DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet XIII.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  William and Buffy have reconciled though he has different designs on what their future will be than she does, Giles has learned that there is no escape from where they are being held, present-day April has arrived in London to kill Esme, and Esme has offered a Spike a deal in exchange for his help with Buffy…

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

Chapter 27: Against This Coming End, You Should Prepare

She kept her eyes glued to his back, every nerve ending on alert for a sudden shift where Spike might whirl around in a swish of black leather and decide to heck with the deal he’d struck with Esme and have himself a Willow-shaped Scooby snack.  It wouldn’t be the first time, and just a brief flash of memory of that night in the Factory was all it took for Willow’s fist to curl tighter around the stake clenched in her hand.  At least this time, she had a weapon.  The crossbow would’ve been much more deadly, but she couldn’t carry that and her bag of magic stuff, and still have a smidgeon of hope to actually be able to use it without shooting herself in the foot.

“Why do you get Lydia?” she’d demanded when they were packing at the warehouse.  “Why can’t I have the Watcher bodyguard?”

“Because I need protection,” had been Esme’s cool reply.

Willow’s eyes bugged.  “And I don’t?”

A cool slide to where the vampire was smoking near the entrance preceded the shake of the witch’s head.  “William knows we need you,” she said.  “And by your own admission, you’ve survived encounters with him before.”  She’d patted Willow condescendingly on the cheek.  “You’ll be just fine.”

Fine she said, Willow groused silently.  What’s so fine about walking through Underground tunnels with a hungry vampire who violently hates the person he agreed to do this for?  Which made no sense, except for the fact that Esme had agreed to get Drusilla back for him and that made Spike all kinds of happy.

“So, Summers needs me, eh?”  His smirk almost glowed in the darkness of the warehouse.  “Guess some things never change.”

“Only because Mr. Travers is a grade-A poophead who seems to hate Buffy just as much as you do,” Willow couldn’t help but shoot back.

“Mr. Travers doesn’t hate Ms. Summers,” Lydia interjected.  “Everything he’s done has been for the greater good.  Surely you can see that.”

“Oh, yeah, because burning books is always for the greater good,” Willow commented.  “Found any pretty swastikas lying around in his office lately?”

“You’re allowing your prejudices to color your opinions---.”

My prejudices?”  Now, she was getting riled, all her fears and all her frustrations about the situation with Buffy, Spike, and Esme focusing on the unsuspecting Watcher.  “Listen here, missy---.”

“Lovely little crew you’ve got here,” Spike said casually to Esme, hands stuffed deep inside his pockets as he watched them bicker.  “Feeling a little bit Bligh today?”

“That’s enough,” the witch said to the two women, who fell silent under her stern glare.  “Now, William…have we got a deal?”

“Well, let’s see.  I get to chock up another notch by killing a turned Slayer, I can put this Dru cheating nonsense behind me once and for all, and I get Little Miss Stick-up-her-ass beholden to me for pullin’ her outta whatever fire she’s got herself into this time?”  He grinned.  “Hell, yeah, you got a deal.”

Personally, Willow hated the deal.  She’d hated the deal when Esme had first brought it up; she’d hated it when Lydia had jumped into the fray with both feet and so much gusto that the redhead had thought she’d have an orgasm on the spot at the possibility of being in such close proximity to Spike; and she’d hated it for every second Esme had stolen her magic to make it happen.

“Stop lookin’ like I just killed your best friend,” Spike said, shooting a glance back at her as he rounded a dank corner.  “I’m the bloody cavalry, remember?”

“Don’t remind me,” she muttered.  Out of the corner of her eye, a whiskery scuttling made her hands twitch, and she unconsciously stepped just a little bit faster, closing the gap between her and the vampire.

“Frankly, I gotta admit to bein’ surprised the witch brought you along for the ride,” he went on to say. 

It was all she could do not to sigh in defeat.  Oh, great.  Spike’s in one of his chatty moods.  Lucky me.

“I mean,” he continued, “I know your little dabblin’ helps out the Slayer back in Sunnyhell, but face it, that Esme’s a big gun to your little water pistol.  I didn’t suss out anything was wrong back at that Chilean bar ‘til I was plastered to the floor of the warehouse.  Granted, she’s a spot cracked thinkin’ I should know her---.”

“That’s because you do.”

It came out before she could stop it, mostly because she was tired of listening to him go off on the memory thing.  Though she’d been holding on to that last vestige of hope that Spike really wasn’t Buffy’s William, seeing his reaction to his real name had been all that was necessary to squash the pipe dream flat.  Willow didn’t understand why he didn’t remember what had happened---unless maybe it was some other-dimension thingy where Buffy was meeting a different William, in which case having this William wouldn’t work to get her back, and oh, she was going to stop considering that possibility right now because that way led to badness and loss of hope---but in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t make much of a difference, did it, because here she was, and there he was, and god, how could Buffy ever be in love with him?  And whoa, was she going to wig out in huge massive quantities when she finally woke up and realized that it had been Spike all along.  That was one show Willow did not want front row tickets for.

It took running into Spike’s motionless back for her to realize he’d stopped moving, and was watching her with that same intensity he’d leveled at Esme each time she’d brought up knowing him.  “What?” she demanded, lifting her chin with a defiance she didn’t feel.

“Always thought you were the smart bird,” he said.  “So I’m thinkin’…there’s a twist to this little bit of O. Henry that someone’s not sharin’.”

She felt the color leech from her cheeks.  Both Lydia and Esme had warned her before they did the spell about not letting Spike know too many details about the situation; information gave him power, and he was one vampire they couldn’t afford to get the upper hand.  Besides, what good would it do her anyway?  He didn’t remember anything that had happened---or was happening, or whatever, and boy her head was starting to ache thinking of all the potential paradoxes---so it was better just to play it cool like Esme had said.  They couldn’t afford for him to go off half-cocked for whatever reason until after he’d done what they needed.

Frankly, Willow was against any kind of cocking when it came to Spike, but then that came as a result of being on the wrong end of one too many broken bottles, now didn’t it?

“Oh, look,” she said, pointing at the sign on the wall with the brightest smile she could muster.  “This is our stop.  Time to go get you a room, Spike.”

And before he could stop her, she rushed past him to disappear through the exit, the first time she’d risked having him behind her and out of her sight since leaving the warehouse.

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

Something was up.  Red knew it.  That nutter witch Esme knew it.  Hell, even the Watcher bird knew it.  The only one out of the loop was Spike, and he was beginning to wish that he’d ignored the pain from the arrow and the disorientation from the spell and just killed the lot of them while he could.

Scratch that.

He was already there. 

The look on Red’s face before she’d fled for the upper levels of the hotel had been all the confirmation he’d needed to know they were holding back on him.  Considering his present circumstances, he was none too pleased with the idea of being in the dark on any of it.  Sure, the prospect of taking on a turned Slayer made his body resonate with anticipation, and hell, hadn’t he already proved he’d do just about anything to get Dru back?  It was the Buffy Summers part of the equation he was having problems with, and for some reason, Spike suspected that she was the root of whatever it was they weren’t spilling.

From the corner of the hotel lobby, Spike watched Willow wait in line to speak to the front desk about getting him a room near hers.  He wasn’t too keen on holing it up in the pit of London, but Esme had been vague on when he’d be taking this April chit on.

“She’ll show,” had been all the witch had said, like it was fucking preordained or something.  At least he’d laid his own terms out there, plain as day, that he wouldn’t lift a finger for Buffy until he got what he wanted.  And that they’d be footing the bill for any roof over his head.  And that he got carte blanche to do whatever the hell he liked during his off time.

Though why he had to stick with Red, he still wasn’t too sure on.

Wonder where the Slayer took off to, Spike thought distractedly while he fidgeted in his spot.  And wonder why it is they need a vamp bloodhound to get her back.

His nose twitched.  Something about the lobby was getting under his skin, and he shifted his weight once again, fighting back the urge to slip into game face.  It was something in the air, a dynamic perfume of intoxicating vim that hinted with a promise of war.  Not strong, but---.

Spike stiffened.

It was Slayer.

More importantly, it was Buffy.

Well, that didn’t make any soddin’ sense.  With a scowl, Spike’s gaze swept over the crowd, trying to discern where exactly the scent was coming from.  Why would they need him to bring the Slayer back if she was right under their noses?  It wasn’t very strong, but it was there, nagging and annoying now that he’d identified what exactly it was.  His chin lifted when a turn of his head directed him to the hall that led to the ground floor rooms, his body stiffening and his cock hardening as he concentrated on the smell.

There it was.

Willow was still nowhere near the front of the line when he glanced back.  Can finish this here and now, he thought.  Then they’ll have no choice but to follow through on their promises.  Not for a second did he doubt Red’s commitment to their deal.  She may be the slaymate of the month, but she had that same sense of cockamamie fairness Buffy sported.  She’d honor the contract that had been made, whether she liked it or not.  And who could tell?  Maybe she’d be all extra-grateful for his getting her best friend back so much sooner than they’d planned.  Maybe he could add to his pot of goodies for this good turn.

For someone who’d been so skittish walking beneath London with him, Willow didn’t even notice when Spike slipped out of the lobby and into the proper corridor.

All it took was a matter of following his nose.  Down the narrow hall twenty feet…make a left…another eight feet…and the scent that had been growing stronger with each step started to wane.

Spike stopped, swiveling to look at the door he’d just passed.  A “Do Not Disturb” sign hung from the old-fashioned knob.  From behind the heavy wood, the very slow, rhythmic thud of a heartbeat accompanied the Slayer smell there was no point in denying.  He frowned.

What’s she doin’ in there?  Meditating?  Never figured her for the cerebral type.

He contemplated what his options were.  If the lot didn’t know where Buffy was, that probably meant she was either hiding from them of her own free will or someone else was hiding her.   Either way, knocking at the door probably wouldn’t do him a lick of good.

God bless public places, he thought as he twisted the knob in his tight grip, snapping the lock that held it in place.

The interior was dark, and Spike immediately switched into vampface in order to navigate down the narrow entryway.  Oh yeah.  This was Buffy’s room.  The whole place stank of Slayer.

Never mind the fact that his entire body was rock hard at the prospect of seeing her.  It had always done that in the presence of Slayers, the fervor at what was impending exciting him beyond belief.  And, as much as he may hate her, Buffy had always been the worst of the lot, all sinuous gold and so damn vital that it made the poet in him threaten to rear his insipid head, while at the same time making him feel like there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do. It was one of the reasons why he was always so willing to take her on.  For some inexplicable reason, he always went into a fight with Buffy convinced he could win.

Fucking little bitch.

The moment he saw her curled under the blankets, Spike froze, the other aromas in the room exploding into his consciousness. 

Nutmeg and citrus so entwined it made his body soporific.

Blood and sweat, heady as if from a recent fight.

And the unmistakable scents of sex, both Buffy’s and another’s, mingling in a not-so-long-ago afterglow, that made Spike’s cock twitch and drip inside his jeans.

Slayer got a boyfriend was the first thought that was able to register past the initial onslaught, which immediately merged into Where the hell is he then?  Her heartbeat was the only one in the room, and try as he might, Spike just couldn’t sniff out a male presence.  Well, not a male body anyway.  There was no mistaking the smell of semen that emanated from the bed.

Her face was flushed with sleep, and the slow, rhythmic pounding of her heart that he’d attributed to meditation was the result of a deep slumber.  She fucked herself out cold, he thought, and then his lips uncontrollably quirked into a half-grin.  Not bad, Slayer.  Not bad.

He almost didn’t have the heart to wake her up, but he had a job to do and damned if he was going to give the witch an excuse not to pony up.  Stepping forward to the side of the bed, he kicked at the stead bolted to the floor, nudging the mattress slightly as if rocking her would do the job.

“Slayer,” Spike called out.  Not too loud.  For some reason, he had an urge not to make it such a shock.  When she didn’t move, though, he kicked harder, repeated her name just a little bit louder.

Still nothing.

“Bugger,” he muttered with a frown.  What had happened here?  She wasn’t stirring; there were no self-righteous protests about not wanting to wake or even an unconscious acknowledgement that someone was disturbing her rest.  It didn’t seem like any post-coital nap he’d ever heard of.  It was almost coma-like.

“Slayer,” he said softly, crouching down at the side of the bed.  This close, he could see the gentle rise and fall of her chest, a measure that beckoned him to join in, and Spike had to ball his hands into fists not to reach out and push back the hair that had fallen across her cheek.

God, she was beautiful.  Breathtaking, even.  He forgot that sometimes when his bitter thoughts turned to Sunnydale and the nightmare that had been his tenure there.  Probably because she always had her mouth going, spouting off that Chosen dross or aiming well-honed sarcasm in his direction.  Briefly, he flashed on what kind of California girl she’d be without the slaying badge, but couldn’t quite place it.  For some reason, he saw her in a plain white dress, her hair tumbling freefall around her shoulders.

She’d probably hate it.  Not couture enough.

Didn’t mean she still wouldn’t be magnificent in it.

Fuck.

Being so near to her was messing with his head.  It was that, or the witch’s teleportation spell still making things go sideways and upside-down.  He should just grab the Slayer and shake the life back into her.  It wasn’t as if she couldn’t take it.

He really, really would if his muscles would just work.

But they wouldn’t.

And so he just watched.

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

OK. 

Not wanting to have Spike hanging around had been mega bad.

Losing him was even worse.

Esme’s going to kill me.  Right after Buffy kills me.  Except, oh yeah, she can’t, because she won’t come back, because I LOST SPIKE!

He was nowhere to be found when she’d turned away from the desk.  She’d immediately poked her head outside to see if he was having a cigarette under the front awning, and then spent the next five minutes rushing around from corner to corner inside the lobby, opening doors when she couldn’t see him right away and even venturing a daring dash into the men’s restroom to see if he was hiding in there.

It was only when she’d exhausted all the options minus the door to the tunnels that had led them from below that she realized the only other way out was the hall that led to hers and Buffy’s room.

Please be OK, please be OK, please be OK.

Her sneakers pounded against the worn carpet as she rounded the corner, and she almost passed out when she saw the “Do Not Disturb” sign lying forgotten outside the slightly ajar door.  “Nooooo,” she breathed as she pushed her way in, and froze when she saw the vampire crouching at the side of the bed.

“Spike!”

Her sudden shout made him jerk back as if scalded, whirling with a blaze of anger to glare at her.  “Jesus, Red!” he barked.  “Give a bloke a little warning next time!”

“Get away from her, Spike,” Willow warned, reaching for the stake she’d stuffed inside her pocket.  Her attempts to look menacing were thwarted when the wood got caught on the inner seam, and she had to tug against the grain in order to free it from her pants.

Spike relaxed, rolling his eyes.  “Save it,” he said.  “Nothin’ wrong with your precious Slayer.”  His head swiveled back to gaze at the blonde on the bed.  “Except for the Sleeping Beauty routine, of course.”

“What were you doing?” Warily, she stepped around the far side of the bed, muscles tense and ready to play tug-of-war with Buffy if the need arose.

“Tryin’ to wake her up.”  There was a sobriety to his response that she didn’t expect, and Willow frowned as she tried to find some double meaning in his words.  “Had about as much luck as you did, I reckon.”  He looked up then, and her breath caught in her throat at the naked confusion that lingered in the blue, blue eyes.  “This your handiwork?”

“No.  Yes.  Well, kind of.”  She exhaled, deflating from the sudden release of adrenaline in her limbs.  “It’s a long story.”

“I’m beginning to see that.”

She couldn’t help but ask.  “You didn’t kill her.  She’s all defenseless and just lying there, and…why didn’t you kill her?”

Spike shrugged.  “Well, that wasn’t the deal, now was it?  S’posed to be ridin’ in on my white horse and all.  That Esme doesn’t seem like the type who’d fall for the ‘oops, I accidentally ate her’ excuse, either, and since she’s got some serious mojo in gettin’ me here in the first place, it wouldn’t exactly be smart of me to go pissin’ her off, now would it?”

Willow refrained from mentioning that it was her mojo that had done the dirty work, and instead nodded in abstract agreement.  It still didn’t satisfactorily explain why he hadn’t at least tried to hurt Buffy, but maybe it was better not to look a gift vamp in the mouth.

“Come on,” she said, holding out the key that she’d gotten from the hotel desk.  “I need to show you where your room is.” 

For a split second, she thought he was going to turn her down, but then he nodded and stepped away from the bed.  “You bunking in here then?” he asked as they both walked for the door.

A quick glance over her shoulder was accompanied by a distasteful wrinkling of her nose.  “No,” Willow replied.  “I thought about it, but…it’s kind of…ooky, what with Buffy being out cold like that.  It just seems…wrong.  I got another room for me for now.”

Spike shook his head.  “You humans.  So fussed about a little sex.  You shouldn’t hold it over the Slayer that she didn’t get a chance to shower before you knocked her out.  Not like it’s not perfectly natural or whatnot.”

He was out the door and waiting for her in the hall before what he said sunk in.  “Huh?”

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

Buffy watched him get dressed, pulling his trousers up over his slim hips, watching the fine cotton of his shirt stretch across the breadth of his shoulders.  They had both slept in, far too long, but while she had rushed around like a madwoman to get ready for their meeting with Richard and Rose, William had been absolutely languorous in his grooming, humming under his breath while he washed his hands, playfully flicking some of the water in her direction when she teased him about dawdling.  He was acting as if he didn’t have a care in the world, and while it was nice to see him happy instead of miserable, his loitering was maddening.

“Can afterglow be a little quicker, please?” she asked.  “Rose and Richard are going to think something’s up if we don’t show soon.”

He smiled at her gibe, dropping the tie he’d been fighting with to the desk before curling his arm around her waist to pull her against him.  The outline of his erection was obvious even before William pressed his pelvis to hers, and his breath was a tickle in her ear when he bowed to nibble her neck.

“Something already is,” he whispered. 

Buffy could feel the embarrassed flush of his cheek against hers, even though his growing boldness meant that he kept a firm grip, and she couldn’t help but smile as she leaned into him.  “I’m going to start thinking you only want me around for the sex,” she joked.

He went rigid, pulling back to look down at her with something akin to panic in his face.  “Have I been too demanding?” he asked fervently.  “You know I love you, don’t you?  It’s not just---.”

Her fingers on his lips quieted him.  “I’m kidding,” Buffy said.  “You’ve proven to me more than once what you and I are all about.”

Softening at her understanding, William lifted his hand to play with the loose tendrils that had already managed to escape her braid.  “Before we leave…” he started, and then stopped, a small worry line drawing his brows together as he seemed to chew on his words.

“Before we leave…what?”

He took a deep breath.  “There’s a matter…of some significance, that I’d like to discuss with you.  And before you say anything about it not being appropriate, I’d just like to preface it by saying that I’m not mad, and I’m not being too impulsive, contrary to what you may think.”

“There’s something that I want to talk about with you, too.”  She’d been waiting for an opportunity to bring it up all morning, and had decided that waiting until they were at the Watcher’s would do if it would hurry William up, but with him in such a conversational mood, Buffy figured it was probably better to get it done now rather than later.

His head tilted in curiosity, and though she could see the desire to opt for his subject matter battle in his eyes, his good breeding won out, and he merely nodded in acquiescence. 

“What is it?” he asked.

“It’s about…last night.  With April.  About the fight.”  It all came out in a rush, the bottling of how strongly she’d felt about protecting him the previous day returning to prominence in her mind as the words tumbled forth.  “I want to teach you how to defend yourself in case it happens again.  Being around Richard, and being around me for however long I’m here, and not knowing what the deal is with your mom…I’d just feel better if you knew what to do in case you got attacked again.  One of these days, you won’t have anywhere to run to, and I don’t want to see you get hurt when that happens.”

Mentioning his previous flights?  So not the way to go, Buffy thought when William stiffened and pulled away.  Dark shutters fell behind his eyes, and his head ducked as he turned to his tie on the desk.

“This isn’t some macho thing,” she hastened to add.  Her hand curled around his arm to force him to back.  “I know you’d protect me if you could---.”

Oops.  OK, that was worse.

“What I mean is---.”
“I know what you mean.”  His voice was low, roughened by barely restrained anger and ache.  “You don’t think I haven’t been aware of my shortcomings ever since you told me the truth about who you are?  I know I’m a coward.  I know my first instinct has always been to run, and to hide, because I’ve been trained very, very well, Buffy.”  He lifted his head then, and his eyes burned her as they locked on her face.  “But I would do anything to ensure your safety.  I would die for you, because you’ve shown me what life could be like.  I thought you understood that.”

She did.  She really did.  She just needed him to be safe.  It was the only way she could leave him behind.

“You’re not a coward,” Buffy said softly.  “You have no idea how brave you really are.  Just because you don’t know how to kill a vamp doesn’t mean anything.  But I am not going to let you be stupid, either.  April is dangerous.  She knows you.  More importantly, she can find you.  You can’t trust vampires, William.  You might think you’re safe because she’s decided you’re useful for now, but all it takes is for her to wake up one day and go, ‘Oh, I think I’m going to have a little poet for dinner tonight,’ and then, poof!  You’re dead.”

“I’ll protect myself---.”

“By letting me show you,” she finished.  She stepped closer.  “I don’t know how long I get to stay here, but I do know that evil doesn’t take vacations, or sit on the sidelines while the good guys warm up.  I can do this for you, but you have to let me.  I can’t…I can’t go back knowing…”  Buffy stopped, fearful of saying too much.

William was silent for far too long, regarding her with an odd mixture of disquiet and adoration that made her want to squirm inside her shoes.  Finally, he asked quietly, “Do you know what one of the first things I ever noticed about you was?”  When she shook her head, he said, “Your eyes.  What an amazing shade of green, and how wondrously ancient they were.  As if you’d seen the end of the world and lived to tell about it.”

Her smile was wan.  “Is that supposed to be a compliment?”

“Perhaps.  Maybe…more of an observation.  Last night, you were frightened to open up to me because of what you know.  Today, you’re frightened for the exact same reasons when you have no need to be.  I know you feel as if you carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, Buffy, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  I’m willing to share any and all that you trust me with.  You do trust me, don’t you?”

She nodded, mutely.

“And you trust that I’d do anything for you?”

Another nod.

This seemed to satisfy him.  Bending at the waist, William brushed his lips across her cheek, allowing his mouth to linger near her ear as he murmured, “I refuse to be the source of any of your pain, my love.  Promise that you’ll stop worrying about what hasn’t even happened yet in my life, and I’ll do whatever it is you ask of me.  Agreed?”

The relief swelled inside her.  “Agreed.”

He was slipping on his jacket by the time she remembered.

“What was it you wanted to talk about?” Buffy asked curiously. 

There was a moment where he paused, his eyes shifting to the side before returning to her face.  “It’s nothing,” William said, and settled his hand in the small of her back to guide her toward the door.  “Come.  Let’s not be even later than we already are.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 28: Whereof Are You Made