DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course,
and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CXIX.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: After not being able to find Giles, Buffy and Willow both retired for the night, where Buffy met up with William; elsewhere, April has been released from the crystal figures she was trapped in…
“Did he…say something that upset you?”
“No. He’s just…he’s gone.”
“He left you.” His arms tightened unconsciously around her, drawing her closer to his chest.
Buffy buried her cheek against the steady rhythm of his heart, so that when she spoke again, her voice was muffled. “Worse. He’s missing.” The fingers she had splayed along William’s side curled automatically into a fist, and he felt the rigidity of her shoulders as if she was bound within a jailor’s stocks. Soothingly, his hand began tracing the line of her spine, in an attempt to assuage the internal discord against which she was fighting.
“Was it a vampire?” he asked, deliberately ignoring the correlations of her predicament with his own reality. Anne Freston wasn’t missing; she was merely away visiting friends and the poor weather had prevented whatever message she’d sent explaining her absence from reaching William. At least, that was the excuse he was using for now.
“I don’t know.” Her voice was tiny, like it wanted to crawl into itself and hide forever, and he had to strain to hear what came next. “I’m hoping it’s more tweedy than fangy.”
Grateful he was out of her line of sight, he grimaced. Usually, he could ferret out her meaning based on the context of the conversation, but this particular sentence was baffling him. As much as he hated appearing the fool to her, he had no choice but to ask---.
“Stupid Council,” Buffy muttered.
Ah. She’d long ago referenced her ex-employers as suits, hence the tweed…William’s brow relaxed. Understanding was a good thing.
As she began to open up regarding the disappearance that was tearing her apart, he found himself getting lost in the pictures she painted with her words. Regaling her encounter with the Council of Watchers prompted a sense of familiarity that distracted him from her story momentarily, until he realized he actually knew which building she was describing. He’d seen it often enough in his ventures into the city, though he’d never thought to give it a second look, and he had to fight the chuckle that rose to his lips lest she misunderstand. Curious inclusion of his every day into the ether of his dreams, he thought. Just like the David Howard reference from the other night.
“…don’t know what to do now,” she finished. Only then did she lift her head, resting her pointy little chin on his chest to gaze up at him.
“It seems fairly obvious,” William replied. At her curious frown, he added, “Your Council. Surely, they will have the answers for which you’re looking.”
Buffy shook her head. “If this is their way of playing hardball, they’re not looking to be giving answers. They’re looking to be getting some.”
“But you told them you couldn’t help them.”
“And they refuse to believe you?”
She sighed. “They’re kind of stubborn that way.”
“Still, I think they’re your prime source for aid currently. And you can’t rest assured one way or another until you confront them.” He smiled, what he hoped was reassuringly, and lifted his hand to push back the hair from her eyes. “It may not be obvious to you, but to me, it seems as if they are the ones in the weaker position here. They need you, Buffy. Wasn’t their inquisition proof enough of that for you?”
“But I couldn’t tell them anything about the hanky.”
Hanky? One of the details she shared while my mind wandered, obviously. I must remain more focused. “Irrelevant,” he said dismissively, and hoped she believed him. “What’s important is that you realize how valuable they must consider you to go to such lengths. How is it everyone else can see this but you?”
She didn’t say a word, just stared up at him with ancient eyes until the corner of her mouth lifted and she settled her cheek back against his chest, following the steady rise and fall with delicious sighs that warmed his flesh. His body still hummed in want for her, but it had settled into a soothing syncopation that was more than a little hypnotic. A man could grow accustomed to this, he thought as he twined her fingers with his.
Waking wasn’t nearly as hard as it had been previous mornings.
As she blinked against the dim light, the weight of Giles’ disappearance was measurably lighter than it had been, and Buffy smiled as she remembered the comfort of William’s words. He was right. She was the one with the power here, and if the Council wanted to mess around with faux kidnappings in order to get her attention, then they were just asking to get burned.
Having a plan put a bounce in her step as she bustled to get dressed. When she stepped into the living room, humming under her breath, a sleepy Willow poked her head up from the arm of the sofa.
“Someone took a happy pill today,” she said groggily. She looked past the Slayer as if in search of something. “Is Giles back?”
“Not yet,” Buffy said. “But survey says that’s going to be changing ASAP.” She frowned, her pace faltering. “Did you sleep on the couch?”
Rubbing at her face, Willow nodded. “I was looking through the books to see if there was something I missed.”
“And I didn’t.”
“That’s OK,” Buffy said, and resumed heading for the kitchen. “Today, I’m going with the theory that this will all be over in just a couple hours.”
As she pulled open the refrigerator, she heard the soft tread as the redhead joined her. “Are you going to see the Council again?” Willow asked
“Yep. And this time, I’m not leaving until I’ve got our favorite Watcher in tow.” She held up a carton of eggs. “Omelette?”
“Uh…you don’t cook.”
“Then I guess it’s about time I learned.” She felt rather than saw her friend approach when she turned to the stove.
“Are you feeling all right?” came Willow’s tentative query. “You’re just so…good moody.”
“I’m jim and dandy and everything in between,” she said as she cracked an egg into the still-cold frying pan. Buffy flashed a brilliant smile. “Sleep does a body good.”
“If you want an omelette, you’re supposed to whip the eggs up in a bowl.”
“Oh.” The Slayer cocked her head, staring down at the white that was starting to shift from translucence. “Guess I’m having fried then.”
Neither girl said anything as Willow took the spatula from her and set to finishing the eggs. Buffy knew she was waiting for an explanation, that the prospect of an Iron Chef Slayer was more than a little freaky, but with her resolve freshly renewed from her dream conversation with William, she also knew that explanations would have to wait. The important thing now was to get Giles back.
“You’ll be waving your divining stick thingy this morning?” Buffy asked as she buttered their only slightly-burned toast.
“Yep,” Willow said. “If your showdown with the Council doesn’t work, maybe I’ll pick up some magical trail that’ll lead us to Giles. You know, if the two are actually connected.”
“They are.” Their eyes met, one set calm and resolute, the other slightly clouded and unsure. “They have to be.”
An insistent rapping jarred him into consciousness. Groggily, William reached for his glasses on the nightstand before pushing himself up into a sitting position. “Come in!” he called out.
The door opened, and Meg’s drawn face peered around its edge, her eyes downcast. “Master William?” she said in a breath.
Grabbing his dressing gown, he had it around his shoulders before his feet touched the floor. “What is it?” he asked as he tied the knot about his waist. His gaze darted to the closed curtains before returning to her nervous form. “I haven’t slept through breakfast again, have I?”
“No, no, sir. It’s…I was sent to fetch you. Your presence is required downstairs.”
William automatically relaxed. “Tell Mother I’ll be right there.”
Her voice stopped him before he could take more than a single step toward his wardrobe. “It’s not your mum, sir,” Meg said, and when he turned back to look at her, he couldn’t help but see the anxious twisting of her fingers in her apron. “It’s a gentleman come calling. He says it’s rather important he speak with you.”
He resumed his pace and finished the cross to his clothing. “Did he leave his name?” he asked. “Or what this might be regarding?”
“Mr. Richard Rhodes-Fanshaw. And no, sir, he didn’t say. Just that it was important.”
Pulling a clean shirt from the wardrobe, William mulled over the unfamiliar name, wondering abstractly why it was he was having so much difficulty recently remembering identities of people who obviously knew him. “Tell Mother I’ll see to Mr. Rhodes-Fanshaw,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand to Meg. “I’ll join her for breakfast when whatever business he has is concluded.”
“Pardon, sir, but…”
He glanced back, his tie dangling from his fingers. “Yes?”
“Your mum. She’s…not back yet. And there hasn’t been word sent or anything.”
A chill settled in his limbs. “Oh,” he said quietly, and turned away so that she couldn’t see the anxiety in his eyes. “Then…thank you. That will be all.”
As he mechanically stripped from his nightwear, the possibilities regarding his mother’s whereabouts returned to plague William with a vengeance, stewing in the pit of his stomach with a riling churn that made the prospect of breakfast suddenly not that appealing. Not of the good, he thought, and then froze before the phrase echoing inside his head made the corner of his mouth lift.
I’m even thinking like Buffy now. I wonder what would she do if she were in these circumstances?
He already knew the answer to that. Just as Buffy was searching for Giles, he had no choice but to begin his own search for Anne Freston. Just as soon as he found out what this Rhodes-Fanshaw wanted.
Her smile was bright as she stood in front of the secretary’s desk. “I’d like to see Mr. Travers, please,” Buffy chirped, having already decided that the California Homecoming Queen approach might be a tad more effective than the Psycho Slayer. However, just for the effect, she added, “Now.”
The elderly secretary stared at the young woman over her bifocals. “You don’t have an appointment, Miss Summers. I’ll have to see if he’s available.”
Though her smile never faded, Buffy’s hand was over the secretary’s in an iron grip the moment it came to rest on the phone. “I’m sorry,” she said perkily, “but I think your hearing aid might be broken. I said, I need to see him now.”
To the woman’s credit, she didn’t even wince at the pressure on her fingers, instead staring up at the Slayer with an icy gaze. “We have procedures---.”
“It’s all right, Beryl. I’ll take it from here.” Only Buffy’s head swiveled to see Quentin Travers striding toward the desk, his eyes unreadable as he slowed to a stop before her. “You should’ve called, Miss Summers. I would’ve had Lydia come around to pick you up.”
“And miss the chance to spend an hour on the Underground?” She stepped back and shook her head. “Not on your life.”
The pair faced off, both sets of eyes unwavering, each waiting for the other to speak. A trickle of sweat began dripping between Buffy’s shoulder blades, the question of how so many people could come to work in an un-airconditioned office wearing such heavy suits flitting unexpectedly through her head. And does this man never blink? she wondered. Wasn’t one creepy snake guy enough in my life?
“Perhaps we should move this to my office,” Travers said, pivoting on his heel to begin walking back in the direction from which he’d come.
“And again, just let me say…not on your life.” Her smile vanished when he turned back. “You wanted my attention. Well, now, you’ve got it. Though, gotta tell you, the kind of attention I’m in the mood to give right now is probably just a little more destructive than you were expecting.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Then let me make this easy for you. You let Giles go, and I don’t torch the place.” She glanced around. “It’s a little bigger than Hemery’s gym, but I’m sure I can handle it.”
“Idle threats do not become you, Miss Summers.”
“They’re only idle if I don’t act on them,” she shot back. She didn’t mean any of it, of course. But Travers wasn’t a stupid man and as far as the Council was concerned, she was still a wildcard. She was playing the odds that they would be afraid of what she might do and give in before she actually had to act on anything.
He didn’t respond to her, instead directing his attention over her shoulder to the secretary. “Beryl, could you please have tea set up in the library? We’ll be conducting our business in there, it appears.”
“Only if Giles is in there,” Buffy said. “Otherwise, I’m staying right here.”
Her declaration did nothing to stop Beryl from casting a disdainful glance at her before disappearing in the opposite direction, presumably to follow through on Travers’ order. He, in turn, returned his gaze to the Slayer.
“I’m curious,” he said, deep furrows in his brow her only indication to his mood, “as to why you keep inferring Rupert is being held here. Is there something you’d like to tell me?”
His tone was blank, but Buffy caught the confused glint in his eyes as she searched his face for any sign of duplicity. Not that she was convinced she’d be able to recognize it in him if she saw it, but something about his attentiveness, like he really meant it when he’d said he was curious, set her instincts abuzz.
“You don’t honestly expect me to believe you don’t know anything about it?” she asked.
“Anything about what?”
She took a deep breath. In for a penny… “Giles being missing. I know you’ve got him.”
That provoked a reaction when Travers visibly paled. “Rupert is missing?” He cleared his throat when he realized his voice was somewhat scratchy. “For how long? Were you with him? Did you see who took him?”
OK, these weren’t the kinds of questions she’d been expecting. Nor had she expected the---what seemed to be---genuine concern on his normally unflappable countenance. Hesitantly, she said, “Just over a day. And no, and no.”
Her denials managed to divert his thoughts inward. “A day…” he murmured, and brushed past her in the direction Beryl had left just moments earlier, seemingly no longer concerned with the Slayer’s presence.
She only let him get a few steps before rushing to meet his pace at his side. “What’s going on?” she demanded. “You’re not telling me you didn’t know about any of this…are you?”
He stopped abruptly before a closed door. “That’s exactly what I’m telling you, Miss Summers.” He looked past her and caught the attention of a young man about to pass by. “Go get Lydia,” he ordered him. “Tell her to bring me the Rhodes-Fanshaw file and not to delay.”
Buffy followed him into the library when he entered it. “You think this has something to do with those glass figures that were stolen?” she asked.
The look he tossed her was condescending; he was already back in control of his reactions. “Of course,” Travers replied. “What else could it possibly be about?”
Willow stood in the middle of the living room, the divining rod held tightly in her right hand as her left finished sprinkling the ash across its tip. Though her lips moved, the words she uttered were barely intelligible in the close space, lost in a sudden thickness that seemed to absorb even the minimal light the candles she’d lit in a circle around her provided. The lack of illumination was inconsequential, however, as the last syllable wafted from her breath, swallowed by the magic that hung heavy in the air, for in her hand, the carefully carved stick began to glow a faint red where the ash had settled.
“Whoa…” she breathed as it started to vibrate within her grip. She couldn’t help the smile that made her face beam. “It worked. Yay me.” She paused, her grin faltering. “Except…”
Willow’s eyes glanced around the small space. The vibrations were supposed to be the precursor to actually finding the magic, so that wasn’t too unexpected. The glowy tip, on the other hand, was only set to occur when the magical residue was near. The brighter it got, the more concentrated the magic. And if it was glowing here…
Slowly, she stepped from the confines of her circle, making a careful sweep of the perimeter with the rod. Its tremors never eased, and as she rounded the curve by the inner hallway of the apartment, the scarlet tip began to lighten, heating to a bloody orange as she hesitated in that direction. One step forward, and then another, and the vibrations grew stronger, forcing Willow to tighten her grip in case it decided to make a jump to freedom.
“What’re you trying to tell me?” she mused as she moved down the corridor. Past her room…past Buffy’s and toward Giles’…and all of a sudden, the glow that had shifted to a pale orange-yellow began to darken back to red, the shaking lessening.
She stopped. Her first instinct had been that it was leading her to the Watcher’s room because he’d been snatched by the same powers that had stolen the crystal figurines. But if that was true, the power within the stick should’ve grown instead of faded as she approached.
Her head turned, her gaze settling on Buffy’s closed door. Curious, Willow shifted the aim of the rod toward it and immediately felt the effects return, prompting her to step forward and reach for the knob. It felt weird to be going into her friend’s room without her knowledge, but if this was what it took to get Giles back, Willow was sure she would understand.
The carefully made bed took her by surprise. Buffy must’ve been in a really good mood this morning if she went to these kind of lengths, she thought as she approached it. There was no mistaking the effect her closing proximity with the piece of furniture was having on the divining rod, though. With each step, the intensity of the vibrations grew, causing her whole arm to begin reverberating in a sympathetic rhythm as she fought to keep her hold on it, and its tip was now almost a pure white. It took no time at all to determine it was strongest at the head of the bed, and Willow stared down at it in confusion.
Buffy’s pillow is possessed? OK, now I’ve seen it all…
It was almost a second thought when she reached out and lifted the cushion, exposing the worn leather of the book beneath it. The moment it was uncovered, an electric shock leapt from the rod to Willow’s palm.
“Ow!” she cried out, finally releasing her grip.
The stick fell to the floor, still and dark as if the magic it had been channeling had been shorted. As she rubbed the tingling ache in her hand, Willow looked from it, to the rod, and back up to the bed where the book still sat. She recognized it immediately as Buffy’s purchase at the bookstore and, curious, reached forward to look at it closer.
A folded piece of paper fluttered from its pages, landing silently on the mattress before she could catch it. Without thinking, she picked it up, opening it to scan its contents. Green eyes went wide, and her breath was audible as it caught in her throat. “Oh, my…” she whispered as her gaze returned to the top of the page, reading it through a second, much slower, time.
What in sweet heaven have you been hiding from us, Buffy?
To be continued in Chapter 13: That Which Is Hath Been Before…