The Secret of Redemption
Author: D.M. Evans
Summary: A rash of child killings stir up the past for Giles and
Disclaimer: so not mine. All characters belong to Mr. Whedon et
al. Don't own Most Haunted either.
Seeking to forget makes exile all the longer; the secret
of redemption lies in remembrance.
Richard von Weizsaecker
your thoughts." Buffy handed Angel a mug of warmed blood. He sat in the shadows
of Giles' office.
wrapping a big hand around the fragrant mug. He still felt oddly shy about
drinking in front of her and Giles and he wondered why. He had mostly gotten
over it with Cordy, Wes and Gunn. What did it matter anyhow? Giles was busy
shuffling papers, trying to look busy. He wasn't even paying Angel any mind. He
turned his attention back to Buffy. "Mostly thinking that having too much time
on my hands is a bad thing." Angel knew it was more likely a dangerous thing.
Time let his losses play through his mind, so many dead friends, Wes, Cordy,
all those young Slayers. Angel shut his eyes as thoughts of his son, not dead
maybe but lost to him, floated to the forefront of his mind.
can be boring." Buffy rested a hip on the desk. "What's up with this, Giles?"
up at her, pushing up his glasses. "Perhaps things work in cycles, Buffy. Maybe
we should just enjoy a little down time or see if we can find where those two
fire demons got off to. I was thinking of visiting some old friends."
vacation?" Buffy's eyebrows reached for the ceiling. "Has hell become a frosty
his lips at her. "A few days off is not a vacation, Buffy."
him off. "You'd make it about work anyhow You'd have your friends looking into
those missing fire demons." She sat on Angel's lap, putting her arms around his
neck. "Ready to tell what's bothering you?"
uncomfortably. He should have realized that he couldn't hide anything from his lover.
"Just thinking about everyone who's gone. Wondering where Connor might be and
if he's okay."
tightened her grip on him. He never spoke of his son to her. She wondered if he
was embarrassed or regretted Connor wasn't hers, or worse, thought she would be
angry about his existence. "That's natural. Want to talk about it?"
his head, displacing her as he got up. "It's nothing."
pulled into a thin line. She knew it wasn't nothing. Angel was worried about
his son and if he wasn't worried then he wasn't the man she loved. Still, she
knew better than to push. "Well when
it's not nothing, you tell me."
gratefully at her. "Thanks. Didn't you have some more Christmas shopping to do?
Now would be the perfect time."
his cheek. "Is someone fishing for a gift?"
faith in two things. One, you already have a gift for me and two, you can't
resist a shopping trip," Angel said, seeing Giles trying not to laugh at that
"You are so
right. And on that note, I'll leave you two to entertain yourselves." Buffy
made a face. "Ewww bad mental image." She shrugged and headed for the door.
"Call me if something comes up."
her go. "Ever wish that men could solve their problems with a shopping trip?"
up his glasses, pondering that question. "It could make it a little easier.
Then again, we do have the pub crawl." His blue eyes went a little wistful.
"I haven't gone on a good pub crawl since Doyle died."
"Ah, yes, your
half demon friend. I would have liked to have met him."
"He would have
driven you crazy...or maybe not. He was a little like your friend, Ethan, only
not evil." Angel smirked.
Ethan didn't start out that way either. Power can be...alluring." Pain hid in
shoulders drooped. "As I well know."
The two men
stared at one another for a moment, the atmosphere turning uncomfortable as
they both realized this was one of their longer, friendlier chats. The tension was
broken by the jangle of the phone. Giles snatched it up, giving their business
slogan as a greet.
Nigel. It's been a long time." Giles' brow pinched as his friend from Leicester
started talking. "Missing children? Isn't that something the
police...skins?...oh dear. Yes, I'll be out there as soon as I can to
investigate. I'll see you shortly, Nigel."
Giles a questioning look.
children have gone missing in the Leicester area," Giles answered the unasked
question. "They've found two of the children's skins in the woods. The police
are treating it as a serial killer but my friend thinks it has a supernatural
Angel cast a
glance at the curtained window. It was still daylight. "I'll start looking for
things that match in the books and online."
"I'll pack a bag in case I'll need to spend the night, which is likely. I'll
call you with more information as soon as I have it." Giles took his glasses
off for a moment, thinking. "Why don't we let Buffy have her afternoon off? We
don't have very much to go on yet. It could be a human crime, however
at the thought. "I was thinking that myself."
Giles grumbled. "It's always so much more horrible when children are involved."
about the children he had killed, Holtz's children and then of how it felt to
lose his own baby twice now. "It takes a monster," he said, his voice heavy
To his credit,
Giles had no comment to that. All he could think about was what he had done to
those poor young girls months before.
Giles hated to
think about how much time had passed since he had last seen Nigel. It reminded
him how long he had been away from home and how old he was getting. Most of his
friends had drifted away while he was in America or they had been killed. Giles
tried to shake off his melancholy as he went up the walkway to the inn Nigel
and Lilliana Tenpenny ran.
His friend was
waiting for him. Upon seeing Nigel one thought ran through Giles' mind; it
really had been awhile. The last time Giles had seen Nigel, the man's ginger
hair had no ash threading through it, and his pale face had only a few lines
unlike now. Seeing Nigel's paunch, Giles unconsciously touched his own belly,
hoping he was in better shape. He thought so.
"Nice to see you, Rupert. I wish it wasn't under these circumstances. When you
told me you were starting up this investigatory group I thought you had gone a
little barmy, never thought I'd have to call you myself. Can I interest you in
"Thanks, Nigel. You can tell me more about what's been happening here."
face went grim but Nigel waited until they were both ensconced in comfortable chairs
in the Inn's library, scotch in hand, before he started his tale. "Over the
last several weeks, children have disappeared, young ones, mostly in the age
range of five to ten. The local police believe a serial pedophile is
assumption. It seems to be happening with frightening regularity," Giles
replied, thinking on the Amber alerts that used to come over TV, radio, and
highway signs in California.
his head but the clouds in his eyes said it wasn't anything human doing these
killings. Giles felt oddly relieved. This monster could be made to pay. Human
justice wasn't always so sure.
skins were found hanging from some trees. The police think the killer is
showing off his trophies. The pedophile-murderer theory is all over the telly."
"Care to tell
me why you don't buy into this theory?" Giles twirled the scotch in the glass,
wishing he felt a hundred percent on his game. Thoughts of dead youngsters,
granted much younger than the Slayers, brought back their fate to the front of
his mind. Even if it was necessary to put the world right again, Giles wasn't
sure he'd ever escape the haunted feeling stirred up in him by the culling of
the Slayer line back down to what it was meant to be. He understood Angel
better now than he ever wanted to.
I went out to the woods, got as close as we could to the crime scene. We didn't
believe the media spin," Nigel said, not elaborating as to why.
knit as he wondered if he would have just bought into a pedophilia story after
his exposures to such crimes in America; maybe and that disturbed him. Still he
didn't know why Nigel hadn't believed it. "That doesn't tell me why you didn't
believe it, Nigel."
where we are," Nigel said as if that explained everything. He seemed surprised
Giles hadn't twigged onto it yet.
for a moment then took a deep breath as the realization set in. "Oh, the Dane
Hills. You think it's the Black Annis." More scotch passed his lips as he
thought about the various legends of the Black Annis, otherwise known as Cat
Anna or Black Anny. It was hard to sort her out from history but if he sifted
out legends that could be contributed to real women, he was left with a
creature that could be traced back to the Cailleach Bheur. A supernatural
being, she was said to be related to the fey, with long talons that she dug her
home, Black Annis' Bower, out of the stone with. Children were her favorite
food. She would drink their blood, eat their flesh and suck their marrow before
wearing their skins. "Surely she's just a legend, a nursery boggart to make
the books suggest and I would have believed that since this area has been
settled for so long. The Dane Hills were paved over back in the first World War
including the area that legend had it where Black Annis' bower was carved into
the stone. Still, Lillianna and I decided to check it out, just in case."
instincts," Giles said, thinking back to his youth when mages like himself,
Nigel and Ethan would have gone out in the hopes of finding the Annis just for
sport. "What did you find out?"
unfortunately. We couldn't get all that close. I wasn't eager to cross police
tape in a case that involved the murder of children. Still, you could feel the
power. There is something out there of a magical nature. Maybe the Annis, maybe
something else but it's not human. That's when I decided to call you, Rupert,"
Nigel said, looking unsettled and somehow old. It depressed Giles.
Giles took a
sip of the smoky liquid. "I'm glad you did."
"It's a bit
late to go out there now," Nigel said, glancing out the window, at the
gathering gloom. "I've no desire to go trampling around in Cat Anna's woods if
it is her out there killing. She'll have no troubles flaying and eating us. You
might be used to that sort of thing but I'm not."
not exactly thrilled with tromping around in the dark woods either. "I'll call Angel
and have him look into the Black Annis to see what we can do about her."
Nigel sounded disappointed.
doubt. If it requires a spell, you, Lilliana, and I should be able to handle
this," Giles said, feeling a need to do something himself. He was beginning to
understand Angel's desire to balance the tables. He hadn't felt like this since
the 70's when Eyghon's horror was fresh.
"Come on. I'll
show you to your room," Nigel said, levering himself up out of the wingback
chair. "Then we can go out and get a bite to eat."
Angel put the
phone back on the hook and started flipping through the books to look for
information on the Black Annis. It was a relatively easy task. He glanced up,
hearing Buffy stomping in. It wasn't the happy light sound of a satisfied
shopper. His nose wrinkled against the pungent odor she carried with her and it
wasn't the scent left behind by the attack of the perfume sharks in the
cosmetic department. Angel turned to her, his eyes widening slightly as he took
in the deep cerise stains all over her body. Her blonde hair stuck up in stiff
crimson spikes where it wasn't matted down.
whipped up, her face rigid with suppressed rage. "I don't want to talk about
enough to take the hint. "At least you killed whatever it was."
She shook her
head, her hair not even moving. "No I didn't. It spit up on me and ran. And
that's the last I'm saying until I'm clean."
enthusiastically. "Just toss your clothes out into the hall and I'll....burn
them." He grimaced.
Once Buffy was
scrubbed clean and ensconced on the couch, resting against his shoulder, she
picked up her tale. "I overheard some of the clerks complaining about weirdness
at the mall, moved Christmas displays, funny stuff happening with the clothing,
her hair back. "And you investigated."
She shot him
an ‘are you nuts' look. "No, the stupid prankster demon just so happened to show
up and slimed me!"
Angel's brow knit.
you know. Or maybe you don't." Buffy sighed, patting his hand. "I'll rent it
later. Anyhow, I was too busy trying to get red goo out of my eyes before I
went blind or something and by the time I got them clear, the thing was gone."
Angel did a
quick mental inventory of things that hacked up hardening slime. "Did you get
any kind of a look at it?"
"Small, like a ten year old boy, with these little curvy horns. It might have
been cute if not for the whole cherry spew."
"Could be a
phooka or something like that," Angel offered. "More mischief than malice but
you can work them up."
"Why are you
doing the book thing?" She gestured at the spread of tomes.
hesitated for a moment. It suddenly seemed like not such a good idea to leave
Buffy out of the loop. "After you left, one of Giles' friends called to tell
him about something killing children in the woods."
stiffened. "And you didn't call me?"
"Giles went to
Leicester on his own. We're not sure it isn't a pedophile just like the police
think it is and it was still daylight when he left. I don't think either of us
wanted me riding up there in the trunk of his car," Angel said, quickly. "He
just called. He and his friend are going out to a pub tonight and tomorrow
they'll check it out. They think it might be the Black Annis."
thinned. "Which is?"
up one of the books and tapped a picture. "That's her."
Buffy muttered, seeing the blue hag with long dirty black hair and steely
claws. "Why isn't she the Blue Annis if her skin is blue?"
know," Angel admitted honestly.
"And we have
Giles out there on his own looking for this." Buffy's eyes stayed glued to the Annis'
talons. "We need to go help him."
on his own. I'm helping here and he's with his friends who are probably very
capable of handling the supernatural, judging by most of his friends," Angel
said placatingly. "And, why don't you handle the mall? I'll go to Leicester."
at him, stunned. "Are you sure?"
"I'm sure. The
Annis is a night creature, too, and we can't expose Christmas shoppers to
whatever it is in that mall." Angel managed a faint smile. The truth was more
painful. Dead children had dredged up his past yet again and maybe saving a few
would leach out some of his pain.
back, ruffling his hair. "Figures you wouldn't want to be caught dead in a
"I'll have you
know, I'm an excellent shopper...and I just signed myself up to marathon
sessions, haven't I?" He shook his head ruefully. "Don't worry, I'll make sure
nothing happens to Giles." He didn't add that Giles was quite capable of taking
care of himself, in spite of the fact he had to hold the record for getting
knocked unconscious. "We'll call if we need you."
"I know." She
traced the line of his lips. "Have time for a little study break?"
He kissed her.
"I'm sure I can spare a few minutes."
"This is why
Nigel didn't put up much of a fuss about handling things at the inn today,"
Lillianna said, rubbing her ankle where she had slipped on a root. There wasn't
much woods left in Dane Hills but she managed to fight with what little there
"Are you all
right?" Giles examined her ankle. It didn't look to be swelling.
fine." She held out a hand to him.
her up. Lillianna was starting to show the years that had passed since she was young
woman mixing magic and pot and hanging out with him and Ethan and the others.
Her ash brown hair was frosted with grey and little parentheses had etched
around her lips. He would never have pictured her as Nigel's wife back in the
good old days but they had always seemed happy. "What is going on at the inn?"
wants to stay in a haunted hotel these days so we thought, why not capitalize
on it?" Lillianna started leading the way again. "Nigel wrote to the blokes at
‘Most Haunted' and they decided to do their thing at the inn. It'll be
great for publicity."
volunteered to handle TV people?" Giles was surprised.
because he was afraid I'd strangle Yvette and queer the deal," Lillianna
replied with a laugh. "I mean could she scream more? If ghosts scare you that
much, give up hunting them and get a new job. She's bloody annoying."
your word for it," Giles said, having never seen the show. He never watched
much TV but he had caught some of the police reports about the dead and the
still missing children last night. He wasn't thrilled to be out here even in
the daylight hours, more worried about wasting police time if they questioned
are." Lillianna pointed to the blue and white police tape. "That's where the two skins were found."
at the scene. He got hints of magic floating in the air like a miasma that
wouldn't clear but it wasn't as potent as Nigel had led him to believe. Still,
there was a sadness clinging to the area that was palpable. "Did it feel
She bobbed her
head. "Very much so. Now the question is, where would the Black Annis be? Not
much in the way of caves around here."
"There is some
rock though," Giles mused, pointing to the outcropping that was a natural fence
for some of the nearby homes. "Let's skirt around the tape and head that way
and see if we can find some opening in the earth."
"All right but
why that way?" Lillianna asked, letting Giles take the lead.
legend had it that the Black Annis' tunnel connected to Leicester Castle, which
is that way."
two mages slowly investigated the landscape, inching their way along, not at
all sure what they were looking for. Giles wondered how police investigators
did this every day. It was nerve wracking and tedious all the while there was
the pricking of urgency; find the clues now or more will die. He knew that most
likely that any of the children that were still missing were dead, eaten by the
Annis. She just hadn't displayed the skins yet. He wondered why she would be
back now but he thought he had an answer to that. This could be spill over from
before when the extra Slayers had thrown things out of whack. She could have
awaken, slowly coming back into her own. Not for the first time he found
himself wishing there could have been another way to have handled things in
Sunnydale so that so much death and despair could have been avoided.
took him by surprise that he longed to go back to that place, even if it didn't
exist any more. When had Sunnydale begun feeling a little like home? When he
looked at Lillianna and his surroundings, he only saw his past and still
wondered if he could truly make a future here. He knew that was just his self
doubts talking. No matter what he had done since coming home, he had done a lot
of good, too. Why was it so much harder to think on the good instead of the
do we do if we find Black Annis' Bower?" Lillianna asked, breaking into his
thoughts and he was grateful for it.
"You go back
to the inn and deal with the tv crew. I'll call for my reinforcements," Giles
replied without hesitation. He didn't enlighten Lillianna to the fact that
Angel had already called him, planning to be there by tonight. He didn't know
how much of the night would be left by the time Angel arrived but he'd be glad
to have someone more capable of going toe to toe with the Annis.
"Sounds like a
plan to me," Lillianna said, relief heavy in her voice. "I'm getting too old
"I know the
feeling." Some days he really did.
comfortable silence enveloped them again. Finally Giles spotted something that
looked promising. In the roots of an old oak, certainly old enough to predate
any of the housing developments on the Dane Hills, was an opening in the rock.
It was small, barely big enough for someone's shoulders to fit through. He
knelt down looking at it. There were no leaves or twigs in the entrance,
suggesting something had used it recently. A foul odor wafted out of it.
could be it?" Lillianna asked, her voice tight.
touching the dirt around the entrance. "It's the best possibility we've run
across so far."
"If it's not,
this is pointless. We should probably find ways of luring the Annis out,"
Lillianna said. "Once your reinforcements get here."
"Did you bring
them?" Giles asked, meeting Angel in the parking lot of the inn. The Watcher
carried a canvas bag.
nodded, going to the little trunk. "I'm assuming these are the ones you meant."
He pulled out a flat carrying case. "I didn't realize you had swords this old
in your collection." Angel opened the case to reveal two ancient-looking
swords, heavy and ugly in form. These were weapons meant for heavy use, not for
decorating an officer.
several centuries older than you and they're made of good iron," Giles said,
then pointed to some of the tiny cottage houses behind the inn. "You'll be
staying back here."
Angel eyed the
ramshackle little buildings. "Not welcome at the inn?"
Lillianna and Nigel would be very curious and excited to have a tame vampire in
their inn," Giles said, smirking slightly at Angel's annoyed look at the
suggestion that he was domesticated. "However, they have a film crew taking
over most of the hotel. Your best bet for not being disturbed is the cottages."
Angel dreaded knowing.
looking for ghosties and things that go bump in the night," Lillianna said, coming
out of the shadows. "Rupert, you were supposed to let me know when our guest
this is my friend, Lillianna Tenpenny. She and Nigel own the inn and let's just
say they are good at finding enchanted objects," Giles said, as Lillianna
closed in on Angel curiously.
"Nice to meet you. Giles was just about to show me where I was staying."
"I gave him
the key, just in case I couldn't get away. It's back here." Lillianna waved
them to follow.
Angel shut up
the swords and picked up the case and his small travel bag. Giles had an absurd
thought about how strange it was to see a vampire with luggage. Lillianna took
the key from Giles and opened the cramped little cottage.
said with the air of someone used to using euphemisms to put a positive spin on
things for tourists. "I can't offer you any...uh liquid refreshments of
the...um warm variety." She blushed slightly.
disarmingly. "I'm fine, thank you. You went with Giles to find the cave, didn't
"And I'm annoyed enough with all the rigamarole inside the inn now that I'd go
with you there in the dark if I could. You two be sure to come back in one
piece. If she keeps annoying me, I might need you to show Yvette your real
face, Angel. It'd be worth it to see her die of fright."
"Then she'd be
haunting your inn, Lilli." Giles grinned at her.
shuddered. "I'll get an exorcist. If you need any spell components that we
didn't think of earlier, hunt me down, Rupert."
"Do I even
want to know what that was about?" Angel asked, setting the cases on the bed in
the next room. He came back out and sat in one of the narrow chairs that looked
inadequate to hold his muscular form.
Giles sat down
as well. "Not really. I've learned one of the ways to draw the Black Annis out
but I'm not really willing to give it a try unless there's no other choice."
a dead cat soaked in anise seeds? I saw that in the books." Angel replied, shrugging.
"That would be
the one. I don't have a dead cat and I'd rather not scour the streets looking
for road kill," Giles said.. He didn't want to think about having to kill one
himself. He really had had enough of death. "I think we can call her out in
swords, closest thing we have to cold iron," Angel mused.
"Yes. She might have to obey you after that whole thing with the faerie king
last year but I'm not sure the Annis has ever owed fealty to anyone but
herself. And she's a killer of children. I see no point in you telling her to
stop, an order that will be rescinded as soon as there is a new king."
expression said he didn't really want to think about that. "Point taken. I'll
assume the second sword is for you."
"I can handle
it," Giles said, bristling a bit wondering if he heard criticism in Angel's
voice. He was getting old but not that old, not yet. He could still do field
his jaw. "You were damn handy with a flaming stick as I recall."
narrowed at the mention of what happened after Jenny's death. "I've been well
"I think Buffy
assumes you'll be staying behind the lines," Angel said, an expression on his
face that said he didn't want to tell Buffy if Giles got killed in the field.
if I get into trouble, I plan on tripping you into the Annis' path." Giles'
lips quirked up.
jangled before Giles could continue his line of thought. He picked up. "Yes,
Nigel...what? Thank you for telling me. We'll be heading out there soon."
happened," Angel said as Giles hung up.
skins found hanging from the trees near Dane Hills," Giles said, feeling
disgust churning his gut.
"Fill me in on
the plan once we get out there. We've wasted enough of the night," Angel said,
going to get the swords.
They kept the
conversation to a minium as Giles led the way. The light from his torch was not
very comforting nor was the fact that he was going into the night by himself
with the vampire. On the times he went out on the hunt, Giles had to wonder how
Buffy felt. They were times racked with dull anxiety and boredom. No wonder her
world occasionally turned bleak.
Annis has been around a long time," Angel said softly. "I found records going
back to the fifteen hundreds. She won't go down easily."
"If we're even
dealing with her," Giles said, still hoping they were. "It's still all speculation.
We don't know for certain it's not a human pedophile. We're working on the gut
feelings of me and the Tenpenny's."
"You have good
instincts, Giles. How do we go about calling her out before someone sees us in
a housing plan with swords?" Angel asked in a dry tone.
"I didn't have
anise seeds but I did have this." Giles dug in his pack and pulled out a
bottle. After opening it, he surprised the vampire by dousing him with it.
"Sorry Angel, but one of us has to be bait."
Angel wiped at
his soaked clothing. "This reeks of licorice."
Took it off Nigel's bar. Just don't light up a match?" Giles smiled, looking
mildly amused at the idea of Angel flambee. "It's liquor made from anise
"You could try
giving me warning next time," Angel grumbled, wringing out his shirt.
allow me to drench you in alcohol if you knew?" Giles asked and Angel shot him
a slotted eyed look. Giles took stock of the vampire as they started walking
again. He couldn't help wonder why Angel hadn't handed off this assignment to
help him to Buffy. "Why did you volunteer to come up here instead of Buffy? I
know you're not that afraid of malls, Angel."
didn't answer immediately. Giles saw the pain stitching up in the broad planes
of the man's face. "I killed a lot of children in my time. They weren't my
favorite prey, too easy but I did kill some. I wasn't like Spike though, who
had a real taste for ‘veal' as he called it," Angel said unapologetically. "He
had a taste for kids and Slayers that I never quite understood. Still, I killed
enough kids. It's time to save some."
kids before," Giles said, assuming it had to be true given the last several
years of the vampire's life. "I thought this might be more...personal."
was as sharp as the sword he carried. "I know what these parents feel like,
Giles, their children missing, wondering if they're dead, wondering what the
person who took them might be doing to them." Angel's voice was brittle. "The
first time Connor disappeared, he was in the hands of a man whose children I
murdered and turned. I could only imagine what Holtz was doing to him. Now,
Connor's gone again of his own volition true but we don't know if he's dead or
alive. These dead kids here in Leicester reminded me I don't know where my son
is and the dull ache, the fear he might have given his life for mine, flared
into an agony I wouldn't want anyone to know. I know from his communications
with you before he disappeared, Connor didn't want to be found but the not knowing...it's
more painful than anyone knows." Angel shuddered almost imperceptibly, giving a
hint to the pain he carried.
I can't imagine...though I know what I felt like when Buffy died. It was the
closest I'll ever come to losing a child," Giles said slowly.
"I try to push
him to the back of my mind so I can go on. No one knows everything I gave up
for Connor," Angel said softly. He didn't elaborate on ‘everything.'
Giles said, his tone going reflective. "I've never doubted you could love.
Watchers aren't taught to think vampires are capable of it but I knew from the
beginning you loved Buffy. It doesn't come as a surprise to me that you miss
your child, Angel, that you loved him. Buffy knows it, too, even if she says
nothing. You can tell her, you know. She is not going to hate you for it. You
don't have to bear all your burdens alone. Thinking about a creature capable of
skinning a child and eating it stirs something in us all and with what you're
already carrying..." Giles trailed off, not sure if he wanted to get in this
deep with Angel. Still, a less broody Angel made for a happier Buffy and Giles
would do anything for her.
was so faint Giles might have imagined it. "Thanks, Giles. I'm done being
maudlin now. Is it too much to ask that the Black Annis just show up so we can
around. "Apparently so. The cave was right over here...I think. Everything
looks different after dark."
"It's been so
long since I've been out in the daylight, I'll take your word for it," Angel
the oak tree finally. "Doesn't look like much does it?"
his head. "The books said she claws her cave out of the rock with her
fingernails. She might not need a lot of space." His head jerked up. "Smell
his head. He didn't have a vampire's senses. The wind picked up just a bit,
carrying the odor to him. "Smells like rotting flesh."
walked into my bower," a voice in the dark said sounding like the crackle of
crumpling tin foil. "Smells like an offering."
the anise worked," Giles said surprised, gripping his sword tightly.
Angel grumbled, bringing his blade up.
"Do you see
her?" Giles asked.
could answer, something swarmed out of the hole in the ground. The Black Annis
drew herself up to her full height, shaking dirt from her thin shoulders. She
was taller than Giles was expecting and skeletal thin. She smiled at him,
showing him a sharp, snaggletoothed, yellow smile. She lunged at Giles before
he could bring his sword up.
Giles out of the arc of her long, steely talons as they scythed through the
air. Giles hit the ground hard, almost losing his sword. He did lose his torch
and his wind. Momentarily stunned, he watched the Annis turn on Angel, her blue
face twisting with rage.
is dead meat." She sounded extremely disappointed. "Still, there is blood in
you, leech. I'll have it for my bed time drink." The Annis laughed at the
faster than Giles would have expected her to. Her skirt of human skins whipped
around her as she tried to dance around Angel's sword slashes and move in close
on him. Angel tagged her arm and her flesh smoked where the iron came in
contact. She howled. Her claws flailed at him and Angel grunted when they
scored alongside his shoulder.
Giles," Angel said.
Giles wasn't sure
if that was a warning to ‘get the hell' out or a ‘get off your ass and do
something.' It was times like this he wished he knew a spell like ‘immobilist.'
Damn Willow for making him watch all those Harry Potter movies. He dragged to
his feet, his hip hurting from where it had smacked ground. Maybe he was
getting too old for this.
The Annis came
in under Angel's reach and grabbed him around the neck, lifting him off his
feet, something Giles didn't think something as thin as she could do. She
slammed Angel into the oak making him drop his sword. Angel's hands wrapped
around hers trying to pry her talons away from his flesh. Seeing Angel
bleeding, Giles wondered if the Black Annis was capable of severing the
wasn't concerned with him, a mere human, prey, Giles rammed his sword straight
through her back with all the strength he had, driving it past muscle and bone
and organs until it blossomed out the front of her. He stumbled into her,
pushing the sword to the hilt. Angel yelped as it went through her and into his
The Annis let
Angel drop. She hissed at Giles, looking over her shoulder at him. In spite of
his fervent wishes, she did not collapse and die. Instead, she reached around
and started pulling the sword out of her back. Angel's sword whirled around
like a baseball bat, cleaving her head from her shoulders. The Black Annis died
without a sound until her flesh started bubbling and dissolving. The smell
nearly made Giles vomit. He stumbled away, looking for his torch.
"Are you okay,
Angel?" he asked, looking back at the vampire.
pointed at his leg where blood pumped from a rent dangerously close to his
groin. "You nearly...."
in sympathy. "Sorry but I was trying to keep her from tearing off the more
suggested Giles should let him decide which was the important head. "You okay?"
Rubbing his sore hip, Giles glanced back at the cave. "Do you think there are
more kids down there? She hadn't displayed all the skins of the kids known to
"It's possible but they aren't alive."
"No, I didn't
hope they might be." Giles sighed.
Giles led the
way to the nearest pay phone. He used the hem of his shirt to cover his finger
as he dialed and tried to make the police believe that they might find the
bodies of the missing kids in a little cave in Dane Hills.
"That was the
worst American accent I've ever heard." Angel smiled after Giles hung up and
both men started limping for home.
"So long as
they don't track the call to me, I'm happy," Giles admitted. "I think I'm going
to have a bruise the size of London on my hip. You threw me right into the
"And you stabbed
me, I call that even," Angel said, probing the torn flesh of his neck.
"At least she's stopped."
one of a kind," Angel said, glancing back the way they came.
"Exactly. We'd better call Buffy and let her know what
happened here and see if she handled that mall demon," Giles said,
"I just hope
it didn't spit up on her again. She was not pleased." Angel smiled.
glad I missed out on that. She usually gives me a look like I'm the one
responsible for it." Giles made a lemony face at the thought.
"You are her
Watcher," Angel reminded him, obviously amused.
"Yes, well, I
don't go about encouraging demons to ruin her clothing, no matter what she
thinks." Giles laughed. "We might even get back to the inn in time to have a
little fun with the filming crew at the inn."
himself a cheeky smile. "Lillianna would be amused."
her for a long time, haven't you?" Angel asked.
"Since the 70's. We used to have all sorts of parties back then, me, Ethan, our
friends, a little magic, a little mayhem, keys might have been exchanged." He
smiled at the memories.
"Buffy has no
idea does she?" Angel grinned.
"I'm not even
sure if she knows what a key party is and the idea that I might have once had a
sex drive is an absurd one to the whole crew of them," Giles lamented. He
sobered for a moment. "Do you feel any better now that the Annis is dealt
hesitated a moment, pondering that then nodded. "Yes. If nothing else, Giles, I
know this, my son isn't helpless like the poor children the Annis preyed on. He
can handle himself. When he's ready, he'll come home."
Giles noted that
Angel was obviously thinking that Connor was still alive in spite of his
earlier fears. He hoped the vampire was right. "I'm sure, Angel."
Giles, you ready to lay down whatever it is you've been carrying around since
the call came in about the Annis?" Angel asked, softly.
startled; he hadn't thought he was that obvious. Then again Angel was very good
at reading people. Giles thought about the lost girls. It was a pain he
couldn't carry in the front of his mind for the rest of his life. It was time
to bury it. "Yes, I think I am."
Buffy came in
toting several shopping bags and a very happy look. Giles looked up from where
he was recording about the Annis in his journal. Angel was tucked away on the
couch in the shadows with a sketch book. Giles wondered if part of Buffy's
Christmas gift would be a portrait of herself.
"Keep out of
the bags," she said in warning.
Giles replied. "Did you find the demon plaguing the mall?"
no more," She replied cheerfully. "How are you two?" Buffy snugged against
Angel's hip on the couch. "Is everything healing up?" A smile played with her
lips. "Giles told me where he hit you."
"Yes. but it
was a close call," Angel said, pouting as he mined for sympathy.
"If you don't
quit whinging on about it, I'll be sure to have better aim next time," Giles
replied tartly. "My hip's doing fine as well."
to tell me everything," Buffy said, taking Angel's sketch book away, her eyes
flicking at what he was drawing. "Later. You and I need to talk, Angel."
She got up and
put the shopping bags his hands. "If you're really good, I'll let you peek at
one of your gifts."
bemused look made Giles smile as the vampire skirted the shadows towards his
and Buffy's room. Giles waved Buffy over and whispered something to her. She
nodded and followed Angel into their room. Angel had set the bags down and wore
an anxious look on his face.
all right Buffy? I thought we were okay," he said, a hint of worry in his voice.
taking his hand, pulling him toward the bed. "Sit. Relax. We're fine. I just
wanted to say, it's okay Angel, if you want to talk about him. I've told you
"Did Giles tell you..."
"Yes, but he didn't
have to. I want to know about Connor, Angel, because he was part of you, not
because you got to thinking about him because of this case of disappearing and
dead children. I want to know what was good and joyous about your son, because
he's yours and you love him. You can even tell me the not so good things. I
her expression and saw nothing but love and concern for him. He cupped her
chin, leaning in to kiss her softly. "Thank you. I love you so much, you know
back on the bed pulling her to him. He told her everything, all the fears the
Annis had dredged up, all the bad things he had done, all the bad things Connor
had done and all the good. It felt good to let it all go, to have her acceptance
of his child instead of pretending he didn't exist, never talking or thinking
about him. Maybe one day he could be there to see them both together. It didn't
matter. The burden was lifted from him. How odd it felt that he owed the Black
Annis for this.
In the other
room, Giles put away his diary and took out his guitar. For the first time in
a long time, he felt light enough of
spirit to play it. As he picked out tunes from his youth, he felt somehow
healed, if only a little.