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PROJECT PARANORMAL STORY TEMPLATE

Devil's Hill

Project Paranormal

Author: Dark Star

Season 1

Part 7

 

**

Summary: The discovery of an ancient stone causes major problems for the Project team.

 

Thanks to Jo for the beta.

 

**

 

Devil's Hill

 

 

Rupert Giles ran his hand down over the surface of the cracked and worn stone. The lettering was faint and weathered, but he could make out faint characters etched into the stone, and although it wasn't enough to be able to read it, it was enough to tell him that the language was very old.

 

In his left hand, an instant photograph slowly coalesced into a portable copy of the text, and he compared the duplicate carefully to the original.

 

"Do you know what it is?" An anxious voice beside his arm asked.

 

"It could be any number of ancient texts," Giles lied. He was fairly certain it was one of the old demon languages, but he doubted that his companion would want to know that. "I think I'm done here," he told his escort. "If anything else crops up… you know where to find me?"

 

The reply came in the form of a grunt, as both men walked carefully along the muddy bank, and parted company at the top. Giles made his way back to the car, contemplating the odd stone that had so recently been uncovered.

 

The panicked phone call this morning to the office of Project Paranormal, had been so early that it was barely light. The foreman at the new excavation at Devils Hill fort had been beset by some ghostly figures, all of which tried to hamper the uncovering of an ancient stone tablet. There had been no sign of the apparitions when Giles arrived, but he had found the tablet very interesting, and had asked permission to photograph it. The crew on site were aware of his reputation with all things ancient, and allowed him to do so.

 

Giles had a very pleasant morning researching his photographic evidence. And by mid afternoon he was fairly certain that it was written by archaic Arkensic demons. He had his suspicions as to what was inscribed on the tablet, but his knowledge of the language was rusty, and eventually he reluctantly decided to take what he had to somebody he thought had some knowledge of it.

 

 

Angel looked up from the photographs, and said helpfully, "It's Arkensic."

 

"Can you read it?"

 

"Some," Angel replied non-committally

 

"What some?" Giles muttered a little impatiently and Angel raised an eyebrow at the improper grammar. He moved the photograph over to the light to study it further.

 

"I think it's a warning," he said finally.

 

"That's what I thought." Giles agreed. "Can you tell what it's a warning of?"

 

"No. There isn't enough text here. I would like to see the original stone."

 

Giles's expression almost gave his dismayed thoughts away, before he covered them quickly. "It will be growing dark in about half an hour. I'll pick you up then."

 

*

 

The walk along the grassy verge was uncomfortable and strained. Giles tried to ignore the shivers that the large shape walking beside him inspired, and Angel pretended he couldn't tell that Giles was trying to hide it.

 

As they drew closer to the site, Angel forgot about the man at his side, as another… feeling… crept along his spine. He swallowed, forcing himself on, and felt a sensation like thousands of ants crawled up his arms.

 

"Angel?"

 

Angel blinked, realising that he had stopped moving, and that Giles was watching him in puzzlement.

 

"What is it?" Giles asked.

 

"I… don't know," he admitted, feeling foolish. "A feeling…?"

 

Giles frowned. "Well stop messing around, will you? I don't want to be here all night."

 

Angel winced at the annoyance in the man's tone, and forced himself to follow him. He really, really, didn't want to go any further, but he didn't want to let Giles down; with a supreme effort, he pushed forward. A terrible, terrible, panic set in and he had an overwhelming urge to get away. And then, with no warning at all, the sensation vanished and he was able to move forward normally again. What the heck had that been about? 

 

An uncomfortable couple of hours were spent up at the fort, difficult for Giles to see things clearly in the torchlight. To Angel's relief, they took a different route back to the car, and because of this, they failed to notice the stone softly start to buzz…

 

*

 

"Morning Giles!" Buffy bounced into Giles's study the next day.

 

"Good morning," Giles smiled affectionately at her. "You're very lively this morning."

 

Buffy shrugged. "New day. Got any cases for us?"

 

Giles shook his head. "I have…" he consulted his notes, "five separate manifestations needing binding spells. Nothing I can't handle." At her disappointed pout, he added, "But I'm visiting Dorchester this afternoon, major poltergeist activity. You could come, if you want?"

 

Buffy frowned. "They're getting more frequent, aren't they?"

 

"Yes," he agreed. "The level of activity is certainly rising. I think…"

 

He stopped as the telephone issued its shrill challenge, and he reached over to pick up the receiver.

 

"Hello?" he began, "This is the offices of…"

 

He stopped abruptly, and Buffy could hear excited chattering coming from the phone. She was just thinking about some quip to go with that, when she saw Giles's expression change to one of concern.

 

"Get out of there, now," he told the phone brusquely. "Let us deal with it."

 

 He had hardly replaced the receiver before she was saying impatiently, "Well?"

 

"That was the Devils Hill fort," Giles began.

 

"More shadowy figures?" Buffy guessed.

 

"No," he replied, getting to his feet. "More serious than that. The place is overrun by demons."

 

"Sounds like a job for demon-girl, then," Buffy grinned, following him out of the study.

 

"Girls," Giles corrected, striding into the kitchen. It was too early for some of the teenage girls to be up, but he did find Rona, Lucy and Sarah gathered in the kitchen to have breakfast.

 

"Grab yourself some weapons," he told them crisply. "I have a job for you."

 

Startled, breakfast spoons and marmalade went down with a clatter, as each slayer scrambled to find weapons and go out on a real mission.

 

All five of them piled into Giles's car for the journey to the hill fort. Buffy smiled at the nervous anticipation evident on all the girls' faces. For her, this type of mission was fairly routine, but she remembered the fear and adrenaline that the unknown could inspire, and part of her envied the girls' excitement.

 

Tumbling from the car armed with their chosen weapons, the group made their way up the hill to the fort, wondering what they were going to find. They didn't have long to wait.

 

Following behind Giles as he crossed the wooden plank across a ditch, Sarah shrieked as something wrapped itself round her ankle. She kicked frantically at it, but was afraid to hit it with her axe for fear of chopping off her own foot.

 

Behind her, Buffy expertly swung her sword to slice off the offending tentacle, while Rona and Lucy attacked the rest of the creature that hid in the ditch. A green sludge appeared all round the ditch, evoking a disgusted Euw!  from all of the slayers, and Rona hurriedly scrambled out of the ditch.

 

"Be alert," Buffy rebuked Sarah. "Your life might depend on it."

 

"Got it," she said bravely. But the assault on her leg had left her feeling bruised, and shaken. What else would they find here?

 

What they found was nothing like they had expected. Up on the hill, all around the stone, swarmed demons. All kinds of demons, some familiar, some not, and even Buffy was stunned by the spectacle.

 

"What's going on?" she muttered. "Are they having a party?"

 

"The party is ours," Sarah snapped, eager to make up for getting caught earlier. She ran forward to join the abundance of demon kind and dispose of it.

 

"You heard her," Buffy agreed. "Let's go, girls…"

 

Giles watched with professional  appreciation as the four girls threw themselves enthusiastically into the fray. Buffy seemed to be everywhere, slicing, chopping, helping; with a deep breath, Giles hefted his sword and followed the girls into the scuffle.

 

Organised chaos, Giles thought grimly as he battled on. He was very pleased with the way the girls could take care of themselves. Better than I can, he realised wryly, and ducked as a Molari tried to slice off his head. Spinning round, he efficiently decapitated the Molari instead, and a flurry of movement to his left caught his eye.

 

A pair of large and scaly creatures had broken away from the gathered crowd of demons and were sprinting for the open ground. Rona was in close pursuit, and Sarah quickly disposed of her adversary and rushed to help her stop the demons' escape.

 

Giles frowned when he glanced back at the remaining two slayers in the melee. His practised eye noticed the demons gathering into groups, and tried to hack his way further in to help out. Buffy had noticed the danger too, and called, "Back out, Lucy. Put space between you."

 

Lucy heard the warning and prepared to withdraw. Beside her, a slimy red thing slipped on the mud, and she realised it was her chance to get another monster out of the mix. She ran forward, sword raised, and prepared to take it out.

 

Buffy saw her run forward, saw the remainder of the demons' clan gathering around the inexperienced girl; and she began to run toward her.

 

"Lucy! No…"

 

She wasn't going to make it, she was too far. Lucy swung round bravely, sword swinging, and Buffy felt like she was running on glue as she ran forward, trying to reach her in time.

 

Giles had seen the danger seconds before Buffy did and was also on his way. But he wasn't as fast as his slayer, and demons kept getting in his way. He saw Lucy wrestling with the demon, saw an arm raise… and then the stone exploded and white fire filled his vision.

 

Appalled, he saw Lucy dissolve in the white light, saw Buffy buckle as she got caught in the backlash of the radiance. Only training kept him moving; it was too late for Lucy, but to protect the helpless Buffy he had to move fast. Bringing his sword round in a sharp arc, he took out two demons that were leaning over her prone form.

 

Breathless and anxious, Giles stood up and looked around. Everywhere around him, the demons who hadn't been destroyed by the explosion were growing sluggish, and grinding slowly to a stop. Then, one by one, they simply vanished.

 

Wondering how long they had before the light took him and Buffy too, he scooped her up in his arms and fled back to the car. All was quiet there, and he realised that whatever had happened up on the hill - they were safe here. Rona and Sarah were making their way back to the car over the grassy bank. Progress was slow, because Rona was helping to support Sarah due to a severe limp in her left leg.

 

Buffy was conscious, but disorientated and trembling, and without thinking about it all, Giles pulled her close and hugged her tightly until she had recovered enough to return home.

 

*

 

Westbury, Giles's study.

 

Buffy looked tired and drawn. She had been very reserved since returning home, and Giles was concerned about her. She insisted that she was feeling all right, but he didn't believe her. Nor did he believe that the young girl's death had not affected her. She made him think of somebody hiding behind the thick walls of a medieval castle.

 

"Buffy…" Giles started to say, but his pale slayer had taken a step back; right now, he could tell that not only was she hiding, she was also pulling up the drawbridge.

 

"It happens," she said quietly. "She was a slayer, Giles. It goes with the job."

 

"Yes, but…" he frowned, not liking this hard-hearted person. "She was…"

 

"Stupid." Buffy said harshly. "She was reckless, and she paid the price."

 

Giles whipped off his glasses with irritation and rubbed the lenses furiously as Buffy stormed out of the study and go into the tiny bathroom next door.

 

Buffy ran some water and washed her face. She was stalling for time, knowing that she was going to have to face the wrath of the other girls sooner or later. She stared at herself in the mirror over the sink; who was this person looking back? She squared her shoulders and forced herself to stand up straighter. The girls would be looking to her for answers, but she had none to give them.

 

The atmosphere in the kitchen was subdued. Girls sat round the tables, talking quietly or rubbing red eyes. A couple were still sniffling, and Buffy swallowed the lump in her throat and said, "Now you know what being a slayer means."

 

Several of the girls looked up in surprise, but Rona snapped, "We know about being a slayer, Buffy. Some of us were there with you in Sunnydale. We've seen death before."

 

Buffy whirled on her. "And now you think you know it all? You know nothing, Rona."

 

"So inspire us with your wisdom." The last word was barked out bitterly as the angry girl took a step closer.

 

"Stay alive," Buffy replied, unperturbed. "That's my advice." She glared at Rona, and added, "But I wouldn't expect you to listen to me. Why not get Faith over here? That's what you do when things get tough, isn't it?"

 

Rona glared at her but said nothing, and Buffy could feel the hostility in the room. She stared them out, daring them to blame her, but none had the courage to say it out loud. Eventually the girls looked away or moved off, and Buffy opened the kitchen door to step out into the courtyard. She wasn't wearing a coat and it was cold outside; she rubbed her arms to protect herself against the chill wind, and crossed the yard toward the garage.

 

Her tread was heavy up the wooden steps, but before she opened the door to Angel's flat she stood up straighter, put her slayer face back on, and opened the door. She entered the flat, and he was waiting just inside the door, as if he'd known she was coming. She closed the door and looked at him uncertainly.

 

"I…" she gestured toward the house, not wanting to tell him what had happened but knowing she must. "There's been…" she faltered, gathering herself.

 

"I heard," he replied gently. "I'm so sorry."

 

Suddenly, it was too much, and she turned toward the kitchen and grasped the counter for support. She didn't hear him move, but suddenly he was there beside her and she found herself burrowing against the soft fabric of his sweater.

 

"I don't want to do this again, Angel," she sobbed. "I can't."

 

"Sshh." He hugged her tightly and soothed her as best he could; and he wished desperately that there was some way that he could absorb her pain and endure it himself.

 

They stood together for a long time, and although she didn't mean to, Buffy allowed all her anger and frustration to leak out; she'd held it all to herself for so long that it was an enormous relief to unburden herself against Angel's broad chest. It wasn't fair, she knew that; he had enough issues of his own and he didn't need hers as well. But she couldn't seem to stop herself, and by the time her ragged breathing subsided, she felt completely exhausted.

 

Angel calmly handed her a cloth, and Buffy took it gratefully to wipe her eyes and other embarrassing runny bits. While she did that, Angel was gently manoeuvring her over to the sofa where he sat down and smoothly pulled her down with him. She was too tired to argue with him; instead she allowed him to silently settle her against his comforting frame, and made no protest when his arm slid round her shoulders to pull her against him. Protected and comforted, Buffy finally drifted away into a troubled sleep.

 

The next couple of days went by in pretence of normality. Giles and Angel worked on the text of the transcription, and on the third day after Lucy's death, Giles called her into his study.

 

"What gives?" she started to say, but the ex-watcher's face was grave.

 

"We believe we have translated the Arkensic text," he said slowly, and Buffy waited for the expected bad news.

 

"And?" she prompted, when he said no more.

 

"As we expected, the stone was issuing a warning."

 

"A warning?"

 

"Yes."

 

"To who?" she frowned and tried again, "Whom?"

 

"Other demons. It seems the stone was designed to keep creatures at bay; but, if one should breach its defences, a secondary defence mechanism kicked in, a kind of siren call, drawing in the evil closer where it could be destroyed."

 

"That doesn't make sense, Giles." Buffy replied. "Angel said he felt a sense of dread - nothing like a siren call."

 

"Precisely," Giles said meaningfully. Buffy didn't understand what he was getting at, but then her eyes widened in sudden understanding.

 

"Oh, god…" she murmered.

 

"Yes." Giles confirmed. "He didn't feel it because it wasn't there. It only happened because he started it." Giles fixed her with his gaze, and said very clearly, "Angel activated the stone. He was responsible for setting the process in motion… he is responsible for Lucy's death."

 

"How can you say that!" Buffy exclaimed in righteous indignation. "Angel had nothing to do with that! He was only there because you asked him to be!"

 

"And look how well that turned out." He replied gravely. "I ask him for one simple thing and a girl dies because of something he does. He can't be redeemed, Buffy. He's still a monster at heart."

 

"What do you know about his heart?" she replied sullenly. She took a deep breath and tried to check her growing anger. "Look, I know you liked the girl, Giles. So did I, she was a sweet and caring little thing. But you can't blame Angel for everything that goes wrong. It isn't fair!"

 

"You of all people should know that life isn't fair," he responded, before tiredly sitting down in his swivel chair. "Now I have to find out how to turn it off."

 

Buffy backed out of the office and left him to it. She was annoyed with Giles's assumption when a thought struck her. Had he made Angel feel like that? On an impulse, she went out through the side door and crossed the courtyard toward Angel's flat.

 

Letting herself in, she found Angel sitting dejectedly in his armchair, leaning forward and with his head resting on his hands. Wordlessly, Buffy crossed to him and knelt down. He didn't look at her, but when she laid her hand on his head, his shoulders immediately tensed up. Undaunted, Buffy ignored this and leant forward to kiss the top of his dark head. Angel couldn't bring himself to look at her; instead, he raised his head just enough so that he could seek comfort against her shoulder, and Buffy wrapped her arms reassuringly round his broad shoulders.

 

"It's all right," she whispered, drawing him closer, "It'll be all right."

 

*

 

For a long moment they watched each other across the cool forest. She was too frightened to move when he came towards her and knelt at her feet. He shouldn’t be kneeling; she wasn’t worthy.

 

“Your mushrooms,” he said, his voice a prayer. “You’ve dropped them.”

 

She watched his long, strong fingers pluck the mushrooms off the forest floor, brushing away the dirt that clung to them and placing them gently back into the basket. For a moment she forgot to breathe; he looked like an angel.

 

 

Buffy woke up with a start. With her wispy dream already fading away, she turned over to see the bedside clock. 3:17.

 

Stumbling out of bed, she groped in the darkness for her clothes. In spite of the heating, she felt cold, and she shivered as she pulled on her jeans and ragged sweater. Tea, she decided. That was what she needed. Maybe she was suffering withdrawal symptoms?

 

Moving as quietly as possible, Buffy made her way down the stairs toward the kitchen. Voices inside the room made her hesitate; some of the girls were having trouble sleeping following Lucy's death, realising that it could be the fate of any of them, and had begun staying up much later. Instead, she veered left, going out through the dining room's French doors and worked her way round the side of the building toward the flat over the garage.

 

The sound of activity in the kitchen made her smile, and Angel handed her a steaming mug of tea.

 

"It happened again?"

 

"Yes," she sighed, taking the hot drink gratefully and carrying it over to Angel's sofa. She curled up on the soft fabric, hoping that he would join her. He picked up his own drink - black tea - and sat down next to her. He felt awkward here with her, and when she didn't begin her normal chatter he commented, "The kitchen's busy at the house."

 

"That why you didn't come over?"

 

"Yes." He smiled slightly. "I thought you might get up, though."

 

Buffy put her drink down and tried not to look at him. She shouldn't be here with him, she knew that. But she was restless and lonely, and being with Angel for even just a few minutes helped her to cope better. Without thinking about it, she laid her head on his shoulder, and it was only when she felt his arm tense that she realised what she'd done. She wasn't sure how to rectify her mistake, or even if she would want to. Her heart raced with his nearness, and she looked up at him, accidentally choosing the exact moment he looked down, and their eyes connected.  At that moment she knew she was lost. She knew she had to look away, get up, put space between them, but she couldn't. And when Angel's head came toward hers, she clung to him, savouring her stolen kisses with a savage thirst, and when he finally pulled away his dark eyes smouldered with need.

 

"Angel…" Buffy whispered, and wished she hadn't, because the whispered sound of her voice broke the connection and Angel abruptly pulled away from her and stood up.

 

Already missing the contact with his body, Buffy swallowed harshly in an attempt to control her emotions. Everything in her screamed at her to go to him; kiss away his indecision. She made herself sit still, but she hurt. She wanted to hold him, take comfort in him, and yet, she was only making it worse by staying here.

 

She forced herself to stand up. "Better be getting back," she muttered uncomfortably. Tell me not to go. She thought wildly. Tell me it's going to be all right.

 

Angel stepped awkwardly to one side to let her pass. "Okay," he said quietly, and Buffy fought the urge to shake him. Didn't he care? But she carefully avoided looking at his face as she shimmied past, afraid that his true thoughts would be visible to her, and she would then be unable to find the strength to make herself leave.

 

She tried not to think about him, tried not to miss him at all, but the following night, when she again opened her eyes at 3.17 exactly, she groaned. She rolled over, pulling the covers over her head, but it didn't work. Finally she dragged herself out of bed and dressed quickly. Her feet seemed to have made up their own mind where she should be, and she shivered as she crossed the chilly courtyard to the garage.

 

Angel's flat lay quiet when Buffy let herself in. She was a little disappointed when he wasn't waiting for her, and her heart sunk a little. Perhaps he was sleeping? The smell of tea caught her attention when she went past the little kitchen, and she found a hot mug of warming beverage waiting for her. A suspicion dawned, and she looked around the tiny flat; Angel was nowhere to be seen.

 

Disappointed, but not wanting to return to her lonely room, she took the welcome mug over to Angel's sofa. She was tired, so she opened the sofa out into a full bed and curled up, waiting for his return. But the wait was long, and it had been a trying week, and she finally went to sleep.

 

Angel returned shortly before dawn; he paused at the sight of Buffy curled up on his bed, a small smile on his lips. He sat on the edge of the bed for a long time just watching her; it was a pleasure that he didn't often get to enjoy. But he was growing tired, and with the pull of daylight in his bones, he lay as close to the edge of the bed as he could. The rhythmic pounding of her heart eventually lulled him to sleep, and with sleep came liberation. In slumber, their bodies instinctively sought each other out; and, pressed tightly against the tiny blonde slayer, one arm wrapped round her waist… they slept contentedly.

 

*

 

The next morning, Buffy reluctantly disentangled herself from Angel's comforting embrace and let herself out of his flat while he still slept. It was getting harder to leave him every day, and, unwilling to give up the luxury of his companionship, she had lain awake for an hour before finally getting out of bed.

 

She returned to her room for a quick shower and change of clothes, and then went down the stairs to the study, to where she found the ex-watcher deep in research.

 

"Morning, Giles," she said, and added without preamble, "did you find out anything else about the stone?"

 

"Yes," came the reply. "The populace were being beset by Arkensic and other demons, and some powerful local shamans created the stone in an effort to protect them. It was probably their spirits that were seen by the foreman at the beginning of this, and the reason he called us in the first place."

 

"Did you find out how to turn it off?"

 

"There's no need." Giles explained. "It seems that the stone, having achieved what it was meant to do, is now inactive again. Once the demons have been drawn in and destroyed, there is no need for it to remain active."

 

"Great." Buffy replied listlessly. "So, if we had all stayed at home, the stone would've taken care of the demons itself?"

 

"Essentially, yes." Giles replied sadly.

 

Buffy sighed. "Great," she muttered again.

 

"Buffy…" Giles began, "Are you all right?"

 

"Just thinking about the utter futility of it all," she murmured unhappily. "No matter how many times we fight, there's always another battle. Always something else to knock us down."

 

Giles frowned. "Buffy…"

 

"I'm tired," she admitted despondently. "So tired of everything, Giles."

 

"You've been through a lot, lately," he replied quietly. "Give it a few days, and…"

 

Buffy shook her head. "Not this time." At Giles's uncertain look, she added, "I need to speak to Angel."

 

*

 

"I miss you."

 

"I know, Buffy. But we shouldn't be together so much…"

 

"Why?"

 

Angel blinked. "Well… it's difficult… the curse…"

 

"Difficult but not impossible," she said decisively.

 

"I don't…"

 

"Listen to me," she said, moving closer and taking his hand in hers. "No matter how much we try and stay apart, something happens and we always get back together. I don't want to do that any more."

 

"You have to," he said softly, gently smoothing her hair back off her face. "We have no choice."

 

"Don't we?" Buffy said vehemently. "I can't do it, Angel. I can't go on any longer without…" she hesitated, and Angel waited expectantly. "There's a very powerful Coven here. I don't believe they can't help us. A spell maybe… or a…a… potion… or… what?"

 

Angel's shoulders had tensed at the mention of the word potion. Slowly, he said, "There is a potion that 'Prevents things being lost…"

 

Buffy's eyes widened, and she whispered, "Like a soul?"

 

"I don't know. But the spell worked for Groo."

 

There was a sadness to his words, and Buffy wondered who the hell Groo was. Something about his stance told her he didn't want to discuss that issue, but it didn't matter now. She was far too excited about the possibility of a solution to their problem to worry about it now.

 

"Right," she said decisively, standing up on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek. "I'm going to the Coven and ask for this potion. Or something else that would help."

 

Smiling slightly, Angel said, "What happens if they won't help?"

 

"Not an option." She grinned at him, grabbing her jacket and heading for the door. "I'll make them help us."

 

Angel didn't doubt that for a moment, and as she hurried from the flat into the sunlight, he almost felt sorry for the Coven…

 

Hoping that there were no law enforcers on her journey, Buffy broke the speed record heading for the Victorian building that was a meeting place of the coven. Giles had said that Ella would be here early today, and she wanted to catch her before she went somewhere else. Jumping from the car almost before it was parked properly, she crunched across the gravel path and rang the doorbell.

 

The door opened to reveal a middle-aged woman that looked vaguely like the friendly old lady who ran the local sweet shop. But it couldn't be her… witches didn't run sweet shops… did they?

 

"Is Ella here?"

 

"I'm afraid you've missed her, my dear. Would you like to come in, Buffy?"

 

"You know who I am?"

 

"Of course," the woman replied stepping back, and for the first time Buffy realised she was wiping a white powder from her hands with a cloth. "From the power radiating from you, there's nobody else you could be."

 

Buffy stepped inside the hallway, and said, "And you are?"

 

"I'm Gladys," she announced, turning to walk back up the hallway. "But if you'll forgive me, I was in the middle of something, so if we could continue this in the kitchen?"

 

"Of course," Buffy responded, not wanting to be responsible for messing up Gladys's spell. "What are you making? A love potion?"

 

"Scones."

 

Buffy blinked. Scones?

 

The kitchen turned out to be modern and sunny, and full of wonderful home baking fragrances. Gladys gestured her to sit down, and Buffy slipped onto the wooden chair, and eyed up the array of baked produce.

 

"Why so many?" she asked, and smiled when Gladys offered her a tin that contained several pretty little sponge cakes with coloured icings. She chose a white one decorated with a cherry, and watched the older woman roll out the scone dough and press out tiny little rounds with a cutter.

 

"It's for the Women's Institute," Gladys finished arranging her scones on trays and brushed the tops with egg. "They're running a cake sale to raise funds for the church roof." She noticed Buffy's forlorn expression and added, "I'm sorry that you missed Ella. Can I be of help?"

 

"It's Angel," Buffy said slowly. "You know about his curse, right?"

 

Gladys nodded her head. "Of course. Is there something wrong?"

 

Buffy took a deep breath and blurted, "I want your help to get rid of the happiness clause. There must be something you can do to help us. Angel says there might be a potion or maybe a spell, and…"

 

Gladys raised her hand to hamper Buffy's tirade, and said, "I don't understand."

 

Buffy sighed. She had assumed the Coven knew all about the clause. "The gypsies put a little no-no in their spell when they ensouled Angel. If ever he…"

 

"I know this," Gladys broke in. "Why is it a problem?"

 

Buffy's eyes widened. "Well, we want to… but we can't… and the curse…" embarrassed, she stumbled over her explanation.

 

"Buffy…" Gladys said carefully, "You do know that there is no happiness clause now, don't you?"

 

"What?"

 

Wiping her hands on a cloth and sitting down at the table with her, Gladys explained kindly, "The original Romany spell was flawed. They were very capable, but they were not proficient in magic. The spell they used must have been passed down through generations and it wasn't a spell that was practiced often.

 

"Magic is tricky; one incorrect word, gesture, or ingredient can affect the final result, and we think this is what happened to Angel. I doubt very much that the clan intended him to ever return to the vile creature that he had been before; the spell they used was wrong."

 

Buffy scowled at this. "How do you know that it's safe now?"

 

Gladys smiled gently. "The Coven brought Angel back, Buffy. To ensure that it was not Angelus that returned, we used a modified version of Jenny Calendar's translated spell. Angel's soul cannot be affected by the happiness clause."

 

Buffy digested that, and then said, "But that means… if there's no… " Her words trailed off, and Gladys finished it for her. "Yes. You can make him as happy as you want to."

 

Buffy rose to her feet. "I think I'll be going now," she said. "Thank you very much for the information." When Gladys moved to show her to the front door, Buffy waved an impatient hand to her. "It's okay, thank you, but you finish off your baking - I can see myself out."

 

She was so excited she practically skipped all the way out to her car. The news from the Coven was far better than she had been expecting, and she couldn't quite believe what she had been told. Angel's soul was free from the clause! FREE!

 

Her elation lasted until her car reached the main road and doubts began to set in. Why hadn't she been told? More importantly, why hadn't Angel been told? As she pondered that, another very unpleasant thought came to her. If the Coven knew about the curse, then surely Ella must have known? And if she knew… wouldn't Giles also know?

 

By the time she reached the estate, she had convinced herself of a major conspiracy of which both Giles and Ella were a part. Slamming the door of her mini, the two girls talking in the courtyard jumped and beat a hasty retreat back into the building after glimpsing her furious expression.

 

Striding into the building, she heard Giles's voice in the kitchen. She found him regaling Elaine and Hoshi with tales of demons and vampires and his smile faltered at her rambunctious entrance.

 

"I need to talk to you," she managed to get out, and stalked off to the study without waiting for his response.

 

Giles followed her into the room and had barely closed the door behind him, before Buffy whirled round to face him.

 

"Did you know?" she barked out.

 

"Buffy, calm down," Giles said placatingly. "Tell me what has upset you."

 

"Angel." She said curtly, and Giles winced. "His curse… did you know?"

 

"I don't know what…"

 

Buffy folded her arms and glared at him. "There's no happiness clause," she stated.

 

Giles stared at her, and finally understood why she was so angry. "Buffy… I swear I didn't know, or I would have told you. Are you sure?"

 

"I went to the Coven," Buffy explained. "When they brought him back, they removed the danger in his curse. I don't understand why we weren't told."

 

"It must have been an oversight, Buffy," Giles soothed. "But, does it really make any difference to you? You and Angel have…"

 

"Yes." Buffy broke in, and halted him in his tracks. "This changes everything."

 

"Don't do anything rash," Giles warned.

 

"Rash?" Buffy echoed. "Giles, I've loved him since I was 16. I've dated other guys, and I've tried to forget him, but I can't." She shook her head. "I don't want to do that anymore."

 

Agitated, unable to keep still, she paced restlessly across the room. Giles watched her uncomfortably, uncertain what to say. Finally, she turned back to face him. Her stance had subtly changed, and he could tell that she had come to a decision.

 

"I've done my job," she said quietly. "I've fought, and died, and saved the world more times than I can count. It would have been so much easier with him at my side, but it was a comfort I was never permitted to have. The only thing I've ever really wanted in my life is Angel… and it was the one thing I've always been denied."

 

Giles felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. "You're going to him, aren't you?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Please think about this," Giles tried.

 

"No," She replied firmly. "I'm going upstairs now to get my things. Give my room to the other girls - that should make space here a little easier."

 

The thought of her going to that… creature made Giles's blood run cold. But he knew her well enough to know that once her mind was made up, she would not be dissuaded.

 

"Be careful," He said quietly, and Buffy nodded, understanding that it was as near to a blessing as she was likely to get.

 

He watched her leave with sadness. He listened to her ascent of the stairs and his heart felt heavy. This would not - could not end well.

 

*

 

Angel had heard Buffy's car return, and had expected her to come straight to the flat. He had been surprised when she had slammed the door and stormed into the house instead. Something had seriously pissed her off, and he suspected she had gone to see Giles about it. She had been inside for a while, and he settled down on the sofa and picked up his book to take his mind off her. A sound on the stairs outside made him look up; by the time she came through the door he had risen to his feet ready to face her. She had bags in her hands and for a moment he thought she might be leaving. She put them down heavily, her face a mixture of pain and need, and in that moment he knew that she was going nowhere.

 

He didn't know what had happened to bring her to him, but it didn't matter. He took the four steps it needed for him to reach her, and, wanting only to comfort her, he wrapped her tightly in his arms and pulled her close.

 

 

End.

 

 

Fact and Fiction:

 

 

Devil's Hill is a fictitious location, but there are hundreds of similar sites throughout the United Kingdom, and the West Country is especially rich in them. 

 

For more info on hill forts, go here:  http://www.answers.com/topic/hill-fort

 

 



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