DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course,
and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet LXI.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: William and Buffy made love in their most frequent encounter, while Nathan and Esme wait for April to wake up…
He knew he ought not to be so light of heart. Circumstances were no different than prior to his night’s slumber---his mother remained missing, the conundrum of just what Richard and his Council intended to do with the information William had still to provide nagged beneath his every movement---and yet, William went about his morning ablutions with a seemingly blithe disregard for the issues at hand. Not that he didn’t care; oh, no, nothing could be farther from the truth. But the respite he’d been granted from the night spent with Buffy fortified him against dwelling, a development in his character of which he was more than aware.
It had been magical. He had no other words to describe it. More, and more, and infinitely more than he’d ever imagined, like he’d been entombed in some dark sepulcher and then liberated at the hour of noon in the height of brilliant summer. Blinding at first, but as his confidence grew, and as Buffy encouraged him to continue and explore at his leisure---just as she did the same, his playful siren---the radiance had abated to more tolerable levels, still fiery and explosive beneath his skin but manageable, so that he could endure more than the fifteen or thirty seconds of pleasure loving her gave him at a time.
He smiled as he fastened his shirt cuffs. So perhaps he did have the words after all.
His only surprise from the experience came upon waking. It was William’s experience that such dreams---and though these were not the first to occur for him, they were certainly the most intense---should’ve been accompanied by his unconscious spending while he slept. Yet, both his sheets and his nightwear were clean and dry when he awoke. He was aroused, yes, but any physical evidence of his nocturnal adventures was missing. A curious observation, but one for which he was surprisingly grateful. It was always dreadfully uncomfortable for him to try and cover the effects of such doings when they’d happened before, and to be saved the responsibility of hiding such a frenzy from the staff or his mother was a welcome boon.
Of course, it wouldn’t have been difficult to hide such a thing from his mother considering she was still missing. His mood dropped ever so slightly.
He was fully dressed and prepared when the announcement came that he had company. Head held high, William pushed open the door to the front lounge and smiled as Richard rose from his seat. “Good morning,” he said, extending his hand. “Have you been offered tea yet?”
Richard shook his head. “I don’t imagine we’ll be staying that long today,” he replied. He stepped back to allow William to bow over Rose’s proffered fingers. “Once we’ve finished what we need to here, it’s most likely best for all of us to return to the Council to analyze our results.”
Rose was dressed differently today. The trousers and plait were gone, replaced with the subdued dark dress more befitting the era and her age. She was smiling as William brushed his lips over her knuckles, but when their eyes met, he saw her hesitate, a small line forming between her brows as she gazed at him closer.
“You seem…rested,” she said, and cast a surreptitious glance at her husband to see if he was paying her any mind. Unseen by Richard, the backs of her fingers tilted upwards to brush against William’s palm, and he felt a sharp tingle at the brief contact. It was gone just as quickly as it had appeared, though, and she pulled her hand away from his with a thoughtful tilt of her head.
Mildly shaken, William turned from Rose to face the Watcher. “What is the plan for today then? Do you need for me to do anything, or should I remain out of your way?”“I will need some time in your mother’s room,” Rose interjected. She rose to her feet, a small leather bag dangling from her left wrist. “Most of that will be spent trying to determine the source of the magic that was used on her, which will require my utmost concentration.”
“Oh.” For some reason, he was relieved that she was going to need to be separate from them while she worked. Perhaps it was the knowing look in her eye when she gazed at him. William turned to Richard again. “And you, sir? Will you---?”
“I’ll need you for a few moments while I get acquainted with her room,” Rose cut in. “You don’t mind if I steal William away from your questions, do you, Richard? I promise to return him in one piece.”
More of his exhilaration faded at the Watcher’s agreement, but William maintained his smile for as long as it took to lead Rose to his mother’s bedroom. Only when she closed the door behind them and he turned to see her solemn countenance did it disappear completely.
“I like you, William,” she said, ignoring any more of the pleasantries. “As does Richard. Now. And I still believe that my assertions about your innocence are true. But neither of us are fools, and I refuse to let you play us as such.”
Her direct tone and level gaze immediately reverted him to his early school days, and the disappointed lectures he received from teachers who felt his predisposition for woolgathering was detrimental to his studies. Not that he’d been a bad student, quite the contrary, especially on those topics he adored. They merely felt that he could be truly excellent if he only applied himself. He would cower in shame at not meeting their expectations, curls falling against his brow, his glasses slipping down his nose as he stared at the floor, and it was that same sense of reproach that reared its ugly head now.
“I…don’t understand,” he managed to say.
“I don’t know how it’s possible, and I’m not entirely certain who she could be,” she said, “but your interactions with your Slayer friend will need to be brought to light very soon here. Richard may not have noticed it immediately, but that’s only due to his attention elsewhere. When you return for his inquiries, I’m sure he’ll sense the difference in you fairly quickly. And what will you tell him?”
She knew. She knew more than could be merely guessed at, and though he’d known of this yesterday during her first inspection, William found her candid queries now more than a little disconcerting.
“How?” he asked, his voice hoarse. He could feel the beads of sweat beginning to trickle beneath his collar, and fought not to wipe them away.
Rose softened at his obvious discomfort. “I’m a seer, remember? I see things others don’t, or choose not to.”
“But she’s…not of this world. A figment of my imagination only.”
The lie made her shake her head. “We both know that’s not true, William. You wear her essence as closely as if she was on your arm at this very moment. That wouldn’t be possible if she weren’t real.” She became contemplative. “I’d thought yesterday that she was merely a Potential that you had crossed paths with, but now…there’s no mistaking her calling. How is it you’ve managed to interact so intimately with her?”
Pointless to continue with the pretense. “I don’t know,” he admitted, and while he hated being forced to divulge his secrets, part of him bounded from the freedom he would gain from its tether. If anyone could understand, surely it would be Miss Rose… “I’ve never understood why she came to me, though until yesterday, I was certain she was merely a dream---.”
“She comes to you in dreams?” This sparked her renewed attention, and her eyes became even more inquisitive, sweeping up and over him as she rounded his form. “But there’s nothing mystical about you. You don’t have the power to do more than the most rudimentary of magics.” Rose came to a halt before him again. “Are they prophetic dreams you’re having? Are you seeing future events?”
“But you know things.”
“Only what she tells me.”
“She? The Slayer? She talks to you?”
“Tell me what she looks like.”
The request bewildered him, and for the first time since her approach, William looked into those black eyes, wondering why she would ask such a thing. “Petite,” he said. “Blonde hair, almost honeyed in the sun. With green---.”
“Enough.” Rose cut him off with a wave of her hand, his response returning her to her earlier contemplation. “Does your young lady have a name?”
“Miss Buffy Summers.”
“Buffy. That’s the name you mentioned to Richard. But that’s not the name of any Slayer we’ve had on record. How is it you come to meet with her? Has someone given you a spell in order to initiate contact?”
William’s mind automatically drifted to the tea he consumed before going to sleep every night. He’d long ago accepted the correlation between drinking it and dreaming of Buffy, but in light of the reality of her, was it time to re-evaluate just how some sort of thing could come to pass? The plan to circumvent the issue of his love was completely moot now, anyway. He very well could’ve fooled Richard in a one-on-one interrogation, but Rose saw far too much, was far too direct in her questioning to continue such a charade.
“Come with me,” he said and exited his mother’s chambers.
The tray from the previous evening still sat at his bedside, and William led the seer straight to it. “It’s most likely nothing,” he said as he gestured to the dregs within the cup. “But it’s the only link I can find with my encounters with Buffy.”
Carefully, Rose lifted the cup to her nose, sniffing delicately at the remains of its contents before taking a much longer draught. “Who gave you this?” she asked.
“It’s a remedy of our cook’s aunt,” he explained. “I was having difficulty sleeping and---.”
“It’s akin to the temporal displacements that occurred here.” She gave it another inhale. “Not exactly the same, but the similarities are too strong to ignore.”
William’s blood ran cold. “So it is magic,” he stated, though he knew somewhere in the back of his mind that that had to be the case. “And I was deliberately meant to see Buffy. But why? And what could it possibly have to do with my mother?”
She set the cup back down onto the tray. “You say it was your cook’s aunt’s recipe? I don’t suppose you know her name, do you? It’s likely she’s a known practitioner and we can find her with the Council’s resources.”
He shook his head, his brain spinning as he attempted to recall the brief conversation he’d had with Cook regarding the tea in the first place. He could almost envision how they’d been standing, but the words…auntie, she’d called her. But auntie what?
“Esmerelda!” William announced triumphantly as it came to him in a flash. “She said her name was Esme---.”
He cut himself off.
Could it be coincidence?
There was no reason to think it was.
And yet…the similar names…the concurrence of such odd events…and she knew. Miss Esme knew. She could see. She saw Buffy, she saw it all. Just like…
Just like Miss Rose.
When he felt her slim hand come to rest on his forearm, he jumped back as if scalded, eyes wide behind his glasses as he swallowed convulsively. “What is it, William?” Rose asked quietly. Her voice was so gentle, coaxing him as if he was a wild foal, but though he wished desperately that he could believe her, it was just too much.
Richard emerged from the lounge to see the back of William’s head as he dashed out the front door, the heavy wood reverberating in its frame as it slammed closed. Automatically, he rushed forward but was stopped before exiting when he heard Rose’s voice on the stair behind him.
“Don’t,” she said. “He needs some time to himself, I believe. But he’ll be back.”
He turned to see her descend, her hand skimming along the rail. “Did it work?” he asked. “Did he tell you?”
Rose nodded. “I confronted him, just as you requested. It took him a few minutes to realize he couldn’t lie to me about it, but once he did, he was quite open with his answers.”“And?”
“The Buffy he mentioned is a Slayer. Though he didn’t say outright, I’m assuming she’s the one who told him of the Council’s existence.”
“You mean she’s a Potential.”
“No, I don’t.”
“But that’s not possible. The Slayer’s not even in this country, and if another had been called, I would know about it…” He froze, stiffening. “Unless…you don’t think it’s---?”
“It’s not.” Her voice was firm, and she finished coming down the stairs to stand before him. “He described Buffy, and, trust me, he wasn’t lying about her. But there’s no mistaking that he’s encountering some Slayer. His entire aura weeps with it.”
Richard’s knuckles were bone-white around the end post of the balustrade. “And you just let him walk away?” he demanded. “I asked you to question him because I wanted to ensure his cooperation without the use of magic, because you said it wasn’t necessary, and yet when it appears that he is privy to information that threatens us, you allow him to slip through our fingers.”
“He isn’t ours to hold. He’s a man in love---.”
“With a Slayer! That shouldn’t even be possible!”
“But it is. It’s all part of the temporal folds we detected. I suspect there’s a greater picture here we’re not seeing. He mentioned the first name of the woman he believes might be behind his contact with this Buffy. An Esmerelda. I will lay odds that we’re able to find something on her at the Council archives. The magic she used is too powerful to have gone unnoticed.”
He shook his head. “Sometimes, woman, I do believe you’re completely mad,” he said affectionately, his earlier ire deflating with her calm presentation. Richard sighed, resigned. “Now tell me…why is it you think he’ll come back?”
Rose’s eyes drifted to the closed door. “Because he has nowhere else to go for answers,” she replied softly. “And he’s a young man desperately in search of them.”
It was the first morning he’d felt strong enough to rise from the bed.
Groggy, Giles’ fingers clawed into the mortar of the brick wall, desperate for purchase to help him stand. His head was awhirl, the room still pitching about him as it had for the days he’d spent coming in and out of consciousness on the too-short cot. But as he remained still, focusing his eyes on a fixed point in the floor, it gradually began to lessen, the rocking and swaying he associated with being awake easing to a more manageable state.
Right. Well, that’s one thing accomplished.
He had no idea where he was. The room itself could’ve been anywhere---rough brick walls, unpainted and barely finished, measuring eight by eight…the cot with the itchy gray blankets that had made him sweat through his clothes until the desire to wash had driven him to his feet…a sink and toilet in the far corner…a single light bulb dangling from the ceiling. A prison cell, really, he realized, now that his head was clearer. But what kind of jail it was, and who exactly was incarcerating him, Giles had no idea.
He had been blindsided on the way to the market. One minute he was stepping from the curb to cross the street. The next, he was waking up to lean over and vomit in the pan next to his cot because his stomach was refusing to behave. A quick glance down at the floor confirmed for him that the pan had long since been removed, which in the tiny, windowless room, was a welcome relief. And he did remember eating at some point in his bedrest. He just couldn’t remember any of the specific details.
No matter. Now that he was up, Giles was determined to learn as much as he could about his surroundings. Starting with the status of the door.
Encouraging his feet to move took more effort than he’d imagined, so by the time Giles had crossed the room, nearly half an hour had passed. Yet again, sweat soaked his shirt, though this time from exertion, and he had to stop and lean against the jamb to catch his breath before testing the doorknob. Whatever had been done to him had been powerful, he decided. Poison perhaps, or maybe magic. Though his body was tired and difficult to control, he didn’t seem to be physically hurt enough to merit a more tangible attack.
With shaking fingers, he reached for the door, resting his weight at its side as he attempted to turn the handle. Much to his surprise, it moved on the first attempt, silent even when the door swung out into a blackened hall, and Giles peered into the darkness in an attempt to discern more of his surroundings. No illumination marked the narrow passage, but the light from his room revealed a matching door across the way. No sounds emanated from it. Am I alone here?
There was only one way to find out. Gritting his teeth against the exhaustion, Giles took the last few steps to the opposite door, dropping his hand when he reached it to see if it opened as easily as his. It did. Carefully, he pulled it ajar, and peered through the breach.
As far as he could tell, it was a literal copy of his room, though instead of a toilet, a large pot sat next to the bed. It wasn’t unoccupied, either. Asleep beneath the gray blanket was a woman only a few years older than himself, ashy blonde hair in a long plait over her shoulder, with a sculptured profile softened by age. There was something vaguely familiar about her features, though Giles was certain he’d never seen her before. Still, her presence meant that he wasn’t alone here. Add that to the fact that both their doors were unlocked and he was beginning to wonder if in fact they were being held hostage after all.
Or whoever brought me here doesn’t expect us to just get up out of bed and walk around, he suddenly thought.
It was impossible to tell if these were the only two doors, but in his increasingly weakened state, Giles knew that further exploration would be impossible at the moment. Easing the door closed, he almost fell across the distance of the hall to his own room, wincing when the heavy wood echoed hollowly as it shut behind him. Just a bit more rest, he decided. Then I can search more extensively. Or speak to the woman across the way. Perhaps she knows more of what is going on here than I do.
She watched its entrance from her vantage point across the road, careful to stay hidden behind the heavy curtains she’d commissioned prior to her arrival in London. The distant clacking of hooves down the street was ignored as she focused her attention on the young boy she’d hired to deliver her message dart between the wheels of rolling coaches, hesitating only once when he reached the Council’s door. Hungry eyes swiveled to look up at her, and though she knew he couldn’t actually see her behind the drape, she nodded anyway, sending him silent confirmation that that was the correct destination.
Cool arms slid around her naked waist, and equally cool lips pressed into the bend of her shoulder. “Come back to bed,” Nathan singsonged. “We’ve only just arrived, and if the boy fails to get what you need, you can just have him for supper and find another one to try.”
She leaned back into his chest, letting the curtains fall closed to leave them in gloom. “I hate this place,” she complained. “Why did he have to come back to the Council? Why couldn’t he have stayed in St. Petersburg?”
“Because you had already left,” he said, chuckling. “Why should he stay when you’re his entire reason for existing?”
Her eyes fluttered shut when his expert fingers began kneading the lower swell of her full breast. “Richard always has to make everything so difficult,” she murmured.
A series of kisses, growing in intensity, left a trail around the back of her shoulders until he met the delicate line of the opposite side of her neck. “You could just let him go,” Nathan whispered into her ear as he caught the lobe between his teeth. “Forget this silly vendetta once and for---.”
She whirled in his arms, fangs already to the fore as her nails came up and raked across his cheek. “I told you to stop doing that!” she hissed. “I will see Richard drawn and bleeding, and your petty jealousies are doing nothing but making me wonder if I shouldn’t be including you in the bonfire I have planned for him.”
Nathan took a step backward, a thumb reaching up to his gaunt cheek to swipe at the blood she drew. His eyes were glittering as he said, “I am not jealous. Of a human? When I know that in the end, I’ll be the one who’s there for you, I’ll be the one who helps you clear away the debris when he crumbles before you? Don’t presume to know what I’m feeling. The only thing I’ve ever wanted since you turned me was to see you happy, and you’re obviously not happy here. It was merely a suggestion. One that I won’t make the mistake of making again, apparently.”
She caught his arm before he could turn away, yellow eyes gone and replaced with the dark amber of her human gaze. “I’m just tired,” she said in lieu of an apology. “Perhaps you’re right and bed is where I need to be.” A coy smile curled her too-full lips, and she pressed her curves into his lean frame. “Maybe I’ll let you punish me for not believing in you, lover.”
His mouth was back on her in an instant, biting with blunt teeth at her neck with a savagery that made her gasp. “I’ll always believe in you, April,” he rasped. “Until the day I dust.”
To be continued in Chapter 17: Some Say Thy Fault Is Youth…