Title: The Edge of Conviction (Formerly As Yet Untitled Spuffy Fic)
Author: Abelina (Abby)
Summary: England, 1750. Nineteen-year-old slayer, Buffy Summers of Bath, travels to London on orders from the Council of Watchers to deal with a newly arrived vampiric threat in the area. While the threat proved easily dispatched by the Council’s most able slayer, Buffy becomes aware of a new and unpredictable presence in the area that seems to be fighting on her side. Meanwhile, London’s upper class is suffering from a seemingly random but cunningly orchestrated string of robberies, which have increased steadily over the past several years. And just who is this charming Duke of Edgewater everyone is talking about? Full of questions that only grow in number the longer she’s in London, Buffy unwittingly tumbles headlong into the answer, and it’s not at all what she expected.
Story Rating: NC-17 (likely ~ most chapters PG-R)
Notes: Written for taboo_spuffy ’s Forbidden Fairytales Challenge. This is not an all-human fic. Buffy is still the Slayer and Spike is still a vampire.
I have been unable to come up with any sort of idea for a title for this fic, so suggestions are most welcome and also very much encouraged! Thank you to rebcake, whose title suggestion led to this one! This is a WIP and will remain so for some time, since it looks like it’s gonna be a long one, folks. I needed another WIP like I needed a hole in the head, but when the muse bites, I write, and when the challenge has a deadline, I post!
The first awesome banner was made by xtanitx, not specifically for this story, but I fell in love with it and she kindly personalized it for me. The second awesome banner was a gift from amyxaphania. Thanks, ladies! You're both amazing!
Chapter One ~ To
Buffy hated riding in the carriage. She would rather use her own two very capable feet to take her wherever she needed to go. It was something she was used to, after all, with long nights of walking through graveyards and courtyards and all sorts of other places ending in yard, searching for vampires and other nighttime bumpy things from which to save the world. But she hadn't a choice this time, because capable as they might be, she didn't want to find out how much her feet would hurt after walking all the way to London.
So, she was carriage girl. She of the motion sickness and the vomiting ungracefully out the window whenever the driver neglected to avoid a particularly rough patch in the road. Which he seemed to be doing far too much of, if you asked her.
Oh yes, Buffy hated the carriage.
Whether she hated the looks Giles was giving her more or less than the bouncing transport, well, that was debatable.
Laying her head in the open window helped. The cool breeze created by the carriage’s motion chilled her heated skin and kept away the worst of the queasiness. She would have liked to watch the countryside go by as they traveled, except that she had to keep her eyes shut tight.
“If you insist upon riding with your head outside the carriage,” said Giles, the disapproval clear in his voice, “the least you could do is keep your eyes open for possible threats. It’s nearly nightfall and—”
“Those of us whose stomachs aren’t staging the next Jacobite Rebellion can keep their opinions to themselves,” Buffy said, not bothering to hide her irritation. “Besides, we both know I’d sense anything coming before it got here.”
A soft sigh sounded behind her of the sort Giles liked to make when they disagreed.
“Unless, of course, the horses sense it first and become spooked.”
Buffy imagined that her face probably lost the rest of its colour at that unpleasant thought. Reluctantly, she pried her eyes open and prayed to all the deities she didn’t believe in that the little army of Highlanders in her belly decided not to attack and that the growing shadows at the side of the road stayed just that – empty shadows.
But of course, Giles had to open his mouth. The road became smoother and the bouncing of the carriage lessened to merely an unpleasant jiggle the closer they came to London, and that was a good thing. Her growing feelings that they were indeed being followed definitely were not. While her night vision was better than that of most people, on a moonless night it was difficult to see anything clearly, especially at speed and from a distance. The scant glow of the stars, filtered through the canopy of trees above the road, didn’t help much, but Buffy was certain she saw movement — flashes of metal, the swishing tail of a horse — in the forest around them.
Not wanting to worry Giles in case it was merely her imagination playing tricks, Buffy said nothing about her suspicions and continued to watch the road. Giles thought they should reach the outskirts of the city within the hour, which meant they’d be nice little targets inside the Council’s fancy carriage for more than enough time to be attacked without witnesses. Buffy bit her lip and focused, wanting to be certain.
Doubt left her seconds later when the familiar tingle shot down her neck and continued to pulse urgently. There was a vampire outside the carriage, and judging by the ongoing back-of-the-neck action, it was keeping up with them as they travelled.
“Giles,” Buffy said, ducking back inside only to find her watcher snoring quietly, his spectacles dangling off the end of his nose as his head lolled forward, swaying with the motion of the carriage.
She tapped his foot with her boot. “Giles!”
To his credit, he jolted awake immediately. “Is something wrong?”
“There’s a vampire following us,” she said. “And possibly someone or something else.”
Giles pushed his glasses back into place. “And it’s the something else that worries you?”
Buffy shrugged. “I can handle the vampire, but I really don’t think it’s a good idea to stop the carriage in the middle of nowhere. Do you?”
She’d only just finished speaking when the carriage lurched, pitching them both forward and dousing the lamp hanging opposite the window. Buffy was able to grab hold of the window ledge to steady herself, but Giles toppled head first into the opposite seat.
“Bloody hell,” he said, holding his forehead in one hand and returning to his seat just as the carriage came to a sudden stop. “I daresay this is a most unfortunate turn of events.”
Outside, one of the horses gave a panicked whinny, and Buffy could hear their hooves stamping nervously on the packed dirt road.
“Daresay all you want.” Buffy reached beneath the seat for a crossbow and shoved it into Giles’s hands. “Just be ready if that door opens and it isn’t me.”
Buffy pulled her dagger from its scabbard and cracked the door open just wide enough to fit through, slipping out into the darkness and dropping immediately into a fighting stance. She was surprised to find nobody waiting for her. The vampire was nearby; she could feel its closeness in the steadily growing neck tingles. She also heard voices coming from in front of the carriage. Clinging to the structure’s side, Buffy gripped her weapon and crept around to investigate.
A couple of torches blazed, held in the hands of two petite figures — could they be women? — standing in the middle of the road a few meters from the horses. The driver knelt at the edge of the circle of light, facing in, his hands tied behind his back and a flintlock held to his forehead by a very large masked man. Several other figures stood nearby, most of them holding weapons and all of them wearing scarves that covered their heads and swept around to hide the lower halves of their faces.
Buffy crouched down to watch. While she had no intentions of letting these ruffians hurt the driver, she wouldn’t risk jumping out and startling the pistol-holder into accidentally blowing his head off. And there was still the matter of the vampire. The ones out front were all human, though the little fellow closest to her gave off some sort of supernatural vibe she couldn’t really explain. Was the vampire with this group and just staying out of sight until the surprise finale? Or was it merely a very badly timed coincidence and she now had two problems to deal with?
Frowning, she turned an ear to the group, hoping to catch something of their conversation.
“Now, what do you figure he has tucked away in that fancy ride of his?” the big man asked. His accent hinted at a childhood in the countryside, though he was trying to sound like a cultured Londoner.
“I dunno,” said the short, maybe-not-quite-human one. “Looks fancy, but he’s a little less than.”
“And we all know that the fancy-looking ones drive the most money,” said one of the torch-holders, proving Buffy’s suspicion about her gender correct.
“What’s that?” The pistol-holder held up his hand and the others fell quiet. “He’s trying to say something.”
Buffy missed what the driver said, but pistol man obviously hadn’t.
“Okay, fellas, might as well let him go,” he said, snickering in a way that made Buffy certain he meant precisely the opposite. “He says all he has back there are passengers.”
“Check the carriage!” said a very much prim-and-proper sounding man, who stepped out of the darkness to stand at the pistol man’s side.
Pistol man holstered his weapon and stepped away, but before the driver could struggle to his feet, the newest arrival unsheathed a sword and held its point to the trembling driver’s chest. Several others moved to follow, all of them armed and headed for the carriage, and Buffy decided that it was time for her to intervene.
Gripping her dagger, Buffy ducked beneath the carriage and out between the horses, bypassing the carriage-bound group and running directly toward the man guarding the driver. While the big man held the pistol, this smaller one had given the order and seemed to Buffy to be leading them. He saw her approach a few seconds too late and she got around behind him before he could counter her move. Holding the sharpened blade to his neck, she bent his arm back with a sharp jerk, causing him to cry out in pain and drop his sword.
“Make one move and Percy here gets a hell of a splitting headache,” Buffy said, speaking loudly enough that the party nearing the carriage stopped and whirled around to face her.
She hoped she sounded convincing. Killing the man wasn’t even a consideration, but as long as they thought it was, she could hopefully avoid having to hurt anyone. She didn’t want to have to cut him even a little to prove her seriousness.
“Do as she says,” said the man with a dagger at his throat. He sounded calm, but Buffy heard his breath quicken, felt him trembling and knew he was afraid.
So far, so good.
“Go,” she said to the driver, who ran away on shaking legs to the other side of the carriage.
When the big man moved to follow, Percy barked an order. “Listen to her!” He scowled at Percy, but obeyed the command and turned back to the matter at hand.
“You’ll leave us be and let us on our way,” Buffy said, now that her intended audience was fully listening. To encourage her captive to follow her orders, she gave his arm another twist.
He stifled the groan of pain, biting his lip judging by the sound of it, though Buffy couldn’t see his face. But the big man and the not-quite-human were looking straight at him and flinched before taking deliberate strides away from the carriage.
“Good,” Buffy said, as they came up level with her and her captive, a couple of yards away. “Now all of you stand over there, with Pistol Man and his little sidekick. Where I can see you.”
She heard movement behind her and caught some out of the corner of her eye. Though she counted each new body that appeared in her line of sight, she couldn’t be certain of the group’s full numbers and started to turn, wanting to place her back to the horses lest someone take a chance and try sneaking up on her.
The sound of the twig snapping was her only warning. Buffy pulled her dagger away from her man’s neck and with a kick to his back sent him stumbling between the nervous horses, spinning around in time to avoid the sword swinging through the air toward her neck. She turned the move into a somersault, grabbing Percy’s sword on the way and springing upright to meet her attacker’s next swing.
He was strong for a human and talented with his blade. Though Buffy had brute slayer strength to her advantage, the sword was meant for someone taller than her and its balance felt off. While they weren’t evenly matched by any means, the unfamiliar sword and her lack of proper fighting attire – Giles had insisted she wear her best dress for the trip, and she picked this time to listen to him – allowed her opponent several opportunities to gain the upper hand.
“Egad, she’s stronger than she looks!” said the man, sounding almost impressed as she parried a blow and sent him stumbling back a few steps toward the group.
The little glimpses she caught of them showed they were watching with rapt interest, and she could hear them talking excitedly amongst themselves, but nobody seemed inclined to intervene. Not that she couldn’t have handled another one or two of them, but there was the matter of the pistol and the fact that she was outnumbered at least a dozen to one. And they were human — mostly. Even a slayer didn’t like those odds.
Her skirts tripped her as she took a swing at the man, whose scarf had slipped, revealing a shock of dark hair that matched his eyes in colour. She tumbled to the ground and the man made a move to finish her off, but Buffy managed to swing her leg around in time to trip him. Springing to her feet, she kicked away the sword clumsily released when he fell, pressed her boot into the back of his head and touched the point of her sword to his neck.
Pushing his face into the dirt, she opened her mouth to speak when the ever-present vampire tingles suddenly flared to unbearable proportions. A lean figure dressed entirely in black, from the swathe that hid his face to the long coat that nearly touched the ground, stepped out of the trees to stand in front of the group. They quieted instantly.
“Let them go.”
The rich, deep baritone of the vampire sliced through the night and straight to her chest, where her heart was pounding harder now than it had during the fight. That voice sounded of history. Of power. This was no fledgling, she realized. No, whoever this vampire was, he was old. Experienced. And he undoubtedly knew exactly what she was.
Buffy heard, amongst the mumblings of the group, the words council and slayer as they moved off the road and into the woods. She stepped away and let the fallen man go, backing up toward the carriage, eyes on the vampire, and Percy who stared long and hard at her before disappearing into the trees.
And then it was just the two of them, in darkness now that the torches were gone, the snorting and tapping of the horses and the occasional whimper from the driver the only noise.
“Slayer,” he said, nodding once.
They faced each other for another minute before he abruptly spun around and strode off into the woods. The tingles on her neck faded with each minute she stood staring after him, perplexed over the entire encounter. Soon, she couldn’t feel him at all. The horses had calmed, and after she cut his bonds with her recovered dagger, the driver returned to his seat, clutching the reins as though he might crumble to dust if he let go.
“You all right, then?” she asked him, and he nodded tightly.
Well, he was terrified. She didn’t need a vampire’s nose to smell it, either. But he’d gotten back in the seat on his own and all she could do at this point was trust him to get them the rest of the way to
The loaded point of a crossbow bolt aimed between her eyes met her as she opened the carriage door. She scowled up at Giles and he lowered the weapon.
“You might have announced yourself,” he said dryly, holding out a hand to help her inside.
She took it, despite not needing it. “You might have killed me.”
He didn’t take the bait. “I trust you handled the situation?”
It almost handled me.
“Yes, of course I took care of it,” Buffy said, still thinking about the very un-vampire-like behaviour of the real leader of the group. “Just some highwaymen out to rob us, is all.”
Giles looked as if he didn’t quite believe her, narrowing his eyes slightly and drawing his lips into a tight line. “And the vampire?”
Buffy shrugged, avoiding Giles’s scrutinizing gaze by pretending to study a tear in her skirt. “Gone,” she said.
“Yes!” She couldn’t help the snappish tone, one that Giles knew all too well. “Look, it’s done, and I’m tired and we’re moving again, so also nauseous. We didn’t get robbed, and the vampire left. End of story.”
Buffy crossed her arms and turned away from Giles, curling into the corner and closing her eyes against the carriage’s motion and the sudden fatigue that came on her in the wake of the confrontation.
She dozed off and on as they travelled, but eventually fell into a deeper sleep. Awaking to Giles’s gentle shaking and a motionless carriage, Buffy caught sight of a large house outside the window. She couldn’t quite make out its size or any of its details in the darkness, but what she could see in the dim light from the driver’s lantern suggested it was of the large, old, and probably opulent variety.
Buffy bit her lip and tried to smother her frown of irritation. Unless they’d had a change of plans that Giles conveniently forgot to tell her about — which wouldn’t actually be in any way unusual — Council elder Sir Wyndam-Pryce had quite the funds at his disposal. Funds apparently better used for personal luxury than for the upkeep of their slayer and her actual watcher. Buffy imagined the modest and in-frequent-disrepair cottage assigned to her and Giles by the Council would fit, garden, vegetable patch, chicken coop and all, into the entrance room of the Wyndam-Pryce estate.
She scrubbed the sleep out of her eyes and she and Giles exited the carriage. One half of the large double doors opened and a tired-looking but immaculately dressed man, middle-aged and starting to bald, stepped out onto the step. The light from inside spilled out and brightened the path leading toward the door from the circular drive, revealing flawless grass and tidy rows of rowans on either side. Buffy followed Giles as he headed toward the door, and the little man came down to meet them. He escorted them inside after greeting only Giles, and took them directly to a large waiting room, allowing Buffy only a brief glimpse of the massive interior before shutting the door with the promise that Sir Wyndam-Pryce would attend them soon.
The room was massive and almost garishly decorated. She assumed waiting room was its title, though she didn’t have enough experience with these large manor houses to know for certain. It seemed a good place to wait, considering the couch she picked to sit on was more comfortable than her bed back home in Bath. And Giles, well, didn’t he look right at home? Just because he was the active watcher and lived in near squalor with his slayer didn’t take away the fact that he’d grown up in this same sort of wealth.
Buffy spent the next little while privately fuming over the unfairness of it all and scowling at the haughty, smiling faces of who she assumed were the Wyndam-Pryces looking down on her from the gigantic portrait on the opposite wall. She barely managed to hide the expression when the door opened and the patriarch himself, with a slightly bigger waistline and a little less hair than his painted likeness, stepped inside.
At Giles’s quiet cough, Buffy followed his lead and stood as Sir Wyndam-Pryce approached them.
“Rupert,” he said, extending a hand. “As always, your timing is impeccable.”
“Roger,” said Giles in return. “We ran into some trouble on the road, I’m afraid.”
“We have been hearing reports of bandits in recent months.” Wyndam-Pryce looked Giles briefly up and down. “I trust you escaped unscathed?”
“Yes, thank you,” Giles said. “Buffy — er, Miss Summers was able to fend them off.”
Wyndam-Pryce’s eyes flicked toward Buffy for the first time. “Ah, yes,” he said, studying her with enough scrutiny to make her feel entirely uncomfortable. “The Colonial slayer.”
The contempt in his voice was unmistakable, and Buffy felt her belly start to flutter with the familiar combination of nerves and growing irritation.
She resisted glaring at the man by digging her fingernails into her palms. “With all due respect, sir, I may have been born in Virginia, but England has been my home for more than four years now.”
He turned back to Giles, one eyebrow raised slightly. “She’s defiant.”
“She is also standing right here,” Buffy said, crossing her arms in front of her, no longer bothering with the pretence that she wasn’t offended.
But Wyndam-Pryce refused to look at her, instead shaking his head slowly from side to side and sighing heavily. “I must say, I am disappointed. I expected better from you, Rupert.”
Buffy couldn’t see Giles’s face from her place just behind him, but at the comment from Wyndam-Price, she saw his shoulders tense and watched as he unknowingly mimicked her cross-armed pose.
“I could say the same for you, Roger,” Giles said, his tone sounding overly friendly, but Buffy knew him well enough by now to recognize that he meant to convey precisely the opposite. “Buffy is dedicated to her duties. An impeccable slayer. Whatever you may think of her attitude, it does not detract from her devotion to her calling.”
Buffy’s mouth fell open in surprise as she took in Giles’s words, and she didn’t know whether to feel flattered or annoyed. Usually he was the first person to call her on her disrespectfulness where authority was concerned, so to hear him now defending her to his own superior was more than a little shocking. It almost felt as though he was saying he was the only one with the right to comment upon her shortcomings. Almost. The uncharacteristic warmth filling her chest suggested that all of her, save that untrusting corner of her mind, was ready to believe he meant it.
Still, though, Wyndam-Pryce seemed undeterred. “That remains to be seen,” he said, glancing briefly at her before fixing his gaze on Giles again. “There’s still the matter of the vampire nest, which is, as you recall, her purpose here.”
“I am confident that Buffy will handle the threat with her usual aplomb,” Giles said. “In the morning, she can—”
“Oh no, you misunderstand me, my friend,” Wyndam-Price said. “She is to take care of it at once.”
“What, tonight?” Buffy stepped up level with Giles. “As in, now?”
“Surely there’s no need for her to go tonight,” Giles said. “After the excitement and the long journey, she’s earned a hot bath and a good night’s sleep.”
“Council orders explicitly state that Miss Summers must take care of this threat at once.” And again, Wyndam-Pryce’s gaze raked over her, and Buffy was never more conscious of her dirty, dishevelled appearance as she was in that moment. “And I should think an individual of your upbringing would be used to going without bathing.”
Buffy fought the urge to smash her fist into his face, personal policy about not hurting humans be damned. She’d regret it, certainly, after the rush of triumph faded. But despite really, really wanting to, she let her hands fall to her sides, fists clenched, but far away from Wyndam-Pryce’s stuck-up little nose.
“Fine,” she said, almost growling the words through her teeth. “I’ll go. But you had better hope there are a lot of them, because all of the sudden, I really need to kill something.”
As she stalked out of the room, Buffy realized she had no idea where her clothing was or how to find this vampire nest, but it didn’t matter that she’d have to track down a servant and hound Giles for details. The look on she left on Wyndam-Pryce’s face was well worth the extra hassle.