Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, nor the universe in which they reside. I do, however, own this particular story, as well as Meg and Giselle.
Pairings: Technically this is a slash fic, although you'll find that I don't overly describe sexual scenes in my writing. I prefer content over titillation. However, a female-female relationship is apparent. If you don't like this idea, you might not want to read any further. For those of you who are wondering, Giselle=Buffy and Meg=Willow.
Summary: This is the story of Giselle Arceneaux, a French slayer of the late nineteenth century who heads for the Alaskan territories during the height of the gold rush in 1897. She's heard that there has been an influx of vampires in the area due to the increase in population and the fact that during the winter, the sun is only out for a couple of hours a day.
Author's Note: According to the television series, Spike kills a slayer during the Boxer Rebellion, which took place in 1900. It's been mentioned many times in the show that many slayers never live past their eighteenth birthdays, or survive only two to three years after being called. I'm assuming that the Boxer Rebellion slayer was called around 1897 or so, which is the same year this particular fiction takes place. Meaning that Giselle was the slayer immediately before the one that Spike kills in 1900. You may think this means you know the ending of this story, but there are some surprises in store for you here.
It is a fact that Alaska has an extended period of darkness during the winter months. The shortest day of the year in Fairfax, Alaska has merely three hours of daylight—the sun rises at 11:00 AM or so and sets at around 2:30 in the afternoon. I'd imagine this to be a vampire's paradise, especially with such a transient population, which was the case during the gold rush. When people disappeared here and there, it pretty much went unnoticed. In this fiction, I'm assuming a time of year where the sun does not rise at all for several weeks.
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Alaskan Territories, 1897 – January 2nd
A sharp crosswind caught the edge of the house, tossing the south window open and sending a blast of cold air through the room. The lantern near the stove flickered, nearly plunging the kitchen into darkness. Outside, the sound of an approaching train cut through the wail of the wind.
Hurrying across the room, Meg grabbed the flapping halves of the window and struggled to push them closed. She swore under the breath. Paul hadn't fixed the latch completely the last time he closed the damned thing. At least it wasn't snowing this time.
"Mrs. Glass?" a voice called from the doorway. "Is everything all right?"
Meg fastened the latch and pulled the curtains closed. "It's fine, Libby," she sighed. "The wind caught the window is all."
The small woman took several steps into the spacious kitchen. "It's dark in here. You should have more lanterns."
"More lanterns will burn more oil," Meg commented, turning to face the serving girl. "You know Paul's philosophy on that."
Libby giggled at her sarcastic tone. "The train has arrived. We should be getting a few more guests."
"Did you build up the fire in the front room?"
When Libby nodded, Meg took a final glance around the kitchen. "Watch things in here while I check on the empty rooms?"
Upstairs, she hurried through their four available rooms. She and Libby had cleaned them just that morning, but she wanted to be sure there were no wayward items left behind by previous guests. As she straightened the towels on the rack near the water basin, she happened to glance up and catch sight of her reflection.
What she saw was a bedraggled young woman, red hair falling from pins that desperately tried to keep it in place, and a thin face with heavily shadowed eyes. She saw an eighteen-year-old girl who had no business running a large boarding house with just one staff member. A few more years of this and she'd be a doddering old woman.
Meg heard Libby calling from downstairs a moment later. Reaching up, she tried to smooth her hair back from her face. She ran her fingers down the front of her threadbare dress, willing the wrinkles to straighten themselves out. Sighing, she took one last look at the drawn face gazing back at her from the mirror before turning to head back downstairs.
As she approached the drawing room, she heard the clipped tones of a British accent, followed by Libby's chastened murmur. Meg frowned at the idea of some ruthless prospector browbeating her friend. Libby was a gentle soul, and far too vulnerable to the attacks of others.
The British woman continued to speak as Meg entered the room, her back to the door. "I'm sure you understand that Miss Arceneaux is accustomed to far grander facilities," the woman sniffed as Libby gazed up at her fearfully.
"And I'm sure you'll find that we run the finest establishment in Silver Springs," Meg said coolly. "Miss Arceneaux is welcome to stay in one of Bo Garrison's tents if she feels otherwise."
The Englishwoman whirled in surprise. Her waspish tongue was hardly complemented by her bland features. Meg swallowed back the words before speaking them aloud.
"I beg your pardon?" the woman demanded.
"Tsk, tsk," a voice spoke from the hall. "I see you have already endeared us to our hosts, dear Martha."
Turning to face their newest arrival, Meg found herself grasping the door jam for support. The woman standing before her was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen. This was a lady, not a mere woman, she reminded herself. There hadn't been such a refined presence here in all of Silver Springs's history.
The woman's pink dress was silk, and cut to the highest fashion, Meg would wager. Her blonde hair was swept up under a wide-brimmed hat, which was clasped firmly against her head with a silk ribbon tied into a bow under her chin. She took a step forward, and Meg heard a pleasant rustle of cloth accompany the movement. The scent of rosewater filled the air around her.
"I must apologize for my chaperone," she said to Meg. Her accent was far more musical than her companion's, though she seemed to be consciously masking it. Meg assumed it was French.
"She has more of an affinity with books than she does with people," Miss Arceneaux continued. "I am sure that your accommodations are more than sufficient for our needs."
"My lady has been traveling for a fortnight," Martha interjected. "She would very much like a bath, and some rest."
"Of course," Meg nodded. "Libby will be happy to show you to your rooms as soon as we've settled your bill."
The woman clucked at her as though to say, "What else do I expect from an American?" Reaching into the small bag dangling from her wrist, she fished out a few coins. Her expression suggested she wanted to throw them at Meg's feet. Instead, she walked forward and placed them gently in Meg's outstretched palm.
"Supper is at six sharp," Meg called after them as Martha and Libby turned to leave the drawing room.
Miss Arceneaux glanced toward the hall window, where the inky blackness of perpetual night pressed seductively against the glass. "What time is it now?" she asked.
"Shortly after two o'clock in the afternoon," Meg responded. At the woman's shocked expression, she added, "We finally lost daylight last week. But we'll gain a few hours back soon enough."
"It must be maddening," Miss Arceneaux said, her eyes widening.
Meg shrugged. "One is forced to adapt. Now, if you'll just follow Libby up to your rooms, I'll prepare your bath water."
She watched the women climb the stairs, confused by her reaction to the lady. Meg seemed unable to take her eyes off her. She appeared to be so delicate, so fine…Meg felt like a bumbling oaf in her presence. Glancing down at her hands, she cringed at how rough and swollen they appeared. Miss Arceneaux's hands were protected by clean white gloves. Meg guessed she didn't have a mark on that creamy white skin.
She shook her head and hurried back to the kitchen. What was she doing pondering the appearance of a perfect stranger's modest parts? Her behavior was becoming most peculiar. She'd have to watch herself when Paul returned. Clasping the coins in her fist, Meg sneered. If he returned from Tilly's, the brothel on the other side of town. If the whores hadn't bled him dry and left him with something more to spend. She'd hide this money beneath the floorboards before her husband came home.
Nearly an hour later, Libby returned from her tenth trip upstairs to the lady's room. She'd dragged two buckets of water each time, and was clearly showing fatigue. "Miss Reginald says her charge is ready for the rinsing water."
Meg stopped her as she approached the stove. "Let me take the last two up. You get off your feet a few minutes."
Libby sighed. "Oh, I thank you." She sat at the table in relief.
Meg managed to get upstairs without sloshing too much water on the floor. At the closed door on the right-hand side of the hall, she lowered one bucket to free her hand and knock.
"Enter," a musical voice called from inside.
Expecting the chaperone to answer, Meg froze. For a moment, she found herself strangely unable to turn the doorknob and open the door. When her pause became too extended, the voice inside grew irritable.
"Please come inside, I am unable to answer myself."
Meg knew at that point that Miss Reginald was no longer in the room. Hands shaking, she opened the door, picked up the second bucket, and slowly slunk into the room. Thankfully, Miss Arceneaux was hidden from view behind a wooden screen. The tub had been placed in the corner of the room, which was lit by a lantern resting on a chair beside it. Meg thought it interesting that the woman had chosen the smallest of the two rooms offered, and even more interesting that Miss Reginald, who seemed so adamant about her charge's comfort, had obligingly taken the larger.
Clearing her throat, Meg murmured, "I have your rinsing water here."
"Oh, thank you Mrs. Glass," Miss Arceneaux called. "Could I impose upon you to bring it here? My chaperone seems to have other affairs to attend to at the moment."
Meg frowned. Go behind that screen? She didn't think she was able, not without alerting the woman to her nervousness. But refusing would appear even more suspicious. She was a married woman, after all. Meg sighed inaudibly.
"Of course, I'd be happy to," she said, forcing a bright note into her voice.
Although Paul was known for scrimping on the strangest of comforts, he'd actually done well by his guests with their tub. The copper tub was so massive it took both she and Libby to haul it around. According to Libby, however, Miss Arceneaux had helped her with it herself. Libby said it had never felt so light. So when Meg circled the screen, all she could see of Miss Arceneaux was her head and upper shoulders.
Her guest had arrived with her own fragrances and soaps, for no bathwater at the boarding house had ever before smelled so fine. Meg was accustomed to bathing with lye soap that tended to burn if accidentally rubbed into the eyes. When Miss Arceneaux heard Meg approach, she tilted her head back and waited.
It was obvious what she wanted. Heaving another silent sigh, Meg stepped closer and rested one bucket on the floor. Slowly turning the first bucket above the bathing woman's head, she ran warm water over the sudsy bubbles encapsulating her golden hair. When the woman reached up to rub to soap out, her back arched further out of the water.
Meg's eyes strayed toward the soft curves just barely visible around the line of Miss Arceneaux's back. She was saved from further torment by the odd marks marring the woman's skin just above the water. Four thick slashes ran from the center of her back to her right side. Meg gasped in spite of herself.
Miss Arceneaux straightened in response, immediately glancing around as though looking for something. "What is it?" she asked.
"My apologies, Miss Arceneaux," Meg stammered. "I should not remark upon it, but your injury…"
The woman relaxed. Craning her neck, she looked behind herself to meet Meg's gaze. Her soft smile made Meg's heart skip a beat. "It is an old one," she said. "And please, call me Giselle. I am not such a fine lady that you should pay me this respect. You may be surprised by the situations in which I have found myself in times past."
Meg knew she was hinting at a criminal history. "Those are not lash marks," she commented, growing bolder. "They almost look animal."
Giselle's smile faded a bit before returning with full force. "You should not fret over such things," she said. Her accent was suddenly a bit stronger. "It is but a remnant of a past life. Now if you please…the other bucket?"
Meg reached for the second bucket of water and continued to rinse Giselle's hair. Handing the woman a towel, she fled the area before Giselle stood from her bath. "I must return to the kitchen," she murmured apologetically. "Our supper won't cook itself."
Downstairs, Meg took a moment in the hallway to compose herself. Thankfully none of the other guests had passed her as she left Giselle's room. Her face seemed permanently flushed red.
"I must be ill," she muttered. The warmth grew whenever her mind strayed toward thoughts of Miss Arceneaux.
Libby didn't seem to suspect anything strange as they worked together to cook the evening meal. By six o'clock, the dining room was filled with the sounds of chatter and raucous laughter. The majority of their guests were male, normally the better off prospectors before they went off to find their fortunes in the wilds. Meg demanded payment before each guest was allowed to spend the night. It made for far fewer unpaid bills.
The room grew quiet suddenly just before Meg prepared to bring out the first course. Curious, she peeked through the swinging door in the kitchen and into the dining area. Miss Arceneaux had made an appearance, and it had struck the men dumb. Chuckling to herself, she hauled the first dish into the room.
"Where's Paul tonight, Meg?" Mr. Weeks called.
She smiled at his impetuousness. Weeks never meant any harm, but he had a way of asking the most inappropriate questions. Living among dozens of men each month, Meg was hardly fazed. She responded tartly, "I should ask Tilly the same question."
The men roared with laughter, until they realized the female presence in the room. Glancing towards Miss Arceneaux, they quieted almost shamefully. The blonde woman hardly noticed the gaffe. Meg remembered that she'd only just arrived in town and had no way of knowing who ran the town's most visible whorehouse.
Meg smiled before easing out of the room to finish collecting that evening's fare. She had a feeling Miss Arceneaux would not have found offense even if she did understand the joke.
When they all were finally seated to eat, the men each found their own way to question Miss Arceneaux about her business in Silver Springs. Without Miss Reginald present to waylay any inappropriate questioning, the men grew even bolder in their curiosity.
"I will arrive in Birming sometime next week to meet my intended," Miss Arceneaux explained to Mr. Weeks at one point during the meal. "He is the newly appointed mayor of that city."
"Birming's doing fine business," Mr. Weeks nodded sagely. "Your man should do well there."
"As long as the vein doesn't dry up," Mr. Harrison interjected. "I've seen a busy town dry up like sagebrush and fly away just months after the gold disappeared."
"Such a thing to say," Meg chastised him. "Don't make her overly fearful before she's even made her home there."
"I'm only speaking the truth, Meg," he defended.
Miss Arceneaux shook her head. "Do not worry for my feelings on the matter, Mrs. Glass," she said. "My fiancé and myself both are very comfortable."
Meg was quiet for the remainder of the meal. Her mind spun so that she hardly heard the rest of what Giselle had to say. The woman was on her way to be married to some fat old man, more than likely. Meg could only imagine what would happen to her after a few years of that arrangement. She quietly mourned the death of this girl's spirit, which would surely not survive the winter in this climate.
Meg was finally allowed to retire much later that evening. She normally waited for the last guest to leave the public areas of the house before climbing the stairs to the third floor and their apartments. That evening she was already asleep by the time Paul stumbled into the bedroom. Her eyes flew open when he lit the lantern and began removing his clothing. He smelled of smoke and whiskey.
"We have two new guests today," she told him. He merely grunted in reply.
She gazed at the large belly poking out through the buttons of his long johns. It had only grown during their two year marriage. She hadn't thought much upon it in the past, but now she found herself disgusted by his body. At least it was a rare moment that he demanded his husbandly rights.
Paul fell into bed and immediately pulled the majority of the blankets his way. Meg bit her tongue rather than argue this sore point yet again, and leaned back against her pillows. When her husband started snoring a few minutes later, she found her mind filled with thoughts of Giselle. Next to the hairy, smelly body of the only man she'd ever been intimate with in her life, their newest guest seemed almost heavenly. Meg found herself wondering at the texture of her hair, and how her skin might feel.
An hour later, she flipped the blankets away from herself and rose from bed, unable to sleep. The water pitcher on a nearby table was empty, and her throat impossibly parched. Meg threw on her robe and grabbed the pitcher, heading downstairs to the kitchen.
After leisurely filling the pitcher and taking a drink of water, Meg was ready to return to bed. Normally Libby was highly aware of her movements, and would have joined her at the kitchen table. Her activity that day must have overly tired her. She was likely sleeping soundly in her small room on the third floor.
Meg placed her hand on the door that lead to the back hallway, about to push it open, when she heard the sound of someone coming down the stairs. Her first instinct was to continue opening the door and greet Libby, thinking the woman had risen after all. But the movement didn't sound at all like her friend. It was far too cautious. Whoever it was didn't want anyone to hear him moving about. Meg opened the door a crack and peered through into the dark hallway.
She saw a small figure reach the bottom of the staircase and continue forward toward the back door. At first she assumed the person was a man, for he wore brown trousers and vest under a heavy jacket. His head was covered by a knit cap. But a slant of moonlight caught the person's face as he approached the window near the back door. The features exposed were not male in the slightest.
Meg almost gasped to recognize Giselle. What was she doing going outside in the middle of the night? Each room had a perfectly serviceable chamber pot beneath the bed; she had no reason to visit the outhouses in the dead of night. And certainly not dressed as a man. Suspicious, Meg watched the woman leave the house, then rushed back upstairs to her bedroom.
She was careful not to wake her husband, but she needed to hurry. Meg couldn't afford to lose Giselle, not if she wanted to know what she was up to. Taking the lead from her guest, she grabbed an old pair of Paul's pants, ones that were now too small for his frame. She threw a sweater over her this and took his jacket as well. After slipping her feet into a pair of boots, she was ready.
Outside, a pair of footprints lead away from the tracks heading out toward the outhouses. Meg followed them across the yard and through an alleyway until she reached Harbor Street. There the trail went cold when heavy traffic masked the woman's footprints in the snow. The street was nearly empty tonight. The only people she could see was a small cluster of men at the lower end of the street, toward the lake. There wasn't an actual harbor at the end of Harbor Street, but the lake was large enough to afford a few docks for fishing boats and the like.
She realized the group of men were actually in the midst of a struggle, and took several steps toward them. She stayed near the buildings on the opposite side of the street as she approached, trying to stay out of sight. It wasn't the first brawl she'd seen, but one never wanted to get in the middle of a fight.
Meg heard the growl of an animal ring through the winter air and paused to duck behind some wooden crates piled in front of Henry Drinker's general store. Curious, she peeked around and saw that she was at the perfect vantage point to see that activity ahead. There were four men involved in the melee…with a fifth figure standing at the center of the group. Meg frowned. The fifth man was much smaller than the others.
Gasping, Meg realized it was Giselle. How on earth had the woman managed to pick a fight not ten minutes after leaving the house? She watched fearfully, knowing she might have to jump in and assist at any moment.
"I really don't have time for this," Giselle was saying. "If you simply answer my question, this will be far less painful."
The men laughed at her statement. One of them leaned in close, towering over her in an extremely predatory posture. Meg jerked forward in response, accidentally striking one of the crates. The sound was like a shot in the quiet night. Two of the men whipped around when they heard it, their features bathed by moonlight.
Meg caught her breath at the sight of them. Their faces were deformed, twisted with strange ridges that protruded from their brows. She thought she saw a yellow glow in their eyes. When the first drew back his lips, she saw two elongated canine teeth emerging from his mouth. She was frozen with shock. What were they?
"Please pay attention when someone is speaking to you," Giselle said, poking the first man. Her light shove somehow managed to throw him several feet away from her. The man nearly lost his balance and went sprawling across the snow in the street.
One of the men behind her darted forward, trying to take her by surprise. Giselle ducked and crouched in the snow just before his arms circled her shoulders. From this position, she kicked back, slamming her foot into his kneecap. The man cried out in pain. Back on her feet again, Giselle threw a quick jab into his face. Meg noticed she was carrying something in her other hand just as she thrust it against the man's chest. At first she thought it was a knife, and her stomach dropped when Giselle actually stabbed the man with her weapon. A moment later the man was gone, seemingly vanishing in a sudden cloud of dust.
Giselle turned away from the mess an instant later and faced the remainder of her adversaries. The three remaining men stared at her a moment before simultaneously whirling and running off into the night. Meg grasped the crate in front of her tightly, afraid to move for fear the woman would see her. She'd never seen someone murdered before, not even here where a man could be shot for flashing a bit too much gold in front of the wrong people. And she'd never seen anyone just vanish into thin air like that.
Meg nearly fainted when Giselle turned to look straight at her hiding place. "You can come out now," she called with her light accent. "I know you're back there."
When she took a step out from behind the crates, Giselle shook her head. "You shouldn't have seen that," she warned, moving closer.
Meg clenched her hands into fists, positive that Giselle was about to kill her for witnessing her crime. The knife in her hand…was a piece of wood, sharpened at the tip. Meg frowned when she realized that Giselle was not holding a weapon after all.
"What will you do?" Meg whispered fearfully.
Giselle paused, an expression of shock crossing her features. "What do you mean…?" she started, then burst out laughing. "You think I mean to harm you? Silly girl," she exclaimed.
"But you just killed that man…" Meg stammered.
Giselle shook her head. "I see I have a few things to explain now," she said. "But first, we need to get in out of the cold. Will you trust me long enough to walk you home?"
Meg stared at Giselle's outstretched hand for several moments before finally taking it and turning back toward the boarding house. An explanation was indeed required.
To be continued…