DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course,
and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet XIX.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: On his way home, William has been sidetracked by David Howard, while back in the present, Buffy’s attempt to question Charles, the owner of the bookstore where they saw Esme, has been thwarted by the Council…
She was wary the entire trip back to the apartment, looking over her shoulder at every turn, watching every face for someone else who might be reporting back to the Council. At Buffy’s side, Willow remained silent, pale and vigilant as she kept just as tight a watch, and it was with a breath of relief when both girls firmly locked the apartment door behind them.
“I can’t---,” Willow started, only to be cut off by the Slayer’s upheld hand.
Carefully, Buffy pressed forward into the hall, ears cocked for any telltale sounds of intruders. Her head tilted around the corner to survey the living room, before she disappeared to check out the bedrooms.
“All clear,” she said when she returned. “Not that that doesn’t mean they haven’t been here, but checking for bodies to pummel is about as far as I can go.”
“You don’t---.” Willow stopped and leaned forward conspiratorially, lowering her voice to a sotto voce whisper. “You don’t think they bugged us, do you?”
“I don’t know what to think any more,” she said. “But we don’t have any place else to go, so we’re just going to have to take our chances and hope Travers thinks he’s done enough. Because, you know, the guy’s a pompous ass who’s used to thinking he can win, and he did get Charles, so I’m going to lay odds he’s sitting in his overstuffed chair, with his overstuffed shirt, and an overstuffed pipe stuck out the side of his mouth, just gloating about how they beat us.”
“Mr. Travers smokes a pipe?”
Buffy shrugged. “I dunno. It just kind of fit the image.”
When the Slayer began heading for the kitchen, Willow followed right on her heels. “Maybe we can go talk to Charles when the Council is done with him,” she offered brightly.
Shaking her head, Buffy pulled open the freezer and took out a small pint of ice cream. “Somehow, I don’t think he’s going to be very accessible when they let him go.”
“But obviously, they think he’s important or something.”
“That’s what it looks like.” Pulling out two spoons, she handed one to Willow before perching herself up on the counter. “That means we need to find out what he knows.”
“I was hoping you could tell me.”
The room was silent as the two girls ate the ice cream from the container, the only sound the occasional clink of their spoons when they’d meet at the pint at the same time. It wasn’t until the treat was almost gone before one of them spoke up again.
“Didn’t you say Mr. Travers kept looking over files and stuff when you went to see him the second time?” Willow asked thoughtfully.
“And he didn’t let you see any of it.”
“No. And that Lydia person kept bringing him more, tons more than what they gave me at the first meeting I had with them.”
Willow grew silent again, digging into the corners of the ice cream container for another spoonful. When she’d swallowed it down, she mused, “It’s probably a safe bet to say the Council’s just a little anal about keeping records on everything, huh? I mean, Giles had to get it from somewhere, right?”
She began to see where the redhead might be going with her line of questioning. “There’s no way they’re not going to have some sort of record of Charles’ interrogation when they’re done with him,” Buffy said. Already, she was feeling a little lighter about the situation. “They might even videotape him just to make sure they’re being thorough enough.”
“Or at least an audio transcript. Not to mention all the other records they kept from you. You said they’re interested in Esme, so she’s probably got her own file and everything, too.”
Buffy scraped up the remaining ice cream before setting the container down on the counter. “The trick is to get a look at them,” she said.
“They probably never leave the building.”
“Under lock and key.”
“And magic. Don’t forget how big the Council is on using magic.”
“It’s probably some heavy duty mojo, too. Not exactly a Slayer specialty.”
Willow shook her head. “Maybe not. These are just ordinary files they’d be protecting. Not anything end of the worldish, I don’t think. They could just have the standard set of wards up.”
“That means you could probably get around them,” Buffy said, brightening.
“Uh, no. Even the Council’s basic stuff is beyond my reach right now. They’ve been going at it for centuries, which kind of puts my two years to shame.”
“But you made your magical stick thingy. That’s pretty serious, isn’t it?”
“With Giles’ help. He’s the one who got me on the right track with it.”
“Oh.” She deflated slightly as she lapsed back into thought.
“I could probably handle anything technical they had in place, though,” Willow suggested. “When Giles and I were doing the research on how to track the magic, he gave me what I needed to access some of the Council’s information online. It’s just front door kind of stuff, but once I’m in, I should be able to dig around to get in deeper and see what kind of security measures they have in place.”
Buffy frowned. “Giles gave you computer help? And his head didn’t explode?”
“It was information he got from his friend in Cambridge. Just passwords. Nothing he really paid much attention to.”
It wasn’t a plan she would’ve thought Willow would endorse. Breaking and entering back in Sunnydale was one thing; doing it on foreign soil, with a powerful organization just waiting for such a trick, was entirely different. Still, for lack of anything better, Buffy didn’t really have much of a choice. And if she got caught by the Council, she highly doubted she’d get turned in. She may not be on the proverbial payroll any more, but she was the only active Slayer they had. They couldn’t afford to have her behind bars.
“I guess that’s it then,” Buffy announced, hopping down from the counter. “Into the lion’s den for me.”
“Only after I check out their security,” Willow said.
“Right. We’ll hit them where it hurts Watchers the most. We’ll take away their information at the source.”
Their carriage came to a stop before the Council building, but rather than opening the door to get out, Richard sighed and just stared at the edifice before him. The evening shadows veiled any of the welcome he normally experienced when he approached, turning small windows into gaping dead eyesockets mocking him in his ineptitude. “I cannot shake the feeling that we’re failing somehow,” he said quietly. “There is something we’re missing, some piece of the puzzle that’s managed to escape our attention.”
Rose’s hand was a soothing balm on his arm. “You just need some rest,” she said. “You’ve been without much sleep ever since I discovered the displacements around the Freston house.”
“Yes.” He rubbed wearily at his eyes. “I suppose I should be grateful that I didn’t fob off the inquiry onto one of the others. I’m not certain how they would react to hearing about this illusive Slayer young William has somehow associated himself with. I just wish---.”
“Don’t. You mustn’t keep doing this to yourself, Richard. You’ve traveled to so many places, searched so many cities for her. You can’t be seeing her in every dilemma that faces the Council. Even April’s not that omnipotent.” She forced him to look at her. “For all we know, she’s dead, and all your searching is for naught.”
The shake of Richard’s head was firm. “No. She’s still out there. I would know if something had managed to kill her once and for all.”
“Perhaps…” Rose sighed. “No, I suppose asking you to give up this hunt is too much. You’ve spent the last thirty years trying to find her. I can hardly expect you to stop now, not when you’ve covered up so much, killed so many in this madness.”
“It has to be done. There’s no one else to do it.”
Curling into her husband’s side, she set her head against his shoulder and closed her eyes. “I know,” she said softly. “But it will kill you, Richard. Of that, I have no doubt.” She stiffened when he leaned out the window to address the driver. “What are you doing?”
“We’re going back to young William’s,” he replied. “If I can’t solve my own problems, the least I can do is help young Freston with his.”
It was the most excruciating meal he’d ever endured, worse even than the Sunday dinner at his cousins’ when William was eight, where his Uncle Franklyn had found him scribbling away under the stairwell prior to sitting and proceeded to abuse his poems as napkins and amusement for the duration of the meal. At least then, he could disappear inside his head, pretend that he wasn’t in the presence of such heartlessness and instead lose himself in his own thoughts.
Now, he was forced to remain alert to David’s constant questioning, tense and agitated and fearful that he would somehow say something to exacerbate his situation.
The current topic under discussion was William’s choice of dress. For some reason William couldn’t fathom, David found it personally offensive that someone couldn’t care as much about the current fashions as he did, and was suitably chiding him for his lack of respect for his peers.
“It’s not just about you, you see,” David was saying. He played with the stem of his wine glass, watching the red fluid swirl around inside the crystal. “Everything you do, everything you are, is a reflection on those around you. To hold such disdain for how you present yourself is to show disrespect to me and to everyone else you associate with.”
He had arguments upon arguments to shoot down David’s pompous rhetoric, but they stuck in William’s throat with gangrenous claws that refused to relinquish their purchase upon their hold. His muscles crawled with the active panic so familiar from his youth, and his stomach rebelled against the rich food he’d barely managed to consume. Though he may have gathered some of Buffy’s strength unto his own, enough certainly to handle reading his poetry in semi-public, it would seem that it wasn’t nearly enough to overcome the years of staunch shame David and his peers had been able to instill. He doubted whether all of her Slayer strength would satisfy such a requirement.
“I’m sure you mean to marry some day,” David continued. “Not that I know of anyone who would consent to such an arrangement, given your current presentation, but I’m certain that is your intent, is it not?”
“Of course,” William stammered. Buffy’s face flashed before his inner eye, and he colored at the memory of the wicked smile she’d bestowed upon him during their last encounter, the way her flushed cheeks had glowed, the scent of her slick skin as it moved against his own…
His reaction did not go unnoticed. “Why, William!” David exclaimed, setting down his wine glass. “You sly dog, you! I would never have guessed! Oh, but you must tell me. Who is it that’s captivated you so?”
For the first time since running into the other man, William smiled shyly, his eyes falling to his plate as he played with his fork. “Just a girl,” he said. But the words refused to be held back, and he rushed forward with the need to tell someone---anyone---of the magic that was Buffy. “Though she is the most exquisite creature I’ve ever been privileged to know. She makes me feel as if I can do anything and yet, she does so without any necessity for reciprocity, without asking what I might do for her in return.”
“And do I know this supposed angel?”
Abashed, he shook his head. “I’m afraid her…path would not normally cross your own.”
David’s good humor faded. “Oh, please don’t tell me you’ve done something as ridiculous as become enamored with one of your staff,” he commented. “Even if it’s that ripe young thing I caught you with the other night, long-term dalliances with inferiors will only create problems for you in the long run.”
“Oh, no, it’s not---.”
“There’s the issue of inheritance down the road,” he went on, as if he hadn’t been interrupted. “And the risk of public disclosure, not to mention the fact that these girls, while amusing in the short-term, will become increasingly demanding the longer you carry on with them. You’d best to nip this one in the bud, William. Enjoy your little pleasures, and then move on. Life is much simpler that way.”
He was saved from rebuttal by the butler’s appearance at the dining room door.
“Excuse me, sir, but there’s a young lady who says she’s hear to see you. She says it’s a matter of life and death.”
David’s mouth quirked in amusement. “Did she give you her card?”
“No, sir. She is of the opinion that you will wish to speak with her. She is an associate of Mr. Richard Rhodes-Fanshaw.”
William paled at the Watcher’s name, his fork clattering clumsily to the table. Had something averse happened to Richard? A quick glance at David told him that his dining companion didn’t recognize the name, so surely, it must be someone looking for himself. If that was the case, it had to be someone from the Council, and yet, none of them were supposed to know of the particulars of his predicament.
“Is she alone?” David asked the butler.
“And her dress? Is she indigent?”
“Oh, no, sir. Quite elegantly presented.”
David nodded. Tossing his napkin onto the table, he started to rise, only to be stopped when William’s hand shot out to grab his arm.
“What are you doing?” William asked.
“I’m going to meet her, of course,” came the reply. He pulled himself easily away from the smaller man’s grip.
“I…I…I don’t think that’s wise. You don’t know her. She could be dangerous.”
The latter made David laugh out loud. “Really, William, you have the most ludicrous notions sometimes. I’m sure it’s just a prank of some sort. Or a simple misunderstanding of residence.” He laughed again. “She’s a woman traveling alone. How dangerous could she be?”
How dangerous indeed, William thought as he rushed to follow David to the front door. He would never have presumed Buffy Summers to be dangerous until she’d demonstrated it for him; unfortunately, his neighbor had no such experience to temper his actions.
The butler stood behind the open door as they approached, and both approaching men frowned. “You could at least have shown her to the drawing room,” David chastised.
“She declined, sir,” the butler answered. “She said---.”
“She is right here and can speak for herself.” The owner of the slightly accented voice stood on the doorstep, and all eyes turned to greet her. Though her voice was deep and confident, it was in stark contrast with her age. The young woman could not have been much more than eighteen, with porcelain skin and raven-black hair drawn up in curls that still managed to appear seductive where the stray tendril escaped to trail her long neck. The arch of her high cheekbones and slight tilt of her light brown eyes betrayed her Slavic heritage, while the corpulent curve of her lips offered secrets of its own, and she held herself with a definitive power that seemed oddly familiar to William.
“Which one of you is David Howard?” she asked, her gaze darting between them.
“I am.” David stepped forward with a confused smile. “My apologies, but I’m unsure as to your presence here. Do we know each other?”
“No. We have a mutual friend who is rather in trouble at the moment.” A gloved hand came up to her forehead, and her eyes fluttered closed. For a moment, William was convinced she was going to faint, but then she spoke again. “I don’t suppose I could trouble you for a glass of water, Mr. Howard? I’m afraid it’s been a long journey for me, and I’m…” She began to sway, only to catch herself before she fell. “I’m not exactly…feeling well.”
He was the very model of solicitude. “Oh, yes, of course, do come in.” Holding his arm out, David stepped forward to aid her, only to be met halfway when she crossed the threshold on her own. “Bring in some tea,” he instructed the butler as he led the young woman away from the front door. “We shall take our afters in the drawing room.”
William hung back when the doors closed behind him, and watched in growing trepidation as David escorted the mysterious girl to the chaise. His nerves were skittering to and fro, as if an instinct deep inside him sensed something amiss, but he could see nothing foreboding about their guest, other than her unfortunate dropping of Richard’s name. Her attire told him she was moneyed, and her manner fitted that of any other female in her station. And yet, there was a sensation of something more about her, of control being held in tight restraint, as if the wrong word or incorrect gesture could unleash a dervish of frightening proportions. And it was that which kept him as far from her as he could manage.
“What is your name?” David queried.
She smiled. “You may call me April.”
His brows drew together. “And yet, you’re not English.”
“No,” she agreed. “But…my father was, and being the sentimental sort, gave me the name for the month in which I was born.”
They grew quiet when the door opened again, forcing William to scuttle sideways out of its path, and the butler entered with a silver tray laden with tea and sweets. As he served, William found a seat at the window, settling himself equidistant from the door and the pair who were now diverted with their drinks. Though he was grateful to no longer be the target of David’s attention, neither was he happy with the awkwardness of the present situation, and he kept his silence even after the butler had adjourned.
They were making small talk, an effort at which William was an abysmal failure, and, out of the corner of his eye, he caught David taking a seat on the chaise directly next to his guest. It was a bold move, but then so was David and thus, to be expected. With a small sigh, William turned his gaze out through the wispy curtains.
April’s carriage sat in front of the house, a dark shadow made even darker by the lack of a moon that night. Leaning against its side was a tall, thin man, his features indistinguishable, while a boy of eight or nine scampered about the wheels. When the boy’s amusement caused him to stumble into the man’s legs, his reaction was swift, a hand around the boy’s neck and a powerful shove that sent the child in an extraordinary arc across the garden.
William leapt from his seat and swiveled to see where the boy had landed. Through the hazy reflection of the room behind him, he could barely make out the unmoving mass, and turned worried eyes back to a waiting April.
“Your boy,” he said. “I believe he might be hurt.”
She shook her head with a husky laugh. “He and Nathan are just playing, I’m sure,” she said. “They do that.”
“Stop worrying Miss April,” David commanded. He rose to his feet. “Really, William, if you continue to behave in such a manner, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
“Oh, but he can’t go yet,” April said, standing as well. “I haven’t conducted my business yet.”
“You don’t need William for that---,” David started. He was cut off with a gurgle when her hand shot out and wrapped around his throat, cutting off his air.
“But I do, Mr. Howard,” she said with a smile. “I need someone to convey my message as it’s obvious Richard is no longer here.”
As a frozen William watched, her face shifted into a monstrous visage, ridges erupting from her brow as her brown eyes lightened to gold. The fangs she now sported were quickly embedded in David’s neck before he could scream, and she held his struggling body tightly against hers as she drank from his veins.
The sight of the blood dripping down her lips was enough to rock William from his daze, and he bolted for the drawing room door. He skidded to a halt, however, when she beat him there, his eyes jumping back to where she’d dropped David’s lifeless body to the carpet before lifting again to gaze at April’s.
“Like a scared little mouse,” she commented, and licked at the blood that still clung to her mouth. “I can smell your fear, you know. It’s quite the aphrodisiac.”
She wasn’t making a move to hurt him, he realized, just barring him from running from the room. What was it she’d said to David? I need someone to convey my message. She wanted him to be that someone.
As bravely as he could muster, William lifted his chin. “What is it you need of Richard?” he asked. Though he did everything he could to prevent it, there was no mistaking the quaver in his voice when he spoke, and his lack of control made him inwardly cringe.
Her demon mask slipped away, revealing April’s otherwise warm smile. “So you know him, too,” she said. Her gaze raked over his rumpled suit, his disheveled curls, before alighting onto his spectacles. “I should’ve known you were a Watcher. Rather foolish of David, though, to invite me into his house, don’t you think?”
He ignored her question. “You said…you said you had a message?”
“Yes.” She was back to business now, straightening her dress before holding out her arm to him. “Walk with me, William.”
He had no choice but to obey, and followed her lead as they stepped from the drawing room and out the front door. Such close proximity revealed both the tepid temperature of her skin and the power within her grasp, and the goosebumps that erupted along his flesh startled William into an involuntary shudder. As their feet measured the distance of the front path toward the carriage, he allowed his eyes to jump to the still unmoving form of the boy in the garden. He doubted there was anything he could do now to help the lad, though the wish to do so overwhelmed him.
“Richard and I have the most unfortunate timing,” she said casually as they strolled. “We keep missing each other in our travels, which is really quite the shame considering how far we go back.” They came to a stop at the road and she released her grip on him to glide effortlessly into her waiting companion’s arms. “I’m prepared to change all that, William. If you would be so kind as to tell Richard that I’m in London, and that he doesn’t have his new minion to toy with any longer, I’d be forever in your debt.”
There was no obligation in her tone, and he knew that the vampire affected the graciousness as just another part of her game. Hadn’t Buffy prepared him for such an eventuality by telling him of some of the more cunning of her prey? He just had never imagined ever experiencing it firsthand.
William nodded, though the question that had lingered in the back of his mind refused to quit his thoughts. “Why haven’t you killed me as well?” he blurted, the adrenaline, and the fear, and the sickening sense of vertigo overwhelming his better sense.
“Because I need you,” she said simply. He stiffened when she suddenly leaned into him, pressing her cheek to his and inhaling deeply. “I know your scent now,” April whispered. “I can find you, no matter where you hide. And I’ve decided that you shall be my daytime liaison to Richard.” Cool lips caressed the hollow beneath his ear, causing a ripple of tremors to undulate throughout William’s body. “Congratulations.”
She was laughing when he stumbled backwards. “Run along, little Watcher,” she singsonged, and his stomach lurched when her vampire face emerged again. “I do believe I’m going to partake of Mr. Howard’s hospitality for a little longer. You’re welcome to stay, of course…”
Her words dissolved into wicked mirth as his feet finally listened to his head’s instruction, and William fled into the murky night.
To be continued in Chapter 19: The Story of Thy Days…