WARNING: This story WILL feature Buffy/Angel and Spike/Dru in the first few chapters. There will even be some moments of fuzzy, semi-glossed-over intimacy between Buffy and Angel. If you continue on, you are agreeing to read TEMPORARY Bangel, so please don't flame or complain. It's temporary though, I promise.
I have all but the very ending of this story written - I'm not sure how many chapters I'll divide it into, but it's about 130,000 words, so fairly long.
Thanks to 3hours for beta-ing this chapter!
All characters belong to The Man, not me. I play with them for fun, not profit.
"Oh, come on!"
William Pratt glanced up from his book to see a young woman scanning the nearby shelves, head tilted at an angle as she read the spines of the books in front of her. She reached a hand up, touching each tome with her fingertip as she muttered the name to herself, shifting forward to examine the next book and the next, becoming more and more agitated as she moved down the line. With a frustrated huff, she blew the blonde tendrils that had escaped her ponytail out of her eyes and stalked back to the beginning, scanning the titles even more closely.
When she reached the end once more, she leaned forward and thumped her forehead against the wooden end of the bookshelf, emitting a hushed groan. William had to stifle a chuckle. The girl was cute, without even trying. He wondered what she was looking for, but then she stomped away towards the circulation desk, fists on her slim hips, and he went back to his reading. It was almost closing time, and he wanted to finish before then. Not being a denizen of this city, he couldn't exactly check the book out of the library, and his search for a copy at the local bookstores had already proven futile.
He was lost in the ebb and flow of the words on the page when she returned, but her low curses dragged him back to the here and now, and he watched with interest as she checked the shelves again, searching for the obviously misplaced volume. William dropped his gaze just as she spun to face him, but not before he caught the angry spark in her bright green eyes. Feisty, he thought. And gorgeous.
Dragging a hand through his curls, he readjusted his glasses and tried to focus on the words before him instead of the woman who was now stalking from side table to side table, grabbing up and then dropping each book with a thump, as if they offended her for being the wrong item. The thumps and the curses grew louder as she neared him, and he bit his lip, trying to keep his mouth from twitching upwards into a grin.
The long, slim lines of her tan pencil skirt filled his vision. He looked up.
"Hey," she said, and William noticed her hands twisting together. "I, uh… don't want to be rude, but…" She indicated the books at his feet. "I'm looking for a book that's supposed to be on the shelves, and I was kinda hoping you have it. The librarian promised it to me, see, for a paper I'm writing that's due next week, so I really need this book…" She trailed off, blushing. "And I'm babbling Buffy now."
He fought the urge to raise an eyebrow. Buffy? Scooping the books off the ground, he stood, stepping into her space and holding the spines outward so she could read the titles for herself. "What are you looking for, pet?"
Buffy did a double take at his endearment, then flushed brighter. "The Complete Works of Alfred, Lord Tennyson," she said. "Which you don't have. This is so not my day."
William smiled. "I daresay it is after all." She flashed him a look that plainly said he was off his rocker, but he ignored it, twisting to pick up the book he'd laid over the arm of his chair. "I have it right here."
"Oh." Her face lit up and her eyes sparkled. "Oh! That's wonderful! You've saved my life! I thought I was going to have to make do with Selected Poems, which, you know, isn't complete." Her face fell. "Unless you wanted to check it out?"
He shook his head. "No library card. Was only planning on perusing until the library closes. But you may take it, seeing as you need it so badly," he said with a grin.
Buffy grinned back at him. "I can wait, it's no problem. Another half hour won't matter."
"Shan't take me that long," William replied, surprised to find himself speaking in the more genteel tones of his youth and not the rougher London street slang he'd adopted as his own. Spending the last several hours with the poets had affected him in ways he'd rather not consider, but it was too late now. He'd likely scare the chit if he changed his manner of speech mid-sentence. "It's very gracious of you to allow me to finish. I… uh…" She was staring up at him with those big green eyes, cheeks still pink, and he found himself confessing, "My mother passed away recently, and I find Tennyson's words comforting. On the more difficult days. Of which today was one. I've misplaced my copy and the local bookstore was fresh out of his works, so… here I am." It was his turn to blush as he shrugged depreciatingly, feeling like a pathetic git as he told his life story to a complete stranger.
Her face blazed with sympathy, however, and she covered his hand with hers. "I'm so sorry. My mother was sick last year, and we thought… but then she got better… and… I'll just go sit quietly in the corner and wait 'til you're done." She flashed him a nervous smile and retreated to a small sofa across the room, picking up the book bag that had been resting there and rifling through it.
William dithered, torn between finishing the poem he'd been reading and hurrying to her side to engage her in further conversation. And possibly further handholding. His skin was tingling where she'd touched it, his heart beating far faster than one would expect in a library.
I don't even know her, he scolded himself. And Drusilla…
And Drusilla, what? Wasn't like he was off shagging this Buffy girl. He just wanted to talk to her more. About… Tennyson. The scholar in him wanted to find out what kind of paper she was writing. That was all. Besides, turnabout was fair play. His girlfriend of several years had no problem flirting with every male she encountered, laughingly teasing him for being so jealous when all she wanted was a bit of fun. Would it be so wrong to spend a few minutes in the company of a beautiful young woman? One who'd shown him kindness when he was feeling low?
Not at all, mate, Spike whispered to him.
Spike would do it, no problem. But he wasn't Spike right now, didn't even know if he could summon his alter-ego months after reverting to William for his mother's sake. Buffy looked up, and noticing he was still standing there watching her, gave him a shy little wave. "I don't mind waiting," she repeated. She tucked her feet under, settling in, and his heart did a funny kind of thump in his chest.
Mind made up, he joined her, perching on the opposite end of the couch. "Was about done anyhow. What's your paper on, then?" he asked when she looked up.
"Oh!" She rifled through her bag again, pulling out a notebook and quoting from it. "In what ways was Tennyson an heir to the Romantic generation? In what ways did he differ from his predecessors? Use examples to support your position." She gestured to the book in his hand. "You see why I might need that. Somebody already checked it out from the library at my university, so the librarian sent me here. For whatever reason, Lord Tennyson's poems have been awfully hard to get my hands on. I'm almost ready to admit that the universe wanted me to choose the essay on Keats or Browning instead. But, ah…" Buffy looked down, words tumbling out in an apprehensive rush. "I really felt a connection with Tennyson, you know?"
"That's important," William replied, warming to the subject. "That the poet's words speak to you. It'll make it much easier to write your essay."
She blinked up at him, pleased he understood. "That's what I thought, too."
"I'm curious, though, why not just Google him? You don't need a book in hand."
Laughing, Buffy replied, "Oh, that's the fault of my mentor. He tutored a bunch of us in high school, and he always insisted on using actual books. Said it leant more gravitas to the subject. For a long time, I thought he meant because the books were so heavy to lug around, like gravity, you know?"
"Sounds like my uncle," William said with a chuckle. "We were close when I was growing up. When he still lived in London. He's the one who taught me to love the written word. And the smell of musty old books."
Buffy nodded. "It's a habit now. I study better this way."
"Well, then. Something else we have in common, besides a love of Tennyson."
"I dunno, feels a bit premature to be finding commonalities before I even know your name," she said, eyes twinkling. "Think you're jumping the gun."
He chuckled. "Forgive me. William, at your service. And you are Buffy, yes?"
"Yup, that's me. Buffy, first year student at Northern Arizona University, and recent lover of Tennyson."
"Long-time lover of the poets, recently of London, and working my way cross-country to visit the uncle I was telling you of," William replied. "My mother's brother," he added while he made a quick calculation in his head. If she was a first year university student, that made her… four or five years younger than himself.
Buffy reached out, and he inhaled sharply at the warmth of her smaller hand on his, her flowery perfume invading his senses as she leaned towards him. "How did your mother… if you don't mind me asking."
"Cancer. It was... By the time they caught it, all we could do was wait for the end. I took care of her until… and then… I couldn't stay there anymore. We'd been so close, you see, all my life, after my father died. She was my biggest fan, and then she was gone. I had to leave." William blinked back tears, surprised at how the words slipped out, words he had never imagined telling anyone but his uncle Rupert.
Christ, the girl's going to think you're a complete wanker, sniveling like a big girl's blouse. Not what she wants to hear, some stranger crying over his poor lost mama.
Buffy's own eyes were glistening, though. "I am so sorry." She chewed her lip, then motioning to the book still in his hand, she added, "Do you have a favorite?
William thumbed through the pages until he reached the end, grateful for the change of topic. "It varies from day to day. But "Crossing the Bar" was my mum's. As you might guess. We read it often, before…"
She leaned closer to read, "Sunset and evening star and clear call for me…"
"And may there be no moaning of the bar, when I put out to sea," he finished.
"You have a beautiful voice. Nicer than my professor, at any rate," she said. When he looked at her, she dropped her eyes.
William watched her flush, completely captivated. He opened his mouth to speak, and let out a strange croaking sound. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Would… would you like me to recite it for you? I've, uh, well, I've had a fair bit of practice."
Buffy raised her eyes to his. "Yes, please."
He licked his lips, suddenly self-conscious. Which was ridiculous. He – well, Spike – could strut about a stage, before hordes of screaming fans, no problem, and yet here he sat, about to hyperventilate over twelve lines he'd memorized long ago and an audience of one. Shifting in his seat, William drew in a breath, but somebody nearby cleared their throat, cutting him off before he could begin.
Tearing his eyes away from the vision in front of him, he looked up to see an elderly woman smiling at them. "We'll be closing in ten minutes, folks, if you want to take your books to the front desk?"
William looked down at the words before him, then gently closed the book. "Another time, perhaps?" he said, handing her the coveted volume. "I'm sure she's anxious to be home," he nodded at the librarian's retreating form.
"Yeah." He could hear the disappointment in her voice, and his heart did that funny thing in his chest once more. He busied himself with polishing his glasses as Buffy packed up, then trailed after her to the front desk, wondering if he should slip away while she was occupied with the librarian. William had to admit that he more than wanted to continue talking to the small blonde with the sparkling eyes, but… where would this go, exactly? Nowhere. Best to leave it as a pleasant memory.
He'd just made up his mind to walk away when Buffy touched his arm, smiling at him. He smiled back, not regretting that the decision was out of his hands, and gestured towards the door. "Shall we?"
"So… uh… thanks for saving my life. Or, you know, my essay. And for not living here so you couldn't check out the book I needed. And, wow, do I have foot-in-mouth disease. That didn't come out right at all."
William chuckled as he opened the door for her. "No worries, love, know exactly what you mean."
They stood together on the sidewalk, both shifting uncomfortably, but neither making a move to leave. Buffy darted skittish glances his way, and William was pleased to realize she wasn't ready for the moment to end either. "How much longer are you going to be in town?" she asked.
"It's rather as the mood takes me, but I suspect I'll be moving on tomorrow."
"Um, William? I'm very sorry about your mother. I hope… well, I hope the rest of your trip goes well. And that it's not so hard when you get home again."
His chest ached. Sweet, feisty, cute. William had never before considered he might love somebody other than Drusilla, but… this girl. She could be the one, were it possible. "Thanks, love," he said, his voice rough. And then he stepped forward, intending to give her a friendly hug, to surround himself with her scent and know how she felt in his arms before she walked out of his life.
She twisted away, though, eyes wide as a bus zoomed past. "Oh, shit! I mean, crap. My bus!" Buffy made to run after it before she realized it was futile. She glanced at the sky, then at her watch. "Look, William, I hate to be rude, but I need to take off. That was the last bus and it's a few miles back to campus. I don't want to be out and about after dark." She darted forward and hugged him, a self-conscious 'I don't know quite know you' hug that was over far quicker than he would have liked, then spun away and strode quickly down the street, blonde ponytail swinging behind.
"Buffy, wait!" he called out. She turned around. "I have a car, right here." He pointed to the sedan parked nearby. "I can run you home, no problem. I'd hate for a beautiful girl like you to be walking around after dark. Not that I think you're helpless," he amended when her face wrinkled up, all set to protest. "But it would make me feel better, knowing you got home safe."
She fidgeted. "Oh. Um. You seem very nice and all, but… I don't make a habit of getting in strange men's cars. My mother made me a bit paranoid. Stranger danger, you know? So I'll just walk, thanks."
"How 'bout you drive, then. Take my car, and I'll walk back, pick it up from you."
Buffy laughed. "Nope, that's even worse. That's proof right there of how much a stranger you are. Anybody who knows me more than a day or two knows better than to put me behind the wheel of a car. Besides. If I took your car, who would protect you while you braved the mean streets alone, pretty boy?"
"Maybe I'll just follow along behind you, then, all stalker-like."
She scrunched up her nose in distaste, and William realized she hadn't caught his teasing tone. "I'm sorry, didn't mean to sound so sketchy. It's just… my mother raised me right. I can't leave a lady alone if I'm worried for her. How about this – you ride in back, and I'll be your chauffeur. Safe enough?"
Looking up at the sky again, Buffy relented. "Thank you. And I'm riding shotgun. But if you turn out to be some crazy psycho, I will make you pay, understood?"
Small talk was awkward after that, but soon they were conversing lightly, Buffy detailing her upcoming finals, and William telling her of the various places he'd stayed on his cross-country journey. "So, this is me," she said when they reached the dorms. "Thanks for the ride.
She flashed him a smile then turned to open her door, and William blurted, "Do you want to go get coffee?" Sitting with her in his car, speaking of inconsequential things, he realized he hadn't felt so content in… well, months at least. Maybe years. He'd known excitement and happiness, sure, but not this quiet contentment, this feeling that he was safe to be himself with somebody else. Somebody not his mother, at any rate. And that led him to realize he wasn't ready for this girl he'd just met, this girl who sent his pulse racing even as she soothed his soul, to walk out of his life.
Buffy hesitated, clearly torn. Finally, she said, "Okay, this is going to sound like a total brush-off, but it's not. I'm involved with somebody… and it's pretty serious."
"Oh, me too!" William interrupted before she could go on. "I'm not… propositioning you. Not that you're not desirable enough to proposition. I would love to proposition you! But I'm…" He snapped his mouth shut before any more words could come tumbling out. "Let me try that again. I just thought we could talk more. About Tennyson and whatnot."
Her hand hid her mouth, but not the giggles she was trying to suppress or the mirth in her eyes. "I would love to, I really would. But see, my boyfriend, well, it's long-distance. And that's hard enough, you know? So we made a pact that neither of us would spend time with the opposite sex one-on-one. Because it would be easy to… I don't know, get carried away? If we get lonely or something."
William nodded. He understood what she was saying, even if he thought it was a bit excessive. "Of course, love. I wouldn't want to… well, I would never presume to intrude on your relationship. There's nothing worse than a man who goes after another man's girl. And I, ah, respect that. That you're so committed."
She nodded, eyes shining as she spoke of her boyfriend, and William was jealous of the faceless man who'd inspired such devotion. "Yeah. It's worth it though. It feels like I've loved him forever, but we only started dating right before I left for college. If I'd known… well, I might have actually stayed home and gone to college there. Which I know is ridiculous and high school, but there you have it." She shrugged. "Better this way, I guess. Mom would have freaked if I'd given up my scholarship here. So anyhow, much as I hate to sound so… weird… going out for a friendly cup of coffee with a cute – uh, with a guy – is a big no in the world of Buffy. Nothing personal. If you lived here, I'm sure we'd end up friends, but seeing as you're moving on…" Her apologetic smile made his heart skip.
"Well, then." William reached for her hand and brought it to his lips. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Buffy. Perhaps we'll meet again."
"You – you too." Her breathing was suddenly loud and ragged in the small car. Buffy squeezed his hand, and without another word, fumbled open the door and left. William watched her go, waiting until she was out of sight, and then he put the car in gear, heading to his hotel to pack up. It was time to move on.