DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet XCVIII.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Rose is trying to bring down the magic surrounding the house containing Giles and Anne Freston, while Buffy and William are fighting off the demons that are being unleashed, while back in the present, Spike has decided enough is enough…

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

Chapter 36: From You Have I Been Absent

He said it with more force than he felt, but if Red cottoned on to just what a wreck he really was about this whole situation, she’d be too busy laughing her ass off to do any kind of mojo for either of them. Spike’s sleep had been split between nonsensical dreams about him and the Slayer playing pick-up-sticks in Victorian gardens he’d long ago forgotten, and nightmares where Dru and Buffy engaged in fights to the death, while he was helplessly tied up at the side to watch. The outcomes had been different every time---sometimes, the Slayer would stake his dark princess; sometimes, Dru would catch Buffy in a lethal grip and drain her dry, and there was that one odd combination where Buffy had dusted Dru with one of the pick-up sticks---but each and every one of them left him in horrific grief that drove him from slumber just a few hours after dawn.

So, he did what he always did when confronted with a situation he found unbearable. He took it by the throat and shook it until it settled into something a spot more manageable. Of course, half the time he ended up a little worse for wear, but the occasions where he came out on top more than made up for it.

“What do you mean…your order?”

He could smell the fear spring to the surface of her skin, and the unexpected delight made Spike’s mouth curl into a smirk. “Thought I was bein’ pretty plainspoken,” he said. “Seems to me, I’ve been letting you call too many of these shots, and that’s just not right. Natural pecking order puts me on top, Red, so I’ve decided to start acting like it for a change.”

“No, no on top. What happened to you and me, and being straightshooting partners, huh? Straightshooters don’t get on top of each other. Side by side. That’s what we agreed to.”

“You didn’t really give me much of a choice, though, now did you?”

She was already recovering from her initial shock, allowing the blanket to fall from those ridiculous pajamas. “You’re the one who came back, Spike,” Willow said sharply. It always amazed him how she could dredge up these unhidden sources of strength when confronted with danger. He’d been right to pick her side in this. “You were gone, and you could’ve stayed gone, but you were the one who showed up at my door asking for help. That sounds like a pretty firm choice to me.”

He growled and resumed his pacing. Thinking always seemed to come easier if he was moving. “Not the point,” Spike snarled. “The point is, I’m not happy with the current arrangement. I’ve done some thinking and I think I need to get paid up front---.”

“Huh? You want money now?”

She was trying his patience, really she was. “The mojo for Dru,” he said through clenched teeth. “You want to use me to get your Slayer back, you have to do my spell first.”

“What? No! We’re not even sure what your spell does. For all I know, it’ll whisk you back to South America and then what am I going to do about Buffy?”

“That’s your problem, then, isn’t it?”

He had to get out of this place. All he could smell was the Slayer---in the air, on his hands, under his skin---and it was clouding what should be a simple thing. Grabbing his wrecked coat from where he’d tossed it over the altar, Spike slipped it on, concentrating on not looking at the small blonde still asleep on the bed.

“Where are you going now?” Willow asked.

“Goin’ to get a bite to eat,” he retorted. “I’ll be back in a couple hours. Make sure you’ve got what you need done ‘cause I’m expecting my payment as soon as I return.” He stopped halfway out the door. “And don’t think about bolting. I’m lettin’ the publican know I’ll be out. If you step one goody goody foot outside this room, I’ll tell him you’re free for eating.”

Spike didn’t wait to see her response. Letting the door slam shut behind him, he marched for the stairs that led down to the tunnels. He just needed some fresh air, that was it. And a pretty young thing for breakfast. That would clear his head of big green eyes and sinewy muscles just made for---.

Fuck.

Whatever he killed to eat, it wasn’t going to be blonde.

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

Buffy’s demon assessment had been correct, with another breaking through the magical barrier even before William could get his sword from its scabbard. That one had had multiple arms, but as soon as she had relieved it of two of the sets, its bloodlust seemed to wane, making it a prompt kill.

What she hadn’t anticipated, however, were the clouds roiling into venomous billows, or the sudden rise in temperature as if the land itself wanted to burn them off of it, or the wind whipping into frenetic convulsions, making it difficult to remain standing, let alone fighting.

“Keep them away from Rose, no matter what the cost!” Richard shouted above the din.

William’s agreement was silent, because a pair of vampires had emerged upon Buffy’s victory, and he was faced with the first mortal combat of his lifetime.

She would’ve taken them both on with no hesitation if he hadn’t stepped up to her side. After a long glance out of the corner of her eye, though, she smiled, and gripped the hilt of her own sword just a little tighter.

“Just don’t start practicing how to be a macho bull-head, OK?” she quipped.

He wasn’t entirely sure what she meant, so William just returned her smile with a, “Never.”

Though he had every intention of charging the fanged demon---how valiant would that appear? he thought gleefully---his feet thought otherwise, rooting him in the brush with a surety as if he’d used paste on his soles. At least he didn’t run, and when the vampire lunged forward, William instinctively lifted his sword in a riposte that had the blade sliding into the monster’s chest.

His brief exhilaration vanished when he realized the vampire was still standing, and William remembered in an annoyed flash that his weapon wasn’t made of wood, and that the creature’s head was still intact on his body. Considering those were the only two ways he knew how to kill a vampire, his job wasn’t done, so he stepped back, pulling out the sword with a sticky squelch, and readied himself for another attack.

It was both different and the same as fighting Buffy had been. Where Buffy had challenged him to push his body to the limits, the vampire was merely interested in killing William, and the separation of such goals sharpened his defense. He was not ready to die; he refused to believe that it would end for him so carelessly. Yet, it wasn’t nearly as simple as Buffy had made it appear. The vampire was willing to do just about anything to win, and when William found himself tripped to go sprawling onto his stomach, the weight of the demon on his back was almost enough for him to call out for help.

Almost.

When his head lifted, William saw her standing near the carriage, eyes intent as she regarded him. The vamp she’d taken on must’ve long been dusted, because she seemed unperturbed in spite of the elements, solemnity personified as she waited to see what he would do. Dangling at her side, her hand was ready on her weapon, but the blaze in her face told him she didn’t think she needed to use it.

The vampire thought it had won. William smelled its fetid breath as its fangs drew nearer, and braced himself against the sickness that rose in his stomach. Letting his body go limp, he melted into the ground, hoping he wasn’t making a serious miscalculation in his risk.

The instant he felt the teeth start to break through his skin, William slammed his elbow back into the vampire’s midsection, taking the demon by surprise and toppling him off. He rolled with the weapon raised, and in a clean slice, brought it down on the vamp’s neck.

The wind brought the dust up to clog his nose, and he was coughing when Buffy appeared at his side. She pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and pressed it into his hand, all the while grinning like the canary-stuffed cat.

“I knew you could do it,” she said.

Only six little words, and not one of them unique, but their order and their timing were all that it took for William to puff up in pride. He had done it. For likely the first time in his short life, he’d taken charge of a situation and seen it through to its mortal end. The exhilaration was intoxicating.

“Keep your pants on, buster,” Buffy said with a smile. She nodded toward the plot of land that was starting to appear thicker and more real with each passing second. “The game’s not over yet.”

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

When they’d first heard the faraway tumult echoing from above their heads, Giles’ instinctive reaction had been to go investigate. It had only been Anne’s desperate plea not to leave her alone, unprotected, that had stopped him from venturing up the stairs.

He recognized those sounds. Three years with Buffy, and prior to that, countless years in training, and it was impossible for Giles not to recognize the clamor of battle. He didn’t tell Anne, though, not even when she naively asked him if he had any suspicions about what was happening. He’d merely patted her hand and made some vague reply about being safe if they remained together.

He didn’t feel safe. He felt bloody helpless. Frankly, he’d just about kill for a weapon of some sort.

The possibility that it was Buffy arrived to rescue him was perhaps the single thing keeping him from abandoning Anne’s side. In fact, he voiced that opinion for her, only to have her laugh and chide him about the silliness of a young woman besting the magics that surrounded the house. It prompted Giles to sigh. Though the Victorian manners were quaint, he was actually rather grateful for the more progressive thinking of his time. He would never admit so to Buffy, of course; that would only make his training of her even harder.

When the bedlam suddenly disappeared, Giles’ stomach knotted in fear, prompting him to rise from where he’d been sitting next to Anne and cross to the doorway. Pressing his ear to the wood, he strained to hear what might be happening outside.

Nothing.

“Is it over?” Anne whispered from the bed.

“It would appear so,” Giles replied. His hand dropped to the doorknob, and then froze.

Footsteps.

In the hall.

Damn it. He didn’t have a weapon.

Anne sensed his shift in mood. “What is---?” she started to ask, only to clamp her mouth shut when he waved at her to quiet.

Resuming his listening, this time the Watcher heard the soft click of doors opening and closing, the footsteps soft in between each action. When it neared, he took a step back, squaring his shoulders to do hand-to-hand, should the need arise.

Shock kept him motionless when the door finally opened. Not Buffy that would come to his rescue, then, Giles thought. How ironic that it would come to this.

He looked like he’d been through a warzone. The antiquated shirt was pulled from his trousers, random rips and bloodstains proclaiming the extent of the fighting that had been occurring overhead. Sandy-colored curls were plastered to his forehead with sweat, but the eyes were a brilliant blue, jumping around the room with the characteristic edginess that Giles associated with the vampire. This wasn’t Spike, though; his face was too flushed, his skin too pink, for him to be undead.

It could only be William.

“Step away from her!” the young man threatened, lifting the sword Giles only now noticed to aim it at the older man. He winced as he did it, though, causing the Watcher to wonder just how exhausted the new arrival actually was.

“William!” It was the strongest Giles had ever heard Anne speak, and he stepped aside to watch her approach her son. “Where are your manners?”

For a moment, William looked stricken. Like a child caught in not-so-innocent circumstances, he stared back at her for a long moment before letting the tip of the blade droop from where it had been aimed at Giles’ chest.

“Are you all right?” he asked her, apologetic in his propriety.

Another chill rippled through Giles’ body at the sound. Spike’s voice, without the forced London edge he had always suspected had been a put-on. It was simple to see the young man Anne Freston had spent the past few days describing, but at the same time, the eerie overlays of the hated vampire kept him unsettled.

And why does he hold the sword with his thumb splayed like Buffy does?

“I’m fine,” Anne replied. “Mr. Giles has been most helpful in keeping me company.”

The change was instantaneous. At the sound of his name, William’s head whipped to stare at the other Englishman. “Rupert Giles?” he asked.

Giles frowned. “Yes,” he answered slowly.

The weapon was dropped, and William bowed in a crisp salute. “It’s my sincerest pleasure, sir,” he said. When he straightened, he offered his free right hand in greeting. “I have to admit, it’s an honor I never imagined I’d be granted.”

Curiouser and curiouser.

He waited perhaps a fraction too long to accept the handshake. Of course it wasn’t the coolness of a demon that met his palm, but the too-sweaty, sweltering grip of a man who’d spent the better part of a day fighting. This is Anne’s bookworm son? A glance in her direction confirmed that she was slightly perplexed by her son’s appearance as well. Obviously, this wasn’t what she expected either.

“Have we met?” Giles asked. Caution was the better part of valor, he reasoned. Though it sounded as if the battle was complete above, it was entirely possible that this was just part of some massive test for them.

“No, not really,” William replied. He smiled, and it transformed his entire face, making him younger, softer. Human. “But Buffy has had only the most exemplary things to say of you. It’s my privilege to meet the man she so admires. You have done an excellent job with your guidance, sir. Buffy is an amazing woman.”

“Buffy.” In the bewildering oddity of the young man’s words, it was that that stuck out. “Is she---?”

“Giles!”

He reacted just in time to have the air forced from his lungs when powerful arms wrapped around his neck. She was laughing, and she smelled like blood and smoke, and he could see bugger all, but it was most definitely Buffy squeezing the life out of him.

He’d never been so glad to see anyone in his entire life.

When she slid back down, Giles noticed the old-fashioned blouse and skirt she wore. His mouth opened to say something, but the words failed him when she stepped back and took William’s hand in hers as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

“Rose is on her way down,” she was babbling excitedly. “She’s the one who broke through the spell on the house. You should’ve seen it, Giles. Every time it looked like we were getting through, more demons came out. It was like one of those cars at the circus, you know? The ones with all the clowns in them and you can’t for the life of you figure out where they’re all coming from? I haven’t fought that much since graduation, and god, did it feel good.”

“Buffy,” William said quietly, and there was no mistaking the gentle press of her hand as he directed her attention elsewhere. “I’d like for you to meet my mother.”

Her mouth made a little circle as she breathed the “Oh…” Giles was transfixed as he watched Buffy metamorphose into the girl he’d seen her affect in front of teachers and her mother prior to the truth coming out about her calling, all smiles and politeness of the perfect persona. Now, though, it seemed remarkably sincere, and the reasons why that could be dampened his relish in seeing her.

“How do you do?” she said brightly. After a nervous glance at William---one Giles imagined she did not mean to be witnessed---she bobbed an awkward curtsey. “William’s told me a lot about you. I’m glad to see that you’re OK.”

Anne’s returning smile was polite, but there was no missing the curious lift of her brows as she looked over Buffy’s head to her son. “I wasn’t aware that you were acquainted,” she said. “Though, Mr. Giles has spoken quite fondly of you.”

“It’s a…long story,” Buffy stammered. “A really long story,” she added at Giles’ level stare.

She was saved from further explanation by another arrival in the entryway. “The magic is complete,” the older woman who stood there said. Her dark gaze swept over the group. “I’m assuming you’ve found them.”

Giles remained silent during the introductions, shaking the seer’s hand when it was his turn, listening to the astounding tale of temporal displacements and witches traveling through time and houses being hidden from scrutiny with the calm acceptance as befitting his title. All the while, he watched the possessive hand William kept at the small of Buffy’s back, and the way she leaned into the young man as she spoke, and the undeniable emotion that leapt between them with the propensity of youth not yet ravaged by time. Something had very obviously happened between them, and the longer he surveyed them, the more convinced Giles became that Buffy was in over her head.

“What I’ve done doesn’t supplant the magic that ties you to this time, however,” Rose was explaining. “For you, Mr. Giles, it will take leaving the house entirely. I imagine what will happen is that once you cross the threshold, you’ll find yourself back in your own time.”

“And Buffy?” he asked. “Is that how she returns as well?”

The trio exchanged guilty looks before Rose spoke again. “I’m afraid her situation is slightly…different from yours,” she said. “But we believe that her friend Willow is well on the way to rectifying it.”

“I know it’s all kind of wiggy,” Buffy jumped in. “Trust me, when I first realized when I was, I was all about the wig. But things are working out. Before you know it---.”

A loud crash from overhead cut her off, and all five heads jerked up to stare at the ceiling. “Stay here,” Buffy ordered. “That doesn’t sound good.”

William hesitated for but a moment before following after the running Slayer, leaving the three older people in silence. Rose was the one to finally shatter the quiet, with a heavy sigh.

“For as much as she might pretend otherwise,” the seer said, “Buffy is ever the optimist.”

“Are you saying she won’t be able to return home?” Giles asked.

“No, I’m saying she truly believes she can do so without any repercussions.”

“William loves her.” Anne’s voice was low, but boomed in the suddenly too-close walls. “I’ve never seen him so…”

Rose’s concurring nod prompted Giles to add, “And she…feels for him.”

“It’s been…difficult,” the seer commented. “My husband and I have tried to speak with them, but they’re young and stubborn---.”

Giles snorted. “Yes, that they are.”

“I do…have a solution of sorts,” Rose said. “One I’ve not spoken to them about. I don’t believe it would be met with much...support.”

“And that would be?”

She took a deep breath. “I can make it possible to have everyone who’s been in contact with Buffy…to forget she was ever here.”

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

They found Richard crouching at one of the living room windows, staring outside with the gloom of a man facing his most dreaded nightmare. The cacophony was louder here, the sound of destruction emanating from outdoors, but inside, the house was deadly still.

“What is it?” Buffy asked. She leaned over his shoulder to peer out the glass, watching the dark shadows of bodies passing back and forth in growing determination.

“Vampires,” Richard replied. “A rather large coterie.”

“They seem a little put out about something,” she commented.

“Yes. Yes, they are.”

She frowned when she saw the empty street. “Where’s the coach? How are we supposed to get out of here?”

“I sent it away when I saw them approaching. I didn’t believe we could handle such large numbers, so I…I sent him to the Council and ordered an emergency meeting here. We shall have reinforcements soon.”

“And you expect us to just hide out in here until they get bored and walk away?”

“We’ve been fighting all day---.”

“And we’ll fight all night if we have to---.”

“Not all of us are Slayers, Miss Summers. We don’t all have your constitution.”

It was his tone that made her stop from pushing the argument. “What is it you’re not telling me here, Richard?” she asked.

“If I could retract my order to my driver, I would,” he said softly. “The last thing I wish right now is for my colleagues to arrive.”

“Why?”

His eyes never left the glass. “Because April is out there. She’s finally decided to stop waiting and kill me.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 37: Make War Upon This Bloody Tyrant