DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course,
and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet LVI.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: With the aid of magic, William and Buffy have met in their dreams, although each believes the other is merely a figment of their imaginations…
It only lasted three days.
By sunset on the third day after dreaming of William, Buffy’s listlessness had returned, her thoughts distracted from her surroundings and back on Angel and what was wrong with her. It didn’t stop her from going out on patrol, though. The hours she spent roaming the streets of London helped alleviate some of the tension mired around her muscles, and she was grateful to Giles for agreeing on its usefulness.
Her days were spent exploring. With Willow at her side, she’d found a park with a river bisecting it and the stone benches that lined its banks had reminded her of the time she’d spent talking to William---just a dream, Buffy, get a grip. Though she didn’t say a word of it to her friend, on the second day, the Slayer returned to the park alone, the aged journal in hand, and spent most of the afternoon reading and people-watching.
It seemed like something he would do.
“You’re going out again?”
William stiffened at the sound of his mother’s voice, and forced the smile to his lips before he turned to look at her standing in the doorway to her salon. “It’s such a lovely morning, it seemed a shame to waste it,” he said. “Perhaps you would care to join me? A stroll along the banks seems a pleasant distraction from your dinner planning.”
Though it was the last thing he currently wanted, the invitation was verbalized before he could consider not. His daily excursions had kept him away from the house for the better part of the last two days, and now, the third after his dream of the enigmatic Buffy, he had finally been caught out. Not that he was doing anything wrong. With his inks and journal in hand, William was merely wending his way to his favorite bench on the bank, attempting to write but more often than not, watching the park’s visitors. He would not consciously admit it, but every time he witnessed a flash of ebony dress or a glint of blonde hair, he stiffened, straining to see if it was either of the mysterious women who’d recently disordered his life. Of course, it never was, but it didn’t stay the impulse to look.
“That’s a lovely thought,” his mother said, “but I have far too much to do if I wish the party to be a success.” Her eyes softened, curiosity gleaming in the depths. “If I might be so bold to ask, what attraction do your walks hold for you, William? Are you…meeting someone?”
He knew what she wanted to hear. Anne Freston made no bones about her wish to see her son settled. But if he lied, he would be found out, and dealing with the consequences of that would be far worse than feeling momentarily foolish.
“Only my muse,” he teased gently, and pulled his journal from his pocket to show her. “I find I’ve been rather inspired by a dream I had the other night. The park is quite conducive to finding the proper words.” The latter was a lie, at least partially. William was having no better luck writing than he had prior to dreaming of Buffy, but sitting on the bench made the details he remembered of her all that more vivid. He wasn’t ready to give up on them…not just yet.
“Oh.” Her disappointment was visible, but she quickly hid it with a smile. “I trust you’re sleeping better then,” she went on. “From what I’ve seen, you seem more…lively the past few days.”
“Yes, I have been, thank you.” Another lie. After that glorious night, he’d returned to his tossing but there was no need for her know that. Pocketing the book again, he stepped forward to brush a kiss across his mother’s cheek. “I shall see you for tea,” William said. “And if you need me, I’m merely at the banks. Just send one of the staff to come and fetch me.”
He was gone before she could voice any disapproval, and William rushed along the path, his hands stuffed into his pockets as images of Buffy danced before his mind’s eye.
“Wow, I think this one might end up glowing in the dark.”
Buffy winced as Willow finished wrapping the cut on her arm, the bruise to which she was referring angry and sore and in the most annoying place ever to remind her of its presence. Gingerly, she bent her arm, watching the discoloration disappear in the crook of her elbow, and then straightened it again to relieve the pressure. “Stupid demon,” she grumbled. “There should be a size limit on how big they can get. It’s totally unfair its fingers were as big as my arm.”
“Didn’t stop you from killing it,” Willow said, too bright and too peppy for Buffy’s current mood. “That’s a good, right?”
“Right.” Slaying was about the only thing that was right, she thought. Slaying, and William’s journal, for some inexplicable reason.
“Is it weird I expect demons over here to have an English accent?” Willow was babbling. “I mean, that thing that jumped us sounded like he was from Texas, and that’s just not right.”
“My luck, I get the globetrotting demons to slay.”
“That’s because all the other ones are too busy kissing and killing their cousins in Hicksville.” Sitting back on her heels, she gave the wrapped wound a gentle pat. “There. All done. Think I’ve earned my Slayer first aid badge yet?”
“I think you’ve earned the whole darn hospital.” It was hard to meet the expectant gaze of her friend and know that the redhead thought she was actually helping. But how could she know? She had a boyfriend waiting for her back in Sunnydale, one who’d been willing to work through their issues because he cared enough about her to try and fight them. She didn’t know what it was like to be someone people needed to leave. But…Buffy had to try. Willow deserved that, at the very least.
“I should probably let you sleep,” Willow said, though it didn’t look like she was ready to go. “You know, to help you heal up. Plus, if we want to see Giles before he leaves for Cambridge in the morning, we’re going to have to get up pretty early.”
“Yeah.” Buffy bit her lip. Time to ask for what she’d been thinking about since sunset and the prospect of another restless night loomed in her not-so-distant future. “Hey, you know that tea you made for me the other day?” She waited until she got a hesitant nod. “I don’t suppose you’d…make me some more? It’s just, I slept so well that night, and wow, did I feel better in the morning, and---.”
“It’s OK, you don’t have to justify it.” Willow smiled, and Buffy could see the relief flooding her face. “I’d be more than happy to make you some. If it works, it works, right? And sleep is always good after a good night’s slay.”
“A motto I’ve always tried to live by,” she quipped. As she watched the redhead slip from the room, she was surprised by the easing of her muscles as she laid back onto the bed. It hadn’t occurred to her that she was really that nervous about asking for the tea; after all, it was only a drink, no big deal. It was just…admitting it helped her sleep meant admitting weakness, and that was one area Buffy pretty much sucked at. Especially in light of how much both Willow and Giles thought they were doing to make things better for her.
Without thinking, Buffy’s hand slid under her pillow where she’d stashed William’s journal. Somehow, she had a feeling the dead Victorian would get it. From what she’d read about him so far, he had his own front to put on all the time, too. Too busy doing for others, and not selfish enough to stand up and demand what he really wanted. Not that she usually had a problem about standing up for herself, but sometimes, it would be nice to be a little more selfish about it.
He cleared his throat when he entered the kitchen, unwilling to surprise Cook with his sudden appearance. That had been a lesson learned long ago, resulting in some rather nasty burns, and not one he wished to repeat.
“Do you be wanting something, Master William?” Cook asked, the familiar lilt in her voice stronger than usual, marking her annoyance at having her space invaded.
“Um…yes, actually.” Pushing his glasses up his nose, he flushed with embarrassment as he took a step closer. “The other night, Mother’s new maid brought me some tea. I was rather hoping I might be able to…get some more.”
Cook immediately turned away, returning to the pot that was bubbling before her. “I’ve just sent a fresh pot in to your mother,” she said. “Unless you’d be wanting some for your room?”
His fear that he would have to elaborate blossomed, and his gaze ducked, even though she wasn’t regarding him any longer. “It wasn’t…” William started, only to stutter to a stop when she swiveled her head back. “I mean,” he tried again, “the girl said it was a…special brew. To help me sleep?”
Understanding made Cook nod. “Ah, you’re meaning Auntie Esmerelda’s remedy. Of course, Master William. I’ll have it sent up straight away.”
Smiling and nodding in kind, he backed out of the room, exhaling loudly as he made his way to the stairs. He hadn’t wanted to ask. But, after an unproductive day at the park and then an uncomfortable meal with his mother, the prospect of spending his night facing the prison walls of his bedroom had prompted William to admit that the tea had produced the best night’s rest he’d had in a long time. Would it really hurt to have some more?
OK, she’d admit it. She’d hoped. In a huge way. ‘Cause, really? William had been one of the best dreams she’d had in a long time. But she hadn’t really expected anything to come from hoping. Unless it was a Slayer dream, reruns didn’t tend to happen in Buffy’s head.
So finding herself at the start of the stone path, the familiar white dress billowing around her legs, the sun beaming down to warm her shoulders…her stomach was all a-flutter, the possibility of what might be lying around the bend bringing a smile to her face. It only took a few steps for her to round the curve, and then she had to consciously slow her pace to make it look like she wasn’t running.
She loved her subconscious. There he was, just as before, head bent over the papers scattered before him. At least this time, she knew how the dream was going to play out. He’d look up, and get all embarrassed about seeing her, and…
His voice was so soft, she almost didn’t hear it, and Buffy snapped out of her thoughts to see him standing next to the bench, eyes intent on her. Whoa. He knew who she was, which meant this wasn’t a repeat. Her smile widened. It also meant she could just go back to talking to him, then, no uncomfortableness to stand in their way.
“You’re a sight for sore eyes,” she teased as she approached.
Behind his glasses, his eyes widened for the briefest of moments. “That sounds remarkably like you considered me in our absence of each other,” William murmured.
“Translation. I missed you when I was gone, right?”
“I daren’t presume---.”
“Presume away, because I did.” Buffy paused, her smile fading slightly as she grew more serious. “I missed getting to talk to you. We were just getting to the good stuff.”
“Three days never seemed so long before.”
“You were counting?”
He blushed, averting his gaze. “You must find me foolish.”
“Then call me fool number two,” she replied. She was standing at his side now, and reached out to touch his bare forearm. The muscles there tensed at the first contact, rippling beneath his skin while he fought some silent battle, but the moment they relaxed, William lifted his eyes to hers again. “And I think you’re right,” she added. “Three days is way too long.”
His mouth opened to speak, but the words didn’t come. Instead, alarm widened his gaze and his hand shot forward to ghost over her bare arm. “What’s happened?” he asked. “Were you attacked?”
Buffy looked down. There, just as it had been in her room, were the bruise and cut she’d gotten from the demon earlier that evening, exposed to the warm air as if Willow had never dressed the wound. A thin trickle of blood she hadn’t even been aware of was starting to leak from the jagged edges of the injury. “Oh,” she said, surprised. “Yeah. I guess I was.”
Immediately, his hand disappeared into his trousers pocket, extracting a clean white handkerchief. “It looks quite vicious,” William said, and before she could stop him, he was pressing the cloth to the gash, his touch gentle but firm.
“I’m fine. Really. I didn’t even realize it was there until you pointed it out. And besides, if you think I look bad, you should see the other guy.”
She was trying to lighten the mood, but the seriousness in his face when he looked at her told Buffy it hadn’t worked. “I didn’t mean to imply that you looked anything less than radiant,” he rushed. “If I’ve offended you---.”
“No, you haven’t, and you really have to relax, William. I’m not going to break, and I’m more interested in you being you rather than you being who you think I want you to be.” Taking the handkerchief from his grip, she smiled up at him. “I’m tired of people trying to second-guess what’s going through my head. I’m in the mood for some good old-fashioned honesty.” She held her arm out for inspection. “So. Honestly. How bad does it look?”
He winced as his gaze swept over the bruise. “Frightful,” he admitted. “As if you were a doll that had been toted around by some malicious child with a cast-iron grip.”
“And weirdly enough, not that far from the truth. If the child had scales and purple glowy eyes.” She laughed at the confusion in his face. “Don’t worry. Sometimes, it sounds crazy to me, too.”
“You’re certain it doesn’t hurt?”
Buffy shook her head. “Nope. I’m fit as a fiddle.” She paused. “Are fiddles actually fit? Because now that I think about it, that just sounds wrong. Maybe it should be the fiddler who’s fit. They’re the ones doing all the work.”
This time, he couldn’t help but chuckle at her joking. “As much as you’ve lived within my thoughts these last few days,” he said, “I fear that my memory has not done your charms justice.”
Maybe it was the soft tone of his voice. Maybe it was the shine in the blue behind his glasses. Or maybe it was the way his eyes were sliding over her, unable to stop from lingering on her curves in spite of the flush in his cheeks. Whatever it was, it made the breath in Buffy’s throat disappear, her bravado shattered in the face of his obvious admiration. “I’m not so special,” she said softly. “I’m just me. I mean, Chosen, sure, but still…just me.”
“Which makes you all that more extraordinary.” His hands were fidgeting, as if there was something they wished to do that he was forcibly preventing them from, and when he took a step back toward the bench, the space he emptied left Buffy desperate to fill it again. “In light of your injury, you should sit, I believe.”
“I was kind of hoping we could take a walk today. It’s not like I need fully functioning arms for that.” She was rewarded by the surprised tilt of his head, that sense of déjà vu that pervaded while she was around him flaring strongly for a moment before dissipating with his cautious nod.
“That would be lovely,” agreed William, and, after gathering his things from where they lay scattered on the bench, he fell into step beside her.
It was even better than it had been before, he decided. Where their first meeting had started awkward and casual, their second quickly fell into a warm familiarity he found enticing. Though her injuries still worried William---how could someone who looked so delicate be so steadfast in what was most assuredly painful?---they appeared to do nothing in deterring her high spirits, and he was willing to attempt and forget them in the face of her bravery. It did not mean he didn’t wish to magically make them disappear for her, but if Buffy Summers was not going to be stopped by them, then neither would he.
In considering where they’d left their previous conversation, William was careful as he gently steered the topic toward more personal matters. It took little time for her to start relating stories of her youth---a fantastic world he could never have imagined where half of what she described seemed impossibly complex, and yet frighteningly simple. Ease supplanting labor. Women being respected as equals. A place where laughter and tears coincided in the space of a single second, and nobody thought it peculiar to be expressing such emotions publicly.
None of it was recent, though, and as he listened to her speak, William wondered why she deliberately chose to ignore the obvious. “And what of now?” he asked, when she paused at the ending of another tale. “What world currently surrounds Buffy Summers?”
Her smile faded, her gaze dropping to the path stretched out before them. Absently, her toe caught some of the loose stone and kicked it, sending a small spray scattering to the grass. “I’m going to college in the fall,” she finally said. “I’ve got that to look forward to when I get back.”
“But that’s wonderful.” He could barely contain his excitement. “Surely, you find the opportunity to advance your education exciting? Just think of the doors it will open for you. In my world, you would not have such an option, I’m afraid, and in your case, that would most definitely be a travesty of justice.” When she maintained her silence, his fervor began to fade, and William stepped ahead to stop directly in her path.
“Is there some issue with you attending university?” he asked. “Perhaps your mother does not wish you to go?”
“No, no, she’s the head cheerleader on the Buffy Goes to College Pep Squad.” She wouldn’t meet his gaze, instead looking off to the side and the trees that dotted the park. For a moment, he had the urge to throw his arms around her, to root her to the present moment, because it looked very much as if she was willing herself someplace else. But he refrained, instead stuffing his hands into his trousers pockets and hoping she wouldn’t see the strain he was exerting over his muscles.
“Things are…harder back home,” Buffy said, and her voice made him ache. “People have this annoying tendency to leave, and I don’t…it’s not…nothing’s as simple as I want it to be.”
He knew then, without her having to say the words, what it was to which she was referring. “You have a young man,” William said softly. He was certain this was the source of her distress, and though the knowledge sliced his own heart in half, it was just as much because of the pain it was causing her as it was his own disappointment. “And he’s hurt you, in some way.”
“Yes. And no. And god, yes.” It was as if he’d pulled the stopper on some unseen well, her words halting at first, and then coming faster, and faster, until he was almost dizzy for the trying to keep up. Though there were no tears, her eyes shone with those unspilled, her control even in the telling of what was clearly difficult impressive.
He didn’t understand it all---many of her allusions still managed to elude him, and the metaphor of comparing this man to a demon seemed melodramatic at best---but there was no mistaking what it had done to her. The first few minutes listening, he spent crippled, knowing what he wanted to do but frozen in ineptitude, the social dictates that had been drummed into him for the past three decades dampening his control. But William fought it. She’s just a dream. She’s not real and she knows nothing about what should be proper or not. I can do this. A small step first, his arm stretching…reaching…ending with an awkward pat on her uninjured shoulder.
“This…Angel,” he started, inwardly cringing at the nickname, for surely it had to be an affectation for her to call him such, “if you will pardon my saying so…he rather strikes me as a fool.”
His words took her by surprise, and Buffy took a half-step back, looking up at him with wide green eyes that made him want to stand up straighter. “What?” she asked. “Why would you… you don’t even know him.”
“I daresay I don’t need to.” In the face of her shocked response, William felt a seed of courage take root somewhere inside, and he gazed down at her intently, the desire for her to appreciate why he was doing this shining bright. “You say he left?”
“And he gave you no opportunity for recourse?”
“He left without discussing any options for his staying?”
“But he said he loves you.”
His hand was still on her shoulder, and William was too aware of the heat searing into his palm, but there was no way he was letting go now. Gently, his fingers began to knead the knotted muscles beneath his grip, wondering just how long he could do this before she voiced an objection, and watched as her eyes fluttered shut, giving herself over to the sensation.
“He’s a fool because he left,” William murmured. “Were I in his shoes, with a woman such as yourself wanting to be a part of my life, I would find whatever means possible to overcome the obstacles that separated us. He’s a fool because he didn’t even try.”
Buffy’s head fell, and before he could react, she stepped forward and pressed herself to him, her arms wrapping around his back in a tight hug. William froze, all the heat that had been concentrated in his hand now spread throughout his body as her curves molded to his in an appreciative embrace, and he looked down at the golden hair glimmering against his shirt.
“You’re such an optimist,” she said into his chest. “But thank you for listening anyway.”
“It will always be my pleasure,” William replied. Tentatively, his hand lifted, and before he could decide otherwise, it was caressing the back of her skull, entangling with the soft curls. He was convinced she could hear his heart pounding, but for the first time in what seemed like an eternity, he didn’t care.
He could still feel her cheek burning against his chest, a brand he was more than willing to bear for as long as the sensation lingered, and, if he concentrated, William swore even the silk of her hair slipping through his fingers was trapped in his body’s recall, demanding to be noticed. How could something so ephemeral as a dream burn with more life than the pale shadows that danced in his periphery during his waking hours? It shouldn’t be---she shouldn’t be---and yet it was, and he’d be blind to ignore the evidence to which his body clung.
Rolling to a seated position, William’s gaze fell on the empty teacup at his bedside. Cook’s aunt was swiftly becoming a favored personage in his estimation. And though he hardly considered himself a superstitious man, the fact that he’d dreamt of Buffy on both occasions he’d consumed the special brew did not escape his notice.
Something would have to be done to ensure his future chances for repeat appearances.
To be continued in Chapter 6: The Benefit of Rest…