DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CX.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Buffy and William have reconciled, while in present-day, Esme had summoned who she thinks will solve all of her current problems…

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

Chapter 26: Give Me Welcome

The contents of his stomach threatened to revolt as his fingernails clawed into the cement floor, only fractionally steadying the room’s incessant swaying.  Spike knew he’d drunk a lot, but it wasn’t the cheap swill he’d nicked from the Chilean bartender that was responsible for his current discomfort.  No, this was strictly the result of someone messing about with magics---on him, no less---and to say that he was little bit pissed off at being their guinea pig was like saying the soddin’ Queen was just a little bit English.

And just as soon as the floor stopped pitching, he was going to rip out the throat of the witch responsible.

Out of the corner of his eye, the flicker of candles was interrupted by a shadow passing in front of them, and he turned his head to snarl at whoever it was approaching.

“The sickness will pass, William,” the old woman said casually.  She was completely unfazed by his attitude, and continued to advance until she stood just beyond his reach.  “It’s best not to move until it does.”

Lip drawn back in a sneer, Spike deliberately shoved against the floor, propelling himself upwards until he was vertical and the gloom of the warehouse was visible all around him.  He ignored the sudden desire to vomit across his boots and instead swallowed the bile back down as his vampire visage came to the fore.

“Don’t know what your game is,” he growled, “but the rules just changed.”

An arrow whistled through the darkness as he began to charge, embedding itself in his thigh.  Howling in pain, Spike skidded to a halt and yanked it out, golden eyes intent on the figure that emerged from the shadows.

“That would be unwise, Mr. Freston,” the blonde woman said.  A crossbow was trained on his chest, and she was expertly reloading another arrow as she gazed at him through her spectacles.  Everything about her screamed Watcher, but it wasn’t that observation that cast a pall over the vampire’s anger.

“The name’s Spike,” he said slowly.  It had been a long time since he’d heard anyone refer to his real surname; when he needed an identity, he always opted for something untraceable.  He wanted nothing to do with the human sop he’d once been.

The old woman wrinkled her nose in distaste.  “I would’ve thought you’d find that too common, William.”

It wasn’t that he disliked being called by his original name; it was the familiarity in which she used it that made Spike bristle.  “Look,” he said, “I don’t rightly know what this is all about, but if you could just point me in the direction of the nearest pub, I’d be willing to overlook whatever insanity seems to afflict your little Addams family here.”

Her dark eyes locked on his face, so piercing that he would’ve squirmed if he didn’t know she was only human.  “Don’t you know me?” she asked. 

“Should I?”

“It’s been a long time for you, but…”  Another pause while she continued her scrutiny, this time circling around him like she was appraising him for purchase.  Spike followed the revolution with her, head lowered and eyes gleaming dangerously beneath his ridged brow, until they were both back in their original position. 

“There’s no doubt you’re William,” she said.  “A vampire now, but still…William.  So it must be your memory that is suspect.  You’re sure you don’t remember?  You knew me as Miss Esme.”

“I’m sure you were a right catch, and if Dru or me ate your beau or something, well, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles, isn’t it?  But I’m tellin’ you---.”

“No, you would’ve known me looking exactly like this.”

She seemed so sure that Spike actually stopped to look at her closely again.  Only a little slip of a thing, skin wrinkled with advancing years but eyes still sharp and inquisitive.  For a moment, the faintest of flashes made him pause, his vampire mask slipping away as his head tilted in contemplation, but then it faded, and he was left repeating his denial.

“Could we have made a mistake?” the Watcher asked behind Esme.

“No, but this certainly does make things just a bit more interesting,” she replied.

“Does interesting mean we still get Buffy back?”

The inclusion of the third voice---one he hadn’t anticipated in his concentration on the two women in front of him---made Spike’s attention jerk back to full-speed, his chin snapping up as his gaze slid around the old witch.

“You!” he exclaimed, finger pointing in accusation.  Willow shrank back further into the shadows, even though he hadn’t moved an inch closer to her.  “I should’ve known the Slayer was behind all this!  That fuckin’ little bitch!  No wonder Dru was so nutso for thinkin’ she could see her all the time, floating and all that nonsense.  Wait ‘til I tell---.”

“Ms. Summers isn’t responsible for your presence here, William,” Esme said evenly.  “I am.”

His eyes darted between the cowering redhead and her elder.  “And Red here’s joined up in the Future Wiccas of America Club?” he commented.  “I don’t think so.  Where the Slayer goes, she goes.  And vice versa.  Had enough firsthand experience of that not to fall for whatever line you’re tryin’ to hawk.”

“She’s telling you the truth, Spike,” Willow said.  “Buffy has no idea we did this.  Do you really think she’d let me be hanging out here all willy-nilly without her being around as back-up?”

The witch had a point, even if it was a small one.  “But you said something about gettin’ the Slayer back,” he said cautiously.  “All this hocus pocus still’s somehow tied to her, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”  Back to Esme.  “I’ve brought you here to make you a trade.  One you should find very difficult to refuse.”

Spike snorted.  “Not like I haven’t heard that one before.”

“Has anyone ever offered you the opportunity to kill a turned Slayer?”

He had to give her credit; Esme sure knew her timing.  “There’s no such thing,” he said, carefully watching the Watcher behind her for a reaction.  “Council of Wankers makes sure of that when one of ‘em bites the dust.  Too unpredictable, I always heard.  ‘Course, that’s half the fun, but then, they’re not exactly in it for the fun, now are they?”  Another deliberate slide of his eyes over the Watcher, and this time, Spike would’ve sworn he saw her blush.  “Not sharin’ with the whole class, are we?” he taunted her.  His tongue tsked in reproval.  “Sneaky and double-dealing with the enemy.  If you weren’t one of them, I’d almost like you.”

“We didn’t know---,” the Watcher started, but immediately shut up when Esme raised her hand.

“Lydia is all too aware of Council policy,” she said.  “As am I.  And the Council only destroys turned Slayers when they actually know of their existence.”

“You’re tryin’ to tell me one of them slipped past the Wankers’ radar?  Find that a little hard to believe, luv.”

“It’s not that difficult when her own Watcher lied about the circumstances of her death for the official records.  For them, April was just another vampire, and Masia was long buried.  But, surely, you must remember that.”  At his blank look, she added, “Richard Rhodes-Fanshaw?  Does that name mean nothing to you?”

“Just that someone’s mum and dad probably had too many sticks shoved up their asses.”  This game that she was playing about his memory was starting to wear thin.  “Look, as fascinating as your little offer sounds, I think you got the wrong guy.  I don’t know anything about---.”

“Do this for me, and I can return your love to you, once and for all.”

For being no bigger than a toadstool, she sure as hell knew how to take charge of a situation.  And how in hell did she know that he’d been stewing over losing Dru?  For a moment, Spike’s eyes flickered to Willow’s pinched face.  She had to be the one to know that was a bargaining chip.  She’d sat there and listened while he’d cried his drunken eyes out over his dark princess.  More than anyone else, she’d know how much getting Drusilla back for good would mean to him.

And, he had to face facts…the prospect of going after a turned Slayer was certainly appealing, even if he did think Esme was a few cards short of a full deck.  And having a Watcher in the mix---a not unattractive, obviously interested in him even if she did take a shot at him, Watcher---gave it an air of credibility that he might otherwise have ignored.  Still…

Again, Spike’s gaze wandered to the redhead.  Anything involving Buffy Summers never turned out in his favor.  If he had half a brain, he’d walk away from this deal right now, before he lost a little bit more than his pride.

Unfortunately, it was the other half that seemed to be in control of his mouth at the moment.

“So far,” he said, “I seem to be the only one benefiting from this little arrangement.  You said something about a trade.  What is it exactly you want from me?”

“It’s not anything you haven’t done before, William,” Esme said with more than just a little smugness.  “I just need you to save a Slayer.”

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

She would giggle if she could hear his thoughts at that exact moment.  But as William watched Buffy sleep, his fingers trailing up and down her arm---because not touching her for as long as he had the opportunity seemed inherently wrong---he couldn’t shake the belief that she had somehow saved him.  Having her trust in him, for surely she had to in order to allow him the luxury of loving her, was the salvation from mediocrity that he’d always yearned for.  No vile words from callous concomitants could harm him for as long as he knew Buffy saw him as a man of value.

Those had been her words, after all.  “A good man,” she’d said.  She believed it; why shouldn’t he?

Part of him was mildly ashamed for his coarse taking of her flesh, devouring the succulence between her legs that had driven him mad with want since the first time he’d touched her and then pinning her to the bed to ravish her as if only his physical needs were what mattered.  A smaller part wanted to smile in pride for having the nerve to do so, even if it had mostly been provoked by his raging frustration at her dallying to respond to his questions, because just a few days ago, he would never have been secure enough in his desires to act on them in such a way.

And a much smaller part, one that he had to be certain to keep locked away from Buffy’s scrutiny lest it drive her to do something foolish, was whispering, “Please don’t ever leave me.”

Intellectually, William understood that she had to go.  She didn’t belong in his time, just as he didn’t belong in hers.  The world was ordered to proceed along certain paths, and the magic that had been used to bring them together was dangerously close to butchering those courses.  Richard’s assessment of how careful they must be not to do anything that would further damage it was correct, as far as William could tell.

It didn’t mean he had to like it.

In fact, the longer she stayed, the more he detested the idea.

With Buffy gone, life would return to the mundane ritual of waking, and tending to his mother---once he got her back---and struggling with the verses that always seemed so clumsy and shallow beyond the Slayer’s presence.  Gone would be the rush of excitement that made his spirit scamper like a newly-freed foal every time Buffy walked at his side, and gone would be the sense of satisfaction that hearing her laugh and smile with him brought to his heart.  The days would again be cold and gray, and William would have no choice but to continue existing in them.

It shouldn’t be this way, he rationalized.  They loved each other.  She had told him, with her words and with her body.  Surely, those with such commitment for each other deserved to be together.

But he’d read enough literature and poetry to know that that wasn’t always the case.  How often did love go unfulfilled?  How often did the hero have to sacrifice himself in order to preserve his paramour’s safety?  For every tale with a happy ending, there was one that wept with tragedy, and William had a sinking suspicion that their romance landed in the latter category.

Gently, he allowed his fingertips to graze over the upper swell of her left breast, eliciting a soft moan from Buffy’s throat.  A smile played on her lips while she slept, and as he continued to stroke her ever-so-soft skin, she turned her head so that it nuzzled deeper into the protection of his shoulder.

There would be raised eyebrows in the morning, William knew, and the gossip would surely spread throughout the community about how young Freston was carrying on with that American strumpet who was staying with him, but he didn’t care.  He hadn’t been lying to Buffy when he’d disclaimed the rumors her sharing his bed would generate; if he could, he’d marry her on the spot just to prove to one and all exactly what his intentions were.

The random thought made his hand halt in mid-stroke.  Why couldn’t he marry Buffy?  Not only would it be the honorable thing to do in order to legitimatize the duration of her stay, but it would also prove to her once and for all that nothing she may know of his future could ever counter how assuredly he’d fight to protect her.  Though he lacked specific details of what it was she feared---other than knowing she believed it would hurt her---William had to believe that having given her his word, nothing could deter him from it.  In that, he’d been most sincere.  If he didn’t have his word, then, really, what did he have?

Already, ideas were starting to take shape, plans began and schemes formulated.  Nothing fancy, he decided.  There wouldn’t be enough time for that.  Just a simple ceremony where he could declare his love for her.  Perhaps he could even write a little bit of verse to share.  Buffy always seemed to appreciate that, and it would show everyone just how sincere he was in his feelings.

Impulsively, William leaned down and took Buffy’s mouth in a delighted kiss.  There was no response at first, but as his tongue swiped over her lips, they parted to allow hers to tangle briefly.

“Mmmm,” Buffy moaned, rolling onto her side so that their torsos were pressed together.  She pulled back from the caress as her eyes fluttered open, lids still heavy with sleep.  “Is it morning already?”

“Not yet,” William whispered.  His hand brushed back a tousled lock of blonde hair, hooking it over her ear before allowing his palm to cup the side of her face. 

“I’m still here,” she murmured, letting her lids fall closed again.

“You’re still here.”

“Aren’t you tired?”

He chuckled.  “If you’re asking me to choose between being aware of every minute I have with you, or sleep, you’re asking a very foolish question.”

Buffy smiled with him, letting her head drop back to the pillow.  “I like your bed.  It’s comfier than mine.”

“It’s yours for as long as you wish to stay.”

Her eyes opened again at that, this time slightly more alert as they scanned his.  “We have to go see Richard and Rose in the morning about what they’ve figured out in getting me back.  You know that, right?”

“Of course.  That doesn’t negate my invitation, though.”  Letting his hand slide down the side of her body, William stopped at her waist as he tugged her even closer against him.  “I’m fully prepared to make the most of whatever I can get with you.  One of these days, you might actually start believing that.”

The sadness was starting to return to her eyes, and before he could allow her to continue articulating that voice of Slayer reason that so permeated her existence, William bent in for another kiss, commanding her to silence with every taste of her delectable mouth.

“No more dwelling on what will be too bright to ignore come morning,” he whispered when he broke away.  His lips skated across her jaw to the fine shell of her ear, and he breathed in the glorious scent of her hair as he felt the room begin to spin beyond his control again.  “For now, I just want to stay lost in you, where all that matters is you and I, and witches who do miracles by bringing you to me don’t regiment our every thought.  Agreed?”

He felt her nod and promptly returned to drowning in her kisses.  In the back of his mind, though, revenants of his proposal still stirred, congregating with the fears that Buffy would somehow either disappear before they could come to fruition or that her obstinance in maintaining appearances and the timeline would bar them from happening.  Surely, he could find a way.  He was not a stupid man, even if he was a trifle impulsive.  Convincing her to accept his vow just had to be possible.

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

Giles hesitated outside Anne’s door, exhaustion bowing his shoulders.  He would’ve much preferred returning to her room with good news, and while he had more information than he had prior to leaving her side so many hours earlier, none of it was optimistic.  If it weren’t for his assurance that he would return to her, Giles would almost have foregone knocking at all, choosing instead to return to his own accommodation and attempt to reason through their situation through without the cumbrance of a woman dragged straight out of time.

However, he did make a promise, and though he may not care for the creature her son would become, he already found himself liking Anne too much not to honor his word.

Please be asleep, he thought as he knocked.  Those wishes were squashed when he heard the distinct sound of bed squeaking, followed by the soft padding of feet.  She astonished him by opening the door, her face pale and drawn but her eyes alert in spite of being tired.

“You’re up,” he said redundantly.  For some reason, barging in as he had earlier seemed rude in light of her improved health, and he lingered in the dark hall as she smiled up at him.

“As are you,” Anne replied.  Her hands held the front of her dressing gown together, and though she kept the door between them, there was an ease to her demeanor that surprised Giles even further.  “I’d thought you’d retired for the evening.”

“I’ve been searching our…”  For a moment, he faltered.  What did he call this place?  Prison?  Fortress?  These were negative connotations and not ones that would be conducive to alleviating any stress Anne might be feeling regarding their situation.  “…quarters,” he finished.  “I’ve only just come back.”

Some of her weariness was stripped away at his words.  “Have you found a way for us to return home?” she asked eagerly, and then hesitated as another, darker thought came to mind.  “Is William here as well?”

“No,” Giles said.  “To both questions, unfortunately.”

“Oh.”  Anne’s face fell, and she quickly appeared her age again.  “Do you know where we are, at least?”

He sighed, removing his glasses to rub tiredly at his eyes.  “I wasn’t able to find a means out,” he explained.  “We seem to be in a subterranean level of an ancient manor.  The end of this corridor has a tall stairwell that leads upward, but I couldn’t find any means of power in the upper levels.  What I could see before the light failed me was that wherever we are, it doesn’t appear to be inhabited.  Except for us, of course.”

“But…if it’s a house, there’ll be doors.  And windows.”

“None of them open.  And the glass in the panes is unbreakable.”  It pained to have to admit defeat.  He’d spent too many minutes trying to find new and inventive ways to shatter the windows, all to no avail.

She quieted, obvious thoughts flashing through her head.  “But the food,” Anne finally said.  “It’s coming from somewhere.  Surely, there’s a servant who’s taking care of such matters.”

“No,” Giles repeated.  “There’s only us.  I’m certain of that.”  Taking a deep breath, he ignored his misgivings about the propriety of his upcoming question, and asked, “Do you believe in magic, Mrs. Freston?”

The transparency with which Spike had worn his thoughts and emotions was clearly inherited from his mother, he realized.  If he so chose, Giles could literally catalog each disposition as it passed behind Anne’s eyes, the apprehension segueing into skepticism, only to be assaulted by a truth she couldn’t deny before merging into a timid concession.

“This might seem forward, Mr. Giles,” she said, stepping away from the door as she held it farther open, “but I’d very much like for you to come in.  It seems as though there is much we need to discuss.”

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

The first thing she noticed when she stepped off the platform was that London smelled different.

A century earlier, the city’s scent was worn like a proud mantle---sweat, and blood, and sewage, and more blood, and the heat of thousands of bodies pressed together in tiny spaces.  Walking through its streets had been an explosion of sensation, leaving a vampire so heady with power and desire that it was simple to forget to be smart about a kill.  It was why the Council made London its home.  The demons were drunk on their own stupidity.

Now, however, it was an entirely different matter.  Now, April’s senses were assaulted by petrol fumes, and curry, and a mishmash of colognes and perfumes that made her eyes burn, and, even though sunrise was still an hour off the horizon, already the honks and exhausts of the vehicles of this time were shattering her eardrums.

“Tell me again why I bother with this city,” she muttered as she began heading for the exit.  It was impossible to keep her disgust from her voice; even the aged security guard near the door heard her.

Nathan was right at her heels, their bags slung over his shoulder as he loped along to keep pace.  “We could always cross the Channel,” he offered.  “Think of how long it’s been since we’ve done Paris.”

“After,” she said.  Her bones were weary from traveling, and she was still understrength from the damn spell that had bound her for so long.  “Right now, all I want is a good night’s rest, and then Esme’s head on a silver platter.  Or any color platter.  I’m not picky.”

“And you’re sure she came here?  I mean, her scent was all over that Welsh train station, but she could’ve just used London as a pitstop.  She might even be in Paris, for all we know.”

“She’s here,” April replied grimly.  “You told me she needs a Slayer for whatever power mojo she’s lined up, right?  That’s why she agreed to help you release me.  And where else do you go shopping for a Slayer but Slayer Headquarters itself?”  She stopped on the street corner to survey the familiar Council building in the distance, shaking her head at the sense of dread that was curling around the pit of her gut.  “God, I hate this town.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 27: Against This Coming End, You Should Prepare