Roz Kaveney (rozk) wrote,
Roz Kaveney
rozk

More fiction, then...

This is not the next episode of Dawn in New York as it happens, because I needed to fit in between Dawn in Rome and its sequel, two shorter stories in this notional post-NFA sequence. One of these is Hell and the other is this one, which I started ages ago and never got round to finishing, because it is an odd combination of power-games and meta and vaguely heterosexual interactions between another of my improbable couples. But it fits in at this point, and I got round to tinkering with it.

So here it is; Mutant Enemy's stuff, not mine, usual considerations apply.


EARNEST

She was sitting, elegantly, at his antique walnut desk when Rupert entered his office.

'Wells', he shouted back over his shoulder. 'Why do we have a visitor?'

His assistant poked his tousled head round the door.

'Gosh,' Andrew said, in that implausible accent he had acquired somewhere over Newfoundland.'So we do. I mean, I don't know why, Mr Giles. I checked the security spell only last night.'

The mysterious woman smiled patronisingly, then pursed her lips and blew a perfectly oval smoke ring. Rupert noticed with mild alarm that a second ring emerged perkily from under the scarf around her throat and chased the other around the room.

She was acting as if she owned the place. Rupert walked across the room to the larger of the two comfortable leather armchairs with the confidence of a man who actually did.

'Company intelligence,' she said, 'told me that you had a pretty young assistant. I supposed, with the pick of the world's Slayers...Obviously, I misled myself.'

To Rupert's mild annoyance, Andrew was blushing. The boy had no sense of how to stop people gaining a tactical advantage.

It was flattering in an irritating way that he appeared to have become the target of Andrew's endlessly wandering fancy - the boy was personable in his way and at least it meant that Rupert did not have to worry about his haring off to Africa after Harris.

He had performed creditably enough in Rome, true, but with more courage than sense, an additional burden for Buffy and her sister.

Given Andrew's past, always best to keep him under observation, Rupert thought. And yes, quite ornamental in his way.

' And you are?', Rupert said.

'Morgan,' she said, brushing a stray lock from her forehead. 'Lilah Morgan'

'That would be the late Lilah Morgan, I take it.'

'Indeed.', she said.

'This would be about the recent unpleasantness in Los Angeles... Are you here on behalf of your satanic employers? Because I cannot see that the renewed Watcher's Council has anything to say to you.'

'Well,' she said, with a smile that showed an improbable number of perfect teeth.'The "renewed"' - she made air quotes in a way that was obviously a joke intended to vex him - 'Council might wish it did not have to, but our London office appears to have acted for a number of your late colleagues. Quentin Travers' will alone is of a complexity that could keep you and me in conference for weeks at a time. I was telling him so, only the other day.'

Rupert realized that on the one hand he was getting a dull headache from her remorselessly sardonic cheerfulness, and that, on the other, she was rather more ornamental than Andrew, even if far more evil.

'But yes,' she said, ' Los Angeles.'

' I gather in spite of my suspicions,' Rupert said, ' that Angel and his associates betrayed your employers quite effectively in the end.'

'A temporary set-back,' she said. ' Made slightly worse by heavy-handed over-reaction from middle management.'

She smiled even more broadly.

'In fact,' she said, 'it led to a quite radical shake-up. Leaders have, after all, to be held accountable for the excesses of their minions. Some may see it as a question of good and evil, but I have always tended to think in terms of fiscal prudence as the ultimate consideration.'

'Ah yes,' Rupert said. 'Summoning a dragon will have put a crimp in the quarter's accounts'.

'Tell me about it,' Lilah said. 'From people who kept me warming my toes in Hell most of last year purely as part of an economy drive...Not bitter, of course - it meant I got to catch up on my reading.'

'Ah, the circle of those stuck halfway through Proust? How interestingly unDantesque.'

' I wasn't reading books,' she said. 'I was working through the hundreds of volumes that make up the Sunnydale file.'

'Really,' Rupert said.

'I was very impressed,' she went on,' at just what a cold-blooded manipulator of the young and innocent you have spent the last decade being. I admire that in a man.'

Rupert was used to the speed with which vampires could move. The dead travel fast, he noted with scholarly interest, as she stood, crossed the room and sat on the arm of his chair with a firm gentle hand on his shoulder so quickly and with such boneless grace that it was almost as if time slowed as she moved through it.

'We really could have a lot to talk about' she said, as he twisted his neck around uncomfortably to look at her. 'We have, after all, a number of things in common. But that is for later, and not why I am here.'

He waited.

'I appear,' she said, ' to be Wesley's executor.'

Rupert waited some more.

'Can you imagine,' Lilah said,' how much paperwork it takes to be someone's executor when already dead yourself. Wesley can be so inconsiderate.'

'I always found him overattentive to other people's needs,' Rupert said.

'Ah, yes,' Lilah said, allowing herself to slip off the arm of the chair and into his lap 'And the context in which you found this would presumably be one of the things we have in common.'

'I'm sure I don't know what you mean,' Rupert said as she squirmed against his thigh. 'And what else could we possibly have in common?'

'Oh,' Lilah said, 'I think you'll find we've both been fucked by Angel - true, in my case, someone else was allegedly in his body, and in yours he was allegedly being Angelus at the time. But the experience remains broadly the same - a surprising amount of weight pressing down on you with little finesse or pleasure in the equation.'

Rupert was irresistably reminded of the worst quarter of an hour of his life. She really was good at putting you at a disadvantage.

He reached up with his maimed left hand and stroked her cheek, making sure that she felt his largest scar against her cold flesh.

She looked down at him with a patronizing respect and turned slightly, leaning her face firmly into his hand, so that he felt her gum and teeth behind the lip that suddenly pecked delicately at him.

'Your intelligence reports,' he said,' are remarkably good. I don't recall ever mentioning it to anyone and I can't imagine Angel...'

'Drusilla performed a task for us, at one point,' Lilah said, stroking his hair with her hand 'And she can be surrealistically garrulous if you slip her a little cognac in her blood. She has sharp little teeth, but I guess you never got the benefit of those.'

'Luckily not,' Rupert said. ' Having her rape my mind was quite intrusion enough.'

'We'll agree not to count her, then,' Lilah said. 'Unless we need to keep numbers up. Faith? She had me up against a wire fence once. Quite a thrilling experience.'

Rupert looked at her disapprovingly. '

'Professional ethics,' he said. 'I was, after all, the child's watcher.'

'I always forget this about good people,' Lilah said. 'Some of you aren't straightforwardly hypocrites, are you?'

Rupert relaxed a second, knowing as he did that it was a mistake.

'I'm sure you thought about it,' she said.

And smiled when he found himself blushing.

'Ah,' she went on. 'That's why you put her in the cheap motel. '

'I don't know what you mean,' Rupert said, knowing that it was another mistake.

'You couldn't lodge her with the Summers girl, because that was always going to end badly. You couldn't have her in your own home, either. Too much risk on nights when you'd been at the whisky of her tapping at your door.'

Rupert really needed this awful woman out of his room and gone.

'Yes,' she said. 'You thought about it.'

She stroked his hair a little more.

'And then,' she said, 'there was Wesley. Sweet bland biddable Wesley as he must have been before Angel broke him and made him interesting. Did your professional ethics' - she said the words with refined malice - 'keep you from taking an advantage there too?'

Rupert reached up, and quietly removed the hand from his hair. He kissed each of its fingers and then held it with a firmness that just came short of the infliction of pain, with one of his fingertips poised at just that point between the base of the thumb and the knob of the wristbone which can be excruciating without difficulty.

'Wesley?', he said. 'No. I thought of it, as who would not?'

She looked a little sceptical.

'I had lost my authority,' Rupert said. 'The Council had dismissed me. I had had a pleasant but regrettable moment with my Slayer's mother. Of course I could have seduced Wesley and made him my pawn, but I would have risked losing too much else. The respect of Buffy and her followers, for one thing; they were far too young to understand.'

Lilah Morgan smiled.

'So,' she said. 'You are prepared at least to think about following your fancy where pragmatism dictates. Particularly' - and she shook his hand off with surprising ease and cupped his face with a firmness that at least equalled his, and involved far sharper nails - 'now that you can consult your own desires rather than those of petulant children.'

'And why, Ms Morgan.' Rupert said. 'Why should pragmatism dictate any sordid little intrigue?'

'Because you are one of the heads of this new Council,' she said, ' and I have acquired some little influence of my own.'

Rupert thought for a second, and then shook his head very slowly.

'Detente,' he said. 'An element of detente might be acceptable. I could not, though, ask Buffy and Willow to accept such an arrangement on such a basis.'

Lilah shrugged.

'That is what Wesley said you would say.'

'I thought you were here as his executor,' Rupert said.

'Oh,' Lilah said,' only in the sense that my interest in detente is his legacy.'

She looked wistful.

'I rather enjoy war, myself,' she said. 'It involves so much less thought and talking. But Wesley, ah Wesley - he is my counsel in all things, and my one true love who is loyal to another - and I am the slave of his wishes, though my lust' - she hissed the word through her teeth with a smile that was almost a snarl- 'is as ever my own.'

Suddenly she was all business.

'We will meet again, Watcher,' she said. 'And perhaps you will have occasion to change your mind and perhaps I will let you.'

She stood up and moved to the door, clearly about to leave, but not through it.

'Detente then,' she said, 'and a gift to prove our good faith.'

'I have no gift for you,' he said.

'Don't be foolish,' she said. 'I don't receive gifts, except from lovers. I take what I need to use when I need it.'

'My gift,' she added, ' is not a useful one.'

With which, she vanished. The Council really could do with better security, Rupert reflected.

A moment later, Andrew burst into the room, too flustered to speak.

He dragged Rupert into the outer office where three large sacks were oozing a fluid too purple to be blood of any ordinary beast.

The carpet is never going to recover, Rupert thought.

Andrew pulled protective gauntlets from a drawer of his desk, and went rummaging with little cries of disgust.

Rupert knew what he would find, the one earnest of Lilah's good faith in which he and the Council would have to believe.

The hacked-off heads of a wolf, a ram and a hart.
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