DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss', of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare's "Sonnet CXV."
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: April and Nathan are dead, and Rose has used Giles' and Willow's spell to steal Esme's power from her and place it inside Willow instead; meanwhile, Spike has run off after the battle…
If someone had asked her on her first day in London if she'd miss it when she left, Buffy would have laughed in their face before reminding them that there were parts of the world that actually saw the sun during daylight hours and didn't put butter on all their sandwiches. If she was asked now, though, she knew she would just smile, nod, and mention something about how getting to see the non-touristy parts of the city could really change a girl's opinion of it.
The sky was uncharacteristically clear, the glow from miles of motorway lamps and streetlights softening the ebony into a midnight blue, and a warm breeze from the water whispered across Buffy's skin as she strolled along the bank. She'd walked this path every night since they'd killed April, excusing herself from the flat on the pretense of patrolling, and each journey had been uneventful, returning her to the bosom of her friends with more than a touch of melancholy. She shouldn't even be out now---their flight back to Sunnydale was scheduled very early the next morning, and Giles had been cautionary about staying out too late---but she didn't care. Something inside told her that if she stood any chance in finding Spike, it would be here.
There had been no sign of him since the fight. Eight days of nothing drove Buffy through the spectrum of emotion---anger at his running off, relief that she wouldn't have to face the decision that seeing him would force, even a shred of fear that he'd disappeared for good this time. It was the last that Giles had called her on, mentioning without ever saying William or Spike's name, that the people who truly cared for her would not wish to see her pining so. She'd laughed at that, which had only irritated him, but it was so similar to his words when they'd first left home for England, she couldn't help it. She'd gone on sabbatical to get over Angel's leaving, and was going back hung up on Spike's desertion. How ironic was that.
The one thing that was bolstering her through it was knowing William wouldn't like to see her this way. How many times had she listened to the lectures of how strong she was? That, yes, she was flawed, but that those flaws gave her a fortitude---his word, not hers, she thought it made her sound like the Alamo or something---that allowed her to walk boldly through her days? He was so proud of her independence; she needed to honor that by keeping her chin up.
"You're dropping your shoulder," a voice said behind her. "You could've been dinner ten times over by now if it weren't for me."
She halted in her tracks, taking a deep breath to quell the sudden rise in her heart rate, before slowly pivoting to see him standing there. His tone had been joking, but Spike's face was solemn, capturing the scattered moonlight from the water so that his skin almost glowed. She couldn't see his eyes, though. She wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not.
"I thought you'd cut out of town," she said calmly. Inwardly, Buffy was proud of her composure. Look at me, she wanted to shout at him. See me be the adult one for a change? "You don't have any more obligations holding you here, right?" OK, so maybe that was a little on the petty side.
He answered her accusation anyway. "Tried," Spike said. "Actually stowed away on a boat headed across the Channel that first night. Made it about two miles downriver before I jumped out and swam back to the city."
"You swim? I didn't know that."
The corner of his mouth lifted. "Had to learn in the forties. Courtesy of a certain souled ex of yours who thought his sub wasn't big enough for the both of us."
"Oh." It was another reminder of the time that had elapsed for him, when everything for her was still so fresh, and it drove her to silence as she regarded him. He looked rested, more so than he had the night of the battle, and instead of his black tee, he sported what looked like a dark blue button-down with his regular black jeans. It made him look…softer, even with the coat, and that familiar pang of recognition stabbed Buffy's gut.
"How's Red doin'?" he asked quietly. "Is she really up to flyin' back already?"
"That's what the doctors say. That's what Willow says, for that matter. She's kind of tired of being poked and prodded and treated like a science experiment." She frowned as what he'd asked actually sunk in. "How'd you know about all that?" she said. "You didn't even stick around long enough to see me yell at Rose."
A grimace twisted his features. "Got a hold of that Lydia bird," Spike finally admitted. "She's the one who told me Red was up and out, and that you were hopping the pond for Sunnyhell tomorrow morning."
Lydia. Figured. But…
"I thought you'd left." It was a whisper this time, pain replacing the flare of jealousy she'd felt at his query about Willow. "I turned around, and you were just gone. I thought we were in the middle of something, and you…you didn't even stick around long enough for us to find out if we were or not."
"That's not---." He cut himself off with a growl, long fingers running through his hair and mussing the curls he'd let go soft the past week. "I'm here now, right? Can we…you can't begin to fathom what a wreck my head was, Buffy. I'm s'posed to hate you, remember? All that jazz with Dru, and Angelus, and the whole plan of tryin' to add you to my Slayer belt? Any of that ringing a bell to you?"
"And you think it was a bed of roses for me?" Anger was back. Anger was good. She knew how to deal with anger. "God, Spike, you listened to me talk for how long about what going through Angel and Angelus did to me, and you have the nerve to believe you've got exclusive rights to being confused? How arrogant is that?"
"But you knew. She didn't steal it all away from you." A step closer, Spike jabbed a finger at the air. "And you knew all about who I was goin' to be back in the day. You fucked me knowing---."
Her slap across his cheek was a clarion call through the night, shattering the peace of the water and leaving her eyes glittering. "We did not fuck. Don't you dare call it that, or next time, I don't care what's happened between us, you're going to get staked, do you understand?"
His head stayed bowed to her left, but she didn't know if it was from the power of her blow, or because he couldn't bear to look at her. "What does it matter what we call it?" he asked, his voice low and rough.
"It matters," she simply said.
For a long moment, all she could hear was the broken sound of her breathing. Though she'd spent so many of her nights the previous week searching for Spike, Buffy'd never actually dared to contemplate what would happen if she found him. It had somehow seemed more important just to make sure he was still out there than to act out potential scenarios on what would transpire. And now…now that she'd found him, or rather, now that he'd found her---.
"Were you following me?" she asked.
Spike shook his head, stuffing his hands deep into his pockets. "Lydia said you'd been patrolling. I thought…" His lashes lifted then, dark eyes darting to the distance behind her, and she glanced over her shoulder to see the bench---their bench---only a few yards away. "There a reason you picked this spot?"
"You know the answer to that." She began walking again, heading for the seat as had been her original intent, and heard the soft swish of his coat as he fell into step beside her. "This is way harder than I thought it was going to be."
"Talking. We were so good at it when…"
She heard him sigh. "When I was William, you mean."
"I wasn't going to say that."
"Right. And I'm not dead and good-looking."
"But…am I wrong?" She dared to sneak a peek at him, only to meet the same stealing glance he was shooting her. "Is this only hard for me?"
They stopped at the bench, both of them looking down at it as if they'd sink if they dared to sit on it. "It's not just you, luv," Spike said quietly. "I've been tryin' to do this since you bloody well woke up."
"What's so different now? Why can't you do it?"
His head tilted as he cocked a brow. "You mean, other than the fact that last time we had a deep and meaningful, I was on the breathing half of the team?"
This was getting them nowhere. Maybe they weren't ready yet for the deep, emotion-filled stuff. Maybe they should start with the simple questions first, Buffy thought.
"What was it like for you?" she asked, taking a seat on the edge of the bench. "Could you really not remember, or did it come in bits and pieces as it was happening to me?"
"Didn't Rose tell you?"
"Tell me what?"
Spike sighed, his shoulders slumping as he joined her on the stone. "That night with Giles and…my mum, I got you back to my house to rest up. Next morning, I get up…and it's like none of it ever happened. You were never there, I never met Esme, Cook never knew any recipe for any soddin' magical tea. Even my journal was gone. My life was exactly like it was before we met and I was none the wiser that I'd had those weeks of bli--." He coughed to cover up the word that had almost slipped out, a harsh jangle in his chest. "'Cept for the fact that that git Howard was dead. Could consider that better, at least."
She'd suspected something like this. Rose had hinted as much when she'd spoken to them on the way to the hospital with Willow. But the seer had been gone when Buffy had gone back to the flat the next morning, and hadn't been heard from since. She'd had no way to definitively find out the truth.
"So, the first spell Willow did…?"
"Got rid of the block," Spike confirmed. "The old witch knew, of course. I was up and down claiming my ignorance 'bout whatever it was she was scheming, so she sussed the truth right away. And suckered me into it with talk about my 'true love.' Thought she meant Dru, which was why I went into it like I did."
It was wrong to feel jealous of the crazy vampire, but Buffy did, and she had to knot her hands together in her lap to stop the itchiness that suddenly sprouted in her palms. "Makes sense," she said, staring out at the water. "Since she's the love of your life, and all."
She could feel his eyes boring into her. "That what you think?" he said quietly.
"You were with her for over a hundred years. And I seem to recall someone kidnapping my two best friends and conning my mom out of her best hot chocolate because he was so torn up about his girlfriend leaving him. Sounds pretty love of your life to me."
"That was before I knew about us."
Haltingly, his fingers stretched and slid, inching with a visible solicitude toward her, and then hovered for an infinite second before a single digit traced a feather line along the top of her bare knee. Goosebumps erupted along her skin at the faint touch, and her mouth was suddenly dry, but Buffy did nothing to stop the gentle caress.
"I don't get it," she said.
"Get what?" Because she hadn't rebuffed him in either word or deed, Spike grew bolder, dropping the other fingers that had been curled into his palm to stroke the soft skin of her inner thigh.
"Why you seem so much the same," Buffy replied. "When Angel…after, he was so different, and it got easier for me to separate my feelings from my duty. But you…you don't even have a soul, Spike, and I know I shouldn't be sitting here, talking to you like it's not possible for you to kill me, but…" She faltered when his hand withdrew, finally looking up to see the closed planes of his face.
"I'm not goin' to kill you," he said. "Couldn't. Thought you knew that."
"But you're supposed to. You're supposed to want to."
"I'm s'posed to not feel this way, too, but that doesn't seem to be of any concern to whatever cosmic joker orchestrated this little chain of events, now does it?"
"Is that what everything is to you? Just…some bad joke?"
Buffy couldn't keep the ache out of her voice, and watched Spike drop his head into his hands, pulling at his hair before bolting upward to begin pacing the length of the bench. "Why is it you always manage to pull out the one word from what I say and twist it 'round to make it sound so much worse?" he demanded.
"You're the one who took off for lands unknown," she shot back. "I'm the one who's been sitting on this damn bench every night, wondering if I was going to get to see you again before we went back."
"Only 'cause I thought…I'm not what you really want, Buffy." He stopped in mid-pace, head cocking as he looked at her, and there was no hiding the gleam of hope that reflected in his eyes. "You were here every night?"
"Well…yeah." Squirming under his direct stare, she fell back onto the tried and trusted response when it came to Spike. "Don't get so keyed up about it. I needed to know what kind of threat you were going to be. Willow's not exactly up to snuff. Giles is all kinds of distracted worrying about me and her and keeping Travers' off our backs. And as far as I knew, you were off plotting some new half-baked scheme that makes the villains on Scooby Doo look like geniuses. I was just…taking care of my own."
"Once upon a time, I would've been on that list," Spike said. "Not the one you were needing to protect everyone from."
"Once upon a time, you weren't a vampire."
"Is it really that bad?" Dropping to a crouch before her, he placed his hands on either side of her hips, caging her from running without having to fight through him first. "If I wasn't a vampire, I wouldn't be here right now. And you and me? Wouldn't've had any shot because I'd be rotting away in my grave somewhere."
"What makes you think we have any shot at all?"
"The fact that you're sitting here. The fact that you could've just let it all go and said to hell with ol' Spike and got on your silver bird tomorrow without ever once looking back." When she rolled her eyes and tilted her head back to avoid looking at him, Spike's hand shot out and grabbed her chin, forcing her to return her gaze to his face. "The fact that you love me."
"I love William."
"And he's still here, and he remembers every word you ever said, and every promise he ever made, and every kiss we ever shared. I want that back. Took me all week to get it straight in my head, but that's why I'm here."
"Then you wasted your time, Spike. Because you and me? Can't ever happen."
"Have you forgotten that you're evil? I haven't."
"And it's exactly that kind of statement that proves why we won't work."
With a frustrated snarl, Spike stood and whirled away, marching down to the edge of the water and screaming at the top of his lungs. His spine arched backward as he bayed at the stars, venting in that one cry all his anger and all his pain and all his vexation with the situation, and when it was over, he fell to his knees, staring out over the darkened horizon.
More than anything, Buffy was fighting the instinct to rise and go to him, to soothe the tension away from the brow she knew so well, to feel him relax against her as she held him tight. But she had acquiesced to that instinct that day at the apartment, when she'd approached him in the living room about whether or not he remembered, and he'd refused to accept her consolation with a ferocity that had sparked her to unexpected tears. This wasn't William, she had to remind herself. This wasn't a man who needed her to show him how strong he really was. This was a demon who'd killed thousands of people, including two other Slayers, who was proud to denounce needing anything except the woman he loved.
Does Spike love me?
He hadn't said so, though he'd hinted around the topic in more way than one. But the better question was…
Did it make a difference if he did?
"Doesn't change anything, you know."
Spike hadn't moved, and with his words tossed out onto the water so casually, his voice sounded oddly hollow, like he was talking to her from the bottom of a well. Buffy rose and took a few steps closer to him---not to do anything reassuring, she hastened to say to herself. Just to hear him better.
"What was that?" she asked.
"Not quite as patient as I was back in the day---."
Buffy couldn't help but giggle, earning a sideways scowl when she said, "You were patient?"
"But it still doesn't change anything. Probably find myself on the wrong end of your stake for it, but…"
"What is it you're planning, Spike?" When he didn't answer, Buffy dropped to the grass beside him, grabbing his arm and jerking him back to force him to look at her. "Stop with the cryptic. It doesn't suit you."
When he reached over, she thought he was going to pry her fingers from his arm. Instead, Spike set his hand over hers, stroking the side with his thumb, while he slowly tugged his arm to his chest, his eyes never leaving hers. It forced her to lose her balance, falling against him and across his knees. His other arm curved around her back to hold her steady, and she felt the breath hitch in her throat at the impending, not entirely unwelcome thought that he was going to kiss her.
"All I've done this week is think," Spike said quietly. "Hasn't been my pastime of choice for a bit now, but seems you've got a way of bringing out the poet in me. But…" He glanced down when she set her hand against his chest to stable herself, and through his thick lashes, Buffy saw a willful determination reminiscent of a younger, less jaded man.
"Remembering everything that had happened," he continued, "living it all as fresh as if it was just yesterday…both glorious and a nightmare, all at the same time, you know? Sure, you do," he answered for Buffy before she could say otherwise. "Saw your face when you first woke up. All self-righteous terror that it had really happened, and that you were shackled with your mortal enemy. But then that fades, doesn't it? And you end up kissing when you get caught up in the heat of the fight, and you start to think that maybe that enemy business is a load of rubbish."
"You've tried to kill me, Spike. Just like I've tried to kill you. Being enemies is what we are."
Spike shook his head. "That's Watcher-speak you're spouting, pet. Because this April affair has changed all that. I've already told you I can't kill you. You think you can look me in the eye and tell me something different?"
Even before she met his challenge, Buffy knew the response she was going to give him. She'd known it, deep down, from the second she'd felt his arm holding her so protectively in that demon pub in which she'd woken from her time travels.
"So we agree that we can't kill each other," she said. "That doesn't prove anything. You're still a vampire, and I'm still the Slayer."
"We're also William and Buffy," he replied. "That was something else I spent this week considerin'. Before I got those memories back, I hated the prat I was when I was alive. Hated that I was so weak. So I spent a lot of time tryin' to change that, which is how I got to today."
"But…you said you weren't William. You made that very clear to me."
His hand came up to brush back the hair the slight breeze was tickling across her cheek. "I know. And that's still true, as far as I already said. A lot's happened to me since those days, luv, so, no, I'm not exactly the bloke you met the first time 'round. But what remembering did for me…what you did for me, was show that maybe William the Bloody Awful Poet wasn't such a milksop after all. You showed me how to be strong. I told you that, remember?"
How could she forget? It had been that same night he'd given her the almost proposal she'd almost accepted on the bench they'd just vacated. But she stayed silent, drinking down the solemnity of Spike's countenance as he continued with his explanations. Buffy knew she should probably get up off his lap, to force the distance back between them, but it seemed like too much effort, especially since she was convinced he had no intentions to harm her.
She didn't really want to, either.
"I told you a lot of things," Spike said. "But what sticks, and what kept comin' back to me every time I'd try to ditch this town and everything about it that reminded me of you, was what I promised. So, you can get sore at me as much as you want, and you can be a stubborn bitch about me bein' evil and the like, but it's not goin' to change a thing. I'm not goin' to let it."
Promises. He was speaking of promises made by a heart more innocent, to a girl desperately in need of their anchorage. Vampires didn't honor promises; they held to blood oaths and death threats with more tenacity than any desire to clemency, and yet, here he was, belying her notions about what constituted demon behavior, and speaking of pledges she'd acquitted him from the moment she realized who he was going to be.
"I'm not holding you to anything you said." Carefully, Buffy tried to pull back, but the iron bar of his arm at her waist kept her still. She would have to exert more than damaging physical force to escape the circle of his embrace, and so decided against it, because hurting him now was the last thing she wanted to do. "I know they were extenuating circumstances. I'm OK with that."
"I'm not. Told you once, I think Angel was a bloody fool to just walk out of your life like he did. He never could handle things in the long-term, always making decisions 'bout the right and wrong for everyone else like he was their fuckin' lord and master."
The path he was leading her down made her heart start to hammer in her chest, because the implications were chilling and wondrous and the last thing she'd ever allowed herself to think of. "Don't do this," Buffy whispered. "You don't want to do this."
"But that's the thing of it," Spike replied. He pulled her flat against him, so that the breath from his words was a soft echo as he spoke them out loud. "I do want to. I made a promise that I wouldn't ever leave you, luv, and whether you like it or not, I'm stickin' to it."
His lips swallowed the single word down, taking her mouth in a gentle kiss before sliding up her jaw to her ear. When Buffy heard the whispered confession, like a child's prayer sent out into the darkness, she squeezed her eyes shut against the sudden burning that blinded her. It would forever be William's words that undid her, she realized, shattering all resolve to hold true to what she'd been taught, driving her to chuck away the decisions she hadn't fully committed to when it came to how she would face her future. And maybe, part of it was that she wanted to believe him. Angel had ravaged an innocence Buffy knew she could never retrieve, and then he'd forced the stake even deeper into her heart by walking away as if he'd never cared.
William had helped the healing of that to begin. He'd shown her that she was worthy of love, that she was strong and better than how she'd imagined, and he'd done it with little to no regard as to what she would give him in return. And now here was Spike, who by all rights should've run from her even faster than Angel did because at least Angel had a soul that was supposed to help guide him along a moral path, helping with a battle that wasn't his, proving with his actions if not always his words that he still believed in those adages he'd vowed to her a century before.
Would it be so bad to let him do it?
He was watching her intently, a strong hand cupping her face as she played the arguments over and over inside her head. "Gone awful quiet there, luv," Spike murmured.
"I'm just thinking."
"Oh, I forgot." His lips twisted into a smile that was more teasing than mocking. "Your brain and your mouth can't work together at the same time."
Buffy slapped at his chest. "I'm serious," she complained. "This isn't…making a decision like this doesn't make the problems just go away. I still have a duty, Spike. And as far as everyone else is concerned, you're still William the Bloody, which means big-time bad news as far as the Council cares."
"You don't work for the Council any more."
"And we both know that means diddly when it comes to what they decide to stick their noses into. And…and…" She took a deep breath, though it did little to calm the sickening lurch of her stomach as she thought about it. "I have to do what I have to do, Spike. I may not actively want to kill you, but we both know that if there's an apocalypse in the balance, I may not have a choice."
"And you're willing to take that risk?"
"Already said I would, didn't I? Why do you think it took me a week to come 'round to this? I'm not stupid, and I don't exactly have a deathwish, but in the long run, what's more important is that I'm there for you. In case you haven't noticed, I'm not half-bad in a bit of rough and tumble. If nothin' else, consider me some extra muscle when you need it. But I'm not changing my mind, Buffy. If you're in Sunnydale, I'm in Sunnydale. I promised you that."
"You're more than just muscle."
The hope that blazed in the blue, even in the shadows cast by the moon and water, made his face light up. "That right?" he said slowly. "What exactly am I, then?"
She didn't have an answer for him. But as she leaned in to press her lips to his, Buffy felt one of the knots inside her loosen. It might be a mistake to be putting her trust in Spike so readily, but she wouldn't know if he was genuine if she didn't give him a chance. And she owed that to William, for everything he had given her and for everything he'd done. He deserved the opportunity to be loved, in a manner that befit the man he had been.
Loved, as he still loved her.
Throughout the kiss, and into the long embrace that followed as the pair sat on the bank and watched the moon travel across the sky, Buffy continued to hear the words Spike had whispered in her ear at her query on why he was honoring his promise.
"Because I'm not lost anymore," he'd said. "And my love for you…still legion."
AUTHOR'S NOTE: You have no idea how hard it is for me to write those fatal two words. The end. I started this story just wanting to give William a bit of happiness, albeit brief, and I'm ending it knowing that the tale is far from over for Buffy and Spike. There is a sequel already in the works, and my hope is that it will start getting posted in October. I'm waiting until "Promise of Frost" is complete before tackling it, though I've been doing the plotting and planning for it for quite a few weeks now. This is the first of my stories that I've felt the need to do so before the story was over. From the moment it started, I knew that Buffy wouldn't ultimately end up with William in the past, mainly because I couldn't resolve the non-canonness of it---yeah, yeah, all my stories are considered non-canon because Buffy and Spike end up together and happy in them, but I like to stay within the framework of canon as much as possible. While I could've been satisfied with the ending as it is, knowing Buffy and Spike have reached an understanding and peace about their pasts, I'm much happier going on to deal with the ramifications of everything. And it's not just them. Poor Willow got loaded up with all Esme's magic. What kind of effect is that going to have on her? And then there's the issue of what Esme was after in the first place.
So, yeah, there's going to be a sequel. I hope that makes people as happy as it makes me.
I have so many thank yous to extend. To Tracy and Josephine, for their faithful reviews and constant support starting all the way back at chapter one. I think you guys were as much in love with William as I was. To Elsa Frohman, who wrote the wonderful "A Cricket in California" and had me fall in love with William in the first place. To all the wonderful people at LJ, who were patient with my move that slowed down the story's progress. And to all the wonderful readers who gave this story a shot, even if William wasn't exactly their thing. I'm so grateful that you trusted me enough to try the story.