|Lily Out of Water 3: Paper Roses
Author: DragonyPhoenix PM
Paper roses. Paper roses. Oh how real those roses seem to be but they're only imitation, like your imitation love for me.Rated: Fiction M - English - Willow R. & Angel - Words: 5,023 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 4 - Published: 10-12-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4590762
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Many thanks to my beta reader, BuffyAngel68. All mistakes are, of course, my own.
Disclaimer: You do know which of these characters were created by Joss Whedon, right? Well, I'm just playing with them.
Who knew that D.C. sewers would be a high-rent district? Really. Angel's contacts found a demon that rented out rooms, which looked expensive but were terribly gaudy, in the sewers. Drusilla ran through to have her choice of bedrooms. Curtains, so heavy and dark that they cast a gloom over their rooms, hung down from bedposts carved with a vegetative pattern. She picked the room with the red velvet curtains, of course, for herself and Spike, but since that left the green curtains, which were slightly less gloomy, for Angel and me, I can't say I minded. The dressers were carved to look like demons, complete with eyes, horns, and scales but the drawers, carved to look like mouths full of sharp, sharp teeth, were the worst. I kept glancing at them, out of the corner of my eyes, expecting them to move, to attack. A stained glass window, which must have had an electrical light source behind it, showed a demon torturing a man, his intestines spilling out of a cut the demon was just finishing. Its depiction of anguish was so accurate that Spike had to stop Drusilla from stepping into it to lick up the blood and make the man's fingers into a necklace.
"Willow," Angel said stepping out of our bedroom, "try on your outfit for tomorrow. I've laid it out on the bed." I stepped into the bedroom Angel and I were sharing and my heart sank as I looked at the clothes he'd picked out for me: beige button-down blouse, silk but still plain, an ugly floral vest, a beige skirt that was much to long for my taste, sensible shoes. He'd even found button earrings. I sighed but put the clothes on. Looking in the mirror, I thought shouldn't a spy's outfit be more exciting? I look like my mother. The clothes hid my curves and their neutral colors made me look wan and washed out. Against all that bland nothingness, the vest stood out, loud and ugly.
Feeling uninteresting and invisible, I dragged myself back into the main room. Spike was smirking although not at me so I ignored him. As Drusilla started laughing, I backed up against the doorway and crossed my arms over my chest. "You look like a little, brown mousie. Invisible. Hidden in plain sight, where no-one will ever see you again."
"Dru," Angel started before he was interrupted by Spike.
"Right, try these." Spike grabbed bags out of the other room and started pulling out clothes: blue jeans, shoes so trendy Cordelia would have drooled with envy. Holding up a silk blouse, he said, "It's a bit dressy for the library but I couldn't resist it. The shop girl said it's the same shade as my eyes. I've got a bit less upscale top if you'd rather." He started rummaging through the bags but I ran over and stopped him with a kiss.
"It's perfect. Thank you, Spike," I said before kissing him again.
"Spike," Angel growled, "she needs to fit in."
"She won't in that ugly getup," Spike replied before turning to me. "I had the bellhop check out what they actually wear, in these you'll fit right in. No, that's not true. You're too beautiful to ever blend in, you shine like the moon on a clear, dark night but in these you'll look like you belong."
"Childe," Angel growled.
Shit. I'm not wearing this ugly outfit just because Angel can't stand to look wrong. I kissed Spike again, on the cheek this time. "I'm going to try it on right now. Help me change?" I dragged Spike into his bedroom before Angel could start acting the Sire.
We heard the door slam but Angel was back by the time I'd changed. "You look good," was his only comment so he must have talked to the bellhop and realized Spike was right. Drusilla was sticking pins into the eyes of the teddy bears we'd found when we were replacing her broken porcelain dolls. She looked up but did not comment on my outfit, or on the fact that Spike had picked it out for me. I felt much better.
"Spike," Angel said. "Why don't you take Dru out and grab a bite to eat."
"Will you be OK, pet?" Spike asked me with a frown on his face.
I smiled back at him. "I'll be fine."
"You do look beautiful," Angel said once we were alone.
"And I'll blend in?" I asked.
"The Council will never know what hit them," he replied as he leaned over and kissed the angel my neck. I loved the feeling of Angel kissing my tattoo. "You'll have to hide that tomorrow," Angel told me. I opened my mouth, closed it again, and looked down to the ground. "What?" Angel asked, gently.
"I don't like hiding your mark," I replied.
He lifted my chin until I was looking into his eyes. "I don't like it either but you'd hardly blend in with my mark on your neck." I nodded my acquiescence. "My enchanting witch, I couldn't do this without you."
Angel's words reminded me of something Spike had said to me three evenings earlier, while we'd still been in New York. We were cuddling in my bed and I'd asked how Drusilla had been turned.
"Darla found her in London and offered her to Angel as a special treat. Dru had the sight, even then and recognized Angel and Darla as bad news right off the bat, although it doesn't take a lot of insight to figure that." I tried not to tense at Spike's words. "Shh," he continued as he ran his fingers through my hair but stared off into the distance. "Angel wanted that power, Dru's visions. It's why he turned her. Not sure why he drove her mad, mind you but, knowing our Angel, might have been a whim or he might have thought he could control her more easily."
I felt like I was about to burst into tears so I set my head on Spike's shoulder and closed my eyes and took deep breaths until I'd calmed down. When I had my emotions under control, I tried to change the subject, "And Drusilla turned you."
"Yeah," agreed Spike. "Although, as far as I can tell, Angel was behind that as well. A little too tedious for Darla and Angel, to take care of Dru."
"He turned you to be Dru's babysitter?"
Spike sat up, causing me to shift over, and protested, "Hey. Dru turned me and I'm no bloody babysitter. I just care for her, is all." He looked off sadly for a moment and then turned to me to catch my gaze. "Angel doesn't turn anybody he can't use."
"Before you go, one final review of who you're supposed to be." He handed me the identification he'd had made in New York.
"My name is Clarice Townsend Moore," I responded, "but I go by Claire. I'm a distant cousin of Abigail Bond Moore who married Aidan Nelson Taylor. He's Council but has lived in America for the past 15 years."
"Right," said Angel. "The Council's usual practice is more along the lines of short diplomatic assignments, except for the Slayer's Watcher, of course, so it's unusual that Taylor has lived here for so long."
"The Council sounds rather... isolationist," I interrupted.
Angel nodded in response but continued with my review. "As Claire, you know nothing of the Council. How well do you know Taylor?"
"Hardly at all," I replied. "My aunt Abigail passed away 12 years ago. Uncle Aidan has kept in touch with my parents, mostly through letters. Hearing from them that I have a scholarly interest in Sumerian religion, he arranged access to the library for me. What if they check my cover story at the library?"
Angel shook his head in denial. "Taylor is always out of town this time of year, on the anniversary of his wife's death. It's why we're hitting the library now."
"How'd she die?"
"She was lost at sea, the body never recovered," he responded. "The caretaker, Paul Anthony Smith, is American but went to Oxford where he roomed with Taylor. Be careful around Smith. The less you seem know about Taylor, the fewer chances you'll have to make a mistake. Try to charm Smith to keep him from getting suspicious."
"Suspicious?" I asked.
"Just a precaution. You'll do fine," he replied.
"The man this library was named for, G. Madison Perry, was a bit of an eccentric and traveled widely. See if you can guess what this is," Paul said pointing out an item in a glass case.
"The shriveled paw of some animal?" I asked. Trying to appear normal, I thought about putting a look of disgust on my face but Paul's stories so far had been fascinating and I didn't want to discourage him.
"It's a mummified monkey's paw," he said, his voice talking on a low and eerie tone. "Strange tales are told about it: a holy man blessed it so it will grant three wishes to any one person but those who wished rued the very day; those who survived were changed, and not for the better."
Giving him an amused look, I replied, "I've read that story – a couple wished for money only to receive it when their son, their only surviving child, died in an accident."
"I should have known you'd be familiar with the story. Will you look at one more artifact, to please an old man, before we get your books?"
"Paul," I replied, "I don't care how old you are, you are the youngest man I've ever met. I'd be happy to look at anything you want to show me."
A few display cases down he pointed out a snake, as big as my fist, sparkling with gemstones that covered its silver base. "Perry had it made as a protective amulet," Paul's eyes twinkled at me as he spoke, "and each stone has special significance. This honey stripe along the top is topaz, which protects against enemies, poison, and sudden death."
"And do you believe the amulet has actual power?" I asked.
"Perry led a very unusual life, full of adventures in strange and exotic places, and yet he managed to die of old age, home in his own bed," Paul replied before continuing. "The dark blue lapis lazuli stones embedded along the side prevent deception. There is an old legend about lapis lazuli." Paul's voice took on a serious tone. "It is said that those who swear on the stone can only speak truth. The eyes are fire opals, which provide courage, stamina, and resolve to the guardian, or to the amulet's owner, I should say, and legend has it that fire will shoot out of the snake's eyes if the owner is ever threatened." His tone grew light again as he continued with, "Although, since the current owner is the library, I'm glad that has never happened under my watch. I'd hate to think what the ensuing fire would do to all these books and speaking of books, we should get you yours and let you get started on your research."
"So." My scream interrupted the voice at my side. Looking around, I saw both Paul standing there and a bunch of scholars looking up from their books. "Claire, I didn't mean to startle you," Paul apologized. The scholars started looking back to their books: first one, who looked back up as if annoyed by the initial disturbance and concerned it might repeat itself, then another, and some more, a few who chuckled, apparently amused by my exclamation.
"Sorry, I was lost in my studies," I responded.
"Sumerian Metaphysical Structures for Dummies? A most engrossing tome."
I glared at Paul but couldn't keep a smile off my lips. "That's not how it translates and you know it."
Paul laughed in response and said, "Before I so ungraciously terrorized you, I had meant to ask you out to lunch. As Aidan's representative and your only link to your family in this dry and dusty place," he gestured around the library, "it is my duty to ensure that you do not lose yourself in the realms of academia without sustenance. A quick bite to eat will sustain your body as well as your mind. There's an Indian place, only a few blocks away, which is a bit of a hole in the wall to look at, but has fantastic food."
"But don't you have to keep an eye on the library?" I asked to buy time while I thought. Angel won't like it if he found out I went to lunch with Paul. On the other hand, Angel did tell me to be charming and, if I turn Paul down now, I'll seem standoffish. Besides, it's daytime and only this once. I just won't tell Angel.
He responded with a mocking sternness that was both comedic and self-deprecating. "Naturally I get a break for lunch. My assistant, Robert," he pointed out a young man in jeans and a Polo shirt, "will watch the place while we have lunch. No, no, leave your books; no one will bother them here," he added as I started to gather my books to return them to the shelves.
Stepping out of the library, I was attacked by light, heat, and humidity. I blinked several times to adjust to the sun's glare before joining Paul on the sidewalk. From behind his shades, he apologized for not warning me to come armed against the brightness. Still adjusting to the outside light, I merely nodded in response and we set off. After a block and a half of walking, Paul gestured to a doorway, it really did look like a hole in the wall, wedged between a bookstore and a tobacco shop. The windows were wide and had diamond-shaped mirrors strung with pompoms, hanging in inverted arches and above a sign that named the restaurant. "Gourmet Shish-Kebab?" I asked.
"Trust me," said Paul as he opened the door. The coolness of the restaurant was a welcome relief after even so short a walk. The ceiling had two layers: the upper layer was pointed sky blue; the lower layer, which was painted tan to look like a tent, ended in two pillars, wrapped with tan fabric that emphasized the illusion. Curious objects, hookahs and such, adorned the shelves giving me the expectation that a caravan would arrive at any moment. I know it sounds hokey but that dinky little restaurant transformed into a place both exotic and magical, bursting with promises and possibilities. I felt as if I, ordinary Willow Rosenberg, were someone both rich and strange, as if I'd found my true self. "Claire," said Paul. The image came crashing down around me as my mask slipped back into place, a hermit crab hidden in its dull shell.
I ordered a lamb kebob with hummus and spinach sides. "Bread or rice?" the man at the register asked.
"I recommend the bread," Paul told me. "It's fresh out of the oven and worth the wait."
"Bread's fine," I replied.
Paul was right, the food was delicious and we lingered over lunch, talking about nothing and everything. "So, you were a Marine? That must have been exciting."
"Ah, ah," he admonished. "Mind your tense: once a Marine, always a Marine. My career was, well, no more or less than anyone else would have done. Now my Uncle Paul, I was named for my uncle you understand, he was a great man. He saved countless lives."
My heart leapt to my throat. Saved. Like the Slayer, whoever she is now. She's out there now, saving lives. Like I did, once.
"When he was in Korea, he convinced thousands of Chinese troops to surrender. They wouldn't have, you know, because they considered surrender dishonorable and honor more important than life," he added.
"How'd he do it?" I asked.
"He rained leaflets on them. The leaflets explained how they could surrender but also maintain honor by shouting the Chinese words for 'love', 'duty', 'humanity', and 'virtue', which in English sound like 'I surrender'. It saved their honor as well as hundreds of lives on both sides of the conflict. Uncle Paul always said it was the best thing he'd ever done and, on that happy note, we should probably be getting back."
As I stood up and stretched, Paul's assistant, Robert strolled over to me. He looked and sounded like he'd just stepped out of some upper class British university, Oxford, perhaps, or Cambridge. He gave me a confident smile and asked if I needed anything. "No," I replied. I'm blushing. I can't believe I'm blushing! "I just need to use the ladies room. Paul pointed it out earlier while he was giving me a tour of the library." I was unused to attention from attractive men, from human men that is, and was relieved to get away without making a fool of myself. As I started up the stairs, I glanced back to see that he was watching at me. He smiled at me again before returning to his work.
The second floor was empty. While I wandered over to the windows and pretended to admire the contents of the display cases, I pulled a rock out of my pocket; mica – its strong resistance to environmental pressures made it the perfect anchor for my spell, which was time-released so I could bring it into the library without setting off any magical detection. I planned to leave the library around 4, shortly before the spell became active. It would drain all magical spells in the building, finishing with its own spell, by dusk, so that, to any investigation, if there were one, even a magical one, it would appear to be an ordinary stone. Paul's tour had shown me where I could stash my spell's anchor, on a windowsill but hidden behind a display case. I put it as far from the serpent statue as I could, in case it really was a protective amulet.
We entered through the back door, under the cover of darkness. "Come in," I whispered the invitation. We were in a backroom that I hadn't gotten into during the day. Scarcely able to see in the darkness, I was about to magic up a light when Angel stopped me. We walked to a door and he gestured me through into the reading room, which was dark but lighter than the backroom. Light enough that I could see.
"Miss Moore," I heard as I stepped into the room.
"Paul," I whispered my horrified response as I stared at Paul and his assistant, Robert, from across the room.
"I think this occasion calls for a bit more formality," said Paul as he aimed a gun at me. Spike darted through the door and grabbed something out of the air. "Tranquilizer dart," added Paul. "I see you've brought friends. How unexpected."
"How did you know?" I asked, trying to diffuse the situation.
"I was initially suspicious because Aidan wasn't available to confirm your identity. He's an exact man and he would have spoken with me before sending anyone here. During our tour of the library, some of your responses were slightly off so I had a sorcerer look you over while we went out to lunch." Angel gave me a quick glare before returning his attention to Paul. "You're not the first witch to attack the library."
"Attack the Council, you mean," said Angel.
"You know quite a bit about us. Mr.?"
"Angel." For the first time, Robert looked nervous.
"Angel," Paul said calmly. "That would make you two Drusilla and Spike." He turned to me and finished with, "and that means you are not Claire but Miss Willow Rosenberg."
"How do you know me?"
"Did you think the Council wouldn't investigate the death of a Slayer? Your journal was found," replied Paul. I looked guiltily at Angel but he only he smiled calmly while continuing to stare at Paul. "We know what's been done to you. We can help you."
"Did you ever think she might be happy where she is?" Spike snarled.
"Unfortunately, I don't expect her to leave you," Paul replied to Spike before turning to me, "but the option of open for you."
"She's not going anywhere," Spike shouted as he rushed Paul. In addition to making them faster and stronger than humans, the Turning gives vampires inherent fighting skills however Paul had been a Marine, trained by the best. Paul sidestepped Spike's attack causing Spike to run smack into a wall. Turning back with a confused look on his face, Spike complained, "Hey, you chipped my fang," but Paul had already turned to protect Robert. Too late. Seeing that Robert had started a spell, aimed against Angel, Drusilla had drained him before he'd even finished intoning the third word. Paul changed tactics, heading for the hallway but Angel beat him there. The three vampires circled around Paul, out of striking range, but not allowing him to escape.
Drusilla spiraled in, getting closer and closer, until she darted in for the attack. With a scream of dismay, she twirled out of reach, away from Paul and the knife he was suddenly holding. "You ruined my pretty, pretty dress. You are a bad man," she said as she started swaying from side-to-side. As she raised her right hand to eye level, swaying it like a sinuous snake, Paul started swaying in time with her.
"Dru," Angel shouted. Spike slammed into Paul. I heard bones break. Spike must have taken Paul's knife because he cut Paul with it before darting out of range. "Spike," Angel commanded, "We want to make this last, a present for our pretty Willow." Spike smiled at me, expecting my approval, and pocketed the blade.
Paul looked up at me. "Willow, I swear by the blue stones. If you go to the Council, they will take you in. They will protect you." Those were his last words.
Angel spiraled in, slowly getting closer and closer until he lunged at Paul, who didn't have time to sidestep this attack. I didn't understand. Angel hadn't killed him but Drusilla looked excited which meant Angel had hurt Paul. Then I did understand. Angel had been serious about stretching out Paul's death, although it was probably more of a punishment than a present.
"Broke a couple of ribs," Angel taunted. Paul didn't respond. I couldn't even tell he'd been injured. I wanted to disappear, to slink into the shadows but Angel would not have appreciated my reaction to his kill. I'd seen them do much worse, I'd helped them do much worse, but watching the vampires playing with Paul's death, I felt as if I were some small creature being hunted by something dark, dangerous, and unseen.
They spiraled in again and again. Sometimes Angel, sometimes Spike, and sometimes Drusilla attacked. Paul, broken and bloody but still defiant, continued to defend himself until Spike kicked his leg out from under him. As Paul fell to the ground, Angel was upon him. Feeding. I controlled my trembling. Angel would finish feeding soon and I needed to appear calm and collected.
Looking at me, Angel pressed his foot onto Paul's face, firmly but not roughly enough to break the corpse. I stared back at him, calm and confident, as if the desecration didn't disturb me. If I hadn't had lunch with Paul; his death would have been much easier. I've never been sure how much of my emotional state the vampires could smell but Angel must have been satisfied with what he could sense because he turned to Spike.
"What'd you take?" Angel asked.
"Don't know what you mean," Spike replied.
"Spike," Angel admonished. "I saw you take something from the back room. What was it?" Spike took a crystal sphere out of his pocket and held it up. "An Orb of Thessela?" Angel asked.
"I like it. It's shiny. Would make a good paperweight," Spike replied.
Drusilla reached out to touch it but when her finger was about an inch away, she started hissing and whining that the orb was bad. Somehow that diverged into protecting her sisters from tiger lilies but I didn't quite follow it, like much of her mad ravings. Spike's face softened as he raised a hand to caress her cheek. With a dramatic gesture, Spike smashed the orb to the ground where it splintered into hundreds of shards. "It's gone, pet. We're all safe," he told Drusilla.
"Even my sisters?" she asked. Spike got a funny look on his face but didn't show it to Drusilla.
"Yes, luv," he replied, "even your sisters are safe."
As Drusilla calmed down, Angel asked, "Can we get going? For all we know, they raised an alarm. We should finish up and get out of here quickly. Dru, with me." Decades ago, because he'd turned somebody who'd worked in this library while still human, Angel had learned of a specific artifact. I didn't know what it was or what it did but I hoped Angel found it because that would go a long way towards brightening his mood.
That left Spike to guard me, which was not what I wanted that evening. After what had just happened, Drusilla, or even Angel, would have been easier for me to handle. Spike was the most perceptive of the three, when the mood was on him, and my emotions weren't fully under control, so I went for a distraction while Spike made a production of finding his cigarettes. "Angel doesn't really think Paul raised an alarm. You three wouldn't have dragged his death out if Angel thought we were in danger."
"He's trying to give Dru a focus, is all. Still, no use wasting time." Spike looked embarrassed and then asked, "Look, not like you need guarding in here. Mind if I poke around on the second floor a bit?"
"No, go ahead." I wanted to ask him to move Paul and Robert's bodies but, while Spike wouldn't have minded, it would have given too much away. I didn't need him psychoanalyzing me for the next week-and-a-half. After Spike headed upstairs, I thought about closing their eyes however I knew Angel, who was already angry that I'd gotten too close to Paul, wouldn't appreciate it. But the more I looked at them, the more upset I became. To Hell with him, I thought. I said a quick prayer, closed their eyes, and immediately felt, not better, but calmer.
Turning my back to the bodies, I set out herbs and candles on a table in the middle of the room. As I finished the 'find useful knowledge' spell, every book in the library started glowing to magical sight, some more than others. The brightness of about a dozen books meant they would be of immediate use to me. I called them to me and they flew off the shelves, all but one landing on the table beside me. The brightest book titled Selections from the 23rd Symposium on Demonic Thaumaturgical Studies slipped into my hands. It opened to an article, "The Transference of Thaumaturgic Abilities Between Human and Vampire Incarnations":
an important implication of the aforementioned Toledo disaster is that some but not all human thaumaturgical abilities transfer to vampire incarnations when a human is "turned". It is certain that mesmerizing, prophetic, and evocation abilities are transferable from the human to the vampire incarnations.23 Witchcraft, the channeling of aetheric energy to achieve specific and immediate tangible effects on the physical plane, does not appear to be transferable.24 The implication that some forms of thaumaturgical ability are closely attuned to the human soul is
I stopped reading.
I saw it all. Everything fit together: Angelus' actions, Spike's actions, my responses. They spread out before me like a complex tapestry. I thought about ancient religious rites and modern initiations, about fraternity hazing, about... about brainwashing. I remembered the seductions: the slow buildup of friendship with Spike, Angelus' bathing me, which had been both seduction and humiliation, teaching me my place. I realized Angelus had procured my compliance: I'd agreed to, no, I'd chosen the tattoo; I'd wanted Angelus by the time he'd asked my permission, before my first... before our first time... together. I recalled how pleased Angelus had looked when I'd been excited about learning magic. I thought about my friends, how Angelus and Spike must have lied when they'd told me nobody was searching for me. Of course they'd been trying to find me. I thought about how they'd died.
Everything. All I had gone through. Buffy dead. Giles dead. Xander... just so Angel could have... me? No, so Angelus could have a witch. I knew he didn't love me but...
I wiped away my tears. Angel wants me. I don't care why.