By Estepheia and Marcee
Part 36 - Look who's talking
Telegrams and letters from witches, sorcerers and seers littered his desk, contradictory descriptions of visions and portents. It seemed that the fabric of the world had been ruptured, possibly more than once. Had a new evil arrived on earth? Had the Slayer woken to take on that threat or was she part of it?
He lifted his cup. The tea was cold and bitter. He put the cup down and glanced at the clock. Almost 10 o'clock. *Already?* No wonder he was tired. It was time to get some sleep. Tonight's dinner party was an important function. Some of the guests were very distinguished, with friends in high places. He had long been vying for a knighthood. If he played his cards right tonight, he would soon be known as Sir Arthur. Yes, time for some rest. The butler could always alert him if reports from the hospital came in.
He got out of his chair. After so many hours of sitting behind his desk, reading and pondering, his joints were stiff and aching. He limped towards the window and pulled the curtains open. Dull daylight bled into the room to merge with yellow lamplight.
The old man froze in deep thought, still holding the pull cord for the curtains in his hand.
Coming from a long line of Watchers, Hartford was not just an administrator and a scholar but also a sorcerer. If today's scheduled testing of the Slayer did not provide conclusive information, then perhaps it was time to peruse the grimoires and tap into more arcane wells of enlightenment. Perhaps it was time to pull back a different curtain.
Director Hartford turned off all the lamps, except one.
Leaning heavily on his cane he walked to the door and locked it carefully from the inside. Then he activated a switch that was hidden behind a leather bound volume titled Historia Regum Britanniae, a book one of his predecessors had written seven centuries ago.
He picked up the lit lamp and limped into the secret passage. As always, he felt like he was traveling through the intestines of a large organism. On both sides of the passage he could hear sounds: the servants going about their chores, his daughter in law, practicing on the piano. He followed the twists and bends of the passage until he reached the secret library. He quickly located Cloutier's grimoire and tucked it under his arm. He was about to make his way back to his study, when the sounds of a conversation caused him to pause.
"You did what you thought was right, just like I did." Willoughby's voice could be heard. "Berating ourselves over this will not accomplish anything. Let us instead place our energies into getting the Slayer back to where she belongs."
*Where she belongs?*
"Okay, that's easy," a male voice with a strong American accent replied. "My friends will do the necessary mojo. All we have to do is get the two of us to the portal tomorrow night and whoosh! Oh, and we can't forget about Spike."
Spike had no difficulties picturing the happy Scooby reunion in his mind, Buffy saying things along the lines of `I knew I could count on you' and `what would I do without you' - to Harris. He wondered if his name had come up at all. What would the bricklayer say? Something like, `oh by the way, I almost forgot, Spike's here too'?
Sickening. He pushed the mental image aside. Instead, Spike pictured himself ripping out Xander's spine, tying it into a knot and shoving it down the human's slanderous mouth, shutting him up forever. Better.
"Yeah, that'll be the day," he muttered, knowing full well that - chip or no - Xander was safe from him for as long as Buffy lived, possibly even longer. *Damn her!*
He fished the rest of the thieves' gin out of his bag, downed it and tossed the empty bottle through the window, out of the moving carriage.
Buffy... Always on his mind, always! He'd plunge the whole world into chaos - if that's what she wanted, just like he was willing to save the world - for her. He'd do anything to wipe that thousand yard stare off her face. Anything for a smile, a few words, a dance.
"Spike? Who might that be?"
"Spike? He's my... uh..." *Friend? No way. Pal? Nuh. Associate? Stupid word. Vamp-for-hire? Oh yeah, explain that to a bunch of tweedies...* "He's a friend, kinda. In a very - and I really mean very - loose sense of the word. Not mine but... Anyway, he has to come back with us. He can't stay here. He has a knack for causing trouble."
There was a knock on the door and the maid came in, curtsying and pushing in a little wheeled table bearing cups, a teapot, and plates full of sandwiches and *Hallelujah!* little cakes. After the unspeakable horrors of his last few meals, especially the gruesome gruel, this looked like manna from heaven!
"So, this friend of yours, Spike, where is he now? Why did he not come in?" Willoughby inquired.
The maid poured some tea for Mr. Willoughby and his guest and quietly excused herself from the room, closing the door behind her.
As the comestibles usurped Xander's attention, his side of the conversation became less fluent. "Trust me," Xander said and devoured a little cake, muffling the rest of his words, "The less you see or hear of him, the better."
Willoughby and his son exchanged a glance.
After Xander had finished the majority of the pastries on the cart, he concluded with a determined bout of finger licking. He looked up as the door opened again, hoping the maid had returned with some of the chocolate filled kind. Unfortunately, it was just some old tweedy-guy with a cane.
"Sir," Willoughby said, respectfully rising to his feet. His son too, sprang too his feet. Xander wiped his hands on his pants and rose as well. "Hey."
"Edward. Forgive me my interruption. I did not realize you were entertaining a visitor in here."
"The maids are dusting the drawing room for tonight's reception, therefore Peters decided to make use of the billiard room, but if..." Willoughby said apologetically.
"No no, dear friend, carry on, by all means," Hartford said, jovially, but his smile did not reach his eyes.
Willoughby realized there was no way of avoiding this, so he reluctantly decided to go through the necessary protocol and introduce his visitor as an acquaintance made during one of his travels. It was disconcerting really, how lying to the head of the Council seemed to come more and more naturally.
Naturally, Spike had no intention of lying low and staying out of trouble. Spike had one and a half days before it was time to shove Buffy and Harris into the temporal portal. One and a half days without the chip.
There was a lot of fun to be had in this town for a vampire with a sense of adventure. He could go to Barley's Parlor. Have a few drinks. Place a few bets. *Rat-killing, dog-fighting, badger-baiting - haven't seen any of those in a long time.* Snap a few necks. Yeah, maybe later. After dark.
There wasn't actually a lot to do during the day. Or maybe there was. He knocked his cane against the roof of the carriage, to get the coachman's attention.
"Changed my mind. We're not going to Whitechapel, take me to St. Marylebone, instead. And take your time."
When the carriage reached its destination, Spike told the coachman to stop. He paid the fare and, as an afterthought, bought the man's horse blanket. *Just in case...* He stepped out, uncertainly eyeing the overcast sky. No imminent danger of sunlight induced combustion, but it never hurt to be careful.
He strolled along familiar streets, the folded blanket hanging over his arm, until he stood in front of a house that, obviously, had seen better days. It looked just as small and shabby as he remembered it.
*This is stupid,* he scolded himself as he leaned against a tree and lit himself a cigarette.
"This is stupid," Buffy announced.
"On the contrary, Miss McKenna, this is a time-honored exercise that will hone your sense of balance and your concentration," the Watcher Mr. What's-his-name said pompously, while scribbling busily.
"Yeah yeah, I get that. That's not what I meant. It's just that while I do these silly little handstands I could be doing more important stuff..." She lifted one arm, so that her weight rested entirely on one hand. "...Like get some sleep or eat lunch, you know. Speaking of which, how come my oh-so-conscientious new Watcher isn't here? Shouldn't he be taking notes or something? How come he gets to take the rest of the day off?" Buffy groused.
"Miss McKenna, please concentrate on your exercise."
*How many more hoops do they want me to jump through?* Buffy wondered silently. In all of their ludicrous training exercises like knife throwing, crossbow shooting and sword fighting she had given her best, hoping the Watchers would soon tire of the whole boring routine and leave her alone. But now she was wondering if she should just refuse to cooperate.
*It's not like we need try-outs. I'm already on the team. Heck, I AM the team, I even have my own pom poms. Well, I do. At home, in the basement.*
She remembered the last time she had been tested by the Council. Travers had made everybody nervous, playing on their insecurities. Hers too. When the whole `evaluation' started she'd been afraid to fail some kind of test, when truly it wasn't even their place to prod and study her. *They're like the tail that tries to wag the dog or something.* She wasn't going to allow the Men-in-Tweed to cow her into submission. She had put Travers into his place. If Hartford didn't stop this nonsense she'd put him into his place, too. *I miss Giles.*
Normally, Darla was the first to wake from her slumber. She always rose as soon as the sun set. Today, Drusilla was up long before Grandmother, long before nightfall. She could sense the sun's lingering presence burning angrily in the sky. Excitement and anticipation surged through her, yet her heart was as still as ever. Only the clock on the mantelpiece of the fireplace was ticking and ticking, counting the seconds, minutes and hours...
The raven-haired vampire slid out of the large bed, careful not to wake Daddy or Grandmother. She regarded her family silently and quite lucidly. Angelus and Darla were sleeping in each other's embrace, barely leaving enough room for her. It occurred to Drusilla then, that she would have to use cunning to obtain her prize. If Angelus and Darla knew her true heart's desire, surely they would deny her, for the pure pleasure of causing her pain.
She put on her dressing gown, relishing the brush of silk on bare skin and made her way to the adjoining room, where their big traveling trunks were kept. Humming a happy tune she rifled through gowns and dresses, scarves and gloves, ribbons and handkerchiefs. After all, she had to look pretty when she claimed her handsome prince. "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in your shoe," she murmured. When she had laid out her choice, `borrowing' a pair of Darla's stockings, she walked back into the bedroom. She silently slid back between the sheets and dreamed of things to come.
*At last!* After hours of loitering Spike finally got what he'd been waiting for: the door opened and a young girl stepped outside. "Come on, Wellington," she coaxed the old dog down the stairs. "Come on, old boy, it is time for your walk. Or would you have the maid take you out?"
The dog wagged its tail and followed her on stiff legs. *Poor arthritic bugger,* Spike thought absentmindedly, as he tossed his half smoked cigarette away. *Someone ought to put you out of your misery.* But his real attention was on the girl.
Bright and sweet and vibrant.
Looking at her should have left him stone cold. Or maybe made him want to turn her. Vampire! Evil! Except it didn't.
*I shouldn't have come!* He turned on his heel and strode away. Behind him he could hear the old dog growling. He hailed a cab. So eager was he to get away, that he was inside the carriage before it even had time to stop.
"Thank you, Miss McKenna. That will be all."
*Finally,* Buffy thought, relieved.
"Now, if you'll just follow me into the examination room," Watcher-guy proposed.
"Examination room? Then what was this room called?"
The man ignored her comment and led her into the basement of the Diognes club. It didn't look half as fancy as the upstairs rooms. Apparently, the basement was used as laboratory and medical facility. It reminded her of some of the rooms she'd seen in the asylum. Dark and probably swarming with germs. *Jeez, have these guys ever even heard of the word sterile?* One wall was lined by closed cabinets, with shiny metal saws and prongs inside, and not the DIY kind. *Note to Buffy: Become a patient in this century? Let's not.*, There was a long table with test tubes, cotton, gauzy and q-tip looking thingies and *ugh needles?* on the other wall. Buffy shuddered. A large square table and some chairs stood in the center of the room. Two men in black suits looked up from various papers they'd been studying.
There was the sound of a metal click behind her. She spun around and found herself staring at her own reflection...well, Maeve's reflection. A solid metal *door?* must've slid down into place blocking her exit. Buffy scanned the room hurriedly.
"You did very well, Maeve. It would seem that your long `sleep' has not impaired your fighting skills," the doctor? Scientist? Tweed guy said. He opened a cabinet and brought forth a large blue crystal. He approached the table, and gently placed the crystal upon it.
He stood beside her and got out his pocketwatch. "Well then, I would like to take your pulse now," he said and reached for her wrist.
The whole set-up made Buffy's heart race and her skin crawl, but she remembered that eventually - *hopefully* - Maeve would have to live with Buffy's actions in her body. So, Buffy let the man grab her wrist. The man's fingers were warm and sweaty.
"A little fast," he said, "but that is hardly surprising. Now, I would like you to look at that crystal and concentrate," he continued, his voice smooth.
Buffy couldn't help but look. It was so beautiful. Without realizing it, Buffy found herself standing at the edge of the table. *I recognize this. Why do I recognize this? Something to do with Giles.*
She struggled to extract the memory, but her mind was suddenly cloudy. *Crystal. Remember.* There was a flaw in the center of the crystal. She couldn't help but stare at it. She could hear the drone of the man's voice, but didn't quite know what he was saying. The longer she stared, the harder it became to concentrate on that memory. *Flaw...Crystal...*
"...just look at the imperfection." The British voice seemed very far away.
Just staring into space. It was like high school all over again.
Xander was bored and bored Xander never boded well. Willoughby had decided it was `unwise' for the time traveler to roam the streets of London. Meaning Xander was grounded. Which sucked. Big time.
The thin Watcher was kept busy by funeral arrangements and the arrival of his sister, who looked like a stately matron out of a Merchant/Ivory movie. Somewhere between one foot-in-mouth moment and the next, Xander had found out that Willoughby's wife had died of a heart attack or something. Ergo the man's busy-ness and Xander's bored-ness.
No Buffy. Also, no TV, no comic books, no movies, no Nintendo, no radio (not that there was any decent music anyway), no baggy pants, no donuts - *okay, English scones were surprisingly good, even though they were, well, English...* - no cheetos, no Budweiser. This century sucked. Exclamation Point.
After enduring a stifled lunch with far too many different kinds of cutlery, he'd tried napping but had woken from a ridiculous nightmare in which he was being chased by big fanged tea bags... In the end he had snuck outside his guestroom and made his way downstairs, heading for the one room that might offer some amusement: the billiard room.
He helped himself to an ivory tipped cue, arranged the balls and started playing, wishing for a crazy moment Spike were here. Fangless was a pain in the neck, but - soulless or no - he was good to play pool with. Somehow, Buffy's return had put a stop to their occasional post-slayage commiserating-over-dead-Buffy pool games at the Bronze.
Xander played a while but soon got bored again. He started wandering through the room picking up items, putting them back, checking for dust (there wasn't any) and generally pondering the relative merit of ugly porcelain dogs versus highly collectible Star Wars action figures (the original series, of course), when suddenly a particularly corny looking porcelain spaniel slipped out of his fingers.
For a fraction of a second, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. He tried to catch the delicate object, but with too much force, so instead of cushioning its fall, he sent it flying. *Crap!* Xander made a lunge for it, again grazing the dog with his fingertips, but propelling it even further. With a sickening crunch the ugly spaniel hit the mantelpiece of the fireplace and fell to the ground - in several pieces.
Xander bent down to pick up the fragments. When he straightened again his eye fell on a painting. A cheesy picture with a shining knight on a fat white horse with a permed mane, sticking a spear into a dragon. Remembering some of the nasties that had escaped through Glory's portal and soared the Sunnydale skies, Xander decided the painter didn't have a clue about monster anatomy. But that wasn't what had caught his attention. He tilted his head this way and that way.
"The painting's crooked," he finally announced to no one in particular. He took a step closer. "Yup, definitely cockeyed. Okay, THAT I can fix."
Guiltily cradling the porcelain shards in one hand he grabbed the frame of the painting to adjust it. It appeared to be stuck. He used more force and suddenly something gave way. There was a click-y kind of noise behind him. He turned just in time to see a formerly concealed door spring open.
*Open sesame? Cool! You know, I always wanted to find one of these...*
He moved closer. Overcome by curiosity he peered past the opening in the paneled wall into the dark. *Are those books? Why would anyone hide his books in a secret room?*
Suddenly he heard voices approaching and the door was opened with a flourish. Xander's heart lurched in his chest. Without thinking, propelled by the instinctual bad conscience of someone who was about to get caught snooping, and with added impetus from the desire to hide the incriminating evidence in his hand, he dashed forward into the dark and pulled the concealed door shut behind him with a soft click.
It had been easy to find lodgings in Whitechapel. Nothing fancy, just a dark little room with a smelly but thankfully bug-free bed. After a few hours sleep, Spike was itching for a spot of violence and his thoughts largely revolved around blood and gore. He wasn't really hungry, but the teeming humanity made him peckish.
He bought a hot meat pie from a street vendor as he contemplated his next move.
There had to be something nasty for him to do.
It was a foregone conclusion that the minute he got back to Sunnyhell he'd probably get staked. The chip was the only reason why Buffy and the other white hats had never bothered to dust him. If the chip was gone for good, it was back to square one, where Slayer and vampire stood on opposite sides and beat the snot out of each other until one of them was dead.
The thing was, even without the chip he still loved that girl. Maybe... Maybe he should go and kill himself a few vampires or other demons, chop `em into tiny little bits. They put up a better fight than humans, anyway. Too bad he couldn't just go and beat the stuffing out of Angelus. Now, that would be fun. Might not even mess up the time-line, either...
Secret passages. This should be fun. Should be, but... *Houston, we have a problem.* Because this place was darker than dark. Dark-side-of-the-moon dark. Absolute. Disorienting. Darkness.
Xander didn't dare move for fear of noisily knocking things over or tripping and falling flat on his face. Besides, there was someone on the other side of the door he was leaning against!
He could hear that someone moving about in the billiard room. There were clinking sounds. Surely, if he remained quiet, whoever it was would go away again, right?
Five minutes later the adrenaline rush was gone. But the unseen person was still there. Whoever was making those noises, he or she seemed in no hurry to get out of the room any time soon.
*Now, if I had a secret room or passage I'd keep a box of matches around,* Xander mused. He slowly groped around in the dark, his fingertips identifying bookshelves, and a small table. That's where he found first a candleholder and then, *yabbadabbadooo!* a pack of matches. He struck a match
Books. Lots of them. Oh look! Van der Lieken's `Vampyre Lore.' And was that Himmelmann's `Demon Compendium'? *Okay, this tells me two things: A) That Hartford fellow is also a Watcher. Swell. And B) I spend way too much time researching demons and spells. I'll be wearing tweed next.* He looked down at himself, at the suit Spike had organized for him. *Oh.*
Heat singed his fingers. Xander swallowed a curse and snuffed the flame. He struck a second match and lit the candle.
The library wasn't really a proper room, more like a narrow passage, but with both walls covered by bookshelves. Between them there was barely enough room to walk.
Some of the shelves had gaps between the books. At first Xander thought there were books missing but then he saw a strange contraption on the wall, like a bolt, but flat, like a moveable lid covering...
Holes! In the wall. Peep peep!
*I spy, with my little eye...* Pushing the lid aside Xander revealed two holes. He peered through, into the billiard room and saw a maid polishing the brandy decanters. He covered the holes and tried the other wall. A regular library, complete with a librarian. *So that's what he meant by employment.* Xander thought as he recognized Spike ...uh... William Crawford.
Watching the man read was about as interesting as watching paint dry, so Xander decided to explore the house further. Maybe the passage led to another game room?
Almost an hour later, Xander still hadn't managed to get out of the honeycomb of secret passages, but he'd peered into several over-furnished rooms: billiard room, salon, dining room, library and a big study. *Call me Colonel Mustard* he thought with a glance at the candlestick in his hand. All the rooms on the ground floor, seemed to be either occupied (first by servants then by noisy hoards of party-goers) or inaccessible. Like the library. When Crawford finally left and Xander tried the secret door, it wouldn't budge. And there were no hidden levers or buttons. *At least none that I can find.* Of course Willow would have been able to open it with a mere gesture or a word of power.
Maybe one of the rooms upstairs was empty? There was a narrow and steep stairway leading upwards. Xander took it. *Hm, looks like a dead end.* Up here, the sounds of the party were a distant hum. He could therefore clearly hear a conversation that was taking place just on the other side of the wall.
"Are you quite certain that you haven't encouraged him in any way, Cecily?" a woman was saying in a cultured voice.
"Good lord, no!" an agitated young woman could be heard. "I never gave him reason to think of me that way. Once or twice we exchanged a few pleasantries about the weather, about literature, nothing more. I would never give my heart to a man who does not command the respect of his peers, no matter how gallant or learned he may be. But even if what you say is true, and he really does have feelings for me, surely, it must be a passing infatuation. A mere romantic spleen that will wane for want of encouragement."
Xander peered through a crack in the wood paneling and made out two women. The room itself he'd not seen before.
"Maybe. Maybe not. Sometimes infatuation turns into obsession."
"Oh god." The young woman wrung her hands in exasperation. "He keeps writing poems. I...I think they are about me. God, they're horrible. He has the vocabulary of a dictionary, and the same sense of prose. It is as though he has set a goal to use every English word in an awkward rhyme."
Xander shrugged and started searching for opening mechanisms, cracks or hinges, anything that might reveal a secret exit. He was getting sick of the whole fly on or rather in the wall thing.
"My dear Cecily, he has neither money nor title. He is nothing. Beneath you. What would your friends think if you were to favor him with your attention? You have a responsibility towards yourself and your peers."
"I know," Cecily exclaimed. Her distress was palpable.
"You have to make it clear that you could never love him. That he has no chance whatsoever of winning your favor. Tell him in no uncertain terms that he is to stay away from you."
" Can't I just pretend...?"
"Cecily darling, let me tell you this as your friend: if you want to be tres comme il faut you will have to put a stop to this, once and for all! Already, people are laughing at you."
He carefully made his way back down the steep staircase, using one hand to protect the flickering candle flame from the draft, all the while wishing fervently he had left a bread crumb trail. *Man, this place is huge!* Tracing his fingers along the bookshelves as he walked, he trained his ear on the murmur of party-goers. *At least they'll get me back to where I started...and maybe I'll even be somewhat entertained.* Closer. He could actually start to make out different voices. Closer still. Clinks of glassware and excerpts of conversation. There. Right behind this wall; he peered thru.
*Ah, Monty, good to see you again, old chap,* he imitated his version of an English accent in his head. It wasn't very good. He scanned the party looking for
familiar faces. Snobs, snots, stuck upities...*Come on, this isn't entertainment.* He wandered a little further down the hallway and peeked through once again. Finally, something on the verge of being interesting caught his attention.
Spike's mortal 19th century alter-ego, William Crawford, was sitting on a mind-blowingly ugly sofa, taking notes or something. In any case the guy was merrily scribbling away. *Let's see what you're up to Spikey, old boy.*
A servant was offering snacks around and Xander's stomach rumbled.
He watched Crawford get up and move through the crowd.
"I mean to point out that it's something of a mystery and the police should keep an open mind," a woman could be heard. Xander found her voice grating.
One of the aristocrats - Xander recognized him as one of the Hartfords he'd been introduced to at lunchtime - turned to Spike as he passed by. "Ah, William! Favor us with your opinion. What do you make of this rash of disappearances sweeping through our town? Animals or thieves?" There was no mistaking the mockery in his tone.
"I prefer not to think of such dark, ugly business at all. That's what the police are for." Crawford said, haughtily. "I prefer placing my energies into creating things of beauty."
Xander suppressed a snort.
Hartford snatched the piece of paper from Crawford's hands. "I see. Well, don't withhold, William," he said.
*Yeah, come on William, don't withhold,* Xander thought with a grin. *Hey I know people who'd pay to hear this...*
As if echoing his thoughts the woman with the grating voice said, "Rescue us from a dreary topic."
"Careful. The inks are still wet. Please, it's not finished." Crawford pleaded, ineffectually reaching for his property.
"Don't be shy," Hartford said. Then he began to read out loud, for everyone to hear: "My heart expands, 'tis grown a bulge in it, inspired by your beauty, effulgent."
*Poetry? Spike? Effulgent? Ouch! What kind of word is that? Jeez Spike, as a poet you really sucked...* Xander grinned inwardly.
"Effulgent?" The man with the moustache burst into laughter and all the other party-goers joined in. For some reason the laughter sounded shrill and ugly in Xander's ear, *yap yap yap,* like a pack of hyenas. Eerily familiar.
Xander watched as a mortified William snatched back his poem and fled into a more secluded section of the room.
*Hey! Am I the only one here who thinks it's kinda rude to trash a guy like that?*
"And that's actually one of his better compositions," a foppish aristo-jerk snickered, when the laughter finally died down.
*Apparently,* Xander answered his own question. *Hey come on, guys, you had your laughs, now let it go.*
"Have you heard? They call him William the Bloody because of his bloody awful poetry!" A she-hyena harped, almost panting with the hunger to humiliate.
Something inside of Xander stirred. *I wouldn't throw stones, not with your horrendous hairdo. What do they call you? Bertha the Bretzelhead?* He'd been subjected to too much geek-bashing in his high school days to not take sides, however quietly. Besides, this was William. It wasn't like he was taking Spike's side, right? He willed the retreating man to turn around. *Come on, Spike, I've never known you to be short of a comeback!*
"It suits him," Hartford declared. And then came the killing blow: "I'd rather have a railroad spike through my head than listen to that awful stuff!"
Railroad spike plus head equaled gory visual. *Oh god,* Xander thought, as he realized that the man had just sealed his fate. *That's so not the kind of comeback I had in mind...*
"Time for payback," Spike chuckled, as he brandished his lock picks and quietly let himself in. He could have just broken the door down, but he didn't feel like drawing attention to himself.
He sniffed. Perfume, starch, clothing, shoe polish, beeswax, dried flowers, dust and the faint but familiar scents of the rooms' inhabitants. The family was out.
He started to rifle through drawers and trunks, suitcases and valises. Papers, banknotes, jewelry, everything valuable found its way into his bag. Spike paused when he came across a handful of photographs, then pocketed them.
The last thing he happened upon were deeds and other papers that documented their owner's property investments. There was a predator's smile on the vampire's face as he stuffed the folder into his bag.
He left as quietly as he'd entered.
Xander watched Crawford approach the young woman from upstairs. *What was her name again? Cecily?* William sat down, his posture rigid with nervousness. The woman fluttered nearby, trying desperately to avoid direct eye contact.
They were too far away for Xander to hear what was being said, but their gestures and glances spoke volumes. He could almost hear them in his head.
Something like, 'I think you're really pretty'. And then she says, 'You're kidding, right?' And then, 'Would you like to go to a movie or something?' And then the girl, 'Me? Go out with you? Like, in your wildest dreams, loser'. *I can so relate.*
He wasn't surprised when Crawford rushed through the crowd, bumping against indignant guests, knocking a tray out of a servant's hand and sending snacks flying, looking every inch like a man about to hurl himself off a cliff.
"When do the results of her blood work come back?"
"But is she human?"
"What about her aura? And the mind readers?"
"But what does that mean? Have you done any research at all? Where do buffys come from? Can we kill them?"
"What do you mean, she is gone?"
"This is unacceptable! How could you allow her to leave?" The old man fumed.
He held the receiver to his ear. The other hand gripped the mouthpiece as if trying to twist it off the apparatus.
"I don't care if she smashed every single door in the building. Find her!" Hartford finally shouted. "A rogue Slayer, or whatever she is, must not be allowed to roam the streets unsupervised! Find her. Apprehend her. Then use chains to restrain her. I have had enough of this. I will get to the bottom of this, even if it is the last thing I'll ever do!"
Inside his hiding place, Xander felt a chill washing over him. *Uh oh.*
"Stupid Council jerks," Buffy mumbled. She kicked a pebble down the darkened stone pathway. "Who do they think they are? I mean, I'm the Slayer, they need ME." There were others on the paths as well: nicely dressed couples, women in fancy hats, even a man or two on horseback, but they took little notice of the mumbling street urchin the little Slayer seemed to be.
Buffy had been walking for quite some time now. She was dirty, her clothing, *well, Charles' clothing,* was already worn and ripped. After the physical exercises, Buffy's mind got blurry. She remembered something about an examination room *Ugh, needles*...she shuddered. And then she must have dozed off for a bit. But that couldn't be right. The Council guys would never have let her take a nap. The last thing she could recall was when she stormed out of the 'testing' facility screaming obscenities she doubted any of the English freaks would recognize. She had broken some furniture and pushed a couple of 'guard dogs' out of the way, then just took off running with the intention of getting as far away from those creepy doctor-guys as she could. She realized, after only a few minutes, that she had no idea where she was going.
With the hope that she would eventually recognize a building or landmark, she continued along brightly lit streets, past stately homes, through parks and across pretty squares, and now, she was nowhere closer to recognizing a damned thing.
"Trapped in the wrong century and lost," she muttered. "Just great." She stopped walking and leaned against the nearest building. *What if I really am stuck in this century permanently? What if I never see my friends again?* She sighed and slid down the wall to rest on the sidewalk. She rested her head on her hands and stared down at Charles' worn brown shoes. *What am I gonna do?* The sound of loud clink on the ground beside her startled her. Buffy looked up just as a smart-looking couple passed. She glanced on the ground beside her and realized they'd tossed her a coin. *Am I really that pathetic?* She giggled half-heartedly. *This is what the life of a Slayer has come to. Perfect.*
Buffy pocketed the coin and gazed at her surroundings again, with only a shred of hope that she'd finally recognize SOMETHING. She took in the beautiful clothing, the yellowish cast of the street lamps, the stone buildings. The sounds of people shuffling, canes tapping and horses' hooves created a complex rhythm. She started paying attention to the chatter of the people around her, hoping to glean whatever information she could about where the heck she was.
A group of young women passed, without so much as a glance at the Slayer.
"All my gowns are made in Paris, let me tell you..."
*Ew. Snotty, much?* Buffy thought. Then turned her attention to another pairing nearby.
"Thank heavens the hunting season is over. All that talk about pheasants and hares, so tiresome..."
"So true. I am positively overjoyed to be back in London."
*Aha! I'm in London! Yes!* Buffy smiled at her shrewd detective abilities. *Now, how exactly did that help me?*
"Didn't her son just graduate at Eton?"
"I beseech you, tell me, who is your tailor?"
"When I bit into him, I could hear the ocean."
Continued in Part 37 - The Walls Come Tumbling Down
Author's Note: Some of the dialogue used in this chapter was lifted from actual episodes, namely Doug Petrie's 'Fool for Love' (BtVS, S5)) and Tim Minear's 'Darla' (AtS, S2).