DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet LXXXV.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Spike hasn’t gone straight to Sunnydale as Buffy had thought, but instead been writing her as he’s been travelling. However, she hasn’t read any of the letters, and wasn’t going to until Willow convinced her to do so…

*************

Chapter 2: With Golden Quill and Precious Phrase

For the longest time, Buffy stood and stared at the edge of the chest poking out from beneath her bed. She had thought of nothing else during the long trek back to the dorm, every possible permutation of what they could contain reeling through her head. More than once, she had changed her mind, diverting her course into one of Sunnydale’s cemeteries to get her mind off of them, but with each vampire attack that ensued, her feet inevitably returned to the path to campus, the lingering question of Spike’s intentions flooding back to blaze in ever brighter glory.

It was ridiculous to be so nervous about them. She fought demons. She averted apocalypses. She faced greater dangers each and every single moment she was out on patrol.

But that was her body that was in peril then, not her heart. And the one thing being with Angel had taught Buffy was that her heart was infinitely more fragile.

With a deep breath, she knelt at the side of the bed, grabbing the handle of the chest and sliding it out from its shelter. Her hand was trembling as she undid the clasp, and by the time she’d lifted the lid, Buffy’s pulse was racing within her veins. Stop being such a baby, she scolded herself. Letters. They’re just letters. If you didn’t want to know what they said, you should’ve thrown them away when they arrived.

Pushing aside the stakes and sundry weapons, she bared the uppermost shoebox at the bottom of the chest. There were two boxes, the growing frequency and thickening envelopes necessitating the expansion into a second when the first got too full, but it was the bottom one that she wanted. There, the first of Spike’s letters was waiting to be opened, tucked carefully at the back of the pile as if it knew that one day, Buffy would be ready to see it. Only after she had read it would she know whether or not it would be necessary to read the rest.

Climbing onto her bed with the box in one hand and Spike’s letter in the other, she curled her legs beneath her as she looked it over with a critical eye. It was slim, the envelope generic. He’d kept the exterior simple, but when she held it up to her nose, the barest aroma of cigarettes clung to the paper. Buffy’s eyes closed. Another inhalation, this one deeper, and she was no longer sitting in her dorm room. Instead, she was wrapped within the circle of Spike’s leather duster that night by the river, her cheek resting against his chest, feeling the vibrations in his muscles as he talked about the parts of London that he’d missed. Odd how his accent had seemed to smooth in those wee hours of the morning, not quite so rough, just a little more refined.

She hadn’t been sure, though, whether it was because he no longer felt the need to pretend, or if he’d done it as a panacea for her pain over losing William.

Maybe the answer lay within the letter.

*************

Dear Buffy,

I hate airports. Do you have any idea how much glass goes into making them? Glass that lets the sun in, and keeps it bright as day. Well, as bright as jolly old England can get. Ironic that the day you fly out, the sun decides to make its presence known. Not even Heathrow could make it possible for me to see you off. Next time you hop the pond without me, could you possibly consider taking a redeye? Better yet, don’t go.

You probably didn’t expect to see this letter from me. Honestly, I’m a little surprised to be sending it. But after our talk on the banks, and knowing we both remember just what it was that brought us together in the first place, maybe trying this with written words isn’t such a bad idea. I get the chance to edit out my own failings, and you get the choice to not listen if you don’t want to.

I hope you do, though. Haven’t we proven we can rise above the differences? I meant what I said. I’ll always mean it.

You’ll have noticed I’m not in Sunnydale as I promised I would be. I haven’t changed my mind; I still have every intention of coming and helping you in any way I can---and don’t for a second think that that wasn’t a damn hard sentence for this vampire to see in black and white. But I’ve been thinking about everything---about what happened to us before I met Dru, about why that witch was so hungry for my help. I think there’s more to this than either of us might be aware. I’m not exactly known for paying much attention to big pictures, but perhaps it’s time for that to change. I want it to change, because if I’m right, then it will only be good for you. That’s all that matters to me.

I’m off to Wales in the morning, a little town called Machynlleth. I’ve had word there’s a book there that can help. I don’t want to go into details, mostly because I don’t have them right now, but rest assured, it’s all for the good. If this pans out, I’ll be with you before too long, with the means to support my vow to you. Do you remember? Don’t ever forget. I promised to never abandon you, and I shall keep that promise until I’m dust.

I love you, Buffy. That’s something else I ask you not to forget.

Yours always,

William

*************

A single page.

That’s all it was.

No vows of undying revenge. No furious diatribes where he denounced everything he’d said to her in London.

Just the continuing promise that he was coming. That he hadn’t forgotten.

That he still loved her.

Buffy wasn’t sure if she was relieved about it or not. She’d been stalwart while reading over the letter, but when she’d approached its conclusion, something inside her chest had loosened, a soothing glow beginning to radiate outward to the numbness of her fingers. And then she’d seen the closing, and the knot had returned, uncertainty rearing its ugly head to barrage her with doubt.

Yours.

William.

She wanted to shout that it wasn’t William, that William was dead, and that Spike had no right to claim the name when it wasn’t truly his. Her tongue was tied, though. Nowhere within the context of the note was there any indication of the more disturbing aspects of the vampire’s personality, and nothing he wrote betrayed any of the words he’d offered her before. He didn’t tell her what exactly he was doing, but the tone, the obvious caring that permeated every phrase…that was someone she recognized, just as easily as she recognized the flowing script.

William.

Buffy’s gaze returned to the top of the page, reading it more slowly this time, weighing what he said with a thoughtfulness she hadn’t allowed on her first pass through. He’d tried to see her at the airport. Why? Had he wanted to stop her? Did he just want to say good-bye? And what could he possibly gain in this search of his that could help her? What was with the cryptic comment about Esme?

There was only one way for her to find out.

Setting the letter aside, Buffy reached into the box for the next envelope, noting the Wales postmark as she pulled it out.

Did you find what you were looking for, Spike?

She had a funny feeling that the answer was no.

*************

Dear Buffy,

I’d hoped to start this letter with details about my arrival in Sunnydale, but hope’s an evil mistress, determined to make my life just a bit more miserable than it already is. Machynlleth proved less than what I was hoping, though I did manage to actually see the book before it got set on fire. Remind me to never attack an angry P’lirsa demon. They have a penchant for pulling hair and a tendency to go flame-happy when pissed off. My coat has a fresh new burn along the back hem to show for my efforts.

I’m not giving up, though. As much as I want to be with you again---and I’m more than aware that using “with” before I’ve even had a chance to hear from you is presumptive, but I’m remaining optimistic that we can hold true to what happened between us in London---I think the fruits of our search are worth the wait. All that I ask is you be patient with me. You were before, once upon a time.

I had a dream about you last night. We were back in the park, and you were telling me about your return to the Hellmouth. At first, I’d had hopes that something had happened and you’d found a way for us be together in that fashion, even if I haven’t encountered any mysterious witches or drunk any funny tea lately. It was only after you started kissing me that I realized it was only a dream. There was a freedom to the way you touched me that hadn’t been there on the banks. It was more reminiscent of the way you touched me when we first met, before you found out that I was real. That’s how I knew it was all in my head. As much as I may want otherwise, I know you’re not in that place. Not yet. Though I hope you will be some time again.

Dreaming of you made me want to see you all the more. Since I’m currently waiting for sunset to come and the evening train to arrive to take me back to London, seeing you is obviously impossible. I’m going to ask a favor instead.

Write me back.

Tell me to fuck off. Tell me you have dreams, too. Tell me you don’t know what the hell to think.

Just tell me something.

I know you think I don’t have the right to ask for anything, and maybe you’re right. I don’t personally think so, but then that’s the beauty of our little relationship, now isn’t it?

I dare you to try telling me you don’t want to, though. Even if it’s only to tell me off, I know the desire to talk to me is eating at you. You miss our nights in the park. You miss me. Know how I know all this? Because the exact same thing is eating at me.

I love you, Buffy. Don’t think for a second that I’ve forgotten that.

Yours always,

William

*************

She stared at the page for a long moment before setting it aside to scan the second piece of paper the envelope held. They were instructions on how to write Spike back, not by conventional means but with some kind of supernatural post box. The return address was somewhere in London, but Spike’s note assured Buffy that it would reach him, no matter where in the world he was.

“A little trick I’ve picked up,” he wrote. “Helps out when you know you’re going to be incommunicado for a time.”

He kept on writing. Even after he didn’t hear from me.

For the first time since considering the letters, a pang of guilt stabbed in Buffy’s gut. He was right, of course. How many times had she contemplated talking to him over the past seven weeks? Even when she’d tried burying herself in the mundane, he’d been there, hovering in the periphery like a watchful ghost, just waiting for the opportunity to get through her defenses and remind her of what she was missing. If she’d only started reading the letters from the first, maybe much of the anguish of the elapsed time could’ve been avoided.

Had he grown angry with her failure to respond?

Picking up the next letter, the first thing Buffy noticed was the difference in the paper. The envelope was thicker, heavier, obviously more expensive, and where the ink on the first two had looked just like any other pen, this soaked into the weft with a luxuriance suggestive of his poems from a century before. He’d switched his tools, choosing those more like the ones she was familiar with from her encounters with William. Was it deliberate? What game is he playing?

The faintest hope that it wasn’t a game made her fingers tremble as she carefully tore the envelope open.

*************

Dear Buffy,

I’m in Paris now. You’ve never been, right? It’s a shame you didn’t get the chance while you were in England; taking the time to cross the Channel isn’t any worse than hopping from state to state in the US

It’s hot as hell here, and the tourists are out in full force. I used to love this time of year in the city, but now, having this many bodies around is just one more obstacle for me to get past. I spent two hours last night following a trail, only to end up losing it in Marais. To make matters worse, I saw a girl who reminded me of you, and I ended up in a goth bar getting completely and utterly pissed because everything just seemed to be going wrong. No trail. No new clues. And most importantly, no you…

*************

Dear Buffy,

I woke up this afternoon wishing I’d never thought of this stupid plan. Every second it takes me to find her is another second I’m not with you. Why do I think she’ll listen to me anyway? I must be off my box, but something makes me hope I can get her to see reason. My non-fighting skills may be a tad rusty, but hopefully they haven’t completely atrophied. Of course, I haven’t been able to convince you yet to write me back, so maybe I’m just fooling myself.

I miss you. Without you here, I’m starting to feel lost again. I hate not having a purpose…

*************

Dear Buffy,

We’ve found a new lead, so I’ll be on my way to Tunisia once the sun goes down. I know my last letter was maudlin. Be a love and throw it away? If I’d been thinking straight, or not hungover, I would never have posted it in the first place. You don’t need to listen to me whinge just because of a minor setback. And you’re completely in your right to take your time in writing back. You’re probably too busy with your mates wasting the last bit of summer to worry about me anyway. It’s as it should be. Red had quite a scare there with her magic booster shot; she’s probably still adjusting to being so powered up…

*************

She stopped reading, her eyes jumping back to the top of the page to stare at the first word in the letter.

We’ve.

It was the first time in any of the half-dozen letters she’d read that Spike had indicated that he might not be traveling alone. It made sense that he would enlist help in whatever quest he’d given himself, but the fact that he hadn’t bothered to specify who it was made Buffy pause.

Was he with Drusilla again? Was his plan really an elaborate scheme to get back at her?

Even as she thought it, though, Buffy knew it was folly. Every letter ended the same way. I love you. Yours always. There were too many references to his missing her, and his disappointment in not hearing from her for it not to be genuine.

On the other hand, he was deliberately hiding his traveling arrangements from her. And though he’d hinted at trying to find this mysterious woman, Spike had yet to give her any concrete details on what exactly he was trying to accomplish. Did he think she’d try and talk him out of it?

So many questions. Her head ached with trying to keep it all sorted, but the weight of the pain was minuscule compared to the twisting confusion inside her chest. Reading the letters, her emotions were all over the place---amusement, anger, sympathy, frustration. She wanted to hate him and just throw the remainder of the boxes in the trash.

At the same time, she wanted to find him and give him hell for making her wait so long for him to come back.

*************

…hate this country. Tunisia is just one big sandbox, with sunlight stretching unnaturally late and without cover so that I can’t even leave the hotel until well after sunset. I have sand in more orifices than I thought I possessed; it’s unnatural for a vampire to have to be scrubbing in the places I’ve been scrubbing.

I didn’t find what I was looking for, but at least I got a good fight out of the bargain. I came here because there’d been rumors of something strange happening in Dougga, strange being good for what I had in mind. Dougga isn’t a proper town anymore, so you know. It’s actually the country’s biggest set of ruins. Roman, I think. I seem to recall someone telling me that on the trip there.

A band of vampires had set up house in the bowels of one of the amphitheatres, and jumped us when we were poking around, trying to find the entrance to a catacomb we were told existed. The fight was a good one, though it would’ve been better if you’d been there. The bunch were more organized than these bands usually are, and had the swords to back up their swagger. Lucky for me, they didn’t have the skills to match their weapons, and I walked away with a new sword of my own. You’d like it, though I think it’s probably too long for you to handle comfortably.

I did pick something up for you, though. Don’t worry, I didn’t get it from the vampires I dusted. I got it off one of the merchants down in the square. They do beautiful work here, and since you’re not around to appreciate it, I thought I’d share what little I can of this godforsaken country with you…

*************

Unfolding the second piece of paper she’d removed from the envelope, Buffy’s eyes widened at the glint of silver that was taped to the ivory parchment. It was the most delicate filigree bracelet she’d ever seen, so intricately woven that it moved like liquid metal where it hung loose. Before she could remove it from its moorings, though, she saw the script that was elegantly laid out above it…

And froze.

She was still sitting like that five minutes later when a key turned in the lock and Willow slipped inside the room. The redhead opened her mouth to speak, but at the sight of the tears running silently down Buffy’s face, her lips clamped shut, and she rushed forward to sit on the edge of her friend’s bed.

“What’s wrong?” she asked gently, reaching out to stroke Buffy’s arm. Glancing down, Willow saw the paper she gripped, and frowned. “Is Spike being a poophead?”

Wordlessly, Buffy shook her head, handing over the page. She remained silent even as Willow’s mouth made a tiny O, pulling the bracelet from the tape to look at it more closely.

“He sent you this?” she asked.

“From Tunisia. Where is that, anyway?”

“Africa. Wow, this is…it’s beautiful, Buffy. But why are you crying? Did he kill someone to get it for you? Is that why you’re upset?”

“Read what it says above it,” Buffy replied.

She watched as Willow scanned the words, hearing them resound inside her head as clearly as if William was there himself to read them aloud. Even after all that time, she knew most of it by heart, most especially the last verse.

“But I was lost in a place ‘tween the sun and moon,
Where firm and figment merged this June,
And even beyond that place ‘tween moon and sun,
My love that burns for her is legion.”

How could she forget that night he’d asked if she would’ve married him? And then again, to hear Spike whisper the intent of the last line so intimately…it had just been too much.

When she was done reading, Willow handed the bracelet and paper back, her eyes now solemn. “You don’t have to tell me,” she said. “I can tell he wrote that.”

William wrote it,” Buffy corrected. “Spike’s stealing it.”

“Well, technically it’s not stealing if it was already his---.” She cut herself off at the flash of fury that brightened Buffy’s eyes. “But that’s not what’s important,” Willow hastily added. “What’s important is…what exactly?”

“I don’t know.” The confession made Buffy crumple. Dropping the letter to the blanket, she pulled her legs up to hug her arms tightly around them. “He loves me. I’ve only gotten through seven of his letters, but the one thing that’s coming through loud and clear is that he loves me. How can he do that? He doesn’t have a soul, and he’s evil, and I’m not supposed to look at him and think that he’s William. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.”

“Is he? Like William, I mean. I thought, from what the journal was like and how you described him, well, Spike’s not exactly known as the sensitive type. Except for, you know, crying like a baby when Drusilla left him. But then he kind of lost all of his sympathy points with the kidnapping and broken bottle threats.”

“See? That’s what I mean. Evil, with a capital E.” Buffy fingered the bracelet. “But then…he writes these things, and he swears to me that he’s going to help as soon as he gets here, and I get all confused.”

For the first time, Willow stiffened. “He’s coming here? Why?”

Buffy chewed at her lip. She knew it was perverse, but she didn’t want to share the reason. It was a promise William had made, and regardless whether or not it was Spike who was keeping it, they were words that had been meant for her ears only. She kind of wanted to keep it that way.

“I don’t think he’s a threat,” she said instead, sidestepping the intent of the question. “If he wanted me dead, he’d be sending me things more deadly than his poetry.” Slowly, she picked up the bracelet, playing with the clasp before carefully setting it on her nightstand. “Did you guys have fun at the Factory?”

“Not that I don’t realize you’re only asking because you’re being all evado-girl, but it was kinda fun, once we got past the ookiness of it being the Death Star Incarnate.” Willow gestured toward the open shoebox. “Are you going to finish reading those? I don’t like seeing you crying, but maybe one of them will have the answers you’re looking for.”

“In the morning, I think. Right now…I just need some sleep to process it all.” Uncurling her body, she scooted to the edge of the bed, hesitating only to give Willow a quick hug. “I’m sorry,” Buffy murmured. “I don’t know why I’m being all emotional about this. They’re just letters and some poetry. No big, right?” She smiled brightly as if to prove her point, though it failed to completely reached her eyes. “Spike’s going to have to do a lot worse if he thinks he can get to me so easily.”

*************

The pungent scent of blood assaulted him long before he saw the black trickle beneath the front door, and Spike broke into a run, his boots echoing across the stone in the road as he raced around the corner of the tiny house. “Go check on her inside!” he barked, not even bothering to glance at the Watcher struggling to keep up with him.

“What?” Lydia cried. “Why?”

He didn’t have time to answer her. The street was deserted, the stench of death fresh, which meant that the responsible parties had to have left through the back. Vaulting over the low wall, Spike skidded across the damp grass as he swept his gaze around the back garden, listening for telltale hearts, straining to sniff out any unwanted guests. There was nothing. Only the faint traces of humans, too long gone for him to quickly chase and seize, came back to him.

Turning to the house, Spike approached the back door, wondering if he was going to be able to enter. He was pre-empted from trying, though, when it creaked open, and a weary Lydia gazed at him in sadness.

“We were too late,” she said softly, stepping aside to allow him entrance.

Even with the warning, he hesitated at the threshold, lifting his hand to test the barrier anyway. His shoulders slumped when it passed straight through, and he followed Lydia into the house, knowing with every step and whiff of blood what he was going to find.

She led him into the small front room, stopping just inside the door. “I haven’t touched anything,” she murmured. She paused before adding, “I’m sorry.”

The body was splayed across the tile before the front door, as if she’d been trying to escape and hadn’t quite made it to the exit. It was the first time Spike could remember seeing her white hair not in a braid down her back or piled in a knot on top of her head. Instead, it pooled around her face, hiding it from view, the ends staining red where it dragged in the blood that had flowed from her body.

Slowly, he stepped forward, noting the book she must’ve been reading dropped haphazardly to the floor. The Zohar? What in hell was she doing reading up on the Kabbalah? Boredom, he reasoned as he neared the body. He’d certainly read a diverse bit over the decades in his attempts to stay entertained.

Crouching down, Spike pushed away the hair that covered her face, and sighed when Rose’s unseeing eyes stared back at him. He’d known already she was dead, but seeing it in such naked display leadened his heart. A pang of sorrow pricked at the edges of his awareness, but he shoved it aside. The seer had made her feelings for him---as a vampire---more than obvious; just because William had had a soft spot for the lady didn’t mean Spike had to.

Still…the last thing he’d wanted was to see Rose dead.

“What does this mean?” Lydia was hovering at the doorway, unwilling to broach the haven that was not her home. “Should I start making arrangements for us to return to London?”

Spike’s eyes were cold when he swiveled his head to glare at her. “You think that’s it?” he demanded. “You really expect me to give up this easy?”

She seemed flustered by his statement, and pushed her glasses up her nose as she attempted to retain her composure. “Rose is the only member of this so-called group of women---.”

“Nothin’ so-called about it. They’re real.”

“Nevertheless, she is---was, the only connection you had with them. Do you really expect to unearth their secrets about the Slayer without her aid?”

The bint had a point. Without bothering to answer her, Spike turned back to Rose, deliberately distancing himself from the emotions that were swelling inside his gut. He’d spent the past seven weeks trying to find her, convinced there was some kind of connection between her and Esme’s quest for some sort of Slayer power. Rose had told them that her responsibility was to see that the Slayer line was kept pure, by watching over the Watchers who guided them. Plus, she was powerful. How could Spike not hope to tap into some of that for Buffy?

Disappointment made his vision blur, his veins scorching from the fury that was erupting inside. He hadn’t done this to fail. He couldn’t fail. Failure meant that he would be going to Buffy with nothing, that he’d wasted almost two months away from her and could only return to her side as a kicked puppy with its tail tucked between his legs. How could he ever hope to convince her that they could have a future, that he could still be the man she needed at her side, if he couldn’t do this one thing?

Forcing his thoughts to steel, Spike refocused his attention on Rose’s form. A circle of scarlet stained the back of her blouse. Whoever had killed her had literally stabbed her in the back. How bloody ironic that the seer couldn’t even see her own death, he thought. I wonder who she pissed off this time.

His nose suddenly prickled. Stiffening, Spike inhaled deeper, sorting through the scents until he found the one that had infiltrated his spiraling mood, his head tilting and turning to hone in on its location before he straightened with a sharp crack of leather. Two steps was all it took to reach it, and the toe of his boot nudged the cigarillo that still radiated heat from its smashed tip.

“Baltozar,” he growled. His eyes flashed yellow as they met Lydia’s, and he’d crossed the room, his hand a steel vise around her throat as he shoved her against the wall, before she could react.

“Out with the wanker all this time looking for her, huh?” Spike snarled. He ignored the scratches she left in his hand as she clawed to free his grip. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t snap your neck right now, bitch.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 3: The Crow or Dove