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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.

Please see Part One for the rest of the author's notes.

Part Three

The drunk's slurred speech was almost as offensive as his breath. Meg leaned fearfully away from the miner as he pressed even closer. “I ast if you was workin' fer Tilly,” he repeated, then belched in her face.

“I…” Meg hedged, disgusted. As her eyes searched for a way to escape, her gaze landed on several brown paper packages strewn across the ground. The thought of Libby out here on her own put the steel back into her spine.

“No,” she said. Meg gingerly shoved him back, afraid to actually touch his filthy coat. Thankfully he was so inebriated that it was enough to send him stumbling in the opposite direction. She ignored his stuttered protests and hurried toward the remains of Libby's purchases.

It soon became painfully clear that someone had ripped his way through the packages, eager to see what was inside. The bland eye of a good-sized bass gleamed innocuously up at her from the earth. Libby had managed to see the Yarbough's before she'd been stopped. Whoever robbed her must have been rather angry to find only fish and a few disparate dried goods.

Staring down at the ground, Meg sighed. The moist earth was pretty trampled in this part of town, and it was difficult to judge what kind of a struggle had gone on. A sour twist of guilt flared in her belly. If anything happened to Libby, it was her responsibility. Meg should have known better than to trust Paul with something so important.

Glancing around at the sea of tents surrounding her, Meg was amazed at how quiet it was this late afternoon. It was as dark as midnight, but that shouldn't stop the thrust of commerce glutting the streets. There was a pall across Silver Springs. She couldn't help but think of Giselle and her explanation for the strangeness.

She heard a small sound behind her and felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand at the ready. Meg shivered as gooseflesh rose along her arms. Her hand slid into the folds of her skirt to grasp the solid object tucked away inside. As she prepared to whirl and face whoever approached, a choked sob sounded from between two nearby tents.

Meg relaxed as she recognized the gasping breath that followed. “Libby,” she whispered. She pressed her way between the heavy canvas and found her friend cowering in the cramped darkness.

Libby's sobs increased when she recognized her employer. “Mrs. Glass,” she murmured, her breath hitching in her chest. “I ruined the meat.”

Crouching before the girl, Meg placed a hand on her shoulder and asked, “What happened?”

“They said it were a toll, for passing through the shanty. They took it all,” Libby cried. “Mrs. Glass, it's all my fault.”

Meg shook her head firmly. “It is not. Paul was supposed to come with you. Didn't you ask him?”

Libby's eyes gleamed with tears in the darkness as they opened wide in horror. “He said to go on. He said I should be able to watch for myself after all you done for me. I'm sorry, Mrs. Glass.”

Meg felt her rage flare with renewed vigor at the memory of her husband's smug face. “You did nothing wrong, Libby. Do you hear me? No one should be out on her own at a time like this.”

She wiped the tears away from Libby's broad cheeks. The girl clutched Meg by the arms then before throwing herself into them. “You're such a good woman,” she sobbed. “I know I been a trial for you and Mr. Glass. I'm too dumb to work for my keep, and you let me stay with you anyway.”

“Don't you ever say that again, Libby,” Meg reproached. “You are a loyal friend and you have never disappointed me. You are not dumb.”

Libby sighed heavily. “I've always been slow, since the scarlet fever,” she said. “But I work hard for you and Mr. Glass. To make you proud.”

“You make me very proud,” Meg avowed. Standing, she pulled Libby to her feet. “Let's hurry back home now. We don't belong out here.”

They remained arm in arm as they hurried through the tents toward the other side of town. The drunk who'd accosted Meg earlier was gone, and they didn't see another soul on the streets. Meg began to have a terrible feeling about the silence to hit their small mining settlement. People were disappearing, there was no doubt of that. And while she once was able to rationalize it away as a byproduct of the dangerous lifestyle out here on the frontier, it was getting more and more difficult to ignore.

She almost didn't see the tall figure step out as they rounded a large tent, but in the next moment his eyes were unmistakable. Burning through the darkness like twin candle flames, they immediately lit on the two women in their path.

“Well, hello,” the man spoke gallantly. “And how are you ladies on this fine Thursday afternoon?”

Meg skittered to a halt and forced Libby behind her. When the smaller woman squeaked an instant later, Meg glanced over her shoulder to see another man creeping toward them.

“You…” Meg started, then floundered as her breath vanished. “You stay away from us,” she finally warned.

The man laughed. “We mean no offense,” he said. “My friend and I have been traveling hard this past fortnight, and I have to say, it's been a long time since I've laid eyes on a woman.”

Meg understood that the lust in his voice wasn't sexual. He was the Wolf in all the fairytales she'd ever heard as a child—the Wolf come to life. She saw a flash of white when he yawned widely to reveal his fangs.

She grabbed Libby by the arm and shoved her toward the boarding house. They could see the roof of the general store where they stood, and if they managed to reach it in time they would be safe. “Run,” she urged the woman, shoving her again.

Libby took only two timid steps before Meg fell to the ground. The vampire had pounced the moment she forced her friend toward safety. Her forehead slammed into the semi-frozen ground, dazing her. The scent of death enveloped her as the man pressed his body against hers. Meg dug her fingers into the earth beneath her and tried to push herself up. The creature flung his weight against her and forced her flat across the ground once more. Grasping her by the hair, he twisted her head back and to the right, exposing her neck.

Frantically, Meg groped the folds of her dress. Her weapon was trapped beneath her leg. Choking back a terrified sob, Meg jabbed her elbow as hard as she could into the vampire's gut. In the instant his weight released as he shifted back to avoid another blow, she rolled onto her back and yanked the large wooden crucifix out of her skirt. When she held it out toward him, the vampire threw his hands before his face and hissed angrily.

He retreated several feet away and watched her warily. Visibly trembling, Meg pushed herself to her feet. She continued to hold the cross aloft, and the vampire did not attempt to follow her movement.

“Libby?” Meg asked. When the woman didn't answer, she risked a glance over her shoulder.

The second vampire nearly had her bent in half, leaning her backwards in his attempts to feed. With a start, Meg realized exactly what the creatures wanted. She'd heard the men discuss the book written by that raving Irishman, and like everyone else she thought it was nothing more than horrific fantasy. But Stoker had spoken the truth. These were animals that survived solely on the blood of others.

Barely considering the consequences, Meg rushed the second vampire. Wielding the heavy cross like a hammer, she smashed it across the back of his head. The vampire screeched in surprise and pain. In the instant the holy object touched him it burned into his flesh.

He whirled on her angrily, then paused and smiled. Meg recalled the first creature a moment too late. He grabbed her from behind and pinned her arms against her sides. The cross was suddenly useless as it pressed against her thigh. She squirmed in his grasp, but he was far too strong. He barely grunted in response when she lifted her foot to kick him in the shin.

Pressing his lips close to her right ear, he whispered, “Keep struggling. It makes the blood sweeter.”

The sound of a clucking tongue made the quartet pause in confusion. “You never learn, Bartlett,” a lightly accented voice slid through the darkness like a caress. “The more halfwit minions you create, the more entertainment you give me.”

The second vampire gasped and lurched forward. Meg couldn't see what had struck him, but when he burst into a flurry of dust an instant later, she spotted a familiar pale face and blonde hair appear behind him. She barely had a chance to digest this information before the first vampire flung her away from him.

“Slayer,” Bartlett sneered. “Why are you slumming around here? Did Renato escape that quickly?”

Giselle stepped forward, frowning. “I would have hoped you'd assume that I've killed him,” she pouted.

Grinning, Bartlett shook his head. “A little thing like you? After five hundred years and seven fallen Slayers, it will take more than a Frenchwoman to finish that old goat.”

“Meg, Libby,” Giselle began. “Please stand behind me.”

Still clutching her cross, Meg obeyed. When she reached Libby's side, the other woman grabbed her tightly around the waist and refused to let go.

“You hold Renato in such esteem,” Giselle told Bartlett. “Yet you continue with this charade? What makes you think you'll be able to master any number of comrades? I've killed your last four companions.”

Bartlett scowled at her. “Take your girls home,” he said. To Meg's surprise, he gave her a lascivious look before adding, “Redhead this time, huh? Much better choice—younger than that gristly old hag. I've still got that nasty taste in the back of my throat.”

He reached up to pick at his teeth with his dirty fingernails. Giselle nearly snarled at him. When she took another step toward him, Meg called her name. The Frenchwoman seemed to realize her place just then. Bartlett tipped an imaginary hat as she hurried toward Meg and Libby.

“It doesn't mean you've beaten her,” Meg defended, startling herself more than anyone. “You're just delaying the inevitable.”

Bartlett shook his head and snickered at her. She glanced at Giselle, who barely met her eyes. The blonde woman grasped Libby by the arm and urged her to start walking. When Meg returned her gaze to the vampire standing several yards away, she saw that he'd disappeared into the darkness.

* * *

Libby slept peacefully in the room directly above their heads as Meg and Giselle locked themselves into the blonde woman's room. They'd managed to avoid notice as they crept up the back stairs. Meg didn't really want to explain her dirty dress and bloodied forehead to any of the boarders. Supper would likely be late that evening, but she didn't quite have the heart to use her injury as an excuse for it. She would much rather simply pretend it had never occurred in the first place.

Meg sat primly on the edge of Giselle's bed as the Frenchwoman poured water into the washbasin and collected several clean rags. “You should not have been outside,” Giselle chastised.

“Someone has to buy the supplies to keep this place running,” Meg snapped. When Giselle raised her brows in surprise, Meg sighed. “Paul was supposed to take Libby to the general store. He let her go out alone. I couldn't just leave her out there.”

Giselle stared at her for a long moment before nodding. “No, I expect you couldn't,” she agreed. Somehow Meg thought it was meant as a compliment. “I see that you brought a cross with you,” Giselle added. A small glint of amusement leapt into her hazel eyes.

Meg stared down at her hands. “You're not crazy,” she blurted. “Is that what you want to hear?”

“That will do for now,” Giselle allowed. “But you have to promise me that you won't wander around by yourself. Bartlett and his gang aren't the only vampires in town.”

“You know him,” Meg said. “You know him personally.”

“He killed my best friend,” Giselle said quietly. Lifting the washbasin from its perch, she carefully carried it toward the bed. She did not meet Meg's eyes as she sat beside her. “I'd been following a master vampire for several months, and foolishly allowed her to travel with myself and Martha. Bartlett was a high ranking member of this vampire's group.”

“Renato?” Meg asked. “Is that the master vampire's name?”

Giselle nodded. “He's one of the oldest vampires left in the world,” she explained. “There are a few others, but none so highly ambitious. His favorite thing to do is settle in a small town or village and see how quickly he is able to destroy every living creature living there. I think his record is twelve hours, though normally he enjoys drawing it out over several days or weeks.”

Meg swallowed heavily. “He is coming to Silver Springs?” she asked.

“No,” Giselle said. “He despises the New World. The people here are far too unsophisticated for his palate. No, Bartlett has struck out on his own, and I have come to follow.”

“Why didn't you kill him tonight?”

Giselle sighed. “He reminded me that I have other responsibilities. My calling is to protect and defend. Vengeance is not a part of the Slayer's sacred duties.”

“Slayer…” Meg whispered. She winced when Giselle pressed a damp rag against her forehead.

“One girl in all the world,” Giselle said. “Called to fight evil, and given the strength to do so.”

“But you're so…small,” Meg said.

Giselle smiled. “Looks can be deceiving,” she countered.

“Is Miss Reginald a Slayer, too?”

Giselle shook her head. “There is only one Slayer at a time,” she explained. “Martha is my Watcher. She belongs to a group of people who train, observe, and gather information for the cause. They've been around for centuries.”

“That must be why she's so unpleasant,” Meg guessed. “Forced to stand off to one side and only watch as you fight all the battles.”

“Martha is British, so that temperament is part of her nature,” Giselle said by way of explanation. When Meg laughed appropriately, she continued, “But she has been rather short-tempered lately. I think Victoria's death weighs heavily on both of us.”

Giselle continued to clean out the wound on Meg's forehead, every so often pausing and turning toward the washbasin to rinse blood out of the rag. She reached up and smoothed back the hair that had fallen into Meg's face. Her gentle fingers found the knot rising up along Meg's cheekbone.

“Bartlett didn't do this,” she said.

Meg was astonished. “How did you--?” she asked.

Giselle shrugged. “I guessed,” she responded. “Your husband is a horrible man.”

As the matter of fact tone of the Frenchwoman's voice, Meg broke down in tears. Horrified by her emotional outburst, Meg waved her hands weakly and sputtered, “I'm sorry.”

Leaning over to place the washbasin on the floor beside the bed, Giselle then sat upright again and slid an arm across Meg's shoulders. When she began to protest, the blonde woman whispered softly in French. Gently pressing Meg's head against her shoulder, she continued to croon unintelligibly as the other woman finally allowed herself to be folded into the embrace.

“You deserve so much better than this,” Giselle said, reverting back to English. “A sharp mind like yours—it's a wonder you haven't been driven mad all alone up here.”

“I have Libby,” Meg whispered. “I'd be lost without her.”

“She is your relation…or Paul's?”

“Neither,” Meg responded. “Her husband was killed last summer. When she was a child, her entire family died of scarlet fever. She only just survived, but she hasn't been the same since. She isn't capable of caring for herself.”

“You are so strong,” Giselle murmured against her hair. The sensation of her breath against Meg's scalp sent shivers down her spine. “Why won't you believe that yourself?”

Uncomfortable, Meg pulled out of the embrace. Her hand remained tucked into Giselle's lap, and she stared down at it in confusion. She'd been so comfortable with the intimate position she hadn't even realized how inappropriate their contact had become. When she glanced up again, she met Giselle's kindly gaze. The Frenchwoman smiled and leaned closer.

When she first felt the brush of Giselle's soft lips against the corner of her mouth, Meg was too surprised by the sensation to react. The woman smelled of soap and powder—so much cleaner than Paul, whose heavily whiskered mouth tasted of sour tobacco and gin. In that instant, she felt no hesitancy or doubt. For the first time in her young life, her connection to another person felt right.

Pulling away slightly, Giselle took her silent acquiescence as permission to go further. She kissed Meg fully then. Meg allowed it for a few moments, curious at the novelty. Giselle didn't kiss like Paul, who was fierce and commanding when he did deign to bring attention to Meg's mouth. But where Paul's touch elicited nothing but loathing, Meg felt herself begin to respond as Giselle's kiss continued.

When she felt Giselle's tongue trace the line of her lips before bolding pressing against her own, Meg jerked away with a gasp. “Don't!” she demanded, quaking. “That is not…that's not proper.”

Meg jumped to her feet and crossed halfway to the door before pausing. She didn't turn to face the woman sitting behind her, but for some reason she couldn't quite bring herself to stalk out of the room just yet.

“I'm sorry,” Giselle apologized. “I shouldn't have taken such liberties.”

“Victoria was your lover?” Meg asked. The question was bold and entirely improper, but considering what they'd just shared she figured she had the right to ask.

“Yes,” Giselle whispered, her voice pained.

“When was she…?”

“Just over a year ago.”

Meg closed her eyes. “And why me?”

She opened her eyes when the Frenchwoman chuckled. “There is fire between us. Do you not feel it?”

Frowning, Meg turned to face her. “You speak and act like a man,” she said. “Everything is passion and ambition with you.”

Giselle shrugged nonchalantly. “I am French,” she explained. “As a people we are in love with love.”

“In love with the idea of what you might possess,” Meg spat. “But once you have it, then what will you think of it?”

Giselle frowned. “I am not your husband, Meg,” she rebuked. “When I pursue someone, it is not because I desire to own her or to destroy her.”

“Then why?”

“Because I want her,” Giselle explained simply. Her forthrightness astonished Meg yet again.

“I am a married woman,” Meg said, jutting her chin out defiantly. “And you will be as well. If there actually is a man waiting for you in Birming.”

“You've realized by now that there is not,” Giselle told her. “I do not need a husband. I am wed with Destiny.”

Her accompanying laugh sounded bitter to Meg's ears. She realized with a jolt that with all of her finery and worldliness, Giselle was lonely. For a moment Meg wanted to go back to her, to comfort her. But that would only cause both of them more pain. When Giselle left Silver Springs, it would be without her. If Meg allowed herself to feel any closer to this spirited creature, she would be crushed when they were forced to separate.

“We cannot be alone together again,” Meg said. Giselle seemed so disappointed she knew she'd taken the proper course. “Please understand. Neither of us is in a position to make any promises to one another. There is little point in taking this further.”

To her surprise, Giselle nodded. “I will do as you ask,” she promised.

“Good. Now I have to get changed before I start preparing supper. If you would like a bath this evening, please consult Libby.”

“I will let Libby get her rest,” Giselle countered. “But I shall join the rest of you for supper.”

Meg shook her head at the gleam in the woman's eyes. “Exactly like a man,” she muttered to herself before turning and hurrying out of the room.

To be continued…

Part Two Back Part Four