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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 Five

Miss Reginald glared at Meg angrily. "Give me that," she hissed. Striding across the room, she snatched the journal out of Meg's hands. "This is my property. How dare you look through my personal belongings?"

Her gaze drifted over Meg's shoulder toward the closed trunk on the other side of the bed. Meg forced herself to maintain her bland expression and not reveal her knowledge of the situation.

"What test?" Meg repeated. "What monstrous task will you force Giselle to perform?"

Martha stared at her as though she were crazed. "I'm sure I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about," she said.

Rolling her eyes, Meg retorted, "Please. I know all about Giselle being the Slayer. My girl Libby and I were set upon just the other afternoon."

"And Giselle simply volunteered this information to you?" Martha wondered.

"She has no idea what's going on," Meg continued. "You've kept your plan a secret from her. Is this your way of getting revenge?"

She made sure not to mention the fact that she'd witnessed Martha doctoring Giselle's tea. If the Englishwoman knew she'd replaced the concoction with water, she might find her way to a fresh batch. Meg guessed that the effects of this liquid would wear off eventually, just as it had slowly increased in potency over the course of two days.

"Revenge?" Martha scoffed. "Whatever for?"

"Giselle was chosen. You merely watch from the sidelines."

To her surprise, Martha started laughing. "You think I am jealous of Giselle's abilities?" she wondered. Amused, she added, "I take my duties as Watcher very seriously, young lady. My father's family has been a part of the Watcher's Council for the past two centuries. I never anticipated any other vocation."

"So you don't want to be a Slayer," Meg mused.

"I cannot be a Slayer," Martha corrected. "I have not even the potential of one day being called."

"What is the test?" Meg asked.

Giving her a stern look, Miss Reginald carefully placed her journal in a dresser drawer before turning to face Meg once more. "A Slayer is called by the age of sixteen," she explained. "The duty is both sacred and dangerous. If she is able to survive her first two years, she must pass one final test of her abilities. She must face a single opponent without the benefits of her strength or her skills. She must defeat this opponent alone. If she survives, she has proven her abilities beyond a shadow of a doubt."

"If she survives?" Meg sputtered. "What sort of barbaric test is that?"

Martha frowned. "If you cared to read the earlier portions of my journal, you would have realized that Giselle has faced for more dangerous creatures than a single vampire. When she was chosen, the particular perils of her duty were made very clear to her. Giselle understands that she will likely not reach the age of twenty. This is a burden she must bear. She has no other choice.

"Now if you please, Mrs. Glass. This is truly none of your business. I have attempted to make the importance of these circumstances very clear to you only so that you will allow me to perform my duty as Giselle's Watcher. You must not tell Miss Arceneaux about the test. It will invalidate the proceedings and may jeopardize her relationship with the Council."

"That was a pretty speech," Meg commented. "But it doesn't change the fact that you are sending your friend to her death. I hope you can live with that."

Meg stalked out of the room before Martha had an opportunity to reply. She felt a responsibility to tell Giselle what she'd discovered, but couldn't help but wonder what that might do to her future. Giselle had to face these people—she had to be able to interact with them. At some level, Meg already understood that even though she wasn't entirely clear what a Watcher's Council actually was. If she told Giselle about the test, and invalidated the proceedings as Martha said, what if Giselle would lose her powers? Would the Frenchwoman forgive her for that betrayal?

Shaking her head, Meg hurried toward the opposite end of the hallway. Libby was still busy cleaning Mr. Weeks's room. Quickly entering his quarters, Meg closed the door behind her. Libby glanced up from her chores. Expertly smoothing the corners of the bed-sheet, she sent Meg a quizzical look.

"I have to tell you something," Meg said, her voice hushed. "You can't tell anyone else. But I need help, and you're the only one that I trust."

Standing straight, Libby's brow cleared as she smiled broadly and nodded.

* * *

For the next two days, Meg kept herself busy. She was never a good liar, and she knew that if she spent any time alone with Giselle she'd have no choice but to reveal the secret to her. It was her hope that Martha intended to drag out her preparations for several more days. That should give Giselle the time to begin recovering from whatever drug she'd ingested. Perhaps her strength would be back before the test was to commence.

In the meantime, she had Libby listening to everything that Martha said. As she assumed, the Englishwoman barely gave the serving girl any mind. Servants were invisible—not worth an iota of attention or concern. She would be much freer with her words than she would have been if Meg were in the room.

After dinner one quiet afternoon, Meg was busy washing dishes when Libby hurried into the kitchen. Out of breath, the small woman only shook her head when Meg turned to hear what she had to say. When she finally calmed down, Libby said, "Miss Reginald is taking her to see the ice floes this evening."

"The ice floes," Meg repeated.

Although January was the darkest month of the year, the large lake would not entirely freeze over until February at the earliest. And as that winter had been relatively mild, the lake had yet to form a solid layer of ice at all. In consequence, it was a very dangerous time of year to venture out onto the water. When the floes were more stable a person could traverse the lake on foot, jumping from piece to piece without much fear of the ice suddenly falling out beneath him. But at this time of year, Meg wouldn't recommend anyone go out there, let alone someone without any experience.

"That's the test," she whispered to herself. Libby cocked her head in confusion. "Survive the vampire, and the ice. Or use the ice against the vampire." Meg shook her head. "Either way, I fear the environment is as important a part of this challenge as the enemy himself."

"What should we do?" Libby asked.

"We won't do anything," Meg said sternly. "I, however, will follow them out to the lake tonight. We'll have to send our provisions on ahead. There's a boathouse near the docks on the eastern shore—that's as good a place as any."

Libby was crestfallen. Sighing, Meg explained, "I won't put you in danger. You've already helped me so much. I couldn't have done this without you."

Her flattery managed to appease the other woman. "Mr. Weeks might accompany me to the boathouse this afternoon," she offered.

"Why don't you ask Charles Wright?" Meg asked. "He'd planned on taking a few men out to ground the boats. I'd feel much safer if you had more than one chaperone."

"You are very brave, to try and help a new friend," Libby said.

Meg snorted. "I'm stupid," she argued. "For once, I think Paul is right. But it's true. Giselle is my friend, and I'm not about to let her go into a dangerous situation on her own. You should go on ahead, now. I want you safe in this house by five o'clock."

Nodding, Libby bustled out of the room. Meg returned her attention to the dishes. It was difficult, maintaining this monotonous routine while there was so much to be done. But there was little else for her to do until tonight.

"There you are," a familiar voice chirped behind her.

Meg dropped a plate into the water and twisted around in surprise. "Giselle," she said.

The blonde woman leaned against the doorframe, her arms crossed before her chest. "I think you are avoiding me," she said.

Meg smiled. "You're stronger now," she said.

Shrugging, Giselle dropped her arms and took several steps into the room. "A little," she agreed. "I'm not back to my full capabilities, but I'm finally mending."

"Good," Meg responded. "I thought you needed a rest."

"Is that why I haven't seen you for two days?" Giselle smiled. "I thought perhaps you didn't like me anymore."

She was joking, but Meg spotted a glint of uncertainty in her eyes. Drying her hands on her apron, Meg shook her head. "No," she said. "That will never happen."

"Good," Giselle echoed. "I'll have to work this evening, but I was thinking we should have a late supper tomorrow night. After the guests have retired?"

"I think that would be wonderful," Meg agreed. Standing before Giselle, she was suddenly struck with guilt over the secret she'd been keeping. She opened her mouth to say something more when Miss Reginald breezed into the kitchen.

"Miss Arceneaux," she said sharply. "You were supposed to be napping."

"Oh, Martha," Giselle sighed. "I am merely expressing my gratitude for the lovely dinner today."

"I'm sure Mrs. Glass is very happy to know you've appreciated the meal," Martha spoke. Her stern gaze fell upon Meg before sweeping appraisingly across her charge's face. "Now shall I accompany you upstairs?"

Nodding, Giselle cast one more smile in Meg's direction before allowing herself to be taken by the elbow and lead out of the room. Meg sighed after they were gone. She could have ended the charade in an instant. Now she'd have to fulfill her responsibilities in a much more dangerous way. She clenched her hands into fists. Giselle wasn't the only one who'd be tested that evening.

* * *

Meg was just creeping down the back stairs when she was stopped by her husband's drunken shouts. He staggered out of the kitchen, his dark hair flaring around his head like an unkempt halo.

"Where is that wench?" he demanded.

Staying in the shadows, Meg responded, "Whom do you mean?"

She feared he would notice that she was wearing his clothing. Thankfully he was far too gone to even pay attention.

"Libby!" he snapped. "I'm hungry."

"Isn't she upstairs in her room?" Meg asked. The faint stirrings of alarm lazily circled her belly. She hadn't seen the woman since early afternoon.

"I came down here looking for her," he muttered. "Fat cow isn't anywhere to be found. I want something to eat."

"I'll make you something," Meg assured. "As soon as I come back."

"Where are you going?" he asked suspiciously.

Meg waved toward the back door, in the direction of the outhouses. He merely grunted in response and stumbled into the kitchen once more. Breathing deeply, Meg clutched the wooden cross in her hand. She wanted to run upstairs and make sure Libby had returned, but she was afraid she'd lose Giselle and Martha. Sending a quick prayer to her friend's safety, she continued down the stairs and hurried outside.

She was met by no one as she raced toward the lake. Reaching the boathouse, Meg quickly gazed across the quiet water. She couldn't see anyone on the ice, but did note a pair of footprints heading west along the shore. They'd be easy enough to follow. She ducked inside the boathouse in order to prepare.

Though there was one small window in the rear of the small building, the darkness inside was nearly complete. Meg cast about for the items Libby had left behind. When her hands fell upon the metal pail, she jerked them back as though they'd been burned. It wouldn't do to spill the contents before they needed them. Finally, she found the lantern she'd been looking for.

Well accustomed to darkness, Meg easily lit the lantern with the matches she'd stashed in her pocket. On the floor before her lay their battered gray milk-pail, a length of rope, and several sharpened pieces of wood. As she knelt to retrieve the objects, she heard a faint flutter of movement to her right.

Meg automatically raised the cross as she flung herself back against the wall. The creature standing in the shadows hissed ineffectually at her, his yellow eyes gleaming.

"What are you doing here?" Meg demanded.

Bartlett shrugged. "Saw your girl here earlier," he said. "I figured someone would be along again shortly."

"What did you do to Libby?" Meg asked.

Bartlett smiled and shook his head. "Didn't do a thing," he assured her. "Didn't have to. Deed's already been done."

Meg frowned. "What are you babbling about?"

"This is a big night for the Slayer," he said. "And her Watcher. Every hunter knows…in order to lure your prey, you've got to have bait."

As his meaning dawned on her, Meg's eyes widened in horror. "Martha took her. But why are you here instead of chasing after Giselle?"

He laughed. "You think I'm the one they wanted?" he asked. "Honey, I'm just a little fish in a big pond. The Watchers have their sights on a much bigger prize."

"Oh, God," Meg gasped. "You were just pretending, weren't you? Renato's been here the whole time. And Martha knew it."

"The redhead's smart," Bartlett said to no one in particular.

When he took a step toward her, Meg raised the cross even higher. "You stay right where you are," she ordered. "I'm going after them. I suggest you stay out of the way."

He shook his head at her. "You're not the Slayer," he said. "You don't stand a chance. That doesn't mean I won't enjoy watching."

Meg knew he'd let her go. The biggest show was further along the lake. To take her now wouldn't be any fun for him. Leaning forward to grab her provisions, she raced out of the boathouse. Using the lantern to light her way, she followed the footprints the women had left behind and silently cursed Martha.

* * *

The Watcher woman was the first person Meg saw as she hurried along the shoreline. The lantern bounced against her legs on her right side and the contents of the pail sloshed dangerously on her left. She was careful not to spill the precious liquid as she ran.

When Martha turned to face her, Meg quickly lowered her burden to the ground and continued her approach. The older woman raised her hands to ward her off. But Meg was fueled by rage at that point, and as she pounced, Martha lost her balance to go sprawling back into the snow.

"You bitch," Meg snarled. She managed to throw one punch. Her fist crashed into the Watcher woman's jaw just as Martha grabbed her by the wrists and threw her off.

The Watcher was much stronger than she thought. Meg could feel it in her sturdy grip. Not many women were able to toss other people around without any leverage. Sitting back in the snow, Meg fought to catch her breath.

"Where is Libby?" she demanded.

"Mrs. Glass?" a quiet voice murmured in the darkness.

Meg lurched to her feet. She hadn't even noticed the other figure huddled against the snow. Libby had a blanket thrown across her shoulders to ward off the chill. She didn't appear to be any worse for wear. After quickly ascertaining that her friend was uninjured, Meg returned her attention to the Watcher. Martha stood nearby, watching them warily.

"You left Libby out here on her own, and then had Bartlett lure his master here," Meg accused. "The Watcher's Council is so honorable to make deals with vampires."

Martha shook her head. "You should not have gotten involved in this," she hissed. "It's almost over now."

Meg followed her gaze across the ice. She took a deep breath when she realized that Giselle was out amongst the sheets of floating ice that barely covered the frigid water. As she watched, a large figure leapt from one ice floe to another. He landed near Giselle and nearly dislodged her from her perch as the ice wavered dangerously under his weight.

"Renato," Meg breathed. It was difficult to see so far in the distance, but she'd wondered what a centuries old vampire looked like.

The two figures struggled for several moments before the larger suddenly flew backwards. He just barely caught himself before sliding into the water.

"She is doing very well," Martha said, her voice bright with pride.

"Much better since the drugs are nearly out of her system," Meg spat.

Martha turned on her in surprise. "What have you done?"

Meg clenched her hands into fists. "You are the most evil person I have ever met," she avowed. "Not even Paul could match your duplicity."

"These are the standards of the test," Martha snarled. "It has been so for a thousand years. How dare you meddle in something that is none of your concern?"

"Giselle is my concern," Meg returned. "You are supposed to be her friend."

"Friend?" Martha laughed. "It is not my place to be her friend. My duty is to prepare her for the struggles ahead. And that is what I'm doing."

"Meg!" Libby cried.

The girl's use of her Christian name made Meg stop in surprise. Staring out across the ice, she saw the large vampire standing very still at the edge of an ice floe. In the darkness he suddenly seemed less corporeal, less solid. Meg realized that Giselle had managed to kill him. Her heart rose gratefully in her chest.

But before the master vampire vanished forever, he managed to turn toward Giselle, who still stood nearby. Meg couldn't see exactly what happened, but suddenly the Slayer lurched backwards sharply. The shove was powerful enough to send her spinning across the ice. Giselle teetered on the edge of the ice floe for one eternal instant before plunging over the side and disappearing into the water.

* * *

Stunned, Meg fell to her knees. Staring at the spot where Giselle had fallen, she silently willed her lover to break the surface. But so much time had passed. There was no way she'd survive this long. Martha continued to make her way across the ice floes, trying to reach her Slayer. Meg didn't much care whether the woman made it or not. In her eyes, this was all Martha's fault.

Libby gasped at her side, and Meg became aware of masculine laughter sounding behind them. Slowly turning, she saw Bartlett standing nearby.

"I couldn't have planned this any better," he crowed. "Two birds, one stone."

As he turned his attention to them, his face shifted into its vampiric form. "And now for dessert."

"Libby," Meg murmured. "The pail."

The woman hesitated in confusion until Meg gestured beside them. Finally understanding, Libby grasped the handle and lifted the pail out of the snow. Bartlett stared at her in amusement.

"What will you do, little bird—" he started, then halted when she threw the pail's contents on him. He froze in place a moment, fearful, until he realized that nothing was happening. "That's not holy water," he scoffed.

Meg rose to her feet, her lantern in hand. She watched as his brain finally caught up with his nose and he recognized the scent of the liquid covering him.

"I know," she replied, then threw the lantern against his body.

The glass shattered and he was engulfed in a matter of moments. Screaming, Bartlett frantically batted at the flames. But the kerosene did its job. He didn't have the opportunity to extinguish the fire. A moment later, he burst into a fiery dust cloud.

Libby stared at the dying embers in amazement. "It worked," she said.

"Yes," Meg replied mournfully. "But too late."

Libby turned to watch Martha continue her bitter path across the ice. She suddenly gasped and pointed. "Look," she urged, pulling Meg's arm.

Following her gaze, Meg saw something pale floating in the water near the shoreline. "My God," she whispered. "Call Martha back."

"Mrs. Glass?" Libby asked in confusion.

"Call Martha back and tell her to run for help," Meg elaborated. She squeezed Libby's arm. "Do not tell her anything else."

Understanding at last, Libby nodded and hurried out onto the ice. As Meg stared at the body of her lover beneath the water, she resisted the urge to jump in after her. Long before her mother met her father and journeyed with him to the Alaskan frontier, she'd worked alongside her own mother as a midwife in New England. Far from merely delivering babies, local midwives served as medical practitioners for rural villages.

She'd told Meg once of the man they dragged out of a frozen river. How Meg's grandmother had massaged the water from his lungs and urged his heart to beat again. How he'd been dead for nearly an hour when he'd been revived. The water had protected him, she'd explained to young Meg. It was so cold that his body was protected from damage. As long as the victim wasn't exposed for too long, there was a chance to bring him back. Meg could only pray that she had her mother's strength tonight.

* * *

March 15, 1897

The fog finally lifted as they approached the shoreline. Leaning over the balustrade, Meg gasped when she saw the gray clouds part to reveal the San Francisco shoreline. The city was far more massive than she'd ever imagine. And so modern—she'd never seen such a sophisticated community.

"It's wonderful," Meg shouted over the wind.

Beside her, a blonde woman clutched her hat to her head. "I told you," she replied. "Just wait until we land. Then you'll really see what this city is all about."

Meg quickly threw her arms around her lover's waist. Her giddiness was shared by the other passengers, who also gaped at the metropolis ahead of them. Several of those standing nearby smiled at them, clearly assuming the two women to be related somehow.

"You're free," Meg told her.

"Free," Giselle agreed.

Meg reached into the folds of her skirt to retrieve her most recent correspondence with Mr. Weeks. According to him, Martha Reginald had returned to England, claiming to have pressing business there. Giselle assumed this meant that another Slayer had been called—that her death, no matter how brief, had been enough to pass the duties on to the next girl.

"I wonder where she is," Meg had wondered at the time. "The new Slayer."

Giselle had utilized her all-purpose casual shrug. "It is no longer my concern," she'd replied.

The Frenchwoman pretended to be unscathed by her Watcher's betrayal, but Meg knew that her silence on the subject spoke volumes. Even if the Council had performed this test for a thousand years as Martha claimed, it didn't change the fact that it was barbaric, and rather inhuman. But Giselle refused to speak about it further. To her mind, Martha Reginald was no longer an appropriate topic of discussion.

Now, as the ship began to dock, Giselle turned to Meg and commented, "You never mentioned what Mr. Weeks had to say about Paul."

It was Meg's turn to shrug. "He wasn't able to keep up with maintenance and the other chores. He had to sell the house."

Giselle chuckled. "He likely had several debts to repay," she mused. "Now that he no longer has your piggybank beneath the floorboards to cover his drinking habits."

Meg stared across the water. This was just the first of many future destinations, according to Giselle. The Frenchwoman promised to show her the world. Although her official duties had ended, Giselle still maintained the strength and purpose she'd once had. While Meg knew Giselle truly wanted her to see the great cities of the world, she understood that the blonde woman was still driven by the same desires. Giselle hunted nearly every night, and was as adept at killing vampires as she'd ever been. There would never be a time when she was comfortable leaving the fight in the hands of other Slayers.

"Mrs. Glass?" a timid voice asked at Meg's elbow.

Glancing to her left, Meg smiled when she saw that Libby had finally ventured out of their cabin. "Come to see the view at last?" she asked.

"This is San Francisco?" Libby wondered. When they both nodded, she sniffed dismissively. "I thought it would be bigger."

Meg took her friend's hand in her left, and draped her right arm about Giselle's waist. "It's just the beginning," she promised them.

The End

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