DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course,
and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CXI.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Both Buffy and William seem to be benefiting from their dream trysts, while Giles’ return to London has given the Slayer a new project to sink her teeth into…
The vampire’s jaw snapped shut as her fist slammed into his face, his fangs splitting his lips as he stumbled against the brick wall of the nearby building. Before he could regain his balance, Buffy was on him, her stake already in her hand.
“Taken any trips lately?” she asked as she straddled the downed demon. “Maybe develop a latent interest in glassware?”
“Wha’?” His golden gaze was bewildered. “’Ave you gone chicken oriental, Slayer?”
With a roll of her eyes, Buffy’s thrust of the stake into his chest was almost too casual, and she was up on her feet before the dust had finished settling in the alley. “I can’t wait to get back to California where the way people talk actually makes sense,” she muttered as she tucked the weapon back into her waistband.
Her strategy wasn’t working. OK, even she knew it wasn’t much in the way of intelligent plans, but with Giles and Willow back at the apartment going over magical options, it was really the only one she had. Every vamp she came across, Buffy asked if they’d left the city recently, hoping one of them might be somehow connected to the group who’d stolen the crystal in Cambridge. Sure, it was a longshot, but what in her life wasn’t? Of course, it would’ve been easier if she understood half of what they were saying. Sometimes, she wondered if English was really their first language.
Five vamps down. For a brief moment, she debated whether it was late enough to consider going back and calling it a night. Giles would certainly understand if she said she was tired, and it wasn’t as if she was really accomplishing anything out on the streets anyway.
A shrill scream pierced the close air, prompting Buffy’s feet to begin running in the sound’s direction.
OK, so maybe she was accomplishing something. Sleep could wait.
His foot jittered unseen against the leg of the chair, his gaze jumping from his mother’s fingers moving gracefully across her needlework, to the clock on the mantle and its impossibly slow hands, to the fine print of the book on his lap. In spite of his glasses, the words blurred into a spidery mishmash that made his eyes itch in irritation, and without even realizing he was doing it, he reached up to rub them behind his lenses.
“You can’t be tired, William?” Anne commented, her hands halting in their work. “I found our day quite temperate.”
“As did I,” he replied. “I’m just having difficulty concentrating at the moment.”
Setting aside her hoop, she laced her fingers together, settling them in her lap. “Could I trouble you for a reading, then?” she asked with a small smile. “It’s been far too long since you shared any of your works with me, and with as much time as you’ve been spending on the banks, I’m certain you’ve created some lovely pieces for me to hear.”
He brightened at the suggestion. “There is…one composition I’m anxious to have your opinion on,” he said. He’d just finished it that afternoon. While William didn’t think it measured up to the standard he’d forged within his dreams, he was still rather pleased with it, tweaking the occasional phrase until he had it just so. If his mother approved, he wished to read it to Miss Buffy in his dreams that night. After all, it was about her.
“Wait right here,” he instructed, and practically leapt from his chair to make a dash for his room. Up the stairs two at a time, grabbing the piece of paper from his journal, and back in his mother’s salon, an expectant smile on his face as he cleared his throat in preparation.
He didn’t dare look at her as he recited, instead envisioning himself on the park bench with Buffy at his side, pouring his entire heart into the verse so that she would understand the depth of the emotion it contained---.
No, standing. Standing was better. Buffy would need to look up at him then.
Oh, but he didn’t want that, either. He wasn’t superior to Buffy, and to stand over her would only make her think that he believed so.
At her feet, then.
But that was just as bad. Not that there wasn’t anything William wouldn’t do for her if she asked, but how could she respect him in such a subservient role?
So…at her side. Seated next to her. Eye to eye.
He had a feeling she would like that.
His hands were shaking when he finished, and William swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. In awkward contrast, a line of sweat trickled down the back of his neck, under his collar, but he refused to pull at the offending garment, instead lifting his chin to see his mother beaming at him.
“That…was…extraordinary,” Anne murmured, and he huffed with an unexpected swell of pride. “Simply exquisite. You must read it tomorrow night. Our guests will be most impressed.”
Her subsequent words made him visibly deflate. The Howards would be in attendance, as would a whole host of families who saw him as less than someone. They would hardly understand the sentiment behind his poem, and would most likely find some backhanded way to impugn his skills, laughing at his mother behind her back. He couldn’t let that happen.
Before he could speak, though, she stood, crossing to take his hand in hers. “Please, William,” she said. “It would make me most proud.”
Blue eyes met blue, and in the space of that single second…he believed.
“Of course, Mother,” William said, and gently squeezed her hand.
It was the first time she hesitated to go to him upon entering the dream. Not for the lack of wanting. No, Buffy’s desire to see William was just as strong as it had ever been. It was just currently tempered by the excruciating pain in her ankle and the blood that was dripping into her shoe.
Sitting on the grass at the edge of the path, Buffy eased off her sandal, pulling her skirt up and away from her legs to inspect the injury. The bruise itself wasn’t so bad, tucked in the fleshy part of her foot near the arch, but the cuts were jagged and raw, the blood flowing freely as if she’d only just gotten the injury.
The Slayer frowned. It was the exact same wound from her last fight on patrol, minus the first aid that had been done to it when she’d returned to the apartment. A group of three vamps had jumped her on her way back, and while she was busy pummeling two of them, the third had lunged for her legs, sinking his teeth into her ankle and holding on like some deranged puppy. It had taken all Buffy’s strength to break free and finish them off, and she’d received the proper scolding from Giles as soon as she’d stepped through the door about pushing herself too hard.
Sleep had been a welcome friend, but now that she was here, Buffy was left feeling bewildered. It wasn’t the first time bandages had mysteriously disappeared once she’d entered the dream, but it was the first time most of the pain had accompanied her. Of course, her usual assortment of scrapes and bruises were hardly even worth noticing. Maybe it was just the relative severity of this one that had forced her subconscious to include it her otherwise idyllic surroundings.
First things first, though. She had to stop the bleeding.
As she searched the vicinity around her for some sort of bandage, Buffy heard the unmistakable crunch of stone as footsteps neared on the path. Her eyes lifted, and she had to squint against the sun when she saw William’s familiar shape round the farthest bend.
“Miss Buffy!” he called out, his step quickening. “I’d feared I wouldn’t be seeing you this evening---.”
She knew from the widened eyes that he’d spotted the injury, and before she could say anything, he was kneeling at her side, his handkerchief pulled from his pants’ pocket and placed firmly over the bleeding.
“What’s happened?” he demanded, and she was surprised at the vehemence in his tone. Behind his spectacles, his eyes had darkened to a stormy blue, and the tension in his body was betrayed by the twitch of a muscle in his jaw. For an instant, Buffy’s Slayer sense flared in warning, as if he was a demon threat, but she quickly recognized it as a shadow of memory rather than the real thing and pushed it aside.
“Why are you bleeding?” William asked again. “This looks like a bite. Have you been attacked?” He was refusing to tear his gaze from her face for more than a moment at a time, only occasionally glancing down to see his fingers at work. His lean grip held her heel, keeping her foot steady while he tended to the blood, and she felt the faint tickle along her arch where his thumb was unconsciously stroking her skin.
“Puppy,” she blurted out, and then realized that in all her years of using that as an excuse, this was probably the first time it was actually a good one. Certainly her ankles were a little more accessible than her neck.
His eyes hardened for a moment as they searched hers, his mouth tense. The sudden fear that he wasn’t going to believe her made Buffy swallow in anticipation of expanding on her lie, but his stiffness quickly dissipated, his attention turning fully to her wound, and she exhaled in relief.
“One of these days,” William said, his voice almost a whisper in the slight breeze, “I fear some…puppy will prevent you from coming to see me at all. Tell me, Miss Buffy, if you were in some sort of…danger…would you allow me the courtesy of sharing the knowledge? Or would you persist in pretending that all is right with the world, when we are both aware that it is not?”
It was, perhaps, the most upfront question he’d asked of her since talking of Angel. She’d been so careful to maneuver conversations so that they more often focused on William instead of her, and though she was more than aware that he noticed the various marks she bore from her real-life battles, he had refrained from asking about them directly.
“You know,” she said with a smile, “it kind of sucks that the first time my puppy excuse actually makes sense, it’s not going to fly.”
There was a fraction of hesitancy before he settled to tying the handkerchief around her foot, staunching the flow. “Are you saying that it wasn’t an animal that attacked you?” he asked, his voice neutral.
“No,” she replied. She waited for him to look back at her. “But what if I told you it was a vampire instead?”
William said nothing, just stared at her in that intent way that made electric shocks run up and down her spine. He was thinking---that much was obvious---but what the specifics were, Buffy had no idea. When it came to his thought processes, he often left her in the dust. It was only the blatant way he wore his emotions that gave her any clue as to what was really going on inside his head.
“If this were our first meeting,” he started, “I would presume you were merely toying with me in making such a peculiar suggestion.”
She cut herself off when he held up his hand.
“Please. Let me continue.”
Wordlessly, Buffy nodded, and watched as he turned back to her foot. It still rested in his hand, and carefully he set it back onto the grass, his eyes darting to the svelte curve of her calf exposed to the open air. She saw his Adam’s apple bob before he tore his gaze away, and inwardly marveled how something as innocent as her bare legs could provoke such a reaction in him.
“I have never lied to you,” he began again. “I’ve considered us…friends.” The last word came cautiously, as if there was another he would’ve preferred but feared the reaction to, and she had the irresistible urge to reach forward and touch him.
There was a momentary start at the contact of her palm on his shoulder blade, but the muscles in William’s back almost instantly eased, rippling beneath the white fabric of his shirt. “Why do you do that?” he whispered, his voice hoarse. The fingers of his left hand curled into the grass, rooting him to the earth.
A ragged breath. A stolen glance at her out of the corner of his eye. “Touch me.”
Buffy frowned, pulling away. “Because…we’re friends, right?”
“It is…you shouldn’t. Back home---.”
“We’re not back home. Either of us. So what’s the point in following their rules?”
She waited for his response, her heart pounding inside her chest. She didn’t know why this was so important, but more than anything, she wanted to show William that he wasn’t the pariah he thought he was. That he was worthy. That she genuinely liked him.
“Is that what this is, then?” he queried. “I have always believed that it was my desire for someone who understood that drew you to my dreams. But your words make me wonder, as do your actions. Am I the escape for you instead of the converse? Is your other existence so dreadful that you seek me out, merely so that you may blot out the other?”
And there it was, the blunt instrument of truth that he had already so expertly wielded for her before. Buffy’s throat was closed, her eyes solemn, as she regarded his carved profile. Another flare of Slayer tinglies, and this time, she shoved it away with purpose, refusing to be distracted from his obvious need for honesty.
“It’s just…hard,” she admitted. “I have responsibilities there. Life-threatening responsibilities. People need me to be strong, even when I don’t feel like it. That doesn’t mean I hate it so much, though, because I don’t. I have friends---good ones---and a mother who loves me more than anything.”
“These…responsibilities. They involve vampires?”
Buffy nodded. “This is going to sound way out there for you, but believe me when I tell you, I’m telling you the truth.” She took a deep breath. “Where I come from, there are vampires and demons and evil politicians bent on destroying the world. And I…fight them. That’s my job.”
His eyes were on her foot again, and he reached out to trace the delicate bones that were exposed around his makeshift bandage. “And you expect me to believe you?” William said. “Not that you aren’t strong, or that I can’t believe you would do such a thing, but…you’re just a girl.”
“Funny, that’s what I keep telling everyone, too.” Buffy sighed. Swallowing her pain, she pulled away from his touch and rose to her feet, standing above him for a moment before looking at the park around her. When her eyes settled on a marble fountain in the distance, she strode over to it, willing herself not to limp from the discomfort in her ankle. “Watch,” she instructed, and waited until William’s gaze was on her.
In the center of the dais was a carved cherub, all fat tummy and long wings that stretched almost as long as Buffy’s arm. Wrapping her hand around its base---or nearly around it, as her fingers only made it halfway---she snapped it from its mooring and set it one-handed to the ground. She didn’t even look up at him when she broke off one of the feathers, positioning it in her grip before twisting in place to send it soaring through the air.
William audibly gasped when the makeshift marble dagger embedded itself in the middle of a tree trunk over thirty yards away, and he leapt to his feet to rush and inspect it more closely.
This was not how she’d envisioned this dream unfolding. William was probably going to freak out about her Slayer powers, and she was going to spend the rest of the dream bored out of her mind because she’d be stuck all alone in a park that didn’t even have a playground. Willow had once suggested she try lucid dreaming, where she controlled the events, but Buffy had never mastered the technique. Maybe now’s a good time to start giving it a go again.
She was ready for his fear when he turned back to face her. Her brows shot up, though, when she saw the excited gleam in his eyes.
“That was remarkable!” William exploded, almost running up to meet her. His hands were like twin balls of energy, darting around in wild gestures, running furiously through his hair. “I’ve never seen such a display! And certainly not from a woman, although I shouldn’t really be surprised, should I, since after all, this is you…”
He was babbling, much like Willow on one of her caffeine benders, and Buffy shook her head as she just watched in disbelief. “You’re not wigged by this?” she asked.
He stopped in mid-stream, head tilting to look down at her as if she’d asked a ridiculous question. “Why should I be?”
“Because it must seem freaky to the power of a thousand to someone who’s used to everyone being Emily Post, and girls being eye candy until they get married and have kids, at which point you just think of them as moms until they wither away and die without any recognition or power.” It all came out in a rush, and a flood of indignation surged through her system when she saw his lips fight from forming a smile. “And now I amuse you. Great.”
William’s hand on her arm stopped her from turning away. “You enthrall me,” he corrected. “And if I’ve ever given you reason to believe that I view women in such a way, then the fault is completely mine.”
“But…you’re all…Victorian,” she finished lamely. “Isn’t that how normal, Victorian guys think?”
For a second, she thought he was going to pull away. Instead, he took a deep breath, letting his hand slide down her arm to entwine with hers. His thumb brushed along the length of hers as he spoke. “I do not now, nor have I truly ever,” he said, “considered myself as like my peers. And if you find such crude rationale as indicative of their thoughts, then I must admit, I’m quite proud to exempt myself from such a crowd.”
Her relief surprised her, though why she felt it in the first place, Buffy had no idea. This was her dream; of course, he would understand. That was what her subconscious created him for. “So,” she said lightly. “Does that mean you’re never…crude?”
His mouth opened to protest, but when he caught the teasing gleam in her eye, William smiled in kind, pulling his shoulders back in a stiff, exaggerated pose. “Gentlemen never tell,” he announced loudly, and was rewarded with Buffy’s giggle. “Now,” he went on, “you must get off your feet. Enhanced strength or not, that is a very real injury to your foot, and you will not do yourself any good by aggravating it.”
She told him about it all after that, and William laid back in the grass, listening to Buffy talk about the monsters she was forced to battle, the apocalypses she’d helped avert, each new story sparking questions he kept to himself. The detail and color she brought to her tales excited his poetic spirit, but the pain and suffering she purposely skimmed over stabbed into the man’s soul.
It explained so much, though the wonder that his mind could create such a fantasy world still lurked somewhere in the darkest recesses of his brain, and, while her confession brought him a sense of closure to the vague worries that had plagued him regarding her injuries, William sensed that it did even more for her, releasing her from a bond of deception that he was sure had marred her enjoyment of his company. The understanding that that was a selfish gesture on his part did not escape unnoticed, but he specifically chose to ignore it. If indulging in a beautiful fantasy woman, who found him interesting, who trusted him with her deepest secrets, was not already incredibly selfish, then what did it matter if the other was?
Her voice had faded away, and William glanced over to see what could’ve distracted her from her stories. Lying on her side, her head was cradled in the crook of her arm, golden hair spilling over the tanned limb, her legs tucked up to disappear beneath the skirt of her dress. Her eyes were closed, and as he watched her chest slowly rise and fall, William realized that she had fallen asleep.
He chuckled. “Well, I’ve certainly been known to bore others, but this is the first time I’ve been witness to someone boring themselves into slumber,” he murmured. Rolling to face her, he propped his head up on his hand, his eyes sweeping over her curved form. Without thinking, he reached out and pushed back a stray lock from her cheek, allowing his fingers to ghost over her jaw before hesitating at the swell of her mouth.
“You are truly the most beautiful creature I have ever seen, Buffy,” he breathed. His heart was hammering inside his chest, the forbidden touch burning his fingertips, and he pulled back before giving in to the luxury of further exploration of her skin. Already, his body was reacting to her presence---really, as it did whenever he lost the modicum of control he forced himself to exercise around her---and if he wasn’t careful, it would spend itself and embarrass him at the same time.
No, for now, he would content himself with watching her, and letting her sleep. If this was what she needed---and surely her falling under its spell so easily was evidence enough for that---then that is what she would get. He would hardly stand in the way, even if it did mean his plans got redirected.
He’d wanted to share his poem with her. As soon as he’d found himself in the park, William had settled with his ink and paper to scribble out the words he’d memorized while he was awake, intent on reading it to her as soon as she arrived. His patience had failed him, though, and within minutes of completing the poem, he was off in search of her, his verse tucked safely away inside his pocket.
Reading it to her now, while she slept, was out of the question of course, but still, the desire for her to know it pulled at his gut, prompting his fingers to stray to his trousers and extract the folded piece of paper. A gift, he decided, from me to you, and carefully, he slipped the poem into her tiny hand.
Her hand was resting on the open journal when she woke up, and Buffy blinked against the morning light trying to steal its way through the curtains. Weird, she thought, as memories of her dream came flooding back. Most of it was so vivid---the pain in her foot, the demonstration for William, telling him about the Hellmouth---but it reached a point where everything just kind of stopped. She remembered feeling drowsy under the sun, and then…did she fall asleep in her own dream? Was that even possible?
Like she thought. Weird.
As she started to sit up, something fell from Buffy’s curled hand, and she stopped halfway to look down at the sheet. There, against the white cotton, was a yellowed piece of paper, carefully folded into quarters. Her eyes immediately jumped to the journal, and annoyance at herself burned along her skin.
I’ve gotta stop sleeping with this thing, she thought as she tucked the paper back into the book. I’m pulling out pages of it in my sleep now.
To be continued in Chapter 8: Art Made Tongue-Tied By Authority…