel by the jamb. Curving her palm around the back of his hand, she muttered something Latin under her breath.
Electricity surged through him, the feeling of power being sucked away pulling at his gut. The panel sparked beneath his palm and the door slid silently open.
“Next time, warn a bloke,” he chastised as she led the way inside.
“Deal,” she replied.
He didn’t know how she was using landmarks to navigate when every hall looked like the one last, but with a step too determined to deny, Willow led them deeper into the complex, every foot going just a little bit quicker. The voices turned into a din. More than one soldier came rushing through, and when she took the same path as the third, Spike realized she was using them as beacons for Buffy.
They came to a stop before a large window. The soldiers that stood in the hall were oblivious to their presence, absorbed in watching what was happening on the other side of the glass.
“Why is it nobody seems to care that we are here?” Havi asked.
“I cast a spell that makes us blend in a bit more,” Willow explained. She pushed her way past a soldier nearly twice her size in order to get closer to the window.
“Good idea, Red.”
“Don’t thank me. Thank Xander’s D&D phase.”
The smile that had started to creep across her face disappeared as she was finally able to see through the glass. Spike heard Havi’s sharp intake of breath behind him and cursed his lack of stature that made it impossible to see over the other men’s heads.
“Spike?” Willow asked. Her voice was faint, and she edged backward, reaching blindly to grab onto his coat and Havi’s hand. “Hang on.”
His vertigo at her teleportation was nothing compared to seeing the chaos frozen in time around him. Bodies stopped in mid-stoop, mid-reach, mid-speech, like some cosmic power had called, “Statues,” for everyone but the trio.
“I hit the pause button,” Willow said when she saw the confusion on his and Havi’s faces. “It’s not going to last long, but it should buy us a minute or two to see what’s wrong with Buffy.”
“I thought without Esme’s power that your magic was not capable of such things,” Havi questioned.
“It’s probably part of joining the Guardians,” she explained, scurrying to the side of the lone bed in the room. Spike and Havi were forced to stand at the foot; there were too many white coats surrounding it elsewhere. “I’m not questioning it right now.”
Though she slept, his Slayer was very obviously in pain, her face contorted into a grimace that matched those he’d seen back in their dreams. The doctors had pulled back the blanket and pushed up her top in order to expose her swollen stomach, glistening with the jelly they used for the ultrasound that was pressed against the swell.
“Red…” It was choked from his throat, his eyes burning as he stared at the woman he loved lying so helplessly in front of him. Willow’s pause spell had done more than stop the humans from moving around; it had stopped their bodily functions as well. The only hearts he could hear were hers and Havi’s.
“I know,” she said. Placing her palm over Buffy’s abdomen, she glanced over at the silent monitors before closing her eyes to concentrate. “Just give me a second, OK?”
Spike bit his tongue to keep from responding. The coppery tang of blood slowly filled his mouth as Willow stood there motionless, and he mentally counted off the moments as he waited for her to say something. Do something. Do anything but leave him hanging there, wondering what in hell was going on with the two most important people in the world to him.
He saw her face begin to crumple milliseconds before the first tears threatened to spill, clinging to her lashes with Red’s characteristic tenacity. “No…” she whispered, and that single faint syllable was enough to chill Spike to the bone.
“What?” he demanded, her instructions be damned. “What’s wrong?”
Her fingers were trembling as she pulled her hand away, but when she opened her eyes, she dropped her head at the same time, making it impossible for Spike to see what was going on inside her head. “It was Esme,” she said. “We were right about that. Her signature’s all over Buffy and the ba…” A sob cut off the last word, and she choked as she tried to swallow it back down. The tears that had refused to let go of her lashes started to fall.
“No.” With a vicious shove, Spike pushed the nearest doctors out of his way, sending them sprawling to the floor as he fought to get to Willow’s side. “I had to have been wrong about the little one,” he rushed. “The reason I can’t hear it now is because of the magic. It’s not because of anything else…right?” He grabbed her elbow, jerking her to turn and face him. “Bloody hell, tell me I was wrong, Red!”
Her eyes were wet and luminous, fixed to his face. “The baby’s dying,” she said. “It’s…shutting down, which is why you probably thought you couldn’t hear the heartbeat any more. The pains Buffy’s feeling…she’s miscarrying, Spike.”
Even while he’d been confronted with that very distinct possibility back in the dream park, a part of Spike had held on to the hope that it was something else, that there were other factors to blame, that the nightmare threatening to consume them wasn’t about the little one. Now, hearing Willow’s quiet declaration, so simple and incontrovertible, that hope was ripped out of his hands, out of his heart, leaving him torn and bleeding and wishing more than ever that he’d never woken up from the fucking dream in the first place.
His hand was shaking as he reached to touch Buffy, resting it next to Willow’s. The gel felt cool, even to him, but it was the stillness beneath the skin that stabbed the deepest.
“What did that bitch do?” he growled. “Because I’m bloody well goin’ to give it back a thousandfold. I’ll make the witch drown in her own blood, right before I hang her up by her own entrails, and then cut her down so that I can do it all over again.”
The smell of Willow’s sweat began to fill the room. “She didn’t harm Buffy, if that’s any consolation,” she said.
“It’s not. This is goin’ to kill Buffy, and you know it. Now tell me what that bitch did to my child.”
Willow swallowed. “She killed its soul. The human body can’t live without it. That’s why it’s dying.”
Spike’s head snapped up, hope suddenly flooding back in a torrential flood. “But you can fix that,” he said. His eyes blazed. “You did it with Angel. Now you can do it for someone who actually matters.”
“I can’t.” It wasn’t just her voice beseeching him to hear her; it was the glow in her blacked eyes. “It’s not that the baby’s soul isn’t there, Spike. It’s gone. Destroyed. There’s nothing there for me to put back.”
Her belief in what she said was as undeniable as her earlier explanations. Spike stared at her, the air thick and leaden around his ears, as if waiting would make time flow in the opposite direction and reverse what she avowed.
Behind them, one of the doctors he’d pushed over started to stir, and the faintest of heartbeats began to fill the room again. Willow’s spell was wearing off.
His mind raced. There had to be something he could do. Miracles like this didn’t happen just to be yanked out of his hands; he’d lived too long and fought too hard to give up something as precious as this.
“We need to get out of here,” Willow was saying. “There’s nothing we can do---.”
Spike grabbed her arm to prevent her from walking away. “We’re not goin’ anywhere,” he said. “We can fix this. We have to.”
She shook her head, sorrow weighing down the motion. “You’re not listening to me.”
“I am. But I’m not givin’ up. Buffy wouldn’t.”
The Slayer’s name was a dare, and he saw Willow’s lips thin as she pressed them together. “There’s no soul there,” she said carefully. “If there was, trust me, I’d do everything I could to try and save the baby, but I can’t make something out of nothing, Spike. I couldn’t have done that even with Esme’s power.”
No soul. No soul. The words bounced around inside his skull. He thought his head would shatter from the force of them trying to escape.
“Use mine, then.”
He blurted the words without even thinking, but as soon as they were out, Spike recognized it was the opportunity it was. Even when Willow gaped at him in disbelief, he pushed on.
“I know you were messin’ about with tryin’ to restore my soul,” he said. “If the little one’s is gone, what’s stoppin’ you from tryin’ to give it mine?”
“I…I…” She interrupted her stammering to lick her dry lips. “But it’s yours,” she argued. “I mean, yeah, OK, you don’t actually have it, but it was a part of you, and what if someday you decide you want it? There’s no take-backs on this spell.”
His jaw hurt from how tightly he was clenching it. “If the little one dies, trust me, Red. The last thing I’m goin’ to want is something that’s just goin’ to make the pain of it a thousand times worse.”
Her gaze flitted to the side as she contemplated the idea, but all too quickly, she was shaking her head again. “I never even tried the spell. I don’t know if it’ll even work.”
“Then tell me, what exactly do we have to lose?”
One of the monitors sprang to life, emitting a shrill beep as the system reset itself. Willow jumped at the sound, her head snapping around to stare at the flashing red lights before turning back to face Spike.
“Nothing,” she said. She grabbed his hand and entwined their fingers, then guided him to Buffy’s stomach. A charge leapt between them, and any remaining color disappeared from her eyes. “You wanted warning next time, right? Consider this it.”
To be continued in Chapter 59: The Lesson True…