DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course,
and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CXIV.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: An injured Spike has returned to the hotel, under Willow’s care, while Esme has sent Lydia back so that she can test the return of her powers in private, and April has escaped the Council’s clutches with Quentin in tow…
In spite of the pain in his wrists from the ropes that burned into his flesh, Quentin’s gaze was composed as he stared back at April. “You’re lying,” he said, his voice wintry. “If such things existed, I would know about it.”
She laughed, sprawled along the mattress with the knife dancing in her hands. “But that’s the beauty,” she said. “If you knew, it would make their jobs redundant. Frankly, I think it’s sheer brilliance. A collection of women come together to make sure the men who created Slayer power in the first place play nicely? It’s got a full circle charm to it, I think.”
“But artifacts that only Slayers can wield…” His lips were thin, and though he could see Nathan pacing around on the edges of the dusty room, Quentin ignored him, focusing on the female vampire who was so clearly in charge. “This is my domain. It’s inconceivable that I wouldn’t be aware of their presence, and even more impossible that Esme would.”
Rolling onto her stomach, April reached over the edge of the bed to grab the edge of a small box that rested on the floor, giving it a small shake so that its contents jingled. “I’m just telling the story as I’ve heard it,” she said. “And this should be all the proof that you need that I’m telling the truth.”
He didn’t even look inside to see the crystal shards. He believed that part of her story. “I can accept that Esme’s fascination would compel her to resurrect you---.”
“Free me. Big difference.”
“Free you, then. But she’s been a vital part of the Council’s coven for decades. I recruited her myself. I refuse to believe that she would subvert what we stand for, for her own personal gain.”
“Then why go to such lengths to find her then, Quentin?” Even in spite of her pallor, at that moment, she looked so much like any one of the hundreds of teenaged girls he’d seen during his tenure with the Council, that Travers’ disgust momentarily softened. She had broken his finger, and she had unmercilessly dragged him through the sewers of London to the grimy rooms she and her paramour were using as a hideaway, and she’d bound him with wicked glee to the chair that now imprisoned him, and yet…there was a flash of sentiment within him that summoned images of another Slayer, another time, when the years hadn’t quite steeled Quentin into the man he was presently, where another Slayer’s death just months before her Cruciamentum had dragged him back into the Council’s lap and away from the fieldwork he’d thought was his life.
Just as quickly as it had arrived, the wistfulness vanished, replaced by an emotion with which he was much more familiar. Hate. Cold, meticulous, exacting hate, for a creature that had stripped so much from him, even if it wasn’t this particular demon that had done it.
His silence goaded her into sitting up. “I’ve got a theory, Quentin,” April said casually. “I think you want her back because you know that the possibility I’m speaking the truth about the Slayer artifacts being your witch’s motivation is all too real. That you’ve been worried about her making some sort of power play and you want her back under your bureaucratic thumb so that you can pillage her powers without giving her anything in return. Am I close?”
His nostrils flared, the only sign that she’d struck any kind of nerve. “Don’t be ludicrous.”
“Because that would be your job.”
“I don’t play those type of games.”
“You lie. All of you Watchers play games. It’s in your blood.”
“Was this your entire purpose? To talk me into submission of whatever whim has captured your fancy?”
She was a whirl as she flew from the bed, her hand a claw around his throat. It wasn’t tight enough to cut off his oxygen, but it was certainly enough to make breathing uncomfortable. “We need each other, Watcher,” April spat. “And I will use you to find the witch. I have no problems making your cooperation as bloody as possible, but it would suit my purposes to have you alive and conscious for the duration of our search. Do I make myself clear?”
He was barely able to move against the vise of her grip, but still, Quentin managed a small nod.
“Good.” Releasing him, she allowed her nails to drag over his cheek, leaving four light furrows in their wake. “Now. Let me tell you my plan.”
She didn’t know why she lied to Lydia when the Watcher appeared at her door. Maybe it was because of what Spike had said, about Esme not being a straightshooter. He didn’t like the older witch; he’d made that clear from the beginning. He was willing to make the deal with her for the sake of getting Dru back, but any more than that, and his distaste was more than apparent. Which was weird because, you know, he was a vampire and he was supposed to be all about the evil. He and Esme should get on like hotcakes. The fact that he didn’t trust her was all it took to get the seed planted.
That’s why she didn’t say a word to Lydia about Spike’s return when the other woman showed up at Buffy’s door. Willow had described the night’s events as non-eventful, and that had been that. Lydia had gone.
And now Willow was on her way to Spike’s room, with a plan in mind that gave her the jitters, even if it was hers. There was so much going on with all this---Esme’s plans, April’s imminent arrival, Buffy’s lapse into time, Giles’ unexplained disappearance---and Willow didn’t think that it was all that wrong to want a little order in the world. Order was good. Order kept things running, made proofs easier to proof, kept the universe explainable in a way that was wieldy. And darn it all, if she had to be the one to make her little corner just a little more controllable, then she was going to do it.
Even if it gave her the heebie jeebies considering the possibilities of what could go wrong if she miscalculated in any way.
…the clemency of golden sunlight tickling the nape of his neck…
…the rich scent of soil soaking into his pores, heady and earthen and alive…
…the slight pressure of another body laying next to him in the grass, touching but not, as if this was how it always was and always would be…
…and all he wants to do is sleep, because here is what he lacks elsewhere, here is where the tenuous is made firm, here is why the there is tolerable…
…here is peace…
All vestiges of his dream scattered as the vampire was shaken from his sleep. He blinked against the gloom of the room before drawing a weary hand across his eyes.
“What’s worth wakin’ a bloke from the first good night’s sleep he’s had in weeks, Red?” he asked. He winced when he rolled onto his side and away from her, the pain in his midsection from his injury still too real not to ignore. “’Less the building’s on fire and I’m about to go up in ash, bugger off.”
“You have to get up,” she whispered, her hand returning to his shoulder. “I need you to do something for me.”
“Tell me what else is new,” Spike muttered, and stayed exactly where he was. The goodwill that had suffused his body at the dream he couldn’t remember was starting to dissipate; all he wanted was to get back to whatever nirvana had left him feeling so good before it was too late.
Her footsteps were muffled against the carpet, and he smelled her presence in front of him again before he even opened his eyes. “I’m serious,” she said. Her breath fanned across his cheek, and when he opened his eyes, Spike saw her luminous eyes glued to him. “You said you trusted me, right? Then you gotta trust that I wouldn’t be here unless I had a really super-duper reason. You’re cranky enough when you’re awake. You really think I want to face you when you’re sleepy and pissed off?”
“Don’t forget hungry.”
She visibly swallowed, but didn’t move. “How are you?” Willow asked. “Are you healing up?”
“Up, down, all around. Still hurts like a bitch, though. Getting stabbed through the gut’s got a tendency to do that.”
“But…other than that, are you getting stronger? To do, you know, physical stuff?”
The corner of his mouth lifted as Spike resumed his position on his back. “Why, Miss Rosenberg,” he said, lifting his arms to thread his fingers behind his head, even though doing so made his stomach burn, “I do believe you’re tryin’ to seduce me.”
“Huh? What? Oh! Ewww!” A horrified Willow slapped at his torso, but when he flinched from the impact on his injury, she immediately dissolved into, “Oh! Sorry!”
He didn’t wait for her to speak again, swinging his legs over the opposite side of the bed and rising to his feet. As she watched, Spike yanked his shirt up to look down at the wound, noting the fresh trickle of blood that was beginning to seep from it.
Willow’s eyes were wide. “Did I do that?”
“Don’t flatter yourself, Red.” He shucked the shirt and used it to daub away the flow. “Did it when I rolled over. Just opened it up a bit, but…see? Gone already.”
“Oh, that’s good then. That means you’re better, right? You’re all rested and raring to get back to being grrrr?”
It was the last that made him halt. “You got someone in mind you want me to kill?” Spike asked in surprise. “Thought you said that was a no-no.”
“No, no killing, just…scaring. And…overpowering if we need it. But definitely no killing.”
His eyes narrowed in the dark, knowing she couldn’t properly see his face but more than capable of seeing the anxiety on Willow’s. Something was churning around in that red head of hers, and though he was dying to ask what it was, Spike also knew that she wouldn’t come to him for help in anything unless she really needed it.
“You’re goin’ to spill once whatever it is, is over,” he casually remarked.
“Oh, yes, definitely. I’ll tell you now, on the way. I don’t think we’ve got huge amounts of time.”
She couldn’t sleep, worry about what exactly she’d gotten herself into making it impossible for her to relax. She’d tried work to distract her mind, but she couldn’t concentrate. She’d attempted using tai chi, but her nerves were too jumpy to force her muscles to comply. She’d even given peaceful imagery a go, but the pictures that kept coming to her head were anything but tranquil.
It all left Lydia restlessly wandering about the hotel room she was sharing with Esme, waiting for the witch to return.
When the knock came at her door, she leapt toward the sound, the question of why Esme wouldn’t use her key not even registering as a possibility. Her mouth formed a small o, though, when she pulled it open and saw the injured vampire leaning against the jamb.
“’Lo, luv,” Spike said, in a voice roughened with pain. His hand was clutching his midsection, and Lydia gasped when she saw the blood seeping through the t-shirt.
“You’ve been hurt,” she said unnecessarily. “Were you in a brawl?”
He chuckled, and the savage rasp sent a wave of shivers down her spine. “Something like that.” He tipped his head toward the room’s interior. “Don’t s’pose I could trouble you for a minute, could I? Got a spot of trouble here, and something tells me if there’s anyone who knows how to take care of a vamp, it’s you.”
Those blue eyes, so intense and so intelligent, fixed on hers with a power that she’d only dreamt about prior to accepting Esme’s offer at partnership. This was the vampire she’d spent so many years studying, and absorbing, and now he needed her help. When he’d been hurt in whatever scrap his runaway adventures had led him to, William the Bloody had chosen to come to her for aid.
Lydia’s heart was pounding so hard in her chest, she knew he would be able to hear it.
Straightening, she stepped aside, clearing the path into the room. “You may come in, William,” she said stiffly, hoping desperately that feigning a stiff upper lip would distract him from her racing pulse.
He smirked as he stepped over the threshold, stopping directly in front of her to murmur, “Didn’t exactly need the invite, luv, but nice to know I’m welcome where you…sleep.”
She watched the muscles flex beneath his shirt as he strode inside, her eyes slipping unbidden to his hips until Spike glanced back over his shoulder. Snapping her gaze back up to his face, Lydia blushed when he said, “Can’t rightly check me out all the way back there, can you, pet?”
“No, no, of course not,” she stammered. Closing the door, she kept her hands clasped tight in front of her so that he wouldn’t see the trembling, and walked over to the bureau where she kept her supplies. Quickly, she checked his position at the foot of the bed, the hand that still clutched the injury in his abdomen and the slump in his shoulders as the pain weighed him down, before turning toward the mirrored dresser.
Nothing before, and she doubted nothing ever again, would match this moment, Lydia decided as she pulled out the bandages. She finally had William the Bloody right---.
She jumped when the door opened and Spike poked his head out. “Coast’s clear, Red,” he said, beckoning her into Lydia’s room.
Scurrying from around the corner she’d been hiding, Willow closed the distance as quickly as possible, lifting a warning finger in Spike’s face when she passed him in the doorway. “She better not be dead,” she said.
Spike snorted. “Bint’s too stupid to kill,” he said, following her into the room.
The first thing Willow noticed was an unconscious Lydia dumped ungraciously to the bed. Her hands were lashed behind her back with the cord from the curtains, and though the rise of her chest indicated that she was still breathing, there was unmistakable bruising around the front of her neck.
“She turned her back on me in front of a bloody mirror,” Spike said with a shrug when Willow turned expectant eyes to him. “Just cut off her oxygen enough for her to pass out. Not my fault she’s the type who goes black and blue just by gettin’ blown on.”
“Your mouth was close enough to blow on her? You weren’t all fangy, were you?”
“Figure of speech, Red.”
“Oh. Fine, then. We don’t have time to argue about this.” After a quick survey of the room, Willow marched for the dresser and began opening drawers, stopping when she pulled open the third and exhaled in relief.
“Hold this,” she said, pulling out the plastic bag she’d stuffed into her pocket and thrusting it at Spike. She began pulling everything out of the drawer and dumping it into the sack, ignoring any sense of order in her haste.
“You sure you’re up to doin’ the mojo?”
Willow nodded. “Esme already wrote out the spells for me to practice. And these are all the ingredients, so we should be all set. Except…”
His hand grabbed hers as she was about to drop in a skein of cotton wool. “You didn’t hold out on me, did you?” Spike gaze was deadly, his eyes violently dark, and she winced from the pressure he was exerting on her wrist. “You said you could do both spells. The one for you and the Slayer, and the one for me and Dru. Don’t think you’re cuttin’ me loose on this little deal, Red. Do that, and---.”
She didn’t wait for the threat she knew was coming. “No, no holding out. I’m all holding in. Or, you know, not holding in. Because that would be so not the straightshooter thing to do, and we can’t have that, now can we? I meant it, Spike. I can do the spells Esme taught me. The except is just…well, I know what the spell to help Buffy is all about, because that’s what got me into all this in the first place with Esme. But the one to help you get Drusilla back? That one’s all hers. All I did was memorize the words and they’re all in Latin, and frankly, my Latin sucks---.”
“Got it.” Releasing his grip, Spike dropped the sack onto the dresser and stepped away from her. “S’pose that should be my cue to go get the Slayer, right? Nothin’ else for me to do ‘round here?”
“No.” She didn’t even know she was holding her breath until he stopped in the doorway.
“Don’t fuck this up,” he said, just barely turning his head enough to throw his words over his shoulder. “Both me and the Slayer are counting on you to come through for us.”
And then he was gone. And Willow was left holding the bag. Literally.
He went back to his room to get his coat first.
Well, stomped might be a better word for it.
The euphoria from playing off the Watcher’s starry-eyed crush had been squashed by the sudden fear that Willow just might not be up to giving him the same arrangement the old witch had.
He believed her when she said she could do the spell for Dru. And she’d claimed that Esme had given her the spell prior to his disappearing act, so no chance there that there was any double-dealing.
And if there was, well, after so many years as a scholar in his human life, Spike’s Latin most likely didn’t suck as much as Willow’s did. He’d just give the spell the onceover before going under her magical knife to make sure it was on the up-and-up.
Still didn’t mean he was in a good mood.
After all, he was about to play pack horse for the sleeping Slayer. And in spite of his assurances to Willow, his body still ached from the fight with April. He’d give just about anything to go crawl back into bed and sleep for the next week to recover.
He wasn’t sure why he’d told Willow he could do it. Technically, Spike knew it was possible. He’d pushed himself far harder getting Dru out of Prague, and he didn’t have an angry mob coming after him this time. Just one pissed-off witch whose powers seemed to be on the blink at the moment. But it still didn’t completely gel that he’d give so easily into the redhead’s scheme. Or that he’d accepted her version of his teleportation without any hesitation.
He must be going soft.
Didn’t stop him from going to Buffy’s room to fetch her, though.
She hadn’t moved from the position he’d seen her in earlier, her hair a riotous tangle around her cheeks. Standing at the side of the bed, Spike’s nostrils flared from the pungence of sweat and salt that seeped from her skin, and felt his body characteristically harden in her presence. Whenever she was, she’d been fighting. Too bad he’d missed the show. Watching her fight was the next best thing to being the one fighting her.
I can do this.
After arranging his coat closed in front of him to keep the worst of the blood from her, Spike bent and scooped her up, keeping her wrapped in the duvet as he cradled her against his chest. Her cheek fell against his lapel, causing her slow breath to float upwards along his jaw, and he tensed as the muscles in his cheek twitched.
The demon inside was screaming at him to take the advantage and finish her off for good. Even through the blanket, he could feel every rush in her veins as it raced from one end of her body to the next, and the prospective tang made his mouth water. Slayer blood would help me heal faster. Slayer blood would make this whole buggering trip worth it. Slayer blood---.
His teeth clamped down on his tongue, flooding his mouth with a familiar coppery flow while the momentary pain cut off the enticing thoughts. Going after Slayer blood now would muck it up with Willow, especially since she was so willing and able to help him in return for getting his aid. And Dru was worth it. Getting Dru back was worth any hundred deals he made with the Slayer and her band of not-so-merry men.
Tightening his grip around her, Spike was oblivious to the ache the added muscle brought to his midsection, concentrating on carrying Buffy into the hall and toward the door leading to the cellar and the tunnels. He intercepted Willow on the way, and her indiscreet glance to her best friend’s neck made his temper flare.
“No, I didn’t soddin’ bite her!” he snapped.
“Yes, you bloody well did.” His foot shot out and kicked the waiting door open, knocking it from its hinges and creating a minor din in the process. Ignoring Willow’s whispered warnings, Spike disappeared into the welcome darkness, quickening his step to distance himself from the witch before his ire got the better of him.
Made a deal, didn’t I?
Don’t particularly want to bite her anyway.
“Wait up, Spike!”
He was already at the tunnel entrance, so he forced his feet to finally stop, though he didn’t bother with looking back at her as she rushed to join him. “You got a destination in mind, Red?” he asked tightly, avoiding the issue of her confusion. “Don’t fancy carting the Slayer ‘round ad nauseum.”
“I figured we’d go back to Giles’ flat,” she said. “Esme won’t think we’d go back there after everything.”
“Well, unless you’ve started shackin’ up with the Watcher, you’re goin’ to have figure different.”
Spike rolled his eyes. Wasn’t she supposed to be the smart one? “’Cause last time I checked, Rupert hadn’t sent me any sort of invite. Bit of a prereq to me carryin’ the Slayer over the threshold.” He began marching through the dank tunnel, not bothering to wait for her to catch up. “Leave it to me, Red. I’ll cozy us up, all safe and sound.”
His fingers trailed over her bare back, listening to the regular rhythm of her breathing as she slept against his chest. He could watch her all night, William reasoned. Something about the way Buffy slept was hypnotic to him.
When they’d returned from the park, she’d not even pretended to go to her own room. “If tonight’s our last night together,” she’d said, “the last thing I want is to spend it alone.”
His lips had twitched at her awkward syntax, but William had agreed, leading her to his chambers with their fingers still intertwined. She’d spied the waiting tea immediately, but stayed silent, choosing instead to focus on disrobing both of them. Gentle hands had slid his clothing from his body, and she’d guided him back to the bed where they had curled automatically around each other. The loving that had ensued had been soft and tender, and when it was over, he’d handed her the teacup without saying a word, watching solemnly as she drank it.
His still waited on the nightstand to be consumed.
If he was being honest with himself, he was afraid to go to sleep, for fear of waking in the morning without her in his arms. They would have this last dream to share, but the reality of a lifetime stretching out before him seemed barren, in spite of their final words in the park. William had meant everything he’d said to her---he truly believed that fear would no longer govern the mainstay of his daily activities---but it didn’t mean he wouldn’t grieve for her presence.
A tiny mew muffled against his chest brought him back to the present, and he glanced down to see a small line form between her brows. She was likely looking for him, he realized. If he didn’t show up and she ended up being gone in the morning, it would taint their last day together for her.
With a heavy sigh, William reached for his tea and swallowed it down as quickly as he could. At least they would have these last few hours to share. He needed to make them as memorable as possible.
To be continued in Chapter 34: The Center of My Sinful Earth…