DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course,
and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CIX.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: William and Buffy have spent the afternoon training and making love, while April has gone to Travers to try and create a united front to get Esme only to run into Spike when they leave Council Headquarters…
She had fingernails like Drusilla.
Long. Meticulously groomed. Sharp as razor blades.
And the bitch wasn’t afraid of using them.
Slamming his elbow backwards, Spike felt the talon grip she had on his side weaken when he connected with her face, and took advantage of the break in her concentration to drop to the floor, lowering his center of gravity.
It worked to unbalance her already precarious hold, and April’s clawed hand was wrenched from Spike’s flesh, leaving behind tatters in his t-shirt and rivulets of blood dripping down his side. She stumbled forward, and would’ve landed on his back if he hadn’t rolled away.
He didn’t get far, though. Just as the distance would’ve been enough for him to stand free of harm’s way, a foot came down to snag the edge of his coat, jerking him backwards to land with a splash on his ass.
“What’s your bloody problem?” Spike growled up at her. His leg swept backward to catch her Achilles tendon, the force driving her rigid muscles to either snap or crumple from their dominion over his leathered hem.
Using the momentum of his kick, April propelled herself to flip sideways, several feet closer to the exit. “Interesting that you’ve joined the other team,” she commented, golden eyes blazing. “After everything you did to try and get rid of me the first time, I would imagine your girlfriend would’ve tried saving you from becoming what you despise so much.”
With his coat now liberated from her bondage, Spike kipped back into a standing position, wiping at the blood trickling into his eye. “Think you’ve got your vamps mixed up,” he said, sucking at the viscous fluid that clung to his thumb. “Don’t think I’d forget takin’ on a crazy bitch like you.”
“Really, William?” She laughed when he visibly started at the use of his name. “You’re underestimating me. Again.”
“The name’s Spike.” It was an automatic retort, filled with far more bluster than he actually felt. The whole day was turning into a soddin’ Twilight Zone episode, and taking on the part of David Gurney was the last thing he wanted. He would swear on Drusilla’s unlife that he’d never seen this April bird before, and yet here she was, obviously recognizing him from somewhere, calling him by the name he hadn’t used as a vampire in decades.
Her eyes glittered with hate as they flickered over him. “I’d say it suits you,” April remarked, “but that would mean caring enough to have an opinion.”
Fangs bared, she launched off the wall again, but this time, Spike was ready, and danced out of her path before she could connect with his skin again. “For someone who doesn’t care, you seem to be an eager beaver ‘bout killin’ me,” he said. He was beginning to think he needed a weapon, that hand-to-hand with a powerful vamp jonesing to mop the floor with him might not be his best option.
As his eyes darted around the dank space, though, April laughed.
“What’s the matter, William?” she taunted. “Still can’t face me without something sharp in your hot little hands? Don’t think I’m stupid enough to fall for the same trick twice. I don’t care how strong you think you are now.”
“Don’t think it. Know it.”
He spotted the broken staff half-jutting from the sludge, but the presence of her companion and human hostage practically on top of it made it completely inaccessible. What he wouldn’t give for a good old-fashioned rapier, Spike thought unexpectedly. A good poke was just what the bitch needed.
He’d have to settle for fists and fangs for the time-being, though.
She didn’t expect the full frontal attack, taking more than one blow before recovering enough to strike back. As the seconds dragged on, and as each vampire landed their hits, Spike began to realize that she wasn’t as good as he’d originally thought. Sure, she was fast---faster than any other vamp he’d fought---and she’d been trained well. But, truth be told, he could see the weaknesses in her style…how she favored the slice instead of the kill…the slight drag on her left side when she pirouetted out of his path…the fact that she seemed to be completely blind to blocking punches to her left side. He’d fought better opponents and won. And when it came to other Slayers, well…
She doesn’t hold a candle to Buffy.
The sudden intrusion of the current Slayer into his head made his last punch go wild.
The distant shouts and splashing of new presences in the tunnels made him flounder.
And the unexpected thrust of the broken staff into his back---shouldn’t’ve taken my eye off the boytoy---made him fall face forward to the ground.
As the wretched agony of the jagged stick he couldn’t quite reach sizzled throughout his torso, Spike saw the male vampire start pulling April away from the approaching sounds. “Leave him!” he barked. “The Watchers will finish him off!”
It was obvious she didn’t want to listen, but as the shouts grew louder, she snarled in frustration and grabbed her human hostage. “Be grateful,” she shot back to Spike. “They’ll probably just dust you. I wouldn’t have been nearly as quick about it.”
Her proclamation echoed against the stone, driving Spike to his hands and knees. Not today, he thought grimly, and threw himself back against the wall to drive the staff further through his abdomen. He screamed in pain, but it served its purpose. With sticky hands, he grabbed the length that was now available to him and yanked it out, noting the dark blood now staining the weapon.
Bitch isn’t goin’ to win.
The voices were clearer, and closer, and his head was beginning to swim from the cascade of sensations that were too heightened in his adrenalized state---rich copper curdling in the air, the maddening texture of each droplet tickling down his skin---and all Spike wanted at the moment was just to tear April’s head off and piss down her gaping maw of a neck. Want lost to need, though, especially since the object of his enmity was no longer in the vicinity, and the pounding footsteps were all too close to it.
Lurching toward the unused exit for the Underground, he fell against the door and scrabbled at the chain that kept it closed, his fingers made slippery from too many bodily fluids that had no right not being on the inside of his body instead of the out. It took all his remaining strength to snap the rusted links, and with a grunt of satisfaction, he fell through the small opening.
It was a deliberate maneuver on Richard’s part to separate them, of that William was more than certain. As soon as dinner had finished, the Watcher had risen from his seat and informed both of them that he would be accompanying Buffy back to the Freston home, while Rose saw to William’s injuries. Though Buffy had argued the point that they were both adults and Richard was not her father, she had quieted in the face of what she must’ve considered a salient point---that William was unaccustomed to such intensive training and if he didn’t wish to suffer the consequences, it was best to allow an expert such as Rose to tend to him.
He hadn’t even been able to kiss her good-bye, but one glance from Buffy as she followed Richard out to the coach was all he needed to know that she would wait up for him.
William’s fingers fumbled with his buttons, his unease at having a woman who wasn’t his mother or Buffy examine his bare flesh making him clumsy. From where she was preparing some sort of liniment near the fire, Rose chuckled under her breath, and the sound made him flush further in embarrassment.
“I’m fine, really,” he said, even though he continued to disrobe. “The bath was quite…therapeutic.”
Her chuckle was louder. “I’m sure it was,” Rose said. “For both of you. Now. Lie down.”
His movements were jerky as William stretched out on the table that had been set up specifically for this purpose, his braces hanging around his hips as he rested his cheek on his uninjured forearm. The fabric was soft against his abdomen, and it might’ve even been relaxing if it hadn’t been for who he knew was now touching his back. With his head turned away, he couldn’t see Rose while she poked and prodded the bruises he’d gained from his workout with Buffy, and it was just as well. The mortification would’ve just been too great.
“How do you feel?” Rose asked. “Are there any areas that are especially tender?”
He started to shake his head before he caught the awkwardness of such a motion. “My legs are tired,” William said. “But other than that, I’m more than fit to return home.”
“Not so fast, young man. Richard wants me to ensure that you won’t suffer any ill consequences from such a vigorous bout with Buffy.”
“Are you sure he doesn’t wish you to lecture me?”
William knew he sounded like a petulant child, but the protectiveness of the Council Head and his wife was growing thin. He received enough such attention from his mother; he hardly needed to get it from near strangers as well.
“That, too,” Rose conceded. Her fingers were kneading the tight muscles of his back, eliciting an involuntary moan from William’s throat. “Richard fears what will happen when we return Buffy to her real time.”
His sigh was just as much a response to her words as it was to her massage. “Must we talk about this?” he said.
“Does it bother you to do so?”
“Because you love her.”
“I loved her before she ever arrived here. I will love her long after she leaves.”
Rose paused, though her fingers never hesitated. “And Buffy’s feelings? How do you think she feels about you?”
“She loves me.” It was quiet, barely a breath. “She told me so.”
“Do you think that changes things?”
How could he answer her when it was the very question he’d been unable to answer for himself?
“She has a duty, William,” Rose continued, still gentle, still massaging the kinks from his flesh. “She won’t shirk that.”
“I know. I would never ask her to.” Liar.
“Slayers are a very unique breed. Their time on this earth is so spare, and so precious, and while I understand you only want the best for Buffy, do you truly believe it’s in hers and the world’s best interest to try and sway her from her calling?”
He sat up at that, anger igniting inside him. “Is that what Richard thinks I’m doing?” he demanded.
Her gaze never wavered. “Isn’t it?”
“No. I…whatever Buffy wishes, I’ll give it. And I know she wishes to return to her own time. So I’ll do everything in my power to make that happen. I’ve promised her that.”
“Promises are only words, William. They have no power.”
“I don’t believe that. Without my words, I’m nothing, so if that’s not power, I don’t think I know what is.”
“And you honestly believe you’re doing what’s necessary to help Buffy leave?”
“But you want her to stay.”
“Yes.” He answered it before he could think, the crush in which he’d been responding to her interrogation driving away his ability to stall. Rose’s face softened as he shrank in on himself, tears welling in his eyes. “That doesn’t mean I won’t help her,” William reasserted.
Her touch returned, taking the arm he held in his lap and holding it so that the reddened scrape faced upwards. She reached for the pot of cream that sat off to the side, and coating her fingers in it, gently spread it over the broken skin.
“Do you remember what I said about time, William?” Rose asked. “About how it needs balance?”
He couldn’t meet her gaze, shame at his foolish emotions taking the better of him keeping him distant. “You said the universe requires order,” he intoned. “That a serious price must be paid when it came to time travel spells.”
“Yes. Whether she realizes this or not, Buffy knows this. She faces death on a daily basis. She deals with otherworldly events as simply as she gets dressed in the morning. She knows that duty must be paid. And yet…she is willing to risk that. For you.” Rose nodded when his head snapped up, his eyes wide at the implication in her words. “Do you forget I see things, William? Not just the way things will be, but also the way things can be. There’s no doubt that Buffy loves you, but if the pair of you continue on the path you’ve chosen, where you offer to stay by her side in the eyes of the church---.” She held up her hand, cutting him off when his mouth opened to protest. “You wear your intent just as you wear your heart. I would be blind not to know of your objectives.”
“I wasn’t…I wouldn’t…I didn’t think---.”
“It doesn’t matter. What matters is that if Buffy should choose to stay here, for any reason, it will kill her. And the imbalance such an action would create could be catastrophic.”
Hearing the words “kill” and “Buffy” so close together was like a punch to his midsection, leaving William bereft of both wind and words as he gaped at her in disbelief. Only the soothing balm of the liniment on his arm seemed to keep him oriented to his seat.
Rose’s fingers disappeared long enough to retrieve the bandage she had waiting. “I like you, William,” she said, working to wrap his wound. “And I like Buffy. But there are greater forces at work here than you can possibly imagine. Forces, Buffy isn’t even aware of. All I ask is that you consider the grander scope of your situation before you act. Will you do that for me?”
Mutely, he nodded, though his mind still reeled from her suggestions. There was no doubt in his mind that Buffy was undergoing the same lecture with Richard; he only wished that he could be there to help temper the effects.
Her lips were pressed thin as she marched down the street, the growing wind whipping her skirt around her legs. Behind her, Buffy could hear the crunch of the carriage’s wheels as it rolled slowly down the road, keeping pace with her every step, but she betrayed nothing as she kept her eyes forward.
“You’re being unreasonable.” Richard’s voice floated on the breeze, loud enough to make it impossible for her to pretend he wasn’t there. “Get back in this coach, young lady.”
“If that was your attitude with your Slayer, it’s no wonder she’s coming after you now,” Buffy retorted. It was a low blow, and she knew it, but his condescension regarding her relationship with William made her want to lash out in the only way she knew she could. And hitting him when they were still trying to help find Mrs. Freston? Probably not the most productive maneuver on her part.
The sharp crack of a whip split the air, and the horses’ pace quickened to bring the coach door even with Buffy. “You know I’m right,” Richard said at her side. “You’re only angry because I’ve had to remind you.”
“I’m angry because you’re sticking your nose in things that aren’t any of your business.”
“Preserving the safety of---.”
“Mankind, yadda yadda, heard it all before, Richard. Why is it you Council guys can’t just let people be happy when they have a shot at it? It’s bad enough you’ve got such a stranglehold on your own people, but William doesn’t even work for you.”
“But you do.”
“Newsflash. I quit answering to the Council when they gave me that lovely birthday present in the shape of stealing my powers last year. I am not some kind of puppet for them to play with.”
“No, you’re the Slayer. And you may have ignored your ties to the Council, but you’ve admitted you still uphold your duties. That alone should be reason enough to listen to me.”
She stopped abruptly in the path and waited until the carriage had come to a stop several feet ahead. “I’ve listened to you,” Buffy said when Richard disembarked. “And now I’m done listening. I’m cutting you some slack because of the whole April sitch, otherwise you wouldn’t be conscious for this little part of our discussion. And don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for everything in helping William, and sorting out my mess. But William’s an innocent in all this. Leave him. The hell. Alone.”
The unspoken threat hanging in the air between them, Buffy whirled on her heel and resumed the trek toward the Freston home. She’d said her piece, and though part of her understood exactly what the Council Head was trying to do, the intervention only made her mad.
“We fight a war, Miss Summers.” He was still standing on the road behind her, and every step she took made his voice just a fraction farther away. “And you’re right. William is an innocent. But you and I are not. We both know that not all casualties are the result of blooded injuries. It would be a travesty to lose a gentle soul such as his because of your own greed.”
“…in the paper again. She reminds me of Cordelia, except you know, without a chest and oodles more money, and why is it they keep calling her ‘Posh’? I mean, ‘Becks’ makes sense, but even I know that the Spice Girls are so over…”
Willow’s voice was bright and clear in the small hotel room as she thumbed through the daily paper she’d picked up at the newsstand across the street, and though Buffy still slept on the bed beside her, the redhead was doing everything in her power to make things as normal as possible. She’d been left on watch duty again while Lydia and Esme went off in search of Spike, but this time, she was glad of the assignment. She’d had enough excitement for the day already.
“It’s a good thing Xander’s not here,” she continued. “I don’t think we’d ever get him away from staring at the page three girls. This one is definitely all silicon. Nipples were not meant to point in that direction.”
Esme hadn’t been happy about the vampire’s disappearance, and even angrier at Lydia for letting him escape. Personally, Willow wasn’t thrilled about it either---not when they needed him to get Buffy back---but she was doing everything she could not to think about the search for him. Her brain needed a vacation from worrying for the time being.
“Why do the British want to rhyme everything? This article keeps referring to ‘Marks and Sparks.’ What’s wrong with just calling it Marks and Spencer’s like it’s supposed to be? Unless…you don’t think Marks and Sparks is like an outlet or something, do you? Do they even have outlets over here?”
Willow’s reading was interrupted by a loud thump in the hall. Stiffening, she rose from her seat, alert for further distraction, the question of whether it was a returning Esme at the forefront of her mind. There was another thud, followed what sounded like something being dragged down the door.
Her skin was electric as she bolted for the entrance, but as soon as she released the latch, it fell against her with a heavy weight, causing her to jump back and out of the way of the object that had been leaning against it.
More correctly, vampire.
Spike’s eyes fluttered open. “’Lo, Red,” he rasped, struggling to sit back up. “Long time…no see.”
The dragging sound she’d heard must’ve been his back, Willow realized as her gaze drank in the smear of dark blood down the door. It matched the small hole that had been sliced through the back of his coat, and she could see the splinters where the weapon had caught on the leather. Someone had tried staking him from behind, and failed obviously, but that didn’t mean Spike still wasn’t suffering from it.
Bending to allow him to throw his arm over her shoulder, she helped him finish rising to his feet. When his duster fell open, she saw the gashes that rent his tee, as well as the dried blood that dripped from the copious injuries, and asked before she could stop herself, “What happened to you?”
He laughed, but it was a wet, sticky sound, as if he had fluid in his lungs. “If it’s not obvious…” They began stumbling down the hall toward his room. “…then I guess I did it wrong.”
She mentally shook her head. She didn’t think in a million years she’d ever understand this death wish Spike seemed to have. She was just going to thank her lucky stars that he’d come back to them for help.
They reached his door, only for Willow to realize she didn’t have a key. “Um…Spike?”
He caught her pointed glance and began patting down his pockets with his free hand. Everywhere he touched, a crimson stain remained behind, but his search remained keyless.
“Bugger this,” he muttered, and before she could stop him, Spike had put his last remaining strength into his grip and snapped the lock.
He collapsed on the bed before she could stop him, arms akimbo as his cheek pressed against the worn duvet. Gingerly, Willow worked to free the leather from his torso, taking care not to aggravate the wounds into bleeding even more.
“I’m going to get you some blood,” she said after she’d hung the coat in the bathroom to drip into the tub. She’d already decided he could stay in the wet jeans and t-shirt until he could take them off himself; stripping Spike wasn’t supposed to be in her job description anyway.
His muffled grunt was the only confirmation she got that he’d heard her.
She was standing in the doorway when curiosity won out.
“Why’d you come back?” Willow asked.
The silence made her think he’d passed out. Just when she was ready to give up and head out for the blood she’d promised, he said, “’Cause you’re a straightshooter, Red, even if that witch you’ve hooked up with isn’t. Like the sound of my odds with you better than anything else right about now.”
She looked back to see a single blue eye glaring at her. “Yeah?”
“Just don’t call me William.”
To be continued in Chapter 32: When I of You Do Write…