DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CXLIX.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Lydia returned with Rose’s effects, showing Spike that the seer deliberately led them to Barcelona; Giles has informed the group that Wesley will be aiding in helping Willow adjust to the magic; and a queasy Buffy has returned to her dorm to finish reading Spike’s letters…

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

Chapter 5: Do I Not Think on Thee

Dear Buffy,

Nothing new to tell, so I suppose you’re wondering why I’m writing. Have you thought about why you’re getting more of these? Why hardly a day will go by when word of me doesn’t reach you? I can just see you, sitting on a crypt in Restfield waiting for a fledge to rise with one of my letters in your hands as you read it. You wear a skirt, something short and flirty and entirely inappropriate for slaying but one that would make a blind man hard for the spread of glorious skin it exposes. Your hair is pulled up and off your face, but it’s hot and it slips from its holder to stick to your cheeks in faint tendrils. You gleam from the heat, and occasionally that luscious lower lip of yours juts out so that you can blow upward to cool your brow…

Damn. I’ve gone and got hard just imagining that. Wish I was there to see it personally.

Of course, I know it’s all rubbish. There’s hardly enough light at Restfield for you to be reading out there at night, and the fact that I’ve yet to hear from you makes me suspect that the letters aren’t lasting long enough to make it back out of the house, if in fact you’re reading them at all. So asking if you’re wondering why I’m writing borders on the arrogant because the only one who probably cares is me.

Still, I’m going to tell you. On the off-chance that you are reading these and just not ready to respond.

I stopped writing anything for a long time. No journal, no poetry, nothing. After I was turned, there was a period where I wanted to be everything William wasn’t. I can’t really say that period entirely ended until I regained my memories of our time together. I’m still not eager to return to much of him, but I hate less of it, and knowing there are aspects of William that reach into your heart in ways that Spike can’t, I’ve been a bit more open-minded about certain things.

Like my writing. I dabbled with my poetry off and on over the years, but never anything serious and certainly nothing anyone ever saw much of. Angelus used to mock me about it, taking my verses and reading them out loud in jest just as David Howard and his bunch did back in the day. So, it lost a lot of its pleasure for me, and it wasn’t until I remembered your responses to William’s words that the desire to return to it trickled back. I’d forgotten how pleasurable it could be to put my feelings down, to keep them from burning too brightly inside and scorching everything away.

Writing to you helps with that. Even when it’s not a note to let you know what’s happening, where I am, I’ve begun to compose again, though I imagine I’m more than a tad rusty after not doing so for such a long time.

You are my muse, my love. You inspire me to try and reach for that which I can’t touch. I take solace in losing myself in words you invite, even when it means I may ramble without cause.

Like now, perhaps.

Yours always,

William

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

Dear Buffy,

A little birdie’s let me know you and Red are in the dorms now. It must feel good to be out on your own. Don’t forget about your mum, though. She’s probably got a bit of empty nest syndrome happening.

When do your classes start? They’re probably not too exciting yet; you have to get a lot of the boring introductory stuff out of the way first, right? Any thoughts yet about what you’re going to want to study? And don’t give me that short Slayer life expectancy crap that you pulled the last time I brought this up. OK, you thought I wasn’t real at the time, and you were probably more than a little afraid of letting William in too much, but…this is me, love. There’s no reason to hide. Tell me what you really want.

I can tell you what I want. You. I miss you. I miss our talks. I know there’s probably a reason you haven’t written back yet, but it doesn’t make the missing you any less. I dream about you constantly. I wake up hard and desperate to touch you, to hear the sound of your voice, to feel you curled up against me. I usually go out at that point and kill something to work off some of the frustration, but often, that just makes it worse because I start imagining you in the dance, how you would’ve taken a particular nasty down, and I find myself missing you all the more. How is it you have this power? Sometimes, I think if I could take it away from you, I would. It would certainly make my existence a touch easier.

I can’t, though. Because to take it away would be to stop loving you, and I just don’t see that happening.

Is that why you don’t write back? I know you promised me nothing, but if you’re afraid of telling me that you don’t feel the same way, don’t be. I’m a big vamp. I can take it. I may not like it, but then that’s not what this is all about, is it?

Write. Please.

I just need to know you’re still there.

Yours always,

William

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

Dear Buffy,

We’re in Barcelona now. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to this neck of the woods, but I have a feeling we might be here for a bit. Signs are good that what we’re looking for is here. If it is, that means I’ll be on my way to you straight after. You have no idea how much I love that notion.

I’m not going to ask you any more to write me back. If you haven’t done it yet, I sincerely doubt you will. You must have your reasons, but, I’ll admit, it’s eating me not knowing what they are. I always picture the worst. You’re dead and nobody’s bothered to tell me. You’re seeing some other bloke and you’re too busy shagging his brains out to fuss with letting me know. Red’s magic has turned Sunnydale into a big sinkhole and you’re lying helpless at the center. And those are just the ones that don’t involve blood and gore.

But that’s OK. Because I made you a promise and it doesn’t matter if you want it or not. I can’t imagine a world without you in it, and I’ll do whatever it takes to guarantee you’re here for as long as possible. Call me selfish if you want, though it shouldn’t surprise you. Vampire, remember? Plus, I love you, which pretty much compounds the need to make sure you’re safe and sound. So you see, I’m fucked any way you look at it.

That was a joke, by the way. Just in case you didn’t get it.

The being fucked part.

Loving you is never a joke.

Picked up another little something for you, but I’ve decided I’m going to hold on to this particular trinket until I can give it to you in person. I don’t think that’s going to be much longer, and the desire to see the look on your face when you get it is too great to resist. Regardless of what you may think of me, I think you’ll like it.

Yours always,

William

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

Her hands were shaking when she set the last of the letters down. It had arrived on Friday morning, but the date at the top of the page was Thursday’s. Whatever mystical means Spike had arranged for receiving letters from Buffy must’ve been applied to those he sent out; they were taking only a day to reach her. That could only mean that he was still in Barcelona. The thought that if she knew where he was staying, she could actually call him, hear his voice for real and not in her dreams, flitted through her mind, and then she laughed out loud, a harsh, mocking sound, to think she could be that frivolous.

He was hurting. Any other time and any other vampire, and Buffy would’ve thought that a good thing, but this was Spike, and not once in all the letters had he even gone as far as call her a bad name. She didn’t doubt that he probably thought them. His latest note spoke loud and clear that he didn’t understand why she hadn’t bothered to at least tell him to fuck off. But he’d retained his dignity with his written words, and she knew without having to ask that he did it in deference to a kinder, gentler soul.

If that had been all, she might have been able to dismiss it as part of the consequences in choosing the path he had. But…there was more. Much more. And that more changed everything for her.

All of Spike’s letters came with a poem, or part of a poem, words that took the sentiment of William and coated it with the experience of a century’s lifeblood. Some were more polished than others, and some carried with them the tinge of a hunger that made her almost frightened to finish, but more than enough literally took her breath away. As she’d read them, over and over until the words were etched indelibly into her memory, Buffy had fought back the tears more than once, emotion overwhelming her for seconds before she harnessed it back under her control. She didn’t know why they would make her weepy. It was most likely just the ache of remembering too much.

She was glad that she had found the strength to send out the short note she had, but suddenly, it wasn’t enough. Pushing aside the shoeboxes, Buffy rose from her bed and crossed to the desk, grabbing her favorite pen and her notepad before staring down at the blank page. What could she say to him? Should she take the time to explain why it had taken so long for her respond? How could she voice it for Spike when she was so inadequate in voicing it for herself?

She stared at the page for a long five minutes before the tip of her pen ever touched it, and even then, finding the words, knowing what to say and how to say it without sounding glib or bitchy or insincere, was excruciating.

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

Dear Spike,

I think I owe you an apology. You’ve been writing me all these letters and sending me all this beautiful poetry, and this is only the second one you’ll get from me. I could lie and say I didn’t get them until recently, but, well, that would be a lie. Even when I didn’t think William was real, I didn’t lie to him, and I can’t do it now. So, I’m sorry.

I didn’t read your letters until a couple days ago. To be honest, I was scared. I didn’t know what they would say. That’s an excuse, I know, but it’s also the truth. I just finished them right before writing this, so I know you’re in Barcelona now. That’s in Spain, right? Ha ha, just kidding. I know it’s Spain. I bet it’s pretty.

You still haven’t told me what it is you’re doing with all your globetrotting. Is that such a good idea? Maybe it’s something I can help with. Unless you’re on some evil quest to end the world, in which case I’m going to have to kick your ass. That was another joke, you know. The evil quest part. I know you’re not. Well, I hope you’re not. It’s just hard to be quippy without having you right here.

Everything’s hard. Willow is still trying to figure out how to deal with her magic booster, and now the Council has decided she needs help and are sending Wesley and one of their witches to help Giles sort it all out. At least she’s got Oz to help her be strong. You remember Oz, right? Still a werewolf. Still playing guitar. Not at the same time, of course, because of the whole claw issue not to mention the fact that he’d more likely to smash it than play it.

Xander freaked out on me today about you. I’d never told him everything that happened this summer and Willow let it slip that I’d been in contact with you. I still haven’t told him. I don’t know how. He hates vampires so much, and you’re probably second on his master list of vampires he’d like to personally stake. You know, because of that whole kidnapping thing with the factory when Cordelia got hurt.

Did you know someone actually bought the factory and turned it into a club? It’s still called the Factory, though, and they were really stingy on the decorating budget, but it’s kind of cool in a techno kind of way. And loud. God, that makes me sound like my Mom, doesn’t it? I’m not old, honest. There really is an eighteen-year-old college student inside this Slayer package. But apparently, her ears aren’t exactly what they used to be.

I wasn’t going to ask, but wanting to know is killing me here so I’m just going to come out and do it. You’ve mentioned a couple times in your letters something about a “we.” Whatever it is you’re doing, are you doing it with someone else? And that really, really, really sounds like me being a nagging girlfriend, doesn’t it? It’s not how I mean. It’s just you’ve never been big with the teamwork and the only person I know you’ve spent a lot of time with was Drusilla and no, that doesn’t mean I think you’re back with her but I can’t for the life of me figure out who this other mysterious person is or why it’s so important for you not to tell me who it is. I’m not making any sense. If I hadn’t written so much already, I’d start over and leave this whole paragraph out, but this is taking me way too long already. I just wanted this letter to be a good one.

So, never mind. Forget I asked. I know you’ll tell me when the time is right.

Your letters meant a lot to me. I’m sorry I took so long to read them. That won’t happen any more.

OK, I think I’m starting to babble now which is usually a pretty good sign to cut me off. You’re not the only one who can ramble, I guess.

Writing this was good. I’m glad I did it. I hope you like it.

I still miss you.

Buffy

PS: Thank you for the bracelet. It’s beautiful.

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

She stared at the page in front of her, trying to ignore the scattered remains of her first efforts balled up around the desk. It seemed so pitiful compared to the eloquence of Spike’s letters. Babbling about the Factory? How lame was that? And the whole section about wondering who he was traveling with made her sound like some psycho girlfriend. Spike already had had one of those; he didn’t need another.

Buffy froze.

Had she really thought of herself as his girlfriend?

She hadn’t meant to. She didn’t think of herself like that. She couldn’t. The only non-antagonistic time she and Spike had spent together had been that night on the banks before she left London.

And the hours she’d spent reading his letters.

And the weeks when he was alive and William.

Buffy swallowed, her throat suddenly too dry. Her fingers were shaking again as she folded the paper and stuffed it inside an envelope. Don’t think, she told herself. Just do. Get the letter mailed, and let the rest of it fix itself.

She just wasn’t sure what exactly was broken.

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

He was late. A flat tire near the college campus had delayed his arrival by nearly three hours, and he was certain that Giles would look at him quite askance for his tardiness. After all his arguments about being a necessary ingredient to their Scooby meeting, Wesley was convinced he was going to look quite the prat for now failing to make their arranged appointment, all excuses aside. This was not how he wanted this endeavor to begin.

It wasn’t as if he was attempting to regain favor with the Council by taking on this consultancy for them. Mr. Travers had made it perfectly clear that this was a one-time assignment and that there would be no offer of a permanent position following its completion.

“Your prior conduct is still an affront and disappointment to many of the Council members,” the Head had said.

Translation: Your prior conduct embarrasses your father and his opinion still matters to anyone who might approve your reinstatement to the ranks.

“Miss Rosenberg’s cooperation was less than ideal when she was here,” Travers had added. “It’s our opinion that she will respond more positively to someone with whom she is familiar.”

Translation: Miss Rosenberg isn’t threatened by you. You are entirely innocuous.

“I’m sending Esme out to assist you. She’s completely harmless without her magic, but should you find her behavior suspect in any way, I trust that you’ll take the appropriate action.”

Translation: We don’t trust even this most simple of tasks to just your expertise.

There had been other information---instruction on how Giles would likely be threatened by Esme and to keep them separate as much as possible, the story of Buffy’s encounter with the turned Slayer and the surprise assistance from William the Bloody---but Wesley had merely filed it away for reference.

He hadn’t accepted the assignment because of any allegiance to the Council; his demon hunting throughout the American southwest for the past month had helped him take small steps in regaining his independence. Nor had he taken it for fear of what his father might do or say should he turn it down, though certainly, if he excelled at this particular task, it would likely ease his relations with both of his parents.

No, he took it for a much more personal reason, one that he didn’t voice out loud to the Council Head when he accepted the position. His less than exemplary performance during the graduation ceremony made Wesley itch to make restitution with the Slayer and her friends. If his guidance could help Willow better control her magic and turn her into a valuable asset for the Council and the fight against evil, it would be a worthy step in redressing his failures.

The motorcycle rumbled to a halt in front of the block of flats, and he kicked the stand down before casting an eye toward Giles’. In spite of his calm exterior, his stomach was aflutter at the thought of standing before Buffy and the others as a representative of the Council again. Her disdain for their authority would taint their communications, just as it had affected his attempts to be her Watcher the previous year. In hindsight, he was relieved that Giles had demanded telling them of Wesley’s renewed involvement in their affairs prior to his arrival. Hopefully, it would prove a slight balm to the ruffling that was bound to occur when he knocked.

He took an extra moment outside of the flat door to compose his appearance. Setting his helmet aside, Wesley pulled at the bottom hem of his leather coat, trying to remove some of the extra creases that invariably appeared when he rode. The insides of his thighs burned from where the trousers chafed, and he squirmed to try and loosen the material from his skin. I must remember to get some baby powder tonight, he thought with a grimace.

The door opened before he could knock, catching him in an awkward, bow-legged stance.

Willow’s eyes met his for only a moment before flickering down to note his ungainly position, impelling the heat from his legs to somehow migrate to Wesley’s cheeks when her brows lifted. “I guess we know why you were just standing out here for so long,” she said, and then her gaze swept over him again. “I think.”

Pulling himself up to his full height, Wesley held his head high as he smiled down at her, false and so difficult to maintain when all he could consider was turning on his heel and running for his bike. “It’s good to see you, Willow,” he said, ignoring her observation. “You’re looking remarkably well.”

There was a hint of sadness in her smile, and Wesley could’ve sworn he saw a shade being pulled behind the welcome in her eyes. “You mean, considering the fact that I’ve been pumped chock full of mystery magic and nobody knows if I’m going to end the world or turn into fairy dust?” she said.

“Well, yes.” This was already so far off how he’d conceived this meeting going, Wesley could only sigh as his body sagged. “My apologies for being so late.”

He was halfway over the threshold when Willow’s hand fluttered to his forearm. “Is that yours?” she asked with more than a touch of surprise, pointing to the shrub by the door.

The remainder of his bravado dissipated as he retrieved his helmet and followed her into the flat. He’d been a fool to accept Mr. Travers’ proposal. Everything Wesley attempted exploded into a nightmarish concoction of embarrassment, pain, and humiliation, and he’d been foolish to consider that this time might be different. Facing Buffy and her squadron of critical allies for the duration of the afternoon was going to be interminable now.

“You’re late,” Giles said. He was standing inside his kitchen, reaching for something unseen in one of the cupboards. “Don’t tell me you lost my directions again.”

“No, I had a…flat tire…” Wesley’s voice faded away as he surveyed the nearly empty room. With the exception of Willow returning to where she’d been surrounded by books on the couch, there was no one else present, and his brows drew together behind his glasses. “Where is everyone?” he asked before he could stop himself.

Willow looked confused by the question. “Who are you expecting?”

“Well, Buffy. And Xander. And Cordelia, perhaps?”

Giles emerged from the kitchen carrying two cups of steaming tea. “Buffy wasn’t feeling well,” he said, handing a cup to Wesley. “She returned to her dorm.”

“And Xander had to go to work,” Willow chimed in. “As for Cordelia, well, she moved to LA this summer, so unless you called her to let her know you wanted her around, I don’t think she’s going to show.”

“Oh.”

“You seem surprised,” Giles observed.

“Yes, I thought---.”

“This will be difficult enough,” the other Watcher continued. “Willow and I both agree that it would be unnecessary to include the others at this juncture.”

I even volunteered to step out at this point,” the young woman joked half-heartedly. “But Giles was of the opinion that maybe that might be taking it too far.”

It was the first positive note he’d heard since he’d pulled up in front of the building. Regaining a small measure of his confidence, Wesley nodded in concession, and set his helmet aside. “That seems to be a reasonable conclusion,” he said.

Giles’ eyes darted to the closed door. “Travers said you would be accompanied by one of the coven’s witches,” he commented.

Carefully, Wesley settled on the chair opposite the couch, trying not to wince as the leather trousers rubbed along his thighs. “She is en route. She won’t be joining us for a few days.”

“Did you have any thoughts as to how you wanted to proceed?”

He took the senior Watcher’s inquiry as an unspoken acquiescence to Wesley’s authority, and the tension began to ease from Wesley’s limbs. He took his time in answering, sipping at the hot tea Giles had given him, and then looking at the two waiting with a small smile.

“I’d rather hoped we could just take today to get reacquainted. A great deal has happened since we last saw each other, don’t you think?”

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

The envelope was thicker than normal, and Spike eyed it dubiously as he leaned back in his chair. Throughout the discourse of his letter, his temper had soothed to more manageable levels, but it was the extent of what he’d said that made him now pause. Up to this point, he’d deliberately chosen to keep his activities as mum as possible; fantasies about the look of delight on Buffy’s face when he presented her with the weapons and power she could use to be the longest surviving Slayer had fuelled his silence since the beginning. The discovery of Rose’s death, though, made continuing such a charade seem irrelevant.

He’d used four sheets of paper detailing everything he had dreamed about finding, how he’d hoped Rose could give that power to Buffy, and how it was now being yanked from him after all his hard work. He’d just needed to flush his system of all the anxiety and frustration, and spilling the story to his Slayer seemed the best way. But was it? Would she understand his fears of failure or would she condemn him yet again for being a washout as a vampire?

As he contemplated the wisdom of actually posting his letter, Spike’s eyes drifted to the long, thin box that rested next to his writing supplies. He hadn’t checked it today for word from Buffy; in his rush, it hadn’t occurred to him to try. The desire to even do so had waned with each passing day; every day it was empty was another day Buffy wasn’t speaking to him, and he was beginning to loathe the anger that ballooned with each brush-off.

But he couldn’t just stop. To stop meant to give up hope. And he wasn’t ready to do that, no matter how mad she made him.

Pushing the envelope aside, Spike opened the top drawer of the desk and took out a slim silver rod. The light from the lamp glinted off the metal as he slipped it into the carved hole at the front of the box, and he rotated it three times in the lock before feeling the resistance yield to the enchantment. With a soft click, the wooden top lifted, and Spike’s gaze flitted to the box’s dark interior.

If his heart still functioned, it would’ve stopped.

It was crumpled, and one corner had been bent and pressed back flat, but as Spike lifted it out of its confines, the envelope seemed like the most perfect thing in the world to him. Well, second most. He didn’t even care if he opened it and found a Dear John inside. Buffy had written him. That meant she had read his letters.

Though his instincts screamed at him to tear the envelope open, Spike held firm, sliding his index finger beneath the seal that hadn’t quite caught at the corners, and pulled out the single sheet of paper it contained. Slowly, he unfolded it.

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

She jumped when the pounding started at her door.

“Lydia! Lydia, get your uptight ass out here before I bloody well break this door down!”

A shouting Spike was not an unfamiliar occurrence in their travels, but there was something different in the timbre of his voice, an exultation that only came when they’d discovered a new development in their search or when he’d dispatched a particularly nasty demon. It automatically drove her to her feet, and as she strode to her door, she couldn’t help but wonder what revelation he had reached while composing his letter to Buffy.

He was doing circuits around the sitting room, his hands in constant motion as he muttered under his breath. The instant he heard Lydia’s door open, though, Spike broke from his pattern, rushing forward to grasp her head between his hands, pull her to him, and bestow a resounding kiss on her lips.

“I knew it!” he exclaimed upon releasing her only a moment later. “I bloody well knew it!”

Lydia’s fingers rose to her mouth as she watched him resume his pacing. That had certainly never happened before. “Knew what?” she queried in confusion.

“She loves me! Took her long enough to come around, but I knew she couldn’t forget. Nobody could forget something so fucking amazing.”

The slight moment of elation faded as understanding dawned. “Are you referring to Buffy?” Lydia asked carefully.

“Like there’s anybody else who bloody matters.” With a triumphant flourish, Spike pulled a folded piece of paper from his back pocket and shoved it in her hands before stalking over to the box she’d brought from Rose’s house. He continued to speak as he started throwing everything back inside it.

“Need to pack your bags, pet. I don’t know when the next plane’s scheduled, but I’m planning on bein’ on it, even if it means I’m tucked away all safe and sound in the farthest corner of the hold. You just better have all our paperwork still in order.”

Lydia’s eyes skimmed the few sentences on the paper, her frown deepening as she read it through a second time more carefully. “William,” she began, and then paused. Perhaps it wouldn’t be prudent to argue with him when he was in such a manic state.

Too late. He’d picked up on her hesitation. “What?”

Her gaze danced between the note---because really, three sentences was far too short to constitute a letter---and the energized vampire. “She doesn’t…actually…say she loves you.”

The paper was snatched from her hands before she could react, and she stiffened in the face of a scowling Spike. “She does,” he insisted. He held it up so that the words were visible to her, like an eye chart he was determined she was going to read. “She misses me. She soddin’ asked me to come back. That’s Slayer-speak for ‘I love you.’” He snorted. “And here I thought you were so fucking smart.”

“And you…wish to go? Is that what you’re telling me?”

“Of course, I bloody wish to go! Don’t have any purpose here any more, do I? Rose is dead, the tosser who killed her skipped town, and all I’m doin’ is spinning my wheels.” He shoved the note back into his pocket before returning to the seer’s belongings. “Buffy wants me in Sunnydale, I’m goin’ to Sunnydale. End of discussion.”

She couldn’t move as she watched him finish with the box, her muscles rigid, her blood cold. This wasn’t what had been planned, but Lydia wasn’t so foolish to think that she could actually stop William when he was this agitated. Her only hope was to mitigate some of the damage.

“There’s more you should know,” she said, as calmly as she could manage.

He was halfway to his room when he stopped to regard her. “What more?” William asked, his eyes narrowing. “What do you know about Buffy that I don’t?”

“It’s not about her. It’s about…Sunnydale.”

“Yeah? What about it?”

Lydia swallowed. “Earlier, I told you Baltozar was gone, but you didn’t allow me to tell you the most important part. In my attempts to discover where it was he’d fled, I learned he’d purchased tickets for a flight to the United States. Specifically, to Los Angeles.” Her chin lifted. “It’s my belief he’s headed for the Hellmouth.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 6: Where All Men Ride