DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CXXXVI.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: William has fallen asleep and found himself in a dream park he doesn’t recognize, while Willow has slipped Buffy a magic potion to help her sleep…
Chapter 4: For My Name Is Will
She hadn’t expected to find anyone. The instant she’d found herself in the unknown park, Buffy had known she was dreaming, though it was far too vivid and far too realistic to be a Slayer dream. Those were always big with the cryptic, and this…this was just peace personified. Way to go, Willow, for tea that makes you go hmmmm, she thought in amusement as she rounded the curve in the path.
Then, she’d seen him, and halted in her step as he bolted to his feet, the papers he’d been writing on rustling in his haste.
There was something oddly familiar about him, but what it was, she couldn’t quite put her finger on. He was slimly built, with lean hips housed in the old-fashioned brown trousers, and his crisp white shirt was unbuttoned at the neckline, exposing the sharp line of his clavicle. Bare forearms were muscled, but not defined, and she knew without having to ask that this was a man unused to physical labor. Of course, the glasses added to his bookish appearance, as well as the sandy hair that fell stubbornly in loose curls across his forehead, but it was surprisingly endearing, especially combined with the embarrassed flush creeping over his cheeks.
The quill dangling from his fingers made a connection spark somewhere deep inside her brain, and Buffy almost smiled as understanding dawned. “Now why do I have a funny feeling that you’re William?” she said. The widening of his eyes was the only confirmation she needed. At least my subconscious still works, she thought. Fall asleep reading William’s journal, dream about meeting him. Yay me for being logical.
“You…you…how do you know me?” he stammered.
Even though it was just a dream, somehow Buffy had a suspicion that admitting to reading the man’s journal was the surest way of scaring him off. He valued his privacy, and besides, how weird would she think it if she was suddenly stuck with someone who’d read her diary? “You look like a William,” she said instead, and saw the disbelief darken his gaze.
The silence stretched between them when he didn’t reply, each just standing there staring at the other. Every once in a while, she saw his eyes drop to her legs, but each glance only served to deepen his flush, until she finally sighed in exasperation and grabbed the hem of her dress.
“What’s the big deal?” she asked, pulling up the skirt to expose her knees. “Am I that horribly deformed or something?”
Immediately, he turned away, fussing with his papers as he scooped them up. “It’s…it’s…indecent,” he stammered. “You sh-sh-shouldn’t be dressed so.”
Oh great, I broke him already. “They’re only legs,” she said. “They don’t bite. That would be what those things called teeth are for.” She let the fabric drop and took a step toward him. “It’s not like you don’t have them, too. ‘Cause, you know, kind of hard to be standing there without them.”
For a moment, she thought she saw the corner of his mouth lift, but his motions didn’t cease, continuing to gather his papers and capping his inkpot. “I shan’t keep you,” he said. “It’s a lovely day and you likely wish to---.”
“Don’t go.” Buffy didn’t even sense rushing forward to lay her hand on his arm. It was just…he was leaving, and she knew she didn’t want him to go. Stopping him seemed paramount.
His muscles tensed beneath her grip, but he didn’t pull away, his head tilting first to look at her fingers before lifting to gaze into her face. Up close, she could see the thunderous blue behind his glasses, clear and intelligent and revealing, and felt her throat constrict as they searched hers. What he was looking for, she didn’t know, but Buffy suspected he saw more than he’d ever admit.
“Who are you?” William breathed.
This time, she couldn’t resist the smile. “I’m Buffy.”
A dark eyebrow quirked, and that sense of déjà vu flashed through her again. “That’s…unusual,” he murmured. “And not English.”
“Nope. As American as apple pie.”
This only served to heighten his amusement. “I wasn’t aware Americans had a monopoly on apple pie,” he said. “As a point of fact, Cook has a rather delightful recipe for these apple crumble tarts. I suppose that would make her American under your logic.”
Her mouth opened to protest, ready to retort about stuffy Englishmen who thought they knew everything, when she saw the glint in his eye. He was teasing her. OK. Unexpected. Especially since not two minutes earlier he’d been barely able to look her in the face without turning into a giant cherry tomato.
“I thought gentlemen were supposed to be all courteous and nice to ladies,” she said, loosening her grasp to fold her arms across her chest.
“As well they should,” he replied. “But as I’ve determined that you are not, in fact, real, then standard rules of etiquette can’t actually apply, now can they?”
“I think someone’s got their realities mixed up, bub. You’re the one who’s not real. This is my dream, therefore the reality of you equals not really there.”
Her certainty seemed to make him hesitate, his gaze sweeping over her face yet again. “Not that I don’t often question exactly that,” he said softly, “but you are far too fantastic to be anything but a figment of my imagination. Granted, I was unaware my imagination could prove so fertile as to create an American vision capable of completely stealing my very breath, but the fact that you are still standing here, speaking to me without condescension, and looking very much as if you desire my company, only affirms that you can’t truly exist.”
The annoyance that had been bubbling under her skin dissipated. “You…think I’m some dream Buffy just because I’m being nice to you?” There was a flicker of shame in the blue before he ducked his head, his bravado gone, and her fingers returned to rest gently on his arm. “Tell you what. Why don’t we agree to disagree on the who gets to be real question and start from scratch, OK?” She waited for him to look up again before stepping back and sticking out her hand with a wide smile. “Hi. I’m Buffy Summers.”
His indecision rippled across his face, his scrutiny intense before his manners resumed control and he composed his shoulders. “William Freston,” he said, and when he bowed at the waist, his hand turned hers just enough to allow his lips to brush over her knuckles. “It is my pleasure to meet you, Miss Summers.”
“Buffy,” she said when he straightened. “You call me Miss Summers, and I expect to be sent down to the principal’s office. Well, if I hadn’t blown up the school, that is.”
“Miss Buffy, then,” William corrected, though it was clear he didn’t completely understand her references.
“So whatcha writing?” Turning away, she began to reach for the papers that littered the bench, but was stopped when he leapt to the fore, grabbing at them to pull them away from her range.
“They’re just scribblings,” he said, too hastily, and the blush returned to his cheeks. “Nothing of importance.”
Buffy pulled her hand back, watching as he tucked the pages into his pockets. Odd how the man she’d read about manifested in such a real manner in her dreams. The Victorian dress and decorum was to be expected, she supposed, but the disparate timidity and forthrightness was confusing. “It’s OK,” she said in as reassuring a voice as she could manage. “They’re private. I get that.”
“Thank you.” He hung back, keeping his hands behind his back, but glanced at her out of the corner of his eye.
“Can I sit with you?”
It was enough to garner his full attention again. “Pardon?”
“I interrupted you, but…if you’re not going to go back to what you were working on, I thought…I mean, I don’t have plans and you don’t have plans and since it looks like we’re both planless…” Buffy’s voice trailed off. God, she really sucked at this. Had it really been that long since she’d chatted up a guy? Not that she and Angel had ever been about the talking, but once upon a time, she’d been semi-literate, capable of stringing more than a few words together in the presence of a member of the opposite sex. Damn it. She could do this. Especially with a guy who was only part of a dream.
“You wish to…join me?”
“If that’s OK.”
She thought he was going to run. Like a feral cat, poised to flee at the slightest hint of danger, William almost quivered in agitation, like he didn’t dare believe what she was saying. “Why?” he asked. His voice was so low, she barely caught the single word query.
Not that she really knew what to say in response. “Why not? Doesn’t it sound like fun? A pretty park, good company. I don’t see where the bad is.”
A pause. Then…a sweep of his arm accompanied by a slight lean of his body as he gestured toward the bench. “It would be my honor.”
Once she was settled, Buffy watched as he perched himself on the edge of the seat as far from her as possible, his unease screaming at her with every tense muscle. “That can’t be comfortable,” she commented, and pulled her knee up under her skirt to sit sideways on the bench. “How about we find some middle ground between Mr. Uptight and Mr. I Can Be Rude As Much As I Want Because You’re Not Real, OK?” She stretched and poked him in the arm, eliciting a small jump. “Relax. I’ve actually been known to be entertaining on the odd occasion. Sometimes, an even one, too.”
William rubbed at his arm, massaging the spot she’d touched with a small frown on his face. “For an illusion, you are remarkably forthright.”
“Actually, I’m pretty darn forthright in reality, too. I blame the education system. Breeds all that independent thinking.”
Her joke eased the lines in his brow, but his gaze remained steady. “Perhaps, it’s an attribute of being American as well,” he said. “My reading suggests that American culture is quite progressive. Would you consider that a valid assessment, Miss Buffy?”
“We’ve been called worse,” she started, and then grinned. “And look at us being all conversation-having. I told you we could do this.”
She was unlike anyone he had ever met before.
His initial trepidation had tied his tongue in knots, though once he’d convinced himself she was just a figment of his imagination, speaking to her had become incredibly easy. Entertaining, even. She had lit up under his gentle banter, and even when he’d been terrified of her response to his writings, her easy manner had quickly soothed his nerves, letting conversation happen as naturally as if he was talking to one of his university professors.
Certainly, though, she was infinitely more beautiful than anyone with whom he’d spent more than five minutes speaking. She glowed from within, drowning him in eyes of emerald that looked as if they’d witnessed the very end of the world. It had been difficult in the beginning to not gape in admiration, her non-traditional attire notwithstanding, but even that had receded behind the sheer pleasure of her company. In many ways, she was such a contradiction---intelligent, but playful; compassionate, but impatient with passivity; young, but with a spirit that felt centuries old---and it was those that made him lose the time so quickly.
They talked of nothing of consequence at first, their discourse adhering to topics of generality rather than personal, but when the subject at hand had steered toward health issues, he’d been unable to refrain from asking.
“How on earth did you get such a scar?” William queried, nodding slightly toward the mark on her neck.
Instantly, her hand reached up to touch it, and some of the color that had been in her cheeks was leeched away. “Puppy bite,” she said absently, as her eyes fell to the ground. Thin fingers traced the odd ridges on her skin, and he could literally see her pulse pounding away in the hollow of her throat.
“I did not mean to upset you,” he said. Tentatively, he inched closer, reaching out to rest his hand on her forearm. The sun had warmed both of them, and where earlier he had been grateful for his lack of jacket, now it seemed as if even his shirt was too much as the heat jumped between them. “If you’d rather---.”
“No, no, I’m OK,” Buffy said. Her eyes told him otherwise. “Just…not so good memories kind of go hand-in-hand with it.” She looked up then, and the pain she fought so valiantly to hide gleamed somewhere in the green depths. “Part of the whole why I’m not sleeping so good right now. Well, except for tonight. Tonight seems to be a different story.”
“Do you…wish to talk about it? I am not such a stranger to insomnia, myself. Although, like you, this evening appears to be the exception to my normal patterns.”
“Maybe some other time,” she said.
He was almost disappointed by her lack of interest in sharing. It had seemed that, for some inexplicable reason, she trusted him, and William was eager for the opportunity to learn more about Buffy. Yes, she was just a character he’d obviously created to distract himself from the banality of his real-life existence, but in many ways, she was so much more alive than any of the people who populated his waking world. He would be foolish not to explore as much as he could while he had the chance.
“I have a scar,” he said in an attempt to distract her from the gloom his question had created. He lifted the hand from her arm and turned it over, exposing the fleshy pad where his thumb met his palm. “I was six, and Mother and I were out for a walk when we encountered an acquaintance of hers.” William’s breath caught when Buffy leaned over and traced her index finger over the ragged series of lines barely discernible on his hand, and he swallowed before venturing on. “I grew restless with waiting and began pulling leaves from the vines that climbed the wall that lined the path. Well, in doing so, I apparently disturbed the mice that had taken up residence in the wall.”
She looked up at him, her eyes dancing, and he could see her fighting to contain the laughter. “You got attacked by Mickey Mouse?”
“Mice,” he insisted. “Plural. And they were quite vicious. And large. One latched on with such vigor that Mother had to beat it off with her bag.”
The giggles bubbled from Buffy’s throat, the shadows in her aspect now lifted. William’s lips quirked in response, and he ducked his head in mock embarrassment. Truth be told, the incident was not one he recollected fondly, though he could certainly see the humor in it from an aesthetic standpoint, and if he’d been sitting with anyone else, he would never have thought to use it as an anecdote. However, this was Buffy, and though she wasn’t even real except for him, he doubted she would use it as a way to look down on him. Not when he’d already given her ample opportunities elsewhere that she’d completely ignored.
“Poor little Willie,” she teased.
“William,” he corrected.
Her eyebrows shot up. “Even when you were six?”
“Especially when I was six. I had this dreadful aunt and uncle whom my mother detested, and every time they came to call, they insisted on calling me Willie. Mother was adamant that that name would never be used in our household again.”
There was silence while her amusement faded. Her eyes burned into his, her head tilted slightly so that her hair fell across her bare shoulder, and William had to fight the impulse to reach over and brush it away. And then…
“You only ever talk about your mother.” Soft. Reluctant. As if she feared treading on ground he’d rather she didn’t.
“It’s just her and I,” he replied. “My father passed a few years ago, though he wasn’t around much prior due to work commitments. You?”
He asked the last with a note of expectancy, hoping that she would accept his offering of personal information as permission to share her own. Small steps, he reminded himself. Even the longest of journeys had to start with them.
“Same,” Buffy said. “Except for the part where my dad’s not dead. Just…voluntarily missing in action.”
He was readying to respond about how they had yet something else in common when William felt an unfamiliar tingling in his skin, an itch that generated from the air around him. Frowning, he turned his head to see what might be the cause, but as he did, the periphery of his vision seemed to blur, as if he would have to chase it in order to achieve full clarity.
“William?” Her tone was concerned, and he felt rather than saw her lean forward. “What’s wrong?”
And before he could finish the sentence, the park was gone.
The soft rasp of the sheet against his cheek was accompanied by the lingering scent of the tea, and William blinked against the dim light in his room.
A dream. Of course I knew it was, but…
Slowly, he raised himself up on his elbow, noting his rumpled attire, the abandoned teacup on the desk. The events of the previous evening returned with an alarming exactitude, and with it came the sting of disappointment, burning like bile in his throat as he sank back onto the bed. It was only reasonable to know that she was just an illusion---after all, he’d known that even in the course of the dream itself---but the reality of facing the day bereft of her accepting presence seemed daunting at best. Surely, the fading of the details would make it more tolerable, but for now, for that very moment, each curve of her smile and each peal of her laughter was etched in the memory of his skin, as if they were a garment he could wrap himself up in to ward away the unpleasant elements.
Chin up, William. At least you slept. Certainly that’s enough in the grand scheme of things.
It would have to be. After all, Buffy Summers was only a dream.
Stretching beneath the duvet, Buffy smiled as she reminisced on the details of her dream, remembering William’s shy smile and the approving glances he cast her through his thick lashes when he thought she wasn’t looking. So, OK, maybe not the healthiest mode of relaxing, what with her subconscious turning her Victorian writer into illusionary flesh and blood for her to talk to while she slept, but hey, considering how many lemons her life had dished recently, she wasn’t going to knock whatever release she got.
Besides, after a quick glance at her bedside clock, she couldn’t really argue with the fact that for the first time in weeks, she’d slept for more than seven consecutive hours. “Thank you, William,” she murmured, as she slipped his journal beneath her pillow.
Time to face her day.
To be continued in Chapter 5: Come Daily to the Banks…