DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CXLVI.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: April has plans for Quentin, William has drunk some of the tea in anticipation of this being his last night with Buffy, and Willow has convinced Spike to take the sleeping Buffy away from the hotel and make a stand on their own…

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Chapter 34: The Center of My Sinful Earth

The witch was close to running on empty.

“You’re not doin’ any of us any favors, you know,” Spike commented as Willow struggled with the lock on the room. Her hands kept slipping off the ornate doorknob as she tried to wrest the skeleton key through the slot, her creeping exhaustion making her clumsy.

“It’s not me, it’s the key,” she protested.

“Right. And how many walls did you acquaint with your face on the way up here? Face it, Red. You’re beat.”

“I’m not beat.” With a grinding crunch, the lock finally slipped, the door flying free from its released tension. She turned a triumphant smile to the vampire at her side. “See? Told you I could do it.”

“Yeah, you’re a veritable whiz kid,” he said dryly. “You’ve vanquished the big, bad door. Mind if I get our package here inside while you celebrate?”

He didn’t wait for a reply, but instead pushed past, taking care not to jostle Buffy against the doorframe as he stepped inside the room. It was better than he expected. The bed was king-sized, most likely a deliberate choice since the pub he’d brought Willow to catered to the demon set, and swallowed up much of the small room. A looming wardrobe in the corner was the only storage in the place, but right next to the entrance, someone had set up a universal altar, complete with leftover ash from whatever sacrifice had last been made on it.

“Home sweet home,” Spike said as he edged around the edge of the bed. With a surprising gentleness, he set the Slayer down, pushing back the edge of the duvet when it covered her face, before turning back to see Willow hovering in the doorway. “Now what? Don’t tell me it offends your delicate sensibilities. You don’t exactly have the luxury of bein’ so dainty ‘bout where you’re hiding out, you know.”

“I know.” Her nose wrinkled as she caught the scent of whatever had died on the altar, and she made as wide a berth as possible to avoid it. “Hopefully I won’t have to stick around for very long,” she said, pulling open the wardrobe and dropping the sack of magical supplies into its bottom. She shifted the weight of her backpack and winced. “Now, I just need to take a shower.”

“Down the hall and on your left,” he replied automatically. He collapsed into the chair at the bed’s side, his eyes drifting closed as he tried to block out the worst of the ache in his gut. “And don’t forget to turn the light on before you go in. That’ll scare off the worst of the bugs. The ones that bite, that is.”

He heard her gulp and had to fight not to shake his head at her squeamishness. A soft footstep, the turning of the knob, and then…

“Do you need anything?”

Spike cracked an eyelid to see Willow pensively watching him. Her eyes kept darting between him and the Slayer asleep just inches away from his resting arm, but she was very obviously not saying anything about the situation. He reckoned her head was probably going to have to explode soon from trying to suss out just what he might or might not do. He bit back a smile. That might actually be fun to see.

“Need’s a big word,” he said. “How ‘bout let’s try a little spot of the truth. Consider it reckoning for services rendered if you want.”

“Truth? What kind of truth?”

“The kind where I’m not walkin’ in on this shindig completely blind.” His eyes opened fully as he sat up a little straighter. “Just answer me one thing, Red. No lies, no fancy schmancy doubletalk to get ‘round the question. Doesn’t seem like a helluva lot for a bloke to ask.”

She tried to force a grin, but her obvious dread over what might be coming next kept it from fully appearing. “Shoot.”

“Now, I’m not deaf. I heard you gabbling with that Esme about needing me to bring the Slayer back from whenever it is she’s gone and got her herself stuck. That the mojo you’re goin’ to cast on me is s’posed to replace whatever it was that was helping bring her back before. What I wanna know is…what was it? What am I doin’ proxy duty for?”

He’d considered asking her balls out if he was somehow involved in Buffy’s time-traveling games, but that had been short-lived. Spike already suspected he had the answer to that; after all, he’d smelled the proof of it with his own nose, and everyone and their uncle kept trying to pin his human moniker on him. Now, he was curious as to how this whole mess had been started.

He thought she was going to chew her lip off for as much as she was biting it. She really didn’t want to answer his question.

“It was…a journal,” Willow finally managed to say. She was pale---well, paler than usual---and he could hear her heartbeat announcing her anxiety. “The journal of…William Freston.” Two steps into the doorway, she stopped. “For what it’s worth,” she almost whispered, not able to look in his direction, “Buffy really likes your poetry.”

Then…she was gone.

All pretense at sleep fled. A journal, she said. His journal. A journal he’d not seen in over a century. And he knew that Willow wasn’t bullshitting him this time because she knew about the bloody poetry.

It was possible, of course, that Angel had said something about his previous life. Then again, if he’d let on to the Slayer at all about what Spike had been like as a human, or that he still dallied with the poetry after being turned---though not publicly, not after he’d caught Darla rifling through his writings and chortling like a madwoman possessed---Spike doubted that Buffy would’ve ever taken him seriously as an enemy, or that Willow would’ve been nearly as terrified of him either back on the Hellmouth or here in London. That pretty much discounted that theory.

His gaze fell on the sleeping Slayer. Buffy really likes your poetry. “What’s goin’ on, pet?” he asked softly, as if she was in a position to respond. “When are you, and why in bloody hell can’t I remember?”

She didn’t move. Carefully, Spike turned the chair to better face the bed, and leaned forward to push the duvet away from her shoulders, exposing her more to his inspection. All he could smell was her, but how much of that was from carrying her the endless blocks to the demon pub and how much was something else, he didn’t know. “Maybe it’s some alternate dimension thing,” he mused out loud. His hand reached to curl around the slim line of her neck, arcing but not touching. “Heard of those, but I never expected to be part of one.”

His thumb dropped to rest gently on the quiet throb in the hollow of her throat. So familiar…like every other victim he’d claimed over the past century. Like…home.

“That’s gotta be it, right? Only explanation that makes sense. Your cronies know too much for them to be bluffing. And Red’s too bloody sure that I’m the key in bringing you back.”

Slowly, Spike’s hand drew down the center line of her chest, a single finger falling between the curves of her breasts as its mates made faint glides across the innermost swells. She’d stake him if she ever found out he’d touched her like this, and he was more than aware that if Willow chose that minute to walk in, he’d be fresh out of luck in having the spell done for Dru. But, in the infinite space of that single moment, Spike didn’t care. He’d been tantalized by the purity of her body ever since he’d first spied her at the Bronze, all power and death made somehow stronger by that pounding heart.

He just…needed to feel it.

“Still…can’t say it wouldn’t be interesting. You and me. Yeah, yeah, I hate you, you hate me, completely unnatural. But I gotta admit…it gets me hard just thinkin’ of fightin’ at your side. You’re bloody music, you know that?” He chuckled. “I’d call it poetry, but I guess we both know my poetry’s not exactly up to par, now don’t we?”

Buffy really likes your poetry.

When his hand reached her stomach, it stopped, settling lightly on the firm muscles without going further beneath the duvet. His body was screaming at him for rest, but other than shifting to a slightly more comfortable position in the chair, Spike remained watchful of the sleeping Slayer.

“Hypnotic, you are,” he murmured. “Hate you for that. Should be healing up with a bit of kip, and instead, I’m sittin’ here, talkin’ to your bloody body like you can even hear me. Bet you’d hate this. Probably kick my ass good and proper if you were to find out.”

And then the next, even quieter…

“Just…whenever you are, pet…bein’ with that ponce…just…he’s fragile-like, see? Took me meeting Dru to finally grow some stones, but then, you never knew that. Couldn’t. Just…”

He sighed. Even now, he couldn’t say the words. He wasn’t entirely sure what was possessing him to speak with her this way, except that it was…well, safe was the only word that would come to mind.

Funny.

Safe and Slayer were two words Spike would never have dreamed of matching up.

Not before now.

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

She rushed back to the room as quickly as she could, her hair plastered to her head, water still dripping down her back beneath her shirt. Spike’s warning about the shower had been a good one, but at least she was clean now. And clean was one step closer towards a good direction in Willow’s book.

Quietly, she opened their room door and slipped inside. “Didn’t mean to…” she started, and then stopped at the spectacle that was before her.

Spike was still in the chair she’d left him in, except, for some reason, it looked like it was in a different position than when she’d left. Closer, and angled kind of funny towards the bed. He was sound asleep, his head resting on the arm he had propped on the chair’s side, but it was the extension of that arm that sucked all the air from Willow’s lungs.

The blanket covering Buffy had been pushed down her to her waist, and now, Spike’s hand was resting possessively on the Slayer’s stomach, the tips of his fingertips curling ever so slightly, even in his sleep, into her flesh. It was a curiously intimate pose, and left Willow feeling like she’d walked in on something she shouldn’t have. The question of whether she should move it, though, was dismissed quickly as she realized that would most likely mean waking Spike up yet again.

He’s not doing any harm. And really, what’s the harm in a little touching?

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

So soft, like an angel’s whisper as it floats above the breeze.

So warm, as if that angel had just come down from the sun itself.

And beneath it all…

William’s voice, heady and ardent and so so passionate, whispering the words he’d written just for her, over and over again until it became a tattoo into Buffy’s flesh…

Her back arched away from the grass when his thumb brushed over her clit, but just as quickly as it was there, it vanished, continuing its gentle exploration with a determination that belied its delicacy. As per his request, her eyes stayed shut, but the more he touched, the more Buffy wanted to throw caution to the wind and pull him onto her, to wrap her legs around his slim hips and feel him pumping in and out. She was already squirming against the firm ground, her fingers threaded through the blades of grass in a vain attempt to not reciprocate his palpations, and a slick shine of sweat was skimming across her flesh, but for his sake, she would hold out. It was his last request, William had said. She damn well was going to honor that.

His words stopped, though his fingers didn’t, and Buffy felt the sultry feather of his breath along her neck as his mouth pressed into the hollow below her ear. “I love the way you taste,” he murmured, letting the tip of his tongue tickle the outer curve.

“Are you going to let me taste you?” she asked breathlessly.

“Later,” came the promise. His teeth nipped at the lobe, making her giggle. “Not until I’ve had my fill.”

His hand was nudging at her hip, pushing her to roll onto her side. Buffy complied, but the moment she could feel him pressed into her back, her eyes fluttered open, momentarily disoriented against the dazzling sunlight flooding the park. “What’re you doing?” she said softly, and then gasped when she felt his erection nudge the crack of her bottom, sliding downward to prod at the join of her upper thighs.

“Do you mind…?” William whispered. “I’d like very much to try this.” His left arm slid beneath her shoulders, his hand cupping her breast, while his other wrapped around her waist. “It lets me touch you. You’re so beautiful, Buffy.”

She moaned when his mouth sucked at the curve of her shoulder and lifted her leg to allow his cock to slide between her wet folds. “I’ve…never…” But she couldn’t finish, her lungs suddenly boycotting their purpose at the firm press of his sliding length deep into her.

“So we’ll learn together.” William’s fingers found the hardened bud of her nipple, pinching it lightly as he nipped at her neck. He chuckled when Buffy jumped within his arms, and splayed his fingers across her stomach, his fingertips digging into the soft flesh, to keep her from moving further.

“Stay,” he commanded. The single word sent a surprise thrill through Buffy’s muscles, but when his hips began to slowly retract, his cock unsheathing from her heat, each inch he deserted her made her want to scream in frustration.

“Regardless of what may come,” he whispered, and began the intoxicating slide in and out of her, measuring each length with a gravity that made her gasp, “promise me one thing.”

It took all her self-control to take command of her voice again. “Anything.”

“Don’t forget me.”

She wished she could see his face, because though his voice was low and moderated, the ache in it made her start to think that the poise he’d held since joining her in the dream was only a façade. Is he that afraid to look at me? Is that why he wants to have sex like this?

“You have so many wonderful years ahead of you,” continued William. “You get the opportunity to further your education. Your whole world is opening up, and somewhere, there is someone who will be worthy of sharing it all with you. Oh, how I wish that person could be me, but…” His sigh warmed her cheek, and while it propounded the true state of his mind, his body was still relentless in coaxing as many tremors and moans as it could from Buffy.

“I won’t forget,” she breathed. Her hand reached around to run a gossamery caress across his jaw. “I couldn’t. Physically impossible.”

His arms tightened around her, molding her body to his as if to imprint the memory onto his skin. “I only…have one regret…” he said, his thrusts beginning to quicken, his breath becoming more ragged.

“No, no regrets---.”

“Yes.” The hand on her stomach crept lower, tangling in the coarse hair it met. “But…just the…one…”

His finger pressed against her clit, the force matching that on her nipple, and Buffy exploded, her eyes squeezing shut as a shower of sparks fireballed inside her head. Her inner muscles clamped down on his cock, making him grunt in surprise, and she felt the familiar warming deep inside as he lost control and came.

“Buffy…sweet…love you…Buffy…” William’s arms were desperate around her as his body twitched with the throes of his orgasm, his face buried in her hair. Panting, he pressed his lips to her neck as it subsided, and she had to fight to extricate herself enough from the embrace to swivel around and face him.

“No regrets,” she repeated, and leaned in to kiss him. He tasted of salt and sun-kissed beaches, but whether it was because of the sweat that made their bodies slick or tears he might’ve shed beyond the borders of her observation, Buffy didn’t know.

“It’s not…what you might think.” He seemed determined to look at everything but her eyes, thick lashes hauntingly lowered. “I made you a promise I can’t keep. I fear that you’ll…think ill of me once you’ve returned and realize it.”

“What promise?”

“Where I…never leave you. I have no wish to join the ranks of those who’ve hurt you so, but our circumstances…they seem to dictate otherwise, don’t they?”

She kissed him again, before he could take the breath to continue speaking. All she’d wanted for this dream was just to spend it like they had in the beginning, before she’d woken in his reality and not her own, so that if she did open her eyes to see Willow in her Beaker pajamas, both Buffy and William would have a wonderful memory to mark their last night together. She understood his grief---so much of it was mirrored in her own---but the timeline demanded that this sacrifice be made. She didn’t want him to dwell on the unhappy part of it.

“I want you to promise me something, too,” Buffy said when they separated. Her lips felt swollen from the power of the kiss, and though she was ready to go in for another, she wanted to get this out before they got distracted again. She wasn’t nearly as good at the holding a conversation during the actual sex act as William seemed to be.

“Anything,” he replied, mirroring her response from earlier.

“Don’t forget that you’re a good man.” Pressing her fingers to his mouth when he opened it to argue with her, she added, “I know, I’ve said it before. I’m a broken record on that song, but that’s only because I need you to believe it. Promise me you won’t ever forget that.”

Reaching up, William took her hand from his lips and pressed it to his chest. The steady rhythm of his slowing heart pacified the unrest that had settled somewhere inside her own, and she swallowed down the urge to tell him that she’d changed her mind again, that she was going to stay after all and he was just going to have to live with that.

“I swear to you,” he said solemnly, “with everything that I have, with everything that I am. You’ve made me strong, Buffy. Don’t you see that? I see you, and I think I can do anything. Because you believe I can. So how can I ever forget? That would be like forgetting to breathe.”

She nestled into his chest, taking comfort in the weight of his arm when he curled it around her. This was all she could do, Buffy realized. Though she wouldn’t be around to save William from Drusilla, maybe whatever time he had left would be happy. Maybe he’d be able to find someone to love him as much as she did, who could give him the things she couldn’t.

The irony that it was exactly what he’d said to her during their lovemaking escaped her.

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

From her seat inside the carriage, April watched Richard and Rose hurry from the house, coats clutched tightly around them as they headed for their waiting coach. “It’s a little early for a breakfast rendezvous,” she commented casually. Her eyes flickered to the lightening sky. Though it wasn’t quite dawn yet, the hour was fast approaching. She would have to cease her watch soon if she wanted to make it back to the house before the sun rose.

“And it’s a little late for us,” Nathan murmured. His hand slipped between her thighs, rubbing at her pussy through her skirts as he nipped at her neck. “We should go home and sleep. Or maybe, not sleep.”

Distractedly, April batted away his hand, shifting sideways so that she could continue her watch on the Rhodes-Fanshaws without break. “Where could they be going, do you think?”

Nathan sighed. “It’s probably just Council business, my love. You know how they are.”

“But nobody arrived with a message. Something else has upset him.” She pointed to where he paused at the coach’s door. “See how he pulls at his fingers? That’s a typical Richard worrying signal.” Rapping at the draped window behind her, she twisted toward the door to wait for the driver to come around.

“Yes?” he asked, visibly shaking.

“I want you to follow that carriage,” April instructed, gesturing toward the vehicle now moving away from the house. “But you need to be discreet. They can’t know we’re watching them.”

The driver glanced nervously up at the sky. “But, the dawn,” he said. “Won’t you be wishing to get out of the sun?”

Her hand shot out and grabbed him by the throat. “You’ll leave worrying about the sun to me,” she snarled. “Your job is to follow…that…coach.” Disgusted, she tossed him to the ground, not even taking pleasure in the whimpers that finally escaped him or the haste of his return to the driver’s seat.

“We’re not going back?” Surprise colored Nathan’s voice, but she didn’t even cast him a glance as she settled back into her seat.

“No. Something has unsettled Richard. I want to know what it is.”

“But, April…darling…”

“If the next words out of your mouth are ‘he’s not worthy of the risk,’ I’ll toss you into the sunlight myself, Nathan.”

That quieted him, though his dissatisfaction with her emanated from his every pore. As the coach began to lurch down the cobblestones, April rested her hand on Nathan’s knee.

“I’m as weary of this as you are, lover,” she said quietly, though the control it took to restrain herself so made her even more furious. “I promise you. Tonight? I end this.”

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

Insistent knocking jarred him from his slumber, inciting him to call out before he’d fully wakened. “Yes?”

The door opened, revealing an anxious Meg. As soon as her eyes fell on William in his bed, though, her gaze dropped more respectfully to the floor, her hands folded in front of her. “Mr. Rhodes-Fanshaw has called, sir,” she rushed. “He says it’s of the utmost importance you come down as soon as possible.”

Groggy, William nodded automatically. “Yes, yes, I’ll be right there. Just…get him some tea while he waits.”

“Yes, sir,” she replied, dropping a quick curtsey before backing like a jackrabbit out of the entrance.

Rubbing at his eyes with the heel of his hand, William fell back against his pillow, remembering the last few minutes of his dream with Buffy. Bliss suffused his body, almost instantaneously replaced by the realization that he was actually awake. That it was over. That she was…

A small sigh at his side made him jerk, and the mattress shifted beneath him. When he turned his head to see, every inch of the motion achingly slow, relief washed over him.

That she was still here.

The duvet was tucked up under her chin, twisted from where she’d rolled onto her side to face him, and her lashes were dark against her cheek. Gently, William reached out to brush the hair back from her face, his heart pounding inside his chest.

“Buffy, my love,” he whispered. “It’s time to wake up…”

 

To be continued in Chapter 35: What We See Doth Lie