Author's Note: Please note that this story was started and posted before Joss revealed William's "official" name to be Pratt. By the time he did, I was so accustomed to calling him Hartley that I chose not to change it. The story opens after "Forever" but before "Intervention."
Special thanks to Patti (slaymesoftly) for becoming my brand-new beta. She's editing Chapter 22 on out, so I'm sure you'll see a definite improvement in my writing from there.
Oh, faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you?
“You know, I am getting really tired of your selfishness.”
“Tell it to someone who cares, hell bitch,” Buffy snapped back, picking herself up off the floor and trying to ignore the throbbing ache where her back had collided with the wall. “I, for one, am getting really tired of you showing up at my house, spouting threats. You got a beef with me, then do something about it already!”
Glory folded her arms over her breasts, looking both amused and irritated by this display of audacity. She cocked her head to one side thoughtfully.
“You know…I think you’re right,” she said. “I’ve tried to be the nice girl….I’ve tried to meet you on middle ground. All I want is what’s mine, and all I’m asking is that you give it to me. But if you wanna play rough, then I can do that, too.”
She raised her arm, and Buffy cringed, not knowing what was coming but knowing it was going to mean a world of hurt for her.
What was Willow doing? She’d found a spell in one of the Magic Box's more archaic texts, an incantation that she assured Buffy would be just the thing to rid them of Glory forever. Willow had sworn left field and right that she could do the spell just fine with a little help from Tara, so Buffy had orchestrated an attack on Glory’s minions that would be sure to incite the bitch’s wrath.
Well, that part of the plan had worked, anyway.
But now here she was, vulnerable, Glory preparing to attack…and Willow was nowhere to be seen. The plan had been to keep Glory talking while Will and Tara did the chanty thing; then they would burst in at precisely the right moment to mojo that bitch into the third dimension. But Buffy had been talking circles around Glory—and taking the brunt of her frustrations—for some time now. If the two witches didn’t show up soon, Buffy had a feeling they would be spending the following day scrubbing Slayer bits out of the living room carpet.
But just as this thought crossed her mind, Buffy heard the sound of a door opening somewhere behind her. Willow’s voice was chanting something in Latin, low and quick, and Tara’s voice screamed out: “Buffy! MOVE!”
She dove off to the right just as a blinding sphere of light burst from the palm of Willow’s extended right hand. It rocketed straight for Glory, but the ex-god was quick, and she ducked the spell with ease.
Just as quickly, Willow shot another spell, and this time Glory wasn’t so lucky. She tried to avoid the magic by darting to one side, but she moved a second too late. The hex hit her full force, and she shrieked her rage even as her body dissolved into a burst of light. Willow immediately collapsed in an exhausted heap at Tara’s feet.
Buffy turned to Willow, a wide smile on her face. She could hardly believe it. After so many months, she was gone. Glory was gone. She opened her mouth to thank her friends—both of whom were looking extremely drained—when suddenly something struck her with all the force of a freight train. She hardly had time to realize what had happened before the room around her disappeared, replaced by a light so bright there wasn’t room for anything else.
It was Willow’s first spell. When Glory ducked, it had hit the hall mirror, ricocheting onto Buffy. And before anyone had time to react—least of all Buffy herself—she was gone.
It was as though time had slowed to a crawl. Not stopped, for Buffy could feel things happening around her—vague, unseen movements and sounds she could not comprehend. But it all happened so slowly, and she hung in the air in the meantime, surrounded by a blinding light that hurt even when she closed her eyes. And as if in a dream, she heard her own voice speaking to Willow the day before, asking questions about the spell they would use to displace Glory.
“Where will the spell take her?”
“Well, it’s hard to say, exactly. With dimensions, you’re always on shaky ground. Some of them move, you know.”
“But it won’t be here, in this dimension.”
“Not in this time or place, anyway.”
“Hey, as long as I don’t have to deal with her…it’s peachy.”
Buffy felt a sharp jerk from behind her, as though something large and cruel was trying to pull her out of the light—and succeeding at the task.
She flew backwards, struck something hard, and rolled head over feet for several paces before finally coming to rest. The light was gone, but the bright intensity of it had left her retinas throbbing, black spots peppering her vision like falling snow. She clamped her eyes shut and, clutching the hard-packed earth beneath her, waited for the world to stop spinning.
The air around her was filled with noises, but she could not discern one sound from another. Her head ached and everything seemed muffled. There was a stench in the air that was recognizable to her, if not familiar. It was the smell of many animals—livestock, mostly—and the smell of straw. There was a smoky odor, as well, a choking sort of stench that definitely was not wood burning, and an acrid smell like unwashed bodies.
Slowly, Buffy raised her head from the dirt. Her vision was fuzzy, but the black spots had gone and everything was slowly coming into focus. She could see, now, that it was still daylight where she was. Mid or late afternoon by the looks of it. She was on the side of a dirt track on which many wagons were traveling—wagons, she was relieved to note, that were driven by human beings, not monsters or demons.
Buffy frowned as she watched the steady procession of horse and mule-drawn carts that creaked slowly by. The men sitting on the board seats of these carts were definitely not of 2001 and most likely not from California. They were dirty-faced, bewhiskered creatures garbed in clumsy boots and coarse clothing. They seemed to her like something out of a Dickens’ novel, not like real people at all. When they shouted greetings to one another, she realized that they talked like Dickens’ characters, too: their speech peppered with the rough slang-words of low-class Englishmen.
“’ey, Joe! How’s the missus these days?”
“’ello, Guvnor. She’s as to be expected and no better. Bloody doctor’s a thief, he is, for what I’m bein’ charged for her medicine…”
“Move it along, will you gents! I’ve gotta get this load in ‘fore sundown…”
Buffy’s heart tried to lodge itself in her throat, and she quickly swallowed it back down. Wherever she was—whenever she was—it was definitely not Sunnydale. Not even close. And as much as that idea frightened her, Buffy knew there was nothing to be gained from panicking. If she wanted to get out of this situation, she would need to stay calm. Clenching her jaw resolutely, Buffy pushed herself up off the ground. The first thing she needed to do was figure out exactly where this was. Then, she could start formulating a plan on how to contact Willow and Tara. If she could tell them where she was, it would be a lot easier for them to find a way to bring her back home.
Suddenly, a voice broke into her thoughts with a stern: “Hey! You there!”
Buffy blinked, still too disoriented to easily find the source of the shouting. And before she could gather her wits enough to know what was happening, the voice spoke again.
“I say, you there!”
It was a male voice with the accent of a middle-class Englishman. For a moment, Buffy thought it was Giles; but this was about an octave too low and the tone was remarkably hard. A rough hand gripped her arm, and Buffy suddenly found herself being pulled to the street—by the owner of said voice, no less.
“What do you think you are doing here?”
He was a young man, twenty-five, at most, although he carried himself with as much dignity as someone twice that. His short black hair was slickly oiled beneath his hat, and his mustache was clipped into a tiny line over his top lip. He was dressed in a blue uniform with bright brass buttons down the front. His hat was also blue, and it had something that looked like a badge on it. Another badge was pinned to the front of his coat.
“Are you—are you a police officer?” she asked confusedly. He looked like one, though his uniform was strange. What Buffy couldn’t figure out was why he was looking at her as though she had done something wrong.
“I am a constable, yes, ma’am,” he told her sternly. “And, miss, you are in a great deal of trouble.”
She gaped at him.
“For the indecency of your dress, my lady.”
Buffy looked down at herself with bewilderment. She wasn’t wearing a dress; she was wearing her army-green cargo pants and a black tank shirt. It was true that her clothes were a little grimy from the battle with Glory, but they were whole and they covered everything that was meant to be covered. She looked back at the officer with consternation.
“I don’t understand…”
“Well, then come along, and I shall explain it on our walk back.”
Still gripping her arm, the constable began to lead her down the roadside. Buffy considered fighting him, but he was a cop. Wherever she was and whenever she was, she didn’t want to get herself thrown into the clink for assaulting a police officer.
As they walked, the constable explained to her the rules of proper dress in public, but Buffy hardly heard a word he said. She was looking around them in wonderment. It was as if she had suddenly opened up the pages of Oliver Twist and stepped inside. Men and women in period costumes were milling all around them. Some of them were rough looking, dirty. But others…oh, some of them were beautiful! There were women in colorful dresses with long-trained, bustled skirts, exquisite little hats and bonnets perched on their hair. Men wore tailcoats and top hats—or else jackets with waistcoats and cravats. Children were adorable in short pants or pinafores.
The streets, too, were like something from a period novel. The dirt track became a wide road paved with cobblestones as they left the more industrial part of town. The buildings were closer together and much better kept, and the mule-carts were lost amongst a throng of carriages and buggies drawn by sleek horses. A man was idling near the curb, reading a newspaper. The London News-Observer, according to the front page. And if her quick, searching glance could be trusted, the date on the paper was listed as November 5th, 1879.
Buffy stopped short, stunned. She was in 19th century London. How the hell had that happened? Willow was supposed to be sending Glory to another dimension, not the past. If the first spell sent Buffy to Victorian England, then where had the hell god ended up?
“Oh, this isn’t good,” she moaned.
The constable ignored her words, but he shook her elbow to get her moving again. “I was halfway through my dinner pail when the complaints came in about you.”
She supposed she should sympathize with him that he had not finished his meal, but his superior tone irked her, and she had to bite her lip to keep from snapping at him. Not that he noticed. He was too busy expounding on the indecency of a woman appearing on public streets in such tight, revealing garments.
“And amongst the rough masons and carters of the brickyard!” he exclaimed. “I have never in my born days seen such a display, not even from the boldest of fancy women.”
“Fancy women?” she echoed, completely baffled. “What—are you calling me a whore?”
The constable stopped dead in his tracks, looking absolutely horrified.
“Sakes alive, miss, don’t you be saying such on the public streets! There are children…”
She lowered her voice obediently, and he went on, satisfied.
“I’m not a prostitute,” she insisted.
“Perhaps you aren’t,” he consented skeptically. “Whatever you may be, you’ve no business conducting yourself in such a way as this. There are laws about the way a woman should present herself to others.”
At first, Buffy had been too preoccupied to consider what the constable was doing, but suddenly it hit her like a blow to the head.
She was being arrested.
The jail cell in which Buffy was placed was very small, six by eight feet, at most. There was a rough wooden bunk bolted to one wall, a small straight-backed wooden chair, and a bucket that she suspected was to serve as a toilet. Nothing else. The walls and floor were made of thick stone, and there wasn’t so much a window in the room. The only source of light was a series of narrow slats in the otherwise solid iron door.
Buffy perched uncomfortably on the thin straw tick of the bunk. The room was so dim her eyes hurt, straining to make out shapes in the gloom. Just outside her cell, she could hear the constables talking, their words muffled slightly by the heavy door.
“You didn’t even ask her for her name, then?” This voice—a new voice—strongly reminded her of Giles. Carefully cultivated and low, it managed to convey kindness, authority, and intelligence with only a few well-chosen words.
“I did try,” the constable who had picked up Buffy whined. “She was not being altogether cooperative. I tell you, she would not give me her name.”
“Perhaps she was frightened. You said she was dressed oddly and that others told you she appeared to be having some kind of a fit. Perhaps some calamity befell her, and she was too distressed to speak.”
“She is a common thing,” rejoined the first man. “American, at that. It is my belief that no harm came to her. There was only one reason she would be by the brickyards in such attire, and I believe I don’t have to tell you what that reason is.”
“Nevertheless,” said the kind man. “I wish to speak with her myself.”
The heavy door squealed a loud protest as the constable pushed it open. The younger officer tried to push in behind him, but this new man shut the door in his face rather pointedly. He turned to Buffy and smiled slightly. He was older than the first cop—lines creased the edges of his eyes and silver dulled the dark hair at his temples. But while he was in no way a handsome or young man, there was something appealing about him, something almost fatherly. Or, as Buffy thought to herself, something Giles-ish. She was relieved to see him, at any rate. She’d been rotting in this dank cell for hours, and any other human being besides the constable who arrested her was a welcome sight.
“Are you another cop?” she asked somewhat nervously. He looked nice enough, but she wasn’t at all sure she could trust any of these people. Wherever she was, it wasn’t a place that would look kindly on someone like herself, and she knew she would have to tread carefully in order to survive.
The man tilted his head to one side, evidently not understanding her question.
“I am a constable of London,” he said. “But I am a bit confused as to who you might be.”
“Bu—” She paused. What on earth was she supposed to tell him? Evidently, she’d been trapped in some Victorian nightmare, and until Willow and Tara rescued her, her only chance for survival would be to fit in. Odds were that telling them her name was Buffy would not help her in that matter. It would probably reinforce their belief that she was a prostitute, as a matter of fact. But she had to tell him something and quick; the constable was staring at her with an expression of concern, as though he suspected there was something seriously wrong with her. Buffy thought fast.
“My—my name is Beth,” she said finally, picking a name similar enough to her own that, hopefully, she would remember to answer to it.
His eyebrows rose almost infinitesimally, silently alerting Buffy that she had committed yet another social error. For the life of her, however, she couldn’t figure out what.
“What is your Christian name?” he asked.
Oh God, she thought. Christian name? I thought only nuns had those.
“Certainly ‘Beth’ cannot be the name you were christened by…?” he prompted gently. And suddenly she realized what it was he wanted her to say.
“No…I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “It’s not. My real name is—is Elizabeth—Elizabeth Summers. Beth is a nickname.” Her mind raced with other details to tell him.
“You are an American?”
“Yes. I—I arrived yesterday. I came here to be a hairdresser, but I think that the job was a scam, because when went to see about the job, there was no one there…it was just an empty lot. So, I started trying to find a place to stay, because it was getting dark. I was crossing the railroad tracks when suddenly someone attacked me from behind! That’s the last thing I remember until the other officer found me this morning.” Buffy drew a deep breath as she finished, crossing her fingers that he would believe her story, lame as it was.
Though he didn’t understand everything she said, the officer seemed to have caught the gist of it. He rubbed his forehead thoughtfully for a moment, struggling against skepticism to give her the benefit of the doubt.
“They dress like this in America now?”
Crap. She’d forgotten about the clothes. What could she tell him about the clothes that would sound remotely plausible?
“My—my luggage was stolen on the boat—I mean the ship. I had nothing to wear, so one of the sailors loaned me this. I didn’t know it would be considered indecent—honestly. I was planning to wear it just until I could get an advance on my salary and buy new things. But the job wasn’t there…”
She looked up at him, trying to make herself appear as helpless as possible, hoping to garner his pity. And, amazingly, it seemed to be working.
“What of your family?” he asked—but kindly.
“I don’t have a family to speak of,” she said quickly. “My mother passed away recently and my father has been dead a long time.”
“I see.” He frowned and rubbed a hand over his smooth-shaven chin thoughtfully, evidently trying to ascertain whether she was telling the truth or not.
“If I did something wrong, I’m really sorry,” Buffy told him, having grown uneasy with his thoughtful silence that dragged on and on. “And I’ll do community service or whatever you want.”
He cleared his throat.
“Well, I must say your story is an odd one, Miss Summers,” he said finally. “Yet I can’t imagine you were out there for any other reason. You seem intelligent and well bred—well fed if not decently garbed. I cannot imagine you could be a—a street person.”
Breathing a sigh of relief, Buffy tried to assure him, “I’m not!”
“This I believe,” he told her. “Yet I am still at a loss. If I release you, where will you go? I cannot, in all good conscience, turn a young lady out onto the city streets with no friends or relatives to take care of her.”
Buffy opened her mouth to say, “I can take care of myself.” But suddenly it occurred to her that, if she played her cards right, she might not have to.
“All I need are some directions to a hotel or something,” she said slowly. “I just need a place to stay, and then I can find a job somewhere…”
“No decent person would hire you, dressed as you are now,” the constable stated bluntly. “And a lady staying in a hotel without a companion of some sort is only asking for trouble. No, I’m thinking of a place where they could take care of you. A place that would spare a lone young woman the horror of the union houses or the back alleys. There is a long queue to get in, but I know the vicar who directs it. So perhaps…”
He blinked, as though suddenly realizing that he had been talking over her.
“Forgive me for thinking out loud,” he apologized. “And allow me to explain my plan to you. There happens to be a friend of mine, a vicar. He had a rather revolutionary idea for helping the needy…most particularly the young women without husbands or families. An institution, of sorts, it is run by his church. It is a place where you will be fed, clothed, and well cared for as you are taught some skills that will be of use to you out in the world. They will help you to find a place of employment—a good place where you will not be mistreated. Women trained by his organization are most sought after in the better houses of London. The waiting list to enter is very long, but as he is a friend of mine, I think they might receive you immediately. That is to say…if you are willing?”
Buffy smiled weakly. That was not exactly what she'd had in mind.
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