DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CXXIV.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Rose used the spells to bind April within the crystal and to have everyone forget Buffy was in the past, while Buffy has finally woken up back in her time…

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

Chapter 40: The Fools of Time

He hadn’t expected to fall asleep.

How could he? His brain was a miasma of memories and feelings that should’ve been reserved for Dru, not for the woman he’d tried to destroy for so many years.

But his body knew. His body remembered.

It trusted this place, with her in his arms, even if the bed wasn’t the one they’d shared, and even if the time wasn’t exactly right.

It betrayed him in favor of sleep.

…And dreamt.

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

“May we not spar tonight?” She was watching him, a small inquisitive smile on her lips that erased a portion of the worry from her eyes, prompting William to take her hand and start leading her down the path. “I find myself more in the mood for a…gentler game this evening.”

Her fingers tightened around his. “Parcheesi or checkers?” she teased. “Although, you know, Giles taught me a killer king me move once. You don’t want to mess with my jumping.”

“I believe I’ve been privy to that jumping---.” Laughing, he ducked away from her playful slap to his shoulder, his step quickening to pull her closer to the pond’s shores. “Come. There’s something I wish to show you.”

He didn’t look behind as she followed him along, but even if he had, William knew what he would see. The gentle curve of her leg exposed by her white skirts. The bright sparkle in her eyes as she took in anything and everything with that capacious gaze. The smattering of freckles across her nose that made him want to kiss each and every single one. Buffy often complained---good-naturedly, of course---that she wasn’t going to have any skin left if he kept kissing and licking her the way he frequently did, but he didn’t care. There would never be a dream when he didn’t delight in her taste, of her mouth, of her fingertips, of that delicious hollow at the base of her neck. Odd, really, how he’d never considered himself so orally fixated before meeting Buffy. She seemed to bring out the animal in him.

Releasing his hold on her when they reached the edge of the water, William kicked off his shoes, tugged impatiently at his socks, and then pulled her down to sit at his side. Without saying a word, he took her small foot in hand, slipping off first one sandal and tossing it to the grass behind them before doing the same with the other, all the while ignoring Buffy’s curious gaze.

“What’s this all about?” she finally asked.

“It’s about getting your feet wet,” he replied with a half-smile. “Come here.” Spreading his legs, he helped her settle between them, and then nudged hers down into the water so that both sets of feet trailed beneath its crystalline surface.

“I thought you said you had something to show me.”

“I do.” He pointed across the pond, at the low-hanging sun leaving glistening kaleidoscopes in the gentle ripples. “Look.”

After several seconds of silence, where the only thing that breathed or moved in the park’s harborage was the pair of solitary lovers, Buffy said, “OK, I must be really blind tonight or something because I’ve got nothing here. What exactly am I supposed to be seeing?”

“The sun. Have you not seen how closely it clings to the horizon? I think it’s going to set.”

“And?”

His arm curled around her waist to hold her closer. It pronounced the scent of her hair even more firmly, and William inhaled its aroma before continuing with his explanation. “The sun never sets here, Buffy,” he said gently. “How long have we been meeting like this? Granted, these are only dreams, and you’re only a figment---.”

“I’ve told you to stop saying things like that. Real, remember? As real as we can get.”

“Real, yes.” Though he knew it wasn’t. Within the framework of his nocturnal encounters with her, William was more than aware that this wasn’t the same as their first meetings. In the beginning, it had seemed so, their sporadic rendezvous infrequent enough for him not to notice the similarities. But when one encounter was repeated, almost verbatim, he’d realized it was just a construct of his imagination. A glorious and wonderful construct, but a construct nonetheless.

But tonight had been different from the start. He’d arrived at an empty park, where for every previous time, Buffy had been waiting for him. Not always in the same place, but invariably, always there.

Tonight, he’d had to wait for her, and while he waited, he tooled with the inks that he’d found near their bench, dashing off a quick verse in hopes of sharing it with her when she arrived. He’d been trying to come up with a word that rhymed with Elysium when he’d glanced up and noticed the sun, glowing with a soft twilight gleam rather than its usual noonday brilliance. What it meant, he had no idea, but the change had overwhelmed him into quiescence until Buffy had arrived, and now, he was hoping that perhaps she might have some insight as to its propitiousness.

“Maybe it has something to do with what’s going on when we’re awake,” she mused. Her weight against his chest was like the warmest of blankets, and he sighed in satisfaction when she let one of her hands drop to his thigh. “Maybe we’re sleeping during the day so it’s nighttime here.”

“Maybe,” William said. The explanation was too simple to assuage his slight debate, but he was failing to come up with his own answers and was willing to settle for hers.

“Everything’s OK, right? Things aren’t too stressy for you?”

She asked this quite a bit when they met, and always, William gave her the same positive response. Tonight, though, it felt somehow…wrong to fob off his usual assurances, and instead, he hugged her just a bit tighter to his body.

“Things are…changing,” he said softly. “I am…not sure how they are going to affect me.”

Buffy twisted in his embrace to look at him. “Changing good, or changing bad? Because you know, if it’s changing bad in a physical way, I can always come around and beat it up until it’s good again.”

He smiled at her small joke, and bent to brush a kiss over her lips. “Changing different,” he said. “Whether it’s good or bad remains to be seen.”

Her steady gaze drank him in, sucking him down with an effortlessness that still managed to astonish William. “You’ll be fine,” she finally said. “I’m sticking with the good will always triumph over evil motif on this one. You’ll come through this with flying colors.”

And if I’m the one who’s evil this time?”

Buffy shook her head. “Not possible.”

“Ah, but anything is possible, my love.” His hand cradled her cheek. “Aren’t we proof enough of that?”

She said nothing, but instead kissed him again, a ticklish delight that only spurred him to want more, before settling back again in his arms. As the silence returned to join them in their contemplations of the horizon, William decided that she was right this time in choosing not to continue the conversation. There would be time enough for debate in future encounters.

For now…he merely wished to enjoy the view.

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

Spike wasn’t sure what woke him up, but the sense of pervasive peace that had suffused his limbs during his rest evaporated the moment he felt the tension in Buffy’s body.

She hadn’t moved from the position they’d obviously slept in for the course of the night, but she was completely rigid against him, her every muscle screaming with raucous conflict. It almost sounded as if she was even holding her breath, and Spike slowly eased his grip on her abdomen as if that might somehow let the air back into her lungs.

“Spike?” he heard her whisper. The single word was almost drowned out by the drumming of her heartbeat in his ears. It wasn’t excitement that tinged his name with red when she uttered it; there were no other signs in her body that she was aroused in any way.

No, he was entirely too familiar with the emotion now wracking her into unexpected submission, though it was one he had never before associated with Buffy, and, oddly enough, not one that gave him any pleasure now.

It was fear.

“Home sweet home,” he said quietly.

The words had the opposite effect than he’d wanted. With Slayer speed, Buffy bolted from the bed, stumbling just a mite as her legs grew accustomed to usage again, and whirled to see him lying on the bed, her eyes flickering from the indentations her body had left in the pillow and mattress before jumping back up to his face.

Neither said a word.

What did she see? he wondered. Did she see the fanciful William from when they’d first met? Or did she see the predator who’d stalked her around the dance floor that first night at the Bronze?

He knew what he saw. And though a part of him hated the weakness, and the sense of betrayal about Drusilla, Spike couldn’t help but revel in the satisfaction in seeing Buffy so strong. Alive.

Here.

His mouth opened to speak, but he was pre-empted by a rustle from behind him, and he shifted to see Willow sitting up in the chair she’d been sleeping in. The look of delight on her face clamped his lips shut, and he retreated to a comfortable distance when the redhead jumped and ran around the edge of the bed to snatch her best friend up in a hug.

“You’re back, you’re back,” she was babbling. “You have no idea how good it is to see you not sleeping.” Willow held the Slayer at arms’ length and waggled a disapproving finger in her face. “No more tea for you, young lady.”

Spike caught the glance Buffy shot him before putting on a bright smile for her friend. “No more tea,” she agreed. She looked around, noticing the room’s contents for the first time, and the smile was immediately replaced by a frown. “Where are we?”

“Such a long story---.”

“And my cue to bugger off,” Spike cut in.

Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, he was halfway up when she spoke.

“What? You’re just…leaving?”

Hope lanced through him as he turned to see Buffy waiting for his answer. “Done my job, haven’t I?” he said carefully. “Brought you back all safe and sound to the bosom of your loved ones.”

He had no idea how she was going to respond. All he knew was that Red’s show and tell had sounded like too much for him, driving him to try and escape. He didn’t want her party to what he and Buffy needed to discuss. It was going to be hard enough trying to sort it out with just the two of them, let alone tossing in a meddlesome best friend he’d spent the better part of his acquaintance terrorizing. He couldn’t afford to have that boat rocked any more than it already would be.

When Willow leaned in to whisper in Buffy’s ear, though, Spike couldn’t stop from rolling his eyes. Still a vampire here, he wanted to scold her. Still can hear every word you’re bloody saying.

But as he stood there waiting, he saw the change come over the Slayer’s face as Willow’s he doesn’t remember anything sank in. There was no denying the disappointment that flickered in those green depths, but at the same time, her relief could’ve been a two-by-four upside his head with as obvious as it was.

And it hurt a helluva lot more than if it had gone straight through his heart.

“I thought you might be interested in a deal,” Buffy finally said to Spike, chin lifted high.

Willow’s wrinkled brow confusion was nothing compared to his own, but he’d had a century of practicing disinterest to cover himself up better. “Already had my deal,” Spike said leisurely. “I’m sure Red’ll will fill you in once you’ve seen the back of me.” He reached for his coat, and sure enough, Buffy’s voice was a better tether than any thrall Drusilla could’ve done on a best day.

“Guess you’re finally strong enough to just walk away whenever it makes you happy,” she said. “And here I thought being afraid didn’t hold you back.”

The room felt like it was spinning around him as he slowly turned his head to stare at her, and when he met her gaze, Spike realized he’d just failed her little test of him.

“Because I’m not lost anymore,” he’d said. “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.”

She’d wanted to find out for herself if he didn’t remember, or maybe, just how much he did. And in a clumsy drop of his cards, Spike had given her at least a peek at his hand.

Willow had grabbed onto Buffy’s arm, pulling her away from the bed. “What’re you doing?” she whispered into the Slayer’s ear. “Let him go. We don’t need him anymore.”

But Buffy wasn’t paying Willow any heed, her eyes still level with Spike’s, daring him with that golden petulance that just last year had driven him to distraction. Now, it had an entirely different effect, and his mouth set in a grim line as he squared his shoulders.

That’s the game she wants to play, so be it.

“You think you’ve got an offer I might be interested in, Slayer?” he drawled, hooking his thumb through his belt loop so that his fingers splayed across his crotch. He secretly pleasured in the flush that rose to her cheeks, and watched her retreat behind an icy exterior he was all too-familiar with.

“Never mind,” she snapped. “Just go. Willow and I can take care of Esme on our own.”

He waited until she’d turned to her friend before speaking again. “You think you can handle April all on your lonesome, too?” he asked.

It was Buffy’s turn to look like a deer in headlights, and the way her head swiveled back and forth between Spike and Willow almost made the vampire laugh out loud.

“That’s part of the long story,” Willow confirmed. “She’s out there, somewhere, and dangerous. You should’ve seen what she did to Spike.”

He squirmed under Buffy’s scrutiny. “Wouldn’t’ve happened if it wasn’t for that fuckin’ boytoy of hers---.”

“Nathan? Nathan’s here, too?”

Even as she said it, Spike realized that he’d known the name, too, a flimsy mote that had been buried in the avalanche of the other memories. “Yeah,” he confirmed. “The pair of ‘em have decided to finish off Esme, for some reason. Guess they didn’t like the terms of the deal she made to break the bitch out of her crystal palace.”

“Same fight, different day,” Buffy muttered. With one last look at the vampire, she turned away, scanning the room. “Where are my clothes? We need to go find Giles. We’re going to need all the help we can get with this one.”

“Ummm…OK.” Willow rushed through a hurried explanation about the set-up, how they’d fled from Esme and left most everything behind, all the while avoiding looking at a pacing Spike near the door. “And as for Giles, well, I’ve been so focused on getting you back that, well---.”

“Giles is here,” Buffy interrupted. She went to the wardrobe and began rifling through its contents, pulling out a pair of Willow’s pants as she spoke. “I found him when I was…when I was sleeping. There was this powerful spell holding him in some kind of time prison, but Rose broke that. He should be back here by now.”

“Powerful, huh? Do you think it was one of Esme’s?”

Buffy shrugged. “Don’t know anybody else with that kind of power just lying around, do you? It doesn’t matter anyway. Rose said all he had to do was leave the house to get back to his own time. I didn’t see it, but---.”

“He’s here.” The surprise in Willow’s quick glance was but a pinprick compared to the angry resentment in Buffy’s, and Spike shrugged as he tried to backtrack. “Watcher’s not completely daft. If all he had to do to get outta the place was go outside, something tells me he’s egghead enough to put one foot in front of the other. Not even Rupert is that pathetic not to suss that.”

Willow seemed to accept his rationalization, but the Slayer wasn’t nearly as forgiving, yanking the borrowed pants up before slipping on a pair of extra shoes. “He probably went back to the apartment to look for us,” Buffy said as she strode determinedly for the door. “I say we start our search for him there.”

Spike hung back, even after Willow had grabbed her backpack and stepped into the hall. Blue eyes never left the small blonde in the doorway, staying firm when she hesitated and looked back at him.

“Are you coming?” Buffy asked quietly. “I know it’s not your fight, and I don’t really have anything to give you this---.”

“I’m in.” He glanced out the window before sauntering forward. “Still some time before the sun comes up, and I got a score to settle with that April bitch.” Every step into the hallway was buoyed by her unfaltering gaze, but he couldn’t fight the urge to stop in front of Buffy and lean to whisper directly into her ear.

“Can’t rightly stay inside, anyway. Do that, and I’m just a prisoner of my own fear. Not really the way we work, now is it?”

Her sudden gasp was the best reward he could’ve asked for as he pulled back and continued down the hall.

Well…

…Second best.

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

The sound of a key slipping into the lock was enough to draw Giles from his slumber, and he shot up from where he’d crashed on the couch to see the knob on the front door already turning. He hadn’t meant to fall asleep, but the fruitless trek to Quentin’s house combined with the events of the past several days had been enough to make him collapse when he’d returned to the flat, and even now, the desire to just shoot whoever it was coming in so that he could get a few more hours of rest was overwhelming.

Her slim hand on the jamb was all he needed to shed the last vestiges of his disorientation, and Giles was at the door, pulling it away from Buffy’s grip, before she could say a word. Silently, he gathered her into his arms, grunting slightly when her squeeze began to border on the uncomfortable, and then reached out to include the waiting Willow in the hug.

It was only when he saw Spike lounging against the wall in the hall that he stiffened.

The vampire looked very much like he had the last time Giles had seen him over a year previously---though the coat certainly appeared a bit worse for wear---but when the two men met gazes, the Watcher’s stomach plummeted.

Haunted was the best word he could use to describe Spike.

Did she actually do it? Does he remember what happened?

But he mustn’t, Giles argued silently. He would never have attempted to kill Buffy last year if he still retained any feelings for her.

But then…why is he here?

“I think this is my new favorite day of the year,” Willow was babbling. “Buffy’s back, Giles is back, I’m no longer the only one trying to fix everything…”

“I take it, Rose was right?” Buffy asked, pulling away from the hug.

Giles nodded. “And a bit overzealous in getting me out of her way, it would seem. She literally shoved me out the door when she saw that man being attacked.”

“That was Richard,” the Slayer explained. “Her husband.”

“Does that mean---?”

“That the bitefest was courtesy of April? Yeah, that’s what it means.” She started to follow Willow into the flat, and then hesitated when she remembered the vampire still in the hallway.

“Would it be remiss to inquire why exactly Spike is here?” Giles asked before she could say anything.

Buffy sighed. “There are so many different answers to that question, I don’t even know where to start. But for now…I---we need him. You have no idea how much has happened here since we’ve been gone.”

“So…he’s here at your request?”

“Yes. Is there a problem with that?”

He ignored the sharpness of her tone, concentrating instead on Spike. There were no overt reactions to Buffy’s choice of words, his body still a casual study of indolence, but it was the precise measuredness of his pose, combined with the lack of his usual caustic retorts, that set the Watcher’s mind awhirl.

“Come in, Spike,” he finally said, stepping aside to allow him entrance.

No reaction.

Then, a single nod before shuffling past Giles. He stopped at the opening to the living room, surveying the ransacked interior, before choosing the farthest chair from the center of the room as his seat. After tossing a leg over the arm, he merely waited for Buffy to enter the room, and then watched her every move as she settled on the couch with Willow.

Something was going on between the pair, but what it could be, Giles was unsure. For now, he would bide his time and watch, hopeful that answers would be forthcoming. What they might be, whether Spike was now a threat along the same lines as Angelus---and oh, dear lord, did he hope that they didn’t have to worry about killing another vampire obsessed with Buffy---or whether there were other circumstances dictating Spike’s odd presence, he would have to wait and see.

For now, there were more pressing issues at hand.

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

Explanations made the world go ‘round.

They didn’t do a thing for Buffy’s head, though.

Well, it wasn’t the explanations as much, because those were relatively effortless. If she took into consideration that she and Giles were sketchy on the time-past details in light of Spike’s professed ignorance of what had happened. And hearing just how Willow had teamed up with Esme hadn’t exactly been cheerworthy, either, but what was done, was done. They just had to move onward from there.

No, the head-spinning was courtesy of Spike. As usual.

When Angel had lost his soul, he’d looked mostly the same to her. So, Buffy’d figured that seeing the physical differences between Spike and William would make the separation of the two easier to manage. After all, there was so much changed---the bleached hair, the higher definition to his muscles, the added scars.

But when he’d spoken, and she’d leapt from the bed to meet his gaze, something inside her had come undone.

Because…he had William’s eyes.

The eyes were exactly the same.

It hadn’t been that way with Angelus. After the initial shock of learning he’d lost his soul, Buffy had picked up on the coldness and maniacal glee in his aspect every time she saw him, making it easier and easier for her to separate the man from the demon so that by the time it came to killing him for Acathla, she was ready. Of course, the getting his soul back at the last minute hadn’t been uber-fun, but by that point, it was too late. She knew what she had to do.

So she’d been preparing herself for the same thing with Spike. She could separate the two, no matter what the physical differences.

Except…

…He had William’s eyes.

And every time he looked at her---which was all the time, damn it, and just who in hell did he think he was fooling by saying he didn’t remember anything?---she had to fight the urge to go and curl into his lap, touch his face and tell him everything was going to be all right.

She didn’t know what all right was anymore.

“Buffy.”

Giles’ voice was gentle, nudging her from her reverie and snapping her head away from where she’d zoned into staring at Spike again. “What?” she asked, too chirpy, and then flushed at the kind reproof in his gaze. “Sorry. Just…I’ve spent too much time thinking lately. Not enough time killing things. My brain is going mushy.”

“I was just saying that I believe our best course of action at this point would be to contact the Council. With the information we can provide them now, it should be much easier for them to track April.”

“The Council? Giles, are you forgetting that they’re half to blame for this entire mess? And you said yourself that Mr. Travers wouldn’t even answer the door when you went to his house. That doesn’t scream ‘we want to help you’ to me.”

“That was before. Now, we have what they treasure most. Information. And as for Quentin, well, it is the middle of the night, Buffy. He was well within his rights to be in bed instead of waiting for my potential arrival.”

Her lips tightened. “All right, say we do spill to them about April. That doesn’t solve the Esme problem. I know Willow said she doesn’t have her magic right now, but how do we know that’s a permanent thing? She could get it back and then we wouldn’t be able touch her again, and neither could the Council. And we can’t just not deal with her. She’s got a big ol’ jones for Slayers, and hey, leader of the pack here.”

“I agree with Buffy,” Willow chimed in. “Especially since Spike and I, you know, kinda double-crossed her with sneaking out and everything.”

“And how do you propose we do that?” Giles asked. “She’s still human. You can’t kill her---.”

I can,” Spike offered. “Be my pleasure.”

The Watcher shot him a withering glance. “Like I said,” he continued, as if the vampire had never spoken up, “you can’t kill her. As far as we know, nothing we’ve ever done has harmed Esme. If she gets her powers back, we have no idea how to even approach disarming her again. We need allies, Buffy. We can’t do this alone.”

The voice from the front hall took them all by surprise, and every head turned to see Rose hovering in the living room’s entrance.

“I suppose this is the perfect opening for me to finally stop eavesdropping and start contributing, isn’t it?” she said.

 

To be continued in Chapter 41: The Wreckful Siege of Battering Days