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Delirium of the Brave

Chapter Text

Dublin, Summer of 1911

One summer

we slipped in at dawn,

on plum-colored water

in the sloppy quiet.

- ‘After a Childhood away from Ireland’ Eavan Boland

At nine, Buffy was enchanted by her Aunt Jenny. She wasn’t strictly speaking, an actual aunt, but rather a cousin of her mother’s, and she had offered to take Joyce’s daughter for the summer. A year ago, Joyce would have hesitated to so openly associate with her scandalous cousin, but things had changed drastically since then, and she was glad to have the burden of her daughter removed for a few months, even if it was by a promiscuous theosophist.

Jenny was only a little younger than her mother, but she looked far better, and no one was precisely sure what her actual age, since she had claimed a variety of different birthdays over the years, each making her younger than the other. A passionate Irish nationalist, she divided her time between her grand house in Rathmines, inherited from her Irish mother, her townhouse in London, purchased with money from her father, and her lover’s chateau in France. She’d had two children with the man before their relationship had collapsed, and both had died in infancy. As a result, she was very fond of Buffy, who had been born only a year or so after her daughter’s death. Artistic, temperamental, and beautiful, she was also something of a tragic figure, but at nine Buffy knew none of her aunt’s great tragedies and mistakes. She only knew that Jenny was beautiful, generous, and indulgent.

It was an unusually lovely day, warm and sunny as it ever was in Ireland when Buffy met her Aunt at the port. Her nanny’s grip on her wrist was a tight but she only had eyes for her lovely aunt. Jenny was wearing a dark green dress with a string of pearls tossed carelessly around her neck, her dark hair piled on top of her head. Buffy fairly vibrated with excitement as they disembarked and her nanny arranged for their trunks to be collected.

“Darling,” Jenny said, bending down and kissing Buffy’s cheeks. “Let’s have a look at you, dear.”

And Buffy submitted patiently to her Aunt’s careless, loving scrutiny, as Jenny bent down to take in the changes, as all her parent’s adult friends were wont to do when they were reminded of her existence. She got a peck on the forehead and was called pretty, simply darling, before her Aunt straightened up and spoke more seriously.

“Come along, we’re going to the theatre tonight and we must get you fed and changed. A friend of your Auntie’s is premiering a play tonight, isn’t that exciting?”

Buffy nodded obediently as Jenny led her to her car, a gleaming modern machine. Her nurse trotted along after them, giving Buffy’s aunt a scandalized look. She would resign within a fortnight. Buffy was too enchanted by the car to notice Nurse’s distemper. She had only driven in one once before - it had been smelly, but exciting.

As Jenny’s man drove them back to her house, she asked Buffy lots of questions. Buffy told her about her parents, and her education, and her friends, and what she had done on holiday in France two months ago. All the while, Jenny pronounced her charming, and pretty, and sweet, and Buffy lapped it up as a kitten would milk.

When they got back to the house, Buffy put on her second best dress and they had tea, just the two of them, in Jenny’s parlor. The house was big and beautiful, and had been built by Jenny’s grandfather, who left it his eldest daughter, Jenny’s mother. Buffy’s mother was the daughter of the man’s second girl, who had married an American named Joshua Reynolds. Joyce had married Henry Summers, who was born in England, but had lots of business dealings in New York, where her parents lived. Buffy wasn’t precisely sure what she was, with all the traveling she did.

Jenny just laughed when Buffy explained that to her, and said that she would get along famously with her friend Mr. Giles, who had the same issue.

It was Mr. Giles who had financed the play they would be seeing tonight. Buffy hadn’t really understood it, because the people had very funny accents, not like they had in Dublin, and were hard to understand. People had gasped a lot, and made funny noises, so she assumed they had liked it. She had been bored though; all the characters were dirty and poor, and the girl who the boys seemed to be in love with wasn’t even very pretty.

After the play, Mr. Giles came up to their box to meet them, seeming surprised to see Buffy there. He was very nice though, even as he was clearly a bit nervous. He was very attentive to her aunt, but after he had shuffled them out of the theatre and to their car, past the noisy crowd amassed outside it, Buffy whispered to Jenny to ask if she was going to marry him, and her aunt only laughed and said no. They spent some time talking with the man, and he promised to call into them soon. He suggested they take Buffy to visit Dublin Zoo, and Jenny agreed. Then Jenny said she must take Buffy home, as she was getting tired, and they went back to the house.

It wasn’t any bigger than her home in London, or the house in New York that she barely recalled, but it was somehow more grand, more interesting, more special. There was something vaguely disreputable about the place, despite its posh décor. Jenny was an eccentric decorator, and rooms were filled with exotic foreign curiosities. She had lived in France for a few years, and had returned with Moorish carpets, delicate music boxes, and Italian glassware. The house was filled with eclectic items with lovely stories behind them, and that summer, Buffy loved exploring it and asking for the histories behind everything.

It was an enchanting place to live. Jenny had already set up a beautiful room for her, decorated in cream, blue, and gold. She indulged Buffy, to Buffy’s delight and Nurse’s dismay, often allowing her to skip lessons or taking her out on impromptu trips to the countryside. She took Buffy along to society events, and introduced her pretty, well-behaved niece to her glamorous, sophisticated friends. Buffy particularly liked Mr. Giles, who brought her sweets and asked her about her lessons in a way that didn’t seem like he was only asking to be polite. He also looked at her Aunt like she was something that was too beautiful to risk letting out of his sight. Buffy liked that. Someday, she was sure, someone would look at her like that.

The summer passed in a pleasant daze, where adventures and outings outweighed the boring days when her aunt was out, or those when Jenny would closet herself in secret meetings and Buffy was left with only Nurse, and Jenny’s dog Milsean for company.

One day in August, Nurse took ill, so Buffy was told to read in the parlor and not to disturb the meeting happening upstairs. Jenny was distracted and didn’t have time to talk with her in the morning, but gave her a pretty book with fairies and kings, which was much nicer than the books Mother let her read, full of boring children who never did anything wrong, or if they did, were very sorry and apologized immediately or else were eaten up by bears or wolves. Privately, Buffy suspected that Mother was trying to tell her something.

Jenny’s book was full of pretty pictures of maidens who seemed to have a hard time finding clothes, and men who looked awfully clean and attractive for having lived before the fortuitous advent of modern sanitation. They were all wicked pagans, and seemed to accidentally and sometimes on-purpose kill their family members. Buffy hoped this wasn’t another hint. If so, she wouldn’t be likely to understand it; the book was full of big-words she didn’t know. She was just resolving to ask Aunt Jenny what a paramour was, when she heard shouting. Buffy didn’t like shouting. Mother and Father were always saying mean things when they were shouting at each other, and sometimes they said mean things to her, even though they always said sorry and that they didn’t mean it after.

Still, Buffy knew she wasn’t supposed to interrupt so she tried to ignore the voices and focus on her book. But it was hard, and she heard feet stomping. When she acted like that she was sent to her bed without dinner; it wasn’t fair that grown-ups did that sort of thing and got away unpunished.

Buffy hesitated a moment and carefully marked her place. She picked up the book, tucking it under her arm and stepped carefully on her toes in the direction of the door. Exiting, she took the stairs slowly. She could make out her aunt’s voice among the cacophony coming down from the upstairs parlor. It made her feel anxious and she took a deep breath. Then came the sound of a door bursting open and a red faced man with a big ginger moustache appeared at the top of the stairs, and stopped abruptly when he saw her. Buffy froze and looked at him. She knew her mouth was open and she should probably close it, so she did. She shifted the book nervously in her arms. It was heavy.

Two other men came up behind him, also looking at her in surprise, and then Aunt Jenny appeared, with clenched fists and pink spots in her cheeks. She looked angry, and then startled to see Buffy. Buffy couldn’t take the silence anymore.

“I’m sorry” she said, “I know I was supposed to stay in my room, but-”

“Who’s this?” Ginger Moustache asked. Jenny glowered at him. Buffy inwardly agreed with her aunt’s reaction. The man didn’t seem very nice. After a moment, Jenny responded.

“This is my Cousin Joyce’s daughter. She’s come to stay for the summer.”

“Nosy child,” Moustache muttered.

“I am not,” Buffy exclaimed indignantly. “You were shouting and I couldn’t concentrate on my book, and anyway, you’re rude! You’re not supposed to be mean in other people’s houses. You’re supposed to be on your best manners when you’re a guest!”

Moustache’s eyebrows nearly disappeared under the low fringe he wore, and the other men appeared shocked, and Jenny- Buffy risked a look -seemed proud? But suddenly, a tall man with dark hair and dark eyes laughed, and walked down to Buffy’s landing.

Up close, she could see he was a young man, like her friend Leticia’s brother, Cyril, and very handsome. He got on one knee so their eyes could meet.

“You’re right,” he said to her seriously. He had nice eyes. “I’m terribly sorry, Miss.” His voice was also nice. Buffy liked his accent. “Will you accept my apology?”

Buffy blushed and nodded. The man turned to Moustache and his other companion.

“Well, lads?” he said, raising an eyebrow. Moustache looked grouchy and mumbled something that Buffy suspected wasn’t an apology, but the other man, looking amused, doffed his cap to her and begged her pardon, which she graciously accepted. There was another moment of silence, and Buffy turned to look curiously at the nice man.

“What are you reading?” he asked, nodding to her book. She held it out to him, and he took it, raising his eyebrows at the title.

“It’s a nice book,” he said, “a little risqué,” he directed to her aunt, who bristled.

Buffy glanced at Jenny before turning her attention back to the nice man.

“What does risqué mean?” she asked him.

“Oh” he said, looking surprised, before his eyes narrowed to focus on her. He paused a moment before continuing. “It means scandalous…or a little…grown-up, I suppose.”

Buffy evaluated him.

“Do you know a lot of words?” she asked. He smiled at her.

“Enough, I should think,” he said. Buffy bit her lip and nodded.

“Only, there are some big words I don’t know in the book,” she said, “and maybe you could help me?” He smiled at her again and looked apologetic.

“I’d be honored to help you, but I’m afraid we must be on our way. Still, it was nice to meet you…”

“My name is Elizabeth Anne Summers,” she announced, “but you can call me Buffy.”

“And I’m Liam Michael Mannion,” he replied, “but you can call me Liam.”

“But now,” he said, placing his hands on his knees and standing, “I’m afraid I will have to bid you goodbye, Miss Buffy.” He turned to her aunt. “Ms. Kalderash,” he said, and his voice wasn’t so nice. “Gentlemen?” he said to Moustache and the third man. “I don’t believe there’s much point in imposing on Ms. Kalderash’s hospitality any longer.”

Moustache nodded slowly and the three men walked down the stairs while Jenny stood and watched. The third one nodded at Buffy on his way down, and she gave him a small, unbalanced curtsy in return, her book tucked back under her arm. Jenny didn’t see them to the door, and they must have found their own way out. Jenny slowly walked down and sat on the stairs next to where Buffy still stood. She wrapped an arm around her niece’s waist.

“You should have stayed in your room darling. But I’m glad you didn’t” she said. Buffy hugged her back. Mr. McKearney appeared at the top of the stairs. He had a nasty bruise on his cheek. Buffy’s eyes widened.

“Are they gone?” he asked. Jenny nodded with tears in her eyes. Buffy squeezed her tighter, not knowing what else to do.

Years later, she would discover that members of the IRB had accused her aunt of being an informer. Mr. McKearney had defended her, to the disgust of his compatriots, and received a nasty punch for his perceived betrayal. (It was widely rumored the two were lovers, though Buffy had never been able to sort out fact from fiction when it came to her aunt’s romances.) It was fortunate that revolvers hadn’t been drawn. Buffy’s brown-eyed man had probably been an IRB tough, sent along to keep things in hand if they escalated. He, Moustache, and the third man had likely been killed in the Rising or else perhaps the Great War.

Jenny died four years later, from a broken heart some said. Others blamed the bottle of cyanide found by her bed. Though she had fended off accusations at the time of Buffy’s visit, they hadn’t disappeared, and after the end of her disastrous marriage, she had no one left to defend her from the accusations. In any event, she hadn’t lived to see the Rising, which would have thrilled her, or see the dream of an independent Ireland come to close to fruition. The possibility of a free state remained, if only the fighting would stop. Sometimes Buffy wondered what Jenny would have made of the bloody reality of her most fevered dream.

Jenny had left most of her sizeable estate to Buffy, in addition to a lingering feeling of guilt she could never quite shake. The inheritance was held in a trust, which stipulated that Buffy spend at least three months in Ireland every year. Her parents were furious, but had little choice but to agree or have their daughter forfeit a modest fortune. Buffy had learned to love her aunt’s country, in spite of what it had done to her, and she cherished her time there. And when she visited, walking through the dirty streets of Dublin, or the clean mud of the country, seeing the land that had so enchanted her aunt, she remembered Jenny, and held those memories close. Jenny had never lived her life on anyone else’s terms, and Buffy was grateful that despite the restrictions her will had imposed, Jenny had been trying to grant her the same opportunity. She only hoped that she would make wiser choices about men, and come to a happier end than her aunt had.

Chapter Text

Litterly House, Co. Wexford, March, 1920

Buffy woke up with a groan. The timid knocking at her door continued. Mumbling something unintelligible, she glanced at the clock on the wall. Christ. Maybe the clock was wrong? It was nearly half-nine but still dark outside. As she rose, she took a quick peek out the window. It looked to be another dark, rainy, cold day. Muttering another curse, she hoped this was one of the days Ireland’s changeable climate worked in her favor.

“I’m awake”, she called, halting the knocking. The maid, Mary, opened the door. A young girl with bright blue eyes, she was far more timid than her sister Catherine, who had something of a dubious reputation down in the village if what the cook said was anything to go by. Still, Giles wasn’t paying her to be chaste so Buffy decided it really was nothing to do with her what the girl got up to in her free time.

Sir Rupert Giles was a rumored lover of her aunt’s, though Buffy knew she had always viewed him as a friend in spite of her awareness of his affections. Giles had been open in his affections for her and even proposed marriage, but Jenny had never accepted him as more than a close friend, and being the gentleman he was, Giles had accepted that. Still, he truly had been a close friend and confidant, and after Jenny died, it was Giles she appointed as executer of her will. Buffy frequently spent her summers with him.

Per the condition of her inheritance of Jenny’s sizable estate, she was required to spend at least three months a year in Ireland, which her mother had reluctantly acquiesced to, in the light of the vastly increased attractiveness of Buffy’s hand. Arranged marriages might have been on the decline for decades, but no one had explained that to her mother. Joyce, when she could be bothered to take an interest in her daughter, was chiefly interested in what young man she might use to link her family with one of her friends’. Her father’s utter disinterest in his daughter, and her mother’s inconsistent affections meant that Giles, who had never had children of his own, was something of a foster-father to her. After so many years spent visiting, she was perfectly comfortable with her place in his life…even if this year that place was in a half-empty country estate. With all the fighting going on in Dublin, it was hardly prudent to stay in the townhouse there, but Buffy still missed society. And people of her own background and age.

Buffy took her breakfast in bed that morning, indulging in laziness. With the weather the way it was, and the war the way it was, it was unlikely she was going to be leaving the house today. She could anticipate a day reading, writing letters, and drinking vast amounts of tea with Giles.

Giles was currently in the process of completing a treatise on the merits of what he referred to as influential novels of the nineteenth century. Buffy, for her part, had undertaken a letter-writing campaign to convince her various friends and acquaintances that women should have the right to vote. She had needed some sort of project to occupy her time, as unlike in summers past, she and Giles were not going to entertaining many (if any) guests. William Pratt, a childhood friend, had come to stay for a few weeks but his imperious mother summoned him back to London. A few old country dwellers had visited from their nearby estates, but they were not of much interest to Buffy. With the IRA and British forces marching up and down the countryside in nearby Cork, Limerick, and Tipperary this particular visit was not only much longer than she had anticipated, but much duller.

After dressing, she joined Giles in the library. The rain continued unabated and but the pair found themselves cheered when the weather finally cleared early enough that even with the brief winter days that were rapidly manifesting they were able to walk about the ground for an hour and stroll in the gardens.

They talked about the war, unable to ignore the increasing violence. Giles was more English than Irish, but his sympathies were with the nascent Free State, though he was unhappy with their occasionally indiscriminate attacks. However, the British Secretary of State for War, a man by the name of Winston Churchill, had successfully proposed creating a special reserve of men to augment the Royal Irish Constabulary who were struggling to beat back attacks by the self-styled Irish Republican Army, and the first men had just arrived in Dublin. Giles’ cousin Alistair’s brother-in-law worked under Churchill, and had reported that most of the men were ex-soldiers who had been struggling to find work, so Giles was dubious of their commitment to their job of keeping order, particularly as the IRA had begun attacking RIC barracks.

“I half think I ought to send you back to England,” he confessed to her, as they made their way back to the house.

“Don’t be silly,” she replied, “we’re well out of the thick of things, aren’t we?”

“The government declared a state of emergency two months ago, as you very well know,” Giles replied, removing his spectacles to wipe away the soft mist that had begun coming down shortly after they departed.

“Only because we’re next to Cork, though,” Buffy retorted.

“Let us hope.”

They returned to Litterly House in time for an early supper. Giles’ country estate had been neglected by both his father and grandfather, in part due to its unfashionability. It had probably been grand when it had been built two centuries ago, but was now much smaller and considerably more gothic than good taste dictated. However, when Giles’ father passed and he inherited the place he had made some modest changes, which had more to do with making the place a bit less drafty an a bit more comfortable than changing the general character, and it had become something of a sanctuary for him, and for his visitors, most of whom counted them lucky to join him in getting away from the bustle and smoke of the city to the bohemian gentility of Litterly House. Only two years previously Buffy could recall the home filled with a few artists and intellectuals, and the happy hum of their dinner parties and card games and cocktails. This year, however, they ate a modest, early supper and holed up in the library for a lazy evening complete with tea and biscuits. It was there that the first disturbance occurred.

The library’s best feature was, in Buffy’s opinion, the wide stained-glass windows that faced the afternoon sun. The whole room was located over the formal front entrance of the house, with its old fashioned wood-and-iron doors. When times had been happier, and she had been younger, Buffy has enjoyed watching visitors arrive from the high vista. Now, she heard a commotion at the door and moved to her old lookout.

“Giles,” she gasped, turning to face him with what must have been a wild expression. Alarmed, he moved swiftly to join her. His face took on a stony resolve.

At the door was an open-top car, and in and around it was a gang of eight IRA men. They wore the distinctive half-uniform, the army too poor and too many to clothe them all properly, and they were carrying guns. They had the grim, resolute expressions of men not in a humor to be refused, and who, if necessary might that night perpetrate some new atrocity to add to the ever-growing list circulating in print and on peoples lips. They had all heard the stories. Still, Buffy had never thought they might see them first hand and cursed herself for her own naivety.

“What do we do?” she asked. Giles’ expression remained cold.

“It’s past visiting hours,” he said, “and I’m afraid I will not be opening my home to uninvited guests.” He strode to the door just as O’Higgins, the elderly butler, arrived.

“Sir,” he began, his wrinkled face almost comically worried. Buffy pushed down a wave of hysteria. A lot of houses and estates owned by Protestants or Englishmen had been burned in recent months, but so far this part of the country hadn’t been dangerous. Or so they had thought. She had a horrible sinking feeling they were about to find out just how wrong they had been about Wexford’s stability.

Giles strode out of the room past O’Higgins, and she followed him with an apologetic glance. His gnarled hand caught her arm.

“Better not, Miss,” he said, pale eyes wide. But she shook her head at him.

“I can’t leave him alone,” she replied, detangling herself and hurrying after Giles. She reached the entrance and stared down the mezzanine at the shame-faced gardener, Billy Conner, surrounded by eight men. Giles had gone down to the first floor and as she held onto the railing after rushing in, the expression on his face chilled her. She had never seen him this angry before. His posture indicated that whatever the IRA wanted, he certainly wasn’t going to comply. Suddenly, the dark man he was facing off with raised his head and met her frantic gaze.

She might have gasped, just a little. Because the damnedest thing was, she knew him. That face - she frowned and wracked her memory. Seemingly, he knew her as well, because he maintained eye contact and took a step forward. Giles turned to look at her, she noticed, from the corner of her eye. And suddenly, she remembered.

“I know you,” she blurted out. “You were at my Aunt’s house….that summer of 1911.”

He continued to meet her searching gaze, nodding slowly.

“The girl on the stairs with the book of fairytales,” he said, and his low voice sent a thrill through her she preferred not to examine too closely.

“What are you doing here?” he asked. His eyes were dark brown and unreadable. Giles wasn’t the only one looking at the two of them.

“Buffy, do you know this man?” he demanded. She glanced at him, shaking her head.

“No,” she said, “only - he was at Jenny’s house when…well, that day when Mr. McKearney was stuck by some of her Nationalist friends.” She didn’t believe it was possible for Giles’ expression to become any more displeased, but the reminder of his lost love and all she had suffered did the trick.

As she was speaking, the dark man mouthed her name. Something stirred inside her at the sight of it and her breath caught. No, she thought. What was happening? She shouldn’t be admiring the breadth of his shoulders in his full uniform. Was he the leader? The one who would order Giles killed? Burn the place down?

“We’re requisitioning the house,” he announced. “Mr. Giles, I’m sorry, Sir Giles,” he corrected mockingly, “You’ve been accused of spying for the British government. We’ll be searching your home and belongings.” Two men stepped forward to seize Giles’ arms, but he didn’t fight them as Buffy had feared, merely fixing them with a gaze colder than she had thought him capable of. “Aside from the servants,” the man continued, voice cool and face hard, “and Miss…” he glanced at her again. She hesitated for a moment, and then figured there was no harm in him knowing her name.

“Summers” she said softly. His eyes traced over her briefly.

“And Miss Summers,” he continued, “who else is here?”

Giles looked at him with disdain, his very stance projecting his refusal to cooperate, and the man’s eyes turned hard. He turned to Billy, still cowering in the corner, his trousers smeared with dirt and grass. He looked pathetic, and some hard part of Buffy was glad to see him so guilty for his betrayal.

“Your cottage. Is it open?” he demanded. Billy nodded, eyes wide. “Empty?” the man continued. Another shame-faced nod. “Good. Take him there,” the man continued, “and-”

“No,” Buffy said, taking a step towards the top of the stairs. The man’s eyes met hers for a moment before he turned back to his men. “Round up everyone in the house. Make sure they’re all accounted for. And-”

“No,” Buffy repeated, locking eyes with Giles. His expression never wavered. She turned to the man who regarded her steadily. Had his eyes once been as kind as her memory indicated? At once four men peeled off the contingent, presumably going to search the house.

“There’s no one else here,” she said, looking imploringly into the man’s brown eyes, her own wide and beseeching.

“Buffy,” Giles began, his mask of defiance breaking in the face of her emotions. The man nodded at the two soldiers holding Giles and they began to march him out the door. Buffy rushed down the stairs only to have her way barred by the commander. She made to move around him and he grabbed her arms, though gently. She tried to move forward, but he might as well have been made of stone. To her shame, she began to cry.

“You can’t,” she whispered. “Please. Leave him alone, he hasn’t done anything wrong. He’s not a spy.” God, Giles. She couldn’t lose him too, the one steady, reliable male presence in her life. Since her mother’s death, her father hardly even acknowledged her. Giles had looked after her, encouraged her, cared for her even though he had no obligation to do so, the sort-of-niece of the dead woman who had married another man.

The man’s hands tightened around her as she struggled, and Giles’ eyes widened in alarm as he looked back at her. This couldn’t be happening.

“We’re not killing him,” the man said suddenly, angrily. Buffy didn’t miss the look of disappointment on one of Giles’ captors’ faces. “We’re searching the house, and this’ll be easier for everyone if the two of you’d cooperate.” Buffy did not find his expression particularly reassuring.

“Liam,” the other man in the hall began. But Liam cut him off, jerking his chin at him.

“Take her outside with the others Doyle,” he said, indicating Buffy. She eyed him warily, her heart racing like a rabbit’s, fighting off hysteria now that it seemed their lives weren’t in immediate danger.

Doyle was shorter and slighter, with dark hair and concerned blue eyes. He gave her a sympathetic look as he moved over to where Liam still held her. She met Liam’s dark eyes as he slowly released her, and took a step towards Doyle. He offered her an arm in a gentlemanly move, and she took it cautiously. He gently moved them over to the open door to lead her outside and she turned back to see Liam’s eyes boring into her, and she shivered.

“How old are you, lass?”Doyle asked. His blue eyes were clear and curious.

“Eighteen,” she replied carefully. He gave her a nod.

“And how’d you meet Liam?” he asked. Buffy felt her expression grow remote.

“I was nine. I overheard shouting and went to see what was happening. He met me on the stairs. He was…kind I suppose. I didn’t know what was happening to my aunt,” she finished bitterly. Doyle’s expression remained kind and sympathetic, if more than a bit confused, as they passed out of doors.

“Mr. Doyle,” she began, “was he telling the truth?”

They paused in the garden, and Buffy’s shiver was not entirely from the cold. Rain was drizzling softly, and she felt the wet sinking into her shoes. Doyle’s expression was hesitant.

“As long as he’s not a spy-”

“He’s a scholar!” Buffy blurted out, “With dusty books and, and cross-references! He writes about obscure historical events no one cares about and epic poems that only a few dozen people can actually read. And he’s never done anything wrong.” Her frustration and anguish was clear. “We’ve spent the last month holed up in this house, thinking it was safer than Dublin. No one will even visit us. Nothing happens here, and certainly nothing the British would even be interested in!”

“He should be fine then,” Doyle offered her, his hesitation still obvious, “you’ll be fine,” he hastened to add, as though that was her main concern. As they entered the cottage, Buffy saw Mary and Catherine. And a minute later, an unsteady O’Higgens was escorted in along with Mrs. O’Leary, the cook. The only staff member missing was Jimmy, who was sort of a Jack of all trades – a reedy young man with spots and a stammer, and a bad leg he had received in the Great War. With no company, the staff was very slim this year. Turning back to the room before her, Buffy began moving in search of Giles, when she heard a low ‘oomph’ and alarmed, made to move into the back room. Doyle beat her to it however, cautioning her with a look to stay behind as he moved into what looked to be Billy’s bedroom. She ignored him, however, and got a look at Giles bent doubled over before he turned back and tried to bar her way. A blonde man was sneering down at him, though the other, an unremarkable fellow in a faded red shirt, looked uncomfortable.

Outrage and fear bubbled up in her, but Doyle intervened before she could do anything stupid, grabbing the blonde’s arm and speaking to him in a low voice. He jerked his head back in the direction of the house and the blonde stormed out, nearly knocking her as she hastened to step aside. Buffy looked after him carefully, and with no small amount of venom.

“Miss Summers?”

Buffy turned to meet Doyle’s steady blue eyes and see him ease Giles into a chair, the older man looking angry and tired.

“Why don’t you have a seat,” he suggested, glancing behind her. “We’ll be here a little while by any estimation.”

She nodded slowly.

They waited for an hour, until the hints of afternoon light had long since disappeared, Giles and Buffy talking in low voices in Billy’s bedroom under Doyle’s watchful eye, while Mary, Catherine, Mrs. O’Leary, and Mr. O’Higgins were in the other room with the man in the red shirt, who was called James.

“I was nine, at the time,” she explained, “and I think my nanny was sick or something, and Jenny told me to stay in the parlor and read.”

“And you didn’t, of course,” Giles muttered. Buffy felt mildly, absurdly indignant on behalf of her nine year old self, who wasn’t quite so mischievous as her older relations claimed to remember.

“Well there was yelling,” she protested.

“Most would take that as a sign to stay put,” Giles pointed out.

“Well, I didn’t, obviously,” she said, “and just as I was lingering on the stairs, deciding if I ought to go up, he came out with a few other men – can’t really recall the number exactly but it wasn’t many, and I think he came down and said something nice to me and got the other men to leave. He was quite young then I think. Someone had hit Mr. Lynch. That’s all I can remember really.”

Except that even at nine she had thought him handsome, and that she had thought about him days after their meeting, innocuously, in the way that children do at that age about handsome people of the opposite sex.

Hours passed and the night quickly became properly dark. Giles and Buffy had rehashed everything they knew about the recent movements of the IRA in low voices, as the other women clustered together and Jimmy was taken in to join O’Higgins, the two men leaning against the wall in silence. Buffy asked Doyle which direction the men had come from, and who had accused Giles of spying, but he had politely but firmly refused to answer. He and the other IRA man who had stayed with them, a younger looking man named James had been left to guard them, but though they kept their guns in hand, their posture was relaxed and though they were no doubt listening to the conversations of their prisoners, they were polite enough to be discreet about it.

Eventually, the light of the electric lamps flashed though the cottage’s windows and all pretense at conversation dropped. Doyle and James straightened up, and James pinched out his cigarette as the crunching of gravel grew louder.

Liam walked in, shadowed by a man whose face she hadn’t placed yet, and looked around in the dim light before his eyes settled in where she and Giles sat near the fire.

“Commander,” James muttered, bobbing his head once, deferentially, while Doyle just nodded. Buffy was mildly surprised, but she supposed she had never actually seen armed forces in action, and that the way that the English soldiers had behaved on their home leave during the Great War probably wasn’t the best standard by which to judge the rag-tag army of a rebellious ur-state.

“We’ll want a word with Mr. Giles,” Liam said, his eyes sharp but expression otherwise mild. Giles, for his part, glanced worriedly at Buffy, before rising slowly. Buffy stood quickly and made an aborted movement to gab his arm. Her heartbeat was roaring in her ears – would anything she could do make a difference? Was she terrified of nothing? Perhaps they merely did want a word with Giles. Perhaps they would torture him. Perhaps they would kill him. She doubted she was successful in keeping her panic entirely out of her expression but no one made any move to reassure her.

Should she try and grab one of the guns? She discarded that idea as idiocy as soon as it occurred. There wasn’t anyone she could ask for help – the house was a mile and a half away from the village and out of sight from all but the westernmost road. Their nearest neighbors of similar social standing were twenty miles away and Buffy wasn’t even sure if they were at their house at this time.

It was by sheer force of will that she stayed upright and silent as Giles walked after the Commander without a backward glance, but she was sure as anything that her face was bloodless. Once the door closed Catherine hurried over to her side and put a warm, rough hand on her shoulder. Buffy sat.

“There, Miss, there’s nothing to be worrying about,” the girl, only a few years older than Buffy, assured her. “Everybody knows he’s fine man, Sir Giles, and wouldn’t be spying for nobody. Why, there’s nothing for him to spy on, hardly leaves his grounds and every person they speak to will tell them so.”

Buffy took a deep breath and nodded, some small part of her noting that she hadn’t given Catherine enough credit, thinking her silliness meant she lacked strength.

“Right, um,” she said, swallowing and nodding, and carefully not meeting anyone’s eyes. “Yes, yes, thank you.”

Catherine stepped away, carefully, sense of propriety restored, but when Buffy met her anxious gaze with grateful smile, honest but tired, the other woman’s eyes crinkled slightly before she rejoined the huddle of her sister and the Cook.

The minutes moved by impossibly slowly. Buffy tried counting rounds of sixties to distract herself from visions of Giles bleeding, bruised, dying, but she couldn’t keep her mind properly on them. It might have been as few as twenty or enough to make an hour, or even two before the electric torchlight again darted through the windows. Buffy tried and failed to discern how many people were coming, but when the door opened it was Liam again, and he was alone.

“Miss Summers,” Liam said, striding into the room. “Will you come with me?” Buffy rose slowly, searching his face for any indication of what happened with Giles. He wore a polite mask that gave nothing away.

“Where’s Giles?” she asked.

“Still at the house,” was his curt answer. Liam turned on his heel and she was forced to move quickly to keep up. He walked briskly out of the cottage back towards the house. As she was hurrying after him, she paused for a moment – why was she accommodating his pace anyway? She slowed, scowling at the vague shadow that indicated where his back was, but Liam, the torch briefly illuminating a dark look on his face, turned back and made to move in her direction before waiting for her to catch up with him stonily. She continued her steady walk, unashamedly searching his face. She had only just found her courage again- she sure as hell wasn’t going to back down now.

Ironically, they ended up in the library, where she took a seat in her customary chair. The fire had become quieter, but the embers still gave off enough heat to help her warm. He did not comment, but took Giles’. They regarded each other solemnly. She was so bewildered by the events of the past hours that she hardly knew what to say. And in any event, though her education had been good, she had never been schooled on the manners appropriate for a hostile takeover of one’s host’s manse. In the end, it was Liam who broke the silence.

“You’ve certainly grown up, my dear” he commented. Her eyes traced over the very faint lines that lingered in the corners of his eyes. There was something weary about him despite his strong demeanor.

“I suppose I could say the same,” she replied, surprised at how steady her voice was. It was so late, and she was exhausted.

“How old were you?” she asked, marveling at her own boldness. Her mother would be ashamed. Luckily, he seemed more amused than anything else.

“Nineteen,” he said, “and you?”

“Nine,” she replied.

He nodded slowly as they both accommodated the new bit of knowledge.

“Now Buffy,” he began, tasting her name. She started a bit at his familiar use of it. “What are you doing here?”

She told him. She explained nearly everything: her aunt’s death, not quite able to keep an accusatory note out of her voice, growing up, the will and its conditions, her parents and their… disinterest. He listened attentively, hands clasped on the arms of Giles’ chair, occasionally asking a question. When she was finished, he leaned forward with a frown.

“So have you no one I can send you to?” he asked. “The Constabulary are marauding around and you shouldn’t be in the middle of the fighting.”

Buffy shook her head. “My father is in New York right now, I think. I have friends in Dublin and London but… things the way they are I don’t know if going up to the city would be the best idea. If I could get over to London, I suppose there are people I could stay with there.”

He nodded, still frowning.

“I’m not going anywhere without Giles, anyway,” she declared suddenly. He scowled fiercely, brows drawing together.

“He’s not going anywhere,” he said flatly.

“He’s a scholar,” Buffy insisted, repeating her earlier words, “a historian and a writer who’s never posed a threat to anyone!” Liam remained impassive and unmoved. “For heaven’s sake, you ought to know him! He financed half the stuff at the Abbey, he’s contributed to The Irish Review, and he’s advocated for Home Rule publically! You know perfectly well he’s not spying for the English, even if he’s not one of you.”

“You’ve looked through our things, right?” she continued, and though he made no move to affirm her accusation she took his silence as agreement, and added “And you’ve found nothing because there’s nothing to find!”

He met her impassioned speech with stony-faced silence. Buffy took a deep breath and leaned back into her chair.

“You’ve already ruined my aunt’s life,” she said bitterly. “Are you going to do the same to Giles? Because-”

“Your Aunt was no innocent,” Liam hissed, his face strangely angry, posture more rigid than before. Buffy felt old resentment flare up.

“Yes she was,” Buffy insisted, leaning forward again, “All she really wanted was to see an independent Ireland and you people destroyed her life in return for all her work.”

“She might not have been spying,” Liam interrupted again, “I’ll grant you that, but she was trying to ruin Lynch, out of spite and she clearly didn’t care if she dragged down the IRB with him!”

“What are you on about?” Buffy demanded incredulously. Liam laughed – but it wasn’t a pleasant sound.

“He was a brute,” Buffy insisted, remembering Jenny’s stories and tears and bruises. Liam rolled his eyes in response, much to her disgust. What the hell did he know?

“If she didn’t like what she got at home she should have left him quietly,” he replied. “She had the means to do it – she didn’t need to try to drag his name through the mud in the process, giving credence to every blasted rumor and innuendo about the ‘savage uncivilized Irish’ in the process.” It went unsaid that Jenny had a tarred reputation anyway, but Buffy had heard enough from hypocritical men over the years about women’s affairs that she resented him for it all the same.

“How like a man,” she hissed, “brutes must stand by each other, I suppose, damn the rest of us with our innuendo no matter how true it is”. He glared at her for a moment, and then closed his eyes with a sigh.

“Stop irritating me, Buffy,” he demanded. Her look must have been outraged enough for him to back down momentarily.

“I’m sorry,” he said after a tense moment. “But you really don’t know what you’re talking about. Her allegations ruined Lynch, and they blackened the name of the cause she claimed to espouse, and if she hadn’t been so damn set on revenge she might have seen that.”

She glared at him. Seemingly unbothered, he added, more calmly.

“Anyway that’s long in the past now. We’re here because we suspect the English will be coming through Wexford to burn Cork. We’re here to stop it.”

He stood suddenly, and she looked up at him to see how he towered above her. He was handsome, damn him, even with dirt on his uniform and his hair cropped short and messy.

“Come on,” he said, “I’ll walk you back to the others.”

She stood, brushing out her skirts, busying herself so she wouldn’t have to meet his eyes, but when she had finished he offered her an arm with easy, unconscious gallantry. She took it, after a moment’s hesitation. He was better bred than the usual toughs, she would give him that.

Chapter Text

War is hell, they were told. As though it were some great revelation.

Liam does not fight in the Great War. He doesn’t get shot, or gassed, or suffer shell shock. He doesn’t return home a crippled, hollow man. Instead, he spends the majority of it evading the law, hiding in plain sight in Galway. At the time of the Easter Rising he had been disappointed to have been directed to return to his city of birth, but it might have saved his life. Like some of his other friends, he had viewed the enterprise as doomed to failure from the start. The disastrous organization, and the deaths and imprisonment of most of his Dublin friends only strengthened his disgust with the lackadaisical leadership of the Military Council, but unlike John O’Reilly, he hadn’t been shot because of it. Unlike Allen Doyle, he hadn’t been shipped off to Frongoch internment camp for indefinite detention.

Instead, Mellows had sent him to lead a raid on the Clarinbridge Barracks that had resulted in the capture of a few officers and the death of two of his company. The whole affair had been badly managed and most of the men had scattered once the Royal Marines had come in but Liam had been lucky – uninjured and unseen by those he had captured, and unbetrayed by the men in his company who had been captured, he had returned to Tommy Doyle’s house to lay low. A few days later he had returned to his own house, bold as brass, to face his father’s disapproval and suspicion. He does not forget the fear, the chaos, and the panic that characterize their small, ineffectual operation. He does not forget the panicked look in the eyes of the man who bleeds out as he tried and fails to staunch his wounds. He does not forget the smell of sweat, and gunpowder, and mud, and damp that pervades all of his memories of those days.

But in comparison with the way that his fellows had suffered, Liam does not think he has done anything worth praising. But when Clarke’s widow begins reestablishing their intelligence networks, when the Frongoch prisoners return, with a man called Michael Collins at their head, and the Volunteers are reformed as the Irish Republican Army, when the surviving leaders are released in 1917, and when Sinn Féin win the 1918 elections, when he is asked if he will fight for his country again – he doesn’t hesitate.

Hesitation had been one of the great faults of the Easter Rising – men like MacNeill had dithered and undermined the orders from the other leaders, and drastically reduced the number of men and women who had come out to fight. Grim though it may be, Liam cannot help but think that it the execution of a generation of poets and dreamers had not been as great a loss as some supposed. It doesn’t take a tactical genius to see that the capture of St. Stephen’s Green, the lack of effort to press on and take Dublin Castle, or Trinity, and the reduction in forces caused by conflicting orders had made the enterprise more of a disaster than it might otherwise have been. There are times when Liam questions his orders – but he does so privately. It hasn’t ended in disaster yet. But the past month has him wondering if it’s only a matter of time.

***

The faint tension, evidenced by minute trembling of her hand, that Liam could feel as he walked Buffy Summers to the cottage where she was being held prisoner, was oddly familiar. He couldn’t quite recall the last time he’d seriously, politely, offered a woman his arm. It had felt like an anachronism when he had done it, but the pleasure of the warmth of her slim arm, faintly tangible through her knit sleeve, was one that he was glad to have. As they descended the stairs to the foyer in silence, it occurred to him that she must be cold. He looked at her in askance, but her mouth was set in a mulish expression that he recognized from his own sister and so he hesitated to ask her if she would like to gather a coat. Kathy only looked like that when she was on the verge of tears and determined to avoid it with anger.

“Do you keep a coat nearby?” he inquired, voice nearly emotionless. He was watching her closely enough that he noticed a double blink of her eyelashes, sparking hope, before her mouth tightened. She paused a moment where they stood on the stairs, and suddenly he found himself transported back to the first time he had seen her, childishly sweet on a staircase, in over her head because of the politics of some older relation who ought to have known better than to keep her nearby. If he thought hard enough, there might be enough irony there for a joke. But he couldn’t quite muster up the necessary cynicism.

He was half a child himself in that moment, more boy than man and more innocent than he could have understood at nineteen. As far as Liam had been concerned, he had become a man as soon as he had surpassed his father in height and the breadth of his shoulders and had shoved him away when he had made to strike him for some insolent comment. At nineteen, he considered his job (clerking for a barrister who was also involved with the Gaelic League), his studies at the new National University of Ireland, his razor, and his newly won induction into the resurgent Irish Republican Brotherhood evidence of his maturity. He had been viciously independent, and sure of himself in the way that only the young and privileged were.

He hadn’t been the first to storm out of the room after Richard Pryce had brought up the accusations against Jenny Kalderash with the intention of getting an explanation, and she had angrily refused to account for them, but it had been a near thing.

They had all been surprised by the sight of a wide-eyed little girl on the stairs, but the incongruity meant that he had ceased to be angry and had merely become befuddled. There were rumors about Miss Kalderash’s relations with men, but he had never supposed that there might have been children produced as a result of them. He was, looking back on it, relieved in some ways to hear she had been a relation whose origins she could easily account for, young enough that evidence of infidelity rankled more than it would have had he come across it in the present. He wasn’t sure if that was innocence or stupidity for, he reflected as he opened the door to the house’s formal back garden and ushered the girl through, they so often looked the same.

The crunch of gravel under his boots as he walked was loud enough to make the silence between them particularly conspicuous, a state of affairs that did not last once they reentered the gardener’s cottage (the boy himself looked like a hunted animal in the corner, hiding his face in shame) and Buffy registered the condition of her guardian.

Her outraged intake of breath prompted a brief, ineffectual hope that he might have some way of heading her anger off. It was futile.

“You absolute bastards,” she breathed, to the astonishment of the room. Their surprise at her language didn’t do anything to stem her obvious fury – all the more heartrending, Liam thought, because it was so clearly born of hurt. He made no move to stop her as she rushed to Sir Giles’ side, but glanced around the room until his gaze landed on Penn, who was looking smug.

But of fucking course, he thought grimly. Who else could it have been? He considered apologizing, but that would only let them know just how little control he had over the other man. From the disturbed look Eoin was giving the scene in front of him, and the darkness that lurked behind Doyle’s otherwise stony façade, Liam supposed that the internal divisions of their company were probably all too obvious for anyone who cared to look. Sighing internally, he remained in the doorway and wondered if there was any way to salvage the mess the raid had turned into.

“Doyle,” he said, “any sign of them?”

“Not one,” his second-in-command replied.

“And who is them,” Buffy demanded, her voice scornful and hardly disguising her continued upset at the bruises on Sir Giles’ face. She had removed the fine scarf from around her neck and was dabbing ineffectually at the drying blood in the corner of his mouth.

“Never you mind,” he retorted, deliberately ignoring her furious gaze. All the same, he grabbed the jug of water near the door and set it on the table where Sir Giles sat. She didn’t spare him a glance, but dipped the scarf in the water and resumed her work. He strode back to the door and looked around at the men gathered there.

“James and Eoin, stay behind with the others for the moment,” Liam ordered. “The rest of us need to have a chat outside.” He was well aware of the difficulty of what he was thinking of proposing, but the potential public disapproval aside, he thought that it seemed the most appealing of their limited options. After taking a few long strides away from the cottage he paused, and decided they may as well talk inside – the temperature had dropped considerably since they had been on the road in the morning and it was beginning to rain softly.

They trod after him and Lam relaxed slightly as the warmth of the house began to pervade his bones.

“All right men,” he began, looking at each of them in turn. “We’ve no evidence aside from rumor that Sir Giles is involved in any anti-state activities, and I cannot help but notice that if he were intelligence gathering he’d be considerably more useful in the city. By all accounts he spend most of his time reading and writing his book, and the house has only had two visitors in the time they’ve occupied it this year, one of them Professor Martello,” he said, naming the well-regarded classicist who had made little pretense hiding his republican views. He paused a moment, and realized most of the men had no idea who he was referring to – Doyle and Frank were the only two with a university education, and Frank had abandoned his studies in order to fight. “He’s one of ours anyway,” Liam added.

“Who was the other?” asked Frank, his expression curious. Liam worked to keep his expression neutral.

“The other was some poet who was either asking for patronage or trying to chat up Miss Summers, depending on who you ask,” he replied. He hoped that Doyle, who had gotten the second motive out of one of the maids with little more than a friendly smile and his gift for putting people at ease, was correct when he has told Liam that it seemed like harmless gossip to him. He would feel better if he could see the visiting poet himself, and better still if he were too old, or too ugly to be anything but a nuisance.

“But this brings us to the heart of the matter,” he began again, eyeing them casually. “We’re already here, we’ve already made our presence known, and if we leave now we can’t be sure that the English bastards won’t be hearing about our presence here. However,” he added quickly, seeing an unpleasant gleam enter Penn’s eyes, “that doesn’t mean we should be harming any of the people in this house. We’re here to meet Garrett’s squad, and they shouldn’t be far behind us. We know that most of the people in the village are on our side - or at least not for the English. And they’ve been burning businesses and houses down in Cork and Waterford, which is why we’re here in the first place. I doubt anyone will be that keen to give us away.”

An old tapestry in the hallway caught his eye – it wasn’t a particularly fine piece, but its subject matter seemed incongruous in an old country pile like Litterly House. It looked like some sort of medieval romance but it had probably been made during the mania over King Arthur and the old legends a half century before. In it, a lady at a window turned away coyly from a man dressed in amour, presumably off to war. Another man sat in a chair in the room she was in, gazing on. There were flowers in her hand, behind her back. He couldn’t tell who they were from. He shook himself out of his reverie and continued, steeling his resolve.

“This is why I think it would be best if we stayed here for the night, and some of the day tomorrow. We’ll scout out the roads in the morning and if there’s no sign of Garrett and his men then we might make it two nights, but by then we should have some more intelligence, and God willing, some more men.”

There were nods and murmurs all around. The journey down from Dublin had been tiring and hiding from British in Wicklow had been a dirty affair. Most of them were sensible enough to realize that though the conflict had been remarkably calm so far, their arrival in Cork would probably spell the end of that for them. And few of them knew it, but the War Council was discussing burning down all the barracks they could empty in a month’s time – and Liam had been ordered to try and empty some of those in Cork if possible.

“And what about Sir Giles?” Frank asked, drawing his brows together while Penn sneered at him.

“We’ve already brassed him off,” Liam said. “I can’t imagine we’ll make things much worse by imposing on him for the night. We’ll have to see if we can get them a bit of food and see if they’ll agree to be locked into their rooms for the night. We should be out of their way soon enough.”

Frank nodded, and most of the others looked reluctantly approving to the idea.

“Besides,” Liam added, “I don’t know about you lads, but I could use a bath and a real bed.”

Frank was sent off to inform Charlie, who was acting as sentry a little ways up the road, and Liam went to talk to James and Eoin himself. It had absolutely nothing to do with his concern about Buffy’s reaction to their prolonged presence in her guardian’s house.

He knocked once on the door before entering, and was relieved to see that everyone looked calmer then they had when his squad had arrived earlier. The old butler had even been dozing by the stove from the looks of it. Sir Giles looked at him coldly, and Liam suppressed his irrational dislike of the man.

He felt incredibly awkward – he was about to announce in front of the man whose house he had seized control of – and who had been beaten by one of his men – that he and his squad would be sleeping in his beds and eating his food. No hard feelings though, he thought darkly.

“We think it would be best,” he began, “considering who we think is coming,” he added in a lower tone, his voice heavy with significance, “if we remained here for the night while keeping watch for the other parties in the area, and then reassessed in the morning.”

James nodded, and Eoin shot an unsubtle glance at Sir Giles and Miss Summers. He could practically feel Sir Giles’ glare burning a hole in him, but took a moment before meeting the other man’s eyes.

“Sir Giles,” he began, more politely, “I do apologize for the imposition, but we are at war, and I can’t and won’t risk the lives of my men and the others on the possibility of spies. Penn was wrong to hit you,” the glare intensified, “and I’ve seen to it that he’ll keep well away for the remainder of our stay, but I’m afraid that for the next day we’re going to have to keep control of your house.”

“Very gracious of you, I’m sure,” their unwilling host said, the acidity of his tone such that it made one of the maids flinch. Buffy put one of her hands on his shoulder, her eyes flicking between the two men carefully. Liam sighed, and gave a polite nod to the cook, who looked startled to be acknowledged.

“Mrs. O’Leary,” he began, turning on the charm that had every mother of his friends in his city of birth shaking their heads fondly at his antics rather than cursing his name, “I do hate to trouble you, but might we get a bit of dinner?”

Her frightened gaze softened, but she still looked to Giles for approval. At his reluctant nod, she gave Liam a hesitant smile.

“I’m sure I can rustle something up – simple, mind you,” she added.

“I could eat a reverend mother,” James muttered, pinkening under the disapproving gaze of the cook and one of the maid, “begging your pardon,” he added, “I meant to say that anything hot will be a treat after a week on the road.”

That, Liam reflected, a rueful smile tugging at his face, was true enough.