Chapter 18: Engagement

As the winter trudged on, Buffy spent more time training and less patrolling. While the cold didn't really affect the vampires and other demons that populated the Hellmouth, it certainly kept the humans inside. So, no food supply, no demons.

Spike continued to come to dinner on Thursdays, and Buffy stopped trying to avoid him. They had not resumed their Saturday evening dates, though. She was a little baffled at her feelings. She should be relieved that William seemed to have gotten then message without her having to spell it out, but somehow she was disappointed to see that he had given up so easily. She shouldn't expect every man to be as persistent and stubborn as Spike had been. After all, he had thought he had had nothing but time.

*****

Spike saw Willow and Dawn on campus daily, and for the new semester, they had arranged it so they could have lunch together twice a week. The girls suggested plan after plan to reveal the truth to Buffy, but Spike continued to resist. He was more convinced than ever that telling her now would cause her to think he was either an imposter playing a cruel joke or just using his physical similarities to take advantage of his awareness of her lost love. January stumbled into February, and Valentine's Day passed much as New Years' had: quietly and alone, while both put up a brave front they didn't realize the girls saw through.

If Xander didn't notice, he could certainly be forgiven. The morning after Valentine's found Buffy sitting in the kitchen staring into her long-since cold cup of coffee. Xander bounded through the door. "Hey, Buff! Isn't it a beautiful day? The others already gone? Dang it! I was hoping to tell everyone at once."

"Huh? Oh, hi, Xander. Been out to the workshop already?"

Xander looked incredulously from Buffy to the suit he was wearing to the kitchen door he had just come through and back again. "No, Buff. I just got home. You OK? You didn't get hurt patrolling, did you? 'Cuz I had some pretty big news, but if you need to talk or go to the hospital or something, it can wait."

"Hospital? No, I'm fine. I'm sorry. I guess I was just not paying attention. What's your big news? Did you get that big job you were taking all those measurements for last week? What was it - built-in bookshelves?"

"Bigger. I was hoping to tell everyone together, but since the girls are gone, you get to hear it first." He paused, took a deep breath and stood up straight. "I'm getting married."

Buffy was stunned. She didn't really think anyone would ever take Anya's place. Of course, she had never thought anyone would take Angel's place either, but here she was in love with Spike. Spike. The tears came to her eyes again as she stood to give Xander a hug. "That's wonderful. I'm so happy for you."

He grinned from ear to ear and returned the hug warmly. "Thanks. I was hoping you and William might have -"

She pulled away and cut him off, "Uh-uh. This is your moment. Let's not say anything to ruin it." She blinked the tears away and turned back to the table. She picked up her cup and walked over to dump the old coffee into the sink. She poured two fresh cups and brought them over. "So. Sit. Tell. I want to hear all the details. What you said. What she said. Where you were. What she wore."

Xander grinned again. This was almost like the old Buffy, He sat down and started the story of last night's proposal dinner.

*****

Willow and Dawn were positively giddy. The weather had finally broken about a week ago and it looked like Spring Break was going to be clear and beautiful - still cold, but at least no storms.

Spike had taken an extended leave and gone to England just a couple of days after Valentine's. He claimed he had some business to take care of, but the girls suspected he was just trying to put some distance between himself and Buffy. They both were convinced that the old Spike wanted to disappear, but they hoped there was enough of William built into his personality that he'd be back at the end of Spring Break as promised.

*****

The streets of London - how he had missed them! William had taken the city for granted, but now he was reveling in it. Too often, though, he would turn a corner and Spike's memories would overshadow his. Often, they were even the deeply buried memories of William the Bloody Awful Poet before he was turned.

Late one such day, he found himself in the cemetery standing before his family's plot. He had no idea how long he had been standing there when he heard the familiar sounds of a fight. Without thinking, he turned and ran. He came up behind Giles just as the vampire exploded into dust on the end of his stake.

Giles brushed himself off, and bent to pick up his bag. He caught sight of William out of the corner of his eye, straightened and spun to face him, stake ready. "William! Good Lord! This is a pleasant surprise. You startled me." He frantically tried to pocket the sharpened weapon.

"Yeh - I shouldn't wonder, Watcher. You were a bit preoccupied there." Spike looked pointedly at the pile of dust.

"Yes, well - I was just -" Giles was mentally fumbling for some sort of plausible explanation when he realized what he had heard. "Did you say 'Watcher'?"

Spike sighed and looked down, "Er - yeh - the thing is -"

Giles quickly put the pieces together and came to the wrong conclusion. "You knew what Sunnydale was all along, didn't you? And Glenville - you followed us to Glenville. I knew the Council had employed some freelance demon hunters, but I certainly never suspected - You've built quite a good cover. I'm impressed. So tell me, who recruited you? You must have been fairly young. Was it Travers? Of course, he'd never have told me - well, or anyone else for that matter - little weasel that he was."

Spike leaned against a tombstone and waited for the former Watcher to wind down. "You finished there, Rupes? Ready for the truth now or are you going to keep spinning your wheels?" he asked with his trademark smirk, arms crossed over his chest, head cocked.

Giles stopped talking and really looked at him, "Oh, dear Lord. Spike. It really is you." He backed up a step or two and leaned against another nearby tombstone. "How? And why didn't you tell us sooner? Buffy must be so happy. Is she here?" He looked around the cemetery curiously.

"Tsk, tsk, Watcher. Again you've taken a flying leap in the wrong direction. Are you ready to listen now?"

"Yes, yes, of course. Forgive me. This is just so unexpected."

"Yeh. For me, too. For starters, Buffy doesn't know and please don't tell her. Willow and Dawn do, though. I-- well, I guess you could say I 'found myself' back in November. Red put up some mistletoe to give us a little push and when Buffy kissed me, it all came back. Of course, right after that, she decided she couldn't betray Spike's memory or some such rot so poor William got pushed away yet again." Spike shook his head in disgust.

"Well, why didn't you tell her who you were? She loves you. She's missed you dreadfully."

"She'd probably think the same thing you did - that I knew all about Sunnydale and who she was all along and that I was just biding my time until I could learn enough to pass for her bloody martyred hero. It's not me she loves, it's some bigger-than-life Big Bad turned Hero she's created in her mind. D'you know Red even doctored up an old picture of me from back in the Dru days to look the way I did in good old Sunnyhell?" He paused reflectively for a moment, "Though I do believe she was beginning to love William. Maybe Red shouldn't have pushed. Then we wouldn't have kissed. I'd still be none the wiser and we could have gone on that way. Maybe for years."

Giles laughed, "Years? Somehow I can't picture even William being satisfied with a platonic relationship for years. So what are your plans? Why are you back in England rather than wooing the lady? And why the bloody hell are you in a cemetery? Haven't you seen more than your share?"

Spike chuckled and shook his head, "Haven't I though, mate! Oddly enough, I was visiting the family - well, William the Bloody's family, that is. William Blake's family is very much alive and well, thanks, and 'you're not going back to those dreadful Americans, are you?' I came out here for some quiet to decide what I'm going to do."

Giles smiled in response to Spike's mimicry of what was obviously William's very stuffy family. Then he studied him for a moment before prompting, "And?"

"And... " he sighed. "What do you think, Watcher? I'll go back. You know I can't stay away. I'll take whatever she'll give me. Just like always," he looked down at his feet. "The Bit and Red keep bombarding me with ideas and plans, but I'm thinking I'll just wait for a bit and see if she thaws out. Give William another shot at it, you know?"

Giles wasn't quite sure what to make of this new calmer, more patient Spike, but he was very pleased to have him back - for Buffy's sake, he told himself - even if she didn't know yet.

*****

The two sisters strolled through the mall in companionable silence. Spring Break had been uneventful. Willow and Dawn had traded off going patrolling with Buffy, and there still hadn't been much activity. Now it was Saturday, and classes would be resuming on Monday.

All day, Buffy had been trying to find a way to ask if either Dawn or Willow had heard anything from William. At last, she saw her opportunity. One of the store windows held a display of leather jackets and Dawn was wearing hers. "Hey, look! I wonder if that's where William got your coat. He sure picked the perfect present for you, huh? It's even more like Spike's than the one I got him. What should we make for dinner Thursday? He must be really sick of English food by now. He was over there almost a month, wasn't he? Is he back yet? Have you heard from him?" Buffy held her breath. She knew she was being pretty obvious, but she hoped Dawn would just answer her and not make a big deal of it. She wasn't sure she was ready to admit that she had missed him to anyone but herself.

"William? He'll be back tonight, but he said he won't be able to come Thursday." Dawn waited for the question she knew was coming. She had decided it waS time to take things into her own hands, despite Spike's request that she and Willow just let things go on as they were.

"He won't? How come? Oh, he's probably got a lot to do since he's been gone so long and with school back in session," she answered her own question. "That's ok. I guess Xander and I will see him next week." Buffy struggled to hide her disappointment.

Dawn hesitated. She counted in her head and bit her lip, then finally gave the appearance of breaking down and imparting a confidence to her sister. "Um, actually Buffy, he has a date. She laughed to herself *A date. Yeah, right. Like Spike would even look at anyone else.* But Buffy didn't need to know that he had taken on teaching an extra class while one of the other professors was ill unless he told her himself. Meanwhile, it suited Dawn's plans perfectly.

"A date?" Buffy felt like her world was crashing around her. No wonder he hadn't continued chasing after her like Spike had. There was someone else. Pretending not to notice Buffy's face, Dawn continued to walk along looking in store windows, but she was also keeping an eye on Buffy's reaction. Just as she and Willow had thought, Buffy was missing William. Now she just had to keep him away long enough to force her sister to make the first move. She knew he never would.

Buffy walked on in a daze. She couldn't help wondering what kind of girl William had found. Would she be dark and mysterious like Dru? She reminded herself that Dru was crazy and besides, this was William, not Spike. She tried to picture him with others and discovered all she could imagine were the ones she had seen Spike with over the years: Dru, Harmony, the creepy girl he had brought to Xander and Anya's almost-wedding to make her jealous. And it had worked. She'd been seething - almost as jealous as she was now. Could she really have been so blind? She hadn't been starting to fall for William. She had fallen. Completely. She still loved Spike, but somehow when she wasn't paying attention, the love had turned to a warm memory instead of a bitter what-might-have-been. But he'd gotten tired of waiting and moved on. Now what?

"Buffy? Buffy! Are you in there?" Dawn was tugging Buffy toward the food court. "Come on, let's get some lunch."