Setting: S2, pre-series
Rating: PG (for now, will change to R later)
Word Count: 3000
Summary: Early S2. Ethan Rayne opens his costume shop a few weeks earlier than in canon. This time, his cursed costume sends Buffy, who has yet to deal with Parent-Teacher night (and a certain vampire), on a journey through time.
A/N: The last chapter for today. Look for more on AO3, ff.net, or Elysian Fields. Thanks again to stallwartsandall and MiseEnPlace for the beta work!
During what had seemed an interminable carriage ride, Buffy's posture had undergone an immediate drastic and painfully uncomfortable improvement. Thanks, corsets! All she'd wanted to do was slump back and stare out the window, maybe pass out from exhaustion, but her own restrictive clothing and the erect postures of the Covington family had made it a complete non-option. Even if posture hadn't been an issue, the jouncing of the carriage down the road wasn't conducive to any kind of rest.
And then there were the questions.
Fortunately, Sir Edwin – Buffy had to remind herself to call him Sir Edwin the way the carriage driver had, instead of that Edwin guy, else risk losing even more manners points – had stemmed the barrage of questions from the curious Fidelia with a firm, "Later, child. Allow Miss Summers to rest." Not that Buffy could rest, but the silence at least gave her time to squelch the ever-present panic and think her situation through, so she could come up with some sort of cover story.
They'd stopped at every farmhouse along the way to inquire after her missing guardian or any other injured persons who might have arrived on the farmer's doorstep, with no success. At least, that was what Sir Edwin had told her they were doing. Since her own French was woefully inadequate for anything beyond bonjour and je m'appelle Mademoiselle Summers, she had to trust it was the case. Buffy couldn't help but feel guilty at the time they were wasting on a fool's errand: Giles wouldn't be found, not at a farmhouse or in the city, but it was a necessary part of her cover.
Now, they'd settled into a small inn in the city, Buffy sharing a room with the two girls while their father went to make inquiries at the hospital and the gendarmerie on her behalf.
Fidelia, who'd asked Buffy to call her Delly, flopped onto her stomach on the sole bed in the room . "But how is it you don't speak any French?" the thirteen year-old said. She propped her head on her forearms, calves in the air and criss-crossed at her ankles. Buffy envied her the simple frock she wore, which looked far more comfortable than her own corseted contraption.
"Not that useful a skill where I'm from." Buffy sat stiffly perched on the corner of the bed, wishing she could copy the younger girl's freedom but certain it would constitute a major faux pas based on Sophie's still-proper comportment. "We were only meant to be in France for a short time before we went on to London."
This was the continuation of the cover story Buffy had been building: her father had been a Very Important Person – of what sort, she'd left vague – in the growing town of Sunnydale, California. Which was a very civilized place and not at all the untamed Wild West Delly imagined it to be. Her parents had died of unspecified causes, leaving her an orphaned only child in the care of a family friend, one Mr. Rupert Edmund Giles, Esquire. She wasn't too sure what esquire meant, but it sounded good and she'd seen the abbreviation Esq after his name on a piece of mail once, so she'd tacked it on and hoped it was suitably proper and impressive. According to her story, she'd been in Mr. Giles' care for a little over a year, and when he'd had business to attend to in France, he'd brought her along to broaden her horizons. They'd been about to return to London, much like the Covingtons, where they were to spend a few months with… somebody. Buffy had been purposely vague, making the somebody sound like Giles' distant relation. Somebody who would of course be unidentifiable, being as she didn't know their name, or how distantly they were related. And also being as they didn't exactly exist.
She was still hoping the real Giles would have her back home before she had to figure out where she would go once Sir Edwin gave up on trying to locate imaginary Giles. While in the carriage, she'd discovered she had a few coins and some paper money in her purse-thingy, but doubted they would be enough to provide for her for very long. She'd also discovered a fan and a handkerchief, and a large, stiffly folded paper that appeared to be an American passport. The passport had both her and Giles' names in full on it, along with physical descriptions of them both, and had been stamped for entry into France on September 15th, 1877. Buffy had been first uneasy and then furious at that discovery. It had been September 20th back home, and the existence of a forged passport with her name and details smacked of advance planning. Somebody had done this to her on purpose, probably that smarmy shopkeeper, and she wasn't finding it very comforting that he'd gone to the trouble of providing her with ID and a bit of money to smooth her way, not when it suggested her absentee abductor expected her to be here long enough to need proper identification. Knowing she wasn't the victim of random bad luck, but a very carefully thought out plot, didn't do much for keeping the latent panic at bay.
For a brief moment she'd wondered if Giles had also been sent into the past, seeing as his name was also on the passport, but so far there'd been no evidence he had. The shopkeeper must've known enough about her to predict she'd claim Giles as her protector in this time of female non-empowerment, or maybe had expected her to check out the contents of her purse before creating a cover story. Either way, it worked with what she'd previously claimed, and she'd built more of her story from there.
If Buffy had still had her Slayer powers, she might have been a little less concerned for her very uncertain future here in the past. But after several hours with no change in the bruising on her head, combined with a general feeling of weakness and clumsiness compared to her usual abilities – she didn't think the wooden door to their room was that heavy – she was pretty sure her Slayer powers had gone sayonara.
Weak, broke, alone, female. Not the best part of waking up halfway across the world, halfway back in time.
She really needed the Covington's good will.
"Your father is very kind to help me out like this. I hope I'm not delaying your plans."
Sophie gave a delicate shrug. "The worst that can happen is we'll miss the ferry and have to rebook our passage."
"I hope we do!" Delly said. "It's such a thrill to have our very own adventure! Probably nothing compared to yours, of course, but still!"
Buffy hadn't been able to convince the younger girl that life in California was adventure-free. Maybe because she'd hinted at her parents' deaths being due to some sort of frontier drama too unseemly to discuss, a little white lie that had aroused immediate sympathy in the obviously motherless girls. Or maybe because she was a terrible liar, and for the Slayer, small-town California life was rife with what Delly would definitely deem adventure.
"Now, Delly. I'm sure Miss Summers would prefer you didn't trivialize her misfortunes as adventure."
Delly's excited visage immediately turned contrite, her large hazel eyes shining with dismay. "Forgive me, Miss Summers. That was thoughtless of me."
"Don't worry about it. And please, call me –" Buffy stopped herself just in time. "Anne."
Her passport named her as Buffy Anne Summers, but as she'd already introduced herself as Anne, she couldn't go changing it now.
"I'm sure Papa will find your guardian, and you'll be reunited before long."
"I hope so," Buffy said with a hard swallow, dropping her gaze to the handbag in her lap. How had she not noticed the beautiful – if for some reason very blurry – embroidery on it before? She really should examine it in more detail. Right now, in fact. "I hope I'll be reunited with Giles very soon."
To Buffy's utter lack of surprise, Sir Edwin had returned later that first evening with no Giles in tow.
"There's been no word of a highway robbery at the gendarmerie," he'd said, "but they have their best men looking into your guardian's whereabouts."
The following three evenings had been a repeat of the first, with Buffy beginning to feel like she was stuck in a bad remake of Groundhog Day. She hated to waste Sir Edwin's time further, or lie to him even more. She was beyond lucky to have been happened upon by a good family rather than somebody less reputable, and an English-speaking family willing to take her under their wing at that, but for the sake of her cover story, she had to keep up the ruse. "Maybe… maybe he went the other way down the road?"
"The captain already suggested the possibility, and sent someone to investigate."
"Thank you," she said for what felt like the millionth time. "I'm very grateful for your assistance."
"Please. Make no further mention of it. Have you girls had your supper yet?"
"We were waiting for you, Papa."
Sir Edwin favored his daughters with a fond smile, some of the ever-present sadness leaving his eyes for a brief moment. "I'd be delighted to have three such beautiful young ladies take their meal with me."
"Oh, Papa!" his girls chorused.
Once they had accompanied him to the dining room and taken their seats at the table, he gestured to Buffy's new dress and said, "I see your day was more productive."
"Thank you –" Buffy began, only to be cut off with a wave of Sir Edwin's hand.
"What did I say? Enough of that."
"I am in your debt, sir," she said anyway, feeling very prim and proper, not to mention proud of herself for the phrasing she'd been practicing in her head. Thank goodness she and Willow had engaged in that Colin Firth-fest at the end of the previous school year, before she'd gone to spend the summer with her dad. At the time, Buffy had only cared about the yumminess of a dripping wet Mr. Darcy. She'd been bored to fidgeting badness by most of the rest of the miniseries, but at least now she had some inkling of expected speech and behavior patterns beyond the Giles-isms she'd picked up over the last few months. "My guardian shall be most appreciative for your kindness."
Take that, Elizabeth Bennet.
Of course, Elizabeth Bennet wouldn't have been lying through her teeth about her guardian, but Buffy couldn't help that part of it.
Sir Edwin acknowledged her with a slight nod and a kind smile, then turned to Delly and asked her a question, leaving Buffy to admire the sleeve of her new dress.
With everyone having assumed her clothing had been stolen along with the rest of her effects in her luggage, Buffy had been borrowing from Sophie for the past three days. Sophie had several inches and a full cup size on her, however, with the result that Buffy had been swimming in the other girl's clothes. Sir Edwin had sent the three of them to the dress shop the day before, and today they'd returned to pick up the two dresses the dressmaker had hastily altered for her from an unclaimed order. Neither fitted quite as well as her original, nor were as fine, but Buffy was happy to have any change of clothing. It was nice to have a few changes of undergarments too. She still had her cotton panties she'd left on under the old-fashioned undergarments, but the crotch-less bloomers, as foreign as they felt, were a much better match for this era's toilet facilities.
She'd tried to pay for the clothing, just as she'd tried to pay for her lodging and meals, but her new benefactors had waived away her attempts, to Buffy's eternal relief. There was, from what she understood from Sophie's explanations, what amounted to the equivalent of $250 in modern American dollars in her reticule. A tidy sum for a young lady to be carrying on her person, further contributing to the Covingtons' belief that she was very well-to-do, but not nearly enough to give her any kind of independence.
On the plus side, this was one of the times being a helpless girl had worked in her favor: nobody had questioned her ignorance of the local currency, not when she'd supposedly had a ready patriarchal figure to manage her finances for her.
After the server had finished setting out their meal, Buffy tuned back in to the conversation between father and daughters, and realized they were arguing over whether to delay their impending departure.
"Oh, piffle," Sophie said vehemently, color suffusing her cheeks. "Cousin William can wait. He's not going anywhere."
Buffy raised an eyebrow at Sophie, hoping she would explain who Cousin William was without her having to ask, but the other girl didn't notice, intent on her father's response.
"They have made preparations for our arrival."
"Simply write and explain the reason for our delay, I'm sure they'll be more than understanding."
"If there's somewhere you need to be…" Buffy began. She really didn't want them to go back to England and leave her stranded here, but she wasn't quite ready to beg them to stay. Not yet, not when she was still hoping to poof back to her own time any moment now.
Any much longer, though, and she'd throw that bit of pride right out the window. The longer she didn't poof back, the less certain she was that she would, and the more worried she grew about how to survive being stuck in the past.
"Nonsense, Anne. We'll not abandon you here. Isn't that right, Papa?"
Buffy almost sighed in relief, until Sir Edwin said, "While we can delay for a few more days yet, we will have to return home soon. Our visit to Cardwick Square isn't our only obligation, Sophronia. However," he said, stalling his daughter's protestations, "I am not the barbarian you seem to think me. We shan't abandon Miss Summers. If we have not found Mr. Giles by then, it is my sincerest wish for her to place herself under my protection and accompany us home."
Turning his attention to Buffy, he said, "I understand you do not wish to leave here until we have found your guardian, but we can leave word of your whereabouts with the gendarmerie and the newspaper office. I'm sure Mr. Giles will check with them if he comes to Calais, just as we have been doing. In the meantime, you are more than welcome in my household, and I'm positive our cousin will be delighted to host such a charming young lady as yourself."
Just like that, the worst of Buffy's worries were solved. "I – I don't want to be a burden to you. I'm willing to work for my keep. I'll do anything –"
Sophie blanched, and Sir Edwin scowled as if she'd said something deeply improper.
"Not like that," Buffy muttered, realizing what they thought she was implying. "I meant I can…"
What? What skills did she have that they could possibly be interested in?
Think, Buffy, think. Hurry up and get that foot out of your mouth.
"I'm afraid I'm not familiar with that term," said Sir Edwin. "What is babysit?"
Buffy wracked her brain, wondering what their equivalent was. An image of Mary Poppins floating along the London skyline with her umbrella in hand sprang to mind. "Nanny?"
Sir Edwin laughed, eyebrows arched in condescending disbelief. "I believe Fidelia is a bit too old for a nanny, and I somehow doubt you'd be well suited to a governess position."
It was Buffy's turn to scowl. Was he saying she was too stupid to be a teacher?
"Your own youthfulness precludes it," he continued, expression turning more paternal. "Nor would it be fitting for a young lady of your station. Your desire to not be a burden does you credit, Miss Summers, but it is not something to worry yourself over. You could not possibly be a burden to me. In point of fact, your presence in my household would be something of a relief."
"It would?" Buffy couldn't hide her surprise.
"Yes. Since their mother's recent passing into the arms of our Saviour, Sophronia and Fidelia have often expressed their wish for feminine companionship. You are obviously the Lord's answer to that prayer."
"Oh, yes!" Delly said, dark curls bobbing with enthusiasm as she jumped up and wrapped her arms around Buffy. "You are exactly right, Papa! Miss Summers is everything I'd wished for in a companion!"
"Our days are much brightened by your presence," Sophie agreed, her comportment more restrained but her smile just as genuine as her sister's.
"Well." Buffy swallowed hard as she hugged Delly back, overwhelmed by the Covington's kindness. Too choked up for anything more eloquent, she simply said, "Thank you." For the millionth and one time.
To be continued...