All About Spike - Plain Version
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Part Ten: Resurrections
World travelers debate over what causes the worst jet lag; the journey from east to west, or vice versa. And Buffy, confronting the sapping exhaustion that came with jet lag and the need for good manners, wondered suddenly which of her own dilemmas was worse: the journey from death to life or vice versa. Both left her drained out and dry, weak and listless. There had appeared to be no recovery for her anywhere, and it felt as if she’d had a perpetually bad night’s sleep, followed by a too-early awakening.
Ironically enough, despite all the dimensions she’d been to, she’d never traveled far on earth and the jet lag hit her like a hammer. The drive was a blur of neon-streaked London streets, glimpsed through half-open eyes. There were occasional stops, and eons spent on wrong turns, with David periodically muttering “Oops, bugger,” under his breath. Then the car was stationary for a long time and she became aware that the engine was ticking to a stop. She stirred. Her eyelids felt like they’d been glued together, and she suspected that that was exactly what they looked like as well. She wondered if she’d drooled. Also, David seemed to split himself into twins, neither of which appeared to be too steady on their feet. Both seemed sympathetic, though. “C’mon, then, let’s get you to bed,” he murmured, and when she opened the car door and all but fell out, it was into a circle of many faces and helping hands. There were far too many introductions and accents and voices. She could barely keep herself upright, and in a trice, she was whisked from the car and across a cobblestone courtyard and into a building that seemed to consist of hallways and soft lights and more faces. I’ll never remember all these people, Buffy thought dispiritedly, and was startled by the bloom of a warm smile from the girl at her elbow. “That’s what everyone thinks,” she said conspiratorially, and Buffy blinked in surprise.
Her first rough estimate of roughly several thousand people had resolved itself into seven; there was David, lugging Joyce’s suitcase, and six girls of various sizes, shapes, and colors. They were all excited in a terribly quiet way, though; there was lots of whispering and giggling, and none of it had that tone to it that Buffy still remembered from high school. Despite her weariness, she began to glance around, wondering what sort of place she’d wandered into. Her only experience with covens had been at one remove, when Willow had briefly flirted with Wicca at college and come away disgusted. Willow, once more, she thought, and her head hurt.
“Here you go,” David said gently, and she was ushered into a room and silence. The girls left her.
“What are you, the butler?” Buffy asked, just before she realized that question might be rude.
He merely shrugged. “Sort of.” He gestured at the room. “Get some sleep, and then we’ll get started.”
The room, glimpsed in the moments between the opening of the door and the collapse onto the bed, was little more than a prison cell with one bunk. It had a window, a tiny little bath, and what turned out to be the most comfortable bed she’d ever found. She’d never seen or felt anything like it. It was plumped with fat quilts and fluffy pillows, and when she sank down on the mattress with a groan it sighed underneath her and conformed to her body like a huge pillow. She was asleep before she’d even exhaled her exhausted breath.
Sleep had been treacherous since her return in the fall. Too often, it soothed her temporarily, and brought back deceptive memories of peace and completion. Waking had become an ordeal for her, every morning another bitter resurrection from forgetfulness. Every morning was another battle lost against her constant weariness. She had just been at that moment where one finally surrenders to sleep, where the tensions of day time have melted away, and molecule by molecule, into creeping lassitude. Worrisome thoughts whirled away into mist, and aches and pains faded. There was something magical about that first moment, when sheets became warm, and pillow shapes became comforting. Then came the gradual melting of warmth and comfort into one’s fibers, and then deeper, into one’s bones. There had been some odd sensation of knowledge that nowhere was an alarm to jar her from this rest, that she might sleep her sleep, till all exhaustion was washed away, and wake only when she wanted, when she was ready. Beyond dreams, certain things waited, but these were not unpleasant. Familiar things shrouded by dreams, they promised to guide her return once rest was done.
There had been the sensation of a long-held breath being let go, of a constant tension being sighed away by peace. To sleep and know the night was no longer the refuge of dark things. To sleep in solemn security, and to wake, not to loss, but to acceptance and potential, these were the things that waited on the edge of her unformed dreams.
That was the perfect moment, when the warmth finally reached inside her and warmed bones that had seemed chilled for years. That was the moment she had begun to dream, as her exhaustion dissipated, and her mended spirit began to assert itself.
That was the moment they’d brought her back.
She slept through what felt like centuries, hard and deep, and swam upward through the waters of her layered memories. It was gradual and gentle. She became aware that she was waking up, but it wasn’t something being forced on her. It was just that she’d slept as much as her starved body needed, and now she was being nudged toward morning, naturally and without pressure. When she woke, it was in slow, effortless stages.
Her body told her, quite firmly, that it was seven am, but a glance at the bedside clock revealed it was only two AM. It had been morning when she arrived in London----or had it? That seemed to have been several days ago. She burrowed deeper under the warm covers, thoroughly confused.
Her eyes adjusted to the dim light cast by the streetlights, and she studied her little cell. Was Willow’s room like this? Was Xander’s? Even their names made her pulse jump eagerly. She wondered what it would be like to talk to them, and for the moment, caught as she was in some weird zone between alertness and weariness, the thought was a happy one. She looked at the clock again. There was no getting around it; it was only two AM. What on earth was she going to do for five hours?
London at night was a lot like the London she’d seen in the movies. There were rain-slicked streets, and cobblestones. The buildings made her house in Sunnydale look garishly modern, and the cars all seemed to be about the size of breadboxes. The coven appeared to be located in one of the older areas of an old city. She was strolling past another red-brick edifice when something percolated through her brain and she backed up to get another look. “AD 1556” said the cornerstone, and she gulped and blinked at the date. For an instant, she stood in awe, trying to place it in context. Two hundred years before the Revolution? Two hundred years? Then, another thought rose up: What’s under that building? And what’s under that? And that? Unfortunately, that pretty much exhausted the topic, and she took a step back and eyed the structure. Age aside, it was a half-timbered hulk that appeared to have been recently restored, and the effect was only slightly tarnished by the ghastly brick and brass monstrosity next to it. She looked at the old house, and wondered if Shakespeare had ever entered it. Looking at its neighbor, she could only think, Maybe somebody in The Clash spit on it from their tour bus. Cheered by the thought, she jammed her hands in her pockets and headed down the street, noting the sudden appearance of a metal fence at the property line of the old house. A very cemetery-looking metal fence, she thought, and stepped up her pace.
It turned out to be a park. She was just peeking through the bars of the gates when someone clearing their throat behind her made her freeze for a moment, and then turn cautiously. At least vampires seldom clear their throats.
She found herself facing a very British-looking bobby. Even before he opened his mouth, she knew he was English, location notwithstanding. Had they been in California, she still would have known he was English, and she wouldn’t have been able to pinpoint why then, either. There was just something about his chin that looked British…. With a wrench, she forced her wandering mind back. “Um…Hi!” she said.
“Jet-lagged,” she said wryly. Unabashedly curious, she studied him. Every button on his uniform appeared polished, and he stood ramrod straight, hands clasped behind his back. There was not so much as a cat hair anywhere on his uniform. She could even see little slices of her face in the brass bits on his coat. His hat….well, maybe he’d dressed in the dark. It looked somehow stewardess-like, and she wondered how the criminals viewed it. “I just know it’s seven in the morning.”
“Well, to an American, maybe,” the bobby said dryly. The familiarity of his accent made her heart skip for a second. “Or a vampire.”
“What?!” she gulped.
“Can’t scare you, can I?” The bobby said resignedly. “If I were to ask you, miss, would you please go back to where you’re staying?”
“I haven’t seen anyone around,” Buffy said placatingly.
“Well, that’s the problem,” the bobby said. “You never do till it’s too late.”
“Is there a lot of crime around here? Sorry,” she added, as the bobby caught her eager tone.
“Miss, are you a police officer?”
“No,” she mumbled, thinking, But I’m the Slayer, and if you’d just show me a vampire and leave me alone, I could----“What?”
“Well, if I tell you there’s crime around here, why do I get the feeling you’ll go try to go find it, and if I tell you there’s little crime around here, it will just encourage you?”
“Lucky guess?” She had the grace to look abashed as he got even more stern.
“Can I encourage you at all to go home?”
“Just let me stretch my legs a bit, okay? I’m serious, I can totally handle myself.” They looked at each other, and the bobby’s eyes warmed as he took in the set of her chin, and the way she squared her shoulders.
“I’ll be back here shortly, and you’ll be headed home, right?”
“Right.” Buffy started to offer to shake his hands, but it somehow seemed to be too informal. Saluting seemed to be out of the question. Briskly, she stepped back, and bounced on the balls of her feet. “Uh---Can I ask you a question?”
“Where are you from?”
“Why, here, miss. This is my neighborhood.”
“Where are we, exactly?”
“North London, miss. May I ask, why?”
She took a breath, trying to figure out how to phrase it. “I used to know someone who sounded just like you.”
They looked at each other, the tiny California blonde in sweats, and the tall, pale English police officer. “Used to, miss?”
“Well, I don’t mean that he’s---uh----“ What if he is? “I just haven’t heard from him in a while.”
“Come here to look for him?” The police officer studied his toes while still standing at parade rest. “Well, then, miss, might I just suggest you do so during the day? Police station’s two streets over. Do stop round and anyone there could give you a hand.”
“Okay,” Buffy said quietly. Once again, she was seized by the urge to salute or otherwise give some sort of a signal, something she seldom felt in the presence of Sunnydale cops. She couldn’t figure out why, till the officer nodded and strode away, revealing as his only weapon a slender wooden baton. It occurred to her that she’d almost never heard of British slayers, though the Watchers themselves were almost invariably English.
She waited till he’d turned the corner, then dashed along the fence till she got to the end of the park and could see down the street. At the end of the block and across the street, she saw what she was looking for; ornate iron gates, and the looming shape of a church. Her pulse picked up instantly. In an instant, she was back in her time zone, her world, her place. In a second she was at the gates and vaulting over them.
Fifteen minutes’ of walking around revealed no new graves, no disturbed soil, and the disturbing realization that she’d wandered into a park with headstones. After a while, she took note of the dates on the headstones, and not a one came any later than the turn of the century. After a couple circuits of the place, she was depressed and annoyed. What the hell’s going on here? Aren’t there any vampires around here? She’d read somewhere that some species of animal had been hunted to extinction in England during the reign of Henry VIII. Could they have done the same thing to vampires? She felt an entirely unexpected pang. What’s a country without vampires? She thought grumpily, but there was no way around it. At least for a while, the casual slay was out of the question. Feeling a curious deflation, she hoisted herself over the gate again and headed back toward the coven’s house. What’s the point? The thought that there might be no vampires around didn’t make her feel relieved, just hollow.
She walked slowly, but the bobby didn’t re-appear, and her first night—day?-- in England seemed a complete disappointment. Slumped, she trudged back to the house, and slipped inside. For the first time, the surroundings truly registered and she gaped at the place. A staircase with a newel post taller than she was faced the front door, and at its landing she glimpsed a huge stained-glass window over a window seat. Each of the banisters had been carved, rather eerily, into the shape of a different person. A hallway stretched off in either direction, and soft Persian carpets muffled her footsteps. The hallways were so wide that tables, chairs, and sofas sat along the walls, as if people might need to stop and rest. The ceilings were at least twelve feet tall, and she glimpsed the shadows of beams and painted plaster high above her. She remembered the date on the other house, and whistled. However old this house turned out to be, she didn’t think she was going to be finding fiberboard anywhere inside it. She peeked down the other end of the hall. A wide door at the end of the hall revealed the shadows of couches, chairs, and what might have been a piano. At the other end of the hallway was a simple door with an opaque window in its upper half. She headed for that one, glancing into rooms on either side. A full-sized dining room with a fireplace and wainscoting higher than her head took up one whole side of the hallway. On the other side was a locked door, a bathroom, and what looked like a little sewing room. Behind the half door was a small staircase, and beneath that, another entrance to the house, but much smaller than the grand main one. Hm, she thought. Around the corner, she found a small, humble dining room, a pantry, a huge, airy kitchen with two stoves and a sink big enough to bathe in. Beyond that was another pantry with yet another sink, a couple of wrong turns, and a charming little breakfast room that she wanted to see in daylight. There were so many doors that she began to feel like she was in a fun house. Convinced that she was headed back in the direction of the kitchen, she found herself in the grand dining room, and stepped out into the hallway again. She glanced back at the half door at the end of the hallway. Too dark down there, she thought. Can’t see what I’m doing. She headed up the main staircase instead, blaming her sudden heebie jeebies on jet lag. My new excuse, she thought. Jet lag.
Her blankets and sheets were still warm, and heated comfortingly once she slid back inside. There was no water stain on the ceiling of this room, and perversely, she missed it. At least it’s my water stain, she thought. Nice as the surroundings were, even her tiny little room, it she still longed for her familiar bed and the sound of Dawn croaking out Britney Spears in the bathroom. Once she would have included Willow in her list of ‘safe, familiar things’ but now, with Willow’s condition so tenuous, she was afraid of jinxing the future by assuming there would be a quick fix. So much was unsettled. Once she could have counted on Willow, without a second thought; but now Willow had to count on her. She didn’t know precisely what to do, and because of that, didn’t know if she would succeed. At least the old water spot in her ceiling gave her something to stare at when she was trying not to think about stuff like that.
She remembered everything she’d said to Giles about Willow and Xander and wondered if they would be able to tell what thoughts she’d harbored about them now that she was going to see them again. The thought occurred to her, What have they been saying about me? She sat bolt upright in her bed at the thought, then slumped back down into the covers. It wasn’t like there wasn’t a shortage of things to say, she thought. But—but---she gulped as she remembered Xander’s face, first realizing that Anya had had sex with Spike, and then that she herself had. It’s not like he got our approval before he had sex with Anya, she thought suddenly. Or the whole kissing-Willow stuff, either. She flopped over on her back and stared up at the ceiling again. The question is, she thought, why do I let him say stuff like that?
Just asking the question seemed to be a relief, somehow. She felt herself relax, then, drifting, not even aware of falling asleep.
The watery sunlight that woke her a few hours later seemed terribly wrong. Not only was she used to bright, almost harsh California sun, but this was not noon-like sunlight. It seemed like twilight to her, and that made no sense, because her body now believed it was early afternoon, and refused to concede the point. She stared at the little bedside clock with horror. Eight AM? Oh. My. God.
The shower she staggered to woke her up in the most unpleasant of ways; the water seemed to take forever to warm up, and when it did so, it achieved only a reluctant tepidity. She scrubbed shampoo through her hair, lathered and rinsed off everything, then wrapped not one but two towels around herself and skittered back into bed to warm up. By that time, the sunshine had changed angles slightly, but was no more welcoming. She huddled into the covers and shivered. Merry Old England, my ass, she thought. It can’t be that cold. It’s not even winter here. At the thought of winter, though, she quailed. Winter was a theoretical concept to a girl whose only experience was ice was the skating rink, but chilled now to her very bones in the narrow, if warm bed, it suddenly seemed more real than the vampires she hadn’t been able to find the previous night.
After she’d warmed up, she scrambled for her bag, tossed it on the bed, and leaped under the covers again. Dressing was a miserable, shivering affair, and she got through it by picturing the talking-to she was going to give Giles for not warning her about the weather. She pulled on two long-sleeved tee shirts, shivering, and then grabbed another shirt. Better, she thought. She peeked out the door. The scent of frying sausages instantly drifted to her, and she forgot about feeling cold. She remembered where the kitchen was from her excursion that morning, and as she got closer, the delicious smells multiplied and got so strong they became almost intoxicating. Why do drugs when you can do cholesterol? She thought. Her last thought before she turned the corner to the kitchen, was, Pancakes and maple syrup.
Her first thought, looking at Xander was, Too many pancakes and syrup.
“Buffy! Oh, my God---“
They met in the center of the kitchen, Buffy startled, because, really, Xander had gained a lot of weight, and Xander shocked because Buffy had lost so much. “God, Buff, it’s good to see you.” So little of you, he thought.
“You look good,” she punched him playfully in the stomach. Holy cow. I guess guys do eat when they’re depressed. Beats vamp hos at least.
“Yeah,” he scoffed. “Nothing to do but visit Willow, and stare at her, and then eat.”
“She really isn’t talking, is she?”
“No.” Xander said quietly. “Sometimes I can kind of tell she’s depressed, but sometimes she’s angry.”
“Yeah---you know her resolve face? Sometimes she looks like that. I just can’t tell who she’s mad at,” he finished, all the air going out of his voice. “I hope it’s not me.”
“Is she still---you think---powerful?”
Xander sighed. “Not after----“ he shrugged, too uncomfortable to say it. “But I’m guessing so much, Buff. There’s just no way to tell. Of course, it could be just be that I don’t know what I’m doing. Not that that would ever happen,” he added bitterly.
“No,” Buffy said, hugging him again. She pulled back a bit and looked up at him. “I’d rather have somebody who didn’t know what they were doing, and try it anyway, and---and, you know, say so, then pretend they do and go---“ She wrinkled her nose. “You know what I mean.”
“I hope so, Buff.” He sighed again, sounding very old and frail. “Come have some breakfast.” With another squeeze, he led her over the little table in the corner, watched silently by the woman at one of the stoves. With an apologetic little shrug, she hesitated. “I’m sorry---I’m Buffy----“
The woman wiped her hands off on a towel slung over one of her shoulders and reached out a hand. She was tall and solid, with olive skin and slanted black eyes. Her thick black hair laced with pure silver. “I wouldn’t have guessed,” she said in an airy Irish accent. “Are ye hungry? After your trip and your little walk?”
“It’s a house of magic, miss,” she said dryly. “Couldn’t leave the door unlocked if it weren’t. I’m Meg, by the way.”
“What did you do, Buff?”
“Oops,” Buffy said. “I thought I’d go out and slay, but---“
“Slay what?” The woman asked curiously. “Almost no vampires in London city.”
This was evidently not news to Xander, who had grabbed a plate and was heaping it with food, while Buffy squirmed in front of the cook. The vampire shortage did not seem to surprise Xander one bit; he glanced up as Meg mentioned it, then went back to single-handedly raising Buffy’s cholesterol count.
“No vampires?” Buffy asked.
“No burials allowed inside the city,” Meg explained. “The cemeteries are all full; no place to put them. Now, the suburbs, that’s a different story, but that’s a train ride away.”
“Don’t the vampires ever take the---?”
“Why bother so much? Sometimes you see them at the clubs,” she admitted. “But there’s---“
“Club-hopping vampires?” Buffy exclaimed.
“There really aren’t any good clubs in the suburbs,” Meg acknowledged. The statement seemed to pain her more than the clubbing habits of British vampires.
“But---do you---just let them?”
“Not all of them,” Meg said uncomfortably.
“But what happens if they decide to grab a snack on the way?”
“A---Well, there’s some shops, certainly, but----Oh!” The light dawned. “Oh, dearie, most British vampires aren’t like that.”
“Like----what? Blood-sucking, soul-less----“
“Well, as long as the blood’s not human---“
Xander had sat down at the table by this time, having both refilled his plate and filled Buffy’s. He was glancing back and forth from Meg to Buffy, seemingly unconcerned with the characteristics of British blood-sucking.
“But how do you know it’s not human?” Buffy exclaimed.
“Mad-cow disease,” Meg said calmly. “How do you think we really solved that problem?”
After a fairly long and involved discussion about the now-burgeoning animal blood black market in Britain, Buffy eyed her sausages with some caution. “They’re really good,” Xander assured her.
“And they’re safe,” Meg added, glowering. “I didn’t say it was all vampires, you know. You’d think you’d be happy not to have slay so much.”
“But----“ Buffy was struggling to get her mind around it. “I heard that---I heard that all the sick animals were killed, and that that was how they got rid of Mad-cow disease.”
“Well, you only heard part of the truth,” Meg said. “I didn’t say it was all vampires. Didn’t happen so much on the Continent.”
“But---it happened,” Buffy added. “It did happen.”
“It was practical.” Meg shrugged off Buffy’s bewilderment. “Now, mind you, not even most British vampires helped. “ She glanced left and right as if fearful of eavesdroppers. “But there’s so few of them to begin with, and so many of them don’t even attack people, well, how do you really think people discovered Mad-cow diseases anyway?”
“Vampires?” Buffy asked skeptically.
“Yes,” Meg said firmly. “If people had taken them seriously, that whole mess wouldn’t have happened.” She glanced around suspiciously again. “I’m not saying the situation in Scotland and Ireland is the same, mind you. It’s a bit different, there.”
“How so?” Buffy asked, openly skeptical now.
“Well, there have been problems there, especially in Ireland,” Meg said reluctantly. “But even so, British vampires have always been much different from American vampires.”
“But----“ Buffy simply couldn’t think of a response to that. She had no way of knowing whether or not Meg was telling the truth, but every shred of common sense she had made her scoff. Vampires voluntarily eschewing hunting in favor of animal blood? According to Meg, a fair proportion of British vampires had been doing precisely that to begin with, after being very likely turned by ‘those foreign vampires.’ It hadn’t always been this way, Meg was willing to concede, but the mad cow crisis had certainly sped it along, what with all that beef and blood being suddenly being rendered unfit for human consumption. A world where humans were actually grateful to vampires? Buffy simply could not take it in. And since when did vampires have the ability to make decisions like that?
Spike did, she thought quietly. Without a soul, he tried.
He was the exception, resisted all her instincts. He was unique.
She and Meg were left staring at one another over the table, Meg implacable, Buffy openly skeptical. After a long pause, Meg got up heavily. “A lot to take in, I expect. Have a good breakfast and think about it.”
She waited till the other woman had left the room before turning to Xander. “So?”
“So? Oh, well, are you asking if…?”
He shrugged. Buffy was startled to see half his plate was already empty. “Well, they told me about it. It seems to be true; I mean, I haven’t gone slaying or anything, because, hey, not the Slayer here, but----One of the witches even showed me on the computer, too. There’s just something weird here.”
“Here? England here, or London here?”
“Well, pretty much both.” Buffy watched, fascinated, as Xander methodically worked his way through his sausages. In the time it took her to eat two, he’d eaten five. They were very good, certainly, she thought, but he was going at such a clip she wasn’t sure if he was actually tasting them or what. “I mean, they told me that lots of British vampires never really kill humans.”
“Not at all?”
“No, not at all.” He swallowed, paused, and watched, almost amused, as Buffy tried to make sense of it.
“So…what do they do? Eat salad?”
“A lot of times, their family makes sure of what happens to them,” Xander said. “I read this whole huge thing on the intenet.”
“You---reading about vampires?”
Xander looked abashed. “Well, you know, it was interesting. And I was bored. I couldn’t talk to Will, and I didn’t want to run up their phone bill---“
“So you researched?”
“Yes.” Down went another sausage. “And it really is weird here, with the vampires and the whole Slayer thing. I actually saw the Grand Pooh-Bah of the Slayers’ Council.”
“Old fart who looks constipated?”
Meg poked her head back in, evidently unable to resist temptation. “You just described most of Parliament.” She nodded at his plate. “Shall I make some more, then?”
Xander managed to look vaguely embarrassed, shaking his head no. Buffy smiled down at her plate, skewered one of her own sausages, and with many exaggerated sounds of appreciation, ate it. “You know, Buff, if you keep doing that, I’ll give up mine just to see you eat something.”
Buffy’s jaw dropped. “So what are you saying, Xander?”
“I’m saying it’s just----it’s good to see you, uh---“
“Well, you know, you are kind of---“
“Jeez, relax, I wasn’t going to say the ‘f’ word,” he muttered, thinking that the only ‘f’ word one could say about her would be ‘frail.’ He remembered how just before they’d left, how he’d watched her one day, in the California sun, and how he’d been struck by the way the bones in her elbow moved so visibly beneath her translucent skin. “But---you’re so thin, Buffy.”
She glanced down into her plate, undone by his concern. Leave it to Xander to notice, she thought. And then say something about it, even when no one else would. “I’m not, really----“
“Uh, Buff----“ His tone made her look up at him. “Buffy, you look like an Olympic gymnast. And not in a good way.”
She didn’t know what to say, so she bit her lip and looked down at her plate. All her appetite had abruptly fled, chased away by the emotion that clogged her throat at his concern. She swallowed, trying to regain control. Then she picked up her fork, speared one of the links on Xander’s plate, and stuffed it, whole, in her mouth. Meeting him firmly in the eye, she chewed very loudly and swallowed. Xander’s look was rueful as he considered her gesture. After an extremely interesting pause, he put down his fork and slid his plate in front of hers. “Okay, then…Not your mother, I know. But a friend, right? Maybe a fat friend, sure, but---“ They both looked down at the table. The air was so fraught with tension, with things long-unsaid that threatened to burst forth, that both struggled to breathe calmly. “You know, Willow’s not the only one around here.”
“Only one what?”
“Magical casualty, or whatever. I’m sure there’s a technical term.” He nodded at her plate, then picked up a clean fork and transferred what was left on his to hers. “Clean your plate, young lady, and then all will become clear.”
Buffy had fought vampires, demons, and mayors. She had dated two vampires, fought a crooked Slayer, and died twice. But never before in her life had she finished two platefuls of food, and by the time she was done, she wanted to lie down with a cold compress on her forehead. “What do you mean, magic casualties?”
“Maybe I should explain that,” a calm voice said behind her.
The upper floor of the house, the warmest and sunniest floor, was given over to those unfortunates who had run afoul of the magic that permeated British life. “I thought Harry Potter was a documentary,” Olivia told Buffy dryly. “England has been civilized for a thousand years, and inhabited for God only knows how many centuries beyond that.” Olivia, who admitted to forty and looked to be in her mid-twenties, caught Buffy’s surprise and raised an eyebrow. “I hate plastic surgery, but a glamour or two never hurt anyone.”
“A temporary spell,” Olivia’s tone seemed perpetually set on amused cynicism, and Buffy found that it encouraged her to be more blunt than she normally would.
“Why is that okay? And Willow----?”
“It’s not something I do every day,” Olivia explained. “I’m not going to get plastic surgery, but every now and then it’s nice or it’s necessary. Doing magic to make easy things easier simply is not good. You get into bad habits, and forget what it’s for.”
“Well, what is it for?”
“To do magical things,” Olivia said mildly. “It’s not for housework. Using these forces to open doors and things like that is not appropriate.”
“Okay,” Buffy said. There really didn’t seem to be anything to add to her end of the conversation, so she looked down the long hallway before them. “Are all these people like Willow?”
“Oh, no, Willow’s unique,” Olivia said firmly. “Most of the poor people here have been injured by magic. They weren’t performing magic or associating with witches or anything. They’re bystanders.”
“Drive bys,” Buffy muttered.
“In a manner of speaking, yes.” Olivia gestured at the first door. Looking into the window made Buffy’s heart skip a beat. The woman asleep in the bed was visible only as a tuft of bright-red hair, and she glanced sharply at Olivia, who shook her head. “No, not Willow. Poor thing had an encounter with one of those Irish vampires.” Buffy tried to find some amusement at the fact that vampires wasn’t enough of a classification, that a nationality was really the determining factor, but her sense of humor had long since been bludgeoned by her surprise.
“Was she turned?”
“No, but it was an awful shock. The hospital really isn’t equipped to handle this sort of injury. The blood loss---the adjustment, the realization. Poor thing had never seen a vampire before. Didn’t believe in them, you know.” She moved on to the next door, and the next. All the people within seemed to be sleeping, as it was quite exhausting to be healed of some sort of magical injury. Buffy peeped in doors and saw a young man, stretched out on his bed, staring at the ceiling. He met her eyes briefly, then rolled over on his side. “A lot of the time, the injury itself isn’t so bad----it’s the shock. Live your whole life, thinking there’s no monsters, and then one attacks you. And then--We usually have to use magic to heal them, and then we have to get rid of that. It’s not good for it to linger.” The fourth door Buffy looked through featured only a heap of clothes curled up on top of the sun-washed covers, and a messy tangle of curly hair. “Next to Willow, this poor soul is the most serious one we’ve got. Doesn’t even remember his own name. And he’s got…the strangest…aura I’ve ever seen.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, all living creatures give off on an aura. His is terribly faint some days, and other days---when the poor thing is having a bad day---it’s very dark. But we’re trying.”
There really was nothing to say to that, so Buffy nodded and tried to look like she understood. In truth, the jet lag, the food, and the shocks she’d been receiving were taking their toll, and each case that Olivia recounted only made her head hurt more. The last room that Olivia showed her was heartbreaking. A little girl sat in her room with a kind-looking attendant, trying to play dolls with bandaged hands. Her head was also bandaged, and Buffy saw angry red skin on her neck and chest. “Oh, my God. What happened to her?”
“Her mother,” Olivia said quietly. “Wanted her to win one of those beauty pageants. Quite dreadful.” Once again, Buffy was unable to form words, till she looked around and noticed that they were at the end of the hallway. The light reaching the hallway from the windows in the doors was now fading to gray as the fickle English sun ducked behind yet another cloud. She shivered, despite her multiple layers of clothes. “Uh…Is Willow up here?”
“Are we going to…?”
“Do you want to?”
“No,” Buffy said quietly. “Not just yet. I need to talk to Giles first.”
Continued in Part Eleven
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