By Estepheia and Marcee
Part 21 - House and Home
She walked to the heavily shuttered windows, pulled back the bolts and pushed them wide open. Fresh fragrant air caressed her naked body, soothing the burnt skin on her face. It did nothing to soothe the rage that simmered underneath her cold and calculating demeanor. Behind her, she could hear the sounds of Angelus slipping into his elegant evening clothes. She took in the scenery before her, enjoying the river and the way it reflected the last remnants of daylight. The sky was still pink, but its glow was slowly fading. As the light waned, the river that minutes ago looked like a fantastic mythological snake in all its iridescent glory, became once more a sluggish, brown and stinking stripe of water. The perfect place to let bodies disappear in, if one weighed them down properly.
"Dru, get up," Angelus ordered harshly as he stepped beside his sire. Darla didn't acknowledge his presence. And he knew better than to disturb her when she was admiring `the view'. When the last shade of pink was nothing more than a memory, she turned to face him.
"I need to feed," she said, touching her ravaged face with her fingertips. "I drank the innkeeper, but his blood was tainted, it had no healing power." She laughed. "It's ironic, don't you think? Trolls have this great power of regeneration and all that mindless strength, but the blood just makes us sick, even if it's diluted by two generations."
"If you knew, why did you bother to go back and kill him?" Angelus asked.
"So he could tell others about the way the Slayer staked our guests and almost killed us? Innkeepers talk. They all do."
She went to the wardrobe and chose a dress. Angelus watched as she slipped into undergarments that were so expensive they could have fed a human family for a year. "You think the innkeeper told the Council about our little... soiree?"
"Does it matter?" Darla asked, already bored with the conversation. "Help me with this," she said and turned her back to him. He approached her and expertly tied the strings of her corset before moving on to Drusilla to do the same for her.
The young vampire sat on the bed in her chemise. There were two bullet holes in the fabric, where her heart was. The fat watcher had been a good shot. Drusilla held a pack of playing cards in her hand. Several cards were spread out in front of her. But she wasn't looking at them. Her eyes were closed and her gaze was directed at things to come.
Angelus knew better than to disturb her when the sight was upon her. It was a useful talent; one that had saved him and his women from harm several times. It was one of the reasons why Drusilla was still travelling with him and Darla, even though having to look after her and keeping her from acting upon every whim was proving more and more tiresome. Darla, especially, was growing impatient.
"Crossroads, dark crossroads," Drusilla cooed.
"Yes, you said so last night," Darla said condescendingly as she slipped into a beautiful dress. "Is that all you can tell me?"
"It's a tangled web of did not and must not and may be. Someone came who wasn't supposed to, and someone will come, who isn't what he used to be. Things may change, but I don't want them to."
"Who came? And who is coming?" Angelus asked.
"A friend of the other Slayer."
"What `other' Slayer? There is only ONE Slayer. "
"The Slayer that captured your heart last night."
He hit her with enough force to send her crashing against the wall. "No one," he said. "No one, no Slayer, can catch my heart. It is already taken."
He walked to Darla, took her hand and lifted it to his lips. He kissed her fingertips, ignoring Drusilla's wails. "And now," he said forcefully to his insane offspring, "I don't want to hear any more nonsense about crossroads and the like."
He touched Darla's ravaged face. "You will need a lot of blood for that to heal."
Darla caught his hand. "The Watcher who did this, find out if he is still alive, and if he is, find out his name, where he lives, everything." It wasn't a request. It was an order. Both knew it. "Find out if he's got family," she added with a wicked smile. It was an ugly sight, because the burns made her mouth crooked, and there was a hole in her cheek where the skin had disintegrated completely.
He answered her with a smile of his own.
Unfortunately, he couldn't just go and drag a dozen people into their house for Darla to eat. Too many disappearances and the Council would find them, it was as simple as that. Angelus knew what it was like to be hunted by a determined opponent.
He pondered for a moment, mentally going through a list of feeding grounds. Going back to the baby farmer to buy some more children was out of the question. Surely, the Council had already found her and taken care of her.
He watched distractedly as Drusilla began to play with her dolls.
"I would like to use one of our hunting grounds," he told Darla. "We could make it a great slaughter, this time. But not tonight. Before we go there, I should like to make sure that the skinny little Slayer isn't already there, waiting for us."
As he mentioned the Slayer, Drusilla gripped the blond locks of one of her porcelain dolls and tore its head right off. "I hate her, I hate her," she whispered. There was a crunching sound and the doll's head disintegrated in her grip.
Angelus and Darla exchanged an irritated glance. "As for tonight," he continued. "I will just snatch someone off the street for us, someone who won't be missed. Right now, we shouldn't draw any more attention to ourselves, not unless we want to leave."
"I like London," Darla said. "I like the view."
"Then we'll stay," Angelus said. *And when we are all fed and strong we'll play a bit with that Slayer-bitch.*
Charles Willoughby was in his room, studying, when his brother sought him out. "Charles?"
"What is it, Georgie?"
George came in and carefully closed the door behind him. "Can I ask you something?" he ventured earnestly. George was the quiet one of the two brothers. He rarely initiated a conversation but he was a good listener.
"Of course," Charles said, putting his geometry book down.
"Have you noticed that Maeve is somehow... different? I think there may be something wrong with her."
"What makes you think so?" Charles asked.
"Little things. Maeve always liked currants, but now she picks every single one out before eating her cake. And have you seen the amount of coffee she drinks? She moves differently, too. And she sounds strange. Do you think she is... maybe... possessed?"
"Possessed?" Charles repeated the unfamiliar word.
"At the bookshop I tried to find literature on exorcisms and demonic possessions, but all I discovered was that possessed people are supposed to be obscene and violent and blasphemous."
"Father said her coma might have affected her memory and her personality, remember?" Charles said. "That would explain her strange behavior."
George looked doubtful.
*Possessed...* Deep inside Charles was suddenly convinced that his brother was right. Maeve was not herself. *Does Father know? Of course he does. He knows about... these things... The question is: What do I tell Georgie?*
He cleared his throat. "George, there is something you should know about Father and his work."
"Um... Excuse me, this probably sounds a bit, well, weird, but could you please try to contact someone for me? Her name is Maeve McKenna. Her address? No sorry, I don't know where she lives. And no, I don't know what she looks like. I've never seen her before, but I know if you just ask her to come here she'll recognize me right away. Trust me. Uh...What do I know about her? She's about twenty years old and a girl, and she lives with a guy called Willoughby, Edward Willoughby. Did I say `lives with'? Um... I mean he's her guardian or something. No I don't know his profession, well, I do but you wouldn't believe me anyway..."
Xander shook his head. *This won't work.* He had practiced expressing his request several times now and each version came out more surreal than the one before. *I think I'd better stick to the fake-amnesia.*
He heard indistinct shouting and howling in the distance, coming from the other patients. The sounds sent a chill through him. He had only been here for a few hours and already the place was giving him the creeps. There hadn't been a moment of silence since they locked him up in this cell.
He resumed his pacing. He had been released from the cot and allowed to use a toilet that could only be called disgusting, but after that, four thug like orderlies had wasted no time putting him into an old fashioned straitjacket - a strange contraption with leather cuffs and lots of straps and buckles. *Four orderlies! Who do they think I am? Hannibal Lecter?*
Only, perhaps they did. Not Hannibal the Cannibal of course, but a dangerous killer. He suddenly remembered the dead body with the torn out throat. If the police who had knocked him out had found the dead body in the hallway behind him...
"Oh no!" Could things get any worse?
*Wouldn't one of Willow's portals be so neat right now?* He didn't know what it would look like from this side, but he checked routinely, anyway. No, not routinely but obsessively. He was scared shitless to miss his ride home should it ever appear.
He heard the rattling of keys in the lock and the door was opened. *Dinner?* A number of orderlies came in to drag him out of his cell. *Apparently not.*
"...this kind of lewd behavior is indicative of a mental illness," Dr. Burton was saying, as Xander was rudely pushed into a large carpeted room. The `alienist' was sitting behind a large desk, smoking a cigar. He was talking to three men who Xander assumed were police detectives. Two bobbies stood quietly flanking the door. "I do not think this man is a common criminal, I think he is a dangerous lunatic. We at St. Luke's are much better equipped to deal with lunatics than the best of prisons."
Xander smiled sheepishly. "Um... good evening?"
"Edward, you are NOT going!" Mrs. Willoughby said with as much authority as she could muster. Even as agitated as she was, she looked impeccable. Not a single strand of hair was out of place. "No one can expect you to go out just hours after this savage attack. You are in pain. You need to take your prescription and then you need to rest. Please, Edward."
"Louisa, my dear, you know I find it hard to deny your wishes, but my presence is expressly requested."
"Send them a note. Tell them you are unwell. It would be the truth. You're a scholar, not a soldier. You cannot be expected to go to work with two broken bones. Surely no translation can be that important. Tell them to find someone else!"
"I have no choice in the matter. I am sorry, dearest."
"Well, so am I, Mr. Willoughby..."
Buffy withdrew from the open door. *Oops, better not walk into THAT minefield.*
Their argument concerned the official debriefing that was scheduled to take place later that night at the Council's headquarters in Russell Street. Hartford had wanted to hold it as soon as possible, but he also wanted as many Council members to attend as possible and had therefore chosen to hold the meeting at 11.00 p.m. *At least the meeting takes place AFTER dinner. I'm glad I didn't miss that meal. Although...*
The food had been great, but it had been an uncomfortable event, once the Watcher had announced his intention to go out that night. Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby had been barely civil towards each other. Charles and George had talked about meeting Mr. Crawford and his sister at a bookstore, -*Wow! He has... um... had a sister?* - in an attempt to lighten the mood. They had also mentioned that they had invited the Crawfords over for tea.
*William...* Buffy found her thoughts drifting, but was saved by a rumbling in her stomach.
*Jeez, shouldn't have thought about dinner, now I'm hungry again. I miss my fridge with cold pizza and Slayer size cartons of Haagen-Dazs.*
Buffy opened the door to Willoughby's office and walked in quietly. The desk was tidy. There was a neat filing system. It didn't take her long to find what she was looking for. *Bingo!* She folded the papers and - for want of pockets - slid them into her sleeve. She tiptoed back into the hallway, past the drawing room, where the marital argument was growing more heated.
"I never said a thing when you went out at ungodly hours, supposedly to work." Mrs. Willoughby said. It was the first time Buffy had heard her raise her voice. "I have never asked you where you were going and what you were doing. I just hoped that whatever you did would be done discreetly and would not shame our family or place you in danger. But it seems your clandestine... activities have precedence over the sanctity and safety of this house."
"And now you are asking me to adopt some unknown child, an infant I know nothing about. What am I supposed to say to that? What will people think?"
It was weird listening to them argue. Weird, because it bothered her. After all, she had only known them for a few days, they were strangers to her. *Sure. So, how come they remind me of Mom and Dad?* Her parents had been fighting all the time, before the big D. Largely because of Dad keeping secretary shaped secrets from Mom. *Gee, pattern much?*
It hadn't really occurred to her until now, that being a Watcher wasn't exactly about leading a normal white-picket-fence life either. *Sure I have no life, but I guess Giles doesn't either.*
Of course he couldn't burden his family with his job, ergo plenty of secrecy. But now it looked like Willoughby's lies and secrets had finally blown up in his face. And he had to pick up the pieces. *Boy, can I relate. Just like it was with Mom, when she found out I was the Slayer.*
Buffy quickly walked downstairs, where she presumed the kitchen was and caused quite a stir when she walked into the servants' dining room. The butler, the coachman and two maids were sitting there; the other servants were probably busy taking care of the dinner aftermath. *And the award for `The invention of the century' goes to... the dishwasher, yay! Sure beats space flight.* She felt a slight pang of guilt, thinking about the enormous pile of dirty dishes each family dinner produced. Buffy briefly considered offering her help, but realized the servants would probably just freak out.
"Oh Miss Maeve," one of the maids (Buffy had forgotten her name) exclaimed nervously. The butler jumped up from his chair, and hastily buttoned up his waistcoat. He had a glass of sherry sitting in front of him and had been reading the morning paper, now that the master and mistress of the house were long finished with it. The other servants stared at Buffy, clearly not comfortable with her sudden appearance.
"Miss Maeve," Dawson said with greater dignity. "You should have rang. Can we help you?"
Buffy sat down on a wooden bench with a sigh. "I know, know," she said, waving her hand dismissively. There were bell cords all over the place, but she still wasn't used to having servants cater to her. "But all I want is a nice hot cup of coffee. Can I just sit here for a second?"
"Of course, Miss Maeve." Dawson sat back down, passing on Buffy's request by nodding at one of the maids. The girl curtsied and rushed into the adjoining kitchen. "And maybe a sandwich or two?" Buffy called after her.
Despite the fact that she had eaten well at dinner time, Buffy felt like she was starving. She always ate a lot, even in her own time. Her fast metabolism burnt up anything she ate almost immediately. *Comes with the Slayer package.* Maeve's body, however, was much slimmer than Buffy had ever been, probably because of her coma or catatonia or whatever, but also because this century frowned on women with a large appetite.
Maeve's body still had a lot of catching up to do, so the least Buffy could do was feed it adequately. *To hell with convention!* Besides, the Willoughbys had a really good cook.
Buffy gave everybody an awkward smile. The servants looked at her expectantly.
"Actually," Buffy said, when she had devoured two sandwiches and some cake and downed her coffee, "there's another reason I came down here. I need to talk to you. Could you get everyone in here, please?" she asked the butler.
When all the servants were gathered, she took the drawings out of her sleeve and unfolded them. *Okay, Angelus, you're not coming in here, not if I can help it.* She handed the sketches around and launched into the little speech that she had rehearsed, knowing that she had to sound as authoritative and serious as possible.
"I want you to look at those faces. Look closely. These people are enemies of the Willoughby family. They are dangerous crea- uh... criminals. Don't ever let them in the house. Do not invite them in - no matter what they say! They will murder every person in this house."
They looked at her, shocked and frightened. But she noticed that the butler and Harper, the coachman, looked like they had an idea what she was talking about. *Well, Harper keeps driving us to cemeteries and stuff, so I guess Willoughby had to sort of put him in the loop.*
Dawson took the sketches from Buffy's outstretched hand and looked at the drawings of Angelus and Darla. Then he studied Buffy for a moment. Finally he exchanged a glance with the coachmen, who simply nodded. "I will make sure your instructions are obeyed to the letter, Miss McKenna." He offered the papers back to Buffy.
"Good, but keep the pictures. Hang them up somewhere so nobody forgets," Buffy said. "These people may come tomorrow, or next week or in five years- but I'm willing to bet that they WILL come. Don't ever forget. And now listen carefully. There is usually a woman with them. Very thin, with dark curly hair and dark eyes. This is very important: don't ever look into her eyes..."
It was 10:30 when Angelus stepped out of the carriage that had brought him to Kensington. Looking every inch a well-to-do gentleman he paid the driver and took a stroll that would take him inconspicuously past the house in which the Slayer lived with her Watcher. And the Watcher's family.
Finding out their names and address had been easy. Angelus had several contacts in London and enough of a reputation to make even reluctant informants talk.
He walked around like a man deep in thought, studying the building and the neighborhood. There was a little park not far from the house. The street lamps were lit, but the park was dark enough to provide cover. Angelus found a suitable spot and watched the house, smoking a cigar. When the injured Watcher and the red haired Slayer walked out the front door and got into their carriage to drive off, the vampire smiled. He waited another quarter of an hour then made his way to the front door. He put on his most charming smile and rang the bell.
During the short drive to Russell Street, Willoughby was very quiet. He looked gaunt. His lips were pressed into a thin line. Buffy didn't know how the argument between husband and wife had ended, because Mrs. Willoughby hadn't been around when Buffy returned upstairs, but the Watcher's pale and harried face spoke volumes.
*I wonder, did they have divorces in 1880? Or was marriage kind of a life sentence?*
She suddenly felt sorry for him.
They had almost reached their destination when he spoke.
"I think you should know that I do not have any idea how I am supposed to send you back where you belong."
"Huh?" That wasn't what she had expected him to say. *His marriage is going all kablooeee and he's worried about how to send me back?*
"The spell that brought you here," he tried to elaborate. "It should have worked. I did everything according to the Grimoire. I made no mistake. And, as far as I can tell, there is no counter-spell. At least, the Grimoire does not mention a possibility to dispel the effects. That may be because it is itself a counter-spell, meant to repair what has gone wrong."
"That's alright," Buffy said with a shrug. "My friends will get me back. They're good at that kind of thing."
If he believed her it didn't make him look any happier.
"I think you should tell them," she declared.
When he gave her a disbelieving stare she hastily added, "Your family. You should tell your family about, you know, being a Watcher and all that. No more secrets." *Says the Slayer whose middle name is secrets. Buffy Secrets Summers,* she thought with a sudden flash of self-awareness.
Willoughby sighed and silently shook his head.
The carriage slowed and stopped.
"My Watcher got fired once," Buffy said suddenly.
Willoughby looked at her, startled at what seemed to be a total change of subject.
Buffy looked through the curtains. The carriage stood in front of a large sturdy building. She noticed a brass plate outside that read "Diogenes Club - Members only".
She looked at the Watcher.
"The Council thought he had his priorities all wrong," she continued. "He stayed with me, anyway. And two years later we made the Council take him back, meeting our conditions and everything. He even got paid radioactively." *Or was it retrospectively...whatever, he gets my point.* She smiled at the memory of putting the whammy on Quentin Travers. "Make your own rules. It's safer for your family, too."
Willoughby didn't answer. He let her help him out of the carriage. With his arms injured the simplest actions were difficult.
Buffy was surprised when a servant clad in a crimson livery opened the door for them with a flourish. There were several mirrors in the brightly lit entrance passage. A butler took their coats and hats. "Mr. Hartford and the other gentlemen are waiting upstairs," he informed them gravely.
Buffy followed the Watcher up a grand flight of stairs and along a red carpeted corridor.
Everything about the Council's Headquarter radiated wealth and tradition. Dark wood paneled rooms, leather upholstered furniture, darkened portraits of stuffy old men painted in styles long past and the musty smell of books combined to give it a strange mixture of age and agelessness. Buffy could easily imagine that it looked and smelled just the same in her time, except perhaps for better lighting.
And now she was standing in a large room with many little tables and comfortable chairs. It smelled of tobacco and was full of men in conservative suits.
There were at least twenty of them. Not one woman among them.
Hartford waved Willoughby and Buffy inside.
After a few welcoming words and some introductions, and after everyone present had been equipped with the drink and smoke of his choice, Director Hartford asked Willoughby to describe last night's events with as much detail as possible.
Buffy sipped her coffee. It would be her turn to talk soon enough. *Yay.*
"Good evening, Mr. Kent," the doctor said. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm a little tired," he said. *Terrified, maybe.* "Not really thrilled with my living arrangements." *Although this is probably better than prison.* "Oh, and the jacket, not a fan of the jacket. It's not really my style and makes it kinda hard to move around." He smiled awkwardly at the nodding doctor. "But other than that," he shrugged. "I'm great."
"Have you remembered your address or perhaps where you were staying during your visit to London?"
"Um...No. Can't remember a thing. My mind's absolutely blank."
He glanced nervously at the detectives. They studied him like he was a wild animal, no, a cockroach that had just crawled out from beneath a rock. Their disgust was palpable.
"Do you perhaps remember how you arrived at the orphanage?"
"Mr. Kent," the doctor said as he leaned forward in his chair. "We found two dead bodies at the scene where you were discovered. What can you tell me about them?"
*Oh no!* he thought in dismay. And: *Two? There were two?* "I was robbed. So...um...I guess maybe the robbers killed those people, huh?"
"Can you fly, Mr. Kent?"
"When the watchmen approached, you told them..." he glanced at some paperwork on his desk. "You told them that you arrived by flying."
"Um... I did?" *Sure you did, Xander. You flew. Right over the Cuckoo's Nest.*
There was a knock at door. One of the guards opened it slightly and peered out.
"Doctor Burton, your presence is requested in the East Wing," he said formally after closing the door.
The doctor nodded and stood. "I am regretful we have to end this session so quickly, Mr. Kent. I am sure we can learn much from each other. Although, I am also certain we will be speaking again soon." He smiled cordially.
"Please be sure he is returned to his room," the doctor said as he left the office.
The detectives glared at Xander as he was lifted out of his chair by the bobbies. They practically dragged him out of the office and dumped him into the arms of three waiting orderlies. Now, it was their job to drag him through halls that may have originally been painted white but were now yellowing with age. As they took the hospital's newest loon back to his cage, the orderlies talked.
"So, that's the third this month, right?" the younger man asked.
"That's right. Not a pretty sight, son."
"Really? You saw `er?"
"Aye, that I did. Poor creature, lyin' in `er blood with `er clothes all torn," the older man said, without sincerity.
The younger orderly remained silent for a moment, obviously trying to picture the dead body.
Xander on the other hand tried very hard NOT to think about dead violated women. He was feeling slightly queasy. He didn't really want to hear what these men had to say but found himself listening, anyway.
"Think of it. One of these madmen gettin' out at night?" the older man said. "I'm glad I go home at 8."
"But if he can free `imself, why don't he just try an' run away?"
"'Cause he's a madman! Like this one, `ere," the man laughed.
*Oh just great. Like being locked up in an asylum in 19th Century London isn't bad enough. Now I've got to worry about being pegged a psycho-snack food, too.*
Moments later, Xander was literally thrown back into his cramped room. He looked around his concrete prison and tried to figure out what to do next. He made an attempt to stand, but lost his balance without the help of his arms to support him. Besides that, he was severely uncomfortable and his left bicep was starting to cramp.
"What would Buffy do?" he mumbled. *She would have ripped right out of this stupid contraption and kicked everyone's ass.*
"Okay, I can do this," he said to himself and began squirming around in his jacket. "Just...need...to..." He was trying to bring his arms down and around his bottom. "Ow! Owowowowowowow! Crampcrampcramp! Owowowow!" *Okay, well it was worth a try,* he thought as he stretched out on the floor.
Then, staring at the yellowing ceiling in his tiny cell, still cramping inside his straitjacket, he thought, *Maybe I really died. Maybe this is hell.* He considered that for a moment and then snickered. *Nah, if this were hell, some version of Cordelia would be here insulting me for all eternity.*
Continued in Part 22 - Attack of Conscience