DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course,
and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet LIX.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy has gone to the Council to confront them about Giles’ disappearance, Willow has used the divining rod to follow a trail straight to William’s journal in Buffy’s bedroom, and William has received a surprise visitor…
William hesitated before the closed door to the drawing room, throwing back his shoulders and tugging at his jacket’s hem. It wouldn’t do to appear less than his best, regardless of his ignorance of the visitor’s business. He just would’ve preferred being a tad more informed before walking into the situation blind.
“My sincerest apologies in keeping you waiting,” he said automatically as he entered the room. “I’m afraid I’ve had a bit of a late start this morning.”
The man at the fireplace turned around from his inspection of the figures on the mantle. “There’s certainly no need to apologize, my young man. If anything, apologies should be mine for arriving unannounced. Unfortunately, circumstances prevented me from doing so.” He strode forth, his hand outstretched. “Richard Rhodes-Fanshaw.”
“William Freston.” As they shook hands, William’s gaze swept over his visitor, taking in the expensive cut of his suit, the careful polish to his shoes. He was an older gentleman, most likely nearing sixty, with a shock of brilliant-white hair that appeared to be as ungovernable as William’s own, and skin leathered from long-time exposure to the sun. Though the combination of the spectacles he wore and the plethora of lines around his eyes betrayed a long-time familiarity with reading, his trim form belied an easy existence. This was a man as accustomed to labor as he was to leisure.
“Would you like some tea?” William offered, gesturing toward one of the settees.
“Thank you, but no.” Richard settled himself in the furniture’s corner, long limbs tense as he waited for the younger man to sit as well. “I’m afraid it’s a little early for me to have what I’d prefer to be drinking.”
This last was said with a half-smile, shocking William into sitting straighter as he perched himself on the cushion’s edge. It was one thing to know that such tippling was done behind closed doors; it was another entirely to joke about it in such a cavalier fashion in the presence of a stranger.
“So…” he started, only to hear his voice come out as a harsh squeak. Hastily, he cleared his throat, desperate to maintain some semblance of propriety and control. Though there was nothing overtly threatening about his guest, there was no denying the tightly reined power emanating from both his body and mind, and it instantly returned William to a place of trepidation he hadn’t occupied in several days.
“Let us dispense with the niceties, shall we?” Though his tone remained affable, there was no ignoring the authority in Richard’s voice. “We’re both grown men. And as you’re the head of the house, I see no reason to prevaricate regarding my business here.”
“Oh. Of…course.” Except it wasn’t of course. Rhodes-Fanshaw spoke as if William should understand what he was referencing when in actuality, he didn’t. It was unnerving, at best. Think, he scolded himself, his mind racing to try and fathom what the other man could possibly be alluding to. The similarity to the thought process he’d had regarding his bankside visitor---Esme, she’d said her name was---flitted across his consciousness, but barely a wisp and impossible to hold onto, not when a much more imposing personage was sitting just several feet away from him.
“Your activities haven’t gone unnoticed, William.” He wasn’t bothering to maintain social dictates, addressing William by his first name without even deigning to ask permission, and the cool control of his voice sent an array of shivers down the younger man’s spine.
Richard’s smile was condescending. “The role of the innocent works well for you,
I must say. Is that how you escape
He was on his feet in a second, his anger flaring from nowhere. “Your comportment is completely uncalled for, sir. I suggest---.”
Though he never moved, the tension in Richard’s body wound tighter, forcing William to comply without thought or hesitation. It didn’t lessen his irritation, though, and his jaw twitched as he struggled not to embarrass himself further with another outburst.
After a moment, Richard continued. “Do you know who I am, William? Other than my name, of course.”
He nodded, as if it was the only response he expected. “I work for an organization that specializes in…unusual matters. It’s my responsibility to ensure that the streets you walk are safe. That the…unacceptable are handled swiftly and with appropriate prejudice.”
His words chilled William’s anger, his face blanching. “You…you didn’t introduce yourself…as an officer of the law, sir,” he said, stammering. “My apologies. If I’d known---.”
“It’s not as you’re thinking,” Richard interrupted. “My organization works outside the parameters of local government. We’re more interested in…global sanctity. Tell me, William. Have you ever heard of Watchers?”
If it wasn’t for the fact that it was the only way she would’ve gotten Giles in her life, Buffy was thisclose to wishing she’d never heard of Watchers in the first place. Once she’d told everything she knew about Giles’ disappearance, the Slayer had been relegated to pacing in the background while Travers and the Spike-fixated Lydia spoke in conspiratorial whispers at the front of the library, busying themselves with a jumble of files every time she approached. It was enough to make a girl feel unwelcome.
She stopped when the door opened again, but this time it was only the aged Beryl with a fresh pot of tea. It was her second trip in since Buffy had been unwillingly sequestered, which in the Slayer’s head, meant that even more time was being wasted. Time she should be using to find Giles.
“Enough,” she said as soon as it was just the three of them again. She marched over to where Travers sat, glaring down at him. “Either you give me a really good reason for staying, or I’m on the next train out of here. There’s no way this is more productive than me and Willow doing a footsearch, so unless you can tell me something I don’t already know---.”
“The reason our coven couldn’t trace the magic, Miss Summers, is that it was one of their own who’d cast it.” He ignored Lydia’s surprise as he gazed up at the Slayer with watery eyes. “Now, if you’d please take a seat, I’ll be with you just as soon as I finish going over these instructions.”
He didn’t bother to wait for a response, turning back to the files before him and scribbling some notes in the margins. Buffy gaped at him in shock for a long moment as what he’d said sank in, and then did the only thing she could right then.
She sat down.
From her seat on the floor, Willow leaned against the side of the bed, the journal resting open in her lap. Her heart was pounding, the sweat drying in her palms, but there was no way she could move any time soon; all control of her muscles seemed to disappear the moment she started reading through Buffy’s recent purchase.
Finding the poem addressed to “My Darling Miss Buffy” had been freaky enough; finding inescapable references to her friend in the diary of a man who’d lived more than a century earlier was just off the scale of weirdness. If she’d been on the Hellmouth, Willow thought she might’ve found the whole thing a little easier to accept. But they weren’t. They were in jolly old England, a country neither of them had ever visited before, on a vacation that, OK, was turning into their usual crisis-averting mission, but hey, points for intent.
So, the fact that she was now holding what should be impossible? Enormously bizarre with a side order of absurd.
Skimming the entries told Willow the story of a lonely young man, trying to find his place in a world that didn’t seem to accept him for who he wished to be. It had seemed frightfully sad, until halfway through, the tone started to shift to one more positive, his tales ending more often in success than failure. That was when he first mentioned the dreams, but it wasn’t until she caught the word “slayer” that she’d given any more attention to the details.
Somehow, some way, William Freston was conducting some nocturnal relationship with a woman who sounded exactly like Buffy, and writing poetry for her favor.
When the details started to become more intimate, Willow had had to stop reading, her mind trying to process what she’d discovered. Did Buffy know? Is that why she bought the book? It had seemed like an odd purchase at the time, but she’d been so excited for her friend that Willow hadn’t bothered to question it closely. More importantly than those questions, though…
Was Buffy dreaming about William, too?
She didn’t want to, but Willow knew she was going to have to ask Buffy about it. The journal was tied into the magic that surrounded the crystal theft, and if that had something to do with Giles’ disappearance, they needed all the facts they could possibly get to get him back.
Or maybe she’d wait and see if Buffy brought it up first. Hinting at what she could know might be enough to draw the truth out of the Slayer without having her feel attacked, because if there was one thing Willow knew about her best friend, it was that direct confrontation on non-favorite Buffy topics usually ended up badly.
The directness of the question took William by surprise, prompting him to splutter out some insensate reply that only earned him a curious quirk of his guest’s brows.
“I must admit,” Richard said slowly, “you are not what I was expecting. In my position, having a sense of person is practically a requirement for survival, but if I didn’t have the facts already, I would assume you are exactly as you appear.”
“Would it be presumptuous for me to inquire what those facts would be?” he managed to ask. The casual bandying of a term he’d only ever heard in his dreams made him desperate for answers, and he plunged forward on the tide of fear before he could think otherwise. “Because, frankly, I’m finding myself at a loss as to why you’re here. I’m not aware of anything untoward happening within the household, and outside of my mother’s current absence, I can’t think of a single event that would warrant such attention from you.”
For the first time since his arrival, Rhodes-Fanshaw seemed unsure, his light eyes narrowing in close scrutiny of William’s demeanor. “Your mother is missing?” he questioned, and though his voice was low, its gravity was more than enough to return the chill to William’s bones. “Would this have occurred the evening before last?”
“Not the evening, but…” He froze. The implication of what the Watcher was saying---and he could hardly refrain from calling him such as the descriptions Buffy had provided of her Council’s attitudes more than matched that of the gentleman before him---was almost too fantastic to consider. And yet, was it any more fantastic than considering the depth of his feelings for an American beauty he met in his sleep? She walked in a world of mysticism and violence; how could he ignore the possibility that it was in actuality his world as well?
“Pardon me for being so forward,” William said, meticulously choosing his words as he fought to preserve a sense of decorum, “but, your business here…your interest in my mother’s whereabouts…does this have anything to do with…your Slayer?”
The last two words to fall from William’s lips shattered Richard’s composure. Sitting forward, his eyes took on an unearthly gleam as he reached to grasp the younger man’s wrist in a bone-crushing grip. “Has she been here?” he hissed. “And don’t even presume to lie to me. I’ve spent too many years---.”
“No, no,” William rushed, and tried to pull himself away to no avail. “But I don’t understand. Buffy’s not…she’s just…” Though he could think the word, verbalizing it was another matter, not when the proof of so much of what she professed was staring at him as if he’d just grown a second head. Claiming her as fantasy had been much easier when the order of his world excluded Watchers and Vampire Slayers. To do so now seemed impossible.
“Who is Buffy?” Richard asked carefully. His fingers loosened, allowing William to slip away and rub at the sore joint.
“She’s not…to whom you’re referring?” He wasn’t sure if he was relieved or not.
“No.” A long heavy sigh accompanied Richard’s sinking back into the settee. “Perhaps that tea wouldn’t be out of order, right about now.”
She turned down the tea Travers offered her, her arms folded across her chest as she waited for him to begin. At least an hour had passed since his cryptic remark regarding the coven, and Buffy had watched in increasing annoyance as he spoke with Lydia and not to her, ignoring her very presence until the other Watcher had left the library.
“You realize you should prepare yourself for the possibility that Rupert is dead, don’t you?” he commented without preamble, carrying his tea to the head of the table and his scattered files.
“He’s not dead,” she replied grimly. “And what does that have to do with the coven?”
“Are you aware that we sent a team to Wales to investigate the other source of magic?” At her nod, he slid forward a slim folder, and sat back as he waited for her to pick it up.
Her face was impassive as her eyes fell to the file. It wasn’t like she’d never seen vampire attacks before, even one as vicious as this. The surroundings were impossible to tell for certain---someplace outside, with mountains in the background---and the photography left a lot to be desired, with more than half of the pictures either blurry or underexposed. But the gruesome display of the bodies…the callous tearing of their necks that left jagged wounds still obvious even in death…it was enough to raise the Slayer’s internal anger barometer, determination that the same fate would not befall Giles steeling her spine.
“He’s not dead,” she repeated, and pushed the folder away from her.
“I pray not,” Travers said quietly. He steepled his fingers together as he continued to speak. “It’s regretful it’s reached this stage. I’d rather hoped your involvement would be sufficient in getting to the root of the theft.”
“Are you trying to tell me it wasn’t vamps who did this?”
“No, they most certainly were vampires. But they didn’t act alone.” He sighed. “Magic is a very complicated thing, Miss Summers. It’s very difficult to mask its effects from skilled practitioners. To blind an entire coven requires intimate knowledge of its weaknesses, which, I’m afraid, Esme has.”
“And she was---wait.” She frowned. “What did you say her name was again?”
When he repeated it, its familiarity made the memory bells begin pealing inside her head, but where she knew the name from, Buffy couldn’t quite put her finger on. Something from recently, she knew, and for some reason, Bewitched had something to do with it. Any more than that, though, and she was at a loss.
“Why didn’t you spill about any of this before now?” she demanded. “Why keep this kind of important information so secret? Don’t you think it would’ve been easier for us to find her if we knew what was really going on?”
“You weren’t meant to find her,” he said evenly. “Your involvement was meant to draw her out.”
She stared at him in disbelief. “We were bait?”
“You were bait. Esme has always had a fixation on Slayers. We were hoping to capitalize on your presence here.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Big frickin’ surprise there,” she muttered. “She works for the Council.”
“Yes, well, her interest was extreme even considering that.”
They regarded each other in silence for several minutes before she finally pushed back her chair and stood up. “Unless the next thing to come out of your mouth is a plan to get Giles back that doesn’t involve someone I care about doing their best worm impersonation, I’m out of here.”
He made no move to stop her, but instead followed her with his gaze when she swept past him. “What do you propose to do next, Miss Summers?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted as she pulled open the library doors. “But I’ll think of something.”
He was finding it difficult to keep his thoughts straight. Across from him, Richard finished off his tea, the whisky he’d laced it with from the flask he kept in his pocket obviously making it more palatable than William’s. The details he’d shared were worthy of even the most unbelievable serial, but William still couldn’t let go of the most shocking development of them all---the actualization of so much of Buffy’s world in his own.
“I understand your confusion,” Richard said, replacing his cup onto the tray between them. “To a layman, it must seem quite ridiculous.”
“Not exactly the word I would choose,” William murmured. Lifting his head, his eyes were steady if not clear as he regarded the Watcher. “Why trust me with this information?” he asked. “You arrived believing I was the wrongful party here.”
“I arrived here armed only with sterile facts,” came the reply. His manner was much more relaxed, but whether that was due to a shift in his feelings or the alcohol in his drink, William had no idea. “I knew just what my seer told me. That the temporal ripples she detected all centered on this address, and that there were no traces of magic with any of your staff when they left the house.”
“Yet you believe me when I tell you I know nothing of any of that.”
Richard shrugged. “This is a dangerous world we walk in, William, and you don’t live for as long as I have by ignoring your instincts. It’s my responsibility to recognize a good man when I see one. My instincts tell me to believe in you.” He rose to his feet. “That, and I plan on having my seer try a little truth spell on you back at my offices. Just to be safe.”
Following him to a standing position, William lifted his chin in a defiance he didn’t really feel. “You seem confident that I will just go with you. How do I know this isn’t some artifice on your behalf to lure me into captivity?”
“You don’t. You have to trust me. Just as I’m trusting you.” Gathering the coat he’d removed during the tea, Richard strode with a determined step to the doorway. “If it’s an issue of privacy, I’ll allow you to select a pseudonym. There’s no reason for any of your peers to be aware of your connection to my organization, nor for my colleagues to know of your true identity.” He paused at the doorway, finally glancing back at William. “Unless, of course, you’re lying to me and my intuition is faulty. Then…”
He left the threat unsaid, but from Buffy’s descriptions of her own interactions with the Council, William knew instinctively that what followed would not be pleasant. Not that he wished to go with this Rhodes-Fanshaw; frankly, the possibility of what might occur terrified him and he wanted nothing more than to return to his room, lock the door, and bury himself in books for the next decade.
But…the oddities that he claimed to have occurred…Anne Freston’s unexplained disappearance…and the unmistakable correlation with the tales of a woman who should not have logically existed…William was not a stupid man. Nor was he a dishonorable one. If something sinister had truly happened to his mother, then it was his responsibility to seek out every means to go to her aid, even if it meant combating his own fears to do so.
Besides, there was nothing to fear because he had nothing to hide. He knew nothing of the events Richard described. The only unusual occurrence he was aware of was…
Would he ask about her?
Most likely. William had mentioned her specifically by name.
And what will I reply?
She was a dream; that much was true. But if specifics were asked, how could he avoid the issue that she was why he knew about the Council of Watchers in the first place?
He would have to find a way. She would feel betrayed if the truth was found out, and there was no way William was going to be the one to cause those feelings.
As he followed Richard into the foyer and gathered his jacket for travelling, only the image of Buffy as she had appeared at their last meeting stayed before him…so strong and yet so fragile…radiant with what he hoped was understanding for the depth of his feelings for her. And the sudden shock of comprehension made him hesitate before venturing outside.
She was real.
Which meant…he hadn’t created her, after all. That everything she said to him, everything she said about him, came from her.
That he mattered.
So lost in this newfound revelation, William heard nothing while they climbed into the carriage, and it wasn’t until they’d started moving before Richard was able to regain his attention.
“Well?” the Watcher asked. “What shall I call you?”
His gaze returned to the window, the house he watched so often from his bedroom passing by. Before he could think otherwise, William uttered the first name that came to his head.
“David,” he said softly. “David Howard.”
To be continued in Chapter 14: He That Writes of You…