By Estepheia and Marcee
Part 17 - Alley of Fear
While she was gone, chasing the passing carriage, Willoughby found himself forced to confront the possibility of failure. He was reluctant to admit, even to himself, that his interim Slayer might not be up to the task ahead.
As he kept his crossbow trained on the inn directly opposite him, watching the gloomy alley through broken and grimy window panes, he felt the same trepidation that had plagued him before Maeve's Cruciamentum.
Granted, the Slayer from the future had sounded confident and sure of herself. Her list of accomplishments was undoubtedly impressive. She had also proven herself extremely capable during training. It had been a pleasure to watch her. Highly educational, too. He had planned to learn as many moves and techniques as possible from Miss Summers during her stay in his century, hoping to impart that knowledge to Maeve, if... *No! When! When I get Maeve back!*
But right now, getting Maeve back was the least of his worries. First, they had to survive tonight's mission. At this point, Willoughby was almost certain that it had been a mistake to get this operation underway so soon.
When he had seen the girl smile in the carriage it had been like an epiphany. THAT was the real Buffy Summers. Everything else he had seen and heard of her was just a shadow of that. He had wondered what that delightful smile had been about. *She appeared rather smitten with that young Mr. Crawford.* But what he should have wondered was why she *and Maeve, too!* did not smile more often.
Now, in a moment of clarity, he realized that the Slayer was not confident and collected at all, but...
*Wavering! Oh dear Lord, she does not really care what happens to her!*
He was in the middle of a mission with a Slayer whose will to survive he could not rely on.
He heard footsteps behind him. He turned, ready to shoot, but then he lowered his crossbow. "Director Bateley." He nodded at the heavy set man.
"Edward." Horatio Bateley was armed with nothing but a cane. He was accompanied by two scruffy looking men with crossbows. "My apologies for the delay. The brewery's backdoor was obstructed."
"I have changed my mind, Sir," Willoughby said abruptly. "I do not think she is ready."
"It is too late for that, old boy," Bateley said. "The opportunity is here. It might not come again."
"Please, we might lose her. She needs more time."
"Time is the one thing we never have," the other man said, not without sympathy.
They were interrupted by the sounds of an approaching carriage. They watched as it slowed and then drove through the open gate into the courtyard of the orphanage. It stopped behind the prison-like walls, out of view.
Moments later the Slayer was back. She looked a bit winded.
"It would seem that tonight's hosts have finally arrived," Willoughby said, struggling for composure. He could not let his Slayer sense his doubts. It would undermine her resolve and her fighting spirit.
From where they stood, it was impossible to see the passengers stepping out of the carriage.
"Well, you can cross two more vamps off the guest list," Buffy informed him, sizing up the newcomers.
Bateley produced a silver flask from one of his pockets, took a deep swallow and then offered it to the other Watcher: "Brandy?"
Willoughby shook his head.
Buffy frowned at Director Bateley. "Let me guess, Bateley, you're here to do what a Watcher's gotta do - namely, to watch?"
"It's a pleasure to see you too, Maeve," Bateley said, amused by her rudeness. He unscrewed the metal tip of his cane and put it into his coat pocket. Willoughby quietly followed his example.
They waited for a few more minutes, but the coach did not depart.
"Right," Buffy said. "Showtime!" And then she began to strip.
Under the horrified eyes of the two Watchers and the considerably less horrified eyes of Bateley's henchmen, Buffy began to open every button and hook she could reach. "Help me," she ordered her Watcher. "If you think I am going to fight one more time in this annoyingly froofy outfit, you've got another thing coming. I'd rather fight naked!"
With Willoughby's reluctant help, the corset and other obstructive pieces of clothing were removed, until the dress was worn on bare skin. Bruised skin, as Willoughby noticed.
Meanwhile, Director Bateley kept the orphanage and the adjoining inn under observation. "More guests," he announced. A group of four people, two gentlemen and two ladies, approached the inn. They seemed in high spirits, laughing and talking animatedly. When they knocked, the door was opened immediately by a man much taller and bulkier than the guests.
"Ew, that innkeeper guy looks kinda troll-y," Buffy whispered.
"Indeed, my dear," Bateley said.
"Sir? We should attack before the rest of the guests arrive," Willoughby suggested nervously.
Bateley nodded. "That might be a prudent course of action."
"What do you expect me to do?" Buffy asked. "Walk right up to the door, knock, blind the almost-troll with my dazzling wit, barge in and start slaying, while the vampires line up politely until it's their turn?"
"Er, something like that," Willoughby said uncomfortably. He exchanged a glance with his superior.
"Mr. Willoughby will guard your back," Bateley said. He nodded towards his henchmen. "Carter and Hanson will seal off the courtyard as soon as you're inside. That carriage is going nowhere. I take it your Watcher showed you the plan of the house?"
"Then you know their possible escape routes."
Buffy nodded again. "I'm sure if I just say `boo!' they'll be running like rabbits." She shook her head.
"I have two more men guarding the side entrance of the poorhouse," Bateley continued, ignoring Buffy's sarcasm. "Both are good shots. So, if any vampires flee in that direction, we stand a good chance of stopping them."
"We?" Buffy asked, still in sarcastic mode.
"We." Bateley said.
"There will be hostages," Willoughby said.
"Tonight's dinner, yes," Bateley agreed. "Do not heed them, Maeve."
"You are not here to protect or save them, but to slay vampires. If they escape they will kill many more. It is simple arithmetic." Bateley said to her. Then he turned to his fellow Watcher: "Oh and one more thing, Edward," he said gruffly. "It goes without saying, that if they should manage to kill or capture me, I would like you to be a good chap and make sure I do not come back as one of them."
"I understand, Sir."
Buffy stifled a sigh. *It never ends, does it?* She had never felt so alone before. Willoughby wasn't so bad for a Watcher, but he wasn't Giles. For the first time since she had found herself in the past she truly missed her friends. They were noisy and clingy and they didn't understand. But they were still her friends.
*What's going to happen to them, to Dawn, if I die again? Will they deal? Will they do another spell?* She suppressed a shudder.
Most of all, she was missing one cool and soothing presence. The one person who always managed to be around when she was feeling miserable... It was almost surprising that he hadn't found a way to be here now, to guard her back or to simply listen...
Would he be counting the days again, if she died tonight? Would he continue to look after Dawn? Somehow she didn't doubt it for one minute.
"Maeve?" Bateley interrupted her gloomy thoughts. He looked concerned.
"Let's see, while you and your men provide valuable back up far away from the battle lines," Buffy summed up the situation, "it's basically me and Willoughby against almost a dozen vampires and a monstrous innkeeper, isn't that right? I admire your optimism."
"If we are marked to die, we are enough to do our Council loss," Bateley recited.
Buffy rolled her eyes, recognizing the quote from one of the courses she had dropped out of. *Is `Henry V' compulsory reading for Watchers, or what? Gee I hope I don't have to listen to `we few we happy few' again cause that would be so bad omen-y...*
"And if to live, the fewer men, the greater share of honour," Willoughby continued. He was pale.
"Crap," Buffy said and left her cover to briskly march across the street. She looked back to see if Willoughby was following. "I can do quotes, too, you know," she said with a pout. "I can be very quote-y. `May the Force be with you' or ...or... "
Willoughby hastily passed his crossbow to Bateley. He pulled at the handle of his cane, revealing a straight one-edged blade, before he hurried after his Slayer.
She didn't wait for him but simply knocked.
"...or `Go ahead, punk! Make my day...'"
The door opened
At close quarters the innkeeper was even bulkier and uglier than from across the road. His eyes were bloodshot. Buffy also noted his tusk-like teeth were brownish, as he opened his mouth to say something. *Definitely some troll in the family tree.*
Buffy's foot hit his testicles with all the Slayer strength she could muster. Then, as he doubled over, her fist smashed into his jaw in a classic uppercut, sending him backwards. Swinging her purse like a medieval morning star into the side of his face, Buffy turned his stagger into a spin. A kick against the back of his knee sent him down, and when the two horseshoes in Buffy's purse connected with his head the second time, this fight was over. The giant fiend was knocked out in less than three seconds.
"Or `Hasta la vista, baby!'"
Buffy didn't even give him a second glance as he crumpled to the floor, but dashed through the door into the dimly lit hallway. She was half aware of Willoughby close behind her. *No Bateley, of course. Or Willow or Xander...or Spike.* Without hesitation, she ran onward. With a kick to the door, she burst into a large dining room and into a scene that could have been born out of a nightmare.
Beneath dozens of lit candles, the table was beautifully set. White linen napkins, good crystal and silver. The china was noticeably absent. The centerpiece of the setting was a naked young woman, tied in place by red scarves. A white gag kept her silent beneath eyes dark with fear and desperation. From a handful of cuts, blood ran in thin rivulets, creating macabre patterns on her skin.
Most of the seats were occupied; heads bent over the struggling body, obviously feeding. Heads that rose at the intrusion, bloody lips drawn back in bestial grimaces.
Buffy quickly counted heads even as she closed in on her nearest target. Ten vampires altogether. *Ten little, ten little, ten little vampires...* she sung in her head.
The vampire closest to Buffy bared her fangs at the unexpected attacker. She was dust before she even had a chance to defend herself.
*Nine.* a rather detached part of Buffy's mind kept count.
Still aided by the element of surprise and spurred into action more by habit than by conscious thought, Buffy swung her bag at a new opponent. She didn't cause much damage, but the blow made him stagger, and that was enough. The stake found its mark and he exploded into dust, a look of utter surprise on his face.
Going into a defensive stance, Buffy took the time to check out the remaining opponents. "Right, who's next?" she quipped, not really expecting an answer.
A beautiful blond woman in an expensive gown was presiding over the table. A sharp bloodstained knife gleamed in her hand. There was a wicked smile on her still human face.
*Darla!* Buffy recognized her immediately, even though the vampire wasn't dressed like a school girl this time. *Oh my god, if Darla's here...*
He was standing right next to Darla. "Angel" she didn't realize that she had spoken his name aloud. She stared at the familiar handsome face. Their eyes met. He didn't recognize her. *Of course not!* she thought numbly. This wasn't Angel, just something that looked like him. Angelus. A soulless vampire. Still, she was unable to look away, desperate to find some trace of the man she'd fallen in love with.
Angelus returned her stare with growing interest.
"Oh look," a dreamy voice interrupted the stunned silence. "Someone was naughty and brought a Slayer to our little party."
Drusilla. She was standing next to Darla, cradling a limp infant. There was blood on her lips and on the baby's clothing. Buffy knew she should have felt horrified, but for the most part she felt as cold and hard as stone.
Then the room erupted into chaos. Buffy was saved by her fast reflexes when a swarthy looking vampire aimed a vicious blow at her head. She blocked automatically, breaking eye contact with Angelus in order to counter a second blow.
Giles had taught her well. All that training had turned fighting into something akin to sleepwalking. Blow, kick, duck, jump. Her body remembered the right moves even if her mind was too numb to take control. It was obvious, the Slayer's heart was not in this fight.
Sensing her weakness, the predator before her bared his fangs in an evil smile.
"You are the Slayer?" he asked. "Somehow I expected you to be a lot... taller."
"You're a vampire?" she replied. "Somehow I'm expecting you to get a lot...dustier."
As he doubled his efforts, some of his blows connected painfully with her sore ribs and when he was joined by a second, female vampire, Buffy found herself fighting for her life. A flurry of attacks drove her backwards.
Suddenly a combination of kicks sent Buffy crashing into a wall. When she fell, her head hit solid stone. The impact almost knocked her out. As the two vampires closed in for the kill, a chair was hurled at them. It hit the male attacker squarely in the back, turning his lunge into a fall. Buffy stabbed upwards and was showered by dust. She rolled away, both to avoid getting blinded by it and to get away from the furious female. Looking up she saw Willoughby's sword describe a perfect arc, chopping off the second vampire's head. More dust.
*Six little, six little, six little vampires...*
Buffy jumped to her feet and looked around to take in the situation, just in time to see Darla hurl a knife at her. She blocked the missile with a perfectly executed kick, sending it into a wild spin. A moment later, Buffy was trading kicks and blows with a new attacker.
"Hush, little baby, don't say a word, Mama's gonna buy you a mockin'bird," Drusilla cooed, still holding the baby in her arms. She made no move to attack either the Slayer or her Watcher. Instead she swayed slightly, lost in a world of visions. But her eyes were focused on the Slayer.
Meanwhile, Willoughby hurried to the table and swiftly began cutting the scarves that bound the young woman.
"If the little girl over there is the Slayer," Darla said with a playful smile, "then you must be her Watcher."
"I am sure you are like a father to her," Angelus mocked him.
Willoughby didn't answer. Instead he doubled his efforts. Just as the last scarf was cut Darla moved at lightning speed. She grabbed the fearful young woman and snapped her neck, dropping her to the floor like a sack of potatoes.
"Oh, my apologies. Were you planning on saving her?" Darla laughed.
"I think he was," Angelus answered in Willoughby's place. He picked up his cane and walked almost languidly towards the cowering Watcher.
At the sound of Angel's voice Buffy found it hard to concentrate on her attacker. *Oh God, Angel!* she thought numbly. She felt a chill running through her. For a moment she wasn't even sure who she was more worried about, the Watcher or the vampire.
She wasn't aware that Drusilla was watching her intently.
Buffy's opponent took advantage of the Slayer's divided attention by hitting her squarely in the face, almost breaking her nose. Buffy knew that she wasn't fighting well, but somehow she couldn't bring herself to care. And when a second vampire joined the fight, she was almost glad everything would soon be over.
Willoughby raised his sword and cane defensively. He knew he was no match for a determined and experienced vampire, but he was resolved to go down fighting. Angelus easily parried every attack the Watcher made. His counterattacks were designed to hurt and humiliate, not to cause real damage. He was playing cat and mouse with Willoughby - laughing and mocking. One of his blows hit the human's arm, causing him to drop his sword.
Willoughby stumbled backwards in pain, but then he attempted a desperate lunge, hoping to take the vampire by surprise. Angelus brushed the attack aside. He grabbed the Watcher's wrist, crushing bones in his grip, and ripped the cane out of the human's hand. Then the vampire flung him across the table like a doll.
Taking the table cloth and all the glasses, wine bottles, cutlery and crockery with him, Willoughby crashed to the ground in a tangle of toppled chairs. He landed next to a pair of large wicker baskets, knocking one of them over. Instantly there was a terrified scream. Another joined in as the babies furiously cried at the noise and confusion that had woken them.
"Watch out!" a voice sounded behind Buffy. At the same time Buffy felt some of the numbness disappear. She didn't hesitate. When the gunshot sounded she was already somersaulting sideways, killing two birds with one stone, for the move brought her closer to where Willoughby's sword had landed and the impact of her heels sent one of the remaining vampires staggering backwards. Buffy could feel the bullet rushing past her, missing her by less than an inch. *Darla! Always one for long range weapons.*
Twang! A bowstring was released. An arrow embedded itself in Darla's breast, missing her heart but nailing her to an ugly painting of a sailboat that hung on the wall. Her bestial face came to the fore, eradicating her beauty. Dropping her little Derringer pistol, she furiously tore at the arrow, trying to free herself.
*Whoever that was: great timing, lousy shooting!*
Buffy looked around. She was surprised to see Director Bateley. He was hurriedly reloading his crossbow, cane awkwardly tucked under his arm, as Drusilla strode purposefully towards him.
Seeing that Dru was taking care of the fat Watcher and that the Slayer was already fighting two opponents, Angelus took the time to pull the arrow out of Darla's breast. He and Darla shared an evil smile before they strolled over to where Willoughby was just getting to his feet. The Watcher's left wrist was obviously broken and useless. He was hastily searching his pockets with his right hand.
Buffy had no time to warn Bateley of Drusilla's powers. She still had to withstand the coordinated attacks of two vampires. Blows were raining down on her, on her sore ribs, against her hurting head. Blood was running out of her nose. But now she felt anger warming her. And she found herself getting into the swing of things again.
In one fluid movement, Buffy rolled head over heels to the sword, rose to her feet and swung the weapon in a wide arc, decapitating one of the two vampires. He turned to dust instantly. The second vamp didn't even get a chance to defend herself. A well-aimed stake cut off her shriek of rage.
*Four little vampires... and counting...Make that three!*
Another vampire crumbled to dust, his heart pierced by an arrow. Bateley hadn't dared shoot at Drusilla, afraid to hit the infant, and had therefore shot an easier target.
He was trying to load his crossbow once more, when Drusilla reached him. "What are little girls made of?" she asked dreamily and tossed the baby at him. He dropped the weapon to catch the bundle. His cane cluttered to the ground. "Oh Lord," he stammered.
"Sugar and spice, and everything nice, that's what little girls are made of," Drusilla continued, her voice melodious. Her fingers moved in front of his eyes and he stilled, mesmerized.
Meanwhile, Darla and Angelus had reached Willoughby. "I've never eaten a Watcher," Darla remarked. "Have you?" And with that, she growled and gave him a spin so that he ended up with his back against her body. She held him tight, one arm slung around his chest, the other holding his head firmly and offering the man's throat to her companion.
"I'm sure he'd make a useful minion, would you agree, Darla?"
Angelus turned to face the Slayer. "How would you like to stake your own Watcher, little girl?" he asked with a laugh.
Buffy took a step towards him, her sword raised, but then she stopped. *What am I supposed to do? I wish Giles were here to tell me what to do.* She knew she was like the proverbial rabbit in front of the snake, staring at a creature about to kill her but unable to move.
As if sensing her indecision the vampire moved towards her.
*I can't kill him because I didn't because I remember him which I wouldn't if he had been killed today, oh my god, all this time travel stuff is so confusing.*
Buffy took a step backwards. It brought her next to an overturned chair. Angelus followed. She picked up the chair. The vampire grinned. His features morphed into bony ridges and fangs, and his eyes turned a bestial yellow.
Then everything happened at once. Drusilla raised her hand for the killing blow. Darla buried her fangs in Willoughby's neck. And Angelus threw himself at the Slayer. Buffy hurled the chair at Drusilla, just in time to swing her sword at Angelus.
The chair hit Drusilla the moment she struck at the entranced Watcher. Her razor-sharp nails cut the man's throat like a knife. But the mind control was broken. Bateley blinked. Even as blood gushed from his throat his hand dove into his pocket. Suddenly there was the sound of a gunshot. And another. The dark haired vampire stumbled backwards as the bullets hit her. They couldn't kill her, but they hurt. She howled in pain.
The unmoving infant still cradled in one arm, Bateley pulled a smoking revolver out of his singed pocket and waved it around uncertainly. He stumbled backwards against a wall, then slid down unceremoniously. The gun slipped out of his hand.
Suddenly there was a scream. Darla recoiled in pain. Her skin began to blister and dissolve, as Holy Water burned her face like acid. In an uncontrolled rage she flung the Watcher across the room. He landed in a limp heap, still clutching a small empty bottle.
Angelus and Buffy hardly noticed. They were trading blows, dancing around each other.
The vampire laughed again. He didn't know why the Slayer was merely defending herself, why her attacks were carried out with little conviction. He only knew that he wanted to taste her blood, and that the sadness and hurt in her eyes was one of the most delicious things he had ever seen. It would almost be a shame to close those eyes for ever.
The two female vampires huddled together. "Kill the Slayer for me, Angelus. I don't like her. She is a thief. And she is not really here. Make her bleed!" Drusilla wailed. Darla just hissed, her disfigured face contorted in rage.
Ignoring the screams and howls of his women, Angelus executed a skillful combination of feints and parries that culminated in a lighting fast attack on the Slayer's wrist, disarming her. An instant later he was upon her, almost crushing her. He felt her warm body and was momentarily startled by the fact that she was naked underneath her dress.
"I heard the Slayer was broken and as weak as a puppy," Angelus said. "You do not look very broken to me. Not yet."
"I'm. Not. Broken!" Buffy said through clenched teeth, tearing free and underlining each word with a savage blow. "I'm. Not. Weak."
She felt some of the old fire coming back.
"I've killed more vampires than I can count," Kick, block, punch. "I fought all kinds of demons, and I already died twice," somersault, kick, bend, "not to mention beating the crap out of a hellgod, do you really think YOU can break ME?"
He didn't see what she was up to until it was too late. Suddenly, she hurled her stake at him, then she took an inhuman leap across the table. She pulled a new stake out of her sleeve in midair. Hurling Drusilla out of the way with a satisfying kick, she landed like a cat. Before Darla could react Buffy had put her in a headlock and was resting the tip of her stake over the vampire's heart.
That stopped Angelus cold.
"Stay where you are," Buffy warned him. "And tell Drusilla, not to try one of her tricks, otherwise your sire will be a pile of dust." *It worked on Spike, when I held his sire hostage, let's hope Angelus values Darla just as much.*
*How the hell did she know that?* "What do you want?" he asked.
"I want you and Drusilla to leave. Now. I'll release Darla once I'm convinced that you're gone. I'm sure she'll find a way to catch up with you."
She looked at the two prone Watchers, hoping they were still alive.
Angelus followed her glance. "I'll kill them, unless you release her."
*He could be bluffing...they might be dead already...* Buffy shrugged. "There are plenty more Watchers where they came from," she said callously. *I can bluff, too. Better than Xander, anyway.*
"How do we know you won't stake me the moment they're gone?" Darla asked with a strangled snarl.
"Let's just say, I'm one of the good guys. Keeping promises sort of comes with the job," Buffy said. "Or you could ask Dru. Isn't she good with the vision thing-y, looking into the future and stuff?
"It is true," Drusilla suddenly said, concentrating on the voices in her head. "There is something not quite right about her. She does not belong here. I see paths, crossroads, some very dark, some I don't like at all. She's a stealer of hearts, but she does not die today and neither do we..."
"See," Buffy said. "Vision girl has spoken. Now get out, before I change my mind."
Angelus stared at her. Then at his sire. Darla nodded.
"Very well. But this isn't over," he said.
"I know," she simply said *We've got a long way to go.*
Then she watched as Angelus and Drusilla left. She quickly tied Darla up, knowing the restraints wouldn't last long. Then she hit the blond vampire repeatedly, hoping to knock her out, before rushing over to check if the Watchers were still alive.
* * * *
"Maeve! You're alive," was the first thing Willoughby said when he regained consciousness.
"Yup. I'm a die hard kinda girl," Buffy said. "And you seem to be a die hard kinda Watcher. Which is good, cause I was sort of getting used to you. Not in a wanting-to-stay-in-your-century way but, well, you know..." She shrugged.
"Where am I?"
"They don't know, yet, if he'll make it. Apparently, Drusilla slashed his vocal chords, or something, but missed the main artery. Looks like he lost a lot of blood... so did you, by the way."
He started to nod weakly, but the movement made his neck ache and made him slightly nauseated. He wanted to touch his neck but discovered his right arm was in a cast. He tried his left. Another cast. He sighed.
"Angelus broke your arm and your wrist, you have two cracked ribs, and Darla bit you. But you probably remember that."
There was an awkward silence.
"Willoughby," Buffy asked, "why didn't you tell me that Angelus would be there?"
The Watcher gave her a weak smile. "What does it matter? You knew we were hunting him. He's a vampire. You're a Slayer. Did you kill him?"
"No," she said more quietly. "He and his little family are still dead and kicking."
"Then we failed, and Bateley may die for nothing."
"No we didn't. We saved most of the babies, and there were some more prisoners locked in the cellar. We saved them, too. Plus we made..." She counted mentally, *7 little, 7 little, 7 little vampires.* "Seven of them dusty."
"But Angelus. The most important objective of that mission was to destroy Angelus and Darla."
"Well, then let me tell you something," Buffy said. Cold anger made her raise her voice. "If you had shared your knowledge with me, if you had told me what that staking party was all about I would have told you that we can't kill Angelus. He is still alive in my time. I've met him, and Darla and Drusilla. I've met them, Willoughby. I... I can't tell you any more about this, but believe me, Angelus will cease to be a problem in less than 20 years time."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Willoughby asked. "I thought you trusted me."
"Why should I trust you?" Buffy shouted. "Why? You betrayed your own Slayer, and when she... left... you decided to bring her back, just like that!" She snapped her fingers. "Except you ended up with me."
She began to pace.
"Who gave you the right to play with lives like that? I never asked for any of this, I was happy where I was. How do you know SHE wasn't happy wherever SHE was, maybe she was just glad it was all over. Maybe she didn't want to come back here. Back here to the man who betrayed her. Maybe she was at peace. But no, you got all high and mighty and tried to pull her back, back to pain and fear... and...and duty and doubt and a life where she can't fit in and you...you Watchers, you sit there studying your precious books, cause they're so much safer. Your books don't get killed in the line of duty, do they? And you don't have to worry about money or grades or a job or anything, just your books and prophecies. And when a Slayer dies, you go `Oops, too bad, but thank god, there's plenty more where that came from.'"
Willoughby had no answer to that.
* * * *
"If that Carter guy hadn't told me that Bateley had a doc waiting in his carriage, your Council'd be two Watchers short right now," Buffy complained.
"Of course there was a surgeon close at hand," Hartford said calmly. "There always is."
They were sitting in Hartford's library. The old Watcher had poured himself a stiff drink, even though it was early afternoon.
Willoughby sat hunched in a big leather arm chair. He was pale and obviously in pain.
*I wonder if Mrs. Willoughby is as good at denial as my Mom was,* Buffy thought as she looked at the injured Watcher. The doctors at the hospital had been very reluctant to release him, but Willoughby had insisted.
"Any news from the hospital?" Willoughby asked.
Hartford shook his head. "Not yet."
"What about the children? Where did they come from?" Willoughby asked.
Director Hartford sighed. "I had the coachman questioned. He gave us the address of the woman who sold them, a certain Mrs. Collier. It seems she's a baby farmer."
When he saw Buffy's questioning look he elaborated unwillingly. The mere subject seemed distasteful to him. "Let me put it like this: unwanted infants are placed in her care by, well... young, unmarried women who have...er...been a little too reckless in their conduct, under the assumption that Mrs. Collier will find loving and Christian parents for the child. I understand Mrs. Collier is paid handsomely for her services. I also understand Mrs. Collier does not question prospective foster parents very closely if she is - again - paid handsomely. I have informed the police. They are currently searching the house and the garden for evidence."
"Bodies. They are searching for bodies. Very few of these unfortunate children actually end up in a good home."
Buffy shuddered. "What will happen to the babies we rescued?"
"We have no chance of finding their mothers. Even if we did, it is doubtful they would want them back."
"I will take one. The little girl, if she makes it," Willoughby said.
Continued in Part 18 - Window of Opportunity