Smashed, Wrecked, Gone
The storm lashed the little beach, pelting the sand into massive divots. The sea heaved in gigantic waves, smashing themselves at the shore and thrashing little bits of driftwood into splinters.
One wave heaved itself so high it threw its cargo up onto the dunes, where a smattering of sails and splintered deck and a handful of bodies thudded into the flattened grass.
One of the bodies gave a cough, spat out some seawater, and pulled feebly on the rope about its waist. It was a young woman, blonde hair plastered to her skin, dress ratted and ruined from the sea. A gash on her forehead bled copiously down her face.
She gathered in the rope, but there was nothing on the end of it. Just sand and seaweed and a bit of torn blue silk.
The blonde cradled the rope in her arms, sobbing and sputtering. Another giant wave crashed down on the beach, and a piece of mast flew at her, hitting her head, knocking her deep into the sand. Her eyes fluttered and closed, and she lay still.
"You know what I wish?" Willow Rosenberg said as she settled back in the carriage with her best friend.
"That for once I could leave a town without people running after me with pitchforks and flaming braziers."
"Aw, Will," Xander Harris put his arm around her, "it's not your fault. I think you're great."
"Yeah?" She gave him a hopeful look. "You're not going to call me a witch, are you?"
"Of course not. Just don't turn me into a toad or anything..."
She rolled her eyes at him, but Xander's teasing made her feel a lot better. It seemed like the whole of Massachusetts had it in for her. Wherever they went, one town after another, everyone always seemed to think she was a witch. Was it her red hair? Her left-handed writing? Her unusual knowledge of Socrates and Pliny and her irritation with British rule?
"I mean, it's not my fault there was a storm. Just because it happened to break out when I was telling them about The Tempest..."
"Coincidence," Xander agreed.
"And there was a shipwreck... Do you think anyone survived?"
"Probably not. That was a pretty mean storm."
Willow nodded disconsolately. "Maybe there were some British ships in it," she said, hopefully.
"That's not a very nice thing to say."
"Well, no, and I don't mean I want anyone to have been hurt, but, you know. Maybe some tea or something got destroyed. Some correspondence about making taxes higher. Something like that."
Xander, who barely even knew what taxes were, just nodded. "Maybe we should get some sleep," he said. "It's a long way to Boston."
Willow nodded and closed her eyes and laid her head on Xander's shoulder. She wondered vaguely, as she fell asleep, exactly why it was he hung around with her. Everywhere they went she got into some kind of trouble but he never blamed her for it. And he always followed her when she had to leave town. Did he have any idea how much she adored him for it?
She eventually fell asleep, and Xander did too, the rocking of the carriage lulling away their exhaustion. It was hard work, being hated and feared wherever you went.
And then suddenly, the carriage reared to a halt, rocking violently, throwing Willow and Xander against the side of the carriage as it swung on two wheels, the horses screaming, and there was a shot, a loud report, and then the carriage teetered for a moment, Willow's head smashed against the side wall, and the whole thing lost balance and toppled over, crashing down a steep slope at the side of the road, thrashing into trees and bushes, before coming to a halt at the bottom, half submerged in a freezing stream.
For a few seconds everything was silent and Xander lay there in a crumpled heap, Willow's body flopped across his. Her head was lolling and he frantically reached for her wrist and gave out a huge sigh when he felt a pulse. She was all right. She'd be okay.
Now, he just had to figure out how to get them out of the fallen carriage.
The door was above him and he reached up and flipped it open. It was dark outside and all he could see were tree branches and the stars. He reached for Willow, picked her up, and pushed her out of the carriage, holding onto her wrist so she wouldn't fall as he climbed after her.
Sitting on top of the carriage, he paused to catch his breath and try to wake Willow, when suddenly he heard someone start clapping.
"Well done," said a dry, sarcastic voice. "You've just saved me having to haul your worthless carcass out of there."
Clutching Willow tightly, Xander turned his head. In the moonlight he couldn't make out details very clearly, but he saw a man on a horse, the animal as black as his rider's clothes. Moonlight glinted off leather and the unnatural whiteness of the highwayman's hair.
And off his gun.
"Now be a good chap," he had the flat accent of an Englishman who hadn't grown up in the colonies, "and get off there. Take your lady with you and keep her quiet while I search the box."
Xander looked down at the ground below. It was quite a way to jump, and it was dark and soggy from the recent storm.
"Uh, how about I stay right here, and you pass on your merry way?" he suggested.
The highwayman didn't seem impressed.
"I don't think so," he said. "You just-"
And then he suddenly recoiled as something hit him in the chest. "Bloody hell!"
Xander stared around, but he couldn't see anyone. Another rock flew at the highwayman, hitting his shoulder this time. The man fired off a shot, but the report had hardly died away before a third rock flew at him, and hit his head this time, and he toppled form his horse, his gun falling to the ground.
Xander left Willow where she was and jumped off the carriage, snatching up the gun and holding it over the fallen highwayman. He wasn't moving, but Xander didn't have the heart to kill him. He'd never done it before. He just wanted to make sure no one was going to come after him and Willow when they stole this man's horse and got the hell out of there.
He was just reaching up for Willow when he caught something from the corner of his eye. A woman, her hair tangled and loose about her shoulders, her dress heavy with water, her eyes wild and darting. She was venturing forward, holding several heavy rocks in her apron.
"Hey," Xander said. "Did you - did you throw those at him?"
"Thanks. He was going to rob us."
She looked up at Willow, dropped her weapons and started climbing up the wheel to get to the girl.
"Hey, be careful, that carriage isn't very sturdy," Xander said, but she'd already got to the top and was checking over Willow. She shook the red-head by the shoulders, quite vigorously, desperately, when Willow coughed and woke up, hugged the girl to her.
"Will," Xander said, relieved, "you're alright..."
"Yes," she said, looking over the blonde's shoulder and mouthing, 'Who's this?'
Xander shrugged. "Can you get down?"
The blonde heard him and pushed Willow gently to the edge. She made catching motions to Xander, and when Willow jumped, he tried to do as he was told. Unfortunately he'd forgotten how much she weighed and both of them fell to the dirty forest floor.
The blonde jumped down, quite agile, and ignored them, going over to the fallen highwayman. She kicked his ribs and he groaned a little. Looking around, she found some rope on his saddle and used it to tie his hands behind his back and lash his ankles together. Then she heaved him onto the back of the horse.
"Hey," Xander said, standing and brushing leaf mould off him, "can I be rude and ask who you are?"
She looked at him, opened her mouth, then shut it again, shaking her head.
"Fine," Willow said doubtfully, loosening her trunk from the back of the carriage. "Uh, but thanks for rescuing us."
The blonde woman didn't seem to have heard. She was looking up the slope at the dark road above. Securing their attacker to the black horse's saddle, she started up the slope, leading the horse behind her.
Willow and Xander looked at each other, grabbed their luggage, and followed her.
At the top of the slope they found the carriage driver dead and one of the horses on its side, unable to get up. Willow knelt by it and felt its right foreleg: comprehensively broken. She looked up sadly at Xander and shook her head.
The blonde wordlessly took the pistol from Xander and shot the horse in the head. Willow buried her face in her friend's shoulder: she'd known there was nothing to be done for the animal, but did this little blonde girl have to be so brutal?
The other horse was fine - shaken and nervous, but unharmed. The blonde mounted the black horse and gestured for Willow and Xander to get on the chestnut carriage horse.
"But, we have luggage," Willow began, and the woman looked annoyed. She opened Willow's small trunk and took out a couple of plain dresses and some underwear. She stuffed it into the saddlebags of the black horse, then did the same with Xander's spare clothes. Giving them a look of Happy Now? she got back onto her horse.
The blond man was stirring. She smacked his head smartly with the butt of his own pistol, and kicked the black horse into life.
Xander and Willow had no choice but to once again follow her.
They rode up to the farmhouse just before dawn, when everything was quiet. A little too quiet - there were no animals in the fields and no horses in the stables. The farm didn't look especially prosperous, but there was vegetables growing in the plot behind the small house and a lamp burning in one of the upstairs windows.
Xander hammered on the door. "Hello? We need some help. Hello? Is there anyone home?"
The door was unlocked. He pushed at it, then looked back at Willow, who stood there shivering. She shrugged.
"Try it," she said.
Yeah, Xander thought, it would be me trying it. Going into an empty, dark house all by myself... Yeah, it'd be me.
But the little blonde woman jumped off the black horse, handed the reins to Willow, and entered the house ahead of Xander. She didn't seem afraid, peeking into all the downstairs rooms and then starting up the stairs. Xander followed her cautiously, leery of leaving Willow alone with the unconscious highwayman. What if he woke up? But then, what if there was something horrible waiting up here?
Not that the blonde needed protecting, so much, but it was the thought of the thing. Chivalry and all that.
She pushed open a door and sucked in her breath. Xander, dreading the worst, peered over her shoulder, and immediately wished he hadn't. There was a dead man and woman lying in the bloody sheets, both with slit throats.
He backed out, dragging in deep breaths.
The blonde woman tried the other doors. She looked in both, and then shook her head at Xander.
She pointed at the second door. Xander steeled himself and looked in: there was a young man lying on the ground with a big hole in his chest. The third room was empty, but there was blood all over.
"Can we go now?" Xander asked, breathing heavily, afraid he was going to be sick.
She nodded and went back down the stairs. Xander followed gratefully - but instead of getting back on her horse, she went around the back of the house and started searching the barn. She came out with a couple of shovels and handed one to Xander.
"All dead?" Willow said as Xander finished telling her.
"Most definitely." He looked at the shovel in his hand. "Oh no..."
The blonde nodded and started digging under one of the oaks nearby. Xander, wishing with everything he had that he'd never got up this morning, handed his hat and coat to Willow, checked the bindings on the highwayman, and started digging.
It was fully daylight by the time they'd finished burying the three bodies. Willow had helped a little with the digging and said a short prayer as Xander and the strangely strong blonde woman tipped the occupants of the house in.
Xander found an axe, hacked off a tree branch and fashioned a small cross to mark each of the graves.
"That's bloody touching," came a voice from behind them, and all three whipped round to see the highwayman trying to get to his feet.
The blonde woman got out the pistol from the front of her bodice and aimed it at him.
"Hey, that's mine!"
"And you aimed it at us," Xander said. "Were you going to rob us?"
The highwayman stared at them. "Well, yeah," he said, as if it was obvious, "hello, highwayman? I'm William the Bloody."
He paused expectantly, and Willow and Xander exchanged looks.
"Uh, that's nice," Willow said uncertainly.
"You haven't heard of me?" William the Bloody said.
"Um, no. Should we have?"
"I'm sodding infamous!"
"Oh. Sorry," Willow said.
"And now you're our prisoner," Xander said.
"No, actually, he's hers," Willow whispered, staring at the blonde woman, who had not taken her eyes off the highwayman.
She stared at him a bit, then handed the pistol to Willow, who looked at it like it was a snake, and strode over to William. He sneered at her, and she punched him in the face. He flew onto his back.
"Hey! What the bloody hell was that for!"
She put one foot on his stomach as she reached down and untied the rope around his ankles. She made a loop and put it around his neck, then used it to haul him to his feet and inside the house.
Willow and Xander once more followed uncertainly.
Inside, they found William yelling loudly at the silent blonde woman as she tied him to a chair in the kitchen. Willow peeked inside a pot by the fire and sniffed. Some soup, reasonably fresh.
"You hungry?" she asked Xander, who nodded eagerly. Willow started looking for bowls, then she noticed the blonde woman standing there, watching her. "Would you like some soup?" Willow asked. "I think it's pumpkin."
She looked confused. Eventually she shook her head, pulling at her heavy, sodden skirts.
"Looks to me like she wants a bath," William said, and all three of them looked over her tangled hair, filthy dress and skin that had been blackened by dirt and sweat.
"Hey," Willow said, "how about you take care of our prisoner," she grinned at Xander, "and us girls will go and see if we can find a bath? You can borrow some clothes," she offered the blonde, who hesitated, then nodded.
"Oh, great," Xander said sourly, hefting the heavy pistol. "You get all naked and clean together and I get stuck here with the guy who tried to kill us."
"Damn right," the highwayman said. "I'd have succeeded, too, if it hadn't been for-" he broke off, looking confused, and Xander smirked.
"For the tiny little scarecrow taking a bath upstairs? Yeah, that's right. She smashed a rock on your head. Tiny little girl. Who's a big scary highwayman now?"
William rattled his chair angrily, and Xander took a few steps back.
Willow heated up some water and filled the little metal bath she found in one of the bedrooms. She and Xander had stripped the beds of their bloody linen and burnt it, and the scent of the bonfire drifted in through the windows as she tested the heat of the water and chucked in the bar of soap she'd found in the kitchen.
"Not exactly French luxury but enough to get you clean," she said cheerfully to the blonde girl, who didn't reply. "Hey, can you talk? I thought maybe you were foreign or something but you seem to understand what we're saying."
The blonde looked at her for a while, looking like she was trying to say something, and then she gave up.
"Lost your voice?" Willow offered helpfully, and the blonde hesitated, then nodded.
"Okay. Well, so long as we understand each other. I'm gonna go and get some clean clothes, so why don't you strip off and get in that water before it gets cold, and I'll be right back?"
She left the room, and the blonde woman regarded the steaming water. She dipped her finger in and closed her eyes. Hot water was good.
She pulled at the catches on the bodice of her dress and unhooked the heavy gown from the printed panel, called a stomacher, pinned to her corset. She unfastened the drawstrings of her petticoats and the padded roll around her hips that had held the skirt out. Then she removed the stomacher and unhooked the corset, taking in a big, grateful breath. Her chemise and stockings were still very damp, torn and ragged like the rest of her clothes, she'd lost her shoes at some point and her feet were bleeding. They stung when she stepped into the water, but she ignored the pain and sank deep down, warm for the first time she could remember.
When Willow came back in, she found the blonde girl asleep in the bath, and tiptoed around picking up her clothes and setting them to dry on a rack set before the fire. Some items, like her clocked stockings, were ripped beyond repair. It was a shame, Willow thought, because they looked like they'd once been very pretty.
Around the girl's neck was a locket with a pretty design on it, and sewn into the lining of her skirts was a purse with some money in it. Willow frowned and woke the girl up, saying, "Do you want me to help you with your hair?"
She looked frightened for a second or two, and then nodded, letting Willow lather up her tangled hair, rinse it out with water from a jug, and try to brush out the tangles.
"Your clothes are kind of wrecked," Willow said, "but my spare dress will probably fit you. I don't have any spare stays though, I'm afraid, so we'll have to wash yours out and wait for them to dry."
The blonde woman pointed to a chest by the bed, and it took Willow a moment to realise what she meant.
"You think there might be something you can wear in there?"
She nodded, and while the blonde got out of the bath and dried herself off, Willow opened the chest and found several woollen dresses of reasonable quality, a few sets of underwear and two sets of stays.
She held a cotton-covered corset up triumphantly. "You want help getting dressed?"
When she'd helped the other girl get dressed in one of her own dresses, a pretty green one with a little bit of lace on the front, Willow washed herself and sponged off her dress, putting it to dry with the other clothes, which smelled strongly of the sea. She put on her other dress, which was blue with white stripes, and the two girls helped each other put their hair up. Willow knew the girl must have grown up with a sister, because she was too well-dressed to be a maid, and she knew a lot about helping someone else dress and do her hair.
Her blonde locks curled slightly, and Willow just tied them back with a ribbon before tucking her own red hair under a cap.
"You look very pretty," she told the blonde, and showed her the mirror above the mantelpiece. She watched as the other girl stepped forward and touched her reflection, her face, her hair, her dress. "You want something to eat?"
The blonde nodded, and they went downstairs.
Xander was eating soup, glaring at William, who glared back from his chair.
"Check out m'lady," Xander whistled, kneeling before the blonde and kissing her hand. She blushed and even smiled a little. Without her coating of grime and the stink of seaweed, she was very pretty, petite and curvy in all the right places. "Will, no offence, but that dress looks sooo much better on her."
"None taken," Willow said, shrugging. "There's still some water if you want to wash?"
Xander nodded and handed her the pistol.
"What's this for?"
Xander nodded at William. "Mr. Bloody there?"
"I don't think we'll need it," Willow said, looking at William who was staring at the blonde girl. Xander grinned and left the room, and Willow waved her hand at William.
"Are you awake there?"
He stared some more at the blonde girl. "That's the wretch who aimed my gun at me?"
"Cleans up nice, doesn't she?"
He nodded, looking dazed. "Who is she?"
"No idea. Won't say a word. Don't know if she can. She understands us, though. Came out of nowhere to rescue me and Xander."
"Xander? The whelp?"
"He's not a whelp. Don't insult my friends while I'm holding a gun."
William didn't look afraid. "And who are you?"
She paused for a few seconds, then figured it didn't really matter. "Willow Rosenberg. And I don't appreciate you trying to rob me. Us."
"'Us'? What is he to you? A 'friend'?" William sneered.
"Damn right he's my friend. Since we were tiny children. His parents died when he was small and he lived with us. And then my parents, well, they died a couple of years back. Yellow fever. I tried to help them but..."
"Very sad," William said. "Gimme some soup."
"I will not!" Willow said. "You don't deserve any, on account of you trying to rob our coach and getting beaten by a girl," she beamed at the blonde, who gave an uncertain smile in return, and then a longing look at the soup.
Willow scooped some out into bowls for herself and the other girl.
"So," William eyed up the blonde appreciatively, checking out her cleavage above the low-cut dress. Willow wore a kerchief to fill in the low décolletage, but somehow it had looked wrong on this girl. "You got a name?"
She ignored him.
"Just want something to call you, love."
"I told you," Willow aimed a kick at him, "she doesn't speak."
"Just how I like 'em." William grinned lazily, and Willow forced herself to remember that he was a very bad man. Just because he was one of the sexiest creatures she'd ever seen, didn't mean she should let down her guard. In fact, it meant quite the opposite. "We should give her a name."
"We can't name her."
"Why not? Gonna keep calling her Blondie? Goldilocks?"
Willow's lip curled. "We could call her... Joan."
"Joan?" William scoffed. "That's not a name."
"Hey," Xander said from the doorway, coming in dressed in a clean shirt, waistcoat and breeches, "that was my mother's name."
"Then your mother must have been a boring bint."
Xander went for him, but Willow held him back and William laughed.
"Why don't we sit down and think of a name," Willow suggested. "All of us. Except you," she glared at William, who shrugged.
"Well, where did she come from?" Xander asked, sitting down at the table.
"You saw her first," Willow said.
"She just appeared and started chucking rocks at our fearless highwayman friend," Xander looked over William's ropes, "I mean, our prisoner here."
"Only so long as you're awake," William said. "I'll kill you in your bloody sleep."
The blonde girl turned and fixed green eyes on him, and he fell silent.
"How about Elizabeth?" Xander suggested.
"I don't know. It seems a little... proper, for someone like her. Maybe... I don't know... How about Hippolita, the Amazon Queen, from Shakespeare's-"
"Perdita," William said suddenly, and the blonde turned to look at him.
"Perdita," Willow frowned. "A Winter's Tale?"
"Perdita," Xander tried the name out on his tongue. It was odd, but he liked the sound of it. If only someone else had thought of it.
"Means 'Lost One'," William said. "Looks pretty lost to me."
Willow regarded the girl. "What do you think? Would you like to be Perdita?"
She looked them all over warily. Then she shrugged and reached for more soup.
"Perdita it is," Willow smiled, and William looked pretty pleased with himself.
Author's note: Yes, I know, it's terribly bad of me to start a new fic when I'm already in the middle of one and I never, erm, quite got around to doing anything on one of my others… but I just had this idea and the thought of Spike in bucket boots and a big white shirt was just too much to resist…