Sequel to Spike, Or The Ambiguities; part of The Bittersweets Series
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Summary: Spike’s hands were always clean. Clean and dry and cool, and she missed their touch like she missed her vanished world. This hand was his too, but it was warm.
Disclaimer: Spike, Buffy, et al belong to Mutant Enemy et al. No infringement is intended.
Thanks to: Peasant, Kalima and FayJay for beta-reading above and beyond.
Spoilers: None really, although technically the same as the other “Bittersweets” stories—season 6 up through “Wrecked.” None for “AtS.”
Author’s Note: While I’ve tried hard to keep this story within the confines of BtVS canon, specifically “Fool For Love” and its companion AtS episode, there are a couple of places where I’ve taken small liberties. If you spot them, good for you. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter. I’m aware of it, the “lapses” are deliberate decisions. In one or two other places, where a small conflict arose, I decided to follow the fanon of my own previous stories.
Written: April 2002
This story is chapter 8 in the “Bittersweets” series, but may be read on its own. Set in an alternate season 6 that veers off from “Wrecked,” all you need to know is that Buffy and Spike are an (often uneasy, but loving) item.
It was—oh God—it was him.
She’d been here on these filthy reeking streets nearly ten weeks, making the thinnest possible living in the worst possible—the only—way she could, and every night she’d seen thousands of strangers sauntering up and down the crowded Haymarket in the yellow gaslight flare, checking out the merchandise.
Which included herself.
But not a friendly visage among them. Not a one that looked at her as if she was a person.
And suddenly the single known face in all this horrible world, his face, materialized out of the shifting crowd. And she might almost have missed him, black coat, black hat, passing between one shadow and the next, except that there was something about the tilt of the head as he said a word to his companion, something about the set of the shoulders, that was so achingly familiar it grabbed her by the guts with a bolt of hope sharp as a stab. She leapt forward.
“Excuse me—excuse me—”
They glanced at her, the two young men, and as quickly glanced away, embarrassment written in every rigid line of their bodies. “I told you,” his companion said, “we should’ve taken a different way. They accost you, these harridans, in the open street—!”
“It’s all right Mortimer,” he said. “Never mind.”
God, that was his voice!
It’s all right pet. Never mind. You’ll get him another time. Can’t slay all of ‘em in one night.
It’s all right, love. Never mind. You eat the last drumstick. Give me the bone after, I like the marrow.
It’s all right, my queen. Never mind. You know I love you, yeah? Now give us a kiss.
She put herself in his path. “Please. I know you! You have to help me.”
The other man, an expression of distaste curdling his mouth, plucked his friend’s arm. “Just ignore her. Come along.”
“No—stop. You have to stop. Look at me! This isn’t what I really am! It’s all a mistake!”
He stared at her, his eyes growing large behind the small spectacles, then made a hurried move to step around her.
“No—no—don’t walk away! I know you! You’re William Grieves!”
At this, the friend paused and glanced at him, his bushy beard and moustache parting around a perfect black O.
She pressed the advantage of their astonishment.
“Please—don’t leave me here! I’m not supposed to be doing this, I’m a lady!”
At this, the O disappeared, and the friend rounded on her. “I suppose you’re all ladies here on Haymarket. Now leave us be or I’ll summon a policeman.”
She didn’t look at him, kept her eyes fixed solely on those eyes she knew. “This is—please, believe me—a mistake! William! You wouldn’t leave Sophie here! If this was to befall her—you wouldn’t leave Bella—! Jemima—you wouldn’t—”
At this, he paled. Stepping back, he warded her off with one upraised hand. “Jemima . . .is dead. She’s in the ground just two months today. They’re all dead. How . . . how do you know those names? How do you know my name? You—”
“Grieves, do let’s go. Don’t encourage the creature.”
“She knows my—”
“Perhaps she was in service in some house you’ve visited. What does it matter, you see what she is now. Come away. We’ll be late.”
“No!” She lunged at him, grabbed the stuff of his coat in her hand. “You have to help me! I know you! William Grieves! Magdalene College, Cambridge! Your father—”
He gasped. “What about my father?”
“His name is Edward Grieves. The Reverend Edward Grieves. He’s married to . . . to Augusta—your mother Augusta. I know you! For God’s sake, don’t leave me here! I can’t stand it anymore!”
“I don’t . . . I can’t . . . this is gin.”
“It’s what your sort drinks.”
That was the friend, whom he called Mortimer, and whom she was doing her best to ignore. They were in the snug of a small pub up a side street, not one she’d ever been in before. The two men had her boxed into the corner of a high settle with a table in it, as if they thought she might try to steal their pocket watches and make a run for it. Or as if, having brought her here, they wanted to make sure no one glancing in at the snuggery door would see they had a whore there with them.
“Give her a pint of porter, if she won’t drink gin,” William said. “What difference does it make?”
Mortimer rose slowly, his face a thunderation of disgust, and went off to the bar.
“Now then,” William said. “How is it that you know my sisters’ names?”
“I knew them—Sophie and Bella.” She wracked her brains, but couldn’t remember the place Spike said they’d sent Sophie for her health, the place the Reverend Grieves could barely afford. Probably he had never told her the name. “She died . . . at the seaside.”
“Yes! At Hewlet Super Mare. You knew her there?”
This gave her a little confidence. “Yes. I was there, taking care of . . . of my mother. She was ill too. Sophie—Miss Grieves—was very kind to us, and so was Bella. They tried to do things for other people, even though they weren’t well themselves. They would knit—”
William sat back and sighed. His eyes closed, and knew she’d hit on the right note.
“I was so very sorry about her passing. She spoke of you so often, and I know you must have been so sad not to get there and see her before she . . . .”
He moved suddenly; his hand covering hers on the table. She almost snatched it away, it was so grimy, and his so clean.
Spike’s hands were always clean. Clean and dry and cool, and she missed their touch like she missed her vanished world.
This hand was his too, but it was warm.
“Never mind that. What became of your mother?”
“She died too.”
“And how is it that you ended up—ended up in such circumstances as I just found you?“
She took a breath and began to spin. “We’d lived for a long time in America. I was born there, and my father died there. When she fell ill, my mother wanted to come back home to . . . to . . . We used up almost all we had just getting here, and then the cousins we hoped to find were not . . . available. After I lost my mother, I tried to get respectable work, but . . . And I tried to find you. The way Sophie talked about you, I almost felt I knew you. She’d shown me your picture. But I’d lost your address, and then . . . .”
“Ah, here it is. Go on, drink this.” He took the heavy pint pot from his returning friend and handed it to her. She swallowed the sweet heavy stuff. This was a better class of tipple than she was already used to. She’d not stooped yet to drinking gin, but she’d learned in the very first days that anything was better to drink, here, than the water. The water had cost her.
All the other girls lived on small beer, and she’d learned from them.
What she really wanted was a meal, but didn’t want to distract the men’s sympathies by asking for food. They might just feed her and then leave her.
William glanced up at his friend. “This young lady has been most unfortunate. She knew my sisters before they passed away. She has lost her mother and has no other connexion.”
Once again, she felt Mortimer’s gimlet eye upon her. “Don’t be taken in, Grieves. The workhouse is plenty—”
“Well then—give her a few bob if you must, only— Let’s not stay here. I don’t like the look of what’s crowding into the bar. We’ve already missed the society meeting—”
“You can’t really be proposing I just leave this lady where I found her?” He turned back to her. “Miss—”
“Bu—” She caught herself. Nobody here was named that. “Elizabeth Summers is my name.”
“Miss Summers requires my help.”
“Grieves.” Mortimer dropped his voice, but she could still catch his words. “Will. I know you’re sorry about Miss Grieves, no one more than you, it’s a terrible affliction to lose all one’s sisters, not to mention one’s father, in such a short span of months. But you mustn’t let your new grief, piled on the old, cloud your judgment. This creature, I mean, good heavens man, look at her!”
He did. She felt his gaze rest on her, for the first time, without hesitation or repugnance.
“I do look at her, Mortimer. She is dirty and lice-ridden and dressed nearly in rags. This friend of my sisters’. Surely you don’t propose I send her away just as I find her?”
“Surely you don’t propose to bring her home to your mother?”
“That’s it my queen. Sssh . . . sssh . . . just a bad dream . . . let it go . . . .” The cool hand on her forehead was a balm, she felt so hot. But it was all right, wasn’t it, he was right there, like always. She opened her eyes to see him, but the room was pitch black, all his little candles must’ve gone out, so odd, but it didn’t matter, she’d ask him to switch on the light.
“Spike . . . .”
“Sssh.” His mouth touched her face here and there, light and cool and soft and moist, and he’d shifted on top of her, made himself heavy, but that was all right too, comforting. She wanted to put her arms around him, but they were lost somehow in the bedclothes. Still, he was able to kiss her face, and her mouth, her neck. Her hot skin felt dry and powdery, more like his than like her own, and she wasn’t sure how she knew that, knew how it seemed to him, but she did. His lips left cool trails of moisture on her skin, and she waited to feel his prick harden against her belly.
“Spike . . .” She wanted to touch his hair, wanted to kiss him back, wanted to spread her thighs wide for him, but there was such a tangle of sheets, and she sighed, too hot and tired to struggle against them. He would take care of it, draw the folds of fabric aside and take her as she wanted him to. Any minute now. She knew she’d come as soon as he entered her. He went on kissing her, and she writhed, but even that was difficult, and her thighs were pressed together, molten inside. Wanted to part them . . . must part them . . . and he went on kissing her, emitting that little hum he made when his desire was burgeoning, the hum that set her quivering and turned her sex to jelly.
“Spike . . . please . . . give me . . . .”
“Ssssh, pet. Patience.”
The study door creaked and he turned, startled. How long had he been staring into the fire? It was low now, and the sheets of paper on his knee were still nearly empty. “Well, Mamma?”
“I’ve left Lucy to sponge her face. The young lady is in a delirium. She spoke, but there was no sense to it.”
“What did she say?”
“She kept repeating a word . . . spike, I think it was. Spike. So peculiar.”
“Perhaps it was the name of some childhood pet. Some people will call a dog Spike. Wasn’t there a terrier near our old vicarage that had that name?”
“Mmmm. Come to think of it. Old Jack Finster’s dog. Supposed to have been quite a ratter.”
“Ye-es.” She sank into the chair across from his. “Could we go another handful of coals, do you think, darling?”
He leapt up. “Are you cold, Mamma?” He bent over the scuttle on the hearth.
“No. I only thought—you—” She stopped.
He knew she’d heard him coughing that morning. He tried not to, but he couldn’t help it anymore.
“May I look in? I heard you were so much better today, Miss Summers.”
She was, as the little servant girl had told her in a coaxing voice, talking to her like she was a mental defective, sitting up now and taking a deal of notice. They’d made her clean, picked the nits from her hair—she knew because for the first time in ages she wasn’t itchy, but she couldn’t remember all that somehow—and dressed her in a cambric nightdress and a bed jacket with a collar that tied in a scratchy bow. Every time she undid it, Lucy or Mrs Grieves tutted at her and tied it up again.
They fed her, four or fives times a day, little meals of beef tea and dry toast. Her stomach snatched at this thin nourishment and keened for more. She fantasized about thick burgers piled with cheese and bacon and fried onions. A pizza with everything.
Once a man had bought her a thick wedge of veal-and-ham pie and let her eat it up before he fucked her. She’d looked for him again every day thereafter, but he’d never reappeared in Haymarket.
There was nothing to do. They wouldn’t let her get up. When she asked to see him, they told her she would by and by, but no one brought him. The silence was phenomenal—no TV, no radio, no car alarms. The nearest well-trafficked street was at a little distance. She was in the back of the house, one of a long row of identical semi-detached villas some twenty years old, in Bayswater. She could hear the tradesman’s bell, and the twittering of birds, but that wasn’t much of a diversion. Sometimes she heard the voices of street-hawkers, calling out wares for sale: bird-cages, iron-holders, brooms and brushes. On one red-letter morning, there was an organ grinder in the street, and Mrs Grieves allowed her to go to the window of her own bedroom in order to see and hear it.
They wouldn’t let her read. One morning Mrs Grieves said, as if granting a great favor, that she might do a little darning, but when the things were put before her, a wooden egg, cotton and needles and—yuck! holey socks—she had no idea what to do with them. Mrs Grieves looked at her so strangely then! She’d tried to smile, and pretend that her hands were still weak.
But now he was here, hovering in the doorway with a sheepish expression, as if it was a liberty to glance into a girl’s bedroom at all. It was all she could do not to throw herself at him. “Much better, yes. Thank you—!”
“That’s very well.”
He made as if to withdraw, and she flung an arm out. “Please stay and talk to me!”
“Well . . . I’ve someone else here who would like to make your acquaintance. May I introduce him?”
She frowned. “I hope it’s not Mr Mortimer.”
He barely smiled. “No. It’s our vicar, Mr Chiltern. Mamma has told him about you, and he would like to make your acquaintance. If it’s not too—”
“I will, if you’ll stay.”
Their gazes connected, and she realized that until that moment William had not looked directly at her, but slightly above, as if focusing on her forehead. As soon as their eyes met, he colored up, and turned away. “I will fetch him upstairs.”
The vicar had enormous salt-and-pepper eyebrows that grew wildly like a couple of hedges over his deep-set eyes, and a large thin nose that was whiter than the rest of his face, as if he’d tried to pinch it to death. She hated him on sight. Hated him even more when he sat in the chair beside her and began to speak through steepled fingers.
“You are very fortunate, young woman, to find yourself taken off the streets and brought into a Christian home. Most fortunate indeed.”
“I . . . yes. I know. Because, what are the odds that—” His frown made her pause. “I’ve said thank you. Lots of times.” She glanced at William, who was hovering by the door. “Thank you. You saved my life.”
He refused her gaze, and shifted, as if he was going to slip out.
“But now that your illness has passed, you must begin to think of your duty. This is a home in mourning. This is not a home that will encourage idleness. I am willing to help you, the Grieveses are willing to help you, but we cannot have idleness. We cannot have backsliding. Your viciousness shall not be mollycoddled.”
She stared at him, her slayer senses tingling. He wasn’t a vampire, but she wouldn’t swear to the demonness of him, one way or the other. By God, give me an axe, and I’ll show you idleness and backsliding—! “I’m not vicious. I didn’t like being a streetwalker. I had no choice. I told Mr Grieves. I’m a lady.”
“Perhaps you were. Once.”
He rose. His legs seemed to her unaccountably long, as if part of them were stilts. Glancing at William as he went out, she heard him say “Woefully unrepentant. It’s usually so with such cases. I believe relocation to the colonies will be in the best interests of all concerned in this matter. I can arrange passage to Tasmania for the girl. In the meanwhile, there will be room for her at St Agnes’. The sooner she is removed from your dear mother’s sight, the better.”
William followed him without a backward glance, and the door was gently shut.
Tasmania! She wasn’t even sure where that was, but it sounded like it had to be halfway around the world. Why on earth were they going to ship her to Tasmania?
And what would happen to her if they did?
What would happen if, somehow, ever, the Scoobies found a way to pull her back, and she wasn’t where she was supposed to be? How would they ever track her down?
Although why she was supposed to be here, as opposed to anyplace else, was still a mystery. And probably always would be.
Tears sprang to her eyes. The Scoobies were never going to find her, no matter what. She’d been gone far too long now to hold onto any illusions about that.
They must miss her so. Dawn, orphaned again. And Spike. Spike . . . After all their cozy post-coital chats about how he’d die to save her life, he was left with nothing at all but to live with her mysterious disappearance.
But she’d be damned if she’d let some sanctimonious prick ship her off to—
Flinging herself out of bed, she stumbled and caught at the bed post. She’d only been up so far long enough to use the chamberpot, and her legs were wobbly. But the strength came into them when she willed it, and she was at the door in five strides and out in the upstairs hall. Here it was twenty degrees colder, and threadbare carpet runner met her bare feet. At the landing she looked down to see William closing the front door.
“Is he gone?”
This made him jump. “Miss Summers. You oughtn’t to be—”
“I’m not going to Tasmania! You can’t make me go! You know it wasn’t right, what he said about me!”
“I’ll get Lucy. Please get back into bed, Miss Sum—”
She flew down the staircase and caught his arm. “No! No Lucy! I want you to talk to me. Just you. And me.”
She could tell by the expression on his face, the way his arm trembled in her grasp, that she was about to go too far, or perhaps already had. Emphatic was not the way to go here. She was coming off as crazy. Which she already halfway was—but who wouldn’t be, in her shoes?
She forced herself to take a deep breath and let go. “Please. Mr Grieves. I know you’re the head of the house, and your mother will agree with whatever you say is right. You can’t let this happen to me. Think how you’d feel, being torn away from what you know, and made to go . . . to go somewhere nasty . . . because you’d had a run of bad luck. Through no fault of your own.”
Well, that summed Spike up quite nicely. And . . . oh fuck . . .his eyes.
They were the same same same eyes, and she’d not stood so close to him yet as she was now, to see them so clearly. He’d taken off the little spectacles sometime since leaving her room, and the edges of his lids were pink, as if he’d been rubbing them. He gave her little skittish glances as she spoke, and clearly wanted very much to turn her over to the maid and flee.
And oh, his mouth. How much she would’ve liked a nice cool, firm, friendly kiss from that mouth. How much she wanted to hear it assure her this was just a bad dream.
“If . . . if you want me to work, I’ll work, I’ll do anything . . . anything I can . . .” An idea came to her, a risky idea, but she seized on it. “I know Mrs Grieves must be so lonely now her daughters are all gone, and you—you go out so much—” Spike had never mentioned having a job, but he must have had, certainly William wasn’t spending all his days sitting with his mother—”so perhaps I could keep her company, and do any tasks that were Jemima’s, and repay my debt to you that way?”
His eyes widened, and she hastened to add, “I’m not vicious! Really, really not!”
“Miss Summers. Ah . . . If my mother were to return—which she might at any moment—and find you here, in this state of dishabille—”
“Okay! I mean—yes!” She withdrew, starting up the staircase, walking half backwards to keep her eye on him. “Going now. Going back to bed. Nice clean bed, which I’m so grateful to have. So very, very, very grateful—”
There was crying going on in the house. She never actually caught anyone at it, but now that she was on her feet again, she heard it. The prior year, 1878, had cost the family their father and two sisters. Jemima, the baby of the family, the last daughter, was a much fresher loss, and they all, even the little maid-of-all-work Lucy, were mourning her.
Once, as she was giving herself a sponge bath in the morning, she heard him through the bedroom wall, sobbing with such desperation that it was all she could do not to go to him. A half hour later at the breakfast table he was composed, pale and stiff, reading out items from the newspaper to his mother as he always did, drinking three cups of tea but refusing the kippers that were specially for him.
She’d have liked to eat them herself.
She was always hungry.
But that was out of the question.
Mrs Grieves was teaching her to do plain sewing, and she could do it, after a fashion, which wasn’t a very good fashion, unless you liked little spots of brown crusted blood to appear every half inch or so in the seams of your shirts, which had a tendency to get bunched up or else develop gaps, and have to be picked apart and done over. Just like most of her knitting, another so-called imperative skill William’s mother was imparting to her, which had often to be unraveled and done over. At least no one expected her to take on cookery, because she’d seen the kitchen range and knew she’d have burned the whole house down by now if required to so much as touch it. When she asked Mrs Grieves why she didn’t have a sewing machine, she was told that the old ways were best, which she took to mean that the family couldn’t afford one.
“My dear,” Mrs Grieves said, seeing her ineptitude with the needle, “how is it that you don’t know these things that every young lady should?”
“I . . . my mother . . . she spoiled me, I guess. She never made me do anything.”
Mrs Grieves gasped. “Oh Miss Summers. I thought, perhaps, if she was too ill to teach you, but . . . .”
Damnit. Too ill. That would’ve been a better story. She did her best to look sorry and eager to make up for lost time.
At least she was patient, Mrs Grieves. A thin woman with a rather severe face that softened in repose, she spoke always in a near-whisper, but didn’t talk much about herself as she got through phenomenal amounts of mending and making, knitting, crocheting, and cross-stitching.
As she worked, the older lady liked to hear certain sermons read out from a set of thick books belonging to her late husband. The younger did her best to oblige, although the sentences were so long and convoluted she often lost the sense of them.
Between sermons, Mrs Grieves sometimes asked about her childhood in America. She spun a tale she hoped wasn’t too egregious, about her father farming oranges and grapefruit in the Sunnydale valley.
“My son said your mother was an Englishwoman. That she wanted to return to her native soil before she died. Where were her people from?”
“Oh—” She froze, racking her brain for the name of some place, any place. Where was Giles from? Think, think! “Bath.”
“Bath! Indeed! Such a lovely town is Bath. I was there once as a young girl, long before I married Mr Grieves. Of course, the place was a little past its heyday even then.” She gave off a soft laugh. “I’m not so very old as perhaps I look.”
It was the first display of feminine vanity Mrs Grieves showed, and she liked her for it.
There was little, really, about William’s mother not to like. Her daily kindnesses, all revolving around the enormous one of simply not putting her out on the street, were many.
With all the questions she asked, she never referred, even obliquely, to where her young guest had been, or what she’d been doing, before she came to stay.
The one subject on which Mrs Grieves was loquacious, was her son. Dear William was a shining light. He’d been quite a scholar. (She showed off his school prizes and certificates with a fondness she assumed her guest could only share.) He was doing so well at the bank—it was but a fairly small position he held now, but the chances to rise, my dear, could be so many! Sometimes she was a little sorry he’d not followed in his dear father’s footsteps and gone into the church. But William felt so strongly that without a definite calling, this step would be a dishonorable one. And wasn’t it only right and proper—a credit to her dear husband—that the son had such a strongly developed sense of honor?
And he wrote such beautiful verse—did she know he’d taken the prize at Harrow school for Latin verse translation? He worked so hard at his writing. Two or three of his pieces had appeared in newspapers—she would fetch the clippings if Miss Summers would wait a moment. Soon he hoped to bring out a volume.
And of course now things were going so swimmingly at the bank, he was beginning to think of marriage. The last two years had been so difficult, and of course nothing of the kind could be contemplated while the girls were ill, and after . . . . But in another six months, when he left off his mourning . . . he didn’t tell her much, but a mother could divine things about her only son. There was a young lady who had caught his eye. For herself, she was quite prepared to give over the authority in the house to a young bride. What a joy it would be—how she looked forward to holding her first grandchild!
They’d suffered so much—no one more than dear William, who was so admirably sensitive—but the Lord was merciful, and tempered the wind to the shorn lamb.
There were a lot of things she missed. Spike. Dawn. Tara. The house. Creme rinse. Her bed. With Spike stretched out in it wearing nothing but his hot smile. Her freedom. Warm showers. Xander. Anya. Dancing. Chocolate mint chip. Jeans and sandals. Giles. Slaying. (Never thought she would, but damn she’d have loved to get some wood and get out there again.) Palm trees. Pedicures. The magic shop. The Simpsons. The hot healing warmth of the California sun. Rock music. Spike. Spike’s hands. Spike’s mouth. Spike’s cock. The sound of Spike’s voice as he spun tales into her ear.
Like now, but not. Achingly, agonizingly not. He was right there, on the other side of the drawing room table, reading to them. But he didn’t know her, and she had no right to rise and go thread her arms around his neck. No, she was a charity case, on sufferance, expected to sit here, in Jemima’s mourning clothes and Jemima’s boots, squinting over Jemima’s work in the poor light, while Mrs Grieves dozed and the fire smoked and the clock ticked inexorably on and he intoned another chapter of some stupefying novel called The Daisychain. Which just went on, and on, and on, full of Christian platitudes and terrible setbacks.
Thus would the whole evening pass, until nine-thirty, when Lucy would come in with tea on a tray, and then there would be prayers and the whole house went to bed. It was the same whether he was there or not. Half the time he was not, although she didn’t know where he went exactly—there was mention of certain evening parties, and certain meetings of learned or theological societies, but she didn’t want to seem too nosy, so she didn’t ask. Often it was Mr Mortimer who fetched him away after supper, but he certainly didn’t want to have any confidential chat with her. Every time he appeared in the drawing room, she saw his astonishment at still finding her there.
While she certainly didn’t want to revert to her previous occupation, the sedentary tedium of this one was a serious threat to her sanity.
He finished reading the sentence before glancing up.
“Haven’t you got anything more interesting you could read to me?”
“This is Mamma’s favorite—”
She dropped into a loud whisper. “Mrs Grieves is asleep.”
“Well, I suppose . . . “
Spike would howl with laughter if he knew she was here being obliged to make his shirts, to an accompaniment of light literature. He’d howl, and then he’d step through some wonderful miraculous magical portal that Giles and Tara opened up, and yank her back to Sunnydale and everyone would be there and hug her and they’d all cry and laugh and eat pizza and then she and Spike would go to bed and fuck for days.
She promised not to mind him teasing her, if only she could go home.
The clock chimed. Eight forty-five.
She rose from her chair, let the shirtsleeve she was working on drop, and stole around the table. His attention. She had to wrest his attention.
The poetry. Maybe there was an opening there. Spike had never mentioned anything about it, but—sure enough, there were some loose sheets of paper sticking out of the book on his knee.
“Maybe you’ve written something,” she ventured. “Sophie told me, and your mother . . . .”
He laughed at once, a small, aggrieved laugh that cut her right off. “Sophie was—sisters and mothers are—always so indulgent of—”
“What is it? Won’t you let me see?”
“Oh no, I couldn’t, you see, I—” He looked up then, and their eyes caught. There was that flicker in his gaze that was already so familiar, but this time it gave her hope. She would get through to him. Of course he didn’t know it yet, but she was going to be someone he loved with all the depth of his being. Eventually. Why not just move that timetable up by a century and a couple odd decades?
She smiled, and bent over his shoulder. “Why not?” God, to touch him. From where she stood she was looking right down into his crotch, and she knew what was there behind the taut black wool. Because it belonged to her.
Suck me off, pet, he’d say, his hand playing in her hair and that lewd rude expression on his face that always made her want to hit him even as a frisson of half-shamed delight took her. For him she’d gladly go down on her knees.
Yeah baby, that’s good. Harder. Like that. Oh—you know how.
“Why not, William?”
“Miss Summers! You’re . . . you’re in my light.”
“Oh.” She stepped back. Her skin was burning. For a moment she was sure he’d somehow read her mind.
He took the handwritten pages from the book, shuffled them a little.
“Do you really—?”
“Yes. Please.” She went, driven by the force of his hesitation, back to her chair.
Once he began to read to her from his pages, she knew instantly why Spike had never said a word about this. Even knowing nothing about poetry, she could tell this was terrible stuff. The hobbyhorse rhythm, the tortured rhymes. Yeesh. But she kept her eyes brightly fixed on him, and a smile at the ready for when he’d stop.
As soon as he paused, she leaned towards him, beaming with all her might. “That was wonderful! Oh, Mr Grieves. You are so talented.” Please God no more.
His eyes lit, and suddenly she understood, in a way that had previously eluded her, why it was that girls in old books and movies were so anxious to please the men around them. Without them, they might be, quite literally, nowhere. Now that she’d found him, what would become of her if William turned her out? Tasmania, or tarnation. She might be clean and well-clothed now, but she still had no money, and no means to get any except by the same methods she’d already been reduced to.
She’d meant, as soon as she got here, to locate the Watchers’ Council and make herself known to them. But this had proven as impossible as getting back to Sunnydale. The problems that beset her began at once. She’d found herself in the nighttime street, in what looked like a rough part of the city, dressed in tight jeans, a halter top and high heeled boots. The trio of toughs whose attention she immediately drew were easy to fight off. But once she’d knocked them out, a crowd had gathered, and more men with beery breath and clothes that stank of sweat and onions began pushing her around as if she was the ball in a game of dodge-em. She tried to fight but there were too many. One of her boot heels broke, her hoop earrings were ripped out, she got covered in mud—at least, it looked, if not smelt, like mud—and when a bobby finally appeared to break up the brawl her halter was gone and she was arrested for public lewdness. A night in a lock-up that stank of piss, with a bevy of howling whores, led her to her first appearance before a magistrate, and another week behind bars. One of the other girls, fascinated by her strange accent, offered a place to stay when they were released. That apparent kindness led her to the boarding house of Mrs Rummidge, in Cheapside, who had seemed pretty nice at the outset, if rather redolent of gin, at least until the first time she shoved a man into her squalid room and told her to look after him.
She’d really not wanted to do that. But by time she’d run away from Mrs Rummidge’s neighborhood, and walked until her feet in cheap broken jail-issued boots were bleeding, and found it impossible to get taken on as even the lowliest of tweenies without a ‘character,’ hooking seemed preferable to starving. And starving was no longer something you did when dinner was twenty minutes late.
For the first six weeks she’d told herself every day that somehow they’d find her. Any second now, a dimensional portal would open up in front of her, and she’d be able to walk back into her normal life.
After that, not so much. She’d taken to walking on Sundays along the embankment and wondering if she could bring herself to jump into the Thames and drown.
Because there wasn’t going to be any dimensional portal. This time, there wasn’t going to be any miraculous anything. She was stuck, one of the numberless whores of London, not going anywhere.
And really, how could they know she’d left their world? She didn’t even know how it happened, or why. They’d been at the Bronze, Spike, Tara, Anya and Xander, Dawn. She’d danced with Spike for a long time, and only walked away from him to go to the bathroom.
She couldn’t remember anything between that and finding herself on the dark street with the greasy cobbles underfoot.
“Do you really like this poem? Truly?”
“I—yes. Yes I do. It’s beautiful.”
He sighed, and his face blossomed into a complacent smile. “Ah. Then perhaps she will too.”
There was a hot leg of mutton on Sundays, which William carved, sparingly, between church in the morning and church in the afternoon. The rest of the week they ate from the same joint, reheated or cold, for nearly every meal. There were potatoes. There was pickle, and boiled greens. William drank wine, the women water. There was tea and toast with a thin scraping of butter. Occasionally, as a great treat, there were oranges.
Anya had once spoken of a world without shrimp.
This was a world without tampons.
She walked with Mrs Grieves to the shops, four mornings a week, and carried the wicker basket in which they hauled what items were not delivered to the back door. When she met acquaintances in the street, Mrs Grieves introduced her as “Miss Summers, a friend of my daughters, who has come to pay me a nice long visit.”
Some afternoons Mrs Grieves put on her best black dress—all her dresses were black, as were all of Jemima’s—and took her along to pay calls. This ritual consisted of handing in her card to the servant, and sometimes going away again without seeing anyone, and sometimes being ushered into the parlor to make small talk for fifteen minutes with the ladies in the house.
She rarely said anything, except to nod and agree that the weather was quite cold, even for this time of year.
After the first time they did this, William came home one evening with a box of cards for her, and gave her a little case to carry them in, wrapped up in a bow.
She knew she was supposed to be made happy by this thoughtful gift, but when she was alone that night, she cried, looking at the cards in the light of her single bedside candle.
30 Penelope Terrace
This was really the world she had to live in now. It said so right there on the card.
She awoke in the night to the sound of coughing coming from the next room. It went on for a long time, a dry rolling hack that made her seize up in her bed. Sometimes it sounded muffled, as if he was coughing into his pillow to keep his mother from hearing.
She kicked at the eiderdown, and flipped her own pillow, but it took a long time for her to fall asleep again.
When they went anywhere as a trio, William and Mrs Grieves, holding her son’s arm, always walked together, and she trailed behind them. One Sunday, Mrs Grieves had a sick headache, and she went to afternoon church with him alone. He gave her his arm, and as she walked she closed her eyes, and pretended that she was heading with Spike towards the cemetery, that they were going to patrol, that she’d be able to run and kick and punch and make witty remarks and afterwards they’d sink down into the dewy grass and make love right there, because damnit, they owned that place.
And she owned him. My queen, he called her. She could hear his voice in her head right now. Hear it and see the way his mouth moved, the tiny sneer, the teasing smile that came and went on his lips when he was goading her, before he’d laugh and catch her in a kiss.
“Have you written any more poetry?”
“A bit. Well . . . rather a lot, yes. It . . . it helps me to divert my thoughts. Although I suppose I oughtn’t to divert my thoughts.”
She paused, to let him have his pained remembrance of Jemima. She knew what it was like, to forget for a few minutes that her mother was dead, and to recall it with such a pang of remorse for having allowed any other thought to interpose itself.
“Will you read to me again?”
“I say, you really cared for it?”
“Yes.” She looked straight at him then. She didn’t care for the poetry, but she did care for him, for the Spike-iness hidden behind the longer hair and the stiff clothes. He was so different, of course, and all the intimacy she’d built up through so much pain and pleasure with her vampire didn’t translate into this place at all. But her Spike had once been this very man. Naturally her body was pulled towards his, her eye and ear attuned to him. Here was her lover, even if he didn’t know it. Didn’t know he needed her as much as she needed him.
And the deprivation was getting to her. Here she was touching him and not able to touch him. Here she was, living under the same roof with him, and entirely apart.
What if she told him? What if she just found a way to tell him the truth, about who she was, about who he was going to be?
Couldn’t she get him to believe her, if she laid it all out very calmly?
And then he would understand her. He’d help her get in touch with the Council. And she would be able to protect him.
Because if she was stuck here, if this was her life, then protecting him, preserving him, was very important.
So he could go on protecting her.
“Do you have it with you?”
“In my pocket, why?”
“Well . . . perhaps we needn’t go to church again. We went this morning. Maybe we could go for a walk, and you could read to me some more.”
“Mamma will hear of it if we’re not in church.”
“You’re a grown man. Don’t you think you’re free to choose what to do with your time?”
At this, his eyes widened, and she knew it was time to back off.
But when they neared the church, he paused. “It is such a bright day for the time of year.” He glanced at her. “A walk would put some color in your cheeks, wouldn’t it, Miss Summers? You’re rather pale.”
“Right,” she said, smiling. “And God made the sunshine too, didn’t He?”
In the park were lots of other people who had thought it unnecessary to attend afternoon church. She began to think that most people found it unnecessary. Families with enormous perambulators and strings of children tagging behind, spooning couples, posses of young girls who called out to each other and stopped to admire bright hats and muffs and reticules, somberly-dressed men with paunches and pipes sauntering in twos and threes. William did not withdraw his arm, but she could tell, by the way he held it for her to crook her hand into, that she was not meant to walk too close to him. He was scanning the oncoming crowds now with an eagerness that grew with every step.
Then suddenly he turned his head and seemed very absorbed in gazing up at the branches of a perfectly ordinary tree.
Just then Mortimer appeared in front of them, in the company of two young women.
“I say, Grieves, didn’t think to run into you here. Ducked out of church?” With these words, he beetled at her, as if she was the wicked influence that caused his friend to shirk the Lord.
“It’s such a lovely day, you know.” William glanced past his friend at the two women.
The dark-haired one seemed amused by something. Through simpering lips, she said, “Will you make us known to your friend, Mr Grieves?”
“Oh! Yes . . .” He indicated the small wan blonde first. “Miss Mortimer, Miss Summers.”
The hand she held out was somehow invisible to Miss Mortimer, whose mouth had a shape that couldn’t really be called a smile.
“And Miss Addams.”
As soon as the name escaped his lips, she knew that here was she whom he hoped might also like his poems. The glossy brunette Miss Addams was tall, almost as tall as William, and filled out her tailored costume with a Junoesque confidence. She offered Miss Summers a limp hand that she withdrew at almost the same instant, and there was something in Miss Addams’ icy gaze that said she knew all about her already.
Mr Mortimer, apparently, had gossiped, and with some frankness, to his sister and his sister’s friend.
Turning her cold eye to William, Miss Addams said, “I was so sorry to hear about Miss Grieves.”
“Thank you. My mother received your kind note.” William seemed oblivious to the girl’s demeanor, and began to talk to her then about the weather, his words sometimes coming out very fast and getting caught up in stammers. Miss Addams nodded and didn’t much try to hide her interest in who else was passing by.
Mr Mortimer also talked about the weather, while she tried to smile at his and his sister’s unwelcoming faces.
The chairs in the park cost a penny each to sit in. He bought her one, and carried it away from the well-traveled public paths, to a bosky, quiet area. Setting it down, he handed her into it with an expression of self-satisfaction as if it was some magnificent throne.
He was grinning foolishly as he began to pace beside her. “Well, you’ve seen her. So you might as well tell me what you think. Is she not magnificent?”
“Who?” She perfectly well knew who, but she wanted to make him tell her.
“Why, Miss Cecily Addams.”
“She . . . she wasn’t really listening while you were talking to her. She was looking around to see if there was anyone else coming along.”
He stopped pacing. “Don’t be silly. I’m sure you’re mistaken.” He rounded on her then, and pulled some pages from his pocket. “Listen—”
“Have you given any further thought, Miss Summers, to your future?”
She glanced up from her sewing. That was one shirt he knew he’d never wear. She’d been laboring over it for a long time now; the fabric was bruised and getting rather dirty. It would never be right. He’d have to give his mother money to buy more shirting on account of her clumsiness.
Every morning, seeing her at the breakfast table in his dead sister’s clothes, jarred him. He couldn’t let this continue indefinitely. She must be taken care of responsibly, but . . . not here. His mother couldn’t have failed to notice, as he had, that her hair color was false—the golden locks were growing out in quite a different dun brown. Well mannered as she was, he couldn’t ever quite forget that she was a whore.
A whore. Whom any man could purchase. Purchase, and then lift her skirt and see—touch—
It wouldn’t do, to let her sit everyday with his mother as if that wasn’t a fact. Mamma needed a companion now, it was true. And charity was charity. But the sanctity of the home . . . .
He thrust a newspaper towards her, folded back. “There are a number of advertisements here placed by families looking for governesses.”
“My mother will be pleased to write you a character, I’m sure. Since you’ve been here, you’ve shown a truly admirable, ah—”
“Lack of viciousness?”
Her already waxy cheeks went paler as she stared at the paper in his hand. “I don’t know how to be a governess. All I know about it is Jane Eyre.”
“Of course it’s a perfectly respectable profession. Many distressed gentlewomen—”
“Mr Grieves. I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but—”
“We all must do our duty in this life, Miss Summers. Yours is to atone for your mistakes, and make sure that you are never a burden. Transportation to the Antipodes really might have been the best thing for you, but as you are so adamant against—”
“Please, I don’t want—I’m afraid, if I go there, if I leave London, that my friends might not find me. That is, if—”
“Friends? You’ve never mentioned any friends.” Suddenly his firmness collapsed, and he sank into the chair across from her. “Who are these friends? We will attempt to contact them.”
“No. No, it’s a mistake. No friends. I have no friends here.” She was shaking her head, then tears spurted from her eyes, and to his horror, she slid out of her chair and threw herself against his knees. He tried to rise, but her hold was amazingly tight; she convulsed, sobbing, and her hands . . . her hands were everywhere. Her hair was coming undone. The ragged sobbing grew louder; Lucy might hear and discover him trapped in this scene. Again he tried to rise.
She lifted her head and looked at him, her green eyes swimming, face blotched pale and red. Mouth all pink and moist. “Please William. I know I’m not supposed to call you that—only—please. Don’t send me away. I’ll do . . . I’ll do anything.”
She woke out of sleep when the cold air touched her legs.
He’d already pulled the bedclothes back, and set one knee on the edge of the mattress. When she opened her eyes, his hand was on her thigh, he was hiking up her gown. She’d not drawn the curtains, and the moonlight illuminated him, making his face seem almost as white as his nightshirt.
“What—what are you doing?”
His hand came down on her mouth. Not hard, and he lifted it at once, but he looked angry as he climbed onto the bed. “What you said—this afternoon—that I might. Be quiet, will you? I expect you’re used to this.”
Whoa. She hadn’t thought it would be like this—she hadn’t really thought at all, that anything was going to come from her wiggins earlier except more embarrassment, and a big set-back in the poetry reading. He loomed over her, holding her down with one hand on her shoulder, and the other rummaging at her pussy in a way that was not at all pleasant. For either of them.
She shoved him aside, and before he could react, straddled and pinned him. He was warm. And unlike Spike, he gave off a deep male smell, musky, not entirely clean. Sharp with his excitement and hostility.
“I might be,” she murmured, “but you aren’t.”
As soon as she said it, he went rigid all over, and tried to push her.
“Get off—you—you doxy!”
Aha. No more Miss Summers, then.
She kept him there easily, settling down on his stomach, wriggling back so her behind came into contact with his erection. He gasped. This was so fucked up, but wow, it was nice to use her strength for once.
“If I let you up, you’re going to play with me nicely, right? We’ll have a nice quiet good time, and your mother won’t hear a thing.”
This evocation of Mrs Grieves did the trick. He turned his head away, and when she slowly let him loose, it seemed for a moment as if he might chicken out altogether, and flee.
But she put a hand in his hair and drew his head around. “Now kiss me. First we have some nice kisses, and then—”
He shoved her. “I’m not going to kiss you!”
Her first instinct was to haul off and hit him—for that look of disgust on his face. For not being Spike.
But she caught herself. Not a good idea. No no no.
“Ssssh. Okay William. Just relax. I’ll give you what you came for. I know what you like.”
“You know what I—”
“Ssssh. Just let me—” She pressed him back against the pillow. Didn’t kiss the mouth; began at the neck. He squirmed beneath her trailing tongue. His skin had a sour taste, he was sweating. Not like Spike at all. She started to undo his nightshirt buttons, then just tugged on it. “C’mon. Take this off.”
“What are you going—”
The look he gave her was compounded of one part bewilderment, one shame and one smoldering rage. She smiled sweetly.
“Turn your back.”
“Oh for heaven’s—okay.” She put her hands over her eyes. Heard the fabric shoosh over his skin, heard him lie back again. When she looked, he was holding the thing bunched over his crotch. Jesus.
But there it was. The body she knew so well.
He wasn’t muscled yet like Spike. His belly was hollow, shoulders rather narrow.
But still, it was him.
She started again at the throat. He was breathing heavily, and when she moved to kiss his nipple she could hear sounds in his chest, in his lungs. Like something liquid was caught in there. When her mouth touched his breast he gasped. “Stop that.”
“It’s really good, if you’ll just—”
Spike loved it when she chewed on his nipples. As rough as she could be with them, he’d groan and praise her and tell her to pull harder, bite harder.
Not yet, apparently.
She bypassed them and moved further down, kissing, mouthing, licking. He was quiet, so quiet she thought he might be biting his own tongue. His hands were curled tight around two bunches of bedclothes. But when she neared his waist, he erupted into motion.
“Filthy trull—!” He flipped her onto her back, yanked up her gown, and after some fumbling she did not dare help him with, got inside her.
She let him. It would’ve been easy enough to throw him off, but . . . that wasn’t in her best interests at the moment.
It hurt a little—she wasn’t as ready as she would have been, if—but it was over quickly.
She counted the thrusts. He came on the eighth, and collapsed on her.
Okay. Okay. This could still be salvaged, if . . . . She put her hand in his hair, smoothed it softly. He lay with his head turned away from hers, his body deadweight on her.
Spike would lift his head now, and look at her, and tell her she had the most fascinating quim on God’s green earth. And then he’d lower himself down her body and . . . . Okay. Focus.
“So,” she murmured, caressing his hair, “do you feel better now, William?”
He didn’t answer. He didn’t budge.
She shifted her foot, ran the sole down the length of his calf. He trembled, but he didn’t move his leg away.
“Y’know what’s nice now? You get off me just a little, so you’re not crushing my breast like that, and we have a nice soak in all the afterglow—” which you’re experiencing even if I’m not, “—and in a little bit you’ll feel like doing it again, and I’ll show you how it can be better.”
Still no response. She went on with her small caresses. “This was a big thing for you, wasn’t it? All this time you’ve had so much responsibility for your mother, and your sisters, and the house, everything a man has to do, right, but there was something about being a man you didn’t know yet. And now you do. But it can be so much more than just this.”
Now he lifted his head. His profile against the moonlit window was so familiar to her that she again thought for a moment it might be a dream, that she was just awakening from in Spike’s arms. She’d tell him about it, and then—
“You are a slut. A shameless slut—! Look what you made me do!”
He was up then, snatching his nightshirt out of the mess of sheets. In another moment, he was gone.
She went down to breakfast with leaden steps. The rule of the house was that everyone must get up and appear at the table, or else she’d have hidden all day in Jemima’s room. How was she going to face him?
Probably he would send her away.
When she walked into the dining room, there was no one there but Mrs Grieves, and the scent of kippers was not in the air. The one other place setting was her own.
Maybe he’d gone out early, to avoid her. She said good morning and took her seat. Mrs Grieves poured her out a cup of coffee. There was nothing about her manner to indicate change. She was reading The Church Times, and eating her usual two thin slices of toast.
When she finished, she rose. “I think we needn’t go to the shops today, my dear. My son has gone to visit a friend in the country.”
On the second night after William’s departure, sure that Mrs Grieves was asleep in her room, and Lucy as well in her garret, she dressed and tiptoed downstairs after midnight. A broken chair in the scullery gave up one of its legs easily enough. Slipping the deadbolt on the kitchen door, she went out into the back garden and over the fence.
There was a large cemetery just a little past the parade of shops Mrs Grieves frequented. She’d scope it out. Do the neighborhood a favor.
Do herself a favor. Because the tension was finally too much—she couldn’t daydream it away, couldn’t masturbate it away, couldn’t weep it off. Please God there’d be something out there tonight to slay.
Maybe it would slay her.
Which really wouldn’t be so bad.
The streets were lit with occasional gas jets—enough for her to find her way easily. No one was about. The pubs were shut, the houses dark.
But in the cemetery, the darkness was almost total. The moon was covered by thick clouds, the sky seemed to lower, grey and dense, right at the tops of the bare trees.
This place was packed with mausoleums and statuary, jumbled cheek by jowl in irregular rows broken up by stands of trees.
Stalking amongst the stones, she began to breathe. To breathe as she hadn’t been able to since getting here. This felt almost normal. Graveyard. Pointed piece of wood in hand. Fresh air. The massed power of her body. She gathered the skirts of her dress and petticoat up and tucked the ends into her belt. That would make it easier to run and kick if the opportunity presented itself.
Please. Please, let there be some fangy thing—
Here. Here was a fresh grave, still strewn with flowers. She knelt and touched the inscription with her hand; it was too dark to read it. She found the dates, traced them with a fingertip. 1855-1879. Someone young. Just a little older than her.
She was only twenty-one. And things in her life had only just started to get pretty good again, after being dragged back from the dead. Giles had solved her money problems, and things were a little better with Dawn, and Tara helped make her house into a home, and Spike—
He’d bragged to her once that he’d known the ecstasy of a consuming, unreasonable passion with a ravishing, engrossing, unreasonable woman who never bored me, not once. I’m the luckiest bloke out, I am.
She knew now what he meant, because that’s what she had with him.
Before she got plucked out of her life and flung here like a bit of interdimensional flotsam.
She rested her cheek against the cold granite of the new gravestone and pretended for a moment that it was his cheek. Which was so stupid, pathetic, ridiculous.
And just a little bit comforting.
At her back, the soil rumbled.
She turned in time to see the ground bubble, and a hand shoot up through it.
Hey, can I pick ‘em, or can I pick ‘em? Springing to her feet, she waited for the vampire to be born.
The rest of the boneyard was a wash. Before heading home to the Grieves house, she circled back to the site of her one success.
And saw two figures standing by the opened grave.
Creeping behind a large mausoleum, she drew near enough to hear what they were saying without being seen.
“—he have gone?”
“Lumbered off, I expect. We’ll catch him up.”
She heard some scratching in the soil, and a small thump. “Daaaaddy! He’s been dusted! Look.”
The hiss of a match being struck sounded loud in the stillness as the girl’s wail. Then the scent of cigar smoke filled the air.
“He’s gone! How can he be gone so soon? You said I was to have a playmate, and I chose that one out of thousands, and planted him so very carefully.”
“Everything I put in the ground dies.”
“You! It’s your fault! If you hadn’t made us stop for a pint, we’d have got here first! You are a bad mean Daddy!”
“If you’d not changed your ribbons ten times, we’d have had plenty of leeway.”
“Oh oh oh . . . I wanted to be lovely for him, because he was to be my own special precious. Who dusted my pretty pretty boy . . . ?”
“Never mind. You’ll make another one of these nights. Come away now.”
She waited, heart in her throat, until their footsteps on the slate walk receded to nothing. The sobs overtook her as she ran. She fell twice, and tore her skirt scrambling over the fence. Oh God Oh God Oh God
In the morning she told Lucy to say that she had a headache, and would stay in bed.
Mrs Grieves took the ruined shirt away from her, and set her to hemming handkerchiefs. The knitting was going somewhat better. It rained all that week. A letter came from William, but Mrs Grieves did not offer to read it out loud.
She was alone in the house listening to the rain beat against the windows. Mrs Grieves was paying calls, and Lucy out on her half-day. The drawing room was cold and damp—she couldn’t get the hang of tending a coal fire—and she lay wrapped in a shawl on the divan, reading The Pickwick Papers. Spike said he’d liked reading that to his sisters, and according to him it was a very funny book, but she wasn’t seeing the humor. Still, it passed the time.
The timetimetimetime. Twenty-one years old. In 1879. With absolutely nothing to her name but time. In another week it would be Christmas. Then the new year, and a long slope of cold wet months before spring. And what would come for her, with the spring?
The embankment. Could she find it from here? Perhaps if she asked someone . . . would it be too far to walk? What difference did too far make, if you were going to throw yourself over at the end of it?
She was about to get up when the latchkey rattled in the front door, and she heard someone step in.
Immediately she knew it was not Mrs Grieves, and not Lucy. Gathering the shawl tighter around herself, she started to sit up. The clock began to chime, echoing through the house’s rainy stillness. The book fell to the floor with a loud thump.
And then he was there in the doorway. Still in his open coat and hat, glistening with damp, and his spectacles fogged over. Her skirt was tangled in her legs; it took her a moment to get up, and when she did, he was right in front of her. Shoving her against the wall, one hand gripping her arm, the other on her jaw, tipping her face up. She could feel the cold from the street pouring off his skin, and his lips were cool when they touched hers—cool like her lover’s lips that she missed so much—before they grew hot and demanding.
The whole length of his body was pressed against hers; she could feel the hard knot of his arousal against her belly. When he realized she wasn’t fighting him, he dropped her arm and began instead to hitch up her skirt.
She dragged her mouth off his. “Not like this. Upstairs.” She started to shift, and he pushed her back.
“I’ll have you! Damn you, you made me want—”
“Yes. All right, but in bed.”
There were no fires in the bedrooms during the day. Hers was chill, and nearly dark with the rain sluicing against the window. He backed her through the door and up to the bedside.
“Wait a minute,” she whispered, restraining his groping hands, “wait, just let me—”
She wasn’t quite sure what it was she wanted him to let her do—certainly not undress, when her whole body was covered with gooseflesh as it was. He tumbled her onto her back, pulled up her skirt with one hand as he undid his own buttons with the other.
The poor idiot, she thought. This is how he thinks it’s supposed to be.
Then he was on her. It was going to be just like the first time—worse, because at least the other time he’d been naked—if she didn’t wrest it into a different groove.
“Slow down . . . William, slow down. Take time . . . .”
“There is no time—!”
“I know, but still.” She grabbed his hair and pulled his head around to face her. Whispered to him while she looked into his eyes, even as his tried to evade her gaze. “Look at me while you have me. I’m Elizabeth Summers. I’m letting you do this because I like you. It’s good that you want me . . . I want you too. It can be very nice for both of us if you’ll just take time.”
His movements, as if he was some mechanical device winding down, slowed. Almost, but not quite, to a stop.
His face, which had been hard, and closed, and full of resentment, slackened.
The next thing she knew, he was weeping.
She put her arms around him.
His cock went soft, and slipped out of her. His tears wet the collar of her dress.
“It’s okay,” she murmured. “It’s okay . . . .”
“Oh Miss—Miss Sum—”
“Ssssh. It’s okay. At home they used to call me Buffy. Call me Buffy.”
“Buffy. Oh God. I get so frightened.”
As soon as the last words slipped from his lips, they seemed to hang, gelid and horrifying, in the air. She knew he’d have given much to be able to snatch them back. He bit down on his sobs, gave himself a shake, and pushed up.
“Stay. Your mother won’t be back just yet. It’s okay. We don’t have to talk about it.”
Gradually, he allowed himself to relax. She bore his weight, drew her fingers through his hair, listened to him breathe. His heart beat was audible to her, and she felt it as if it was thumping against her own breast.
“Miss . . . Buffy . . . was it very terrible for you, to be forced to earn your bread by—”
“Sssh. You’re not like them. Those men were not like you.”
“No? Yet I feel I cannot help myself—”
Even as he said this, she felt the return of his erection. Slowly she put her hand down between their bodies and gripped it. He started, and made a strangled noise.
Oh, it was just as she remembered it, just as she knew it, his hand-filling prick, with its curve in just the right place, and its lovely slick head.
Except now it was so very very warm.
“Roll over, William.”
She climbed across him and slipped it inside, rode him slowly and watched his face as he first struggled against the pace she set—struggled, perhaps, against everything he found himself doing and feeling—and then gave in to it and dissolved beyond will into pure reaction.
His heartbeat beneath her outspread hand speeded up further, he began to gasp, and when she leaned forward to kiss him, she heard again that strange liquid sound in his chest.
But she didn’t want to think about that—not now, not when it was getting almost good. She sat up, smiling at him, slowing further, determined to keep this going long enough for him to learn a thing or two. Taking his hand, she brought it against her clit, used his fingers as a device to get herself off.
“Feel that, William. Do you feel it?”
His astonished expression when she came confirmed what she’d suspected.
He had no idea women could feel pleasure too.
Eyes full of scandal and fascination, he watched her ride the wave of her climax.
His own orgasm followed at once. He bucked so hard beneath her that she was almost unseated, and her laugh, rending the house’s hush, startled them both.
He gasped, and gestured at her to be quiet.
Then he began to cough, and could not stop.
Mrs Grieves was so delighted by her son’s early return that she sent Lucy go out to buy two fowls, and herself made a wine sauce for them. This made a festive change from the endless recycled mutton. At the table William insisted his mother and Miss Summers each have a glass of wine along with him, and after supper mother and son played a round of backgammon.
When the game was over, Mrs Grieves looked at her. “Perhaps Miss Summers would take a turn with the dice cup. Do you play, my dear?”
She smiled, and gave William a side-long glance. He yawned. “The train journey’s tired me out. But you two may have a game.”
“I . . . I don’t know how.”
Lucy came in then with the tea tray.
The prayers that night seemed to take longer than usual, even as she was sure that he was skimping them.
Long too was the time she lay waiting for him after blowing out her candle. It wasn’t until almost twenty minutes after she heard Lucy ascend to her garret that the door opened and he slipped inside.
When he appeared, he was in his dressing gown, with a candle in one hand, and something wrapped in newspaper in the other. He relit her candle off of his.
“A handful of coals. It’s borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, but we shall at least be warm tonight.”
He made up the fire. Its ruddy light and that of the two candles threw long crazy shadows around him as he approached the bed.
“You’re a wicked girl. What have you done to me?”
She wasn’t sure if this was a flirtation, or a serious demurral. He wasn’t smiling.
She held her arms out. “I don’t know. But I know what I’m going to do.”
He drowsed. The hussy’s head was on his shoulder, her hair fanned across his chest.
Without hesitation, without shame, she’d done terrible things.
Taken his sex in her mouth.
Swallowed his seed.
Spread her thighs and made him look at her in the candlelight.
Tried to coax him into—well, he’d refused to hear of that. Made her cover herself.
Still, he’d had her twice, besides the time in her mouth . . . and the time that afternoon.
No wonder he felt so depleted. They said too much indulgence in this kind of thing could deplete a man.
Of course, they never said that once done the first time, it was impossible to think of anything else but doing it again.
He’d tried to escape his desires. Gone out of the city, kept early hours, bathed in cold water, taken long walks on the fells.
Of course he wasn’t naïve. Gentlemen visited whores. Men he knew. Even Mortimer, although he couldn’t be absolutely sure. They didn’t talk about it.
He never had, because . . . . because he preferred to keep himself wholesome until marriage, as a good Christian gentleman ought to do. He’d always thought that was terribly important. And then he’d met Miss Addams. Who made it seem more important than ever. Cecily was a lily. Pure, white, spotless. The man who would be worthy of what she was . . . ought himself to be unsullied, and heart-whole.
He loved Miss Cecily Addams with every fiber of his being.
Even as he lay with his whore beneath the roof of his own mother’s house.
He’d left the newspaper by his place at the breakfast table, and she noticed it as she helped Lucy clear. There were columns and columns of small ads, personals—positions vacant, property lost, property found, people lost, people found.
Why hadn’t she thought of this before? God, she could be so stupid!
When he came in that night, she cornered him in the drawing room. “Mr Grieves, I need to ask you to do me a favor.”
She took the envelope from her pocket. “I’d like you to put a notice in the newspaper for me. But I don’t want you to read it. It’s in here. I wrote down the number of words, so you’ll know how much to pay.”
“Don’t want me to read it? I don’t know—what’s it about?”
“I . . . I thought perhaps, some distant relatives of my mother . . . .”
“You said there weren’t any.”
“I don’t think there are. But can’t you indulge me? Does it cost so much?” She glanced around to be sure Mrs Grieves hadn’t come noiselessly into the room, and then laid a finger on his mouth. At her touch, he made a small sound, and stepped back.
“Of course, if you wish it . . . but why can’t I read the notice?”
“Please. I have nothing that’s my own—let me have just this.”
“Buffy, where have you been?”
“Nowhere. Hey. Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Slayer. What’s that kit you’ve got on? What’ve you been playing at?”
“What are you talking about Spike?”
“Drive a bloke to despair, you do. Disappearing like that without so much as a by your leave! We thought—”
“What? I was just in the bathroom.”
“It nearly killed the Bit. This time, we really didn’t think we could keep her together. None of us—”
“Peeing, Spike. For, like, three minutes? Hey. What’s this—are you crying?”
“Haven’t barely slept a wink since you—”
“Spikey. Aw, shit. Don’t cry.”
Two days later, she spotted her advertisement.
A Slayer misplaced in time seeks urgent help
Replies to box 32 at this paper
The names were a long shot. Giles had spoken of watchering running in families. His own mother had been a watcher. Perhaps it went further back.
She hoped so.
Now she began listening out for the postman. Mail came four times a day, but nothing arrived that week. She asked him to put in the advertisement again.
It was Christmas.
Not much of one. All he could think of was poor little Jem. How she’d loved Christmas, of course. Spoiled Little Birds always did.
After church they came back to the silent house, and Mrs Grieves, pleading a headache, went at once to her bed. Ordinarily the rooms would’ve been decorated with holly branches, and scented by the plum pudding cooking in the kitchen. There would’ve been parcels, and crackers, and songs. But this year Lucy had been sent off to keep the holiday with her parents, and the kitchen left dark.
She looked just as downcast as he felt. Whom was she missing?
Feeling quite daring and benevolent, he drew her down to sit on his knee right there in the drawing room.
“Thinking of those who are gone?”
She nodded, and stared into the fire.
“Are there many? Apart from your mother, I mean?”
Again, a single nod. Her lower lip trembled.
“Don’t care to talk of them?”
She stared at the glowing coals, and a shiver took her. Then she turned a little and nestled against him. “Hold me and don’t talk. I just want to pretend for a little.”
On New Year’s Eve he went out to a party at Mortimer’s house.
Miss Addams was there.
Miss Summers, of course, had not been asked.
He crawled into her bed at almost two, drunk and maudlin and spouting verse.
She kicked him out.
On January 4th, while his mother was out paying calls and Lucy was in the kitchen getting the supper, he knelt at her feet in the drawing room and lifted her skirt.
It didn’t take him long to get the way of it.
She slid to the edge of the sofa, letting her sewing fall, her legs sprawl, her gaze go unfocused.
Threaded her fingers into his hair.
He really was, after all, a natural.
“William, are you very careful when you walk around at night?”
“Careful? How careful?”
“I mean—there are so many odd people about. You . . . you shouldn’t talk to strangers in the street.”
He smiled and pressed her closer. “Had I not talked to a stranger—”
“Yes yes, but I knew you, remember. So I was not really a stranger. But there are others—who can be so dangerous.”
“What are you talking about?”
“When I was . . . on my own . . . I saw so many kinds of people. Tricksters and thieves and con artists. You can’t always tell by looking at them. Sometimes they’re dressed up like ladies and gentlemen, and still they could steal the very clothes off your back—even steal your soul.”
“My soul?” He laughed, and traced the shape of her upper lip with his finger. “When did you get to be so fanciful, Mistress Buffy?”
“Never mind that. But since I can’t go with you everywhere—”
“As if you’d be much protection against cutthroats—!” he chuckled.
“Hush. I’m serious. Since I can’t be with you everywhere . . . promise me you won’t talk to strangers in the street at night. Don’t let anybody lure you out of the way.”
“I can look after myself.”
“All right, wench. I promise.”
“The days are getting longer. Soon be spring.”
“Have you thought—”
At once she stiffened. Why must he go on asking her that question? Have you thought any more about your future? How in God’s name could he ask her that, when he’d just fucked her, when he was in her bed, his hand pressed possessively against her sex?
Yet he would ask.
She nestled her head under his chin. “We’re awfully comfortable, aren’t we, William?”
“I . . . suppose we are. Jolly comfortable.”
“We could be even more comfortable, you know.”
He was quiet then.
“When I think about my future . . . well of course I think . . . .”
“Mother will certainly write you a splendid character. You could get a place as a ladies companion, if governessing frightens you.”
“ . . . that we could get married.”
Well, what else had she expected?
Her heart felt as if it was clenched in a fist, a terrible taloned fist, like the Master’s, or Kakistos’, that was squeezing every ounce of life from it.
It cost too much.
Even such a thin watery one as this: to be respectably married to this William Grieves, who desired but did not care about her, who was in love with someone else who barely knew he was alive, who would, even if she kept him from his rendezvous with Drusilla, soon leave her a widow with small children and very little money.
She’d have been better off to leave hope for those who could afford to pay.
Oh, fuck it. What other option was there? She was stuck here. She refused to go back to the street. Go for broke.
“That Miss Addams—she wouldn’t make you comfortable the way I can. She wouldn’t—”
“Be quiet.” His fingers dug into her flesh.
“She wouldn’t even look at you when you spoke to her. Do you think she’d let you do this—and like it?”
He shoved her away and sat up. “I’ll thank you not to speak of those who—those who—are not for the likes of you to speak of.”
The advertisement was still running. The newspaper forwarded the responses: advertising circulars, begging letters, notices about séances and spiritualist meetings, crackpot missives.
Nothing from the actual Council of Watchers.
They obviously didn’t watch the newspapers.
The mutton must’ve been sitting around too long. It was that that made her sick.
She said nothing about it to anybody.
His cough seemed to grow worse, even as the terrible winter fogs were lifting. He still came to her each night, but slept afterwards in his own bed, because Mrs Grieves would look in on him when he had a paroxysm in the early morning. During the days he shut himself up in the study. She saw, when she went in to bring him his tea, that he was writing a great deal.
He didn’t offer to read anything to her, and she didn’t ask.
His cheeks were quite rosy, she noticed, as was his mouth. He had a sort of antic sparkle at the supper table, talking fast and laughing with his mother.
But in bed with her, he barely spoke at all. He was often rough, and she let him think he hurt her more than he really could, because it somehow seemed to make him feel better.
His manhood was ebbing away, after all, just as he’d come into it.
Anyway, the times when he was tender with her were harder to bear. When he petted and caressed her, she knew he was thinking of his own looming death. He comforted himself on her body.
She cried after he left her, and tried to decide.
Even if she could get him to believe her, would he have any better luck tracking down the Council? An ancient, secret society, not to be sought out by the general public. Why should he have any luck with it?
And she was by no means sure that she could keep him from his fate.
Or even that she should.
She didn’t know when it was to happen, exactly, and so every time he left the house in the evening, she grew fretful and teary.
Since when was she such a bundle of stupid nerves? She was the slayer. Where was her fortitude?
The mutton was bad again that week.
She stopped him at the door as he was leaving. It was only three in the afternoon, and she’d heard him promise Mrs Grieves to be back for supper. But somehow today the idea of him going out and leaving her in the house was unbearable. The tears were backed up behind her eyes, making her head ache. She wanted to lie on the floor, kick her legs, weep and wail.
He turned, impatient. “What is it, Miss Summers?”
“I need to speak to you. Not here in the hall.”
“But you see, I’m going out.”
“It’s important. Please—” She dropped into a whisper. “William. Please.”
Suddenly a look of such apprehension took hold in his eyes that she became even more frightened, and glanced over her own shoulder to see what it was that had so startled him.
Of course there was nothing there.
“I have an engagement. It will have to wait.”
“I don’t know that it can. I’ve been meaning to tell you—”
At this, his face just shut down. She was amazed—it was like a door closing. He still stood there, but he was gone. “There is nothing you could have to say, Miss Summers, that cannot wait until tomorrow.”
“But, it doesn’t just have to do with me— I’ve got to tell you something for your own—”
“Tomorrow, Miss Summers. It’s really quite impossible that I should be late today.”
She stood in the doorway and watched him hasten away up the street. It was only as she saw his back recede around the corner that she realized what was so odd.
He wasn’t wearing black.
The supper, by time the two women sat down to it alone at nearly ten o’clock, was thoroughly dried out.
“When he’s unavoidably detained, he always sends a postcard, or a boy round with a note,” Mrs Grieves said. “He never likes me to have to worry.” Every ten minutes she got up and went to look out into the street.
By midnight the older lady was frantic. Over her protestations, she left her with Lucy and ran out to the police station.
Not that telling the police would do any good. She knew, as she jogged along, that this was it. Spike had told her—My mother was expecting me that night. And I did not come. When she reached the corner where the police station was, the blue lamp over the door and bright gaslight pouring out in a fan shape on the pavement, she stopped. Grief was a kick in the gut. You could know all about it, and still— Doubling over, she vomited on the ground, then propped herself dizzily on one hand, the other pressed to her forehead, slick with sweat. Unable to rise, her legs turned to water.
It was terrible. Terrible. Oh, he’d be all right—inasmuch as being turned into a vampire, to be fledged by Angelus, could be described that way. Still, she already knew he’d survive and thrive.
But what the fuck was going to happen to her now?
To her, and to—
None of them slept. Mrs Grieves would not give up her station by the front parlor window all night. By morning, every man who turned into the street must be him, and she opened the door over and over, each time to be disappointed.
“Miss Summers—this is so unlike him—what can have—”
Her agitation increased as the day wore on. By mid afternoon, Lucy suggested that Miss Summers send for the doctor to give her a sedative.
By the end of the second day, while she sat staring into space at Mrs Grieves’ bedside, fanning the other lady’s face, it came to her: Spike had never mentioned that his body had been brought back home. He’d spoken of breaking out of a coffin, but never mentioned a funeral or the location of his grave.
Drusilla, remembering her prior disappointment, must not have wanted to let this plaything out of her sight.
They’d have dragged the corpse off with them and planted it themselves, to await its rise.
Now there was much coming and going at the house. Mr Mortimer was often there. William’s employer at the bank called. His solicitor came. Ladies were in and out all afternoon. The police were appealed to, over and over. The question of what to do was discussed at great length. Mrs Grieves clung to Miss Summers and cried and would not be comforted.
How could they have a funeral, how could they say goodbye, without her son’s body? Mrs Grieves asked this over and over in the long afternoons and evenings. Buffy wasn’t really surprised at how quickly the lady gave up hope that William was alive. She knew her family too well, after all: they didn’t run off. They died.
Was she a bad mother? Mrs Grieves asked. Was that it? She was to be deprived of all her babies because she’d somehow offended the Lord God?
“No no,” Buffy said.
There was no more mention of the shorn lamb.
Mr Mortimer came and tried to talk to William’s mother about his papers. There was a life insurance policy, but until her son could be declared legally deceased—
“Don’t talk to me,” Mrs Grieves wept. “Don’t talk to me. Tell Miss Summers. She’ll look after it.”
This was Joyce’s death all over again, only this time there was no Giles, no Scoobies, to help her. Just a little maid whose head was full of country superstitions.
Mrs Grieves only went out to go to church. Miss Summers took over the shopping, and the running of the house.
Not that there was much to run. They barely ate. Lucy went on turning out the rooms on the usual days.
The news of Miss Addam’s horrible murder came within the week.
Eviscerated in her own home.
And not just eviscerated.
She was living week by week. Counting them by Sundays. Because she knew, Sunday was the day he would come.
And she wanted to make sure she saw him.
Just the one time more.
She told Lucy that on Sundays, she would answer the door to callers.
The wait lasted three weeks. Then, at the end of a day that was cold and lashing down rain, he arrived.
She knew, just by the sound of the knock, that it was he. Forced herself not to run to the door, even as her heart knocked like a wild animal in a cage. This wouldn’t, she reminded herself, be Spike. And he wouldn’t be William either. He would be a fledgling vampire, still uncomfortably caught between what he’d been, and what he was becoming. Just learning his own feral depths.
She opened the door. He stood on the step, hatless, the rain streaming from his draggled hair. The little spectacles were gone. He wore a workman’s clothes beneath a capacious black greatcoat, and his hands dangled at his sides as if they never had had anything to do, and never would. They were so pale they seemed to glow. His stillness, total lack of reaction to the rain pelting down, spooked her more than anything.
He wasn’t human anymore.
“I knew you’d be here,” she said.
“Did you now?” He didn’t seem surprised, and this too startled her, although she didn’t know quite why. “Is my mother inside?”
“You know she’s not.”
“Invite me in, Mistress Buffy.”
She only stared at him, filling the space between the door and the jamb with her slender body. “I thought you were in love with Miss Addams.”
“You were right about her. She didn’t love me back.”
“So you raped her and pulled her insides out.”
He didn’t even twitch. His voice was cold as black, ancient ice. “Someone did. Invite me in now.”
Oh God. In a hundred and twenty years she would love this monster. But not now. Not now.
From here, not ever.
She tightened her grip on the stake she held at her back.
“Ten minutes. You go straight up to your room, and come straight down. You don’t see Lucy. You don’t touch anything that’s not yours. Ten minutes.”
Now he smiled. A very unpleasant smile. “Or what, wench?”
“Or you won’t even have time to be sorry you were so sentimental.”
His gaze changed then. She wanted to look away from him, but couldn’t. His blue eyes seemed to draw her in; she felt tangled in his gaze, repelled and compelled at the same time.
“My cough’s quite cleared up. That’s a happy thing, isn’t it?”
She gave him back his stare, as good as she got.
“Invite me in.”
“All right. Ten minutes, remember. Come in, William.”
She stepped back. Kept herself always at a strategic angle to him, the stake out of sight. At the drawing room door, he paused. Glanced in, and made a move to enter.
“No. I told you—”
“Plenty of post piled up on the mantelpiece. Have you forgotten to open it?”
“The mail’s none of your concern anymore. I told you. Your things, from your room. That’s all. Now march.”
She moved behind him as he took the stairs, listening out for Lucy. Lucy was in the kitchen, and unless something very extraordinary happened, she’d stay safely there.
Hovering in the doorway, she watched him choose things and toss them into a burlap sack he drew out of his coat pocket. Although she’d never looked into his room all the time she’d been here, she recognized the objects as he grabbed them. The oval picture in its wooden frame. The three little leather-bound books. The daguerreotype case.
He stuffed some shirts into the bag, and snatched the old-looking silver-backed comb and brush from the dresser and put them in his coat pocket. Paused at the mirror, where there was no reflection except hers. Pointed at it with one lazy finger.
“So I’ve heard.”
He turned, and suddenly vamped. She didn’t move.
The game face slid away, leaving him looking angry, slightly disappointed. “Don’t I frighten you?”
“Not really. Now your ten minutes are up. Get out.”
He drew himself up. As he came near her, she forced herself to keep her eyes on his face.
“Who in hell are you?”
“I’m Buffy Anne Summers. You know that.”
“I think it’s not all you are.”
“I think it doesn’t matter.”
He gave her breast a sudden sharp squeeze. “I’ll miss this. Shall we have one last tumble, for you to remember me by?”
Buffy took a step back. “Oh, I’ll remember you.”
“Hmm, so will I. I don’t suppose a man ever forgets his first cunt.” He smiled, and passed out of the room.
She followed him downstairs, opened the front door. He walked out again into the rain. She was closing the door when he paused and glanced back at her.
Her heart made a fist.
“Goodbye, William. Kiss Angelus for me.”
It wasn’t until nearly five in the morning that she remembered what he’d said about the mail. She’d lain awake all night, going over everything about his appearance, everything about his whole time in this house, but somehow she’d forgotten that one moment, when he’d tried to step into the drawing room.
Have you forgotten to open it?
She dashed downstairs, lit the kerosene lamp with trembling hands, and snatched up the pile of envelopes. Most of them were addressed to him, or Mrs Grieves. Those for her had the now-familiar look of the kind of inapt responses all small ads attracted.
But there was one envelope—Jesus. How could she have missed this? A heavy, cream-laid envelope, sealed with wax impressed by a signet ring with the letter G.
Suddenly her hands felt like putty; she struggled with the envelope, dropped it, dived after it, heard herself begin to hyperventilate.
To the Lady Whose Advertisement We Noticed With Such Interest—
The bubble of laughter that rose up her throat made her jump when it rang out in the silent room.
The letter was signed Edmund W. Giles.
Two days later, she left the house in the late morning as she always did now, the market basket over her arm. She was wearing the nicest of Jemima’s three dresses, with the jet brooch fastening the collar, and Jemima’s Sunday hat. She did the shopping Mrs Grieves wanted, and left the laden basket, with her handwritten note in it, at the shop of Fulks the Butcher, who agreed to send it home for her with his man that afternoon. He changed her pound note, even stepped out into the street and stopped the hansom for her, handing her up into it.
The note for Mrs Grieves explained that she’d gone to call on someone who might know how to find her cousins, and promised that she would return in time for supper. This seemed necessary, as Mrs Grieves would never have let her go alone if she’d merely asked her.
She’d ridden in hansom cabs before—but only to turn tricks. Now she looked out the small window as the carriage made its slow progress through the heavy traffic, and chinked the coins in her pocket. This was the first money she’d had since going home with William, and was more than she’d ever had in hand at one time since getting here. Mr Giles of the Council of Watchers had enclosed it with his answer to her letter, telling her to call at a certain address near the British Museum any day after twelve noon.
The house where the cab left her was one of a row of genteel residences, all identical, in a quiet street. A servant showed her into a parlor where she waited alone for ten minutes. There was nothing at all gothic or mystical about the furnishings of the room, unless you counted the red velvet curtains and flocked wallpaper. The ornaments—dried flower arrangements under glass domes—were all quite banal. A clock on the mantelpiece tocked loudly.
A middle-aged woman with grey hair, in a grey dress, came into the room, and she rose.
“Be seated, my dear Miss Summers. I’m Miss Poole. I must just ask you a couple of questions. Before we begin, would you like a glass of sherry? A slice of cake?”
“I’d really like to see Mr Giles.”
“Yes, my dear. First, you will speak to me.” Miss Poole sat with her back to the bright window, so Buffy had to squint at her.
“Will you just tell me, please, the ways to kill a vampire?”
This question, coming from such a plain and practical looking woman, in a room through whose tall windows the sunlight poured, made her smile.
“You will not laugh,” Miss Poole said, raising a finger. “You will answer.”
“Stake through the heart. Fire. Beheading. Direct sunlight. I’ve done ‘em all. Oh—and there’s a poison. A special poison, that will kill a vampire slowly, painfully. I don’t know what it’s called.”
“When were you called to be a slayer, and who is your watcher?”
“1996. In America. California. My first watcher was called Merrick, but he died. Then I was with Rupert Giles, who came from England to look after me. Most recently, I’ve worked mostly on my own. I have some trusted associates.” Better not to get into her differences with the Council. None of that seemed very important from this vantage, anyway.
She thought Miss Poole might smile, but apparently that wasn’t something Miss Poole did.
“And what are the circumstances that led you here?”
“I placed an ad—”
“Here. In London, in the year of our Lord, eighteen-hundred and eighty.”
“I don’t know. I suppose it was magic, or—demonic activity. I wasn’t, um, working when it happened.”
“What were you doing?”
“Dancing. With my friends.”
Miss Poole frowned. “Curious.”
She didn’t know which was curious to the grey lady: the dancing, or the friends. Buffy waited. Then—”You do believe me, don’t you? That I’m the slayer?” She leapt to her feet. “Because I could show you. Just aim me at something to slay, and I’ll—”
“Well my dear, you certainly seem to think so. I suppose I shall pass you on. Come along.”
Another cab ride. But this time, she was made to wear a blindfold.
“Is this really necessary?”
“I’m afraid so, dear. If you’re not what you seem—”
The ride lasted, she thought, about fifteen minutes. Miss Poole led her by the hand into another building. She felt the other woman standing behind her. Then the blindfold was snatched off, and she was looking at a nearly dark room so large that its walls disappeared in shadow. The next thing she knew something enormous like a gorilla was swinging a yardarm at her face.
She grabbed it and flung the big man to his back on the floor.
The one who came at her from behind got her elbow in his belly, and a round kick that planted him too.
“Okay,” she said. “Have I passed the test? Where’s Mr Giles?”
A door opened in the wall, spilling light through it. The man holding out his hand to her was just a silhouette as she walked towards him.
“So, you are the Slayer misplaced in time. Miss Summers, welcome.”
He didn’t look like her Giles. He was tall like him, but had a large paunch, a rather shapeless face, and a thick moustache that drooped over his mouth. The room he ushered her into was like the library of a gentleman’s club—or rather, it was the library of a gentleman’s club. All dark gleaming wood, thick turkey carpet, winged armchairs, and row upon row of volumes behind glass doors.
There were ten or twelve other men in the room, ranging in age from roughly forty up to at least twice that. He introduced them, but she made no effort to remember their names. All looked at her with an almost hungry intensity. She just kept thinking They’ll find some way to send me home.
Edmund Giles seated her in the most capacious of the armchairs, in the center of the room.
Two footmen appeared wheeling a cart. They served tea.
Questions were asked. She was made to tell her history, her accomplishments. They murmured as she sketched them in, skirting around the more uncomfortable details, avoiding names. Again she explained that she had no idea how she’d come to be where she was.
“But you’ve got all the magics you need to send me back, right?” She waved at the wall of books. “That’s got to be easy for you guys, right?”
She glanced from one face to the next. All had beards or capacious moustaches at the least. They were rather like that awful Mr Chiltern, she thought, they seemed to be sitting quite firmly and comfortably on their preconceived notions about her.
One of them, a smallish man seated furthest from her, murmured something.
“What?” she asked. “What did you say?”
He repeated it. “No one has the magics to send a human being forward into the future. The future is something that is not yet, and may not ever be.”
“Travers!” One of the others rounded on him.
“It’s true, Carker. You know it’s true.” The little man seemed to shrink.
She protested. “But I know the future is real—I’ve been there! I live there!”
Mr Travers frowned. “That’s as may be, Miss, but what you propose flies in the face of providence. How are you to know you weren’t brought here in order to be the sole survivor of some terrible debacle? Or to serve the cause of the righteous in some unique way? Here you are, and here—“
“We don’t know that, Travers,” Carker interrupted. He looked sly, and touched the side of his nose. “We must undertake . . . undertake . . . research. But in the meanwhile. . . . ”
“In the meanwhile, your appearance here is most fortuitous,” Mr Giles said. “Our slayer of the moment is in the Holy Land. There is always a great deal of demonic activity in the cradle of civilization, and she has quite as much as she can handle. Unfortunately, the situation in London now has become dire. In the last two months, the number of deaths that have come to our attention—which are attributable to vampiric activity—have skyrocketed.”
Carker took up the tale. “Two of the most notorious vampires extant are known to be in London at this moment. Killing nightly. Turning many of their unfortunate victims. They must be stopped.”
It was as if someone had grabbed her by the throat and shaken her. She wanted to block up her ears, to run from the room.
But run where? The Council was her only hope.
“Angelus and Darla.”
Mr Giles raised an eyebrow. “You are already aware of their presence?”
“That is excellent. Then you will be able to track, and eliminate them.”
“You—you want me to kill Angelus?”
“He and his brides are cutting a swathe through the slums of this city. Every morning the police discover fresh corpses in the street, their throats torn asunder. They snatch babes from their mother’s breasts—”
“I know. I know what they do. But I’m not your slayer. I’m the slayer in 2002. I need to get back to 2002. Because right now they’ve got nobody, and God only knows what’s happening there.”
Carker rose from his chair. “The year two thousand and two is of far less concern to us than the current depredations of Angelus. You are a slayer, and as such, are bound to do your duty.”
“I’ll patrol all you want. If you give me your word that everything will be done, as quickly as possible, to get me back where I belong.”
Now it was Mr Giles who rose, and his small bright eyes were fierce. “Are you presuming to dictate to us, Miss Summers?”
Oh God. Right. They still thought they were running the slayer like a rich man would run a racehorse. The liberation she’d wrested for herself back in California was nothing in this place.
“I thought you wanted to help me.”
“We will of course look after you as long as you do your duty—”
“What is it with you people and the word duty? I know my duty—I’ve got my very own particular hellmouth back home to keep a lid on. You boys have a slayer. I don’t belong here.”
The congestion behind her eyes, that was always there, pressed harder now, threatening to spill over in hot tears. This wasn’t fair! It wasn’t fair that she had to be ripped away from all she loved, left high and dry in a time and place not her own, and on top of all that, be expected to kill Angelus.
She glanced around the room. Stared boldly into all the faces: Giles, Carker, Travers and the rest. Research, he’d said.
They’d sure be doing a whole lot of research on her behalf.
They’d make her jump through hoops for them for a pound note and a promise.
“Oh Miss Summers—when you didn’t come in—I didn’t know what to think—and then Fulks’ man asked to speak to me, I was sure you’d been dashed to pieces in the street like my dear Jemima—”
“I thought I might have found my cousins, but I had to go alone. I knew you wouldn’t like me to. I’m sorry I deceived you.”
It took more than half an hour to comfort Mrs Grieves, whom she was beginning to think of as the old lady. She was barely forty-eight, but since William’s disappearance she’d lost what little spark of youthful vitality she’d had.
When Spike had first shown her his mother’s picture, and told how she alone of all her family survived, she’d certainly felt sad about it . . . as sad as anyone could feel about someone who’d died a hundred years before. But now . . . witnessing first-hand Augusta Grieves’ abandonment, the sorrow of it stabbed right through her sore heart. It was all too familiar.
It just made everything that much harder.
How could she accept the Council’s offer to house her, if it meant leaving Mrs Grieves alone?
I’m not getting out of here. Those words echoed through her head as she made the tea, stirred the fire, turned the toast, and read out loud from The Daisychain.
I’m not getting out of here. This is it. My life from now on. I can either stay here and look after her . . . or I can go and be the Council’s Buffybot.
Except that quite soon now, both Mrs Grieves and the Council would have much fault to find with her, each from their separate but quite compelling viewpoints.
The corset she fastened herself into every morning could only conceal things for so long.
There was still the Embankment.
Two days later, Mr Giles and Mr Carker came to call. It took some persuading before Mrs Grieves allowed her to receive them alone. But finally she left the drawing room, after cautioning that she would return in a quarter hour with tea.
“I don’t suppose you’re here to tell me you’ve got just the time-travel spell.”
The men ignored this, as they seemingly ignored her tone.
“Miss Summers,” Mr Giles began, “our intelligence network within the city has been very active. Just yesterday we received confirmation of Angelus’ actual location. He’s established a nest in a house in Kensington. Angelus, his women, and various minions have been seen going in and out of this residence, whose owners have either decamped or been killed.”
“Did you notice the lady who just went out of the room? This is her house.”
They stared at her for a moment, then Carker took up the tale. “We have reason to believe that the vampires are imprisoning certain live victims in the house. For purposes of torture, and other mayhem. It’s most important that a stop be put to their activities at once.”
“Her name is Mrs Grieves. Two years ago she had a husband, and a grown son, and three daughters. Now all she’s got is me.”
“Miss Summers—the urgency of our mission is quite—”
“I’ve got some urgency here too. Mrs Grieves has given me a home, even though I was a stranger when I came here. She just lost her son, her last remaining child. She’s very lonely. If I’m going to endanger my life to take out Angelus and company, I need to know she’s not going to be left in the lurch.”
“What do you mean?”
“If I don’t come back, I want the Council to look after her. Give her money, hire a nice companion for her, whatever she needs . . . . I want your word as a gentleman on it, or else I don’t budge on this.”
The two men exchanged a glance.
“And for yourself?” Giles asked.
“I’m prepared to do my duty.”
A chimney sweep’s apprentice, trudging home from work in the early evening with his bag of brushes slung over his shoulder, came to a stop for no apparent reason in front of a tall white house that was not significantly different from the similar houses on either side of it, except that the large front garden was showing signs of neglect.
The evening was cool, mizzling. The sweep’s boy ignored the rain, and rolled a cigarette, gazing up from beneath the bill of his cap as he licked the edge of the paper, at the upper front windows of the house. Crimson drapes covered them, but as he watched, one of them twitched, and a pale oval face appeared for a moment behind the glass.
Tucking the unlit cigarette behind his ear, the boy went on his way.
A half hour later, the same boy vaulted lightly up onto the garden wall behind the white house, and as lightly down, landing in a flower bed. He paused to get his bearings; light glowed from the rear parlor windows, and at eye level, the scullery window held a flickering taper. Further up, the back bedrooms seemed dark, but he spotted a window left ajar.
That would do, to get him in. Shrugging his bag further behind his back, he leapt for the rainpipe and scrambled up.
Falling into the room with a light thump, he paused in a crouch and listened. Someone was playing a piano, in a chaotic clattery way, and suddenly a girl’s voice joined in with the music, singing a bawdy song. One of those Shakespearey things that seemed to be about flowers but was really about people’s privates. Creeping across the room, the sweep almost stumbled across a heavy object on the rug. Reaching a hand down, he touched the slack features of a face.
Ugh. What kind of housekeeping was this, leaving corpses strewn on the carpet?
In the upstairs hallway, he listened again. The piano sounded louder now, one floor below, behind, he guessed, closed doors. Okay. Stick to the original plan.
He opened his bag and shouldered a small axe.
Taking the backstairs down to the kitchen, his old boots on the soft drugget made no sound.
Three of them were there: minions. For a moment they looked like any servants: one heated an iron on the range to press a pile of damp white shirts, another was blacking boots, and the third, giggling, drank wine straight from the bottle he was supposed to be decanting into a cut-glass carafe meant for his betters.
The sweep silenced the giggler with one thwack—his head bounced before it exploded into ash. The heady smell of the spilled wine filled the room as the other two turned, open mouthed. Snicker-snack, the second one was gone. The sweep pounced on the third, the one with the blacking brush.
“Who’s in the house? How many, besides you?”
The vampire stared at him, his golden eyes opened wide in terror that hadn’t yet glossed into rage. “You—you’re a girl—”
“Who’s in the house? Now.”
“Fucking hell—a girl—the slayer.”
“Bright boy. Now—”
“Miss Drusilla’s in the drawing room, with that new whelp. It’s them what’s making all the racket. The master and mistress are dining—”
“—with some others. Through there.” The vamp gestured at the baize door that led to the corridor connecting kitchen with dining room.
“Thanks. You’ve been most helpful.” She pressed the blade against the creature’s neck and pushed. When he’d fallen to ash she rose. There was an unaccustomed pain in her back, and for a moment she felt dizzy, and clutched for the mantelpiece to steady herself.
So. The question now: by which of them did she want to be killed? Drawing room? Or dining room? Wherever she started, she knew she’d not be able to kill more than two before they’d take her down.
Even at her fittest, this situation would be a challenge for her to carry out unaided.
And she was not at her fittest. Apart from . . . apart from that, she’d not trained in months. Not practiced.
But Darla and Dru and Angelus were at the top of their game.
Reaching into the bag at her feet, she gripped one of the stakes, hefted it and tested its point against her palm. Familiar, comfortable tool. Familiar job to do. Just get up and go do it.
A wave of fatigue washed over her, and she dropped into a chair. Shit. Shitshitshit. What did it all mean, her life, her deaths, her resurrection, if it was just going to come down again to this rock-and-a-hard-place?
Suddenly she was sure she wouldn’t be able to kill them. Because they weren’t supposed to die now, she wasn’t supposed to be here, she knew them too well, she was too weak. There was too much at stake, and not enough. What did it matter? What did anything matter?
She’d made the Council promise to look after Mrs Grieves, but after all, how would they know whether she died here or went and threw herself into the river instead? Either way she wouldn’t come back. The idea of the river bloomed in her mind—the swift cold reeking current, the tiers of shipping, the thousands of little lights reflected in the water. How many bridges would her body pass beneath before it came to rest somewhere in a tangle of rope, bobbing and bloated? Better go—better go and do that. Leave Drusilla to pound the piano keys, leave Angelus and Darla to their sanguine dinner party. Leave William—
A man never forgets his first cunt.
Before she was quite aware of it, she was halfway up the back stairs again. The music got louder as she neared the drawing room door, louder still as she flung it open.
Goddamnit, she’d kill him. She’d stake him with extreme prejudice, and after that—
The sight of them slowed her down.
Well, not Dru. Dru was about what she expected, all hair and draperies and bare white arms flailing over the piano keys.
But she hadn’t expected him—
—to be stripped to the waist and hanging, in place of the chandelier flung in the corner, by his wrists from the ceiling. The air she displaced by flinging open the door made his dangling body turn. All the gas jets in the room were flaring at full throttle, so she got a good look at the red welts that scored his white skin, front and back, every which way.
He was firmly gagged, but their eyes caught and held. The expression in his was one of complete acceptance. He looked . . . content. She stared into them, shocked into immobility.
Until Drusilla spun around on her piano stool and launched herself across the room with a scream—
She stumbled, the breath knocked out of her, and couldn’t react for a long moment while the dizziness washed over her like a strong wave, shaking and tumbling her. The darkness was total, she couldn’t feel her limbs, yet still she struggled, waiting to feel Drusilla’s teeth sink into her neck.
Then the light went orange and blue and flashed, and she was on her hands and knees. When the nausea released its grip and she raised her head, something enormous loomed above; she shied against its crashing down on her.
But it didn’t.
It just went on rotating and blinking out in orange and blue, at the top of its very tall poll.
She was under the sign in the parking lot of the IHOP near the freeway on-ramp. A group of laughing teenagers piled out of an SUV nearby; cars pulled in and out of the lot as traffic whizzed by on the busy service road just a few feet away. Brighter light than she’d seen in months spilled through the plate glass restaurant windows.
A dark van with tinted windows that was idling in the handicapped spot closest to the restaurant door pulled out slowly, and slowly drove away.
There was a USA TODAY box next to the restaurant door. She bent over to peer at the front page. The date on the paper was Monday the 16th. It was Friday the 6th when she’d gone dancing at the Bronze and ended up hurled back in time.
Months had elapsed for her, but she’d been gone from here just over a week.
Dry-mouthed, shaking, she pushed open the restaurant door. How many times had she been here with her mother and Dawn? It looked so strange now . . . all those bright lights and slick plastic surfaces didn’t seem real. Dazed, feeling invisible, she threaded her way through the crowd waiting for tables, and towards the ladies room.
The fake strawberry reek of the disinfectant nearly floored her as soon as she swung open the door.
Seeing her, the white-haired woman in the yellow tracksuit almost yelped, and fled without waiting to dry her hands. In the mirror, the grimy sweep’s boy in his grey, patched corduroys stared back at her. She pushed back the brim of the cap and rubbed her eyes with dirty fingers.
What the fuck was that?
God, did she feel sick.
Tired as she was, the walk seemed to do her good. By time she turned into Revello, some of the strength had come back into her limbs, and her head felt a little clearer, though the ache still gripped her temples. It was a cool, pleasant evening, the sky full of stars. Still early—she’d left the IHOP around 8:00. It was probably 8:30 now as she came up the path to the porch.
Something stopped her from just opening the door, although she knew it wouldn’t be locked. The whole front of the house was lit up. Peering into the dining room, she saw Tara sitting at the table strewn with books and papers. She was chewing on a pencil, consulting a large brown volume. Beside her another chair was pulled back, and a cup and saucer beside an open notebook indicated someone else had just walked away from the research session.
She stole over to the living room window.
Oh God. Giles was there. Pacing up and down in front of the couch. Spike was sitting forward, head in hands, tense as a whippet. Beside him Dawn’s head lolled against the sofa back. She might’ve been asleep. Or dead. Or just too miserable to bother sitting up.
For a minute she just stared at them, as if she was watching some mimed play. Her people, her best beloveds, right there on the other side of the glass.
Oh God oh God, how was it possible?
And how was it possible that she could ever rejoin them? She imagined herself then just sinking through the floor boards, disappearing—not back to London, not back to the heaven she thought she’d known after death, but—out of existence. In that moment, the only thing that seemed like it could possibly be bearable, was not to exist.
She raised a hand to tap on the window, when her knees gave way beneath her.
“I’ve got her, I’ve got her—”
“Careful, don’t move her just yet—”
“Buffy! Oh my God, Buffy! Is she all right?”
“Why is she dressed like that? Did you hear her come up on the porch?”
Her eyes were still closed, but she noted the voices. Spike, Giles, Dawn, Tara. She was propped against something both hard and yielding, and then the cap was lifted from her head, and there was a hand smoothing her hair.
“I’ll get some water—”
“Call Xander and Anya!”
She felt the movement around her, the porch boards creaking as they shifted. The hand in her hair never stopped its quiet smoothing.
Then his voice, low and close to her face. “Open your eyes, petal. Open your eyes and let me see you. Oh, Buffy. Oh love . . . .”
He knelt over her; it was his thigh she rested against. She couldn’t make out anything but the orange porchlight and some dark shapes, and let her eyes fall shut again.
“Don’t try to shift yourself, sweetness. I’ll lift you in a minute. First you’ll drink a little water, yeah? Tara’s coming with the water.”
She could feel his face loom closer to hers. Feel him looking at her. Then his mouth touched her forehead. Pressed a kiss there.
“Hello—” He sniffed. “What’s this—?” Sniffed again. She tensed, squeezed her eyes shut. “Fucking hell girl, you can’t be—”
More clatter and tread.
“Here’s the water. What’s the matter, did she faint again?”
“Buffy! Buffy, it’s Dawn! Xander and Anya are coming to see you.”
“Dawn, please. Step back. Spike, we’d better bring her in now. Bring her right upstairs.”
Suddenly she was swung up into the air; the nausea resurged; she clutched at him and sucked her lower lip against her teeth.
“Take it easy, Spike—”
Lurching fast up the stairs.
“I’ve got her. She’s fine. Rupert, she’s fine.”
Lowered again, onto the soft expanse of the bed.
She opened her eyes then. They were all there, gazing anxiously at her. There he was, closest of all: Spike. Her yellow-haired Spike, with the scar through his eyebrow and the soft light in his eyes when he looked at her.
She turned her head sharply away.
Couldn’t bear the sight of him.