DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course,
and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet XX.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Willow has woken Buffy from her first kiss with William to tell her that Giles is missing, while William has risen to discover his mother isn’t currently home, either…
The good news was that Buffy doubted she would ever get lost in London again. With as much walking around as she had done that day, and as many corners and alleys she had searched, she didn’t think there was a surprise this part of the city could throw at her at this point.
On the other hand, the bad news was that she was returning to the apartment empty-handed, minus a Watcher, any clue as to where he might be, and the left heel of her new sandal.
As she limped up the stairs, she pushed back the lank hair that fell across her face, wincing as a nail caught the ragged edges of the scrape that grazed her jaw. OK, so maybe storming into the demon pub around the corner demanding answers hadn’t exactly been her brightest move, but at least the ensuing fight had helped her vent some of the frustration not finding Giles had tendered throughout her muscles. It hadn’t been as kind to her shoes, since kicking at something with an exoskeleton equivalent to sheet metal was akin to Manolo Blahnik suicide, but still, the barroom brawl had served its purpose.
“Willow?” she called out when she pushed open the apartment door. The sound of rushing feet was followed by her friend’s pale face peeping into the hallway, but one look at the Slayer was all the other girl needed to answer the unspoken question that rose to her lips.
“The Council called,” she said instead. “They asked for you, and when I said you were out, they asked for Giles, and so I lied and said he was with you and that I didn’t know when you’d be back.” Willow watched as Buffy pushed her sandals off with her toes, kicking them against the wall and making half-moon impressions in the magnolia Artex. “I’m guessing you didn’t have any luck finding him either.”
Buffy’s shoulders slumped at her words. “Can I pretend you didn’t just say ‘either’?”
“None of my spells worked. Well, they might’ve worked, but they were all closed-lippy on the results. So, I tried doing the discreet calling around to hospitals and police stations to see if maybe I could find something out that way? Except, once they started asking certain questions, I started getting paranoid about the Council finding out what I was doing and I just hung up, because you know, that would be bad.” She chewed at her lip, hanging back as Buffy brushed past her into the kitchen. “Why is that bad again?”
She hadn’t told Willow about any of what had happened the previous day, not the bloody handkerchief nor Travers’ attempts to pry what he considered “certain truths” from her. Before she’d sent her friend home again that morning when it became apparent they needed to split up to cover more ground, all Buffy had said was that she still didn’t trust the Council’s involvement in the crystal theft. Willow had just left it at that.
“For all we know, they’re the ones behind it,” Buffy said, opening the refrigerator. “They may not have been happy with some of my answers to them yesterday and decided to play hardball by coming at me through Giles.” It was the only solution she was allowing herself to consider. There were other possibilities, ones that included various scenarios of torture and bloodplay, eventually ending in Giles’ death, but as she didn’t particularly like the outcome of those, Buffy was pretending they didn’t exist. Nope. Best case was to think it was just a bunch of stuffed shirts and leave it at that.
“Then why would they have called here for him?”
“Maybe they were just testing the waters. See if we’d come clean on our own.”
“And wouldn’t there be some sort of ransom note if he was just kidnapped?”
“They could be just waiting for me to crack.”
“But why would---?”
The cups in the cupboard rattled with a muffled clink when Buffy slammed the refrigerator door shut. “I don’t know!” she exploded, and then sagged against the edge of the counter. Squeezing her eyes shut, she held back the tears of helplessness that threatened to overtake her, and took in a deep breath while she waited for her muscles to fall back under her control.
“I don’t know,” she repeated after a moment, softer this time, accompanying it with a slow shake of her head. “I’m sorry I yelled, but…look, I’m tired, and the only thing I can be sure of right now is that my thinking’s about as crooked as it can get because of the sleep lackage, and that I really, really, really wish demons were a little more considerate about a girl’s footwear.”
“Maybe you should take a nap,” Willow offered. “Before we try giving it another go. Not that our go’s ever got started, but I’d really rather not call it giving it another stop, ‘cause that’s just a little too much Miss Negativity, don’t you think?”
She couldn’t fight the smile the babbling coaxed from her. “Yeah,” Buffy agreed. “A nap sounds like heaven right about now.” Her thoughts immediately drifted to William, and the sudden exit from her dream that morning. She figured it was because she’d been woken so abruptly from it, but the details of perching herself on William’s lap, of leaning in to kiss him because it had just seemed so much like the right thing to do, of the emptiness in her gut when she’d opened her eyes to see a frightened redhead instead of his understanding visage, were all still razor-sharp vivid in her head. Curling up with him would be incredible therapy for the rottenness of her day, and besides, wasn’t that why she’d made him up in the first place?
“Have you eaten anything today?” Turning to the cupboard, Willow pulled out a tube of digestives. “It’s not exactly an Oreo, but at least it’s chocolate.”
Buffy shook her head. “I’m not so large with the hunger. Although…some of your tea wouldn’t be turned down.”
She hesitated as her nails slit the wrapping on the biscuits. “You’ve been drinking a lot of that tea lately,” Willow commented slowly.
“It helps me sleep.”
“Which is good, I know, but…”
Her eyes narrowed. “You’re not actually giving me a hard time about a little Lipton, are you?” Buffy asked, straightening. “Because on the scale of things that are just so wrong in my life right now, I think worrying about my caffeine intake doesn’t rate quite as highly as wondering how we’re going to get Giles back, let alone how we’re going to find him in the first place.”
“No, it’s not that, I just…” But it was obvious that she didn’t know what just, and gaped at Buffy like one of the many fish she’d bought after replacing the ones Angel had killed, wide eyes made even wider by the inability to voice what was going through her head.
And it was thinking of Angel, remembering those awful months when he’d been minus his soul, that made Buffy deflate. What was happening to her? Had she degenerated so much that even Willow got the brunt of Slayer bad moodiness? “Sorry,” she mumbled. “I didn’t mean---.”
“I know. You’re tired. It’s OK.”
“No, it’s not.” She lifted her eyes to face off with the torn hurt she’d ravaged with her choice words, and silently apologized again as she tried to explain. “You and Giles have been trying so hard, you don’t need me taking it out on you because I’ve flopped in such huge ways in fixing this. I just…I can’t lose Giles, too. And I’m running out of ideas on how to find him. Good ideas, that is.”
“So maybe it’s time for us to start doing something with the bad ones, then.”
In spite of her mood, Buffy smiled. “Maybe,” she conceded.
“Do you really think it’s got something to do with the theft?”
“I don’t know. But it has to, right? I mean, it’s just too coincidental that he’d go missing right in the middle of us trying to find them.”
Silence. Long, and loud, and pressing into Buffy’s eyeballs until they felt like they were going to pop. She didn’t want to say it, but she could see the thoughts rolling around behind her best friend’s eyes and didn’t have any good reason other than instinct to keep arguing with her.
“If he hasn’t shown up by tomorrow morning,” she finally said quietly, “we’ll let the Council know. And if I find out they do have him, all bets are officially off.”
Willow nodded. “Is there anything you want me to do tonight?”
“Sleep. You said you’ve done all you can on the magic front?”
Another nod. “Even the divining rod won’t be ready until the morning. I finished up the prep work on it today and now it just has to kind of…simmer.”
“Maybe that’ll help us some way. If whoever took Giles is connected to the crystals, the magic stick will tell us, right?”
She didn’t have the heart to ask Willow again about the tea, and closed her bedroom door with a weary sigh. The idea that it might’ve been better if she’d never come to London in the first place was enough to make her collapse onto her mattress, her face getting buried in the thick duvet as she replayed the past forty-eight hours in her head.
This was all her fault. If she had only told Giles about what the Council had confronted her with yesterday, then maybe he wouldn’t have ventured out on his own. He might’ve been more wary about something being amiss, and she wouldn’t be lying there now, blaming herself for thinking she could handle the Council on her own.
She also had little doubt she’d be wide awake most of the night. Between guilt and her tea shortage, Buffy was certain dreams were going to be the last thing on her agenda in the next few hours.
Rolling onto her back, she caught the sight of the tray on her nightstand out of the corner of her eye. It was the remnants of her bedtime relaxant from the previous evening, and she bit her lip as she leaned forward to peer into the cup. Pale milky dregs still rested inside, its pungent odor lingering in such close proximity. She knew she was being silly, that it was just a drink and any effect it had was purely psychosomatic, but the urge to drink it down refused to be argued with.
It was cold from sitting all day, and coated her tongue in a bitter potion as Buffy swallowed it in a single gulp. Her face screwed into a grimace, her vocalization at its distaste escaping her throat before she could stop it, and then glanced guiltily at the door to see if she’d been overheard. I didn’t do anything wrong, she thought after a moment. It’s tea. It’s not like I’m some closet alcoholic or something.
Somehow, the rationalization did nothing to soothe her as she proceeded to get ready for bed. All she could wonder was whether or not she’d seen the last of William.
The moment she felt the sun dancing along the length of her bare arms, Buffy exhaled in relief, the worry that had sizzled through her veins when she’d finally drifted into sleep disappearing with the slight breeze that whispered her skirt around her calves. It had worked. Big yay to the power of suggestion, she thought as her feet automatically went to the path.
Her heart jumped into her throat when she saw him hunched over his papers on the bench. As had happened before, William was oblivious to her approach, lost in whatever world he was creating with his words, leaving Buffy to wonder what had inspired him this time. It amazed her how deeply he could bury himself in his work, and still be so unsure as to its validity. Granted, he’d grown in confidence in the short time since she’d started dreaming of him, but how much of that was her brain’s response to create someone who could keep up with her? Over-compensation for the cultural differences, she decided. That had to be the reason.
“Hey,” she said softly, and was rewarded by his smile when he looked up, the lithe rise of his body as he stood to greet her tugging gently somewhere in her midsection.
“You came,” William said, just as quietly. At her perplexed frown, he added, “It’s late. I’d assumed I wouldn’t see you, that...” His gaze slid to her cheek, and his joy faded. “You’ve been fighting again.”
Her hand was up, brushing over the scrape, as he dropped his quill to the bench and strode forward. “It’s nothing,” Buffy said, but allowed him to tilt her head to peer at it more closely when he stopped in front of her.
“It doesn’t appear to be nothing.” His fingers ghosted across the curve of her jaw, not daring to touch the still healing graze. “But if it doesn’t bother you, I suppose I can hardly presume to let it bother me.”
The smile that started to return to his face failed to appear when his eyes locked on hers. “There’s something else,” William said. “What’s wrong?”
Buffy’s ease lessened. “How’d you know?” she asked. “Is it that obvious?”
“I only have to look at you,” he replied. “How could I not see?”
She debated for what felt like forever before shaking her head. “Doesn’t matter here,” she said. Grabbing his hand, she led him off the path to the grass. “Let’s just enjoy the sun while we’ve got it, OK?”
If she focused on the clouds, watched the wisps drift like chiffon against the blue, Buffy was convinced she could feel the earth spinning beneath her, leaving her slightly giddy from the dropping sensations originating somewhere in the pit of her stomach. Only the soft trail of his fingertips along her arm, up and down and up again in a breath more comforting than if she’d been hugged tight within his embrace, kept her from falling completely, and Buffy sighed in contentment as she wiggled her bare feet through the grass.
“Have you ever wished you could fly?” she asked.
William’s lips quirked. “I don’t suppose I’ve given it much thought,” he commented, never ceasing in his strokes along her skin. Stretched out beside her, his head was propped up in his hand as he watched her instead of the sky. He hadn’t pursued his questioning once she’d pulled him down to the grass, though Buffy knew he was probably dying from curiosity. She’d also studiously avoided any mention of their last encounter. She just didn’t want to shatter the relief being in his company brought to her when this was really her only respite from the nightmare of a missing Giles.
“Big fat liar,” she teased, and though she had to fight to keep the playful tone in her voice, she jabbed at him with her elbow, her eyes never leaving the expanse overhead. “I’m going to bet you’ve written at least a dozen poems about birds. Probably comparing them to a summer’s day or something.”
“Wrong William,” he said. “Though your estimation of my endeavours is perhaps more correct than you might imagine. I find myself inspired more often than not since our first foray.”
She looked at him then, the grass tickling her cheek as she turned her head and met his steady and soothing gaze. “I wish you were real,” Buffy murmured. It was getting harder and harder to accept the dreams as the non-vital part of her life, not when being with William banished the grey from her life, made her forget for a few stolen hours how hard it was to wake up and remember the loss.
When being with William was so scarily easy.
His amusement faded, the blue behind the spectacles darkening. “And yet,” he said softly, “those are the very words I repeat to myself when I find myself bereft of your presence. Do you read my mind as well as my heart, Buffy?”
She had no answer to that, not one she could voice out loud without sounding like a crazy person. How could she admit, even to the fantasy itself, that she was falling in love with a dream? That she woke up from their rendezvous and counted the minutes until she could go back to bed and summon him back to her side? She’d risked that indulgence in her last dream, by kissing him when she knew he would never make that first move, losing herself in the possibility of them just so that she could pretend to be normal for a change.
His resemblance to anyone real didn’t matter, she’d decided. This was William. His own man, imaginary or not. And she loved being around him, loved his enthusiasm for her calling even if he didn’t understand it, loved how prized he made her feel without treating her like she was glass. The others probably wouldn’t get it, she knew. How could they? They weren’t privy to her subconscious mind. They couldn’t see the look on his face when he made promises she knew he couldn’t keep.
But Buffy saw. And part of her was terrified of her desire for this fabrication of a man. Even as another part screamed at her to make it true.
Breaking away from the solemnity of his gaze, she looked back to the cirrus floating overhead, trying to block out the sensations his gentle fingers were stirring in her thighs. “I always wanted to be Mary Poppins when I was little,” she said brightly, forcing the levity she didn’t feel. “I ruined more than one of Mom’s umbrellas trying to get caught up in the wind.”
If she tried, she could pretend that he hadn’t breathed her name, that it had just been the wind whispering in her ear. If she tried, she could pretend that he hadn’t stopped the stroking, that it wasn’t the wind that was now stirring the small hairs on her arm. If she tried…
She didn’t want to try. Trying was what she did when she was awake.
“Don’t.” Her eyes were luminous when she looked at him again, his serious countenance eclipsing the summer day surrounding them. “Can’t this just be about having fun? Ha ha, let’s have a laugh, William and Buffy sitting in a tree. We’re not supposed to be---.”
“I would very much like to kiss you again.”
The statement came out in a rush, his breath heated on her cheek even separated as they were by the many inches he insisted on maintaining. It was uncharacteristic of him, this courage to not ask but state his request, and she couldn’t help but wonder if it was her influence that made him so brave, remembering the diffident young man who’d been tongue-tied at the sight of her bare calves beneath her skirt at their very first meeting. Now, just as then, the slight breeze lifted a loose curl from his forehead, revealing the slight sheen of his brow, his nerves belying the smooth baritone.
“I didn’t know dreams could be so polite,” Buffy murmured. It wasn’t no. She wanted it more than he did, she believed. She just didn’t want to be hurt again, and yielding to the phantom who haunted her sleep seemed the surest way for that to happen.
His hand returned to cup her cheek, careful of the graze along her jaw. “And I didn’t know dreams could be so radiant,” he replied.
His lips were soft when they brushed across hers, that full bottom lip she’d so often stared at sending tiny shivers glissading down her spine, and Buffy could feel the corresponding tremors in his fingers. Don’t be frightened, William, she wanted to say. I’m scared enough for the both of us. But she didn’t. Instead, she brought her hand up to cover his, holding it there while they sustained the gentle kiss, so tentative, so necessary, and felt the world fall away around her.
William’s breathing was ragged when he finally pulled back, his glasses slipping down his nose. “You must find me terribly forward,” he said, and his voice was husky with more than the simple rasp of the caress. Self-consciously, he cleared his throat. “I’m afraid I’ve been wishing to do that since you disappeared from my arms last night.”
“What if I told you I’d been wishing for even more?” Buffy replied.
His eyes widened at that, and he pulled back, staring down at her in confused disbelief. “You’re not…mocking me…are you?” he stammered. “I thought…after your kiss, I assumed you…but I didn’t…I’m sincerely sorry if I’ve offended---.”
“Stop.” She pressed her fingers to his lips, and rolled onto her side to stretch next to him. The hardness of his thighs was a promise against hers, the draping of their clothes providing little relief from the desire she could feel in him. “No mocking. This is strictly a mock-free zone. Have I ever lied to you, William?” After a moment, he gave a short shake of his head. “I know I’m not exactly the go-to girl when it comes to the hearts and flowers routine, not like you, but if I didn’t want you to kiss me, trust me. I would’ve let you know.”
His manner eased at that, though his distance remained the same. “My most grievous error,” he said, his eyes almost too innocent. “How could I neglect to remember your veracity? After all, it is not as if you ever fell asleep during one of our trysts or anything.”
She colored at his teasing reminder, and slapped at his chest. “You told me you understood about that.”
“And I do.” William’s faux precision dissolved into a wide smile. “Of course, you must understand how your rather fantastic tales of monsters roaming the streets of London may taint your vows of fatigue, though my every fiber wishes to believe.”
The reminder of what she would wake to dampened Buffy’s mood, and her eyes fell from his, the doubts returning on rapacious zephyrs that widened the gap between them. “And we’re back to wishing you were real,” she sighed. “That this was real.”
His fingers tugged at her chin, forcing her to look back up. “It is real,” William assured. Belief burned in his eyes. “You give me voice as no other does. I wake, and I face the dreary day, and when I’m confronted with a situation where I fear I’ll crumble, I find myself asking…what would Buffy do? And I find strength in the answers I get. If that’s not real, then…” He shook his head, his momentary fervor fading. “And yet again, I have forgotten myself. You hardly wish to listen to me prattle on about such nonsense.”
“It’s not nonsense,” Buffy said. Without further consideration, she threw her arms around him, pressing her body to his as her mouth sought his yet again. Nothing tentative now, not even a trace of hesitancy on his part when William returned the embrace, as if he could feel the world slipping away and was as desperate as she to cling to it. It was clumsy, and when her tongue brushed against his lips, he seemed momentarily taken aback as to what to do, but it was hardly devoid of feeling, their bodies flush with desire as their hands roamed over the other’s back. He was quick to follow her lead, letting her taste the honeyed breath of the kiss while savoring in kind, and he moaned as his need threatened to overwhelm him.
She could feel the trembling in his hands, in spite of their firm hold in the small of her back, and pulled back to look up into his face. She wouldn’t normally have asked, but these weren’t normal circumstances, and William wasn’t a normal guy…
“Do you want to touch me?”
He wondered if she could sense the trembling in his hands, and gripped her tighter in an attempt to fend off the vibrations. As her words echoed inside his head, William found himself unable to tear his gaze away from her eyes, so startlingly solemn in light of her earlier levity. Even more than before, the certainty that something beyond the invisible walls of their haven was distressing her made his heart wrench, yet he knew that to press the issue would only serve to exacerbate Buffy’s reluctance to share. Better to let it go, lest he shatter the tenuous step forward he’d initiated.
“Yes,” he breathed in response to her question. Inwardly, he cringed. Did he sound as desperate to her as he did to himself? “But only if you want me to,” William rushed to add.
Buffy smiled. Her lips were swollen from the fervor of their last kiss, and he couldn’t help but muse on how delectable it made her appear. “Something tells me we could go back and forth like this all day,” she said, every syllable from her mouth entrancing him further. “But playing ping to your pong, while entertaining in theory, doesn’t sound nearly as appealing as maybe…doing this.”
He held his breath as her hand came up to his chest. Instead of touching him, though, her fingers began nimbly unfastening the buttons of his shirt, first one…then two…the tips of her nails where they brushed against his skin creating miniature wakes of fire that made it impossible to exhale. He was unbelievably hard, throbbing inside his trousers, and William wondered if she could tell. He imagined that she had to know; after all, their lower halves seemed almost to mold into one from being so firmly pressed together. But if she knew, surely she should be protesting in some fash---.
Except he realized the absurdity of such a supposition even before it could reach its natural conclusion. This was Buffy, and he most likely wasn’t in England during these sojourns, and she proved to him with her every word, and her every breath, and her every movement, that he couldn’t assume even the most simple of notions when it came to her. He was aroused, and he had to believe that she was more than aware of it.
And now his chest was bare, pink skin exposed to the invigorating rays of the sun, and he watched in fascination as Buffy placed her palm flat over his pounding heart. “So full of life,” she murmured, her voice so distant that he wondered where she disappeared in moments like this. There was silence, punctuated only by the distant flutter of leaves as a bird escaped from the top of a tree, and then her eyes lifted to search his. “How do you do it?”
“How do I do what?” he responded. He found his strength then, and reaching up to take her hand in his, William lifted it to his mouth, his lips dropping single kisses onto the tips of her fingers.
“Make me believe again.” It had returned---that grey ache behind her eyes that he’d tried so hard to dismiss---but now it shone with something else, a light so tenuous and fragile that he imagined a mere puff could extinguish it. “Just when I start to think that maybe I’ve messed everything up royally again, I turn around, and there you are, and I get this sudden rush of…okay-ness.” She rolled her eyes. “And I’m not making any sense at all, am I?”
The corner of his mouth lifted. “Other than your…creative vocabulary,” William replied, “you’re making perfect sense. The belief you professed in me…those words that I cherish so deep to my heart…you can’t expect that they’re completely one-sided, can you?” Tucking her small hand between them, he leaned forward just enough to brush his lips across hers. “You are the most amazing woman I have ever had the privilege to meet, Buffy Summers. And if I must tell you so until the day the sun refuses to rise on me, I shall.”
His words broke the bindings she’d forced around her control. With a thick sob, Buffy wrapped her arms around his neck, pressing her breasts into his bare chest as she devoured him in a kiss. It caught him off-guard, warnings of propriety tightening his muscles, but the ardor behind the embrace made it impossible for him to not respond, hands latching onto her hips with a power that surprised him.
She rolled him onto his back, following him with her body until she was sprawled across his length. Shivering from the full contact, William broke from the kiss, staring up at her flushed cheeks, feeling every little squirm of her pelvis as she ground minutely against him.
More than once, she ducked to try and re-initiate the caresses, but was stopped by his repeated return to her eyes. “What?” Buffy finally asked when he remained silent in his scrutiny. She almost seemed to fade. “I thought…don’t you…want me?”
She was already tensing to flee, and he circled his arm around her waist to root her in place before she could act on the erroneous instinct. “Always,” William said softly. With his free hand, he pushed back the hair that had fallen over her cheek, his thumb skimming her bottom lip as his fingers tangled in the thick curls. “Just as you are always telling me to listen to you, at some point, you really must start listening to me, Buffy. I gave you my vow that I shall never leave, nor do I think I shall ever stop finding you the most extraordinary creature to grace me with her presence. But…while relations with you would bring me unending joy---.”
He frowned, his hand halting. “Pardon?”
“Make love,” she repeated. “That’s what it’s called back in my world.”
His face softened, his feather caress of her cheek beginning again. “Of course,” William said. “Yet, I do not think this is what you need from me right now.”
Buffy’s brows arched in amusement. “Really?” She ground against him lightly, prompting a sharp intake of breath before he tightened his grip around her. “I think we both want it.”
“I said need.” Firmly, he rolled back onto his side, forcing her to slide off and lay back on the tamped grass. “I understand you don’t wish to discuss what troubles you, and I’ll honor your wishes. But using our desires to pretend is not what you need from me.”
“And you know what I need.” Not a question. Barely audible. And though it dripped in disappointment, there was no mistaking the want to trust in him in her voice.
Gently, William bowed his head and kissed her again, closing his eyes while he gathered the strength to stand by his conviction. “You’re not alone, Buffy,” he murmured, resting his forehead against hers, “though you may feel otherwise. Believing in me is all well and good, but…you’ve forgotten how to believe in yourself. Let me in so that I can show you. Just…let me love you.”
From her seat beyond the circle of flickering candles, Esme watched as Nathan bounced around its periphery, yellow eyes intent on the prostate form at its center. Its pale skin was marred by dozens of infinitesimal cuts, tiny slashes of crimson caused by the shards of crystal that lay scattered around and above it.
“Is she real?” he croaked as he continued to pace. “She’s not moving. Why isn’t she moving?”
“Give her time,” Esme replied.
The seconds stretched into minutes where the only sound came from Nathan’s boots crunching along the ground as he wandered around and around, waiting for the moment when the witch would grant him leave to break the magic of the circle. Finally, just when he thought maybe the spell had gone horribly wrong and he would be denied his reunion after all, the body began to move.
It unfurled with a lethargic grace only made possible from eons of immobility. Each bend of her body exposed more to the dancing moonlight---a curve here, a swell of breast there---until she stood erect, staring out into the shadows between the pair that waited.
Nathan rushed to stand in front of her, his demon face slipping away as his eyes searched her dead ones. “April?”
The uttering of her name sparked something inside her, and a slow smile curled her too-full lips. “Hello, lover,” she whispered…
To be continued in Chapter 12: Fears to Hopes, and Hopes to Fears…