A/N: Well, this is it. Much thanks to all my readers, and everybody who was kind enough to comment along the way. Reviews are always very much appreciated! Thanks also to my betas: 3hours, science, and the denizens of Chatzy. A special thanks to the lovely reader who nominated this for the RWSA - it won in the WIP category. Yay! And of course, kudos to Joss Whedon for creating this world and allowing us to play in it.
If anybody has *constructive* criticism to offer, but would rather not leave it under a review, feel free to PM or email me. I'm always looking to improve.
Buffy drew a big, black X over the empty square on the wall calendar beside her bed. It joined a page full of similar marks, all counting down the days until she left for London. Only seven more empty squares remained. It felt like forever, rather than a week, but after almost two months of this daily ritual, she was anxious for it to be over. To finally be on the plane.
To be with Spike once more.
She'd been counting down since she'd bought her plane ticket, but it was even longer since she'd seen him last, and Buffy missed Spike desperately. Much as she hated it, spending more time apart than together looked to be their life for the foreseeable future. Such was the life of a rock star's girlfriend. Spike had returned to Sunnydale with her when Edge of Insanity's last tour had ended, and stayed through Christmas, but then he'd left on tour again after the new year, this time in Europe. Buffy had flown out to join him for a weekend in Berlin, and again in Prague, but that had been months ago and she hadn't seen him since – not unless you counted the YouTube clips she devoured the moment they were posted.
On Valentine's Day, when Buffy had been in Prague with Spike, Giles had finally asked Joyce to marry him. Planning the perfect summer wedding with her mom ate up all her free time – the little bit she had left over after acting as publicist for the Dingoes, part-time art gallery manager for her mom, and part-time publicist for the Bronze. Some days, Buffy wasn't sure how she kept it all straight, but it did keep her occupied with Spike away.
When she was ready for bed, she texted her boyfriend. You up yet?
Her phone rang moments later. "'Lo, gorgeous. Love you."
"Love you too," she answered. "What do you have planned for today?"
"Wanking off to the sound of your sexy voice."
"You want me to give up the best part of my day?"
Buffy rolled her eyes even though he couldn't see her. "I miss you too. Okay, so besides that, what are you doing today?"
Edge of Insanity had returned to London several weeks ago, to play the London club scene in between tours, but Spike had also used the time to pack up his life there in preparation to move to America. For good, this time. Buffy was going to fly out and join him for his final few weeks overseas, let him show her the place he grew up. She was looking forward to it. They hadn't yet hammered out all the details of who would live where, or how they would deal with being separated so often, but she knew they would work things out. She wasn't going to lose the man she loved again.
"Have an appointment scheduled with the solicitor in a few hours. Not much else. What'd you do?"
She ran through the litany of her day, and then the conversation turned to whispered promises and shared confidences, until Buffy's eyes closed, her lips curving upwards as she drifted off into slumber.
She woke to a text message from Spike asking her to call him. "What's up?"
"Looks like we're going on tour again. Sometime in the fall."
Buffy tried to sound enthused, even though it meant being apart again.
"S'not the best part," Spike told her after she'd congratulated him. "We'll be touring the west coast this time – as top billing."
Well, that was better news. West coast meant close to home. Easy to visit. And – "Top billing? Oh, Spike! That's wonderful!" She didn't have to fake her enthusiasm this time. "Where, when – give me details."
"Still working everything out," he replied. "It'll depend on our opening act. Got to coordinate it with them. Talk to their manager and their publicist, all that jazz."
"And? When're you going to do that?"
"Got their publicist on the line right now, don't I?"
"What are you doing talking to me, then? Hang up and pay attention to them!"
Spike laughed. And laughed some more. "God, I love you," he said. Buffy considered hanging up, until she realized…
"Well? Think the Dingoes are up for it?"
Buffy grinned despite her embarrassment. "I can't see why not. They're just playing the club circuit for the next few months, and I don't know of any plans after that."
"Excellent. They'll have to agree to some terms if they want to open for us, though. We're not interested unless they bring their female lead back."
Thrown off guard, she automatically began to protest. "I don't…"
"No negotiation on that front."
Buffy didn't answer. It had been a long time since she'd performed, and she didn't miss the life of a band on the road. On the other hand, she did miss singing… and it would be the perfect excuse to follow her boyfriend around on tour without feeling like a groupie with no life of her own.
Spike interrupted her musings. "Love? If you wanted to be a Dingo again, there'll be nothing holding you back. Your mum's better now, and she and Rupert will be newlyweds soon enough. They're not going to be wanting you hanging around their love nest."
"Just saying it like it is. Joyce doesn't need you to mother hen her anymore. It's time for you to start thinking about what comes next, and, well… Call me selfish, but I want you with me. I hate being apart from you." Buffy's heart melted at his admission. "If it's not what you want, no pressure. You do what's right for you, and we'll figure it out from there. But if the idea holds any appeal…"
Yeah. The idea had lots of appeal. But did she want to perform, or just have an excuse to be with Spike? Buffy wasn't sure. "Let me think about it. Do you want me to talk to the others, or are you going to go through Brad?"
"Best to do it all proper-like, I suppose. I just wanted to give you a heads up. Get you considering the idea." He paused for a moment, then asked in a rush, "So? You made up your mind yet?"
Buffy laughed. "No, Mr. Impatient, I haven't. Give me a couple days at least, silly."
Spike muttered and grumbled. "Want you to go on this next tour with me no matter what, whether it's as a Dingo or not. Miss you, kitten."
"And I miss you. But I'll see you in six days."
"S'not nearly soon enough."
"No," Buffy agreed. "Not nearly. But when I get to London, you'll have me all to yourself for days and days."
"You always do know how to make me feel better, love."
Buffy glanced at the countdown she had running on her computer. "Just think. In only a hundred and fifty-odd hours, we can be…" She whispered the next part into the phone, and smiled when Spike groaned in response.
Six more days. It felt like an eternity.
"Oh, you've got to be kidding me." Buffy scanned the titles on the library shelf again, double-checking them against the paper she held in her hand. "The Perfect Wedding Reception: Ideas for Every Season," she murmured to herself. "It's not here."
Except her mom had looked online before she'd left home, and The Perfect Wedding Reception had definitely been checked in. Buffy made her way back up front, to the computers, and searched for the title. Checked in, the computer said, and listed the book's location as on the shelf. She pursed her lips, wondering if her mother really had to have this particular book, and hurried outside to call her.
"Mom? The book's gone. Want a different one?"
"Oh honey, are you sure? It has a photograph of the exact bouquet I want, and I'd really like to show it to the florist this afternoon. I suppose I could order the book off Amazon, but it would be a few days before it got here…"
Buffy bit back a huff of irritation. Her mother wasn't normally a bridezilla, and she was glad to help. Really.
More so when she didn't already have a full day planned, and only six days left in which to accomplish everything she needed to before she flew to London for most of a month. Still. This was her mom. Whom she loved. Buffy forced a smile. "Don't worry, I'll go poke around some more. Maybe it's been mis-shelved."
"Thank you, sweetie. You don't know how much I appreciate it. I'd go look myself, but-"
"It's okay. Here to help."
"Give me a call if you have any more trouble."
Back inside, she scanned the nearby shelves, then stood, hands on her hips, thinking. If the front desk didn't have the book, and it wasn't on the shelves… maybe it was on one of the side tables? The librarian had promised to come help as soon as she was done up front, but a quick glance showed the checkout queue was as long as ever. She might as well get started on her own. Buffy smiled, remembering a similar search in another library, and wondered for a moment what might have happened if she'd never met William. Would she and Spike have fallen in love sooner? Or perhaps not at all?
The second wasn't a happy thought. Buffy pushed it away, along with the tendrils of hair that had escaped her ponytail. She hadn't paid much attention to her surroundings, hoping to hurry in, grab the book, and hurry back out, but now she lifted her eyes and surveyed the area. There was a bare table nearby, and two small sitting areas at either end of the stacks. The sitting area closest to the front of the library was empty save for a few books piled on the table, while somebody was using the one to the rear. Buffy could just see a man's trouser-clad knee around the corner of the shelving unit. She investigated the unused sitting area first, then circled towards the back one, stopping along the way to check the books scattered in various locations, waiting to be re-shelved.
As she neared the couch in the back, Buffy's heart began to hammer in her chest. Though the angle of his head prevented her from seeing his face, she felt certain she knew the man occupying the couch. Knew him intimately, despite his wild honey-brown curls, polish-free fingernails, and lack of heavy, silver rings. Despite his crisp white shirt and tan trousers. He sported a pair of expensive Italian shoes, not scuffed black boots, but the unexpected footwear did little to diminish the sense of familiarity his spare frame evoked. She could just see the thin gold rims of his glasses, and below those, an unmistakable set of high cheekbones. It felt as though all the air had been sucked from the room - surely that was the reason she couldn't breathe? Buffy remained rooted to the spot several feet away, dumbstruck, staring.
The man raised his head, just a little, just enough that she could see the vivid blue of his eyes behind the glint of his glasses, and the genuine warmth and love radiating from them. Then he blinked, and all that remained was a polite, blank glance. The kind one offered a stranger. He dropped his gaze to his book once more. Buffy shook her head, sure the man in front of her was a mirage. She'd talked to Spike earlier that morning. He'd been in London, mere hours ago. How could he be here?
Except Spike wasn't here.
Buffy didn't move. Couldn't move. Every few seconds, the corners of his mouth would twitch upwards for just a moment, and then his face would settle into a mask of concentration once more.
She forced herself to breathe, forced herself to take a step closer. He tipped his head, but remained focused on his book. Her tentative "William?" came out so breathy, even Buffy could barely hear it.
When she didn't speak again, he raised his head and offered her a courteous smile. "May I help you?" Buffy swallowed, a little confused, until she realized Spike – William – intended a reenactment of sorts. Heat suffused her cheeks, as if she really was her younger self, her self of four years ago.
"Um, hi. I… er…" She gulped and tried again, ignoring the amused crinkles that had formed at the corners of his eyes. "I'm looking for a book that's supposed to be on the shelves, but it isn't there. I was hoping…"
You'd have it? Why on earth would he have a book about wedding receptions?
"It's a set-up," she said aloud.
"Pardon me?" That cordial, blank look was back, but Buffy grinned, understanding now why her mother had been so insistent upon this particular book. Joyce and Spike had been in cahoots from the start.
Buffy took a moment to remember that long ago day, glad she'd revisited the memory of it so many times over the years. She adopted her own polite mask. "I was hoping you might have the book I needed." She gestured to the pile of books beside him. "My mother asked me to pick it up. She really needs it for an appointment later today, but I can't find it and I'd hate to disappoint her… And I'm babbling Buffy now."
He stood, scooping up the pile of books, and held them out for her inspection. "What are you looking for, pet?" His smooth, cultured tones rolled over her, and she shivered.
"The – The Perfect Wedding Reception." Feeling silly, Buffy asked, "Are you reading it, by any chance?"
"Can't say as I am." He smiled at her, and she felt the blush rise in her cheeks. "But – seems to me somebody was." He shuffled the stack of books so she could see it had been on bottom.
"Oh! Thank you! This is great, my mom will be so pleased." He handed her the book, his fingertips whispering across her hand. Buffy's eyes widened, and then she laughed at herself for being as nervous and unsure as if she were actually young girl conversing with a cute stranger. As much as he made her pulse race and her skin tingle, she knew this man. Knew him well. Still, they stood awkwardly together, and Buffy didn't know what to say next, or how to keep the conversation going. She cast back on their first meeting, and inspiration struck. "So, what were you reading, if not about how to have a perfect wedding reception?"
He bent to pick up the book he'd laid over the arm of the chair. "Tennyson."
"Really? I love Tennyson!" She took a seat on the couch and he followed suit, a respectable distance apart.
"Is that so?"
"Uh huh." Buffy leaned a little closer so she could see the page his book was open to, and took the opportunity to breathe him in. After all, it'd been months since she'd seen Spike – and years since she'd laid eyes on William, the alter ego who had first captured her heart. Buffy figured it wasn't unreasonable for her hands to shake and her pulse to race, no, it would be more unreasonable if they didn't. At least she wasn't the only one affected; as she tilted forward, his eyes dropped to her exposed cleavage, and he swallowed heavily. She resisted the urge to lean even further in and nibble his bobbing Adam's apple. Instead, she asked, "Which one are you reading?"
He turned the book so she could see. "'Marriage Morning'".
Buffy smiled. "How apt. My mom's getting married soon. As you might have guessed," she added, indicating the book she'd been looking for.
"So's my uncle."
"Really? Are you here for his wedding? Or – do you live here?"
"Just visiting at the moment. I am thinking of moving here, though. Then we'd have something else in common, besides the upcoming nuptials of our family members and our love of poetry."
She laughed. "I don't know. It's a bit presumptuous of you to be finding commonalities when I don't even know your name yet. Think you're jumping the gun." Even though she knew it was coming, her breath still caught in her throat when he introduced himself as William. She swallowed heavily, and then gasped when, with a faint trace of a Spike-like smirk, he took her hand and brushed his lips across her knuckles.
"Ever so pleased to meet you, Miss Buffy of Sunnydale."
"S-same." The back of her hand throbbed where William had kissed it, and Buffy wanted nothing more than to tackle him to the couch. She stood abruptly. "My mom's waiting for this book. I'd better get going."
William stood as well. "I was about to leave myself. I'll walk you out." Though he remained an appropriate distance away, Buffy could feel the heat radiating off his body. Despite the William packaging, she could sense Spike lurking just beneath, in the way he moved and stood and walked. There was no way he could hide his leonine grace, no matter how much he'd tried to cover it up with stiff clothing and formal behavior. Unlike the first time they'd met, Buffy didn't have to wonder about his prowess in bed; she was already intimately aware of how well he could move his body, of just how capable he was of going all night long and then some, and her imagination went wild. All the fantasies she'd indulged in over the years came rushing back, and she shivered with anticipation, knees trembling.
He turned those blue eyes on her and reached out a steadying hand. "Cold?"
"No!" she squeaked. "Maybe."
At the circulation desk, William waited to the side, then opened the front door for her. The stood together in front of the library, saying nothing, and Buffy wasn't quite sure how the script went from here. She had her own car, unlike the last time.
William spoke first. "I was wondering – I have some free time right now. Would you like to go get coffee?"
She bit back a grin. "Um. That's – Erm. This is going to sound like a total brush-off, but I'm seeing someone. And it's pretty serious."
"Oh! Me too! I'm not propositioning you – not that I wouldn't like to." His voice deepened at that last bit, and his eyes darkened and dropped to her mouth. Buffy licked her lips in response. "I just thought we could talk a little. About Tennyson, perhaps. Be nice to already know somebody, if and when I move here."
Buffy was ready to scream, "Screw the coffee, just take me home!" The charade was turning her on, though, and from the way he shifted his weight, she knew Spike – William – was aroused as well. So she hammed it up, smiling hesitantly and pretending to be unsure.
"Just one cup. My treat."
He took her hand. "Please?"
Her heart did a funny kind of thump in her chest. "I could use some lunch. Throw in a muffin, and it's a deal."
William smiled down at her, eyes crinkling. "I'd be delighted. I'll let you lead the way, shall I?"
They strolled side-by-side to the Espresso Pump, making small talk. Every few steps, William found a reason to touch her: he steadied her by her elbow when it looked as though she might stumble, or tapped her arm to draw her attention when he wanted to point something out. Buffy's hand itched to grab his and hold onto it, but she contented herself with their subtle flirting. When he ran his hand through his hair, a mental image of a particularly vivid fantasy she'd had, one that had caused her wonder just what those curls would feel like tickling her inner thighs, made her trip over the curb. He twisted to catch her, and she fell into his arms.
And stayed there.
God, he felt good. Warm, and firm, and strong. It had been so long since she'd been in Spike's embrace. She'd missed it, but this, with him sporting a crisp button-down rather than a well-loved t-shirt, felt new and exciting. Buffy's fingers began a slow caress of the fabric covering his chest, exploring the unfamiliar sensation. William tightened his arms around her, pulling her closer, and she could feel his arousal against her hip. He swallowed heavily. "Are – are you all right?"
Buffy remembered why she'd tripped in the first place. She stared up at his face, shifting against his hardness. William closed his eyes, breathing heavily, and then released her and stepped back a pace.
She found her voice. "Yep. Peachy. Thanks for the save."
"It was my pleasure." His voice came out a deep rumble, and Buffy swore he was holding back a leer. It was bizarre to imagine William's visage leering at her, but at the same time…
"God, I want you right now."
He choked, eyes wide behind his glasses. "I beg your pardon?"
"Food! God, I want food right now! Because I'm so hungry. So hungry, I'm tripping and stumbling and dizzy!"
William raised an eyebrow – a scarred eyebrow – but from behind glasses, it didn't have quite the same effect. "Of course. Perhaps I should assist you. To prevent additional mishaps." He offered her the crook of his elbow, and Buffy took it.
They made it to the Espresso Pump without further incident. Coffees and pastries in hand, William suggested they take their lunch to a nearby park, and Buffy agreed. The pair found a shady bench under a tree, and this time, when they sat, his knee brushed against hers. "So, Buffy. Which of Tennyson's poems is your favorite?"
Buffy told him, reciting it shyly when he asked her to, and then he shared his with her. Soon they'd fallen into an intense discussion that flowed from topic to topic without effort. She smiled to herself, realizing that her wish had finally come true – she had the chance to compare the reality of William to the fantasy she'd built in her mind. Maybe it was because she already knew she loved this man, no matter what face he presented to the world, but the reality didn't disappoint. William was everything she'd remembered and more.
All the while, they moved closer to each other, until their thighs butted. Buffy laid her hand upon his forearm and left it there. William's nostrils flared. Their eyes locked, and the conversation ground to a halt. She curled her fingers around his arm, breathless with anticipation.
Slowly, William raised his other hand and brushed her hair away from her face. "Do you believe in love at first sight?"
"No. Not really."
"Once upon a time, I should have agreed with you."
"But you don't now?"
He cupped her cheek. "How could I not?"
Buffy swallowed, and leaned into his hand. This was her cue to protest, to pretend to be poised to run off, virtue a-fluttering. "I ought to go. My mom's waiting."
"Don't you want to find out where this goes? See if your heart is leading you true?"
Buffy wondered how their lives might have been different if she'd said yes the first time, and gone for coffee with William. Would they have been able to avoid the heartache they'd each endured in the intervening years? It didn't matter. He was here, now, and she had the opportunity to do what she wished she'd done all those years ago. She stood, legs trembling with the force of her desire, while the man she loved watched her intently, his face hopeful. After a moment's hesitation, she reached for his hand and pulled him to stand next to her.
"You know what? You're right. I do want to see where this goes."
William smiled. "Glad we agree," he said, and lowered his mouth to hers.