DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CXXXI.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: William has eluded the truth spell due to the intervention of Richard’s seer and wife, Rose; Buffy and Willow have swapped stories and come to the conclusion that William is an imaginary construct to distract the Slayer from investigating the crystal theft…

*************
Chapter 15: The Fairest and Most Precious Jewel

He would’ve sworn it couldn’t be possible. In light of every other whimsy opting to declare its authenticity during the course of his day, William would’ve laid his hand on his mother’s Bible and vowed that he’d reached the extent of what he could envisage. There were only so many surprises the world could produce in such a short timespan.

Apparently, the world wasn’t done with him yet.

He’d never denied he thought her beautiful. In fact, more often than not, William had allowed himself to be swept along the tide of verse watching and imagining Buffy created inside his head, all thoughts as to its excellence ignored in preference for simply enjoying the swell. The words never did her justice, of course; he could hardly presume to imagine himself Botticelli to her Venus. But he savored them anyway, and drowned in the reality of her when she came to him, and never once believed it could get any better.

He was wrong.

“You look…radiant,” he finished, striding forward to take her hands in his. Hardly sufficient to explain the sense of peace that had settled around Buffy in a diffuse glow, but in his breathless state, thunderstruck at how she could appear so vibrant and so serene at the same time, it would have to suffice. He cocked his head in confusion as his eyes searched hers. “Did you find Giles? Is that the explanation for…?” William couldn’t find the right words to explain it, and instead waved his hand abstractly around her in hopes she would understand.

Buffy smiled, and shook her head. “I wish,” she said. “But no. Did get some answers, though. That could be it. Or the new moisturizer I got.”

He chuckled. “Could be,” he murmured. Before she could step away, his head was bent, his lips on hers in the kiss he could no longer restrain. Just a taste, he’d decided, one drop of Buffy to temporarily sate the crescendo seeing her had conceived inside him.

It took her by surprise, not in the force of it, but in his certainty that he could take what she was more than willing to give, and he felt her smile against his lips as her arms came up around his neck. All too quickly, it ended, and she pulled away, eyes shining but curious.

“What was that for?”

“Must I have purpose for wishing to kiss my lady?” he said lightly.

She softened at that, and turned her head to rest her cheek against his chest. “You say that like you don’t think it can be any other way. Like…it’s just you for me.”

Where had the melancholy come from? he wondered as he stroked her hair. If he didn’t know any better, he’d think she was testing him in some fashion. But what she could wish to discover in such roundabout means, he had no idea.

“And you for me, don’t forget,” he said. “Isn’t that what we decided it would be here? Not once has someone joined us. If that doesn’t make this all about us, I’m afraid I won’t ever understand what it is all about.”

His reply seemed to satisfy her, and she sighed in satisfaction. “You were right, by the way,” she said after the longest moment. Pulling away from his embrace, she began wandering along the grass, with William directly beside her. “Mr. Travers could’ve been Pinocchio for as many lies as he told me.”

“Did you find out what you need to return Giles to safety?”

She shrugged. “It’s too early to tell. The information we got…it made some things a lot clearer, so…we’ll see.”

“I’m sure it will work itself out in the end. After all, information is power.” He frowned at her giggle. “Something strikes you as amusing?”

“It’s just…you sound like Giles. And Willow. They’re all big with the brain trust.” She stopped in her tracks and cocked her head to look at him. “I guess it’s no wonder I found you. I have this weird knack for surrounding myself with smartypants.”

He wondered if this was his opening. All day at the Watcher’s offices, William had debated how he would broach the subject of their shared dreams to Buffy. He didn’t understand how, and he had no clue as to why, but he didn’t doubt for a moment that she wasn’t from an actual future. After speaking more with Rose and Richard, the pair had accompanied him back to his home, during which time the seer had offered insights into his life that no one else could know. She’d even hinted at some knowledge of Buffy, but her references had been vague, and she’d graciously allowed him to change the subject whenever it seemed to veer too closely to the topic of Slayers.

It was their presence in his home that had confirmed for him their belief in the temporal folds. With only a moment’s hesitation on the threshold, Rose had gone directly to his mother’s room, not speaking to anyone, and had correctly pointed out several details from the night she’d disappeared. She’d then proceeded to William’s room, but rather than venture inside, she stopped on the threshold.

“You write of her,” she’d murmured.

She had left it at that, but as they’d moved downstairs, Rose had waited until Richard was beyond earshot to add, “I shan’t tell my husband because the issue of Slayers is a delicate one for him, but please…be careful in the words you choose with your young lady. The load she bears is a heavy one. Don’t burden her further with unnecessary details.”

As he looked at her now, William wondered if this meant he shouldn’t tell Buffy the truth of it at all. She seemed so satisfied, more at peace than she’d been since they’d first started meeting; what would learning that everything they’d imagined as fancy was in actuality truth do to her? Would she even believe him?

Part of him doubted it. If there was one thing William had learned of the Slayer, it was that she despised what she didn’t understand. It frustrated her, and he didn’t wish to be on the receiving end of that frustration should she not be amenable to what he’d learned.

But he so wanted her to know. How many times had she expressed the desire for it all to be real? He could give that to her. He could tell her that…

But what could he tell her? “You’re real, and I’m real, but we can only be real together while we’re sleeping.” That was no way to treat the woman he loved. Offer her only a fraction of his time because the years conspired to keep them apart? He didn’t have the strength to do that.

So he kept silent, only smiling as he took her hand and began leading her away from the familiar vista of their park bench. She seemed to sense his mood, and joined him in their mute exploration, forbearing after a few minutes from the handhold he’d initiated for a more intimate press into his side.

Quickly, William lost any sight for the flora around them, overwhelmed by the sensations of her curves molded to his hip, the heat in his forearm from where it was curled around her waist. He had no idea where they were heading; he’d merely wished to be moving for some reason. And yet, his body still throbbed in accordance with his desire for this woman, her easy fit into his body only boosting it with every step.

“I read your poem.”

Her voice was subdued, her eyes on the grass before them, and he knew without having to ask to which poem she was referring. Allowing himself a quick glance, William hurriedly averted his eyes back to the lawn, aware of the heat suffusing his cheeks. The fact that she merely mentioned it without offering any form of gratitude or praise could only mean she didn’t like it, and was attempting to be as delicate with him as possible. In light of how he was certain she felt for him, it surprisingly hurt.

“Did you mean what you said?”

Her question was unexpected, and William frowned as he struggled to remember the poem’s exact words. “I wouldn’t have written it if I didn’t believe it,” he said. That was true, even if he wasn’t entirely sure to what specifically she was alluding.

He almost squeaked out loud when she stopped and threw her arms around him in an exuberant hug. Though an ache was quickly beginning to form in his shoulders from the force she exerted, he couldn’t hold back the smile at the words she whispered in his ear.

“I think that’s what I love most about you, William,” Buffy said. “Your heart.”

Said organ was pounding inside his ribcage as her declaration accelerated the ferment of his emotions. She loves me. She said it. She loves me.

Shelovesmeshelovesmeshelovesme!

Like the bird he’d characterized Buffy as in his poem, in that moment, William was convinced he could fly, lack of wings be damned. Burying his face in her neck, he swept her up and around, listening to her squeal in delight at the surprise spin and wondering if there was ever a more joyous sound than the happy laugh of a woman in love.

She was still laughing when he stopped, but didn’t let go, hanging from his neck as he held her firmly about the waist. “My own tilt-a-whirl,” she teased.

“Yours,” he affirmed. “Only yours. For always.”

Before she could escape, he was kissing her again, inhibitions freed by his certitude that she wished it as much as he did. Clumsy, passionate, hungry kisses, punctuated by his own breathlessness and Buffy’s occasional chuckle as they slid to the ground. He was panting when he finally pulled back, and looked down at the glow of her cheeks.

“Do I make you happy?” William asked, the sudden desire to hear it from her lips more important than anything else in that moment.

Tenderly, she cupped his cheek, a small smile curving her mouth. “How could you not?” she replied.

“But only here.” He ducked his gaze at her tiny frown. “All the troubles you have when you leave my company…I know those vex you beyond my means of aid. You have no concept of how strongly I wish I could extend my support beyond the walls of our dreams, Buffy.” Back to the clear green of her aspect, this spate of words taking him just as much in surprise as she. “If there were a way…if it was possible for me to help you, to…assist you, should you need it---.”

“But you already do, don’t you get it?” Rolling on to her side, Buffy propped her head up in her hand as her other fingers hovered above the vibrations in his throat where his pulse pounded. “I know you don’t see it, and maybe I haven’t been super clear, but every time we’re together, I wake up just a little bit stronger. I don’t know how my subconscious does it, and you know, not really in the mood to be questioning the magic that gets us here in the first place, but that doesn’t mean it’s not working.”

He stopped breathing at her mention of the word “magic.” Could she know? Was he cheating himself of even greater satisfaction by not sharing his own knowledge with her?

Her lips on his forced his lungs to start working again, startling him with the tenderest of caresses. “Besides,” she teased, “you don’t know how good you’ve got it. Dream Buffy is a lot happier than Real Buffy, mainly because of the lack of slayage and manipulative tweedy bastards. You should be over the moon and around the sun you got the good one.”

William’s hand came up to catch hers, pulling it against his chest where both of them could feel his heart beating. “There is no good one,” he said quietly. “There is the strong one, and the frightened one, and the happy one, and the angry one, but in the end, they’re all one and the same, because they’re all you, Buffy. I would not presume to trade any of them because that might mean I lose something of…” He hesitated then, the fact that he was going to say it verbally this time, in such a way, drying his mouth. He swallowed. “…the woman I love,” he finished.

She sighed at that, and pulled her hand from his grasp to rest it flat against his exposed skin. All thoughts of questioning her regarding what she may or may not know fled as she leaned toward him, her warm breath fanning across his neck just before she pressed her lips to his throat. As the shudder pulsed through him, William’s eyes fluttered shut, his last image of Buffy burned onto his retinas as he inhaled her scent.

Gently, she pressed into him, using her weight and gravity rather than force to push him back onto the grass. When the cool blades were tickling his ears, he felt her fingers alight on his face, removing his glasses in a delicate sweep. The extra brilliance on his closed lids made his eyes burn, and it was only when the shadow passed behind them that he dared to open them again.

She was hovering above him, their torsos melding together, and her hair whispered across his cheek where it fell over her shoulder. “Do you trust me?” Buffy asked.

He couldn’t help but smile. “What a foolish question.”

“So was asking me if you make me happy,” she teased.

Pressing his lips together in lieu of a response, William just watched her as she bent her head again, dipping in to nip at his chin. An electric shock shot through his body, the unexpected pleasure from the tiny bite startling him into distraction. His eyes drifted closed again. “Buff---,” he started, only to have it cut off in a gurgle when he felt her tiny hand slip down the front of his trousers.

“Sshhh,” she said before silencing his surprise with a kiss.

The explosion of physical sensation inside his head was nothing compared to the sudden rise of fear in William’s throat. It had been one thing to consider making love to Buffy when he’d merely believed her to be a figment of his imagination. Now, knowing that she was real, knowing that these were actual memories she would be taking back with her when she awoke, he couldn’t help but hesitate. What would she think of him? Would she find him wanting? And was it entirely fair of him to play his role in this mutual seduction when a true gentleman wouldn’t use a lady such as she in this way?

“Buffy…love…please…” His attempts to gain her attention were misinterpreted, he realized, when her grip tightened around his shaft, squeezing and stroking in an eruption of pleasure that drove the air from his lungs. Though he’d pleasured himself in the past, each time with a sense of guilt even as he spent, those were shadows compared to the exquisite bliss her touch created in him. Several more seconds of this, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to contain himself.

Must…concentrate…on something…else.

A…b…c…d…

Not enough.

Oh god. What is she doing to me?

Greek, then. I’ll try Greek.

Alpha…beta…gamma…delta…eps—ahhhhhh, Buffy my love, god…epsilon…zeta…

And then it was gone, and Buffy had pulled back from kissing him, and as much as he was relieved that it wouldn’t be over yet quite so quickly, William felt a strange sense of dissatisfaction and emptiness at the absence of her touch. His eyes flew open to see her staring at him, a small line between her fine brows.

“Are you OK?” she asked, her voice slightly tremulous. “Is it…I’m not hurting you, am I?”

“Oh, love, no.” Suddenly self-conscious of his erection’s exposure where she’d undone his trousers, he fumbled to cover himself as he pushed himself up. “It’s just…overwhelming. No one has ever…I mean, you’re the first…” The heat in his face betrayed his embarrassment in his confession, and he ducked his gaze before seeing the understanding dawn in hers.

“Oh,” Buffy said softly. Her hand came out to cup his cheek, forcing him to lift his head again. “It’s OK if you want us to stop. I just thought…you know I wanted to do that, right?”

“I do. But, perhaps, if you would allow me to…touch you instead, just for a bit…”

“You expect me to say no?” she teased. “Do you think I’m crazy or something?”

He smiled as he bent in for a kiss. “I do love you, Buffy Summers.”

*************

She could still feel his trembling as she laid back on the grass. Making love to him had been her intention ever since convincing Willow to let her have the dreams, at least for now, but each time he had said something obviously constructed by the magic to fill the need in her, or repeated something that had just been said to her that day only to reinforce the theory of his existence, her certainty had faded. But she’d acted anyway, and had been rewarded with the quivering response of his body, hard and ready and needy all for her. So losing herself now to his touch was simple. This was about William and Buffy. This was what the dreams had always been about.

Their eyes were locked as his fingers stroked her cheek, pushing back her hair to let it splay across the grass before skating down to the soft rise of her breasts over the sundress’ bodice. There, they hesitated, and his eyebrow cocked in silent query for permission to proceed.

Wordlessly, Buffy lifted her hands to join his, guiding him into undoing the tiny white buttons. As each fell free, neither was able to tear their gazes away from the other, not even when her dress parted completely to fall into soft folds at her sides. She had had to sit up slightly for the last few buttons, but with the last undone, Buffy sank back into the lawn. And waited.

William looked away then, and she saw his breathing quicken as he drank in the sight of her, golden flesh exposed to the hot sun. The hand he’d used on the fastenings lifted to the rosy peak of her breast, floating about the curve with reverence. When he spoke, his voice was a whisper on the breeze, so soft she had to strain to hear him.

“I am lost in a place ‘tween the sun and moon,
Where firm and figment merge this June,
And in that place ‘tween moon and sun,
My love that burns for her is legion.”

“I don’t remember hearing you tell me that one before,” she said quietly, desperate not to shatter the mood he’d created. “When did you write it?”

“Just now.” He blushed and swallowed, his hand sculpting the air in her shape as it descended down over her stomach. “It’s not very good, I’m sure.”

“Don’t be silly.” Reaching up, she fisted the front of his shirt to pull on top of her length. “It was wonderful.”

The direct contact of their bodies made William gasp, and he quickly dropped his hands to the grass to prop his torso up over hers. His mouth opened to protest, but when he saw the tease in her eyes, his own relaxed. “Someone is failing to uphold her end of this arrangement,” he pretend-scolded.

“I thought you didn’t want me to hold it,” Buffy replied in wide-eyed innocence.

He chuckled. “My saucy, little minx.”

Then, his mouth was back on her, sucking at her neck before following its delicate line to the hollow of her throat. Her eyes rolled back as she felt him nip there with his teeth, just as she had done to him, and reached up to tangle her fingers in his hair. “Yes…” she murmured, only to lose in it a hiss when his tongue began circling the hard bud of her nipple.

“Tell me,” he whispered into her skin.

“Tell you…” She gasped when his lips closed around the tip of her breast, sucking the nipple against the roof of his mouth. “…what?” she managed to finish.

“How to please you.” His fingers were tentative where they danced down her sides, and he shifted his weight in order to lavish attention on the other breast.

“But you are,” Buffy said. She shuddered when he inadvertently brushed his arm over the tops of her thighs, in spite of the underwear that still separated her from his touch. “Just…follow your instincts. You’ll do…” Another shudder. “…more than fine.”

It seemed forever as his tongue and teeth teased her breasts, leaving her squirming against the grass as the desire slowly swelled inside her. When the heat of his body suddenly abandoned hers, Buffy’s eyes flew open to see him kneeling at her side, hands working determinedly at his shirt as he peeled it from his shoulders. He was pale, touched by too little sun, his shoulders broad but lean where he towered over her, and her eyes dropped to the slim line of his hips when he hesitated at his trousers.

“Are you certain?” William asked, and her gaze flew back to his face.

“Never been more,” she replied.

His fingers flew at the fastenings and he quickly stripped from the rest of his clothing, his bashfulness tinting his cheeks in pink as he avoided meeting her eyes again. Too soon, he was stretched at her side, and Buffy could feel the long length of his arousal pressing into her hip. She wanted him inside her, but his earlier statement about her being his first explained more than his constant questions. Enough listening to Xander talk about male hormones and performance anxiety, even if it was all jokes and insincere banter, told her that he probably feared it ending too quickly. He was just trying to see to her needs before expending his own.

“Touch me,” she encouraged, and took his hand in hers, guiding it down her stomach to the waistband of her panties. Gently, she pushed his fingers beneath the elastic, noting the wonder in his eyes as he brushed over the wiry curls.

“So warm,” William murmured. “I never imagined…” The thought remained unfinished as he took the initiative and broke from her grasp, his entire hand disappearing inside the cotton to cup her mound.

Her legs parted, the invitation for him to explore further passing silently between them. When he slipped the first finger between her folds, sliding along the wetness it found there, Buffy’s hands flew to her sides, digging into the earth as if to root herself from flying away. One gentle stroke…another tracing the lower curve of her opening…another glide up the other side…and then he lightly brushed over her clit, sending an electrical shock up her pelvis.

Her sharp intake of breath at the contact made him jerk away, but Buffy’s hand shot up to grab his wrist. “No,” she said huskily, opening her eyes to look into his startled face. “That wasn’t bad.”

“But…you…that’s pleasurable?”

“Very much so.” Releasing her grip on him, Buffy hooked her fingers through the waistband of her underwear and pushed them down her legs, kicking them away to bare herself to him again. Though it felt weird being the more knowledgeable of the pair, she shoved the awkwardness aside. “You can…do it again,” she said at his hesitation. “Please?”

The entreaty was all it took to ease William’s discomfort, and he returned to his careful exploration with an intent that was almost frightening in its earnestness. With each caress, he grew bolder, and when she felt his breath blow warm and ragged across her outer lips, her flesh broke out in goosebumps.

“You’re so beautiful,” he murmured. He’d parted the curls and exposed her to the hot sun, and she heard the soft hitch in his throat as he swallowed. When she felt his cheek settle on her lower tummy, she glanced down to see him gazing up at her.

“What?” she asked, suddenly self-conscious.

“It’s nothing,” he murmured. His hand in her heat never stopped moving, each stroke a frisson of fire through her thighs.

She didn’t believe him, but it was obvious he wasn’t going to say anything further, content in watching her react to his touch. When he slid a finger inside, it startled Buffy, causing her to clench around him, and the groan that escaped her parted lips was unavoidable.

“Does my lady enjoy that?” William whispered. No more diffidence in his voice. The trembling in her body was the only confirmation he needed.

She responded by squeaking when he added a second finger, eyes dark with desire as they bored into hers. In and out he pumped, never breaking his gaze, and as the flames inside her escalated, he boldly brushed the pad of his thumb across her clit.

“William!” she cried out, bucking beneath his weight. For a moment, he disappeared, but his hand remained, and she twisted as he quickened the pace of his fingers. It was quickly becoming too much, and she groped to reach him through the haze he was creating in her head.

“Stop…please…” Buffy gasped. “Want you…” As he began to climb up her length, she grew impatient, yanking him the rest of the way to slam her mouth to his. Hunger replaced caution, and almost immediately, his ardor matched hers, kissing her as if the world were about to end. Her legs spread, wrapping around his waist, and she felt the tip of his erection nudging at her slick opening.

“Now…” she breathed when they parted for necessary air.

For the first time since she’d finished stripping, William looked wary. “I can’t…I’m not certain how long…” he stumbled.

“You were fine when I was touching you,” she said.

He blushed. “I was…distracting myself,” he admitted with a stammer.

“So do whatever you did again.” She didn’t give him time to reply, just pulled him back to her lips before tightening her legs around his hips. “And if that’s not enough, then…do it backwards.”

There was resistance at first, his girth stretching her almost painfully as William pressed into her. His eyes were squeezed shut, most likely concentrating on whatever it was that had helped him endure her earlier teasing, but the pleasure on his face was unmistakable as he sank into her heat. Buffy eased her guidance, allowing his instincts to take over, and let herself fall into the whirlwind his penetration created, drowning and swirling and floating as each agonizing inch filled the desire inside that had been screaming for him for days now.

It seemed forever before he was completely sheathed, and when he was, his forehead fell to hers, his breathless panting fanning across her cheeks. “Legion,” William murmured. Re-capturing her lips, he began to move before coherent thought could manifest itself in Buffy’s brain, groaning when she started to move with him. “Love you,” he managed to articulate before burying his face in the crook of her neck.

“I love you, too,” she whispered. Already so close to an orgasm before he’d entered her, each thrust only added to the crescendo, cascading in a riot of shivers and shocks before tossing her screaming over the precipice. Her back arched away from the ground as her inner muscles squeezed his shaft, her guttural cry being simultaneously torn from her throat.

Through the tremors wracking her body, Buffy felt William speed his thrusts, his control gone in the wake of her pleasure. Once…twice…and it was on the third stroke that he stiffened, the muscles in his back straining with the force of his orgasm, each release deep inside her causing him to jerk in unison. Her hands pulled him down, her mouth sought his, and before the quivering had stopped, they were kissing, promising without words the steadfastness each was afraid to fully voice.

When he murmured the “I love you” again into her ear, Buffy smiled unseen as she stroked his sweat-slick curls. It didn’t matter what Willow said. And it didn’t matter that none of this was real.

What he did for her was.

And she could let herself love that. Because he couldn’t hurt her.

Wouldn’t hurt her.

He promised.

*************

Esme watched them at the other end of the cave, her gnarled fingers manipulating the stones laid out on the table before her in a mindless pattern. Nathan’s voice was beginning to grate on her final nerve, the coaxing he’d been giving the prostate form on the moth-eaten bed escalating into a petulant wheedling that made her want to just stake him and be done with the whole mess.

“C’mon, babe,” he whined. “Don’t do this to me.”

Esme’s scoff was audible, and she rolled her eyes when he scowled back in her direction. “Maybe she just wants to sleep,” the witch commented with more than a taste of sarcasm. “Maybe being contained in a magical crystal collection takes a little more getting over than some sheep’s blood and a touchy-feely boyfriend.”

“Shut up,” Nathan barked. He turned back to April, pushing back the dark hair from her ridged brow. Releasing her from the spell that had contained her for over a century had seemed like the penultimate moment of his existence; they should’ve fallen into each other’s arms and then set off to ravage their way back to London before the sun had risen to confine them to darker quarters.

Instead, April had woken at the sound of her name on his lips, only to collapse moments later. So close to morning, he’d only been able to kill a few sheep to feed her, but that hadn’t been enough. What she needed was human, something with stronger healing properties than the local ovine population. Esme had tried more than once to tell the stupid vamp that, but Nathan was refusing to leave his lover’s side.

How did I get involved with such a simpleton?

“Can you do something for her?”

He surprised her with the question, more from the fact that she’d been expecting it earlier that day than the fact that he’d uttered it at all. “You mean other than breaking the enchantment that held her?” she replied.

“You have just as much interest in seeing April strong as I do.”

“I also understand that these things require patience.”

Snarling, Nathan glared at her with yellow eyes as his hands clenched and unclenched in his lap. She knew he desperately wanted to tear her head off, but her power frightened him. She would be safe from any of his attacks until he had April fully recovered at his side. “Don’t piss me off,” he warned instead, turning away. “You might not get your precious payment if you do.”

Esme’s lips thinned. If she didn’t need the female vampire so badly, she would just walk away from the entire debacle, consequences be damned. But she’d walked too far along the road to stop now, playing with time against all the rules she’d ever learned, dancing around the current Slayer in an attempt to deter her from meddling with the outcome. She didn’t care if Buffy Summers killed April or not; all she cared about was when. As long as Esme got what she wanted from the vamp, the California girl could do whatever took her fancy.

For a moment, her thoughts drifted to the liaisons she’d instigated between the Slayer and the Victorian poet. As much as she was fascinated by the young woman, it was William that occupied most of her conscious thoughts of the pair. He had not been what she’d been expecting. There was no doubt as to his involvement in April’s downfall---or potential involvement at this point---yet the diffident poet was as far from a warrior as anyone could expect. What could he possibly contribute to the battle?

Driving him to distraction and Buffy’s arms had been simple---a few choice words, an addictive tea---but the faintest niggle in the back of Esme’s mind worried her. He had seemed stronger in her last encounter with him---well, stronger after she’d spoken to him. She knew he’d fled the party, but once he’d decided to return, with thoughts of his love first and foremost in his mind, the witch had been taken aback by the determination she’d sensed in him. A…power, almost. It hadn’t been there before, and she was beginning to fear that maybe she’d done the wrong thing in putting the two together.

She couldn’t even travel back to his time again to discover more of the answers for herself. Over the course of the past two weeks, especially with her latest foray to the Freston home, she’d depleted her strength, making anything as powerful as time manipulation impossible. She didn’t dare let Nathan know that, though. With his temper as short as it was, Esme needed him to fear her until her strength returned sufficiently so that she could defend herself.

Right now, she knew that if an attack came, she would end up dead. And she couldn’t let that happen. Not when she was so close to getting what she’d been working toward.

“You should go down to the village and bring her back a human,” she said, rising to her feet. “A live feed is what she needs. If you go now, you’ll be back before sunrise.”

“I can’t leave her. What if she wakes up and I’m not here?”

“And what if you don’t go and she never wakes up?” Esme countered. Against her better judgment, she rested a hand on the vampire’s shoulder in a conciliatory attempt to get him to understand. “You’re right when you say I need her strong, too. Why would I lie to you at this point in our little arrangement?”

The frustration was pouring off him in waves, and it took all her control not to flinch when he jumped to his feet. With one last look at the sleeping April, he lifted a warning finger to the witch. “I’ll be less than an hour,” Nathan said. “If anything’s wrong when I get back, I’ll kill you.”

As she watched him stomp from the cave, Esme sighed. Demons were such a nightmare to deal with. It almost made her glad that it was the Slayer and William on the other side. At least they would be reasonable if the time came for her to play her wildcards.

After all, there wasn’t anything as strong as a child’s love for a parent…now was there?

 

To be continued in Chapter 16: So Far From Home