DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet LXIV.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Giles is back in present day London, April has bitten Richard prompting Rose to backlash with a binding spell, and Spike has woken Willow to prepare for the second spell that will bring Buffy back…

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

Chapter 39: Time Will Come and Take My Love Away

He could tell that the witch was more than a little unsettled about his behavior, but short of telling her to fuck off, Spike didn’t give a bloody rat’s ass what she thought about how he was acting. See how she liked having her noodle scrambled around with the double-edged equivalent of a magical blender and then maybe they’d talk. Until then, he was planning on just doing whatever the hell he wanted until the chaos that was his brain calmed down.

Something wasn’t quite right and it was more than having a shitload of memories about being with Buffy that he’d never had before. Those were the easy part. Those made a warped kind of sense. A delicious, halcyon, ruthless kind of sense.

What didn’t make sense was the conflict his demon was in. Oh, it was still there, all right, and pissed as hell at being played around with like he had been. He didn’t know for sure who it was who’d stripped him of his memories, but he had a clue, and if he didn’t know she had to be years gone dead, Spike would put her in a grave again for all her messing about with things that were none of her concern. He didn’t care for her lectures the first time around, and he didn’t care for her so-called solution the second time. What was worse, was William’s whisper at the base of consciousness, who told her to do it?, because the first name that popped into Spike’s skull was Buffy’s and somehow, the thought that she’d want to steal the memory of their time together from him after all her so-called declarations made him sick to his stomach.

No.

Couldn’t have been Buffy.

Buffy loved him.

And then the whispered correction from the Victorian voice that was suddenly in much more prominence…

Buffy loved me.

Like he’d been scalded, Spike’s hand jerked back from where he had been outlining her shape in the air. That was the trouble. William was lurking about like a bad seed, so long ago absent that his demon had forgotten what it was like to have him about, and now…now it didn’t know what to do with him. It was different than those first few months after he’d been turned. Then, he’d been so green, plucked before he was ready to ripen under Dru’s and Angelus’ tutelage. William had been eager for the attention, desperate for the mentor he thought Angelus to be, because the attention they lavished on him had been exhilarating, so really, not that different than he’d been as human. It was just his hunger that had changed.

But time had driven the softness of William away, forced him to erect the façade that would make the days and nights palatable, easier to pretend so it was harder to get hurt until the pretending was all the time and he forgot that it was all just a game, all just a fakery, designed to protect that small cowering poet within who just wanted to be wanted.

Like Buffy had.

It had to have been the magic that brought him back, Spike decided. Shucking the cloak that had hidden the truth for over a century, it had released William in such a way that he wasn’t entirely certain who it was wearing his skin anymore. He still felt like Spike. He still thought like Spike. He still had Spike’s drives and desires. Damn it all, he was Spike.

But Spike was also William.

Because with the memories back, and seeing the man he had been before---well, it had to be Rose, now didn’t it? Nobody else in that damn scenario had the power or inclination to do it---they had been taken away, he recognized a core that he’d never seen before. He saw the beginning of a man who had the power to be strong on his own. Because the love of an amazing woman had shown him how.

“I’m ready.”

Even uttered so softly, the two words could’ve been a salvo for as much of an effect they had on Spike. He lurched awkwardly back into the chair, driving even more distance between him and Buffy though each inch further from the skin he ached to touch---Is she warmer than I remember? Is she as soft?---made him tighten and sting.

“Sorry,” he muttered when Willow jumped just as sharply, and then kicked the William part of him for the automatic apology.

“Are…are you sure you’re up to this? You’re not looking so spiffy either, you know.”

He wanted to throttle the worry out of her throat. “Just don’t bollocks it up ‘cause you’re off the beam from the other,” Spike said. “Don’t be fussed about me. I can mind my own.”

Willow looked very much like she still wanted to argue with him, but the glare he leveled at her made her drop her eyes to the paper in her hand. “This one’s a li-little different than the other spell,” she said. “More…touchy-feely.”

“Does that mean you get to do the touchy, or I get to do the feely?” He accompanied it with his best leer, though truly, his heart wasn’t in it. All he wanted was to get Buffy back. The pair of them needed to have a talk before he combusted from confusion.

She pressed her lips thin and placed her hand flat on his chest. When the words came, Spike almost ripped it off for the shock of déjà vu that overcame him---

---She wasn’t opening it. Instead, she was muttering under her breath---Latin, from the few words he could catch, or a derivative thereof---and her fingers never stopped their exploration of the soft leather. By the time he’d regained his wits enough to clear his throat, the old woman was already looking up at him, her hand extended as she proffered the book---

---and then it was done, and Willow was looking up at him with those cow eyes that had almost been his undoing when he’d taken her for that love spell for Dru the previous year, and the spot on his chest where she’d been touching was now enflamed from the heat of the magic.

“That it?” he croaked. “That the best you can throw at me?”

“That’s it,” she confirmed.

“So…now what?” The magic had done nothing to provoke Buffy to move, and Spike rose to hover again at her side. “I’m here and she’s not awake. Why isn’t she awake, Red?”

“She has to drink the tea in the time period she’s in. Hopefully, she’s figured that part out.”

“And I’m s’posed to…what? Stand here and look all manly?”

“I think it’s a…proximity thing. She used to sleep with your journal under her pillow.” Willow blushed when he glanced back at her, his only response a single raised eyebrow. “Not that you’ll fit under her pillow, of course.”

He just shook his head, turning back to look down at Buffy. A tentative hand reached out to touch her shoulder, but when she failed to react, it slid up to the sweaty crook of her neck.

The charge was immediate, cementing each memory into a golden mosaic that made him want to take her into his arms and never let her go. Before he could think otherwise, his grip slid beneath her neck, his other arm sliding under her legs, and he was repositioning her on the other side of the mattress, sliding into the balmy indentation she’d left behind.

“What’re you…? I don’t think Buffy’s going to like this when she wakes up,” Willow said.

“But she’ll be up, won’t she?” Spike retorted. Inhaling, his eyes fluttered closed at the ambrosia that assaulted his senses, curling his arm around her waist to pull her gently against him. The trembling started as soon as she nestled into the bend of his body, poised as perfectly as she’d been so many years before in the bed he’d always believed to be only his. It was too much, the reality of Buffy too close to the figments that had heretofore been but sublime specters tormenting him with their hints of something more, and he buried her face in the cloud of hair as he fought to regain control of his muscles.

“Spike---,” Willow tried again.

“Sod off, Red,” he growled. The moisture that threatened to leak from between his shut eyelids burned, and he swallowed as if that would steady his racing skin. “Get used to the chair,” he added. “Until Buffy wakes up, I’m not goin’ anywhere.”

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

The blinding flash made William stumble to his knees, his bowed head almost colliding with the earth as the strength seemed to be sapped from his very bones. He hadn’t seen where it might’ve come from, but the burn that made his skin sizzle didn’t feel natural, instead a phantom crawl that dulled his remaining senses. Beyond the realm of his touch, nothing else felt…real.

“Buffy…” he murmured. Where had she gone? One moment, she’d been helping him get back to the house, supporting his weight against her slight frame, and the next…

A flash of white glimmered at the corner of his eye, and slowly, William turned his head to see what it might be. He had to blink more than once to rid himself of the blurriness in his vision, and then gasped when the white took on the shape of Buffy’s unconscious body.

She was coiled into the grass, fallen from whatever shock had hit him, and there was a fresh cut across her forehead where she’d struck her head in her collapse. Blood dripped to mat her hair, and he couldn’t help but wonder how it was that none of the vampires that had been surrounding them had yet to take advantage of the situation.

“Buffy,” he said again, and crawled to her side. Sharp stones in the grass cut into his palms and knees, but he was oblivious to them as he pulled her onto his lap. “Don’t do this to me, love. I need you. Please, wake up.”

Daubing at her cut with his handkerchief, William glanced up when he heard the rushing of fabric and saw Rose hurry past to crouch over Richard’s body just feet away. He wasn’t unconscious, but the blood that dripped from his neck was in stark contrast to the deathly paleness of his cheeks, and William was certain with more than a touch of queasiness that the Watcher was not long for this world.

“April…” Richard whispered, and scrabbled along his wife’s skirts to try and sit up. “Where’s…April…?”

“Ssshhh…” Rose murmured. Pulling him close, she cradled his head, brushing back the hair that fell limply across his brow. “She’s gone. It’s over.”

“Over?” Both men looked to the spot where the vampire had last been, and saw instead dancing glints as the cold moonlight captured the pile of crystal that rested in her place.

“I used my binding spell,” Rose explained. “It’s contained her. For now.”

“So she’s not actually dead?”

William could hear the disappointment in her voice when she confirmed April’s status for Richard. “It’s over,” she repeated. “We can rest now.”

April wasn’t the only one missing, William noticed. Now that he was looking, he could see the scattering of dust throughout the lawn, one or two additional crystal figures nearer where she had been, with the only vampires remaining scrambling for the road and the carriage that awaited there. April’s lover stood in shock at the door, but with a single glance from the humans, he too was running in fear, disappearing like shadows into the night.

“Not…yet…” Richard managed. Pulling from her hold, he struggled to his knees, meeting William’s eyes before letting his gaze fall to Buffy. “You must…get them out of here,” he said to his wife. “The Council…they’ll be arriving soon. And Buffy…she will need medical attention, I think.”

“What of you?” she demanded. “You’re hurt. You need---.”

“My job is not done here. You must do this. William and his…family deserve some peace.” He looked again to the younger man. “I am honoring our original agreement, William. My colleagues will never know of your involvement in this…this.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I’m not leaving you here on your own, Richard. I didn’t do this so---.” Her voice was growing strident, and William noted that he’d never seen her approaching such hysteria. It was as if she saw something coming that she was desperately trying to avoid.

“Someone has to see them home safely, my dear,” Richard interrupted. “I need you to do this. I have to ensure that nothing happens to…her.”

Her face fell, and for a moment, William felt a profound sense of sorrow for the seer. As much as they loved each other, April would always come between the Rhodes-Fanshaws. There was something about loving a Slayer---whether as a mentor, a father, a friend, or a lover---that rendered it difficult for those on the outside to break through. He wondered if Rose was even aware of it.

“I will go fetch William’s mother,” she said softly, rising to her feet. She was carefully avoiding looking at where the crystal-bound April was lying on the ground, focusing instead on the wan visage of her husband. “Because that is your wish, not because I’m pleased that you’ve asked.”

He stayed silent, watching her turn and walk stiffly back into the house. “You may not like me very much right now,” he said when the two men were alone, “but I would like to make a request of you, William.”

“Yes?”

“Protect them. Both of them. I may not…approve of your relationship with Buffy, but I can’t deny it, either. She and my Rose are cut from the same cloth, and I fear it shall be their undoing.”

He nodded. “They are both a little…headstrong, aren’t they?”

Richard’s chuckle started a series of coughs, death rattles that echoed in the brisk night air. “That, they are,” he agreed when breath returned. He gestured toward the carriage. “Get your family home. You’ve had a long and wearying day. You deserve the opportunity to rest.”

From somewhere deep within, William gathered his last remaining reserves of strength and rose to his feet, Buffy still unconscious as he gathered her into his arms. He’d gone several yards toward the coach when he stopped, looking back at the Watcher gravely. “And you?” he asked. “Do you not deserve to rest as well?”

“When my job is done.” Richard sighed, his gaze on the crystal. “When my job is done.”

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

The moment his mother fell asleep in the swaying carriage, William bundled Buffy back into his arms, smoothing back the golden hair so that he could better see the delicate line of her cheek in the moonlight that streamed in through the window. More blood marred her skin, but when he tried to locate his handkerchief to better clean it off, he realized he’d left it back in the grass.

“She will be fine,” Rose assured him. “She’s strong, and they’re just superficial wounds.”

He nodded, but his eyes never left Buffy’s face. He stayed silent even when the coach reached the Freston home, carrying the young woman into the house and leaving Rose to guide Anne.

“Go rest,” the seer instructed gently once they’d crossed the threshold. “I will see to the staff and your son.” There was so much she had yet to do this evening, and not one part of it filled her with joy. Leaving Richard behind had been the hardest thing she had ever done, for she knew, without having the vision to confirm it, that if she did so, it would be the last time she would see him alive. That meant she had little time to accomplish what needed to be done. Richard was her tie to the past; once he was dead, the magic that bound her to him would be broken, and she would be hurtled back into a future she wouldn’t recognize. Such was the price she knew she would pay for trying to mend events of the past.

“Have a pot of Mr. Freston’s special tea sent up to Miss Summers’ room,” she instructed the young maid who was hovering in the background.

“Yes, ma’am. And the Master, too?”

Rose hesitated on the bottom step. “No,” she finally said. “He won’t be needing any.”

Her tread was heavy as she climbed the stairs. Anne’s door was already closed, but William stood in Buffy’s open one, a lean hand on the jamb keeping him steady as he gazed inside.

“She’s waking,” he said softly as Rose approached. “You were right. She’ll be fine.”

She set a gentle hand on his arm. “You need to rest, William. You have injuries of your own and Buffy would not want you to tax yourself unnecessarily.”

“I wish…” he started, and then broke off, an embarrassed flush creeping up his neck. He didn’t have to say it; she knew what it was he wanted. “Will you tell her I’ll see her in the morning?” he asked instead.

“Of course,” Rose lied, and smiled for as long as he remained in the hall, only letting it slip away when she was alone again. If Buffy’s assessment of her friend had been correct, the Slayer would not be around in the morning. It was just as well. Rose was gambling that the forget spell she would need to set in place would not be made awkward by a young woman’s unexplained presence in the Freston home. Buffy would not be pleased if she discovered the truth about what Rose was going to do.

The Slayer was mumbling when Rose entered the room, tossing on the bed as if she was in the throes of a dream. Quickly, the seer hurried to her side, perching on the edge of the mattress to press the young woman back down into the pillow. “Ssshhhh…” she soothed. It seemed that soothing was all she was doing this evening.

Buffy’s eyes fluttered open, but they were dark with an unexpected fervor. “Where’s William?” she asked. “Is he all right? Tell me he’s all right. I didn’t do all this for him not to be all right.”

“He’s fine. He’s resting. Relax.”

She exhaled heavily. “Good. He’s got enough bad stuff coming up. He doesn’t need this on top of it.”

Her words made Rose stiffen. “What’s that?”

Immediately, Buffy knew she’d said too much. “Nothing,” she replied, letting her eyes fall closed again. “It’s nothing.

But it wasn’t nothing, and Rose knew it. There were terrible things in store for William’s future, things both Buffy and her Watcher knew about, and she was desperately trying to make his young life better while she could. For a long moment, she contemplated trying to prise the truth from the Slayer, but in the end, decided better of it. She did not have time for unnecessary dalliances.

Even those that might make this easier for them.

When the maid came in with the tea, Buffy was almost asleep again, only half-aware when Rose held the cup up to her lips. As the young woman fell back against the pillow, already lost in the slumber of the magic, a weight lifted from the seer’s shoulders. That was one thing done. Now, she just had the other.

The spell was nearly complete when she finally hesitated. Around her, the Freston household was slipping into what remained of the night, to wake in the morning knowing nothing of a certain Slayer’s arrival. Buffy would hopefully be gone, and life would continue as before for everyone else.

But William…

Anne’s words from earlier came back to haunt Rose.

“Does he have to forget everything?”

Everything was so…definitive. It wasn’t feasible that he be left to remember anything that might affect the future, but…

Not everything had to be remembered to be appreciated.

He had found Buffy in his dreams. Perhaps Rose could let him keep memories of her there. Allow his subconscious a peace even when his waking world may be chaotic. Dreams did not have to be remembered; they were often not. So, really, Rose would be doing no harm by allowing him this one gift.

In the wake of how she was losing Richard, and everything that she held dear, it was the least that she could do.

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

Waking surprised her.

After such a long and tiring battle, Buffy expected to wake up sore and stiff, with muscles dying for a long massage from someone named Sven. Instead, she was stiff, but except for the faint sting of the cut on her arm and some spot on her forehead, she felt remarkably OK, like she was just getting up from a really, really, really long nap.

That didn’t mean she wanted to get up, though, and she kept her eyes closed as she tugged the arm around her midsection closer. “Mmmmm,” she murmured, burrowing deeper against the familiar shape behind her. “Why are you so cold? Pull the blanket up or something.”

She didn’t remember getting back to the Freston house. Well, to be honest, she didn’t really remember very much once the flash thingy went off in the yard with the vampires, but they must’ve done all right because here she was, safe in bed, and William was right there with---.

Maybe it was the scent that pulled her from the remainder of her sleep. The fresh linen scent of William’s bed was gone, replaced with a musty smokiness that smelled too much like the worst of London. Had they spent the night at the house that imprisoned Giles and Anne instead of returning home?

Her eyes blinked open.

A plain, dark wall stared back at her.

Not the Freston house, then.

At least she knew William was all right.

She glanced down at the arm that held her so tightly, in the bend of his body that she fit so well.

And froze when she saw the chipped black nail polish.

 

To be continued in Chapter 40: The Fools of Time