By Estepheia and Marcee
Part 11 - Party on, Buffy!
After the food was gone, she spent a good hour searching her wardrobe for something fitting to wear. She was on the verge of giving up when she heard a knock on her door.
Charles, Willoughby's oldest son, looked into her room. He blushed furiously when he saw that Maeve was wearing a dressing gown and not much else. He was about to withdraw again, but she waved him in.
"Please, come in. I won't bite."
The young man, he was (Willoughby had told her) 16 years old, came in, but left the door slightly ajar, for propriety's sake. Even so, he was blushing. *What a cutie*, Buffy thought. *In a few years time he'll be breaking hearts left, right and center.*
"Maeve, I am so glad that you are finally recovered. George and I were so worried about you."
*Geee, he sounds just like his dad.*
"Yeah well, I'm a right never-say-die-gal," Buffy quipped, before realizing that she didn't even know what Willoughby had told his family about her coma and the reasons for it. She quickly changed the subject. "Charles, hey, maybe you could help me," she said, gesturing toward the opened wardrobe. "What do you think I should wear to that party? I don't have a clue." *I`ve never been to an 1880's dinner party before.*
"Will you be staying out late?" he asked, his intonation striking Buffy as odd. "Maybe," she answered warily.
He moved to her wardrobe and tugged at the hem of a dark green robe. "This one won't show dirt or bloodstains, and there's a matching purse for you to put your stakes in," he looked at her, and then down at the floor as he said, "And it will look stunning on you."
Buffy's eyes narrowed. *He knows.*
"Thank you," she said as prettily as she could muster and busied herself getting the dress and its accessories laid out across Maeve's bed. "Good thinking."
The boy was blushing again, and Buffy realized he had a crush on her, well, not on her, obviously, but on Maeve.
"You don't remember me, do you?" Charles said suddenly.
"Um, what do you mean?"
"You don't have to pretend," he said unhappily. "Father told us that your memory is affected and that it might take a while until you remember ...things. Or us. That we should be patient."
"Um... uh... well, but even if I can't, there's no reason why we can't be friends," Buffy said, trying to sound cheerful. "Just... not old friends but new friends. You could help me out, so I don't look stupid or something. I mean, I really dunno how I'm supposed to survive tonight's party. I just know I am so going to embarrass myself. So, you gonna help me?"
"I'd be glad to," the boy replied..
They talked some more, then Buffy trained for a few hours in the ballroom and freshened up for a traditional afternoon tea. *A lot better than today's breakfast,* she decided.
Several hours later, Buffy and the Willoughbys were led into a brightly lit room in which dozens of smiling and chatting ladies and gentlemen were entertaining themselves. Fortunately, Hartford was busy looking after his guests, so there probably wouldn't be any Slayer-talk tonight.
*God I hate this dress,* Buffy thought as her Watcher murmured introductions to her, telling her names and titles, family connections... *Learning Chinese is probably easier than getting all those titles right.* She sighed.
"Why am I the only girl wearing dark colors?" she asked Willoughby under her breath, gesturing towards a crowd of young girls in pretty pastels? There hadn't been any pastels in her wardrobe.
"They are `out'," Willoughby whispered back and nodded a greeting to a fat man with white whiskers who looked like he was enjoying his drink a lot.
"They are out to be seen, old enough to get married. How do young eligible girls find husbands in your time?"
"Trial and error."
"I beg your pardon?" He turned his attention to her.
"At that age? Who wants a husband? Girls want a boyfriend. Someone to date, maybe fool around with in a car, um...I mean automobile..." - *Have they been invented yet?* - "...carriage?" she asked uncertainly. "Anyway, you know, smooching and all that stuff."
Willoughby stared at her. She gave him a sweet smile, but he thought he detected a hint of maliciousness. Was she laughing at him? He shook his head. She couldn't be serious, could she? *Oh no, dear Lord.* He really had to get this horribly improper girl back to wherever she came from. She was worse than a demon, she was a trollop!
"And I am not `out'?" she asked when she didn't get a response.
"You're a Slayer," he answered, only just remembering to keep his voice down. "Slayers don't get married."
*I bet the Middle Ages were more fun than this.* Buffy pouted, but swallowed her indignation and decided to try and get the whole affair over and done with, hopefully without drawing unnecessary attention to herself.
She found an empty chair and sat down, scanning the crowd. She understood that this wasn't a ball where people danced, but that there would be a dinner and then performances of music and poetry later on. Hopefully she could just doze through the latter.
Last night's patrol had been easy going. She had staked three fledglings, all of them females, just as they left their graves for the first time. Not one of them had had a sire waiting for her. Forcibly NOT remembering how she herself had clawed her way... NO. Buffy had staked them quickly and efficiently. She hadn't even enjoyed the skirmishes. *Just going through the motions.*
Suddenly Charles appeared at her side. "Dinner will be served anon. Let me escort you to your seat, Maeve." He took her hand and helped her to her feet. Then he placed it on his arm and led her expertly through the bustling crowd to a huge festively decorated table.
"I don't think I'm hungry," Buffy murmured, when she was seated at the table. She let her gaze fall on her plate. The amount of crockery and cutlery laid out was intimidating.
Charles smiled. "I find that hard to believe," he said. During their long conversation he had picked up her propensity for sarcasm.
Buffy sighed, realizing that there was no way of avoiding this. Well, she'd just have to give it her best shot, as usual, and try to blend in. Even though she didn't feel blend-y at all. But when all this was over poor Maeve would have to pick up the pieces, so Buffy couldn't really tell those Victorian guys where to stick their stupid little rules and prejudices. No wonder Spike had been so keen to leave all this behind. *Again with the Spike-on-the-brain.* She unconsciously rolled her eyes.
She was unfolding her napkin and carefully placing it on her lap, when suddenly she thought she heard a voice she knew.
She looked up, straight into a pair of familiar blue eyes.
"Spike?" she started. But even as the name left her mouth she realized it wasn't him. Wrong hair color, glasses. Just some cute, nervous looking guy who was so in need of a proper haircut.
"Excuse me, Miss?" he said, looking surprised. His voice! It was definitely HIS voice. Sounding a lot more upper-crust-y than usual, but...
"You don't really talk to people seated opposite you," Charles whispered into her ear.
Buffy stared at the man before her in a daze. The well defined curve of his eyebrows *still unscarred*, the prominence of his cheekbones, the sensuality of his lips. *Oh my god, it's him! And he's wearing glasses.* And here she had thought Angelus was the only horror this place and time held for her.
She gave her head a minute shake. He smiled nervously and dropped his gaze. His hands were fiddling with his napkin.
"What is it?" Charles asked her urgently, quiet enough not to be heard over the clatter of soup being ladled into warmed plates. "You look like you just saw a ghost."
"Something like that," Buffy replied. "Do you know him?"
"He was introduced to us, but I don't think we have his calling card. I think his name is William Crawford. He is distantly related to Mr. Hartford's son-in law, a second cousin I think. I can ask mother later, she would know more about him and his circumstances."
"Sounds like a plan," Buffy nodded. "I mean, yes please."
"Forgive me, but you mustn't stare like that," Charles whispered nervously.
"Oh. Was I staring? I was staring. Don't let me stare." Buffy quickly looked down at her plate and noticed the creamed mushroom soup that had been served to her. She began to eat mechanically, not really tasting anything.
*Oh god, it really IS William! And he's wearing glasses.*
She lifted her head slightly to take a peek at the apparition before her and found him looking directly at her. Their eyes met and he hurriedly looked away again, visibly flustered.
*Oh no, now he's blushing.*
"Charles, say something. Talk to me!" she hissed at him.
He tried to start a conversation, something about a horse called Ascot or something, but she wasn't really listening to him. Instead she was using her peripheral vision to watch William and she tried to concentrate on what it was HE was saying.
It seemed he was making polite, but rather convoluted, conversation to the young girls sitting next to him. *Oh my god, he's not discussing poetry, is he?* But even as he was talking, his attention seemed to be focused on someone sitting further away on Buffy's side of the table. Buffy craned her neck, feeling Charles's frantic tug on her sleeve.
There was a young, dark-haired woman, pretty in an old-fashioned way, with dark brown eyes and an air of confidence, even superiority. She looked as if she had just stepped out of an old portrait. *So this is Cecily? Doesn't look so hot to me.* Buffy shrugged. *I wonder what he saw in her.* Spike had only mentioned her once and only vaguely. This was the woman whose rejection had driven William into the arms of Drusilla. This was the woman whose scorn led to his death and future un-life. Buffy frowned and studied her empty plate as it was removed to make way for the next course. *Um, except that it hasn't happened yet.*
She looked up again, somehow unable to keep her eyes off him. *I kinda like his natural hair color...* Meanwhile, William was looking at that Cecily-girl with something that could only be described as adoration. *God, it's pathetic.* Buffy thought. * The way he's staring at her all the time! Practically drooling. Ugh!*
"Stop staring, please."
"People are beginning to notice," Charles reprimanded her.
"Really? So what? Let them. What are they gonna do? Kick me out of dinner?" Buffy asked, failing to see his point. She quickly scanned the other guests in the vicinity. An elderly lady was looking at her sternly, every inch of her rigid frame radiating disapproval. Buffy flashed her a false smile, then shrugged and turned back to Charles still watching William out of the corner of her eye. "I'm not staring. I NEVER stare."
*How come HE is allowed to stare? Come on, Spike, she's not THAT pretty.* Buffy craned her neck again, for a second good look at the object of William's fascination. She thought she detected a strange resemblance between Cecily and Drusilla. *Looks like I am actually not his type.* `His' meaning Spike's of course. *But then, where does Harmony fit into the picture? Oh god, I hope I'm not grouped with her.* And what did she care?
As she continued watching them, she didn't really notice what she was eating and drinking. Whatever food was placed in front of her she ate, whatever liquid was poured into her glasses she drank, while straining to hear as much of William's conversation with the girl next to him, as possible.
Something about a bard. *A bard? Didn't those mandolin players go out of fashion with green tights and little Robin Hood hats with long feathers in it?* She took a deep breath. *God, I shouldn't have eaten so much, not with this stupid corset on. I feel hot. And I really need to pee.*
"So, you see, undoubtedly, Signior Benedick and Beatrice would never have discovered their passion for one another," William was just saying, "had it not been for their friends. Well, you know, some people are just blind when it comes to knowing the ways of their own heart..." He sighed somewhat dramatically, glancing in Cecily's direction.
"Quite so, Mr. Crawford.," the blonde girl next to him agreed politely, gracefully cutting up her slice of roast. "Quite so."
Buffy found herself inexplicably moved. Friends helping those in love. That was so romantic! Also, without actually realizing it she had drunk several glasses of wine with her meal. And it seemed as though her body-on-loan was no more used to alcohol than Buffy's own.
"Friends of yours Mr. Crawford?" Buffy suddenly found herself blurting out, all across the table. *God, why am I even talking to him?* She didn't even notice the audible gasps in their vicinity or the fact that all other conversations stopped for a moment. Several pairs of eyes turned to look first at her then at the man in front of her, wondering how he would react to her rudeness.
"I beg your pardon?" Blue eyes turned towards her, widening in surprise. Buffy felt slightly breathless, doubtlessly because of that stupid corset. *At last! He's not looking at that stupid Cecily anymore.* She gave him her most charming smile. "This guy Benedict and his ... lady friend Beatrice, friends of yours?"
William blushed. He looked around, appearing dismayed. *Gee what did I say to make him so jumpy?* The man was obviously trying to come up with a fitting retort.
"He's talking about a play," Buffy suddenly heard Charles whisper into his napkin, as he pretended to dab his mouth with it. "Shakespeare. Much Ado About Nothing?"
"Oops," Buffy said almost inaudibly, wishing fervently for a teleprompter displaying a witty cover-up for her blunder. Or a hole in the ground to open up and swallow her. *Oh no, everybody's staring at me. Why is there never a horde of vampires when you need one?*
"Friends? Well, not exactly... I mean yes, dear friends. Very dear friends." William's lower lip seemed to quiver lightly and he was nervously clutching his napkin, but he bravely continued his valiant pretence at familiarity. "And you know, they are called just like the l-lovers in the play?"
"I just love Shakespeare," Buffy said with a hint of desperation. "So true to life." She more felt than saw the other guests return their attention to their own conversations and breathed a quiet sigh of relief.
"Quite so," the blonde girl said to no one in particular, still concentrating on her food. Buffy and William both ignored her. Some unspoken communication passed between them. They both knew he had saved her from considerable embarrassment. William nodded and resumed both his conversation and his Cecily-worship as if nothing had happened.
Buffy glared at her wine glass, and when a gloved hand came into view to refill it, she waved it politely away.
After dinner the gentlemen relocated for drinks and cigars into the library, while the ladies walked into a brightly furnished drawing room, making polite conversation. As Buffy found herself swept along she noticed Willoughby and Hartford slipping away into an adjoining room. She would have liked to join them, but Mrs. Willoughby insisted on her presence. Without Charles at her side, and still a little under the influence of all that wine, Buffy felt very much out of place. Mrs. Willoughby was busy socializing. What else was Buffy to do but watch Cecily What's-her-name trying to take center stage.
"My dear Cecily," Buffy heard an elderly lady (who was obviously hard of hearing, because all conversations around her were conducted at increased volume) exclaim loudly. "I believe you have yourself an ardent admirer."
"I haven't any idea what you're talking about, dear Aunt Augusta," the young woman replied haughtily. "Pray tell me, will you be spending July in Cannes this year or are you going to Monaco again?"
"Young Mr. Crawford," the old lady continued, not easily distracted. "He never took his eyes off you, my dear."
Buffy tried to move closer towards the conversation and almost knocked over a little rickety table. Only her Slayer reflexes allowed her to catch the vase and flowers before they could crash to the floor.*Stupid skirt!*
"Mr. William Crawford, really?" another overdressed harpy tittered excitedly, her voice shrill. "But he is so... so... poor. And he doesn't even hold a title."
"I hadn't even noticed him," Cecily answered. Buffy found she couldn't stand her. *Self-involved bitch!*
"I heard he's a scholar," a slightly plump girl piped in.
"He is, indeed," the old lady replied with a chuckle. To Buffy, she looked like a fat hen about to lay an egg. "Our gracious host, the esteemed Mr. Hartford, has asked him to look after his prestigious library, to hunt for new acquisitions and to catalogue the existing ones. So, presumably, our Mr. Crawford knows his Greek and Latin."
*A scholar? Spike was a librarian? A mini-Giles? He'll never live that one down. Not if I can help it.* Buffy grinned.
"They say he's a poet, too," the plump girl said.
Buffy's grin widened. *Wait till I tell Xander about that,* she thought. *Spike you devious liar, you never told me that. Educated, yes. But a poet?*
"Oh dear Lord," the woman with the shrill voice exclaimed. "Pray to God you never have to listen to his poetry. I am told it's - and those are my son's words, mind you, not mine - `bloody awful'. In fact so awful, they call him William the Bloody."
There was nervous laughter, as some of the ladies present felt slightly uncomfortable with that open ridicule.
Buffy's grin froze.
* * *
Drinks and Cigars. William hated the fact that the library was used for drinking and smoking, rather than reading and studying. It would take weeks to get the tobacco smell out of his library. He sighed. Alas, Mr. Hartford liked displaying his impressive book collection. The rarer items were of course stored in locked bookcases, and there were two smaller rooms that housed even more books. One of these rooms even he, as the caretaker of Hartford's bibliophilist treasures hadn't seen yet.
Regardless of how disappointed he was to be sharing this precious compilation with such unappreciative cretins, William had been looking forward to this dinner invitation for weeks. He had known Cecily would be here. He never tired of basking in her radiant beauty. She was like a shimmering pearl, an inspiration, no less. The sight of her made his heart flutter. It also made him incredibly nervous and filled him with the urgent desire to pour some of his ardour onto paper before it choked him.
He would have loved to take out his notebook and jot down a few lines, celebrating Cecily's beauty and the way she made him want to be worthy of her. *A mesmerizing goddess, She makes my heart expand...* He already knew the first few lines of his newest composition, and would have liked to pen them down. But he was required to stand (uneasily) at Mr. Hartford's side to answer any questions his illustrious guests might have about the Baroque first editions or the collection of early English Bibles.
*I wonder who that strange girl was?* He found his thoughts straying. She had been pale and pretty, somewhat ephemeral - but obviously not as beautiful and radiant as his beloved Cecily. Her behavior had been odd, to say the least. The way she had been staring at him... at first he had been worried that there was something wrong with his hair, or that he had ink on his face.
It had been pretty obvious that she was just as uncomfortable with such social functions as he was. She had looked as if she belonged to an otherworldly court, with its own set of rules, not in the confines of this rather tedious event. Like a Sidhe or Fairy. He stifled a sigh.
At last it was announced that the musical performance was about to commence and the gentlemen drifted out of the library to meet up with the womenfolk to escort them back into the large dining room, where the furniture had been rearranged into rows of chairs.
William unobtrusively stayed behind and began to replace the books in their appropriate shelves. He had no lady to escort and no desire to listen to the musical performance. He was surprised when he suddenly heard a coughing sound from the doorway. The pale girl from across the table had wandered into his library... without the young man who had been her escort, without a chaperone! *Oh dear!*
"Gee, what a smell!" she exclaimed, waving her hand in front of her face, as if that could lessen the omnipresence of tobacco smoke. "Oh, hi," she remarked.
Which was a rather peculiar way of greeting someone. *Probably some strange regional dialect.* William almost dropped the books he was holding and hastily placed them on the nearby table. "Oh, uh, um...hi? Can I help you, Miss?"
She purposefully strode towards him. She looked thin, almost frail, but her movements were strangely lithe, like that of a dancer.
"Nah, just looking for a quiet place. Without all that lalala. German folk songs or something? Not really my cuppa tea. So, well... German." Buffy said with a dismissive wave. "Say, have you read all these books?" She glanced at the spines. "Austen, Dickens and... - surprise - more Dickens."
"Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body," William said, wincing at how pompous he sounded. He kept a nervous eye on the open door, expecting her young escort to turn up any time.
"Yeah, I guess so. I don't get to read often," she said, and there seemed to be regret in her voice. "But the body gets plenty of exercise. Hey, who needs this many bibles?"
Body? Exercise? *Oh my goodness!* William found himself blushing, and he realized that the totally innocent remark of the sweet if rather strange creature had led his mind into realms better left unexplored. *Oh god, and I don't even know her name!* He flinched at his own waywardness and this time he really did knock over a pile of heavy books. Dismayed, he knelt to pick them up and found that she was doing the same.
"Oh no, please," he stammered, her unexpected closeness increasing his nervousness. "I am so clumsy, no you mustn't, I mean, let me..."
But she was already picking up books and unceremoniously piling them up on the table.
"See, Wi... Mr. Crawford," she said, with a very strange smile. "No harm done."
*She knows my name. Should I admit that I don't know hers? Oh Lord, this is so frightfully embarrassing.*
She picked up the whole pile. "Where do you want them?"
"Upon my soul! Please, those books are much too heavy for you!" he exclaimed. He rushed towards her and bent down to grab the bottom book on which the others rested, trying to thus wrench the whole pile out of her grip before its sheer weight could make the fragile girl stumble or drop her valuable load. Surprisingly, she wouldn't let go. "It's alright, I've got it," she said, or something to that effect, and pulled in the other direction, with rather more force than he had expected. His grip on the volume broke and then they suddenly both staggered. The carefully arranged stack toppled, the topmost volume hitting him solidly - "ow!" - on the back of his head, the second book, following the first - "ow!" - and then, in a flurry of books he went down.
He didn't really lose consciousness, but he was momentarily stunned. By the painful blows to his head, but even more by the intense feeling of mortification that washed over him like a burning flame.
"Are you okay?" he heard the girl's voice. The poor creature was probably even more shocked by the turn of events than he, himself. No one enjoyed being the witness of such capital embarrassment. Something heavy was pressing him down. He moved a bit and felt several objects dislodging. *Oh no! My books!* he thought. Technically they weren't his. But he was responsible for them. If he got up very carefully...
"Freeze!" he heard her shout with surprising authority for one so young. He didn't know what she meant, but he froze. "Don't move, or your books are gonna get even more banged up. Here, let me pick them up for you."
He felt some of the objects lifted and heard her piling them up. Again.
"Oops, this one has had it. I think." He groaned. *Don't let it be one of the expensive ones.* He couldn't afford to have their value deducted from the meager earnings he needed to supplement his small inheritance.
"Just kidding. The books look just fine. Here, see, that's the last one. You can get up now."
Her rose to his feet. "I am so sorry. Please forgive my clumsiness," William stammered, not daring to look at her.
"I just dropped a ton of books on you and YOU apologize?"
He looked up. And for a moment Cecily was forgotten. It wasn't her face that did it. Doubtlessly, Cecily was much more beautiful than this girl, whose name he still didn't know. It was the EXPRESSION on her face that made his heart twist and turn like a snared animal. She didn't look down on him! There was no derision, no scorn, no condescension. Just good humored amusement, (and he had to admit that the image of a librarian hit by his own books did have a certain poetic irony). There also was that certain sadness he had already detected during dinner, that hung around her like an invisible veil. It made her somehow appear older but also more distant than normal girls. There was something else, something he couldn't quite find the right words for. She looked at him... searchingly. For a moment he wondered what she saw in him.
As she passed him his slightly bent spectacles, which had been dislodged by his fall, he accidentally brushed her hand with his fingertips. She looked startled but not shocked. She just smiled.
He opened his mouth, not sure what to say but hoping that whatever words came out of his mouth would somehow sound profound and meaningful and...
"There you are!" suddenly a voice interrupted. Charles Willoughby had finally found his charge.
Continued in Part 12 - Hindsight is 20/20