Buffy the Victorian Slayer Ch 3

William swallows down piping hot tea under the cook's watchful eye. By God, was he thirsty! He'd managed to duck the majority of staff and servants alike to clean up and change. He'd yet to see to his poor mother, who by all accounts, waited up for William all through the night.

Guilt surges through him again at the thought. Anne Pratt is three years now into her consumption and can't possibly spare the bedrest she just lost.

"All right now, sir?"

"Yes, yes." William says distractedly as he pushes away and makes his way to the drawing room.

William hesitates in the doorway. His mother is sitting in her usual spot on the deep green sofa, her hands folded as she stares out the window. Weak sunlight filters through to sketch rectangular patterns on the oriental carpet.

He must make some noise because his mother turns and gasps. "William! Oh, where have you been? I've been nearly out of my mind with worry!"

William hastens over to help his mother sit from where she had half-risen. "Please don't get up on my account, Mother. I'm quite all right." Her eyes rove over his face and she touches his neck where coat and collar do little to hide the bandage.

"William, what happened?"

What, indeed.

"I must emphasize that I am in good health and unharmed. Ah…on the whole." William finishes sheepishly.

"William I have been in agony imagining what could have happened to you. A message came late last night that you'd left the Stanton's in such a hurry that you forgot your overcoat, then never returned! When you did not come home, oh what went through my mind…"

William clears his throat. "Yes. Yes, I was attacked and injured in a minor way, but managed to escape. I came over quite dizzy and needed some time to get my bearings before coming home."

"Attacked!"

"Yes. Ruffians." William isn't a complete idiot. He's perfectly aware of how terrible he is at lying. He can only hope his mother doesn't catch on. "They were after my purse."

"But your neck! You're hurt. We must call Doctor Gull."

"Not necessary!" William protests, perhaps a bit too loudly. His mother leans back, blinking in surprise at his tone. "A small cut, from a blade at my throat. Already cleaned and bandaged. No need for further treatment."

"I would certainly feel better if—"

"Mother, please, I just want to put this whole unpleasant episode behind me." William pleads. For a moment he thinks she will press the point, but his mother accepts his wishes with a nod.

"You must be exhausted William. We'll push dinner back so that you can rest."

"That sounds wonderful. Thank you." It really did. William can't remember the last time he felt so physically exhausted. The thrill, the sheer adrenaline of the night. God, he's never felt so worn. Nor so alive. Tomorrow. He would track down Miss Summers tomorrow, first thing in the morning. For now, a hot meal and his own bed sounded absolutely heavenly.

Rupert wipes down a wicked blade with adept fingers at the head of the table while to his left, Elizabeth carves another wood shaving away from a half-formed stake. An ironic smile curls one side of the Slayer's mouth.

"I have to wonder," Elizabeth speaks to the silence dryly, "which encounter will haunt poor Mr. Pratt more in the years to come. His brush with death in the alley—" she pins her Watcher with a knowing look. "Or tea with you."

"Hilarious." Rupert grumbles. He sets the weapon down with care on an old cloth. Without facing her he continues, "Elizabeth, you cannot afford to be so careless."

This again? Her fault for bringing up Mr. William Pratt. She carves with frowning gusto. "Giles…"

"I couldn't be more serious, Elizabeth." Her Watcher catches her wrist. The stake hovers between them. Rupert's steely blue eyes fix upon her unwaveringly. "You must always, always, without fail, don your disguise before a night of slaying."

Elizabeth drops the stake to the table with a clatter. "Oh, certainly. Pants and boots, vest and jacket. My favorite evening wear."

"And much less conspicuous than an unattended warrior woman, I guarantee you."

"I've already told you, my dream—"

"—indicated urgent action, I know." Her Watcher's prematurely lined face darkens. "Use reason, Elizabeth. We both know you're capable of it. You may have saved Mr. Pratt, but at what cost? If you're outed, if you're compromised…there is only one of you, my dear. We can't lose you."

Elizabeth straightens her weapons and other odds and ends on the table with exaggerated care. "Yes. Only one of me. Compared to a thousand possible victims and a thousand, thousand demons."

Her tone verges on bitter, but mostly, she just sounds sad. Her numbers, after all, are modest. Rupert doesn't bother correcting her.

Elizabeth turns luminous green eyes on her Watcher. "Giles, I'm here to save people from what stalks the night. I can't start valuing my life over anyone else's."

"Why the bloody hell not? I certainly can and do. For instance, I'd let that crook, Travers, hang in a heartbeat if it meant sparing you. You can't tell me you don't feel the same."

Humor returns to Elizabeth's face. "Oh, Giles."

"Honestly, now. If you were ever confronted with the choice between living or dying for a fool on the Council, I hope to god you'd choose life, Elizabeth."

"A fool like you?"

Something moves behind Rupert's eyes. "Especially a fool like me."

She shakes her head. "Something tells me this isn't the message you're meant to teach me."

Rupert scoffs. "Then they shouldn't have appointed me your Watcher." Their gazes part again. They've both guessed, after all, why the black sheep of the Council was assigned to the black sheep amongst Slayers.

Assured mutual destruction.

"Damn them anyway." Rupert continues, as he glares out the window.

"I doubt I could be as cold as that, to them or to you." Elizabeth says. "And I certainly couldn't let an innocent be devoured either." She takes in her Watcher's tense shoulders. "I promise to dress appropriately in the future."

"See that you do."

This time the silence is companionable. Rupert rubs his chin, deep in thought. "You plan to sweep out the nest by that workhouse tonight?"

Elizabeth nods. "Yes. There were only four or so within, by my count."

Rupert leans in, head tucked in that familiar conspiring way. The exact nature of the conspiracy, Elizabeth is never sure. "Are you all right to go at it alone? I have other business that needs attending this evening."

"Of course."

"Very good, then. I shall return before dawn."

Elizabeth watches Rupert rise and leave the room, his mind clearly elsewhere. He really couldn't be more unlike Merrick, God rest his soul. Her first Watcher's kind face and torn, bloody throat flashes through Elizabeth's mind. The poor man may have been one of the Council's "finest", but his loyalty and courage in the end would forever be remembered by Elizabeth.

She tips her head to better see down the hall as Watcher number two disappears into his dark and private study to do dark and private things.

Courageous and loyal, yes. But Rupert Giles is a different breed, altogether.

Then again, so is Elizabeth.

Night's dark fingers claw the evening sky but below smoggy clouds, London is already in shadow.

Drusilla the Mad sways in place as she hums to herself. Across the cobblestone street, the Pratt residence lies just beyond a black gate.

Gates pose no problem for the likes of Drusilla. Entryways do. As do Slayers.

The vampiress pouts and touches the still-healing bridge of her nose.

"Silly Slayer. He's not yours to save." A dreamy smile stretches the dead woman's lips. "I save him. All the stars say so." Her eyes drift shut as the buzzing-singing in her brain tingles her scalp.

Drusilla laughs, a high, breathy sound. Her dark eyes snap open at the same time the front door to William's home does.

There he is. William, conferring with a messenger. Shortly thereafter, William sends the boy away and disappears into the sanctity of his home.

"All the stars say so," Drusilla repeats to herself. "So it must be. Will God not send me a son of my own? A beautiful lover-knight for the ages?" She clenches lace gloved hands. Her gaze fixes ahead, miles away. "Have I not been a good girl? Daddy said...Daddy said..." She trails off as the boy gets closer to her.

Drusilla draws herself up, mind lingering in the present once more, and tips her chin a fraction.

The young man touches his cap to her in greeting.

"Boy," Drusilla whispers. "Come here, please."

The young thing hesitates, then drifts closer. "Yes, ma'am? Can I be of assistance?"

Drusilla's hypnotic eyes and sotto voice draw him in. "Yes, darling morsel. Yes, yes, yes."

Eyes vacant and pliant, the boy echoes her. "Yes, yes, yes."

"When does our William leave next?"

"This evening for a short time. Then again in the morning for a longer time."

Drusilla's teeth glint like knives in the twilight. "And his mother?"

"Home. She's been ill." The boy speaks in a monotone.

"Is that so?" Drusilla murmurs. She pets the scrawny thing. "I'd like you to introduce us. After all, Mrs. Anne Pratt will be like my own mummy soon. Once I have her boy. We'll be family. Only polite to meet the mother-in-law."

The boy nods mechanically. "Yes. Only polite."