DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course,
and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet LXXX.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Spike has returned, injured, to the hotel, while Buffy and William have both been lectured by Rose and Richard before returning home…
He’d never thought of his home as large before. But, as William measured the length of his paces through the halls, listening to the slight echo that followed his footsteps, he was reminded of childhood nightmares where he’d run from room to room in search of his missing mother only to wake soaked in sweat, his heart pounding inside his ribcage, and no restitution from his frustrated pursuits. That sense of absurd loneliness that would swell inside---at least, until the morning meal when he’d walk into the dining room and see his mother’s smiling face waiting for him---was threatening to return, only this time, he knew that it would eventually be manifest.
Buffy was not in the house. William had burst through the front doors, wanting to spend a few more precious minutes with her prior to retiring for the night, and been greeted by the vacuum of a building left bereft of her presence. Meg found him on the threshold of the room Buffy had been given, staring inside at the immaculately made bed, at the nightclothes that had been laid out on the duvet, and explained that Buffy had returned from their day out and immediately announced she fancied a bit of a walk. No amount of persuasion would sway her otherwise, and she’d left without the benefit of a carriage or escort over thirty minutes earlier.
William understood the purpose of her flight. Given the opportunity, he would attempt to do the same, to try and outrace the arguments submitted by the Rhodes-Fanshaws, no matter how cogent they might appear. Buffy would not do well to try and sit while fathoming the results of her discussion with Richard; she relied far too heavily on kinesthesia to bring order to her world. She would walk, and she would run, and offered wings, she would likely even fly, to make the baffling credible in her eyes.
And right now, she roamed the streets of his London without him.
He didn’t fear for her safety---well, part of him did, but he more than believed that she would be able to handle whatever might cross her path---but the thought of her wandering empty paths with only the moon for company seemed all too close to the life she’d described in her own time. She would be returning to it far too quickly, and more than anything, William needed to be the one to give her something different. Buffy had to understand that she didn’t have to be alone when he was around.
It took him little time to prepare. Though his body was starting to ache from the strenuous afternoon he’d spent, adrenaline was still fueling his momentum, and he changed into more comfortable clothing with a tight efficiency. He was careful to transfer the contents of his pockets; though Rose’s words had dampened his enthusiasm for his prior plans, he saw no reason not to share at least part of what he’d contrived. The only thing missing was a weapon, for the twilight hour---though pretty---promised darker imaginings than a sewer rat scuttling across his path.
William settled for an ornamental dagger that hung in his mother’s private rooms. It had long ago belonged to his father, but since his death, had been sequestered to more personal viewing, locked away from prying eyes and inquisitive young men. Anne Freston refused to speak of the significance of keeping such an item around the house, an action that was made even more odd by her incessant desire to protect William from anything dangerous or disruptive, but he was grateful for once that her need for it had surpassed any sensibility regarding weaponry in the home. He had no wish to sneak into the kitchen and try to steal a knife from there, and with his staking abilities still untested, it was better to have something with which at least he had some familiarity.
Meg caught him as he descended the staircase, standing at the bottom with her hands tucked behind her back. “Do you need me to have the coach brought ‘round?” she asked.
William shook his head. “I’ll be walking, Meg. You can let them know they can retire for the night.”
“Do you think that’s wise, sir?” She flushed at the impertinence of her question, but held her chin up. “After your attack last night, don’t you want to be a wee more careful?”
He felt his ears get hot at her verbal confirmation in knowing, at least generally, of his injuries the previous evening. “I will be,” he said stiffly.
She had the grace to back down. “Do you wish me to draw you or Miss Summers a bath for when you return?”
More heat flooded his body at the mention of the bath, though this time it was directed in a more netherly direction. “No, no,” William said. “That won’t be necessary.” He turned to the door, but paused, his hand ready to depart but his mind not quite there. “If you could, though,” he continued, his back still to her, “prepare some of my nightly tea. I think Miss Summers would…appreciate it after her long walk.”
He imagined Meg probably curtseyed upon agreement, but William didn’t see it, stepping out onto the front step without a glance back. Swallowing the sudden rise in his throat, he hastened down the stairs, not dwelling on the action that he’d just taken. It was done. The choice now belonged to Buffy.
Why he tried the banks first, William didn’t know, but the glimpse of silvery-gold where the trickling moonlight was catching her hair was all he needed to slacken some of the tension that had wound throughout his body.
She was standing at the edge of the water, staring at the obsidian ripples with the fascination of a child, when he approached. “I’ve been here before,” Buffy said without looking back to acknowledge him. “In my time. Funny how it hasn’t changed all that much.”
“Care for even more irony?” He waited until she tilted her head to see him, and then almost lost his train of thought for the sheer spectacle of her beauty.
“What?” Buffy prompted.
William pointed to the bench in the near distance. “This is where I come and do my writing when I need to escape the house,” he said. “And Esme put the spell on my journal in that very seat.”
The slide of her head to follow his finger made him shiver. “So, this is kind of our spot, huh?” She smiled. “Figures.”
When she began walking for the bench, William fell into step beside her, much like they did in the park of their dreams. Her mood wasn’t exactly what he’d expected. Knowing what Richard was most likely doing, he’d imagined Buffy would be ranting and raving about unnecessary manipulation, and that she was a grown woman capable of making her own decisions, and the like. William had certainly been witness to more than one display of her feelings on the matter during their dream conversations.
Yet, here on the banks, she seemed…meditative, as if she’d been given food for thought instead of vehement lectures. Perhaps his assessment of Richard’s methods had been incorrect. Perhaps the Council Head had approached the matter with reserve and thoughtfulness. Perhaps---.
“You know, Richard really is kind of an asshole,” Buffy commented.
“I presume he spoke with you about us.” William chose his words carefully. It was better to tread lightly so that he could best gauge her reaction than to forge blindly onward with the grace of a bull cow.
“I think there was speaking in there,” she replied. “A lot of the shouting kind of got in the way of actually hearing it.”
They were at the bench, and he waited until she was sitting before taking the seat next to her. Shyly, his hand crept to where hers rested between them, and when it met with no resistance, William laced his fingers through hers.
“At least, Rose didn’t yell at me,” he said.
“Oh, a lot of the shouting was mine. When it comes to being overprotective, Richard makes Giles look like my dad in the parenting department.” With a sigh, Buffy leaned back into the bench, tilting her torso so that she was pressed against his arm, her cheek resting on the curve of his shoulder. “Too bad I’m not as smart as you. Maybe then, I wouldn’t have such a headache from trying to keep all the potentials of being stuck back in time straight in my noggin.”
She sounded weary, much like she had during some of their earliest conversations, and a small knot of dissatisfaction began coiling in William’s stomach. “It’s overwhelming for both of us,” he said. “But I think you’re handling it beautifully. I think if I were to find myself in your time instead, I’d be struck dumb for the enormity of it all.”
“This is pretty big with the hugeness, too, you know.” She gestured toward the water, and the dim lights of the houses that could be seen on the opposite shore. “All those people, sitting inside probably doing something like…needlepoint, or candle-making. How do I know I haven’t changed their lives by being here? What if---?”
“You do what you must,” William interrupted. “Just like you always have.”
For some reason, that made her deflate. “My must really sucks sometimes.”
“Stop it.” His voice was harsh, causing her to turn to him with a frown, and William pulled his hand from hers to rise to his feet before her. “Since when do you pay any heed to what the Council of Watchers tells you?” he demanded. “You’ve faced them, and won, on numerous occasions. Why is it you’ve let one man undermine your confidence so?”
“Because he’s right. Because I keep making things worse by being here. I mean, look at you. Look at how---.”
“That’s right. Look at me.” Using both hands, William cupped Buffy’s face as he crouched to eye-level with her. “Tell me what you see.”
She didn’t know what he wanted, dark eyes wide and searching his for some kind of clue. “I see you,” she finally managed.
“And am I the same man you met those few weeks ago?”
“Yes.” At the questioning tilt of his head, Buffy colored, ducking her gaze. “Well, no.”
“Now, do you know why?”
“You want me to say because of me,” she said. “But that’s not true.”
“Yes, it is.”
“No, it’s not. All the stuff that you keep saying…it was all there before I ever came along. It’s not my fault nobody could see it but me.”
“Exactly.” Leaning in, his lips pressed to hers in a firm kiss, thumbs caressing the hollows of her cheeks even after he’d moved away. “You believed in me, Buffy. In doing so, you helped me start to learn how to believe in myself again. And that’s only grown stronger since you woke up at my side. I don’t know what exactly Richard said to you, but I do know you. And nothing he nor Rose could ever say will make me regret a second that I’ve been fortunate enough to have with you.”
She fell silent in the face of his argument, pulling from his embrace to rise from the bench again. He straightened to watch her stroll back out to the water’s edge, her arms folded across her stomach, and had to fight not to follow her out there and drag her back.
“What if you could have more?”
It could’ve been a mere flutter on the wind for as loudly as she said it, but William heard the words as clearly as if she’d whispered them directly into his ear.
His heart had suddenly decided to hammer against his throat, and he could only gape in disbelief when she continued.
“I just want to be happy again. I don’t think that’s such a big deal, do you?”
She was leading in a direction he’d only dared to envision, but for some reason, William was reluctant to follow. “You will be,” he said. “You have friends who care for you, and a mother who loves you---.”
She turned, and her eyes seemed to glow from the reflection of the moon off the water. “You love me.”
How could he deny that? “Yes.”
“Shouldn’t that count for something?”
Oh, god, yes. “Buffy---.”
“Don’t tell me I have a responsibility, that my calling means I have to give up any hope for a real life. I gave it up once. I can do it again.”
“No, you can’t.”
Admitting it aloud felt like a hundred rancorous claws shredding him from the inside out, and William had to blink more than once to clear the sudden blurring behind his spectacles. All of Rose’s words, and all of the events of the past few days, and all of his naïve dreams of what could be came at him in a rush, making him shake even as he held himself straighter.
“Don’t you want me to stay?”
The hurt in her voice endangered his resolve to remain stalwart in her declaration. “More than anything,” William admitted. “But I’ve spent my entire life denying what I want. I’m more than prepared to do it again.”
“No!” She was on him in full force, the strength of her attack propelling both of them to the ground. It ended with her astride him, her face unreadable as she hovered outlined against the moon, her chest visibly lifting and falling from the fire of her emotions. “Don’t you get it? That’s not what I want for you.”
“You can’t stay, Buffy. You know that.” He needed to get it through to her; he had to make her understand, even if it hurt her as much as it was killing him. “You’re not really here, after all.”
She pretended to be insulted. “I’m not? So, who was that in the bathtub with you this afternoon, then? Huh? Felt pretty there to me.”
“And who was it that sliced your hand this morning? I don’t remember seeing the first knife that made you bleed. We both know Rose is right. It would be different if the magic had brought you completely here, but it didn’t. We need to be prepared to deal with those consequences.” He couldn’t resist pushing back the curtain of hair that covered her face. “It’s all right.”
“It’s not.” Hoarse from the sheer emotion that was sapping her strength, Buffy was still fighting his suggestions. “It doesn’t have to be this way, William. I can change things by staying. I can make it better.”
“But you already have.” Grabbing her elbows, he tugged her forward until her weight was pressing him into the earth, and he inhaled the fragrance of the hair that fell across his face when she buried her face in his neck. Until the day he died, he would never forget the way she smelled; it would forever mean happiness to him. “This feeling will pass,” he said, deliberately trying for a lighter tone. For his sake, just as much as hers. “You know you want to go back. You’re just rebelling against Richard’s wishes because you’re obstinate and you don’t know how to bend to Council demands.”
The playful slap at his chest told him he’d at least moderately succeeded. “Doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve a good pop in the nose,” she groused.
William chuckled. “I’ve had that same desire on more than one occasion. Rose has the patience of a saint.”
“What did she say to you?”
He was glad she couldn’t see his face. “Nothing of consequence. She’s just a mother hen. You know that.”
“Yeah.” He could feel her smile against his skin. “She is.”
They rested there in silence for several minutes, the rhythmic rise and fall of his breathing lulling Buffy to a half-slumber while the growing warmth of her body enveloped him in peace. He hated having to break the spell, but his decision had been made long before he’d found her at the water, and William didn’t want to lose what may well be his last opportunity.
“Buffy?” he said gently.
Rolling onto his side, he eased her onto the ground so that he could sit up, though the loss of her flesh against his left him cold. “I know…this will seem…awkward, perhaps, in light of my earlier words…” He stopped. This would’ve been much easier if she’d been home when he arrived. Doing it now would make him seem like a hypocrite.
“What is it?” She sat up with him, waiting expectantly. “C’mon. Spit it out.”
Chewing at his lip, William stumbled to his feet, his muscles unexpectedly sore from having been still for so long. He held out his hand to her, and when Buffy took it, he pulled her back to the bench, positioning her on it before sitting again at her side.
“If…things could be different,” he stumbled, and cleared his throat, wondering why his palms were suddenly sweaty. “If…it had been possible for you to stay…as a…permanent part of my life…I would’ve…it would’ve been only natural for me to…”
He was positive she could hear his heart beating. Why did he think he could do this? This sounded so much more eloquent in his head.
“What I mean to say is,” William tried again, “I love you, and…I know I don’t have much to offer, and not that I will because…well, you know…but it would’ve given me great pleasure to…to…” His head fell, the pressure of the moment overwhelming him, even if it wasn’t completely real. “I sound like a fool,” he muttered.
Her hand was warm on his cheek. “No, you don’t,” Buffy murmured. “And just so you know, if you had asked me and it was possible for me to stay, I would’ve said yes.”
Yes. She would’ve said…
William’s head shot up, so quickly that she giggled at the abruptness of it, and before he could stop himself, he was kissing her, and she was kissing him, and they were laughing against each other’s mouth, as if the conversation of only minutes earlier had never occurred.
He was breathless when he broke away, and achingly hard, but he still had something else to do, the real thing, and he was going to get it done, if she would only stop touching him---.
Her hand had slipped into his pocket and found the paper he’d so consciously remembered to bring, and William froze as she opened it to scan its contents. She didn’t look up when she was done, but instead returned her gaze to the top of the page, swollen lips mouthing the words he’d written to complete the poem he’d composed during their first joining in the dreams. When she reached the final verse, he recited it aloud as she read.“But I was lost in a place ‘tween the sun and moon,
She was smiling when he finished, her fingers tracing over the careful script on the paper. “You changed it,” Buffy murmured, and looked up to see him frowning.
“You…remember what the original was?” he asked.
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I?”
When she started to hand it back to him, he folded her fingers around the edge and pushed it toward her. “It’s yours,” William said. “I wrote it for you.”
“But why would you change it?”
This was what he wanted her to know; this was what had spurred him to write so furiously after their fencing bout. The shift in tense in those few lines made all the difference to him.
“Because I’m not lost anymore,” William said softly. “No matter what happens, no matter where the next bend in our paths takes us, you’ve shown me that fear doesn’t have to hold me back. That I have it in me to forge onward, even if hindrances may try to prevent me from doing so. This is your true gift, Buffy. You make those who love you stronger.”
Emotion was quickly overpowering both of their self-control, so he tugged her to her feet. “Come,” he said with a voice that betrayed none of the battle that still waged inside him. “Let’s go home. It’s been a very long day.”
She had long ago sent Lydia back to the hotel to sleep, the Watcher’s passive-aggressive complaints about her sore feet finally growing thin. Their search for Spike had been fruitless, though the most interesting tidbit of the day had come when they’d tapped into one of Lydia’s resources at the Council. Apparently, Quentin had gone missing and the surveillance in his office revealed that it had been April who had snatched him. Her Slayer-ness that remained after turning had been enough to subvert their early vampire detection alarms to allow her entrance, and the trail of dead bodies she left behind said all too clearly that she was tired of playing games.
The report concluded with their trek through the tunnels she’d used to escape. The trio had eluded capture, leaving behind copious amounts of blood that indicated further troubles in the sewers than the Watchers had given them. None of it had been human, though, so Esme’s hopes that Quentin had been removed from the picture were dashed. She wasn’t happy that April was finding a use for the Council Head that didn’t involve his direct death, especially since he was the one most familiar with Esme’s patterns and history. After all, it had been his specific influence that had first brought her into the coven’s fold, and it had been his lesser authority that had first garnered her attention in the Slayer artifacts. Though she hardly considered him a valid threat, if there was anyone who could subvert her goal, it was Quentin Travers.
He was not her present interest, however. While approaching a likely source for information, Esme had felt a familiar tingle begin burning along her spine, growing in prickling acuteness until her fingers were practically vibrating from the need to use them. Excitement made her temper shorter, so by the time she’d managed to finally dispatch Lydia, the witch was agitated to the point of near-sloppiness when she attempted her first spell since the incident in Wales.
Her teleportation landed her at a deserted Underground station, and though it wasn’t the destination she’d had in mind, the sign on the wall told her she was close. Already, though, she could feel her magical reserves starting to wane. It wouldn’t do to sap all her strength before she was back to normal, but to pass on the opportunity to check on some of her arrangements would be foolhardy.
Her next spell put her directly outside the house, its dark windows like empty eye sockets against the night sky. The magic that encircled it, keeping it in its temporal stasis, still remained intact, a revelation that left Esme shivering in satisfaction. This was her wild card. This was her insurance that Buffy Summers would cooperate once April was taken care of. With Rupert Giles and Anne Freston in her control, there was no way the Slayer would balk at Esme’s request.
She had to make sure, though. Tentatively, Esme cast a gentle seeking spell, probing the parameters of the temporal bridle that contained the house’s inhabitants, searching for weaknesses within the construct that could be exploited by the Slayer should she attempt to rescue her Watcher. Not that she’d ever find the house. Esme had made more than sure it slipped under anyone’s eye should they go seeking it. The temporal displacement helped in that, just as it most likely had saved it from whatever had temporarily stolen Esme’s magic as well.
Content that all was still well with the prison, the witch sagged against a tree in the front garden, her skin clammy with sweat. She was not strong enough to manage more magic any time soon, and probably shouldn’t have undertaken such a strenuous spell as the temporal check but the rush of having her powers back combined with the fear that her plans could unravel had driven her to push her boundaries.
It was time to return to the hotel. Perhaps her strength would be sufficient in the morning to use magic to locate the wayward vampire. Even if she didn’t need him to kill April any longer, he was still necessary to get Buffy Summers back. His purpose wasn’t gone. Not just yet.
The charge that surged through her body startled Rose awake, stiffening her muscles while she stared at the ceiling overhead. It wasn’t harsh like the previous experience with the Freston home had been, more like a warm wave washing across her skin, but it was still there, still unmistakable, still the same.
“Richard,” she whispered. She rolled onto her side to see her husband’s back and gently poked him between his shoulder blades. “Richard,” she repeated, this time a little louder. “Wake up.”
He grunted, but didn’t move. “What time is it?” he mumbled.
“I don’t know. Middle of the night some time.”
“Time for sleeping, Rose. Go back to sleep.”
“But it’s happened again.” She was sitting up now, her heavy braid hanging over her shoulder. “The temporal displacement. There’s been another occurrence.”
It worked as she imagined, jerking him from his slumber to roll over and face her. “Are you certain?” Richard demanded. “This isn’t a time for fanciful wishes, my dear.”
“I’m sure. Just as I’m sure that this has actually happened.” Already, she was pushing the duvet back and reaching for her dressing gown. “I just need to find out where. It was faint, so I’m not certain it’s within the city, but it has to be close. I know it.”
He matched her movements on the opposite side of the bed. “I shall have the coach go around to fetch William and Buffy---.”
“No.” She was shaking her head when he glanced up at her. “Leave them be, Richard. At least for tonight. We’ve said what needed to be said. We can’t encroach any further than we have or they’ll be defiant.” Rose smiled. “They’re young, and in love. Do you remember how you were at that age? Push them too far, and they’ll start pushing back. Besides, they will be of no help until we have determined where exactly the displacement occurred. After, we shall get them. Not before.”
She was relieved when he simply nodded in agreement and finished getting dressed. His discussion with Buffy had left him at loose ends, unsure of how to proceed and questioning what was right and what was wrong. It weakened him, just as his obsession with April weakened him, and Rose detested seeing him so. Though she had deliberately been sent back in time to ensure he didn’t follow a certain destructive path, it hadn’t ensured not getting so emotionally involved with him. Falling in love with the Watcher she was meant to watch was all too similar to the many men throughout history who had done the same with their Slayers. It was one of the very things she and her kind had fought against across the millennia, and yet she’d succumbed to the same tragic malady.
She only hoped she had the strength to let him go when the time arose.
Which was probably why her heart was breaking so for poor William.
To be continued in Chapter 33: To Make of Monsters…