DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet LXIII.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: William has had an odd encounter with an elderly woman when he went, while in present day London, a bookstore clerk has suggested Willow help Buffy sleep using magic. At the same time, Buffy has decided to buy an old journal she found…
Chapter 3: In Dreams, They Look on Thee
“Buffy bought a book!”
Following Willow through the narrow door of the flat, Buffy rolled her eyes when the chirpy announcement immediately prompted Giles to poke his head out of the kitchen.
“Buffy bought a book,” Willow repeated and flashed the other girl a brilliant smile.
Way to go to make me feel like I’ve just managed not to wet myself, Buffy thought in annoyance as she pushed past to go into the small living room. It had been a satisfying day once they’d managed to get out of the bookstore, filled with exactly the sort of shopping she’d had in mind when they’d set out, and her weary muscles were screaming out for respite. She collapsed onto the couch with a loud sigh, sprawling amid the bags that tumbled around her feet. “Buffy also bought an adorably killer skirt at TopShop,” she said. “On sale for ten pounds. That’s, like, five dollars, right?”
“Uh, more like fifteen,” Giles said.
“Oh.” Her face darkened for a moment before she shrugged. “It was still a good deal.”
“So…you had a good day?” He hovered in the entrance, watching as Willow dropped her purchases onto the coffee table. His eyes were intent on his Slayer for a long moment, darkened in concern, before darting to the redhead. “There weren’t any problems in picking up the texts I requested?”
Willow shook her head. “Signed, sealed, and delivered. Took a little longer than we thought, but that’s just because Esme couldn’t find the Whevra Codex straight away. Turns out someone was using it as a coaster in the back office.”
“Good, good,” he said, and almost immediately frowned. “Who’s Esme? Wasn’t Charles there?”
“No, she said it was his day off. Maybe you know her as Esmerelda. Except she said she hasn’t used it since the seventies and the whole Bewitched thing that made her life miserable.” She waited for a response, but was met only with a blank look. “Old? Huge into magic?”
“She doesn’t sound familiar, but I haven’t seen Charles in several years. He’s most likely hired some new people in the interim.”
“What about you?” asked Buffy. She didn’t want them talking about the bookstore any more. That could lead to questions about what she’d bought and she really didn’t want to be sharing William’s journal. It had been hard enough deflecting Willow’s inquisition; she wasn’t in the mood to be holding off Giles’. For now, it was hers and hers alone. “What’s the sitch in Watcher world?”
“Quite intriguing, actually,” Giles said. He settled into the leather chair near the fireplace, fitting into the traditional British décor as if he’d never left. “I had a lengthy visit with an old colleague today. According to Owen, there’s been a recent theft that’s caused quite the rumpus with the Council. They’re quite up in arms about it, I presume, because it presents a threat of some sort.”
Buffy perked up at the word “threat.” “Does this mean patrolling?” she asked, a little too eagerly. Finally, something to distract herself with. “Because you know, it’s probably not a good idea for me to just sit around the apartment all day, letting those Slayer muscles waste away. And you know me, all big with the conservation.”
“Oh, it’s much too early for that,” he was quick to say, shaking his head. “I’m not even aware of what exactly’s been stolen. Owen and I are planning on a day trip up to Cambridge early next week to see what we can discover.”
So much for that idea, she thought, visibly deflating at his negation for any need of a Slayer. But she knew she just couldn’t continue sitting around like she had been. Her malaise was getting worse rather than better, too many minutes left to think about everything that had happened in Sunnydale. Now that she’d spent some time in the city, getting more comfortable with the way traffic worked, and learning to look right instead of left when she wanted to cross the street, she was ready to start exploring the vicinity of the apartment some more. It was a nice neighborhood---the friend of Giles’ who was letting them stay there while he was on vacation obviously had money---but that didn’t mean there wouldn’t be vampires around.
And she could really use a good slay some time soon.
Rising to her feet, Buffy gathered up her bags. “I’m going to go put this stuff away before I change my mind about any of it,” she said.
“You’re not hungry?” Giles asked. “I rather thought we could go out for dinner.”
She shook her head. “We got a bite to eat before coming home. I think I’m just going to call it a night, if you don’t mind.”
“There’s always the television---.”
“With its mind-boggling five channels,” she finished. “Half of which look remarkably like PBS back home. No thanks. I think I’ll just curl up with my book.” She smiled, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Better mark this day on your calendar, Giles. The Slayer choosing a book over mindless electronic entertainment? Something tells me you won’t get too many of these.” With a little wave good night, she headed for her bedroom.
Sitting on the floor by the coffee table, Willow’s pace was slow as she sorted through the books she’d picked up for Giles. Buffy’s quick disappearance was unfortunate. Up to that point, Willow had considered the day a huge success, outside of the having to wait at the bookstore part, but now, she wasn’t so sure. Broody Buffy was back. Worse yet, she looked like she was hibernating for the winter. Or summer, as the case may be.
The break from slaying didn’t seem to be doing the job, either. It would’ve been better if Giles’ little theft mystery had yielded some work for Buffy; at least then, she’d have something to distract her from her thoughts about Angel. More than once that day, Willow had tried to initiate a conversation about what had happened, only to be coolly rebuffed when the Slayer changed the subject each and every time. So, OK, she could take a hint. Angel talking bad. But what did that leave that was good?
Sleep. Sleep was good. Esme had been right about that. And that was something Willow might actually be able to do something about. It was tearing her up seeing her best friend suffer so.
Extracting the spell book Esme had given her, she stole a quick glance toward the kitchen, listening for a long moment to ensure Giles wouldn’t be coming out any time soon. He wouldn’t be pleased about her doing this. When it came to magic, the Watcher was reluctant to let her experiment on her own without his supervision. Oh sure, he was fine as long as it was something small and didn’t directly affect anyone, like her pencil twirling. But this would be about Buffy, and Willow was fairly certain that was no-witches-land in his book. Better he didn’t know.
She found the spell easily, and her face creased into a wide smile as she scanned it over. Another point for Esme. Not only were the ingredients incredibly basic, but the spell itself bordered on the simplistic. It was a little disappointing that it wasn’t more challenging, but if it worked to give Buffy some rest, then that was all that mattered.
She shoved the book under her pillow when the knock came. “Come in!” Buffy called out, sitting up in the narrow bed.
The door opened, revealing a smiling Willow carrying a steaming cup of tea. “I know you’re not hungry, but I thought you might want something to drink,” she said, venturing forward a hesitant step.
“Determined to keep me going on that whole English experience, huh?” She took the drink, its heat radiating through her fingers, and surprised herself by inhaling deeply. It didn’t smell like the tea Giles normally brewed. This was richer, tantalizing almost, and just the scent of it was making her mouth water.
“I thought it might help you relax,” Willow replied. She hovered near the edge of the bed, the smallness of the room making it impossible to pace like it was obvious her feet wanted. Back home, Buffy would’ve labeled the room a walk-in closet, but obviously on a tiny island where space was premium, if a bed and a dresser could be fit inside, that was enough to call it a bedroom.
“Thanks, Will.” The first sip made her tongue tingle, and before she realized what she was doing, Buffy was gulping down the tea, finishing half of it before she caught her friend’s raised eyebrows. “Good stuff,” she said with a slight blush. “Just call me Mojave.”
“I won’t keep you,” said Willow, backing up. “Besides, Giles should be back any minute with the fish and chips.”
A pang of guilt stabbed through her gut. “Guess I ruined his dinner out idea, huh?” she commented. “Somehow, I don’t think that’s what he had in mind when he suggested it earlier.”
“He’s worried about you, Buffy. Dinner was just something he thought might work to get your mind off of…stuff.”
The fact that Willow was afraid to even say Angel’s name around her any more only served to intensify Buffy’s guilt. Swinging her legs around the edge of the bed, she set the cup down on the nightstand. “Maybe I should be the brave little Slayer and go put in an appearance,” she said. “You guys are trying so hard---.”
“Aren’t you tired?” It came out like gunshot, startling both of them, and Willow flushed in embarrassment. “I mean, you look kind of tired, and you were dragging there toward the end. Even Giles said it looked like you might finally get a good night’s sleep.”
“No, I’m…” But even as she spoke, the lethargy creeping through her limbs made Buffy feel like sinking into the mattress, and she shocked herself by yawning widely. “…more tired than I thought,” she finished, covering her mouth. “Excuse me.”
“No, no, excuse me,” Willow rushed, and for a second, the Slayer thought she saw what looked like a smile in her friend’s eyes. “You sleep. Finish your tea, get yourself all cozy, and I’ll see you in the morning.”
“I’ll be the bushy-tailed one.”
“And don’t worry about me and Giles. We’re just going to look over his books anyway. Good night.”
Once she was alone again, Buffy stretched back out on the mattress, the burn in her muscles only deepening the exhaustion she was fighting. Sleep is good, she thought, rolling onto her side. Her hand stole under the pillow, and she felt the warm leather of the journal, beckoning to her to be drawn out again. Maybe I’ll just read a little more, she decided when she pulled it out. Books have always worked as sedatives before.
It fell open to the page at which she’d left off.
“…that dreadful Mrs. Howard. I had hoped my morning’s escape would leave me free of her company, but unfortunately, my wishes were for naught as I encountered her on the step upon my return…”
“…upon my return. She did, of course, immediately launch into the most vulgar tale regarding David’s comport at a recent gathering, one to which, of course, I was not invited…”
William paused in his writing, looking up from the page to stare into the flickering candlelight. It had been an excruciating confrontation, Mrs. Howard prattling on with the details of her son’s behavior, sparing no triviality, all the while more than aware of his growing discomfort. Only the appearance of a carriage before her house was sufficient to divert her attention from her tale, and William had finally escaped to the sanctuary of his home as she scurried to see who was visiting.
At least he was spared a reading. That would have been the utmost humiliation, considering his current mood.
The words continued their refusal in cooperating. For hours, he’d sat in the study, scribbling out the verses that had seemed masterly upon the bank, but each syllable staring back at him from the paper threatened to obliterate the efficacy of the one next, leaving him frustrated and worn and wishing desperately that he’d stayed out where the imagery swelled in his mind’s eye, demanding a release through his inks. He would even have tolerated meeting the odd elderly widow again if it meant his poetry could live. She had been frightening, but relatively harmless, and at least he’d not lacked an internal voice when she’d left him.
So he’d begged off dinner, assuring his mother that he was merely tired from his morning out, and retired to his room, intent on having something to show for his efforts that day. But even there, where he was safest and free from recriminations, William had failed, gazing sadly at the crumpled pages that were scattered about his chair before picking up his journal. Better to record the events of the day than dwell on his deficiencies, though when he began, he automatically avoided chronicling his eerie encounter. That would constitute dwelling, and further examination of what had transpired was beyond his grasp at the moment.
A quiet rap at his door was all that was necessary for him to set down his quill. “Yes?” he called out, and looked up to see one of the chambermaids standing in the entrance. In her hands was a silver tray, a steaming cup placed directly in its center. “I didn’t request anything,” William said, rising to his feet. He took a step forward. “What is that?”
“Just tea, sir,” she said shyly. “A special blend. To help you sleep.”
The reminder of his restless nights made him stiffen, and William lifted his chin as he stared at the young girl. “You can just take it away then,” he said, and though he’d deliberately opted for a haughty tone, inwardly he cringed when he saw her color at his rebuke. “I’m fine,” he added, softer this time as he sought to rectify the damage he’d already done.
She didn’t move. “Pardon, sir,” she stammered, “but I’m to be sure you take it. Your mum was ever so insistent.”
She nodded. “She was saying to Cook about you looking peaked, wanting to know if you weren’t eating properly. Then Cook said as how you were just needing a bit of sleep and that she had the perfect remedy for that. A secret of her Auntie Esmerelda’s, she said. And so here it is.” Her glance down at the cup was accompanied by a faint rattle, and William realized that the poor girl was trembling in fear.
He’d done that. Of course, she was relatively new to the household, and spent most of her time waiting on his mother so her encounters with him were few and far between, but still, the knowledge that William had instilled this sense of trepidation in an unsuspecting girl made his stomach curdle. Quickly, he stepped forward and took the tray from her grasp, inhaling the unfamiliar aroma of the tea as it passed underneath his nose. It wouldn’t do to have her drop it, after all.
“Thank you,” he said, and waved her toward the door. “You’ve done your duty now. There should be no need for worrying of reprimand.”
She seemed uncertain, her eyes darting from him to the tea on the desk, but she merely nodded her head and backed out of the room, closing the door shut behind her.
As he regarded the steaming tea before him, William sighed. And here I thought I was being careful, he mused. But not only have I alerted Mother to my restlessness, I’ve managed to get treated like a child in the process. Wonderful.
His slim fingers traced the gilt around the rim of the cup. Briefly, he considered dumping its contents into the chamberpot, but the questions that might raise were enough for him to dismiss the notion almost as immediately as he’d thought of it. Such a discovery would only prompt his mother to call for Dr. Gull, and that most certainly wouldn’t do. He had to admit, though, the tea did smell enticing, richer than his normal brew with a touch of nutmeg underlying its citrus-y tang. Would it be so bad to endure a bit of pampering and drink it?
He’d only meant to sip it, but as the first drops hit his tongue, the urge to swallow it down in a single gulp was overwhelming, prompting William to let it glide over his tongue in a continuous stream as he downed the drink. Within seconds, he felt a soothing lassitude seep into his muscles, and he’d barely replaced the cup back onto the tray when he felt his eyelids droop of their own accord.
Oh my. Perfect remedy, indeed.
His fingers scrabbled for his shirt collar as he stumbled for the bed, his head thick and unwieldy.
Must remember… to thank Cook…in the morning.
It was his last conscious thought before falling under the spell of slumber.
It was the sky dreams were made of, brilliant and blue and hurting his eyes when he squinted upward to scan the cloudless heavens. No variations in shade, not a speck of cirrus to mar the crystalline perfection of the expanse, and William inhaled with the tenor of a dying man desperate to savor his last few tastes of air.
He was in the middle of a park, but not one he recognized, rolling greens broken by trees he didn’t know, their oddly shaped leaves flowering in irregular clusters against the sky. The path on which he stood wound like a silver ribbon through the grass, the finely crushed stone almost like sand beneath his shoes, and the bed of daisies and deep-purple clematis that snaked alongside leant the air a redolent perfume that felt surprisingly like home.
A slight breeze tickled his neck, and William realized that he was in shirtsleeves, his collar undone, his cuffs rolled up nearly to his elbows. In his trousers pocket, an awkward weight bounced on his thigh, and he reached in and extracted the bottle of ink he found there. A sheaf of papers was rolled in his opposite pocket, and his face broke into a wide smile as he felt the first rush of words descend into his awareness.
Ah, there they are, the devilish scamps. Back from whatever escapades they managed to frolic in after this morning.
As his gaze followed the path, he saw a stone bench several yards ahead and strode forward, readying his work even before he’d reached its side. The utmost privacy pervaded the park, and though he knew he was dreaming, William thanked whatever gods were looking down upon him for the boon of solitude that would allow him to compose his verses. After all, certainly it was better to be prolific in the vagaries of slumber, than to never feel the written word within his pen at all.
Like a youth, he straddled the cold seat and set his tools before him, the inkpot weighing down the top edge of the paper while his right hand held down the bottom. In the nimble grasp of his left, the quill that had been bound with the papers danced across the page, and he felt the exhilaration of productivity begin to course through his veins. Nothing quite so acute as the surge of feeling the words flow, he thought. And though decorum should’ve commanded he sit more properly, or tidy his dress more becoming to being in public, William ignored the dictates, lost in his dreamland and uncaring of whatever rules the waking world might want to enforce. The words were what mattered. He was only there to serve the words.
He very well could’ve drifted on the clouds of his poetry until he awoke, if the soft crunch of the stone path hadn’t distracted him from the page. Lifting his eyes, he blinked rapidly to adjust to the shift in light, and then felt a warm flush steal across his skin as a young lady rounded the nearest curve.
She was blonde, long hair waving loose about her shoulders, and she was dressed in what could’ve been one of his mother’s shifts if it wasn’t for the shortened skirt exposing the ripe curve of her calf. While the white fabric billowed around her legs, it hugged her torso, cupping the swell of her breasts and accentuating her slim waist. Even her arms were bare, the bodice held up by the thinnest of straps, and William colored as he jumped to his feet, wanting to lower his gaze out of propriety, but unable to look away from the vision that approached.
Breathtaking. That’s what she was.
And ever so invitingly vital.
She stopped as soon as she saw him, green eyes regarding him with a directness that was most off-putting, and the sound of his heart pounding inside his chest filled his ears. It lasted for mere seconds, though, only until it was replaced by another sound, but it was the latter that made the world fall away around him.
“Now why do I have a funny feeling that you’re William?” she asked, with a twinkle in her eye.
To be continued in Chapter 4: For My Name Is Will…