London 1880. February 13th.
William had been in the shop for ten minutes, nervously fingering writing paper and debating the respective merits of green and red sealing wax with a bored but polite sales assistant. Around him, a steady swirl of customers entered the shop, made their purchases, and left. Finally he chose the red wax and a packet of envelopes and went to the counter. A pair of young ladies brushed past him, their heads together, giggling over their purchases. They left, and William realised that he was the last customer in the shop. The sales assistant flicked the door sign over to indicate that the shop was closed and vanished into the storeroom. William sighed inwardly. His shyness had cost him his last chance to buy what he really wanted.
“The cards are over there, sir,” said the woman behind the counter, in a quiet, respectful voice.
William’s head jerked round and he looked at her, eyes wide. “I –I beg your pardon? Cards?”
She smiled kindly. “I mean no disrespect, young sir. You seem like the kind of gentleman who would be sending a card to his lady love, that’s all. Unless you’ve already purchased one?”
William flushed painfully and pushed his spectacles into place. “I, well, yes, perhaps I could look at, that is, I see you are about to close –”
She shook her head reassuringly. “Take all the time you need. Where love is concerned, there’s no need to rush things.”
William looked at her, his blushes fading. Unexpectedly he smiled, a friendly, sweet grin that transformed his face. His normal smile was a terrified twitch of the lips, as he tried to work out just what he had said or done that was making the people around him laugh so hard. Turning, he went over to the display of cards. He had been sneaking glances at it all the time he had been in the shop and he knew just which card he wanted. Reverently he took it down from the shelf. He couldn’t believe that so beautiful a card remained unsold. It was as if it were meant that he should have it.
The card was white with lace, and bound with red satin ribbons that fluttered as he picked it up. The picture on the card was an intricate pattern in silver and gold; linked hands, linked hearts. William opened the card and saw that it was blank inside. He frowned. Usually there was a verse of some sort – then he smiled. He could not sign the card of course, but if he wrote a poem of his own inside, Cecily would know the identity of one of her valentines at least.
He turned back to the counter to pay and noticed that the unwanted wax and envelopes had been tactfully replaced on the shelves. “I’ll take this one if I may,” he said.
“If you write it now, sir, we will deliver it for you,” said the shop keeper, handing him back his change. “You’ve missed the last post and you can scarcely deliver it by hand.” Her eyes twinkled and she pointed to a small notice on the wall. “It’s a special service we’ve been offering. It’s why we’ve been so busy.”
William glanced at the notice and read it aloud. “’We guarantee that your card will be delivered on Valentine’s Day, to your true love and no one else.’” He shrugged his shoulders. “Very well. Do you have a pen I might use? Ah, thank you.”
Taking the card over to a table, he sat and began to copy out a short verse of his latest poem. He had read it to Cecily only last week, so she would be sure to remember it. The pen dug into the side of his finger as he wrote and he winced with pain. He finished writing the poem and left the card open so that the ink could dry. Swiftly, mindful of the fact that he was keeping the shop keeper from her home, he looked around for the envelope, intending to address it and then leave. His finger throbbed and he glanced down at it automatically.
It was bleeding, and as he watched, a spot of blood landed on the open card. He gasped with dismay, looking around for some blotting paper, but finding none. Looking at the card to see how badly it was stained, his brow creased. The blood lay on the ivory card like a raindrop on a leaf, and then it began to spread out. As he watched, his eyes wide with wonder, it seemed to spell out his name in thin, cursive letters of crimson. He blinked and watched the letters fade, sinking into the card and disappearing.
William jumped up, his face white. Forgetting the blank envelope, he ran out into the street, his mind whirling with conjecture. By the time he reached the corner, the memory of the shop had left him entirely.
Sunnydale 2003. February 14th.
Buffy looked around the empty kitchen with a smile. Giles and Xander had taken the girls for an early morning jog; Willow was at college, Dawn at school, and apart from one vampire, sleeping peacefully in the basement, she was blissfully alone. Pouring a coffee, she went to sit on the sofa in the front room, relishing the peace. She had just got comfortable when there was a knock at the door. Sighing, she stood up and went to open it.
The young man on the step looked pleasant enough, and the sunlight ruled out any chance that he was a vampire, but Buffy frowned. Her Slayer instincts had kicked in, warning her that he was more than he seemed. “Why are you dressed like that?” she said abruptly.
The man looked down at his old fashioned suit and smiled. “I’m getting a little old to be fluttering around with a wisp of cloud around my nether regions,” he said cryptically. “Besides, it’s what I was wearing when I was given this to be delivered.”
With a bow, he handed over an envelope and walked away quickly. Buffy watched him vanish before he reached the sidewalk, fading away as he left her garden. She blinked in surprise.
Buffy looked at the envelope and saw her name written across it in a neat, flowing script. Going back into the house, she opened it carefully, trying not to damage it more than she had to. As the card slid out, she sighed with pleasure. It was beautiful; exquisite and delicate, the white lace pristine, the silver and gold design shimmering slightly in the sunlight. Almost holding her breath, she opened the card and read the verse inside. Tears prickled her eyes at the longing expressed in the poem, at the deep love it revealed. She glanced at the card, looking for a signature but finding none.
She was about to close it when one of her tears fell and landed on the card. “Oh, no,” she whispered, looking frantically for a tissue to blot it with. The tear lay on the card, sparkling like crystal, then spread out, soaking into the paper. As she watched, scarlet letters appeared, glowing brightly for a moment, before fading.
Buffy sat very still for a moment then took a deep breath and stood up.
Spike glanced up as Buffy walked over to his bed, her eyes shining. She said nothing but bent and kissed him, her lips soft and sweet against his mouth. Startled, he pulled back, his eyes searching her face.
“Buffy?” he whispered. “Why did you do that?”
She smiled and gave him the card. “You asked me to,” she said simply.
Spike looked down at the card, his eyes widening as lost memories swirled in his mind. Opening it, he read the verse aloud, his voice husky as he reached the final lines.
“’Soft words of love are spoken, and then die,
Their echoes fading in the vibrant air.
Speak not such words, but let them silent lie,
And use your lips to kiss me, if you care.’”
Not daring to look at her, he murmured, “Not much of a poet. Never was.”
Her hand cupped his face, tilting it so that their eyes met.
“I got the message, William,” she said softly.
There was a glimmer of amusement in his blue eyes as he leaned forward to kiss her. “Took long enough,” said Spike.
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