DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course,
and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet XXI.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Discovering William knew some of the truth about the spell, Buffy has distanced herself from him slightly, only responding to Rose when she came up to see to her; Willow is continuing the research to try and figure out what’s going on, while Esme has contacted Charles to get his help in reaching Willow; and Giles has woken and gone to Anne’s side, though neither has had an opportunity to speak together yet…
As she twisted and turned in front of the mirror inspecting her reflection, Buffy knew she’d gotten lucky. She’d seen too many sepia-toned pictures, and watched the lacing-up scene in “Gone With the Wind” too many times, not to know the horrors women used to have to endure for the sake of fashion. Not that platform heels didn’t have their own dangers, but at least they didn’t cut off one’s circulation like corsets did.
But Rose had forsaken sending for anything like that, opting instead for simple bloomers and a camisole to go with the outfit Buffy currently wore. “This is already difficult enough for you,” the older woman had explained when she’d laid them out on the bed. “No reason to add unnecessary discomfort to your list of ailments at the moment.”
“Giles would be proud,” Buffy now said quietly as her fingers worried the tweed fabric of her skirt. Between that, the plain white blouse with the high collar, and the braid in which she’d done her hair, the young woman looked more scholarly than Slayer-y. “Will wonders never cease…”
She was just slipping on the slightly too-big slippers that completed the ensemble, when a gentle knock came at the door. “Come in,” Buffy said. There was no point in denying her presence in the house any longer. She’d had to practically peel the young maid---Meg---off her with the assertion that she was more than capable of dressing herself.
It opened slowly, and Buffy looked up to see William hovering in the narrow space of the open door. Though he was immaculately dressed in the brown suit Meg had fetched for him, his hair was a tangle of curls, wild and disheveled as if his fingers had been powerless to stay out of them. Behind his glasses, his eyes seemed too large for his face, and the hollows of his cheekbones were even more gaunt, as if he’d been without sleep for days.
Rose’s characterization of Buffy’s effect on him haunted the Slayer as she rose to her feet. …quite a dither…so in love with…a true heart… Guilt for the way she’d treated him at their last encounter stabbed at her gut, and she debated how she could go about apologizing for her behavior.
“Since the hour is advancing,” William said, before she had the opportunity to speak, “I’ve asked Cook to set out a light meal. I’d thought…if you want, or if you’re hungry…meeting with Richard and explaining what’s happened might be easier over food. Or, if you’d rather keep it social, that’s possible, too.”
“It’s not blood pudding, is it?” she joked, hoping that might be enough in lieu of directly expressing her regret. Surely he’d be able to pick up that she was in a better mood now, right?
He immediately appeared distressed. “I don’t know,” he said in a flurry. “Do you like blood pudding? If it’s not, I’m certain I can get Cook to---.”
She stopped him from fleeing to check in the kitchen by stepping up to him and resting her hand on his forearm. “Stop it,” Buffy said. She had to tighten her grip to prevent him from pulling away. “I was kidding. Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s fine.” She smiled. “Unless it is blood pudding, because you know, I really see enough of people thinking blood is a sixth food group with the whole Chosen thing.”
His eyes searched hers, keen to ferret any sign of mocking or sarcasm. “Are you…were you…I didn’t mean…” Flushing at his inability to articulate, his head bowed to eye her thin fingers on his arm. “The last thing I ever wished was for you to hate me, Miss Buffy,” he murmured. “Please accept my humblest apologies for…for…it all.”
It was hearing him revert to the more formal address that made Buffy finally pull away, the shame at having driven him to such measures overwhelming her better senses. Sure, everything since opening her eyes was pretty much wig-worthy, but at least, being wigged out was a state she was accustomed to. She’d weathered things like this and more, ever since she’d been called.
On the other hand, William was an innocent, in more ways than one. Offering her his heart had been tantamount to entrusting her with his life, for it wasn’t in him to consider any other alternative. Having the unusual thrust upon him so had to have been disconcerting at best, and he’d managed with the conflict as best he could. She only wished she’d been able to see it a few hours earlier.
“I don’t hate you,” Buffy said softly. “I could never hate you. Don’t you know what you’ve done for me?”
In spite of the earnestness of her tone, the corners of his mouth drooped as he kept his gaze locked on the carpet. “I’ve somehow stranded you away from your home, from your loved ones, and then lied to you about the possibility that it could’ve happened in the first place,” William replied. “Trust me. I’m well aware of what I’ve done.”
“Were you the one who made me drink the tea?” she asked. “No. And were you the one who made me find the journal in the first place? No. I could’ve just walked on by and not read it, so you can just stop with the---.”
“Journal?” He looked up at that, not caring now if he interrupted her. “What journal?”
Only then did Buffy remember that she’d deliberately chosen not to divulge how she knew so much about him in the beginning, because she didn’t want to freak William out even further than he had been. Seeing his face now, the color deepening as he waited for her to answer, was exactly the sort of thing she’d thought might happen, prompting her to clamp her lips shut and refrain from making the situation worse by admitting to what she knew he feared.
When she didn’t speak, William brushed past her to cross to his desk, opening the top drawer to extract a familiar leather-bound text. “This journal?” he asked, holding it up for her to see.
She had no choice but to nod, but hurriedly added, “I didn’t read the whole thing. Just bits and pieces. And I thought you weren’t real, remember?”
Long fingers absently caressed the edges of the pages as he studied her. “That’s how you knew who I was that first day,” he mused. His voice was distant, but not as faraway as his eyes, a cool blue that had softened as he lost himself in ruminations. “That’s why you responded so appropriately all the time. Because you knew exactly how to force me to respond to you.”
“I wasn’t playing you! Do you honestly think that I would do something like that?” The edges of his accusations scissored her softer mood, grating and sharpening until angry glints flashed in the green of her gaze.
“How else is it possible?” William queried. Finally, he looked back up, and the resigned melancholy that resided there was unambiguous. “Don’t be cross about it, Miss Buffy. You would not be the first---.”
“Stop it with the Miss Buffy crap again!” she raged. She felt like stamping her foot; his continued obstinacy in seeing only the worst in himself was infuriating at best. “Look, I realize this morning kind of threw both of us for a loop, and yeah, maybe I haven’t exactly been Pollyanna in trying to get my head around showing up in Wonderland, but don’t for a second think that I’m anything like the backstabbers who walk around here not seeing how great you are. I don’t play games when it comes to my friends, and if nothing else, you’ve always been my friend, William. OK, so I’m not too thrilled about having the Council dragged in. And lying to me about what you knew? Never cool. But I’m here now, and, like it or not, we’re all we’ve got, no matter how much you may trust Rose and Richard. So, let’s say we just turn today around and move on, OK? Because I hate thinking I’ve hurt you. I don’t want to be one of those people.” She stopped, her anger evaporating, shifting into a sorrow oddly reminiscent of her depression prior to coming to England. “Don’t you get it? I can’t be. And you were showing me again that I was better than that.”
“You are,” he said softly, and then added, “Buffy.”
Such a small step, for both of them, tremulous and demure like a hothouse flower desperate to bloom, and yet the gulf that had separated them at his arrival seemed less chasmal, as if they needed only a short bridge to find each other again rather than the massive span that would’ve been required at the start. She ached to reach out to him, and wondered if he felt the same, but without confirmation, there was no way she was going to initiate it this time. She wasn’t quite ready for that just yet.
“So,” Buffy said instead, “you’re not mad at me for reading your diary?”
He frowned at her query. “Why would I be?”
“Because of the fact that it’s yours, and it’s private? It’s kind of a big no-no to be such a snoop, don’t you think?”
That elicited the first smile she’d seen on William’s face since her eruption earlier. “But don’t you see?” he said. “If I have any words worth sharing, I have them because of you. You’re the one who made it possible for me to capture the words that always proved so elusive, and you’re the one who heard them without contempt. You’re the one who helped me find my voice, Buffy. What are a few more scribblings compared to that?”
The candor of his response bandaged the last of the wounds their arguments had incited within her. It wasn’t enough to forget the misdemeanors of their morning, but it was enough of a balm to allow her to move beyond them with a decorum that William deserved. In the face of the understanding, an overpowering sense of shyness rendered her mute, and she was only able to smile at him before turning back to the mirror one last time.
She pretended not to take notice when he set the book down on the desk, nor when he stepped up behind her, opting instead to absorb herself in the smoothing of her skirt. She felt him, though, the heat of his body seeping through the thin cotton of her blouse, and silenced the prayer of gratitude that came unbidden at his nearness.
“I must confess…it’s very…extraordinary seeing you like this,” William murmured. His hand ghosted above her arm, carving the shape out of the air as it came up to the plait. She knew his fingers itched to touch it, but their tenuous concord held him back, and it fell again, lonely, to his side.
“I look like I should be teaching in a one-room schoolhouse,” Buffy complained with a wrinkling of her nose.
“They’re only clothes. You’d be beautiful regardless what you wore. But…that’s not what I meant.” His eyes were intent on her reflection when she looked up. “I cannot apologize enough for our…troubles this morning,” he said. “But I can’t say that I’m sorry for the gift of having you here. Even if Richard finds a means for you to return to your time before our meal is finished, I’ll thank every god ever created for giving me these few extra hours. I don’t know what I’ve done to possibly deserve it, but I swear to you, I won’t disappoint you again, Buffy.”
The sincerity radiated from him in sultry waves, so strong that the Slayer wondered how it was she could’ve been so harsh with him upon waking. There was no denying that she wanted to surrender to the simplicity of it by touching William in some way, but while it was that simplicity that had called to her all along, it also scared her. Stepping away from their waiting reflections to break the spell, she couldn’t help but wonder if mirror-Buffy would somehow find the strength to beat the fear and kiss mirror-William until there were no more tomorrows left.
She hoped so.
“Let’s go eat,” she said with more chirpiness than she felt. “Rose and her husband are probably eating the plates by now.”
Giles held the plate steady for Anne, well within her reach, and watched as she picked at the fruit that had been left for them. He’d woken from a brief nap, stiff and sore from sleeping propped against the wall, to find the food waiting, a covered tray laden with an assortment of cold meats, bread, and fruit, right at his side. As if they’d known, and not cared that their captors were currently sharing quarters.
Or not sharing, Giles corrected. As Buffy would say, just…hanging out.
“You’re being very quiet,” Anne said, wiping her mouth. More color had returned to her cheeks, and her voice no longer shook from the nausea that had incapacitated them for so long. She gestured toward his untouched food. “Are you not hungry?”
“Not particularly,” he responded.
“You’re thinking about our circumstances, aren’t you?” When he looked up at her in surprise, Anne’s mouth curved into a soft smile. “I may not be completely well, but I’m not blind, Mr. Giles. I’m aware that I’m not in my home, and though you’ve made the most valiant efforts to not distress me, I’m also aware that you’re not entirely comfortable with whatever has happened.”
Setting down the plate, Giles removed his glasses, using the edge of his shirt to wipe the lenses. “You’re a very astute woman, Mrs. Freston.”
Those oddly-familiar blue eyes regarded him, slightly blurry without his spectacles, the lines of her face softened by the same. “You weren’t the one who brought me here, were you?” she asked. “I’m afraid I don’t remember what exactly has happened.”
His hope plummeted at her question. “No,” he replied. “I was rather hoping you would be able to tell me. I have my…suspicions, but that’s all they are.” He returned his glasses to his nose. “You mentioned your son. He couldn’t have something to do with this, could he?”
Anne’s laughter was light and airy, in direct contrast with their predicament. “William? Oh, no. All he’s concerned with are his books and his poetry. He uses more ink in a day than we do tea.”
A scholar. Perhaps he was affiliated with the Council in some way. That would certainly support Giles’ theory that their abductions were related to the crystal theft.
“What about his employer?” he asked. “Perhaps this could be work-related.”
She seemed appalled at such a suggestion. “William’s a gentleman, sir,” Anne said. “He doesn’t work.”
Her curious terminology made Giles pause. It was an antiquated word, one his great-grandmother would’ve bandied about with little hesitation. “How does he support himself then?” he quizzed cautiously.
“The family money is more than sufficient to meet our household needs. And William has simple tastes. He’s not partial to horses, or fancy coaches, or holidays abroad. Just his poetry.”
His first thought was that Anne Freston and her son were members of the gentry. It would more than explain the horse reference. But the second, combined with the slight stilt in her accent and her old-fashioned speech, set off warning bells inside his head.
“Madame,” Giles said, clearing his throat and affecting his most proper manner, “if I might be so impertinent as to ask…what was the last full date you remember being in your home?”
Her reply was automatic, but it wasn’t the month that caught his attention.
It was the year.
“Are you unwell, Mr. Giles?” Anne asked when he fell back against the wall, the lines deep in his forehead as he contemplated this newest information. “Have you been here longer than I?”
He snorted at that. By her calculations, he shouldn’t even be born yet. Or she should be long dead.
There were only three options as he saw it.
One. That Anne Freston had actually been abducted on that date and somehow managed to survive more than a century without aging. Highly unlikely.
Two. That Anne Freston was delusional or impaired in some capacity, confusing the years in her mind. A possibility, but still one he considered unlikely. He’d dealt with the unstable before, and she seemed more than in control of her thought processes.
And three. That Anne Freston had somehow been snatched through time, or he’d been brought back to join her.
It was the last to which he kept coming back. The year she’d left was the same year the figurine collection had first fallen into the hands of the Council, and since its theft was the only matter that he’d been involved in prior to being taken from London, it seemed far too circumstantial not to be connected.
“Do you have any other children?” he asked.
“No. It’s just William and I.”
“And your husband?”
“He’s been dead since William was young.”
“He didn’t happen to work for the Council of Watchers, did he?”
“The Council of…what?”
It had to be the son, then. Somehow, Anne’s William was associated with the events Giles had been investigating. Perhaps he was the one who stole it, Giles thought.
As she waited for whatever query he would pose next, the Watcher eased into a more comfortable position, offering her a conciliatory smile. “My apologies,” he said. “I’m afraid I’m rather stuck on trying to sort out what’s happened to us.”
“And I haven’t the foggiest,” he lied. “Let’s move on to a more pleasant topic, shall we? Tell me about your son.”
She spoke easily of William, telling tales of a gentle boy in love with words, more comfortable in the company of books than of people. More than one story illustrated an intelligent mind, capable of formulating the most elaborate plans---even Giles couldn’t help but chuckle at how a young William decided the best way to sit through church services without getting scolded for fidgeting was to paste himself to the pew using honey, as it was the stickiest thing he knew---only to abandon most of them when impatience got the better of him. The lack of true companions for her adored son was an obviously tender subject with Anne, and Giles was just beginning to suspect that perhaps he’d overanalyzed the affiliation, when…
“…the most dreadful nickname,” Anne was saying. “I don’t believe he heard them discussing his poetry, for I’m sure he would never have agreed to read at my dinner party the other evening if he had.”
“What was it?” he asked, more out of politeness than genuine curiosity by that point.
She hesitated, coloring slightly as her head tilted slightly to regard him. “It’s hardly worth repeating,” she said. “But…behind his back, they call him William the Bloody. For his bloody awful poetry.”
He didn’t hear her protestations that William’s work was hardly awful, and in fact, had improved greatly as of late. The only thing Giles heard was the resounding peal of the sobriquet inside his skull.
William the Bloody.
Now he knew who Anne Freston reminded him of. It was the eyes. Spike’s eyes, albeit kinder and gentler. The cheekbones, too, if he was being honest. The bone structure that made the vampire’s looks so striking obviously came from his mother; he didn’t know how he could’ve missed it before.
“Your son,” he said gently, interrupting her most recent tale of the love poem he’d recited at her dinner party. “Is he a…nocturnal sort?”
For some reason, she found this funny. “Heavens, no. Provided the weather is suitable, he’s often out to sit on the banks with his inks, composing his verses. He very much adores the sun.”
So, not Spike, Giles thought. Or at least…not yet.
It had been vampires who had stolen the collection from the Council. And there had been evidence of vampires when the collection had initially been left in its care. Even though it appeared that Spike---or William---was not yet created, surely the coincidence was just too much to disregard. Perhaps that was why Quentin had wanted Buffy’s input. Perhaps they knew all along that Spike was involved, and since she was the Slayer who had last encountered him, she would be best prepared to beat him in this.
The only difficult part in his theory was reconciling the gentle man Anne described with the brutal killer he knew Spike to be. It went against every hypothesis about the vampire’s origins that had ever been made, and frankly, Giles would’ve dismissed it as complete rubbish if he wasn’t at that moment sitting next to the woman who gave him life. Because Giles couldn’t ignore the physical similarities, as much as he may wish to.
He realized then that Anne had fallen silent, watching him quizzically as he just sat there. “I’m sorry,” Giles said. “Did you say something?”
“I’m merely wondering what it is that’s distracting you so,” she replied. “Have you come up with an idea about why we’re here? Or even what here really is?”
“I’m working on it.” He rose to his feet, swaying only slightly from the leftover effects of the magic. “Will you be all right if I leave for awhile? I want to see what else I might find.”
Anne nodded, stifling a delicate yawn. “I rather feel like a nap,” she admitted. “You will…come back and tell me what you discover?”
“Of course,” came his automatic response.
He just hoped that what he found wasn’t a vampire for a son. He feared that would shatter too many of her illusions.
To be continued in Chapter 23: For All My Vows Are Oaths…