DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CXLIII.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Travers has destroyed William’s journal, forcing Esme---with Willow’s help and magic---to resort to Plan B and release Lydia from Council hold; Buffy has finally made the connection that William is Spike, and met up with April at the same time…

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

Chapter 25: Kiss Me, Be Kind

She had no idea where to start processing everything.  If she’d thought the morning had been headache-y with the realness, and the Victoriana, and the waking up snuggled up to William instead of by her lonesome back in the hotel room, Buffy was facing the mother of all headaches trying to come to grips with everything she’d learned in the past two hours.  The biggest thing, of course, was…

William really was Spike.

Spike was William.

And because she’d slept with William, that meant…she’d slept with Spike.

Except…did she?  Did she really?

Hadn’t Angel proved that having a soul made him a completely different person?   And Willow’s vamp self didn’t seem anything like Willow’s human self.  And most of the time, William was nothing like Spike.  He was kind, and gentle, and so devoted, and smart, and he liked poetry, for goodness sake.  So, really, she’d only had sex with William, right?

Except she couldn’t shake the thought that she’d had sex with Spike.  And loved it.

And, if she was being truthful, kind of loved William, too.

With a frustrated growl, Buffy rolled over in the narrow bed, watching the shadows dance on the wall from the flickering candle at her side.  Had Esme known who she was setting Buffy up with when she’d left the journal to be found?  Was this all part of some master plan that Buffy still didn’t know?  And if it was, what did the mess with the crystal collection and Richard and April have to do with it all?

Her mind jumped at the opportunity to think about something other than Spike---William, she hastily corrected.  Learning what the mysterious April was---something that the Council had no clue about---had settled a bunch of the puzzle pieces into place for her.  A Slayer turned Vampire, and the entire incident deliberately withheld from the Council’s records because Richard feared the retribution his turned Slayer would face at their hands when they discovered the truth.

In spite of the troubles William had experienced at April’s hands, he’d still been sympathetic toward Richard when he’d related what he knew.  “He loved her,” he’d simply said.  “I believe part of him still does.  And he can’t bear to have any remnant of what might remain of her to suffer unnecessarily if he can help it.  That’s why he’s spent so much of his life trying to find her and kill her himself.  Because only then could he ensure that her death would be a swift one.”

“And now she sees you as some kind of messenger boy?” she’d asked.

He’d nodded.  “It’s my own fault, really.  I chose the name, and I let David run rampant over my interventions when she arrived.  Of course, I had no idea who or what she really was at that point…”  His voice had trailed off, a small frown darkening his eyes behind his glasses.  “I must admit, I’m not entirely sure why she bears a different name now.  I mean, Richard is the one who called her April first.  Why would she continue such a falsehood when it’s not her true identity?”

She’d only shrugged, but inside Buffy had been nodding in understanding.  She got it.  She’d had the proof of it with Angel, aka Angelus, aka Liam.  And with Spike.

Damn it.

Now she was thinking about Spike again.

William knew nothing.  She’d deliberately refrained from physical contact for most of the day and it had been absolute torture, especially when she knew that simply holding his hand would alleviate some of her stress.  After coming to the realization about Spike, however, touching had just seemed wrong---well, until he got sick in the street and then it had taken all Buffy’s self-control not to throw herself at him, he looked so disconsolate.

But what could she really say in explanation?  That he was going to get vamped at some time in the future, only she didn’t know when?  That his vamp self was a royal pain in her ass whenever he showed up in town and that he would try to kill her so many times, they’d both lose count?

That last question made Buffy bolt up in the spare bed she’d been given for the duration of her stay.  Not once had Spike ever hinted that he knew anything about a past they might share, and somehow, she had a feeling that fucking a Slayer was something he’d consider fairly bragworthy.  Had she already changed history by getting involved with William?  Did all this prevent Spike from ever being?

It had to.  Why else would the annoying vamp never mention their liaisons, or suggest that he might know more about her than met the eye?  The innuendo that kind of knowledge would afford him would be too great of a gift for him to resist spilling, and Buffy couldn’t think of a single incident where his smirks or snark weren’t justified by the surrounding events.  So, not saying anything could only mean that, for him, it never happened.

The possibility that she could be in a different timeline altogether raised its head as she mulled over what a Spike-less world would be like.  Nothing had changed prior to her getting stuck in the past, and since she’d slept with William prior to that happening, logic suggested that maybe she’d been wrong in telling Richard that she wasn’t from some parallel universe or something. 

Or maybe all those Hollywood movies and physics guys got it wrong, and traveling back in time didn’t really mess things up when you got back at all.

Too many options.  So many, she wanted to toss them all into the wastebasket and start fresh.  For now, though, Buffy was going to go with the one that she liked the most, mainly because it meant something good came out of this whole situation.  There was no way the Spike she knew wouldn’t have gloated about bagging another Slayer, ergo, all of this stuff happening with William now couldn’t possibly affect anything in her world any more than it did prior to getting stuck in 1879.  Which had been nothing.

She knew one thing for sure.  She owed William an apology.  As gracious as he had been from the start, as accommodating as he’d been throughout the day, her behavior toward him---even in light of the fact that he’d withheld information from her that could’ve proven useful---had been rude.  Her mom would so have a field day with the How could you, Buffy?’s if she ever found out.

Pushing back the heavy duvet, Buffy forgot the slippers that were half-hidden by the bed and tiptoed for the door, straining to hear if anyone was out in the hall.  When she was sure it was empty, she pushed it open, the sudden draft billowing her cotton nightgown around her legs, and quickly crossed the narrow space to rap on the opposite door.

“Yes?” she heard through the thick wood.

She waited for him to ask who it was, but when nothing came, she twisted the knob, peeking slowly around the edge in case she was disturbing him.

William sat at his desk, his journal open in front of him, his glasses tossed haphazardly aside.  His shirt was untucked from his trousers, the collar undone, exposing the fine curvature of his clavicle, and the distinct downward slope of his shoulders as he rested his head on his hands all but screamed some sort of exhaustion. 

“I won’t be needing my tea tonight, Meg,” he said without looking up.

“That’s a relief,” Buffy replied.  The moment he heard her voice, William’s head shot up, twisting so sharply to see her in the doorway that she swore she could hear his neck crack.  “I wouldn’t have a choice but to think that picking up future girls in your sleep was like a regular hobby for you.”

He rose to his feet, eyes darting past her to the open door.  “Is there something wrong with your room?” he asked anxiously.  “Do you need for me to send for something?”

“No, no, my room is just great.”  Her hands were shaking in her nervousness---though why she was suddenly so jumpy around William, she had no idea---and her fingers played with the loose ties that hung from the front of her nightdress.  “What about you?” Buffy asked.  “Why aren’t you sleeping?”

“I find my mind refusing to cooperate with the rest of me,” he joked half-heartedly.  “It has a tendency to do that, unfortunately.”

When she smiled with him, William tilted his head in curiosity for a moment before ducking his gaze.  He was…embarrassed.  It was then that Buffy realized that not only had her up-and-down behavior of the day left her mentally exhausted, it had also left William questioning just what to expect from her, driving him back to the shy young swain of their very first encounter.  After everything they’d been through together, he no longer could predict with any certainty what she might do, and just waited shyly to follow her lead.

He’d never seemed less like Spike than he did right then.

“How’s your neck?” she asked gently, taking a step closer.

His hand automatically lifted to touch the scratches half-hidden by his hair.  “Much better,” he replied.  He looked at her through his lashes before adding, “Thank you.”

“Let me see.”  Closing the remaining distance, Buffy took his hand in hers to pull it away from the small wound, getting up on tiptoe in order to look at it more closely.  When her breath fanned across his cheek, she felt William’s fingers tighten as he steadied his nerves, and swallowed when her mouth suddenly went dry.

“It shouldn’t scar,” she pronounced, breaking the contact and stepping away.  She looked up to see the color rising in his cheeks, his eyes riveted to hers. 

“I hate that you saw me so.”  His voice was low and rough, so contradictory to the gentle pleading for understanding that darkened his gaze.  “This could all be over for Richard now if I’d only---.”

“If you’d done anything differently, you’d be dead.  And that’s the last thing I want…William.”

As he searched her face for some sort of understanding of what exactly was going on, the silence between them stretched from seconds into minutes.  “I can’t decide,” he finally admitted.  “I know you have…details about my future that frighten you, and while I understand intellectually that knowing those would be wrong, in my heart, I’m desperate to beg you to tell me what you know.  Perhaps then I can understand why it is I’ve lost you.”

“You think you’ve lost me?”

“Haven’t I?”

What could she say to that?  Denying his feelings would be a slap in the face for him; Buffy was more than aware that she’d been bouncing back and forth in her behavior, and to try and disclaim it would only make things worse.

So she said nothing about his direct question, choosing instead to change the subject.

“I only came over because I wanted to say I’m sorry.  About you having to deal with Bitchy Buffy all day.  This has been just as big a shake-up for you, too, and it wasn’t fair of me to take out my frustration on you.”

He was shaking his head before she even finished speaking.  “I have no need for apologies,” William hastened to say.  “Today has been…climactic, to say the least, but you can be certain there are portions of it I’ll treasure to my grave.  If anything, I should apologize to you for failing to divulge what I already knew.  Perhaps then, you wouldn’t be in your current predicament.”

“Sounds like we should call it a draw,” Buffy said with a smile.  “Because we’ve played this round robin game before, and to tell you the truth, it’s getting a little old.”

William nodded, and after a moment’s hesitation, stepped aside to clear a path toward the door for her.  “I do appreciate your thinking of me,” he said, his eyes now averted from hers again. 

“You want me to go?”

“Never, but you said---.”

“So, can I stay for a bit?”  He looked up at that, and Buffy was momentarily flustered by the brilliance of the blue.  “You know, just to talk.  Like…before.”

“Always,” William replied.  “For as long as you wish.”

“Good.  I’m glad that’s settled.”  The relief that suffused her body warmed the chill that had settled there earlier, and Buffy almost bounced as she perched herself at the foot of the bed.  “There’s so much I want to ask---.”  She cut herself off in mid-lotus when she saw him staring at her.  “What?”

“Are you…comfortable?” he managed to say.  He gestured toward the small chair near the window.  “Perhaps it might be more…presentable for you to sit there instead.”

Her brows cocked as she looked from William to the straight-backed chair and back again.  “Are you serious?”

His color rose again at her amazement, and he began to fidget where he stood, taking a small step toward her only to retreat again, all the while his hands dancing from his hair to his pockets to each other in an attempt to stay busy.

“I must ask,” William finally blurted.  “If only not to completely lose my mind.”

“Ask what?”

“Rather than unnecessary apologies, I’d very much like to hear what exactly our situation is.  You and I.  Before this morning, we were…intimate, and there were moments today if felt as if none of that had changed.  But there were so many more…where I wasn’t even sure if we were friends, Buffy, let alone anything beyond that.”  He was pacing as he spoke, more agitated than she’d ever seen before.  Obviously, this had been building in him for quite some time, and it was her casual ease with his personal space that had finally made him crack.

“You wouldn’t even let me help you into the coach,” William continued, “but now you come to my room, and you touch me as if nothing was amiss, as if…as if you haven’t spent the entire day treating me as if I was just some polite acquaintance.”  He held up his hands to cut off any protestations that might ensue.  “Which, if that’s what you want, is more than acceptable.  I’ve told you this, time and time again.  I’ll savor however I can get your company, whether it’s friendship or more, but, Buffy…you have to tell me what it is you want.  I don’t know any more, and it’s tearing me apart.”

“What if I don’t know?” she asked.  “What if I’m just as confused as you are?”

“Then tell me that.  Don’t sweep it under the carpet and try to pretend it doesn’t exist.  If you fear my reaction, don’t.  I’m not going to run from you, simply because I may not like what I hear.  I don’t do that.”  He was in front of her in a flash, knuckles bearing his weight on the mattress on either side of her, eyes intent as he leaned in.  “I.  Am not.  Your Angel.”

“No,” Buffy said quietly.  “You’re not.”

The scent of his skin assaulted her senses, his nervous sweat combining with the sharp tang of his soap to make her nerve endings throb in a hunger that surprised her.  She’d never seen him this forceful before, demanding to have his own desires satisfied first instead of hers, and yet none of it seemed particularly out of character.  Because none of what he said was wrong or out of line.

Her admission seemed to cause his fervor to ebb, and the tension in William’s shoulders fractionally eased.  “Answer me this,” he said.  “And don’t try to avoid the question, or lie to me, because I’ll know.  Does your uncertainty hinge on what you perceive my future to be?”

No lies.  No avoidance.  Was he trying to kill her with this?

“Maybe,” she admitted.

“You don’t wish to see me hurt,” he guessed.

“No, I don’t want to see me hurt,” she countered.

That took him by surprise, bowing him back so that he could more broadly scrutinize her face.  “But I would never hurt you,” he proclaimed.  “Haven’t I said it enough for you to believe me?”

“No, I believe you,” Buffy replied, but he missed her slight emphasis.

“And still you hold choices I have yet to make against me.”  William shook his head.  “Our futures aren’t set in stone, Buffy.  I have to believe that I would do everything in my power to preserve you from harm.  I must.  I’ve given you my word, and that’s…it’s all I have.”

“No.”  Lifting her hand, she cupped his cheek tenderly.  “You have much, much more than that.  You’re a good man, William.  Don’t let anyone ever tell you different.”

“But is that enough?”

He didn’t have to elaborate.  The quiet desperation in his voice, the love he couldn’t hide in his eyes, the slight tremor in each word as he spoke…and she knew.

“It is for me,” Buffy said.

The muscles worked in his throat as he visibly swallowed.  “So,” he said, “I’m going to ask again, and I promise that this will be the last of my questions.  Are we merely…friends now?  Or will you let me love you, as you deserve?”

Every worry that had tormented Buffy since coming to the understanding about William’s potential future seemed to dissipate in the face of his sincerity.  She had been able to distinguish between Angel and Angelus to love the former without qualm, even after his return from hell.  This, with William, was no different.

“You’d love me even if I said friends, wouldn’t you?” she asked.

“How could I just stop?” he replied, just as quietly.

“You couldn’t.”

“So…are we?  Just…friends?”

Slowly, Buffy shook her head.  “I think we’ve come too far for that, don’t you?”

The shred of hope that brightened his eyes made her heart leap.  “Does that…mean…?”

She stopped him with a kiss, leaning to press her lips to his.  He jumped at the initial contact, but it took only a moment for William to surge forward, his hands cupping her face as he devoured her mouth.  His tongue was hot, and frenzied, its hunger matched only by the ferocity of his fingers as they slid to tangle in her hair, and he maneuvered to sit at her side on the mattress, not once breaking the seal of the kiss.

The draw of his flesh was all it took for Buffy to slide her hands up beneath the tail of his shirt, kneading the muscles she found before pushing the fabric up onto his shoulders.  He broke apart long enough for her to slide it over his head, dark eyes never breaking from the sculpture of her face, and as soon as she’d tossed it behind her, his mouth returned, this time to nibble and taste at the hollow of her throat.

Buffy gasped when his fingers grazed over her breasts, her nipples pebbled even through the cotton, and then squirmed when his hands settled on her hips.  A firm tug took her by surprise, causing her bottom to slide forward, and before she could react, her nightgown was pushed up around her waist, her slick thighs exposed to the warm air of the bedroom. 

“What are you---?” she started, and then stopped when William pressed his hand onto her stomach, preventing her from escaping as he slid down the length of her body.

His tongue was warm and wet in the trail it forged over her nightgown, searing her through the fabric and making her thighs tremble in anticipation.  “Lie back,” she heard him murmur, just as his mouth found the first bare patch of skin along her leg. 

“You still haven’t told me what you’re doing,” Buffy commented as she complied with his instruction.

“What I’ve been ravenous for since the first time I touched you,” William whispered against her skin. 

Tiny nibbles down her inner thigh left Buffy panting for more, her mind a clamor of color that made the room spin, and she squeezed her eyes shut in a vain attempt to make it stop.  This hadn’t been on her agenda when she came over, but damn if she was going to tell him to---.

“Oh…” she breathed when he finally moved his hand from her abdomen to trace the wetness glistening along her outer lips.  It was followed almost immediately by the feather touch of the tip of his tongue, and the air in her chest escaped her control.

Though his boldness had grown in leaps and bounds with each encounter they shared, this oral exploration took Buffy by giddy surprise.  She was sure that the combination of his earlier frenetic mood and the reiteration of where they stood was the impetus for his hunger, but it was still unsettling and astonishing, leaving her wondering just how far he would actually go, given the right circumstances.

It also left her grateful that she’d foregone the old-fashioned underwear and came to his room wearing only the nightgown.

“Oh, Buffy,” William murmured.  She heard him inhale, and his hands quivered where they brushed across the soft skin of her inner thighs.  “Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?”

It wasn’t a question that demanded a response, which was just as well, because speech wasn’t exactly possible when Buffy’s lungs refused to cooperate.  His tongue had returned, and when it flicked over her clit, her hands clawed into his blanket from the sudden shock of pleasure that shot up her abdomen.  It didn’t leave, either.  It came back, again, and again, and again, to finally curl around the bundle of nerves in a flood of sensation that made the room reverberate around her.

The irony that her first experience with oral sex would come at the mouth of the least practiced man she’d ever known---well, he’d been the least practiced in the beginning; being a fast learner definitely moved him toward the front of the pack---didn’t escape Buffy.  She didn’t care, though.  His appetite seemed nowhere near being sated, his fingers roughening as an inadvertent rake along her skin made the Slayer audibly moan.

Unconsciously, she began pushing back against his insistent tongue, grinding against his mouth as William’s fingers slipped inside.  Stroke matched with lick, over and over and over again, sliding in and out…up and down…driving Buffy closer and closer to the brink until a catch of his teeth against her clit sent her careening over the edge.

Her scream of pleasure was silenced when William abandoned the musk of her sex to stretch out on top of her and devour her cry with an eager kiss.  His throbbing cock pressed against her pussy, but when she tried to reach down to free him, he grabbed her wrist, twisting her arm up and over her head.

He stayed mute when he reached to undo his trousers, breaking away from her mouth to look down at Buffy.  Though her pulse was pounding along every inch of her skin, she felt herself falling at the intensity of his gaze, the crescendo of her orgasm still echoing inside her skull.  “I love you,” she whispered before she could stop herself.

William froze.  “What?”

She couldn’t take it back now, even if she hadn’t meant to say it out loud.  “You heard me,” Buffy said instead, and ground her hips against his, eliciting a groan from William’s throat.  “Now…please.  Don’t stop.”

His mouth was back on hers at that, taking what she so willingly offered, as he firmly and deliberately guided his cock past her slick folds.  In and out he plunged, each thrust driving her into the mattress with a strength she didn’t know he possessed.  It was maddening in its regularity, driving and pounding with an incessant rhythm that blurred the world around her, and all she could feel was the feverish thirst of his tongue, the hard column of his shaft.

The litany started the moment William finally began to quicken his pace.

“Buffy…love you…always…so much…love…always…oh, Buffy…so beautiful…”  She knew he would complain later at his ineloquence, but in those seconds that stretched into forever, each syllable weighed just as inestimable as his poetry for her.

He came first, his shoulders arching away before bending back so that he could bury his face in the curve of her neck.  “I love you,” William murmured again, his final thrusts driving Buffy to a second, or third, or whatever count it was, orgasm.  Only when he finally stopped moving did he release his hold on her arm, and he seemed momentarily stricken when he realized how he’d been posing her.

“It’s OK,” Buffy soothed when he started to pull away.  She tugged him back down so that his weight was full upon her, smoothing back the sweat-soaked hair that clung to his brow.  “I liked it.”

Considering her words, William dropped his head to rest his forehead against hers.  “Stay with me tonight,” he said.

She’d been hoping he would say something along those lines, but it didn’t stop Buffy from voicing her question anyway.  “What about the maid?  Won’t everyone, you know, talk?”

“I don’t care.  Stay with me.”

She answered by placing a chaste kiss on the sharp line of his cheek.  “What if I wake up back in my own time?”

“Then I’ll have had even one night of heaven.  Stay.”

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

As soon as she saw the light disappear from the keyhole, Meg pulled back from where she’d had her ear pressed to William’s door, her face hot.  She hadn’t meant to listen, but when she’d hesitated at the top of the stairs with his nightly tea and spied Miss Summers disappear into the Master’s bedroom wearing only her nightclothes, the desire to know what was happening had been too great.

Half of their conversation had been indiscernible through the heavy wood, but Meg had caught enough before the mood had changed to know the depth of the feelings between the two.  There had been talk in the kitchen after dinner, when William had disappeared with the coach to take their new guest shopping, and while the speculation had been rampant, Meg was almost relieved to hear that it was as simple as a matter of love.  Certainly, the shy young Master was worthy of such a thing.  He was kind, and generous, and hardly, if ever, raised his voice.

And so far, she liked Miss Summers.  The young American didn’t look down her nose at the staff, and more than once, Meg got the impression that Buffy would’ve wished to speak to her if she had the opportunity.  Most people who came to the house didn’t even recognize her presence.  Well, except for that dreadful Mr. Howard and his unwelcome advances, of course.  But Miss Summers seemed like the sort who wouldn’t put up with such nonsense.  She would be a good mistress of the house once Mrs. Freston passed on. 

Being careful to avoid jostling the tray she’d left sitting next to his door, Meg chewed at her lip as she headed back for the stairs.  There would be questions about her long absence, but somehow, telling everything of what she had learned about William and Buffy seemed…wrong.  Perhaps a carefully edited version would suffice, one where she simply told of overhearing the declarations of their feelings for each other.

Surely, the truth of their circumstances would come to light soon anyway.  After everything he’d done for her, Master William deserved the courtesy of Meg holding her tongue for a little bit longer.

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

Slowly, Rose finished brushing out her hair, her eyes weary where they stared back at her from the dressing table mirror.  The day had provided more surprises than was normal, and after the unexpected inclusion of young William in the April debacle, she wouldn’t have said that was possible.  Yet, Buffy Summers was here, and now Rose had to figure out what the Slayer’s presence meant for the completion of her plans.

Nothing could change.  Rose couldn’t risk altering the timeline any more than she already had.  She’d spent too many years watching over Richard Rhodes-Fanshaw, and while she’d never predicted falling in love with the Watcher she’d been sent to guide, she was here for a purpose, and that purpose couldn’t be sidelined this far into the game.  April needed to be controlled.  End of story.  And though time travel was not normally accepted among her group, those women who watched the Watchers had deemed it necessary in this case.  The cost of not had just been too high.

She started when she heard the light rap at the door, and turned in time to see Richard poke his head inside.  “Aren’t you coming to bed?” he asked.  “It’s late.”

“Yes,” she agreed with a smile.  “I’ll be right there.”

It was late.  Her deadline was nigh.  Rose only hoped that she could meet it.

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

She desperately wanted to ask if there was a Plan C. 

Because Plan B?

Scared Willow halfway around the moon and back.

Her hands shook as she lit the last of the candles, causing the flames to flicker in the ebony vacuum of space.  She caught Lydia’s raised eyebrow, but the Watcher said nothing, choosing instead to turn her eyes to where Esme was scanning over the contents of the file.  For a brief moment, Willow had considered running away from the whole escapade---after all, Esme had admitted that she couldn’t do this without the resource of the redhead’s magic, for some reason---but a sudden flash of Buffy’s still-sleeping body back in the hotel room had stopped her from doing so.

Esme said this was the only way they could get Buffy back.

She didn’t really have a choice but to pray that the older witch was right.

Looking around the bare warehouse where the spell was taking place, Willow announced for anyone who was listening, “I’m ready.”

Silently, Lydia picked up the weapon Esme had made her take from the Council, training it on the patch of floor that had been designated for the job.  There were other means stationed around the space, and all Willow could do was hope that it was enough.  And that the Watcher’s obvious excitement for the job didn’t impair her ability with the crossbow.

“Why didn’t you just do this in the first place?” Willow had asked after the plan had been explained.

“Because Lydia was the only one I could find,” came the impatient reply.  “And she’s the only one I could think of who might have something I could use to focus the spell.”

“So use that for Buffy instead of---.”

“It’s not large enough to contain the magic,” Esme explained.  “And besides, I have my own purposes that are of no concern to you.”

Except she was concerned, and it was too late now to do anything about it.

Within the circle of candles, Esme was now seated opposite her, and just as in the alley, Willow’s hand was held tightly in her gnarled grip.  At least this time, she knew kind of what to expect, though the idea of the other witch somehow channeling Willow’s magic to cast the spell gave her the wiggins.  And hopefully, it wouldn’t hurt as much this time, either.  Her palms still itched from the last time they’d done this.

Carefully, Willow read out the incantation that had been written out for her, avoiding the unhealthy darkening of Esme’s eyes.  The empty warehouse that had been selected began to fill with wind, hot and dusty as it swirled around and through their tableau.  The candles remained lit, however, even when the invocation was complete, and she lifted her gaze to watch the waiting space.

“Is it working?” Lydia asked, speaking for the first time since arriving at the depot. 

“It’s working,” Esme confirmed.

“And you’re sure this will help the Slayer?”

This had been a double bonus for Lydia.  Aside from the obvious, she’d admitted that rescuing the current Slayer would likely help her regain some of her status within the Council.  If Travers learned that she’d contributed to getting Buffy back into active duty from the stasis Esme’s spell had placed her, surely all her wrongdoings would be forgiven.

“For the last time, yes.  In order to complete the circle, the Slayer needs an anchor in this time to draw her back.  That’s what William’s journal provided, but with that gone, I need to enchant something else of his to give to her.”

The air in the waiting space was thickening, darkening with mass, and Willow’s heart thumped wildly inside her chest as she watched. 

Black.

White.

More black.

And it began to take shape, until the unmistakable form of a man appeared crouched on the floor, most of its body hidden by the midnight leather that draped over it.

Esme smiled, slowly rising from her seat.  “Or William himself,” she added gleefully.

A pale hand splayed to the concrete, steadying an uncertain balance, and as the wind died, a familiar bleached head shook as if to clear it.

“Bloody hell,” Spike muttered, the two words echoing inside the warehouse.

 

To be continued in Chapter 26: Give Me Welcome