DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CII.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Buffy and Willow have stolen the Council’s files, April in the present time has ordered Esme to leave, and William has learned that April is Richard’s turned Slayer…

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

Chapter 20: Hush the Night

His hands shook.  Without the immediacy of his distress, or the stalwart presence of Richard and Rose, William found it impossible to restrain the panic that suffused his muscles, wresting their control from him and causing them to tremble violently of their own accord.  Even tightening his grip around his quill as he attempted to write down the events of the day did nothing to diminish the shaking, and he was forced to throw it down to his desk in disgust as his feet pushed him from his seat.

All his proclamations to the contrary, the last thing William felt right now was strong enough to face the devil that was April.  Reason dictated that he should run, and Lord knew his body was of the same accord, but somehow, every time he would just about talk himself into it, to take Richard up on his suggestion that he leave the city until the vampire was properly taken care of, the specter of Buffy’s face rose before him.  She wouldn’t say a word.  She’d merely watch him with those ancient eyes and then sadly reach out to touch his face.

And his resolve would disappear.  As terrified as he might be, it was not in him to disappoint her.  Even though she had no way of knowing just what was happening to him unless he told her.

Exhausted, William perched himself on the edge of his bed, his eyes straying to the tray that rested on the stand.  His nightly ritual of Esmerelda’s tea---Esme’s tea, he was quick to remind himself---sat there, waiting for consumption, and though the desire to see Buffy again was overwhelming, the fear that she would see through him was just as strong, stopping him from automatically drinking it and driving him yet again to pace around the room.

He should properly sleep as well, he rationalized.  It had been a draining day, and there was much information to process.  If he wished to survive whatever ordeals facing April and finding his mother, he needed to be as strong as possible.  Surely, a good night’s rest was the first, best step for that.

Except you sleep best when you visit with Buffy, a small voice chimed in.  Using your fear as a means to avoid telling her what happened will only prove detrimental to your well-being in the long run.

William sighed.  Somehow, he had a feeling…this was an argument he was going to lose.

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

She heard his footsteps before he entered the room, and automatically, Lydia straightened in the library chair, her hands knotting together in her lap to quell their nervous trembling.  With a soft swish, the door opened, and Mr. Travers entered, looking fatigued but no less alert than he did during the day, with Stuart close at his heels.  Her mouth opened to speak, but the swift lift of his hand to cut her off was all it took for her to close it again.

A curt nod to the young man behind him made Stuart scurry forward and drop the black bag he carried onto the table.  Lydia frowned as she glanced at the contents the gaping top displayed, and was still caught by its significance when she was left alone with her employer yet again.

“Our plans did not go exactly as we’d intended,” Travers said.

Ever the understatement with him, Lydia thought before she spoke up.  “Sir, I have no idea how---.”

He silenced her with a shake of his head.  “I’m not interested in protestations of ignorance.  It would be best for you not to say anything right now, I believe.  Between your ineptitude and Miss Summers’ surprising facility, my patience has been sufficiently tried for the evening.”  He gestured toward the bag.  “Be grateful that Stuart was able to find some interesting artifacts at their flat while you had them occupied here.  If he’d come back empty-handed, you would not be sitting there merely on probation.  Is that understood?”

Her mouth opened to confirm his statement, but at the last moment, she remembered his instruction and nodded instead.

“To say I’m displeased with the fact that all our security measures were subverted is minor compared to my feelings regarding how you handled this, Lydia.  You placed the Slayer in an unmonitored room, and by your own admission, you failed to search either her or her friend for weapons when they arrived.   Now I understand you were attempting to create a sense of trust with Miss Summers, but as you can see, that negligence has cost us a wealth of information I’d prefer to have not fallen into the wrong hands.”

The lecture was the least she’d expected.  Mr. Travers would’ve excused just about any misdoing on her part, but the fact that the computer’s security had been breeched, and that both girls had managed to disappear from the Council building without being stopped, was more than enough to gain his wrath on the matter.  She should be lucky that she was merely on probation.  Lydia knew that it was well within his rights to fire her for such carelessness.  Or worse.

She was grateful she wasn’t facing the worse.

“I’ve decided that you will remain here at the Council until this matter is resolved,” he went on to say.  “Stuart is waiting outside to accompany you to your flat so that you can pack a small bag for the interim.  You’ll be staying in one of the basement rooms under surveillance until I tell you otherwise.”

Oh.  Probation was the current politically correct term for jailing.  She should’ve known.

Remaining silent, Lydia rose to her feet and followed him to the library door he held open for her.  On its threshold, however, she hesitated, glancing at him over the rims of her glasses.

“Did the Slayer’s belongings at least give you some of the answers you’d been looking for?” she asked, and then pressed her lips together to stop herself from saying anything further.

Travers’ look was long and measured.  “They were…interesting,” he finally said.

Nothing more was going to be said on the matter.  Quietly, Lydia nodded and stepped into the hall, following Stuart into the darkness.

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

When Willow appeared in the doorway, Buffy lifted her head from the disarray of her bedroom, mouth grim.  “Tell me it’s better out there,” she said.

“It’s better out there,” Willow replied automatically, and then shook her head.  “Except not.”

“What did they get?”

The witch ticked them off on her fingers.  “A lot of Giles’ books, all my notes on how to make the divining rod, some of the ingredients we bought.”  Her eyes swept the room.  “What about in here?”

“Some of my weapons, some of my clothes for some strange reason.”  Buffy looked away, staring at the disheveled bed, the sheets that had been ripped from the mattress and left to lie.  “And William’s journal.”

Willow’s sharp exhalation was her only acknowledgment on the enormity of what they’d done, but it was enough to twist the knife the Slayer felt in her gut just a little bit tighter.

“I should’ve known better,” Buffy said under her breath.  “I should’ve realized she was just setting us up.”

“But we got what we wanted,” Willow argued.  “We got all the Council’s files so they can’t play hide-and-seek with the information anymore.  There’s no way they could’ve guessed we’d get past through their magical roadblocks.  Heck, we weren’t even sure we were going to do it.  Mr. Travers has got to be pretty steamed about that, don’t you think?”

“Yeah,” she agreed.  It didn’t make losing the journal any easier, though.  Especially since it would be her only memento when she finally stopped drinking the tea to dream of him.

“What are we going to do?” asked Willow.

“We’ve got to get out of here,” Buffy said.  “It isn’t safe for us anymore to stick around here, not when they think they can just come waltzing in and Matilda us out of our comfort zone.”  Marching over to the wardrobe, she pulled out her suitcase and began tossing the clothes that the Council had left scattered across the bed inside it.  “Pack up as much as you can.  We’ll use Giles’ credit card to get into a hotel for the night.”

Willow was half-turned to do as she was told when she stopped.  “What about…the tea stuff?” she asked hesitantly.

She didn’t stop in her packing, but she kept her eyes averted from her friend’s so that the pain that shone there couldn’t be seen.  “Please,” she whispered.  “Without his journal…I don’t have anything left of him here except for the dreams.”  Only then did she brave a glance toward the doorway.  “Just until I get the book back.”

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

Giles woke with more energy than he had earlier, though his strength was still far from normal.  Gone, too, was the nausea that had so crippled him on his first foray from his cell, replaced instead with a gnawing hunger that made him question just how long it was since he’d had a proper meal.  The scraps he vaguely remembered eating during his bedrest would hardly do to get him back up to par; he only hoped that whoever was jailing him would see that he needed further sustenance and supply what was needed.

The most pressing thing in his mind, however, was that of the mysterious woman across the hall.  Clearly, she had befallen the same fate as he.  The similarities between their present circumstances were just too blatant to ignore.  But for what purpose were they being held?  Was Buffy here as well?  Could all this possibly be the Council’s doing?

Convinced that the woman would have more answers than he---or at least, different pieces to the puzzle so that he might get a better understanding of what was going on---Giles pushed himself upright, ignoring the vertigo and queasiness that suddenly overcame him.  Crossing the distance of the room was easier, and he breathed a sigh of relief when the handle turned easily in his grip.  He’d been momentarily frightened that someone would’ve discovered his earlier escape and proceeded to lock him in.

Everything was just as it had been the first time---the occupied cot, the chamberpot.  When the door squeaked open, the woman on the bed started, her eyes fluttering open, and it took a moment of attempting to focus before she seemed aware of him standing in the doorway.

“What hap…?” she started to say, but the faintness of her voice, and the sudden rush of color from her cheeks was all it took to drive Giles to her side.

“Hush,” he soothed, crouching to the floor.  Gently, his hands came up to press her back onto the mattress, smoothing the blanket over the old-fashioned nightdress she wore.  “You need your rest.”

“Where…where am I?” she asked.

She had to ask a difficult question first, he thought in mild annoyance.  “Sshhh,” he said instead of answering, hoping it would distract her from her queries. 

But she was bound and determined to ignore his instruction.  “Are you a doctor?”

It seemed as good an explanation as any, but somehow, Giles couldn’t bring himself to lie to her.  Up close, she seemed even more familiar, an intelligence in her blue eyes that made him feel as if he should recognize her.  The gentility of her accent reminded him of London, though there was a softness to it that he inexplicably associated with his grandmother.

“My name is Rupert Giles,” he said quietly.  “Do you know who you are?”

“Anne Freston,” she replied automatically.  Her eyes widened.  “Where’s William?  He’s not hurt, is he?”

“William?”

“My son.”

“He’s not here,” Giles replied truthfully.  “I’m afraid it’s just you and I.”

For the first time, Anne’s eyes darted around the room, her brows drawing closer and closer together as the stone walls and sparse furnishings sank in.  “I…I don’t…”  Speaking was becoming a chore for her, and though he desperately wanted to hear her version of events, Giles also knew that pushing her further would only worsen her condition.

“You need to rest,” he reiterated.  “My room is just across the hall.  Should you wake and wish to speak---.”

He’d been rising as he spoke to her, but when it became apparent that he was going to leave her side, Anne’s hand shot out with surprising agility and grasped his forearm.

“Please don’t go,” she said. 

The entreaty in her gaze cut through his determination, and Giles found himself sinking back down to sit on the floor at her side.  “Of course,” he murmured, and leaned back against the stone.

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

For some reason, the pebbles in the path that led to their bench seemed larger than usual to Buffy, and she found her step wobbling slightly as she made her way around the curves.  Willow had been extra-nice once they got settled in the tiny hotel Buffy had found, making the tea before the blonde even had to ask for it, and then leaving her in privacy by disappearing into the bathroom while Buffy drank it.  It was just as well.  She needed alone time with her thoughts anyway, fury with herself about falling prey to Travers’ tricks yet again fuelling her desire to march out and pull a Faith.  It was only the thought of William, and his unwavering belief in her, that kept her from completely exploding.

She heard him before she saw him, his voice carrying through the crystalline air of the park as clearly as if he stood before her. 

“…quite remarkable,” William said.  She froze in place to better hear what he had to say, not wanting the interruption to fluster him unnecessarily.  “But when I saw her---.”  He broke off, and Buffy could’ve sworn she heard him swear under his breath before continuing.  “No, she’ll never believe me if I tell it like that,” he said.  “I sound like a pompous fool.”

Buffy’s brows shot up.  He’s rehearsing what he’s going to say to me?  She smiled.  That’s so cute.

In the distance, William cleared his throat.  “It was like nothing I’d ever seen before,” he said, and this time, it was obvious he was practicing some sort of speech.  “One moment, she seemed perfectly normal, and the next…monstrous.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, though your descriptions of what a vampire looked like should most likely have warned me---.”

“What?”  She burst around the corner of the path, unable to contain herself when she heard his words regarding the vampire.  “You saw a vampire?”

Her sudden approach took William by surprise, causing him to whirl on his heel before stumbling back away from her vehemence.  “Buffy…” he breathed, and then tripped over the bench, limbs flailing in every which direction as he went down in a heap on its other side.

“What’re you doing?” she said as she hurried to his side.  Carefully, she slid her arm beneath his shoulders, helping him to rise to a sitting position, and noticed immediately how he flushed in her presence.  “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” he said, but there was a shortness to his tone that made her hesitate.  When he followed his reply with a hasty but awkward leap to his feet, away from her embrace, the warning that had already started to peal inside her head turned into a five-alarm fire.

This is exactly how it was with Angel, she couldn’t help but think.  A different person.  How could I have been so wrong about William?

His back was to her, and he was brushing off his clothes when she spoke up again.  “Are you going to talk to me?” Buffy whispered.  The threat of tears stung her eyes, but she refused to let them win, blinking to dispel the current burn.  “Or do I at least get to pretend for a few more minutes that everything is just spiffy before you give me the speech?”

He turned to look at her, his brows drawn in confusion.  “What speech?” William started to ask, and then saw the stiff set of her shoulders, the drained color in her cheeks.  Immediately, he was back before her, nimble hands cupping her face to tilt it upward.  “Don’t cry,” he said.  His thumb stretched to sweep across her cheekbone, just below her eye, and Buffy was surprised to feel the wetness it trailed behind it.  “Why are you crying?”

“Because I know this part of the movie,” she replied.  “I practically wrote the script.  This is where you tell me we had our laughs but now that we’ve…you know… you’ve had a revelation.  That…I’m not worth a second go, and that…that…yadda yadda…”

He silenced her with a kiss, his mouth hungry and demanding.  “Hush,” he murmured when he broke for air.  Blue eyes searched her own.  “I’ve handled this badly, just as I thought I would, but you must know…nothing could be further from the truth.  I made you a promise, Buffy, and there is nothing, neither here nor in either of our worlds, that could make me break it.  Please, don’t cry.  Something inside me breaks when I think I might have caused you to cry.”

Her arms were around his neck at that, squeezing and holding him close, as if by letting him go, he’d disappear just as she’d thought he’d been planning.  “I’m sorry,” she blurted.  “I just thought…and you were all…and you wouldn’t let me…it’s been a really, really long, bad day.”

She felt him nod against her cheek.  “On that, I must agree,” William said.  His hands were in her hair, pulling it free from its holdings to let it tumble about her shoulders in soft waves.  “Let’s not speak of it, shall we?”  He almost seemed to be begging her.  “Right now, I just wish to…”

It was her turn to cut him off, her lips sliding back to his to devour him in another kiss.  Along the length of her body, she could feel him responding, hardening and lengthening inside his trousers until it pressed achingly against her hip, his hands falling from her face to curl with need into her waist.  He did want her, that much was obvious, and the fear that she was going to have a repeat of what happened with Angel quickly dissipated.

With more force than he’d shown in their last meeting, William guided Buffy to the ground, ignoring the way her skirt twisted up around her hips as he sprawled along her side.  His hands seemed to be everywhere at once, not willing to settle in any one spot, while his mouth was determined to feed from hers, their tongues hot and searching as their desire mounted.  His boldness was surprising, but not unwelcome, almost a natural postscript to the lovemaking of their last encounter, and her body thrummed in response to the sweep of his fingers across her skin.

His lips left hers to trail down the side of her cheek, one hand cupping the opposite to keep Buffy from turning her head away.  She shivered when his teeth caught the edge of her earlobe, his breath hot and heavy, and then groaned out loud when his mouth found the bend of her neck and made its home there.

“Hush,” she heard him whisper against her skin, the single word floating up to break through the clouds that were forming inside her head.

“William…,” she breathed, but the firm pressure of his lips to hers silenced Buffy again, driving rational thought away and replacing it with sheer desire.

“Hush,” he repeated when he broke away to catch his breath.  Pulling back far enough to look down at her, William’s eyes were black and glittering as he spoke.  “No words tonight,” he said.  “Please?  There has been far too much talk today, and right now, I need…I want to just forget everything else.”  His hand brushed back the hair from her brow, his gaze sweeping over her face as if he was trying to memorize every angle and curve.  “I know I’m not equal to those who fight along your side, but---.”

“What?”  Buffy stiffened, ignoring his request to stay quiet.  “Why would you say something like that?”

William’s eyes fell.  “Because we both know it’s truth,” he murmured. 

“I know no such thing.”  Rolling from underneath him, she sat up on the grass and dragged him with her, forcing him to look directly at her.  “There are so many ways to fight the fight, William,” Buffy said.  “My way just happens to be beating things up, and trust me, that doesn’t always work out for the best.”  She paused.  “What happened today that you don’t want to talk about?”

He looked broken by her words, his shoulders slumping.  “I’ve already said---.”

“---that you don’t want to talk about it.  Yeah, I got that part already.”  It was her turn to touch him, to pull him back toward her when it looked like he was ready to flee.  “Can we fast forward to the part where you tell me what’s got you so skittish tonight?  One minute, you can’t stand my touching you, and the next, you don’t want me to stop.  And now you’re back to thinking you’re not good enough?  If that doesn’t scream something went seriously wrong today, then I’m Mary Poppins.  So, please, just tell me what it was so we can put us both out of your misery.”

Her bluntness made him shrink inside himself, and he kept his eyes away from hers when he finally began to talk.  But as William stumbled over the tale of how he’d come to witness a vampire attack in the very home of one of his neighbors, Buffy began to understand where exactly his fear was coming from.

She stopped him at the point in the story where he tried to run from the parlor.  “You were scared,” she said simply.  “You ran away because you were scared and now you think I’m going to think you’re a coward.”

“Don’t you?”  The flush from his arousal was gone, his body limp and tremulous at her side.  William’s eyes were fixed on the grass he’d been plucking out of the ground as he spoke, his fingers toying with the fine strands of green as he did everything but look at her.  “I was no better than a child hiding behind my mother’s skirts.”  He laughed, a dry, harsh sound.  “Of course, that’s hardly possible now, but the intent is still the same.”

“I think you were smart.”  She waited for his startled eyes to meet hers, and nodded.  “You heard me, buster.  Smart with a capital S.  In that situation, the best thing you could’ve done was run.  It’s called survival, William.  And if it’s a fight you know you can’t win, there’s no shame in retreating until you can.”

“You wouldn’t have fled.”

Buffy shrugged.  “No.  But then again, I’ve been fighting vamps for the past three years of my life.  I’m a little better prepared than you are.”

 “But she…”  He stopped, and she could see him debate internally about how he was going to continue.  The words were right there, battling with him to come out, but Buffy knew how badly it was eating at him.

“You were right,” she said, and tugged him forward.  “Not about the bad stuff, because you are most definitely someone I’d be honored to have fight with me.  You can’t get knocked out as much as Giles, that’s for sure.”  She was rewarded with a small smile, and pulled him even closer so that their chests were touching, her bottom resting in his lap.  “Let’s just say we’ve both had bummers of a day and let it go at that.  No more words.  Isn’t that what you wanted?”

When his lips parted to speak, Buffy lifted her fingers and lightly covered his mouth.  “No more words,” she murmured, and leaned forward to kiss him softly.

His hesitancy to believe her translated into hesitancy in his response, but Buffy was patient, keeping the caress gentle as she let her hands return to the back of his neck.  There, her fingers entwined with the loose curls they found, scratching lightly at his skull in the manner she’d learned he liked, and she almost giggled when it elicited an uncharacteristic growl from his throat.

William’s hold tightened, and before she could stop him, he had turned her back to the grass, pushing her voluminous skirt up and out of his way as his hand sought the cleft between her legs.  Buffy gasped as he pushed past her underwear to graze a single fingertip across her clit, and then exhaled when that same finger coated itself in her wetness before slipping inside.

The urge to say his name was stifled by the return of his mouth to hers, and she joined him in deepening the kiss.  Their tongues curled and explored around the other, the impulse for more, and more, and more, fending off any more doubts about what either wanted at that particular moment, and she slipped her hands up beneath the hem of his shirt in order to better appreciate his strength.

Beneath her touch, William’s muscles quivered with anticipation, his skin both slick and hot as she pulled at the fabric that still covered his back.  Her only thought was to rid themselves of the barriers that kept their bodies apart, and when he finally broke free of her mouth, Buffy pushed him upright so that he knelt on the grass in front of her.

He didn’t say a word, only watched as she set to undoing the buttons.  When her fingernails caught on his nipple, his eyes fluttered shut, his head dropping back as the sensations washed over him.  She could see William’s pulse pounding in the delicate hollow of his throat, and impulsively, leaned forward to press her lips to it, sucking at it gently as it throbbed beneath her tongue.

His reaction was electric.  With a jolt that jarred both of them from their comfortable positions, William latched onto Buffy’s waist and pulled her down on top of him, his free hand releasing his erection from his trousers as her skirt ballooned out around them.

She felt the slick tip of his cock nudge against her underwear, hard and hungry.  When she broke from the kiss he’d once again initiated, she just stared down into his eyes as she sat up, hands disappearing beneath her clothes as they worked to strip the last obstacle between them.  William’s eyes followed the path of her hands, flickering with the flash of white when she tossed her panties aside, and then returning to meet Buffy’s.

“I love you,” he said softly.

Falling forward, Buffy smiled as her hair fell across his cheek.  “I thought I said no more words,” she teased.

“Nothing will ever stop me from telling you that,” he replied.  His breath caught when she lifted her hips, catching the head of his cock with her folds before lowering herself back down again so that every inch of him was quickly sheathed.

Buffy controlled every movement, taking him in shallow thrusts, never letting more than a few inches out at a time.  “Is this all right?” she whispered.  She stopped for a moment, the hairs from his groin and legs tickling at the soft flesh of her inner thighs, and just savored the feeling of him inside her.

“Is it pleasurable for you?” William asked.

She nodded, accompanying it with a small grind of her hips that caused her clit to rub against his coarse hair, and shuddered slightly at the shocks of pleasure that sent through her.

“Then it’s more than all right for me,” he said.  A look of curiosity passed behind his eyes.  “Is it the penetration or the stimulus you find so exciting?”

The scholar in him just wouldn’t give up, she thought in amusement.  “Both,” she replied.  “I think.”

“Let’s test it.”

Before she could stop him, William’s hand had slipped between their bodies, tickling down her tummy to tug at the skirts that barred his way.  When she felt his fingers alight on her clit, she jumped, her inner muscles automatically squeezing in response.

He chuckled.  “I would think it’s the stimulus,” he taunted.

Buffy slapped at his bare chest.  “You don’t play fair,” she complained. 

“What was that about no more words?”

She just smiled at his lighter mood, and fell back down against his chest, losing herself in each stroke she made with their hips.  Longer, and deeper, and longer still…each thrust made it simpler to forget the disaster that had been her day.  Without his journal to help her be strong, this time they spent together was all she had left.  She wanted to savor it for as long as she could.

William was of the same mind, but the regular pacing of her strokes only heightened his excitement and soon, his knuckles were white where they gripped her flesh in an attempt to slow her down.

“Don’t,” he whispered, barely even audible as the veins stood out in his neck.  “I’ll…”

“Sshhh,” Buffy replied.  “Go ahead.  We’ve got all night, remember?”

As if to spur him on, she squeezed around his length, drawing out another groan of pleasure.  She hated using her greater power on him, but this was what she wanted and for some reason, he seemed to want to fight her on it.  It only took a few more downward thrusts, her pace quickening, before his control collapsed, and Buffy felt William come inside her.

She waited until he’d relaxed beneath her, his eyes opening again to stare up in wonder, before she snuggled down against his chest.  “That wasn’t so bad, now was it?”

William’s hand came up to caress the back of her neck.  “But…you didn’t…”

“So?”

“I would want you to enjoy our lovemaking as much as I do.”

She propped herself up on those words, green eyes dancing.  “You think I didn’t enjoy that?” she asked.

William flushed.  “But you didn’t…you were…quieter…I thought…”

“For one thing, stop thinking so much.  I got exactly what I wanted.  And another thing…”  She smiled.  “…how come you always get to be the pleaser around here?  Can’t I do something just for you once in a while?”

“I would think you were of my time, with words like that,” William said.  “What happened to your modern notions?”

“I don’t think wanting to make somebody happy is a notion that goes out of style.”  With a contented sigh, she curled back against his warm body, listening to his heart beat beneath her cheek.  “And besides, we’ve still got all night.  I’m pretty sure I’m going to be getting my turn here.”

William’s soft laugh warmed her skin more than the sun that beat down overhead.  “That you will, love,” he whispered.  “That you will.”

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

Willow couldn’t sleep.  It wasn’t that the tiny twin bed was just completely foreign to her---though what she wouldn’t give to be back in the tiny closet of a bedroom at the flat---but that her mind wouldn’t shut itself off long enough for her get more than five or ten minutes of rest at a time.  The enormity of what they had done, and what the Council had done in return, gnawed at her, and all she could do was debate what could possibly happen next.

When the clock next to the bed finally slipped past six-thirty, Willow sat up and looked over at her best friend.  Out like a light, and had been since before Willow had come back out of the bathroom.  Not that the witch was thrilled to be aiding with the tea thing, but in light of what the Council had done with William’s journal, it seemed like the least she could do for Buffy.

Tentatively, she reached across and shook the Slayer’s shoulder.  “Hey,” she said softly.  No response.  Not like she expected one, not with as tired as both of them had been, but Buffy had been adamant about not sleeping late so they could get a headstart on the Council’s files.  She would have to try a little harder.

“Hey,” Willow repeated, shaking her again.  When nothing happened, she hesitated, her heart starting to pound inside her chest.  The Slayer’s non-responsiveness was eerily familiar, and it took her a long moment to remember where it sprang from. 

This was exactly how Buffy had been that morning Willow had woken her to tell her about Giles being missing.  It had taken all of the redhead’s power to stir her from sleep then.

“Buffy!” she cried out, fully awake now and standing at the bed’s side.  Vigorously, she continued the shaking, desperation creeping into her voice as the minutes passed and not a single sound came from Buffy’s mouth.  There wasn’t even a flicker behind her closed lids that she was hearing or feeling any of it. 

It was as if Buffy wasn’t even there.

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

It was the warmth he was aware of first.  Soft, and radiant, pliant against him as it molded to his skin.

He would’ve said he was still dreaming, but the lifting of his lids revealed his waiting bedroom, the tea cup from his nightly taste still sitting on the stand.  And yet…the warmth remained, only now it seemed to pulse with its own life, sidling along his back as a thin arm snaked around his waist.

“Did we fall asleep again?” he heard from behind him, a feminine voice so faint and muzzled by exhaustion.  “I hate it when we lose our time together.”

William went rigid, all vestiges of his slumber vanishing.  Slowly, his eyes crept downward to see the familiar hand resting against his stomach, her tanned arm golden against the white of his sheets.  “Buffy?” he croaked, and was answered with a feather caress---her lips, most likely---between his shoulder blades.

“When did you put your shirt back on?” she started to say, but almost as soon as the words were out there, William felt the tension return to her muscles, the arm that had been holding him sliding back to disappear from his view.

Slowly, William rolled onto his back to see Buffy sitting up in his bed, her eyes wide as they darted around the unfamiliar surroundings of his bedchamber.  She was naked, just as she’d been in the dreams, but oblivious to her bared breasts as she finally turned a startled gaze to him.

“Where are we?” she asked slowly.  “Where’d the park go?”

“My bedroom,” he replied.  “My…home.”

“But we’ve…all our dreams take place at the park.  That’s the way they’re supposed to go.  Since when do we hang out at your house?”

Slowly, William shook his head.  From outside his window, he could hear the familiar clatter of coaches moving down the lane, the distant neighing of horses undercoating them in intimacy.  “I don’t think we’re dreaming any more, Buffy,” he said.

 

To be continued in Chapter 21: Time’s Fickle Glass