DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course,
and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet LI.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy has finally seen the resemblance between William and Spike, though she still believes she’s created William in her unconscious using bits and pieces of her real life…
He’d had suspicions earlier; even in the unforgiving light of his waking hours, it had been impossible for William to completely delude himself to the contrary. Walking back to the dinner party, Miss Esme’s touch still a brand on his arm, Buffy had been an invigorative ghost hovering at his elbow, prompting him to stay tall when he strode back through the front door as if nothing was amiss, keeping his tone courteous as he addressed the guests in spite of seeing the knowing glances pass between David Howard and his cortege. She had been the reason he was able to find the strength to take the floor after the meal was served, before his mother could even ask, and recite the poem he’d written especially for the blonde beauty. And though there was no mistaking the sniggers that were not-so-cleverly disguised by the polite applause that followed, William thought that he saw one or two of the young ladies present look at him with a different eye afterwards, as if he’d done or said something that had quite taken them by surprise.
It was because of Buffy. Because he could practically feel her belief in him like a tender embrace.
That sensation had lingered even into his sleep, hence his inability to remain at the bench, and he went off in search of something that might bring a smile to her face as well. The lilies of the valley had seemed ideal, especially since he was far too excited to sit still long enough to compose another verse, and then feeling her throw herself into his arms, pinning him and demanding to know of his whereabouts…
Nobody had ever cared so much where he was before. So when she had the odd reversal of mood, William had been cut to the quick, ready to flee and steel himself against being such a fool as to believe that anyone---even a dream---could have such faith in him.
But she did. She’d said so. When he’d tried to run, she’d come after him, asserting that he hadn’t been pretending, then following it up with the kiss on his cheek and those words---honored to be in any relationship---that left him dizzy with giddy delight.
And as he stood there, feeling her slim form pressed against him, the divine scent of her hair filling his nostrils as she continued to nuzzle his cheek, William knew. Without a shadow of a doubt, with every fiber of his being, he understood now just what he felt.
He was in love with Buffy Summers.
The ramifications of such an understanding were not something he was willing to consider at the moment. She was only real to him, existing in the nether regions of his imagination like a hidden treasure he didn’t want to share with anyone else. That didn’t make the feelings any less genuine, not when her presumed disdain could wound as deeply as it had. He would just revel in the here and now, and luxuriate in the vivacity that was Buffy for as long as could hope to dare hold on to her.
Carefully, William released his hold on her hands to slide them around her body, settling at the small of her back in a tremulous caress. It wasn’t the first time he’d held her so, but somehow, in the flush of her declaration, he felt like he was treading on new ground, and fear that he would misstep made him overly cautious.
“Buffy…” he murmured, and felt her gentle sigh tickle his neck. When she pulled back, he fought the instinct to cling tighter, refusing to hold on if she wished otherwise. She didn’t leave the circle of his arms, though, and instead looked up at him, waiting in expectation.
William swallowed. What to say? Did he confess his own feelings? He didn’t think she would laugh, but he wasn’t certain that it wouldn’t drive her away, either. And he wasn’t prepared to lose her just yet.
“Buffy,” he began again, a little louder, a little more sure, “can I tell you how glad I am to not see you injured this visit? You don’t even appear to be limping from your unfortunate bite.”
“Super Slayer healing,” she replied. “Part and parcel of the whole Chosen package. And nothing fresh because I didn’t patrol tonight.”
When she extricated herself from his arms, the loss chilled him to the bone, but William remained steadfast. It was better this way. A return to the normal, the expected, albeit with a touch of intimacy that tied them together in a way that hadn’t been there moments earlier. “But you spoke of your…slaying,” he said. “Is there more to your duty than battling with vampires?”
She dismissed it with a casual wave of her hand. “Today was about the boring, researchy part of my job. Not anything worth talking about.” It was obvious the topic was not one she wished to pursue, so when she began ambling across the green, picking at the loose grass that clung to her skirt as she walked, he fell into pace beside her.
His mouth was open to speak again when she beat him to it.
“We’re good again, right?” Buffy asked, glancing up at him out of the corner of her eye. “You believe me, apology accepted, and all that jazz?”
“Of course.” He didn’t even hesitate in his response.
“Good. I’d hate to think I messed up the one thing in my life that was giving me any happies these days.”
It was no surprise he warmed at her words. He made her happy. If only she knew…
“---especially after the fiasco that was Angel,” she was saying.
That name was like a bucket of cold water splashed across his skin. “Angel,” he murmured, and found it impossible to keep his disgust out of his voice. “I detest that he haunts you even here. He isn’t worthy of such attention.”
He could feel her stiffen beside him, though she didn’t falter in her step. “Look, there’s a lot you don’t know, William---.”
“I know enough,” he interrupted. “He professed to love you and yet left. Any real man…” Her exact words came back to him then, how she’d called him a demon and he’d assumed she’d meant it metaphorically. Yet, knowing now what she was, what she hunted…
“He wasn’t, though, was he,” William stated, understanding clarifying the situation and making asking redundant. “You meant it when you called him a monster.”
“It’s not what you think. Angel has a soul.”
“And still, you defend him, even after he’s hurt you so. Why? Does this soul exalt him so much that you can ignore what he’s done?” When she stayed mute, he stole a glance in her direction.
High on Buffy’s cheeks, twin spots of color highlighted her elevated emotions, her eyes locked on the grass at her feet. Her lips were pursed tight, like she was biting back whatever it was she wanted to say, and for a moment, William wondered why she wouldn’t open up to him any more than she had. Surely, he’d proven his good intentions to her by now. And hadn’t she been the one to profess her trust in him?
It took only seconds of silence for him to make up his mind. Reaching down, William grabbed her hand and pulled her to a halt, forcing her to change direction and follow him toward a bench that sat only a few feet away. He felt the muscles tighten in her grip, as if she meant to pull away, but it quickly relaxed, and they finished the minor trek in a comfortable ease.
As he guided her to sit on the stone seat, William watched the sun caress her bare arms, dancing in tiny flecks of gold and giving her flesh even more life than he thought possible. His mouth suddenly dry, his head lowered so that she wouldn’t see in his eyes the desire to take her in his embrace, at least not before he could more properly stifle the impulse, and William dropped to his knees to kneel before her.
“What’re you doing?” Buffy asked.
When he looked up, she was frowning, confusion clouding her normally translucent eyes. “I understand you don’t wish to speak of him,” he said softly, as if he were gentling a skittish colt. Slowly, he reached forward and took her hands in his, never letting his gaze leave hers. “I only ask that you listen to what I have to say now. After this, I swear to you that I will not bring him up again. Are we agreed?”
She searched his face, and he couldn’t help but wonder if she could see the truth of his feeling for her somewhere in it. “OK,” she finally said. “Except, you do know how kind of wiggy the bended knee routine is, right?”
He did the automatic translation in his head. Wiggy. That was Buffy-speak for peculiar or off-putting. Because she must think…
William flushed, but held his ground. “I merely want you to believe me in what I’m about to say,” he said. “Please.”
The corner of her mouth lifted. “I don’t think you have it in you to lie.”
“You would be surprised, I think.” He cleared his throat. “But that’s irrelevant to what I want you to hear.” Where to start? She needed to know. “I can’t pretend to understand the world you walk in,” he began. “I find it remarkable that you find the fortitude to fight these creatures and yet maintain some semblance of a normal life. I’ll admit, there is a part of me that’s envious of your strength. I have enough difficulty facing certain vulgarians who don’t even have the excuse of being demons---.”
“I guess jerks happen no matter what century you live in, huh?”
He answered her smile with his own. “Indeed,” William agreed. “And pardon me for saying so, but this Angel, demon or not, soul or not, warrants membership as one of those for hurting you as he has done.”
“He didn’t mean it---.”
“Let me finish.” His hands tightened on hers, his palms sweaty. “You still have strong emotions for him, which is understandable, and so you defend his actions, but the fact remains that he neglected your feelings in making his decision to leave. I can’t pretend to condone such selfish behavior. To me, a real man does everything in his power to make the woman he loves happy, regardless of the personal circumstances.” This was where the worry about her reaction threatened to yank him back from the abyss upon which he stood. Could he say the words? How would she react?
Buffy spoke before he could continue. “That’s a little unrealistic, don’t you think?” she asked gently. “I mean, it’s all good in theory, but there’s this thing called real life where sometimes you have to make the hard decisions, even when they tear you up inside.”
He recognized her reference from her earlier tale, though she didn’t mention it specifically. “You’re speaking of the time you had to kill him,” he commented. When she nodded, turning her head so that he wouldn’t see the shine in her eyes, William released his hold on her hands to reach up and tip her chin back in his direction. “And here, again, is where my admiration for you overwhelms me, Buffy,” he said. “Because you killed the thing you loved the most in order to save the world. Because you sacrificed yourself for the greater good.”
“Fat lotta good it did me,” she muttered, but didn’t fight his fingers or pull away. Louder, she added, “And it’s not like you wouldn’t do the exact same thing if you were in the same position.”
William shook his head. “You give me far too much credit, I’m afraid. Yes, I’d like to believe I could be such a person, but I also know that I’m rather a slave to my emotions. When I…love…” And he faltered here, anxiety a dagger in his gut. “…or care about someone, I find that I want to do everything in my power to make them happy. And if that would mean someone else might get hurt…”
He couldn’t do it. The look on her face, the tiny line between her brows as she tried to comprehend what he was saying…
“You’re way too hard on yourself,” Buffy said, surprising him with her voice. “I thought we’d gotten past all this?”
“I’m not…I’m just trying to say…” William took a deep breath. “I will never leave you, Buffy. Whatever you need, whenever you might need it, I swear to you that I will do everything in my power to make sure you get it. Because I want you to be happy, more than anything else.”
His throat was tight, air refusing to cooperate with his lungs, and he pulled his hands away from her face lest she become aware of the trembling that was impending within his fingers. It was as forward as he could brave at this time, but he feared it wasn’t forward enough; she couldn’t possibly extrapolate his true intention from such a roundabout avowal.
She softened at his words, and as William watched, Buffy slid from the bench to kneel beside him on the grass. “Why can’t we both be happy?” she asked. “You deserve it as much as I do.”
“I haven’t saved the world,” he joked. He was astonished that his voice betrayed none of his runaway nerves, calm and even as he bantered with her.
“No,” she agreed softly. “You’ve saved me.”
And then she was moving, so lithe and sure and quick because there she was, touching him---no, holding him---perched on the lap his bent knees made and pressing herself into his chest as if it was the only place on earth she wanted to be. Her hands were at the back of his neck, tickling the skin beneath the curls, just as the breeze billowed her skirt across his legs, and all William could feel was the heat of her body, her small breasts burning into him, her heart pounding so violently that he could see her pulse running rampant in the small hollow of her throat.
“What…?” he croaked, because his mouth was desert dry. It didn’t stop his hands from falling to her hips, though, holding her in place, even pulling her closer, his arousal be damned. “Buffy…”
All he could see were her eyes, lucent and knowing and determined and vulnerable all in the most vibrant sea-green that demanded he drown---no need to command it, my darling Buffy, I do so willingly---and she was still moving, not her body but her mouth, whispering words that made his spine tingle and his heart want to burst.
“Too much talking,” she said, and her mouth was on his even as spoke, tracing each syllable like feathers against his lips, her breath hot and sweet as he swallowed it down. “Not enough kissing.”
The thought that perhaps she had understood his clumsy attempt to tell her his feelings was banished upon the first contact, and William held himself rigid as Buffy’s lips coaxed him to respond. So gentle, as if she knew without his ever having told her that this would be his first, and answering that clement call surprised him by being instinctive, a fragile rush as the caress remained as tender as her voice had been. Muscle by muscle, sinew by sinew, his body relaxed into hers, until by the time she pulled away from the kiss, he felt boneless, ready to be led wherever she may lead.
Her cheek nuzzled his. “I’ve been---,” she started to say, but before the sentence could be finished, William found himself pitching forward, the weight of her that he’d been using as leverage suddenly gone.
His forehead caught the edge of the bench, sending showers of stars flashing behind his eyes. His last thought before crumpling to the earth was, Buffy, don’t go…
“C’mon, Buffy, wake up!” Willow shook her friend’s shoulder, her anxiety a fevered pitch in her veins that made her grip just a little too tight. She’d been at this for a good five minutes, had walked in on a sleeping Buffy desperate to wake her, and been confronted with a Slayer who slept deeper than the dead she staked. Not even a whimper or a groan had escaped Buffy’s lips as Willow’s shaking grew more insistent, and the witch was starting to get more than a little frightened at the non-responsiveness.
“Buffy!” she said even louder. She didn’t have to worry about waking up anyone else in the apartment; after all, that was why she was in the room in the first place.
Her shaking jarred the hand that Buffy had tucked beneath her pillow, exposing the edge of the book she’d bought on Charing Cross. Willow only glanced at it for a moment, her frown deepening as she shook harder. “You’re going to be late for school!” she shouted, in a last ditch effort to rouse the Slayer.
For the first time, Buffy moved of her own accord, her tongue darting out to lick her lips as she murmured, “Will…?”
“Yes!” She jumped at the recognition. “Yes! It’s me! Wake up, Buffy!”
Sleepy lashes lifted, her mouth pursed to speak again. “Will…ow?” she said, groaning as she sat up. “What time is it?”
“Almost six,” she said. “You have to get dressed. Now. We need to go out.”
There was no mistaking the urgency in Willow’s voice, cutting through Buffy’s sluggishness. “What’s wrong?” she asked, pushing back the blankets.
“Hopefully, nothing. But…it’s Giles. He ran out around midnight to get some more milk at that grocery around the corner. He wanted tea to help us stay up and work out some of the spell stuff, now that we’ve got all the ingredients. I must’ve fallen asleep or something, because the next thing I know, I’ve got a big ol’ carpet pattern on my cheek and it’s five-thirty and Giles still isn’t back.”
That was all it took. A potential threat to Giles, and Buffy was alert and ready to go.
William winced as he passed from the dim light of his bedroom into the brighter gleam of the hall. His head ached from where he must’ve hit it on his bedstead in his sleep, and the fact that the staff had drawn every curtain in the house on the sunniest day he could remember in recent history did nothing to alleviate his pain. It was a good thing he’d slept through breakfast; he didn’t think he could manage his mother’s post-party good mood. She’d wish to dissect the events of the evening when all he wanted was a cup of strong tea.
Revenants of his dream floated around him as he descended the stairs, the scent of Buffy’s skin still strong in his nostrils, the supple curve of her hip where he’d held her on his lap burned onto his palm. The fact that she’d taken the initiative and kissed him when he’d been desiring the same for days now didn’t shock him; when it came to Buffy Summers, there was little she could do or say that could ruffle his opinion of her. But the conclusions he’d reached during sleep, that he was in fact in love with the mysterious blonde, seemed hazier in the light of day. Could he delude himself so completely as to fancy himself enamored with a creation of his imagination? Was she merely playing Galatea to his Pygmalion?
He was lost in thought when he stepped into the dining room, going immediately to the sideboard and the pot of tea that sat there. One touch, and he knew it was empty, prompting a frown and a hurried gait to the kitchen.
“Is there no tea left over from breakfast?” he asked as soon as he stepped into the warm room.
Cook glanced up from the bread she was kneading. “There was no breakfast,” she said simply.
William’s frown deepened. “Is Mother not feeling well?”
Cook shrugged. “I wouldn’t know, sir,” she said. “Your mum’s been out since before dawn.”
“Where’d she go?”
Another shrug. “There wasn’t a note. It’s thought she must’ve had errands she forgot to tell us about.”
“Oh.” He’d turned away, lost in thought, before he added, “Thank you.”
“Will you be wanting breakfast, Master William?”
“Oh, yes. And a large pot of tea, please.”
All thoughts of Buffy were banished as William wandered back to the dining room. Mother had made no mention of tasks that needed to be completed today, and the party’s execution the night previous should’ve brought a few days of peace to her schedule. Perhaps she just wished a breath of fresh air, he thought as he settled at the table. It’s certainly a lovely enough day for it.
“Aren’t you ready yet?” Nathan snarled from the shelter of the cave’s mouth.
Esme tilted her face toward the rising sun, feeling the radiance through her closed lids as it burned a golden corona around her retinas. “If I have to remind you to be patient one more time,” she said evenly, not even bothering to open her eyes, “I’m going to break each and every one of the figures myself, April be damned.”
Nathan bit back the retort that sprang to his lips and whirled to disappear back into the cave, furious that the witch insisted on sitting in the morning sunrise where he couldn’t reach her. She had been gone for most of the night---finishing the preparations for the ritual, she’d said---but returned empty-handed. Now, whatever New Age meditation crap she was doing outside was doing nothing to put to rest his growing doubts about her commitment to the plan.
Today was the day. She’d said it was. Time to release April from the prison she’d been trapped in for the last century, and go back to their wonderful, decadent, malevolent life ravaging the world. Esme assured him that the Slayer and the bastard from the past that the leaves swore would fight against the ritual were taken care of, and that his love would be returned without a hitch. As much as Nathan detested having to kowtow to the witch, he knew that all he could do right then was wait until she came back into the cave. April’s liberation was only hours, even minutes away, and there was nothing that could stop their reunion now.
To be continued in Chapter 11: Mistress of My Passion…