A/N: I am touched by the number of people who have read this story who wish me to continue, so I have a small installment for my faithful reviewers who have not given up on me or the fic. Without the encouragement I am not sure it would have continued. So all I can say is thank you for reminding (or - an inordinate amount of nudging) me of how much enjoyment I gain not only from writing, but also from hearing from my readers.
But on with the story! Chapter Thirty Five: Possible Impossiblities
“Hi, Shadow-Man!” Buffy’s tone was bright and completely at odds with the dark scowl on her face.
She darted across the room to grab her robe, slipping it on as she threw a nearby towel to Rhys.
Doyle watched without expression, waiting for a response to his demand.
Completely without modesty, Rhys wandered nude into the room as he spoke, his casual movement at odds with the serious tone of his voice. “There was a reporter at the window of the furthest bay room on the north side of the building.”
“That shouldn’t be possible, Rhys, we’re warded against any intruders.”
Buffy, still thoroughly pissed off at being spied upon, waved her hands about somewhat viciously to punctuate her own comment. “That’s not the best of it, Shadow Man. Not only was our impossible intruder taking naughty photos, he also impossibly vanished from the grounds.”
A scowl on his face, Doyle paced the room.
Buffy watched his back and forth movement for close to a minute before she burst out angrily, “Damn it Doyle! I thought we were safe here!”
Halting mid stride, Doyle turned his fathomless black eyes to her, and spoke emotionlessly, “As did I, Slayer.” With that bleak statement, he stalked out of her room, tension nearly vibrating from him.
Rhys wrapped the towel around his waist and moved to stand behind Buffy, drawing her back to lean against his chest. “Well that went well, I think.” There was just the barest hint of reproach to the words.
Hearing the tone, Buffy sighed and Buffy murmured softly, “You’re right. I shouldn’t have gone that far. It’s not like he doesn’t stress enough about Merry’s safety already.” Buffy scrunched up her nose in disgruntlement. “Crap. I’m going to have to figure out some way to apologise.”
Rhys gave her a gentle squeeze. “C’mon. Let’s go find everyone else. I doubt this is going to be kept between us.”
Buffy sighed, guilt at her treatment of Doyle dampening her mood. “Okay, but first I think I want us both to find some clothes. I have a sudden need to be as covered as possible.” She turned and placed a finger over Rhys lips just as he opened them to speak. “Don’t say it. I know it’s like that saying it’s too late to close the gate once the cows are out, but I don’t care. Right now, I need to be clothed Buffy instead of naked Buffy.”
Lips twitching in humour at the complete mash up of the saying and finding the Buffy-speak quickly becoming another aspect of this woman he delighted in, Rhys subsided and nodded without comment.
Opening his arms reluctantly, he let Buffy leave his embrace, missing her warmth instantly. “As you wish, my sweet Slayer.”
The princess, with her guards and lovers sat in various positions around the large lounge area, and even the most insensitive of people would have caught the edge of tension which threaded through the atmosphere of the room.
Roarke padded quietly into the room in front of Buffy and Rhys, both of whom were well aware of the stress level as they walked in to find Doyle speaking to the room in general.
“So we have three possibilities. One: The possibility that there is an extremely powerful being out there with the ability to circumvent our wards or two: The wards have been compromised or three: the wards have a weakness to a specific kind of magic.”
Glancing around the room, Buffy could see expressionless masks on nearly all the faces of the guards. However, it was the bitterness in Merry’s eyes which pulled Buffy the most.
Without speaking Buffy moved around the room until she could stand in front of Merry, and waited for Merry’s gaze to meet her own. “I’m sorry.”
The words seemed to reach Merry through a fog. Shaking her head slightly to clear it, Merry frowned at Buffy. “What?”
Dropping to her knees, Buffy took one of Merry’s hands in her own and intertwined their fingers. Squeezing gently, she said, “I’m sorry.” Barely audible to human ears, Buffy whispered, “I’m sorry because… it is because of me that the badness has found you, touched you in this place,” Buffy gestured at their surrounds, “the one place you considered a haven.”
Merry blinked, the words she heard not making sense for a moment, and it took another minute for Merry to understand that Buffy truly believed her own words.
Buffy turned to look at Doyle, swallowing her pride as she did so. “I lost it upstairs Doyle and I had no right to speak to you like I did. I’m the Slayer. It’s my job to deal with this kind of evil.” She continued silently, I don’t know why I thought this time would be different.
As Doyle appeared momentarily speechless, and Merry also seemed incapable of words, Frost decided with a sudden surge of clarity that he would voice his previously unacknowledged thoughts. His words, though spoken quietly, were strangely passionate coming from the man who was usually reticent when it came to talking to anyone other than his princess and his captain.
“You are the Slayer, Buffy, and I do not have the knowledge to presume to understand all which that title entails, but here, in this place, you are more than that. And I will not watch you bury yourself under burdens which are not yours to shoulder. You being here is a blessing. You are not here to be the Slayer, and it is not for you alone to save the world.”
Then Frost did something which completely astounded those who had known him for centuries.
He reached out and pulled Buffy to her feet, in the process taking her hands between his own much larger ones. He waited until her eyes met his own, trapping her with the intensity of his silver gaze. “You bear no responsibility for the evil which hounds our princess. That claim lies with small minded sidhe and the insanity of those on or closest to the thrones of both courts.”
A single tear rolled down Buffy’s face, and Frost smiled gently at her, lowering her to sit next beside his princess. Hardly anyone noticed when Roarke crept up onto the sofa to curl against Buffy’s leg, much as they didn’t notice Kitto when he leant his head on Merry’s knee.
Rhys cleared his throat roughly, his single eye shining brightly. “Well said. Very well said, my friend.”
As Merry pulled Buffy into a tight embrace, both giving and receiving comfort from the action, her eyes met the astonished black gaze of Doyle’s. Frost’s insight and even more so, his eloquence, had staggered them both.
Frost let the moment settle for mere seconds before he returned to the business he considered more important than his uncharacteristic behaviour. “Do we have any way of tracing the reporter?”
Doyle nodded, appreciating Frost’s suggestion. “I will change form, see if there is any discernible scent that I can track, or at the very least, commit to memory.”
“I got a decent look at the man, I’ll see if I can’t work up a sketch of him.” Rhys stated, more than willing to do his part.
Buffy lifted her head from where it rested against Merry’s shoulder. “I’ll help you with that. I didn’t see him, but I can draw.” She needed to do something, and she didn't think her chances of going outside to hunt with Doyle were particularly good.
Nodding sharply, Doyle said briskly, “I’ll take Usna with me, and Galen. Everybody else stays in the house.” He exchanged a silent, but meaningful look with Frost. One which stated with absolute clarity that Merry was not to be left alone.
With an imperceptible nod, Frost acknowledged the command. He would have to be dead to allow any harm to befall the woman he loved, his princess and future queen.
As Doyle left with Galen and Usna, Rhys took Abe and Amatheon with him as he searched for pencils and a sketchbook.
Buffy looked at Frost curiously. “Frost, I have a question for you that may be out of line, if it is feel free to tell me to mind my own business.”
Moving so that he could observe all the windows in the room and still converse with Buffy, Frost inclined his head arrogantly, but not intentionally so. “I make no promises that I will answer.”
Taking that as permission, however unenthusiastic, Buffy took a deep breath and asked, “Do you true dream of the future? See the possible paths ahead?”
Inhaling sharply, that pale grey gaze flickered to frosted silver for barely a moment, before it returned to assessing the windows in the room.
Growling, Doyle scuffed at the grass and dirt with one large paw, trying to find something, anything, which would help him to protect the people he loved. He had been meticulously covering every inch of the mansion grounds, a slow and tedious process. A process made all the more frustrating by the fact he had nothing to show, no new knowledge he could offer as a result of his efforts.
Not a trace of any being other than those that lived in the mansion. And it was that single thought which made time stand still.
Doyle froze mid motion as he made rapid mental calculations and an involuntary snarl was ripped from his canine throat. Traitor.