Four Corners The Standish Saloon
Inez Recillos watched the proceedings with a sigh, wishing that her employers son would finish his game and leave. She wanted to close up for the night but it was extremely bad manners to do so when her last customers of the night were engaged in a rather intense game of poker. A few others had remained to watch the proceedings with her but the majority of the taverns clientele had staggered home for the evening. It was not as if she was unaccustomed to late nights herself but there was something odd about the opponent that Ezra Standish was playing. The manner in which he stared across the table at Ezra was unnerving, even to one who was watching it from a distance away. She wondered how Ezra could stand it.
"How much longer do you think hes gonna last?" Vin Tanner, one of the peacekeepers in the town of Four Corners, inquired of Inez as he looked over his shoulder from the counter.
"Knowing Ezra," Chris Larabee shrugged. "Who knows? Although it looks like the Englishman might give him a run for his money."
"Not a chance," Inez said confidently, "Ezra plays to win and if thought hed lose he would not be taking this all the way."
Neither man chose to question the lady since she was had been privy to Ezras all night sessions more than they were lately. Since becoming the manager of the Standish Tavern, Inez had plenty of opportunity to observe the gambler in action and if there was one thing that either Chris or Vin was not about to refute, it was a womans intuition.
Ezra Standish had no difficulty playing under the intense gaze of his opponent. As a professional gambler, he had learnt to become indifferent to scowls and daggers thrown in his direction during a game and distraction, like skill was all a part of the play. He could not deny that he enjoyed playing cards with the Englishman called William Marsden, although he had a great deal of difficulty reading him as easily as he did previous opponents. There was something in the eyes that seemed predatory and a great deal like Chris Larabees but it was hard to equate anything so dark with the pale young man in his eastern clothes and his refined accent.
William and his companions had arrived in town less than a week ago and had caused a stir of gossip throughout the community from the moment they arrived. Ezra himself had to admit he was curious while Chris merely took a cautious view of them as he would with any strangers. Williams companions, a rather ethereal beauty named Drusilla was absent tonight but when they were together, mostly in the evenings, they were inseparable. It was thought that they were rich aristocrats from abroad, living the high life with behavior that seemed very much the stock of the indolent rich. With William and his lady were another couple, a dark broody Irishman who gave Chris a run for his money in the tall, dark and mysterious department and an incredibly gorgeous golden haired beauty that had Buck Wilmington salivating at the sight of her.
They seemed pleasant enough, carousing to all hours of the night which explained why they slept half the day away and only seemed to emerged when the sun had dipped into the horizon. They enjoyed doing the rounds of the saloons in Four Corners and there were trips to Eagle Bend and Bitter Creek where they apparently soaked in the local color there. After a few days, the novelty of their presence seemed to fade and Chris had muttered something about them probably being on their way when they were got bored with things around here. On this occasion, the older couple had gone to watch a troop of actors performing in Bitter Creek. Josiah Sanchez had taken Buck Wilmington and JD Dunne with him to watch the same show. Ezra had no taste for watching Marlowe being performed badly so he had opted to remain in town choosing to spend the night at the tables.
He was surprised when William joined the table where he was holding court with a number of local opponents.. Ezra supposed those who traveled the continent with nothing to do but enjoying the delights of high society would be familiar with the game and the chance to play with a capable opponent was welcomed. That was almost four hours ago and since then the process of fiscal elimination had chased off the others at the table and after Williams lady friend had retired for the night, it was just the two of them. He had to confess he had not engaged in such a challenging game for quite some time and he enjoyed every second of it. However, a quick glance at Inezs directions told him that the lady was waiting for them to finish and he took pity on her by deciding that it was time to make a play where winner would take all. William had not shirked from this prospect and even seemed pleased at the risk. His full lips curling into a little smile when Ezra made the suggestion.
"I must commend your skill Mr. Marsden," Ezra remarked.
"Spike." He said shortly.
"Spike?" Ezra raised his brow over the edge of his cards. "As in railroad?"
A little smile crossed Williams face, as if he was enjoying some tremendous joke that Ezra was not privy to. "Something like that."
"As I was saying Spike", I have enjoyed this game. In my line of work, its unusual for me to come across a worthy opponent but I must say youve been one of the most challenging in a while." Ezra responded. "However, I am tired and I think its time to draw the night to a close."
"You have some unfinished business," William the Bloody pointed out, sitting up straight in his chair. "You cant leave the table unless you finish the game."
"Im afraid I can," Ezra smiled sweetly and laid down his cards, revealing a perfect Royal Flush. "And I dont intent to leave empty handed."
Williams eyes flashed in anger and outrage, a thousand different emotions surfaces and disappeared from his eyes in a fraction of a second. His jaw tightened as if he had not anticipated losing and did not at all like it. He raised his eyes to Ezra and the gambler was somewhat taken back by the fury he saw there. For a second, Ezra thought he might attack and braced himself for a fight but then the expression faded away from his opponents face and William leaned back into his chair, letting his cards fall onto the table in a gesture of concession.
"Well played," he commended. "I didnt see it coming at all."
"Its what I do," Ezra returned smoothly, unable to forget that look in Williams eyes and was now on guard for trouble. He hoped it would not turn ugly especially when he looked forward to playing the young man again. "You did however, remind me how important it is to keep ones skill sharply honed. It could have gone the other way."
"Im sure it could," William said politely and rose to his feet. "I think I shall call it a night. Congratulations on your win," his voice was almost mischievous.
Ezra began to wonder what the man found so amusing. He would have asked but he was more grateful that William had chosen to lose gratefully and not have the evening end with violence so he refrained from asking. "Thank you and I hope we will do this again."
"We will play again," William smiled as he turned away. "You can be assured of that."
Ezra watched him go, feeling the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end as he left. His instincts screamed caution at him but for the life of him he could not understand why. William Marsden did not look particularly threatening but Ezra still felt something cold had run down his spine at the mention of the mans last remark. Once he had gone, Ezra went back to the business of collecting his money from the table, unable to shake that uneasy feeling that had been engendered by the Englishman.
"You havent lost your touch," Vin remarked as he approached the gambler at his table.
"I was unaware that that was ever in doubt," Ezra retorted.
"I dont know," Chris teased. "It looked pretty close for awhile there."
"To the amateur, perhaps." Ezra gave them both a confident smirk. "However, I always had things in hand."
"Sure you did," Chris said skeptically and downed the contents of his glass. "Thats it," the gunslinger announced after he had finished drinking. "Im done for the night. Im going back to my shack."
"Me too," Vin yawned. "What about you Ez? Gonna try and scare up another sucker?"
"Not here hes not," Inez declared as she cleared a table near them. "Im closing up for the night. I need my beauty sleep."
"You are far too lovely to ever require repose to upkeep your loveliness," Ezra smirked.
"Christ," Vin rolled his eyes.
"Someone had to speak for Buck," Ezra grinned as Inez shook her head in resignation that she was washing her hands of all of them.
"And we thank you for it," Chris drawled. "Come on, lets give Inez a break and get out of here."
"Thank you Senor," the sultry Mexican barmaid said with a grateful smile.
"I suppose I ought to take my winnings and retire for the evening," Ezra declared at the three men walked towards the bat wing doors. "I take it you are going to crawl into that wagon of yours?"
"Sure thing," Vin nodded. "Its got everything I need."
"I seriously doubt that," Ezra replied, unable to imagine how the tracker could get any sleep in that uncomfortable wagon. Just thinking about spending the night in such surroundings made him grateful for the featherbed that he would soon be slumbering upon.
"Youre too soft for your own good," Vin retorted.
"I like to think of it being polished," the gambler grinned.
"Far be it for me to leave while you are guys are having this intellectual discussion but Im heading home before my hangover hits. You want to be in bed for something like that. See you tomorrow," Chris replied and headed towards the livery where his horse was stabled.
"Ill see you tomorrow too Ez," Vin bade the gambler tonight and disappeared into the darkened street where his wagon was situated.
Ezra watched him go for a second wondering how anyone could spend the night like that when hotels and lodging houses were in such close proximity. However, such eccentricities seemed absolutely normal when they were discussing Vin Tanner. The tracker liked the open spaces and the trappings of rustic living. He supposed his own choices would seem just as bizarre to the tracker and decided that God loved variety in all its forms and he and the six men he rode with were more or less proof of that. They made a curious bunch but somehow it worked and he considered them the first real friends he had ever had in his life especially because of those differences.
He continued down the darkened boardwalk towards his room at the lodging house and found himself looking forward to some sleep. It had been a long day with he and Buck escorting a prisoner to Eagle Bend and getting back a little before dark. Hopefully, tomorrow would be a somewhat restful day because he could stand to spend the bulk of it in front of the jailhouse instead of traipsing across the country side dealing with outlaws and God only knew what mischief that seemed to take place in the Territory alone. He rounded a corner and almost collided with William Marsden who appeared to have been waiting for him.
"Marsden," Ezra sighed, realizing now that his earlier hope of things remaining civilized was just that; hope and one that was about to crushed underfoot by violence. "What are you doing here?"
"I think you cheated," William said without mincing words as he stepped out into the scant light illuminated from the full moon above. "I think you cheated to beat me."
"I do not cheat," Ezra returned sharply. He just about had his fill of this English upstarts inability to take his losses like a man. "Now step out of my way. I have no wish to hurt you but I will if I have to impress my point any further.
"Well thats right proper of you mate," William replied almost chuckling. "Unfortunately, I do wish to hurt you."
Whether or not it was the trick of the light or something more that Ezra had no understanding of, Williams face suddenly changed. It changed into something Ezra could not even begin to imagine with yellow eyes and teeth that belonged to an animal and not a human. Ezra staggered backwards, so over taken with astonishment that for a moment he did not know what to do. "What are you?" He managed to ask.
"Im death," William smiled and lunged at him.
Ezra reacted instinctively, reaching for his gun but his attacker was fast, so fast that the gambler never managed to unsheathe the Remington resting comfortably in his holster. He heard a growl just before he toppled to the ground, feeling an icy breath on his neck as William reached for his hand and pinned it to the ground helplessly. Ezra struggled hard but the mans grip was powerful beyond belief. He could not even manage to keep his wrist from digging into the dirt once William had a hold of him. Ezra saw a glint of light on the creatures jaw as William opened his mouth, preparing to bite when all reason left the gambler as he started to cry out. Perhaps Vin was close enough to hear him.
God he hoped so!
"They wont get here in time to save you mate," William grinned, bearing his fangs as he lowered his head to Ezras neck.
His scream tore through the night at the same time William broke skin. Ezra felt his teeth sink into this throat and felt his blood draining. He could not understand what was happening or what William was but it would not matter because he was going to die....
+ + + + + + +
There was no time to think. There was only time to react.
Spike broke into a run, drawn by the scent of blood and fear that wafted through the darkened street of the town he knew only from his false memories as being Four Corners. They arrived only a short time ago, stepping through the centuries as if they had stepped through a door from one room to another. There was disorientation for a few minutes for both human and vampire although the latter recovered far swifter than his companions. However, when he heard the scream of terror, his senses came alive with surprising alertness and he was running before he even knew it. The spell had brought them back in time to the day that he had done the terrible deed that saw Buffys existence erased but not even Taras abilities could pinpoint the exact hour of their arrival. Now it seemed as if they had appeared just in time.
Spike had never ran so fast in his life. The only time he had remembered doing so with such urgency was when Dawn had been poised for sacrifice on that gantry that Glory had constructed to open the dimensions. His failure to save her had forced Buffy to sacrifice her own life and Spike had no intention of allowing that to happen again. Spike turned a corner and knew that prey and hunter was close and that the killing had already begun. The thought that he might be too late create a wail of anguish inside him as he ran faster, pushing himself to the absolute limits of his vampire abilities. When it seem like Spike would never reach them, he saw his younger self feeding on the gambler and felt his stomach lurch into his throat.
The man was still alive, Spike realised because he could see him struggling but not for long if he was drained any further. Spike raced forward and grabbed his past self with both hands and flung him backwards with enough force to send the vampire flying through the air and crashing into support beam of a nearby awning. There was a tremendous crash of it breaking and the awning giving way, bringing down wood and slats loudly over the predator. Spike turned to the his Williams victim and saw that the human was still alive, Spike could hear his heart pounding with fright in his ears.
"Spike!" Giles called out as he and Tara finally caught up with him, both were breathing hard, incapable of matching his devastating pace. Spike was not listening, he went instead to the man, Standish, lying on the ground clutching his bleeding throat.
"Hey," Spike went to him and caught him by the arm. "You still with us?"
Ezra Standish stared into the face of his savior a little dazed but very much alive. "What...what....what...was that?" Ezra stammered at a loss for words for the possibly the first time in his life.
"That can wait," Spike retorted quickly, trying not to be affected by the intoxicating scent of fresh blood flowing from the mans neck. "Watcher! He needs help!"
"Of course," Giles hurried forward to the fallen man to help him off the ground. Spike stepped back and let them proceed for he was not one to give aid and comfort to the injured which was just as well because he heard the heaving of wood and knew that his younger self was waking up.
"Is that him?" Tara asked as she came up along side of him. "I mean you?"
William stood up shakily, wood and dust falling off him as he stood up, still wearing his vampire visage. Spike stared at him for a moment, a little taken back by seeing himself for the first time in almost a hundred and twenty years. At this point, William would have been a vampire only a few years. Inwardly, Spike knew that nothing about himself had changed since the day he was turned but he could not help staring at the person he was. In place of his peroxide hair was honey blond hair, worn with a Hugh Grant kind of flop as Red would say. Spike could not believe he was ever that young.
"Hello there Junior," Spike replied catching Williams attention. "Sorry to interrupt your fun here but believe me when I say that you dont want this one."
"Who the bloody hell are you?" William hissed in his direction.
"Take a good look," Spike pushed his chin out a little so that William could see him better. "I know its been awhile since youve seen your reflection but I reckon you know who I am."
Williams game face evaporated when he did as he was told. His eyes furrowed in confusion as recognition seeped in. "Its a trick! You cant be." He stammered in shock.
"I am and Im telling you for your own good to let this one go," Spike ordered, gesturing to Ezra who was being helped to his feet by Giles.
"Spike, I dont think hes in the listening mood," Tara whispered in his ear.
"Witch," Spike turned away from his earlier version to the young woman. "This isnt the time to give me a narrative. This is dangerous business here, go help Giles."
William took advantage of his distraction and lunged but before he could reach Spike, the vampire turned back to face him at the last minute, slamming his first into the younger versions face and sending him sprawling.
"Blimey," Spike shook his head as he saw William tumbling towards the dirt. "Was I actually that bloody dumb? No wonder Angelus thought Id never last. You know, if you keep acting like a bleeding hot headed fool, youre not going to make it to a hundred and I for one, will pretty pissed off at that." He said to William reproachfully.
"Maybe we ought to go," Tara tugged at his coat.
Spike frowned, studying William. He was dazed but not for long and Spike would prefer to avoid a second round with his younger self at this time.
"We should stake him," Tara advised looking at the disorientated vampire with fear.
Spike turned to her. "Hello, stake him I disappear. Id rather you not do that."
"Oh!" Tara exclaimed. "Sorry," she winced in embarrassment.
"Thats alright," Spike rolled his eyes and glanced at his younger counterpart. "Well see you around William."
William did not answer and for the moment anyway, that was a good sign as far as Spike was concerned because knowing how he was back in those days, the moment that William was in full control of his faculties, he would be in possession of a murderous rage. Considering that Spike could not stake him, it was wise to be elsewhere when that happened. Besides, they had more immediate problems to deal with. Buffys ancestor still lived which meant somewhere in the future, so did his Slayer and he was going to work very hard to see to it that thing remained that way.
+ + + + + + +
"What happened?" Chris Larabee demanded shortly after entering Nathans infirmary.
Vin had ridden out to his shack to tell him of what had happened after his departure from town and the fact that one of his men had been attacked did not put the gunslinger in the best frame of mind. Vin had told him very little on the journey back to town, admitting little more than the fact that Ezra had been attacked and that some strangers had come to his rescue. Chris knew there was more to it then that and it concerned him that Vin could not tell him the rest of it. He and Vin were able to confide in most things to each other, that he found it hard to tell Chris the truth now, deepened Chris anxiety regarding the situation that they now found himself in.
"Hes alright," Nathan said quickly, allaying Chris fears because he knew how worried Chris could get about any one of them being hurt. "He lost a little blood and hell be in here with me for a day or two but other than that, hes okay."
"Right," Chris bristled, not liking the lack of answers even with that reassurance in mind. "Hes fine, now tell me what happened?"
"Im afraid its going to be a little hard to believe," a tall man with steel rimmed glasses approached him wearing odd clothes.
"Who the hell are you?" Chris asked gruffly.
"My name is Rupert Giles," the stranger introduced himself. "This is my friend Tara and that there is Spike."
Chris nodded politely at the girl but his eyes had already caught sight of the young man standing rather indifferently against the wall, wearing a leather coat not unlike a duster and appearing almost bored by the conversation taking place around him. "Marsden?"
"Spike," he replied with the same voice. "But no, Im not him."
"You look like him," Chris declared walking up to him. "You look a hell of a lot like him. Brothers?"
"Not bloody likely," Spike snorted and suddenly felt on guard around this human with the glare that could cut glass. Judging by the way he was dressed and his demeanor, Spike came to the conclusion that as humans went, this one could be pretty nasty if given a chance.
Spike warmed to him immediately.
"Chris, he saved Ezras life," Vin explained quickly because he could see Chris becoming exceedingly hostile unless he got some answers soon.
"Saved Ezra from whom?" Chris asked with exasperation
"Marsden," Nathan answered promptly. "At least, he thinks it was Marsden."
"He thinks?" Chris stared at the people in the room as if he was the only sane one present. "He isnt sure?"
"The man took a big bite out of Ezras neck, if Spike here hadnt come along, he would be dead by now." Vin added.
"Let me get this straight," Chris shook his head. The pieces of the jigsaw puzzle he was getting from Nathan and Vin added up to whole bunch of confusion. "Marsden bit Ezras throat and almost killed him? With his teeth?"
"Oh bloody hell," Spike rolled his eyes in exasperation and wondered why Larabee put up with this idiots who were incapable of giving him a straight answer. "Alright Tex," he spoke up. "This is the story. Your friend was attacked by a vampire see Exhibit A." He pointed to himself and switched to game face as Buffy liked to call his vampire visage.
"Holy Christ!" Chris stumbled back and went for his gun as did Vin, who had not been aware of that aspect of Spike since there had been little time to learn anything after being told that Ezra had been attacked by some kind of creature. Nathan was similarly shocked but considering that he had just emerged from treating a patient, he was not armed and merely stepped back, giving Spike a wide berth.
"Subtle Spike," Giles gave the vampire a reproachful frown and tried to get the situation under control.
"What the hell are you?" Chris demanded, his gun drawn and not about to lower it any time soon.
"Hes a vampire," Giles explained quickly, very conscious of the guns the two men were holding. "Please, there is an explanation for this. He wont harm you. He saved your friends life for now but the danger is not over."
If anything managed to penetrate Chris horror as he stared at the man, creature, whatever it was before him, it was the notion that any one of his men was in danger. "What do you mean?" He asked sharply.
"It will be hard to believe," Giles replied, "but you must understand that a great deal depends on your friends survival and weve come a long way to see that he remains safe."
"Try me," Chris glanced at Spike whose face had returned to normal now. "At this moment, I can believe a lot."
Giles hoped so and began to tell him.
+ + + + + + +
All was silent when explanations were made and the seconds seemed to tick by as if there was some invisible clock in the background making itself heard only in their minds. Giles did not realize he was holding his breath as he waited for Chris Larabee or one of his men to say something. The gunslinger was quiet, as if correlating all that he had heard and was trying to process it. Giles could not blame him for his disbelief. The world these men came from was hard and cold, with science and demonology so far away from their existence it was almost a different language. These were practical times, bound tight by convention and religious belief. It had to be difficult for any of the men present in this room to grasp that all that Giles had told them.
"Why Ezra?" Chris finally asked. His mind was reeling with Giles explanation, that Ezra had been marked by a vampire for death. The concept of there even being such creatures was hard enough to grasp let alone be confronted with the idea of moving through time like one rode from one town to another. These were thoughts larger than his comprehension and dealing with them was hard, even for someone like Chris.
"Revenge," Spike answered before Giles could. Somehow he had a feeling that Larabee understood revenge and sorrow quite well. "I pissed off a demon and he decided to get back at me by erasing the existence of someone I cared about a great deal."
"Someone?" Chris guessed from the look in the vampires eyes that he was referring to someone special. "Im guessing its a she."
"Give the man a prize," Spike frowned. "Yes, a girl but not just any girl. Shes a Slayer."
"A slayer?" Vin asked puzzled. "Whats a slayer?"
"The Chosen One," Giles started to speak eliciting a groan from Spike.
"You had to ask didnt you? He lives for this." Spike glanced at Giles.
Giles glared at Spike before continuing. "To each and every generation a slayer is born, she is the Chosen One. One girl in all the world with the strength and the power to fight the demons and vampires. When Spikes demon removed her, he took from our time the Slayer who could have stopped our world from turning into a vampire haven. We have to get her back."
"A girl?" Vin was incredulous. "The Chosen One is a girl? You expect a girl to fight these things? Alone?"
"Hey," Tara began to frown. "Im sensing a little chauvinism here."
Chris dismissed both Vin and Tara at the same time, "whats this got to do with Ezra?"
"The bastard wanted to make me suffer," Spike said bitterly. "He wanted me to know that I was the one who made her come undone. Somehow he put me here, a hundred years before she was even born when I didnt know anything about her and made me kill your friend." Spikes words were filled with emotion and he had to stop a minute to compose himself and look away from the gazes of those present.
The rest unfolded easily for Chris once Spike had made that admission. Yes, he did know a great deal about revenge and about losing a woman that meant everything. It was only a few months ago that he had found out that Sarah and Adam had not been the victims of a fire but rather one that was deliberately set by their murders. He could see the anguish in this vampires eyes and knew how it felt with perfect empathy. "He wanted to make you responsible for her death, whatever," Chris faced him. "Wanted you to remember that her being gone was your fault and no one elses."
"Yeah," Spike swallowed thickly. "Thats about the size of it."
"So that means...." Vin started to understand as well. "Shes related to Ezra?"
"Her mothers name was Standish," Giles explained softly. "We believe she is a direct descendant of your friend."
"But you stopped Ezra from being killed," Nathan pointed out. "Doesnt that mean shes okay now?"
"No," Chris answered before Giles could. "Those vampires are still here. They havent gone and if theyre still here, theres still a chance they may come after Ezra and kill him."
"So what do we do?" Vin asked.
Chris did not know how to respond and faced Giles and Spike, hoping they would have an answer. "You know these things better than we do."
"Im not sure," Giles admitted. "We didnt think beyond getting here."
"We better come up with something fast," Spike announced. "Because my younger self isnt alone Hes got friends and theyre a damn sight more dangerous than he is right now. Once theyve heard the goings on tonight, theyll be coming."
+ + + + + + +
"You idiot!" William heard those angry words before he was slammed into the wall of the room he and Drusilla shared.
"Get your hands off me!" William snarled and tried to break free. It only resulted in being thrown back with even more force.
"I told you that we would not hunt here!" Angelus hissed. "I have games to play that need us to be discreet! If you had to feed you should have gone out of town like we did!"
"Dont be angry with my boy, daddy." Drusilla drifted to Williams side. "He couldnt help it. There were voices telling him things. Flies buzzing around his head."
"What?" Both Angelus and William turned to her at the same time with confusion.
"What are you talking about Dru?" William asked gently. "There was nothing wrong with me."
"It was only for a little bit, pet." Dru answered as she drifted to the divan where a row of porcelain dolls had been placed in a neat row. "Just a little tickle to make you dance."
"Theres something going on here Angelus," William turned back to his grandsire. "I saw a vampire and he looked like me! He was me!"
"Well deal with that later," Angelus said angrily, starting to see there were mitigating circumstances involved in this instance that bore investigation. He decided that his desire to put an end to Drusillas troublesome lover could wait for the moment. Right now, they had bigger troubles to deal with. "For the moment, we need to leave before they come hunting for us. This town isnt that big, it wont take them long to find us so we need to get moving."
"I wont go!" William said defiantly. "Not until I know whats going on!"
"Well that makes two of us William," Angelus glared at him. "But first things first, well find a safe place and then get to the bottom of things."
"Fine," William retorted, satisfied with that. "And dont call me William, Im Spike!"
Angelus shook his head in resignation. "Whatever. Just be ready to leave."
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