The absence of his father seemed to lessen the load upon young William’s shoulders and he moved from the chair by the window to the couch opposite Giles. “You’re a teacher?” he asked, perching himself on the edge. It was more than apparent that his interest was piqued. “What do you teach?”
Giles sat back down, relaxing into the stiff cushions. This would likely be the oddest conversation he might ever have, especially since he would have to color his answers in variations of the truth. But he couldn’t bring himself to lie to the open-faced countenance of the young man facing him. It just seemed…wrong.
“History, primarily,” he finally answered. “Some…sciences.”
“Oh.” He seemed slightly disappointed by the answer. “I thought…” And his voice trailed off, an auditory shrug contained within his tone. “It’s just you knew about Bacon. I assumed you might be a literature scholar.”
“I know my fair share. I read a lot in my profession.” His own curiosity was growing. How had Spike come from this? He understood that the demon took over, that the human was merely a blueprint upon which the vampire maintained some semblance of a personality, but this seemed so far removed from the creature that had first terrorized Sunnydale, and then insinuated its existence into the lives of Buffy and the rest, that Giles was left wondering what could possibly have occurred that would shift the demeanor of eager, intelligent young William into the caustic, thrill-hungry Spike.
“You mentioned poetry,” he commented, eyes cautiously appraising the young man. “Is that your preference? Or do you just like to read?”
“Both,” William replied. “I think words can be beautiful when put together properly. And writing them…” His cheeks pinked. “I’m not…very good at…expressing myself. When I talk, I mean. I know what I want to say, but it doesn’t always come out the way I intend. Writers don’t have to worry about that.”
“You seem perfectly capable of expressing yourself to me.”
But he just shook his head. “You’re not everyone else,” he argued. “Most of the time…what I want to say comes out wrong, and I end up being taunted for it. I just want people to understand me. Writing it down makes that more likely to happen.”
“The pen is mightier than the sword,” Giles murmured, thoughtfully.
William immediately brightened. “I know that one!” he exclaimed. “That was…” His face screwed up into deep concentration, the lines suddenly deep between his brows. “I know this,” he muttered. “It was…about the French cardinal, I think.”
The silence returned while the boy strained to remember. Giles’ fascination swelled as he watched, torn between giving William the answer and wanting to know if he’d fathom it for himself. Perhaps he’d misgauged his age; surely such sophisticated reading was beyond the capabilities of a nine-year-old. And yet, how could it be possible for Spike to have been versed in such intellectual property in the first place? He was one of the most visceral beings Giles had ever met, and while he certainly wasn’t stupid, neither was he the sort to be comfortable spouting the rhetoric of long-dead statesmen.
Finally, the urge to help became too strong. “Richelieu,” he prompted carefully.
The nudge was as effective as a shove. “Lytton!” William said. The recognition made him glow with satisfaction, like a dog that had just performed a trick for its master and was waiting for its reward.
Perhaps it was the disbelief in Giles’ tone that made William visibly shrink. “I…I…it’s not…” he stammered. All joy was gone, replaced by the fearful child who cowered before the disapproving father. “It’s just a book,” he eventually managed.
“How old are you, William?”
So he had been wrong about the age. Still…“You don’t actually understand Lytton, do you?” Giles asked.
Apparently, it was one thing to be suspected of reading contentious material, and something else entirely to be thought too stupid to comprehend it.
“I read it when I was nine and a half,” William announced. His chin jutted out in defiance, and the all-too familiar flash in those blue depths made Giles’ blood chill. “I’ve read Thackeray, and Blake, and Coleridge. I’ve even read Thomas Carlyle.”
“And why would a boy your age be reading such mature material? You’re young. You have plenty of time in your life to get bogged down in such boring discourses.”
“Because they’re all I have.”
Though it was the emotion of the moment that had compelled him to answer so honestly, William blanched as soon as the words escaped his mouth. He would’ve bolted from the room if his father’s orders hadn’t specifically mandated he stay and entertain Giles. It didn’t matter, though. He’d said enough for Giles to answer the remainder of his questions.
“Books are safe, aren’t they?” Gone was the mild accusation in his voice. Even if he knew the truth about what the child would become, Giles just couldn’t treat him in the same punitive manner that he obviously received from more than just his father. More importantly, he understood the boy. He’d been the boy, at one point. Of course, then he’d met Ethan Rayne and his world had been turned upside-down, but at one point in future history, Rupert Giles would be in the exact same position as young William Huxley was now. Or then. The logistics about what exactly he was experiencing were lost to the Watcher.
William didn’t respond. He just watched him, his face pinched, eyes too large for the shape angles of his face, waiting for the other shoe to proverbially drop.
“What about Dickens?” A shift in subject was necessary; this would likely be safer. “Have you read him?”
He nodded. “I like Oliver Twist.”
Hardly a surprise, Giles thought in amusement. “Anybody else?”
“Scott. Ivanhoe’s one of my favorites.”
“You like adventures?”
“I like feeling like I’m part of the story. Scott’s very passionate, isn’t he?”
“Quite. What about poetry? Who’s your favorite poet?”
For some reason, the question made him blush, and William’s eyes darted to the closed door.
Giles watched the furtive glance and said, “You can tell me. I’ve already given you my word not to divulge anything to your father.”
“It’s not…” William’s blush deepened, and he leaned forward to whisper. “Mother wouldn’t approve, I don’t think. She doesn’t know I read him.”
Matching the tilt of the young man’s body, Giles couldn’t help but smile as he asked, “And who would that be?”
Another glance. A small bite of a lower lip. And then… “Lord Byron.”
The answer surprised him, and the statement was out of his mouth before he could remember the time period he was currently in. “But Byron is considered a classic.”
William’s eyes gleamed, in spite of the hush of his voice. “Mother says he’s scandalous. One day, Mrs. Beechwood found a copy of Don Juan in her son’s books and Mother said that she would’ve burned it if it had been her. If she knew I read him…but you won’t tell, will you?”
“Your secret is safe with me.” He paused, a questioning niggle at the back of his brain. “I’m curious, though. If your mother disapproves of Byron, how did you ever manage to obtain a copy?”
William sat back into his seat, and when his aspect gained a sly mask, Giles was struck yet again at how much older it made him seem. “There’s a shop on Charing Cross. Mother lets me spend time there when she needs to run errands. Mr. Martin lets me read whatever I like. If Mother doesn’t know, it can’t upset her, but really, I think if she were to actually read any of Byron’s work, she wouldn’t be nearly as fussed. His verse is very evocative.”
“Is that who you aspire to? Do you wish to be a writer someday?”
Some of his good mood faded. “What I wish and what I actually will do are two entirely separate things, Mr. Giles. Father’s made it very clear that I won’t be allowed to pursue my writing as a career.”
He only nodded. There was little he could say that would contraindicate the tenets to which the Huxley family adhered. It was just a shame that someone with so much obvious passion for an avocation would be thwarted by something as simple as an assumed position in life. Perhaps he would find some way to overcome that.
Of course, the irony that Buffy had undergone the same struggle wasn’t lost on Giles. She’d been told she was the Slayer, and fought to try and maintain some semblance of her own individuality while still fulfilling her slaying duties. Even to this final battle at the Hellmouth, she did what she thought best, and incorporated the rest as well as she could manage.
So lost in thought, Giles almost missed William’s next comment.
“It’s a shame you live in Bath,” he said, his blue eyes shy. “Does your daughter like to read, too?”
The sudden image of Buffy with her nose buried in a musty book made Giles chuckle. “Not particularly,” he said. “She prefers more active pastimes.”
“Oh. I’m certain she’s still lovely, though. Is she my age?”
“Older.” For now.
William’s mouth opened to voice another question when the doorknob turned, and Mrs. Huxley entered. He automatically stood, and then cast a frown at the Watcher when he remained seated, holding the other man’s gaze until Giles stood as well.
“The constable has arrived,” Mrs. Huxley said. “He’s asked to speak to you outside.”
Giles’ stomach lurched. He hadn’t expected to play this charade out quite as far as it was going. What could he possibly tell the constable that would make any sense? He wouldn’t be able to give any personal information that could be substantiated, and short of bringing in the Watchers Council---because that was the only institution of this time he knew he could rightfully recognize---he was at a loss as to what he was going to offer as a story.
He felt the warmth of the slight body at his side before William spoke.
“May I go, too?” he asked. “I can help tell what happened.”
Giles glanced down. The boy’s eyes were upon his mother, addressing her instead of the Watcher.
“Of course,” she replied. “But you mustn’t interfere if they ask you not to, do you understand?”
William nodded, and shot Giles a shy smile before following his mother out of the drawing room. Perhaps this might not be so bad after all, Giles mused as he exited, stepping through the foyer and seeing the boy go through the open front door. William might be able to add enough details to make his own story more realistic.
He was still pondering how exactly he was going to broach the topic of an attack that had never happened when the front door swished shut behind him, and Giles found himself on a nearly empty front step. Frowning, he edged forward, glancing from side to side as he searched for William, but the child was nowhere to be seen, the garden and street completely devoid of any life.
A rustle from the bush behind him startled Giles into whirling, his eyes widening when he saw the last person he expected to find in Victorian England. “Willow?” he quizzed slowly.
To be concluded in Chapter 5: I Shall Not Fail That Rendezvous…