DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course,
and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet XXVIII.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Both Buffy and William found it difficult to sleep without the aid of the special tea, and met again in their dreams after having some…
She didn’t want to open her eyes, but want was not really a concept Buffy was familiar with indulging. Her life wasn’t about want. It was about right. And the fact that it was after nine o’clock in the morning meant the right thing to do was get up.
Rolling on to her side, her hand stole automatically to the journal beneath her pillow, her fingertips brushing over its soft cover. It was still warm, and Buffy couldn’t help but wonder if she’d been touching it in her sleep again. No matter where or how long it sat without her attention, the book always seemed to pulse with its own life, drawing her to it as surely as it had that day in the bookshop.
It was hard to believe it had been a whole week since she’d bought the journal. For the past four nights, she’d dreamt of William, each encounter so fresh with vigorous new detail that she was beginning to wonder just how much of Giles’ Britishness was subconsciously rubbing off on her. How else could she be making up so much of what William described? Oh sure, some of it definitely came from the journal, but she’d barely made a dent in it, only having read about a third once she’d gone back to its beginning instead of picking random entries to read.
Yet, in spite of how true it felt while she slept, every morning when she woke up, Buffy lay in bed, deliberating over how surreal it was becoming. It was different when she was in the thick of it, walking with him through the park or sitting on the bench listening to him talk about his poetry. When she was there, it was impossible to doubt what it was obvious he believed. Awake, though, it was another story. The details should’ve faded with the coming of the day; that’s the way dreams were supposed to work.
But these didn’t. These remained as fresh and vibrant and breathing as if they’d happened for real.
Maybe it was the tea, she reasoned as she swung her legs over the side of the bed. Maybe it’s just a side effect of whatever brew it is Will’s using.
After waking from the second encounter with William, it hadn’t taken Buffy long to wonder if Willow’s nighttime remedy might have something to do with the content of her dream. After all, she’d dreamt of the Victorian poet only after consuming the drink, although she wasn’t sure if the second time hadn’t been as much her wanting to as anything else.
So she’d asked her friend to make it a nightly thing. “Just, you know, until I get Mr. Sandman back under control,” Buffy had said.
Willow had seemed eager to help, and had it waiting for her when Buffy got in from patrol. Neither girl had mentioned it, but both were grateful for Giles’ absence, instinctively knowing he’d disapprove of his Slayer’s methods for gaining sleep. And neither had said anything to him about it the next day when he’d called to say he would be delayed in Cambridge for a little longer. After all, it wasn’t as if there weren’t more important things to be discussing than Buffy’s current beverage of choice.
The rumpus with the Council that had driven Giles to Cambridge had turned a day-trip into a four-day stayover, talking with some of his old cronies about what exactly had happened. He’d been frugal with the details during his daily phone calls, but instead had promised to fill them in on everything when he returned to London. That was today, and Buffy had to hurry and get dressed before she made both of them late.
Willow was knocking at the door before she’d finished pulling her top over her head, and Buffy’s voice was muffled when she called out in response. “Come in!”
“You about ready?” the redhead asked as she poked her head into the bedroom.
“Getting there. Sorry about sleeping in.”
“It’s no big. We’ve still got an hour before Giles’ train arrives. We’ll just grab something from the bakery on the way if you want something to eat.”
Buffy brightened. “One of those cream cakes?”
“You just know Xander would be jealous if he knew we were here,” Willow replied with a nod. “All these pastries that he doesn’t get to try? He’s going to be complaining for months about being deprived of new avenues for sugary goodness.” She grew pensive, her aspect softening, and Buffy caught the witch biting her lip before turning away to grab her shoes from beside the bed. “Sleep definitely becomes you, Buffy,” she said softly. “I’m glad you’re finally getting some good shuteye.”
There was no mistaking the concern in Willow’s tone, and inwardly, Buffy cringed. “You know me,” she said, too bright but escaping the notice of her friend. “You can’t keep a good Slayer down.”
He was humming under his breath when he strolled into the dining room, a distinctive bounce to his step. “Good morning, Mother,” William said, stooping to brush a kiss across her cheek before rounding the table to his own seat.
Anne watched him in obvious delight. “You are remarkably sprightly today,” she commented. “Did you have a good night’s sleep?”
“Heavenly.” Ducking his head, he concentrated on pouring out his tea, convinced his skin bore the telltale signs of his heightened state, and though his mother was certainly happy to see her only son in such good spirits, there was no need to embarrass either of them by dwelling on the details.
He’d dreamt of her again, and if there had been doubt before as to whether the tea was responsible or not, those were now banished. Every night for the past three nights, he’d gone to Cook and requested the special brew, and every night without fail, Miss Buffy came to him, always wearing the white frock that had shocked him so in the beginning and yet now seemed as natural as anything he might spy during the day, always smiling and eager to see him.
Though their conversations didn’t touch on the subject of her personal life again, there was a new intimacy to their encounters that hadn’t been there prior, as if something had opened within Buffy to allow him entrance. She unarmed him by asking him questions about his home life, and William’s eagerness to share had only been surpassed by her capacity to empathize. By their fourth meeting, he was reading his poetry to her, keeping his eyes averted as he did so lest she should find as much fault with it as his peers.
She didn’t, though. She just looked at him, and smiled, and asked if he’d read her more of what he’d written.
Nobody ever asked for more.
“You are someplace else, I think.”
Anne’s voice floated to him through his retrospection, and William looked up to see her watching him from across the table. “Don’t be silly,” he chided. “I’m right here.”
“Perhaps in body. Your thoughts, though, are miles away.” Distractedly, she stirred another spoonful of sugar into her tea. “Will you be going out again today? I’d rather hoped you might accompany me into the city. There are a few last arrangements I need to see to before the party tomorrow.”
His good mood paled slightly at the mention of the get-together. “If you need me, of course, I’m completely at your disposal,” he said as brightly as he could manage.
“Wonderful!” She was oblivious to his hesitancy. “Everything is coming along exactly as planned, so far.”
“And your guest list? Will the attendance please you?” With her, he was good at this, the polite small talk where nothing really was said. It was when he stepped out into proper society, away from the comfort of familiarity, that William so often found himself bumbling like someone’s addled uncle. Surround himself with intellectuals as he’d been able to do on the odd occasion at university and he was fine; the hauteur of his peers and their families, however, made him yearn for the succor of a good book.
As he sat there and listened to Anne chatter on about the dinner party, it occurred to him that, beyond the first few minutes in her presence, his awkwardness around Buffy had been nonexistent. Of course, he knew it was merely because she was his own creation, just as any one of his poems, but at the same time, there remained an elusive mystery to her that excited him just to contemplate.
The injuries she seemed to exhibit with each new encounter, for instance. Why would his mind fashion a fantasy friend who came to him bearing the bruises of some unknown battle? Every night, it was different. At their second encounter, it had been the discoloring inside her elbow and the corresponding gash on her arm. On the third, both were mostly gone, but her knuckles sported abrasions that left the skin slightly rough. The fourth had Buffy tucking her skirt around her legs when she saw him notice the bruise on her calf.
The possibility that someone could be harming her outside of his sight had crossed his mind more than once, though he found it increasingly unbelievable that anyone could hurt Buffy Summers without getting hurt in return. Still, his unheralded anger at such an occurrence blistered William’s otherwise equable temper, and he fought to maintain his composure in her presence. It would not be right to expose her to his baser side, though the urge to enact his own retribution upon those who would dare hurt Buffy made him wonder if this was how other men felt regarding female companions. Under normal circumstances, he would scoff at such unrefined instincts.
These, however, were far from normal.
And the fact that he was considering Buffy as if she was real escaped his immediate notice. For a man who quartered with the transcendent word as easily as the breathing world surrounding him, finding a friend amongst his fantasies was matter-of-course.
“William? Did you hear what I said?”
His eyes focused to see Anne staring at him, the delicate brow etched in growing worry. “I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “I’m afraid I’m not quite as awake yet as I’d imagined.”
Her lips pursed in disapproval, but the lines eased. “I asked if your preparations were complete,” she said. “Have you managed to finish all that I asked of you?”
He blinked. For the life of him, he couldn’t think what she could be referring to. Perhaps she meant his aid in helping with her errands? He thought not, but there seemed no other possibility. “Of course,” he lied smoothly. Surely she was just confused regarding whatever preparations she’d requested; there was no way he could simply not know. William offered her a smile to better convince her of his veracity, and leaned forward to pat her hand. “Would I ever fail you, Mother?”
Buffy stared at the photographs spread out on the table, the bevelled edges of the crystal figures blinking back at her with an energy that belied the insentience of the thick paper. There were twelve of them, each so similar to the next that on first inspection, they appeared identical. Only close scrutiny revealed the minute details that made each unique. “Pretty,” she commented, and looked up at her Watcher. “But I’m not seeing what the big deal is.”
Giles sipped at his tea, leaning back in his chair. “They’ve been stolen from the Council’s control,” he began, but was cut off by Buffy’s exasperated sigh.
“Yes, I know that,” she said. “But what do they do? Other than wanting to give Swarovski a run for their money, why does a bunch of stuffy suits care about them?”
She rolled her eyes. “Do you ever go to a mall, Giles?” The familiarity of the exchange was soothing, even if the surroundings weren’t exactly home. The two girls had met the Watcher at the train station, but in spite of repeated pestering from them, he’d insisted on waiting until they’d returned to the flat before going into any detail regarding what had happened in Cambridge. The pictures were just the beginning, Buffy had a feeling.
“They don’t do anything,” he explained. “In fact, the Council isn’t completely clear as to their importance at all.”
“But you said they went all wiggy about them getting stolen,” Willow chimed.
“They are very concerned.” He cleared his throat. “Over a century ago, the collection was left in the charge of then-head Richard Rhodes-Fanshaw, but before he could relay the details of its importance to the rest of the Council, he was killed. All they knew was his final instruction that it be protected.”
“What about who gave it to him in the first place?” Buffy asked. “Wouldn’t he be able to tell why it was so major league?”
“They tried, but they were never able to locate the young man they believed delivered the collection. The name he’d given them proved to be false, and none of the attempts to find him via magic were successful. They did, however, determine that each of the figures was under a powerful protection spell, so a unilateral decision was made by the new head to follow his predecessor’s dying wish.”
Stacking the photos up, Buffy began flipping through them one at a time, creating a small slide show of the glass forms until they were dancing in front of her. “So, do we know anything about them?” she asked. “Good? Bad? Switzerland?”
Giles shook his head. “The Council has never been able to confirm anything, though the fact that they were stolen by vampires leads us to suspect they can’t be entirely good.”
Two sets of eyes went wide. “Us?” Willow asked. “Giles, are you working for them again?”
“No,” he said, too quickly, and then ducked his gaze. “Well, not exactly.”
“And not exactly means what?” This came from Buffy. “We do their dirty work and you still don’t get paid?”
“No, I’ll be receiving a small stipend for my contribution---.”
“So, you are working for them.”
“Only on a consultant basis.” He sighed, leaning back in his seat. “As I’m the unofficial Watcher for the only active Slayer, it’s been deemed…appropriate for my services to be retained.”
“They want your help,” he said bluntly, meeting her gaze. “And I wouldn’t agree to even consider approaching you about it without compensation.”
Her eyes were thoughtful as she squared the corners of the pictures, running her fingers along the edges so that each threatened to cut into the fleshy pads. This could be a good thing, she mused. A project to redirect her focus. A problem for her to solve. Between this and William’s journal, Buffy just might be able to get past Angel’s leaving, once and for all.
“So what do they want me to do?” she asked out loud, handing the photos over to Willow.
“They attempted a locator spell but the results were inconclusive,” Giles said, and picked up a manila folder. “The magic surrounding the figures looks as if it’s scattered all over the country.” He extracted a color map of Great Britain, with several regions circled, pointing to each as he mentioned it. “One of the largest concentrations is there, in Wales. It’s rural, somewhere in the mountains, and the Council dispatched a team yesterday to try and pinpoint the source. The second largest concentration is here in London, though again, using remote means, Council resources have been unable to specify where exactly.”
“And they want me to try and find it?” She looked at him in confusion. “I beat things up, Giles. I am not Sabrina the Teenaged Witch.”
“No, we have Willow the Teenaged Witch,” he replied, visibly pleased with his rejoinder. “She and I will manage the magic side. We’ll need you to handle the…physical side.”
“Oh. Well, that’s all right then.” And oddly enough, it was. Foreign location notwithstanding, the affinity to Sunnydale and the school library was enough to steal some of the tension from the Slayer’s body. “How are we going to start?” she asked. “Any brilliant plans to wow the crowd?”
“Well, no, not yet,” Giles admitted. “I’d rather thought you’d patrol as normal tonight, while Willow and I brainstormed on the issue. There are a number of possible routes we could take and between the two of us, we should have something definitive for tomorrow.”
“Business as usual. I like it.” She smiled brightly. “Now, who’s hungry?”
He tossed away the last of the bodies, not even watching when it slumped off the heap that was growing in the corner, and swiped at the blood that ran down his chin. In his current sated state, he couldn’t help but feel that he wouldn’t need to feed for a week, though he knew that was unrealistic. Still, it had been awhile since he’d glutted himself so thoroughly. “And they even delivered,” he chortled as he stood before the altar.
Candles illuminated the narrow cave, flickering from behind the array of crystal on the shrine to scatter shards against the walls. The radiance made the miniature figures seem to pulsate with life, and the vampire’s demon visage faded away as he gazed down upon them, yellow eyes darkening to a pale brown. “Not much longer, April,” he murmured, and his angular fingers skimmed across each glass face, caressing and worshipping with the gentlest of touches.
“Sooner than you think,” came the voice from the mouth of the cave.
He whirled, vamping out before he saw the small form outlined in the entrance. “Why do you insist on sneaking up on me like that?” he demanded.
The elderly woman shrugged. “Because it’s fun.”
His eyes followed her as she made her way inside, settling at the small table against the wall and pulling a small pouch from her skirt pocket. For a long moment, the only sound in the cave was the scratching of her fingers across the wooden surface as she arranged the stones and broken twigs she extracted from the felt. And then…
“Well?” He exploded, his lanky body lunging forward in menace. “Cut the mumbo jumpo crap, Esme. I haven’t seen you in over a week. What the hell have you been doing?”
She didn’t even flinch from his aborted attack. “Exactly what we agreed I would,” Esme said evenly.
“So the Slayer’s gone?”
“No, she’s still in London.”
He hesitated, a frown beginning to darken his brow. “What about the other one? Tell me you at least took care of him.”
“Underway?” Without warning, his hand shot out, aimed directly for Esme’s throat. Before it could make contact, though, he saw her lips move, and one of the twigs rose above the table, driving forward of its own accord to imbed itself in the right side of his chest.
He lurched back at the contact, surprised more than hurt, and stared at her in yellow fury. “What was that?”
“A warning,” she replied, still calm, still sure. “I can kill you just as easily as you can kill me, Nathan. And I hate to remind you of this, but if either one of us dies, your April will be lost to you forever. You wouldn’t want that, would you?”
Nathan’s lips curled into a snarl. “Bitch,” he muttered, but backed away, digging into his chest to pull out the bloody twig with an agonized wince. “So which part of getting them out of the way did you actually accomplish?” he asked.
“I’ve connected them. That’s the first step.” She looked up at him finally, satisfaction gleaming in the dark depths of her eyes. “The young man is really quite the innocent,” Esme said. “I find it fascinating to think he’s---.”
“You saw him?” Surprise made his demon face melt away, revealing the gaunt allure of his human persona. “I didn’t know you could do that.”
An eyebrow lifted. “How else did you think I’d do it?”
“I…I don’t know. I hadn’t given it much thought. But…if you can play around with time like that…and why is it you can even do that? That’s Powers’ territory.”
She resumed her attention to the tableau before her. “You ask too many questions. Do you want April back? Or do you feel like waiting around another century or two until the time is ripe again?”
Nathan blanched at the possibility she suggested, and squelched the desire to rip out the old woman’s throat. He couldn’t afford to piss Esme off any more than he already had; after years of searching, she was the only one he’d ever found who had the power to return April to her natural form. It wasn’t worth it to question the source of that same power upon which he was so reliant.
“Good,” she said, as if he’d spoken aloud. “And relax. Everything is going according to plan.”
To be continued in Chapter 7: A Willing Patient…