Author's Note: This fic is completely AU, but some things are still as they are in TV-series: the appearance of Darla, Liam (Angel), Cordelia and Elizabeth (Buffy) are still the same as the actors in the TV-series, and their personalities have been altered slightly, but not beyond reasonable limits.
Summary: Cordelia Chase and Elizabeth "Buffy" Summers are two young ladies living in Western Europe during the 1800s. One day, their village is visited by the mysterious Angel Liam-Connors, and both girls are immediately smitten by the charms of the handsome stranger. But Liam isn't who he seems to be, and suddenly girls in Cordelia and Elizabeth's village begin to disappear, only to turn up dead.
They suspect the beautiful and elusive Countess Darla, but soon they realize that Liam has strange ties with the murders – but exactly what are those ties? And will Elizabeth and Cordelia be able to overcome the jealousy arising between them in time to stop the murders?
Snow White and Rose Red
"Isn't spring a splendid time in general? It makes me feel so happy to be alive." Elizabeth Summers sighed contentedly, burying her face in a bouquet of fragrant wildflowers.
"Really, Buffy, you think all seasons are splendid," Cordelia Chase scoffed amiably. "Personally, I'd rather be happy about that new dress Emily Laughton is making for me – it's such a lovely one too, a sweet violet silk made up in the latest style."
The aforesaid Buffy laughed, her mild green eyes shining with merriment. "Well, if your dress makes you happy, and the spring makes me happy, we must be rather a joyful pair altogether, don't you think?"
Elizabeth was rather inclined to laughter, with her smiling, supple pink mouth and pretty, delicate-featured face. Her hair was of honey-blonde silk, framing her face in a simple, becoming style that caught the eyes of many a passer-by. She wore a dress of pale yellow organdie, tied with a sash of yellow lace, which clearly outlined her slender figure.
Cordelia, being of a slightly more fashionable taste and richer stature, wore her hair in long ripples of dark mahogany, which contrasted beautifully with her golden tanned skin. She had dusky, flashing dark eyes and a full crimson mouth which, if developed slightly, would have indicated a good sense of humor. She wore a dress of deep blue material, with a ribbon in her hair to match, and was careful not to spoil the skirt by getting it damp from the dewy grass she and Buffy were walking through.
"Now look what you've done to that organdie! Really, Buffy, you should care more about your clothes. That dress suits you so well, you shouldn't ruin it by getting it so dirty."
Elizabeth laughed again, pelting Cordelia with poppy-seeds from her bouquet. "Never you mind my dress, Cordy. You worry enough about your own as it is."
"But what are you going to wear at the Spring Festival if you can't keep your clothes decent?" Cordelia asked, genuinely worried. Clothing was a tender point with her and she could not bear it if her best friend didn't look at least as good as she did – especially to something as important as the Spring Festival, a huge celebration held in a large, open meadow that was usually crowded with guests – everyone in the Province went to the festival, as it was one of the few truly important occasions in the year.
Buffy shrugged. "I don't know what I'm going to wear – that is, if I come to the festival at all."
"Oh, you have to come!" Cordelia exclaimed. "I couldn't possibly show up on my own; and don't even suggest my going with that horrid Sydney Dale, because that won't happen as long as I remain sane!" Cordelia made this declaration rather heatedly, but it must be admitted that Elizabeth loved to tease Cordelia on the subject of Sydney Dale, a local young man who had become rather infatuated with her.
"No, I'll tell you what we'll do. We'll go over to the square this evening, you and me, and pick out the most ravishing outfits we can find," Cordelia suggested, her face full of mischievous anticipation. "And what's more, we can stop at Ruby, Stella and Marie's houses on the way, and we'll make an outing of it. What do you say?"
Elizabeth, of course, couldn't resist the tempting offer of a thorough shopping spree, and the two girls promptly stopped at the homes of Ruby Williams, Stella Graham and Marie Barry, all of whom were more than happy to accompany them to the square.
"The square", as the girls so fashionably termed it, was actually a crowded marketplace full of interesting stores and stalls, where you could find just about anything that could be bought for money. Stella, a sober, dark-eyed, black-haired young lady with a pleasant disposition and sensible mind, was an excellent bargainer; Ruby, a blonde, blue-eyed beauty of a girl, had a decided eye for good clothing and Marie, a chestnut-haired, shy, petite girl, had made friends with almost every storeowner in the market and knew them all by name. All the girls were knowledgeable shoppers, and together they made quite a few finds.
"Would you believe that this pink satin is so cheap? Why, it might as well have been for free!" Stella exclaimed, looking rapturously at the length of pink satin and smoothing it down with her hands.
"Oh, Lizzie, just look at this darling dress! It was made for you!" Ruby held out the snowy folds of the white, silky-materialed dress, embroidered with designs in silver thread. "It's beautiful," Elizabeth agreed, admiring the way the silver shone against the pure white material, "but is it really for me?"
"Yes," Cordelia said firmly. Then she displayed her own purchase, a crimson dress of shimmering gauzy material with an elegant matching shawl to put around the shoulders.
"What a pair you two'll be," Ruby laughed. "Snow White and Rose Red, just like in fairytale!"
In the end, each girl found a dress to suit her own tastes, and they traipsed home gaily, talking and laughing as much as young girls tend to do after a tiring but satisfactory shopping trip.
"No, don't let your hair down, it makes it look so limp. Braid it instead, in that French style I taught you – it makes you look more elegant," Cordelia said decidedly, critically surveying her best friend. Buffy wore the ankle-length, slightly clinging white dress that she had bought at the square; the soft, light material of the elbow-length sleeves were embroidered by fluid silver patterns and the skirt flowed easily whenever she moved, making her look like some sort of airy spirit. Taking Cordelia's advice, she had put her hair into a French braid, like a coronet of gold around her head.
Cordelia herself looked ravishing in the crimson dress, her face alight with expectancy and her hair put into an elegant twist at the top of her head, with two long dark curls framing her cheeks. A blood-red rose slipped into her hair completed her outfit and she smiled at herself in the mirror, happy with her success.
When they got to the open-air meadow the festival was to be held in, they found it crowded with several hundred people dressed in colorful costumes; some carried face-masks of gold and ivory white, while others had contented themselves with extravagant dresses and suits. Women wore glittering jewels and feathers in their hair, while some of the men similarly had worn old-fashioned plumed hats. Buffy even saw a couple who wore powdered 17th-century-style wigs, and the sight sent a little thrill down her spine; she dearly loved the sights and sounds of the festival, even if she didn't enjoy the social aspects as much.
Marie was nowhere to be found, but Stella and Ruby turned up almost immediately and the girls were soon swept up in a crowd surrounding a large group of dancers. A lively band – gypsies, Cordelia concluded from their outfits – were playing a lilting, flowing melody that was lovely to listen to and drew an irresistible urge to dance out of the hearts of every listener.
Ruby was the first to be asked to dance, and she accepted with pleasure. Stella was soon swept away by a rather broad-shouldered, hearty young man who danced energetically, and Cordelia in her turn was asked to dance by a blond youth whom she snubbed immediately, recognizing him as the despised Sydney Dale.
Ruby returned from the dancing circle holding Marie's elbow. "I found her at last!" she declared triumphantly. "She was hiding in a corner, the shy little dear." She said the last part while affectionately shaking her head.
"But what happened to your partner, Ruby?" Cordelia asked, tactfully avoiding the subject of Marie, who, it must be confessed, looked rather harassed at the moment.
"Oh, I got tired of him," Ruby said, waving her hand carelessly. "To tell you the truth, I've been waiting for someone else – that one, right there." She gestured towards a point in the crowd where a tall, dark and decidedly handsome man was surrounded by a small circle of laughing girls, most of them giggling more flirtatiously than was necessary. Buffy couldn't see him very well, but by the admiration in Ruby's eyes she concluded that he must be something quite unusual.
"So you've noticed him too?" Stella asked breathlessly, joining the group by forcing her way through the dancing crowd. "Handsome fellow, isn't he?"
Marie coughed shyly. "I – I've been watching him for quite some time," she admitted, blushing as she said it. "J-just out of interest, you know."
"Well, then, I'm going to go find out he is," Ruby said firmly. "There's no use standing around here." And with that, she rushed off and joined the giggling group of girls.
"Well!" Stella huffed indignantly. "I call that positively shameless!"
Cordelia drew her head up, straightened her dark hair and donned her most charming smile. "Shameless or not, I suppose we might as well just meet him." She then took Stella's arm and offered the other to Buffy, who declined.
"No, thank you," she said, although she sounded half-wistful. "I will not go and make a fool of myself for the sake of some strange man."
But Marie had no objection to making a fool of herself, apparently, since she joined Stella and Cordelia without protest.
Buffy suddenly felt silly, and found herself wondering why she was at the festival in the first place. She loved being with the others, but the subject of young men was not something she enjoyed and dancing, although a delightful occupation, was not what she had come to the festival to do.
She strayed away from the crowd to a tall, slender-branched silver birch tree and sat down on one of the tree's broad lower branches, watching the dancers circle each other, moving as though they had practiced the dance for years. She unconsciously started humming in time to the melody and, without even knowing it, placed lyrics here and there, created a song that slipped in and out of the rhythm of the gypsies' music. "Dance with me… Under moonlight and sway-ing wind…"
She hadn't even realized the clearness of her singing until a voice sounded beside her, making her jump so violently she almost fell out of the tree.
"It's a lovely melody, isn't it?" The voice was masculine, smooth and coolly quiet. "Too bad it couldn't have been played on better instruments."
Buffy restrained herself from turning around and instead kept her eyes fixed on the gypsy group. They wore shabby clothing and their instruments were dirty and battered, but they still made wonderful music and Buffy resented the stranger's comment. "I think the music is beautiful just as it is," she said, with a firmness in her voice that wasn't usually there.
"Yes. I suppose you can't really blame the instruments for the state they are in. It's the people, in the end, who are to blame; wouldn't you agree?"
Buffy could tell the stranger was waiting for her to turn around, so it gave her a cool satisfaction to keep her averted gaze on the dancers. "No, I would not," she said recklessly, almost abandoning courteousness. Something about the stranger's attitude towards the gypsies made her angry.
"They try their best," she said feelingly, referring to the gypsies, "and I call it absolutely ludicrous the way people judge them beforehand. I think they play splendidly, and I wouldn't mind getting to know them if I got the chance."
To her surprise, the stranger laughed. "You speak truthfully, if not sensibly. I suppose I must seem very cynical to you, lady." And the voice was so apologetically penitent that Buffy couldn't help half-turning.
Real shock registered on her face as she recognized the stranger to be the dark-haired man her friends had gone off in search of, and for a moment she didn't know quite what to say.
He certainly was handsome enough, with a clearly sculpted, gorgeous face, hair of chocolate silk and slightly hooded eyes that seemed to end in neverending, swirling pools of black infinity. Unlike the thin, willowy Sydney Dale, the man was rather broad-shouldered as well as lean, and he moved with a grace that others could probably only envy.
As soon as Buffy realized that she was staring at him she averted her eyes and tried to fix them on something else, without much success. It was then she noticed the "giggling group of girls" she had seen earlier, wandering through the dancers as if looking for something.
"I think your companions are looking for you," she said, pointing to the girls.
The stranger laughed again – not earnestly, but elegantly. "So they are – and I am hiding from them for just that reason. And shouldn't you be dancing with the rest instead of sitting here on your own?"
"I don't feel like dancing."
"Then you are in luck, because I don't feel like dancing either." And, without even being invited to, he sat down next to her on the branch.
Buffy felt like she should be protesting, but somehow she found that she didn't mind as much as she ought to. It was actually – although she would rather die than admit it to herself – quite nice to know he was there.
"Well, if neither of us is going to dance, we must find some other suitable occupation for our time. I've heard they have flower displays here to rival even those in Paris," the stranger said after some time. "Let's go and see them, shall we – and we can judge their quality on our own." He jumped off the branch and extended a hand to Elizabeth, with an elegantly debonair look on his face that was impossible to resist.
"I suppose we could just see them and come back," she reflected to herself, taking the extended hand as graciously as she could.
The flower displays turned out to be a feast for the eyes: delicate pinks, blues and whites, vibrant red and yellows, dusky oranges and purples and any variety of other colors shone from the flowers of all shapes and sizes. They sent dizzyingly sweet fragrances into the air, and were arranged in such beautiful arrays of roses, orchids, lilies, bluebells, tulips and snowdrops that Elizabeth actually had to stifle an outcry at their loveliness.
Her partner didn't seem to appreciate their beauty as much as she did, but, on the other hand, seemed to "appreciate her appreciation" and obligingly strolled through the displays, pointing out and naming the flowers that she didn't recognize.
A plump, ruddy-cheeked old woman with a flyaway look to her white hair and blue eyes suddenly stopped the pair and held out a sheaf of delicate, pure white flowers, saying something in a foreign language. Elizabeth didn't understand her, but smiled anyway and let her partner take the flowers; and he, after laughing in his light way, explained that the woman had meant the flowers to be solely for her.
"They're white narcissi," he said, referring to the flowers, "and she said you belonged together since you look as though you must be related to them."
Elizabeth was pleased with the compliment, but still wished she didn't have to blush quite so much when the stranger pressed the flowers gently into her hands.
Eventually, the two wandered back to the main crowd and Elizabeth excused herself, saying that she had to get back to her friends. But before she could move away the stranger placed a hand on her arm. "Are you going to leave me without even giving me your name?" He asked, in a laughingly reproachful voice.
Buffy considered just walking away, but decided she could never do that to someone who had been so kind to her. "Elizabeth," she said finally. "My name is Elizabeth Summers."
The stranger smiled and bowed in a delightfully old-fashioned way. "And my name, lady, is Angel Liam-Connors – Liam, for short."
Elizabeth smiled back at him. "Liam. I'll remember that."
And, as she watched him walk away along the far side of the meadow, disappearing into the gathering dusk, she knew she would remember him for a very, very long time.